Monthly Archives: August 2009

The semiconductor industry appears to be recovering rapidly from the recession, according to the latest industry figures.

Sales in July were down 18.2 per cent on the same month last year, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.

However, that compares to an average monthly fall of 25 per cent in the first six months of the year. Read more

It’s hard to escape the view that what really annoys the European book industry about Google’s ambitious digital library project is that only US internet users will be allowed to browse in it.

According to some estimates, a third or more of the in-copyright books that Google is scanning in US libraries are from European publishers and authors, but European internet users won’t get to see these works. The legal settlement only involves the digital rights to display them in the US.

If this galvanises Europe to work harder to create the conditions for its own digital library, so much the better. But as EU commissioner Viviane Reding warned at the end of this week, there are some significant hurdles to be overcome. Read more

Augmented reality comes to the FT

Today’s edition of the Financial Times features an experiment with an emerging technology which is already winning over geeks and marketeers alike: augmented reality. Read more

When Singularity University was announced in February, its organisers said that during the 10 week summer course, which concluded today, students would work together to solve humanity’s “grand challenges.” By combining their supposedly above-average wits with Silicon Valley’s latest technologies, the 40 or so SU students would find innovative solutions for perennial problems including energy scarcity, climate change and hunger.

The effort, backed by Google and NASA, came across as innovative, if a bit hubristic. With its emphasis on smarter-than-human computers, it also raised plenty of concerns. As we wrote at the time, “many critics call the singularity dangerous. Some worry that a malicious artificial intelligence might annihilate the human race.”

At its closing ceremony today, four teams of SU students presented their projects. What emerged were not futuristic plans to embed computer chips in the brain and build super-smart machines, but noble (if half-baked) plans that leverage existing technologies to address important (if not entirely grand) challenges. Read more

Venture capitalists are professional optimists – they have to be. How else could they keep investing in new businesses where the obstacles to success would seem insurmountable to most people?

But sometimes reality just has to be faced, and the reality in front of the VC industry right now is not pretty.

Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital sums it up here: half the industry could be swept away by the current downturn (though as an optimist, he clearly thinks he will end up in the fortunate half). Read more

In the evolution of the Amazon Cloud, Wednesday’s news of a trial service designed specifically for the core applications of large companies seems to mark a watershed.

So far, the Amazon pitch has mainly been directed at smaller companies, or at bigger ones looking for somewhere to host high-volume Web services. It is now trying to take things one step further. Read more

It may have taken close to 10 months, but opposition to the Google book settlement has finally coalesced.

The Open Book Alliance formally launched today with this promise:

The Open Book Alliance will counter Google, the Association of American Publishers and the Authors’ Guild’s scheme to monopolize the access, distribution and pricing of the largest digital database of books in the world.  To this end, we will promote fair and flexible solutions aimed at achieving a more robust and open system.

 Read more

The part of US information technology most at risk from a serious attack is the directory service that steers internet users to the websites they want, according to a federal report issued Tuesday after more than a year of study.

The report from the Department of Homeland Security and private information technology leaders rated the chances of something serious going wrong with six key functions as part of the IT sector “baseline risk assessment.” Those assessments are being published for 18 sectors deemed critical to the country’s national security. Read more

Citizendium was meant to represent an advance on Wikipedia. Compared to the flame wars and defacement that occasionally blight articles on the popular online encyclopedia, Citizendium founder Larry Sanger wanted to create a place for the world to share its knowledge in a more controlled atmosphere. He saw it as somewhere that expertise would be given its due and where the discussion could rise above the rabble (see today’s news for Wikipedia’s own latest attempt to control the crowd).

It only added to the intrigue that Sanger and Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s Svengali, had fallen out badly – indeed, were in dispute over how much credit each should get for the creation of Wikipedia in the first place (see Sanger’s Wikipedia page for more).

Now, Sanger tells me, he wants to move on from Citizendium, and is looking for a suitable institution to take over management of his pet project – though he promises he will not leave it in the lurch (see the comment added below). Read more

“Good enough” used to be Microsoft’s mantra: why pay more for corporate IT when Windows on the server works well enough in most situations?

That same argument has been turned against it by a succession of rivals, from Linux to Google Apps. These and many others have exposed Microsoft’s feature-creep and often left it defending the higher-cost option (and led it to look to defensive alliances like one with Nokia – see note below).

In emerging markets, though, Microsoft has less of an entrenched business to defend and is freer to innovate. Take today’s news from Redmond, of a Java-like environment with the potential to turn hundreds of millions of standard mobile phones into simple internet-connected devices. Read more

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, like so many private company bosses, is notoriously coy when it comes to numbers. He only periodically provides updates on the all-important number of active users (250m was the last official tally). And don’t bother trying to get Mr Zuckerberg to estimate revenues (unofficial estimates are $500m for the year). But in a rare moment of candour, Mr Zuckerberg provided Bloomberg with two interesting figures.

He said that Facebook plans to expand its headcount by as much as 50 per cent this year. The recession has resulted in a surplus of talented engineers, and Facebook plans to scoop up some of these workers while they are on the market. Though the engineers at FriendFeed were gainfully employed, Facebook’s acquisition of FriendFeed two weeks ago clearly fits into Mr Zuckerberg’s bulking-up strategy. Read more

The unveiling of Nokia’s new Booklet 3G is the second piece of news this month to highlight the striking change that has gone on in the relationship between the once implacable enemies from the mobile and PC worlds. For both companies this makes eminent sense – up to a point.

The first development was the agreement to put Microsoft’s Office on Nokia’s handsets (though timing and product details were entirely absent). This involved the tacit admission from Microsoft that its Windows Mobile platform was losing ground. With RIM, Apple and Google making the running, it was time to seed its software on other platforms, even if that meant cozying up to Nokia. Read more

The US may have cleared Oracle’s acquisition of Sun, but there’s still a view among some people who have been close to this transaction that it won’t be the easy sell in Europe that Wall Street seems to assume.

According to this view, Oracle won’t get the same free pass to acquire Java that it got from the Department of Justice, but will be forced to accept some sort of undertaking to ensure that licensing of Java does not become overly restrictive. Given the central part Java has played in building a counter-weight to Microsoft in the software industry, it isn’t hard to see why European regulators might be interested. There have been rumblings that SAP has been lobbying hard with Brussels on this issue.

If so, then someone forgot to tell Hasso Plattner. The chairman of SAP’s supervisory board, and a co-founder of the company, Plattner was in Silicon Valley late this week, and I got the chance to ask him how he feels about Java passing to Oracle. Read more

As Google celebrates its fifth anniversary as a listed company, the FT’s Lex column considers the search giant’s most costly acquisition — YouTube.

Bought in 2006 for $1.65bn in stock, the video streaming site has rocketed to a dominant position in online video . . . But Google shareholders are paying to provide the world with laughing baby clips. Estimates for the cost of streaming over 5bn videos a month range from $400m to $700m annually. While Google does not break out the figures, losses are likely to be in the hundreds of millions.

 Read more

Sony has changed the dimensions of its PlayStation 3 console and the dynamics of the current generation console wars with the introduction of the PS3 “Slim” from September 1 at $299 in the US.

Sony gave me a quick tour of the new console in San Francisco on Wednesday. Take a look at the smaller, lighter, less shiny PS3 in a video after the jump. Read more

When Ebay and General Motors last week announced they would partner to let California buyers haggle with dealers online, observers said the deal would be a “win-win for both sides”, if it worked.

After a week of the arrangement Ebay released some figures that suggest if the deal’s not working already, it might.

Through August 17 the new co-branded “virtual showroom” got 630,000 visits, and users performed just shy of 1m searches of GM inventory. More importantly, the company said about 2,400 new car buyers had entered into talks with dealers as a result of the promotion.

But Ebay didn’t release the most important number — how many new vehicles it has helped GM sell. Read more

It’s hard to know how much to read into the gains that Bing has notched up in its first eight weeks, but one thing’s for sure: if it hadn’t shown these early signs of life Microsoft would currently be facing a barrage of criticism and some very difficult decisions.

The latest figures from comScore today show Bing clawing back half a percentage point of the US search market for Microsoft in July. At 8.9 per cent, its share is now up nearly a point from the 8.0 per cent recorded in May. Read more

Next month it will be precisely ten years since the US Patent and Trademark Office issued patent number 5960411 to

This is the case that did more than any other to draw attention to a US patenting system run amok. It gave Amazon protection for its “1-click” check-out system. Armed with this official seal of exclusivity, Amazon quickly persuaded a judge to block a rival system used by Barnes & Noble. Read more

The debate over what to do with those caught swapping music and movies online has flared up again this weekend after the FT reported that the UK government was considering accelerating its anti-piracy plans.

Recent ministerial changes have given record labels and other rights holders fresh ears for their lobbying, after the departure of Lord Carter, whose Digital Britain report pledged to reduce piracy by 70 per cent.

A renewed push for tougher sanctions against filesharers seems to be working. Stephen Timms, the Treasury minister who took the Digital Britain reins this month, has hinted that Ofcom could be given its “backstop” powers to force ISPs to restrict offenders’ broadband connections or block access to certain sites sooner than expected. Read more

Eric Schmidt likes to claim that competition for Google’s search users is “just one click away”.

It’s easy to brush that off as a gesture to appease regulators, or just plain paranoia. But there’s a clear element of truth to it.

ComScore’s latest analysis of the US search market, released today, rubs in the point that Google’s users have already found out how to click elsewhere: they just aren’t doing it that much yet. Read more