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April 30, 2007

Mix07: Seadragon surfaces, SAAS evolves and other sundries

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 6:35 PM

LAS VEGAS -- There was considerably more content delivered here today than is fit to print. Hence, the blog for some choice extras.

For those looking for a developer's-eye view of the news, I suggest reading the blog of Ryan Stewart at ZDNet. His take is that the biggest announcement Microsoft made today has to do with extending the .NET Framework to the Mac platform by way of its inclusion in Silverlight.

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, made some interesting observations during his keynote. First off, he noted that this was his first time speaking to a large audience of developers since starting at Microsoft in 2005.

Later, he described how technology for smooth, rapid zooming of images that went on display as Microsoft's Photosynth was making its way into Silverlight. Photosynth is a project of Live Labs, an applied research group that reports to Ozzie. We profiled the project last August. It is derived from work done at University of Washington, Microsoft Research and Seadragon Software, a small Seattle startup Microsoft acquired in 2006.

“As a result of the incredible response, specifically to the zooming technology in Photosynth, the Silverlight and Live Labs teams worked together to put zoomability" into the product, Ozzie said. It could be used for delivering super high resolution photos or advertisements over limited-bandwidth Internet connections.

Ozzie also traced the evolution of the argument in the software community over the end of software -- the idea being that all software functionality would be delivered as a service over the Internet and trump software code based on the PC itself. The pendulum has swung back and forth from the extreme viewpoints of all software, to all services and is now finding a happy medium -- or rather a tailored approach that uses services when appropriate and local software when that's appropriate.

"We’ll end up with a mixture of some of this and some of that," Ozzie said.

Ozzie said this is playing out more clearly in "version two" in the software as a service evolution.

"Software as a service v1 meant the Web. It meant inside the browser. But software as a service v2 has grown to fully embrace the uniquely valuable role of client in those scenarios," he said.

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Mix07: Silverlight incorporates .NET framework

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:30 PM

LAS VEGAS -- Here's a story we just posted from Ray Ozzie's keynote.

The upshot: Silverlight, Microsoft's forthcoming coming competitor to Adobe's Flash for video on the Web, will support Microsoft's popular programming environment. It was used up until now primarily for building desktop applications. Incorporating it with Silverlight allows developers to use the same tools for building applications that would run in a Web browser.

Microsoft also announced a service to host video content -- up to 4 gigabytes of data -- and stream it down to Web sites. That amount of storage is free.

Scott Guthrie, general manager of Microsoft's developer platform, said it would allow Web site developers to rely on the company's huge Internet infrastructure to maintain service in case a video posted to their site skyrockets in popularity.

"So if you get Digged or Slashdoted, our servers are there to go ahead and handle the load and go ahead and distribute it all over the world effectively,” he said.

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HouseValues founder stepping down

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:19 AM


Seattle Times file

Mark Powell

Mark Powell, the founder of Kirkland-based online real estate company HouseValues, is stepping down as chairman of the board. Powell founded the company in 1999 and was chief executive through mid-2003 and president through January 2004.

He's been chairman since June of 2003.

In a regulatory filing today, the company said Powell told the board last week that he was stepping down as director and chairman on May 31.

"Mr. Powell's decision not to stand for re-election did not result from a disagreement with the company on any matter relating to the company's operations, policies or practices. After more than seven years with HouseValues Mr. Powell has decided to dedicate his full energies to other interests."

The board picked Pete Higgins as its new chairman. Higgins worked at Microsoft from 1983 to 1999 and went on to found Seattle venture capital firm Second Avenue Partners.

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Ballmer on Gates, Vista and Google

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:17 AM

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was interviewed at the University of Washington business school in a USA Today story today. He had some fun things to say. Here are some snippets of the interview, which you can find in its entirety here.

On Microsoft's culture:
"I think Microsoft tends to err on the side of having less groupthink and more cacophony than most other places."

On his relationship with Bill Gates:
"Brothers stick together; that doesn't mean brothers are always having a simple and easy relationship. "

On whether Vista is Microsoft's last operating system:
"Nothing we've said should cause people to think that way. There will be a Vista. There will be a Vista plus one. There will be a Vista plus two, plus three."

On Google's products:
"They've come out with what I might call -- what's the politically correct way of saying it? -- they've come out with some of the lowest functionality, lowest capability applications of all time."

On missing the advertising boat:
"Really understanding the power of advertising as an Internet business model we came to later than I wish we had. That's the No. 1 thing I regret. We underinvested in some opportunities for a while."

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Supreme Court rules for Microsoft in AT&T case

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:53 AM

Today's ruling looks to limit the scope of damages patent holders will have to pay for sales of infringing products overseas. Here's the story from The Associated Press and a link to the court's ruling (PDF).

See this story for background on the AT&T case. This story explores the implications of the AT&T case for other pending Microsoft patent suits, including the high-stakes Microsoft-Alcatel litigation.

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Mix07: Gimme the loot

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 6:57 AM

LAS VEGAS -- Microsoft is serious about pleasing the crowd at the Mix conference.

At the registration desk, I noticed a small placard that instructed any government employees in attendance to identify themselves in order to avoid violating laws about accepting gifts. Then I was handed a plastic bag packed with a notebook, a Vista-logo flash drive key chain, a Silverlight sticker (oooh), a Windows Presentation Foundation Virtual Bootcamp DVD, and some other collateral materials.

That didn't seem like enough to get any government types in hot water for accepting swag. But this did:

I found my way over to the lounge area, where people were queing up to get free boxed copies of Windows Vista Ultimate and Expression Studio, a suite of design and development software. That's about $1,000 worth of goodies.

(Disclosure: I'm attending the event as a reporter and, as such, accepted a comped registration. I did not partake of the free software.)

Other perks: An oxygen bar, sponsored by Avenue A | Razorfish, the interactive marketing firm with offices in Seattle. There were a dozen "flavors" effected by passing the oxygen through scented oils. Eucalyptus, the most popular, gives you energy, so says the label. Almond is an appetite suppressant. Gardenia helps with memory. Cherry is a female aphrodisiac. In the mall adjacent to the conference center, an oxygen bar charges $22 for 15 minutes plugged into the gas.

Next door to the lounge is a massage room. Outside in the hall is an entertainment area complete with decked-out Xbox 360s, bean-bag chairs and surround sound.

There's certainly plenty to distract from the conference sessions, which begin at about 9:30.

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April 29, 2007

Mix07: What happens in Vegas to be reported here

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 6:20 PM

LAS VEGAS -- It's Sunday afternoon and the check in desk is still expecting 900 Mix participants to show up today. The 72-hour event aimed at pitching Microsoft's services strategy and products to Web developers really gets under way tomorrow morning with a keynote presentation from Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect and Live services strategy chieftan. On Tuesday, we're expecting to hear from Entertainment and Devices Division President Robbie Bach.

Attendees paid $1,195 for the event, plus the substantial cost of digs here at the posh Venetian in Vegas, where the temperature this afternoon is in the mid-90s. (It's a dry heat, as they say, and once inside the casinos and hotels, the outside world just kind of melts away.)

For some background on what's going on here, check out this story on the various competitive fronts between Microsoft and Adobe, a formidable competitor in providing platforms and development tools for people who want to build a new generation of applications that benefit from both the Web and the desktop. We'll also have more this week in the paper and continuing coverage on the blog.

Update: Here's a story from Monday's paper previewing Mix.

And while we're in Vegas, might as well give some thought to the potential for the Sin City Sonics.

What do you most want to hear from Microsoft at this event? And if anyone attending Mix is reading this, feel free to share your observations in our comments section.

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April 27, 2007

Renay San Miguel moves to Seattle

Posted by Kim Peterson at 4:59 PM

Renay San Miguel has left his spot on the CNN anchor desk and moved to Seattle to work for public relations firm Weber Shandwick.

San Miguel will provide strategic media advice for clients, including Microsoft and InfoSpace, and will help them figure out how to use blogs, streaming video and podcasts. He starts Tuesday.

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Microsoft names next class of Faculty Fellows

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 4:03 PM

Microsoft gives out sizeable grants to young university professors and researchers in computer science, encouraging them to stay in academia, but also bringing them into the fold of Microsoft Research. The company released the names of its 2007 class of New Faculty Fellows this morning.

They are:

-- Magdalena Balazinska, University of Washington
-- Josh Bongard, University of Vermont
-- Yixin Chen, Washington University in St. Louis
-- Adam Siepel, Cornell University
-- Luis von Ahn, Carnegie Mellon University.

The group was selected from among more than 100 applicants. They will each receive a $200,000 cash gift over two years to apply to their research. The fellows also get access to Microsoft software, events and Microsoft Research.

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Xbox 360 Elite on sale Sunday

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:08 AM


Microsoft

The Xbox 360 Elite: more of the same?

The Xbox 360 Elite console goes on sale Sunday. It has a 120 gigabyte hard drive (six times that of the original Xbox 360), an HDMI port and cables and costs $480. And it's in matte black with a metallic sheen. Existing Xbox 360 owners who just want to buy the super-sized hard drive can do so for $180.

Engadget tested the Elite against the regular Xbox 360, which came out in November 2005, and found that there really isn't much difference between the two.

Do yourself a favor, just buy that 120GB drive if you need the space, the HDMI really just doesn't justify replacing your whole console for a new $480 unit.

CNET's Crave blog says the Elite is actually disappointing when compared with Sony's PlayStation 3. It doesn't have a next-generation disc player (there is an add-on HD-DVD player), a Wi-Fi adapter or a flash media reader, which come on every PS3.

The bottom line is that the Xbox 360 Elite isn't a must-have upgrade for existing 360 owners, and it doesn't bring the 360 feature set in line with that of the PlayStation 3.

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April 26, 2007

InfoSpace writes a big check

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:02 PM

After being pressured by its largest shareholder, InfoSpace said today it is giving $200 million back to shareholders in the form of a dividend.

The company made the announcement as part of its first quarter financial report.

During the quarter, it lost $500,000, or 2 cents a share, on revenues of $86.6 million, a decrease of $3.6 million, or 4 percent, from last year.

Shareholders started to question what the company was planning to do with more than $400 million in cash and cash equivalents on its balance sheet after its largest mobile content customer said last year that it was pulling its business.

The dividend, approved by the board, will be a special one-time cash distribution of about $6.30 a share. The special distribution is expected to be paid within the next 30 days.

The dividend was part of a settlement agreement InfoSpace made with its largest shareholder, Sandell Asset Management, which owns 8.8 percent of the company.

About a month ago, Sandell asked InfoSpace to return $300 million in cash, cut $15 million in costs and hire a financial adviser to evaluate the potential sale of the company. It said it planned to nominate three directors at the 2007 annual shareholder meeting.

To avoid a proxy contest, InfoSpace agreed to appoint Nick Graziano of Sandell Management to the board immediately.

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Clearwire pads speaking schedule

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:03 PM

Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff has been tapped to deliver the keynote address at the Wireless Communications Association International annual convention June 13 in Washington, D.C.

Clearwire said Wolff will discuss the company's experiences as it implements its vision of wireless high-speed Internet and personal broadband services.

On Wednesday, Clearwire said Chief Strategy Officer Scott Richardson will keynote at WiMax World Europe in Vienna.

Wondering if these apperances are attempts to lift the company's stock price?

Clearwire's stock has dropped dramatically recently over concerns that it will have to raise billions of dollars more to roll out a network. This afternoon the stock was trading up 18 cents to about $17.77 a share. The Kirkland company is scheduled to report first-quarter financial results on May 8.

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Monolith artist in Portfolio's Job of the Week

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:25 AM

In its "Job of the Week" section, Conde Nast's new Portfolio magazine features Chris Alderson, a 24-year-old video game character artist at Kirkland-based Monolith Productions.

Recently, Alderson has been working on a metal-plated villain for a new project. To design this "giant robotic samurai," he trolled Google and Flickr for a day, searching for junkyard images of car parts, metal plates, and walls.

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Helio dragging down EarthLink

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:59 AM

Everyone knows that EarthLink had to do something as its dial-up Internet customers slowly slipped away.

And it has. It has started to roll out municipal Wi-Fi networks around the country and resell broadband services. It also launched a cellphone service, called Helio, with the help of SK Telecom of South Korea.

The service primarily targets younger users who like to keep in touch with their friends and use a lot of high-end data services, such as music downloads and e-mail. At CTIA last month, it showed off its fancy new dual-sliding phone called Ocean.

But while all this has been a huge opportunity for EarthLink, it's also a drag on its earnings. Today, the Atlanta-based company reported first quarter results.

During the quarter, Helio reported a net loss of $63.1 million on revenues of $30.4 million. EarthLink said minus certain amortization-related transactions,
its share of Helio's loss resulted in an equity loss of $29.3 million in the first quarter.

To be sure, EarthLink said Helio continues to make investments in infrastructure, products and marketing to support future growth. But still, the overall company's net loss was $30 million, or 24 cents a share (of that Helio contributed almost all -- or $29.3 million).

It added that Helio continues to increase its subscriber base and is on track to surpass 100,000 members in the second quarter.

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Father of the PlayStation to step down

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:20 AM

Ken Kutaragi, often called the "father of the PlayStation," said he will step down as chief executive of Sony's game division on June 19. He will become honorary chairman of Sony Computer Entertainment.

He will be replaced in the CEO spot by Kazuo Hirai, a longtime Sony games exec who is currently the division's president and chief operating officer.

Kutaragi is a gaming industry legend for his work on the PlayStation. His resignation comes after a very tough couple of years for Sony's games group. The company delayed the release of the PlayStation 3 by months and cut production shipment goals in half. Only about half a million PS3s have been sold in the U.S. this year, according to data by The NPD Group, compared with 1 million Nintendo Wiis and 721,000 Xbox 360 systems.

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Nintendo just misses Wii sales goal

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:56 AM

It's hard to find a Wii video game console anywhere. In fact, some analysts say that supplies of the console won't meet demand until 2009. So when Nintendo said today that it missed its sales goal for the Wii, all signs point to a problem on the production side.

The company, whose North American headquarters are in Redmond, sold 5.84 million Wii systems in its fiscal year ending March 31. It had planned to sell 6 million -- a milestone that was reportedly hit in April. For the next fiscal year, Nintendo said it expects to sell 14 million Wiis.

The real bright spot for the company is still the handheld DS player. Sales of 23 million DS players was a major factor in Nintendo reporting record sales and profits today for the year. And Nintendo doesn't expect DS sales to slow much, forecasting 22 million in unit sales for the next year.

Nintendo today reported sales of about $8.1 billion for the year and operating profits of $1.9 billion. That's an increase of 90 percent and 150 percent over the previous year.

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April 25, 2007

Beta 3 of Windows Server 'Longhorn' available

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 5:46 PM

Microsoft wants IT pros to try the latest -- and first public -- beta version of its forthcoming update to Windows Server, codenamed "Longhorn." It just posted the code here.

"This is our big public release," Bob Visse, senior director of Windows Server, said in an interview earlier today. "This will actually go to hundreds of thousands of users."

Visse said Longhorn will accelerate the industry's transition from 32-bit to 64-bit computing. It's the company's last 32-bit server release, he said.

"This is the OS that will kind of push forward the next generation of hardware and applications in the server space," Visse said.

The company expects to release a final version in the second half of this year.

While Microsoft's server business has grown to be an industry leader in the past two decades, it does not enjoy the unfettered dominance the company has on the desktop. Windows Server surpassed Unix as the leading server operating system in 2005, according to figures from IDC. In the fourth quarter, Windows Server revenue of $5.3 billion represented 34.9 percent of factory revenue, which is the largest segment of the market, according to IDC.

The company has more than 90 percent of the market for desktop Windows.

If you don't really know anything about servers, that's how it should be, Visse said.

"If we're doing a good job as IT pros, you shouldn't have to know," he said.

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Isilon's first quarter earnings

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:32 PM

Isilon Systems, a Seattle-based digital media storage company, reported a $3.8 million net loss for the first quarter of the year. That compares with a $4.5 million loss for the same period last year.

The company's sales were $21.6 million for the quarter, up from $10.4 million for the same period in 2006.

Isilon said the number of its customers has grown from 180 in March 2006 to 448 at the end of March 2007. It was the second-best quarter in terms of new customer growth in the company's history.

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Clearwire goes to Vienna

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:56 AM

Clearwire said today that the company's chief strategy officer, Scott Richardson, will speak at WiMAX World Europe in Vienna, Austria.

Richardson's talk is titled "Clearwire's Perspective on Global WiMAX Services," and is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. May 30.

Richardson joined Clearwire earlier this year from Intel. He is now in charge of the company's global mobile wireless broadband efforts.

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Amazon earnings call transcript

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:55 AM

Here's the transcript from Amazon.com's earnings call yesterday (courtesy of Seeking Alpha).

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Mobile search to PC??

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:37 AM

I've been writing about mobile search for a while now, and how results have to be more accurate on the phone. That's because the amount of time people have and the size of the screen and keyboard they are working with don't make sifting through billions of results handy.

Yahoo! addresses that need by tailoring search results. When you search for "apple," you probably mean the company, not the fruit. When you search for "300," it's probably in reference to movie now playing in theaters, not the number.

Mobile search results are also increasingly based on a person's location and search history.

With so many companies trying to fix mobile search for the phone, I wondered why searching on the PC wasn't more advanced?

Well, as if the Wall Street Journal were reading my mind, the paper reported today that things are starting to change.

It wrote that Google and a wide range of startups are trying to translate factors such as where you live, the ads you click on and the types of restaurants you search for into more-relevant search results.

A chef who searched for "beef," for example, might be more likely to find recipes than encyclopedia entries about livestock. And a film buff who searched for a new movie might see detailed articles about the making of the film, rather than ticket-buying sites.

That jibes with what I learned last week after attending a panel discussion on mobile advertising at Google's offices in Kirkland. An engineering manager addressed this very problem and said one interesting thing about mobile search is the lessons that can be applied to searching on the PC.

"We might use it on the PC. That's why we are excited about the space," said Kosar Jaff, an engineering manager at Google.

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Andrew Heyward talks about the media

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:26 AM

I sat down today with Andrew Heyward, who ran CBS News for nearly 10 years. These days, he's on the board of directors for The NewsMarket, a site that provides free video to media organizations and soon, bloggers. Heyward was meeting with Microsoft and other NewsMarket clients in downtown Seattle.

Here are some of his thoughts on the media and technology:

On how television news has changed lately:
The evening news landscape has seen radical changes, he said, with anchor turnover in all three major networks. And more than ever, television news is struggling with how to attract new audiences to the genre, and how to monetize that. Television news is a very traditional industry, he said, and now is seeing a dramatic expansion of experimentation.
"It's not yet clear what's going to emerge with the solid, substantive results traditional media has had for many years."

On how new technologies are changing television:
Television networks are streaming shows on their Web sites, which is very disruptive to the traditional model, he said. And then there's YouTube, which Heyward described as a fascinating phenomenon.
"Who would think that major media companies would have to consider their relationship with this completely democratic platform generated by the audience?" he asked. It's the ultimate iteration of power by the consumer, he said.

On personal news channels:
These days, Heyward said, people have seemingly infinite content available to them on the Web. They can create their own news environment, culling together news and video clips that they want to see. The role of editor has been usurped by the consumer, he said.
He called the practice "disaggregation," where news stories are now consumed as segments.
"Think about the Internet and the mouse compared to cable and the remote control," he said. "You're not at anybody's mercy anymore."

On changing economic models:
Heyward said his daughter uses the Craigslist classified site to find real estate and job leads. It's an appropriate example of how younger Web users are ignoring the traditional classified advertisement that has kept newspaper companies afloat for decades, he said.
"I'm not sure she's ever looked at a classified ad in the paper," he said. "I'm sure she hasn't."

What he misses about CBS News:
Heyward liked the camaraderie and the culture of friends and colleagues. But other than that, he said he's enjoying his new life as consultant. He said he can now look at the traditional and digital media industries with more perspective. It's hard to keep an eye on the map when both hands are gripping the steering wheel, he said.
"It's nice to be able to take a step back," he said. "You can see the broader picture."

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T-Mobile USA and YouTube

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:03 AM

Ryan Fitzgerald of Southbridge, Mass., posted his number on a YouTube video and asked the world to call him.

T-Mobile USA reacted gingerly to the experiment since Fitzgerald was using one of its customers -- and stopped short of helping the unemployed former convenience store clerk take care of his mammoth bill, according to a story in theBoston Globe.

The Globe wrote:

"T-Mobile is intrigued by Ryan Fitzgerald's experiment,'' the company said in a statement late yesterday, hours after Fitzgerald appeared live on CNN (with his cellphone, of course).

In Fitzgerald's intial YouTube postin, he says he's conducting an experiment.
"I'm Here For EVERYONE! Give Me A Call! 7742531962," reads the headline.

In a second video, he gives an update on how things are going.

"I didn't post my sister's phone number, and already half the people who have called me already, know I'm real," he said.

So far, the weirdest phone call he's received was from a guy in line at McDonald's asking what he should order -- a cheeseburger and fries or chicken nuggets. He said he also received a call from a girl from the UK, who sung him a song.

"People in the world like me do care," he said. "I have a big heart I'm here to talk."

T-Mobile made a final statement to the globe:

"We find Ryan Fitzgerald's experiment to be interesting and we are glad he was able to take advantage of the unlimited weekend and evening minutes included in his T-Mobile plan,'' the company said. "We look forward to learning more about Ryan's efforts."

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More churn in Microsoft search group

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:24 AM

Dane Glasgow, general manager of Microsoft's Live Search, is leaving the company on Friday, according to a report on Mary Jo Foley's blog. The news broke internally yesterday.

Glasgow reported directly to new search group head Satya Nadella.

It's the latest in a series of changes at the Live Search group, which was recently combined with Microsoft's advertising business.

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April 24, 2007

Newsvine overhauls site

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:17 PM

Seattle-based news site Newsvine unveiled its new site today, one that uses technology its team has spent months building.

Now, users can customize the Newsvine page by adding modules, the company said in a blog posting announcing the change. The site will also automatically detect a user's location (based on IP address) and offer local news and weather information.

The home page will now host any RSS feed, and a new version of the site is available for those extra-wide computer monitors out there.

The company also said it will soon debut a new politics feature that's election related.

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Amazon's solid first quarter

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:15 PM

Amazon beat analysts' expectations and its own forecast for the first quarter. The company announced today sales of $3.02 billion, up from $2.28 billion for the same period a year ago.

Analysts had been expecting sales of $2.9 billion for the quarter. In February, Amazon said it expected first-quarter sales of between $2.85 billion and $3 billion.

The company reported a $111 million profit, or 26 cents a share. That's up from $51 million, or 12 cents a share, in Q1 2006. Taxes made a big difference: the company's tax rate in the 2007 quarter was 23 percent compared with 47 percent in Q1 2006.

The quarter was solid enough for Amazon to raise its earnings expectations for the full year.

Back in February, the company said full-year sales would be between $13 billion and $13.7 billion. Now, it's looking for sales to be between $13.4 billion and $14 billion.

Amazon upped its operating income forecast to between $463 million and $593 million for 2007. The old forecast was between $355 million and $505 million.

Update: The company's stock is soaring in after-hours trading -- currently up $4 from its close of $44.75.

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Mobile: see, hear and touch?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:32 PM

We already use two of our senses today to interact with cellphones: seeing and hearing. In two separate stories today, there's evidence that could be increasing with cellphones gaining the sense of touch and motion.

LG, the South Korean mobile phone developer, said today that it is developing a phone that allows users to "feel," as well as see and hear, according to this story.

"We have developed new mobile phone technology which adds the sense of touch to the traditional modes of sight and hearing," said LG Electronics spokesman Song Keun-Young.

The phone can vibrate when a shot hits the net in a football game or a car hits the wall in a TV drama, he said.

At the same time, NTT DoCoMo in Japan announced Monday a series of new phones that recall the Nintendo Wii videogame console. The phones have a motion sensor that allows for a kind of kinetic interface.

Made by Mitsubishi Electric, the sensor enables users to wield the phone as they would a tennis racket or, if you prefer, a Ninja sword. Other kinetic games include boxing and one that requires maneuvering an on-screen ball through a maze. Two new DoCoMo phones, manufactured by Matsushita and Sharp, use a camera to detect motion.

I suppose we've gotten used to people talking to themselves in grocery stores and on sidewalks. Next, when we see people taking tennis strokes or shadow boxing on the street, we'll have to assume they're playing a game.

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State's high-tech scorecard

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:22 AM

Washington's high-tech industry added 4,500 jobs for a total of 156,500 in 2005, and the average worker made $83,700, according to the most current data available from the AeA, a national technology trade association.

The AeA, which has 2,500 member companies from all segments of the high-tech industry, released its 10th anniversary "Cyberstates" report detailing national and state trends in high-tech employment, wages, and other key economic factors.

The report, "Cyberstates 2007: A Complete State-by-State Overview of the High-Technology Industry," covers all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

It found that Washington's largest and fastest growing sector remains software publishing, which grew by 2,100 net jobs in 2005 for a total of 41,100 jobs. In this sector, Washington ranks second, trailing California.

Other sectors that experienced significant growth here in 2005 included Internet services, which gained more than 1,000 jobs, and engineering services and computer systems design, which both gained more than 900 jobs.

David Anastasi, president and CEO of Bellevue-based Captaris, said in the release:

"Washington's tech industry remains vibrant and growing. Many people are aware that our software industry is one of the Evergreen State's greatest strengths, but they may not realize how fast it continues to grow. And they may not realize that several other service sectors are growing or that a broad set of investors continue to find Washington an attractive place to invest their capital."

Here are other Washington highlights from the report:

-- Washington has 156,500 high-tech workers.

-- 4,500 jobs were added from 2004 to 2005.

-- High-tech firms employed 69 of every 1,000 private sector workers in 2005.

-- High-tech workers made an average of $83,700 a year, or 108 percent more than Washington's average private sector wage.

-- There were 6,800 high-tech establishments in 2005.

-- R&D expenditures reached $10.9 billion in 2004.

Based on those findings, Washington ranks high in a number of categories:

-- Second in software publishing employment with 41,100 jobs.

-- Eighth in electromedical equipment manufacturing employment with 3,500 jobs.

-- Twelfth in research and development and testing labs with 19,400 jobs.

More information can be found at AeA's Web site.

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Hands-On Mobile loses a thumb

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:24 AM

A year ago, Hands-On Mobile bought Bellevue-based Thumbspeed.

Hands-On, which used to be called mForma, was once also based in Bellevue and is now in San Francisco. It publishes games and other content for mobile phones.

Thumbspeed joined Hands-On to operate the messaging and communications group within the company. It develops and publishes messaging, photo-sharing and personalization applications for mobile phones and smart devices. The company, founded in 2004, has a research and development facility in Mumbai, India.

Today, Montreal-based OZ, which develops a consumer mobile e-mail application, said it acquired Thumbspeed from Hands-On Mobile for an undisclosed amount.

"This acquisition is designed to leverage the strengths of both companies," said Hank Skorny, Thumbspeed president and CEO. "This acquisition means accelerated growth for Thumbspeed, more solutions for our customers and even brighter futures for our employees. Together, OZ and Thumbspeed will deliver products and services that drive growth and innovation; thus enabling our partners and customers to empower their subscribers to do more with mobile messaging."

OZ said together the two will deliver mobile messaging products wireless carirers and handset manufacturers want, faster product innovation and the ability to roll it out to the market quickly.

"Joining forces with Thumbspeed will allow OZ to fulfill our vision: to give consumers what they want -- easy and affordable access to their existing and favorite IM, e-mail and social networking services on their mobile phones," said OZ CEO Skuli Mogensen. "As consumers expect and demand more from their mobile phone, together, we will fulfill this demand with easy to use mobile clients, and offer a unique integrated messaging experience that includes next generation SMS, IM, e-mail and social networking with rich-media and personalization capabilities."

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Microsoft, SAP announce Duet encore

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:52 AM

Almost a year ago, Microsoft and enterprise software maker SAP released Duet, software designed to allow workers to access SAP's back-end business applications through the familiar user interface of Microsoft Office.

Today, the companies said they're planning to extend that partnership into the foreseeable future. Plans include a 2.0 version, due out in late 2008, and a 3.0 version to ship sometime after the next versions of Microsoft Office and SAP's Business Suite are released -- for which no dates were given.

They also said the first generation of Duet has been successful, with more than 250 customers purchasing 400,000 licenses in the first year on the market.

Here are Microsoft's press release and Q&A with Business Division President Jeff Raikes, in which he hints at possible partnerships with SAP in other areas.

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April 23, 2007

Venture investing and voice

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:31 PM

In case you didn't catch them in today's paper, I wrote two stories today -- one focused on how voice as a method of search might be a cure-all for the wireless industry. The other story looked at venture capital activity during the first quarter.

In the story on voice, I discussed the growing interest in speech recognition technology. The spotlight was on Bellevue's VoiceBox Technologies, which demonstrated how its technology can be used in the car to surf hundreds of radio stations to find answers to spoken queries.

Several other companies, including Microsoft, Nuance and Google, are placing big bets on speech, making it one of the more promising developments in the wireless industry.

In the venture capital story, I wrote about how Washington had a blockbuster first quarter, in which startups drew nearly $400 million in venture capital, according to the quarterly venture-capital report released today by Dow Jones VentureOne and Ernst & Young.

Washington was the third most active state in the country, behind California and Massachusetts. The amount also is the most raised in a single quarter since before the bubble burst seven years ago and represents more than a third of the overall capital raised last year.

Contributing to the big quarter was an intense interest in the energy sector, including Seattle's Imperium Renewables, which raised $113 million in venture capital.

For more details, check out all the charts here.

Check back tomorrow for a story on the competing MoneyTree report released by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.

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FierceWireless's 15 faves

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:16 PM

Two Seattle-area companies are on FierceWireless annual Fierce 15 list, unveiled today.

Bellevue-based SNAPin Software, which develops software to manage cellphones, was named one of the top 15 emerging wireless companies for 2007. Bellevue-based Gogomo was also named. It is working on solving interoperability problems when it comes to content across carriers and devices.

FierceWireless, an electronic newsletter, said many of this year's Fierce 15 firms are focused on innovative applications -- both for the consumer and enterprise markets. "Applications, not equipment, were a common theme at the recent CTIA Wireless conference in Orlando where most of the companies on the show floor were demonstrating applications that would boost operator revenue," the newsletter said. "This was a striking change from the past when the focus was more on telecom equipment."

Others that made the list: TeleNav (which has offices in Bellevue), JumpTap (a competitor of Seattle-based Medio Systems), Ecrio, Integrated Mobile, Interop Technologies, iSkoot, Metrico Wireless, Millennial Media, Neonode, Obopay, Omnilink Systems, Sonopia and Tensorcomm.

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Clearwire's TV plans

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:54 AM

Clearwire is considering adding TV service to its voice and Internet plans, according to a story today in Red Herring.

The story reported that Clearwire, which provides broadband wireless access, could start bundling satellite TV, voice and Internet access in some of its 34 markets in the United States.

"Bundling other services with our products either on our network or in partnership with others is definitely an option for us," Clearwire's CEO Ben Wolff said. "But it has to be driven by the customers and not analysts or the desire to be 'me-too' in the market."

About a year ago, the big rumor was that DirecTV, which is owned by News Corp., could make a huge investment in Clearwire based on public statements that it would invest up to $1 billion in wireless broadband.

Satellite TV services are in one of the most defensive positions because it is only able to provide video. In order to provide voice and Internet services, it has to partner with a provider.

In a September story on triple and quadruple plays, I quoted Michael Arden, principal analyst at ABI Research on the prospects of Clearwire partnering with a satellite TV company.

"The satellite guys have two options: Buy or lease DSL lines, or use WiMax or some other wireless broadband technology," he said.

Arden said Clearwire is the most likely partner for DirecTV or EchoStar. Sprint Nextel, which also is building a WiMax network, is already partnered with cable companies, making a partnership with cable's biggest competitors -- satellite -- unlikely.

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Teen girl texts to U.S. championship

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:51 AM

The new U.S. text messaging champion is -- no surprise -- a 13-year-old girl. AFP has an amusing story of the contest, which took place Saturday in New York.

The winner, Morgan Pozgar of Claysburg, Pa., practiced by sending 8,000 text messages a month to her friends. That's about 265 a day. (She has an all-you-can-text phone package, luckily)

Pozgar won in the final round by correctly texting the word "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

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April 20, 2007

Bezos' new Beverly Hills digs

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:07 PM

It's an all-Amazon day here at Tech Tracks. The Los Angeles Times brings word that Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has spent nearly $30 million on a seven bedroom, seven bath mansion in Beverly Hills.

The house, about 12,000 square feet, has a pool, a sunken tennis court, a gym and a separate guesthouse. If Bezos ever wants to start another company in his garage again, he'll have room: this house has a six-car one.

The Real Estalker blog says it has a photo of the house. I don't know how accurate that blog is, however.

So is Bezos moving to Beverly Hills?

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Amazon discontinues Plogs

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:44 PM

Amazon.com has discontinued its Plog program, which showed readers a personalized blog on their customer home page. The Plog only appeared if you were logged in, and Amazon decided what posts to send customers. Not everyone was a fan of the format.

The word "plog" is no more, the company said. Instead, Amazon is directing its readers to the new "Amazon Daily," a broad blog that has posts from editors from all over the site. Readers can personalize Amazon Daily to match their interests, and you don't have to be logged in to read it.

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Amazon giving peeks at e-reader, says PW

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:19 AM

Publishers Weekly revives the rumor that Amazon.com is working on its own e-book reader, one that will presumably be a strong competitor to Sony's electronic reader.

According to PW, Amazon has been showing off its reader to publishers for months. The head of Harper Collins in the U.K. even mentioned it publicly at the London Book Fair, the article states. The reader, rumored to be called Amazon Kindle, could reportedly be released as early as this spring. Amazon has so far refused to comment on any Kindle rumors.

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April 19, 2007

Top 10 video games for March

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:11 PM

For all the gushing over Nintendo's Wii console, only one Wii game cracked the top 10 list of bestselling games in the U.S. in March, according to data out today by research firm The NPD Group.

The "Wii Play" game ranked fourth, with 273,000 units sold that month. Two titles for Nintendo's DS handheld player came in at No. 6 and No. 7.

The list had four games for the Xbox 360, including the expensive "Guitar Hero 2" in the No. 3 spot with 291,000 units sold. For a game that costs $90, that's pretty impressive.

Sony had three games on the list and only one, "Motorstorm," was a PlayStation 3 title. But Sony can claim the top-selling game, as "God of War 2" for the PlayStation 2 led the list with 833,000 units sold.

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Dell's bringing XP back

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:28 PM

Microsoft can't be thrilled with the last two posts on Dell's customer feedback site.

Today, the computer maker said it's restoring Windows XP as an operating system option on four consumer-focused laptops and two desktops in response to feedback from users of its IdeaStorm site.

"We heard you loud and clear on bringing the Windows XP option back to our Dell consumer PC offerings," the company says on its Ideas in Action page. A bit more detail is in this company blog post.

The site received 10,684 comments on the proposal since it was first forwarded in mid-February.

See coverage by CNET for additional background.

In the previous item on IdeaStorm, from back in March, Dell announced plans to expand support for Windows alternative Linux. After conducting a survey in which 100,000 people took part, Dell decided to "expand our Linux support beyond our existing servers and Precision workstation line. Our first step in this effort is offering Linux pre-installed on select desktop and notebook systems."

The company promised specifics within a few weeks of that March 28 post, which should mean any day now. Meanwhile, over on Brier Dudley's blog, we've got news of one of Michael Dell's home PCs -- running open-source software.

For context, IdeaStorm commenters are also clamoring for pre-installed OpenOffice; Firefox as the default browser; a no-extra-software option (i.e., no "virtual flea market" as our Kim Peterson put it when describing the condition of many new PCs out of the box); and more RAM. All of these ranked well above the request to bring back Windows XP.

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Judy's Book unveils new coupon service

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:10 PM

Missed this one last week: Judy's Book, which seems to have overhauled its business model from local business resource to all-purpose shopping site, launched a service that lets customers search online coupons.

The new service, CouponLooker, keeps track of the current promotional codes that will give discounts on Web sites.

Analyst Greg Sterling writes on his blog today that no site really owns the online coupon business, leaving a wide open opportunity for Judy's Book.

"There's no 'top of mind' coupon site for most consumers," Sterling writes. "And most coupon sites, because of uneven coverage, are 'push' models instead of 'pull' [the search model]."

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Bezos buys cost control company

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:22 PM

Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos' personal investment firm has bought out Expensewatch.com. The company, based in Conshohocken, Pa., sells software aimed at helping small businesses control and reduce their operating costs. Its signature product is a Web-based subscription service that tracks travel and entertainment, purchasing and other expenses.

Bezos' investment company, Bezos Expeditions, was already an investor in Expensewatch.com and has two board seats there.

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Clearwire announces subcriber growth

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:57 AM

Following two dismal days of significant stock declines, Kirkland-based Clearwire issued a press release today saying it will release first-quarter financial results May 8.

It also pre-announced the number of subscribers it added in the first quarter, sending its stock upward.

Clearwire saw record subscriber growth in the quarter, adding more than 25 percent and ending the period with 258,000. Clearwire also said its consolidated subscriber churn was about 1.6 percent in the first quarter.

Most of the subscriber additions occurred in the U.S., ending the quarter with 232,000 customers in this country. The increase of 48,000 subscribers in the U.S. was also a company record, exceeding the approximately 40,000 subscribers added in the fourth quarter. Churn in the U.S. was about 1.5 percent in the first quarter.

At last check, the company's stock had increased almost a dollar to $17.40 a share. Remember that the company went public last month at $25 a share.

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April 18, 2007

Bill Gates goes to China

Posted by Kristi Heim at 5:10 PM


ALAN BERNER / SEATTLE TIMES

Bill Gates has been a widely recognized figure in China for years, as evident in the Shanghai airport book store, which had his biography prominently displayed in this 2005 photo.

It's one measure of how far Chinese media and Internet technology have come that China Central Television (CCTV) and Internet portal Sina are asking for questions from Internet users for a TV interview with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who is visiting China this week.

It's also a measure of how far Microsoft has come in its long march toward finding the right business strategy in China. After years of fits and starts, the company has made a lot of progress over the last year.

In late 2005 Lenovo became the first Chinese hardware maker to agree to preinstall Windows software on new machines. Now the two companies are partnering to open a research and development center. And Microsoft is finally announcing software prices that consumers in developing countries can afford.

It's also worth noting that the U.S. software industry, of which Microsoft is far and away the largest and most important player, didn't participate in the recent WTO case against China. The complaint mentions books, music, videos and movies.

As for Gates, some questions people in China are asking him are posted here.

Among them are:

Do you think China's software industry will surpass India's?

What's your outlook on the world today?

Is your success thanks to yourself or to your good luck in business?

When are you going to make Windows source code public?

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Sony cutting gaming jobs

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:42 PM

Sony said it may cut as many as 160 video-gaming jobs in Europe, according to Reuters. The company is also reportedly looking at streamlining its business in the U.S., but hasn't announced any cuts here.

Sony acquired the Redmond-based Zipper Interactive last year. At the time, Zipper had 130 employees and was looking to hire more.

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Director leaves Isilon's board

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:57 AM

Isilon Systems said venture capitalist Matt McIlwain resigned from its board yesterday, including his positions on the board's audit and compensation committees. Regulatory filing is here.

Isilon spokesman Jay Wampold said it was fairly standard for venture capitalists to get on the boards of early-stage companies that they fund and then leave as the company matures. Isilon had a $109 million public offering in December.

McIlwain is a managing director at Madrona Venture Group, an early investor that owns about 16 percent of Isilon shares.

Isilon announced a customer win yesterday. The company will provide storage for NBC Universal's media programming, including television shows, movies and news. NBC Universal will also use Isilon when it covers the 2008 Olympic Games.

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BlackBerry outages in the U.S.

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:49 AM

Research In Motion said that BlackBerry service had been restored after overnight service interruptions caused most of its 8 million customers in North America to go without e-mail.

Reuters reported that the company said it's reviewing the root cause of the disruption, which began Tuesday night, and is "closely monitoring systems to maintain normal service levels".

It gave no details on what caused the outage.

I noticed that I stopped getting e-mails after receiving one at 5:45 p.m. I didn't get another until 8:30 p.m., and then not another one until 1:30 a.m. today. And that's just not normal.

For power users, this must have caused momentarily panics, if not withdrawal symptoms.

Profitline, a telecom expense management firm, actually tried to qualify the outage in financial terms. It conducted a poll among large enterprises and telecom professionals and found that 44.5 percent reported "moderate or substantial" impact to enterprise productivity.

Only 18.2 percent reported no impact.

"These numbers show the critical role that wireless devices play in corporate America," said Randall De Lorenzo, ProfitLine's vice president. "Wireless communication has gone from a travel convenience to a mission critical communications tool."

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OVP on its soapbox

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:40 AM

OVP Venture Partners, the Kirkland VC firm that just closed its seventh fund at $250 million, sent out a electronic newsletter today discussing how the industry is headed for a restructuring -- for the better or worse.

The newsletter put the situation into three buckets: complacency, adjacency and free agency.

On complacency:

"No one wants to be accused of complacency. That has a pejorative connotation right from the start. But while inertia can be a powerful force, it is not always a bad force. Sometimes, inertia can keep you in place long enough to decide whether you really do want to leap across that open crevasse.

On adjacency:

Most observers of successful businesses will tell you that you should stick to your knitting. And failing that, only take up needlepoint, not arc welding.

In doing so, OVP saw the biotech trend evolving and decided to converge that with its expertise in IT to create Digital Biology.

But what the firm really spoke out on was the notion of "free agency."

What is troubling about many of the conversations we hear today is the amount of free agency that is being advocated. We see firms heading to green tech, clean tech, later stage, roll up, India, China, you name it. Now, to be fair, this may be a legitimate case of adjacency for some firms, if they have been at the edge.... But for many others, we see this as a bridge too far.

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April 17, 2007

Microsoft upgrades adCenter

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:16 PM

Microsoft said today that it has upgraded its adCenter online advertising system. At the same time, some adCenter customers said they saw a huge drop in Web traffic. Not sure if the upgrade caused the traffic to tumble; according to this blog Microsoft is playing down any connection.

The adCenter upgrade has an interesting feature. Microsoft said it will begin assessing the content of the ads and landing page in relation to the user's likely intent. (The landing page is the page you get to after you click on an ad.)

AdCenter still mostly works with Microsoft's search engine. Sounds like Microsoft is getting confident that it can figure out user intent on search.

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Hobbits in Bellevue Square

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:41 PM

The company behind the upcoming "Lord of the Rings Online" -- a new massively multiplayer game -- is staging launch events in Bellevue and four other cities on April 23 at 11 p.m.

Don't be alarmed if you see a Frodo lookalike shuffling through Bellevue Square. Prizes will be given for best costume.

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Clearwire's stock slips further

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:25 AM

Clearwire, which is planning to build a nationwide wireless broadband network based on WiMax technology, saw its stock slip more than 60 cents early today to less than $18 a share.

The Kirkland company, founded by wireless entrepreneur Craig McCaw, went public only a month ago, raising $600 million by selling shares at $25 apiece.

The AP reported today that the stock slipped even as at least seven analysts initiated coverage of the wireless broadband network provider with positive ratings.

AP wrote that analysts from Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and Stifel Nicolaus, among others, seemed to agree that the company's stock is a good long-term investment, even though Clearwire will likely lose money for years.

In a note issued this morning, Jefferies & Co. said it too was initiating coverage on Clearwire, rating the company a "buy" with a $22 price target.

"While we view CLWR shares as speculative, given the company's limited operating history, we also believe our PT (price target) is supported by the value of the company's spectrum," it wrote.

As a disclosure, Jefferies acted as co-manager on the company's March initial public offering.

Jefferies also noted a number of risks the company faces:

-- Clearwire is young and has a history of operating losses.

-- The company will need to raise an additional $2.5 billion to $3 billion of financing prior to reaching a fully funded state.

-- Jefferies believes most customers will use Clearwire's service as a complement to existing broadband access, rather than as a replacement, potentially limiting the overall size of the company's addressable market.

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Microsoft gains share in slowing search market

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:40 AM

According to numbers out from Internet analysis firm comScore, Microsoft gained some U.S. search market share in March. The company has been struggling to keep the percentage of searches performed with its Live Search service flat, let alone gain ground on Google, the runaway leader.

Microsoft's share increased to 10.9 percent, "its largest month-over-month market share gain in the past two years," according to analysis by Mark Mahaney of Citigroup. But that figure is still below the 11.1 percent share Microsoft held at the end of 2006.

Google extended its lead with 48.3 percent, a record. Yahoo! actually shed some market share, finishing the month with 27.3 percent of the U.S. market.

Meanwhile, the rapid pace of growth in the U.S. search market broadly appears to be slowing. Searches grew 14.5 percent in March. In 2006, the growth rate was 26 percent.

Mahaney chalks it up to the law of large numbers.

"The data shows expected deceleration, with the large numbers law appearing to
overshadow increased search frequency by Internet users and the greater availability of search applications," he wrote in a note to investors.

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April 16, 2007

Amazon music download service in the works

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:38 PM

Amazon.com is planning to launch a music download store in May, according to Billboard. The article implies that Amazon wants its store to sell unprotected MP3 files that don't come with the digital rights rules that accompany songs sold by other stores.

Amazon had planned to launch a digital music subscription service and its own handheld player, according to the article, but dropped those plans last year.

The trend is clearly moving away from digital rights restrictions on songs. EMI Group said earlier this month it would begin selling songs on Apple's iTunes store that were free of restrictions. But they'll cost $1.29 compared with iTunes' normal 99-cent fee.

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thePlatform signs New Corp./NBC Deal

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:20 PM

Seattle-based thePlatform said today its technology will be manage and distribute content for the new online video venture forged among News Corp., NBC Universal and Comcast.

In the deal, Comcast's Comcast.net and Fancast.com sites will serve as key places for News Corp. and NBC Universal's online video venture. Comcast will also provide non-exclusive content for U.S. distribution on NBC Universal and News Corp's site from Comcast Networks, including E!, Style, G4, Versus and Golf Channel. It will also become the venture's first non-equity content provider.

thePlatform is a Comcast subsidiary, which provides broadband and mobile video publishing solutions.

Earlier this month, Kim Peterson wrote about how thePlatform was unveiling new tools that let companies create customized video players for Web sites and cellphones.

With the new software, thePlatform stepped out from its behind-the-scenes role of managing the plumbing of online video to offering an array of online video players for businesses to use on their own sites. The players can be customized down to the color and theme.

NBC Universal and News Corp.'s video site will launch this summer with full-length TV programming, clips and movies from more than a dozen networks and two major film studios. The content will be distributed on some of the Web sites, such as AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo!

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Getty to restate earnings

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:09 PM

In a securities filing today, Getty Images said it found backdated stock option grants. The company will restate its earnings going back to fiscal 1998.

At issue is between $28 million and $32 million in non-cash compensation costs.

The digital image company is being investigated by federal regulators for backdating, the practice of falsifying the date it granted stock options to boost profit when the recipient cashes them in.

Getty was hit with two shareholder lawsuits last month related to the backdated options.

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Mobile advertising group makes a local selection

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:00 PM

Seattle-based OpenMarket, a division of Amdocs, said today that John Lauer, its vice president of sales and carrier relations, has been elected to the Mobile Marketing Association 2007 North American Board of Directors.

The MMA is a global association dedicated to establishing practices and guidelines for advertising in the mobile industry.

Other local executives serve on the executive committee and board.

From the executive committee:

-- Vice Chairman Jay Emmet is the president of mBlox, which has offices in London, Singapore and Sunnydale, Calif., but Emmet lives in Camas.

-- Director at large Matt Champagne is director of mobile product management at Microsoft's MSN and Windows Live divisions.

On the board of directors:

-- Doug Busk is vice president of industry relations at Bellevue-based SinglePoint.

-- Chuck Mildes is senior manager of off-deck content services at Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA.

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April 13, 2007

Calling startups for demo show

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:59 PM

The MIT Enterprise Forum of the Northwest is hosting a show in which companies can demonstrate what they do.

The MIT Venture Lab, called "Start up Demo 2007, is accepting applications until April 20 for the June 7 event.

Only companies with products that can be demonstrated are allowed to participate. Entrepreneurs, investors and the media are invited.

The Venture Lab will select 10 to 12 companies to present to a screening committee on May 10. The committee will select six companies for the June 7 event.

If interested, companies should send a one-page e-mail describing the company or service to edwardh@widemile.com.

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DoubleClick: What's the big deal?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:47 PM

Google is buying online advertising giant DoubleClick for $3.1 billion in cash.

Why is DoubleClick worth so much to Google?

DoubleClick is huge in the online advertising business. It works directly with ad agencies to buy up online advertising space and measures how many clicks an ad gets. It also works with the publishers, the Web sites that own all of this valuable space.

DoubleClick is setting up a stock market-like exchange for those buyers and sellers to get together. There, they can run auctions for advertising space, and DoubleClick gets a cut of each transaction. The idea is that the exchange will help Web sites sell space that would otherwise be undervalued or unused.

The company has huge customers, including Ford Motor, MySpace and AOL.

DoubleClick has been in hot water for some of its practices. The Federal Trade Commission began investigating the company in 2000 after DoubleClick said it was going to begin using personally identifiable information gleaned from its new subsidiary, market researcher Abacus Direct. DoubleClick backed off and eventually sold Abacus.

Microsoft was reportedly also going after DoubleClick. I've asked the company for reaction to the sale and will update with its response.

Update: After first saying Microsoft would have a statement, a company spokesman e-mailed me this afternoon to say a statement will not be issued at this time.

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YellowPages opens Seattle office

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:37 PM

YellowPages.com, owned by AT&T, said it is opening a Seattle office.

The opening corresponds with analyst expectations that online advertising in directories will increase as more people turn to the Internet rather than a phone book for numbers and addresses. In fact, online directory ads are expected to increase by 31 percent in the next four years, according to the Kelsey Group, an analyst firm.

The company expects the Seattle office to open on April 23, with as many as 30 employees who will be signing up local advertisers.

Seattle and Denver are among the company's first offices to be opened west of the Mississippi, following new offices in Philadelphia, New York City, Boston and others.

YellowPages.com said Seattle was selected because a large percentage of people who use its site are from there.

YellowPages.com had more than 1 billion network searches last year.

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T-Mobile releases the Sidekick iD

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:06 AM

T-Mobile USA said today that it is offering a new version of its signature Sidekick device at $99.

The Sidekick, a horizontal handheld with a swivel screen that pops up to reveal a full-sized keyboard, has been widely successful among celebrities and youth adamant about staying connected. The user interface easily allows people to send instant messages, e-mail and text messages when not taking a call.

But the device's pricing has always been slightly out of the reach of the masses. The Sidekick 3 is $200 after mail-in rebate and with a two-year contract.

The new device, called Sidekick iD, will be $99 under the same terms. It's set to be available April 25.


T-Mobile USA


The T-Mobile Sidekick iD will sell for half as much as the regular Sidekick.


To accommodate the lower price, T-Mobile removed the phone's camera and MP3 player, and delegated it to a slightly slower, GPRS network.

But the communication abilities will remain the same. T-Mobile said Sidekick users are among the biggest users of features such as IM, texting and Web browsing. Usage is nearly 50 percent higher than with T-Mobile's average device or phone, and more than 30 percent of all Web page views on the T-Mobile Sidekick are to MySpace.com, with other top visited sites being FaceBook, Sconex and Google. In addition, the average T-Mobile Sidekick customer sends or receives more than 3,000 instant messages a month.

T-Mobile marketing director Greg Andrews said the phone is not only going to be accessible to a larger group of people, but also brings personalization to a new level.

The iD will also be the first Sidekick model to have T-Mobile's myFaves available immediately to the users. The feature allows unlimited calling to five favorite people. The iD is also highly customizable with easily replaceable back-plate and side bumpers in a variety of colors.


T-Mobile USA


Here you can see a T-Mobile Sidekick iD with different color bumpers and the myFaves homescreen.

"They love to customize their Sidekicks," Andrews said. "It becomes a personal device, the Sidekick iD is all about individuality."

T-Mobile USA said the Sidekick iD makes the third Sidekick available today. It joins a limited edition version designed by Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade and the standard Sidekick 3. It also may not be the last variation of the device. T-Mobile said the Sidekick is becoming more of a brand than an individual product.

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April 12, 2007

Vonage in rough waters

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:09 PM

Vonage Chief Executive Michael Snyder has stepped down and resigned from the board of directors, the Wall Street Journal reported today.

The company, which sells Internet phone services, said it would also cut roughly 10 percent of its work force (about 180 employees) and implement a hiring freeze to help cut $30 million in expenses during the second quarter in expectation of poor first-quarter results.

Vonage founder Jeffrey Citron, now chairman and chief strategist, will serve as interim CEO while the company searches for a replacement.

I wonder if this means anything or nothing at all for Kirkland-based Clearwire, which many analysts have compared to Vonage?

To be sure, there are a few parallels. Clearwire is a startup Internet service that also recently went public. Both companies have to create awareness about a whole new service and technology and new brand. Both sell to consumers.

Clearwire went public last month, raising $600 million in its initial public offering. Since then, its stock price has failed to remain at or above its offering price of $25 a share. Today, the stock closed at $19.49. It will have to report its first quarterly earnings report soon.

Of course, one stark difference is that Clearwire is not plagued with the problems facing Vonage. Vonage is involved in a bitter legal battle involving a patent dispute with Verizon Communications, which actually might threaten its survival. A judge ordered Vonage to stop marketing its service to new customers.

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Comcast boosts upload speeds

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:06 PM

Comcast said today that it's increasing the upload speeds in Washington this month. Now, customers can expect uploading speeds of up to 2 megabits per second -- a helpful increase if you're working with large files, such as high-resolution photos and video.

The increase is the second part of the "PowerBoost" technology upgrade that Comcast is deploying nationwide. Last year, it increased download speeds to as much as 12 to 16 megabits per second, depending on a customer's service plan.

According to Comcast, PowerBoost works by giving an extra burst of capacity in its fiber network to customers who need it. The company said it will increase upload speeds nationwide by the end of the year.

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CBS shows to be aired on MSN portal

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:01 AM

CBS is releasing some of its previously aired television shows to AOL and Microsoft's MSN, and reportedly wants to keep 90 percent of the advertising revenue from those shows, according to the WSJ.

People will reportedly be able to watch the shows free. Shows include "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "NCIS."

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OnRequest Images nabs $9 million

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:20 AM

Seattle-based OnRequest Images, which provides custom imagery online, said yesterday it raised a $9 million third round of funding.

New investor Menlo Ventures and existing investors Maveron and Frazier Technology Ventures participated in the round.

OnRequest Images will use the money to expand its sales and marketing efforts.

Menlo Ventures founder and managing director H. DuBose Montgomery will join the company's board of directors.

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April 11, 2007

Bill Gates in space?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:03 PM

Is Bill Gates considering space travel? A Russian cosmonaut told journalists that he heard from former Microsoft exec Charles Simonyi that Bill Gates wants to blast off. Try and follow that chain of attribution.

"Charles said that Bill Gates is also preparing to visit space," said cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikin, according to an AFP story. "So the next time someone will be with Bill Gates. For me this is the biggest surprise of our flight."

But the U.S. company that organizes space travel said it hasn't heard from Gates about a possible flight. If anyone from this region were to fly to space next, I think it would be Jeff Bezos and not Gates.

Simonyi paid at least $20 million to be a space tourist, and docked at the International Space Station with Yurchikin and another Russian cosmonaut on Tuesday.

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MVNOs revisited a year later

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:51 PM

At last year's CTIA, the wireless industry's big trade show, wireless operators called MVNOs (for mobile virtual network operator) were all the rage.

Disney Mobile stole the show with its launch. There was also a lot of buzz circulating around Mobile ESPN, which was catering to a sports crowd, as well as Amp'd Mobile, which focuses on music and sports to attract a younger audience, and Helio Mobile, which promotes social networking among its younger users.

A year later, let's take a look at what's going on with these operators, which buy minutes wholesale from the big guys and offer a newly branded service:

-- ESPN closed down its mobile service.

-- Disney Mobile barely got noticed at this year's the show, in Orlando, Fla., but did put out a press release. Its service, which focuses on family plans and features aimed at parents and children, said a new Samsung phone will allow parents to control who their children communicate with and when they can call, a feature currently accessible only to subscribers online.

-- Helio announced a new phone, which drew a lot of attention for its "dual-slider" design. When horizontal, a full Qwerty keyboard comes out from the bottom. When vertical, a traditional phone keypad slides from the bottom. RealNetwork, via its WiderThan division, also said that it will start providing a full-track music download service for Helio. An interesting feature is the "Gift" or "Beg" ability, where people ask others to buy them something or buy something for someone.

-- Amp'd Mobile announced this week that it added 84,000 new subscribers in the first quarter, and is now approaching 200,000 total. On average, their users spend $100 a month, of which 50 percent comes from data usage. Of that data usage, $30 comes from downloads and content (whereas, a majority of traditional carriers get data revenue from text messaging, Web browsing and emailing).

A Redmond-based company called telSpace, which builds software that allows companies to start a new MVNO, has a few opinions about what will make one operator successful over the other. Paris Holt, founder and chief executive, said it will primarily come down to distribution and which ones can get in front of the customers.

What do you think will make or break these companies?

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NetMotion protects smartphones, too

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:32 PM

Seattle-based NetMotion Wireless, which makes security software for wireless devices and networks, said today that its mobile VPN is the first to meet Palm's requirements for Windows Mobile-based Palm Treo smartphones.

Users will now be able to conduct business securely using the mobile devices on cellular or Wi-Fi networks.

NetMotion said its Mobility XE Mobile VPN software uses the same authentication and encryption technologies approved for use by the federal government to secure data transmitted to and from mobile devices such as laptops, Tablet PCs, Pocket PCs and smartphones.

In addition to providing security, the software also allows Treo users to roam between cellular and Wi-Fi, or any IP-based network, without dropping the VPN connection or crashing applications.

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Tech could learn to talk competition from Ichiro

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:10 PM

Some good lunchtime reading from our Sports department today on this afternoon's match up between the Mariners and Red Socks.

Deep down in this story -- which focuses on the competitive history of Mariners' hit machine Ichiro and the Socks pitching phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will face off today for the first time since they played in the Japanese leagues -- there's a quote on competition. Ichiro is talking about what it will be like to face Dice-K, who has matured since the two last squared off in August 2000.

"I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul," Ichiro says. "I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger."

Wow. Now that's a quote. I would love to hear the all-stars of business and technology talk that way about their competition.

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Zune 2.0 details leaked?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:45 AM

So the editor of the Zune Scene blog just happens to randomly run into a Microsoft employee who works on Zune. Said editor gets said employee to spill the beans about the next version of Zune.

If you believe all that, then you might take the following Zune 2.0 tidbits with a grain of truth. I've heard enough Zune rumors to take all this with a grain of salt. It's hard to imagine a Microsoft employee walking around ready to unload secrets to anyone who asks. If that's the case, I'd like an introduction. Anyway, here's some of the gossip about the new Zune that's got tech bloggers hot and bothered today:

-- Later this year, Microsoft will come out with two new Zunes: One will be a thinner version of the hard-drive equipped Zune and the other one will be a small version with a flash drive.

-- The flash-based player is about 3 inches wide and 1 inch tall. It is video capable and the screen covers about 75 percent of the front.

-- Microsoft will make 2.4 million of these new Zunes for the 2007 holiday season. About two-thirds of them are the smaller flash units. The Zunes will be made in a new building under construction in China, next to the one that makes the Xbox 360.

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Steve Davis 2.0

Posted by Kristi Heim at 9:41 AM



Steve Davis is stepping down as chief executive of Corbis.

Now that Corbis CEO Steve Davis is going to spend more time writing, it's a good time to check out his blog, Creativity 2.0.

So far, he has been exploring a variety of topics related to digital media, including the rights of creators, the role of Google in archiving, Yahoo! and censorship in China and more.

It's hard to imagine a more wide-ranging career than the one Davis has had, from resettling refugees to learning Chinese language and law, advocating civil rights for gays and lesbians, working as an intellectual property lawyer and leading the private company of the richest person in the world.

He told me that a transformative moment in his life happened just out of college during a visit to a refugee camp in Thailand as Cambodians were fleeing from the Killing Fields. That inspired a fundamental interest in social justice, he said.

Now his career is coming full circle, but he resists the notion of "giving back." "I actually hate that expression," he said. "It suggest you've been taking all along."

Davis said he's thinking more about how to address the big problems of our time, such as climate change and global health. When he applies his full creativity to philanthropy, the results will be worth watching.

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April 10, 2007

Yahoo! scores Viacom ad deal

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:24 PM

Yahoo!'s new online advertising system, Panama, scored a big win today with an exclusive, multi-year agreement to provide all the advertising for Viacom's Web sites, including sponsored search and contextual ads. The sites include MTV.com, comedycentral.com and Nickelodeon.com.

Viacom's sites saw about 90 million unique viewers in February. Not a bad haul for Yahoo!

This Marketwatch article mentions why Viacom wouldn't have given the deal to Google -- Viacom is suing Google-owned YouTube for copyright infringement -- but what about Microsoft? Is Yahoo!'s win a loss for Redmond?

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Mobile search is one tap away

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:22 PM

Alltel Wireless is betting that all mobile search needed to take off was a designated key on the phone.

The regional U.S. wireless carrier said today it is partnering with JumpTap, a Cambridge, Mass.-based search company, to pre-install a search key on handsets.

The search key will launch an Alltel-branded Brew client that presents Alltel subscribers with a search box to find content, services and information. Alltel said the visibility of the dedicated key will not only increase the uptake of mobile search, but also will increase content purchases by helping subscribers find what they want quickly and easily.

"We have successfully used dedicated keys in the past to provide content we wanted to make readily available, including games and ringtones. It's been proven that the easier it is for subscribers to find applications, the more likely it is that they will be adopted," said Wade McGill, Alltel's senior vice president of product management.

JumpTap's search engine has been available on Alltel since September 2006. It returns information from both Alltel's store, called a deck, and from the Internet. Paid search links and display advertising are included in the results.

Dan Olschwang, JumpTap's CEO, participated in a mobile search panel at CTIA in Orlando two weeks ago. He was joined by some local participants, including InfoSpace, Medio Systems and SNAPin.

The panel highlighted the difference between mobile search as provided by anonline giant, such as Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google, vs. choosing one of them for a non-branded approach.

Click here for a summary of the discussion.

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New chief at Corbis

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:59 AM

Corbis, the Seattle image company founded by Bill Gates, said today that Chief Executive Steve Davis will step down to go to the "public service and philanthropic world." A spot at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, perhaps?



Gary Shenk

On July 1, Davis will be replaced by Gary Shenk, who has been serving as company president. Davis will continue to be an adviser to Corbis.

Before joining Corbis in 2003, Shenk was the founder and general manager of an arm of Universal Studios that oversaw media licensing. According to Corbis, Shenk brokered deals between studios and talent agencies and helped establish new formats for licensing.

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Volantis offers mobile video, too.

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:58 AM

Seattle-based Volantis, which helps adapt content for the mobile phone environment, said it's working with Mobixell to deliver mobile video.

Mobixell helps produce video content for mobile phones, while Volantis helps deliver video and audio of any format in real time to any mobile phone.

Together, the technology will help carriers offer new multimedia services to the consumer faster.

Already, Volantis helps distribute a wide variety of mobile content, including wallpapers, ringtones, audio and video, streaming content, games, and interactive content such as quizzes, polls, and competitions.

To give an idea of what Volantis does, the coompany helped AAA launch a mobile portal that provides travel information to its club members; it was selected by CBS to mobilize mobile portals for CBS News, CBS SportsLine, "Entertainment Tonight" and other properties; and it operates eBay's wireless services in the U.K., including live bidding and message alerts.

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Is the Xbox "Doom"-ed?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:48 AM

Video gaming veteran John Romero, who designed "Doom" and other landmark games, thinks the video game console is history. In an interview with gaming site Adrenaline Vault, Romero says the future lies with new personal computers that are cheap but are sophisticated enough to handle the big games. But Nintendo's Wii console has found its niche, he says.

Next-gen console is big but its future isn't too bright with the emergence of cheap PC multi-core processors and the big change the PC industry will go through during the next 5 years to accommodate the new multi-core-centric hardware designs. My prediction is that the game console in the vein of the PS3 and Xbox 360 is going to either undergo a massive rethink or go away altogether. The Wii has the perfect design for a console that doesn't pretend to be a PC and is geared more toward casual gamers than hardcore gamers.

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mPoria: a wireless emporium

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:43 AM

Seattle-based mPoria said today that it launched its GoMobile! service in North America, which helps retailers sell products on the wireless phone.

The service enables retailers to build their own company-branded mobile shopping site without a wireless development team. To do so, merchants use a wizard to establish a site and, within 30 minutes, mPoria said, the site is available to millions of U.S. consumers with mobile devices.

"The reality is that people are living a mobile lifestyle and their mobile phones have become as essential as a wallet. This shift in behavior has opened a wealth of opportunity for retail merchants to reach and sell to their customers in a completely new way," said Dan Wright, mPoria's CEO.

Customers include GameStop, Buy.com, TicketsNow, Cutter & Buck and others. Wireless carrier partners include Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Cingular Wireless.

Looks like from the company's Web site, merchants pay a one-time $70 set-up fee and then $40 a month.

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Mobile marketing big bucks

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:34 AM

By the end of the year, the worldwide market for mobile marketing and advertising -- something in its infancy -- will be worth about $3 billion, according to a study released by ABI Research today.

In this story, I outlined how U.S. carriers have just begun to experiment with what mobile advertising may be.

I quote a Jupiter analyst as saying he estimated the market to be worth $1.3 billion last year.

ABI Research further projects that by 2011, the market will reach $19 billion, including mobile search and video advertising. (Here's what some of the major mobile search players had to say at CTIA, the industry trade show two weeks ago.)

ABI Research said it expects some of the highest levels of spending to come in broadcast mobile video. By 2011, it projects video ads to surpass text messages as a source of mobile marketing spending, in part because of the current growth of mobile broadcast networks. That alone could hit $9 billion in 2011.

With such big dollars at stake, the money is enticing, but Judith Rosall, a principal analyst at ABI, offers this warning:

Mobile advertising and marketing is a risky, albeit enticing business. Unlike the PC, a mobile device offers a uniquely personalized communications channel. Carriers worldwide have quite a bit of information about their end-users: name, sex, age, geographical location. And depending on the handset and plan their users have purchased, the carriers probably also know something about their economic status and credit record. But they don't like to release this information to third parties because they want to protect and control their customers.

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Widevine expands copy protection to Flash

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:32 AM

Seattle-based Widevine Technologies said today it has included Adobe's Flash format into its copy protection technology corral. That means Widevine can protect Flash-based video in addition to other formats.

Several years ago, Widevine made encryption software for video delivered over the Internet. It was a little too early to the game, however, and re-engineered its product for the more traditional cable and satellite operators. Now, it sounds like the market has caught up to Widevine's vision.

Widevine says its copy-protection system is used by video retailers and three television networks for delivering Internet video to PCs and other devices.

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April 9, 2007

Avenue A/Razorfish got great digs

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:39 PM

Avenue A | Razorfish, the Seattle-based online marketing agency, was featured in the New York Times's Real Estate section today for having an innovative office building in Manhattan.

"Some potential tenants might have seen the C-shaped layout and imposing central staircase in a block of space at 1440 Broadway in Midtown Manhattan as design drawbacks. But Avenue A | Razorfish, an interactive marketing and technology services company, took the space and used those elements to create a modern, communal feeling."

Avenue A, a division of aQuantive, merged with Razorfish, a Web development business, in 2004. The story said they consolidated operations at 1440 Broadway from three separate locations in Lower Manhattan.

"With a client list that includes Victoria's Secret and the Ford Motor Company, it turned the 80,000-square-foot, three-story space into what seems like a group of neighborhoods with a town square at the center."

With the open floor plan, everyone's productivity skyrocketed, one exec said.

You may have had a chance to see this office before. The company encourages communication through other methods as well, most notably on the site Flickr, where photos are uploaded under the tag "AARF."

Check out this one.

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Doubleclick sale good for aQuantive?

Posted by Kim Peterson at 1:37 PM

Suitors are reportedly lining up to woo DoubleClick, the digital advertising company, and that could be good news for Seattle's aQuantive, said Jefferies & Co. analyst Youssef Squali in a note last week, according to PaidContent. A sale could cause a ripple effect that leads to acquisitions of aQuantive and others in the industry, the note said.

Perhaps that's why aQuantive's share price has been creeping up over the past month?

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More trade actions with China

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:51 PM


MANUEL BALCE CENETA/AP


U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab holds a pirated DVD copy of "Night at the Museum," a couple of weeks before the DVD is scheduled to be released on April 24.


On the heels of a Commerce Department decision to impose punitive duties on Chinese paper imports, the Bush administration announced today it would file two new cases against China with the World Trade Organization.

The WTO complaints focuses on poor enforcement of intellectual property rights in China that has allowed rampant piracy of movies, music, books, software and pharmaceuticals.

China has set "excessively high thresholds for launching criminal prosecutions" against distributors of pirated products, the first complaint states. The second complaint challenges a policy that allows only state-owned importers to distribute foreign books, DVDs and other items, creating a bottleneck that encourages piracy.

"This is more than a handbag here or logo item there; it is often theft on a grand scale" said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

The action sets in motion a 60-day period in which trade officials from the U.S. and China will try to resolve the disputes. It also raises tensions in an already anxious political climate.

The precarious but hugely important U.S.-China trade relationship was the subject of a major speech last week by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The Washington State China Relations Council has a good analysis of the speech here, saying his "tough love" approach and engaging China in a "dialog of the possible" represent the best policy option in the current environment.

Economists from Stanford University's Center for International Development have taken a contrarian perspective that the U.S. actually benefits from the trade deficit with China. Read their paper here.

Getting the MySpace vote

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:03 AM

Our political blogger David Postman brought up an interesting tidbit Friday about how MySpace will be holding a presidential primary Jan.1 and 2, before any of the official state primaries.

Users will be asked to vote for their favorite candidate (TechCrunch's Michael Arrington points out that MySpace has more members than Mexico has residents).

MySpace also launched an "Impact" section, which features bios on all the candidates and their stand on issues. It's pretty comprehensive and, in fact, it's hard to think of another user friendly site at this early in the game (traditional "voter pamphlets" are far from being out). The Impact site highlights a monthly category. Right now, the topic is "Environmentalism."

Postman does a good job pointing out that the site has some 65 million monthly U.S. visitors, 85 percent f whom are of voting age. Also, MySpace users 18 and up are three times more likely to interact online with a public official or candidate.

TechCrunch thinks the move would be even more interesting if made on Facebook (but aren't a higher proportion of those users more likely to be under 18?).

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Rushing to keep pace with the Wii

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:53 AM

Electronic Arts and other video game publishers were sure that Sony's PlayStation 3 would be the hot console right about now. They generally underestimated the success of Nintendo's Wii, which has become the top-selling game system this year.

According to Bloomberg, Electronic Arts experienced a 25 percent drop in sales in February from a year earlier because it didn't have enough Wii games. Now, the company is rushing to get out Wii games as fast as it can.

Research firm IDC is estimating that Nintendo will ship 16.1 million Wiis this year, according to the article, compared with 9.9 million Xbox 360s and 9.1 million PlayStation 3 systems.

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Apple: 100 million iPods sold

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:49 AM

Apple said today it has sold 100 million iPods since the first model came out in late 2001. The company also said that there are about 4,000 accessories made specifically for the iPod and that 70 percent of 2007-model cars in the U.S. offer iPod connections.

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IM on the Xbox 360

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:24 AM

Microsoft is making its instant messaging program available for the Xbox 360 next month. That means gamers can send messages from the video game console directly to people using Windows computers and cellphones.

But the company isn't coming out with a custom keyboard for the Xbox 360 until this summer. So unless you have a USB keyboard that works with the machine, sending instant messages on the Xbox 360 will not be so instant -- probably similar to what it would be like to send an IM from your cellphone.

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Money, money, money!

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:02 AM

Private equity funds continued raising vasts amounts of money in the first quarter,after just completing record-breaking fund-rasing in 2006. Private equity includes buyout and corporate finance funds, venture capital, mezzanine, and funds of funds.

In the first, quarter, 68 funds raised $44.3 billion, up 67 percent from the 46 funds that raised $26.6 billion in the first quarter last year, according to Dow Jones Private Equity Analyst.

In particular, the buyout side of the private equity industry raised a majority of the money, or $35.2 billion. As for venture capital, which focuses more on early stage investing, 22 funds raised $3.8 billion in the first quarter, falling from year ago period when $4.4 billion was raised.

If you don't remember, in 2006, the private equity industry broke all previous records, raising $246.3 billion in 359 funds. In addition to what was raised in the first quarter, Dow Jones said it knows of 400 other funds trying to raise at least another $130 billion.

Look at the impact this kind of money can have on the industry. It stirs up rumors of companies -- huge companies -- like Home Depot, which has a market cap of $75 billion, being bought out.

Who's next?

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April 6, 2007

Researchers flock to Life Sciences Fund grants

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:40 AM

From biotech reporter Kirsten Orsini-Meinhard:

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund has received letters of intent from about 100 Washington researchers who will apply for a shot at about $6 million in private grant money.

Researchers, from 26 different organizations, will have to submit a detailed plan on how they would use the grant money to an outside panel of judges. Judges will make recommendations in September on the award recipients. The Board of Trustees of the Life Sciences Discovery Fund will make the ultimate decision.

Proposed projects will focus on diseases ranging from cancer to asthma and tuberculosis. This is the Life Sciences Discovery Fund's first grant competition and was open to non-profit research and health care organizations in Washington. For-profit companies could partner with non-profits if they wanted to participate.

The state-run agency plans to award grants twice a year in the future, using the $350 million in tobacco settlement bonus money that was the reason for its inception by the state legislature in 2005.

Because the first round of settlement payments won't arrive until next year, the $6 million in available grant money for this competition is expected to come from five different donors -- " the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Amgen, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Microsoft and Regence BlueShield.

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April 5, 2007

Nintendo ups forecast....again

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:59 AM

Nintendo is on a tear. Just three months ago it raised its yearly sales predictions from $6.4 billion to $7.6 billion. Today, it's doing so again. Yearly sales are now forecast at $8.1 billion. Profit is also up for the year, but Nintendo didn't give specifics.

The jump isn't because of that new Wii console that's getting all the attention. The company said it's seeing "robust trends" in sales of its handheld player, the DS.

Nintendo's fiscal year ended March 31, but it's announcing the financial results on April 26.

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More than 120,000 new blogs each day

Posted by Kim Peterson at 9:50 AM

Technorati has issued its "State of the Live Web" report today with a few bits of interesting data and observations. The highlights:

-More than 120,000 blogs are created every day. Unfortunately, as many as 7,000 spam blogs are also created each day.
-37 percent of all blog posts are in Japanese, compared with 36 percent in English. The third most popular language is Chinese, with 8 percent of posts, and 3 percent of posts are in Italian.
-Technorati tracks about 70 million blogs.

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April 4, 2007

Speakeasy buy leaves some users smarting

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:19 PM

Has the Speakeasy/Best Buy shock worn off yet? People were not happy with the news last week that Best Buy is acquiring the popular Seattle-based ISP. At least, if some of the Web forums are to be believed.

Over on Digg, responses to the news were almost completely negative.

Speakeasy "customers are the exact sort (highly technical with long-term internet experience) that will refuse to deal with Best Buy and leave in droves," wrote one poster.

"In my dealings with Speakeasy, I've had nothing but good experiences, and can't think of a single negative comment I could make towards them," wrote another. "Unfortunately, I can't even come close to saying the same for Best Buy."

The tone was no different at Om Malik's site.

"I currently use SpeakEasy and plan to drop it like a hot tater next month - no WAY am I going to have Best Buy as my ISP," wrote one poster.

Wonder what kind of feedback Speakeasy is receiving from its customers these days?

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Kickballers cast aspersions, call competition 'Microsoft'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:56 PM

The Seattle Weekly has a story on the behemoth of adult kickball leagues entering the Seattle market this season. It includes two references to ballers from rival leagues equating the World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA) to Microsoft. Even the story's headline proclaims: "'The Microsoft of Kickball' Has Arrived."

So are these comments meant to malign WAKA or compliment its success? (As the Weekly reports, 32,000 players in 21 states participated in WAKA kickball last year.)

WAKA clearly feels maligned. The kickball league sued another D.C.-based league, DC Kickball, for infringing on WAKA's copyrighted rules and accused a DC Kickball founder of defamation "for calling it 'the Microsoft of kickball' in a 2005 Washington City Paper story," the Weekly reports. "WAKA is seeking $356,000 in compensatory and punitive damages."

Later in the story, the kickball coordinator for local adult league Underdog Sports makes the Microsoft comparison again.

Lawrence Martin tells the Weekly he thought WAKA was awesome when he was in college, when "they were sort of independent. ... They sound like a Microsoft now. I think they've lost their way."

(Full disclosure: At least one member of the Tech Tracks staff played in an Underdog kickball and/or bowling league within the last 12 months.)

So what do you think when you hear a group described as "the Microsoft of (blank)"? Is this a compliment? An insult? Did it change somewhere along the way?

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Poll: More people aware of Vista, but not planning upgrade

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:02 PM

Harris Interactive polled 2,223 U.S. adults online between March 6 and March 14 about their perceptions of and plans for the Windows Vista operating system.

About 87 percent had heard of Vista, a nod to the huge marketing campaign Microsoft unleashed to launch the product Jan. 30. That's up from 47 percent who had heard of it in early December when Harris conducted a similar poll.

While awareness has increased, the percentage of people planning to upgrade in the next 12 months has not. In the December poll, 20 percent of survey respondents who had heard of Vista were planning to upgrade. In the March poll, that number was 12 percent. (Harris notes that there are various factors that introduce potential errors and a meaningful margin of error cannot be calculated.)

Of those planning to switch to Vista, 31 percent will do so through purchasing a new PC with Vista already installed. Another 48 percent intend to install Vista on an existing machine, which runs against some experts' advice.

Finding a workable combination of Vista (there are four flavors with substantially different features available to consumers) and hardware to run it is proving frustrating for some PC purchasers, as illustrated by a class-action lawsuit filed by a Camano Island woman last week.

"I think this underlines the issues with Vista -- it's hard to figure out which version you can run," Michael Silver, research vice president at Gartner, said in an email. "While Microsoft has a program ... to find out which version you can run, the best way to get Vista is on a new PC."

The poll asked people what operating system ran their primary home PC. Here's the percentage break down:

Windows XP: 79%; Windows 98: 5%; Mac OS X: 5%; Windows Vista: 3%; Windows ME: 3%; Mac OS 9: <3%; Windows 95: <3%.


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Role reversal: Nokia's at the top

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:02 PM

Check this out. About a year ago, I went to Helsinki and visited Nokia, the largest cell phone maker in the world. I talked to them about how they thought their strategy went wrong in the U.S., and left them trailing to Motorola here.

Not even 365 days later, the world is turned upside down.

Motorola is transitioning its executive team, CEO Ed Zander backed out of speaking at CTIA last week, and Carl Icahn is trying to get on the company's board through a proxy battle. And now, Mark Anderson, a local hedge fund portfolio manager and tech visionary, said in his most recent newsletter that Nokia's at the top of its game.

Recently, he took the trek to Helsinki to talk to the Finns about what's hot and what's not.

He came up with this conclusion:

"Right in the midst of this seeming disaster, Nokia "got it," understanding that the middle doesn't take you anywhere. Rather, the answer was to go after emerging markets with specialized designs, and after high-end markets (including the "smartphone" market). What may only have been obvious in retrospect: shoot high, and let production efficiencies drive pricing down. Never shoot medium.

The result was a huge resurgence for Nokia, as emerging nations (led by China and India) took up new phones, while developed country users finally found an appetite for Net phones, remote email, MS apps (perhaps), and mobile TV.

Bingo. This ought to serve as a marketing lesson for others attempting to serve multiple global segments: the High/Low strategy beats the middle muddle: it's a double focus, instead of no focus."

This is on the mark. Motorola is getting hammered for shooting medium -- appealing to the middle masses, while neglecting that the upper-tier market and the super low-end market are much bigger opportunities.

For more information on Anderson's goings-on while he was visiting Nokia's headquarters in Espoo, Finland, check out this blog. The blog is written by Stephen Johnston, a London-based Nokia employee who works on Internet strategy, future trends and innovation. He's also in charge of organizing informal "speaker series" sessions, in which Anderson participated.

He included his notes from the session and a video.

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No cell phones in the sky

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:44 AM

We had a short story today about how the FCC has grounded the idea of allowing airline passengers to use cellphones while in flight.

I'm thinking the restriction is based more on maintaining order on the plane than anything else.

The FAA restricts cellphones and other electronic devices onboard aircraft to ensure against interference with the aircraft's navigation and communication systems. But in an order released yesterday, the FCC noted that there was "insufficient technical information" available on whether airborne cell phone calls would jam networks on the ground.

I remember reading a story in the WSJ probably more than five years ago. Everyone came to the same conclusion -- there was no evidence that cellphones caused interference, but just in case, we shouldn't use them onboard.

This has got to be more of a self-preservation issue. Imagine people talking on the phone while flight attendants give out valuable information, or being in the next row from a loud talker?

Still, it would be nice to use your cellular connection to reply to email, or do your expenses while inflight. Although I suppose if that were the case, Wi-Fi on the plane would have taken off already.

Maybe people just want to use the time to disconnect and zone out?

If you have an opinion on the subject, you can vote here.

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Clearwire's new call center

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:39 AM

Clearwire said yesterday it was opening up a new "technology service center," or what seems like a fancy name for a call center.

It will be located in Milton, Fla., and could hire more than 400 people, who will provide technical assistance to the Kirkland company's high-speed wireless broadband service.

Clearwire offers service in 36 metro markets covering more than 350 municipalities in 12 states including Florida, as well as Ireland, Belgium and Denmark.

It is the company's second support center, said Perry Satterlee, Clearwire's president and COO, in a statement.

"The opening of our second technical support center is part of our long-term business strategy to meet the growing customer demand for our simple, fast, portable, reliable and affordable wireless Internet service," he said.

I'm not so sure why they need so much assistance when the service claims to be so easy to use. Clearwire is purchased in a box and requires no installation or software downloads. Customers access the service by taking the modem out of the box, plugging it in and connecting the Ethernet cord to the customer's computer.

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A9.com: It ain't pretty

Posted by Kim Peterson at 10:03 AM

Greg Linden links to A9.com's death spiral, as measured by Alexa.


Alexa


I wondered what would become of A9 after chief Udi Manber left for Google last year. Things weren't looking good as of October, when Amazon scaled back some of A9.com's key features. On Alexa's chart, you can see a corresponding traffic drop for that time period.

These days, is the company paying any attention to its beleaguered search engine?

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April 3, 2007

A cup of Martin Tobias

Posted by Kim Peterson at 3:24 PM

Local tech veteran Martin Tobias, now the chief executive of Seattle biodiesel company Imperium Renewables, gets his Starbucks moment:


Martin Tobias


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Major League Baseball loves ads

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:00 AM

Major League Baseball is going to sell online video advertisements and charge people subscription fees to view live games over the Internet. Usually, companies pick one or the other, offering ad-free subscription models or showing free content subsidized by advertisements. It's rare to make customers pay a subscription and then show advertising on top of that.

"I think it's being greedy," digital media analyst Phil Leigh told Investors Business Daily. "But the professional leagues are pretty accustomed to getting what they want."

MLB has a not-so-pretty history with local companies when it comes to showing games online. The league and Microsoft's MSN cut short a multimillion dollar contract in 2005 to show games on personal computers. Microsoft had reportedly agreed to pay a hefty $40 billion over two years in the deal.

RealNetworks ended its three-year contract with the league in 2003, saying that less than 2 percent of the company's revenue that year was from Major League Baseball sales, and that getting out of the business would save the company $5 million in 2004.

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April 2, 2007

Crosscut launches

Posted by Kim Peterson at 2:40 PM

After two years of work, the online newspaper Crosscut Seattle launched today. Founded by David Brewster, the founding editor of the Seattle Weekly and a former Seattle Times columnist, the site describes itself as "an online daily newspaper for the Pacific Northwest."

Brewster writes on the site that Crosscut is an answer to a gap in quality local news.

"Readers and advertisers were flowing to Web products, so let's stop lamenting about declines in certain kinds of journalism and get with the sunrise part of the news industry," he writes.

Armed with a clever slogan, "news of the great nearby," Crosscut's debut issue is a robust mix of local news that links heavily to the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other newspapers. Readers are able to post comments to every story. There isn't a whole lot yet in terms of advertising, which is understandable at this point.

I broke the news about Brewster's venture last September in an article about online journalism. My guess is that Brewster is hoping to expand Crosscut to other cities in the future, depending on how Crosscut Seattle fares.

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Microsoft issues patch for Windows cursor hole

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:11 AM

Microsoft issued a patch Sunday for a vulnerability that affects several versions of the Windows operating system, including the newly released Vista, and has been employed in "malicious and criminal attacks on computer users."

In a security advisory issued Saturday, the company described the hole "as a vulnerability in the way Microsoft Windows handles animated cursor (.ani) files. For this attack to be carried out, a user must either visit a Web site that contains a Web page that is used to exploit the vulnerability or view a specially crafted e-mail message or email attachment sent to them by an attacker."

The company had planned to issue the patch, known as MS07-017, with its regular monthly security update on April 10. "However, Microsoft is aware of the existence of a public attack utilizing the vulnerability," a spokesman said in an email. "Since testing has been completed earlier than anticipated, Microsoft has released the update ahead of schedule to help protect customers."

The attacks and impacts to computer users thus far have been "limited," according to the spokesman.

Updates will be pushed out automatically to Windows users who have the Automatic Updates feature turned on. The patch can be downloaded at Microsoft's Windows Update.

The SANS Internet Storm Center has more details and links to security vendors' accounts of the problem.

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Microsoft takes more Office advertising online

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:48 AM

Microsoft will direct 60 percent of its advertising to digital media in a new campaign to sell Office 2007.

The campaign, set to run through the end of the year, "includes print, online and out-of-home advertising, a series of Web films that drive users directly into relevant product demos, an online experience with demonstration and trial at www.Office2007.com, and relationship marketing," according to a company representative.

In the last big Office advertising blitz -- the "New Era" campaign with the dinosaurs -- only 30 percent of the spending was directed toward digital media.

The Office 2007 tagline for the campaign is: "It's a new day. It's a new office."

In fact, the new version of Microsoft's flagship suite of productivity applications -- released to businesses Nov. 30 and consumers Jan. 30 -- has a dramatically changed user interface.

Targeted markets are the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, The Netherlands, Australia and India.

Microsoft's agency of record, McCann Worldgroup, worked on the campaign, which is led by McCann Erickson San Francisco and MRM Partners. Microsoft would not disclose the budget for the campaign.

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Tricia Duryee
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