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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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November 30, 2007 4:26 PM

Microsoft buys Toutonghi's Seattle startup

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's apparently still enthusiastic about the work of Mike Toutonghi, a former distinguished engineer who initiated the Media Center version of Windows before leaving for startup world.

With support from some early Microsoft executives, Toutonghi in 2004 started Vizrea, a mobile phone image sharing service that never really took off.

Part of the problem was that it was geared toward advanced phones that are only lately getting traction.

After a big pullback last year, Vizrea was rechristened WebFives in May and positioned as a sort of social network for sharing videos and music, as well as photos, from a greater variety of mobile devices.

On Friday, Toutonghi notified WebFives users that the service will stop at the end of the year because the company was purchased by Microsoft. It sounds like some of its technology for uploading and sharing photoes and videos captured on phones could be added to Microsoft's online services suite.

From Friday's letter to WebFives users:

While WebFives has pioneered some great technologies, including automatic upload of content from mobile phones and PCs, high-quality video sharing services, and automatic RSS feeds for everyone, our next challenge will be to help Microsoft incorporate the best of those technologies into its already comprehensive suite of products and services. I encourage you to look at MSN Spaces and/or Windows Live services as an alternative to WebFives for serving your video, photo, music sharing, and blogging needs on the Internet.

WebFives had a handful of employees in both Seattle and Prague.

I'll post more details on the acquisition as I get them.

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

November 28, 2007 4:58 PM

Howard Hughes plus Mark Cuban equals Paul Allen?

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's one take in a great profile of the Microsoft co-founder turned Seattle real estate mogul that's running in the latest edition of Sports Illustrated.

It retells the lucky billionaire story familiar to many around here -- local sports, space and rock fan met fellow geek Bill Gates at Lakeside, went to Washington State University, co-founded Microsoft, left early after a cancer-induced change of priorities, then had mixed luck with startups and sports franchises.

But the magazine does a great job exploring the character of the only person to solely own teams in two of America's top three pro sports leagues. It also offers a fun courtside perspective of Allen, the sports nut and junkfood enthusiast.

One morsel, from a Blazer's game ...

He was flanked by his new buddy Kevin and his old college roommate Bert. Even as they conversed, the fan didn't divert his strikingly blue eyes from the action on the court ... When a courtside waitress approached during a timeout, he requested a burger and a Coke. Let the Brahmins in the corporate suites order salmon cakes and bottled water. The fan chomped on his junk food and absentmindedly fiddled with the straw in his soda. He wasn't above swiping some fries off Bert's cardboard tray when Bert wasn't looking.

Another, on Allen buying the Seahawks:

Paul Allen is not Bill Gates. Long ago he resigned himself to this reality: He was destined to be known as Garfunkel to Gates's Simon, particularly in Seattle. As Gates was becoming the world's richest man and launching the world's largest charitable foundation and seeking to conquer famine and genocide and improve world health, Allen was, inevitably, "the other Microsoft founder." That was fine by him. But in 1997 he had the opportunity to do something for Seattle and boost his image, if not his profile, in the process.

Allen's a great subject. For a while, he was also competing with Sports Illustrated, after he bought The Sporting News in 2000. I wonder if SI waited to do the Allen story until he sold his magazine last year.

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

November 28, 2007 4:27 PM

Amazon vet launches shopping valet service

Posted by Brier Dudley

I used to write about Microsoft employees who got so excited about the tools they were developing that they quit to build companies around them.

That's what happened with Mikhail Seregine at, where he helped develop Web services the company provides to software developers and startups.

One project he worked on from inception to launch was Mechanical Turk, a service that helps companies hire people willing to do various jobs that can be done online.

Seregine left to start ClayValet, a company that claims to simplify online shopping by "having someone else shop for them." The 2002 Stanford computer science graduate started building the service in January, received funding from undisclosed angel investors and launched on Friday, just in time for the holiday shopping frenzy.

ClayValet asks visitors to describe what they are looking for, then its "shoppers" analyze customer reviews, prices and other information then send them a report within 24 hours.

The site provides up to five free reports per week and its performance charts say 90 percent of the queries are answered in less than 13 hours.

I asked a little while ago for ClayValet to find me a Nintendo Wii for under $300 and haven't heard back yet. I'll post an update when I get a response.

ClayValet has four employees at its offices on Capitol Hill. They're supplemented with services provided by Mechanical Turk, and the company also uses Amazon's hosted storage and processing services.

Seregine also followed Amazon's quirky naming practice. When I asked spokeswoman Darcy Camden about the name she said it's "a name that encourages questions. It is also a literary reference to the Golem, a servant sculpted from clay who follows written instructions."

I guess that makes about as much sense as Mechanical Turk.

UPDATE: It was fast, for me at least. The report came back in just about an hour. Unsurprisingly, it couldn't find a reasonably priced Wii. It recommended that I buy the system from for $364.89, including shipping, and provided some Cnet reviews and a summary of customer opinions.

It's kind of fun and might be useful for complicated product searches that don't work well with automated comparison shopping services.

I wonder how broadly ClayValet will go beyond Amazon, which seems to appear frequently in its results. If it mostly points people to Amazon, they may opt to just search the site themselves. I also wonder if it will ever direct users to sites that don't have a lower price yet don't offer referral commissions.

But I'm curious to watch the experiment and see whether consumers are willing to wait a bit longer for really detailed, human-processed results to their queries.

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

November 28, 2007 6:00 AM

Big Fish scales up with Thinglefin

Posted by Brier Dudley

Two months after becoming chief executive at Seattle's Big Fish Games, Jeremy Lewis is diversifying beyond casual games by acquiring Thinglefin, a local developer of massively multiplayer online games.

The buy gives Big Fish ownership of an intriguing new MMO game that Thinglefin's all-star team was preparing to release next year.

Thinglefin was started in May by veterans of companies such as Sony, Microsoft, Sega and Monolith and received venture funding in July. Its four employees will continue developing their game and contribute to other projects at Big Fish's 200-person Seattle office.

"We have a leadership position in online entertainment in certain areas and we wish to extend that leadership position in the area that Thinglefin allows us to,'' Lewis said in an interview yesterday.

By expanding and broadening its reach, Big Fish is trying to ensure it remains a big fish in online entertainment.

Lewis compared the situation to that of Internet companies, explaining that "there will be a handful of companies who earn a disproportionate share of the opportunity share that exists within online entertainment."

To be in that handful companies need to have developed good, direct relationships with consumers and "control the leading content and services in that given vertical," he said.

Financial details weren't disclosed but Lewis said Big Fish sales will grow more than 100 percent this year, as they have every year since its 2002 launch.

California Venture Partners provided an undisclosed amount of series A funding for Thinglefin in July and presumably made its money back on the Big Fish deal.

Big Fish will keep the Thinglefin brand for the MMO game launching next year. Not much has been said about the game, but Thinglefin has disclosed that it will be free and playable in a browser. That makes it sounds like an interesting bridge between Big Fish's casual genre and the expansive MMOs that Thinglefin founders worked on before.

Toby Ragaini, Thinglefin co-founder and chief executive, hinted at the connection in his biography at the company site. In addition to mentioning his experience with games such as The Matrix Online and Asheron's Call, it has this tidbit:

In addition to his work on subscription based titles, with Thinglefin, Toby has entered the emerging market of micro-transactions and seeks to innovate in bringing online games to an increasingly casual game audience.

Lewis said Big Fish had been looking for a premier MMO developer to acquire and "it was only a matter of coincidence that it happened to be a local Seattle company."

Apparently it was also a coincidence that Big Fish ended up buying a company with an ichthyological sounding name.

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

November 27, 2007 3:06 PM

Yahoo cutting the ribbon in Quincy

Posted by Brier Dudley

Can you buy tire chains in Sunnyvale?

Yahoo executives may need them next week, when they're trekking to Quincy for the grand opening of the company's new datacenter.

It's the first one Yahoo has built from the ground up and one of several taking advantage of the area's cheap hydropower and fast Internet connections.

Co-founder David Filo and operations VP Kevin Timmons will cut the ribbon Dec. 3 at a ceremony with local officials.

I wonder if they'll use the facility to power a data storage service, a mandatory part of every Internet giant's online suite nowadays.

Some may see that as playing catch-up to Microsoft, AOL and nearly 100 startups, but others might see it as a brilliant move to "accelerate a shift to Web-based computing and intensify the Internet company's competition with Microsoft Corp."

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

November 27, 2007 2:57 PM

Business Week calls out Swedish docs' GPS phones

Posted by Brier Dudley

In a story about the breakout of GPS capabilities in mobile phones, Business Week talked to Debby Ramundo, a senior project manager at Swedish Medical Center, who works with 200 doctors and nurses who travel to patients' homes.

Swedish rolled out Nextel phones with GPS and TeleNav directional software to help them navigate "fast-growing Seattle, where new residential streets pop up out of nowhere," the story said.

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

November 27, 2007 2:30 PM

Google guru searching for Starbucks in Kirkland

Posted by Brier Dudley

Matt Cutts, Google's liaison with the search-engine optimization world, recently swung through the company's Kirkland offices and created a video tutorial.

It's interesting if you'd like to know a bit more about how Google works, but it's especially interesting to search marketers. They parse Cutts' words the way Wall Street hangs on to the utterances of the Federal Reserve chairman.

The funny part is that the example Cutts used, to explain Google's snippets, was a search for Starbucks. He didn't need a computer; he could have just looked out the window and practically seen one at Kirkland Parkplace.

Here's a link to Cutts' blog, a dissection by and, below, the video itself.

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

November 27, 2007 12:00 PM

Sandlot-Movaya hookup, plus game industry stats

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle mobile games startup Movaya found a key partner up the road in Bothell, where its working with Sandlot Games to sell mobile versions of Sandlot titles such as "Cake Mania."

The companies announced today that Sandlot's using Movaya's e-commerce technology on its Web site, where customers can now buy games that are delivered to their mobile phones.

Daniel Bernstein, Sandlot's founder, said in the announcement that he expects "it will dramatically improve sales of our mobile titles."

Also today, the Entertainment Software Association released a new survey of economic contributions made by the video game industry.

The study said the computer and video game industry in Washington state grew 14.4 percent last year and added $497.2 million to the state's economy. It ranked the state second nationally, based on the industry directly employing 2,674 people at 59 facilities.

It estimated that indirectly, the industry accounted for 9,284 jobs in the state.

I think the numbers are low, particularly the number of companies. Enterprise Seattle's recent research found at least 150 game companies in the area created 15,000 jobs.

But ESA had higher wage estimates. Its study says the average direct employee was paid $98,036 last year, above the national average of $92,300. It figured total direct compensation last year was $262,153,000.

Enterprise Seattle's report estimated the sector's average wage is $77,700.

Either way, it's a lot of quarters.

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November 19, 2007 4:03 PM

"Stevie" tech innovator of the year: She's in Bellevue

Posted by Brier Dudley

That would be Adriana Neagu, co-founder and CTO at Formotus, who was named "Technology Innovator of the Year" in the Stevie Awards for Women in Business.

She's one of several winners in the region.

Neagu was called out for inventing FormoPublish services, a simplified system for non-technical business users to deploy custom mobile applications.

Formotus, in its release, noted that Neagu was also a finalist in InfoWorld's CTO 25 Awards this year.

Christine Vernier, co-founder and CFO of Vernier Software & Technology in Portland, won the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Up north, Karen Radford, executive vice president at Telus Corp. in Vancouver, B.C., was named Best Canadian Executive.

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

November 19, 2007 10:58 AM

Kindle hacking, iPod parallels and a chat with the Kindle director

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm fascinated by's new Kindle electronic reading device, but I've got more questions than answers - even after interviewing Charlie Tritschler, director of Kindle.

Tritschler was one of the product specialists that Amazon started recruiting in late 2004 from companies such as Apple, Palm, Philips, Sony, RIM and Microsoft.

In early 2005 it hired Tritschler from PalmSource. Before that he was at Liberate Technologies and Apple, where he spent 10 years and worked on the PowerBook line.

Tritschler answered some questions about Kindle today in an interview from New York (where Amazon held a press event but didn't invite its hometown paper, one of 11 available on the Kindle, and recently ranking #42 in the Kindle Store).

He wouldn't say exactly how many people are working on the project, which buildings it emanated from in Seattle (turns out they were also developed in Cupertino, Calif.) or how they camoflauged Kindles when testing them here in town. Nor would he discuss future directions or details of the internal hardware.

On other topics, though, he provided some interesting details.

Is Kindle hackable? "It's not something we're opening up, but all devices can be hacked. That's something people can do."

Will there be APIs for software developers to write Kindle applications? "That's an important future direction for us."

Tritschler noted that Amazon also announced a "digital text platform" for authors to create content for Kindle.

Will this also be used as a music player? Kindle supports MP3, has headphone jacks and "the sound quality is really nice." Amazon will see what users want from Kindle, but "we really designed it to be a single purpose device" for reading.

How about a color display? Sounds likely. He noted that screen producers "have been showing some color prototypes."

How about video playback, once Kindle has color? "As the technology evolves to support faster refresh rates, that's something the market will look for."

Does it have a browser? Yes, in the "experimental" features area. But it doesn't work well with sites that are "heavily formatted." "Things that are text-based work very well,'' he said. (I wonder how it will work with free content formatted for mobile devices.)

How did Amazon recruit him? By asking him to come "change the world."

Tritschler believes Kindle will indeed change the world by improving the experience of reading, adding capabilities such as search and a built-in Oxford dictionary that can be used to check definitions of words as you read.

I've seen a lot of similar reading technologies over the years, from companies such as Microsoft and Sony, so it seems to me that while the device may be better than predecessors, Kindle's real advances are in its business model.

When Jeff Bezos refers to Kindle as the iPod of reading in the glowing Newsweek story where Amazon chose to debut the product, he's referring not just to a device for playing digital content but an iPod-like ecosystem with a device, service, store and content partnerships.

For one thing, it comes bundled with free wireless service and its own unique e-mail address. There are no monthly fees to pay and renew with wireless providers, you just turn it on and connect, just like a radio or a TV. Amazon covers the service cost with Kindle's price and content sales, although it must have been able to get a deal on wireless service because the device uses minimal bandwidth.

Novels in the Kindle format are typically 500 to 800 kilobytes, Tritschler said, explaining why they download in 10 to 15 seconds.

Can Amazon provide this free service forever, especially on future versions with color screens and video that use more bandwidth? Has it figured out a way to wrap bandwidth and access costs into the content? If so, why can't we get phones, computers or Tivos like this?

Amazon has made deals with book publishers and it's now selling digital "Kindle editions" of 90,000-plus books, but digital books have been around for awhile.

More intriguing (from my perspective) are the deals it forged with periodical publishers. It offered newspapers, magazines, blogs and wire services a new opportunity to sell digital subscriptions. Even though you can already get their content online, usually for free and in full color, they're hoping that people will pay for the convenience of their content arriving on Kindles.

If this works, and content owners find people are still willing to pay for their content in a useful format, maybe it will be the beginning of the end of the current Google era where publishers are encouraged to give it all away and hope for traffic and ads.

Speaking of giving it away, I wonder if Amazon will ever make Kindle work with digital books already available from public libraries.

The public buys those books, so it should be able to read them in the latest format without buying another copy from Amazon. Nor should libraries have to go out and buy "Kindle editions" of their collections.

Maybe I don't have all the details, but it seems that for Kindle to become the iPod of books, Amazon will have to let people put free content on the device. Can it do that and sustain the free services? Will people really pay $399 for a device that won't let them load content they already own or acquire content from sources other than Amazon?

Remember that less than 3 percent of the content on the average iPod was purchased from iTunes, according to Steve Jobs, who argued that a big reason for the iPod's success was the system's openness.

The openness of iPod and iTunes is pretty debatable, but for digital content consumers, it set the expectations of flexibility.

If Kindle doesn't have similar flexibility, and digital reading devices really are the books of tomorrow, maybe someone will have to come up with a gateless, open-source/public access version.

UPDATE: A reader pointed out that the Kindle was developed at Lab 126, an Amazon subsidiary developing gadgets in Cupertino, Calif. Details about Lab 126 are now posted at its Web site, including a mission statement that suggests Kindle is the first of multiple reading devices from the company. It's vision statement:

We envision wireless electronic reading devices that embrace a traditional book's simplicity, utility, and the ability to disappear as we read, but offer consumers capabilities that are only possible through digital technology and wireless connectivity. Starting with Kindle, which enables consumers to think of a book, newspaper or blog and be reading it in less than a minute, we will build tightly integrated products that bring together great devices, powerful software, Amazon services, and unmatched content selection.

UPDATE 2: I caught up with Steve Kessel, senior vice president of worldwide digital media at Amazon, who oversees the product and Lab 126. He said Amazon has teams around the world working on its design, software and interface.

When I asked if people will be able to load their own content, he noted you can email personal documents such as Word documents and jpeg images to Kindles. It also accepts PDF documents as part of the experimental section, although "some have fixed layout so they may not layout perfectly on the device."

Can people load their own books onto Kindle? "Books are purchased from the Kindle store."

But you can load your own music onto an iPod, I said.

"All the books for purchasing are from the Amazon store because to create this seamless experience of being able to download over the air, it would have to be built as an end-to-end experience."

Kessel left the door open a crack, though:

"I think we're open to different ideas in the future.''

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November 16, 2007 12:36 PM

A tribute to Jim Gray next May at Berkeley

Posted by Brier Dudley

Friends and colleagues of Jim Gray have arranged a daylong tribute to the noted Microsoft researcher and industry pioneer who disappeared in a mysterious January boating accident near San Francisco.

The May 31 event at University of California -- Berkeley includes presentations on Gray's contributions to the school, colleagues and industry.

Among other speakers, Ed Lazowska from the University of Washington will discuss Gray's mentoring of faculty and students, and Microsoft CTO David Vaskevitch and research boss Rick Rashid will discuss his industry contributions.

Also scheduled is an afternoon of technical presentations on topics identified with Gray, such as Terra Server and transaction processing. CTO Werner Vogels wrote up the event on his blog today, noting that Gray will be officially listed as "missing" until 2011, but the tribute will be held "to honor him before too much time has passed."

Registration for the technical sessions is open at the tribute's Web site.

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November 15, 2007 12:00 AM

RealPlayer 11 goes gold today, Mac beta debuts

Posted by Brier Dudley

A complete version of RealNetworks new flagship media player is available today, five months after the company released a beta test version to the public.

Its standout feature is the ability to "rip" videos from the Web with a click and save them for later viewing. When you have the player running and you browse over an online video clip that doesn't have copyright locks, a control appears and asks if you'd like to save the video to the player.

The basic player is free while a premium version with additional features, such as DVD burning of saved videos, costs $40.

New in the final version is the ability to view thumbnail images of saved videos.

Real is also announcing new stuff for iPod and Mac users.

The premium version of the RealPlayer now has the ability to transfer saved clips to video iPods in h.264 format.

"We magically do the video conversion to the right video format and then put them on iPod,'' Real VP Jeff Chasen said.

You transfer the clips as files. Real's still working on a way to have the player's library mesh with iTunes so they automatically sync; Chasen said that should come next year.

Also new today is a beta version of the new player for Macs. It's free, and a final version should be ready in the first half of next year, Chasen said.

Real didn't provide many user stats. Chasen would say only that "millions and millions" tried the beta version and Real's now seeing about a million downloads a day.

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November 14, 2007 3:46 PM

A journalism experiment

Posted by Brier Dudley

This blog may start to look a little different in coming months.

I'm participating in an experiment, launched by Jay Rosen at New York University Journalism School, to see how social networking tools and other new technologies can be incorporated into beat reporting.

A primary goal is to explore ways to use these new tools to discuss stories and trends with sources and readers. We'll be using the blog as a platform for the experiment.

Jay announced the participants today, and I'll be providing more details here as we firm up the plans.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from anyone who has suggestions or would like to participate in the experiment.

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November 14, 2007 3:43 PM

Freebies from Xbox Live

Posted by Brier Dudley

To celebrate its fifth anniversary, Xbox Live is giving its 8 million members a free arcade game from 12:01 a.m. Thursday (Nov. 15) to 11:59 p.m. Friday.

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November 14, 2007 3:41 PM

Happy GIS Day!

Posted by Brier Dudley

I didn't realize there was such a holiday, but Seattle-based LizardTech let me know because it was showing kids at Brighton School how far map creation has come since the Revolutionary War.

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November 14, 2007 1:34 PM

Get ready for high-def Mac media centers

Posted by Brier Dudley

A new USB gadget from ATI will give Macs the ability to record high-def video broadcasts, closing a gap with Windows Media Center.

ATI announced today that a Mac version of its TV Wonder 650 USB tuner will go on sale later this month for around $149. In addition to tuning over-the-air and analog broadcasts, it includes an electronic programming guide and software to watch, pause and record high-definition video.

Macs already use ATI graphics cards. Apple ought to give people the option of ordering one of its computers with an internal TV tuner, especially since iTunes is losing its grip on TV show sales, but until then the $149 dongle sounds like a nice option.

The announcement, from ATI parent AMD, also mentioned that its video cards are giving the 20-inch and 24-inch iMacs HDMI output, which would make it easier to tie them in to a newer home entertainment network. HDMI ports aren't yet listed on the iMacs' tech specs though, and I haven't heard back yet from the spokesman I asked for clarification.

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November 14, 2007 1:23 PM

Survey: Millions to dump cable TV for broadband

Posted by Brier Dudley

No wonder networks are going online with video services like Hulu: Within three years 16 million U.S. homes will be using their broadand service more than they now use their TVs, according to a new In-Stat survey.

It found 30 percent would drop pay-TV services and get TV content online, and 42 percent felt they aren't getting enough international news and information from their current TV services.

"As more high-quality content becomes available online, savvy consumers are considering ways to reduce their monthly bills by getting everything from the Internet,'' analyst Gerry Kaufhold said in a news release.

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November 13, 2007 7:54 PM

Google stock at $901 and other predictions

Posted by Brier Dudley

Some highlights from the WSA's 2008 predictions dinner, with outlook provided by a panel including venture capitalists Enrique Godreau III, Matt McIlwain and Kelly Smith; analyst Steve Lidberg, and Jonathan Sposato, a serial entrepreneur and veteran of Microsoft and Google.

What sort of company would they start if they had $1 million?

Godreau: Develop self-charging batteries that recharge using mechanical motion, similar to the way pedometers work and tidal energy is being harvested.

Lidberg: A Chinese-to-English translation company, or a company involved in digital mapping.

McIlwain: A "personal shopper" that aggregates and communicates things he intends to buy.

Smith: An operating system for email that lets users drag and drop applications such as widgets and autopublish applications into an email platform.

Sposato: "," a consumer focused site to help people evaluate their carbon footprint and purchase offsets, and "," a site providing advice for young men how to be polite and conduct business.

Where would they not invest now?

Godreau: Said he's concerned about less attention being paid to sales and revenues and more to "eyeballs and eardrums."

McIlwain: " I think cleantech is completely overhyped."

Smith: Said there are plenty of options now for people to consume high-def video, and he wouldn't invest in a maker of Facebook applications any more.

Sposato: "Any company that's creating a social networking application on Facebook." Also overhyped are tools for pulling together messaging and social networking accounts.

Lidberg: Mobile gaming. While casual gaming is seeing interesting new models, the "mobile arena seems way overhyped and overcrowded."

Where will Google's stock be at the end of 2008?

Lidberg: "We have an 850 target price on it right now."

Godreau: $874 - said they'll hit four figures after a blowout quarter, but will have a quarterly miss due to the macroeconomic environment. "As you start to see a crack in the armor you end up at $874."

Sposado: "Low sevens by the end of 2008."

Smith: "I'm going to say $901 and the reason is because I think it's extremely rare in a person's lifetime when you see a company with the characteristics of Google."

McIlwain: Said Microsoft and the aQuantive team shouldn't be "so heavily discounted" so he expects Google to be at $725.

The next big Microsoft acquisition?

McIlwain: Virtualization - perhaps Citrix - and on the wireless side perhaps RIM. Also vertical search companies.

Smith: Eyeball acquisitions, perhaps a photo sharing or video sharing site or a social networking platform like Beebo.

Goudreau: Virtualization infrastructure.

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November 12, 2007 1:08 PM

Say bonjour to Zune 3.0 features

Posted by Brier Dudley

It was buried a bit by today's news about the Zune tats, Windows Server and Google's Android booty, but Microsoft's pending acquisition of Musiwave is really interesting.

The Paris-based company will give Microsoft new technologies for downloading and streaming music onto portable devices such as phone and media players.

Coolest of all may be its "Music Wizard" service, which figures out what music is playing by holding up the device for a few seconds and letting it "hear" what's playing. A few seconds later it displays the title, artist and album information, and gives you the option of buying the song or a ringtone, according to Musiwave's product description.

If it works as promised, it's quite a competitor to the technology that Apple and Starbucks developed for buying the music playing in the coffee shop with a click on your iPhone or iPod Touch.

Musiwave claims its technology works not just in coffee shops but "from your radio at home, in the street, in public transportations or public places, from your television chanels: clips, adverts, movies, from bars or discotheques, shops, restaurants, etc."

The company is mostly focused on mobile phones and Microsoft's mobile business is partly driving the acquisition. But so are the Zune and Windows Live groups, so I'll bet we'll see Musiwave technology in Zune 3.0. Maybe it could even be loaded into Zune 2.0 through updates.

From Microsoft's release today, which gives the latest spin on Zune boss turned gadget design czar J Allard's role at the company:

"Musiwave would bring key assets to us as we continue to bring our vision of Connected Entertainment to life," said J Allard, corporate vice president in charge of music at Microsoft. "Its software expertise and extensive relationships with operators and music companies would help us take our products and services to the next level, giving people access to whatever entertainment content they want, whenever and however they want it."

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November 12, 2007 11:48 AM

Zune 2.0 review: Fair and balanced?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I guess the Zune review published today was balanced. Feedback so far includes constructive criticism from a Zune hater and a Zune lover.


I sprang for a $99 Zune 1.0 after I found my Creative Zen would never have drivers for Vista. I think your review missed what, for me, is the most important differentiator between ipod and Zune: the subscription service. For $15 per month, I have access to millions of songs. Not only can I load them on the Zune, but I can stream them directly from the Zune software on any of my computers without even downloading. With multiple computers in our house, this means I can listen, instantly, to practically any album or song I've ever owned or heard of, in my bedroom, living room, or home office. It's like having the entire record store at hand for $15 per month. I just don't see why this isn't a bigger selling point -- maybe the kids are happy stealing all their music? Or the oldsters already own and have ripped all the music they ever want to hear? In any case, a player is pretty much just a player, but the subscription service makes it stand out for me.
Nothing like the home town crowd shilling for Microsoft's latest me too piece of junk. Apple has very little to worry about with Zune. On the other hand, Microsoft can stand buy and watch Apple whittle into Windows market share. This is from a small business owner that will soon migrate the whole business from Windows to Apple OS X. Rock on!

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November 7, 2007 4:56 PM

Naveen Jain: Venture capitalists are "the antichrist"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Naveen Jain was on a roll Tuesday night at The Indus Entrepreneurs annual funding forum, needling venture capitalists at every turn.

More than 100 startup types, investors and big-company employees attended the event, sponsored by the Harvard and Wharton business schools. Companies pitched their businesses to a panel that awarded prizes of cash and services.

Everyone at TiE knows Jain, who left Microsoft to start and run InfoSpace during its turbulent years before founding Intellius in 2003.

So Jain had some fun when he was introduced by moderator Todd Dean of the Keiretsu Forum.

Jain said he thanks God "for keeping me away from VCs," drawing a roar from the capacity crowd at the Courtyard by Marriott.

Jain turned to the audience, flashed a big smile and kept on going.

"They are probably the antichrist of entrepreneurship,'' he said, adding that "they like early stage investing because they can take the most of it."

He also suggested that TiE consider having a "No-funding forum for entrepreneurs" and later said that "anybody who takes $120 million -- they're fat pigs and they deserve to be slaughtered."

A colorful caution, but remember that Jain made buckets at Microsoft and was worth $8 billion before InfoSpace tumbled in the dot-com crash.

Jain was sitting across from panelists Mark Ashida, managing director of OVP Venture Partners; Greg Gottesman, managing director of Madrona Venture Group; and Andy Dale, managing partner of Buerk Dale Victor.

Next to Jain was Raghav Kher, who also left Microsoft to start successful companies -- Rendition Networks and Seventymm, a Netflix-like service in India.

Kher gamely came to the defense of venture financing, saying it made sense for him.

Finally, the venture capitalists responded, with Gottesman taking the lead.

Gottesman objected to the antichrist reference, but said he agreed with some of what Jain was saying. Venture capital isn't for everyone, he explained, especially if an entrepreneur can go it alone and doesn't need cash flow.

"This is not something you go into lightly,'' he said.

Venture capital should be more for companies that need to really grow and pursue big markets, he said:

"Most companies shouldn't take venture capital," he said. "Our capital is expensive. It's preferred stock. We get it out first."

Gottesman's final advice: people should ask around for advice, since a lot of TiE members had worked with Madrona and other venture firms, but, "Please, don't call Naveen."

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November 7, 2007 1:03 PM

Selberg scoops: Microsoft, UW departures to Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

I need to pay more attention to the blog of Erik Selberg, who left Microsoft's search team in September to join

On Tuesday, Selberg wrote about how a friend on Microsoft's search team was escorted out of the building after deciding to join Google's Kirkland office. That led him to question why he received better treatment:

Other colleagues I knew from Microsoft that went to Google were shown the same treatment. So why was I shown the love and not my friend? Well, as near as I can tell, Microsoft doesn't want someone who has decided to leave for Google around so that other employees can ask all the obvious questions and think about going to Google themselves. Google is clearly the competition, and while it's OK to leave Microsoft and do something random (like work for Amazon), leaving to compete with Microsoft is an unforgivable offense, apparently up there with violating company policies.

Last Friday, he shared a chat he had with Yahoo's international search boss about why the company opted to locate in Bellevue rather than Seattle, and how the local team with work with Yahoo's mothership:

Microsoft isn't moving anytime soon, and Google opened up an office in Kirkland, also on the east side. So why not offer something different, like a nicer commute or better digs? He didn't know.

The second question also got a non-answer. He wasn't sure who else was going to be up in Seattle, so apart from having an office with a bunch of Yahoo! engineers, it wasn't clear that there'd be any synergy with the other teams. Seems... well, broken to me. Hey Yahoo!, is this really what's happening?

Selberg's Friday post also reported that Craig Chambers left the UW computer science department to lead Google's infrastructure engineering team in Fremont.

Chambers spent a sabbatical with Google last year and has been working there since the end of the summer, according to Ed Lazowska.

Two weeks ago Chambers was joined by Brian Bershad, another CSE professor, further boosting the search company's UW connections.

Is this some sort of payback from Larry and Sergey, who hatched Google while studying at the Gates Computer Science Building at Stanford?

Until mid-year, Bershad was also chief executive of Illumita, a virtualization company founded by a group of UW profs.

Selberg -- also a UW alum -- noted that Amazon is another option for big-company software jobs in Seattle, and it's "located in the heart of the I-District with much better locale and food!"

I'm looking forward to reading what he'll say about South Lake Union.

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November 7, 2007 10:39 AM

Protelus dubbed most promising startup, best pitch

Posted by Brier Dudley

Protelus, a Bellevue data-mining company you've probably never heard of, was deemed the most promising startup at a funding forum held Tuesday night by The Indus Entrepreneurs' Seattle chapter and the Harvard and Wharton schools of business.

The firm also won the event's "best pitch" award for the five-minute spiel by its president, Craig Chelius, who earlier co-founded Primus Knowledge Solutions.

Protelus beat out five other companies that presented to a panel of venture capitalists and startup veterans.

Protelus helps mortgage companies better monetize their customer data, charging them to capture and clean data.

Sales are expected to double this year to $1 million and the company expects to reach $68.4 million by 2010, if it's not already acquired by a big financial services company.

Meanwhile, it's looking for funding, beyond the $2,500 in prize money it took home last night, to expand sales and marketing.

A third prize, for "most innovative" company, went to SpringStar, a Woodinville company developing non-toxic pest control products.

SpringStar already sells such products as yellow jacket traps through Molbak's, Fred Meyer and other retailers, but panelists were intrigued by new technology that founder Michael Banfield called "bio-mimicry" because it uses "natural biological communication to repel and attract pests."

Dubbed the SpringStar Sonic System, the product is based on research into pheremones and "songs" bugs use to communicate. Banfield said it's "the iPod of pest control."

Banfield is raising $900,000 in series A funding that values the company at $2.7 million. He's expecting sales to rise from $1. 4 million to $20 million a year after the sonic system gets going, and predicts SingStar will be acquired by one of the big industry players.

Also presenting were:

-- JDL Digital Systems, a Bellevue company that has developed software for video surveillance systems it provides to government and businesses, particularly casinos. Chief Executive Victor Huang said the industry is fragmented and JDL's solutions are far easier to manage. He's expecting 50 casino deals next year to boost sales beyond its current $2 million.

Huang is trying to raise $1.5 million -- valuing the company at $6 million -- to invest in sales and marketing.

-- TeachStreet is a Seattle company aiming to connect people with instructors, replacing bulletin boards, catalogs and Craigslist ads people generally use now.

It sounds to me like a digital version of lifelong learning programs such as the UW's Experimental College, but TeachStreet has bigger amibitions. It's using vendors in India and the Philippines to scour the Internet and build directories of teachers in cities across the country.

In Seattle, the six-person company is building a Web site where instructors can post profiles that include recommendations from former students.

TeachStreet's chief executive, Dave Schappell, was formerly a director at, where he helped develop the marketplace platform. Its chief technology officer, Fred Sadaghiani, previously worked at Amazon and Zillow.

Schappell said TeachStreet has raised $550,000 so far, but he's looking for $1.75 million, which would give investors 25 percent of the company that he compared to eBay and Yelp.

-- CondoCompare is a Seattle company building a site for searching and listing condomium listings. Chief Executive Casey Sullivan plans to make money primarily from referral fees paid by real estate agents, but also from contextual ads.

Sullivan said the site is working with brokerages -- so far in Washington, Oregon and California -- so it can obtain MLS data feeds. Within three years it hopes to reach 150 markets, but expansion costs the company $20,000 to $50,000 per market so he's looking for funding.

-- Artemisia BioMedical is a Newcastle-based company developing anti-cancer drugs based on old malaria drugs, drawing on research at the University of Washington and Johns Hopkins University.

The company is working with artemisinin, a malaria drug that researchers in 1993 found can kill cancer cells. Targeted compounds based on the drug were developed in 2003 and 2004, and the company was founded in 2006.

It's now seeking $2 million for further development, an investment that would put the valuation of the company at $10 million, according to Senior Vice President Dilip Worah, formerly chief scientific officer at Nastech Pharmaceuticals. Artemisia's chief executive, Michael Kuran, co-founded Fulcrum Ventures and earlier was a ZymoGenetics manager.

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November 6, 2007 10:53 AM

More local Hulu connections

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few more tidbits about Hulu, the NBC-News Corp. video venture I wrote about on Monday:

In addition to using Adobe for its Flash player, Hulu's using a content publishing and delivery system from Seattle's thePlatform, a Comcast subsidiary that also works with NBC.

Hulu's not using Isilon technology. Chief Executive Jason Kilar said it's working with Akamai to store its content.

Internally, CTO Eric Feng -- an ex-Microsoft researcher -- opted for Windows Server 2003 and SQL for the back-end servers handling work such as reporting but there's no Microsoft technology on the Hulu site itself.

Most amazing of all is that Kilar was coherent when I interviewed him last week, a few days after Hulu's beta launch. Not just because of the launch, but because his third child had just arrived a week earlier.

Kilar's family has relocated to Los Angeles but they kept their Seattle house, on Queen Anne, in part so they have a base when coming up to ski and visit friends.

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November 5, 2007 5:39 PM

P2P warning: Limewire I.D. thief pleads guilty

Posted by Brier Dudley

A little reminder to be cautious when using P2P networks: Federal prosecutors announced today that Gregory Kopiloff, a 35-year-old Seattleite, pleaded guilty today to using networks such as Limewire to probe other people's computers and steal their financial information.

Kopiloff "admits he used file sharing programs to invade the computers of victims across the United States to get access to their personal information in tax returns, credit reports, bank statements and student financial aid applications,'' according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for Western Washington.

He used the information taken from more than 50 people to buy and resell more than $73,000 worth of merchandise, the release said.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 28. Mail fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the unauthorized access penalty is up to five yeras and $250k. Aggravated ID theft "mandates a two-year prison sentence to run consecutive to the prison time imposed on the underlying conviction,'' the release said.

Here's an AP writeup.

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November 5, 2007 5:20 PM

Question about archiving photos and memorabilia

Posted by Brier Dudley

A WWII veteran asked me today about the best way to store 50 to 100 gigs worth of photos and other memorabilia. He's wondering whether DVDs and portable hard drives will still be usable in 15 to 20 years.

My first thought was that he should do both: Dedicate a portable hard drive to storing this material, and put it on DVDs. The hard drive and the discs could go in a safe deposit box or something.

I also referred him to this great post on archival quality DVDs although it's a bit esoteric.

Although there are new disc formats emerging, such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD, I'm guessing DVD reading equipment will still be around for a long time. In the meantime, he'll have plenty of time to transfer the material from DVDs and hard-drives to whatever new standard takes hold.

Did I lead him astray? Is there any other technology he should consider?

(The new Microsoft-developed Windows Home Servers that finally went on sale today are an intriguing option for storing data safely, although I don't think of them as an archiving solution as much as a way to actively manage and share access to digital files.)

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November 5, 2007 10:48 AM

Google's mobile OS: Do you want an AdPhone?

Posted by Brier Dudley

So the Google-Microsoft rivalry entered a fascinating new phase, with Google launching a software stack for the fastest-growing category of computers in the coming decade -- the tiny ones that fit in your pocket.

Phone companies now have a great negotiating tool when dealing the established mobile operating system vendors, and Microsoft has a fire lit under it to accelerate work on its ultra-mobile PC platform.

Widget developers are probably thrilled -- because no doubt there will be an easy way to develop their applications for both Google's OpenSocial platform and Google's Open Handset platform -- although hard-core device and application developers are probably also fired up by the Sync software stack that Microsoft is talking up today in Barcelona.

But so far there's not much to get consumers excited. In fact some may be less than excited at the prospect of Google-powered phones. It will be quite a test of the cuddly, do-no-evil brand.

A few questions:

Just how open will this stack be? Is the Google mobile ad placement system an optional component? How about the end user agreement? Will a contract with Google, authorizing its ad delivery, be mandatory for everyone using or developing phones with this software?

Will consumers be excited about mobile phones developed by an enormous advertising company like Google?

The cost savings of Google's software won't matter to most phone buyers. They already expect mobile phones to be free or nearly free.

What people don't like, though, is the intrusion of advertising via telephones.

In fact they hate ads on their phones so much, the country has regulations against uninvited solicitations and federal services such as the do-not-call registry.

Telemarketers are prohibited from automatically pitching your phone. There are also some regulations against unwanted text messages from solicitors.

How does the spirit of those regulations jive with Google's plans for targeted advertising on mobile phones? Do people want geographically precise ads synced to the activities they're doing on their mobile phone?

That gets back to my question about the openness of the Google software stack. The user agreement will no doubt say that by using the software, you're authorizing the company to deliver ads to your phone.

Unless the software is truly dazzling and the cost savings really significant, that may really limit its appeal.

But maybe I've got it wrong and mobile ads are just inevitable. Phone companies are obviously thrilled by the prospects of Google-style advertising.

Resentment of advertising via phones may be a generational thing; the FCC's do-not-call regulations seem to appease mostly older people who particularly resent being harangued via the phone service they're supporting with a monthly rate.

Perhaps future generations of phone users won't care as much, although I still think most people consider the phone to be a personal device for private communication. This may change as we move from phones to mobile computing devices, but ads, especially targeted ones, diminish the sense of privacy.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if and how the FCC regulations adopt to phone ad delivery platforms such as the one Google rolled out today.

Until there's some kind of "opt-out" option for mobile device ads (don't hold your breath ... ) the onus will be on consumers to sort through the phone options and contracts and decide whether the convenience of Web applications on their phone is worth the privacy tradeoff.

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