Saturday, June 30, 2007

Some relief for the Playstation 3 down under

In the US and Japan, major markets for the gaming consoles, the Nintendo Wii is beating the Playstation 3 by large margins. So it must be some consolation for Sony that in the market at the bottom of the world, that is, the Australian market, Playstation 3 is the largest selling gaming console, outselling the Xbox and Nintendo Wii.

According to Ephraim, the Playstation 3 has sold 50,000 units since its launch March 23, 2007. The Wii, which launched December 7, 2006 has accumulated 100,000 consoles sold.

This is good news, even though the number of actual consoles sold is not that much. May make sense for Sony to keep on investigating as to what worked in the Australian market (maybe a specific campaign or something like that) and see how they can use such inputs to get out of their losing position in the US and Japanese market.

The iPhone finally on sale

Finally, one of the most-awaited devices is on sale, and as expected, there are long queues waiting to buy the phone. But with prices of between $1,100 and $2,000 being quoted on Craiglist and eBay, it is an open question as to how many people are waiting to get it first and then immediately sell it, as opposed to those who are waiting to be one of the first to get their hands on it for personal use. Anyhow, the initial response would be good news for Apple. The iPhone is a major business milestone for Apple, and the success or failure (not meeting projected targets) would have a major impact on Apple.
If Apple can show the iPhone as a major success, they will be known as the company with a Midas touch, in tune with customer requirements and on the bleeding edge of design. If, however, there is a failure, then things will move the other way. The Apple stock, that has gone by more than 200% in the last couple of years will show the impact as well. Of course, as the example of the Playstation3 shows, it will only be with the passage of time that success or failure can be measured. Right now, it is the device fetching customers to shops:

Take San Francisco resident Jerry Taylor, 54, who was first to buy the iPhone from Apple's store near Union Square. After a brief moment in the media spotlight, he said he was selling the device, apparently to a mysterious man with a Scandanavian accent who stood next to Taylor, but who declined to give his name. In spending more than $650 for the gadget, including taxes, Taylor said he was "gambling with this month's rent."
In case you're one of the few who haven't heard, the iPhone is Apple's first attempt at a cell phone. Hyped for months - even years - the device is built around a large, touch sensitive screen, which takes the place of a physical keypad. Apple CEO Steve Jobs and a coterie of analysts, consumers and enthusiasts have predicted that the device will change the cell phone industry as much as Apple's Macintosh computers and iPod MP3 players changed the PC and music businesses, respectively.

It could be similar to what the iPod has turned out to be. The iPod is more expensive than most other music players of its category, but yet is an incredible success, chiefly because it has an incredible reputation. It is known as having an excellent design, with a great brand value and with a complete service infra-structure including good integration with a music purchase and download process (iTunes and store).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

T-mobile allows cheaper calls through Internet

T-mobile has come up with a new concept to allow reduction of call plans overall cost, by allowing the use of alternative calling networks. What does that mean ? For a T-mobile user, if they have bought one of the 2 new handsets, and are either in a home wireless network or a Wi-Fi hotspot, they can move to using that mode of Internet access for their phones. This will typically prove to be much cheaper than the costing of a regular call plan.
Another plus promised in this new service (T-Mobile HotSpotAtHome) is the ability to get a much better coverage inside homes, something that a lot of customers typically complain about:

The service is the first time a cell phone carrier is using Wi-Fi to make calls. That could lead to a shift in the cellular industry as more operators begin to build dual-mode technology into phones, allowing people to cut down the cost of voice minutes.
To get HotSpotAtHome, T-Mobile customers will need to buy one of two $49 phones that can switch between cellular and Wi-Fi calls. In addition to paying for broadband, they will need to pay for the calling service, which can be added to cell phone service initially at $9.99 a month for unlimited Wi-Fi calls. After mid-September, customers will pay $19.99 a month to add the Wi-Fi service.. Family plans for up to five phones are available now for $19.99, then go up to $29.99 in September.

The handset is new, but the wireless router at home can be an existing router. There is switching between when a customer is making the call in a Wi-Fi area and then moves outside this network and onto the regular cellular network. People who have tested this service have found that it works well.

Apple restricts sales of iPhone

To 2 per person in the Apple store. For gaming consoles in the past, there have been trends where the newly awaited consoles are in short supply. This leads to unmet demand, and the price going up. What would normally happen is that people would buy these gaming consoles and then put them up for auction on eBay at a much higher rate. One would have expected something like this to happen for the iPhone as well, after all, it is one of the most awaited gizmos of all time. Apple however nipped this in the bud:

Apple on Thursday said customers buying the combination phone, multimedia player, and Web browser through one of its 164 retail stores in the U.S. will be limited to two on a first come, first served basis. The only other place where the phones can be purchased is through AT&T, which requires the buyer to sign up for a two-year service plan. AT&T is the exclusive wireless carrier for the iPhone in the United States.
People willing to endure hardship to be among the first to buy an iPhone started forming a line at 5 a.m. Monday outside Apple's flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York. The high demand has led to others running online ads on Craigslist, offering to either hold a place in line for iPhone customers, or to buy the phones outright for people willing to pay for the service.

This really sounds so strange. Is there a premium on buying it one the first day, as opposed to buying it a week later, when there have been some reviews that will help determine whether the gizmo is worth buying. If you were interested then, it would be easy to walk into an Apple store and buy it outright. One would think that policy is a logical policy, but there is no questioning a feeding frenzy around a new, must-have device.

Nintendo to expand game makers club

Building on its high selling rate, Nintendo has opened the platform and the innovative controller for any game maker who wants to get a chance to build games for the Wii console. Not everybody can start making games immediately, they will need to know programming. People can start creating their games on their computers, but final work needs to happen on the console. The plan is to allow a lot more people to start making games based on their ideas, and these games will be available via the Wii shop channel so that Wii owners can buy these games. This is not a new initiative, since Microsoft's Xbox also introduced a smaller version of its game making tools called XNA for making games for the Xbox.

Home and independent game makers are getting a chance to put together titles for Nintendo's Wii console. The hi-tech firm has released a game making tool called WiiWare that gives budding game makers the data they need to use the console and its innovative controller.
The company said it expected game makers to use the Wii's motion sensitive controller to create "fresh takes on established genres". "Independent developers armed with small budgets and big ideas will be able to get their original games into the marketplace to see if we can find the next smash hit," said Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America president in a statement.

This is a bright idea from Nintendo to try and do further consolidation of its leadership position. It could also benefit from an approach where some independent title catches customer fancy (you never know!) and Nintendo sales also benefit from this approach.
Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it will be good to evaluate the situation in 2008 to see how many new titles have emerged.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The first Apple crazie start lining up 100 hours before iPhone release

Ever since the news of the iPhone was released, there has been a constant chatter about the features, about the geekness, about the wizardry, about the user convenience and so on. The impending release of the iPhone on the 29th, this Friday afternoon has been one of the most awaited events in the tech calendar this year. Apple has hardly had to do any publicity, but even they would not have expected this kind of positive publicity; people always queue up before the release of a major much awaited product, whether that be the new Harry Potter book, or a new gaming console. People have even been known to queue up for a new Operating System.
But this one takes absolutely the pits; for just a phone plus a few other things embedded in it, people are queuing up 100 hours before the release ( a full 4 days to go).

For an Apple devotee, queuing for three and a half days in the baking heat to be the first to get their hands on an iPhone is nothing. And that is exactly what a group of dedicated Apple fans is doing. Outside the company’s flagship store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, they have set up camp, and – flopped on deckchairs and writing blogs – are whiling away the time until the new device goes on sale at 6pm on Friday.
When asked how they would cope with the 34C temperatures and severe storms that are predicted in New York for tomorrow, both replied: “We’ll deal with it.

This would seem might strange to a number of iPhone devotees, but it is just a phone slapped onto am iPod; is this worth spending 3 plus days waiting in bad weather? I wouldn't think so. And it is not even a very cheap phone, along with a service plan, it costs a minimum of $500.
Apple wouldn't mid at all. This is all free publicity, and is sure to get more people convinced that this is a new device that must be great.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

iPhone data plans out

As the time period for the release of the iPhone on Friday evening rolls out, the Apple PR machine cranks out on full speed, releasing articles one after the other. So here's the latest update, the data plans for the iPhone have been released, with the lowest one starting just below $60, instead at $59.99 per month.
There are essentially 3 data plans that have been released, with each plan offering unlimited data, offering 200 text messages, mobile-to-mobile calling and a new service, visual voicemail. These plans do not offer much variety, with $59.99 plan offering 450 minutes, the $79.99 plan for 900 minutes and the $99.99 plan valid for 1,350 minutes. The plan is for a 2-year service agreement, with a one-time activation charge of $36. In addition, the users need to have an iTunes account as well.
Visual voicemail is like email, and the user can review all the email that they have, and select the one they want to hear. Apple is expecting sales of 10 million devices by the end of next year, which is a fairly high expectation. It offers the user a great device, combing a great phone with internet access and the quality of an iPod. However, it is expensive, so there is some amount of doubt over whether Apple can meet the target. If for some reason, the phone under-sells, it will hit AT & T and Apple pretty hard.

Google wants court supervision of Microsoft to continue

In 2000, a federal judge had found that Microsoft had committed a violation of federal anti-trust law; forcing PC makers to use Microsoft software products on the computers sold by them as opposed to similar software made by other software makers. In a massive scare to the company, the federal judge had ordered the breakup of the company. The part about breaking up of the company was set aside by an appeals court, and the case went back to district court and a new judge did not order the drastic breakup step. Under the new settlement, Microsoft reached an agreement with the Justice department and nine states which ordered Microsoft to modify licensing and to provide competitors with adequate technical information such that their products would run on the OS as a first-class citizen, equal to Microsoft products.
This agreement was valid for 5 years, but Google wants this agreement to be extended, accusing Microsoft of a repeat behavior with regard to changes in the desktop search function introduced in Vista.

In a filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Google (GOOG) asked for permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief outlining its concerns. The filing came on the eve of a regularly scheduled hearing to update U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Microsoft's compliance with a federal consent decree. "Microsoft's hardwiring of its own desktop search product into Windows Vista violates the final judgment in this case," Google wrote.
In a filing last week, the Justice Department, 17 states and the District of Columbia detailed changes Microsoft agreed to make to its desktop search function, and said the measures would resolve any issues raised by the complaint. "Microsoft went the extra mile to resolve these issues in a spirit of compromise," Microsoft said in a statement. "The government has clearly stated that it is satisfied with the changes we're making. Google has provided no new information that should suggest otherwise in their filing."

Vista introduced a new search capability in Vista called 'Instant Search' that allowed users to search for items in the hard drive. In April, Google filed a complaint that this prevented other companies from providing their own desktop search function, and in a settlement, Microsoft agreed to make changes to its search function to resolve these issues.
With the change, Microsoft will allow computer manufacturers and end-users to select their own preferred search engine, similar to what is being done for other third-party programs. Google, however, does not believe that Microsoft has really turned a new leaf and wants the settlement period extended so that a check can be kept on whether Microsoft is indeed making the required changes.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Nintendo briefly goes past Sony in market value

Sony is a behemoth, much larger than Nintendo with a range of items that it sells. It's sales are 8 times larger than Nintendo, so it must have been very shocking for Sony that Nintendo, even briefly, crossed Sony in market value on the stock exchange. This was for a short while, and eventually Nintendo dropped to below Sony in market value.
All this is arising out of the sales figure for the Nintendo Wii. It out-sells the Sony Playstation 3 by 3 to 1 in Japan and 2 to 1 in the US. Those are figures that are pushing a lot of respect and expectations for the Nintendo stock, even if all those expectations cannot be met.

"It is becoming quite clear that Nintendo is taking back its market share from Sony in the console market while well defending its stronghold of portable games," Mizuho Securities analyst Takeshi Koyama said.
Demand for Nintendo's DS handheld game players also far outstripped that for Sony's PlayStation Portable. Koyama said, however, that investors should watch out for a possible pull-back after two year-long bull runs.

It is of course unreasonable to expect this to continue, Sony is a far larger company, into a number of different projects; while Nintendo is effectively a one-horse company; after all, if some other company comes out with a great new innovation, Nintendo could suffer the fate of Sony.
Nintendo has turned itself round pretty fast in the recent past, and grown at pretty good rates, and the stock has grown faster. Whatever they are doing, they are obviously doing right.

PSP clock speed increases

Sony latest firmware update for the PSP, version 3.5 has modified something in the PSP that was there from the beginning. The update allows developers to access the full speed the PSP CPU is capable of, 333 MHz. This has removed a puzzle that was existing in the Sony PSP from the time of its release.
When the PlayStation Portable was released, it was a little known fact that games running on the PSP would run on a clockspeed of 222 MHz, while the unit packs a CPU, the MIPS R4000, which is designed for a clockspeed of 333 MHz. Then another game, High Impact Games’ Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters was released that is reported to be running on 266 MHz, indicating that Sony was letting gamers slowly move up on the path of using the full power present on the device.
Sony has never disclosed as to why the development kits limited the clockspeed allowed to developers. It still is not disclosing those reasons, although now it is allowing games to utilize the full power of the device. This will not however work on existing games, but will work on new games that are specifally designed to use this increased speed.

Take-two suspends release of Manhunt2

Take-two Interactive Software, a games developer for multiple gaming consoles (Sony and Nintendo), is controversial, with earlier games such as Grand Theft Auto and Bully. It had developed a new game called Manhunt2, that was also a violent game, about a person escaped from a mental asylum, who kills a number of enemies with different techniques and weapons. He is trying to figure out what happened to his family.
Take-two has revenues of $1 billion, and this game was expected to contribute around $40 million, but now that is in jeopardy. A lot of video games are sickeningly violent with graphic scenes of death and destruction, under the guise of calling to freedom of expression and creative art. The game expectes the player to take on this role. However, what it would not have expected was the official reaction to the game, with a UK body banning the game in the United Kingdom and a US certification body giving it a Adults Only rating, decreasing the chances of selling it. After all, stores then have to display it in such a manner that kids cannot buy it, and kids under 18 are one of the major driving factors behind the purchase of violent games.
So the company is now in a soup over this game; it could cut its losses by cancelling the game outright, but that would mean the entire developmental effort would be toast; it could release the game only on Personal Computers, but that means losing a major market in terms of gaming consoles; or modifying the game such that the ban and certification are made more moderate. Touch choices.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Privacy protection for email

There have been a host of privacy debates that have happened in recent times, essentially between the Bush administration and privacy advocates. The need to protect the US from terrorist attack, and including the need to detect such attacks before they happen, seems to have guided the US to break previous privacy protocols, and demand its right to investigate and demand information through snooping, wire-tapping and numerous other sources. The debate is over privacy seekers claiming that these measures are excessive and the Government is seeking excessive authority.
A lot of these measures have turned up in court, with people challenging some decision or the other of the Bush administration; in a recent judgement, the case of email was debated and a decision made, against the administration. The court has ruled that investigators in a Ohio fraud investigation had over-stepped their authority in getting emails from a internet services provider without a warrant, and that citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy of their emails stored in web email service providers such as Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail.
Even though this judgement was rendered by the Sixth Circuit federal court, if used by other federal courts, it could set a precedent.

Monday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio held that Internet users had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the content of personal e-mails being stored by Internet service providers such as Yahoo! and Google.
"It goes without saying that like the telephone earlier in our history, e-mail is an ever-increasing mode of private communication, and protecting shared communications through this medium is as important to Fourth Amendment principles today as protecting telephone conversations has been in past," the court said.
At the same time, the ruling could make it more difficult for government investigators to gather information on suspected criminals or terrorists, said Kerr. Investigators would have to gather more incriminating facts about a suspect before they could read personal e-mails.

Fundamentally, email has not been debated in the past like this decision, and whether this decision stays, or is over-turned by the full panel of the 6th circuit, or by the Supreme Court, will decide what laws Congress needs to make in this regard. And it is quite obvious that Congress needs to make more laws in this regard, since the whole question of email, privacy and the need of investigation, especially in the context of preventing terrorist attacks is a wide open question that needs more discussion. If this decision is not over-turned, it will set a benchmark to Congress in terms of what it can provide, and where it needs to draw the line.

Google and eBay kiss and make up, but not the same as before

Google launched a service, Checkout, to rival eBay's Paypal, the most popular online money payment system. So far, so good. Remember, these 2 are closely related in terms of business, with eBay being the largest advertiser on the Google ads network. And then suddenly, 2 weeks before, there was a major clash.
eBay had planned an event in Boston, its annual user conference. Google, in a clash, disclosed plans for a party in Boston at the same time so as to lobby eBay to also start using Checkout. eBay was not very happy about this, and termed this as unworthy of a partner and, to send a stronger signal, discontinued all search advertising on Google. Even though it is not known whether this boycott had any affect on Google, it would have wanted to bring this confrontation to a halt. Advertising revenue after all, is the money source that brings in almost all the revenue for Google and it would not want anything to cause a problem on this front. In addition, there were reports that eBay did not suffer much due to this lack of advertising, since search results (the non-sponsored ones) also brought people to eBay from Google.
Anyhow, the relationship is now on track, but seems to have benefited Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft, since eBay claims that it will move some of its business to these alternate advertisers:

The animosity started nearly two weeks ago after Google disclosed plans for a party in Boston that coincided with eBay's annual user conference in the same city. Google's event was intended to lobby eBay to start accepting Checkout, a rival online payment service to eBay's PayPal.
"The major takeaway is that we aren't as dependent on Google AdWords as we thought," said Durzy, referring to Google's advertising program. EBay had been the most prolific advertiser on Google, according to comScore Networks. Whether eBay or Google suffered financially because of the brief pause in eBay's advertising is unclear.

Google would have suffered to some extent, also because the advertising revenue has to keep on increasing at a decent pace every year so as to meet the expectations of the stock market and investors.

Nintendo Wii vs, the Playstation 3

At the time when new versions of the Sony Playstation 3 and the Microsoft XBox 360 were being planned and under development, the whole industry was about which one would emerge the winner. And the answer was, of course the one with a stronger heart, the one that had more computing and graphics power, since only computing power and graphical speed could enable more life like games, and make animation seem almost real. Another factor was about the number of games that would be developed for these platforms, but that was not seen to be much of a worry, since game developers would of course develop games for the Playstation and XBox, after all, these were backed by mega corporations.
As for existing vendors, forget it. Nintendo was a has-been, not capable of matching the power and abilities of Sony and Microsoft. But then, rumours started swirling about the new games controller being available with Nintendo, apparently something that would allow more closer involvement with actions in the game. And this is now reality. The Nintendo Wii has changed the name of the game, being the hottest selling gaming console. It has also brought forward the notion that one should not assume what will sell and what will not. The power of design and building user delight comes to life again, something similar to what the iPod is in the world of the portable music player. Refer this article about the sales figures:

Nintendo's Wii gaming console, not yet one year old, could be the best consumer electronics product—ever. In contrast, the Sony PlayStation 3 is shaping up as one of the industry's biggest flops. Rarely have I seen such extremes in product development and delivery. Nintendo, in my estimation, did everything right. Sony, on the other hand, managed to screw up a decent product in every imaginable way.
Despite my hesitation about the Wii wand/remote, there's nothing difficult or confusing about it. The remote and nunchuck controllers are intuitive, and the Wii offers tons of on-screen guidance in case you ever get confused. The PS3 offers no comparable controller or innovative ease of use.

Sony has many other problems with the Playstation 3. In the race between Blue-Ray and HD-DVD, Sony wanted to load the Blue-Ray on the Playstation with the ability to play high-quality movies; expectation being that as the product reaches millions of consumers, Blue-Ray will become more prominent. It really did nothing of the sort, just making the Playstation more expensive. Figures from Amazon show the difference.
In the end however, it is the success of the ease of the use of the Wii which has made it a hit. In families, people not used to playing with game consoles have found that the controller makes it easy to play whichever game they are confident about. Maybe this will give both Sony and Microsoft something to think about.

Store hours modified for iPhone launch

The iPhone launch is geared to be a massive PR exercise, with Apple pulling out all the stops to ensure that there is a constant buzz around the June 29th date, with major and minor things being reported. So, here's another one:

On June 29, the day the Apple iPhone goes on sale, AT&T-owned stores will close early at 4:30 p.m. and reopen at 6 p.m. to sell the iPhone for the first time. Some Apple stores I spoke with said they were not planning a pre-6 p.m. shutdown before the iPhone goes on sale. Still, other Apple stores did say they were going to shut down as they got ready for the onslaught of want-to-be iPhone customers to fill their stores.
People wishing to be the first to get their hands on the iPhone will only be able to buy the iPhone at Apple stores and AT&T-owned stores. The Apple Web site will also be accepting orders on June 29. And AT&T says it will offer iPhones through its Web site some time in the future. Authorized AT&T resellers will not be selling the iPhone on June 29. Many resellers I spoke with said they expected iPhones sometimes in August.

So, if one reads between the lines, there is a clear expectations that customers would show up in the hordes to lay their hands on an iPhone, sort of replicating the buzz around the first release of Harry Potter books, or the release of a new Star Wars movie.
I am not sure whether all this will actually happen. Is the profile of people willing to buy a $600 phone (with a service plan) such that they will stand in line, or come once to get a bracelet, and then come again at the actual release so that their bracelet will show their place in line to buy the iPhone. Apple and AT & T dearly wish that this is the sequence that should happen.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Yet more identity loss, this time in Ohio

It seems like open season for identity loss. Inspite of the fact that trends for identity loss, and consequent financial fraud, are on the way up, these incidents keep on happening. And it seems so simple in many cases, almost like inviting thiefs to come and do such things. In the recent case, a computer tape, that held backup information for 64,00 Ohio state employees, as well as names and Social Security numbers for another 225,000 taxpayers, was stolen from the unlocked car of an intern. And why was this in the intern's car? Well, because taking a backup copy of the tape was part of security procedures for safety of the information. In this case, safety would have been to do with the data getting lost because of any data errors or computer malfunction, so seems like a good thing to do, except for the fact that the tape itself was kept in a physically unsafe location.
For data holding names and security service numbers, there needs to be a proper safety analysis and a proper plan, something that does not seem to have been done in this case. Otherwise, how could it have been so simple?

A missing computer backup tape containing personal information on state employees also holds the names and Social Security numbers of 225,000 taxpayers, Gov. Ted Strickland said. The tape, stolen last week from a state intern's car, was previously revealed to hold the names and Social Security numbers of all 64,000 state employees, as well as personal data for tens of thousands of others, including Ohio's 84,000 welfare recipients.
The administration has maintained it does not believe the information has been accessed because it would require specific hardware, software and expertise. But data security experts said the unencrypted tape, described by police as roughly 4 inches square and an inch thick, could be breached by someone with computer expertise, time and money.

And this is the other problem. When such indidents happen, many times the administration involved tries to minimize the problems associated with such thefts, by claiming that there is no record that anybody has tried to use this stolen information, or that the information is contained such that it's not easy to steal. All these are not correct responses, certainly not geared to bring confidence.
It is far better to invest the required time and money to bring in systematic data protection policies, for the cost of not taking such measures and then trying to take corrective measures is far more. This is not the first time that we are hearing of such theft, and it is unlikely that this will be the last time.
This is even more problematic in the current case because a number of people who are affected are on welfare, and will have no idea about what to do, or what the implications of such moves are.

iPhone supporting YouTube, but not Flash

Flash Videos, the video format owned by Adobe, got a shock due to 2 major reasons. First, it seems that Apple will not use the Flash player on the iPhone, and then YouTube declared that it will re-encode its videos in the H.264 video format. YouTube's videos were earlier being encoded as Flash Video, a big support for the Flash Video format. That now seems to have gone.
Adobe will need to spend some effort on figuring how to make sure that such things are not repeated; even if this was due to a business conflict between Apple and Adobe, it has made life somewhat more difficult for Flash and Flash Video. The Flash Player now has to battle fears of being slow on the mobile platform, and Adobe needs to trumpet up the success of Flash Video with other broadcasters. Refer this story:

Just as the Apple TV is now YouTube compatible thanks to the H.264 format that YouTube’s video collection is being re-encoded with, so too is the iPhone able to display YouTube’s H.264 videos thanks to a special player iPhone users will see when visiting YouTube’s site.
Currently only 10,000 of YouTube’s clips have been converted thus far, but YouTube is promising to have their entire collection progressively re-encoded over the next few weeks and months, ensuring a steady stream of new videos for iPhone users who are also YouTube fanatics.
With the iPhone only a few days away, revelations of improved battery life and an improved screen have only added to the iHype over the past few days. The YouTube announcement has sent the hype meter off the scale once again.

And of course, with the projected release date of the iPhone only a few days away (29th June), the Apple PR machinery will be going all out to have the device written about widely every day, such that it remains on total recall; and there are incredible first week sales that make this the device to own for those not yet bought on.
Anyhow, back to Flash. Adobe needs to make sure that the Flash Player does not develop a reputation of being memory-hogging or battery draining on mobile devices, that will be a horrible reputation.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

China censors Flickr: 'Great Firewall'

China has a major department geared towards the censoring of news and internet content. It is difficult for people in open societies to believe this, but China's restriction of individual rights extends onto the internet, and its citizens are starting to squeal about this. Not too loudly, because there is a Chinese proverb, 'The tallest tree in the forest is the first to be cut down', and no one wants to be identified as the one protesting the most, but there is dissent at the blockage of famous sites also.
For example, suppose a famous photo site also has photos of the Tienanmen Square massacre or other such incidents, then the people running the Chinese firewalls can actually block the whole site. No matter if this site is also the way to exchange photos among friends. And this is actually what has happened, with the photo sharing site Flickr coming under the keen gaze of Chinese censors because of people placing Chinese dissident type photos over there, and oh my, such things cannot be allowed to be shown to gullible Chinese citizens; what happens if they suddenly develop tendencies towards political freedom and openness. Refer this news:

Yang's fury erupted a few days ago when he found he could not browse his friend's holiday snaps on, due to access restrictions by censors after images of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre were posted on the photo-sharing Web site. "Once you've complained all you can to your friends, what more can you do? What else is there but anger and disillusionment?" Yang said after venting his anger with friends at a hot-pot restaurant in Beijing.
The blocking of Flickr is the latest casualty of China's ongoing battle to control its sprawling Internet. Wikipedia and a raft of other popular Web sites, discussion boards and blogs have already fallen victim to the country's censors. China employs a complex system of filters and an army of tens of thousands of human monitors to survey the country's 140 million Internet users' surfing habits and surgically clip sensitive content from in front of their eyes.

It is an ever going battle between the censors and the people trying to evade the censors. Hence, steps on how to bypass the censors and see these 'banned' site are also very popular among the Chinese. But this is a battle that will take some time to mature, as the internet pushing crowd is also a beneficiary of economic reforms and is unlikely to push very hard for political reform, especially when they know the likely consequence of 'activities against the state'. And China is not alone in this, there are a host of other countries that have tried to censor the internet such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and even a democracy like India (censored Blogger for some time).
In addition, due to the lure of working with the Chinese Government, even large corporations such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft cooperate with the Chinese government in these censorship attempts.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

1 in 10 users would be interested in the iPhone

In a study commissioned by M:Metrics of around 10,000 mobile phone users, around 9% stated that they were interested in purchasing an iPhone. The study was released on Friday. This study is important for Apple, as the users were informed of the iPhone's price points and the fact that the iPhone is exclusive to AT & T. Another interesting statistic was that out of the 9% who indicated that they were willing to purchase the phone, around 2/3rd were on other carriers, not on AT & T. This will be good news for AT & T, since even if a fraction of these intentions come true. they will get a number of conversions, and of people willing to purchase high end cell phones. Such people are also typically more willing to go in for higher cell phone usages and data services, both of which contribute real money to carriers.
The statistic also tells Apple that its Public Relations campaign to show-case the iPhone as the gadget to have seems to be working, given that there seems to be a number of people impressed enough with the device and ready to consider a change.

Poll results show about 9 percent of the 11,064 mobile phone users surveyed were inclined to purchase the highly touted iPhone, set for release June 29. That translates to about 19 million people when projected out, based on the U.S. Census, according to M:Metrics, a research company that tracks mobile phone use.
That's "an impressive figure, when you consider that the installed base of most high-end devices rarely approaches 1 million and respondents were informed of the price point as well as of the AT&T exclusive," M:Metrics senior analyst Mark Donovan said in a statement.
Of those who indicated a strong interest in buying an iPhone, 67 percent were customers of carriers other than AT&T. Often it was Sprint and T-Mobile customers who indicated they were willing to switch, an M:Metrics representative said.

As the iPhone comes closer to release day, only 12 days away from now, one can only expect more stories and articles to start appearing. If initial reviews turn out to be good, then one can expect a number of people to buy the iPhone out of the curiosity value, and the need to own a single device that does media (audio, video) playing and also is a good cellular phone.

Friday, June 15, 2007

MySpace information causes arrest of sex offenders

A few weeks back, MySpace was issued subpoenas by various state attorney generals to provide information on sex offenders. At first, MySpace resisted giving this data to the attorney-generals, but soon capitulated and agreed to provide this information.
The attorney generals were looking for sex offenders who were maybe preying on children on MySpace, an objective which made it difficult for MySpace to oppose them. And now it looks like states are starting to act on the information supplied by MySpace.

Seven convicted sex offenders with profiles on have been arrested in what Texas officials said was the country's first large-scale crackdown of registered offenders who use the social networking Web site.
They were picked up after released the names of offenders with online profiles to the state Attorney General's Office, which had issued a subpoena for the site's subscriber information.

There are some privacy implications to supplying this information, but overall, it is incumbent on the state authorities and service providers to prevent their facilities from being used to exploit defenceless children. In that sense, this is a pretty good happening, and if it discourages more sex offenders from using the anonymity of the web for exploitation, even better.

Safari on Windows already with 1 million downloads

When Steve Jobs released the beta of its web browser, Safari on Windows at a worldwide developer's conference, he may not have expected this kind of response. This release was also broadcast as the release of the fastest surfing software for Windows.
Even though the browser got hit by security problems and Apple has already released 3 patches to fix major security issues (and Steve Jobs would certainly not have been happy at such adverse publicity about such major problems), it was successful in another front. Within 48 hours of release, Safari got more than 1 million downloads.
Whether this spurt will continue or not is unknown, although Apple would be hoping that it become as popular in the browser application area as iTunes is in the cross-platform music buying and playing software. Safari is currently trailing IE and Firefox in the browser wars, with only 5% (native Mac users) as opposed to IE's 80% and Firefox's 15% market share. If Apple wants to come out with some strength in the browser wars, it will need to push the browser much more.
It will have to come out with more plugin support, not be too different in terms of interface from IE and Firefox, and be very easy to use.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Anti-botnet campaign by FBI

Botnets are a major nuisance on the internet. These are a large number of computers having inadequate protection, that have been compromised and are under the control of people wanting to use these large number of computers (in many cases, in the thousands) for a number of activities such as launching distributed denial of service attacks where these computers together attach a web site or network, used as relays for mass distribution of spam and malware, used for phishing, click fraud, and a variety of other attacks.
How does a computer get compromised? The computer may be running a version of Windows that has a hole, and this hole has been exploited to gain control of the computer. In addition, the computer may not be having an active firewall and virus protection. Botnets are increasingly being found on the internet and cause a high degree of costs by causing down-time, by actual losses due to phishing and click fraud, etc. And the biggest problem is that users do not even know that their computer has been compromised; they find that their computer has gone slower, or becomes active suddenly, but there are no easy ways of knowing that their computer has been used by a crime or is compromised. Typically, when a computer has been infected and is a part of a botnet, it can be used to attack hundreds of other computers.
Given this situation, and the dangers posed by the menace of botnets, the FBI has been investigating and found more than 1 million botnet victims so far. Along with the Justice Department, the FBI has been running a program called Operation Bot Roast to disrupt botnets. They have caught people; however, as long as security patches determine the safety of a computer, there will be infected and compromised computers in the wild. Refer this article:

The FBI is working with industry partners, including the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University, to notify the victim owners of the computers. Microsoft and the Botnet Task Force have also helped out the FBI. Through this process the FBI may uncover additional incidents in which botnets have been used to facilitate other criminal activity, the FBI said in a statement.
Bots are widely recognized as one of the top scourges of the industry. Gartner predicts that by year-end 75 percent of enterprises "will be infected with undetected, financially motivated, targeted malware that evaded traditional perimeter and host defenses," and early reports from beta customers of a yet to be released product from Mi5 show how nefarious these infections can be. Mi5 says it installed a Web security beta product at an organization with 12,000 nodes and in one month detected 22 active bots, 123 inactive bots and was watching another 313 suspected bots. That may not sound like a lot, but those bots were responsible for 136 million bot-related incidents, such as scanning for other hosts inside the firewall.

It can get pretty hairy for people. Suppose the computer of a unsuspecting user is used to break into a protected military installation or a bank, or used to break down a major network, the first path for investigators will be to find the computers that were used, and in the case of a compromised computer, the owner will have no idea.
This will also start to increase pressure on software companies to make their software more secure from the ground up, such that they do not land in the situation where the security of the system is dependent on patches.

Google bows before EU data privacy requests

How these mighty corporations tumble before government pressures. Google has done that in the past, with creating a censored version of search for China (, bowing down to pressures from governments about the level of details displayed for Government and military structures in Google Earth, and so on. Well, here is one more.
Google saves search data (that could be used to identify actual people after some research) and uses that for commercial purposes, to better target advertising. Earlier, it used to save this data indefinitely, then changed that to 24 months after some pressure from privacy advocates.
Then in May, Google got another blast on this topic. It got told by the European Union data watchdog (representing 27 EU countries) that the 24 month period was unacceptable under privacy concerns, and asked Google to reply by mid-June about how these concerns could be addressed. Well, now Google seems to have buckled under pressure and is now reducing the time that this data will be stored to 18 months (from the earlier 24 months). Refer this article:

The European Union's top security official lauded Google Inc's. decision to scale back how long it keeps personally identifiable data accumulated from its Web users as a step towards addressing privacy concerns.
The world's top provider of Web search services said this week it was ready to curtail the time it stored user data to a year and a half, seeking to mollify an EU watchdog that has questioned its privacy policies.
Each time a Google user searches the Web, the company gathers information about that customer's tastes, interests and beliefs that could potentially be used by third parties such as advertisers. Google shares general user statistics but is adamant it never shares personal data outside the company.

However, this is still right now only Google that has made the concession. To some extent this is justified since Google controls 60% of the search market, but a lot of other searches such as MSN, Yahoo, etc and other companies such as Microsoft, Apple, MySpace, AOL, eBay, Amazon, also have not disclosed as to how long they retain customer data. It would be their turn eventually; it just requires an accidental release of data from any of these places, and they will face the same amount of pressure as Google.

iPhone will require iTunes account

Now, it almost seems that most news in the Tech World relates to the impending launch of the iPhone on the 29th. Well, Apple came out with another bit of news. Customers wanting to purchase the iPhone need to have a iTunes Store account before activating the iPhone. Customers in the US can only get the iPhone via the deal with AT & T, but just buying a contract with AT & T Wireless Services is not enough, customers need to have a iTunes account as per this report:

Consumers planning to buy the iPhone when it goes on sale in the U.S. later this month will need to have an iTunes Store account before they can activate the device, according to information on Apple's Web site.
The move will allow Apple to create its own billing relationship with iPhone customers, rather than collecting payments for any iTunes purchases they make via the mobile operator.
Mobile handset vendors, such as Nokia and Motorola, will be keeping a close eye on Apple's strategy of linking content with handsets, she said.

The iPhone is causing a shake-up of how things work in the US cellular industry. In the past, it has been seen that the carriers such as AT&T, Sprint, Cingular, etc drive the show in terms of deals, data services, etc, while phone vendors such as Nokia, Motorola, do not have much of a say in terms of customer facing terms.
In the case of the iPhone, Apple has struck a hard bargain and managed to keep it, so AT&T people were not privy to much of the details of the iPhone, did not have much of a say in how the phone software works and the interface, etc. And now, to insist that iPhone users need to have a iTunes account means that AT&T can't simply sell the iPhone to users and expect it to start working.
There could be an uptake in the number of people complaining that their phones don't work and why do they need to sign up for an iTunes account. The question remains, with the high prices, with no keypad, and with additional requirements such as this one, when will the iPhone just be sold for novelty value and not get the mass selling. At some point, do you reach a point where people resist buying because of the inconveniences involved?
Why does Apple want people to have an iTunes account mandatorily ? If you refer to the bottom section of the Apple iPhone page, it is clear that the user needs to have an account. But if the user wants to use the iPhone for phone calling, and for loading their personal music and videos, they would certainly not prefer having to create an iTunes account. And there is the familiar argument about the iPhone restricting competition by forcing people onto the Apple music platform; after all the iPod's were pure music devices, but this is a phone as well, and there can be a distinction made between the music selling industry and the phone industry, and forcing one on the other could be treated as anti-competitive.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Problems in using Safari on Windows

Apple is on a high nowadays. It is seen as the leader in computing design, has the by-far-largest selling product in the personal media player market, has ownership of the iPhone (probably the most hotly awaited product for some time), and seems to have played a master stroke by moving its Mac onto an Intel machine, this allowing people the option to install windows on their Mac machines and pushing up the sales of Macs. However, there comes a time when a company gets too arrogant, and then realizes that arrogance is not a virtue (especially when the arrogance is revealed to be based on false premises). Microsoft has faced this repeatedly in the past, especially in the area of security (both for operating systems and applications); claiming that their apps are secure, and then facing a number of holes pointed out by hackers and security specialists. Well, the high and mighty Apple faces the same situation today with Safari.
Safari, the default browser on the Mac, is now available on Windows as a Beta, and I read reports where Apple claimed that this browser is secure. Well, no longer. Security experts, no doubt encouraged by Apple's claims, found numerous security holes in this Beta of Safari such as Denial of Service support, remote execution bugs, memory corruption, etc, As time goes by, more such errors will be found. This article claims that the Beta of Safari should not be used for actual web use because of its bugs.

Although all browsers have security issues uncovered on a relatively regular basis, most of which are rapidly patched up with updates and fixes, the latest beta version of Safari has been put to the test by a number of security researchers, as reported by PC Magazine and others, and is so far failing a lot of security tests.
Problems with Safari uncovered so far include DoS and remote execution bugs, memory corruption that could be exploited, command execution vulnerabilities simply by visiting a web site – and that’s just in the last couple of days. Security researchers are bound to find more bugs in the system, or more ghosts in the machine for Apple to eliminate.
So, should you use Safari on Windows? After all, plenty of Windows users will have downloaded Safari since its release on Monday, and will no doubt have had a surf around to see what it’s like. It looks and feels just like Safari on the Mac, it’s certainly fun to use. For now, it’s also the latest novelty must-have experience from Apple that Windows users can enjoy. Apple’s download servers must be running hot!

Safari is indeed hot, after all, it is the browser on the iPhone, which itself lends to a lot of pull for the browser. However, Firefox is a pretty strong competitor on a number of platforms, so it is not sure as to how much Safari can take away from established browsers.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Apple puts buyer information in DRM free tracks

A lot of people have celebrated the decision by Apple and EMI to provide DRM free audio tracks through iTunes (even if they cost 30 cents extra). But suddenly, when there was some amount of excitement among anti-DRM users, Apple has caused some amount of caution. It has been discovered that users who buy DRM free files are getting files that have their user names and email id's embedded in the files.
Users who download the latest update for iTunes, version 7.2 have got the ability to buy DRM free files. But analysis of these files have disclosed that these files have user information embedded in an unencrypted form. This should not harm anyone in an obvious manner.
However, for users who are going to share these files, analysis of these files will easily disclose the original buyer of these files, and know that these files have been shared, something that is still not legally permitted. However, Apple is not disclosing the reasons why these files carry the user information, something which makes privacy experts queasy. So, even though Apple has made files DRM free, it still wants to make sure that it has a way of tracking any movement of these files. Maybe this could have been part of the agreement with EMI.
Refer this article:

An Apple spokesman suggested by e-mail that Wired News contact Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research who has been briefed about iTunes Plus. The Apple spokesman didn't respond to further requests for comment.
Gartenberg said there are many reasons why Apple would want to tag music sold through the iTunes store. The information could be used as a proof of purchase, or to facilitate upgrades (songs previously bought through iTunes can be upgraded to higher fidelity versions for an extra 30 cents). The identifier could help identify songs missing from albums (iTunes offers a "complete album" feature), as well as to thwart piracy.

The silence by Apple is puzzling. It does not solve any immediate need, and Apple would have expected that this would easily have been found, and they did not have a canned reply. Seems a bit strange.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

EMI signs deal with YouTube

YouTube has managed to sign a deal with another music company for letting YouTube users access songs and videos from the catalog of EMI. With this, YouTube has now managed to sign a deal with all major music companies - EMI, Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group and Sony BMG Entertainment. The deal with EMI will allow users to access music and videos, and even allow them to incorporate some of these elements in their own content.
Details of the deal in terms of financial compensation to EMI is not available. However, YouTube is still facing a major lawsuit on behalf of other videos on their site, with several companies such as Viacom, The English Premier League, etc having files lawsuits against Google for infringing their copyright. This lawsuit is being fought by Google on the grounds that they are not knowingly infringing piracy, and that YouTube is just a platform, protected by the law. It could be very much possible that Google will also claim that there are a number of companies who have signed deals with YouTube, and that the companies who have filed the lawsuit are the ones who could not reach an agreement. The market does not seem to worry about the lawsuit too much, with Google's share going above $500.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

New firmware update allows remote play of PSP files

Some time back, the Sony Playstation 3 had a firmware update 1.8 that gave it a number of HD capabilities. And now it is the turn of the Sony PSP to get a firmware update that allows remote play of the Playstation files. The 3.50 update for PSP gives the ability to browse through wireless hotspots, the main point being that you can use this ability to browse content remotely. Refer this update from Sony:

* Network
o You can now connect a PSP® system to a PS3™ system via the Internet using [Remote Play].
o [Communication Settings] has been added as an option to the [Remote Play] menu.
o [RSS Channel Guide] has been added as a feature under [RSS Channel].

This is a slightly different feature from other feature upgrades that one normally sees. How does this work ? Say you are obligated to go to a social gathering, but over there, you are left alone. With the new workflow, you can connect from the PSP to the PS3 at home (as long as you can connect to the internet), and from the PS3, you can connect to the Home PC and view files (movie files) from there. Cool, and most people will not even know what you are doing.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Top spammer arrested in Seattle

We all battle day in and day out against spam. The business of spam has launched several kind of new businesses, with one set towards how to easily harvest spam, send spam on a cheap way, use remote servers under control to send spam and so on; and the other kind of ventures deal with the defeat of spam - tools to control spam such as spam filters, to prevent servers from becoming rogue machines. This battle between spam senders and spam preventers is a difficult battle, with the level of technology becoming much higher.
There are legislations against spam, and spam costs industry a fair deal, costing now billions of dollars in spent time, in the cost of carrying such extra messages, and in the usage of anti-spam tools. In such a case, if people sending spam can be caught, and there are supposedly just supposed to be a few high senders of spam, maybe we can get some relief.
Well, it happened. In Seattle, a prolific spammer, Robert Alan Soloway was arrested on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, email fraud and other charges. Investigators believe him responsible for millions of email. He has been arrested in the past, but awards against him have not been collected because his bank accounts remain elusive. Refer this report:

The war against spam seems to be never-ending, but a small battle was won earlier this week. Robert Alan Soloway, 27, was arrested Wednesday in Seattle on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, email fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. Soloway pleaded not guilty to all charges. "Spam is a scourge of the Internet, and Robert Soloway is one of its most prolific practitioners. Our investigators dubbed him the Spam King because he is responsible for millions of spam e-mails," Jeffrey Sullivan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, said in a statement.
Soloway allegedly spammed the masses in email fraud since 2003 by using hijacked computers from around the world, and covered his tracks using Chinese servers, fabricated websites and stolen identities. Anti-spam agency Spamhaus once named Soloway in its top ten list of worst offenders, though he’s since been outpaced by even greater threats from eastern Europe. "He is one of the bad ones. He's one of the longest-running and uses criminal methods all the time," said John Reid, an investigator with Spamhaus. "Anyone on the Web for a while would have received one of Soloway's spams."

This is certainly good news, but is this going to be enough ? One caught will be replaced by another, and in a location where they cannot be arrested so easily. It is also incumbent upon email providers to work in such a way that they can prevent spam methods such as spoofing more easily, and stop spam in its source. Making spamming an even greater offence is another way of stopping this, but cooperation is required with countries of eastern europe and China in this regard as well.