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January 31, 2007

Gates error message on Comedy Central

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:38 AM

Jon Stewart did a hilarious follow up Tuesday night to Bill Gates' Monday appearance on "The Daily Show" to tout Windows Vista.

"If you watched our program last night, our guest was Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and I don't know if you noticed, but he left in a bit of a hurry," Stewart said.

Then he rolled the tape from Monday night:

Stewart: "Thank you very much for joining us. We really do appreciate it."

Gates, shaking hands with Stewart and standing up to go: "Great to be here."

Stewart, as Gates walks off stage: "Bill Gates, Windows Vista on sale -- uh, he's leaving! He can't just leave!"

During Tuesday's show, Stewart explained what really happened: "What's interesting is, that is the cleaned-up version that we did for television. Here is what actually happened in the studio."

He rolled the same footage of Gates' exit Monday, and just as Gates is walking away, an Internet Explorer dialog box pops up on the screen and the tape stops. Here's what the box says:

"Bill Gates has encountered a problem and needs to leave. We are sorry for the inconvenience. If you were in the middle of something, the information you were working on might be lost. Please tell Microsoft about this problem. We have created an error report that you can send to help us improve Bill Gates. We will treat this report as confidential and anonymous. To see what data this report contains, click here."

At the bottom of the dialog box, there are three choices: Debug; Send error report to wife; Don't send.

You can view the brief segment here, after enduring an advertisement.

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Gates' charity burnishes Microsoft's reputation

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:27 AM

Microsoft has the best corporate reputation in America, according to a survey by Harris Interactive and The Wall Street Journal.

The Redmond company beat Johnson & Johnson, leaping up six places to grab the top spot. The consumer-products and pharmaceuticals company had held the top spot for seven straight years.

An article in today's Journal (subscription required) reporting the survey results, credited Microsoft's consistent financial performance and industry leadership, but also gave a big nod to the way Bill Gates, co-founder and chairman, is spending his profits.

"The involvement of Bill Gates and his wife in their charitable foundation has had a definite impact on Microsoft's reputation," Enriqueta Lopez Ramos, a survey respondent and retired university professor in San Benito, Texas, says in the article. "It's hard to separate Bill Gates's image from that of Microsoft; to me, they're one and the same."

Microsoft rose to the top of a fairly dismal stack. The article reported that in general Americans find their corporations repugnant: "About 69% of respondents graded corporate America's reputation as either 'not good' or 'terrible,' just slightly lower than the 71% in 2005."

Here's how the rankings were calculated:

To compile the ranking, Harris Interactive conducted the Reputation Quotient survey in two phases. For the first part, 7,886 respondents were contacted online or by telephone last summer and asked to name the two companies they believe have the best reputations and the two with the worst. The 60 companies mentioned most often were then rated online last fall by a second group of 22,480 Americans, and each company was assigned a score and ranking based on those evaluations. The companies were rated on 20 attributes in six categories: financial performance, social responsibility, workplace environment, quality of products and services, vision and leadership, and emotional appeal.

How did other local and/or technology company's fare?
Google, No. 4
Sony, No. 8, No. 11 (it didn't make the list last year)
Intel, No. 16
Apple, No. 22
Dell, No. 23
IBM, No. 26
Boeing, No. 27
Starbucks, No. 28
Hewlett-Packard, No. 38

And guess who was at the bottom, with the worst reputation in corporate America: Halliburton.

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Melodeo hires a President of the United States

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 8:37 AM

Melodeo said today that it has hired Dave Dederer, the founding member of Seattle-based rock band The Presidents of the United States of America.

Dederer will join the Seattle company as the senior director of media content.

Dederer's job will be to incorporate more music into Melodeo's mobile podcasting and radio service called Mobilcast.

The Mobilcast service is currently available to 43 million wireless customers in North America and in the U.K. through deals with Cingular Wireless, Alltel Wireless, Rogers Wireless and British wireless operator 3.

"This is an extension of what I've tried to do as a musician, which is to help people tap into the transformative power of music," said Dederer. "Mobilcast is a great platform for enabling people to access music they already love and to discover new music. I'm thrilled at this opportunity."

Dederer has always shown an interest in using new technology to promote the band. Previously, The Presidents had hooked up with now defunct Seattle-based Dwango Wireless to sell ringtones through Dwango's partnership with Rolling Stone magazine.

"There was very little money involved," Dederer said, but the relationship got The Presidents a valuable full-page ad in Rolling Stone a couple of issues back. "I'm all for it," he said.

Jim Billmaier, Melodeo CEO, said he thinks Dederer will bring a lot to the table.

"He has a tremendous base of experience and contacts from many years of running the Presidents' business, and those will be assets to Melodeo as we look to expand the music content offered in Mobilcast."

Check out a podcast that Dederer created based on his recent hiring here.

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January 30, 2007

Happy birthday to us

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 1:52 PM

If you look into the archives of Tech Tracks (see the panel on the right), you'll find that the earliest posting occurred Jan. 30, 2006. It was an item by Kristi Heim on online censorship in China.

That was nearly 1,200 posts ago.

By our count, in the past year, our technology team has written 1,178 posts, nearly 100 a month. In a sheer quantitative sense we've succeeded, I think, in presenting you with more news, information and analysis than we ever have.

As with a lot of what we cover, Tech Tracks is a work in progress. It may not be obvious from a day-to-day perspective, but there's been a lot of experimenting going on here -- in subject matter, in producing online material and in writing styles, especially in what we somewhat pretentiously call "voice."

It's not surprising that what we write about most is Microsoft and wireless technologies, the two pillars of Seattle's tech industry. But another area that commands our attention has been digital technology. Seattle tech is turning into a three-legged stool.

One major reason we started Tech Tracks was to get immediate and ongoing reader feedback to what we do. That has been slower to develop, but of late we've seen more online conversations surrounding items here through the Comment button. Keep it up. We really do want to hear from you and engage with you.

The bottom line is the first year has been illuminating and interesting. And where we head in this next year is, at the outset, as intriguing as things were last Jan. 30. The newspaper industry, as we are reminded everyday, is undergoing transformation. Tech Tracks is one tiny part of that change -- and a part that's forward-looking.

Meanwhile, we look forward to giving you more tech things to read about and think about over the next 1,200 posts. We hope to hear from you.

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Demo 07: Local companies to watch

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:05 PM

Today, I wrote about the four Seattle-area companies attending the Demo 07 show this week in Palm Desert, Calif. The show is a way for companies that are just launching or revealing new products to get in front of an influential crowd of journalists and investors.

The companies from the Seattle area are Yodio, Mixpo, Trailfire and EyeJot.

David Geller, the co-founder and chief executive at EyeJot, was hoping to get some high-profile publicity for his new video email product.

I think he got it.

The WSJ wrote about the show today, featuring EyeJot high up in the story. It even included a screenshot of Geller giving a video message.

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January 29, 2007

Vista launch: First buyer an All Black?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:12 PM

NEW YORK -- We knew the first buyer of Vista would likely be in New Zealand or Australia because it was Jan. 30 there first. But Steve Ballmer let us know something a bit curious about that first sale.

"We've hit the ground running, starting with a first copy of the product," he told the launch party crowd. "I know we had one delivered in New Zealand to one of the members of the famous New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks."

Hmmm. Who else on Microsoft's executive team has a connection to the All Blacks? That would be Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell. This from his company bio: "He has completed a number of triathlons and served as both governor of the New Zealand Sports Foundation and director of the New Zealand Rugby Union." He's even got a framed All Blacks jersey in his Redmond office, according to this story.

Alas, I've just been informed by a Microsoft PR guy that there's no connection between Liddell and that first sale. "Only metaphysical," Liddell said, according to the PR guy.

I happened to ask Liddell about his plans for the launch last week during an interview before Microsoft's second quarter earnings conference call.

Q: Is there any participation on the part of the company's CFO on some of this stuff? Are you going to be out somewhere?

Liddell: I have a secondary role. I'm going to New York with Bill and Steve so I'm planning on being part of that, but no, they keep me away from most of these events.

Q: They didn't even want to send you down to New Zealand?

Liddell: (laughs) ... Kevin Johnson who runs our platforms division is in Australia and we're launching there and we do have a lot of our senior executives going right around the world, but no I went for New York, not New Zealand.

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Vista launch: Family pushes the button

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:53 PM

NEW YORK -- Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer took the stage pitching Vista as easier, safer, more entertaining and better to keep you connected. The rock music boomed, courtesy of Angels and Airways, a band that's playing now and seems to be the official musical entertainment of the Vista launch.

When time came to flip the switch -- or in this case, press the Vista logo on a touch-screen PC -- it wasn't the crew of PC industry bigwigs that Gates and Ballmer marched on stage to thank and give mounted copies of Vista and Office.

In keeping with the "wow, thanks a million" theme, the honor of launching Vista went to the Regan family of Germantown, Md., one of the 50 "Vista Families" who have been playing with Vista and giving Microsoft lots of feedback for the past two years.

Here's a profile of the Regans from ABC News. Gates handed the family a signed copy of Windows Vista Ultimate. Then the three blond children of Chris and Melissa Regan counted down with Ballmer and touched the button.

After that, several of the giant electronic screens in Times Square lit up with a host of Vista and Office logos. (And the glitched-out Toys R Us sign I spotted earlier today had been fixed.)

A video showed images from around the world, including a fireworks display in Seattle, which readers of this blog are probably better equipped to report on than I am. Couldn't tell from the video feed I saw where exactly the fireworks were going off.

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Vista launch: The wow starts at the bar

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:15 PM

NEW YORK -- Here in the world of perhaps the biggest Microsoft product launch ever, you wait on line in the bitter cold and biting wind to get into the Nokia Theater on Times Square. ("How come this isn't like the XP launch in the summertime? " asked one reporter.) It was renamed the Windows Vista Theater for today's purposes ... can't be celebrating in a space named for a competitor.

Don't get confused and get in line for MTV's "Total Request Live" by mistake.

If you're registered ahead, you get to cut to the front. Then you walk past the bomb-sniffing dog and ride a long escalator into a frenetic basement maze of product logos, free drinks and thumping music, all bathed in a futuristic Vista blue light and the glow of digital video displays.

The wow starts at the bar -- or bars. The seafood bar was particularly impressive. Crab and lobster claws, oyster shooters, jumbo shrimp. Over there are the pan-fried artichokes in saffron with curry mayonnaise. At least three full bars stocked with premium booze and eager servers. Even in the claustrophobic press room a waitress asks to bring you a drink. I'm still on deadline. It takes will power.

Now things are getting going with a group of drummers taking the stage to rev up the crowd for what promises to be a revved-up presentation from Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

How many people are here? Not sure. But the sign on the wall said the place can hold 3,212.

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New Clearwire exec

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:18 AM

Kirkland-based Clearwire, which is building advanced wireless broadband networks called WiMax, has named Scott Richardson as the company's new chief strategy officer.

Richardson previously served as vice president of Intel's Mobility Group, where he led Intel's wireless broadband efforts from the start and was responsible for the company's development of WiMax chips for equipment and devices.

I caught up with Richardson at WiMax World in Boston late last year. I asked him at the time how WiMax will differ from Wi-Fi or 3G, which provides broadband speeds wirelessly over cellular networks.

His response: Wi-Fi is not everywhere and 3G is too expensive.

He said the 3G market is mostly corporate, whereas WiMax will be aimed at the consumer. "The cost [of 3G technology] is significantly higher than Wi-Fi, which prevents mass adoption by consumers," Richardson said.

How cheap?

He said Intel's goal was to make one chip with both Wi-Fi and WiMax capabilities for $20 each. At that price, it can easily be tacked on to a laptop or consumer device.

During Richardson's 19 years at Intel he held a variety of positions, including general manager of Intel's OEM communication systems business, serving the networking and communications market, and positions in the company's Enterprise Server Group. He received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Clarkson University in New York.

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Negative five?

Posted by Monica Soto at 11:14 AM today announced a special promotion for its new shoe and handbag store: a negative $5 for overnight shipping on all orders placed through the end of February.

The online retailer opened in early January, marking its first stand-alone U.S. retail site started from scratch.

Already, the site includes the unique (and expensive) feature of free overnight shipping on all its 250 brands and 15,000 styles for men, women and children.

But a negative five? Let's hope its coffers are as endless as its selection.

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Vista launch: In search of Vista billboards

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:31 AM

In search of Vista billboards, I took a stroll through Times Square on the way to a hotel where Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates are holding court with media today. I didn't immediately spot any Vista signs, but I did see tourists taking pictures of this:


Oops! We need a reboot on this Toys R Us sign. Quick!

That was at about 9:30 eastern time. Someone better get that fixed before hundreds of Microsoft's invited guests starting pouring into Times Square this afternoon for the Vista launch party.

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Vista launch: Ad Age reports goal of 6.6 billion impressions

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:04 AM

NEW YORK -- There's an impulse here to report every last detail of Microsoft's marketing efforts around Vista and Office 2007, which go on sale tomorrow and are being touted to the moon today.

This story from Advertising Age looks at the marketing strategy and notes a few interesting statistics: Microsoft is aiming to get 6.6 billion Vista impressions over the first few months of the campaign. The campaign is estimated to cost $500 million. That detail is not attributed to anyone in particular and Microsoft isn't saying how much it plans to spend on launching Vista and Office. In 2001, Microsoft reportedly spent about $200 million on a four-month marketing campaign for Windows XP, Vista's predecessor.

Television spots airing with the Vista campaign are borrowing from cultural milestones such as Woodstock, a rocket launch in the '60s, and the fall of the Berlin Wall -- all pitched as wow moments.

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Vista launch: Gates bites into Apple in the Big Apple

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 5:50 AM

NEW YORK -- Bill Gates appeared live on NBC's "Today" show this morning in the opening salvo of a marketing blitz for Windows Vista and Office 2007. Here's coverage of Microsoft's plans both here and abroad.

The chairman's conversation with "Today" co-host Meredith Vieira included some choice exchanges.

She started the "exclusive" segment with this chestnut: "You might say it's a Microsoft world and we're just living in it." That was followed by a look first at Apple's resurgence with lots of fawning shots of Steve Jobs talking about movie downloads and some barbs by way of the "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" commercials.

During the interview, she asked him about competition with Apple.

Vieira: Microsoft, obviously developing this product, the response from Apple has been copy cat, copy cat. How much pressure have you felt to compete with Apple?
Gates: Well, Windows PCs are over 90 percent of what people use because that's where you find way more choices in hardware, lower prices, better competition and way more applications. The great games are all there, the great software advances are all there, and that's why we've been so successful.
We have a lot of innovations that move way ahead of anything Apple's done. You know we love the competition, but people oughta keep in mind that Windows is one of the biggest investments, the biggest set of partners on it and that's why it's always been the best choice.

Apple fans, any response?

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January 26, 2007

One billion shipped in 2006

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:43 AM

Last year, cellphone makers shipped more than 1 billion handsets for the first time, according to technology research firm IDC.

IDC reported that vendors shipped 1.019 billion units in 2006, or 23 percent more than the 832.8 million units shipped in 2005.

Nokia remained the largest handset manufacturer, followed by Motorola and Samsung. Sony Ericsson vaulted to the No. 4 spot, leaping over LG.

A strong fourth quarter drove the record shipments, according to an AP story of the report. During the period, a total of 1.02 billion phones were shipped, an increase of 22.5 percent from the 2005 tally of 833 million units.

However, profit margins dipped as handsets to emerging markets became a larger percentage of overall sales.

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Thursday's news roundup

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:05 AM

In case you missed it, several things of note happened Thursday -- InfoSpace sold a mobile games division, T-Mobile was awarded with J.D. Power's awards for customer satisfaction and DocuSign said it has hired a new CEO.

As part of InfoSpace's ongoing reorganization, it said Thursday that Twistbox Entertainment has acquired all of the assets of its U.S.-based mobile games studio located in San Mateo, Calif.

The division, formerly known as Atlas Mobile, made games that users play for a chance to win prizes. The companies said the studio will be fully integrated into Twistbox Games, headquartered in Dortmund, Germany, with studios in Germany, Poland and the U.S.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. However, according to documents filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission, InfoSpace originally acquired Atlas Mobile on July 1, 2004 for $6.3 million in cash, plus acquisition costs.

Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA said Thursday that J.D. Power and Associates recognized the carrier as providing the best customer service in the wireless industry for the fifth consecutive reporting period.

It was recognized for having the best overall customer care performance for scoring highest in its voice-automated system; in having better than the industry average in hold time of 2 minutes or less; and for scoring high at the retail level.

Seattle-based DocuSign, which develops electronic signature services, announced Thursday that it has named Matthew Schiltz president and chief executive.

Previously, he held positions at General Software, CourtLink, OneComm and StatSci/Insightful.

DocuSign co-founder and previous CEO Court Lorenzini will continue at DocuSign as executive vice president of business development, focusing on strategic business relationships.

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January 25, 2007

Shaun Alexander to hawk Vista at Best Buy

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:29 PM

More of Microsoft's marketing plans for the launch of Windows Vista next week are coming together. On Tuesday, the day the software officially becomes available to the masses, Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander will show up at the Best Buy on 120th Avenue Northeast in Bellevue, along with plenty of Microsoft guys.

But the coverboy of the "Madden 07 NFL" video game -- a top-selling title on Microsoft's Xbox 360, as well as competing consoles -- appears to be taking a back seat to NBA star LeBron James when it comes to selling Vista.

On Monday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will be a busy guy, not surprisingly. In addition to an appearance on "The Daily Show", he'll be chatting in the morning with NBC's Today show.

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InCode's 2007 wireless predictions

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:01 AM

InCode, a technology consulting firm owned by VeriSign, released its Top 10 Global Wireless Predictions for 2007 today.

Although the list attempts to identify the emerging wireless trends. the 2007 predictions are not shocking, but are based on a lot of talk in 2006 coming true in the new year.

Here are some:

-- Social networking will become more mobile. In many cases, that already has happened with MySpace, Facebook and others launching mobile initiatives. But in 2007, inCode predicts that there will become a location component added -- users will be able to find friends and events in close proximity to them.

-- Mobile TV will start to become available. Verizon Wireless already has launched broadcast TV with Qualcomm's MediaFlo. Other operators are expected to join the mix soon. InCode thinks wireless users are unlikely to plunk down a monthly subscription for the service, but will instead pay per view, also called "sneaking."

-- Mobile advertising will break loose. This is another item that seems to be fairly predictable after being the subject of extensive discussion in 2006. inCode said that the technoligical ability to target and measure the effectiveness of mobile advertising will be attractive to big brands.

There were predictions that were less obvious: The price of handsets will fall. InCode said Intense competition and margin pressure will force prices of high speed, or third-generation handsets below $90, making them affordable for a wide range of users. The $90 price point is the cost to the carrier. Bengt Nordström, inCode's vice president and chief strategy officer, said that price was about $170 in 2006.

And something not a prediction, but listed as something on inCode's wish list, is probably a favorite among all users: Go back to basics. InCode said that wireless operators need to get things right, such as battery life, coverage holes, E911 access, and confusing bills and frustrating customer service.

One last category I'd like to add are things that didn't make the list of 2007 predictions:

-- WiMax: "It was in the top 20 list or something," Nordström said. "Our assessment, is that it's very important, especially in the US, but 2007 is not the breakthrough year. It will be in the 2008 predictions."

-- The iPhone. Nordström said the phone came out after the predictions were set, and that since the phone won't come out for another six months, it may be too early to speculate about it. "It all comes down to when we actually see it in hand, and see how it functions and so forth. I think they are brave, breaking with the convention on what a phone should look like," Nordstrom said.

For the company's previous predictions, go here.

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January 24, 2007

Vidiator gains Hong Kong customer

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:32 PM

Bellevue-based Vidiator said today that PCCW mobile, one of the largest wireless operators in Hong Kong, will be using its platform to deliver streaming music to its subscribers.

The service is based on Vidiator's Xenon Music platform, and will be called "MOOV on mobile."

"MOOV on mobile" is a monthly subscription service, where customers pay for access to streaming music.

The Vidiator service will include features such as encoding and streaming capabilities, intensive billing and authorization interfaces, and personal playlists with loop, shuffle and fast track switching.

This is the second local company to announce a mobile music service in Asia this week.

Yesterday, Seattle-based Melodeo announced that they are working with Warner Music Group and Sony BMG Music through a joint venture in China to distribute music and other content over mobile phones.

As part of the partnership, the two record labels invested about $2 million in Access China Media Solutions, a joint venture between Melodeo and Access, a Tokyo-based technology company.

The companies said the partnership has been formed to make it easer to sell music in China, where piracy has been a problem. They added that mobile phones are inherently more secure and feature a built-in payment system.

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Cingular (AT&T) breaks records

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:09 AM

Cingular Wireless, now solely owned by AT&T, reported stellar fourth-quarter and year-end results today.

Cingular, which has been renamed AT&T, said it recorded a net income of $782 million for the fourth quarter, a year-over-year increase of more than 283 percent.

But what was more impressive was that it added 2.4 million customers during the period, setting a record for the company. In the year-ago period, it added 1.8 million subscribers, and 1.4 million in the third quarter. The company ended the year with 61 million wireless users, maintaining its No. 1 position in the U.S.

Also worth noting is the company's average revenue per user (ARPU), a commonly used metric in the industry.

During the quarter, the company increased ARPU to $49.29, or slightly more than the year-ago quarter. ARPU growth is attributable to the amount of revenue the company is collecting for data services, such as games, ringtones, mobile instant messaging, mobile email, photo messaging and media bundles.

Data ARPU increased to $7.19, a 53 percent jump from the year-ago period and a 14 percent increase over third quarter.

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Bill Gates to appear Monday on The Daily Show

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:14 AM

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will go on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" to promote Windows Vista on Monday, according to a schedule released by the show.

The parody news broadcast -- which has become a primary information source for a certain desirable American demographic -- airs at 11:00 p.m.

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Sticking with Windows XP?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:01 AM

Microsoft announced this morning extended support through 2014 for consumer versions of Windows XP, the operating system that Windows Vista will replace when it's released on Tuesday.

The extended support for Windows XP Home and Media Center editions does not affect the existing mainstream support period, which ends in April 2009. The change brings the consumer editions in line with Microsoft's support policy for Windows XP Professional and other products.

The differences between what's covered by mainstream and extended support are detailed here. Basically, you have to pay for more stuff during the extended support period.

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LeBron, aspiring to be world's richest man, partners with MSFT

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:51 AM

LeBron James, the 22-year-old NBA star, will help Microsoft promote Windows Vista, according to an Associated Press story.

He'll appear in commercials beginning Jan. 30, to coincide with the consumer launch of Vista.

There's a great nugget at the end of the story. James, in an earlier interview with The AP, said one of his primary goals was to "be the richest man in the world." So now he's hooking up with the company that is the source of Bill Gates' wealth. Gates, of course, is currently the world's richest man.

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January 23, 2007

Sprint is taking down the walls

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:26 PM

InfoWorld reported more details on Sprint's WiMax plans today from an industry event in San Jose.

At Wireless Communications Association Symposium, Atish Gude, Sprint's senior vice president of mobile broadband operations, said the business model for WiMax will differ from that of the cellular model.

So far, Sprint has said little about how the service will be tailored and priced, likely because test markets won't be ready until the end of the year.

Still, messages from the carrier sounds as if Sprint is aiming for an open model that will allow subscribers to go anywhere on the Internet. Right now, wireless carriers tend to take a "walled garden" approach, where users can access only certain services provided by the operator.

But the carrier still hasn't decided on how open WiMax will be. For instance, InfoWorld reported that it might make more sense to limit access on some hardware platforms, such as gaming devices without keyboards.

As for price, Sprint still hasn't worked out the details, but broadband Internet access is generally priced at $35 to $40 a month, and Sprint believes mobility could carry a premium of $10 to $15.

One subscription could cover multiple devices, but would require an additional fee. also noted that Sprint's download speeds will be 2 to 4 megabits per second, comparable to cable broadband.

Those speeds, prices and applications are much different than what Kirkland-based Clearwire currently is selling with its WiMax-like equipment. For starters, it is offering a stationary service for now that acts more as a broadband replacement. At around $37 a month, subscribers can get download speeds of about 1.5 Mbps.

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Google: No. 1 company to work for

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:21 AM

According to this month's Fortune magazine, employees ranked Google as the best company to work for.

The perks are epic: free shuttles equipped with Wi-Fi to pick up and drop off employees; annual all-expenses paid ski trip; climbing wall; onsite doctors, notaries and washer and dryers; onsite oil changes and car washes; lap pool and free gourmet meals.

The average salaries for both hourly and salary workers were not disclosed, but the cover of the magazine shows how ecstatic the employees are. A dozen or so are all lifting one particularly thrilled woman up in the air.

Here are the Washington state companies that made the list of 100 top companies to work for:

16. Starbucks: Ranked No. 29 last year. The average for a salary worker is $43,598, while hourly employees make an average of $35,797. Part-time employees are eligible for full benefits if they work 240 hours a quarter.

24. Nordstrom: Ranked No. 46 last year. Average for salary workers was $48,500. Hourly workers make $35,200. In 1988, people of color made up 24 percent of staff, and now it's 41 percent. In managerial ranks, 31 percent are people of color, and 72 percent are women.

27. REI: Ranked No. 9 last year. The average for salary workers is $87,519; hourly workers make $22,453. Last year it started offering health insurance to all part-timers.

30. Russell Investment Group: Ranked No. 63 last year. Salaries were not disclosed, but Russell has pumped 15 percent of pay into retirement accounts every year since 1975.

50. Microsoft: Ranked No. 42 last year. Average for salary employees is $118,500. Hourly workers make $52,560. New perks in 2006 included free grocery delivery, dry-cleaning service, valet parking. Annual summer picnic drew 30,000 employees and family members to the Cascades.

64. Perkins Coie: Ranked No. 48 last year. The average for salary workers is $142,027; hourly workers make $58,807. The law firm has anonymous happiness committees that roam through the office spreading cheer, often in the form of gifts left on desks.

Interesting that only one tech company from the state made the list. What perks would you want?

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January 22, 2007

Get a chance to ask the top Windows exec

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 4:15 PM

With the long-awaited Windows Vista becoming broadly available next week, we've landed a unique opportunity for readers. On Thursday, our columnist, Brier Dudley, will host a live Q&A with Jim Allchin, the longtime top Windows executive at Microsoft.

Allchin, who is retiring from Microsoft on Jan. 31, will answer your questions about Vista, its development and what it means for Microsoft. His live online appearance will be from 9 to 10 a.m. Thursday.

Meanwhile, you can ask questions ahead of time at this link.

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Symbian's take on iPhone and more

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:14 PM

A couple of weeks ago Symbian, the London company that makes mobile phone operating systems for Nokia and others, announced that it had released a new development tool that makes moving standard PC code over to the mobile phone much easier.

The announcement uses a lot of technical jargon -- P.I.P.S. (PIPS Is POSIX on Symbian) will enable C programmers to more easily migrate existing applications to Symbian OS by providing standard POSIX C APIs on Symbian OS.

But the announcement is more meaningful when put into context of what is going on in the broader wireless industry.

For one, Apple announced its iPhone two weeks ago, which introduces an Apple operating system into the mobile smartphone market. The leading operating systems to date include Symbian, RIM's BlackBerry, Palm and increasingly Microsoft's Windows Mobile 5.0.

The Apple phone will be more like the BlackBerry, which has a proprietary operating system, meaning developers must specifically write applications for it. Symbian and Windows take a different approach and have much larger development communities.

Jerry Panagrossi, Symbian's vice president for U.S. operations, shared his thoughts on the importance of having an open platform in an interview with me late last week:

Since the sale of its first phone in 1999, it's been essential to have an open platform to foster innovation. If you look at the range of applications available on the Symbian OS, you can see as the result of our openness policy.

Panagrossi said the iPhone's announcement benefits all because it helps build awareness of the smartphone category. He said Symbian estimates that more than half of mobile phones sold in developed countries within the next five years will be smartphones.

"The benefit of having the announcement is that there's greater attention to the smartphone segment in general," he said.

Pangrossi also offered this critique of the iPhone:

The way plans are set up in the U.S. is that there is an expectation that the phones will be free or low cost phone when you sign up for a subscription. That makes a $500 phone with with a service plan a bit odd -- almost unheard of. It's a completely new high-tier category that we have not see in the past.

UPDATE: Panagrossi wanted to clarify his statement on the iPhone to emphasize that the cost was high compared to other phones out there.

He said: "The way plans are set up in the U.S. is that there is an expectation that the phones will be free or low cost when you sign up for a subscription. That makes a $500, 2.5G, feature phone with a closed operating system sold through a mobile operator with a service plan a bit odd -- almost unheard of. It's a completely new high-tier, feature phone category that we have not seen in the past."

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Venture capital investing 2006

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:26 PM

Today, I wrote about the report released by VentureOne and Ernst & Young that details the level of investment activity in Washington and the U.S. during the fourth quarter and full year 2006.

I took the opportunity to talk to four VCs in the Seattle area to get their thoughts on a few questions. The questions revolved around user-generated content, how Seattle's expertise was shaping up, and whether a bubble started to develop last year.

The summary is that roughly 100 companies in Washington state raised about $1 billion in investment money, which is the most since 2001, the year after the height of the bubble. Here's more information in chart form .

I talked to Len Jordan of Frazier Technology Ventures; Chad Waite of OVP Venture Partners; Matt McIlwain of Madrona Venture Group; and Enrique Godreau of Voyager Capital shared their thoughts by phone and e-mail.

Here are their thoughts on whether there is a bubble:

-- "I wouldn't call it a bubble, but I think there's a bit of a mini-bubble." Len Jordan of Frazier Technology Ventures.

-- "If not the start of a bubble, we at least witnessed the building of a foundation for one." Enrique Godreau OF Voyager Capital.

-- "Yeah, I would say the mythical Web 2.0 garbage, as I call it, is a bubble." Chad Waite of OVP Venture Partners.

-- "There was more hype on the consumer Internet front in 2006, but no bubble." Matt McIlwain, Madrona Venture Group.

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The Linux Foundation

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:56 PM

The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and the Free Standards Group, two of the leading organizations promoting Linux, said today that they will merge to form The Linux Foundation.

The organization saidthat together they will speed the growth of Linux by providing a comprehensive set of services to compete effectively with closed platforms.

Founding members include Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Intel, NEC, Novell and Oracle. Other members include every major company in the Linux industry, including Red Hat, as well as community groups, universities and industry end users.

Jim Zemlin, former executive director of the Free Standards Group, will lead The Linux Foundation.

"Computing is entering a world dominated by two platforms: Linux and Windows. While being managed under one roof has given Windows some consistency, Linux offers freedom of choice, customization and flexibility without forcing customers into vendor lock-in," Zemlin said. "The Linux Foundation helps in the next stage of Linux growth by organizing the diverse companies and constituencies of the Linux ecosystem to promote, protect, and standardize Linux."

The Linux Foundation, which will have offices in Beaverton, Ore. and San Francisco, will continue to sponsor the work of Linux creator Linus Torvalds. Torvalds is a Portland resident, who our columnist, Brier Dudley, describes as a cult figure among computer enthusiasts worldwide.

Brier has written many stories on the rivalry of having Seattle be the hub for Microsoft's Windows and Portland the center for open source.

Here's also a Q&A he did with Torvalds.

Here's The New York Times' take on the deal.

So far, the consensus developing on the subject are that this will allow Linux to act more corporate to compete more effectively against Microsoft.

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InfoSpace: EMI lawsuit

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:05 PM

EMI, known for producing such artists as Beyonce, Fergie and Nelly Furtado, filed a lawsuit against Bellevue-based InfoSpace in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Jan. 11.

According to a Securities & Exchange Commission filing, EMI charges that InfoSpace breached two ringtone license agreements by underpaying royalties, fraudulently reporting the amount of royalties owed, and infringin EMI's copyrights by making unlicensed use of EMI's work.

EMI claims damages in excess of $10 million for the alleged breaches of contract, unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged fraud, and more than $100 million for alleged copyright infringement.

InfoSpace said the lawsuit is still in its initial stages, and it has just started to investigate the charges. But based on its knowledge to date, it says it believes that EMI's claims are without merit and intends to vigorously defend the suit.

Prior to the lawsuit, InfoSpace said in September that it lost its biggest ringtone customer -- Cingular Wireless. Instead of using InfoSpace, Cingular decided to create direct relationships with the music records.

There are more details on the suit in this story from The Hollywood Reporter.

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Colbert report on AT&T

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:50 AM

Stephen Colbert, the news comic from Comedy Central, "clarifies" the history of the AT&T brand while also getting across the significance of Cingular's name change in one of his nightly broadcasts.

I tried to do it justice here.

Watch Colbert's take here:

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January 19, 2007

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett pose with "beautiful Hooters girls"

Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:33 PM

Is this for real? Bill Gates and Warren Buffett posing with a bunch of busty women in tight white tank tops at Hooters? Hooters Restaurant posted this photo on its Web site with a news release proclaiming the world's two richest men can now eat for free at any of the chain's 435 restaurants. Like they really need free food.

Apparently the pair dined at a Kansas City, Kan., Hooters Oct. 20 along with members of Berkshire Hathaway's board of directors. Sorry, I'm just learning about it now thanks to Melissa Allison. Guess I just don't visit the Hooters Web site nearly often enough.

"The visit came at the request of Buffett so the group could pose for a Christmas Card photo with the chain's beautiful Hooters girls," the news release gushed.

You have to wonder who received that card. A great inspiration for all those girls around the world the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is trying to inspire through science and education, perhaps? Nice move. Money < brains

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Will Stanton sprint to this job?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:01 PM

Sprint Nextel CEO Gary Forsee has been searching unsuccessfully for a No. 2 executive to help him turn around the struggling cellphone company, the Wall Street Journal reported today.

In trying to fill the job, Sprint has approached Kevin Beebe, group president of operations at Alltel, former BellSouth COO Mark Feidler and even Ralph de la Vega, the former Cingular chief operating officer, who just took on the position of group president of regional wire-line operations at AT&T.

Reportedly, all said no.

So who does that leave on the list of people to ask?

The WSJ listed one name: John Stanton.

Stanton currently is a member of Alltel's board, a seat he gained after the regional carrier bought his company, Bellevue-based Western Wireless, in 2005.

Since the acquisition, Stanton has been investing, through Trilogy Equity Partners, some of the millions (about $500 million) he made on the sale of Western Wireless. He also considered a run for the Republican nomination for governor of Washington, but declined.

Turns out he's declining the No. 2 spot at Sprint, too.

"I am having fun with our new ventures and have absolutely no interest in the #2 job at Sprint," Stanton said in an e-mail to us.

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AT&T: more than a name change

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:18 PM

Now that AT&T has rebranded itself, it has two choices: to bundle services together, or to offer new services that go beyond consolidating four bills into one.

(The name change of Cingular Wireless to AT&T was debated some on this blog posting).

Today, the mega-company took a step closer in becoming the latter of those two. It unveiled a subscription service that will allow users to make free calls between its 100 million wireless and landline customers. When the customer has a wireless plan -- through the former Cingular -- and a wireline phone of certain values, they will be able to make and receive calls between the company's wireless network and its fixed-wire customers for no charge.

Many news organizations incorrectly stated that often consumers get free calling within a wireless network, but this is the first time free calls have been allowed between wireless and fixed networks.

In fact, Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA already offers a form of this. It provides free calling to five phone numbers, whether they are landline or wireless, through its myFaves offering.

"This is a very clever move because it is a value proposition to customers that is not simply about price." said Mark Winther, an analyst at IDC, a research firm in Framingham, Mass, who was quoted in a Bloomberg story. While wireless phone users may find cheaper plans, they won't find a free calling network as vast as AT&T's, he said.

Noteworthy: In addition, it's worth noting that Ralph de la Vega, who was previously Cingular's chief operating officer, is now AT&T's group president of regional wireline operations.

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WSA names 18 Industry Acheivement finalists

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:40 AM

Washington's technology trade group, WSA, today named 18 finalists for its Industry Achievement Awards.

They are:

Breakthrough Technology of the Year: BioPassword, Inrix, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Business Product of the Year: Attenex, Tableau Software, Twisted Pair Solutions
Consumer Product of the Year: Farecast, Logos Bible Software,
Service Provider of the Year: PTSO of Washington, SafeHarbor Technology, SolutionsIQ
Technology Innovator of the Year: Chris Diorio, chairman and CTO, Impinj; Bryan Mistele, president and CEO, Inrix; Rob Gilde, vice president of product development, Lockdown Networks
Best Use of Technology in the Government or Nonprofit: OPSCAN (Olympic Public Safety Communications Alliance Network), PTSO of Washington, Tacoma Goodwill

The winners will be announced March 21.

WSA is also introducing a Community's Choice Award. Beginning in February, the public can vote for a winner on the organization's Web site.

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January 18, 2007

Apple: still a hardware maker

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:05 PM

Questions have popped up about Apple's business model since it announced it will launch its own mobile phone in June.

Was the phone a way to generate more sales on iTunes (unlikely since initial reports suggest that users will be unable to buy songs through the phone)? Or is it in line with Apple's traditional model, where it makes most of its money off of hardware, like the iPod?

Today, iSuppli, a market intelligence firm, took a shot at answering that question.

It estimated that each Apple iPhone sold will generate nearly a 50 percent gross margin for Apple and partner Cingular Wireless, giving the companies a hefty profit. Said iSuppli analyst Andrew Rassweiler:

iSuppli estimates the 4Gbyte version of the Apple iPhone will carry a $229.85 hardware BoM (Bill of Materials) and manufacturing cost and a $245.83 total expense, yielding a 50.7 percent margin on each unit sold at the $499 retail price. Meanwhile, the 8GByte Apple iPhone will sport a $264.85 hardware cost and a $280.83 total expense, amounting to a 53.1 percent margin at the $599 retail price."

Perhaps that will lead to price cuts down the road?

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Cingular brand trumps AT&T

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:50 AM

Following the news that Cingular Wireless will be renamed AT&T, a study suggests that AT&T may have a hard time transferring the positive associations of Cingular Wireless to its age-old brand.

The study, performed by the Keller Fay Group which specializes in tracking and analyzing word-of-mouth marketing, was highlighted today in RCR Wireless.

According to Keller Fay's measurement program for word-of-mouth marketing, Cingular draws nearly four times more positive talk than AT&T. RCR Wireless wrote that in the telecom category, Cingular ranked second in what Keller Fay calls "Talkshare," or the percentage of people talking about the brand. Cingular claimed 19 percent of telecom conversations, and 19 percent of those conversations were positive. AT&T ranked last among telecom providers both in the percentage of people talking about the brand (7 percent) and in positive discussions (5 percent).

This sort of confirms what I was thinking -- AT&T is an earlier generation's long-distance carrier, not a cutting-edge communications company delivering TV, phone, Internet and wireless in increasingly fast and competitive ways.

Still, through a pricey advertising campaign, AT&T will try.

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January 17, 2007

Microsoft's advertising arsenal

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 6:00 PM

Microsoft has about 80 researchers in Beijing and 40 more in Redmond working to beat Google at the game it invented: selling online advertising. The adLabs researchers put some of their projects on display Wednesday at Microsoft's third adCenter Demofest.

The room at Microsoft's RedWest campus, just across 520 from the main campus, was divided in half. On one side were projects that are still too deep in the development cycle to be shown to reporters. A handful of Microsoft partners were on hand to take a look at those, which had names like "Keyword Genie," "Behavioral Targeting and Segmentation," and "Demographics and Attitudes of Our Audience."

On the other side of the room, Microsoft showed reporters a handful of projects that are ready for prime time. Some of these were interesting, too.

One set of algorithms differentiates between online buyers and browsers based on the terms they type into search boxes or address bars. The Commercial Intention program knows that if you type Seattle Seahawks, you're probably in the market for information on the football team. But if you type Seattle Seahawks jersey, chances are you're looking to buy one -- despite Sunday's result. The idea is advertisers could better target their keyword advertising based on these results.

Microsoft had promised to announce "a major advertising deal" at the event. The announcement was pushed back until spring, but we did get a glimpse of the technology it centers on.

The company has built software that allows a hyperlink to be attached to specific objects within an online video. In this example from the adLabs Web site, you can hover the mouse over the skier's outfit to get more information about it. Clicking on the link launches a Web page where you could make a purchase.

The company said it will have the first Video Hyperlink advertisement on MSN this spring, in partnership with a major U.S. retailer. Nobody at today's event would say who it was, but Mary Jo Foley mentioned Kohl's department store on her blog.

One of the coolest things on display didn't exactly pertain to online advertising. Microsoft showed computer-vision software that can turn large video displays typically found in airports and other public places into interactive advertising platforms. A Web camera mounted on the screen follows the movements of people in front of it, allowing them to control a mouse cursor by waving their hands in the air.

Researchers demonstrated simple games that could be played in this manner, and other activities that might be interesting to both advertisers and passers-by. The software can also determine men from women and may eventually be able to discern other demographic details such as age and race. It's all in an effort to display better-targeted advertising on the screen and track who sees it.

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Virgin's mobile TV struggling

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:25 PM

The launch of a mobile TV service by Virgin Mobile in the U.K. three months ago is not doing well despite a £2.5 million advertising campaign, according to an article in The Guardian.

The service is the first time mobile television was launched in the U.K. using a broadcast delivery method. Other U.K. carriers provide mobile TV by streaming it to the phone. Sprint Nextel and Cingular Wireless have streaming services in the U.S., while Verizon Wireless just launched a broadcast TV service using Qualcomm mediaFLO technology.

Streaming video takes up a lot of the network capacity, whereas broadcast methods use different airwaves, freeing up valuable space.

And, because other U.S. carriers are planning to follow Verizon's broadcast launch, perhaps the Guardian story will be a useful guide as to how things are going so far.

The Guardian reported that Virgin Mobile has sold far fewer than 10,000 Lobster handsets, the operator's only commercial device compatible with the mobile TV service. As you may recall, the Lobster, aka "Trinity," is an HTC phone loaded with the Windows Mobile operating system. The phone was unveiled at 3GSM during Steve Ballmer's keynote in Barcelona last year.

According to The Guardian, the reasons why the service hasn't taken off are threefold. First, phones are style driven, so providing just one that has the service is a major flaw; the TV programming is limited compared with the competition that offers streaming TV; and finally, the service does not work well, if at all, while riding the London Underground, which would be a good time to watch TV.

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January 16, 2007

Microsoft scores a top IBMer

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:54 AM

Donald Ferguson, chief architect of the IBM software group, has been hired by Microsoft, according to Mary Jo Foley, citing the .Net Developers Journal, which broke the story.

Ferguson, one of 53 IBM fellows out of the company's 200,000-employee technical team, is now working as a technical fellow in platforms and strategy, in Microsoft's Office of the Chief Technology Officer. He's one of 15 technical fellows at Microsoft who are given the designation for "driving intentional innovation in alignment with Microsoft's business strategies, which in turn impacts the high-tech industry overall."

Here's Ferguson's new bio from Microsoft, published Jan. 8. The job description gives only the vaguest outline of what Ferguson will be doing for Microsoft: He focuses on "both the evolutionary and revolutionary role of information technology in business. Understanding the trends, architecting and piloting the implications for existing and new products and evangelizing Microsoft's vision are the key aspects of Don's job."

This is a notable catch for the company. Ferguson was a big fish at Big Blue, where he'd worked since 1985. Here's an old bio, including some dated blog postings, from IBM. His purview included all of the company's major software applications, such as WebSphere, Tivoli, DB2, Rational and Lotus products.

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January 12, 2007

CES: Stick a fork in it

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:21 PM

Here are links to stories and blog posts out of the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show, which officially concluded Thursday. The show's promoters say this year was its biggest ever in terms of floor space -- more than 1.8 million square feet -- and exhibitors -- more than 2,700.

Before the show really got rolling, Ford and Microsoft announced a partnership on new in-car media technology. It elicited some intense comments from readers of the Tech Tracks blog. Sony was one of many other companies to make noise Sunday.

The scene before Bill Gates' Sunday night keynote was crazy. Microsoft announced the launch of new capabilities for Xbox 360. Here's Brier Dudley's take on the new Windows Home Server, also announced during the keynote and a follow-up blog the next morning. He and other reporters chatted with Bill and other Microsoft execs at an on-the-record reception after the keynote.

To get a sense of the size of the show and how companies prepare for it, check out this story from Monday. Tech Tracks posts cover the scene at Microsoft's booth, and from Brier the evolution of "booth babes"; the big items on display at CES; his experience in a race to assemble a PC; life in the Bloghaus; and hot cars on the show floor.

The keynote presentations continued with Motorola's Ed Zander, Dell Chairman Michael Dell, and Robert Iger of Disney.

The "new convergence" of platforms -- notably the PC and the television -- was a big theme at the show and at Macworld with Apple TV. Here's a run down of TVs from Brier, and a look at new remote controls.

Steve Jobs stole the spotlight from CES with the announcement of the long-awaited iPhone at Macworld in San Francisco. These links are to coverage from our Practical Mac columnist, Glenn Fleishman, who also noted that Apple aimed more barbs at Microsoft than he'd seen in years.

Not everyone is charging full-speed ahead toward the new convergence. Actors, directors and other content creators have concerns about what anytime, anywhere access will mean for their professions. Readers worried that it might already be too late.

Check out our Personal Technology section on Saturday for a look at some of the coolest gadgets on display at CES.

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January 11, 2007

CES: Are the creatives keeping up with technology?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 4:14 PM

LAS VEGAS -- I reported today on representatives of the actors and directors guilds who were at CEStrying to learn about new technologies for delivering content and how their profession may be impacted.

Creative types have been showing up at mobile communications industry conferences, too, according to my colleague Tricia Duryee, who attends plenty of them.

A reader of today's story was worried whether the entertainers and artists are doing enough to catch the anytime, anywhere content wave:

They seem passive in the face of a juggernaut of challenges to their copyright and moral rights, the foundation stones of their income stream. I remember when digital photography emerged as a new medium in the late'80s and photographers pounced on it like a cat on a mouse. The old timers wanted to kill it with insults and insinuations, while the youth embraced its potential. The youth were right, but they didn't foresee the arrival of huge digital libraries that have turned photography into a commodity. This is going to happen to movies, just like it's happened to music, with radical impact on incomes. In your article, actor Carlton traces the lineage of his royalties from Robocop. He may not know it, but those days are over. Movies are becoming commodities, too, and Robocop is one selection among hundreds of thousands. YouTube is the model, and the Screen Actors Guild membership is going to be hammered.

On that last point, the guild members I talked to are very aware of and concerned about YouTube.

"Essentially YouTube is built with the use of copyrighted, unlicensed content and many of those video presentations have Screen Actors Guild members in them," said Brian Hamilton, a SAG board member who serves on the union's new technologies committee. "How will they be compensated?"

He thinks he knows the answer, and it doesn't sound all that good for his members: "I'm envisioning a lot of backroom compensation going on that will short-change the performer."

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Macworld: Is that competition we're seeing?

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 4:01 PM

More from Glenn Fleishman, reporting from Macworld:

SAN FRANCISCO -- A very strange phenomenon is occurring here at Macworld Expo: competition. In many, many categories, multiple companies are presenting offerings in direct competition, vying for business, and explaining how their particular features are superior to products offered by other companies. \

While this is ordinary for most established markets (computer industry and otherwise), Mac users have generally faced underchoice because of some dominant companies that remained as smaller firms disappeared.

Three firms presented ways for Intel Mac owners to run Windows programs or Intel operating systems. I've written already about Parallels, which has a desktop product that's been produced in several versions since its introduction last year, and improves on what seems like a daily basis.

Its marketing director explained that Parallel's programmers are in Moscow and, apparently, never sleep. He asked the programmers for a feature a few weeks ago -- the ability to drag a document from the Mac desktop into a Windows program and have it open -- and the developer lead said it would take forever to write, it was impossible, and so on. Ten minutes later, the programmer calls back to say that feature would appear shortly. (It's in a current public test version.)

The established firm VMware was presenting its Fusion for Mac here, another virtual machine application similar to Parallels.
And a third company, CodeWeavers showed off the first release of CrossOver Mac.

CodeWeavers' program is unique, allowing individual Windows programs to run within the Mac environment; it's based on WINE, a reverse-engineered open-source project that avoids the need for an installed version of Windows.

A product manager demonstrated launching Microsoft's Visio as a separate program. The company has a list of programs that it knows works in CrossOver and for which it provides limited tech support in installation and troubleshooting. He said that many other packages also work, but they don't directly offer help with.

This unique condition appears to be driving all three firms to add new features and differentiate their offering. It's also apparently keeping prices low. Crossover is $60 and doesn't require an operating system. Parallels is $80, and needs some OS, whether DOS, Linux, Solaris, or Windows. VMware hasn't set its price yet.

Some individuals were also walking around gleefully showing Mac OS 8 and 9 operating on Intel Mac laptops. Apple said that it wouldn't support the so-called Classic environment beyond the PowerPC Macs shipped for the past decade, and thus a vacuum was formed and filled. The open-source project requires a few bits and pieces to get to work, but it's a fascinating option for ancient software that you just need to run a little longer. It's free.

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January 10, 2007

Macworld: Activating the virtual machine

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 3:59 PM

More from Glenn Fleishman:

SAN FRANCISCO -- In a briefing with Parallels today, the firm that released the first of what is expected to be three or four "virtual machines"
for Intel-based Macs, I found that they've already licked an activation problem with Windows under their system.

The background is that a virtual machine allows an operating system, like Windows, to run relatively rapidly under Mac OS X because the virtual machine can use the processor in Intel-based Macs to carry out instructions relatively rapidly. This emulation runs so fast that it has struck many people as a painless way to run a lower-risk operating system -- Mac OS X for the moment -- with higher-risk systems in bubbles inside it.

Apple has a beta version of its own way to run Windows: it's called Boot Camp, and it requires restarting your Intel Mac to install and use Windows. It's not a virtual machine; it really turns one partition on your hard drive into a real Windows installation that can boot.

Parallels came up in its current testing version with a way to mount a Boot Camp partition as a virtual machine. So you can choose to get better speed and compatibility by starting your Mac into Windows with Boot Camp; or you can use the same installation with lower speed and a little less compatibility within Parallels.

But Windows XP requires activation every time the operating system believes it has been moved to a different computer based on characteristics like memory, hard drive, and other elements.

Parallels' current testing version now makes Boot Camp running in a virtual machine appear to be the Mac booting the Windows operating system, and the problem has been solved.

Parallels expects to ship their latest upgrade shortly with no cost to current owners.

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Macworld: Barbs from Apple

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 2:28 PM

Glenn Fleishman reports today from Macworld:

SAN FRANCISCO -- In today's story on Apple's new moves in the market, I noted a couple of CEO Steve Jobs's jabs at Microsoft -- a new ad, and an offer to help retiring Microsoft exec Jim Allchin buy a Mac.

But there was more, with the highest number of direct and indirect insults of the Redmond giant I've seen from Apple in years. (Michael Dell and his firm were briefly the target of Jobs's jabs a few years ago.)

In the opening part of Jobs's keynote, when he was running through iPod sales numbers, he displayed the word Zune onscreen and talked about how in the only month of reporting that was available to Apple so far, for Zune's introduction month of November
2006, Zune captured 2 percent of the retail market, while Apple had nearly 70 percent with the iPod. Jobs said their internal numbers showed that Apple's market share actually increased in December.

Then he pressed a button on his special slide clicker, and the word Zune burst into flames and disappeared. (Apple software tea-leaf readers noted that the flame effect isn't yet in the company's PowerPoint competitor, appropriately called Keynote, and thought that Jobs would then introduce a new version of Keynote. Not the case, but an interesting deduction.)

Near the end of the address, Jobs brought up numbers of units shipped worldwide in familiar categories, like MP3 players, computers, and cellphones. The first number he showed was for gaming systems, which he pegged at less than 30 million units per year. "Not a very big number," he said, an obvious slight towards the Xbox, which has become quite a success in its market.

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Ringback tones are for Real

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:58 PM

Two studies released today highlight the growth and popularity of ringback tones as the sales of ringtones have declined.

A ringback is a song you choose that plays while a person waits for you to pick up a call.

Seattle-based M:Metrics found that ringbacks in the U.S. have grown 225 percent from the quarter ended January to the quarter ended November. Likewise, ringback subscriptions grew across Europe, at a rate of 150 percent in Germany and 146 percent in the U.K. during the same period. From July to November, ringbacks grew 12.8 percent in France and 11 percent in Spain.

Telephia, a competing measurement firm, also said today that it found that 14 percent of all sales from music were from ringback tones, surpassing mono and polyphonic ringtones share at 11 percent for the first time in the past year.

Those trends look good for Seattle-based RealNetworks, which bought ringback provider WiderThan for $350 million in September.

When the merger was first announced, Real said WiderThan was one of the first in the world to develop and then launch ringback tones. With SK Telecom alone, WiderThan achieved about 43 percent ringback tone penetration among the carrier's 20 million subscribers.

But the growth in the past year could be just the beginning.

Real said one analyst firm, ABI Research, expects ringback tones to grow from $65 million in 2005 in sales to $2.5 billion in 2009.

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CES: Bluetooth superstars

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:12 PM

At CES, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced today the winners in its second annual Best of CES Contest. The Bellevue-based SIG hosts the contest to highlight the new and consumer-friendly products on the short range wireless technology. It said 33 members submitted products this year in the categories of mobile phone, headset, audio, printing and imaging and human interface device.

Here are the winners (and finalists in parentheses):

Overall: Motorola O Rokr

Mobile Phone: Samsung Blackjack (Samsung SPH-m10).

Headset: Plantronics Discovery 665 (Motorola Portable Bluetooth Hands-Free Speaker).

Audio: Logitech FreePulse Wireless Headphones (Motorola O Rokr).

Printing and Imaging: HP Photosmart A618 (Kodak EasyShare Photo Printer 350).

Human interface device: Newton Peripherals MoGo Mouse X54 (Logitech diNovo Edge).

Honorable mentions: Parrot MK6000, Peiker Bluetouch Music, Jabra A125s.

For those at CES, try out the Bluetooth SIG's trivia contest here.

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How should the Gates Foundation handle investments?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:53 AM

The recent media coverage of Gates Foundation investments raises questions about whether assets can and should be used to encourage positive change (or at least avoid causing harm) rather than simply to make more money for its mission.

Socially responsible investing has been around for a long time, but the size of this foundation's assets gives more it weight and influence than any other charitable organization.

But why stop there? The debate about the role of foundations could apply to any institution or individual with a significant pool of money to invest.

Let's say you don't like the way a company is run -- should you steer clear of it entirely, or actively invest to change the company as a shareholder?

This conversation includes some interesting views from a charitable fund director and Amnesty International. Fund director Charlie Tomberg points out that buying or selling a company's shares doesn't have much effect on that company. Amnesty International has an arm that advocates changing companies like Dow Chemical from within by becoming a shareholder.

If the Gates Foundation pours more resources into analyzing its portfolio, will it get clear answers?

Jeff Reifman, a former Microsoft manager who advocates socially responsible investing, expressed skepticism that the Gates Foundation will break much new ground in holding corporate behavior accountable.

The issue is complicated and worth a lot more debate. Let me know what you think....

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Amp'd chooses local Amdocs division

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:28 AM

Amdocs said today that the entertainment-focused Amp'd Mobile has signed a multi-year agreement to use the Qpass digital commerce platform for managing third-party content.

St. Louis-based Amdocs added the platform to its offerings after purchasing Seattle-based Qpass for $275 million in April.

The companies said that by centralizing all of Amp'd's digital commerce functions with Amdocs, subscribers will be able to access new content and services, including premium text messaging, chat, voting and personalization applications.

Mike McSherry, Amp'd's senior vice president of emerging technologies said: "We are continually looking for ways to bring new and exciting content and services to our customers and partnering with Amdocs helps us meet that goal."

Amdocs' Qpass platform will offer promotions management, payments, customer care, financial reporting and settlement for Amp'd and its third-party merchants, including retailers and entertainment companies selling premium content services.

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January 9, 2007

Macworld: Closed system for iPhone

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 4:54 PM

More from Glenn Fleishman:

SAN FRANCISCO -- The one fly in the ointment for the iPhone is that while it runs Apple's Mac OS X operating system, it's a closed platform.

Windows Mobile and Palm OS smartphones have a third-party ecosystem of software developers, and Apple said it's not talking about whether or what else might be allowed to run on the phone.

Cingular Wireless, Apple's partner on the iPhone, would likely guard jealously against voice over IP
(VoIP) software such as Skype or Vonage running on the platform to cannibalize its voice revenue. On the other hand, the new AT&T, 100 percent owner of Cingular, has millions of DSL customers with Wi-Fi networks in their home, and AT&T FreedomLink has thousands of locations nationwide, including several major airports, Sea-Tac among them.

AT&T as a parent company could "leverage its synergy," as the marketing types say, and offer converged VoIP calling that would allow calls on an iPhone to be placed on an unlimited basis -- similar to T-Mobile's HotSpot@Home without seamless roaming between Wi-Fi and cell -- from home networks and from AT&T controlled hotspots.

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Macworld: Touch of the iPhone

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 4:02 PM

Our Practical Mac columnist, Glenn Fleishman, is in San Francisco at Macworld and got a chance to see, and feel, the iPhone. Here's his dispatch:

SAN FRANCISCO -- I wasn't sure what to expect when Apple's Greg Joswiak slid an iPhone over the table for me to experiment with. "Just slide your finger to unlock it," he said, and when I did, there was a brief bit of the "down the rabbit hole" aspect in "The Matrix."

Using the iPhone feels quite a bit like using a device from the future.

The touch-based navigation and selection coupled with gestures -- pinching, sliding, and so forth -- is remarkably intuitive. Within a few seconds, I could navigate the entire interface. Pinching, used to zoom in on a map or photograph, took a few tries to get right, but the interface rewards experimentation, as nothing goes wrong when the gesture isn't perfect.

The front of the iPhone quickly becomes smeared with fingerprints, but it also quite easily wipes off. I'd be highly concerned with scratching, and I imagine that third parties will sell tough, transparent, thin skins that will allow the touch-sensitive element to work and protect against scratches unless the technology won't allow even a thin layer there.

In the hand, the iPhone has the right heft. It feels a bit iPod-like, a bit cellphone-like. It looks and behaves like no other electronic device I've ever tried, and gave me the same frisson I had on first using the iPod over five years ago.

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CES: News at local companies

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:54 PM

At CES, if you don't have a 16,000-square-foot booth like Microsoft, how do you get heard? With so much big stuff at the show, as our columnist Brier Dudley points out, here are a few of the smaller things Seattle-area companies want you to know about:

-- Bellevue-based VoiceBox announced today a joint venture with Nuance Communications to develop advanced voice navigation applications for the personal device, automotive and mobile phone markets. The goal is to develop and deliver something so accurate and intuitive that it further enhances the way people use navigation devices.

-- Seattle-based Volantis, which helps media content be delivered to mobile phones, said today that it launched Volantis Content Services. The service offers a tier of offerings that lowers the cost for content providers wanting to quickly launch a mobile presence.

In addition, Volantis said it was launching a more agressive push into the mobile advertising market by partnering with Bango, a mobile payment platform, and Third Screen Media, a mobile advertising software and services, to provide mobile billing and advertising capabilities.

-- Seattle-based RealNetworks made a series of announcements yesterday.
It said it has integrated its Rhapsody digital music services into the TiVo service to give TiVo subscribers access to more than 3 million songs on demand right from the TiVo remote. The service will be available starting later this year.

RealNetworks also announced a collaboration with Reigncom, which makes the popular iriver portable multimedia devices. Reigncom will bring two new Rhapsody portable players to market. The MP3 players will come Wi-Fi enabled and will allow consumers to download their favorite music over the air directly to the device. Both devices are expected to ship in the U.S. in the first half of this year.

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Macworld: iPhone to launch in June

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:26 AM

Steve Jobs holds up the iPhone during at Macworld.

After so much anticipation, and very little information leaking beforehand, Apple's iPhone was unveiled this morning at Macworld in San Francisco.

What is surprising is that this is not just any regular phone with iTunes. The phone is also a high-end computing device, similar to the current smartphones on the market. It browses the Web, syncs with calendars and e-mail, and will be a music player.

John Jackson, vice president and senior analyst with M:Metrics said:

The decision to design the iPhone with a smartphone orientation was a very wise, yet unexpected move that puts Apple squarely against Microsoft and the Nokia N-series.
Whereas the expected profusion of music-centric devices would dilute the value of an iPod-like phone, the demand for smartphones is steadily growing, and now Mac enthusiasts can finally get their hands on the seminal Apple mobile device.

The iPhone has a big 3.5-inch display and a touch screen that you control with your finger. It has a number of nifty features such as Visual Voicemail, which lets users look at a list of their voicemails and decide which ones to list to first. It also has a full "soft" keyboard meaning that the keys show up on the display.

It uses Cover Flow, a way to browse through a music library by album art. A couple of the high-tech options include an "accelerometer," which detects when the user has rotated the device from portrait to landscape and then automatically changes the image on the display accordingly. It also has a "proximity sensor" that detects when you lift the phone to your ear, so that the display turns off to save power and prevent inadvertent hangups.

Also, some of the refreshing aspects of the device is that Apple will allow it to work with both Macs and PCs. It supports e-mail services such as Microsoft Exchange, Apple .Mac Mail, AOL, Google and most ISP services. The calendar and contacts will also sync with both PCs and Macs. The iPhone will run on the Cingular Wireless network.

But as a critic, I offer this: Apple has a long way to go. According to M:Metrics, 2 million people in the U.S. have a Windows Mobile device, 670,000 have a Symbian (most likely a Nokia) device, 1.7 million have a Palm, and 1.8 million have Blackberry devices. Granted, those figures start to sound like peanuts when you consider that Apple sold more than 14 million iPods during the last three months of 2005.

Here's some of the nitty gritty: The iPhone will run on Cingular's nationwide EDGE network, which is not as fast as the 3G networks rolling out today. It will also come with Wi-Fi, and the 4 gigabyte model will sell for $500 and the 8 gigabyte model will sell for $600. Voice and data plans will be announced when the phone starts shipping in June.

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CES: Dell keynote with Dr. Evil

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:17 AM

LAS VEGAS -- Michael Dell, founder and chairman of Dell, took the stage this morning to unveil a handful of new products and initiatives from the Round Rock, Texas, computer maker.

On the environmental front, the company is allowing customers to pay for "offsets" of the emissions generated by the electricity their PCs use. Under the "select my environmental options" tab of Dell's online PC store, customers can add $2 to the price of a laptop or $6 to a desktop. The money will go to plant trees, Dell said.

To balance the good, Dell's presentation needed some evil.

A lookalike of Dr. Evil -- the enemy of Mike Myers' movie super spy Austin Powers -- helped Dell introduce another new service, due out later this year, to allow people to upload the contents of their old computer to be stored by Dell and then installed on a new machine

Dr. Evil also took a few pot shots at the show in general and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in particular.

"I have come to interrupt your little Pampered Chef, ... Amway meeting or whatever the hell it is you're doing in here," Dr. Evil said. "Though I must say, it's an exciting time at CES. So many evil geniuses together in one hotel is breathtaking."

Evil on Gates: "He's a hero among megalomaniacs." And his philanthropy: "I haven't figured out his angle yet, but it's breathtaking."

Among the new products Dell announced: a 27-inch ultra sharp monitor, included along with a printer, wireless router, revved-up PC with a digital high-definition cable TV tuner card and printer as part of the Home Media Suite.

"It enables Vista PCs to tune, view and pause live television and record TV right on the hard disk," Dell said.

The company is also introducing a new cooling system for high-performance gaming PCs and another home media machine, this one from Alienware, the specialty PC maker it recently acquired. The Hangar 18 is in a form factor reminiscent of a DVD player complete with media controls on the face. Clearly designed to go right under the TV in the living room.

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Sprint's first WiMax networks

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:47 AM

Sprint Nextel, which expects to serve high-speed wireless broadband to 100 million people by the end of next year, said it will be unveiling the service first in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Consumers in the two cities will be able to purchase access to Sprint's new network, which uses WiMax, by the end of the year, Forbes reported.

Kirkland-based Clearwire has rolled out pre-WiMax networks in about 34 markets. Its largest is the Seattle area, and is not currently in Chicago or Washington, D.C. Its first true WiMax market will likely be in Grand Rapids, Mich. It will also sent up a network in Portland, where it will likely be open only to Intel employees for testing.

Currently, Clearwire's competition is considered DSL and cable providers. I wonder what will happen when Sprint and Clearwire are providing service in the same market?

In that scenario, a consumer's options could includue two WiMax providers, DSL and cable, and all of the wireless carriers providing high-speed access.

I guess we'll start to see by the end of the year.

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January 8, 2007

Mobile search gets competitive locally

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:45 PM

Today, Medio Systems announced it had added T-Mobile USA as a search partner for mobile phones. Here is a brief in today's paper.

The search capability is used on the phone's storefront, also called a deck. It allows users to search for ringtones, wallpaper and other content. It's also used for some local listings found in the White Pages and sports scores.

Medio, based in Seattle, has made significant progress recently, having secured $30 million in venture capital and winning some deals at major carriers. It also has deals at Verizon Wireless and Telus.

But its most recent success comes somewhat on the back of InfoSpace, which previously handled the search engine for T-Mobile, and is just across the pond in Bellevue.

On Friday, T-Mobile, also in Bellevue, said InfoSpace continues to be a partner.

An InfoSpace spokeswoman gave a little more detail today on what that means. She said InfoSpace is no longer handling search for T-Mobile, but continues to be an infrastructure provider. It provides some of the guts behind T-zones and the company's storefront. The company continues to power Cingular Wireless' search engine on its portal, and provides a mobile search application called Find It! to Sprint Nextel.

The loss of the T-Mobile business, however, is only the latest in a string of bad news for InfoSpace, which as recently as this summer wanted to focus exclusively on the wireless industry.

The biggest blow was when a carrier, widely assumed to be Cingular, decided go directly to music labels to get ringtones instead of using InfoSpace as a middleman. Since then, the company has reorganized to focus less on mobile content, and more on mobile infrastructure and its online business.

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CES: MSFT = big

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:02 PM

LAS VEGAS -- So this is a bit obvious: Microsoft is a really big company.

Seeing its presentation here at CES really brought that home. I made a few laps around the Microsoft "booth" today -- its 16,000 square feet of carpet so well paded you want to lay down and take a nap on it -- and got a physical sense of the breadth of the company's products and "partner ecosystem." Countless kiosks for Xbox 360, Games for Windows, Zune, Windows Live, Windows Vista... all the big product names regular readers are familiar with.

And this is only the consumer-facing stuff; never mind the business products. Seeing them set out so pretty, all in one place was and with all their various features up and running gave me a better image of Microsoft's scope than a walk around the company's large, forrested campus ever has. I guess that's partly the point of this show.

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Amp'd Mobile update

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:18 PM

Amp'd Mobile, which provides an entertainment-oriented mobile phone service on the Verizon Wireless network, said today that it ended 2006 with more than 100,000 subscribers.

Amp'd said 70,000 of those customers were added in the fourth quarter. It also said it is achieving its goal of attracting customers who spend a lot on data every month instead of voice.

It reported that the average revenue per user (ARPU) when it came to content and data exceeded $30 a month. The industry standard is about $6.80 a month. Total ARPU, including voice, for Amp'd is more than $100 a month, it said.

"We set out to build a mobile entertainment company and our incredible momentum and strong sales demonstrate that Amp'd Mobile's focus on great content, great devices and great plans is a powerful formula for success," said Peter Adderton, chief executive officer of Amp'd Mobile.

Adderton attributed the spike in sales during the fourth quarter to a strong distribution network and the holidays. Amp'd Mobile is sold in Best Buy, Circuit City and other retailers and dealers.

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CES: Treo 750 out of box

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:03 AM

From my seat here in Seattle, sure looks like there is a lot going on at CES in Vegas.

One item that I am privy to is the launch of the Palm Treo 750 by Cingular Wireless that runs on the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system. The smartphone is the equivalent to the Palm Treo 700w, which was announced in partnership with Verizon Wireless more than a year ago.

The new Palm Treo 750,
with service from Cingular.

The 750 runs Cingular's 3G/UMTS network, whereas the 700w runs on Verizon and Sprint's CDMA 3G network architecture.

A couple of differences are readily apparent about the two. First, the 750 is slightly smaller, mostly because it has an internal antenna, and it has a smooth, almost plastic finish that's nice to hold. It also supports mini-SD cards, instead of the full SD.

Another item worth noting is that the default search bar from the device's home screen is Google, not MSN, even though the operating system is Windows.

"When I'm on a PC, I use Google," said Palm product manager Andy Clipsham. "How is it different" if he's searching on his mobile phone? he asks.

Clipsham said in order to make it the best customer experience, Palm decided to go with Google. He said Microsoft was fine with that. In fact, he said one Microsoft executive was really happy that Palm felt comfortable going against the grain.

"He said if Palm has an ability to stand up to Microsoft, this is how we are inviting; it's about what is best for customer experience," he said.

The inviting attitude is something Microsoft has been working on for a while. In February last year at 3GSM, Steve Ballmer said that he wanted to make it clear that Microsoft was not trying to dominate every aspect of the wireless industry.

It was there that Ballmer delivered this strong message, which the troops apparently are following: "Many people ask me if we are your friends or your foes," Ballmer said. "We come as a friend."

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Clearwire to acquire Irish provider?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:47 AM

A number of publications are reporting today that Kirkland-based Clearwire is getting ready to buy Irish Broadband, a wireless Internet provider.

The U.K.'s Times Online said the two are believed to be in advanced negotiations and a deal is expected to be concluded by early February. The sale price is thought to be about 25 million euros or about $32.6 million, the paper reported.

Clearwire launched a wireless broadband service in Ireland in 2005.

Worldwide, Clearwire has about 188,000 subscribers. Irish Broadband, led by Neil Parkinson, has about 30,000 broadband subscribers.

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CES: Bill Gates' crowd

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:30 AM

LAS VEGAS -- Not to dwell too much on this, but the power of Bill Gates to draw a crowd, particularly at this show, is underscored this morning.

I'm in the same cavernous room waiting for Consumer Electronics Association head Gary Shapiro and Motorola's Ed Zander to give keynote presentations. There was no crush of tech humanity crowding the doors. People are calmly strolling around, picking from among the 4,000 chairs.

Last night, people were practically sitting on each other's laps and standing up in the back. Granted, Gates' keynote took place in the evening, while the big show floor was closed.

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January 7, 2007

CES: Gates about to lecture

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 5:52 PM

LAS VEGAS -- The woman sitting next to me said it best. "This is a zoo. Look at this just to go to the lectures."

Well, a Bill Gates keynote -- at least for the crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show -- is something more than a lecture. I fought through a mob to be among the first in line at the big white doors to the Palazzo ballroom in the Venetian here in lovely Las Vegas.

When the doors opened for the press and VIPs to enter, it was a no-holds-barred sprint to the best seats. I feel pretty lucky to have gotten to a center spot, four rows back from the stage. In front of me are three rows of photographers and then Bill. But now we wait.

The keynote isn't set to begin for another 50 minutes. People are sipping on beer and wine, watching jugglers on stilts and chatting in several languages over the non-descript rock and pop music (to my ears, anyway) thumping through the cavernous room. I can only guess at how many people will pack this place -- they're still filling in -- but I'd guess it will be several thousand at least.

The staging for this lecture is elaborate. Dozens of spotlights on gyroscopes hang over head. On stage, there are several large screens, a demo station, a futuristic living room scene complete with a huge hi-def flat-screen TV connected to an Xbox 360, another scene that could be a home office, and another one that looks like a bedroom. It's all set in front of a blue-green background emblazoned with "Microsoft" no fewer than seven times.

So, what's he going to talk about? That's under embargo for a little while yet. We know about the Ford announcement from earlier today, which certainly drew some visceral responses from readers of this blog.

Check back here and on Brier Dudley's blog for all of our CES coverage.

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CES: Have you driven a Microsoft lately?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:02 AM

Ford and Microsoft have teamed up to put software in vehicles that links a driver's cellphone and digital-music player to the car.

The hardware and software combination, called SYNC, will be available in a dozen of the automaker's 2008 vehicles. Ford aims to have it in all of its cars and trucks by the 2009 model year.

The partnership is being announced as part of the North American International Auto Show kicking off this weekend in Detroit and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

SYNC, based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, will automatically establish a wireless link with Bluetooth-equipped phones brought into the car. The phone's function -- making and receiving calls, selecting contacts from the address book -- will then be accessible through the car using speaker phone, a readout on the center console, voice commands and controls on the steering wheel.

Velle Kolde, product manager in Microsoft's automotive business unit, said the system's voice-command capabilities are state of the art. It requires no training, he said, and will understand English, Spanish and French Canadian. It will read text messages -- including emoticons -- in concert with some higher-end phones.

SYNC cars will also have a USB port to connect iPods and other portable music players. Players can be fully accessed and controlled in the same way as the phones. Kolde said the system supports virtually all players and music file formats.

This is a high-profile win for Microsoft's 10-year-old automotive business unit. Kolde said it represents an effort by the company to put its software in more places beyond the home and office.

"There was a lot of opportunity in the car that hadn't really been addressed so we're very excited about what we're announcing with Ford," he said.

The business unit, part of the mobile and imbedded devices group, has about 120 employees and benefits from the work of several other groups that make the base operating systems that it optimizes for use in automobiles.

Ford and Microsoft did not disclose the financial terms of their agreement. Microsoft did a similar partnership with Fiat in July 2004. And Kolde said Microsoft is open to working with other automakers.

The company's products are already in lots of cars today, but the deals have been lower profile for Microsoft.

"We power a lot of the screen-based navigation systems that are available in many of the vehicles today, although you wouldn't know it because there's no branding on it," Kolde said.

Not so with SYNC. Gary Jablonski, manager of Ford's "infotainment" systems product development, said consumers would be very aware that there's Microsoft software under the hood.

"Vehicles equipped with the system include promotional badges with the brand name SYNC along with the word Microsoft," he said.

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January 5, 2007

CES coverage starts Sunday

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:00 PM

We'll start our coverage of CES -- the 40th annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas -- with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates's pre-show keynote presentation Sunday night.

CES is the world's biggest technology event and North America's biggest trade show of any description. You can check back here for blog posts describing my experience there. It's my first time going and everyone says to drink lots of water and wear comfortable shoes -- there are 35 football fields' worth of official exhibit space to cover.

My CES posts will be tagged with the Consumer Electronics Show category for ease of access on this blog. Brier Dudley, our technology columnist, will also be attending and blogging from the event. He's been several times. When I asked him what to expect, he said imagine standing in a Best Buy on the busiest day of the year with every device turned on as loud as it goes. And it's busier, louder and crazier than that.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on the event, has some statistics to put the show in perspective, if that's even possible: More than 2,700 exhibitors are expected along with something north of 140,000 attendees. Starbucks sold almost 100,000 cups of coffee there last year. The U.S. consumer electronics industry sales probably surpassed $135 billion in 2006.

Much of my focus at the show will be on Microsoft, which is launching Windows Vista and Office 2007 at the end of January. But the company will be talking about more than just its operating system and productivity suite. Product groups from across the company will be represented.

Of course, we'll also be reporting on other big news from the show, as well as trends in digital entertainment, Internet television, high-definition video, gaming and gadgets that might actually be useful -- like maybe a digital foot massager.

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Sprint announces new WiMax vendor

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:21 AM

Sprint Nextel announced today it has named Nokia as key infrastructure and device provider for its WiMax network, topping off its list of vendors, which include Intel, Samsung and Motorola.

Sprint has committed to spending up to $800 million this year and between $1.5 billion and $2 billion next year to build what it is calling a fourth generation, or 4G, wireless broadband network. The first markets are expected to go live late this year. By year-end 2008, Sprint expects to provide service that could reach up to 100 million people.

Kirkland-based Clearwire has already started to roll out a fixed, proprietary version of WiMax. To date, it has launched in about 34 markets and covers about 8.6 million people.

By having a slew of vendors, Sprint hopes to provide choice to the consumer while keeping costs down through competition.

Nokia said today that it will be charged with:

-- Being a major supplier to Sprint for WiMax network infrastructure.

-- Developing WiMax-enabled mobile devices in significant volumes, including multimedia computers and Internet tablets.

-- Developing mobility services and applications.

-- Developing co-market efforts to drive global adoption and establish worldwide roaming.

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Avenue A | Razorfish wiki winner

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:43 AM

Avenue A | Razorfish, the interactive marketing and technology firm that's part of Seattle-based aQuantive, said it has been recognized for an internally produced portal that links together 16 of the company's offices worldwide.

The portal uses wiki technology and was awarded a Portal Excellence Award at the Shared Insights Portal Conference in the "Best Team Collaboration Application" category, the company said today.

The Avenue A | Razorfish wiki was recognized for making use of innovative collaborative technologies such as Web-based discussion groups.

In a release, the company quotes Andrew McAfee, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, who wrote on his blog:

"I find that the sites I visit most often these days are ones that give me 'the latest.' They help me stay on top of the world, the blogosphere, and my personal network of people and content. This page does the same thing at the company level for Avenue A | Razorfish employees."

But maybe it's not just at the company level, bringing into question the amount of information a company wants to share. An update on McAfee's blog says the wiki is not as internal as the company thinks:.

After I posted on Avenue A | Razorfish's Enterprise 2.0 Intranet, a few commenters pointed out a potentially troublesome feature.
When employees (or anyone else, for that matter) add the tag "AARF" [Avenue A Razorfish] in, Flickr, or Digg, the so-tagged items show up within the company's Intranet. The intent of this feature, as I wrote, is to let employees easily and automatically make each other aware of potentially interesting content on the Internet.
Because these "AARF" tags are universally visible, however, other companies can also see them and take advantage of them. It would be technically straightforward for a competitor to scan, Flickr, and Digg for the "AARF" tag, thereby seeing what Avenue A | Razorfish employees are highlighting for each other.

Alex Barnett, a Microsoft employee who works with developers, posted on McAfee's site:

We'll, it's good for me . But is that good for AARF? Look, here is a sample. From a cursory look at the AARF tagged bookmarks, I can tell:
-- Someone is probably lobbying HR for Starbucks coffee machines at the office (I can't blame them...)
-- Someone is studying Second Life's audience size, probably as an opportunity to either establish their own presence for the agency, or collating info so they can advise clients
-- Someone is trying to figure out the ROI on blogging (rather you than me...)
-- Someone is interested in mobile social software apps

Avenue A | Razorfish's Ray Velez responded:

"anyone can use the aarf tag and associate it with a bookmark. This potentially lets us get information from a larger audience. Which may turn out to be a bigger spam issue more than anything else. The only information that can be gleaned from this is what we think is interesting in terms of websites out there. Check out Alex Barnett's post for a good explanation and yes I do like Starbucks coffee. If it's a site we want to keep behind a firewall we can make it private. The tagging algorithm and keywords we use internally to add metadata to wiki content and documents is completely behind the firewall."

For more discussion, check out the Nov. 27 blog post here.

The discussion is valid. How open do companies want to be on their innerworkings? Is it becoming increasingly difficult in the Web 2.0 world?

The debate is reminescent of how Jobster's Jason Goldberg aired some of his company's dirty laundry on his blog -- about how the company is going through a restructuring and laying off nearly half of its staff.

Goldberg is a huge fan of transparency.

Goldberg said during a call with the media to announce the layoffs that since the company was founded, he has blogged multiple times a day and has sometimes gotten positive or negative feedback.

"Sometimes I share too much or too little, but from the beginning I've taken a transparent approach, that's not typical of any private company."

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January 4, 2007

DSL: less than $20?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:59 PM

Routinely, I read articles that say the price of Internet access is falling rapidly. The most recent example is in a column today by Ben Frankel, who writes about WiMax for FierceWiFi, an online trade journal.

He wrote that WiMax will have a hard time being successful because of "falling prices of basic DSL services, which in many developed markets have already fallen to below $20 a month."

20 bucks? Where? Show me? Does anyone have DSL in Seattle for $20?

What are we, gulp, undeveloped?

It's possible to get to $20 a month if you don't include taxes, rental fees and surcharges, but is that what we are talking about here?

For the full meal deal, $20 is hardly the case. In fact, check out Qwest's Web site, which is likely the largest DSL in Seattle proper.

-- Qwest Choice DSL Premier with MSN Premium is $46.99 a month for a year, and $59.99 a month thereafter (BEFORE tax and other surcharges).

-- A slower service, called Qwest Choice DSL Deluxe with MSN Premium, is $36.99 a month for a year before increasing to $49.99 a month before taxes.

Those prices also don't include a wireless modem, which can be rented for $8 a month, or purchased for $100.

Qwest does have a number of cheaper options here, but it doesn't come with an Internet service provider, which you would have to pay for separately. It also doesn't include the modem fee or taxes.

A quick check with EarthLink DSL provides cheaper plans, but still they list $40 a month after the three-month introductory rate.

Wait, perhaps there's hope.

In order to get the FCC's approval to buy BellSouth, AT&T agreed to offer DSL service for just $19.95 a month, or less than half the $44.95 that AT&T now charges.

Will it spur the competition to drop rates in Seattle?

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More daylight on Daylife, plus a Seattle connection

Posted by Kristi Heim at 3:17 PM

Note: see update with response from Jeff Jarvis below.

The online news space is heating up with a new distribution vehicle called Daylife, which revealed it has more than two dozen investors, including the New York Times Company, and practically an all-star team of Internet content pioneers: Craig Newmark, Dave Winer and Jeff Jarvis, according to this post by Staci Kramer.

A few of the investors have ties to the tech world in Seattle.

Daylife's founder, Upendra Shardanand, co-founded Firefly along with Andy Sack. They sold the company, which developed personalization technology, to Microsoft in 1998. Sack went on to help create Judy's Book, the Seattle-based shopping recommendation site.

One of Daylife's angel investors is Mika Salmi of Atom Entertainment (formerly Seattle-based Atom Films).

Daylife looks a lot like Google News, since it, too, is an automated news aggregator. Daylife seems to have a more robust system of organization, though, since top stories have a whole page with quotes, photos, blog posts and other context. It also attempts to filter out redundant content into another area so you're not just looking at 300 variations of the same story.

Unlike Google News, Daylife is available only in English for now. It aims to make money through advertising revenue, and to be able to direct advertisers to a targeted news audience. It's not clear to me how that will work.

Daylife says it exists to help make "a healthier news industry, that is able to better serve the public." And, of course, to make money for all those high-profile investors.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis responds below, explaining what sets Daylife apart from Google News and why it's too early for advertising.

He writes:

Daylife's analysis of the news will yield a number of benefits. One you can see now is the connections it exposes among newsmakers: Angelina Jolie's page can show you that she is connected to Africa and the U.N. and to Hollywood and stars -- and those links make it possible to navigate around the world of news apart outside the strict structure of new to date (that is, entertainment v. world vs. business). This analysis will yield other benefits as partners use the platform's API.
Also, importantly, Daylife is a platform. Your newspaper site or blog can use the API to present more relevant news to your readers, for example.
And we are using the platform to build what we hope is a refreshing experience of news on Daylife's own site, experimenting with such features as linking to stories via the quotes the system pulls out of articles.
Daylife does not have advertising today. It really makes little sense selling sponsorship to a brand new site that has only a day's worth of traffic. We have various innovative, we hope, advertising models we'll be rolling out in time.

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Clearwire commercials in the air

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:16 PM

Since Clearwire launched in Seattle during November, it has made a seriously big effort in getting the word out.

The Kirkland company, which is providing a cutting edge wireless broadband service, has advertised in the Seattle market via direct mail, a Seattle-specific Web site, newspapers, billboards and all over radio.

It's very hard to miss.

But there seems to already be a slight change in the message, moving from just getting the word out about Clearwire, to letting people know the service is portable -- they can take it with them as long as they don't mind lugging around a hardback book-sized modem, and finding an electrical socket to plug it into.

The latest radio commercial features a woman who is speed dating. She meets men, including "DSL," "cable" and "dial-up." In the quickie introductions to each one, she learns that DSL and cable don't like leaving the house, and dial-up still lives at home with his parents. When she finally meets Clearwire, it's a breath of fresh air -- he's flexible and willing to stay in, or go out. Whatever.

Portability is definitely a new idea for broadband. Up until now, people have tended to purchase DSL or cable for the home, and supplement it elsewhere with Wi-Fi. I think the question is, how will people adapt within a household? Typically multiple people may use an Internet connection. If someone takes it out of the house, what will the rest of the household do at home?

I can see it now: broadband family plans.

The commercials also reiterate how important the Seattle market is to Clearwire. It is perhaps the most competitive market it has entered, the most challenging for rolling out ua wireless service in terms of terrain, and it is by far the largest.

In the company's IPO filing, the "big" factor is clear. In a chart, it lists the 34 markets Clearwire has entered, how long it has been in each market and the number of people it covers.

For the Seattle/Tacoma market, it says it has covered a potential 2.1 million people for one month. The next largest market is in Jacksonville, Fla. where it has 700,000 people for 26 months. The smallest market is in Roseburg, where it has been covering 21,700 people, for 15 months. The median market size is 134,000.

In terms of size, Seattle is Clearwire's biggest bet yet.

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InfoSpace reorganizes some more

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:49 PM

InfoSpace has cut its staff, shed executives and hired executives all in the past few months.

Today, it announced a new leadership structure and affirmed that it will continue to develop technology to help users discover content and information while using a mobile phone or online.

The Bellevue company said Steve Elfman, executive vice president, will now oversee the company's mobile business unit. Brian McManus, executive vice president, will oversee the online business unit.

Both executives report to Jim Voelker, who has served as chairman and chief executive officer of InfoSpace since 2002.

"With our restructuring behind us, we have turned our focus to some exciting opportunities to build and strengthen the success of both our Online and Mobile businesses," Voelker said. "This new leadership structure aligns with how we now operate, and allows us to focus Steve and Brian's expertise and energy on driving our growth strategy moving forward."

Elfman joined InfoSpace in 2003, where he has overseen the growth of the company's mobile platform and mobile search services. McManus joined InfoSpace in April 2003 to lead the online search and directory business.

Reporting lines within the North American and European Online and Mobile business units will fall under McManus and Elfman, respectively.

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Mobile music downloads

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:14 AM

The wireless industry has faced a lot of criticism for its approach to selling full-track music that can be downloaded directly to the handset.

Mostly, it has been criticized over pricing -- a single song can cost $1 more than if it were downloaded through iTunes or another service.

For that reason alone, the wireless delivery method has been considered a failure. In fact, Seattle-based Melodeo even decided not to pursue the business anymore, and instead is focusing on free podcasts.

But Bedford-Mass.-based Groove Mobile released figures today that make me wonder if it's all true. The company, which reaches more than 85 million subscribers around the world by serving more than a dozen wireless carriers, said it sold 7.5 million tracks in the final three months of 2006.

"Robust sales of music-enabled handsets are helping to drive increased mobile music downloading," said Groove Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Adam Sexton. "Around the world, consumers are embracing the music phone as their preferred player, and using it to download songs directly."

Let's compare that with online full-track music downloads.

The best figures I could find were from Nielsen SoundScan, which reported a dramatic growth in the sales of digital music downloads for 2006.

This is not for the same reporting period, and there's dramatically more people who have access to the Internet versus phones with full-track music capabilities by Groove, but perhaps it will provide some context.

In the first 49 weeks of 2006 (essentially a year), sales of individually downloaded digital tracks accounted for more than 525 million digital downloads.

This is not scientific, but if you multiply Groove's fourth-quarter performance by four to come up with a year's worth of sales, you get 30 million mobile downloads, representing almost 6 percent of online downloads.

Is that so bad?

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Applied Discovery hits milestone

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:06 AM

Bellevue-based Applied Discovery, a division of LexisNexis, said today that it has reached a new milestone.

The company helps law firms conduct discovery electronically. Today, it said in 2006 it processed 1.16 billion pages of electronic documents, representing a 49 percent jump over 2005 and a 65,186 percent increase over pages processed in 2001.

The company said the benchmark provides solid evidence that the $1.5 billion e-discovery market expanded quickly in 2006 and is an indicator of industry growth trends in 2007.

Electronic discovery technology enables law firms to quickly and securely capture, review and assess digital documents online as part of the "discovery" process in most legal cases.

It said the increase is linked to the growth of using digital communications for corporate communications. For example, the majority of corporate documents today are digital, through the use of email, instant messaging and mobile phone text messaging.

LexisNexis purchased Bellevue-based Applied Discovery in July 2003 for an undisclosed amount.

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Wireless companies to watch in '07

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:38 AM

An annual IDC study that came out yesterday highlights 10 small mobile companies that IDC analysts believe could have a market impact disproportionate to their current size -- and three of them have a Seattle-area presence.

They are Bothell-based Dexterra, Bellevue-based GoGoMo and TeleNav, which has its marketing offices in Bellevue.

IDC said the 10 companies have four broad strategies or attributes: companies looking to create new markets and industry sectors using new or existing capabilities; companies developing new ways to address customer and industry needs; companies that see market challenges in terms of business opportunities; and companies that have the potential to both grow and play larger roles in the broader mobile industry over time.

"Collectively, the outlook for these emerging wireless players is bright when set against the backdrop of the rapidly evolving wireless ecosystem and marketplace, evolving market strategies of larger wireless players, increasing reliance upon mobile [technologies] by enterprises, and the overall trend of wireless becoming ever more central to ever more subscribers as the 'third screen' in their lives," said IDC's Scott Ellison.

Dexterra said the report pointed out that it may be a breakout year for the company. In the past year, it doubled the number of customers using its platform and products.

As for GoGoMo, it was called out for solving the problem of "content interoperability." That's a business model change from the last time I wrote about GoGoMo, which had been in the "locker" business. Consumers used GoGoMo to store ringtones and other mobile content online.

Now, GoGoMo is trying to solve a new problem. The easiest way to describe it is to compare it to text messaging. Once upon a time, a subscriber of one carrier wasn't able to message a subscriber of another carrier. After interoperabilitiy came into play, text messaging soared. GoGoMo is trying to do the same thing for content, which is very difficult to tailor for each handset and network.

GoGoMo said the Mobile Entertainment Forum estimates that wireless carriers are missing $1 billion a year due to lack of widespread interoperability of content across carriers and devices.

Finally, TeleNav was listed as one of the companies to watch. The company is based in Santa Clara, but has offices in Bellevue. It develops GPS applications for the mobile phone.

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January 2, 2007

Are Americans becoming more charitable?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:56 AM

Well, some are. But the list of the top 15 donors of 2006 includes only one person from the world of technology -- and an unlikely one -- Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

Warren Buffett's record $31 billion donation to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation enormously expanded the pool of charitable giving in the U.S. last year. The top 15 charitable gifts totaled $35 billion in 2006, this story points out. Last year that figure was only $2 billion.

Besides Buffett, more people donated amounts exceeding $100 million than ever before. The top donors made their fortunes in real estate and financial services.

As for Ellison, who has a reputation for stinginess despite his $16 billion estimated net worth, the donation went to his Ellison Medical Foundation, not to, ah, Harvard.

Ellison pledged to donate to charity to settle a lawsuit against him.

But hey it's not the amount of money that should be measured, Ellison says, it's the results. Maybe his medical foundation will find a cure for dementia before he changes his mind again.

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee

Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez

Kristi Heim
Kristi Heim

Benjamin J. Romano
Benjamin J. Romano

Mark Watanabe