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June 30, 2006

Freedom Tunes, Part II

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:07 AM

Leave it to the French.

French lawmakers gave final approval today on legislation that could force Apple Computer to open up the iPod music player and iTunes online store, according to an Associated Press report.

Currently, songs bought on iTunes can be played only on iPods, and an iPod can't play downloads from other stores -- like Sony's Connect and Napster. You can't even play iTunes songs on cellphones -- unless you buy a iTunes phone.

Both the Senate and the National Assembly, France's lower house, voted for the copyright bill, leading some analysts to say that it could cause Apple to close iTunes France and pull its market-leading player from the country's shelves.

Or could it cause Apple to be more open?

What do you think?

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More shuffling at Microsoft

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:48 AM

Another round of musical chairs at Microsoft. This time it's the Platforms and Services Division. The company says these changes are "further refinements" of the major shakeup last fall when its seven business units were consolidated to three.

In Windows and Windows Live Engineering, headed by Steven Sinofsky, nine executives were named to lead development of the group's priorities:

-- Julie Larson-Green, corporate vice president, Windows Experience program management
-- Grant George, corporate vice president, Windows Experience Test
-- Ales Holecek, director, Windows Experience development
-- Chris Jones, corporate vice president, Windows Live Experience program management (when he's done with Windows Vista)
-- Steve Liffick, corporate vice president, Windows Live Experience development
-- Arthur De Haan, director, Windows Live Experience Test
-- Dean Hachamovitch, general manager, Internet Explorer (status quo)
-- Christopher Payne, corporate vice president, Windows Live Search (status quo)
-- Gary Flake, technical fellow, Live Labs (status quo)

Wait, there's more.

The Consumer Media Technology Group, a new team headed by Amir Majidimehr, is joining the Mobile and Embeded Devices and Communications Sector group. The CMT (that's not Country Music Television) will look for new opportunities in digital rights management for mobile operators and push Microsoft digital media in entertainment devices.

For those keeping score, that brings four business lines under the Mobile and Embeded Devices and Communications Sector group: Windows Mobile, Windows Embedded, Communications Sector, and now CMT.

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June 29, 2006

Mobile users want Office, Microsoft says

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:48 AM

A research study, done by ORC International and commissioned by Microsoft, found that 45 percent wireless users sampled want a mobile version of the Microsoft Office suite.

No surprise there, but following Office, 44 percent of users said they wanted mobile TV, the study said. TV was a future favorite among 16- to 24-year-olds. In fact, a little more than 1 in 10 interviewed said they used the feature already.

Microsoft offers a lot of the Office functionality in its Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. And in parts of Europe, Microsoft assisted in the launch of mobile broadcast TV with Virgin Mobile.

Finally, the survey asked users what influenced their choice in handset. Thirty one percent answered design and style of the phone. The next most important driver was whether the phone should had a camera.

More than 500 consumers were interviewed by the ORC OmniPanel. The next wave of research will take place next month and data will be based on the responses of more than 2,000 respondents.

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Microsoft loses another to Google

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:30 AM

Business 2.0 reported that another familiar face at Microsoft is jumping ship to Google.

The ex-Softie in question, Vic Gundotra, will spend a year doing charitable works before taking an as-yet undetermined role at the Mountain View, Calif., Internet search giant that's emerging as one of Microsoft's biggest competitors. The break is probably to avoid violation of any non-compete agreements.

Gundotra was a technical pitchman at Microsoft in his job as a general manager for platform evangelism. He'd been at the company for 15 years and had a relatively prominent public profile. He routinely joined top executives during presentations to customers at major company events.

Google's official statement:

Mr. Gundotra has resigned from Microsoft and entered into an agreement with Google. Though the financial arrangements are confidential, he will not be a Google employee for one year and intends to spend that time on philanthropic pursuits. We are uncertain what precise role he will play when he begins working for Google, but he has a broad range of skills and experience which we believe will be valuable to Google.

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June 28, 2006

Melodeo moves from music to podcasting

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:10 PM

Seattle-based Melodeo said it was revamping its business model to focus on a podcasting and social networking service for the Internet and mobile phones.

Former U.S. Senator John Edwards, who was a Democratic candidate for vice president in the 2004 elections, will be one of the first Melodeo users. Edwards is scheduled to be keynoting Gnomedex, an annual technology conference, on Friday at Bell Harbor Conference Center..

Edwards will use Melodeo to distribute his "One America" podcast. In addition, Melodeo.com will offer free access to other podcasts, radio and soon video programs on a wide variety of subjects.

Previously, Melodeo had focused on launching a full-track music player service on mobile phones. When that faced some resistance by carriers, Melodeo rolled out a mobile podcasting service and most recently made its digital-rights management (DRM) software available to the open-source community.

"Melodeo is a great way to search, browse, organize and play podcasts on a range of topics such as politics, world events, sports, music and many others," said Bill Valenti, one of Melodeo's founders.

The service is expected to launch shortly, which may explain why the Melodeo Web site says, "Beta is coming soon."

Melodeo will continue to evolve as new features and user suggestions are added. The company will soon offer an advanced Web to mobile service as well as video programs. Melodeo plans to announce significant deals with two major US wireless operators in the near future.

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Microsoft Business Division personnel moves

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:42 PM

Microsoft today announced the following changes in its business division:

Microsoft Dynamics CRM development, Line of Business Interoperability and Business Intelligence groups are now under the Office Business Platform group, headed by Kurt DelBene.

Lewis Levin was promoted to corporate vice president of Office Business Application Strategy.

Marketing for Exchange, Unified Communications and Office Business Applications now falls under the leadership of Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of the business division's Product Management group.

The Worldwide Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) group, which sells to small and mid-sized businesses, will move to report to Kevin Turner, chief operating officer. Eduardo Rosini was appointed corporate vice president of that group.

Orlando Ayala is joining SMS&P as senior vice president of the Emerging Segments Market Development team, reporting to Turner. This team will look at long-term business opportunities and investments in emerging markets. More information on this effort is due out in the fall.

Allison Watson, part of the SMS&P leadership team, was promoted to corporate vice president and will join Turner's extended leadership team.

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Net neutrality amendment fails

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:14 PM

An amendment to add a network neutrality guarantee to the telecom bill failed today in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. The 11-11 vote was split right down the middle along party lines, with the exception of Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, who co-sponsored the amendment. It would have prevented Internet access providers from giving priority to any particular content or services along their networks. See our previous story here.

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Yahoo!, Microsoft IM to link up

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:10 PM

A week after a Wall Street analyst floated the idea of a Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo!, the two companies' instant messaging programs are getting together.

Yahoo! notified its IM users that a forthcoming feature will allow them to message with users of Microsoft's newly launched Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN). The feature is listed under "coming soon" on Yahoo's IM home page.

The two companies said in October they would link their IM systems, creating an expected base of more than 275 million users. Microsoft currently has about 240 million active users. The ability to message across the two systems is one of the most-requested features, the companies said at the time.

The plan last fall was to roll out the feature in the second quarter of this year, which ends Friday. Neither company would be more specific about a release date.

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thePlatform bought by Comcast

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:52 PM

Ian Blaine, thePlatform's chief executive, said today that Comcast purchased his company for an undisclosed amount.

The 70-person Seattle company helps media companies and broadband and wireless service providers deliver video to consumers. Comcast Interactive Media, which bought the company Tuesday, was using thePlatform's service to deliver video over the service called The Fan.

The news was first mentioned on PaidContent.

Blaine said that thePlatform, which had raised more than $12.5 million in venture capital, wasn't looking to be sold.

"We really weren't," he said. "We were very focused on building our business and things were going well. We have been a provider to Comcast for years and knew them well, and they knew us well. This came out of that relationship."

thePlatform will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast in Seattle. Blaine said thePlatform will continue to grow agressively and could have as many as 100 employees in the next six months.

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InfoSpace sells straight to consumers

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:08 PM

InfoSpace is launching new Web site that sells ringtones, graphics and games straight to the consumer.

Called Moviso, the service marks the first time that InfoSpace has launched a major effort at selling directly to the consumer rather than through the wireless carrier. Previously, it sold all of its content on the wireless phone deck -- or the storefront. That's what makes the Moviso launch somewhat controversial. Some people raise questions as to why InfoSpace would take a chance at annoying carriers -- important customers to InfoSpace -- by launching a competing site.

But it's a sign that times are changing. In the past year or two, carriers have started to get comfortable with third parties selling directly to cellphone users. In this model, a user buys something online or through a short-code text message, and the charge appears on the wireless bill.

Because InfoSpace's business is so dependent on content sales, carriers must be assuming the Bellevue-based company will provide a clean-running service. Many of the first direct-to-consumer sites tricked consumers into signing up for monthly subscriptions or made billing errors, prompting customers to make costly customer service calls to the carrier.

Jim Voelker, InfoSpace CEO, said that's why he's confident that carriers won't be disheartened about Moviso. Everything goes through carriers and they will receive a portion of each sale, as well.

"They are so important," he said. "I think that's something in the press and the investment community that is understated. No matter what someone is doing, whether it's doing direct to consumer, with something like Moviso, or through the carrier decks, everything you are doing runs through the carrier and is explicitly allowed by the carrier, not implicitly."

InfoSpace acquired Moviso in 2003, a sale that also included the site Yourmobile.com. At Yourmobile.com, users were able to purchase content, as well, but InfoSpace has not supported it much since acquiring it and will instead support Moviso with all of its content and marketing dollars.

UPDATE: InfoSpace released more details today on which content providers were participating in Moviso. It said that its catalog includes content from Universal Pictures, Corbis and Getty Images, Warner Music Group, EMI Music and more.

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Mobliss gets CEO from Nintendo

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:57 AM

Mobliss, which is owned by Japan-based Index Group, said it has appointed Jim Merrick to be its new president and chief executive.

The Seattle company is best known for enabling Cingular Wireless' "American Idol" text voting and bringing "Family Feud" and the New York Times Crossword to mobile phones.

Merrick is a longtime Nintendo exeuctive, who while there held jobs that included head of software, hardware and brand marketing across Europe. He also was technical director of Nintendo in the U.S., developing new technologies and leading a support team dedicated to helping licensees develop games for Nintendo systems.

At Mobliss, Merrick will oversee all operations, which include game licensing and development, mobile messaging and Mobliss' voting platform.

"'Mobile phones are a part of everyday life for millions of consumers. That number just keeps growing," Merrick said in a release. "Mobliss is a pioneer and already has proven people want to do more than just use phones to chat. They love to play video games and they love to communicate instantly in many different and edgy ways. Growing this is my sole focus."

Mobliss has 40 employees. Merrick replaces Brian Levin, who founded Mobliss in 2000 and left the company awhile ago.

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Cingular to roll out video/chat service

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:37 AM

In a Reuters story today, Cingular's Chief Technology Officer Kris Rinne said the wireless carrier will roll out a service within the next year that allows you to talk while sharing a video.

I got a first hand of what this might look like when I visited Nokia in Finland, and it's pretty cool, though it might seem a little unnecessary. The folks at Nokia demonstrated how easily you could take a video while continuing to talk to someone. The perfect example would be filming a grandchild and sending it to a grandparent.

Or, because that's an unlikely scenario in my family, imagine you are on vacation and want to share a moment with someone back home. You could easily walk through an ancient pyramid and send video and describe what you are seeing.

The story points out that the necessity of such a service is likely to be low, so adoption will based on costs and how easy the service is to use.

The service hasn't launched before because the phones and the network haven't had the necessary bandwidth to handle it. Only 3G phones, which are just starting to hit the mainstream, are capable of voice and data at the same time. Although video and talking simultaneously is one possibility, a more likely scenario is that you are talking to someone and want to look up the address of a restaurant at the same time.

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June 27, 2006

Net neutrality update

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:36 PM

What do craigslist, Amazon.com and Skype have in common with AARP and the Christian Coalition of America?

They held a joint press conference by phone in support of network neutrality, which is being debated this week in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. Last week's hearing, with 214 amendments to the sweeping telecom reform bill, got out of control quickly and was stopped after about two hours.

The Christian Coalition says it favors network neutrality because its 50 state leaders have to host their own Web sites, and if they end up having to settle for a cheaper slow lane to serve up their pages, the organization will have trouble getting its message out.

Meanwhile, an alternative has been suggested by the Center for Democracy and Technology that would draw a line between the network and the Internet, allowing telecom providers to "experiment with non-neutral arrangements" on their networks while preserving the openness of the Internet for the public.

Update: More sparks are expected to fly when the hearing resumes Wednesday at 7 a.m. Pacific time. A Webcast is available here.

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Farecast casts off

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:29 PM

Seattle-based Farecast announced today that it is launching the public beta of its airfare prediction Web site.

The company said that traveling from Seattle and Boston can now get free airfare predictions to 120 domestic markets.

The age-old question the site helps people answer is: Should I buy now or later?

"Deciding when to buy airfare has been a guessing game for consumers until now," said Hugh Crean, Farecast's president and chief executive. "With Farecast's airfare predictions and recommendations, online travel shoppers are empowered with better information to make more confident and smarter airfare purchase decisions."

Kim Peterson wrote about the company in May when it announced its private trial.

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InfoSpace, 20th on the Wired list

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:22 PM

Bellevue-based InfoSpace said today that it ranked as the 20th most innovative company in the world, according to the Wired 40 list.

Wired 40 companies are cited for their "strategic vision, global reach, killer technology, hunger for new ideas and an impatience to put them into practice."

InfoSpace helps carriers sell mobile content, lincluding ringtones and games, to wireless consumers.

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The Shephard cometh

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:59 AM

Details of the closely held Blue Origin flight test program were revealed recently in a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration filing, according to this story.

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos founded the privately funded aerospace program in 2000 -- with grand visions of providing space tourism and, over time, enabling an "enduring human presence in space."

The New Shephard, a re-launchable launch vehicle, is being targeted to commence commercial operations in 2010, with projected demand at 52 launches per year.

Bezos' vision has been long in the making. He first laid out plans for the colonization of space during his high school valedictory speech at Miami Palmetto Senior High School.

In March 2003, he was riding in helicopter when it crashed on a Southwest Texas mountain range. He and the other two passengers avoided serious injury. (The launch site is located near Van Horn, Texas.)

Now, about the name...

We asked Google to define "Shephard," and the only entry to come up was that of Lucius Shepard (no "h"), an award-winning science ficition writer who hails from Vancouver, Wash.

Coincidence?

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Gates Foundation and accountability

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:29 AM

Our story today on the efficiency of the Gates Foundation and its $31 billion infusion from Warren Buffett missed a detail that Alicia Mundy, our Washington D.C. reporter, dug up last year.

The former director of the foundation's global health program, Dr. Richard D. Klausner, was the subject of an investigation by Congress and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The probe looked into possible conflicts of interest and Klausner's role in a National Cancer Institute contract awarded to Harvard University.

At the time the investigation, Klausner was global health director at the Gates Foundation. He resigned three days after the story came out, saying that he was leaving to launch a new venture in Seattle. He and the foundation both said the decision had nothing to do with the investigation.

Klausner's venture, Seattle-based Column Group, is aiming to be one of the largest health-care-focused venture capital funds in the country. The Gates Foundation's new director of global health is Dr. Tadataka (Tachi) Yamada, who joined the foundation this month from GlaxoSmithKline, where he was head of R&D.

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June 26, 2006

PopCap crowned with Jewels

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:43 AM

Kim Peterson reported today that Seattle-based PopCap's best-selling game is Bejeweled, which has been installed on more than 50 million cellphones in North America.

Coincidentally, Telephia reported today that Bejeweled is not only one of PopCap's best selling games, it is one of the best-selling games across the industry period.

In the Telephia Mobile Game Report for the first quarter, Bejeweled ranked third among top revenue-generating titles. The No. 1 title is Tetris.

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June 22, 2006

More advertising info from Microsoft

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:00 PM

Microsoft is making more information about its efforts to sell advertising at a Web site for its adCenter Labs research group.

The site, which just went live, delves into four advertising categories: paid search, contextual advertising, behavioral targeting and emerging markets, including TV, video and mobile devices. Demonstrations available on the site include one called "Demographics Prediction" and "Local Ads by IP Address".

To learn more about Microsoft's entry into the online advertising marketplace, check these stories by Kim Peterson last month.

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Microsoft declares quarterly dividend

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:00 AM

Microsoft's board of directors voted to give 9 cents a share to shareholders of record as of Aug. 17, the company said. The quarterly dividend is payable Sept. 14.

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June 21, 2006

FOUND: One Sidekick

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:57 PM

The quest to find the stolen Sidekick is over.

According to Evan Guttman's Web site, which chronicled the 15-day ordeal to get his friend's cellphone back, the person suspected of taking the phone was arrested. The New York Times also wrote about the saga today.

The paper reported that police arrested a 16-year-old from Queens, and charged her with possession of stolen property in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor. The police have the Sidekick and plan to return it to Ivanna, who declined to give her last name because she doesn't want to be famous for losing a Sidekick.

The alleged culprit, who was publicly scorned on the Web, from MySpace to AOL, was released by police.
The NYT said her mother offered this parting remark: "I never in my life thought a phone was going to cause me so many problems.".

Guttman, who made daily and sometimes hourly updates on the Sidekick's whereabouts, had this to say at 10:05 p.m. (Eastern) June 29: "Wow ... I have no words to express how I feel right now. Vindication, appreciation, relief.... Just some of the words I can think of...."

He said his friend was expected to pick up the device last night.

He wrote on his Web site: "We both feel that she has learned her lesson. We are not vengeful people. We just wanted what was right ... and what was right was for someones property to be returned."

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Where Taylor's not (Google)

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:51 AM

We know Martin Taylor, former Windows Live marketing chief, is not at Microsoft anymore, even though he was all over the company's press releases earlier this week. His abrupt departure has raised lots of questions, such as why he left and where he might end up.

"He hasn't landed here," said Courtney Hohne, spokeswoman for Google, which is a direct competitor of the Windows Live services Taylor was to market. Yahoo! was still getting back to us this morning.

Learn more about Taylor in this profile from last spring.

Update: He's not at Yahoo! either, a spokeswoman said this afternoon.

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June 20, 2006

Do the Mac ads make PCs look cool?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:57 PM

Apple's television commercials are mean and don't give Slate's Seth Stevenson any Mac love whatsoever. He writes today that the actor playing the Mac (Justin Long) "is just the sort of unshaven, hoodie-wearing, hands-in-pockets hipster we've always imagined when picturing a Mac enthusiast. He's perfect. Too perfect."

John Hodgman, the guy playing the PC, is likeable and funny, said Stevenson, who discloses that he is personally a PC user who has often considered switching to a Mac.

Stevenson gives the campaign a C+ grade:

As usual, Apple hopes to shift the debate away from a battle over specs and value and toward a battle we can all understand: cool kid versus nerd. But these days, aren't nerds like John Hodgman the new cool kids? And isn't smug superiority (no matter how affable and casually dressed) a bit off-putting as a brand strategy?

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T-Mobile kicks it up to Sidekick 3

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:37 PM

Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA is releasing the Sidekick 3 today with a launch party in Los Angeles.

Earlier versions of the device have a loyal Hollywood following, and T-Mobile customers will be able to buy the new one online starting June 28. It's expected to become more broadly available at T-Mobile stores and online July 10.

The device is a decent upgrade from the Sidekick 2. It comes with Bluetooth, a MP3 player, a 1.3 megapixel camera and is 20 percent smaller making it feel more like a phone than a two-handed device.

One of the items below talks about what happened when a Sidekick left in a taxi wasn't returned to its rightful owner. Imagine if it were a more feature-rich Sidekick 3. Check it out here.

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Strong growth at Big Fish Games

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:05 AM

Seattle-based Big Fish Games said its Web site had nearly 3.7 million visitors in May, a 60 percent increase from its April count. That increase has led comScore Media Metrix to rate the site as one of the top 10 gaining Web properties for that month-to-month period.

The company develops and distributes casual online games, the Web-based games played mostly on a personal computer (although the mobile side of this business is growing). Big Fish launched a German site last year and is working on sites in French, Spanish and Japanese.

Big Fish Games has grown in employee count as well, with 110 people at its offices on the top floor of Fisher Plaza.

By the way, you can expect to hear more about this industry here in Seattle next week. About 800 people are expected to attend the Casuality gaming conference, which runs June 27-29 at Benaroya Hall. Big Fish founder Paul Thelen is slated to speak at the conference on Tuesday.

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June 19, 2006

How NOT to steal a T-Mobile Sidekick

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:23 PM

It all started June 6, when a woman in New York City accidentally left her Sidekick in a taxi and she called her friend, Evan Guttman, to send a message to the Sidekick, offering a reward.

That first message snowballed into a two-week battle that has run rampant on the Internet -- from blogs abd forums to instant messaging and MySpace. The saga of how Guttman has tried to get the trendy gadget back has been well documented on his blog.

His detailed saga called "How NOT to steal a Sidekick" can be found here.

The key to this never-ending story is one of the special Sidekick features -- what you do on the device is stored on a remote server, so it not only shows up on the phone, but wherever you log in to access the server. (This is handy when you lose the device. It is also a double-edge sword. Remember Paris Hilton? Someone hacked into her account, and her photos and address book were well circulated on the Internet)

In this case, the unidentified woman who lost the Sidekick found this to be handy feature. When she bought a new Sidekick and logged in, she found photos of the supposed perpetrator -- also a woman -- and evidence of her logging in to AOL and MySpace accounts. From there, the Sidekick owner and Guttman contacted the alleged thief and found out lots of personal information about her from her MySpace account, including where she lived and information about her boyfriend.

Guttman's work includes almost hourly updates for the past 13 days. His persistence and motives are pure, he claims: He writes:

"Right now, I am more concerned about spreading this story. I want people to realize that what goes around, comes around. If you find a phone in a taxi or elsewhere.. it is NOT yours ... return it .. .and when u lose an item, then the same will happen for u. This is not a religious endeavor or a moral endeavor ... this is a HUMANITY endeavor. I want these people SHAMED into realizing what they have done."

The story is engaging because the person who purportedly took the device has e-mailed Guttman. So do her boyfriend and her brother (who claims to be military police). It has all the makings of a mobisode (you know, a soap opera made for mobile phones).

Guttman turns out to have developed a cult following of his own, claiming to get up to 1,400 e-mails a day and appearing on Web sites and radio shows. The Sidekick community, considered loyal and die-hard, as I point out in an earlier story, continues to log in for the most recent update. That, in turn, crashes servers, and the next thing just keeps on coming...

I'd like to say that this story ends happily, but there doesn't seem to be much of a conclusion -- or at least not yet.

The 49th and most recent update, which occured Sunday, simply says that Guttman tried calling the police precinct twice to follow up on the report he filed. He also mentions that his forum has been encountering trouble because of an infiltration of spam.

You'll have to keep logging in to see what happens next.

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Search for volunteer opportunities

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:14 PM

A new Washington state Web site connects people willing to volunteer with non-profits who need them. The initiative, VolunteerWashington, is designed to connect people in recovery efforts after a disaster.

But an interesting feature is that it also lets local organizations register and potential voluteers search for opportunities by causes, such as environment or literacy, or by Zip code. I plugged in my Zip code and found seven volunteer openings in my neighborhood. The voluteer work ranges from building parade floats for the Fremont Arts Council to doing yard work and errands for a couple with health problems in Issaquah.

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Apple looking to movie studios

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:31 AM

Variety reports on an issue that Microsoft and RealNetworks are no doubt paying close attention to: Apple Computer is looking to get into the movie download business.

Apple is in talks with studios to begin selling movie downloads on its iTunes Music Store, the report says. CEO Steve Jobs had proposed selling all movies for $9.99, but the studios balked at the flat pricing model. Now, the report says, Apple may back down and sell movies at a range between $9.99 and $19.99.

But a deal with Apple is key for many studios hoping to grow the digital distribution biz because of the huge iTunes install base and the popularity of video iPods. Apple has sold more than 22.5 million iPods since the video version launched in October. (It's unclear how many are video iPods and how many are the smaller nano or Shuffle.)

Since Apple does not license its antipiracy software, other online retailers can't sell music or video that works on an iPod, and other manufacturers can't make players that work with iTunes content.

"Every studio wants to have broad distribution in digital, and we all know that having Apple as part of that is very, very important," a studio exec said.

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June 16, 2006

Why Chinese censors love Yahoo!

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:02 PM

A comparison of search engines Yahoo!, Google, MSN and Baidu in China revealed some surprising results, says the organization Reporters Without Borders. The group said Yahoo! was the worst offender in the censorship tests, filtering even more information than its local Chinese competitor, Baidu.

The study used Chinese language search terms, including "democracy," "human rights" and "Tibet independence." In Yahoo!'s case, typing in certain search terms returned an error message the first time, and shut down the service for an hour the second time, the group reported.

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Mobile Linux takes on Windows Mobile

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:31 AM

With all the other news going on Thursday, it was hard to get this little piece of information out, but it is relevant nonetheless.

Yesterday, Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, Samsung and Vodafone announced that they are establishing a global foundation focused developing a Linux-based software platform for mobile devices.

The aim of the group is to create a platform that has lower development costs, increased flexibility, and an ecosystem of developers. The founding companies want to develop the platform based on the contributions from all interested parties.

The new platform will be used to compete against other operating systems for the mobile phone that can support high-end applications such as video, Web browsing and games. The two top operating systems are Symbian, which is built by a London-based company and used by Nokia, the largest handset manufacturer in the world, and Windows Mobile, built by Microsoft.

David Wood, Symbian's executive vice president of research, said he didn't consider the initiative a threat. Currently, so-called smartphones which use the higher-end operating systems, make up a very small portion of the overall handset market.

By another operating system entering the fold, it could increase opportunities for all the big players.

"If I follow the spirit of cooperation-before-competing concept, which Symbian follows, Linux may tilt the balance away from simplier feature phones to more advanced phones that can do more. These phones are going to grow the pie larger to stimulate the market for more advanced phones," Wood said.

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Architect of Word weighs in on Gates

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:29 AM

Charles Simonyi, one of the first and most influential developers at Microsoft, said he thought Bill Gates' move was the right one.

"One of Bill's unique traits is his discipline, the ability to make hard decisions at the right time. It tends to catch people by surprise but he has done them before and he will make them in the future," Simonyi said in an e-mail.

"He has been working very hard with his foundation before and even harder with Microsoft. When he turns this the other way both organizations will be still greatly advanced."

Simonyi, now chief executive of Intentional Software in Bellevue, is considered the pioneer of two of Microsoft's biggest selling products: Word and Excel. He also worked closely with Gates as one of the company's top researchers.

I looked up an interview with Simonyi around the 20th anniversary of Windows. What a difference between the Redmond behemoth now and two decades ago when Simonyi first joined Microsoft, a company of a few hundred people located next to Burgermaster. Here's what he said about the difficulty Microsoft had in working with IBM back then:

"IBM was a large organization that wasn't equipped to operate in a nimble and efficient way. There was this tremendous bureaucratic organization where trivial decisions took an infinite amount of paperwork. That's expensive. Plus, it makes it very difficult to reverse decisions. The more people invest in decisions, the more they cling to them. All you need is for people to cling to a couple of bad decisions and you're dead."

Today those sound like words of wisdom for Ozzie.

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Microsoft and the media

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:45 AM

Close readers of today's news reports that Bill Gates is dialing down his day-to-day involvement with the company may have noticed a curious coincidence.

Several journalists from national newspapers and business publications were reporting from Redmond. That in itself is not unusual; media from around the world regularly flock to Microsoft's sprawling campus for news and interviews with top executives.

But how did it come to pass that so many of us byte-stained hacks were there on the very day Gates would drop such huge news?

The company happened to be hosting a media event with several top executives Thursday. It was meant to be a chance to talk about big-picture issues facing the company and tech industry in a relaxed, off-the-record setting.

After an intimate lunch with Microsoft's division presidents in the company's visitors center, surrounded by memorabilia from Gates' three decades of computing innovation, the company told the journalists that Gates had some very big news to deliver. News with a capital N, as one public relations guy said.

Journalists half-jokingly started a pool on what the news would be. Some guessed CEO Steve Ballmer would be stepping down. In the controlled chaos that ensued, I couldn't determine if anyone guessed what we were about to be told. (I should note that my colleague, Brier Dudley, was not at the lunch, and not part the guessing. If he had been, his would have been the smart money, judging by this column from two months ago.)

As the magnitude of Gates' announcement took hold, many journalists were more than a little bit peeved at the company's PR handlers. They were invited to Microsoft under false pretenses. It was a ruse; a bait and switch, some complained.

To be fair, Microsoft's PR gurus faced a substantial dilemma. If they didn't provide in-person access to Gates, CEO Steve Ballmer and other Microsoft execs on this momentous news day, they'd face the wrath of those journos left out in the cold. But if they disclosed why they were inviting everyone here -- even if they'd said it was for a big news event -- the speculation would have swirled.

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Gates: Market doesn't react and other Day 2 news

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:20 AM

The tech world is still digesting the news about Bill Gates' career change and its potential ramifications. Here's some of the latest buzz:

The market seems to be handling the news well, with Microsoft's share price down just a few cents at 11 a.m.

Mary Jo Foley has the text of the company-wide e-mails sent out yesterday by Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer.

The New York Times quotes Gates as saying that he made the decision "only in the last few weeks." That's a little different than Gates' claim at the press conference yesterday that he decided a couple of days ago.

Other tidbits from the press conference that haven't received that much attention:

Our colleague Brier Dudley asked Gates whether he would move to Seattle, since that's where his foundation is located. Ballmer laughed and replied, "His house isn't very mobile." That's for sure.

Gates has never taken more than a two-week vacation. But this summer, he's going to take seven weeks off -- a decision, Ballmer pointed out, that was made long before all of this talk surfaced about a change in management. Gates said he will spend some time in Africa, including participating in a government leadership forum there, and then will return here "enjoying the Seattle summer."

Gates tried to play down his leadership at the company, saying he really only does things like improve the "architectural alignments" of Microsoft's operations. But then said he works 10 to 11 hours every day at Microsoft. So what is he actually doing over there? On a more serious note, Gates said he wants to stay chairman for the rest of his life, and will always have a very strong connection to the company.

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Bill Gates-Spidey-FDR connection

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:59 AM

Our summer intern, Bibeka Shrestha, points out a curious coincidence lurking in some of Bill Gates' comments Thursday. In discussing his decision to transition from business leader to full-time philanthropist, Gates said, "I believe that with great wealth comes great responsibility -- a responsibility to give back to society and to see that those resources are put to work in the best possible way to help those most in need."

It sounds a bit familiar, right? Check the tagline on Spider-Man.

Update: Another Times intern, Zachary Burns, followed the Gates quote and the Spidey tag line back further.

Writes Burns, "Actually the line and Stan Lee (creator of Spider-Man) draw their influence from a speech Franklin Delano Roosevelt was to give before he died. The line is a derivative of the following: 'Today, we have learned in the agony of war that great power involves great responsibility.'"

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June 15, 2006

More reaction to the Gates move

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:39 PM

More reaction on the Web about Gates' transition out of Microsoft:

"This is a move a long time coming and there's still two years more to transition. Overall, while it's likely to have impact it's not likely to be disruptive." -- Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research
"Microsoft stock is surprisingly quiet given the announcement that Bill Gates will step down. It should probably be going down. Ozzie is smart but not in the same class as Bill Gates. And it's really Ballmer that needs to go." -- Joel Spolsky, former Microsoft employee and founder of New York City-based Fog Creek Software
"No matter what you think of Microsoft, there is no denying that Bill Gates has impacted his industry like few have before him. Whether the impact is good or bad is open for debate. Regardless, his philanthropic work may prove to leave a far greater legacy." -- Former Microsoft employee and software developer Andrew Carter
"The current life expectancy for a male in the United States is 75 years, but healthy billionaires with good medical care are living longer lives in good condition. If you were 52 years old and worth $50 billion, would you go to work every day when you've been all over the earth and seen the difference you could make?" -- Microsoft employee Niall Kennedy
"Wow. It looks like the internal grapevine was right. That explains all the press Ray has been getting as the savior of Microsoft." -- Microsoft employee Dare Obasanjo
"It sounds like big news, but this transition has been going on for months. After seeing Gates recently at the 'D' conference, I got the feeling that he was dialed back, his intensity less fearsome and his reliance on Ozzie, in particular, and others to carry the big burden of fighting the global software battle with Google, the open source world, Sony, etc. was clear." -- Dan Farber on ZDNet's "Between the Lines" blog
"I don't see the other multibillionares -- Google guys, Redhat guys, (Oracle Chief Executive Larry) Ellison, (Apple Computer CEO Steve) Jobs, etc. -- stepping up to the plate and making any commitment EVEN CLOSE to the level he has. All I see those guys doing is buying fighter planes, boats, sports teams and big houses. Good luck Bill!." -- a post on Slashdot
"I think the potential of Bill to become the biggest philanthropist of all time is pretty cool. The thought of his mind focusing on health care and education issues full time has a broader potential impact, so my excitement around this comes from the perspective of being a citizen of the world versus a knowledge worker or Microsoft employee." -- Microsoft employee Heather Hamilton
"In some ways, Bill epitomizes the desktop software model. So there is something timely about his transition when the Web is poised to potentially change desktop software's relevance. Anyone who thought the Web already did this shouldn't assume the transition is over. For Ray and other Microsoft executives, the challenge will be either reinventing the company for the Web or binding more of the Web's utility to desktop software. Either task is going to require a cultural change, among the Microsoft leadership and the older vanguard." -- Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox

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Reaction to the Gates move

Posted by Kristi Heim at 3:44 PM

Bill Gates' decision to transition out of Microsoft's daily operations met with a range of reactions. Some suggested that the news is great for humanity, since Gates will dedicate more time to health and education through his foundation, but less certain for the future of Microsoft.

"Bill will no doubt be a very influential figure in the world of charity," one reader commented on Microsoft's in house Channel 9 Web site, adding "humankind has actually gained a lot more (than) what Microsoft may have lost."

The news didn't cause an immediate stir on Wall Street -- Microsoft stock hardly moved in after hours trading. "Maybe Gates knows he can do more good to the world with his foundation -- where he's invested over half of his fortune -- than with that lumbering behemoth, Microsoft," said the Silicon Valley gossip site
Valleywag
.

Another post on former Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble's site said simply, "Apparently, he's sick of Windows, too."

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Gates announces move, Brier called it

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:20 PM

While Microsoft execs were hosting an all-day event for press today, they interrupted the schedule to say they were making an important announcement at 1:30 -- Bill Gates will transition from a full-time role at Microsoft to a full-time role at Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in two years.

Brier Dudley wrote April 17 that Gates will start shifting more of his attention from software development to charity work, and will increase his involvement with the $29 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation he and his wife started in 2002.

The next day, Gates responded to Brier's column in an email. Brier had posted the response on his blog.

Here is what Gates said:

"The evolution of the Foundation organization is something that makes sense for the foundation. Melinda and I have the same role we have always had. Patty [Stonesifer, head of the foundation] does a great job running the foundation and using the finite time she gets from us very effectively.

"Patty has driven a number of organization changes as the foundation has grown and they have been critical to the ambitious goals the foundation has.

"So this organization doesn't reflect anything about the co-founders role related to the foundation."


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News with a capital N

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:28 PM

Microsoft called a press conference for 1:30 p.m. today, promising big news -- with a capital "N". CEO Steve Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates will go before the cameras at Microsoft Studios in Redmond.

I have an interview at 5:45 p.m. with someone -- they won't tell me who until after the press conference.

Update: Bill Gates is moving out of his day-to-day role at the company, as the company kicks off a two-year transition plan up to July 2008. He'll continue as the company's chairman. Ray Ozzie will move in as chief software architect immediately. Craig Mundie becomes chief research and strategy officer. Both will report to Gates until the transition is complete, at which point they'll then report to CEO Steve Ballmer.

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Gambling writers encouraged to take up knitting, water polo

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:45 PM

Washington's new law banning online gambling even extends to people who write about the subject, and Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat explores that area (possibly even breaking the law himself) in a column today.

State officials armed with the new law have targeted a Bellingham man named Todd Boutte who reviews online gambling sites, saying his Web page was illegal, according to Westneat.

"1984 has finally arrived," Boutte told Westneat. "I can't believe this is happening in a liberal place like Washington."

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UW president goes to China, blogs

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:34 AM

UW President Mark Emmert is in China this week and next week, and he has started a blog to chronicle his journey.

Emmert says he wants to learn what people in China think about UW and explore new opportunities. He'll spend time schmoozing with Washington state business executives, U.S. diplomats and more than a dozen top university officials from China.

Emmert, who lived overseas as a Fulbright Fellow in Germany and a visiting scholar in Australia, wrote a nuanced article on expanding our thinking about China here. As a UW alum, I'm looking forward to reading more.

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Netscape reinvented more often than Madonna

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:55 AM

AOL is revamping its Netscape.com site to become an aggregator of news articles and blogs. The site has some striking similarities to the popular Digg.com, a technology-centered collection of reader-submitted news.

At least for now, the top story on the new AOL site is this: "AOL Copies Digg."

Digg.com is reportedly planning to expand its focus beyond technology to more general news in the next few weeks.

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Dell: We screwed up

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:27 AM

There's an interesting and candid interview with Dell chief exec Kevin Rollins in the New York Times today.

"We got a little too far ahead on profit, and that allowed competitors to sneak in," he said in an interview at the company's headquarters here, referring to Dell's profit-margin goals. "Our competitors got better, and that allowed them to get strong."

One problem cited in the article was that Dell let its customer service fall way short. Just do a Google search for Dell customer service to figure out what went wrong. Dell is trying to make up for it now, and has reportedly spent more than $100 million in the last few months to answer consumers' questions.

It's an interesting thing to watch, this slow turnaround in companies' approaches to customer service. For a while, it seemed impossible to find a phone number on a company's Web site (you still can't find one on Amazon.com, but it's 1-800-201-7575). A year or so ago I went through seemingly every page on Symantec's Web site without finding a customer support number; at least now they're willing to talk but make you pay the long-distance charges.

Microsoft is now offering telephone support standard with its Windows Live OneCare, which costs $50 a year. Symantec is planning to open up its phone lines also in a rival product, slated to debut this fall.

Is any of this a reaction to Apple Computer? The company has long been considered an industry leader in customer service, and as a Mac user I can verify that it is incredibly pain-free, as long as you're willing to pay the fee for AppleCare support.

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Microsoft to hire 1,000 for India campus

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:24 AM

Microsoft plans to hire 1,000 more people for its campus in Hyderabad, India, over the next three years, according to Reuters. That would bring the total workforce there to 2,000.

Chairman Bill Gates visited India in December and said the company would hire 3,000 people in a four-year period.

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June 14, 2006

Net neutrality, Amazon and Microsoft

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:23 PM

The issue of "network neutrality" heads to a vote in the Senate next week, but signs are not looking good that the outcome will be any different from last week.

The House of Representatives rejected a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee to prevent telecom companies from charging Internet companies for different tiers of network access. That leaves some consumers wondering whether the Internet without premium service will become as dull as TV without cable.

Today, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he believed the Senate would take a similar vote, according to Bloomberg.

I haven't heard of too many Internet companies setting up shop in Alaska. So far, senators in the land of Amazon.com and Microsoft have been mum on the issue.

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Color me good

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:52 AM

New York-based shopping search engine ShopWiki today introduced a smart feature that allows Internet browsers to narrow their product searches by any color.

Type "baseball cap" into the search engine and select the "colors" button at the right-hand top of the page. Click anywhere on the color wheel to find caps that match your preference.

ShopWiki already offers technology that allows online shoppers to specify both a price range and product features (think designer handbag under $200) and a price-slider that automatically narrows searches by price.

Is Amazon.com watching? The online retail giant has said the bulk of its shoppers come to the site searching for a specific item. The ShopWiki feature brings that specificity to a whole new technology-induced level.

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Meet Microsoft's new security chief

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:22 AM

News.com has a feature on Ben Fathi, the software engineer who became Microsoft's new head of security on June 1. Fathi replaced Mike Nash, who is now on sabbatical, according to the report.

It was a curious decision by Microsoft to switch its security leadership within months of the release of its Vista operating system, which is supposed to go where no OS has gone before in protecting users from viruses and other nasties. It's certainly tempting to read all kinds of things into that 11th-hour shakeup. But Fathi says that Vista is almost done, and it was Nash's baby, and so the transition made sense:

One of the first things I did is say, "Great, we're almost done with Vista. There isn't a whole lot I can do personally to add to that process. We're done basically."

So I spent two days at an offsite with my direct reports and key partners in the company looking at post-Vista. I see that as the kickoff: We're done with Vista. Let's look at what areas we're going to bet on as a company and also as a team post-Vista. Mike has been involved, but I own that process.

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Findory expands its features

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:15 AM

Seattle-based Findory has added video and podcast features to its menu, chief executive Greg Linden reports on his blog.

Findory specializes in personalization technology -- a little something Linden picked up during his days at Amazon.com -- and targets it to readers of news and blogs. Once you get into Findory's site and start reading articles and blog entries, the system gets an idea of what your interests are and begins turning its spotlight to those areas. Video and podcast searching will work in the same way, according to Linden:

With everything that is out there, it is hard to find the good stuff. There are inspired pieces that have never found an audience. There are university lectures that might teach you. There are parodies that might make you laugh.

Findory surfaces the rare gems that otherwise would be lost in the noise.

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The Vista-bashing is at full speed

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:10 AM

It seems premature to judge an operating system five months before its release, but these kinds of articles about Windows Vista are becoming fairly common. From Investors Business Daily:

Corporate customers testing an unfinished version of the PC operating system complain that it's too large, slow and memory hungry, according to surveys by ChangeWave Research.

Testers say the software is super buggy, which raises questions about whether Microsoft can meet its current schedule.

Also, many customers don't see a need to upgrade to the new operating system right away. That means they're likely to stick with PCs running older versions of Windows for some time.

"If somebody was forecasting that this was going to be a game-changing event, sparking a huge PC upgrade cycle, our numbers would say no," said Tobin Smith, chief investment strategist for ChangeWave Research. "I think there's going to be a moderate upgrade cycle that is as much about replacing stuff that they were going to replace anyway."

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June 13, 2006

The skinny on social networking to go

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:06 PM

Seattle research firm M:Metrics released findings today that sheds light on what is really happening with social networking on the phone.

A survey found that 6.7 percent of Americans reported they used mobile phones in April to upload photos or videos to the Web, chat or use dating applicationsl. The firm, which also covers parts of Europe, said the British are the most inclined to use the phone for social networking, with 10.1 percent using social networking applications, compared with 7.2 percent of Germans and 6.5 percent of French.

The demographics of subscribers who engage in user-generated content are similar across the countriies, with students between 13 and 17 being the most predisposed to the activity. Males are more active, comprising 56.2 percent of the audience in the U.K., 59 percent in Germany, 62.4 percent in the U.S. and 56.8 percent in France.

The question of how these applications are being used stems from the eagerness of carriers to roll out new services. Cingular Wireless has partnered with MySpace to sell ringtones of music from independent bands and send text alerts when people receive a message on the MySpace site. Other carriers have launched blogging applications and most offer instant messaging and dating applications.

Many believe that the mobile phone will be the hot device for social network. The idea that you can network while on the go makes more sense than waiting to sit down at your computer and update your circle of friends.

In the U.S., M:Metrics said T-Mobile USA having the most active subscribers, wth 10 percent of its subscribers using social networking applications.

"As we have seen with the rise in MySpace, YouTube and Flickr, there is a substantial population of connected creators on the Web," M:Metrics' Mark Donovan. "With as many as 10 percent of mobile subscribers participating in this activity over the operator network, there is a sizable business here across the entire mobile sector, which will only grow when more of these sites fully integrate mobile access."

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Penny Arcade tells Hollywood to kiss its ... uh, ring

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:56 AM

Quoted:

We've been in quote "talks" with three separate entertainment entities, and in every case these people imagine that they are descending from heaven in a shaft of light, hand outstretched, offering to raise us from the ghetto squalor of comics and the Internet. They offer terrible money for a tremendous amount of work, and we're supposed to accept whatever they say because they are from Los Angeles or New York. We don't need them, and never will. Our readers have assured this. The next emissary from those debased kingdoms can fall to one knee before my golden throne and kiss my signet ring.

-- Jerry Holkins of Seattle-based Penny Arcade, an online comic strip that has apparently attracted the attention of Hollywood types. FiringSquad.com interview here (courtesy Kotaku).

More background on Penny Arcade here.

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Getty: New CFO and his nice new salary

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:08 AM

Seattle-based Getty Images said today it has hired a new chief financial officer and senior vice president, replacing Elizabeth Huebner, who said in December that she would retire in the first half of this year.

Thomas Oberdorf, 49, was officially installed in the position Monday, according to a regulatory filing out today from Getty. He was previously CFO at CMGI, a technology and e-commerce company in Waltham, Mass., and before that held a similar title at BMG Direct, a division of media company Bertelsmann AG.

Oberdorf will be paid $400,000 a year, and could receive yearly bonuses of as much as $160,000. In addition, Getty said it will pay up to $185,000 to relocate Oberdorf, including supplying temporary housing and helping to sell his home and buy a new one here. I'd love to see what kind of temporary housing that kind of money will buy.

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How E. Washington serves Internet power needs

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:20 AM

The buzz continues around plans by the Internet's big three to build power-hungry data centers in Eastern Washington and Oregon.

Today, it's on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, which notes that Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google are taking advantage of low hydroelectric power rates in locating the server farms that run Internet services like search and e-mail.

The story says long-term power contracts for some utility-owned dams are coming loose "for the first time in a half-century."

"The public-utility districts will be able to lay claim to power they have been furnishing to other utilities such as Seattle City Light and Portland General Electric Co. This has created room for watchful companies to swoop in and lock up supplies of cut-rate electricity in what may be a once-in-a-generation opportunity."

Seattle Times technology columnist Brier Dudley connected the dots back in April.

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June 12, 2006

A visit with Sony Online Entertainment - Seattle

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:08 PM

I headed over to Bellevue today to visit with Sony Online Entertainment, which opened up a studio there in fall 2004. Back then, the studio's only employees were its four founders, all of whom had worked at Microsoft. (See here for the story I wrote on the studio in 2005).

Now, SOE-Seattle, as it is called, is up to 42 employees and it's hiring 20 more. Why the big hiring push? They're about to move from pre-production to the production phase of the still top-secret game they're working on. Co-founder and studio head Matt Wilson wouldn't say much about the game, and he wouldn't comment on a poster on the wall of the lobby touting a new game which combines action, adventure and intruigue in a massively multiplayer environment. (See here for a story I wrote last month on these popular MMO games).

Wilson ended up giving me a preview of the game on a not-for-publication basis, and so I can't yet write about it. The studio is confident that the game will be a complete departure from other MMO games, which tend to delve into the fantasy and science-fiction realms. In fact, they're not even going to be calling it an MMO (which stands for "massively multiplayer online"). These games are extraordinarily complex and can take years to develop, and to move away from the tried-and-true formula is a big-money risk on Sony's part. It will be very interesting to see how SOE-Seattle's product fares in the market.

Ed Fries, the former head of Microsoft Game Studios, is still an adviser to SOE-Seattle and pops in every couple of weeks to see the latest phase of the game. The folks at SOE-Seattle still have his Segway scooter to ride through the office, which takes up an entire floor of a building in one of Bellevue's many nondescript office parks.

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IPO trivia

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 4:34 PM

From Deputy Business Editor Rami Grunbaum:

Local venture capitalists help launch a lot of companies, but generally they don't wind up holding the big stakes when those companies go public. Other venture firms, with deeper pockets, usually step into that role by investing in later-stage financings.

An exception is the proposed initial public offering filed this month by Seattle biotech Trubion. Two VC funds with partners based here -- Frazier and Arch -- are the leading shareholders (with about 19 and 18 percent, respectively).

Here's the trivia question: When was the last time two local funds were the top shareholders in a local IPO?

According to our search of SEC filings, you've got to look back at least five and a half years.

Seattle Genetics' IPO, filed in late 2000, had Kirkland-based OVP, Bill Gates' Cascade Investments and Paul Allen's Vulcan Ventures as biggest shareholders, with a collective 38 percent.

Quibblers may point out that Cascade and Vulcan aren't conventional VC funds. They're welcome to search even further back to find a satisfactory answer; please let us know.

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U Village protest nipped in the you-know-what

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:55 PM

One would think that in Seattle, of all places, people would know how to stage a protest.

That wasn't the case on Saturday at the University Village shopping center, where allies of the Defective by Design group were set to demonstrate against the digital rights restrictions in Apple's iPodding universe.

Seattlest reports that the protestors were booted from the center before they could even get going.

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Two local wireless companies in top 10

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:45 PM

IDC has released its top 10 wireless entertainment companies to watch in 2006 and two of them are Seattle-area companies.

IDC ranked companies according to their approach to the wireless data services and entertainment market, the execution of their business plan, and their history of successful commercial deployments.

The two local companies were Bellevue-based Action Engine, which is building a wireless platform to deliver media to phones, and Seattle-based Volantis, which helps deliver media content to the mobile phone.

In addition to Action Engine and Volantis, IDC picked Airplay, iLoop Mobile, LOC-AID, Neven Vision, Promptu, Roundbox, Surfkitchen and Third Screen Media.


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Telecom bundles getting bigger

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:34 PM

Communication companies are increasingly selling more and more services bundled together at a small discount to the consumer. And consumers are apparently likng it.

IDC said consumer demand for the convenience of bundled packages of voice, video, broadband, and mobile wireless services is increasing. The research firm predicts that the U.S. market for bundled services will grow from less than 45 million customers today to more than 84 million by 2010.

Many U.S. households already receive cable and Internet services from the same provider (double play). In a few years, these customers will be subscribing to additional services from that provider (triple or quadruple play) for the benefit of one fewer bill to deal with.

But it goes way beyond the convenience of paying one bill. Once the company starts serving you more than one service, it can start integrating services. You can stream video from your video recorder to your cellphone, for instance, and receive better cellphone coverage at home because you may be able to integrate in with your Wi-Fi provider.

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New use for video iPod

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:28 PM

Here's a new use for video iPods sure to rival the latest music video: technicians can refresh their training in ultrasound procedures by viewing "compelling, brief and instructionally rich" refresher courses on their iPods.

Seattle-based SonoSite, which makes handheld systems for taking ultrasound exams, says it started the new intiative to use iPods for training based on the rising cost of health care and ever greater demands for doctors to become more efficient.

Now technicians can get instruction on the spot by viewing one- to five-minute tutorials using the cool tool that fits right into a lab coat pocket. SonoSite calls it "hand-carried education." So where is that appendix located again?

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Wireless makes tracks for kids

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:16 PM

Three new wireless phone services that came out today are jumping on the kid bandwagon.

T-Mobile USA said it is offering kidConnect; Verizon Wireless is starting to offer a tracking service and Disney Mobile is beginning to sell its mobile phone service.

WIth kidConnect, parents can keep their child's bill to $20 a month. For that, the kid has unlimited weekend minutes and free calling to other T-Mobile subscribers, and 50 whenever mintues. After 50 mintues, the account can be replenished online, by phone or at a T-Mobile retail store. It also has some lock down features that helps prevent kids from signing up through the handset for optional services that have recurring charges.

The announcement comes on the heels of Verizon Wireless launch of Chaperone, a child-tracking service. That comes after Sprint Nextel launched a child-tracking service in April.

Location-based services could give a boost to the GPS cellphone market, which has been slow to take off, according to ABI Research.

Also today, Disney Mobile started selling its service today, which brings together both a child-tracking service with a bundle of minutes and monitored rate plans. It's $60 a month for two phones and a long list of options. The family features include prohibiting phone usage during certain hours and monitoring who a child can call.


"By combining tracking and cellular technologies, wireless carriers could jumpstart what has been, to date, a sluggish segment of the GPS market," said analyst Ken Hyers.


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Cellphone buying is confusing

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:05 PM

Consumer Action, a non-profit organization, said Americans want more information that's easy to understand when buying a new cellphone plan.

A survey of 1001 adults found that 61 percent wanted more details about their service plan presented in an easy-to-understand manner.

Consumers told surveyors they don't like surprises about the cost and coverage area of cellphone service.

In addition, 50 percent of subscribers were surprised by the amount of their first bill and 39 percent were surprised by the coverage area they actually received. An overwhelming majority, 90 percent, would like an estimate of their first bill up front when they purchase wireless service.

To avoid surprises, the organization suggested checking out their "Choosing a Wireless Service Provider" site.

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Microvision gets IBM exec on board

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:59 PM

Microvision snagged a seasoned technology executive from IBM to fill an opening on its board today, announcing new director Jeanette Horan, who heads IBM's Silicon Valley Laboratory and is vice president of Worldwide Information Managment Development.

Horan, a U.K. native, has been at IBM since 1998. Before that she helped develop and market the AltaVista Web search engine at Digital Equipment Corp.

Microvision, which has struggled bring its technology to market and keep afloat financially, has been changing the makeup of its board in an attempt to turn the company around. On April 10, the company was warned it was not in compliance with the Nasdaq rule requiring it to have a majority of independent directors. Horan's appointment could be helpful on both fronts.


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Who will fill the void at Microsoft?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:25 PM

With blogging star Robert Scoble clearing out of the company, and with Mini-Microsoft on some kind of hiatus, who will move in as Microsoft's new blogebrity?

Sure, Microsoft has some 3,000 employee blogs, but many of those just don't have the same zing that brought Scoble and Mini such large audiences.

Will someone step up to fill the void? And would Microsoft want that to happen? I'd love to hear the PR discussions that must be taking place about the issue. And it is a PR issue.

By the way, the breadth of reaction to Scoble's resignation is surprising. The departure has its own commemorative tile, its own Wall Street Journal writeup and even its own conspiracy theories. When was the last Microsoft departure that generated this much attention? Oh yeah, that's right.

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June 11, 2006

Scoble leaving Microsoft

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:50 AM

Well-known Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble is leaving the company and the region. I suppose it was only natural that bloggers were the ones to break the news -- even before Scoble was ready for it -- since he lived his life under the blogging microscope.

Scoble is reportedly leaving for a Silicon Valley startup called PodTech.net, a podcasting site that recently received $5.5 million in funding.

People who have talked to Scoble have confirmed it, although Scoble doesn't directly announce the news in his first public comments on the issue:

"This is a rapidly-evolving part of my life. I just made this decision and it got out before I was completely ready to talk about it. I invite you to meet with me at the VLoggerCon tomorrow evening at 3 to 6 p.m. in San Francisco where we'll talk about it further (and I'll post again tomorrow about what's going on in my life and why I made this decision)."

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June 9, 2006

Apple store protest tomorrow in U Village

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:54 PM

Defective by Design, the same group that reportedly protested Bill Gates' keynote speech at the recent WinHEC conference, is planning a demonstration at the University Village Apple store Saturday.

This is part of a larger protest at eight Apple stores around the country. Although its hard to tell from the group's site, it appears the demonstration is against the digital rights management restrictions Apple has built into its iTunes program. Sure, it's easy to rip your CDs into iTunes and buy music from Apple's iTunes Music Store, but if you want your iPod to play songs from other online services you could run into problems.

The protesters are scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. to get "suited up" and then start around 10:30 a.m. Maybe they'll break out the HazMat suits from WinHEC.

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Microsoft's high-perf play

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:55 AM

Microsoft rolled out its first offering for the powerful computer networks that perform complex tasks for scientists and engineers.

The company said today Compute Cluster Server 2003 was released to manufacturing and will be available in August. It set the price of the software, which is designed to serve the growing high-performance computing market, at about $469 per computing node.

Clusters of nodes joined together to work in parallel are handling data-intensive tasks such as simulating biological experiments or oil and gas reservoir modeling, the company said. This story explores some of the ways Microsoft is wading into the life sciences business, including high performance computing.

Microsoft sees high-performance computing expanding beyond traditional fields such as life sciences, engineering, manufacturing and natural resources exploration.

In a statement, Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president of the Server and Tools Business, said "Microsoft is making HPC technology more mainstream by bringing the cost advantages, ease of use and partner ecosystem of the Windows Server platform to departments and divisions in commercial industry and the public sector. We want HPC technology to become a pervasive resource -- something that's as easy to locate and use as printers are today."

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June 8, 2006

Sony's Stringer on Gates the salesman

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:40 PM


AP
Howard Stringer

Quoted:

"Look, the skill of Bill Gates is he's so brilliant at his detail that when he slips in the salesmanship, most of us think, 'Oh my God, he must be right.' ... He talked on the one hand, and I loved it, he talked about [Windows] Vista [being] delayed as if delay was normal, and then he started mocking me for delaying PS3 [PlayStation 3]."
-- Howard Stringer, Sony's chief executive, in an interview with Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal.

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Former CEO sues Infinium Labs

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:23 AM

Troubled Seattle video game company Infinium Labs is being sued by its former chief executive, Kevin Bachus, the company said in a filing this week.

Bachus, who gained fame as one of the founders of Microsoft's original Xbox system, joined Infinium in early 2004 and resigned last November. In March, he announced he had signed on as chief executive of Nival Interactive, a U.S.-based video game company with most of its operations in Moscow.

Soon after making that announcement, Bachus filed a lawsuit against Infinium and its officers claiming he is owed $51,000 in back wages and unpaid vacation time. Infinium has refused to pay him, he said in the suit, which is currently making its way through King County Superior Court.

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Dijji goes down for good

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:17 AM

Dijji, the Seattle company formerly known as Dwango, said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it has failed to sell the company and will cease operations.

The company, which sold ringtones and other content on mobile phones, said in the filing that "notwithstanding its efforts over the past several months to enter into and consummate a transaction regarding the sale of the company, including the proposed reverse merger with New Motion ... the company was not able to satisfy certain conditions."

The company said after considering its "financial condition, operations, profitability and viability of continuing as a stand-alone entity," the officers and directors determined "that it is in the best interests of the company, its creditors and stockholders that the company cease operations and commence an orderly liquidation and winding up."

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M:Metrics gains exec

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:22 AM

M:Metrics, the Seattle company that conducts mobile research, said today that Peter Wiederspan has joined as chief financial officer.

Wiederspan comes from companies including Nextel, VeriSign and Illuminet.

"We're proud to have attracted an individual of Peter's caliber to join our company," said M:Metrics Chief Executive Will Hodgman in a release. "Having spent more than a decade in the telecommunications industry, Peter is a perfect complement to our team of mobile and measurement industry luminaries."

Wiederspan began his career at Ernst and Young before joining Nextel in its early years. After that he joined a start-up called Illuminet that was building database and infrastructure for the telecommunications sector. As Illuminet's vice president, finance and investor relations, Wiederspan was a key architect of the company's initial public offering and brokered the company's acquisition by VeriSign.

Wiederspan continued to work at VeriSign where he directed financial operations of its telecommunications division.

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CrackBerry still alive and well

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:12 AM

It seems it has been awhile since we've heard about wireless devices leading to e-mail addictions.

Apparently, the trend is alive and well.

Reuters reported today in this eWeek story that Rick Ueno, general manager of the Sheraton Chicago Hotel, said he began a program that offers to lock up guest's e-mail devices in his offices if they are looking for a break.

The perk derives from his own personal BlackBerry addiction. He recently switched to a regular cellphone.

"I was really addicted to my BlackBerry. I had an obsession with e-mail," he told Reuters. "Morning and night. There came a time when I didn't think it was healthy. ... I quit cold turkey.

"I run a hotel with over 900 employees and thousands of guests. I think I'm more effective. I feel better. I sleep better. My family likes it," he said of his post-BlackBerry life.

There is no charge for the service.


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June 7, 2006

June is wireless month

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:31 PM

The Yankee Group said today it is calling June "Wireless Month."

The research company said that during the month it will release new research, survey data and throw live events surrounding "significant recent and looming market developments in wireless ... with the aim of providing carriers, handset manufacturers and other industry stakeholders with deep business insights and recommendations."

Yankee Group is revealing the results of its 2006 Mobile User Survey along with new market research, Web seminars and a Wireless Leadership Summit.

Check more out here.

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T-Mobile has more spots

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:43 PM

Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA said today that it has partnered with Sofitel to roll out the T-Mobile HotSpot network in its hotels. As a result, T-Mobile said the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower Hotel will represent the 7,000th deployed T-Mobile HotSpot.

T-Mobile will provide all 10 of the U.S.-based Sofitel hotel properties with common area and guest room access.

Now with a partnership with Sofitel T-Mobile provides Wi-Fi access at more than 7,000 public locations throughout the country, with additional access being made available at more than 27,000 international roaming locations.

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Mophone mash-up all mixed up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:38 PM

See if you can follow this saga ...

In April, Mophone, a Vancouver, B.C., company creating a social-networking application for mobile phones, merged with 3GUpload of Indianapolis.

The combined company -- being called 3GUpload -- moved to Seattle.

3GUpload then raised $20 million in venture capital from the VCs who had backed Myspace.com to go full steam ahead toward the social networking mobile phone space.

Bill Bryant, Mophone's chief executive who co-founded Seattle-based Qpass and was also a venture capitalist for Atlas Venture, was appointed CEO.

And today, the company said its new name will be Mixxer.

The company also announced that its mobile music Web site is relaunching with new features to help members explore and discover music and artists.

One of the new features is the Mixxer Mash-Up, which allows a user to create your own ringtones by mixing music with 17 pre-set sounds.

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Clearwire in the clear

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:27 PM

On Monday, we reported that the Hunts Point community on the Eastside would vote on whether Craig McCaw could roll out his new wireless broadband service in the area.

McCaw, who lives in Hunts Point along with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, has backed a number of wireless ventures after his McCaw Cellular Communications was bought by AT&T and turned into AT&T Wireless. He is at it again with Kirkland-based Clearwire, which has rolled out a wireless alternative to DSL and cable in nearly 30 U.S. cities.

Town Administrator Jack McKenzie said today the council approved the lease agreement on Monday. He said it is unknown when the service, a form of a technology called WiMax, will become available.

He added that the lease gives Clearwire the rights to have an antenna on a flagpole for $1,750 a month.

Clearwire filed for an initial public offering last month, with the intention of raising $400 million for operations.

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Take two aspirin and ....

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 1:29 PM

From Business Editor Becky Bisbee:

Drugstore.com leader Dawn Lepore reassured shareholders at the company's annual meeting this morning in Bellevue that her management team is focused on making money one day. In 2005, the company lost $21 million on net sales of $400 million, a loss of 23 cents a share, which was narrower than a net loss of $47.7 million, or 62 cents a share, the year before.

Lepore said the online retailer ended partnerships, such as one with Amazon.com, that didn't perform well and stopped an expensive ad campaign to conserve resources. Over-the-counter health and beauty products are its biggest sellers and contributors to its bottom line.

She reiterated her plan to be EBITDA profitable in the second half of this year, then work on free cash flow and finally be GAAP profitable -- at the $400 million sales level.

Certainly welcome news to investors in the company, which lost $5.3 million in the first quarter on $104 million in sales. The stock has been trading between $4.48 and $2.50 a share and is selling at $2.90 a share today. Two of its biggest investors are Amazon (14 percent) and Melinda French Gates (4.6 percent).

The Web site launched in February 1999 and has never made money.

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June 5, 2006

A broader partnership online

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:00 PM

Microsoft and Qwest have partnered on high-speed DSL access since 2001, when Qwest began offering a co-branded Internet service package with MSN. The relationship must have worked out well, because Microsoft said today it would expand the partnership now that it has debuted its OneCare PC service.

Microsoft will make the OneCare subscription service available to Qwest users, and the two companies are developing a portal-like Web page tailored to customers. The new service will be out this year, but the companies aren't saying when or how much it will cost.

Currently, you can get the MSN/Qwest DSL package for $27 a month for 12 months (it's more if you don't use Qwest's home phone service), and the future pricing will be "very consistent" with that, said Scott Russell, director of product management for Qwest's broadband services. Qwest is the first U.S. telecom company to offer Internet access integrated with Microsoft's Windows Live platform.

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Active RFID tags in the sky

Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:49 PM

Boeing took another step toward putting active radio frequency identification tags onto airplane parts by beginning a 120-day test of the tags on board a FedEx plane. Boeing wants to test potential electromagnetic interference from the battery-powered tags, which the FAA has not approved yet.

The tags were installed on the flight deck, avionics compartment, cargo compartment and wheel wells. They operate at 915 MHz and transmit a signal every three seconds, making them readable from as far as 1,000 feet away.

Ken Porad, Boeing Commercial Airlines' RFID program manager, says the active tags will allow checks on aircraft inventory without opening access doors. Boeing has been promoting the use of RFID tags with its suppliers, saying the airline industry will benefit by being able to track and manage parts more effectively if they have chips holding information such as maintenance history.

But questions remain about how tagging numerous parts will affect airplane assembly, and whether active tags will be considered safe by the FAA. Last year the FAA approved the use of passive tags, which do not transmit signals independently, on airplane parts.

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New rival for Boeing's Connexion?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:19 PM

Boeing's in-flight broadband service, Connexion, may have a new competitor in JetBlue Airways, which on Friday won an auction for a chunk of wireless spectrum that could be used for in-flight telephone and Internet.

The Associated Press reports that JetBlue won the bid for a paltry $7 million through its entertainment subsidiary, LiveTV. The spectrum isn't limited to just JetBlue, and LiveTV could offer the service to other airlines.

Boeing's Connexion uses satellite-based Internet access, not wireless spectrum, through mostly international airlines like Lufthansa, El Al and Asiana Airlines. Prices start at $10 anhour.

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H-1B visas and the tech economy

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:57 PM

Tech companies maxed out the number of H-1B visas allowed this year even earlier than 2005, reaching the cap of 65,000 permits for temporary workers last week. Those visas are intended to be used over the next fiscal year, starting in October. Meanwhile, the immigration bill passed by the Senate would nearly double the cap to at least 115,000.

How would this affect our local tech economy? Bill Gates recently said he favored doing away with the whole program. But even in an economy that has been generally on the upswing, not every qualified IT worker here can find a job.

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RealNetworks' new hire

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:39 PM

RealNetworks said today it hired Harold Zeitz, the chief operating officer of Bellevue-based ShareBuilder, as its senior vice president for media software and services. Zeitz will be responsible for RealNetworks' existing RealPlayer and Superpass products and oversee the introduction of new products.

Before ShareBuilder, Zeitz was president and chief operating officer for WorldStream Communications, and before that he was an executive at AT&T Wireless.

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Citel goes to London

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:31 PM

Seattle-based Citel Technologies, which helps companies migrate from old telephone systems to Internet-based ones, intends to raise money through AIM, or the Alternative Investment Market, a London Stock Exchange.

Citel, which deploys VoIP without making companies buy all new hardware, plans to raise 10 million pounds, or roughly $18.7 million.

Vonage, which provides consumer VoIP in the U.S., went public on the New York Stock Exchange last week. It has faced lawsuits for setting aside a portion of its $531 million IPO for its customers.

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Bill Maher's show debuts on Amazon.com

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:54 AM

Quoted: ""I would not be surprised in five years if Amazon was a network."
-- Comedian Bill Maher, who last week starred in the first of 12 online-only talk shows for Amazon.com.

Amazon is booking the guests for the show, called "Amazon Fishbowl with Bill Maher," appearing on Thursday nights this summer.

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Lost in translation: No MS iPod

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:46 AM

Microsoft denies rumors that it's making a device in Japan to compete with Apple Computer's iPod, PC Magazine reports.

Reports have surfaced, the magazine reports, that Microsoft is working with eight other companies on a portable music player. A spokesperson who did not want to be named explained further:

The announcement that came out of Japan this week was simply about the Japanese launch of Windows Media Player 11. Due to translation issues the announcement was misconstrued to sound like Microsoft was developing a rival to the iPod; that's just not the case.

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Tech exec jumps into politics

Posted by Kristi Heim at 6:09 AM


POGO LINUX
Tim Lee, CEO of Pogo Linux

Tech entrepreneur Tim Lee is making his first run for political office, announcing his campaign today for the Republican nomination to the 45th District seat in the state House.

Lee, founder and chief executive of computer server maker Pogo Linux, started the company in 1999 when he was still a student at UC Berkeley and moved the company to Redmond two years later. Now he hopes to win the seat occupied by Democratic incumbent Larry Springer.

Lee, who describes himself as socially moderate and fiscally conservative, said it was Sen. Bill Finkbeiner who first encouraged him to run for office earlier this year. In the business world, his Linux-based servers present competition for Microsoft's Windows platform. In the political world, he would represent Microsofties living on the Eastside and says solving traffic problems would be a high priority.

Good thing Lee's company is profitable -- in the past this race has proven to be expensive, but the job itself only pays about $34,000.

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June 2, 2006

Pixie Hunt, the wrap-up

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:56 PM

Microsoftie Jordan Schwartz reports that the "Pixie Hunt" test run in Pioneer Square went pretty well, except for a few kinks with uploading photos to Flickr and distributing those to other players. You can see some of his photos from the event here.

"Folks still had fun running around completing the tasks and taking pictures," Schwartz said in an e-mail. He's planning another test before debuting the game on June 12 at the Where 2.0 conference.

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Traffic prediction gets road rage

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:49 PM

Less than two weeks ago, Kirkland-based Inrix announced that it had a new system that provides live traffic information on freeways, arterials and even side streets in most major U.S. cities.

The software also predicts traffic conditions minutes, days, or even a year into the future.

In addition, Inrix announced it had raised $10 million in venture capital. With the financing -- its second round -- the company plans to increase its geographical coverage area, including international markets such as Canada, Western Europe and Australia.

This week, I got an e-mail from LandSonar, which claimed to be "the first supplier of US predictive traffic products." The San Francisco company said it will be announcing some big things in the weeks and months ahead.

I quickly e-mailed Bryan Mistele, CEO of Inrix, to see if LandSonar was licensing its technology.

No way, he said. LandSonar, Mistele said, is the equivalent of "The Farmer's Almanac"; it uses historical data to predict traffic, whereas Inrix is like the Double-Doppler Radar, which takes a lot of data into account -- accidents, construction and school schedules -- to figure out how traffic will be impacted.

LandSonar's Web site says: "Our predictive traffic information system is built on an aggregation of historical traffic data as well as on data regarding recurring and upcoming events that may affect traffic congestion and road speed."

"Obviously, the approaches are very different and lead to very different results," Mistele said in an e-mail.

I thought the two might be connected because LandSonar lists TeleAtlas -- which gets data from Inrix -- as a partner.

Mistele said LandSonar is not using Inrix's data.


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MOD Systems: A review

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:31 PM

I have several iPods and am quite happy with buying online music from the iTunes Music Store and a couple of other sites. I haven't bought an actual physical compact disc for at least a year and wasn't planning to buy one ever again.

But, in researching today's article on Seattle's MOD Systems, I headed to the Starbucks in Capitol Hill yesterday to give the company's in-store CD-burning kiosk a try.

That Starbucks had six computer screens equipped with MOD Systems software, and four were being used by people who were browsing through the touch-screens and listening with the accompanying headphones.

The system had lots of recommendations for users. I went right to the search and hunted for the band The The. I found eight albums -- not bad. Then I searched for the band Morcheeba. Nothing. But the system told me that Morcheeba appears on an album by Lyrics Born, which I hadn't heard of before, and after giving it a listen I decided to buy it.

The system on the whole was slow. It took several seconds for a song to play after I selected it, and there was an overall lack of responsiveness. But once I got to the purchase stage it went very smoothly. I swiped my credit card, and the system took several minutes to burn a disk and print out liner notes. I assembled the materials into a nice-looking cardboard CD package and was ready to go.

I left having discovered a cool new band. I purchased - and received - a spanking new CD in minutes for $12. I wish the blackberry green tea frappucino I ordered had been as satisfying, but that's a story for a different day.

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June 1, 2006

iJam in development

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:57 PM

Our colleague Brier Dudley writes today about a new online music service in town called iJam. It was founded by Hadi Partovi, the former chief of the MSN portal.

You can breathe a sigh of relief that another iWord isn't entering our vocabulary. According to the company, "iJam" is just a placeholder name and will be replaced.

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E3: Nintendo dominates the post-show awards

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:23 PM

Redmond-based Nintendo of America continues its post-Electronics Entertainment Expo euphoria this week as it dominates the Game Critics Awards for Best of E3 2006. The winners are decided by 37 media outlets covering the industry. Winners list here.

Nintendo's Wii console won the award for best in show.

People practically stampeded to try it out -- either that or they waited in line for hours. Yet most of them seemingly still came away more excited than ever by Nintendo's weird, inspired vision for how gaming could be different.

The Wii also won for best hardware and the "Wii Sports" title won best sports game. Microsoft's upcoming "Gears of War" game also did well, winning for best console game and best action game.

The hype machine's been in motion for a full year on this title, but it took an E3 hands-on multiplayer demo to prove that Gears of War packs as much substance as style.

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New Microsoft project debuting tonight

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:13 AM

Microsoftie Jordan Schwartz has designed a cameraphone scavenger hunt game called "Pixie Hunt," and is giving the game a test run tonight in Pioneer Square before unleashing it on the Where 2.0 conference in San Jose later this month.

It works like this: First, get a Flickr account for photos, a group text messaging service and a special program for your camera-equipped Windows Mobile or Pocket PC phone. The phone will download your tasks (like "take a photo of your team with the Fremont Troll"). When you take a picture, it's automatically uploaded to Flickr and tagged for viewing by other players. Everyone can talk trash to each other using the group SMS messaging.

The game has been described as a skunkworks project out of Microsoft, where Schwartz works on the Photos and Imaging Experience Team. The team handles the photo-imaging pieces of the upcoming Vista operating system and on the Digital Image Suite product.

On his blog, Schwartz said the game is just a prototype, and could end up as a free download from Microsoft.

Want to try it out? Teams of three to six people will give this a go tonight in Pioneer Square starting at 7:30. You get a Cingular phone with the application installed, a GPS locator and beer. You have to give the equipment back, but you can keep the beer. I'm not able to attend, so send me your reports tomorrow.

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How Sony's Connect became an "unmitigated disaster"

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:52 AM

News.com has an interesting article on how Sony tried -- and failed -- to compete with Apple Computer with its Connect online music service. The article points to the well documented communications and operational problems at Sony as being mostly to blame. One executive leading the project, Phil Wiser, is reportedly leaving the company for a small digital entertainment firm.

Past and present insiders at Sony say Apple's meteoric rise in music has left top Sony executives with both respect and envy for Apple's products, even while they resist becoming dependent on Microsoft's digital music technology.

Communications had broken down so badly, the article said, that a Sony team in Japan had to serve as a buffer between Sony programmers and Kinoma, an outside company involved with the project.

Early reviews that were harshly critical of Connect didn't help either.

New York Times: "It's an easy-to-use but, in its debut version, almost embarrassingly crude imitation of the music services that preceded it."

Washington Post: "An embarrassment"

USA Today: "Not only does Sony's service pale next to iTunes, but it doesn't advance the state of the art compared with other online record shops."

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Microsoft rolls out valet parking

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:22 AM

Metro reporter Lisa Chiu has an article in today's paper about how Microsoft is expanding its valet parking service for employees. The parking could be considered a perk, but the service is mainly to try and address the lack of space in Microsoft's parking garages. I'd rather park my own car, but it sounds like that would mean a lot of driving around and around searching for a spot.

According to Microsoft test engineer Tim Hogg, quoted in the article:


"If you show up after 9:30 in the morning, there is nowhere to park. It's been a great work-around for the problems at this place - for every car space there is, there are 1.5 cars that want to park."

This isn't anything new in the tech world. Yahoo! and Google also offer employees valet parking to conserve space.

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