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February 28, 2006

Sony PS3 ship date leaked by Costco?

Posted by Brier Dudley at 4:09 PM

Sony isn't saying when its new PlayStation 3 console will go on sale in the United States, but Costco wasn't so bashful. The Issaquah-based retailer's Web site on Tuesday said the highly anticipated console will be available in November 2006.

Retailers tend to guess when hot video game products will hit the shelves, but Costco moves a lot of Sony entertainment products so perhaps it has an early line on the PS3.

Costco listed the console specs and promotional information apparently provided by Sony. It didn't list a price and it wasn't taking pre-orders yet, as it did with Microsoft's Xbox 360.

Costco's forecasting was pretty close with the Xbox 360 -- it took some pre-orders last fall, then said the product would be broadly available in spring 2006. Spring is coming, and Costco's apparently confident enough in the supply that its Web site is listing a $489.99 premium bundle -- with an extra controller and "Project Gotham Racing 3" -- that's available in limited quantities.

Update: Costco removed the information from its site after our calls to the company and Sony for more information resulted in the earlier post. Today (Wednesday), there's a blank space in the game hardware section where the PS3 was on Tuesday.

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Dance Dance Microsoft

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:29 PM

Microsoft researchers held a press conference today to show technology they're developing that allows you to read your e-mail using a "Dance Dance Revolution"-type floor pad. You know -- the dancing game pads that kids stomp on at arcades? The researchers used the same device to perform basic e-mail functions, including reading, deleting and flagging e-mail. They also scrolled through photos and tagged them.


You still have to use a keyboard to type. And so far the technology isn't destined to make it into any actual products. The press conference was held in advance of the company's internal TechFest research event, which runs all day Wednesday to showcase technologies under development by Microsoft's research group.

If you're an 11-year-old who loves Microsoft Outlook, then this would be perfect. While I can't see this working at all for reading e-mail, it's interesting to see how researchers are trying to think outside the mouse.

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Angels 101

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:39 PM

I often get phone calls from executives of young companies who are just getting off the ground and have lots of questions about where to get capital for the first time. It looks like this event being put on by the MIT Enterprise Forum, called "An Introduction to Angel Organizations," is just the ticket.

The description says it will provide attendees with a personal introduction to the area's angel organizations, which is just what some companies need. The list of organizations going is impressive, too. Organizations represented include: Alliance of Angels, Keiretsu Forum, Puget Sound Venture Club, Seraph, Washington Technology Center (WTC), Angel Network and Zino Society.

The event is March 9 from 6 to 8 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The location is One Union Square Boardroom, 600 University St., First Level (lower lobby, 6th Avenue level, behind the escalator by Starbucks).
More information is available here.

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World-class engineers

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:02 PM

Once the youngest college student in China at age 12, Ya-Qin Zhang now advises the richest man in the world about key research and development projects. Zhang, Microsoft corporate vice president who leads R&D efforts in China, was one of four Washington engineers honored as 2006 Asian American Engineer of the Year at an awards ceremony over the weekend.

These old photographs from the presentation show just how far Zhang has come.

The other local award winners are Charles A. Marquez, commanding officer in the U.S. Navy, a nuclear power engineer who commands the USS Columbus submarine; Yong Wang, fuel cell technology expert and laboratory fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Process Science & Engineering Division; and Susan X. Ying, director of mathematics and computing technology at Boeing's Phantom Works.

Presented by the Chinese Institute of Engineers, USA, the awards recognize Asian Americans for outstanding achievements in the field.

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Apple's announcements: Another take

Posted by Brier Dudley at 12:54 PM

Talk about crying wolf. Apple Computer teased folks into thinking it would make some big news today, but all it announced was a $99 leather iPod case, a $349 boombox and a couple of Mac minis with Intel processors and TV plugs in back.
If Apple had put a TV tuner and some TiVo-type features in the mini, then we'd have a story.

The boombox is nifty, but it looks an awful lot like a bunch of other iPod speaker systems that are already available for a lot less money.

They used to call boom boxes BFRs. Maybe they should call this one the BFD.

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Google CFO on Microsoft "search and win"

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:50 PM

In his talk this morning at a Merrill Lynch conference, Google CFO George Reyes was asked about Microsoft's offering users incentives to use MSN search. His response:

"Who knows what Microsoft is likely to do, you know, are they likely to sort of write large checks to buy advertisers? Maybe, but will that really stick us over the long run if we have the superior advertising platform? Probably not."

Reyes also said that growth is slowing, according to Reuters.

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Apple announcements: Quick take

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:08 PM

The fun, new products from Apple today are an Intel-based version of the Mac Mini and an iPod home stereo system.

The new Mac mini comes in two price points: $600 will get you a 1.5 GHz Intel chip, a 60GB hard drive and the ability to play, but not burn, DVDs, while $800 will fetch a 1.67 GHz chip, an 80GB hard drive and DVD burning. (Both have 512 MB of memory and can burn CDs.)

The iPod Hi-Fi is 17 inches long and about 6.5 inches wide and deep and runs for $350. It has a built-in iPod dock. And while there are tons of iPod accessories that pretty much do the same thing, Apple said the sound quality will be higher than the speakers available today, according to Cnet.

An underwhelming announcement. Here's what others have to say:

"Frankly, I'm a little disappointed." - Josh Bancroft

"Is it just me, or was that thing waaaay overhyped?" - Snarky Slashdot comment

"So, what've we talked about today? Some really cool products." - Engadget live keynote coverage

"A new Mac mini: in all but name, it's the media center that a lot of people have been begging for." - Mac DevCenter

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Farecast in private beta

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:45 AM

The word around town has been that Farecast would launch this month. That didn't quite happen, but today, the last day of the month, the online travel startup said it has launched a private beta site.

Don't bother checking it out, though. The site isn't available outside of the test group and Farecast isn't saying much more.

Farecast, formerly known as Hamlet, will use data-mining and other technologies to try and predict when airlines will drop their fares. Its founder, University of Washington professor Oren Etzioni, says it is indeed possible to predict these things when you can crunch the numbers a certain way.

I wrote a short profile on Etzioni last year.

Farecast closed $7 million in Series B funding last July, following a $1.5 million Series A round in October 2004.

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Nastech clears hurdle in generic race

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:25 AM

The Food and Drug Administration cleared Nastech Pharmaceutical's Bothell manufacturing facility to make a generic drug, but the company still faces regulatory and procedural hurdles before it can market the product.

The news today closes out a month of significant announcements for Nastech, which has seen its stock rise 15.4 percent since Feb. 1, closing Monday at $21.69, the highest level in nearly a decade.

It started with a partnership deal with Procter & Gamble worth up to $577 million. Then Nastech expanded its RNAi pipeline. Now the company is ready to manufacture calcitonin, a generic version of the osteoporosis drug Miacalcin, which it's making with Par Pharmaceutical.

But there is still an unresolved citizen petition potentially delaying FDA action on approving Nastech's generic drug, a situation detailed in this story. And Apotex applied for approval of its own generic calcitonin nasal spray before Nastech. That could mean Nastech would be delayed from marketing its generic for six months.

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February 27, 2006

First Blu-Ray player due May 23

Posted by Kim Peterson at 6:30 PM

Sony announced today that the first Blu-Ray disc player, the Samsung BD-P1000, will be available May 23. Sony and Pioneer plan to debut their players soon after, and Sony plans to also release a Blu-Ray compatible Vaio PC.

Eight so-so movie titles are also to go on sale on May 23, including "50 First Dates" and "Hitch," with another eight due out June 13.

The industry is preparing for a sequel to the VHS-Betamax battle with Blu-Ray and the HD-DVD high-definition formats. Sony and most movie studios are throwing their weight behind Blu-Ray, and adding the technology to the upcoming PlayStation 3 video game console will certainly add to the momentum, while Microsoft and Intel are pushing HD-DVD. See this story for more on how this battle escalated last month at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Blu-Ray discs can hold about five times more data than a normal DVD.

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Game Developers Choice nominees

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:12 PM

Microsoft and Nintendo are among the nominees announced today for the 2006 Game Developers Choice awards, an industry awards event where the winners are picked by game developers. The winners of these prestigious awards will be announced next month at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose.

The nominees for "best game" are: Animal Crossing: Wild World by Nintendo, God of War by Sony Computer Entertainment America, Guitar Hero from Harmonix and Red Octane, Shadow of the Colossus from Sony Computer Entertainment America and The Movies, a PC game from Lionhead Studios and Activision. Having extensively played the first four, my vote goes to "God of War."

Microsoft Game Studios was nominated in the audio and technology categories for Project Gotham Racing 3 and the writing category for Jade Empire. The Chicago-based Wideload Games studio was nominated for best new studio. Wideload was founded by Alex Seropian, the co-founder of Bungie Studios (creator of the "Halo" series). Seropian left Bungie after it was acquired by Microsoft in 2000.

Nintendo picked up additional nominations for "Animal Crossing: Wild World" and "Nintendogs."

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Biotech stock as Valentine's gift

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:23 PM

Bill Gates unloaded his personal stake in Seattle Genetics, gifting more than 3.5 million shares to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Valentine's Day, according to a regulatory filing Friday.

Shares in the Bothell biotechnology company closed at $4.79 that day, making the gift to the global charity worth $16.9 million.

Gates bought into the company in 2001. His stake represented 8.3 percent of the company's outstanding shares. Stock held by the foundation is deemed beneficially owned by Bill and Melinda Gates its co-trustees.

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If Microsoft designed the iPod

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:56 PM

This is getting linked to all over the place, but in the spirit of Microsoft and Apple in the news this week, I thought I'd post it here. If you at all follow Microsoft's branding/marketing groupthink, you'll find something to laugh at.

What if Microsoft designed the iPod?

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Test: Movie showtimes in search engines

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:51 AM

The MSN Search team said today it will respond to movie searches with a list of current showtimes for theaters near the user. It uses the IP address of your computer's Web browser to figure out where you are geographically, and then matches that location up with its movie theater data.

I thought it would be a good time to test where the major search engines are in this area with the film "Madea's Family Reunion."

MSN Search returned only one Seattle theater, ignoring the second one here playing the film as well. Yahoo's search links to trailers and reviews - which MSN does not - but not local showtimes.

Google's search doesn't give trailers or reviews and asks users to type in their Zip codes to get theater information.

I like Ask Jeeves the best. It returns the movie poster, the movie's official site, trailers and reviews. It doesn't give the showtimes automatically but asks for a Zip code entry, as Google does. And it doesn't ignore that second theater either.

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Loudeye losing EMI Music

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:22 AM

Loudeye makes news almost weekly these days, and more often than not the news is bad. Today, the Seattle digital music company said it's losing a key customer.

All of Loudeye's encoding services revenue comes from a deal where it delivers EMI Music content to digital music providers. For last year, that revenue was $3.9 million, or 14 percent of Loudeye's total revenue.
Loudeye said in a filing today that EMI Music is planning to take its encoding business to a new, unidentified company in the second quarter of 2006. But even with the loss, Loudeye said it's not changing its revenue estimates for the first quarter or full year 2006.

In a separate, but perhaps related, announcement, Microsoft said last month it is helping EMI Music develop a technolgoy platform for its operations.

So far, today's news hasn't made much of a dent on Loudeye's stock price.

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How a board says we've earned it

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:07 AM

Cell Therapeutics' board of directors must think it's doing a great job.

The board of the Seattle biotechnology company voted itself a raise on Feb. 17, according to a regulatory filing today.

Board members approved increases in the initial stock option grant non-employee directors get for joining the board from 15,000 shares to 24,000 shares, but now they vest after a year instead of immediately. Current directors will also get a "make-whole" grant of the difference between the new joining bonus and their initial option grant.

The annual retainer for non-employee directors was also increased from $18,000 to $25,000, and directors who chair committees now get more cash, too.

In addition, three board members were singled out and rewarded with option grants and $9,000 each for "exceptional contributions" to the company during the last two years. Phillip Nudelman received grants to purchase 18,000 shares; Mary Mundinger received 12,000; and Vartan Gregorian, 8,000.

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February 26, 2006

Microsoft Origami: The Video

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:23 PM

From deep within Endgadget's comments comes word of a video for Microsoft's Origami Project, and it's looking pretty legitimate.

The video is hosted on the site of Digital Kitchen, a Seattle advertising agency. Click here and enter the main site, then click enter, then click work, then click Brandtheatre.

The first item on the list is entitled "Microsoft Origami." Clicking it brings up a pretty long video/commercial showing different uses for a small handheld device with a video screen but no keyboard. (You can use a detachable keyboard, apparently). At the end of the video is the word "Origami" and Microsoft's logo.

We'll find out soon enough if this is the real thing, but from watching the video I can't say I'm sold on the device.

Update: The first commenter is correct - the video has been taken down. But as of now it's still up at YouTube. And Microsoft seems to be in the odd position now of toning down the hype.

"Now everyone expects Origami to be bigger than the Xbox," laments Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble. "I'd much rather expectations were dialed down a bit."

Which leads to the inevitable comparisons about Microsoft's way of driving hype versus Apple's, since both are expected to make product announcements this week.

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February 24, 2006

Smile Fido, you're on candid camera

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:53 PM

Sprint Nextel said today that it was launching a service to make it easier for camera-phone-wielding subscribers to update groups of people on their whereabouts.

The idea has become increasingly popular in the wireless industry, which is trying to bring the blogging phenomenon on on the Internet to the mobile phone.

The company said Sprint PCS Picture Mail subscribers will be able to create an online community about any subject and invite friends with an e-mail address or Sprint phone to add pictures, video clips and text of their own, whenever they want, at no additional cost. The members of the community will stay on top of the action by receiving instant notification whenever new content gets posted.

According to the Sprint U.S. Consumer Wireless Usage Study, 53 percent of camera phone owners take pictures with their phone. And, nearly one-third of those "phone-tographers" take pictures at family gatherings or of their pets.

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BlackBerries still alive

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:06 PM

A ruling was expected today on whether BlackBerry maker Research in Motion would be forced to discontinue its service in a long-running patent battle with NTP.

But a federal judge didn't make the call today, and instead criticized RIM and NTP for failing to come to a settlement, The Wall Street Journal reports on its Web site..

It's likely the 4 million die-hard users in the U.S. rejoiced that for at least a few more days their devices would be able to deliver their most immediate e-mail messages. At least the people on a flight from Chicago to Seattle Wednesday probably thought so.

Nearly everyone in business class checked e-mail on their BlackBerry, and in coach, the buzz was all about whether the devices would be shut down.

Cnet has done a farirly comprehensive job on what this might mean to you. Check it out here.

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Blogs and Hurricane Katrina

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:34 PM

I attended a fascinating talk yesterday by David Meeks, the city editor at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and Jason Hewitt, who heads up Web strategy for Louisiana Public Broadcasting. Both talked about how they turned to blogs to report the news after Hurricane Katrina downed power lines and flooded buildings.

Here's the story in today's paper. Meeks is a wonderful raconteur and many of his stories didn't make it in. Here are a few:

-- Meeks' news team borrowed a newspaper delivery truck to get around town. Every newspaper company is leery about handing over expensive equipment to reporters, Meeks said, and in this case that worry was justified. Unable to see the flooded roads beneath the water, the team accidentally drove the truck into a New Orleans canal. They had to leave by canoe.

-- When the SWAT team came by to drop off some guns for their protection, the journalists had to get some quick training. Even so, they were terrified of touching the weapons. They laid them on the ground and pointed them in a corner. Later, someone accidentally cocked the gun and didn't know how to un-cock it, so he took it outside and fired it into the air. He didn't tell anyone he was going to do this, so everyone dove to the floor when the gun went off.

-- On a more serious side, Meeks said there's a vast amount of misinformation out about the flooding and the hurricane. "To this day, most of the United States does not understand what caused the flood in New Orleans," he said. Katrina's one-year anniversary will be a good time to get a sense of the Gulf Coast - where it stands and where it is headed, he said.

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Wozniak comments on Microsoft

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:20 AM

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak tells the Globe and Mail that if Microsoft develops an MP3 player, it had better be gooood.

"If they do it, they better do it excellent, excellent, excellent because the iPod sure is," Wozniak said, according to the Globe and Mail. "Doing something weaker and somehow trying to use your size and market power . . . that's just not good [enough] if you don't turn out something superior."

Wozniak also speculated that innovation *might* be going on at the company.

"Microsoft wants to get out of the whole image of the big, black Darth Vader evil guy," he said. "Innovation is probably going on within the company, because any time you put smart engineers in places eventually they wind up talking and innovating no matter how much you try to hold them back.

"I hope Microsoft improves and becomes more like Apple."

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February 23, 2006

Mystery Microsoft domain

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:36 PM

What is Microsoft registered this domain last December. When you visit the site, you'll see a short animation and a message saying that you'll learn more on March 2.

I've watched it a few times looking for hints, but nothing jumps out. Perhaps this is related to MSN? Is some division at Microsoft folding? (origami, get it?)

Microsoft has also registered and

Update: Paul McNamara, a news editor at Network World, guesses on his blog that it's an "ultraportable lifestyle PC." Rumors of such a device have been making the rounds for a few weeks now. Let's see if the OrigamiProject speculation matches the feverish what's-Apple-announcing-Tuesday discussion.

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File sharing, Microsoft style

Posted by Brier Dudley at 12:51 PM

Microsoft tried sharing source code to end a European antitrust spat, but that didn't work. Now it's sharing legal filings as well.

Today the company posted on its Web site the 78-page filing it submitted to the European Commission last week.

The filing is Microsoft's response to the commission's December 2005 statement that the company is failing to comply fully with a 2004 ruling against the company.

A sticking point is whether Microsoft has adequately documented the technical information it's required to share with rivals. Microsoft is also posting the reports of several software system engineering professors who reviewed the documentation.

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PaidContent's Seattle mixer

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:09 AM

There was a good crowd at last night's Seattle mixer hosted by PaidContent, a Web site devoted to news about the digital media and content industries. Some photos from the event are up here.

I was surprised at the number of attendees from companies in the wireless/mobile application space. I met people from Medio, AOL's wireless division (which is headquartered in Seattle), Mobliss, UIEvolution and others.

The event had a nice organic feel to it. There were no speeches, activities, panel presentations or sit-down meals. The bar was busy, and people stayed late basically hanging out and chatting. Seattle should have more of these.

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Digital search and seizure

Posted by Kristi Heim at 7:01 AM

Most e-mail users would be surprised at how weak protections are over government access to their messages. With vast storage capacities, the typical Internet service provider holds years of mail detailing a person's life.

Yet e-mail stored more than 180 days can be disclosed under a subpoena without the subscriber even being notified, warns the Center for Democracy and Technology, a non-profit public interest group in Washington D.C. The CTD has just completed a 47-page report (1.3 MB PDF file) that analyzes the dismal state of digital privacy protection and makes policy recommendations.

The conclusion: the U.S. legal system is not prepared for the assault on privacy made possible by new technologies such as expanded e-mail storage, location-based devices that reveal whereabouts at any given time, and keystroke loggers that can secretly record all information typed into a computer.

Kinda makes you long for the stone age.

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February 22, 2006

Apple's at it again

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:57 PM

Apple Computer sends out a mysterious invitation and everybody freaks out. Again.

The company has invited selected reporters to "come see some fun, new products" Tuesday at the Apple Town Hall on the company's Cupertino, Calif. campus.

That's about all the invitation says. But it's enough to drive speculation about what the company may or may not do. Laptops with Intel chips inside? An iPod boombox? The silly cardboard box dressed up as a mystery media cube?

(Full disclosure: We're guilty of the speculation as well, running a story today suggesting the laptops with Intel chips inside scenario).

Perhaps Engadget put it best: "Any time Apple sends out a keynote announcement, like yesterday's 'fun new products,' we kind of brace for impact around HQ for the glut of bad Photoshops, fake rumors, and general mass hysteria within (and sometimes without) the Mac community."

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Judge rules against Google. Is Amazon next?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:53 AM

This ruling could have some interesting implications across the Web. A Los Angeles federal judge said Friday that Google probably violates copyright law by showing certain thumbnail images on its image search site. may be affected as well.

Perfect 10, an adult magazine and Web site publisher, sued Google and Amazon to stop the companies from displaying thumbnail copies of its copyrighted images on Web search results. Amazon is in the Web search business through its subsidiary. has a copy of the ruling linked to its story.

U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz said he would grant a preliminary injunction against Google. He's ruling separately on the Amazon side of the case, but that ruling doesn't seem to be out yet. Amazon licenses from Google the technology that Perfect 10 is challenging.

Update: Yesterday, Matz denied a request for a preliminary injunction against Amazon, saying that it merely links to Google's thumbnails and doesn't store or serve the images itself.

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180solutions in the spotlight again

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:35 AM

Bellevue-based 180solutions said this week that it has tracked down "Sniper84," a hacker who enabled the company's advertising software to be automatically installed on users' computers.

Late last year, 180solutions required all of its software distribution partners to use an updated version that is supposed to prevent unauthorized installations. The company said it contacted everyone who received software from "Sniper84" and gave them the opportunity to uninstall the program.

As if that wasn't bad enough for the company, a spyware expert is claiming that 180solutions is ignoring deceptive software installation methods used by its partners, according to

The company told eWeek it is working to address those problems.

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Biotech sales up 17 percent

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:28 AM

Biotech drug sales are growing at a faster pace than prescription drugs as a whole and now represent 13 percent of U.S. sales, according to an IMS Health report released today.

Complex therapies such as Enbrel and Rituxan from biotech giants Amgen and Genentech, respectively, helped grow biotech sales to $32.8 billion in 2005, up 17 percent from 2004.

2005 prescription drug sales increased 5.4 percent to $251.8 billion.

Major pharmaceutical companies such as Wyeth expect more of their future sales to come from biotech drugs. The company's research and development head told Reuters that this category could reach 40 percent of sales within a decade, up from 25 percent currently.

Seattle's Trubion Pharmaceuticals, like many young biotech companies, has benefited from this trend. It announced a deal last month with Wyeth centering on a technology platform that could improve biotech drug development. The deal could be worth $800 million or more if certain goals are met.

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February 21, 2006

Loudeye's money grab

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:50 PM

In a regulatory filing today, Loudeye said it plans to raise as much as $8.25 million through stock purchase deals with institutional investors.

The company also said it has until July 3 to get its share price above $1 to avoid delisting from the Nasdaq stock market. One way it's going to try to do that is with a reverse stock split. The company didn't say what the split ratio will be, however.

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PS3: Spring 2006 release

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:00 PM

There's been quite a bit of doom-and-gloom talk recently about Sony's upcoming PlayStation 3 console, with analysts predicting production delays and high price tags. A Sony spokesman responded by confirming to reporters in Tokyo that the console will launch sometime in the spring, according to

That's not to say it will hit U.S. stores by then. Sony could opt for a Japan-only release at first, with a U.S. debut later in the year. An anonymous Sony spokesman told the BBC News the company is aiming for spring but hasn't announced specific regional release dates.

Microsoft attempted a near-simultaneous release of the Xbox 360 in the U.S., Europe and parts of Asia, but drew criticism because of supply shortages everywhere except for Japan, where the consoles have been sitting on store shelves. Still, Microsoft is forecasting it will sell between 4.5 million and 5.5 million consoles by the end of June.

To put this in perspective: Sony's PlayStation 2 was out a full year before the original Xbox's November 2001 release, and Sony shipped 20 million consoles worldwide during that time.

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Starbucks: Off to L.A.

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:35 PM

Starbucks is staying in Seattle, but its content business is not.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Starbucks is moving its content division to Los Angeles to be closer to Hollywood. The Reporter quoted Starbucks President Ken Lombard, who announced the move last week.

"The opening of this office would bring a portion of the Starbucks Entertainment content team closer to the music labels and movie studios with whom they are in constant communication," Lombard said, according to the Reporter.

What is Starbucks working on that it can't do in Seattle? Lately, the Starbucks Entertainment division has said it will promote the heck out of the upcoming Lions Gate film "Akeelah and the Bee," and will even pre-screen the movie for its baristas to create more buzz. Starbucks is also exploring DVD sales and allows customers in some stores to burn CDs of music.

No word on how many content employees will be moving to California.

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If you see an Alfa Romeo in Redmond today....

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:13 PM

I don't quite understand the name, but Microsoft and Fiat plan next week to unveil a new in-car "infotainment" system called "Blue&Me." Microsoft is showing off the system today in an Alfa Romeo test vehicle parked at its Redmond campus.

The system, which will be offered only in Europe at first in Fiats and Alfa Romeos, offers users voice-activated operation of cellphones, portable music players and other devices. It runs on Microsoft's Windows Mobile for Automotive software platform.

The cars will have a USB port for connecting MP3 players (including iPods) and Bluetooth support for 140 or so different phones at launch. You'll even be able to operate an iPod using just your voice. There are a few other bells and whistles as well, all at a cost of $500 to $800.

Microsoft said it is talking to other car manufacturers as well. The Blue&Me system is expected to be unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show on Feb. 28.

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Impinj expands RFID capabilities

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:45 AM

Seattle-based Impinj said today it has expanded its system for tagging objects using RFID, or radio frequency identification. There is increased demand for this technology in the retail supply chain and in other markets, and the new system could be used for tracking pharmaceuticals, clothing, CDs, DVDs and other products, Impinj said.

The company says its enhanced system, called GrandPrix, can work on products that have been difficult to tag in the past, such as metals, liquids and stackable items like CDs.

See this story for more details about Impinj and the $26.5 million funding round it announced in December. To date, Impinj has raised $75 million.

RFID's potential is clearly growing as more companies adopt the technology for a variety of uses. Boeing is demanding that its suppliers use RFID tags, and credit card companies are rolling out systems for consumer use.

The privacy and security issues are still worrying some people, however.

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Vista vista

Posted by Brier Dudley at 11:44 AM

Someone at Microsoft apparently goofed and posted details about the Vista product lineup on the company's Web site over the weekend, according to a report in Computerworld. The information was removed after a day, and Microsoft told the publication the list was published prematurely and is incomplete.
We'll call it the Windows Vista Starter 2006 list. If it's correct, there will be six versions of Vista, plus two limited release versions to satisfy European antitrust restrictions:
_ Windows Starter 2007, a basic version for developing countries that doesn't include Vista's advanced graphics.
_ Vista Home Basic, an entry-level home system. There's also a Basic N version for Europe that doesn't include a media player.
_ Vista Home Premium, a presumably higher-priced consumer version that includes Media Center features.
_ Vista Business, a basic professional edition, as well as a Business N version for Europe without the media player.
_ Vista Enterprise, a high-end business version that includes virtualization and multilanguage interface features, as well as advanced security features.
_ Vista Ultimate, a super premium version with all available features.

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General who?

Posted by Brier Dudley at 11:16 AM

Microsoft fell two spots in Fortune magazine's annual ranking of America's "most admired" companies but remains in the top 10, barely.
Mr. Softy is ranked No. 10, down from No. 8 last year and just a whisker ahead of Apple, this year's No. 11. Maybe it was a bad year for PC companies. Dell fell from from one in 2005 to No. 8. General Electric was ranked first this year by the Fortune, which bases the report on a survey of 10,000 executives, directors and securities analysts.
Other locals placing high on the 2006 list include No. 5 Starbucks and No. 15 Costco.
Microsoft did better in a similar report last November by the Financial Times newspaper. It ranked the software company the world's most respected company, just ahead of GE.

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February 20, 2006

Breath of fresh air, NOT

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:56 PM

LONDON -- In the past few months, Seattle has implemented a citywide smoking ban, something I have started taking for granted.

While in Europe, it has become painstakingly apparent that no such thing exists, especially the way Europeans choose to smoke.

One bathroom was filled to capacity, with smoke to the point where inhaling was not optional. At 3GSM, the fresh air you expect when leaving a hall was filled with smoke.

At Heathrow airport in London, a recording on the "lift" asks you to extinguish your buds. And the most ridiculous thing I heard was on a flight to Madrid in which the safety video recommended putting out your cigarette if the oxygen bags became necessary.

Makes my head foggy just thinking about it.

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Fast-forwarding on the phone

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:59 AM

LONDON -- One thing I neglected to bring up about 3GSM was the significant progress of certain technologies, especially since CTIA, the U.S. counterpart of 3GSM.

During the event, held in New Orleans in April last year, I had to search the floor thoroughly to find only a couple of HSDPA handsets, which support the next wave of high-speed cellular networks. I distinctly remember them being in the back of the LG booth as somewhat of an afterthought.

This year the handsets were unavoidable and in way-sleeker designs. The technology really seems mainstream this year.

Ditto for broadcast television technology. The idea behind broadcast television is that as more and more cellular users start to watch TV on phones, the signal will clog networks. A new technology has to come in to free up the traffic. Besides, if a lot of users are watching the same show, it doesn't make sense to provide each one with an individual stream, as opposed to broadcasting the programming over a wide area.

In New Orleans, the only broadcast television I noticed was Qualcomm's proprietary MediaFLO system. This year, broadcast TV was everywhere, from the networks to the handsets. All the standards were being displayed, from Qualcomm's mediaFLO to DAB and DVB for Digital Audio and Video Broadcast to DVB-H.

Microsoft even announced that it was launching DAB in partnership with Virgin Mobile, first time broadcast TV would be available in Europe.

The devices were impressive. At the Samsung booth, the screens of the flip phones opened and swiveled to a landscrape screen. The quality was high-definition. Nokia also had demos of its handsets, with a landscape screen playing live footage of the Olympics.

No word on when any of this technology will make it to the U.S., but Virgin is expected to launch its service this summer.

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Making a Seattle connection abroad

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:37 AM

LONDON -- A note from the 3GSM notebook:

The last booth run I made was to visit Bellevue-based RadioFrame Networks.

The company, started by ex-McCaw Communications executives, has been plugging away at building its technology for some time. At the show, it finally unveiled its long- awaited product, the "S-Series IP Picocell Base Transceiver Station."

Not as sexy as it could be maybe. In plainer words, it's essentially a mini-cellphone tower for your home or business to ensure to get good cellphone coverage indoors. It's a technology considered "disruptive" because many people have been reluctant to "cut the cord" because indoor cellphone coverage can still be shoddy.

Jeff Brown, RadioFrame president and CEO, said carriers will be able to use the box to offer new calling plans. For instance, at home, carriers could offer users all-they-can-eat minutes for only $10 more a month. Compared with the $20 or $30 a month landline bill, that becomes attractive.

The current product is about the size of a thin textbook. A smaller and cheaper version is expected to be available shortly.

The box still requires a way to backhaul the voice traffic -- with DSL or cable -- into the home or business. Or possibly WiMax, Brown said. The obvious partner is Kirkland-based Clearwire, Craig McCaw's new company. And, coincidentally, Clearwire was using RadioFrame Networks booth to demonstrate its wireless broadband devices.

Small world, isn't it?

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On a musical note

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:15 AM

LONDON -- Continuing on the theme of using technology on the road, I have 2 cents to add to the debate: music device or music on a cellphone.

For this two-week trip, I stored a few dozens songs on the new T-Mobile SDA phone I'm testing and did not bring a player. I've found myself listening to it frequently and thought it was convenient that I didn't have to bring another device and an additional set of head phones.

What's been particularly nice is I don't have to listen for my phone to ring while listening to music. If I were to receive a call, it would interrupt the music and I'd be able to answer with a touch of a button from the headphones. If the phone rang and I was listening to an iPod, for example, I may not have heard it ring.

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Tech update, Part 3

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:51 AM

LONDON -- Yet another update on traveling and using technology. For my other comments check out this and this.

At a Sheraton near the Heathrow airport late last week, I was able to easily roam on my T-Mobile HotSpot account from the privacy of my own room. It was great because I didn't have to sign up for an account, decide how many hours I was going to use or enter a credit card number.

The downside? I was alerted that it was going to cost 18 cents a minute to "roam." For the math- impaired that totals about $10 a hour. Sounds like the early days of the cellphone world, doesn't it? For perspective, I think it only costs 30 cents a minute for me to roam internationally on my cellphone.

Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA said perviously that it expects Wi-Fi to go the way of the cellphone and soon it will be much like cellphones, in which laptops can jump from one hotspot provider to the next with minimal fees.
I'm sure a lot of people can't wait.

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February 17, 2006

Avanade bares financial details

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 2:10 PM

Minding securities filings, Deputy Business Editor Rami Grunbaum reports this:

It's time to open the kimono, as they say, at Avanade, the large but low-profile IT consulting company co-founded by Microsoft and Accenture.

The Seattle-based venture has filed its first financial report with the Securities and Exchange Commission, giving a rare glimpse into one of the region's least-known technology companies.

Profit: More than doubled last year to $31 million.
Revenues: $422 million, up 41 percent in 2005.
CEO salary and bonus: 47-year-old Mitchell Hill made $766,733, a nice bump from 2004's $536,150.

Companies that aren't publicly traded or preparing an IPO usually do whatever they can to keep such information out of the public domain. After all, it's bound to be examined by business rivals, customers, employees and the management's golfing buddies.

But since its launch in February 2000 -- happy birthday! -- Avanade has granted stock options to more than 1,100 employees. And any business with more than 500 security holders must file with the SEC, so Avanade is now a reporting company. (Like Tully's Coffee, only without the perpetual red ink.)

Avanade helps major businesses deploy Microsoft's .Net technology, mobile applications and "business intelligence solutions," as the document puts it. But larger competitors as well as "the growing use of offshore resources" are putting pressure on its operating margins.

Other interesting tidbits:

Employees: 2,600, plus 1,100 Accenture employees under long-term contracts.
Locations: Offices in 21 countries.
Brothers on the payroll: Just one. Mark Hill -- brother of the CEO and chairman of California's Marin (County) Republican Central Committee -- has a $7,000-per-month contract to assist "in developing business with certain California governmental agencies."

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Flashforward 2006

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:02 PM

Today I chatted with Lynda Weinman, founder of the Flashforward conference for creators and developers working with the Adobe Flash platform.

Flashforward will be in Seattle for the first time this year, running from Feb. 27 to March 2 at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. This will be the first conference since Adobe bought Macromedia in a deal originally valued at $3.4 billion. Speakers include the creators behind the popular JibJab and Homestar Runner animation series.

About 1,200 people are expected at the conference, and about 20 percent of them will be from the Pacific Northwest, Weinman said. The video division of Adobe, the conference's lead sponsor, is based in Seattle.

You probably won't see may Microsoft people there. See this story about how the Macromedia deal positions Adobe as a serious rival to Redmond.

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$4 million to zero in 22 months

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:01 PM

Seattle-based Loudeye released more details today about the closure if its underperforming Overpeer unit. Loudeye bought Overpeer, a New York City company known for flooding peer-to-peer networks with bogus files, for $4 million in stock in 2004.

It shut down the money-losing unit in December and paid $375,000 in severance and to break Overpeer's lease agreement. Loudeye also had to give Overpeer's former landlord about $80,000 worth of furniture.

Loudeye said today that Overpeer's technology, customer relationships, employee non-compete agreements, goodwill and trademarks have "no continuing value."

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RealNetworks and NTT DoCoMo

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:30 PM

RealNetworks and NTT DoCoMo, the Japanese wireless giant, have struck an agreement to deploy software that will make it easier for DoCoMo users to see streaming video on their phones, according to this Reuters report.

Under the agreement, RealNetworks will work on creating an open system in which content providers can use their own servers to stream video directly to DoCoMo phones.

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Life-science flavors

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:40 AM

The smorgasbord of local life-sciences intellects at last night's The Indus Entrepreneurs dinner in Bellevue far surpassed the variety on the buffet line.

The crowd of about 100 people heard from David Schubert chief business officer at venture-funded Accelerator (which has a spiffy new Web site). The nursery for newborn biotechs has yet to nurture a startup from one of Seattle's major research institutions, other than the Institute for Systems Biology, with which it's associated. That could be changing. "We are optimistic that in 2006 we will have our first institution-based spin out," he said.

Seattle science fiction author Greg Bear said President Bush's State of the Unionwarning about chimeras is one way he knows that science fact is catching up with science fiction. "Our worst fears are fighting our greatest hopes," he said.

Chad Waite of OVP Venture Partners spilled these beans: "We manage money for institutional partners to make money." Um, yeah. One way to do that is by investing where there's a potential for "unfair profits" -- not necessarily monopolies, he added, just really really good returns. More candid still, he chastised those in his industry who seek to profit at the intersection of fear and greed. Kleiner Perkins, the lofty Silicon Valley VC, which Waite described as "overrated," announced Thursday a new $200 million pandemic and bio defense fund.

Dr. Bruce Montgomery, whose company Corus Pharma just pulled back from a long-planned IPO, said he never intended to go into business and didn't even know what CEO meant during his formative years treating the earliest AIDS patients at San Francisco General. Now, he said, his wife describes Corus as "his $35 million a year drug habit --- and there's some truth to that." The constant need of biotech companies for new capital to reach milestones to generate more capital to reach the next milestones is a scheme bordering on the "Ponzi," he added.

Paul Yager, a bioengineering prof and vice-chair of that department at UW (meaning, in his words, he goes to the weddings and funerals and tries not to shoot people), took out his cellphone and noted the computing power millions of people carry with them on a daily basis. If that compact, portable suite of capabilities -- sending and receiving data and images, mechanical actuators -- could be combined with medical diagnostics, it would represent a huge new way to monitor health and patient information.

Yager should know. He's leading a team that won a $15.4 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges in Global Health Grant to build a durable, point-of-care diagnostic system for the developing world. At one time they were calling the device the "DxBox."

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Vista hype starts up

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:42 AM

Is the Windows Vista hype machine rumbling alive this early? The operating system isn't expected to debut until November or December and yet delivers a breathless writeup of "10 reasons to buy Windows Vista."

The author divines nine reasons after playing around with a very early test version of Vista: Good security, improved browser, it looks pretty, better desktop search, better updating, more media functionality, parental controls, a better backup program and collaboration ability.

He added a 10th reason even though he has yet to actually see it: faster setup times.

Perhaps the reviews can wait until a more complete version exists?

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February 16, 2006

The ethics of the Olympics

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:20 PM

Search on Google for the word "Olympics." Google very clearly shows that the advertisements on the right side of the page are "sponsored links." Google also shows that the Chevrolet ad at the top of the page is a sponsored link.

But a big chunk of the page offers links to video, event schedules, the medal count and a map of Turin. And that chunk of page is offered "in collaboration with NBC Olympics." The section also gives the Web address of NBC's Olympics page.

Does this count as a sponsored link and, if so, shouldn't Google state that fact?

Here's what happens when you perform that search on MSN Search and Yahoo Search.

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Goodbye Barcelona, goodbye 3GSM

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:41 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- As wIth all good things, 3GSM also had to come to an end.

Tthe conference shut down today and everyone started to leave. What was impressive was the number of people who were trying to squeeze in one more meeting. The booths were packed. Not just with the people running in to see what free items were still available, but for questions and follow-up.

The final attendence did hit the expected 50,000 mark. On Feb. 13, the first day of the show, 34,900 people had attended, 40 percent higher than last year's first day. In fact, day-one attendance in Barcelona was greater than the total attendance for 2005, held in Cannes, France.

Let's begin the countdown: 365 days to go before 3GSM World Congress 2007.

Better rest those feet.

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Bill and Oprah, together again

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:58 PM

Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey showed up at a San Diego school for a taping for an upcoming episode of Winfrey's talk show. The students were super excited to see one of them.

"All day long, everybody's been talking and whispering about Oprah. Oprah, Oprah, Oprah," one student told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "As soon as I saw her, I called my mom."

No reporters were allowed in, not even the ones who worked for the school's student newspaper.

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Gaming the game

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:48 PM

Enterprising bloggers say they have found a way to beat MSN's new Search and Win sweepstakes (see earlier post), which gives prizes to people who search for certain secret keywords.

According to the Oilman blog, the source code of the Search and Win page shows a list of the winning keywords. I took a look and here are some of the words I found:

house cleaning, William Sonoma, Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Blockbuster, Home Depot, money, cash, gift certificate, luggage, skin care, makeup, spa, Baby, stroller, toys, golf, gortex, ski, skis, skiis, mountain bike, mountain biking, mountain biker, snowboard, snow board, snow boarder, snowboarder, snow boarding, tennis shoes

Online Media Daily reports that another blogger developed a program that would retrieve the words, send them back to MSN and click on the prize button when it appeared. He received a Home Depot gift card after 4,122 clicks on the prize link.

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Accommodating CEOs

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:36 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- The place I stayed in Barcelona fit all my requirements for covering a convention:: walking distance to the event, free Wi-Fi, laundry, kitchen and more.

What's more, it was cheap. I spent about $50 a night. That compares with the $300 or more a night most people paid for a cramped European hotel room 20 minutes or more away from the center.

What if I told you it was a hostel? And that my "roommate" was a CEO? Of a company still trying to get off the ground?

Nilesh Parikh is CEO of Condor Networks, a company in Plano, Texas, trying to bring biometrics to the mobile phone. You can see his passion for the business, working tirelessly. He was up at 7 to hit the center and up until 3 a.m. having late night conversations over Skype with his development team in India. And with an hour to spare before leaving for the airport, he went to find a Valentine's Day gift for his wife.

He thinks 3GSM probably landed him a couple of sweet deals. If it didn't, he at least walked away with a stack of cards three inches tall.

Wanna know more? Check out Condor.

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Pico presence

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:30 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- Earlier this week -- the days all blend together here -- I ran into Mazin and Zeyad Ramadan, brothers and founders of Seattle-based Picostation.

The company is building a mobile software product called PicoBlogger, which embraces the idea of moblogs. Moblogs are what you get when a bunch of photos taken by a camera phone are posted on a blog online or sent to others' phones. On top of that, Picostation is developing features to allow communities to be formed based on location.

The Ramadans, who were frequent visitors to 3GSM when the show was in Cannes, France, said they are a little disappointed in this year's show in Barcelona. While attendence was way up -- about 50,000 attended this year -- it seemed there were fewer people from wireless carriers, Picostation's core customers, Mazin said.

Lots of people were talking about the pluses and minuses of Cannes vs. Barcelona. I heard many say it was nice to have more space because Cannes was so cramped, but that it also makes it more difficult to get around. Although my first trip to 3GSM, I found that to be true. Out of the eight or more buildings that were at the event, I never ventured into at least three of them.

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Nokia knows how to party

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:47 PM


BARCELONA, Spain -- Last night, Nokia threw a huge party down by the marina. Housed in a huge tent, there were two separate rooms -- one for the band and another for networking.

The room containing the band and stage was alive with dancing. The band, rumored by good sources to be made up of all Nokia employees, had at least 11 members. They sang covers, including hits by Madonna, Jimi Hendrix and other unrecognizable tones (probably Finnish).


Although the band was impressive for a bunch of Nokia workers, you couldn't get the geek out of the crowd. The dancers -- completely enthralled in a tune -- would not even flinch at pulling out their devices and sending a text message or read e-mail. One person, front and center, head-banged while holding his device in front of his face with both hands. What was even more impressive was the number of camera phones there were taking shots and videos of the whole scene.

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Motorola mania

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:40 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- Motorola by far had the most advertising at the show. Even in the women's bathrooms, it had installed TV screens that played video loops of Motorola products. But the products at its booth backed up the hype.

I got a glimpse of the new Rokr E2, which does not come loaded with iTunes and, therefore, isn't limited to loading only 100 songs. The phone comes with Bluetooth Class 1, which allows users to use a Bluetooth headset.

Likewise, I also saw the Razr V3, which is just like the other popular slim devices except that it has iTunes. It, of course, can have only 100 songs at a time.

Other interesting phones at the booth were the Razr V3x. It comes enabled for UMTS, a higher speed network. That extra chipset makes it slightly bulkier than the normal Razr, but it still maintains the sleek design in a nice package.

The highly anticipated Motorola Q was also on display. The BlackBerry-like device has Windows Mobile and is expected to be available in the U.S. in the second quarter on a CDMA carrier (that means either Verizon Wireless or Sprint). Unlike a lot of Windows Mobile devices, the Q does not have a touch screen.

Update: A few more details on the Rokr E2: It has capacity for 1,000 songs and willl play a string of formats, including MP3, WMA, AAC and WAV. It's expected to be available in the first half of this year.

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Cingulared out

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:19 AM

BARCELONA, Spain -- Cingular Wireless said today that it has chosen Ericsson to be the major supplier and integrator to build out its 3G wireless network, called HSDPA. With the contract expansion, Ericsson will provide Cingular with UMTS (a 3G technology), HSDPA packet core and radio network equipment. Cingular was the first carrier in the world to have a commercially launched HSDPA network.

The Atlanta company, the largest carrier in the U.S., has already rolled out service in several markets and started to sell a PC data card. But it has not started selling handsets that use the new networks. Despite that, Samsung has made a big production at 3GSM about being the first to sell HSDPA phones (before they've been sold).

A look at the phones at Samsung's booth give a peek at what's to come. The SGH-ZX20 is small flip phone and easily fits in your hand. On the outside a screen displays an analog clock. The SGH-2560 is even fancier. The flip-phone has a 2 megapixel camera and TV output, so that it can be linked to a projector or a TV.

Why would you want to do that? Maybe for a PowerPoint presentation from your phone,
Cingular said the ZX20 will come out later this year following the launch of the ZX10 -- which runs on the slightly slower UMTS network.

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Updates from 3GSM

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:51 AM

BARCELONA, Spain -- Updates on a couple of earlier posts.

-- Bellevue-based Action Engine had a pretty high-profile presence here, but its CEO, Scott Silk, had a difficult time getting to it. Silk finally made it to the show Tuesday after being snowed in on the East Coast.

His arrrival came just in time to be accosted by hundreds of attendees who wanted a free phone the company was giving out. The gimmick worked almost too well. One man was so determined that Silk finally relented and said that he would send him a phone in the mail if his ticket was drawn and he wasn't present.

-- I earlier recounted my use of technology on this trip -- what worked and what didn't. At 3GSM, most reporters filed into the media center to write their stories or update their blogs, but the technology was not up to speed.

The media center provided both Ethernet lines and Wi-Fi connections, but service was intermittent at best. Of the 30 Wi-Fi networks available, not one of them worked, the apparent result of interference. Now I understand the critics who say that metropolitan Wi-Fi may not work. But at a telecom conference, I would expect a little more.

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Is the music playing at Amazon?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 7:55 AM

February 15, 2006

No Celebration

Posted by Monica Soto at 6:02 PM

At Celebrate Express, there was little cause to party today..

The company announced the resignation of its founder and chief executive, on the same day it significantly revised its earnings forecast for the fiscal year.

Celebrate Express named finance vice president Darin White interim chief executive while it searches for a permanent replacement for founder and CEO Mike Jewell.

Jewell will remain on the company's board of directors. Neither Jewell nor the company returned phone calls.

The company, which operates the online retail sites, and, said it would post a third-quarter loss after delays in the automation of its distribution center led to higher-than-expected costs. It also plans to increase shipping rates charged to customers to reduce the impact of rising outbound shipping costs.

For the full year, the company forecast sales of between $86 million and $88 million and a profit of 27 to 30 cents. While its sales forecast remained the same, its profit guidance is 17 to 18 cents lower than before.

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Top dog at the underdog

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:33 PM

Leading Microsoft's Japanese Xbox division has got to be a tough job. The Xbox 360 console got off to a rocky start there, with sales below expectations, and gamers have clear loyalties to the Japan-based Sony and Nintendo.

But someone's got to do it, and that someone is Takashi Sensui. Microsoft said today that it promoted Sensui to general manager of its Japanese Xbox division. He's replacing Yoshihiro Maruyama, who has moved to a "strategic position" in Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division. Sensui previously was director of the division's marketing department and game content group.

Given the Xbox 360's troubled launch, is this a demotion for Maruyama?

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Low-flying quarter

Posted by Monica Soto at 4:46 PM

Online travel-booking site Expedia saw its shares plunge 16.0 percent in after-hours trading Wednesday after the company reported fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that landed short of analysts forecasts.

The company said its fourth-quarter profit fell 42.9 percent to $25.2 million, or 7 cents a share. Sales, meanwhile, rose 13 percent to $494.7 million, as it booked less revenue per airline ticket.

The company's quarterly adjusted earnings, which exclude non-cash expenses and non-recurring charges, were 20 cents, or 5 cents shy of analysts' forecasts.

Chairman and Internet mogul Barry Diller said Expedia operated in a "fiercely competitive environment" during the final three months of the year.

Investors will hold down shares until they figure out how long Expedia will take to ride out the turbulence.

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New ways to sell Britney Spears

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:12 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- One of the interesting things about attending an international event like 3GSM is you get to see what services may be in America's future.

One was 3united Mobile Solutions, a company based in Vienna, Austria, that VeriSign purchased Monday for 55 million euros. 3united, founded in 1999, gave a short presentation to media and analysts today to explain what it did (and possibly justify that large of a price tag).

It said in a recent promotion with a Vienna radio station, it helped sell 10 percent of the tickets for a Britney Spears concert by mobile phone. But that's not all. After the concert, it sent a text message to all the mobile ticket holders offering Britney Spears ringtones and other content. The promotion worked, and 85 percent of those who received the message, bought something.

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Making phone fixes a snap

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:30 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- Bellevue-based SNAPin Software said today Orange, the global wireless giant, has deployed its software as part of a customer trial in the United Kingdom.

SNAPin's software helps eliminate phone calls to a mobile operator's customer care center by helping users solve their own problems, which has become an increasing concern as phones become more complicated and more services start to roll out.

The savings can be significant, SNAPin said. It said Orange U.K. customers will be able to solve problems on their own handset that normally would have cost the carrier's customer care department $20 to $60 to resolve.

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Text behind the scenes

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:21 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- You've probably used it and you don't even know it.

It's called T9 and it's the "predictive text" software on your cellphone that guesses what you are trying to say based on the numbers you have typed on your keypad.

T9 is a brainchild of Seattle-based Tegic, now a division of America Online, which made several announcements this week at 3GSM. One announcement was that the latest version of T9, called XT9, will be first used by Samsung Electronics.

Eric Collins, vice president of sales at T9, said Samsung will ship the device starting in the second half of the year.

XT9 has all the benefts of T9, but also allows users to easily message in other languages, including in French, Spanish and Italian, complete with accents. It also improves prediction. For example, if a user inavertently types in m-o-o-b, XT9 will present the word "moon" because it knows "b" is one key away from the "n."

The function is great for a user who has big thumbs or a phone with small keys.

Tegic also introduced a new output function that allows words to be put in bold or italic. It also more serious things, such as enabling 25 languages. "Emerging markets are a huge opportunity," Collins said.

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Live from Capitol Hill: the Great Wall between business and government

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:41 PM

Government representatives compared U.S. Internet giants' behavior in China to collusion between IBM and Nazi Germany during World War II.

Politicians accused Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Cisco Systems of partnering with the secret police to censor politically sensitive speech and provide information about dissidents.

The companies claim their presence in China has helped promote freedom of expression and warn that heavy-handed legislation could kill the global Internet.

The two sides are so far apart you have to wonder whether they will agree on anything.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., plans to introduce a bill that would require U.S. tech companies to locate their servers outside of China, not block U.S sites such as Voice of America, and limit exports of certain hardware and software that aid government control of dissent. Here is the bill, and good context on the issue, from Rebecca MacKinnon at Harvard.

While the tech companies say they're willing to discuss industry guidelines, they favored dealing with the censorship issue as a foreign policy matter for Washington.

More on where the debate is headed tomorrow.

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Richland's IsoRay starts year with cash

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:30 PM

The Richland company that makes radioactive "seeds" that can be inserted into solid tumors to treat cancer is touting a banner start to the year.

IsoRay Medical said it closed a $6 million private funding round at the end of January and has since raised more than $1.3 million through a new placement opened Feb. 1 to accommodate excess demand from investors.

It also signed a licensing agreement with a Belgian company that IsoRay says will reduce manufacturing and production costs of Cesium-131, the radioactive isotope it makes to treat prostate cancer. The collaborator, International Brachytherapy, can produce polymer seeds, which IsoRay CEO Roger Girard said offer advantages over the titanium seeds his company currently manufactures.

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Gorillaz-style mobile game

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:30 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- The Grammy-winning act known as the Gorillaz consists of a bunch of characters. Really.

The group, perhaps best known for its hit Feel Good Inc., uses illustrations to represent the four band members. And now the band is going digital by having its own mobile video game.

RealNetworks announced the game at 3GSM after it reported it reported fourth quarter financial results in the U.S. The game reflects the Gorillaz, which prides itself in having a retro illustrative image. Called "Gorillaz Entertainment System," it is an exclusive arcade title for Mr. Goodliving, a RealNetworks subsidiary based in Helsinki, Finland. The title is expected to be available on phones in April.

"Gorilliaz Entertainment System" plays off the four band members: Noodle on guitar, 2-D on vocals, Murdoc Nicalls on bass and Russel Hobbs on drums. There is a corresponding game for each character.

Gunnar Larsen, RealNetworks director of mobile games in Europe, said the games are "easy to play and quick to learn, which is ideal for a mobile space." Because of that, they can also be addicting, he added.

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Fashion sense

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:45 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- The second and third day of 3GSM have been more packed and crowded than the first and one of the most noticeable things about the show is the people attending it.

The attendees, by far made up mostly of European men, have proved to be a fashionable crowd, despite what one might expect for someone working in the technology field.

Although, almost no one has ventured beyond the black suit, it doesn't stop them from adding a bit of flare. En masse, the ties have are often stripped and multi-colored and much larger than average.

But what makes an even bolder statement is that the shirts, too, are equally fashionable. Frequently, a striped tie is paired with a checkered shirt. And vice versa. It's a nice change -- and a far cry -- from the Seattle standard: khakis and polo shirt.

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Web browsing comes to the Nintendo DS

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:15 PM

In a recent interview with Redmond-based Nintendo of America, network marketing manager Darren Smith said it would be easy to allow the DS handheld player to access the Web. The hardware is ready for it. Nintendo just needs to give the green light.

Looks like that will happen in Japan soon. Oslo, Norway-based Opera Software said it has reached an agreement with Nintendo that will let DS users in Japan access the Web using Opera's browser. Users will need to insert a special card into the DS and connect to a network to begin browsing.

Nintendo has sold about 13 million DS systems worldwide since the device debuted in November 2004. No word on whether the DS browser will make it to America.

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Live from Capitol Hill: Tech companies fire back

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:20 AM

Tech companies fired back against government accusations that they are helping suppress dissent in China in exchange for a piece of the booming market.

The benefits for Microsoft and other companies to be engaged in China far outweigh the downside, Microsoft Associate General Counsel Jack Krumholtz told lawmakers at this morning's hearing in Washington D.C.

Krumholtz said that MSN Spaces, launched nine months ago in China, has helped 3.5 million people create their own Web sites and blogs.

"There's more opportunity for communication and freedom of expression in China today as a result of our service and other services, and we expect the trend just to continue," he said.

Cisco Systems General Counsel Mark Chandler said China's government has admitted it cannot fully control the Internet. If U.S. regulations discouraged participation in a global Internet, that could lead governments like China's to form their own national Internet and undermine citizen's free access to information from around the world, they said.

Meanwhile Bill Gates responds to questions about China and censorship in the Financial Times.

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aQuantive earnings today

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:00 AM

Seattle-based aQuantive, an online advertising and marketing agency, is reporting its fourth quarter and year-end earnings at 1:30 p.m. Click here for a link to the Webcast.

The company said in November that it expected revenue between $78 million and $82 million for the fourth quarter and net income between 11 and 14 cents per share.

Update: The company beat its prior guidance. Revenue was $87.5 million for the quarter, up from $60.7 million a year ago. Profit was $11.6 million or 15 cents a share, up from $7.1 million or 10 cents a share a year ago. For the full year, revenue was $308.4 million, up from $157.9 million in 2004, and profit was $35.2 million, up from $42.9 million in 2004.

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Seadragon finally lands at Microsoft

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:55 AM

Microsoft has finally closed its acquisition of Seattle-based Seadragon Software (see this story today). These things apparently take some time to work through; we got wind back in late January that this was wrapping up.

The financial terms of the deal weren't announced. The acquisition isn't large enough that it would have a material impact on Microsoft, and as such the company doesn't have to announce it.

Seadragon has some pretty impressive demos of its technology. You can see them here.

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Back at ya, Ballmer

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:47 AM

BARCELONA, Spain -- Microsoft pulled out all the stops Tuesday when Steve Ballmer took the stage and said in an hourlong keynote during 3GSM that the company wanted to play a large role in the wireless industry.

But the plea fell on deaf ears at its largest mobile operating system competitor, London-based Symbian, which currently dominates the high-end cell phone market.

David Wood, Symbian's executive vice president working on research for acclerating time to market, said Microsoft's announcements were typical smoke and mirrors.

He said Symbian sold more than 34 million phones loaded with its operating system last year, and is expecting a 136 percent growth rate this year. In comparison, Microsoft said it shipped more than 6 million WIndows Mobile-based connected devices last year and expects the market to grow signficantly
Wood said that although Microsoft sells way fewer devices ,it gets more attention because it has a better marketing machine than Symbian.

"Every year at 3GSM, people come over and say you've got to see what Microsoft is announcing. They are so good at PR," he said. "We spend our money on research and not on PR. The best marketing tools are the phones."

Still, he said he doesn't seen Microsoft as all bad. There are some benefits.

"Microsoft and Symbian are on the same side," he said. "It's great that they are pushing for operators to roll out advanced services."

Sidenote: For those sitting in the front row during Ballmer's keynote, it was easy to see he had a handful on his mind. The Microsoft CEO had written a series of notes on the back of his hand in ink. From 15 feet away, there was no telling what it said, but it makes us wonder, did he run out of room on his Pocket PC?

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New fund at Ignition -- in China

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:28 AM

Bellevue-based Ignition Partners said today it has closed Qiming, a $200 million investment fund that includes participation from top Chinese investors. Qiming will be investing in early-stage and expanding tech companies that are in the export business or are servicing China's domestic market.

Ignition partners Richard Tong and John Zagula are moving to China to work on this fund. Qiming is a Chinese name that means starting and enlightening, Ignition said, and it also signifies the beginning of a new day.

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The analysts chime in on RealNetworks

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:16 AM

Despite a quarter of record revenue and profit, RealNetworks can't catch a break with analysts. The company was downgraded to "hold" from "buy" this morning by P.J. McNealy of American Technology Research, who said in a research note that RealNetworks has reached nearly full valuation.

Music subscriber growth is slowing, and RealNetworks' $8.5 million expense from a canceled purchase agreement in the fourth quarter is "troubling," McNealy said. He guessed the agreement was related to a music hardware player project, and said that spending in this area is not a good use of RealNetworks' cash.

Charlie Ruch at Oppenheimer & Co. reiterated his "neutral" rating on the company's stock, saying that RealNetworks' fourth quarter subscriber numbers (both music and overall) were lower than what he had expected. Ruch said he is lowering his first quarter and full-year estimates for the company.

"With disappointing subscriber metrics -- most likely a sharp decline in video subscribers -- CFO's resigning from his position, sequential decline in international revenue, increasing competition across the company's business lines, and finally the stock's current valuation, we believe upside potential for the stock remains limited at current levels," Ruch wrote.

Here's the share price today.

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February 14, 2006

Live from Capitol Hill: The Internet in China

Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:36 PM

Should U.S. companies be legally bound to a code of conduct when doing business in places like China? The question will be debated at a hearing Wednesday in the other Washington. Executives from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Cisco Systems are among the witnesses, along with human rights activists and members of the U.S. State Department.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who is convening the meeting, says it's the first time a hearing in the House will be covered live by blogs. Apparently the aging room now has wireless connectivity, according to Smith's office. Tech Tracks will be among those posting news live from our reporter at the hearing. View the Web broadcast here.

Smith had some harsh words for U.S. Internet companies that have complied with Chinese government censorship demands, saying they have essentially become "a megaphone for Communist propaganda and a tool for controlling public opinion."

Microsoft and Google have said they might favor some form of new Internet industry guidelines for doing business in countries with such restrictions. If they don't, some lawmakers might be angry enough to impose them.

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RealNetworks Q4 -- quick take

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:56 PM

Notes on RealNetworks' fourth quarter:

Revenue was $83.6 million -- a record for the company -- and profit was $295.6 million. The profit, also a record, came in large part because the company recorded the antitrust settlement payout from Microsoft in the quarter. The number of paying subscribers was about 2.25 million, with the growth in that area slowed down compared with previous quarters.

The revenue from music and games all inched up as a percentage of total revenue, and was 31.2 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively, while systems revenue dropped slightly as a percentage of the total to 12.1 percent.

The company announced that Roy Goodman resigned today as chief financial officer and treasurer, and will be replaced by Michael Eggers. More information on this subject will likely come in the conference call, which is about to begin.

Update: Goodman is moving to Virginia. He said his family wanted to be closer to relatives after the sudden death of a close family member. He will continue to work for the company in a new position, but not CFO.

Also, RealNetworks had an astonishing $781.3 million in cash in the bank as of Dec. 31. Chief executive Rob Glaser said he's not giving details on what the company will do with all that money.

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A Redmond visit

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:31 PM

Carlos Gutierrez, the U.S. commerce secretary, will be visiting Microsoft's Redmond campus on Thursday morning to talk about "the importance of innovation and competitiveness to the U.S. economy." He's also going to be pushing President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative, a plan that would direct more federal money to math and science education and research.

Here's a PDF file of the initiative's 23-page proposal.

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The message is opportunity

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:15 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- Not too long ago, you couldn't conveniently send a text message or a photo to a friend who used a different wireless carrier. Today, U.S. carriers have opened up their networks and the number of messages sent has soared.

The GSM Association and 15 wireless carriers, mostly in Europe, agreed to do the same thing for instant messaging on Monday. Together, they said the carriers will create an instant messaging service that will be rolled out to allow messages to be sent across many networks. In all, the network will reach more than 700 million people. As part of the initiative, the association said users will play only to send, not receive, messagies so that they can easily control spending and minimize spam.

Carriers are eager for a joint platform because of this kind of opportunity. They'll make money each time someone sends a mesaage.

An association study estimates that this could be a huge market. Today, there are 29 million mobile instant messenger users worldwide. In 2009, there will be 189.

As with text messaging and picture messaging, the U.S. took longer to open up their networks. It will be interesting to see how long it will take this time for the U.S.

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Microsoft pours it on at 3GSM, Part 2

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:52 AM

BARCELONA, Spain -- As expected, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote at 3GSM today was a litany of announcements. Like the Energizer bunny, he kept going and going and going. Just when you thought the announcements were going to stop, he would say something more.

In addition to what was mentioned in an earlier post, Ballmer detailed some of the attributes expected in Windows Vista, the operating system expected by year's end. One of them, he said, will enable you to take your media collection on the road. If you have recorded or downloaded a TV show on to your home computer, you will be able to now view it on the mobile phone.

"If I'm in Barcelona, and I recorded my favorite news program or sports game on my PC, I can view it or check it quickly on mobile device. That works," he said.

He also discussed some developments such as Blue Rendezvous, a software program written by Microsoft Research. It allows two Bluetooth devices to easily communicate with each other; right now, it can often be difficult to pair the two together.

Another item he mentioned was the "near field" communications ability of a Vodafone phone. Near field allows a device to receive a lot of information from another near-field device. For instance, you might see an Xbox advertisement for a new game. You go near the ad and download information about the game, including the price and a preview. From there you can decide whether to buy it or not.

Ballmer explained that the range of devices and applications are so wide, it can easily fulfill both people's personal lives and professional lives, two things that he didn't see as separate entities.

"You can get a sense of the range of innovation in which we are working -- my personal life, my professional life, my entertainment interests are all integrated in one place will all kinds of end user experiences," he said.

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Microsoft's Valentine

Posted by Brier Dudley at 10:50 AM

Microsoft news is breaking out all over the place today. Here's a cheat sheet to keep track of it all:

In San Jose, Calif., Bill Gates gave an overview of Microsoft's computer security strategy, including the Infocard authentication system that's coming with Windows Vista, at the RSA Conference. He encouraged the industry to join Microsoft's effort to build an online "trust ecosystem" that engenders trust between people and businesses.

In Redmond, Microsoft released a new version of its free PC antipsyware product, now called Windows Defender, and issued seven security patches that Windows XP users ought to download. Two of the patches are rated "critical" and the rest are merely "important."

In Barcelona, Steve Ballmer presented the company's mobile devices strategy. including new partnerships, devices and services. Tricia Duryee is posting the latest news of this event.

In Washington, D.C., Microsoft is preparing to participate in a Congressional hearing into the way U.S. Internet companies are enabling censorship and other heavy-handed approaches to the Internet in China and other foreign countries.

In Redmond again, Microsoft is releasing a set of online services for small businesses, including a free, advertising-supported Web hosting and e-mail product aimed at companies with 10 or fewer employees. Testing began after the service was announced in November; broader testing and widespread availability begins Wednesday.

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MovieBeam launches in Seattle

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:00 AM

MovieBeam launched its movies-on-demand service in 29 cities today, including Seattle. There are several factors working against this service - come on, another set-top box? - but MovieBeam says it will eliminate the need to run to the video store by providing a library of 100 movies for immediate viewing.

MovieBeam is backed by Disney, Cisco Systems, Intel and a few VC firms. The box costs $200 (though there is a $50 rebate) and the service requires a $30 activation fee. There is no monthly fee, but movie rentals will cost either $2 or $4, with an additional $1 tacked on for high-definition titles.

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Pound for pound

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 7:29 AM

BARCELONA, Spain -- The U.S. industry's CTIA show had Puff Daddy, and CES had U2.

3GSM has Craig David.

David is described as a British music sensation and mobile enthusiast who has sold 13 million records and received two Grammy nominations. David will not only perform one of his hits on Wednesday, he will also talk about his thoughts on the opportunities to deliver entertainment over the mobile phone.

Not surprisingly, he can also be found selling ringtones for 3 pounds a pop.

No wonder he is a mobile technology enthusiast.

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RealNetworks earnings today

Posted by Kim Peterson at 6:30 AM

RealNetworks is expected to announce its fourth quarter and full-year 2004 earnings today at 2 p.m.

Before the news, here's a breakdown of the company's financial performance over the last four quarters.

Q3 2005: $82.2 million revenue, $11.2 million net income, 2.2 million subscribers
Q2 2005: $82.7 million revenue, $4.7 million net income, 2 million subscribers
Q1 2005: $76.6 million revenue, $814,000 net income, 1.9 million subscribers
Q4 2004: $72.5 million revenue, $972,000 net loss, 1.6 million subscribers

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Microsoft pours it on at 3GSM

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 5:16 AM

BARCELONA, Spain -- With more than 100 Microsoft employees from the company's seven business divisions at 3GSM, the software giant is determined to show deep commitment to the wireless industry.

Now comes word from the top -- CEO Steve Ballmer is delivering a keynote speech to the gathering in which he's outlining new partnerships and releases on top ofl announcements the company has already made at the show.

"By Steve being here, it is a testament," said Karen Carter, director of marketing with the mobile and embedded devices division. "This is where deals are done. That's why we have such a big presence here"

Topping the list of partnerships is one with Virgin Mobile. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group is joining Ballmer by video message broadcast on stage, showing off what's said to be the world's first broadcast phone.

The phone enables Virgin to be the first European carrier to have live digital TV on the phone. The service, called BT Movio broadcast, was built with Microsoft Media technology.

The phone, called Trilogy, was developed by Taiwan handset maker HTC and will come loaded with Windows Mobile 5.0 in a cute red form factor, Carter said.

The phone's release is notable because typically Microsoft targets enterprise customers. This phone does not have a full keyboard,and it is associated with Virgin Mobile, known for having a hip, youth oriented demographic. Of course, it's not all about the looks. Because it works on Windows Mobile, It will still be capable of running Outlook or other Microsoft Office products.
No word yet on what the phone or service will cost when it launches this summer.

Piggybacking on the consumer focus, Ballmer is showing plans today for Windows Live on mobile devices. The online service, part of the company's push into so-calle Web services, will include a local search function that will, for example, allow a user to find pizza locations within a Zip code.

On the enterprise side, Ballmer announced the availability of Communicator Mobile, which extends the Live Communications Server to the mobile phone. The Communications Server allows workers to track down people and determine the best way to interact with them, given where or what that person may be doing at the time. That idea of "presence" will now be on the mobile phone, as well.

Finally, Ballmer is discussing how Windows Vista, the new operating system expected by year's end, will address mobility. Currently, Windows devices communicate with computers through a program called ActiveSync. With Vista, it will be called the Mobile Device Center, which will better tie the two devices together.

Stay tuned for an update after the keynote for more.

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February 13, 2006

Time out for a tech review

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 6:19 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- One thing with traveling abroad is you never know how well your technology will work. So far, so good. Three out of my four devices have worked in both London and Barcelona.

The first device is my computer. Wireless Internet has been available in both places I've stayed and worked perfectly. At a moderately priced hotel in London, it was 10 pounds for 24 hours. At my budget accommodations in Barcelona, it is free.

The second device is a BlackBerry, the 8700c from Cingular Wireless. The device is enabled with EDGE, which is a 2.5G technology and makes loading a Web site the difference between excruciatingly painful and manageable. This device has roamed seamlessly in both London and Barcelona, bouncing around to various service providers, most notably Vodafone and Amena.

The third is the T-Mobile USA phone called the SDA, which is officially launching this week. It too is capable of EDGE speeds and has Wi-Fi capability. It is roaming on the MoviStar network. Without Wi-Fi or EDGE, it can be cumbersome to send large files, but it still works.

The odd thing is that the two devices I bring with me are EDGE-enabled and yet I have traveled to the two countries in Europe that don't support EDGE.

A map provided in some of the press materials show that EDGE is rolled out worldwide, except for a few large areas, such as Africa. And, if my geography is correct, also the United Kingdom, Germany, and -- you guessed it -- Spain and Portugal. Oh well ...

My fourth device is a Cingular wireless laptop card. It has not worked in London or Barcelona. It does attempt to roam on to another network, but each time, it fails. I don't know what the cause is, but it almost appears the local networks don't want me using it. Perhaps they don't want a foreigner using all their bandwidth? Just a thought.

Because the card is enabled with HSDPA, a higher speed 3G that only Cingular has launched commercially worldwide, it drops back to 2G, or practically dial-up. That makes Wi-Fi a more preferable option anyway.

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Not bad for an Old Economy company

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 4:59 PM

Mark Pigott, left, chairman and CEO of Paccar, receives a technology award from President Bush.

Mark Pigott, chairman and chief executive of Paccar, received the National Medal of Techonology from President Bush in a White House ceremony today. The Bellevue company was one of seven honored this year for its development of aerodynamic, lightweight commercial vehicles that save fuel and increase freight haulers' productivity.

No need to salute the next time you pass a Kenworth or Peterbilt truck on the road.

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Less than silky smooth

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 4:05 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- Lucky for Action Engine, it landed one of the most high profile locations of the 3GSM conference: a trailer in the center plaza of all the buildings. And to grab additional attention, the Bellevue company hired a squad of cheerleaders wearing Action Engine outfits to help give away a cellphones.

But even with all the hype, Mother Nature has her say. The company's CEO, Scott Silk, was caught in the East Coast snow storm can't fly out until Tuesday, the second day of the four-day conference. All of his appointments had to be canceled.

That didn't stop the company, which builds software to deliver content to mobile phones..

Still, Action Engine announced the release today of the company's Signature Solutions of 2006. The focuses are on mobile search, mobile advertising and mobile entertainment. It also released the Action Engine Software Development Kit to encourage the development of applications for its platform.

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Can't buy me love

Posted by Brier Dudley at 3:40 PM

Microsoft has been trying unsuccessfully to get people to break their Google habit and try MSN Search. Now it's throwing cash at the challenge, literally.

Over the next three months, MSN Search users have a chance to win three prizes of $10,000, $25,000 and $50,000. The catch is that the money will be donated to charities of the winners' choice.

Others will win gift certificates for stores like REI and Target, or goodies like digital TVs, hotel stays, an MP3 player or a snowboard.

Each month during the contest, the company will come up with a list of more than 1,200 keywords. Users who enter those terms in the search box win the prizes.

Meanwhile Apple's offering $10,000 worth of music, 10 video iPods and an iMac to the person who downloads the 1 billionth song from its iTunes service. But you've got to pay 99 cents to play its game.

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What you learn in schmoozing

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:29 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- One of the nice things about a big international event like 3GSM is the different perspectives you can get.

While cramped in a small hallway, waiting for a Nokia press conference to begin early today, I met two companies that develop content for the Nokia platform: Green Tomato from China and Kamera from Stockholm.

On the topic of mobile music, Kamera CEO Henrik Eklund said that in Europe ringtones are still more popular than full-track music, even though they are more expensive. Arthur Chang, Green Tomato's CEO, said that surprised him -- the opposite is true in Asia. He said the ringtone market has started to cool as full-track songs have become more popular.

In the U.S., the jury is still out. Full-track music services have only begun to emerge with Sprint and Verizon Wireless both launching services. Sprint, which launched first, sells songs for $2.50 each. At that price, it far outweighs the cost of a song purchased on a computer, making it difficult for mass adoption.

Sprint Chief Operating Officer Len Lauer said recently that Sprint is looking at a subscription model where users would be able to download songs at a fixed monthly price.

Perhaps the U.S. has hope yet.

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Nokia makes a statement

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:03 PM

BARCELONA, Spain -- From the Nokia 3GSM press conference this morning:

Chairman and CEO Jorma Ollila said that this year the company expects to sell about 40 million 3G handsets, 80 million devices with music players and more than 150 million devices with FM radio.

One of those devices will be the Nokia 6136, which was also announced today. The device uses -- yes another abbreviation -- UMA technology, which stands for Unlicensed Mobile Access. That means that phone calls will be able to switch from the cellular network to Wi-Fi networks without a user noticing.

This is important because cellphones sometimes don't work well indoors and, in that situation, a user can switch over to Wi-Fi, either through a personal home network or at a public hotspot, to receive better coverage.

The solution is something that Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA is likely to be interested in. It launched two devices today, the SDA and the MDA, with Wi-Fi capabilities.

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One Microsoft search ends up in Paris

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:53 AM

BARCELONA, Spain -- Microsoft is attempting to make a huge splash at 3GSM by announcing something nearly everyday of the show.

Today, it released a bevy of news. One of the most interesting tidbits was that it had acquired a small Paris-based company called MotionBridge. The company develops search technology for the mobile phone and currently has contracts with O2, Sprint, Orange and other carriers.

Unlike traditional search for the computer that combs the entire Internet for information, search for the mobile phone is different. MotionBridge specifically focuses on searching content available on the carrier's deck, or storefront. This kind of search is key because cellphone screens are small and users typically don't have the patience to click through a lot of pages to find what they want.

Brian Arbogast, MSN corporate vice president, said Microsoft will work to integrate MotionBridge into its current search technology.

Conceivably, that could mean that when a user searches for, say, U2, the results would include ringtones capable of working on that user's phone and the latest news about the band from the Internet.

"It will be one search experience," Arbogast said. "Customers will be able to get what they want."

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Boo-ya or Suckville?

Posted by Brier Dudley at 11:28 AM

Microsoft is trying to build buzz for its Media Center system with a new, offbeat ad campaign that puts the Office dinosaur spots to shame.

The ads are a sort of couch potato fantasy. They feature guys using Media Center remote controls to shut up obnoxious characters -- a know-it-all videogamer and a rude guy talking on a cellphone.

There's also a companion Web site where you can click on phrases to make the obnoxious guys say them over and over again. Among the choices: "Welcome to Suckville, population you" and "Boo-ya!"

It's kind of like the dancing Napoleon Dynamite site that was a hit back in 2004, but it loads faster.

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Piracy in China

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 11:22 AM

In the wake of reporter Kristi Heim's in-depth "China: Customer and Competitor" report on piracy and what companies are doing to fight it, you can join her at noon today for a Q&A session. Click here to join the discussion.

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Funding for Infinium

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:41 AM

Infinium Labs, the Seattle-based maker of the much-delayed Phantom game console, released more details of its business in a securities filing today.

The console will be called the Phantom Lapboard, the company said. It will have a 360-degree rotating keyboard for PC gaming, a 30-foot wireless range, an integrated mousepad and keys optimized for playing games. No launch timeframe was given.

Infinium reported an agreement with San Francisco-based Golden Gate Investors in which Golden Gate will receive a warrant to purchase Infinium's common stock, which is traded over the counter. Infinium will receive as much as $1.1 million in return.

Company Chairman Timothy Roberts is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, possibly because of ties to a phony fax scheme. Infinium had to retstate its financial statements over six quarters, and its well known chief executive, Xbox co-founder Kevin Bachus, resigned in November.

This story has more information about Infinium's legal and financial problems.

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X'ing out the shortages

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:54 AM

Anyone should be able to walk into a store and buy an Xbox 360 game console within the next four to six weeks. At least that's the prediction of Peter Moore, Microsoft's Xbox chief, who spoke on Friday at the Dice Summit gaming convention in Henderson, Nev.

According to reports from the event, Moore hammered the industry for not taking more risks and producing original, innovative games.

"We're getting more like TV and movies a little bit, in that we're taking that formula," Moore said, according to Gamasutra. "We're bringing people sequels one and two and three and four."

Industry leaders have been saying this for years, but no one can deny that sequels to big games bring in boatloads of money for developers and publishers.

There seems to be an assumption in the industry, voiced by Nintendo of America's chief marketing officer Reggie Fils-Aime and others, that innovation and originality will diversify the user base. That is, new and different games will draw in new and different gamers.

Is this proving to be true? Certainly there have been some high-profile games recently that fall into this category, such as Guitar Hero, Katamari Damacy (and its sequel) and Nintendogs. They've all sold beyond expectations, but it's unclear if they're doing anything to expand the market.

This storyhas more about Fils-Aime's thoughts on how disruptive technologies will appeal to non-traditional gamers.

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Now, the next generation?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:51 AM


BARCELONA, Spain -- Just when you begin to understand 3G, there will something else to learn.

Perhaps it is a fourth generation Motorola is advertising in Barcelona. One of its billboards features a woman holding out four fingers about waist high. The billboard reads Hellomoto, Motorola's trademark message, followed by Wi4. More to come on exactly what that means.

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Global, sort of

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:31 AM

BARCELONA, Spain -- Is GSM really the global standard?

In 2005, 74 percent of the world used GSM, according to Informa and its World Cellular Information Service. In second place is CDMA, which is used by Sprint and Verizon Wireless in the U.S.

By 2010, it predicts that GSM usage will fall to 61 percent.

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A Firebox office smash?

Posted by Brier Dudley at 8:56 AM

Harrison Ford may get one of the most technical critiques of his career on Tuesday.

That's when Seattle network security company WatchGuard Technologies is taking all of its employees to see Ford play a Seattle network security expert in the new movie "Firewall."
WatchGuard is taking the team out to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

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Three what?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 8:21 AM

BARCELONA, Spain -- One thing that sticks out to you when you attend an event like this is the gibberish.

For starters take 3G, which stands for "third generation" cellular technology. In the U.S., the term is hardly advertised, but it is the technology that powers Verizon Wireless' VCast video service, Sprint Nextel's full-track music download service and other broadband hogs. To be technical, there are other ways to put it: WCDMA, UMTS, HSDPA, HSUPA, EV-DO and probably more abbreviations of high-speed cell technology. Don't worry, the terms these abbreviations stand for are hardly more illumniating..

If this alphabet soup gets you down, there's help. Check out the 3GSM World Congress acronym Web site. It is for the geek impaired:

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Wireless, with a Spanish flair

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 7:02 AM

BARCELONA, Spain -- I find myself in this Spanish city with 50,000 of my closest friends.

The reason? 3GSM World Congress, a five-day convention centered on GSM, or global system for mobile communications (see more on abbreviations later).

Sunday marked the day when people registered and got their barings.

The convention center called Fira is in Montjuic neighborhood, where the 1992 Olympics were held. The event is in more than eight buildings, a startling amount given the size of each one.

The contrast between the old and the new is readily apparent. Banners advertising the latest and sleekest cellphones cover some of the most ornate edifices. Motorola possibly has the largest ad, one that wraps around an abandoned bullring across from the event.

On the opposite side is the stately and very old National Museum of Art, which sits between the event and Olympic Stadium.

Click here for the conference site.

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Welcome to Tech Tracks!

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 5:30 AM

If you saw the item in the newspaper or followed links from elsewhere on, you know that this is The Seattle Times' technology team's site of news in a new format.

You could call this a blog -- and it is. But the term blog has come to cover a wide range of forms, styles and content. We see ours as offering readers news dispatches that extend and enhance our coverage in the newspaper and elsewhere online. It's also our intent to get you engaged in our coverage by encouraging comments and feedback.

As you can see, we've been giving the site a dry run over the past week or so, trying to work out kinks and getting a sense of how this would go in the real cyberworld.

At the same time, we're venturing into some uncharted territory, and we expect this to be something of a work in progress, a product that you help shape.

Let us know what you think. Meanwhile, we hope reading this becomes a daily habit.

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February 10, 2006

Rock Star-bucks

Posted by Monica Soto at 5:46 PM

Starbucks, the ubiquitous specialty-coffee retailer, said it plans to use its extensive Wi-Fi footprint to one day allow customers to download music onto portable players inside its cafes.

Starbucks gave no timeline toward offering the service. When asked whether it plans to partner with a digital music provider such as Apple Computer, Chairman Howard Schultz answered this way:

"We understand the cultural relevance of digitally filling-up" music devices at its locations, he said.'It's in our future.''

T-Mobile wouldn't provide the number of HotSpots inside Starbucks cafes, but said its subscribers can hook up wirelessly to the Internet at more than 7,000 locations in the U.S., including inside Starbucks cafes, FedExKinkos and Hyatt hotels.

The service has helped keep customers inside Starbucks cafes. T-Mobile said the average Starbucks customer stays in the store for five to seven minutes, while the average T-Mobile HotSpot customer spends more than an hour at Starbucks.

Our burning question: Do they at least bother to buy a second cup of coffee?

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Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:31 PM

Like the housing market, the splashy new Web site that prices homes got a little overheated in its debut. Seattle-based launched a beta version Wednesday to much fanfare. The 300,000 page views that hit the site in the first seven hours knocked it down for half a day.

As real estate's answer to Google, Zillow lets anyone enter a home's address and spews back the estimated value. At least Zillow's managers are being frank about the feedback. Among the criticisms from users: the estimates are off, the facts about their homes are wrong, they can't find their homes or they don't like the site.

And something about the calculation appeared to be backwards, since removing rooms or a story added value to the house. Says Seattle Times real estate reporter Elizabeth Rhodes: "I'm getting out the chain saw this weekend. Instant equity!"

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February 9, 2006

Yahoo! wanders north to ... Wenatchee!

Posted by Kristi Heim at 3:44 PM

Looking for a good location to plant a few hundred servers, Yahoo! found it in a four-story building in Wenatchee. The Internet megaportal signed a $6.23 million, 10-year deal to open a data center in Wenatchee's Confluence Technology Center.

That's good news for the county, which broke ground on the building the week after Sept. 11, 2001, and has struggled to fill it with the high-tech tenants it envisioned.

Yahoo!, which calls Sunnyvale, Calif., home, will occupy 45,000 square feet on three floors and pay $10,000 a month to rent office space alone. No word on how many people will work at the facility, but Port of Chelan County Director Mark Urdahl said the number will be a "modest" two dozen in the beginning.

They won't have much of a view. The center overlooks the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers, but a ventilation system to circulate air around the servers will block the scenery, Urdahl said.

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Watch the empire grow, Part 2

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 1:31 PM

Cartoon controversy challenges the Web

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:48 PM

While protests rage on the streets over political cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, the virtual dispute across the Internet is no less intense.

Wikipedia, the Web encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone, posted the original Danish newspaper page from last September showing the cartoons, along with extensive links for background and discussion. But when the Wikipedia site itself was vandalized recently, editors decided Wednesday to temporarily disable the feature, which allows new and anonymous users to change content.

Some news outlets that elected not to host or print the images themselves did provide links to them through Wikipedia page, including the Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Times.

The issue promises to test the boundaries of speech on the Internet, as well as the concept of collaborative information on the Web.

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February 8, 2006

Watch the empire grow

Posted by Brier Dudley at 4:44 PM

Microsoft is "accelerating" plans for its campus redevelopment project and will show off renderings of the massive project at a news conference on its Redmond campus Thursday morning.

In case you missed the news last year, Microsoft plans to add 2 million square feet of new office space to its campus, which now has about 8 million square feet. The work will take place over the next decade or two and create room for 10,000 to 12,0000 more employees.

Expect to hear a lot about the project's economic benefits -- the show is being run by General Counsel Brad Smith, and the guest speakers are Gov. Christine Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims and Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives. Funny, there aren't any Issaquah politicians on the list.

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Not an upbeat song for Loudeye plans

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:20 PM

Seattle-based Loudeye, a developer of back-end digital music technology, said today that a deal has fallen through to create an already delayed custom digital music service for a North American retailer. Loudeye didn't say which retailler, but Internet message boards were buzzing that the customer was Target stores. Loudeye and the retailer have terminated their contract.

Loudeye also said it would consolidate its digital media store service at its European headquarters in the United Kingdom, but it would continue to operate its digital media content services in Seattle. Europe is generating all of Loudeye's revenue for its digital media store services, and those services make up 80 percent of the company's total fourth quarter revenue.

I've asked Loudeye to comment on Seattle-specific reductions in headcount, but it doesn't look like the company is saying much beyond its press release.

These moves, in addition to Loudeye's previously announced exit of its Overpeer content protection business, will save the company $2.5 million a quarter, the company said.

Loudeye also said its fourth quarter revenue would be $8.8 million, up from $5.5 million for the year-ago period, and that it would have a net loss. The company plans to release more detailed financial results for the quarter and for 2005 on February 23.

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February 7, 2006

Expedia Super Bowl hits

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:49 PM

Expedia's Super Bowl advertising may have brought some visitors to its Web site on Monday. According to research group Nielsen//NetRatings, 511,000 people visited Expedia on Super Bowl Sunday and 1.2 million people visited the next day, an increase of 141 percent. Only two other advertisers - and Fidelity Investments - had higher traffic spikes during that period. It's unclear how much of that increase was actually related to Super Bowl advertising, however.

Bellevue-based Expedia's ad featured a woman crossing off days on her office calendar until she went on vacation, and frankly wasn't that memorable. You can see it here.

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Cable vs. the new pay-per-view

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:58 PM

It would be interesting to know what cable and satellite companies think about Showtime selling some of its programming on Apple's iTunes service, a move that was announced today.

This has the potential to shatter the subscription-only model that has supported the Comcasts of the world. Instead of paying monthly fees for digital cable and then more for a premium movie channel such as Showtime, you can pay $2 for an episode of "Sleeper Cell."

The jaw-dropping moment will be if and when "The Sopranos" shows up on iTunes. HBO fiercely protects this property, and has gone so far as to send intimidating letters to bars that broadcast the show for customers. The network wouldn't allow a move to iTunes without a serious fight.

But as more premium-only shows become available to non-subscribers, as they surely will, what will this do to the economics of cable? No doubt these moves are being closely watched by some Puget Sound companies, including Microsoft, RealNetworks and Digeo.

ITunes video sales, by the way, have amounted only to a measly $2.5 million in revenue for NBC, and a third of that is from one show, "The Office," according to a recent Newsweek article. But offering the show on iTunes increased its regular weekly audience by millions and helped "The Office" become a breakout hit.

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The pay's not bad -- it's even decent

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:14 AM

Some surprising news from the latest Yoh Index wage statistics: Tech workers made more money per hour last quarter than they have since 2001. Wages rose 3.1 percent over last year to an average of $30.27 per hour. That's an 11 percent increase over the same period in 2001.

Yoh Vice President Jim Lanzalotto attributed the rise to the need for more information security and enterprise software specialists and healthcare technology for aging baby boomers. For the jobs in greatest demand, pay ranged from $75 an hour for an SAP functional consultant to $38.52 for a clinical research associate. Apparently figuring out how to manage SAP applications makes lab work seem like child's play.

The Yoh Index is based on data from 5,000 workers "outsourced" for technology projects by U.S. companies. No mention of stock options in the report.

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February 6, 2006

Fon may be speaking a little too easily

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:16 PM

Seattle-based Speakeasy said today it's not working with Fon, a wireless startup in Spain that has received $21.7 million from such backers as Skype and Google. Fon is hoping to form a global Wi-Fi network by asking users to share their home wireless connections with others.

In interviews published yesterday, Fon executives said they have signed up Speakeasy as a revenue-sharing partner.

Not so, said Speakeasy.

"No relationship, financial or otherwise, exists between Speakeasy and FON," the company said in a statement out today. Bruce Chatterley, Speakeasy's chief executive, spoke to a Fon executive by phone for 10 minutes in late 2005, Speakeasy said. The possibility of a meeting was mentioned, but no other contact has occurred since. Speakeasy said it has asked its lawyers to demand a retraction from Fon.

See Fon founder Martin Varsavsky's blog posting announcing Fon.

Glenn Fleishman wonders if Varsavsky will retract his statements.

Update: Speakeasy has called off the legal hounds. The company issued a follow-up statement this afternoon that said that Fon now understands it has no implicit agreement with Speakeasy. The impression, according to the statement, may have beeen created because Speakeasy generally supports open wireless sharing.

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February 2, 2006

Not quite the National Enquirer

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:28 PM

The Gawker media company has started a new blog devoted to Silicon Valley gossip. So far, there just isn't that much to Valleywag . Sure, there's lots about Larry Ellison, but in tech circles, gossiping about Larry Ellison is about as banal as dishing about Brad and Angelina. Here's hoping that Valleywag becomes a little more compelling.

Oh, but there was this quote from Bill Gates:

"My tax return in the United States has to be kept on a special computer because their normal computers can't deal with the numbers."

Perhaps Gates should use Google's extensive server farm to handle all those zeroes.

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More spies than a 007 movie

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:50 AM

At least one of every 20 executable files on the Internet contains hidden spyware, according to new research from University of Washington computer scientists.

UW researchers sampled more than 20 million Internet addresses covering games, news and celebrity-oriented Web sites. They found that one in 62 Internet sites performed a nasty little trick called a "drive-by download," forcing spyware onto people's computers whenever they visit the page.

The worst offenders? Game and celebrity Web sites had the most spyware, while sites offering pirated software tended to do the most drive-by attacks.

The researchers recommended using at least two anti-virus software programs and keeping them up to date.

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February 1, 2006

Madden predicts

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:39 PM

The Pittsburgh Steelers will win Super Bowl XL 24-19, according to prognosticators at Electronic Arts. The video game company ran a simulation of the game on "Madden 2006," and it didn't look good for the Seattle Seahawks.

Bolstered by a tough defensive effort that limited NFL MVP Shaun Alexander to just 70 yards rushing and sacked Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck four times, the Pittsburgh Steelers won their fifth overall Super Bowl championship in a game simulated by EA SPORTS, downing the Seahawks 24-19 in a preview of what might happen in Super Bowl XL.

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee

Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez

Kristi Heim
Kristi Heim

Benjamin J. Romano
Benjamin J. Romano

Mark Watanabe