Friday, October 31, 2008

GI: Gmail Adds SMS Chat

No, GI doesn't mean gastrointestinal. No, in text-message speak, it means "Good Idea," and this is one of the better Gmail Labs ideas of late. Google has added SMS chat to Gmail.

Google started rolling it out last night. Being a Labs feature, you'll have to turn it on in your Labs settings, not normal Gmail settings. To do so, got into Settings, then Labs, and enable it. Go into Chat, type in a phone number, and you'll see an SMS option.

While you could email a user and have it result in a text message to them (such as using the address, that would only create a temporary identifier for that "session." A friend couldn't use that to text you back, at least "much" later. This feature adds the added convenience of giving them a permanent "number" they can text you back at.

The "number" will have a 406 area code. Once you use Gmail chat to send an SMS, that number will be associated with your Gmail account permanently. Your friends can then text you back and initiate SMS chats at that number.

Google lists it on its "What's new in Gmail" page but no official blog post anywhere --- yet.
Text messaging in chat (US phones only for now)
AOL's Instant Messenger already supported SMS messaging in chat, so it's good for Google to play catch-up with this. For me, since Gmail is my email of choice (I redirect other email addresses to Gmail as well), it makes Gmail even more of a Swiss-Army knife.

Sony Does It Again: More Notebook Batteries Recalled

It's been about two years since millions of Sony notebook batteries across many different OEM lines were recalled, due to overheating --- and fire problems. Hopefully you haven't forgotten about that, because here we are again.

Here's hoping this isn't the beginning of another long list of recalls involving Sony batteries. At any rate, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission issued the recall on Thursday.

According to the recall,
There have been 19 reports of the batteries overheating, including 17 reports of flames/fire (10 resulting in minor property damage). Two consumers experienced minor burns.
Check out the full list below. It's pretty long, bug only consists of about 35,000 batteries --- for now. Let's hope it stays that way.

Computer ManufacturerUnitsNotebook ModelBattery Model
Hewlett-PackardAbout 32,000HP Pavilion: dv1000, dv8000 and zd8000
Compaq Presario: v2000 and v2400
HP Compaq: nc6110, nc6120, nc6140, nc6220, nc6230,
nx4800, nx4820, nx6110, nx6120, nx9600
Recalled batteries will have a bar code
label starting with A0, L0, L1 or GC
ToshibaAbout 3,000Satellite: A70/A75, P30/P5, M30X/M35X, M50/M55
Tecra: A3, A5, S2
DellAbout 150Latitude: 110L
Inspiron: 1100, 1150, 5100, 5150, 5160

Update: this USCPC recall was for 35,000 batteries. However, according to Sony, an additional 2,000 faulty batteries were shipped in the Japanese market, and another 63,000 went to consumers in other regions, including Europe and Asia. Recall notices for those other regions are expected shortly.


LG Lotus: Not as "Square" as It Looks

Yes, the recently introduced LG Lotus is a rather strange-looking phone. It's a square clamshell phone measuring 2.4" x 0.7" x 3.3", and weighing 3.7 ounces. Once you flip it open, you'll see a 2.4" 240 x 320 diagonal screen and a QWERTY keyboard.

The LG Lotus comes in either purple or black, but I'll warn you: the purple version has floral engravings, so I'm guessing most guys will pass on that color.

The unusual shape of the LG Lotus, designed by Christian Sirano, means it's a bit wide, which makes it a little uncomfortable for those with smaller hands. It does mean, however, that you get a wider-than-average 1.4" external display.

But while a square-shaped flip is unusual, the LG Lotus itself, when in use (and with appropriately-sized hands), isn't really that bad a phone.

The LG Lotus has all the typical features that cell phones today have, along with a 2-megapixel camera, GPS, and it comes with Sprint's new One Click navigation interface.

One Click consists of eight shortcut tiles along the bottom of the home screen, and each tile can become any of 15 shortcuts to applications. Sprint calls it a sort of "carousel," if you can visualize it.

The LG Lotus is a messaging phone, though, so the big question is: how is the keyboard. I liked it. As more and more manufacturers squeeze QWERTY keyboards into slimmer (width-wise) design, spacing has become a premium. In this case, the keys are well-spaced, so errors weren't as frequent as with recent phones I've tried like the Treo Pro or Nokia E71.

After all, we know texting is the cash cow of carriers, so they'd better get it right.

I've never been that big a fan of Sprint's coverage in the SF Bay Area (there are a lot of holes), but for testing purposes, it was fine. Nothing was wrong with call quality or Bluetooth connectivity. Sprint says the phone has up to 5.5 hours of continuous talk time. Overall a decent phone.

The LG Lotus' current price on Sprint's site is $150 including a two-year contract and the normal "instant savings" of $150. Of course, comparing it to an iPhone at $199 (though the lower-end model), you might think twice about it.

comScore: Low(er) Income Households Adopting the iPhone as Times Turn Tough

You'd think that the majority of iPhone buyers would be in higher income ranges, and while that may be true, a new study by market research firm comScore indicates that low(er) income folks are adopting the iPhone, using it as a sort of Swiss-Army Knife in terms of gadgetry, while cutting back their spending on standalone electronics.

The iPhone could be used as a phone, a music player, a camera and a way to connect to the Internet. Of course, without a tethering app, you're stuck looking at the Web in a relatively small screen --- OK for short sessions, but it would drive me crazy if that's all I had.

The study reports on the demographics of iPhone users for the first time. While 43% of iPhone owners earn in excess of $100,000 annually, the study indicated that the strongest growth in users is coming from those earning less than the U.S. median household income.

iPhone adoption since June 2008 rose 48% among those earning between $25,000 and $50,000 annually and by 46% among those earning between $25,000 and $75,000. According to comScore, this is 3x the growth rate for those making more than $100,000 annually, while overall, iPhone penetration grew 21%.

Jen Wu, senior analyst, comScore, the report’s author said:
"As an additional household budget item, a $200 device plus at least $70 per month for phone service seems a bit extravagant for those with lower disposable income. However, one actually realizes cost savings when the device is used in lieu of multiple digital devices and services, transforming the iPhone from a luxury item to a practical communication and entertainment tool."
The study tracked changes in comScore's monthly online survey of 33,962 mobile-phone users. It should be noted that while the 48% jump in the 25 - 50K range is big, the sheer numbers themselves, 266 - 394, are not.

Also among the 25 - 50K range, however, the number of people accessing news and information via their mobile browser grew by 5% since June, while the overall market grew by 3%. comScore also reported, among that same 25 - 50K range, a 6% growth in mobile e-mail usage (vs. 8% overall) and 5% growth in mobile music consumption (vs. a drop of 0.3% overall).

Mark Donovan, senior analyst, comScore said:
"These data indicate that lower-income mobile subscribers are increasingly turning to their mobile devices to access the Internet, e-mail and their music collections. Smartphones, and the iPhone in particular, are appealing to a new demographic and satisfying demand for a single device for communication and entertainment, even as consumers weather the economy by cutting back on gadgets."

Apple Details MobileMe Update

On Wednesday Apple detailed the changes it made to the MobileMe service in late September (not exactly prompt info, but oh, well). The service has been under fire since its inception, with problems so bad that Apple has offered up not one, but two different subscription extensions to users.

In their Knowledge Base article, Apple made sure to point out to end users that since MobileMe is a "cloud-based" service, they don't have to push updates to end users for a fix to occur. Well, yeah. They said:
Since server-side updates are a bit more innocuous than a standard software update to Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows, it's easy not to notice that updates are occurring. Usually the only hint of these updates is that things just "work better".
Personally, yes, MobileMe is working better for me. I still get the occasional pop-up that says there's some sort of communication error between the client and server.

There are a lot of changes detailed, but some of the more interesting ones are:

MobileMe Mail
  • Improves performance in Internet Explorer 7 (yes, it's interesting that since the start IE users have been semi-crippled)
  • Improves performance when Junk Mail filtering is enabled or when logging into MobileMe Mail
  • Provides a "loading" graphic to indicate that messages are still being loaded instead of a blank page
MobileMe Account
  • Improves accuracy of the MobileMe data transfer details
  • Addresses an inaccuracy of used storage in a Group iDisk
  • Improves storage allocation menu for family pack sub-accounts
  • Clicking Logout from Account now fully logs you out of MobileMe (ah, fully, eh?)
MobileMe Calendar
  • Improves calendar performance with reoccurring events
  • Improves International time zone handling
  • Improves performance in Mozilla Firefox 3 when switching views
  • Improves performance with a large number of To Do items
  • Improves reliability when first loading MobileMe Calendar
MobileMe Contacts
  • Re-enables the ability to export vCards from MobileMe contacts
  • Improves performance with Internet Explorer 7 (again with IE)
  • Improves reliability when first loading MobileMe Contacts
Lots of performance improvements (one of the big complaints, natch) and lots of fixes for IE 7 users. Let's not forget that despite the fact that Firefox has made huge inroads into IE's market share, IE still controls the largest chunk, eh Apple?

In early August, Steve Jobs admitted that it was a mistake on his part to try to launch MobileMe at the same time as the iPhone 3G and App Store.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Beatles, MTV to Join Forces for New Video Game

The Beatles are a stranger to Apple and iTunes, but apparently not so to MTV and their video game subsidiary Harmonix (Rock Band). A deal between the parties was announced on Thursday morning by MTV and the band's own Apple Corps Ltd.

For those not in the know, Apple Corps Ltd. is the multimedia corporation founded in January 1968 by The Beatles to replace their earlier company (Beatles Ltd.).

I received an invitation to the event on Wednesday, and the fact that my invitation was from The Beatles' Apple Corps and MTV raised a great deal of suspicion on my part. Additionally, leaked information to outlets such as the Wall Street Journal confirmed it. The Beatles join Aerosmith, Metallica, and Jimi Hendrix (Guitar Hero) and AC/DC (Rock Band) as the latest --- and biggest -- group to license its songs to a music-oriented video game.

In June, the Financial Times reported that the Beatles were in negotiation with both Activision (Guitar Hero) and MTV Games (Rock Band). It appears MTV won the battle, but not for Rock Band, but for a new game, built from the ground up.

Yes, you read that right. This will not be a Rock Band game, but a brand new game. More on that later.

I have to admit, when I joined the call, it was humorous to be placed on hold and hear nothing but music --- Beatles music, of course.

The hosts in attendance were the following:
  • Jeff Jones, CEO of Apple Corps, Ltd.
  • Judy McGrath, Chairman and CEO of MTV Networks
  • Van Toffler, President of MTV Networks Music/Logo Group
According to Van Toffler, the project has been "blessed" by the surviving Beatles (Paul Ringo McCartney, Starr) as well as Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison.

Alex Rigopulos, CEO and Co-Founder, Harmonix indicated this will not be a sequel or add on to Rock Band, but as I said, a new, built-from-the-ground-up custom game title for The Beatles only.

Q&A information:
The Beatles game is as yet unnamed. Unfortunately, it won't make a release this year. It will be released for next year's holiday season. No exact date, but it will be worldwide.

It will cover the entire Beatles catalog from start to finish.

Rock Band interoperability and possible Rock Band titles with The Beatles, they're not ready to discuss as yet. In fact, MTV, Harmonix and Apple Corps kept getting asked about compatibility with Rock Band gear, add-ons to Rock Band, over and over, and they kept repeating the above mantra.

In terms of this, MTV et. al. added they were not trying to be difficult, but as the game is still under development and a long way off, they can't answer a lot of the questions.

Platforms: not ready to discuss. No surprise really, the project is still far from completion.

Discussions began 17 months ago. The deal involved EMI, Sony ATV, but they only information they gave is that it's not a typical about The Beatles. As they said, "there's nothing typical about The Beatles."
While this is big news, bigger news is that this sort of deal may signal a relaxation of the Beatles so far rather strict outlook on digital distribution (yes, we are talking iTunes and other digital downloads). However, when asked about possible digital distribution , MTV was noncommittal, but indicated it was something under discussion. About the best you could hope for, I suppose.

Based on the release date, and although they have been working on a deal for 17 months, it's possible that the deal between MTV and The Beatles came to fruition --- well, just now.

Besides the information from the teleconference, here are some quotes given to the media in an emailed press release.
"The project is a fun idea which broadens the appeal of The Beatles and their music. I like people having the opportunity to get to know the music from the inside out," Sir Paul McCartney said.

"It gives me great pleasure to be part of The Beatles / Apple and Harmonix / Rock Band partnership,” said Ringo Starr. “The Beatles continue to evolve with the passing of time and how wonderful that The Beatles’ legacy will find its natural progression into the 21st century through the computerized world we live in. Let the games commence.”

“It’s cool. I love it and hope it will keep inspiring and encouraging the young generation for many decades,” said Yoko Ono Lennon.

"People are having so much fun playing Rock Band. Combined with The Beatles tracks, it is a great way to either listen or participate,” said Olivia Harrison. “If you like the music, it doesn't take much persuasion to get you to play."
If you want to hear the teleconference yourself, a replay of today’s Apple Corps and MTV announcement will be available beginning at 1:30 PM EDT through Tuesday, November 4th. To access the replay, dial 1-(888) 203-1112 (U.S.) or (719) 457-0820 (International) and enter the passcode 7847158.

AT&T Opens Wi-Fi Hotspots to iPhones: This Time for Sure

AT&T has announced this twice (1, 2) before, but I think this time it will stick. AT&T announced today that they are now offering free wi-fi access to iPhone users at their hotspots across the U.S.

In fact, the text of their announcement is very similar (nearly identical) to the leaks that occurred previously:
AT&T knows Wi-Fi is hot, and FREE Wi-Fi is even hotter. Which is why FREE AT&T Wi-Fi access is now available for Apple iPhone at thousands of hotspots nationwide, including Starbucks*. Users can relax and access music, email and web browsing services with their favorite blend in hand from the comfort of their nearest location. For information visit
Yes, we've heard this all before, AT&T. But it will stick this time. How do I know? I received a text message from AT&T telling me about it (as shown). That's gotta mean something!

You can locate Wi-Fi spots through AT&T's online tool or you can locate a Starbucks here. In order to access AT&T Wi-Fi from your iPhone, you must follow these steps:
  • Activate Wi-Fi from the settings icon on your iPhone
  • Select "attwifi" from the list of available networks
  • Enter your 10-digit mobile number and check the box to agree to the Acceptable Use Policy. Tap 'continue'
  • You will receive a text message from AT&T with a secure link to the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot. You will not be charged for the text message.
  • The SMS link will only be valid for 24 hours at the location it was requested. Another request must be submitted when using another hotspot location.
  • Open the text message and tap on the link for 24-hour access to the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot
And that's how they got around the issue of people changing their browser's user-agent so they could access wi-fi for free at Starbucks, even without an iPhone (as long as they had a valid phone number). Clever.

Now let's see if someone figures a way around it.

Mac Clone Maker Psystar to Develop Laptop, Ship Blu-ray Drives

Apparently Psystar isn't one to sit idle while mediation over their legal battle with Apple takes place. Some might be inclined to not "rock the boat," but not this firm.

First, in a press release, Psystar announced it was going to begin shipping systems with Blu-ray drives as well as NVIDIA 9800 GT video cards, beating Apple on both counts. Of course, you may recall that Steve Jobs went so far as to say that "Blu-ray is a bag of hurt." and that:
The licensing of the technology is so complex that we're just waiting until things settle down and waiting until Blu-ray really takes off in the marketplace before we burden our customers with the cost of the licensing and the drives."
He may have a point, as the ongoing economic crisis has led some analysts to say that Blu-ray is going to miss the boat, so to speak, of widespread consumer adoption.

But at any rate, Psystar isn't hanging around waiting:
Psystar Corporation, the leading manufacturer of OS X-compatible PCs, is now shipping PCs with Blu-ray optical disc drives and the nVidia 9800GT graphics card. Psystar is shipping Blu-ray and 9800GT equipped computers before Apple's release of these peripheral products on their own computers. Apple, developer of the OS X operating system, has chosen to delay support for Blu-ray with Apple CEO Steve Jobs citing it as "a bag of hurt" during the recent release of the new Apple notebooks. Psystar president Rudy Pedraza countered:

"Blu-ray has already won the format war. Not only is there fully functional and mature support for Blu-ray in other operating systems but you can now rent Blu-ray discs from almost any rental chain. Blu-ray has become pervasive technology that is being widely adopted by consumers everywhere."
At the same time, an email sent to an AppleInsider reader, which said the company was working on a MacBook clone, has been confirmed by the company as well. The email said:
Thank you for your interest in Open Computing. Although there is no mobile open computer at the moment, I can tell you that it is something that is in development. Once we release a final product, it will be posted on our website along with an automatic notification for all Open Computing newsletter subscribers.

No release day or price has been set for any potential mobile product line. However I can assure you that at release it will be very competitively priced.

Thank you for your inquiry.
This makes sense, as one doesn't need to be hit over the head with a notebook to know that notebooks are in, and desktops, while not out, are on the decline. Just this week IDC announced that notebook shipments have overtaken desktops for the first time.

Time to wait and see if Apple takes more offense at this and decides to back out of medication.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Mini 1000: HP Gets More (Net)Book-ish

You'll recall HP unveiled the 2133 Mini-Note PC in April, and they've apparently been pleased --- despite the influx of others to the netbook party --- with the results. On Wednesday they unveiled a new line of netbooks.

The Mini 1000 comes in three flavors, ranging in starting price from $379 to $699, and is available at retailers worldwide starting today, in the standard version, anyway.

When it first introduced the Mini-Note 2133, HP said it was targeted for the education market. It was pretty emphatic that the 2133 was not intended to compete with the Asus Eee PC, the first and defining netbook, in the consumer space.

But the 1000 series is targeted right at that market. Why the change? Why else? While not giving specific sales figures, HP now the sales of the 2133 "exceeded all expectations." Well, duh, there's your reason right there.

The new HP Mini 1000, Mini 1000 MIE (coming in January), and the Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam Edition (coming soon) are very much intended for consumers.

As opposed to the 2133 with its VIA C7 CPU, the Mini 100 line comes with the more netbook-ish Intel Atom N270 1.6 GHz CPU.

HP describes them as follows:
The HP Mini 1000 features a piano-black finish with HP Imprint swirl design is pre-installed with Windows® XP Home, making access to the web, critical files and PC applications easily portable. It includes an Ethernet jack, two USB ports, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth® wireless capabilities. Versions with 3G capabilities are expected to be available in December.

Configuration choices include screen size – 8.9-inch or 10.2-inch diagonal BrightView display – and solid-state or mechanical hard-drive options.

The HP Mini 1000 Vivienne Tam Edition comes in vibrant red with a peony-flower inspired design that reflects the globally acclaimed fashion designer’s Spring 2009 collection. It seeks to satisfy the highly mobile, Internet-centric fashionista and features a 10.2-inch diagonal BrightView display.

Its design was first unveiled on the runway of Tam’s Fall 2009 Fashion Week show in Battery Park in New York, although many on the scene mistook it for a purse rather than the companion PC that it is. Tam labeled it the world’s first “digital clutch.”

The Vivienne Tam Edition companion PC runs Windows XP Home, making the web, critical files and PC applications easily portable. It includes an Ethernet jack, two USB ports, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless capabilities. Versions with 3G capabilities are expected to be available in December.

The HP Mini 1000 with MIE (Mobile Internet Experience) is a uniquely simple, mobile Internet companion. An HP-developed interface makes it easy to enjoy digital content – videos, photos, music and email – on demand and on the go. MIE comes loaded with instant messaging, email and Skype for online video chat, making it easy to enjoy social-media experiences anywhere consumers are connected.

Applications enabling browsing, email and online video are pre-loaded and run from the MIE dashboard, minimizing startup time. Favorite websites that are added to the dashboard stay live, and the taskbar makes it easy to switch between programs.

The HP Mini 1000 with MIE runs the Linux operating system. It includes an Ethernet jack, two USB ports, and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless capabilities.
So, the 1000 is the base, the Vivienne Tam edition is about bling, and the MIE version has a Linux OS and is sort of like a super-duper Palm Foleo.

While the MIE is Linux-based, HP doesn't want the end user to know that. The HP MediaStyle interface is available on it. HP says it will keep users from ever having to interact with the actual OS.

Carlos Montalvo, vice president of marketing for the Personal Systems Group at HP said:
"It's important we made sure that Linux does not manifest itself to the user."
In other words, most users don't know (and don't want to know) Linux, and we don't want to scare them off.

While $399 is the starting price for the Mini 1000, it should be noted that HP's "recommended" version of that netbook, with more RAM, larger screen, larger HD, etc. comes in at $524.99. So keep that in mind when thinking about this netbook.

Windows 7 Gets Its Unveiling

On Tuesday, at PDC, Microsoft made an API-complete, pre-beta version of Windows 7 (also known as "Milestone 3") available to attendees and press, as expected. While there was no further information on an exact release date, in a keynote address, Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live, said that the first public beta of the OS will be available early next year.

The Windows 7 beta will be followed by test releases and release candidates that incorporate feedback from end users.

All software and hardware that works with Windows Vista will work with Windows 7, because the operating system kernel is the same as the one in Vista and Windows Server 2008, said Sinsofsky.

He added:
"All of this device and compatibility work will pay off in Windows 7."
Basically he's saying, all the hard work necessary to get the compatibility issues with Windows Vista ironed out finally make its mark by making Windows 7 compatibility seamless.

While not saying that UAC and its pop-ups messages will disappear, which would be my wish, Sinofsky indicated that the UAC in Windows 7 would annoy users a heck of a lot less. Users will be able to set how frequently the pop-ups appear, in a range from "always" to "never." Hopefully "never" will be the default (unlikely).

Windows 7 will also sport touch-screen technology, though naturally not every PC will come with such. This tech will gain the name "fingertip computing," and when a user touches the screen the mouse arrow will disappear, and you will see a tiny wave-like image in its place, surrounding your finger and indicating where you are touching.

Sounds kind of like the effect invoked by surface tension on some surfaces when you place your finger on them.

Paint, WordPad, and Calculator, those applets that have been around since the earliest versions of Windows are getting refreshed, with both Paint and WordPad getting the Ribbon (no!), and Calculator getting history, unit conversion, calculation templates, and date calculations.

More tweaks: the Taskbar gets streamlined. Users can drag buttons and place them where they want on the Taskbar (ever groan over an obsessive displeasure with the Taskbar button location on your Taskbar?). They can also be pinned = no need for a Quick Launch area. There's also a small button at the far right of the Taskbar that lets you "peek" at the desktop, or just show it (click above to see "peeking").

Microsoft has added "Jump Lists" to the Taskbar and Start Menu, which pop out whenever you hover over an app's Taskbar or Start Menu button, and display "contextualized tasks." These are usually the most recent used documents or tasks for the app.

And, a lot of the dross is being removed. It has to be, if Windows 7 is going to run on a netbook, which was demonstrated at PDC when Sinofsky held up his own personal "unnamed" netbook with 1 GB of RAM and half of it still available after boot.

Sinofsky said Microsoft has worked on decreasing memory requirements, disk I/O, and power usage, while at the same time increasing speed, responsiveness and scale (Windows 7 will support up to 256 CPUs).

There are tons of other changes, but somehow the more Windows OSes I see, the more similarities I see, and the less impressed I am. Even with XP to Vista, I said it was pretty evolutionary, and this seems the same here.

I think that the word "changes" is the reason. I seem to compare a new OS to an old one and see it as a change from an earlier one. Of course, when you maintain even the registry hacks that existed in a prior OS (such as XP to Vista), it's hard to discount that opinion.

Still, in mid-October, Steve Ballmer said Windows 7 was going to be "Windows Vista, but a lot better." It seems that Microsoft will do its best to make that happen. Still much, much more to come.

Finally! Microsoft to Extend Office to the Browser

Tuesday at PDC, Microsoft announced that its next release of Microsoft Office (Office 14) will include web-based versions of its "most popular" apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Note that these will be "lightweight" versions of these applications, but people will be able to use a browser to create and edit Office documents; collaboration, of course, is a feature as well.

While it's been about a year since Microsoft introduced Office Live Workspace, that is more of a way to collaborate or store documents online, and access them via an existing copy of Microsoft Office (on your PC). This would be more of an answer to Google Docs and other web-based suites.

One of the reasons I have not adopted Google Docs is it's not 100%-compatible. Particularly Spreadsheet-wise, where some functions are missing, or in Docs where the formatting is not always consistent with Microsoft. I would assume Microsoft would ensure compatibility with their desktop version, thus removing that objection.

On the other hand, if they pull another "ribbon" on users by changing the UI, I may just stick with Office Live Workspace.

Microsoft is calling these this suite "Office Web Applications." These versions will come in two flavors: ad-supported and subscription. It's unclear at this point what the differences will be between the two versions, and pricing details are not available yet.

In their press release, Microsoft Senior Vice President Chris Capossela said:
We will deliver Office Web applications to consumers through Office Live, which is a consumer service with both ad-funded and subscription offerings. For business customers, we will offer Office Web applications as a hosted subscription service and through existing volume licensing agreements.

We will show a private technology preview of the Office Web applications later this year.
Microsoft also added they are doing this because they want to provide customers "the technology they need to succeed." The real answer, however, is they need to compete with Google Apps, not just for market share, but to show they can exist in the cloud as well as Google can.

Their solution will be 100% HTML + AJAX, not Silverlight or something proprietary. Also, they will support Firefox and Safari as well as Internet Explorer. No word on Chrome or Opera. And also, no word on release date.

What's the Twist in PopCap's New Bejeweled?

As I wrote earlier, PopCap Games unveiled the first new entry in its flagship Bejeweled franchise since Bejeweled 2 in 2004 at a gala event at Seattle's Experience Music Project Sci-Fi Museum and Hall of Fame on Monday evening.

But, it's amazing. Even when launching a casual game like Bejeweled Twist, talk of the economy enters the picture. After all, the festivities were definitely lavish.

CEO Dave Roberts, looking a little sheepish about all the glitz (including trapeze artists) said:
"We, uh, planned all this well before the trouble started, and once things started to happen we talked about whether to go ahead."
But what about the game? What exactly is the twist?

I have to admit, though it sounds much like another addictive blockbuster for PopCap, I have to wonder about four years and $1 million spent on it, simply because, it's not like going from say, Windows XP to Windows Vista.

The game remains, naturally, casual, and built on the original two games. But while you still have to make rows and columns of three identical gems, rather than swapping the positions of two side-by-side gems, you have to rotate two-by-two blocks of gems. The gems rotate clockwise and the "target set" has a circle around it, as above.

Honestly: while very familiar, it's still newly addictive.

Game price is $19.95, available now at PopCap's site (above), and on Nov. 18th at online partners such as MSN Games, RealArcade, Zylom, WildTangent ORB, Telstra and Steam, as well as retail chains including Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Target.

In their press release, PopCap outlined the new features and more:
New Features of Bejeweled Twist

Virtually every aspect of Bejeweled Twist is new and different from the previous iterations of Bejeweled, including:
  • Stunning visual and audio effects – the highest production values of any casual game, from high-definition imagery and widescreen play to subtle audio effects and a custom-composed soundtrack designed to enhance each of Bejeweled Twist's four modes of play
  • Endless rewards – from instant replays and bonus multipliers to stats and rankings
  • Deep play – the more you play, the more you'll discover new ways to play
  • All-new elements – new gem types, obstacles, challenges, and modes of play (see additional details below)
New Special Gems:
  • Flame gems are created by matching four gems of the same kind at once. When matched with like-colored gems, these fiery jewels explode with an incendiary blast.
  • Lightning gems are created by matching five gems of the same kind. When matched, they fire bolts of explosive destruction in four directions at once.
  • Fruit gems are rare but powerful gems that can only be created by making lots of consecutive matches to max out the chain meter. When the chain meter reaches its zenith, one gem on the grid is transformed into a special Fruit gem, which, when matched, vaporizes all like-colored gems, among other powerful effects.
New Obstacles:
  • Bomb gems: These appear in later stages of the game and count down with every move you make. Eliminate them via matches or adjacent explosions from Flame or Lightning gems before they reach zero; if you don't, only the last-minute disarm spinner can save you.
  • Locked Gems: Locked gems can still be matched, but they can't be moved. Break free of them with like-color matches and special gems.
  • Coal: These inert rocks can hamper your ability to match gems, but they deliver a sparkly surprise when you burst them open with Flame or Lightning gems!
Game Modes:

Bejeweled Twist has four game modes: Classic and Zen are available from the start, and you unlock the other modes as you progress:
  • Classic: The essential version of the game, Classic features Bomb gems that tick down to a deadly detonation. You need to clear them before they hit zero or it's game over!
  • Zen: You literally can't lose this in this free-form variant that is in some ways more a relaxation exercise than a puzzle. Explore dozens of alien worlds as you hone your gem-matching skills without the pressure of obstacles or time.
  • Blitz: This timed mode is perfect for both hardcore arcade players and those who only have a few minutes to spare. You have just five minutes to maximize your score in this championship variant.
  • Challenge: For a more cerebral experience, Challenge mode offers a dozen separate puzzle worlds, each with seven levels of difficulty and a final infinite stage. This mode is for the serious problem-solver.
Interested in a new twist on an old favorite? They've got the required Trial Version on their site as well. Give it a twist.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wal-Mart Confirms Bargain-Basement G1s Coming --- Wednesday

Well, not really that bargain-basement, but certainly a good discount. Wal-Mart has confirmed that on Wednesday, its stores will start begin selling the T-Mobile G1 phone at a discounted price ... $148.88 with a 2-year agreement (natch). This is $31.11 off the regular price, but more impressively, it's slightly more than 25% off.

I wrote about this earlier, but at the time it was still just a rumor, and the target date was November 24th. It's certainly unusual for a new gadget to be marked down so quickly.

However, this new info came directly from Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien, so it's genuine. The original date of late November, now that was a long wait (if you really want a T-Mobile G1, that is), but Wednesday? Pshaw, that's nothing.

As we all know, the G1 is the first Android phone, and it's been in high demand (though not iPhone-ish-type demand). Now what we don't know is why Wal-Mart insists on using "8s" for all their prices instead of the 99 or 95 everyone else does.

We also don't know if any early adopters will be really ticked about this. Obviously (or hopefully), it's not enough to start a lawsuit (such as the iPhone's price discrimination lawsuit), but some people are really cheap, er frugal. Fortunately $31.11 isn't much to get upset over.

Android Gets Exploited

Google's Android operating system for the T-Mobile G1 has a serious security vulnerability that allows malicious hackers to launch drive-by browser attacks, according to an alert from security research firm Independent Security Evaluators (ISE).

ISE is the same firm that discovered the first iPhone code execution flaw.

It seems that Google has a problem with using up-to-date open-source packages in its products. You may recall the first Chrome security flaw discovered was a result of using an out-of-date version of Webkit.

As ISE said:
The Vulnerability

Android is based on over 80 different open source packages. The vulnerability is due to the fact Google did not use the most up to date versions of all these packages. In other words, this particular security vulnerability that affects the G1 phone was known and fixed in the relevant software package, but Google used an older, still vulnerable version. So as not to inform the "bad guys", we will not release any further information on the particular vulnerability or software package until a fix is available.

The Impact

A user of an Android phone who uses the web browser to surf the internet may be exploited if they visit a malicious page. Upon visiting the malicious site, the attacker can run any code they wish with the privileges of the web browser application. We have a very reliable exploit for this issue for demonstration purposes. This exploit will not be released until a fix is available.
ISE did note, however, that because of Andriod's application sandboxing technique, any possible attack's impact is limited:
The Android security architecture is very well constructed and the impact of this attack is somewhat limited by it. A successful attacker will have access to any information the browser may use, such as cookies used for accessing sites, information put into web application form fields, saved passwords, etc. They may also change the way the browser works, tricking the user into entering sensitive information. However, they can not control other, unrelated aspects of the phone, such as dialing the phone directly.
That's good news, but for the iPhone, not so much:
This is in contrast, for example, with Apple's iPhone which does not have this application sandboxing feature and allows access to all features available to the user when compromised.

Wal-Mart to Sell the Android for a Bargain Price?

The T-Mobile G1 isn't too pricey for one of the more wanted cell phones around. After all, remember the original, unsubsidized price of the first-generation iPhone? But, one of the biggest big-box retailers may, if this rumor pans out, be offering up the G1 at $148.88 rather than the $199.99 regular price.

$31.11 may not sound like much, but it's a 25% discount, after all. According to an Engadget Mobile tip from the typical anonymous informant, Wal-Mart will be getting its hands on the G1 on the 24th of November, for the aforementioned bargain price.

While the only evidence supplied is the above photo, which shows a few Wal-Mart clipboards strewn amongst G1 pamphlets, it seems a little flimsy to me.

And the 24th would be the Monday of Thanksgiving week. Not that it lends credence to the story or discounts it, but it does seem somewhat strange. And 25% does seem somewhat steep for a pretty much brand-new device.

Still, if you're not in a rush, why not wait to see if a bargain shows up?

Dell Launches the Inspiron Mini 12 --- in Japan?

It isn't bad enough that Japan seems to get all the cool cell phones first --- and all the best Nintendo Wii games first as well --- now they've snagged the first look at Dell's latest netbook, the Inspiron Mini 12.

Yep, strangely, the Mini 12 ships first in Japan and also strangely as a retail item. According the Dell's press release, it'll ship to Bic Camera, Kojima, Sofmap stores and "other" retailers.

The U.S. will get the Mini 12 in late November in an "international" launch. Price point will be sub-$600 and there will be options for Windows XP on certain configurations as well as Ubuntu Linux.

You might ask: an option for XP? Yes, because still more strangely, Dell has opted to ship this netbook with Windows Vista Home Basic, rather than XP, as the default OS. Specs? From their press release:
With a starting weight of only 2.72 lbs. and only 0.92 - 1.09" thick, current standard features on the Inspiron Mini 12 include:
  • Windows Vista® Home Basic, built-in webcam, 1GB of RAM and a choice of 60 GB or 80 GB hard drive1, providing ample capacity for mobile applications, content creation and storage.
  • Built-in Bluetooth® and 802.11b/g wireless.
  • A sharp 12.1-inch WXGA display, offering wider viewing angles and exceptional brightness.
The CPU (unmentioned in the press release) is expected to be either a 1.3GHz Atom Z520 or 1.6GHz Atom Z530 processor (up from the usual 1.6GHz Atom N270 in most of these netbooks). The Atom CPUs definitely point to this being

Battery life? A 3-cell battery is standard, with an estimated 3 hours of battery life, but 6-cell battery will be available ($79) with about 6 hours of operation.

APC has a hands-on of the Mini 12, and pretty much said what I would have expected from this netbook running Vista: slow, slow, slow:
Using the Mini 12 proved our point: screens were slow to draw, the little spinning wheel was forever popping up to do its thing, and with more than a few windows open things get downright skittish.

The Mini 12 needed a full two minutes to get to a usable desktop although standby and resume took about five seconds each, and those are the most likely modes that a netbook user will rely on between sessions.
Yep, that spinner could be quite annoying. Don't forget XP and Linux versions will be out later; you might want to wait.

Microsoft Announces Windows Azure, for the Cloud

Turns out Windows Strata wasn't Microsoft's initiative for cloud computing, despite it showing up in their catalog. And it wasn't Windows Cloud, either. No, it appears the real name is Windows Azure, as Microsoft's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie called it as he unveiled it at PDC in Los Angeles on Monday.

Information at PDC for this cloud-based OS was as highly anticipated as info for Windows 7. Ozzie said in their press release:
“Today marks a turning point for Microsoft and the development community,” Ozzie said. “We have introduced a game-changing set of technologies that will bring new opportunities to Web developers and business developers alike. The Azure Services Platform, built from the ground up to be consistent with Microsoft’s commitment to openness and interoperability, promises to transform the way businesses operate and how consumers access their information and experience the Web. Most important, it gives our customers the power of choice to deploy applications in cloud-based Internet services or through on-premises servers, or to combine them in any way that makes the most sense for the needs of their business.”
As Microsoft adds on their just launched Azure Services Platform Site:
Windows® Azure is a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Azure Services Platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft® data centers.
Key components of the Azure Services Platform include the following:
  • Windows Azure, for service hosting and management and low-level scalable storage, computation, and networking.
  • Microsoft SQL Services, for database services and reporting.
  • Microsoft .Net Services, which are service-based implementations of .Net Framework concepts such as workflow.
  • Live Services, for sharing, storing, and synchronizing documents, photos, and files across PCs, phones, PC applications, and Web sites.
  • Microsoft SharePoint Services and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services for business content, collaboration, and solution development in the cloud.
Interested folks can register for Azure's limited Community Technology Preview (CTP).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Netflix Begins Testing a Mac Streaming Solution

Way back in January, Netflix promised to add Mac video streaming to its "Watch Instantly" feature before the end of 2008. Well, they've done it, ironically, with the help of Microsoft technology. Microsoft's Silverlight to the rescue.

But hold onto your horses. Netflix calls this their second generation player, so it will likely cover PCs as well, and it also states that it will only roll out to a limited number of users at first. Yes, once again we consumers are beta-testing for someone.

Previously, Netflix outlined their issues with Mac streaming:
And that's our holdup for the Mac - there's not yet a studio-sanctioned, publicly-available Mac DRM solution (Apple doesn't license theirs). I can promise you that, when an approved solution becomes available for the Mac, we'll be there.
And that's where Microsoft's Silverlight comes in. The Netflix player will use Microsoft’s Play Ready DRM, a feature that wasn't available before the release of Silverlight 2.0. Their press release says (emphasis mine):
Netflix, Inc., the world's largest online movie rental service, today announced it has begun the deployment of Microsoft Silverlight to enhance the instant watching component of the Netflix service and to allow subscribers for the first time to watch movies and TV episodes instantly on their Intel-based Apple Macintosh computers. The deployment, which will initially touch a small percentage of new Netflix subscribers, is the first step in an anticipated roll-out of the new platform to all Netflix subscribers by the end of the year.

The new Netflix player takes advantage of PlayReady DRM, which is built into Silverlight, for the playback of protected content on both Windows-based PCs and on Macs. That had not been possible with previous generation technologies.
Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt added:
"Silverlight with PlayReady offers a powerful and secure toolkit for delivery of dynamic streaming, which offers faster start-up, and higher quality video, adapted in real time to users' connection speeds. Members who enjoy watching movies and TV episodes from the growing library of choices that can be instantly streamed at Netflix will be thrilled with this next generation improvement of access and quality, on a broader range of platforms, including Intel Macs and Firefox."
Netflix was one of the early adopters of Silverlight, as was indicated by Microsoft when it launched the first version. This is great, but Netflix still needs to work on the other side of things --- content. Lack of content is what killed HD-DVD and although Netflix says it has more than 12,000 titles to choose from for "Watch Instantly," that's still just a fraction of its total catalog.

Google Earth Comes to the iPhone

In May, Google Earth came to the browser, with a browser plug-in. It's great to be able to use a browser rather than have to install a separate app. Well, that may be something for the future, but at least for now, you can finally use Google Earth on your iPhone.

You can download it from the App Store --- yes, for free.

Peter Birch, Google Earth's product manager, said:
"The idea of having Earth on a mobile device is something people dreamed of back to the Keyhole days and before. This is the first opportunity we've had to be able to deliver a great experience."
The reference to Keyhole refers to the original software, which was originally called Earth Viewer, and was created by Keyhole, Inc, a company acquired by Google in 2004.

Naturally, it doesn't have all the capabilities of the desktop app, but it's still pretty snazzy, and the iPhone's touch screen is a natural fit. Their press release says:
It may be small, but it brings all the power of Google Earth to the palm of your hand, including all of the same global imagery and 3D terrain. You can even browse any of our 8 million Panoramio photos or read Wikipedia articles.

With Google Earth for iPhone, you can:
  • Tilt your iPhone to adjust your view to see mountainous terrain
  • View the Panoramio layer and browse the millions of geo-located photos from around the world
  • View geo-located Wikipedia articles
  • Use the 'Location' feature to fly to your current location
  • Search for cities, places and business around the globe with Google Local Search
The software started becoming available through Apple's App store on Sunday. It's a free download in 20 countries, available in all 18 languages the iPhone supports.

While Google Earth is new, a $4.99 iPhone app called Earthscape has provided a Google Earth-type application for some time.

You can watch a video tour here:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

iBone: a Dog Toy Just Ripe for an Apple Lawsuit

Now, I find this to be an awful cute dog toy (coming from someone who owns two dogs and an iPhone 3G). And who am I to deprive my dogs of a state-of-the-art dog toy such as the iBone. However, knowing Apple, it places this company right the their sights, lawsuit-wise.

Now, sometimes these suits are understandable, but sometimes a little over the top, such as in their threat over the GreeNYC campaign's logo (being run by New York City, natch; logo below).

And their cease-and-desist over the ProfitPod --- way over the top, as that devices was a product designed to make it easier for arcades to figure out how many of those tickets that you trade in for those "valuable" prizes have been spit out by a game. It looks nothing like an iPod, doesn't play music, is rectangular (landscape-wise). Hardly anything that could be confused with an iPod, but Apple still got hot under the collar about it.

At any rate, the iBone above is sold by Haute Diggity Dog. Its $11.95, and I'm not sure if it supports 3G or not.

It's also unclear if the iBone comes house ... or jailbroken, and if it will support add-ons from the Yap Store or not.

Hopefully, Apple will see the humor in this, and give it a pass, "cease-and-desist-wise," at any rate. You know at $11.95, you just gotta get one for your pampered pooch.

Apple Surveying iPhone Users Over New Features

Apple has recently begun surveying longer-term iPhone users. Much of the survey focuses on post-purchase satisfaction with the iPhone, as well as with satisfaction over the iPhone 2.1 software update.

One page of the survey, however, is devoted to "Feature Requests," both in hardware and software. The survey requests customers to select the top 5 features they'd like, and to rank them from 1 - 5.

Looking at the list, it would be hard to pick just five, personally. They have items such landscape mode in email (which has recently been addressed by a number of apps in the App Store), other carriers, cut-and-paste, Flash/JAVA, a user-replaceable battery (the word replaceable makes me wonder if they mean swappable batteries, as most phones have, or just a kit to replace a battery in a difficult, but still doable way), and other others.

If their asking about these features now, it's would seem to point to the probability that they haven't implemented any of the above features yet. So I wouldn't expect to see any of them soon, but hopefully, some day.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Windows Vista SP2 Beta Due Next Week

In a blog post on Friday, Microsoft said that the beta of Windows Vista SP2 will be made available next week, Oct. 29th to be exact. The beta will only be seeded to a small number of Technology Adoption Program customers, however.

Besides the rollup of fixes typical of a Service Pack, what else will SP2 have? According to the blog post, it'll have the following:
  • Windows Vista SP2 adds Windows Search 4.0 for faster and improved relevancy in searches.
  • Windows Vista SP2 contains the Bluetooth 2.1 Feature Pack supporting the most recent specification for Bluetooth Technology.
  • Ability to record data on to Blu-Ray media natively in Windows Vista.
  • Adds Windows Connect Now (WCN) to simplify Wi-Fi Configuration.
  • Windows Vista SP2 enables the exFAT file system to support UTC timestamps, which allows correct file synchronization across time zones.
Date-wise, the post was pretty vague. It said the release date will be based on the quality of the product:
The final release date for Windows Vista SP2 will be based on quality. So we'll track customer and partner feedback from the beta program before setting a final date for the release.
However, a separate site indicated that SP2 will ship in the first half of 2009. Cutting it close with regards to Windows 7, eh? You won't be able to leapfrog SP1, though. Windows Vista SP1 is a prerequisite for SP2, so you will need to start with an SP1 image before upgrading to SP2.

77% Admit to Texting or Emailing While Driving

While we continue to see incidents of texting while operating vehicles causing accidents, even fatal ones, apparently people do not have enough common sense to think to themselves "Stop!" A recently released report conducted by Osterman Research (.PDF) for the IT data recovery firm Neverfail shows that 77% of those surveyed admit to texting or emailing while driving --- when the car was moving, for sticklers for accuracy.

California recently became the latest state to ban texting while driving.

Other somewhat strange places to use a mobile device:
  • 79% have used their mobile device in the bathroom
  • 41% have done done so on a commercial flight while in the air
  • 16% have done so during a funeral or memorial service
  • 11% have done so during a romantic moment
Come on, during a romantic moment? Of course, email addiction has been around for some time, so in and of itself that is not new. However, the amount doing it while driving shows that common sense isn't enough. Despite all those who think self-regulation is enough (check out the self-regulation which led to our current financial crisis for an example), it obviously isn't.

It might be time to roll out nationwide legislation over this, or at least implement this new technology I wrote about earlier that prevents a driver from using his cell phone while the car is moving.

It's also troubling just how much this sort of thing is invading our "down time." The report fopund that during the evening, 37% of mobile users check their mobile email more than 10x, and that on the weekend, 47% of mobile users check their mobile email more than 10x.

Meanwhile, only 4% of mobile device users never take their mobile device on vacation with them, with 20% saying sometimes and 76% saying always.

Some of this is the increased demands on workers from corporations (this should come as no surprise). With globalization as well as a down economy, many feel that they have to be responsive 24x7 ... or at least 7, to keep their jobs.

Oprah's New Favorite Gadget is the Kindle

It was advertised that Oprah Winfrey was set to announce her new favorite gadget on Friday's show, and she did just that. Sorry, you iPhone lovers, her new fave is the Kindle.

It makes complete sense, however, with her book club and all. And it was pretty obvious what the gadget was going to be if you glanced at's homepage, where the video below was posted.

In the past, recommendations by Oprah for her book club have led to books landing on the New York Times best-sellers' list. This has been called the "Oprah effect."

So, is the Kindle bound to see a boost from this recommendation? Hard to say, though much of the doubt might lie in the sour worldwide economy. After all, many people are going to hold off on purchases of expensive items, and at $309 this is a pricey gadget.

Yes, I did say $309, not $359. She announced a coupon code you can type in when you buy the Kindle, which results in an instant savings of $50. The code:


The code will expire on November 1st.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Virtual Murder" Leads to Actual Arrest

Virtual worlds have led to actual crimes before. There was a romance in Second Life that led to a real-world attempted kidnapping. And there was a clan feud in a MMOPRG that led to real murder. What we have here is a "virtual murder," but one that's going to lead to some real jail time.

The "virtual murder" took place in the game "Maple Story," which says it's the world's first side-scrolling massively multiplayer online role-playing game (it's also free).

The 43-year-old Japanese woman became incensed about her "divorce" in the game. Yes, you read that right, not only was it a "virtual murder," it was "virtual divorce" as well. She logged on to the game with his password and deleted his avatar (this will teach people not to hand out their passwords to anyone).

The woman, a piano teacher, said:
"I was suddenly divorced - without a word of warning. That made me so angry."
I will say this only once (in this post, anyway): it's a game!

Anyway, while you might think, "oh, well," she has been arrested on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, though not formally charged.

The woman lives in southern Miyazaki, but had to make a 620 mile trip to Sapporo, where the man lives (and thus, where the crime "occurred." Except in movies or cartoons, they can't take her to cyberspace, where it actually happened, right?

It's unclear if the woman had a relationship in real-life, or if and when she will be officially charged. She did tell the police that aside from the "virtual murder," she had not made any other plans for "revenge."

If charged and convicted, she could face up to five years in prison or a fine of more than $5,000.

Fake Steve Jobs "Heart Attack" Story Posted by a Teen: Report

Earlier this month a story was posted to CNN's iReport social news site which caused Apple stock to plummet. The stories on that site are not vetted before they are allowed to appear on the site. The story said:
Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack. I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable. I haven't seen anything about this anywhere else yet, and as of right now, I have no further information, so I thought this would be a good place to start. If anyone else has more information, please share it.
Because the stock plunged, the SEC obviously took interest. The post was made by an iReport user (since removed, along with the story) named "johntw."

According to Bloomberg, two people with knowledge of the matter told them that the post was made by a teenager. At this point, investigators haven't found any evidence that he tried to profit from the stock price drop.

The informants chose to remain anonymous as the probe hasn't been made public.

Michael Missal, a former enforcement lawyer at the SEC now in private practice at K&L Gates LLP in Washington, said:
"If the posting wasn't directly related to the purchase or sale of a security it's questionable the SEC would have jurisdiction. That's not to say some other agency of the U.S. government couldn't take action if it felt a law was violated.''
Jobs' health has been a source of speculation since he appeared gaunt and somewhat ill at WWDC earlier this year.

Somewhat ironically, as this update was via Bloomberg, is the fact that Bloomberg accidentally posted Steve Jobs' obituary to the new wires in late August.

Comcast Begins Rollout Of 50 Mbps "Extreme" Internet Service

On Wednesday, Comcast confirmed what I reported earlier: new tiers and new pricing. Comcast's press release indicates that in the next few weeks they will roll out what they call "wideband" to the Boston Metropolitan region and Southern New Hampshire, as well as areas of Philadelphia and New Jersey.

They will also be in the Twin Cities were Comcast rolled out wideband on a trial basis earlier this year.

Wideband is Cisco's name for downstream channel bonded pre-cert DOCSIS 3.0 gear. This is part of Comcast's move to provide DOCSIS 3.0 service nationwide by 2010,

Comcast expects to reach more than 10 major markets and pass nearly 10 million homes and businesses in the next several months.

The new tiers will be as I indicated earlier:
  • Economy: Unchanged at $24.95 for 768 kbps down/384 kbps up.
  • Performance: 6/1 Mbps will now get 12/2 Mbps for $42.95 a month.
  • Performance Plus: 8/2 Mbps will get 16/2 for $52.95 a month.
  • Ultra: 22/5 Mbps for $62.95 a month. (Will update to 30/5 Mbps.)
  • Extreme Fifty: 50/10 Mbps for $139.95
However, these new tiers will still be subject to Comcast's previously announced 250 GB monthly cap, and to their new throttling practices. Oh, well, you win some ...

Want to find out if these new services are headed your way? You can check it here. It looks like it'll be headed to the SF Bay Area at some time in the near future, based on what they told me, but no ETA.

Congress' Latest Must-Have: the iPhone

Apparently members of Congress have not read the studies which indicated iPhones have a significantly higher error rate. Or maybe they just want to switch from their Blackberries to the latest bling?

At any rate, usually BBs can be had by organizations at $99 or less, so if Congress can get iPhones at that price, well ... on the other hand, with BB you are using their server, so this would involve a major investment in time and effort for IT, as they would have to use Microsoft's ActiveSync. All at taxpayer expense, of course.

The Chief Administrative Office (CAO), which oversees the communications systems for the House, has begun testing a small number of iPhones. According to The Hill, Jeff Ventura, a spokesman for the CAO, said:
"The reason we’re trying them out is because we heard a lot of people wanted the option to have them."
Of course, it's the same thing in corporations, which are doing similar testing to see if the iPhone is really "Enterprise-ready."

But while the House member (the Senate apparently isn't looking at this --- yet) would have to pay for the phone itself out of their Member's Representational Allowance, since, as I noted, the BB server doesn't support the iPhone, there would be some pricey changes involved.

Similar to corporate testing though, it's likely to be a long road at any rate. At RIM needn't worry much. The primary communication device would still be the Blackberry.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rock Off: Wii Wireless Guitar Recalled

Whoops, don't start strumming yet. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Performance Designed Products (PDP) announced on Thursday a voluntary recall of the Rage Wireless Guitar controller for the Nintendo Wii.

As the CPSC announcement says:
Hazard: A circuit board defect can cause AA batteries used in the guitar to leak if the batteries are installed incorrectly, posing a risk of chemical burns to consumers.

Incidents/Injuries: Performance Designed Products has received one report of a burn to a consumer.

Description: The Rage Wireless Guitar controller is designed to be used on the Nintendo Wii system. The guitar is blue or white and is 31 inches long. The guitar contains battery-operated LED-lighted fret buttons that go up the neck of the guitar.

Sold at: Mass merchandisers and specialty retailers nationwide from June 2008 through September 2008 for between $40 and $60.
And guess where it was manufactured? Yep, China. Ooops.

Consumers are urged to stop using the Rage controllers immediately and return them to the place where purchased for a full refund. Remember, this is not a Nintendo product, just one that can be used with the Wii, so don't bother contacting Nintendo.

You can contact PDP; strangely, the CPSC information for PDP says to call PDP at (800) 331-3844 between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site at If you go to PDP's site, the only info you get is exactly the same as at the CPSC's site (at least at the time of this writing), a copy of the CPSC's announcement.

In other words: no new information there, move along, move along. If you want to contact PDP: only one way, via phone.