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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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May 31, 2007 12:29 PM

Google boss defends UI, YouTube copyright stance

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Speaking to Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt today, Walt Mossberg recalled that Steve Ballmer said the day before that the search interface has stagnated.

Schmidt disagreed, noting that Google recently added a "universal search" capability so search results include a blend of video, news and other previously specialized searches.

But Mossberg was talking about the interface, not the results. Schmidt defended Google's minimalist look and said it's not likely to change, although the company is experimenting in places like South Korea with pop-ups and other changes.

"I don't think we're going to go very far from the single search box," Schmidt said.

Mossberg and Schmidt also dove into the particulars of Viacom's lawsuit over YouTube hosting unauthorized Viacom content. Schmidt said Viacom should have waited for Google to develop tools to filter copyrighted material.

Why should they wait? Mossberg pressed.

"Because we follow the law. The law does not require us to build tools," Schmidt replied.

No wonder they ended up in court. But the situation may change before they get a ruling. Schmidt said he's expecting the online video phenomenon to lead to changes in copyright protection. The result will be a "complex mix" of user authentication, content creator authentication and user choice, which I think means everything will be tracked and tagged more closely online.

Mossberg also asked Schmidt about growing concerns that Google is amasssing too much power over digital advertising.

Schmidt said "I understand the concern" but implied that Google won't be like Microsoft because users aren't locked in to using its services.

"Ultimately we're different from some of the previous incarnations of monopoly power ... because we are one click away from losing the user."

But the concern isn't about search as much as control over the backend systems for placing digital ads, Mossberg said.

Schmidt said advertisers have choice there, especially now that Microsoft acquired aQuantive, a competitor to DoubleClick, the ad placing company that Google acquired this spring.

"The easiest answer to understand is the publisher of the content gets to make that decision,'' he said.

As for the competition with Microsoft, the former Novell and Sun Microsystems executive said "you always worry about a company that has that percentage of the platform business in terms of Windows; that's been true for many years certianly in my professional careeer."

But he welcomed the challenge from his longtime nemesis.

"The competition is in fact good" for users and advertisers, he said.

Comments | Category: D conference , Google |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 31, 2007 11:39 AM

New RealPlayer: Click to rip video from the Web

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- The second big Seattle product launch at the D conference was today's unveiling of the new RealPlayer software jukebox, the 11th version so far.

(The first was Microsoft's Surface tabletop computer).

Real highlighted a new feature that lets users download video clips from the Web with a click and save them in a playlist for viewing later. Users can create folders with collections of videos on a particular topic, such as "political speeches" or "best YouTube flatulence ignitions."

When the player is running and you come across an online video -- even ads -- a small button appears above the frame and gives you the option of clicking to start the download.

Downloads aren't particularly fast, but they take place in the background and continue after you've moved on to another site.

The software works with all sorts of video formats, but not if the content has rights-management attached that prevents copying.

I was given a demonstration Wednesday by Harold Zeitz, Real's senior vice president of games and media software and services.

"The real innovation here is the universality of it and the fact that is enabled in such a simple way,'' he said. "We call it the one-click download.''

From the player, users can also send friends links to the content and burn copies of the videos onto CDs or DVDs that can be played in a DVD player.

Real has also simplified the installation process so people only have to go through three screens to set up the player.

A beta version of the software will be available for Windows users to download for free by the end of June. A Mac version is due by the end of the year.

Comments | Category: D conference , RealNetworks |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 31, 2007 11:24 AM

Viacom boss: We'll build more than buy

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- So Viacom won't be buying Facebook, apparently.

Philippe Dauman, the new chief executive of the media giant who made waves by suing YouTube over copyright violations, said during a D session today that he may buy some smaller companies but isn't interested in blockbuster acquisitions.

"We're focusing on creating things within Viacom ... rather than paying an inflated price for an outside company,'' he said.

"I'd rather spend the extra $700 million developing new experiences," such as the virtual worlds built around Viacom franchises such as SpongeBob.

Regarding the ongoing lawsuit, Dauman said Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt called shortly after he took over Viacom nine months ago and they tried to negotiate a deal. Sticking points included how much control Google would have over Viacom content on YouTube, how Google would sell ads around the content and whether Google could contact Viacom's advertisers, he said.

Dauman spoke at the D conference after YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. They had stressed that they're educating consumers about copyright laws on their site, drawing guffaws from moderator Walt Mossberg.

Dauman said he was glad to hear them talking that way.

"Well, I think maybe they're starting to get the idea. I may have helped provide a graduate education in copyright," he said.

The big disclosure by Hurley and Chen was around YouTube's plans to start inserting ads in videos within a few months. Chen said their testing found that consumers were turned off by 30-second ads that play at the start of videos.

"I don't think we'll ever do 30-second pre-rolls," Chen said. "I think it's going to be somewhere between five and 10 seconds, as well as making it as relevant as we can."

Hurley said content creators would have the option of participating in the system, which would share revenue with them along the lines of Google's AdSense system. The site is already testing the approach.

"Within the next few months we're going to roll out more video-centric advertising," Hurley said.

Comments | Category: D conference , Digital media , Google , Web |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 30, 2007 11:33 PM

Video of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Here's a sample of Wednesday night's chat between the PC pioneers, provided by the D conference organizers.

More videos of their appearance are here, along with the D blog of the event.

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

May 30, 2007 3:32 PM

Palm founder's Foleo: Don't call it a laptop

Posted by Brier Dudley

One of the new gadgets introduced at the D conference is the Foleo, a little laptop like device from Palm that you're not supposed to call a laptop.

It's a mobile companion, Palm founder Jeff Hawkins insisted as he unveiled the gadget on stage with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

The columnists noted that the thing looked like a laptop and felt like a laptop, but Hawkins was adamant.


Palm

The Foleo is designed to be a "mobile companion" to smartphones such as the Treo.

The 2-pound device has a laptop-like clamshell design with a 10.2'' diagonal screen and a full-size keyboard. It runs on Linux and solid-state memory, with no hard-drive or optical drive.

It's designed to be an accessory to smartphones, which sync with the device so you can do e-mail and other computing on the Foleo and bring it instead of a laptop on the road. The phone then acts like a modem for the Foleo.

Mossberg and Swisher seemed a little skeptical after Hawkins said it's not powerful enough to do a good job playing video from the Web.

It goes on sale in June for $599, but Palm will offer a $100 rebate so it's basically $499.

If Microsoft and computer makers can get Ultra-Mobile PCs down to $600 it won't stand a chance.

The Foleo does have a cool interface, though. Instead of a mousepad below the keyboard it has a scroll wheel, like a smartphone, and dedicated forward and back buttons for browsing and moving through screens.

I thought they were a little awkward and didn't feel natural when I played with the device, but I'd love to have a built-in scroll wheel and forward and backward keys on my laptop.

Another really cool feature of the Foleo was its power management. The thing runs 5 hours with Wi-Fi on or 6.5 with it off. It also turns on instantly with a button that gives you two choices -- on or off, with no option to hibernate or restart.

Comments | Category: D conference , Gadgets & products |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 30, 2007 3:25 PM

Another crazy "D" moment

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- I forgot to bring toothpaste, so I headed down to buy a tube before breakfast.

Waiting to board the elevator with me was Vinod Khosla, the Sun Microsystems founder turned venture capitalist.

Khosla, whose latest focus is biofuels, was talking on a Bluetooth headset about energy legislation all the way into the lobby. Forget the potential federal subsidies, that saved him from talking to a reporter with awful morning breath.

Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , D conference |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 30, 2007 2:16 PM

Jobs on the iPhone, Apple TV and of course Windows

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Answering one of the big questions about the iPhone that's arriving in late June, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the company will allow third-party software developers to write programs for the device later this year, after the company sorts out the balance between securing the phone and opening it up to developers.

"Sometime later this year we will find a way to do that,'' he said.

But in a conversation with Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg, Jobs didn't provide any more specifics about when the phone will be released, other than to reiterate "late June."

The chat also showed off Mossberg's influence. He jokingly said he heard that Apple has a new phone. Jobs said "I'll send you one." "Thanks," the columnist replied.

Later, Mossberg asked if Apple will turn away from building computers as it pushes further into consumer electronics. Jobs said the company remains "totally" committed to its computer business.

Jobs also declined to say anything about when and how Apple will next overhaul the iPod line. His vague comment could have applied to the iPhone -- which Apple considers to be its latest iPod as well as a phone and Internet device:

"All I should really say is that were working on the best iPods that weve ever worked on and they're awesome.''

The phone made a brief appearance when Jobs pulled one out of his pants pocket and held it up for a few seconds, but he didn't turn it on or give a demonstration. Nor did he announce any new features.

Jobs did talk up its three key features, particularly the high-quality browser. That's probably a preview of the marketing theme since it echoed the way AT&T's point man on the iPhone, Glenn Lurie, described the device to me last week.

Jobs also shared his perspective on why AT&T (then Cingular) took a leap of faith with Apple on the phone project and agreed to partner on a device it hadn't seen yet. He thinks the company made the deal for two reasons -- first, "music on phones hasn't been successful so far" and, second, because it wanted to find a way to improve the Internet experience with phones and make better use of its high-speed network.

"They along with everyone else in the business have spent or are spending a fortune to build these 3G networks," Jobs said. "So far there ain't a lot to do with them. ... People aren't signing up to use bandwidth."

So that's why AT&T will require iPhone buyers to sign up for unlimited data plans, as Lurie told me last week.

But Sling Media Chief Executive Blake Krikorian called Jobs on his 3G reference. The iPhone actually works on a slower network, AT&T's EDGE, that's considered 2.5G, he pointed out.

Jobs replied by pointing out the phone also has Wi-Fi, which is faster than EDGE, and the phone automatically switches to Wi-Fi when in range. He also noted that there are lots of Wi-Fi networks around, especially in Palo Alto, Calif., where he lives.

"Some of them are people's personal ones you can just take a ride on," Jobs said, adding that "there's like 10 times more Wi-Fi out there than even I thought there was."

Hmmm. I guess that's one option some people may take. (Jobs' other options weren't discussed.)

Mossberg repeatedly joked about delays in Apple's upcoming "Leopard" operating system, but Jobs never took the bait and said anything about the timing or cause of delays.

Indirectly acknowledging Apple TV hasn't caught the world on fire yet, Jobs described the device for streaming media from a computer to a television as a "hobby" instead of a real business for Apple.

"The iPod started this way. The iPod's a really great phenmenon, today it's a great business today, but it started off a lot smaller, it started off feeling like this."

A new feature he announced today was nifty but probably won't have people rushing out to buy Apple TVs. Jobs showed a new "YouTube" menu item that lets people search, select and play videos from the Google-owned video-sharing site.

Mossberg asked why Apple didn't include a video browser so users can play content from other online video sites. Jobs said he thinks "a normal Web browser is not what people want to see in living room."

I wonder if the feature design was influenced by Apple's growing relationship with Google, whose chief executive sits on Apple's board and whose Web applications are among the first non-Apple programs that will run on the iPhone.

The obligatory nasty Microsoft comment came when Mossberg pointed out that the free iTunes jukebox is one of the most widely used applications on the Windows platform.

Jobs reply:

"We've got cards and letters from lots of people saying iTunes is their favorite app on Windows. It's like giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell."

Mossberg's comeback:

"There's that humility, that Steve Jobs humility."

Offsetting that a little bit was Jobs' acknowledgement that he sometimes reads "The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs," a parody blog that pokes fun at his style and personality.

"I have read a few of the fake Steve Jobs things lately and I thought they were pretty funny,'' he said.

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May 30, 2007 9:48 AM

Ballmer on Microsoft's new muscles

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Walt Mossberg asked Steve Ballmer a question that a lot of Microsoft watchers have been thinking about lately: Why is the company manufacturing hardware like the Zune and the new Surface computing table, after insisting for years that it made software and left hardware to partners?

Ballmer said "modern consumer electronics" is one of the new "muscles" the company is trying to build, along with digital advertising. He also said people shouldn't write off Microsoft after seeing only its initial forays:

"We're trying to build these two new muscles, one in advertising and one in modern consumer electronics and we're going to keep coming and coming and coming just as we did in enterprise and just as we did in phase one."

Ballmer said the company will pick and choose where it builds hardware in businesses such as media players that are becoming largely software and services businesses. "How much hardware we have to offer is always variable," he said, adding:

"If we're not willing to grow and adapt and build up new business muscle in addition to new technology muscle ,we won't succeed."

Microsoft doesn't plan to build its own mobile phones, however, saying "No, I don't think it will make sense for us to do a phone."

Ballmer said that while RIM and Apple may build "nice smaller positions," he's more interested in the bigger opportunity presented by the overall phone market, where 1.2 billion devices a year are sold.

The broader market is also where Microsoft is getting traction, selling "tens of millions" of copies a year of its mobile software platform to phone manufacturers.

"We would love to have a high share of phones," he said.

Mossberg also asked why Microsoft continues to lose search market share to Google after all its effort.

Ballmer clarified that the company hasn't lost share as much as "we've wallowed around the same spot."

As for the lag, Ballmer said Microsoft had to launch its own search product, enter the market and get experience:

"I can say we're in the game now."

They didn't get specific about the aQuantive acquisition, but Ballmer explained how Microsoft sees all media being delivered via networks within a few years. Much of the software used by consumers will also be ad-funded, he said, in a particularly striking comment.

Microsoft needs to be in the platform layer that's delivering ad-supported services. It needs to be a player in the portal layer, where Web search is done, and it needs to partner with publishers providing the content.

Ballmer was reluctant to use the word "Google" and instead referred to it as "the market leader, because the market might change. With patience and determination and hard work, hopefully it will change sooner than later."

But he did mention Google by name later, around the time that he brought up antitrust concerns about one company dominating digital advertising. He also acknowledged the irony, but didn't mention that Microsoft's complaints about Google's DoubleClick merger are getting traction with an FTC review, which was confirmed Tuesday.

"I think it's important in fact that there be good competition. I've gotten that line thrown at me. I'll throw it back at the market leader here."

Mossberg also pointed out that Microsoft hopes to sell a million Zunes by June, while Apple is selling up to 20 million iPods per quarter. Will Microsoft stick with the Zune?

Ballmer's reply:

"Sure, we don't drop things. There's a very short list of things we have started that we haven't continued. ... We're very committed to Zune."

Ballmer also acknowledged that the Zune hasn't blown away techies. He said the company weighed whether to wait to develop a spectacular device, or get into the market "with a product that's good but not revolutionary compared to Apple." It opted for the latter, but Ballmer told Mossberg to stay tuned.

"We'll have a lineup this Christmas that's more exciting."

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May 29, 2007 10:21 PM

Ballmer's next job and other gossip from "D"

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- I'm fighting the paparazzi impulse here at the WSJ's D Conference, but I've got to share a few tidbits.

After some tense policy talk, John McCain and host Kara Swisher cracked up the audience with the obligatory Microsoft joke.

McCain had been saying that if he were president, he'd fill key positions with the smartest people in the country, instead of appointing cronies and political hacks.

Asked for examples, he mentioned Cisco Chief Executive John Chambers, who was sitting in the front row, and FedEx founder Fred Smith. Smith could help sort out the defense acquisition system, McCain said.

Then he said Steve Ballmer is another person he'd like to hire to help run the country.

Swisher chimed in:

"I'm curious, Steve Ballmer's secretary of state, right?"

McCain caught the wave of laughter with a comeback:

"How about ambassador to China?"

They schmoozed backstage, according to the D blog, which has a photo.

I wish I'd known about McCain's offer when I saw Ballmer earlier during the pre-dinner cocktail reception.

Ballmer was talking to some investor types and mentioning that his busy summer schedule includes a Harvard reunion. I butted in and asked if he'll still have time to buy Yahoo! He smiled and said he wouldn't comment on that topic, but I think he was smiling to be polite and not to send any kind of message about a deal. What he really wanted to talk about was the Detroit Pistons.

On the way to the evening events, I rode the elevator down with uber investor Roger McNamee, who was questioning the way Washington, D.C., media have been covering McCain.

Just as he got rolling, the elevator door opened and there was Don Graham, chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Co.

Graham was in a crowd and carrying bags up to his room. We sort of mumbled and glanced toward him as we passed, but the freakish timing of the appearance basically ended the conversation and we wandered off toward the registration desk.

As I said, I don't want to go paparazzi, but every time I write about Charles Simonyi I get a bunch of questions about his friendship with Martha Stewart. Yes, I saw them together tonight at the reception, looking pretty snazzy, at one point talking to Rob Glaser. I thought about asking about the menu she created for his spaceflight last month but held off.

Even though this is a conference hosted by journalists, I felt like I'd be about as welcome in their conversation cluster as a fly in the champagne. I left them alone by the cupcake and fondue line and headed back to blog central, my room with a view of the parking lot, where I'm working through the tin of Swedish fish candy that Glaser's RealNetworks put in the goodie bags. (The tin's lid says "Real it in!").

Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , D conference |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 29, 2007 9:46 PM

McCain vs Swishberg

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- After opening their conference with a moment of silence to recognize American troops, the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher turned to politics and grilled presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain about his support for the war in Iraq.

Sorting out the Iraq mess and finding consensus on how to proceed seem more difficult than any of the technological challenges that will be covered during the rest of the conference.

Almost as sticky was the question of what the government should do to help the United States improve broadband service and catch up to the level of service in other developed countries.

On broadband, McCain argued for less regulation and government oversight. He didn't seem to agree with the suggestion, by Mossberg and Swisher, that telecom industry consolidation might be a factor.

Is there a role for government when there's too much concentration of power? Mossberg asked.

McCain's answer:

"I think the trend is in that direction but you known and most everyone in the room knows that when government gets involved there's intended consequences and unintended consequences."

They didn't let him off that easy. Swisher asked if broadband should be considered along the lines of the federal highway system.

Pressed further, McCain said:

"I understand that when you control the pipe you should be able to get profit on your investment, etc. At the same time I do worry about the concentration of it."

Regarding the war, all three agreed that mistakes were made, but the journalists questioned McCain on his opposition to withdrawal.

Noting that it turned out Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction or a role in the 9/11 attack, Mossberg asked, "Why on earth do you support staying in there instead of saying this was a tremendous mistake ... let's end it?"

McCain argued that pulling out would further destabilize the region and draw neighboring countries into a bigger conflict, saying, "We will lose more if we leave the country."

"Other nations will be drawn into the conflict," McCain said. "We still are dependent on our energy supplies from that part of the world.''

Both perspectives drew applause now and then from an audience that included the heads of numerous major tech and media companies.

Afterward I asked a few about their impression and several said they were impressed with McCain, whether or not they agreed with him politically. One noted that Al Gore was just as sharp when he spoke during a previous D conference.

A few of McCain's zinger lines made YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen chuckle (I was sitting behind them). That's got to be worth something.

Here's a clip of McCain's presentation provided by D.

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May 29, 2007 6:20 PM

McCain on H1B: I'd do it different

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- After listening to Sen. John McCain explain how the immigration bill is a compromise reached with securing borders as the first priority, I noted that the tech executives in the next room here at the D conference may see the caps on H1B visas as a barrier to their competitiveness. I also asked if he's concerned about the message the country is sending to the potential employees of those companies abroad.

McCain said he would have written that part of the bill differently. "I have strongly supported increases in H1Bs" he said, during a little press conference for local media before he spoke to the conference.

I'm writing this on an Hewlett-Packard TouchSmart in the lobby. Martha Stewart is standing about 15 feet to my right. Nearby, Steve Ballmer and Steven Sinofsky are yakking by another one of the TouchSmart's that HP has on display.

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May 29, 2007 5:00 PM

Microsoft shuttle to the D conference

Posted by Brier Dudley

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- It felt like I was on my way to the Consumer Electronics Show when I boarded an Alaska Airlines flight to San Diego earlier today.

Three Microsoft vice presidents (two senior) and a general manager were on the plane.

Emerging markets boss Will Poole and advertising strategist Yusuf Mehdi were in first class, while Windows engineering czar Steve Sinofsky was in coach near Vivek Varma, a general manager in the online services group.

We were all headed to the "D" conference the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher are hosting in Carlsbad, Calif. this week.

Microsoft has a big presence -- Steve Ballmer speaks Wedensday morning and Bill Gates will be on stage with Steve Jobs Wednesday night -- and it's really a who's who of the tech industry.

I'll be blogging and writing items for the paper. First, I've got to finish rooting through the outrageous goodie bags given to guests; so far I've uncovered a 160 gigabyte Maxtor portable hard drive and a pair of white "You Tube" tube socks.

I've already polished off the cheese, rhubarb jam and soda bread left in the room by the Irish trade development organization.

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May 28, 2007 1:00 AM

More iPhone conversation with AT&T's Lurie

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are more edited Q&A's from my conversation last week with Glenn Lurie, AT&T president of national distribution and point on the iPhone partnership.

Q: Will the iPhone be competing not just with phones but Internet devices like the Nokia tablet and Ultra Mobile PCs?
A: I think our customers will tell us. With every device like this that's a game-changer -- and it's well advanced of anything that's on the maket -- I think we're going to find out how people decide to use it. We have our own ideas and our guesses, but as customers buy this device, experience it, they're going to make those decisions as to what it is and we'll learn as well.

Q: The iPhone seems to be raising the bar on interface design. We're going to get a lot of exciting devices over the next year, chasing the iPhone or coming out simultaneously.
A: You're absolutely right. We know this from the past. Whenever somebody brings out something new or something that is a leapfrog it causes more innovation from everybody else. I remember when the Motorola StarTac came out. It was 2000, it was this small flip-phone. I actually have one in my office, the original one. Well you picked that up and said, "Oh my gosh." At that time it was a leapfrog. What did the other manufacturers do? Start making small, tiny little flips to try and catch up. In this case, what Apple's done is going to raise the bar, it's going to cause innovation throughout the industry which we all know is terrific for everybody.

Q: Can your network support a subscription service that would stream music to the iPhone?
A: Yes, but the device that's being launched is not that, that's not where we're going. This is going to pull music on just like an iPod does.

Q: You'll sync music from a computer.
A: Yes, it's the same process you have today with an iPod Nano or Video or whatever. That's the plan. Obviously, our networks can do lots of things as we launch HSDPA, 3G, etcetera, but with this particular product it's going to be focused to work on our EDGE network, which is going to be great. All the music side stuff is going to be tethered.

Q: You've received some flack for choosing the EDGE network for the iPhone.
A: I think it's interesting. Our network is terrific, the EDGE network is phenomenal. It's the largest high-speed network in the country. Obviously, we also have this HSDPA network that's growing as well, but this gives customers full coverage nationwide. The applications work terrific on EDGE. Like I said, when people get it in their hands and use it they will be very, very excited about how it works.

Q: The iPhone has other radios, including Wi-Fi. How will that work out?
A: Wi-Fi is a great partner for our network. Obviously, we're part of AT&T, which is the largest seller of broadband services in the country; we see some synergies there. You walk into your home, this goes onto your Wi=Fi network at home for data -- what a great experience for the customer. On the same front, when you walk out of your home, you want that contiguous coverage, you'll be on our EDGE network on the data side. On the voice side, it's always on our network.

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May 24, 2007 3:39 PM

"iPod Amnesty" photographer says lighten up

Posted by Brier Dudley


Rex Sorgatz / Fimoculous.com

The iPod Amnesty bin at Zune headquarters in Redmond.

The source of the now-famous photo of the iPod Amnesty recycling bin at Zune HQ in Redmond?

It was MSNBC.com's Rex Sorgatz, who took the photo last week and casually threw the image onto Flickr. He didn't even mention it on his Fimoculous blog until today, after it had been discovered and spun into a blogosphere hissy fit.

Rex responded on Flickr to an outraged Apple fan who decried the waste, the sacrilege, the travesty:

I think it's more of a joke than you're suggesting. Microsoft isn't actually dumb enough to think that people are going to drop their iPods in the bin -- it's a way to show they have a reasonable degree of levity.

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May 24, 2007 2:25 PM

Halo 3 worth at least $170 million, analyst says

Posted by Brier Dudley

Talk about a halo effect.

Goldman Sachs is predicting "Halo 3," set to relase in the fall, will do at least $170 million in sales, and maybe as much as $220 million because of potentially higher average selling prices because Microsoft is also releasing premium versions.


Microsoft

"Show me the money," says Master Chief.

Either way Halo's likely to finally push Microsoft's home and entertainment group into the black during the September quarter, reaching "slight profitability," analyst Sarah Friar told clients today.

Friar said the Sept. 25 launch is strategic, to get ahead of "Grand Theft Auto 4," and also partner-friendly because it's getting out ahead of third party titles coming in the fall:

"We believe the availability of 'Halo 3' before the launch of 'GTA4' is a strategic play by Microsoft to increase sales of Xbox 360 and to take sales away from Sony's PS3. In our view, the audience for 'Halo 3' largely overlaps that of 'GTA4,' and thus a consumer purchasing 'Halo 3' will likely buy 'GTA4' for Xbox 360 as well. Microsoft also needed to launch 'Halo 3' about a month ahead of 'GTA4' in order to mitigate competition between the two titles and allow time later in the fall for other titles to launch, a more partner friendly strategy."

Goldman expects MSFT to hit $36 within 12 months.

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May 24, 2007 2:07 PM

Seattle's Eyejot faces off against Google, Microsoft

Posted by Brier Dudley

In Cnet's Webware 100 contest, that is.

Eyejot, a Pioneer Square startup offering a service for sending video messages as if they were e-mail, is a finalist in the communication category.

Its competition for the award looks tough -- in addition to various Web 2.0 startups, the contenders include Google Talk, Gmail, Skype, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail and Messenger.

They're among 250 finalists chosen from 5,000 entries. Vote on your favorites here; winners will be announced June 18.

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May 23, 2007 5:58 PM

Simonyi's return to Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley


Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Charles Simonyi speaks presents Museum of Flight director Bonnie Dunbar a glove he wore and part of one of the parachutes used to slow the space capsule he rode.

The shiny space station module that's part of Museum of Flight's upcoming space exhibition is nothing like the real space station, according to Charles Simonyi, who lived there for 11 days last month.

"It was nothing like this sterile area, especially the Russian segment,'' he said. "Everything [there] is covered with velcro. It bears the stains of many lunches and dinners beforehand."

That didn't detract from the experience, though, and actually made him feel safer knowing how long the station had been functioning.

I asked Simonyi to show me around the module during an interview after his welcome home ceremony today at the Museum of Flight. I was the first in line for a series of one-on-one interviews but other reporters liked my choice of venue and shoved into the station as well.

No wonder Simonyi said press conferences were one of the few times he was nervous during his space adventure.

Simonyi was polite and candid with reporters, but he was more enthusiastic talking to the Cub Scouts and high school students from Redmond who attended the ceremony and politely took turns asking him questions.

Among the students was Thomas Spencer, a Redmond senior who spoke to Simonyi via radio during the space trip and then in person at the museum. I asked if he wants to visit space as well.

"I'm sure everyone wants to go into space,'' Spencer replied.

Here's an edited sample of Simonyi's question and answer session with the scouts, students and reporters:

Q: How was the rehabilitation and what exercises did you do?

A: I had two problems, one with the vestibular system. I was walking funny, maybe falling over. Swimming was a good exercise because if you are swimming you can't fall over and injure yourself.

Another problem was orthostatic tolerance; blood tends to go to the feet and deprives the brain of much needed exercise.

Doctors say you have to be rehabilitated for as long a period as you were in space. I was in space two weeks. Imagine the people who were up there for six months. They have much greater needs than I did.

Q: How high could you jump in the space station?

A: You can jump as high as you want. If you push yourself, you will continue going, nothing will stop you. You have to be careful about not pushing yourself too fast because whatever speed you push yourself, that's the speed with which you're going to arrive at the other end. Also, you stop yourself with your arms, and your arms are not as strong as your legs so you have to be really careful.

Q: What was the best part of going to space?

A: Going up was very exciting, staying on the space station was very exicitng, coming back was very exicting. This whole experience just as a whole was great.

Q: How was training before you went into space?

A: Training was very hard. It took six months. During the training they prepare you for the worst case. You were doing it in the gravity of the Earth.

Q: I know there's a disease you can get from coming back to earth, the shock of having gravity?

A: It's really not a disease. What happens is that when you go to space you get a shock because you're in a new environment; you don't have gravity. The fluids in your body shift. You come back to Earth, you have to get used to the Earth again so it's just the same thing -- a space sickness but in reverse. It's called a sickness but it really isn't, it's just a matter of adaptation.

Q: How long do you have to study to become an astronaut?

A: It depends on whether you want to be a professional or a space flight participant, otherwise known as a toursist. To be a professional, 10 years.

For me it was a little bit more than six moths, but I had to do it day and night. I was living there and that was the focus of my life.

Q: How was it when you were sleeping in space?

A: It was very pleasant. We were sleeping in sleeping bags. We string them up like a hammock, fly into them and zip ourselves up and it's very cozy and very pleasant.

Q: Did you sense the fragility of Earth from up there?

A: I don't think going to space is the the way to see that. You see Earth in its totality. It's so quiet and so majestic, it's hard to see the fragility. Maybe if you had a very big telescope.

In space the Earth looks as big as the sky looks from here -- essentialy it's the same color. It's this beautiful blue with the clouds on it.

Q: Was the food different on the space station?

A. No. We had chicken and an omelet -- that was my first breakfast, apple juice from a carton. The food is really the same and tastes the same as on Earth. The food that we got, that was mostly mashed potatos and a kind of stew, meat stews and gelatin. They were just like on Earth.

Q: Did you eat a lot of Russian food?

A: Absolutely, food such as dehydrated borscht, which I like very much.

Q: What was your most nervous moment?

A: There were a couple of nervous moments and they all had to do with the preparation -- when I was plugged into a machine telling how nervous I was and press conferences.

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May 23, 2007 3:02 PM

Guitar Hero III playlist: Only one Seattle band so far

Posted by Brier Dudley

Among the songs on the upcoming version of the game is Heart's Barracuda, according to Activision's press release today.

Guitar Hero III is coming in fall to the PS2, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii. Wireless controllers will be standard, and the game's getting "a new multiplayer action-inspired battle mode, grueling boss battles, a bevy of exclusive unlockable content and authentic rock venues. Expanded online multiplayer game modes will also allow axe-shredders worldwide to compete head-to-head for true legendary rock status."

Here's the playlist so far, from the release:

* Paint It Black (by The Rolling Stones)
* Cherub Rock (by Smashing Pumpkins)
* Sabotage (by Beastie Boys)
* The Metal (by Tenacious D)
* My Name is Jonas (by Weezer)
* Knights of Cydonia (by Muse)
* Rock And Roll All Nite (as made famous by Kiss)
* School's Out (as made famous by Alice Cooper)
* Slow Ride (as made famous by Fog Hat)
* Cult of Personality (by Living Colour)
* Barracuda (as made famous by Heart)

My fingers are so twitchy I can hardly type.

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May 23, 2007 11:22 AM

Google can't Google: An Amazonian's hiring story

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com evangelist (and former Microsoft manager) Jeff Barr posted an amusing story about being recruited by Google. It fell through when he failed a crucial test -- he couldn't remember his college grade point average:

Given that I earned my degree in 1985 and have been earning a living by writing code since I was 15 or 16, this didn't seem all that essential.

The story keeps going, though:

Funny thing is, I now have several more e-mails in my inbox from other Google recruiters. After reading these e-mails it appears that they don't know that I interviewed there last year! Perhaps they don't have this data in searchable form. Could that be?

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May 22, 2007 4:38 PM

Zillow boss Barton finally sold his house

Posted by Brier Dudley

After nine months of effort, national press and more than 4,500 page views on Zillow, Rich Barton has finally sold his Denny Blaine pad for $2.85 million.

The Zillow co-founder and chief executive announced today on the company blog that he's signed papers and expects to close the deal in a few weeks.

The selling price on the four-bedroom, 3,740-square-foot 1904 charmer is above the $2.67 million Zestimate but less than the $2.98 million owner's estimated value.

Barton came out OK but not as well as the previous owner, who bought the house for $1.38 million in 1999 and sold it to Barton for $2.39 million in 2002, according to the public records displayed on Zillow.

Here's a gallery if you want to see inside the former home of a successful tech executive. Apparently the Bartons celebrated the sale (or Zillow's funding?) by finishing all the wine in the cellar.

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May 22, 2007 2:19 PM

Another new Microsoft building

Posted by Brier Dudley

This one's coming to North Dakota, where the company's creating space for 575 more employees in Fargo. Ina Fried has details:

The software maker said it is just the first step of a planned expansion that will one day allow Microsoft to have as many as 3,800 workers at that facility. It currently has nearly 1,300 workers in Fargo, including 956 full-time employees and 337 contractors and temporary workers.

(Fargo is probably a nice place. But if Microsoft wants to be sure the aQuantive team stays focused and productive through the merger, it ought to raise the prospect of transferring there from downtown Seattle....)

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May 22, 2007 2:17 PM

Boeing didn't plan for microwave curry

Posted by Brier Dudley

On the 747, at least. Maybe it has addressed this in the Dreamliner.

From The Register:

Forget binary liquid explosives, a British Airways stewardess has shown how it's really done by popping her curry ready meal into a 747's club class microwave, with explosive results.

The spicy blast -- caused by the supermarket-bought nosh's inability to withstand the might of the double-strength airborne microwave -- provoked crew on the Heathrow to Miami jaunt to deploy a fire extinguisher "to douse the blazing oven."


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May 22, 2007 1:49 PM

How to get on TechCrunch: Cry on the phone

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's one interesting tidbit in the post of the day: Michael Arrington's lament for the good old days of 2005, before questions about Bubble 2.0 began in earnest.

Apparently he's a victim of his own success.

He misses the time when he thought people wanted to appear on his blog merely to start a discussion, before TechCrunch was profitable, before he became Web 2.0's kingmaker and a mandatory stop for startup promo tours bringing wine, flowers and "hot PR chicks."

He misses having burgers and beers with entrepreneurs, and hashing out business ideas in his living room:

"I left Silicon Valley at the peak of the insanity last time around, and I was pleasantly surprised when I returned in 2005 to see so much goodwill and community surrounding innovation. Now, it's just like the old days again, and Silicon Valley is no longer any fun. In fact, it's turned downright nasty. It may be time for some of us to leave for a while and watch the craziness from the outside again. In a few years, things will be beautiful again. The big money will be slumbering away, and the marketing departments will be a distant memory. We can focus, once again, on the technology. And the burgers and beer."

Will things be idyllic again after the bubble bursts? Who knows.

In the meantime, the tip of the day is that there's a cheaper way to get on Arrington's billboard, with no PR firm retainer required:

More than once I've had a CEO break down and cry on the phone when we said we weren't covering them. And more than once, I folded and wrote about them after those conversations.

Another way to get on Arrington's radar: Register for the tech conference he's holding in San Francisco in September. Tickets are $1,995 until July 15, when they go up to $2,495. For that price, the burgers better be good.

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May 21, 2007 2:49 PM

Microsoft's reorg: All about Google, IBM and Apple?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Rob Helm speculated that Friday's reorganization positioned Jeff Raikes to become Microsoft's next chief executive someday.

That's interesting. It also seems pretty clear that Platforms boss Kevin Johnson's duties were pared so he can focus on making the aQuantive merger work well.

But doesn't it seem like the broad-brush effect was to align Microsoft around its primary competitors?

Jeff Raikes is now operating an organization that stacks up against IBM (and Red Hat, Sun and Apache).

Robbie Bach's group was already squared off against Apple and Sony.

Now, Kevin Johnson's group is tailored for the fight with Google -- over search, advertising, consumer online services and control of the personal computing experience. It also has room for Yahoo!

The milestone, though, is that Microsoft seems to have finally moved beyond an organization designed around its Windows desktop legacy. The Windows PC group is no longer the biggest gorilla at Microsoft, and even the developer and tools team has moved over to Raikes' business group.

This will probably seem really smart 10 years from now, when all of our machines and applications are connected to the Internet; computers are so small, powerful and ubiquitous we don't really think of them as PCs anymore, and operating systems fade into the background.

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May 21, 2007 2:08 PM

Microsoft's open source saga

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wish I was in San Francisco today for Microsoft's open-source business development forum.

As part of a new effort to build partnerships with early-stage software companies, Microsoft is pitching itself to open-source entrepreneurs at an all-day forum tied to the Open Source Business Conference this week.

The agenda gives you a sense of Microsoft's pitch:

We have an excellent track record helping independant software vendors (ISVs) become profitable on the Microsoft Windows platform, regardless of their development model. What's more, developing Windows-based solutions opens your business up to a much larger market and significant new sales channels.

That's why we are launching this new initiative exclusively for open source solution providers. At this event we will demonstrate how you can develop business solutions on Windows to provide greater choice to your customers, expand your potential market, and how we can best make that happen together.

The conversations ought to be rich, after all the recent patent hubbub.

I came across links to the event at the Microsoft open-source lab's Port 25 blog, which has become a must-read if you're following the patent twists and turns.

For instance, Bill Hilf and Sam Ramji finally posted a detailed response to the Fortune story late Friday. The nut graph:

"It's not us versus the free world. It's about commercial companies working together around IP issues -- it's business as usual."

That may not convince the amateur/enthusiast crowd. The first commenter accused Microsoft of trying to "marginalize the 'garageband' programer" with its patent licensing, but it may seem reasonable to the business-development types meeting in San Francisco.

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May 21, 2007 1:43 PM

Microsoft's missing gadgets

Posted by Brier Dudley

I've been waiting for Sideshow remotes to finally appear.

Two WinHEC post-mortems shed light on why they're not here yet: Hardware companies are being slow to release them in part because of the Vista development learning curve.

Some hardware types complained about Vista's down-to-the-wire launch, saying last minute changes meant they didn't have a lot of time to get products ready early in the cycle. They also said some of the documentation is still lacking. I wonder if the latter is because Microsoft's been so busy documenting material for antitrust regulators?

Bottom line, according to the stories: it may be 2009 before there's widespread availability of the nifty gadgets that extend the Vista experience onto auxiliary display devices.

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May 18, 2007 5:09 PM

aQuantive perspectives on Microsoft

Posted by Brier Dudley

I've had some interesting conversations with aQuantive executives in recent months, and one thing stuck out when I learned about the company's sale to Microsoft.

Last week I asked aQuantive Chief Executive Brian McAndrews about how he manages a company that you can't describe in a few sentences.

Here's his response:

"It is complex but the flip side of that is one of the reasons we're doing so well is the industry is so complicated -- complexity is our friend, because our job is making it easier for our clients,'' he said. "If it was a simple thing, they wouldn't need us, they'd just do it themselves."

That's worth mentioning again because it's similar to what Microsoft has done with computing. From the start, the company has tried to build products that take complexity out of using computers, whether they're hobbyists, office workers, IT administrators or programmers.

Think of Microsoft as a layer between the user and the hardware. You use Microsoft products so you don't have to touch all the components.

This is similar to role aQuantive plays with big companies that want to run online marketing campaigns. To run a broad marketing program, they have to plug into all sorts of areas on the Web -- search ads, display ads, etc. The services that aQuantive provides are like a layer of software that coordinates all of this activity, analyzes its performance and helps companies track results.

That makes me think the companies will sync, if they keep focusing on absorbing the complexity their customers otherwise have to deal with.

Google is trying to do the same kind of thing. It simplified the process of placing and optimizing search ads, to the point that it's largely a self-service business for small advertisers.

Another interesting tidbit from the McAndrews interview was the value being independent had to aQuantive. He said advertisers appreciated having a marketing partner that wasn't the recipient of placed ads:

"If that tool is owned by one of the places you're sending your dollars, it certainly creates a conflict."

Earlier, in March, I interviewed Jeff Lanctot, senior vice president of aQuantive's Avenue A | Razorfish agency. Around that time Yahoo! was rolling out its Panama ad-serving product to compete with Microsoft's adCenter and Google's adSense systems. He was candid about the Redmond company's situation:

"The issue that both Yahoo! and Microsoft have to varying degrees is even if they build a great search advertising products they still have query share problems that need to be adressed. AdCenter is a very well regarded ad platform but Microsoft is still challenged to increase its query share."

I asked outright about aQuantive being an acquisition target. Lanctot's answer:

"Our belief is that there is room in the industry for one global independent agency and clearly that's us right now. The falloff between us and the next biggest in terms of independence is a pretty steep one, in terms of revenue, particularly since Digitas [was acquired]. But we think there is enough room for one at least, and that's us now and we intend it to be us in the future. So we think that independent approach is the right one."

Then again, $6 billion is hard to resist.

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May 18, 2007 4:57 PM

Microsoft's $6 billion conversation topic

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft didn't say much about the timing of today's deal with aQuantive, but I wonder if it hustled to get it done before two big investor events where its online executives are speaking next week.

Instead of defending its trailing position in recent years, it can point investors forward toward the possibilities of the big merger.

Maybe it'll even drop a few more details about their aQuantive plans.

First up is Steve Berkowitz, senior vice president of the online services group. He's presenting to the JP Morgan Technology Conference on Tuesday.

Then Yusuf Mehdi, the senior vice president leading aQuantive integration, will speak Wednesday at the Goldman Sachs Internet Conference.

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May 18, 2007 10:36 AM

Microsoft hiring challenges spawn TalentSpring

Posted by Brier Dudley

Recruiting ads and services are springing up all over the Web, but Bryan Starbuck thinks his new online job board, TalentSpring, will stand out.

It's differentiator is its Wiki-like candidate ranking system that helps filter through resumes. (It may also get a boost from a gushy note on TechCrunch, which said the startup "has the potential to disrupt the online resume marketplace.")

"We want to become the marketplace for resumes,'' said Starbuck, 35, a former Microsoft development lead who is TalentSpring's chief executive and co-founder.

Starbuck has become a fixture in the Seattle startup scene as he build the company under the code-name Nimblebee starting last September and prepared for today's beta launch. It now has 10 employees and funding to operate through 2008.

The other co-founder is Andrew Boardman, TalentSpring's director of development. He was previously in consulting and before that was also a manager at Microsoft.

TalentSpring lets job applicants evaluate each other, helping recruiters pinpoint the best candidates by assigning ranks similar to SAT scores. The service is free for candidates. Recruiters will pay per job or for monthly access, with charges ranging from $195 to $5,895 for a year of unlimited access.

Starbuck said the system also helps applicants, because they can use the feedback to rework their resumes.

"They can better articulate themselves and go through the process again,'' he explained.

Starbuck came up with the idea after struggling with the avalanche of resumes he dealt with as a manager at Microsoft.

At one point he was leading development of a feature in Vista with a team of three and had authorization to add 12 positions, but the process took 18 months to fill them.

"I ended up making my dates but I could have got a lot more value to customers" with a bigger team, he said.

Starbuck came to Microsoft directly out of University of California at San Diego and worked there 10 years. He worked on early versions of Internet Explorer and more recently the mail and address book features in Vista.

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May 16, 2007 5:03 PM

First YHOO gets gamed, now AAPL

Posted by Brier Dudley

Some clever traders apparently used Engadget, instead of the New York Post, to jigger a stock -- in this case Apple's, whose market cap dropped as much as $4 billion at one point today.

The AOL-owned gadget blog/magazine reported a "leak" saying that the iPhone and Leopard were delayed, but that turned out to be a hoax. Michael Arrington noted that the fake news came on top of real news that Amazon.com's going after iTunes' download business.

It will take more than a bunch of strikeout marks and a blog update for Engadget to get past that boo-boo.

UPDATE: Engadget explained the backstory here and said it has learned "a very serious lesson."

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May 16, 2007 3:37 PM

Jeff Bezos is a tease

Posted by Brier Dudley

Why is he announcing a hot new music store, but withholding juicy details?

I wonder if a bunch of other retailers are going to announce DRM-free music stores, and Amazon.com's getting ahead of the game, making sure people know that it's going to be a player.

The main unanswered questions about Amazon's music store are when it will launch and how much the songs will cost. It's a safe guess that the store will launch before the holiday retail season and the songs will cost the same or less than the $1.29 DRM-free tracks sold by Apple's iTunes store.

I'm also curious about the quality of the songs, since record companies may be more amenable to DRM-free downloads when they're in a compressed format that's of lower fidelity than a compact disc.

Amazon already provides some free music downloads as a promotional service to vendors and has a "free downloads" section at its music store. I downloaded a few songs as an experiment; one was compressed to 199 Kbps and another was 201 Kbps.

If that's the format for the upcoming store, Amazon may be upping the ante on quality as well as interoperability -- songs from iTunes are compressed further, to 128 Kbps, unless you pay an extra 30 cents apiece for "premium" 256 Kbps versions without DRM.

(Slate examined the premium bitrates last month, concluding it doesn't matter. I think CDs sound better so I'd rather buy discs and rip them myself.)

When I asked Amazon.com about the bitrates of the DRM-free downloads it will sell, I ended up on the phone with Bill Carr, vice president for digital media. The eight-year veteran is in charge of the new download business.

Carr didn't answer the question, but gave me some perspective on why Amazon is making this move.

He said DRM has been a big impediment to digital music sales because of interoperability problems it causes for consumers. Amazon has been talking to record companies for months, drawing on relationships that began when it launched its CD store in 1998, he said.

"We've been working within the record industry now for quite some time to help pave the way to a more customer-centric approach. That approach is to enable DRM-free music downloads, which we think will help drive customers toward legitimate forms of music downloads."

Details about bitrates won't be provided until the service launches:

"I wouldn't comment on the specific bitrate but rest assured that the product will be a high-quality product."

Carr said the store will have "an incredibly positive impact" in the music business. He wouldn't say whether he expects to leapfrog iTunes.

"We're one of the largest CD retailers not only in the U.S. but on a global basis. We're the only one that has had a growing business for several years in a row. ... We believe we can inject similar growth into this business by offering customers what they want."

I asked if Amazon had plans to sell a branded digital music player to complement the music store. He said there aren't plans for a device, and noted that Amazon sells other companies' digital music players at its electronics store.

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May 16, 2007 12:32 PM

The new Google debuts

Posted by Brier Dudley

The company calls it universal search -- when you seach for something, you get a blend of results from its different categories -- images and video, for instance.

From the release, coinciding with its Searchology event today:

Beginning today, the company will incorporate information from a variety of previously separate sources -- including videos, images, news, maps, books, and websites -- into a single set of results. At first, universal search results may be subtle. Over time users will recognize additional types of content integrated into their search results as the company advances toward delivering a truly comprehensive search experience.

It does give you more variety per search. It's also a way for Google to raise the profile of its specialized search categories. I wonder if they were languishing, or if unified search was the goal all along.

Google also announced Google Experimental, a sandbox version of its search service, that will be available at its Labs site.

The company is also tinkering with its home page, so you get a different layout sometimes. Here's a blog tracking some of the versions.

I liked a version I found last night that did a nifty trick: it enhanced the minimalist feel of its home page while displaying more options through little drop-downs in the upper corner.

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May 16, 2007 12:16 PM

Can't wait for "Halo 3"? Here's a free shooter

Posted by Brier Dudley

This game may not tide you over until Sept. 25, but the price is right.

I found out about it from Alan Mutter, who said it's a lame business promo. I like it, but I'm scoring 20s (this was my job a long time ago).

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May 16, 2007 10:42 AM

Security: Still a concern?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Are big companies worrying less about security than little ones?

In their latest survey of enterprise CIOs, Goldman Sachs analysts found that security has abruptly fallen down the list of priorities -- to 11th place, down from its consistent 2nd place showing in recent years. From their report:

A slippage in security as a spending priority may indicate some increased comfort with security issues in the enterprise, not completely surprising since most core security technologies are viewed as fairly mature. It could also be partially a result of few high-profile security breaches or highly disruptive malware incidents in recent memory.

But another survey released today said security will be the top priority for IT organizations this year. That's up from a second-place showing in last year's survey of IT pros by CompTIA (the Computer Computing Technology Industry Association).

Here's part of CompTIA Chief Executive John Venator's quote in the release:

"The proliferation of devices that are now connected to networks, and the increasing mobility of customers and workers have pushed security to top of mind for everyone, from the technician monitoring the network to the business owners and operators whose livelihood can be at risk in the event of a security catastrophe."

Goldman also found that enterprises are taking their time upgrading to Vista, with most saying they'll wait until they refresh PCs within the next year and a half. Vista upgrades are planned within the next year by 6 percent of respondents, and another 48 percent say it will happen within 18 months.

More surprising: Software-as-a-service ranked dead last on the priority list. The analysts' take:

"We note that large-company CIOs, which chiefly comprise our panel, are likely to be slower in their adoption of SaaS given large and complex legacy installations and cultural inertia. However, offerings from leading SaaS vendors are seeing increasing adoption by large enterprises, and most large CIOs we speak with are considering where SaaS offerings make sense if they have not adopted it already in certain areas."

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May 16, 2007 9:59 AM

Apple's new iTunes feature sounds familiar

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple must be paying attention to Seattle-based iLike, a "social music discovery" service built largely by ex-Microsoft engineers.

Lots of people are starting to use iLike's sidebar for iTunes. It samples music that you're listening to and suggests similar tracks that you might like, offering both free tracks from garageband.com and songs you can buy from iTunes and other online retailers.

Yesterday iTunes debuted a new feature called "If You Like ..." in its iTunes newsletter. Apple describes it as "a new iTunes feature that highlights a specific song and finds an array of similar tracks."

But instead of using technology to analyze what you're listening to, as iLike does, Apple is pitching a cluster of pre-selected songs. Tuesday's feature suggested several songs that fans of British crooner Amy Winehouse would like.

Hadi Partovi, iLike's co-founder, took the high road when I asked for his take:

"I guess I'd say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and especially flattering from somebody we admire as much as Apple."

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May 15, 2007 5:42 PM

Patent Armageddon is here

Posted by Brier Dudley

The terrific Fortune magazine story about Microsoft threatening free software groups with patent lawsuits has one thing wrong.

Patent Armageddon isn't coming, as the magazine suggests.

It has already begun, and I'm starting to wonder if we should chuck our computers and go back to pen and paper until things calm down.

At least, that was my reaction to hearing that the Justice Department wants to imprison people for life for using copied software and jail people who attempt to infringe on copyrights.

Intellectual-property protections are important and they've helped Microsoft build a great business. But they are not a life-and-death issue. There are strong laws already in place that deal with theft and they've been successfully used to restrict software piracy in the U.S.

The rules around copyright infringement are more complicated, but that muddiness is why those rules shouldn't be used to further restrict liberty.

There's an ongoing debate about fair use of copyrighted material, for instance. Can you make backup copies of copyrighted material? In some cases, yes. The recording industry has accepted that copying CDs is common practice and levies a charge on blank audio discs to cover the cost of this copying. Will you be jailed for exercising a privilege that you're paying for?

The bigger question, though, is this: Will you be able to tell what's right or wrong if the law is approved, or will you be bullied and scared into curtailing your own freedom? Throw away the VCR, dear, I don't want to break the law.

Before going further, lawmakers need independent analysis of the true cost to society of copyright infringement in the U.S. Breathless "anti-piracy" lobbying materials won't suffice.

That information will help the country decide whether it really wants to launch a War on Copying. We need to know if there really are weapons of mass replication being deployed. Then we can decide if we should let the drug dealers go so there's room in federal prison for all the guys with photocopied New Yorker cartoons in their cubicle.

I can hear it now:

"Sorry, ma'm, we don't have the resources to find the scumbag who stole your $20,000 car, but when we recovered its stripped hulk we found a homemade CD music compilation in the glove box. You'll have to come with us."

What about digital rights management and watermarking technology? Is that technology failing so badly that draconian new laws are required?

Will anti-copying technology advance, if it's illegal to research and test the strength and capabilities of digital locks?

As for Microsoft threatening the free software crowd via Fortune, that reminds me of suspicions that Kim Basinger's divorce lawyers "leaked" that awful voice mail that Alec Baldwin left for their daughter.

Parties in high-stakes negotiations do this sort of thing all the time. They drop salacious tidbits to raise and shape the profile of a case, engage the public and put pressure on their opponents.

The tactic seems desperate, but I wouldn't bet against Microsoft's army of lawyers. They practically wrote the book on software patents and must have a good idea where the company may be wronged and where they could win a patent war.

So much for the kinder, gentler Microsoft. We hardly knew ye.

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May 15, 2007 4:09 PM

Boeing outsources the $150 million iPod

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's must-read is Dominic's story on how Boeing's Dreamliner project is balancing global marketing, outsourcing and intellectual property protection.

A quote from aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia:

"Apple invented the iPod, markets it, sells it, supports it and integrated the whole concept. But they don't care about building it. With the 787, Boeing is moving in Apple's direction."

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May 15, 2007 6:08 AM

Nonprofit tech awards

Posted by Brier Dudley

NPower Seattle is taking nominations for its annual Nonprofit Innovation Award.

It recognizes organizations whose novel approaches to technology make a "measurable difference in the lives of people they serve."

Nominations are due by June 8; more details are here.


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May 14, 2007 11:42 AM

More from Yahoo! news boss

Posted by Brier Dudley

When I interviewed Scott Moore last month, I was planning to write about his big influence on the news business and perspective on the different cultures at Microsoft and Yahoo!

Moore's a key player in the current transformation of the news business. He's experimenting with new formats at Yahoo! and forming partnerships with publishers and wire services to add their content to Yahoo!, offering exposure and traffic from a site that's reaching 20 percent of all Internet news consumers.

Then the Microsoft-Yahoo! merger rumors surfaced, so I shuffled things around in today's column.

Moore was one of the first Microsoft managers I interviewed when I started covering the company, and he was running MSN operations such as Slate and MSNBC.com.

He moved to Yahoo!'s media offices in Santa Monica, Calif., two years ago but still comes back to Seattle a lot to visit family here.

He's also one of the rare Internet news executives who is enthusiastic about newspapers. I asked if he thinks papers will be dead in five years. His answer:

"No. There will be more consolidation that happens but most newspapers have a good long life ahead of them. ... Local newspapers may get a lot more competition than they've had over the last 30 or 40 years. Local newspapers in most markets, they've enjoyed a pretty good run without a lot of heavy duty competition. I think that part is changing.

I think the unfortunate thing about the newspaper business today is that maybe the valuations on Wall Street got ahead of themselves and the ownership of newspapers went away from what it had traditionally been -- which in many cases was local families who had a stake in the community and owned the local newspaper because they cared about journalism and about the community and really saw it as a sort of public trust. The industry got away from that. That probably hasn't been a healthy trend. To the extent that that could change, that might be good for newspapers."

With or without Moore, news is a big business around here. Seattle has an unusual concentration of online ventures -- such as Newsvine, NewsCloud and Crosscut -- that are experimenting with different approaches to publishing and competing with old media and Yahoo!

Even though it's not doing things like Slate and Sidewalk anymore, Microsoft is also a huge influence on the news business with MSN, Live.com, MSNBC.com and new content display and ad serving technologies it's developing.

Despite Moore's sympathy toward newspapers, I am nervous about the way his company and others are moving into more direct competition by stepping up efforts to sell local advertising. Moore's group is taking cues from newspapers, adding more local content that it gets for free via RSS. It's also adding event and entertainment listings and prep sports news gathered by a network of freelancers.

I also wonder if newspapers are making smart deals when they trade or give away valuable content in return for the promise of traffic.

What good is a link to the original material, if readers have already digested the gist of the story somewhere else? In newsrooms, we've been hearing for years that readers are busy and want more short tidbits and summaries they can consume on the fly. So why are papers giving that stuff to competitors?

Formal licensing deals with companies like Yahoo! seem more fair than the approach of Web 2.0 sites that simply scrape and summarize other people's news stories, offering only a link in return.

Yahoo! is actually using both approaches, licensing content from wire services and using content that newspapers give away. Said Moore:

"Instead of going out and licensing a bunch of content we just took RSS feeds from as many news providers as we could find and sucked them into yahoo news as headlines. When you click on the headline you go straight to that provider. There's no licensing or money transfer in that case -- we're sending them traffic. It's growing and growing; it's millions of clicks a month coming right off of Yahoo! News.''

Moore has been experimenting with stuff for years. In the 1990s, while at MSN, he negotiated contracts with newspapers to get local content for MSNBC.com, but it never really took off, he said:

"I don't think MSNBC ever did a good job of showcasing it or merchandising it to the audience. That approach was kind a Web 1.0 approach, if you will -- we licensed the content, posted it on our servers, sold the ads, controlled the experience."

Yahoo! is also an interesting contrast with Google. The former still uses editors to manage the quality of its news site, while Google relies on algorithms to select and rank news stories. Moore also has some issues with his competitors' approach (of course):

"For me the challenge with Google News, while I admire it from a technology standpoint, I've had times when I see a headline, about say a story in Kentucky, I click the link and I'm shot off to a completely different place. I'm on some random news site in India. It's not really a cohesive news experience from sources that you know and trust. It has its place but it's not for the mainstream news user.''

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May 14, 2007 9:25 AM

Microsoft gets skinny with gadgets

Posted by Brier Dudley

As in, promotional skins on its gizmos.

Check out the Halo 3 Zune and The Simpsons Xbox.

I wonder if Apple will offer a Ratatouille mouse.


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May 10, 2007 4:57 PM

Microvision's big Air Force contract

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Redmond firm's getting $3.2 million to develop lightweight, color, see-through, wearable displays.

In other words, it's prototyping James Bondish sunglasses with little data displays inside.

From the press release:

Microvision believes that the resulting small and ergonomic display solution within the form factor of protective eyewear or high-fashion sunglasses could enable soldiers to access full-color tactical and strategic information in a secure and hands-free fashion without excess volume and weight imposed by current wearable display technologies.

Engadget picked it up and has a picture of a soldier wearing something similar, though it looks like the guy is in a tank and not an airplane.

I wonder if the Microvision specs could help improve the glitchy sounding Land Warrior System that Ft. Lewis soldiers have been testing.


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May 10, 2007 4:24 PM

Jobster vets about to launch Linebuzz

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle startup LineBuzz, which developed software for creating in-line comments on blogs, is preparing to launch Monday.

It's the creation of Mark Maunder and Kerry Boyte, who met while working together at eToys.com before the bubble burst, according to this profile. They came to Seattle two years ago after selling their job search site, WorkZoo, to Jobster.

The service is still in alpha but samples are up on its Web site. To add the feature to a blog, you install one line of Javacript into the blog template. Then readers can click on words or a phrase in blog entries and insert comments; the commented upon text then appears like a hotlink.

Here's how LineBuzz describes inline comments:

It's when one of your readers drags their mouse over text in your blog entry, clicks a button and writes a comment about that piece of text. Next time the page loads, the text on your page is underlined with dashes (or other ways to differentiate the text) and readers can click to see the comment and reply if they'd like.

Sounds like a slick alternative to traditional blog comment systems. I wonder if there's a way to moderate the inline comments?

UPDATE: Mark just gave me some more background. The company started about six weeks ago as a side project for their other business, GeoJoey.com.

"The idea didn't really fit with GeoJoey, so we decided to drop everything - when you're a two person company you can do that - and see if we could create another company in five weeks,'' he said via email.

They think they're onto a "monster business" because they haven't found anyone else providing a way to annotate text on a Web page without requiring a plugin or browser extension.

If nothing else, they may set a new speed record for conceiving and launching a business.

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May 10, 2007 3:50 PM

Inluu details released

Posted by Brier Dudley

Kirkland software engineer Juan Irming today posted details of his new startup, Inluu.com.

The company will help people capture and store their life stories online. Irming was prompted in part by his grandfather passing away before the family could capture enough of his stories.

Inluu will include a tool that gathers life stories by engaging in a sort of conversation with users, asking questions such as where they were born. It will also allow friends and family members to make inquiries against this collection of details so they can ask, for instance, why grandpa was born in Sweden.

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May 10, 2007 12:23 PM

Iconic design: Amazon.com?

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Seattle company's Web site is one of the "iconic objects of technology" discussed in the May-June edition of Technology Review.

Although the headline is "Objects of Desire," that doesn't quite mesh with the critique by Mark Rolston, vice president of creative at Frog Design. His take, from TR's nifty online slideshow:

"Amazon is iconic, but not necessarily good design," says Rolston. "A Jeep is iconic, but if you've ever ridden in a Jeep, it's crap. Amazon represents a basic approach to e-commerce. It's balanced cacophony: There's search, reviews, and comments swirling around these pages. With these tools, you almost serendipitously end up with a basket of things to buy. It's iconic because it nailed early on the basic approach of a vast catalogue."

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May 10, 2007 10:50 AM

Internet radio bill introduced by Wyden

Posted by Brier Dudley

Northwesterners in Congress are taking the lead in the fight against new royalties on Internet radio broadcasters.

Today, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, along with Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, introduced a Senate bill that's a companion to the "Internet Radio Equality Act" bill introduced April 23 by U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee and Don Manzullo, an Illinois Republican.

A Wyden quote from his news release:

"Our bill is about standing up for folks ranging from a small Webcaster in a basement in Corvallis to an innovative startup in Beaverton to a new band trying to be heard in Portland to a huge music fan in Coos Bay. Keeping Internet radio alive is part of a broader issue that is important to me -- keeping the e-commerce engine running by preventing discrimination against it."

There's background on the issue in my KEXP column.

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May 9, 2007 4:26 PM

Looking for champagne at aQuantive

Posted by Brier Dudley

I thought there would be bubbly on the floor after the Seattle digital marketing firm blew past Wall Street estimates on Tuesday, but the floors were dry and nobody was dancing in the halls when I visited with Chief Executive Brian McAndrews a few hours after the earnings call.

Some highlights of the conversation:

More acquisitions are possible, even after aQuantive bought five companies over the past 15 months. "In general, yes, we expect that to be part of the plan," he said.

Google's purchase of DoubleClick led to speculation that aQuantive would be purchased next. McAndrews wouldn't comment on this, but noted that aQuantive's Atlas unit is now the last big independent ad-serving tool and that independence is valuable to advertisers.

"If that tool is owned by one of the places you're sending your dollars, it certainly creates a conflict,'' he said.

I asked about the challenge of managing a multi-threaded company like aQuantive, whose mission is hard to describe in a few lines.

"It is complex but the flip side of that is one of the reasons we're doing so well is the industry is so complicated -- complexity is our friend, because our job is making it easier for our clients,'' he said. "If it was a simple thing, they wouldn't need us, they'd just do it themselves."

Microsoft is one potential suitor, Yahoo! could be another. I asked if McAndrews and Yahoo! boss Terry Semel were getting together when Semel's in town this week for Microsoft's ad summit.

"He's at my house,'' McAndrews joked, dismissively. "We're playing tennis later."

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May 9, 2007 3:43 PM

Final fix for the iPod-Vista glitch

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft and Apple have come up with a new Vista patch so iPods won't get scrambled when using Vista's "safely remove hardware" controls.

Apple had urged people to hold off buying Vista after the bug surfaced, although Apple was late making Vista updates to its software. Microsoft then issued a patch in March.

That's all water under the bridge. Tuesday, an updated "final" patch that both companies worked on was made available, according to a ComputerWorld report pointing to an announcement on the Vista team blog.

The patch will be delivered to Vista users via Windows Update on May 22, or you can download it now from this section of microsoft.com.


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May 9, 2007 11:40 AM

Bill Gates on paperless media

Posted by Brier Dudley

At first I was spooked by Bill Gates saying that newspapers are fading quickly as the world goes digital.

Speaking at Microsoft's advertising schmoozefest in Seattle this week, Gates said "the number of people who actually buy, subscribe to the newspaper and read it has started an inexorable decline."

But then I remembered that Bill's been saying the same thing about the workplace -- he's been saying for more than a decade that we're on the verge of the paperless office.

Digital processes have dramatically changed the way we work, just as the Web has changed the way news is distributed and consumed. But we're still using plenty of paper.

A few reasons I think Bill may be overstating this one, too (and that print media will probably be around at least until I retire):

1. Print is still a superior format. It doesn't require electricity to read print media. A hard copy of a newspaper or magazine is always on, it never needs to be recharged and it's more resistant to impact and transport than any digital reading device now or on the horizon.

2. The "green" advantages of digital vs. print are overstated. Sure it takes trees to make paper, but print media is reusable and recyclable. It also takes a lot of wood fiber and soy ink to match the ecological impact of producing and powering mobile computers that need to be replaced every three to five years.

3. Connectivity isn't an issue with print. In the physical world, it's still easier to share and discuss printed media. The only connectivity required is the passing of a document from one person to the next. It's a universal format that requires no investment in hardware and infrastructure to consume.

4. The tactile experience of print hasn't been duplicated digitally. For a long time coming, there will be people willing to pay for printed media. It may become a more limited, premium product, but that doesn't mean it will go away. People still go to the movie theater, even though movies are available online. People also pay for premium products that offer a superior experience -- why doesn't the media industry emphasize the special qualities of their media, instead of being cowed by Tablet PCs and online analytics?

5. The privacy value of print is understated. This is huge.

If you read and clip out an article about dandruff in a newspaper or magazine, nobody will know that you might have a little issue with your scalp. If you do the same thing online, Bill and the Google guys will know immediately and assume you have a dandruff problem. They'll tag you as a dandruff sufferer and tell their friends -- the companies that buy ads on their Web sites, the ones in Seattle this week for Microsoft's ad summit. The next thing you know ads for dandruff shampoo will be appearing on your computer screen.

That's why Bill and the other Internet ad barons are so enthusiastic about digital media. The format enables them to track what people read and view online. They gather and store this information, and use it to target people with pinpointed ads.

I'm a little wary of the overture, but Google apparently recognizes the value of print, at least for the near future. At a conference on the other side of the country, it told newspaper types that print is "underappreciated."

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May 9, 2007 10:08 AM

Mpire's platform play

Posted by Brier Dudley


Mpire

An Mpire widget showing price trends for baseball trading cards.


Mpire today announced that it's providing widgets to bloggers and others who want to add the dynamic shopping information gadgets to their Web sites.

The two-year-old Seattle company is offering more than 75 widgets that use its data and online shopping technology to display information such as price trends for a list of products.

A gadget Web site could add an Mpire widget to display price trends for the top 10 LCD televisions, for instance. The widgets also have click-through capabilities, so you can click on one of the listed products and be taken to Amazon.com or eBay to make the purchase.

Mpire is targeting sites affiliated with eBay or Amazon and offering to let them keep 100 percent of the click-through revenue generated from widgets on their sites.

There are many providers of widgets, including some that offer plug-in commerce features to Web sites.

For Mpire, the widgets are part of a strategy to build a distributed shopping network, in addition to its consumer-oriented comparison shopping Web site.

The company is also using the site's technology as the basis for a platform business, selling technology to companies such as eBay that are integrating Mpire components into their sites.

"The big thing we want to do is make sure we're building a broad platform, to make sure we're getting revenue in early, that we can use for our own consumer business early, and really become an important platform for shopping,'' said Chief Marketing Office Dave Cotter.

As part of its platform play, Mpire plans to expand the widget program by developing custom "private label" widgets.

Chief Executive Matt Hulett is familiar with this approach from his time at Expedia, which uses its platform to power other companies' travel sites as well as its own.

Hulett believes Mpire can do all of this without bulking up; he expects headcount will stay at 12 through the year.

"I've gotten new religion on the word scrappy," he said. "I found as soon as you feel tempted to hire a dev[elopment] manager, a middle manager between the executive that runs something, sales or dev, and the person doing the work, you lose focus for at least six months."

In other words, "we just find we get a lot more done keeping it small."

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May 8, 2007 5:10 PM

Leroy Hood, pundit extraordinaire

Posted by Brier Dudley

After spending a little time with computational biology pioneer Leroy Hood Monday, I suggested that he write a few columns the next time I take a vacation.

Hood was among the big thinkers who spoke Monday at OVP Venture Partners' Technology Summit, an annual event the Kirkland venture firm holds for investors and investees.

Press wasn't invited, but there was a consolation event afterward featuring Hood, Kodak CTO Bill Lloyd, Calit2 Director Larry Smarr and digital media strategist Seth Shapiro.

Smarr, the summit's keynote speaker, said one of the "seismic shifts going on in the investment community is the way in which one manages the innovation process in universities and couples that into the private sector investment."

That's a sore subject for Hood, who was lured to the University of Washington by Bill Gates in 1991 in a key turning point for the state's biotech industry. But Hood left the school to form his own research center in 1999, in part because it would offer more flexibility.

I asked how the potentially enormous returns on research are affecting the schools and whether they would limit cross-disciplinary opportunities that Smarr had described.

Hood said one of the challenges is that universities aren't as sophisticated about managing intellectual property. Their low-salaried IP managers "don't stand a chance against the wolves" such as pharmaceutical companies.

"As a consequence they tend to be incredibly conservative, incredibly careful, unwilling to do things that would make sense,'' he said. "It's one of the big problems that most academic institutions really face."

Hood said there are fewer than five schools that "do this really well." I asked if the five included any in Washington state, and he said no.

It's hard for any state institution, especially since there are conflicting priorities.

"For a lot of states it's better to have a really good football team than a really good IP team,'' he said.

Going forward, Hood expects to see more VCs "trying to set up a long-term relationship with the key academics" who may spin off groundbreaking ideas for companies.

Hood's also skeptical about the prospects for the state's $350 million Life Sciences Discovery Fund, "which I think has made every single mistake a fund can make."

Among the shortcomings: It's too small and unfocused.

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May 8, 2007 4:26 PM

The best laptops and desktops: Apple and Dell?

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's the conclusion of Consumer Reports, which has a special computer section in its June issue.

It's top rated laptop: Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch.

It's top rated desktop: Dell Dimension E520 (with Intel Core 2 Duo E6300).

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May 8, 2007 10:55 AM

Mercent's new account management system

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Seattle online marketing services company started by ex-Amazonians today rolled out Mercent Performance, which it calls "a fully outsourced solution for optimizing shopping feeds for comparison shopping engines, shopping portals, online marketplaces, and affiliate networks."

Chief Executive Eric Best said he's expecting 50 percent of the company's retail customers will eventually be using its fully managed services. Competitors include Seattle's Marchex and Performics, a subsidiary of DoubleClick/Google.

The company, which employs 25 in Belltown, is raising a series B follow on to its funding from Madrona Venture Group and The Hillman Company.

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May 8, 2007 9:56 AM

aQuantive's smoking

Posted by Brier Dudley

I guess the online ad business is doing pretty well, or was last quarter, at least.

Seattle digital marketing firm aQuantive today reported a blowout quarter and an upbeat forecast, pushing the stock up 12 percent to $33.26 (a new 52-week high) at last check.

Profit jumped 87 percent to $14.2 million, or 16 cents a share, beating Wall Street estimates by 7 cents. Sales were up 55 percent.

The company also gave Q2 and FY07 forecasts well above street estimates. For the year, the company expects sales of $595 million to $615 million; analysts expected $570.73 million.

If Microsoft or somebody else is going to buy aQuantive, the price just went up.

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May 8, 2007 9:13 AM

Nintendo sales force moving out of Redmond?

Posted by Brier Dudley

GameInformer magazine is reporting that Nintendo of America is moving its sales and marketing headquarters out of Redmond and going to either San Francisco or New York.

If correct, it's a big story and a huge disappointment that another big company would pull "a Boeing" and decide it's too important for the Puget Sound region and has to move to a big city.

Spokeswoman Eileen Tanner wouldn't confirm or deny the story. "I have no details or information on that rumor," she said.

The company's recent success would suggest that it doesn't have to move to improve.

Unanswered in the story is the question of what will happen to the North Bend distribution center and other operations in Redmond, such as localization and a small game studio.

I'm also curious to know if this could signal a change in ownership of the Mariners. If Nintendo isn't a Seattle company anymore, will it still want to be a majority owner of the city's baseball team?

Is this coming from Reggie? If he moves with the marketing group, will Redmond still be the headquarters? We'll have more details later, I'm sure.

UPDATE: This started a great conversation in comments about the area's business climate. That's still a good topic, even though the Nintendo changes aren't as dramatic as they sounded initially. Kim has lots of details and verification from a Redmond building official in this story today.

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May 7, 2007 3:17 PM

Amazon's buzzy new services

Posted by Brier Dudley

I had a feeling I'd learn a lot from The Startup Project hosted by Amazon.com a few weeks ago in a funky loft on Capitol Hill. It was the first of several events the company is holding to introduce its services to developers and entrepreneurs.

The room had more startup buzz than a month of TechCrunch. Everywhere I turned there was somebody starting a cool new company, way more than I could include in today's column.

I ended up sitting next to Josh Juster, who had left Microsoft to start a new company three days earlier. Juster, who worked on Zune and MSN, said the company is tentatively called Nightify and will be like "evite meets CitySearch."

They weren't all using Amazon Web Services, but it sounds like they'll have to consider them if they're seeking venture funding. Apparently, VCs are becoming major evangelists for services like S3 storage and Elastic Computing on-demand processing, since they can dramatically cut the cost of launching a Web business.

Andrew Jassy told me VCs around the country have contacted Amazon, asking to be involved in startup projects in their cities. They haven't announced plans yet, but Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin, Texas, are likely locales.

One thing I'm still curious about is how AWS will affect Microsoft. Short-term, Microsoft has to be thinking about more hosted developer services to counter what AWS is offering to Web developers and startups.

I also wonder how much AWS and the like will affect Windows Server sales. Microsoft's selling point is lower cost. It managed to defend that position against Linux with the TCO arguments, but AWS seems to undercut them even further, trimming out the cost of open-source computing with EC2.

Could Microsoft offer an Elastic Longhorn Computing Cloud, or would that be too offensive to Dell and other server manufacturers?

I'm also curious to see whether Google responds with hosted services. That seems like a natural thing for it to announce later this month when it starts holding Google Developer Days conferences.

Also likely to be affected by AWS are traditional outsourcing firms. A few years ago I visited Wipro's headquarters in Bangalore and saw the room where it remotely manages datacenters for companies like GE.

That's the same concept, I think, but Amazon's trying to make outsourced infrastructure simple and self-service so it makes sense for smaller companies.

Another day, I'll have to explore whether we're going back to timeshare computing.

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May 7, 2007 2:50 PM

An homage to "Grandpa" Mossberg

Posted by Brier Dudley

There's a great profile of Walt Mossberg in the New Yorker by Ken Auletta.

It's funny, Mossberg is to the technology beat what Auletta is to the media beat. (Check out how Auletta casually throws in a few supporting quotes from Steve Ballmer, Eric Schmidt and Marissa Mayer.)

I wonder if Auletta and Ballmer talked about how seriously Microsoft takes Mossberg reviews. The company will assign senior vice presidents to provide tech support to Mossberg, to be sure he gets the best experience possible. That paid off with his glowing review of Office 2007, but he's been cool to Vista.

It's also no wonder the Journal pays Mossberg a fortune. It probably has to, to keep him from leaving to open a consulting business like Rob Enderle's.

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May 4, 2007 5:50 PM

Microsoft merging with Yahoo!?!#@!!!

Posted by Brier Dudley

The New York Post owes everyone a good follow-up story.

You can't just drop a bombshell that jerks around 80,000 Microsoft and Yahoo! employees, rocks Wall Street and then fizzles before the day is over.

The Post should investigate -- and report -- whether its anonymous investment banker sources made any money off the huge run in YHOO caused by its story.

If the Post doesn't do this, the SEC might. We don't need any more reporter subpoenas.

At the very least, the Post needs to go back to its sources and clarify if and when Microsoft and Yahoo! ended their latest round of merger discussions.

Did the talks end sometime Friday, after the Post story boosted YHOO?

Were the talks already tapering off by the time the investment bankers whispered to the Post? Perhaps the companies had gone from talking merger to talking strategic partnership -- an outcome that would involve fewer banking fees.

Could those banking sources be trying to curry favor with hedge funds by playing games with YHOO?

I don't mean to bash the Post's reporting. It's obviously got more sources on Wall Street than I do, and it's been right several times with "talks pending" stories involving Microsoft, Google, AOL and eBay.

But now we're all waiting for the follow-up. Until then, it's ammunition for the old-media bashers who say we never get anything right.

In the meantime, it's fun to speculate on all the reasons why Microsoft should or shouldn't hook up with Yahoo!

I'm nursing about 30 different theories.

I wonder if the Post was correct in reporting that "Microsoft has intensified its pursuit of a deal with Yahoo!, asking the company to re-enter formal negotiations," but a full-blown merger wasn't ever in the cards.

Is Microsoft really so blinded by the war on Google that it would put all its chips into what's mostly a play for online advertising -- a challenging, cyclical business that will suffer if the economy turns south?

Was Microsoft floating a merger to start a discussion in hopes of walking away with a joint-operating agreement that would cement its alliance against Google?
Microsoft may want a JOA to prevent Yahoo! from hooking up with Skype on a new wireless broadband network, a possibility floated this week by Business Week.

The prospect of a Yahoo!-eBay-Skype VOIP/Wireless service challenging Microsoft's messaging and communication efforts seems like a bigger long-term threat than Google buying DoubleClick.

Another interesting follow-up story may be to explore how much Steve Ballmer and Terry Semel are personally interested in a blockbuster deal. Before Microsoft's last quarter, at least, there were some frustrated Wall Street types calling for their heads.

Maybe Microsoft was just drumming up interest in its Strategic Advertising Summit next week, which will have both Semel and Bill Gates speaking in Seattle.

UPDATE: The Post did run a follow story on Saturday but it didn't say anything about the sources' motivation. It did water down the Friday story, though, with sources saying "the talks with Microsoft are wide-ranging and include everything from an outright acquisition to the purchase of an equity stake to a joint venture setup."

Saturday's story also mentions that other companies are talking to Yahoo! including NBC, Comcast and AT&T, so who knows where it will end up.

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May 3, 2007 3:40 PM

New search conference debuts in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

A new search marketing conference is scheduled for June 4 and 5 in Seattle.

SMX Search Marketing Expo is making its debut here, at Bell Harbor, before heading to Denver, New York and Orlando, Fla.

Headliners include speakers from the big three -- Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! -- and niche experts like Rand Fishkin of Seattle's SEOmoz and Marchex Senior Vice President Scott Greenberg.

Microsoft's lineup includes Rob Ashby, a business development manager who formerly led Expedia's search team; Brian Boland, adCenter marketing manager, and Doug Stotland, adCenter director.

The conference costs $1,200 to $1,500, depending on when you register, or $25 to just visit the exposition area.

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May 3, 2007 2:44 PM

Yahoo! boss coming to Seattle for Microsoft shindig

Posted by Brier Dudley

Mary Jo Foley jokingly revived the Microsoft-Yahoo! merger speculation today by noting that Terry Semel is a keynote speaker at Microsoft's Strategic Account Summit, an advertising schmoozathon the company is holding next week in Seattle.

Semel's giving an "industry report" on Wednesday, then doing a Q&A with MSN veep Joanne Bradford. Bill Gates speaks to the group Tuesday.

Semel will probably yack with Microsoft biggies during his visit, but a summit appearance doesn't necessarily mean a merger is in the works -- two years ago, Microsoft's featured speaker was Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and Semel spoke in 2004.

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May 3, 2007 12:17 PM

Dining with geeks: Upcoming events

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's Web entrepreneurs don't seem to have as many of the ad hoc gatherings as the Bay Area blognoscenti, but that may be changing.

A Friday dinner event is coming together to toast Hugh MacLeod, a British marketing consultant with a popular blog featuring cartoons he scribbles on the back of business cards.

MacLeod is coming to visit Microsoft, which hired him to work on its image. He apparently won them over with his depiction of the company as a blue monster saying "change the world or go home." He's also speaking at the MarketSmart conference at Bell Harbor.

Details are being worked out here for the dinner, which sounds like it will end up someplace between Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market.

MacLeod received similar treatment in San Francisco, where Robert Scoble organized a dinner for him on Tuesday. Maybe more of us ought to try cartooning.

Separately, Seattle blogger and EMC employee Josh Maher is suggesting a more regular gathering similar to the Bay Area's Lunch 2.0 series.

I can't make the Friday event but I'd love to participate in the lunch thing if it takes off. I might even be able to convince the Times to buy a round of appetizers.

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May 3, 2007 12:06 PM

New alternative energy source: beer

Posted by Brier Dudley

Green beer used to a bad thing.

Now Australians are generating electricity from the wastewater of Foster's. Researchers are testing a fuel cell powered by sugar, starch and alcohol left in the water.

Imagine how much energy the production of richer Northwest microbrews could produce.

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May 2, 2007 3:22 PM

Top 10 reasons to invest in Seattle: A Silicon Valley perspective

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's the list that Larry Orr, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, shared at today's WSA Investment Forum.

Orr is managing partner at Trinity Ventures, a firm that made three notable home runs in Seattle by investing in BlueNile, Wall Data and Starbucks.

More recently it funded Jobster, PayScale, Wetpaint, Centeris and a fifth company that hasn't been announced yet.

The list:

10. 39 flights a day from the Bay Area.

9. No need to pack sunscreen.

8. It's the coffee, stupid. (He presented a graph showing that human enlightenment rises as the density of espresso outlets increases; the line began with the "rest of the world" then rose to Bay Area, then Italy and finally Seattle).

7. People can afford to live here. "This is on a relative basis,"' he explained, showing a supporting graphic with two houses: One was a 1,090-square-foot ranch house in the Bay Area selling for $889,000; the other was a two-story, 4,100-square-foot Seattle area home selling for the same price.

6. You can see an NFL playoff game. (This was accompanied by a photo of the Seahawks playing the Carolina Panthers). Orr added that in the Bay Area, you can see a Major League Baseball playoff game, a National Hockey League playoff and an NBA playoff.

5. Underserved venture market. "If you were to look at the average size of venture firms, funds here tend to be more modest in size." Why don't more Bay Area VCs focus on the Seattle area? They're lazy or too busy; they don't know the community well; and some Seattle companies seeking funding don't seem as "packaged for VC consumption."

4. Quality companies with domain expertise. Orr called out software, wireless and Internet expertise, and the confluence around those three areas.

3. Technical talent. "There is a deep bench for technical talent here, provided they're not all hired by Google. There are few left to be hired by other folks."

Engineers are also less expensive, compared with the Bay Area: Base salary for a software engineer with five to nine years experience is $92,000 down there and $79,000 in the Seattle area. "I think you get somewhat more bang for your engineer buck here."

2. Great local partners. "We get a lot of referrals from people here,"' Orr said, explaining that investors in Seattle seem to "actively welcome" syndication and in particular we feel very welcome as a Bay Area firm.

1. Entrepreneurial values. The Seattle area "hasn't gotten so big you've threatened to lose sight of some of these values."

Those values include substance over form, referring back to the "packaged for funding" notion under No. 5. Another value is "relationship orientation" -- companies recognize it's a small world. The third that he mentioned is capital efficiency -- "I think firms here do a better job generally keeping these rounds to a moderate size."

Orr said he toyed with adding an 11th reason to his list: "The halibut at Etta's Seafood."

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May 2, 2007 9:28 AM

Google vs. Mark Anderson, and Microsoft

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm feeling like part of Chief Sealth's tribe -- I just saw a bear challenge a cougar on the shore of Elliott Bay.

It was a matchup between Friday Harbor tech pundit Mark Anderson and Peter Wilson, Google's engineering boss in Kirkland. They were part of a great panel discussion this morning at the WSA Investment Forum at the Bell Harbor conference center.

Anderson's been on a jag lately about the questionable value of ad-supported Web 2.0 businesses, most of which are riding the coat tails of Google.

He's also skeptical about the outlook for hosted applications, like Google's new online productivity software.

Wilson is at the center of the phenomenon Anderson is questioning -- he left Microsoft to lead engineering at Google's 300-person office in Kirkland.

He described shifts in software and its underlying business model, from client-server technology sold through licensing to the open-protocol Web and software that runs anywhere.

Wilson said corporate technology buyers are going to wonder why they're paying for the same applications their kids are using online for free. Then they'll start shifting to hosted applications.

Anderson said security is too big of a concern for companies to do everything online.

"The idea of giving all of my accounting data to anybody -- at Microsoft or Google -- is not going to happen,'' he said.

Wilson said the press likes the Google vs. Microsoft angle but the real story is the bigger shifts he described. Still, he had a few choice words for his former employer.

"Although they won the browser war, they kind of lost the war,'' he said, explaining that you can now run applications in any browser and that approach to computing is eroding the value of Windows.

"Every application that runs in the browser decreases the value of their franchise," he said.

Anderson noted that Google's plans to charge for its application bundle have stalled and the company still has "just one source of money -- its ads."

He also noted economic concerns, about recession and corporate spending heading overseas.

All the free services from Google and the "magic" around Web 2.0 "could all collapse in about 18 seconds if in the longer run there aren't really customers and real money."

Anderson is upbeat about the strength of wireless expertise in this region, and sees opportunities in security and emerging markets like China and India.

Wilson is enthusiastic about the future of user-generated content. In particular he's focused on video, beyond sharing; he's involved in Google's push to create a marketplace for consumers to sell the content they create and exposes online.

He's also hot for the "mashup idea" around new software tools and services. His characterization of the trend: "People who don't describe themselves as software developers can come up with useful things."

Wilson also talked up Tesla Motors, an electric car company backed by Google's founders.

Stuck between the two on the panel was Jeremy Jaech, the Aldus and Visio veteran who is now leading Trumba, an online calendaring startup. Jaech's career followed the evolution of computing from mainframes through the PC/packaged software era to software as a service. Now he's working through the online service business models.

Trumba "toyed" with the idea of being ad-supported, but realized early on that wouldn't generate enough revenue to support the service.

Trumba also considered consumer subscriptions, but it found that consumers expect online services to be free and are generally unwilling to pay for subscriptions.

Now the company is moving its service up-market, targeting bigger organizations that are willing to pay for the service. It's winning some deals, but it's also encountering resistance from potential customers that still want to build and run applications in-house.

If Anderson's the bear and Wilson's the cougar, maybe Jaech's a seagull on the beach, watching the waves and hoping they expose his next meal.

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May 1, 2007 4:53 PM

Feedback on KEXP

Posted by Brier Dudley

The best response so far to Monday's column on KEXP and the Internet radio royalty situation came from Seattle radio producer Tim Shook.

He pointed to an article he wrote last year about the history of another cool local, independent station with a strong Web presence -- Nathan Hale High's KNHC-FM (89.5).

For more on the station, known as C-89, here are a few earlier pieces we ran.

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May 1, 2007 1:35 PM

Goodbye Vizrea, hello WebFives

Posted by Brier Dudley

Vizrea, a Seattle mobile photo sharing startup, launched with a bang last year.

It was among a flurry of companies developing photo applications for advanced mobile phones, but it stood out in part because it had A-list Microsoft talent.

The company was started by Mike Toutonghi, a former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer who started and ran the Media Center project before he left the company in 2003. Vizrea started development in 2004 with backing from Brad Chase, a former Microsoft senior vice president.

Vizrea's service included a cameraphone application that would automatically add photos with a user's online photo collection -- hosted by Vizrea -- and share them with friends.

But by the end of the year, Vizrea was pretty quiet.

It turns out the company was going through a major reorganization.

On Friday, Vizrea was remade into WebFives, a video, photo and music sharing site. A formal launch is coming soon, but the site is running and accepting registrations.

A big change is that WebFives works with all sorts of mobile phones. Vizrea's initial service was geared toward high-end Symbian Series 60 phones that aren't widely used.

There are lots of content sharing services out there, but WebFives has a few differentiators. One is the business model that will be announced shortly.

Another is the technology, including image sharing technology developed between the company's offices in Seattle and Prague, where Toutonghi has a second home.

The technology enables users to share full-screen, digital TV quality video and CD-quality audio, for instance.

Toutonghi is still chief executive, but he's brought on another key manager to help build WebFives, Executive Vice President Gary Glouner.

Glouner is a telecom veteran who worked for McCaw Cellular and AT&T Wireless. Most recently he's been chief executive of Top Three Mobile, a location-based services firm with offices in Seattle and Santa Monica, Calif.

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