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March 31, 2006

Smilebox opens to the public

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:53 PM

Redmond-based Smilebox opened its online greeting-card service to the public today. After downloading the program, users will be able to create online greetings, slideshows and scrapbooks to send to others.

Founder Andrew Wright, who launched RealNetworks' RealArcade gaming portal, said his former employer has agreed to distribute Smilebox's service. That means it will offer the download to people who download RealArcade.

See this profile on Smilebox, which ran last month when the company presented at the DEMO conference.

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Infinium misses its 10-K deadline

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:43 PM

The steady stream of bad news from Seattle video game company Infinium Labs continues with this filing saying the company won't submit its annual report on time. The process of reviewing and collecting the financial information could not be completed on time without "undue hardship and expense." The company gives us this preview of the year, however:

For the year ended December 31, 2004, the registrant had revenues of approximately $0 and a net loss of approximately $(33,819,787). For the year ended December 31, 2005, the registrant currently estimates that it had revenues of approximately $0 and a net loss of approximately $(28,400,000). Results for the year ended December 31, 2005 remain subject to further adjustment and actual results may differ significantly from the foregoing estimates.

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Dessert time for

Posted by Brier Dudley at 1:35 PM

Seattle-based recipe-sharing and cooking community site was sold today for $66 million to Reader's Digest Association, the companies announced. We've got more details in a story posted here.

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When bloggers attack

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:42 AM

Perhaps should build a boxing ring for its guest author series. Shel Israel and Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble stopped by the company yesterday to present their book, "Naked Conversations," and apparently had a lively discussion with Chief Technical Officer Werner Vogels on the issue of corporate blogging.

Recounting the event in his own blog, Vogels said he asked the authors some very hard questions about why Amazon should institutionalize corporate blogs. The authors "appeared shell-shocked that anyone actually had the guts to challenge the golden wonder boys of blogging and not accept their religion instantly," Vogels wrote.

Israel responded on his blog that Vogels "was behaving like he was locked and loaded for bear hunting" and eventually called for an end to the "mutual acrimony." Scoble commented that he wasn't shell-shocked and Vogels mischaracterized his reaction. Later, Vogels promised to be nicer to the company's next guests.

Now, some have proposed a rematch, and a venture capitalist is offering to fly Vogels and Scoble to a Canadian Web conference for a "smackdown." You could sell tickets for this one.

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March 30, 2006

Paul Allen rocks -- with a few hundred friends

Posted by Kristi Heim at 9:03 PM

Paul Allen playing Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks.".

Paul Allen might have a reclusive reputation, but he sure knows how to party. Not only does he play Led Zeppelin's classic "When the Levee Breaks" on stage for 600 of his closest friends, but he gets Elvis Costello, Robbie Robertson and Dan Aykroyd up there to jam with him.

Allen hosted two lavish parties in Motown around the Super Bowl. Besides inviting the rich and famous, he made sure his frat buddies were there, too.

He flew 12 of his former fraternity brothers from Washington State University's Phi Kappa Theta to Detroit last month for Super Bowl weekend.

Allen, center, jams on stage with Dan Aykroyd and Elvis Costello, left.

One of the buddies, now an accountant in Reno, couldn't get to Seattle, so he was picked up by Allen's personal jet. He climbed in to find Dan Aykroyd and Axl Rose already on board.

On the Saturday before the game, Allen's guests watched Martha Reeves and the Vandellas perform a private show at Detroit's Roostertail club. After the game on Sunday, Allen hosted a crowd of more than 600 at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, which was sealed off for his entourage.

Seahawks rookie star Lofa Tatupu poses with Cameron Neill.

Allen pulled out his Fender Stratocaster to play on stage with Costello, Aykroyd and Robertson. A wobbly Axl Rose came out for one song. The Seahawks and Sea Gals joined the party, along with some other famous guests like Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Gary Neill, a former fraternity brother and instructor at Renton Technical College, took the snapshots you see here. He said the trip was a great surprise.

"I think it's wonderful if he invites me to a bad playoff game," he said. "To get this invitation was unbelievable."

Gov. Chris Gregoire dancing the night away with her husband and two daughters.

His billionaire status hasn't kept Allen from staying in close touch with the regular guys for 35 years, Neill said.
For a WSU homecoming event last fall, Allen quietly flew to Pullman, and Neill surprised his former high school classmates by showing up with Allen in a downtown tavern.

Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck socializes after the game.
"I've snuck him out of his house and headed to Dick's for a hamburger," Neill said. "From my viewpoint, he's no different than when he was 18. He's still the same person with the same sense of humor."

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iConclude books flight

Posted by Brier Dudley at 4:17 PM

Year-old Bellevue startup iConclude announced a high-flying customer for its flagship Repair System product -- Alaska Airlines.

The airline is using Repair System to "automate the incident triage, diagnosis and resolution process around mission-critical software applications such as their Flight Operations suite," iConclude said in its release.

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Sony UMD on life support?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:41 AM

Hoo-boy! The death knell for Sony's universal media disc (UMD) is deafening today. Sony introduced this small disc with its PSP gaming device and was hoping it would take off as a new format for movies and games. Target and other retailers carved out a small section in their movie departments for UMDs, which generally sold from $20 to $30. You play these movies in the PSP, which doesn't have a hard drive.

But a year after its debut, UMD sales are reportedly tanking, and Hollywood is pulling up stakes. The Hollywood Reporter says today that two major studios have completely stopped releasing movies on UMD and others are considering doing the same. There is talk that Wal-Mart will drop the discs completely, and a Wal-Mart store in Santa Ana, Calif., only had seven titles, according to the Reporter.

The report included these quotes from anonymous movie studio execs:

"It's awful. Sales are near zilch. It's another Sony bomb -- like Blu-ray."

"We are on hiatus with UMD. Releasing titles on UMD is the exception rather than the rule. No one's even breaking even on them."

"No one's watching movies on PSP. It's a game player, period."

This doesn't bode well for the two high-definition video formats slated to debut this year: Blu-ray, which is backed by Sony, and HD-DVD, which is backed by Microsoft.

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CEO pay at startups is looking up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:21 AM

Chief executives at U.S. companies backed by venture capital are getting paid $10,000 more a year in total compensation than they did a year ago, according to a survey published today by VentureOne, a unit of Dow Jones Newswires.

The survey, which looked at more than 700 executives at U.S. venture-backed companies, found that CEOs' median compensation was $263,000, compared with $252,000 a year ago. Part of that package was larger bonuses -- CEOs reported a median $50,000 this year compared to $40,000 a year ago.

The CEOs also have bigger stakes in the companies. This year, they said they owned a median of 5 percent, last year, it was 4.92 percent, and in 2004 they owned only 4.6 percent.

On average, however, executives in the Northwest are paid less. The survey found that executives here were paid a base salary of $200,000, a bonus of $41,000 and owned only 4.2 percent of the company. Total compensation was $250,000.

Here's the justification for the increase year-over-year: "The job is also requiring more from them as they lead their companies through more challenging investment climates, including longer periods of time between financings with requirements to hit significant milestones and a U.S. IPO market that remains constrained for exits," said Stephen Harmston, director of global research for VentureOne.

The justification for Northwest executives getting paid less? Sorry, no word just yet. See your venture capitalist.

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The Origami Master

Posted by Brier Dudley at 12:01 AM

Otto Berkes, who led Microsoft's "Origami" handheld PC project, took time last week to show us the Samsung model going on sale next month in the U.S. We're running a photo-story package in our Business section today, along with video of Berkes with the device.

Berkes has a track record of producing cool stuff at Microsoft -- previously he helped develop the Xbox and high-end graphics in Windows -- but he's a PC guy at heart, ever since he bought one of the first IBM models.

"I've always had respect for the PC and it's ability to evolve over time,'' he said while demonstrating the Samsung Ultra-Mobile PC using the Wi-Fi at a Seattle coffeehouse.

Analysts believe the full-power, handheld PCs have potential if the price comes down to aound $600 or $700, "something we feel is very achievable,'' Berkes said. "I would love it to happen this year, but that's just me."

Berkes also has an interesting personal story. He was born in Hungary, but his family fled to Austria when he was 5.

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March 29, 2006

Steve Jobs, quote machine

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:38 PM

Wired is running an amusing piece on Steve Jobs' best quotes ever as Apple Computer marks its 30th anniversary. Here are the ones that might echo through the halls in Redmond:

"If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it's worth -- and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago."
-- Fortune, Feb. 19, 1996

"The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. Microsoft dominates with very little innovation. That's over. Apple lost. The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it's going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years, or certainly for the rest of this decade."
-- Wired magazine, February 1996

"It wasn't that Microsoft was so brilliant or clever in copying the Mac, it's that the Mac was a sitting duck for 10 years. That's Apple's problem: Their differentiation evaporated."
-- Apple Confidential 2.0

"My opinion is that the only two computer companies that are software-driven are Apple and NeXT, and I wonder about Apple."
-- Fortune, Aug. 26, 1991

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Speakeasy at the podium

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:59 PM

Bruce Chatterley, the president and chief executive of Internet service provider Speakeasy, was the featured speaker today at the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Chatterley started off by quoting Darwin: "It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most adaptable to change."

He went on to talk about how the Seattle-based Speakeasy has changed over the past year to focus more on small businesses, and its mission is to become the dominant small business communications provider on a national scale. It offers business DSL and voice over IP services, and reported $66 million in revenue in 2005.

Don't think of Speakeasy as a local ISP. Seattle is actually the company's fourth-largest market and could soon be overtaken by Los Angeles. Speakeasy's top three markets are the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City and Chicago.

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Seattle's NetMotion in court

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:44 AM

A Pennsylvania company said today that it won a jury verdict in its patent infringement suit against Seattle-based NetMotion Wireless. Both companies compete in the mobile security space.

The suit by Bethlehem, Penn.-based Padcom was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware. Padcom said yesterday the jury found that the asserted claims of both of Padcom's patents at issue in the suit were valid, and that NetMotion's Mobility software product infringed on these claims. The damages phase of the trial has not been scheduled, but is expected to occur this fall, the company added.

In response, MetMotion said it is developing a new version of its product that will not infringe on these patents and will be available for download at no charge to all customers within the next 30 days.

"We respect the jury and the court, but we disagree with these findings and plan to pursue post-trial motions and appeal at our earliest opportunity," said NetMotion Wireless CEO Bob Hunsberger. "In the meantime, we look forward to quickly providing a version which continues to meet our customers' needs and will not infringe on these patents."

NetMotion develops software that provides secure connectivity for enterprise wireless networking. The company was established in March 2001 when it spun off from Seattle's WRQ.

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Did you Google? You're grounded!

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:41 AM

No one is Googling anything in the Ballmer household. In an interview with Fortune magazine, the Microsoft chief executive said his children are not iPodding either.

Q. Do you have an iPod?

A. No, I do not. Nor do my children. My children -- in many dimensions they're as poorly behaved as many other children, but at least on this dimension I've got my kids brainwashed: You don't use Google, and you don't use an iPod.

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Boeing unwired

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:30 AM

A research study by Boeing found people prefer airlines that offer in-flight Internet connections and even adjust their travel plans and choice of airline to be on Internet-connected flights.

The survey was conducted by Burke Research for Connexion by Boeing, which offers Internet access that costs about $10 an hour and is available on some flights offered by Lufthansa, SAS, Japan Airlines, ANA, Singapore Airlines, China Airlines, Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, El Al Israel Airlines and Etihad Airways.

The survey of 3,200 people found:

-- 83 percent said availability of the service will have an impact on future travel plans and their choice of airline carrier.
-- 94 percent said they plan to use the service again on a future flight.
-- 92 percent said they would recommend the service to others.
-- 84 percent said the service is of good or fair value relative to the price they paid.
-- 78 percent said that the service's speed met or exceeded their expectations.

In the same release, Boeing noted a recent event where video gamers competed in air as an example of how the new service is being used.

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Seattle Genetics details stock sale

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:47 AM

Seattle Genetics offered more details of its planned follow-on stock offering in a prospectus filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission today.

The company plans to complete its offering of 7.3 million shares on Monday, April 3. It is also selling 1.1 million shares to Baker Brothers Investments in a private placement.

Seattle Genetics expected to net $38.4 million from public offering, after an 8 percent underwriting discount and offering expenses of $250,000. That estimate was based on Monday's closing price of $5.74 per share. The company's stock sank 56 cents or 9.8 percent to $5.18 in heavy trading today.

Seattle Genetics said it will use proceeds from the sale for clinical and pre-clinical development of its slate of monoclonal antibodies in development against cancer and other diseases. Other uses include manufacturing, potential acquisitions and general corporate purposes.

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March 28, 2006

Dijji winding down?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 6:31 PM

Dijji, a public company trading on the over-the-counter bulletin board, said today that it was considering strategic alternatives, including a potential sale or shutdown of the business.

The Seattle company, formerly called Dwango Wireless, helps sell content for mobile phones based on well-known brands such as Rolling Stone magazine and Napster. The company made the statement in conjunction with a request it filed with the Securities & Exchange Communications asking for a 15-day extension for its annual report, which is due Friday.

The company said: "At this time, Dijji has not entered into any agreement in principle or any other agreement with potential acquirers or strategic partners." In light of the uncertainty of operations, Dijji also said " it will require additional time to determine the appropriate disclosure and analysis to be included in the annual report."

In December, the company was required to change its name after it completed a trademark- and technology-separation agreement with Japan's Dwango Co. in October.

The speculation is that the company has had a difficult time recovering lost revenues from ringtones, the margins of which have been dropping as "master tones" have grown popular. With master tones, more royalties go to recording labels, shrinking profits, said Mark Donovan, an analyst with M:Metrics, who discussed Dijji's possible closure during a conference call today.

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Google Kirkland and television

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:56 PM

Google is seeking engineers for its Kirkland office to work on "television technology," according to this ad:

Software Engineer, Television Technology - Kirkland Position based in Kirkland, WA. We are hiring well-rounded software engineers with a proven track record of creating and deploying robust, high-volume applications for consumer devices.

Google Video is a known entity, but notice that the ad uses the word "television" instead of "video." And it makes reference to cable and IPTV systems:

Experience with emerging TV standards such as DVB, MHP, OCAP and DOCSIS would be an advantage, as would direct experience deploying applications with cable or telecommunications partners across the world.

Experience with user interface development for content-rich applications, cable and IPTV headend systems, and digital video technology in embedded systems a plus.

Sounds to me like Google is looking to partner up on a content delivery/advertising system with the Comcasts of the world. Or am I reading too much into this?

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From RealNetworks to mobile stardom?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:51 AM

What is John Shay's chin doing inside Janet Jackson's bra, on President Bush's shoulder and at the table of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper?

It's disguised as an alien from Planet Zup who is the central character of Head Zup, an imaginative Web-based video comic strip Shay launched less than a year ago.

Shay, the original product manager for RealAudio at Progressive Networks (later renamed RealNetworks), says his idea is to spread original mobile content the way, Flickr and other sites help spread user-generated Internet content. Head Zup lets people make their own video clips by turning a camera phone upside down and taking a short video of their chin. The company even sells $4 kits with plastic eyes and puff ball hair to turn chins into faces.

Shay makes some money through advertising, but hopes to syndicate his content to cellphone operators. The service and content are free to users. Shay says he got the idea after working on the 3G network launch at Hutchison Whampoa.

Plenty of people download songs or send photos, he said, but no one is really taking advantage of the network's capability to make and share videos. Now Shay's chin is getting some international acclaim: Head Zup is a finalist in the Content360 mobile content competition taking place in Cannes next week.

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WashTech's take on H1-B visas

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:40 AM

Marcus Courtney, the president of the Washington Alliance for Technology Workers (WashTech), attended a conference in Washington D.C. this month and takes the opportunity to talk H1-B visas on his organization's Web site.

One thing we learned is that this is really a debate that isn't dealing with facts. When you raise the H1-B issue with people, they have no understanding of what is really true or not about the program, how the program works, or the true labor conditions for high-tech workers.

Is there really a worker shortage? That argument works because the high-tech industry, in the person of Bill Gates, runs around saying it. So Congress now thinks this is true. But they don't have any basis for this, no numbers, no facts.

The H1-B visa program is one way that American companies and universities can hire foreigners to work in the United States, but the number of these visas is capped every year. Tech companies in particular have pushed Congress to increase the quota.

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Bluetooth at mach 5

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:47 AM

Bluetooth, the technology primiarily used by cellphones for short-distance connections to other devices, such as headsets, will be used in the future for transferring large amounts of data between devices in the home, including televisions, TVs, according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

The trade association, based in Bellevue, announced this morning that its selection of a standard: the WiMedia Alliance multiband orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (MB-OFDM) version of ultra-wideband (UWB).

All that means is that Bluetooth will be capable of higher transmission speeds that will alow synchronizing and transferring large amounts of data, as well as handling high quality video and audio applications for portable devices, multimedia projectors and television sets. The organization noted that Bluetooth will continue to serve other devices, such as mice, keyboards and headsets.

The Bluetooth SIG estimates the first Bluetooth technology/UWB solution chipsets will available for prototyping in the second quarter next year. A live demonstration of the proposed technology is scheduled to be shown to the media at the Bluetooth SIG All Hands Meeting DEMO event on Thursday in Seattle.

For more information check out the Bluetooth SIG Web site.

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March 27, 2006

Levy takes the helm at UW

Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:14 PM

The University of Washington has a new chair of the Computer Science & Engineering Department. The university said today that longtime UW professor Henry M. Levy will take over the post from David Notkin.

Levy, an expert in operating systems and computer architecture, has worked at UW for 22 years. His work with professor Susan Eggers and a team of students in the mid-1990s led to the invention of simultaneous multithreading, or "hyper-threading," which gives processors power to execute commands from multiple programs at once. The technology is found in Intel and IBM chips.

Levy also advises tech companies Isilon Systems, and Mercury, as well as the Madrona Venture Group.

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March 24, 2006

GDC: Xbox 360, a post-mortem

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:58 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Two members of Microsoft's Xbox 360 team gave developers a quick tour through the planning and design of the console, launched in November, at a panel discussion today. They showed four designs the team had considered for the way the console would look on a television screen (the user interface, to borrow some jargon).

The four finalists were named Slice, Concertina, Loop and Pilot. Slice had a green background and cartoony text and art, and was the least favorite. Loop featured a circular look that was tied in appearance to the 360's power button. Pilot had an amber-colored background and showed a ring that would get bigger as the user clicked through the online pages. But the amber and dark green colors were not well received in focus groups.

The winner? Concertina, which had the "blade" navigation feature that would become central to the Xbox 360's final appearance.

Paolo Malabuyo, an interaction program manager, said the team's planning was so thorough that they even took steps to make sure that the warranty card was not the first thing a person would see when unpacking a new Xbox 360. When you see that card first, he said, "it's like, hey thanks. This might break. You might want to send this card in."

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March 23, 2006

GDC: Microsoft shut out of awards

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:08 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Microsoft was shut out of the Game Developers Choice Awards, the Oscars of the conference. Nintendo was among the winners announced last night, which were chosen by industry developers. The winners list here.

Microsoft Game Studios was a contender in various categories for "Project Gotham Racing 3" and "Jade Empire." Nintendo's "Nintendogs" won for best technology and was one of three winners for best innovation. Sony's "Shadow of the Colossus" was the big winner, taking home five awards, including best game.

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GDC: Nintendo's Satoru Iwata speaks

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:34 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Nintendo President Satoru Iwata delivered a speech this morning that was entertaining, but lacked any big news about the company's next-generation console or its plans for the rest of the year.

He began by talking about a company that was No. 1 in the 1980s because its products meant fun, a company that lost that top spot in the 1990s to someone else. Fortunately for the company, it also had another line of products that remained popular while it reconsidered its strategy. It would go on to redefine its business and expand its market beyond hardcore users.

That company? Pepsi, which in addition to soda now sells bottled water, sports drinks, energy drinks and snacks. And, Iwata said, we all know the three basic food groups are Fritos, Cheetos and Doritos. (Pepsi is the parent company of Frito-Lay).

Iwata's point? Game companies should follow Pepsi's lead and look beyond their main product to new areas that can be lucrative.

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Loudeye now bloodshot

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:18 PM

Seattle-based Loudeye, which manages digital content services, said in a release today that its auditors questioned whether it could continue as a going concern.

In the company's annual report, it said it has accumulated a deficit of $242.6 million, and incurred net losses from inception. As of the end of the year, it had negative working capital of $1.9 million.

To achieve future profitability, the company said it will have to generate additional revenue or reduce expenditures, but gave no assurances that it could do that. It had unrestricted cash of about $9 million at the end of 2005 and in February raised $7.6 million. The company warned: "These existing cash reserves may not be sufficient to fund operating and other expenses for the next 12 months, or until we reach profitability."

Loudeye's stock closed today at 48 cents a share.

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Should e-mail be free?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:04 PM

Whether e-mail should be free is at the heart of the debate in Seattle today at 3:30 p.m. The debate, which a coalition of people are calling "The People vs. AOL," is about a system in which e-mail users pay to certify that the e-mail they are sending is not spam.

The service is from a company called Goodmail Systems.

In a New York Times op-ed piece, technology pundit Esther Dyson suggests the company be given a chance to see if its solution to the problem of spam and fraud on the Internet works -- one that relies on market forces rather than ineffective regulations.

Through its CertifiedEmail service, the company charges "reputable, responsible organizations" a small per-message fee.

The coalition hosting the debate at the N-TEN Conference in Seattle insists that it's an email tax and sees a certified program as a threat to the free and open Internet. To charge would draw a line between the rich and the poor. "This system would create a two-tiered Internet," the organization said.

The debate will take place at the Westin's Cascade II room in downtown Seattle at 3:30 p.m.

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Windows shakeup

Posted by Brier Dudley at 11:19 AM

Two days after it decided to delay Windows Vista until 2007, Microsoft today announced a big reorganization in its Windows group. The biggest change: Senior Vice President Steve Sinofsky moves from Office to head the Windows and Windows Live Group, planning future versions of the company's flagship product.

More details are in a story posted this morning.

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GDC: Sony throws a party

Posted by Kim Peterson at 7:57 AM

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Sony usually throws the best parties at these kinds of conferences, and last night's bash was no exception.

Held at the Parkside Hall, the party featured a glass-enclosed ring where remote-controlled robots fought Battlebot-style. The robots violently smashed into each other with noises that sounded like thunderclaps, and the crowd was thrilled. The bar was stocked with some horrible-sounding drink combinations, including the "Mega Byte" -- Jagermeister and Red Bull. Guests ate Thai noodle salad, pasta, pizza, skewers and baked potatoes.

I was amused to see Phil Harrison, who gave the keynote address for Sony yesterday, hanging out in the line to enter the party. You can't miss Harrison, who told me he's 6 feet 7 inches tall. He was talking to people and personally getting wristband entry passes for the developers of "Shadow of the Colossus," who minutes earlier had won the award for game of the year at the Game Developers Choice Awards.

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March 22, 2006

GDC: The Future of Gaming

Posted by Kim Peterson at 7:48 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- What's next for the video game industry? According to a panel of experts in the field, the future looks a lot like Nintendo.

Video game costs are skyrocketing with next-generation consoles. Instead of spending more and more on traditional games, developers should be trying to reach broader audiences with more creative, interesting approaches, said the panelists.

With games like "Nintendogs," Nintendo has a very good idea of what the mass market wants, said Cyrus Lum of Midway Games. But the panelists were most enthusiastic about "Guitar Hero," the guitar simulation game that's winning praise all over the Game Developers Convention. Even Xbox executives are raving about the PlayStation 2 game this week. Lum said his studio bought wigs and costumes to wear when they play the game, which has plastic guitars for controllers and lets you rock out to cover songs.

"Suddenly you feel like you're playing a guitar and that's an emotional experience that nobody's been able to hit on," said Louis Castle of Electronic Arts, which was not involved with the game. "That's why we're so excited about it."

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Ballmer: Advertisers, advertisers, advertisers

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:55 PM

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has again made an "X, X, X" speech, and in this case the X is advertisers, according to Seattle's Avenue A| Razorfish, which asked Ballmer to speak at a client summit last week in Hollywood, Fla.

The agency posted clips from Ballmer's speech on its site. In the Windows Media format, natch.

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"Coolest flight of my life"

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 5:10 PM

This morning, somewhere over the Atlantic, there were 24 people playing video games at 30,000 feet.

The group departed Copenhagen for New York, where the TransAtlantic Showdown video gaming championships were taking place. On the way, they held real-time wireless online exhibition matches from a Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) plane equipped with Connexion by Boeing in-flight Internet data and entertainment service.

As one gamer put it on a blog: "When this is being posted, I am still 36,000 feet above the sea level. There is a sweet Swedish blonde sitting next to me, dozens of gamers are on board playing 'Quake 4,' 'WarCraft 3' and 'Counter-Strike,' and I can browse the net as much as I like. I am going to GGL's Trans-Atlantic Showdown in New York City and this is hands down the coolest flight of my life."

During said cool flight, the gamers shot, plotted and zapped from their laps -- perhaps with the seat in the upright position, or not. We wonder, does the FAA approve?

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TV on the go

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:51 PM

Wireless carriers are constantly trying to find ways to sell more content to justify the billions of dollars they spent on upgrading to speedier networks. Although it's early to say, TV might just be one of them.

Telephia, a San Francisco research firm, said it found that 3 million U.S. wireless subscribers streamed TV or played video content on their mobile devices in the last three months of 2005. Those who gravitated to it the most were subscribers aged 18 to 24 with men more likely to watch than women.

Subscribers of the two main mobile video services available today -- V Cast from Verizon Wireless and MobiTV from Sprint -- spend roughly $40 a month more, or $94 total, than non-TV watchers, who spend an average of $54.

"The revenue stream for mobile TV and video content is very strong and shows upward promise. The combination of price, quality, diversity of content and handsets capable of viewing content will be instrumental in the long-term growth," said Kanishka Agarwal, Telephia's vice president of new products.

Still, the growth is starting from a small base. The 3 million TV subscribers make up only 1.5 percent of the overall market.

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Chinese suitors still covet Onyx

Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:38 PM

Even after its first bid was summarily rejected two months ago, CDC Corp. is still hotly pursuing Bellevue's Onyx Software, this time for an outright acquisition.

Hong Kong-based CDC said today that its CDC Software subsidiary presented a new simplified proposal to Onyx's board. For each share of Onyx, Onyx shareholders would receive cash or a combination of half cash and half CDC shares. CDC valued the Onyx shares at $4.57 each, about a 20 percent premium over recent trading prices.

Showing it also intends to push hard this time around, CDC issued its statement less than 24 hours after sending Onyx its new proposal. CDC said it was disappointed in January, but "has been even more surprised by the lack of interest it has received from Onyx since then." Onyx responded today it had received CDC's unsolicited proposal and its board will evaluate it. The CRM software maker added that it "remains optimistic about its market opportunity and is firmly committed to continue to execute its current growth strategy while evaluating the proposal." Translation: we don't need you; you need us. Yet Onyx could be doing much better if combined with CDC's enterprise software strengths, said CDC Software senior VP Scot McLeod. Wall Street warmed to the idea: Onyx's stock price rose 12 percent to close at $4.48 on today's news.

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Live from "American Idol"

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:27 PM

Bellevue-based InfoSpace said today that it partnered with Cingular Wireless to provide ringtones based on "American Idol" performances hours after they're on TV.

Cingular is the carrier that allows users to vote for their favorite contestants by text message. Starting tomorrow, Live Idol Ringtones will be become available based on tonight's performance.

Typically, ringtones take months to go from recording studio to mobile. In this case, InfoSpace is turning them over in one night. As if that weren't fast enough, Cingular customers can reserve the ringtones the night of and then be sent them the next day when they become available.

"We're pleased to be able to partner with Cingular and Fox to offer 'American Idol' fans virtually immediate gratification," said Stephen Davis, InfoSpace's president of mobile and online media. "This process is not as simple as it may sound. Our content team deals with up to 10 individual files per tone to deliver one Live Idol Ringtone."

InfoSpace will produce the ringtones, which cost $2.50 each, for the rest of the season and for the show's finale in May. For more information on how to download tones, go to the Cingular Web site.

Jim Voelker, InfoSpace's chief executive, said he's wondering what kind of response a popular show like "American Idol" will generate. "I'm excited about tonight," he said.

After all, Cingular predicted at the beginning of the season that its roughly 54 million subscribers were going to vote in record numbers -- topping the 41.5 million text messages recorded in last year's season.

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Hibernation company is wide awake

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:09 PM

At Invest Northwest, the biotech conference ending today in Seattle, company presentations -- especially those after lunch -- can lower the oxygen in a room and slow the audience's metabolism.

Those are some of the effects Seattle startup Ikaria seeks to provoke in trauma patients, whose chance of survival might increase if they needed less oxygen and their metabolism could be slowed. The company created a stir at Invest Northwest on Tuesday afternoon when it described the quick progress it has made in the last year.

Ikaria CEO Dr. Flemming Ornskov said company scientists have repeated the work of Dr. Mark Roth, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist whose technique for inducing temporary hibernation in rodents is the basis of Ikaria's technology. Ikaria has also shown that rodents treated with hydrogen sulfide can survive in an environment that's only 4 percent oxygen, "which would be lethal to any human," Ornskov said. Tests in larger animals have shown similar benefits, he said.

Ikaria leased 6,700 square feet of the 1616 Eastlake Ave. East building in Seattle and is building a custom laboratory on the third floor. It has been using space inside the Accelerator biotech incubator in the same building.

"I think it's a pretty big accomplishment that within eight months since we've started there, we are out of there," Ornskov said in an interview today as he was jetting off to Europe to meet with potential investors. "We've basically opened up a totally new research venue, which is hybernation pharmacology. People are really excited about it."

The company is continuing animal studies this year before seeking permission from the Food and Drug Administration to test the drug in humans. Ornskov expects Ikaria to grow to 20 employees by the end of 2006.

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Vista delayed, now who pays?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:28 PM

Microsoft's decision to postpone the consumer release of Vista until 2007 isn't likely to hurt the company's earnings, but expect some fallout internally.

"Fire the leadership now!" screamed the heading of the Microsoft insider blog Mini-Microsoft. The company may bring in well respected Senior Vice President Steven Sinofsky from Office to shake up the Windows division even sooner than Jim Allchin retires, reports The Wall Street Journal.

While some PC makers played down the delay, one thing seems clear from so much Internet buzz today: Retailers aren't the only ones unhappy about the slip.

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GDC: Sony's not worried about Microsoft

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:21 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Phil Harrison, the president of worldwide studios for Sony Computer Entertainment, unveiled Sony's answer to Microsoft's Xbox Live service this morning at GDC. The service is code-named the PlayStation Network Platform for now, though it's likely to have a more memorable name when it launches with the PlayStation 3 in November.

Harrison held a post-keynote Q&A luncheon for journalists at a nearby hotel. There, I asked him if the PS3's November launch puts Sony at a competitive disadvantage to Microsoft's Xbox 360, which launched in November 2005. Here's his response:

It doesn't put us at a competitive disadvantage at all. Throughout our history, we have never been the first platform to market in what would be considered the generational shift, although I think there's an interesting debate as to where some of our competitors sit on that generational timeline.

Wait a minute. Is Harrison implying that the Xbox 360 isn't exactly a next-generation console? That's what it sounds like to me. He continued:

I think that what you saw clearly today and what you've seen from our previous announcements is that we've had a tremendously powerful piece of hardware backed up with great tools, great technology that developers can use to harness it. What we're now seeing is great creativity, not just in the games side but innovation on the Network Platform and what that will deliver in the consumer experience. Those two together are what will power PlayStation 3 and I have no concerns about the competition.

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GDC: Developers know how to party

Posted by Kim Peterson at 6:37 AM

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Several people at GDC have remarked that more parties than usual are taking place at this year's conference, and I counted at least five last night. Microsoft lured about 100 people - mostly from gaming enthusiast Web sites -- to San Francisco's SupperClub for drinks and dinner. Beds covered in white sheets lined the walls of the club, and people lounged on them playing dozens of Xbox 360s on flat-screen, high-definition televisions. I spoke to Xbox chief Peter Moore and Shane Kim, head of Microsoft Game Studios.

I went back to San Jose to stop by a pirate-themed party held by German publisher CDV in honor of its upcoming game Tortuga. CDV even had a five-member band dressed like pirates. Who knew there were pirate balladeers in San Jose?

Finally I stopped by Autodesk's party at San Jose's Club Glo. The San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk makes the AutoCad drafting software and the 3ds Max video-game animation software. The party featured women in bikinis and feathered headdresses and women on stilts whose outfits were covered in thin glowing lines of light. For the game developers who paid any attention to anything else, there were Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga and Donkey Kong arcade games to play.

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March 21, 2006

Daily dose of Mario

Posted by Kristi Heim at 3:33 PM

Can video games help the brain stay in shape? The Games for Health Project hopes to find out.

Games for Health and Seattle's PopCap Games shared their initial findings at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose today.

Evidence is growing that people who engage in mental aerobics like chess or crosswords, in addition to socializing and doing physical exercise, have a lower incidence of disorders like Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers want to know whether video games can help an aging population and, if so, which ones work best. They point to brain exercise games for Nintendo's DS platform that have become successful in Japan. PopCap is looking into putting puzzle and problem-solving activities into its future games.

With more than 8 million Americans aged 65 and older on the Internet, it could be a whole new market.

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Telecomdex: Where Microsoft, AT&T, Cisco converge

Posted by Brier Dudley at 1:19 PM

LAS VEGAS -- It wasn't quite Comdex, but the TelecomNext conference in Las Vegas this week drew the industry's biggest names and most of its key regulators to the Mandalay Bay convention center.

There were so many suits packed into the keynote session this morning, guards were fretting about violating fire codes.

Locals on stage included Microsoft Entertainment & Devices President Robbie Bach, who announced that Deutsche Telekom will deploy Microsoft's Internet television platform this year, and former AT&T Wireless boss Dan Hesse, now chief executive of Embarq, a new wireline carrier being spun off Sprint.

They appeared after opening remarks from AT&T Chief Executive Ed Whitacre, who talked up his company's pending $67 billion acquisition of BellSouth, saying the merger was good for the industry.

Then Cisco Chief Executive John Chambers compared the rapid evolution of the Internet to Moore's Law, which drove the PC platform's growth. The network is the "most scalable price performance platform since microprocessors," Chambers said, telling executives they need to position their companies for changes coming five to seven years down the road.

Bill Gates made a brief appearance, sort of, during Chambers' keynote. During a demonstration of a photo caller ID system that displayed incoming calls on consumers' television screens, Gates' face popped onto the screen. Chambers and his demonstration assistant opted to ignore the call, drawing chuckles from the crowd.

After Hesse called for regulatory overhaul, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin reiterated his "commitment to a deregulated environment."

Speakers the day before included the bosses of Disney, Verizon, NTT, Time Warner Cable and USTelecom. Over at the airport, executive jets were stacked up like cordwood.

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GDC: The hot 100 developers

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:53 AM

Next Generation has published a list of the 100 most influential game developers in shaping the industry. I think I pulled out all the local folks on the list, which include:

Jason Jones, the co-founder of Microsoft's Bungie Studios:

Starting as a Mac-exclusive developer, his team was put on the map with the Marathon series, games as dear to the Apple zealotry as anything Steve Jobs ever did. In these fantastic games was the seed of Halo, and in Halo Bungie was reborn: as a Microsoft first party, as a console-first developer, and as one of the most influential developers on the face of the planet.

Gabe Newell, founder of Bellevue-based Valve Software:

Newell and Valve, the company he founded, turned from complete unknowns to major players in a single title: 1998's Half-Life, the game that has since been the nigh unachievable height to which most first-person shooter titles now aspire.

Bruce Oberg, founder of Bellevue-based Sucker Punch Productions:

Oberg and his company's fellow co-founders had made names for themselves as part of Microsoft's various product studios. It's rather nicely dramatic then, that the small, independent company Oberg heads has never made games for the Xbox, and they only made one Nintendo 64 game before moving to PS2 and sticking to it. Their loss was Sony's gain: the Sly Cooper series has been one the Playstation's defining franchises, and its mix of stealth, platforming, and widely varying game modes have ensured strong sales into last years Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves.

Mike O'Brien, founder of Bellevue-based ArenaNet:

Mike O'Brien's industry history pegs him as one of the field's great innovators. His extensive time with Blizzard put him at the team lead of Warcraft III, but he also was a primary creator of Battle.Net, the innovative (and no-fee) online gaming system that hooked so many players to Blizzard's RTS offerings.

Samantha Ryan, chief executive of Kirkland-based Monolith Productions:

Ryan has been with Monolith since 1998, after building an international background in broadcast production. Since then, she has helped bring the studio to prominence with production work on a string of unique and entertaining titles such as the No One Lives Forever series.

Brian Soderberg, the co-founder of Zipper Interactive:

Soderburg's history prior to working in the industry runs the gamut of military development firms, but after founding Zipper Interactive in 1995, it took several years making other titles like MechWarrior 3 before returning to the well that military background surely provided. The game was SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals, a series which has since entrenched itself as the premiere on-line military shooting game on Playstation 2.

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GDC: Sony's lead to shrink?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:17 AM

Sony's dominant lead in the video game market will shrink through 2010, according to Brian O'Rourke, a senior analyst following the industry for the In-Stat research firm.

Sony will still be the market leader, however, Rourke said in a report issued Monday. Through 2010, the report said, about 50 percent of the next-generation consoles in homes will be Sony's PlayStation 3. Microsoft's Xbox 360 will capture 29 percent and Nintendo's Revolution will take 21 percent.

I wonder what will become of exclusive games at this point. Sony certainly had strong leverage in inducing developers to make exclusivity deals when it had more of the market. If O'Rourke's forecast holds up, those exclusives could come at more of a cost.

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GDC: More Xbox 360s available

Posted by Kim Peterson at 8:37 AM

Microsoft said this morning that starting this week, it will ship two to three times the number of Xbox 360 consoles to stores every week. With three plants in China's Pearl River Delta up and running, console components are in full production, the company said.

The announcement comes as the Game Developers Conference takes place in San Jose, Calif.

No word on how many consoles the company is talking about or why it took this long to get to full production.

The company also announced new games coming this spring, including:

"Battlefield 2: Modern Combat" and "Burnout Revenge" from Electronic Arts
"The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" from Bethesda Softworks/2K Games
"Final Fantasy XI" from Square Enix
"Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter" from Ubisoft
And finally, the unusual table tennis game from Rockstar Games

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March 20, 2006

Off to GDC

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:34 PM

I'm heading to San Jose for the 2006 Game Developers Conference. It should be a good week of video game news as the industry shifts gears and prepares for the transition to next-generation consoles.

Check here early and often for GDC news. In the meantime, here are some things to chew on:

Superstar Nintendo developer Shigeru Miyamoto in the Guardian:

Any announcement about PS3 will affect Nintendo. But we don't see it as a competition between the two consoles, although the customers always do. It depends on what expectations people have of the PS3 and Revolution. Sony has taken a long time to create their machine but it is obvious that the direction we [Nintendo] are taking is different to the PS3.

Microsoft unveils the XNA tools for developers to make video games.

Joystiq looks inside the GDC bag of schwag.

Mobile carriers say they really need high-quality games.

Gamasutra sends 10 (!) correspondents and has its own GDC page.

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Is iTunes about to catch RealPlayer?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:57 PM

Extrapolated data from Internet marketing firm Web Site Optimization is getting some attention today because it suggests that the number of users of Apple's iTunes player will surpass that of RealNetworks' RealPlayer by midyear.

Using data from Nielsen//NetRatings, the firm forecasts trend lines and guesses that by mid-2006, the number of iTunes and RealPlayer users will be tied at 30 million and the number of Windows Media Player users will hit 80 million. It seems a little unfair to extrapolate iTunes data based on its recent growth patterns -- the service is much newer than the others -- but there seems to be no doubt that RealPlayer growth has been fairly flat over the last two years.

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Classmates Online makes a buy

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:31 PM

Renton-based Classmates Online said today it has spent $10 million in cash to acquire Opobox, a Massachusetts company that runs a social networking service called The Names Database.

Haven't heard of it? That's probably because most of its members are from outside the United States. Classmates said that The Names Database has registered 20 million members, but only 50,000 are paid subscribers and the service won't even generate $1 million in revenue this year.

Classmates Online, owned by the Woodland Hills, Calif.-based United Online, runs a Web site that aims to connect old acquaintances from school, work and the military. The Names Database has a similar mission, and gives expanded access to members for a monthly fee ranging from 50 cents to $1.

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Microsoft and the iPod killer

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:08 PM

There's been lots of talk on a new device Microsoft is cooking up that might compete with Apple's iPod. The San Jose Mercury News details one effort within Microsoft's entertainment division to produce a handheld player for games, music and video.

The company is using some Xbox veterans, including executive J Allard, for the project, according to the report. There aren't many other new details, and the article doesn't address what might be the most difficult hurdle for Microsoft in developing such a device: Partner up or go it alone?

Some in the industry suggest that a true iPod killer will not come from the business model where one company makes the software and mashes it with other companies' hardware. So does Microsoft get into the hardware business so that it can control every aspect of production? Or does it try once again to find a hardware partner that can make some headway into Apple's territory?

The competition is squarely in the go-it-alone camp. Apple obviously owns the device, the software (iTunes) and the retail aspect (the iTunes music store). It smartly partners with other companies that make iPod accessories, creating a universe of iPod gear. Sony owns the device (the PSP, among others) and is expected to better align the software and retail aspects with the upcoming PlayStation 3. See my story today for more on what the PS3 means for Sony.

Microsoft employee Omar Shahine gives his take on the situation on his blog: "Even though we have a great ecosystem for music stores etc, the reality is that our OEM partners are never ever going to create a product like the iPod."

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Maybe Negroponte and Gates are both wrong

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:19 PM

Or at least only half right. A new voice weighing in to the debate over how to bring technology to the developing world says mobile phones are a better fit than computers.

Over the past decade, the digital divide has grown wider with computers, but narrowed when it comes to mobile phones, said Philip Howard, assistant professor of communications at the University of Washington. He directed a team of 30 students who crunched 10 years of World Bank data to understand how the developing world uses (or lacks) technology. Here's the whole study.

While the use of computers is concentrated in rich, developed countries, the infrastructure and policies of the developing world are better suited for mobile phones. And people from Lagos to Jakarta are embracing mobile technology.

That begs a question: should we build a computer that links people, as MIT is doing with Google's support, or a mobile phone that computes, as Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has suggested?

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but think I come down on the Microsoft camp," Howard said.

That is, with one caveat: he thinks the mobile devices should be Linux based.

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Amazon tweaks search engine

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:53 AM changed its search engine last week, the New York Times reports, after discovering that it responded to searches for the word "abortion" with the question, "Did you mean adoption?"

According to the report, a spokeswoman said the response was partly a result of the way Amazon's system looks at past customer behavior and partly because of its spelling correction software. Apparently "abortion" and "adoption" share so many letters that it confused the spell-check mechanisms. That's a big oops.

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One "H" stands for high-tech

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:15 AM

The Jefferson County 4-H organization near Port Townsend has a new Podcast Video Blogging Club where members can post information from their most recent endeavors.

The blog, called 4-H News at, produced video coverage of the 2006 American Red Cross Olympic Peninsula Chapter disaster training exercise held last week at Washington State University Extension in Port Hadlock.

Daniel Bryant, a 4-H News reporter, interviewed David Stanko, the Red Cross Olympic Peninsula's chapter spokesman, about the drill that simulated emergency response if there was a massive fire that burned down 50 homes in the nearby community of Irondale.

The 13-year-old correspondent then edited the coverage using an Apple Computer program and published the three-minute piece on YouTube, a free video sharing Web community.

The club lists technology, animal husbandry, home arts, expressive arts, leadership, nature and sports as their current projects.

Who knew one of the 4-H's stood for high-tech?

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From Mix06: Expect more frequent IE updates

Posted by Brier Dudley at 10:52 AM

LAS VEGAS -- Internet Explorer 7 is just the beginning (see post below). Speaking at Microsoft's new Mix06 Web development conference, Bill Gates said this morning that the company will be upgrading its browser more frequently, rather than syncing browser releases to new versions of Windows.

Gates and Dean Hachamovitch, IEr general manager, said it was a mistake to wait so long to refresh the browser.
"We messed up," Hachamovitch said.

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Latest version of Internet Explorer

Posted by Brier Dudley at 7:50 AM

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft today is releasing the latest build of Internet Explorer 7, the new browser that will ship with Windows Vista and be available as a free download for Windows XP later this year.

Among the improvements are improved RSS support, better security and support for cascading style sheets.

Discs with the software were distributed to Web developers and others attending the company's Mix06 conference starting today in Las Vegas. Everyone else can download the software from Microsoft's Web site.

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March 17, 2006

Nosing up again

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:29 PM

After Nastech Pharmaceutical lost a big-name partner at the beginning of the month, analysts at Needham & Co., dropped their rating on the stock.

Since then, the Bothell company has generated enough positive news to convince the analysts to restore their "buy" rating Friday. Investors followed suit, trading the stock up $1.64, 10.4 percent, to close at $17.41.

This week, Nastech marched out a new partnership with Novo Nordisk, promising early results of its RNA interference therapy candidates against flu and fourth-quarter and full-year results slightly ahead of analyst expectations.

Nastech is developing drugs formulated for nasal delivery to treat obesity, osteoporosis and other indications.

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Surveillance: the results are mixed

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:09 PM

Where do Americans stand on surveillance? That depends on which kind. A study this month by the Ponemon Institute found that some forms of surveillance were acceptable to Americans, while others produced strong negative reactions. For example, people were most concerned about telephone wiretaps, Internet spyware, item-level RFID tags and computer chip implants. But fewer people opposed employers monitoring email, hidden traffic cameras, selective airport screening and cameras in store dressing rooms. About 900 people around the country were polled in the telephone survey.

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Qwest for sale?

Posted by Brier Dudley at 2:00 PM

Qwest shares jumped Thursday on speculation that the company could be the next phone company caught in merger mania, according to a Wall Street Journal story today.
One theory is that Verizon could buy Qwest as a response to the AT&T-Bell South merger. It's unclear what that would mean for investors, but a Verizon-Qwest deal could give Seattle area residents a chance to get Verizon's Fios Internet and television services.

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March 16, 2006

Bill's MIT barbs

Posted by Brier Dudley at 1:59 PM

Bill Gates may have burned up some of his goodwill at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he helped pay for a computer science building that bears his name.

On Wednesday Gates mocked the $100 laptop that MIT is creating for developing countries, according to a Reuters report. The laptop project, which has backing from Google and Red Hat, calls for machines with small screens and a crank to generate their own power. The machines are intended to be shared by numerous users, in a village, for instance.

"If you are going to go have people share the computer, get a broadband connection and have somebody there who can help support the user, geez, get a decent computer where you can actually read the text and you're not sitting there cranking the thing while you're trying to type," Gates said at a Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in the Washington, D.C. area.

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Asking the question: Why not buy Speakeasy et al.?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:49 PM

Speakeasy, the Seattle DSL provider that started out as an Internet cafe here, is not quite for sale, but some see as it as an attractive acquisition candidate.

Om Malik, senior writer at Business 2.0, pondered today in his blog why EarthLink doesn't just buy Speakeasy to get more agressive about being a prominent DSL provider. He paired the thought with today's announcement by EarthLink that it will roll out voice over IP in eight more cities in conjunction with Covad. As part of the deal, EarthLink said it will also make a $50 million investment in Covad.

The new markets are: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Diego and Washington, D.C. EarthLink already provides DSL and phone service in Dallas, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle.

Malik asked why EarthLink was making investments, and why not just buy Covad? "And while they are at it, why not just scoop up some of the smaller DSL players. Like Speakeasy," he said.

Last time we spoke to Speakeasy in July, Chief Executive Bruce Chatterley said it had increased the number of business users to 14,000, had raised $27 million in venture capital, had 228 employees and moved into 25,000 square feet of office space, and expected to ring in about $100 million next year.

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March 15, 2006

The third man

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:04 AM

When choosing broadband Internet access for the home, you're lucky if you have both DSL and cable as options.

But there soon may a third option developing, according to ABI Research.

In 2005, the researcher said only about 1,500 square miles worldwide would be covered by Wi-Fi. Now, it's predicting that by 2010, that figure will increase to 126,000 square miles -- an area slightly larger than Poland, or New Mexico. The bulk is expected to be deployed in North America and the Asia-Pacific region, the research group said.

ABI said four significant trends are leading these roll-outs:
-- Local governments want to deploy municipal broadband networks.
-- Internet service providers see it as a way to compete with other service providers.
-- Wireless is a cost-effective means of providing broadband access to underserved areas.
-- Wireless can serve as a tool for cable operators.

What technology these deployments will use is still up in the air, the group found. It is unknown how the developing WiMax standard will be accepted.

A summary of the report can be found here.

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March 14, 2006

Defending Google

Posted by Kristi Heim at 7:39 PM

A top lawyer defending Google against the U.S. government's demand for data also turns out to be one of Seattle's top legal minds, Perkins Coie partner Albert Gidari.

Gidari has had one of the more interesting legal careers, starting out as a trial lawyer in the U.S. Marines and eventually becoming the Seattle firm's first "entrepreneur in residence," advising Internet start-ups on both legal and business issues. His client list reads like a who's who of the tech scene, from Nintendo and Microsoft to Getty Images, Cingular, T-Mobile and InfoSpace.

An expert on data privacy and security, he co-founded the Internet Law and Policy Forum.

Gidari maintained that the government's demand is unnecessary, since it could get virtually the same information from publicly available Internet sources. Here's how readers reacted to the initial news.

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PS3 launch delay looking likely

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:12 PM

Are they breaking out the champagne over at Xbox HQ today? Japanese newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun is reporting in its Wednesday morning edition that Sony will delay releasing the PlayStation 3 console until November. The delay is related to problems with the copy protection technology for the Blu-Ray video disc player in the console, the report said.

Sony had been promising a spring launch and isn't officially responding to the newspaper report. Expect more details late tonight or tomorrow morning, after Sony Computer Entertainment chief Ken Kutaragi speaks to a group of media, analysts and developers.

Lots of issues in the air at this point, if the Nikkei is correct. Would a November launch mean just in Japan, or would Sony attempt a multi-regional launch as Microsoft did with the Xbox 360? Microsoft ran into serious supply issues, brought on in part by the ambitious multi-region launch. Can Sony afford to give Microsoft two full holiday seasons? And speaking of afford, how much is this thing going to cost?

Sony will be explaining itself next week in San Jose at the Game Developers Conference. Phil Harrison, the worldwide studios president for Sony Computer Entertainment, is scheduled to give a keynote address March 22.

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Musical chairs at Microvision

Posted by Kristi Heim at 3:50 PM

Another director resigned from Microvision's board today. Claudio Ruben cited personal reasons for stepping down, but the move was still a surprise and disappointment for the company, which had lost two other board members earlier this month.

Ruben's departure follows those of board chairman Walter Lack and director Jacqueline Brandwynne. Microvision CEO Alexander Tokman said the company plans to name new board members soon.

The company makes wearable projectors that superimpose images onto a user's retina, allowing people to view maps and other data while performing tasks. Promising as it is, the technology hasn't yet projected a way out of more than $200 million in cumulative losses.

Update: Microvision announced a new director joining its board today: Marc Onetto, vice president of worldwide operations for Solectron, a global electronics contract manufacturer. Solectron, based in Silicon Valley, makes parts for tech heavyweights like IBM and Cisco. The choice of Onetto no doubt reflects Microvision's desire to find hardware partners to help commercialize technologies like a handheld personal projector aimed at consumers.

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More Origami Project

Posted by Brier Dudley at 2:02 PM

Still want to learn more about Microsoft's Origami Project portable computers? They'll be discussed on KUOW 94.9's "The Works" show tonight at 8 p.m. The show is available as a podcast, for those who want to hear old media reporters in a new media format.

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Freedom tunes

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:41 PM

France is pushing through a law that would force Apple Computer to let consumers download songs from iTunes and store them on devices other than the popular iPod player, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Those other devices could include cellphones. If users have bought a substantial amount of their music collection from iTunes, they are limited to two phones to play those songs -- the Motorola Rokr and Slvr.

It's no wonder that music on cellphones have not been too popular to date. Although most mid-market to high-end cellphones come with MP3 players these days, songs from iTunes won't play on them.

According to the article, under a draft law expected to be voted on in the French parliament Thursday, consumers would be able to legally use software that converts digital content into any format. It would no longer be illegal to crack the codes that protect music, films and other content if it is done to enable the conversion from one format to another, said Christian Vanneste, a senior parliamentarian.

"It will force some proprietary systems to be opened up. ... You have to be able to download content and play it on any device," Vanneste said.

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The new cybercrime mafia

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:20 AM

U.S. businesses say cybercrime is now costing them more than physical crime, according to a new survey out today from IBM.

The 600 information technology managers surveyed blamed tech-savvy organized criminal groups, but they also thought that many threats to corporate security are coming from insiders. Companies are losing substantial revenue, customers and employee productivity to cybercrime, and they expect help from law enforcement.

Consumers are also increasingly the targets of sophisticated phishing schemes to steal personal data, but the surveys found that most consumers did not hold law enforcement responsible for protecting them from cybercrime.

Maybe they should. Seattle, the 23rd most populous U.S. city, was ranked 17th by the number of identity theft victims on a per capita basis, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Washington, the 15th most populous state, was the eighth most targed by cybercrime with more than 5,600 ID theft victims in 2004.

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Embarqing on a new business

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:46 AM

Washington state regulators today approved Sprint Nextel's request to spin-off its local wireline phone business into a separate company, known as Embarq.

Sprint provides local phone service to about 7.4 million lines in 18 states. In Washington, Sprint serves about 60,000 residential and business customers in Hood Canal, Port Angeles, Quilcene, Brinnon and Poulsbo areas of Western Washington and many communities in south central Washington, including Stevenson, Goldendale, Granger, Sunnyside, White Swan, Mattawa, Grandview, Prosser, Toppenish, Wapato and Zillah.

The state regulators said existing Washington customers of Sprint Nextel will not experience any service changes or price increases when the local phone service separates and becomes Embarq. The name change should be complete by June.

Embarq, based in Overland Park, Kan., will be led by Dan Hesse, who used to be chief executive of Terabeam, the Kirkland-based broadband wireless provider that attracted huge investments by shooting data through the air using lasers. Early last year, he sold the company to Falls Church, Va.-based YDI. Before that, he spent three years as chief executive at Redmond-based AT&T Wireless and 20 years at AT&T
Hesse said in a Q&A with us last year that he will spearhead an effort to make what's become Embarq more attractive to consumers as wireless, cable and other industries compete to offer the same services. Here are his thoughts from that interview.

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Broadband penetration hits 68 percent

Posted by Kim Peterson at 8:25 AM

The number of people using high-speed Internet from home in the U.S. jumped 28 percent in the past year, from 74.3 million in February 2005 to 95.5 million in February 2006, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

That's consistent with annual growth of at least 10 percent for the past three years. In February, that meant that 68 percent of active Internet users were on broadband. Overall, 74 percent of the U.S. population has access to the Internet at home.

Nielsen also said that a number of video sites, including MSN Video, are seeing some impressive growth as those high-speed connections allow people to watch more streaming video online.

MSN Video grew 44 percent in a year to receive 9.3 million unique visitors in February. YouTube was fairly unknown a year ago, but now it's getting nearly MSN-level traffic, with 9 million visitors that month. Google Video also went from hardly any usage to 6.2 million visitors. iFilm grew 102 percent to 4.3 million users and Yahoo!'s video search grew 148 percent to 3.8 million.

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Getting your voice mail online

Posted by Kim Peterson at 8:14 AM

Kirkland-based GotVoice said today it's launching a free service that lets people access voice mail from their home phone and cellphone online. Through a personal GotVoice Web site, a user can listen to, forward and organize voice mail messages.

The free version limits users to checking their voice mail three times a day for each phone. You'll have to pay a subscription fee to be able to check as many as 24 times a day.

Comcast says it's working on a similar feature for its VoIP service, which launched in Washington in the last year. But that would only be for the digital home phone line that Comcast controls. GotVoice says it can access multiple lines, including analog lines, because of voice recognition software that can bridge traditional phone and the Internet.

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March 13, 2006

Being in control online

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:00 PM

Microsoft said today it will integrate free parental controls into its Windows Live online service in a program called Windows Live Family Safety Settings.

The service is scheduled to start this summer and roll out over the year. It's expected to eventually include content filtering for Web sites, online activity reports and control over permissible contacts in the Windows Live e-mail, messenger and blogging features. Previously, Microsoft offered parental controls in its MSN Premium service at a monthly cost of $10.

Note that Microsoft isn't using the term "parental controls" for its service, and that's intentional, according to Alan Packer, a product manager working on the service.

"Everyone knows what parental controls means, but no one likes the term," he said. "Customers would say, 'I don't want to control my kid, block them or spy on them.' "

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Winer winds down

Posted by Brier Dudley at 3:40 PM

The news was lost in the hubbub of a billion blogs, but Web historians may record it as a turning point: Blog pioneer Dave Winer announced today that he's hanging up his keyboard.

Winer's software largely created the medium in the 1990s and his Scripting News is the Internet's longest-running blog. But today's entry says he'll stop blogging later this year. He said he's accomplished his goals of making it easier for individuals to create chronological Web sites, decentralizing the news and making "the Internet be the platform instead of Microsoft and Apple."

In 2004 he moved to Seattle for a short time to organize bloggers, but he's now based in Berkeley, Calif.

"Blogging doesn't need me anymore. It'll go on just as well, maybe even better, with some new space opened up for some new things," Winer wrote. "But more important to me, there will be new space for me. Blogging not only takes a lot of time (which I don't begrudge it, I love writing) but it also limits what I can do, because it's made me a public figure. I want some privacy, I want to matter less, so I can retool, and matter more, in different ways. What those ways are, however, are things I won't be talking about here. That's the point. That's the big reason why."

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Guiding the trek from PC to wireless device

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:13 PM

A new company started by a veteran of Microsoft and Blue Nile wants to make it cheaper and easier to get music and art for your mobile phone. Phone Sherpa converts audio and image files that people already own into custom ringtones, screen savers and wall paper for mobile phones. Phone Sherpa is the brainchild of Grady Leno, who spent nine years at Microsoft working on Tablet PC and Visual Studio, and later joined Blue Nile as its first employee.

His new Web-based service lets people take a song or picture stored on their computer and send it wirelessly to their mobile phone for as little as 80 cents, less than the $2.50 many wireless carriers charge. To get that rate you have to buy 25 file transfers for $20. The one-time fee is about $2. The sweet spot for Phone Sherpa might be its work with music sites. Leno is marketing his technology so that custom ringtones can be sold to people at the same time they purchase a song for download.

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It's an unwired world, after all

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:44 PM

Chief executives from 80 wireless startups will present their business plans at the Wireless Ventures Conference being hosted by Dow Jones VentureWire in San Jose, Calif., on May 3.

The companies to be in attendence are focused on mobile software, consumer and enterprise applications and services, silicon solutions, WLAN and wide area technologies, and monitoring and security technologies. Local companies include Blue Frog Mobile, M:Metrics, Telecom Transport Management, TextPayMe and GoGoMo.

Also in attendence will be four keynote speakers, including Pieter Knook, Microsoft's senior vice president of mobile and embedded devices. Other executives speaking are from Walt Disney Group, MTV Networks and Motorola.
For more information go here.

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Bonus flight

Posted by Monica Soto at 11:35 AM's CEO just saw his annual pay soar, according to regulatory filings.

The company's board of directors voted to increase Dhara Khosrowshahi's annual pay from $550,000 to $1 million, effective Feb. 13.

Khosrowshahi is also eligible for an unspecified cash bonus, plus 800,000 restricted stock units - both of which are tied to the company's performance, according to the compensation plan filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Khosrowshahi has work to do - the online travel-booking site's stock is down 22.6 percent since it spun off from parent InterActiveCorp last August.

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Microsoft unveils

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:32 AM

The Microsoft site apparently moved out of mystery mode over the weekend, and today it has a video tour of Seattle's KEXP radio station.

The site has a note from the team behind it:

"Every weekday at 10:00 am (PST) we'll update this site with a new video that highlights people, their passions and often the technology they are using. At the end of each week we compile these videos into a full length show with some extra surprises for you.

In addition to the show, we're launching a number of blogs for the enthusiast covering a wide range of topics. Our blogs will be written by Microsoft employees, members of the 10 community or a mixture of both."

Right now there are two blogs: One about the show and one that promises to "explore, inform, debate and discuss the many issues and opportunities surrounding the adoption and implementation of the latest information technology solutions in healthcare." Oookayyyyy ...

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Amazon, are you paying attention?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 7:07 AM

Google is selling books online for its partners, according to its Book Search beta page:

"The Google Books Partner Program is developing tools for publishers to experiment with new and innovative ways to increase book revenue. The first of these tools allows you to sell online access to your book. Once you set a price for your book, users who discover it through Google Book Search will be able to pay for access to its full contents. The book will only be available to the user once they've signed in with their personal account, and will only be available through their browser. Users will not be able to save a copy on their computer nor copy pages from the book."

Google says that soon, it will let users pay for immediate access to books right from the browser. At first glance, it seems the company is getting into online retail.

Here's Publishers Weekly's take on it.

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March 10, 2006

Money flowing like wine

Posted by Kristi Heim at 6:39 PM

Six angel investor organizations attracted a standing-room only crowd of more than 150 people at Thursday night's MIT Venture Lab. All of them reported a surge in activity recently. Their conclusion: "This is a great time as an entrepreneur to be fundraising," said Edward Hansen, program manager of the Alliance of Angels.

"The faucets of capital have turned back on," said Steve Johnson, who chairs Venture Lab as part of MIT Enterprise Forum's Northwest chapter. Budding entrepreneurs worked the room and anxiously took notes on presentation strategies. The other angel groups were the Keiretsu Forum, Puget Sound Venture Club, Seraph Capital Forum, the Washington Technology Center (WTC) Angel Network and Zino Society.

The Zino Society, which blends angel investing and wine appreciation, counts at least one famous executive among its members: former Boeing CEO Phil Condit.

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Google's new digs

Posted by Kristi Heim at 6:33 PM

Google is taking up a new home at the "Center of the Universe," as Fremont is affectionately known, and its first invitation will be a toast with new neighbors at the pub across the street, said Fremont property owner Suzie Burke. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer first reported the plans this morning.

The Fremont digs at 501 N. 34th St. are across from the Red Door Alehouse. In fact, they are so close that previous tenant CapitalStream once joked they should build a walkway directly into the bar.

"I think they're going to love being there and we're going to love having them," said Burke, president of Fremont Dock Co., which owns the land and 30 acres around it. Burke said the move-in date for Google, which already has Puget Sound offices in Kirkland, is unknown.

The 15,000-square-foot space, along the Lake Washington Ship Canal, is the entire third floor of the four-story building developed by Quadrant. Other tenants include Adobe Systems, Impinj and Getty Images.

Not bad for a former lumber mill town.

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Origami buzz dissection

Posted by Brier Dudley at 4:29 PM

Microsoft was being crafty, but not that crafty, when it hyped the "Origami Project."

It turns out the company did not leak the video that supercharged speculation about the device, according to Dustin Hubbard, the Microsoft Mobile PC manager who describes himself as the "primary driver" behind the buzz campaign.

"I can guarantee you that the discovery of the Origami video created by Digital Kitchen was completely unexpected,'' he wrote in a team blog posting Thursday. "No one at Microsoft even knew that video was publicly available until someone posted it after finding it by doing an Internet search."

Hubbard said he and the team decided in December to do a "buzz/viral campaign" to draw attention to the March 9 presentation of the handheld PCs they were developing.

"Overall, the campaign was successful beyond our wildest expectations and frankly maybe a little too successful,'' he wrote.

Hubbard's post was highlighted by Microsoft point blogger Robert Scoble, whose former job was evangelizing the Origami's big brother, the Tablet PC.

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Amazon goes to the movies

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:14 PM

Amazon is exploring the movie downloading business, The New York Times reports, and is talking with three studios about a service that would let customers download movies and burn them onto a DVD.

Meanwhile, folks from Moviebeam stopped by my office today to talk about their service, which allows users to rent from a rotating set of 100 movies stored on a set-top box. Moviebeam uses public broadcasting TV signals to load movies into the set-top box, a system which was developed in part using technology from Kent-based Dotcast. The service runs on Microsoft's Windows Media platform.

Carl Crabill, MovieBeam's vice president for sales and marketing, said the company later this year will integrate wireless Internet access into the box so that customers can download movies from a large library of older titles. Personal computers will be able to do this as well, and down the road that will likely mean making the movies playable on portable media players.

After years of basically no progress, this field is now moving along very quickly.

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Microsoft-on-Microsoft violence

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:57 PM

Larry Cohen, the general manager of corporate communications for Microsoft, said at a panel discussion this morning that it's generally a bad idea for CEOs to blog if they aren't the ones actually writing the postings. The so-called blogosphere can quickly sense if someone's blog is authentic, he said.

But there are literally thousands of Microsoft employees who can and do blog, and Cohen described how Microsoft came up with a set of generally accepted blogging principles for them. Cohen also mentioned the term he invented for when perhaps Microsoft's most well-known blogger, Robert Scoble, is critical of the company's products: "Microsoft-on-Microsoft violence."

I can see that phrase entering the tech lexicon soon.

The panel was part of a seminar hosted by the Puget Sound chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. I spoke at a separate media panel with other reporter/bloggers.

Update: I changed this post after talking to Larry Cohen this afternoon, who wanted to clarify something. He said if Bill Gates were to blog, the important thing is that he do it himself and not have anyone else at Microsoft do it for him. In fact, he said he would actively encourage Gates to do so. If other CEOs decided to blog they should consider a similarly unfiltered communication style, he said.

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March 9, 2006

Bill Gates: 50 at 50

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 7:23 PM

The Forbes annual list of the world's billionaires is out, and it's the same-old, same-old -- at least at the top.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates ranked No. 1 -- the 12th straight year, says Forbes -- with an estimated worth of $50 billion for the 50-year-old.

Other Seattle-area tech moneybags on the list include Paul Allen (No. 6, $22 billion), Steve Ballmer (24, $13.6 billion), Jeff Bezos (147, $4.3 billion) and Craig McCaw (365, $2.1 billion).

Among other high-ranking tech luminaries iare Dell founder Michael Dell (12, $17.1 billion), Oracle CEO Larry Ellison (15, $16 billion) and Google founders Sergey Brin (26, $12.9 billion) and Larry Page (27, $12.8 billion).

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Google, Writely and Microsoft

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:19 PM

Google and Writely: The match made in hell for Microsoft? That's what you would think with some of the reaction today after news emerged that Google bought the Web-based word processor developer. Consider:

Google lays foundations for Office rival - ZDNet UK
Is Writely the end of Word? - Apple Matters
Writely + Google = Death to MS Office? - TechRepublic Blog

Writely's beta is closed to new users so it's hard to make a direct comparison, but from what I can tell it doesn't seem like Microsoft has too much to worry about just yet. Writely seems to do some nice things with allowing online user collaboration (see its demo here), but Stephen Manes took the program for a spin for Forbes and came up with some pretty significant drawbacks. You have to rely on the browser to print (and browser printing can leave much to be desired), Manes said, and you can't work on Writely offline.

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Rich one

Posted by Brier Dudley at 3:00 PM

Leaked information about Microsoft's pay scale drew plenty of riffs on Slashdot. The best so far: "Bill Gates obviously thinks 64k should be enough for anybody."

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Phones do more than ring

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:56 PM

One of the biggest cliches at last year's CTIA wireless trade show was to say a company was the "" of the wireless industry. Now the idea seems to be taking off.

Rabble, owned by San Diego-based Intercasting, today announced that its social networking and blogging application is available on Cingular Wireless.

The local connection?

Intercasting's founder, Chairman and CEO Shawn Conahan, was previously the president of Moviso, a company that was one of the largest ringtone providers in North America and was gobbled up by Bellevue-based InfoSpace in 2003.

Conahan is described as a "mobile technology evangelist, a media anarchist, information populist and communication capitalist." Check out his thoughts and more information on the Cingular deal at the company's blog.

At the site, you'll even see his most recent thoughts on InfoSpace, which he believes has a bright future. Commenting on an interview with InfoSpace CEO Jim Voelker, he said: "He clearly outlined where InfoSpace is going, which is good because one of my constructive criticisms in the past was that people just don't know how to describe this company at cocktail parties."

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Cell Therapeutics pares annual loss to $102 million

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:36 AM

Cell Therapeutics shares were up 3 percent in midday trading after the company reported its fourth-quarter and full-year results.

The Seattle biotechnology company lost $18.7 million in the fourth quarter, or 27 cents a share, down from $43.5 million in the same period last year. For the year, the company recorded a loss of $102.5 million, $1.59 a share, down from $252.3 million, $4.67 a share, in 2004.

Cell Therapeutics booked a $71.2 million gain from the sale of Trisenox in 2005, including $40.7 million in the fourth quarter. The company sold the leukemia drug, its only approved product, to Cephalon last summer.

The company had $69.1 million in cash and equivalents on Dec. 31 and spent $73.8 million on operations in 2005, including a $12.8 million restructuring charge.

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March 8, 2006

At the WSA awards show: Envelopes, please

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:30 PM

Tableau Software was named "most promising new company" tonight at the WSA's Industry Achievement Awards. Tableau, a data analysis company in Seattle, also won the award for most promising new technology for its VizQL database language.

Other winners included:

Consumer product of the year - Bellevue-based Intelius for IDWatch, an identity-theft protection service.

Business product of the year - Seattle-based DatStat for its Illume online survey software.

Entertainment product of the year - Seattle-based PopCap Games for the Web-based game Chuzzle.

Service provider of the year - Redmond-based Concur Technologies, whose Expense Service product aims to automate the employee expense reporting.

Technology for the greater good - Seattle-based NPower, a network of non-profits that give technology help to other non-profits

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At the WSA awards show: Ode to the BlackBerry

Posted by Kristi Heim at 7:52 PM

Emcee Dave Ross, the KIRO talk show host and unsuccessful candidate for a congressional seat in 2004: "I have no future political plans at this time."

Ross said he loves the software industry. "You create the technology that makes anything possible and then sell the solution to stop it," he told the audience.

He then sang an ode to BlackBerry: "God knows why my BlackBerry froze and nobody's hosed like me."

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At the WSA awards show: Software rocks

Posted by Kristi Heim at 7:35 PM

Software is hot again. At least that's the feeling in the air tonight at the WSA Industry Achievement Awards. More than 500 people turned up, and deals were the hot topic buzzing through conversations at the cocktail reception.

"It's crackling," said Ed Flinchem, vice president of Melodeo, a nominee for consumer product of the year award for its Mobilcast mobile phone podcasting technology. Melodeo's most popular podcast might be called a soapcast -- a one-minute summary of ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

Among the luminaries at the event was RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser, the night's keynote speaker. He was looking all business in a black jacket and red tie.

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Game ambitions come in giant bites

Posted by Kim Peterson at 7:30 PM

Add one more video game developer to the list in Puget Sound. And this one is jumping right into the high-stakes business of next-generation games.

Giant Bite Games opened for business in Pioneer Square today and plans to create video games for next-generation console systems and for Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system. The studio's four founders, all in their 30s, are the only employees for now, but they plan to hire more people as they ramp up development.

Two of the four founders worked on the "Halo" and "Halo 2" games for Microsoft's Xbox. Another was managing gaming-related tools for Windows Vista. The fourth was the technical art director at Zipper Interactive, the Redmond studio that created the "Socom" games and was acquired by Sony in January.

The studio has one game under way, but co-founder Hamilton Chu wouldn't say much about it. I asked him where the name Giant Bite came from and he said it indicates that the studio is ambitious.

"It has notations of aspiration," said Chu, 32. "I like to say, 'One small bite for man, one giant bite for mankind.' I don't know what that means, but it kind of works."

Look for a story on Giant Bite in tomorrow's paper.

Update: According to this job posting, Giant Bite appears to be working on a science fiction action game and is moving from a conceptual design to a visual design.

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Fresh NW powder

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:55 PM

Polaris Venture Partners, with offices in Seattle and Waltham, Mass., said today that it has raised a $1 billion venture capital fund to invest into technology companies.

The fund, the company's fifth, is considered large by today's standards after the past few years in which venture capital firms gave money back to investors as it became difficult to invest in a limited time period.

But Polaris has many interests and is not limiting itself to any specific lifecycle stage or technology. Polaris says it invests in life sciences, digital media, information technology, e-commerce, communications, energy and consumer products and services. It also invests in companies from seed stage to maturity, which includes minority growth investments, recapitalization with liquidity and leveraged buyouts.

With the closing of the fund, Polaris also announced appointments of four new general partners: Bob Geiman, Bryce Youngren, Peter Flint and Simeon Simeonov. Existing partners include Alan Spoon, David Barrett, Brian Chee (in Seattle), John Gannon, Mike Hirshland and Bob Metcalfe.

Local Polaris investments include: Archus Orthopedics, Botanical Laboratories, Cardiac Dimensions, Esurg, Free & Clear, Impinj, MessageGate, Noetix and Syncronex.

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Jerry Yang on Microsoft

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:38 PM

Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang spoke today at the Thomas Weisel Partners Investment Conference. He had a few things to say about Microsoft as well, according to a transcript of the event.

On search competition in China: "Make no mistake, I think that Microsoft is investing heavily in China. And they, they are not in the market today yet, but I think they will be very soon."

On Yahoo!'s advantages over U.S. competitors: "I think if you look at where Yahoo! has its strength is that we don't have some of the encumbrances of the legacy of say an AOL or a Microsoft and that's been something that we've been meaning and continually trying to exploit over time. And people kind of say, 'Well, what does that mean?' Well, I think we've always had this vision that Yahoo! can put the user in the middle and then develop services around them."

On opportunities for Microsoft: "I think the companies have been pretty open about what our strategies are and I think we've always held the belief as far as the advertiser side goes, and advertiser does not want to see a one-player market, meaning that there is only one place to go to buy advertising from. And to most extent, most advertisers don't even want to see two. So I think that the market will support three or however many networks out there that decide to get into this game."

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More on that Google comment

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:17 AM

I talked with Christopher Payne, the corporate vice president for MSN Search, yesterday for the story on Windows Live Search, the search engine being tested at Microsoft on its site.

I asked him about last week's comments from Neil Holloway, a Microsoft Europe exec, who said Microsoft would be better than Google in six months.

"I was probably more surprised by Neil's comments than you were," Payne said. "We want to gain market share. I don't think that it is wise or appropriate to put a time frame on it."

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March 7, 2006

Another mystery Microsoft site

Posted by Kim Peterson at 6:00 PM

The mysterious Microsoft projects aimed at ramping up buzz are starting to get tiring. But I can't help linking to one more,, after Seattle blogger Chris Pirillo mentioned it.

There are only two movies on the site right now, including one showing two women walking while holding a cutout of Bill Gates.

This site gives no clue about its origins, but looking in the RSS feed shows that the movies are coming from, Microsoft's download center.

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Nastech adds office, lab space

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 5:17 PM

Nastech Pharmaceutical is expanding into new space adjacent to its Bothell headquarters, according to a regulatory filing today.

The move into 27,322-square-feet of office and laboratory space brings the company's total footprint to 78,322, an increase of more than 53 percent. The company signed a 10-year lease and will pay monthly rent starting at $37,458.84 to Ditty Properties. Nastech also has first dibs on other space in the building at 3830 Monte Villa Parkway.

Nastech's stock gained 25 cents, 1.7 percent, to close at $14.75 today, which is up slightly from where it's been since Merck bowed out of a partnership to develop an obesity drug last week.

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What MSN Search is announcing

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:09 PM

Microsoft announced today a number of changes to the way people can use Web search, and it plans to add the changes in test form to its page by the end of the day. Here's a quick rundown:

-- Cleaner, sparser look. The search categories (Web, desktop, news, etc.) are now in tabs at the top of the Web page instead of right above the search box.

-- See the results without clicking on them. Hovering over a result will show a snapshot of it in a separate window. The problem, though, is that it doesn't automatically show what you searched for in that snapshot. You have to type your query again in a drop-down box to find the relevant part of the page.

-- Customize the number of results you see on a page. Fewer results means they'll appear bigger and be easier to read.

-- Capping the results at 250, because no one wants to go through 2.4 million results. But the 250 that Microsoft shows had better be the most relevant possible, and there are still questions about how well the search engine hits the mark in terms of relevancy.

-- There's also a new toolbar using technology from Onfolio, a Cambridge, Mass. company Microsoft has acquired. Onfolio has a product tour on its Web site that shows more; basically, it can collect things you see online and store them, publish them to a blog or send them in an e-mail.

One analyst I talked to said this probably won't do a whole lot in terms of moving the market share needle. But Microsoft is trying to differentiate its search engine from Google and others.

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As high as an elephant's eye

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:26 PM

Eden Biosciences saw its stock grow like pumped-up corn after it announced data from a study of its protein supplement, ProAct.

Shares were up 19.2 percent, or 14 cents, to close at 87 cents in heavy trading today.

The Bothell company said ProAct, a protein product applied to crops at the same time as herbicides, increased field-corn yields by an average of 7 bushels per acre in a study done in partnership with the National Corn Growers Association last year.

The association projected a national average yield of 148.4 bushels per acre in 2005.

ProAct works by simulating an attack from a harmful bacteria, tricking the plant into increasing its growth and defense systems.

Eden CFO Brad Powell said farmers who used ProAct returned about five times their investment in the product, which costs around $5 per acre.

The data from the study will bolster Eden's marketing efforts, Powell said.

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Computer, "Desperate Housewives," please

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:15 PM

VoiceBox Technologies, a Bellevue-based startup, demonstrated how voice recognition can be used to access entertainment content from a PC on Intel's new digital home platform.

Appearing at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco today, the company showed off technology it has developed: voice search that applies context to a user's request. The demonstration showed how users can retrieve movies, videos, music, channel guides and other digital content simply by asking for it in a conversational manner.

"Voice will be a natural means to interact with the wide array of devices to access content and services. We see voice input as an important element in future platform user interfaces," said Gerald Holzhammer, vice president and general manager of Intel's Consumer PC Group.

Makes you wonder what else Intel and VoiceBox has in the pipeline.

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Microsoft's newest product: Aloha Bill?

Posted by Brier Dudley at 10:44 AM

To help customers transfer data to new PCs running Windows Vista, Microsoft bought Apptimum, a Florida company best known for its consumer Alohabob PC Relocator software. The deal was announced this morning.

Apptimum also sells products to help IT shops migrate files, applications and settings to different PCs.
Microsoft said it will use Apptimum technology to develop a PC migration tool that will be offered as "an optional download" to Vista customers.

Some of Apptimum's 25 employees will continue working with the company in Sunrise, Fla., "at this time" and "several" will be relocating immediately to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, a spokeswoman said. Among the employees Microsoft is hiring is David Henrickson, co-founder and chief technical officer.

"Microsoft expects the number of layoffs to be relatively small,'' the spokeswoman said via e-mail.
Other details, such as the purchase price and what Microsoft will charge for the "optional download," weren't provided.

"Our customers and partners have been asking for a much easier way to transfer their data and applications from old computers to new ones," Amitabh Srivastava, corporate vice president of Windows Core Operating System Development, said in a news release. "We've improved this experience in Windows Vista, and as a result of the Apptimum acquisition we will make it even easier for customers to transfer the applications that are most important to them."

Apptimum claims to have created the PC migration software category in 1998, when the company was called Eisenworld. In December it received its second patent for its "Computing State Engine" technology.

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Alexandria: The next Origami?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:34 AM

Microsoft Alexandria could hit the rumor mill soon, courtesy of a new video that had been hosted at the site of Issara Willenskomer, who appears to be the Seattle-based art director of the video. Jupiter analyst Michael Gartenberg pointed to the video in his blog.

Unfortunately, the video has been taken down at Microsoft's request, but for the time being a cache can be found here.

Like the Origami project -- an "ultra-mobile" PC expected to be unveiled this week -- this one involves your typical vague Microsoft promotional video. It shows people watching something on what looks to be a laptop screen and a handheld device screen, but you can't see what they see. At the end, the video says "The Future of Entertainment," "Summer 2006" and shows Microsoft's logo.

So we can guess that this is something code-named Alexandria and it has to do with watching video on your computer. A new version of Windows Media Player, perhaps?

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The new NW telecom scene

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:04 AM

A frequent question in telecom here is whether the greater Seattle area will continue to play a role in the industry after some of our flagship companies -- AT&T Wireless and Western Wireless are two -- are gobbled up in acquistions.

Today's news gives some insight to how it might shape up, and it's somewhat of a twist on an old thing. RealNetworks and Qpass -- two former Seattle Internet companies -- have landed stellar telecom deals with Cingular Wireless, which acquired AT&T Wireless. Although both companies have been playing in the mobile arena for a while, the high-profile announcements solidfy their footing even more.

Seattle's RealNetworks said today that Cingular launched its video on-demand streaming service in 16 cities. Built on RealNetwork's Helix platform, the exclusive video clips will include shows from HBO, updates from The Weather Channel and other content from Fox Sports and the Disney Channel. The partnership between Cingular and RealNetworks was announced last year at CTIA.

The video launch corresponds with the release of new Cingular handsets, which run on the Atlanta-based company's new high-speed network. The network was launched last year, but until now Cingular was selling only laptop data cards for the service. The phones available are the LG CU320, Samsung SGH-ZX10 and shortly the Nokia 6282 and LG CU500.

Qpass said today it was expanding a pre-existing five-year relationship with Cingular. Qpass has provided Cingular with its mobile commerce platform, which helps carriers promote and manage content, from payments to customer care and financial reporting. The new multi-year agreement expands that function by centralizing mobile commerce with Qpass. Qpass announced a significant deal with T-Mobile Internetational at 3GSM.

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March 6, 2006

Microsoft serving Alice's Ristorante

Posted by Brier Dudley at 3:53 PM

In the latest win for Microsoft's TV and Web services platform, the company today announced a huge contract to provide technology to Telecom Italia. The carrier, which markets its consumer Internet services under the "Alice" brand, has been testing an Internet protocol TV service called "Alice Home TV" that's based on MIcrosoft and Alcatel technology. Today the companies said Alice Home TV will be launched later this year.

Microsoft is also helping the Telecom Italia develop business and consumer Web services. The first will be "Alice's Super-mailbox," a free 3 gigabyte e-mail service powered by Exchange Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003. Later they'll offer businesses hosted e-mail, collaboration and videoconferencing services.

Alice calls to mind the "Brady Bunch's" housekeeper, but Telecom Italia opted for a different image to personify its cutting-edge services.

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PS3 console delayed, Variety says

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:21 PM

Variety (sub. required) has a fascinating interview with Howard Stringer, the chairman and CEO of Sony and one of the most interesting corporate chiefs out there. In a media Q&A he held in January for the Consumer Electronics Show, he came across as charming, humble and candid. He can be ruthless as well -- just look at his recent decision to slash 10,000 jobs within the company.

Stringer has a bit to say about Microsoft, particularly in the high-stakes next-generation video format battle. Microsoft is lined up in the HD-DVD camp, while Sony is betting a good chunk of its future on Blu-Ray technology. Sony is including a Blu-Ray player in its PlayStation 3 console, which, according to Variety, will be delayed until the end of this year while Sony "fine-tunes" the chips related to that player's capability. Microsoft, by the way, did not include an HD-DVD player in the Xbox 360, but is promising an add-on player will hit the market soon.

From the article:

Stringer, and just about every other media exec, studio chief and retailer, fears a Betamax-VHS redux -- a format war that would irritate and confuse consumers. After all, if folks don't know which player to buy, they might walk out empty-handed. "If that happens," one top entertainment exec quips, "I think someone from Wal-Mart is going to take a gun and shoot one of them."

"Once Microsoft picked sides it was clear we were going to be in a battle royale," Stringer says, vowing to protect his turf. "We won't be stampeded" by Microsoft into rushing decisions "that are there forever."

One strange twist in the battle is that Toshiba is working with Sony and IMB to produce the cell chip that's the foundation of Blu-ray -- a topsy-turvy scenario that only serves to underscore the contortions Stringer finds himself performing these days. "One day my enemy is my enemy," he says. "The next day the enemy is my friend."

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T-Mobile Wi-Free

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:47 PM

For a limited time, T-Mobile USA subscribers can access 6,500 T-Mobile HotSpot locations free on the weekends.

The promotion started Saturday and will last until May 28. The hours are between 12:01 a.m. Saturday and 3 a.m. Monday.

To access Wi-Fi for free, users must visit this Web site and enter their T-Mobile phone number. Within moments, the user will receive a free text message with a pass code that will allow free surfing access.

The Bellevue company says it's all part of its "Get more from life" campaign. "See what we have to offer, and have some fun while you're at it," the Web site says.

It could also be called a "Get more from a campaign" campaign. T-Mobile is able to promote both Wi-Fi and text messaging in one.

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MSN Search news expected tomorrow

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:02 PM

MSN Search says it's going to be making some announcements tomorrow at 9 p.m. Keep an eye out here for a rundown of the news.

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Itsy bitsy Bell

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:41 PM

Qwest, which serves 16 Western and Mountain states, including parts of Washington, will now be the smallest -- by far -- of the regional-phone empires if the $67 billion merger between AT&T and BellSouth is completed.

As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Denver-based company is also the only regional Bell company that doesn't have its own wireless operation (it gets around this by selling wireless service provided by Sprint).

Those two facts make it a prime acquisition target, the Journal says. AT&T could find Qwest attractive because the company, which has a market capitalization of about $12 billion, would nearly complete AT&T's geographic footprint. Verizon also could go after it, but some analysts are skeptical, because a deal with Qwest would bring Verizon little growth, yet load it up with more debt.

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Another Microvision shake-up

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:30 PM

The chairman of Microvision's board of directors abruptly resigned last week, along with one other director, leaving the troubled tech company with four open spots on its board.

Walter Lack, chairman since 2002 and a director since 1995, left the company last week, Microvision disclosed this morning in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Director Jacqueline Brandwynne also left the board.

Microvision ousted its CEO Richard Rutkowski and CFO Richard Raisig in January, and it was Lack who championed the changes. Microvision makes small, wearable projectors that beam moving images directly onto a user's retina, and its technology has applications for computer games, medical procedures and military operations.

The company, which moved from Bothell to Redmond last month, has weathered so many shake-ups lately you have to wonder when the turmoil will stop. Its stock has been battered, falling from $6.25 in October to open at $3.25 today.

Update: Expect details to be revealed during a March 16 conference call to discuss fourth quarter and fiscal 2005 financial results.

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Mobile games at a standstill

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:45 AM

In the past few months, wireless carriers have increased their game portfolios significantly, adding about 59 titles to the cellphone storefront. But that hasn't translated into more sales, according to a report released today by M:Metrics, a mobile research firm in Seattle.

It said that as the selection of mobile games has climbed, so has the price, with the subscriber level remaining about 5 million to 6 million who downloaded at least one game a month during the past year.

M:Metrics said prices have increased because carriers are trying to find the appropriate price points for mobile games. As a result, prices for one-time downloads have increased by 3 percent while prices for subscriptions have increased 5 percent.

As for who is purchasing the games on what handhelds? M:Metrics said it is primarily males 25 and under wielding Motorola Razrs. This demographic was more than twice as likely to download a mobile game and 305,588 mobile gamers with a Razr reported downloading a game onto the device in the quarter ended January 2006.

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March 3, 2006

Insiders sell shares in SonoSite

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:07 PM

Some SonoSite execs and directors, led by CEO Kevin Goodwin, cashed out big-time this week.

Goodwin unloaded 95,000 shares on Wednesday for "personal reasons," spokeswoman Anne Bugge said.

"Most of these ... he has held since formation of the company," she said. "This is really the first time he's had a major sale."

At prices as high as $41 a share, he pocketed more than $3.8 million.

The shares represented about one-third of Goodwin's holdings, including stock and stock options, she said, not two-thirds as some investors concluded based on regulatory filings.

That confusion sent the stock down $2.91 or 7.1 percent to close at $38.10 today. SonoSite, a top maker of hand-carried ultrasound devices, had been on a run since last spring, climbing from less than $24 a share to a high of $41.81 last Wednesday.

Cathay Financial analyst Eli Kammerman told The Associated Press the sell-off may have been an overreaction to insider sales.

"SonoSite has long been speculated to be an acquisition target, and some investors may be reacting to the CEO's stock sale as a sign that an acquisition isn't imminent," Kammerman said. "When ATL Ultrasound spun SonoSite off in 1998, there was a provision in the agreement that any company that bought SonoSite within five years would have to pay the parent company a fee. That provision expires in April, so investors may be reading into insider sales as a sign that the company won't be acquired."

Other inside sellers this week include Kirby Cramer, a director, CFO Michael Schuh and Russell Edison, senior vice president of U.S. sales.

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Is this a joke?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:56 AM

Rockstar Games, the developer of the controversial and super-fun "Grand Theft Auto" series, announced at IGN that it's working on an exclusive game for the Xbox 360. There will be no cop-killing or lethal car chases here. This is a ping pong game -- or "Table Tennis," as it is called.

Rockstar COO Terry Donovan was asked why this game is exclusive to the 360. His response:

The power of the new hardware and the higher resolution of new televisions really allow us to give the game an immediacy and physicality that wasn't possible on current-gen hardware. Rudimentary ball and racket physics would have been possible but we wanted to wait for the 360 because it allowed us to bring a completely different level of production and technology to the game.

Is this a joke? I have a call in to Xbox to ask. For all the talk of next-gen this and high-def that, have we really come full circle to Pong?

Update: A Microsoft spokesman responds: "As the title has not officially been announced, we are not able to provide a comment at this time."

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Wireless experts know best

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:50 AM

As the wireless industry rapidly rolls out over-the-air music downloads, mobile TV and other new services, it's always worth taking a step back to see if anyone is watching, or more to the point, paying for it.

At yesterday's RBC Capital Markets' Mobility Evolution Conference in New York, where institutional investors, content providers, research analysts and advertisers converged, the gap between experts and consumers was clear.

In an informal RBC survey of 100 mobility experts during the conference, the experts' views differed sharply from a survey of consumers RBC released earlier in the week..

The brokerage house said that while 63 percent of experts believed consumers wanted to watch TV or movies on their mobile devices, only 23 percent of consumers expressed an interest. In addition, 72 percent of experts thought consumers would tolerate advertising on their devices if it lowered costs; in the consumer survey, only 20 percent said they would.

"This discrepancy is likely due to the fact that we are in the early stages of an evolution in mobility," said Scott Collins, RBC Capital Market's director of U.S. Equity Research in a statement. "With single-purpose products disappearing as functionality converges, consumers are resisting making a choice. But our research shows that in time, mobility will be adopted widely. The mobility evolution has begun."

The experts said any discrepency wouldn't slow growth in the industry. They predicted that the past five years of 20 percent annual growth in mobile technology would continue for the next five years.

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MSN losing ground in search market

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:45 AM

Nielsen//NetRatings said today that Web searches rose 39 percent year-over-year in January 2006 to 5.7 billion. That's a record for a one-month period.

The top three search engines had flat to negative market share growth over that time. Google grew about 2 percent and Yahoo! was up 1 percent, but MSN Search dropped nearly 2 percent. Here's how the big three stacked up:

Google Search: Jan. 05 share 47.1%, Jan. 06 share 48.2%, Change 1.1%
Yahoo! Search: Jan. 05 share 21.2%, Jan. 06 share 22.2%, Change 0.9%
MSN Search: Jan. 05 share 12.8%, Jan. 06 share 11.0%, Change -1.8%

Oh, and the Microsoft exec who promised to be better than Google in six months has clarified his position. Posting on John Battelle's Searchblog, Neil Holloway writes:

What I did say is that we are committed to investing in R&D aimed at providing a search service, initially in the US in six months, that performs better than the current industrywide standard of one in two URLs being connected to the subject of the original query. I also said that our aim is to perform as good, or better, in that respect than Google. This is a long-term goal. I did not put a date to it as this is work in progress.

Ken Moss, general manager of Web search at MSN, adds his two cents on his blog:

"We won't try to predict the progress of our competitors and so we won't forecast when we might take the lead, but this is a long-term game and we are committed to helping drive the next wave of innovation in search for our customers."

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March 2, 2006

aQuantive to sell shares

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:52 PM

In a filing this afternoon, Seattle-based aQuantive said it plans to sell as many as 7 million shares of its common stock. The company's price closed today at $24.96 a share.

After deducting fees and other related expenses, aQuantive said it expects to receive $167 million in net proceeds, or $192 million if the underwriters exercise an additional allotment of shares. Aquantive said it will use the money for general corporate purposes or to make acquisitions.

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Man bytes chip

Posted by Kristi Heim at 3:50 PM

Phillip Beynon's pale-skinned right hand loomed larger than life on the projector screen at the front of the room as he waited for the injection. The area sufficiently numbed with Lidocaine, the doctor found a fleshy place between thumb and index finger and plunged a thick needle into it.

The crowd let out a collective "Ow!"

But in a second it was over and applause followed. Before a transfixed audience and several TV cameras, Beynon became "chipped" -- " the latest person to get a computer chip implanted into his body. "I can still hold a beer with it," he quipped as he walked off stage with a cup of Elysian in hand.

The live implant demo at Wednesday night's Dorkbot RFID presentation symbolized the attitude of these innovators in confronting the challenges and potential perils of technology head-on, or this case, hands-on.

Beynon and fellow RFID enthusiast Amal Graafstra are experimenting with the chips as keyless methods to unlock doors and sign on to their computers.

As futuristic as these do-it-yourself chip implants may seem, they're not nearly as troubling to civil libertarians as other potential uses of the technology. Not all RFID is evil, said Doug Klunder, privacy project director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, who participated in the event. "Different applications have to be evaluated independently," he said.

Klunder worries more about the potential surveillance of people and their movements through government-issued ID systems like passports and driver's licenses. The chips implanted in Beynon's and Graafstra's hands store only a numeric code. They can only be read within a distance of a few inches.

RFID chips that the U.S. State Department plans to use in passports, by contrast, store all the personal information available within the printed passport and can be read remotely, meaning secretly. Legislation is needed to protect individuals from these potential privacy invasions, Klunder said.

After talking about his own experience with chip implants, Graafstra was asked what happens if someone attacks him to get to his chip.

He recalled the story of a Malaysian man whose fingertip was cut off by thieves to steal his luxury car. "I'd bite it out," Graafstra said. "It's just under the skin."

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Clearwire subscribers

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:02 PM

Craig McCaw's Clearwire has been stealing the spotlight when it comes to rolling out WiMax, or high-speed wireless broadband to the home. But the company has been mum on how well it is doing on adding or stealing away subscribers from DSL or cable providers.

The closest the Kirkland company has come to answering the question was during a speech by Nicolas Kauser, Clearwire's president and chief technology officer, at an industry conference in January. At that time, he said Clearwire is "ahead of our projections -- even our wildest projections."

An article in Electronic Engineering Times may shed some light on what those goals are. It reported that Clearwire "has garnered more than 100,000 users since its launch in August 2004."

In August 2004, Clearwire launched its first market in Jacksonville, Fla. Since then, it has launched in about 30 markets in the U.S. and offers service in more than 200 locations in the U.S., Ireland, Belgium, Denmark (under the Clearwire name with Danske Telecom) and Mexico (through MVSNet).

A spokeswoman for Clearwire declined to comment. "We don't publicly discuss our subscriber numbers and have not made any announcements related to these figures," she said. "The number listed in the article did not come from us and we are not even sure of the source."

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Microsoft: More relevant than Google in 6 months

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:48 PM

Wonder if there's any discomfort over at Microsoft's PR headquarters today. Microsoft's European chief told an audience that the MSN search engine will be "more relevant" than Google's in the U.S. in six months' time.

That's being largely translated as Microsoft saying it will be better than Google in six months. And in the search engine business, where relevance is everything, it's probably safe to say that "more relevant" equals "better than." Looks like the MSN Search crew should say goodbye to their loved ones, pack a suitcase or two and redirect their home mail to the office in order to make this deadline.

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Newsvine is now live

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:32 PM

Seattle-based Newsvine, an online news service, is out of beta and open to anyone, CEO Mike Davidson wrote on his blog Wednesday.

"The decision when to release to the world was a tough one for us. The site has come so far in its short existence, and yet, we feel we still have so far to go. Things are never finished around here, but that's a good thing."

Newsvine will aggregate news stories -- mostly from the Associated Press, it looks like -- but it also invites contributions from individuals. And in an attempt to keep things from turning into a massive flame war, the company has imposed a "code of honor," which asks participants to play nice and avoid self-promotion or sensationalistic headlines.

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Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:03 PM

At 3GSM World Congress a couple of weeks back, T-Mobile International said it had started working more closely with its U.S. counterpart, Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA. That included trying to get bulk discounts on handsets and negotiating other deals on a worldwide basis.

Today, the companies, owned by German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom, reported earnings that reflected these efforts.

T-Mobile USA said it added 1.4 million customers in the fourth quarter for a total of 21.7 million. For the full year, it posted a profit of nearly $4 billion, including a $2.4 billion tax credit. The company's revenues totaled $11 billion in 2005, up from $9 billion a year ago.

Rene Obermann, CEO of T-Mobile International, acknowledged the two companies' renewed partnership in a statement: "T-Mobile USA once again delivered outstanding results and continues to be a top driver of growth for the mobile segment and Deutsche Telekom as a whole. We look forward to further leveraging the global scale and skills of T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom across both sides of the Atlantic."

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Oh SNAP!: Napster Speaks

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:48 AM

Blame Microsoft. That's what Napster did this week to expain its inability to catch up to Apple's iTunes music service. From Reuters:

"There is no question that their execution has been less than brilliant over the last 12 months," Napster Chairman and Chief Executive Chris Gorog said at the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit in New York.

"Our business does rely on Microsoft's digital rights management software and our business model also relies on Microsoft's ecosystem of device manufacturers," he added.

Gorog said that eventually, the Microsoft system will prevail, echoing similar comments from the industry that Apple just won't be able to hold on to its lead. Of course, they've been saying that for a while.

"It's always been painful at the introduction of new technologies," Gorog added. New? Apple unveiled the iPod in 2001.

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Origami update

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:41 AM

Microsoft has updated its Origami Project site, and seems to promise that all will be revealed a week from today. Meanwhile, much of the buzz surrounding the mystery seems to have died down.

An Engadget reader suggested looking at the source code for the Microsoft page. At the top is this message:

Origami Project: the Mobile PC running Windows XP

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Wet Paint on the virtual highway

Posted by Kristi Heim at 6:01 AM

Fergal and Jackson will make their public debut on a new social networking site launching Monday. Each will accept comments, photos, ads and mail from fans, but which one is cuter is still a toss up. Fergal and Jackson are dogs, and each has his own Web page at Wet Paint.

"Dogs" is just one of six themed sites Wet Paint will make available in the latest adaptation of the wiki phenomenon.

Others are Xbox 360, cancer, Democrats, Republicans and bird flu. Wet Paint's creators chose topics they think will naturally stimulate a lot of conversation and interaction. They and about 300 friends and relatives supplied the initial content. In the future, any number of subjects can be created by users of the free service. The Seattle company intends to make money through Google contextual ads.

"The whole site is oriented toward bringing people together around subject areas," said Wet Paint spokesman Jason Reindorp, who owns Fergal, a Hungarian hunting dog.

Wet Paint aims to take the wiki and social media concepts a step further by making them easier to use than Wikipedia and yet more community-oriented than, he said.

Wet Paint CEO Ben Elowitz, who owns the Airedale named Jackson, is also famous for co-founding Blue Nile.

The new site is designed for consumers and allows anyone to post photos, edit text, e-mail pages to friends and add links. While people can post or edit anonymously, moderators will have the ability to lock down a page if posting becomes offensive, Reindorp said.

You never know what kind of debates might rage in the category "My dog is cuter than your dog."

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March 1, 2006

InfoSpace exploring content business

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:42 PM

Bellevue-based InfoSpace is looking into becoming a provider of original content, according to CEO Jim Voelker's interview with paidContent. Voelker said that not only will it help content companies "get mobilized," it will begin seeking out original games and animations.

We will continue to be a programmer and licensor of content and help companies get mobilized. There are opportunities for us in mobile games, for example, where we can raise our profile and titles. Last year, we secured all the technical capabilities. That's probably why Electronic Arts paid such a huge premium for Jamdat [a provider of entertainment applications and technologies that support multiple wireless handset platforms].

We are looking for original titles in games and animation, and we're counting on Stephen Davis [the new head of mobile] to drive this.

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Sony moving to University Village

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:11 PM

Sony Electronics said today it's going to open a Sony Style retail store at the University Village shopping center. The point of the store is to "educate consumers about integrating technology into their lifestyles," Sony said. It's also meant to sell a ton of Sony electronics.

The store will sell PlayStation games and consoles -- imagine the lines when the PlayStation 3 goes on sale -- and other electronics, but it's designed to appeal to women. It opens March 17.

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Show and tell for dorks

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:28 AM

Art, technology and civil liberties will collide on stage tonight in a demonstration designed to get under your skin.

This month's dorkbot in Seattle features tech researcher Joe McCarthy presenting the "Practicalities, Peril and Promise of RFID."

Entrepreneur Amal Graafstra will discuss his RFID-chipped hands,

Dr. Virginia Stevens will chip another willing participant, and a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union will explore the social implications.

Free and open to all. Kudos to curator Mike Worobec for bringing so many elements of the issue together in a public forum.

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee

Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez

Kristi Heim
Kristi Heim

Benjamin J. Romano
Benjamin J. Romano

Mark Watanabe