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January 1, 2007

Consumer Electronics Show Spoiler Alert

Posted by David Hunter at 11:14 PM ET.

The Consumer Electronics Show is coming up in Las Vegas on Jan. 8-11 and Rob Enderle provides a spoiler on multiple levels in The Battle for the Digital Home: Does Apple or Microsoft win?:

In the battle for the “Digital home,” the right answer (unless something changes) might be neither. I’ve just finished a review of the top contenders for awards at CES, and while I can’t divulge the winner (largely because I have no idea who it is), I can say that neither Microsoft’s nor Apple’s solutions came particularly close. Granted in Apple’s case that was largely because they don’t actually attend CES and seem to believe —with some justification — that they don’t have to. Microsoft seems to think they can continue to blame their partners for failures in this space, but right or wrong, failures are exactly that; at some point, I’ll bet either Bill Gates or Microsoft’s board will say, “Enough is enough” and step in.

Ouch! The rest of the article is about some smaller companies who may actually have some inspired ideas as to what the “Digital Home” might be, but if we can’t count on the big players for anything earthshaking, I expect that, like last year, we can at least count on them for something mirth making (e.g. [1], [2]).

As long as I’m dishing out brickbats, I can’t help but mention an electronic gadget that won’t be at CES, but from the description should be at Toy Fair. That’s the $150 One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) personal computer that got a puff piece over the weekend from the AP’s Brian Bergstein for among other things, its novel user interface:

When the student opts to view the entire “neighborhood” — the XO’s preferred term instead of “desktop” — other stick figures in different colors might appear on the screen. Those indicate schoolmates who are nearby, as detected by the computers’ built-in wireless networking capability.

Moving the PC’s cursor over the classmates’ icons will pull up their names or photos. With further clicks the students can chat with each other or collaborate on things — an art project, say, or a music program on the computer, which has built-in speakers.

The design partly reflects a clever attempt to get the most from the machine’s limited horsepower.

But the main design motive was the project’s goal of stimulating education better than previous computer endeavors have. Nicholas Negroponte, who launched the project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab two years ago before spinning One Laptop into a separate nonprofit, said he deliberately wanted to avoid giving children computers they might someday use in an office.

“In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint,” Negroponte wrote in an e-mail interview. “I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools.”

It’s bad enough that in the developed world the kids are given school computers as pacifiers instead of being taught to read, write, and do arithmetic; but now Mr. Negroponte wants to pass off this escapee from a toy store as an educational innovation to the Third World. The children of both worlds would be better off with books and teachers.

Filed under Apple, CES06, CES07, Conferences, Coopetition, Microsoft

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January 30, 2006

Microsoft disputes Negroponte on PCs for Third World

Posted by David Hunter at 8:18 AM ET.

You may recall that in November of last year, the United Nations sponsored a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis where MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte demonstrated a hand cranked $100 computer which he hoped could be distributed widely in developing nations. Since then the idea has picked up support from various Third World governments and recently, the UN itself. Well, it turns out that Negroponte ran the idea past Microsoft first and that sparked an alternative idea as well as some rancor. John Markoff at The NY Times has the details:

It sounds like a project that just about any technology-minded executive could get behind: distributing durable, cheap laptop computers in the developing world to help education. But in the year since Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, unveiled his prototype for a $100 laptop, he has found himself wrestling with Microsoft and the politics of software.

Mr. Negroponte has made significant progress, but he has also catalyzed the debate over the role of computing in poor nations — and ruffled a few feathers. He failed to reach an agreement with Microsoft on including its Windows software in the laptop, leading Microsoft executives to start discussing what they say is a less expensive alternative: turning a specially configured cellular phone into a computer by connecting it to a TV and a keyboard.

Bill Gates apparently demoed a mockup at the Consumer Electronics Show, but if so, it sank without a trace in the press release blizzard coming out of there. He apparently brought it up again at the World Economic Forum in Davos that he has been attending.

Craig J. Mundie, Microsoft’s vice president and chief technology officer, said in an interview here that the company was still developing the idea, but that both he and Mr. Gates believed that cellphones were a better way than laptops to bring computing to the masses in developing nations. “Everyone is going to have a cellphone,” Mr. Mundie said, noting that in places where TV’s are already common, turning a phone into a computer could simply require adding a cheap adaptor and keyboard. Microsoft has not said how much those products would cost.

Much more by following the link including suspicions of Microsoft jealousy over Negroponte’s use of Linux and criticisms of the wisdom of Negroponte’s plan. Frankly, both of these ideas seem like the hopeful belief of IT folks that a computer solves every problem and now I suspect we are in for a prolonged discussion.

Filed under Bill Gates, CES06, Conferences, Craig Mundie, Executives, General Business, Governmental Relations, Linux, Open Source, Public Relations

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January 9, 2006

Microsoft dropping Xbox 360 90 day target

Posted by David Hunter at 10:42 AM ET.

If you were wondering why Microsoft Xbox exec Peter Moore, in his brief appearance in Bill Gates’ CES keynote, introduced a new ship target of 4.5-5.5 million units by June, it’s because Microsoft isn’t going to make the original target of 3 million units in 90 days:

According to a report published in this morning’s Financial Times newspaper, Microsoft has abandoned its highly ambitious sales target of 3 million Xbox 360s delivered into the hands of consumers at the end of the console’s initial 90-day introduction period. Instead, the company will focus on the goal announced at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show of 4 million to 5.5 million units sold by the close at the company’s fiscal year at the end of June.

According to Peter Moore, chief of the company’s Xbox 360 division, the revision of sales estimates reflected the fact that “nothing’s perfect – [the Xbox 360 is] a complex piece of hardware that includes 1,700 different parts. Every now and again the line will slow down because something’s happened and there’ll be a component that didn’t make it that morning.”

There’s more by following the link and in the full Financial Times article (subscription required).

IGN has a reprise of some of the other facts and figures from Moore’s CES appearance here. Also, not that there was much doubt, but the announced HD DVD attachment for Xbox 360 is for movies, not for games.

Filed under CES06, Conferences, Executives, HD DVD, Hardware, Peter Moore, Xbox

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January 8, 2006

Microsoft blocking MP3s on Verizon V CAST phones?

Posted by David Hunter at 8:41 AM ET.

At CES last week, Verizon Wireless launched its V CAST music service for mobile phones using Microsoft’s Windows Media technology. Now Engadget points to PCS Intel who is reporting that installing V CAST removes a phone’s previous ability to play ordinary MP3 files such as those acquired from Apple’s iTunes store or created from a personal CD collection without a conversion to Windows Media formats.

Update: The final resolution of this was that Microsoft is not blocking MP3′s, it was a design choice by Verizon.

Filed under Apple, CES06, Conferences, Coopetition, DRM, Digital Media, Technologies, Verizon

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