Saturday, February 28, 2009

Psion Pushes Back Against Dell, Intel in Netbook Trademark Fight

Both Dell and Intel have moved to invalidate Psion's trademark on the term "netbook," but Psion isn't giving up without a fight.

Dell and Intel have claimed that Psion isn't selling the netbook any longer, that the term has become generic, and that Psion did not use the Netbook trademark on device for five consecutive years following the date of registration in 2000.

But Psion disputes claims that they no longer sell the computer, telling jkOnTheRun:
In 2006, Psion in fact had multi-million dollar sales of the Netbook ® Pro computer in both the US and the EU. The bulk of sales were (and continue to be) in the highly specialised supply chain logistics area – perhaps not the easiest thing for third parties to get visibility on, but nevertheless, real sales to real customers in the US. And those real sales to real customers in the US continue even to this day. Attached is a typical Netbook ® Pro sales flyer (not included here), so you can see that Psion really were (and are) branding this computer as a ‘Netbook’.

I can quite understand why people might have assumed that sales ceased a while back – it’s not as if the product has been in Best Buy. But those people simply had no access to Psion’s confidential sales information.

So the facts are that, although manufacture has been discontinued, sales in the US and EU have not. And its continuing sales that are important to preventing a trademark from becoming abandoned. We’ll of course be setting the record straight in our court filings.

Incidentally, manufacture of the Netbook ® Pro had to cease prematurely not because of any lack of demand. It was because supplies of a replacement for a specialised chip controller could not be found – the Netbook ® Pro had very sophisticated power management, given it 8 hours of runtime and 10 days in standby, as well as instant-on (still an amazing feature in a laptop). Because of the sophisticated nature of the Netbook ® Pro design, a simple replacement controller could not be found and that meant that manufacture had to cease once those supplies of controllers were exhausted; it was a great pity.

I hope this clarifies the situation; Psion continues to sell the Netbook ® Pro computer. It’s got all the invoices to prove multi-million dollar sales in the US in 2006, and sales that continue even to this day. There’s been no abandonment of the trademark.

Just because we’re not selling tens of thousands through Best Buy doesn’t mean we’re not entitled to our trademark.
I have to say, if these claims are true then things just got tougher for anyone using the term "netbook." However, I'd like to know how they have multi-million dollar sales in this item when it's clearly marked as "discontinued" on their website (image below, click to enlarge, just in case they change the page).

Assuming Psion is indeed selling these things, there is still another issue to be fought over: the generic-ness of the term "netbook." Sometimes a term just becomes too generic to be trademarked.

And since we've got nettops (desktop versions) as well, I can see a whole learning curve (and headache) if the term has to change.

Seattle PC Firm to Offer Free Vista - Windows 7 Update Offer, Months Before Microsoft

Puget Systems, AKA Puget Custom Computers, headquartered in Kent, WA based PC etailer will begin offering free Windows 7 upgrades to customers who buy new Windows Vista PCs starting Sunday, according to their website.

Its upgrade program will predate Microsoft's own upgrade program by months. Microsoft's offering is scheduled to begin on July 1st.

Here's what their site says:
Puget Systems is pleased to announce FREE upgrades to Windows 7 on select purchases starting 3/1/09. Customers who purchase a qualifying computer with Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit or Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit are eligible for an upgrade to the corresponding version of Windows 7 64-bit upon release. To redeem this upgrade, the computer must be shipped back to Puget Systems for installation.
Shipping the computer back may seem to be an inconvenience. The XP-to-Vista upgrade program simply gave end users an upgrade disc, and they had to install it yourself. However, there were problems, and in fact, I had some myself: specifically with finding some device drivers for my laptop.

In reality, this might end up costing end users some shipping costs (and time without their PCs), but with a much smoother upgrade process. Unfortunately they will wipe the hard drive, so you are responsible for any data you might lose, and you will be required to reinstall everything when you get it back.

The company will only be upgrading a limited number of machines per week on a "first come, first served" basis, so they state that turnaround time may vary, and you may be asked to wait.

The offer is scheduled to expire on 6/15/09. At that point Puget Systems will probably assume the Microsoft offer will be close to starting. The company does note that they reserve the right to change this date at any time.

This upgrade is being done at the sole cost of Puget Systems and according to their CEO, Jon Bach, will cost the company approximately $200 per PC. Of course, they are getting tons of publicity from this program.

The company sells desktops and notebooks, but is an Internet-only operation.

LG 830 "Spyder" Cell Phones Recalled Over 911 Issues

The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (USCPSC) has issued a recall notification for 30,000 LG 830 "Spyder" cell phones because of an incident in which the phone was unable to maintain a connection when a motorist attempted a 911 call.
Incidents/Injuries: The firm has received one report of a motorist in a disabled car who was able to dial 911, but the call was dropped because the network had difficulty establishing a GPS lock on the phone. No injuries have been reported.
The recall involves LG 830 "Spyder" touch-screen slider cell phones with software versions T83LGV03 and T83LGV04, which were sold for use with the following regional wireless carriers: Cellular South, Cellcom, Bluegrass Cellular, Centennial de Puerto Rico, Appalachian Wireless, Illinois Valley Cellular, Northwest Missouri Cellular, Inland Cellular, Leaco, Golden State Cellular, Thumb Cellular, Silver Star Communications, and Nex-Tech Wireless.

It seems that a software update will fix the problem, as indicated by the USCPSC report. Given that cell phones in the U.S. must be able to make a 911 call even when service to the phone has been deactivated, you can see there will be a high priority given to this issue.

NTT DoCoMo Pulls BlackBerry Bolds From Store Shelves

Japanese wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo has pulled the BlackBerry Bold from its shelves, due to overheating issues. DoCoMo only began selling the Bold on February 20th, and made the move on Friday.

So far DoCoMo has sold about 4,000 devices, and has received complaints from about 30 users. According to the report, complaints state that the Bold's keyboard area heated up. There are no reports of injury or fire.

Still both companies decided to take the safe course and remove the device from sales while RIM investigates. Those of you on AT&T, don't worry. RIM says the issue is isolated to Japan:
"This issue appears to be specifically limited to the BlackBerry Bold devices sold in Japan since last week. And sales of BlackBerry Bold devices in other countries are unaffected by this matter."
RIM noted that it doesn't believe it to be a battery issue, but can we at least be assured they are not batteries manufactured by Sony?

Friday, February 27, 2009 Caves In On Kindle 2's Read-to-Me Feature

Despite the fact that the Kindle 2's Read-to-Me feature isn't really a threat to audiobooks, decided to take the expeditious route to a solution for the objection of The Authors Guild over the feature, announcing that they would allow publishers to decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled for any particular title.

This would obviously involve changes to both the Kindle 2's software and to the e-book format offered by, but one wouldn't expect it to be that difficult.

The Authors Guild had called the Kindle 2 "a swindle for authors" in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, but realistically, the text-to-speech function is monotonic and decidedly inferior to a true audiobook. However, by making this move, has set a precedent for the future, when electronic voice technology may be good enough to emote and read a book realistically enough to pose a real threat.

In terms of the present, however, listen to a demo, and you decide if The Authors Guild had a reason to be upset.

CBS Unleashes App on iPhone Users

On Thursday CBS released an application that allows iPhone and iPod Touch users to view CBS content on the really small screen. Aptly-named for CBS' site, the app is described as follows:
The application allows you to search and access millions of videos no matter where you go.

It’s personalized TV, brought right to your iPhone and it works across Wi-Fi and 3G Networks – all for free!

Your use is subject to Terms of Use, Mobile User Agreement and Privacy Policy. See link below.
  • Browse through our vast list of featured shows or view by channel
  • Catch FULL EPISODES of your favorite shows from CBS
  • Add keywords to create your own “feed” – a custom list of videos based on your favorite shows, channels or topics
  • Start typing a search from anywhere in the app and instantly see search results
  • Get video updates on sports, news, entertainment and more
  • Let CNET’s experts show you the latest gadgets and technology products
  • Save shortcuts to your favorite videos to watch anytime
  • Shake-to-shuffle and get a video selected at random
Note: for highest quality videos use on Wi-Fi

Users with limited network connectivity may experience difficulty loading application pages or videos
Naturally it works best on wi-fi, but and on 3G it's spotty, though halfway decent. The app uses the QuickTime video player on the iPhone.

There are other similar apps already available, such as Joost (which uses a proprietary streaming protocol), which has access to some CBS content, including stuff which overlaps which the currently sparse selection (selected full episodes from the CSI series, NCIS, Beverly Hills 90210, Star Trek: The Original Series, and MacGyver).

So, when are ABC, NBC, or even Hulu going to join in on the fun? And is AT&T's relatively nascent 3G network going to be able to handle it? Where's that Verizon iPhone when you need it?

Apple Begins Cracking Down on Emoji in the App Store

Emoji is the Japanese term for the pictographic characters or emoticons used in Japanese SMS messages and webpages. With firmware version 2.2, the iPhone gained support for entering and displaying emoji, supposedly only for Japanese users, but it turns out there are many ways to get around that, even on a non-jailbroken phone. But Apple's begun cracking down on emoji-enabling apps.

Apps that only enable emoji are now banned from the store. For example, Emotifun and iEmoji have both vanished from the App Store. Apps that have other functionality are being required to remove the emoji-enabling portion of their apps.

For example, Spell Number (free!), which has an Easter Egg that enables emoji. Its developer says:
Per request by Apple, the easter egg will be removed very soon, download the current version (1.03) as soon as you can.
Spell Number is free, so if you want emoji, download it now. Here's the Easter Egg:
Enter the number 9876543.21. That sets the desired setting to enable emoji. Quit the application, go into settings, select General > International > Keyboards > Japanese, and switch on "Emoji."
Since this is a preference, once you enable it on your iPhone, it will be there forever, even after a FW upgrade, assuming, of course, you have allowed your iPhone to back up. The preferences file that has been affected is part of the iPhone's normal backup. Once set, the option remains set.

Thing is, you can't really blame Apple too much for this; it's quite possible they don't have a licensing agreement for emoji to be used on non-Softbank phones.

I've included a video below that shows the procedure:

Skype to Go Expands to All Paid Users

Skype has expanded its Skype to Go service to all paying users. Skype to Go allows you to make Skype calls from any phone, landline or mobile. Previously, you had to be a member of one of Skype's subscription plans, but now you can get a Skype to Go number if you have any Skype Credit.

How does it work?
  1. You call your Skype To Go number from any phone.
  2. You hear a menu that lets you choose one of your pre-saved speed dial contacts, or dial any other number.
  3. You reach your contact wherever they are in the world and save a bundle on call costs.
This is a great addition to those not using one of the subscription plans, but it reduces the value of their subscriptions.

Of course, you may not know you don't need a subscription if you're currently looking at their site and not looking specifically at the Skype to Go section. If you look at their pricing section they still haven't updated the page; it says you need a subscription to get Skype to Go.

Newsday to Charge for Online Content

On the same day that the Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper, announced that it would fold after Friday's edition, Newsday announced that plans to begin charging for access to its online content.

The newspaper industry is facing major problems, with the aforementioned Rocky Mountain News, and even the storied San Francisco Chronicle, which this week announced it was near bankruptcy, as recent examples of its woes. As such, an attempt to monetize online content shouldn't a big surprise.

It is, however, a major change in an industry which offers most online news content for free.

Tom Rutledge, the chief operating officer of Cablevision, made the announcement during a conference call with analysts.
"When we purchased Newsday we were aware of the long-term issues facing the traditional newspaper industry. Our goal was, and is, to use our electronic network assets and subscriber relationships to transform the way news is distributed.

"We plan to end distribution of free Web content and to make our news gathering capabilities service our customers."
Cablevision purchased based Newsday from the Tribune Co. for $650 million last year. Cablevision had to write down Newsday's value by $402 million on Thursday, which pushed its fourth-quarter results to a loss.

In a statement, Newsday publisher Timothy Knight said:
"We are in the process of transforming Newsday's Web site into an enhanced, locally focused cable service that we believe will become an important benefit for Newsday and Cablevision customers. More particulars will be forthcoming over the next few months."
Based on that, we have a few months of free Newsday content left. But as newspapers continue to sink into seeming irrelevancy, is this the wave of the future? I dunno.

So far the only type of online content that seems to be able to get away with charging, is something specialized like the Wall Street Journal. It's hard to see who would pay for a generalized news source (although admittedly focused somewhat on a specific geographic area).

Voice Expert: Kindle 2 No Threat to Audiobooks

The Authors Guild seems to be of the opinion that the Kindle 2's Read-to-Me feature is ripping off authors in terms of audiobook rights. They used a quote from an audio expert as ammo, but that expert doesn't agree with their ideas about Read-to-Me.

On Wednesday Roy Blount, Jr., president of the Authors Guild, posted an op-ed piece in the New York Times that pretty much said the Amazon Kindle 2 was swindling authors in terms of audiobook revenue, because of its Read-to-Me feature. He even used details of this story I wrote, about IBM's new human-sounding voice tech, and quoted Andy Aaron of IBM's Thomas J Watson research group speech team in their article, where he said:
"These sounds can be incredibly subtle, even unnoticeable, but have a profound psychological effect. It can be extremely reassuring to have a more attentive-sounding voice."
But that same expert, when asked by C|Net, said that if you compare Read-to-Me to an audiobook, there's no real choice between the two.
"I'm a big believer in (text-to-speech) and a booster of it. But I don't think at this point, or for the foreseeable future, it's going to compete meaningfully with a professional book reader...Am I going to sit down and put my feet up and listen to text-to-speech read 'War And Peace' or Harry Potter for six to eight hours? For someone who has the choice, I think they would rather get an audio book."
Now, perhaps sometime in the future, a text-to-speech feature like this might pose a real threat. But for now, any such "reading" is monotonic and robotic, and sure is heck doesn't pose a threat.

Listen to the demo below posted by a YouTube user named KindleJunkie. As he rightly says, "it's not bad for what it is, but it's not going to take the place of audiobooks."

Facebook Moves to Democratize Its Terms of Service

Facebook is doing something unheard of, announcing at a press conference on Thursday that it is giving its users the right to weigh in on changes to its policies and Terms of Service (ToS), in effect creating what some have called a virtual "Bill of Rights."

You probably remember the massive explosion that happened when Facebook modified its Terms of Service (ToS) such that it implied Facebook owned all your content, forever. They eventually backed down, reverting to the prior ToS, but the damage was done.

Out of that fiasco has come a new initiative, though, one never before seen. In their press release, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook said:
"As people share more information on services like Facebook, a new relationship is created between Internet companies and the people they serve. The past week reminded us that users feel a real sense of ownership over Facebook itself, not just the information they share.

"Companies like ours need to develop new models of governance. Rather than simply reissue a new Terms of Use, the changes we’re announcing today are designed to open up Facebook so that users can participate meaningfully in our policies and our future."
Nicely, Facebook even had a privacy advocate chime in on their press release. In fact, no less than Simon Davies, Director of Privacy International.
"This is an unprecedented action. No other company has made such a bold move towards transparency and democratization. The devil will be in the detail but, overall, we applaud these positive steps and think they foreshadow the future of web 2.0. We hope Facebook will realize these extraordinary commitments through concrete action and we challenge the rest of the industry to exceed them."
Here is the list of the Proposed Facebook Principles:

1. Freedom to Share and Connect

People should have the freedom to share whatever information they want, in any medium and any format, and have the right to connect online with anyone – any person, organization or service – as long as they both consent to the connection.

2. Ownership and Control of Information

People should own their information. They should have the freedom to share it with anyone they want and take it with them anywhere they want, including removing it from the Facebook Service. People should have the freedom to decide with whom they will share their information, and to set privacy controls to protect those choices. Those controls, however, are not capable of limiting how those who have received information may use it, particularly outside the Facebook Service.

3. Free Flow of Information

People should have the freedom to access all of the information made available to them by others. People should also have practical tools that make it easy, quick, and efficient to share and access this information.

4. Fundamental Equality

Every Person – whether individual, advertiser, developer, organization, or other entity – should have representation and access to distribution and information within the Facebook Service, regardless of the Person’s primary activity. There should be a single set of principles, rights, and responsibilities that should apply to all People using the Facebook Service.

5. Social Value

People should have the freedom to build trust and reputation through their identity and connections, and should not have their presence on the Facebook Service removed for reasons other than those described in Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

6. Open Platforms and Standards

People should have programmatic interfaces for sharing and accessing the information available to them. The specifications for these interfaces should be published and made available and accessible to everyone.

7. Fundamental Service

People should be able to use Facebook for free to establish a presence, connect with others, and share information with them. Every Person should be able to use the Facebook Service regardless of his or her level of participation or contribution.

8. Common Welfare

The rights and responsibilities of Facebook and the People that use it should be described in a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which should not be inconsistent with these Principles.

9. Transparent Process

Facebook should publicly make available information about its purpose, plans, policies, and operations. Facebook should have a town hall process of notice and comment and a system of voting to encourage input and discourse on amendments to these Principles or to the Rights and Responsibilities.

10. One World

The Facebook Service should transcend geographic and national boundaries and be available to everyone in the world.

Facebook is planning virtual town halls to discuss their new policies. They are also going to create a user council to address matters in the future. At the same time, there's also a group where you can comment. It's called Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

Finally, voting on the The Facebook Principles and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (formerly their ToS) will only be available for users who were active by Feb. 25th, 2009. Likely they will use the same formula going forward; you will have to be active prior to the posting of an initiative to vote. At least 30% of eligible users must participate for the vote to be valid.

Facebook has summarized the feedback received at the group so far here:

"Forever" won’t work: Facebook’s use of our content has to have clear limits.
  • If I do not wish any of my content to be used for commercial purposes, or submitted to 3rd parties, I should be able to select this in my Privacy settings. Also, I should always be informed what 3rd parties my content is sent to.
  • Facebook’s use of my content should be subject to an easy-to-understand license, like Creative Commons, which lets me maintain ownership and control.
  • If I post or upload any piece of content to Facebook, their license to use that content should expire the moment I delete it. If I close my account, all of my content should be deleted off of Facebook’s network.
Opt-in only: Facebook can't just change the terms whenever they want.
  • If Facebook updates its Terms of Use, it should be done in a way that’s open, obvious and highly visible to everyone. Post it at the top of the site and/or send an e-mail... updating a blog on an obscure part of the website doesn't work.
  • Users should be notified of changes to the ToU ahead of time, so they can decide whether they want to continue to use Facebook or to close their account.
  • If Facebook really wants to test user response to any new policy changes, they should submit them to a vote before implementation.
Write it in English: No legalese (or Latin!) please.
  • Facebook’s previous Terms of Service included highly technical legal language and even Latin. This needs to be changed. I’m not sure what "forum non conveniens" means and I shouldn’t have to.
That last complaint though is fairly typical. Everyone uses legalese. If Facebook truly follows through on this, it will be a new day in the ToS world.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Softbank Begins Offering Free iPhones

Japanese wireless carrier Softbank has announced the "iPhone for Everybody" promotion, in which the 8GB version of the iPhone 3G is free with a two-year contract.

The contract will be tied to one of three service plans (basic, premium, or student).

Meanwhile, the 16GB version will cost a little, but still is a bargain compared to U.S. pricing. It costs 480 yen per month ($4.92 at the time of this writing) for a total price over the two-year contract of 11,520 yen or $118.08.

When the carrier first launched iPhone 3Gs in July 2008, the 8GB model was available for the equivalent of $238.21 while its 16GB cousin was $357.32.

SoftBank is also cutting prices on data plans. The company's typical data plan is being discounted from 5985 yen per month ($61.35) to a maximum of 4410 yen ($45.20).

The promotion runs from 2/27 - 5/31. Interesting end date. Just before June. Hmmm. Could this be a way to clear inventory prior to the launch of a new model?

Gmail Receives Attachment Improvements

Finally, finally, Google has added a couple of improvements to the way Gmail handles attachments that were sorely missed. One is the ability to add multiple attachments at once. The second is progress bars for each attachment as they upload.

Gmail now simply opens your operating system file explorer. In Windows, this means you can use the CTRL key while selecting files to multi-select files.

The progress bar is nice. Previously, when attaching a particularly large file, I'd start wondering if something had gone wrong, or if the browser had hung. Now you can see something besides than a spinning loading icon.

The new system also pre-warns if you're over the size limit before the file starts upload. Of course, it would be nice if you could drag-and-drop files as you can in desktop email applications, but ... maybe in the future.

HP's Upline to Get Permanent Downtime

HP's Upline cloud-based backup and storage service, which was launched last April, is about to fold, without even making it to its first anniversary.

According to an email sent to subscribers (even free ones, like me!), HP will halt backing up of users' files to the HP Upline servers as of February 26, 2009, 8 AM PST. The service itself will continue with only its restore functionality operating until March 31, 2009. Interestingly, given their timing on halting backups, I received the email on Feb. 26th at 7:51 AM PST. Thanks for the early notice!

HP Upline was competing with smaller, yet well-reviewed services such as Mozy and ElephantDrive, but apparently never garnered enough market share to merit keeping the service alive.

It's unclear if the recent move of ISPs toward usage caps has had any effect on these services. I personally decided to just do more backups at home rather than rely on any of these services as Comcast has a 250GB monthly usage cap. With the amount of data I have, I'd be in the penalty box at least for the initial backup (after that, of course, backups would be incremental).

Here's the text of the email I received Thursday:
HP continually evaluates product lines and has decided to discontinue the HP Upline service on March 31, 2009.

HP will no longer be backing up your files to the HP Upline servers as of Feb 26, 2009 at 8 am Pacific time. HP will keep the file restore feature of the Upline service operational through March 31, 2009 Pacific time in order for you to download any files you have backed up to Upline.

If you have a paid subscription to HP Upline, you will be refunded the full amount of the fees you paid for the service. That refund will be credited to the credit card account or PayPal account that you used to subscribe to the Upline service. If you do not receive the refund prior to March 31, 2009, please contact our customer service team at

HP looks forward to offering you additional technology products and services in the future.

Thank you.

HP Upline team

Nokia Considering Building Laptops

Nokia, the number one manufacturer of mobile phones worldwide, is considering entering the laptop industry, according to an interview given by Chief Executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo to Finnish national broadcaster YLE on Wednesday.
"We are looking very actively also at this opportunity. We don't have to look even for five years from now to see that what we know as a mobile phone and what we know as a PC are in many ways converging. Today we have hundreds of millions of people who are having their first Internet experience on the phone. This is a good indication."
Nokia has been making Internet tablets for some time, such as the N810, so this wouldn't be as big a stretch as you might think. Plus Nokia is such a major player in mobile devices anyway, it could leverage that for deals with carriers (for subsidies, such as done with some netbooks), parts manufacturers, and the like.

It's unclear from the information available what OS would be on the laptop, but Symbian would not be a stretch either. Let's not forget that Psion's old netBook (which it is trying to use as the basis for a trademark) ran EPOC which eventually became the basis for Symbian.

AYKM? Texting Improves Literacy

AYKM (are you kidding me)? No, contrary to popular belief, text message-speak or textisms actually improve language skills, according to a recent study. No, RLY (really).

The study, published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, studied 88 children aged between 10 and 12. The researchers, from Coventry University, gave the participants 10 different themes to write about using text messages.

The report, much to the delight of those who love to text, was mostly positive in terms of SMS. The report said:
"Children's use of textisms is not only positively associated with word reading ability, but it may be contributing to reading development."
Dr Beverley Plester, the lead author of the report added:
"The alarm in the media is based on selected anecdotes but actually when we look for examples of text speak in essays we don't seem to find very many. The more exposure you have to the written word the more literate you become and we tend to get better at things that we do for fun.

"What we think of as misspellings, don't really break the rules of language and children have a sophisticated understanding of the appropriate use of words."
Plester also authored a report in 2006 which noted that "those children who were the best at using textisms were also found to be the better spellers and writers." This new study just affirms the prior finding.

But besides her own studies, there are other such reports which have come to these same sorts of conclusions. Last year a study by an Australian psychologist showed that texting and textisms don't ruin a person's spelling ability.

And let's not forget linguistics expert David Crystal's book, Texting: The GR8 DB8, which concludes that texting actually makes people better at communicating, not worse. OMG.

Google Blocks Copy-Protected Apps for Unlocked G1s

An unlocked Android G1 for $400, to anyone? That sounded like a great deal. Anyone who registered as a developer could buy one. But Google is blocking unlocked G1s from viewing copy-protected Apps in the Android Market.

Not much of a bargain when you can't get access to all the applications that you might want, is it?

Google admitted the issue in response to a question in the Android Help Forum:
Hi there,

If you're using an unlocked, developer phone, you'll be unable to view any copy-protected application, including Shazam and Calorie Counter. This is a change that was made recently.

Now, the theory is not so much that they care about the phone being unlocked per se, as much as the fact that users of the developer version can access folders in the phone that others cannot, giving them the ability to copy copy-protected applications off the phone and onto ... other phones.

Google said in a statement:
"The Developer version of the G1 is designed to give developers complete flexibility. These phones give developers of handset software full permissions to all aspects of the device ... We aren't distributing copy protected applications to these phones in order to minimize unauthorized copy of the applications."
It seems like Google erred in their form of DRM. By doing nothing more than copying the app into a private folder that owners of the developer unlocked phone could get at, they pretty much neutered their DRM.

Yet, preventing people who paid a premium price for these unlocked phones from gaining full access to all possible applications seems, well, evil from a company who's unofficial motto is "Don't be evil."

My thought is they will come up with a modified form of DRM, and eliminate the blocking. Otherwise they may face their first genuine anti-Google revolt.

Intel Joins Dell in Fight Against Psion's Netbook Trademark

Intel has joined Dell in its trademark fight against Psion. Psion has claimed ownership of the trademark netBook (spelled that way), which was originally the name of an old, discontinued product (above). However, Dell has filed a Petition of Cancellation with the USPTO.

Courthouse News Service obtained a .PDF version of the complaint.

Intel charges that Psion sat by while the term netbook became widely used generically. They said:
Psion did not engage in a campaign or any other visible efforts to educate anyone, much less the consuming public, about its purported rights in the netbook term. Instead, Psion sat back idly as netbook evolved as a generic term for a particular category of computer.

Psion cannot now attempt to revive any purported proprietary interest in this generic term once it has lost whatever source identifying function it may have once had.
Something new that hadn't been disclosed before: Psion complained to Google via its Adwords Trademark Complaint Procedure. Google thus informed Intel that it would prohibit all advertisements that include the term "netbook" in the ad text, effectively ending anyone's ability to advertise the netbook category of computers via search engine marketing.

My guess is Psion will lose in this matter. Key to Intel's complaint is something echoed by Dell's complaint: Psion did not use the Netbook trademark on device for five consecutive years following the date of registration in 2000. I'm assuming, seeing this yet again, that this is a legal requirement.

Apple Shareholders' Meeting: Jobs Absent, But "Deeply Involved," Still Returning End of June

As expected, Apple CEO Steve Jobs didn't attend Wednesday's annual Apple shareholder meeting, the first time he hasn't let the annual meeting since he retook the CEO position in 1997.

At the same time, however, Apple was firm in its stance that Jobs will return at the end of June, as Jobs previously stated. "Nothing has changed" since that announcement, co-lead director Arthur Levinson said in response to shareholders' questions. But he did add that Jobs is still "deeply involved" in strategic decisions, and that Apple has a succession plan and the board considers the issue "regularly." (?!)

Apple declined, however, to discuss the ongoing SEC probe into Jobs' health and exactly what Apple knew when.

Interestingly, the first two questions were about Jobs' health, and that was it. And the second one was really interested in getting a rousing round of "Happy Birthday" sung for Steve Jobs, as Jobs turned 54 on Tuesday.

Apple prohibited laptops and wireless devices (including iPhones) from the meeting, making live blogging impossible, which frustrated Jim Goldman of CNBC to no end.

Kindle 2 Accused of "Swindling Authors"

I wrote earlier about the warning made by the Authors Guild to its members over the Kindle 2's Read-to Me feature. In Wednesday's New York Times, Roy Blount, Jr., president of the Guild makes no bones about it, calling it "The Kindle Swindle."

The concerns of the Author's Guild around the Kindle 2 text-to-speech feature center around the fact that while pays pays royalties to the authors and publishers, but not for audio rights.

He says:
Amazon sells these downloads, and where the books are under copyright, it pays royalties to the authors and publishers.

Serves readers, pays writers: so far, so good. But there’s another thing about Kindle 2 — its heavily marketed text-to-speech function. Kindle 2 can read books aloud. And Kindle 2 is not paying anyone for audio rights.

True, you can already get software that will read aloud whatever is on your computer. But Kindle 2 is being sold specifically as a new, improved, multimedia version of books — every title is an e-book and an audio book rolled into one. And whereas e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.
Now, here's my take on this. I don't believe the text-to-speech functionality of the Kindle 2 is anywhere near as good as listening to a actual human read, and emote, a book. Ah, but Blount addresses that as well.
You may be thinking that no automated read-aloud function can compete with the dulcet resonance of Jim Dale reading “Harry Potter” or of authors, ahem, reading themselves. But the voices of Kindle 2 are quite listenable. There’s even a male version and a female version. (A book by, say, Norman Mailer on Kindle 2 might do a brisk business among people wondering how his prose would sound in measured feminine tones.)
I don't know where he gets the idea that it is "quite listenable." I mean, you can listen to it, but it doesn't compare to hearing a real audiobook. Right now, I would call this a non-issue (and it sounds like a double-dip; trying to get paid twice for the same thing).

On the other hand, as I wrote in my prior article, as robotic, electronically-generated voices are become more and more human-like (Star Trek: TNG, anyone?) he might actually have a point. But even then, many users of the Kindle 10 or whatever it will be called might never use the text-to-speech functionality.

This is something to be address, perhaps someday, but it's certainly not something to call a swindle.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Google Can't Catch a Break: Google Talk Phishing Scam Spreading Rapidly

First Google has a Gmail outage, and now there's a phishing scam hitting Google Talk users. Apparently it is, or at least was, before word started getting out, moving fast.

The Google Talk IM would say the generic "check this out," with a TinyURL link to a site. The site in question is ViddyHo (the name alone should send up red flags). People have been reporting the URLs to TinyURL and the initial link has been shut down and the domain blacklisted (but there are other URL-shortening sites).

Phishing scams to get people to watch videos, whether of Britney or Paris naked or whatever have been popular for some time, but usually through email. Obviously if you've been snared by this particular scam you'd better change your password ASAP.

The motive for the scam is unclear. Just to get your contact information? A way to put malware on your system? Or, since studies have shown that many people use the same password for every single site they visit, ID theft?

Who knows? Time for a refresher course in anti-phishing behavior, perhaps.

Google Responds to Gmail Outage with 15-Day Credit

Yesterday's Gmail and Google Apps outage, which lasted approximately 2 1/2 hours shows just what risky about putting everything in the cloud. For companies, it reduces the infrastructure they need to maintain internally, but if something like this happens --- admittedly, rarely, at least for Google --- it can really hurt.

While those who access free versions of Google's products really shouldn't expect any recompense, businesses, government agencies and other subscribers who pay for the Premier Edition of these services are being given a credit for 15 days of free service.

The Premier Edition costs $50 annually / user. So let's see, that's about $2.05 for a 365-day year, per user. Google also offered a 15-day credit to make amends for a less severe outage last August.

One has to wonder, though: Google is headquartered in Mountain View, CA. Obviously they have a lot of redundancy across the country (and probably the world). One would hope the primary servers are not in California, which could suffer a major earthquake ... any ... second ... (whew). Maybe not even the backups.

Worm Causes Laptop Crash. Earth, Not Computer

When Mark Taylor's computer crashed, he had thought it was a virus, or a trojan, or a worm. It was indeed a worm, but not the kind he thought.

He brought in the experts, in the form of a computer technician, Sam Robinson, who said:
"The machine was displaying a message saying that the processor fan was unworkable. I took the back off and had a look inside. Then I spotted what at first I thought was some sort of hair band or elastic band wrapped around the fan.

"I soon discovered that it was a worm which had been burnt to a frazzle. It had obviously wrapped around the fan when somebody had turned on the computer and caused the breakdown due to the fan jamming.

"The vent in the side of the laptop was larger than normal and there was obviously enough room for the worm to get inside. Needless to say I hadn't come across a problem like this before but was happy to sort it out for Mark."
Taylor lives in Yeovil, Somerset, England. He thought the worm might have been brought into the house by his cats, and dropped next to the laptop.
"The worm was obviously looking for a hiding place and must have crawled in through the air vent to get away from the cats. I couldn't help thinking that people get computer worms all the time, but not real life ones."

Search Term Stats Show State of the Economy

You don't have to search hard to find signs of the economic downturn. Just look at the newspaper, or your favorite website. But a new report on Americans' search behavior by market research firm comScore emphasizes the FUD of Americans during this recession.

Check it out. Searches for:
  • Coupons, up 161%
  • Unemployment, up 206%
  • Bankruptcy, up 156%
  • Unemployment Benefits, up 247%
comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni said:
"Online behavior has come to reflect the interests or concerns of Americans, and we are certainly seeing this manifest itself with respect to the economic downturn. Search volume using terms relating to the economy has ballooned over the past year as Americans have become increasingly concerned over their economic well-being."
comScore also examined the demographic profile of those who clicked on a link following a search using the term "unemployment." According to their results, those who clicked on a link skewed towards households with a head younger than 35 years of age and households earning less than $50,000 a year. For some reason, they were also more less likely to use Google!

Microsoft Outlines How it Will Nag You Into Activating Windows 7

A post on the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) blog outlines how Windows 7 users will be nagged into submission in terms of activation, and what will happen if they do not activate, or if the copy is believed to be non-genuine.

Much of the behavior is very similar to how Windows Vista currently operates, but there are some differences.

After the third day of running the OS without activation, you'll begin to see a message in the system tray reminding you to "Activate Windows Now" plus the time remaining in the grace period.

If you still take no action you'll get that same behavior through the 27th day. After 27 days, if you have not activated the software you will receive the message every four hours.

On the 30th day, you'll be nagged every hour. If you still fail to activate, you'll get a message from the system tray every hours that reminds you to activate, a persistent desktop notification noting that your copy of Windows is non-genuine, a non-genuine message that appears when the Control Panel is launched, and the desktop will be set to a plain black background (and if you try to reset the background it will return to black every hour). You will not be able to receive optional updates from Windows Update unless the copy of Windows is properly activated.

Most of this is the same as Windows Vista, at least SP1 and higher, when the "kill switch" functionality was removed. However, the part about the Control Panel and the blocking of optional updates (as shown above) is new.

Microsoft did add that the product is still beta (no!) and they may change the activation process as the release approaches.

Marvell Introduces Plug Computing

Marvell on Tuesday introduced the concept of plug computing, with the SheevaPlug computer, which reminds me of nothing so much as a powerline networking adapter, or perhaps a surge protection plug adapter.

The Marvell SheevaPlug uses a 1.2 GHz Marvell Kirkwood CPU, and has 512MB of flash memory and 512MB of RAM. It runs an open-source operating system based on Linux 2.6 kernels. It has a USB 2.0 jack for peripherals or storage.

While you're not going to run Windows on this thing, you can see it could have multiple purposes if developers get behind the platform and write software for it. An SDK is available here ($99).

According to Marvell, the SheevaPlug draws, on average, less than five watts under normal operation compared to 25 - 100 watts for a PC being used as a home server. You can see the device has an Ethernet port, so you potentially replace that server that's downloading stuff all day for you (ahem) with this.

The SheevaPlug itself sells for $99, the same as the SDK.

"I am Richer" Wealth-Flaunting App Appears in Android Marketplace

Remember "I am Rich," the $1,000 iPhone app which essentially did nothing but display a red diamond on your iPhone screen? Well, now there's a copycat app in Android's Marketplace. Only it's "richer!"

"I am Rich" was pulled from the App Store, probably by Apple, but not before six people purchased it.

The Android Marketplace only recently began offering paid apps. "I am Richer" is priced at a bargain (compared to "I am Rich") price of $200. Here's how it's described:
Prove your wealth to others by running this app and showing them the mesmerizing glowing crystal.

Only those with the wealth and sense can show the world their glowing crystal.
The maximum Android Marketplace price is $200, so they can't charge a higher price for this seemingly useless app. All right, all right, aside from flaunting wealth, it's totally useless.

However, there's no danger of this app being pulled. The Android Marketplace isn't like the App Store. Some have accused the App Store approval process of being rather draconian, and that the approval system is vague, with apps being approved, rejected and then approved again all in a span of days.

Meanwhile, anyone who registers for the Android developer program can upload an application to the Marketplace. It will allow more diverse apps in, but also questionable ones, and perhaps even malware (though those would obviously be pulled after user complaints).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Apple and EMI Announce the iTunes Pass

Until this year it's been $0.99 for all tracks at iTunes. However, at Macworld, Apple announced tiered pricing was coming soon. And now another option has been announced: the iTunes Pass.

According to the iTunes Store description page:
Get an iTunes Pass from a hand-picked selection of your favorite artists. iTunes Passes can include songs, albums, music videos, and more. They may also include content that is exclusive to iTunes Pass.
Everything is in iTunes Plus format, meaning no DRM and 256kbps AAC encoding. The way it works is you sign up for a pass, and you get a sort of temporary subscription. Everything released between when you buy and the "end" of the pass will be delivered to your account.

Right now, though, you can only get one Pass: the Depeche Mode Sounds of the Universe iTunes Pass, for $18.99. The pass expires on June 16, 2009.

Strangely, no Apple press release, but there's an EMI press release. In it, Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president of Internet Services said:
"iTunes Pass is a great way for artists to give exclusive music and video, on their own schedule, directly to their fans. iTunes customers are going to love getting additional content directly from their favorite artists right when they make it available."
This should prove interesting. Music labels have been trying to get Apple to expand its pricing on the iTunes Store for some time, and they got a major win when tiered pricing was announced. Obviously, they will expand it to other labels and artists going forward.

While this isn't really a subscription, it's a step in that direction.

Apple Releases "The World's Fastest Web Browser," Safari 4 Beta

On Tuesday Apple released a beta version of Safari 4, for both Windows and Mac OS X. The browser uses a new Javascript engine called Nitro, which Apple claims makes Safari 4 the world's "fastest" web browser.

Here's what Apple has to say about Nitro:
Safari 4 is built on the world’s most advanced browser technologies including the new Nitro JavaScript engine that executes JavaScript up to 30 times faster than IE 7 and more than three times faster than Firefox 3. Safari quickly loads HTML web pages three times faster than IE 7 and almost three times faster than Firefox 3.
These performance numbers use iBench and SunSpider, which other vendors use as well for benchmarking.

Speaking of other vendors, obviously Microsoft and Mozilla will argue about these numbers in terms of their upcoming IE8 and Firefox 3.1. Both claim Javacript speed increases, though Mozilla's new TraceMonkey engine appears to be the object of some contentious discussion among developers, in terms of bugs and delaying 3.1.

Safari 4 has also passed the Acid3 test, which isn't surprising since the browser engine at the heart of Safari, Webkit, passed the test last September. Webkit is also the engine used in various other browser implementations, including Chrome, and mobile browsers for Symbian, the iPhone and Android.

A lot of Apple's trumpeting about Safari 4 compares it to IE7 and FF3. Since Safari 4 is beta, it would be more "fair" to compare the new version to IE8 and FF3.1 (and where's Chrome?).

At any rate, here's a list of new features, provided by Apple:
  • Top Sites, a display of frequently visited pages in a stunning wall of previews so users can jump to their favorite sites with a single click;
  • Full History Search, where users search through titles, web addresses and the complete text of recently viewed pages to easily return to sites they’ve seen before;
  • Cover Flow, to make searching web history or bookmarks as fun and easy as paging through album art in iTunes®;
  • Tabs on Top, for better tabbed browsing with easy drag-and-drop tab management tools and an intuitive button for opening new ones;
  • Smart Address Field, that automatically completes web addresses by displaying an easy-to-read list of suggestions from Top Sites, bookmarks and browsing history;
  • Smart Search Field, where users fine-tune searches with recommendations from Google Suggest or a list of recent searches;
  • Full Page Zoom, for a closer look at any website without degrading the quality of the site’s layout and text;
  • built-in web developer tools to debug, tweak and optimize a website for peak performance and compatibility; and
  • a new Windows-native look in Safari for Windows, that uses standard Windows font rendering and native title bar, borders and toolbars so Safari fits the look and feel of other Windows XP and Windows Vista applications.
While speed is great, for many (including me), compatibility is a must. In a way, that's why IE8 turns me off. It's standards-compliant, which means it breaks a lot of sites that are coded to the non-compliant IE7 model. I would also miss all the extensions I have grown to love on Firefox, which is why they will have to pry that browser out of my hands.

Oh, and one final point: there are too many browsers! IE7, IE8, Chrome, Firefox 3.0, Firefox 3.1, Safari 4, Opera ... and on and on. I simply don't have time to a) try a new one (more than a little while), b) switch over all my "stuff." If I like a browser, I'm going to keep using it, unless someone shows me a really good reason to switch.

Microsoft Backtracks; Laid-Off Workers Can Keep Overpaid Severance

As I wrote previously, Microsoft over --- and underpaid --- a number of the 1,400 workers it recently laid-off. After a wave of criticism which occurred after Microsoft asked for the, ahem, overpayment back, Microsoft caved in.

Microsoft human resources chief Lisa Brummel said the company had changed course. Twenty-five workers were overpaid and about twenty underpaid, Microsoft said.
"I thought it didn't make sense for us to continue on the path we were on. I have called now 22 out of the 25 impacted employees, only because I haven't had time to get to the three, but I will after we hang up."

On average, those overpaid received about $4,000 or $5,000 in extra pay. Nothing, obviously, that would kill Microsoft.

According to a lawyer that Computerworld spoke to, those employees may not have been required to pay that money back, anyway, noting it was "bad PR," as well.

Well, duh.

According to D. Jill Pugh, a Seattle attorney, it was unclear if Microsoft could force the laid-off workers to return part of the severance. Pugh said the following:
"The law is not crystal clear," she said. "It may depend on whether or not it was obvious to [the former employees] that there was an error. A lot of the people laid off were salaried employees, who often don't know exactly what they make in a week minus taxes. But severance is usually termed as a number of weeks, such as 12 weeks or eight weeks. If they thought they were going to get, say, $5,000 in severance but actually got $20,000, that's obvious.

"If it was one of my clients, I'd contact the attorneys at Microsoft and negotiate. If it was a smallish amount, under $2,000 or so, I'd argue that it was Microsoft's error. After all, the [former] employee has had to sign away considerable rights when they signed the severance agreement."
It's good to see that Microsoft decided to take the high road. After all, they're already taking hits from many sides on H1B visas. Did Microsoft seriously want to pursue it further?

New Widget Allows You to Be Depressed About Layoffs, Constantly

After two weeks of testing, Layoff Tracker was released formally on Monday. It's a widget you can add to your website to constantly remind visitors just how bad things really are job-wise (see below).

Written by (Tell On You, get it?), a site that lets you "Rave, Rant, Rate™ your Office, your School, the People there and everything else," the widget compiles official numbers from news reports and company press releases, and gives it to you right where it can depress you the most.

On the other hand, while the widget is depressingly new, the site itself mirrors quite a bit a site I've written about previously, It does, however, focus more on the layoff portion of an employee's relationship with his / her company.

In fact, there's a whole section on layoff "tells" and reviews. I'm not sure, however, if this makes the site all that much more valuable than Glassdoor, but as they say, you can tell a lot about how a company treats its employees by how it treats them when it lets them go.

iPhone Heading for Verizon?

While all eyes focus on June for a new iPhone model, is it possible that the new model will be a CDMA version, with the rest of the device the same? It's possible, as according to, Apple is looking at Verizon as its CDMA partner in the near future.

While AT&T has exclusivity over the iPhone in the U.S., that deal was initially supposed to be for two years, and according to reports (but not confirmed by AT&T or Apple), perhaps extended to 2010.

If that's not the case, then Apple could announce a model as soon as WWDC this year. Verizon as a carrier makes sense; with Sprint focused on the Palm Pre you have to be that Verizon wants in on one of the hottest mobile devices.

It's also pretty well known that Verizon was the original preferred carrier for Apple, but wouldn't give up the control that AT&T eventually did. From the story:
While the deal is so secret that Apple will not even hint that it is happening, the outfit had been trying to find EVDO and CDMA Engineers for months in their online Iphone job postings. While EVDO could cover a wide range of 3G skills, it is more likely that Apple is specifically after the Verizon Wireless standard.
That makes sense; it's no secret that Apple has been pursuing engineers with CDMA skills. It would also make sense that Apple would announce a new model at WWDC and then launch it later; as I've been saying, they always announce, then launch (months later for iPhone).

Thus, any hopes of a new phone release (as opposed to announcement) in June might be nil. I just hope they keep the same form factor so I don't have to get a new case for the dang thing. I would love to switch from AT&T's rather spotty coverage to Verizon.

The U.S. is #1 in Broadband (Kinda, Sorta)

While many have griped, complained (you name it) over the sad state of U.S. broadband, particularly when compared with other countries, some have said it's all a bunch of "hooey." A report released by economic consulting firm LECG, commissioned by Nokia Siemens Networks would tend to agree with that, putting the U.S. at #1 in broadband --- with caveats.

This placement assumes you use the so-called "Connectivity Scorecard," which measures a number of items unrelated to broadband as part of its ranking system.

If you look at the report (.PDF), you can see on page 39 the methodology followed in the rankings. Some of the questionable inclusions:
  • Monthly SMS usage per capita
  • Adjusted software spending by consumers
  • Number of 3G subscribers per 100 inhabitants
  • Internet Banking Use
  • PCs per 100
  • Secondary School Enrollment
According to the report (page 7) the reason they add all these items into the rankings is:
In summary, we use the term “connectivity” to refer to the totality of interaction between a nation’s telecommunications infrastructure, hardware, software, networks, and users of these networks, hardware and software. Thus broadband lines, PCs, advanced corporate data networks and advanced use of wireless data services are certainly measures of connectivity, but so are human skills relevant to the usage of these infrastructures, technologies and networks.
So all those teenagers generating all those SMS messages are included in this ranking? LOL!

At any rate, I'm still dissatisfied with my broadband speed, OK? Compare it and also percentage adoption and eliminate all this extra dross and we're nowhere near #1.

This seems to me to be more of a technology ranking than a broadband ranking, and the fact that the New York Times seems to want to put as at #1 for broadband (witness their title on this article) doesn't really make sense.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Kindle 2 Ships One Day Early

On Monday, announced it had started shipping the Kindle 2, a day early (as it had previously announced availability on Feb. 24). Although some people had gotten email updates on their orders stating the device had already shipped Sunday, we all know that it really didn't enter the shipping system until Monday, right? (and users) are excited about the updated device, so Ian Freed, vice president, Amazon Kindle said:
"The response from customers to Kindle 2 has been tremendous. In order to ensure we ship Kindle 2 by the original ship day of Feb. 24, we started shipping one day early. We’re excited about the new design and features of Kindle 2, and we think our customers will be too."
Those new features include:
  • Pencil-thin and lighter than a typical paperback at just over 10 ounces and 0.36 inches
  • 25 percent longer battery life
  • Pages turn an average 20 percent faster
  • Holds more than 1,500 books with 2 GB of memory
  • Sharper images and crisp text with 16 shades of gray
  • “Text-to-Speech” read-to-me feature converts words on a page to spoken word
  • “Whispersync” technology saves and synchronizes reading location across Kindle devices
Text-to-Speech (or rather, Read-To-Me) has gotten into some hot water with The Authors Guild. However, for those of us who are readers, rather than authors, the Kindle 2 is the same price as the original, $359. Start checking your mailbox / porch.

Father Allows Son to Play "CoD" If He Observes the Geneva Conventions

According to a report, a father has mandated to his gamer son that if he wanted to play a game in the Call of Duty (CoD)series, he could do so only if he --- and his teammates --- observed the Geneva Conventions while doing so.

The Geneva Conventions chiefly address the treatment of non-combatants and prisoners of war. Because of that, I'm not sure where the Geneva Conventions would in fact apply. Perhaps he meant the Geneva Protocol instead, which banned the use of chemical and biological agents. Of course, I don't remember a point in CoD where that would apply either.

I will admit, I've seen torture embodied in other video games in the past, but generally in cut-scenes.

However, at the very least, this was an educational exercise as well. The son was forced to read the Geneva Conventions, and then discuss it with his father, as well as agreeing to follow them in-game. That's something a few past politicians should have done before making some of their decisions.