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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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October 23, 2012 10:24 AM

Apple unveils thinner iMacs, new iPads, MacBook Pro

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple is trying to spoil the party in Seattle, announcing new PCs and a mini iPad ahead of Microsoft's launch of Windows 8 on Friday and Amazon.com's launch of its 10-inch Kindle Fire next month.

WIth the PC industry gearing up for a major refresh around Windows 8, Apple hopes hoping to lure buyers with new models of its desktop and portable computers. But while Apple's new hardware is gorgeous, it's also very expensive, which will limit its chances of taking over the desktop and laptop PC market that's still dominated by Microsoft.

A new version of the desktop iMac unveiled today is 80 percent thinner than the current model. Apple also is offering it with a hybrid hard drive -- combining a spinning hard drive with flash storage -- similar to what Windows PCs have been using to boost performance.

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(SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 23: Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller announcing the new iMac during the event at the historic California Theater on October 23, 2012 in San Jose, California. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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The base model iMac with an i5 processor, traditional hard drive and 21.5-inch display costs $1,299 and ships next month. The base 27-inch model is $1,799 and ships in December. They no longer have DVD drives. (Apple is livestreaming the event to users of iOS, and it's being blogged by Apple's selected group of reporters.)

Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro line by adding models with high resolutoin "Retina Display" technology. A 13-inch model with USB 3.0 ports, a Core i5 processor and 256 gigabytes of storage but no DVD drive starts at $1,699. A 15-inch model starts at $2,199.

The new version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro - the best-selling Mac - is 20 percent thinner (0.75 inches thick) and nearly a pound lighter, at 3.57 pounds.

Apple is aiming at Amazon.com with a new version of its iBooks store and reading app. Despite the hype of previous versions they failed to get much traction against Amazon's Kindle platform, which also runs on Apple devices.

Apple also is trying to deflect the new challenge of tablet computers running Microsoft's Windows RT software that will debut on Friday, including Surface models made by Microsoft.

Its biggest weapon here is an updated model of the iPad announced today -- its fourth-generation -- with the same exterior but a faster processor and wireless radios. It starts at $499 or $629 for a model that connects to wireless phone networks. The starting price of the previous-generation "iPad 2" remains at $399.

As widely expected, Apple also unveiled an entirely new, smaller iPad -- the iPad Mini with a 7.9-inch display -- that's a defensive move against the successful 7-inch Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus 7 tablet. It's about a fourth less heavy than the full-size iPad and has a slightly more squared-off design.

The iPad Mini is also less resolutionary than the bigger iPads, with less than HD 1024 by 768 resolution, but it still runs the same apps. Its case is 5.3 inches by 7.87 inches and 0.28 inches thick, and it weighs two-thirds of a pound.

Apple declined to compete on price, perhaps counting on its brand cachet and slightly bigger screen to lure buyers from competing pads in the space between smartphones and full-size tablets.

The iPad Mini will start at $329 -- which is $130 more than the starting Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7. The $329 model has 16 gigabytes of memory and Wi-Fi; a version that works on phone networks starts at $459. Wi-Fi versions ship starting Nov. 2.

Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs famously dismissed 7-inch tablets, saying they were destined to fail, but he's no longer running the company.

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(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Apple , Apps , Gadgets & products , Google , Microsoft , PCs , Tablets , Windows 8 , iPad |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

October 1, 2012 9:56 AM

Microsoft's visa plan: More needed

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

That's the gist of Microsoft's ambitious proposal to revamp U.S. immigration policies regulating the flow of foreign tech workers into the country.

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Microsoft wants the government to let companies bring in more skilled workers from overseas with special visas. It also wants the government to release more green cards that were allocated but unused.

To make this more palatable to a country suffering from widespread unemployment, Microsoft proposed fees of $10,000 to $15,000 that companies would pay for extra visas and green cards issued through the program.

Microsoft estimates this would raise $500 million a year, which could be earmarked for science and math education to better prepare students for tech industry jobs. That's tomorrow's payout for the fresh meat Microsoft wants today.

You have to give the company credit for floating a creative solution to one of the thornier political issues facing the country. But more has to be done to get Americans to accept the deal proposed by the crafty software giant.

Really, how many politicians will agree to fill jobs with more foreigners, when millions of Americans are struggling to find work?

A generation is entering the workforce with little hope of ever receiving the wages, job security and stable pensions that enabled their parents and grandparents to buy homes and send them to college.

At the same time, the country's future depends on its ability to continue being a font of creativity and innovation and a beacon of hope and opportunity for the rest of the world.

Building higher walls along the border isn't the solution. This is a nation of immigrants, and the recent waves built and lead some of its largest employers. The tech industry is full of examples.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Russia. Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer's father immigrated from Switzerland.

Then there's Steve Jobs - the late Apple co-founder and icon of American ingenuity, prosperity and business prowess. He was the son of a Syrian Muslim immigrant, put up for adoption and taken in by an Armenian family in California.

None of that is any solace to American workers who can't find work today. Especially those with technical skills or training that don't sync precisely with the thousands of job openings advertised by companies like Microsoft.

Also outraged by talk of a "talent shortage" that underlies Microsoft's visa proposal are smart, capable people whose careers were derailed by imperfect management systems or office politics.

Microsoft's "stack ranking" system, which evaluates employees on a curve, regularly empties seats, raising questions about just how critical the talent shortage is in Redmond.

It's hard to keep it in perspective.

While employees are gritting out their annual job evaluations and the unemployed are sending off their hundredth job application, a new crop of software developers is emerging from schools around the world.

We want it all. We want to help our neighbors. We also want Microsoft and other American tech companies to lure as many of the best and brightest as they can, so they work hard, build careers and invent the future here.

This is a tricky puzzle that has stymied Congress for years. It's not getting easier with both presidential candidates talking tough about foreign economic competition while pledging to create more jobs.

President Obama went so far as to block a Chinese company's purchase of four Oregon wind farms last week. Is he going to sign a bill allowing Chinese to take more American software jobs, just not our windmills?

To make its proposal fly, Microsoft and the tech industry need to offer more than just $500 million worth of math and science funding. Here are few ways they could make progress:

1. Create an online portal giving more details about what jobs can't be filled domestically. Tech companies need to be more transparent about this to prove m

ore visas are needed. They also need to show special visas aren't being used to fill jobs with lower-cost labor.

2. Use this reporting to create a system that helps government employment agencies and colleges better place job candidates. The data could also be used to focus education and retraining programs.

3. Use the $500 million in visa fees to invest in job retraining and placement services that address the current unemployment. Earmark a portion to retrain and place veterans, who could connect with programs such as Microsoft's Military Outreach to transition to private-sector jobs. This may not produce top-tier software developers -- some people have the gift, many don't. But it would be a faster way to offset the job importation and make extra visas more palatable.

4. Before tinkering with visas, boost K-12 and college funding by eliminating offshore tax havens the tech industry uses. Microsoft alone used these to trim its federal contribution by $7 billion since 2009, a Senate panel disclosed Sept. 20.

Microsoft is correct in saying tax law is too complex, enables these schemes and needs to be revised. But then the company turns around and suggests an elaborate new visa program.

(Don't get me started on Microsoft's tax breaks in Washington state, which is boosting computer -science programs but too broke for just about everything else.)

5. Link the call for additional visas with an equally bold call for broad tax reform, and a pledge to pay more taxes. That would provide more stable, continuous funding for education than unpredictable visa fees that will rise and fall with demand for foreign labor. It would also send the message that U.S. tech companies are doing everything they can to help their country.

As for the jobs at stake, the 40,000 new visas and green cards per year that Microsoft calls for won't make a dent in unemployment. But they could actually help improve the situation.

In August, there were 12.5 million people without jobs in the U.S. The 40,000 positions are equal to 0.32 percent of that population.

The 40,000 new jobs are more likely to reduce unemployment as the imported workers buy food, cars, clothes and housing during their stay. This is obvious to everyone in the bustling area around Microsoft's Overlake campus.

Even so, Microsoft's proposal is a hard sell, especially when you have 12.5 million jobless voters.

No matter what happens, Microsoft gets points for using its megaphone to put an important and sensitive issue on the table during the election season.

It may want to pay us Tuesday for extra visas today, but it's not being wimpy.

Comments | Category: Apple , Asia , Billionaire techies , Google , Microsoft , Public policy , Seattle , Steve Ballmer , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 17, 2012 9:40 AM

Google filling Kirkland campus, more growth planned

Posted by Brier Dudley

Fishing's still pretty good in Seattle, if you're trying to catch a software engineer.

Every month, it seems, another out-of-state tech company arrives on the shores of Lake Washington or Lake Union and throws out a line.

There's concern about whether there's enough fish in the pond, especially with demand for software engineers outpacing the output of college computer-science programs.

Both candidates for governor are pledging to improve the situation, and there are national efforts to boost science and technology education.

Yet the crisis hasn't slowed Google's double-digit growth in Kirkland, where I spent time last week with the new site director, Chee Chew. (shown here on the stairs in his building, in a photo by Steve Ringman of the Times)

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"We've been growing very, very aggressively so there's no question that we are finding talent," he said. "We've had pretty good success hiring here."

Google's presence in Kirkland has tripled since Chew arrived there in 2007, after a 14-year run at Microsoft that began with his work on the Windows 95 taskbar.

In 2009, Google moved into a three-building complex on Kirkland's Sixth Street that's now almost full. Among the site's projects are Google+ Hangouts, Google Talk and elements of the Chrome browser, including the Chrome Web Store.

Combined with a sister office next to Seattle's Fremont Bridge, Google now has about 1,000 employees in the area. It has Google's highest concentration of engineers - higher even than the headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Last year Google hired about 70 people here and so far this year it's hired more than 120, with more to come.

Chew works in an office space shared -- by choice -- with 14 people. Don't fret about the Googlers' working conditions, though.

They may be getting crowded but they're not giving up Googley touches, like expansive living rooms amid the office clusters, with pool tables and funky chairs hanging from the ceiling.

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Last year Google built out the third Kirkland building with a transportation theme. The lobby has an espresso bar designed to look like a cruise ship, and its cafeteria has bench seats like those on a ferryboat and a green and white wall with portholes.

Upstairs are two motorboats, moored at wooden docks built onto the floor. The boats are used as meeting rooms and equipped with power outlets for laptops. They were installed as a memorial to Steve Lacey, a Google engineer killed by a drunken driver last year in Kirkland.

Google now is remodeling the last unused spaces in another building on the campus, which won't be empty for long.

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"I don't think we have all that much time left before we're at capacity at our current growth rate. I'd give us a couple of years," Chew said.

The 42-year-old MIT graduate and user-interface expert became site director two months ago. Chew's predecessor, Scott Silver, who came to Google from Amazon.com, transferred to Mountain View, Calif., the company headquarters.

Google already is looking around for the next place to expand in the area. Chew said the general plan is to continue straddling the lake, providing offices close to where engineers live "and have as few people cross the bridge as possible."

"There aren't a whole lot of available spaces for us to grow and so we're looking all over the place," he said. "We don't have a specific plan of where we're going to go at this point, but we're casting our net pretty wide."

Google has lost some engineers to Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies that have set up Seattle engineering offices in recent years. Just as Google did in 2004, when Microsoft was the best fishing hole.

But Chew isn't too concerned about poaching by newcomers. He said the Valley is a good example of how innovation thrives in a place where people move around and have choices of companies with different cultures.

"A little attrition is OK," he said. "Another way I'd look at it is this way: I think it's actually healthy and a great thing for our community."

If you're recruiting someone from another state, "he's not only looking at a company like Google, he's also looking at what's the environment like?" Chew explained.

"The more opportunities that we have here the more enticing it is to draw talent to the region," he said. "That actually helps all of us."

While Washington frets about whether its hatching enough engineers to replenish the pond, word of Chew's success is spreading in areas where the fishing's tougher.

"Engineering recruiting is by far the hardest problem startups (or large companies) face today, and it is easier in Seattle than in the Bay Area, since the number of relevant startups competing for the talent is much smaller," said Hadi Partovi, a former Microsoft manager and startup veteran who helped Facebook establish its Seattle engineering office in 2010.

Yet there are still not enough fish to go around, Partovi said, especially when you look broadly at the projected growth in U.S. software jobs over the next decade. If the education system can't produce enough programmers to fill the jobs, they'll be filled by immigrants or shipped overseas, he said.

That outcome may not be as bad as it sounds. This is a better place with more jobs and opportunity because of the contributions made by people like Chew, who immigrated as a child from Malaysia, and Partovi, who is of Iranian descent.

I'm more concerned about the new immigrants from California.

All the hiring and investment by companies setting up satellite engineering offices in Seattle is fantastic. We're the envy of cities around the world. I just hope we keep spawning locally based tech companies as well.

(Here's a gallery of images taken inside the transportation-themed building at Google's Kirkland campus and a newly remodeled floor with a Seattle music theme. Below is a picture I took of the campus that made me wonder why more Googlers don't move here from Mountain View ...)

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Comments | Category: Chrome OS , Education , Facebook , Google , Microsoft , Seattle , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 10, 2012 9:43 AM

Thoughts on Amazon's new Kindles: Ads, phones and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Here are six more thoughts on Amazon.com's Kindle launch -- one for every new model the ambitious Seattle tech giant introduced at Thursday's launch gala inside an airplane hangar here.

Don't dismiss the rumors of a Kindle smartphone just yet.

It's still early days for Amazon's Kindle business, which could release phones and other wireless devices next.

Chief Executive Jeff Bezos dropped a huge clue when he described in detail the new 4G LTE modem Amazon developed for its Kindle devices.

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The modem is just 2.2 millimeters -- thin enough for a phone -- and works with multiple bands of 4G LTE, not just those used by AT&T.

Would Amazon invest in a modem like that and then use it in a single device with a single carrier? I don't think so, either.

Dave Limp, the vice president in charge of Amazon's Kindle business, told me the modem will work with other carriers but "we're starting with AT&T."

"We had a lot of things going on, so we thought we'd simplify and start first and foremost with AT&T," he said.

So does that mean the modem also will be used to make a phone? Limp sidestepped my question but didn't say no.

"If I had a dollar for every different rumor that came out over the last two weeks ... ," he said. "I'm flattered that people are paying attention, but I think the six products we announced today is pretty good. We're off to a good start."

Amazon's new Kindles may challenge the Apple iPad, but Google's a closer competitor.

Both Google and Amazon are building devices to draw people further into their online services, where the real money and customer connections are made.

The LTE service offered with the upper-end Kindle Fire HD reminds me of the wireless service bundled with Google's Chrome laptops.

Both Chrome and Kindle devices are built around online services. Connecting has to be cheap and easy to get people to embrace the concept. Google worked with Verizon Wireless to provide Chrome laptop users with 100 megabytes of free wireless access per month for two years, with additional data available for purchase a la carte.

Amazon worked with AT&T to provide 250 megabytes per month -- plus 20 gigabytes of online storage -- for $50 per year.

It's not as revolutionary as the free 3G wireless bundled with some Kindle e-readers, but it's an interesting new wireless option.

For data-hungry users, 250 megabytes seems pitiful. It's not enough to watch a single high-def movie. But it's probably fine if you mostly use the device at home or places with free Wi-Fi and want LTE service to occasionally check mail, maps or websites while on the go.

From the Kindle, you can sign up for additional data plans -- 3 gigs a month for $30, or 5 gigs for $50. Or AT&T will happily add the device to one of its new shared data plans for customers using multiple devices.

I'll bet more of these cheap-but-limited cloud-access plans are coming. Perhaps Microsoft will be next, offering access and cloud-storage bundles with Windows 8 systems.

Amazon doesn't seem too concerned about a nasty patent fight with Apple.

Apple is busy waging war on hardware companies using Google's Android software. The Kindle Fire line uses Android -- version 4.0, heavily modified -- but Amazon apparently hasn't been put on notice.

This is what Limp said when I asked if he expected a patent suit from Apple:

"We don't comment on unknown things."

All the new Kindles have ads by default.

Instead of selling versions of the Kindle with and without ads, at different prices, Amazon decided to have all new models display ads by default. Ads can be permanently removed by paying an extra $15 on Fire models or $20 on the black-and-white Kindles.

Amazon's stance evolved over the weekend. For a time it was going to make ads mandatory on the new Fires, but it decided Saturday to let buyers opt out, for a fee.

Amazon is reaching beyond consumers, aiming the Kindle Fire at business customers, too.

Company executives didn't push this last week because it could cloud perceptions of the device, but they didn't deny it's a priority.

"We've got a great new mail application with best-in-class Exchange integration. We have a new calendar application, we have a new contacts application," said Peter Larsen, vice president of Amazon's Kindle tablet business.

"We also worked with third parties such as Cisco to make sure that their VPN [virtual private network] client is ready and waiting in our app store. Those are some examples of how we're making it better for enterprise."

There actually was a business reason for Amazon unveiling its new Kindles in a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport.

Larsen told a Los Angeles Times reporter that the company wanted to change things up. Previous launches were in New York, the hub of book publishing.

The new tablets "are really about entertainment -- movies, apps, games, TV shows," he said, and L.A. is still the entertainment capital of the world.

That, or somebody at Amazon received a half-price coupon for hangar rental on a Kindle "with offers."

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Here's Amazon's video of its Kindle press conference last week:

Comments | Category: 4G , AT&T , Amazon.com , Android , Apple , Billionaire techies , Chrome OS , Gadgets & products , Google , Kindle , Tablets , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 21, 2012 10:29 AM

Review: Sprint HTC Evo 4G LTE jumps gun

Posted by Brier Dudley

Carrying a Sprint Evo phone used to make you feel special, in a geeky way.

It was the first true 4G wireless phones when it debuted in 2010, showcasing the Clearwire-powered WiMax network.

With a huge screen, sleek black case and powerful processor, the Evo was the baddest phone on the block. As long as the battery held out.

Now Sprint's releasing a more powerful version that I've been testing, the HTC Evo 4G LTE.

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You feel special carrying this Evo, too, but for different reasons.

For one thing, it's contraband.

Imports of the new Evo were blocked this month by U.S. Customs, delaying its May 18 launch. The phones are being reviewed to see if they comply with a court ruling in a patent spat between Apple and HTC.

The Evo -- and an HTC One phone for AT&T that's also held up -- are casualties of Steve Jobs' going "thermonuclear" on Google's Android software.

I think the late Mr. Jobs is doing Sprint customers a favor by delaying the Evo's release.

The Evo's biggest selling point is that it uses fast, new 4G LTE network technology. LTE is becoming the new standard for smartphones in the U.S. and soon every major network will offer it.

Sprint plans to have LTE across its network in 2013.

The problem is, Sprint doesn't yet offer LTE coverage anywhere. It's promising coverage by "midyear" in six cities -- Dallas, Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, San Antonio, Kansas City -- but won't say where it's coming next.

Yet it began selling LTE phones in April.

These phones also work on Sprint's 3G network, which is being upgraded, but there's no comparison to LTE speeds. Current LTE phones also won't work with the LTE capacity-boosting service Clearwire is providing Sprint next year.

This is like selling color TVs limited to black and white content. It's infuriating if you're already used to the newer technology.

I began testing the Evo the day President Obama was in town. Downloads were so slow I wondered if the Secret Service had jammed the network.

I tried watching a high-def YouTube trailer for "The Expendables 2." It was maddeningly slow, so I tried it on the free Wi-Fi at a McDonald's. It still froze and buffered more than a dozen times.

I tried the same video on the bus ride home, over Sprint's 3G network. The sound of gunshots roared out of the Evo's "Beats" audio system so I pressed the volume button, and the phone completely froze.

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After a reboot, the video "loading" icon spun for another mile. Finally it began playing as I stepped off the bus, then paused to buffer 25 seconds later.

Network aside, I found the Evo to be a nice phone with an 8 megapixel camera, good call quality and far better battery life than the 2010 Evo.

Despite a massive 4.7-inch display, the $200 Evo feels light and easy to hold.

From the front, the case is plain but handsome. The back has an odd combination of shiny and matte plastic, divided by a red aluminum kickstand. It's not as striking as the original Evo or as svelte as the HTC One series (T-Mobile's One at left).

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The first Evo's battery barely made it past lunchtime. I could use the new one lightly for well over a day without recharging. Sprint claims 7.5 hours of talk time, but the battery is "embedded" and can't be replaced by users.

There are many layers of capability in the Evo, which runs the latest "Ice Cream Sandwich" version of Android.

Especially prominent is an assortment of preloaded media apps. This profusion of digital storefronts is a little confusing.

Google's "Play" store and service get a home-screen icon and appear in the corner when you scroll through multiple screens filled with apps. "Play Movies" and "Play Music" also link to Google services. "Music" opens a folder with other music apps and "Watch" launches HTC's video store.

Another app, called "Media Share," is designed to connect the phone to a Wi-Fi network and share media files. I thought it would be cool to rent a movie from HTC and play it back through my home network, but I couldn't connect the phone. This was probably a user error, but it should be easier.

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The Evo also has the ballyhooed Google Wallet and NFC capability. Wallet lets you load credit-card info, which is permanently linked to your Google account. Wallet also stores retail-loyalty cards, and Google will use it to send you coupons and offers.

With near-field communications hardware, you can wave the phone near special credit-card readers at some stores to make a payment.

That may appeal to some, but to me the convenience isn't worth giving Google my credit information. It's like giving Cookie Monster keys to the Keebler factory. If Google wants that access, it should provide a free phone and wireless service in return.

Others may also be excited to have a truly next generation phone like the HTC Evo 4G LTE.

It's a fine phone, but users will be paying $80 per month to use it on a last-generation network for a significant part of their two-year contract.

Here are the phone's specs, via HTC:

Network: LTE (Band 25) and CDMA 1xRTT EVDO Rel. 0, EVDO Rev. A
Dimensions: 5.31" (L) x 2.72" (W) x 0.35" (T)
Keyboard/Form Factor: Virtual QWERTY
Weight: 4.73 ounces
Operating System: Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with HTC Sense
Display: 4.7-inch 1280x720 HD with IPS technology (In Plane Switching); Capacitive touch screen
Battery: 2000 mAh
Camera: (Main): 8MP color CMOS with auto focus; (Front): 1.3MP color CMOS Front Camera; Back Side-Illuminated (BSI Sensor); HTC ImageChip
Memory: 1GB RAM, 16GB ROM, microSDHC compatible
GPS: GPS/AGPS
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0+, 3.5mm Stereo audio jack, Micro USB connector with MHL, NFC, WiFi: IEEE 802.11 A,B,G,N
Processor: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon Qualcomm MSM8960

Here's a photo taken with the HTC Evo 4G LTE, of the site of Amazon.com's forthcoming office towers:

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Comments | Category: 4G , AT&T , Android , Apps , Gadgets & products , Google , HTC , Phones , Sprint , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 2, 2012 6:00 AM

Kenmore teen finalist in Google doodle contest

Posted by Brier Dudley

Samantha Carey, a ninth-grader at Northshore Junior High, today was named one of 50 state winners in the annual Doodle 4 Google contest in which students across the country compete to have their doodle grace the search giant's home page.

Carey, 14, was among 114,000 K-12 students who participated in this year's contest with the theme "If I could travel in time, I'd visit ..." She submitted a chiaroscuro image of a sort of time machine (below) with the title "Tick Tock Oil the Clock."

Her doodle will be displayed at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle this summer and in a special exhibit at the New York Public Library. She also wins a trip to Google's New York office where the final winner will be announced May 17.

Celebrities helped Google select the state winners. Starting today a public, online vote will choose five national finalists and then Google will choose the final winner, whose art will be shown on Google's home page May 18.

Voting is done here at a special site displaying all the finalists.

The national winner will also have their art appear on a special edition box of Crayola crayons and receive a $30,000 college scholarship and $50,000 technology grant for their school.

Judges in the fifth Doodle 4 Google contest included singers Katy Perry and Jordin Sparks and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, creator and executive producer of the show "Phineas and Ferb."

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UPDATE: Google also announced the recipients of its 2012 Anita Borg Memorial Scholarships. Among the 25 U.S. winners are three in the Northwest: Jenny Abrahamson and Nicola Dell at the University of Washington and Hannah Adams at Oregon State University.

Here are Washington doodle entries that were finalists at the state level; the Eastside had a particularly strong showing:

Redmond's Kaden D., age 7, "Our Family Vacation in Hawaii":

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Bellevue's Jahnvi B., age 10, "Yankee Doodle":

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Sammamish's Clara T., age 12, "Ancient China":

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Silverlake's Heidi R., age 18, "America: as it once was":

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

April 25, 2012 11:22 AM

Seattle's stake in space mines

Posted by Brier Dudley

This time around, the prospectors in dungarees arrived in jets, instead of a steamship.

But they brought Seattle the same message: There's a ton of gold to be had in the new frontier, and the rush is on.

Instead of the Klondike, the big money now is in asteroids floating nearby, just waiting for adventurous miners who can get their hands on the right tools and transportation.

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Planetary Resources -- the space-mining venture that surfaced Tuesday -- claims there are tens of billions of dollars' worth of precious material just waiting to be scooped up by swarms of robotic mining satellites it will assemble in Bellevue.

It's a fantastic and thrilling story, as inspiring today as the gold rush was in late 1890s, after a dreary recession and series of bank failures. And once again Seattle just happens to be the gateway to the gold fields.

That means that even if the prospectors return empty-handed -- which they admit is a real possibility -- this region still would be their outfitter and home port. It also builds on the cluster of bleeding-edge space ventures in Boeing's shadow funded by local tech billionaires.

Planetary Resources' president, former NASA Mars mission leader Chris Lewicki, said Seattle is turning into the "Silicon Valley of space."

Who knows where this will lead?

Charles Simonyi, the Medina software pioneer and two-time space traveler backing the company (below), said space-resource extraction is "an enabling technology" similar to the personal computer.

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"Nobody could predict what it would be used for -- from entertainment to business, to science, to learning ... everything is transformed," he said.

So will Planetary Resources be the next IBM?

"This will be IBM 100 years from now, but the sizes we are talking about at that time will be truly astronomical," Simonyi said.

There may be opportunity for the commoners to join the handful of billionaire investors disclosed Tuesday. Co-founder Peter Diamandis told me that Planetary Resources may have a public offering of its shares eventually.

"Maybe, maybe," he said. "We're still early on -- we were not planning to announce the company in the first place but we decided we would ... to make it easier to find the best engineers in the world."

Word was also leaking out, and it's easier to line up partnerships "when you're out in the open," he said.

That helps explain the promotional air of Tuesday's news conference.

Whether or not the company offers stock, it will need broad public support.

Before it begins working on asteroids later in the decade -- scooping up platinum and extracting water with solar panels and perhaps nuclear reactors -- the company needs the United States to back its plan and policies supporting its business.

Diamandis said he went through the same thing in 1996, when he announced the Ansari X Prize to spur private spaceflight.

There were no guidelines for such things "so we had to work with the FAA and the White House to create the rule and regulations to offer private spaceflight," he said, adding that Planetary Resources will do the same thing.

"I think ultimately the rules will be very similar. If you start to perfect the resources, you'll be able to own them," he said.

"Does someone own a planet? No. Does someone own a rock they might take off a planet? Sure. Where's the in-between? We'll find out."

This is another similarity with the personal-computer industry.

The biggest winner in that gold rush was Microsoft because it did more than see the future and invest early in the technology.

It also shaped licensing rules and intellectual-property protections for software.

Perhaps these new prospectors came to Seattle to equip themselves with more than aerospace and engineering talent -- they need lawyers, as well.

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October 10, 2011 9:59 AM

One Bus Away extended, for now, with Googler help

Posted by Brier Dudley

Bus riders in the greater Seattle area have a friend in Switzerland.

That would be Brian Ferris, the University of Washington computer-science student who graduated in the summer and now works for Google, in Zurich. (He's pictured below in his UW office in May.)

Ferris built and ran One Bus Away, a collection of phone apps that inform riders when buses are expected to arrive at their stop, using data shared by transit agencies.

His hobby morphed into a Ph.D. project and a job with Google's Zurich office, where the search giant does much of its mapping and navigation work.

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That was great for Ferris and Google, but it left One Bus Away's users in limbo. They continue to use the service more than 50,000 times a week, accessing it via smartphones, browsers and a dial-in system at 206-456-0609.

Fortunately, the UW has continued to run the system -- on servers in the Computer Science & Engineering Department -- while the school and regional transit agencies hashed out a plan.

It could have gotten sticky earlier this month. King County Metro did a major restructuring of its network Oct. 1, changing dozens of routes, adding a new rapid line and rerouting others to deal with the Alaskan Way Viaduct project.

Those changes introduced glitches in One Bus Away that needed to be fixed, even though the agencies were still negotiating who would pick up the tab for the service.

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So Ferris went ahead and updated the system himself -- just as he had for years at the UW -- except this time he did it from Zurich.

"He's not getting paid for it. He's just doing it because he believes in it," said Alan Borning, a UW computer-science professor who worked with Ferris on transit information research.

A slightly longer-term solution will be announced soon, perhaps in the next few days.

Metro, Sound Transit and Pierce Transit are working with the UW to fund One Bus Away for a year. Funding will enable the UW to hire someone to manage and update the service.

"We wanted to keep it going," said De Meyers, a Sound Transit information technology manager who is researching and developing rider-information systems.

It's unclear what will happen beyond the one-year contract, but Seattle-area agencies are apparently interested in a similar system being developed by a group in New York.

Called Open Trip Planner (OTP), it's an open-source project that started in 2009 and drew in part on the work that Ferris did at the UW.

The OTP software is freely shared, but several groups charge agencies to customize, host and support the system. OTP is being tested in Portland, where the TriMet transit agency helped develop the system.

In July, OTP held a user meeting in Portland attended by Meyers, another Sound Transit representative and a King County Metro manager, according to the group's attendance list.

An OTP presentation on its website also lists Sound Transit and King County as "prospective users" having "early conversations."

So is One Bus Away simply being extended until OTP is fully up and running?

"We don't know really right now," Meyers said, adding that "we're still in the assessment phase."

Meanwhile, Borning and his students may continue to use One Bus Away as a platform for research purposes.

One Bus Away users may also be asked to help out.

Borning envisions a sort of crowd-sourcing approach. People with knowledge of particular routes could become "transit ambassadors" and help run the system.

(That would be a cousin to a crowd-sourced voters guide -- at livingvotersguide.org -- that he and students are developing.)

Demand for One Bus Away continues, and it's likely to grow over the next few years as massive road projects strangle Seattle-area traffic and put more pressure on transit agencies.

The system is also uniquely accessible, enabling even basic phones to access the same information as fancy smartphones.

Crowd-sourcing may help keep the service going, Borning said.

"On the other hand," he added, "I don't have another Brian Ferris who can put in 10- or 20-hours a week."

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September 7, 2011 10:13 AM

Droid Bionic, dual-core LTE phone: Better, stronger, faster?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wonder if it cost Motorola $6 million to build the Droid Bionic, which raises the bar for smartphones when Verizon Wireless begins selling it Thursday.

The specs suggest that it really is better, stronger and faster than the Droid was before.
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The Bionic is Verizon's first dual-core phone that runs on its LTE mobile broadband network. Verizon says users should see 5 to 12 Megabit per second download speeds and 2 to 5 Mbps uploads.

The Droid has a 4.3-inch Gorilla Glass screen, 8 megapixel camera with 1080p video capture, front-facing camera for video chat and HDMI out for playing 1080p videos on a larger display.

Inside there are dual-core 1 Gigahertz processors, 1 gigabyte of RAM and 32 gigs of memory, including a 16 gig memory card.

It runs the "Gingerbread" version of Google's Android software - version 2.3.4. While working with Motorola on this device, Google decided to buy Motorola outright for $12.5 billion.

The phone costs $300 with a two-year contract. Its mobile hotspot feature costs an extra $30 per month, and a "Lapdock" that converts the phone into a laptop-like device with an 11.6-inch screen and keyboard costs $300.

Engadget's first take:

"Early impressions are those of a very nice phone. The styling is a bit drab, to say the least, but it's a sophisticated looking thing, and seemingly quite solidly built, too. The Gorilla Glass up front has a bevel around the edge that does give a bit of flare, but also succeeds in being an exceedingly effective lint trap after just one trip into a pocket."

Mark Smith at the Detroit Free Press said it's a great phone with all-day battery life during regular use, but he was cool toward the industrial design:

"It's an undeniably great phone, powered by the fastest wireless network in the air today.

For those who have been waiting out the 4G smartphone race this summer, hoping for a hit with the Bionic, your wait has been rewarded. This one is worth buying."

It sounds like a Steve Austin special:

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August 15, 2011 10:24 AM

Roundup: Pundits pouncing on Google-Moto deal

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a look at some of the ways pundits are dissecting Google's bodacious $12.5 billion bid for Motorola Mobility.

Regulators will be all over this deal, wrote Arik Hesseldahl at All Things D:

"Whatever happens, it's going to take Google some time to get this deal done, and if it does get approved, you can expect some significant regulatory concessions."

Motorola Mobility gives Google a deterrent for its nuclear patent war with Microsoft, Apple and others, wrote Tim Bradshaw at the Financial Times:

Patent battles are a little like nuclear war: for there to be peace, each side must have armaments equally assuring mutual destruction.

Motorola has more than 17,000 active patents, dating back to the earliest mobile-phone technology, and another 7,500 going through the mill.

Google may have just acquired an instant nuclear deterrent - and that's something that the companies who have come to rely on Android may welcome in spite of the new tension the deal creates.

Google's wasting $12 billion on weak patents, Andrew Orlowski at The Register wrote (headline: "Has Google wasted $12bn on a dud patent poker chip?):

"These radio and design patents of legacy manufacturers such as Motorola or Nokia really aren't worth quite as much as their owners think they are.

Google has paid $12.5bn for a negotiating chip that appears to be almost impossible to redeem. In this light, the acquisition looks like panic, rather than a calm and carefully deliberated strategy."

The deal's not about patents as much as Google's evolving business model - and other phone companies should be scared, wrote Florian Mueller at Foss Patents:

It would be a mistake to look at this as just (or primarily) a patent deal. We're looking at a deal that would fundamentally change Google's Android-related business model ... The likes of Samsung, HTC and LG obviously don't have any other choice than to say at this point that they welcome the deal. They will continue to say that for some time. They obviously weren't going to bash the deal in public. But there's no way that they can compete with a Google-owned Motorola Mobility on a level playing field.

Google TV will be a huge beneficiary, since the deal gives Google the leading set-top box maker, Ryan Lawler and Ryan Kim wrote at GigaOm's NewTeeVee blog:

Until now, most set-top boxes have run proprietary operating systems. As a result, offering up Google TV as the underlying OS could simplify and accelerate the rollout of new applications on cable systems, which could improve the overall user experience on the set-top box. And by pitching Google TV as the underlying OS for Motorola set-top boxes sold to TV operators, it could very quickly create a large install base for developers to build applications for. The one question is how open that set-top box will remain if Google shifts from a consumer- to a carrier-based model for Google TV.

Even Google's Larry Page weighed in on his company blog:

The combination of Google and Motorola will not only supercharge Android, but will also enhance competition and offer consumers accelerating innovation, greater choice, and wonderful user experiences. I am confident that these great experiences will create huge value for shareholders.

I look forward to welcoming Motorolans to our family of Googlers.

But the deal could be a debacle for Page, thrusting him into "a crappy, low-margin commodity business," wrote Henry Blodget at Business Insider:

Google deserves credit for a big, bold move. But let's be real: This deal could end up being a disaster. How? Well, for starters, the deal creates major channel conflict: Google is now competing with its partners. And hardware manufacturing is an entirely different kind of business than Google's core business. And hardware manufacturing is a crappy, low-margin commodity business. And Motorola is massive--Google has just increased the size of its company by 60%. And the deal appears to be purely a defensive move, not an offensive one. And so on.

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August 3, 2011 10:28 AM

Cool graphic: Android's history, versions

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a cool graphic showing the history of Android and the distribution of its various flavors, created by developer services company [x]cubeLabs, which I found via Mashable.

All it needs is an overlay with the Android patent disputes ...

The-Andriod-Story

Infographic by Android Developers at [x]cubelabs

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July 20, 2011 3:40 PM

Google+ stats: 10 million signups, 1.8 million returns

Posted by Brier Dudley

People rushed to sign up for Google's new social networking service, but they're taking their time returning to the site.

That's the read by Experian Hitwise, which released a report saying Google+ drew 1.8 million total visits last week. More than 10 million people registered for the service after it launched in a limited test starting June 28.

"Everyone was clamoring to get the invites, maybe they're not returning back," said Experian Hitwise spokesman Matt Tatham.

Google+ was the 42nd most visited social network in the U.S. last week.

Facebook drew 1.8 billion visits last week, continuing its status as the most-visited website in the U.S., according to Experian Hitwise.

So far the largest group of Google+ users are typical early adopters. Visitors over the last week were 57 percent male, and the largest group -- 38 percent -- were 18 to 34, according to Experian Hitwise.

The most overall visits to Google+ came from Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, but there was a high concentration of visitors from Portland and Bend, Ore., and Bowling Green, Ky.

The greater Seattle area had the ninth highest percentage of visits to Google+ during the four weeks ending July 16.

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July 11, 2011 9:45 AM

The 2012 Audi A6: Loaded and connected

Posted by Brier Dudley

Please excuse any typos here. My fingers are still tingling from an incredibly fast wireless device I tested last week.

This one costs nearly $60,000, plus $30 a month for a data plan, and it weighs 4,045 pounds.

It's the 2012 Audi A6 sedan that went on sale last week.

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Audi provided a fully loaded model with a supercharger, eight-speed transmission and a wireless system that turns the car into a rolling Wi-Fi hot spot that connects up to eight devices at once.

The wireless system -- called "Audi Connect" -- is available with a $4,220 option package on the A6, which starts at $41,700.

Earlier this year, Audi became the first carmaker to offer a factory-installed hot spot. Previously, cars connected to information services via satellites, embedded wireless devices or drivers' phones.

Audi's A6 and A7 are also the first cars to use Google Earth in their navigation systems. They display the search giant's aerial imagery and use its local search to provide details on restaurants, hotels and other points of interest; there's even a touch-screen input system. (Here's a video I shot of Audi's Google system in action.)

Automotive electronics are going through a surge of innovation, parallel to what's happening with smartphones and Web tablets.

The number of cars shipping with factory-installed telematics systems will leap from less than 10 percent last year to more than 62 percent in 2016, according to an ABI Research report in January. Analyst Dominique Bonte said in the release that carmakers are "borrowing the hugely successful application store paradigm from the mobile industry" to release products more quickly and at lower costs.

Audi is extending its wireless technology from higher-end models down through its product line, but it's still a pricey system. There's convenience in having a connected car, but there are other options, including new phones that function as Wi-Fi hot spots and portable, puck-sized modems that connect multiple devices to the latest wireless networks.

My guess is that systems like Audi Connect won't take off in the U.S. until the prices come down further and wireless companies move toward pay-as-you-go metered data plans, similar to those in Europe. Under that approach, customers use the same data plan for multiple devices -- phones and cars -- instead of paying $30 a month for each one.

The Audis connect to T-Mobile's 3G wireless network, using a SIM card that fits into a slot on the dashboard. After a six-month trial period, "unlimited" data plans cost $30 a month or $324 for a prepaid yearly plan. T-Mobile doesn't specify a usage limit, but the contract says the carrier reserves the right to throttle your data throughput in a given month if usage is excessive.

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The taut and sprightly A6 showed two to five bars of 3G coverage while driving around Seattle and Bellevue. The Speedtest site measured download speeds of 267 to 798 kilobits per second.

Most important, the A6 passed the Netflix test: In an experiment, a passenger could watch a movie streamed to an iPad over the Wi-Fi connection while driving. It took a while to get started, but then played without a hiccup at a decent resolution.

Google Earth imagery is fun but nonessential. The navigation system gives you the choice of displaying regular maps or Google's aerial photos on a 7-inch diagonal color screen that slides out and flips up when you turn the car on. The computer uses an Nvidia processor and middleware from Ottawa-based QNX.

Spinning a control knob on the console, you can zoom out to see the entire globe or down to a particular block. Audi and Google are working together to eventually display "Street View" street-level images as well.

The aerial imagery is realistic enough that you may be fooled into thinking it's a live image, but your car's not on the screen and things outside the window don't look exactly the same. It also made one of my passengers feel a little queasy, watching aerial images scroll around as we drove.


Applications on the system include a Wikipedia search and news feeds, which can be customized via an Audi website. It also provides real-time weather, traffic and nearby gas prices (provided by Kirkland's Inrix). The system is also used to choose music from the radio, an attached device or the car's hard drive, but it won't play video content.

There are multiple ways to control the system -- too many, perhaps. You'd probably settle on a preferred control method after driving the A6 for a while, but several days of testing made me think the interface isn't yet as smooth and refined as the rest of the car.

The primary control is a large knob on the center console that you twist and press. It's encircled by 11 buttons -- four for navigating on-screen menus and four for launching primary functions: navigation, radio, hands-free calling and stored digital media. There's also a back button, one for car settings and one that calls up on-screen menus. I was grateful for the "back" button.

Nearby there's another knob and buttons for controlling the music volume and track selection.

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The touch pad on the console is about the size of a credit card. When I first heard about it, I thought it would be like a touch-screen PC or phone that reads handwriting, but it only reads one letter at a time and works best if you write carefully with capital letters. It reminded me of the game where you write with a finger on someone's back and they guess the words.

You can also select letters using the knob and an on-screen menu. Either way, it's too tedious to use while driving.

The touch pad can also be used to enter radio stations or navigate maps with a fingertip, but I kept changing stations when trying to use the map, and ended up mostly using the knob.

That's not all. The system also works with voice commands and buttons on the steering wheel.

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Fortunately, there are detailed instructions: The A6 manual is 295-pages long, plus a 106-page supplement for its Multi Media Interface.

That's another way connected cars are just like computers and smartphones: By the time you've figured out all their tricks, a more powerful model will be on sale. Audi is testing a new version that connects to faster 4G LTE networks, for instance.

In the meantime, A6 buyers who pony up for the wireless option will probably use it mostly to keep passengers occupied with gadgets, so they can enjoy the drive.

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June 28, 2011 11:54 AM

The definitive story on Google+, its latest Facebook killer

Posted by Brier Dudley

For the backstory on the Google+ social network launched today by the search giant, take a look at Steven Levy's extensive post at Wired.com.

Levy followed the project during nearly a year he spent inside Google, working on his book "In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives," so he was prepared to post the definitive piece today on the Google+ release.

A bit from the top:

The product it's announcing is called Google+, and observers might wonder whether it's simply one more social effort by a company that's had a lousy track record in that field to date.

Parts of it certainly seem to appear similar to what we've seen before. One significant component is a continuous scroll called "the Stream" that's an alternative to Facebook's news feed, a hub of personalized content. It has a companion called "Sparks," related to one's specified interests. Together they are designed to be a primary attention-suck of Google users -- Google hopes that eventually people will gravitate to the stream in the same way that members of Facebook or Twitter constantly check those continuous scrolls of personalized information.

Levy said this is just a glimpse of a huge, critical project that will be revealed through a series of launches:

"Developed under the codename Emerald Sea, it is a result of a lengthy and urgent effort involving almost all of the company's products. Hundreds of engineers were involved in the effort. It has been a key focus for new CEO Larry Page.

The parts announced Tuesday represent only a portion of Google's plans. In an approach the company refers to as "rolling thunder," Google has been quietly been pushing out pieces of its ambitious social strategy -- there are well over 100 launches on its calendar."


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June 14, 2011 12:32 PM

OneBusAway creator hired by Metro, briefly, before Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

Brian Ferris, the creator of the OneBusAway bus arrival application, has a summer job after he finishes his PhD work at the University of Washington.

Ferris will spend a month or two coding for King County, helping it complete and test software for Metro's new bus radio and GPS system. He's already been developing the software that transmits bus location information in a standard format used by transit apps and services, and the temporary job will enable him to finish the project and test it within Metro's firewall.

At the same time, the county and other regional transit agencies have met and begun talking to the UW about ways to continue operating the collection of OneBusAway apps and web services.

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I reported in May that Google hired Ferris to join a team in Zurich that works on transit and direction services and the UW and the county were hoping to find a way to continue his project.

In a blog post today, Ferris reiterated his hiring and disclosed that he's starting a temporary job at King County next Thursday.

Separately, transit officials are talking to the UW about ways they can keep the OneBusAway apps and services operating after Ferris leaves. They run on servers in the computer science school, where students and faculty have been working on related projects for decades, and are used for research in different departments at the university.

"We're all interested, we know OneBusAway is a great application, we'd like to see it survive," said Wayne Watanabe, IT service delivery manager for the transportation department.

Watanabe said his agency has been talking to Ferris for years about sustaining his work after he graduates.

Specifically, Ferris will be working on a SIRI repeater. SIRI stands for service interface for real time information, which is an "XML protocol to allow distributed computers to exchange real-time information about public transport services and vehicles," according to a description of the standard hosted at kizoom.com.

Metro's SIRI repeater should be complete this summer but the new radios and GPS systems it draws upon aren't on many buses yet. So far they're on the "rapid ride" fleet and being steadily added to other buses. They should be used throughout the fleet by the end of 2012, Watanabe said.

King County plans to freely share the location information for developers to build applications. If necessary, it will build a location tool for the public itself, Watanabe said.

"We feel that there are certain basic services that the public should have," he said. "Having a good real-time application is one of those, just like timetables."

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May 26, 2011 10:05 AM

Gaga over Google Wallet, with TPM?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I don't understand why the tech press is so enchanted with Google Wallet, the payment system announced this morning, and other "near field communication" [NFC] products.

Syncing credit cards to particular smartphones that work with a particular kind of credit card reader is interesting. But it's not so transformative that people should skip past questions about privacy, security and whether Google should be the company orchestrating your offline purchases.

It will take awhile before these systems are widely used by consumers, so the buzz seems aimed at pressuring merchants to buy a new kind of credit card reader and move their credit card business to companies on the bandwagon.

Eventually this could probably be a standard feature on phones, just as credit accounts are commonly tied to online stores nowadays. Google's trying to get a jump on it and boost the number of customers who have added credit information to their Google accounts. It's still playing catch up to Apple and Microsoft, which aren't yet doing NFC payments on their phones but have enomous online account systems with millions of customers.

Google is partnering with credit card companies on the Wallet app it's building into its Android phone software.

So far it will work with one phone model with a special antenna and security module. This phone will be able to make payments at the "contactless" card readers that are starting to be used by merchants. These readers detect signals from credit cards with a special chip inside or phones that can broadcast the same short-range signals.

For security, Google Wallet taps into a new "black box" chip that's on the Nexus S 4G phone sold by Sprint. It presumably will become a more common feature on Android phones.

This chip sounds similar to the trusted platform module [TPM] that began appearing on PC hardware around five years ago, sending privacy advocates into a tizzy. We'll have to see how transparent Google is about what it calls the "Secure Element."

I wonder which other programs will access this module. Maybe it's going to be used for digital rights management to appease music and movie companies and get them to participate in future Google media services. Here's a bit of Google's description of its TPM module:

"The Secure Element has many features designed to protect the security of the data it stores. It's separate from the phone's main operating system and hardware, which enables encrypted protocols to enforce access control. Only authorized programs like Google Wallet can access the Secure Element to initiate a transaction."

Google said Wallet "does not currently receive data about what products you purchase with it" but it does record on the phone when you make a transaction and the credentials used. It will also keep track of where you made the transaction, if you click a box agreeing to provide that information.

But by using Google Wallet, consumers will be linking their financial activities and information to their Google accounts, potentially giving the company access to priceless data with which to target advertising. The company already is planning an "offers" program for Wallet users.

Google's putting responsibility for any fraud that occurs with your Google Wallet onto the credit card companies. In its FAQ posted today, it said "the same rules that apply to unauthorized use of your plastic credit card, apply to unauthorized use of a credit card stored in Google Wallet. Many banks apply a $0 liability policy for unauthorized use. For more information, please consult the terms and conditions of your account supplied by your card issuer."

The FAQ also suggests that there will be several steps involved in using Google Wallet, so it won't be quite as simple as just tapping your phone against a special card reader. It's in the response to a question about security:

If someone gets close to my phone, could they read sensitive data from my Google Wallet? The NFC antenna in your phone is only activated when the screen is powered on, and even if the antenna is on and in proximity of a reader, payment credentials can only be transmitted from the Secure Element to a payment terminal if you first enter your Google Wallet PIN.

So yes, consumers won't have to fumble for credit cards at the checkout line. But they will have to wake their phone and enter their PIN number.

The name's a little funny. Microsoft introduced a product called Microsoft Wallet in 1997. It partnered with banks on the system, which synced credit cards with a Microsoft Web account, to simplify online transactions. The system morphed into Microsoft's Passport authentication system, which is now the Windows Live ID program.

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May 25, 2011 2:53 PM

Interview: Why and how Google bought Sparkbuy

Posted by Brier Dudley

Networking really is worthwhile for startup entrepreneurs, or at least the ones who want to sell their companies to Google.

Dan Shapiro said friendships and chance encounters helped him start comparison shopping site Sparkbuy last year and sell it to Google in a deal announced on Monday.

Shapiro and Scott Silver, site director of Google's Kirkland campus, explained in an interview how the deal went down and a few more details of what's next for the Sparkbuy team.

They also left the strong impression that Google is still hunting for startups to acquire in the Seattle area and beyond.

Google may have to pick up the pace if it wants to meet the aggressive growth projections it laid out at the start of the year. It bought 48 companies last year, but only 10 so far this year, as it approaches the mid-year point.

Maybe that's why it moved so fast on Sparkbuy.

Silver kept an eye on the company since it was just an idea Shapiro was batting around with friends. Shapiro had had trouble shopping for a new laptop and thought there was a need for a new comparison shopping site. He floated this idea while having dinner with Silver in early 2010, and heard the magic words.

"He said that's really interesting from a Google perspective," Shapiro recalled.

Later, Shapiro received more encouragement when he happened to sit next to another Google employee on an airplane and talked about the startup. Sparkbuy launched a beta version in November and formally launched March 29.

Shapiro is a veteran of Microsoft and RealNetworks who started mobile photo business Ontela in 2005. It merged with News Corp.'s Photobucket in 2009 and Shapiro left his management position there in February 2010.

While starting Sparkbuy, Shapiro also stayed in contact with Jonathan Sposato, another Seattle entrepreneur who sold his company, Picnik, to Google.

"One of the things that was really encouraging was that going to Google wasn't something totally unfamiliar -- there were a whole bunch of people I knew and respected," Shapiro said.

It wasn't confirmed during the interview, but I wonder if Sposato's a model for what may happen to Shapiro at Google.

Sposato was chief executive of Picnik, a photo editing service, when it was acquired in March 2010. He's since been promoted to lead not just Picnik but all of Google's photo business, including a team in Santa Monica, Calif.

Shapiro downplayed the chance he'll play a larger role. "I'm still learning how the conference phones work," he joked.

(Although Sposato had a similarly awkward entrance -- on his first visit to the Kirkland office, he smashed a Segway scooter into a drink fridge, throwing him off and marking his arrival with a big dent in the appliance.)

Silver said the acquisition is one of the benefits of having a big engineering presence in the Seattle area. The company employs more than 800 in Kirkland, where it occupies about 150,000 square feet, and in Fremont, where it's expanding to 78,000 square feet.

"I wish Dan had agreed to join Google six months earlier from my perspective," Silver said.

Silver, a former Amazon.com manager, said Sparkbuy fits with Google's broad mission of taking information that's available online and making it useful for customers.

"Dan had a novel take on that and we realy liked what we saw," he said.

Although Sparkbuy's shopping site was shut down when the deal was announced, Silver said Google was acquiring more than just three talented developers.

"From my perspective I wanted Dan to build his business at Google and not outside Google ... this isn't about talent, this is about the ideas and executing them," Silver said.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Shapiro would only say "this was an unexpected but delightful outcome."

Shapiro said it usually takes about six years for a startup to have some sort of exit. Being able "to proceed directly to the 'build a business at Google scale' while skipping a whole bunch of those intermediate years of financing and fundraising and everything else, that was just too great an opportunity."

The Sparkbuy team is going to work with a group in Kirkland that last week released Advisor, a site where consumers can comparison shop for loans and credit offers.

"This problem is not an easy problem," Silver said. "It's very hard to figure out how you get enough information about services so you can help consumers make decisions about complex financial products."

Sorting through the options available on different laptops is similarly complex, they said. Shapiro said the "next great frontier" is using online information to directly answer consumers' questions and help them solve problems.

Google hopes to continue tapping the local cluster of expertise in online shopping, which includes companies such as Amazon.com, Expedia, REI and Nordstrom.

"Seattle's just a gold mine for expertise in these areas," Shapiro said.

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May 23, 2011 2:18 PM

Another manquisition: Google buys Sparkbuy team

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google has bought another fledgling startup, taking the talent and shuttering the business.

The company bought Seattle gadget shopping site Sparkbuy and is moving its three employees to Google's Kirkland offices, where they'll work with the team that launched a new "Advisor" site last week.

Advisor is a comparison shopping tool for mortgages and bank products - similar to bankrate.com. The Sparkbuy deal suggests Google wants help adding a product shopping tab to Advisor.

Sparkbuy was led by Dan Shapiro, a RealNetworks veteran who is now officially a serial enterpreneur. His previous venture, photo sharing service Ontela, was sold to Photobucket in 2009.

Other employees at Sparkbuy were Scott Haug and Isaac Myers. Sparkbuy raised $1 million before launching its service last November.

The company announced the sale with a message posted at its site. An excerpt:

We're stoked about the opportunity to share our vision for search with a broader audience. And while we won't be offering services at sparkbuy.com any more, stay tuned for truckloads of new awesome from our team at Google.

Google provided a statement confirming the deal:

Were thrilled that Sparkbuy will be joining Google. They have built an impressive comparison shopping site that is simple in design yet powerful for consumers, and we think their expertise, vision and energy will be a great addition to our Kirkland office.

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May 23, 2011 9:51 AM

Great free bus app from UW, but creator off to Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

One of Seattle's least-known secrets is a magical app for your phone.

It can make you more efficient, reduce stress, give you more time, save you money and help the environment.

Best of all, it's free.

You don't even need an expensive smartphone or one of those wireless plans that cost as much as a car payment.

I'm talking about OneBusAway, an app that tells people when their bus is arriving. It started in 2006 as the side project of a University of Washington student and grew into a transit app platform used by software developers, researchers, transit agencies and 50,000 commuters a week.

Brian Ferris, a computer-science graduate student from the Tri-Cities, began hacking it together in 2006 after getting frustrated by the spotty arrival times of the Metro Route 44 bus he'd take sometimes when he missed the 46 commuter route from Ballard to the UW.

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This was before the iPhone and the frenzy around mobile apps. Ferris thought you should be able to use a phone any time to find out when the next bus arrives.

With a collection of free software and services, he built a system that lets people with any kind of phone dial 206-456-0609, enter a stop number and get the estimated arrival time.

Ferris kept at it, often writing code on buses. He built fancier versions that blend with Google Maps and run on the iPhone, and collaborators built apps for Android devices and Windows phones.

Screenshot-01.pngAll the versions and free tools for app developers are available via onebusaway.org.

At the end of 2008, Ferris persuaded academic advisers to let him make this his full-time project, instead of a Wi-Fi location technology he had been pursuing.

Among the research published since was a 2010 paper by Ferris, civil-engineering student Kari Edison Watkins and Professor Alan Borning that found using OneBusAway made riders feel safer and less stressed. They spend less time waiting, ride more frequently and are more satisfied with transit in general.

Ferris, 30, said they also observed that people's sense of time changes when uncertainty about their bus is removed. A 5-minute wait can seem like 10 if you don't know for sure when the bus is coming. If you know it's coming in 10 minutes, the time can seem like it's going by faster, he said.

Knowing when the bus is coming also can make people more productive, because they can do something instead of just waiting. Ferris has favorite places he visits -- coffee shops and bookstores -- when the system tells him he has extra wait time.

OneBusAway gets about 27,000 unique visitors a week who are using iPhones, 18,000 from Android devices and 18,000 from the Web.

Only about 2,000 weekly visits come from the dial-in service, which is surprising since most people don't own a smartphone. About 31 percent of the population had smartphones as of December, according to Nielsen research.

Ferris said people with basic phones probably aren't aware of the service.

The trickiest part of the dial-in system is finding the number of a bus stop.

It's a five-digit number printed at the top of posted schedules or painted on covered stops. But schedules sometimes are missing or the number is obscured.

Ferris has tried to persuade King County to change the way the number is displayed. He rode his bike to 800 stops in the south end of Seattle last summer, discreetly applying vinyl stickers displaying each stop number.

You also can enter your location or a route number by punching through the phone menu. The system remembers your number and can bookmark regular stops.

Arrival information isn't exact. Accuracy depends on information provided by the bus system.

OneBusAway works with Metro Transit, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and Community Transit.

King County uses an older system that calculates arrival times as buses pass certain points along their route. This information is sent over bus radios to Metro.

Several earlier UW projects exposed this location information over phones and the Web, and Ferris built on top of their work.

Metro is upgrading bus radios and adding new location-tracking technology, including GPS. It intends to give developers like Ferris access to data from the new system after it's fully installed in 2012.

Transportation apps are hot nowadays.

Search giants, app developers and transit agencies are working on new tools for mapping and tracking different means of transport, drawing on government's newfound enthusiasm for sharing streams of data such as bus locations.

Metro holds workshops for app developers, about 100 of whom have asked for access to its data.

It's all part of an explosion of creativity ignited by mobile devices and fast wireless networks.

But what's refreshing about OneBusAway is that it's a pure service, created simply to make life better for commuters of all stripes. It's not trying to sell you anything, ping your friends, track your whereabouts, deduce your buying patterns or point you toward a nearby store.

It just tells you when the next bus is coming, so you don't have to stare down the road, wondering and hoping.

Bus ridership is growing. Metro provided an average 375,000 rider trips per weekday last month, up 3.5 percent from a year ago.

Meanwhile, Seattle's outrageous combination of tunnel, bridge and viaduct projects, road diets and other construction is making bus schedules elastic and tracking systems more important than ever.

The timing couldn't be worse, but now the future of OneBusAway is in limbo.

Ferris will finish his Ph.D. next month then work for Google at its Zurich, Switzerland, office, with a team that works on transit and direction services.

Local supporters are looking for ways to keep the project going. King County is talking to companies about contracts to support and extend the project.

At the UW, Borning hopes to raise enough money from transit agencies and others to hire a part-time developer to maintain the system.

"An extremely high priority is to make sure it keeps running -- we need to figure it out," Borning said.

In a way, the project will continue in Zurich, where Ferris hopes to keep working on it while building more tools to help people find and use all kinds of transportation.

"My goal," he said, "is to go to Google and do this worldwide."

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May 12, 2011 10:44 AM

Video: Google Music hands-on

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a brief video clip of Google Music running on a Motorola Xoom Android tablet.

It showed a strong 3G signal, but the Web service buffered and fritzed. The service is still being developed so it's early to pass judgment on Google's effort, but the glitches were still surprising.

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May 11, 2011 4:30 PM

Google Music: Definitely beta

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google has been accused of overusing the "beta" tag on products it releases early.

But with its new music service -- Music -- the beta tag is mandatory. It's still pretty raw, judging from my experience with it today.

The service was announced this week at Google's developer conference and it's available now only by invitation. It's really an online-offline version of the music player that's offered with devices running Google operating systems such as Android.

You can use the service -- which I'll call gTunes -- to upload music files to Google and access them on PCs and up to eight Android devices with Web access. Not all Android devices will work; it requires at least version 2.2 and a device running OpenGL2.0.

You can also use it to directly load music files to devices with a cable, and the player stores recently played songs on devices, so you can have some music if they're offline.

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I spent a few hours trying the service on a PC running Windows 7, on an Android 3.0 Xoom tablet and on a new T-Mobile Sidekick 4G running Android 2.2.

It took about 10 minutes to sign up and download the "music manager" client application to the PC, where it began uploading my music files to Google. It took about five minutes to scan a 2.7 gigabyte music file with 437 music files and about 45 minutes for them to all be uploaded.

Then I could access the files from a browser pointed at gTunes.

Google provides a batch of free songs to get you started. That's good because I couldn't access my own, uploaded music from the Sidekick, only the free batch of gTunes songs.

There was some buffering to get online songs started on the Sidekick. It took 15 to 20 seconds for music to start playing after I pressed play on a song. This was over T-Mobile's 4G network with a full signal showing. Advancing to an artist's next song was quicker, and took only a few seconds.

On the Xoom, when I connected through the browser, the application fluttered and partly blinked out. After switching to a different category -- from artists to genre, for instance -- it recovered and began to work. (Here's a video clip of the Google Music struggling on the Xoom).

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This may be an unfair test of the Xoom because gTunes requires Adobe's Flash, the latest version of which suggests using version 3.1 of Google's Android operating system for tablets. Google's going to make 3.1 available to the Xoom, but I was still running 3.0 and couldn't get Flash to fully install.

I also had a funny thing happen on the Xoom. While playing a song with the device's media player, I opened the Web version of the player. The song on the device paused. I chose a song stored online and hit play, but something else came out of the speakers -- the song paused on the device. This may have been operator error, but there still needs to be better coordination -- or clearer controls -- between the offline and online players.

The gTunes page displayed in the browser has tabs for "my library" and a "new and recent" window that displays album art that you click to access songs. You can rate songs with a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" and then play just the "up" songs.

There's also an "instant mix" feature that lets you choose a song and click to automatically generate a mix of 25 songs. But I couldn't get this to work; no matter which song I chose, it said I didn't have enough "similar songs" to create an instant mix.

The design is barebones and bland with a mix of simple type styles. It's nicer than Gmail, but a far cry from the polished media apps now available for free from Apple, Microsoft and others.

Having your music available online can be handy, but there are other ways to do this and new "cloud" music services are expected from RealNetworks and Apple. It remains to be seen whether Google gets into a spat with music labels over its service, and whether it begins charging for storage or using its service to deliver ads.

If it becomes a pay service, it will have a hard time competing with streaming services such as Rhapsody that provide unlimited access to millions of songs on PCs, smartphones and some stereo gear. Unless Google uses bundling to build market share.

My guess is that Google isn't out to build a big, online music venture as much as it's trying to be sure there's a decent music option for buyers of its upcoming Chromebook computers. Operating systems are a bigger, more lucrative market than online music.

You can't store a music collection on a Chromebook because the machines have minimal storage capacity. They're designed to run Web applications and handle files stored online. This could make Chrome a non-starter for people who expect their computer to store and access their digital music collection.

Now gTunes is providing a way for people to begin transferring their digital media from computers in their home to Google's datacenters, like the one humming alongside the Columbia River in Oregon.

But before it takes the beta tag off gTunes, it has to work out a few kinks and provide more details about where the service is heading.

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May 11, 2011 11:01 AM

Google Chromebooks: $300 to $500 thin clients unveiled

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a look at the Google Chromebooks that will go on sale June 15.

They're laptops running Google's Chrome operating system, which is primarily a browser that connects users to applications that run mostly online.

In many ways, it's the latest iteration of the "network computer" concept that Oracle and Sun Microsystems floated a decade ago. It's also similar to the "thin client" systems used by call centers and some businesses, which give users a barebones terminal for working with applications stored and managed centrally on a network.

Chrome has been in broad testing since Google distributed prototype laptops running the system last December.

Today at its I/O conference, Google announced that the Chromebooks will be available at retail for $300 to $500. They'll also be available for schools to rent from Google for $20 per student per month and for businesses for $28 per seat per month.

(Update: A Google Q&A page has more details. Notably the rented machines require a three-year contract, so schools and companies will end up paying around $1,000 to borrow a low-powered, barebones netbook.

Monthly prices are a bit higher for some models - they cost $31 and $33 per month with a 3G wireless card. The 3G subscriptions cost extra. Also, businesses and schools must lease a minimum of 10 machines, and they won't be able to directly load any apps onto the machines, change the browser or run Java or Silverlight.)

Google also announced that it's going to give app developers 95 percent of the sales made from apps sold via its Chrome store, potentially starting a price competition with Apple, Amazon.com and other app stores that give developers 70 percent.

Google's cachet will no doubt help sell millions of Chromebooks. But before taking the plunge, I suggest trying one of these devices out.

The simplicity of a Chromebook is appealing, but it can also be maddeningly limiting when you're used to storing and managing your photos, documents and other digital materials on your computer and Chrome makes you upload and handle everything online.

For the same price, you can buy a full-power laptop or one of the new dual-core netbooks that have more capabilities and don't require you to funnel your activities and files through the Web.

Here are images of the first Chromebooks, from Samsung and Acer, which both have netbook-grade Atom processors and 16 gigabyte solid-state drives (fast but tiny, because you pretty much have to store your files on Google's servers and not on your Chromebook).

The Samsung:

samsung-td-640x485.png

samsung-series5-backleft-640x458.png

The Samsung specs:

12.1" (1280 x 800) display
3.26 lbs
8.5 hours of continuous usage
Intel Atom dual-core processor
Built-in dual-band Wi-Fi and world-mode 3G (optional)
HD Webcam with noise canceling microphone
2 USB 2.0 ports
4-in-1 memory card slot
Mini-VGA port
Fullsize Chrome keyboard
Oversize fully-clickable trackpad

The Acer:

acer-zgb-leftangle-640x393.png

acer-zgb-leftclosed-640x299.png

The Acer specs:

11.6" HD widescreen LED-backlit LCD
2.95 lbs..
6 hours of continuous usage
Intel Atom dual-core processor
Built-in dual-band Wi-Fi and world-mode 3G (optional)
HD Webcam with noise canceling microphone
High-definition audio support
2 USB 2.0 ports
4-in-1 memory card slot
HDMI port
Fullsize Chrome keyboard
Oversize fully clickable trackpad


Here's Google's announcement video:

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May 10, 2011 9:28 AM

Microsoft buys Skype: Smart or crazy?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft buying Skype is like Seattle buying Italian streetcars.

On the surface, it seems like an outrageously expensive indulgence.

But if you can ignore the insane amount of money being thrown around and focus only on how it will help a few businesses, it makes some sense.

Microsoft already has powerful and widely used software for making phone and video calls and communicating over the Internet. Its messaging systems are among its crown jewels and used by far more people than Skype.

Similarly, Seattle is served by a vast and reliable bus system and is building up a light rail network.

But it still decided to spend $60 million - not counting priceless right-of-way - on streetcars that duplicate several bus routes. Sound Transit's going to spend another $132 million more more streetcar service.

Some people think the streetcars are neat, and they add flair and freshness to the mix of infrastructure in Seattle. But they'll never carry as many passengers as Metro and they'll probably never pay for themselves.

The trolley is largely an amenity, increasing the appeal of commercial property mostly owned by Paul Allen.

City leaders who took flak for this quasi subsidy may now feel vindicated by Allen's success redeveloping South Lake Union. The area along the trolley route has transformed into a vibrant, active neighorborhood anchored by Amazon.com's new headquarters.

You can't say the area blossomed because of the trolley but it helped.

With Skype, Microsoft now has a groovier, Web-native service that complements its established, industrial-strength communication systems.

Skype and particularly its video calling capabilities will be a focal point for the bundle of online services Microsoft will offer to consumers and businesses. Having one killer app in the bundle is enough to get people to enter Microsoft's online realm, or at least prevent them from logging into a competing suite of online services.

My guess is that Skype and video messaging will also be a cornerstone of Windows 8 or whatever the next version of Microsoft's flagship operating system is called. It's designed to work well on portable devices running the tiny processors used in smartphones, where video calling is coming to be expected as a standard feature.

Apple and Google have already developed video calling services for mobile devices and PCs but they don't yet have the critical mass of Skype. Microsoft has struggled to build a critical mass in search and now it has a head start as the next phase of online messaging is developed on fast, new 4G wireless networks.

Meanwhile Microsoft's going to use Skype to boost the appeal and reach of its Xbox, phone, Web mail and communication software products.

In its release, Microsoft noted that Skype has acquired the intellectual property powering its network. Perhaps that's a signal that Microsoft will assert its ownership of the patents, which could limit what competitors can do in the space or require them to send royalties to Redmond.

Skeptics expect Microsoft to fumble Skype somehow. To avoid this, Microsoft took the unusual step of creating an entirely new, autonomous group for Skype, giving the relatively small business organizational stature comparable to that of the massive Xbox, Office and Windows groups. Skype Chief Executive Tony Bates will be president of the Microsoft Skype Division, reporting to Steve Ballmer.

Microsoft actually has done pretty well with its messaging acquisitions. Key elements of Outlook were acquired, and it's now the most widely used email system in the world and an essential tool for most business PC users.

Microsoft also spent crazy money buying Hotmail in 1997 for around $400 million, when it was competing with AOL and Yahoo and was building out its suite of dotcom-era online services.

Microsoft's anxiety about falling behind Apple and Google no doubt led the company to overpay for Skype. But if the team in Redmond can avoid crashing their new trolley and it helps deliver a few big hits, the cost won't matter in the long run.

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April 26, 2011 9:51 AM

Sony unveils Android tablets, the new ultimate remote?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Building on its relationship with Google, Sony revealed two new Android-based tablets the company will begin selling this fall.

The "Sony Tablets" are based on Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" and will have 3G and 4G wireless capability. They have distinctive curved cases and what Sony calls an "off-center of gravity form factor" that "offers stability and a sense of lightness."

Two models will be released - a traditional 9.4-inch slate and a funky folding model with dual 5.5-inch displays.

Displays on the folding "S2" model can be used as a single large screen or to display content on one screen and use the other as a keyboard or for email. It looks like a replacement of the clutch-like Vaio P "lifestyle PC" that debuted in 2009 and is now being marked down by Sony.

What may make the devices stand out are the Sony online entertainment services that the devices are designed to access, including the PlayStation mobile gaming service (if the network is restored by then ...) and digital books distributed through Sony's Reader store.

Sony's also giving the devices infrared technology so they can work as universal remote controls for A/V devices including its Bravia TVs and video components. They're also DLNA compatible so they'll be able to select content on a home network and output to large screens and wireless speakers, Sony said in its release.

The release quote from Kunisama Suzuki, senior vice president and deputy president of Sony's new consumer products and services group:

"Sony Tablet delivers an entertainment experience where users can enjoy cloud-based services on-the-go at any time. We're aiming to create a new lifestyle by integrating consumer hardware, including Sony Tablet with content and network."

I wonder if these devices will also work as consoles for the next generation of Google TVs made by Sony. What would really be cool, though, is if Sony started bundling one of these tablets with new TVs, similar to the way HP tried bundling a tablet with printers.

sonytablets.jpg

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March 29, 2011 10:39 AM

IDC: Windows Phone to overtake iPhone and BlackBerry

Posted by Brier Dudley

Hooking up with Nokia will help Microsoft overtake Apple's iPhone and Research In Motion's BlackBerry within a few years, according to a new report from research firm IDC.

The combination should boost Windows phones to second place among smartphone platforms worldwide by 2015, IDC said in its latest Mobile Phone Tracker report.

For now, the big story is Google's Android software. IDC expects Android will become the most-used smartphone platform this year, after zooming up to second place in 2010.

"For the vendors who made Android the cornerstone of their smartphone strategies, 2010 was the coming-out party," Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst, said in the release. "This year will see a coronation party as these same vendors broaden and deepen their portfolios to reach more customers, particularly first-time smartphone users."

Overall sales of smartphones will continue growing but not at the same pace as 2010, it predicted. Smartphone sales are expected to grow 49.2 percent this year - to 450 million units - as consumers and business users continue upgrading their devices, it predicts.

Llamas said the Nokia deal will reverse Microsoft's phone slide.

"Up until the launch of Windows Phone 7 last year, Microsoft has steadily lost market share while other operating systems have brought forth new and appealing experiences," he said in the release. "The new alliance brings together Nokia's hardware capabilities and Windows Phone's differentiated platform. We expect the first devices to launch in 2012. By 2015, IDC expects Windows Phone to be number 2 operating system worldwide behind Android."

The chart from the release:

idcphonez.jpg

Comments | Category: Android , Apple , Google , Microsoft , Nokia , Phones , Telecom , Windows Phone , iPhone |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 10, 2011 11:11 AM

Obama eyes Google CEO for Locke's spot

Posted by Brier Dudley

President Obama may be Googling for Gary Locke's replacement as secretary of commerce.

Thumbnail image for Schmidt.jpg
Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt (left) is a possible candidate for the job, according to a Bloomberg report.

Schmidt - and Google - have been close to Obama. Maybe too close, like when the White House hired Google's top lobbyist to guide technology policy, and he kept schmoozing with Mountain View.

This is inside baseball, but it would be a little ironic if Locke - a friend of Bill Gates - is replaced by Microsoft's arch-nemesis.

I wonder how Schmidt being part of Obama's cabinet would affect growing concerns among federal regulators about some of Google's business practices?

Other possible Locke replacements named in the story are former Pfizer Chief Executive Jeffrey Kindler and Ron Kirk, U.S. trade representative.

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March 7, 2011 12:28 PM

Google's Android tops U.S. smartphone market, comScore says

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's Android operating system topped the U.S. smartphone market in January for the first time, with 31.2 percent of the market, according to a new comScore report.

The firm said Android's market share grew 7.7 percent from October through January, while Research In Motion fell 5.4 percent and Apple was nearly flat at 0.1 percent growth. Microsoft's share fell 1.7 percent.

Among handset makers, Samsung led the U.S. market with 24.9 percent of the market in January. The market leadership didn't change much; Samsung was followed by LG, Motorola, RIM and Apple.

The report's based on a survey of more than 30,000 U.S. mobile subscribers.

Here are the charts from the news release:

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February 24, 2011 3:11 PM

On hiring spree, Google expands in Seattle and Kirkland

Posted by Brier Dudley

To accommodate new employees that it expects to hire this year, Google is expanding its offices in Seattle and Kirkland.

The company's been talking up its growth plan over the past month, saying it expects to add more than 6,000 employees this year globally.

After that news came out, Google received a record 75,000 resumes in a single week. Locally, applications to the Seattle and Kirkland offices jumped 62 percent above the weekly average.

Google's hiring talk comes as tech companies large and small ramp up their hiring after running lean through the downturn. The situation is exacerbated in Seattle by Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook, Zynga and Salesforce.com setting up new engineering offices here.

Competition for top talent is leading to dot-commish hiring gimmicks, including referral bounties of $10,000 to $12,000 being offered by Seattle startups SEOmoz and EnergySavvy.

Seattle and Kirkland Google managers wouldn't talk about competing for talent with any particular company, but in a meeting today they emphasized the thoroughness and responsiveness of Google's hiring practices.

Google is expanding its Fremont campus by leasing 30,000 square feet formerly occuped by Getty Images, adjacent to Google's building just north of the Fremont Bridge.

In Kirkland, Google began moving employees into the third building on the campus it opened in 2009.

Combined employment at the two sites grew 50 percent last year, to about 800 people, according to site managers Brian Bershad and Scott Silver.

Google's likely to hire more than 100 this year,but the managers wouldn't provide specific forecasts. However, they offered plenty of clues and hints to inform speculation about what to expect.

"I do expect, given what we're seeing in terms of resumes and the amount of resources we're putting into the hiring process, that we will grow substantially in 2011," Bershad said.

Google is expecting 2011 to be the biggest hiring year in its history, and the "Sea-Kirk" facilities should get their share.

"In this area we've always grown faster than the rest of Google, always, every year," said Silver. "It's mostly a testament to the talent that are here."

Google is working on a number of projects in the local offices, including search, messaging, maps, ad systems and the Chrome browser and operating system. Bershad said a particular emphasis in recruting this year will be for user-experience experts, to improve the design of Google products.

Unlike most of Google's regional offices, the Seattle and Kirkland facilities are almost entirely filled with engineers, with more than 90 percent of the staff involved in research and development, as opposed to sales and administration.

Google's engineering presence in Seattle began in 2004 with three employees in Kirkland.

The company leased the three-building Kirkland campus while it was under construction in 2007 and moved into two of the buildings in 2009. Silver said Google will eventually fill the third building, which has about 75,000 square feet of space.

Among the occupants may be former employees of Widevine, a Seattle digital-rights management software company that Google acquired in December. At the time, plans were to move the 60 Widevine employees to the Kirkland campus.

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February 8, 2011 11:14 AM

Bing bites Google back, jumps 6%

Posted by Brier Dudley

Maybe this is why Google's been publicly trashing Bing.

Microsoft's underdog search engine saw a jump in market share over the last month, increasing its U.S. market share 6 percent, according to an Experian Hitwise report today.

Google's U.S. market share fell 2 percent over the same period. No doubt it's because Bing was siphoning off searches for terms like torsorapy and mbzrxpgjys.

experian-hitwise-PR-201102-percent-us-searches-among-search-engine-providers-450x208.jpg

Experian reported that Microsoft-powered search engines - Bing and Yahoo combined - had a higher "success rate" in January than Google by a significant margin. It said that 81 percent of searches at Bing and Yahoo resulted in a visit to a Web site, versus a 65 percent success rate with Google searches during the same period.

But could searches also be considered a success if people found what they were looking for without clicking through and beyond the search results? For instance, searchers may have been asking Google to help spell a word or find a phone number that's displayed without cicking through.

Experian also listed the retail sites that drew the most paid clicks in January. Naturally the list was topped by Amazon.com, which drew 11.25 percent of paid click traffic in January followed by Target, JCPenney, Sears and Lowes.

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January 31, 2011 11:48 AM

Tableau does reverse Google, adds Kirkland to Fremont

Posted by Brier Dudley

Tableau Software is expanding yet again, opening a new office in Google's former digs in downtown Kirkland.

The business intelligence/data visualization software company plans to immediately hire 20 people at the new office and eventually have 100 employees there.

Tableau is based in Fremont, where the company doubled employment last year. In a release today, the private company said its 2010 sales grew 106 percent to just under $40 million and it plans to hire a total of 150 this year.

Google's local presence began in Kirkland and extended west to Fremont, where it now has a second cluster of offices just across the bridge from Tableau.

Like Google, Tableau is the product of research done at Stanford.

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January 27, 2011 10:59 AM

Google Android Honeycomb images: Your next tablet?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are a batch of screenshots that Google posted of "Honeycomb," the new version of its Android operating system designed for tablet computing devices.

It looks like Android 3.0 is a big step toward a PC operating system, if your next PC will be a tablet.

The first Honeycomb tablet to go on sale will be the Motorola Xoom, which was unveiled at CES and will be available in late February. It has a 10.1-inch diagonal touchscreen, dual-core Nvidia Tegra processor and a camera that takes 5 megapixel stills and 720p video.

By summer there should be all sorts of Honeycomb tablets fighting for shelf space at wireless stores with the new iPad, Windows 7 tablets and Hewlett Packard's Topaz WebOS device.

Google's Honeycomb screenshots show new features of the system, but device makers may customize things so the final product may look different. The screenshots were released with a developer preview and tools released Wednesday.

Here is the new user interface designed especially for tablets:

home_hero1.jpg

The new tabbed browser, with improved zooming and a log-in feature to automatically sign into Google sites and sync bookmarks with Google's Chrome browser:

newbrowser.jpg

New camera controls; there's also a "gallery" application for viewing albums:

cameracontrols.jpg

Developers can build better home screen widgets, with tools for flipping through 3D stacks of content, and touch gestures to scroll and flip through content:

widgets.jpg

Google redesigned the Android keyboard for the larger screens of tablets (versus phones, which Android initially targeted). The system also lets users select words by pressing the screen, then dragging little handles ("bounding arrows") to highlight a text block:

newkeyboard.jpg

Here's the Xoom image Motorola released a few weeks ago. Word on the street is that this will cost $800, without a phone plan attached:

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Lastly, here's the Google Honeycomb preview video released earlier:

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January 25, 2011 5:06 PM

Google hiring >100 in Seattle, watch out Microsoft

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's hiring surge this year will be felt at its offices in Seattle and Kirkland.

The company isn't giving specific forecasts but one local manager indicated at least 100 positions will be added this year at the Seattle area sites.

Google now employs about 700 at offices in Fremont and at its Kirkland campus, where engineers are working on the Chrome browser and operating system, Google Talk, Maps and other projects.

A spokeswoman said the sites "will continue to hire aggressively in 2011, particularly software engineers."

Google began hiring engineers in the Kirkland area in 2004 and opened its 180,000-square-foot campus there in 2009.

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January 10, 2011 10:25 AM

CES: Next Windows tablets aimed at Android more than iPad?

Posted by Brier Dudley

(Today's column from CES, on Microsoft's Windows and tablet news ...)

LAS VEGAS -- Here at the Consumer Electronics Show, you can see every TV set, iPhone accessory and cellphone ever imagined.

There are thousands of products in more than a million square feet of exhibition space, packed with more than 140,000 people.

But what's really hard to find are people who understand what Microsoft is up to with its mysterious pronouncements at the show about the next version of Windows. It took me four days to come up with a few guesses.

I'm talking about the centerpiece of Chief Executive Steve Ballmer's keynote -- the show's grand opening event, where thousands come to hear what's next from a company straddling the computer, phone and entertainment industries.
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Ballmer used the spotlight to present hardware test beds running the next version of Windows on the tiny processors used in phones and Web tablets.

Ballmer also touted the Xbox and Windows Phone 7 with flashy demonstrations.

But his Big Deal was a demonstration of this new software and hardware running Office, Quicken and a high-definition video clip in Windows Media Player.

This probably would win the blue ribbon and scholarship offers at a university computer-science fair. It also sent various messages to Microsoft's industry partners and competitors. But it seemed strangely out of place as the opening spectacle at CES, where most people couldn't understand the semaphore and Microsoft refused to explain the flags.

Microsoft was so reserved and calculated with the presentation, you were left feeling that the company was keeping the cool new stuff under wraps, and using CES to check off a milestone in its secret release schedule.

In years past, Microsoft set the show's tone. Bill Gates used to open the event with bold predictions about software and PC technology spreading into TVs, refrigerators and Web tablets. His keynote usually had a funny video or two, perhaps a celebrity appearance and a few exciting prototypes.

This year Ballmer showed Microsoft is making an important move. It's extending Windows to the minuscule hardware used to produce phenomenally thin and light mobile Web devices. The hardware is primarily based on the ARM architecture that's dominant in smartphones and Web tablets.

A lot of people think Microsoft missed this boat and will never get past the iPad's wake. The bigger competition, though, may be Google and its Android operating system, which was powering nearly all of the new tablets and smartphones debuting at the show.

Either way, Microsoft's big investment into ARM is "a huge, but necessary, step for the company as it works to re-engage with the booming mobile device space," IDC analyst Al Gillen said in a research note.

What's a little strange is that Microsoft already has versions of Windows that run on ARM. The Windows phone software runs on ARM; its mobile Windows CE software has run on ARM since 1996.

But Ballmer made it clear at CES that Microsoft intends to put the full version of Windows on mobile devices coming in 2012 and beyond. He said customers expect "the full range of capabilities from any device" and Windows "will be everywhere on every kind of device without compromise."

Once again, Microsoft is insisting that the full version of Windows be used on what it considers to be primary computing devices.

That gives the devices the benefit of Windows' support for all sorts of programs and hardware. But it can also put a heavy load on the system, affecting performance and battery life.

By pushing "big Windows" onto tablets, Microsoft is saying it considers these devices to be full-powered computing systems, with the capabilities of a laptop. Not just a tablet for browsing and running Web applications.

This pronouncement comes as the definition of Web tablets, and portable computers, is in flux.

Consumers and the industry are still trying to figure out the mix of computing devices we'll use to work, play and communicate.

Microsoft is taking a different path than Apple, which opted to produce a slimmed-down version of its operating system for the iPhone and the iPad. Its mobile operating system has fewer capabilities, but works well for the hardware.

The bigger competition appears to be the Android, which Google gives away free. Android is already overtaking the iPhone and is now aimed at the iPad with a refined version for tablets coming out later this year. Google demonstrated the upgrade at CES, and it looks like it could also become a competitor to Windows 7 and Apple's OS X.

Microsoft has to make some bold moves, because its execution hasn't kept up with its vision for mobile computing.

Early on, the company saw the potential for tablets and smartphones. The first Windows tablets launched in 2002, nearly a decade before the iPad, and its ultra-mobile, handheld PCs launched a year before the iPhone.

Yet ultra-mobile PCs were held back in part because Microsoft opted to use the full version of Windows. Hardware at the time wasn't powerful enough and was too expensive.

Sales were poor and PC makers turned to netbooks.

There were hints Microsoft figured this out. After the iPhone cleaned its clock, the phone group rebuilt its unwieldy operating system, sharpened its focus and unveiled Windows Phone 7.

Windows 7 was also supposed to be better for tablets, with the ability to remove more components and lighten the system, and improvements to touch controls.

But, for tablets, Microsoft's biggest partners are turning from Windows. Dell's new Streak tablet runs Android on ARM, and Hewlett-Packard's next tablets run its own operating system.

It seems Microsoft, with the strategy Ballmer discussed the other night, is moving to reverse that.

But even if it makes full Windows work well with devices, huge obstacles stand in its way -- if my tour of the international section of CES is an indication

A walk through the crowded stalls where Chinese and Taiwanese companies hawk every gadget imaginable, from flashlights to holographic video players, suggested Asian factories are gearing up to produce millions of Android tablets this year.

Last year, this zone was full of netbooks; before that it was iPhone and iPod knockoffs. This year every other company seemed to offering Android tablets, most with ARM processors.

But after talking to one of the manufacturers, I'm not counting on a flood of Windows ARM (WARM?) tablets at the 2012 CES.

The issue isn't hardware support or the software's capability as much as price, according to William Hsaio, deputy general manager of Hopeland Digital in Shenzhen China.

Hsaio hadn't heard of Microsoft's plan for the next version of Windows to run on ARM. But he said it won't matter when he can get Android free.

"Windows? Too expensive for our market," he said. "One license costs $30, $40. That's huge money."

(UPDATE: After this was filed, I heard from a veteran Microsoft engineer who shared a few thoughts. He said it could turn out to be more like Apple's approach after all - taking a legacy operating system to new processor architecture, with more constrained computational abilities, and leaving legacy applications behind.

Deep changes in Windows to make it run well on mobile hardware could result in new efficiencies and responsiveness that would also improve things on Intel x86 architecture.

Maybe we'll learn more about what's meant by "full power" Windows on mobile hardware at Microsoft's Mix conference in April or a developer conference later in the year.)

Here is Ballmer's keynote:

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December 13, 2010 9:34 AM

Google's Chrome CR-48: Back to the future, maybe

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's column is an extended take on Google's CR-48 preview of its Chrome operating system:

It was thrilling to fire up Google's ultra groovy CR-48 laptop running the company's new Chrome operating system.

The Applesque machine was like an early Christmas present from Silicon Valley Santa. Inside the eco-friendly cardboard package was technology that promised to finally topple Microsoft's 30-year dominance of the PC business.

Who could wait to see what kind of new computer the hottest software company in the world can create with its $3 billion-a-year research budget?

But after spending a few days with the CR-48, I don't think Microsoft has much to worry about yet. If anything, Chrome is more likely to challenge Apple's iOS software used in the iPad.

Chrome OS is elegantly designed with clever features that make it simple to run. But the software is crippled by Google's ambitious business objectives and quixotic pursuit of "online only" computing.
It's not really a personal-computer operating system, like Windows or Apple's OS X. It's more of an embedded system - like the software inside a cable box or phone - that's locked into place, mostly out of reach to users and managed remotely by Google.

What the user sees is just a browser - a version of Google's Chrome browser - with enough software under the hood to make the computer work. As a result the software is fast to start but limited. The user hardly has any control or choice over how to use and manage the computer on which it's running.
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Chrome is designed to be always connected to the Web, through Wi-Fi or Verizon 3G Wireless service.

The CR-48 that Google's distributing to developers, testers and the media is a gorgeous laptop but, unfortunately, it's not for sale. It's only a test bed for demonstrating, testing and marketing the Chrome OS, which is to start appearing on computers sold by Acer, Samsung and others next year.
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I'm expecting to see a bunch of different Chrome systems shown in January at the Consumer Electronics Show aimed for stores later in 2011. There will probably be a mix of laptops, tablets similar to the iPad and maybe even "all-in-one" systems with a monitor and processor in the same unit.

They'll probably cost about the same or less than low-end Windows PCs.

They should be cheaper, since the systems require you to use Google's ad-supported services. Buyers probably will also end up buying Verizon Wireless service.

Google and Verizon are offering 100 megabytes of free data transmission per month for two years to Chrome users. After that you'll have to pay either $10 per day for unlimited service or sign up for monthly plans that start at $20 for 1 gigabyte of data. (Verizon provides information on how much data various tasks will use; an excerpt below)

The 100 megabytes lasted less than a day. It wasn't enough to watch a single episode of "The Office" on Hulu.com, stuttering and buffering on the 3G service at my house. Partway through, the system showed an error message, blaming the website. It said the site "may be temporarily down or it may have moved permanently to a new Web address." Hulu was still up; the problem was that I needed to start paying Verizon or get on a Wi-Fi network.

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Google is taking another stab at the "network computer" that Oracle, Sun Microsystems and others proposed in the 1990s.

The concept is to offer cheap and simple computers that connect to a network where the heavy-duty computing is handled and centrally managed. The PC becomes a simple terminal.

This approach minimizes the importance of the PC and puts the emphasis on the data center.

You've probably used a similar system at libraries, which provide terminals to search and browse the catalog.

Having a browser-only computer is fine for a lot of things we do with computers. You can write and save documents at sites like Google Docs or Office Web Apps, if they're designed to work with Chrome. I was able to edit an Office document with the CR-48 but couldn't stream anything from Netflix, which uses software that's not supported by Chrome.

Last week's "launch" of Chrome was really aimed at Web developers. Google wants them to write special versions of their Web pages for Chrome. Those pages are characterized as applications and distributed through a polished Chrome app store offering free and paid apps. When you "install" one of these pages, they are bookmarked on your Chrome start page, with phonelike icons that you click to open the pages.

But this approach really works only if you're constantly connected to the Web. It also shifts control of the system from the user to the system manager and site operators.

Some people will be uncomfortable using computers that basically require you to log in to Google and store files on its servers.

For all of Google's talk about open software and net neutrality, Chrome OS is pushing computing back toward a model where you've got to sign in and use a big, nosy company's mainframe.

It's also unclear whether Google is willing to invest the massive effort it takes to build and support a true PC operating system. For instance, one of the hardest things about building an OS is making sure it works with different devices people use with their computers.

I connected the CR-48 to a three-year-old printer in my house and was presented with a "white screen of death" - a blank box that froze the browser. I should have read the online help pages first; Chrome OS doesn't have any printer drivers whatsoever.

To print something, you've got to send the file to a Google server, which in turn will send the file to a Windows PC (not a Mac) that's connected to a printer. But first you've got to sync your Windows PC with Google's online print service and be sure that it's logged in to your Google account.

Google may think this is a clever way to piggyback on the work Microsoft's done to support all the different printers people use, at least until all printers connect to the Web. Chrome OS users are going to think it's a royal pain and the software just doesn't work right.

More competition in the operating-system business is good and Chrome is an intriguing entry. But it has a long way to go before it's a contender for your next PC.

Note: For a different perspective, here is a post by Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt about the CR-48 launch and Chrome OS, relating his work on an early Sun network computer and "going back to old ideas."

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December 9, 2010 1:10 PM

Hands-on Google CR-48 Chrome laptop

Posted by Brier Dudley

letsgetstarted.jpgFirst impressions of the Google CR-48 laptop running Google's Chrome operating system will be posted here shortly.

First I've got to get it connected to a wireless network -- Wi-Fi or Verizon Wireless -- and finish the setup process. There's no Ethernet jack and it's not connecting to Verizon's wireless network from inside the building, but I haven't fully charged the battery so we'll see what happens.

It's a snazzy laptop that feels like a stripped-down, rubberized MacBook. But the hardware is just a test bed for Google's big foray into computer operating systems, which is just entering a public test phase and won't come to market until mid-2011.

Update: So it finally found Verizon service inside the building - two bars of 3G. It took a few tries to get it activated. At first I thought it was because I hadn't first logged in with a Google account - I was trying to just use the "guest" option that doesn't require signing in - but it eventually activated.

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A signature feature of the product is its built-in Verizon 3G service - which provides up to 100 megabytes of data transmission per month for free, for the first 24 months. But you can't use the free service until you sign up for a Verizon account with a credit card. Verizon then assigns the laptop a phone number - it's treating the device as if it's another phone on the network, apparently. Options include $10 per day for unlimited data and $20 per month for 1 gigabyte.

The system is really minimal - there's no traditional desktop, only a browser window that fills up the screen. To open multiple windows you open additional tabs in the browser.
signin.jpg

It takes about 15 seconds to power up, at which point you are presented with a sign-in window asking for your Google account info. Clicking on a smaller phrase at the bottom of the window gives you the option to "skip sign-in and browse as Guest."

Signing in with a Google account, you're first prompted to take a photo of yourself with the camera built into the top of the display frame.
apps.jpg
When you're signed in, the initial tab in the browser displays a set of application icons, giving the system a phone-like appearance. The first icons shown are for a tutorial, YouTube, Google Maps, Scratchpad, Gmail, Google Talk and two games, "Entanglement" and "Poppit."

There's also an icon for the Chrome Web Store where you can find additional apps for the system. Apps isn't the right term, though, since they're really Web sites optimized for the system. When you click one of the icons, you're not firing up an app loaded on the system, you're pointing the browser at a Web page. The app icons are really just a visual system of Web page bookmarks.

Over Verizon 3G with three bars showing, it's taking forever to start Entanglement. Clicking the icon took me to a page at Gopherwoodstudios.com, which has taken more than a minute to load. I switched to my Windows machine to do some work while it loaded and the CR-48 went to sleep before the loading was complete.

I gave up and tried to run Outlook Web Access, which loaded fairly quickly.

Poking around the settings, I found that Google lets you change the default search provider. The other options listed in a drop-down menu were Yahoo and Bing. I didn't see a way to change the browser to Explorer, Firefox or Safari, though.


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December 7, 2010 11:58 AM

Dive Into Mobile: Windows Phone update trumped by Google OS news

Posted by Brier Dudley

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's a challenging day for Joe Belfiore, Microsoft's Windows Phone design and management vice president

Belfiore came to give an update on Microsoft's grand entry into mobile devices to Walt Mossberg, at the Dive Into Mobile conference. Mossberg pressed for an update on Windows Phone 7 sales, saying the lack of sales info makes people wonder if it's not doing well.

Belfiore said Microsoft has been focused on launching the platform and some devices are just now coming to market.

"It's just too soon to talk about numbers," he said.

Mossberg and audience members also pressed Belfiore to explain what Microsoft will do to compete with Apple's iPad and other slate-like computers.

"Stay tuned," Belfiore said.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in San Francisco, Google's captivating the tech press with big news about its Chrome operating system.

Google showed a test-bed laptop that Google employees are using to test the software. It also said Acer and Samsung will begin selling laptops running the software in mid- 2011, according to Engadget's liveblog from the event.

Chrome isn't really launching today -- it's still to come, but Google's progress in the operating system business is sucking air out of the room at Dive Into Mobile.

Google's news is aimed mostly at developers that the company hopes will develop applications for the browser-like operating system. It's also jumping out ahead of the tablet and PC announcements coming at January's Consumer Electronics Show.

Meanwhile, Mossberg kept pressing Belfiore on Microsoft's belated phone software and how long it may take the company to catch up to the leading smartphone platforms.

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Belfiore wouldn't give a timeframe but said it could take a few years. (Belfiore is at right and Mossberg at left in this photo by Asa Mathat of All Things Digital.)

A few more bits from Belfiore's on-stage interview:

When Mossberg noted how far behind Microsoft's phone platform has fallen behind the iPhone and Android platforms, Belfiore said Microsoft has "tried to take advantage of what we've seen them do in the market."

"Admittedly we've been doing this for a long time, but now we think we have a product that's right up there with those guys," he said.

Mossberg asked "what makes you think it's right up there" when the Windows Phone 7 software doesn't yet have the multitasking and copy-paste features of the iPhone.

Belfiore said WP7 does some multitasking -- loading e-mail in the background, for instance -- and an update that adds copying and pasting is now being tested. He defended Microsoft's decision to focus first on capabilities that are more widely used, such as texting, browsing, email and multimedia.

"What we've tried to build is a software experience that can appeal to a very broad range of users who have needs that may not be as extreme as those tech enthusiasts," he said.

Belfiore wouldn't say when WP7 will get its first major update but said that the update is currently running on his personal phone.

Here's a video of the interview:

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December 7, 2010 8:49 AM

Dive Into Mobile: Google product boss, ex-landlord

Posted by Brier Dudley

SAN FRANCISCO -- Day 2 of the Dive Into Mobile conference started with Susan Wojcicki, Google's senior vice president of product development.

Wojcicki leads development of Google's phenomenal advertising products, but she'll probably go down in history as the person who rented the company's founders their mythical Silicon Valley garage to start the company.

Setting the record straight, Wojcicki told host Peter Kafka that they didn't actually start the company in the garage, but they went through it to reach the part of her house they were renting.

Wojcicki had just graduated from business school and bought the house and rented a portion of it to Google team for $1,700 per month.

"They used the garage for storage," she said. "When they got really desperate -- they got up to seven employees -- one of the employees worked in the garage."

Eventually she became employee 18 at the company, which now has some 20,000 employees, Kafka noted.

Wojcicki wouldn't discuss the company's reported attempts to acquire Groupon but praised the Chicago company's model and said local coupon services could be part of Google's pursuit of local advertising.

"Those are definitely things were thinking about and trying to figure out the right thing to offer," she said.

Wojcicki declined to say whether the company will buy startups in the space or build its own versions of coupon and check-in services, but startups in the local advertising business are probably salivating.

One of Google's biggest focuses now is figuring out "how Google can crack the local market," she said.

"The local market's a huge market. We've always wanted to be in it," she said.

Kafka pressed Wojcicki on concerns about privacy.

"Google is ultimately a consumer brand," she said, explaining that the company works to be transparent to keep consumers' trust.

With its mobile Android operating system, the company gives new users choices about which information to share, when they first setup an Android phone. (She didn't discuss how users are asked to change those settings when they use various applications.)

"I think there are a lot of controls that are built in for users to feel comfortable with the information that is passed," she said.

Wojcicki is enthusiastic about the potential of mobile advertising, including services giving consumers the ability to "check in" with stores.

"Being able to close the loop is going to be a huge opportunity," she said.

"I think mobile brings opportunity to not just bring people to a site, but to actually deliver them to a store and say, 'This user came to this store and purchased this because of something they saw on the Internet or .. in a magazine.' ''

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December 3, 2010 4:52 PM

Report: Groupon rejects Google's $6 billion, aims for IPO

Posted by Brier Dudley

Widevine is Google's consolation prize, apparently.

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Groupon has rejected Google's offer to buy the local-advertising company for reportedly up to $6 billion. A series of anonymously sourced stories about the purported deal held the attention of the tech press over the past week, but neither company ever publicly confirmed anything.

Citing "two sources with direct knowledge of the situation," the Tribune is reporting that Groupon turned down the offers and will decide in 2011 whether to go public.

Maybe Google should just start buying newspapers if it wants their local advertising business so much.

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December 3, 2010 2:44 PM

Google buying Widevine in push to improve video DRM

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google is buying Widevine, a Seattle vendor of digital-rights management software that's widely used by broadcasters to safely transmit video content online.

The move comes as Google is pledging to do a better job protecting copyrighted material and fending off a renewed lawsuit by Viacom over copyright violations.

By acquiring Widevine, Google will instantly become a dominant player in the market for protecting video content broadcast over the Web. The company is already the largest distributor of online video by far but it currently doesn't have its own streaming-video DRM technology other than a "content ID" fingerprinting system developed for YouTube.

A Google spokesman declined to say whether the company will apply Widevine's DRM technology to the vast amount of video the company hosts and distributes. Having a more robust system to track and protect streaming video could help the company if it decides to renew efforts to create pay video services and other content subscription services.

Widevine may also help Google build new relationships with wary broadcasters resentful of the way Google's platforms have been used to distribute unauthorized copies of their material.

Widevine's DRM technology is used in more than 250 million Web-connected devices, including TVs and Blu-ray players made by Samsung, LG and Panasonic. Its DRM technology is also used in GoogleTV devices, the Android operating system, Apple's iOS platform and Nintendo's Wii.

In a blog post announcing the deal, Mario Queiroz, Google's vice president of product management, said Widevine has "worked to provide a better video delivery experience for businesses of all kinds," from studios to cable systems and hardware manufacturers

"By forging partnerships across the entire ecosystem, Widevine has made on demand services more efficient and secure for media companies, and ultimately more available and convenient for users," he wrote.

A price wasn't disclosed but Widevine has raised more than $65 million from investors including Cisco Systems, Samsung, Charter Ventures, Dai Nippon Printing, Constellation Ventures, Liberty Global, PaceSetter Capital, Phoenix Partners and VantagePoint Venture Partners.

Widevine's 60 employees will relocate from the company's offices in downtown Seattle to Google's Kirkland campus.

The release quote from Widevine Chief Executive Brian Baker, who co-founded the company in 1999:

By working with Google, we are even further committed to the consumer Internet video experience and to the needs of content owners. Widevine will continue to supply the industry with leading video optimization and content protection solutions. We are excited to have access to Google's vast resources as we continue to improve our products, support our customers, and meet the future needs of consumers, content owners, service providers and device manufacturers everywhere.

Another co-founder -- who is now teaching in California -- was former Microsoft and AT&T cryptography researcher Jeremy Horwitz.

Google has been negotiating with Widevine for several months as pressure on the search giant grew from copyright holders.

Google announced Thursday that it's stepping up efforts to remove content that infringes on copyright from its sites and will more promptly remove infringing material.

Then earlier today, Viacom resumed its lawsuit over YouTube hosting pirated material from its networks, including Comedy Central and MTV. Viacom is appealing a June ruling in Google's favor, made by the U.S. District Court in New York.

Meanwhile, Google continues to draw millions to its video services. Its sites drew 146.3 million unique viewers who conducted 2 billion viewing sessions -- averaging 271.6 minutes per viewer -- in October, according to comScore.

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November 15, 2010 11:01 AM

"Up Front" on Windows Phone 7

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's Sunday's "Up Front" show with Robert Mak on King 5, which has some guy talking about Windows Phone 7, near the end of the show (when it shows about 5:20 remaining).

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November 12, 2010 11:43 AM

Facebook email service coming Monday?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Facebook is expected to announce a new messaging service on Monday and some are predicting that it's going to unveil a Web email system to compete with Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail.

Fmail, perhaps?

The move comes as Facebook and Google are in a tiff over exporting contact lists. Google last week making it more difficult for Facebook to hoover up contact lists.

PCWorld has a rundown of the rumors. The latest is TechCrunch's report that the social networking site will launch a "Gmail killer" code-named Project Titan that will offer personal email addresses ending with "@facebook.com."

GigaOm earlier speculated that Facebook's going to upgrade its mobile chat feature and add a "one to many" group chat capability.

The move could make Facebook even more central to users' lives. Avid users may be excited to unify their mail and social network services.

Others may want to keep in mind Facebook's evolving approach to privacy - and challenges simplifying its privacy management tools - before giving it responsibility for their personal mail.

Given the spat with Google over sharing contact information, a big question will be how Facebook's message system syncs with the established Web mail services.

I wonder if Facebook's friendly uncle Microsoft will be involved, supporting Facebook mail with easy connections to its Live.com online services, or perhaps even powering the mail system.

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November 11, 2010 5:15 PM

Forget the 10 percent raise, Google offers $3.5M to engineer

Posted by Brier Dudley

According to TechCrunch, Google is upping its offers to keep engineers from jumping ship for Facebook.

Mike Arrington "confirmed" this evening that one Google engineer "being heavily romanced by Facebook" was offered $3.5 million worth of stock to stick around.

It makes Googlers' 10 percent raises and $1,000 bonuses look puny. The search giant reportedly fired the person who leaked details of the upcoming raise and compensation changes. I wonder if it will also go after Arrington's source.

Is Microsoft making any outrageous retention offers nowadays?

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November 9, 2010 6:00 AM

Google adds "Instant Previews," gets more visual

Posted by Brier Dudley

Get ready for another significant change in the way Google looks and works.

The seach giant today is rolling out "Instant Previews" on its Web search page, giving users the ability to quickly get a peek at the Web pages listed in search results. The feature goes live today and will be available in more than 40 languages over the next few days. Here's a page where you can try the feature if you're not seeing it yet on Google's main page.
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Search results will display a small magnifying glass icon on the right side of links. When you click the icon, it launches "Instant Preview" mode. In that mode, a large preview pane pops up on the right when you hover the cursor over any of the search results.

It's not just a thumbnail image of a Web page. Google highlights where your search terms appear on the page. If it's a long page, the preview image is cut, pasted and displayed in such a way that you see the upper portion and the lower portion where the search terms appear. Google calls this a "tear" and displays a jagged line, as shown below.
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It's a cousin to Google's "cached" feature, which shows snippets of Web pages, highlighting where search terms appear in the pages. But instead of just showing a snippet, previews show an image of the page with the relevant portion highlighted.

Ben Gomes, a Google distinguished engineer at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters who worked on the project, characterized the new feature as an evolutionary step in the company's ongoing effort to make searching faster and more precise.

It builds on the "instant" search feature launched in September, which predicts what you're searching for as you type and begins delivering results.

"This is going to make the next step, finding the right result, much faster," he said.

The previews give users a peek at pages' look and feel, helping them decide whether to proceed.

Previews take advantage of Google's early decision to capture and index full Web pages. There's now enough computation power available to almost instantly present vivid page previews with results shown in context.

"Essentially we need to know where every word on the Web is placed. That's a non-trivial task," Gomes said.

Previews are displayed generally in less than a tenth of a second. (UPDATE: Gomes said that fetching images of all the pages in a search and figuring out where words are laid out "sometimes takes several seconds." That work will be taking place after you first click a magnifying glass icon.) That's really fast, but still slower than general search results, which take a few hundred milliseconds to assemble.

Gomes said the speed and smoothness of the feature make it feel almost like an application.

It also makes Google results more visual. The search giant has added more flair in recent years but remains minimalist compared with Bing's more visual presentation.

Google claims that people who have used Instant Previews -- which has been undergoing closed testing -- are about 5 percent more likely to be satisfied with the results they click.

I wonder if this will up the ante for Web design. Site owners may be prodded to improve the appearance of their sites, to make it as grabby as their keywords.

Gomes said previews may have that effect. It may also reward sites that are already well designed, he said.

"Webmasters have put a lot of effort into their design already and I hope it gives them a win for doing that," he said.

Another example:

goog-yosem.jpg

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November 8, 2010 10:08 AM

Google's free Wi-Fi extends to the sky, on planes

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google is making its free Wi-Fi for travelers a holiday tradition. It started last year when the company announced free Wi-Fi at airports around the country.

This year, the company's taking it further and offering free in-flight Wi-Fi during the holidays on a few participating airlines.

The company said today that it's picking up the tab for in-flight Wi-Fi on AirTran, Delta and Virgin America domestic flights from Nov. 20 through Jan. 2. The Wi-Fi is otherwise a pay service provided by Gogo.

Google's Chrome browser business group is sponsoring the freebie, so users shouldn't be surprised if there's some sort of suggestion that they download and try the browser.

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October 27, 2010 6:00 PM

GoogleTV: Intriguing but pricey for a beta product

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google is leaping into the television set-top box business this holiday season with its new GoogleTV software platform.

After trying one of the first models for a few days, I'd say it isn't yet worth the $300 to $1,400 that GoogleTV systems cost.

There are plenty of cheaper and simpler options available if you want to connect your TV to the Internet and watch Netflix and YouTube videos.
Revue_InUse_300_dpi[1].jpg
Technophiles wanting their TVs to have the power of a PC may be frustrated by the limitations of GoogleTV. It's nowhere near as polished and flexible as the Media Center software built into most versions of Windows and it lacks the digital video recording features of Media Center.

It's too bad because I just love the remote control on the GoogleTV system I've been testing, the $299 Logitech Revue.

The remote is a light but sturdy wireless keyboard with a trackpad and TV controls on the right side, where you'd find a numeric keypad on a regular keyboard. Its big buttons are easier to use than the mini-keypads used on some remotes nowadays.

It connects to a set-top box that's about the size of a netbook computer and runs the same kind of Intel Atom processor. Set-up is pretty easy, with a step-by-step menu on the TV screen.

GoogleTV will disappoint people looking for a way to "cut the cable" or reduce the clutter of boxes connected to their TV. It's designed to supplement, rather than replace, a cable company's set-top box.

In a surprising departure from Google's democratic approach to product design, GoogleTV really only works if you pay for premium cable. It also requires broadband.

If you have barebones basic cable -- the kind that requires no cable box -- or use free broadcast TV, you're basically out of luck. There's no way to connect an antenna or coaxial cable. The only way to get TV signals into the box is through an HDMI cable.

So what does GoogleTV do? It's basically a layer of software that can be added to your TV. This layer can be used to browse the Web, display Web video content and run applications, although there are only a few available so far. It runs on the tiny Intel processors in a set-top box or built into special flat-panel TV sets.

The big feature is, of course, Google search. When a GoogleTV device is connected to a TV, you can call up a search box on the screen to look for content available on the Web and your TV. Search results are tailored, so a search for a particular actor may return links to a bunch of video snippets where the actor appears.

When I searched for "Jamie Oliver," GoogleTV displayed links to the chef's Web site and Web videos. But it didn't find the collection of his shows that I'd already recorded on a TiVo connected to the GoogleTV box.
googjamie.jpg
At the Food Network's Web site, I was able to play its parsimonious selection of free video clips. But they were off center on the screen, and GoogleTV's vertical scroll bar is so narrow -- the width of a pencil on a 40-inch TV -- that I had trouble moving the page to the right place.

I was able to use the browser to do work e-mail on the TV in my living room. But GoogleTV wouldn't let me press the "close" button to exit the Web mail program, which remained open on the TV's "desktop."

Despite all the content protection and cable coziness, GoogleTV's still getting the stink eye from TV networks. Most are blocking GoogleTV units from accessing their free, online video offerings, including the free TV shows and movies at Hulu.com. If you point the browser at Hulu, you get a message saying you'll have to pay for its $10 per month premium plan, through a GoogleTV application that's being developed.
NoHulu.jpg
Google says lots of applications will be available in 2011 but for now there's a meager selection, including the standard YouTube, Netflix, Pandora and Twitter apps. There's also an NBA application that displays scores and highlights, if you still care after the Sonics debacle.

I've tested all sorts of gadgets with Netflix lately and GoogleTV was the first one that failed to work out of the box. The system hung up and directed me to Netflix support, where I was advised to do a hard reboot -- unplugging and restarting the GoogleTV box. It worked afterward.

Google's being cagey about its plans to connect GoogleTV to its advertising delivery system. That may be the biggest reason to wait before investing in a GoogleTV system. If Google's going to use the system to make money off of you, with ads, the system should be cheaper or even free.

It also needs a pop-up blocker so the browser doesn't put this sort of thing on your TV:

googpopup.jpg

The Revue media player connected to the Twonky server on my home network but not Windows Media Connect. It couldn't play videos taken with my camera and stored on the network. The player also froze when I tried to rotate a photo stored on the network, using its rotate button:

googtvpic.jpg

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October 26, 2010 3:57 PM

Google giving developers 10,000 GoogleTV devices

Posted by Brier Dudley

The freebie of the day, if you're an app developer, is coming from Google.

The company today announced that it's giving 10,000 GoogleTV devices to developers building software for the fledgling platform. It started by giving 3,000 away today at the Adobe Max conference.

Here's Google's announcement, with details on where professional Web developers can apply for one of the devices, which start at $299.

Hopefully they'll send one to Hulu.com, which doesn't allow access from GoogleTV devices to its free TV shows and movies.


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October 12, 2010 2:51 PM

Sony's GoogleTV lineup: $400-$1,400

Posted by Brier Dudley

At a press event in New York today, Sony is showing off its lineup of GoogleTV products, including a Blu-ray player and Wi-Fi TVs with the Google software built in.

I'm not there but am watching the live coverage and company releases. The Sony products look nice but they're expensive -- more than double the price of its standard Blu-ray players, which also connect to Internet video services.

Similar to the $299 Logitech Revue set-top box unveiled last week, the Sony products have a Google search tool used to search for shows and content coming through a cable connection, stored on devices in the home and on the Web. The Google software also supports applications, such as the ubiquitous Netflix, YouTube and Twitter apps.
Sony_NSZ-GT1_with_rmt_lg.jpg
Sony's Googley Blu-ray player costs $399 and has a striking white case that reminds me of the short-lived Vaio media centers and "hat box" home theater PCs the company sold about six years ago.

New LCD Sony TVs with Google software range from $600 to $1,400 -- $600 for a 24-inch screen, $800 for a 32-inch, $1,000 for a 40-inch and $1,400 for a 46-inch. They have a new look for Sony, with curved corners, as opposed to the squared off look of its recent Bravia sets. Its Googleized TVs look more like computer monitors.

The TVs are also roughly double what you might pay for a flat-panel TV without the built-in wireless and Google software.

Also in the box is a wild new remote control with a built-in keypad and a control scheme borrowed from Sony's PlayStation game console.

Sony_NSG-MR1_remote_CW_lg.jpg

Inside the Blu-ray player and the TVs is an Intel Atom processor similar to those used in netbooks. It's on a chip that also handles video processing; in effect they're small PCs inside.

The Sony products will be in its "Style" stores this weekend and Best Buy the following weekend.

Sony said the player and TVs will be able to access the Android app store in early 2011, so buyers can add additional apps.

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October 6, 2010 2:07 PM

Facebook adds Googley dashboard, privacy tools redux

Posted by Brier Dudley

Wouldn't it be great if the growing competition between Google and Facebook led to a privacy arms race, with the companies trying to one-up each other with new privacy tools?

Both companies' products are not private by nature. To use their services, you feed them personal information that they use to target advertising.

But they're trying.

Last November, Google added a "dashboard" that lets users see and manage settings for their various Google accounts. Today Facebook released its version, a dashboard for users' Facebook applications that also lets them download and save everything they've posted on the site.

The social network also upgraded its Groups feature for managing lists of friends and what is shared with whom. Friend lists were rolled out in 2007, but they weren't easy to use. With much hoopla in December 2009, Facebook overhauled and simplified its sharing and privacy features to give users more control over sharing and friend lists.

"We're adding something that many of you have asked for -- the ability to control who sees each individual piece of content you create or upload. In addition, we'll also be fulfilling a request made by many of you to make the privacy settings page simpler by combining some settings," Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said at the time.

Today Facebook is trying once again, with a revised Groups system. During a press event, Zuckerberg said only 5 percent of users have used the previous tools to create lists.

Its new "spaces" feature lets users create small, private groups of friends to share things and chat on a more ad hoc basis. It sounds kind of like a privacy-enabled version of Google's soon-to-be-shuttered Wave service, which let people assemble groups of contacts to chat and share things.

"It's a simple way to stay up to date with small groups of your friends and to share things with only them in a private space. The default setting is Closed, which means only members see what's going on in a group," Zuckerberg said in a blog post today.

We'll have to see if more than 5 percent use the new tools for sharing private things on the social network.

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October 6, 2010 1:17 PM

Logitech's Google TV device: $299, out by Halloween

Posted by Brier Dudley

The first set-top box running Google's new TV software was unveiled today by Logitech, the Swiss peripherals company that also makes Harmony remote controls.

Logitech is taking pre-orders for a $299 kit that includes a wireless keyboard/remote control and a set-top box.

Google TV adds a search bar to the TV screen and a collection of applications through which videos and other content is distributed, similar to the applications available on newer TVs from Panasonic, Samsung, Vizio and others.
Revue_InUse.jpg
Google is working with content providers to develop custom applications for the platform, but what's most notable is that the Google TV software includes a browser for viewing Web pages directly, unlike most new connected TV devices, which funnel everything through applications.

Logitech is the first of several partners rolling out Google TV products. On Oct. 12, Sony will announce new Blu-ray players and TVs with Google TV software built in.

Don't look to Google TV to replace your cable TV service yet. The Logitech device requires you to also have a cable or satellite set-top box with an HDMI connection (or DirectTV service). It also requires a TV with an HDMI input to connect to the Logitech box.

Inside, the box has an Intel Atom processor designed especially for set-top boxes. In a way it's similar to the mininature Atom-powered Media Center PCs from Asus, Lenovo and others that are designed to be mounted on the back of a TV, but those are full-fledged computers that let you load, store and share content.

Logitech's "Revue" device has a USB port for connecting to external hard-drives and devices storing content, and it's DLNA compliant, meaning it should be able to stream music, photos and videos from DLNA media servers on a home network.

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October 1, 2010 12:28 PM

Microsoft using anti-Linux tactic against Google's Android

Posted by Brier Dudley

The lawsuit Microsoft filed against Motorola and its use of Google's Android phone software is awfully familiar.

Microsoft used the same tactic against Linux when the open-source software reached critical mass in the data center and threatened to derail the growth of Microsoft's server business seven years ago.

After name-calling failed to slow Linux, Microsoft started warning big companies that the free software wasn't really free. It also said companies should take into account the potential cost of patent and licensing litigation around open-source products.

Uncertainty increased in 2003, when SCO, a Utah company, alleged that Linux was using some of its technologies. SCO licensed its technology to Microsoft and sought royalties from hundreds of companies using Linux.

That helped Microsoft persuade customers that free software isn't really free. It even promised to indemnify customers that went with Microsoft products instead, offering a sort of insurance against patent issues.

In recent months Microsoft began dropping similar hints about the true cost of Android, leading up to today's lawsuit. It names Motorola, but an accompanying blog post suggests its looking broadly at Android patent issues:

"Our action today merely seeks to ensure respect for our intellectual property rights infringed by Android devices; and judging by the recent actions by Apple and Oracle, we are not alone in this respect," Horacio Gutierrez, deputy general counsel, wrote.

This probably won't have any effect on people using Android phones today or considering some of the new models coming out soon.

The message is for phone manufacturers. Microsoft is telling them that although Google made Android open-source software, it's not completely free, when you factor in the potential licensing costs that may have be paid to patent holders.

I wonder if Google will step up to defend Android, or resurrect the coalition of phone companies that initially backed the software to either fight Microsoft's lawsuit or sort out a licensing arrangement.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is happy to sell the phone companies its new phone operating system, which has presumably gone through a gauntlet of patent lawyers. Apparently Motorola hasn't signed up yet for Windows Phone 7.

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September 24, 2010 1:37 PM

Feds sue Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe for anticompetitive moves

Posted by Brier Dudley

The U.S. Department of Justice this afternoon sued six high-profile tech companies for making anticompetitive moves to protect employees from poaching.

Apple, Google, Intel, Adobe, Pixar and Intuit made agreements "that restrained competition between them for highly skilled employees," the department said in a news release.

They agreed not to cold-call each other's employees, which "distorted the competitive process," Molly Boast, deputy attorney general in the antitrust division said.

Starting as early as 2005, the companies agreed to create "do not call lists" of each other's employees and lists of companies that were "off limits" for recruiting.

An example listed in the release:

Beginning no later than September 2007, Google and Intel executives agreed not to cold call each other's employees. In its hiring policies and protocol manual, Google listed Intel among the companies that have special agreements with Google and are part of the "Do Not Cold Call" list. Similarly, Intel instructed its human resources staff about the existence of the agreement.

The companies were named in a civil antitrust complaint filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Simultaneously, a proposed five-year settlement was filed that would end the suit.

From the release:

Although the complaint alleges only that the companies agreed to ban cold calling, the proposed settlement more broadly prohibits the companies from entering, maintaining or enforcing any agreement that in any way prevents any person from soliciting, cold calling, recruiting, or otherwise competing for employees. The companies will also implement compliance measures tailored to these practices.

The suit came out of a larger, ongoing investigation into high-tech firms' employment practices.

Google acknowledged the settlement with a blog post, in which Amy Lambert, associate general counsel, still defended the company's behavior. An excerpt:

In order to maintain a good working relationship with these companies, in 2005 we decided not to "cold call" employees at a few of our partner companies. Our policy only impacted cold calling, and we continued to recruit from these companies through LinkedIn, job fairs, employee referrals, or when candidates approached Google directly. In fact, we hired hundreds of employees from the companies involved during this time period.

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September 22, 2010 12:26 PM

Microsoft IE vet heads to Google Fremont

Posted by Brier Dudley

After 15 years learning the software business at Microsoft, Chris Wilson was ready for a new school.

The principal program manager on Microsoft's Internet Explorer team left Microsoft yesterday for a new job as a developer advocate for Google, based at its Fremont office.

"I've learned a tremendous amount at Microsoft, learned tons from all the people I worked with," he said in a phone interview. "I think that it's time for some different lessons now."

Wilson's move comes amid a growing browser war between the companies, but his non-compete agreement with Microsoft prevents him from working on Google's Chrome browser for a year.

Google will find something for Wilson to do, after he takes a six-week break between jobs.

"What I'm really super passionate about is using the Web platform and building out the Web platform as a whole," he said. "There's so much opportunity in what services get offered and how people can tie these things together - that really is not what I've been doing."

Wilson's going to work with developers all over the place, but he'll also be part of the company's effort to step up its work with developers in the Seattle region as well.

The Illinois native came to Seattle more than 15 years ago when his wife went to graduate school at the University of Washington. Wilson, 40, found work on the software team at Spry, working on its "Internet in a Box" product, and joined Microsoft in 1995.

Wilson said the timing was right for his move, now that Internet Explorer 9 is released.

"They're in a pretty good place, they've got a pretty good product with IE9," he said. "What I really want to focus on in the long-term is how people use the Web platform, both developers and consumers, and I think Google is a really good place to do that."

(I first learned of Wilson's move from Mary-Jo Foley, who also noted that Brian Arbogast, Microsoft vice president for mobile services and a 24-year veteran, left the company Aug. 16 after a sabbatical.)

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September 8, 2010 11:03 AM

Google Instant launches, as Bing+Yahoo gets rolling

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google today turned on a new feature called "Google Instant" that guesses what you're searching for as soon as you start typing in its main search page.

The feature, which will roll out over several days for people using the latest browsers, fills in the search box with shaded words as you start typing - attempting to complete your thoughts before you type them.

During a press event in San Francisco that was also broadcast on YouTube, Google Vice President Marissa Mayer called it "search at the speed of thought" and a "quantum leap forward" in search.

Google says the typical searcher takes more than 9 seconds to enter a term, and "many" searches took 30 to 90 seconds to type. It believes Google Instant will save two to five seconds per search. From the release:

Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time!) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type.

We'll see how that works for the people who take 90 seconds to type a search query.

But Google Instant will still change the way a lot of people use Google and could shake up the search marketing industry.

Some users may find it annoying or creepy and turn off the feature, although most probably won't bother to change the default setting.

Search marketers are going to have to rethink their complicated strategies to push their sites higher into Google's results. The golden ring will now be getting a company to automatically appear as people start typing.

A wonderful thing about Google's egalitarian search algorithms is the way they attempt to level the playing field and expose people to a breadth of information on the Web. I wonder if the serendipity and discovery that comes with searching will be sacrificed a bit for convenience and speed.

It's like over-engineering a library. The most efficient operation would be to have a librarian standing by the door, to hand you a book as you step inside, thinking that's what you'll like. Why bother to look further?

Google's pitch is that Instant speeds up your searches and saves people time. Google's already pretty fast, but it's probably getting tired of Microsoft saying that Bing's more efficient.

What is faster is the rate of innovation that's happening in the search business, now that Bing's getting some scale.

Google's latest upgrade comes shortly after Microsoft's search partnership with Yahoo took effect. Together they gave Bing a big jump in market share - 24.56 percent in the last full week of August, according to an Experian Hitwise report yesterday.

Experian's report said people were already using shorter queries on search engines. Longer queries, averaging five to eight words long, decreased 2 percent from July to August, and two-word queries accounted for 23.71 percent of searches. Google handled 71.59 percent of the searches during the full month.

Google's introductory video:

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September 7, 2010 10:33 AM

Google TV in autumn, Chrome tablets coming, CEO says

Posted by Brier Dudley

The TV platform that Google is developing with Sony, Intel and Logitech will debut in the U.S. this autumn, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt told reporters at a Berlin trade fair.

Schmidt also said Google will be announcing deals with computers makers to use the company's Chrome operating system on tablet computers, according to a Reuters report.

A number of tablets have already appeared with Google's Android operating system, which was designed primarily for phones, but the Chrome OS has been mostly vaporware so far.

It's a little confusing because Chrome is also the name of Google's browser.

Samsung is mulling whether to add Google software in its TVs, according to a Bloomberg report from Seoul. Samsung is already selling TV sets with similar capabilities, including an application platform for developers.

Google is having a press event Wednesday in San Francisco but it sounds like an update to Google search technology and not the Chrome tablet announcement Schmidt previewed.

The Reuters report said Schmidt declined to comment on the music service Google's expected to announce soon. He did say he was "angry" that Google Street View camera vehicles collected private data from WiFi networks, prompting action by German regulators.

"I was very angry about that," Reuters quoted Schmidt as saying.

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September 2, 2010 12:26 PM

Video: Google goggling at Pike Place Market

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a video of the mobile demonstration of Google Goggles for Android phones, with Google's Jason Freidenfelds showing the product at Pike Place Market.

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September 1, 2010 5:10 PM

Google goggles around Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

It was hard to resist Google's blatant pitch for publicity.

The search giant was asking if I wanted to roam around downtown Seattle, starting at Pike Place Market, for a mobile demonstration of the Goggles application for Google's Android platform. (Here's a video of the demo)

Goggles, which has steadily added new capabilities since it debuted last December, conducts searches based on images taken by a phone's camera.

Point it at a building or a sign, and Goggles will call up information about what you're seeing. It worked well when aimed at the sign for Pike Place Fish but that was a relatively easy one. Google has lots of images of that place for reference, and the location is marked on Google Maps, which Google checks against the phone's location.

Goggles takes advantage of the powerful processors in today's smartphones and faster cell networks to offload the processing to its datacenters.

The app appears to be slowly scanning things, with a wavy blue line moving across the screen like a copy machine, but that's just a visual cue that something's happening somewhere on Google's network.

"It's not realy an app on the phone so much as this is a conduit into a massive, mobile supercomputer," said Jason Freidenfelds, manager of global communications and public affairs.

If you're in a foreign country, you can use Goggles to translate signs or menus. Point the camera at a block of text and in a few seconds Google returns a translation.

It worked well on German and French foreign magazines at the First and Pike News stand, but stumbled over a Danish magazine with the crown princess (a former Microsoft employee) on the cover.

Over at Left Bank Books, Goggles scanned the cover of a book and offered to display a scanned preview of the book, in case we didn't want to put down the phone and leaf through it in person. It also listed other places we could buy the book for a lower price.

Before we could fool around much more, an employee asked us to leave, even though Goggles runs on the open-source Android platform.

Goggles is still an experimental application -- released as a Google Labs project. When it works, it's really cool, but it can give wildly incorrect results.

Freidenfelds several times said Goggles makes your phone like a device from "Star Trek." But I wouldn't trust Goggles for mission critical searches, at least until the system has been refined.

Maybe the inaccuracy of the fledgling technology is why Microsoft hasn't released any applicaitons as ambitious as Goggles, even though it began working on the same sort of technology before Google.

In 2007 Microsoft researchers revealed a project called Lincoln, which conducted searches based on images by comparing the image to a database. Two years ago Craig Mundie, the company's research boss, demonstrated a prototype handheld device that could scan around an area and provide details about businesses in the vicinity.

The Lincoln project contributed to a Bing search app released for the iPhone in December and Android phones last week. Apparently there won't be anything similar to Goggles available when the Windows Phone 7 platform launches this holiday season.

Image recognition has become more useful now that so many people are taking and sharing digital photos, explained Larry Zitnick, a research in Microsoft Research's Interactive Visual Media Group who worked on Lincoln.

"The end result that eveybody's trying to do is link up the real world to the Internet through imagery," he said.

Goggles is part of Google's broader effort to build a universal image index, a massive collection of imagery that it can use for reference when people conduct visual searches in the future.

The bigger the index, the better the results will be. A challenge right now is figuring out how to scale up the index. Google's largest index has 50 million objects and now needs to grow to 100 million or 200 million.

To build a truly universal index, it will need to recognize perhaps a billion objects, according to Hartwig Adam, who is developing the system at Google's Santa Monica, Calif., office.

Adam was previously employed by Neven Vision, a company that grew out of military-funded research at the University of Southern California into facial recognition technology. Google bought Neven in 2006 to improve its Picasa photo service.

Now the group is working on a much broader application.

Within three years, the technology could become a tool that people use regularly in their daily lives, pointing phones at a real-estate sign to call the agent, for instance.

"Basically I hope that we can in a few years give you answers about anything that's in front of you that you would like to know more about," Adam said.

It may take longer for Goggles to work with faces. Not because of technical challenges, but because of privacy issues. Adam is especially sensitive to the topic, having come from Germany.

"There seems to be an interest, but it has to be done in a way that people can feel comfortable, that their privacy can be preserved," he said.

"If there's a way to make it happen, then we would look into it," he said. "At the moment we treat it with the utmost care."

Here are a few screenshots of Goggles - first taking an image, then returning a search based on what it saw:

Goggles_arc1.jpg

Goggles_arc2.jpg

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August 30, 2010 2:17 PM

SEO tips: Twitterific words, scoring a Google 7 pack and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

Grand wizards of the search marketing world were sharing secrets today at a seminar hosted by SEOmoz, the Seattle search marketing software provider.

Here are a few search marketing (and Twitter) tips and tricks from the sessions I attended at the Seattle Westin today.


Continue reading this post ...


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August 30, 2010 12:58 PM

Why Paul Allen is suing Apple, Google, Facebook, et al

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's column is my take on why Paul Allen's suing some of the biggest names in tech. The top:

Something's up with Paul Allen.

His bombshell Friday -- a lawsuit against Apple, Google, Facebook and others for patent infringement -- was just the latest symptom.

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August 27, 2010 11:21 AM

Paul Allen sues Apple, Google, Facebook, much of tech industry

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen today filed a lawsuit against many of the biggest names in tech, alleging they're infringing on patents obtained by Interval Research, a venture Allen and Xerox veteran David Liddle started in 1992.

Interval's research generated about 300 patents, four of which are the basis of the suit. The group operated in Palo Alto, growing to more than 100 researchers, until it was shuttered in 2000.

Named as defendents are Apple, Google, Facebook, eBay, AOL, Netflix, Yahoo, Google's YouTube, OfficeMax, Office Depot and Staples.

Most of the companies declined to comment, but Facebook said the suit's without merit and a Google spokesperson said it's part of an "unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of the marketplace."

If Allen is successful, he could go after additional companies, seeking royalties for Interval patents that touch on much of the current Web experience.

One of the patents in the suit lays claim to the concept of automatically showing related information on a website, so people viewing a news story online could be presented with related stories, for instance.

"The invention enables some or all of a body of information to be skimmed quickly, enabling a quick overview of the content of the body of information to be obtained," states a 2001 patent for "browser for use in navigating body of information." "The invention also enables quick identification of information that pertains to a particular subject."

Allen has already tried to make money with that concept, starting a company called Evri, which developed a widget that media sites could embed into their sites and generate clusters of related stories.

It's unclear at this point how Allen sought to license the technology. Asked whether the lawsuit follows attempts to negotiate licensing deals with the named companies, Allen's spokesman David Postman said, "The defendants were informed that we had patents of interest."

The belated pursuit of compensation for research conducted more than a decade ago puts Allen at risk of being labeled a patent troll. Postman characterized the move as "part of an ongoing process for years to monetize that portfolio."

"Other patents were licensed to other people," Postman said. "Now we're to the point of reviewing that portfolio and seeing at the same time if technology in the marketplace has caught up to where Interval was. It's clear that these patents cover a variety of key processes in search and e-commerce. We're to the point where litigation is the next step on that."

Within Allen's circle of billionaire Microsoft veterans is Nathan Myhrvold, who started a Bellevue company called Intellectual Ventures that collects patents and makes money charging licensing fees. Bill Gates is invested in the group and helping with its research.

Intellectual Ventures' rise contributed to the debate over reforming the U.S. patent system and raised questions about how much the system encourages innovation vs. enriching license holders.

But Postman said Allen's situation with Interval is different, partly because Interval was formed to be a research organization developing new technologies for the "wired world" Allen envisioned. Postman also denied that Allen is enforcing his patents at the suggestion of Myhrvold or others.

"Ever since Interval was operating he's known there was value in those patents," Postman said. "That's why he was able to sell some, spin some off and license others. It is not at all a case of someone influencing him to do this. This was driven by Paul's interest in protecting his interest in innovation."

Facebook, at least, is going to fight back hard. The company's statement, provided by spokesman Andrew Noyes:

"We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously."

A spokeswoman for eBay provided a similar statement, saying "we are reviewing the complaint filed today. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously."

An Office Depot spokesman said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation. AOL also declined to comment.

Google's statement said, "This lawsuit against some of America's most innovative companies reflects an unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of the marketplace. Innovation -- not litigation -- is the way to bring to market the kinds of products and services that benefit millions of people around the world."

Microsoft is not named in the suit. The company has not obtained licenses to use the technology, according to Postman.

Postman declined to say why the lawsuit went after particular companies, but said more companies could be pursued later.

"The companies that were named today all were informed of the patents that we hold," he said.

The patents at issue involve navigating with a browser for information, capturing a computer user's attention and alerting users to information. They were filed starting in 1996 but some weren't approved until as late as 2004.

Specifically, the patents cover:

-- "Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data."

-- "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device."

-- "Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest."

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Seattle, also mentions that Interval was an early supporter of Google's founders.

For example, Interval Research served as an outside collaborator to and provided research funding for Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page's research that resulted in Google. Indeed, a Google screenshot dated September 27, 1998 entitled "About Google!" identifies Interval Research in the "Credits" section as one of two "Outside Collaborators" and one of four sources of "Research Funding" for Google. See Sept. 27, 1998 Website "About Google!" attached as Exhibit 1.
Later in the 15-page complaint, Google is alleged to be infringing on the browser patent by "making and using websites, hardware, and software to categorize, compare, and display segments of a body of information as claimed in the patent."

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August 25, 2010 9:56 AM

Google adds free phone calls to Gmail, wow

Posted by Brier Dudley

Remember how Google lured people to Gmail by providing huge amounts of online storage? It's doing it again with phone calls.

Google today announced that Gmail users can make free long distance calls in the U.S. and Canada through a cool new feature that lets you place calls from wtihin Gmail to a mobile or landline phone.

"Call phone" is a new option in Gmail's list of contacts to chat with, on the left side of the page. You can dial with a keypad that pops up, or enter a contact's name to call them.

Gcalls.jpg
Calling phones from computers isn't new but Google's built a simple system and underwritten its launch with a generous batch of free calling.

From Google's announcement:

Gmail voice and video chat makes it easy to stay in touch with friends and family using your computer's microphone and speakers. But until now, this required both people to be at their computers, signed into Gmail at the same time. Given that most of us don't spend all day in front of our computers, we thought, "wouldn't it be nice if you could call people directly on their phones?"

The offer's the latest way consumers are benefiting from the ongoing battle over Web services Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. It also comes as students are heading back to school, setting up new email accounts and choosing which services they'll use to stay in touch with friends and family.

Gmail's calling is a great deal, but it also reflects the new financial realism affecting the maturing seach company.

Unlike the online storage accounts provided with Gmail, which are perpetually free and continue to expand, the free long distance calling is promised only for the next four months.

After that, Gmail customers accustomed to the service - and new Gmail users drawn by the calling - will presumably have to start paying fees.

Google's also charging from the start for international calls placed through Gmail. They have per minute fees ranging from .02 cents to $4.99. Calls to Mexico are 10 cents a minute.

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August 16, 2010 10:26 AM

What's next for HP, Microsoft and NW tech?

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's hard to focus when the sun's finally shining in Seattle, but we have to pay attention to the Mark Hurd story.

Hurd's the guy who grabbed a Perrier and leapt from Hewlett-Packard's cockpit, riding a golden parachute into history.

(The top of today's column on HP and the Mark Hurd debacle.)

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August 12, 2010 10:57 AM

Sprint's next 4G phone, a Samsung slider

Posted by Brier Dudley

The second phone to take advantage of Clearwire's 4G network will be the Samsung Epic 4G, a special version of the Samsung Galaxy S going on sale Aug. 31 for $250.

It follows the Evo 4G that debuted in June. Both use 4G where available and 3G everywhere else, and work as mobile hotspots for an additional fee.

Sprint's release billed its new Android slider phone as "A Movie Theater in Your Hand." Samsung's preparing a "media hub" service with a video store to buy or rent movies and TV shows via the device, which has a 4-inch Super AMOLED display.
SamsungEpic4Gopen.jpg

The phone's also going to work with Samsung's "AllShare" service that wirelessly shares music, photos and HD video with TVs, cameras, printers and other devices with DLNA certification.

Inside it's running Android 2.1 on Samsung's 1 GHz processor; Apple uses related processors from Samsung in the iPad and iPhone 4. The Epic 4G has a 5 megapixel camera that takes 720p HD video and a front-facing camera for video chat.

The price is after a $100 rebate and with a two-year commitment to plans starting at $70 per month. Pre-orders begin Friday.

Sprint's announcement coincides with a new report from Gartner saying that Android has overtaken Apple's iOS to become the world's third-most popular mobile operating system, behind Symbian and RIM, during the second quarter. In the U.S., Android's now ahead of RIM, the report said.

Samsung, meanwhile, is the world's second-largest phone maker behind Nokia and ahead of LG.

ww phones q210.jpg

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August 11, 2010 11:00 AM

Dell Streak: $549, or $300 with two-year AT&T contract

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few people have asked me about Dell's Streak, the minitablet/maxiphone that surfaced in Seattle in May.

You could say it's the latest version of the Origami ultramobile PC that Microsoft and Intel began developing about five years ago, but it runs Android software on Qualcomm hardware.

dell-streak-navigation-screen.jpg
The company Tuesday finally announced that the Streak will be available to the general public on Friday for $549, or $300 with a two-year AT&T contract. It's a few weeks late and $50 more than Dell said in June.

Like most big phones today, it's based on a 1 GHz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm with 3G, Wi-Fi (b, g and n) and Bluetooth radios. It works with HSDPA networks (such as T-Mobile's) that provide up to 7.2 Mbps downloads. It has a 5 megapixel still and video camera with a dual LED flash, plus a front facing VGA camera.

Here's a Dell video showing it in action:

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August 6, 2010 11:53 AM

Celebrating Google's failures, Wave and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

A riptide of snark continues after the crash of Google Wave this week and CEO Eric Schmidt saying "we celebrate our failures."

At Search Engine Watch, Danny Sullivan posted a greatest hits list of Google failures to celebrate, including Dodgeball, Print Ads and Answers.

Sullivan notes that Schmidt's celebrating didn't come through in Google's public statements about folded products.

Google's a company that's not afraid to take risks and does seem to embrace the idea that along the way, there will be failures. Maybe that's "celebrating" those failures. But in its statements to the world, Google rarely sounds like it's celebrating these missteps. It doesn't really document anything that was learned. It just seems to say as little as possible to move on.

He also listed a few cases where Google made lemonade, eventually turning a failed product into a success.

Schmidt and Steve Ballmer will have plenty to talk about someday in the retirement home for billionaires. Here's Ballmer on the same topic in 2004:

The biggest mistakes we've ever made as a company on the innovation front is when we abandon something that we started before everybody else in the market, we gave up on it and it got popular when somebody else went and worked on it. Our worst mistakes are not showing that kind of patience and persistence on the innovation and responsiveness boundary.

And I don't care whether it's you as a CEO thinking through the issues of your customers, or frankly some of the IT folks. If you're an IT folk, then you're supposed to also be pushing your company to try new ways to use technology. And sometimes you're going to get it wrong and you have to be able to listen, take that feedback, refine and make sure that the fundamental, core concept you're working on can really be applied in the right way.

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August 5, 2010 1:17 PM

Google buys Oregon tool vendor, builds up Portland shop

Posted by Brier Dudley

To build up its software toolkit for Web developers, Google today bought Instantiations, a Tualatin, Ore., company that makes tools for open-source developers.

Google hasn't yet announced the deal but Instantiations disclosed the deal on its Web site. The deal was also confirmed by Bellevue's Corum Group, which represented Instantiations.

Terms weren't disclosed.

A report in the Portland Business Journal said the 30-person company spun out of Textronix in the late 1980s and will relocate to a new Google office in downtown Portland.

UPDATE: A Google spokeswoman confirmed the deal but said it just closed and the company doesn't yet have details to share about its plans for Portland.

"We're pleased to welcome Instantiations' very talented team to Google, and we're excited to have them begin working as part of our developer tools team," she said.

Mike Rogoway at the Oregonian has a few more details about Google's new Portland office and how Instantiations will continue as a separate company in Vancouver, Wash.

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August 2, 2010 10:22 AM

Android phone sales up 886%

Posted by Brier Dudley

Today's jaw-dropper is the amazing growth of Android-based phones - up 886 percent in the second quarter, according to research firm Canalys.

The surge also made Android the largest smartphone platform in the U.S., where it took 34 percent of the market in Q2.

Crazy growth in the overall market for smartphones continues as mobile phone buyers, especially in the U.S., upgrade to the more capable devices. Canalys reports that smartphone sales grew 64 percent in the quarter.

Worldwide Nokia still leds with 38 percent of the smartphone market in Q2, with its shipments growing 41 percent year-over-year to 23.8 million in the quarter, Canalys reported.

RIM's BlackBerry grew 41 percent, holding second place with 18 percent of the global market, while Apple's iPhone sales grew 61 percent after the iPhone 4 launch and it now has 13 percent of the smartphone market, according to Canalys.

"Expect to see smart phones accounting for a growing proportion of the wider mobile phone market as they become increasingly affordable to more customers," Canalys Senior Analyst Pete Cunningham said in the release. "By 2013, smart phones will grow to represent over 27% of shipments worldwide, with the proportion in some developed markets in Western Europe surpassing 60% and 48% in North America."

The chart - with U.S. and China stats only - included in the Canalys release:

r2010081.gif

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July 13, 2010 12:18 PM

Picnik now in Google's Picasa

Posted by Brier Dudley

Just four months after it was acquired by Google, Picnik's now part of Google's Picasa photo service.

Picnik's online photo editing tools are now offered from within Picasa Web Albums. Also linked are the account systems, so Picasa recognizes people who paid for premium versions of Picnik.

PWAintegration.jpg

Picnik founder Jonathan Sposato, who now works across town in Google's Fremont office, explained the changes to ReadWriteWeb.com, which surmised that more Picnik tools are coming to Google properties. Sposato told the site that that last few months have been spent mostly shifting Picnik to Google's infrastructure, from Picnik's own servers and Amazon's S3 service.

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July 8, 2010 3:30 PM

Search marketer to tone down promises, refunds coming

Posted by Brier Dudley

A Redmond search marketing firm that promised top results to small businesses is toning it down and paying for refunds under a settlement with the state.

The AG's office has received about 160 complaints about Visible.net, which also does business as Captures.com and WebMarketingSource.com. In April a judge ruled that the company violated the state's telemarketing law, leading to a settlement announced today.

The company agreed to pay $250,000, of which $50,000 will reimburse the state's costs and $200,000 will be refunded to customers. Eligible customers will be notified by mail and could receive payments in early 2012.

Visible sells Web site design, search optimization, online payment processing and other marketing services, charging setup fees of $3,750 to $9,750 and monthly fees of $40 to $100, according to the state's release.

It had promised too much. The settlement notes a sample pitch, deemed an unfair and deceptive trade practice:

"Just like my last client, you will be blown away when you can see what having a top search engine ranking can do for your business and pocketbook."

Under the settlement, the company agreed to not:

-- Misrepresent its ability to significantly increase traffic to customer Web sites by achieving top search-engine rankings.

-- Fail to provide refunds or honor cancellation requests.

-- Claim to provide around-the-clock customer support, technical advice or consultations, unless available. The attorney general's office believes the defendants misrepresented customer service representatives could be reached at any time.

-- Fail to register with the Department of Licensing as a commercial telephone solicitor.

-- Charge consumers' credit cards without authorization.

-- Misrepresent its affiliation with other marketers.

UPDATE: The company posted a statement on its blog, asserting that competitors were behind some of the "so called 'consumer complaints.'" It told customers that the settlement "will allow Visible to get back to doing what it does best: providing exceptional products and services to its customers."

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July 8, 2010 11:39 AM

Experian: Bing gains 7 percent, Google down 1 point in U.S.

Posted by Brier Dudley

This may not be enough to improve Microsoft morale after the Kin debacle and stealthy layoffs, but the company's search effort showed a healthy gain in the latest report from Experian Hitwise.

Bing share of U.S. searches grew 7 percent in June, to 9.85 percent, the firm reported. Google's share dropped slightly - 1 percent, from 72.17 percent in May to 71.65 percent in June. Yahoo was flat at 14.37 percent and Ask.com was up 2 percent, to 2.14 percent.

Bing showed particularly big growth rates in vertical categories such as health and travel, although it's still a tiny source of traffic compared with Google in these categories. In travel, for instance, upstream traffic from Bing grew 162 percent -- from 1.3 percent to 3.4 percent.

experian.jpg

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July 1, 2010 1:28 PM

Google jumps into travel biz with $700M deal, Expedia's move?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google just announced that it completed a $700 million deal to buy ITA Software, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that provides flight information used by airlines and travel companies.

The deal is expected to have repercussions across the online travel industry. Bellevue-based Expedia reportedly tried to thwart Google with a competing offer and may now bulk up through acquisitions to better compete with the search giant, according to travel biz site Tnooz.

I wonder if Microsoft will respond somehow. Bing now has better travel features since it incorporated Seattle startup Farecast's tools, but ITA gives Google much more to work with and a bigger role in the market.

Google is planning to use ITA technology "to pursue the creation of new flight search tools that will enable users to find better flight information more easily on the Internet."

"ITA's very talented team has created an impressive product to organize flight information," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in the press release. "Their technology opens exciting possibilities for us to create new ways for users to more easily find flight information online, and we're looking forward to welcoming them to Google."

Perhaps Microsoft shouldn't have spun off Expedia after all.

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June 28, 2010 1:58 PM

Kindle for Android app released by Amazon.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com today announced an Android version of its popular app that continues to extend its Kindle reading and book-shopping software beyond its Kindle e-reader device.

The Android Kindle app comes as Amazon and Google, backer of the open-source device platform, are increasingly competing in digital media and cloud computing services, wooing the same consumers, publishers and developers.
Thumbnail image for DROID-by-Motorola_Kindle-Home-284x533_02__V190271719_.jpg

After you've registered with Amazon, you can use the Kindle Android app to search and browse around 620,000 books available in Kindle editions, sample the first chapter of books free, access your Kindle library online and synchronize the last page read between Kindles and other devices running the Kindle app.

The Android app uses touchscreen controls to turn pages with taps on the side of the screen or flicks.

Still to come, though, is the ability to purchase Kindle books from within the Android app and full text search.

Also not there yet apparently are multimedia features that Amazon.com on Sunday added to its iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch applications.

Those Kindle apps can now play digital books with embedded audio and video clips, such as "Bird Songs" and a special version of Rick Steves' "London by Rick Steves" that includes Steves narrating walking tours.

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June 24, 2010 11:12 AM

WhitePages upgrades business search, adds "store finder"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle online directory service WhitePages.com unveiled a big upgrade to its business search today, aiming to offer simplified search results for people looking for nearby businesses and stores.

The company's drawing on a database of 15 million business directory listings and 1 million store locations in the U.S. It's also adding social features for sharing business listings by email or text messages, and the ability to directly save them to Outlook.

It also begins the searches with a guess about the searcher's location based on IP address, so my search for "Starbucks stores" showed 118 nearby in the downtown Seattle area. A similar Google search returned the location of a Starbucks in North Bend.

A Starbucks store search at WhitePages.com:
whitepages-sbx.jpg

A similar search at Google:

WhitePages may the easiest option for some business searches, if you're just looking for the phone number or address of a particular business, for instance. But it's a pretty dynamic space, with Google, Bing and others are putting more effort into local business services.

Even WhitePages' business search is evolving. When I did a search for "Seattle Times," the site and accompanying Bing map said the company's in the location of a defunct newspaper along Elliott Way. It actually provided 14 listings for the Times, none of which was shown at its actual location:
whitepages-stimes.jpg

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June 9, 2010 9:34 AM

Microsoft's Mehdi on Bing's iPhone deal, new social search & more

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft's adding a new "social" search feature to Bing today that shows trending topics on Facebook and Twitter.

The beta feature was demonstrated by Senior Vice President Yusuf Mehdi at the SMX Advanced search conference this morning. It's supposed to appear on Bing later today (here's the Bing announcement and link to bing.com/social).

It's the first time the full "firehose" of Facebook updates has been incorporated into a search engine. Bing did the same thing with Twitter last October and is now blending both networks' update streams into its social feature. The sources appear in the left column of the page, which appears designed to add additional sources in the future.

UPDATE: The social feature still isn't live late this afternoon but a Bing manager said it's coming shortly. He said it's happening in concert with back-end upgrades.

Mehdi said Microsoft plans to continue its massive investment in Bing's technology and marketing to lure new users to the company's search service. Although it still trails Google by a mile, Mehdi said Bing's showing progress and getting new users.

"We've grown every month since we launched. That's truest proof case of whether its working or not," he said.

"Knock on wood, long ways to go, it's working."

To demonstrate how far Bing has to go, Mehdi showed a handwritten page of market research done by his elementary school-aged daughter, showing only four Bing users and a long list of her friends using the competition.

"She goes, 'Daddy, we have a lot of work to do.'".

Host Danny Sullivan pressed Mehdi for details on Microsoft's deal with Apple that put Bing onto the new iPhone. Mehdi said the discussion started when Microsoft developed a Bing iPhone app and was helped by Bing's visual interface that works well on the touch interface.

"They said our customers said they'd love to Bing and choice is good for consumers," Mehdi said, adding that "It was a very easy discussion."

Sullivan pressed Mehdi on whether Microsoft paid for Bing's placement on Apple's phone but Mehdi declined to say or provide details on the business arrangement.

Talking about Bing's office tower in Bellevue, Mehdi said they're interested in putting Bing's logo on the side of the building but "there's some issues with the city or the policy."

Mehdi hopes to revisit the sign issue but in the meantime an employee figured out how to have the building's interior lights spell out "Bing" at night.

"We find ways to overcome," he said.

It ended with Sullivan presenting Mehdi with a cake to celebrate Bing's one year birthday and the audience of search marketing experts singing "Happy Birthday."

"I don't think we deserve cake and candles - we have a lot of work to do definitely ... but it's been a great year," Mehdi said, thanking the industry for its support.

DSCN1884.JPG

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June 8, 2010 5:08 PM

Google's Matt Cutts on Caffeine index boost, HTML5 and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google search guru Matt Cutts just happened to be in Seattle the day the company announced its new "Caffeine" Web indexing system that's intended to provide 50 percent fresher search results.

"Fundamentally the change is as soon as a document gets crawled boom, it gets indexed," Cutts said at the SMX Advanced search conference, where his audience Q&A is a highlight of the annual event.

Cutts told host Danny Sullivan that the upgrade enables Google to immediately index the results of its Web crawling, rather than updating the index in a staggered process.

"This essentially makes the entire index closer to real time," he said.

He compared the change to going from a bus to a limo.

"Before you might have waited until a bus came by - if you were the document, you'd wait 20 minutes for the bus to come. Now its like the document walks out the front door and there's a limo waiting for it."

Here's how Google's announcement explained the change:

Our old index had several layers, some of which were refreshed at a faster rate than others; the main layer would update every couple of weeks. To refresh a layer of the old index, we would analyze the entire web, which meant there was a significant delay between when we found a page and made it available to you.


With Caffeine, we analyze the web in small portions and update our search index on a continuous basis, globally. As we find new pages, or new information on existing pages, we can add these straight to the index. That means you can find fresher information than ever before -- no matter when or where it was published.

Questions from the audience included, is there anything new with HTML5 and Caffeine?

Cutts said HTML5 is "completely unrelated" to caffeine. "But, as part of the switchover to the caffeine indexing system we are looking at ways to improve our HTLM parsing ... and might be able to help with HTML5."

Sullivan asked Cutts how the new interface "that Google stole from Bing" is working out.

"It's working out well for me as a user," Cutts said, noting the site's redesign uses a lot of math to figure out the right information to display in its left column.

"What we have seen in all the testing we have done and the usage is it looks good."

Sullivan prompted Cutts to talk about Google Buzz, which Cutts compared to Twitter in its early days when people weren't sure what to do with the service.

"I think there's this period where after awhile you get hooked," Cutts said.

For several months Cutts didn't do much with Buzz but he's using it more, finding it "fits between something I just want to tweet like a link and a full-fledged blog post," he said.

The two bantered about Bing here and there.

Mentioning the weather results that Bing returns, showing graphics that can push actual search results below the fold, Cutts said, "It seems like a lot of engines, they just want to show you the pretty stuff."

"A lot of engines?" Sullivan interjected. "Who's that? The other two..."

Cutts was also asked whether Google will get rid of the indents in search results, which Sullivan said could get more links higher in results.

"We've done tests," Cutts said, adding that "It's something we look at" but Google hasn't yet decided it makes sense to get rid of indents.

The audience was mixed, with some booing at the suggestion indents be removed, sowing seeds of tech's next great controversy.

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June 3, 2010 11:59 AM

D8: HTC's Peter Chou on Android vs Windows, 4G and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALSO VERDES, Calif. -- Peter Chou's hunch was right. His Taiwanese phone company, HTC, was founded in 1997 to pursue the vision that smartphones would be transformative.

HTC went on to produce the first Windows smartphone in 1999 and later the first phone based on Google's Android software. On Friday, it launches the first smartphone running Clearwire's 4G network.

Chou showed Walt Mossberg the 4G Evo that HTC's making for Sprint during his appearance at the All Things Digital conference.

Mossberg asked Chou to discuss how his company is building phones based on both Google's Android software and Microsoft's Windows phone platforms.

"Different people like different things," Chou said. "What we try to do is have the best mix of technologies and design and give people a choice."
htc.jpg
What's the difference between Android and Windows, Mossberg asked.

"Windows has a lot of Windows users -- legacies -- and they are very familiar to the Windows experience."

Asked about the challenges Windows Mobile has had, Chou said "Windows has a lot of value" and noted that HTC is making phones based on the upcoming Windows Phone 7 software.

Android appeals to people who do more social networking, and it has good applications, like maps, Chou said.

HTC -- which has U.S. headquarters in Bellevue and a software center in Seattle's Pioneer Square -- is moving from a somewhat invisible manufacturer of phones for other companies to a consumer brand with more prominent logos and a proprietary software interface.

Chou said its recent brand campaign is working and customers are now asking for HTC phones by name, he said.

Mossberg questioned whether consumers will get confused by all the brands appearing on phones now -- the manfucturer, carrier and software provider.

"There's a lot there," Mossberg said.

"We are trying to minimize that a little bit, so there are some of those on the back and not everyone on the front like right now," Chou said.

Smartphone sales are surging, but they're still expensive to produce -- about $400 apiece wholesale -- and are complicated for some users, Chou said.

The company is working on a lower-priced alternative, the HTC Smart, that will cost phone companies about $150, run apps and be based on Qualcomm's Brew platform.

Asked about the fragmentation of Google's Android platform, Chou said the proliferation of different versions "causes a little bit of problem" but that's the nature of a modular product.

During audience questioning, Chou was asked about the short battery life of the Evo. He replied that the battery works longer if the phone's more advanced features aren't being used, but he said battery life is something that needs to improve on smartphones.

"The battery technology is one area that innovates very slowly," he said, adding that he spends a lot of time talking to battery suppliers.

"I don't have a lot of good news, but I hope one day we don't need a battery to run the device," he said.

In response to a question from an interested investor, Chou said he hopes to have the stock listed in the U.S. as well as on the Taipei market.

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June 3, 2010 11:12 AM

D8: AOL boss on local push, chasing clicks and Bebo

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- AOL was overly focused on a few metrics -- gross revenue and page views -- according to Tim Armstrong, who left Google to become AOL's chief executive last year.

Now the venerable portal is remaking itself, in part by developing a sort of digital newspaper with local coverage and ad sales in cities across the country.

In an interview with Kara Swisher at the All Things Digital Conference, Armstrong explained how he's rebuilding the Web company and pushing to build local news portals in more than 65 cities. Earlier in his career he was a marketing executive at Starwave in Bellevue.

"I think it's bringing together journalism and technology," he said.

The company is going into towns and "digitizing" them by assembling a collection of local Web sites and assigning a full-time reporter to add local coverage. It's also offering new systems for local advertisers, he said.

"We're more focused on journalism in general, which is how do you figure out what people's needs are," he said.

When he first joined AOL he found it was "managed on gross revenue and page views." Chasing page views affected decisions the company made, such as "photo galleries with 80 photos" and the ill-fated acquisition of social networking site Bebo for $850 million in 2008.

Armstrong said Bebo's now going to be sold or shut down.

Although AOL and Armstrong have history with Google, AO i's reviewing which search engine to use when its search partnership with Google expires later this year.

"I think there's probably more than two potential partners," he said.

Swisher asked if AOL is still relevant and whether Armstrong can revive the brand, which is suffering the same sort of fate as MySpace.

"There is a warm fuzzy feeling about AOL for the vast majority of people who don't work in our industry," Armstrong said.

That brand is worth reviving, which the 4,700-person company has to do by showing people better services and products, he said.

"I believe AOL will be a very successful company in the future," he said.

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May 25, 2010 12:13 PM

Google touts its benefits for advertisers, economy

Posted by Brier Dudley

In a nationwide public relations push today, Google has released a report claiming that businesses make double their money when they buy ads from the search giant.

Google released the information on National Small Business Day and said it shows how the company supports small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The move comes as Google increasingly pursues local ads that are still mostly handled by traditional media, including newspapers and TV.

Google's announcement is also political. It was simultaneously delivered in Washington, D.C., and at events across the country attended by elected officials.

The company faces growing scrutiny from regulators as it uses its dominance of online advertising to expand into new markets, and the economic impact information implies the company is helping rather than hurting. As it matures, the company is also developing deeper relationships with governments, especially in places where it has major operations.

"We thought it was important to help people understand Google is not just the place where you search for information, but it's also become a critical source of new customers and new revenue for businesses here in our state," Rob Torres, a Google sales director, said at a Seattle press conference today.

The company asserts that each dollar businesses spend on Google AdWords generates $2 in revenue and $1 in profit for the businesses. That's based on methodology and research that the company's economist, Hal Varian, and two other researchers published last year.

Google combined that data with the amount of money it shares with Web site publishers who display its ads. It also wrapped in the company's charitable donations and came up with a total of $58 billion worth of "economic activity" it generated for U.S. companies, Web sites and charities in 2009.

The company, at the Seattle event, said it generated $2.8 billion worth of economic actitivity last year in Washington state for 44,700 advertisers. The company also donated $3.14 million to 140 non-profits.

For perspective, the gross income of the state's 328,372 businesses was $565.6 billion last year, down 9.8 percent. That includes retail business sales of $106.6 billion, which were down 6.7 percent from the year before, according to the state Department of Revenue. Apparently they weren't spending enough on Google ads.

Google declined to provide the usual economic impact data that companies give lawmakers, such as direct and indirect employment and spending on goods and services, but it did say Google employs more than 600 people at its Seattle and Kirkland offices.

Microsoft's most recent state economic impact study, produced in March, didn't estimate how much business was generated by customers using its products.

But the Redmond company said it spent $7 billion on employee compensation and $2 billion on services in 2008. Microsoft's study asserts that this is multiplied through the state's economy, generating $18.95 billion in personal income in the state and $43.84 billion of the state's gross product.

Google included three state legislators in the Seattle press conference -- state Reps. Zack Hudgins and Ross Hunter and state Sen. Margarita Prentice.

"They want more friends," said Hunter, who used to work at Microsoft. "They want people to see how they really impact your economy."

Prentice said the information will influence her when considering future legislation affecting Google.

"Yes, I'm very much for doing everything we can to induce them to stay," she said.

Google's event was held in a Seattle showroom of Allied Trade Group, a Kirkland-based lighting manufacturer that has expanded into a major online retailer with 500 Web storefronts drawing more than 25 million online visitors a year.

"Google is a key driver of all that business," said Michael Pinkowski, director of marketing.

Allied Trade's a particularly good example for Google. Pinkowski explained that people shopping for lights don't tend to shop for brands they've learned about elsewhere, such as Marvin windows or Kohler faucets, and use search to discover what's available.

Does Allied make $2 back for every $1 it spends on Google ads?

"It varies by category because the categories have different profit margins in them; some things are much more competitive than others," Pinkowski said. "But as a rule we beat that number."

Now Google and other online ad companies are aiming to take a greater share of local advertising, where they still have a relatively small market share.

Of the $144 billion spent on local ads in the U.S. last year, $15.2 billion was spent online and $115 billion went to traditional media, according to BIA/Kelsey forecasts.

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May 19, 2010 4:42 PM

Delve boss dissects Google's new Web video standard

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle video startup Delve Networks is jumping onto WebM, a new Web video standard announced today by Google, Mozilla and others.

WebM is intended to offer a royalty-free alternative to commercial video standards -- namely the H.264 codec that's widely used for Web video today and favored by Apple.

Microsoft said its upcoming Internet Explorer 9 browser will support WebM's "VP8" video codec, as will Mozilla's Firefox, Opera and Google's Chrome browser.

The jumble of video standards and jousting between platform companies is confusing to consumers but good for companies like Delve.

After a few different approaches to the video market, Delve has a growing business converting Web publishers' video to multiple standards for different devices. today it jumped on the WebM bandwagon, announcing its support of the standard.

In an interview, Chief Executive Alex Castro, a veteran of Microsoft and Amazon.com, also offered some insights on WebM and what's happening with Web video standards.

Castro is enthusiastic about WebM but expects it will take awhile to get established.

"It's sort of like HTML 5 -- it's not going to change the world in the next six months, but in 18 months it could have a big effect," he said.

Castro said "Adobe stands to be the biggest loser" although Adobe is among the initial companies supporting the WebM project.

With "the combination of this new WebM format along with a lot of people getting behind HTML 5, you start to say, 'Why do I care about Flash and Silverlight?' " he said.

Castro said the complexity of the situation helps Delve, which has also benefited from the format spat between Apple and Adobe. The fight has generated business with publishers needing their video converted to play on the iPad.

"The only way you can play video on the iPad is to support HTML5 and H.264," he explained. "Our customers ... they don't care about the standard politics, they care about 'can my customers watch my content.'"

How will consumers be affected by the video standards battles?

"Unfortunately in the near term there's going to be some confusion for users and some poor experiences," Castro predicted.

"I think unfortunately consumers are caught in the middle as all these major technology vendors are vying for the highest ground," he said. "Right now consumers are getting the shortest end of the stick. If I spend $500 or $700 for an iPad, it kind of sucks a lot of Web sites I go to don't have support for HTML5."

Does Google have enough clout to establish the WebM standard?

"They have YouTube and that's great, but what they don't have is enough browser market share to do it by themselves," he said. "That's why they need Opera and Mozilla, but even if you add those guys up they don't have 50 percent market share. In some ways it would be good for consumers today if Google had the oomph to make this a standard. As soon as someone wins, the sooner consumers aren't caught in the middle."

"I think the sad reality here is this is probably going to play out for another year or two while these guys jockey for position."

Meanwhile, Delve's doing fine, Castro said. He said its sales grew 400 percent last year -- to more than $1 million -- and he's expecting around 290 percent sales growth this year.

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May 19, 2010 1:48 PM

Spotted in Belltown: Dell Streak mini tablets, in red, on AT&T

Posted by Brier Dudley

A week after Michael Dell let slip that his company's new Streak mini tablet/smartphone devices will go on sale in June, I spotted a batch of them being tested in Belltown.

Network techs had a bank of the Android-powered gadgets aimed up Second Avenue and connected to a set of laptops during the lunch hour today. They were just around the corner from the now-defunct Brasa restaurant.

dellstreak2.jpg

I asked if they were working on network upgrades, but the techs said they were testing the devices' performance with e-911 services for AT&T.

They told me a little too late that I couldn't take pictures of the Streaks, which were on clear display on a public sidewalk anyway.

Streaks have been glimpsed here and there, but I hadn't seen a red one before. The hardware design reminded me a bit of Dell's latest Studio XPS desktops.

dellstreak3.jpg

AT&T hasn't yet announced the Streaks and a spokeswoman didn't have an update today.

Here's a Streak video demo that surfaced last fall:

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April 27, 2010 10:16 AM

Startup tidbits: Google touts Smartsheet, Ground Truth gets cash

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few bits of startup news today:

-- Seattle mobile media analysis firm Ground Truth raised $7 million from Emergence Capital Partners and Openair Ventures, plus its previous investors, Steamboat Ventures and Voyager Capital. The 20-person company, led by former Qpass President Sterling Wilson, has raised $9.6 million. Its service launched in January.

-- Optimum Energy, a Seattle heating, ventilating and air conditioning software company, today launched a Web-based system for managing commercial HVAC systems. It's a companion to Optimum's networked system that it claims will reduce energy consumption by 30 to 60 percent.

-- Google's going to call out the success of Bellevue online project management company Smartsheet, highlighting its success on Google's business application marketplace. Smartsheet's leads spiked after it appeared on Google's Apps Marketplace, according to Chairman Brent Frei, a veteran of Microsoft and Onyx. Frei said the results will be touted on the Google Apps Developer Blog (and on Frei's own blog ...).

Frei said business has been "extremely good" since January with paying customers growing 17 percent month over month. Smartsheet launched in both Google's marketplace and Intuit Workplace, and Google's now one of its four primary sales channels.

A snapshot of Smartsheet's Google stats:

smartsheet.JPG

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April 15, 2010 11:47 AM

More iPad challengers coming, from Toshiba

Posted by Brier Dudley

There will be plenty of options for holiday shoppers looking for tablet computing devices from major computer companies.

In addition to the iPad and Hewlett-Packard's Slate, Toshiba will be selling similar devices based on Windows 7 and another line based on Google's Android software, according to a Reuters story quoting Jeff Barney, general manager of digital products for Toshiba America.

Toshiba is looking at a variety of form factors for its slate PCs, including a dual-screen model running Windows, and one with a roughly 10-inch screen, he said.

"We definitely see a place for the slate, we see there's a market there. It'll be expansive like netbooks, it won't be cannibalistic," he said.

Toshiba could really shake it up if they include the Intel WiDi technology that's on some of its laptops, enabling them to beam high-def video onto a nearby TV.

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April 15, 2010 10:27 AM

HTC's new Droid "Incredible" from Verizon, with Skype & NFL

Posted by Brier Dudley

Unchecked by Apple's patent lawsuit, HTC is rolling out some slick new Android 2.1-based smartphones, including the Droid Incredible announced today.

Verizon will start offering the Incredible on April 29 for $200 (after a $100 rebate) with a two-year voice and data contract starting at $70 per month.

The Incredible has a "topographic" design with ridges on the back that are intended to reflect the stuff inside. Verizon's press release said it "demonstrates the powerful engineering just beneath the surface."

Maybe the ridges will make it easier to grip than some other smartphones. But I'll bet bigger selling points will be the red speaker grill and accent ring around the camera lens.

htc droid.JPGhtc droid 1.JPG

That powerful engineering includes the now obligatory 1 GHz Snapdragon processor, plus an 8 megapixel camera, a digital compass and a 3.7-inch AMOLED touchscreen.

Verizon's also releasing exclusive Skype and NFL apps "shortly after the phone becomes available."

Here's the list of features:

Continue reading this post ...


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April 14, 2010 4:36 PM

Near tragedy inspires texting safety app (Update, with images)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Watching his 3 year-old daughter nearly get run over by a texting driver inspired a Seattle landscape contractor to jump into the phone application business.

Erik Wood, 43, was walking home from Queen Anne's Coe Elementary with his daughter last fall when a woman in a black Volkswagen shot out of an alley while texting with both hands, passing within a few feet of the girl.

Otter-Screen-Shot.JPG

The driver drove on without ever seeing the pedestrians, but Wood was so shook up he started researching safety issues around texting drivers. Then he decided to create an application that could help.

"People live in this false reality that 'I can get away with texting and driving,' " he said. "The problem is they don't know what they're missing, they don't get the wake-up call until it's a T-bone, violent crash."

He and his wife tapped their children's college fund, withdrawing more than the cost of a new truck, and spent seven months working with software developers to produce an application called Otter that was released on the Android phone platform April 5.

"I think we realized that we had survived our first nearly fatal text-and-drive encounter but with two little girls growing up, the statistics proved this wouldn't be our last brush with this," he said. "That's what inspired us to do something about it.''

The Otter application interrupts text message notifications when the phone's GPS radio detects the device is moving at least 10 miles per hour. It doesn't block the messages outright, but sends an automatic reply to the sender, saying,"Otter says BTH (Break the Habit)."

Otter -- which stands for one touch text response -- also has parental controls so parents can activate it on their children's phones.

otterscreen2.JPG

Wood is joining a growing number of companies producing applications and other systems to block or prevent texting while driving. He said Otter has a cost advantage because it doesn't carry recurring monthly fees like some competing applications. It's a one-time $3.99 download from the Android Market.

Versions for the Windows and BlackBerry phone platforms should be done in three to six months. Wood would like to do an iPhone version but its new software apparently won't provide access he needs to the phones' notifications or SMS services.

It's a moneymaking venture, but Wood said he had to give it a try no matter what.

"You know when you come to those forks in the road where you don't have any other choice?" he said. "This was definitely one of those."

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March 29, 2010 10:09 AM

Review: HTC HD2, the supersize smartphone

Posted by Brier Dudley

After spending a few days with the latest phone that Steve Jobs doesn't want you to have, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about.

I'm talking about the HTC HD2, a striking gray slab with an enormous 4.3-inch display - the largest touch-screen of any phone now available in the U.S.

HD2 pic.jpg

Continue reading this post ...


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March 26, 2010 5:01 PM

Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt appear together

Posted by Brier Dudley

Gizmodo has a funny analysis of the joint appearance today by Apple's Steve Jobs and Google's Eric Schmidt over coffee at a Palo Alto, Calif., shopping center, asking a former federal agent to assess their body language.

It doesn't answer the big question, though, of whether the appearance was staged to offset stories about their nasty fallout.

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March 25, 2010 5:02 PM

With China concerns high, India courts Dell's $25B hardware biz

Posted by Brier Dudley

India may see an opportunity to boost manufacturing of PCs and other electronics if Google's pullout is followed by more tech companies repelled by China's policies.

After meeting this week with Michael Dell, India's prime minister said the Texas PC giant may be looking for a "safer environment" than China for its manufacturing, according to a Bloomberg report.

This could be a bombshell. China losing Google's search business is a big deal, but the potential of losing Dell is enormous. The company spends $25 billion a year on components from China, the Bloomberg report said.

Bloomberg reported the story after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh released a statement about his meeting with Dell.

A Dell spokeswoman denied that Dell discussed changing sourcing of components, and Singh's statement was removed from India's press bureau Web site.

This could get scary.

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March 22, 2010 3:06 PM

Google's China move: A compromise?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's bold move in China seems like a carefully negotiated compromise more than the grand statement pulling completely out of China would have been.

Apparently the decision to partly pull out -- moving Google's search service to China's least restrictive territory, Hong Kong, while keeping some business operations in the mainland -- resulted from some haggling between the company and the country.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin shared some of the detail in a brief interview with Steve Lohr of the New York Times:

"The shift of its Chinese service to Hong Kong, Mr. Brin said, was not given a clear-cut stamp of approval by Beijing. But he said there was a 'back and forth' with the Chinese government on what to do. 'There was a sense that Hong Kong was the right step,' Mr. Brin said."

It's a milestone that calls more attention to Chinese censorship and Google's convictions.

But it looks like both sides get their way -- Google follows through on its pledge to provide uncensored search results while staying open for business in China, and China's information repression continues on the mainland.

It's like the promise of universal coverage vs. what we're getting from health care reform.

UPDATE: A Google spokeswoman disputed my characterization of Sergey's comments, saying it's unfair to describe them as evidence of a compromise. She said via email that "conversation isn't compromise."

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March 17, 2010 9:01 PM

HTC fires back at Apple, says it will fight lawsuits

Posted by Brier Dudley

Two weeks after being sued by Apple for patent infringement, Taiwanese phone maker HTC is responding with a formal statement defending itself against the allegations.

The company's statement is a prelude to a legal response, still being drafted, that challenges the patent suit Apple filed in federal court, as well as a complaint it made to the International Trade Commission.

An HTC executive at its U.S. headquarters in Bellevue said the company has the support of partners such as Google. That reinforces the notion that Apple's suit is part of a bigger feud under way between tech giants that are all building roughly similar touchscreen smartphones.

"HTC strongly disagrees with Apple's actions," said Jason Mackenzie, vice president of HTC America in Bellevue. "We plan to use all of the legal tools that are at our disposal to both defend ourselves and set the record straight to the general public."

Mackenzie noted that HTC introduced touchscreen smartphones long before Apple's iPhone appeared in 2007.

"We started working on the first touchcscreen smartphone way back in 1999," he said.

That work led to the Pocket PC phone launched in 2002 with Bellevue's VoiceStream Wireless, which is now T-Mobile USA.

Since then, HTC has released more than 50 smartphones and worked with all U.S. phone companies, "vs. one single product at one single carrier," Mackenzie said, in another dig at Apple's iPhone business.

"We would not have achieved what we've achieved today -- including the partnerships weve developed with people like Microsoft, Google, all the U.S. operators, Qualcomm -- if we were a company that did not respect intellectual property rights."

Apple accused HTC of making and selling products that "incorporate, without license, many technologies developed by Apple and protected by patents issued to and owned by Apple and its wholly owned subsidiaries, including NeXT."

It asked the trade commission to block the importation of a number of phones, including the Nexus One that HTC makes for Google, the myTouch 3G sold by T-Mobile, the Droid Eris sold by Verizon and the new HD2 based on Windows Mobile.

Apple's suit specifically calls out phones running the Android platform backed by Google. A Google spokesperson referred by HTC, Jill Hazelbaker, didn't say whether the company would participate in HTC's legal defense, but provided a statement praising HTC for helping to make Android a success.

"The Android platform has seen tremendous adoption all over the world, and we are proud of all our partners who have made it such a success," she said via e-mail. "In less than a year and a half since HTC shipped the first Android device, there are now 26 devices with 60 carriers in 49 countries and 19 languages powered by Android."

Mackenzie wouldn't comment specifically on the lawsuit but said Apple's responding to HTC's success.

"We are experiencing more success than we've ever had in the U.S. market today. We've got great products at all the major operators," he said. "We're obviously having this conversation because of that and because of those successes we've had."

So far the lawsuit hasn't had an effect on HTC's business or plans for upcoming phones.

"I haven't seen any impact to our business since this case,'' he said.

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March 15, 2010 1:37 PM

Report: Facebook overtakes Google.com in U.S.

Posted by Brier Dudley

Experian Hitwise is reporting that Facebook hit a big milestone and passed Google to become the most-visited U.S. Web site during the week that ended March 13.

The research firm said Facebook's share of visits grew 185 percent last week compared with the same period in 2009. Google.com visits grew 9 percent. The two sites accounted for 14 percent of U.S. Internet visits last week, it noted.

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March 15, 2010 10:13 AM

Microsoft getting closer to Apple, more clues

Posted by Brier Dudley

(Today's column ...)

Every time I turn around, I'm hearing Microsoft's top brass praising Apple.

It's like seeing a big, white rabbit. Can't everyone see it, right over there?

First it was Steve Ballmer at the University of Washington, praising iTunes' App Store.

Then a few days ago it was Brad Smith, the company's general counsel and senior vice president.


Continue reading this post ...


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March 9, 2010 9:00 PM

Google Maps gets bike routes, built in Fremont

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google engineers who built the company's new bicycle route mapping service didn't need to look far for inspiration.

The team is based at the Fremont office right alongside the Burke Gilman Trail. This screenshot of the bike route feature shows the office at left:

burke screenshot.JPG

Continue reading this post ...


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March 9, 2010 9:21 AM

Microsoft's Thacker wins Turing Award

Posted by Brier Dudley

One of the fathers of the PC industry, Microsoft researcher Chuck Thacker, won the industry's highest honor, the A.M. Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery.

Thacker, 67, was among the founding members of the famed Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, where he designed the Alto system that gave shape to the personal computer in the early 1970s.
03-09thacker.jpg

"Charles Thacker's contributions have earned him a reputation as one of the most distinguished computer systems engineers in the history of the field," ACM President Professor Dame Wendy Hall said in the announcement. "His enduring achievements--from his initial innovations on the PC to his leadership in hardware development of the multiprocessor workstation to his role in developing the tablet PC--have profoundly affected the course of modern computing."

He's the second person to receive $250,000 award for his contributions designing and building computing machinery; it usually goes to computer scientists for conceptual or theoretical work, a writeup at Microsoft's press site noted.

"I was extremely surprised," Thacker said in the release. "I never expected to win this one. There are several other nice awards that I've won that I thought were within the realm of possibility, but this one I never even thought was possible."

Thacker was nominated by Butler Lampson, another computing pioneer now working at Microsoft Research. The company provided an excerpt of his nomination letter:

"Chuck is surely one of the most distinguished computer-systems engineers in the history of the field. Chuck is an engineer's engineer. His skills span the full range, from analog-circuit and power-supply design through logic design, processor and network architecture, system software, languages, and applications as varied as CAD and electronic books, all the way to user-interface design."

The award was sponsored by Google and Intel. Intel Labs vice president, Andrew Chien, said in the release that "Charles Thacker's design of the Alto computer embodied the key elements of today's personal computers, and is at the root one of the world's most innovative industries that empowers individuals around the world. We applaud Chuck's clarity of insight, focus on simplicity, and his incredible track record of designing landmark systems that have accelerated the progress of both research and industry for decades."

Google research vice president, Alfred Spector, praised Thacker "for his far-reaching role in the birth of one of the most important technologies in the 20th century."

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March 8, 2010 12:03 PM

Google Labs visualizes Seattle's Tableau with "Data Explorer"

Posted by Brier Dudley

A month after Seattle's Tableau Software launched a free online tool for creating and sharing dynamic data visualization charts, Google Labs has announced a free online tool for creating and sharing dynamic data visualization charts.

Like Tableau Public, Google's "Public Data Explorer" comes as the federal government is posting huge buckets of data online through its Data.gov transparency project, stoking demand for tools to analyze and present the information.

But there are a few big differences in what's being offered to end users.

Google's experiment is relatively closed and seems aimed at building partnerships with public agencies as much as providing free Web tools. At this point its tools can only be used to analyze a handful of datasets that Google's procured from public sources. Google's asking agencies to suggest additional data that it can upload and publish on its platform.

Tableau already has partnerships with agencies using its commercial visualization tools in-house. The free public version released last month is more open than Google's and can be used on any data. Users of the free version also have to share the underlying data via the visualization, while Google's tool doesn't yet allow the data to be downloaded directly.

Here's an example of a visualization created with Google's new tool:

Here's a Tableau Public visualization blending unemployment with venture capital and housing data:

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February 26, 2010 3:40 PM

Microsoft lawyer takes it to Google, lays out antitrust concerns

Posted by Brier Dudley

Maybe he was inspired by the U.S. Olympic hockey team, but Microsoft lawyer Dave Heiner just delivered a PR body check to Google in a fiery blog post laying out their antitrust scuffle.

Heiner is publicly responding to Google pointing fingers toward Redmond as U.S. and European regulators scrutinize the search giant.

It's a juicy post highlighting the friction between the two companies. It also shines a light on how antitrust concerns coalesce into regulatory action. And it's a surprise coming from the usually reserved and private legal team.

A sample:

"Google's public response to this growing regulatory concern has been to point elsewhere -- at Microsoft. Google is telling reporters that antitrust concerns about search are not real because some of the complaints come from one of its last remaining search competitors.

It's worth asking whether Google's response really addresses the concerns that have been raised. Complaints in competition law cases usually come from competitors. (Believe me, I know: I've been chief competition counsel at Microsoft since 1994, so I've seen plenty of competitor complaints. Novell, when current Google CEO Eric Schmidt was at the helm, was never hesitant about complaining to regulators about Microsoft. Google hasn't been shy about raising antitrust concerns about Microsoft in the last few years, either.) This is the way that competition law agencies function: They look to competitors in the first instance to understand how particular markets operate, the practices of dominant firms and the competitive significance of those practices."

Heiner also said that Microsoft has been meeting with regulators reviewing its partnership with Yahoo, and Google and its business practices came up:

"As you might expect, the competition officials asked us a lot of questions about competition with Google -- since that is the focus of the partnership. We told them what we know about how Google is doing business. A lot of that entails explaining the search advertising business, which is complex. Some of that inevitably gets into Google practices that may be harming publishers, advertisers and competition in search and online advertising."

Google's success has made it difficult for Microsoft's Bing to catch up, Heiner explains in detail.

Heiner also acknowledged that this is coming from a company that fought the same regulators tooth and nail, and he attempts to clarify what Microsoft's objecting to. It remains to be seen whether people with strong biases toward the two companies grasp the subtleties:

"Microsoft would obviously be among the first to say that leading firms should not be punished for their success. Nor should firms be punished just because a particular business practice may harm a rival -- competition on the merits can do that, too. That is a position that Microsoft has long espoused, and we're sticking to it. Our concerns relate only to Google practices that tend to lock in business partners and content (like Google Books) and exclude competitors, thereby undermining competition more broadly."

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February 12, 2010 1:30 PM

Google pulls Vancouver luge crash video off YouTube, still up elsewhere

Posted by Brier Dudley

The horrific luge crash in Vancouver today won't get much play on YouTube: Google quickly removed uploaded film clips at the request of the International Olympic Committee, activating its copy-protection tools.

Attempts to play YouTube videos of the crash at YouTube.com or embedded on other sites return a message saying "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by International Olympic Committee."

It's not unusual for Google to pull copyrighted material from YouTube but it may be the first major, public copyright protection of the Vancouver Olympics, during which the IOC and broadcasters are taking extra steps to control access to coverage.

luge.JPG

The same clip was still up at video-sharing site Vimeo a few moments ago.

UPDATE: Google spokesman Scott Rubin declined to comment on the specific videos but noted YouTube relies on users and copyright holders to flag videos of concern.

"We approach each video individually, and we do not prescreen content. Instead, we count on our community members to know the Guidelines and to flag videos they think violate them. We review all flagged videos quickly, and if we find that a video does break the rules, we remove it, usually in under an hour," he said via e-mail.

Google also provides tools for owners of copyrighted content "to claim their materials and to resolve any disputes, per DMCA rules."

UPDATE 2: I just heard from a Fox affiliate in Sacramento where the news director said "we felt we had a fair use argument and the public should see the potential dangers on the track." He noted that CNN also decided to distribute the video.

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February 11, 2010 4:36 PM

Seattle applying for Google broadband project

Posted by Brier Dudley

Mayor Mike McGinn just announced that Seattle will indeed ask Google to pursue one of its fiber-optic broadband experiments in the city.

From the release:

Seattle will actively seek to partner with Google in creation of a fiber network here. The city itself has many assets to bring to the partnership, including an extensive existing fiber network of over 500 miles connecting every school, college and major government building in the city.

Seattle has been hashing over ways to entice companies to extend fiber broadband service to homes in the city for years and McGinn pledged to pursue citywide broadband.

Google on Wednesday announced that it wanted to partner with municipalities to develop and experiment with an ultrafast fiber network. Its experiment would reach a total of 5,000 to 500,000 people across the country.

If Seattle were to beat out cities across the country vying to partner with Google, the experiment would only provide service to fraction of the city. It's also unclear how long Google would continue the experiment and what it would cost, however the service would not be free to users.

Bill Schrier, the city's chief technology officer, called it a "longshot" but said it's worth trying.

"It seems logical to respond to that anyway because Seattle is an innovative place, we've got a lot of asets we could bring to a partnership with Google," he said.

Cities have until March 26 to submit a "request for information" to Google, which will respond later this year.

Schrier said pursuing the Google experiment won't delay Seattle's effort to build a city-wide fiber network that provides everyone with fast service because the city's in the process of developing a plan for that project.

"It won't delay us because we're building a business plan anyway," he said.

A statement issued by McGinn's office this afternoon reads like a preview of Seattle's application. After a few paragraphs saying Seattle's interested in the Google project, the statement lists city assets including its municipal fiber network and its "high tech industry and population":

Continue reading this post ...


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February 10, 2010 9:48 AM

Google dabbling in broadband service, Seattle intrigued

Posted by Brier Dudley

Yesterday Google showed how it wants to be like Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft.

Today it's trying to be like Comcast. The company said it's going to offer ultrafast fiber broadband service on a trial basis "in a small number of trial locations across the United States," the company said in its announcement:

We're planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We'll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections.

It's a test bed more than a leap into full fledged competition with broadband service providers but perhaps it will prod companies such as Qwest to improve their networks. Google's already tried with mixed results to show telecom companies how it's done by selling its Nexus One phone directly to consumers.

But the broadband trial may be less dramatic than it sounds. It won't be free - Google said it will charge "a competitive price" - and only a tiny portion of the U.S. will be affected.

Google said it's limiting the trials to between 50,000 and 500,000 people in areas where municipalities are willing to cooperate in the effort. That suggests the company may piggyback on existing municipal fiber networks, as opposed to building much new infrastructure.

A source told the Washington Post that Google doesn't plan to widely offer service beyond the trial:

"A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the company doesn't currently have plans to expand beyond the initial tests but will evaluate as the tests progress."

Google's done similar testing with a free WiFi network it operates in its hometown of Mountain View, Calif.

The company was also a major investor in Clearwire, the Kirkland provider of wireless broadband.

Google's announcement said it's particularly interested in exploring what developers can do with ultrafast service and how it can improve the way fiber networks are deployed. The company's also making a political statement amid the net neutrality debate, stating that its network will provide open access to multiple service providers.

Seattle's been looking for companies willing to build a fiber network in the city for years and it's a stated priority of the new mayor, but he's said the goal is to provide service throughout the city.

Partnering with Google may have cachet to some but it seems likely to further delay the city's effort to develop a permanent, city-wide fiber service. Ultrafast fiber is already provided to portions of a few select neighborhoods - by Qwest - while the rest of the city's limited to DSL, Comcast or Broadstripe.

Still, Google's announcement "burned up the email this morning," said Bill Schrier, the city's chief technology officer.

Schrier said the city's looking into Google's project but there hasn't been a decision made yet whether to submit a request to participate, he said. Google's asking interested cities to submit a request for information by March 26.

Schrier's wondering if Google's going through municipalities because it wants to get franchise authority to offer a triple-play service with TV, phone and broadband services.

That makes me wonder if Google's exploring the regulatory infrastructure as much as the technical challenge of delivering broadband services.

Maybe the interesting question isn't whether Google can connect houses to the Internet.

It's what sort of services the company would like to offer through fiber to the home. My guess is the package would include Google Internet Service with an iGoogle-like portal, voice service via Google Talk and Voice, and high-def video through YouTube.

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February 9, 2010 3:28 PM

Google Buzz pics: Walking through setup, first buzz

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are a few screenshots from my first Google Buzz today. (Is it happy hour already?)

The initial welcome has an interesting approach to the privacy hurdle. Instead of opting in, you "OK" in:

buzz1.JPG

You're urged pretty strongly to jazz up your Gmail persona. I declined to add a photo and it worked fine:

buzz2.JPG

Then you decide what's going to appear in your public stream:

buzz3.JPG

To create a Buzz post, you type in a field and hit post:

buzz4.JPG

Here's how the Buzz button appears in the Gmail menu -- you click Buzz to call up the Facebooky stuff:

buzz5.JPG

A couple of Buzzes. I added an arrow to show some of the options for socializing your posts:

buzz6.JPG

Here's how the first two Buzzes appeared on a Google Nexus One phone (with address fuzzed out):

buzz7.JPG

Here's what's Buzzing "nearby" my location at The Seattle Times:

buzz8.JPG

When I clicked the map, it showed my location and a few nearby businesses:

buzz9.JPG

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February 9, 2010 10:25 AM

Google rolls its own Facebook & Twitter with Gmail "Buzz"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's turning Gmail into a social network with a new feature called "Buzz" that adds a handful of networking and sharing features to the company's free Web email service.

Co-founder Sergey Brin said Buzz blends social networking and productivity tools into a powerful new service.

"This is another very compelling evolution where I think you have the meeting of social communication and productivity that's closer together," he said. "I think a lot of the past services have focused simply on friends and entertainment, things like that.... I think the bridging of those worlds is very powerful."

Clicking a tab in Gmail will present a format with a series of live, streaming updates from user's email contacts, turning the user's inbox into Google's version of Facebook.

Frequent contacts are automatically converted to "followers" whose public updates, photos and other shared material appears in the stream.

Public updates will all be indexed by Google and searchable. I wonder what this will do to Gmail's utility as a Web email service; people who use Gmail for sensitive correspondence will need to be sure they're correctly using the public and private sharing options that Buzz adds.

There's also a Twitteresque mobile component, giving users the ability to post and share updates from mobile phones. It also uses Google's location-based service to add geotags to Buzz posts made from smartphones.

buzz_mobile_screenshot.jpg

Also unveiled this morning was a new version of Google Mobile Maps with a layer displaying Buzz posts tagged to an area or venue.

The company also plans to launch an enterprise version of Buzz for companies to use for communicating and sharing information.

Google's presenting this update as a service to help people organize and manage the flood of online information. But that may not be enough to deflect grumbling about Google blatantly replicating the features of popular social networks.

"Organizing the world's social information has become a large scale problem, the kind Google loves to solve," Todd Jackson, Buzz product manager, said during Google's announcement this morning.

Buzz will be available at buzz.google.com and via a tab in Gmail. The company plans to make it available starting around 11 a.m. for invited users and broadly over the next few days. Here's the Google announcement with links.

Jackson wouldn't use the "F" word when asked how Buzz would integrate with Facebook and its Connect feature.

"We don't have anything to announce at this time but it's something to think about," he said.

Pressed on how Buzz emulates Facebook, Brin also declined to name the service but noted that many different social networking services have been developed, including a rudimentary one that he built in high school.

Brin characterized Buzz as the latest contribution to the evolution of social networking, saying that he hoped it's one of the "revolutionary" new technology products that have appeared every few years over the last decade.

"I think we look at this as part of a longer term evolution and trying to put together the best set of features and compelling elements to make this really successul both from a technical point of view as well as a social point of view," he said.

Microsoft - which has a stake in Facebook and provides ad services to the site - issued a sharp statement from Dharmesh Mehta, Windows Live director of product management:

"Busy people don't want another social network, what they want is the convenience of aggregation. We've done that. Hotmail customers have benefitted from Microsoft working with Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and 75 other partners since 2008."
Here's Jackson's summary of the key features of Buzz:

1. Auto-following. See content from people you follow.
"There's always been a giant social network under Gmail."
2. Rich, fast sharing experience. "Buzz brings a social UI to Gmail."
3. Public and private sharing.
4. Inbox integration. (Add social updates to inbox)
5. "Recommended buzz" that adds suggested people's updates to your stream.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the story of the change on Feb. 8.

Google's Buzz introduction video:

Google's mobile Buzz video:


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February 4, 2010 4:13 PM

Feds: Google book settlement still bad, more work needed

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google and book publisher and authors have improved their class-action settlement but not enough to avoid antitrust troubles, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a filing and news release this afternoon.

The key quote in the filing:

"Although the United States believes the parties have approached this effort in good faith and the amended settlement agreement is more circumscribed in its sweep than the original proposed settlement, the amended settlement agreement suffers from the same core problem as the original agreement: it is an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court in this litigation."

The Justice Department liked changes that removed Google's "most favored nation" status but said the settlement as revised would still give the search company an unfair advantage.

It said in the release that "the amended settlement agreement still confers significant and possibly anticompetitive advantages on Google as a single entity, thereby enabling the company to be the only competitor in the digital marketplace with the rights to distribute and otherwise exploit a vast array of works in multiple formats."

Today's filing sets the stage for a Feb. 18 hearing before a federal judge considering whether to approve the agreement, which was originally reached in 2005 after a fight over Google's efforts to digitize the world's books.

Other critics of the agreement have lined up in recent months, giving the judge plenty to consider.

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February 3, 2010 10:37 AM

Motorola's unveils Devour, the shape of Google's Nexus Two?

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wonder if the next Google phone -- the Nexus Two -- will use the same industrial design as the Android-based "Devour" phone that Motorola unveiled this morning.

Motorola's said it's going to build a Nexus and Google has hinted that it will sell one with a keyboard, so how about Devour hardware with a faster processor and better camera? I've asked both companies if this is the case (ha ha) and will update if they clarify.

Update: A Google spokeswoman said: "All I can say publicly is that the Nexus One is the first in what we expect to be a series of products, which we will bring to market with our operator and hardware partners." Moto's rep said "We can't comment on rumor, speculation or future plans."

The Devour announced today is a slider with a keyboard plus a 3.1-inch touchscreen, full HTML browser, 3 megapixel camera and 8 gig memory card.

Devour_FrontOpen.png

Verizon is going to start selling the phone in March, but announcing it today gets ahead of the herd of new phones that will be announced this month around the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona.

Devour specs:

Continue reading this post ...


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January 21, 2010 11:59 AM

Microsoft's "China" IE browser emergency patch: Get it now

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a link to the emergency patch for Internet Explorer that Microsoft issued today.

It fixes the vulnerability that China apparently used to sneak into the networks of Google and other U.S. companies, prompting the brouhaha that Secretary of State Clinton addressed today.

Now that word's out about the Explorer flaw it's critical to update your browser, whether or not you're likely to get cyberattacked by China.

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January 5, 2010 3:17 PM

Superphone bills: Cost of Google Nexus vs. iPhone, Droid and Pre

Posted by Brier Dudley

BillShrink.com updated its handy dandy phone cost comparison chart, adding Google's Nexus One.

Bottom line: It'll cost you $2,579 over two years, a hair more than a Palm Pre but less than an iPhone or Droid.

nexus-one-total-cost.jpg

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January 5, 2010 11:56 AM

CES: Google Nexus ups ante for Microsoft, WinMo7 time?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's Nexus One phone isn't as revolutionary as the buzz would suggest. It's basically a really nice touchscreen device running a new processor that supports slick 3-D graphics and services.

But its debut today still ups the ante for Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, who is delivering the opening keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday night.

Microsoft is close to releasing Windows Mobile 7, the latest version of its beleagured phone platform. It's supposed to be unveiled at a March developer conference.

Windows Mobile 7 may seem like a Hail Mary given the success of the iPhone and Android devices, but it could put upcoming Microsoft-powered phones on par with the Nexus at least.

Especially if wireless companies use Microsoft's software in conjunction with the new generation of processors that are giving the latest phones the computing power of Windows XP era laptops.

So what can Ballmer do to upstage Google's mobile news at this point?

His best chance may be to announce a 4G Windows Mobile 7 phone that will run on Clearwire and Sprint networks.

It could use the mobile broadband service to stream video (consumer content from Comcast and videoconferencing to justify enterprise sales) and play games across the Xbox Live network.

A nexus of 4G-ready Microsoft partners will be in Vegas this week -- including Sprint, Comcast, Samsung and Toshiba -- so it's not that farfetched.

Google's new online phone store will also have retailers like Best Buy prowling CES in search of devices that keep drawing people into their stores.

So why wait until March?

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January 5, 2010 10:07 AM

Google launches "superphone," Web store (updated w/ video)

Posted by Brier Dudley

During a press conference today at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters the company, as expected, unveiled the "Nexus One" -- a Google-branded device it calls a "superphone."

The phone is based on the same software as the Motorola "Droid" phone sold by Verizon but has a few additional features, such as a mobile version of the Google Earth mapping service and more 3-D graphics.

It's the first of multiple premium phones that Google plans to sell directly by the search company through a new online storefront -- Google.com/phone -- which will also be a hub to activate the phones. Buyers will need to have a Google account, such as a Gmail e-mail account, to make a purchase.

"The Nexus One belongs in an emerging category of devices we call superphones," said Google's Mario Queiroz, vice president of product development.

Asked if it's an "iPhone killer," Google's Andy Rubin deflected the question.

"I think choice is a really good thing,'' said Rubin, vice president of engineering and former chief executive of Danger, a handset maker acquired by Microsoft.

Rubin said Google isn't trying to make money off the phones as much as advertising it will deliver -- it's comparable in power to laptops of a few years ago, and Google's business is selling ads viewed on computers.

"This is just the next front of our core business,'' Rubin said.

Google also sees the phone as "the best possible Google experience," he said.

"When you hit Google.com you're a Google customer," Rubin said. "If you want the best possible experience you'll come to the store, grab the device and the advertising model takes off."

Opening a Web storefront could signal broader plans for Google to enter dircect retailing but executives wouldn't discuss plans beyond selling cutting-edge Android phones on the site.

"We're not going to comment more specifically than this particular point," Queiroz said, looking a little uncomfortable with the question on the Webcast.

Before showing the phone Queiroz talked up its partnerships with mobile phone companies -- companies it's now competing with by selling the Nexus One directly to consumers. We'll see if that mollifies the companies, which are now selling 20 of their own Android phones on 59 networks in 48 countries.

Motorola Chief Executive Sanjay Jha demurred when asked at the press conference if the Nexus One would cannibalize sales of his company's Droid phone, and whether partners should feel threatened by Google's entering the phone sales business.

"I don't see it as a threat," he said. "I think this is potentially an expansion of the market place."

HTC Chief Executive Peter Chou -- whose company builds the phones for Google -- came on stage to discuss his company's role, then Google engineer Eric Tseng began the demo and explanation of the specs.

Features include:

-- 3.7 inch AMOLED display.
-- Multicolor LED trackball that flashes in different colors, such as blue to signal that you can link with a Bluetooth headset.
-- 1 gigahertz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm.
-- Light and proximity sensors.
-- 11.5 mm thick, comparable to a pencil
-- 130 grams (4.6 oz.), similar in weight to a pocketknife.
-- 5 megapixel still and video camera that uploads images to Google's Picasa service in the background and to YouTube with one click.
-- Stereo Bluetooth audio
-- New active noise suppression. Using two mics, it does noise cancellation when you're making calls in a noisy environment.

Tseng said the device is built on Android version 2.1, the same version that's running Motorola's Droid phone from Verizon Wireless. It has the same applications, including Google Maps' navigation service.

New features include the addition of five homescreen panels for people to customize the phone with additional application icons, or widgets.

One application new to the Nexus One is "live wallpaper," a videolike dynamic background image that moves and can be manipulated by touching the screen. This is very similar to the 3-D animations HTC began offering on the Android Hero phone sold by Sprint.

Tseng said the phone's powerful processor enables 3-D graphics such as a zooming effect when launching applications and a photo gallery that can be manipulated with finger swipe gestures or by tilting the phone.

The device also accepts voice controls, including speech-to-text conversion that can be used, for instance, to compose e-mails by speaking into the device. It worked, after a few seconds pause, in Tseng's demo.

Also demonstrated was the new Google Earth service for the Android platform.

Rubin said the Nexus One software will be open-sourced and available to other devices within a few days. Not many phones are yet using the Snapdragon platform, though, so the 3-D graphics could be a challenge until such powerful processors are more widely available.

Previously leaked documents said the device will sell for $180 with a two-year T-Mobile USA contract or $530 for a contract-free model. The Google store now has it offered for $179 with T-Mobile service and $529 without; the service plan costs $80 per month and comes with 500 minutes of talk time and unlimited data and messaging.

Google said the phone will also be supported by Verizon Wireless in the U.S. and Vodafone in Europe in the spring.

Here's a photo of Queiroz holding up the phone, taken by pool photographer Robert Galbraith/AFP/Getty Images:

Was2789429.JPG

"We're psyched," Queiroz said, before showing a video ad for the Nexus One:

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January 4, 2010 11:30 AM

CES preview: Xbox Natal, Orb rings and more ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

(An illustrated version of the preview column that ran in today's paper ...)

Las Vegas always seems like it's in another dimension, but this week it will be even more so when the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show takes place.

More than 20,000 new products will be shown by 2,500 companies starting Thursday.

IMGA0026.JPG
They're expecting to sell $166 billion worth of TVs, phones, stereos and other gadgets in the U.S. alone next year.

You'd never guess the economy's limping and millions are out of work.

Continue reading this post ...


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December 29, 2009 11:38 AM

Report: T-Mobile to support new Google mobile phone

Posted by Brier Dudley

The nexus of Google's mysterious new Nexus One phone is apparently Bellevue.

TmoNews is reporting today that T-Mobile will be the network powering Google's new phone, which is apparently going to make its debut on Jan. 5.

A T-Mobile USA support page found by the blog says Google will sell the new Android-based device directly via the Web, confirming the story that emerged a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal. Bellevue-based T-Mobile will handle billing and rate plans for the device.

Manufacturing the new Google phone will be HTC, the Taiwanese phone maker with U.S. headquarters in Bellevue and its software lab in Pioneer Square.

The trio introduced Google's first Android phone, the HTC-manufactured G1, in September 2008 but it was sold by T-Mobile.

Google also scheduled an announcement at its headquarters on Jan. 5, the day before the Consumer Electronics Show begins in Las Vegas.

Google's boldly making an end-run around wireless companies with its own device, even though it's simultaneously working to get more of its software and services onto their devices and networks.

But it's also using old-fashioned P.R. tricks by launching just ahead of the show, forcing its new device into the conversations people will have about the array of new gadgets debuting in 2010.

Although initial reports characterized Google's phone as an assault on the iPhone, it's also a challenge to a wave of new devices built on Microsoft's Windows Mobile 7, the software that's now Microsoft's big chance to regain its footing in the phone market. Google's announcement takes place the day before Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer presents the opening keynote at CES.

UPDATE: More details are flowing out. Gizmodo received what looks to be leaked details of the Nexus One pricing: $180 with a two-year, $80 per month T-Mobile contract, or $530 for one that's unsubsidized and contract-free.

The Gizmodo screenshots also have a tagline explaining the Nexus One name, if you couldn't figure it out already: "Web meets phone."

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November 19, 2009 11:08 AM

Google's free Chrome operating system: Details, video emerge

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's sharing more details of its planned Chrome operating system - and the early code as well, through the Chromium open source project it announced this morning.

The company said its OS will be ready for consumers a year from now and invited developers to help finish the project.

Google's calling it a "fundamentally different model of computing" although it seems to share concepts with the thin client-network computer model that Silicon Valley floated a decade ago. Instead of hosting desktop applications, it's a browser/portal to apps that are hosted on the network. From today's official announcement:

First, it's all about the web. All apps are web apps. The entire experience takes place within the browser and there are no conventional desktop applications. This means users do not have to deal with installing, managing and updating programs.

The explainer video:

Maybe it's less like a direct assault on Microsoft's PC franchise and more like an attempt to polish and Google up Linux for netbooks and mobile computing devices.

Google said the software won't support PCs with hard drives and it's aimed at netbooks and secondary computing devices, according to The Register's report, which called it "essentially Google's own Chrome browser running atop a Googlized Linux":

Chrome OS will run on both x86 and ARM chips - though it only runs on x86 today - and Google is working with multiple partners on commercial devices, including Acer, Asus, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba. Google has very specific ideas on how these machines will be designed. As said, the OS does not support hard drives, and (VP Sundar) Pichai said there would be other hardware restrictions as well.

Sounds like a fundamentally different model of open-source computing.

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November 18, 2009 12:36 PM

Googlepalooza: Phones, operating systems and CES?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google is apparently trying to steal some thunder from Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference this week by releasing more details of its Chrome operating system.

So far the Chrome OS has been mostly FUD since it was announced in July but that may change at a Thursday press event where the company is promising demos.

But the buzz around that event is already being drowned out by unconfirmed reports that began Tuesday about Google planning its own mobile phone-handheld computing device.

TechCrunch said the gadget will be made by a Korean company such as LG, carry only Google's brand and probably use AT&T's 3G network.

Google is building their own branded phone that they'll sell directly and through retailers. They were long planning to have the phone be available by the holidays, but it has now slipped to early 2010. The phone will be produced by a major phone manufacturer but will only have Google branding.

A big ad campaign promoting Google's first consumer hardware will begin in January, TechCrunch added.

My guess is that Google will surface the device at the Consumer Electronics Show, which begins Jan. 7 in Las Vegas, where co-founder Larry Page last gave a keynote in 2006.

Maybe he'll take the place of Yahoo boss Carol Bartz, who canceled her appearance at the show last week.

At a press dinner last night in Seattle, Dan Cole, vice president of the trade group that organizes CES, hinted that another major keynote may be added but he didn't name names.

Here's a Chrome sign hanging in Google's new Kirkland campus, where they get quiet and change the subject if you ask if former Microsoft talent is working on the new operating system:

chrome.JPG

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November 16, 2009 10:52 AM

Majority of consumers would pay for online news, study says

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wish I'd had this study in hand for today's column on the decline of free content and other Web freebies coming in 2010:

More than half of consumers are willing to pay for news online, according to a new report from the Boston Consulting Group that's likely to be referred to a lot as media and Web companies finalize their 2010 plans.

The firm surveyed 5,000 people in nine countries to find out what they would pay for online news, among other things. It said the average amount ranges from a low of $3 a month in the U.S. and Australia to a high of $7 in Italy.

"The good news is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, consumers are willing to pay for meaningful content. The bad news is that they are not willing to pay much. But cumulatively, these payments could help offset one to three years of anticipated declines in advertising revenue," John Rose, a senior partner in the firm, said in the release.

Rose told The New York Times that willingness to pay is lower in the U.S. compared to other countries because it has so much free online content available.

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November 11, 2009 2:27 PM

More about free Google Wi-Fi: SeaTac delay and the fine print

Posted by Brier Dudley

A few more details have emerged about Google's plan to offer free Wi-Fi at SeaTac and 46 other airports through the holidays.

First, SeaTac's service is delayed for a week while a contract issue is sorted out with AT&T, the current Wi-Fi provider.

Google spokesman Andrew Pederson said SeaTac should get the free Wi-Fi by Nov. 18.

The service began at other airports Tuesday when Google announced the "holiday gift." Later an asterisk was added to SeaTac, noting that its service was coming in late November.

Google's announcement took credit for SeaTac getting free Wi-Fi permanently, saying that "as a result of this project, Burbank and Seattle airports will begin offering airport-wide free Wi-Fi indefinitely." But SeaTac was already planning to offer free WiFi starting in 2010, according to spokesman Perry Cooper.

"It's not happening because of their involvement -- we were already planning on doing it,'' he said, adding that Google's offer does make the service free earlier, during the holidays.

That's not all. I asked Pederson if any ads will be shown to people using the airport Wi-Fi. He said no ads will be displayed, but when people try to access the service, they will have to click through a Web page promoting Google products.

This interstitial, splash page asks if users would like to download Google's Chrome browser, add Google's Toolbar to their computer and set Google as their home page. People do not have to download the Google products to use the free Wi-Fi, Pederson said.

"It's completely opt-in -- nothing is preselected for you,'' he said.

Sounds like one of those holiday parties where the host gives you a little Amway pitch while ladling the eggnog. You can just smile and head for their buffet.

Cooper said the pitch page will go away at SeaTac after Google's holiday gift ends Jan. 15.

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November 10, 2009 6:00 PM

Video: Auletta on Google, Apple divorce, Comcast buying NBC

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a video of the conversation I had last night with Ken Auletta at the downtown Seattle library - talking about Auletta's new book, "Googled: The End of the World as we Know It" in the Microsoft Auditorium.

Auletta shared tidbits from his extensive interviews with Google founders and executives, as well as earlier conversations with Bill Gates.

In response to a question from the audience about whether Comcast will buy NBC from GE, he mentioned that he met with GE boss Jeff Immelt late last week and the deal should happen with a few days.

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November 10, 2009 10:04 AM

Free Wi-Fi at SeaTac, other airports, thanks to Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's bringing a free perk to 47 airports around the country, offering free WiFi service during the busy holidays. At SeaTac -- homeport for competitors Microsoft and Amazon -- the freebie will continue "indefinitely."

"We're very happy to extend our Holiday Wi-Fi gift to the millions of people who will spend time in airports over the next few months," Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience, said in the release. "We know that this is a very hectic travel season for people, and we hope that free Wi-Fi will make both traveling and connecting with friends and family a little bit easier."

UPDATE: Google added an asterisk to SeaTac - in fine print it now says free service isn't ready there yet and will come in "late November." The rest of the airports received the service yesterday.

Burbank, Calif., is also getting free service indefinitely. The other 45 airports -- and Virgin America flights -- will see Google cover Wi-Fi service fees through Jan. 15.

Users won't have to log in to Google, but the Wi-Fi providers will share usage information with the search company. Here's how this is described in the FAQ:

Q. What kind of information are you collecting about users with the networks?

The network operators collect the information they need to run the network, and Google will have access to some aggregate, non-personally identifiable information.

Here's a list of airports where it's being offered:

Austin (AUS)
Baltimore (BWI)
Billings (BIL)
Boston (BOS)
Bozeman (BZN)
Buffalo (BUF)
Burbank (BUR)
Central Wisconsin (CWA)
Charlotte (CLT)
Des Moines (DSM)
El Paso (ELP)
Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
Fort Myers/SW (RSW)
Greensboro (GSO)
Houston (HOU)
Houston Bush (IAH)
Indianapolis (IND)
Jacksonville (JIA)
Kalamazoo (AZO)
Las Vegas (LAS)
Louisville (SDF)
Madison (MSN)
Memphis (MEM)
Miami (MIA)
Milwaukee (MKE)
Monterey (MRY)
Nashville (BNA)
Newport News (PHF)
Norfolk (ORF)
Oklahoma City (OKC)
Omaha (OMA)
Orlando (MCO)
Panama City (PFN)
Pittsburgh (PIT)
Portland (PWM)
Sacramento (SMF)
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November 9, 2009 4:01 PM

Googling Ken Auletta

Posted by Brier Dudley

As mentioned in today's column on the Motorola Droid and the new book "Googled," I'll be interviewing author Ken Auletta tonight at the downtown Seattle library at 7 p.m.

Auletta has also talked to KUOW and Microsoft employees during his visit.

We'll post a video of tonight's talk afterward.

In the meantime, here's a picture I took of the Droid when it told me to walk and transfer to catch the bus that was approaching my stop in front of Harborview:

DSCN1122.JPG

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October 29, 2009 2:47 PM

Uh oh, Zillow: Google jumps into mortgages and real estate

Posted by Brier Dudley

Zillow better watch out: The latest thing to emerge from Google's barrage of launches this week duplicates one of the Seattle startup's most valuable features.

Google is now offering an instant mortgage quote service that instantly connects lenders to buyers, and provides useful tools for comparison shopping. It also instantly estimates house values (a Gestimate?) provided by IntelliReal.

googlow.JPG

The mortgage rate feature showcases new "comparison ads" that it's launching in a limited test, selling space in free tools that consumers may use before making big-ticket purchases.

UPDATE: Google Maps is also adding Zillowesque real estate info. From the announcement:

First of all, we've made it easier to find real estate listings. Now, you can simply select "Real Estate" from the 'More' button on the top right of any Google Map to discover listings. From there, it's a simple matter to refine your search using the left hand panel - price, bedrooms, bathrooms, and so on. Of course, you can still pan the map to search for the perfect neighborhood and it'll automatically update with more listings.

I wonder if comparison ads will muddle -- in consumers' minds -- the information found by impartial search algorithms and paid placement. It may be handy if you are rate shopping, but it's no longer the results of an objective search engine.

Sound like Google's becoming more of a decision engine. Maybe it's time for Microsoft to buy Zillow before it loses zest.

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October 28, 2009 5:18 PM

Q&A: Google engineering boss on Kirkland, Microsoft and Bing

Posted by Brier Dudley

Among the dignitaries speaking at today's ceremonial opening of the new Google campus in Kirkland was the guy who first approved the company's engineering office in the Seattle area.

Alan Eustace, Google senior vice president of engineering and research, said it began five years ago when three smart and persuasive people applied at once to work at Google and they wanted to work in the area.

Continue reading this post ...


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October 28, 2009 2:10 PM

Meet Google's only barista

Posted by Brier Dudley

Politicians and engineering directors weren't the only notables at today's ceremonial opening of Google's fancy new Kirkland campus.

There was also Violet Kiss, Google's only barista.

DSCN1065.JPG

Espresso machines are a standard perk at the company's various offices all over the place, but Googlers generally have to pull their own.

Except in Kirkland, where Violet is busy making lattes from 8 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m.

She (and another cafeteria worker who shares the job) staff an espresso stand in the main building's "Northwest lodge" style lobby. It also has a fireplace, comfy seats, wood floors and chandeliers made of antlers.

The stand has two commercial espresso machines -- one for the barista and another facing outward, so people can make their own if she's busy or gone. There are also espresso machines upstairs in the office-area kitchenettes.

Violet, who was born in Hungary, said she previously made coffee at Expedia's offices in Bellevue.

What do Googlers drink?

"They like just the plain, non-fat latte and the soy latte,'' she said.

They should try Violet's specialty, the "black and white zebra mocha" made with white and dark chocolate, plus a touch of cinnamon.

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October 21, 2009 10:31 AM

Google taps iLike for new Web music service

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google's going to raise the profile of digital music in its search results, offering people ways to discover and buy music through a partnership with Seattle-based iLike and Lala, according to reports out of the Bay Area today.

But Google's "One Box" initiative doesn't sound like a full-blown music destination/distribution service like Microsoft has tried various ways, Amazon's doing with its MP3 store and MySpace is building.

Techcrunch's initial OMG story said Google's building a music service with major record labels on board. Then it added news that iLike and Lala will stream music from the search results and it will all be announced Oct. 28.

Cnet's report suggests its going to be enhanced search results that present not just links but music information and buying opportunities via iLike and Lala, a Palo Alto-based Web music service.

Why hasn't Bing done this sort of thing already? You'd think it could pretty easily tap the Zune service, if Zune's licensing deals would allow it, or surface MSN's rich music features.

Google's service sounds cool but nowhere near a YouTube for music (gTunes?). If it was going there, perhaps it would have bought iLike or some other startup that indexes and infers people's taste in music.

This also sounds like a middle finger extended toward Apple during its messy divorce from Google.

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October 15, 2009 1:37 PM

Michael Dell: We'll sell Android phones in the U.S. in 2010

Posted by Brier Dudley

"You'll probably see some products next year in the United States that are family members with some of the things we started in China," Michael Dell said at FiRe today.

He discussed the mobile phones Dell's developed for China Mobile on a variant of the Google-backed Android operating system.

Host Mark Anderson pressed Dell - one of Microsoft's biggest customers - on what operating system his U.S.-bound phones will use.

"They'd be Android," Dell said.

Last week the Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported Dell would release an Android phone in early 2010 for AT&T.

Michael was on the record, but he didn't specify the carrier.

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October 14, 2009 11:03 AM

Google formally opening Kirkland campus, finally

Posted by Brier Dudley

Kirkland city officials can finally break out the champagne: Google is officially opening its long-delayed Kirkland campus with a press event on Oct. 28.

The search giant froze the campus project when the economy soured last November and tried subleasing more than a third of the three-building complex overlooking Lake Washington from Sixth Street.


SRM Development / Broderick Group

The campus includes a large deck with a water feature looking toward Lake Washington.


But as we reported in August, work resumed on the interior this summer, and Google decided to move from rented offices nearby around the end of September.

Now the company's ready to bring in press and officials, including Kirkland Mayor James Lauinger, who will be present for the ceremonial opening on Oct. 28.

"We are so so happy to have them here," said Ellen Miller-Wolfe, Kirkland's economic development manager. "We really appreciate them as a magnet and anticipate all good things, including other IT companies ... , will come to Kirkland because they're here. They're also great participants in charities and communtiy events."

Google began hiring people in Kirkland in 2004 and now employs more than 400 people in space near the Park Place retail center. It first leased the new, 180,000-square-foot campus in the summer of 2007.

Here's a picture (ex) Seattle Times photographer Thomas James Hurst took during construction in June 2008:

sunbizgoogle02.jpg

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September 18, 2009 7:44 PM

Feds weigh in on Google book settlement: Keep hashing it out

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nice timing: The U.S. Department of Justice just issued a release announcing its position on the controversial settlement of a copyright dispute between Google and authors and book publishers.

The feds said they told the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that "while it should not accept the class action settlement in The Authors Guild Inc. et al. v. Google Inc. as proposed due to concerns of the United States regarding class action, copyright and antitrust law, the parties should be encouraged to continue their productive discussions to address those concerns."

In other words, Justice asked the court to let Google and the publishing industry keep hashing it out, keeping in mind some suggestions. From the release:

In its filing, the Department proposed that the parties consider a number of changes to the agreement that may help address the United States' concerns, including imposing limitations on the most open-ended provisions for future licensing, eliminating potential conflicts among class members, providing additional protections for unknown rights holders, addressing the concerns of foreign authors and publishers, eliminating the joint-pricing mechanisms among publishers and authors, and, whatever the settlement's ultimate scope, providing some mechanism by which Google's competitors can gain comparable access.

An excerpt from the filing, included in the release:

"Given the parties' express commitment to ongoing discussions to address concerns already raised and the possibility that such discussions could lead to a settlement agreement that could legally be approved by the Court, the public interest would best be served by direction from the Court encouraging the continuation of those discussions between the parties and, if the Court so chooses, by some direction as to those aspects of the Proposed Settlement that need to be improved. Because a properly structured settlement agreement in this case offers the potential for important societal benefits, the United States does not want the opportunity or momentum to be lost."

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August 3, 2009 12:00 AM

Seattle Google boss terrified by education funding, VC situation

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's more from my interview with Google's Seattle site director, Brian Bershad, that was the basis for today's column.

In these edited excerpts, he talks about some of the concerns he has about risks to the startup community.

Continue reading this post ...


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July 30, 2009 9:10 AM

Ballmer: Bing will do special things to support Windows

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google isn't the only one linking a search engine to an operating system.

Microsoft's going to do things with its search engine to benefit its Windows franchise, Chief Executive Steve Ballmer told analysts this morning.

"Bing - over time you'll see us do things in Bing that are enhanced and really special and smart to support Windows," he said.

Did he just give antitrust regulators an invitation to dive into the Bing-Microsoft-Yahoo deal?

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July 14, 2009 12:35 PM

Report: Lucovsky leaves Google for VMware

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wonder if Eric Schmidt tossed a chair when he found out Mark Lucovsky was leaving Google for VMware.

Lucovsky, a former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer, a key player on the Windows NT team and father of the Hailstorm cloud strategy, allegedly caused a big kerfluffle in Steve Ballmer's office when he announced his departure for Google in 2004.

The notorious incident came at theapex of Microsoft's angst over losing engineers to Google. Lucovsky said Ballmer swore and threw a chair, allegations the chief executive denied.

Now Google is losing talent as it wrestles with growth, maturity and evolving culture.

TechCrunch today is reporting that Lucovsky left Google for VMware, which is headed by one of his former bosses at Microsoft, Paul Maritz.

Lucovsky was an engineering director for Google working in Santa Barbara, Calif.

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July 13, 2009 2:30 PM

Feeling lucky? Google meetup in Seattle with free beer

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google is hosting an open, public meetup tonight at the Red Door in Fremont, and buying the first round.

Comments and questions will be fielded by company representatives, including two notable visitors from the Mountain View HQ: Maile Ohye, developer programs tech lead, and Daphne Keller, managing product counsel and author of some of the company's product privacy policies.

The event follows a media roundtable the company hosted this morning at its Fremont offices, part of a national tour the company's public affairs group is organizing to introduce the company and tell its current story to journalists and media-site Web crews.

My favorite line from this morning came when Keller introduced online tools for asking Google to remove copyrighted material protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. She called it "the East Coast way to tell a search engine what to do."

A spokesman organizing the media tour insisted the events weren't intended to counter the attention that Microsoft's Bing is receiving, saying they were organized before Bing surfaced.

The outreach seems designed more to build connections and humanize Google as the company enters choppier legal and policy waters, such as growing concerns about the company's near monopoly on search advertising.

More details of tonight's open house, which is expected to be attended largely by Web pofessionals, are at this Meetup.com page.

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July 10, 2009 10:36 AM

More evidence Google's Chrome OS is network computers redux

Posted by Brier Dudley

From an interview Google co-founder Larry Page and Chief Executive Eric Schmidt gave the Wall Street Journal, at the summer camp for tycoons that Allen & Co. is holding in Sun Valley this week:

Mr. Page described the Chrome operating system as a kind of anti-operating system -- one that is basically indistinguishable from a browser. Netbooks loaded with Chrome will boot up almost instantaneously and will store data on the Internet instead of a hard drive.

"I wanted the operating system to kind of be out of the way," Mr. Page said.

It's sounding more and more like the return of the Network Computer.

Another revelation: Google hired some Firefox developers to build a Chrome OS demo that convinced a reluctant Schmidt to approve the project.

Schmidt said he'll talk to Apple about how Google's new operating-system business complicates his position on Apple's board of directors.

"There is no change at the moment,'' Schmidt said.

Does that mean Chrome OS at this point is still just vaporware?

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July 8, 2009 9:07 PM

Chrome OS: Return of the network computer?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google is not officially saying much about Chrome OS beyond a Tuesday evening blog post, announcing that the company is indeed developing a computer operating system.

But a very knowledgeable "industry source" answered a few questions about a project that on its surface appears to be a significant challenge to Microsoft, Apple and the PC industry's status quo.

After getting these additional details, I'm thinking that Google's "Chrome OS" will be latest iteration of the thin client "network computer" that others in Silicon Valley first proposed back in the mid-1990s.

The concept was to shift most of the actual computing from the local machine to the Web. With servers doing the heavy lifting, people wouldn't need much more than a keyboard, display and Internet connection.

Oracle and Sun Microsystems -- where Google's chief executive used to work -- began pushing this concept as their competition with Microsoft grew and Windows became the dominant platform for software development.

Their vision has been partly realized. Most people have good Internet connections and the Web has become the dominant platform, connecting not just computers but increasingly phones, game consoles, cars and televisions.

Some big companies use thin clients connected to their networks. The consumer equivalent may be netbooks, the low-powered mini computers based on hardware designed for mobile devices.

But the majority of personal computing is still done on full-powered machines that run applications offline as well as online.

One reason is because PCs keep getting more powerful without getting much more expensive. The appeal of a Web-oriented operating system will be limited if it doesn't make the most of the dramatic gains in processing power, graphics and storage that PCs are expected to see in the next few years.

Google is expecting its operating system to start appearing on netbooks and larger computers by the end of 2010. It's designed for standard PC hardware that supports more local storage than a thin client, though it will presumably encourage people to use Web services that store files online, such as Gmail and Picasa.

The software hasn't yet coalesced -- it's a more of a project than a prototype at this point, so don't expect a lot in the way of demonstrations anytime soon.

I was told Google is "still coding on this." The software should be running toward the end of 2009, at which point Google will make it open source and shareable.

Google's operating system will be an extension of its Chrome browser. Apparently everything on a Chrome OS computer will be done through the browser, and applications will not run outside the browser. The browser will be the desktop, and the browser will be Google's. To use a browser other than Chrome, consumers or computer makers will have to modify the source code.

I'm curious to see if consumers will accept an operating system developed by and connected to a company whoses primary business is targeting ads.

It sounds like Google's response to such concerns will be that the Chrome OS will offer the same level of privacy as its Chrome browser, and that consumers with privacy concerns can always switch to a different product. Because the software will be open source, developers can also look through the code "for nefarious things."

Google isn't the only company boosting the capability of browsers.

Some have speculated that Google timed its announcement to get ahead of Microsoft, which may reveal an advanced, OS-like browser dubbed Gazelle at a conference next week.

In some respects they're both behind Norway-based Opera Software, which last month released a test version of a radically new browser, called Unite. Unite has a built-in server, so users can host communication sessions and share files and photos directly across the Web, instead of having to go through corporate servers.

In its post announcing the Chrome OS, Google said it would shortly begin sharing details with the open source community. Google's participating at the Open Source Conference in San Jose, Calif., starting on July 20, but my source said the company doesn't plan to share more details about Chrome OS until later this year.

Tuesday's blog post was "just an early announcement to give a heads-up and provide context and overview."

Google has hired a lot of former Microsoft engineers at its Seattle-area offices, but the Chrome OS development is concentrated in Mountain View, Calif.

Will Chrome OS share components with Android, the mobile device operating system that Google developed with partners such as T-Mobile USA and Sprint?

My source said they both operate on a Linux kernel and their browsers run on the WebKit open-source browser engine, but they are "totally separate initiatives approaching the operating system challenge from two different points of view."

It's unclear how many of today's PC applications will run on the Chrome OS. Google's solution to that challenge will apparently be to suggest that legacy applications be turned into Web applications:

"As far as legacy software and things like that, if you want the code for this operating system, you just build a Web app, you use HTML and Javascript, and it's going to work really well," the source said. "All the user experience takes place in the browser."

Another question is how PCs running the Chrome OS will operate when they're offline. For this capability, Google will rely heavily on Gears, a browser technology it released in 2007. Gears stores and runs information from Web applications so they can run offline, then synchronizes the data when a connection is restored.

What about heavy-duty applications, such as editing big media files, that can be a hassle to do online? Google is "still trying to figure out the details of how these things are going to work."

How can developers get involved? They can write applications for the Chrome OS today. Applications using HTML and Javascript will work on the Chrome OS, just as tehy would on any other browser.

Developers are likely to get their chance to work with Chrome OS code itself later this year. It's unclear how far development will be at that point; the operating system could be nearly done or still a work in progress.

I'm guessing the code will be released sometime before Oct. 22.

UPDATE: Here's Google's Chrome OS blog, which said PC makers participating in the project include Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Toshiba.

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June 30, 2009 4:40 PM

Dell's Android iPod challenger: Microsoft in play?

Posted by Brier Dudley

A crazy thought: Is Dell toying with Microsoft with its stealthy mobile device project?

That's what I wondered after reading the Wall Street Journal story about Dell developing Android-based devices, including a Web tablet slightly bigger than an iPod Touch and phones that could go on sale later this year. An excerpt:

The development effort is one of the first experiments by a big-name PC maker in a nascent category of products known as mobile Internet devices, or MIDs, which are designed to fill a perceived gap between mobile phones and laptop computers.

You could also call them ultra-mobile PCs, or even Origami devices, after a code name Microsoft used for its early stab at the category in 2006, long before the Google-backed Android operating system surfaced.

Given Dell's relationship with Microsoft and its upcoming Windows 7 push, it doesn't seem too farfetched to imagine that Dell also evaluated some version of Windows for its new devices.

Today's disclosure could put pressure on Microsoft to offer a better deal (although it's hard to beat the price of Android).

If nothing else, the story may give Steve and Michael something to chat about as they haggle over Windows 7 pricing for netbooks and other PCs coming out this fall ...

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June 19, 2009 10:48 AM

Google aims at Amazon and Bing with product ads, pics and prices

Posted by Brier Dudley

Get ready for a new kind of ad that may appear when you search with Google.

The company is inviting advertisers to help test new "product ads" that display photos and prices of products for sale, including specific offers based on your search. It's a new program that looks like a response to Microsoft and a challenge to Amazon.com.

These new ads could change the look of Google search results, if you're using the site to look for information about products. The testing is going to begin soon in just a few, unspecified areas of the U.S.

But the program is apparently designed not to change the consumer experience as much as give companies using Google's affiliate program more options to sell their wares.

It's probably been in the works for a while, but the timing is interesting, coming as Microsoft repositions its Web search service as a better tool for shopping. Microsoft's Bing search service includes a number of product shopping features for consumers and vendors, returning product images, prices and specific offers when you search for, say, an Apple iPod.

Google product ads may also increase tension with Amazon.com, by giving companies a new alternative to Amazon's affiliate product marketing program and a product search ad program the retailer started last year. (I wonder how commissions will be divvied up on Amazon product ads placed by Google?) It could also be a significant challenge to smaller, product-oriented ad networks such as Seattle's WidgetBucks.

Google Product Ads will appear as sponsored links, separate from the Google's AdWords text ads.

A company spokeswoman initially said the "experiment" began a few weeks ago, then clarified that it has not yet begun, and provided the following statement:

"At Google, we're constantly experimenting with new features, tools and visual representations to improve the user experience and usefulness of our ads. In accordance with that philosophy, we're planning a beta test to show richer product information in the ads for shopping-related queries. This test will only be visible to a small number of U.S. users."

Microsoft and Amazon declined to comment.

An invitation to the beta includes FAQs with this explanation of how product ads differ from Google's AdWords:

"Product ads represent individual offers with product information directly in the ad itself. Unlike keyword targeted text ads, product ads appear when the user's query matches information provided in your product feed. During the beta, product ads are shown independently from text ads."

Google is encouraging testers to be aggressive with the commissions they pay to sites that display their product ads. Its pricing advice:

You specify the commission rate for conversions that take place via clicks on Google product ads. Minimum pricing is your standard publisher rate, plus the network fee. To maximize your competitiveness among advertisers participating in product ads, we recommend a higher commission with the Google product ads relationship.

Google's affiliate program is based on the DoubleClick Performics Affiliate it acquired in March 2008.

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June 17, 2009 9:34 AM

Bing still gaining share, but growth tapering

Posted by Brier Dudley

Not sure how meaningful the week-by-week Bing reports are from comScore, but Microsoft's remodeled Web search engine continued to grow in its second week.

Microsoft's "average daily penetration among U.S. searchers" reached 16.7 percent in the week of June 8-12, up 3 points from the week prior to Bing's launch, comScore reported this morning.

Microsoft's overall share of U.S. grew to 12.1 percent during the week.

But the rate of growth seems to be slowing post-launch: The share grew 2.1 percent in the first week since Bing's launch, and 0.8 percent in the second week. I wonder if fear of Bing is still gripping Google ...

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June 9, 2009 2:59 PM

Google boss dings Bing (and MSFT+YHOO) on Fox

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt's take on Bing, from a Fox Business Network interview conducted at Google HQ:

"It's not the first entry for Microsoft. They do this about once a year. From Bing's perspective they have a bunch of new ideas and there are some things that are missing. We think search is about comprehensiveness, freshness, scale and size for what we do. It's difficult for them to copy that."

Nice timing -- just as comScore releases a note saying Bing had some early traction.

The Bing stuff begins at about 1:04, and they get to Yahoo (and MSFT+YHOO) around 2:40:


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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.