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June 29, 2007

Craigslist and iPhone: a thoroughly modern pairing

Posted by Mark Watanabe at 4:58 PM

Caroline Davis and Erik Ball checked out the lines at the Bellevue Square Apple store and found the 21st century supply chain at work. You know, the one that involves Craiglist.

One 31-year-old man said he was waiting in line to buy two of them -- one for himself and the other to sell on Craigslist.

Then there was a teenager, who said he planned to sell both iPhones he planned to purchase on Craigslist. In fact, he had already posted an ad there in the afternoon and received four calls. He said he's selling the $499 model for $800. Nice summer job.

There were stories earlier in the week, of course, of people advertising on Craigslist to wait in line for iPhone seekers -- for a fee. Two teens in the Bellevue Square line had them one better. Each said they were getting $100 to wait for "a millionaire guy" -- the boss of one of their mom's friends. Would they like one for themselves? "It'd be really cool but we would only get it if our parents got it for us," one of them said.

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Microsoft buying more data center horsepower

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:34 PM

This from The Associated Press:

Savvis Inc., a provider of Internet access, hosting and network services to businesses and federal government agencies, said Friday it sold assets related to two California data centers to Microsoft Corp. for $200 million.

Microsoft is the sole tenant of the data centers, which sit side-by-side in Santa Clara, Calif. The company is paying $190 million in cash, plus $10 million in previously advanced revenue. See details in this Savvis press release.

The two data centers cover about 250,000 square feet. Under a contract set to expire in 2010, Microsoft paid $16.5 million through the first six months of this year.

Microsoft is acquiring more data centers and building its own, such as the one it completed earlier this year in Quincy, Grant County. The data centers are used to power the company's Internet services, such as those it introduced earlier this week.

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The skinny on the Seattle iPhone scene

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:47 PM

Two of our reporters, Caroline Davis and Erik Ball, are valiantly cruising the town today, visiting several of the 10 AT&T stores and four Apple stores in the area that are selling the iPhone.

After visiting the Apple store in University Village, where there were about 100 people lined up, they report that a very intense community has formed.

People waiting in line have banded together and are in good spirits. Everyone is willing to help each other out, getting food and tending spots in line. Line-waiting duties also include reporting people who try to cut. Mostly, everyone is getting excited for todayt's 6 p.m. launch -- even the 25-or-so people who spent the night on the sidewalk.

Alex Gadini and Zeke Landi, both 16, slept overnight and are keeping their respectable third and fourth positions in line.

Gadini said his 18-year-old brother paid him $100 to stand in line and get a phone for him. Although he has additional incentive to wait, it wasn't the first time he stood in line. Gadini and Landi said they once waited to buy a pair of Nike Jordans.

Eric Nelson, second in line, also has a background in queuing up. Last time, he said it was for Star Wars tickets. While eating a peanut butter sandwich, he nonchalantly said he doesn't want the iPhone "that badly," even though "it does all the things that you could want."

Ryan Rawson, 30, of Seattle, said he got there today at 6 a.m. to get a iPhone because "most phones suck." He currently owns a Motorola Pebl, but complains that it's not great at viewing Web sites.

"You can visit the Web, but you don't really get to see the pages very well," he said.

He said another cool feature is that Apple will be able to upgrade the phone's software when it connects to iTunes.

"You are buying the phone you will have forever," he said.

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iSolation?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:49 AM

Bruce Weinstein, who writes "The Ethics Guy" column at BusinessWeek, has an interesting take on our obsession with electronic gadgets. In critiquing the iPhone, he says the "i" should stand for "isolation."

Throughout the day, the more we bury our heads in devices that let us chat, listen to music, read e-mail and shop, the more opportunities we miss for direct social interaction, he writes. Of course, he doesn't mention all the interaction the Internet also facilitates, connecting people across the globe who ordinarily would have no way to meet.

Still, I found his column thought-provoking. But when I replied to an e-mail from him last night, I had to confess I read his column on my BlackBerry. He then admitted to being online from his laptop at 10 p.m. Face it, we're all hooked.

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Front row seat: Scoble blogs from iPhone line

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:22 AM

Short of having a Webcam posted at the door to check out the minute-by-minute action, it might be more fun to visit Robert Scoble blogging from his place in line at Apple's Palo Alto, Calif., store. He was first to queue up there on Thursday morning, and he's been running into interesting people, like Apple's first software developer, Bill Atkinson. And they are apparently enjoying a nice sunny day, too. Scoble says the secret of Jobs' great PR is to keep everything secret, and Microsoft should take a lesson from that.

Hmm... guess there wouldn't be so much to blog about then, would there?

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First in line on iDay

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:16 AM

Jack Valko is claiming to be the first in line at the AT&T store in Seattle's Pacific Place to buy an iPhone at 6 p.m.

He's taking the day off from WhitePages.com, where he's the director of IT, for the first chance at getting the highly anticipated cellphone.

Writing a steady stream of posts on his blog, he's keeping everyone updated on a need-to-know basis. What I can't tell from the blog is what time he arrived at Pacific Place.

A quick call around confirms that just about every store in Seattle has a line of some sort. At Pacific Place, the store confirmed about 20 or 30 people were in line there. The AT&T store in Bellevue Square had only four people, so that would be a better choice over the Apple Bellevue Square location, which had more than 50 people. The Apple store in University Village also had a line -- no word on how many people.

I liked Valko's description on his blog of the temporary AT&T workers who have been hired to help with the rush:

The ATT temps are showing up, mostly young men in their late teens and early 20s. The kid hipsters, clubbers, 16-in. woofers in the Celica owners. They are walking in several hours early to work today and getting a good long look at this line full of squishy thirty-something geeks. Most of us can quote every line from every star wars movie ever made. Some of us have dice with more than 6 sides.

Needless to say we're catching some strange looks of exasperation and shaking heads.

But look at it from their perspective. Their whole lives they have been peddling crap, misdesigned products on underpowered networks. Long ago their industry abandoned the cell phone killer app (making calls) and supplemented it with fluffy rap ringtones and glowing antenna to continue to appeal to a customer base that was becoming more dissatisfied with the core product every day.

And now there is a well designed, expertly marketed, easy to use new product that they can sell in their stores that is generating at ton of interest. Talk about a game changer -- these kids will never be the same.

He also has a good picture of the line.

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June 28, 2007

Healionics leaves the nest

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 4:38 PM

Last March, Healionics' initial round of funding made it the first company to spinoff from the Ratner Biomedical Group, a local incubator. Now the company finally has its own pad.

On Thursday, Healionics, which specializes in producing bio-compatible materials for medical devices and implants, said it had acquired a research lab and new offices in Redmond. Its flagship technology -- known as STAR Material -- reduces the human body's rejection to medical implants, a news release said.

The new digs will enable Healionics to manufacture the material in quantity; the company is currently negotiating several partnership deals, the company says.

The deals will be announced soon, according to the release.

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Clearwire's grows in Texas

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:27 PM

Clearwire made two announcements over the past two days.

On Wednesday, the Kirkland-based company said it would start selling VoIP phone service in six new markets in Texas: Abilene, Amarillo, Lubbock, Midland-Odessa, Waco and Wichita Falls.

Today, Clearwire said it is offering its flagship wireless broadband Internet service in Longview, Texas.

Clearwire now operates in about 39 markets in 13 states.

The company's stock briefly reached its initial public offering price of $25, closing on Wednesday at $25.01, up $1.07 a share. That didn't last long, however. The stock closed today at $24.23, down 78 cents a share. In after hours trading, it continued to slide.

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Analyst's take on T-Mobile HotSpot @Home

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 3:17 PM

Earlier this week (if you didn't notice with all the iiiiDle talk going on), T-Mobile USA launched a first-of-its-kind service in the U.S.

In a Wednesday story, I explained how the T-Mobile HotSpot @Home service allows you to install a Wi-Fi router in your house to get better cellphone coverage. The phone, which has Wi-Fi capabilities, roams automatically on to a Wi-Fi network. If you pay an added charge to your monthly bill, those minutes aren't deducted from your regular plan.

T-Mobile is offering this as incentive for you to drop your landline phone.

Here's a brief summary on how Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research, views the service.

"One of the most exciting phones I have used recently doesn't look like much. When I use it in public, crowds don't gather to ogle it. Thanks to T-Mobile's Hotspot @Home offering, however, underneath its benign appearance lies a set of technologies that change the dynamic of where a cellphone can be used."

Gartenberg's conclusion:

By enabling the shift to a usage model that now extends back to the home, T-Mobile has enhanced the value of their overall offerings and provided some rather strong differentiation from competitive offerings. It's interesting to see a carrier take a totally different approach, instead of how to deliver a different game device or media player but rather how to deliver a better telephone.

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Microsoft laments demise of immigration bill

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:11 AM

The major immigration reform bill that was heavily lobbied by Microsoft and other technology companies was dealt its death blow in the Senate today and appears to be done for the next two years at least. Despite that sense of finality, Microsoft today weighed in with a statement expressing its disappointment, but also some hope that Congress would revisit the issue of high-skilled immigration reform before the end of the year.

The bill was needed to address a shortfall of highly skilled workers, Microsoft argued. "This shortfall will limit American competitiveness and technological innovation, hampering not only the technology industry, but our country's leadership in these critical areas," according to the company's statement, which continued:

"The nation continues to witness a dramatic decline in the number of native born computer science graduates. As a result, technology companies like Microsoft rely on the H-1B visa and employment-based green card programs to deliver an adequate supply of highly qualified employees to help maintain our competitive position. That can only be achieved through immediate reform of these programs to ensure they are meeting the needs of our economy."

Tech unions such as the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers dispute that there actually is a shortage of skilled workers. These programs, they contend, are abused by many companies to bring in lower-cost skilled workers.

Microsoft praised Senators Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, and Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, for their efforts. Cantwell introduced an amendment to the immigration reform bill that aimed to create a merit-based green card process that would be driven by employers, and remove the cap on H-1B visas for immigrants with advanced degrees in the so-called STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and math.

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iQuotes about the iPhone

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:51 AM

Tomorrow's the day, when finally you can buy an iPhone.

It's very personal as to whether you care about this monumental event or not, but someone who I can say for sure cares is Chase Forslund, a 24-year-old Capitol Hill resident I wrote about in today's paper.

He wants an Apple iPhone so bad he's going to sell his 2003 Ford Ranger to pay for it.

I ran into him downtown as he was waiting for a potential buyer to arrive at the Greyhound bus station from Victoria to buy his car for $8,000. Forslund was planning on using the money to buy an iPhone and a moped.

The interesting thing about Forslund is that he seemed to want the iPhone because it would be a better reflection of his personality rather than for its technical capabilities. And until now, there hasn't been a phone for sale that accomplished that, he said.

In fact, he tried to take the matter into his own hands. He spray-painted his black Motorola Razr a tan-ish beige. And, as the paint has started to fade, it has created an even cooler broken-in look.

"I feel like you are always borrowing the phone and it's the phone company that owns it. To personalize it; I spray painted it," he said.

To gauge how the public was thinking about the iPhone, Technology Reporter Kristi Heim and I hit the streets to talk to a wide range of people. Kristi went to Factoria, and I went downtown near Westlake.

Here's some comments from the people we talked to that didn't make the story because of length considerations:

"I'm not going to buy an iPhone. I hate anything that starts with 'i' -- iMacs, iPhone, iPods. It's too much for one phone. I've seen the commercials and I've read the articles. I rather use my phone for talking and texting."

--Ciera Honsey, 22, and works at the The Oceanaire restaurant.

"It's advertised so much on TV, and in magazines and newspapers, and then you can find out more by searching the Internet. My child told me I'm not even close to being cutting edge, but it (the iPhone) is interesting. The technology is interesting."

--Dave Sipe, 59, of Whitefish, Montana, will not be getting an iPhone.

"I don't like Apple or Steve Jobs. I can't use their products with other technology. I prefer Microsoft. It's compatible with everything. He's being more monopolistic than Bill Gates. I prefer the Zune over the iPod because the iPod isn't compatible.

-- Victor Ware, 32, who has a Nokia flip phone, won't be getting an iPhone.

"I would (buy an iPhone) if I wasn't involved in a two-year contact. I will when I can upgrade. I like the fact that you can combine your music player and your phone. I'm a big combine-your-gizmo-into-one kind of person."

--Hilary Valentine, 36, of Portland, 36, who has T-Mobile.

"My youngest daughter wants one, but her contract doesn't expire until October. I think it's for a younger generation. My husband will want one, but I don't want to take the time to figure it out, personally. I don't have the patience."

--Martha Sommers, 62, of Kent, Ohio.

"I would love one, but I don't have Cingular (AT&T) or $600. I love my Apple (computer) so much. It's like the same technology in the palm of your hand. It's a mini computer. I'm not eligible because of my contract, but I will still probably wait for the second or third version, like all technology you want to wait."

-- Patrick Sund, 21, a student at Indiana University in Seattle for the summer.

"For me, personally the iPhone freaks me out. I love it (her Blackberry). I'm always holding it, and it's always on me. The iPhone is more than I'd want to spend on a phone. I could have waited, but I'm in college; it's not practical."

--Betsy Weber, 21, home from Georgetown University.

For Kristi's quotes, check them out in her item.

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Word on the street about iPhone

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:46 AM

Here are some more reactions from people around town we interviewed for today's story:

I've heard pluses and minuses. I'd be worried about security.... It looks like a really cool phone. They're doing a good job with marketing. It looks like you just can't live without this phone. Every time it comes on TV, I said isn't that cool?
We're trying to get out of the rat race of being always connected...
I'm always lured to gadgetry. I've had to convince myself you really don't need that.

---Nadine Wedel, 58, of Bellevue, retired Safeco employee

My cousin is actually getting it. You can listen to music for 24 hours, it has maps so you can't get lost. My mom says no, you can't get a new phone for another year.
I don't think the average person can do $59 a month. I don't really need such a high-tech phone.

---Bill Chang, 15, of Bellevue, student


It's a cool little toy. Apple does fun stuff. It might be worth the money if I didn't have to switch carriers. I think it's too new. It's pricey for an unknown.

---Ben Nyquist, 24, of Newcastle, college student


If it's what I hope it will be, you will be in touch with everything you need. For a person on the run, this is a significant step. It's like going from a regular TV to a plasma TV.
Look at the size of it. Look at the instant scrolling. It's got visual acuity, its technologically advanced, swift moving, performance-oriented.
To me it's the type of thing you get your hands on and it's like Whoa!
If they can get the price between $300 and $400, they'd be doing well.

---Mark Staats, 48, of Issaquah, information technology professional


It's almost like jewelry -- something you get to show off. I wouldn't buy the first generation of any phone. The first generation of the iPod -- it was buggy software.
I would have a hard time spending more than $250 on a phone.
I can do a lot of awesome things to my house, car or wardrobe for $400.

---Jason McGillie, 30, of Mountlake Terrace, a project manager at T-Mobile

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Microsoft declares regular quarterly dividend

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:08 AM

Meeting Wednesday, the company's board of directors approved a 12th consecutive quarterly dividend, not counting the $3 per share special dividend it announced in July 2004. Matching the other three dividends announced this fiscal year, the fourth quarter dividend will again be 10 cents per share, payable on Sept. 13, to shareholders of record on Aug. 16. Microsoft's investor relations Web site has a history of the company's dividend payouts.

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Koronis raises $20M in VC round

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 9:17 AM

Koronis Pharmaceuticals said this morning it received $20 million in venture financing from Pacific Horizon Ventures and the Asset Management Co.

The Redmond-based biotechnology company said it plans to use the money to conduct two clinical trials on the effectiveness of its leading product candidate, a novel anti-HIV treatment in humans. Koronis expects to conclude the trials in 2008.

The therapy, already determined to be safe in humans, has shown effectiveness in a lab setting during pre-clinical trials, the privately held company said.

It seeks to anihilate HIV infections by encouraging mutations that make the virus unfit to reproduce. The company said Tuesday that it was enrolling patients in the first trial.

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June 27, 2007

Dendreon stock gets big jolt from partnership rumors

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 7:03 PM

Dendreon shares jumped 10 percent Tuesday in the wake of an analyst note that portrayed the Seattle biotech company as ripe for a lucrative partnership with Big Pharma.

Needham & Co.'s annual partnership report says that the number of partnerships in the biotech industry is poised to grow, according to Marketwatch. The report's authors estimate Dendreon is likely to seek a partner from outside the U.S. to help with the marketing and development of Provenge, its prostate cancer-fighting drug.

The report "triggered the rumor mill," says David Miller, an analyst at Seattle-based Biotech Stock Research. On Tuesday, Dendreon shares closed at $7.17, up 66 cents, or 10.14 percent.

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Life Sciences Discovery Fund seeks grant proposals

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 4:28 PM

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund wants to give you some tobacco money -- provided you're an institution committed to advancing health research in the state.

The application process opens today, and candidates eager to share in the $20 million available for the grant competition can fill an application online, or request more information at the Web site. Letters of intent are due Aug. 8, with full proposals expected in October, the Fund said in a news release.

This is the Fund's second grant competition, and it targets universities, non-profit research institutions and hospitals, as well as public health departments. Private, for-profit corporations can participate joint proposals with non-profits.

The money will come from the state's tobacco settlement bonus payments, the first of which is scheduled for April. The awards will be announced on April 9.

The winners of the first grant competition, funded by private sponsors, will be announced in September.

The Life Sciences Discovery Fund was established by the state to help spur biological research, economic growth, and health care improvement. It will receive $35 million a year from the tobacco settlement over 10 years.

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Pacific Biometrics gets $610,000 contract

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 3:55 PM

An unspecified Big Pharma firm hired Pacific Biometrics to help test an arthritis therapy during late-stage clinical trials, the Seattle company said Wednesday.

The contract is worth an estimated $610,000, Pacific Biometrics said in a news release. The company expects to complete the testing in the third quarter.

Pacific Biometrics specializes in laboratory work and contract research during human clinical trials of biotech and pharmaceutical companies' therapies.

The contract "should have a meaningful impact on our fiscal 2008 financial results," Ron Helm, chief executive of Pacific Biometrics said in a statement.

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T-Mobile wants lines, too.

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:34 PM

T-Mobile USA, the fourth largest U.S. carrier, announced today the rollout of a new service that allows people to make phones calls on cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

Here's the story from today's paper.

In celebration of the launch, the Bellevue-based company said it is giving away the T-Mobile HotSpot @Home phone and service for a year to the first 100 people who show up to the Sixth Avenue store in Seattle on July 3.

"People who really want the service should show up in their bathrobes," the company said.

In addition to the giveaway, all sotre visitors during the day can participate in a sweepstakes for a chance to transform their home into "the ultimate HotSpot."

The grand prize winner in each location will receive a T-Mobile HotSpot @Home phone router and one-year of service and a 40-in. flat panel LCD TV by Samsung and a $1,000 Pier 1 Imports gift certificate.

Seattle is one of 11 cities where this event will be taking place.

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Will M:Metrics be bought next?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:21 PM

The Nielsen Co. said it will start measuring the mobile industry after agreeing today to acquire Telephia, a San Francisco-based company that researches wireless consumer behavior.

Terms of the transaction, which is subject to regulatory approval and expected to close in the third quarter, were not disclosed. Telephia and Nielsen are both privately held companies.

Perhaps, Seattle-based M:Metrics, which also tracks trends in the wireless industry, was also a candidate?

After all, Will Hodgman, who co-founded M:Metrics in early 2004, has ties with Nielsen. He founded a company called AdRelevance, which was later purchased by Jupiter Media Metrix. It was through Jupiter that he came to work at NetRatings and the the Nielsen//NetRatings service.

M:Metrics is financially backed by investors including I-Hatch Ventures, Prism Venture Partners and Kantar Group.

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Consumer Reports warns on iPhone service

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:34 AM

Injecting a dose of reality into the iPhone frenzy, Consumer Reports said today that the product's success may be dampened by the consistently low customer satisfaction of AT&T's wireless service (formerly Cingular).

AT&T is the sole carrier for the iPhone, but for several years in a row, it has been among the worst performers when it comes to Consumer Reports' annual customer satisfaction surveys.

In the latest report, AT&T had "middling to low" customer satisfaction, with static and busy circuits a common problem. The company also got low marks for helpfulness in handling questions and complaints.

And the EDGE network the iPhone will run on is slower than other available networks.

Consumer Reports, which hasn't gotten an actual iPhone to review, does like AT&T's pricing plans, calling them "competitive." Still the upshot of the initial reaction seems to be that early adopters could be in for some headaches.

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June 26, 2007

First iPhone reviews are in

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 5:55 PM

The iPhone is no flop.

So far.

Engadget did a good job giving the top-level highlights of the three reviews that came out today on the iPhone.

On a very exclusive basis, Apple slipped three devices to three personal technology reviewers:

David Pogue of The New York Times.

-- Says its "revolutionary; it's flawed. It's substance; it's style. It does things no phone has ever done before; it lacks features found even on the most basic phones."

Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal.

-- Says "despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer."

Edward C. Baig of USA Today.

-- Says, "Apple has delivered a prodigy -- a slender fashion phone, a slick iPod and an Internet experience unlike any before it on a mobile handset. Still, iPhone isn't perfect, or even the most ideal smartphone for every user.

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Koronis begins enrolling patients for anti-HIV drug trial

Posted by Angel Gonzalez at 12:39 PM

Koronis Pharmaceuticals said today it will begin testing its anti-HIV treatment in humans, after showing the drug's potential to wreak havoc with the killer human immunodeficiency virus in a lab setting.

While current approved treatments seek to inhibit HIV growth, the Redmond biotech's therapy aims to drive virus populations into extinction by spurring unfit mutations. The more degenerate an HIV strand becomes, the less likely it is to reproduce, says interim Chief Executive Donald Elmer.

Full extinction could occur "somewhere in the range of 40 or 50 days," Elmer says.

The clinical study will evaluate whether the product -- known as KP-1461-201 -- is safe and effective in patients who have become resistant to conventional HIV treatments. Up to 32 patients will receive two daily 1600mg doses of the therapy for 124 days.

Privately held Koronis expects to have preliminary results as early as the third quarter, but the drug still has many a hoop to jump through. If all clinical trials are successful and the Food and Drug Administration gives its blessing, the product could hit the market sometime in late 2010 or 2011, Elmer says.

Elmer also heads Pacific Horizon Ventures, which owns most of Koronis.

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June 25, 2007

iPhone concerns start to surface

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:36 PM

Despite a lot of the hype circling the iPhone, especially as we get closer to Friday's launch date, there seems to be some deep-rooted concern whether it will do as well as some expect.

For example, Ryan Burke, an analyst who holds the title of director of telecom and media at Compete, wrote a thorough analysis in today's RCR Wireless News.

The article was based on two surveys Compete conducted about the iPhone. One was taken in January, just after the initial announcement of the iPhone. The other took place in the first week of June. In both surveys, Compete targeted recent iPod shoppers to keep results comparable and to target consumers who were more likely to be aware and informed about the iPhone.

Burke wrote that the biggest change between the two time periods was the number of people who said they were "very likely" or "extremely likely" to purchase an iPhone. In January, 26 percent of respondents said yes to both those questions. Earlier this month, the postiive responses dropped to 15 percent.

He wrote: "As shoppers have become more aware of the device's price and exact feature set, it is not surprising that the unrealistic expectations of five months ago have been replaced by a more realistic assessment of the iPhone's actual features and price."

Apple has a strong history and culture of creating highly engineered and stylishly designed devices, but he said consumers are now expecting that to be a given. Instead, one of the primary things consumers cared about is whether the phone will make high-quality calls.

It's a phone first, right?

"Overall design and look of the device scored much lower than usual as an area of concern, presumably because consumers are already confident in the iPhone's design and have shifted their concerns to other aspects of its functionality," he wrote.

A question to those in the "very likely" category: Why are you going to buy one? Design or functionality? If it's functionality, which feature are you buying the device for?

We have a story in the paper today that demonstrates there are alternatives in the marketplace for just about each feature the iPhone purportedly has. You can check it out here.

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Corbis gets into the microstock photo business

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:14 AM

Corbis, the Seattle image company owned by Bill Gates, is entering the business of selling inexpensive stock photography over the Web with a new beta site called SnapVillage.

Microstock photography represents a new business model that is transforming digital media, but Corbis has come to it relatively late in the game.

Corbis said it's out to "break out of the mold" of existing microstock Web sites, making changes in the typical submission, pricing, searching and purchasing methods.

SnapVillage lets photographers set their own price for images, at $1, $5, $10, $25 or $50, and they can change picture prices any time. The site says it pays photographers a flat, non-exclusive rate of 30 percent per image or 30 cents a download for subscriptions sales.

That's right down the middle of iStockphoto's payment structure, which is 20 percent for non-exclusive sales, or up to 40 percent if iStockphoto is the sole distributor.

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Talk back about the iPhone

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:47 AM

OK, it's not here yet, but we've filled you in on quite a few details about the upcoming iPhone, its impact and the touch screen.

Some additional features not even we knew about are here.

Now it's your turn. Tell us your impressions so far. And do you plan to buy one?

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Google pushing for more Vista changes

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:27 AM

Not a week after Microsoft agreed to change desktop search in Windows Vista -- in response to an antitrust complaint from Google -- Google has filed an amicus brief with the court overseeing the case asking for additional changes and "continued judicial oversight of Microsoft's practices."

The move signals an escalation in the antitrust battle Google has initiated against Microsoft, which spilled into the open last month but appeared to be resolved a week ago. Microsoft and the government lawyers enforcing the antitrust settlement they reached in 2001 agreed on a handful of changes in response to Google's complaint that the built-in desktop search feature in Vista limited consumer choice and violated the 2001 settlement.

Google found the changes inadequate and filed the brief at about 10:15 this morning. Here's a copy of the filing (Download file PDF, 7 pages).

"The remedies won by the Department of Justice and state Attorneys General from Microsoft are a positive step, but consumers will likely need further measures to ensure meaningful choice," David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said in an e-mailed statement. "Ultimately, these issues raise the need for continued judicial oversight of Microsoft's practices, to ensure that consumers' interests are best served."

Microsoft said it went beyond the requirements of the antitrust settlement in agreeing to the changes to desktop search.

"Microsoft went the extra mile to resolve these issues in a spirit of compromise; Google's refusing to give an inch," Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel, said in an e-mailed statement. "We believe any additional changes Google may be demanding were rejected for good reason by the government and would be a setback for computer users."

The news of the amicus brief request -- essentially a request by a third party to intervene in the settlement -- comes a day before the parties are scheduled to go before U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly for a status conference.

In her oversight of the landmark antitrust settlement thus far, Kollar-Kotelly has been unwilling to allow other parties apart from Microsoft, and the plaintiffs -- comprising the U.S. Department of Justice and 17 states -- to gain standing.

"In the court's view, plaintiffs, having initiated and litigated this suit, are the proper parties to evaluate complaints by non-parties regarding alleged violations of the court's decree," Kollar-Kotelly has said.

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SMS to find Russian vodka

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:26 AM

Here's an interesting way to use text messaging.

Russians will soon be able to send text messages to ensure the vodka they are drinking is legitimate, according to textually.org, a site about SMS and MMS.

Apparently, the sale of counterfeit vodka in Russia is a huge problem. Not only do the major brands not like it, but the knock-off drinks are filled with cologne water, antifreeze or pure alcohol and contribute to 40,000 deaths each year, the site reported.

To check the authenticity of the vodka, users can send a text message of the serial number of the bottle to a designated short code. They'll get a response on whether the product is certified or not. The project is an initiative by a state-run organization, responsible for 60 percent of strong alcohol in the country.

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June 22, 2007

More on Tegic's sale to Nuance

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:24 PM

I have an update on Thursday's announcement that Nuance Communications will buy Seattle-based Tegic Communications from Time Warner's AOL subsidiary for $265 million in cash.

AOL purchased Tegic in 1999 for $350 million in stock. Six years later, AOL purchased another company here -- Kirkland-based Wildseed. It combined Wildseed and Tegic together to have a sizable presence here.

Nuance, based in Burlington, Mass., builds voice-recognition software. It said Thursday the acquisition does not include the Wildseed technology.

An AOL spokesperson didn't get back to me until today to say what would happen to the Wildseed part of the division. She confirmed in a voicemail that Wildseed was not part of the deal, and that AOL was continuing to explore options for the technology, including a sale.

Wildseed, which had developed mobile phone software aimed at teenagers, more recently has been developing software for a high-end digital music player that Tegic was working on with hardware manufacturer Haier.

Originally, the player was supposed to launch in June. I have a feeling the sale of the company is probably delaying it. Here's a photo I snapped at CTIA earlier this year.

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June 20, 2007

Clearwire in NXTcomm's spotlight

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:55 PM

NXTcomm, a telecom and entertainment conference taking place in Chicago this week, has recognized Kirkland-based Clearwire for its achievements.

Today, the group announced Clearwire the winner of the Spotlight Award, an award signifying the "best of" the 2007 NXTcomm Eos Excellence of Achievement Awards.

The award was judged by members of the media (not including me!). Of all the Eos award winners, the Spotlight award additionally honors the company that has developed the most promising new technology or provided the best new network services and strategic support.

The press release said Clearwire was selected as the winner for "its wireless high-speed Internet service that is simple, fast, portable, reliable and affordable."

Eos Award winners were honored for best new technology or enterprise solution in 12 categories covering the range of wireless, broadband, and next-generation technologies and services for both public and enterprise networks.

Here's a complete list of Eos winners.

Interestingly enough, XO Communications, another company that was once led by Craig McCaw, also won an award. It was honored for its wired network. XO has been reorganized after going through bankruptcy proceedings.

Microsoft also won an award for its Connected Services Sandbox.

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Microsoft search grew slowly in May, still a distant third

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:49 PM

The May market share figures for U.S. Internet search are out from Nielsen//NetRatings today. Here's the one-page PDF with all the figures.

Google maintained its commanding lead with more than 4 billion searches, up 44.9 percent from a year ago, and good for 56.3 percent of the market.

Yahoo had more than 1.5 billion searches, up 18.6 percent from last year, and held 21.5 percent of the market.

Microsoft's MSN/Windows Live Search, rounding out the top three, had 605 million searches, only 0.8 percent, and representing 8.4 percent of the U.S. market.

Rounding out the top 5: AOL, which grew 5.1 percent and held 5.3 percent of the market and Ask.com, which saw searches decrease 2.8 percent since last May and had a 2 percent share of the market.

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MWR initiating coverage of Cray with buy, $10 target

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:01 PM

Northwest brokerage and investment firm McAdams Wright Ragen is restarting coverage of supercomputer maker Cray.

MWR analyst Sid Parakh has been keeping an unofficial eye on the company for a while now and formally initiated coverage today with a "buy" rating and a $10 price target. The company's shares were down slightly today to $7.50.

Cray took a big hit in May when it disclosed the first of two negative developments that smacked the stock down. Parakh, in his opening report, put it this way:

Cray reported that it was experiencing product development delays for its BlackWidow (BW) and XMT products, pushing the launch timeline into late 2007 and 1H2008, respectively. In early June, the company announced a six-to-eight week delay in the launch of its XT4 Quad-Core product due to a postponement in the availability of a key component. The combination of these two events caused Cray to lower its 2007 outlook from its initial revenue expectation of $230 - $260 million down to under $200 million. Additionally, the company scrapped its earlier operating margin guidance of 3% - 7%, implying negative operating margin expectations.

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The iPhone is irritating some

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:47 AM

Is the iPhone starting to rub you the wrong way?

Sure, consumers are excited, but for those who are knee-deep in the wireless industry, I'm starting to wonder if all the hype around the iPhone -- which has been unparalleled at this point -- could be a wee bit irritating based on sheer noise volume alone?

To make this point, I'll tell you about a quick stop I made to a Cingular Wireless (AT&T) store yesterday. I wanted to check out what the fine workers on the ground floor were saying about the device.

I asked: "Do you plan to get the iPhone?"

The worker said: "Yes, on the 29th at 6 p.m."

He added: "If you want one, you probably should get here earlier. We are expecting lines."

I asked sympathetically: "Are you getting this question a lot?"

He said: "Every second, every minute and every hour of every day."

The physical evidence that the iPhone was coming was a sole placard with a picture of an iPhone on it.

My next stop was the Apple store. It was already closed. But from what I observed through its big floor-to-ceiling windows, was nothing. There was no marketing or signage about the impending release of the iPhone.

Not sure what that means.

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Yahoo follows MSN in new mobile product

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:26 AM

Following an announcement Monday by Microsoft that it relaunched its Windows Live for Mobile software, Yahoo Go for Mobile said today that it was launching a second version of its service.

It initially unveiled the Yahoo service beta in January.

"Today's launch signals to the world that Yahoo Go is ready for primetime. With the tremendous consumer response to date we believe that Yahoo Go will be a catalyst for broader adoption of the mobile Internet," said Marco Boerries, executive vice president of Yahoo's connected life division. "People want easy access to the Internet on their mobile phones, and Yahoo Go 2.0 offers content, access and answers wherever you are."

Microsoft said it upgraded the service Monday so that it would automatically recognize what kind of phone you had. The higher-end it was, the more graphical and media-rich experience the service would be. For lower-end phones, there would be more text.

Yahoo Go 2.0 said the new version will be available on more than 200 different mobile phones in the U.S. by the end of July, and expanding to more than 400 by year end. The application will be pre-loaded on new devices from Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, LG and HTC that begin rolling out later this year.

Other benefits of 2.0 include:

-- An e-mail experience, including the ability to read more types of attachments, including PDF files and Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents.
-- More maps, with both satellite and hybrid maps, current traffic conditions and optional GPS integration on select devices.

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Verizon's FiOS picks up speed

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:00 AM

Verizon Communications announced today that more than one million households and businesses across the country have subscribed to its fiber network called FiOS.

To illustrate the milestone, the company highlights Rich and Marjorie Bayer of Massapequa, N.Y., who were the one-millionth customer to receive a FiOS Internet installation since the service was launched in August 2004. 
 
The family also signed up for TV service, which stands at nearly half a million customers since it was launched in September 2005.

Verizon's effort to roll out fiber will be costly and has been criticized by analysts because they were unsure if people would want to pay for the service.

In September, Verizon put a price tag on its ambitious fiber project for the first time, estimating that it will spend $22.9 billion to rewire more than half of its copper telephone network.

Verizon said it expects to offset the cost with $4.9 billion in savings through 2010 due to the fiber network's reduced maintenance costs.

Already, there has been a ripple effect from Verizon's move. The satellite-TV companies EchoStar and DirecTV have signed partnerships with Clearwire to bundle TV, Internet and telephone services. And cable companies such as Comcast have started selling voice services as well.

Mostly, FiOS is available in sections of Bothell, Redmond, Kirkland, Everett and Mount Vernon in Washington.

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Politicians turn to text messaging

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:34 AM

The Obama campaign launched a new text-messaging service today that will be used to organize events, build a volunteer network and add to its growing base of supporters.

The campaign will include free ringtones and wallpapers that highlight Barack Obama's positions and key statements on the war in Iraq and health care. Musicians from different genres -- including hip hop, rock and techno -- produced the first ringtones.

Distributive Networks is creating some of the messaging, while Bellevue-based SinglePoint is providing the back-end connectivity that will allow the messages to get to U.S. cellphone subscribers.

For more information, check out Obama's mobile site here.

At the site, you can listen to the various ringtones. One on health care, features a snippet of an Obama speech set to a techno-like beat. He says: "We can have universal health care in this country. We can do that!"

To sign up for the service, users would send a text message to a short code. The Obama campaign will not charge anyone for text messaging, but standard text-messaging rates apply.

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Clearwire Q&A in Forbes

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:26 AM

Here's a short interview Forbes conducted with Clearwire's CEO Ben Wolff.

The one interesting thing to check out, perhaps, is his comments on the upcoming spectrum auction. I talked briefly with Wolff last week about it and he said Clearwire wasn't taking a stance on it.

As taken from the text of the article....

Q: The FCC is about to decide on rules for a prime band of spectrum that could help Clearwire and other third-party providers create a "third" pipe to challenge the dominance of cable and DSL in high-speed Internet. What is Clearwire's position on the auction and do you plan to participate?

A: The rules haven't even been set yet. Without the rules being set it's up in the air in terms of what blocks and channel sizes will be available. We haven't made a firm decision one way or the other whether we will participate in the auction. We think it's more useful in rural areas than urban areas. The wave form travels at longer distances at those lower frequencies and you have the potential to create self interference.

Q: Have you offered any comments on the proposals?

A: We haven't really weighed in. It's interesting to see people talk about another network, because we're building it today. I don't understand all the political fervor of another network being built. We have been doing it for three years.

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June 19, 2007

Microsoft to change Vista in response to Google complaint

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:51 PM

As the final negotiations continue between Microsoft and government lawyers over a joint status report due out today, a Reuters story quotes an unnamed source "familiar with the case" saying that Microsoft agreed to change Vista in response to a complaint from Google.

The source in the Reuters report did not elaborate on what changes would be made. Google has complained to the Department of Justice that a built-in desktop search feature in Vista competes unfairly with its desktop search product and violates the terms of Microsoft's 2001 antitrust settlement with the government.

Microsoft spokesman Jack Evans said the company had no comment on the anonymous report, adding that it does not intend to comment ahead of the official release of the joint status report.

Check out this story for more background on the issue.

Update: Another report citing an anonymous source, this one from The Associated Press, says Microsoft will make changes in Vista to address the Google complaint and will implement them as part of a service pack due by the end of the year.

Until now, Microsoft has refused to discuss the timing of a first service pack for Vista. It's a milestone that many business customers are waiting for to deploy the operating system.

Second update: To read about the changes, and see a copy of the joint status report released tonight, see
our story here.

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WiMax report shows healthy adoption

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:04 PM

A report released today said 54 million WiMax subscribers are expected worldwide by 2012.

The report, released by Senza Fili Consulting in Sammamish, said the number includes both fixed and mobile subscribers.

Of the 54 million, the report said about 17 million will be in the U.S., bucking the trend that most of the adoption will occur in developing countries.

Monica Paolini, the president of Senza, said most of the people who will be interested in WiMax are those who don't currently have access to DSL or cable broadband services.

She said the U.S. is one developed nation that is likely to see faster adoption. Even though there are DSL and cable options here today, so far there's been comparatively low broadband adoption, compared with other developed countries in Europe and parts of Asia. She said generally that is because broadband is more expensive and slower here. Plus, both Clearwire and Sprint Nextel are committing to rolling out nationwide networks here.

"For a developed country, we are under provisioned. There's more of an opportunity here from that point of view, it's very much a data-oriented society. People use laptops a lot," Paolini said.

By 2012, she said 61 percent of WiMax subscribers will use the technology for mobile access. A third of them will also use WiMAX as a fixed-access technology.


Senza Fili Consulting

Estimates show that there could be 54 million WiMax subscribers by 2012.

Compared with the 230 million U.S. wireless phone subscribers, and the millions more who have broadband Internet access, that may not seem like much. But Paolini said a better comparison to WiMax is 3G, or high-speed wireless Internet access through AT&T, Verizon Wireless or Sprint Nextel. After four or five years on the market, they each have only hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

She said by 2012, WiMax could end up being a bigger opportunity than 3G. That's because it's likely to be installed in more than laptops. There are plans to install it in small electronics such as handheld video game devices and cameras.

"If you have technology that basically serves only laptops, it's a very different business case," she said. "Only so many people are willing to go around with laptops."

Asked whether Clearwire and Sprint Nextel should be happy sharing 17 million subcribers by 2012, Paolini said: "I think they should be very happy if they can get to that type of usage."

Today, Clearwire has 285,000 subscribers using a pre-WiMax network in about 35 cities in the U.S. and a handful of cities in Europe.

UPDATE: For the sake of comparison, I asked Robert Syputa, a senior analyst from Marvedis for his forecast. He said, according to a report from December 2006, they are expecting 100 million WiMax subscribers worldwide in their optimistic scenario. (In case you are curious, his pessimistic scenario expects only about 21 million by 2012. Note: In that case, he's not counting subscribers but number of CPEs (customer premises equipment), or essentially the number of modems).

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Musical chairs in the philanthropy world

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:39 PM

We knew about big changes going on over at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but it's getting hard to keep track of all the comings and goings.

The Gates Foundation hired a new communications director, Heidi Sinclair, a Seattle native who is currently president and CEO of PR firm Burson-Marsteller in Europe. In September, Sinclair will start to oversee the foundation's communications strategy and act as senior adviser to Bill and Melinda Gates.

Her past positions include vice president of corporate strategy at software company Borland, hardly Microsoft's biggest fan. Back then Sinclair complained Microsoft was stifling competition.

"Microsoft resembles the IBM of yore: the 800-lb. gorilla that sits anywhere it wants," she said in a 1993 Time magazine article.

She's not the only one swapping seats. Senior policy officer Monica Harrington will leave the foundation this month to work with NGOs on innovation initiatives and help build a new online photo editing service called picnik.com.

Two figures in the Seattle philanthropy scene recently moved to Google.
Jacquelline Fuller, former deputy director of the global health program at the Gates Foundation, is now leading Google.org's advocacy efforts.

And Blaise Judja-Sato, founder of Seattle-based non-profit VillageReach, is now working on global economic development at Google.org.

Incidentally, Gates' recent commencement address puzzled Harvard economics professor Robert Barro, who argues Microsoft provides more benefit to society than the charitable foundation.

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Semel takedown trims chance of YHOO+MSFT?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:35 AM

What does the changing of the guard at Yahoo! signal for the chances of a deal with Microsoft (rumored most recently in early May) or another player?

Deal Journal, a Wall Street Journal blog, reads a lesser chance of a Microsoft partnership or acquisition in Yahoo!'s statement yesterday on the departure of CEO Terry Semel, even though the after-hours market seemed to suggest "investors think a blockbuster deal for the company is more likely now."

Semel said, "The board and I have long talked about the importance of ensuring a smooth succession in Yahoo's senior leadership -- and more recently, about the need for a leadership team committed to carrying Yahoo through its multi-year transformation."

Deal Journal asked, "Does that mean the former Hollywood executive wasn't 'committed to carrying Yahoo! through its multi-year transformation'? If not, is that because he thinks the company needs a deal to give it a competitive edge vis a vis the likes of Google?"

Likewise, DealBook, a New York Times newsletter, also posed the question: "Is the Internet giant in play?"

Semel's successor, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, addressed these questions in a conference call with analysts yesterday afternoon: "The board and I believe that Yahoo is, and can, and will be a vibrant independent company," he said.

Later in the call, Yang added, in response to a question, that partnering will be a part of the company's strategy: "[W]e believe we are a partner of choice. And we have proven that over the years. ... So I think partnering for us is a key strategic principle that we are going to operate against."

Yahoo's shares were down 40 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $27.72 in mid-afternoon trading.

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iPhone: is it all hype?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:00 AM

Apple made a couple incremental announcements yesterday, saying that the iPhone battery will last even longer than previously expected, and the screen will be even more scratch resistant.

But perhaps all the hype and hoopla over everyone hurrying out to buy one is just that -- hype.

IDC conducted a survey that says the price of the device and the cost of switching carriers may dampen the demand.

The survey found that while nearly 60 percent of 456 respondents were interested in the iPhone, they were unlikely to buy one anytime soon because of those two factors. In fact, only 10 percent were interested in paying at the $600 price level or signing a two-year contract.

In addition, employees may not be allowed to use the device for work. A story in the Wall Street Journal today, said corporate information-technology managers are resistant to creating patches for the device if they don't seamlessly work with the company's Microsoft Exchange servers or BlackBerry e-mail servers.

"While the allure of owning the next 'cool' device will undoubtedly have early adopters -- and die-hard Apple fans -- queuing up to get the iPhone regardless of the price, the associated costs of ownership will persuade many others into a 'wait and see' position," said Shiv Bakhshi, IDC's director of mobility research. "Despite all the hype, there is little clarity on Apple's (and AT&T's) service plans for the device. This lack of clarity could adversely impact consumers' purchase decisions."

The survey said almost 18 percent of the respondents would be willing to buy an iPhone if it were priced under $299.

"Apple loyalists alone can make the initial launch a 'success'. But beyond that, it will be interesting to see the extent to which the iPhone hype, and the curiosity it has generated, translates into actual purchasing intent," Bakhshi said.

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June 18, 2007

Microsoft suing Immersion for breach of contract

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:24 PM

Microsoft is charging a San Jose-based company that integrates programmable touch feedback into digital interfaces with breach of contract. The company filed a complaint today against Immersion in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Immersion owns patents on technology for haptics, "a Greek word meaning 'the science of touch,'" according to this description on Immersion's Web site.

According to the Microsoft complaint, in February 2002, Immersion sued Microsoft and Sony alleging that the companies violated those patents. The products in question were the companies' video game consoles, Xbox and PlayStation, respectively. Microsoft and Immersion settled in mid-2003.

One of the terms of the settlement required Immersion to make a substantial payment to Microsoft if it went on to settle with Sony.

Immersion won an $82 million verdict against Sony in September 2004 that was increased to $90.7 million, according to Microsoft's complaint. The verdict, which Sony appealed, also barred the company from selling its PlayStation video game console in the United States.

Not surprisingly, Sony appealed in early 2006 and later settled with Immersion, according to the Microsoft complaint.

It appears that there may be some dispute between Microsoft and Immersion over whether this was actually a settlement. Microsoft's lawyers spend several paragraphs in the complaint detailing why they think it is a settlement.

Despite statements by Immersion's CEO "and the inherent settlement nature of the Immersion/Sony Settlement Agreement, Immersion has actively attempted to describe and characterize its agreements with Sony as something other than a settlement in order to avoid its obligations under [the mid-2003 agreement with Microsoft]," the complaint states.

Microsoft is seeking the amount it thinks it is owed by Immersion -- not less than $15 million, plus an additional percentage of the Immersion/Sony settlement amount -- plus 12 percent interest and lawyers fees.

A spokeswoman for Immersion did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Update:
Immersion posted a response on its Web site Tuesday: "Immersion believes that it is not obligated under the sublicense agreement with Microsoft to make any payment to Microsoft relating to the conclusion of its litigation with Sony Computer Entertainment. Immersion intends to defend this lawsuit vigorously."

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Microsoft making moves in TV

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:45 PM

Microsoft rebranded its software for television service providers today at an industry conference in Chicago. And it's buying a stake in a major Chinese television manufacturer.

According to wire reports citing a regulatory filing from Sichuan Changhong Electric, Microsoft is spending $12 million for about 1 percent of the state-backed company. In addition, the two companies will cooperate to develop, make and market TVs, computers and other digital home-entertainment products, according to Reuters.

The second part of the deal doesn't sound all that new.

About two years ago, Microsoft inked a "strategic cooperation pact" with Changhong. Under that pact, Changhong would receive advanced IT technology and software from Microsoft to develop digital TV sets and other high-technology products, officials from the Chinese company were quoted as saying in a June 2004 report in the official Shanghai Securities News. In return, Changhong would help Microsoft develop its business in China, the newspaper said.

MarketWatch reported that Microsoft and Changhong will collaborate on a project called "Media Galaxy," "which involves developing entertainment products that would link televisions and personal computers at home over the Internet." That sounds very much like one of the new capabilities of Microsoft Mediaroom, the rebranded software for television service providers.

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Microsoft re-launches local mobile search

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:16 AM

Microsoft said today that it has launched the new MSN Mobile, a wireless phone portal that allows people to access a number of Windows Live properties.

The mobile portal, available here, includes
easy access to Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Spaces and Live Search.

Because it's developed for the mobile phone, MSN Mobile is designed to help Web pages appear easily on a small cellphone screen.

MSN Mobile will provide acccess to news and sports, financial charts, local information with movie listings and reviews, local weather, and Live Search to find phone numbers, addresses, and maps and directionst on the mobile phone.


Microsoft

The new portal will have more graphics and look more like a Web site on the PC.


The portal is set to be available on most phones with Interent browsers that use WAP 1.2 or higher. A complete list of devices is at this site on the PC.

Sounds like the application will be free to users, especially since the press release says the portal will have advertising using Microsoft adCenter and the recent ScreenTonic acquisition. MSN Mobile will provide mobile operators with syndication capabilities and the power to provide customers with relevant and helpful advertising links.

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June 15, 2007

Breakthrough in plant replacement for oil

Posted by Kristi Heim at 3:24 PM

The goal was simple: replace crude oil as the source for plastics, fuels and many other common chemicals with inexpensive, nonpolluting plant matter.

But breaking down glucose has proven especially complicated.

In this week's edition of the journal Science, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory now say they've discovered an effective way to convert nature's most abundant sugar to an alternative source for products typically made from petroleum.

"What we have done that no one else has been able to do is convert glucose directly in high yields to a primary building block for fuel and polyesters," said Z. Conrad Zhang, a scientist with the PNNL-based Institute for Interfacial Catalysis, who led the research.

Until now the problem has been low yields of commercially viable products and too many byproducts, he said.

Zhang and his colleagues said they were able to produce HMF yields of more than 70 percent from glucose and nearly 90 percent from fructose while leaving only traces of acid impurities.

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Fake Steve Ballmer blog, 'twas only a matter of time

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:37 PM

It's Friday afternoon, so it's as good a time as any for some goofing off. Mary Jo Foley's blog is where I saw the first reference to a Fake Steve Ballmer blog, in the mold of the-now-wildly-popular Fake Steve Jobs blog.

There are 10 posts on FSB now. I'm not going to judge its quality yet (though feel free to chime in with your own comments). I'm not sure it has quite the ear for the executive it's spoofing, as does FSJ. Especially during its early days, FSJ was funny because the language rang true ... sort of. (The language and content in general also regularly ring blue, so sensitive readers be warned.)

Now, FSJ is becoming a must-read full of biting criticism, witty (fake) insights and links to real, relevant articles. It also has its share of juvenile humor, name calling and tomfoolery.

In short, it has defined the fake executive blog category and will be a tough act to follow.

We've wondered around here when someone would launch a Fake SteveB or BillG blog. For the record, it's not us.

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Clearwire's stock nears IPO price

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:17 AM

Clearwire's stock is avoiding a big swing today, reflecting Wall Streets outlook on the company's newly inked deal with two satellite TV companies.

Here's today's story on how the Kirkland-based company will bundle its wireless Internet access service with TV from DirecTV and EchoStar Communications.

It also addresses the rumors that Sprint Nextel could be looking for a WiMax partner, or considering a tracking stock that would reflect how the new technology was performing despite Sprint's core cellphone business.

In afternnon trading, Clearwire was trading around $24.50 a share, which is getting the share price back a little bit closer to its IPO, which sold 24 million shares at $25 a piece.

UPDATE: At the end of trading, Clearwire's stock fell 15 cents, or .61 percent, to close at $24.35 a share.

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19 million want an iPhone in the U.S.

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:33 AM

As many as 19 million people are highly interested in buying an iPhone in the U.S., according to a survey released today by M:Metrics, the Seattle-based mobile research firm..

The survey looked at consumer awareness of the iPhone in the U.S. and U.K. and intention to purchase one.

It found that 64 percent of American mobile phone users and 56 percent of British users were aware of the iPhone. In the U.S., 14 percent of those who had heard about the iPhone -- about 19 million people -- said they would be highly interested in buying one.

The survey asked respondents to rank on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely they were to purchase an iPhone. The number of people choosing 7 to 10 totaled 19 million. The group registering a neutral amount of interest, checking 5 or 6, totaled 15.8 million, and those marking a 1 to 4 made up the largest group, 97.2 million.

Interestingly enough, the interest does not seem to be based on the device's capabilities, M:Metrics said.

"While other devices -- some of them already on the market -- have features equal or better than the iPhone, such as 3G, superior cameras, and the like, the iPhone has been the first mobile device to create widespread consumer excitement around a mobile phone," said Mark Donovan, an M:Metrics analyst. "This has the potential to increase consumer demand for more expensive, full-featured phones across the board as OEMs and other operators respond to AT&T/Apple's marketing juggernaut."

AT&T has a five-year exclusive on the device in the U.S.

Another interesting tidbit: 67 percent of those most inclined to purchase an iPhone subscribed to other carrier networks.

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June 14, 2007

WSJ: FTC reviewing aQuantive deal ... as expected

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:50 PM

A report in The Wall Street Journal this afternoon cites lawyers close to three big online advertising deals -- including Microsoft's $6 billion purchase of Seattle-based aQuantive -- saying that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating them for antitrust concerns.

At least in the case of the aQuantive buy, no big shocker. When Microsoft announced the deal May 18, General Counsel Brad Smith told reporters and analysts, "The transaction is obviously subject to [Hart-Scott-Rodino] review. It's also subject to potential review outside the United States. We've been assessing that. We believe it will require a notification in Germany; at this point we don't believe it will require notification in the European Union as a whole." He added, "Acquisitions of complementary assets such as the Microsoft-aQuantive deal normally do not raise antitrust concerns."

According to the Journal story, the FTC is also reviewing Yahoo!'s purchase of Right Media. Google's purchase of DoubleClick is already being reviewed -- something Microsoft urged the government to do. In May, Microsoft was confident that its acquisition would increase competition in the online advertising market.

"Obviously, as you all know, we've consistently stated, that given the importance of this business to the future development of the Internet, we think it's very important that enforcement agencies fully study the competitive implications of acquisitions in this sector," Smith said. "... The Microsoft-aQuantive transaction will promote competition and the Google DoubleClick transaction will reduce competition, and it's really as simple as that."

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Avvo gets sued

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:39 PM

An attorney has filed a class action suit against Seattle-based Avvo, a startup that ranks attorneys on a scale of one to 10.

The lawsuit, filed on the behalf of other attorneys nationwide, claims that "the site is unfair and highly deceptive."

Steve Berman, the managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle. He alleges that the site violates unfair methods of competition and deceptive acts in the conduct of commerce as stated in the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

Berman has a rating of 9.2.

"When the site launched, they had a very slick media campaign that led consumers to believe the site would give them accurate and insightful information about attorneys," said Berman in a press release. "In reality, we believe the site's rating methodology is prone to error and wide open to manipulation."

Avvo launched on June 5. In this story, company execs said their ratings take into account a number of factors, but wouldn't disclose much detail.

Mark Britton, founder and former Expedia general counsel, addresses some of the concerns in a comment on this blog post.

UPDATE: Mark Britton posted a blog item on Avvo's site today addressing the rating system and how an attorney can get extra points for even winning softball awards, or the 4th grade spelling bee. The short answer is that it is a temporary spike until an Avvo employee checks to see if the award is legitimate, and takes any associated points away that the attorney may have unfairly got credit for.

UPDATE 2: Here's today's story on the lawsuit, which adds comments from Berman. Here's a link to the complaint.

We are getting a lot of feedback on the story. What do you think about ranking lawyers?

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Linux group mulling response to Microsoft IP moves

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 1:17 PM

Leaders of the open-source software community are meeting in Mountain View, Calif., this week to discuss the future of free software against a backdrop of Microsoft deal-making and posturing on intellectual property issues.

Today Microsoft announced another deal, this one with desktop Linux provider Linspire. Like other recent deals, with Novell and Xandros, it allows Linspire to offer its customers protection from intellectual property claims that may arise if Linux and other open-source software is found to violate Microsoft patents.

Reuters is covering the three-day event at Google headquarters and noted that the group is "debating whether an increasingly commercial open source community should fight or ignore [Microsoft] the world's largest software maker." This story has a good roundup of the issues facing the open-source community.

It is the first Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit. The group formed earlier this year through the combination of Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group. The group "promotes, protects and standardizes Linux by providing unified resources and services needed for open source to successfully compete with closed platforms," according to its Web site.

InformationWeek is also covering the event and reports that leaders there are urging the open-source community to forge on with development rather than being distracted by Microsoft's moves. From the story:

Jim Zemlin, CEO of the Linux Foundation, made only a veiled reference to the charges by Microsoft's General Counsel Brad Smith that Linux and other open source code violate 235 of its patents. "The competition is asking, 'What can we do to slow things down?' They're projecting fear, uncertainty and doubt. Let's come up with the things to move this platform ahead."

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Sprint's latest WiMax plans

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:03 AM

The WSJ is reporting that Sprint Nextel is exploring new options for financing its plans to build a national WiMax wireless broadband network. The options may include forming a partnership or joint venture with Craig McCaw's Clearwire, or seeking an infusion of cash from cable providers.

In addition, Clearwire separately announced today that it formed a distribution agreement with DirecTV and EchoStar Communications to resell each other's products and services.

The WSJ, quoting "people familiar with the matter," said the options Sprint are considering an effort to make investors less concerned about the cost of the WiMax plan.

So far, Sprint has committed to spending about $3 billion through next year to build a network that will offer high-speed wireless Internet access to 100 million people.

One deal supposedly under consideration would be to spin off Sprint's WiMax unit as part of a deal with Clearwire, the WSJ said people familiar with the matter said. The two sides have had discussions in recent months.

A partnership between the two would not be completely out of the question if you look at the many ties that McCaw has had with Sprint Nextel in the past. McCaw previously controlled Nextel Communications, a company he helped rebuild to become the fifth largest carrier in the U.S. before Sprint purchased it. Nextel had extremely close ties to Motorola, which made Nextel's special push-to-talk services. It is Motorola that purchased Clearwire's WiMax equipment subsidiary, and now has a very close relationship with Clearwire and Sprint.

I talked to Ben Wolff, Clearwire's CEO, briefly this morning. He declined to comment on all of the above.

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Clearwire teams up with EchoStar/DirecTV

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:45 AM

Clearwire announced that it has signed distribution agreements with DirecTV and EchoStar Communications.

The agreements allow both satellite companies to offer Clearwire's high-speed Internet service to their customers. In return, Clearwire will be able to offer the video services of one or both satellite companies to its customers.

The bottom line is that in markets where Clearwire operates, all three companies will be able to bundle together, TV, high-speed Internet access and voice services, as a competitor to both cable and telecom companies.

The launch is planned for later this year.

"We're pleased to partner with these two satellite companies as they both share our commitment to offering a superior customer experience by enabling customers to enjoy the benefits of unwired services," said Perry Satterlee, Clearwire's president and chief operating officer. "By expanding the reach of our services through DIRECTV and EchoStar, and by incorporating direct-to-home satellite video services in our own distribution channels, we believe we have an opportunity to significantly expand our business opportunity."

Still, this announcement doesn't address whether a deeper relationship is brewing among the three companies. At one point, it was heavily rumored that one of the satellite companies, or both, would make a substantial investment in Clearwire.

In early morning trading, Clearwire's stock jumped $3.17, or 15.95 percent to $23.04 a share.

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Microsoft inks another Linux deal with former rival

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:37 AM

The intellectual property (IP) licensing team at Microsoft is keeping busy. The company rolled out yet another IP deal, this one squarely in the mold of the open-source patent indemnification pacts it signed in the last year with Novell and Xandros.

Under the deal, Linspire, a provider of open-source desktop software, will offer customers protection from intellectual property claims that may arise if Linux and other open-source software is found to violate Microsoft patents.

Microsoft has been upping the pressure on the open-source community by suggesting that as many as 235 of its patents could be violated by the free software.

Microsoft said the deal is another step toward improved interoperability between Windows and open-source software. In a news release, Microsoft stated that the companies will "work to advance office document compatibility, enhance instant messaging interoperability and reinforce existing collaboration on digital media." Other areas of collaboration include TrueType Fonts and Web search: Linspire will set Windows Live Search as the default search engine on its Web browser.

Microsoft's history with Linspire includes a trademark dispute. Microsoft sued the company in late 2001, alleging that the name it used for its desktop Linux, Lindows, infringed on the Microsoft Windows trademark. The case was settled in 2004 with Microsoft paying $20 million to the company, which agreed to change its name to Linspire.

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June 13, 2007

nutSie is bringing sexy back

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 5:04 PM

Melodeo, which has developed nuTsie, a competitor of sorts to the soon-to-be released iPhone, released its second guerrilla marketing video today on YouTube.

The videos Melodeo created are designed to chip away at Apple's domination of digital musice (the name of the service nuTsie is already an anagram of the name iTunes).

The first video was posted when the service launched last week. The new video, also viewable on YouTube, is similar to the first, but replaces the hip rocker dude with a sexy chick (perhaps the reason why it became the second-most viewed video on YouTube today).

The dialogue stays the same.

In it, the iPod is represented by a balding man with thick glasses in a suit and tie. A hipper, younger guy in jeans with a long-sleeve shirt rolled up to his elbows is the cellphone (Substitute blond-haired womanl in cutoffs and green high heels).

The dialogue pokes jabs at the limitations of an iPod.

The iPod says: "Cellphones don't play music."

The cellphone says: "Actually we do. ... We play songs."

The iPod asks: "How many songs do you hold?"

The cellphone answers: "We don't hold them, we just play them."

Surprised, the iPod asks: "And where does the music comes from?"

"iTunes," says the cellphone.

Then, there's a profanity, coming from the iPod, which makes this video a little on the PG-13 side.

Melodeo is just one of the companies scrambling to offer competitive services to counterattack Apple's first mobile phone, which will go on sale June 29.

Find out more about the service in this story.

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Clearwire's D.C. appearance

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:33 PM

Clearwire CEO Ben Wolff addressed one of the largest crowds ever at the Wireless Communications Association's annual Washington D.C. convention today.

He said in a phone call following his speech that from his recollection it was one of the most well-attended WCA conference ever. About 1,200 people registered and he said 20 to 30 percent more were expected to walk in.

Wolff said he drew a lot of parallels in his keynote speech between what Clearwire is doing for the WiMax industry and what McCaw Cellular Communications did for the cellular industry in 1987 when it went public.

"When you look at how many subscribers they had and how many people their spectrum covered, and what analysts were saying back then, there are some interesting similarities," he said. "We are doing for the Internet what cellular did for voice."

Wireless Week wrote about the speech, reporting that Wolff said that of Clearwire's customers, 40 percent came from cable, 29 percent were coming from DSL and 27 percent from dial-up. The numbers add up to more than 100 percent, he said, because some customers subscribe to more than one type of broadband access.

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Aventail purchased by SonicWall

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:02 PM

Seattle-based Aventail said today that SonicWall, a company in Sunnyvale, Calif., would purchase the company for $25 million in cash.

Aventail sells a combination of software and hardware that give companies a way for employees to access electronic information stored securely on servers when they're away from the office. The technology is called SSL VPN, or secure socket layer virtual private networks.

Aventail serves very large customers while SonicWall, which competes in the same business, serves much smaller companies, according to Evan Kaplan, chief executive and co-founder of Aventail.

The acquisition follows Aventail's sale of the profitable service side of its business in 2005. That purchase price was undisclosed.

Last year, Aventail recorded $18 million in revenues and was not profitable.

In all, Aventail, which was started during the dot-com heyday, had raised $110 million in venture capital.

"I would like for the Seattle community to understand that it's a fantastic deal for customers, they are well served by it, and they are keeping over 75 percent of our employees, and keeping our engineering talent -- they are doing all the right things as the acquiring company. It's a very good deal for the employees, they have a stock that's doubled over the last three years. They've executed superbly," Kaplan said.

But for investors, he added: "It's an OK deal. We raised a lot of money, and it was gone before 2001 -- it was lost during the bubble period....I feel like we've served the Seattle community well, but I would have liked to be better by investors."

Here's a 2001 story about how Aventail refocused after it raised $55 million in its last round of capital.

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June 12, 2007

Awards passed out to local companies

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:23 AM

A number of Seattle-area companies were nominated or awarded with an American Business Award last night during a ceremony in New York.

The honor, also called a "Stevie," recognizes the efforts, accomplishments and positive contributions of companies and business people worldwide.

Winners from the area included: Seattle-based CleverSet, Satsop-based SafeHarbor Technology and Leisure Care of Seattle.

Here are the categories and other local companies that were nominated:

Best New Product or Service - Computer Software
MessageGate, Seattle, MessageGate E-mail Governance Suite v.4.2

Best New Product or Service - Telecommunications
Envision Telephony, Seattle, Envision Identity Protection Solution

Best Overall Company - Up to 100 Employees
Another Source, Seattle.
SafeHarbor Technology, Satsop. (A Stevie winner).

Best Overall Company - Up to 2,500 Employees
Mithun, Seattle.
Talisma Corporation, Bellevue.

Most Innovative Company - Up to 100 Employees
CleverSet, Seattle. (A Stevie winner).
Intelius, Bellevue.

Best Sales Organization - All Other Industries
MILA, Mountlake Terrace.

Best Chairman
SafeHarbor Technology, Satsop, Annette Jacobs, chairwoman and CEO.

Best Newspaper Ad or Campaign
Leisure Care, Seattle. The Bellettini branding campaign (A Stevie Winner).

Brand Building/Promotion
Leisure Care, Seattle, Leisure Care Web site.

Training
Microsoft, Redmond, Standards of Business Conduct 2006 Online Training.

More than 2,000 entries from companies of all sizes were submitted for consideration in more than 40 categories. Members of the Awards' board selected Stevie winners from among the finalists.

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Outside apps for the iPhone?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:55 AM

Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced during his keynote address at Apple's developers conference in San Francisco on Monday that third-party application developers will be able to create Web applications for the iPhone, according to a story today by CNet.

One of the harshest criticisms of the iPhone was that it was considered a closed platform -- developers would not be able to build applications for it. Other phone systems, including Windows Mobile and Symbian, are open.

CNet reported that the developers will have to use Safari, Apple's Web browser, and that they will be able to create iPhone applications using common Web development standards such as Ajax ahead of the iPhone's June 29 launch.

As a bonus, CNet said those applications will also work on Windows because Safari can now run on Microsoft's operating system.

Still, the announcement falls short of what developers wanted to hear. Apple will not set up a development kit or support a community for iPhone applications at this time.

By limiting third-party applications, the iPhone is supposed to be more reliable and secure.

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Bluetooth and Nokia's Wibree merge

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:28 AM

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, an industry association based in Bellevue that oversees the creation of the short-range wireless technology, said today that it was merging with Nokia's Wibree Forum, a group that develops an ultra-low-power wireless technology.

With this announcement, the two groups said, the Wibree specification will become part of the Bluetooth specification to ensure devices require very small batteries and use very little power.

The Wibree Forum is based in Nokia's headquarters in Espoo, Finland.

"Our members have been asking for an ultra-low-power Bluetooth solution. With Nokia's innovative development and contribution to the Bluetooth specification with Wibree, we will be able to deliver this in approximately one year," said Michael Foley, the executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG).

Bluetooth has traditionally been used for things such as wireless headsets, but increasingly it's being used for other scenarios, such as cable-less printers, or to send information, such as a contact, between two different devices.

Wibree's development started at the Nokia Research Center in 2001. Wibree was announced to a broader audience in October 2006 and received some criticism from the industry questioning why it would be good to have two competing standards.

"Including Wibree within an existing forum will ensure interoperability and its wide and fast adoption. The Bluetooth SIG is the optimal new home for Wibree," said Jarkko Sairanen, Nokia's vice president of corporate strategy.

Wibree will bring new-use scenarios to the table because the technology uses a fraction of the power of classic Bluetooth radios, the two groups said. For instance, in many cases it makes it possible to operate a device for more than a year without recharging.

The work of integrating the low-power technology within the existing Bluetooth specification has begun and the first version of the specification is anticipated during the first half of 2008.

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Deutsche Telekom likes T-Mobile USA

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:10 AM

Deutsche Telekom's chief executive said its U.S. mobile phone division is key to its overall business, according to Reuters.

The statement from Rene Obermann dismisses speculation that pops up every once in awhile that the Bellevue-based unit is for sale.

"The U.S. business is a core business of the mobile communications business and therefore of Deutsche Telekom," Obermann said today at an industry conference. "We have defined the U.S. as a core business for Deutsche Telekom in the future as well."

Obermann added that he could not see any merit in selling the fourth-largest U.S. carrier.

Reuters reported that there was speculation that AT&T and Telefonica were considering a bid for T-Mobile USA, and that the Blackstone Group, a private equity group that is Deutsche Telekom's second-largest shareholder, wanted the company to sell its U.S. business. The rumors had boosted Deutsche Telekom's shares last month.

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June 11, 2007

Microsoft's take on Muni Wi-Fi

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:02 PM

MuniWireless, a Web site claiming to be the voice of public broadband, said Microsoft's conclusion on municipal Wi-Fi is that there is likely a viable ad-supported model.

There's a story here, and a presentation online here.

In short, although they find that user problems do exist, there's significant demand for free muni Wi-Fi; early adoption suggests widespread potential; and ad-supported models seem to have legs (page 7).

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No-neck-tie a look for Obama, Ballmer, McNerny

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:36 PM

The Wall Street Journal over the weekend took a look at a look in men's fashion being popularized by presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama: Suit and no tie.

It's a fashion trend that can be seen in the c-suite of several large companies, including Microsoft and Boeing. The Journal story, which deems the suit-no-tie look difficult to pull off, calls Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's look (no tie with a button-down collar as pictured in one example) "slouchy."

"Choose the wrong collar -- button-down instead of spread -- and the resulting casual effect might say middle management, not corner office," the story posits.

Boeing boss Jim McNerny is pictured tie-less, but with a pocket square, which, according to the story, takes the look "a step up."

For the record, a spokeswoman told the Journal that Ballmer usually wears a tie. I took a quick look at photos in our archives. During his recent visit to Asia, Ballmer was in a tie. At Microsoft's CEO Summit in mid-May, he was tie-less (pictured with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, also tie-less, and Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro, who sported an orange tie).



Joe Nicholson/AP Photo


Bezos, Ballmer and Premji.

Ballmer went tie-less again in November when he announced a major open-source deal with Novell.

Ballmer tends to go with a V-neck sweater over a button-down collar, which is a look Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates also favors, and which both men wore at an event celebrating the launch of their biggest product, Windows Vista, in January.


TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP/Getty Images

V-necks for Vista launch.

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John Stanton joins United Way

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:56 PM

The United Way of King County said John Stanton, the incoming campaign chair, will announce a major new campaign at a breakfast Tuesday.

Stanton is considered one of the pioneers of the wireless industry, having worked alongside Craig McCaw to build McCaw Cellular Communications, which was acquired by AT&T and spun out to become AT&T Wireless.

Stanton also built VoiceStream Wireless -- now T-Mobile USA -- and helped to spin it off from Western Wireless. It later was sold to German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom for $30 billion.

Two years ago, Stanton sold Western Wireless, a Bellevue carrier focused on rural areas and smaller markets, to Alltel. He's now at Trilogy Equity Partners, an investment company that makes mobile bets.

The breakfast Tuesday, at the Paramount Theatre, will highlight United Way programs aimed at ending homelessness and ensuring all children are ready for school, the United Way said. The breakfast will also feature keynote speaker Scott Carson, executive vice president of The Boeing Company.

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A new Cleawire competitor?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:50 PM

To date, Kirkland-based Clearwire offers wireless broadband service to consumers as an alternative to DSL or cable in more than 35 U.S. markets, and Sprint Nextel is on its way to serving even more customers.

But DigitalBridge Communications and Alvarion sort of trumped both today by announcing at the WCA 2007, a annual wireless convention in Washington, D.C., that they have launched a network in Rexburg, Idaho.

The network is supposedly using true WiMax equipment (Alvarion's BreezeMAX 802.16e platform), rather than the proprietary equipment used by Clearwire. That makes it one of the first commercial WiMax networks in the country.

The service is expected to reach more than 7,000 homes and businesses in Rexburg and the surrounding areas, with plans to extend service coverage in Southeast Idaho and Montana in the coming months. Service plans deliver speeds up to 3 Mbps and subscribers are able to connect anywhere in the DigitalBridge service area by taking their modem with them.

The service, although claiming to be WiMax, still doesn't sound truly mobile -- which is the ultimate promise of the technology. It is continually described on the company's Web site and in the press release">press release as being nomadic or portable. It's also unclear what the modem looks like. On the Web site, DigitalBridge said it must be plugged in a computer and an electrical outlet, which I'm guessing would make it a separate device, rather than a laptop card.

Today, Clearwire service is considered portable because it must be plugged in to the wall and a computer (and would fit into a briefcase, but not a purse). Clearwire offers service up to 1.5 mbps, or slightly slower.

DigitalBridge did not disclose its prices on its Web site without a potential user's Rexburg address. But after entering the Rexburg's Chamber of Commerce information, this is what I found out.

-- For 2 Mbps, you pay $29.99 a month plus $3.99 a month modem rental fee (signing a one-year contract will save you $60).

-- For 3 Mbps, it's $39.99 a month plus a $3.99 a month for a modem rental fee (signing an annual contract will save you $60).

That's a better deal than what Clearwire is offering.

-- For 1.5 mbps, it's $36.99 a month for a two-year subscription (the first three months are discounted to save $50). This plan is also available on a month-to-month basis for $50 a month.

-- For 768 Kbps, it's $29.99 a month for a two-year subscription (the first three months are discounted to save $80).

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Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert retires

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:00 PM

Richard Notebaert, who helped Qwest overcome financial problems and an on-going accounting scandal, said he will retire as chairman and chief executive officer, according to the AP.

Qwest shares fell almost 8 percent to $9.36 in trading today.

Notebaert, 59, said he will leave the Denver-based telecom company after the board selects a replacement. No timetable has been established. The AP said he is the third executive to announce plans to leave Qwest this year.

"The time has come for me to spend more time with family and focus on other commitments," Notebaert said in a written statement. "I am extremely proud of our accomplishments during the past five years and have full confidence in the leadership at Qwest."

Here's a story my colleague Brier Dudley wrote on meeting Notebaert, and why there's mediocre broadband in Seattle.

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Innovating on the Facebook platform

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:06 AM

Redmond-based Sampa, which provides users with tools to make Web sites, said it launched a new service today for Facebook.

Now, the company says, the 19 million-or-so Facebook users, will be able to create Web sites and add blog functionality integrated into their Facebook profile.

Sampa CEO Paul Gross said the launch is part of Facebook's effort to open up some of its technology to allow startups and other companies to innovate on their platform.

Similarly, Seattle-based iLike was one of the first to integrate its music service into the hugely popular social networking site. Since Facebook's platform was opened up, Gross said more than 300 applications have been built for the site.


Sampa

This screenshot captures how the Web site would be integrated into a Facebook profile.

Gross said Sampa, founded in 2005, is targeting 25- to 34-year-olds who are looking to create Web sites as they get married and have children. Although that's not the typical Facebook profile -- which includes a lot of students -- Gross said they want to target users early and help them transition to adulthood. He said, as you get older, you may want to share your photos and thoughts with older relatives, who may not want to sign up for a Facebook account.

"We become interesting when inviting other generations. It may be an unnatural act for an aunt. She's not going to join Facebook," Gross said.

Sampa is currently made up of Gross and founder Marcelo Calbucci. They expect to raise $250,000 to $500,000 in angel money this summer.

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InfoSpace sells unit to FunMobility

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:58 AM

In addition to announcing that Verizon Wireless will renew its mobile infrastructure contract today, InfoSpace said it has sold its mobile content business to FunMobility. The sale amplifies InfoSpace's departure from mobile content and continues the company's focus on building back-end infrastructure for wireless carriers.

The deal involves InfoSpace Media Studios, formerly Moviso, the Los Angeles-based business unit that InfoSpace formed after acquiring Moviso from Vivendi Universal in 2003. The purchaser, FunMobility, provides wireless community and media services.

"We're also very excited about the InfoSpace Media Studio team, who are veterans of the mobile media industry, and bring a tremendous amount of experience and energy to FunMobility," "said FunMobility CEO Adam Lavine.

Under the terms of the agreement, FunMobility will license InfoSpace's Mobile Data Services Platform -- called mCore -- which delivers mobile storefront capability for media content downloads. Although InfoSpace had been working on components of the mCore solution for years, it also announced its availability today.

"I am pleased to team up with FunMobility and extend our Mobile Data Services Platform to support them and our mutual carrier customers," said Steve Elfman, executive vice president of InfoSpace's mobile division. "We look forward to extending our relationship with FunMobility to enable their digital media solutions."

Plans are for InfoSpace Media Studios to fully integrate into FunMobility headquarters in Pleasanton, Calif. The Media Studio will be led by Ken Nowak, who will become vice president and general manager of the new FunMobility Media Studio.

After the acquisition, FunMobility will have about 120 employees between the Los Angeles and Pleasanton offices.

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June 8, 2007

Entrepreneurs ask for open access wireless networks

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:17 PM

A group of 15 wireless entrepreneurs, including current or former executives from companies such as Virgin Mobile USA and Palm, asked the FCC to open up airwaves coming up for auction instead of selling them to specific companies. Such a move, they said, would help spur innovation.

In a letter, the group argued that the problem today in wireless is that innovation takes too long. If an entrepreneur builds an application or a new device, it can take months to years to get a carrier's approval to implement it.

They wrote in the letter:

"We are writing as members of the Wireless Founders Coalition for Innovation, which is a group of seasoned wireless industry entrepreneurs who have founded wireless companies that now generate billions of dollars of revenue and have created thousands of jobs. We have brought innovation to the wireless industry by creating new business models, launching new services, and addressing pressing consumer needs that were previously ignored by the large wireless carriers."

The letter follows a proposal by Frontline Wireless, which is urging the FCC to ensure that the 700 MHz spectrum (to be auctioned soon) becomes a "wholesale, open access network that meets critical needs of consumers and first responders."

Frontline calls it the "last, best chance for a competitive wireless broadband future in the U.S."

I've heard very little discussion locally on the matter, and I wonder how entrepreneurs here feel about having to sell their work to the carriers, which own the networks, vs. providing applications on an open network?

I wonder whether it's not commonly discussed issue because of the culture here. Most of the wireless industry in Washington stems from McCaw Cellular Communications, AT&T Wireless, VoiceStream, Nextel Partners, T-Mobile USA and Western Wireless -- all wireless carriers that owned and operated their own networks.

So the question is, are the wireless entrepreneurs here more effective at dealing with the carriers because that is where they came from? Or would they be blindsided by an open access network if it ever comes about because they couldn't dream of carriers relinquishing their power?

Not surprisingly, none of the 15 entrepreneurs and executives who signed the letter to the FCC are local.

For more information, see a Wall Street Journal story here, the coalition's Web site here, and a Frontline press release here.

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Broadcom's controversial patents are local

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:08 PM

The U.S. International Trade Commission has imposed a ban on some imported phones made with Qualcomm chips because the chips violate a patent held by Broadcom,

The industry fears that the federal agency's decision could slow the introduction of new handsets and lead to higher prices for cellphone users,.

The commission's decision, which stems from a patent-infringement complaint brought by Broadcom, could cause problems for carriers that want to introduce more-advanced handsets.

Interestingly enough, these patents have a local connection. The Wall Street Journal reported today that in December 2002 Broadcom paid $24 million for a set of patents issued to Everett-based Intermec, a subsidiary of Unova (Unova later adopted Intermec as its name).

With a little sleuthing, we found that the patent, issued in August 1995, was given to inventors Steven Koenck, Patrick Kinney, Ronald Mahany, Robert Meier and Phillip Miller.

Seattle Times researcher Gene Balk later found that the inventors were from Iowa at the time and did not live here.

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New hires in Microsoft Mac, Linux groups

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:38 AM

Microsoft is bringing Craig Eisler back to work as a general manager in the company's Macintosh business unit, which adapts software for use on Apple's Macintosh computers.

Eisler will replace Roz Ko, who has led the group for seven years and is moving to the Entertainment and Devices Division.

Eisler has been at Microsoft since February, apparently shopping around for the best fit, according to this post on the Microsoft Office for Mac Team blog.

"I would not have guessed this is where I would've landed when I rejoined Microsoft," Eisler wrote. "But after looking at several great options over the course of the past couple months, I jumped at the Mac BU opportunity when I heard about it. ... [T]he icing on the cake -- the thing that I love -- is the chance to work on Mac products and to get to work with Apple. I have been an Apple fan and Mac user for years." (He linked to a post from his personal blog gushing about his top 10 favorite things about Apple.)

Eisler has worked at Microsoft before, running development of the company's DirectX graphics technologies. He was also CEO of Action Engine, a wireless software company, and formed AOL Wireless in 2005, which acquired Kirkland-based mobile software maker Wildseed, as detailed in this story.

Eisler will work on Office 2008 for Mac, due out in the second half of this year, and future versions of the software.

In an unrelated hire, Microsoft announced late last night that Tom Hanrahan was named director of Linux interoperability, a part of Bill Hilf's platform strategy group. Hanrahan reports to Sam Ramji who heads platform technology strategy and runs the company's open source software lab.

Hanrahan will head a new Microsoft/Novell Interoperability Lab, which was announced as part of the two companies' open-source deal in November.

Hanrahan comes with deep open-source experience: He was engineering director at the Linux Foundation and served a stint as senior program manager at IBM's Linux Technology Center in Portland. (Good details on the Portland-Linux connection in this 2004 story by Brier Dudley.)

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An analyst's take on nuTsie

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:58 AM

JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg posted his take on Melodeo's nuTsie service, which was launched earlier this week.

The service allows you to listen to your iTunes music on your phone without having to store the music on the phone.

You can read my story here, and my blog follow-up here.

Gartenberg's thoughts:

"This will be something to watch. Will Apple allow this to go on? What are the legal issues of streaming content like this? But for now, it's simple, elegant and free. The phone is clearly evolving into a media and entertainment device, that like camera phones are finding their contextual niche. This is a perfect app to help make that happen faster."

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Analyst expects Xbox 360 price cut

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:17 AM

Bloomberg reported this morning that one of the top financial analysts covering Microsoft, Heather Bellini at UBS, expects the company to lower prices on its Xbox 360 game console heading into the holiday shopping season.

Here are the goods from Bloomberg:

"If they really are going to have a good Christmas games lineup, then they just have to have the largest number of boxes out there so that they sell the largest number of games," said Bellini, Institutional Investor's top-ranked software analyst. She expects a price cut as early as September.

Nintendo's Wii, which was the subject of yet another success story in the New York Times today, is pulling ahead in this round of console wars with a mass appeal and a $250 price point that's $50 less than the cheapest Xbox 360, and half as much as the cheapest Sony Play Station 3.

(In another sign of Sony's console business struggles, the company announced job cuts in its U.S. video game unit, following layoffs in Europe in April. See coverage by The Associated Press.)

The Bloomberg story has the usual "no comment" on price cut timing from Microsoft. It does quote an Xbox product manager saying that the company is "well aware that the sweet spot of the market is really 199 bucks." Xbox boss Peter Moore also chimes in, acknowledging that Microsoft needs to pursue a broader market -- much the way Nintendo has by making its console appealing to audiences beyond the hard-core gamers.

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Microsoft buys a little data management company

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:53 AM

Microsoft is buying Stratature, a 16-person company in Alpharetta, Ga., Microsoft said through its public relations firm. No financial details were disclosed.

Stratature makes master data management (MDM) software. What is that?

"Most software systems have lists of data that are shared and used by several of the applications that make up the system," said this Microsoft explanation. "For example, a typical [enterprise resource planning] system as a minimum will have a Customer Master, an Item Master, and an Account Master. This master data is often one of the key assets of a company. It's not unusual for a company to be acquired primarily for access to its Customer Master data."

The management software allows companies to create, manage and maintain consistent and accurate lists of master data.

Microsoft has been working on software for this purpose. The company aims to get a product to market faster because of the acquisition.

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June 7, 2007

This is truly cutting the cord

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:10 PM

We are fortunate today to have a lot of wireless things -- phones, remote controls, phones and headsets.

But a lot of people ask, when will we be able to charge a wireless device without plugging it into the wall with a cord?

This may be, perhaps, the holy grail of wireless.

A story in the Wall Street Journal today says the idea is not too far away. A group of scientists has been working on it quietly, and have successfully demonstrated wireless transmission of electric power.

The WSJ said a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers reported in Science Express, the online publication of the journal Science, that they were able to power a 60-watt light bulb even though it was not connected to any power source.

The demonstration, in turn, could pave the way for wireless recharging of cellphone batteries and operation of mobile robots, scientists reported.

The technology, dubbed "WiTricity" for wireless electricity, transmits "electric power by magnetically coupled resonators."

Is this a dream?

Maybe not.

Marin Soljacic, the physics professor who led the team, said the technology has proved itself such that "now is a good time to start thinking about commercializing it."

He said that while further development is needed to improve efficiency, he thinks commercial products could be on sale in "a few years, if you started working very seriously." He said MIT would handle licensing of the technology.

The researcher's technology uses a copper coil attached to a power outlet to transmit electromagnetic waves at set frequencies. A receiving coil attached to the base of the light bulb can receive the power for a distance up to 7 feet, making it appropriate for rooms.

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Nielsen on the mobile bandwagon

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:35 AM

The Nielsen Company, which measures audiences of all kinds of media, said today that it will start measuring mobile phone users through a new service called Nielsen Wireless.

The service will measure how many people use content services such as mobile Internet and mobile video and what impact this has on established media behavior.

This sounds an awful lot like Seattle-based M:Metrics, which measures a ton of information on the mobile phone through surveys and by installing monitoring software on a user's mobile phone.

Nielsen said it has already been monitoring some aspects of the wireless industry, including ringtone sales and mobile polling.

Nielsen Wireless plans to launch its first product -- Mobile Vector -- in the U.S. in next month.

It will help wireless carriers develop more efficient advertising campaigns to reach their most valuable subscribers, while helping mobile content producers decide which mobile content distributor will be most effective in extending their brand. It will also help the mobile media industry establish competitive positioning and differentiation, and identify how the subscribers of different wireless carriers consume media in the home.

Nielsen's entrance into the space provides some validation of the mobile industry.

Several people, including InfoSpace's Brendan Benzing, who helps run the Bellevue company's mobile initiatives, say it's hard to get big companies interested in advertising in the mobile space when so much is unknown. Without proper measurement tools, the mobile advertising business will take awhile to get off the ground.

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June 6, 2007

Microsoft, LG in another cross-license deal

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 7:01 PM

Microsoft will share intellectual property with Seoul-based consumer electronics maker LG Electronics in a patent cross-license deal the companies announced Wednesday evening. Microsoft describes it as part of an ongoing strategy "to develop a best-practices model for protecting intellectual property and respecting the IP rights of others, as well as building bridges with an array of industry leaders, including consumer electronics, telecommunications and computer hardware providers."

The LG deal is the latest in a string of cross-license deals Microsoft has inked in the last year. The biggest one came in November with open-source software company Novell.

According to Microsoft's announcement, LG will be able to use Microsoft patented technology in consumer electronics that use open-source Linux software. LG will make ongoing payments to Microsoft for this technology.

This represents another shot across the bow of the open-source community. Since announcing the Novell deal, Microsoft has been increasingly aggressive in its assertions that open source software violates 235 of its patents. The company has refused to disclose which patents are violated by open source.

Also in the LG deal, Microsoft is getting access to LG patents, including some owned by a third party, MicroConnect Group.

Financial terms were not detailed, but Microsoft did disclose a "balancing payment" will be made to LG and MicroConnect for patents related to the exceedingly vague areas of operating and computer systems. Some of the patents are related to "computer architecture utilized in game consoles and other products," according to an LG executive quoted in Microsoft's announcement.

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AT&T Yellow Pages chief rebuts Gates' claims

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 3:01 PM

Back in May, Bill Gates told an audience of advertising executives in Seattle that the end was near for traditional media such as newspapers and the Yellow Pages.

"The Yellow Pages are going to be used less and less," Gates said in a question-and-answer session with another Microsoft exec at the end of his speech.

One major publisher of Yellow Pages took umbrage with Gates' assessment. Denny Payne, who runs AT&T's $3.7 billion Yellow Pages division, sees his business surviving in the digital age, according to this story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Let's review the rest of Gates' vision for how our fingers will do the walking in the future:

Technology improvements such as voice recognition will make the experience of searching for a plumber, for example, "far better than what you get in the Yellow Pages," Gates said. "After all, we know your location, and so we can cluster around that. We can take the information and show you the names, and then you can expand the information easily. So, yes, I think that these things always take time, but Yellow Page usage amongst people in their, say, below 50, will drop to zero, near zero over the next five years."

Not so, Payne said.

According to the Post-Dispatch story, he "talked up the book's simplicity, its place in our lives and the research showing that 61 percent of people still turn first to their print phone book when looking for a local company."

"'Business is good, and we expect it to be good,' Payne said. 'It's still the easiest method of search out there.'"

He went on to describe AT&T's strategy for melding print, online and wireless technology for directory listings -- a similar vision to that espoused by Gates.

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MIT Venture Lab on Thursday

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:55 PM

The MIT Enterprise Forum, which encourages entrepreneurial activity in the Northwest, will be holding its Venture Lab event Thursday night.

The lab will feature the Startup Demo 2007, where six early-stage startups from the Seattle area which will be demonstrating new products and services to the audience.

The 6 p.m. event will take place in One Union Square Boardroom,
600 University St. in Seattle.

Presenters are:

IntellectSpace, which creates enterprise software allowing for the visual presentation of personal relationships. These relationship maps are particularly interesting to investment bankers.

BondRotary, which has created a hybrid engine designed to increase fuel efficiency threefold.

ScienceOps, which provides advanced algorithms for Internet advertising and search results.

VOIP Teleport, which makes voice over IP business phone systems built into a USB memory stick.

Ballpark Classics, which creates high quality table top baseball games.

JamGlue, which has created an online community for creating and sharing audio (music, mashups, fun sounds, etc).

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Towerstream raises more $$

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:25 AM

Middletown, R.I.-based Towerstream, which provides non-mobile WiMax service to businesses, said today that it will raise about $40 million by selling 10 million shares at $4 each to investors.

"We have spoken with many investors who understand the value of our WiMAX business. We believe that there is a growing interest in the future of WiMAX and our position in the WiMAX marketplace. The proceeds from this offering will provide us with the capital to build out our target markets and solidify our position as a WiMAX leader" said Jeff Thompson, Towerstream's president and CEO.

The company, which is listed on the over-the-counter market, said the offering is expected to close on June 11.

Towerstream offers service in Seattle after buying a network from Seattle-based Speakeasy, which was recently purchased by Best Buy.

GigaOM, the technology blogger, said in a posting today the ability for Towerstream to raise money can be attributed to Kirkland-based Clearwire.

"The buzz around Craig McCaw's Clearwire and WiMAX has been the kind of boost tiny Towerstream has been looking for. It had been selling fixed wireless services to businesses for a while and had made a nice living following the time tested business philosophy of organic growth. (Read: Last Mover Advantage) Of course, that meant not many paid much attention to them, and turning a profit was hard."

In trading this morning, Towerstream's stock dropped $2.02 or 34.4 percent to $3.85 a share.

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Kitchen Windows? Report suggests specialty OS

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:03 AM

Mary Jo Foley, the veteran Microsoft watcher, has yet again ferreted out a possible future direction for the Windows platform. In a blog post this morning, Foley writes, "Microsoft is beginning work on the first of what it plans to make a family of customized Windows platforms designed for specific rooms around the home."

She cites unnamed sources close to the company and could get no direct comment out of Shanen Boettcher, general manager, Windows Product Management.

Foley's sources said possible features of a "kitchen computing environment" could include a family calendar, recipe center and a shared bulletin board. (No word on whether this is the technology Microsoft shows off in its Home of the Future, which suggests recipes as various ingredients are placed on the kitchen counter.)

As Boettcher suggested to Foley, hardware makers are experimenting with PCs designed for specific functions in the home. Foremost among these is Hewlett-Packard's TouchSmart PC, which our own Brier Dudley tried out in his home earlier this year.

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June 5, 2007

Craig McCaw honored by SDForum

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 4:16 PM

SDForum, an emerging technology association in the Silicon Valley, has named Clearwire founder and wireless entrepreneur Craig McCaw as one of the recipients of its 10th annual Visionary Awards.

This year's theme was: "Mobile, Media and Entertainment."

Each year SDForum honors industry leaders who have pioneered innovation and fostered a spirit of entrepreneurship. Former visionaries include Lou Gerstner, Bill Gates, Doug Engelbart, John Chambers, Gordon Moore, Ray Ozzie and Vint Cerf.

In addition to Craig McCaw, three others were named and will be honored during a private ceremony June 20.

The others were:

-- Trip Hawkins, chairman and CEO of Digital Chocolate, which creates mobile phone games and social applications.

-- Michael Moritz, who focuses on software and services investments at Sequoia Capital. Before joining Sequoia in 1986, he worked in a variety of positions at
Time Warner and was a Founder of Technologic Partners.

-- Walt Mossberg, who writes a weekly personal technology column in the Wall Street Journal. He also co-produces and co-hosts D: All Things Digital, a major
high-tech conference that this year brought Bill Gates and Steve Jobs on stage for a joint interview.

The awards ceremony is held at a private home and is sponsored by Deloitte, Microsoft, Nokia, DLA Piper and Nasdaq.

Here's a list of all the former winners.

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Xbox Live debuts new Pac-Man from game's creator

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:22 PM

How many quarters dropped into the slot is Toru Iwatani responsible for? He created Pac-Man, the wildly popular arcade game, in 1981 for Namco. Today, Microsoft said, Iwatani, a Tokyo Polytechnic University professor, has again put his mark on the Pac-Man franchise.

Namco Bandai is releasing "Pac-Man Championship Edition" for download on Xbox Live Arcade starting tomorrow. It will have the first new mazes in 26 years, along with several other new bells and whistles, according to a Microsoft news release.

Microsoft held the Xbox 360 Pac-Man World Championships in New York City today. The finalists competed on the new game and winner Carlos Daniel Borrego, 27, of Pachuca, Mexico, was crowned by Iwatani himself.

Iwatani says this marks the end of his corporate career. See coverage from Reuters.

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Clearwire expands in Virginia/Belgium

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 1:25 PM

Clearwire said today it has launched high-speed wireless Internet access in Richmond,Va., and Ghent, Belgium.

The service, which is similar to DSL speeds, uses a proprietary version of the emerging WiMax technology.

Richmond will be the first city in Virginia to have Clearwire service. In Belgium, Ghent makes the third market where service is available. It is also available in Brussels and Leuven.

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Comcast to add 280 jobs here

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 12:39 PM

Comcast, the Philadelphia-based cable operator, is hiring 280 new employees throughout Washington in the next three months.

As part of the hiring, the company is planning to open a new call center in Lynnwood by July. The center, which will eventually have more than 500 employees, will be the company's state headquarters. Two other locations are in Fife and Everett.

Comcast said hiring will take place in nearly all of its Washington locations, including Bellingham, Aberdeen and Spokane. The majority of jobs available are for front-line technicians and customer care representatives and engineering and sales personnel.

The jobs are expected to help fill demand for Comcast products and services, including the company's Triple Play package, which bundles together video, high-speed Internet and phone services for one price.

The Comcast hiring could be good news for the 260 employees who got word they're being laid off from their Alltel call center jobs by the fall.

Alltel Wireless, which acquired Bellevue-based Western Wireless two years ago, said in April that it was closing an Issaquah call center and eliminating 260 jobs.

At that time, it planned to close the Sammamish facility by fall with layoffs coming in two stages -- 89 positions in June and 159 in October. In addition, 12 positions will be eliminated in Bellevue, where Alltel continues to maintain an office of former Western Wireless employees.

I found 21 jobs available in Washington on Comcast's Web site.

Perhaps if Comcast moves quickly, these employees will still be looking for work. After Alltel announced the layoffs, I received two phone calls and one e-mail from other employers eagerly trying to hire the displaced workers.

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Amazon joyo-ful about China

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:56 AM

Shares of Amazon.com rose today after reports quoted CEO Jeff Bezos as saying the company will invest more in China.

Amazon shares added $3.10, $73.52 at noon. Earlier, shares hit a new seven-year high at $73.93.

At a press conference in China, Bezos said the company will put more funding into its business there since it believes the market will grow quickly, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The company owns Chinese online retailer Joyo.com, and the article quoted Bezos as saying Joyo is the company's "fastest growing business anywhere in the world."

Amazon also said it has renamed Joyo.com "Joyo Amazon," and is offering customers a free shipping promotion to go along with the co-branded site name.

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InfoSpace nabs Virgin Mobile UK

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:20 AM

Bellevue-based InfoSpace said on Saturday that it will work with Virgin Mobile in the United Kingdom to provide search capabilities on Virgin mobile phone.

That will offer Virgin subscribers in the U.K. the ability to search the Web, sites made explicitly for mobile and Virgin Mobile's own portal and storefront, including ringtones, games and other content.

The new business is a reflection of InfoSpace's recent partnership with FAST Search & Transfer, a developer of search technologies, and InfoGin, a leader in the field of Web-to-mobile content adaptation.

InfoSpace has been trying to play in the mobile search arena for some time, transferring its knowledge over from the Web, where it owns properties such as Dogpile.com, and leveraging its expertise in mobile.

It's unknown whether mobile carriers would want to partner with InfoSpace after a series of events over the past two years. It started off when Cingular Wireless stopped using the carrier to aggregate its ringtones. Then, the company, under pressure from shareholders, decided to return about half of its cash balance -- or about $200 million -- to its shareholders.

Still, it faces major competition in mobile search, not only from the big online players such as Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, but also from mobile upstarts such as Seattle's Medio Systems and JumpTap, based in Massachusetts.

In fact, in the U.S., Virgin Mobile gets its search technology from JumpTap.

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What's behind Amp'd's bankruptcy filing

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:10 AM

Last Friday, Amp'd Mobile, the hip mobile phone company backed by the likes of MTV, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

BusinessWeek reported today that a court motion filed on June 4 explains that Amp'd "experienced an unprecedented growth of subscribers" between November 2006 and February after running ads on MTV. The problem: nonpayment.

"About 90 percent of the debtor's customers were on 18-month service contracts," according to the filing. "The debtor began to find a host of credit and collections problems (that) contributed ultimately to a liquidity crisis."

By May, the number of nonpaying customers reached 80,000 -- or nearly half of Amp'd's current customer base of 175,000 subscribers.

On Monday, we ran a Los Angeles Times story on the company's bankruptcy.

Its chief operating officer is Susan Swenson, a former executive at Bellevue-based T-Mobile USA. Swenson was delayed from joining Amp'd until last fall after a judge ruled in 2005 she had violated a non-compete clause by taking a job virtually the same as her T-Mobile position.

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Money flows to IceBreaker and HipCricket

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 11:06 AM

Two Bellevue startups said today that they have received more funding to pursue their mobile businesses.

HipCricket, a mobile marketing company, is announcing today that it has raised $6 million in second-round capital. Its services are used by radio stations to do text-messaging campaigns.

IceBreaker said it has raised $7.2 million also in a second round. It runs a dating service called Crush or Flush.

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HTC tries a softer touch

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:46 AM

HTC, the Taiwanese mobile phone manufacturer that has its North American headquarters in Bellevue, has launched the HTC Touch, a phone expected to rival the Apple iPhone.


HTC

The new HTC touch is expected to rival the Apple iPhone.

The launch comes the day I wrote a story about how companies are gearing up to offer competitive offerings before the iPhone goes on sale June 29.

HTC calls the Touch a "deceptively small and stylish mobile phone that ushers in an innovative new concept in intuitive touch screen navigation."

The screen can apparently distinguish the difference between a finger and a stylus and respond accordingly.

"With the HTC Touch, access to your most commonly used content, contacts and features is only a simple finger flick away," said Peter Chou, chief executive officer of HTC. "Mobile phone makers have done a great job of cramming ever-more exciting features into ever-smaller phones. But the way in which one accesses these increasingly sophisticated features has not kept pace. That ends today with the HTC Touch."

The HTC Touch uses a feature called TouchFLO, which allows consumers to sweep their finger up the display to launch an animated, three-dimensional interface comprising three screens: Contacts, Media and Applications. The interface can be spun by swiping a finger right or left across the display, providing access to the features consumers use most.

The phone, which uses Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6, is set to begin shipping within the next week, via France Telecom-owned mobile operator Orange. Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile will also launch the product under its own brand, MDA Touch, this month, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

UDPATE: In case you were wondering, in June, the HTC Touch will be offered by T-Mobile under the MDA brand internationally, not here in the U.S. from T-Mobile USA.

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Avvo launches with glitches

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:26 AM

In today's paper, I wrote about Avvo, a Seattle startup that aims to create profiles of every attorney in the country. The service would compete with the Yellow Pages or other ways consumers find divorce lawyers or bankruptcy attorneys today.

Avvo aims to be more than a list of lawyers by providing ratings for each lawyer on a scale of 1 to 10.

I took a quick peek at the site last week after the company allowed a preview before the site's launch. I found nothing unusual, except that it was really slow.

However, CNET reports today a number of odd glitches and information it found:

According to Avvo's profiles of "licensed attorneys," President Abraham Lincoln, once a lawyer who traveled on horseback between county courthouses, and Scopes defense attorney Clarence Darrow, who died in 1938, have no disciplinary sanctions pending and are encouraged to update their profiles by personalizing them with "professional experience" and achievements. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito each receive hardly flattering "experience" and "trustworthiness" ratings of three out of five stars.

Avvo does not disclose how it comes up with its ratings.

Board member Rich Barton, the CEO of Zillow.com who helped Avvo CEO Mark Britton start the company, readily acknowledged to me in reporting today's story that the company's techniques will cause some controversy.

"As long as we stay focused on the fact that we are empowering the consumer with information, in the court of public opinion you will win," he said.

UPDATE: See the comment down below for Mark Britton's response that he sent to the CNET reporter regarding what he found on the Avvo site.

He said, in part: "We're working hard to constantly add more information and, now that we're live, lawyers and consumers can help by adding their own content. In just the few hours since launch, hundreds of attorneys have claimed their profiles and provided consumers valuable information regarding their body of work."

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Melodeo goes nuts and takes a bite of Apple

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:06 AM

Seattle-based Melodeo launched a new service called nuTsie today that allows you to listen to your iTunes playlists on your cellphone.

Here's our story in today's paper.

To help get the word out, Melodeo is embracing the idea of user-generated content and putting together seven short video clips that poke fun of iPods and the soon-to-release iPhone.

I see only one available online so far. Here it is:

The thing about the new service, called nuTsie, that I didn't mention in today's story is how gets around iTunes DRM issues. Typically, when you buy a song on iTunes, it can be played only on an iTunes device, such as an iPod or a cellphone that comes loaded with iTunes (and only a few such devices exist).

With nuTsie, you are shifting only your playlist -- and not the music tracks themselves -- from iTunes to your cellphone, allowing you to get around DRM issues. The music streams from Melodeo's servers. In essence, you are listening to Melodeo's copy of the song, not the encrypted one you bought from iTunes.

How do you feel about that Steve Jobs?

(And, in case you were wondering, Apple was not consulted during the making of nuTsie.)

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June 4, 2007

Microsoft search/ad boss Nadella speaks

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 6:45 PM

In an acknowledgment of just how high-profile his new job at Microsoft is -- and also of the acumen of his audience -- Satya Nadella said he slept little Sunday night in advance of a talk Monday at the Search Marketing Expo in Seattle.

Nadella, who has been at Microsoft for 15 years, moved in April from the company's Business Division to head research and development for a new group combining both Internet search and the advertising platform through which search generates cash. This puts him, along with Steve Berkowitz, among the top executives leading Microsoft in its head-to-head fight with Google.

Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, interviewed Nadella on stage and cut right to the rumor in the search world. TechCrunch, citing an unnamed source on Sunday, reported that Microsoft had deployed a team of "rock star" developers to build a next-generation search engine.

Nadella didn't bite. "Yeah, I think when they get it done they should send me a link so I will know about it," he said, offering neither detail, confirmation nor denial.

The conversation spread out from there. Here are some of Nadella's comments.

The biggest challenge in the core search business for Microsoft: "At some level when you are 10 percent share in the U.S., you really have to sort of face up to it and say, well, that's the challenge. The challenge is how we grow that share so that our advertisers are getting more audience, and then obviously you're not going to do that if you don't have a search engine that satisfies the searchers."

Adding additional perspective, he said Microsoft has about 55 million unique users of its MSN/Live Search service a month. That's about half as many as Google, Nadella said, but clearly the people using Microsoft's service are performing far fewer searches. Nadella said a big push on his team is rigorous study of what makes a user stick with Live Search or drop it for another search engine after a given -- presumably unsatisfactory -- result.

"There are lots of people even trying Live Search. The thing that we really want to be able to do is crack the code on how do we keep these users who are using Live Search doing more of their searches with us," he said.

Nadella said the company is trying to better integrate Live Search with the rest of its assets, such as its messaging and email services, as well as Outlook. Even the Microsoft.com home page only got a Live Search bar "just recently," he said.

Differentiating from Google and Yahoo!: Nadella read a New York Times story over the weekend that went behind closed doors with the Google engineers working to optimize its search engine. In one example, a Google search on the terms "teak patio Palo Alto" in 2005 failed to return a result for a small business in Palo Alto, Calif., called the Teak Patio. Nadella said Live Search displayed the business as the first hit.

Beyond ensuring search relevance, Nadella said Microsoft is aiming to make the entire page of results relevant to match the total package to the searcher's intent. This includes the advertising displayed on the right-hand side, an instant answers feature, and a display of related searches.

Another point of differentiation Nadella hopes to exploit is three-dimensional search results, in which results are placed within their geographical context.

On potential conflicts of interest arising from Microsoft's pending aQuantive acquisition: Nadella repeated the company line that Microsoft intends to keep Avenue A | Razorfish, the digital marketing company that's part of aQuantive. (Sullivan equated having both the marketing company and the search engine and Web sites on which advertising is sold to the New York Times running a public-relations agency.) Nadella said Microsoft will adhere to the safeguards aQuantive had in place to keep its ad-agency business separate and ensure advertising customers are not channeled toward Microsoft properties.

"We fully intend to make sure that the flexibility Avenue A has to service their clients as a neutral agency is absolutely going to remain," he said, adding that it will be run "at arm's length" from the rest of Microsoft's businesses.

On the branding confusion between MSN and Windows Live services: "At some level I want to say, hey I'm just the engineering guy. ... Both Windows Live and MSN have a place under the sun."


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'Misfits now rule ... Seattle'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:19 PM

The New York Times had an interesting essay yesterday by Stanford journalism teacher and writer G. Pascal Zachary exploring the character of tech entrepreneurs, including all the big names: Gates, Jobs, Woz, Page, Brin.

He describes the breed as "technological innovators who have a rebellious streak -- resenting and resisting established authority and its prejudices -- [that] took root in the 1960s counterculture."

Zachary also traces the influence of science historian Thomas Kuhn, whose 1962 book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolution," described the identification of "'paradigm shifts' as the key to advances in science and technology."

"When world views were overthrown by rebels, new paradigms could be constructed, opening the way for new theories, new facts, new technologies," Zachary writes. "... For people like Mr. Gates and Mr. Jobs, Kuhn's attack on conformity in science and technology provided a moral and intellectual foundation that still survives.

"Echoes of the Kuhnian sensibility can be heard around any corridor in Silicon Valley, any day of the week. In fact, misfits now rule Silicon Valley and its sibling, Seattle."

Well, on Sunday we took a look at some of Seattle's rulers, then and now, and judging by their high school labels, there are quite a few jocks and cool kids in charge. But all in all, Zachary's analysis seems pretty spot on.

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Cray lowers guidance, takes a beating

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:49 AM

Seattle-based supercomputer maker Cray announced that it's expecting revenue this year at or below $200 million.

"While there continues to be a wide range of potential outcomes ... consequently, there is an increased probability that the company will not achieve profitability for the year," company management wrote.

Cray shares were down more than 12 percent, 96 cents, to $6.99 in early afternoon trading on the Nasdaq.

It sounds like the current year revenue slide is more of a delay than a disappearance altogether. Cray attributes the downgrade to "timing of volume parts availability" for its quad-core Cray XT4 systems. The company expects to begin selling these systems in the fourth quarter, but "the timing is such that most or all of the planned acceptances, and associated revenue recognition, will likely be deferred until early 2008."

Peter Ungaro, Cray's CEO, said in a statement the company is disappointed that two of its top goals -- growth and profitability -- are now "in jeopardy for 2007."

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Microsoft Monday morning pile-on

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:46 AM

Microsoft has posted no fewer than eight press releases to its Web site for journalists this morning. Let's sort through them and see if there's anything interesting:

-- More open-source collaboration news. This time, Microsoft is teaming up with Linux distributor Xandros of New Yorky. Xandros distributes open-source software for managing data centers. The deal is similar to the one Microsoft struck with Novell last November. Mary Jo Foley sorts out the details and implications for the ongoing tension over Microsoft's assertions that open-source software violates more than 200 of its patents.

-- Microsoft is getting deeper into the music promotion business with a new program called Ignition for emerging artists. It is packaging monthlong ad campaigns -- including free song downloads, custom playlists, promotional videos and artist commentary -- on its sites related to the Zune music player, Xbox Live and MSN entertainment. Not clear what this costs the artists or record labels involved.

-- There's also a raft of announcements coming out of Microsoft's TechEd conference for developers and IT professionals in Orlando, Fla. It got under way this morning with a keynote presentation from Bob Muglia, Microsoft's server and tools boss.

Among the jaw-droppers (OK, not really), Microsoft is calling the next version of its business data server SQL Server 2008. It was code-named Katmai. A community technology preview version can be had here.
Also, Microsoft is acquiring the code base for Dundas Software's Data Visualization products designed to let people create better looking reports using business data stored on Microsoft SQL Server.

The next version of Microsoft's software development tools will be known as Visual Studio 2008. This product was previously code-named Orcas. A second beta release is due later this summer.

In a nod to the growing importance of consumer-style Web-based services in the business world, Microsoft announced that its Web application development and hosting technology, Internet Information Services 7, will be part of the forthcoming Windows Server 2008 core installation option. This Q&A with Server Division general manager Bill Laing has the nitty-gritty.

Those are the big items from TechEd. This link has Microsoft's rundown of the announcements.

-- Microsoft took another step in its business-security strategy -- and onto the toes of vendors Symantec and McAfee -- with the announcement of Stirling, the code name for the next product in its Forefront line. The company has launched 10 separate products in the last year. Stirling is intended to be a "unified product that will provide comprehensive protection across client, server applications and network edge from a single management console." A "limited beta" of the software is due later this year.

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June 1, 2007

Goodbye, Seattle!

Posted by Kim Peterson at 5:02 PM

It's a beautiful almost-summer day outside, which makes it even harder to leave Seattle. Today is my last day at The Seattle Times. I'm moving to the Bay Area with my husband, who has accepted a job in the video game industry.

Thank you to all the readers who have helped Tech Tracks grow from a wee bloglet into what it is today. I'll miss all your snarky comments and witty observations about Microsoft and the tech industry in general. It's been a lot of fun! Have a wonderful summer.

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