Thursday, May 31, 2007

Google Gears: Support for offline web applications

Sounds like an oxymoron, does it not ? Offline web application ? On a Google Developer Day, Google released an offline web application called Google Gears. Google Gears is a browser plug-in that will let users run web apps whether they are offline or online. Google released the source code for this browser plug-in, in an effort to create a standard for adding offline capabilities to web applications. The initial set of adopters is developers who work on the combination of JavaScript and AJAX, to entice them to move to a higher set of capabilities. Google Gears will work on a set of browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari) on a variety of platforms (Windows, Mac OS and Linux). Google also plans to submit Gears to a standards body so that it will be built into all standards compliant browsers. In addition, a consumer-ready release of Gears will be available within months, and in the meantime, google expects to get feedback from developers.
Google has a variety of web application, and customers have always complained about not being able to access these when they are offline, hence the quest by Google to bring about an offline version. The first application to use this will be Google Readers, an RSS reader. In a sign that this has not been a sudden development, Google Gears has been endorsed by the Mozilla Foundation, by Adobe Systems and by Opera Software.
The software has 3 components - a web server running in the browser, SQLite which is an open source database, and browser extensions that allow multiple JavaScript jobs to run in parallel. Being able to run multiple JavaScript jobs in parallel prevents locking up of the browser if any of the threads is causing a locking.

Apple launched DRM free music on iTunes

It finally happened. Apple launched iTunes Plus, a new service that will offer songs free of DRM protection, although at a higher rate and with a higher quality level of 256 kbps AAC music. A song will sell for $1.29 vs 99 cents for the DRM protected songs. These songs are currently restricted to only songs provided by EMI under the EMI-Apple deal. Apple is also letting people upgrade their previously purchased DRMed songs to DRM free for 30 cents per song.
Consumers have not been very appreciative of DRM. While it prevents piracy, it also restricts the choices available to users; for example, consumers cannot play these songs on a player other than iPod, which is considered an unfair restriction. Refer this article:

Today Apple launched iTunes Plus, a premium service that offers music tracks free of copy protection. The iTunes Plus service debuts, as expected, featuring EMI Group's digital catalog of recordings.
Apple says the copy protection-free music tracks will be available as high quality 256 kbps AAC encoded audio "virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings" and will sell for just $1.29 per song. That's 30 cents more than tracks with copy protection that sell on iTunes for 99 cents. The technology that is used to prevent music tracks from being copied and redistributed is called digital rights management or DRM.
Apple will continue to offer EMI's music with the DRM technology and at its current audio quality, for customers who don't want to pay extra.
Most notably, Apple's proprietary DRM system prevents people who buy songs from its market-leading iTunes store from playing them easily on any music player other than an Apple iPod. That restriction has attracted criticism, particularly from regulators in Europe who say it unfairly limits customer choice.

This is actually a pretty good deal for Apple. They get to be considered as responsive to customer needs, and at the same time, are able to up the price of songs that they sell. Surely, there's good money to be made in seeming to be responsive to consumer needs. There will be a number of other players, both in the online music category and the music albums other than EMI who will be waiting to see the user response to this campaign. If sales jump, so will they.

Samsung enables 4GB storage on cell phone

We get a large number of mobile phones promising the earth in features. These phones play video, audio, store other files, and a lot of third party applications can be installed on them. However, the base memory available on the phone is almost always very limited, and users have to buy extra memory storage. In the rush to make mobile phones smaller, or to fit more features while keeping the same size, this storage slot takes up a fair amount of the space.
Now Samsung has managed to put 4 GB of storage on a mobile phone chip set that could free up the need for putting external storage, thus also freeing up the space needed for an extra memory slot. It also means that users may not have the option anymore to not buy the extra card; it also means that users do not have to do the double tasks of first buying a phone, and then discovering that unless they buy an external card, all the promise of storing a number of songs is going to fall flat. Refer this article:

Samsung Electronics Co. has squeezed 4GB of storage into a mobile phone chip set that the manufacturer believes could eliminate the need for external memory card slots.
The embedded multichip system, called moviMCP, packs several memory functions into one unit, removing the need for an external expansion slot and thus freeing up space in tightly packed mobile phones, the company said Wednesday. The package includes two 16Gbit NAND flash chips and a controller, a 1Gbit mobile DRAM chip to support the processor, and a 2Gbit NAND flash chip for general handset operations.
The new multichip package will allow handset manufacturers not only to design smaller phones with higher storage capacity but also to significantly reduce the time required to develop these products, Samsung said.

Even though this could take some time to come to the market, this is overall a pretty positive development, and maybe contribute to the march of the mobile phone as the one device to carry everything. Add much more space, and this could be the mobile computer, with display and typing being the only restrictions.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Google in trouble with EU over privacy

Privacy experts have always been somewhat hesitant about the level of information gathered by Google about the people using the services provided by Google. People reveal a lot about themselves through the items they search for, and along with their IP addresses, a lot can be gleaned just from these records. And Google will maintain all such records for a period of 2 years. This data helps Google fine-tune its advertising, using these records to direct ads more efficiently at users.
However, the European Union is pretty gung-ho about maintaining adequate security and the time period that Google maintains does not seem to be acceptable to it. And this issue is getting heated up. In addition, the EU packs a hefty punch. It has 400 million consumers for Google, a very large number.
In a escalation, data protection chiefs from the 27 EU countries wrote to Google asking for a justification of its policies on data retention and storage. Refer this article:

In the latest example of a U.S. technology giant potentially being called on the carpet in Europe, Google has been warned that it may be violating European Union privacy laws by storing data on its users for up to two years.
Privacy experts said the letter was the first salvo in what could become a determined effort by the European Commission to force Google to change how it does business in the EU, whose 400 million consumers outnumber the United States.
Any EU effort to impose limits on Google, which as a U.S.-based firm operates under U.S. law, would be the latest in a series of increasingly aggressive actions taken by European policymakers to reign in global technology companies.
According to one member, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the group, the panel is concerned that Google's retention period is too long and is designed to serve commercial interests.
Google in the past has shown that it is responding to privacy concerns by setting an absolute time limit of 2 years for how long the data will be stored (from the earlier infinite time interval). However, if this time period is not good for EU officials, then Google can be in for a fair amount of trouble. The EU have showed that they can take on large corporations, having taken on Microsoft earlier.
More interesting is whether Google will comply, and what that will mean for other search providers such as Microsoft and Yahoo that are not yet disclosing the interval to which they store their records. My feeling is that if pushed hard enough, Google will accept to reduce the time interval by a few more months to get a compromise.

Novell publishes details of Microsoft deal

Late last year, Novell had signed a deal with Microsoft that was puzzling to a number of people in terms of details. Now, under the annual 10K filings to the SEC, Novell has revealed details of 3 agreements. These are all the more important as well as controversial now that Microsoft claimed that Linux was in violation of 235 patents that it has, as well as Microsoft's denial to reveal details of these patents. It was claimed that Microsoft offered Novell patent protection for its Linux distribution, while denying this to other in the Linux community, this trying to drive a wedge in the Linux movement. Refer this article:

Novell on Friday published redacted versions of the three agreements it signed with Microsoft in its annual 10K filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, providing the public with its first detailed look into a deal that some see as critical to the future of Linux. The 10K filing had been delayed by an internal stock options review at Novell, which was concluded Wednesday.
Under the terms of the agreements, Microsoft will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on licensing fees and sales and marketing costs over five years, including US$240 million for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server subscription certificates. For its part, Novell has agreed to pay Microsoft a percentage of revenue from open-source products.
Linux advocates are expected to scour the documents for signs of how the agreement may affect Linux and whether anything in it will put Microsoft or Novell in potential violation of the upcoming version 3 of the GNU General Public license (GPL). The GPL is used in licensing many components of the Linux operating system.
Microsoft has claimed that Linux violates more than 235 of its patents, and because the deal offers patent protection to Novell users, it is seen as potentially driving a wedge in the Linux community. "Novell had a choice here, and Novell's choice was to be in the same boat with the rest of the free software community, or not," Perens said.
One issue that comes through the agreements is that Novell does not automatically recognize Microsoft's patents; as well as the fact that Microsoft may not have actually offered patent protection to Novell.
The nature of the deal as published by Novell was that these agreements were done in order to drive a better inter-operation of Windows and Linux and hence drive better penetration of Linux in the enterprise world, but open-source experts are pretty skeptical about the intentions of Microsoft. The deal has been good for Novell from a purely business point of view.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Microsoft delaying release of Halo 2 due to nudity scenes

Halo was one of the top selling games on the original Xbox, and helped increase the popularity of the Xbox. The next version of the game is eagerly awaited, but now Microsoft has released a statement that the release of Halo 2 for Windows Vista has been delayed by around a month due to 'content' issues. And what are these content issues ? Well, Microsoft discovered that due to an error in Halo 2's map editor, there are scenes of partial nudity, and hence unless these are repaired, the game cannot be released. Refer to this article:

Halo 2 for Windows Vista is now expected to hit the stores sometime in the first week of June, approximately two weeks behind the revised May 22 schedule. The game was originally scheduled for release on May 8, but was delayed due to some technical problems, Microsoft said at the time.
The software giant attributes the most recent delay to an "obscure content error" found in the initial production of Halo 2's map editor. That error was partial nudity.
The company has no plans to change the rating of its game, given it affects only the initial run of games and not subsequent shipments. Warning labels will be placed on packaging for the affected games, and Microsoft has developed a patch that can be downloaded to remove the content in question.

However, after the furore over similar scenes discovered in Grand Theft Auto and the political questions over it, it was impossible for Microsoft to discover that something like this occurs in the game, but is not yet fixed. They would rather bite the schedule and take a fix.

Using cell phones to lose weight

Cell phones have lots of uses nowadays; you use them for making and receiving calls (still number one use), for sending and receiving messages, for using as an alarm, for music and radio, for viewing movies, as a viewer for text books, for internet connectivity and browsing on the move, and so on. Well, add one more use to this list. You use a cell phone for losing weight ! Surprise, read this article:

Wondering how much of a diet-buster that banana cream pie on your plate is? Some Japanese have a novel way to find out: Photograph it with your cell phone and send the image to an expert.
With cell phones ubiquitous in Japan and rising concern over expanding waistlines, health care providers have put two and two together to allow the calorie-conscious to send photos of their meals to nutritionists for analysis and recommendations.
Nutritionists can work with photos from one day's meals to several weeks' worth, he said. Results come back in three days. Participants also can log onto a Web site to get further dietary information and upload photos from digital cameras.
"Patients used to fill out meal logs, but people tend to forget things or underestimate their portions," Kimura said. "Photographing meals and e-mailing them in is easier and gets more accurate results."

This seems like a very interesting use. You make full use of the data plans, you lock customers into an additional service that can provide a cut to the carrier, and has a peer pressure level. You see a friend or colleague doing this, and such a service will appeal to you as well.
Also, with obesity increasing, customers are more likely to use such a service, and if it can help reduce the obesity levels, then it will be a big boon for people.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sony Playstation getting a firmware upgrade

Sony's Playstation 3 development was delayed, missing its milestones and being pretty expensive. In the high stakes for who wins the gaming console, Sony PS3 is behind its 2 principal rivals, the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox in terms of market sales; and given the high cost of the entire PS3 development, including the price of the machine, Sony needs to sell more machines to get over current costs and make a profit. How can it do that ? In terms of gaming power, it is fighting an equal battle with the Xbox, and the Nintendo Wii was a match-winner in terms of customer 'wow' factor, so Sony was not going to be able to beat the others in having something unique.
Well, Sony things that they have found something; the decision to include an expensive Blu-Ray has been criticized for pushing up the cost, but Sony seems to be trying to convert the machine into a gaming console + entertainment hub. Towards this end, the upgrade version 1.80, available on 24 May 2007, will allow those users having a HDMI compatible hi-def TV to upscale PS1 and PS2 games and DVD movies to a full 1080 resolution (HDMI refers to the capacility for transmitting high-definition signals. Refer this article:

The 1.80 firmware update coming to the PlayStation 3 on Thursday will allow PlayStation 3 users to upscale earlier PlayStation games to 1080p resolution on HDMI-capable TVs, and will also give users the ability play images, music, and video that are stored on DLNA-enabled devices connected to a home network.
"The capability to upscale DVDs to HD quality is a feature normally only associated with top-range DVD players," Sony said in a statement, "and its inclusion in the latest firmware upgrade now allows PS3 owners with an existing DVD collection to dramatically enhance the viewing pleasure of their DVD collection when viewed through a compatible HD TV set."
In addition, on a home network, upgraded PlayStation 3s will be able to play images, music, and video that are stored on DLNA-enabled devices anywhere in the home. DLNA, offered in such devices as PCs or laptops, is the Digital Living Network Alliance standard for sharing content between consumer electronics devices.
The PlayStation 3, while a technological powerhouse, has had its ups and downs. Last week, Sony announced that its video game business would lose about $413 million this fiscal year, and that it won't recover until there are more PlayStation 3 games. Through March 31, it had shipped 5.5 million PlayStation 3 machines, not quite hitting its target of six million.

This could be a smart move, as long as this does not lead to a lowering of the pitch for the gaming console (potential customers should not get confused about the abilities of the gaming console).
With a move towards more high-definition TV's, and if Blu-ray becomes the next big thing in hardware players, Sony is trying to get into customer looking at its devices as not only a gaming console, but something that is usable by more family members.
However, will this move go unchallenged ? Expect Microsoft to add more ability to the Xbox, and given that this attempt to make it as an entertainment hub will directly attach the concept of the Media center, there could be many more movements in this market.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

AT & T exclusive with IPhone: a CDMA killer

The Apple iPhone has been a much awaited device ever since it was announced and displayed a few months back. Due in June, the iPhone will be available exclusively with AT & T, giving AT & T an automatic advantage due to the hype and media buzz around the iPhone. Apple is locked with AT & T for a period of 5 years, an incredibly long time, but equally importantly, in the battle between GSM and CDMA users (Sprint & Verizon), Apple has been prohibited from developing a CDMA version of the iPhone for 5 years. The fact that a leading device is not available on CDMA will automatically give GSM a push up in the standards war. Refer this article:

The Apple iPhone, due out next month, has been breathlessly hailed as offering consumers the ultimate wireless experience. It also could give AT&T, its exclusive U.S. distributor, the ultimate experience for a wireless carrier: an easy way to handcuff rivals and steal customers.
Apple is barred for that time from developing a version of the iPhone for CDMA wireless networks. That ban is no small thing. AT&T rivals Verizon Wireless and Sprint are both CDMA shops. AT&T uses GSM, a global standard incompatible with CDMA.
They also sparred over the iPhone. As previously reported by USA TODAY, Verizon passed on the opportunity to become the exclusive U.S. distributor, balking at Apple's demand for control over distribution, pricing, marketing and more. That left an opening for AT&T — then called Cingular — to cement a deal. (AT&T on Monday officially dumped the Cingular name and store signs now are being switched. The move came slightly ahead of schedule.)
There is intense competition between the major US carriers, AT & T, Sprint and Verizon, with all of them using all possible tactics to get a better market share. In such a case, if the iPhone becomes a major hit, it will give a huge advantage to AT & T, while at the same time, if people are put off by high prices, then it can be a disaster. Also, with the iPhone promoting a much better internet connection as well as songs downloading, more people will use higher data plans, increasing revenue for AT & T.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Something to keep watching on Google: Top searches

Google came out with new information that will typically bring in a large number of people on a regular basis. People running blogs geared about adsense, researchers looking at social trends in terms of large searches, culture icons and their fans, etc. So what is Google doing ? It is going to start listing 100 top searches of the day at this website on Google Trends, HotTrends. Refer this story:

A feature listing the day's 100 fastest-rising search requests has been unveiled by Google.
The chart, part of the search system's trends service, will be refreshed several times a day using data from millions of searches, the company said.
Requests for pornography, the weather, popular websites like and some celebrities will not be included.
Instead, Hot Trends will provide a glimpse of what is baffling and interesting web users from day to day. The service merges elements of Zeitgeist and Trends - two existing products which give a glimpse of search habits but only based on weeks-old data.
Can you imagine the trends coming out from this ? Some examples I can think of:
1. Like 15 minutes of fame, you will now get your 15 hours of Google Top 100 ranking
2. Celebrities will be able to rank themselves on how many people search for them: Britney Spears telling Paris Hilton, "Sorry Paris, more people hunt for me, you are an also-ran!"
3. Serious writers bemoaning people in the US searching for what a celebrity said rather than hunting for information about Darfur or global warming
4. PR agents will be evaluated for how they can somebody into the Google top 100
You can just let your information run riot

MySpace turns around fast - will now provide data about sex offenders

8 attorney generals from different states sent a letter to MySpace requesting for information from MySpace about its users who are registered sex offenders, so as to determine whether such people were using MySpace to lure children into actual physical encounters. MySpace took the high path, grandly declaring that they are legally required not to provide this information, claiming that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 prohibited them from doing so without a subpeona.
This response was not exactly appreciated by the attorney generals, and now it seems that even after this initial refusal, there were negotiations being carried out. An accord has now been signed for tranferring this data, refer this link:

MySpace initially asserted that it was legally unable to comply with the requests set forth in a letter sent earlier this month from the attorneys general of eight states--Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The letter asking that the social-networking site provide the data, cited concerns "that sexual predators are using MySpace to lure children into face-to-face encounters and other dangerous activities."
But MySpace responded that it couldn't turn the information over due to the terms of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which technically prohibits such information from being shared without a subpoena, as well as some state privacy laws.
It appears, however, that an accord was struck late last week. Through MySpace's newly announced partnership with the attorneys general, Angus and Nigam said, the company will be able to address the federal and state laws. Company representatives emphasized that the social network had always planned to share the Sentinel Safe data with the attorneys, who could then pass the information on to law enforcement officials in their states. unveiled a plan Monday for cooperating with requests from state attorneys general for data pertaining to registered sex offenders. According to a statement from the company, MySpace will provide the Multi-State Attorney General Executive Committee with data from Sentinel Safe, the database of information on registered sex offenders that the company has compiled through its partnership with identity verification firm Sentinel Tech Holding. Sentinel Safe, which contains data aggregated from state registries, has been in the works since late last year and was officially deployed May 2.
"Up until now, the predators have felt like they can have a free ride (on social-networking sites), and that day is over," Angus said.

It seems like the intial refusal by MySpace and the harsh reaction from the attorney generals prompted this change in tactics by MySpace. Aware that they were on a weak pitch in terms of apparently refusing to cooperate against people carrying out crimes against children, MySpace did a quick about-turn, using previous lack of technology as an excuse. Otherwise, what prompted a 180 degree about turn within the space of a few days ?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Microsoft buys ad company for $6 billion

Microsoft must have been feeling left out after recent advertising-related acquisitions by Google and Yahoo, hence it finally went ahead and bought an agency for internet ads, aQuantive Inc, for the large sum of 6 billion dollars. The cost of the acquisition shows the current heated nature of the ad market, and also the feeling that it should not be left behind by Google in this market. There are not that many leading companies available now, and the remaining ones will carry an additional premium.
Refer this article:

Microsoft Corp., not wanting to get left behind rivals in an online advertising boom, agreed to pay $6 billion in cash to acquire aQuantive Inc. on Friday, a leading agency for Internet ads which also has powerful technology that serves display and banner ads to other Web sites.
The eye-popping premium of 85 percent Microsoft is paying for aQuantive reflects a heated race for the few remaining online advertising businesses, as media and technology companies jockey for position in the Internet advertising market.
The deal caps a month of furious activity in the sector which began in mid-April with Google Inc.'s $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick Inc., a company that provides technology used by Web site publishers to deliver advertisements to viewers.

One wonders about how much the premium paid by Microsoft was due to ensuring that they are not getting left behind by Google in the race for advertising. Google is the unquestioned world leader in the advertising and search markets, and Microsoft is making a determined effort to challenge this supremacy, although they have a long way to go.

For Microsoft, getting aQuantive could jump-start its online advertising business, which lags far behind Google and Yahoo Inc. due to the lower traffic on its own destination Web site, MSN. The deal "certainly keeps them in the competitive arena with Google," A.G. Edwards analyst Denise Garcia says.
aQuantive's technology will allow Microsoft to deliver ads to third-party Web sites, something that should mesh with Microsoft's existing plans for delivering ads onto other platforms such as video games on its XBox, which connects to the Internet. Microsoft currently delivers ads mostly to its own Web sites, such as MSN.

Google has a stranglehold on this market, with the capability to deliver ads easily to third party websites. And Google provides an easy way for third party publishers such as blogs to post Google ads on their sites, and make money out of that, effectively turning all these people into promoting the Google ad network. In fact, if you take a look at a lot of websites in the online world, you will mostly see 'Ads by Google' in them somewhere.
Analysts are not sure about the returns from this deal, given that it is an expensive deal, but maybe there were not too many options available with Microsoft, given that it was unable to push its own network too much.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The internet becoming less open with more censorship

The common expectation is that democracy is increasing around the world, and associated with that is the concept of the internet being a beacon of openness, letting the global citizen access new from anywhere and on anything. Difficult to block, and complicated enough that slow-moving governments can only play catch-up. Well, was a good thought, and now onto reality. A study by the Open Net Initiative shows how wrong this belief is:

The level of state-led censorship of the net is growing around the world, a study of so-called internet filtering by the Open Net Initiative suggests.
The study of thousands of websites across 120 Internet Service Providers found 25 of 41 countries surveyed showed evidence of content filtering. Websites and services such as Skype and Google Maps were blocked, it said.
Such "state-mandated net filtering" was only being carried out in "a couple" of states in 2002, one researcher said. "In five years we have gone from a couple of states doing state-mandated net filtering to 25," said John Palfrey, at Harvard Law School.
Countries which carry out the broadest range of filtering included Burma, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, the study said.

And of course you have China, which was not covered in the survey (since it was probably not considered safe to do a survey on censorship in China). China is the best example of how to beat the openness of the internet; it has an entire department dedicated to censorship, and they do a pretty effective job. In addition, the lure of China's size is that even supposed big corporations such as Yahoo, Google and Microsoft have buckled down. And you also have India, which at one time blocked off access to all the blogs on Google's blogger for a few days because of adverse comments. Of course, the power of democracy showed when people pressure and adverse comments forced the Indian Government to lift their blockage.

Friday, May 18, 2007

MySpace refuses to provide sex offender names to attorney generals

In a letter this Monday, attorney generals from 8 states sent a letter to MySpace asking it to provide names of registered sex offenders who use the social networking site. MySpace has finally responded, and the answer is a nyet. Citing federal privacy laws (Electronic Communications Privacy Act), MySpace refused the request from the attorney generals, and instead passed the blame onto them in terms of the attorney generals not following the law. As per MySpace, they can only provide information after a proper legal process is followed, not on the basis of a letter.
MySpace is one of the leaders of the social networking websites, but it is not following all the security measures about preventing minors from logging on (and minors are very influencable, and hence the need to make sure that they are not allowed easy access where predators can get at them), for example, people under the age of 14 are not allowed to create a profile, but the only check is that the user has to certify whether they are above or below 14, hardly a very water-tight security measure.
On their side, MySpace proclaims that they are very proactive about removing registered sex offenders; and while denying the request of the attorney generals, claim that they still want to follow the law and make their network safe for everyone to access. Refer this story:

Citing federal privacy law, said Tuesday it won't comply with a request by attorneys general from eight states to hand over the names of registered sex offenders who use the social networking Web site.
"We're truly disheartened that the AGs chose to send out a letter ... when there was an existing legal process that could have been followed," the security officer, Hemanshu Nigam, said in an interview.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Tuesday blasted MySpace for refusing to share the information and said no subpoena is needed for MySpace to tell the attorneys general how many registered sex offenders use the site "or other information relating to possible parole violations."
Christian Genetski, an attorney who has represented MySpace, said the Electronic Communications Privacy Act requires subpoenas, court orders or search warrants, depending on the information sought.

A contradiction between wanting to make its network safe (and it would do almost anything to preserve that reputation) while also ensuring that it follows the complete law even when cooperating with legal authorities could prove difficult for MySpace. It might have to buckle down.

iPhone gets official FCC approval

Now it's official. Nothing can stop the Apple iPhone from coming into the market and into the hands of eagerly awaiting consumers. After earlier diverting coders from the Leopard project to move to the iPhone development in order to meet the June date, the iPhone has crossed another milestone. In documents released on the website of the US Federal Communications Commission, approval for the iPhone was released along with the phone's radio test results, but no unannounced phone features. Refer this story on Forbes:

An Apple representative confirmed that the phone has received FCC certification and that Apple still plans to begin selling the phone sometime in late June.
The $500 iPhone combines a smart phone with Apple's iPod music and video player, and will compete with high-end phones from Research In Motion, Palm, and Samsung, as well as phones running Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system.
Apple asked that the FCC keep certain diagrams and an operational description of the phone confidential for 45 days.

Not too many surprises out of these documents. People hoping that the iPhone will move to a 3G wireless capability will be disappointed since the phone will operate on an EDGE wireless data network (a 2.5G rather than 3G). There will be some geeks who will be surely disappointed with this decision.
Overall, the phone is a very anticipated phone, combining the best of a phone's capability with music and video playing, and all packaged together by Apple's design team in a veru exciting package, what with the touch screens and finger based navigation. Whether that will be enough to overcome the high price tag is anybody's guess right now.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Google upgrades its search engine

What do you get when you search in google for something ? You get a page of search results in text format, although when searching for an image, you can do an image search that shows you resulting images matching your search pattern. However, would it really not be good if you could get a composite search result, for example, when searching for a public figure, you get text searches, images and videos (from Youtube), all in the same search ? Well, this is going to be the next reality of Google search. In a presentation to press and analysts, Google presented a revamped search that integrates news, pictures, videos along with the regular text search. One side benefit of this is that advertisements on the search page could be made better looking and richer. Refer this article from MSNBC:

Google announced a significant upgrade to its core search engine on Wednesday, promising a richer multi-media experience for users and pointing the way to increased business with advertisers, the source of 99 per cent of its revenues.
Other examples included a search for Steve Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Apple, that produced pictures, video and news from Google Images, Video and News along with the regular text links.
"The move potentially should be a huge boon for searchers, while search marketers who have paid attention to the importance of specialised or vertical search will see new opportunities," said Mr Sullivan in a blog note.

This entire news has been touted as something incredible and that will make the searches more user-friendly in terms of results. However, and this is a point that all of them may be missing; people were attracted to Google in the beginning because of the simplicity of its search results, and the fact that Google has never let any kind of clutter come in the way.
In fact, as per a number of interviews, the founders of Google rejected the concept of showing ads other than plain text because that would detract from the users search results. If they now give up that concept (and maybe buckle down to advertise needs), and if they screw up their implementation by making it very heavy or confusing, they will turn away a number of their users.

Amazon jumps on DRM free bandawagon

DRM (Digital Rights Management) was the ultimate solution to prevent piracy and trading through the torrent network and others, you could have a way to ensure that everybody is getting their songs legally. It was the solution recommended by the recording industry; but there is a contrary position pushed by a number of people. This position states that there is a large section of people put off by copy protection schemes (such as DRM) and would purchase songs if they were DRM free.
A start was made in this direction when Apple signed a deal with EMI a few weeks back when Apple announced that they would make DRM free songs available on iTunes (slightly more expensive than regular DRM restricted songs). Now Amazon has jumped on this same platform, announcing that Amazon will make DRM free songs available that will be playable on a wide variety of portable music players, including Apple's iPod and Microsoft's Zune.
If it turns out that this strategy starts to sell more songs, then a lot of other retailers will jump onto this effort, and start to sell DRM free music. More such successes will start to hurt the basic claim that DRM is necessary, after all, money and sales count. Refer this article:

Apple's iTunes and e-tailer are in position to test this hypothesis in the coming months. On Wednesday, Amazon announced that it plans to sell digital songs from record label EMI Group that will be DRM-free. Amazon's unprotected music, which will be sold from the retailer's upcoming download store, can be played on a wide variety of portable music players, including Apple's iPod and Microsoft's Zune. Amazon's announcement follows one last month from Apple, which is also due to begin selling unprotected music from EMI.
"DRM is the only thing that has given the industry any kind of control," said one record executive, who requested anonymity. "Amazon is a strong endorsement for this (unprotected music) strategy," Card said. "The question of whether it's enough to tilt the tables away from DRM remains to be seen. The sales would have to be huge to bring the others on board."
Sales of traditional CDs are in a free fall. The industry reported a 17 percent decline in album sales so far this year. Ipsos Insight, a Chicago-based market research firm, issued a report recently that showed a 15 percent drop from 2002 in the number of U.S. consumers who had bought a CD within the past six months. The music industry is waiting for music downloads to make up these losses, but that hasn't happened yet.
A lot of people are pushed off by the restrictions on purchased music, where the music can only play on one player, and not others. However, by offering both DRM protected songs, and non DRM protected songs, they could end up confusing users, large sections of which cannot be expected to understand the reasoning and basis for copy-protection.
Another possible outcome is that users do not buy these songs just because they are priced higher than protected songs. If such a thing happens, it is not going to be far-fetched for music industry executives to claim that consumers have rejected DRM free songs, while the reasoning could be a matter of simple economics.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Microsoft attacks open-source Linux with lawyers

Microsoft has been an open advocate of dangers posed by open-source systems; trying out concepts such as Total Cost of Ownership (to make it seem that MS was cheaper than Open source if you add training and support), that these systems were unsafe, and now Microsoft has launched its latest attack on Linux, using its famous method of legally harassing a competitor to death. This policy is certainly not going to win it any friends, even if it may be a legal way. Refer this story:

Microsoft Corp. said on Tuesday that open-source software, including the rival Linux operating systems, violates 235 of its patents, making its most detailed intellectual property challenge to open source.
The maker of the Windows operating system said it wants to work out licensing deals with open source companies instead of fighting out the patent disputes in court.
"The real question is not whether there exist substantial patent infringement issues, but what to do about them," said Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft Vice President of Intellectual Property and Licensing in an e-mail statement.

This can be a serious challenge, because Microsoft will use it arsenal of lawyers to harass open source companies, and at the same time, if they actually have some patents that seem to have been copied, it will be open season.
Of course, with open-source being a big thing, such moves by Microsoft are likely to draw even more bad press and deal a blow to its efforts to portray itself as promoting some form of open source for a section of its technologies. Developer mistrust of Microsoft is deeply entrenched, and such moves are likely to make them even more so.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Data breach at University of Missouri Computer Database

A hacker managed to access and download information from a computer database (owned by the University) that contained information on names and social security numbers of around 22,000 current and former employees and students. In a sign that officials realized that keeping this information was not safe, there was a project to removed social security numbers from unnecessary computer systems, but the project was not complete. Refer this report at DailyTech:

More than 22,000 current and former University of Missouri employees and students are at risk of identity theft after a hacker reportedly accessed a computer database containing names and Social Security numbers.
Campus IT people discovered the intrusion on Friday morning -- the hacker exploited a hole in a campus web site that is used "to make queries about the status of trouble reports to the university's computer help desk."
The school suffered a similar intrusion in January. In that incident, a hacker was able to secure more than 1,000 Social Security numbers and the passwords of around 2,500 users of an online grant application program.

The shocking thing is that this has happened before in January, and yet this happened again. Now, it is true that computer systems security is an evolving field with constant battles between security folks and hackers, but the fact remains that one would have expected a greater show of urgency towards making systems safe.
Now, the university is faced with the prospect of sending out letters to everybody who could be affected, including former employees and students. And stealing of social security numbers is very different from stealing of credit card information because a database of stolen social security numbers can cause immense identity theft cases.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sun jumps into the Silverlight vs. Flash battle with JavaFX

There have been an incredible amount of internet discussion in the last few weeks about the potential of Microsoft Silverlight taking on Adobe's Flash for being the basis of building rich interactive applications running on the internet. Sun must have been feeling left out. Hence, review this announcement by Sun:

At the JavaOne conference in San Francisco, Sun will roll out a Java-based product family called JavaFX, which covers Java development from the desktop to the Web to mobile devices. It features a new scripting variant of the Java, called JavaFX Script. JavaFX is a line of products focused on opportunities in the consumer communications market, including desktops, mobile clients, and TVs. The first product release is JavaFX Mobile, a software system for mobile devices.
JavaFX will be open sourced. "We plan to open-source all of JavaFX as we work through the program," said Green. Plans call for eventually offering a line of developer tools to work with JavaFX with a basic, introductory tool to be offered on Tuesday, Green said.
Sun officials acknowledged that JavaFX bears a similarity to enhanced graphics capabilities offered in the new Microsoft Silverlight platform. But Gosling added that Silverlight differs in that it is mostly focused on video-streaming.

Suddenly, in the space of a few weeks, the battle for the tools of choice to build the next generation internet applications is wide open. Adobe is the entrenched player with the Flash and Flex combination, Microsoft has thrown a spirited challenge through Silverlight (tightly integrated with .Net), and now this announcement by Sun.
This is a last gasp by Sun. Java was the development with immense promise, but it has never fully lived upto its promise. Microsoft has used all its tricks to promote its development tools. Now, this release can bring back all the non-Microsoft types, especially with the promise of open-source and similarity to AJAX.
However, one major item to note is the emphasis on the cell phone as one of the key players in this market. The cell phone is already ascendant as a mini-computer, and as the power and capabilities of this device grow (foldable typing pad and foldable big screen, anyone?), being able to develop quickly and efficiently on this platform will be a major requirement.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

MySpace buying Photobucket ?

MySpace is one of the biggest spaces in the world of social networks. It fact, most people would call it the biggest space. Pretty simple to operate, it allows users to create their own profiles and put whatever they want on these pages; text, pictures, video, anything goes. The younger generation have taken to MySpace like a fish to water. But you really can't store much of photos and videos on MySpace, so users need to store these on another service and link them off their MySpace pages.
Photobucket attempts to fill that void, and allows users to store their photos and video at the site, and more importantly link them from their MySpace page so that users viewing their profile are able to see these images and videos in a very efficient way.
But one wonders as to how Photobucket makes money ? It allows millions of users to store their images and videos, but it does so for free. If they started to charge money for this service, people would switch to something else in a flash. Trying to entice advertisers by showing them lots of young users trying to update images and edit videos may not exactly work. After all, YouTube also had a ton of users, but they were not exactly able to set the advertising world on fire. So it is apt that Photobucket tries the same route that YouTube took, selling themselves to a richer buyer who is looking for this functionality.
Refer this article from Forbes:

Are MySpace and Photobucket tying the knot?
But that's what Gawker Media's Valleywag blog reported Monday morning. A few hours later, the TechCrunch blog said it had confirmed the acquisition at $250 million. Both MySpace and Photobucket representatives declined to comment--which could very well mean that something is going on between the two companies. Or not.
A brief recap: MySpace is one of the world's most dominant social networks--with 107.7 million visitors per month--and allows its users to stick just about anything they want on their pages. Many of them have been using Photobucket, a relatively unknown start-up until recently, to store the images they stick on the site, as well as other sites they visit.
MySpace’s interest in Photobucket should not serve as evidence of a probable exit strategy for other start-ups that thrive largely on the user bases of social networks like MySpace. Photobucket is a rare case. In many other instances, MySpace would prefer to build its own competitor than buy a tool or feature off a popular widget maker. And when MySpace does that, those start-ups are toast.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Microsoft eyeing Yahoo

This piece of news is big news. It is being widely reported that Microsoft is eyeing a 50 billion dollar bid for Yahoo. This was first reported by the New York Post which reported that Microsoft is trying to get Yahoo to agree to this takeover. They have held talks in the past about such a deal, and senior executives of both companies might be negotiating a deal in secret right now. Read this story in Forbes.

Shares of online search site operator Yahoo Inc. spiked Friday, as reports that the company could be bought out by software giant Microsoft Corp. drove the stock up 16.5 percent.
The dramatic rise was preceded by a Friday report in the New York Post, which cited unnamed sources saying Microsoft is trying to get Yahoo to formally negotiate a takeover by the software company. The story cited sources as saying Yahoo could fetch about $50 billion.
In a note to investors, Deutsche Bank analyst Jeetil Patel wrote a partnership or merger between the companies makes strategic sense, since Microsoft is one of the few companies that could repair Yahoo's technology and product development issues.

This deal may make sense for Microsoft since it will give them a pretty good web property, and the overall strength to pose a much bigger challenge to Google. However, a deal of such magnitude is not easy to push through. The companies have conflicting styles. In addition, since both Microsoft and Yahoo are big players in the online search and other properties market, such a deal may have anti-trust implications.

Busy week for Microsoft patching

Next week promises to be a busy week for systems administrators of companies where there are a number of Microsoft systems. These would consist of security updates for Windows, Office, Exchange and Biztalk. Microsoft normally does not disclose details of the updates, but this article provides some details of what the expected updates would be.
These are one of the issues with using Microsoft updates, in terms of the number of updates that need to be installed on a regular basis. And many of these updates require reboots, causing downtime on systems that are in regular use. Doing downtime on a production system requires some amount of coordination and making sure that users are aware of this downtime. Refer this article:

Two of the seven bulletins slated for the May 8 release involve Windows, three affect Microsoft Office, and one each impact Microsoft Exchange and the cryptography API within BizTalk Server. At least five of the seven updates will be pegged critical, Microsoft's highest threat score in its four-level system, according to the advance notification posted today.
As usual, Microsoft did not disclose details of the updates, but intelligent guesses are not difficult. One of the Windows updates, for example, will likely be a fix for the DNS (Domain Name System) zero-day bug found in all editions of Microsoft's server line, including the current beta of Windows Longhorn Server. While researchers predicted last month that Microsoft would issue an out-of-cycle fix for the DNS server service flaw, the company's security team instead has repeatedly blogged that it would probably wait until the regularly scheduled patch day.
If Microsoft issues the seven updates, users will have seen 29 bulletins in the first four months of the year, and at least 49 patches; more than half of those will have been marked critical. During the first five months of 2006, Microsoft issued 20 updates with 36 patches.

These are a significant number of updates. The biggest problem is that in the time that Microsoft releases a patch, the information about the bug is already being exploited by hackers. Microsoft normally releases a patch with some delay after reporting, while trying to make sure that information about the defect is not available publicly. However, with a reported market in defects, it would seem to be losing this battle.

Convert Flash to Silverlight: Electric Harmony

In the midst of all the discussions about the relative benefits and weaknesses of Flash and Silverlight, comes this conversion tool. A Colorado based company called Electic Rain is bringing out a product called Electric Rain Harmony that converts Flash SWF files to XAML. Read more about this here:

Electric Rain Harmony provides designers and developers with a fast and easy way to convert existing Flash SWF files (graphics and simple animations) into Microsoft-based XAML mark-up for immediate use in the Microsoft WFP and Silverlight (formally WPF/E) platforms.
Harmony not only eases the pain of repurposing Flash assets into XAML, it also helps designers learn the XAML syntax and mark-up structure by illustrating how graphics and animations are translated from the popular Flash SWF format into the new XAML format. By deconstructing how XAML mark-up builds, displays, and plays animations in context to Flash, Harmony accelerates the understanding and learning surrounding XAML and WPF graphics and animations.
Harmony will be available in the summer of 2007 and sold through the website
This makes the conflict between Adobe and Microsoft more interesting. Flash is the major owner of this market which is being challenged by Microsoft through Silverlight.
People are hesitant to switch technologies unless they have a level of confidence. If they are able to see existing Flash SWF files getting easily converted without a loss of the look and feel as well as the functionality, it will make them feel easier about using Silverlight.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Google blasts Viacom over lawsuit

Viacom had filed a $1 billion lawsuit with Google, alleging that YouTube, owned by Google was indulging in massive intentional copyright infringement. This is based on the fact that YouTube has a large number of video clips from Viacom's properties (MTV, Paramount Pictures, and numerous other media properties). Viacom claim that all these infringements are encouraged by the nature of YouTube, and that they are not doing enough to remove these.
Google, in a counter-offensive, has claimed that it is actually a hosting provider, and similar to numerous other hosting providers. It claims that Viacom's legal action, if taken forward will threaten the information exchange across the internet. The claims made from both sides are heated, and follow after failed negotiations.
Further, Google claims that it is protected by the terms of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which protects Internet service providers that act quickly to block pirated material once notified by the copyright holder. Viacom claims that because of the large number of clips, it takes a large effort to identify these pirated clips.
There was a fair amount of debate over this exact issue when Google had acquired YouTube. Did Google factor in the legal troubles that it would face when it decided to spend around $1.6 billion to buy YouTube ? In a bit of time, as this case progresses, we will get to know.

Microsoft allowing Silverlight to mix with .Net

At its Mix07 web developers conference, Microsoft pushed further for making Silverlight as a cross-platform strategy, for allowing devlopers and designers to use technology other than AJAX / Javascript for developing web applications.
Continuing with its campaign to promote Silverlight as a Flash-killer, Microsoft fused a full portable version of .Net with Silverlight. This is supposed to allow developers the ability to mix their Silverlight apps with .net, even on non-Windows systems.
Silverlight is currently in Beta, with the final version likely to be released this summer. This will be an epic challenge. Adobe has the designer market, and will be loath to allow anyone else to take control over it. With the recent release of Creative Suite 3, Adobe would want to make sure that designers stick to the combination of Flash, Flex, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver; while Microsoft will use its power to try and get more traction for its Expression series of products.
Read this article in more detail:

Microsoft kicked off its Mix07 web developers' conference by revealing it has fused a full portable version of its .Net runtime with the next version of its Silverlight 'Flash-killer' technology.
"The web has been mostly about DHTML and AJAX," Ozzie said. "But AJAX has limitations...and there are better languages than JavaScript for the sophisticated applications that developers want to build."
Ozzie also said that web and graphic designers and developers will have free use of Microsoft's Windows Live Platform, a web storage service, to store, run and show off their Silverlight applications and videos.

With all this, designers should be enjoying this battle, since it gives them more options, and these mega companies will also be more sensitive to their concerns.