Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sony And Google Drop The Slam-Dunk On Amazon

As Originally Posted to BusinessWeek.com

Amazon (AMZN) Chief Executive Jeff Bezos won't tell you how many Kindles he's sold, but he's happy to share the number of e-book titles available on the device: 250,000, at last count.

With one fell swoop, a rival has made that library look small. On Mar. 19, Sony (SNE) announced the addition of 500,000 titles to the collection of 100,000 e-books currently available to Sony Reader devices. Sony is giving away the books through a partnership with Google (GOOG), which has already scanned and stored some 7 million books for its Google Book Search project. Neither partner disclosed details of the arrangement, but Google says that more of the public domain titles it has scanned will be available to Sony Readers in the future.

In theory, the availability of more books from Sony could take momentum away from Amazon, which has benefited from buzz around its Kindle 2 reader in recent months. "Part of Amazon's shtick about the value of [the Kindle] is the size of their library," says Michael Norris, an analyst at media researcher Simba Information. Many of Sony's free titles cost money on the Kindle. Kenneth Grahame's children's classic, The Wind in the Willows, will set the buyer back $2.39, for instance.

Sony Focused on Devices

But more than anything, the partnership underscores a key distinction between the Sony and Amazon strategies that in the long run could work to Amazon's advantage. Amazon, which recently began selling e-books to users of devices other than the Kindle, including Apple's (AAPL) iPhone, has shown it's as interested in selling digital books as it is in selling machines.

Meantime, by loading its reader with free books, Sony may be more focused on devices. "Amazon's business is selling books, and Sony's business is selling hardware," says Gartner Group's (ITT) Van Baker. The company has sold more than 400,000 Sony Readers, which now cost between $300 and $350. Amazon hasn’t disclosed the number of Kindle devices it has sold, which cost $359, but Citigroup (C) analyst Mark Mahaney estimated that the company had sold 500,000 by the end of 2008.

For starters, the Amazon approach may appeal to people who are interested in newer, more expensive books, such as New York Times bestsellers, Baker says. At $10 bucks a pop through Amazon, books add up. Sure, Sony lures e-reader buyers with free books, but at some stage, sales of digital books will outweigh the revenue generated through the sale of a machine.

Missing: A Wireless Store

And even though free books enhance the appeal of the Sony Reader, its hardware still lacks one feature that's been most important to Kindle's success: a wireless store. Unlike Kindle owners, who can download books to their device wherever they are, Sony Reader users must plug into their computers. "We will launch a wireless reader," says Steve Haber, president of Sony's digital reading division, though he doesn't specify when.

Sony could see an unintended effect of releasing so many free books on its platform: downward pressure on demand for its paid books. "If you're selling a book for $9.99 and it's going to be on a virtual shelf with half a million books that are available for free, questions about value come into play," Simba's Norris says.

Sony's approach has some advantages. The company has adopted a standard for e-books called ePub that essentially means Sony e-books can be read on other devices that use that same standard. Amazon's books have to be read on devices it has approved. "Sony's ePub announcement was a terrific way for them to show that they're willing to support more open formats than Amazon is," says Joe Wikert, general manager at technology researcher O'Reilly.

Still, Amazon isn't likely to sit on the sidelines while Sony scores points with readers.

Friday, March 27, 2009

D.I.Y. - PC Component Reviews

Originally Posted to ZDNet

Welcome to the updated and revamped Hardware 2.0 “Very Best Kit List” for Mar/Apr 09. Here I’ve put together a list of the best high-end and mid-range and budget components currently available. So if you’re thinking of buying, building or even upgrading a PC, this list is a must-read for you!

This new kit list has been expanded significantly from the last time I published a kit list.

These components are on this list because I firmly believe them to be the best either in terms of performance or price - although I’m ready to admit, as always, that there’s room for debate and some choices “go with the gut” more than others.

NOTE: Each time I come out with a list of kit I always end up fielding a few emails and comments from people wondering if companies have “bought” space on the list. Let me tell you now that the only way for a product to get on this list is to be the best - period. Manufacturers, vendors and PR companies have zero influence over this or any other recommendation that I make.

Also note: I’m looking to expand this list by adding more categories and components. If you’d like to see anything added, let me know!

Final note: All prices are approximate … shop around for the best deals!


Extreme - Intel Core i7 965 Extreme Edition

Quad-core, 3.2GHz

The Core i7 processors represents a new era in architecture for Intel. Gone is the LGA 775 socket, instead replaced by the larger Socket LGA 1366.

With the Core i7 Intel has also reintroduced Hyper-Threading, giving the desktop CPUs the power of eight virtual cores. You also get the brand new X58 chipset and support for DDR3.

Additional info - What you need to go Core i7!!!

Price: $1010

Mid-range - Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600

Quad-core, 2.4GHz

The quad-core Core 2 Quad Q6600 is one of the best CPUs Intel has ever made. Sure, there are more powerful pieces, and the Q6600 is now looking a little old (the 65nm architecture it’s based on now dates it), but it’s still a great CPU. For most enthusiasts it’s still the first rung on the ladder of quad-core ownership.

Price: $195

Budget - Intel Core 2 Duo E7300

Dual-core, 2.66GHz

The E7300 is an excellent CPU. It’s a 2.66GHz part based on Intel’s 45nm Wolfdale architecture. But that’s not the reason I’ve chosen the E7300 for this package. I’ve chosen it because it is highly overclockable.

You can get this CPU up to 4GHz easily (Google is your friend) where it will run 100% stable. This puts an enormous amount of power at your disposal!

However, to get the most from the E7300, you’ll need a motherboard that offers you plenty of overclocking potential. But don’t worry, I’ve chosen one that’s perfect for the job!

Price: $130


Extreme - Asus P6T Deluxe/OC Palm

The Asus P6T Deluxe is, without a doubt, the best motherboard to match up with the Core i7. There are cheaper boards, and there are now boards that cost more, but the P6T Deluxe/OC Palm is the best. It’s a fast, stable board that’s packed with features and settings for the enthusiast and overclocker.

Excellent board!

Price: $330

Mid-range - BioStar TPower I45

The BioStar TPower I45 is a great mid-range board because it combines rock-solid features with the ability to handle overclocking so you can unleash the hidden potential of your other hardware. I’m now amazed how many lower-speced boards offer very sophisticated overclocking features.

Another well laid out, fully-featured board from BioStar. Keep an eye on this company over the coming year, I expect to see more good things from it!

Price: $160

Budget - BioStar TP45HP

The TP45HP a good all-round board that offers plenty of options in the way of USB, SATA, Ethernet and so on. It’s also another example of a rock-solid board that shouldn’t give you any problems in day to day usage.

But the main reason I’ve picked this particular board for this package is that it’s a great board for overclocking. In fact, I’d go as far as to call it an overclocker’s dream board.

Price: $110


Extreme - Corsair Dominator TR3X6GB1600C8D 3×6GB

6GB of high-performance DDR3 RAM with loads of overclocking potential - what more could you ask for!

  • DDR3 rating - PC3-12800
  • Freq - 1,600MHz
  • Timing - 8-8-8-24
  • Bandwidth - 12.8GB/s

Price: $215

Mid-range - OCZ PC2-8500 Reaper HPC 2×2GB

Fast, reliable RAM with plenty of over head. Coolers are a bit weird but if you can ignore that, this is a good buy!

  • DDR2 rating - PC2-8500
  • Freq - 1,066MHz
  • Timing - 5-5-5-15
  • Bandwidth - 8.5GB/s

Price: $80

Budget - Corsair 2X2048-6400 2×2GB

Solid product with a decent backing. Also offers some overclocking potential. Great value for the price.

  • DDR2 rating - PC2-6400
  • Freq - 800MHz
  • Timing - 4-4-4-12
  • Bandwidth - 6.4GB/s

Price: $50

Read Entire Review at ZDNet

Some Flash Drives More Equal Than Others

Originally Posted to ZDNet

Low-priced SATA flash drives are tempting. But beware: some of them test at an abysmal 2 random writes per second!

The hype around flash SSDs attracted bottom-feeders to build junk drives with USB thumb drive controllers that were never intended for disk-level performance. Stuff them full of off-spec flash and you have I/O disaster.

Avoid flash SSD garbage
Modern journaled file systems do 2 writes - metadata and journal - for every file you open. Open a few files on one of these SSDs and you’d have a good long wait before you could get to work - at 10x the cost of a hard disk drive.

You’ve heard of “slow food?”
The test results come from hard drive and SSD test equipment maker Calypso Systems. All SSDs and hard drives were fresh out of the box and tested on the same benchmarks on the same testbed.


MLC SSD vs HD performance on 2k, 4k and 128k writes.

Graph courtesy Calypso Systems.

How to avoid a lemon
Calypso wants to get business from everyone who makes SSDs - so they didn’t finger the bad guys. But their results suggest a strategy for getting what you think you’re paying for: a high-performance flash SSD.

  • SLC = performance. Single level cell (SLC) flash is lower density and 4x the cost of multi level cell (MLC) flash - but it offers 10x the write life of MLC. Garage-shop vendors putting out garbage SSDs aren’t likely to invest in costly SLC flash so you’re more likely to get what you paid for.
  • MLC = caution. Calypso’s results show that not all MLC are created equal: there are good ones out there. But when you see a low-priced MLC drive you should wonder why.
  • Find customer reviews! Storage civilians may not know why a drive is slow - but their experience can help you avoid lemons. Make sure your vendor has a good return policy too.
  • 3rd gen drives. Like any new technology it’s taken the engineers a while to learn how to deliver the goods. The 3rd gen drives from Samsung and Intel have garnered good reviews because they’ve ironed out most of the kinks.

Note that price isn’t a predictor either.

The Storage Bits take
There are good MLC flash drives along with the junk. Today’s virtual-memory, multi-tasking operating systems rely on predictable I/O to deliver decent performance. You can spend a lot of money and cripple your system at the same time.

That said, after a long wait there are finally some good flash SSDs out there. I’ve been using 2nd-gen MacBook Air with a 128 GB SSD for the last several months and I’ve been pleased. Boot times are a little faster than my 10k WD VelociRaptor-equipped quad-core Mac Pro - but the Pro has more startup items - and that’s a good thing.

Many small writes - mostly software installs - bring the SSD to its knees. Worth the extra $500? Not really. But at least it does what Apple promised - unlike the garbage from some vendors.

California Legislator Believes Google Maps Could Aid Terrorists, Calls For Censorship

Original Story Posted to ZDNet

Imagine if all the hospitals, schools, churches, and government buildings that appear on online maps were nothing but blurs.

That would not only reduce the usefulness of things like Google Maps and Google Earth, but it would be a huge undertaking for Google and would probably violate the First Amendment.

But that's exactly what California Assemblyman Joel Anderson, a Republican from El Cajon, is proposing in a measure dubbed "AB-255."

The measure would apply to Web site operators and online services that make "a virtual globe browser available to members of the public" and fails to define what that is. It also specifies that a violation would constitute a criminal offense with fines of up to $250,000 per day.

So, all the government agencies that use Google Earth and want the public to be able to find their buildings could conceivably be in violation as well.

As justification for the proposed censorship, Anderson is citing terrorism.

"We heard from terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks last year that they used Google Maps to select their targets and get knowledge about their targets. Hamas has said they were using Google Maps to target children's schools," Anderson told Computerworld. "What my bill does is limit the level of detail. It doesn't stop people from getting directions. We don't need to help bad people map their next target. What is the purpose of showing air ducts and elevator shafts? It does no good."

Google spokeswoman Elaine Filadelfo told Computerworld that the company hopes to talk to Anderson about the proposed legislation.

Privacy complaints have led Google to blur images of official buildings in several instances. The U.S. military banned Google from taking street view images from inside military bases and in 2007 India asked that certain government and military buildings be blurred.

The Cloud Market: Google Vs. Microsoft

Originally Posted to ZDNet

Both Queensland University for Technology (QUT) and Ohio State University (OSU) have now signed up to Live@edu, Microsoft’s online cloud suite designed for students, including Hotmail, SkyDrive and Workspaces.

Over 100,000 students from these two universities are now using Live@edu, after extensive testing resulted in Microsoft getting the deal and Google being pushed our of the picture.

15GB space with Windows Live Workspaces, not 5GB
Mobile device support is given through Hotmail/Outlook Live

3 million over 6 million students (thanks Microsoft PR) worldwide use Live@edu whereas Google Apps’ user figure isn’t available, Microsoft nevertheless seems to be catching up. Twenty other universities are in talks with Microsoft to offer their services to students, which as free services go aren’t bad, especially in this current economic downturn.

Many universities offer a mediocre storage limit for email, as most students don’t appear to get many messages. On the other hand, some do - like me - where I use my University of Kent email address as a main account. The majority of students have to choose which messages to keep and which to delete when it they use email to transfer work from campus to home and vice-versa.

To be fair, either service is as good as one another in my professional opinion, although Google’s cloud office feature which works far better than Microsoft’s Live Workspaces, which has yet to catch up on.

Private Data Leaked From Google Docs

Originally Posted to ZDNet

Google has confirmed that a software bug in its Google Docs online applcation service exposed documents thought to be privately stored.

The problem was fixed by the weekend, and is believed to have affected only half a percent of the digital documents at a Google Docs service that provides text-handling programs as services on the Internet.

Google Docs Product Manager Jennifer Mazzon wrote the following in a message on the official Google Docs blog on Saturday:

“We’ve identified and fixed a bug where a very small percentage of users shared some of their documents inadvertently.”

“We’re sorry for the trouble this has caused. We understand our users’ concerns (in fact, we were affected by this bug ourselves) and we’re treating this very seriously.”

According to Google, the problem occurred in cases where people had chosen to collaborate on multiple documents and adjusted settings to allow access to others. Collaborators were unintentionally given permission to access documents aside from the ones intended.

“As part of the fix, we used an automated process to remove collaborators and viewers from the documents that we identified as having been affected,” Mazzon said.

“We then emailed the document owners to point them to their affected documents in case they need to re-share them.”

Google and other companies (such as Drop.io) are encouraging users to migrate online software-as-a-service and other offerings “in the cloud,” instead of using desktop software. The companies insist the move is safe, but just where do you draw the line?

Small as it is, is half a percent too risky for the cloud?

Is Google's Cloud Secure?

Originally Posted at ZDNet

A Washington-based privacy group wants the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation of the cloud-computing services offered by Google - including Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar and others - to ensure that they are as secure as Google promises they will be.

Specifically, the matters stems from reports earlier this month that a software bug in Google Docs publicly exposed documents believed to be private. The company said the glitch affected one-half of one percent of the documents stored online.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center pointed out in its petition to the FTC that Google uses language in its marketing statements that suggest to users that their documents are safe and secure and that users can “rest assured that your documents, spreadsheets and presentations will remain private unless you publish them to the Web or invite collaborators and/or viewers.”

The group cites other security breach incidents involving Google, though none since January 2007, when a security flaw involving Google Desktop was found. The group notes that the matter becomes critical because cloud computing services are growing in popularity among both consumers and businesses, greatly increasing the potential for risk.

Google said the Google Docs problem earlier this month occurred in cases where people had chosen to collaborate on multiple documents and adjusted settings to allow access to others. Collaborators were unintentionally given permission to access documents aside from the ones intended.

Dell Adamo: Up Close And Personal

images from ZDNet / Cnet

Did Dell Forget We Were In A Recession?

Originally Posted to ZDNet

As I sometime am inclined to do, I’m going to head a bit off-topic (the topic being educational technology) and take a stab at Dell’s Adamo laptop. Fellow blogger, Larry Dignan, gave a fairly measured assessment of the “MacBook Air Killer” this morning, ultimately asking if the market was really ready for this product.

My answer? NO! Are you kidding me? A $2000 laptop so fashion-conscious executives and yuppies can sit in first class or at Starbucks comfortably typing on their uber-sleek laptops? They can probably buy them with their ill-gotten bonuses derived from federal bailout funds.

Have you seen the Adamo website? It’s the most ridiculous piece of branding I’ve encountered in a long time. There I go with that branding word; you can tell I’ve been hanging out on Twitter with too many marketing and PR types. But the word fits here. Let’s make Dell glamorous, shall we? The Adamo will look right at home on the catwalk with the new Japanese robot supermodel.

Who cares? For the price of a base Adamo, I can put at least 6 netbooks onto kids’ desks (OK, there’s the Ed Tech tie in - this can’t just be a rant), or, for that matter, outfit 4 or 5 employees in a business with a functional mobile computer that they can use to telecommute as needed and save a few hundred pounds of carbon.

Obviously, people should be able to buy whatever they want. Money talks, right? But in an economic climate that is only expected to get worse for the next year, value talks. How are people going to be using the Adamo? Surfing the net? Checking their email? Writing a document? Watching a movie? HP’s Mini 1000 will do all of those things quite happily for a quarter of the base price (give them a month or two and the Mini will probably also handle HD content).

Anyone who needs more probably won’t care that their laptop is only .65″ thick or that they can get “elegantly matched external peripherals” or their choice of “silver aluminum with unique edging and a pearl finish” or “only aluminum with a brushed finish.”

And here I was, seriously considering whether the netbook I snag would be an Inspiron Mini or an HP Mini. I’m afraid Dell’s little “branding” exercise made the decision for me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Sort Of Man Uses Adamo?

Originally Posted to ZDNet

Dell finally unveiled its Adamo feather welterweight laptop this morning, and it’s a beauty — arguably the most beautiful PC to date.

But does it matter?

Basking in dramatic lighting and beautiful photography, the Adamo is as impressive as a woman who can strut down the sidewalk in a pair of 5.5-inch Christian Louboutin stilettos. Why? Besides the subtle pattern that recalls a high-end handbag and the clean lines that reference Sweden’s best design firms — after all, if Apple’s Macbook Air has the gentle sloping lines of Pininfarina, the 13.4-in. Adamo has the hard lines of RB Arkitektur — it’s not a bad piece of hardware.

Notice I didn’t say, “for the price.”

First, the specs:

  • 0.65-in. thin profile (Macbook Air: 0.16 to 0.76 in. thick)
  • 13.4-in. 16:9 HD widescreen display with edge-to-edge glass
  • Aluminum body
  • Backlit, scalloped, full-size keyboard (Ynqwie Malmsteen, eat your heart out.)
  • 128GB SSD
  • 1.2/1.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor with Centrino tech
  • 2GB/4GB 800MHz DDR3 dual channel memory
  • Wireless N, Bluetooth 2.1, one RJ45 port, optional mobile broadband
  • 5 hours of battery life
  • Compact power adapter
  • Peripherals that match, like the Air
  • 4.0 lbs., versus Macbook Air’s 3.0 lbs.

…so while it’s no Alienware machine, it’s formidable for the form factor.

Furthermore, there are no “Intel Inside” or any such geeky proclamation of power, according to CNET’s Rafe Needleman. The Adamo’s profile is frictionless.

Simply, the Adamo is a laptop for the discerning lady or gentleman. Yes Larry, that means GQ or Men’s Vogue or Elle or Glamour or even the fellows who wear Church’s on their feet and ride the Amtrak Acela to work.

However — and a big however here — it is not for the cost-minded. The form factor commands a hefty premium, to the tune of $1,999 or $2,699. Consumer laptops haven’t been sold at such prices in years.

(Save for the Air itself, which retails for $1,799 for a 1.6 GHz CPU and 120GB HDD and $2,499 for a 1.86 GHz CPU and 128GB SSD. To compare in-house, a Dell XPS M1330 laptop equipped with a 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 3GB RAM, Wireless N, Bluetooth and 128GB SSD will run you about $1,044.)

But is the Adamo a consumer laptop? Sure, if you pay $6 for your coffee. But if you didn’t understand half the references in the third paragraph of this post, it’s probably not for you, either.

Why Adamo matters

With the world ensconced in a global recession, how exactly is the Adamo relevant? Isn’t the age of the yuppie over?

Perhaps. But Adamo is a major blow to Apple, king of premium branding perception. Until now, Apple has pretty much cornered the premium laptop market — the one not intended for gamers, but professionals. If you wanted to have a reasonably good-looking machine, inside and out, you paid Apple for that service. Short of uber-geek supermachines, Apple’s line of Macbooks claimed most mobile superlatives. And Microsoft and its cadre of PC manufacturers — Dell, HP/Compaq, Sony, etc. — haven’t really turned out a notebook worthy of a glass house.

Until now. Finally, the PC user has something for an Apple buyer to be envious of. Finally, the Windows user has hardware that doesn’t scream, “I’m a PC, and my refrigerator is still eggshell.” We have graduated from the regrettable visual combination of glossy white and silver paint that has plagued many a PC since Apple introduced the first Macbook Pro in Jan. 2006.

It’s all about perception

For Microsoft, there finally exists hardware that brings Windows in line as more than just a computer for the pocket protector set (even if most people actually use Windows). Microsoft’s banking on Windows 7 to usher in a new era of the company’s branding and perception — hip, cool, unobtrusive — and Adamo finally fits the “return to hip” message in the way that so many XPS, Pavilion, Vaio (save for the recent, diminutive P-Series) and netbook machines have failed.

Impractical as it is, Adamo screams “Geek no more!” It represents the culmination of the PC craze that has introduced a computer into 51 percent of homes in 2000 — now nine long years ago.

The computer is no longer a novelty — it’s now an accessory, something to be taken for granted. Once there are computers everywhere, how do you distinguish yourself? With looks. The Adamo represents all of this.

Don’t like it? Don’t buy it

Does Dell care if you buy Adamo? Well, if you were disgusted by the price and the marketing, the company wasn’t counting on you to buy it anyway. (But you probably got the hint after seeing the Jet-Setter and Entrepreneur packages, didn’t you?) But for those who saw the full-page advertisement in Harper’s Bazaar, it’s the solution for someone who cares about fashion but hasn’t had a Windows option.

Remember: The “world’s thinnest notebook” was introduced just over a year ago at $1,799, and one analyst said it represented 16 percent of Apple’s sales in 2008. Since its introduction, it has done wonders for Apple’s image. It draws stares — even jealousy.

That’s the point of Adamo. To make you notice.

The Making Of The Dell Adamo

Originally Posted to ZDNet

After months of teases, Dell has finally launched its Adamo high-end ultraportable. The basic design–an ultra-thin 13-inch laptop in the mold of the MacBook Air, Lenovo ThinkPad X301 and HP Voodoo Envy 133– has been well-known since the company’s press conference at CES in January. The specs are pretty much what you’d expect from a premium ultraportable including a glossy, edge-to-edge 13.4-inch LED display, ultra low-voltage Intel processor and solid-state disk (SSD).

By now, we know what Adamo is for. It is part of an ongoing, broader company makeover that includes developing more innovative products, establishing a retail business and expanding internationally. The question is, who is it for? Adamo, which starts at $2,000, is hardly the only luxe laptop out there, but it’s a tough time to be launching a new one.

CNET.com has extensive coverage of the launch including a hands-on preview, market analysis and even a detailed look at one of the design goals–hiding the ugly Microsoft, Dell and FCC stickers plastered all over your typical Windows PC.

Adamo is all about design, and its most distinctive trait is a very thin chassis. At 0.65 inches thick, it is arguably the current thinnest laptop in the world, though it depends a bit on how you measure the MacBook Air, which has a more tapered design. The basic design is a rectangular slab of aluminum that looks similar to Voodoo Envy 133, though Adamo is available in white as well as black. It is also a bit heavier than the competition at 4.0 pounds–that’s heavier than the ThinkPad X301 with a an internal DVD burner (which Adamo does not have).

  • Dell Adamo: 0.65 x 13.03 x 9.5 inches; 4.0 pounds
  • Apple MacBook Air: 0.16-0.76 x 12.8 x 8.94 inches; 3.0 pounds
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X301: 0.73-0.92 x 12.5 x 9.1 inches; 3.12 pounds (with 6-cell battery and no optical drive)
  • HP Voodoo Envy 133: 0.70 x 12.65 x 9.04; 3.37 pounds

Although Dell offers several different packages, Adamo isn’t fully configurable. The $1,999 base model includes the 13.4-inch LED display (1,366×768), 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U9300, 2GB or memory, Intel GS45 integrated graphics and a 128GB SSD. That is a reasonable configuration for the price considering the aluminum construction, Intel ultra low-voltage chip and especially the SSD are big-ticket items.

The proof will be in the reviews, but based on what we know, Adamo looks to have an innovative design and decent performance. But it enters the market a difficult time, and it faces a lot of competition–not only from other luxury laptops but also other Dell notebooks. Dell has been accumulating laptop brands, sub-brands and models at a rapid clip. It now sells notebooks under Inspiron (and Inspiron Mini netbooks), Vostro, Latitude, Precision, Studio, XPS and most recently Studio XPS brands–not to mention the Alienware gaming laptops. Several of these include similar laptops with high-end configurations, most notably the XPS M1330 and Studio XPS 13, which both have 13.3-inch widescreen displays. For example, you can currently pick up the new Studio XPS 13 with a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo P8700, 4GB of memory, Nvidia GeForce 9500M graphics with 256MB, a 500GB hard drive and slot-loading DVD burner for $1,588.

Adamo is meant to appeal to a niche audience that is willing to pay a premium for the design. It is also, I suspect, as much a marketing experiment as a product. The entire rollout–the leaked product shots, the cute code-name that stuck, the sneak preview press conference, and the Flash-heavy site (adamobydell.com) and online videos–all seem like tests of new ways to get the word out about Dell’s product designs, which have in fact been getting a lot more interesting since the release of the XPS M1330 in late 2007. Dell executives have said the 13.4-inch laptop is only the beginning of what will be a family of Adamo products, and some analysts believe Adamo is meant to have a halo effect over all of Dell’s products–in much the same way that the iPod and iPhone have helped spur sales of Macs. So what Adamo may lack in sales numbers, it could make up for in other areas.

If IBM Buys Sun, What Does It Mean For Linux?

Originally Posted to ZDNet

Rumor has it, IBM is looking at buying Sun. No surprise that we’re seeing consolidation in a down market, but will this mean consolidation in the open source space?

I’ll let others speculate on the affect it might have on the hardware market, but I’m curious what would happen to the open source operating system ecosystem. Would IBM keep trying to build a separate OpenSolaris community, or put all the weight behind Linux?

The two communities can (and do) exist side-by-side, and Sun’s contributions to FOSS projects like GNOME benefit the entire FOSS ecosystem - not just OpenSolaris. Sun doesn’t have the same conflict of interest that IBM would, though.

Would IBM continue to support Linux if it had a second open source operating system to look after? In trying economic times, one has to wonder. IBM has been a staunch supporter of Linux, but the company has also dabbled in OpenSolaris, and still maintains AIX. From the corporate viewpoint, it might seem to make more sense to back either Linux or OpenSolaris, rather than maintaining AIX, OpenSolaris, and putting support into Linux as well.

Linux and OpenSolaris are both free *nix operating systems, so why does it matter if IBM goes the OpenSolaris route? It comes down to control: No single vendor controls Linux’s destiny. Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and all of the other vendors participating in Linux development have limited control over development, and their customers have plenty of options.

Even the Linux Foundation is merely a steward for some of the community’s resources, and doesn’t control the direction of the kernel or the larger software ecosystem that make up Linux distros.

Customers have their choice of Linux vendors, contributors have their choice of projects to contribute to. That’s not really true of OpenSolaris. For Solaris/OpenSolaris, there’s really only one game in town. True, a few OpenSolaris derivatives have popped up, but none have the resources of a major company or large project behind them. Backing OpenSolaris means putting a lot of trust in the company behind it. True, the community or a competitor could fork OpenSolaris, but bootstrapping that sort of thing would take time and a lot of effort.

And for IBM, OpenSolaris would require a lot more manpower in the long run. It seems that it would make more sense for Big Blue to provide a migration path for Solaris customers to Linux.

It’s all speculation right now, but if the deal goes through, I hope IBM signals its intentions early on.

Why Big Blue Sun Makes Sense

Originally Posted at ZDNet

IBM is reportedly in talks to buy Sun Microsystems for $6.5 billion and the deal is long overdue. The companies mesh on the open source software front, Sun is struggling and IBM can consolidate some server market share.

First, the headlines. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that IBM could acquire Sun as early as this week (Techmeme). IBM would pay all cash for Sun. The Journal also reported that Sun has approached a number of large companies about an acquisition; a move that throws cold water on CEO Jonathan Schwartz’s everything is fine video.

Dana Gardner counterpoint: IBM buying Sun Microsystems makes no sense, it’s a red herring

Behind the scenes here, we’ve frequently had chats about how IBM would take out Sun. The only real debate was whether Big Blue would acquire Sun in parts or as one sum. The working assumption was that Sun would be broken up and sold in parts, but the IBM deal also works nicely. Here’s why the deal makes some sense:

IBM can acquire server and storage share. Sun still has a lot of hardware on the market in key verticals such as finance and telecom. The problem is that Sun is reliant on U.S. sales and that’s not a fun place to be right now. With Cisco entering the server market the profit margins could be squeezed—especially if the server essentially becomes a storage and networking box too. By acquiring Sun, IBM gets more scale so it can endure the margin squeeze. That same argument holds for storage hardware too.

There are issues to be worked out on the hardware side though. IBM has refrained from commodity servers and Sun plays in that space. Meanwhile, servers run on different chips–Sun has Sparc and IBM has the Power architecture.

The time is now. IBM is a software and services company, but it needs hardware, which would be roughly a third of revenue with Sun, to sell its other offerings. Hardware is often the entry point for IBM’s software and services. With a stronger hardware business it can fend off HP in the marketplace.

Sun is a powerhouse in Unix, which is still a key platform, but isn’t exactly gaining in the market these days. IBM could acquire Sun and establish two key beachheads: Linux and Unix. The former will ultimately take over for the latter in the data center. IBM can play both and sell you the services to migrate while it’s at it. Bonus for Big Blue: Sun would enable it to pressure HP’s Unix-based businesses too.

One problem: IBM sells AIX Unix servers. Sun sells Solaris (hat tip to a reader pointing that out).

Sun has to do something. Sun is a company that has to transition a legacy hardware business to one modeled more on open source software and services. That’s a wrenching change that may not work out. An exit ramp makes sense right now. Besides, Sun was reportedly turned down by HP and Dell was mum.

This about HP NOT Cisco. The initial headlines will paint IBM’s move as a reaction to Cisco’s entry into the data center. The reality is HP is the target. HP acquired EDS to directly take on IBM. IBM is returning the favor by squeezing HP on hardware.

Open source software. Sun’s future is offering an open source stack of software led by MySQL at its core. IBM is all about open source. The two together make a lot of sense and IBM could pull MySQL, Lotus, OpenSolaris and other parts together in a nice stack. In addition, Sun’s open source software needs distribution—it recently did a deal with HP. IBM has distribution galore. Matt Asay has a good post on how IBM can monetize open source.

One problem: There’s a lot of software overlap here. In databases, IBM has DB2 and Sun has MySQL.

Java. Java is arguably Sun’s best asset, but the platform was never monetized. Perhaps IBM will have better luck.

Cloud computing. Sun has some interesting ideas on cloud computing and its plans could work. Sun has also made targeted cloud computing acquisitions. Meanwhile, Sun has a cloud computing press conference Wednesday morning, a shindig that will be dominated by IBM talk now. A few folks seemed to buy that Sun-as-cloud-player marketing, but it really looks like a relabeling to me. IBM could absorb Sun’s plans in its big cloud services offering. Also see: Handicapping cloud computing: The big picture.

It’s about consolidating the data center. Data center managers will want fewer throats to choke and Cisco isn’t going to make life easier. Sun can allow IBM to consolidate a data center rival and bring things back to equilibrium now that Cisco has entered the market.

What could go wrong? A few items. For starters, there are regulatory concerns. Who knows whether the Obama administration would approve this deal. IBM would have roughly 42 percent of the server market with Sun, according to IDC. HP, however, would be second wind 29.5 percent. With Dell a strong No. 3 with 11.6 percent share the IBM-Sun deal should pass scrutiny. But it is a wild-card.

Here’s a look at the server market share standings:

And then there’s culture. If you want to know the big cultural difference look no farther than Schwartz’s ponytail vs. IBM’s typical look. IBM is all business and Sun is sort of business with a lot of Silicon Valley shtick. That said Sun’s workers may find themselves relieved by the IBM deal. Sun’s upcoming struggles are fairly obvious and IBM looks like a great option for those that choose to look ahead.

Update: Sun shares had a predictable response to the news, soaring 72 percent in premarket trading.

Update 2: Pondering the valuation: As of its most recent quarter, Sun had $2.6 billion in cash, equivalents and short-term marketable debt securities. So the rest of the business is worth $4 billion roughly. One working theory is that IBM would potentially buy Sun and sell the hardware business to Fujitsu, a close partner of Sun. IBM could license Solaris, since it would own the code, to Fujitsu. Assuming IBM does sell some hardware assets to Fujitsu for $1 billion or so the Sun acquisition doesn’t look so large.

Meanwhile, analysts are mixed on the deal. UBS analyst Maynard Um says in a research note:

Our Sun thesis has been that there is a potential restructuring story given relative inefficiencies. We do think IBM would be in a position to take out cost more quickly, however, we expect Sun revs to continue to be pressured in FY09 & FY10 given its reliance on high end servers and limited ability to monetize its software. And while IBM is certainly financially capable of purchasing Sun, we would note that a $6.5bn acquisition would be large even by IBM’s standards, and would also be a deviation from IBM’s current strategy of tuck-in acquisitions.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Afghanistan Experiences Communication Explosion

Originally Posted to Eureka Street

Before 2001 Afghans had only the Taliban's Radio Sharia. So they depended on transistor radios tuned to external services, primarily the BBC Persian service, for independent information.

In that light the explosion of media in Afghanistan following the end of Taliban rule in 2001 is a success story. But Afghan journalists are being killed on the security frontline, jailed or silenced. The government and parliament are in conflict over the country's media law, and journalistic professionalism is in its infancy.

The current diverse clutch of Afghan media owners include the Australian-Afghan Mohseni brothers, wannabe politicians who lives overseas, mullahs with links to Iran and powerful provincial warlords who were cashed up by the US during the 1980s civil war. But they also notably include more than 35 independent, community radio stations across the country. Two are owned and managed by women.

In a country with high illiteracy rates, especially in rural areas, newspapers are struggling but radio is strong. Network and local television are growing, particularly in those regions, like Herat, which have electricity.

Measuring audiences is still an infant science and quantitative and qualitative research is bedevilled by demography and security. But the Mohseni brothers' Tolo TV is probably the most popular television network in Afghanistan. An overwhelmingly young population enjoys its Indian soap operas, racy by conservative Afghan mores. So it is popular with advertisers.

The Government has tried to censor Tolo and another leading network. The latter bowed to pressure. Tolo refused, more out of respect for its bottom line than for media freedom.

Financial viability is crucial in an industry which has expanded so rapidly, with networks and stations vying for a share of the advertising market which in 2006 was worth up to AUD $31 million.

The International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) is a dominant advertiser. As part of its psychological operations to win hearts and minds, it produces and pays stations to broadcast a range of messages on human rights, health, agriculture and Western development assistance. In some regions military advertising is considerably greater than commercial advertising. This calls into question Afghan media's long-term financial viability.

From ISAF's strategic perspective, to rely on one-way messages in an era of multi-platform, interactive media is curiously old-hat. Mobile phones have leapfrogged even the internet in Afghanistan as a communications channel. Phone-in audience participation — from discussion forums to music requests — is clearly popular.

Television is fine for broadcasting community messages or warnings such as 'don't approach military convoys: you run the risk of being shot'. But its use to persuade locals that Western Coalition forces are in Afghanistan to protect Afghans is problematic. The Afghan rumour mill tells people of the increasing number of civilians being wrongly targetted and killed. So many locals believe foreigners are in Afghanistan to promote their own interests.

Remarkably, the greatest fuss in post-conflict Afghanistan has arguably been the government's resistance to a media law which was ratified by parliament. In September 2008 the parliament ratified a media law which the President refused to have published. Although the law was based on recommendations by an Afghan group, the Government argued that it was influenced by foreigners.

Journalists are left unclear whether they should follow the outdated restrictions of the 2006 law or the new, ratified but not official law. They are also under many other pressures: death on assignment in an insecure area, jailing, or a late-night phone call at home where an unidentified voice suggests they drop a story.

In February this year the daily newspaper, Payman, was closed after its editor was briefly jailed for alleged blasphemy. It had carried a contentious article, downloaded from an Afghan website. The article carried the predictions of a Bulgarian woman which cast doubt on all prophesies, including those of Jesus Christ and the Prophet Mohamed. The Ulema issued a fatwa against the paper.

Despite Payman acknowledging that it had printed the article in error and frequently apologising for it it, the Ulema threatened national action. The government caved in. The Attorney General stated: 'Our society cannot tolerate anti-Islamic propaganda.'

President Karzai was also under pressure. After his term expires in April, he plans to contend for the position of interim President until national elections are held in August.

Despite the difficulties in developing a professional journalistic culture many heartening stories can be told. At a training course in Kabul, where the journalists came from Taliban country, young men talked about a close shave outside Kandahar.

They had taken a route through dangerous country in their eagerness to do training, 'because we must'. They were stopped and interrogated at a roadside checkpoint by Taliban who, luckily, did not search and discover their journalist ID cards.

If they had the story might have had a different ending: some of their names were on anti-Taliban stories in the local media.

I pin my hopes for an independent Afghan media on this simple story, because I must.

eBay Woos Businesses With Skype

san jose business lawyerAs Originally Posted at San Francisco Business Times

EBay Inc.'s Internet calling unit Skype unveiled software on Monday that works on corporate telephone systems.

Skype for SIP lets workers make calls using their regular office phones instead of having to plug a headset into a computer.

SIP is the acronym for Session Initiation Protocol, a voice over Internet protocol used on many business telephony networks.

The charge for calls made to cell phones and landlines will be 2.1 cents per minute, but there will be no charge for calls made from computers to other Skype networks. The beta version is available today and the product will be fully launched later this year.

About 35 percent of its customers already use the service for business purposes, Skype said.

Skype, headquartered in Luxemburg, was acquired by San Jose-based EBay in 2005 and has been one of the best known voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) systems on the market (San Jose Business Lawyer). Speculation about its future as an eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) picked up last week, however, when Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) announced an expanded version of a phone service previously known as GrandCentral.

Skype President Josh Silverman said at an analyst event last week that the unit had posted $550 million in sales in 2008 and would more than double that to more than $1 billion in 2011.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cisco's Data Center Love Fest

data center quotecolo
Originally Posted to The Wall Street Journal

A dozen or so tech executives did everything but sing Kumbaya as Cisco Systems unveiled its widely anticipated entry into the computer business.

The general outlines of the announcement were already pretty well known by this point: Cisco will offer “systems” that combine networking gear, servers and software. The goal is to make the data centers that run businesses and the Internet more efficient. At Monday’s event, in San Jose, Calif., Cisco christened the new approach “unified computing.”

The launch event–which was shy on details such as pricing of the products–was basically a love fest, moderated by John Chambers. Cisco’s CEO was joined via TelePresence, Cisco’s high-end video-conferencing system, by the chiefs of many of the tech companies who were involved in the project in one way or another. No one talked much about what the new Cisco system does. But they agreed about its impact.

A sample: “It’s going to change the game,” said Joe Tucci, CEO of storage maker EMC; “John, you’ve changed the game,” added Bob Beauchamp, CEO of software company BMC. Chambers bounced from CEO to CEO, who each contributed a few minutes of puffery.

Later, people talked about how chief information officers, the (mostly) men who control corporate tech budgets, would have to start thinking about their data center spending and indeed Cisco differently. And that, ultimately, is the point of today’s announcement. In the data center, one company owns the relationship with the buyer and everyone else just supplied parts. Right now, Cisco is a parts company–it sells the networking gear that people tack on to whatever else they buy.

The new system is intended to make Cisco the most important tech company in the data center, the strategic relationship that matters most to buyers, and the company that dictates what other equipment customers buy. In that regard, the event was a preview for what Cisco hopes happens in the wild.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Best Buy Focuses on New Rival

As Originally Posted to The Wall Street Journal

Finally victorious over longtime archrival Circuit City Stores Inc., Best Buy Co. is now gearing up to fight an even more powerful foe: Wal-Mart.

Leading the challenge will be Brian Dunn, the company's chief operating officer, who takes over for retiring Chief Executive Brad Anderson in June. His new strategy is to head off Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s brutal price competition by giving consumers something the discounter cannot: more interactive stores, where customers can step into the world of a new videogame or see their faces captured by a high-definition video camera, instead of trolling aisles stacked with merchandise.

Analysts expect Best Buy to pick up at least half of the business of Circuit City, which closed its doors earlier this month, a victim of management and sales miscues as well as the recession.

Mr. Dunn won't have time to celebrate. Wal-Mart has ratcheted up its once-tiny selection of big-brand television sets, videogames and mobile phones to become a fierce contender. The Bentonville, Ark., giant recently said brisk electronics sales fueled a market-leading 5.1% February rise in same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year.

Best Buy remains well ahead of Wal-Mart in U.S. electronics sales, but Wal-Mart is gaining in critical growth areas such as flat-panel TV sets, according to the Stevenson Co.'s TraQline service, which estimates market share. By contrast, Best Buy's sales have shrunk during the recession, and it has cut inventory to compensate, perhaps too sharply.

Best Buy same-store sales fell 6.5% in December, and the company projects that fourth-quarter sales dropped 5% to 15%. Analysts expect Best Buy to report about a 20% decline in fourth-quarter earnings March 26, to $1.36 a share from $1.71 a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters.

See Video From Wall Street Journal

At a meeting of store managers from the Southwest earlier this month, managers complained to Mr. Dunn that they had lost sales of flat-panel TVs because of a lack of inventory, a sore point for the chief operating officer.

The 49-year-old Mr. Dunn hopes to leapfrog growing competition from Wal-Mart by transforming the retailer's stores into lively showrooms for the latest gadgets. A onetime Best Buy stereo salesman who has spent 24 years climbing the company's ranks, Mr. Dunn said he still believes that the best retail innovations come from front-line workers. So before he succeeds Mr. Anderson, he has embarked on a tour of stores in search of inspiration for his remodeling plans, which he sees as a way to differentiate Best Buy from competitors such as Wal-Mart and Amazon.com.

"We want our stores to morph into a series of experiences," he said as he walked through a Dallas-area Best Buy directly across the street from a Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. "To do that, you have to go where the rubber meets the road, the sales floor," he added.

Focusing on showmanship and service to combat Wal-Mart's low-price draw is risky in a recession where consumers are clamoring for no-frills bargains. But Mr. Dunn said he intends to win customers by matching Wal-Mart on prices, and then offering something more, building on Best Buy's existing strategy of helping customers navigate increasingly complicated technology. The key will be making the most of Best Buy's tech-savvy sales force, he said.

"Wal-Mart is trying to copy us," Mr. Dunn, who had visited some of Wal-Mart's new prototype stores in Arkansas days earlier, told the store managers' conference. "But there is one thing nobody can copy, and it's this," he said, grabbing a Best Buy employee who was wearing one of the company's blue polo shirts.

Mr. Dunn, who never went to college and jokes that he was schooled at the university of retail, joined Minnesota-based Best Buy in the Twin Cities in 1985, and quickly caught the eye of superiors by using the soundtrack from "Miami Vice" to help sell stereos and Zenith television sets. He was promoted to store manager in 1989, to district manager a year later, and to vice president of East Coast operations in 2000. He was named head of North American retail in 2002 and COO in 2006, making him the anointed successor to Mr. Anderson.

"Brian's particular gift is that he is genuinely interested in the blue-shirts as people, and they can tell," Mr. Anderson said. "What that gives you that a lot of leaders miss, is that you understand what is happening in an organization on a more granular level."

Mr. Dunn hasn't always agreed with some of the ground-breaking changes at Best Buy; most notably, he opposed the 1989 decision to do away with commissioned sales in favor of salaried staff, which was widely opposed by sales workers who feared losing income. He now concedes it was the most important shift in company history, lowering worker costs and changing the core model of electronics retailing. Best Buy expanded across the U.S., and Circuit City eventually followed by eliminating sales commissions.

Executives who have worked alongside Mr. Dunn said he can think broadly as well as deliver practical results.

Right now, retailing needs leaders who can guide companies through troubled times, not visionaries, said Advance Auto Parts Inc. Chief Executive Darren Jackson, a former Best Buy vice president who worked with Mr. Dunn. "Brian is someone who can still command respect from the rank and file."

Final Chapter For Sun Micro Could Be Written By IBM

sun microsystemsAs Originally Posted at The Wall Street Journal

Sun Microsystems Inc. has been at the leading edge of some of the biggest trends in computing since the 1980s. But the Silicon Valley company has often lagged behind at making money from them.

Now the time to do so may be running out for Jonathan Schwartz, the brainy software specialist who became Sun's chief executive in 2006.

The disclosure of talks for Sun to sell itself to International Business Machines Corp. caused Sun's stock to jump nearly 79% Wednesday to $8.89 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

If the deal does go through, IBM is likely to pay $10 to $11 a share for Sun, according to people familiar with the matter. That would put the purchase price around $8 billion -- or about $6.5 billion including the $1.4 billion in cash on Sun's balance sheet.

While negotiations are under way, a transaction might not occur and the talks could fall apart, these people said.

Mr. Schwartz declined to comment through a Sun spokeswoman, who characterized the reported talks with IBM as "rumor and speculation" that the company would not discuss.

But there is no debate that a sale to IBM would mark an inglorious end to an industry leader that once boasted it put "the dot in dot-com" and reached a market value of $205 billion during the Internet bubble.

Under Scott McNealy, Mr. Schwartz's predecessor, Sun exemplified an sun microsystemsera in which big companies could be built by giving engineers the freedom to chase new ideas. That management philosophy now seems an endangered species, as competition, slowing sales and other forces create consolidation pressures and a focus on profitability.

Sun, a major maker of computer server systems, has suffered disproportionately from the recession because of a reliance on high-end systems sold to the hard-hit financial industry. But some customers, former Sun executives and analysts said management mistakes contributed heavily to Sun's problems.

Among the biggest was a belated move to adopt low-cost servers that use so-called x86 chips from Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., instead of chips called Sparc that Sun designed.

Some once-loyal Sun customers, such as the online software company Salesforce.com, said they saved big money by adopting alternatives; the San Francisco company chose to move to x86 servers supplied by Dell Inc.

"Sun's culture is not really about the customer -- it's more about them and their technology and their engineers," said Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com's chief executive, in a recent interview.

Sun, founded in 1982, first shook up the market for computer workstations -- single-user machines favored by engineers, product designers and others that need intensive computing capability.

The company came out with low-priced, powerful workstations that were designed by co-founder Andreas Bechtolsheim. They ran a type of industry-standard software called Unix that was adapted by Bill Joy, another Silicon Valley technologist.

Mr. McNealy, who remains Sun's chairman, provided the management skills, helping the company to outmaneuver larger competitors and later execute a shift into the market for server systems.

Some of Sun's inventions continue to have an impact. The idea of publishing software specifications, which helps prevent customers from being locked into a supplier, is now embodied in "open-source" software such as Linux.

At times, Mr. McNealy and other Sun executives showed a tendency to deride other companies' technology. Sun became a major Microsoft Corp. critic and legal opponent, until Microsoft in 2004 agreed to pay Sun nearly $2 billion to settle an antitrust case and other disputes.

Mr. Schwartz was promoted from chief operating officer to CEO as Sun was struggling to regain its early Internet-era growth. Many observers saw him as a positive force, a view bolstered when he acknowledged past mistakes. He has pushed to offer open-source versions of Solaris, its popular Java programming technology and other products.

But some other moves promoted by Mr. Schwartz have been panned, including Sun's $4.1 billion purchase of tape-drive maker Storage Technology Corp. in 2005, a business seen as slow-growing.

The $1 billion Sun paid in 2008 for MySQL AB, maker of a popular open-source database program, was also characterized by some analysts as excessive.

Ulf Michael Widenius, a MySQL co-founder who recently decided to leave Sun, praises Mr. Schwartz's vision but said he hasn't been able to fix Sun's bureacratic middle-management structure. "He knows what the right way is, but it is simply not done," Mr. Widenius said.

Mr. Schwartz tried to juice up Sun's image with investors,and launched a one-to-four reverse stock split. But neither did mucsun microsystemsh for Sun's shares, which fell 70% in 2008 before the stock-market meltdown accelerated last fall.

Meanwhile, the company gained some more powerful shareholders, including Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Relational Investors LLC and Southeastern Asset Management Co.

The latter is now Sun's largest stockholder, with more than 20% of its shares, and negotiated the right to designate two Sun board members. A spokeswoman for Southeastern declined to comment Wednesday.

In response to slowing sales, Mr. Schwartz ordered the latest in a series of restructurings last fall, designed to reduce Sun's headcount by 15% to 18%.

Meanwhile, certain Sun investors began pressing board members about six months ago to find a suitor because the company had "a huge cost structure that they don't understand," said one person familiar with the situation. Talks with tentative buyers "intensified this year," this person said.

Besides flirting with Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun officials also approached Dell. IBM was an attractive buyer because "IBM has better controls [and] better management," this person said.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sony And Comcast To Unleash New Kind Of Retail Experience In Philadelphia

sony style near philadephia apartmentsOriginally Posted at Cnet

Amid the recession and layoffs, there are some glimpses of employment hope and opportunities to help you make informed decisions on what technology to spend money next.

Sony Electronics and Comcast announced Sunday that they have partnered to open a unique retail experience in Philadelphia. The store is named Sony Style Comcast Labs and will serve as a place where consumers could learn about emerging technologies and experience new digital devices.

The co-branded retail store and technology lab, which opens to the public Monday, March 16, will showcase the latest innovative products and services from both companies and preview future Comcast technology, products, and services.

Examples of future technologies that Comcast unveiled to Philadelphia consumers for the first time include "The Future of High-Speed Internet" and "The Future of Home Phone Service."

The former offers the experience of Internet surfing and downloading at 100Mbps, about 20 times faster than regular existing cable connection. To put this in perspective, at this speed you can use up Comcast's 250GB ration in about 40 hours.

The latter, on the other hand, shows of what you can do with the future enhanced cordless telephones. Obviously, they can do a lot more than just placing calls; they also handle e-mails, IM, text messaging, and access to Yellow Pages.

As for Sony, the new Sony Style Comcast Labs feature the best of Sony's electronics. Sony's current showcase include Bravia HD LCD televisions, Vaio PCs, dSLR and Cyber-shot digital cameras, Handycam camcorders, and PSP and PlayStation 3 game consoles. Emerging technologies such as Organic Light Emitting Diode TVs are also shown.

Comcast will also showcase all of its products and services from voice to video and Internet, and it will demonstrate how they work together seamlessly for the consumer.

The Sony Style Comcast Labs is located at the base of the Comcast Center, just a few blocks away from the Chocolate Works Philadelphia Apartments.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's A Buyer's Market For Consumer Electronics

refurbished sony laptops
Originally Posted at The Wall Street Journal

The recession is quelling consumers' appetite for two of their recent favorites: digital cameras and digital music players. As a result, discounts and deals abound.

J&R Electronics Inc. and Fry's Electronics Inc. are selling point-and-shoot digital cameras from Eastman Kodak Co. and NikonCorp. discounted to below $100. Amazon.com Inc. Wednesday was selling a General Electric Co. 10-megapixel digital camera for $180, down 46% from a list price of $336. Most entry-level cameras sell for an average $129, compared to $146 a year ago, according to IDC, a market research firm.

Digital music players, which can cost anywhere from $15 to more than $400, are also getting their fair share of discounts. Online retailer Newegg Inc. is featuring a Centon Electronics Inc. music player for $17, down 43% from $30.

Apple Inc., which has the largest share of the digital music player market with its iPod brand, typically introduces new models at lower price points instead of cutting prices, says Shaw Wu, analyst with Kaufman Bros. LP. On Wednesday the company launched a new, smaller iPod Shuffle for $79, which amounts to a $30 price increase for the device. This could help raise average selling prices or keep them flat, he adds.

While digital music players and digital cameras were the consumer-electronics industry's top holiday sellers for the past three years. Both categories experienced steep sales drops in the fourth quarter of 2008, even as overall electronics sales stayed flat. Revenue from digital music players plunged 30% to $2.1 billion, while digital-camera sales fell 4% to $2.3 billion, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. And as consumers continue pulling back their spending, both categories are expected to sink more than their peers this year, the CEA says.

Another reason sales of digital cameras and portable music players have slowed is that the U.S. market has reached a saturation point -- 77% of households in the U.S. own a digital camera, up from 55% in 2006, according to the CEA. That means that those consumers generally only buy cameras when their current one breaks or becomes too outdated. The typical replacement cycle on a compact camera is about three years., says Chuck Westfall, technical adviser for Canon U.S.A.

"That [digital camera] category has been challenged and will continue to be," says Stephen Baker, a vice president with market research firm NPD Group Inc. "In the U.S., we are clearly seeing the digital music player segment slowing and becoming a much more saturated product category, as well."

Patching Up Old Devices

Hannah Little, a 21-year-old insurance clerk in Lexington, Ky., almost always used to buy the latest gadgets. However since she graduated from college last summer and stopped receiving an allowance from her parents, she has held off on new tech purchases.

Ms. Little has owned an iPod for the past eight years and an iPod Shuffle for two years. She says she uses her Shuffle at the gym, but for the rest of the time, instead of buying a new iPod, she uses her BlackBerry Curve, which she outfitted with a $3 four-gigabyte memory card that stores music.

"Before I go out and buy something new, I try to patch things up to keep them going as long as they can," says Ms. Little. She adds that her next tech purchase will be new or used laptops, which she uses more than her iPod.

While many people used to chase after the latest gizmos, some now appear to be upgrading only in areas where technology is changing rapidly. Sales of flat-panel television sets and laptop computers remain relatively robust, for instance, as consumers move from old-style cathode-ray TVs and dated desktop computers to the newer models.

Camera makers are encouraging consumers to upgrade as well, hoping they'll trade up from their point-and-shoot cameras to higher-quality digital single-lens-reflex, or SLR, cameras, which are more expensive. Camera maker Pentax, a unit of Hoya Corp., dropped the price of its K20D digital SLR camera last month by $200 to around $800. Consumers get just the body of the camera. Lens kits run another $880 to $1,200. Another high-end offering comes from Canon Inc., which in September introduced the EOS 5D Mark II, a digital SLR camera body that shoots up to around 12 minutes of continuous, full high-definition video for $2,700.

Similarly, makers of digital-music players, such as Apple and SanDisk Corp., are focused on moving their consumers from portable players to multimedia phones, such as the iPhone. In its most recent quarter, Apple's iPod revenue declined 16%, while its iPhone sales increased fivefold.

More and more consumers are turning to the re-built market for high-end electronics like desktop and laptop computers. Refurbished Apple laptops are very popular, along with refurbished Sony laptops.

SanDisk is pushing "slotMusic" memory cards that come pre-loaded with music. Consumers can insert the cards into several multimedia phones, instantly accessing the tunes on their devices.

"We've seen the clouds gathering for a while now," says Daniel Schreiber, a SanDisk senior vice president and general manager. "The entertainment device of the future is the phone."

Waiting to Upgrade

The higher-end cameras and phones are whetting the appetites of some consumers -- but many remain reluctant to buy. Liz Abinante in Davis, Calif., has owned her Samsung Electronics Co. point-and-shoot digital camera for three years. While she covets a more expensive digital SLR camera, the 24-year-old freelance writer isn't opening her pocketbook because she's waiting to see if her landlord raises her rent in the down economy.

"If I weren't in such an 'I don't know what's going to happen in my life,' I definitely would've purchased [a new camera] already," says Ms. Abinante, who recently started attending graduate school. Now, "I would rather wait until I have more money."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cellphone Technology in Afghanistan

cell phone internet in afghanistan

Cell phones are an example of what is sometimes now called "leapfrog technology," a product that allows developing nations the benefits of a reliable and extensive communications network without the heavy investment in fixed-line phone infrastructure. Mobile phones, along with Internet in Afghanistan and other countries are part of a communications revolution that is helping boost income and stop the spread of disease in emerging economies.

For example, Abdul Wakil owns a dry goods store in the Afghan village of Daw Koo, about 40 kilometers north of Kabul. He says his cell phone has made all the difference.

"We used to go all the way to the city to order products, now it's only a phone call away and the costs are much less," he says.

The International Telecommunication Union says 72 percent of Afghanistan's population is now covered by a cell phone signal. By contrast, fewer than one person in a hundred has a fixed telephone line.

Read Entire Story at Cutting Edge News