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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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February 28, 2007 3:59 PM

Zune team: We're still No. 2

Posted by Brier Dudley

I was wondering what happened to Zune, after I noticed this weekend that they were gone from the Seattle Costco, apparently displaced by an ever-expanding display of iPods and iPod accessories.

Anyway, today the Zune team sent out an update saying their player "remains the number two seller" among hard-drive based digital music players. That's based on an NPD report for January sales that found Zune had a 9.9 percent share in the category.

That's down a tiny bit from the 10.2 percent share Zune had in December.

But the note today from Zune spokeswoman Lane Keough was upbeat.

"We believe this toehold in the market will enable us to make a deeper footprint as time goes on, and we're committed to expanding the Zune offering,'' it said.

Keough also said a firmware update will be released in mid-March to fix a glitch that has caused skipping of some songs downloaded from the Zune Marketplace. The update (to version 1.3) will "also improve overall software reliability and efficiency," she said.

Despite the skipping issue, downloads from the Zune store increased 65 percent in January and user subscriptions grew by 60 percent, she said.

By the way, did Zune boss J. Allard update his official bio at Microsoft's Web site since he took on new duties last month?

He's got a less alternative look in the current photo, but he makes up for it by including details about his eclectic taste in music. It all began when he plunked down $4.44 for Kiss Alive!

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

February 28, 2007 10:41 AM

Soups on: Google conference in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Speaking of Google, the company decided to hold its first conference on scalable systems at its offices here on June 23.

The company is looking for people to make presentations, according to an item that Amanda Camp, a software engineer, posted at the Google Research blog:

If you have a great new idea for handling a growing system or an innovative approach to scalability, we want to hear from you. Send a short note about who you are and a description of your 45-minute talk in 500 words or less to by Friday, April 20.

Camp said the goal is "to create a collegial atmosphere for participants to brainstorm different ways to build the robust systems that can handle, literally, a world of information."

She also said Google will provide free food. Hmmm. I could probably come up with a 45-minute talk on the scalability of a reporter's stomach....

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

February 28, 2007 9:57 AM

iLike hits 500,000 users, including a Google bigshot

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle music startup iLike today said it passed 500,000 users and added several new features:

-- Music "wishlists" for saving songs to play or buy later.

-- Instant and automatic playlist sharing online. Friends can browse each other's music libraries, sample playlists and buy or save to a wishlist songs they don't own.

-- Windows Media Player support. Until now the product worked only with iTunes. The WMP version is still more limited, but given the team's Microsoft pedigree it's likely to keep improving.

I meant to mention this earlier, but iLike received a nice plug last Thursday during a WSA dinner event.

Speaker Peter Wilson, Google's engineering director in Kirkland, said iLike is one of two new "social discovery" services that he likes.

The other is Blue Dot -- another Seattle startup with former Microsoft talent -- that friends can use to connect and share Web content they discover.

Wilson was asserting that somebody ought to provide reusable components that startups could use to build social networking services, so the startups won't have to build everything themselves.

Maybe that's the next evolution of Blogger -- a turnkey social networking/discovery platform? I'd call it

UPDATE: Robert Scoble mentioned a few similar ventures that let amateurs build their own social networking sites. I think Wilson was talking about components for developers, instead of consumerish services like the Marc Andreesen-funded Ning, but either way I wonder what standardization will do to the category.

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

February 27, 2007 5:49 PM

The first post-Vista Windows reorganization

Posted by Brier Dudley

Less than a month after Windows Vista went on sale, Microsoft is reorganizing the Windows marketing group.

The move is also the latest way that Kevin Johnson, president of the Platforms and Services Division, is putting his stamp on the organization.

Johnson, a former head of sales, had been running the group in partnership with longtime Windows czar Jim Allchin, who retired in January.

Today, Johnson put Bill Veghte in charge of the new Windows Business Group marketing organization.

It's a return to Windows for Veghte, a Harvard-educated, 17-year Microsoft veteran who has steadily moved around the company and up the ranks.

Veghte was leading Windows server marketing until 2003 when he went to work for Johnson in the sales group. Johnson had moved from head of North American sales to head of global sales, and Veghte took his old job.

The Windows Business Group has four components, each led by a vice president.

-- A Windows product marketing team led by Mike Sievert. He formerly reported to Johnson.

-- A Windows product management team led by former security software chief Mike Nash. The group is responsible for pricing, competitive strategy and market intelligence.

-- A market expansion group looking at opportunities such as emerging markets, led by Will Poole.

-- A "software protection and commerce" group led by Joe Peterson. It will focus on the Windows Genuine Advantage program, software proteciton and anti-piracy issues.

I wonder if Veghte will work with Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates to be sure the company has a consistent line on Vista uptake.

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

February 27, 2007 12:34 PM

Isilon upbeat, doubling software offerings

Posted by Brier Dudley

A cluster of data points from Isilon's presentation today at the RBC Dain Rauscher investment conference in Seattle:

-- The company reiterated recent guidance saying that it will be profitable by the "latter part of 2007."

-- Growth of digital content will expand Isilon's potential market from $2.5 billion today to $8 billion to $9 billion by 2009, Chief Executive Steve Goldman said.

-- Forty percent of its customers were signed up in the past six month. Fifty percent of its business is from repeat customers.

-- A growing cash pile is helping to convince customers that Isilon won't fade away. Cash was $99.9 million at the end of 2006, up from $10.9 million at the end of 2005.

-- Diversification is under way. Kodak, the biggest customer, accounted for 20 percent of sales in 2005. Last year it accounted for 10 percent, and Comcast accounted for 16 percent.

-- Operating margin losses were 12 percent in the past quarter, down from 41 percent in the first quarter of 2006.

-- Revenue from software is climbing steadily, from 3 percent to 5 percent to 8 percent over the past three quarters.

-- By the end of 2007, Isilon will double the number of software applications that run on its OneFS operating system -- from three to six applications.

"That's a rate of innovation that's way more rapid than what you see in the traditional storage environment,'' Goldman said.

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

February 27, 2007 11:55 AM

Cray: Time to productize

Posted by Brier Dudley

I've been wondering how Seattle supercomputer maker Cray would fare as commodity PCs are supersized by multicore processors.

That's actually creating opportunity for Cray, according to Peter Ungaro, the former IBMer who has led Cray's turnaround over the past two years.

Processors are plenty powerful. The bottleneck in high-performance computing is now data throughput, an area where Cray has leading technology, he said during an RBC Dain Rauscher investment conference in Seattle today.

"It's not anymore about how fast is the processor. At the high end of the market it's how fast you can feed the processor," he said.

That creates an opportunity for Cray to productize and sell its technologies, as well as systems.

Cray is also offering its supercomputer customers more products, including technology services and storage solutions.

Those new thrusts could expand the company's potential market from $1.5 billion to $5 billion in the coming years, he said.

That's part of why Cray is so upbeat. The core business is also doing pretty well. Cray signed $600 million worth of contracts last year, and already in 2007 it has signed $100 million. It's also rolling out three new systems.

The revenue includes a big defense research contract that runs through 2010.

CFO Vic Chynoweth said the company expects sales growth of 5 percent to 20 percent in 2007, and the long-term forecast is 10 to 20 percent growth.

Operating income this year is expected to grow 3 percent to 7 percent, he said, and long-term it's projected to grow 10 to 15 percent.

In the short-term, Cray withstood much of today's stock market correction. It was down 0.95 percent this afternoon at $13.55.

As a supplier of proprietary technology used by secretive U.S. government agencies, it doesn't have much exposure in China.

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

February 26, 2007 4:20 PM

Locals like Vista, Office 2007

Posted by Brier Dudley

At least that's the word from Patricia Ryan, head of Microsoft's enterprise sales in the Northwest region.

Ryan's not an objective source, of course.

But she must have a good handle on regional software demand, after 26 years of selling to big companies around here.


Patricia Ryan

After graduating from Stanford she came to Seattle to work for IBM for 13 years. Then she handled enterprise sales at WRQ for nine years before Microsoft recruited her four years ago.

She also shared some interesting stats.

Ryan said 80 percent of the big companies in her region (with 500 or more employees) have Microsoft enterprise licensing agreements.

They apparently like Vista and Office, because 100 percent have renewed their licensing agreements, she told me during an interview at a local launch event Microsoft held today at the convention center in Seattle.

Microsoft played up local customers at the event. Washington Mutual and Columbia Sportswear were highlighted as beta testers that helped refine the company's latest software.

Most every big name company in the region uses Microsoft software at least on its PC desktops.

I was wondering if Ryan had a home-court advantage selling Microsoft to the locals.

She said the connections are nice, but not essential. She has met customers who went to school with Bill Gates or socialize with executives and product developers. Sometimes those customers will have product information she hasn't heard about yet.

But she said Microsoft doesn't get a free pass from other companies in the region.

"We earn our right to be there every day,'' she said.

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

February 26, 2007 12:59 PM

Rep. Baird's Web site gets gold

Posted by Brier Dudley

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird's Web site won one of 18 gold medals in an annual contest that ranks the best sites on Capitol Hill.

The Vancouver Democrat was the only Washington representative to place in the Congressional Management Foundation contest.

I'm guessing he won largely because his site has a lot of neat multimedia features, including a video "welcome" clip; video clips of testimony and committee meetings; and MP3s of Baird discussing issues such as immigration.

Sen. Patty Murray won one of 27 silver medals. Murray's site also has audio and video features and it prominently displays a blog she wrote during a Middle East visit, but it hasn't been updated since 2005.

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

February 26, 2007 12:37 PM

Tips for cutting spam

Posted by Brier Dudley

USA Today ran a nice story last week on ways to reduce spam.

The story won't blow away IT pros - it's aimed at small-business owners - but it may be helpful for anyone still struggling with junk mail.

Spam is picking up, the article said, citing Symantec research that found the percentage of e-mail deemed junk reached 80 percent last month, up from 43 percent in September. (I wonder if that's a trend or just a spike during the holiday shopping season, though.)

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

February 26, 2007 11:59 AM

Will Google Apps give Linux-like leverage?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's column looked at Google Applications and the company's decision to charge for the new business suite.

I focused on the fees because they could signal a potentially big shift happening at Google and other Web services companies.

Also important is Google Apps' focus on communications. Much of the coverage focused on the suite competing with Office, in part because they both have word processors and spreadsheets.

But the real battle seems to be over message handling -- e-mail, IM and VoIP. Those services are the foundation of productivity now, and that's where Google Apps seems to be aiming at Exchange and other Microsoft communications servers.

Microsoft's also going after business VoIP in a big way. Just this morning Bill Gates talked up new Office communication products in the pipeline.

Eventually "that PBX won't be necessary,'' he said during a speech at a local launch event for Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007.

Upcoming products that Gates mentioned may end up competing with Google Apps: Office Communicator 2007, Office Communcations Server 2007 and Voice Call Management for Office Communcations Server 2007.

If nothing else, Google Apps could do for Microsoft's small business customers what Linux has done for enterprise customers over the last few years: It will give them more leverage when negotiating license deals.

Comments | Category: Enterprise , Google , Microsoft , Open source |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 21, 2007 4:04 PM

Go Frances!

Posted by Brier Dudley

Frances Allen, an IBM researcher, just became the first female winner of the A.M. Turing Award, computing's Nobel Prize. The prize was announced today and will be presented at an Association for Computing Machinery event in June.

Allen has an amazing story. In 1957 she was a math teacher who needed to pay off her college debt, so she started working at IBM, teaching the FORTRAN language to researchers.

She went on to become an expert in compilers and high-performance systems, advancing technology used for tasks such as DNA matching and weather forecasting.

"Fran Allen's work has led to remarkable advances in compiler design and machine architecture that are at the foundation of modern high-performance computing," Ruzena Bajcsy, a University of California, Berkeley professor and chair of the ACM Turing Award committee, said in the release.

"Her contributions have spanned most of the history of computer science, and have made possible computing techniques that we rely on today in business and technology. It is interesting to note Allen's role in highly secret intelligence work on security codes for the organization now known as the National Security Agency, since it was Alan Turing, the namesake of this prestigious award, who devised techniques to help break the German codes during World War II."

The award cited her "pioneering contributions to the theory and practice of optimizing compiler techniques that laid the foundation for modern optimizing compilers and automatic parallel execution."

Allen's also an environmentalist and mountain climber who has gone on exploratory expeditions to the Arctic and the border between China and Tibet, according to her IBM biography.

She became the first woman named an IBM Fellow in 1989, and in 2004 won the first Anita Borg Award for working to increase the participation of women in the tech industry.

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

February 21, 2007 12:45 PM

Seattle YouTube festival, with drinks

Posted by Brier Dudley

YouTube may be having a midlife crisis, but it's still fun.

Especially when you play some of its wacky videos on a big movie theater screen, snicker at the pop culture analysis and keep the refreshments flowing.

That's what the Northwest Film Forum is doing Saturday night, when it converts its Capitol Hill cinema into a giant computer for "WeTube, an evening of Internet video writ large."

From the announcement:

We bring you faux-academic musings on the phenomenon, a selection of outrageous YouTube clips, and live interactive games in which the audience will pick key words for live video searches. Get ready for laughs, drinks, head scratching, and VERY big pixels!

The forum ought to make this a regular event. It could be the Bubble 2.0 version of Mike Daisey's monologue.

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

February 21, 2007 12:26 PM

Nintendo Wii bonus points, from a neighbor

Posted by Brier Dudley

Speaking of moms, one in Redmond gave Nintendo big kudos for quickly repairing her family's beloved Wii.

"Saska" was expecting a hassle when the Wii had problems but being local, she just drove over to Nintendo's campus in Redmond and swapped the console for a new one.

She wrote it up in a blog posting titled "Customer service gone shockingly right" that became a mini Web hit.

I won't spoil the ending, but here's an excerpt:

"It's going to be about 30 minutes, though," she went on. "I'm really sorry."

She wasn't Japanese, but clearly Nintendo is a Japanese company. Only a Japanese service center would apologize for taking 30 minutes to repair a piece of electronics when my expectation going in was that I'd be without it for two weeks.

The post drew "hundreds of thousands" of readers, according to the site host, Vox, which called out the post yesterday as an example of great storytelling (and the site's ability to handle a traffic surge).

Apparently it's customer service week. For another great post, check out Joel Spolsky's "Seven steps to remarkable customer service."

Comments | Category: Nintendo |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 21, 2007 12:11 PM

A mom on software for moms

Posted by Brier Dudley

Monday's column on Seattle family software startup Cozi drew some nice feedback, including this email:

Dear Brier,
I really appreciated the column you wrote on Cozi yesterday. You did a great job interviewing Robbie Case and describing the subject and the spirit of Cozi family-oriented software. I just wish you'd written more about Jan Miksovsky, Cozi's co-founder. Jan is an extremely articulate and family-oriented computer genius. I say this as someone who (though single) uses Cozi's calendar and shopping list and screensaver options regularly, and as someone who has known Jan all his life.
Sincerely yours,
Lyn Coffin (a.k.a Jan's mom)

P.S. Jan, if you read this, please call home.

Comments | Category: Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 16, 2007 12:19 PM

Wall Street's take on Vista caution

Posted by Brier Dudley

Barron's reporter Eric Savitz has a great roundup of analyst responses to their meeting with Steve Ballmer yesterday.

"What really amazes me is how some on the Street seem to be simply ignoring Ballmer's cautionary comments," he wrote.

Here in Seattle, McAdams Wright Ragen's Sid Parakh called the presentation a "mixed bag" and lowered his forecast for Microsoft's FY08 sales growth to 9 percent, down from 11 percent.

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

February 16, 2007 10:59 AM

What's up with Vista?

Posted by Brier Dudley

What happened with the Vista launch? Microsoft seems to be singing a different tune all of a sudden.

Here's Steve Ballmer just before the launch, in a Bloomberg story:

Ballmer, whose initial estimates for corporate uptake of Vista were more optimistic than some studies projected, now says early adoption may exceed even his expectations.

``I expect to see uptake at a pretty good rate relative to my early expectations,'' Ballmer said in an interview last week.

Then yesterday Ballmer told analysts in New York that expectations are too high for Vista. From our story:

"I'm really excited at how enthusiastic everybody is about Vista," Ballmer said during a presentation to analysts in a New York City hotel. But some independent forecasts for revenues from Vista in the 2008 fiscal year, which begins July 1, are "overly aggressive," he said.

Here's the full quote from Microsoft's transcript of the analyst meeting:

"I've looked at some of the models and reports, et cetera, about our business and what people think it looks like, and I'm really excited on how enthusiastic everybody is about Vista. I, too, am very enthusiastic about Vista. But I think sometimes the enthusiasm about this great product and the excitement and the launch, people have to understand our revenue models because I think some of the revenue forecasts I've seen out there for Windows Vista in fiscal year '08 are overly aggressive, if I could say it that way, and let me kind of walk through what drives Windows revenue so people understand why I say what I'm saying."

A few more of his comments:

"We're driving it hard, but I think some people have gotten a little overexcited."

So Microsoft isn't going to do much better than Hewlett-Packard, Dell or Intel? Quoting Ballmer:

"The thing I think there's a disconnect on for most folks whose models I've read is there's a disconnect between what people think is the growth of the PC market and what they think is Vista growth. So, either you have to increase your forecast for the total PC market, and then Vista will do just fine, or those two things are out of whack. And what I think we see is those two things tend to be a little bit out of whack in general. I mean, if Vista is going to drive a major sort of surge in PC market growth rate, you would think that would also show up in what people think about HP, Dell, Intel. There should be a lot of other people who are participating in that.

"And my basic assumption is we'll see a small surge, but a small surge doesn't mean a market that's 220 odd million PCs goes to be 200 -- if normal growth is 7, 8 percent, 9 percent developed market, it's not going to go be 12, 13, 14, 15 percent. I don't think that much new money is going to race out of the consumer's pockets into PCs. I do think PC growth will be buoyed by Vista, I believe in that, and yet I think most people think that means the PC growth rate will double year over year, which I think people are a little bit more bullish about that, but only in Microsoft. You don't see it show up in anybody else's stock, so it's a weird disconnect from my perspective."

In other words ...

"And yet I think there's a view that says we're going to do oh so much better than PC growth.

"So I merely encourage people to compare your Intel, AMD, HP, Dell forecasts, and your Windows forecasts, and then you've got to re-factor those for developed vs. emerging markets, because remember chips don't get stolen in some of these countries and software does. Or go get the IDC forecast for PC growth by business and by consumer in the developed market and say, yeah, we should do better than that, but not that much better."

So Vista sales won't be a huge increase over XP sales, apparently:

'And the things people forget is a new Windows release is primarily a chance to sustain the revenue we have. Every new Windows release is not necessarily a huge revenue growth opportunity, but if we don't have exciting, fantastic, outstanding Windows releases, there will be either a drop in the PC market, and/or there will be uptake of Linux and Mac and all of these other things. So in some senses we've got to -- the price of entry just to sustain today's Windows revenue is a very good R&D output in that area. And at least it looks to us like people are a little bit over-optimistic, or at least more optimistic than we are about Windows revenue.'

But what about exceeding those early expectations?

Also disconcerting is a new NPD report saying Vista's lagging behind XP's early sales.

Some analysts are still looking on the bright side. At Goldman Sachs, Rick Sherlund shrugged:

"We are more optimistic on PC unit growth/Vista demand for 2008 than implied by management guidance, which we view as conservative and setting the bar low for 2008," he said in a note today.

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

February 16, 2007 9:42 AM

State's selective taxation

Posted by Brier Dudley

What's more harsh than the stench of old cigarettes on someone's breath?

The state of Washington's vindictive attack on smokers who buy their tobacco online. It was the subject of an A1 story in our paper today.

I don't smoke and I think smoking is a bad thing. But the story left me fuming about the state's arbitrary taxation.

Why does the state go all Jack Bauer on a guy who buys cigarettes online to avoid the state's punitive taxes, while ignoring the thousands of people who avoid state taxes every day by shopping online for computers, TVs, music, clothes and who knows what else?

If the state wants to make tobacco illegal, give it a shot. At least that would be straightforward. Instead, the state is trying to change people's lifestyles by selectively taxing their online purchases.

Who decides which habits are good or bad and which should be taxed?

It's funny that a state that's home to some of the leading online retail businesses would be so inconsistent in its approach.

There's talk off and on about Washington and other states broadly taxing online retail sales, but the e-commerce industry has a lot of sway. If you shop around, you can still buy most anything you want online without paying tax.

Today's story is interesting because it describes one way the state tries to collect taxes from out-of-state online retailers. It requests customer lists from tobacco retailers, then sends customers collection letters.

That's a terrible system. It's intrusive and only a few retailers are complying. It's random and it encourages customers to shop from retailers that ignore state regulators.

It's hard to be too sympathetic for Scott Adams, the smoker profiled in the story. He was one of the few who was caught by the state, ignored the tax bills he was sent and kept buying his weeds online.

But he's got a point about the state unfairly targeting smokers. They don't have lobbyists in Olympia and D.C. who can get the tax collectors to look the other way.

Comments | Category: E-commerce |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 15, 2007 3:17 PM

Zillow's response

Posted by Brier Dudley

Zillow had a few things to say about Wednesday's post, "Zillow and WSJ: Honeymoon's Over."

Spokeswoman Amy Bohutinsky said she was surprised that I saw the Journal story as "largely negative." (She must have come from Microsoft PR, where "surprised" is synonymous with "PO'd").

Bohutinsky said the Journal story "basically says the accuracy stats we report on the site ring true -- our reported median margin of error is 7.2 percent." Zillow claims a median margin of error in the Seattle area of 5.6 percent.

I think the Journal was saying what a lot of people think about Zillow and other online real estate valuation services -- they're neat, but not the final word. The story said Zillow estimates are often pretty accurate, but when they're not, they can be way off -- "terrible" was the word used in the story.

She also said Zillow's traffic is doing better than the Alexa chart I mentioned. Zillow had 3.6 million unique visitors in January, up from 3.1 million in December and 3.2 million in November, she said.

I'm not surprised by the traffic, since Zillow has partnerships with big Web portals and recent news about the real estate market is making people wonder about their house's value.

But implying 94 percent accuracy in Seattle piqued my interest in doing a story similar to the Journal's.

I started the research by Zillowing my own house, of course, and the result seemed pretty far off the mark. Before I report any further, though, I've got to finish a few home improvement projects.

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

February 15, 2007 11:30 AM

News tip of the day: It takes money to make money

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's the conclusion of a new study that analyzed 10 years of newspaper business results.

The University of Missouri study found that papers that spent more on content made more money. Papers that cut newsroom spending and spent more on marketing and circulation were less profitable.

"If you lower the amount of money spent in the newsroom, then pretty soon the news product becomes so bad that you begin to lose money," Esther Thorson, an advertising professor and associate dean for graduate studies at the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, said, according to Reuters.

I'm glad to hear it, of course.

But what does the study mean for all the startups that are trying to build online news sites with minimal investment in content?

They're investing almost exclusively in the circulation and marketing side, and counting on users and wire services to provide content at little to no cost.

If the conclusions of the newspaper study apply to online news sites like Newsvine, NowPublic and even Digg, their future profitability is uncertain.

Those ventures could also be affected, eventually, if the study prompts changes in the newspaper business.

This may seem out of whack if you think of newspapers as only a print product. That hasn't been the case for several years now. Virtually every newspaper is an online business as well nowadays. (Perhaps the differentiation shouldn't be old vs. new media, but media that produces original content and media that simply repackages the content of others ...)

So, if the study motivates newspapers to revisit their investment approach and spend more on content (I'm trying to be optimistic ...), they'll simultaneously look at how that content will be monetized online.

If the papers conclude that their content is likely to be consumed mostly at sites like Newsvine and Digg, instead of at their own Web sites and alongside their ads, they'll have two choices:

1. Don't bother to spend more on content. That's what's been happening at a lot of papers lately.

2. Invest in content, and limit its redistribution online. Why should they let others sell ads around their content?

If they choose option two, newspapers could try and get more revenue from wire service agreements that give their content to online news sites like Newsvine.

They could also adjust wire agreements and delay distribution for a longer period of time. That way, if a paper breaks a story, you'd have to go to its site to read it. What a concept.

It's complicated because most papers are now owned by conglomerates that operate wire services. The conglomerates like the revenue their wire content brings from online news sites, even though those sites compete with their individual publications for readers and advertising.

Option two could also result in more papers charging for online news. I'll bet more will follow the steps of the New York Times, which offers a mix of free and paid content online. That's inevitable if papers come to see their Web sites as the core franchise.

Some papers are already clamping down and rejecting the Web 2.0 siren song -- that sharing content with ad-supported Web startups helps everyone, boosts site traffic, attracts young readers, and so on. That's what happened in the Belgian case against Google, where papers said their content -- all of their content, even the headlines and story summaries -- is worth more than link love and site traffic.

Many online news enthusiasts could not care less about whiny old newspaper types. They believe bloggers and "citizen journalists" will fill the news void. I hope someone does.

But reporting takes time and effort. Eventually those bloggers and CJs are going to want a share of the profit their content is making for sites that aggregate news online. Then they'll be facing the same quandary as newspapers are today.

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

February 14, 2007 4:57 PM

Entrepreneur training, mentoring on tap

Posted by Brier Dudley

EntrepreneurWeek USA, a nationwide event geared largely at younger people aspiring to start businesses, will have a big presence locally. It seems like it will have plenty of interesting events for older entrepreneurs, as well.

A list of activities is available at the event's Web site (you have to search by state to get the local listings). Here are a few that I pulled and some that were noted by the event's publicists:

Feb. 27, 3:30 to 5 p.m.: "From invention to startup" seminar at the UW's Mary Gates Hall, room 271. James Molocco of Klir Technologies and Sunny Gupta of iConclude will talk about how they've continually revised their original business plans to adapt to new conditions and opportunities. Free; no registration required.

Feb. 27, 7-9 p.m.: The secrets of the Early Stage Investment Forum seminar at Seattle University, Piggott room 104. A free "how to" session providing information and advice about applying to make a presentation to angel and venture investors at the forum taking place April 19.

March 1, 7:30 a.m. to noon: Essentials of angel financing for early-stage companies, Perkins Coie offices in Seattle. Angel investors, experienced entrepreneurs and lawyers address the how-to's of angel funding for start-ups. The event costs $115, or $65 for members of the Northwest Entrepreneurs Network, where you can register online.

March 1 from 6-7:30 p.m.: Business plan competition resource night "What do investors look for? UW Campus, HUB 200. Speakers Rebecca Lovell from Alliance of Angels and Mike Crill from Atlas Acclerator will discuss how investors decide to invest in early-stage companies. Free.

March 2 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.: The Entrepreneur Resource Fair at Edmonds Community College will offer training and resources for young entrepreneurs, plus information for starting businesses and running mature businesses.

Comments | Category: Education , Entrepreneurs , Startups |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 14, 2007 4:39 PM

Microsoft's Valentine kiss from Yahoo!

Posted by Brier Dudley

Yahoo! added a new user feedback system called Suggestion Board.

What's a little unusual is that the company's official blog - Yodel Anecdotal -- graciously credited Microsoft with the "inspiration." In a post entitled "It takes two to tango," Yahoo! Autos senior engineering manager, Michael Olivier, tipped his hat to the MSDN feedback system he saw in the fall of 2005.

It's probably just good sportsmanship. But I'm sure curious about the relationship between those two companies, which seem a little friendly nowadays.

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

February 14, 2007 1:29 PM

Merger mania claims another NW tech company

Posted by Brier Dudley

This time it's Corillian, a Hillsboro, Ore.-based company that's a major provider of online banking technology used by banks and credit unions.

The 10-year-old, publicly traded outfit was sold today to Atlanta-based CheckFree Corp. for $245 million, or $5.15 per share.

That's a 60 percent premium to its stock price as of Feb. 7, noted Financial Technology Partners, a San Franscisco investment bank that worked on the deal.

You may have been using Corillian software without knowing it. It says more than 30 of the top 100 banks and 21 of the top credit unions are using its online banking platform and billing systems.

Corillian closed at $5 today, up 45 percent and its best showing since December 2004. CheckFree was down 3 percent at $40.29.

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

February 14, 2007 12:44 PM

Zillow and WSJ: Honeymoon's over

Posted by Brier Dudley

Continuing a refreshing trend of newspapers watchdogging Web 2.0 startups' reliability, instead of just announcing their latest funding rounds, the Journal analyzed how Zillow had valued 1,000 homes that sold recently.

Seattle software developer Alex Bosworth noted that the Journal basically launched Zillow. A year ago, Zillow chose the financial paper as the vehicle to introduce its online real estate valuation service. Bosworth also noted that Zillow's online traffic has fallen over the past year, just like real estate, based on Alexa traffic numbers.

The Journal concluded that "Zillow's 'Zestimates' often are very good, frequently within a few percentage points of the actual price paid. But when Zillow is bad, it can be terrible -- off the mark by more than 25% on one in 10 homes. In one case it was off by $2 million."

The poster house illustrating the story was a 7,600-square-foot house recently built in Fall City. Zillow valued it at $661,756, but it sold last month for $2.69 million.

Zillow must have known the story was coming; it raised that house's valuation by $2.15 million on Feb. 5.

The story was a good idea, but the Fall City place seems like an odd one to highlight. It was a tricky one to value because Zillow draws on public records, which take time to capture the value of new construction. The $661,756 estimate seems like a blend of the median value of homes in that area, adjusted up for the size of the property, but not up enough to reflect the value of the construction.

Still, it's probably not the valentine that Rich Barton was expecting today.

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

February 13, 2007 4:58 PM

State AG: Online shopping complaints rising

Posted by Brier Dudley

Washington state consumers reported more problems with online shopping last year, according to a 2006 roundup released today by Attorney General Rob McKenna.

But communications services remained the biggest source of consumer complaints, followed by offline retail, collection agencies and auto sales.

The AG's office received 819 complaints about "electronic shopping" last year, making it the fifth most common category of consumer complaint. The year before, the category was ninth with 532 complaints.

The rising complaints seem related to overall increases in online shopping. Noting a drop in complaints about online auctions, McKenna said it appears their popularity is waning and consumers are being more cautious online.

"Complaints received by our office suggest that consumers are becoming more careful about bidding for merchandise in online auctions," he said in the release, "but risk is still there. The Internet is ripe for fraud and some consumers are blindly shopping on sites they are not familiar with. Shoppers should only visit reputable sites in order to ensure trouble-free transactions and reduce the likelihood of becoming victims of identity theft."

Washingtonians submitted 319 complaints about online auctions last year, down from 774 in 2005.

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February 13, 2007 3:11 PM

Simonyi space goodies

Posted by Brier Dudley

Charles Simonyi has updated Charles in Space, the Web site tracking his space adventure.

He's answered some provocative questions from children around the world (from a 7-year-old in China: "Are you afraid to be dead when the machine goes wrong?") and posted a great tidbit about the cool Tectrix flight simulator/exercycle he trains with at home in Medina.

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February 13, 2007 1:59 PM

Tech's next superstar leader?

Posted by Brier Dudley

On Monday I asked, indirectly, who will follow Steve Jobs and become the industry's next thought leader?

Eastside reader Jean-Jacques Dubray, who has met both Jobs and Bill Gates, predicts it will be the Google guys, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. He said they're the logical choice since Web 2.0 has moved the center of gravity from clients to the servers, where the content lies.


The Google guys: Larry Page, left, and Sergey Brin.

"We have entered another area, the next 20 years will see giants emerge and eclipse the desktop boys,'' Dubray said.

That's a pretty good guess.

I was wondering if we'd see a superstar rise out of Korea, China or India, or maybe even Scandinavia, but that may take another generation or two.

Any other predictions?

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February 12, 2007 4:08 PM

Women in technology scholarships

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Alliance of Technology and Women is giving "Great Minds" scholarships to women pursuing associate or bachelor degrees in math, science, computer science or other tech-related fields.

Locally, the Seattle chapter is planning to give two $1,000 scholarships this year.

Applications are available here until Tuesday, Feb. 27.

Comments | Category: Education |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 12, 2007 2:34 PM

Seattle tech gossip site

Posted by Brier Dudley

TrenchMice is a new Seattle-based Web site that's pitching itself as a forum for tech employees to share tips and inside information about their companies.

The idea is to inform potential employees of issues they should be concerned about, founder John DeRosa told me. He was formerly engineering vice president at DocuSign, and before that was a development manager at 4thpass and Motorola.

TrenchMice site seems like a blend of F-d Company, Vault and community info sharing/referral sites such as Digg and Slashdot. It has some interesting tidbits, and the volume seems to be going up after a recent Slashdot mention.

Among the tech companies discussed so far are DocuSign, Walt Disney, Kinetix Living, AOL/Singingfish, IBM, RealNetworks, Isilon, Entellium and of course Jobster.

I asked DeRosa why it's different from F-d Company, where useful tips are often buried among all the anonymous rants. He said TrenchMice is building a user community where members can moderate and vote on others' input, similar to Slashdot.

"So, inaccurate information will sink, and quality information will rise to the top,'' he said via e-mail.

TrenchMice also has a rebuttal service. For $99 a year, companies can get tips alerting them if they appear on the site, giving them a chance to respond. Or they can pay $150 a year and also have the ability to "intercept" postings that could damage their reputation.

Those premium services give the site a twist. They also make the site very different from old media such as newspapers.

The intercept service doesn't block negative comments completely. It holds them for 24 hours so companies can prepare a rebuttal, that will appear alongside the initial post. It will presumably give companies enough time to seek injunctions if the post is really bad, which ought to make things interesting.

The site is focused on tech firms in the Northwest, but it will also accept discussions about companies from anywhere else. The company is considering rollouts in other tech hubs such as Silicon Valley, Austin, Chicago and New York.

UPDATE: John noted he was a development manager, not developer, so I fixed it above.

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February 12, 2007 2:10 PM

The end of privacy, kids

Posted by Brier Dudley

Fimoculous pointed me to a fascinating story in New York magazine that compares rock and roll in the 1950s to today's online/social networking youth culture and says they both stake out their day's generation gap.

Social networking sites are transformational for some. But I'd argue that they'll never approach the enduring cultural significance of rock music, which helped America overcome racial divides.

But it's obvious which side of the MySpace generation gap I'm on.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to shop for a cabin in the woods with no electricity where I can raise my daughters.

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

February 12, 2007 1:34 PM

Portland's smooth, free WiFi rollout

Posted by Brier Dudley

It took just a few months to get a 2.5-square-mile "proof of concept" network up and providing free, ad-supported Wi-Fi service in Portland, according to an Unstrung report.

The Microsoft-sponsored service went live Dec. 5 and is spreading through the city. It's designed as a two-tier system with a premium, paid service and a basic, free service that helps bridge the digital divide.

Working in the system's favor is the falling price of hardware, the story said:

"What we see is the price of a WiFi repeater, now sub-$100, will quickly be sub-$50," MetroFi Chief Executive Chuck Haas said. "If you fast-forward two years in Portland, there will be 10 times as many WiFi repeaters in homes, businesses, and high-rises, than the number of MetroFi lightpole-mounted devices."

At that point the dream of free, ubiquitous WiFi coverage will be closer to reality. At least in the Emerald City.

That's funny, and sad, because Portland's the Rose City.

The Emerald City is Seattle, which abandoned the concept of free municipal WiFi in favor of an expensive fiber optic system that's still under review at City Hall.

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

February 12, 2007 11:01 AM

Jobs column annotation, by Mr. Pea Brain

Posted by Brier Dudley

Feedback on the Steve Jobs column has been interesting. Here's an example:

"I wish we could replace you with someone more like Steve. Your an idiot with a head too big for your pea of a brain. Your writing is full of poor opinions based on gossip. 90% of what is written on these subjects by the media contains very little material facts. Their aim is get attention (PERIOD)."

For those who care deeply about this issue and want to learn more, here are some links to additional material. I see a cavalier attitude toward authority here, but everyone's welcome to his or her opinion.

On trademark protection, Apple repeatedly called Cisco's claims to the iPhone trademark "silly." That was after Jobs announced the iPhone, knowing that he hadn't secured the trademark, prompting Cisco to engage the court system.

I didn't have space to go into this, but it's not the first time Jobs has been casual about intellectual property. Apple shareholders probably didn't think it was silly that the company had to pay $100 million to Creative after using the Singapore company's interface design on the iPod.

Apple invoked accounting standards to charge for an upgrade. The Wall Street Journal followed up with a story quoting the former chief accountant of the SEC and a member of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, which is the authority on standards.

Here's a quote from the story:

"GAAP doesn't require you to charge squat," says Lynn Turner, managing director of research at Glass Lewis & Co. and a former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission. "You charge whatever you want. GAAP doesn't even remotely address whether or not you charge for a significant functionality change. GAAP establishes what the proper accounting is, based on what you did or didn't charge for it."

Separately I asked FASB for an opinion. It wouldn't comment on a specific company but its communication director, Gerard Carney, said "I can tell you that, to be certain, GAAP does not require companies to charge customers. Further GAAP does not tell companies how to run their business. GAAP requires you to report transactions to users of financial statements."

Regarding the securities regulators, here's the John Markoff story where Jobs says "everything is fine." Here is the Wall Street Journal story that appeared two days later, asserting that the case was still being actively investigated. Here's an earlier story on the options investigation.

Whether or not Jobs is personally implicated, he's at the center of this and, as chief executive, bears responsibility for the culture and behavior of his company.

Apple's European legal troubles haven't received a lot of coverage in the U.S. but Jobs' Feb. 6 letter ("Thoughts on Music") is raising their profile.

I don't think the column needs amplification, and I didn't want it to be read as an Apple vs. Microsoft thing. But today I learned about another way that Jobs was probably repurposing his European legal work.

The letter also skewers Microsoft, which made a big announcement today about its new DRM technology. He surely knew the announcement was coming, and it's a long tradition in the tech industry to upstage competitors.

Mobile devices are one of the big battlefields for DRM, now that phones are becoming more like iPods. I'm sure even Jobs would agree that Microsoft's DRM also has more capabilities than Apple's FairPlay. Today Microsoft extended its lead there with a new mobile DRM suite called PlayReady that it announced at the 3GSM conference.

Microsoft's statement said PlayRead "supports a broad spectrum of business models, such as subscription, rental, pay-per-view, preview and super-distribution, for many digital content types -- music, video, games, ring tones and images. It also goes beyond Windows Media audio and video (WMA.WMV) and also supports audio/video formats like AAC/AAC+/HE-AAC, and H.264."

Already Microsoft's DRM enables companies like Yahoo! and Napster to offer subscription music services, where consumers pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to their music catalogs. Microsoft also licenses its DRM to other companies, an approach that Jobs rejected in the letter.

I don't like either companies' DRM system. They're both designed more for content owners than consumers. Their battle also sheds more light on Jobs' letter: Microsoft is getting creamed in digital music, where its biggest toehold is DRM. What did Jobs call for last week? Getting rid of DRM.

The column also said that Jobs was positioning himself as an instigator with the letter. Here's the latest on record companies working on their own toward DRM-free music sales, and an overview story from a music industry conference last month.

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

February 9, 2007 11:27 AM

UW prof goes Googley, gets kudos

Posted by Brier Dudley

Alon Halevy, a University of Washington computer science professor who left in December to join Google, was named a 2006 ACM Fellow.

Halevy is one of two employees who received the honor, according to a Google blog post yesterday by engineering boss Alan Eustace.

Also named ACM Fellow was Peter Norvig, Google's research director and journalism watchdog.

It's a good thing Google hired Halevy. Otherwise it would have been almost completely skunked by Microsoft Research, which employs four people on the 2006 ACM Fellow list: Susan Dumais, James Larus, Harry Shum and Alan Greenberg.

Also on the list is Bryant York of Portland State University.

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

February 9, 2007 10:30 AM

Mini on a Lesser Microsoft campaign?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Mini-Microsoft fired back last night.

I suggested that he sounds a lot like dear old Emmett Watson on his Lesser Seattle campaign, only he's doing Lesser Microsoft.


The late Emmett Watson and a Lesser Seattle supporter, his dog Tiger.

If this keeps going we'll have to ask Dick Conway to weigh in.

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February 9, 2007 9:12 AM

Online video's hurting the Internet, and Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's the word from Amsterdam, where Google and other Internet companies at the Cable Europe Congress are fretting about the burden TV and video services are placing on the network.

"The Web infrastructure, and even Google's (infrastructure) doesn't scale. It's not going to offer the quality of service that consumers expect," Vincent Dureau, Google's head of TV technology, said in a Reuters story.

Kind of puts a damper on the buzz around online TV and movie download services.

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

February 8, 2007 12:54 PM

Apple sales to overtake Microsoft by 2010?

Posted by Brier Dudley

A blogger (in New Zealand?) floated the possibility, based on an assumption that Apple' would continue growing 25 percent to 30 percent a year.

Mathew Ingram at the Globe & Mail explored the scenario.

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

February 8, 2007 12:43 PM

Washington tech summit April 12

Posted by Brier Dudley

Energy, life sciences, nanotech and wireless are the focus of the Washington Technology Center's upcoming conference at Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center.

Keynotes will be delivered by Gov. Gregoire and Peter Andrews, chief scientist for Queensland, Australia.

Here's the agenda.

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February 8, 2007 12:20 PM

Vista boosts PC sales 173 percent, will it last?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Consumers are also favoring higher-end versions of the new operating system, according to a Current Analysis report on U.S. retail sales during the week ending Feb. 3.

It's too early to draw conclusions, and launch week numbers are always funny, but the stats are still interesting.

PC sales were up 173 percent compared with the previous week, and 67 percent over the same period last year, the analyst firm reported today.

"This sales spike is a welcome sight for retailers, given that the preceding five weeks had seen sagging sales for PCs,'' the report said. "This slowing was primarily due to a limited amount of inventory, as retailers and OEMs chose to keep their supply of non-Vista products limited in preparation for the Vista transition."

Vista Home Premium accounted for 70 percent of PC sales in the U.S. vs. 22 percent for Vista Home Basic, even though Home Premium came on more expensive hardware. Notebooks with Home Premium averaged $863 vs. 616 for models with Home Basic.

Whether the surge lasts is the $6 billion question.

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February 8, 2007 11:56 AM

A Nintendo phone?

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Register called out a patent that Nintendo has received for a phone with a four-way controller button:

Forget about the iPhone, does anyone fancy an nPhone? Yes, Nintendo has successfully patented a handset design that incorporates not only all the usual phone buttons but also a trio of game controller keys too.

The patent describes "a game and a mobile phone type electronic apparatus" that can suspend a game in process to answer incoming calls.

Comments | Category: Nintendo , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 8, 2007 11:15 AM

Gupta gets magazine's nod, where are the others?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sunny Gupta, the 36-year-old founder of iConclude in Bellevue, was the only local entrepreneur to appear on American Venture Magazine's list of the top 40 "leaders in the emerging growth technology industry" under 40 years old.

The magazine also called out Michelle Cardinal, the 39-year-old founder of Portland media buying agency Cmedia, but that was it for this corner of the country.

Cheers to Sunny and Michelle, but why are they the only Northwesterners on the list?

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February 8, 2007 11:09 AM

Redfin goes SoCal

Posted by Brier Dudley

Redfin is dipping its fin into the big Southern California real-estate market today, a move that will boost its online listings by 340 percent.

It's starting with three agents serving Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.

Isn't that market going soft?

"We're just going to have to wait and see," spokeswoman Cynthia Pang said. "We entered San Francisco recently, and we're doing quite well there. We're actually getting record offers in San Francisco now and the market there is supposedly slowing down.''

The expansion won't add require additional staff at Seattle headquarters, where about 43 work.

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February 6, 2007 5:14 PM

Mini-Microsoft surfaces for a lookback

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apparently all the fumbles in the Super Bowl inspired Mini-Microsoft to share his thoughts on Vista finally shipping, and review Microsoft's accomplishments since he began blogging in 2004.

It's a great post, but he concludes with his usual rant about Microsoft needing to cut about half its workers.

I think he's dreaming if he thinks that Microsoft or any other big business can prune itself to eliminate frustrating bureaucracy and underperformers.

The massive downsizing scenario is scary when you think about what it would mean to everyone else around here.

Microsoft doesn't have a responsibility to keep the Seattle-area economy afloat. But if the company suddenly shrunk by half, it would be a crisis and create huge uncertainty for people and companies around here, especially now that clouds are forming over the housing market.

There's also a risk that downsizing would create even more angst, nasty internal politics and paralysis at Microsoft. Ask employees what happened to the culture of Hewlett-Packard under Carly Fiorina, or closer to home, at AT&T Wireless before it was sold to Cingular in 2004. Google recruiters would be thrilled.

I wouldn't be surprised if Steve Ballmer dials down the hiring growth, though, and maybe even cuts back now that the big products are out the door and the Windows development process is being streamlined.

Microsoft is also going to be spending heavily to lure customers to its online businesses. Would Ballmer compensate for those costs by trimming headcount?

That might be good news to Mini, but it gives me the shivers.

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February 6, 2007 12:38 PM

Microsoft hugs open source ID project

Posted by Brier Dudley

That was the surprising about face Bill Gates made today at the RSA security conference in San Francisco.

Not long ago, when Microsoft still felt on top of the world, Gates said everyone in the world should use Microsoft Passport to identify themselves online. It was a cornerstone of the Hailstorm Web services strategy that spooked companies big and small.

Then Microsoft went on its crusade against Linux and open source for a few years, before changing tack and accepting that big customers are using both Windows and Linux.

Microsoft just released a new version of Passport with Vista -- called Windows CardSpace -- and it hopes lots of people use the technology. But this time around it's presenting itself as playing well with others, including an open-source identity system called OpenID.

As evidence the company announced today that it will work with a handful of other companies, including VeriSign, to make OpenID and Windows CardSpace interoperable.

The company also announced that it's assigning its identity guru, Kim Cameron, to work on the project:

Microsoft recognizes the growth of the OpenID community and believes OpenID plays a significant role in the Internet identity infrastructure. Kim Cameron, Chief Architect of Identity at Microsoft, will work with the OpenID community on authentication and anti-phishing.

It's a positive step but it remains to be seen how much Microsoft is opening up. It also seems more like pragmatism than a philosophical shift.

Gates and Craig Mundie said all the different systems for establishing identity are confusing people, and the stuff has to work together.

In other words, if the Internet checkpoints are too complicated, it will slow the growth of online services and digital commerce. That's where Microsoft can compete with its proprietary services, which may take off if people trust and embrace new identity systems.

Identity theft is already slowing, in part because people and banks are more aware of the risks and more cautious online.

"To create the level of seamless, pervasive connectivity that will make secure anywhere access a reality, continued collaboration and cooperation across this industry is essential," Mundie said in the release. "If we can work together to enhance trust, it will open the door to a transformation in the way people share experiences, explore ideas and create opportunities."

Trumpets blew, flags fluttered and doves were set free when Microsoft announced it would collaborate with Sun and Novell, but those collaborations turned out to be more like forced reconciliations then embraces.

The OpenID news seems more positive, especially since it wasn't prompted by a federal lawsuit. But we'll have to wait and see how it turns out.

UPDATE: Clemens Vasters, a Microsoft program manager, said on his blog that it's big announcement but not surprising if you've seen how things have changed inside the company:

If you ask me, that's pretty big. But working here it's not as much of a surprise as it might be for people on the outside. We're very closely looking at what the community is building and asking for and if we see technologies or initiatives out there that gain lots of traction (such as REST programming, JSON or OpenID) I don't see a "wasn't invented here" attitude around anymore around here these days.

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February 6, 2007 11:42 AM

Jim Gray search: More than 12,000 volunteers

Posted by Brier Dudley

The volunteers searching for Jim Gray have completed more than 530,000 image-scanning tasks doled out by's Mechanical Turk service, according to Werner Vogels, the company's chief technology officer.

Volunteers pore over satellite images, searching for signs of Gray's boat.

"We need a little more of a push and then all the images will have been processed," Vogels said on his blog today. "A team of experts led by Alex Szalay of John Hopkins University has been working through the thousands of images marked for further investigation. They currently have a set of about 20 images that are being further scrutinized before they will be handed to Coast Guard for determining whether they can take action on them."

If you'd like to pitch in, details are at Mechanical Turk.

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February 5, 2007 12:05 PM

Halo 3 preorders at Costco, for November delivery

Posted by Brier Dudley

Preorders can be sketchy, but seems to have the "Halo 3" goods: $54.99, delivered just in time for the holiday shootout between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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February 5, 2007 9:59 AM

Jim Gray: Who he was and why people care

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's what I was trying to explain with today's column on Jim Gray.

As I mentioned to a few people who sent notes this morning, it was easy to write because Jim was such an amazing person. People who knew him were glad to share their thoughts because they wanted the world to know more about him.

I wrote the column Thursday and worried that it would be outdated or irrelevant by today, when it appeared in the paper. But sadly Jim hasn't been found yet and the chances of him pulling a Huck Finn at this point are slim to none.

Here's a sample of the feedback I've received so far:

I have read your story on Jim Gray, whom I have never met or even heard of, and want to say that you have quietly captured a living swath of this human being in the real world he occupied without (my impression) the usual laudatory singing with the angels, etc.

In addition -- terrible IT "racism" -- I usually think of the evil empire as a mindless place, with no creativity, human feeling...blah, blah, blah. Clearly Jim Gray was a core part of the Microsoft culture world and so my little prejudices about Bill Gates and the grey empire have now hit another snag.

Going away...sailing out of San Francisco bay to the Farallon Islands with his mother's remains...what a moving, human story.

I hope they find him. I hope he comes back in....

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February 1, 2007 11:14 AM

Allchin's retirement plans: Use SQL to sort kids' Legos

Posted by Brier Dudley

Other projects on his list: finish the Windows logo latch hook rug, pitch Vista to customers at Apple's store in Bellevue and improve the carpool queuing system at his kids' school.

They were among the entries on Allchin's new schedule, which he posted last night at the Vista team blog. It began like this:

7:00 AM: Breakfast with my sons. Ended up doing a product comparison review of the various cereals we had in our pantry. Sugar does beat the natural stuff and my suspicions about the impact of packaging on the post purchase experience were spot on. It turns out the box does matter.

7:40 AM: Kids off to school.

7:45 AM: Went to check e-mail. Only two pieces.

7:46 AM: Checked network connection to see why I am not getting any e-mail. Everything working perfectly.

8:00 AM: Went to clean up the playroom so that it's organized for when the kids get home. Ended up building an application to sort the Legos using a SQL Server backend and a Windows Presentation Foundation front-end on Windows Vista. Can't decide whether the primary index of the database should be color or size of the piece. While searching the web discovered that Lego means "I put together" in Latin.

9:30 AM: Spent 45 minutes looking around the house for the big refrigerator with the free soda just like Microsoft -- was unable to find it.

10:15 AM: Worked on my Windows logo latch hook rug -- another couple days and I'll finish the red.

11:00 AM: Watched Rachael Ray -- god is she engaging. Maybe she should do the launch of the next version of Windows.

11:30 AM: Checked mail again. No messages.

11:31 AM: Turned off spam filter.

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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.