Monday, April 30, 2007

Yahoo buys Right Media for $680M

After Google bought DoubleClick very recently, Yahoo must be feeling left out, and maybe behind in the chase for advertising supremacy. Hence, this deal.
Yahoo bought RightMedia, an online advertising exchange, using a combination of cash and stock for $680 million. In October 2006, it had earlier bought 20% of the company, and now plans to purchase the remaining equity.
RightMedia is an interactive advertising exchange, having more than 20,000 buyers and sellers who use its services daily. This web based exchange allows buyers and sellers to do deals regarding placement of online ads.

Google making public records easier to find

Google is known as the premier search engine, and is now a mega-corporation. This makes sure that every move of Google is under the public scanner, and every action will be seen both positively and negatively.
Google is helping US states re-work their public records in a way that these will be easily accessible to search engines. Currently partnering with 4 states, Arizona, California, Utah and Virginia, Google is working on technology that will help make their records (dealing with education, real estate, health care, and environment). These records will be made accessible such that all search engines can access these records.
This is a good move, making records public increases the open nature of governments. This will also make it easier for citizens to navigate government web sites and find the information that they require.
At the same time, this initiative is making privacy groups worried that such information contains records identifying individuals such as social security numbers, and records that become more easily available should hide such records. As a response, states are working to ensure that such information still remains hidden.
Read this news article:

By providing free consulting and some software, Google Inc. is helping state governments make reams of public records that are now unavailable or hard to find online easily accessible to Web surfers.
The Internet search company hopes to eventually persuade federal agencies to employ the same tools -- an effort that excites advocates of open government but worries some consumer privacy experts.
Despite the obvious benefits of the Google initiative for those conducting Web searches, privacy advocates said they are worried about unintended consequences, saying some records may contain personal and confidential information that should not be widely available.
California's chief information officer, Clark Kelso, said he is concerned about the consumer privacy issues raised by this initiative and he has directed all state agencies to redact Social Security numbers and other confidential information from documents that now will be available online.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Using iPods to cheat

Reading into a set of decisions across schools, one realizes the limitless scope of usage of modern technology and how a younger generation is the one which can more easily adapt to these devices, while the authority group is the one which keeps on playing catch-up.
What happened? Well, schools across the country are banning the usage of digital media players in schools due to their potential usage for cheating. It seems very obvious though: These are kids with a very comfortable way with technology, able to be much further ahead than their teachers in their utilization of technology, including misuse. Read this article here:

Banning baseball caps during tests was obvious -- students were writing the answers under the brim. Then, schools started banning cell phones, realizing students could text message the answers to each other. Now, schools across the country are targeting digital media players as a potential cheating device.
Devices including iPods and Zunes can be hidden under clothing, with just an earbud and a wire snaking behind an ear and into a shirt collar to give them away, school officials say.
Mountain View recently enacted a ban on digital media players after school officials realized some students were downloading formulas and other material onto the players.
Some students use iPod-compatible voice recorders to record test answers in advance and them play them back, said 16-year-old Mountain View junior Damir Bazdar.
Others download crib notes onto the music players and hide them in the "lyrics" text files. Even an audio clip of the old "Schoolhouse Rock" take on how a bill makes it through Congress can come in handy during some American government exams.

These media players are very small, and can be hidden very easily. In addition, the functionality available with these players makes it very easy to cheat, you can record answers as a music file, can stores answers in lyrics, and so on and so on.
However, this fight between technology and people in authority is going to be increasing difficult. What happens when you get watches that can act as an interface to a music player, and what happens when you get sunglasses capable of acting as media players.
This problem will not go away. The better solution is to re-structure learning in such a way that people are quizzed on application of what they learnt rather than having to remember things exactly as they are. What will happen when the iPhone becomes available ?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Google's acquisition of Doubleclick worrying privacy advocates

The practise of using cookies to store information has always worried people worried about their privacy. Even in the matter of a search engine, Google's saving of user searches has worried people in the past, and Google announced in March of this year that they would take steps to drop such information from their servers after a period of time.
However, with Google buying DoubleClick, these privacy concerns are causing more worry. When DoubleClick was at its prime, there were regular accusations that it was not very concerned about users privacy and shared this information with its advertisers.
Google bought DoubleClick primarily to take advantage of its knowledge and market related to banner ads. DoubleClick has built a network that serves banner ads and then tracks user activities through cookies, leveraging this information to better server its advertiser. Now that Google has bought this, it brings DoubleClick's abilities into much stronger limelight.
Google has a corporate slogan about 'Do no evil'. However, it has a business about monetising its search, and in order to provide a good service to advertisers, it has to better track its customer profile and their activities, thus bring them into conflict with privacy advocates. This battle is only going to grow, and is guaranteed to not reflect positively on Google.

The unlikely current winner of the gaming industry: The Wii

Here's an example of what a major shift in terms of doing something customer-friendly can do for you. For the last couple of years, all the talk about fighting in the gaming industry has been about which one will be the winner: The Sony PS3 or the Microsoft Xbox 360 ? There was an incredible amount of analysis of which is the more technologically equipped, can run graphics faster, primarily the whole discussion was based on which is the faster machine. Nintendo was the has-been, trundling along with its small unit sales, but a leader of the past.
And then people saw the Wii ! This is the device that caused an immense amount of talk about how this was a revolution in gaming, adding an additional level of inter-activity in the game. For those who do not know what the Wii is, it is the latest release gaming console from Nintendo, and what is special about it ? It uses a motion-sensitive controller that has proved extremely popular with users. So, if you are playing tennis and you swing the controller, your actions will be replicated in the game. This is a leap up from the earlier mouse, keyboard, and jockey sticks that were used for playing.
The Wii has been the most sold current-generation gaming console, out-selling the Xbox 360 and the PS3. It is being out-sold by the Sony PS2, the last generation console, but the Sony PS2 is being sold at a heavy discount, around $130. This makes Nintendo a force to reckon with, and removes it from the has-been list. These sales also emphasize that new customer friendly features can help a company make a mark, rather than depending on brute force.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dell relents, likely to offer Windows XP as well

It's pretty difficult to make a mega-corporation change its policies. But now people are starting to see that their opinions, voiced loudly enough by a significant chunk of people, can cause companies to re-work their plans and cause changes.
Dell had come out with a policy that all new home systems sold would only be bundled with Windows XP. However, after a site launched by Dell called IdeaStorm that allowed people to ask for changes saw a number of requests for Dell to also release Windows XP, the pressure continued to build up.
Initially, earlier this month, Dell's director of small business marketing laid out the plan under which XP would be offered to small businesses but not to the home users, as the idea was that home users should only have the latest technology, which in this case was Windows XP.
However, Dell seems to have learnt in this case that customers have a mind of their own, and the preference of a number of users was Windows XP, and not Vista. However, this option will be available to only US customers, something that does not make too much sense.
As part of contract with Microsoft, Dell will be able to offer XP to its customers only upto another year, till January 2008. Since Vista requires more computing that XP, there would be a number of users who would prefer to remain on XP rather than get Vista.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Microsoft tries out a Flash competitor: Silverlight

When the giant starts moving, everybody shakes. Adobe must be a worried company, with Microsoft starting to closely eye their staked out space on the web. Microsoft so far has been a company focused on the desktop with a mighty OS and an immense cash generating Office Suite. It has not exactly been too focused on the web space, falling behind Google in terms of advertising and search capabilities, and ceding the web application space to the likes of Adobe's Dreamweaver and Flash, and the big daddy of them all, Photoshop.
Microsoft is now challenging this in a big way, with the latest challenge coming to the Flash dominancy of Adobe. Flash, that is now massively popular all over the web, and with Flash Video on course to becoming the favourite online video type, has been the jewel crown of Adobe ever since the acquisition of Macromedia.
Now Microsoft is releasing a browser plug-in called Silverlight by the end of the month in Beta, trying to compete in the Flash space. With its new Expression line of products, Microsoft has already been competing against Adobe for the designer market (as opposed to its conventional development tools). These new tools seek to compete against Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and the like, and add the developmental touch to the design platform.
The battle is going to be much fiercer, Adobe currently owns this area and is not known for letting go of its market so easily, while Microsoft is a down and out fighter known for employing all tactics to beat its competition. The decider for dominancy in this market is not likely to be known for a couple of years at least, but in the end, it's simple, the platform and tools used by a majority of users will decide the winner.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Programming error lead to loss of Mars Global Surveyor

Programming errors are something that are inevitable when any computing system is involved. In a normal application development, these are known as bugs that get fixed. But errors in any kind of programming can happen anytime and any place, including at locations millions of kilometers from the earth. Earlier, there was the time when a craft sent to the moon had crashed due to incorrect conversion between different units of measurement.
The Mars Global Surveyor was an accomplished success for NASA. It was originally supposed to have a life of 2 years, but given how it was working, this life period was extended 4 times, and it gave a good new perspective of Mars, including the latest presentation of a couple of months back that water still flowed on the Martian surface from small springs.
So what went wrong ? In June last year, a command that oriented the spacecraft was sent to the wrong address. This caused the solar power panels to get wrongly positioned. A couple of months later, when the spacecraft detected the positioning error, it tried to go into safe mode, which unfortunately caused one of the batteries to get exposed to direct sunlight, in turn causing over-heating. Sensors shut down the charging system, and this eventually drained the batteries, and communications were lost with earth. Refer this article.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

US to launch Internet router into space

And no, this is not part of a global plan to take Interent communication into the space age :-). The idea is that the US Department of Defense will send a satellite, integrated with the internet router, into space in the first quarter of 2009. The software for the on-board router will be designed by Cisco (and Cisco can now claim that its routers belong to the space age), while SEAKR Engineering (based out of Denver) will manufacture the space router and integrate it into the satellite.
The purpose of the project, called Internet Routing in Space (IRIS), will allow voice, video and data communication for US troops. But as always with military technology, we can eventually expect that this ability will be available to non-military users with the passage of time. The internet, after all, grew out of a military programme.

Apple delays release of Mac OSX Leopard

How the times have changed ! In an earlier avatar, the Apple business revolved solely around its computers and new versions of its OS. No longer. In yet another affirmation of how strong the iPod related business is, Apple announced Thursday April 12th that the release of its new OSX Leopard has been delayed till October due to having to divert key engineering resources from development of the Leopard platform to the iPhone in order to make sure that the iPhone meets its late June target.
Now the release of the Leopard is of strategic importance to Apple. It is widely rumoured to be Apple's answer to Vista, promising better features in terms of user interface, better running of Windows applications, and much better integration with the Intel chips that are the power behind the new Mac machines. But, and this seems to be a harbringer of the overall importance of the mobile platform vs. the desktop computing platform, the importance of bringing the iPhone to the market is stronger.
The iPhone is hugely important for Apple. All the demos so far have promised an extremely state-of-the art device, running on the OSX platform. The excellent screen, easy to use human controls, all those are the inducements offered by Apple in order to induce consumers to move to a expensive device. In addition, for Apple, the iPhone, by virtue of its entry into the phone market, promises to open a massive and rapidly expanding market set to deliver increasing financial returns to Apple in the future.
This will have an impact though. Software companies that deliver consumer software which also works on the Mac, will be severly impacted since the general perception was that Leopard will be released in June, and with this delay, software development on those applications will be badly affected.

Monday, April 9, 2007

iPod is now 100 million old

On Monday, the 9th of April 2007, Apple announced that it had sold its 100 millionth iPod, making a massive milestone in the history of the iPod. The Apple iPod has been a major success, both a marketing marvel and proving to be a financial windfall for Apple.
Before the launch of the iPod, Apple was known as a producer of well designed niche computers, incompatible with the Microsoft operating system. Machines were well acclaimed by users, but more expensive than comparable system running Microsoft OS's.
At the time that Apple unveiled the iPod in November 2001, the market for portable music players was decidely iffy. People bought portable music players, but they never cottoned onto the design, and found them not at all sexy to use. Then the iPod came on, and the market was never the same again. Customers really loved the easy to use design with the click-wheel proving very innovative to use. In addition, the spillover into the iTunes music store has also been phenomenal, out-selling all other music stores.
The effect of this success has been a great booster for Apple. In addition to financial performance, Apple has also managed to get into multiple markets. Most importantly for Apple, it has managed to leverage this coolness into a movement into multiple markets. The iPhone is a widely awaited device, and with the recent push about making iMacs work on Intel and allow hosting of a Microsoft platform, things seem to be looking up for Apple a lot.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Rivals fear spread of piracy after EMI - Apple deal

Last week's decision by EMI and Apple to announce a big deal for selling music online with the protection of Digital Rights Management (DRM) has led to 2 different reactions from other competing groups. Since the DRM removal can lead to potential piracy since the music albums / songs can be moved to other players as well as potentially transferred to other people. The rollout of this new version is planned for May 2007, with the expectation that this will appeal to a music enthusiasts who are currently turned off from buying off iTunes due to its DRM restrictions. Competitors are claiming that this move by EMI is a short-sighted move by EMI that will short-circuit the drive to make consumers aware of the need for DRM.
The other move by competitors is that they are going to be constantly tracking how this gambit of releasing DRM free versions of songs is going to work. If this seems like working, then one can be sure that they will immediately get into the act.
Read excerpts from this article:

Media industry executives and analysts have expressed surprise and alarm at last week's decision by EMI, the record label, to start selling music videos without the protection of anti-piracy software.
While labels have previously insisted on DRM to prevent illegal copying, many in the industry have come to believe that the restrictions are deterring people from buying songs and may be driving them on to peer-to-peer file-sharing networks such as LimeWire - where pirated music, free of constraints, can be downloaded without paying.
One media industry executive said that EMI's restriction-free video on the iTunes site was setting an unwelcome precedent. "We are perplexed as to why EMI has done this and surprised at their thoughtlessness," he said.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Turkey decides to block offending web sites

The China experiment seems to be catching on. China has a large number of people employed for the purpose of monitoring web sites, chat sites and other internet medium so that political and other information deemed unworthy for the Chinese people is filtered out (blocked). Saudi Arabia also carries out this policy, blocking content deemed unworthy or that could lead to political unrest. Iran also has persecuted bloggers.
Turkey has always been seen to be a more forward country, a modern progressive country. But it also has a clause in the penal system that forbids any denigration of Turkey. So, taking this a step forward, a parliamentary commission has introduced a proposal to block web sites that denigrate Turkey in any way. If this proposal gets approved by parliament, then Turkey will join the list of illustrious countries that believes that its citizens should be deprived of some news.
One always do such policies, but are they truly sustainable? China and Saudi Arabia have shown that such policies are sustainable if you throw enough people at it, and bring in the element of terror if you violate these policies, but one wonders whether Turkey wants to get into this sort of thing.

Familiar news: EU tightens screws on Microsoft

In an anti-trust ruling from 3 years back, the European Commission had ordered that Microsoft had to license technical information to competing companies (IBM, Sun, and Oracle) so that they make their softwares work better with the Windows platform.
For Microsoft, complying with the order would have been hard to do, since it never believed that it was doing anything wrong; more so, because the European Commission was far stricter than US regulatory authorities on finding Microsoft guilty of anti-trust.
As a result, Microsoft demanded around 5.95% of these competing companies server revenues for royalty purposes. This is a pretty high amount, given that margins are not very high, and companies would be very unwilling to pay such revenues.
Now it seems that the European Commission is proposing that this demand from Microsoft be rejected, with objections from the commission stating that this demand was very high. A response from Microsoft is awaited.
Read this story here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Microsoft to release Expression web and blend on MSDN

For quite some time, Microsoft has been resisting placing the Expression series of products on MSDN, claiming that these are more of designer products rather than developer products and don't fit into a Development framework. One good reason would be that this ensures that people who want to buy this have to actually buy it, as opposed to people having MSDN just downloading and installing it.
This seems short-sighted since MSDN is one good way of proliferating a product across a wide range of target users. If they want to beat the products of their competitors such as Adobe which are well-entrenched to some degree, then they need to look at the bigger picture. There has been a wide degree of resentment among the developer community about a patently money-making move.
This feedback seems to have forced a re-think at Microsoft, and a course reversal seems to have happened. Expression Web is now available for MSDN Premium members immediately, and Expression Blend will be available for MSDN Premium members shortly after the Expression Studio release later in Q2 2007.
Expression Design and Expression Media are not included in this MSDN availability since they are not directly intended for application development. Read the blog entry here.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Apple and EMI abandon Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection

The iPod is one of the largest selling personal music player ever. When linked with the iTunes store, this is a combination that has become a major business for Apple, and brought in increasing proportion of total revenue. However, the DRM locks on iPods ensured that content bought through iTunes and transferred to an iPod could not be transferred to music players manufactured by other companies, and this was an oft-repeated complaint.
Now, in a collaboration with EMI, Apple will start providing songs and albums via the iTunes store that is not content protected by DRM, but will be transferrable to other players. The concept is that this is a customer friendly move, and is not really about relaxing any of the fight against piracy.
This does not actually come free. Songs that currently cost 99 cents will now cost $1.29 for a 'premium' version; this premium version is DRM free and also doubles the quality level from 128 kbps to 256 kbps. Albums will be available at no extra charge. And, in the neatest part, users who already have bought songs will be able to exchange these for the new premium version by paying an extra 30 cents. This is free money for Apple. These new premium songs will start to be available in April.
This is a sweet deal for Apple any which way. EMI was willing to do this deal with everyone, but Apple is the one who is the first on the starting block, and will be able to appear to customers as more concerned about their choices. This deal also has the potential of adding to the revenue that Apple currently generates. This deal also hits Microsoft by showcasing Apple as the better service, and Microsoft only struggling to play catch up. If this deal becomes a hit, Microsoft will be under great pressure to respond.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Advertising on web overtakes newspaper ad spend

Another milestone in the all-conquering march of the internet. The BBC reported that, for 2006, for the first time ever, spending in the UK on internet advertising increased rapidly, overtaking newspaper ad spending that grew much more slowly.
As per a report by the Internet Advertising Bureau and Price Waterhouse Coopers, online ad spending jumped 41.2% to pounds 2.01 billion while spending on newspapers grew just 0.7% to pounds 1.9 billion, itself conveying a strong message about the future. Internet advertising is still below TV advertising which is at pounds 3.9 billion, but the fact that TV advertising fell 4.7% essentially depicts that internet advertising is on a string growth mode, and this growth is coming at the expense of the other traditional mediums.
The most advertising is on recruitment followed by finance and technology, which are areas where the most advanced set of users will typically be. But as internet and broadband proliferates, and more and more people get computer savvy, and more important, spend more time on the internet and mobile devices, advertising on these media will keep on growing at a pretty fast rate.