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September 29, 2006

Vista launch date guessing game

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 4:43 PM

Mary Jo Foley triangulated a few things this afternoon to float a possible launch date of Windows Vista for business customers. Microsoft's officially maintaining the November for business, January for consumers schedule.

Foley -- longtime Microsoft watcher, now blogging on ZDNet as "An Unblinking Eye on Microsoft" -- cites Brad Goldberg, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Client Business Group, saying that Microsoft has one more large test release of the operating system before, in Foley's words, "it's soup."

She sees Nov. 9 as a good candidate for the business launch and points out some fairly compelling reasons: Microsoft's tendency to launch products on Thursdays and a big event in Brussels geared for businesses scheduled on that date. Bill Gates is presenting. The promotional stuff is all about "ready for a new day."

On the other hand, Brussels could be viewed as an odd place to launch the operating system. It's the seat of the European Commission, which is engaged in an ongoing antitrust battle with Microsoft that has entered a new chapter recently over concerns about security features in Vista. (See thorough coverage from CNet.)

Still, we've marked our calendars.

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So 10 minutes ago: A review of the week

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 3:15 PM

Top tech news
-- Aren't we all tired of Pattie Dunn yet? Or Mark Hurd, non-Magnum PIs or lawyers upon lawyers? Evidently not in D.C. The cast of characters in the Hewlett-Packard corporate spying scandal (on the likes of fellow byte-stained journalism wretches, no less) moved to the other Washington on Thursday, Dunn told her story, Hurd apologized and the Fifth Amendment rose in popularity.

Microsoft
-- Zune price set: $249.99. Market launch date: Nov. 14.
-- In another bid to be one cool, 70,000-employee company, Microsoft secured "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson to help on the content-provider end of the Xbox 360 family.
-- Happy 15th birthday, Microsoft Research.

Digital media
-- Google partners with King County on a trip planner for transit riders. Early verdict: It may have missed the bus.

Telecom
-- If you live in Bothell, Redmond, Kirkland, Everett or Mount Vernon, you may have seen Verizon folks working on bringing fiber to your door. It's part of $22.9 billion the company is spending to rewire its network for cable TV and high-speed Internet connections. If you live in Brier or Kenmore, your time is coming soon.

Funding
-- Seattle-based Twisted Pair is getting a $9 million initial round of venture capital (link) for its efforts to build software that allows walkie-talkies, phones, cellphones and computers to interact ...quot; something helpful in emergency situations. Interestingly, CoCo Communications, a neighbor of Twisted Pair, is working on similar technology.

Quote of the week
"It's a sad day for this proud company. Something has really gone wrong at this institution."
-- Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the HP scandal

Meaningless comparison of the week
The aforementioned $22.9 billion Verizon is spending on its fiber initiative. That amounts to almost five tunnels to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct -- or enough to rebuild the roadway eight times. Verizon, of course, is expecting to offset the outlay with $4.9 billion in savings from fiber's reduced maintenance cost vs. copper.

If you missed it ...
As Web 2.0 started taking hold, the idea of everyone becoming a reporter -- a citizen journalist -- seemed to be the future. Is it? Kim Peterson surveyed the landscape and found not a lot of success so far, but the influence of grass-roots journalism has been felt in spots.

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Microsoft No. 4 in R&D spending; China gaining

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:58 AM

Battelle and R&D Magazine published a report on trends in research and development globally. The headline: CHINA GAINING GROUND IN GLOBAL 'HEAD AND BRAINS RACE'

China's investment in research and development as a percentage of its gross domestic product has grown from less than 1 percent in 1993 to more than 1.5 percent in 2005. Meanwhile, global leaders U.S. and Japan have remained relatively stable at around 2.5 and 3 percent, respectively. (Since 2000, however, the U.S. has been trending down and Japan has been trending up.)

The report is a manageable nine pages with lots of charts and tables. One lists the top 20 global companies by R&D spending. Microsoft is No. 4 behind Pfizer, Toyota and Ford. General Motors rounds out the top 5. (The remainder of the top 20 is populated by auto makers, big pharma and tech companies.)

Microsoft's high position is in part a function of the way the software industry accounts for building its products. Salaries of the thousands of engineers working on Windows Vista and Office 2007, for example, get chalked up as development expenses. The company has said the current wave of new products coming to market in the next several months represent some $20 billion in R&D investment over previous years. In fiscal 2006, Microsoft chalked up about $6.8 billion in R&D spending.

Earlier this week, Microsoft Research -- the group looking to push the state of the art in computer science -- celebrated its 15th anniversary. This cutting-edge research group represents only a fraction of the company's overall R&D spend.

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Vivendi buys Issaquah's Secret Lair

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:33 AM

Vivendi Games said yesterday that it has bought Issaquah-based Secret Lair Studios, a game developer. Vivendi also bought Studio Ch'in in Shanghai, China. The companies did not disclose the financial terms of the deals.

The acquisitions were designed to boost the role of Vivendi's Sierra Online group as a publisher of games for Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade casual gaming service.

Secret Lair, like many video game studios in the area, was created by former Microsoft employees. For more background on the company, here's a Firing Squad interview with Secret Lair's Jason Robar.

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September 28, 2006

Microsoft announces Zune price, launch date

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:30 AM

Microsoft's upcoming Zune player was rumored to be priced at around $299. But earlier this month, Apple lowered the prices on its iPod models and began selling its 30 GB iPod with video playback for $249.

It's unclear whether the $299 price point was ever a reality for Microsoft, but the company clearly had to match or beat Apple if it was going to be successful on store shelves this holiday. The Zune has the same storage capacity as the $249 iPod.

Today, Microsoft said it would begin selling the Zune on Nov. 14 in the U.S. for $249.99. (That's technically 99 cents more than the iPod.) The Zune subscription service, which lets users listen to about 2 million songs, will cost $15 a month. You can't keep those songs, however; access is gone when the subscription ends.

Users can download songs to keep permanently at an extra price of 79 "points" per song. The points system is similar to what Microsoft uses in its Xbox Live Marketplace service. You can buy a block of points at a time with your credit card or by buying a pre-paid card in stores.

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ESPN Mobile DEAD

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:23 AM

The Mobile ESPN wireless telephone service, launched with much fanfare during the Super Bowl, will shut down later this year after it was unable to attract very many subscribers, according to Reuters.

ESPN, owned by Walt Disney, said that instead it will pursue licensing the brand to existing mobile providers.

Reuters reported that owners of Mobile ESPN phones will receive a full refund when they settle their final Mobile ESPN bill, and customers who choose to stop Mobile ESPN service will be released from current contract obligations, the company said.

Mobile ESPN was a mobile virtual network, or MVNO. It bought wireless minutes wholesale from Sprint Nextel. Other MVNOs include services such as Amp'd Mobile and Helio. Walt Disney has another one called Disney Mobile, which markets to families who want to be able to control and monitor their children's movements and cell phone activities.

The announcement of ESPN Mobile's shut down brings into question the effectiveness of its business model.

Seamus McAteer, a senior analyst with Seattle-based M:Metrics, said this does not mean all MVNOs will fail. He said creating one based on a brand alone might be too much to ask, but leveraging an existing sales channel, like an Internet service provider, might work.

"It's important that we do not over-react to this as the end of MVNOs. In the end, asking consumers to view a brand with a connotation as purely a media company as a provider of telephony is too great of a conceptual leap," he said. "Brands like Virgin, a lifestyle brand, or brands that are already providers of communications services, such as a cable company or ISP, stand a much better chance as an MVNO, as do companies that are pure-play MVNOs."

In September last year, I got a chance to see the phone up close, and it was well executed. The user interface, which was built by Bellevue-based UIEvolution, was sleek and easy to use. It was easily modified to make your favorite teams accessible with one or two clicks. It seemed like it could be a potential winner.

I think one of the problems, however, is that the number of people who would be interested in a sports phone gets small fast. Let's face it, the phones we have today are often dictated by our employer, or what is available through a family plan. ESPN Mobile wouldn't have been accessible through either of those scenarios.

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September 27, 2006

Carphone :Sort of like CarToys

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:44 PM

When I was at CTIA in LA a couple of weeks ago, a group of wireless executives gushed about a company in London called the Carphone Warehouse during a panel discussion.

At the time, I was picturing a gigantic building, a la Costco, where the staff sold nothing but cellphones and accessories. The feature so beloved by the executives from Helio, Virgin Mobile, Verizon Wireless and others was the amount of time a salesperson would spend with a consumer to discover their needs and match them with the best phone possible.

Turns out that these executives then go to Carphone Warehouse to pick the minds of salespeople to get a sense of what people are willing to pay for when it comes to devices, plans and features.

What's interesting is that Carphone Warehouse said Tuesday that it had reached agreement with Best Buy to introduce a U.S. retail business under the "Best Buy Mobile" brand. In return, Best Buy will introduce a home computing customer service business in the UK under the "Geek Squad" brand.

A move by the largest U.K. mobile retailer (which I now picture more like a Best Buy or maybe a CarToys) to come to this country seems to validates this market. It may really change the way cellphones are sold today.

In large part, people in the U.S. buy phones and plans directly from a carrier, whether it's online, at a kiosk, or a retail store. In other countries, people frequently buy phones and plans separately. In that model, consumers must pay full price for a phone, but then they aren't locked into multi-year agreement.

Quote Carpone Warehouse CEO Charles Dunstone:

The U.S. market is very large but has little retail distribution on the Carphone Warehouse mode. In addition, when we look at the explosion of broadband penetration and home computing, we can easily see why the Geek Squad has been so successful in the States. For either of us to take our expertise into the other's market on our own would be a step into the unknown. Together, the complementary skills of Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy mean we can jointly test out both of these exciting opportunities at low cost, with low risk and little diversion of management time.

Reuters reported that Carphone Warehouse said a trial period for the U.S. retail venture, during which stores would be opened in New York City, was about to get under way. It also expects that the Geek Squad initiative to be launched next year.

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Apple phone going to Cingular?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:36 PM

Rumors surfacing on Think Secret say Apple Computer and Cingular Wireless have signed an agreement to make Cingular, the largest U.S. cellphone service provider, the exclusive carrier of Apple's first phone.

Apple's iPhone remains on track for an early 2007 release, the site said.

In addition, the speculation said Apple's exclusive contract with Cingular will last for six months.

It makes sense since Cingular has had an exclusive on the Motorola Rokr, the first phone to feature music from Apple's iTunes. Since then, Cingular has also carried the Motorola Slvr with iTunes.

Apple's phone is expected to feature a 2.2-inch screen and 3 megapixel camera. Thinksecret said Apple insiders are estimating that iPhone shipments will top a 25 million in next year alone. By contrast, Motorola's Razr has sold more than 50 million units since its late 2004 launch.

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WiMax may be a bargain

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:25 PM

Verizon Communications stock fell more than 3 percent during trading today after it said it will spend $22.9 billion to rewire more than half of its copper telephone network with fiber optics so it can sell cable TV and fast Internet connections. The project is called FiOS.

I wrote a story on Monday that detailed why Verizon and others are feeling the pressure to provide new services to complete their "quadruple play."

Other companies are turning to wireless broadband, or WiMax, to provide Internet and phone services. Satellite TV companies DirecTV and EchoStar in particular are looking at it because they currently can't provide Internet access or phone access with their technology.

With Verizon's announcement on how much the project will cost, it's starting to make WiMax appear cheap in comparison.

Kirkland-based Clearwire has raised more than $2 billion to roll out part of a nationwide network, and Sprint Nextel pledged $3 billion to provide WiMax service to 100 million people within a couple of years.

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Microsoft appoints Boit VP of enterprise partners

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:01 PM

Peter Boit, who has developed Microsoft's sales efforts to commercial customers in manufacturing, financial services, retail and hospitality, was appointed to a new role servicing the company's enterprise partners.

As vice president of enterprise partners, Boit will manage the company's relationships with its largest partners. Some 96 percent of Microsoft's revenue comes through its network of partners, who do everything from selling the company's software to consulting to building computer systems.

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September 26, 2006

Amazon un-complicates Unbox

Posted by Monica Soto at 3:17 PM

When Amazon.com unveiled its downloadable movie service, Amazon Unbox, users voiced concerns with software features they called invasive.

The company, renown for its customer service, apparently listened.

Amazon today told Unbox customers that it would add changes to the software Wednesday that include:

The ability to choose if the Unbox service starts when Windows starts.


Resolution of intermittent problems with licensing, downloading, fast-forwarding and rewinding.

Clearer messaging to let you know when your videos are ready to be watched.

And more...

As an incentive to keep using the service, it also credited accounts with a $1.99 instant rebate.

While a classy gesture, the real gift to customer will be offering videos they can take off their computers.

Is Hollywood listening?

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Head of Boeing IT leaving for Gates Foundation

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:30 PM

Microsoft isn't the only company with employees eyeing new career opportunities at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Dave Fennell

Dave Fennell, vice president for Boeing Information Systems, is about to leave for a new position heading IT systems at the Gates Foundation. Fennell, who has spent the majority of his 29-year career at Boeing, was in charge of creating and maintaining quality assurance systems across the company. At Boeing Commercial, he's served as chief information officer and managed computing support for all of the airplane programs.

The Gates Foundation certainly has the prestige and the pocketbook to attract top talent from many fields. Still it's interesting that an IT whiz like Fennell would find a niche at a charitable foundation. How challenging could it be to network a non-profit after you've managed a fleet of airplanes across the globe?

No doubt having someone like Fennell reflects Bill Gates' own sensibilities and the basic philosophy of using technology to solve the world's problems. It also points to a key role technology could play linking an increasing number of partners and projects around the world as the foundation ramps up.

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Nokia's music notes

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:12 PM

At Nokia's big Open Studio event in New York today, the world's largest handset manufacturer hinted at what's in store for its new music services.

In August, Nokia announced it was acquiing Seattle-based Loudeye, which had been working on digital music products for many years. At the time of the purchase, Nokia didn't say why it was buying the company, but hinted that it was going to launch a Nokia-branded music service.

At the New York event, where Nokia announced that it is launching a handful of new high-end multimedia phones (the Finnish company prefers to call them computers), a little more detail on the Loudeye acquisition was revealed.

Technically, Nokia still can't say much because the merger hasn't officially closed, but Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia's executive vice president and general manager of multimedia, said in a roundabout way that it may involve the launch of a music recommendation service.

"Today is not time yet to talk about what our plans are around Loudeye, but as a pre-course and a taste of things to come, I'm introducing an experience and a community, which we call Music Recommenders," he said.

He said the typical mobile phone music service today allows people to search a database of music and buy music they are looking for. Nokia is launching a new service that will recommend music based on an expert's opinion. In a video, it showed those experts. Among them were independent music store owners in Brazil, where jungle beats are popular, and in New York, where underground hip hop lives, and in Japan, where girly pop bands are all the rave.

To gain credibility, Vanjoki said the service will have a spokesman, and that authority will be David Bowie.

"David Bowie has promised to serve as the godfather of service," Vanjoki said. "His recommendations will come from around the world, in the form of dedicated podcasts and lists of music."

The device that will do this best, Vanjoki said, is from Nokia's N-series. Vanjoki called it convergence without compromise.

For more information on the N95, which has a 5 megapixel camera, and the N75 flip phone, which will launch in the U.S. before Christmas, check the Nokia Web site.

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UW dumps Napster for local Cdigix

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:13 AM

In June of last year, the University of Washington signed a deal with Napster to offer its dormitory students access to Napster's digital music service. The UW agreed to pay Napster $2 per month for each of 1,500 students, which over an eight-month school year came to $24,000.

The UW also agreed that it would shill for Napster and Dell, a third party in the deal, during the school year. The school said it would promote Dell and Napster in e-mail campaigns and on campus. It even agreed to coordinate student focus groups about the service and participate in a case study that Dell would publish on its Web site and in other marketing materials.

The partnership would only last a year. The UW has dropped Napster for the free services of Cdigix, a company that moved from Colorado to Seattle this summer after former RealNetworks executive Larry Jacobson took the helm.

The UW will offer students a music subscription service through Cdigix starting this fall. Jacobson said that unlike Napster, Cdigix isn't charging the UW because it will fund the service through advertising.

Cdigix is looking to be in 100 schools by the end of the year. Napster, by the way, has hired a bank to help it consider "strategic alternatives" -- code for shopping itself around to buyers.

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Inrix covers a lot of ground

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:11 AM

Inrix, which develops software that predicts traffic patterns, today highlighted an independent research study by Frost & Sullivan that compared two of the top providers of real-time traffic information in the U.S.

The study involved an analysis of Inrix and Traffic.com. The report compared the two providers in the areas of accuracy and miles covered.

Inrix, spun out from Microsoft Research in April 2005, predicts traffic patterns minutes, days or even a year into the future and sends the information to the Web or to portable devices.

Traffic.com, based in Wayne, Pa., started in 1998 and operates locally based traffic centers around the country.

While both Inrix and Traffic.com provide strong and comparable levels of accuracy in reporting travel times, Inrix covered more roadways around the country, the study said.

"Inrix is uniquely aggregating real-time data from over 625,000 GPS-enabled commercial vehicles and combining it with data from multiple private and public sources," said Veerender Kaul, Frost & Sullivan's program manager.

As part of the study, Frost & Sullivan drove routes in three U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Providence, R.I. It then compared the actual travel times to the data from Inrix and Traffic.com.

Although the two companies use very different methodologies for collecting traffic data, the study found both showed a generally high accuracy of more than 70 percent. In evaluating nearly 150 trials over 15 routes in the three cities, the average measured route travel time was within one minute of the actual travel time.

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Wallop launches social networking service

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:58 AM

San Francisco-based Wallop, a startup that came out of Microsoft's research lab, is testing out a social networking site that will charge users to put decorations and other graphics on their Web pages.

The decorations will cost from 99 cents to $4, the company said (fourth item). The site is invitation-only for now.

Wallop also said today it has received a $10 million round of Series B funding led by Norwest Venture Partners.

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Look out for Mixxer

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:57 AM

Mixxer, a mobile social networking site, said IBDNetwork picked the Seattle company as a "Momentum 2006 Company."

Mixxer will receive the honor at the annual IBDNetwork Momentum Growth Conference tomorrow in Mountain View, Calif.

Companies granted with this title are recognized as "ones to watch."

Mixxer, which was previously called 3GUpload, sells ringtones and other mobile content to its community members. It also allows its members to share photos, and store their content in digital lockers.

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"The Faster and More Furious"

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:45 AM

CinemaNow today said it would sell a downloadable version of "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" that can be burned to DVD on the same day the movie is released nationwide in retail stores.

While the movie offering isn't Oscar-worthy, the Marina Del Rey, Calif., company runs the only Web site permitted to provide a burn-to-DVD service for Hollywood movies.

Amazon.com recently jumped into the downloadable movie business with Amazon Unbox, but the service was widely criticized for not offering a burn-to-DVD feature.

For now, CinemaNow's burn-to-DVD offerings are severely limited. (The featured titles in that section include "Inside Man" and "Bulletproof Monk.")

Even so, Amazon should watch closely how its competitor fares. When it comes to persuading Hollywood to loosen licensing restrictions, the online retail juggernaut could be faster and more furious.

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T-Mobile drops Zeta-Jones

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:28 AM

T-Mobile USA is expected to drop its celebrity spokeswoman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, when her contract expires sometime next year, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.


AP
Is T-Mobile saying bye-bye to Catherine Zeta-Jones?

The story said T-Mobile was leaning towards a branding approach that had a man-on-street flavor.

In addition, the story reported that the Bellevue-based company will soon launch phones that will seamlessly work on both cell and Wi-Fi networks. The company had been expected to launch the service as early as this summer.

The dual-mode features will not only be a good use of T-Mobile's thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots, but it will also off-load some traffic from its already full network. As it is, the company has struggled with not having enough capacity on its network to roll out new services, such as high-speed 3G. If people do start to use Wi-Fi instead, it could free up some spectrum for other services.

It also gained more spectrum recently when it became the largest bidder in a government spectrum auction.

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Hey, Google! Running across Aurora is a bad idea

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:14 AM

Google expanded its public transit trip planner to Seattle and four other cities last night. You can use the service, linked here, to find out how to get from one address to the other using buses in King County.

Metroblogging Seattle tried to use the service, saw that the Google trip required crossing six lanes of highway traffic.

I tried it from my house to work, which also requires a trip down Aurora, and found that Google asked me to exit the bus at Aurora and John Street, run across six lanes and a divider on Aurora and continue east down John to work. Google doesn't seem to realize that John Street ends for a block or two along the way before picking up again.

King County's trip-planning site offers a more sensible alternative that doesn't require scurrying across Aurora, though the trip requires changing buses and takes 35 minutes compared to Google's 24 minutes.

Maybe King County can get a new slogan out of this: "Slower than Google, but we won't kill you."

Oh and a point of clarification: In my story I said that Google compares the cost of your trip on public transit to what it would cost to drive there in a car. Google does this with Portland, where it first tested its service, but that feature doesn't seem to be available for Seattle. I have a call in to Google to find out why it's missing.

Update: Google told me this afternoon that there was a "data error" for Seattle that resulted in giving a small percentage of users accurate, but not optimal, route suggestions. The company expects to have this corrected by the end of the day. Also, the cost comparison feature is only available in certain cities, but Google is working with public transportation agencies to provide this data.

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September 25, 2006

RealNetworks' latest product: RealTime

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:50 PM

RealNetworks today announced a free service called RealTime that installs a desktop toolbar and screensaver onto your computer. It uses that space to display news feeds chosen by the user, including news headlines and stock price information. The screensaver shows photos along with the headlines.

Clicking on a headline sends you to the RealTime.com site. RealNetworks is hoping to sell advertising on that site and turn it in to a customized user portal. If you go to that site, you'll see that the big "breaking news" is RealNetworks' own announcement. Let's hope the company has a better idea about breaking news moving forward.

RealNetworks has paid to be a sponsor of the Demo emerging technologies conference taking place in San Diego this week. It will be showing off RealTime in a kiosk at the conference, but will not be demonstrating in front of the audience like other participants.

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Microsoft great for Mom

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:12 PM

Working Mother magazine named Microsoft among the 100 best U.S. companies for its target audience. The Redmond software giant was the only Northwest business to make the magazine's 21st annual list. Companies were evaluated in five areas: flexibility, leave for new parents, child and elder care and women in top jobs.

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Nokia, Loudeye get regulatory approval

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:21 PM

Nokia and Loudeye have received approval for their proposed merger from the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, the companies said in a filing today.

Loudeye's shareholders are scheduled to meet on Oct. 11 to vote on the deal.

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Monday news roundup

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:39 AM

Lots of news out in the ether today. Here's a roundup:

Microsoft is combining its global advertising services into a more streamlined offering for advertisers called Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions. The new service will reach across the company's products, including the MSN Network, Xbox Live, Windows Live and the online segments of Microsoft Office.

The Demo emerging technologies conference is going on this week in San Diego, and Seattle-based Cozi is there unveiling a free service called Cozi Central. Users can keep an online calendar and shopping lists and have the ability to send broadcast messages to each other.

Bellevue-based Revenue Science has been chosen by media company Gannett to provide behavioral targeted advertising technology. Revenue Science said that it will help Gannett offer advertisers specific audiences, such as those interested in travel, car shopping and consumer technology.

Seattle-based Farecast has added 20 new cities to its airfare prediction service, bringing the total to 75 cities nationwide.

The Mind Camp thinkfest is having a party before the event on Oct. 5 at the Nectar Lounge in Fremont. Mind Camp is organizing this with Venture All Stars, and is bringing in the managing director of West Coast IPOs from Nasdaq to talk about the stock market and public offerings. Cost is $20 per person and a food donation is required. More info at Venture All Stars' Web site.

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September 22, 2006

Click fraud -- an unsolvable puzzle?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:52 PM

BusinessWeek has a long article about click fraud, a problem that search engines can't seem to overcome.

The spreading scourge poses the single biggest threat to the Internet's advertising gold mine and is the most nettlesome question facing Google and Yahoo, whose digital empires depend on all that gold.

Curiously, no mention of Microsoft or its search engine in the article.


Technorati Profile

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AT&T Wireless is back

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:29 PM

The Federal Communications Commission late Thursday is headed toward approving AT&T Inc.'s $67 billion purchase of BellSouth with no conditions, sources close to the matter told Bloomberg.

The FCC could vote on the matter at its Oct. 12 meeting.

Following the merger, AT&T will own Cingular Wireless outright, and most likely will rename the division to AT&T Wireless.

The brand hasn't been used since Cingular purchased AT&T Wireless in 2004 for $41 billion in cash.

But when AT&T announced its acquisition of BellSouth, it said the AT&T Wireless brand would re-emerge to replace Cingular.

(To make matters more complicated, AT&T today is actually the result of SBC Communications' acquisition of AT&T; the merged company adopted the AT&T name. Cingular is jointly owned by SBC -- now AT&T -- and BellSouth.)

The move could be controversial because of how successful the Cingular Wireless brand has been and customer issues that propped up just before the merger with AT&T Wireless.

For those keeping track, here's the lineage:

--In 1994, AT&T purchased McCaw Cellular Communications for $11.5 billion to form AT&T Wireless, based in Redmond.

-- In April 2000, AT&T Wireless raised $10.6 billion in a public offering, making it the largest IPO ever at the time.

-- In 2001, AT&T spun off AT&T Wireless to become a standalone company.

-- In 2004, Cingular Wireless purchased AT&T Wireless for $41 billion in cash, and renamed the company AT&T Wireless.

Next up: Cingular Wireless will be renamed AT&T Wireless.

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Sony drops PS3 price in Japan

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:39 AM

More from the "what are they thinking?" department at Sony. The Japanese electronics giant has cut the price of its PlayStation 3 in Japan, months before the system's Nov. 11 debut there. No change to pricing in the U.S., however.

The PS3 price will drop in Japan from $515 to about $410, making it competitive with Microsoft's Xbox 360, which, with an HD-DVD player, sells for about $427, according to the Associated Press.

Sony Computer Entertainment chief Ken Kutaragi didn't mention the price drop in his keynote address at the Tokyo Game Show, but told reporters in a Q&A session later that day.

The PS3 price in the U.S. is still set at $499 and $599.

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Amazon and TiVo, a possible partnership

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:12 AM

For what it's worth, the New York Post is reporting that Amazon.com is looking to hook up with TiVo to let people automatically transfer their Amazon Unbox movie downloads directly to the TiVo box for watching on a television.

The deal would immediately clear one of the biggest problems with the Unbox service -- how do you get it on the TV? The Post has reported potential tech deals that didn't turn out; its report last year that Microsoft was negotiating to buy a stake in the AOL set off a flurry of activity that ended with a $1 billion Google-AOL deal. But an Amazon-TiVo partnership seems to make sense for both sides.

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September 21, 2006

John Moe book party details

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:35 PM

John Moe summons our tech reporters over to KUOW's studios pretty regularly to be interviewed for his show, called The Works. Time to return the love with a quick plug for an upcoming party to promote his new book, "Conservatize Me: How I tried to be a righty with the help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith and beef jerky."

Moe promises "an evening of political conversation and fun" on Oct. 4 at Big Picture in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. The cost is $10 a person and more info can be found here.

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More InfoSpace details

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:22 PM

A research report by Needham released more details today about InfoSpace's announcement Wednesday that it was losing part of its business with a major carrier.

I reported today that the carrier is probably Cingular Wireless, which is the company's largest mobile customer. InfoSpace said the customer in question decided to work directly with music companies rather than work through InfoSpace to sell ringtones.

The report gave a bit more detail on what the loss of Cingular's ringtone business will mean for InfoSpace.

For the first six months of they year, InfoSpace generated almost $90 million in mobile revenue, of which "label tone," or ringtone, sales represented about $55 million. Needham said it assumes that ringtones have about a 15 percent operating margin, which would mean InfoSpace had $4.5 million in operating income from ringtones during that time period. That equates to 20 percent of the company's total operating income, Needham calculated.

This clearly puts into perspective how big of a hit the company will take over this loss. Additionally, Needham wrote: "While the one carrier client was cited as a near-term loss, we expect InfoSpace's other ringtone partners will go direct over the next year as well."

Those include Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA. However, both companies confirmed Wednesday that they continue to work with InfoSpace.

I wrote an article in July on the vulnerability of InfoSpace's business model and what it was trying to do about it. Check it out here.

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Microsoft hires new communications head

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:28 AM

Microsoft said this morning it has hired Steve Zimba as business director to lead its efforts to sell products and services to wireline, wireless and cable companies. According to a news release, Zimba is a 20-year telecom and technology veteran who was most recently director of strategy and business development for BellSouth.

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Quoted: H-P's Patricia Dunn

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:17 AM

"All I will say about the maelstrom is that I look forward eagerly, in the near future, to setting the record straight and going back to leading my life as discretely as possible. And in the meantime, it wouldn't hurt if the Pope continued to make controversial comments to grab the attention of the press."

--Hewlett-Packard chairwoman Patricia Dunn, as she was being inducted Wednesday night into the Hall of Fame of the Bay Area Council, a business group. Reporters, by the way, were banished to the back of the room during her remarks and not allowed to talk to her.

Earlier that day, news broke that H-P considered planting spies in the offices of two news organizations that were covering the company.

H-P has stopped cooperating with the state of California's investigation into the company's questionable surveillance practices, attorney general Bill Lockyer said today. The company is planning to hold its own press conference tomorrow.

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Web 2.0 on dramatic growth curve

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:56 AM

VentureOne put out interesting new statistics today on the Web 2.0 craze, saying that although the sector is receiving a lot of hype, it isn't receiving a disproportional amount of dollars.

To show this, VentureOne reported how many dollars Web 2.0 companies have received funding stretching back to 2001.

In the first six months of this year, 49 such companies were funded, garnering $262.3 million in capital. That compares to 51 deals and $199.1 million invested in all of 2005. At that rate, activity is likely to double this year.

As for the definition, companies included in this study were defined as having a business model that revolves around a "dynamic" interface, which relies on user-created content, networking, and collaboration. Applications may include podcasting, tagging, blogs, social networking, mashups, and wikis.

A spokeswoman for VentureOne said that Web 2.0 companies showed up as early as 2001 because the statistics included companies that have evolved their business model to encompass Web 2.0 and have remained venture-backed.

Some other interesting facts for the first half of 2006:

-- Although Web 2.0 may be considered overhyped, it still remains a small portion of the overall venture pool. While Web 2.0 companies attracted $263 million in the first half of the year, the overall total for venture investments during that period was $13 billion.

-- Also, the median size of a Web 2.0 financing round this year is $4.4 million, compared to $7.5 million for a venture financing overall.

-- The most heavily invested category, not surprisingly, was "IT consumer services," which had 27 deals.

-- The second-most popular category was "IT business services," with only five deals.

-- The most popular stage of development for the companies was early stage with 26 of the deals being categories as first rounds.

-- The largest Web 2.0 deals this year are Facebook of Palo Alto, Calif., which received a $25 million round, and Zimbra of San Mateo, Calif., which received a $14.5 million round.

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MSFT momentum building?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:35 AM

Microsoft employees gathered right now at Safeco Field for the company's annual meeting can probably find something to smile at despite the gloomy weather.

Since its June 13 nadir at $21.51 a share, Microsoft's stock has climbed $5.56, or 25.8 percent, to close Wednesday at $27.07. MSFT was backing off a little in early afternoon trading today, but has finally returned to where it was trading in late April, before management surprised Wall Street with news of an additional multi-billion, long-term investment that sent shares crashing.

On top of the recent gains are at least two positive financial analyst reports on the company in the last 24 hours:

Goldman Sachs' Rick Sherlund this morning reiterated his favorable take on the company with a note about the broader software industry that was also bullish on Adobe, Oracle and SAP. He wrote this about Microsoft's big product launches due in early 2007: "We expect Windows Vista to generate $1.0 billion in incremental upgrade revenues and about $800 million in increased revenues due to a mix shift to premium priced products in the first twelve months."

Sherlund has a $30 price target on the stock.

Sid Parakh, analyst at McAdams Wright Ragen, published a 28-page report on the company. He expects the strength of Microsoft's new product cycle to allay investor concerns about competition from the likes of Google and Apple: "With several new product releases scheduled over the next few quarters, we believe that the timely and successful launch of these products should have a positive impact on revenue growth in FY07 (June, 2007) and FY08 (June, 2008), helping reinvigorate investor optimism on MSFT."

Parakh has a $31 price target on the stock.

Of course, both analysts identified risks, including that the current stock price may reflect positive expectations about the product cycle and that Microsoft's longer-term challenges around competition and innovation are plentiful.

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September 20, 2006

Soapbox -- an early review

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:05 PM

Cnet takes Microsoft's user-generated video site, Soapbox, for a drive and says that it's generally solid, but with a few problems. It isn't the most innovative service, Rafe Needleman writes, and will succeed only if Microsoft can get its other users (notably the people who use the Spaces blogging service) to adopt it. We wrote about Soapbox's debut Tuesday.

In sum, Soapbox is disappointing. It's a slightly better sharing service than YouTube in some small technical ways, but it doesn't help users make money from their content like Revver does; it doesn't have granular privacy controls like Vox; it won't post directly into blogs for you like VideoEgg; and it won't show videos from other networks like Yahoo Video. Given Microsoft's position in the video sharing market (dead last), I expected a more aggressive product.

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Bill Gates and the Da Vinci Codex

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:49 PM

Bill Gates has had a falling out with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London over how the museum should display a Leonardo da Vinci manuscript that Gates bought in 1994 for $31 million, according to The Art Newspaper (and highlighted by The Stranger).

Gates originally was fine with lending the museum the manuscript, called the Codex Leicester, but was concerned with the lighting. At the light levels proposed by the museum, Gates reportedly only wanted the manuscript shown for an hour a day. Then there was the issue of security:

It is understood that Mr Gates wanted airport-style screening of all visitors for the Leonardo show, which would have been expensive for the V&A and time-consuming for the public. The museum felt this measure was unnecessary, since the Leonardos are displayed in highly secure cases with toughened glass and in a gallery with appropriate security.

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InfoSpace loses major carrier business

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:28 PM

InfoSpace gathered hundreds of its Bellevue employees at Meydenbauer Center at 2 p.m. today as the company released news that one of its wireless-carrier customers no longer needs its services.

The dissolution of the customer relationship will negatively affect the company's mobile revenues, which totaled almost $90 million in the first six months of this year, the company said in a release.

InfoSpace helps carriers sell ringtones and other content to wireless customers by developing relationships with record labels and other companies.

In the release, issued after the stock market closed, the company said one of its customers, which it did not identify, plans to develop direct licensing relationships with the major record labels starting in early 2007.

Because of this, the company said it plans to rationalize its costs to align them with future revenues. Specific plans will be announced within 30 days.

"While we are disappointed in this decision and we will realign costs to reflect the revenue reduction, we maintain a strong presence in mobile infrastructure and search services," said CEO Jim Voelker.

For the past couple of months, Wall Street analysts criticized InfoSpace's business model because they said carriers could work directly with music labels and studios to cut out InfoSpace, which acts as a middleman.

Besides InfoSpace's mobile division, it also generates revenues from its online properties, such as DogPile and Switchboard.

Update: It's worth noting that only the portion of the revenues related to ringtones -- or $55 million of the company's almost $90 million in mobile revenues -- will be affected.

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SeaMobile gains Holland America

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:16 PM

Seattle-based SeaMobile Enterprises said today that it has signed an agreement with Holland America Line to provide wireless cellular phone and services for Holland's guests around the world.

SeaMobile provides connectivity at sea for cellphones and other devices.

The company said installations of wireless broadband communications on Holland America's entire fleet of 13 ships will begin later this year.

The SeaMobile communications service will allow guests and staff of Holland America's ships to use their own cellphones and wireless PDAs on different types of technology, including GSM, GPRS and CDMA.

Worldwide roaming agreements provide connectivity for wireless services. Charges for calls and data services appear on the user's wireless bill from their home carrier.

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Is it a case of Zune vs. Windows?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:15 AM

If Microsoft launches a Zune-branded phone, it might hurt sales of its Windows Mobile platform products, according to a story in DigiTimes Telecom.

The story reasoned that a Zune phone, which Microsoft said is part of the Zune brand's futurre, will play MP3s similar to phones that run on the Windows operating system platform.

The source of the speculation stems from Taiwan handset makers, which now manufacture more than 90 percent of Windows Mobile-based PDA phones and smartphones in use worldwide.

I think the Zune phone is less a threat to Windows phones and more a threat to those handset manufacturers. That's because, as the story goes on to say, handset makers believe Microsoft should license its Zune-based platform to them to produce Zune products.

Otherwise, I don't see how Zune would compete with Windows-based phones, at least not right now. Windows Mobile phones -- in large part -- are sold to business people, who want to be able to read e-mail on the go. They are not typically sold in mass quantities to consumers, many of whomy would consider the high-end phones out of their price range.

On the other hand, a Zune phone would be most likely a consumer-focused product and more readily compete with phones such as Verizon Wireless' Chocolate.

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DirecTV reaffirms interest in WiMax

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:07 AM

A DirecTV executive told a crowd of investors that his company was still interested in signing a Wi-Fi or WiMax deal that would allow the TV service to also provide broadband Internet access to customers.

The rumors had been out there for some time that DirecTV is willing to invest about $1 billion into a company that would allow it to more readily compete with cable operators.

But as recently as yesterday, a story in the Hollywood Reporter suggested that News Corp., DirecTV's parent, may be interested in selling its interest in the satellite TV company rather than try to get into the broadband business. News Corp. would sell it to Liberty Media in exchange for Liberty Media's holdings in News Corp.

But in a Wall Street Journal story today, Chase Carey, chief executive of DirecTV Group, said the company was reasonably close to signing a wireless broadband deal.

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia investor conference, Carey was quoted as saying: "Just because we haven't announced a deal in six months, doesn't mean that [it] isn't moving forward."

He added: "From our perspective, we are really looking at broadband as being a business that we would invest in, but not be 100 percent owner of."

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Cingular and YouTube in battle

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:55 AM

Cingular Wireless has agreed to sponsor an online battle of the bands on the popular online video-sharing site YouTube, according to a story in The New York Times.

As part the deal, Cingular will provide cash to what has become the Internet's most watched video site. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

Cingular agreed to pay for a competition that will invite bands without recording contracts to submit videos from Oct. 2 through Oct. 18.

This reminds me a little of Cingular's partnership with MySpace.com and InfoSpace in which MySpace would allow artists without recording contracts to submit songs that would be turned into ringtones and sold on MySpace at a profit to the band.

I've heard the MySpace ringtone deal didn't get off to a very good start because of issues with artists providing content that was not original. A screening committee was in place to ensure its originality, but the red tape seemed too much to get the program off to a very big start.

I wonder if YouTube will have the same problem.

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Technology-fueled capitalism

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:51 AM

Harvey Baraban views the ups and downs of the stock market with the cool detachment of someone who has been a broker for more than 30 years. Yet ask him what he thinks about the U.S. economy and he replies, "I'm scared."

For one thing, the economy has never before been so heavily influenced by events in other parts of the world, such as the military coup in Thailand that roiled global markets. Technology allows stock prices to change in an instant.

But that's not what really worries Baraban, now a California-based educator who is speaking at 7 tonight before the Puget Sound chapter of the American Association of Individual Investors in Mercer Island.

It is the steady erosion of wealth in the middle class that is dampening the American dream, he said. Coming from a die-hard capitalist, what he said is sobering:

"We're in that process now in America where greed is more and more important. We see the total value of the upper class is huge compared to the upper class 10 years ago. Take the top 5 percent of all Americans in terms of net worth compared with the same percent 10 years ago. Nothing has grown as dramatically as the net worth of that 5 percent. The other classes have shown very little growth. A society can't exist forever with that happening. I'm a big capitalist, but I'm nervous because it's out of control."

So what's his solution for the other 95 percent? Learn as much as you can about smart investing, he said.

The era of mutual funds is over, and ETFs or exchange traded funds have become dominant, he said. ETFs are index funds that represent an entire industry. There are about 250 ETFs on the market now, so investors should get to know how they work, he said.

He also predicts that interest rates will remain flat, and the time to invest in money market accounts is over. Instead, he recommends treasury notes bought on auction.

Even with recent softening in the housing market, Baraban concludes, "real estate is your best investment going forward."

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September 19, 2006

Microsoft expands anti-piracy effort

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:51 PM

Continuing its crusade against software piracy, Microsoft today announced lawsuits against 20 companies it alleges are selling software illegally.

Microsoft is charging the companies with selling counterfeit software or loading unlicensed copies of software onto computer hard drives. The suits were filed in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Texas.

"Microsoft is determined to protect its intellectual property, while also helping protect consumers and honest resellers from the deceptive and dangerous practices of counterfeiting and hard-disk loading," Microsoft senior attorney Mary Jo Schrade said in a statement.

At the same time, Microsoft announced results from a June study of 348 counterfeit copies of Windows XP. According to the company, one in three copies would not install and 43 percent had other problems that could lead to security lapses.

Here are the companies named in the lawsuits. The only defendant in the region is Byte Me Computers of La Grande, Ore.

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Mobile music update

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:28 PM

Sony Ericsson said today that it is launching a service that allows songs to be downloaded to its phones. The service would initially focus on new and up-and-coming artists.

A couple of weeks ago the rumors floated that Sony Ericsson was working on such a service. It's not a surprise, given that Sony Ericsson phones are so heavily designed for listening to a few tunes.

And it wasn't too long ago that Nokia announced it had purchased Seattle-based Loudeye to work on a music service of its own.

I'm not sure why everyone is in a hurry all the sudden. A lot of the companies attempting to provide full-track music downloads are finding themselves in a tough spot. In mobile, there are more mouths to feed than on the Internet. While iTunes and others provide music online for 99 cents a song, carriers haven't been able to get the price below $2.99.

Folks at Seattle-based Melodeo told me a couple of weeks ago that it was in the business of bringing full-track music to the phone, but decided to head in a different direction, providing mobile podcasting software instead. It announced a new partnership with Cingular Wireless at CTIA last week.

Jim Billmaier, Melodeo's CEO, said the opportunity with podcasting is larger than music for two reasons.

"If I had a choice of free or 99 cents online or $2 on mobile phone, I'd take the free approach," he said. "We think that the users have spoken pretty loudly."

The second issue, he said, is technical. The number of phones that can support music vs. podcasting is 7 percent vs. 100 percent.

With such a small market, he said, it's a difficult business model for carriers, labels and service providers, including Melodeo.

"We aren't thinking that's a great business," he said. "We are excited about podcasting."

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Motorola on the move

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:08 PM

Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola said today that it will buy Symbol Technologies for $3.9 billion.

A Chicago Tribune story surmised that Motorola is buying Symbol, a leading maker of bar code readers and rugged mobile computers, to compete more effectively in the enterprise. Motorola is known today mostly as a consumer products company, the second largest handset manufacturer in the world after Nokia.

But I wonder if something bigger may be going on.

This summer, Motorola purchased NextNet Wireless, a company developing WiMax equipment, from Kirkland-based Clearwire for an undisclosed amount of money. It also made a more than $300 million investment in Clearwire, which is providing WiMax-like services in about 30 cities around the country.

At the minimum, the company seems to shaking things up a bit. As the Chicago Tribune points out, the Symbol acquisition is the largest it has completed in six years.

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September 18, 2006

New MSFT VP for global public sector sales

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:56 AM

Microsoft promoted Ralph Young to vice president of its worldwide public sector business, serving government, education and healthcare.

Young, who assumes this newly created role after eight years with Microsoft, was most recently vice president of the company's enterprise and partner group in the western U.S.

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September 17, 2006

Apple's "man behind the curtain"

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:11 PM

BusinessWeek takes a look at the design wizard behind Apple's products, even though the wizard himself, Jonathan Ive, won't give an interview for the article.

Of note in the story:

I've's team visited a jelly bean factory to understand how to make a plastic shell look exciting rather than cheap.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs insisted that a shipment of fine Italian marble for the company's first Manhattan retail store be sent first to company headquarters so he could inspect the veining in the stone.

Starting salary for Ive's team is rumored to be $200,000 a year.

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September 15, 2006

Seattle firm sues Microsoft over software name

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:37 AM

Dexter + Chaney, a 25-year-old Seattle company that makes construction management software, is suing Microsoft for trademark infringement.

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, seeks to stop Microsoft from using the name "Forefront" on its security product line. Dexter + Chaney has a product called Forefront Construction Suite, which includes security features, and has used the Forefront name on its software since 1988, the company said in a news release.

"Construction companies throughout the United States know and respect the 'Forefront' name," Brad Mathews, Dexter + Chaney's vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. "By using that name in the construction industry, Microsoft will confuse our customers and prospects, and harm our company. We have asked Microsoft to cease their use of 'Forefront' and they have declined. Therefore, we have no choice but to take legal measures to protect ourselves."

Update: Microsoft spokesman Jack Evans said in an email:

As a trademark owner, Microsoft understands the value and importance of trademarks and makes every effort to respect the legitimate trademark rights of others. For that reason, we carefully review names for our new products and consider the possible use of those names by other companies to avoid any conflict.

In this instance, we believe the specific use of the name Microsoft Forefront will not cause any confusion in the marketplace since the products and the channels of trade for them are significantly different.

Microsoft's product is a security product while Dexter + Chaney's product is intended specifically for managing construction projects.

The company rebranded its security software efforts under the Forefront name in June.

See this August profile of Dexter + Chaney for more background on the company.

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September 14, 2006

CTIA: Final minute wrap-up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:27 PM

As I write this, there are about 32 minutes left to go in this year's CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment show.

There's so much going on, it's hard to keep up with it all. From interesting statements made during the keynote, to things overheard in the bathroom. Here are a few of the things that didn't make it yet into my blog or in my stories.

First, I'm not kidding about the overhearing thing -- except for that it happened in a Starbucks and not the bathroom.

It occurred Wednesday morning, the day after RealNetworks announced it would buy WiderThan for $350 million to get a step ahead in mobile, a story I wrote. A woman talking to a man said: "I think we should set up a meeting with RealNetworks. It looks like they are going to be a big player in mobile. It's probably someone we should know."

It's not because I was there, but I don't think that would have ever happened if Real hadn't purchased WiderThan, which provides full-track music downloads and ringback tone technology to a number of carriers around the world.

As for something that was said during a keynote, two things:

Helio's Sky Dayton said 25 percent of his company's revenues are coming from data. Helio is a mobile virtual network that has positioned itself around MySpace. Dayton, who is young as was casually dressed in all black and sneakers (and started EarthLink at age 23 in 1994), also took the opportunity to pick on Dan Schulman, CEO of Virgin Mobile, his competitor and elder.

Schulman was also casually dressed wearing khakis and a blue polo, so Dayton said: "Dan tried to under-dress me, but he didn't do it, though, because he's wearning penny loafers and old-guy socks"

Those socks of course were black dress socks, and, no, the loafers didn't have pennies in them -- or at least not from what I could see from where I was sitting.

And, then there also are all the press releases from Seattle-area companies that came out that I didn't have time to mention. There were a lot, and even if I list the ones I didn't get into here or in the paper, I will probably still forget one or two. But here's a brief look:

-- UIEvolution, based in Bellevue and owned by Square Enix (and which makes the user interface for Mobile ESPN and others), said it is partnering with MySpace.com. It will be building an application so that the site can be easily accessed and updated by users from any phone. Today, it's limited to high-end phones with browsers and the Helio phone.

-- Seattle-based Melodeo said its podcasting software will be available on the Cingular Wireless network. The software, which can be found at Melodeo.com, integrates aspects of social networking, listening to music and news.

-- Seattle-based M:Metrics has deployed it's measurement meter in the U.S. with Modeo, a company rolling out broadcast TV to mobile phones using a technology called DVB-H. The meter will measure how much radio and TV content is consumed by the device's user. With the deployment, M:Metrics is claiming to be the first to measure both mobile TV and radio content simutaneously.

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CTIA: Even more advertising

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:16 PM

LOS ANGELES -- Someting I could have added to today's story on mobile advertising, which looked at the opportunity to place ads on the phone to drive down the costs for users, are comments Jerry Panagrossi, Symbian's vice president of U.S. operation, made to me this morning.

Some background first: Symbian is a competitor to Microsoft Windows on the mobile phone. Like Microsoft, Symbian makes an operating system for the phone. It's mostly used by Nokia, making it the dominant operating system in the industry around the world.

Panagrossi, who was showing me the new Nokia E62 that Cingular Wireless will be offering for $150, said that in the future carriers won't be the only company in the supply chain that will subsidize the costs of the handset. Typically, U.S. carriers pay for part of the device's costs to encourage users to get higher-end gadgets. That's also why we are required to sign two-year service contracts.

He said there will be more options. Manufacturers will sell the devices to carriers for less if the makers are able to recoup some of the costs through fees for additional services. Also, big media companies might pre-load movies or other content on the device that would drive more revenues.

"Eventually services will come into play," he said. "I'm seeing creative things behind the scenes."

Perhaps that will even do away with the mandatory two-year contacts.

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Google gets charitable

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:01 PM

Google seems to be taking its philanthropic efforts in an interesting direction. This story today reveals that Google.org will be a for-profit venture, and one of its first projects will fund work on a fuel-efficient car engine.

At first glance, the effort seems a bit haphazard, and certainly not very Warren Buffett-like. Besides developing the plug-in hybrid car engine, Google wants to fund its own work on water in Africa, have its own microfinance charity, do its own education project.

Google.org's Executive Director Larry Brilliant, both a physician and a former CEO, works with company co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to "define the mission and strategic goals of Google's philanthropy."

The for-profit status requires Google.org to pay taxes but also gives it more flexibility to fund start-up companies and other projects as an investor, Brilliant said.

The trend is for philanthropic organizations to act much more like a business, being more entrepreneurial, setting goals and measuring results. Google.org takes that notion to a new level.

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Major Segway recall underway

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:53 AM

It sounds like just about all Segway electric scooters are being recalled. At least the ones sold from March 2002 to now. What a major blunder, and one that will have a big impact on the many Segway fans around here.

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CTIA: Nokia's Loudeye purchase

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:45 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Nokia purchased Seattle-based Loudeye recently to become a "global leader in mobile music experiences," according to a research report issued by ABI Research today.

I've tried to track down some more information this week on what Nokia is going to do with Loudeye, and I haven't been able to turn up too many details. Nokia's official line is that the company is not ready to talk about it, but could be in the next month or so.

Already Nokia claims to be the largest MP3 maker in the world because a majority of its phones have music players, and it sells more phones in the world than Dell sells computers.

Jake Saunders, ABI Research's research director, said: "To become a global leader in mobile music, Nokia needs to move onto the hallowed turf dominated by Apple's iPod."

That's why, the report said, that Nokia bought Loudeye.

Principal analyst Stuart Carlaw said: "The Loudeye acquisition is intended to assist Nokia in strengthening its position in the music market's premium, heavy duty user categories: consumers who typically purchase multi-purpose and dedicated music player mobile devices."

ABI Research estimates that these two categories will represent more than 125 million annual shipments by 2009.

Check back in about a month for more information.

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CTIA: Mobile is like a double tall

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:21 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Trip Hawkins, the chief executive of mobile social networking company Digital Chocolate, compared the wireless industry to Starbucks.

He said think about the situation as Starbucks vs. McDonald's. If you go to McDonald's, you want to get your food fast and pay as little as you can.

If you go to Starbucks, you spend a little more time, they know your name, and you have a personalized beverage.

Hawkins said mobile has to achieve that level of personalization, where people want to keep coming back and spend more time with it.

"People do hang out at Starbucks," he said.

It's interesting Hawkins used that analogy. Comparing Starbucks and McDonald's was the subject of an interesting piece by Melissa Allison on our staff this past Sunday.

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CTIA: Paris sighting

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:02 AM

LOS ANGELES -- It was rumored that Paris Hilton would attend CTIA this week, and this morning she came out on stage during a keynote.

Unfortunately, I missed it as the bus I took decided to take the scenic route to the convention center.

But the panel discussion that followed, with Helio CEO Sky Dayton, was delayed until he could compose himself.

Dayton, who was wearing his all-black uniform with white sneakers, said he was speechless and still recovering after seeing Hilton backstage. He asked the panel, which also included executives from Digital Chocolate and Virgin Mobile, if they needed to take a shower.

One said he already did.

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Zune details revealed

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:14 AM


MICROSOFT
The Zune will come in three colors: white, black and brown.

Microsoft spilled the goods on Zune in a news release this morning. Here's a story with a first take on the details of the much-buzzed-about digital media player to rival the iPod. The company is planning to demonstrate the product at a press event in Redmond this afternoon. Check back for updates.

Meanwhile, here's background on Zune, by way of our archives:

-- Rumors and early details, chronicled by our tech columnist, Brier Dudley.

-- Microsoft confirmed it.

-- Jobs predicted it.

-- Microsoft confirms Toshiba will make it.

-- Apple upped the ante earlier this week.

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Nintendo pricing, launch date announced

Posted by Kim Peterson at 6:05 AM

Nintendo is announcing today that its next-generation Wii console will go on sale Nov. 19 for $250. That's $50 less than what Microsoft charges for the basic version of its Xbox 360.

Each system will reportedly come with a copy of "Wii Sports," a collection of sports-related games including the tennis game that Nintendo played up so much at its E3 presentation in May.

Nintendo is looking to get 4 million of these to stores by the end of the year and 6 million by March.

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September 13, 2006

Lining up video relationships

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:07 PM

It's hard to keep track of who's doing what when it comes to the super hot areas of online video and user-generated video content.

Today, Peter Chernin, a top exec at news conglomerate News Corp., said his company might develop a rival for popular video sharing site YouTube through its MySpace social networking site. (Chernin spoke at CTIA today.)

What's gotten MySpace in a knot about this? According to this report, Chernin said he thinks that as much as 70 percent of YouTube's traffic is coming directly from MySpace. In other words, YouTube is stealing a bunch of people from MySpace's pages, and Chernin is not happy about it.

And it sounds like Apple won't have Disney as its only movie partner on iTunes for long. News Corp. is hammering out a deal to sell movies from Fox's studio on the service, according to this report. But News Corp. also wants to sell its own music downloads on MySpace.

Meanwhile, News Corp. has partnered with Google on search, but no word on how that might impact Google Video, the company's growing collection of video content. Confused yet?

And don't think that Microsoft is keeping out of all this. The LiveSide Web site has posted a screenshot and details of what it says is of Microsoft's upcoming video service, called Soapbox.

And Microsoft is apparently testing out a video search service for Windows Live.

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Microsoft sued over gaming patents

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:51 AM

PalTalk Holdings said today it has sued Microsoft for infringing on its patents for multiplayer computer games. PalTalk said that it owns the technology for communicating in games through a group messaging server, which can be used to set up groups for online game play.

The Xbox console uses this technology without PalTalk's permission, according to PalTalk's complaint, which was filed in federal court in Texas. The company is asking for tens of millions of dollars in damages and a court order directing Microsoft to stop its infringing behavior, according to Bloomberg.

PalTalk, based in New York City, has a messenger program that allows members to create their own voice and video chat rooms.

Microsoft hasn't responded to the suit yet in court.

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RealNetworks: Now a wireless company?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:46 AM

Seattle Times reporter Tricia Duryee raises an interesting possibility in her article today about RealNetworks' acquisition of South Korean company WiderThan for $350 million. WiderThan works with carriers to sell ringback tones and music downloads.

Is RealNetworks becoming a wireless company?

The company has a long legacy on the desktop computer, but has seen its RealPlayer software lose market share to other players. Its Rhapsody music service is an elegant and usable program, though built on a subscription-based "rent your music" model that faces tough competition from other services, like Microsoft's upcoming Zune service. For the first six months of the year, RealNetworks' revenue from music was $59 million, up from $47.8 million for the same period in 2005.

Its downloadable games business is showing solid revenue growth as well, at $39.8 million for the first half of this year compared with $25.8 million for 2005.

The sales numbers look good, but profit has been slow. For the second quarter, once you remove the impact of Microsoft's antitrust settlement and other items, profit was only $4.8 million.

I've been waiting to see what RealNetworks would do with the $760 million in settlement money from Microsoft, thinking that the company would not just be content with slow and steady growth. Real made an unsuccessful attempt in the past year to acquire Seattle-based PopCap, which would have raised its profile as a gaming company.

Its music and game initiatives work well in the wireless space too, with the added benefit that there is no Redmond behemoth with a lock on mobile operating systems and software services. Is Real on the verge of shelving its desktop legacy and becoming a major wireless contender? It looks like it.

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CTIA: Picking on Verizon

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:29 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Walt Mossberg didn't stop at calling Verizon Wireless a Soviet ministry (see item below).

He criticized the new Verizon Wireless Chocolate phone because he was unable to properly load MP3s he already owned from a computer to the device. Although the songs made it onto the device, they weren't readily identifiable by artist or by title.

Verizon's Lowell McAdam said that's why it's so important to agree on standards across the industry

Mossberg shot back, sarcastically saying that MP3 is a fairly common standard.

Touche.

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CTIA: Carriers are Commies

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:16 AM

LOS ANGELES -- In the panel discussion with The Wall Street Journal's Personal Technology columnist Walt Mossberg, Verizon Wireless's Chief Operating Officer Lowell McAdam got into a mini-debate about how open carriers are to adopting new technologies.

Typically, carriers have to approve an application before it can be sold on a cellphone's deck or storefront.

Mossberg said because it is not completely open to whoever wants to sell new applications, carriers are like "Soviet ministries," a term he adopted while covering national security at the Journal.

McAdam said he's used to Mossberg's name-calling.

In response, Mossberg said his name for carriers are better than what Steve Jobs calls the four largest wireless operators. He said Jobs calls them the "four orifices."

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CTIA: "Simpsons" goes mobile

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:58 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Peter Chernin, News Corp.'s president and chief operating officer, said today during this morning's keynote that Fox's "The Simpsons" will launch a mobile application later this year.

Chernin, who was very convincing in his excitement about the potential size of the mobile content market, said tailor-made Simpsons content will be huge.

"It's funny; it's universally recognized," he said. "We'll offer content designed exclusively to the mobile customer, not just retreads. We'll make it easy to discover, and provide ample choice, but not too many choices, and we will market the hell out of it, trust me. We will make consumers want it, not need it, but want it."

At the start of the show on Tuesday, News Corp. announced that it was buying a controlling stake in Jamster, a ringtone company owned by VeriSign. News Corp. purchased the 51 percent stake in the company, also called Jamba, for $188 million.

The Simpsons content will be distributed through that new mobile service, Chernin said.

What Chernin didn't mention, or even hint at during his speech, was any potential relationship with Clearwire. Many analysts are expecting News Corp.'s DirecTV to partner with Clearwire to build a nationwide WiMax network.

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September 12, 2006

More from Apple

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:13 PM

Apple's Steve Jobs is such an icon that when he came on stage today wearing a black buttoned-down shirt instead of his traditional black turtleneck, the audience tittered.

"He's wearing a button-down!" one analyst whispered. I can't imagine anyone reacting that way to Steve Ballmer's wardrobe.

One special guest at the event went largely unnoticed by the reporters in attendance. Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple Computer with Jobs, rode up to the building in his Segway and helmet and barely drew any glances. He didn't speak on stage, and left soon afterward.

The only person Jobs invited to the stage was Bob Iger, the chief executive of The Walt Disney Co.

"The consumer has indeed spoken, because the success of TV programs on this platform is enormous," Iger said about Apple's iTunes program.

For a media and analyst event, Jobs' speech elicited a surprising number of oohs and wows from the audience. Either Apple seeded the group with its own enthusiastic plants or some people checked their objectivity at the door.

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CTIA: Qpass version 6

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:37 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Seattle-based Qpass, which Amdocs purchased in April for $275 million, said today at CTIA that it has launched the sixth version of its digital commerce software, which helps service providers and media companies sell content to customers.

The new version comes out as more wireless phone companies begin to sell more content, from TV and videos to music and games.

Qpass 6 offers tools to help increase digital content sales, as well as build loyalty among consumers. It also helps service providers and media companies manage hundreds of relationships via the Web.

Qpass 6 allows service providers and media companies sell any kind of digital content (music, games or movies) over any network (wireless, broadband cable or satellite) on any interactive device (personal computers, mobile phones, set-top boxes, or kiosks).

The Qpass platform has processed more than $1.4 billion in retail consumer sales worldwide and provides access to more than 500,000 digital products from more than 1,000 content providers.

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Apple announcements: Quick take

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:32 AM

SAN FRANCISCO -- I'm sitting in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where Apple CEO Steve Jobs has just left the stage after speaking to journalists and analysts for a little more than an hour.

Jobs started off by announcing a new iPod, which will come in a 30 gigabye model for $249 and an 80 gigabyte version for $349. The lower-priced model can hold 7,500 songs or 40 hours of video, and the more expensive model will hold 20,000 songs or 100 hours of video. Both models will have a brighter screen, optimized for video, and a longer battery life.

The iPods will now be able to play games, and the initial game library Jobs introduced included several titles from Seattle-based PopCap Games. There will also be three new iPod Nanos, priced from $149 to $249, which are thinner and have a battery life of up to 24 hours. And the new Shuffle Jobs showed is incredibly small -- a bit bigger than a postage stamp it looked like. Jobs called it "the world's smallest MP3 player," though I think he may be wrong on that point. The new Shuffle will go on sale in October for $79.

Jobs repeatedly emphasized that iTunes started selling television shows last October with only five programs, all from ABC, and has ramped that up to 220 programs today. I think he was implying that the same thing would happen with movies. Apple is going to start selling movies on its iTunes store, with new releases priced at a shockingly low $12.99 in the first week and moving to $14.99 after that. That pricing alone has got to be sending Hollywood execs into a cold sweat, with visions of declining margins in their heads.

Apple's only Hollywood partner is Disney, and as a result it's only selling movies from that company's four studios: Disney Pictures, Pixar, Touchstone and Miramax. (Jobs was CEO of Pixar until Pixar was acquired by Disney, and he's on Disney's board).

ITunes will have about 75 movies available, and future ones will debut on the same day they go on sale as DVDs in stores. Jobs didn't say that you can burn the movies on to a DVD, so I'm assuming those rights aren't there.

Finally, Jobs did something a little unusual and gave reporters an advanced look at an upcoming product. The device, code-named iTV, is expected to go on sale early next year for $299. It is designed to connect directly to your television and receive programs wirelessly from your computer.

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CTIA: Nokia and Cingular

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:27 AM

LOS ANGELES -- On the heels of Verizon Wireless' announcment that it is offering the highly anticipated Motorola Q, Cingular Wireless and Nokia said today that Cingular would be offering the Nokia E62, a sleek device built for wireless e-mail at a relatively low price.

The Nokia E62 device will be available exclusively from Cingular in the U.S. for about $150.

The device is about a half of an inch thick, and features a full keyboard and a sizable, high-resolution 16 million color screen.

Available e-mail platforms include Good Mobile Messaging, Cingular Xpress Mail, BlackBerry Connect, Mail for Exchange (direct push corporate e-mail from Microsoft Exchange), the Nokia push solution via Intellisync Mobile Suite and standard clients such as POP3, IMAP and SMTP.

Beyond e-mail, customers can view, edit and create documents, spreadsheets and presentations. They also can surf the Internet using the S60 browser developed by Nokia.

The Motorola Q was launched recently as a low-priced device that comes loaded with Windows Mobile 5.0. The trend is to be able to offer low-priced devices with a full keyboard more attractive to the broad consumer market, not just executives.

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Burgum out, Nadella in at Microsoft business group

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:39 AM

Microsoft said today Satya Nadella will lead Microsoft Business Solutions, the maker of Dynamics brand software for small and medium businesses. Here's our story.

He replaces Doug Burgum, who has headed MBS since Microsoft acquired his company, Great Plains Software, in April 2001. Burgum talked about plans for new leadership at MBS in November.

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CTIA: InfoSpace times 4

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:21 AM

LOS ANGELES -- After making three announcements early this morning, Bellevue-based InfoSpace made a fourth.

InfoSpace said it has signed deals with Classic Media and Bagdasarian Productions to bring some of the world's most famous classic movie and TV stars to mobile, including "Alvin & the Chipmunks," "Rocky & Bullwinkle" and others.

Classic Media is licensing content to InfoSpace for personalization products for mobile phones from their iconic entertainment characters, including Rocky & Bullwinkle, Underdog, Lassie, Dick Tracy, Richie Rich, Mr. Magoo, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Felix the Cat, Peter Cottontail, Hot Stuff, The Little Drummer Boy, and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.

The alliance with Bagdasarian Productions allows InfoSpace to capture the squeaky voices and unforgettable faces of the most famous chipmunks in the world, Alvin, Simon and Theodore in the form of audio tones and original graphics for mobile phones.

The three earlier announcements involved a content deal with Tony Hawk, a deal with Activision and a new release of InfoSpace's Find It! search application.

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CTIA: Music download businness

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:13 AM

LOS ANGELES -- The United Kingdom has the highest percentage of mobile subscribers who used their mobile device as a music player in July, according to Seattle-based M:Metrics.

The research firm found that 3 percent of British subscribers used their phone as a music player, compared with 2.8 percent of Spaniards, 0.7 percent of U.S. users and 1.4 percent of Germans.

In the U.S., music download services have been criticized for their high costs and difficult-to-use formats. However, a series of new devices coming out, such as LG's Chocolate phone available through Verizon Wireless, have been doing more to get the word out on how the phone can be a music player.

"A significant barrier to mobile music consumption is the dearth of devices that support the activity," said Seamus McAteer, M:Metrics' senior analyst. "We are, however, seeing an influx of music-friendly devices on the market, with removable storage and better interfaces for accessing songs, as well as consumer education by the operators, all of which will foster growth in the sector."

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CTIA: I'll be back

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:59 AM

LOS ANGELES -- In a surprise visit, California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared this morning's keynote at CTIA, which just kicked off.

His talk focused on California's economy and how it's turned around. He said when he came on board, California had $22 billion in debt.

The former actor and body builder, dressed in a nicely tailored tan suit, said: "With the help of bringing Democrats and Republicans together, we were able to turn the economy around, and now California is shinning again."

He said he supports the wireless industry and wants to assist industry leaders to be successful.

He then reflected on the movie he was in -- "Total Recall." It is impressive how a lot of the technology the movie dreamed of already exists today, he said. He also congratulated the industry on its strides to bring down the price of a cellphone from $1,400 to the $69 he spent recently on a phone for his daughter.

"It's extraordinary what you have accomplished, " he said.

And in true form, he ended his speech with the words: "I'll be back."

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September 11, 2006

CTIA: The day before

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:54 PM

LOS ANGELES -- I flew in this morning for the annual wireless show focused on information technology and entertainment. The event, called CTIA IT & Entertainment 2006, kicks off Tuesday and is expecting more than 15,000 attendees and 300 exhibitors.

As usual, you can't travel anywhere without running into people from Seattle. At the LA airport I bumped into Jim Voelker, CEO of Bellevue-based InfoSpace. My first appointment this morning, coincidentally, was at InfoSpace's LA offices, where a couple hundred employees are focused on mobile content.

InfoSpace, which helps carriers deliver content, promises to make a big splash at the show by constructing a 50-foot skateboarding ramp at the company's booth. In addition to InfoSpace, a number of local companies are likely to make announcements, including SNAPin, thePlatform, UIevolution, Action Engine, Medio Systems and Microsoft.

Beyond individual company announcements, there are a number of themes that I expect stick out.

First is mobile advertising. Although it wasn't much of a topic at previous conventions -- and even a bit of taboo subject -- it seems to be everywhere now. I also think the success/failure of MVNOs -- the virtual carriers like Helio and Amp'd -- will be a hot topic (and subject of the keynote on Wednesday). Finally, I think non-sexy business applications will get heard among the noise, as enterprise use of mobile techynology has started to extend beyond executives and to the workforce.

Check back here and in the paper for more information from the show.

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Amazon Unboxed?

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:46 AM

The geeks have spoken, and it looks like not even a free "Star Trek" episode can entice them to say nice things about Amazon.com's new movie-download service, Amazon Unbox.

The online retail juggernaut unveiled Unbox last week (with an offer for one free TV episode), but observers complain that the viewing restrictions impede it from becoming a viable alternative to efficient video-rental services such as Netflix and Blockbuster.

Stock market blog SeekingAlpha.com posted a review from Caris & Company analyst Tim Boyd, saying the service is ahead of its time.

The Cnet.com Alpha blog said it would not recommend the service for these reasons.

The blog Uninnovate.com said this about the service.

Apple is widely expected to unveil a competing service -- and new video iPod -- on Tuesday. Maybe it'll learn something from Amazon's public un-boxing.

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September 8, 2006

Earn money reviewing stock options

Posted by Kristi Heim at 5:32 PM

We already know F5 Networks executives have been well compensated by stock options. Turns out the special committee formed to investigate its questionable stock option practices will be compensated well, too.

Each member will be paid $750 for each meeting attended in person or by phone, according to a recent F5 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That's in addition to fees paid to the directors for sitting on the board and for attending board meetings or meetings of board committees.

Last month F5 received a warning of potential delisting from Nasdaq because the company failed to file its third quarter earnings report on time. In July F5 said it would restate earnings for the past five years as a result of issues with past stock option grants. It identified at least one instance of improperly timed options.

Three shareholder lawsuits are pending.

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Friday afternoon funnies

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:31 PM

Microsoft regularly makes funny videos starring its employees, and probably wishes that some of them would never again see the light of day. But the Internet is a meticulous archive keeper, and this week an old video surfaced of now-departed executive Brian Valentine masquerading as John Belushi's Bluto Blutarski in a video spoof of "National Lampoon's Animal House." This is one of the best videos we've seen of a Microsoft executive willingly engaging in self-humiliation -- and clearly enjoying it. That hamburger-eating scene? Amazing.

How about a video of Bill Gates inserted into the video game "Doom"? Former Microsoft game employee Alex St. John showed the 11-year-old video last month during his keynote speech at the Penny Arcade Expo. It's still available online. The video features Bill Gates wearing a trenchcoat and brandishing a shotgun in the game "Doom," and was shown at a promotional event on Microsoft's campus.

"Windows 95 is THE game platform," Gates said. Later, he shoots a bad guy and growls menacingly, "Don't interrupt me."

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September 7, 2006

Amazon Unbox: First impressions

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:44 PM

Unfortunately, Amazon has a long list of can't-dos for its new Unbox movie download service.

-- You can't use it with a Macintosh or an iPod

-- You have to have Windows XP Service Pack 2 installed on your machine. It also works with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 Update Rollup 2. Try saying that three times.

-- You can't use the Unbox movie player to play movies downloaded from other vendors. It only works with Amazon purchases.

-- You can't download more than one video file at a time

-- You can't watch the movies on your television unless you have some way to connect your PC to your TV -- usually with an S-cable for video. (Or if you have Windows XP Media Center) But S-cables only transmit video, you still have to play the audio part on your computer or on speakers.

-- You can't burn a movie to a DVD and then play that disc on a DVD player. You can only burn a movie to a DVD for backup storage purposes.

-- You must watch a video rental from Amazon within 30 days, or it expires. And once you begin playing it, you have 24 hours to watch the whole thing before it expires.

Amazon said only the following devices have been tested with Unbox. I've added Amazon's selling price for each device in parentheses:

Creative Zen Vision: M (around $275 for 30 GB storage; 60 GB version not available)
Creative Zen Vision ($414 for 30 GB storage)
Toshiba Gigabeat S (I can't even find a "Gigabeat S" on Amazon)
Archos AV 500 ($495 for 100 GB storage)
Archos AV 700 ($535 for 100 GB storage)
iRiver Portable Media Center ($230 for 20 GB storage)

Analyst Michael Gartenberg weighs in with his first take:

Without a compelling device story (and it's not clear YET whether Zune will play protected music or video from Plays for Sure services) it's hard to see this as a real threat to Apple ... for now. Pricing isn't likely to drive folks to use this so for now it's mostly a mobility story without a super interesting mobile device to use it with.

One feature does sound interesting. If you have the Unbox player installed in your home PC, you can log in to Amazon at work and tell it to send a movie to your home PC to watch later.

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Amazon.com's new video service live now

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:57 PM

We wrote about it this morning. Go here to check it out on Amazon's site.

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Facebook flips on feature, flips out fans

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:24 AM

Facebook, the social networking site that isn't MySpace but is still popular with college students, has some of its users in an uproar. (WSJ coverage here)

The site introduced a news feeds feature that lets you see in great detail what your friends are doing on the site. You would know if friends added new photos to their pages, for example, joined a group about tennis or changed their relationship status to "single." You can see a picture of this feed on Techcrunch.

Some people are calling this a breach of their privacy, and have started a group on the site called "Students against Facebook news feed." The membership of that group has topped 600,000, according to this counter.

Facebook executives take to their blog with the following defense:

This is information people used to dig for on a daily basis, nicely reorganized and summarized so people can learn about the people they care about. You don't miss the photo album about your friend's trip to Nepal. Maybe if your friends are all going to a party, you want to know so you can go too.

It's an interesting lesson for students who think they still control the details of their private lives that they put on the Web. Once it's out there, it's out there...

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September 6, 2006

Amazon, Apple and Google Video

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:32 PM

The news that Amazon.com and Apple both plan to offer paid movie-downloading services made me wonder about the fate of the free advertising model that Google has been testing. Google Video, launched from labs right here in Kirkland, offers some shows free in exchange for watching ads. They included videos that would normally cost between $1 and $15.

A search of Google's free TV shows today turned up an unexciting mix of talk shows, interviews with writers on public TV, and a program for parents to share their funniest stories on camera. A search of shows for sale, on the other hand, listed programs you might actually watch on TV: "Survivor," "CSI," "Star Trek," etc.

Of course, a large part of Google Video's appeal is the YouTube phenomenon: Anyone can post a video and share it with the world.

A reoccurring theme seems to run through Google's Top 100 most popular videos, made by amateurs and free of charge: "sex in kitchen," "Topless Car Wash" and "World's Clumsiest Pole Dancer."

It's still too early to say how the paid vs. free video model will shake out. But seeing how Google and Microsoft respond to this challenge will make for some interesting content itself.

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Sony takes another PS3 hit

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:37 PM

Microsoft's Xbox chief, Peter Moore, expressed the tiniest bit of skepticism last May that Sony would actually be able to live up to its ambitious holiday launch plans of the PlayStation 3. At that time, Sony had planned to launch the PS3 on Nov. 17 in Europe and North America at two price points: $499 and $599. Sony also said it would ship 4 million systems by the end of the year and 6 million through March.

Sony's plans were not going to be easy, Moore told me in an interview.

Today, Sony said it had aimed too high. Citing manufacturing problems, Sony pushed back its European launch date to March 2007. It still plans to make the Nov. 17 date for North America. Furthermore, it cut its shipment forecast in half to 2 million systems by the end of the year.

The response was overwhelmingly negative. One Citigroup analyst suggested that even the lowered target was too ambitious, if mass volume production has not begun.

A U.K. retailer said this gives Microsoft a chance to solidify its market position, and it gives Nintendo the console launch spotlight.

The problem, Sony said, was again related to the sophisticated Blu-ray disc player that the company is including in every console. A lack of blue laser diodes for the players caused the delay.

Last year, Sony had planned to launch the PS3 in the spring of 2006, but was forced to push the release back to November because of Blu-ray issues.

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September 5, 2006

Report: Hewlett-Packard spied on board's calls

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:32 PM

A simply bizarre story out of Newsweek: Hewlett-Packard Chairwoman Patricia Dunn hired electronic security experts to spy on the phone conversations of other board members.

Dunn reportedly suspected a director of leaking information to online news site CNet, and snooped into the telephone records of the directors' personal accounts, including their cellphones and home telephones.

Dunn and HP would not comment for the article, which was based on documents the SEC is considering whether to make public.

Tom Perkins, the "Perkins" in Silicon Valley VC heavyweight Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said he quit the board immediately upon hearing about Dunn's actions. Over the past several months he has battled HP to make public the reasons for his resignation. The person who did leak was outed, the story said, but is unnamed and continues to serve on the board. (Board of directors list here)

Update: Today the Wall Street Journal names George Keyworth as the source of the media leak. Keyworth was a former science adviser to President Ronald Reagan. The board asked Keyworth to resign, the story said, but he refused, saying that decision was up to shareholders. (Link, sub. required).

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BillMonk adds Facebook integration

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:21 PM

Seattle-based BillMonk has begun integrating its online track-what's-yours service with Facebook, the social network site aimed mainly at college students. The company now also allows users to create their own profiles.

Here's BillMonk's blog entry about the move.

I wrote about BillMonk in April, the story is here.

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Microsoft vet Valentine leaves for Amazon

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:13 PM


MICROSOFT
Brian Valentine

Brian Valentine, a 19-year Microsoft veteran and senior vice president of the Windows Core Operating System Division, is leaving Microsoft for Amazon.com, a company representative said via e-mail this afternoon.

Valentine, known internally for his Gen. Patton-like ability to command large development groups, was a leader in driving Windows Vista toward completition. In August, the company said he would move to another undisclosed role in the company when the operating system was complete. With the shipment of Vista Release Candidate 1 on Friday, Valentine decided to leave Microsoft, the representative said.

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Lusting for more wiki action

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:59 AM

Here's a topic that promises to spur some online conversations: Nancy Pearl and her Book Lust empire is one of the newest wiki sites on Wetpaint. The beloved Seattle librarian is the subject of what Seattle start-up Wetpaint calls "a community for people who love books."

The wiki is apparently a team effort by Wetpaint and Pearl's publisher, Sasquatch Books, the Puget Sound Business Journal reports.

I like the feature that lets you "post a question for Nancy." So what does she think it takes to be well-read? A large dose of Shakespeare (King Lear, Hamlet, or MacBeth), some Herman Melville (Moby Dick), the poems of Walt Whitman, The Apology by Plato, and Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.

For a different kind of book lover, there's an entire wiki devoted to the DaVinci Code.


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Redfin a "pariah" to real estate industry?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:41 AM

The New York Times has an interesting story of a Seattle couple that was shunned by a real estate broker because they used the services of local online real estate company Redfin.

The article has a lot to say about Redfin, which rebates two-thirds of its sales commission to its customers, and questions the future of the traditional 6 percent commission for real estate agents.

But as the couple's story shows, people who want to use Web-based brokers often have to fight to do so. Many are, and there are growing signs that they are succeeding. BuySideInc.com, an online buyer's broker in Chicago that offers a 75 percent commission rebate, said that at one point 12 percent of its customers reported that traditional agents had refused to show houses to them.

Rob McGarty, Redfin's director of West Coast operations, said in the article that his company has become a "pariah" to the industry.

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Vista prices confirmed

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:38 AM

Microsoft this morning confirmed suggested U.S. retail prices for Windows Vista, now in a near-final form and being tested by outside software users. The prices, which match those posted last month on Amazon.com, have not changed since the launch of Windows XP in 2001. Microsoft said today that some versions are priced the same as their Windows 95 predecessors.

-- Business edition: upgrade $199; retail $299.
-- Home Basic edition: upgrade $99.95; retail $199.
-- Home Premium edition: upgrade $159; retail $239.
-- Ultimate edition: upgrade $259; retail $399.

Microsoft made Vista Release Candidate 1 (RC1) available to a select group of outside users on Friday. It's broadening the outside testing group to include participants in the Windows Customer Preview Program. In all, the company aims to have RC1 tested by 5 million users, Microsoft said.

More: Results from early testers of RC1 suggest Microsoft has come a long way. Paul Thurrott, who has followed Vista every step of the way, writes: "This is the Windows Vista you were promised three years ago." His review goes into great detail about what's been fixed and what still remains to be done.

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September 1, 2006

Isilon files to go public

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:52 PM

Seattle-based Isilon Systems files with the SEC for a public offering that could raise as much as $86.25 million.

The company was vague on what it would do with this money. Other than repaying about $6.2 million in debt, the rest will go to "general corporate purposes."

I wrote about Isilon last November in this article. "I think we could be the next big company in Seattle," Chief Executive Steve Goldman said at the time.

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The world's most powerful women

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:26 PM

Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was ranked 12th on Forbes new list of the 100 most powerful women in the world.

For the list, Forbes looked at public visibility and economic impact, which measures the size of the economic sphere the leader controls. Since the Gates Foundation's economic sphere is about to expand by about $30 billion, so will Melinda Gates' influence. But besides the money, it seems that her ideas about how to approach philanthropy and global health also play a big role.

One interesting phenomenon Forbes noted is that women are gaining power around the world. This year German Chancellor Angela Merkel displaced U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as the world's most powerful woman. Only 53 of the women on the list were American.

In the past 12 months, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became president of Liberia, Michelle Bachelet president of Chile and Han Myung-sook South Korea's first female prime minister, the article noted. Meanwhile, the United States has yet to elect a woman president.

While number of high-ranking female officers in the biggest U.S. companies remained essentially flat over the last three years, the number of women running large companies throughout the world climbed to 48, up from 35 last year.

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Vista release candidate, um... released

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:16 PM

Looks like a good sign -- one of a few this week -- of Vista on schedule for broad availability in January. Microsoft got Release Candidate 1 out to select beta testers today. More can test it next week. Here's text of a letter Jim Allchin sent to announce RC1.

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Zune players: 3 million this holiday?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:44 AM

It's impossible to vouch for the accuracy of AppleInsider, but the Web site quotes anonymous sources saying that Microsoft hopes to sell 3 million of its Zune media players, priced at $299, by the end of the year. Microsoft would not confirm the figures for AppleInsider, and so far the company has not given a launch date for the player.

Come year's end, there's likely to be a large discrepancy between the number of Zunes Microsoft will have shipped and those that were actually purchased by customers. That's because insiders say the company plans to literally stuff its retail and distribution channels with more units than it actually anticipates selling.

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That's the real Space Needle

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:31 AM

Microsoft's Windows Live Local service got some nice play on the cover of The Stranger this week.

The issue's cover art looks like a toy model of Seattle, but it's an actual photo from the online mapping service. Did Microsoft have to pay for this kind of advertising?

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee
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