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November 30, 2006

Cyber Monday's big sales weren't in electronics

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:12 PM

Cyber Monday shopping leaned heavily toward clothing and accessories purchases, according to measurements from Nielsen//NetRatings.

That category rang in 19 percent of total spending to top the list of purchases, followed by office supplies at 13 percent and computer hardware at 11 percent.

The average order size was $76 for apparel, $159 for office supplies and $283 for computer hardware.

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Shakeup at Sony: PS3 to blame?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:23 AM

Sony shuffles its top dogs in its Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) gaming group in a chain of "promotions." What does it all mean? First, the facts:

Ken Kutaragi has been moved from president to chairman, and retains his Group CEO title. Kaz Hirai, who previously headed up Sony's PlayStation team in America, moves into Kutaragi's old position as president of all of SCE. That could mean a move to Japan for Hirai.

It sounds like Kutaragi will still oversee Sony's games business but might have less responsibility over day-to-day operations.

As far as the American team goes, Sony has moved Jack Tretton into Hirai's old position heading up SCE America. Tretton was previously an executive vice president for that team.

Numerous observers have interpreted this as a demotion for Kutaragi after a fairly disastrous PlayStation 3 launch. Today brings word of yet another disappointment: the chief of Electronics Arts said Sony was only able to get 200,000 PS3s to the U.S. for launch, about half of what the company had promised.

And people are still talking about a Newsweek report that said Sony lost out on exclusive access to two smokin' hot properties - "Grand Theft Auto IV" and "Assassin's Creed" - because Kutaragi dragged his feet on cementing deals with the games' publishers. Meanwhile, Microsoft was calling them every day. The end result is that those two games will debut on the Xbox 360 as well as the PS3.

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Vista: Most significant product launch?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:02 AM

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer had a press conference in New York today to announce the business availability of the Vista operating system and the new Microsoft Office. He also rang the stock market's opening bell.

And who would Ballmer have on stage with him at the event? A technology titan? A software celebrity? No, he chose the president of MTV Networks. Because music television has so much to do with operating systems, of course.

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Vista launch: Making the sell at the Nasdaq MarketSite

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:22 AM

NEW YORK -- Scores of industry analysts, Microsoft customers and partners, and reporters from around the world filled the Nasdaq MarketSite -- a three-story glass cylinder in Times Square that serves as a backdrop for corporate splashes -- for Steve Ballmer's presentation this morning.

As expected, he enthusiastically announced the availability of Windows Vista, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007 and more than 30 other products geared to large corporate customers.

The presentation lasted about an hour and a half and included visits from executives with InterKnowlogy, The Scripps Research Institute, MTV Networks and Verizon, all of whom touted the benefits of this wave of Microsoft products used in concert.

My earlier post suggested there was little visible Microsoft advertising visible in Times Square last night. Of course, that's changed. TV screens several stories high blared the words "ready for a new day" against an orange rising-sun background.

The afternoon is filled with one-on-one meetings with executives from Microsoft and others in the computer industry. We'll have more reports posted later in the day.

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Vista launch: Microsoft making some noise in NYC

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 5:40 AM

NEW YORK -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is scheduled to give an address at 10:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m. in Seattle) at the Nasdaq Market Site in Times Square. He'll be announcing the availability to businesses of Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007. You can watch it on the Web at this link.

Microsoft is making the pitch to businesses that these products work better together. Several analyst reports coming out around the business launch indicate that business adoption will be driven by factors within each enterprise, such as readiness for new hardware and IT staff capacity.

IDC research suggests that 90 million copies of Vista will be deployed in 2007, with consumers leading the way. Microsoft plans to make Vista and Office 2007 broadly available on Jan. 30.

The company and its partners in the computer industry -- many of whom are here today -- are walking a marketing tightrope with the business launch. By making too much noise about Vista now, they could douse holiday PC sales to consumers.

As of last night, there was no major Microsoft advertising in Times Square, where just about every other brand in the world is writ large in flashing lights.

Delays of Vista that ultimately put its launch date past the holiday shopping season could cost the industry billions in delayed sales, according to some analysts. A U.S. Dept. of Commerce report out earlier this week pegged October PC shipments at their lowest level in at least 15 years -- perhaps an early indicator that people are waiting to buy computers until they can get one with Vista on board.

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November 29, 2006

Google Answers going away

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:04 PM

Google is shutting down Google Answers, a service in which live researchers would answer your questions for a small fee. And while the service will soon stop accepting questions, Google said it will leave the archived Q&As online.

The company doesn't give any reason for why it's killing Google Answers. Maybe it couldn't compete with Yahoo Answers, which is free.

Amazon's Mechanical Turk hits some similar notes, but that service is more task-oriented. It also pays people, though several requests up right now are paying fewer than five cents for completion.

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November 28, 2006

Tech philanthropy jobs

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:12 PM

Could Microsoft and Google eventually compete in the realm of philanthropy? Google.org, the search giant's charitable arm, looks to be beefing up its Mountain View, Ca-based operations and has seven new job openings posted. They show that Google is building teams to address poverty and sustainable development, climate change and energy and global public health. The philanthropic work will make use of Google's own projects, technology, partnerships and other resources.

With initial funding of $90 million, Google.org is dwarfed by the $2.5 billion in charitable contributions by Microsoft in 2005, and by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose assets are expected to grow to about $60 billion with help from Warren Buffett.

But Google.org has a pretty ambitious goal: eclipsing Google itself in its impact on the world.

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Zune sales off? So says WSJ

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:56 PM

The Wall Street Journal has an article today saying that Microsoft's Zune "falls off sales pace" for media players.

The one piece of evidence? That the Zune is not on Amazon.com's top 10 list for electronics yesterday.

That seems a little sketchy to me. After all, Zune is supposed to be selling at 30,000 retail locations, and to say that sales are off because of what one of them reports (yes, a big one, I admit) seems a little premature. Seems like it would have been worthwhile for the reporter to at least call some of the big electronics chains to see what's going on.

The Journal said that the Zune player was on Amazon's top 10 list after its Nov. 14 release, but yesterday had dropped to No. 76. iPods dominate the list, of course.

Analysts are expecting Zune sales at between 300,000 and 500,000 units for the holidays, according to the article.

The analyst firm PiperJaffray actually did some reporting on this issue and found that of clerks at 40 "big box" retailers, only 8 percent recommended buying the Zune and 75 percent recommended the iPod.

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Microsoft gives out free Vista and Office 2007

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:04 PM

Want a free copy of Vista Business Edition and Office 2007 Professional?

Microsoft is giving away a limited number of full licenses for high-end versions of its flagship products to people who watch six Webcasts -- three for each product -- with titles like "Introduction to Windows Workflow Foundation". At list prices, these two products would cost nearly $800. The Webcasts appear to be geared toward software developers and other IT professionals.

The promotion is going by the name "Power Together."

Of course, there are several caveats: must be over 18 and a legal U.S. resident, and not employed by a Microsoft Partner or the Microsoft Developer Network. The offer expires Feb. 28.

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October computer shipments lowest in 15 years

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:41 AM

In a sign that computer buyers might be holding off purchases until they can get their hands on Microsoft's new operating system early next year, computer shipments took a huge dive in October, reaching a low not seen in the 15 years the government has tracked the category.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported today on orders and shipments of durable goods in October. Overall, shipments were up 0.6 percent to $210 billion.

Shipments of computers and related products stood at $4.72 billion in October, down 24.9 percent from September and 28.6 percent from October 2005, when shipments stood at $6.6 billion.

Technology industry analysts have forecast that the delay of consumer availability of Windows Vista past the holiday shopping season could cost the rest of the industry billions in lost holiday sales.

Microsoft and computer manufacturers have tried to spur people to buy computers with coupons for free or discounted upgrades to Windows Vista. The coupon program started in late October.

Microsoft is making Vista available to business customers Thursday.

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Isilon announces IPO details

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:20 AM

Isilon Systems, a Seattle-based digital storage company, is looking to raise as much as $91 million in its upcoming initial public offering. The company has more details in a filing submitted last week to the Security and Exchange Commission. The filing doesn't say when the IPO will take place.

Isilon plans to offer 8.35 million shares at between $8.50 and $9.50 a share. It will likely be listed under the symbol "ISLN."

The company shared some interesting financial and customer information in the document, including:

-- It had a net loss of $19.2 million last year and $15 million in the first nine months of this year. As of Oct. 1 its accumulated deficit was $64.7 million.

-- It has a top-heavy customer list. Comcast and Eastman Kodak together represented 27 percent of Isilon's total sales for the first nine months of this year.

-- It plans to use some of the IPO money to repay $6.2 million in debt. The rest will go toward general corporate purposes.

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Geek night in Seattle

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:00 AM

A geek night in Seattle is being organized by Brady Forrest of O'Reilly Radar and Bre Pettis of Make:Seattle.

The Dec. 7 event, called Ignite Seattle, will be held at Lower Level in the Capitol Hill Arts Center, and will start at 6:30 with a bridge- building contest sponsored by Make: Magazine. Teams will have 30 minutes to build a bridge out of popsicle sticks.

Ignite Seattle continues with a series of five-minute-long slideshow presentations, which speakers are still signing up for. You can RSVP here.

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Widevine gets more Taiwanese orders

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:49 AM

Seattle-based Widevine Technologies said today it has received an order for 300,000 Virtual SmartCard units from a Taiwanese telecom company.

Previously, the state-owned Chunghwa Telecom had ordered 500,000 units, which are used to deliver video-on-demand and other broadcasts to electronics devices. Chunghwa has an interactive television service that includes karaoke-on-demand.

Five or so years ago, Widevine made encryption software for video delivered over the Internet. But in 2002, the company cut employees and changed its focus to the more traditional markets of cable and telecom.

In April, Widevine raised $16 million in a third round of venture capital, bringing its total raised to $62 million.

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November 27, 2006

Nintendo sells 600,000 Wiis

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:42 PM

Nintendo reported today that it has sold 600,000 Wii consoles in the Americas since the Nov. 19 launch. If you include games and accessory purchases, that totals about $190 million in sales, the company said.

Looks like the best-selling launch game was "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess," which sold about 454,000 units.

Sony said it would have 400,000 PlayStation 3 consoles in North America for its Nov. 17 launch. No word on whether the company was able to meet that goal.

Nintendo is planning to sell 4 million Wii consoles through the holidays. By comparison, Microsoft sold 5 million Xbox 360 consoles from its launch on Nov. 22, 2005 through the end of June 2006.

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Crash at RealNetworks

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:46 PM

A driver crashed his car into RealNetworks' front entrance on Elliott Avenue this morning. Luckily, no workers were outside the building when this happened, according to a RealNetworks spokeswoman.

According to our story, the driver went through a green light at the T-intersection and crashed into the building. That's a pretty steep slope leading down to Elliott Avenue. He was pulled from the vehicle, unconscious, and needed CPR from medics. He was taken to Harborview Medical Center.

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November 24, 2006

Gifts we love to hate

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:08 PM

So if you're as bored as we are and searching around for gift ideas for the holiday, let us help. Here, for your Black Friday and Cyber Monday consideration, is a list of awesomely awful tech gifts for the 2006 holiday season. Wallets ready? Let's go!

1. The iPod toilet paper holder. According to the site, this holder "makes it easier for people to listen to beats while using the restroom." Aw. That's nice.

2. The fake half suit for teleconferences, aka the "businessbib." For those days when you can't bother to get out of the T-shirt and sweats you've had on all week. But what happens if you have to duck out of the teleconference to use the restroom? A slow slump under the table might go unnoticed. ...

3. RIAA toilet paper. I hate to continue the bathroom theme going on here, but this toilet paper is emblazoned with the initials of the Recording Industry Association of America. Uh, there's really nothing left to say here.

4. Puget Sound residents might take a particular interest in the CrustaStun, a device that zaps lobsters and other crustaceans with enough electric current to produce "instant anaesthesia" and kill them in five to 10 seconds. We have no guarantee that this actually works as a pain reliever for soon-to-be seafood, but it's gotta be better than hearing that little squeak when you throw a live crab into a pot of boiling water.

5. The Motorized Cruzin' Cooler is a made-to-order go-cart with a 54-quart ice chest as a seat. For when you have no other idea for how to spend $2,000.

6. The Shocking Liar. Put your hand on the device and it will send you a shock if it senses that you're lying. Perhaps this is a party game for the host that hates everyone.

What are we missing here? Have you found other horrific finds to add? Send them in, and maybe we'll get a real best-of-the-worst list going.

(Credit for these finds goes to Popgadget, Boing Boing and Crave.)

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November 22, 2006

AG announces pop-up settlement and refund

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:00 PM

People in Washington who bought the software program QuikShield Security may be getting some money. The attorney general's office has settled allegations that a New York man sold the software through pop-up advertising that appeared to look like alerts from Internet Explorer -- a method that is illegal in the state.

After a three-month investigation by a high-tech unit within the AG's consumer protection office, the man -- James Lane -- has agreed to fully reimburse Washington consumers who bought the program. Lane hasn't admitted to any fault in the agreement, though.

Here's what the smarmy pop-up ad said: "Security alert -- your computer is vulnerable to receiving excessive popup ads. Would you like to install a popup blocker to prevent popup ads from appearing on your screen?"

As if that wasn't bad enough, any attempt to close the ad launched a Web site offering to install QuikShield free. Anyone agreeing to that opened their computers to numerous additional pop-ups that resembled critical system warnings.

If you purchased QuikShield, you can request a refund in the next 45 days by filing a complaint with the AG's office. (You can file that online). You can also call 1-800-551-4636.

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How did the game consoles do last weekend?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:44 AM

Two video game industry analysts offered takes today on how the launch weekend went for Sony and Nintendo.

P.J. McNealy with American Technology Research said Sony had only about 125,000 to 175,000 PlayStation 3 units to sell last weekend -- well below McNealy's previous guess of 250,000 to 300,000. Sony had said it would get 2 million PS3s to stores worldwide by the end of the year, but now that number is looking questionable, McNealy said.

Nintendo was more successful getting on store shelves, with about 425,000 to 475,000 Wii consoles sold at its launch, McNealy said. That company will likely send at least 1.5 million to 2 million units to North American stores this year.

Colin Sebastian with Lazard Capital said the Xbox 360 is benefiting from the PS3 and Wii shortages at stores and the momentum around its hot holiday game "Gears of War." Sebastian estimated that Sony will sell only about 750,000 PS3s by the end of the year in the U.S.

He also said that about 20,000 PS3s have sold on eBay since pre-orders began last month. That's nearly 15 percent of the units sold in stores. The average auction price was $1,500.

Nintendo wrote in to tell us that it will have an interactive Wii kiosk set up for two months in 25 malls around the U.S., including Southcenter in this area. Company representatives will be there to show people how to play games on the Wii. It's a good strategy for a console with such novel features.

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November 21, 2006

Microsoft's open-source spat

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:59 PM

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's detailed answer to a question raised at a conference in Seattle last week has re-ignited controversy around the company's stance toward open-source software and called into question its pact with Novell.

The complex debate centers on whether users of Linux are violating Microsoft patents, and what Microsoft may or may not do about it. Ballmer suggested that Linux users -- other than those using Novell's offerings -- could be liable for violating Microsoft's intellectual property.

Novell strongly disagrees and offered this statement Monday:

Since our announcement, some parties have spoken about this patent agreement in a damaging way, and with a perspective that we do not share. We strongly challenge those statements here..
We disagree with the recent statements made by Microsoft on the topic of Linux and patents. Importantly, our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property. When we entered the patent cooperation agreement with Microsoft, Novell did not agree or admit that Linux or any other Novell offering violates Microsoft patents.

Now, there's a move afoot in the open-source community to change the GNU General Public License that covers Linux. The change, as reported by Reuters, would aim to extend protection granted to one segment of the open-source community (Novell users) to the rest of the community.

For more coverage and opinion on this ongoing story, check out: CNET and Mary Jo Foley.

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Vista: The hardware question

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:32 PM

Two interesting entries on Microsoft's Vista Team blog shed some more light on the hardware configuration you'll need to get the best performance out of Windows Vista.

First, check out the specs on this custom PC made by Microsoft and Dell to mark the shipment of Vista:

Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 Processor
512MB NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GTX
4GB RAM Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM @ 667mhz
1Terabyte RAID0 SATA HDDs (2x500MB) Update: a reader pointed out that this should probably read 2x500GB.
48x Combo + 16x DVD+/-RW Double Layer Burner
Dual TV Tuners (Analog)
Dell 30" Widescreen Flat Panel Monitor
Full 5.1 Surround Sound

That machine gets a 5.2, the highest rating on Microsoft's index of computer performance. Comparable configurations on Dell's Web site are priced upwards of $4,600.

Here's a post from Windows chief Jim Allchin describing the ReadyBoost feature that allows users to squeeze better performance out of a Vista machine by plugging in a USB flash memory drive with at least 230 megabytes of memory. Allchin notes that this feature will be particularly helpful for computers with 1 gigabyte of memory or less:

When comparing the performance of Windows XP and Windows Vista on a PC with 1 GB of main memory, Windows Vista is generally comparable to Windows XP or faster. However, we also know that in some cases, on PCs with 512 MB of main memory, applications on Windows XP may seem more responsive. Why? Mostly because the features in Windows Vista use a bit more memory to do the things that make it so cool, like indexing your data, keeping the fancier AERO UI running using the desktop window manager (DWM), etc. The less memory in your machine, the more often the OS must randomly access the disk. This slows system (performance) in cases where your applications just barely fit in memory on Windows XP but not quite in Windows Vista.

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Cable bills on the rise next year

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:11 PM

Comcast is raising prices again. The company said today that starting in January, the average customer's bill in Washington will go up by about 4 percent. There will be no increases for high-speed Internet or digital voice services, however.

Comcast also said it will hire 350 more service technicians and customer service representatives. Construction is under way on a new customer service center in Lynnwood, which is expected to open in July, and Comcast said it's planning to hire nearly 300 more people in 2007.

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WildTangent snaps up a Microsoftie

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:09 AM

Redmond-based WildTangent said today it has hired A.J. Redmer away from Microsoft Game Studios. Redmer, who was most recently the general manager of MGS Asia, will become the executive vice president of WildTangent Studios. WildTangent develops and publishes online games, mostly ones that fall into the casual game category.

Redmer oversaw the development of Microsoft-branded gaming products, and before that he worked at Nintendo and Lucasfilm Games.

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Google shares hit $500 for the first time

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:29 AM

Google shares are on a tear today, topping $500 for the first time. You can check the current share price here.

According to this AP story, investors appear to be thinking that Google will quickly announce ways to get more online advertising sales from its $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube.

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November 20, 2006

China's anti-monopoly law and Microsoft

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:14 PM

You have to wonder whether Microsoft's attorneys are bracing for another legal fight when the biggest potential market in the world is about to pass its first Anti-Monopoly Law.

Discussion about the draft law has been going on for more than a year, and preparations for it even longer than that. But so far, nothing official has been circulated publicly.

It's interesting that related talks between Chinese and U.S. officials are happening next month in the company's back yard. The Washington State China Relations Council is hosting a legal exchange Dec. 1, and the subject is China's draft Anti-Monopoly Law. The annual event is normally held in Beijing or Washington, D.C., but this year both governments agreed to make Seattle their first stop.

Two senior officials from China are coming: Vice Minister Zhang Qiong of the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, and Vice Minister Ma Xiuhong.

Participants from the U.S. include John Sullivan, general counsel with the U.S. Department of Commerce; officials from the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission; and local legal experts from Seattle law firms.

The China Relations Council is billing the event as an opportunity to hear directly from Chinese policymakers about important changes to laws that will have a major impact on companies doing business in China or looking to enter the market. More information is here.


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Dust settles from wild gaming weekend

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:09 PM

Looks like things are finally starting to calm down after a crazy weekend of PlayStation 3 and Wii snatching. Some people had lined up all night last week in hopes of reselling their PlayStation 3 for thousands of dollars, but a check on eBay today shows the console isn't quite breaking the $1,000 mark in most cases.

Sony surely must have been disappointed in the New York Times' harsh review of the PS3 out today. The reviewer has plenty of praise for Microsoft, however.

And so it is a bit of a shock to realize that on the video game front Microsoft and Sony are moving in exactly the opposite directions one might expect given their roots. Microsoft, the prototypical PC company, has made the Xbox 360 into a powerful but intuitive, welcoming, people-friendly system. Sony's PlayStation 3, on the other hand, often feels like a brawny but somewhat recalcitrant specialized computer.

At least PC Magazine likes it, giving the system 4.5 out of 5 stars. Meanwhile, Bloomberg is quoting analysts who think that Sony missed its goal of having 400,000 PS3 units out the door by the time the console debuted Friday.

The launch of Nintendo's Wii seemed to go more smoothly, and the reviews range from the all-out positive to the who is this made for, anyway?

Thousands gathered at the Times Square Toys R Us and chanted "Reggie! Reggie!" at the sight of Nintendo president Reggie Fils-Aime. (Don't understand why? Read this profile from last week). The first person in line was someone who was such a gaming fan that he had his name legally changed to his gamer name, "Triforce."

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Nanotechnology 101

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:18 PM

The world is shrinking. This week two free programs on nanotechnology explain how advancements in the science of structures smaller than one billionth of a meter promise revolutionary change in many fields, from drug delivery to electronics. The events take place tonight and Tuesday at the University of Washington, the first school in the nation to offer a PhD. in the field. Both are held in UW's Bagley Hall, Room 154.

Tonight at 6:30, the Northwest Science Writers' Nanotech-O-Rama features talks by Francois Baneyx, director of the UW'S Nanotech center; bioengineering professors Xiaohu Gao and Patrick Stayton, who will talk about applications for cancer diagnosis and treatment; and Valerie Daggett, professor of medicinal chemistry, who will speak about computer simulation methods.

Tuesday afternoon, Intel Senior Fellow Robert Chau, who directs nanotechnology research at the world's largest semiconductor company, will speak from 12:30 to 1:20 on "Extending Moore's Law Using Nanotechnology."

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MSFT flirting with $30

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:14 AM

Shares of Microsoft have gained today on an upgrade from Credit Suise analyst Jason Maynard. He bumped his rating up to "outperform" from "buy" and elevated his price target to $35 a share from $29.

As of mid-afternoon, Microsoft was at $29.90 up 50 cents or 1.7 percent on the day. The last time Microsoft closed above $30 was April 1, 2002.

Maynard likes the company's growing strength in digital entertainment and sees MSFT as having a good risk-reward profile relative to other large tech companies.

We had quite a bit of Microsoft coverage over the past two days. Here's a look at how the company has changed since it released Windows XP five years ago. This story examines why it took so long to build Vista. Kim Peterson explains how software vendors get their programs on the desktop. And, Brier Dudley runs through the good and the bad in Vista.

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November 16, 2006

PS3: Lines long, patience short

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:14 PM

I've seen the angry video gamer in action at several E3 video game conventions, particularly when the food runs out, when the shuttle buses are full, or when models are told to cover up their bikinis.

All those years of killing zombies, jacking cars and vaporizing aliens have got to leave some inner rage issues for some. So when you put hundreds of people in line in cities around the country waiting to buy what may only be a handful of Sony PlayStation 3s per store, it's entirely possible that some angry gamer channeling might take place. The PS3's go on sale on Friday, in many places at 12:01 a.m. And the reports are coming in:

West Bend, Wis.: Wal-Mart sure handled this one well. A crowd of 50 lined up early this morning only to learn that 10 consoles were available. A store manager placed 10 chairs by the store, pushed the crowd back and told them to run for the chairs to see who would get one. A 19-year-old fan ran into a pole instead and had to be hospitalized. Link (scroll down on page).

Palmdale, Calif: Another winner for Wal-Mart. The store actually had to shut down and called in Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies after a crowd became too rowdy. This newscast on Yahoo Video has the details.
"It was just pure chaos," said one participant. "Little kids got knocked over," said another. Some people were given a $400 ticket for setting up tents.

New York City: Unhappy people at the SonyStyle store and Circuit City. "People are just jumping the line, there were even fights last night," said one observer. "It's totally messed up."

Lexington, Ky.: A drive-by BB gun shooting hits four people waiting in line at Best Buy. It's enough to send two people home, but one stays, saying, "I'd do it again, even if I get shot again."

Want more video? YouTube, predictably, has it.

Manhattan: People cutting in line and selling their spots in line. Link.

Burbank, Calif.: People lined up since Nov. 6. Link. One guy quit his job to line up.
"It wasn't a good job," he said. Another guy said the PS3 is keeping him from buying his girlfriend an engagement ring.

There are lines in the Seattle area, too, but no reports of violence yet.

Update: From a reader who was out at a Fred Meyer:
"The first in line equals first to buy" policy of some stores seems to cause the most problems. I went to a local Fred Meyer with friends, and it was relatively peaceful despite 300+ people competing for only 4 systems. The Fred Meyer had ample security / large, muscled employees as they ran a simple lottery system - everyone was issued a numbered ticket and then a drawing was held in public, with only the 4 winners allowed into the store with a security escort.
My friend happened to have the good luck to be fourth number called and got to buy the 20gig system.

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Milestone: 100 million smartphones

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:24 PM

Symbian announced today that it has shipped 100 million smartphones since its formation in 1998.

The benchmark shows an increasing interest in high-end operating handsets, according to Symbian, which develops operating systems primarily for Nokia phones, but also has sold them to Ericsson, Lenovo, Motorola, Samsung, Siemens, Sony Ericsson and others.

"Hitting the 100 million mark with more than 100 different models currently shipping from 10 leading handset vendors is a phenomenal achievement for Symbian and a strong indication that more and more people are embracing the smartphone lifestyle. However, we are still at the beginning of a technology revolution that will profoundly change peoples' lives," said CEO Nigel Clifford.

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What's your favorite cellphone?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:10 PM

In the U.S., the largest handset manufacturer is Motorola, followed by Nokia, but according to a study published today, Sony Ericsson phones satisfy customers most often.

The study, conducted by J.D. Power & Associates, ranked customer satisfaction among people who have owned their current mobile phone for less than two years. It measured customer satisfaction based on five key factors: physical design, operation, features, handset durability and battery function.

Sony Ericsson received the highest ratings from customers in "handset durability," and also performed well in "features" and "battery functionality."

Following Sony Ericsson were LG, Sanyo and Motorola. Nokia was not on the list.

Sony Ericsson has recorded the most improvement of any brand included in the past three study reporting periods starting in 2005, according to Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power.

These findings are a little counterintuitive given the popularity of the Motorola devices, especially the Razr, and most recently the Krzr (which wouldn't likely be included in this survey yet). It seems that if Motorola is last on this list, consumers are unsatisfied with the Razr, which is a conclusion I have come to before in this blog. The Razr is more style than substance.


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WiMax: the hype, and the truth

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:51 PM

The Clearwire launch event reminded me of the last time I was at the Space Needle, when another WiMax-like service was launching. In May 2005, Seattle-based Speakeasy said it was going to beam a the service from the top of the Space Needle and four other locations in Seattle to provide wireless Internet access.

Speakeasy CEO Bruce Chatterley made the announcement at Space Needle, where he walked around the tourist attraction's halo while wearing a harness on.

At the time, the launch was being called the first deployment of its scope in the U.S. -- both in size and complexity. Using equipment from Intel and Alvarion, the rooftop base stations were going to provide access in a 5-square-mile area.

The service was slightly different than Clearwire's offering because it was not aimed at consumers, but being sold to business customers as an alternative or backup to a fixed T1 connection. The monthly cost was from $500 to $800, depending on speed. For comparison, Clearwire charges up to $42 a month.

When I called Speakeasy officials earlier this week, they said they are no longer providing the service. Although a couple of early customers may still be using it, it is no longer a focus, said company spokeswoman Lynn Brackpool.

She said Speakeasy has instead opted to focus its energy, resources and efforts on rolling out voice over Internet Protocol.

Clearwire faces some of the same pressure. Because Seattle is the largest of its 32 markets it has launched in to date, everyone will be watching to see if it will work.

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Clearwire's laser show replay

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:25 PM

Last night, Clearwire was expected to host what it called the largest ever laser light show at the Space Needle.

The landmark would be engulfed by lasers, like spotlights beaming from the ground up. However, because of weather conditions -- mostly wind -- it was less than spectacular. (Fittingly, the door gift to a launch event inside the Needle was a high-tech laser pointer with USB drive).

The show wasn't a complete disappointment, though. An image of the Clearwire logo was displayed down the side of the Needle, and a few lights at the top flashed green and blue. On the street below, motor scooters towing billboards circled the Needle, displaying ads for Clearwire.

To make up for the event, Clearwire said yesterday it plans to replay the show tonight at 9 (weather permitting, I suppose).

The wind factor wasn't an excuse. At the top of the Needle, the wind was blowing hard enough to sway the Needle an inch to two inches in each direction.

During the three-hour event, Craig McCaw, the co-CEO of the Kirkland company, made a presentation that included the history of the Needle dating back to the 1962 World's Fair. At the time, he said, transporting people was the focus of attention. But times have changed. "Transporting information is more important than transferring you."

The statement highlights Clearwire's wireless broadband service, which people can take with them and use in multiple locations to get Internet access.

The Seattle launch will be the company's biggest test to date. It's not only the largest area in which it has rolled out service, but it also offers some of the most difficult terrain in the world for providing wireless technology.

UPDATE: Clearwire said they have decided to forgo doing another show tonight. The lasers that did appear seemed to capture the essence enough.

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MSFT ad exec moves to MSN; Ballmer on leaks to WSJ

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:08 PM

Joanne Bradford, Microsoft's corporate vice president of global sales and marketing and chief media revenue officer, is taking on a new role at the company's MSN unit, according to reports in Advertising Age and The Wall Street Journal.

Bradford will head MSN, according to the Advertising Age story. It quoted her saying no one person was responsible for thinking about the MSN portal, with the exception of Steve Berkowitz, senior vice president of the company's online services group.

Microsoft said Bradford's is a new position and offered a statement from Berkowitz.

"I'm putting the right people against the areas of greatest opportunity so we can focus on delivering the best software-powered experiences to customers," he said in the statement. "None of these adjustments represent a shift in the division's overall strategy or goals."

Bradford was profiled in today's Wall Street Journal. The story, which traces Bradford's clash with Microsoft's technology culture in her effort to build its advertising prowess, includes quotes from a leaked copy of her 2004 performance review. Microsoft, like most large companies, is very tight-lipped about personnel matters.

CEO Steve Ballmer, speaking at a conference in Seattle this morning, noted the story and later discussed technologies designed to control access to data such as individual emails.

"I do like the fact that we can now send e-mails around Microsoft which cannot be forwarded outside of the company," Ballmer said at the event for users of its SQL Server product. "That doesn't mean people don't sit there with a second computer and type them up and ship 'em to The Wall Street Journal."

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Vote early, often

Posted by Monica Soto at 10:37 AM

Amazon.com today introduced a promotion that allows customers to collectively choose which discounts the site offers during the holidays.

For the next four Thursdays, "Amazon Customer Vote" offers four deals at dangerously low prices, but customers can only select one.

Voting closes the following Tuesday, with the deals announced that Wednesday.

Today's choices include an Xbox 360 Core System machines for $100 or a Barbie Interactive Princess for $10.

This not being a democracy, the deal items will be offered in limited quantities.

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Get your coffee and the day's weather

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:20 AM

The first coffee maker to use Microsoft technology has hit stores, but you may need a Microsoft salary to afford it. The Melitta Smart Mill & Brew machine shows the current weather and uses Microsoft's SPOT (smart personal objects technology) to access the information.

The $200 coffee maker also show's the day's forecast and chance of precipitation as well as sunrise and sunset times. You won't be able to find it in many stores, though; Microsoft says it's on sale at Amazon.com and through Sharper Image.

I wrote about how the SPOT technology works in a recent review of the latest Smart Watch out from Microsoft.

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Russian bots causing increase in spam

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:11 AM

Have you been seeing an increase in spam lately? That may be because Russian hackers have gained control of 70,000 computers to create a vast bot network through which to send the messages, eWeek reports.

Those computers are infected with a virus that, remarkably, cleans other bad viruses from the machines so it can have full run of the place.

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A strange Scrabble game in Seattle tomorrow

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:54 AM

RealNetworks is holding a "man vs. machine" Scrabble game tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. at Seattle's Westlake Plaza. National Scrabble champ Jim Kramer will play against the Scrabble video game that Real has on its RealArcade gaming service.

He'll be in an isolation booth and will play three games, vying for a $10,000 prize. For some reason, a police officer will be handcuffed to a clear briefcase containing the money. (Why is the "Mission Impossible" theme suddenly playing in my head?) The game will be projected onto a giant video screen for those of us whose Scrabble games consist mostly of words like "tot" and "see."

A couple hours before that match, RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser will be playing against the president of the National Scrabble Association at an internal company event.

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November 15, 2006

Clearwire: The Q&A

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:57 AM

Following the launch today in Seattle of Clearwire, a wireless Internet broadband service, (and a story in The Seattle Times), I have received numerous emails, and tons of questions. Here's what I'm being asked and the answers I can provide to the best of my ability. I'll update this throughout the day as questions come in.

Q: Are you kidding me? You have to connect your laptop to the modem? As part of the growing legion of computer users who work only on laptops connected via Wi-Fi at home, Clearwire ain't in my future unless they fix that there problem.

A: Clearwire works similarly to any Internet connection. In order to get a Wi-Fi signal in the house, you must connect a wireless router to the modem. The graphic illustration here does point that out in the text.

UPDATE: The illustration also shows that you can use something called "ClearPlugs" that will send the signal through your electrical outlets, so you can have your modem in one room and your computer in another without connecting it with a wire, or setting up a wireless router (it must be plugged into an electrical outlet with an additional adapter).

Q: How much does it cost, is a contract required and what are the speeds?

A: A lot of people have been having a hard time finding this chart, where speeds and prices are laid out for several broadband options in the Seattle area. As you can see, the price goes up as mobility of the service increases. Speeds also decrease as the service becomes more portable. As far as contracts, yes, Clearwire typically requires a year-long commitment. Plan to keep it or else there might be penalties.

Q: Are there any security issues with Clearwire?

A: My very simple answer would be that it is more secure than Wi-Fi because it is using licensed spectrum -- in other words, Clearwire owns the airwaves that it operates on, whereas Wi-Fi shares a common band that's free and open to the public. A technical explanation can be found on Clearwire's Web site here.

It says:

"Your Clearwire connection is very secure. That's because Clearwire wireless technology uses OFDM transmission protocol, featuring a design standard that includes secure wireless data transmission. Wi-Fi operates on unlicensed 2.4GHz frequencies, making it vulnerable to scanning and packet interception. Clearwire operates at licensed 2.5GHz frequencies. Licensed frequencies and OFDM make for a very secure connection."


Q: How tall are the towers, and are they using existing cellphone towers?

A: I don't really know the entire answer to this, but the way towers work is this: The taller the tower, the bigger the area it can cover. However, the bigger the territory, the more people it serves, which may slow down the service. This is a science that cellphone companies also deal with today. The companies want to be efficient and make the towers as high as possible to serve as many people as possible, but if it reaches too many it will affect the quality of service. Many towers today are shared by many cellphone providers, so I don't see why Clearwire wouldn't also lease space from existing towers.

Q: Where's the laser light show tonight?

A: In celebration of Clearwire's launch today, it will be holding a laser light show at the Space Needle tonight at 7:15 p.m. More information is available here.

UPDATE:
Q: Why isn't the Wi-Fi router included in the modem?

A: A lot of people are asking this question "Why is Wi-Fi not integrated directly into the modem?" I don't have the answer to this, but may I point out that currently, this is how it works for both DSL and cable today? In order to get Wi-Fi service in the home, you must connect a wireless router to your cable or phone line. It also might be worthwhile to point out that the company is expecting to eliminate the modems by next year. They will be replaced with laptop cards which will be inserted directly into the laptop, and then eventually through chipsets installed directly in computers and other devices (This information can be found in the company's IPO registration which was filed and then pulled with the Securities & Exchange Commission).

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Kirkland game developer sold

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:10 AM

Kirkland video game developer Amaze Entertainment has been sold to Foundation 9 Entertainment of Newport Beach, Calif.

Foundation 9 says it's now the largest independent game developer in the world, with 725 employees in 11 studios across the country. There will be no layoffs in Kirkland, in fact Amaze's CEO says the company will probably be hiring.

The acquisition price wasn't announced. Amaze has three studios in Kirkland, and has mainly been working on games for handheld players like Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP.

More details in our story today.

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November 14, 2006

Ballmer: Gates 'would never give up on the Huskies!'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:57 PM

In a lighter moment at a generally upbeat Microsoft shareholder's meeting today, an older gentleman in the audience asked an off-topic question of Chairman Bill Gates.

"Mr. Gates, you look like you're wearing a Husky purple shirt this morning. I wonder if you just haven't given up on the Huskies yet?"

"Maybe I don't follow them closely enough," replied Gates, dressed in a lavender shirt and purple tie. (If he did, he would know that the football team lost ugly last weekend to Stanford, formerly the worst team in the Pac-10.)

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO and Gates' longtime friend, came to the rescue without missing a beat.

"But he would never give up on the Huskies!" Ballmer intoned.

For context, neither Ballmer nor Gates went to University of Washington. They met at Harvard as undergraduates. And Ballmer left graduate school at Stanford to join Gates at Microsoft. I guess he's not a big fan of the Cardinal.

Here's our initial coverage of the meeting.

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Impinj tests RFID tags on pharma bottles

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:16 PM

Seattle RFID chip designer Impinj is hailing the reliability of its UHF (ultra high frequency) supply chain technology at a health care industry summit in Washington D.C.

Impinj is aiming the RFID tags and readers at the pharmaceutical industry to identify and track prescription drugs. But the industry so far had been leaning toward high frequency (HF) chips for speed and accuracy. Whether that technology is adopted could play a big role in Impinj's future.

Impinj said this morning its technology performed with 100 percent reliability during a live demonstration.The company demonstrated reading 600 tags per minute on bottles containing liquids, gel caps, solids and powder. The tags were made by Owens-Illinois with Impinj chips inside.

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Bothell helping Apple connect iPods

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:42 PM

Six airlines will begin offering passengers iPod hookups at their seats to charge their players and show iPod videos on seat back displays, Apple said today. There's a local connection to the news as well.

Apple is working with Panasonic Avionics, the Bothell-based subsidiary of Panasonic that produces in-flight entertainment systems for airplanes. Through its work with Panasonic, Apple said it wants to bring the iPod connectivity to more airlines in the future.

Starting in mid-2007, the airlines scheduled to roll out this connectivity include Air France, Continental, Delta, Emirates, KLM and United.

Not a bad announcement from Apple to counter the launch of Microsoft's Zune player.

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November 13, 2006

Farecast accuracy check

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:02 PM

Farecast says it's 70 to 75 percent accurate when it comes to predicting whether airfares will go up or down. Using this technology, it hopes to become a resource for people who are unsure of whether to buy tickets now or wait for a possible price drop.

I tested Farecast's predictions on nearly 30 routes over the course of two months, and calculated the company's accuracy rate at about 61 percent. (Story here.) Farecast VP Mike Fridgen defended the company's accuracy estimate in light of these findings, saying that's what Farecast came up with when you total the 38 million predictions it makes every month.

Fair enough. But I can see why airlines like Farecast so much. The great majority of the time, it encourages consumers to buy tickets now instead of wait, and sends them directly to an airline's Web site.

Farecast said it had relevant news to share with me on its predictions, but only if I held my story for Monday's paper. Unfortunately, my story was pretty much set to run on Sunday. According to Techcrunch, the news is that the company is coming out with what seems to be an insurance plan against fare increases.

Basically, you pay a small fee to Farecast (up to $10, it sounds like) when the company tells you to wait before purchasing a ticket. If you pay that amount and the fare later increases, Farecast will compensate you for the money you lost while waiting.

An interesting idea, but will it work? I'll check back in with Farecast in the future to see how consumers respond.

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Microvision offers stock sale to public

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:21 PM

Microvision said today it's going forward with a public offering of 3,317,567 shares of its common stock at $2.39 per share. The company is expecting to raise $7.9 million.

It's a make-or-break time for the Redmond company, which creates imaging and display technology. It's losing about $7 million a quarter and had just $14.6 million left at the end of September.

Microvision signed a deal with an Asian manufacturer to produce a new miniature laser projector called PicoP, which it plans to demonstrate at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Embedded inside a mobile device, the PicoP is designed to enlarge images from the device and project them onto another surface a few feet away.

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Getty's CTO has left the company

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:12 PM

Getty's chief technology officer, Patrick Flynn, left the company last Tuesday as part of the restructuring the company is undertaking to improve its bottom line. It doesn't look like that position will stay open.

In an SEC filing today, Getty said Flynn's departure was an "involuntary termination" under the terms of his 2004 employment agreement.

Here's what that agreement says happens in the case of an involuntary termination:

-- Getty will pay Flynn his salary and accrued bonus through the date of termination.

-- Getty will also pay Flynn a severance equal to his salary plus 50 percent of his bonus.

Flynn's 2005 salary was $307,500 and his bonus was $127,720, according to Getty's most recent proxy.

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Redmond unaffected in first NBC Universal cuts

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:48 PM

NBC Universal made the first round of cuts in its broad plan to cut 700 jobs. Last month, when the cuts were announced, the company said the impact to the Redmond-based MSNBC.com would be minimal, and it looks like that's the case for now.

At least 17 employees at "Dateline NBC" lost their jobs, Broadcasting & Cable reports, with most of the cuts in New York and some in Chicago and Washington D.C. Other employees have taken a voluntary buyout package.

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Zune out tomorrow

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:26 AM

Lots of Zune coverage out there today with the launch of the Microsoft music player set for tomorrow. We took a look at the unusual choice of brown as a color for the player.

The technical details about the player are out there, and it's easy to compare how the Zune stacks up against the iPod.

What we know less about is how Microsoft is going to sell the Zune. Aside from some free concerts today and some billboards around town (at least in Seattle), what has Microsoft planned to persuade people to buy this and not an iPod? How will retailers promote the Zune?

Andrew Michael Baron of Rocketboom says on his blog that he was going to do a cross-promotion with Zune.net, but backed out after seeing this in the contract:

"You may not display the Logo(s) on any site that disparages Microsoft or its products or services, infringes any Microsoft intellectual property or other rights, or violates any state, federal or international law."

Baron posted a letter he said he sent to Microsoft saying that the restriction was not reasonable.

Here are a few reviews out lately on the Zune:

David Pogue: iPod it's not

Walter Mossberg: Zune challenges iPod

Newsweek: Microsoft misses -- for now
Keep in mind that Steven Levy, the author of this review, has just written a book about the iPod.

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November 10, 2006

So 10 minutes ago: A review of the week of Nov. 5

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 6:21 PM

Microsoft
Five years is an eternity in the tech world, and it does seem like an eternity since Windows Vista (once code-named Longhorn -- remember that?) has been in development. This week, it was released to manufacturing, and Ben Romano captured the moment. Earlier in the week, Office 2007 headed to manufacturing, too. In effect, that opens the gates for the next versions of the company's most lucrative products.

More Microsoft
Bam, bam, bam. Not that long ago, there was a sense that there was little new coming out of Microsoft. Not now. Continuing the onslaught of product introductions, the company this week updated its Virtual Earth mapping service, showed off its nifty Photosynth display technology and disclosed a downloadable movie service for the Xbox 360. Of those, the movie and video downloads, as Kim Peterson reported, provided interesting possibilities, bringing to market what had been a diffcult link in the emerging video download business -- viewing the download on TV.

F5 Networks
The stock options backdating case unravels in bits at the company. Kristi Heim reports that the internal investigation has been completed, the company's general counsel is leaving, and the company is taking a $22.9 million charge over seven years.

Zango
In what could have some implications down the road on the issue of adware, Bellevue-based Zango has agreed to pay the FTC a $3 million fine and to clearly notify consumers and get their agreement before installing the software that legions of computer users complain they don't want. The settlement left privacy advocates happy. Here's a bit more about the case, which dates back to when the company was known as 180Solutions.

Dendreon
The Seattle biotech says its Provenge prostate-cancer drug performed a lot better than a placebo among men with early-stage disease. That gave the stock a bit of a boost.

Quote of the week
"Competitors tried to get regulators to castrate the product. I wouldn't say antitrust played any dramatic role."
-- Bill Gates, during a European tour to promote Windows Vista

If you missed it
Its handsets and mobile devices are lot better known that it is, but Taiwan-based HTC is a powerhouse in the mobile industry as a maker of high-end products. Tricia Duryee reports how it's beefing up its American operations. Much of that is coming through a heavy focus on its U.S. headquarters in Bellevue, conveniently close to Microsoft, which provides the operating system for its products.


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Get in your applications for WSA event

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:47 PM

The WSA said yesterday that it is accepting applications for its 12th annual Industry Achievement Awards gala.

The event will recognize the state's most outstanding technology achievements in a variety of categories, including Business Product of the Year, Consumer Product or Service of the Year, Service Provider of the Year, Best Use of Technology in the Government or Non-Profit Sector, Technology Innovator of the Year and Breakthrough Technology of the Year.

The 2007 IAA event will take place March 21 at the Westin Hotel in Seattle, and will feature Robbie Bach, Microsoft's president of the Entertainment and Devices Division as the keynote speaker.

Some of the fine print: Applications can be submitted online until Dec. 1. The awards are open to Washington state companies only, and the application fee is $90 for members and $180 for non-members.

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Motorola looks to Good

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:22 AM

Motorola agreed to acquire privately held mobile software company Good Technology for an undisclosed sum, according to Reuters.

Good Technology is one of several companies that compete with Research in Motion's BlackBerry e-mail service. It also competes with Microsoft's Windows Mobile 5.0.

Motorola and Good Technology, which already have a business relationship on mobile messaging, said Good Technology's wireless messaging will boost its mobile computing capabilities and help increase its client base.

Right now, it seems that Motorola is a little behind when it comes to offering enterprise services. In the past, it has focused mainly on consumer devices, like the Razr and the recently released Krzr. In the past year, it has manufactured only one enterprise device -- the Motorola Q.

Contrast Motorola with HTC, the Taiwanese company that makes Windows Mobile devices, and it doesn't seem like much. HTC produces 10 to 15 enterprise devices a year.

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October HTC revenues are up

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:50 AM

HTC, the Taiwanese cellphone manufacturer that uses the Windows operating system on its handsets, said today that it recorded strong revenues during the month of October.

I reported this week that the company was investing heavily in its Bellevue offices to meet strong demand in the U.S. The demand is evident from its revenue figures in October.

The company said it had revenues last month of $326.7 million, a 25 percent increase over the same month a year ago when it recorded revenues of $261.7 million.

For the 10-month period ended in October, the company had revenues of $2.66 billion, a 62 percent increase over the same period in 2005 when its revenues totaled $1.64 billion.

No wonder it said it was trying to hire an average of five to six employees a week in Bellevue.

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Hotspots are still hot

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:06 AM

Earlier this month, an ABI Research report estimated that this year the number of commercial Wi-Fi hotspots will grow by 47 percent worldwide to 143,700.

The underlying message of the report was that while most sites are in North America and Europe, the number is growing rapidly in the Asia/Pacific region.

Today JiWire, which has been assembling a directory of Wi-Fi hotspots since 2003, reported there were 125,323 Wi-Fi hotspots in 130 countries at the end of September.

It reported that the U.S. is the leader by far with almost 42,000 hotspots. The United Kingdom came in second with almost 16,000, followed by Germany, France and South Korea.

The interesting thing is the top 10 cities suggest a different distribution than the top countries. London is No. 1 followed by Seoul, Tokyo, Taipei, Paris, Berlin and San Francisco.

With three of the top 10 cities being in Asia, it does seem that region is quickly catching up to the U.S. and Europe.

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November 9, 2006

T-Mobile reports third-quarter numbers

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:49 AM

Although it appeared to be a pretty blockbuster quarter for T-Mobile USA, the company's financial report today revealed less than spectacular subscriber additions.

The Bellevue-based company had several major developments during the quarter. It bought 120 airwave licenses for about $4.18 billion, allowing it to start rolling out 3G data services. It also launched the Sidekick 3 and the BlackBerry Pearl, two products that seemed to have a fanatic popularity. It launched a new advertising campaign called "Stick Together" along with a new service called myFaves, which allows subscribers to make unlimited calls to five people. It also started testing a new service in the Seattle-area that allows people to make voice calls over Wi-Fi when at home or at a T-Mobile hotspot.

Still, the company reported that it gained only 802,000 new customers in the third quarter, up slightly from the 613,000 it added in the second quarter, but down from 1.04 million in the first.

"We've made several transformational moves this year that significantly increase our strength in the marketplace," President and CEO Robert Dotson said in a press release.

The company did deliver strong third-quarter financial results: T-Mobile USA's net income was $1.79 billion, up from $233 million in the second quarter, but the increase resulted primarily from a $1.5 billion non-cash income tax benefit.

Service revenues, consisting of pre-paid and post-paid subscribers and roaming revenues, rose to $3.72 billion in the quarter, up from $3.59 billion in the previous quarter. The company attributed the increases to customer growth and the strong average revenue per user.

It also contributed heavily to its parent-company results. Deutsche Telekom reported that its cellphone unit, T-Mobile International, added 1.2 million new customers, much of those coming from the U.S.

In total, the group has 91.6 million customers, up 8.9 percent from the 84.1 million last year. In all, T-Mobile USA had 24.1 million customers at the end of the period, making it the fourth largest carrier in the U.S.

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November 8, 2006

'I'm Jim Allchin'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:15 PM

The news is out. Windows Vista has released to manufacturing and will be available to consumers on Jan. 30.

Jim Allchin, co-president of the division building Vista, is the Microsoft mouth for today's news, as he rightfully should be. This is his baby and also his swan song. When Vista's out the door, Allchin is too.

Today, you can get as much Allchin as you want. Here's our coverage. You can check out the official Microsoft word here. The company will probably post a transcript of Allchin's press conference later this afternoon. Veteran tech journalist Mary Jo Foley has had one of the only interviews with Allchin recently.

And for the really hard core, check out this chat between a Microsoftie and a smiling Allchin posted on Microsoft's internal Channel 9 video site.

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Post election ponderings

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:41 AM

Update: Make that a different party running both the House and Senate. And one issue that is sure to heat up is the debate over H-1B visas. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has been speaking out about the need to ease limits on the number of visas granted, or even do away with them. Meanwhile WashTech today sent out a message to members to urge their elected officials to "End Corporate War on High-Tech Workers."


Now that the election is over, I have been wondering what it means for technology, and what effect technology has had on the election.

Some conclusions:

Electronic voting is not ready for prime time.

Bloggers probably didn't have as much impact on individual races this time around. Drilling down into details didn't seem to matter as much to voters preoccupied by the larger issue of war in Iraq.

But they did a great job pointing out weaknesses in the voting system.

The Web can be a useful tool to collect information on voting irregularities across the country.

Regardless of political affiliation, it seems clear that this country needs to make it a whole lot easier for people to exercise their right to vote. Maybe the right technology can help.

Technology policy doesn't seem like it will shift dramatically with a different party running the House. Too many tech issues cut across party lines.

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November 7, 2006

Novell discloses financial terms of Microsoft deal

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:23 PM

Microsoft is paying Novell $240 million for 70,000 subscription certificates a year until Jan. 1, 2012, as part of the broad pact the companies announced last week.

The detail comes in a Novell regulatory filing today, indicating that the transactions are material to the company. Apparently not so for Microsoft, which has not made a filing.

Here are some other details from the filing:

The combined offering from the two companies, for customers who want to run both Windows- and Linux-based servers, will include SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, along with a support subscription; Microsoft Windows Server, Microsoft Virtual Server and Microsoft Viridian.

Microsoft will spend $12 million a year to market the combined Linux and Windows offering. It will also spend $34 million over the term of the agreement for a Microsoft sales force devoted primarily to marketing the combined offering.

Microsoft will not enter into an agreement similar to this one with any other Linux distributor for three years.

To compensate each other for the patent covenant agreements, "Microsoft will make an up-front net payment to Novell of $108 million, and Novell will make ongoing payments of at least $40 million over five years to Microsoft based on percentages of Novell's Open Platform Solutions and Open Enterprise Server revenues."

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Seattle is the new Geneva

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:24 PM

Among the global health organizations converging on Seattle, a U.K.-based group called Riders for Health is in town this week to give a talk at PATH.


Riders for Health at work in improving health-services delivery in Africa.

Paul Allen's Vulcan Productions and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded a TV documentary last year that Riders appeared in called Rx for Survival. Andrea Coleman, a former professional motorcycle racer, started the charity with her husband 10 years ago to improve transportation for delivering health services in Africa.

"If you don't have transportation in Africa, however wonderful the drugs are, they don't get to the people who need them," she said.

Riders raises money through events like the "Highway to Health," a 51-day bike across Australia. The group is looking for partners in Seattle because this area "represents a huge body of belief and people and interest in global health," she said. And a lot of money, too.

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Allchin, in final months at Microsoft, offers insights

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:34 AM

With Windows Vista getting "very close" to release to manufacturing, Jim Allchin, the top Windows dog who is retiring when the product is out the door, now has "a little more time" to share his thoughts on the new operating system. He posted an entry last night to the official Windows Vista team blog page on one of his favorite features.

He highlighted Remote Assistance, which allowed him to help "someone in my house" with a computer problem -- actually a server problem -- while Allchin was still at work. (Yes, we read that right, Allchin has a server in his house, which he acknowledges is a bit unusual ... "but that's not the key part of the story.")

His message: The improved feature in Vista allowed him to be the IT hero from afar.

"Without Remote Assistance, the problem would have had to wait until I could physically get to her machine or I would have had to try and talk her through the problem on the phone," Allchin wrote. "... call me a geek, but that defines cool for me!"

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RealNetworks' shares bask in earnings glow

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:42 AM

RealNetworks shares hit a five-year high today, a day after the company reported solid sales and profit numbers for the third quarter. You can check the current stock price here.

The profit, once again, was skewed by some big payments from one-time rival Microsoft related to the antitrust lawsuit settlement between the two companies.

Quarterly profit was $42.2 million, up from $11.2 million in the year-ago period, and sales beat analysts' estimates to hit a record $93.7 million. If you take out the Microsoft payments and other factors, net income was $8.7 million compared with $6.3 million in 2005.

Today, Kaufman Bros. maintained its "buy" rating and raised its target price from $12 to $13.50. JMP Securities raised its price from $8 to $9.

Other analysts weren't so sure. The total number of RealNetworks' subscribers rose by only 50,000 from the second quarter of this year to 2.45 million, and about half of that increase was in music subscriptions. Music subscriber growth appeared to be slowing down, with 1.65 million subscribers compared with 1.625 million three months ago. Subscription sales represent more than half of Real's total revenue.

That sluggish growth in music subscribers adds some risk, according to analysts with Oppenheimer, who have a "neutral" rating on the company. Those analysts said the slowdown might show that consumers prefer downloadable music services and the end-to-end music systems such as Apple's iPod universe.

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November 6, 2006

Microsoft offering downloads of movies, TV shows

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:42 PM

Microsoft has been expected for some time to put together a movie and television show download service, but I thought it would be somehow tied to the company's upcoming Zune media player.

I overlooked what is becoming a very powerful weapon for the company in living room entertainment: the Xbox 360. Microsoft is announcing tonight that starting Nov. 22 it will begin offering movie rentals and television show purchases through the Xbox 360 video game console.

The service completely bypasses the personal computer and the Windows operating system. Other companies in this business, including Amazon.com and Movielink, offer downloads for the PC and leave it to users to figure out how to show those videos on the television. (Amazon has an explainer here).

For now, the Xbox movie service is limited to the 6 million Xbox 360 consoles that have sold. Will it drive more console sales, or at least help Microsoft meet its goal of selling 4 million units through the holidays?

Xbox chief Peter Moore says that if nothing else, it will help position the Xbox 360 as an all-around entertainment device that can appeal to each member of the family. If you're not a hardcore gamer, you can still find a reason to keep the system in your living room.

The service also stands out in that it offers videos in both standard-definition and high-definition content. But you can only download one clip at a time. Apple lets you download multiple videos at once, an ability that would be problematic when dealing with high-definition footage.

The Xbox service only rents movies, and doesn't sell them for purchase. Microsoft should at least have the movie rental terms that competing services like Movielink have, but it falls short in one crucial area: If you rent a movie and don't watch it within two weeks, it becomes unplayable. Movielink gives you 30 days to watch a rental.

With both services, you have to watch a rental within 24 hours of when it starts playing or else pay more to unlock it again.

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Seattle in 3-D looks sunny, even today

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:16 PM

Microsoft is unveiling an upgrade to its online mapping service called Virtual Earth 3D, which offers three-dimensional models of metropolitan areas. The service can be accessed through Microsoft's Live Search, at http://live.com, and shows users three-dimensional maps of 15 cities, including Seattle.


MICROSOFT
A view of Seattle on Microsoft VirtualEarth 3D mapping service.

It doesn't look like the upgrade is available yet, though; the site promises "a new dimension in search" Nov. 7. From the demonstration of the service I saw recently, you can go there on days like today to remember what Seattle looks like when the sun is out.

You can "fly" around the city, zooming in to see a pretty good level of detail. But don't hit that Coca-Cola billboard flashing atop Qwest Field.


MICROSOFT
It's much soggier today, but here's a VirtualEarth view of Qwest Field.

Yep, the maps will have virtual billboards positioned on the tops of buildings and in other places. Microsoft intends to sell advertising for those billboards, and will mostly be tapping into the advertising network created by Massive, the company it acquired earlier this year that is selling ad placement in video games.

Oh, and if you're keeping score, Windows Live Local is now being called Windows Live Search Maps. Windows Live changes names more often than Sean Combs.

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Vodafone picks top OSs

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:33 PM

The wireless industry has been waiting for this moment for a while -- when Vodafone, one of the largest operators in the world, picks the operating systems it wants for its phones of the future.

Today, Vodafone announced that the Microsoft Windows Mobile platform will be one of three it will support. The other two are Symbian's Series 60 and Linux. The transition from using homegrown cellphone operating systems to standard operating systems will occur over the next five years, Vodafone said.

The first device to use the Windows software under the agreement is one to be made with Samsung and is expected to launch in the first half of 2007.

The news is a big win for Microsoft, which has taken a long time to get traction in the mobile phone market. I wrote about the move to more intelligent operating systems on the mobile phone in April.

Other carriers are expected to follow Vodafone in making these types of decisions. Already, NTT DoCoMo, a Japanese wireless carrier often considered a trendsetter, has said so far that it is supportinng two operating systems: Symbian and Linux.

In February, I spoke to Peter Day, Vodafone's senior manager of data propositions, about Microsoft at 3GSM, a world-wide mobile phone conference in Barcelona.

He said Vodafone started to work with Microsoft only a year earlier.
The industry has taken awhile to warm up to the software giant. Many carriers are concerned that Microsoft wants to own the mobile market the way it grew to control the PC market. Day said operators don't want to be a "dumb" communications pipe. Carriers want to be service providers, too.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at 3GSM in February that he company was willing to cooperate, not dominate.

"Operators have been worried about Microsoft wanting in," Day said. "If Microsoft had the relationships, what does that leave for us?"

Apparently, the message worked if Vodafone is now adopting the Windows Mobile platform.

For more on how Microsoft has entered the mobile phone market, see today's story on its close relationship with handset manufacturer HTC.

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November 3, 2006

So 10 minutes ago: A review of the week of Oct. 29

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 3:33 PM

Tech news
The big news of the week came in our own back yard -- though it was announced in San Francisco -- when Microsoft and Novell said they had reached an agreement that crossed the divide between Windows and Linux. Ben Romano reported on the complexity of the agreement. And Brier Dudley made sense of it, including a priceless quote from the Linux man himself, Linus Torvalds.

Microsoft
Speaking of Microsoft, the cognoscenti's fixation on Vista dates has been just a little shy of a working guy's attention on the clock before the 5 o'clock whistle. Yes, we've participated in the madness, too. Well, clarity appeared this week, in a backhanded sort of way, when the company invited media to the Nov. 30 business launch of Vista in New York. Can't wait. Really.

More Microsoft
One date established, another pushed off: Kim Peterson reports that production of the much ballyhooed movie version of "Halo" has been postponed after two studios backed out. Microsoft said it still intends for the movie of the popular Xbox game to be made, with filmmaker Peter Jackson to be an executive producer.

Icos
The big news about the maker of Cialis came several weeks ago when Eli Lilly said it was taking over Icos in a $2.1 billion deal. The aftermath is turning out to be as, if not more, interesting. Luke Timmerman reported a few days later that the deal showers lucrative bonuses on top Icos execs. Now, this week, a hedge fund with a sizable stake in the company said it will fight the sale, contending the price was too low.

InfoSpace
Just four months ago, InfoSpace said it was banking on the wireless business for its future. How the loss of one major customer can change things. This week, in announcing its third quarter financial results, indicated it was reversing course. As Tricia Duryee reports, it is doing a virtual 180 on wireless that could match a move by skateboarder Tony Hawk, whom InfoSpace had signed on a couple months ago as part of that big wireless push.

Quote of the week
We liked it so much that we'll repeat what the man behind Linux had to say:

"It's not as if everybody suddenly has started trusting Microsoft, so I suspect the debate over whether this is Microsoft cozying up to people in order to more easily slit their throats in the night will go on for some time. But, hey, quite frankly, at least as far as I'm personally concerned, if we can all just sit and hold hands by the campfire and sing 'Kumbaya,' why not? No need to try to see monsters in the night if people really are trying to be friendly."
-- Linus Torvalds on the Microsoft-Novell agreement

If you missed it
Before Charles Simonyi headed for more space training, he sat down for a wide-ranging conversation with Brier Dudley in which he talked about his interest in space, his relationship with Martha Stewart and how his new company is trying to change computer programming.

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"Halo" is the biggest industry franchise?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:24 PM

Microsoft's Shane Kim says the company's "Halo" series is "arguably the biggest franchise in our industry today."

Say what?

I'd like to see the numbers backing that up. I'd argue the title would more likely go to Nintendo's Mario (which has appeared in some 77 games) franchise, Nintendo's Zelda franchise or even perhaps the top-selling "Grand Theft Auto" series.

"Halo" is huge, no doubt about it. Not huge enough to get a movie through production, apparently, but a formidable rock of the industry. Perhaps "Halo 3," when it comes out in 2007, could cement the franchise in the top spot, but until then I need more evidence to believe Kim's remarks.

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Amazon's the cover story on BusinessWeek

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:30 PM

BusinessWeek takes an in-depth look at Amazon.com's new technology initiatives and sits down with CEO Jeff Bezos in a cover story out this week:

Bezos wants Amazon to run your business, at least the messy technical and logistical parts of it, using those same technologies and operations that power his $10 billion online store. In the process, Bezos aims to transform Amazon into a kind of 21st century digital utility.

It's a good story, looking at Amazon's attempts to create a brand-new business even as its tried-and-true online retail business is slightly stumbling.

Also, MarketWatch columnist Chuck Jaffe calls Amazon the stupid investment of the week.

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Ballmer, Gates called to testify in Iowa

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:26 PM

An Iowa judge presiding over a class-action antitrust suit against Microsoft wants to hear directly from Microsoft's top two leaders, Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer.

A jury hearing the suit seeking $450 million for Iowans who bought Microsoft software is set to begin Nov. 13.

From The Associated Press:

Polk County District Judge Scott Rosenberg said the request by plaintiffs' attorney Roxanne Conlin to have Gates and Ballmer appear in person was not unreasonable.
"The requested witnesses are in important decision-making positions for the defendant," he wrote in an opinion dated Thursday. "The jury should be allowed to view them live during both parties' case presentation to observe their demeanor and help the jury to assess their credibility. This method of questioning by both parties will make the witnesses' interrogation and presentation effective for the ascertainment of the truth."
[Microsoft attorney Rich] Wallis said the two executives had planned on appearing at the trial and the motion seeking a judge's order was unnecessary.
"She was going to have the opportunity to ask any questions she wanted of Bill and Steve when they came to Iowa as part of our case," Wallis said. "I think she wanted to call them first in her case and asked the judge permission to do so."

Update: A Microsoft spokesman said the last time Gates testified in person was in 2002 during the remedy phase of the big antitrust case. Ballmer has never taken the stand in an antitrust case. The spokesman also noted that in the Iowa case, the two executives were already on Microsoft's witness list, submitted Sept. 22. The judge's order is about when during the trial they will appear.

Here's coverage of Gates' performance on the stand in 2002. See direct excerpts here.

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MSN Music death watch

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:41 AM

The future of MSN Music has been in question since Microsoft said it would build a music ecosystem around its Zune products, the first of which is due out on Nov. 14.

Today, MSN Music posted a note on its customer service page saying that it will no longer sell music downloads starting on Nov. 14. The "buy" button that previously sold music for MSN will change to links that allow users to choose between the Zune Marketplace and RealNetworks' Rhapsody.

Why Rhapsody? This is probably tied to the antitrust settlement between Microsoft and RealNetworks, in which Microsoft said it would do more to promote its one-time rival's products.

What about the songs people bought on MSN Music previously? It doesn't look like they'll be able to use them with Zune, according to this site. The songs will work with devices that use the PlaysForSure digital rights system, but Zune isn't a part of that.

Sounds like MSN Music will still exist as a promotional site, and will feature music, videos and music-related news. But Microsoft probably won't pay much attention to it moving forward.

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November 2, 2006

WSJ smacks down BillMonk and other news

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:49 AM

--The Wall Street Journal has some not-so-nice things to say about Seattle's BillMonk in its profile today of blogger Michael Arrington:

Some of the companies Mr. Arrington writes about are tiny and have questionable business models, like BillMonk, a company owned by Code Monks LLC that lets people use its online service to settle small debts between friends -- free of charge. The site may soon impose a small fee for fund transfers, though, and BillMonk co-founder Guarav Oberoi says he's confident the site will be successful. Mr. Arrington concedes he gets pitched about some "heroically dumb stuff," but he says many companies "deserve their moment in the limelight."

-- The Electronics Entertainment Expo has been significantly scaled down for next year to a smaller and more intimate video game trade show. But a second show just announced today promises to revive blustery theatrics of E3 next October. Organizers of the GamePro Expo show are predicting it will draw 30,000 attendees to Los Angeles -- that's about half of E3's attendance.

-- A new phrase, "Web science," enters the techie lexicon today with an announcement from MIT and a U.K. university that they plan to begin researching the field. The research will be led by Tim Berners-Lee, widely credited with creating the Web's basic infrastructure.
Web science will try to study the big picture of the Web, including social networks and the way people behave on the Web.

-- Mobile madness: Google upgrades its Gmail service for wireless phones, and YouTube says it wants to launch a service for mobile devices within a year.

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Microsoft out of China? Yeah, right.

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:01 AM

Clearly Chinese censorship is a thorn in the company's side, even to the point of raising the issue with visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao in Seattle, but suggesting that means a pull out from China makes no sense.

Comments by a Microsoft lawyer in a BBC article today created a flurry of speculation over the company's plans.

The article quoted Fred Tipson, senior policy counsel, as saying the repressive environment might force the company to reconsider its business in China.

"Things are getting bad ... and perhaps we have to look again at our presence there," he was quoted as saying. "We have to decide if the persecuting of bloggers reaches a point that it's unacceptable to do business there."

It seems more a matter of posturing. Reading between the lines, the warning seems designed to show critics that the company has some backbone and signal to U.S. policy makers that imposing some regulation on doing business in China might not be a bad thing.

The company is finally starting to make headway there on another huge thorn in its side: lack of intellectual property protection. This week Microsoft signed a deal to license IP (fifth item) developed by its researchers in Beijing to two Chinese companies.

Perhaps patience and pressure will pay off on the censorship issue, too.

Tipson said later: "The Internet is transforming the political culture of China. There is no question about it."

Update: Microsoft issued a statement today saying Tipson's remarks were misconstrued: "Microsoft will continue to offer services and communication tools in China. Contrary to an inaccurate press account of Microsoft comments at the Internet Governance Forum, we are not considering the suspension of our Internet services in China.

"On the contrary, we believe it is better for customers if Microsoft is present in global markets with these tools and services that can not only promote greater communication, but can also help foster economic opportunity and societal advancement."

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What's Steve gonna say? Linux love...

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:28 AM

Update: The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the situation, is reporting that the big announcement coming this afternoon is that Microsoft will partner with Novell to support the Suse Linux operating system, a direct competitor to Windows.

The Journal's story (subscription required) goes on to say, "The two companies have also agreed to develop technologies to make it easier for users to run both Suse Linux and Microsoft's Windows on their computers."

Original post:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is scheduled to make an announcement of some kind this afternoon at 2 p.m. He'll be in San Francisco. We'll be on the line and will post an update posthaste.

Microsoft will Webcast it here, as well.

So, what's he gonna say? Well, we already know that Vista and Office 2007 are going out to businesses on Nov. 30. Maybe he'll repeat that for those of you who didn't hear it yesterday. Maybe he'll answer that other lingering question: When in January will Microsoft make these two big products available to the rest of us?

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November 1, 2006

Citizen of the year

Posted by Kristi Heim at 3:02 PM

Bill Clapp has spent plenty of time on top of the world, but now his mission is to serve those on the bottom. An avid pilot and local business leader, Clapp is co-founder of both Global Partnerships and the Initiative for Global Development.


Betty Udesen / Seattle Times
Bill Clapp is being recognized for his philanthropic work.

He has advocated extending basic financial services to the world's poorest people. Earlier this year, I talked with him about the state of microcredit, or giving small loans to help mostly poor women in developing countries to build businesses.

Clapp, the great-grandson of Weyerhaeuser co-founder Matthew Norton, retired from his family's investment company in 2001 to focus on philanthropy. He mentioned a trip to El Salvador 11 years ago that changed his life. "If you meet the poor in their own homes, you are forever transformed," he said. Seeing the hard work and potential of a poor family to rise above miserable circumstances promotes "a greater understanding of the human spirit," he said. "The truth is they are battling and they are inspiring us every day."

Clapp has obviously inspired a few people, too. Today he is being honored by the World Affairs Council as the 2006 World Citizen for "his commitment to internationalism through his work in the field of alleviating poverty."

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Pure Networks gets Symantec to sell its products

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:34 PM

Seattle's Pure Networks, which makes home networking software, has nabbed a big sales partner in Symantec. The security software company said it will sell Pure Networks' Network Magic software to its users.

Network Magic helps people set up and maintain their home networks as well as keep them secure, according to Pure Networks.

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Tricia Duryee
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