Thursday, September 27, 2007

Is Google preparing Second Life rival?

The high-tech rumour mill has thrown up an astonishing new rumour: Google is preparing a rival to Second Life.

The story began with a post on the Mac Rumors web forum. A student from Arizona State University posted screenshots from an invitation sent to students at the college.

Headed "Redefine your world", it says: "ASU has been uniquely chosen by a major internet company to be a beta-tester school for a new product that will be publicly launched later this year."

A 3d character on the site asks in a speech bubble: "Are you into 3d modelling, videogaming, etc? Do you have a virtual avatar?"

The invitation includes a questionnaire which asks whether they use social networking sites such as Friendster, Facebook and MySpace, or have been "living in a cave".

The combination of 3d video and a social networking suggests that the service being tested could resemble Second Life in some way.

And two pieces of evidence suggest that the "major internet company" may be Google - the questionnaire goes on to ask if potential testers have an account with Google's Gmail service.

ASU also has a close relationship with Google: the search engine giant has an office the University's Tempe campus.

However, there have many completely false rumours of new services coming from Google - only Apple beats Google for vigour of the rumour mill that obsesses over every hint of a possible new release.

Among the most persistent rumours is talk of the "Google OS" - a full computer operating system which would rival Microsoft Windows. But despite the appearance of many fake pictures of the OS, nothing real has ever emerged.

Google representatives in London did not return calls for comment on this story.

Group urges Google probe

An ethics group is urging Congress to scrutinize Google's copyright controls after finding hundreds of apparently pirated movies available on the Internet search leader's Web site.

In letters sent to several lawmakers Wednesday, the National Legal and Policy Center excoriated Mountain View-based Google for allowing its video-hosting service to become an online theater for showing and promoting illegally copied movies.

The non-profit group, which says it has no financial ties to the movie industry, is best known for helping to expose a 2003 corruption scandal involving the Air Force and Boeing that landed two executives in jail.

The grievances made to Congress focused exclusively on content found on Google's Web site rather than the company's more popular YouTube subsidiary that is being sued by Viacom for alleged copyright infringement.

The harsh critique echoes similar complaints that have asserted Google is more interested in boosting its audience - and potential profit - than protecting the intellectual property of Hollywood studios, record labels, authors and publishers.

Google says it adheres to federal law by removing unauthorized content whenever asked by copyright owners.

Microsoft rolls out enhanced search

Microsoft said Wednesday that it has more than quadrupled the amount of material it scours on the Web and will be rolling out a series of other improvements to its search engine over the next month, as the world's biggest software company continued its bid to narrow Google's large lead in Internet search and advertising.

Calling search "a killer app," Satya Nadella, corporate vice president, search and advertising platform, said Microsoft has made substantial improvements in understanding what people want when they type a few words into Microsoft's search engine,, and in delivering more relevant responses.

But will it be enough?

Google conducted 56 percent of all U.S. Internet searches in August, followed by Yahoo, which conducted 23 percent and Microsoft, which conducted 11 percent, according to comScore, a research firm that tracks Internet traffic.

Karsten Weide, an analyst with IDC, said the new features could help Microsoft increase its market share, but he said it would be hard to make much headway against Google.

"If a company wants to change users' habits, they need to prove they are a world better than the incumbent," he said. "This is not going to turn the tables."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

First look at Windows Vista SP1

Earlier today I downloaded the standalone installer for Windows Vista SP1 build 6001.16659 and installed it on a few systems to see what it was like - and I thought you might like to take a look at it.Don’t expect huge UI changes after installing SP1 - the changes are small and subtle. In fact, if you’re not familiar with Windows Vista, you might miss the SP1 changes. I’ve put together an image gallery showing some of the most significant changes.

Here are some of the changes:

Other points worth noting:

  • The install process took about 40 minutes on my system
  • The system rebooted 4 times
  • So far, I’ve not come across any SP1 related issues

A scanner the size of a pen

When I heard about the Docupen RC800, I thought it was a no-brainer. Trade in my flatbed scanner for one the size of a small cigar? Gladly! As the owner of American Roof Preservers (, a firm that cleans and preserves cedar-shake roofs in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, I could see using the DocuPen to scan documents or collect helpful news articles on the go.

Manufacturer PLANon Systems Solutions ( advertises the RC800 as a full-color scanner capable of recording 100 pages, each in as little as four seconds. I was excited to test it.

I removed the DocuPen from the box, loaded the bundled software CD onto my computer, and charged the pen for 50 minutes. Then I set DocuPen to scan at its highest resolution with full color, figuring that even though I was scanning a black-and-white document, I wanted the best possible quality. I set the scanner on the page, pushed the power button and rolled the pen toward the bottom.

About three-quarters of the way down the page, all the lights on the scanner began flashing, and it shut off. I repeated the test, but each time the results were the same. Oddly, the software help menu offered only technical specs on the software itself. (Later I realized that there was a second help menu in the separate Paperport document viewer - all a bit too complicated for my taste.)

A better alternative to One Laptop per Child?

For those interested in bridging the digital divide, two seemingly-unrelated headlines in today’s news together tell a fascinating story. The first headline topped the tech news: Nicholas Negraponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative will start selling their laptops to buyers in rich countries. But there’s a wrinkle: Rich-country buyers must buy their machines in lots of two, one they get to keep, while the other goes to a needy child overseas. Why the 2-for-1 charity promo?

“I have to some degree underestimated the difference between shaking the hand of a head of state and having a cheque written,” said Negraponte to the New York Times recently. In short, weak demand.

The second item appeared on the front of a special section in today’s Wall Street Journal: N-Computing, a Redwood City-based start-up, has won the Journal’s 7th annual technology innovation award in the category “Computing Systems.” What’s the connection? Well, N-Computing essentially brings “thin client computing” from the Western enterprise to the developing world. That is, the company makes low cost hardware devices that turn regular PCs into servers. (Think VMWare (VMW) or Citrix (CTXS) for poor people.)

Equipped with the $11 N-Computing device, a garden-variety PC can host up to seven simultaneous users. Each user requires only a screen, keyboard, and a mouse, but they get a full Windows (MSFT) desktop experience.

While Negraponte and OLPC have generated most of the buzz in recent years, N-Computing and its CEO Stephen Dukker represent a different approach to solving the same problem: how to get computing power into the hands of the world’s neediest students. And while not-for-profit OLPC has faced nothing but headwinds, for profit N-Computing appears to be getting real market traction. Last week, for example, the company closed a deal to outfit most of the school children in Macedonia with “desktops.” Yes, it’s Macedonia, but that’s upwards of 100,000 “seats.” And, the reseller that is doing the installation is China’s Haier Group, which clearly expects to make a buck on the deal. So there’s a real business model here, beneath the altruism.

Dukker, who was the founder of eMachines, stopped by the office recently and made a compelling argument for his case. “Even today’s lowest cost laptop has become a supercomputer,” he said. By sharing a single high cost processor and memory, Dukker says he can deliver “desktops” to kids at a “fully-loaded” cost of just $70 $220. (Ed. Note: $70 is the unloaded, per seat cost.) By comparison, he argues that the “fully loaded”cost of an OLPC, each of which comes with its own processor and memory, is actually over $800.

The architectural logic would seem to make sense, and Dukker says he’s sold 400,000 devices in just the last year. My favorite example: an entrepreneur in Mexico has used NComputing devices to outfit a mobile home with a dozen or so Windows terminals. Apparently, the man drives his home from one village to the next, parks, and opens up a temporary Internet cafe. That’s called grassroots demand, and it’s the sort of story that makes it easy to be bullish on Dukker’s thin-computing model, and increasingly skeptical about Negraponte’s costly laptop in every pot crusade.

Google comes calling

A few weeks ago, we wrote about plans by Google and other Silicon Valley companies to make the next generation of wireless networks more Internet-like: Customers would be able to use any mobile device on any network, and access all online content on their cell phones.

But Google (Charts, Fortune 500) and others apparently are not satisfied with simply pushing new services for cell phones or trying to get their content on mobile devices. It and others increasingly are getting into the guts of the wireless business - making phones and perhaps even building wireless networks.

Will Murdoch free the Journal's Web site?

More than a lot of CEOs, Rupert Murdoch is often willing to muse aloud about his plans. And, at a Goldman Sachs media confab in New York last week the topic of whether to stop charging people to visit the Web site of his newly-won prize, The Wall Street Journal, came up. The first thing the media baron said when asked about it is that he hadn't made is mind up yet, but that "it's certainly on the front burner to decide what to do there." Yet he also went on, as he has before, to point out the bull case for making the free and adding that it "looks like the way we are going."

In many quarters of the media world, free is the new paid. But Murdoch didn't get his News Corporation (Charts, Fortune 500) where it is by following the conventional wisdom. And having just paid an enormous premium to buy Dow Jones, the Journal's challenged owner, is he going to now dismantle one thing it seemed the company had right - its newspaper Web strategy?

He will certainly get resistance from some of the top brass at Dow Jones, who have proudly built the most successful paid newspaper Web site, which has nearly a million subscribers. "We have no present plans to change the model," Gordon Crovitz, the Journal's publisher, said in statement released to me. "Of course, we're operating in a dynamic online media environment, and we're always looking for ways to enhance our business news leadership and would make changes as new opportunities warrant."

One of those opportunities might be a new owner telling you what's what. Crovitz and other Dow Jones executives declined to comment further. The debate over whether publishers and other media outlets ought to charge for access to their content online is one of the chewiest of the moment. And the decision to make free material that is otherwise paid for in the "offline" world comes down to two key questions: one, will the web site being free generate more revenue from advertising then a paid site one? And, secondly, once the product becomes free online will people still want to pay for it in print? launches digital music store

Web retailer Inc. launched its much-anticipated digital music store Tuesday with more than 2 million songs, all without copy-protection technology.

The store, Amazon MP3, lets shoppers buy and download individual songs or entire albums using Amazon's 1-Click button. The tracks can be copied to multiple computers, burned onto CDs and played on most types of PCs and portable devices, including Apple Inc.'s iPod.Songs cost 89 cents to 99 cents each and albums sell for $5.99 to $9.99.

Let the Facebook bidding war begin

The Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site Monday afternoon that Microsoft is considering investing $300 million to $500 million for a 5 percent stake in Facebook. The high end of that range would value Facebook as a whole at $10 billion. A spokesperson for Facebook told CNN that it had no comment about the speculation and a representative from Microsoft said the software developer had no comment as well.

But the WSJ indicated that talks are just in preliminary stages and that Google (GOOG), the search industry leader, is also interested in making an investment in Facebook, which has seen its popularity explode since the company developed an open platform for applications developers earlier this year. The site has gone from being one that was more of a niche social networking site popular on college campuses to a legitimate challenger to News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace.

And for those who follow the ins and outs of the online advertising business closely, it would not come as a huge shock if Google wound up beating Microsoft to the punch. A spokesperson from Google said in an e-mail that the company “does not comment on market rumor or speculation.” But, Google has won high-profile deals from Microsoft several times during the past few years, after all.

Google succeeded in striking a deal to invest in AOL, the online unit owned by my parent company Time Warner (TWX), in 2005 and also wound up forging an online ad partnership with MySpace and other Fox Interactive Media properties last year. Earlier this year, Google agreed to purchase online ad placement firm DoubleClick for $3.1 billion. In each case, Microsoft was rumored to be the other leading bidder.

But Microsoft may have an upper hand in dealing with Facebook since it already has an online ad relationship with the company. In fact, I reported back in July that some people at Fortune’s iMeme tech conference thought Facebook could be worth as much as $10 billion if Google or Yahoo (YHOO) wanted to buy it but that Facebook might be willing to sell to Microsoft for $5 billion due to their existing partnership.

If the WSJ story is true, it is further evidence of how lucrative companies believe the social networking business to be and how rapidly valuations are heading higher.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Nvidia to Start Intel Chipset Market Assault on Tuesday.

Nvidia Corp. on Tuesday is projected to officially unveil its new family of core-logic sets with built-in graphics cores for Intel central processing units. Even though it is expected that Nvidia’s new chipsets will not feature high-performance latest-generation graphics adapters, the move will still provide more advanced low-cost graphics for Intel platforms.

Adobe updates Photoshop, Premiere Elements

The new Photoshop Elements, Adobe's "lite" version of its expensive image editing software, adds new organizational tools and the ability to batch edit a group of phots. It also incorporates geography tagging, which allows users to mark where the image was taken. There is integration with Yahoo to incorporate a map into a selection of pictures.

Additionally, it adds a "photomerge" tool, which lets users go through multiple photos to select the best picture of a group of people, and merge them together into one image to create the best possible group photo.

The new Premiere Elements, focused on video editing, also tacks on new organizational functions. Users can import a batch of clips and have the software automatically string them together with stylistic integration. It also adds a new audio mixer, which according to Adobe will make it easier for background music to jive with video effects.

Each piece of software is available for around $100, and a package deal for both has been set for a retail price of around $150.

Cheap laptops: the new ethical gift

This year's ethical Christmas present has a more 21st century feel - a laptop equipped with wi-fi.

The project that aims to bring $100 computers to the developing world, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), has said it will enable Western customers to donate machines as Christmas gifts.

For $399 (£197), customers in the US and Canada will be able to purchase two laptops - one for themselves, the other for a child in a poor country - as part of an initiative called 'Give One, Get One'.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why AMD’s triple core Phenom is a bigger deal than you think

AMD rolled out its Phenom triple core processor and the reactions ranged from “triple core is a marketing spiel” to “triple core gives consumers another option.” Both reactions miss the big picture.

The big picture is that AMD’s triple core chip is a nice intersection where engineering meets business savvy.

Here’s why:

As AMD manufactures quad core processors a certain percentage of these chips are bad. For AMD bad means that one core may be defective or disabled. Manufacturing semiconductors is rocket science and yields are critical. AMD and Intel don’t disclose manufacturing yields, but some percentage goes into the trash (or wherever you put defective processors).AMD spokeswoman Suzy Pruitt confirmed the company’s thinking and Reinders’ hunch. The triple core processor is based on the quad core architecture. See the chip die to the right. Cross out one of those four cores in the corner. There’s your triple core. In the triple core “one of the cores is disabled,” says Pruitt. This disabling can be either occur due to a manufacturing issue/process or at AMD’s discretion, she said.

Now if your yields are 99 percent AMD’s triple core thinking doesn’t make sense. But 99 percent yields are impossible. For illustration purposes, say AMD’s quad core yield is 85 percent and 10 percent of the total haul has one core that’s disabled. The remaining 5 percent would be a total manufacturing failure. If AMD just sells quad core chips its yield is 85 percent. Toss in a triple core and the yield is effectively 95 percent. Big difference.

Meanwhile, AMD gets another processor in its lineup to sell. But the big payoff will come in AMD’s yields–especially if it boosts the chipmaker’s financial results. The triple core will appear in the first quarter of 2008 with more details on frequency due at launch.

This point about AMD’s triple core processor is easily missed–unless you know semiconductor manufacturing and engineering. I know neither. Oddly enough, this observation was inspired by James Reinders, director of product marketing and business at Intel. He stopped by the CNET offices Thursday and we were discussing the semiconductor landscape with a focus on what folks will actually do with more cores. Reinders’ views the news through an engineer’s lens. His view on AMD’s yields was just a hunch on his part, but it was dead on. Memo to self: Talk to more engineers and more light bulbs will appear over my head.

Simply put, offering a triple core means that AMD (all resources) has to toss fewer chips in the trash. The bottom line is that manufacturing yields improve and the financials follow. In that context, AMD’s move is pretty savvy.

A new hint about what’s coming (and when) in Microsoft Office 14

Master data management will be part of Office 14, a first Community Technology Preview (CTP) of which is due in the first quarter of 2008.

That’s according to a September 19 blog post by Microsoft IT Pro Evangelist “PatricG.”

Master data management is technology that allows for the management of common reference data across disparate IT systems or groups. Microsoft stuck a toe in the MDM space in June 2007 with its acquisition of privately held MDM specialist Stratature. Microsoft said at the time of the acquisition that it planned to withdraw existing Stratature products from the market and instead integrate the Stratature +EDM technology into Office applications and servers.

The first iteration of Stratature’s technology that will be part of Office 14 — most likely a component of the SharePoint Server product, it would seem– is codenamed “Bulldog,” according to PatricG’s post. Bulldog’s successor is codenamed “Greenwich,” he said, providing no delivery vehicle for that particular release of MDM. Greenwich will add new integration, analytical and transactional capabilities on top of what’s shipped with Bulldog, PatrickG said.

From PatrickG’s blog post:

“Bulldog includes Microsoft process and standards applied to the Stratature code base as well as several important new capabilities. Bulldog will meet these requirements while laying the foundation for the long-term master data management vision at Microsoft. In concert with the product enhancements, we will be building the product ecosystem including sales channels, customer support, partner readiness, demos and training materials.”

PatrickG said Bulldog will be aligned with the Office 14 wave for the CTP, Technology Adoption Program (TAP) and release-to-manufacturing deliverables. He said the CTP is due to go to select customers by Q1 2008.

Microsoft has said next-to-nothing about its plans for Office 14. Back in February 2007, a Microsoft presentation leaked that pegged Office 14 as on target to be shipped in the first half of 2009. When Microsoft told its sales force this summer that Windows 7, the next version of Windows, was unlikely to ship before 2010, I was betting that Office 14 also had been pushed back a year. Given this latest blog post, I’m now wondering Office 14 will ship ahead of Windows 7.

Friday, September 21, 2007

'Metroid' uses Wii features to create moving experience

Action heroine Samus gets to face her evil twin in "Metroid Prime 3: Corruption," the final game in the science-fiction trilogy and the first for Nintendo's Wii.The Wii's focus on casual games has meant a bounty of titles for the whole family.
But there's been a dearth of action for the hardcore gaming set. "Corruption" finally provides Wii owners something meatier than bowling. This title pushes the Wii to its limits.
The graphics -- while not up to Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 standards -- surpass anything else available for the Wii, which lacks high-def output.
The wireless controls actually work. The game makes full use of the remote and nunchuk attachment for looking, moving, shooting and jumping.
The controls are perhaps the biggest initial obstacle players will face. I found myself wrestling with them instead of with the enemies. But like anything new, you just have to give it some time. I eventually came to appreciate how motion-sensitive controls can enliven a first-person shooter.
The tactile sensation of flicking the nunchuk to throw a grapple beam is unlike anything I've experienced before in a video game.
Fans will appreciate how "Corruption" wraps up the story of armor-clad bounty hunter Samus, and her evil twin, Dark Samus.
There's no multiplayer, but the deep single-player saga includes a cast of fellow Galactic Federation pals in a continuing battle against evil Space Pirates. It's not as corny as it sounds, and the enemies are quite scary and devious.
There's more than just running and gunning, too. The overall experience is one of exploration, puzzle-solving and action that kept me wanting to push farther.
Owners of rival consoles can boast all they want about exclusive blockbuster titles like "Halo 3" for the Xbox 360 or "Warhawk" for the PlayStation 3. With "Corruption," the Wii has an excellent new video game all its own.

Xbox Live to be launched in India

Microsoft's Xbox Live, the online gaming and entertainment network for the Xbox 360 video game system, would be launched in India by December end.

Xbox Live, an online gaming and entertainment service, would connect an individual to friends, games and entertainment, through the Xbox 360 system, a gaming console, according to Mohit Anand, Country Manager, entertainment and devices division Microsoft India said.

The network can connect an individual with more than seven million members across 25 countries. India would become the 26th market to launch the network, he said.

The service is being launched after more than a year of its global launch since there were certain developmental works that were to be put in place, he said.

The network would deliver an array of content for consumers around the globe, including access to music videos, movie trailers, playable game demos, multi-player games, he said. In addition a gamer could enjoy classic retail and arcade games such as coin-operated and retro classics, puzzles games, card and board games.

The network would also offer the facility of chatting with friends directly from a television set using the Window Live Messenger. Access to the Xbox Live network could be arranged through an Xbox 360 broadband connection.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

NBC to offer TV downloads on its own site

NBC said Wednesday that it would soon permit consumers to download many of its most popular programs to personal computers and other gadgets - initially free of charge - for one week after their broadcasts.

The service, set to start in November after a test in October, comes less than three weeks after the parent of the network, NBC Universal, said it was pulling its programs off iTunes. That partnership fell apart because of a dispute over Apple's iTunes pricing policies and what NBC executives said were concerns about lack of privacy protection.

NBC's move comes as companies throughout the television business search for new economic models in the face of enormous changes in the business. Networks continue to lose audience share, and viewers - especially many of the highly prized viewers under 30 - are increasingly demanding control of their program choices, insisting on being able to watch shows when, where and how they want.

At the same time, viewers are finding more ways, like digital video recorders, to avoid watching the commercials that have long provided the bulk of television revenue.

Jeff Gaspin, the president of the NBC Universal Television Group, said, "The shift from programmer to consumer controlling program choices is the biggest change in the media business in the past 25 or 30 years."

eBay halts sale of Belgium

Internet auction website eBay today withdrew an unusual second-hand sale item, the country of Belgium, which had attracted an offer of 10 million euros ($A16.68 million).

"Belgium, a kingdom in three parts" was posted on the Belgian eBay site as offering "plenty of choice" despite the caveat that it comes with "300 billion of National Debt".

Offered in three parts - Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia - the accompanying blurb said the kingdom "can be bought as a whole (not recommended)".

The vendor also included as added extras "the king and his court (costs not included)".

EBay spokesman Peter Burin said the site could not host the sale of anything virtual or "unrealistic", the Belga news agency reported.

The 'vendor' was named as a former journalist, Gerrit Six. Offering his lot at an initial price of one euro ($A1.67), he saw 26 subsequent bids culminating in the 10 million euro offer today before the auction was halted.

The spoof sale was offered while Belgium is mired in a political crisis which has led to discussion over the country's future as a federal state.

Tomorrow marks 100 days since the country's general election with no sign of a coalition government being formed by the political parties in Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia.

According to the eBay spokesman, it wasn't the first time Belgium had been put up for sale.

"But the last time it wasn't a Belgian who made the announcement and it wasn't as well done or as amusing," said Burin.

Sony pauses virtual community

Sony said on Thursday it would postpone the launch of the ``Home'' virtual community service for its PlayStation 3 game console to early next year, the latest setback in its videogame battle with Microsoft Corp and Nintendo Co Ltd.

The 3D ``Home'' online service, in which players can create and ``own'' characters and content, was originally scheduled for launch this autumn.
Sony Computer Entertainment, the video game unit of Sony, said it was postponing the launch to improve product quality.

``This is going to be a worldwide service that needs to offer a wide range of functions required in Japan, in the U.S., in Europe and in Asia,'' Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai said in a keynote speech at the Tokyo Game Show 2007.

``We aim to launch this as something that can meet expectations of people all over the world.''

Hirai did not mention widely anticipated price cuts for the PS3, instead saying the firm plans to strengthen its software lineup to attract users.

As part of that effort, SCE said it has acquired British software developer Evolution Studios and its subsidiary, Bigbig Studios, for an undisclosed sum.

Evolution created ``MotorStorm'', a million seller title for the PS3.
Sony's PlayStation and PlayStation 2 dominated the global game industry for about a decade from the mid-1990s, but Sony was one year behind Microsoft in releasing its latest console.

The PS3 has lagged far behind Nintendo's Wii in monthly sales due to a lack of hit game products and its high price.

On the hardware side, SCE said it would offer a new controller with a vibration function for the PS3.

The price for the new controller, which will become available in November in Japan and next spring in North America and Europe, was not immediately available.

Sony has packed the PS3 with cutting-edge technology such as the Cell chip, dubbed ``supercomputer on a chip'', and Blu-ray high-definition DVD player.

Those advanced functions make the PS3 capable of offering life-like graphics and high-speed downloading from the Web, but they have also driven up manufacturing costs.

The PS3 with a 20-gigabyte hard disk drive sells for 49,980 yen in Japan, roughly twice as much as Nintendo's Wii.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Can IBM save from itself?'s biggest foe may be Microsoft Office, but critics say the open-source organization has, from its inception, also been one of its application suite's own worst enemies -- a victim of a development culture that differs radically from the open-source norm. Observers now wonder if IBM's entry into can make the necessary changes.

Though spun out by Sun Microsystems Inc. in 2000, remains almost totally under the control of Sun employees working full-time on the project.

There is also a free, native Aqua version of OpenOffice called NeoOffice that was created by open-source developers unaffiliated with NeoOffice has received positive reviews and the latest version, 2.2.1, includes support for Mac OS X Spellchecker and Address Book, as well as experimental support for opening Open XML files created by Excel 2007 and PowerPoint 2007. It was released late last month and is available for download.

That includes virtually all of's lead programmers and software testers, most of whom are based in Sun's Hamburg, Germany office, as well as's overall boss, Louis Suarez-Potts, who is the community's equivalent to Linux's Linus Torvalds.

"I think Sun developers have worked hard to open up the process at, and to my mind it has shown positive results," said Bruce D'Arcus, a lead developer at who has blogged about his dissatisfaction. "But there's a fundamental contradiction between having a vibrant open community and having the process controlled by a single party."

That tight control, combined with a bureaucratic culture, has hurt's ability to roll out new features quickly and otherwise keep pace technically with Microsoft Office, say insiders. For instance, OpenOffice's current (non-Aqua) Mac version lacks rich graphics, there is no e-mail module, and the software cannot yet open or read files in the Office Open XML document format used by Office 2007.

As a result, OpenOffice and its commercial cousin, StarOffice, still own just a small slice of the office software market, though the former has been downloaded more than 96 million times. The most recent version, OpenOffice 2.3, was released Monday as the organization prepared for its worldwide developer conference in Barcelona this week.

Is Sun missing the cultural point?

There are "enough developers frustrated by both the technical and the organizational infrastructure at" that it is "a real problem that is weighing on the project," said D'Arcus, a university geography professor who participates in the project.

Or as another OpenOffice developer, Michael Meeks of Novell Inc., blogged last week: "Question for Sun mgmt: at what fraction of the community will Sun reconsider its demand for ownership of the entirety of"

That has long hurt's attempts to recruit and, moreover, keep contributors that are not paid by Sun or other leading backers such as Novell or Google Inc. to work on

" has a very central business process of controlling what comes into the source base and by that very system misses the point of Open Source development," said Ken Foskey, an Australian open-source developer who volunteered for for three years. He left in 2005 after becoming "increasingly frustrated" with the organization's bureaucracy.


A Laptop That Lets Students Take Notes Two Ways

Parents and students seeking a back-to-school computer may want to consider a tablet PC. These convertible devices, which allow switching from keyboard to pen input, are ideal for note-taking.

The Lifebook T2010 is Fujitsu’s latest entry among tablet PCs. As a laptop, it has all the standard features: a 12.1-inch display, 1 to 4 gigabytes of memory, a hard drive of up to 160 gigabytes, an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.

On the tablet PC side, the T2010 comes with the Vista version of Microsoft’s tablet PC operating system, which was developed for handwriting recognition and also some voice recognition. Both systems become more accurate the more you use them.

The machine comes with the note-taking program OneNote, but can handle the full version of Microsoft Office.

The T2010, which starts at about $1,600 and is available at and most major retailers, weighs less than four pounds.

To keep the weight down, there is no built-in CD/DVD drive, though a docking station, which adds the drive and several other ports, can be attached, adding a pound.


Facebook, MySpace users will trade privacy for features

Facebook and MySpace users are willing to let the sites sell their personal data in return for access to the sites' social networking features, according to new research from Pace University.

Researchers at the university queried users of Facebook and MySpace in August, asking for their views of the privacy protections offered by the sites and their feelings about how much personal information they are willing to post on social networking sites.

Catherine Dwyer, a professor at Pace who worked on the study, noted that most Facebook and MySpace users said that they're willing to develop online relationships even though they believe that trust and privacy safeguards are weak.

Users seem to view the social networking sites as a way to get online profiles, photos and the like for free while the sites "can take all their data and do whatever they want with it," she noted.

"Both sites are really interested in monetizing this information as much as possible," she said. "They don't exist to give people ways to upload photos."

Less than 5% of MySpace users surveyed and slightly more than 5% of Facebook users surveyed said they believe that the personal information they put on the sites is strongly protected.

Still, the respondents told researchers that are willing to share personal details with others on the sites. More than 85% of respondents in both groups reported that they would share a photo of themselves on a social networking sites, and 91% of Facebook users and 62% of MySpace users said they use their real name on such sites, according to the study.

In addition, 87% of Facebook users and 41% of MySpace users post their personal e-mail addresses on the sites.

And even though 32% of MySpace users strongly agree that other users exaggerate information in their profiles, nearly half of them said that they are willing to get together in person with people they meet online, Dwyer noted.

"Here is this site where they express …a high level of distrust in other people, yet 44% said they have met someone through the site," she said. "People have this bullet-proof notion about their own ability to manage themselves online. They don't really depend on the site to filter any of this stuff."

Dwyer also noted that users at both sites may be naive when it comes to their notions of how the sites may be using the data they provide about themselves. She pointed to a report in The New York Times on Tuesday about MySpace's plans to use data-mining techniques to gather information for advertisers seeking to market products to users of its site.

In the study, only 18% of Facebook users and 21% of MySpace users said that they strongly agreed that the site would not use their personal information for any other purpose than as part of their profile.

"There is a real disconnect between [the beliefs of] people using these sites and the way the privacy management is set," she said. "You transfer privacy to this digital realm and there are only two states - it is private…or it is public, and there is potential for every single person in the world to know about it."

USB 3.0 brings optical connection in 2008

Intel and others plan to release a new version of the ubiquitous Universal Serial Bus technology in the first half of 2008, a revamp the chipmaker said will make data transfer rates more than 10 times as fast by adding fiber-optic links alongside the traditional copper wires.

Intel is working fellow USB 3.0 Promoters Group members Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments, NEC and NXP Semiconductors to release the USB 3.0 specification in the first half of 2008, said Pat Gelsinger, general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, in a speech here at the Intel Developer Forum.

In an interview after the speech, Gelsinger said there's typically a one- to two-year lag between the release of the specification and the availability of the technology, so USB 3.0 products should likely arrive in 2009 or 2010. A prototype shown at the speech is working now, and USB 3.0 will have optical and copper connections "from day one," he added.

The current USB 2.0 version has a top data-transfer rate of 480 megabits per second, so a tenfold increase would be 4.8 gigabits per second. Many devices don't need that much capacity, but some can use more, including hard drives, flash card readers and optical drives such as DVD, Blu-ray and HD DVD. The fastest flash card readers today use IEEE 1394 "FireWire" connections that top out at 800 megabits per second.

In addition, USB 3.0 will offer greater energy efficiency, Gelsinger said. It will be backward compatible, so current USB 2.0 devices will be able to plug into USB 3.0 ports.


Intel goes full speed on chip development

On a day Intel turned up the pressure on Advanced Micro Devices with the promise of new products and state-of-the-art manufacturing, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore cautioned that his celebrated Moore's Law - which states that computing power will double every 18 months or so - would someday come to an end.

The world's largest computer company said Tuesday that it was on schedule to launch its next big computer chip - a product code-named Penryn - on Nov. 12. It also demonstrated a working version of Penryn's successor - Nehalem - at its semi-annual developers' forum for hardware engineers in San Francisco.

Intel's twin announcements - along with the news it has two plants, or fabs, running its latest 45-nanometer production technology - offered fresh evidence Intel has picked up the pace of technological development to the detriment of AMD. The new generation of plants will create circuits that are 45 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, wide, allowing chips to run faster and use less energy.

"We're cranking up full-scale production in two fabs with 45-nanometer" technology, Chief Executive Paul Otellini said. "We think this is a sustainable competitive advantage."

Intel also showed off a chip made on a 32-nanometer production line, the successor to the 45-nanometer plants. The static random access memory, or SRAM, chip - with 1.9 billion transistors - suggests Intel is making progress toward the new technology, which it expects to use commercially in 2009.

"They are pushing hard," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "Intel's strength is focusing on a goal and going like a bat out of hell."

It is doing what it said it would do, added Roger Kay, president of research company Endpoint Technologies Associates.

The only note of caution came from Moore, who said his Moore's Law, first stated in 1965, will eventually expire. The dictum, which has gained fame as Intel has steadily shrunk the size of its chips while improving their performance, states that the number of transistors placed on a piece of silicon doubles about every two years.

"There really are some fundamental limits," said Moore, who suggested the limits may be reached within 10 or 15 years. "We will hit something that is fundamental."

Until then, Intel will continue to innovate. Nehalem, for instance, is scheduled for launch during the second half of 2008 and will come in a model sporting eight cores, or computing engines. Intel now makes single-, dual- and four-core chips.

The company said it is ahead of schedule reducing the power needs of its Silverthorne chip, a product it is targeting for tiny notebooks and portable Internet devices. Otellini said it is on track to achieve a tenfold reduction in the chip's power demands by next year, instead of the initial target of 2010.

AMD last week said it doesn't see Intel's 45-nanometer technology putting it at a disadvantage. "I think we're going to be very competitive," said Brent Barry, an AMD product marketing manager.

He pointed to the company's newly announced three-core chip as an example of its innovation. AMD also launched a new quad-core Opteron chip, code-named Barcelona, this month.

At the forum, which attracted 5,000 hardware engineers, Otellini said Intel plans to demonstrate a product it calls Larrabee in 2008. Larrabee will compete in the high-end graphics-chip market against products from Nvidia and AMD's ATI graphics unit. It will include 12 cores and be appropriate for applications in scientific computing.

David Ragones, a product manager at Nvidia, played down the coming competition. "Customers look to Nvidia for the best graphics experience," he said. "It will continue to be that way."


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

SpiralFrog debuts with free, ad-supported music downloads

Digital music service SpiralFrog officially launched today, just over a year since its initial announcement and after several delays due to music licensing issues. The ad-supported music service, which has been in beta since late 2006, boasts over 800,000 tracks and 3,500 music videos available at launch. SpiralFrog promises to fight piracy by making music available to users at an attractive price: free.

SpiralFrog is able to do this by requiring the user to view ads in order to download the music, and has a revenue-sharing deal with the labels that have signed on thus far. The service is inherently Mac-unfriendly, however, as it requires users to have Windows Media Player 10 or 11 under Windows XP or Vista installed. Why WMP? Because the files that come from SpiralFrog are DRMed. The service relies on your eyeballs to pay for that music, after all, and requires the user to log in and view ads at least once every 30 days. If that doesn't happen, all music downloaded from that account will become disabled. The tracks cannot be burned to CD or transferred to the ever-popular iPod. The files can, however, be transferred to (no more than two) other, WMP-compatible digital music players.

We decided to give SpiralFrog a try to see what it was all about. Downloading anything naturally requires registration on the site first and the installation of an ActiveX Download Manager. After jumping through all of these hoops, we began to search for songs to download.

Much of the music available at launch is from Universal Music Group, which signed on with SpiralFrog last August. EMI is also on board with SpiralFrog, as are a number of independent artists and music labels. Still, though, the selection available on the web site seemed somewhat limited to us, although SpiralFrog founder Joe Mohen says that he expects to have more than 2 million tracks available over the next several months.


Intel Previews a New Family of Power-Saving Chips

Intel today gave the first public demonstration of a new generation of processors that significantly increase performance without consuming more power.

Intel’s chief executive, Paul S. Otellini, told developers at its biannual technology conference that the company expects to finish the new family of chips in the second half of next year, in keeping with its latest promise of a new chip architecture every other year.

The new architecture, code-named Nehalem, will use as many as eight processing cores, and offer better graphics and memory control processing.

Intel had been late to respond to technical challenges in energy efficiency and heat consumption, and has spent the better of two years racing to catch up with its smaller but feisty competitor, Advanced Micro Devices.

Mr. Otellini’s speech today comes almost exactly a year after Intel announced a painful corporate overhaul, including a round of cost-cutting that reduced its work force by 10 percent and trimmed $5 billion in expenses.

As part of its corporate revamping, Intel executives last year outlined a “tick-tock” strategy, referring to the development of a new chip architecture every other year and the introduction of a new manufacturing technology in alternating years.

“Our tick-tock strategy of alternating next generation silicon technology and a new microprocessor architecture — year after year — is accelerating the pace of innovation in the industry,” Mr. Otellini said.

The new silicon technology component — representing the other part of the equation — is almost ready. When Intel introduces its Penryn family of processors on Nov. 12, it will be the industry’s first high-volume 45-nanometer processor.

Mr. Otellini said the company plans to introduce 15 new 45-nanometer processors by the end of this year and an additional 20 in the first quarter of 2008. The current standard is 65 nanometers, and A.M.D. has said it will move to 45-nanometer technology in mid 2008.

“We expect our Penryn processors to provide up to a 20 percent performance increase while improving energy efficiency,” Mr. Otellini said. The new chips, he said, will be used for small yet technologically advanced devices.

Mr. Otellini also demonstrated to developers the industry’s first working chips built using 32-nanometer technology, on track to begin production in 2009. The 32-nanometer chips use transistors so small that more than 4 million of them could fit on the head of a pin.

“Smaller is better; smaller is cheaper,” Mr. Otellini said.

Mr. Otellini also said Intel has decided to be halogen-free by the end of 2008; Intel processors are already lead-free, he said.

Just a day before the start of Intel’s developer conference, A.M.D. unveiled a new twist in its own product road map: a desktop chip with three cores — unusual in an industry that tends to grow in even numbers, routinely doubling performance. The announcement came as a surprise to analysts, as the company had touted the advantages of four processors only last week.

A.M.D. executives said, however, that its quad-core desktop chip had been slower to catch on than the company expected when it released it last November, and today A.M.D.’s quad core processors account for only 2 percent of all desktop computer systems.

A.M.D. is hoping that its new three-core chip, called Phenom, will appeal to midrange customers looking for more performance than dual core systems, but who don’t see the need for quad-core systems.

But the addition of the triple-core chip, part of A.M.D.’s Phenom family of processors, could prove confusing to customers, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64, a consultancy in Saratoga, Calif. The new triple-core chip is due in the first quarter of 2008, a quarter after the company is scheduled to release the quad-core product.


Privacy Groups Criticize Google

The U.S. government still needs to block or impose conditions on Google Inc.'s acquisition of online advertising server DoubleClick Inc., despite Google's call for global privacy standards, three privacy groups said Monday.

Google last Friday called for a global privacy standard, and the company referred to a framework designed by Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

But the APEC standard is "weak," Melissa Ngo, director of the Identification and Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said during a press conference Monday. The APEC standard "puts the burden on consumers to prove they are being harmed," she said.

Google's call for a global privacy standard does not allay concerns that privacy groups have with Google's proposed US$3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick, said Amina Fazlullah, staff attorney with consumer group U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG).

Consolidation in the online advertising market could lead to more demand for consumers' private information, Fazlullah said. In addition, Web sites will have few choices for which vendors to deliver their ads, she said. "The resulting Google company will have a lot of control over what we can actually see, read and hear about online," Fazlullah said. "That is definitely problematic for consumers, but also for greater democratic concerns."

A Google spokesman said the APEC privacy standard is just one model the company has pointed to. Google also supports the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's town hall meeting on the evolving online advertising market, to be held in early November, spokesman Adam Kovacevich said.

EPIC's complaints about Google's privacy policies are "unsupported by the facts and the law," Google added in a statement.

"Google aggressively protects user privacy, and user trust is central to Google's values and essential to the success of our products," Google said. "We have engaged with numerous privacy and consumer advocates to discuss and explain our acquisition of DoubleClick, but unfortunately EPIC has refused every offer we have made to meet with them. We can only conclude that EPIC would prefer not to be informed about the erroneous claims it is making."

But the privacy groups said Google continues to collect a "massive" amount of data about users.

"There is no greater threat to competition in the online market and also a threat to privacy than the Google/DoubleClick merger," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Combining Google's search dominance with DoubleClick's display advertising dominance "will give Google an overwhelming share of control of the online advertising market," he added.


Thunderbird flies: Mozilla spins off e-mail client

Mozilla Corp. spun off its Thunderbird e-mail client into a new for-profit subsidiary on Monday and seeded the unnamed company with $3 million in start-up money, the open-source developer announced.

The move is identical to the one made by the umbrella Mozilla Foundation in 2005 when it created Mozilla Corp. to manage Firefox. "The new organization doesn't have a name yet, so I'll call it 'MailCo' here," said Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker on her blog tonight. "Technically, it will be a wholly owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, just like the Mozilla Corp."

MailCo is the result of internal talks and public discussion about the future of Thunderbird that began in July. Then, Baker, who also chairs the foundation, said that because Firefox was Mozilla Corp.'s first priority, it had to divest itself of Thunderbird. The options she outlined included the following: creating a new nonprofit organization similar to the Mozilla Foundation to focus on the e-mail program, building a new subsidiary of the foundation just for Thunderbird, and releasing Thunderbird into the wild as a community-only project.

Scott MacGregor and David Bienvenu, the two Mozilla employees who headed Thunderbird development efforts, voted for the third option. Today, however, Mozilla chose the second.

Most Thunderbird users criticized Baker and Mozilla Corp. for wanting to ditch the e-mail program, which competes with Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook and IBM's Lotus Notes, as well as with Web-based e-mail services such as Windows Live Mail, Yahoo Mail and Google Inc.'s Gmail.

The new company will focus on developing communications software based on the current Thunderbird product, its code base and its brand.


Google adds presentations app to hosted suite

Google plans to add a presentations application to its Web applications suite on Tuesday, delivering on a promise made in April. The suite, until now known as Docs & Spreadsheets, will also be renamed Google Docs on Monday.

Because Google Docs is part of the broader Google Apps suite of collaboration and communication applications, Google Apps users will also get the presentations application.

The delivery of the presentations application will no doubt once again turn up the heat on industry discussions that Google Docs and Google Apps rival Microsoft’s Office suite of productivity applications and the Outlook/Exchange messaging platform.

There is a key architectural difference between the Google and Microsoft suites: Google’s is hosted in the search company’s data centers while Microsoft’s is packaged software designed to be installed on users’ computers.

The viability of Web hosted applications, with their software-as-a-service (SAAS) model, is no longer in question, although the consensus is that, while the future belongs to them, they will not completely displace traditional packaged applications.

The issue is that, while Google and others like Zoho and Zimbra push ahead expanding and improving their SAAS suites, Microsoft is perceived by many to be dragging its feet in coming up with SAAS versions of its Office products.

“Microsoft needs to take a careful look at its enterprise strategy for both messaging and the desktop,” said Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Nucleus Research.

Having delivered the presentations application, Google Docs and the broader Google Apps, which includes e-mail, instant messaging, calendar and a Web page creator, have filled the only big hole they had in their ability to compete with Microsoft Office and Outlook/Exchange, she said.

“Microsoft should be very concerned,” Wettemann said.

The benefits of SAAS communication and collaboration suites have already caught the attention of thousands of organizations of all sizes worldwide.

Because the vendor — Google in this case — hosts the software, which end users access via a Web browser, clients don’t have to install the software or worry about upgrading it. Another benefit is that this type of SAAS application, designed to live on a hosted server is typically built to make it easy for users to share documents and collaborate on them.

There are downsides to the SAAS model as well. Security concerns exist about housing applications and data in a vendor servers. Availability and performance problems sometimes arise from server failures.

It is also generally agreed that Google Apps and similar suites from other vendors don’t have as many features and functionality as long established communication and collaboration platforms like Microsoft’s Office, Outlook and Exchange and IBM Corp.’s Lotus Notes/Domino.

However, the SAAS suites generally cost significantly less. For example, Google Docs is free, while Google Apps has free versions and one designed for workplace use called Premier that costs US$50 per user per year and includes more sophisticated features, including broader administrative controls for IT staffers.

In the case of the Google Docs presentations application, Wettemann estimates that it has about 60 percent of the features in Microsoft Office’s PowerPoint.

Google officials point out that Google Docs and Google Apps aren’t intended to replace Microsoft Office and Exchange, but rather complement them or be an option to users and organizations who don’t have them.

It’s widely expected that Google Apps will soon gain a wiki component based on technology Google acquired almost a year ago when it bought JotSpot.

The presentations application, still in an early stage, will let users create presentations and store them in a central server, where they can be shared with colleagues, who can in turn edit them.

Users will also be able to share slide shows of a presentation with others and chat with them in real time. They will also be able to import presentations created with Microsoft PowerPoint. The ability to export presentations to PowerPoint will be added later.


Yahoo rolls out limited beta for new social network

Yahoo Inc. has quietly rolled out a beta version of a new social networking site called Mash that will let users to create online profiles similar to the likes of MySpace Inc. and Facebook Inc.

Available now by invitation only, Mash is similar to other online profile sites. However, it also allows users to make starter profiles for their friends and to leave their own profiles open to let other "trusted" users add content, noted Yahoo's Will Aldrich Monday in a blog post about Mash.

"You can customize your -- or your friend's -- profile with modules from a growing gallery of apps," noted Aldrich, who heads up the Yahoo team behind the development of Mash. "Of course, there are extensive privacy controls in Mash, and you set the boundaries that you're comfortable with."

He also noted that "Mash is still pretty raw -- there are bugs, and we haven't gotten to several of the features it really should have."

Aldrich did not say whether Mash will eventually replace Yahoo's existing social network, called Yahoo 360.

Michael Arrington, a beta user of the Mash network who blogs at TechCrunch, noted that Mash allows users to load modules like Flickr Real Simple Syndication and blog applications into their profile pages. The modules can then be moved by dragging and dropping elements, he noted.

"It also appears as though Yahoo intends for users to mash their information together from across the company's various properties, perhaps making Mash the main hub for Yahoo users," Arrington wrote. "While profile pages appear to have a pretty consistent structural layout (like Facebook), users can customize the design of their pages by changing colors and inserting background images (like MySpace)."

Mash also has a feature called Pulse, which are "Twitter-like messages" reporting all the activities a user's friends make on the site, Arrington added.

However, he noted that Mash lacks a mechanism to search across the network.

According to data released last week by Nielsen/NetRatings, Yahoo trailed Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. in the Internet traffic race for August, the latest month for which data was available.

Microsoft logged 118 million unique visitors in August, Google garnered 116 million, and Yahoo pulled in 110 million during the month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.


AMD to sell 'triple-core' chip

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. plans to offer a processor with three computing engines, or cores, for desktop computers in the first quarter of 2008, the company said late Monday.

The announcement came just a week after AMD launched its new "quad-core" server chip, the first from is the first from the company to feature four cores on a chip instead of just one or two.

AMD expects the processors to be the world's first PC processors to integrate three cores on a single die of silicon. Citing Mercury Research, the company said quad-core processors made up less than 2 percent of desktop computer shipments in the second quarter -- signaling the need for a wider range of multi-core products.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Freescale Licenses AMD Technologies

AMD today announced Freescale Semiconductor will license its 2D and 3D graphics technology. Freescale Semiconductor will use the AMD graphics technologies to equip its i.MX processors with OpenGL ES 2.0 and OpenVG 1.0 technologies. OpenGL ES 2.0 and OpenVG technologies are designed for mobile applications where battery life is key, including portable gaming, navigation and media player devices.

“The adoption of AMD graphics technology by a world-leading semiconductor supplier validates our belief that thrilling graphics and attractive user interfaces are driving growth and revenues throughout the wireless industry,” said Adrian Hartog, senior vice president and general manager of AMD’s Consumer Electronics Group. “By licensing AMD’s leading technology, Freescale can leverage our patented Unified Shader Architecture and the only native vector graphics hardware solution to offer their OEM customers outstanding graphics functionality.”

Freescale i.MX processors power Ford’s Sync, an optional audio system upgrade for Ford Motor Company vehicles. The Ford Sync system delivers tight system integration between cars, portable media players and cellular phones using USB and Bluetooth technologies.

Freescale also produces the 32-bit FlexRay microcontroller used for the AdaptiveDrive system found in BMW’s latest X5 sport utility vehicle, and will also make its way into DaimlerBenz, Chrysler, General Motors and Volkswagen vehicles.

Expect Freescale i.MX processors with AMD licensed technologies to show up in the future in portable, home electronics and automotive applications.

Offline version of Gmail in the works?

According to the Hindustan Times, Google plans to release an offline version of Gmail. I think that it's safe to assume that it would run on Google Gears, much like Google Reader's offline feature does.

Obviously, the lack of offline e-mail reading is the one huge downside to using Web mail. If Google implements this correctly, it could be a pretty big deal, but we will see if the functionality of a browser-based offline solution can compare to an actual desktop client.

It should be noted that Windows Live also currently has its Live Mail Desktop client available right now (one of my favorites, by the way). Whether Google goes browser- or client-based with its offline functionality, this is what it has to compete with.


A Window of Opportunity for Macs, Soon to Close

IF you’re the owner of a Windows PC who is looking for a replacement computer, the choices are grim. You can step into the world of hurt that is Vista, the latest version of Microsoft Windows that was released in January. Or you can seek out a new machine that still comes loaded with the comparatively ancient Windows XP.

Maybe, you might say, the moment has arrived to take a look at the Mac. You can easily order one online, of course. But if you’d like to take a test-drive before you commit, odds are that you’ll have to look far and wide for a store that sells it. The Mac’s presence in the retail world remains limited, a shame given the rare opportunity for Apple to gain market share that opened up when Vista arrived.

The Mac’s worldwide market share was 3 percent as of June 2007, according to Roger L. Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, a consulting firm in Wayland, Mass. That forlorn number looks even worse compared with Apple’s peak worldwide share of 14 percent in 1984, the year the Macintosh was introduced and sales of Apple II computers were the company’s mainstay.

Mr. Kay noted that Apple’s share was as low as 2 percent as recently as early 2004. He said the increase to 3 percent may be a result of the “halo effect” produced by the success of the iPod. It could also just as easily be attributed to Apple’s simply offering better products at more competitive prices, he added.

Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and chief executive, can hardly be satisfied with a 3 percent share after more than 20 years of selling the Mac. Consider whether Mr. Jobs would be able to deem the iPod a success if it had gained only 3 percent of the market for portable players. After all, he gave Microsoft’s poor Zune exactly one month to succeed before he mocked the Zune’s 2 percent market share at the Macworld conference in January.

The best time for gaining market share is when your main competitor stumbles while introducing an entirely new version of its core product. Thanks to Microsoft’s lumbering pace, Mr. Jobs had six years to look forward to the moment when XP would be replaced by Vista.

When the long-awaited moment arrived, Vista turned out to be in as sorry a state of semicompletion as Mr. Jobs could have hoped for. Many pieces of hardware that customers already owned, like printers, turned out to be incompatible with the new Vista models.

The spectacle of Microsoft’s customers scrambling to avoid buying machines with Vista was a sight to be savored for those watching from Apple’s offices in Cupertino, Calif. Dell had to retract its initial all-Vista policy and reintroduce an XP option to appease distraught customers.

The Mac was seemingly well positioned for the moment in many ways. The transition to Intel microprocessors was complete. The OS X Tiger was a sleek, feature-rich, polished operating system. (Leopard, the next iteration, is scheduled to be released in October.)

The I’m-a-Mac/I’m-a-PC commercials that began in 2006 found endless ways to draw entertaining comparisons between the joys of owning a Mac and the hassles of owning a PC. The evolution of the software industry also worked in the Mac’s favor: users spent far more time within a browser, insulated from operating system-specific software, and the Mac’s new Intel foundation made it easy to run Windows applications speedily on a Mac.

The official line from Apple is that all has gone swimmingly. The company said it shipped 1.52 million Macs in the first quarter of this year, up 35 percent from the year-ago quarter. In the second quarter through June 30, it shipped 1.76 million Macs, up 32 percent from a year ago, an all-time quarterly record.

Funny thing, though: based on the ratio of Windows and Macs actually in use, no gains can be seen for Apple.

The Mac’s share of personal computers has actually edged a bit lower since Vista’s release in January, and the various flavors of Windows a bit higher, according to Net Applications, a firm in Aliso Viejo, Calif., that monitors the operating systems among visitors to 40,000 customer Web sites.

To try to win over customers when Vista appeared, Mr. Jobs and his managers did not enlist resellers for the Mac with the same enthusiasm that they showed in building Apple’s own network of retail stores. In the war for operating system share, there’s no substitute for boots on the ground to retake territory, shelf by shelf.

Hewlett-Packard, the world’s largest PC company, sells its computers in 23,000 retail stores in the United States alone. (An Apple spokesman said that the company did not release the number of its resellers in the United States, but the company said it operated 185 Apple stores.)

Matthew H. Kather, senior technology analyst at W. R. Hambrecht & Company, said, “You could grow your share a lot faster if you could get your Mac retail presence up.”

APPLE was organized in a way that was bound to lead to neglect of the Mac and the retail channel. The 10 members of the company’s executive team include a senior vice president who is responsible for the iPod and nothing else. Another is in charge of only the stores Apple owns. No one’s sole responsibility is the Mac. The Mac’s sales are under the purview of the chief operating officer, Timothy D. Cook, who has other things on his plate, like running the entire company.

Apple began working with the retail chain Best Buy in spring 2006 on a pilot project to obtain shelf space for Macs. Given Apple’s long, tempestuous history with many retail chains, restoring trust has been tough. (Best Buy dropped the Mac in 1999 when Apple continued to ship models and colors that pleased itself, and not those ordered by Best Buy).

The six-store pilot with Best Buy was expanded to 50 stores by the end of 2006. There are now 200 stores, with plans to expand to 300 this fall. Best Buy, however, has not yet agreed to place the Mac in all 872 stores. If Apple had begun wooing Best Buy two years ago, and perhaps appointed an ambassador to look after the relationships with the chain and other resellers, the Mac would have been much better off.

Apple has not even begun to try to re-enter another domain from which it had withdrawn its Mac sales teams: large corporations. Given such strategic decisions, the Mac has limited room to expand.

However, the opportunity for Apple that has been opened by Vista’s introduction is temporary. Mr. Kay, of Endpoint, described a Microsoft operating system and its thousands of certified supporting hardware vendors and the two million device drivers as forming an enormous flywheel.

“It takes a lot of energy to spin it up,” he said, “but once it gets going, it’s virtually unstoppable.”


Blu-ray, HD DVD will co-exist

Both the Blu-ray and HD DVD high-definition formats can get a firm foothold and co-exist "for the foreseeable future" in the U.S and Western Europe, according to a report by media analysts Screen Digest.

The report, which examines the evolution of the high-definition market until 2011, suggests that studios supporting only a single format will be missing out on significant potential revenues in coming years by not making their product available on both Blu-ray and HD DVD.

The U.K.-based research org predicts combined consumer spending for both formats will reach $1.55 billion in 2008, up from the $438 million mark projected for this year.

Screen Digest estimates that studios supporting one format are missing out on an estimated $270 million in consumer spending next year.

"Christmas 2007 is going to be critical for the hi-def video business," says Richard Cooper, Screen Digest Video Analyst. "Both formats will be seeking to secure consumer buy-in to their proposition during the critical holiday season but with so much at stake on both sides we think it is highly unlikely that one format will emerge as the 'winner.'

"Once it becomes clear that both formats are gaining customer acceptance, studios that have chosen to support one format over the other will realize that they are missing out on potential sales and will have to decide how long they can afford to place principle over profit.

"We believe that eventually most will decide to offer their titles on both HD DVD and Blu-ray in order to maximize their returns."


AMD Finds The Beat With Barcelona

The turf-war between AMD and Intel is about to heat up. On Monday, a JPMorgan analyst upgraded Advanced Micro Devices to "neutral" from "hold" and predicted that the chipmaker should steal market share from its larger rival.

Shares of AMD edged up 0.2%, or 3 cents, to $12.72 during noon trading, while shares of Intel (nasdaq: INTC - news - people ) were down 0.4%, or 9 cents, to $24.84.

This month, AMD released Barcelona, the long awaited quad-core server processor. Unlike Intel's quad-core chip, Barcelona features four cores on one piece of silicon. For comparison, Intel's chip simply fuses two dual-core chips together. Although Intel will be the goliath of the chip market for a long time, AMD's new chip closes "the performance gap between AMD and Intel in the server segment," said JPMorgan analyst Christopher Danely. The chip will allow AMD to "stem its losses in the server market and gain back share," Danely added.

Intel currently owns 87% of the server processor market. Even at AMD's height--in the second quarter of 2006--it could only boast a 26% market share, versus Intel's 74%. Nevertheless, the new Barcelona chip, and and an upgraded version to come--expected by the end of December--will pose a considerable challenge to Intel. (See: "Intel Works Its Quads." ) AMD has also aggressively flown the Barcelona banner in 2007. Almost every major sever vendor, such as Dell (nasdaq: DELL - news - people ), IBM (nyse: IBM - news - people ) and Hewlett-Packard (nyse: HPQ - news - people ), will offer the chip on its servers.

According to Danely, the current version of Barcelona outperforms Intel's current offering in the kind of high-performance computing jobs required in research labs and institutions even as it lags in business computing tasks. Even so, the next iteration of the Barcelona chips should mostly outperform Intel's next generation Penryn chip, Danely added.

Regardless of how the chip wars plays out Danely said both makers should benefit from a stronger personal computer environment going forward this year. That's welcome news for AMD, which recently reported its third-straight quarterly loss back in July. The analyst said commentary from a number of tech companies, including Intel, Intersil (nasdaq: ISIL - news - people ) and Nvidia, indicates that PC demand should rise and pricing pressure should soften.

That's all good news but AMD will still have to figure out its balance sheet, which is weak in cash and heavy on debt. At the end of the second quarter, the company had over $5 billion in debt to $1.6 million in cash. "Although its margins should improve, we believe AMD will continue to lose money because Intel has superior products and cost structure," Danely said. "We believe it will be difficult for the company to make money unless it drastically scales back production."

Criminals target trusted websites

Trusted websites have become the patient zero for some viral epidemics in the virtual world with sophisticated cyber-criminals using them to lure unsuspecting computer users into spreading their malicious code.

And Canada is a key global player in the dark side of the Internet, now ranking second worldwide after Israel as the top source of malicious Internet activity.

These are among the findings of Symantec's Internet Security Threat Report Trends for the first six months of this year, released today.

"The Web is becoming patient zero for infections and we are now faced with situations where even the guys you would normally trust have an issue," said Dean Turner, director of Symantec's global intelligence networks. "The Web has really become the focal point.

"Instead of the bad guys going to you, you are going to them."

The threat comes from the increasing number of trusted websites being hacked by the professional criminals who have sophisticated commercial tools that allow them to operate vast networks of infected computers.

Even government websites are not immune from the hackers.

"What we found was that governments are the targets and the victims of the same thing as enterprises are when it comes to hosting phishing sites," said Turner.

Phishing is a technique used by cyber-criminals to acquire sensitive personal data such as credit- card and banking information.

Turner said 23 per cent of all government websites hosting phishing sites were on government domains in Thailand. And the study found that four per cent of all malicious activity detected during the first six month of 2007 originated from Internet Protocol space registered with Fortune 100 companies.

"Fortune 100 companies control seven per cent of all IP space worldwide, so it is pretty significant when we see that activity coming from the Fortune 100 - that's a lot of IP space."

Turner said that figure is likely explained by criminals capitalizing on the unused IP space of the companies.

"The bad guys know," he said. "If they are looking for activity on this IP space and they are not seeing any, they know it is fertile ground."

Turner said Canadians spend the most time online of any computer users in the world, a trend he said could explain this country's high ranking in malicious Internet activity.

Among other findings of the report:

- Bot networks, networks of infected computers that are controlled by criminals, have a lifespan of 19 days in Canada, the longest lifespan of bot networks anywhere in the world.

- The U.S. was the target of the most denial of service (DOS) attacks, accounting for 61 per cent of all such attacks worldwide in the first half of this year.

- The U.S. also was the top country of origin for attack, accounting for 25 per cent of all global attacks.

- The education sector topped all sectors for data breaches that could lead to identity theft, accounting for 30 per cent of all such data breaches over the first six months of 2007.

- The theft or loss of computer or other data-storage medium made up 46 percent of all data breaches that could lead to identity theft in the first half of this year.

- Credit cards, at 22 per cent of all items, were the most common commodity listed in the underground economy and 85 per cent of the cards being sold were issued by banks in the U.S.


Nonprofit group hikes price of "$100 laptop"

nonprofit group that plans to produce low-cost computers for poor children has raised the laptops' price, a spokesman for the foundation said on Friday.

The One Laptop per Child Foundation's XO laptop will sell for about $188, up from the $176 the group announced in May, said foundation spokesman George Snell.

That's almost double the original goal of the foundation's founder, Nicholas Negroponte, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher and the brother of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.

Negroponte, who founded the MIT Media Lab, often refers to the product as the "$100 laptop."

Production is slated to begin in October.

"We are testing it. We are making sure all the software works," he said. "We are making all the corrections on it that need to be made before the product comes out."

The foundation plans to sell the computers directly to governments, which will provide the laptops to grammar school children at no cost.


SpiralFrog Music Site Launches Monday, an ad-supported Web site that allows visitors to download music and videos free of charge, was scheduled to launch Monday in the U.S. and Canada after months of "beta" testing.

The music service, which has arranged to pay record companies a cut of its advertising revenue, aims to lure music fans who normally flock to online file-swapping networks to share and download music for free. The recording industry has sued thousands of computer users for doing so in recent years.

"We believe it will be a very powerful alternative to the pirate sites," said Joe Mohen, chairman and founder of New York-based SpiralFrog Inc. "With SpiralFrog you know what you're getting ... there's no threat of viruses, adware or spyware."

To deter users from posting copies of songs and videos they get from SpiralFrog, the service requires that users register and log on to the site at least once a month. Otherwise, the content locks up and can't be played.

The Web site's registration screen queries users on demographic filters such as their age, gender and ZIP code. The information is used to determine what kind of ads the users see when they are on the site.

Like other online music services, the SpiralFrog site also features reviews and other information on its artists.

At launch, the service was offering more than 800,000 tracks and 3,500 music videos for download. Much of that content comes by way of Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group, the world's largest record company and the only major label that has licensed its music and videos to SpiralFrog.

The site, which also boasts content from independent record labels, expects to have more than 2 million tracks over the next several months, Mohen said.

Though free, the audio and video files on SpiralFrog carry copy protections like those found on tracks available for sale at Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store and elsewhere.

Downloads cannot be burned to a CD, but they can be transferred to dozens of digital music players. The content, however, is not compatible with Apple's Macintosh computers or its market-leading iPod.

Users are allowed to copy their downloads to no more than two portable music players or compatible mobile phones at one time.

SpiralFrog began allowing some computer users to try out the service earlier this year.

The company aroused interest last fall after it announced its licensing deals with Universal Music and performing rights organization Broadcast Music Inc. But the company missed its early 2007 launch and instead underwent an executive shuffle that ended with the ouster of then-CEO Robin Kent.

Mohen has attributed delays to the time-consuming process of obtaining rights from music publishers and other technical issues.