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August 31, 2006

iPod maker in Taiwan sues reporters

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:38 AM

If you thought Apple Computer's attempt to quash internal leaks by suing bloggers was excessive, consider this: a Taiwanese maker of iPods has sued two Chinese journalists for reporting on labor abuses at its factory in southern China, according to today's South China Morning Post.

It started when China Business News reported that workers at Hongfujin Precision Industry in Shenzhen had to work long hours under harsh conditions and more than half were sick. The company makes iPods for Apple and is a subsidiary of Taiwan-based Foxconn.

An Apple spokesman told the Associated Press that the company is working behind the scenes to resolve the dispute. Meanwhile, Hongfujin filed a 30 million yuan defamation suit (about $3.75 million) against the journalists and persuaded a Shenzhen court to freeze their personal assets: bank accounts, homes and a car.

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Google tops rivals in sending traffic to shopping sites

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:25 AM

Search engines are one of the first places to research products before buying them online, but which one sends the most people to shopping sites? No surprise.

The Hitwise research service reports that Google was responsible for nearly 15 percent of all U.S. "upstream" visits to shopping and classifieds sites last week. An upstream site is the Web page visited immediately before the target site. In other words, 15 percent of shopping-related traffic online came straight from Google.

That makes Google hugely valuable to advertisers, especially compared to rival sites. Yahoo! Search accounted for 4.7 percent of upstream visits, and MSN Search was responsible for 2.3 percent.

Social networking site MySpace accounted for 2.5 percent of upstream visits, which is interesting because you can't really research products on MySpace (not yet, at least, but MySpace has just partnered with Google to incorporate Web search).

By the way, the top three product search terms for shopping last week were Barbie, iPod and Heelys roller shoes.

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Microsoft's Mac team figures out blogging

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:22 AM

The Mac team at Microsoft gets its first official blog, finally. I didn't think any team there was blog-less at this point.

In an elevator, someone came up to me and told me that I had to be pretty special to get a PowerBook. I reminded him that Microsoft makes world-class Mac software, and someone's gotta work on it. I had a building receptionist ask me if I needed her to call someone to come get me.

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5-minute speed investing

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:46 AM

No wonder the list of participants is so long for the inaugural ZINO Zillionaire Investment Forum -- the company that gives the most compelling 5-minute presentation will walk out with $100,000.

Sounds like a good return for such a small amount of time invested.

Here's how it works:

20 investors from the ZINO Society, a Seattle angel investment group, have pooled together $100,000. They've invited 28 local early-stage companies to the Fairmont Olympic Hotel on Sept. 18.

After the companies make their 5-minute presentations, Zino will choose four finalists. Those companies will then have an additional 10 minutes of presentation time. The best will be awarded the $100,000.

Here's the list of companies participating:


Blue Lake Publishing

Portland
Judy MacDonald Johnston, CEO
Blue Lake Children's Publishing is a publisher of innovative, character-based magazines for children ages 2-12 years old.

Braincandy
Seattle
Sam Reich-Dagnen
Braincandy creates award-winning developmental DVDs, CDs, books & toys designed to help very young children think critically, creatively & independently.

Carousel Information Management Solutions
Bellevue
Janis Machala, CEO
Provides easy-to-use, safe and secure computing/Internet capabilities for active seniors and their families.

Cascadia Labs
Seattle
John Clyman, Robert P. Lipschutz, John David Patton (the 3 founders)
Proactively identify web sites contaminated with malware and malicious behavior

CG Therapeutics
Seattle
Jonathan A. Green, CEO
A new immunotherapy to treat cancer effectively with very few side effects

Charter Bus America
Seattle
Dylan Peterson, CEO
Charter bus booking system that provides online quotes in seconds for charter bus customers such as churches, high school and college organizations, businesses, wedding planners, and individuals.

Chelsey Henry
Seattle
Chelsey Owen, CEO
Chelsey Henry designs, manufactures, and markets multi-functional, stylish totes and handbags with brand appeal that retail under $250. Designed by on-the-go women, the CH collection is stylish and functional, well thought out with pockets and practical features to simplify a busy woman's life.

CleverSet
Seattle
Todd Humphrey, CEO
CleverSet provides personalized product recommendations that are based on each customer's current and predicted online shopping behavior.

Document Command
Kirkland
Ron Wiener, CEO
We automate the processing of postal mail, converting it into electronic documents for customers, which span business, government, military, residential and national post offices.

Formotus
Bellevue
Joe Verschueren, CEO
Enables information workers to create, deploy and manage data applications to their wireless devices.

Global Wonder
Seattle
Cindy Ball
A premier digital entertainment company, specializing in the development of experiences that combine stories, games, rich media, user-created content, commerce and social communities.

Hestia
Bellevue
Matthew Moore, CEO
Hestia provides mobile solutions, sold as a service, for small and medium-sized service businesses that automates the entire business process connecting the mobile field worker to the central office.

HomeMovie
Winthrop
John Larsen, CEO
HomeMovie.com is an established web-based video storage, editing, and sharing service, with over 2 million clips archived for over 100,000 users.

Incident Tactics
Lynnwood
John Mitchell
Creates online simulations for police, fire, education & corporate business continuity departments depicting large-scale natural or terrorists disasters.

iSold It on eBay
Seattle
Kenneth E. Byrne, President/CEO
Sell business and consumer products through multiple online auction and fixed-price marketplaces using retail storefronts and warehouses as market-entry and production facilities.

Motion Research
Seattle
Dominic Dobson, CEO
Commercial and industrial wireless human I/O display

Novinium
Kent
Glenn Bertini, CEO
Repair & rejuvenation of cable.

Overcast Media
Seattle
Richard Stoakley
Overcast media is the first company to allow anyone to create DVD-style commentary for television shows and distribute them over the web.

Perlego
Gig Harbor
Todd Ostrander, CEO
The company delivers a hosted, centrally managed platform that dramatically reduces the cost and complexity of provisioning, tracking, supporting, and maintaining the growing number of mobile devices and data assets throughout the entire mobile device value chain.

Pluggd
Seattle
Alex Castro, CEO
Pluggd aims to help consumers discover Internet Radio and TV programming (e.g. videocasts, podcasts, etc.) that will inform them, delight them, and enrich their lives.

Positron
Boise
Martin Hedley, CEO
We license unique and patented non-destructive testing applications that determine material integrity before a crack occurs.

Pure Home
Kirkland
Teresa Tullio, CEO
PURE HOME is a color design and architectural paint store utilizing a new designer created color system.

Red Llama
Seattle
Peter Gruenbaum, CEO
Red Llama is a training software company dedicated to providing the premier method for disseminating expertise on medical procedures and other complex processes.

RIPL
Seattle
Bill Messing, CEO
RIPL distributes user-generated content (e.g., photos, music, video) dynamically based on the user's relationships and interests.

Sensa Networks
Seattle
Doug Melby, CEO
We're a technology company that provides food industry leaders including Tyson, Sara Lee and FSA with a more collaborative and systematic way to sell their products.

Suhari
Mercer Island
Jeff Coon, CEO
Suhari is a mobile marketing technology company which enables advertisers to reach their target customers via mobile websites and applications.

Theo Chocolate
Seattle
Joseph Whinney - CEO
Theo Chocolate makes high-end, specialty, organic and fair trade chocolate from bean to bar.

Yodio
Bellevue
Clay Loges, CEO
Yodio is developing proprietary sound processing technologies that make it easy for most anyone from anywhere to record, package, and publish personalized audio content such as narrated slide shows.

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Star Trek auction at SciFi Museum

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:14 AM

Put on your Vulcan ears and get ready to go where no auction house has gone before.


CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2006
For the Starfleet commander who has (almost) everything.

More than 1,000 props, costumes, models and set pieces from 40 years of Star Trek will be auctioned off by Christie's in October -- at least those that Paul Allen doesn't already own.

A preview of the goods will be held Sept. 8-10 at Allen's Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle. The three-day celebration includes appearances by Star Trek cast members Nichelle Nichols (Lietenant Uhura), George Takei (Sulu) and Walter Koenig (Chekov) and others.

Other speakers are real science luminaries: Martin Cooper, inventor of the first portable cell phone; Marc Raymond, director of Deep Space 1 at Jet Propulsion Laboratories, and Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute.


CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2006
Want a tribble? No trouble

Some of the top Star Trek items to be auctioned include original models of the Starship Enterprise and costumes worn by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Patrick Stewart. Nothing screams intergalactic heat louder than a form-fitting gold polyester top with that trademark arrowhead logo.

Star Trek's official 40th anniversary is Sept. 8. Don't expect Microsoft Research to get a lot of work done that day.


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August 30, 2006

Microfinance gets another boost

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:17 PM

Stepping up its efforts in the area of microfinance, or financial services for the poor, the Gates Foundation today said it has awarded a three-year grant to the Grameen Foundation. The $1.5 million grant is the third largest the Grameen Foundation has received toward its goal of reaching 5 million new families and making sure at least half of them can rise above poverty permanently within five years.

The Grameen Foundation grew out of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, started by economics professor Muhammad Yunus to offer tiny loans to poor women to expand their businesses. It operates in 22 countries and has a technology center in Seattle.

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LiveVillage goes live

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:48 PM

Villageware put out the beta version of its LiveVillage digital map of Seattle, and I've been trying it out.

CEO Mike Safoutin is right -- you never know what you're going to find when you're not really searching for it.

I moved my mouse over Ballard and found a listing for an upcoming show by legendary surf guitarist Dick Dale at the Tractor Tavern. So far, the event listings seem a bit light, and it takes some time to learn how to navigate the map. If every listing worked as well as the Tractor's, it could be a very useful tool.

Eight local retailers are distributing the map on CD, and it's also available in a free download. The sponsors also provide a link to LiveVillage on their Web sites.

The first two weeks of the beta has been an interesting learning process, says Safoutin. Now it's about ironing out the kinks.

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Free songs for everyone, but...

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:15 AM

Yes, you might be able to download some music for free, but that doesn't mean that record companies won't exact a price some other way.

Universal Music said it will be making some of its songs available for free on a Web site backed by New York company SpiralFrog. The idea is to display advertisements to users while the song is downloading. Universal -- and other record companies that follow -- will get an upfront payment from SpiralFrog and a portion of the advertising revenue.

One major drawback to the service came out Tuesday. Techcrunch reports that users will have to log in to the SpiralFrog service at least once a month to watch additional advertising, or the songs will stop playing. That's a pretty major tradeoff.

Add to that two more restrictions: the songs can't be burned to a CD and won't work with iPods. Wired reports that the service will only use Windows Media files protected by Microsoft's PlaysForSure digital rights technology. (That technology, by the way, was cracked recently.)

This service doesn't seem like it will rock the world of the 18- to 35-year-old demographic that loves portability and knows how to download music illegally.

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Google and Apple in the boardroom

Posted by Kim Peterson at 8:58 AM

Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt joins Apple's board. Very interesting.

I wonder how much of this was brought about by Genentech CEO Arthur Levinson, who is also a board member of Google and Apple.

Apple's board also includes the chairman of Intuit, the chief executive of J. Crew and former Vice President Al Gore.

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August 29, 2006

Citizens campaign for net neutrality

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:07 PM

A coalition of diverse groups has gathered almost 30,000 signatures to deliver to Sen. Patty Murray on Wednesday, urging her to vote in support of net neutrality.

Members of the SavetheInternet coalition plan to deliver the petition to Murray's office in Seattle, said Kevin Moore, a Microsoft employee and volunteer at MoveOn.org who helped circulate the petition. The Washington state drive is part of a nationwide Internet campaign by the coalition that has collected more than a million signatures. They are targeting senators who have been undecided on the issue in the past, Moore said. While Sen. Maria Cantwell has already come out in support of net neutrality, Murray could be a deciding vote in the Senate, he said.

Bret Chiafalo, a Seattle resident who signed the online petition, had this to say: "My phone or cable company should not be telling me which Web sites I can open on my computer. Senator Murray has a choice. She can take away Internet freedom by turning the Internet over to giant corporations or she can side with constituents by voting to preserve net neutrality."

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InfoSpace dives after sell rating

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:41 PM

Investment bank WR Hambrecht said it has started following InfoSpace, initiating coverage with a "sell" rating that contributed to a fall in stock price today, according to StreetInsider.com.

Shares dropped about $1 to a low of $20.82 before recovering to close at $21.90, or down 9 cents. But WR Hambrecht Analyst Denise Garcia seems to think the stock could fall much lower, having set her price target at $17.50.

InfoSpace partners with wireless carriers to deliver content such as ringtones to customers. It also delivers content directly to consumers on Moviso.com.

"We believe growth prospects for the mobile content market have become more realistic than in previous years, helping provide more reliable expectations for investors," Garcia said in a research note. "As the market has begun to take shape, we question the role of third-party service providers such as InfoSpace. We believe the role of the third-party service provider will become increasingly pressured as large content providers and mobile distributors seeking competitive and financial advantages create direct relationships with each other."

In July, I wrote about how the Bellevue company was betting on the wireless industry. In the story, Oppenheimer analyst Sasa Zorovic said the extent of the carriers' control of the wireless industry made it a tough business. If an InfoSpace does too well, carriers will demand a larger cut. If it doesn't do well enough, it could get cut off, he said.

"Wireless carriers are just like cable operators," said Zorovic, who also had a "sell" rating on the company. "They own the customers. If they see you are starting to make money, they will squeeze you. They don't have to share their revenue."

In another story, I focused on the middleman companies that fall between the carriers and the content owners. It analyzed whether carriers would continue to need help with content. Although there is some threat they won't, there is also the assumption that with more and more content being created for mobile, there is no way that a carrier -- whose core business is building wireless networks -- would be able to manage of them.

We'll have to wait and see.

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Microsoft extends disaster relief tech help

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:19 PM

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Microsoft developed an online database for survivors to exchange information about their whereabouts with family and friends. The company collaborated with the Red Cross and the San Diego SuperComputer Center to build Katrinasafe.org, which was used by some 340,000 people.

Microsoft also donated 180 Smartphones and dispatched satellite-equipped buses to aid the relief effort.

In the year since, Microsoft has refined the database tool and made it available to assist with communication during future disasters. Safe and Well can be reached through disastersafe.redcross.org.

The Red Cross has since outlined three main areas of technology investment to prepare for future disasters. These include creating a call-center with capacity to handle 100,000 emergency cases a day for up to 20 days and stationing communications technologies such as satellite equipment in 21 cities.

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T-Mobile hacker gets sentenced

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:00 PM

A 23-year-old who hacked his way into Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA's network and accessed a Secret Service agent's data was sentenced yesterday to one-year of home detention, according to the AP.

Nicholas Lee Jacobsen also will have to pay $10,000 in restitution to T-Mobile to cover losses caused by his acts, which took place in 2004.

In February, Jacobsen pleaded guilty to hacking into the company's data network, where he was able to view the names and Social Security numbers of 400 customers, all of whom were notified in writing about the break-in. Jacobsen accessed the information over at least a seven-month period.

In the AP story, the former Santa Ana, Calif., resident, who now lives in Oregon, said he lacked "comprehension and maturity" when he targeted the T-Mobile network.

"I did some very stupid things," Jacobsen told U.S. District Judge George King at his sentencing Monday in Los Angeles.

Jacobsen was able to read some sensitive information that Special Agent Peter Cavicchia could access through his wireless T-Mobile Sidekick device.

"What you've done is very dangerous to others. Maybe you didn't fully appreciate that, perhaps because of your youth," King told Jacobsen Monday.

Jacobsen could have faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the crime, accessing a protected computer.

The situation was a bit embarrassing for the Secret Service, as told in this story. Cavicchia had been using his personal T-Mobile Sidekick for an investigation. The device, which provides voice, e-mail, instant-messaging and Web-browsing capabilities, stores information on a server operated by T-Mobile and Danger, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company that makes the device.

With access to the server, Jacobsen could view Secret Service documents.

Following the leak, Cavicchia resigned from the Secret Service, but he told AP at the time that he was not asked to leave. He said he was cleared during an internal investigation into whether he had improperly revealed sensitive information or violated agency rules.

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Vista Ultimate: $399, available Jan. 30 at Amazon

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:10 AM

Yesterday, we glimpsed leaked Canadian prices for Windows Vista. Now, Amazon.com has a U.S. price and release date for the operating system.

Amazon has Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate DVD-ROM listed for $399. "This item will be released on January 30, 2007," the listing says. It also notes that the product has been available on Amazon since Aug. 15.

Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox appears to be among the first to point out the Amazon listings. He also has a thorough list of Vista prices vs. comparable XP versions/upgrades. The gist: "The Ultimate version looks like a premium price to me, but the other versions are reasonable compared to Windows XP," Wilcox wrote.

More: Microsoft released a statement through its public relations agency, attributed to Kevin Kutz, director of Windows Client.

It is still too premature for us to comment on the final pricing for Windows Vista. We plan to announce Windows Vista U.S. pricing when we ship Windows Vista [Release Candidate 1], later this quarter. We are not providing specific guidance on the availability date for Windows Vista yet. As you know, we are targeting Windows Vista availability for volume license customers in November and general availability in January 2007, although the exact delivery date will be subject to achieving quality metrics based on customer feedback.

Microsoft Office 2007 appears to be scheduled for a simultaneous launch with Vista. Amazon lists the program for $399 and says it will be available for release on Jan. 30, as Microsoft Watch pointed out.

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Microsoft's new question and answer service

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:05 AM

Microsoft has unveiled a test version of Windows Live QnA, a question and answer service for users.

Basically, you go on to ask a question, and other users have four days to answer it. Then people vote for the best answer.

If you know of a good Web site to learn how to cut a kid's hair, or where you can buy cubic zirconia jewelry in a quality setting, your knowledge can be put to use here.

Sounds like some Microsoft people are testing out the waters with questions like these: "Do you think Microsoft should include Windows Live Mail with IE7 just like Outlook Express 6?"

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August 28, 2006

Lauer let go again

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:50 PM

Last week, Sprint Nextel said Chief Operating Officer Len Lauer was leaving the company, his services no longer needed.

This week, he was let go again. This time from he was erased from the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment keynote lineup at the September convention and told he will no longer be the wireless association's chairman of the board.

"Given the situation that Len is no longer serving a role at Sprint Nextel, he has been removed as chairman at CTIA," said Shannon Nix, a CTIA spokeswoman. "The nature of his role at Sprint is why he was elected as chairman. Given that he is no longer in a leadership role there, he is no longer in a leadership role at CTIA."

She added that Sprint Nextel is working on a replacement for the keynote speaker. "There will be no impact on the keynote or on the integrity of the show," she said.

Lauer's term as chairman was expiring at the end of the year. Gary Forsee, Sprint Nextel's chief executive, took over Lauer's role as COO internally at the company, and was also appointed to the CTIA board of directors last week.

"Len's leadership as the association chairman and dedication to serving the wireless community have been exemplary," said Steve Largent, CTIA president and CEO. "He has consistently provided keen insight on a number of wireless-related issues and has been a valuable contributor to the association's and industry's efforts to promote public policy and initiatives that benefit wireless consumers."

Rough couple of weeks.

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Google targets business users; Microsoft threat?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:09 AM

Google moves into what it calls its "starting point" for reaching business users: a software bundle that includes e-mail, chat, calendaring and a Web site development tool. The package will be free, at least initially, and Google's Writely word processing application and spreadsheets software are likely to be included later.

Predictably, analysts are saying this will put Google head-to-head with Microsoft, particularly with price-sensitive markets like small business and education. But that doesn't make a whole lot of sense for two reasons.

First, Microsoft has struggled to gain a foothold with small businesses. Mom and pop operations really haven't had much use for the Microsoft Exchange e-mail program, for example. Microsoft recognizes this and since 2003 has been aggressively wooing small businesses. Educational markets have historically been very receptive to Macintosh and Linux, though Microsoft seems to be gaining more traction there.

Second, can you really compare Google's applications with Microsoft's? Would customers really be deciding between Gmail and Outlook? These are totally different creatures, and may not share the same customer base at all.

For more:

"The Google solution is what I'd call patchwork, or Frankenstein, software," Tom Rizzo of Microsoft tells InformationWeek.

"That doesn't mean Microsoft should sit back and celebrate. They are gonna get their *** kicked in this space because of their lack of attention to the Macintosh." says former Microsoft employee Robert Scoble.

"Google is smartly couching its package, at least initially, not as a replacement for Microsoft Office, but as a way to add collaboration features," says blogger Kent Newsome.

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Monday morning news roundup

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:38 AM

Monday morning tidbits:

-- Seattle podcasting service Pluggd said today it has been selected to participate in the next DEMO conference, which runs from Sept. 25 to 27 in San Diego. One or two local companies seem to be regularly invited to exhibit at the emerging technologies conference, which takes place twice a year.

Recent exhibitors include Smilebox, Vizrea and Trimergent.

-- Nintendo said that 2 million people have used its free wireless gaming service, called the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. In a rather bizarre point of comparison, Nintendo says the population of its Wi-Fi service now surpasses the population of 15 different U.S. states, including Montana, Nebraska and New Mexico.

-- Tickets for the next Mind Camp event have gone on sale at the event's Web site. The next Mind Camp is slated for Nov. 11-12 in West Seattle, and early tickets cost $29 through Sept. 15.

Mind Camp bills itself as a "digitally minded, entrepreneur-driven, overnight Seattle confab" and asks what happens when you put 250 of Seattle's brightest minds together for 24 hours. Let's hope everyone showers first.

--The next nPost.com Seattle networking event for entrepreneurs takes place tomorrow at 6 p.m. at The Great Nabob in lower Queen Anne.

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Vista prices, eh?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:29 AM

Microsoft Windows Vista, the company's new operating system, could cost about $349 for the premium version, if a price list posted and then removed from Microsoft Canada's Web site is to be believed.

Neowin.net had it first. ZDNet blogger Ed Bott grabbed the price list before it was taken down.

Rather than doing a straight price conversion from Canadian to U.S. currency, he calculated the relative increase from Canadian XP prices to Canadian Vista prices (according to the Microsoft Canada price list) and applied the same relative increase to U.S. prices for XP to get to a U.S. Vista price estimate. The result: Vista Ultimate, $349; Business, $269; Home Premium, $239; Home Basic, $199.

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August 25, 2006

This weekend: Penny Arcade Expo

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:42 PM

An estimated 17,000 video game fans are expected to head to Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center this weekend for the Penny Arcade Expo.

This convention, just a few years old now, has grown to what seems to be the largest video game convention out there, especially now that E3 is scaling down to fewer than 10,000 people. PAX, as it is called, isn't an industry conference; rather, it's solely for video game fans.

Admission is about $25 each day. Check the convention home page for more information.

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MSFT files annual report

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:38 PM

Microsoft's annual report hit the SEC this afternoon. You can read it here.

It's 97 pages long, vs. last year's 81 and 156 in 2004.

From the top, Microsoft strikes an optimistic tone regarding its legal woes, among other things:

We believe that over the past few years we have laid the foundation for long-term growth by delivering innovative new products, creating opportunities for partners, improving customer satisfaction, putting many of our most significant legal challenges behind us, and improving our internal processes.

More: Microsoft also moderated its description of what the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system will deliver. In last year's filing, Microsoft said it was expecting its "significant" investment in Vista to yield "the most manageable and powerful operating system product ever released by Microsoft for both our business and consumer markets." This year, its "major" investment is expected to result "in a significantly more manageable and powerful PC operating system than previously released by Microsoft."

Last year, the features weren't finalized at the time the 10-K was filed, but Microsoft predicted "significant advances in security, digital media, user interfaces, and other areas". Now, Vista will include simply "advances" in those things.

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Toshiba to make Microsoft's Zune player

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:32 PM

Microsoft has hired Toshiba to manufacture its upcoming Zune music and video player. The news came out in some documents Toshiba filed with the Federal Communications Commission to get approval for the project.

I tried to get in to the filings, but the FCC site seems to be swamped right now. You can see some pictures of the Zune in some Frankenstein-ish laboratory setup here. Mobilewhack links to this FCC site as the place to review documents.

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Korologos leaving MSFT board

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:41 AM

Ann McLaughlin Korologos will not seek reelection to Microsoft's board of directors, the company said today.

Korologos, chairman of the Rand Corp. think tank and former U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Ronald Reagan, was elected to Microsoft's board Jan. 27, 2000.

In a statement, Microsoft said Korologos' decided to step down to devote more time to other professional and personal commitments.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my tenure on the board of this worldwide, highly respected company; however, new responsibilities and opportunities force me reluctantly not to seek re-election," Korologos, 63 at the time of Microsoft's last proxy filing, said in the statement.

She is one of two women on the 10-member board. Microsoft did not say in the statement who might be nominated for election to Korologos' board seat.

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More on Amazon's plans

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:01 AM

Technology journalist Glenn Fleishman, who writes the Practical Mac column in our pages, has a cogent analysis of Amazon.com's new EC2 service in the comments, and calls it another piece in the puzzle for wide availability of on-demand commodity computing.

Here's what else Amazon needs to complete the puzzle, he writes:

--Per CPU hour or per transaction SQL service, with the database storage persistent and charged at S3 storage rates.

--Persistent hard drive images that can be mounted and written within the EC2 system. Right now, you create an entire disk image that is non-persistent. If it crashes or when you shut it down, all data on the virtual hard drives is dumped.

--Automatic load balancing for incoming requests across a set of instances. This would allow me to go from, say, 10 virtual servers feeding out my Web site to 1,000 without having to build the software that takes requests to my Web address and redirects that.

"This marks another step in Amazon trying to develop another multi-billion-dollar line of revenue," he writes. "I wouldn't say that they will develop that much out of it, but there's a large potential to make huge sums from tiny amounts."

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August 24, 2006

Amazon's new business service

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:59 PM

The folks at Amazon.com are hard at work these days, and not just trying to figure out how to sell you coconut water.

From Greg Linden and others comes word of Amazon.com's new Elastic Compute Cloud. As I understand it, EC2 is a Web service in limited release that lets developers expand their computing power very quickly for Web-based work. If your business suddenly takes off and you've maxed out your server capacity, for example, you can go online and rent more virtual servers from Amazon.

Other companies have offered this for a while, but Amazon says it's different in that it only charges you for the server capacity you use. You don't have to pay for a predesignated amount.

The company is only accepting a limited number of trial users at this point. It sounds like you are required to use this with Amazon's S3 online storage service, which rents out storage to developers on a per-month basis.

I'm not as avid a follower of the company as other reporters on staff, and might not be the best judge as to what this all means. But it seems like this has very little to do with selling things online and more about Amazon positioning itself as a business-to-business service provider. If this takes off, Amazon would get a healthy, stable stream of monthly revenue that could help the company withstand the tumultuous ups and downs of retail sales. And that, especially given the company's recent profit troubles, would be good news.

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Buffett's money starts to flow

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:49 PM

The first payment of Warren Buffett's estimated $31 billion gift to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation went to the foundation today in the form of 500,000 Class B shares of Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway.

Buffett pledged to give 5 percent of the total gift each year. That's 500,000 shares down and 9,500,000 more to go. The shares are worth $3,208 each at today's closing price, for a total of $1.6 billion. Buffett requires the full value of his gift to be spent the year after it's received, starting in 2009.

Until then the money is managed through Cascade Investments, the private Kirkland firm that handles the Gateses' investments. Lest some readers get the impression that the Gates Foundation is suddenly funding media companies in its mission to save the world, Cascade's investments run the gamut from oil, silver, solid waste and ethanol to the Canadian National Railway.

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Dirty Sanchez cleans up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:21 AM

InfoSpace's "Dirty Sanchez Party Game" was honored with the first ever mobile award at the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival this week.

Although the game is made by the Bellevue-based company, it is not yet available in the U.S.

It is typically played with a group of people. There's eight different mini-games including charades and spin-the-bottle. If you lose a game, you risk having to perform one of the 50 embarrassing challenges.

The mini games include:

-- Rhythm Game -- "A karaoke for your thumbs with each player having to tap out an ever more complex rhythm on the phone's keys."

-- Spin the Bottle -- "A game for unlimited number of players, simply spin the phone on a table and whoever it ends up pointing to takes the challenge."

-- Simon Says -- "Remember and enter increasingly tricky sequences of numbers displayed on the phone or take the challenge."

It's a spinoff of the popular MTV show in the U.K., a sort-of version of the American "Jackass" show, but a little more wild.

The winner was selected by readers of Edge Online, a magazine based in the U.K. The editor made the observation: "It could only have worked on a mobile," which is more than can be said for most mobile titles.

The other nominees for the EIEF Edge Mobile Award were: Doom RPG by Jamdat, Lumines Mobile by Gameloft and Tower Bloxx by Digital Chocolate

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New China antitrust laws: should Microsoft worry?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:08 AM

As the Chinese government develops a system of antitrust law to regulate its booming market, large foreign companies like Microsoft could face pressure for their dominant positions, says this story from Bloomberg.

Microsoft Windows has long held more than 90 percent market share worldwide. The software giant has run afoul of antitrust regulators in Korea, Japan and Europe, but so far not in China. Competing unfairly in the market would seem to require that people are actually buying its product rather than copying it.

This story says companies with more than 50 percent market share in China will be investigated, and those using their position to set unfair prices will be fined up to 10 percent of annual sales.

The 50 percent market share figure seems to be somewhere between the U.S. and European standards, although in those cases market share isn't the only factor used to determine whether a company is the dominant player.

The draft law is enough to strike fear into the hearts of corporate executives overseas, some claim. But others say such worries are exaggerated.

"China has been on the verge of enacting antitrust laws for many years now," says Dan Harris, founder of Seattle law firm Harris & Moure and a former antitrust lawyer. "I will believe it when I see it."

China's new rules won't necessarily deter foreign investment, he said, "they will just make companies have to deal with antitrust laws like everywhere else."

Another question is how China is going to enforce such laws, when so few lawyers there understand antitrust law well, Harris said.

In China, there's often a great difference between the law itself and how it's used.

"The law can be great, but if enforcement is bad or disproportionate, that is really the big fear," he said.

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August 23, 2006

In native Bolivian tongue, 'file' becomes 'knotted cords'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 4:06 PM

Microsoft has a version of its software in Quechua, the official language of the Inca Empire and still the native tongue of 12.6 million people in South America, including 30 percent of Bolivians.

According to an Associated Press report, Bolivian President Evo Morales will join Microsoft executives Friday for the local launch of versions of Windows and Office in the language. Morales, the country's first Indian president, is an advocate of preserving the language.

"The translation of these technologies into Quechua helps to re-value the language so that it will not be lost over time," Javier Medrano, spokesman for Microsoft's Bolivia operations, told The Associated Press.

Microsoft launched a version in June in Peru, another Andean country with a large population of Quechua speakers.

A software patch translates commands and menus into Quechua. For example, "file" becomes "quipu," after an Incan data-recording system that used colored, knotted cotton cords. The color of the cords, their placement relative to each other and specific knots all had meaning in a numerical recording system, according to Marcia Ascher's book, "Ethnomathematics."

The Incas, she wrote, "can be characterized as methodical, highly organized, concerned with detail, and intensive data users. ... They received many messages and sent many instructions daily."

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NotForNoobs mystery revealed

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:21 AM

All the hype around the NotForNoobs teaser site from Microsoft? It was for a $70 mouse. Yep, a mouse.

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Virgin Mobile is tops among prepaid

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:58 AM

The mobile phone industry has been curious to see how all of the new operators are fairing in the market, and a new survey released today sheds some ligh.

Of course, I'm talking about MVNOs, or mobile virtual network operators, which are providers that lease airtime from carriers. They then resell the minutes to consumers under their own brands. Examples are Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile and TracFone.

J.D. Power's 2006 Wireless Prepaid Customer Satisfaction Study, released today, found customers of MVNOs are more satisfied when it comes to account management and cost of service.

On the other hand, carriers that own and operate their own networks and have prepaid services generate higher satisfaction ratings in company image, including reputation, technical innovation and solving call quality issues.

Virgin Mobile ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction among current wireless prepaid customers, especially on the basis of account management issues such as initial account activation and customer service. Verizon Wireless follows Virgin in the rankings and performs well in call quality and company image factors. Other prepaid carriers that score at or above the industry average are T-Mobile USA, Boost Mobile and TracFone.

There's no mention of some other MVNOs in the industry, such as Amp'd Mobile, Disney or ESPN. Perhaps that's because they aren't exclusively prepaid providers.

The study also highlighted some differences between prepaid and postpaid customers:

-- Prepaid users spend an average of $37 when purchasing airtime, whereas a post-paid customer's monthly average is $65.

-- Prepaid users report using 208 minutes a month, or less than one-half as much as post-paid users, who average 501 minutes.

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Mixxer mixes up management

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:45 AM

Seattle-based Mixxer, which is developing a mobile social networking music service, said today that its board of directors has named John Dearborn as chief executive officer, replacing Bill Bryant immediately.

A spokeswoman said the transition was always part of the plan. It was Bryant's job to raise capital and launch the new brand following the merger of 3GUpload and Mophone. Bryant raised $20 million in venture capital from VantagePoint, an original MySpace investor.

Bryant had recruited Dearborn early on to eventually serve as CEO.

"Bill Bryant has done a great job of bringing this start-up company to this point for a smooth management transition," David Carlick, VantagePoint's managing director, said in a release. "From combining 3GUpload and Mophone and securing $20 million in funding to relaunching under the new Mixxer brand, the company has experienced an impressive evolution under his stewardship."

Dearborn has more than 20 years of experience in the mobile content, Internet and consumer software. Most recently, he served as general manager and senior vice president of American Greetings Interactive, a subsidiary of American Greetings.

The company also appointed two new members to the board of directors: VantagePoint's Carlick and marketing expert Mark Metcalfe. Bryant will remain involved with the company as a strategic advisor and member of the board.

And yes, Mixxer will remain a Seattle-based company.

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Microsoft's Facebook deal

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:16 AM

News Corp. said earlier this month that it had talked with a number of large companies about a search and advertising partnership across its network of sites, including the red-hot social networking site MySpace. Google was the most aggressive and ultimately victorious bidder, and the deal was announced Aug. 7, but it seems logical to think that Microsoft was an interested party. After all, Microsoft has a similar partnership already with FoxSports, which was exempted from the News Corp. deal.

Now, we see that Microsoft was pursuing an advertising deal with Facebook, a social networking site that's mainly geared to college and high-school students. In the deal, announced yesterday, Microsoft will provide banner advertising and sponsored advertising links on Facebook pages.

The Google deal seems more lucrative for many reasons, including this: News Corp. will add Google's search box to most of its pages. That way, executives said, people don't have to leave to do a Google search (and MySpace users would leave more for Google.com than any other destination). If Facebook users want to do a Web search, it doesn't sound like a Microsoft search box will be on the site waiting for them. They might have to go elsewhere, to a site Microsoft might not like.

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August 22, 2006

Microdsoft, Froiendster, and Washingtron Mutual

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:58 PM

Microsoft is targeting those who would profit from mis-typed Internet domain names and fake Web addresses that make use of trademarked terms. The company today announced lawsuits against named individuals in Utah and California, as well as 217 "John Doe" defendants, who are allegedly targeting the company.

On an average day, more than 2,000 illegitimate domain names containing Microsoft-trademarked terms are registered, Microsoft said.

"Microsoft has witnessed a virtual land rush for Internet domain names with the goal of driving traffic for profit," Aaron Kornblum, an attorney leading Microsoft's effort against the practice, said in a statement. "Placing a high profile or pop culture trademark in your domain name is a tempting but illegal way to generate pay-per-click revenue."

Most of the illegitimate domain names are owned by professional holding operations, according to Rod Rasmussen, director of operations at Tacoma-based Internet Identity, which is working with Microsoft on its effort to curtail the practice.

Registering illegitimate domain names for profit is referred to as "cybersquatting" or "typosquatting" and was made illegal in 1999 by amendment to the federal Lanham Act, which regulates trademarks.

In the John Doe action, Microsoft is seeking to uncover the identities of several "cybersquatters" who operate infringing domain names.

The company is also seeking to stop the sale of high-traffic infringing domains at auction.

Google and Yahoo! are among the companies profiting from mistyped domain names. Some services pay domain-name owners $24 and up for each 1,000 unique visitors to a Web site.

But there's more than money at stake. Many typosquatters and cybersquatters serve adult-oriented ads on mis-typed addresses for children's Web sites. In the last year, several large typosquatting groups have discontinued that practice.

Microsoft researchers get a lot of the credit. Under a project called Strider Typo-Patrol, they identified and helped put a stop to some of the largest offenders, including those who served sex ads on sites kids might hit.

A tool the company's research division released this year helps legitimate Web site owners seek out "typosquatters" who may be targeting them.

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August 21, 2006

Sprint Nextel COO leaves

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:09 PM

Sprint Nextel said today that Chief Operating Officer Len Lauer is leaving the company and will not be replaced.

The AP reported that Lauer had been with the company since 1998. He became president and chief operating officer of Sprint in September 2003 and became COO of Sprint Nextel after the August 2005 merger created the Reston, Va.-based wireless giant.

Lauer had been running Sprint Nextel from Overland Park, where Sprint was headquartered before the merger. The company said Monday that Gary Forsee, Sprint Nextel's president and chief executive officer, will take over Lauer's operating responsibilities.

"Len has been an important part of the Sprint team for the past eight years and provided strong leadership and counsel," Forsee told the AP. "We thank him for his many contributions and wish him well."

"The decision behind the change was made as the company seeks to accelerate the pace of our transition and improve operational execution," spokesman David Gunasegaram said Monday.

Lauer, whose departure is effective immediately, was often times the public face of the company, keynoting at several industry conferences every year and by serving as chairman of the board of CTIA, the industry's national association. He is still listed as a keynote speaker at the upcoming CITA IT & Entertainment convention in Los Angeles on Sept. 12.

He also played a role in deciding what technology the company would use for its next generation high-speed wireless broadband. Two weeks ago, Sprint Nextel announced that it chose Motorola, Intel and Samsung to roll out WiMax.

In January, I caught up with Lauer at the Wireless Communications Association International conference in San Jose, where WiMax was a focus.

He said at the time that it will be critical to deploy wireless broadband such as WiMax in a couple of years because the number of subscribers using high-bandwidth applications will tap out Sprint's current network.

It is a "high-class problem," he told me.

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Farecast's wider net

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:41 AM

Seattle-based Farecast has opened up its airfare predictor service to routes for the 55 busiest airports in the United States. Previously, the company had limited its service to flights originating from Boston and Seattle.

Farecast's site is not responding right now. When we tried to use the service, this popped up:

"Sorry, it's a bit crowded. Our servers are experiencing a high volume of search activity. Please try your search again in a few moments to view the latest fares for your trip, or search yesterday's fare results while you wait."

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Microsoft a private equity target? ... nah

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:27 AM

After the record-setting $33 billion acquisition of hospital-operator HCA earlier this summer, the Financial Times suggested private equity firms raise their sights higher:

Why have they failed to tilt at the scores of companies much larger than HCA or NTL [a European cable group that could be on the block for $20 billion] that have far less efficient balance sheets, bigger cash flows and a crying need for focus? Consider Microsoft, which has a balance sheet so inefficient that it would make a private equity investor weep. There was not an iota of debt in the thing at the last year-end. Worse, this mature software giant was sitting on cash and investments of $34.1bn -- more than the value of the total HCA deal.

Daniel Primack, the respected private equity analyst and editor of PE Week Wire (which alerted us to the FT story), wrote today that a leveraged buyout of Microsoft is an "inane suggestion."

Primack, who gave his thoughts this morning on CNBC, broke it down like this: Leveraged buyout firms don't have enough money. Bankers won't back the deal. It would hurt fundraising for the firms.

The last point is particularly interesting here. Primack and the FT noted that institutional investors are pushing more money into private equity funds. The state of Washington, for example, has $1.5 billion in the most-recent Kohlberg Kravis Roberts fund, which was one of the buyers of HCA.

Wrote Primack:

So imagine if KKR suddenly helped buy Microsoft and -- as the FT suggests -- lays off lots of workers, sells off/shuts down a few divisions and ignores the rest because it's already gotten paid via dividend recaps? No elected official in Washington would ever again be able to justify an investment in KKR, nor any other firm that helped strip jobs from one of the state's largest private employers.

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August 18, 2006

Golden parachutes for Loudeye execs

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:19 PM

In a regulatory filing today, Loudeye said that Chief Executive Michael Brochu will get a $325,000 severance payment if his employment is terminated following the company's acquisition by Nokia.

Chief Financial Officer Chris Pollak will get $100,000 (or $150,000 if he leaves after Jan. 1, 2007). Edward Averdieck, the managing director for Europe, has signed on to stay with Nokia at a $267,000 annual salary and as much as $668,000 in additional bonuses through 2009.

There is no mention of Brochu or Pollak staying on at Nokia after the merger.

Also in the filing, Loudeye said it had talked with 26 companies in 2005 about some sort of partnership or merger. Discussions moved into the serious stage with three companies (including Nokia), though one would drop out in January. Things got desperate that month, because Loudeye wasn't talking to anyone that executives thought would save the company before its cash ran out, the filing said.

Talks advanced with Nokia at a Valentine's Day meeting between both companies in Barcelona. Nokia made it clear it wanted Loudeye's European operations, but made no formal proposals. Finally, on June 22, Loudeye received a written letter from Nokia with a buyout offer of $4.50 a share. Loudeye countered with a $5 a share offer, but the parties settled on $4.50.

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Medio tells Telus customers a lot

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:54 PM

Seattle-based Medio Systems has received a lot of attention for developing mobile search capabilities, a very hot segment in the wireless industry.

Today, it said it formed a partnership with Telus, which has 4.7 million wireless subscribers in Canada.

In a press release, Medio said Telus Mobile Search is a tool that makes it simple to to find information. The software is free and allows users to search and download music, ringtones, wallpapers, games, flight information, news, sports scores, lottery results, stock quotes, weather, product ratings and price points.

That's a lot of information, but on the surface, what it does is help users make fewer clicks when looking for what they want, according to Brian Lent, Medio's president and CEO.

"Our research and analysis revealed that a large proportion of search queries take users deep into the content libraries, beyond the top 40 results that are found on almost every other carrier's WAP deck," he said. "Trying to find a Led Zeppelin or Frank Sinatra ringtone is virtually impossible when navigating through the dozen or more screens to get there."

For example, if a user searches for a specific Nelly Furtado ringtone, Medio will return ringtones and tracks, sorted by popularity, from every content provider that can be played on that user's handset, and images from her albums. It will also present related content, such as ringtones from Natasha Bedingfield, an artist with a similar style that may appeal to Furtado fans.

Beyond retail items you can buy on the phone, it's interesting to note that users will also be able to comparison shop by entering the ISBN product code for a book or a UPC product code for a game in a store to receive the average user rating and street price for the product. Users will also be able to enter a Canada Post tracking number to determine delivery status.

Sounds like a pretty good product for something that's free. I know carriers are hoping to sell more content by making things easier to find, but it also makes me wonder if there's advertising involved. In April, Medio announced that it had purchased WebRelevance, a company that specializes in matching advertisements with content on Web pages.

UPDATE: Medio just got back to me about if there is an advertising component to the search software. The answer was -- No, "there is not advertising at this point." I suppose that leaves it open for down the road.

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Amazon.com close to rolling out video downloads?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:55 AM

Amazon's upcoming movie download service looks like it could be close. Advertsing Age had reported that the service will debut in mid-August.

Is it called Unbox Video? PaidContent sniffed out this page on Amazon's site. Some additional screenshots here.

TheStreet.com has turned up the Lumiere digital video store on Amazon's site, though Lumiere looks more like one particular vendor on the site and not the name for the overall service.

Maybe we'll see an official announcement next week?


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Mobile domain debate is heating up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:31 AM

Here's a topic that doesn't come up too often in mobile, but there seems to be a lot of buzz on the Internet recently.

It's about .mobi, the mobile domain created through a joint venture of companies including Microsoft, Vodafone and Nokia. The domain helps re-format a Web site to fit your mobile device. For instance, if you wanted to go to Amazon.com on your phone, you'd enter Amazon.mobi.

Starting in June, companies with trademark-validated names were able to register their names with the .mobi domain. Generic names will be able to start registering in September.

In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft was expected to register about 200 names, including msn.mobi and xboxlive.mobi. Procter & Gamble, the consumer products giant, is expected to register 500 dot-mobi sites for its trademark products.

Coincidentally, I was just talking to Michael Wehrs about .mobi. He was hired recently by AOL to be its vice president of product evangelism and standards. He had been involved in the .mobi domain when he was working at Microsoft as its director of technology and standards in the mobile devices division.

In an interview with Wehrs in the Seattle Times in 2004, he said that .mobi was crucial in order to create mobile applications. He said you can browse the Web site on your phone, but no one can access your phone as a Web server. So, if you have pictures stored on your device, the only way that you could share them is to actually send them as a message.

"But wouldn't it be easier if from my Web browser I could just browse to your phone and look at them?" he asked.

Wehrs, who is working from AOL's Wireless office in Seattle, said he was still as passionate about the domain today as he was two years ago. He said he had just returned from Dublin, where dotMobi, or the mTLD (Mobile Top Level Domain) organization, is based.

I asked Wehrs whether the campaign for a new mobile domain was dead, given the advances in mobile browsing. For instance, Nokia uses a browser from Opera that zooms in on a section of a Web page, and then allows a user to zoom out quickly to find something else on a page. The system is not only super useful, but has a coolness factor.

Wehrs dismissed the advances as a solidi replacement for the .mobi domain.

"Every time you load a new feature you are going to have the processor re-render it, shortening battery life," he said. "You must achieve a balance between processing and wiz-bang features."

He also said that in order to use such a browser, you have to have a high-end phone, which represents only a sliver of the market. What would allow mobile browsing to take off faster is to have a system in place that anyone could use on most any feature phone, he argued.

Still, there's quite the debate going on as to whether .mobi is "Kickstarting the mobile Web or holding it back, " according to the blog Mobhappy, written by mobile marketing gurus.

There's also criticism from Techdirt, which questions whether the domain is a well concealed money grab given that an auction will determine who ends up owning such premium domains as sex.mobi.

However, the general points against .mobi are that the user shouldn't have to guess whether to type in a .mobi or .com address. Perhaps the site doesn't have a .mobi domain? The writer also wonders who is going to pay for the advertising campaign to spread awareness of the domain.

"The bottom line for mobile Web surfing is that all users need to be delivered the information they want, regardless of their device or browser, or what address a content provider decides to use," Mobhappy wrote.

Hard to argue with that level of simplicity.

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Yet another Microsoft "mystery" site

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:17 AM

These pseudo-anonymous wink-wink viral marketing sites from Microsoft are coming out a little too frequently lately.

The latest is notfornoobs.com, which shows a television set and asks users to turn the set's knob. The logo for Microsoft and gaming accessories company Razer later appear, and then a countdown clock that appears to be set to Friday Aug. 25.

That's the same date as the start of Penny Arcade's PAX video game convention in Bellevue. Microsoft is an exhibitor at the event. Maybe an announcement is in the works?

(Noob, by the way, is a somewhat insulting term used to describe a beginner, or a "newbie," in a video game or another realm of technology.)

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Google's Writely accepting new accounts

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:51 AM

Writely, Google's Web-based competitor to Microsoft Word, began accepting new accounts Thursday. The service is free. New registrations were closed after Google acquired Writely last March.

Writely joins Google Spreadsheets and Google Calendar in a mini suite of free office applications. It's not as sophisticated as Microsoft Word, of course, and, as this CNet review points out it doesn't integrate with Google Spreadsheets.

But Writely is easy to use and my test pages printed out nicely.

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August 17, 2006

Local "clean tech" just a sliver of investment pie

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 4:04 PM

From Deputy Business Editor Rami Grunbaum:

With several ambitious biofuels projects under way, and a self-image as both technologically savvy and environmentally sensitive, the Pacific Northwest seems a natural spot for sustainable energy and other eco-friendly projects.

Thus, at the enterpriseSeattle quarterly breakfast this morning, where clean technology was the focus, Rep. Jay Inslee even declared that this region "is destined to become the world leader" in such technology.

But the hard numbers one panelist displayed at the breakfast may have shaken that faith.

Nationally, venture investing in "clean tech" posted its eighth consecutive quarter of growth, hitting $843 million for the second quarter, reported Cleantech Venture Network executive John Balbach. The segment was led by energy, though it is broadly defined to include clean technology involving materials, transportation, air and water quality, and other areas. Year-to-date investments totaled $1.4 billion, almost double the first half of 2005. All told, since 1999, the firm's database counts more than $10.2 billion in VC "clean tech" investments.

But his figures showed the Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho) with the smallest slice of that pie's seven regional slices -- $11 million for 2004 and '05. California and Hawaii, classified as "West Coast," led with nearly half a billion dollars over that same time frame.

NW clean tech boosters need not despair, however. Balbach said those numbers don't reflect two factors: 1. The sector saw an upsurge here in the first half of 2006; using those figures to compare regions, "the numbers would have looked a lot better," he said later. 2. A lot of projects here are not backed by venture capital but by various forms of project finance, meaning either loans or equity capital from non-VC sources such as investment banks.

Indeed, according to the Cleantech Venture network, last quarter saw almost $60 million invested in four deals in the Pacific Northwest; the previous quarter it was less than $20 million spread over three deals. Each of the four quarters before that saw barely any money invested in the sector here, a fall-off from two deals totaling $30 million in Q4 of 2004.

Comparing the latest quarter's regional and national totals shows the three Pacific NW states got 7 percent of the clean tech VC. And, says Balbach, that is nearly all in Washington.

Here are more details on investment in clean technology here and nationally.

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KUOW gets money for digital radio

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:57 PM

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is giving KUOW public radio $66,536 to buy equipment to make the transition to digital radio. That's according to a press release sent out today by Sen. Maria Cantwell, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight authority over the CPB.

The grant money is part of $964,000 in grants to Washington state public radio station.

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Starbucks game pays in spades

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:12 PM

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to participate in Starbucks' Summer Pursuit Sweepstakes game.

It worked like this: You sign up on the Starbucks Web site, and you start receiving text messages with questions. One, for example, was "What has two p's, two c's and no h? I'm hard to spell, but easy to drink."

The answer was Frappuccino, of course.

Other questions had nothing to do with Starbucks, and frequently when you answered wrong, you received another hint that would ensure you got it right.

One of the features of the game was that you could either text the answer back or send a picture of the answer. For the Frappuccino question, I snapped a picture of a drink off Starbucks' Web site. But nothing ever happened. When I typed in the response, I got a positive message back immediately. Go figure.

The motivation for participating? A $5 gift card. I just received mine in the mail yesterday. It came in a mysterious envelope with a Grand Rapids, Mich., return address.

I wonder how much the text message sweepstakes cost Starbucks? A $5 gift card, 39 cents in postage, and probably someone behind the scenes to send the text messages.

Is this the future of using mobile to market your product? If so, I ask what value does it have?

Of course, now Starbucks has my home address and my cellphone number (or at least, the phone number of one of the many test phones I am always juggling).
I suppose that information could become invaluable as long as it doesn't abuse it (that would mean, as long as they keep sending me $5 gift certificates in the mail and nothing else!).

So far, so good. Since the game ended, I haven't heard so much as a percolation from the folks there.

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Boeing puts Connexion out of its misery

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:07 AM

Boeing is shutting down its in-flight Internet service, Connexion, which is going to cost it $320 million.

After doing a detailed analysis, the company said, it became apparent that "the market for this service had not materialized as expected." (Release here)

At first glance, it would seem like Connexion would be a screaming success. Why wouldn't you want to have e-mail, live television, phone service and Web browsing on a flight? But then the money part comes in. Connexion charged $27 for an entire long-haul flight, or $10 for an hour. That's a lot to ask, especially now that airlines are nickel-and-diming just about everything (and even encouraging their own employees to go dumpster diving to save money).

Some online reaction:

Geek Travel
: "I had tested Connexion on a flight to Detroit. It was useable, but frustratingly slow. Still, the technology is cool, and having Internet on board of airplanes is something I wouldn't want to miss."

The Cranky Flier: "In the long run, you'll never remember this existed as airlines move toward a ground-based system instead. This will probably be easier and cheaper, so Boeing must have realized it wasn't worth keeping Connexion going with no long term future."

Nick Hodge: "I wonder if the recent restrictions on carry on luggage, let alone the complexity of modern travel, has impacted their business plan."

Om Malik: "One of the biggest problems Boeing faced was lack of traction in the key US market, where many routinely travel with laptops and want to stay connected. The service, which received internet signals from Satellites and distributed them via WiFi is also facing competition from other technologies."

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August 16, 2006

The case of the disappearing Phantom console

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:58 PM

Some blogs are going crazy today because someone noticed that Seattle-based Phantom Entertainment has updated its Web site and there is no longer any mention of the long-awaited video game console it has been touting.

Phantom Entertainment, previously named Infinium Labs, is legendary in the gaming industry for promising, and then failing to deliver, a video-game console that could compete with the Xboxes and PlayStations. The company says it will now debut a keyboard and an on-demand gaming service that runs on Windows XP.

But close observers would note that the company did away with the game console some time ago.

This is from a regulatory filing in February:

The Phantom Game Receiver is a game console designed to integrate easily into a family's home entertainment system. It connects to any standard television, as well as A/V receivers. The Phantom Game Receiver accesses the Phantom Game Service by connecting to a broadband Internet connection.... Its primary components consist of a central processing unit, high-end video processor, high-speed memory, computer motherboard and large hard disk drive.

This is from a filing in May:

Currently our business activities are almost entirely dedicated to the development of the Phantom Lapboard. The Phantom Lapboard is comprised of the following key features: (1) a 360-degree rotating keyboard for left or right-handed users; (2) the first keyboard with a lap board for maximum comfort; (3) the first keyboard with mouse integrated 30 degree lift; (4) wireless functionality from approximately 30 feet; (5) gaming and media optimized key layout; (6) customized gamer keys for the competitive edge, (7) extended spacebar and (8) intended to have maximum durability to keep up with significant game play.

So it looks like between February and May, the decision was made to yank the console/TV scenario and focus mainly on a keyboard/Windows XP setup.

On its site, Infinium said the Phantom game service "was originally engineered to run on a Windows XP embedded operating system on a Phantom Game Receiver managed by Phantom content servers over the Internet." That doesn't appear to be true.

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The politics of AIDS funding

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:33 PM

Bill and Melinda Gates made headlines around the world when they spoke this week at the opening of the International AIDS Conference in Toronto. They urged quicker progress toward the next big breakthrough, including practical methods to prevent HIV transmission such as microbicides for women.

Amid the flurry of news were striking comments by Bill Gates that abstinence programs have limited usefulness. That view is a sharp contrast to the Bush administration and Congress, which require organizations they fund to spend at least a third of their prevention dollars on programs that promote sexual abstinence.

Gates' comments prompted this response, ahem, from the government.

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MSFT climbs as tender closing approaches

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:56 PM

Since July 20, when Microsoft announced plans to buy back up to $20 billion worth of its stock in one swoop, shares have climbed 7.5 percent as of today's close.

The stock gained 8 cents today to hit $24.70, a nickel below the upper end of the price range Microsoft said it will pay to repurchase its shares. Twenty billion would buy 808,080,808 shares at $24.75, reducing Microsoft's float by about 8 percent and adding about 5 or 6 cents per share to forecast fiscal 2007 earnings as income is spread across fewer shares.

The tender offer closes at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday.

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Mobile ads are here -- again.

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:14 PM

The Wall Street Journal reported today that wireless carriers are starting to allow advertising on their cellphone networks.

Thanks, we already knew that. In fact, it's been going on for some time.

Back in April at the annual CTIA conference, MSNBC.com started to offer its content free as long as you didn't mind checking out a few ads. More recently, I've heard about television shows made for mobile being ad-supported. One example is a series called "The Pool," which is about carpooling and takes place in a Toyota.

What is worth pointing out in the WSJ story is that it said Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless have been running trials of banner ads on their networks.

That comes at a bit of a surprise. When I interviewed Verizon Wireless's Chief Executive Denny Strigl in April he pretty much ruled the idea out. Or, at least, that was my impression, but I'll let you be the judge.

Strigl said, in the same story as above, that he was not going to allow advertising to be presented to his subscribers unless they agreed to it.

"I want the choice to be yours, not ours," he said.

Now, I'm not quite sure, but have subscribers started agreeing to it?

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Snakes on a phone

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:37 PM

OK, that previous entry made my brain hurt, and it probably made yours hurt, too. So here's some fluff to lighten up your day.

Seattle-based Mixxer, which provides ringtones and other mobile phone content over the Web, said Tuesday that it is offering free content based on the movie "Snakes on the Plane," starring Samuel L. Jackson. The movie comes out on Friday.

Now be careful, it's not all free, and you will have to sign up for a Mixxer account -- which is probably why it is doing it -- but if you are interested you can see what's being given away here.

I guess I missed it, but supposedly this movie has created quite a buzz on the Internet. People were encouraged to write songs about it based on the promise that one of them would make it on to the soundtrack.

To catch-up on the phenomenon, I turned to MySpace to fill me in. Unfortunately, I didn't come across much, but I did get redirected to the official "Snakes on the Plane" site, where you can copy and paste your MySpace URL into a box, and get an "exclusive 'Snakes on the Plane" look on your MySpace page." I'm thinking that would be a glorified wallpaper thing, so I passed. You can also have Samuel L. Jackson call you with a pre-recorded message. Ooooh....I passed again.

The interesting thing is that Mixxer is backed by the same venture capitalists as MySpace was before News Corp. bought the company. Here's a little background on Mixxer from a story I wrote in June.

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Satellite TV companies pull out of auction

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:51 AM

DirecTV and EchoStar Communications bowed out of a billion-dollar auction of U.S. airwaves for wireless services today, according to a Reuters story.

Analysts said they likely pulled out because the bidding got too high for the companies. Instead, analysts said the satellite TV companies may plan to roll out broadband access through a partnership.

The two competing satellite companies want to offer high-speed Internet access because they are losing customers to cable and other operators who can offer a bundle of services. The companies are looking at wireless broadband technologies, like WiMax, as a solution. In that case, a potential partner could be Craig McCaw's Clearwire. Other partnerships could be formed with companies that use a satellite technology, such as Mobile Satellite Ventures, or perhaps even ICO another Craig McCaw company with offices in Kirkland.

As I understand it, the advantage that Clearwire has is that it already has begun to roll out service, and has a system up and running in about 30 markets. It also pledges to use WiMax, which is quickly becoming a global standard as South Korea and other countries, adopt it.

However, the advantage of Mobile Satellite Ventures or ICO is that they have national licenses that will allow them to operate across the U.S. in one single shot. The downside, perhaps, is that they don't currently have consumer-friendly services available at retail.

Clearwire's spectrum situation is more sticky. It has had to cobble together licenses in each market it wants to operate in. That ends up being a time-consuming and costly endeavor, and may even be impossible in some areas where its competition (Sprint Nextel) already owns the licenses.

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Enterprise software: The long view is slow and low

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:31 AM

Forrester Research sent over a very interesting market overview this morning that, judging by the opening summary, could bode ill for big software:

The enterprise software industry of the next five years will feature fewer large suppliers than ever, greater technical adaptability, baby steps toward the pricing flexibility most customers want but can't get today, and only modest rates of growth with declining prices. The magnitude of growth and structural change will be determined by clashes between the four horsemen of software commoditization -- service oriented architecture (SOA), open source, software-as-a-service (SaaS), and offshore development -- and the four fortresses of market inertia -- vendor concentration, intellectual property rights, installed bases, and brand loyalty. The four horsemen are changing how enterprise applications are created, sold, implemented, and supported; the four fortresses slow and limit these changes. The outcome of these clashes will vary by software category, but overall prices will decline and the industry overall will descend to historically low growth rates (emphasis added).

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Dell's overheating problems closing in on Sony

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:36 AM

The Dell laptop batteries that are the focus of the largest electronics recall in the United States were actually made by Sony and are in other companies' laptops as well. Check out this article.

So while Dell is catching a lot of heat (ha ha) for this problem, Sony could be quickly pulled into this fiasco. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said it's looking at batteries made by Sony, which show up in laptops from Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo as well.

Sony is trying to keep the focus on Dell, saying the overheating problem appeared related to the combination of the battery and charger Dell uses. We'll see.

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August 15, 2006

WildTangent gets $3 million investment

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:30 PM

Advertising giant WPP Group said today it has invested $3 million in WildTangent, the Redmond video game company started by former Microsoftie Alex St. John.

The money will "enhance" WPP's ability to get its clients' ads into WildTangent's video game advertising network. WildTangent inserts advertising into its games, which are mostly the casual games that people play for a few minutes at a time on their PCs.

I ran into St. John yesterday at Gamefest, who told me that WildTangent's virtual game software is pre-bundled on about 85 percent of the PCs sold in North America, including machines from Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba. The company is close to announcing another hardware partner, he said.

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Customers lukewarm on MSN, cool on Yahoo!

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:52 AM

In trying to be everything, Yahoo! is not so stellar at anything, while MSN suffers from its own lack of personality. Those were some of the findings of a report out today called the American Customer Satisfaction Index, produced by the University of Michigan.

MSN scored 74 points out of 100, a slight drop from last year, but its scores have stayed relatively flat since 2003. Interestingly, the report noted that linking Microsoft's desktop brand to MSN holds little benefit for "consumers who embracing the flexibility of the Internet."

"What we hear is they seem to have a lack of personality and unique advantages," said Claes Fornell, a business professor and head of ASCI. "There is nothing to truly set MSN apart from the rest of the field."

Yahoo! had the largest decline in customer satisfaction of any Internet company in the survey, falling from 80 to 76.

"Yahoo! seems to be trying to do too many things for too many people," Fornell said.

Meanwhile, Google continued its strong performance with a score of 81, down a point from the year before, but it led the search engine category.

Companies that performed better than the year before included Apple Computer, which rose from 81 to 83, and Dell, rising from 74 to 78. That is, of course, before the battery fiasco.

Update: Yahoo! responds with data of its own:
"Yahoo! is the only major Internet company to have its average time spent per user increase every quarter over the past year," says spokeswoman Meagan Busath.

That kind of engagement with the portal shows healthy customer satisfaction, she said. Total unique visitors, page views, minutes spent and average usage days per visitor on the Yahoo! home page have all increased since the launch of the new design, she said, citing comScore Media Metrix stats.


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RealNetworks moving into non-Microsoft territory

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:46 AM

Even as RealNetworks is developing a partnership with Microsoft (spurred on as a result of an antitrust settlement between the two companies) it is moving forward on some decidedly non-Microsoft fronts.

The company expanded a distribution relationship with Google recently and said it would begin offering downloads of Mozilla Firefox, the browser that has steadily been draining market share from Internet Explorer. It will continue to offer the Google Toolbar with its RealPlayer software.

Today, the company announced at LinuxWorld that Novell has agreed to distribute the RealPlayer on its Linux desktop operating system. That means Linux desktop users can use a single player for Windows Media, MP3, Ogg and Real file formats.

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August 14, 2006

Another Microsoft departure

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:52 PM

With all the people who have left Microsoft recently (like MartinTaylor, Michael Wehrs, Jesper Johansson, Robert Scoble, Niall Kennedy, Vic Gundotra, the list goes on), one important departure seems to have been ignored.

Charles Stevens retired in March. Not sure why he's still listed on the company executives page. Stevens was a corporate vice president who worked on the big money accounts; he oversaw sales of server products and support to large companies.

He stayed on at Microsoft for a few months in a special projects role with division president Jeff Raikes, Microsoft said, but has completed those projects and really retired. A native of Great Britain, Stevens joined Microsoft in 1984.

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In brief: the Q2 wireless breakdown

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:59 PM

Well-known wireless consultant Chetan Sharma issued his half-yearly wireless report this past weekend, and there are a few items that stood out.

-- Data usage in the United States is growing at an impressive rate. The top four U.S. carriers (Cingular, Verizon, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile USA) accounted for more than $6.3 billion in wireless data revenues for the first half of 2006. Sharma said the figures are likely to exceed $15 billion for the whole year. At that rate, it will be almost a 75 percent jump compared with the $8.6 billion spent in 2005.

-- Text messaging is driving a bulk of the data revenues.

-- Sprint has the highest wireless data average revenue per user (ARPU), at $7.25. The average data ARPU is now $6.30, or 12 percent of the total.

-- If current trends hold, Verizon Wireless is likely to surpass Cingular Wireless as No. 1 U.S. carrier by the third quarter of 2007, Sharma said.

-- And. finally, if you read all the way to the end of the note, he said Microsoft's Windows Mobile is starting to make serious inroads in mobile phones. The deterrents for huge growth are performance issues and high prices.

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Microsoft not winning mobile browser market

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:06 PM

Nearly 35 million people in the U.S. accessed the Internet on their mobile devices last month, with Yahoo! Mail being the most popular Web site for those users, according to research firm Telephia.

Browsers from Openwave, Motorola and Nokia had the highest adoption rates among users. Microsoft's mobile browser had a paltry 3 percent market share.

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New CEO at PhotoWorks

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:54 PM

Seattle-based digital photo company PhotoWorks has hired Andy Wood as its president and chief executive. Wood was CEO of online photo service Shutterfly for two years, and went on to become CEO of satellite-tracking company SkyBitz. Born and raised in the U.K., Wood joined PhotoWorks' board in June.

PhotoWorks' former CEO, Philippe Sanchez, is taking time off to plan his next move, the company said.

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The coolest local sites, according to Time

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:23 PM

The local companies that made it on to Time Magazine's list of the 50 coolest Web sites:

Farecast
Pixsy
Zillow

Tech Tracks must have been #51.

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The motive of the casual gamer

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:04 PM

Seattle-based RealNetworks has found in a study the activities a casual gamer prefers, and the findings are perhaps not as stereotypical as you may guess.

A casual game is a video game that requires knowing very few rules; typically, they're digital puzzles or word or card games.

The study, released today, found that a majority of women aged 40 and over who play casual games would rather spend time playing a game than knit, hunt, fix an automobile, do household chores, paint the house, or golf.

Not surprising.

However, check out the results for the men aged 40 and over. Of that demographic, 5 percent of men would rather knit; 17 percent would rather play a musical instrument; 32 percent would rather do chores; 53 percent would rather cook; and 47 percent would rather garden.

RealNetworks hired Harris Interactive to conduct the study. Participating in the online poll were 1,302 adults, including 535 women over the age of 40.

What do you think? Participate in our own poll here.

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Mobile WiMax will outdo fixed, report says

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:38 AM

Sales of fixed wireless broadband, where users can't roam as they do on cellphones, will peak and level off in 2007, according to a report published by ABI Research today.

The report said it will taper off in favor of mobile WiMax, which will allow users to handoff from one tower to the next. The prediction that mobile WiMax will overtake fixed WiMax is not surprising given that Sprint Nextel announced last week it plans to begin rolling out a nationwide mobile WiMax network in 2007 and 2008. Also, Kirkland-based Clearwire is installing a proprietary version of fixed WiMax across the country and plans to upgrade to mobile WiMax soon.

"Mobile WiMAX will start to see deployments in 2007, and the crossover point between the two will be late in 2008," said ABI Analyst Alan Varghese.

ABI Research said that in the mobile version there will be three challenges: performance, power consumption and cost.

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August 11, 2006

Nokia bound for Seattle/U.S.

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:16 PM

In February, I braved the cold Finnish winter to visit Nokia, the largest cell phone manufacturer in the world.

What I learned was that it's a dry cold, so it's not that bad.

No, but seriously, I learned that Nokia executives were gearing up for an offensive on the U.S. For the last couple of years, Nokia's market share has been trailing in the U.S. behind Motorola's. As part of the attack, they said they were looking to partner with companies here, and more specifically companies on the West Coast, where they see a lot of mobile innovation occurring.

Nothing more clearly demonstrates that promise than its $60 million purchase earlier this week of Seattle-based Loudeye. In a letter to Loudeye employees, we reported that Nokia may use Loudeye's expertise to launch a Nokia-branded music service. But more interesting, it also said it may decide to use Seattle as a base for expanding its services into the U.S.

From what they told me, that's a definite possibility. They already have an office in the Factoria area that mostly serves T-Mobile. Perhaps they will want to have a development office, as well? Why not -- the area is undeniably a hotbed of wireless expertise. Also, in recent months, Nokia has also formed partnerships with RadioFrame Networks and Sotto Wireless, both of Bellevue.

A Wall Street Journal story yesterday outlined other steps the company will take.

It said that Nokia's new Chief Executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo plans to spend one week out of every month in the U.S. As he said, to win back Nokia's marketshare, "there is no magic bullet. It's hard work."

The story also explained that Nokia will expand its handsets to include styles that are popular with U.S. consumers. (It lost share when flip-phones like Motorola's Razr became more popular than Nokia's candybar style phones.) Nokia will also work to launch new phone models simultaneously in the U.S. and elsewhere -- often before there was a lag of several months before they reached Americans.

Perhaps the next time I meet with Nokia executives, it will be here -- in Seattle. That would be a little less cold, but a lot less exotic.

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Mapquest vs. Google Maps: Who's better?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:31 PM

Techpoint compares routes on Mapquest and Google Maps and finds some interesting differences.

From Detroit to Tallahassee, for example, Mapquest says the drive would take nearly 16 hours while Google says it would take 21 hours.

I thought I'd do a quick comparison on a more local level. Driving from Seattle to Walla Walla, according to Mapquest, would take four hours and 25 minutes and cover nearly 273 miles.

Google Maps says the drive would take five hours and 14 minutes and cover 272 miles.

Google Maps was partly developed by the Google team in Puget Sound, a region where some people seem to drive really slowly (or perhaps just really politely). Maybe the enjoy-the-scenery style of driving here has rubbed off on Google?

The speed freaks over at Microsoft, meanwhile, say the drive would only take four hours and 15 minutes.

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Forza L'Italia

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:58 AM

The Italians seem to have a lock on anything ending in "cup" this year. First, the Azzurri took the World Cup. And now, Team Italy won Microsoft's Imagine Cup. ... OK, that's a slightly lesser prize, but we say "congratulazioni" just the same.

Team Italy beat the field of student teams representing 42 countries in the software design competition to take home $25,000 in cash. The Brazilian team, featured in our story on the Imagine Cup, came in second. The American entrants, from Virginia Commonwealth University, placed in the top 12.

The contest focused on technology that enables better health. The Italians offered a device called Hello World, designed to improve communication between patients and doctors. Specifically, it's aimed at identifying the context in which psycho-physiological symptoms were experienced by the patient. The goal is to improve diagnoses of disorders such as anxiety.

The results of the contest offer an opportunity to think about the state of math and science education in the United States, especially since Bill Gates says the Imagine Cup participants "represent the next generation of business and technology leaders."

Here's a rundown of the top three finishers in each category of the competition:

Software design -- Italy, Brazil, Norway;
Algorithm -- Poland, Poland, Poland;
IT -- Austria, Romania, France;
Short Film -- Canada, Poland, USA (at least we were on the podium once);
Interface Design -- Brazil, China, India;
Programming battle -- France, Republic of Serbia, France.

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August 10, 2006

Zune could cost $299, be available Nov. 14

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 4:29 PM

This Week in Consumer Electronics has a post up about Zune, Microsoft's big new product coming out for the holidays. The portable digital media player will come out Nov. 14 in three colors and start at $299, according to the post, which cites unnamed retailers who have been briefed on Microsoft's plans. Zune will also reportedly have a 30 gigabyte hard drive and a display screen larger than the iPod, Apple's product that currently dominates the market.

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"A lot of insanity" as buyouts reach new heights

Posted by Al Scott at 12:47 PM

Deputy Business Editor Rami Grunbaum filed this report from a session of today's Northwest Growth Financing Conference:

Buyouts by private equity funds are proliferating with huge deals such as the $23 billion sale of hospital operator HCA. But at a Seattle corporate-finance conference Thursday morning there was a distinct nervousness about the sector's "irrational exuberance."

"There's a lot of deal flow, but there's a lot of insanity," said John Beauclair of L.A.-based buyout fund Sun Capital Partners. "I feel like a lot of people are putting band-aids on bullet wounds."

Massive inflows of capital, increased levels of debt financing, and a slowdown in corporate earnings could combine to burst the buyout world's bubble, according to Beauclair and other representatives of small and midsize private-equity funds at the Northwest Growth Financing Conference.

Michael Nibarger, of Seattle-based Evergreen Pacific Partners, said competition among cash-flush buyout funds is driving up the price-to-earnings multiples at which private companies are being sold, while corporate earnings themselves are also high.

"You take a high number and multiply it by another high number, and you get a really high number. And that's troubling," he said. "I think there's a strong case that the multiples we're seeing now are not sustainable."

That makes it a good time to be selling a company, but a difficult time to be buying, Nibarger added. (His fund recently acquired Gene Juarez Salons & Spas).

The reason there's been such a rush of investment capital into buyout funds, said Mark Morris of Blue Point Capital Partners, is that potential 20 to 30 percent returns look appealing when the stock market is yielding 5 percent.

But all the inflow is causing a "capital overhang" as funds look to deploy their money on schedule, said Scott Svenson of The Sienna Group in Seattle. The "irrational exuberance" has big funds looking even at the smaller companies he deals with, he said, because "there is a lot of capital, and there is a clock ticking."

Needless to say, panelists were more upbeat about their own firms' prospects. For one thing, they are flying much closer to the ground than the stratospheric deals that are making the headlines.

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The other Bezos wins book award

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:00 AM

MacKenzie Bezos, the wife of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is one of 13 people to win an American Book Award for her debut novel, "The Testing of Luther Albright." A full list of winners is on the blog of another winner, Seattle resident Matt Briggs.

On its page about the title, Amazon.com describes it as "rich with symbolism" and predicts that Bezos is off to "a substantial writing career." Might it have been a little awkward to be the staff person writing that one?

At least Amazon also allowed this review to remain on the page: "This book is an endess exercise in self-indulgent navel-gazing."

Here's Seattle Weekly's 2005 profile of Bezos.

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August 9, 2006

Kai-Fu Lee watch: Another Google center to open

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:01 PM

Former Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee has been busy at Google this year. Under Lee's watch, Google is planning to open a research center in Shanghai next year. This is in addition to new centers in Beijing and Taipei. Lee is quoted in the Shanghai Daily about the project.

Google also said that by the end of the year it will double the number of sites using its advertising network in China.

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Found the fake Steve Jobs blog

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 4:40 PM

OK. Last post on this.

First, we called-out the fake Steve Jobs blog because we thought it was funny (still do, sort of) and timely given Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference and stock-options snafu. Then it disappeared and we owed readers an explanation and an effort to find out why.

Now it's back, at a new location, and apparently as part of a network of fake tech-personality blogs, including spoofs of Wired editor Chris Anderson and Web 2.0 wonder-boy Kevin Rose.

You can read Fake Steve's explanation for the absence and relocation.

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"Halo" director finally announced

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:33 PM

A director has finally been named for the upcoming production of the movie based on Microsoft's hit video game series "Halo," and it's....Neill Blomkamp? Who the halo is Neill Blomkamp?

Off to IMDb.com for more information. According to that site, the 26(!)-year-old director was born in South Africa and has mainly been a 3D animator for television shows such as "Smallville" and "Dark Angel." He has reportedly directed TV commercials as well.

According to IGN, Blomkamp was handpicked for the movie by executive producer Peter Jackson. The film is set to release in the summer 2008. Maybe we'll see "Halo 4" out by then.

You can see "Alive in Joburg," Blomkamp's short sci-fi film about aliens rioting against apartheid in South Africa, here.

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Clearwire clears a few things up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:38 PM

After Sprint Nextel announced yesterday it had picked WiMax as its technology of choice to roll out a nationwide wireless broadband network, I called Clearwire to ask a few questions.

Kirkland-based Clearwire has been working for at least three years on building a wireless broadband network. It's led by Craig McCaw, the wireless entrepreneur who started McCaw Cellular Communications, which later became AT&T Wireless. Clearwire uses a proprietary technology in its 30 markets, while it waits for WiMax equipment to become available in the next year or so.

A lot of the material from yesterday's interview made it into today's story, but I didn't get a chance to include some of the responses to questions I asked about, espeically surrounding a lot of rumors about the company.

Although Ben Wolff, Clearwire's co-chief executive with McCaw, declined to answer a couple, he cleared others up.

On the issue of whether Clearwire was participating in today's spectrum auction, where the government is selling the rights to airwaves, Wolff said "no, we aren't."
When I asked if Clearwire was possibly participating through the help of a partner, Wolff said again, "We are not participating at all."

On whether Clearwire might be working with Rupert Murdoch's DirecTV (which is participating in today's auction) to form a partnership, Wolff said up until now, "there has been no comment."

I asked if he would like to change that response, he said: "no."

I also asked him what his reaction was to Sprint Nextel, which was claiming that it will be the first company to roll out a WiMax or a 4G network.

He said: "We are certainly already in the process of rolling out a pre-WiMax network, and we've made the commitment to a WiMax network. So, with all due respect to Sprint, I wouldn't agree with its statements. But then, we haven't seen the need to share a whole lot of what we are doing with Sprint."

To date, Clearwire and Sprint have been working together on a limited basis, mostly swapping spectrum in geographic areas where one is deficient and the other is flush. But a note in Clearwire's initial public offering filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (which it has since canceled), said the company can swap spectrum with Nextel until Oct. 3, 2006, or for less than another two months.

Wolff said that is true, but clarified that there's no reason why the two companies couldn't continue to work together after that contract expires.

"There's no particular parameters that says we can't do anything in particular," he said.

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Music phones pick up the beat

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:29 PM

It has taken awhile, but sales of cellphones that play music are on the rise, according to The NPD Group. With that trend on the rise, the report questions how Apple's iPod and Microsoft's Zune will fit into the picture.

In the second quarter, music-enabled mobile phone sales were about 16 percent of all new models sold, a jump over the year-ago period when only 7 percent of phones sold were capable of playing music. In total, more than 3 million were sold in the second quarter, a 100 percent gain over a year ago.

There are two main reasons for the increase: more models available and pricing. Last quarter, 67 phone models could play music vs. 36 a year ago. Prices are also going down, from $125 in May 2005 to less than $93 this year.

Right now, I'm testing the LG Chocolate from Verizon Wireless. For an extra $100, it came with a 2 gigabyte mini SD card that's the size of a fingernail. With that notion, it's not hard to imagine a time when phones are capable of storing a person's entire music collection.

The NPD report questioned how standalone music players like iPods will continue to compete, and how Microsoft's Zune will fit into a rapidly changing music-player industry when it eventually launches.

"While telephony was not part of Microsoft's recent announcement for its Zune music device, it's not hard to imagine a Zune product with a cellular radio embedded for voice (and data) in future versions, especially considering the years and money Microsoft has already invested in Windows Mobile handsets," the report said.

Despite the two-in-one devices becoming better, however, the report said: "Stand-alone devices have a way of hanging around, despite threats from combination devices."

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T-Mobile leads at auction

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:04 PM

Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest U.S. wireless carrier, led early bidding today for valuable airwaves, provisionally winning 31 licenses by offering $437 million, according to a story by Reuters.

It was important for T-Mobile to participate in the auction because it does not own enough spectrum to roll out high-speed wireless broadband, called 3G. It is the only nationwide carrier that has not rolled out some high-speed service. Verizon Wireless and Sprint are close to providing nationwide 3G networks and Cingular Wireless has turned on the service in a number of markets.

The auction will sell 1,122 licenses and the bidding will continue until there are no more new bids, withdrawals or other activity in the sale.

Also participating in the auction today was Dolan Family Holdings, which has ties to Cablevision Systems; the joint venture of the major U.S. cable operators and Sprint Nextel; and a partnership between satellite television providers DirecTV Group and EchoStar Communications.

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AOL searcher #4417749 revealed

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:33 AM

The New York Times took the list of user searches that AOL briefly made public this week and tracked down one person based on their search terms.

Searcher #4417749 is Thelma Arnold, a 62-year-old widow in Lilburn, Ga., who had researched topics like "numb fingers" and "dog that urinates on everything."

The mini-investigation shows how easy it could be to pin down someone's identity based on their searches. It might give the other 600,000 or so users whose searches were posted something to be alarmed about. AOL has taken down the data, but other sites have archived the data and made them available online.

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August 8, 2006

Live developer leaves behind questions

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:06 PM

Niall Kennedy, who was hired into Microsoft's Windows Live group in April, is leaving to start his own company, apparently frustrated that more resources weren't devoted to his efforts to build a new Microsoft platform for feeding Internet content such as blogs to users.

He also offered a not-so-sunny view of the organization in announcing his departure on his blog, raising questions about Microsoft's Live effort, widely described by top executives as one of the company's most important.

"Windows Live is under some heavy change, reorganization, pullback, and general paralysis and unfortunately my ability to perform, hire, and execute was completely frozen as well," Kennedy wrote.

The Live group has been releasing a steady stream of products this summer, but not all of them have performed well upon introduction.

Kennedy said his work involving technologies like Really Simple Syndication and Atom was carried out by "a team of one attached to the Windows Live Alerts group." Kennedy noted he could "borrow resources" but that no team was being built around the platform in the foreseeable future.

Adam Sohn, a marketing director for Windows Live, said in response to Kennedy's claims, "We are not pulling back on the Live effort at all." He told The Associated Press, "We are totally committed and seeing great momentum across the company."

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Microsoft's speech strategy

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:52 PM

Microsoft is combining its speech server with its forthcoming Office Communications Server 2007, as part of a strategy to integrate several communications technologies in one place, it said today.

Speech Server 2007, which the company said was due out by the end of this year, is designed for tasks such as operating automated phone systems at customer-service call centers. Communications Server -- a software platform for integrating voice-call management, audo and video conferences and instant messaging -- is scheduled for release in the second quarter of 2007, along with a host of related products.

The company also demonstrated speech recognition features that will be part of the Windows Vista operating system at a New York City conference on speech technology.

Designed for people "who want to significantly limit the use of mouse and keyboard while maintaining or increasing their overall productivity," the features include dictation and voice control of the operating system.

Microsoft felt confident enough in the speech recognition technology -- a difficult goal the company has been investing in for at least a decade -- to demonstrate it in front of an audience of financial analysts last month, but the dictation function performed poorly.

The company chalked it up to echo in the auditorium where the demonstration was given.

Speech recognition will be available in U.S. and British English, "traditional" and "simplified" Chinese, Japanese, German, French and Spanish, Microsoft said.

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Loudeye acquired by Nokia

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:11 PM

Seattle digital music company Loudeye is being acquired by Nokia in a $60 million cash deal. Loudeye's shareholders will get $4.50 for each share. (Release is here).

It seems to be a fairly positive end for a company that has floundered for a while now. Loudeye was facing delisting by Nasdaq before it implemented a 1-for-10 reverse stock split, and even after that its share price continued to spiral.

Loudeye only has a handful of people in Seattle these days after selling its U.S. operations to Muze for a paltry $11 million. Given that amount, the $60 million from Nokia is fairly surprising.

Nokia is basically buying On Demand Distribution (OD2), the European company that Loudeye bought in 2004 for nearly $40 million.

Investors seem happy with today's news. As of 12:20 p.m., Loudeye's share price has shot up 145 percent to $4.33.

One commenter on Yahoo's message board summed up the deal like this: "Big deal, a buy-out price equivalent to 45 cents a share pre-split. At least this brings the saga to an end."

Update: Loudeye founder Martin Tobias gives his take on the sale in his blog.

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Still searching for the fake Steve Jobs blog

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:38 AM

Got a response from a Google spokeswoman today on the disappearance of "The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs." (It had been hosted on Blogger.com, a Google property.)

"We do not disclose details related to users and/or specific blogs on Blogger," the spokeswoman said in an email. "However, regarding http://secretdiaryofstevejobs.blogspot.com, to the best of our knowledge, we did not receive complaints about this blog nor did we take action on it."

Still no word from Apple. They're probably busy.

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Sprint sets sights on WiMax

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:37 AM

In a 10 a.m. press conference this morning, Sprint Nextel is expected to finally announce what technologies it has chosen to roll out wireless broadband across the country.

The WSJ reported in a story in today's paper that the winner is WiMax, the same standard that Craig McCaw's Clearwire is rolling out across the country. Sprint Nextel had also been evaluating Flarion, a technology owned by Qualcomm.

What's more interesting is that Sprint Nextel has chosen Intel and Motorola as its equipment providers. Those are the same two companies that recently invested $900 million in Kirkland-based Clearwire.

As part of that deal, Motorola also purchased Clearwire's equipment subsidiary, NextNet, for an undisclosed amount.

Makes you wonder what kind of roaming relationships Sprint Nextel and Clearwire will assemble...

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August 7, 2006

Apple's day of announcements

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:42 PM

Apple's announcements today were a little bit of a disappointment, considering the hype that had been building. No, there were no new iPods announced. No iTunes movie deals. Instead, there was a lot of talk about Leopard, the operating system scheduled to ship next spring.

The comparisons to Microsoft's upcoming Vista were inevitable, and Apple fueled that fire itself by hanging banners that referenced Microsoft at the event, held at San Francisco's Moscone Center. See this Engadget posting for photos.

The banners said things like, "Hasta la vista, Vista" and "Redmond has a cat too. A copycat." Cute.

Apple announced a new line of fast desktop computers called the Mac Pro that will use a chipset from Intel. The computers will replace Apple's Power Macs and could run for about $2,500.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs had this to say about Microsoft in his keynote speech: "Our friends in Redmond, they spend over $5 billion in R&D, but these days they just try to copy Google and Apple. So I guess it's a good example of how money isn't everything."

Some reaction:

Jupiter analyst Michael Gartenberg: "Once again, Apple has taken a leap over what Microsoft will deliver."

"It's a slight disappointment," Gene Munster, analyst at Piper Jaffray, told Reuters. "They announced exactly what people were expecting. To get a rise (in stock price) you have to surprise investors."

Om Malik: "The big takeaway is that Mac OS X's next version, Leopard is going to be one of the most complete OSes to leverage broadband connections, and even higher speed pipes available inside our home."

The Guardian Unlimited on Apple's taunts: "Perhaps Jobs merely intended to 'feed the failthful', but it makes Apple's management look like a bunch of jerks, it alienates potential switchers, and it just invites those who haven't drunk the Kool-Aid to snipe back."

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Amazon.com's wanna-be comedians

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:30 PM

Amazon.com's online grocery shop allows for user reviews of its products, and nearly 500 people with too much time on their hands have written up Tuscan whole milk. Most of them are completely silly, and not all of them are safe for work. Excerpts below. (From Boing Boing)

"The milk is very crisp and smooth in the mouth, with modest sweetness and a dab of cheese flavouring; pleasantly sour aftertaste. Ideally served chilled with grains and pastry."

"I give this Tuscan Milk four stars simply because I found the consistency a little too 'milk-like' for my tastes. Try the Old Chad's Milk from Tasmania for a real milk experience."

"I washed my car with this product and it really looks great, but it has a terrible smell and everyone thinks I left some cheese in the trunk."

"Has anyone else tried pouring this stuff over dry cereal? A-W-E-S-O-M-E!"

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Google wins MySpace.com search/ad deal

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:39 PM

Google landed a MySpace-sized fish today. News Corp. has made Google the exclusive provider of search and keyword-based advertising for Fox Interactive Media's network of properties, including the popular MySpace.com.

Starting in October, you'll begin seeing Google's search bar on Fox Interactive sites, including the Seattle-based Scout.com. Fox Interactive Media will continue selling banner-type display advertising on its sites, but any inventory it can't sell will go to Google to sell after that.

Google will keep an undisclosed portion of the revenue from those advertising sales, but the majority will go to Fox Interactive. Google has guaranteed that Fox will get at least $900 million in minimum revenue-share payments.

The benefits are obvious for both sides. In one fell swoop, Fox Interactive has paid for two-thirds of its Internet investments, executives said in a conference call with analysts and reporters today. And of the people leaving MySpace.com, the biggest chunk left for Google, so integrating Google's technology into the site might keep users on longer.

Google gets to broaden its advertising-sales network. It gets additional revenue from sales, and it gets to tie up with possibly the hottest site on the Web.

FoxSports is exempt from the deal because of a previous arrangement between News Corp. and Microsoft. News Corp. would not say when that arrangement ends. From the conference call, it sounded like News Corp. dangled the broad search/advertising deal in front of Microsoft and Yahoo! as well, but Google was the most aggressive in responding.

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Security holes in new passports

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:18 PM

A computer researcher demonstrated late Friday what some experts have long suspected -- the data inside new electronic passports that the State Department is introducing this year can be copied, opening the door for criminals to pass themselves off as other travelers.

German security researcher Lukas Grunwald of DN-Systems showed how the information stored on a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag could be copied and transferred to another card, using an inexpensive RFID reader, software and a smart card writer.

State Department officials have repeatedly insisted that the new passports are secure, and the U.S. will begin issuing them to millions of Americans in October to phase out the old passports that are not chipped.

While the State Department has continued to push its plan for RFID, a Department of Homeland Security committee said the plan makes no sense.

RFID may be fine for tracking merchandise, "but for other applications related to human beings, RFID appears to offer little benefit when compared to the consequences it brings for privacy and data integrity," the DHS Emerging Applications and Technology Subcommittee concluded in this report.

Passports need digital (machine readable) technology, just not RFID, the report said.

"RFID offers no anti-forgery or antitampering benefit over alternatives such as contact chips, bar codes, or pixelization."

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Patch Tuesday: A dozen fixes

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:34 PM

Microsoft has a dozen patches -- 10 for Windows and 2 for Office -- coming out tomorrow in its regular monthly security update. At least one patch for each product is rated critical, indicating "a vulnerability whose exploitation could allow the propagation of an Internet worm without user action."

The company said it will also make available an update to its Malicious Software Removal Tool.

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A hard lesson for AOL

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:11 PM

Search researchers are meeting in Seattle this week for the SIGIR conference, and in advance of the event AOL researchers decided to release the search logs of about 650,000 users over three months.

Bad move.

Although the search logs were ostensibly anonymous - users were identified only by a number - the move raises questions about whether you can get information about a user based purely on the content of their searches. AOL has removed all the data that caused the the uproar, but one person who reviewed the file said there were searches for specific names, addresses and telephone numbers.

This blog reports the searches done by User #17556639. The queries include: "how to kill your wife," "photo of dead people," "murder photo" and "steak and cheese."

Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Watch says this isn't the exact type of information that the Department of Justice requested from search engines over the past year year. The DOJ just wanted to see a list of searches, and not a list of searches that were tied to a specific user.

Zoli Erdos wonders what the potential is for identity theft among the 650,000 AOL users whose searches were included in the data.

AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein didn't mince words in the company's response to the issue this morning: "This was a screw up, and we're angry and upset about it," he told Reuters. "It was an innocent-enough attempt to reach out to the academic community with new research tools, but it was obviously not appropriately vetted, and if it had been, it would have been stopped in an instant."

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Pic-messaging heating up for summer

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:42 AM

With summer heating up, camera-phone usage has soared in the U.S., according to M:Metrics, a Seattle-based research firm.

M:Metrics said photo messaging has increased 32 percent since February.

Also since February, the number of camera phones in France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. has grown 22 percent, to slightly more than half of all cellphone owners.

That increase in ownership and the quality of cameras are leading reasons why people are snapping more pics, said Mark Donovan, M:Metric's vice president and senior analyst.

"We also see a direct correlation between camera resolution and propensity to use photo messaging, as 44.3 percent of subscribers who own phones with cameras with resolutions exceeding one mega-pixel sent a photo over the network, versus a global average of 30.5 percent," Donovan said.

The statistics came out in connection with M:Metric's June study that details a number of wireless trends.

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Where's the fake Steve Jobs blog?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:14 AM

Readers of our weekly Download column today who tried to find the blog we ballyhooed might have been disappointed when they plugged in the Web address this morning. It was there when we put the column together on Friday, I promise.

We're as disappointed as you are (probably more so) as we were looking forward for more of the pithy commentary from an anonymous author writing in the voice of Apple Computer chief Steve Jobs. Anonymous had an especially rich week of content ahead of him or her as Apple begins its Worldwide Developer Conference in the midst of a stock-options back-dating maelstrom.

I've asked spokespeople at Google -- which owns blogger.com, the former host of "The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, Age 51 1/2" -- and at Apple to see if they could offer an explanation for the disappearance. (Maybe it was a legal thing?) We'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, if anyone finds the secret diary, let us know.

Update: No word back from Google or Apple. Meanwhile, here's Google's cache of the blog, so at least you can get a glimpse of it.

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August 4, 2006

From Windows to Mifos

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:55 PM

Paul Maritz, a 14-year veteran of Microsoft who managed platform strategy before retiring in 2000, is putting his efforts behind open source software projects these days.

Maritz, who grew up in southern Africa, advised the development of a new open source platform at the Grameen Technology Center in Seattle. That project, called Mifos, was created to help microfinance institutions around the world manage tens of thousands of accounts without having to buy complex, proprietary software.

Maritz recently joined the board of the Grameen Foundation, the organization connected to the bank that pioneered microfinance, or extending credit and other financial services to the world's poorest people. Volunteers are invited to contribute to the Mifos project, which is written in Java and set for release in November.

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August 3, 2006

Microsoft looking for another "Halo"

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:33 AM

Quick: What's a video game that Microsoft is known for?

And you can't say the "Halo" series. That's too easy. Name another one.

Hello?

Microsoft is desperate for another big-name franchise. It's got a few candidates lined up, and is going to pour a significant amount of marketing energy into pumping one in particular: "Gears of War." The action game, according to Microsoft, is about mankind's struggle against the Locust Horde, a race of creatures "from the bowels of the planet."

Today, Microsoft said that "Gears of War" will go on sale in North America on Nov. 12 for $60. A collector's edition will sell for $70.

That's a lot to charge for a video game, even one that Microsoft is calling "the must-have game of 2006." Will it be worth it?

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August 2, 2006

Norwegian journo fakes Gates interview

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:14 PM

A cautionary tale for journalists and editors, via The Associated Press.

A Norwegian journalist who had interviewed the likes of Tom Cruise and Oprah Winfrey faked a two-hour talk with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, a company spokesman in Norway said.

It's perhaps a bit surprising that Bjoern Benkow got the four-page piece, "Big Bill," past his editors and into Norwegian magazine Mann and Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, especially given the way he scored the interview. Benkow said he talked with Gates on a two-hour commercial flight in Europe.

What luck! He got a seat on a commercial airplane next to the world's richest person. That reminds me of the time I sat next to Gates on Sound Transit bus route 545 on our way over the 520 floating bridge. Good times.

Some of the fake gems in Benkow's tale: Gates never carries more than a dime in his pocket and makes $1 bets with wife Melinda French Gates.

Gates' personal assistant, Craig Beilinson, informed Microsoft Norway that the interview never took place and that Gates did not fly in a commercial carrier at the time the journalist allegedly met him, according to Eirik Lae Solberg, spokesman for the company's Norwegian unit.

The editor of Mann, Knut Christian Moeng, said the monthly is printing a retraction in its August issue, apologizing for the article.

But Olof Brundin, a spokesman for Aftonbladet, said the newspaper was convinced the interview had taken place.

"This is a very respected reporter ... with a very good record," Brundin said. "There is no reason whatsoever for us to doubt him."

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On-board with the Blue Angels

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:17 PM

The Blue Angels, due to touch down at Boeing Field any minute now ahead of their Seafair performance this weekend, are impressive from the outside. But what must it be like inside one of those Boeing F/A-18 Hornets as it pulls into a high-speed turn?

To get a sense of the extremes these top pilots go through, check out this video. It's from ESPN.com's Page2, via YouTube. Editor Sheldon Spencer went on a ride with the Angels and paid for it with a distorted face and brush with unconsciousness.

We'll watch from the ground, thanks.

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L.A. comes to Seattle

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:10 AM

T-Mobile USA is known for throwing extravagant events where it can tout its latest devices, like the Sidekick 3.

The parties, filled with A-list celebrities like Paris Hilton, are typically held in Los Angeles and New York. But last night, the Bellevue-based company tried to duplicate the hype in its own hometown by rolling out the magenta carpet in Seattle. Truth be told, it came very close to bringing a little Hollywood to Fleece Central.


TRICIA DURYEE/SEATTLE TIMES
DJ AM at the T-Mobile celeb bash, captured, appropriately, with a camera phone.

The party started at 9 p.m. and was held on the roof of the Bell Harbor Convention Center on Pier 66. Overlooking the skyline, the event drew some of the hottest people in Seattle and a few local celebrities who elbowed their way to the front of the bar for free drinks while they ate playground-themed snacks, including PB&J sandwiches, pizza, cupcakes and corndogs.

Lasers beamed the words "T-Mobile Sidekick 3" on buildings across the street, and you could easily hear the music from down below. The theme was also represented by adult-sized swings (padded in pink, of course) and park benches where you could sit and play with the Sidekick 3 -- known for a full keyboard that makes messaging really easy.

The eclectic group of famous faces ranged from the Sonics' Ray Allen -- a Sidekick user -- former Seahawk and soon-to-be-hall-of-famer Warren Moon; Rod Stewart's daughter, Kimberly Stewart; and Guns N' Roses' bass player, Duff McKagan.

The main entertainment started around 10:45 p.m. when DJ AM (either Nicole Richie's current or former boyfriend, I don't know) mixed records to Blink 182's Travis Barker on the drums. While DJ AM spun everything from Ray Charles to Kanye West and the Beastie Boys, Barker, covered in tattoos from torso to neck, played along energetically, at times even looking violent as he beat down on the drum kit.

The event was as exclusive as they come. Only 350 people were allowed. That means nearly all of T-Mobile's 2,500 local employees who work at the company's Bellevue headquarters weren't invited.

Maybe it was for the best, as most attendees didn't look like they were from here. Women bared a lot of skin; guys were in their button-down club shirts. It was L.A. in Seattle for just one day.

The reason for the Seattle party?

Who knows? But T-Mobile must be feeling it has something to celebrate. We'll find out soon how well the latest Sidekick is selling. T-Mobile reports its second-quarter financial results next week.

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Live update

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:56 AM

It's launch season over at Microsoft's Windows Live group.

Last night, the company rolled out its Windows Live Spaces offering, an update of the MSN Spaces blogging/social networking system. It will go head-to-head with the likes of MySpace.com and Friendster.

It also announced the availability of the Windows Live Toolbar in 38 markets and a beta version of its question-and-answer service. The company said its free PC security tool, Windows Live OneCare Safety Scanner will be available in the coming weeks. (It was launched in November as Windows Live Safety Center, for those of you keeping score at home.)

Microsoft said it expects to take the beta tag off of nearly half of the 20 Windows Live products it has been testing by the end of the summer. So far, it has released its free instant messenging, social networking, toolbar, custom domains, favorites, classified marketplace, shopping and product search services.

Here's a story from June with background on Windows Live. And this story from November marks Microsoft's plunge into Internet services.

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Former MSFT COO Herbold gives UW $1.5 million

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:25 AM

Robert Herbold, former chief operating officer at Microsoft and a heavy hitter in business and politics, has donated $1.5 million to bolster the University of Washington Business School's entrepreneurship and innovation efforts.

One-third of the gift, announced today, will create the Robert J. Herbold Professor of Entrepreneurship chair. The rest will fund the Robert J. Herbold Venture Creation Lab within the school's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The lab will provide students with space and resources to analyze and develop business plans around UW technology.

Herbold was Microsoft's COO from 1994 to 2001. He is currently managing partner of his own consulting firm. His name was floated in 2003 as a possible Republican candidate for governor. Both he and his wife, Patricia Herbold, ambassador to Singapore, are major fund-raisers for the Republican party.

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August 1, 2006

Amazon competing with Google?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 6:24 PM

Is Amazon.com gearing up to compete with Google AdSense? That's what Findory founder (and former Amazon employee) Greg Linden is wondering.

The Amazon service is apparently called Omakase, which this posting says is Japanese for "leave it up to us."

The service, apparently in test form right now, is only accessible by participants in the Amazon Associates program. Dave Taylor has some images of the service on his site along with this explainer from the company:

"Omakase -- leave it up to us! Omakase links will show an Associate's visitors what they're most likely to buy based on Amazon's unique understanding of the site, the user, and the page itself. To create Omakase links, simply modify the template and appearance elements below and copy the resulting code on to your page. Then leave the rest to Omakase!"

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The Giant Google Oops

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:40 AM

Google has taken a full-page advertisement in the front sections of The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today. That's some expensive real estate for what is basically a giant help-wanted ad.

Too bad the URL Google provided for more information doesn't work. Maybe Google should stick to new media.

Update: The URL seems to be working as of this afternoon.

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