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Brier Dudley's Blog

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

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September 28, 2007 9:48 AM

Does chatter matter? Web 2.0 startups to discuss

Posted by Brier Dudley

Several local startup founders will present a guide "through the minefield of blogs, wikis, social networks, video mail and television advertising - Web 2.0 style," at a marketing group dinner event Wednesday in Seattle.

The SDMA "Content Generated Marketing" panel will be moderated by Eyejot and WhatCounts founder David Geller. Speakers include Wetpaint founder Ben Elowitz, Zoodango founder James Sun, Parnassus Ventures founder Steve Brobak and Tim Lambert, VP of sales for SpotRunner in Los Angeles. Details are at the link above.

I hope at least one of them likes newspapers.

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

September 28, 2007 9:22 AM

Richland lab on supercomputer buying spree

Posted by Brier Dudley

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory today announced the purchase of a $24 million Hewlett-Packard supercomputer for its Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, just a week after buying a Cray XMT system.

While most people are still in the process of moving to dual-core computers or waiting for quad-core prices to drop, the the lab took the plunge on an HP system with 18,480 cores.

After it's installed next year, the system will be used for research in areas such as "aerosol formation, bioremediation, catalysis, climate change, hydrogen storage and subsurface science" to support the U.S. Department of Energy.

The HP system, which is replacing a 2003 system from HP, will be the lab's biggest and fastest computer. It will also be available as a resource for outside scientists.

Specs from the release:

The supercomputer architecture runs on HP ProLiant servers and includes an InfiniBand 4x DDR interconnect, 4,620 AMD Opteron processors, 37 terabytes of memory and aggregate disk bandwidth of about 950 gigabytes per second enabled by nearly 21,000 disk drives in HP enterprise virtual arrays. Consisting of 18,480 2.2 gigahertz AMD Opteron processor cores, the new HP supercomputer will have an expected total peak performance of about 163 teraflops.

It's due to arrive in January and be ready to roll in September. Scientists wanting to tap its power will need to submit proposals and go through a competitive peer-review process.

Comments | Category: Energy , Enterprise , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 27, 2007 3:34 PM

Senate testimony: Microsoft 1, Google 0

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wasn't there so I can't say for sure, but it sure sounds like Microsoft's testimony spanked Google's in today's Senate subcommittee hearing on the DoubleClick acquisition.

Microsoft's top lawyer, Brad Smith, said Google is spooky and will end up with a huge share of the online ad business if it acquires DoubleClick as planned. The deal will give Google an 80 percent share of non-search ads served to third-party Web sites, in addition to the 70 percent share of search ads that Google already has, he said.

Smith's counterpart at Google, Dave Drummond, used Web 2.0 jargon like "the long tail of the Internet" in his testimony and peaked with a lame analogy:

The simplest way to look at this is by way of analogy. DoubleClick is to Google what FedEx or UPS is to Amazon.com. Our current business involves primarily the selling of text-based ads -- books in our analogy. By contrast, DoubleClick's business at its core is to deliver and report on display ads.

Except that most everyone sees both Google and DoubleClick as doing the same basic thing -- providing Internet advertising services. The distinction between display and search ads is too narrow -- it's not books versus trucks -- and Google's going to narrow it further if the acquisition goes through.

This is a little nitpicky, but there's another problem with the analogy: Amazon.com isn't just a bookseller anymore. Among other things, it's also in the business of order fulfillment, just like FedEx and UPS. Check out this page, where Amazon says "You sell it, we'll ship it."

Instead of asking senators to sort that out, Smith played up basic concerns that speak to the concerns of these particular senators: The scary stuff and potential monopolies.

From his prepared testimony against Google's acquistion, given today to the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights:

This country doesn't permit the phone company to listen to what you say and use that information to target ads. The computer industry doesn't permit a software company to record everything we type and use that information to target ads. Yet with this merger, Google seeks to record nearly everything you see and do on the Internet and use that information to target ads. Indeed, one question is whether this merger will create a whole new meaning to the term being Googled.

These privacy issues in fact have antitrust consequences. Given the nature and economics of online advertising, this concentration of user information means that no other company will be able serve ads as profitably. In short, it will substantially reduce the ability of other companies to compete.

It is spooky. But doesn't Microsoft also compile user information for the purpose of targeting ads? Didn't Microsoft also try to acquire DoubleClick?

You can tell Smith's probably the world's most experienced antitrust testifier. But Drummond may have a chance to catch up.

(P.S. Maybe I liked Smith's testimony better because he made a great case for print media. Isn't it worth 50 cents to get your news in a format where nobody's tracking and recording every story you read?)

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

September 26, 2007 11:48 AM

Excel has a bizarre glitch

Posted by Brier Dudley

Just what Microsoft doesn't need, in the middle of a rumble over Office: an exotic glitch in Excel 2007.

It seems like a joke that only math geeks would get, but it's true.

Excel 2007 fails to correctly multiply numbers "around 65,535," according to an explanation the company posted today. It said a fix is coming shortly, after it's tested to be sure it doesn't cause other problems.

Technically, the software is doing the calculation properly, but it's displaying an incorrect number to users who want to, say, multiply 5.1 by 12,850. From the explainer:

This issue was introduced when we were making changes to the Excel calculation logic in the Office 2007 time frame. Specifically, Excel incorrectly displays the result of a calculation in 12 very specific cases. ... The key here is that the issue is actually not in the calculation itself (the result of the calculation stored in Excel's memory is correct), but only in the result that is shown in the sheet. Said another way, =850*77.1 will display an incorrect value, but if you then multiply the result by 2, you will get the correct answer (i.e. if A1 contains "=850*77.1", and A2 contains "=A1*2", A2 will return the correct answer of 131,070).

The explanation is good, but as far as users are concerned, it doesn't work right.

Excel users are generally so invested in the product, they probably just want it fixed and won't dump the software. But you just know IBM's going to bring this up at every sales call for the next decade.

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September 25, 2007 5:33 PM

A new big fish at Big Fish Games

Posted by Brier Dudley

In one of those classic maturing startup situations, Big Fish Games founder Paul Thelen has moved into a new role as chief strategy officer focusing on product strategy. He tapped a business expert to serve as chief executive as the 5-year-old company enters its next phase of growth.

Jeremy Lewis, a 14-year veteran of Goldman Sachs, is now president and chief executive, the Seattle casual games company announced today. Lewis, 38, joined Big Fish in 2006 as president and chief operating officer.

I wondered if the move also signaled that the company is positioning itself for a merger or even to go public. But it doesn't sound like there's anything imminent.

The message I received from Lewis is that the company is keeping its options open, but the transition was a natural evolution. From a chat we had today:

"We will continue to make decisions and judgments that lend themselves to having more options in terms of what we would do both internally and externally with the business," he said. "Whether it's a business that we choose to go in, a partnership we wish to create with an outside company, entry into a market overseas, all of our decisions we try to handicap them so they enhance the degree to which we have strategic flexiblity rather than limit it."

Lewis said his favorite game is Big Fish's Azada -- a strategy game, obviously.

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

September 25, 2007 4:17 PM

Facebook's rumored valuation is insane

Posted by Brier Dudley

Facebook is creating some nice business opportunities for software developers, but extrapolating a $10 billion value out of Microsoft's possible $300 million investment in the company seems wacky.

That may be the calculation that investors and bankers are making, but it seems like a tablespoon whipped into a gallon by dealmakers.

It seems as if they're hoping to make a last big splash before the downturn in ads and the Internet sector that Henry Blodget's been talking about lately. Placing a few leaks is always how they seem to goose the bidding.

I think Microsoft's offer, if correct, says something different about the long-term value of Facebook.

If Facebook were a crucial component of the online ad world's foundation, Microsoft would be offering billions and you probably wouldn't be reading much about it until the papers were signed. Microsoft strategically leaks all the time, but not so much when it's making deals.

Steve Ballmer is still kicking himself for not getting DoubleClick, a company Microsoft viewed as critical. That's partly why he jumped on aQuantive, a company that steadily worked its way into that foundation.

But Facebook doesn't bring that much -- besides a wave of new users -- that Microsoft doesn't already have or couldn't build from spare parts. That wave came from other social networking sites that had the buzz yesterday. Has Facebook figured it all out? If so, would Microsoft offer as little as $300 million?

Microsoft is desparate to catch up to Google. A stake could keep Facebook close and Microsoft plugged into its direction, without risking a huge investment in a business that could lose users and developers to the next hot thing. The total valuation doesn't matter that much if Microsoft gets those things.

Maybe Microsoft is being especially clever and goading Google into countering with a huge investment in Facebook, just as the search company is trying to be more careful about its expenses and facing a possible slowdown in advertising.

I'm not trying to diss Facebook. It's likely to be here for some time and, as I said above, create opportunity for smaller companies.

But after reading so many stories about its huge value and potential investors, it's feeling like one of those perfectly groomed houses that sits on the market a long time because it's priced too high.

Maybe I'm totally wrong here. The $10 billion valuation could indicate that biggies like Microsoft and Google are still so desparate to win the Internet war that they'll pay the sky for the most promising Web startups.

That would be inspiring to all the smaller companies working their way up, but it doesn't seem realistic.

My sense is the big players are starting to hunch over the cards they have on hand. Is Facebook the next billion-dollar fairy tale, or are those over for a while?

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September 25, 2007 3:54 PM

Update on scratched "Halo" discs

Posted by Brier Dudley

An addendum to my last "Halo" blog post: We've done a bit more experimenting on the disc scratchage.

I just opened up one of the $129 "Legendary" units and found it had a different packaging approach that shouldn't lead to scratched discs.

Inside the huge box, above the commemorative helmet, there was a plastic tray. In the tray was the game disc in standard, plastic, clamshell package.

We also received another "Limited" unit. Before I opened the shipping package, I could tell the discs were going to have scratches -- they were rattling around inside. My editor opened it up and found what appear to be cosmetic scratches but nothing serious.

To be sure, though, I better head home early and give it a try ...

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September 25, 2007 1:53 PM

Gartner yawns at IBM's free Office challenger

Posted by Brier Dudley

Gartner, the big research firm, said companies shouldn't change their organizational strategy just because IBM announced Symphony, its version of the Open Office bundle that's been around for a while:

"It may seem that IBM has made a bold move into a market dominated by MS. However, the Symphony release is not as significant as it may seem."

The report, issued Monday, said companies haven't widely adopted Open Office because Microsoft continues to support their versions of Office. Also, Open Office's compatibility with Microsoft Office isn't perfect, so they have to continue running at least some copies of the Microsoft product.

Its bottom-line advice: Evaluate Open Office and decide if it's appropriate for some users and analyze migration costs, but don't expect to replace Microsoft Office for all users.

Some companies may appreciate IBM's backing of the open product, and that could also make it more available to government organizations. But there are bigger challenges to Microsoft, the firm said:

"Meanwhile, competitors are not standing still. In the long term, we believe Web 2.0 applications that provide easier deployment and real-time collaboration could be more of a threat to MS Office."

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September 25, 2007 12:10 PM

Second take on "Halo 3," and its first kerfuffle

Posted by Brier Dudley

When I opened a "Halo 3" limited edition last night, both discs in the tin box were loose and jangling around the package. Then the console said it couldn't read the game disc, which was awful because I had a friend driving over to play.

The console suggested taking the disc out, wiping it with a clean cloth and restarting the system. I found a thick black hair and a smudge of something sticky, like jam, on the disc, which was weird since I hadn't eaten anything like that before opening it up.

But after a wipe on my T-shirt and a push of the green button on the console, the disc worked fine. So fine I was up until the wee hours playing a two-person campaign, assuming the role of the alien Arbiter.

Apparently, Microsoft opted for style over substance in packaging the premium "Limited" and "Legendary" versions of the game.

For an extra $10 to $70 over the standard $59.99 game, it comes with a disc of videos and other bonus material, fancier booklets and, with the Legendary version, a plastic helmet. The discs come in metal boxes that suggest an Army mess tin.

The boxes may look tough, but the disc spindles are weak, and reports are coming out about buyers being peeved about scratches, though so far I'm not hearing much about real damage making them unplayable.

Microsoft jumped on it and offered to replace any damaged discs via a posting at Xbox support.

It may be the fault of a vendor somewhere and hardly worth mentioning if the discs work fine and better spindles are added immediately.

But Microsoft doesn't need any more hits for overly stylish packages that don't work as they should -- like the initial run of Xbox 360s that overheated because the tapered case put components too close together.

A bigger risk for the business is that customers will get wise to Microsoft's aggressive upselling of extra-profitable premium versions after episodes like the Halo discs and the flap over Vista Ultimate extras that never arrived.

My second impression of the game: It was more fun to play through with two people. I assumed the character of the alien Arbiter who seemed nearly invincible when I was playing as Master Chief.

Under my control, Arbiter was surprisingly vulnerable. Not just because I'm bad at the game, but his (is it a male?) shields didn't seem as strong as MC's. Or maybe I should have picked up and activated a shield doodad somewhere to thicken the skin. Either way, I spent a lot of time dead on the ground, waiting to revive and get back into the game.

Hearing it again, the dialog between MC and Cortana, the pivotal gal pal who mostly appears as a Princess Leah-ish holographic sage, seemed cornier than I remember. That's probably because the initial halo of anticipation and discovery was gone and I just wanted to keep playing. I was also wondering which one of them left the hair on my disc.

The new weapons are fun, especially the crazy Gravity Hammer that's like Wotan's axe.

But I'm not a fan of the "Hog" -- an alien chopper that's not as fun as it sounds to drive around. It doesn't seem to fit and feels like it was inserted to appeal to a particular demographic.

Apologies for sustaining the river of "Halo: news. I know that more is happening in the world and I'll try and return to reality soon.

But then I'll have to try "Cake Mania 2" on the PC, a new version of the hit casual game created by Bothell's Sandlot Games going on sale in October.

From the "Cake Mania" release:

"Cake Mania 2" offers the same tension-building, cake-baking action and adds in new game play elements that will have fans salivating.

For perspective, the initial version of "Cake Mania" was downloaded more than 50 million times. That suggests it's been played by four or five times as many people as "Halo."

Even without a Gravity Spatula.

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September 24, 2007 12:48 PM

"Halo" hype paying off already? MSFT up 2 points

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft stock may already be benefiting from the "Halo" effect. It's up 2 percent at last check, to $29.24.

Early this morning, Goldman Sachs predicted a "stellar release" that would give the stock a bump, similar to the 2 percent gain seen when "Halo 2" launched in November 2004.

Its report -- headlined "Halo 3's Master Chief to battle the Covenant and stock weakness" -- told clients the game should finally push the company's entertainment and devices group into the black.

Specifically, it forecast at least $170 million in sales driven by "Halo 3." There could be another $50 million, the firm said, because of the mix of higher-priced versions Microsoft is selling and limited competition since "Grand Theft Auto 4" was delayed:

"Our base case for 'Halo 3' pushes the segment into slight profitability for the quarter with software sales and reduced hardware costs driving full year profitability. Both revenue upside and profitability should be a positive for the stock."

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September 24, 2007 10:28 AM

Check out the "Halo 3" special edition

Posted by Brier Dudley

Of the Seattle Times, that is.

"Halo 3" is on A1 and the covers of the Local News, Business (twice) and Northwest Life sections. Yikes.

At least we didn't have Master Chief hanging around the newsroom, like the Vancouver Sun.

I'll bet the coverage will be like the game itself -- intense, but relatively short, so you'll have to go online if you still want more.

Of the 3,000 Halo stories I've read around the Web in the past few days, my favorite may be the Telegraph's mammoth feature on the game, the studio and the fans.

I'm glad we were early writing about studio manager Harold Ryan and the business importance of the game. It would have been lost in the flood today.

An early response to today's piece on the local influence on the game's design came from a copy editor working with the story on Saturday. She could tell that Bungie art director Marcus Lehto is a newcomer to Seattle by this quote:

"It's no coincidence that we see Mount Rainier on the horizon every day like that.''

Rainier is often shrouded in fog, she said, "which makes it such a treat when it comes into full view, which isn't every day!"

I guess you can get your Rainier fix on the Xbox now, for $59.99.

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September 20, 2007 2:58 PM

NBC snags digital content exec from MSN

Posted by Brier Dudley

After 10 years at Microsoft, Cameron Death is moving to Burbank, Calif. to work on "ad-funded online programming" as vice president of digital content at NBC Digital Entertainment.

NBC just announced Death's hiring.

A former newspaper manager being groomed for leadership at Knight Ridder's St. Paul Pioneer Press, Death moved west in 1997 to join Microsoft's now-defunct Sidewalk arts and entertainment listings venture. Two years later he moved to MSN, where he most recently led the U.S. Branded Entertainment and Experiences team.

I wonder if more Microsoft ad execs will take other jobs as the aQuantive merger is ironed out.

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September 19, 2007 9:00 PM

Zillow nabs another $30 million to grow, diversify

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's my Zestimate: Zillow will use some of the $30 million it just raised to push into the home improvement and decor market.

The nearly 2-year-old online real estate site was already the best funded Seattle Web startup in the current cycle, with $57 million raised.

Today, it's announcing a third and probably final round of financing, this time led by Legg Mason Capital Management in Baltimore. Bill Miller, Legg Mason's chief investment officer, said in a news release:

"We believe Zillow is well on its way towards becoming a market-leader in a huge, and untapped online category of online tools and information for homeowners."

The word "homeowners" is interesting.

Zillow's initial focus was home buyers and sellers. It made its splash with Zestimates, a tool for estimating the value of property. Zillow has also been adding tools for home sellers, enabling people to post "make me move" prices and giving agents and brokers more tools to edit listings and advertise on the site.

Meanwhile, the real estate market has chilled.

Zillow Chief Executive Rich Barton has said over and over that Zillow won't suffer from the market downturn, but the time is ripe for the company to broaden its reach beyond home listing and market information.

If people aren't buying and selling homes, they're staying put and working on the place they have. That may be an opportunity for Zillow, especially if it can develop zingy online tools to make it stand out in the crowd chasing "nesting" ad dollars. (That includes magazines, TV and newspapers, which are already competing with Zillow for real estate ads).

Earlier this year Zillow added features that allow people to refer home service providers, and created more opportunities for those providers to advertise on the site.

Comments Barton made during an interview made me think that home improvement may be the next tab to appear on the site's subject menu. Talking about the latest funding, he said this:

"Raising this money enables us a great degree of strategic freedom and lots of flexibility to go after what we think is a unique opportunity. We're kind of pioneering a category here that's not just what's on the market but all things that are home-related and building a community around that."

Home improvement subjects are frequently discussed on the site's community forums. Barton said that's among the areas Zillow will explore in its next phase:

"That's part of our product plans -- to continue to invest in expanding the community aspects of Zillow and new home-related categories and just do research. We're trying to figure out where to go."

The additional funding will be used to develop new products, build the engineering team in Seattle and expand a sales team that now has 20 people based in New York and five other cities. The company has 155 employees, up from 80 at its launch in February 2006. It says more than a million U.S. homeowners and agents have "claimed" homes listed on its site.

Barton said it hadn't burned through the $57 million in a year. "We had a lot of that left so we didn't really need it per se, but the best time to raise capital is when you don't really need it,'' he said.

Zillow investor and board member Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital isn't worried about the downturn hurting the startup, either. During an interview, he said he's pleased with Zillow's revenue growth, brand building and ambition to become "the best real estate site on the Web, flat out:"

Gurley said:

"As a venture capitalist I've never thought about cyclical financial swings. It's not relevant. The move online of the real estate purchasing process is a systematic trend that's going to go from zero to 100 percent over some timeframe."

Gurley said Zillow may expand into new categories, irrespective of the real estate market situation:

"I think the company has some very strong amibitons to be a bigger and bigger player in terms of helping consumers have the information they need to make great decisions about their home."

After seeing Barton in sandals and cutoffs at a recent luncheon, I have a hard time visualizing him becoming the next Martha Stewart. But he might be able to pull off the Norm Abrams look.

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September 19, 2007 4:18 PM

More Gphone details: Delayed, Bellevue firm involved

Posted by Brier Dudley

At least that's the word from DigiTimes, a Taiwanese publication talking to manufacturers claiming to know the status of the long-rumored Google phone.

It reiterated the story we've already heard that HTC, a Taiwanese company with U.S. offices in Bellevue, is the apparent manufacturer.

The story also said Google is mulling whether to make it a 3G phone, a move that could delay its release from late 2007 to the first half of 2008, the report said.

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September 19, 2007 3:58 PM

Microsoft India getting more projects, big in "Live"

Posted by Brier Dudley

The business applications group at Microsoft's India Development Center in Hyderabad is playing a big role in developing online and mobile applications and will be expanding this year, according to an interview that Office Platform VP Kurt DelBene did with the Economic Times of India.

The Q&A focused initially on the launch of Microsoft's online CRM product later this month, but touched on a few other projects the India center is building. One is a new version of the Office Live online services that will be released by November and may also be released in India.

The India center is also working on a new version of Office Mobile for developing countries.

DelBene said the Office & Business Applications team in India now has about 200 people. An excerpt:

We are looking at moving many other products to India. The focus now is to increase the productivity of existing teams and we will be adding another 25 people by this year-end.

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September 19, 2007 3:11 PM

Details of new Zunes out, here comes the "squircle"

Posted by Brier Dudley

So was the Zune news leaked or announced via a gadget blog? Either way, tidbits are pouring out.

Enthusiast blog Zunescene started the ball rolling when a tipster dropped the basics: Being prepped for an Oct. 16 launch are flash memory models (code named "draco") with 4 gigabyte and 8 gig capacities and an 80 gig hard-drive model (code named "scorpio").

Images show a smoother, less chunky looking device with a new control interface switch/wheel thing called the "squircle." Here's how the source described it to the blog:

It doesn't have a center button, but it has a dome underneath so you can push it from any side, its really cool.

Also new is an olive drab color the source described as an "old army jeep green." I wonder if it's the same color as the special edition Halo 3 Xbox.

Next week Microsoft is participating in DigitalLife, a big press event in New York where computer and electronics companies show off their holiday offerings. Maybe we're seeing buzz-building ahead of a Zune unveiling at the show.

But the big question is pricing. Will the new Zunes be cheaper than the new iPods with comparable storage?

First-generation Zunes seem to be selling well since the prices came down. You can now get one for $149 at Amazon.com, where they've been the top-selling hard-drive based media player and top of the portable media player category.

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September 19, 2007 11:59 AM

A look at IBM "saving" OpenOffice

Posted by Brier Dudley

There's a fascinating inside baseball story in ComputerWorld analyzing IBM's move and internal challenges that have held back OpenOffice.

One source in the story speculates that IBM's arrival could make the free productivity suite a serious contender by 2010:

With IBM "betting big on OpenOffice, in two and a half years we could be looking at another Mozilla situation, where Firefox has 15 percent of the market. That could lead to Microsoft modifying Office or changing its licensing or prices, which benefits the entire market."

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September 19, 2007 12:00 AM

SecondSpace signs big Florida developer

Posted by Brier Dudley

SecondSpace, the Bellevue real estate sales and information platform, is announcing an "anchor tenant" today that should give it a big traffic boost.

St. Joe, one of the biggest developers in Florida, will list its properties on SecondSpace sites as part of a broad partnership.

SecondSpace will build and manage a new portal Web site for the company, using its technologies such as semantic search, analytics and behavioral targeting.

To work with St. Joe and other companies in the opposite corner of the country, SecondSpace will open a Florida office that will include marketing and technology managers.

Anil Pereira, SecondSpace chief executive, called St. Joe a "key anchor tenant:"

"It's a total flywheel for us -- St. Joe is an amazing company with amazing places in Florida. We use that to get the flywheel going for us in northwest Florida."

The deal doesn't include St. Joe investing in SecondSpace, but Pereira said he'd be happy if the Florida company would participate in the startup's next round of fundraising.

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September 18, 2007 11:27 AM

Seattle's SEOmoz takes funding, eyes sale

Posted by Brier Dudley

The search marketing company SEOmoz has lined up $1.25 million from Ignition and Curious Office, Kelly Smith and Adrian Hanauer's investment firm.

Chief Executive and co-founder Rand Fishkin said the move will likely result in the company being sold within four to seven years. He announced the pending deal today on his blog, saying the money will be used to expand the team from seven to 12 people, build new technology and market to a wider audience.

Fishkin was almost apologetic about it, after getting heat in August when he floated the idea of outside investment:

The biggest outcry I felt from folks was the "Noooo!! Don't sell out to the man," line. I promise you, we are doing anything but.

For one thing, he notes, "the man" is actually a woman, Ignition Partner Michelle Goldberg.

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September 17, 2007 3:46 PM

Microsoft's European case: Time for a break?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Finally, the Microsoft antitrust case gets interesting again.

Not because the company lost its appeal and has to pay a big fine. That's really a snooze. Microsoft paid the fine a long time ago, and it's been making changes since 2004 to comply with the ruling that it was appealing.

Maybe I'm just enjoying the lull between this ruling and the next round of antitrust complaints here in the U.S., but I'm excited to see this enter the next phase, where we see how Microsoft performs, now that regulators have supposedly balanced the market and removed the unfair advantages that the Redmond company gained from its monopoly.

Microsoft has clarity and its competitors supposedly have a level playing field, thanks to the European Commission, so let the game begin.

Some are thrilled that Microsoft is finally getting its due, but I think that also happened in 2004 when the European Commission began telling Microsoft what it could and couldn't bundle with Windows.

That's what Microsoft has fought the hardest during all of its antitrust cases -- the right to decide what it can include in its software. When it lost that right, it protested and negotiated the details until the bitter end. The end result was the stillborn "N" version of Windows with media player stripped out, per the commission's ruling. Microsoft's point was made when almost nobody bought the software.

Similarly, Microsoft moaned and groaned and took forever to release and document the server protocols the commission (and the U.S. Department of Justice) forced the company to share. The protocols make Windows servers work better with Windows desktops, and presumably helped Microsoft build its phenomenal server business.

By haggling and stretching out the documentation process for years, Microsoft held its competitive edge while it appealed the ruling. I wonder how much that tactic hurt its appeal. Even if the competitive advantage of the protocols was overstated, the delayed compliance created the impression Microsoft was continuing to benefit where it shouldn't.

If Microsoft was faster to document the protocols, other companies would have had a few years now to be using them. A few years of this "balanced" market competition would be a chance to see whether the protocols gave Microsoft an unfair advantage.

Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Justice are already making noises about how today's ruling will limit innovation. If that happens, maybe they should work together on an appeal.

But why not let it sit for a few years. Give Microsoft a chance to show whether it can keep gaining server market share on its own, without any unfair advantage, real or not.

I'd think the clarity and certainty of a final ruling would be more valuable to Microsoft than the distant possibility of winning an appeal sometime in the next decade. Unless it really has been making a killing with those protocols.

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September 17, 2007 9:42 AM

Warring over the Halo 3 ads

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's column about the new Halo 3 ads didn't go over too well with fans of the game.

A representative sample:

"Try writing about news and not crap."

Another:

"I'm trying to decide which is more likely. The idea that you're a hack who has run out of ideas. Or a total retard. If i'ts the latter, I commend you. For a person with such disabilities to get their article published in a reputable newspaper is nothing short of a miracle (and judging by the content, I am certain this is the case). If it's the former, then shame on you for so deftly impersonating the latter."

It's as if I wrote about Apple.

The powerful ads were designed to make you sad. It worked on me, but instead of thinking about the game I kept thinking about the war in Iraq.

Decide for yourself - here they are:

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September 13, 2007 5:10 PM

Etelos hires new CEO, expands to Silicon Valley

Posted by Brier Dudley

Renton application provider Etelos appears to be picking up steam.

The company brought in a former investment banker to be its chief executive and opened a branch office in Silicon Valley.

Jeffrey Garon, formerly managing director at Kaufman Bros., is now president and chief executive officer, the company announced yesterday. Earlier he was CFO at Debtor Tripath Technology, Silicon Storage and Monster Cable Products.

Etelos also hired four new vice presidents, and founder Danny Kolke shifted over to become chairman and chief technology officer.

The announcement also noted that in the past six months, the company grew to more than 6,000 accounts representing 36,500 users of its applications.

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September 13, 2007 3:55 PM

Wii squeaks past Xbox 360

Posted by Brier Dudley

According to a Financial Times story called out by 1up.com which in turn was flagged by Slashdot, cumulative sales figures show Nintendo reclaiming the top console spot for the first time in 17 years.

The report says Nintendo has sold 9 million Wiis since launch, just ahead of the 8.9 million Xbox 360s since its launch a year earlier. Sony's PlayStation 3 lags with 3.7 million units sold, although it could get a boost from another price cut that's rumored to happen this holiday season and Sony's plans to add video recording and downloading features.

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

September 13, 2007 3:26 PM

Is Microsoft secretly updating your computer?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Maybe, according to a report by the Windows Secrets newsletter that found nine files in Vista and XP that were being updated by Microsoft without the system owners' permission.

The issue is whether Microsoft is overriding some users' decision to decide when and if updates are installed. Microsoft prefers it when users opt for automatic updates, but users give up some control of their system when they go that route.

From the report:

"It's surprising that these files can be changed without the user's knowledge. The Automatic Updates dialog box in the Control Panel can be set to prevent updates from being installed automatically. However, with Microsoft's latest stealth move, updates to the WU executables seem to be installed regardless of the settings -- without notifying users."

But there's a twist. Nate Clinton, Windows Update manager, said in a blog post that what's happening is that the update software is automatically updating itself.

That's a little different than Microsoft sneaking system updates on your PC without permission. Clinton said Microsoft is, but Clinton acknowledged that Microsoft could have been more transparent about how this works:

The point of this explanation is not to suggest that we were as transparent as we could have been; to the contrary, people have told us that we should have been clearer on how Windows Update behaves when it updates itself. This is helpful and important feedback, and we are now looking at the best way to clarify WU's behavior to customers so that they can more clearly understand how WU works. At the same time, however, we wanted to explain the rationale for the product's behavior so our customers know what the service is doing: WU updates itself to make sure it continues to work properly. We are also confident that the choice to use Automatic Updating continues to be the right choice.

So at the least, Windows Secrets provided a good service highlighting the situation and pressuring Microsoft to better explain updates.

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September 12, 2007 2:32 PM

Microsoft talking up Unlimited Potential

Posted by Brier Dudley

Directors of Microsoft's emerging markets are in town this week for a meeting, so the company invited a handful of local journalists to dinner for an update on the company's "Unlimited Potential" program.

Headed by former Windows client boss Will Poole, Unlimited Potential is spreading the PC gospel to developing countries and populations that have yet to embrace computing.

Its goal is to reach an estimated 5 billion people who can't afford or access computers and the Internet, including 1 billion that it hopes to reach by 2015.

The group is a grab bag of researchers, product people and marketers spread around the world.

They're working with governments, schools and non-profit groups on projects, including pay-as-you-go computers and special versions of Windows. They're also testing new systems, such as one for handling money workers abroad can use to send money home, and another that lets multiple students work together on a single computer.

I was surprised by how sympathetic Poole is to the One Laptop Per Child project led by the MIT Media Lab that has developed an inexpensive PC for developing countries. Poole said he's particularly impressed by the device's display, which switches from color to grayscale when it's used in bright light, although he's still not enthusiastic about its using open-source software.

He suggested people keep their eyes open for new low-cost PCs from vendors such as Asus.

Intel is also planning to talk up new designs for emerging-market computers next week at its fall developer conference in San Francisco.

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

September 12, 2007 2:13 PM

Sun announces x64 Hairball edition

Posted by Brier Dudley

Are they serving crow in the Sun Microsystems cafeteria today?

The company announced it will sell and support servers pre-installed with Windows, the software its former chief executive famously and repeatedly called a "hairball."

Now Sun's joined the roster of Microsoft OEM partners.

Today's deal was presented as an expansion of the "strategic alliance" formed three years ago, when Sun settled its antitrust claim against Microsoft. They also agreed to make sure their systems work well with each other when virtualized.

Sun must need Microsoft to compete better against Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

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

September 12, 2007 10:31 AM

UW's Etzioni launches mutilingual search engine

Posted by Brier Dudley

A new visual, multilingual search tool developed at the University of Washington's Turing Center is being presented today at the Machine Translation Summit in Copenhagen.

The idea was to help people who don't speak major languages, said Oren Etzioni, a UW computer science professor, in a release:

"We want to serve the vast number of people who don't speak one of the major languages. As the Internet becomes more widely available outside of the major industrialized nations, it becomes increasingly important to serve people who don't speak English, French or Chinese."

"PanImages" uses tagging, online image collections and translation tools to improve search results for people who speak languages that aren't well-served by today's online services.

The service automatically translates search terms into about 300 languages and returns images from Google and Flickr, according to the release:

PanImages promises to help people who speak languages that have a small Web presence. Imagine you are a Zulu speaker looking for a picture of a refrigerator, Etzioni said. You type the Zulu word for refrigerator ("ifriji") into an image search and get two results. The same search using PanImages generates 472,000 hits. In a test of so-called minor languages, PanImages was able to find 57 times more results, on average, than a Google image search.

PanImages includes around 300 languages and 2.5 million words, but it's designed to grow through user contributions of words and translations.

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

September 12, 2007 10:11 AM

Students get Microsoft deal of the day

Posted by Brier Dudley

There's a nice opportunity for college students to benefit from Microsoft's competition with Google for their attention.

Microsoft just announced a promotion - "The Ultimate Steal" -- making Office Ultimate 2007 available to students for $59.95 from Sept. 12 until April 30.

The suite lists for $679 and includes the following applications:

Access 2007
Accounting Express 2007
Excel 2007
InfoPath 2007
Groove 2007
OneNote 2007
Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager
PowerPoint 2007
Publisher 2007
Word 2007

To be eligible, college student must hold a valid e-mail address at an educational institution and be actively enrolled at the time of purchase, a spokeswoman said.

You might come out ahead if you registered at a community college just to get the software deal, not to mention the learning.

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September 10, 2007 4:37 PM

Facebook's western exposure

Posted by Brier Dudley

Great story in The Boston Globe about Facebook moving west, after being turned down by a Boston-area investor.

The piece has interesting details about Facebook's early days, but not everyone will agree with a few points.

It suggests that consumer Internet companies have to be in Silicon Valley to really take off. That's a great subject and an open question.

It also floats a potential $6 billion valuation of Facebook, which seems just crazy, especially now that the economy and M&A boom are cooling off.

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September 10, 2007 4:10 PM

Hanselman in town for Seattle Geek Dinner

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm still catching up on blogs and came across Microsoft's Charlie Owen talking up a Seattle Geek Dinner on Wednesday evening.

It was apparently organized as a sort of welcome to Computerzen.com blogger Scott Hanselman, formerly chief architect at Corillian in Portland.

Hanselman left to become a senior program manager at Microsoft on Sept. 4, "aiming to spread good information about developing software, usually on the Microsoft stack,'' according to his blog bio.

The dinner is from 6 to 9 p.m. in the "public eateries" area of Crossroads mall.

It's a busy day for networking geeks. The next Seattle Lunch 2.0 event is also Wednesday, at Cardomain.com.

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

September 10, 2007 10:43 AM

More thoughts on Microsoft's Swedish flap

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wouldn't call it a smorgasbord, but there are choice morsels in the responses to today's column on Microsoft's Swedish standards flap.

Several people thought I underplayed the importance of standards. Such as Tom Field, whose note included this passage:

Your article states, "there's no obvious victim." Perhaps that's true with respect to corporate victims. However, we, the citizenry, are potential victims. If we become locked into one vendor to provide us with our tools, our ability to access public records becomes limited. (Hmmm... sounds like the kind of consolidation that is happening in the newspaper industry...)

My point is that standards are important. You failed to inform your readers on this fact.

The second -- yes, somewhat esoteric -- issue we need to be discussing is whether the standards process is fair or unfair, effective or broken. Is the standard that Microsoft proposing truly open? Will it allow the same kind of open access that the already existing standard allows? I, frankly, don't know the answers to these questions. But, given Microsoft's track record, my initial response is to trust a growing body of non-Microsofties who say that Microsoft is attempting (whether legally or not, I don't know) to consolidate power in ways that would hurt us as citizens.

I thought I was emphasizing the importance of standards by devoting the column to the subject, but perhaps I should have included more context about how people will be affected by the outcome of the voting.

Predictions are tricky, though, unless you approach the issue with strong feelings for or against Microsoft (another reason the Swedish flap was unfortunate ...).

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September 7, 2007 12:33 PM

No wonder Microsoft ponied up for commuter buses

Posted by Brier Dudley

Perhaps it wanted to spare Seattle employees from the hyper-aggressive parking patrols that have turned up in South Lake Union since Paul Allen began developing condos and office buildings in the area.

Like this guy, who parked in the restricted loading space next to a handicapped parking spot on private property. Do as I say, not as I do? Grrrr.


Comments | Category: Billionaire techies , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 6, 2007 4:25 PM

Amazon.com remodels, losing that flea market feel

Posted by Brier Dudley

The megasite is changing its look and feel, adding more polish and toning down the bargain warehouse feel.

A new left-side navigation panel makes it easier to see and reach the different store categories. It also highlights just how broad the offerings have become.

But the site still screams deals! deals! deals!

It's a phased rollout, so not everyone's seeing the changes at first. Here's a screen grab: Download file.

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September 6, 2007 3:37 PM

Vudu movie boxes debut at $399

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's getting harder to choose the next box to stack on your television.

Sony's PS3 is a reasonable option at $499 if you want a Blu-ray player, the newer Xboxes with HDMI are intriguing at $349. and of course there's the new TiVo HD at $299. The Xbox and TiVo can download videos from online stores, and apparently the PS3 will soon.

Now Vudu is offering its movie download box in the same price range -- $399, according to the company's debut announcement today. There are no fees, but movies cost 99 cents to $3.99 to rent and $4.99 to $19.99 to purchase.

The price seems a little high for the box, but Vudu believes customers will be attracted by its big library of titles and fast downloads boosted by peer-to-peer networking.

Vudu has been showing the device for months -- I wrote about it earlier -- but the company just disclosed final details today.

It's selling the box direct from Vudu.com -- for delivery about Oct. 1 -- and next month will start selling through Amazon.com and electronics retailers.

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September 6, 2007 11:35 AM

Welcome to the hood, MS Online Services Business

Posted by Brier Dudley

Now that our offices are only a block apart, let me invite you over to visit.

I love showing off this bastion of old media, even if you're trying to eat our lunch ...

Seriously, anytime you need a jolt or feel like chatting, come on over for a coffee. There's an espresso machine here in my office. News tips are nice but not required.

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September 6, 2007 11:02 AM

Microsoft's "touchdown" in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

My speculation about Bill Gates taking space in Microsoft's new South Lake Union offices drew a good chortle from Brad Smith, the company's chief lawyer, when I saw him at the press conference announcing the deal today.

But Bill and the rest of Microsoft's workforce will have the option of using "touchdown" space the company is adding to its new offices in the Westlake+Terry Building.

The touchdown space is room for 150 employees to stopover and work from the building. Visiting workers can use the space, and so can westsiders who want a place to work and wait for traffic jams to thin before heading to Redmond.

I've got another guess, and this one's better than the Gates thing: With 5,000 to 6,000 of Microsoft's 36,000 local employees living in the Seattle area, those 150 touchdown spots are going fill up fast.

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September 5, 2007 4:19 PM

Finally: The first Vista Sideshow remote

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seven months later than expected, Philips will start selling Vista SideShow-powered remote controls in October for $199.

The company showed the SRM7500 remote at CES in January, saying it would be available in the first quarter. Then it got quiet until today, when Philips announced at the CEDIA home entertainment systems show in Denver that the gadget goes on sale in October.

SideShow is a neat feature in Vista that lets computer and device makers build secondary displays, but so far not many have taken advantage of the technology.

Philips used SideShow to build a remote that lets you browse and select music stored on a Vista Premium or Ultimate system, using a menu similar to an early iPod, without turning on the PC.

From its announcement:

The Philips SRM7500 remote control also supports "basic" Windows SideShow functionality, allowing users to browse and play music, pictures, TV show and programming guides. It also provides convenient access to information including newsfeeds, stock quotes and emails on the remote's LCD display.

The remote can control a Media Center PC and up to five other entertainment devices, such as TVs, DVD players and set-top boxes, "providing complete power over multimedia PC features from the comfort of the couch,'' Philips said.

It also uses RF signals so it doesn't require line-of-sight. In other words, you can control a PC stored elsewhere in the house.

Sounds like a good challenge to Logitech's Harmony remotes, the current king of the coffee table.

But both companies may be trumped by Apple, if someone figures out a great way to turn the new Wi-Fi iPods into super remote controls.

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

September 5, 2007 3:16 PM

Could Microsoft's Seattle office be for Bill Gates?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Another thought on Microsoft's plans for a new Seattle office: I wonder if it will include headquarters type offices for executives and board meetings.

That would make things convenient for the company's chairman, who is dividing his time between Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, which is building its headquarters not far from the apparent location of Microsoft's new Seattle office.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is now on Eastlake but it's developing a campus on the parking lots just east of Seattle Center. That's just four or five blocks from the area where Microsoft is expected to be headed.

Microsoft's Seattle office would also be more convenient for meetings with visiting A-list executives and government officials, who tend to stay at downtown hotels and travel by bus and limo to the Redmond campus.

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September 5, 2007 12:26 PM

Apple news: The cheatsheet

Posted by Brier Dudley

iPhone: The price was cut $200. It's now $399 for an 8 gigabyte model, down from $599. That was quick; must not have been selling as fast as expected.

iPod touch: A new model based on the iPhone design was released. It has Wi-Fi and touchscreen controls. A 16 gigabyte model costs $399 and an 8 gig model is $299.

iPod classic: There's more capacity for the "standard" model with a new 160 gig version now available for $349. The 80 gig model gets a price cut, to $249. Microsoft better hurry up and release the new Zunes, because its 30 gig model seems puny now.

iPod nano: A new model with video playback on a larger, two-inch screen and the "coverflow" interface for scrolling through songs via album art. Also five new colors; 4 gigs for $149 and 8 gigs for $199.

iPod shuffle: Four new colors.

Ringtones: Apple is finally selling ringtones, joining the crowd. A bunch of songs on iTunes can now be used as ringtones, if you pay an additional 99 cents when you buy them. If you already bought a song that's ringtonable, you can pay 99 cents to make it a tone.

Wi-Fi iTunes: When your iPod or iPhone is connected via Wi-Fi, you can directly purchase music from Apple's online store instead of having to connect via a computer.

Starbucks: Wi-Fi iPods and laptops running iTunes will display a Starbucks button when you're logged on in the stores. You can then see information about songs that are playing in the store and purchase them with a click. Starbucks already had a deal to distribute music via iTunes; this adds the wireless capability.

I wonder how long it will take for other retailers and venues will add buttons to iTunes and wireless iPods, so you can buy what you're hearing. I'll bet Pottery Barn and Banana Republic will be next.

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September 5, 2007 11:45 AM

AccessLine sold at discount, staying in Bellevue

Posted by Brier Dudley

San Diego-based Telanetix is paying $34.9 million in cash and stock for AccessLine Communications in Bellevue, one of the early players in Internet telephony.

All 115 employees of AccessLine's employees will be retained, said Chief Executive Doug Johnson, a McCaw Cellular veteran who has run the company since 2002 and will continue with the merged company.

The Bellevue office will now focus on developing voice products and provide administrative support for the merged companies.

"We believe that we found a partner in Telanetix that allows us to continue and complete the dream of delivering this hosted VoIP product to the SMB marketplace,'' he said.

AccessLine seemed like a potential gold mine after it was founded in 1986 and raised more than $109 million from investors who saw the direction telecommunications was heading.

Now it's a hugely competitive industry with companies big and small offering a huge range of IP-based telecom services. Telanetix offers telepresence products that compete with Cisco, and Microsoft is moving aggressively into VoIP.

After Johnson became chief executive, he refocused the company from a broad provider of hosted services to a VoIP company targeting small to mid-size businesses.

In 2006 AccessLine had gross sales of $24.3 million and expects sales of $2 million a month by through the end of 2007.

Telanetix said the acquisition will allow it "to target AccessLine's substantial customer base, who is already thriving on an IP Platform. Telanetix will now be able to offer their customers voice, data and video simultaneously over ubiquitous IP networks.

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September 5, 2007 10:22 AM

Microsoft finally expanding in Seattle proper

Posted by Brier Dudley

It took 32 years, but Microsoft appears to be finally crossing Lake Washington and opening a significant office in Seattle.

That's how I'm reading a press advisory issued this morning, setting up a news conference that Microsoft is holding Thursday morning at Paul Allen's real estate sales office in South Lake Union.

Headlined "Microsoft Expands Presence in Seattle," the advisory says the conference is being held "to unveil future plans for Microsoft Corp.'s Seattle expansion."

The release notes that the event is across the street from a new building complex under construction at 2200 Westlake, across the street from Whole Foods.

Microsoft has had several outposts in the city over the years, including the former Visio offices near the Pike Place Market, an online research group operating in the Smith Tower and the downtown offices of its newly acquired aQuantive subsidiary.

Yet the company has never bought or leased a large, marquee building in Seattle. That's a marked contrast to its sprawling campus in Redmond, which has filled a large part of the Overlake area with dozens of big, free-standing mid-rise office buildings.

Paul Allen may have called on his old pal Bill Gates to fill buildings that were originally pitched as biotech offices.

But I'll bet Google was a bigger reason for Microsoft to finally move west. The two companies are in a pitched battle for software talent, especially recent college graduates with the latest skills.

Google now has a bigger variety of Seattle-area offices to offer, including space in Fremont and its new campus in Kirkland. A Microsoft office in South Lake Union, walking distance to downtown and Belltown, could even things up.

(Though Microsoft may have second thoughts after it sees how the streetcar Allen demanded for his real estate venture has destroyed Westlake, making it a huge pain to drive from the neighborhood to I-5 and on to Redmond.)

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September 4, 2007 4:36 PM

Is Amazon the reason NBC dumped iTunes?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Just days after a fallout with Apple, ending its iTunes distribution deal, NBC Universal announced today that its video content will instead be sold through Amazon.com.

NBC shows such as "The Office" and "Heroes" are now available through Amazon's Unbox download service, the companies announced today. Episodes of "30 Rock," for instance, are available for $1.99 and a full season costs $32.49.

Starting Sept. 10, they'll also provide free downloads of pilot episodes of NBC's new shows such as "Bionic Woman."

Universal movies have been distributed via Unbox for a year now, the companies noted in the release, so the TV content deal builds on an existing relationship.

NBC's quote in the release sounds like a dig at iTunes:

"With the addition of NBC Universal TV content to Amazon Unbox, fans now have the ultimate convenience for enjoying their favorite shows whenever or wherever they want," said Jean-Briac Perrette, president, NBC Universal Digital Distribution. "This further expands our longstanding relationship to bring a robust content offering to the marketplace in a variety of ways that will benefit the consumer and, at the same time, protects our content."

I wonder if Amazon is luring content owners from iTunes, or if content owners are just shopping around for a better deal.

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

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