OVP adds investment power
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:07 AM
OVP Venture Partners said today that Mark Ashida joined the venture capital firm's investing team to lend his expertise in security, networking and infrastructure.
Most recently, Ashida was general manager of Microsoft's Windows Enterprise Networking.
"Mark is the best of all worlds -- a strategic thinker with operational experience. He has a deep understanding of technology, markets and competition but at the same time can maintain a high-level strategic focus," said OVP's General Partner Chad Waite. "We're thrilled to have him join our team."
Before joining OVP, Ashida was responsible at Microsoft for its networking infrastructure and security servers, a $450 million business. He was also responsible for Network Access Protection, a new feature included in Vista and in the upcoming Windows Longhorn Server.
Big Fish drops eBay line
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:07 PM
Seattle-based Big Fish Games, a developer of casual games, said today that it is auctioning on eBay a chance to have your picture (and three friends' photos) used in the next episode of its "Mystery Case Files" series.
Gamers playing the sequel will try to find "hidden" characters in the game. Those characters will be the photos provided by the eBay winners.
The auction started this morning here and will close at 3 p.m. March 8. All of the proceeds will go Child's Play, a game industry charity that aids terminally ill children.
This afternoon, the highest bid was at $115.50.
According to Big Fish Games' Web site, the company has a history of charitable giving. It donates 5 percent of all profits to causes that help those in need throughout the world.
AOL looking at mobile advertising
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:45 PM
Time Warner's AOL is thinking about acquiring mobile advertising company Third Screen Media, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal today.
The story, which broke this morning, might seem old now since it is buried by news of the stock market tanking, but it's worth taking another look at.
Boston-based Third Screen Media is one of a few emerging companies that are helping advertisers like Ford Motor and Bank of America get ads on to Web sites accessed by cellphones. The industry has as much promise or more as the Internet, given that more people have phones than PCs, but it's still in really early stages.
The deal would likely be in the range of $80 million, people close to the matter say. But nothing is for sure because last year Microsoft's MSN unit was supposedly close to buying Third Screen.
The interesting part is that, if the deal happens, according to the Journal story, Third Screen would likely become part of AOL's Advertising.com unit, which helps broker ads on the Internet.
That makes a lot of sense, but what if it became part of Tegic Communications, AOL's mobile unit based in Seattle?
The Seattle office here is under some new management and poised for growth and new development.
Tegic lifted the lid its plans after attending 3GSM World Congress, one of the largest wireless conventions in the world. Check out that story here.
Dexterra's determined to grow
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:32 PM
VentureWire reported today that Bothell-based Dexterra has raised $36 million in a fifth round of funding.
It was only six months ago, the Bothell company, which develops enterprise software for mobile devices, closed an $18 million round.
VentureWire said new investor New Enterprise Associates led the round, joining existing investors Canaan Partners, Intel Capital, Mesirow Financial, Motorola Ventures and Sigma Partners.
According to a release, the money will be for "strategic, measured" growth in 2007, while also working to achieve profitability by the year end.
The company's customers include Motorola and Vodafone.
Since the company was founded in 2002, VentureWire said Dexterra has raised about $88 million.
In this story, co-founder and CEO Robert Loughan explains how the company is set for tremendous growth.
Loughan's essential argument is that fast wireless networks being deployed by wireless operators and highly capable handsets are allowing companies to extend valuable software used inside its walls into mobile workforces.
As if to make the point, Dexterra said today that it has achieved more than 250 percent year-over-year growth since its inception in 2002. In addition, it says analysts are predicting the mobile business software market will be more than $1
billion by 2010.
John McCain lands in Boeing territory
Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:52 PM
"We cannot fear this new world ... we should embrace it."
Sen. John McCain made those comments today in reference to the global economy characterized by growing trade with Asia. But he might have been talking about the new world of the Pacific Northwest, in which Boeing is suddenly his ally.
At today's lunch, the man who has long been the leading congressional critic of Boeing mentioned it as a shining example of companies that have achieved success through exports to Asia.
Boeing was one of the event's three major sponsors (with Microsoft and Premera Blue Cross), so you couldn't help but notice the Boeing lunch table front and center and the huge Boeing poster on the wall.
Here are some more excerpts from McCain's speech:
"Wheat farmers in the eastern part of the state, fruit and vegetable growers throughout Washington, manufacturing giants like Boeing, software titans like Microsoft -- all of them benefit from and depend on foreign markets."
"Look at Boeing and their exports for what they've achieved. Free trade and Asia has had such an incredible impact here. Driving this economy here is relations with Asia."
Quite a different tack than when talking about the company in 2004, when McCain recalled spotting a footnote in the federal budget about a deal that smelled rotten.
As The Seattle Times' Alicia Mundy later wrote:
McCain and his two aides have outmaneuvered Air Force brass and Boeing's 35-person Washington lobbying operation in a classic Washington power play and a media blitz worthy of Madison Avenue.
McCain's efforts killed the deal and sparked criminal convictions; spurred the resignations of top Air Force and Boeing officials, including Boeing CEO Phil Condit; and brought to light the biggest Pentagon weapons scandal in 20 years.
"The deal did not pass the sniff test," McCain said. He exploded about it on the floor of the Senate in late 2001. Reluctantly, he agreed to a compromise at the end of 2002."
And more recently McCain has been questioning Boeing's $615 million federal settlement of its procurement scandals, demanding answers from Chief Executive James McNerney.
Funny, that topic didn't come up today.
Hit the slopes and show it off
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:41 PM
When the forecast calls for a lot of white powdery stuff to fall from the skies, it's hard not to get a little bit antsy.
For some time, the Washington ski slopes have provided Web cams to visitors of their Web sites so they can check out the snow conditions. But now the Summit at Snoqualmie has an even more high-tech option.
The Summit is providing a site where riders and skiers can post home videos from the slopes. Some of the videos were obviously posted by the Summit and feature music tracks in the background, but others show look like 30 seconds from a cell phone.
I can see how this could really catch on with people vying to show off the best jumps and tricks. After all, typically the only people to catch it are the few taking the lift overhead.
Check out "Four year old Jarod's first time skiing," and "WHOOHOO," in which a snowboarder lands a sweet jump.
Google challenge to Microsoft
Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:56 AM
It's still too early to tell how much Google's new Apps Premier Edition will threaten Microsoft's Office empire. At least one respected analyst who knows Microsoft well is now calling Google's $50 Web service suite, announced yesterday, "the perfect MS Office Killer."
Mark Anderson points to the success of Salesforce.com in making the argument that Google's applications could win over a number of corporate customers, even if they are initially reluctant to store data online, in this case on Google's servers.
"For the first time since Albuquerque, the Redmond kids have a serious defensive battle on their hands," he writes.
Anderson also mentions that he was in a meeting inside the Googleplex this week being wooed by CEO Eric Schmidt, Google.org Executive Director Larry Brilliant and other former Microsofties waiting to start work at Google. Perhaps all that Silicon Valley schmoozing had an effect -- many analysts agreed that Microsoft should be worried, if not now, certainly in the long run.
What really counts is what businesses have to say, and not enough of them have weighed in yet. One thing seems true -- for a product with a 90 percent market share, a little competition couldn't hurt.
Turning snail mail into e-mail
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 5:13 PM
Seattle-based Document Command said today it raised $2.84 million in debt, or convertible notes.
Document Command makes a product called Remote Control Mail, which allows people to access their postal mail online.
The financing comes from members of the Keiretsu Forum and corporate strategic partners. The notes are expected to convert into a round of capital by June when the company expects to raise up to $10 million.
The funding will help the company roll out its services to customers. It said its service is already in use by businesses and individuals in more than 80 countries.
The Remote Control Mail works because it receives the mail each day, scans the outside of the sealed envelopes and presents this image to the customer online. The customer then determines whether to have the mail opened and scanned, shredded, recycled, transferred elsewhere, or forwarded.
Microsoft's legal future is now
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:48 PM
Earlier this week, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith put the company's first appearance before the Supreme Court, a complex patent dispute with AT&T, in perspective.
"It's symbolic that the first issue before the Supreme Court for our company is an intellectual property issue because fundamentally we're an innovation-based and an intellectual property based company," Smith said in an interview on Tuesday. "While the last decade has probably focused more on antitrust than any single field, I think the next decade is likely to focus more on intellectual property and patent law than any other legal field."
Today a jury in San Diego said Microsoft should pay Lucent-Alcatel $1.52 billion in damages for infringing on the network infrastructure giant's patents related to digital music. See coverage from Bloomberg and Reuters.
The scope of the damages in that case, which is the first part of a complicated patent battle between the two companies, could be affected directly by the Supreme Court's decision in the AT&T case argued Wednesday. The high court is expected to rule on the AT&T case by July.
"Damages [in the Lucent-Alcatel case] were based on Windows sales volumes times PC sales prices worldwide since May 2003," Microsoft spokesman Jack Evans said in an email. "Roughly half the damages were based on foreign sales, which would be affected by our appeal of Microsoft vs. AT&T to the Supreme Court."
Microsoft is prepared to appeal the Lucent-Alcatel verdict. Here's a statement from Tom Burt, Microsoft corporate vice president and deputy general counsel:
We think this verdict is completely unsupported by the law or the facts. We will seek relief from the trial court, and if necessary appeal.
Like hundreds of other companies large and small, we believe that we properly licensed MP3 technology from its industry recognized licensor -- Fraunhofer. The damages award seems particularly outrageous when you consider we paid Fraunhofer only $16 million to license this technology.
Therefore today's outcome is disappointing for us and for the hundreds of other companies who have licensed MP3 technology. We are concerned that this decision opens the door for Alcatel-Lucent to pursue action against hundreds of other companies who purchased the rights to use MP3 technology from Fraunhofer, the industry-recognized rightful licensor.
This case is only one part of a larger dispute between Microsoft and Alcatel-Lucent over intellectual property that began when Alcatel-Lucent took aggressive action against our customers and later against Microsoft. We will continue to defend our customers against unfounded claims and are pursuing a number of patent claims against Alcatel-Lucent, including the International Trade Commission case filed earlier this week.
EA vet to advise Microsoft entertainment unit
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:25 PM
Video-game industry veteran Don Mattrick will advise Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, The Wall Street Journal reported today.
Microsoft confirmed that Mattrick, who left leading game studio Electronic Arts in September 2005 after 23 years with the company, will serve as an external adviser to the Entertainment and Devices Division.
"Don will be working directly with [Division President] Robbie Bach and his E&D senior leadership team to further cultivate the broadest and best experiences across Microsoft gaming and entertainment platforms," according to a company statement.
Clearwire's new ad agency
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:42 AM
Kirkland-based Clearwire hired Los Angeles-based Omnicom Group's DDB as its new advertising agency, according to industry trade publication RCR Wireless.
The article said Clearwire, which provides wireless broadband Internet access, hired the agency after a review of its advertising business, and that Clearwire's advertising spending could be expected to grow to more than $25 million.
Other agencies that Clearwire was reportedly considering were the Los Angeles offices of M&C Saatchi and independent shop Richards Group in Dallas.
Previously, Clearwire used St. John & Partners, of Jacksonville, Fla., the first market where its service was launched.
Make money stealing T-Mobile Wi-Fi
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:06 PM
Madrid-based Fon, a company that tries to propagate Wi-Fi by sharing access within a community, is taking on two local companies: Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA and Seattle's Starbucks.
It is now advertising a new gimmick called Fonbucks. The tagline: "where FON + Starbucks = cash for you."
Here's the deal. If you live close to a Starbucks, they'll send you a free wireless router. When you install the router, you'll provide users wireless access for a daily fee, but at a huge discount to what Starbucks charges (Of course, it is not actually Starbucks, but T-Mobile USA that builds and manages the Wi-Fi networks).
FON says, it's simple. Why would a Starbucks patron pay $10 to T-Mobile when he or she could use the service being provided by the FON router for $2 a day? For your troubles (and for providing the broadband access), you get half that, or $1.
FON claims to be the largest Wi-Fi community in the world; members share their wireless Internet access at home and, in return, enjoy free Wi-Fi wherever they find another Fon access point.
The buzz about Clearwire's IPO
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:49 AM
Kirkland-based Clearwire, Craig McCaw's latest wireless venture, is getting ready to go public and attempting to raise up to $575 million.
And, if successful, Clearwire's IPO will be the second largest in Washington history after AT&T Wireless raised $10.6 billion in 2000.
With so much money on the line, the company is gathering quite a bit of buzz.
Clearwire is rolling out a nationwide wireless broadband network called WiMax that for now can replace DSL or cable in the home, but will be increasingly mobile in the future, potentially creating a whole host of new applications.
But recently, it seems every time I write about Clearwire, as I did today, I get a number of emails or phone calls asking about the IPO.
Partly, I think this is because the company was featured on Cramer's "Mad Money" TV show, last week. The show features Cramer, an enthusiastic man who picks stock that can send prices soaring.
And, according to TheStreet's recap of the show last week, he likes McCaw a lot, calling him one of "the greatest moneymakers" in telecom history.
It is true that McCaw has an incredible track record, responsible for what later became AT&T Wireless and Nextel Communications. But he also dabbled in ventures that flopped, such as XO Communications, which went bankrupt, and Teledesic, which sputtered before it had a chance of beaming Internet access from the sky.
Cramer acknowledged these ventures, saying: that even one of his biggest failures could have made people a fortune if they had been careful about profit-taking.
This background leads me to answer two of the biggest questions I've been getting from readers: When will the IPO happen? And, how can I participate in it?
First off, no one knows for sure when it will happen. Bellevue-based Sharebuilder, which allows individuals to buy stocks directly, is estimating that the stock will be priced during the week of March 3.
Secondly, it is really difficult to participate in IPOs as an individual.
"IPO investing is largely the province of large institutional investors; individuals are at a distinct disadvantage," according to IPOHome.com. Large institutional investors that have close relationships with the brokerage houses typically get first crack at buying shares. IPOHome.com does share a few techniques for how an individual could invest.
Good luck everyone.
Talisma executive changes
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:34 AM
Following up on the news that Bellevue-based Talisma had a record 2006 in terms of customer growth, the company said it was making a number of executive changes.
Talisma, which develops customer relationship management software, said yesterday that it has promoted Chief Financial Officer Wade Pfeiffer to the additional post of chief operating officer.
It also named Brad Birnbaum, former vice president of product development, as chief technology officer.
And, to replace Birnbaum, the company hired Dan Mason as Vice President of Development. Talisma also hired Sharon Thompson as vice president of human resources.
Talisma acquired eAssist in 2004 and Knowledgebase.net in 2005.
Since then, Talisma said, it has signed a company record 266 new customers in 2006, which exceeds the new customer count of the five previous years combined.
In a release, Talisma's CEO Dan Vetras said: ""Last year was very successful for Talisma because of the growing demand for CIM (Customer Internaction Management software), but it is only a precursor of what is to come....Even though we've just had the best year in our company's history, we're confident that 2007 will significantly exceed our previous accomplishments."
T-Mobile USA chief marketer leaving
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:15 AM
After ushering in a new image at T-Mobile USA late last year, the Bellevue company's head marketing officer Mike Butler is leaving.
Butler, who started at the company in 2004, was instrumental in changing T-Mobile's marketing campaign.
In October, T-Mobile USA said it was sidelining Catherine Zeta-Jones as its celebrity spokeswoman, and opting instead to launch an ad campaign based on everyday people.
As part of the switch, T-Mobile said it was introducing MyFaves, a service that allows subscribers to make and receive unlimited calls from their five favorite people -- regardless of whether those people are T-Mobile subscribers.
The company's tagline changed from "Get More" to "Stick Together."
T-Mobile declined to get too specific about the chief's departure, but released this statement:
"Mike Butler is leaving T-Mobile and his creative horsepower will be missed. Mike's contribution and leadership in building a strong national brand has been instrumental in driving our rapid growth and establishing our most recent new positioning behind Stick Together. Robert Dotson remains as not only the CEO but Chief Brand Officer and ensures the continuity of this new brand position into the future."
The week following the brand change, T-Mobile held a New York press conference to unveil long-term plans that included rolling out faster cell phone networks to compete against the other national wireless carriers. It spent $4 billion on new spectrum to enable the roll-out.
It was there that T-Mobile USA's CEO Dotson said it was crucial for the company to no longer position itself as a low-cost provider, but as a brand that offers great things.
Dotson is no stranger to implementing marketing campaigns. Prior to working at T-Mobile, he worked at Pepsico, where he was responsible in various marketing fields, including holding the title of Senior Director Marketing USA at Pepsico's Kentucky Fried Chicken division.
Verizon Wireless revs engine
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:02 AM
Verizon Wireless said this week that it will be rolling out an even faster wireless network in the Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Spokane and Vancouver areas.
The network, called EV-DO Rev. A (or Evolution-Data Optimized Revision A), primarily increases upload speeds by five or six times over the original EV-DO network that was rolled out in Washington in 2005. The Rev A network also slightly increases download speeds.
Customers who subscribe to Verizon Wireless's BroadbandAccess can expect average download speeds of 450-800 kilobits per second and average upload speeds of 300-400 kbps on a phone or through a laptop connection.
The speed is the equivalent of being able to download a 1 Megabyte e-mail attachment -- a small PowerPoint presentation or a large PDF file -- in less than 15 seconds and upload the same size file in less than 25 seconds.
For now, two wireless modem cards for laptops will be available to take advantage of the new speeds.
Earlier this month, I wrote that Verizon Wireless had announced its intentions for rolling out the faster speed network, also called 3.5G. It came on the heels of an announcement by Sprint Nextel, which had already rolled out service in Seattle and at least 21 other markets.
In the Seattle area, there are plenty of high-speed wireless options: AT&T, the former Cingular, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless access. T-Mobile USA provides slightly slower speeds, and Clearwire provides wireless Internet access for computers.
Getty Images to acquire Jupitermedia?
Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:57 AM
Though it might seem at first like an odd pairing, a report out today said Internet information company Jupitermedia is in talks to be bought by stock photo giant Getty Images.
Seattle-based Getty is in discussions to buy Jupitermedia for about $450 million, the New York Post said, in a bid to expand its offerings to Web site designers and online marketers.
Jupitermedia shares were up 24 percent in Nasdaq trading. The company's market value is about $287 million.
Jupitermedia includes Jupiterimages, which holds the rights to more than 7 million images online. Getty Images' other recent acquisitions include iStockphoto for an undisclosed sum, Pixel Images Holdings Ireland for $135 million and Laura Ronchi S.p.A. Italy for an undisclosed sum.
A Bloomberg report said a Getty spokeswoman declined to comment on the New York Post story.
Microsoft, AT&T and the Supremes
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:21 AM
Microsoft marked a milestone today, arguing for the first time before the U.S. Supreme Court in a patent dispute with AT&T.
While the company's long-running antitrust battle once looked like it would reach the highest court in the land, it never did.
Today's roughly hour-long argument stemmed from a patent claim filed by AT&T in 2001. A technology in Windows that converts recordings from analog to digital signals and back again for playback infringes on an AT&T patent. That's not disputed. The question is whether AT&T can collect royalties for copies of Windows made and sold overseas. It boils down to the reach of U.S. patent law. See this Bloomberg story we ran on Tuesday for more details.
A transcript of the oral arguments should be posted here later today.
Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, gave this first take in an interview about 40 minutes after Microsoft's appearance before the Supreme Court:
The Justices were very well prepared and well informed and I think that contributed to a very good discussion with probing questions for both sides. But we certainly came away encouraged by our chances for success. We're certainly not going to predict any outcome on the basis of an oral argument. I don't think it's possible to do that. But I think we came out of the courtroom just as encouraged as we were when we went into it.
He said it was especially important to have the U.S. government arguing along side Microsoft in this case.
"That comes through very clearly when you read the transcript about why in the U.S. government's view and our view, it would be a mistake for the courts to seek to apply U.S. patent laws to activities that take place overseas," Smith said.
Smith seemed a bit awed by the stretch of the court's history:
"It's an amazing courtroom. It's the highest court in the country, obviously. It feels almost a little bit like a temple, a temple to justice. Here's a court that's over 200 years old, grappling with technology that is all very recent and is continuing to change very rapidly."
Gates Foundation gets new CFO
Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:12 PM
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said today it has hired investment banker Alexander S. Friedman as its chief financial officer.
Friedman is a mergers and acquisitions specialist at international investment bank Lazard (NYSE: LAZ).
Friedman is charged with overseeing the world's largest foundation's finance and accounting, financial and strategic planning, facilities and real estate, among other activities. At a time when the foundation has come under scrutiny for its investments, he'll have his hands full.
That is, if he gets involved in the funding side at all. Last year the foundation separated its operations and grant programs money from its endowment, which is handled by outside investment managers. Its endowment is worth more than $30 billion, with a gift of $30 billion more from Warren Buffett.
Friedman also has experience in biotechnology, having led corporate development at Medarex. And he is another Clinton Administration veteran to join the Gates Foundation. Like Sylvia Mathews, president of Global Development at the foundation, Friedman served under President Clinton. He was a White House Fellow and Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Special Projects. He is on the board of the New York-based NetAid Foundation, an initiative of Mercy Corps.
He will begin working on March 19, reporting to Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Scott.
Cellular One sticking around
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:45 AM
Dobson Cellular Systems said today it will change its name next month to Cellular One, according to RCR Wireless.
The Oklahoma City company purchased the Cellular One name last year from Bellevue-based Western Wireless as a condition of Western Wireless' sale to Alltel. Next month Dobson will begin marketing its services in Western Oklahoma and in Texas under the name.
The Cellular One name was used by numerous rural American wireless carriers, including Dobson, to create a nationwide entity. By purchasing the name, Dobson can now extend the Cellular One brand identity to all its own operations.
Clearwire gains more airwaves
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:10 AM
When AT&T announced that it would purchase BellSouth, it agreed to a few conditions to get government approval.
One was to sell wireless broadband licenses held by BellSouth. The spectrum is good for rolling out technologies like WiMax, something both Sprint Nextel and Kirkland-based Clearwire pledge to do on a nationwide basis.
At the time, news reports said that Sprint Nextel was the likely bidder for the spectrum. I speculated here that Clearwire would most likely be the winner.
Today, AT&T announced that it would sell the spectrum to Clearwire. Prior to the merger between AT&T and BellSouth, BellSouth was offering wireless broadband in parts of 15 cities in eight states.
I could guess why Clearwire was the winner. The FCC did not require any conditions to the sale, so BellSouth was likely sell it to the least-threatening buyer. Or, perhaps, sell to the buyer to which it has the closest ties. That could be Clearwire, whose founder Craig McCaw also started McCaw Cellular Communications, which later became AT&T Wireless. Cingular Wireless, which bought AT&T Wireless in 2004, is now owned entirely by AT&T (and now called AT&T).
AT&T said today the transaction is worth $300 million in cash. It is expected to close promptly, following government approvals.
Clearwire has filed to go public, and updated its filings with the SEC last week to say that it now expects to raise up to $575 million. Two months ago, it was seeking to raise about $400 million.
Does RFID use need regulation?
Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:05 AM
Jeff Morris thinks so. Morris, chairman of the state House Committee on Technology, Energy and Communications, has been looking into radio frequency technology for years now.
This story on his bill doesn't have any comment from Morris. He has said in the past that he does not want to constrain the technology, but he does favor putting into law some basic principles that protect personal data. Here's a summary of the bill.
When the committee members first started discussing RFID a few years ago, industry representatives told them not to impose legislation that would damage a nascent industry. But that industry is not so nascent anymore.
RFID tags are now in passports, tires, contactless credit cards, Boeing planes, Nike shoes and Gap sweaters. Soon wireless companies plan to deploy them in mobile phones so that consumers can order products by holding their phones up to an advertising billboard.
While the technology is becoming ubiquitous, I'm not aware of any state consumer protections that address RFID specifically.
Last year I bought a sweater at a major retail chain store. I noticed that it had an RFID tag attached, sewn into the seam inside the sweater. When I asked the salesperson at the register what the tag was for, he said he didn't know.
Consumer privacy advocates have called for "killing" or deactivating RFID tags at the point of sale. Retailers argue the tags could allow them to offer better service, knowing size and style preferences of repeat customers, for example.
One option is for stores to notify consumers about what kind of data the tag contains, since the information can be easily read outside the store, and let consumers decide to keep it or not. But at least in this case, the basic principles of notification and choice were not being followed.
Is legislation the answer? I'd welcome any of your thoughts on RFID and privacy...
New engineering center funded by PACCAR
Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:31 PM
Paccar makes the hulking Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks used to haul goods along the world's highways. But it wants to be known for more than that.
Today the Bellevue company said it's giving $2 million to Gonzaga University to construct a new engineering center. The funds will go towards building the Paccar Center for Applied Science, a 25,000-square-foot facility that will house robotics and artificial vision labs as well as classrooms and offices.
A lot of big ambitions seem to be riding on the gift.
When it opens in fall 2008, university President Robert Spitzer said the new center would "become the technological heart of our campus." Dennis Horn, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, predicted it would lead to "a significant jump in interest in Gonzaga among engineering students from around the country."
Company CEO Mark Pigott said Paccar is recognized as "one of the leading technology companies in the world. Hmm ... not exactly software or brain research, but these days designing a semi is also a high-tech process.
And it looks like Paccar can afford to be generous. Last quarter its profit was up 22 percent to $380 million on sales of $4.23 billion.
Gates Foundation, NBA players reach for the net
Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:24 PM
At Sunday's NBA All-Star game in Las Vegas, players will be shooting for something more than a basket. Five NBA All-Stars are donating funds to a grassroots campaign to fight malaria in Africa, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is matching their pledge.
The campaign Nothing But Nets, which raises funds to provide insecticide-treated bed nets for families in Africa, will get help from Atlanta Hawks guard Joe Johnson, who will contribute $1,000 per basket made in the game. Other players will donate money and participate in charity events around the game.
Nothing But Nets was created by the United Nations Foundation and spurred by Sports Illustrated Columnist Rick Reilly. He challenged each of his readers to donate $10 to buy a bed net to protect a family from malaria, a disease that kills more than a million people a year. The Gates Foundation matches contributions dollar for dollar.
Ballmer's update: Reading (between) the lines
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:12 AM
Microsoft's stock is down about 2.2 percent in mid-afternoon trading to $28.80 as investors digest Chief Executive Steve Ballmer's strategic update yesterday.
The headlines? His warning to Wall Street analysts that some of their forecasts for Windows revenue in fiscal 2008 were "overly aggressive" and his pledge to keep operating expense growth below the $2.7 billion figure that landed on the stock like a ton of bricks last year.
For close followers of the company, it might be worth reading the transcript of the presentation (download Word document here).
If you're tracking the progress of the Xbox business, Ballmer's comments on console pricing might be of particular interest. The Entertainment and Devices Division is committed to profitability in fiscal 2008. Asked about the potential of a price cut on the Xbox 360 console, Ballmer said, "I think every console in the world has had a price decrease sometime in the first few years. I don't know whether we'll have a price decrease in the first few years, and I don't want to comment on that, but I will highlight for you that every console has had a price decrease in the first few years."
Mary Jo Foley interprets how Ballmer views the Microsoft-Novell relationship. Here's what he said:
The deal that we announced at the end of last year with Novell I consider to be very important. It demonstrated clearly the value of intellectual property even in the open source world. I would not anticipate that we make a huge additional revenue stream from our Novell deal, but I do think it clearly establishes that open source is not free and open source will have to respect intellectual property rights of others just as any other competitor will.
Here are a couple of analysts' takes:
Sid Parakh of McAdams Wright Ragen wrote in a research note this morning that the update appeared to be aimed at "managing expectations" and priming Wall Street analysts for the company's fiscal 2008 forecasts, due out in April.
He fine-tuned his own estimates as a result, decreasing fiscal 2008 revenue estimates by $293 million to $56.7 billion. That correlates to a dialed-down Windows revenue growth rate. Parakh lowered the rate from 11 percent to 9 percent. He did not change his earnings-per-share estimate, currently $1.72 for fiscal '08, because the lowered revenue estimate was offset by Ballmer's guidance on moderated operating expense growth.
Brent Thill of Citigroup wrote "Our biggest takeaway from the event is that MSFT is clearly trying to temper the exuberance in some Street models over Vista." He left his models unchanged at 9 percent Windows revenue growth in fiscal '08. "Our view remains unchanged that Vista will have a gradual uptake and will not create a significant spike above the normal trend line of PC growth," he wrote.
You can see IDC's latest PC growth estimates here. An interesting note to go with IDC's numbers: Analyst Loren Loverde told me in an e-mail last night that "the fourth quarter of 2006 was weaker than expected -- particularly in the U.S. and Japan. We will finish updating our forecasts in a couple weeks, but in the meantime the assumption is that 2007 growth may come down a little (0-1% by early estimate)."
Brier Dudley asks some interesting questions in his take.
SeaTab Software raises $3.5 million
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 8:00 AM
Bellevue-based SeaTab Software, which provides analytical tools for searching a company's sales information, is announcing today that it has raised $3.5 million in venture capital.
Investors include Trident Capital and a number of private individuals.
As part of the funding, Evangelos Simoudis, managing director of Trident Capital. will join the SeaTab Software board of directors.
SeaTab intends to use the new funding to accelerate its sales, marketing and product development efforts. The company will also use some money to repurchase shares previously held by Novell, an early investor in SeaTab.
David Weld is the president and CEO. Formerly, Weld held the positions of CEO at MessageGate and COO of Loudeye.
SeaTab Software was founded in 1998 and has nearly 12,000 customers, including REI, Concur, Zones, CarToys, Wireless Advocates and Novell.
Here is a story about SeaTab back in 2002.
Vallent-ine's Day marriage
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:58 PM
Bellevue-based Vallent, which helps wireless carriers manage and monitor the performance of their networks, said today at 3GSM that its acquisition with IBM is complete.
IBM announced in November that it agreed to acquire Vallent, a privately held software company with more than 400 employees.
IBM said today that Vallent's operations will be integrated into the IBM Software Group's Tivoli Software unit. With Vallent, IBM can now offer services for wireline, wireless, IP, and IT infrastructure to help clients manage services from the server to the handset.
Vallent will also help IBM offer services to new opportunities, such as fixed-mobile convergence and IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) deployments.
Seattle deficit turns to surplus -- the Boeing effect
Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:06 PM
Seattle had the largest trade surplus of any city in the U.S. last year, according to a World City study released today based on new census figures.
Seattle carried a $10.6 billion trade surplus in 2006. The year before, the city had a trade deficit of $2.9 billion. Guess what happened in between? Boeing sold a lot of planes.
This news comes on the heels of a report showing the U.S. trade deficit hit a record high for the fifth year in a row. Oil imports and Chinese goods contributed to the widening gap. The U.S. trade deficit grew 6.5 percent to an all-time high of $767 billion, according to the Commerce Department.
Here in Seattle, aircraft and aircraft parts made up more than half of the total $65 billion in exports last year. Seattle's international trade grew more than 19 percent to almost $120 billion, outpacing the 12 percent growth of the U.S. as a whole.
Other figures point to the importance of the region's trade relations with Asia. The volume of trade with Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea rose significantly.
Canada and China, Seattle's top two trading partners, accounted for more than 40 percent of the total trade. Twenty countries did more than $1 million in trade with Seattle in 2006.
By the way, Seattle's top ten exports were aircraft, aircraft parts, computer chips, corn, soybeans, oil, computers, frozen fish, motor vehicles for transport and medical technology. Not sure where Microsoft software fits in, since it's not a computer or a computer chip.
The top ten imports were crude oil from petroleum, passenger vehicles, aircraft parts, petroleum gas, parts for arcade games, wood, color TVs and computer monitors, leather footwear and internal combustion engines.
Promo gives Vista users T-Mobile HotSpot access
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:23 PM
Microsoft and T-Mobile have teamed up on a promotion that gives users of Windows Vista free access to T-Mobile wireless HotSpots until April 30.
The Web site they're using to promote this piece of the Vista marketing puzzle has a cosmonaut theme and some odd bells and whistles. There's a game where you pilot a little laptop around asteroids, a build-your-own solar system game and a bunch of promotions for Jefferson Starship, the present incarnation of Jefferson Airplane.
Perhaps the most bizarre feature, especially given the recent NASA scandal, is a "hot or not" style game featuring Russian cosmonauts.
3G newtorks ring in revenue
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:55 AM
Seattle-based M:Metrics said today that the high-speed data networks that carriers have started to install around the world at the cost of billions are bringing in new revenue.
The news comes while most of the wireless leaders are meeting in Barcelona at 3GSM.
M:Metrics, which conducts surveys among wireless users, said growing use of 3G handsets has resulted in the adoption of mobile data services. The firm's latest monthly survey shows that subscribers are twice as likely to buy mobile content such as games, news and information, photo messaging and search when using a 3G handset.
"3G has been a significant driver of mobile data consumption," said Paul Goode, M:Metric's vice president and senior analyst. "The 52 million 3G subscribers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States are making a substantial contribution to mobile operators' top lines, as by driving monthly data services ARPU [average revenue per user]."
In the U.S., M:Metrics said 9.6 percent of subscribers have a 3G phone. That compares which Italy, which has the highest concentration of users, at 26.4 percent.
Integra Telecom boosts network
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:48 AM
Portland-based Integra Telecom, which provides telecom services to small and medium-size business, said today that its merger with Electric Lightwave of Vancouver, Wash. is allowing it to serve a larger customer base with a wider variety of services.
During its existence, Electric Lightwave invested about $1 billion in building a fiber network across a number of Western U.S. states. It built a long-haul network connecting all of them, in addition to extensive metropolitan networks, said John Nee, Integra's vice president of marketing.
Integra plans to continue investing in the network and has $50 million committed to this year's capital budget.
Integra can now provide telephone and Internet services over a fiber network -- in addition from DSL lines it leases from Qwest in the last mile. With the addition of fiber, Integra can offer faster speeds and more bandwidth, allowing it to serve much larger companies than it could before.
Integra purchased Electric Lightwave for $243 million. In addition to purchasing the company, it also raised $207 million in working capital to expand and upgrade the combined network.
Nee said Integra, which has 1,100 employees, has about 11 percent marketshare in the Puget Sound area, with an even higher penetration rate in the downtown core. Its largest competitors are Qwest, Verizon, Time Warner Telecom and XO Communications.
It provides service in eight states: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota, Utah, California and Arizona.
Daylight-saving time fixes, from Microsoft
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:21 PM
Thanks to Congress, we spring forward on March 11 this year instead of April 1. Daylight-saving time ends later, too. The changes could wreak havoc with certain electronic devices -- maybe even something more important than your VCR. We ran this Washington Post story earlier this month with more background on the change.
Microsoft today provided an update of its daylight-saving time (DST) preparedness plans. You can find lots of details here.
If you're running Windows Vista and Office 2007, you're covered. Microsoft built the new dates into its latest releases.
For people running Windows XP SP2, Microsoft will today begin pushing out a fix for the new DST dates via Automatic Updates.
Fix information for other affected products -- and there are a lot of them -- are available from a variety of sources, depending on the product.
Microsoft stymies next Windows chatter
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:34 PM
With Windows Vista on the market for just two weeks, some bloggers and trade publications were already marking their calendars for the next release of Windows.
The stories stemmed from comments made last week by Ben Fathi, corporate vice president in charge of development for the Windows Core Operating System Division.
"You can think roughly two, 2 1/2 years is a reasonable time frame that our partners can depend on and can work with," Fathi said in this story by IDG News Service. "That's a good time frame for refresh."
Many people took that to mean another Windows go-round by 2009. The chatter must be getting hot when Microsoft goes so far as to douse it with an official response on its Web site for journalists.
"We are not giving official guidance to the public yet about the next version of Windows, other than that we're working on it. When we are ready, we will provide updates," reads the statement, attributed to Kevin Kutz, Director, Windows Client.
HTC's first quarter phone line-up
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:16 PM
HTC, the Taiwanese phone manufacturer that produces more Windows Mobile devices than anyone else, launched three phones for the first quarter today at the 3GSM.
Well, actually it's hard to call these devices phones at all.
The one that stands out is the HTC Advantage (X7500), which fits nicely in the emerging category called Ultra-Mobile PCs, or UMPCs. The niche focuses on taking advantage of the ever-growing number of wireless broadband networks being built. It's bigger than a phone, but much smaller than a laptop. In addition, the battery is rated to last up to eight hours.
The device would come with the usual suspects, Outlook, Excel and Word, but it also has a couple of key features, including HTC's VueFLO technology, which uses "G-Sensor," a technology that allows users to simply tilt the device to move around the page.
Specs include a 3-megapixel camera and a second VGA camera for video telephony; connectivity options including HSPDA, Tri-band 3G, Wi-Fi, stereo Bluetooth and GPS.
The other devices mirror phones and PDAs seen today.
The HTC S710 will be one of the first to launch with Microsoft Windows Mobile 6, also unveiled at 3GSM.
As you can see, the handset looks like a phone, but has a concealed "semi-auto-sliding" keyboard. With Windows Mobile 6, e-mails can be received with HTML formatting and users can chat over Windows Live.
The HTC P3350 is a slim PDA phone with strong music and entertainment functionality. HTC's Media Hub allows users to play and manage music, watch video or create ringtones An 8-way navigation control allows users to easily scroll through tracks.
If you don't know much about HTC, check out this profile on the company here. The company is increasing its size in Bellevue to be close to its largest partner, Microsoft, and near T-Mobile USA and AT&T's (or formerly Cingular) Redmond offices.
Microsoft's 3GSM presence and more
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:19 AM
Last year, Microsoft was a dominant force at 3GSM.
It rented out what seemed like the entire basement of a hotel across from the conference center to hold meetings and press conferences. Steve Ballmer even made an appearance by giving one of the longest keynote speeches of the week.
It was during that speech that Ballmer told the audience, on Valentine's Day, that Microsoft was there to partner, not dominate the industry.
This year at 3GSM, it looks like Microsoft is still making a significant showing. Without actually being there this year, I can't judge whether its presence is as large. Ballmer is not making any presentations, although several of the company's mobile executives are.
On Monday, Microsoft officially unveiled the latest version of its mobile operating system. I wrote about it last week after getting a preview. The operating system is geared toward looking more similar to Windows Vista for the PC, and has some critical upgrades when it comes to the usability of the device. But the new version is far from a total remake.
On Monday, Microsoft announced PlayReady, a new digital rights management technology that goes beyond keeping track of music and video, but into all new forms of content available on phones today.
Leading mobile operators worldwide, including Telefónica, O2, Verizon Wireless, Bouygues Telecom, and Cingular Wireless (now AT&T), are indicating plans to implement Microsoft PlayReady technology. Most of these carriers already use Microsoft's Windows Media 10.
With PlayReady, the carriers will be able to provide a range of new services, such as managing ringtones and images in all sorts of different business models.
PlayReady is expected to be available by June.
The new technology follows Microsoft's announcement last year at CTIA, a U.S. mobile trade show, that it plans to more heavily in mobile DRM.
Now that Microsoft has unveiled both its DRM and Windows Mobile 6, what will it leave to talk about at the upcoming CTIA show in March? Pieter Knook, Microsoft's senior vice president of Mobile and Embedded Devices, will appear at the Orlando, Fla., show along side Motorola CEO Ed Zander and AT&T COO Randall Stephenson in a presentation under the title of "broadband convergence."
Mobile WiMax on the horizon
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:11 AM
Before major WiMax competitors such as Clearwire and Sprint Nextel can build mobile wireless broadband networks, there must be equipment.
The WiMax Forum, which assists in the standardization process, said today it is one step closer to that happening.
Kirkland-based Clearwire, which is building WiMax-like networks based on proprietary equipment, and Sprint Nextel have both pledged to build true WiMax networks this year.
The Portland, Ore.-based WiMax Forum said 35 companies will begin testing their equipment for certification. The so-called WiMax Forum PlugFest is the second of its kind. The interoperability testing is taking place in labs in Malaga, Spain, this week.
The second plugfest has the largest number of participants to date. Companies include Accton Technology, Adaptix (formerly based in Seattle), Airspan Networks, Alcatel-Lucent, Alvarion, Aperto Networks, Beceem, GCT Semiconductor, Huawei Technologies, Intel, LG Electronics, Motorola, Navini, Nokia, PicoChip, POSDATA, Redline Communications, Redpine Signals, Runcom Technologies, Samsung, SEQUANS Communications, SOMA Networks, Telsima, Wavesat Wireless and ZTE.
In addition to these suppliers, 10 test equipment vendors supported the event: Aeroflex, AT4 wireless, Agilent, Anritsu, Azimuth Systems, Anite Telecoms, Innowireless, Sanjole, Rohde & Schwarz, and Tektronix.
Sales of mobile operating systems
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:54 AM
London-based Symbian announced today at 3GSM that it shipped 51.7 million Symbian smartphones to consumers worldwide in 2006, keeping it the clear leader in the high-end operating system phone market.
Compared with the previous year, Symbian shipped 52 percent more phones in 2006.
Symbian develops operating system for advanced mobile phones, and is primarily used by Nokia, which is part owner of the company. The company is also owned by Ericsson, Panasonic, Samsung, Siemens and Sony Ericsson.
Microsoft officially unveiled the latest version -- Windows Mobile 6 -- of its operating system on Monday, after the news was leaked last week. Scott Horn, director of marketing for Microsoft's mobile and embedded-devices group, said the software giant is catching up.
Horn said Microsoft shipped its operating system on 6 million devices in its last fiscal year. That represents a 90 percent increase for Windows-based phones year over year.
InfoSpace Part II at 3GSM
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:39 AM
I wrote a story today about how InfoSpace was partnering with a Norwegian company Fast to develop mobile search.
The Bellevue company released another bit of news today, saying that it will also partner with InfoGin, which adapts Web content for viewing on a mobile phone screen.
"A huge amount of mobile content is lost to consumers if Web pages aren't optimized for the mobile phone," said Steve Elfman, InfoSpace's executive vice president of mobile. "By combining our mobile search expertise and InfoGin's best-of-breed Web-to-mobile content adaptation solution, we will make finding content much easier for mobile phone users."
The two announcements show how serious InfoSpace is when it comes to taking on potential competitors such as Google and Yahoo! on the mobile phone. It will also have to go up against smaller startups, including Medio Systems of Seattle (see this story on how Medio raised $30 million in venture capital) and JumpTap of Cambridge, Mass.
Many of the carriers have announced partnerships with some of these search providers, but all of the deals are limited in scope, typically aren't exclusive, and are for an unspecified number of years, leaving an uncertain competitive landscape.
Impinj technology used to tag prescription drugs
Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:39 PM
Seattle chip supplier Impinj announced a significant deal today to apply its radio frequency technology to the pharmaceutical industry.
Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin and other prescription pain medication, will use Impinj RFID chips and readers in its high-speed packaging lines starting this spring.
The drug company said item-level RFID tags, which store a unique ID number describing the type of drug on each bottle, will help it improve product security from the factory to the pharmacy.
Impinj supplies the chips inside the tags and the tag readers. The system could read more than 1,000 tags per second during advance testing, Impinj said. In environments with multiple systems nearby, each emitting radio frequencies, the technology could read 200 tags per second reliably.
Cingular/AT&T picks Qualcomm
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:32 PM
AT&T, the new name of Cingular Wireless, said today that it will deliver mobile TV using Qualcomm's MediaFlo technology.
The two companies expect to make the service available in late 2007.
The service will allow subscribers to watch live high-quality TV on the phone. Currently, Cingular and other carriers provide streaming video to the phone, but it typically is not live. With MediaFlo, subscribers watch broadcast TV over airwaves owned by Qualcomm.
So far, Verizon Wireless has partnered with Qualcomm in the U.S. to roll out mobile TV. The announcement by Cingular is a little more of a surprise because its network uses technology based on the GSM standard. Verizon Wireless uses CDMA, which is primarily developed by Qualcomm.
It appears MediaFlo, which uses its own proprietary technology, is gaining early acceptance in the U.S. Internationally, the DVB-H standard has started to roll out, and Modeo is attempting to launch it in the U.S.
Bill Gates and Paul Allen converge downtown
Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:17 PM
These days Bill Gates and Paul Allen are shaping the landscape of Seattle as much as they've shaped its economy.
With construction noise almost drowning out his words, Bill Gates Sr. spoke at a groundbreaking Thursday for part of the new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters, a 12-acre site being built directly across the street from Paul Allen's Experience Music Project.
Gates remembered taking his children to the Space Needle for the World's Fair in 1962, calling the area "the heart of the city."
Now three eras converge: the Space Needle of the Boeing-led jet city forming a backdrop behind the glass and steel music museum built with software millions, to the global health and philanthropy powerhouse emerging from the parking lot.
"This spot has been a parking lot as long as I can remember," Mayor Greg Nickels remarked. Now it's being put to "a much higher and better use."
Gates Foundation employees, architects, city officials and others looked down at the site from the Space Needle and celebrated the groundbreaking with glasses of champagne.
Yet all the new development could exacerbate city traffic congestion. So far the Gates Foundation is kicking in onlyabout $1.68 million for traffic improvements.
Nickels said he wants to open up more two-way traffic and streets now cut off by Aurora Avenue. He also envisioned the streetcar set to run from Allen's South Lake Union biotech corridor past the Gates Foundation headquarters and EMP to eventually stretch down to the waterfront.
Spurred on by the big ambitions of Gates and Allen, Nickels can only hope plans to transform the Seattle Center area ultimately fare better than the tunnel option.
Microsoft Web-based mail keeps Hotmail name
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:42 AM
Microsoft is changing course again on the branding for part of its remodeled suite of Internet services.
The company said today that when its new Web-based email service launches, it will be dubbed Windows Live Hotmail, instead of Windows Live Mail. The new branding will show up in internal versions and in a public beta version due out "in the coming weeks."
Richard Sim, senior product manager, blogged with more details:
[O]ur most loyal users have been very happy with Hotmail for years and while they loved the improvements in the beta, some were a bit confused by name change.
As we prepare to launch the final version of our new web mail service, we recognize the importance of ensuring that our 260+ million existing customers come over to the new service smoothly and without confusion. By adopting the name "Windows Live Hotmail," we believe we're bringing together the best of both worlds -- new and old. We're able to offer the great new technology that Windows Live has to offer while also bringing the emotional connection many existing and loyal users have with Hotmail.
Microsoft has come under sustained criticism for the confusing branding around its suite of services, which we looked at in this story last summer. Do you find this branding move more or less confusing?
RSA: What's your secret password?
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:49 AM
SAN FRANCISCO -- Look around your computer. Chances are good there's a yellow sticky note somewhere with a password on it, especially if it's a long, complex password with numbers and letters and maybe symbols -- the kind that's typically assumed to be harder to crack or guess.
But that sticky note represents a greater risk to your company than the code-cracking attack that the long passwords are designed to defeat in the first place, said Dan Houser, principal architect for security at Huntington National Bank.
"The longer, more complex you make a password, the more likely it is the user will write it down," he said to an audience of information security professionals at the RSA Conference here.
A password breach is more likely to occur through disclosure ''with someone looking at the sticky note or 'shoulder surfing' as the user enters the password'' than through code cracking, he said.
Therein lies the rub.
He said 10 percent of users will write down their passwords no matter what.
"That doesn't mean they're sticking them on their forehead. They might be actually putting them in a locked file cabinet, but 10 percent of them are probably violating policy at any given moment and writing down their passwords," he said.
Another 45 percent never write them down. And the remaining 45 percent are more likely to write them down as they grow in complexity.
"Controls to prevent password cracking and guessing have an inverse relationship [to] disclosure, which is why there's a problem here," he said. "It's in the wet ware" --- as in software, hardware and you, the wet ware.
Houser's solution: simple, six-character passwords that the user can remember without writing down. He suggests acronyms instead of common words or sports teams that can be quickly found by dictionary programs.
Still, would-be password thieves lurk in every corner.
In a keynote speech yesterday, RSA executive Art Coviello complemented Bill Gates for his performance in leading the industry on this issue during a nationally televised interview last week.
Coviello showed a clip from Gates' appearance on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" in which Stewart asked Gates point-blank for his password.
"You don't have to answer that," Stewart said. "Is it Gates?"
Then he snooped some more.
"Do you have pets? ... Did you ever have a pet when you were young? ... What was the pet's name?"
WSA: Investment Forum May 2
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:25 PM
WSA, a technology trade organization in Washington, announced today that its 14th annual Investment Forum will be held on May 2.
The Investment Forum provides a venue for Northwest technology companies to make presentations of their business to venture capitalists and potential customers.
WSA is now accepting applications to be a presenter. The deadline is March 2
Nearly 300 attendees are expected at the forum. Presenting companies will have an opportunity to do a either funding pitches or sales pitches to the audience during their session. They will also have a chance to exhibit their products and solutions in a showcase during the event.
Here's a report from last year's event, which drew more than 300 people. The 25 companies making presentations had already raised $100 million. More than $13 billion was under management among the VCs in attendance, and more than $142 billion in revenues was distributed among companies represented by industry professionals there.
A day for casual games
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:16 PM
Following news that RealNetworks purchased a Brazilian casual games company today, Microsoft released a survey today regarding its own casual games site -- MSN Games.
The survey, which Microsoft commissioned, found that Americans are feeling more stressed out and starved for time than ever, with 56 percent of men 18 to 34 and 71 percent of women 18 to 34 spending less than an hour on themselves a day engaged in activities that provide downtime or alone time.
Playing casual games, such as arcade, puzzle, word and trivia games, and card and board games, is one of the activities men and women said they like to engage in when they have just 20 minutes to "recharge" during the day.
Each month, Microsoft said more than 13 million people play games on MSN Games, such as Sudoku, Fish Tycoon, Bejeweled 2 and Uno.
RSA: Symantec chief on Microsoft security
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:04 AM
SAN FRANCISCO -- John Thompson, chairman and CEO of Symantec, took the stage here shortly after Bill Gates to deliver a keynote speech that included several digs at Microsoft and its new operating system, Vista.
Symantec, one of a number of large security companies to squabble last fall with Microsoft over access to elements of the Vista kernel used in building security software, makes products that compete directly with new security offerings from Microsoft. Microsoft made some changes in response.
Thompson, outlining his vision for the future of the industry, said new technologies will inevitably be needed to solve tomorrow's security threats. Referring to Vista, the operating system Microsoft is billing as its most secure ever, Thompson said:
We should also not assume that a less vulnerable operating platform provides adequate security against tomorrow's threats. Did you get that? Instead, we need to constantly innovate and develop new solutions to keep pace with the evolving risk to enterprises and consumers alike.
Thompson said it takes more than one company to provide the range of security solutions in demand today.
No one company is going to secure everybody and, certainly, no one can do it alone. No company is so dominant or so all-knowing that it can provide the level of confidence needed throughout the entire online world. ... More than that, who would trust one company to do all of this and everything for them? Think about it: You wouldn't want the company that is keeping your books to audit your books. That same logic should apply. You wouldn't want the company that created your company's operating platform to be the one that's securing it from a broad range of threats. It's a huge conflict of interest.
RealNetworks goes to Brazil
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:26 AM
RealNetworks said today that it acquired Sao Paulo, Brazil-based Atrativa, a casual games Web site, to strengthen its already strong international game portfolio.
The acquisition allows Real to move into South America. Previously, it had a casual games footprint in Europe, China, Latin America and the U.S. Today, Real said it offers games to consumers through RealArcade, GameHouse.com, Zylom.com and Atrativa.com.br, accounting for more than 750,000 game downloads on a typical day.
The Seattle company said it purchased Atrativa for an undisclosed price at the end of 2006.
RSA: Super Bowl of security
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:17 AM
SAN FRANCISCO -- Overheard at the RSA welcome reception Monday night: "We would've had Bears jerseys if they'd won. Like, hey, defense, talk to us about defense."
But that defense didn't quite hold back the attackers, er, Colts, so it was probably a good marketing move to leave the jerseys in Chicago.
"There's always next year."
RSA: These guys can break the bank
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 7:44 AM
SAN FRANCISCO -- The RSA Conference 2007, a gathering of 15,000 of computer security professionals, is getting under way this morning with keynote presentations from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie. Their topic: "The Imperative to Connect: Advancing Trust in Computing." Also on the agenda: Executives of EMC's security division, RSA; John W. Thompson, chairman and CEO of Symantec; and a panel of cryptographers.
So who's here? Presumably, at least some of the attendees can step up to the consumer-facing Web site of a fictional bank -- Big Safe Bank -- and do some damage. The attackers in this fictional scenario are given some "helpful information," including customer ID numbers, account numbers and passwords.
Here are five tasks laid out as part of the conference's interactive testing challenge. I imagine most would attendees say they're here to stop people from doing these and other nefarious things.
Find a way to impersonate a user when sending a message using the "Contact Us" feature.
Create a new account and escalate user privileges by exploiting the Web site's vulnerability to a SQL injection.
Execute a phishing attack that would cause an actual user to unknowingly transfer money to a West Indies Bank account.
Transfer money to the West Indies account without any intervention from the victim user.
Borrow money past the user's allowed loan amount.
Challenges to Googl-Ya-Soft
Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:11 PM
Think about computer technologies, and U.S. companies clearly dominate. Microsoft for PC software, Yahoo! for content, eBay and Amazon.com for shopping, Google for search.
Of course, there are exceptions (Skype, Baidu, Opera, etc.), and these industries are all global, so it's a bit of a blurred picture.
But think about mobile technology and how people use it, and the U.S. is not necessarily on top. European and Asian companies have been ahead of the curve for a long time.
Now some European companies are making bold moves to try to shake their dependence on US computer and Internet giants.
In the news today, an alliance of Europe's biggest telecom companies aims to create its own mobile phone search engine to challenge Yahoo! and Google. The group includes Vodaphone, France Telecom, Deutsche Telecom, and one American network: Cingular.
While calls are becoming cheaper, the search advertising market is large and lucrative, and these companies say Google is getting too much of the pie. But for all its influence in search, Google's mobile offerings are limited.
Another example today comes from a Norwegian company trying to market its own advertising platform as an alternative to Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.
Fast Search and Transfer says its AdMomentum offers a one-stop solution for Web sites that don't want to share revenue with Google or the other big networks.
Posted by Monica Soto at 1:46 PM
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and final book in the wildly popular the Potter series, went on sale today in anticipation of its July 21 debut.
That spells good news for Amazon.com. Chief Financial Officer Tom Szkutak said the company's "Deathly Hallows" sales today were up more than 200 percent in the first seven hours when compared with the first full day of sales for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
The online retailer has more reason to be hopeful: Amazon customers pre-ordered 1.5 million copies of the "Half-Blood Prince" before it debuted in July 2005.
Comcast records a bundle
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:33 PM
Philadelphia-based Comcast, which provides cable TV, phone and other services in the Seattle area, hit a 10-year record for adding subscribers in a single quarter.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the record is a sign its strategy of bundling phone with cable and high speed Internet services is paying off.
In fact, GigaOM, the tech blog, reported that Comcast has almost hit $1 billion ($955 million) in sales from phone revenues alone.
The staggering figure shows that the cable giant is moving much more quickly onto phone company turf than vice versa, it wrote.
Comcast offers phone service through voice over IP, or by sending calls over the Internet. Comcast reported that it signed up 1.5 million digital voice subscribers in 2006. It has a total of 1.9 million, which GigaOM points out is roughly the number that independent VoIP provider Vonage has.
Speech recognition could be a narrow Vista security gap
Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:03 PM
The much-improved ability of Vista to follow spoken commands is the source of an early security brouhaha for the software, billed as Microsoft's most-secure operating system ever.
ZDNet blogger George Ou, following up on an idea raised by Sebastian Krahmer, tested whether speech recognition could be a way to remotely execute commands:
I recorded a sound file that would engage speech command on Vista, then engaged the Start button, and then I asked for the command prompt. When I played back the sound file with the speakers turned up loud, it actually engaged the speech command system and fired up the Start menu. I had to try a few more times to get the audio recording quality high enough to get the exact commands I wanted but the shocking thing is that it worked! Anyone that's ever visited MySpace knows how many annoying webpages out there that will start blasting loud MP3 music as soon as they enter the page.
Microsoft, on its Security Response Center blog, acknowledged that this is "technically possible," but several specific conditions have to be in place for it to work.
Ou concluded this is a "serious exploit," as it has been used to delete files.
"The fact that a website can play a moderate level sound file to interact in a way with the desktop by activating an idle speech command system and be able to delete user documents with zero user interaction is serious by any stretch of the imagination," Ou wrote.
But it can't be used to get around the User Account Controls (UAC) built into Vista as a defense against outside attacks being carried out without user consent.
"It is not possible through the use of voice commands to get the system to perform privileged functions such as creating a user without being prompted by UAC for Administrator credentials. The UAC prompt cannot be manipulated by voice commands by default," wrote a Microsoft employee, identified on the company's security blog only as Adrian. "... While we are taking the reports seriously and investigating them accordingly I am confident in saying that there is little if any need to worry about the effects of this issue on your new Windows Vista installation."
He listed conditions necessary for this exploit to be carried out:
[T]he system would need to have speakers and a microphone installed and turned on. The exploit scenario would involve the speech recognition feature picking up commands through the microphone such as "copy", "delete", "shutdown", etc. and acting on them. These commands would be coming from an audio file that is being played through the speakers. Of course this would be heard and the actions taken would be visible to the user if they were in front of the PC during the attempted exploitation. ... There are also additional barriers that would make an attack difficult including speaker and microphone placement, microphone feedback, and the clarity of the dictation.
Adrian wrote that the exploit appears in Vista as a result of improvements to the speech-recognition functions to help users with disabilities. We took a close look at the features and how they were developed in this story.
Sprinting ahead in wireless broadband
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:55 PM
Sprint is ahead in the race to roll out so-called 3.5G cellular broadband networks that provide faster upload speeds when connecting to the Internet.
On Tuesday, Sprint announced it was rolling out service in three more markets in South Florida, Portland, Ore., and Puerto Rico. It has already rolled out in Seattle and 21 other markets.
Almost as a comeback, today Verizon Wireless announced initial plans for rolling out its 3.5G network, also called EV-DO Rev A. It said in the service will be in the Boston area, the Richmond, Va., area, Chicago, Salt Lake City and in other cities in Utah, and throughout Verizon's footprint in Florida.
In general, Sprint said consumers can expect average download speeds of 450 to 800 kilobits per second (Kbps), with peak rates up to 3.1 megabits per second (Mbps). Upload speeds span between 300 and 400 Kbps, with peaks up to 1.8 Mbps.
I've had a lot of practice using both networks from both carriers. On a regular basis, I use Verizon Wireless 3G network -- something The Seattle Times pays for -- and am currently testing Sprint's 3.5G network through a loaner.
For the most part, when surfing the Internet and writing stories, I can't tell a difference between the two. However, there's a stark difference when sending data up, something I rarely do, but do notice the Sprint 3.5G service (vs. the Verizon 3G) is faster when uploading images I snap for the blog while traveling.
Mixpo mixes with Windows Live
Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:30 AM
Seattle-based Mixpo, which helps users publish video, photos and audio online, said it is partnering with Windows Live to provide access to more than 120 million users of Windows Live Spaces.
The users will now be able to add media to their Space as an embedded blog entry or a gadget called a "Mixcard." For more information, check out Mixpo's site here.
"Rich media is an important way for people to share their stories with friends or
the world," said David Fortin, senior director of product management at Windows
Live. "Mixpo offers users the simple tools for publishing multimedia they want to
maintain control of, expanding the ways in which they can share their stories with
Mixpo, which is funded by Madrona Venture Group, most likely secured this relationship with Windows Live through Anupam Gupta, Mixpo's COO. Prior to joining Mixpo in July, he worked at Microsoft for eight years,
most recently as the director of product management for Windows Live
Mixpo also garnered some attention this week after presenting at Demo 07, an annual event in Palm Desert, Calif., that draws lots of investors and jouranlists.