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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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March 29, 2007 5:26 PM

Pink Zunes arrive

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com's taking orders for the pink Zune, but the Zune's PR team wouldn't comment.

"We are actually not confirming anything in that area in terms of new colors,'' spokeswoman Lane Keough said.

Hmmm.

Nor would she comment on the rampant price cuts. With a little persistence it's easy to find Zunes for close to $200, down from their $250 list price, but Microsoft's not saying what's going on. The new pink ones are full price, though.

My guess is Microsoft's offering discounts to nudge sales up.

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

March 29, 2007 2:54 PM

A new Wiki service with Amazon.com and Microsoft pedigree

Posted by Brier Dudley

Among the companies extending the Wiki concept is Versionate, a Bothell startup that's preparing to launch a Web-based collaboration product in May.

Founders David Zhao and Kevin West started the business a year ago after leaving Amazon.com and Microsoft. Zhao developed Ajax applications such as the Search Inside the Book reader at Amazon and West most recently worked on Vista at Microsoft.

Zhao said they came up with Versionate after being "frustrated with not having an easy-to-use tool to share documents & information at our day jobs."

The short version of their story, from Zhao via email:

"After talking to friends, we realized that we aren't the only ones with this problem. We both loved the concepts behind wikis, but feel wikis are too complex for business users and lacked critical features such as the ability to work with word docs."

Versionate's pitch is that it's as easy to use as a word processor. You create and edit documents in a Web browser, then use the service to store them and control how they're shared by listing who can contribute or just read the materials.

Zhao's former employer is powering the service -- it runs on Amazon's S3 storage network.

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

March 29, 2007 2:36 PM

Multicore price cut coming

Posted by Brier Dudley

According to CRN, Intel's going to cut processor prices starting April 22, coinciding with new ones coming to market.

Quad-cores will come down 40 percent and Core Duo's will fall 20 percent to 40 percent. Unaffected by the cuts will be the mobile Core Duo.

AMD will cut prices up to 30 percent on some processors April 9 when it rolls out new models. The price for a dual-core AMD processor will then be as low as $70 in the U.S., the article said.

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

March 28, 2007 1:17 PM

How Microsoft manipulates the media

Posted by Brier Dudley

Alternative headline: Did the Long Tail guy get wagged?

What am I talking about?

Wired has a story about Microsoft becoming more transparent and using blogs and other Web tools to have more conversations with customers and software developers.

It turns out Microsoft evangelists like Charles Fitzgerald placed (planted?) the story idea with reporter Fred Vogelstein and Wired's editor, Chris Anderson (the "long tail" guy). They took the bait and, during Fred's reporting, Microsoft's PR firm inadvertently sent him a briefing report that included details of how Microsoft was orchestrating the story.

Today the Wired guys bemusedly shared the details, after putting the story Microsoft planted on the cover. Amazing.

From Anderson's blog:

On a personal note, it's kind of freaky to read the memo describe how I was wooed (even manipulated, if you want to think of it that way) into commissioning the piece:

"CharlesF met with Chris Anderson during his fall tour in '06, placing the idea that Microsoft is thinking differently and creatively about its outreach.... Dan'l Lewin met with Chris Anderson in October and also emphasized the company's work in the arena, pushing the story further... Jeff Sandquist traveled to the Bay Area to meet with Chris and his editorial team. They were highly engaged in Jeff's conversation...."

And so on. By the way, as far as I can tell, everything in the memo is accurate. I also think the executives were very well served by the document; they did indeed stick to their message and they got pretty much the story they wanted. This was also, as it happens, the story I wanted -- or was it just the story I thought I wanted because I was so effectively spun by Microsoft's PR machine? The mind reels....

Why not pull the story and run something else after it became evident how clearly it had been shaped by Microsoft? There's plenty to write about.

Fred's a great writer and he's written super stories about Microsoft, especially at Fortune, but I wonder what readers will think about his stuff now.

Maybe it's sour grapes, but the briefing confirms my suspicions he's been getting the red carpet at Microsoft (leading to those framed magazine covers hanging in Building 34) while provincial reporters are lucky to get 15 minutes with Bill or Steve in a Las Vegas hotel suite once every few years.

Wired posted the Microsoft briefing online. It's perfectly normal for a company to brief executives before an interview, and for P.R. types to pitch stories, haggle with reporters and track their progress. But the amount of control they exerted over this story is stunning.

An excerpt:

We're pushing Fred to finish reporting and start writing. I will connect with him Monday and based on that call we may have Charles provide Microsoft's final, closing comments given Fred's emphasis around Charles' involvement and his question to you today around any discussion that went on below you in the organization. Your emphasis on being connected to your org and the discussion around Channel 9 was ideal and we'll want to emphasize the broad support around the direction.

• We will continue to push Fred to make sure there are no surprises. We'll also be working with him on any art that Wired is likely to use.

• We anticipate an advance draft of the piece by mid-March with the final hitting newsstands at the close of March for the April edition.

Perhaps they'd like to suggest a headline as well?

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

March 28, 2007 12:43 PM

Amazon.com partners with Federation of the Blind

Posted by Brier Dudley

The e-commerce giant will work with the National Federation of the Blind "to promote and improve technology that enables blind people to access and use the World Wide Web,'' they announced today.

Amazon will "continue improving the accessibility of its Web site platform" and the NFB will contribute expertise in Web accessibility, the release said.

I asked for more specifics and was told one aspect of the partnership involves "screen access software" that enables blind people to independently navigate the Web, access site aurally or through Braille displays and interact with sites using keyboard commands. The software relies on features that can be built into Web sites such as "alt-tags" describing images and keyboard command equivalents to mouse actions.

Amazon will make changes to its site by Dec. 31, but the agreement is in place for six years, said John G. Paré Jr, spokesman for Baltimore-based NFB.

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

March 28, 2007 12:03 PM

Microsoft-DoubleClick deal to boost aQuantive?

Posted by Brier Dudley

When I saw the Wall Street Journal report that Microsoft may pay $2 billion for DoubleClick, I thought it might be a negative for Seattle online ad company aQuantive to have the folks in Redmond expanding their online ad services portfolio.

But Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Fine said the opposite. In a note to clients today she said the $2 billion valuation for DoubleClick suggests that aQuantive may be undervalued:

aQuantive's current market cap is around $2.4bn and its ad serving business, Atlas, is expected to generate approximately $150mn in revenues in FY07 as well. If DoubleClick can fetch $2bn, this could imply that aQuantive shares are highly undervalued and its agency business is worth only $400mn. Most interactive agencies have fetched more than 20x-25x EBITDA. Valuing aQuantive's agency business at these multiples implies a value of approximately $1.7bn and including $2bn would suggest upside potential of 54%! However, we do note that it is hard to know what DoubleClick's financials truly look like today.

AQNT was down with the rest of the market before her note came out but it has recently leveled out, to unchanged at last check.

What I want to know is whether Dow Jones ought to get a cut of the increased value of Internet companies that use its pages to pit Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and others against each other and land a better deal.

It's getting to be standard practice whenever a big deal goes down -- remember how AOL and eBay negotiated up their search partnerships? It has to be worth a fortune to the companies. Call it the $200 million press release.

Don't get me wrong. I'd love to break stories like this, and the reporters did a great job getting this one out first. But the pattern is troubling.

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

March 28, 2007 11:31 AM

Trade group giving $5K scholarships to students

Posted by Brier Dudley

CompTIA, a computer industry group supported by Microsoft, among others, is giving five awards of $5,000 apiece to the winners of an essay contest. The subject:

In November 1985, Microsoft® Windows version 1.0 was released. It changed forever the way we use computers. In 2001, Apple launched iPod, revolutionizing the worlds of music and entertainment. The coolest new technology of the next 25 years will be ...

Details are here.

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

March 28, 2007 11:02 AM

Jubii's Microsoft connection

Posted by Brier Dudley

That would be Jan Wergin, executive vice president at the bold new Danish social networking site.

Wergin studied and taught communications and languages at the University of Washington from 1995 to 2000, eventually receiving a Ph.D., before joining Microsoft. He was a program manager in the business tools division, working on Visio and Project, and then worked on the Office and Vista teams.

Now he's executive vice president of Jubii, which is based in Denmark. But he also travels a lot -- the company is a subsidiary of Germany-based Lycos, and it has a development office in Armenia. Within a few months it will also open an office in the San Francisco area.

Despite its international background, Jubii is initially targeting the U.S. market. In April it will launch in Germany and then other countries in Europe.

I said bold because Jubii's squaring off against companies like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! with its all-in-one social networking, file sharing, online storage and communications suite.

"I think there's still a lot of opportunity in the whole market,'' said Wergin.

He said consumers are tired of using multiple services with different logins and Jubii's simple, consolidated approach will appeal to them.

"I think at some point people are going to get very tired of having to manage all these different sites and profiles and inboxes,'' he said. "I think what we will see in the industry is a consolidation of these services. The service that is positioned the best is the one that will win eventually."

Jubii has been taking registrations for a few weeks but formally went live with its service on Tuesday.

It's one of several next-generation social networking sites with advanced privacy and sharing controls like Vox and Microsoft's Wallop.

Wergin said the service was designed to feel like a desktop application, rather than a mishmash of online services.

"Basically everything a user will use or can use on a normal desktop application he can also do in Jubii,'' he said. "We wanted to make sure people don't have to switch paradigms or think in different ways."

Jubii has a few lures that may help it stand out from the pack. One is the offer of 10 gigabytes of free online storage (it's going to eventually be offering tiers of free and premium services and storage).

The other offer -- and the one that gives Jubii a fighting chance, I think -- is free telephone calling services that could put pressure on free Internet calling services such as Skype, Google Talk and Microsoft's Live Messenger.

Jubii's trick is that you don't have to rig up a headset and talk through a computer. To place a call, you click on one of your contacts. Jubii routes the call through its network, and rings your phone and the phone of the person you are calling. Pick it up and you are connected.

Users can place free calls up to five minutes long apiece, totaling 30 minutes a day. That's for calls between land lines, or land lines to cellphones. Beyond that, you'll have to buy a bundle of minutes from the company.

The free level of service will be supported by advertising.

Jubii's also pitching itself to telecommunication companies as a potential partner. At first I thought that was odd -- wouldn't they be miffed about the free calls?

But Wergin explained that Jubii offers a compelling online package for telcos to add to their mix of services.

I'll bet Jubii is positioning itself as a way for phone companies to compete with Skype in particular. It will appeal to Skype users, and give phone companies a way to get in the online VoIP game (and charge for the additional minutes beyond the free ones).

Wergin put it differently. "I think we have a very competitive product,'' he said. "It gives a little bit different spin on this communication environment."

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

March 27, 2007 4:34 PM

Party in Lynnwood, at NetRiver's new data center

Posted by Brier Dudley

Giveaways are on tap Thursday from 1 to 8:30 p.m. during the grand opening of NetRiver's colocation center in a former REI store.

The company started started providing Web hosting from a house in Spokane in 1999, then expanded into the basement of the historic Davenport Hotel.

Last year NetRiver moved into the REI space, which was available since the store had relocated to Alderwood Mall. It has 330 racks and plans to add 250 more, in addition to the 60 it still operates below the Spokane hotel.

Among the new site's selling points: The added security of being across the street from the Lynnwood Police Department.

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

March 27, 2007 4:18 PM

A mom that likes the TouchSmart

Posted by Brier Dudley

I agree with Mommyg that Hewlett-Packard's Vista showcase is sturdy enough to be child-friendly, especially compared with Sony's glass-trimmed Vaio all-in-ones and the iMac (I could just see one of those going backwards off the desk ...).

From her comment today:

"I have two young kids and they love using this computer. My 3 yr old can now play games by pointing and dragging objects with his finger. This computer screen is not big enough to replace most TV sets that are found in living rooms or family rooms but it works great on a desk top. The design may seem klunky but I can appreciate a $1800 computer feeling sturdy and well placed since I have kids that use it daily."

It really is the most child-friendly computer I've seen. I'll bet HP could sell a lot of them to schools if they could get the price down, and if Microsoft would renew its effort to promote touch-enabled educational software development.

Speaking of form factors, Charlie Owen shared a comment he received, pointing him toward the original kitchen computer -- a 1969 model that Neiman Marcus tried to sell for $10,600.

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

March 27, 2007 3:28 PM

CTIA: Where's Microsoft?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Tricia's all over the show, with a great story in the paper today about Microsoft spinoff ZenZui and tons of breaking news on Tech Tracks.

But some observers are starting to say the show's on the dull side, with no earth shattering announcements yet.

Microsoft seems to be showing good momentum with Windows Mobile but wireless boss, Pieter Knook, apparently didn't have much news at all in his keynote.

Did Microsoft decide to let ZenZui and other telephony projects - like the new Office Communicator - stand out? Unless I'm mistaken, the company didn't even mention Knook's speech on its press release page today.

Maybe Microsoft decided it's not worth trying to build buzz around any new wireless initiatives until after the iPhone ships in June.

Or could Knook be holding his fire because of another Windows reorganization?

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

March 27, 2007 12:36 PM

Wii pirates set sail, Nintendo takes aim

Posted by Brier Dudley

For a primer on the challenges of a global game business, check this sequence of stories in Taiwan's DigiTimes:

March 13: Nintendo isn't selling Wiis in China yet, but they're already showing up there and being modified with chips allowing them to play pirated games:

Although the Nintendo Wii has not officially launched in China yet, the game console have been unofficially imported into the country and demand for modifications of the console using modchips has resulted in the price for such modifications to drop from 500-600 yuan a month ago to 200 yuan (US$26) currently, according to industry sources in Taiwan.

March 16: Wii hackers causing a "surprise boom" in sales of $20 LG DVD drives that work especially well for copying the console's game discs. It's unclear whether the discs are being copied for personal use or resale, but it sounds to me like the game pirates have set sail:

Although the launch date for the Wii in the Taiwan market is still uncertain, quite a large number of U.S.- and Japan-version consoles have been privately imported for sale, and this has subsequently caused growing demand for mod chips such as Wiinja, CycloWiz or WiiKey, which allow the consoles to run unlicensed game software, the sources pointed out. Such unlicensed game discs sell at NT$150-250, much lower than the NT$1,200-2,000 price for original software discs, the sources indicated.

Because of the demand for copying original game discs for use in modified Wii consoles, either for backup purposes or for sale, LG's LG-8164b, LG-8163b and LG-8162b DVD-ROM drives have become hot sellers because they are the most suitable models to read from an original Wii disc, the sources pointed out. The read disc image can then be burned onto a blank DVD+R/-R discs.

Today's story: Nintendo is changing the Wii's circuit layout to block mod chippers, but it may only slow them down:

The new Wiis, which are part of new shipments of the console, have an altered circuit layout that makes modification more difficult than in earlier versions. Users attempting to mod the new consoles using current modchips are very likely to damage the system, the sources pointed out.

In view of past instances where Nintendo and other games console makers including Microsoft and Sony have revised the circuitry of their consoles in attempts to to disable modchips, it is a logical expectation that a more advanced modchip specifically for the new Wii revision will be available in less than a month, the sources indicated.

Some providers of Wii modification services in Taiwan think Nintendo could adopt BGA (ball grid array) IC packaging to prolong the time needed by hackers to develop new modchips to at least four months. The longer waiting time would likely reduce the willingness of some users to modify the consoles, the sources noted.


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

March 27, 2007 12:17 PM

Sexy machines, for geeks

Posted by Brier Dudley

As if data centers needed anymore heat -- now they're getting sexy hardware, according to ComputerWorld. Don't worry, the pictures are safe for work.

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

March 27, 2007 9:20 AM

A Seattle story: The Xbox and Bruce Lee

Posted by Brier Dudley

In a story about cool dude Vermont creative director Michael Jager, Fast Company magazine talks about how he won the Xbox 360 brand design account.

During a 2004 pitch to the Xbox team in Redmond, Jager compared the first Xbox with the Incredible Hulk. He told them the next one had to be more like Bruce Lee, "to transition Xbox from this hulk of escaping power into this quiet power that is lurking, something still incredibly dangerous but with more of an elegance and grace,'' he said.

The Hulk vs. Bruce stuff became a "mantra" as the team developed the system's look and feel, the article said, quoting then Xbox brand director, Don Hall:

Whenever we evaluated our work in terms of guiding our deisions for Xbox 360 it was like, "This is too Hulk" or "We need more Bruce Lee."

Jager's firm, JDK Design, is credited with the shape of the box: "The reverse parenthesis design [ )( ] of the console is itself Jager's symbolic conjuring of the martial-arts master, representing the inhalation of breath befroe a strike."

JDK Design won over J Allard. He told the magazine it's the first time he's had a wandering career eye in 15 years at Microsoft.

The article doesn't mention it, but Allard went on to hire JDK to work on the Zune and apparently come up the brown color scheme.

JDK must be using its Xbox loot to buy some PR. Not only was the firm on the cover of Fast Company alongside Jimmy Wales, but it also received glowing treatment in a March 22 Business Week story that revisits the "brown is cool now" theme.

From the Business Week piece:

Taking cues from high-end audiophile gear, JDK first thought to design the player with a wood veneer, then considered leather or copper, which would take on a patina over time -- anything to depart from what (design director Malcolm) Buick calls the "preciousness" of white. Eventually, technical considerations mandated a molded plastic design similar to the Zune's competitors. But JDK sought to reproduce the analog emotional experience by using brown, a warmer tone virtually absent from personal technology products since the first Atari consoles a quarter century ago.

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

March 26, 2007 4:22 PM

PS3 folding fast and furious

Posted by Brier Dudley

Less than a week after Sony shipped firmware letting PS3 owners contribute computing power to Stanford's Folding@home project, the consoles have already eclipsed the horsepower from home PCs.

The project lets computer and console owners share unused computing cycles with researchers trying to cure diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Sony upgraded the software last week so PS3 owners can sign up from the console's menu bar. When the consoles are idle, the research project taps into their processing power.

As of today, more than 31,000 have signed up, delivering more than 493 trillion floating point operations per second, according to a Sony press release. It also noted that's "over 300 trillion more per second than the active Personal Computer participants, which total over 162,000 users."

It's a great project and it's neat that Sony's helping out.

You could read the release in several ways.

The PS3 is powerful, but what does all this spare computing power say about the new console? Are the machines idle a lot because their owners are still waiting for more games?

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

March 26, 2007 12:10 PM

Microsoft hotshots building platform in the cloud

Posted by Brier Dudley

Code name: Quincy.

A dream team is coming together for the new online platform, Windows Live Core, according to a LiveSide post flagged by Mary Jo Foley..

Dave Cutler's on it, along with Amitabh Srivastava, James Hamilton, David Treadwell and Abolade Gbadegesin.

LiveSide questioned whether the project will surface at the Mix conference at the end of the month in Las Vegas.

Sounds to me like Live Core is more appropriate for PDC, the Professional Developer Conference, in October.

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

March 26, 2007 10:46 AM

Solving the digital TV puzzle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's column talks about how AppleTV, Xbox and consumer electronics makers are bumper to bumper in the race to connect televisions and the Internet. But maybe we should keep an eye on Kristyn Heath instead.

I wonder if the 16-year-old San Francisco inventor, or some other unknown tinkerer, will figure out the best way to digify the home. She's built a great gadget for sharing music on an iPod, at least according to this Technology Review article that mentions Microsoft program manager Mike O'Malley.

It's already time for Heath to create a workaround for the AppleTV. Here's a note I received today:

Brier,

Read your column on AppleTV. I bought one last week and have been attempting to use the device as a media hub, primarily for DVD title management.

My wife and I are movie buffs and have a rotating stack of DVDs we watch regularly. With the AppleTV we thought we could RIP our DVDs to a hard disk similar to how we managed (and then abandoned) our CD collection to mp3.

In order to transcode my DVD movies I need to essentially break the law by using fringe software and techniques on content I have legitimately purchased. Unless the movie industry moderates their copy protection policies or Apple adds the ability to at least record ATSC, the AppleTV will probably remain a niche device.


GETTY IMAGES


The AppleTV grabbed a good deal of attention when it arrived on the market last week.

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

March 26, 2007 10:25 AM

Where to take your old PC? Lots of choices now

Posted by Brier Dudley

A reader asked me today where her company could recycle old PCs.

I've mentioned Re-PC before, but just came across a great list of computer recycling options compiled by King County.

I should have asked her whether they were upgrading to Vista or switching to Macs.

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

March 26, 2007 9:55 AM

Microsoft admits Xbox Live account hacks, finally

Posted by Brier Dudley

What took so long?

Complaints about account problems have been floating around for months, but the company finally fessed up Friday after they were called on it by outspoken security researcher Kevin Finisterre, the "Month of Apple Bugs" guy. ComputerWorld has the rundown and links to Finisterre's online account (of the situation).

Xbox blogger Larry Hyrb's mea culpa on Friday noted that Xbox Live itself wasn't hacked, but the support center was vulnerable to social engineering.

In other words, you could use "Rockford Files" techniques to talk the customer service reps into giving out account information. Hyrb said they're being retrained.

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

March 23, 2007 11:02 AM

Research firm: Clearwire an acquisition target

Posted by Brier Dudley

The ink's barely dry on its stock certificates but Clearwire's already being pegged as an acquisition target by Pyramid Research, a Cambridge, Mass. firm.

It's take on Craig McCaw's startup:

" ... we believe the operator is positioning itself to become a coveted acquisition target in the medium term."

The release also has an interesting comparison of the cost per megabit per second of various broadband providers. Charter is the least expensive.

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

March 23, 2007 9:50 AM

Double (or triple) your return with Google options?

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's Merrill Lynch analyst Justin Post's latest advice to clients, with Google stock down a bit ahead of its April 19 earnings report:

"Investors can enhance returns to long stock positions by adding delta over the next month given our expectation that shares will trade up 10% by April 20th options expiry. We recommend adding an April 20th $460/$510 1x1 bull call spread to existing long positions. If the stock finishes between $490-$510 on April 20th the investor can yield a 9%-17% return vs. 3%-7% return for stock-only positions (based from last session's close)."

But what if Yahoo! really is making a dent in the juggernaut?

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

March 23, 2007 9:35 AM

Simonyi to chat with Redmond kids, from space

Posted by Brier Dudley

Students at Redmond High School will have a chance to ask Charles Simonyi question via ham radio as he circles the earth on the International Space Station next month.

The question-and-answer sessions will be recorded and posted at an educational Web site tracking his adventure. He ought to let people download the recordings -- making them the first podcasts from space.

Other schools participating include Fairborn High School in Fairborn, Ohio, and Cedar Point Elementary School in Bristow, Va., near Washington, D.C.

Simonyi will also be contacting students from the Technical University of Budapest, and he'll be using his technical expertise and interest in amateur radio to maintain ham radios on the space station.

Tour organizer Space Adventures said this "work will include testing one radio set to isolate an antenna problem with the equipment and reprogramming the default settings on a second unit to correct a configuration problem."

How many people would be willing to provide a little tech support during their $20 million vacation?

Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , Education |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 22, 2007 1:28 PM

Expedia boss gets snazzy NY outpost

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's not quite the Experience Expedia Project, but I'll bet some folks from the Bellevue travel company will spend time in a spectacular new Frank Gehry building in Manhattan.

The building, reviewed in the New York Times today, is the new headquarters for the empire of Expedia's major investor and chairman, Barry Diller.

Visiting Seattleites ought to enjoy the building. It looks like it's already been through an earthquake or two, but at least it has more windows than Gehry's Seattle landmark.

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

March 22, 2007 12:35 PM

New Xbox -- with 120 gigs -- next month?

Posted by Brier Dudley

An intriguing comment in response to Tuesday's AppleTV post:

"You will most likely see a new Xbox 360 with a 120gb hard drive and HDMI out next month."

I think the commenter is a Texas musician -- great to hear from him, some of my favorite music comes from that state -- but who knows? He may have an inside line. Or maybe he's just an optimist.

An Xbox refresh was going to happen sooner or later, since Microsoft is pitching the Xbox 360 set-top box. AppleTV's got to be making it sooner.

I've asked Microsoft for more info.

UPDATE: In the meantime, a helpful reader in Woodinville pointed to a few sites that earlier predicted a special edition 120 gig/HDMI Xbox code-named Zephyr may arrive in April for $479, followed by those features becoming standard in late summer. Still waiting for confirmation though.

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

March 22, 2007 11:43 AM

A new gig for Seattle's Apprentice

Posted by Brier Dudley

If Donald Trump gives Zoodango's James Sun the boot, Sun has a more rewarding gig waiting back home.

I think he should take a bigger role in the software industry's efforts to get kids more excited about math and science. He's the perfect front man: Not only is he a groovy Web entrepreneur, he's relatively young (30), articulate and has a bit of celebrity aura since he's been on Trump's show.

Sun's already pitching in. In a cameo appearance during last night's WSA awards dinner, he talked up the organization's education push and shared his personal story.

As a kid, he was getting D's and C's in math until fifth grade, when a thoughtful teacher gave him a nudge. The teacher told him he was "actually good at math, and math is important,'' Sun recalled.

From then on he received 4.0 grades in math, which boosted his other studies and made him a 4.0 student overall.

"Math can be a catalyst for students to really understand the importance of education,'' he said.

You're hired!

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

March 22, 2007 11:03 AM

Smartsheet.com leveraging Amazon.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

Smartsheet.com, a Bellevue-based "Office 2.0" venture that provides online task management and spreadsheet services, launched version 2.0 yesterday with more features for users of the free version.

(I mentioned the company in a recent column on Google.)

The company also announced that its free online document management service is being powered by Amazon.com's S3 storage service.

Additionally, the company has plugged in Amazon's Mechanical Turk labor service, so Smartsheet.com customers can tap the Turks to build new business templates.

"We extended the document feature to all Smartsheet customers so that anyone, free or paying, may experience the speed and reliability of Amazon S3,'' Mark Mader, Smartsheet.com president, said in the release. "We've also expanded our use of Amazon Web Services to include Amazon Mechanical Turk. This is a great way for us to cost effectively tap into a diverse workforce for the identification of business and consumer content."

Maybe Amazon ought to buy Smartsheet and take the fight to Google Apps.

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

March 22, 2007 10:20 AM

AOL on NBC's YouTube killer: We still like Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

Internet companies seem nervous that their dance partners will be offended if they also take a spin with new video-sharing service that NBC and News Corp. announced today.

Here's part of a note I received today from an AOL spokeswoman:

Some of the early news reports today are speculating that this venture is aimed squarely at Google and YouTube. As you're aware, Google has a 5 percent stake in AOL. Our goal is to provide the largest number of video assets to our audience of more than 100 million unique visitors a month. Just as we continue to work closely with Google in search and other areas, we also work closely with other partners.

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March 20, 2007 4:46 PM

Xbox tries to frag AppleTV

Posted by Brier Dudley

Interesting to get an update on the Xbox video downloading service from the team's PR agency today, just as Apple launches its TV device. (You can order AppleTV now for $299, with three- to five-day shipping).

The similarly priced gadgets really will compete, taking the Apple vs. Microsoft fight to the living room.

Both are boxes that will stream video and other media from a PC to a television.

Xbox didn't mention Apple's device in the news release, but it was clearly one of those "anything you can do I can do better" things. Its bullet points:

-- Within four months of launching, Xbox Live has become the number one online distributor of television and feature film content in the living room where it's most easy for consumers to access.

-- In the same four months, the service has quickly become the number two online distributor of television and feature film content, second to iTunes.

-- Is currently the ONLY online distributor of major feature films and television programming in high definition (HD) resolution.

-- The service is a breakout success, with double-digit, month-over-month growth since launching.

-- Monthly downloads from Xbox Live went up 400 percent since the service launched in November.

On the other hand, Apple's device seems to have a simpler interface than the Xbox blades. But then Apple's interface looks awfully similar to the Media Center.

Apple also gave its set-top box a bigger hard drive (40 gigabytes vs. the Xbox's 20) and an HDMI port.

I'll bet we'll now be seeing a bigger drive and HDMI on Xbox (the 360.2?) before the holidays.

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March 20, 2007 4:26 PM

Movaya launches PlugNPlay game store plugin

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle startup Movaya has launched an intriguing new service: a turnkey mobile games store that retailers, bloggers, MySpacers and anyone else can add to their Web sites.

The service includes the ability to cut and paste a snippet of code onto a Web site to begin selling mobile games.

From the release:

"Until now, selling mobile games directly to consumers via a Web site was difficult and expensive" says Movaya CEO Phil Yerkes. "PlugNPlay eliminates the need for any online retailer to spend thousands of dollars and months of time to build this type of Web site offering. Our PlugNPlay service it is a quick, easy and low cost solution for anyone wanting to sell mobile video games."

Maybe I should start hawking games here to boost the rainy day fund.

Yerkes previously spent 10 years at RealNetworks in business development and sales management. Before he left he was handling major accounts with wireless companies, including Sprint and Cingular Wireless.

He started Movaya with John Calian, a veteran of domain name service provider eNom.

They surfaced last year and now have a development center in Chengdu, China, in addition to HQ in the Eastlake neighborhood.

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March 20, 2007 3:32 PM

The $38 billion backup error

Posted by Brier Dudley

This story's all over the Web today: An Alaska state technician accidently reformatted a backup drive containing information on the $38 billion oil sales account that pays state residents an annual dividend.

Backup tapes turned out to be unreadable, even after Microsoft and Dell pitched in to help recover the data.

In the end the state had to rescan the original paperwork, which fortunately was still there, stored in 300 cardboard boxes. That cost $200,000 and the snafu will reduce Alaskans' oil dividend checks by 37 cents apiece.

I wonder if Alaska hired the techician from the King County elections office.

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March 20, 2007 3:13 PM

REI says it's climbing with Mercent

Posted by Brier Dudley

Mercent, the Seattle e-commerce service provider with an Amazon.com pedigree, has given REI's online sales a boost, the companies announced today.

In the first 90 days after the outdoor cooperative plugged Mercent's system into its back-end retail management system last year, it saw an 11 percent overall increase in sales on the channels handled by Mercent.

I should note a potential conflict of interest: I'm still waiting to see the results in my annual REI dividend.

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March 20, 2007 2:55 PM

WebEx vs.Placeware: Did MSFT get the better deal?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Cisco and Microsoft both made good buys when they jumped into video conferencing, according to Don Dodge, director of business development on Microsoft's emerging business team.

On his blog, Dodge dissected the deals and explored whether Microsoft should have acquired WebEx. Instead it bought Placeware, a company whose team was willing to relocate to Redmond. Placeware also fit better, he said:

Microsoft's business model is to sell software products for a license fee. WebEx was all about selling a hosted service on a dollars per minute basis. This is a great business model but it didn't match with anything else Microsoft was doing, and certainly didn't fit with the Microsoft Messenger / Live Meeting strategy of the time. It was probably easier to acquire Placeware for $200M and make it fit the Microsoft model than it was to spend $750M for Web-Ex and not optimize their existing revenue model.

Cisco's purchase was probably smart, he said:

They paid a lot more than they would have four years ago, but in the long run it will probably work out. But why didn't they save several billion dollars and acquire them earlier? Good question, but my guess is that Cisco was not looking to get into this business four years ago.

On Google's $1.6 billion purchase of YouTube, Dodge said, "Cisco looks like a genius in comparison."

I'm waiting for a similar rundown on the Tellme deal. He gave it kudos last week but didn't provide many specifics:

You might recall that I have been talking about Mobile Search and Local Search as two of the most lucrative search markets still up for grabs. It should be no surprise that Microsoft made this acquisition to go after these markets. Great move!

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March 20, 2007 1:57 PM

A billionaire dabbawala: Charles taking Martha meal to space

Posted by Brier Dudley

Confirming one of my big scoops last year, Space Adventures today said Martha Stewart will be involved in the creation of a special meal that Charles Simonyi will personally deliver to the International Space Station on April 7.

From the space tourism company's press release today:

As a personal gesture to his fellow crew members, and the astronauts and cosmonauts already aboard the ISS, Dr. Simonyi has chosen a special gourmet meal to be shared by the group during his mission. The menu for the meal, which was prepared by Alain Ducasse's consulting and training center, ADF, was selected by Dr. Simonyi's friend Martha Stewart.

It won't be the first time fancy French food has been served at the station. The country's space agency has used ADF to provide "special event meals" in the past for "exceptional assignments such as crew relief missions or extra-vehicular activity." Talk about plein air dining.

So what's the billionaire dabbawala serving?

Six courses, including quail roasted in Madrian wine, duck breast "confit" with capers, shredded chicken parmentier, apple fondant pieces, rice pudding with candied fruit, and semolina cake with dried apricots.

Simonyi -- whose blog said he's doing a "full-up simulation of launch, rendezvous, and return" today -- had a quote in the release:

"I am really looking forward to sharing this dinner with my crewmates on the station. Although the food is very good there, it is somewhat basic, and after a couple of weeks, everything starts tasting the same. I am certain a little variation will be surely welcome."

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March 20, 2007 11:31 AM

Charlie Owen's take on TouchSmart piece

Posted by Brier Dudley

In a thoughtful response to Monday's column on the TouchSmart, Microsoft evangelist Charlie Owen said he'd like a journalist to review Media Center in its intended setting -- instead of putting a kitchen PC in the living room. From his blog:

"It sure would be nice if a journalist would review a Windows Media Center system as our team envisions. Let us hear about your environment, and then help you select a combination of hardware which addresses your needs and wishes. Some might say this would affect the integrity of the writer. I don't think so -- as long as the writer is up front about the assistance he got from Microsoft."

It's a generous offer, but as I commented on his blog, I prefer to have an "off the shelf" experience when reviewing products, as if I were an average consumer. I'd still like to talk to his team, though, perhaps closer to the launch of the "Fiji" update of Media Center that may arrive later this year.

It was a little goofy to put the TouchSmart in my living room, but the room is probably smaller than the kitchens of most people buying $1,800 computers.

Consumers are also interested in using the system in unexpected parts of the house, Julie McDonald, an HP marketing manager told me. She said one customer wanted the system in the foyer, and she's using a TouchSmart in her family room.

I thought about testing the TouchSmart in my kitchen, but the room is still midway through a never-ending remodel.

Maybe I'll balance the coverage by testing a living room PC in the kitchen/dining room, if I ever finish the construction.


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March 20, 2007 11:10 AM

Stephenson surfaces at Cinerama

Posted by Brier Dudley

A particularly good night at Paul Allen's Cinerama inspired Seattle author Neal Stephenson to explain what's really happening with the movie "300."

Microsoft blogger and narcissistic dilettante Fimoculous called out the essay, which appeared in a different Times. I hope it's a sign that Stephenson's exercising his writing muscles again and working on another book.

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March 19, 2007 1:01 PM

More on the troubles with TouchSmart

Posted by Brier Dudley

I didn't have enough room in today's column on Hewlett-Packard's TouchSmart to list all the bad and good things about the system. Here are a few more.

The TouchSmart comes with an elegant "home console" application, a cousin to Cozi's application/service. (Cozi co-founder Robbie Cape worked with HP on the TouchSmart).

But it also comes preloaded with a lot of other junk that diminishes the experience of turning on your new Vista PC. This isn't unique to TouchSmart or HP -- every PC maker sells more billboards on their desktop real estate than a two-bit Highway 99 strip mall -- but they've got to let it go if they want their machines to be used and loved like consumer electronics products.


Brier Dudley


So much for the clean look of Vista. Here's how the browser appears the first time you open it on HP's TouchSmart. Look at all the Web search options; none uses Microsoft's search engine.


The clutter also negates the interface improvements in Vista. For instance, the TouchSmart's browser comes preconfigured with four different buttons and panels to search the Web -- three powered by Yahoo! and one by AOL and Google. Internet Explorer's built-in seach pane is pre-set to use Yahoo! Search.

Other bundled applications are also intrusive, especially in a device designed to be an entertainment center. More than once I was watching a TV show or a DVD and playback was interrupted by a notification popping up from the Norton security software that comes with the system.

The most frustrating thing of all, though, was the periodic failure of the remote control. It wouldn't be so bad if you were using the system at a kitchen counter or a desk, but we were using it mostly from the couch and depended on the remote a lot. Every few days it would go nuts and do things like turn the volume to the maximum level when we tried to turn it up or down.

On Saturday I was in the program guide and tried to select a show on KBTC, the Tacoma public television station. When I clicked on Channel 12 with the remote, the system would start playing Fox Channel 13. Then it wouldn't let me change the channel back to 12, even if I went back to the guide and tried again. I simply couldn't get to 12 until I rebooted the system. I was beginning to wonder if this was an insiduous new form of network sponsorship.

It ended up taking about five minutes to change the channel to 12, including the time it took to reboot and get the TV application back up again. It might have been quicker to haul the TV up from the basement.

Other bundled applications are pretty neat. The chess game was a hit, as were some of the games in the Wild Tangent gaming client that comes with the system.

My favorite use of the system was playing digital music. If it were half the price I'd consider using one as the front end of our home stereo, because it's great to sift through a music collection with the touch screen.

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March 15, 2007 12:54 PM

Zune drops price, faces competition from Slacker

Posted by Brier Dudley

In this morning's paper, I saw Office Depot was offering Zunes for $199 after rebate, down from the original $250 price.

Then I checked my e-mail and found a press release from Slacker, a San Diego company launching a new music subscription service it calls Personal Radio and a device that looks like trouble for Zune 1.0.


Slacker Inc.

The Personal Radio


For $7.50 a month Slacker users will be able access millions of songs. (It works with Windows Media content, so perhaps the company is using Microsoft's DRM for this service.) Slacker organizes the music in several ways, including a huge variety of "stations" dedicated to a particular artist.

The players match or exceed the Zune's key features -- screens bigger than an iPod, Wi-Fi connectivity and a groovy, alternative vibe (Slacker launched at SXSW).

But instead of using the Wi-Fi to share music directly with other devices, the Slacker players will use the radios to access the service's Internet-based music library. They'll also be able to cache music on the device, for listening offline.

Slacker does have some sharing -- it lets users send a URL pointing to their "station" choices to friends via email or instant messages.

Here's the company's pitch:

For the first time, Slacker Personal Radio Players will enable music lovers to play personalized radio everywhere they go. The new devices include integrated Wi-Fi and an on-board Slacker DJ. The Slacker DJ combined with the new Slacker caching system guarantees personalized CD quality radio stations to be played everywhere, even when not in Wi-Fi range. Slacker customers get deep, personalized radio stations with optimized radio programming sequences, continuously refreshed and updated to include personalized new music.

Additional Slacker device features include:
-- 4" full screen display featuring album art /reviews, artist photos/bios and visualizations
-- Support for MP3, WMA and video as well as "saved" radio tracks
-- Automatically save and refresh personalized stations via Wi-Fi, satellite or USB

The satellite thing is really intriguing, but the FAQs reveal that's a feature available with an optional car kit, not directly from the device.

Slacker said it's negotiating to put its music service on additional devices. It's already partnering with Sony to distribute music from Sony's library; could a Slacker Wi-Fi Walkman be in the works? How about Slacker on a PSP?

Either way, this may push the Zunesters to start doing more with Wi-Fi sooner rather than later.

UPDATE: A Zune spokeswoman called Friday asking where I'd heard about the $50 rebate, implying that it's not being handled by Microsoft and therefore the company isn't using rebates to indirectly lower the Zune price. I told her she should subscribe to the printed version of the Times, which carried the ad for $199 Zunes on Thursday.

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March 15, 2007 12:19 PM

Phew, Vista works with OWA after all

Posted by Brier Dudley

I ranted earlier about how I couldn't use Outlook Web Access on a Vista machine because of the high security settings. The situation seemed to break the productivity and mobility promises of both products.

Apparently there's a fix available, in the form of an update for Exchange, according to an Explorer team blog post Wednesday.

In the post, B. Ashok, a Web development tools product manager, described the exactly what happened when I tried to use a Vista machine to access OWA:

However if your server does not have this update applied, you may experience the inability to compose and edit e-mail messages on OWA when running IE7 in Windows Vista. When this happens, you will see a red 'x' in place of your e-mail message body.

Actually, when this happens, everything will appear red to users, who will also swear and mistreat their shiny new Vista machine's keyboard and mouse.

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March 14, 2007 6:03 PM

Seattleite offered $10 million to game Google rank

Posted by Brier Dudley

Rand Fishkin, president of Seattle search optimization company SEOmoz, received the offer during a conference last month from operators of a poker Web site, according to a ComputerWorld story.

An excerpt:

"He said, 'If you can get us a search ranking in the top five for online poker or gambling [using white hat methods], we'll buy that site from you for $10 million,'" recalls Fishkin, president and CEO of SEOmoz in Seattle. Intrigued but skeptical, Fishkin consulted other gambling site owners at the conference. "They said, 'If it really does rank there, we might be interested in paying you $10 million more.'"

Fishkin's still mulling the offer.

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March 14, 2007 5:22 PM

NYT to charge for its Reader gadget

Posted by Brier Dudley

The New York Times today said it will begin charging for the use of Reader, a software gadget for displaying a digital version of its paper that Microsoft helped the newspaper develop.

Bill Gates and New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. demonstrated the software at a newspaper conference in Seattle last April, and Microsoft has since promoted it as an example of a custom interface taking advantage of new Web presentation technologies and the touch-sensitive Tablet PC interface now part of Windows Vista.

A beta version of the Reader has been distributed free, but that will end March 27 when the company it launches as a subscription product, according to a note that testers received this afternoon from Rob Larson, vice president of product management and development for NYTimes.com.

The paper will charge $14.95 a month or $165 a year for the Reader and online access to its premium content.

People who subscribe to the print version of the paper will be able to use the Reader free.

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March 14, 2007 2:13 PM

How Microsoft divvies up work with India

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's one of the insights developer group VP S. Somasegar shared with Indian tech news outlet Rediff in an interview focused on Microsoft's India Development Center in Hyderabad:

On what criterion did you allot the work to be done in the US and also at IDC, Hyderabad?

It is a combination of two things. First, we look at what kind of expertise we have here, what kind of expertise we have in the U.S. and what kind of expertise we have in the rest of the world. Then we look at what kind of features and technologies we want to develop. Depending on that, we allot work to various centers.

For example, we know there is interoperability expertise here. So, we allot that work here.

Somasegar also talked about the contributions that IDC made to Vista, including VPN features and Unix interoperability.

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March 14, 2007 10:36 AM

Netgear takes aim at Apple's iTV

Posted by Brier Dudley

If it can get the price down a bit, Netgear will probably sell a boatload of the "Digital Entertainer HD" devices it released today.

The gadget, with a suggested price of $399, streams video and other media content from a PC to a high-definition television. What's new here is that it can handle high-def video and downloaded videos in protected Windows Media formats. It also works with BitTorrent, displays RSS newsfeeds, shows NOAA weather reports and of course works with video sharing services like YouTube.

Devices like Netgear's make it easier to use their PCs as a TiVo/broadband video recorder without putting the PC in the living room by the TV.

But what really signals the crossover from the PC world to consumer electronics is that the device has HDMI output, so you need only a single wire to connect the thing to a flat panel TV. From the release:

Using the included remote, consumers can search their entire media library by multiple criteria including title, actor, date, genre or thumbnail images (from photos, album art or DVD covers). An HDMI port displays video resolution up to 1080p on big-screen TVs and optical digital audio output (TOSLINK) transmits full digital surround sound to the consumers' digital audio receiver. When the PC has an optional TV tuner installed, consumers can schedule recordings and pause or rewind live broadcasts without the need for an additional DVR device. If there are multiple Digital Entertainer HDs in the home, the "Follow Me" feature enables consumers to pause a video in one room and resume it in another. While in "Party Mode," they can synchronize music playback for whole-home listening.

Netgear showed early versions at CES in January and announced today that the product's going on sale in the second quarter of this year.

It's a tough competitor for Apple's delayed iTV offering, especially if iTV doesn't handle high-def and only works with videos purchased from iTunes.

Families and gamers living in a Windows world may still opt for an Xbox, though, which can also stream video from a Media Center PC. It's a tradeoff -- the Netgear device isn't a game console, but it will run quieter and use less power and the Xbox still doesn't have HDMI output. 

Unlike the Xbox, the Netgear device will also stream media from Macs and Linux machines.

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March 14, 2007 9:50 AM

Tellme deal: Microsoft buying search leadership?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wonder if Microsoft's purchase of Tellme Networks is the first of several acquisitions the company will make to improve its standing in the search market.

Tellme could help Microsoft in the next generation of search, using voice for hands-free searching, particularly on mobile devices.

Google's already exploring the blending of search and telephony with test products such as "Click-to-Call," but it trails Microsoft and Tellme in voice recognition, an area they've been researching since Google was a pipsqueak.

On the Tellme conference call this morning, I asked Business Division President Jeff Raikes whether Tellme signals the start of a round of search-related acquisitions. He said the company continues to look at potential acqusitions, but "we don't have any announcements" beyond Tellme.

Tellme co-founder Mike McCue said he's excited that Microsoft will make his company's voice recognition technology available to a billion consumers on all sorts of devices.

"This represents dial tone 2.0,'' he said. "Right now the phone has been relatively unchanged in a decades. The fact that you still pick it up today and you hear two tones meshed together as a dial tone and you have to enter a bunch of numbers to get something done to reach somebody. We think that's ... ripe for change.''

For example, "we love the idea of allowing people to simply pick up a phone, push a button and say 'find the nearest Starbucks' and get a map and driving direction to that location.''

Raikes emphasized that Tellme will complement the range of voice related products that Microsoft has and how the combination will create new opportunities for companies building on the platform.

In particular Tellme brings expertise in enterprise voice systems, such as the customer service systems used by American Express, Domino's Pizza and others. Raikes said Microsoft has done some work there but Tellme is the hands-down leader in that field.

McCue wouldn't provide Tellme revenue information but said the company processes about 2 billion calls a year "and we get paid for every call."

"They really need to have good strong interaction with the customers on the telephone and be able to satisfy coustomers requests, transaction requests, for example getting flight information," he said. "When you do that well, businesses are able to make their customers much more happy."

Voice will also increasingly be part of desktop software. Raikes said Microsoft is expecting that within 3 years, 300 million people "will be enabled to do click to call right within their applications." (I thought he said 300 million; later in the call he repeated the point and said 100 million Office users would have this capability within three years).

"We see tremendous potential because of the role that speech is gong to play as a natural interface,'' he said.

Raikes wouldn't comment on earlier reports that Microsoft is paying $800 million for Tellme. If that number is close, it seems like a material event that Microsoft has to disclose to investors.

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March 13, 2007 5:29 PM

Trying out Windows Live Writer

Posted by Brier Dudley

This post is sort of an experiment to see how Microsoft's Windows Live Writer works.

It's an application that lets you compose and upload entries to various blogging services, using an Office-like interface on a PC.

So far it's had a fairly good reception from the in-crowd bloggers, and Microsoft's letting people use the trial version for free. I'll bet we'll hear more about it -- perhaps a new version and launch date? -- at Microsoft's Mix Web conference next month in Las Vegas.

Among its tricks is a tool for inserting maps, like this one of The Seattle Times (I'm sitting behind those trees on the upper left side):

It also has a nifty tool for inserting photos. I'm probably not supposed to use it, since we have a system for routing images through the photo department.

I did try the tool and posted a picture of my dog. The tool was nice for sizing and watermarking the image, but the image bled over into the previous blog entry.

It's funny, the layout looked fine in the "preview" Live Writer provided, but it came out wrong on the blog. I'm not sure if it's the Live Writer or the blogging software we use. I know we've had challenges placing photos with the latter, and the former is still beta. But the most likely explanation is operator error.

So, my first impression: Nice tool for writing blog entries. I'm looking forward to trying different features and seeing if I can get the image thing right. If this was my personal blog and not a product of the Times, I'd be all over this one. 

UPDATE: Thanks for the tips, commenters. I gave it another shot this morning and it worked fine when I placed the photo higher in the posting, as I did with the Netgear entry above. The problem I had yesterday was with an image at the bottom of the post.

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March 13, 2007 2:53 PM

Wii gets online multiplayer goodies

Posted by Brier Dudley

GameSpy is helping Nintendo develop features for online multiplayer Wii gaming, the companies announced today.

GameSpy will provide middleware for game developers to build "community features, such as friend rosters, advanced matchmaking capabilities and comprehensive rankings data,'' the release said.

The software will debut in "Pokemon Battle Revolution," which goes on sale June 25.

"This partnership will expand our wireless community of players on Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said in the release. "Millions of Nintendo DS users have already logged on using GameSpy's technology, and now Wii owners will be able to do the same in a fun and easy-to-use environment."

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March 13, 2007 1:53 PM

Microsoft roundup

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's a busy week for Microsoft scribes:

-- Microsoft may be acquiring Tellme Networks, a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that provides voice-controlled mobile search services to companies such as AT&T. Rumors percolated last month and firmed up in CNET and the Wall Street Journal, which pegged the deal at $800 million. Then InformationWeek had Microsoft doing the usual "it's just rumor and speculation" thing.

-- F5 and Microsoft announced a cross-town partnership that will put Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager 2007 software onto F5's network management appliances. F5 is the product's first OEM licensee.

-- Microsoft has given up on Project Green, an effort to merge its Dynamics mid-size business business systems acquired from Navision and Great Plains onto a single code base. But that news was sort of overshadowed by the waves of Dynamics announcements coming out of the Convergence conference, including news that Microsoft acquired an English software consultancy specializing in enterprise resource planning.

-- The feds keep giving Microsoft grief, or at least bad PR. Not the antitrust regulators, but agencies that are putting the brakes on Vista deployments. First it was the Department of Transportation, now it's the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The staffers at NIST ought to watch their backs -- it's part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Microsoft's pretty tight with the Commerce Secretary.

At least the Army is gung-ho for Vista, according to this story. Maybe the others are just waiting for the service pack.

-- A fix has been issued for the OneCare bug that zapped acrhived Outlook e-mail files.

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March 13, 2007 11:02 AM

Software spending peaking? Merrill's mixed bag

Posted by Brier Dudley

Software's been booming lately, with companies spending more now than they did during the Y2K upgrade surge, according to a new Merrill Lynch analysis of U.S. software spending.

Software's share of total IT spending has reached a record 44 percent. The $200 billion question is what will happen when the cycle ends.

Concerned about poor showings by SAP and Oracle, the firm dissected U.S. software spending reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

First the bad news:

"The data indicates that US software spending is at high levels relative to historical norms and does not have enough cushion if we get spending headwinds."

On a more positive note: Just because spending is reaching bubble levels, that doesn't mean there will be a burst, the firm said:

"Our analysis of US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data indicates that contrary to popular belief, US software spending has eclipsed Y2K and Internet bubble levels. Concluding from this that we are poised for some type of a correction or downswing could be a mistake."

It may not crash, but the run won't last forever:

"Part of the reason for this is the steadiness provided by maintenance renewals and in-house spending. The variable portion of the spending pie is the external spend on commercial software, which is relatively more discretionary. Software is a larger industry than ever before, thus it is also more cyclical and susceptible to a macroeconomic slowdown and cutbacks in spending. That said, we don't sense sharp cutbacks on the cards as we saw during the 2001-2002 downturn but the level of outperformance of US software spending relative to broader IT spending may not be sustainable."

There's a silver lining for customers, though: While prices are rising for most products in the U.S., there's deflation in the tech industry. That means companies are getting more for their money from software vendors:

"Although it is difficult to reach a conclusion based solely on real data, we can observe that software companies are providing greater value for a given level of spending due to the declining prices or deflation."

Trends are favoring packaged software over custom solutions. That's also good for the kind of software companies we have around here, but may be worrisome to in-house developers:

"The growth in spending on prepackaged software has been far ahead of custom software and internally developed software. Since 2000, prepackaged software has grown at 9.4% per year, vs. 4.0% for own account software, and well ahead of custom software which has declined at a rate of 3.6% per year. Accordingly, the percentage of total spending invested in prepackaged software has increased from about 28.0% in 2000 to roughly 37.3% in 2005. This was largely at the expense of custom software which saw its share shrink from 36.6% to 25.9% over the same period."
Merrill called out several well-positioned vendors, including Microsoft:
"Microsoft with Vista/Office 2007, Red Hat with upcoming RHEL 5.0 release and Salesforce.com, WebEx, and Blackboard with disruptive bu iness models should be well-positioned to ride out a potentially choppy spending environment."

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March 12, 2007 5:15 PM

PS3 and Stanford research: So much for virtual

Posted by Brier Dudley

Expect an update Thursday on how Sony PlayStation 3 users can participate in Folding@Home, the cool distributed computing project at Stanford University that links PCs around the world to do processor-intensive research into protein folding, misfolding and related disorders such as Alzheimer's and Mad Cow.

The project has been linking PCs around the world into ad-hoc supercomputers, and it's planning to tap into the multicore processing power of the PS3.

Sony's giving an update and press demonstration at the school Thursday.

I'm guessing Sony will announce the availability of software that enables PS3 owners to plug into the network and share their spare processing power. Maybe they'll even add a Stanford laboratory to the PS3's new virtual world.

Folding@Home has already posted an outline of the PS3 project that talks about the potential of using the console's Cell processors:

With this new technology (as well as new advances with GPUs), we will likely be able to attain performance on the 100 gigaflop scale per computer. With about 10,000 such machines, we would be able to achieve performance on the petaflop scale. With software from Sony, the PlayStation 3 will now be able to contribute to the Folding@Home project, pushing Folding@Home a major step forward.
Our goal is to apply this new technology to push Folding@Home into a new level of capabilities, applying our simulations to further study of protein folding and related diseases, including Alzheimer's Disease, Huntington's Disease, and certain forms of cancer. With these computational advances, coupled with new simulation methodologies to harness the new techniques, we will be able to address questions previously considered impossible to tackle computationally, and make even greater impacts on our knowledge of folding and folding related diseases.

What's really far out is the way the software may simultaneously use the PS3's graphics processor to display the folding process in real-time. Console owners will even be able to navigate the 3D images using their game controllers, according to the project's FAQ. Here's an image.

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March 12, 2007 4:59 PM

Build a prehistoric iPod for $29

Posted by Brier Dudley

I saw five Antex "Internet music playback devices" similar to this one on sale for $29.95 apiece today at RE-PC, a computer recycling shop in Tukwila.

They were probably used to play music at a big store, but I wonder how hard it would be to convert one into something like an Olive Musica.

Probably not worth the effort, but they were a more intriguing music server project than the retro Harman-Kardon 75 receiver marked "$10 -- Starts smoking, as-is."

So far they have one recycled Vista machine on the shelves, by the way -- a Dell 521 bundle with Vista Home Basic that's selling for $749.

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March 12, 2007 4:25 PM

Update on digital TV converter coupons

Posted by Brier Dudley

A little more information was released today about the big switch from analog to digital TV that's taking place on Feb. 17, 2009.

For those still using analog TVs and getting their signal over the air, the federal government will issue coupons to help defray the cost of converter boxes that you can plug into an older TV and receive digital broadcasts.

Households can request up to two coupons worth $40 apiece. Request can be made via a toll-free number or Web site starting Jan. 1. The converter boxes are expected to cost $50 to $80, according to this Cnet story.

Here's a link to the U.S. Department of Commerce agency handling the coupon program.

It's always nice to get money from the feds, but I wonder if it would make more sense for people to buy multifunction devices that have digital tuners instead of adding a single-purpose device to the stack by the TV. DVD recorders, for instance, can be found for under $150 now.

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March 12, 2007 10:07 AM

The state of online ads, where to place Web bets

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's column didn't have room for all the interesting tidbits in the Digital Outlook Report released today by aQuantive's Avenue A | Razorfish agency.

One page has agency president Clark Kokich describing three big bets for 2007 -- areas where it's focusing investment this year:

Immersive media: The design, development and integration of rich media and interactive video across multiple digital platforms will become the key to eliciting an emotional reponse from users. Static, page-based design is giving way to deep, immersive experiences, all driven by the advent of rich Internet application technologies.

Integrated digital marketing: The digital channel is splintering into a wide range of customer experiences (RSS, widgets, blogs, Web video, mobile, search, e-mail, VOD, podcasting, etc.). Successful marketers will design, manage, track and optmize rich experiences across the full range of this continuum.

Consumer participation: Smart clients have started to enable consumer and marketer dialog through the ongoing design and optimization of social media and social networks. This trend will accelerate in 2007 as we continue to mine this platform to alter the way products and services are developed, marketed, positioned and sold.

The report also summarizes a survey of 18- to 24 year-olds in the U.S., U.K. and Canada that was intended to gather insights "into user behaviors and expectations for the next iteration of the Web."

Among other things, survey participants expect to use the mobile phones more, but not necessarily for talking:

"One user told us that she kept her phone on all night and checked her text messages first thing in the morning."

The participants love Apple products and their iPods, but the firm "found subtle evidence" that they're not updating their music libraries as often as they used to and they're open to alternative such as streaming music services:

"Further, the highly touted podcasting phenomenon doesn't appear to be gaining widespread interest as a way to keep users' content libraries fresh: 'It (podcasting) just isn't worth the effort. It just fills up your hard drive with stuff you may or may not get around to listening to,' said a participant. From a media perspective, this leads us to to believe that there is openness to additional forms of music and content distribution."

That didn't stop the firm from offering a podcast summary of its report, however.

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March 9, 2007 12:08 PM

Lazowska to head computing consortium

Posted by Brier Dudley

Ed Lazowska, the University of Washington's outspoken advocate for computer science education, is taking his show national.

He was named the first chair of the Computing Community Consortium, a new group formed by the National Science Foundation and the Computing Reseach Association.

The CRA blog made the announcement:

In his new role, Dr. Lazowska will lead the CCC -- a consortium of experts drawn from and chosen by the computing research community -- as it seeks to stimulate scientific leadership and vision on issues related to computing research and future large-scale computing research projects. The CCC, established by CRA in partnership with NSF, will catalyze the computing research community to debate long-range research challenges, to build consensus around research visions, to articulate those visions, and to develop the most promising visions into clearly defined initiatives.

Lazowska will apparently keep his day job as the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair at UW, according to an engineering school spokeswoman, but I'm still trying to reach him for confirmation.

UPDATE: He's staying at UW. The consortium gig is part time, he said via email:

"Half-time position, located here. Big hill to climb, but important to make the effort."

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March 9, 2007 9:53 AM

Ex-Microsofties' Dynamics venture: profit within a year?

Posted by Brier Dudley

More news pegged to Microsoft's Convergence conference this weekend: Two former execs from the company's small-to-midsize business software group will be announcing the formation of Kineticsware, a Kirkland company building industry-specific solutions on top of Microsoft's Dynamics platform.

Kineticsware has actually be running quietly since founders Jeff Sampson and Richard Barnett left Microsoft last summer.

Sampson, a former investment banker and startup veteran, was global director of Dynamics product management for two years. Barnett worked in several enterprise software companies before he became Dynamics marketing director.

Dynamics is the result of billions that Microsoft invested in the small- to mid-market space, starting with Great Plains and Navision. Sampson and Barnett said it's all coming together and they wanted to catch the wave with their own company.

"The thing that was just stunning to us was the product, unaided, was growing at 10 times the market rate of ERP in general,'' Sampson said.

"Microsoft has been just very quietly putting all the pieces together, integrating it into SQL Server, Sharepoint, Biztalk, all these fantastic products, but not really telling the world all about it,'' he said.

Kineticsware launched in December with solutions targeteing the apparel, consumer goods and high-tech manufacturing industries.

Xbox as their first customer and now have 30 employees and offices in Denver, Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta, as well as the Carillon Point headquarters. They also have a few employees in The Netherlands, they opened a U.K. subsidiary in January and they plan to have 50 to 60 employees by year-end.

Initial funding for Kineticsware came largely from the sale of thePlatform, a Seattle broadband service provider, to Comcast last year. Sampson was the initial investor in thePlatform and served on its board.

Kineticsware also expects to close on a $3 million to $3.5 million funding round next month.

Sampson said Kineticsware should be profitable by the end of 2007.

If they're right, I wonder if we'll see more startups around here building on Dynamics.

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March 8, 2007 4:01 PM

Dave Winer to finally retire?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wonder if he'll decide it's time, after he starts playing his new PS3.

Perfect way to use the RSS Couch, though he may be disappointed in the lack of a feedback mechanism.

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March 8, 2007 3:44 PM

Fumbles of the day: OneCare, daylight savings patch

Posted by Brier Dudley

Yikes. Tough day on Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing front.

First we hear that some Microsoft customers are having trouble with the daylight savings patch. (Sounds likely mostly Exchange users, according to Mary Jo Foley).

Then word gets out that OneCare doesn't just simplify PC maintenance and security for novices, it may also zap their glitch">e-mail archives if any of the messages contain malware.

Maybe that's why Microsoft won't issue any patches next Tuesday, the first break since Patch Tuesday began in 2005. The security team's probably busy with other things.

Apple fans would be having a heyday if they hadn't just finished patching critical flaws in OSX and QuickTime.

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March 8, 2007 3:34 PM

Gates for president campaign dropped

Posted by Brier Dudley

It was fun while it lasted, but Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams and others in the ragtag Bill Gates for President campaign have given up.

The campaign started last November, when Adams mused about the possiblity on his blog and a group separately created the Billgatesforpresident.net Web site. They announced their decision yesterday via an e-mail that was posted at NetworkWorld and flagged by Slashdot:

We've tried.... We really have! We wanted to evoke political debate and to a certain extend we succeeded to do just that. On the other hand, we failed miserably to draw enough attention our way. Bill Gates probably noticed and read the website and our arguments, but he probably didn't feel the drive needed to go for that presidential candidacy

Bill told me last summer that he wasn't interested in being a politician, but you never know. Here's a Gates for President post from November with all the links.

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March 8, 2007 2:57 PM

Vista Ultimate's flying, MS biz guys say

Posted by Brier Dudley

That was one of the more interesting morsels served at a press lunch Microsoft held today to introduce the leaders of its small-to-midsize business group, which is having its annual Convegence conference in San Diego this weekend.

Michael Park is vice president for U.S. sales in what Microsoft calls its Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners Group. Park is also helping fill in on overall U.S. sales, since Bill Veghte returned to the Windows operation.

Park is also selling the Dynamics line of midsize business planning tools, now that he's free of a non-compete agreement with SAP, where he worked before joining Microsoft in October 2005. Before that he was at Siebel.

What did Park think of the failed attempt by SAP and Microsoft to merge? "I think culturally it would have never worked."

Also at the lunch was Eduardo Rosini, the group's vice president of global sales. Rosini joined Microsoft 17 years ago in his native Argentina and worked is way up, serving previously as head of Asia-Pacific sales and before that led European retail and Xbox sales.

Rosini reiterated Steve Ballmer's recent comments about Vista sales tracking closely with the PC market. "They dynamics of Windows are more related to PC growth than anything else, so as the PC market goes, Windows goes as well,'' he said.

I asked which version of Vista their business customers are buying. Investors are awaiting word on this because the higher-priced premium versions would offset the effect of moderate PC sales.

They said Vista Ultimate, the most expensive version, is selling the best so far, perhaps because it appeals to enthusiasts who upgrade sooner than most buyers.

"We are seeing a higher percentage of Ultimate than we thought,'' Rosini said, though he cautioned that that may not indicate a long-term trend.

The VPs weren't too worried about Google's new online business application suite. Rosini said customers aren't asking Microsoft for ways to do everything online, they're asking for reliable and secure systems, he said.

Microsoft has a lot of competitors in software sold as a service but it's still early days and businesses don't necessarily want to do everything online, Park said. Microsoft strategy is to give customers options, he said, although development of its online platform still has a ways to go.

"The reality is that may happen 30 years from now or someday but in the immediate future ... give it to them where they want it,'' Park said.

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March 7, 2007 3:29 PM

Google phone update

Posted by Brier Dudley

Unstrung has a Gphone rumor roundup. The latest: Google has a 100-person team working on Blackberry-type device running Java and/or Linux.

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March 7, 2007 3:13 PM

Quincy's boom, even before Microsoft and Yahoo!

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Wall Street Journal has a fun story today about the development going on in Quincy. It attributes the land rush to the datacenters that Microsoft, Yahoo! and Intuit are building there to take advantage of cheap power and fiber optic lines.

Those companies are probably a great addition to Quincy, but the place was having a boom even before word got out about the datacenters. We covered the phenomenon in 2005, noting that wineries and the Gorge music venue are attracting Seattleites and other urban refugees.

The datacenters won't create that many permanent jobs, after the construction is done.

Microsoft's center is the biggest of the three, and it's adding perhaps 40 permanent jobs. If the other centers employ the same number, that's maybe 120 jobs -- hardly enough to fill the 1,000 new homes, hotel and strip mall that were mentioned in the Journal's story.

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March 7, 2007 1:01 PM

Microsoft search boss resigning

Posted by Brier Dudley

Christopher Payne, vice president of Microsoft's Live search effort, is resigning to start a company in Seattle.



MICROSOFT

Christopher Payne


The resignation hasn't been officially announced, but someone in the Live group at Microsoft confirmed the situation, on condition he was identified only as a knowledgeable source

Payne's resignation follows a similar decision Monday by Blake Irving, the vice president in charge of Live's technology platform.

There's a reorganization under way, and additional changes will probably be announced soon.

But my source insisted that Payne and Irving aren't being pushed out because Microsoft's search effort has done poorly in its competition with Google.

"These guys aren't being purged, these two guys are walking away to go do other stuff,'' he said.

Mary Jo Foley floated the possibility of Payne's departure earlier today.

I'm curious to hear what Payne's company will do in Seattle. Apparently it's not search related.

Update: A few details on Payne, from his official Microsoft bio. He's a database guy who helped ship four versions of Access before he left to spend three years at Amazon.com. He was vice president of electronics at the retailer and built its video, electronics, software and wireless groups before returning to Microsoft in 2001 to work on .NET.

Update 2: I should mention the Brad Goldberg move as well, since it appears to be part of the Live unit shakeup. Bloomberg reported today that Goldberg is moving from Windows product marketing to head marketing in the search group.

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March 7, 2007 12:04 PM

Update on the $10,000 Laser Turntable

Posted by Brier Dudley

The rising yen isn't hurting every Japanese gadget manufacturer.

Japan's ELP Corp. just announced that it's dropping the price of its Laser Turntable, an outrageous device that I've mentioned here before.

"These revolutionary capabilities for vinyl playback are now available for under $10,000,'' the company said today.

Its new price: $9,900.

Even bigger price cuts were made in the higher-end models that also play 78s. They now start at $13,000, down from $17,000.

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March 7, 2007 11:38 AM

Union fires back at Gates on H-1B

Posted by Brier Dudley

Practically before Bill Gates finished his Senate testimony in support of the H1 visa program this morning, Seattle-based WashTech gave its supporters a "click to send" form letter countering his statements.

Gates told a Senate committee it would be "fantastic" if the government would increase the H-1B visa limit from 65,000 a year to, say, 300,000.

According to a Bloomberg report, Gates said:

"Even though it may not be realistic, I do not believe there should be any limit. These employees are vital to U.S. competitiveness, and we should encourage them to become permanent U.S. residents so that they can drive innovation and economic growth alongside America's native-born talent.''

He said the U.S. should simultaneously invest more in research and education and double the output of math and science graduates.

WashTech's form letter didn't mince words. It also made the assumption that tech workers have friends who are highly skilled and unemployed because of the visa program:

As a high-tech worker in this country, I oppose further expansion of the H-1B visa program that is riddled with fraud, abuse and undermines the economic rights of citizens and immigrants alike. Increasing the visa program is actually detrimental for U.S. citizens from seeking out technical professions because they believe that their will be too many workers seeking to few job openings.

I know of my friends that are highly educated and skilled but have faced long periods of unemployment. The only thing tech workers are guaranteed today is economic uncertainty caused by the winds of globalization and relentless corporate downsizing.

If you'd like to draw your own conclusions, here's a link to a video of today's hearing (the committee used RealNetworks' player ...) and Bill Gates' prepared comments. Here's a story about Microsoft making the same pitch last year.

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March 7, 2007 11:27 AM

Vista parallels abound, but where's Apple?

Posted by Brier Dudley

A reader saw the headline on Monday's viaduct rant and thought I was going to write about running Vista on a Mac. The email:

"I only read the first few words of your title and thought you were going to talk about how a lot of people are now buying Apples and running XP/Vista in Parallels V.M."

Sorry to disappoint. Great suggestion for a future column.

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March 7, 2007 10:25 AM

Feds still investigating Vista complaint

Posted by Brier Dudley

U.S. antitrust regulators still haven't decided what to do about a complaint they received about the way Windows Vista handles middleware, according to a status report filed last night with the judge overseeing the case.

It must not be a pressing threat to competition in the tech industry. The complaint was received in November, and it may take another four months to investigate.

But it's serious enough for the regulators to have obtained "significant additional information from Microsoft and the complainant."

No other details were provided and the complaintant's identity wasn't disclosed.

I wonder if it's a security vendor such as Symantec. That's not the sort of middleware that's been addressed by the case, but Symantec has complained publicly about Vista.

How Windows treats middleware was a key issue in both the U.S. and European antitrust cases against Microsoft. In Europe, regulators went so far as to require the company to ship versions of Windows without a bundled media player.

Despite the pending complaint, the report suggests Microsoft and regulators' technical committee (TC) are working cooperatively to be sure Vista doesn't create roadblocks for other software companies.

Microsoft's portion of the report said 30 software companies were offered help dealing with Vista's new middleware settings, and 26 opted to visit a special testing lab the company and regulators established in Redmond:

As discussed in Microsoft's previous Supplemental Status Reports, Windows Vista handles middleware settings on a "per user" rather than the previous "per machine" basis. This change to the operating system necessitates that middleware ISVs change various settings in order to take advantage of the newly revised Middleware functionality in Windows Vista. Accordingly, the TC and Microsoft have cooperated in various ways to encourage middleware ISVs to achieve "Vista-readiness" prior to the shipment of Windows Vista.

Microsoft worked closely with the TC to notify 30 ISVs identified by the TC in each of the four Middleware categories -- "Internet browsers, media players, e-mail clients, and instant messaging" -- of the need to prepare their middleware applications for Windows Vista and of the various opportunities made available to the ISVs by Microsoft and the TC, including a Vista-Readiness Lab in Redmond. Twenty-six of the 30 ISVs responded positively, taking advantage of or indicating interest in the offered opportunities. The four remaining ISVs that chose not to take advantage of the Vista-Readiness Lab are receiving support from Microsoft by e-mail and phone.

Another issue is the sharing communications protocols used by Windows. Microsoft was forced to license the protocols to competitors and explain how they work, but it's taken years to produce adequate documentation.

The latest status report said the quality of the documentation has improved significantly, but regulators are concerned that Microsoft found additional protocols that weren't disclosed before.

Microsoft determined that there are a number of protocols that must be documented in addition to those originally planned, either because they were added to Longhorn Server after the initial schedule was developed, or because they were inadvertently overlooked in preparation of the original technical documentation and the schedule for the rewrite project. Plaintiffs are concerned that Microsoft has not been able to meet its original schedule and are particularly troubled that at this late hour in the program Microsoft is still discovering protocols that should have been included in the original documentation.

That sounds like the key issue that U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly will consider during a status hearing next week.

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March 6, 2007 5:22 PM

Touring Microsoft's TechFest

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are a few of the demonstrations I saw today at TechFest, the annual "science fair" being held this week by Microsoft's advanced research group.

The company gave press and bloggers an early peek at some of the exhibits before the full show opens up to employees Wednesday and Thursday. Microsoft also posted Webcasts of presentations and demos here.

Some of the projects are being shown for the first time at the event, and the researchers generally don't know if their work will ever end up in an actual product. Some could even end up in products made by other companies, since Microsoft is now licensing the research group's intellectual property.

Anyway, enough background, here's a sample of the demos (the photos are all taken by Seattle Times staff photographer Dean Rutz):


DEAN RUTZ / SEATTLE TIMES


It looks like a timeclock from the movie "Brazil," but one gizmo is actually a mobile phone calendaring accessory created by Microsoft researchers in Cambridge, England. Called Text2Paper, the device receives and prints short SMS messages sent from phones onto clear stickers. The labels can then be pasted onto an adjacent paper calendar, on the appropriate day. The idea is that family members could send appointments, shopping lists and other info to this system, which would most likely be mounted in a kitchen. Each printout also has a bar code that can be read by camera phones, so you can take a picture of an appointment with your phone and have it automatically synced with the device's calendar.



Yet another idea from Cambridge was the Epigraph, a device for displaying visual messages in a family setting. It displays messages sent from mobile devices, relaying information about family members' whereabouts, for instance.


Don't let the wood frame fool you. This device, called Postcard, is showing how digital photo frames could evolve. Instead of displaying images from a memory card, it receives and displays images sent from phones.



Another photo display device, Shoebox has a 20 gigabyte hard drive. You scroll through the collection by tapping or stroking a finger across the touch-sensitive panel on top.


Researcher Matthew MacLaurin grew up near Silicon Valley and wrote game programs on a Commodore Pet as a child, but he worries that programming is too difficult and intimidating for today's children, including is two and a half year old daughter. That's why he developed Boku, a game-building system that introduces children to programming concepts. The Xbox-based system lets kids build simple programs to direct a robot to do things like pick up colored apples. As they learn the concepts, they can build more advanced games and make the robots do things like shoot missiles.

Andy Wilson demonstrated surface computing technology, including tabletop computers that could let players remotely play chess, draw pictures or collaborate on documents remotely. He also demonstrated a new version with a car racing game that rendered objects and obstacles placed on the table as 3-D landscape elements on a separate display.


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March 6, 2007 5:14 PM

Totally Mpire

Posted by Brier Dudley

Mpire's getting sassy with a marketing video posted at its blog today.

It features a wine-sipping online shopper breaking up with a certain search engine.

"Unlike you, Google, he's got the biggest ... discounts."

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March 6, 2007 5:03 PM

Cross Lake Washington tech merger

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle tech consulting and services provider isoutsource.com today announced that it has acquired PC Help of Bellevue.

Terms weren't disclosed, but spokeswoman Cathy Chang said there were no layoffs -- all six PC Help employees were retained, bringing the size of isoutsource.com's team to about 50.

Formed in 1992, isoutsource.com provides services such as support desk and system monitoring to small and medium size businesses in the Northwest.

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March 6, 2007 12:33 PM

Microsoft TechFest goes glam

Posted by Brier Dudley

The annual science fair held by Microsoft's advanced research group was just too interesting to keep under wraps.

As soon as the event started in 2001, reporters began whining to get in and see the demonstrations of the company's latest research.

Researchers from the company's six labs around the world come to the conference center on Microsoft's Redmond campus for the event. It's a chance to interact directly with thousands of employees -- from Bill Gates on down -- who come to the fair for inspiration, ideas or just geeky fun.

The marketers also realized that it's a chance for the company to highlight its research group, so more and more reporters were allowed in. But they were kept on a tight leash and only saw a few of the exhibits.

This year the company decided to capitalize on the PR value of the event and added an extra day just for press and high-level customers. Today, attendees are getting briefings by research managers, and a chance to see 50 of the 150 exhibits that will be shown to employees.

Attending are some 70 reporters and bloggers, including some flown in from Asia, Europe and Latin America. Also here are customers, including a big contingent from government agencies such as the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency.

The event opens to company employees on Wednesday and Thursday. Confidential exhibits will be added, and about 7,000 employees are expected, roughly a fourth of its local workforce.

It's also an opportunity for researchers from the different labs to convene. The entire group came up from Silicon Valley, as well as 64 of the 100 researchers in Cambridge, England, and 40 from Bangalore, India.

"They'll meet 7,000 people tomorrow. They'll learn a lot,'' said P. Anandan, director of the Bangalore lab.

There were no news announcements, but research boss Rick Rashid provided an update on the organization he left Carnegie Mellon University to start in 1991.

Rashid now employs 750 people and will hit 800 by the end of the year, he said.

"To put that in perspective, that's about like creating a Berkeley Computer Science Department faculty a year every year for the 16 years Microsoft Research has been in existence,'' he said.

(It's also making it complicated for Rashid to continue offering one of his special perks: He has taken all of his employees to every new "Star Trek" movie, starting back at CMU, and he comes dressed in a "Trek" costume. For the last release he had to rent an entire multiplex for 500 researchers and their families.)

Rashid said Microsoft Research has a bigger footprint because of all the partnerships it has with universities and government research organizations.

Rashid said the research group runs the largest Ph.D. internship program in the tech industry, hiring more than 800 interns worldwide every year. Just in the U.S. the company employed more than 300 Ph.D. interns last summer.

For perspective, he said, the computer science field produces about 1,200 Ph.D. graduates a year. That means a big portion of everyone with computer science Ph.D.s will have worked at Microsoft at some point.

"During summers we'll have as many as 1,500 people doing basic research, including Microsoft Research, interns and visiting faculty,'' he said.

Rashid said Microsoft invests in advanced research to be agile, so it's prepared to quickly react to new developments. When a new area of technology emerges, "the chances are good we already have an IP portfolio in whatever this new area is because we have such a broad research group."

The company can also quickly move researchers into new areas and work with product teams.

Rashid said it's in the governments interest to support basic research so the country can also be agile and "quickly react to change."

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March 6, 2007 11:57 AM

Bellevue startup iConclude cashing in, what's next?

Posted by Brier Dudley

So what will Sunny Gupta do next?

He hit a home run with iConclude, the Bellevue enterprise software company he founded two years ago and sold last night for $60 million to Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Opsware.

The 36-year-old entrepreneur could retire on the proceeds, but he's not done yet.

He'll join Opsware as a senior vice president to help integrate iConclude's automated network diagnostics technology, but it may not be a permanent position.

Gupta said he may start another company in the enterprise space. He'd also be likely to keep working with Madrona Venture Partners, which led iConclude's funding. (It received $3 million in the first round and $9 million in the second. Tricia Duryee has some financial details about the sale here).

I'm curious to see how big the next one will get. Gupta said he wanted to keep growing iConclude but offers started coming in, and the Opsware deal was too good to pass up.

"Our desire was really to go all the way but you know, when you have something so compelling in front of you, for two years' worth of work, it was hard to walk away from that,'' he said.

All 45 of the iConclude employees will join Opsware and they'll continue working here. But the iConclude brand is likely to go away after the technology is absorbed.

The Seattle area has spawned a lot of enterprise startups, but they seem to always get snapped up before they grow to enterprise scale themselves.

That's good for entrepreneurs and their investors, but the region ends up with a gulf between the startups and the giants like Microsoft and Amazon.com.

Gupta said there's not a lot of innovation taking place at the big enterprise vendors so they're on the prowl for startups with compelling products and customer acceptance. That's why iConclude was snapped up "right when we're about to hit the gas pedal."

"The big companies are all looking for new products they can push through their sales engines,'' he said.

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March 6, 2007 6:58 AM

Mpire building on Westlake

Posted by Brier Dudley

Some cool new upgrades appeared today on Mpire's Web shopping site.

The Seattle-based venture has simplified its search interface and increased the amount of information it returns when you use the site to search a particular item.

Mpire calls it a "universal shopping experience" because it's intended to be a one-stop shopping site that aggregates information from most of the major online retailers, as well as sites such as eBay and Craigslist.

If you enter the name of a product, like a particular television, the site displays prices available from online retailers and auction sites, a link to the manufacturer's site, a chart showing the price trend, coupons available online and a blend of reviews and ratings from sites such as Amazon.com and ePinions.

Mpire's also bundling news about itself with today's announcement. The company is simultaneously launching a new venture, called Mpire Labs, that licenses R&D to other companies. Mpire already has that kind of relationship with eBay, which uses Mpire technology on its homepage.

The company is also moving across Lake Union next month, from an Eastlake office rattled by construction noise to new digs on Westlake near WRQ -- where Mpire Chief Executive Matt Hulett worked at the start of his long career in Seattle techdom. He was formerly at Expedia, Atom Films and RealNetworks.

BEA Systems veteran Dave Cotter started Mpire in December 2005 with a focus on serving eBay entrepreneurs. It's morphed into a broader Web 2.0 shopping site and now has 14 employees and $10 million in funding from Ignition.

Hulett is keeping the expansion moderate and expects to become profitable within a few years. (He wouldn't share the target date with me but said "I can actually see it.) Revenue comes from ads and click-through, and increasingly from technology licensing that Mpire Labs is intended to accelerate.

I think Mpire seems like a great target for one of the Internet biggies to acquire someday to boost their shopping features, but Hulett said he's focused on growing the business.

"I want to make sure that we're a going concern, a going and growing concern,'' he said. "We're really focused as a team on our core business but certainly we've had a lot of people talk to us about various things, from licensing technology to other things. As long as we're focused on creating a differentiated experience in shopping, the opportunities will come to us."

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March 5, 2007 5:36 PM

Israel gets new Microsoft R&D center

Posted by Brier Dudley

Redmond isn't the only place Microsoft is expanding.

The company bought property for a large new research center in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv in central Israel. It will complement the company's research center in Haifa in the country's northern region.

This story doesn't provide a headcount but says the first phase opening next year will include 300 parking spaces.

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March 5, 2007 5:07 PM

Sherlund boards Galleon, leaves open seat at Microsoft event

Posted by Brier Dudley

So who will sit next to Bill Gates at Microsoft's financial analyst meeting this year?

Rick Sherlund has magically ended up in the coveted seat forever, probably since Goldman Sachs took Microsoft public in 1986.

The top-ranked Microsoft analyst left the firm Friday to work for a hedge fund, as previously announced. Barron's has some details about Christopher Sailer, who is taking Sherlund's place.

Sherlund is now a director at Galleon Group, a $6 billion fund started by Sri Lankan immigrant Raj Rajaratnam.

Galleon is heavily into tech stocks and places a big emphasis on research, according to this profile, which sheds some light on why it would appeal to a former Goldman research manager:

Galleon views Wall Street analysts as its competition, and its goal is to arbitrage research and consensus thinking with its positions. So if a brokerage firm analyst feels that the personal computer industry will grow at 10 percent and Galleon's research indicates it will grow at 15 percent or 3 percent, Galleon will arbitrage the difference in the two perspectives.

Rajaratnam observes that typical sell-side analysts spend one-third of their time chasing initial public offerings, secondary offerings, banking business, and mergers and arbitrage; another one-third of their time making institutional visits; and only one-third of their time doing research. He feels this gives his analysts an edge since they spend 100 percent of their time on research. They are not encouraged to write 30 to 40 pages of pretty reports, but rather one page that lists the issues.

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March 5, 2007 4:28 PM

Windows Live VP Blake Irving confirms departure

Posted by Brier Dudley

Irving cleared the air with a memo confirming he is leaving Microsoft in late summer, in part to spend more time with his family in California.

"The timing of my retirement is a combination of business and personal considerations, each being quite positive from my perspective,'' he said in the memo that Mary Jo Foley posted a little while ago.

That may be the case for Irving, but I wonder if any other Live bosses will be shuffled in what's looking like a spring housecleaning.

That would send a message to Wall Street, where Microsoft's been getting heat for trailing Google in search and online services.

The topic was raised again last week when UBS analyst Heather Bellini shared her research on the poor performance of Microsoft's Live initiative since its 2005 launch. From InfoWorld's story last week:

According to UBS, Google's worldwide search query market share grew from 56 percent to 65 percent between August 2005 and December 2006. At the same time, Microsoft's declined from 11 percent to 8 percent, even though the company launched its rebranded and revamped Windows Live Search during this period. UBS cited research from comScore Networks for this data.

Irving's memo suggested that his departure was in the works before Bellini's report. He said he and Windows boss Kevin Johnson have been discussing a change since the start of the year.

Irving's responsible for the infrastructure powering Windows Live online services, including the new datacenter the company is building in Eastern Washington.

Investors may be frustrated, but Irving will probably always be adored by the Quincy Chamber of Commerce.


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March 5, 2007 2:42 PM

OneCare taking hits

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's OneCare seems like a great business and a good solution for non-technical households, so I wonder why this kind of stuff keeps happening.

The company can't seem to win, though -- if it fully protects customers from malware, companies like Symantec call foul and raise antitrust questions. If it doesn't protect customes enough, it gets ripped by security consultancies.

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March 5, 2007 2:13 PM

Google's real estate play, look out Zillow?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm not sure how this will effect Seattle's nascent online real estate ventures, but Zillow and Redfin are probably thinking hard about Google jumping into the market with someone else.

The search giant reached a deal Friday to display listings from Trulia, a San Francisco real estate search and information service, and Realogy, parent company of realty companies Coldwell Banker, Century 21 and ERA. Ars Technica has some details.

Newspapers are probably also nervous about the deal. Craigslist has already siphoned off much of their classifieds, and now Google is going after real estate listings. Yikes.

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March 5, 2007 1:06 PM

Vista and the viaduct

Posted by Brier Dudley

One goal of the Monday column is to explore ways that the tech industry influences the region.

Sometimes I wish that influence was greater, sometimes not.

One more reason the viaduct is relevant to the area's tech industry: If politics kill the whole project, Microsoft and other companies in the Overlake tech cluster will benefit because the state will then turn its focus - and its major projects war chest -- toward Highway 520.

Without the viaduct, the state might even resurrect plans for Highway 605, a new north-south corridor on the Eastside that has been considered off and on for decades. That project never took off, largely because it would put a freeway through rural areas and possibly sensitive habitat areas.

A few years ago the state revisited the concept, which it now calls the "commerce corridor."

The additional 10,000 to 12,000 Microsoft employees planned for Redmond will figure heavily in the planning.

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March 1, 2007 3:39 PM

Want your kids to work at Microsoft?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Get them started at a free, online introduction to programming course that Microsoft began offering today.

Called Beginner Developer Learning Center, the site looks like a cool way for anyone to learn about programming and Web development.

Yes, it has Microsoft's spin and it's evangelizing to a younger audience. But it's potentially a great resource for people who want to get started and can't access or afford classes.

Developer division boss S. Somasegar introduced the site on his blog, saying the center is part of an ongoing effort to "decrease the barriers of entry to software development":

I encourage you to walk through a couple of lessons with your children, friends or family -- this could be a fun way for people to create and customize. With this, we are getting closer to our vision of anyone and everyone to participate more in this online, digital age.

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March 1, 2007 2:43 PM

Thumping Zunesters apologize to New York

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apparently a Zune promotion last Sunday night got a little out of hand.

The Zunemobile, a tricked-out Toyota FJ, was brought to a New York neighborhood with lots of nightlife and kept the party going, beaming its beats into the wee hours from the phalanx of huge speakers in the back.

It turns out some of the neighbors on Ludlow Street didn't welcome the social at 3 a.m., especially not the Justin Timberlake tunes, and filed a noise complaint.

They also videotaped the event and created a Web page -- wakeupmicrosoft.com -- to post their complaint and demand restitution from:

Ideally, if following the old adage of "eye for an eye," we would like to (legally) blast music throughout Microsoft's HQ during a week day. Preferably right before a large product release, when employee stress levels are at their highest. Alternatively and/or additionally, lump sum payments to all residents disturbed by this incident would be tolerated.

Instead they received an apology from Zune evangelist Cesar Menendez, who wrote "Sorry New York" on the team's official blog:

On behalf of the Zune team at Microsoft, I'd like to issue an apology to the residents of Ludlow Street (between Stanton and Houston) for the loud noise at 3:00 AM last Sunday (24 Feb). For what it's worth, this was not a planned or Zune-sanctioned PR event, a stunt, or any intentional marketing activity. And we've taken steps to make sure this won't happen again. To those folks woken up by the sounds of the vehicle, we apologize.

I saw the Toyota at CES in January and wondered how they'd use the thing. Next stop, Belltown?


Brier Dudley


In January, the Zunemobile parked at the Consumer Electronics Show.

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March 1, 2007 12:00 PM

State money on tap for biotech

Posted by Brier Dudley

Biotech entrepreneurs, start your grant applications.

The state has begun doling out proceeds of its long-ago settlement with the tobacco industry, hoping to give the local biotech industry a boost.

The money is being funneled thorugh the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, which finally began taking applications for its first grants today. It's providing grants of up to $1 million for research into technology applications that improve health-care quality and cost effectiveness.

From the introduction:

The inaugural funding opportunity of the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, LSDF 07-01 Beneficial Applications of Technology in Health Care is designed to encourage sharply focused research projects. $3-$6 million will be awarded to support proposals demonstrating beneficial applications of technology for improving healthcare quality and/or cost effectiveness. Awards are expected to range between $250,000 and $1 million dollars and to extend from one to three years, though there is no fixed cap on amount or length. The Facilities & Administration (F&A) allowance for grants in this funding cycle will be a fixed 15% of direct, allowable costs.

Interesting that this comes just as Microsoft dives into the same market. The company is supporting the fund, so it probably won't apply for a grant.

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March 1, 2007 11:26 AM

UW student turns phones into banking tools

Posted by Brier Dudley


UW/ekagon

Women in South India's Madurai region using Parikh's technology, developed at the UW, to record the day's transactions on a mobile phone.


The University of Washington today called out an interesting project by doctoral student Tapan Parikh, who developed technology to use cellphones as simple, low-cost accounting computers.

He's already started a company in India, called ekgaon, that's providing phones to more than 700 microfinance cooperatives through a contract with CARE India.

Microfinance groups typically use paper ledgers, and it's been difficult to shift their accounting to computers because they typically don't have the space, electricity or expertise to run them, the UW news release said.

Using open-source software, Parikh customized Nokia phones so they can be used for accounting. Here's how the release described the technology:

"The phone's camera first takes a picture of a bookkeeping form to identify the document. Then the phone prompts the user in the local language, Tamil, to enter the relevant numbers. Once the last keystroke is entered the information is sent by text message to a central server in India."

Rural farmers in India began using the phones in January. Parikh said in the release:

"Broadly speaking, what I'm trying to do is look at ways that information technology can have an impact on important social, political and economic issues."

Parikh's research was funded by Microsoft Reseach, Ricoh and Intel, and he was advised by Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Endowed Professor of Computer Science.

The project also highlights the UW's new emphasis on global health and technology for developing countries, influenced by the Gates Foundation and its expanding relationship with the school.

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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.