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Brier Dudley's Blog

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

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May 31, 2008 1:53 PM

More Gray Tribute: Setting the benchmarks, and achieving immortality

Posted by Brier Dudley

BERKELEY, Calif. - The post-lunch session began with David DeWitt, a former University of Wisconsin professor who heads Microsoft's new Jim Gray Systems Lab in Madison that was announced last month.

DeWitt described how Gray developed the standard benchmarking approach for measuring the speed and economy of transaction processing systems.

DeWitt had actually developed a different benchmarking approach earlier, but Gray "told me I had it all wrong and did his own. This is how computer science works."

Gray's scheme appeared in an anonymous paper titled "A Measure of Transaction Processing Power" that was published in the Datamation trade magazine in 1985.

Gray's showed through: He worked hard to be sure it was published on April 1, and the last line was "There are lies, damn lies and then there are performance measures."

The beauty of Gray's approach was how simple it was, DeWitt explained: It basically mimics a banking transaction done by an ATM or a bank teller.

It launched the benchmarking race among computer system vendors (here's a 2002 story I wrote about TPC benchmarking and Microsoft's efforts) and established rules to avoid cheating, DeWitt said.

More importantly, the standardized measurements gave hardware and software companies more incentive to innovate and improve the performance of their systems.

"Transactions are cheap because Jim designed a benchmark that changed the industry,'' he said.

Next was Gray's friend and co-worker Gordon Bell, another San Francisco-based computing pioneer in Microsoft's research group.

Bell gave a funny and touching talk about ways that Gray could achieve immortality, through memorials, books, online avatars and by naming things such as new units of measurement after the man.

It's poignant because Gray already achieved a sort of immortality through his huge contributions to computer science and the generation of people he mentored.

"Then of course there's Gray matter - we've named a part of the brain after Jim,'' Bell said.

Gray's name could also be applied to algorithms, procedures, laws of computing or units of computing performance.

But the best may be a new paradigm for science that Gray was advocating late in his career, what Bell called the Gray paradigm for data exploration.

Science used to be empirical, describing natural phenomenon. Then in the last few hundred years it was theoretical, using models and generalization. In the last few decades computation has enabled scientists to simulate complex phenomena.

That's led to a new approach in recent years that further mixes computer science with other sciences, unifying theory, experiment and simulation. It involves huge amounts of data captured by instruments and simulation, software to process it and information or knowledge that's stored in computers.

In this new kind of science, "computer scientists really learn the scientists' science and become a co-partner or a twin working on science overall."

The next presentations were evidence of the success of this approach, with Gray at least: Cosmologist Alex Szalay related how they worked together to bring the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to the Web and Microsoft Research Curtis Wong demonstrated the Worldwide Telescope project that blends that sort of data to present a searchable, explorable 3D representation of space.

Then Ed Saade, who did sonar searches for Gray's boat, explained the approach and how the data collected was given to the state of California to help build its underwater maps that are being shared online with researchers and the public.

Finally Jim Bellingham from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, who was introduced to Gray by the UW's Ed Lazowska, showed how Gray helped the organization build tools to model, analyze and share its exploration of ocean data.

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May 31, 2008 1:16 PM

The Gray tribute shuttle

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's a good thing Alaska Air isn't charging for additional carryon brainpower.

The late Friday flight from Seattle to Oakland had its share of folks flying to the Jim Gray Tribute, including Microsoft's former SQL Server boss Paul Flessner and Technical Fellow Peter Spiro.

Fortunately there was a journalist onboard to keep the plane's IQ load in balance.

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May 31, 2008 1:02 PM

More Gray tribute: Background and links

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few links, if the Jim Gray tribute piqued your interest and you'd like to read more:

The Jim Gray tribute's Web site, with a link to webcasts of the presentations.

Microsoft Research has kept up Jim Gray's Web page listing his work, publications and other material.

A column I wrote shortly after he disappeared with some personal background.

Wired wrote a terrific story about the search last year.

On Friday the Los Angeles Times did a nice story advancing the tribute and focusing on his wife, Donna Carnes.

I did a shorter piece today on fundraising to honor Gray at Berkeley and the UW. Donations are also supporting the U.S. Coast Guard's San Francisco sector and the University of Minnesota's ambiguous loss program.

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May 31, 2008 12:16 PM

More Gray Tribute: Contributions to "life as we know it"

Posted by Brier Dudley

BERKELEY, Calif.: Technical sessions in the afternoon began with recollections by Gray's co-workers at IBM, where he worked from 1972 to 1980, and Tandem, a seminal Silicon Valley computer company.

Bruce Lindsay talked about working with Gray at IBM and Gray's monumental work on transaction processing.

"Online transactions today are key to life as we know it. If the online transactions systems stopped today you would be stuck in Berkeley until they started up again."

Lindsay went on to explain how crucial the technology is to financial systems - "credit reports, identity theft - all these things made possible. Overbooking - couldn't do that without transactions. No-fly list, brought to you by Jim Gray."

More seriously, the technology is "critical today in the developed world and increasingly in the developed world."

Accounts receivable, inventory and fulfillment all involve transactions processing, and the technology reduces recordkeeping costs and delays, reducing the cost of doing a transaction.

"If that expense can be reduced both the customer and provider can benefit,'' he explained, noting for example that ATM transaction costs have fallen from $5 to less than a cent.

Gray "refined the transaction concept and explained to us what its basic properties are, then he went on to show us how to do it."

He was already a legend when Tandem began trying to recruit him.

One factor in the company's favor may have been that Gray was driving 75 miles each way to work at IBM's San Jose lab. Another was that Tandem was a sort of playground for Gray, a small company where he could get involved in everything from hardware to middleware at a company focused on transaction processing.

It was audacious to recruit Gray, a star at the overwhelmingly dominant tech company of the day, but Jerry Held started trying in 1976.

"In 1980 my phone rings and it's Jim. Jim says I've decided to come to work at Tandem ... I said would you like to hear the financial offer? He said no, you can tell me when I get there next week,'' Held said.

"Clearly he made a lot of money in his career, he did well financially, but it was never about the money. He worked at four companies but it was never about the company - it was about moving the industry forward, working with great people."

During a break before lunch, members of the audience shared anecdotes.

One remembered being at a paper's presentation when a sandal-wearing man with long, stringy hair marched up the aisle and loudly said "That research has already been done... who reviewed this paper?"

The man told the presenter that it wasn't his fault, his issue was with whoever should have screened the work.

She asked who that man was, and of course it was Jim Gray.

Another Bay Area colleague recalled early days working with Gray at IBM in New York, where he went after graduating from Berkeley.

Gray didn't like the winters and asked to transfer to IBM's research lab in his native California. The boss said no, so Gray quit and drove across the country in his Volkswagen. In California, he went to the IBM lab, asked for a job and was hired.

Later, the friend from New York received an unsigned postcard from Gray with a picture of a sailboat in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Another person, who studied with Gray and recently served with him on the ACM review board, recalled being in meetings where there would be long, rancorous debates. Gray would sit quietly at the end of the table then start talking, and everyone would quiet down to listen.

"He would summarize everything we’d been saying in about three sentences. We'd all go, that's pretty obvious."

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May 31, 2008 11:00 AM

The Jim Gray Tribute: Microsoft perspective, "smartest guy in the world"

Posted by Brier Dudley

BERKELEY, Calif.: From Microsoft Chief Technical Officer David Vaskevitch's speech on Jim Gray:

"Around 1990 when I started to think about the idea of Microsoft getting into the enterprise space and the database industry a lot of people thought that was a crazy idea both inside Microsoft and moreso outside Microsoft ... I started asking around and this name came up over and over, Jim Gray. The interesting thing was the initial context in which it came up was, he was the one person who, no matter who I asked, everybody thought he was smarter."

Extending this out, "you'd always get back to, the smartest person in the world must be Jim Gray."

"Microsoft is populated by a lot of very smart people. The smater they are, generally the more antihuman they are. Usually they fall into this kind of solipstic world where the only things that exist are the things they're thinking about ... Jim was in the opposite direction."

Vaskevitch listed three dimensions of Gray's contributions.

The first and most obvious: "a lot of the core concepts that we take for granted in the database industry and even more broadly in the computer industry are concepts that Jim helped to create."

The second contribution was even larger - the organization of the industry, through connections made by Gray.

When Vaskevitch was trying to convince people to come to the remote wilds of Redmond to help Microsoft build its enterprise business, Gray was always a few steps ahead.

"Inevitably, I would call the person up - sometimes they would tell me they wanted to talk to Jim Gray. Usualy they had talked to Jim about the phone call I was going to make before I was even going to make it."

In terms of Gray's most famous contribution to computing:

"You could think of him as transcation coordinator - with people moving around industry ... he made sure people never got left in midflight."

Gray's amazing mentoring and networking, regardless of employers, made him the equivalent of "the heart and sould of an entire industry."

Third was Gray's personal skills, the way he listened, supported and connected people.

"I believe that Jim's most important contribution was the way he connected with people,'' he said.

Getting people to change their code can be a challenge, but Gray could get people to think about ways to make their work better.

"Jim's ability to make you feel that he really cared about your life because he really did care about your life .... his ability to have those kinds of personal relationships with so many of us, that to me really defines Jim."

Rick Rashid, Microsoft research senior vice president, said Gray "is the kind of person you'd want your child to grow up to be like."

Among Rashid's recollections were seeing Gray poke his head through a gap in the great wall of China and riding a toboggan down a mountain from a Buddhist temple.

"The reason we had a research group in San Fransisco was because of Jim. If Jim wanted to move to Monaco, we;d have a research group in Monaco. That wasn't actually a joke."

UW Professor Ed Lazowska said he thought he had a special relationship with Gray because he was constantly talking with him about all sorts of topics.

It turns out Lazowska wasn't alone.

"I thought I had a special relationship with Jim. What's astonishing is I didn't. What's special is Jim (who) had relationships like this with hundreds of people."

Other tidbits: Gray had different styles of mentoring - "he knew when to nurture and when to get out the hammer."

He took "enormous professional risks - he was a managers worst nightmare." Gray wanted to work on what he wanted to work on, and he was ready to quit the next day if he couldn't.

Microsoft Architect Pat Helland said he came to idolize Gray when he was 22 at a database startup in the late 1970s. Boning up on how to build a database management system, he came across Gray's literature.

"You were just enthralled to understand what he was saying and how clearly and crisply he was making you understand the things he knew."

A few years later Helland left to work at Tandem with Gray, who became his mentor.

"Jim always listened - listened and looked and pulled out of me what was in my life and my career and what were my dilemnas both personal and professional. As I would talk out my problems and he would gently say things ... I'd go forward full of energy and knowing how to do things."

Helland also shared Gray's rules for authoring papers:

1. The guy who types puts his name first.
2. It's easier to add a name (sharing authorship) than to deal with hurt feelings.

"That made a dynamic where there was only upside working with Jim ... I co-authored a paper with Jim and I wasn't even looking."

Helland closed with a quote:

"Jimi Hendrix once said knowledge speaks but wisdom listens. Jim Gray wrote and spoke an astonishing amount ... but even more so he listened more than he wrote and that fulfulled so much."

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May 31, 2008 9:11 AM

From the Jim Gray tribute: Searching the sea, coping with ambiguity and the Microsoft discount

Posted by Brier Dudley

BERKELEY, Calif: Several hundred friends and colleagues came for the first session of the Jim Gray tribute, a series of personal presentations by friends and colleagues, including top Microsoft architects Pat Helland and David Vaskevitch, UW Professor Ed Lazowska and Microsoft research boss, Rick Rashid.

Here are some excerpts:

Joe Hellerstein, UC Berkeley professor, recounted how he was finishing his PhD at Wisconsin and thinking about going to Berkeley. But he was intimidated about working in the shadows of "the two towering figures in the field, Jim Gray and Mike Stonebraker," who were both there at the time.

Gray, the first recipient of a Berkeley PhD in computer science, told him not to worry about being overshadowed. His advice:

"It's cooler in the shade."

Pauline Boss, a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, talked about "ambiguous loss" and how to accept and cope with his mysterious disappearance.

"It's because of the mystery that we honor rather than memorialize Jim Gray today,'' she said.

"The goal is not closure but rather moving forward despite unanswered questions - not an easy task in a culture of science and technology."

She referred to a 2005 paper co-authored by Gray that talked about the greatest research challenges involving approximate or probabilistic answers.

"There will always be a few problems that resist an absolute answer and the loss of Jim Gray appears to be one of them.

"The loss is so bizarre that the traditional grief and coping strategies simply don't work ... moving forward depends on developing more comfort with ambiguity ... the goal therefore is not closure but rather increased tolerance for ambiguity."

Mike Olson, Oracle vice president, described the search for Gray after he went missing in January 2007.

For five days, the Coast Guard sailed and flew over 132,000 square miles of ocean using airplanes, boats and helicopters. Volunteers spent three weeks, using satellite imagery that was much harder to use than you'd think if you're used to services like Google Earth.

The satellites returned spectral images. This led to images with a two-meter resolution; at that scale Gray's boat would be about two pixels long.

The primary lesson the amateurs learned: "If you are lost at sea, you really want the pros looking for you."

They also used low-tech methods, including flyers posted at marinas, asking people to be on the lookout for the 40-foot sailboat "Tenacious" and a 6 foot four inch, 63 year old gray haired man with a white beard, brown eyes and thick eyebrows.

They never found any wreckage and the search ended Feb. 16.

"Those three weeks were among the most intense and meaningful of my personal and professional life. I didn't like it but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world."

Next came Michael Harrison, professor at Berkeley, who knew Gray since they were students together at the school. He told several stories, including one about how Gray wanted to set up a chairmanship at Berkeley in Harrison's name.

Harrison, who was on the board of the San Francisco Opera, asked him to help that organization instead. In particular, the "software they were using for ticketing was absolutely impossible."

"So Jim actually solved the problem and here's how he did it: he and a friend who was also at Microsoft used their privileges as Microsoft employees to buy stuff at a discount. The opera ended up with $1 million worth of equipment to solve all their problems which actually cost the donors a lot less."

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May 29, 2008 11:14 AM

Scorched earth 3G iPhone reporting

Posted by Brier Dudley

The effort going into predicting the 3G iPhone release date is amazing. Today the intrepid army of 3GiP reporters is parsing Taiwanese chip supplier reports to gauge the initial shipment volumes.

The consensus, if you can't wait two weeks for Steve Jobs to speak at Apple's developer conference: The hallowed device may be delayed a bit, or the volume of units at launch may be lower than previously expected.

Continue reading this post ...


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May 28, 2008 3:45 PM

UW software for blind Web users wins Microsoft prize

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft is flying University of Washington student Jeffrey Bigham to Paris where he'll collect a grand prize in the Imagine Cup, a student programming contest sponsored by the company.

Bigham, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science, won for a project called WebAnyWhere. The Web-based screen reader helps blind people access the Web from almost any computer that can produce sound, without requiring expensive accessibility software. It basically reads Web pages aloud.

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May 28, 2008 1:38 PM

Gates to Ballmer at D6: Wake me when there's news

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's one possible caption for this image, captured by David Geller at the conference.

gates eyes.jpg

Geller said the Bill Gates-Steve Ballmer interview by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher had more beef than it seemed from afar. But it's hard for anyone to match the seminal Gates-Ballmer interview that Mark Leibovich did in 2000 for the Washington Post.

A few more shots from the Eyejot founder, that I took out of context and gave inappropriate captions:

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May 28, 2008 12:43 PM

Jobster's Jason Goldberg back in town ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

... but only temporarily, for a Thursday event to discuss startup strategies.

Goldberg left Jobster in December after a turbulent reorganization. Then he left Seattle for New York, where he's launching socialmedian, a "social news" venture being built mostly in India.

Thursday afternoon, he'll be at the Edgewater Hotel hosting an event for current and potential entrepreneurs to discuss "the issues, challenges and big decisions facing founders." Topics include fundraising, forming a founding team, strategic decisions and on-shore versus offshore development models.

He's charging $25 per head. Details and registration are at socialmedian.

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May 28, 2008 12:35 PM

AT&T's new regional wireless boss in Redmond

Posted by Brier Dudley

Glad AT&T still has some brass at its wireless offices in Redmond.

It announced Tuesday the promotion of Fred Devereux to president of wireless operations in the West, overseeing "all wireless financial and operational matters, including all company-owned retail stores, in a region that includes Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming."

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May 28, 2008 11:43 AM

SourceLabs adds Eclipse support

Posted by Brier Dudley

SourceLabs ought to get a bump from its latest move: The Seattle open-source development tools company added Eclipse to the list of supported projects.

That makes its testing tools and resource libraries available to 2 million Eclipse developers, although I wonder how many of those people are already using SourceLabs for their work on other open-source projects.

I didn't yet see Eclipse in the list of supported projects on SourceLabs' Web site, but a spokesman e-mailed me around midnight last night to say the support is now live.

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May 28, 2008 10:26 AM

Visible Technologies releases 2.0, names Microsoft and other key clients

Posted by Brier Dudley

A milestone today for the Pioneer Square Web analytics startup: It released version 2.0 of its TruCast software that companies can use to monitor and enage in blogs, forums and other online social media.

A screenshot:

TruCast Dashboard Summary.png

Visible never formally released version 1.0 of TruCast, but it's being used by clients and shown by the company. That makes today a sort of coming out party for a product that's expected to be a cornerstone of their business.

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May 27, 2008 5:14 PM

Facebook "Neighborhoods" app sold

Posted by Brier Dudley

I didn't realize that Saskatoon was a hotbed of software development, but that's where a Facebook real estate application was developed by Point2 Technologies.

Point2, a 100-person company that also has offices in Vancouver, B.C., is a big player in the real estate software industry, producing software for syndicating listings.

That platform was the basis for "Neighborhoods," an application that lets users learn about nearby users and learn about and share information about community events. (Sounds a little like Zillow's community tools; I wonder if the folks there are going to widgetize their stuff for social networks?)

Today Point2 announced that it's selling the "Neighborhood" application to Denver-based media publishing company Local Matters.

The unusual deal is actually more of a partnership, since Point2 will continue to power the application for Local Matters, which will handle the marketing. Financial details weren't disclosed.

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May 26, 2008 12:00 AM

Competing with Linux and other questions for Microsoft TV boss

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are a few more excerpts from the interview with Enrique Rodriguez, the Microsoft TV vice president, that didn't make it into the Q&A we ran today.

I also didn't do justice to his personal story. After he received an engineering degree in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1982, he became an engineer at an RCA factory in Mexico, working as a liaison with the headquarters in Indianopolis.

A few years later he was invited to work in Indianapolis, although in those early days of globalization he couldn't go directly.

"They said we won't transfer you but if you quit Friday and show up Monday in Indianapolis, I'm sure we could give you a job,'' he recalled.

Then RCA was sold to GE and then to Thomson, eventually bringing him to Paris where he ended up executive vice president.

But back to the interview.

Q: Can Microsoft change the way it sells this TV software - perhaps give away the software that's embedded in TVs, just so you can build a business with the broadcasters? You're competing with Linux on the embedded CE side, and not terribly well.

A: I think it's up to debate how well we are or are not competing. If you look at most of the really best in class platforms, they are riding on one version or another of our software, so I wouldn't say we're not competing well against Linux.

But the business mdoel of how to get software propagated and create an opportunity to establish a business, there's a lot of unknowns about it. One way - I don't think it's the way we're going to follow, but some of my competitors may follow that - one way of course is to give away the software on the client side and look to make a business on the service side. It's so early, frankly, it's all speculation at this point.

I like to believe there is value to software and we'll find a way to get recognized for the value of the software. The first step is, we've got to make the software valuable. The second step, we've got to find a way to go get recongized for it. I'm not too worried about finding a good business model - I think we can get there.

Q: How concerned are you about competition from the Sezmi TV service? With Phil Wiser involved, it seems like they'll try to be part of Sony's PlayStation4 or PlayStation 5.

A: "I with the competition was limited to just Philip Wiser. There is no exclusivity on the basic idea that software is going to change television. A few years ago you could be controversial by saying that; I think now it's a pretty accepted point. Another question is who is going to be in a position to write the best software, who has the best developer story."

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May 22, 2008 10:12 AM

Redmond's Dynamic Systems buys software firm

Posted by Brier Dudley

Dynamic Systems is bringing software development in-house with its acquisition of EDP Systems Services, a four-person Lynnwood company.

Dynamic Systems is a value-added reseller providing bar code equipment, systems and services to retailers, manufacturers and healthcare providers. It had worked with EDP off and on practically since the companies were founded, each in 1981, Dynamic's president, Alison Falco said.

EDP produced software for bar code applications such as inventory control and asset tracking. Customers include the U.S. military and fish processing plants in Alaska.

Falco EDP moved into Dynamic's Redmond offices, which now employs 14.

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May 21, 2008 4:14 PM

The Bill Gates giveaway spam is back, but this time it's real

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few times a year, I hear from someone asking if I know anything about Bill Gates handing out cash.

Not through his charitable foundation, but through a tantalizing e-mail the person has received about "Bill Gates sharing his fortune."

The e-mail -- bogus spam that has been around forever -- says all you have to do is forward the message and "within two weeks, Microsoft will contact you for your address and then send you a check."

"It's all marketing expense to him,'' it says in a version saved at the urban legends archive, Snopes.com.

For comparison, here are instructions from "cashback," the new scheme Microsoft unveiled today to lure people to use its Live Search service:

"On your first time using Live Search cashback, we will ask you for an email address so we can tell you how to quickly set up your free cashback account. ... Keep saving money each time you use Live Search cashback. Every time you make a qualifying purchase, we'll send you an email to confirm your Live Search cashback savings. When your cashback account reaches a balance of at least $5, you can claim your cold, hard cash."

It makes you wonder if desperate marketing executives in the Live group found inspiration in their inbox, in that old message about a Microsoft giveaway.

Either that, or they remembered the actual payout plan that Gates started talking up in 2005. From an interview he did back then with British tech magazine Computing:

"As search becomes competitive and people realize that other offerings are as good, or are even significantly better, there will be price competition,'' Gates said. "You will get some free content or a check, or some incentive to use a different search engine."

I guess every now and then, fairy tales do come true.

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May 21, 2008 3:34 PM

WildTangent hooks up with PopCap in gaming ad deal

Posted by Brier Dudley

Redmond casual gaming godfather Alex St. John made a big move to expand his territory today.

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May 21, 2008 12:00 AM

Talisma sold to Texas firm

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bellevue customer service software company Talisma has been sold to nGenera, an Austin, Texas-based enterprise software company that plans to further expand its presence in the area.

Financial terms weren't disclosed as part of the announcement today.

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May 20, 2008 1:41 PM

Mini review of the amazing Wii Fit: What's hot and what's not

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few thoughts on the Wii Fit, after several days testing Nintendo's summer blockbuster that goes on sale tomorrow.

The great:

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May 20, 2008 12:00 AM

Seattle backhaul shop TTM calls up $20 million

Posted by Brier Dudley

Telecom Transport Management was already in a good position, serving wireless companies building out their next-generation networks.

Today the Seattle company, with headquarters in the Fremont neighborhood, is announcing that it has raised $20 million to expand into new markets, bringing its total funding to $140 million.

The latest round came from Washington, D.C.-based Columbia Partners Private Capital.

TTM's president and chief executive, Mark Hamilton, is a former McCaw Cellular and AT&T executive. His press release comment on the funding:

"Columbia Partners' strong financial support during a time when the capital markets are strained is a validation of TTM's business,'' he said. "This debt facility along with our recently completed equity round provides TTM with the resources we need to expand our current networks and move into new markets where we identify opportunities with our customers."

TTM is currently managing and building wireless backhaul networks in Virginia, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, the release said.

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May 20, 2008 12:00 AM

Virtualized apps, from Seattle startup with Microsoft pedigree

Posted by Brier Dudley

Long before virtualization was the hottest thing going in enterprise software, software engineer Kenji Obata started a little company called Xenocode to earn some pizza money while in graduate school.

He had worked on SQL Server at Microsoft, starting as an intern in 1996, but left to get his Ph.D. from Berkeley in 2001.

Then his little side business took off, particularly a product virtualizing Microsoft's .Net framework, which is now used by more than 100,000 developers. He moved the venture to Seattle in 2006 after hiring several former co-workers from Microsoft.

"Pizza money turned into rent money and soon rent money was more than I was making at Microsoft," he said.

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May 19, 2008 11:20 AM

Ballmer's Yahoo cannonball washes over Wetpaint's splash

Posted by Brier Dudley

You've got to feel for little Web companies making their big announcements today, such as Wetpaint's "Injected" launch and funding deal I wrote about today.

It's nowhere near the scale of a Microsoft-Yahoo partnership, but it's a nice story for Wetpaint, which now has enough money and oomph to ride through the choppy conditions.

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May 16, 2008 10:05 AM

Amazon.com joins tech companies in China, Myanmar disaster relief

Posted by Brier Dudley

Along with Microsoft and other local organizations rallying to support Asian disasters, the Seattle ecommerce giant is donating premium real estate on its home page to solicit donations to the Red Cross disaster relief efforts.

Amazon's letting the Red Cross figure out how to allocate the donations between China and Myanmar.

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May 15, 2008 5:27 PM

Alex St. John at ION Game confab: Dim future for consoles, tips for online games

Posted by Brier Dudley

Of course. Alex St. John is in the online PC gaming business.

But the Wild Tangent chief executive made some interesting points about consoles in one of his trademark mythbusters keynotes that closed the ION Game Conference today.

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May 15, 2008 1:03 PM

Deal of the day: Laplink giving away $50 PCmover to celebrate anniversary

Posted by Brier Dudley

This is better than champagne: Bellevue-based Laplink is celebrating its 25th birthday by giving away its flagship product, PCmover, for 24 hours.

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May 14, 2008 4:32 PM

ION Game Conference: Grand Theft Auto IV "is the future"

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's according to Scott Jennings, lead designer at NCSoft.

During an ION Game Conference panel discussion on what online games will be like in 2013, Jennings said it will be like Hollywood with a limited number of blockbuster games that take $100 million and 1,000 people to develop.

"World of Warcraft" is the reference online blockbuster, but GTA is now setting expectations for quality and richness and "you know they're working on" an online version, he said.

"That is the future because GTA, more than WOW, is setting the benchmark for what people are going to expect in their next video game,'' he said.

Because so much money is riding on blockbusters, don't expect a lot of experimentation. Instead small "indie" games is where you'll find more creativity, similar to art house films vs. mainstream Hollywood fare, he said.

Other panelists said online gaming is going to go mainstream and the industry will become much more competitive, which will drive down development and operating costs for game companies. Other predictions included migration toward free play supported by microtransactions, a growing need for online community moderators and perhaps the emergence of some breakout games by hobbyist developers using new game development toolkits.

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May 14, 2008 1:16 PM

Sony gives pricing, more details of new family-friendly MMO

Posted by Brier Dudley

Sony's two-phase push to broaden the appeal of its massively multiplayer online games begins later this year with the release of "Free Realms," a game aimed primarily at boys and girls aged 9 to 14.

To put that in context, the average player of Sony Online Entertainment's games is 31 and 85 percent are male, the unit's president, John Smedley said during his keynote today at the ION Game conference in Seattle.

"If we're going to expand this market, this is something we believe is essential to change," he said.

A screenshot:

realms1.png

Continue reading this post ...


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May 14, 2008 9:35 AM

Gates brings journos to CEO Summit, so where's the coverage?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm not sure why Bill Gates brought so many A-list journalists this year to his annual shindig for business leaders to yack about the future of technology.

Charlie Rose, Tom Friedman, Tom Brokaw, Michael Kinsley and Maria Bartiromo are all mingling with the moneybags this year.

It used to be that Gates and Microsoft alone had enough star power to lure the biggest names in business.

Twelve years on, the CEO Summit is still drawing some household names, including Gates buddy Warren Buffett and former GE boss Jack Welch, although others may opt to get their Gates fix at Davos or the Wall Street Journal's "D" conference in a few weeks.

Given the crowd, it's always been a closed-door event, but Microsoft trickles out enough details to let people know that big names are coming to Redmond and dining on halibut or Copper River salmon at Bill's place in Medina.

The usual routine is that plebian journalists can watch a telecast of the opening speech that Gates presents at the event. Sometimes they'll bring a handful of executives out for a token panel discussion with reporters.

This year's news dollop suggests that the executives will be pitched on Microsoft's new advertising technology, more than mobile or PC computing. Instead of getting Tablet PCs, they'll get to play with various Surface computers, including the vertical ones that Microsoft's been showing since the start of the year.

But the big question is, if Microsoft's inviting select journalists behind the curtain, does that mean we'll finally get news coverage from inside the event?

Among the stories I'm waiting for: What do CEOs think about Microsoft's new technologies, the outlook on tech spending in the downturn, outsourcing as labor costs rise, executives' take on Vista vs. OS X and whether any of the other tycoons will follow Bill's path to philanthropy.

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May 14, 2008 12:00 AM

Zillow boss and ex-Expedia pal's new venture

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wonder if Rich Barton is going into the glazing business.

The Zillow chief executive and a group of fellow online travel veterans are running a "stealth" company called Glassdoor.com in Sausalito, Calif.

Glassdoor.com is being cagey about its mission and trickling out details, like today's announcement listing its governing board. I wish they'd just announce their intentions; these choreographed PR efforts to build anticipation are starting to feel dated and tiresome.

Barton started the company with Robert Hohman, a former Microsoft engineer and early Expedia team member who was most recently president of Expedia's Hotwire.com.

Joining their board are Erik Blachford, another former Expedia CEO who is currently leading TerraPass; TripAdvisor Chief Executive Stephen Kaufer; and Rusty Rueff, a former executive at Electronic Arts, PepsiCo and SNOCAP.

So, a travel entertainment company?

(If they plan to go international, they may bump heads with Able Structural Glazing, a British door and window company operating Glassdoor.co.uk....)

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May 13, 2008 3:44 PM

Google finally going for online gaming? Industry big says it's in the works

Posted by Brier Dudley

During his keynote speech at the ION Game Conference today in Seattle, Won-il Suh, vice president of Seoul-based Neowiz, talked about how the industry is becoming more global as game companies look abroad for new markets.

Asian game companies like his are looking to partner with game companies in the U.S., and they're also exploring opportunities in developing markets like Southeast Asia and even South America.

Suh said Neowiz is a 10-year-old game company operating in eight regions around the world. It has about 1,000 employees, up to 600,000 gamers playing at peak hours and expects sales this year of $230 million.

Then, a bit later, he slipped a potential bombshell into his speech:

Continue reading this post ...


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May 13, 2008 2:52 PM

Gladwell sets off Myhrvold vs. Techdirt, round 2 (or 3?)

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Bay Area tech blog is watchdogging the perpetual national press coverage of former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures, his Bellevue-based brainstorming/patent hoarding company.

A profile by Malcolm Gladwell in the May 12 issue of The New Yorker set off the latest round.

I wonder how many of the numerous comments on Techdirt debating whether Myhrvold's being a brilliant innovator or a greedy patent squatter came from Medina.

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May 13, 2008 9:13 AM

Amazon CTO on cloud computing, mainframe failure and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

One of Seattle's high priests of cloud computing, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, delivered a compelling sermon urging companies to use pay-as-you-go online computing power -- namely Amazon Web Services -- at OVP Venture Partners' annual technology summit today at the Fairmont Olympic hotel.

Vogels was probably speaking to the choir: Venture capitalists and their big investors are already enthusiastic about AWS and the opportunity for companies to build, test and run systems with lower capital costs.

But Vogels wasn't just pitching AWS as a platform for Web startups. He talked a lot about how big enterprises, even the federal government, have used the services for projects.

Exhibit A was Amazon itself, which turned to a services approach after its early systems maxed out and needed to handle seasonal spikes. The services approach also enabled teams to build new, differentiated products and not worry about common infrastructure issues.

A few quotes and factoids from his presentation:

Continue reading this post ...


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May 12, 2008 12:12 PM

More on "The Agency," Sony's upcoming shooting game, plus art

Posted by Brier Dudley

This is concept art for "The Agency," the new online shooting game coming out of Sony Online Entertainment's Bellevue studio, which I wrote about today.

AM_SpeedboatActionMomentLarge.jpg


I thought it might also represent the state of game industry recruiting, with studios across town hiring from the same limited pool of talent. But Matt Wilson, studio boss at Sony Online Entertainment in Bellevue, said it's actually collegial.

Even though they're all competitors, the studio managers all seem to know each other and keep in touch, even when they're poaching employees from each other.

Continue reading this post ...


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May 8, 2008 4:30 PM

Nintendo don and ex-Mariners owner Wiicher than ever

Posted by Brier Dudley

Soaring Wii sales boosted the net worth of Nintendo founder Hiroshi Yamauchi by $3 billion last year, according to a new Forbes list of the richest people in Japan.

The 80-year-old gaming magnate rose to first place, up from third, on the list with an estimated fortune of $7.8 billion, according to this Reuters report.

Yamauchi became a principal owner of the Mariners in 1992 but sold his stake in 2004 to Redmond-based Nintendo of America.

He still owns 10 percent of Nintendo, the shares of which have tripled since the Wii's launch.

(No wonder Steve Jobs is looking into a Wii-like remote that could make the Apple TV into a game console....)

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May 8, 2008 11:14 AM

Ohmigod! Celeb crazy Coolspotters launches, with Seattle funding

Posted by Brier Dudley

The latest Starwave spawn is Coolspotters, an outrageously materialistic online shopping/celebrity/social networking venture that could make a bundle for its Seattle investors.

Coolspotters is a site where fans can learn about and buy the stuff their favorite celebrities are purportedly using. Users can build profiles listing their favorite fans, and share and discuss fans and stuff with others obsessed about the same celebrities. It's like iLike for brand name stuff.

A cut from its home page:

coolspotters2.JPG

Here's how CEO and co-foudner Aaron LaBerge described it in the launch release today:

Continue reading this post ...


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May 8, 2008 10:54 AM

MySpace letting users' info roam

Posted by Brier Dudley

Finally, MySpace has announced the data portability project that its CTO, Aber Whitcomb, was talking up in March, when he was in Seattle for a developer conference hosted by the company's Pioneer Square engineering office.

The initial effort lets users share info like photos and friends with other networked sites like Yahoo, Twitter, eBay and MySpace corporate cousin Photobucket.

No wonder the Los Angeles-based News Corp. venture is hiring so many engineers up here, to build not only site features but cool tools for developers.

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May 8, 2008 9:48 AM

Free video game from UW: Wiggling and shaking for science

Posted by Brier Dudley

A group at the University of Washington developed a clever new way to get the public's help with the massive computing challenge of researching cures for conditions such as HIV and Alzheimer's.

They created a free, downloadable video game called FoldIt! that "turns protein folding into a competitive sport."

I was skeptical, too, but after I downloaded it and played for awhile, it became addictive. The game draws out any latent obsessive-compulsive disorder you may have, encouraging you to wiggle, shake and pull 3D proteins to "fix" their shapes. A screen grab:

foldit.JPG

Continue reading this post ...


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May 8, 2008 12:00 AM

Clearwire 2.0 boss on his big plans for Seattle, privacy and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

The blockbuster merger of Sprint's WiMax business into Clearwire, announced Wednesday, was negotiated in cities across the country.

But they may as well have done the deal in a Kirkland wine bar -- it was like a reunion of local wireless executives, coming back to McCawville.

Long before Dan Hesse started running Sprint, he was running Redmond-based AT&T Wireless, the former McCaw Cellular Communications.

When Hesse and Clearwire Chairman Craig McCaw decided to pursue WiMax together, McCaw called in his former general, John Stanton, to help his current lieutenant, Clearwire Chief Executive Ben Wolff, lead the merged company.

So it's no wonder the biggest beneficiary of the deal could end up being the Puget Sound region.

If Clearwire grows according to the plans these guys hashed out, the company will be huge, on the scale of the other major wireless companies the area has spawned.

Wolff told me that ultimately the company could "get to 20,000 or 30,000 employees" nationally.

"This is a testament to the ongoing connection that Seattle has to the wireless industry and certainly with us growing Clearwire in Seattle, that presence will increase fairly dramatically,’’ he said.

Headquarters will remain here, although it's likely to soon outgrow the Carillon Point offices where McCaw has launched a series of wireless companies.

Clearwire has about 2,000 employees now, including 350 to 400 at its Kirkland headquarters. Sprint has about 700 in its WiMax unit, including a research and development group in Herndon, Va.

Research will continue to grow in Herndon, but the exact distribution of employees hasn't been determine, Wolff said.

"What's really exciting for me is we've got what's going to be a large company that's going to be a major player changing the communications landscape again in the Seattle area,'' he said.

Clearwire partners Intel and Google could also co-locate some engineers at the company to develop their WiMax products, although they already have engineers in the area.

Wolff also clarified Stanton's stake in the new venture. After he agreed to serve on the board at the request of Wolff and McCaw, Stanton chose to invest $10 million.

Although Google gives Clearwire some Silicon Valley pixie dust, plus cash, I wonder if consumers will be concerned about subscribing to a broadband service embedded with Google technology for targeting ads based on their online activity.

Wolff said privacy is a top issue for Clearwire and consumers will have the choice of opting in or out of services.

"I think the privacy issues and how consumers view that is going to be our paramount concern, so you won't find us doing anything that causes customers to be concerned about how their private information is being handled,'' he said.

On the service, you'll find "consumers opting in to different offers and applications but that will be their choice rather than ours,'' he said.

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May 7, 2008 9:00 AM

Amazon's new mega campus: second biggest project in the U.S.

Posted by Brier Dudley

I guess Amazon.com still wants to get big, fast.

The company's decision to proceed on a huge new Seattle headquarters campus made the list of "Top Deals" in North America in 2007, compiled by Site Selection magazine ("the official publication of the Industrial Asset Management Council").

Continue reading this post ...


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May 6, 2008 11:26 AM

Marcelo's April startup ranking: Zillow still leads

Posted by Brier Dudley

This month Marcelo gets to note that his own venture, Sampa, is one of the fastest-gaining Seattle-area Web startups with a 17 point gain, to rank 30th.

From his introduction:

"The biggest drops this month were Likewise (down 87), TagCow (down 43) and Lilipip (down 40). The biggest gains come from EfuRa, Sampa, Inrix, OwnYourPhone and Sawggle, all moving 17 positions in the rank."

The top 10, based on his Seattle Startup Index compilation of traffic stats:

1. Zillow
2. 43 Things
3. iLike
4. Wetpaint
5. CarDomain
6. I Can Has Cheezburger?
7. BuddyTV
8. ActiveRain
9. PayScale
10. Faves (formerly BlueDot)

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May 6, 2008 9:18 AM

HTC's sparkly Touch Diamond smartphone

Posted by Brier Dudley

Taiwanese phone maker HTC, which has its U.S. headquarters in Bellevue, is making a splash with its new "Touch Diamond" phone unveiled today in London.

The Touch Diamond has a "3D" touch interface that will be compared to the iPhone.

But I wonder how soon we'll start taking multitouch interfaces for granted on high-end smartphones -- they'll all feel a little bit like the iPhone soon. Then we can start comparing other features and capabilities, like speed and battery life, or just argue about which phone looks cooler.

The Touch Diamond looks nice, if you like that angular look that you see on new Cadillacs:

htc1.jpg


Continue reading this post ...


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May 6, 2008 12:00 AM

Ex-Amazon VP launching "Web for seniors"

Posted by Brier Dudley

A Kirkland startup called BigScreenLive is formally launching a complete Web experience aimed at older adults and their families, especially people who have been too intimidated to go online or really dislike using the Web.

BSL2.jpg

Continue reading this post ...


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May 5, 2008 4:48 PM

More on T-Mobile's 3G launch, Seattle in October?

Posted by Brier Dudley

After spending nearly $7 billion building its 3G wireless network and waiting for government agencies to finally clear the spectrum it needed, T-Mobile USA today flipped the 3G switch in the New York market.

Continue reading this post ...


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May 5, 2008 2:44 PM

John L. Scott buys Bellevue Web real estate firm

Posted by Brier Dudley

Before we had Redfin, Zillow and Estately, a little company in Bellevue called Real Tech was building fancy Web tools to search, market and display online real estate listings.


Continue reading this post ...


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May 5, 2008 2:04 PM

Qwest hangs up on Sprint, calls in Verizon for wireless service

Posted by Brier Dudley

Qwest just announced that it's switching wireless partners, meaning that the cellphone service you order from Qwest will be provided by Verizon instead of Sprint starting this summer.

Continue reading this post ...


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May 5, 2008 12:07 PM

More details on Disney's Seattle history

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's column looked at how Paul Allen's early bet on Starwave led to Disney running its Internet group in Seattle.

Looking back, it seems Allen's investment in Starwave did more to build a tech industry cluster in Seattle -- around online media -- than his more focused effort to develop a biotech hub in South Lake Union.

Part of it is timing. Starwave caught a wave that was just rising, while the proliferation of biotech ventures crested before Allen finished developing most of the offices in the area.

Now Starwavers are managing or running other online ventures and Allen's South Lake Union development is full of condominiums and offices mostly rented by existing companies in other industries, including Microsoft, Group Health, Amazon.com and Tommy Bahama.

Continue reading this post ...


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May 3, 2008 5:11 PM

Microsoft tells Yahoo it's over: Ballmer's letter to Yang

Posted by Brier Dudley

Pardon the format -- straight from Microsoft -- but here's the statement and Steve Ballmer's letter to Jerry Yang calling it off. Or is it just a negotiating tactic?


REDMOND, Wash. -- May 3, 2008 -- Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) today announced that it has withdrawn its proposal to acquire Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO).

"We continue to believe that our proposed acquisition made sense for Microsoft, Yahoo! and the market as a whole. Our goal in pursuing a combination with Yahoo! was to provide greater choice and innovation in the marketplace and create real value for our respective stockholders and employees," said Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer of Microsoft.

"Despite our best efforts, including raising our bid by roughly $5 billion, Yahoo! has not moved toward accepting our offer. After careful consideration, we believe the economics demanded by Yahoo! do not make sense for us, and it is in the best interests of Microsoft stockholders, employees and other stakeholders to withdraw our proposal," said Ballmer.

"We have a talented team in place and a compelling plan to grow our business through innovative new services and strategic transactions with other business partners. While Yahoo! would have accelerated our strategy, I am confident that we can continue to move forward toward our goals," Ballmer said.

"We are investing heavily in new tools and Web experiences, we have dramatically improved our search performance and advertiser satisfaction, and we will continue to build our scale through organic growth and partnerships," said Kevin Johnson, Microsoft president for platforms and services.

Below is the text of the letter from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang.


May 3, 2008


Mr. Jerry Yang
CEO and Chief Yahoo
Yahoo! Inc.
701 First Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94089

Dear Jerry:

After over three months, we have reached the conclusion of the process regarding a possible combination of Microsoft and Yahoo!.

I first want to convey my personal thanks to you, your management team, and Yahoo!'s Board of Directors for your consideration of our proposal. I appreciate the time and attention all of you have given to this matter, and I especially appreciate the time that you have invested personally. I feel that our discussions this week have been particularly useful, providing me for the first time with real clarity on what is and is not possible.

I am disappointed that Yahoo! has not moved towards accepting our offer. I first called you with our offer on January 31 because I believed that a combination of our two companies would have created real value for our respective shareholders and would have provided consumers, publishers, and advertisers with greater innovation and choice in the marketplace. Our decision to offer a 62 percent premium at that time reflected the strength of these convictions.

In our conversations this week, we conveyed our willingness to raise our offer to $33.00 per share, reflecting again our belief in this collective opportunity. This increase would have added approximately another $5 billion of value to your shareholders, compared to the current value of our initial offer. It also would have reflected a premium of over 70 percent compared to the price at which your stock closed on January 31. Yet it has proven insufficient, as your final position insisted on Microsoft paying yet another $5 billion or more, or at least another $4 per share above our $33.00 offer.

Also, after giving this week's conversations further thought, it is clear to me that it is not sensible for Microsoft to take our offer directly to your shareholders. This approach would necessarily involve a protracted proxy contest and eventually an exchange offer. Our discussions with you have led us to conclude that, in the interim, you would take steps that would make Yahoo! undesirable as an acquisition for Microsoft.

We regard with particular concern your apparent planning to respond to a "hostile" bid by pursuing a new arrangement that would involve or lead to the outsourcing to Google of key paid Internet search terms offered by Yahoo! today. In our view, such an arrangement with the dominant search provider would make an acquisition of Yahoo! undesirable to us for a number of reasons:

-- First, it would fundamentally undermine Yahoo!'s own strategy and long-term viability by encouraging advertisers to use Google as opposed to your Panama paid search system. This would also fragment your search advertising and display advertising strategies and the ecosystem surrounding them. This would undermine the reliance on your display advertising business to fuel future growth.

-- Given this, it would impair Yahoo's ability to retain the talented engineers working on advertising systems that are important to our interest in a combination of our companies.

-- In addition, it would raise a host of regulatory and legal problems that no acquirer, including Microsoft, would want to inherit. Among other things, this would consolidate market share with the already-dominant paid search provider in a manner that would reduce competition and choice in the marketplace.

-- This would also effectively enable Google to set the prices for key search terms on both their and your search platforms and, in the process, raise prices charged to advertisers on Yahoo. In addition to whatever resulting legal problems, this seems unwise from a business perspective unless in fact one simply wishes to use this as a vehicle to exit the paid search business in favor of Google.

-- It could foreclose any chance of a combination with any other search provider that is not already relying on Google's search services.

Accordingly, your apparent plan to pursue such an arrangement in the event of a proxy contest or exchange offer leads me to the firm decision not to pursue such a path. Instead, I hereby formally withdraw Microsoft's proposal to acquire Yahoo!.

We will move forward and will continue to innovate and grow our business at Microsoft with the talented team we have in place and potentially through strategic transactions with other business partners.

I still believe even today that our offer remains the only alternative put forward that provides your stockholders full and fair value for their shares. By failing to reach an agreement with us, you and your stockholders have left significant value on the table.

But clearly a deal is not to be.

Thank you again for the time we have spent together discussing this.

Sincerely yours,

/s/ Steven A. Ballmer

Steven A. Ballmer

Chief Executive Officer

Microsoft Corporation

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May 2, 2008 1:35 PM

Ballmer's full take on Yahoo and Google: The meeting transcript

Posted by Brier Dudley

The whispering PR strategy around the Microsoft-Yahoo negotiations is obnoxious, but at least Microsoft's taking the high road and formally disclosing Steve Ballmer's semi-public comments.

Like the transcript it just filed with the SEC, disclosing comments he made during the internal employee meeting yesterday.

Here they are:

Continue reading this post ...


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May 1, 2008 12:00 AM

Ex-Clearwire exec, others launching bold new TV broadcasting service

Posted by Brier Dudley

This could be huge, if it doesn't confuse consumers who are already struggling to sort out their digital TV options.

A San Francisco-area startup called Sezmi today is unveiling its ambitious plans for a nationwide TV subscription service that will compete with cable, satellite and broadband TV services.

The hardware:

STBnAntenna_wJoesShows.jpg

Continue reading this post ...


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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.