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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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January 31, 2007 3:55 PM

Tips and tricks for Vista bargains

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you want to play the upgrade game, Paul Thurrott has some tips on how to work the various schemes Microsoft is using to sell Windows Vista.

Among the tricks are to get low-priced OEM and Family Pack versions.

It ends up being more of a rant about the Vista distribution system than a consumer shopping guide.

Another tip I heard recently: Alex St. John suggests buying a PC with Windows XP and getting a Vista upgrade coupon.

That way you get two operating systems for the price of one, and you have the option of upgrading to Vista or not.

Former Microsoft guys like St. John are probably more comfortable than most about upgrading operating systems. But XP machines do seem like a bargain all of a sudden.

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

January 31, 2007 3:21 PM

Microsoft refolds Origami team

Posted by Brier Dudley

Zune isn't the only Microsoft gadget group seeing changes.

Over at the Origami/UltraMobile PC team, group manager Dustin Hubbard and most of his team are being reassigned to a new secret project at Microsoft.

Hubbard, who started the crazy Origami hype last year, disclosed the changes on the OrigamiProject team blog at 10 p.m. Tuesday. Today the blog's RSS feed has been discontinued.

The UMPC project continues, however. Oscar Koenders will be the new product unit manager, Dustin said in his entry.

I wonder if the changes are good or bad signs. Microsoft seems to be waffling on its commitment to the UMPC project, at least compared with the mojo behind Zune.

If Microsoft and its partners ever get them right, UMPCs could be an interesting alternative to the iPhone. Maybe that's what Dustin's going to work on?

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

January 31, 2007 2:17 PM

Google keeps rolling, Microsoft searching for monetization

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's net went from $733 million in Q3 to $1.03 billion in the fourth quarter, joining Apple in the billion dollar club.

Sales were $3.21 billion, up 67 percent from a year ago and 19 percent sequentially.

It kind of overshadows Microsoft's good showing in the monthly comScore Web traffic report. Sites owned by Microsoft were the most visited in the world last month after seeing a 5 percent traffic gain.

December's top Web sites worldwide, ranked by unique visitors were:

Microsoft sites 508,659
Google sites 494,170
Yahoo! sites 476,761
Time Warner Network 260,387
eBay 251,423
Wikipedia sites 164,675
Amazon sites 151,033
Fox Interactive Media 135,730
CNET Networks 114,940
Ask Network 113,881
Apple Computer 111,131
Adobe sites 100,421
Lycos 83,724
Viacom Digital 76,171
New York Times Digital 68,010

In advance of these two items today there was a bunch of chatter about Microsoft's search efforts, including tough takes by John Battelle and Henry Blodget

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

January 31, 2007 2:02 PM

Dude! Dell's got Dell again

Posted by Brier Dudley

Talk about accountability: Michael Dell is resuming the chief executive job at the company he founded, and his pal Kevin Rollins is out after two tough years at the helm.

They announced a little while ago that Rollins is not only giving up the CEO post, he's resigning from the company and leaving its board.

"The Board believes that Michael's vision and leadership are critical to building Dell's leadership in the technology industry for the long-term," Samuel A. Nunn, presiding director of Dell's board, said in the press release. "There is no better person in the world to run Dell at this time than the man who created the Direct Model and who has built this company over the last 23 years."

It's an interesting story for Microsoft watchers, and not just because Dell has been the largest buyer of Microsoft software.

At Dell, the founder handed off his company to a trusted friend who lost the momentum and stumbled within a few years.

Microsoft has been gradually going through a similar handoff for about five years now with Bill Gates ceding more and more control to Steve Ballmer.

So far Ballmer's been charging full steam ahead, but I imagine Gates would be inclined to "pull a Dell" if things go astray. That would be an even bigger to-do than the Dell reorganization because Warren Buffett and the rest of the world are counting on Gates to stay focused on philanthropy.

In Dell's case, it's all about the company and shareholders.

In the last line of Dell's release, as if it were a throwaway ending, Dell also said it's going to miss Q4 expectations. The company expects results "to be below the average of First Call Estimates for both revenue and earnings per share."

It's not Microsoft's fault. Hewlett-Packard is the one putting the hurt, or Hurd, on Dell.

But I wonder how Rollins and Dell would have fared if Vista was ready to roll in time for the holidays.

Comments | Category: Dell |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 31, 2007 1:30 PM

Vista's Indian components

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's India Development Center built key components of the new operating system, but it was more than just another coding job, according to an interview with the Windows project boss in India.

Amit Chatterjee said the team wanted to show the capabilities of Indian engineers.

"Right from the beginning we wanted to build on the credibility that India had gained and the challenge was to take this to show to the world that Indian engineers can build world-class products," he told the Hindustan Times.

Chatterjee began building a team of 300 engineers in 2001. They ended up filing 40 patents for their work.

Among the Vista features developed and conceptualized at Microsoft's facility in Hyderabad are virus protection; PC backup and restore functions; and fax and scan applications.

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January 30, 2007 2:11 PM

Launching Vista in my living room

Posted by Brier Dudley

When I looked out the window this morning, the vista was cold and foggy but it turned to sunshine soon enough.

My experience with the new Vista PC in my house was just the opposite. It's a great system and I still believe Microsoft will do well with the product, but I had some troubling issues.

Instead of going to the New York events, I launched Vista in my living room Monday on a new system I borrowed from Hewlett-Packard (an all-in-one TouchSmart system with a dual-core AMD processor, 2 gigabytes of RAM, 256 MB Nvidia graphics card and a 19-in.' widescreen display). All I needed was shellfish.

It took less than 15 minutes to have the machine up and connected to my home network. I set the system where my TV had been sitting, then moved the cable from the back of my DVD player to the coaxial input on the PC.

A few minutes later I had the Media Center configured and two weeks of TV listings downloaded -- just in time to record "24." At this point only two security warnings had popped up. Neither one required a password, but I was operating in administrator mode.

The media experience was nice. The picture and sound were better than they are on the 5-year-old Panasonic CRT that was displaced by the PC. Next I'll try sending the content wirelessly through an Xbox connected to a bigger screen in the basement.

Recording worked fine until my wife insisted that we watch something else. Because the PC has only one TV tuner, you can't use it to watch one show and record another. No sweat, I thought, I'll just remember to buy one with two tuners if I take the plunge.

But I was less thrilled this morning when I tried to start my workday from the couch, using the wireless keyboard and mouse that come with the system.

After wading past the AOL promotional junk in the browser, I was able to log in to the Seattle Times e-mail system remotely. But I couldn't compose any e-mails, not even one to tell my boss that I was staying home to fool around with Vista.

The Times uses a Microsoft Exchange mail server and one of its great features is Outlook Web Access. OWA lets you use Outlook from PCs outside the office by logging in through a browser.

But the Vista PC's security was so tight, it wouldn't display content in the notes field of e-mail contacts or let me compose anything in a message field. I could type an address and subject, but the message field was locked and displaying only a red X.

I fiddled with the security settings to no avail. I lowered the default security setting from "medium high" to "medium." I also turned off the "protected mode" that the browser runs in out of the box. I fooled with different settings, and logged in and out, over and over, and couldn't get the mail to work.

Perhaps I was being a dork and there's a simple fix. I haven't talked to our Exchange administrator -- or Microsoft or HP yet -- to diagnose the problem. They should be prepared for calls from dorks, though.

Vista's slick networking tools made it a breeze to join the home network, but I wasn't able to access media files from a laptop on the network running Windows XP Home. The problem seems to be with the firewall settings on the XP laptop -- at least that's how Vista diagnosed the problem -- but it's a little complicated to make the new work with the old. If all the systems were updated to Vista, it probably would have been easier, but that won't happen for a while.

I'm sure there's a way to change settings and make these things work. I'm hoping to spend more time today fiddling with the setup, but most people don't want the hassle, even though Vista feels good to move through.

The experience reminded me that while Vista is a nice upgrade and may increase productivity, those gains will have to be balanced with the investment it takes to get systems configured and synced to old machines and applications, not to mention the cost of training workers to use the shiny new tool.

The worst part is that I couldn't take advantage of Vista's powerful display technology to watch last night's recorded TV show in a little window somewhere on that big, bright screen while I was busy working from home.

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

January 30, 2007 1:34 PM

Microsoft superstar missing at sea

Posted by Brier Dudley

Terrible to hear that Jim Gray is missing after going on a solo sailing excursion Sunday out of San Francisco.

It's especially poignant because he was sailing out to spread his mother's ashes by the Farallon Islands, a 27-mile trip on a lovely, sunny day.

The Coast Guard is conducting a major search with boats, planes and helicopters.

Gray is one of the most distinguished employees of Microsoft's advanced research group, where his recent focus has been using computers to analyze scientific data.

His expertise is databases and transaction processing. Research in the latter field earned him the A.M. Turing Award in 1999. Here's what Microsoft said in the press release announcing the award:

A senior researcher and manager of Microsoft's Bay Area Research Center, Gray's work over the past three decades has made it possible for computers to store and analyze ever larger amounts of information. As a result of his research, databases have evolved from 10 megabyte-sized storage facilities, which were the sole property of large corporations and government institutions, into terabyte-sized computers available to millions of people. His work paved the way for many of the daily transactions we now take for granted, such as withdrawing money from automatic teller machines (ATMs), making airline reservations and purchasing products over the Internet.

UPDATE: A fan of Gray's in Oakland has posted a good collection of links here.

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January 29, 2007 4:00 PM

Simonyi toots the horn of plenty

Posted by Brier Dudley

In advance of his space flight -- which has been delayed from March to April -- Charles Simonyi was profiled in MIT's Technology Review and the New York Times.

Dave Winer noted that the NYT piece was written by the Technology Review's editor and the pieces are similar. They both describe Simonyi as man who became a billionaire from writing code, as opposed to building companies. Both also used a similar "horn of plenty" quote.

In the Technology Review:

Simonyi shares much of the common dissatisfaction with software. "Software as we know it is the bottleneck on the digital horn of plenty," he says. "It takes up tremendous resources in talent and time. It's disappointing and hard to change. It blocks innovation in many organizations."

In the NYT:

"Software is truly the bottleneck in the high-tech horn of plenty," he said.

What's most interesting though how well both stories explain what Simonyi is up to with his Bellevue startup, Intentional Software.

Both stories gush about the potential of the new programming approach that Intentional is developing, and both used plenty of space to explain the technology (no pun intended.)

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

January 29, 2007 2:43 PM

Vista's here, where's the remote?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nvidia's working on what may become the must-have Vista accessory: A tiny, color Bluetooth remote control that lets you view photos and control your PC music collection from around the house.


The credit-card sized gadget uses Sideshow, a feature in Vista that lets hardware companies build auxiliary displays. The displays can be on the lid of a laptop, for instance, so you can check messages or song lists even when the system is powered down.

Nvidia built the remote control as a reference design to show hardware companies what they can do with Preface, a Sideshow-based display system that it developed. LG and Asus are using Preface in laptops, for instance.

An Nvidia spokesman said several manufacturers are interested in the remote-control design and may introduce similar products in the second quarter. Pricing won't be available until then, but I'd guess they'd sell for around $250.

They'll be an interesting competitor for Nokia's $400 Linux-based Internet tablet and the Sonos wireless digital music system, the gold standard in wireless home audio but a system the doesn't display email.

Meanwhile, Nvidia is working with other companies to add Preface/Sideshow systems to clothing, wallets and backpacks.

Could Ford's in-dash Sync system be made to work with Sideshow and possibly Preface? It already works as a sort of Sideshow display system for Bluetooth phones and wireless media players. Why not make it work with Bluetooth Vista laptops as well?

But then, all these information displays could become overwhelming. Especially if they start making Sideshow corneal implants.

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

January 29, 2007 2:13 PM

Naked telecommuting tips

Posted by Brier Dudley

Some technically savvy folks are taking "anytime, anyplace" computing a bit far.

At a nudist resort in Palm Springs, 80 percent of visitors bring laptops and do work in the buff using the poolside Wi-Fi, according to a ComputerWorld interview with the owner.

Among the tips for naked telecommuters:

Get a laptop with good screen resolution. Since Palm Springs is very sunny, we have seen guests with a towel over their head and laptop to cut down glare. Otherwise, you will be forced to work in the shade. Also don't use a laptop at the edge of the pool while you are in the water. Laptops, a few cocktails and pool water do not mix, as we have seen a few times.

My suggestion for the undressed and unplugged: Make absolutely sure you've replaced any potentially explosive laptop batteries.

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January 29, 2007 11:37 AM

Blog comment glitch

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apparently some people trying to post comments here found a glitch in our blog system.

I checked with our IT folks and this was the answer:

"The blog has intermittant outages. Trick is to try again later. We're hoping to upgrade our systems to get rid of this problem later this year."

The glitch sounds pretty rare -- I've only heard about this a few times over the last six months -- so please don't be discouraged. I really appreciate your feedback and your patience until we upgrade.

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January 29, 2007 11:14 AM

The last Allchin bits

Posted by Brier Dudley

Jim Allchin's been getting a lot of ink, in our paper and elsewhere.

On our business cover today, we ran a sample of the online Vista Q&A he did with Times readers last Thursday.

I was going to write a short introduction, but it ended up more like a sayonara piece. It was based on a conversation about the server business we had when I walked with Jim from our newsroom out to his Lexus.

CNet's Ina Fried ran a similar story today that has a few great nuggets, including the Vista team pledge that nobody's feature would "look like ass."

There will probably be more Allchin farewell stories, and some coverage if and when he decides to work somewhere else, but most of the attention is now on the Vista and the people still in Redmond. Ben Romano's filing some great blog entries from the New York launch, by the way.

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

January 26, 2007 11:43 AM

Venture capital: A man's world?

Posted by Brier Dudley

The data's a little old, but a new Forbes story raises some interesting questions.

It says only 9 percent of venture capitalists are women, and only 4 percent of VC-backed companies were run by women last year.

Is there something about the industry that limits participation?

It might be a good topic to explore in a column, if more details are available about what's really happening.

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January 26, 2007 9:01 AM

Journalist integrity and credibility test

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's not nearly as fun as the "five questions" game that bloggers are playing, but a reader asked me three questions about my relationship with Microsoft.

He was commenting on my blog post about scuttled disclosure rules for blogging by lobbyists.

I often get nasty e-mails questioning whether I have ties to Microsoft. I do not, but Lawrence was nicer than most, so I'll play along. Here's his comment, with my replies below:

Briar (sic),

In order to uphold your journalistic integrity and credibility please answer these questions:

How much Microsoft stock, as a percentage of your personal household wealth, do you own?

Did you ever work at Microsoft?

Do any of your family or close friends work at Microsoft?

I think it's fair to answer these questions since you cover Microsoft so much.

We await your answer.....

OK, here's my Section 220 disclosure.

I own no stock in Microsoft or any other tech company.

I have a very small 401(k) that was set up when I worked in Yakima, long before I covered Microsoft. It's in broad market funds that aren't tech specific. I don't know if they touch Microsoft; I haven't checked and I'd rather not know.

I have never worked at Microsoft. I probably should have applied when I graduated from college in the late 1980s, because I could have retired on stock options by now. But I was too enamored with my Macintosh and Aldus PageMaker at the time.

I have no family at Microsoft, unless you count my cousin's husband's sister, who used to work there. I've never met her or communicated with her, but my cousin sent me a Christmas card this year. I haven't sent one back (you're not alone, Cuz -- I haven't sent any yet).

There are people at Microsoft who were my friends before I became a reporter and before they joined the company. I grew up in the Seattle area, and Microsoft hired a lot of local people in my generation. They haven't done anything to help me or influence me professionally, and I haven't done anything to help them or influence them professionally. I hope my friendships last longer than my job, and it's not worth jeopardizing either by mixing things up.

If I grew up here when I did and knew nobody at Microsoft or any of the companies I write about, my credibility as a reporter would be suspect. I'd be a hermit.

Local connections don't imply favoritism. When I first began covering Microsoft, I had an introductory interview with several managers in the Office group. I knew one of them -- and he knew me -- because he was in a college fraternity that didn't receive as much respect as it deserved from certain members of my fraternity. I haven't heard from him since.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also note that my father and Bill Gates' father both practiced law in Bremerton. Not together and not at the same time, however. Bill's dad moved his family and practice to Seattle before my dad attended law school. They've never met each other, but it's possible they've been on the same ferry.

Also, the son of a close family friend (and open source enthusiast ...) was in a drama class with Bill Gates' daughter a few years ago. Her identity was kept secret until Bill showed up at the final performance, which I did not attend. Apparently she was very nice and wore sparkly sandals, but I'm just reporting what I was told, not revealing a bias.

I should also mention that there's a new tenant occupying a rental house in my neighborhood with a Microsoft parking tab in his or her car. I haven't met the person yet, but I hope to sometime. First I've got to finish those Christmas cards.

P.S.: For the record, I'd like to note seriously that the Times has ethics policies that cover this stuff. I couldn't cover Microsoft, Boeing, City Hall, the Sonics or any other institution if I had family or financial ties to the place.

The paper has procedures for reviewing potential conflicts of interest, handling gifts (we send them back or donate them to charity), paying our own way, etc.

Additionally, when I know that a friend is working for Microsoft or another company I'm writing about, I tell an editor so management can decide how to proceed before anything is published.

These are (or should be) standard procedures for reporters. My situation is a little different now that I'm a columnist, but I've continued to follow these rules.

If Lawrence or anyone else has concerns about my credibility and integrity, please let me or my editors know. Here's the contact info:

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

January 25, 2007 4:09 PM

Seattle bookseller rallying online merchants

Posted by Brier Dudley

Phil Bevis, the Seattle bookseller who fought to keep his customer records private from Patriot Act snooping, has another crusade.

Bevis is challenging new international postal rates that could hit online booksellers especially hard.

Rates are going up 13 percent on average, but Bevis is most upset about a change in shipping categories that will force him to ship large books overseas via costly air mail instead of surface mail.

If you can't use cheap surface mail to ship the books, the shipping costs become too high for the used book sales, he said.

"Most computer books, even a Tom Clancy hardcover or art books, are too big. You run into this weight-value issue over that format and it makes sense to use surface mail,'' he said. "Their proposal -- for a buyer of a Tom Clancy hardcover -- would take that from being a $7 fulfillment cost to high $20s. You're taking about a tripling of fulfillment costs.''

Bevis is trying to round up support among online merchants.

To make his case, he provided statistics from, a Victoria, B.C., online book marketplace that represents 8,500 U.S. bookstores. Last month 51 percent of its international orders from U.S. booksellers specified surface mail.

The rate proposal almost escaped notice, Bevis said, because it was published in the Federal Register during the busiest time of year for booksellers and small online commerce operations.

"Until February we're all hamsters running on the wheels, you know?" he told me. "They put this thing up in the Federal Register and nobody commented. I don't know whether it was intentional or not."

So far Bevis has had a small victory. The Post Office this week told him it would extend the comment period on the rates through Feb. 2, beyond the original Jan. 19 deadline. He said that will give him time to get trade associations and big players like and Powells involved.

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January 24, 2007 11:09 AM

The guy behind Microsoft's Wiki woohoo

Posted by Brier Dudley

That would be Doug Mahugh, a Microsoft technical evangelist who was straightforward about why and how he recruited a blogger to correct a Wikipedia entry about the Open XML technology he works with in Redmond.

I wish I'd read Doug's blog postings before I ranted about Microsoft flubbing this one.

A wire story on Microsoft's Wiki flub is one of the most-read items at our Web site today. I wish it included Mahugh's perspective, which is really the story of how this all came about.

Doug tried to set the record straight on Slashdot, and even posted the original e-mail he sent to Rick Jelliffe, asking for his help fixing the entry:

The premise of this thread is a lie. Nobody ever contacted Rick and asked him to "make edits and corrections favorable to" Microsoft. Also, nobody from Microsoft PR contacted him. I am the person who contacted Rick, and I am a technical evangelist specializing in the Open XML file formats. And here is what I asked Rick to do:
"Wikipedia has an entry on Open XML that has a lot of slanted language, and we'd like for them to make it more objective but we feel that it would be best if a non-Microsoft person were the source of any corrections ... Would you have any interest or availability to do some of this kind of work? Your reputation as a leading voice in the XML community would carry a lot of credibility, so your name came up in a discussion of the Wikipedia situation today.

"Feel free to say anything at all on your blog about the process, about our communication with you on matters related to Open XML, or anything else. We don't need to 'approve' anything you have to say, our goal is simply to get more informed voices into the debate ... feel free to state your own opinion."

I understand and accept that longwinded discussions of lies and their theoretical ramifications is a fascinating hobby for some, but since it's 100% my own personal actions that you're talking about, I just want to be very clear: the premise of this thread is a lie. Wikipedia's definition of "Microsoft (sic) Office Open XML" is not fact-based, and I think it would be a good thing if there were more participation by persons like Rick who are knowledgeable and interested in the actual facts of file formats, and less participation (or at least less influence) by those with specific agendas based on specific corporate interests.
Call Microsoft evil if you must, but in this case it's Doug Mahugh you're talking about. PR didn't know I contacted Rick. Hell, my own manager didn't know, although it seems likely he knows by now. You're talking about my actions alone, so I think my opinion is relevant. And in my opinion, the premise of this thread is a lie.

Mahugh's blog also provided helpful links to Jelliffe's post that got the story rolling.

Dave Winer added some context about Wikipedia, but I'm still waiting to see what Frank Shaw, president of Microsoft's PR firm, says about the flap on his blog.

Wikipedia godfather Jimmy Wales hasn't said a peep about the situation on his blog (is he using a different site now?), but he did give nod to Microsoft last April for trying a Wiki-like editing process at Encarta.

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January 24, 2007 10:52 AM

Vista eye candy

Posted by Brier Dudley

Cnet is running a photo gallery with a handful of new Vista applications, including a new version of the Yahoo! message system.

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January 24, 2007 10:33 AM

Who holds your Internet records?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Declan McCullagh has a great piece on the "new" data retention policies that are forcing Internet service providers and others -- coffee shops with Wi-Fi perhaps? -- to hang onto customer data in case the police want a peek.

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January 23, 2007 4:37 PM

That giant sucking sound? Blogs' credibility

Posted by Brier Dudley

I've said that one of the issues that needs to be sorted out in 2007 is the definition of blogger.

The situation is getting so bad that it's disrupting Congress and providing cover for weasels in the other Washington.

That was painfully obvious if you watched the hissy fit that bloggers had in recent weeks over the weakened ethics bill. They helped scuttle a provision that would have required lobbyists to disclose more about the "grassroots" tools they are using to manipulate the opinions of lawmakers and the public.

Specifically, bloggers had fits about section 220 of the bill, which said that grassroots campaigns costing more than $25,000 per quarter had to be disclosed as a lobbying expense.

Goaded by lobbyists who don't want the public to know about their spending, bloggers (and evangelicals) interpreted the bill to mean they'd have to register with the government and have their First Amendment rights threatened.

A primary source of the goading, according to The Register, was political junk-mail firm American Target Advertising, one of the companies that stuffs your physical mailbox with election spam every November:

The bill made no direct mention of bloggers, but (ATA's Mark) Fitzgibbons had the vision to recognize in the blogosphere's endemic paranoia and aversion to fact-checking a perfect means of spreading opposition to section 220. After all, even with the clumsy wording, the bill would only affect bloggers who get paid a six figure salary from an employer or client (advertising revenue wouldn't count) to stimulate grassroots lobbying as a full-time gig
But that didn't stop Fitzgibbons and ATA from spreading the Fear among the entire blogosphere, and it didn't soften the indignation that the hyperbolic rhetoric inspired among bloggers.

So instead of enlightening the public with a fresh take on an important issue, bloggers were played by the entrenched powers. The end result was to create a loophole for lobbyists.

It's a replay of bloggers' past fits over election spending disclosure rules. They've objected to rules that would require candidates to disclose their online campaign spending, just as candidates do with offline spending.

Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the judge who is separately overseeing Microsoft's antitrust compliance, saw through the technology smokescreen and ruled in 2002 that exempting online spending undermines the disclosure rules.

Both Kollar-Kotelly and the authors of the original ethics bill recognized the obvious -- that political campaigns are using all of the latest communication tools, such as blogs, and that spending has to be disclosed to the public.

What's holding things back is the term "blog." The technology has advanced faster than the language, and the term is too vague for legislation. The inadequate terminology confuses bloggers and lawmakers alike and creates opportunities for manipulation.

Instead "blog" is stuck on the list of loaded words that are subject to interpretation and vulnerable to misuse in the Capitol. Others include grassroots, green, terror and privacy.

For starters, it's time to clarify once and for all that blogs are no longer the province of independent, unpaid, amateur essayists. Most blogs are written by solo bloggers, but the most-read and most-influential blogs are professional operations. Should the same rules apply to both categories?

Blogging software and blog networks are powerful and efficient communication tools. They're now being used by the powerful to efficiently influence the masses.

Just look at what happened with the ethics bill. Lobbyists used blogging tools to manipulate public opinion and get section 220 removed. Those are the bloggers that would have had to register under the ethics bill, by the way.

Why are we still using the same term to describe them and all those teenage diarists writing about Hello Kitty?

After all the media bashing in the last decade, and the weak press performance before the invasion of Iraq, some saw blogs as a ray of hope, an independent, untainted voice that would give people a voice and stand up to power.

I still have faith that the press will perform its role in society. It's also exciting to see the definition of press expand to include journalistic blogs. But that evolution is threatened by imprecise terminology that puts too many activities in the category of blogging.

It's no wonder lobbyists and marketers are so enthusiastic about blogging. They're taking advantage of the medium's credibility to deliver their message, mooching off the aura of independence that surrounds blogs.

Incidents like the ethics bill make me wonder how long that aura will last.

The unifying effect of the term "blogging" helped build the blog community and gave it power and legitimacy.

But the blogosphere is starting to seem like the British Empire in the middle of the last century, when the empire was unraveling and colonies like India began the messy process of establishing their own identities. The empire's influence and structures remain, but most of its territory is no longer British.

Blogs have to be more upfront about paid political content if they're ever going to have the credibility of the mainstream media. You may laugh and sneer at that last point, but the MSM has developed a pretty good system for handling paid political ads so the public can tell what's an ad. That system also helps the public and watchdogs monitor election spending, to be sure the system is fair and transparent.

Truly independent bloggers trying to influence politics will be marginalized until they accept the reality of public disclosure rules. The rules improve credibility and independence, unless you've got something to hide.

There's hope. The blogging institution has the ability to self-correct. When its legitimacy was threatened by cheap and sleazy spam blogs, bloggers came up with a new term, splog, to identify and isolate the moochers before they eroded blogs' credibility.

When will bloggers do the same thing with "grassroots" blogs created and seeded by professional lobbyists? To fight section 220, lobbyists characterized these things as political blogs, but that's a wolf in sheep's clothing.

If there was a unique term that identified blogs that are basically high-tech political campaign materials, lobbyists couldn't hide under bloggers' umbrella and it would be easier for Congress to write ethics rules that take into account current technology.

What do you think these should be called? Here are a few ideas:


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January 23, 2007 4:21 PM

Zune diagnosis: An enlarged prostate

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apparently its squirting has become irregular.

But the bigger question is over Microsoft's handling of that and another minor black eye on the eve of Vista's launch. Where has the spin doctor been?

Instead of waffling on a Zune glitch that prevents some song sharing, why didn't Microsoft fess up right away and say when a fix can be expected? How about giving the affected customers a batch of free songs, or at least providing guidance so this doesn't scare away Zune buyers more than it already has? Can the unsquirtable songs be tagged and sold at a discount?

Instead of trying some creative damage control -- as it's done with great Xbox customer service -- it's just shrugging and saying it's a 1.0 product. Wait for the service pack, I guess.

Then Microsoft looked untoward because it hired a vendor to correct Wikipedia entries. If the company truly had difficulty fixing the entries itself, it should have offered some proof.

It may have seemed safe to use a vendor, rather than touch Wikipedia directly. Other companies probably do that all the time. But Microsoft ended up looking as if it doesn't get it, even though it has plenty of employees who do.

Doesn't anybody in Redmond have a way to reach Jimmy Wales? Maybe they should invite him to an arm wrestling match with Ray Ozzie at Mix.

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January 23, 2007 4:17 PM

Former Cobalt CTO heading CarDomain

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle automotive social networking site CarDomain tapped Rajan Krishnamurty to be its president.

The former CTO at The Cobalt Group joined CarDomain as CTO and vice president of engineering last year. Earlier he was at IBM and Perot Systems.

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January 23, 2007 4:11 PM

Pluggd in to politics

Posted by Brier Dudley

To showcase its audio search capabilities, Seattle startup Pluggd is hosting a "State of the Union Smackdown" tonight after President Bush's speech.

The site lets users enter keywords such as Iraq or stem cell and compare references made in the president's speech and the rebuttal by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.

"Compare and contrast, side by side, then comment on whose statement rings your bell,'' the company said in its release. "It's intuitive, easy and fun."

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January 22, 2007 4:06 PM

The next Zunes

Posted by Brier Dudley

Ars Technica has some details on "Zune 2.0": A 12 gig flash model could come by the end of 2007, and the Wi-Fi could be used to buy and download songs at hotspots.

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January 22, 2007 3:21 PM

DRM free music coming from record companies?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Some record companies are considering releasing MP3s into the wild, according to a report flagged by Slashdot. They have to do something.

I wonder if they'll follow the Harvey Danger model. The Seattle band gave away its last full album because it wanted more people to hear its music, and it expected people would still buy CDs.

Several record labels have since released EPs that include several of the songs previously released free.

But I don't think we're seeing the dawn of completely free music. It seems more like a tiered system is emerging where we'll get more free MP3s, but they're compressed and don't sound as good as CDs. For the full quality versions, you'll still have to buy a CD or download copy-protected songs.

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January 22, 2007 2:02 PM

Schneier: The onus is on banks to stop ID theft

Posted by Brier Dudley

Security guru Bruce Schneier has a great essay in Forbes on how to solve the identity theft problem.

In short, he says the focus needs to shift from the theft of personal information to the sloppy ways that banks and other institutions verify identity and allow fraudulent transactions to occur.

Right now, the economic incentives result in financial institutions that are so eager to allow transactions -- new credit cards, cash transfers, whatever--that they're not paying enough attention to fraudulent transactions. They've pushed the costs for fraud onto the merchants.
But if they're liable for losses and damages to legitimate users, they'll pay more attention. And they'll mitigate the risks. Security technologies can work wonders in preventing identity theft, once the economic incentives to apply them are there.

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January 22, 2007 11:08 AM

What would you ask Jim Allchin about Vista?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I've invited Jim to the paper for a live Q&A on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. to answer readers' questions about Vista.

Jim Allchin

It's a great opportunity for people to talk directly to the person who led development of Microsoft's flagship product.

We're taking questions ahead of time here if you'd like to submit one.

Meanwhile Jim has been talking about a lot of Vista features at the project team's blog, where he's become one of the most prolific writers.

For some background on Jim, here's his official biography, a profile I wrote when he launched XP and a Vista Q&A I did with him last year.

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January 22, 2007 10:42 AM

More from CES: A Seattle gadget designer

Posted by Brier Dudley

I've already had a call from a reader who wants to buy one of the reel-to-reel/cd combo players designed by Chris Hennessey, a Seattle guy I profiled in today's column. Who would have guessed?

Here's a photo I took of Hennessey and the device at CES.


Chris Hennessey, a former Seattleite who now designs consumer electronics in Hong Kong, with the reel-to-reel/cd player he displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

On the other side of CES was the Zhongshan Leetac Electronics booth displaying similar retro devices. Leetac also does modern items, like the radio on the right that looks an awful lot like one of those expensive Tivoli units.

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January 22, 2007 10:01 AM

Sun and Intel hooking up -- what's next?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I miss being able to say Wintel.

In a partnership being announced right now, the two will work together to promote and optimize Sun's Solaris and Java on Intel's Xeon chips.

They'll also work together optimizing future multicore Intel platforms for Solaris.

The Webcast and slides are here.

Intel's been losing ground to AMD, and Sun's success with x86 servers have helped it close the gap with server leaders IBM and Hewlett-Packard, according to the August IDC numbers.

It's interesting, but the long-term possibilities of a Sun-Intel alliance are more intriguing.

Could Intel ever provide all of Sun's chips? What will this to the Microsoft-AMD relationship? How about the virtualization play -- will the alliance give Sun an edge on virtualized Intel Xeon systems?

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January 19, 2007 1:26 PM

Students Googling in Kirkland

Posted by Brier Dudley

I missed this while I was at CES: A group of students recently toured Google's Kirkland office to inspire them to pursue careers in technology.

Then Google took it a step further and let Jenna Warman, a Lake Washington High School student, write about the tour on the company's official corporate blog:

What I liked most about the Google building were the different Google Doodles all along the walls and the lava lamps in the reception area that were Google colors.

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January 19, 2007 1:07 PM

Musk bares his tusks

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's been awhile since there was a must-read Valleywag piece -- the rehash of ancient Martin Taylor gossip didn't count -- but today there's a contender: Elon Musk firing off an amazing essay to clarify his role at PayPal.

Musk's rant is great reading for tech entrepreneurs. It includes all sorts of details about the people and processes that PayPal added to make the transition into a big player, and it costs much less than a book.

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January 19, 2007 10:40 AM

Madden monster D.J. Mazzola still in the game

Posted by Brier Dudley

I profiled D.J., a semi-pro videogamer, after he won a trip to the Madden Challenge in Honolulu last February.

Electronic Arts just told me he's going back again to compete in this year's challenge, the week of Feb. 8.

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January 19, 2007 10:32 AM

How much Vista, Office 2007 will cost businesses

Posted by Brier Dudley

New Microsoft licensing plans coming with Vista and Office 2007 will cost corporations between $68 and $406, roughly, per desktop per year, according to a roundup published by CRN.

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January 18, 2007 5:23 PM

Zune vs. iPhone comparison not so farfetched

Posted by Brier Dudley

I've been getting a hard time from a few commenters over the Zune vs. iPhone headline on a post yesterday.

I responded in the comments a little too soon. I wish I'd first seen the Zune trademark paperwork dug up by blogger Long Zheng and called out by Mary Jo Foley.

Microsoft asked that the Zune trademark apply not only to multimedia players but also to "entertainment and communications devices," including cellphones.

Zune services described in the application include most everything on the iPhone feature list and more:

telecommunication services; electronic transmission of data files, documents, music and videos over the Internet and wireless networks; electronic mail services; web messaging services; text messaging services; paging services; streaming of audio and video material over the Internet and wireless networks; wireless voice mail services; voice-activated dialing services; providing wireless access to computer networks and the Internet; cellular telephone services; and audio, video and television broadcasting and transmission

It's not a surprise that Zune phones are coming. I reported on this in September.

But it's fascinating to see the array of potential services covered by the trademark, which was processed by the patent office yesterday.

Who knows what form Zune phones will take -- a slab touchscreen would seem lame at this point -- but Microsoft is clearly thinking about hybrid phone/media players similar to the iPhone.

This isn't rah-rah Microsoft stuff. The company goofed by not getting out there sooner with a multifunction device, letting Apple stay ahead. It's also going to be sticky if Microsoft goes head to head with the phone makers that are warming up to Windows Mobile.

This should also be good news to Mac fans -- not because they want a Zune phone, but because competition from Microsoft could force Apple to make the iPhone more affordable and flexible with its phone platform.

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January 18, 2007 3:56 PM

Great comment on HD-DVD, any Blu-ray fans?

Posted by Brier Dudley

In response to the earlier Sony post:

"The probability of a newer HD-DVD model selling next year for $300 is highly likely...beating Blu-ray by one or two years to reach that price point,'' said Terrance, who seems to be paying close attention to the format war.

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January 18, 2007 12:01 PM

Skype Thursday: New fees, details on video service

Posted by Brier Dudley

Skype released details of its new payment scheme today, which pushes users toward a premium "Unlimited" service that may help eBay start recouping its $2.6 billion investment in the Web phone service.

You can still make Skype-to-Skype calls free, but calling from Skype to a landline or mobile phone carries connection fees. In the U.S. the fee is $0.039 per minute.

Alternatively, you can subscribe to the unlimited service for $29.95 a year and pay no connection fees. Skype is also offering a 50 percent discount if you sign up for unlimited service by Jan. 31.

"In the U.S. and Canada, we are continuing to focus on delivering customers the best value and saving through our Skype Unlimited Calling plan," Don Albert, vice president and general manager of Skype North America, said in a release.

It's still cheap calling, but it's not quite as free, and it's getting a little confusing. I wonder how much that will limit uptake.

Skype's also in the news today, indirectly, because its founders are making the press rounds with their new venture, an Internet television service called Joop.

Here's a PC magazine Q&A about Joost, and a more visual introduction by The Register.

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January 18, 2007 11:58 AM

Google Wi-Fi project snagged by SF politics

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Chronicle has a cautionary tale for Seattle and other cities mulling public Internet access projects.

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January 18, 2007 11:42 AM

RealNetworks replays

Posted by Brier Dudley, the new entertainment news portal/blog/Rhapsody promotional vehicle that RealNetworks announced today, has a connection to The Seattle Times. was originally started as a film commentary site by Lucy Mohl in 1994, back when Seattle was at the cutting edge of online video services.

Lucy later worked at Real, and is now part of the team here that produces (which has its own entertainment site with local listings and reviews, by the way).

Real acquired Lucy's services and the domain as a package deal, so she didn't get a piece of the Microsoft antitrust coin that Real's been spending lately.

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January 18, 2007 11:28 AM

Mossberg likes Vista, sort of

Posted by Brier Dudley

The influential Wall Street Journal reviewer called Windows Vista it "a worthy, but largely unexciting, product."

It's not as rosy as Walt's Office 2007 review, but it's not a pan, either.

After months of testing Vista on multiple computers, new and old, I believe it is the best version of Windows that Microsoft has produced. However, while navigation has been improved, Vista isn't a breakthrough in ease of use. Overall, it works pretty much the same way as Windows XP. Windows hasn't been given nearly as radical an overhaul as Microsoft just applied to its other big product, Office.

Much of the review lists features that are also available on Mac OS X. He also notes the hardware requirements, as I did in my November Vista preview.

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January 17, 2007 5:00 PM

Zune: A solid number two, give it three years

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's the latest word from Microsoft, which passed along NPD sales data showing the Zune accounted for 10.2 percent of sales of hard-drive-based portable music players in December.

Robbie Bach said as much at CES but the release adds a bit more detail, and some rah-rah about Zune reaching its goal of becoming "the clear number two seller this holiday behind an entrenched competitor."

"No other single device has been able to achieve these kinds of results in a six week launch period and we remain on track to exceed one million units in sales by the end of the current fiscal year (ending June 30, 2007),'' it said, then reiterated that Micrsoft has a "thee-year plan to solidify our presence within this market."

At first I wondered why Microsoft sent out the release, midway between Robbie's presentation at CES and Microsoft's quarterly earnings report on the 25th.

Then I figured out that, duh, it's a counterpoint to Apple's news about a banner holiday for iPod sales.

Not much commentary on the iPod numbers over at the official Zune blogs, yet. I wonder if David will stir the pot as he did with the Forrester iTunes report.

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January 17, 2007 2:52 PM

Sony vs. and bits from Sir Howard

Posted by Brier Dudley

CNet posted a great interview with Sony boss Howard Stringer and CFO Rob Wiesenthal. Among the highlights:

-- Sony may add Wi-Fi to it's e-book digital reader to compete with a similar product that is preparing to release. Images of the Amazon "Kindle" device surfaced last year, based on an FCC filing. I checked for an update today and was told won't "comment on speculation or rumor."

-- TV and music download services are planned for the PlayStation 3, cementing its position as an entertainment hub as well as a cutting-edge game console. Wiesenthal, in a hard-to-read quote, said online services will help make the business profitable by the end of 2007.

We're very happy with what we've seen so far, and we're hoping in the future to have their own content television and music. There is a third revenue stream to help you achieve your economics.

-- The high-def DVD format war is raging on, despite new hardware shown at CES that will play both Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs. Howard remains convinced Blu-ray will prevail, thanks to the PS3.

The people who like Blu-ray are the people who play PlayStation 3, just as people who play PS2s were the early proponents of the DVD format. It drove the DVD format.

-- It will take up to three years for Blu-ray DVD players to fall in price to around $300.

-- Software is key. Stringer talked about how Sony's made software development a top priority, and said further improvements are still in the works.

There are a number of people in their 40s instead of their 50s and 60s. I don't mean to downplay age, but we are pushing Sony first past the digital world and, for example, now we have software architects in every product lineup. We didn't used to. I don't think everybody really knew what a software architect was two years ago. So now we have a relationship between software engineering and product design from the beginning of products.

-- Sony wants to bypass the PC and bring Web content straight to the TV. Stringer played up the Bravia IPTV device that Sony unveiled at CES.

Basically, we've made the television the center of the Internet world instead of the computer, by bypassing the computer and taking the Internet direct to that television screen. Now, there are a lot of implications for what that will do inside the television set. It's a sea change for Sony to be the first to do that because two years ago you were all muttering at us for being software-illiterate.

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January 17, 2007 2:24 PM

The iPod holiday gift: $1 billion for Apple

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple just reported a record $1 billion profit for the quarter that ended in December, but some investors weren't excited about the fine print and the stock bobbled down a bit in extended trading.

Mac sales were up 28 percent by unit, 40 percent by sales.

Sales of iPods were up 50 percent by units, 18 percent by sales, reflecting the broader line of low-end models.

Overall company sales were up 24 percent to $7.12 billion, or $1.14 per share. That blew past expectations of 78 cents per share.

The current quarter may be more disappointing. Apple said it's expecting sales of $4.8 billion to $4.9 billion, and earnings per share of 54 to 56 cents.

Wall Street had been expecting 60 cents during the current quarter.

Apple deflected a bunch of questions from investors about the iPhone, saying more details will be available just before its June launch.

Gene Munster said the iPhone sales forecast -- 10 million units in 2008 -- seems low and asked if Apple's going to be limited by manufacturing capacity.

"It seems like that number should be more than easily achievable,'' he said.

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January 17, 2007 11:22 AM

Zune vs Apple iPhone debate

Posted by Brier Dudley

That was the setup on KUOW's "The Works" show last night, where I appeared along with some other guy who writes about Microsoft. KUOW posted a podcast and MP3 replays that will probably work on a Zune.

The show was sort of a farewell to "The Works" host John Moe, who is giving up the show and leaving KUOW on Friday to become a senior reporter with Weekend America.

To help fill the gaping maw left in KUOW's tech coverage, Glenn Fleishman is going to step up his appearances on the station.

On the show, I referenced a Jack Schofield report in the Guardian that pegged the total cost of iPhone ownership at around $3,000. It has interesting comments vetting the estimate.

Schofield's report played off John Markoff's skeptical piece comparing the iPhone with the Mac.

It's interesting how quickly the iPhone hype is being replaced by thoughtful stories raising serious questions about a device that won't even go on sale for another five months.

The hype reminds me of Microsoft's overhyped Origami project, which overshadowed the European equivalent of CES last year. Then the devices turned out to be too big and expensive to take off, at least in their first iteration.

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January 17, 2007 10:57 AM

Goldman Sachs: MSFT to hit $36

Posted by Brier Dudley

Rick Sherlund today raised his 12-month price target from $33 to $36.

That's in line with the upbeat predictions for MSFT made during a WSA event in December.

The consensus among Wall Street analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial is still $33, but I'll bet that's going to change over the next few weeks.

New versions of Office, Windows and Exchange are "each likely an additional positive catalyst for the stock," Sherlund said.

Microsoft reports its December quarter earnings on Jan. 25. Sherlund matches the consensus of analysts -- sales of $12 billion and earnings of 24 cents a share.

Just a little while ago, the stock was up 9 cents to $31.25.

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January 16, 2007 4:49 PM

Tons of venture capital to invest, but numbers give pause

Posted by Brier Dudley

Venture fundraising last year reached its highest level since 2001, but slowed dramatically in the fourth quarter, according to a new report from Thomson Financial and the National Venture Capital Association.

"The $2.83 billion raised in the fourth quarter by venture capital firms was the lowest amount raised by the fewest number of funds for the past three years," the news release said.

NVCA said the slowdown was expected and "welcomed."

"On the venture side, we are coming to the end of the current fundraising cycle as most firms are now turning their attention to investing the funds raised in the last three years. Additionally, the venture industry is extremely wary of bringing too much liquidity into the asset class. We want to keep fund sizes reasonable so dollars can be deployed smartly,'' Mark Heesen, NVCA president, said in a release.

Buyout funds also slowed in the quarter, but throughout 2006 they raised an all time high of $102.94 billion.

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January 16, 2007 4:31 PM

Online gamers: Expect more pay content, ads

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sales at online game portals such as Xbox Live will grow 46 percent a year on average over the next four years, according to new research by In-Stat.

The firm is also predicting huge increases in subscribers from 2005 to 2010, especially among people with handheld gaming devices. It's expecting a 41 percent annualized growth of in console subscribers, and 94 percent growth among people with handhelds.

Time for a portable Xbox, or an Origami Xbox Live device?

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January 16, 2007 4:07 PM

Merrill Lynch likes aQuantive-Dentsu deal

Posted by Brier Dudley

Lauren Rich Fine said the stake aQuantive bought in the Japanese ad agency is less than $650,000, but the deal has good long-term potential.

"International internet advertising is growing even faster than the US, so AQNT's increased emphasis on overseas deals, especially as efficient as this one, are a positive in our view,'' the analyst said in a note today.

AQNT closed up 3 percent at $26.07.

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January 16, 2007 3:38 PM

Another Seattle online real state startup

Posted by Brier Dudley

It doesn't have the backing and pedigree of Zillow or Redfin, but you've got to love the name of Seattle's newest online real estate venture:

Started last month, is an online real estate search site that says it's affiliated with the Multiple Listing Service. It's pitch is that buyers can use the site to search for keywords in the listings, like "fixer" or "owner financing."

"Text search on ShackPrices allows do-it-your-selfers, water lovers, or cat and dog owners to customize their search to only display the shacks that are perfect for them,'' the company said in a release today, announcing a site upgrade. was started by Doug Cole, a recent electrical engineering grad student at the University of Washington, and Galen Ward, a former geographic information systems analyst who had been working as an Environmental Protection Agency contractor in New Orleans. They're working with licensed broker Brian Reschke.

Whether the market goes up or down, online real estate is an interesting place nowadays. Traditional real estate companies have stepped up their online presence, media companies have improved their search tools and other services they provide to real estate advertisers, and the big online players are dabbling in real estate.

While that's all being sorted out, ought to talk to KEXP's Leon Berman about a soundtrack for their site.

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January 16, 2007 3:28 PM

Different takes on copy protection

Posted by Brier Dudley

Monday's column looked forward, at a new approach to copy protection technology shown at CES.

For a neat historical perspective, check out this post at Techdirt that compares the way the RIAA and 17th century French-button makers reacted to challenges to their business models.

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

January 16, 2007 3:26 PM

Good parking spots at Microsoft today

Posted by Brier Dudley

According to Doug Mahugh's blog:

It snowed a little this morning, and the Microsoft campus is deserted. People are cancelling meetings and setting their OOF (out-of-office) messages, and I got the best spot in the parking garage.
Well, truth be told, it's often possible to get a good spot at 5:00AM, which is when I arrived today for a webcast I delivered at 6:30. We do them early in the morning Redmond time so that people around the world can participate: it's the end of the work day in Europe, morning in North America, mid-day in Brazil, evening in India, and late evening in Japan. Well, Hawaii and New Zealand get screwed, but it's always 3:00AM somewhere, right?

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January 16, 2007 1:17 PM

Who to trust on the iPhone, Conan or Craig?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bloggers have been working themselves up over the best source of Apple news. Maybe it's late-night comedians.

This video seems like a rebuttal to Ferguson. Maybe Conan still feels bad about ripping Bill Gates at CES a couple of years ago.

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January 12, 2007 4:07 PM

Stephen Manes isn't anymore

Posted by Brier Dudley

When I ran into Seattle-based tech writer Stephen Manes at the Las Vegas airport, he told me he's taking a sabbatical, funded in part by the sale of the domain name he used for years.

The cantankerous critic writes for Forbes and PC World. He also co-wrote a noted biography of Bill Gates with former Seattle Times columnist Paul Andrews. Much earlier, he penned the screenplay for the standout Raquel Welch-Bill Cosby film, "Mother, Jugs and Speed."

But he hit the jackpot with, which he sold to a search engine targeting older baby boomers and senior citizens. Manes wouldn't tell me how much he made, but it was enough to buy him a car and some tiime off.

Cranky may have found its niche. On Friday the top search terms were sex, brain builders and jobs after retirement. Other top searches included arthritis, elderhostel, blogs and "make new friends."

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January 12, 2007 11:55 AM

Markoff: Remember Mac 1.0, iPhone fans

Posted by Brier Dudley

John Markoff is making the most of his Macworld interview with Steve Jobs, his last perhaps with the Apple CEO.

Putting the iPhone hype in perspective, he points out today that the Macintosh computer:

... was received with the same kind of wild hyperbole that greeted the iPhone this week. But a year later, the shortcomings of the first-generation Macintosh cost Mr. Jobs his job at the company he founded nine years earlier with a high school friend, Stephen Wozniak.
In light of the iPhone's closed appliance-style design, it is worth recounting the Mac's early history because of the potential parallel pitfalls that Mr. Jobs and his company may face.

During the Markoff interview, Jobs also shrugged off the federal investigation of his backdated stock options and blamed the media for distorting the story.

"It's raised questions," he was quoted as saying in Markoff's Wednesday story, "but some of the journalism has been so off the mark. But I know the truth. It's painful to read some of this stuff, but I know it's kind of ridiculous and will pass."

That flip attitude apparently didn't go over well with regulators investigating the options scandal. What may be their response appeared in a Wall Street Journal story today that says the SEC and federal prosecutors are "actively investigating" Jobs' backdated options.

Jobs ought to ask Bill Gates and Martha Stewart what happens when you're flip with the feds.

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January 12, 2007 11:30 AM

"Zune" sounds cool in Scottish

Posted by Brier Dudley

Craig Ferguson is a funny guy. Too bad we'll never see him as the celebrity talent in any Microsoft launches, skits or promotions:

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January 12, 2007 10:32 AM

Seattle the source of the best casual games?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Odds are good that a Seattle company will top honors in the Zeeby awards, a new Emmy-like program that the Casual Games Association announced today.

Five of the 10 nominees for Casual Games of the Year are titles from Seattle-based companies. BigFish Games has three of the nominees; the other locals are PopCap Games and RealNetworks' GameHouse.

Here's the full list of nominees:

"Bookworm Adventures," PopCap Games

"Cake Mania," Sandlot Games

"Diner Dash 2: Restaurant Rescue," PlayFirst

"Delicious Deluxe," Zylom

"Lumines II," Q Entertainment

"Luxor 2," Mumbo Jumbo

"Mystery Case Files: Prime Suspects," BigFish Games

"Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst," BigFish Games

"Super Collapse 3," GameHouse/RealNetworks

"Virtual Villagers," BigFish Games

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January 12, 2007 8:00 AM

Redfin hooks up with Microsoft for mapping

Posted by Brier Dudley

Redfin has decided it makes more sense to use Microsoft's Virtual Earth service than produce its own maps.

"They have a whole team; we have one person working on it,'' Redfin spokeswoman Cynthia Pang said.

That person will stay with the company, but do other things, she said.

The site is launching today with the new maps and expanded market areas. Locally it's expanding beyond King County to Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties.

Other changes include additional listing information and a feature enabling online chats with agents while making an offer or starting a listing.

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January 11, 2007 4:11 PM

Wacky Wii goodies at CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- I'm not sure if these are approved by Nintendo, but Hong Kong peripheral manufacturer iCon is displaying some crazy new remotes for the Wii at CES.

Vincent Chan, a Los Angeles-based sales rep for iCon, told me they won't be available for at least a few months and prices won't be disclosed until the end of the month.

That gives Wii owners time to make room alongside their Wiimotes and Nunchucks for:

The Wii steering wheel and tennis racket remotes. How about calling them the Wiiel and the Wiiacket?

The Wii "Light Gun." This company has got to get with the naming program -- this is obviously the Wiivolver.

The Wii "Golf Stick." That's got to be the Wiiedge.

This was called the Wii Baseball Bat, but it looks more like a Wiibrator.

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January 11, 2007 4:01 PM

Cougar futurists in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Washington State University is moving into Husky territory with an interesting series of forward-looking faculty lectures, mostly biotech-related, that it will present in Seattle over the next three months.

"The Innovators" series begins Feb 8 with "Achieving Psychological Well-Being: Neurochemistry May Hold the Key," a talk by Professor Jaak Panksepp.

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January 11, 2007 2:09 PM

Indian outsourcing giant battles the rising rupee

Posted by Brier Dudley

One of the big questions about the Indian outsourcing industry is how it will fare when wages rise and its labor cost advantage declines.

An early test of its resiliency has come with the recent increase of the rupee's value.

Infosys said it's weathering the storm and maintaining margins even though the currency situation increased its operating costs by 200 basis points in its third quarter.

The company reported today that earnings per share were up 50 percent -- to 39 cents, from 26 cents -- and sales were up 47 percent.

It's expecting sales in the next quarter, ending in March, to grow 45 percent and earnings per share to grow 42 percent.

Infosys added 43 clients during the quarter and had a net gain of 3,282 employees.

"As our clients focus on enhancing their competitiveness, they are leveraging our capability to drive their transformation programs,'' Chief Executive Nandan Nilekani said in the release.

Nilekani has been called the Bill Gates of India. He's also friends with the real Bill and attended his CEO Summit in Redmond last year.

If Nilekani comes to the summit this year, he and the CEOs may be discussing how Infosys is transforming itself to maintain its margin.

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January 11, 2007 1:18 PM

Pimp my trade show: The hot rods of CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- The cars at CES are not to be missed. A whole wing of the show is devoted to automotive products, and full of supercars converted to rolling showcases of speakers, stereos, onboard computers and iPod connectors.

Cars are also moving into the main show as Microsoft and other big players extend their digital entertainment and communication technology beyond the PC and the living room, into new devices that work with or in vehicles.

But enough about the business stuff. Here are some of the coolest cars I saw at this year's show.

You've seen one tricked-out Lamborghini Murcielago you've seen them all.

Zunes loaded in a vehicle: When wireless sharing isn't enough.

More Zune product placement -- check the console.

This van drove around Seattle taking pictures for Microsoft's Live Search mapping service. It's one of nine the company drives around the country, slowly, taking pictures sold to Microsoft, Google and others. The back seat has a rack-mounted server with 250 gigabyte drives that are swapped out and mailed to headquarters in New Hampshire when they're full.

Hey, Marv! That's a HYUN-dai. Can you believe it?

Don't you dare cut that GT40 up to fit in huge speakers..

Twelve cylinders provide enough music in the Ferrari F430.

Oh, Canada! A Canadian Pontiac in Pioneer's booth.

Another view of the Canadian Pontiac.

Sony's Cayman S.

Sony's rolling kiosk, a Scion that took three months to build.

The guys in the booth said it's driveable -- both the Scion and the PlayStation 3 mounted in the back, under the 46-in. HDTV.

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January 10, 2007 2:24 PM

Cabbie coverage of CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- CES is so big and overwhelming, reporters look for people to put it all in perspective. Like cabbies, who always turn up in stories about how huge the show has become.

I've done it myself a few times with limited success. But today I had a great chat with Habtom Tekie, who hails from Eritrea but lived in Seattle 11 years before moving to Vegas.

After we talked about Iraq and the problems in Somalia, we started talking about cellphones and he mentioned that Eritreans call the devices "tsunami" because they debuted there after a real tsunami and washed over the country in a flash. He estimates half the population has a phone, vs. about 50,000 that have PCs.

Get him a job at IDC or Gartner.

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January 10, 2007 8:30 AM

The future of television hardware

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Ben Romano has a nifty story on new technology at CES that blends the TV and the PC.

While we work through that transition, consumer electronics companies are coming up with all sorts of cool TVs that seem to work pretty well without a computer attached.

Companies are still racing to build the biggest high-def panels, but they seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on their work to improve the quality of LCD displays in particular.

LG made a splash with its $1,200 dual-format devices that play both HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs, bridging the high-definition DVD format war.

But the company also some far out television on display, including a 3D set that was playing "Star Wars" for a huge crowd of geeks and a "green" LCD with a frame made of wood.

Here's a sampling of the screens you can see at CES.

This is LG's wood-framed 60-in.' plasma TV. It has two HDMI inputs and a 10,000:1 contrast ratio, but it looks like veneered MDF, not real wood:


A close up of the wood plasma, which is only a prototype:

It looks like just another 60-in. high-def plasma TV, which would be ho-hum at CES nowadays. But this LG has a built-in digital video recorder with a 160-gigabyte hard-drive that "rewinds" ands pauses live TV, just like a TiVo but with no service fees. It also has inputs to record and play video content from a PC, like a Media Center in reverse. It's also available in 50-in. and 42-in.' panels and some models are already in stores:

LG also displayed wireless GPS device that also functions as a TV tuner. The LGN1 has a 3.5'' screen, dual speakes and the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system:

It was overshadowed by the Apple iPhone, but the LG9400 mobile phone/television still drew a crowd. The price wasn't disclosed but it's coming to market by March. It doesn't receive over the air signals, though; you have to subscribe to a video service through Verizon or other service providers:

Among the TVs displayed by Sanyo was a bright touchscreen that's aimed for kiosks and interactive displays. But it would also be cool to use as a monitor with Windows Vista:

Perfect for Seattle? Sanyo's rain-resistant LCD monitor and camcorder:

Sony's prototype OLED TVs made all the LCDs and plasmas seem big and out of date:

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January 9, 2007 4:52 PM

Seattleites crawling all over CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- It's always amazing how many Seattle people I bump into at CES.

Today I was at a Taiwanese company's booth displaying a variety of new Ultra-Mobile PCs running Windows Vista. The word "Vistagami" was scrawled in orange pen on a piece of notebook paper to explain the merchandise.

Another guy examining the machines said, "I'd like to see the Windows logo here," and I wondered if I was seeing a software piracy bust go down in the Las Vegas Convention Center.

It turned out there was a Windows logo on the back of the device, the guy talking was Jeff Meissner, who works on the Windows logo program in Redmond. He was with a posse of Windows guys roaming the international exhibits.

I worked my way through Taiwan and Hong Kong, then headed over to Denmark to see the high-end stereo equipment on display.

I was checking out a new wireless music streaming device at the OXX Digital booth, when the Dane behind the podium saw my nametag. He told me that OXX within the past week opened a new office in the Seattle area -- Snoqualmie, actually -- that's headed by a guy named Chris Lee.

UPDATE: I finally connected with Chris, who gave me some details about his background. For the past two and a half years he's owned a local company, RareWave, that manufactures phone and iPod accessories. OXX is a joint venture by RareWave and Smart Vizion ApS in Denmark. Earlier, Lee was European director of sales for Body Glove in England.

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January 9, 2007 4:24 PM

Apple TV, version 2.0

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- The next edition of the new Apple TV product may use ultra wideband radio technology instead of the proprietary 802.11n wireless system used in the device introduced today.

Tzero Technologies, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based UWB chip maker, has been talking to Apple about using its modules, its senior director of marketing, Matthew Keowen told me at CES today.

Keowen said the technology used in Apple TV lacks the capabilities of WiMedia, but Apple's entry into the market is great for the business.

"I think Apple is going to create a huge amount of interest in wireless video,'' he said. "I think they have an incredibly elegant solution."

But it doesn't distribute full 1080p high-definition.

Tzero's chips support a new standard known as WiMedia that's fast enough to transmit 1080p wirelessly at speeds up to 480 Mbps.

It calls its solution "Wireless for HDMI," referring to the all-in-one HDMI cables increasingly used to connect high-end TVs to receivers and DVD players.

In its booth, Tzero was showing several upcoming devices that stream 1080p content, including a pair of receiver/transmitters from Asus that will sell for about $300 sometime before June. The devices are each about the size of a small cable modem or wireless router, and transmit video signals from any source -- including a computer, set-top box or receiver -- to a TV display.

All these gadgets seem to be interim steps, though, until TV makers start putting these sort of modules directly into their sets. You shouldn't have to buy all these $300 gadgets to make everything work smoothly.

One Chinese television manufacturer, Hisense, announced at the show that it will add use the Tzero modules,but the company is still trying to get top manufacturers such as Sony to use them.

"We are trying to embed our module inside the TV," said Jihyo Chung, an engineer from the company's Korea office.

Keowen estimates that WiMedia devices like the Asus set will be broadly available later this year and televisions with built-in high-def streaming capability will start appearing around the holidays. He expects they'll be widely available in 2008.

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January 9, 2007 12:01 PM

Apple TV's revolution

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Glad to see Steve Jobs Apple put storage into its new TV device, called Apple TV.

The interface looks especially nice, though Apple's actually playing catch-up here with Microsoft's Media Center controls.

Software is clearly the great contribution that the PC industry can make to consumer electronics. Hundreds of companies here are building nice entertainment boxes and adding all the right storage and connections. But it's hard to find interfaces that come anywhere close to what Microsoft and Apple have done.

Apple TV is also interesting in light of Microsoft's turning the Xbox into a set-top box. If nothing else, Apple's device will also put pressure on Microsoft to hurry up and add an HDMI port and bigger hard drive to the Xbox. Maybe Microsoft is saving the hardware upgrade news for the spring game conferences.

On the other hand, Apple may have goofed by making it stream only 720p video. I think the 720 vs. 1080 debate is a little overblown, but Apple's device may get thumbs down from enthusiasts who have ponied up for the higher quality 1080 displays. Apple's spec sheet is a little hard to read on this point; it says the device works with 1080p displays, but it also says the device only supports 720 video.

A 720 device may become a question mark for all the people getting ready to make the high-def plunge. They'll be less likely to uses Apple's product as a key piece of their setup if it doesn't seem future-proof.

But the Achilles heel of Apple TV may be a business decision Apple made to protect its iTunes franchise. I haven't seen all the details yet, but if the device only streams content that you buy from iTunes, it doesn't have a big future.

Most of the video content people watch is free, or at least part of their cable or satellite service.

Why would people buy a $299 Apple device and pay $1.99 per show to watch the content they already get for free? It's a convenience to download at will from iTunes, but it's an expensive luxury.

That scenario doesn't come close to the price and flexibility of using a Media Center PC, TiVo or hard-drive video recorder that can record TV shows off the air and play them back on a PC or TV.

Apple's insistence on making people buy content from iTunes could make Macs an also-ran in the coming world of broadband digital video. The iMacs could make great TV-PC combo devices if Apple would build in TV tuners and recording software, but they don't. Maybe that was the deal it made with networks and studios to get content for iTunes.

If Apple TV doesn't work with non-iTunes content, it will indeed lead to a revolution --- among Apple fans who will take up pitchforks and demand freedom to use its great hardware to stream and watch whatever they want, without paying extra.

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January 9, 2007 11:32 AM

Blogger central at CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

I dropped into the Bloghaus blogging suite hosted by ex Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble and his wife, Maryam, last night at the Bellagio.

As soon as I checked in, Maryam pulled out a huge roll of bills and began pulling out fives and 10s. It turns out she was giving visitors $25 apiece for cab fare. I thanked her and declined the offer.

Inside there was a TV playing back video of a Bill Gates interview, an open bar and buffet, a bedroom with Xboxes running on big screens and a dining room table filled with bloggers. About 15 of the 30 or so people there were blogging, and I saw three using what appeared to be the notorious Acer Ferrari laptops.

(Microsoft's press team didn't send one to me, by the way, and I wouldn't keep it if it did. I do get loaner products to review sometimes but I don't keep them.)

The Bloghaus was sponsored by Scoble's new employer, Podtech, and companies including Seagate. Microsoft promotional materials were all over the place as well.

Everyone seemed nice and most were having fun -- much more fun the roomful of sweating, stressing reporters jockeying for space in the CES press room. But it felt like I was back in college and had stumbled into the wrong frat house.

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January 9, 2007 10:30 AM

Disney's new online world: like an Xbox Live Jr.?

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- I wonder if this is what TV viewing will be like in a few years, after we've all got broadband and content flowing through the house: Instead of visiting channels, you visit personalized pages where you watch movies, TV shows and other video content in a resizable window that's always playing something "over the air" or from your playlist of saved clips.

The windows also connect you to online games, a friend list, online chat and a commerce system involving points that can be redeemed for more content. It's customizable, so it feels like your own place, and it's filled with ads and promotional material.

That's what The Walt Disney Co. is doing with an impressive update to its Web site that the company's chief executive, Bob Iger, unveiled in a CES keynote late yesterday.

At first I was yawning during the keynote as he talked about a refreshed Web site, the Disney brand and distributing content in different formats -- online, mobile devices, etc. I've never watched "Lost," so I wasn't captivated by the video clip referring to its finale, or the appearance on stage of its star actors.

But slowly it dawned on me that Iger was explaining what the TV experience will be like for the kids he's targeting with Those with broadband and the PC-TV technology emerging at CES will grow up with all these interactive applications and immersive brand advertising that presents itself as entertainment.

At the new Disney site, kids would be able to customize a Web page so it has the feel of a particular characters' fantasy world -- like Jack Sparrow's pirate land or Tinkerbell's fairy world. With a click, the site can be tailored for boys or girls or different age groups.

Like traditional TV, the site is also offering lots of free content, including new multiplayer online games. The first game is pirate-themed -- at -- but different genres are coming.

"We believe that has to serve the interest of the online user by offering a broad, robust and deep entertainment experience,'' he said.

It seems Disney is making its move on the broadband entertainment niche serving kids ages 2 to 12. Then those kids may move on to a service like Xbox Live or Disney's sports world, ESPN, where Iger said fans are now spending two hours a day consuming content through their TV, computer or mobile phone.

Iger also made an interesting comment about sports content: He described it as the "killer application" for consumer electronics that's driving purchase of technology such as high-definition televisions. Then he talked up MyESPN, a customizable online service that gives sports fans the same experience as offers to kids.

Here's an idea for next year's CES: Display manufacturers should start making sets that project ultraviolet rays, as well as colorful images, so viewers will get the health benefits of sunshine.

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January 9, 2007 9:31 AM

Remotes, remotes, everywhere remotes

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- If the University of Washington really wants to make waves with its robotics research, it ought to start embedding TV and stereo remote controls into people's bodies.

Remotes seem to be one of the hot categories at CES this year, along with devices to store and stream digital content in the home. Plus there's the usual array of thinner phones and better TVs.

I recently reviewed the Logitech Wireless DJ, a $250 Bluetooth remote that streams music from a PC to stereos. I'd expect that price will come down pretty quickly because other companies are going after the same category with less expensive devices they're displaying here at the show.

Philips has a particularly nice pair of audio-streaming remotes that work with either a PC or an iPod. Like the Wireless DJ, they have small screens that display song information like an iPod, and they use radio technology that works through walls so you can use them throughout the house.

Philips' music-streaming remote control with iPod dock.

But the Philips remotes will also control TVs, so you'll only need one remote for audio and video; they have full color displays; and they're cheaper. Doug Kent, the product manager, told me they'll sell for about $179 starting in August or September.

What makes this category of remote really interesting is that they also function as media streaming devices that connect music stored on computers to audio systems.

Hi-fi companies are also doing this with all sorts of new receivers on display at the show. Many now have USB and Ethernet ports, and some have wireless accessories and iPod docks. But they tend to cost $500 or more, and they generally have much worse remote controls.

Philips also displayed a standard but wacky remote that looks like a "flip" cellphone, or a Star Trek communication device. To access the buttons on the SRU4060, you have to flip up the lid, but it does control up to six different devices.

The Philips "flip-phone" remote.

Remotes will also get interesting if you use Windows Vista as the heart of your home entertainment system.

Vista has a cool technology called Sideshow that displays information like album and song lists on a small secondary PC display. Toshiba and other laptop makers are putting these little screens on the outside of laptops, so you can see messages and other snippets of information without firing up the system.

Display of remote controls and other Sideshow devices in Microsoft's booth.

Sideshow is also being used by a number of consumer electronics companies to build slick two-way remotes that display media collection information. About a dozen models are displayed in Microsoft's booth.

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January 9, 2007 7:38 AM

Ink-stained geeks go head-to-head

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- My 13 minutes of CES fame came last night when I raced against a group of other journalists to see who could assemble a new PC the fastest.

It was the 10th annual "Build your own PC Race" for charity held by TigerDirect, a Miami-based online computer and electronics store. The PCs are donated to charities, and $10,000 is donated to a charity selected by the winner.

The competition was tough -- most of the 30 or so contestants were from specialty tech publications like PC Magazine, PC Gamer and Hardware Geeks. It seemed as though they had all built lots of PCs, and someone said one of the guys worked at Intel for a decade.

I've poked around inside PCs but had never built one before last night. After seeing the pile of components, screws and cables I had to work with, I thought I'd be there until the janitor came to sweep the room.

Mostly I wanted to hold my own against the other newspaper guys, particularly Dean Takahashi from the San Jose Mercury News. Unfortunately Dean didn't show up and I ended up next to PC World's Steve Bass, a celebrity of the event who had been in the contest eight or nine times before.

Steve came in fourth, and the race was won for a second year in a row by Charlie Demerjian from, who finished in 6 minutes, 47 seconds.

I finished -- by assembling the system, booting it up and connecting wirelessly to the electronic finish line -- in 13 minutes, 34 seconds, placing 18th.

I wasted a minute or two trying to get it to boot up because I had accidently pulled out the cooling fan power cord plug and it wouldn't start until one of the TigerDirect guys pointed that out, but I was never a contender for top 10.

The system -- with a 64-bit, dual-core AMD processor, 1 gigabyte of memory, a 256 meg graphics card, a wireless card and a DVD burner -- will go to Seattle's Atlantic Street Center after it's checked out by techies at TigerDirect's parent company, Systemax.

TigerDirect got its PR and I realized how easy it is to build a system from scratch, although it helped that all the components were pre-selected and the power supply was already in the case.

It was actually easier to build than some of the Ikea furniture I've assembled in the past.

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January 8, 2007 3:31 PM

Whoa! Big stuff at CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

CES used to be full of tiny things, like gumball-sized MP3 players and video players that fit in your shirt pocket.

Apparently big is back, judging from these things I saw on the floor today:

The enormous Philips remote.

Samsung's gigantic new music phone.

I didn't realize the size of the Samsung Blackjack phone until I saw this one in person.

Wait, this one's not a mockup. That really is a 102'' Samsung plasma TV.

This guy is trying to hide behind the LG Shine Black Label Edition.

Microsoft pitched a little tent for press meetings in the Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot. It must have been designed by the same guy that did Bill Gates' waterfront cottage.

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January 8, 2007 2:46 PM

Evolution of the "Booth Babe"

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Instead of having young models in revealing clothes smile and point at products as other companies do at CES, Panasonic had the local talent pose in bathing suits on a mock beach in its huge booth.

The setup was like an exhibit at the zoo, with a slightly raised platform where people could stand and look down at two curvy women and a hunky guy on the other side of the railing. There was real sand, on the floor in front of a wall-sized mural of a sea.

Why? So people would try out the new camcorders lined up on the railing --especially the zoom features, apparently.

Panasonic's variation on using models at a CES booth.

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January 8, 2007 1:54 PM

Military-grade drives coming to mainstream laptops

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- SanDisk is making it possible with a 32-gigabyte, 1.8-inch flash memory drive it presented at the show today. The "SSD" (solid-state disk) drive is designed as a drop-in replacement for the delicate hard drives now used on portable computers.

The drives have no moving parts so they should last at least six times longer than a hard drive, and better withstand extreme conditions, vibration and jarring.

Until now big capacity flash drives were esoteric and expensive products used mostly in military and aerospace applications, the Milpitas, Calif.-based memory company said in its release.

The drives are now available to PC manufacturers and will be appearing in Vista laptops.

Besides durability, flash memory also offers speed and reduced power consumption. SanDisk claims the SSD is 100 times faster than most hard drives, and allows a Vista Enterprise laptop to boot up in as few as 35 seconds.

SSD uses 0.4 watts compared with 1 watt used by a hard-drive, the company said.

They're still expensive, but not outrageous when you think of the cost to replace and restore data lost to hard drives that fail when laptops are dropped or banged around too much. SanDisk estimates that the drives will add about $600 to the cost of a PC in the first half of 2007.

I was going to attend the press conference, but the line to get in was a block long, perhaps because SanDisk was luring reporters by giving out 1 gigabyte portable media players.

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January 8, 2007 1:16 PM

One of the coolest CES gadgets, so far

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- High on my list is an ultra-mobile PC out of left field: A dual-mode, dual-band WiMax portable information terminal running Windows XP from Samsung, which calls the device the "Mobile WiMax Deluxe MITs."

It's a white box about the size of an old Walkman cassette player. But you open it up and it has a color screen, fold-out keyboard and built-in 1.3 megapixel camera for making video calls over the Internet. It also comes with a companion WiMax flip phone in case you just want to talk.

Two Samsung MITs; the one in back is closed, and plugged to a phone.

MITs is a term Samsung has used to describe "mobile information terminals," which include both phone and data capabilities.

The new device connects to the Internet via WiMax, and it can "seamlessly" switch to CDMA cell networks when it gets out of WiMax range, according to Jim Parker, a senior wireless systems manager at Samsung Telecommunications America in Richardson, Texas.

Parker said the device will start selling around March for $2,000. Samsung is working with Sprint on a mobile WiMax service to be tested by the end of this year and be available in 2008.

Also on display were several Samsung WiMax phones and a nifty multi-mode WiMax router that also uses Wi-Fi to distribute signals around the house. All in a box about half the size of a DSL modem, or perhaps half the size of a Clearwire box.

Other Samsung goodies ranged from wafer thin media players to a 102-in.' plasma TV. Its gee-whiz product was a double-sided LCD display that uses the same light source to display different images on each side of the 2.22-inch screen.

Also impressive was a demonstration of bleeding edge HSPA cell network technology that can upload music and photos from a cell phone at 2 megabits per second and download at 3 Mbps. That's nine times faster than 3G networks.

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January 8, 2007 1:04 PM

Spanking new WiMax java system

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- While interviewing a Samsung manager about the company's amazing new WiMax hardware, I set a cup of coffee on a convenient ledge in the Samsung booth.

The manager's eyes widened and he gently but urgently asked me to move my coffee. It turns out I had set the paper cup on top of a mobile WiMax station that was powering the booth.

The metal box is supposed to be weatherproof but Samsung's Jim Parker didn't want to take any chances.

I was also nervous about what could happen if I messed something up -- Parker's title is "Senior Manager, Wireless Systems S & M."

(Sorry, I've been in Vegas too long already.)

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January 8, 2007 7:59 AM

Serving up Windows Home Server

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- I heard a few more details about Windows Home Server Sunday night, after I'd already filed today's column on the product.

One interesting tidbit was from Bill Gates, who said it's a long-term investment by the company and that Microsoft will be working with hardware companies to further develop the product line. He said that after I mentioned that I was surprised that the debut product, a Hewlett-Packard system, doesn't include wireless connectivity.


Hewlett-Packard MediaSmart server for home use.

If the software is cheap enough, it seems a great opportunity for big or small hardware companies to build cool home server products that incorporate more of the new technologies on display at CES for distributing media around the home using new flavors of Wi-Fi, home electrical wiring and exotic new cables. How about a home server with a built-in Blu-ray or HD DVD drive for burning hard copy backups? Why not include a modem -- Clearwire's perhaps? -- so the broadband goes straight to a single box in the house?

I was a little snarky in the column but frankly I'm ready for a product like HP's (or one of the Buffalo units ...) right now, to backup and share family photos and videos. I'm not one of those uber geeks, like the guys in the Windows group who run industrial servers in their houses, or Craig Mundie, with multiple servers on his boat, but the server sounds like a fun thing to tinker with at home.

The server -- code-name Q -- wasn't built on the upcoming Vista server, by the way. It's a subset of the current Windows server -- Gates said Micosoft didn't want to wait for the next server to release the home product.

Another point of interest: The server works with non-Windows PCs on a home network, so it can store and back up files from a Mac, for instance.

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January 8, 2007 12:58 AM

Allchin on Vista security: History will judge

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- The first vulnerability report isn't enough to judge the security of Windows Vista, Jim Allchin told me and CNet's Ina Fried at a reception following Bill Gates' keynote.

Perfection is an elusive goal with complicated software, he noted, after having a chat with New York Times reporter John Markoff, who made a splash with a Christmas Eve story about Vista vulnerabilities. Later stories by other outlets said it's not that critical.

"It's not perfect,'' Allchin said. "But it's a huge step forward."

Allchin said it will take time for people to understand how much security has improved in Vista.

"History will tell that story, not the first issue,'' he said. "Give me two years and then look back because that's what it's going to take."

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January 8, 2007 12:50 AM

New Microsoft code names

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- A lot of the insiders are still calling the Windows Home Server by its code name, the "Q," according to Jim Allchin, Windows co-president.

But Craig Mundie topped that with the term he used to describe the new Ultra-Mobile PCs based on Windows Vista that will start appearing around the end of January.

The UMPC was code-named Origami, so Mundie referred to upcoming models at Vistagamis.

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January 8, 2007 12:40 AM

Microsoft's handful of veterans

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft now has only six employees who have worked there at least 25 years, according to No. 6.

David Pritchard joined the company in 1981, after graduating from the University of Puget Sound. I interviewed him about five years ago when he was a human resources recruiter.

Pritchard is now chief of staff to Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer. I ran into them at a reception with Microsoft executives at Delmonico's restaurant after Bill Gates' keynote speech.

I asked Pritchard if he'll get a watch or something, and he said he won't know until Thursday when he's having an anniversary party.

I'm not sure which is more amazing -- that the company has only six long-timers left, or that those six kept working so long after getting all that early MSFT stock.

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January 8, 2007 12:35 AM

Bill's going PC shopping

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Get ready Melinda, Bill's going to buy some more stuff for the house in Medina.

Gates said he loves the new all-in-one "TouchSmart" Vista PC that Hewlett-Packard unveiled at the show. It includes a 19-inch high-definition monitor with touch screen controls.

"There are places in my house where that's what I want," Bill said.

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January 8, 2007 12:08 AM

Bill Gates at CES: How much longer?

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- According to a few good sources, Bill Gates is likely to make one more keynote speech at CES in 2008 before he phases down his Microsoft work to focus more on philanthropy.

One of my sources was Bill himself. During the keynote he joked that he'll probably speak next year but "after that I'm not sure they'll want to invite me because I might talk more about infectious diseases than software."

Gates shared the stage Sunday with Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division.

Bach is the obvious choice to replace Bill delivering CES keynote speeches, since Bach runs the most consumer-electronics focused group at Microsoft.

Steve Ballmer may join Bach on the CES stage after 2008, according to my other source, Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer.

I'll be curious to see if they draw the same crowds. Gates is a highlight of the show for thousands of people who line up for hours to hear his annual speech.

This time around Gates didn't bring any celebrities on stage, but he was loose, happy and cracking unscripted, self-deprecating jokes.

During a demonstration of a futuristic, Web-connected bus stop, he joked that "I'm very familiar with bus stops."

Later, he presented a mockup of a kitchen. "It's another place you can imagine I have deep expertise,'' he said.

The kitchen, lifted from the Home of the Future demonstration on Microsoft's campus in Redmond, shows technology could someday be used to keep track of ingredients in a kitchen and suggest recipes when packages are placed on the counter.

Gates put a food processor and a bag of flour on the counter, and he chose a bread recipe.

What I thought was funny was that the instructions given to the world's richest man said: "Step 1. Divide the dough."

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January 7, 2007 11:00 PM

Sony's WowTubes

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS -- Sony hit all the major themes of this year's Consumer Electronics Show at its press conference today, announcing new devices and services to download video, store it on high-definition DVDs, record it on flashy new Windows Vista PCs and display it on bigger and brighter flat-panel televisions.

The consumer electronics giant also noted that it reached its target of selling 1 million PlayStation 3 consoles during the holiday season, but the PS3 wasn't Sony's star this year.

Sony device plays back Web video on TV.

A standout announcement was a gadget that will attach to Sony televisions and enable them to play high-definition video streamed over broadband, plus other video content downloaded from the Internet. The company also disclosed partnerships with AOL Video and Yahoo! Video, and played up the downloadable content on Grouper, a YouTube competitor Sony owns.

Prototypes of the gadget are about the size of a DSL modem and can attach to the back of upcoming Sony flat-panel TVs, but they'll increase their depth if you're mounting one on the wall.

It uses a screen interface similar to the one on the PS3 and the PlayStation Portable, putting them all in the same family of next-generation video display devices from Sony. I wonder if they'll give the PS3 the same streaming capability, so it can keep up with the Xbox 360's evolution into a set-top box.

Sony also presented two slick but expensive new "living room PCs" based on Windows Vista Home Premium, which includes Media Center features for recording and playing TV broadcasts. One of the systems is a far out white hat-box shaped machine that will list for $1,600. The other is a high-end media center, shaped like a stereo receiver, with a Blu-ray disc burner inside; it will cost about $3,300.

Distinctive Sony TP1 Living Room PC With TV gadget lists for $1,600.

More accessible is a wireless music streaming device that also functions as a small boombox. Sony will sell it for $350.

But Sony's most cutting edge products at CES are, not surprisingly, televisions. The jaw-dropper was a display with working prototypes of 27-inch and 11-inch sets with superbright OLED displays that make today's high-def sets look like fat old dinosaurs.

Sony calls the OLED TV (organic light-emitting diode) technology "super top emission" and claims they have constrast ratios of 1 million to one. They're also not much thicker than an iPod, but a spokesman said they're just prototypes and won't be on sale anytime soon.

OLED: The next generation of advanced TV displays.

Other prototype TVs included an 82-inch flat-panel LCD and a 55-inch rear projection model with a new laser light engine.

While you're waiting for those to reach the market, you can get by with Sony's new 70-inch 1080p LCD with three HDMI inputs.

To show off its TVs, Sony held a very strange press conference. The news announcments were made at stages spread around its 10,000-square-foot booth at the show.

Seats were arranged facing only one of the stages. When the presentations happened at stages you weren't facing, you saw instead the presentation displayed on a bank of high-definition TVs.

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January 7, 2007 7:34 PM

Experience counts at CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

LAS VEGAS --The Bill Gates keynote express departed from Sea-Tac Gate A2 at 12:45 Sunday with a plane full of geeks heading for the Consumer Electronics Show here.

Most were Microsoft folks who didn't have to go early and set up booths or prep for the keynote.

Chris Capossela, a former assistant to Bill Gates, has done that many times. Now he's a vice president in the Office group, and knows how to do CES the right way -- arrive just before the keynote, do some meetings and fly back home before the show gets too overwhelming.

Chris said the team is still high from a surprisingly positive Office 2007 review (sub. required) by Walt Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal that's been getting a lot of traffic. Chris said Walt has been using the product since its first beta version and got technical support from the top -- Office development boss Steve Sinofsky, who helped explain Office's new ribbon interface to the influential pundit.

Office isn't playing a big role at CES, show but it's still part of the story Microsoft is telling here.

Others on the same plane included robotics unit boss Tandy Trower.

You could tell who was boarding by the luggage and jackets sporting logos from groups like Vista and Office and and from past Microsoft conferences. Either that, or a lot of travelers have been shopping at the Redmond Value Village.

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January 4, 2007 3:26 PM

Party time in Vegas: Here's The List for CES

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's amazing any business (or reporting ....) gets done in Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show.

Here's the latest edition of the CES party list compiled by PR maven Karen Thomas. It doesn't include dozens of additional private events, including several organized by Microsoft.


4:00 p.m. - 7:00 PM: CES Press Preview, Venetian, Marco Polo (Invite Only)
5:30 PM - 7:30 PM: Storage Visions Reception, Flamingo (Invite only)
3:00 PM - 4:00 PM: Panasonic, Venetian, Bellini Room (Invite only)
7:30 PM - 12:00 AM: HP, Caesar's, PURE Nightclub (Invite only)
8:00 PM - 9:15 PM HD DVD Press Event - Venetian, Galileo 905 (Invite only)

5:00 PM - 8:00 PM: Rock-Ola Party, AMG Suite (Invite only)

5:00 PM - 8:00 PM: Saitek Industries Wine Reception - Bellagio Penthouse suite (Invite only)
5:00 PM - 8:00 PM: SpectroniQ, Hard Rock, Penthouse Suite, 11th Fl (Invite only)
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM: KEF Press Conference, Hilton, Suite 335 (Invite only)
5:30 PM- 8:00 PM: TigerDirect Build Your Own PC Race, Wynn (Invite only)
5:30 PM - 9:30 PM: Corsair Party, Bellagio (Invite only)
6:00 PM: CES International Reception, LVCC, Room S222
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM: CEA Wireless Reception, LVCC, Central Plaza
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM: NPD Reception, Bellagio Hotel (Invite only)
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM: CEA TechHome Reception, LVCC, South Hall, Room S226 (Invite only)
6:00 PM - 10:00 PM: Showstoppers - Wynn Hotel (Invite only)
6:00 PM: Technology & Engineering Awards, Venetian (Invite Only)
6:15 PM: Nokia, LVCC, Nokia Pavilion, outside Central Plaza (Invite only)
6:30 PM: Bang & Olufsen Hospitality Suite, Venetian Tower, 30th Fl, Suite 235 (Invite only)
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM: Verizon, Nobu (Invite only)
8:00 PM - 1:00 AM: Peerless Party, Palms, Ghost Bar (Invite only)
9:00 PM - 12:00 PM: Seagate, Bellagio Hotel (Invite only)
9:00 PM - 12:00 AM: OCZ Technology Overclockerfest, Bellagio Hotel (Invite only)


5:00 PM: Blog Business Summit Party, Atomic Testing Museum (Invite only)
6:00 PM: Warner Bros Home Entertainment Press Conference, Bellagio, Tower Ballroom 4 (Invite only)
6:00 PM - 9:00 PM: TTZ Media Party (Invite only)
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM: TRENDnet Party, Mirage (Invite only)
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM: iHollywood Forum Party, Empire Ballroom, 3765 S. Las Vegas Blvd. (Invite only)
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM: AVS Forum Party, Sahara, Golden Ballroom
7:00 PM: Monster Cable Party, Venetian (Invite only)
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM: Dell Reception, Venetian, Madame Tussauds (Invite only)
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM: Maximum PC, Palms, Ghost Bar (Invite only)
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM: Cooler Master Party, Palms, Crib Suite (Invite only)
9:00 PM - 1:00 AM: Sony, MGM (Invite only)


6:00 PM - 9:00 PM: Super Talent Reception, Bellagio (Invite only)
6:00 PM - 9:00 PM: TTZ Media Party, Roy's Las Vegas (Invite only)

I'm not sure who attends all of these events. My evenings at CES are usually spent hunched over a laptop, frantically typing stories in a dark hotel room, surrounded empty pop cans and crumpled Frito's bags.

Feel free to drop by if you're in the Las Vegas Hilton next week, no invite required.

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January 4, 2007 3:11 PM

Wii beats Apple's iTV to the punch?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple fans are drooling over the iTV device the company is developing to stream movies and music from a computer to home entertainment systems. Details about the device were expected at next week's Macworld show but the latest buzz is that the device may be delayed.

In the meantime, there's a way to stream content from a PC using Nintendo's Wii console, according to Orb Networks, an Emeryville, Calif., company that produces software for streaming digital media around the home.

Orb pointed to a YouTube video explaining the procedure -- basically you download Orb onto a PC, then use the Wii browser to navigate to Orb's Web site and log on there.

It looks like a cool application for the Wii, but it's not the final solution for streaming media, judging from all the clicks needed to find and play a song or video. Here's the video:

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January 4, 2007 2:56 PM

UW's gift to file sharers: BitTyrant

Posted by Brier Dudley

Free software that boosts the speed of the popular BitTorrent file-sharing software was released this week by computer scientists at the University of Washington.

Called BitTyrant, the software lets users choose file-sharing partners, boosting download speeds by an average of 70 percent, according to a UW news release today. It also fixes a bug in BitTorrent, the release said.

"Prior to this work, people thought BitTorrent was exactly how you want to build a peer-to-peer distributed system," computer science Professor Tom Anderson said in the release. "We figured out that it's easy for someone to cheat other users on BitTorrent, and we developed a set of changes that makes it much more difficult to do that."

Next the UW has to develop a BitTorrent add-on that searches for possible Bluetooth intellectual property violations.

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January 3, 2007 5:50 PM

Spokane software company "Stars" on Army site

Posted by Brier Dudley

An interactive "virtual assistant" on the U.S. Army's recruiting page was created by Spokane software company Next IT.

Dubbed "Sgt. Star," the feature uses natural language conversation to answer questions from visitors. In addition to the common chat window, Next IT's "ActiveAgent" software displays an avatar who speaks the answers that are also displayed in text.

Next IT's press release quoted IDC analyst Sue Feldman saying that the ActiveAgent technology "goes far beyond the typical search engine. People speak in words, not numbers. They need to carry on a dialog in order to find things out."

Since August Sgt. Star has received more than 500,000 questions and answered with a 92 percent accuracy rate, the company said.

Time for a Celebrity Deathmatch with Clippy and Jeeves.

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January 3, 2007 3:19 PM

Digging into Apple options

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Los Angeles Times has a strong story today on the Steve Jobs stock option flap.

It starts out relating how Apple timed the first batch of options in question to benefit from Microsoft's 1997 investment in the company.

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January 3, 2007 1:57 PM

Rare co-founders leave Microsoft's Xbox stable

Posted by Brier Dudley

English videogame legends Chris and Tim Stamper left at the end of 2006, according to a story broken by gamer site 1UP and followed up by CNet.

The Stampers were co-founders of Rare Ltd., a game studio that made its name developing games such as "Donkey Kong Country" for Nintendo consoles.

Nintendo bought a stake in Rare after Rare showed Nintendo how to compress data onto a game cartridge in 1993, according to this biography.

Four years ago it hooked up with another Redmond company when Microsoft bought Rare for $375 million.

Rare created high-profile Xbox titles such as "Perfect Dark Zero," "Kameo" and the recently released "Viva Pinata," but so far they haven't been blockbusters.

Microsoft told 1UP that sales performance had nothing to do with the Stampers' departure. "They are simply leaving to pursue other opportunities and we wish them luck in their future endeavors," an unidentified spokesperson said.

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January 3, 2007 1:43 PM

And the song played on ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

Great comments about music piracy and external storage.

Perhaps cheap, flexible storage options will finally force the recording industry to loosen up and be more creative with licensing in 2007. The obsession with content piracy seems pretty stale, so 2005.

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January 3, 2007 12:14 PM

Jobster cuts entire field sales force

Posted by Brier Dudley

So much for high-touch. In a quest to become profitable this year, the 3-year-old recruiting firm is cutting 60 of its 144 employees.

Ending lots of online speculation about the future of one of Seattle's best-funded Web 2.0 startups, founder Jason Goldberg today announced the company is cutting its in-person enterprise sales organization and focusing instead on improving its online services and Web site.

Goldberg said the company saw growth in 2006, signing up more than 500 customers, but it hasn't done as well as expected with big corporate customers, so it's trying to be more of a technology company and less of an enterprise consulting business.

"It was really meant to focus the business in 2007 and focus our finite resourses toward the biggest bang for the buck efforts," he said.

Tricia Duryee is posting a story and Goldberg's providing details on his blog.

Goldberg said enterprise human-resources is a tough market.

"The more that we are a self-service Web based company ... the better for us,'' he said.

UPDATE: Here's Tricia's story on today's moves.

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January 2, 2007 2:18 PM

Predictions freedback, all the way from Iraq

Posted by Brier Dudley

The best response so far to Monday's 2007 predictions column came from Dennis Monahan, a lieutenant commander serving in Iraq.

He had a great suggestion for applying location technology to wikis:

As I was reading your article for the Seattle Times on 01 Jan it dawned on me that it would be neat to see if the blog market ties into the "location" services piece that you mentioned in your article in some way. For example, if a "wikipedia-like service" were suddenly "attached" to blog subject matter experts (SMEs) that were geographically and/or topic oriented. Instead of just finding the closest "pizza" joint in your local area, you could find your favorite critic's choice (or a selected choice that shares links with your favorite) and any past reviews (for a single example -- I could come up with more fairly easily). Recommendations could also be received from "identified network friends", etc. Wireless collaboration on a whole new level? I guess it could also embed some advertising . . . anyway, I would think that is probably what the technology needs to be capable of in the near future.

Find that guy a job in the tech industry after he's done with the Navy.

Other readers took me to task for suggesting that Vista will do well and the iPod's dominance will begin to fade.

But I was most surprised to hear from a few readers who thought I was encouraging music piracy, by saying that people could share music stored on flash memory cards.

Here's how I responded to one who questioned whether the music industry will block the Flash-based music players I mentioned:

I didn't mean to advocate stealing.
The technology I wrote about is already widely available; the only difference is that the capacities are increasing. You can put anything you want onto a flash card inserted in a PC then put the card into another device or PC. That's how most people transfer photos from cameras to computers.
The recording industry can't block this. That's why it's working with Microsoft and others on copy protection technologies that embed into digital music and limit how many times it can be copied.
Meanwhile, consumers have been letting friends sample their music collections for decades -- first with cassettes, then with CDs and more recently with software, including a bunch of products available now that make iTunes more flexible.
Hopefully people will use the technology responsibly and people will continue buying music.

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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.