Techfile

Richard Waters

  • The Federal Communications Commission said it would look into the exclusive ties in the US that have limited some mobile handsets to particular operators. The promise came as AT&T prepared to welcome another spate of new customers, thanks to its exclusive deal to carry the iPhone in the US. Three students were the first to start lining up to buy the iPhone 3G S in New York, arriving 24 hours before the official Friday morning launch of the device. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster predicted sales of 500,000 this weekend.

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Richard Waters

  • After reported intervention by the US State department, Twitter delayed a scheduled maintenance outage so that its service would be available to help disseminate the message from protesters in Iran. With journalists there operating under increasingly heavy restrictions, the micro-blogging service has come to play an important role.
  • How do you salvage a former internet star that has been flirting with irrelevance? Sack nearly a third of the staff. That was the first move by new MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta on Tuesday as he tried to bring entrepreneurial drive back to the social networking site.

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Chris Nuttall

  • Facebook, which overtook its social networking rival MySpace in global users last year, has now surpassed it in the US, according to the comScore research firm.  Facebook users almost doubled in the space of a year to 70.28m, while MySpace members fell 5 per cent to 70.26m.
  • Mobile payments are becoming a hot area for investment. San Francisco-based Boku has launched with an announcement of $13m in funding from Benchmark Capital, Khosla Ventures and Index Ventures. It also said it had acquired Paymo and Mobillcash, two other mobile payments companies. In March, Nokia made a $70m investment in Obopay.

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  • Access to the internet is a human right. So said France‘s constitutional council, striking down a controversial law that would have given officials the power to block the internet access of persistent copyright violators. The government of Nicolas Sarkozy had sided with content creators in backing the idea.
  • Palm completed its Apple make-over. Jon Rubinstein, the former Apple wizard brought in to mastermind the well-received Pre, was named chief executive officer, taking over from Ed Colligan.
  • Microsoft is to stop selling its Money personal finance software, according to Cnet. Money has never achieved the same popularity as Quicken from Intuit, a company it once tried to buy. Microsoft had signalled its fading interest in the product by failing to take it online as Quicken has done, to compete with newcomers such as Mint.com.

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  • EMC continues to court Data Domain. Joe Tucci, EMC’s chief executive, today took the unusual step of writing an open letter to Data Domain employees, explaining why their company would fare better with EMC than with rival NetApp. It was an opportunity for Mr Tucci to plead his case, but of course he’s barking up the wrong tree. It is Data Domain’s board, not its employees, who will decide its fate. Data Domain has agreed to a hybrid offer of $30 a share from NetApp. EMC has in a $30 all-cash offer, which looks to be superior. Data Domain said it will respond to the EMC offer by June 16. Stay tuned.
  • Google opened up another front in its broadening war with Microsoft today as the search leader made its increasingly popular Gmail, contacts and calendar applications compatible with Microsoft’s ubiquitous Outlook system. Outlook isn’t going away any time soon, but the move by Google means that Microsoft has one more piece of turf to worry about protecting.

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Chris Nuttall

Apple’s annual  Worldwide Developers Conference opened today with intense speculation that a new iPhone would be unveiled when Phil Schiller, its vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, briefed the media at 10am Pacific time.

All we knew officially was that Apple would discuss the latest version of its operating system – Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard – and talk more about the 3.0 version of the iPhone OS.  A new iPhone would have been no surprise, and we expected a cheaper version to be announced as soon as today. Any appearance by chief executive Steve  Jobs, on medical leave till the end of this month, would have been a sensation.  Here’s how the event unfolded, with our live blogging from the  Moscone Center in San Francisco. Read more

  • Intel paid $884m in cash for Wind River Systems, a software company that should help the chipmaker’s push into new markets. Wind River, based in the San Francisco Bay area, represents Intel’s biggest acquisition in the four-year tenure of Paul Otellini as chief executive.
  • Data Domain said it would evaluate EMC‘s all cash $30 a share offer, a day after saying it had agreed to an offer of $30 in cash and stock from NetApp. The unusual reversal signaled potential discord within Data Domain’s management. EMC has significantly more free cash than NetApp, and is well-positioned to win the bidding war.

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  • If Carol Bartz is trying to cozy up to Microsoft, she certainly wasn’t showing it on Wednesday. Speaking at a Bank of America investment conference, the Yahoo CEO dismissed the new Bing “decision engine” with faint praise and predicted that it would have no impact on Microsoft’s status as an also-ran in the search business. She also suggested that some estimates of the cost-savings from a search pact with Microsoft had been overstated, and a deal would probably save Yahoo around $500m.
  • Google and Yahoo confirmed that they were among a number of tech companies to have received information requests from the Department of Justice about hiring practices. Following the DoJ’s decision to look into possible collusion arising from overlapping board seats between Google and Apple, the regulatory review was another sign that Washington’s new trust-busters are taking unusual approaches in their scrutiny of the tech industry.

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  • Bing made an early debut, but Microsoft‘s new search service is about to test new social and legal limits in its presentation of video clips. On Bing, “thumbnail”-sized video clips play automatically when a cursor hovers over them. That might be as far as any major company has gone to test the limits of the “fair use” defence to copyright infringement when it comes to video content.
  • Prime View International, the Taiwanese maker of screens for Amazon’s Kindle e-book readers, aims to consolidate its hold on the nascent “electronic paper” industry by acquiring E Ink, the US company that owns key technology for making the screens.

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  • The economic slump hasn’t ended yet. That was the word from the executives of Microsoft and Dell, as they countered the recent optimistic views expressed by other big tech companies. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, said: “To think that things would be back in a year seems naive to me.” Brian Gladden, Dell’s chief financial officer, said: “Based on what we see in the marketplace, we’re not comfortable talking about seeing a bottom at this point.”
  • Microsoft and Google took direct aim at each other’s core businesses as they showed off ambitious new services that represent some of their biggest internet development efforts. Microsoft unveiled its new search engine, Bing, to generally positive reviews. Google, meanwhile, stole the thunder by showing-off Wave, a new communication platform that incorporates elements of email, chat and document sharing.

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  • A Yahoo / Microsoft deal could still be struck if it involved “a boatload of money.” That was the word from Carol Bartz, Yahoo’s chief executive, who said her company is no longer in serious talks with Microsoft over a deal to combine their search efforts. But she acknowledged that negotiations between the two companies were continuing “a little bit”.
  • Time Warner is close to a decision to spin off all of its AOL internet business, according to three people in contact with the company. Although a decision has not yet been finalised, executives prefer spinning off the whole division rather than a part. Over the past year, Time Warner has considered spinning off either its advertising-driven “audience business” or its legacy dial-up internet business, they say.

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  • Facebook accepted a $200m investment from Digital Sky Technologies, a private Russian internet investment group, valuing the fast-growing social network’s preferred stock at $10bn. The unlikely union gives Facebook an additional cash cushion, but the $10bn valuation is a come down. Just a year and a half ago, Microsoft invested $240m on similar terms, but valued Facebook’s preferred stock at $15bn.
  • Psystar, the Florida company that was making unauthorised clones of Apple computers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The move puts at least a temporary end to Apple’s lawsuit against the company, and could indicate that Psystar’s backers have pulled out, anticipating a victory by Apple in court.

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  • In a peaceful transfer of power, Xerox on Thursday said Ursula Burns would replace Anne Mulcahy as chief executive, becoming the only female African-American chief executive among the Fortune 500’s top 150 companies. Ms Mulcahy, 56, who turned the printing company round after the dotcom bubble burst, will retire on July 1 but remain as chairman. Ms Burns, 50, currently president, is her closest lieutenant.
  • Perhaps it will be Government 2.0, after all. The Obama White House took an important step forward in its promise to use internet technology to make government more open and accountable, a move that helped to ease some of the criticism that has welled up during the administration’s early months. The new initiatives include a website, Data.gov, through which all types of government data will be released in machine-readable form, and an experimental open blog to shape the White House’s thinking on how the internet can be used more extensively in government.

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  • Google is one of those companies that we generally refer to as a frenemy,” New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said recently. Perhaps, but today Google proved it will be no saviour to the newspaper business, either. Google chief executive Eric Schmidt told the Financial Times that the company had previously considered buying a newspaper or using its charitable arm to support news businesses seeking non-profit status, but is now unlikely to pursue either option.
  • Craigslist is on the offensive. The US-based classified-advertising website has taken legal action against the attorney-general of South Carolina, who had attacked the site over its erotic services category. The company, which came under pressure from law enforcement officials to take down the section, then did so, is seeking declaratory relief and a restraining order against Henry McMaster, who has repeatedly threatened the company and its executives with criminal charges unless it complied with the requests.

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  • Speculation about Facebook‘s finances has once again been swirling, but chief executive Mark Zuckerberg at least provided a bit of clarity. Over the weekend VentureBeat said Facebook was about to close a $150m round to buy out shares from hundreds of employees. Then TechCrunch chimed in with a report that the company turned down a $200m term sheet that valued the company at $8bn because the investors wanted a board seat. Facebook is notoriously tight-lipped, but today Mr Zuckerberg said that his company is in no immediate need of capital, and that he does hope to take Facebook public, but not for a couple of years.
  • Could the worst be over? Hewlett-Packard said that stronger than expected Chinese and US consumer markets helped it beat Wall Street profit projections for the second quarter, and the world’s leading personal computer company by revenue struck a note of cautious optimism on the economy as a whole.

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  • Look out Amazon. Scribd, a digital document sharing service, is launching an online retail market for books and documents, betting that a surge in interest in reading online will help it transform into an Ebay or an Amazon.com of text. The two-year-old Silicon Valley start-up, whose doubling of audience size every six months has been compared to YouTube’s explosive growth, will let some 60m readers of its service begin charging each other for the rights to access just about anything uploaded to the service.
  • Facebook became a relying party for OpenID, the universal web login standard that is trying to gain traction. That means, for example, that Facebook users with an associated Gmail account will be able to browse Facebook without having to login if they are coming from Gmail. But Google, an issuing party, is not likely to become a relying party anytime soon. Doing so would mean surrendering some control of access to their proprietary accounts.

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  • A seven-year battle between the US Federal Trade Commission and Rambus, the memory-chip specialist, has ended in defeat for the FTC. The regulator had  ruled that Rambus plotted to get secretly patented technology it developed included in industry standards, but an appeal court had thrown out its ruling and, on Thursday, the FTC dropped the rest of its case.
  • Nintendo was the big winner in April in the US video game market. According to the NPD research firm’s monthly figures, it sold 1.08m units of its dual-screen handheld console following the introduction of the new DSi model on April 5. That was nearly double unit sales of 563,000 in March.

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  • IBM chief executive Sam Palmisano told invited analysts and investors Wednesday that the tech powerhouse was still on track for 2009 earnings of $9.20 a share and that it intends to keep spending on acquisitions, developing-world markets and research through the downturn. He singled out risk analysis and other analytics as a major growth opportunity, saying it would be “as big as” enterprise resource planning software in five years.
  • Facing mounting pressure from law enforcement agencies around the country, Craigslist said it would remove the “erotic services” section of its massive classified advertising website. In its place will be a new “adult services” section, where ads will be vetted by a Craigslist employee before being posted.

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