Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Driving While Texting Banned In Maryland

Story from S. Maryland News

Maryland will join 12 other states that have banned texting while driving; six additional states will prohibit the practice by January. It will be a primary offense, meaning officers can pull over anyone they suspect is using a wireless device to send a text message. Offenders face a maximum fine of $500 and one point on their driving records.

Over the last five years, an average of more than 30,000 crashes has occurred annually on Maryland roads as a result of inattentive driving, according to data from the Maryland Highway Safety Office. During the same period, nearly 20,000 people are injured annually in Maryland because of distracted driving, which includes cellular phone use, texting, changing radio stations, eating and more.

"We feel it's a great first step towards addressing the issue of distracted driving," said Jeremy Gunderson, the office's spokesman. "Nobody out there is claiming it to be the panacea, but with the rapid increase of cellular device ownership, it's a great first step and we look forward to seeing some great results arise from this."

Best Buy Hikes Guidance

Story from Bloomberg

Best Buy (BBY) came up short of Wall Street's second-quarter profit forecast Tuesday.

But the nation's top consumer electronics retailer raised its full-year guidance, citing improved sales in August.

For the quarter that ended Aug. 29, Best Buy earned 40 cents a share excluding a one-time tax impact, a penny shy of the average forecast of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

That's 17% below the year-ago figure, marking the fifth straight quarter of year-over-year declines. Including the tax impact,

Best Buy earned 37 cents per share, down 23%.

Sales rose 12% to $11.02 billion, edging past analysts' estimates, thanks to new store openings. The firm has opened 170 net new stores in the past 12 months. But sales at established stores dipped 3.9%.

Best Buy increased its earnings-per-share outlook for the full year to a range of $2.70 to $3. That's up from its June guidance of $2.50 to $2.90 EPS for the year ending Feb. 27, 2010.

Best Buy expects annual revenue of $48 billion to $49 billion, an average increase of 8%.

It sees comparable store sales down 2% to flat for the year.

"Our revenue growth modestly exceeded our expectations for the first half, and customer traffic patterns have started to indicate signs of stability," Jim Muehlbauer, Best Buy's chief financial officer, said in a conference call. "Given these improving trends and our expectations for the remainder of the year, we are both raising the bottom end of our annual EPS guidance and improving our top-end expectations."

Investors weren't buying the optimism and sold off shares. Shares fell 5.2% Tuesday to finish at 38.32.

Because Best Buy doesn't give quarterly guidance, there was a disconnect between what management was expecting and what the Street was expecting, says Anthony Chukumba, an analyst with FTN Equity Capital Markets.

What's important for Best Buy are the company's market share gains and the fact it sees improved consumer spending, Chukumba says.

"They're feeling more confident on the rest of the year," he said. "Customer traffic is up, and that's huge."

Best Buy Chief Executive Brian Dunn says the store chain gained 2.7 percentage points of market share in the quarter.

That's on top of a 2 percentage point gain in the first quarter, related to rival Circuit City's liquidation.

"These gains are an important part of our story," Dunn said on the conference call. "Market share gains are nothing new to Best Buy. ... This marks the 15th consecutive quarter of share gains for us. We have a track record for acquiring and retaining market share."

Customers are looking for a retailer who can help them with fast-changing, often-confusing technology products, he says.

The holiday sales quarter will offer many enticing products, Dunn says. They include PCs running Microsoft's (MSFT) new Windows 7 operating system, ultrathin Internet-enabled flat panel TVs and the latest smart phones.

Best Buy saw comparable store sales gains in notebook computers, mobile phones and flat-panel TVs and declines in video games, digital cameras, music and movies.

Domestic comparable store sales in flat-panel TVs increased by the mid-single digits as unit increases more than offset declines in average-selling prices.

Best Buy got more aggressive in pricing and promotions last quarter in the U.S. as a way to gain market share, Chukumba says.

As a result, its domestic gross profit margin declined by 0.6 percentage points to 24.3% from a year ago.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Twitter Leads Small Businesses Through Disasters

Story from the Wall Street Journal

'You can't do that with a one-eight-hundred number'

Twitter has turned out to be a useful tool for some small businesses coping with customer-service or public-relations crises.

The social-media service -- where users send short "tweets" to followers who have signed up to receive the messages -- came in handy for Innovative Beverage Group Holdings Inc., whose site crashed last month after a surge in traffic following a segment on Fox News for the company's so-called relaxation beverage, which contains "calming" ingredients like valerian root and melatonin. News Corp. owns Fox News as well as The Wall Street Journal.

Innovative Beverage notified consumers on its Twitter feed that it was working to resolve the problem. The company also did a search on Twitter for mentions of the site crash, so it could respond with tweets describing its repair efforts.

Peter Bianchi, Innovative's chief executive, says the site's meltdown was devastating, since a small business rarely receives national TV coverage. But he says the 12-hour site crash didn't appear to have any lasting damage and online sales of the beverage peaked the following day to their highest level to date.

"Twitter gave us an up-to-the-minute ability to take what would normally be a crisis situation and make it just another event," says Mr. Bianchi. "You can't do that with a 1-800-number."

As of Monday, had more than 1,000 Twitter followers.

Wine critic Gary Vaynerchuk found Twitter helpful in responding to an attack on his web site.

Twitter also helped wine critic Gary Vaynerchuk respond quickly after his company's Web site,, was hacked so that visitors were greeted with pornography.

While technicians plugged away at the problem, which took about eight hours to resolve, Mr. Vaynerchuk says he shot a video of himself apologizing to customers of the wine-review site. He then posted it on a video-hosting site and linked to the footage from Twitter, where he has nearly 900,000 followers.

Mr. Vaynerchuk, who owns New-York based Cork'd LLC, also tweeted apologies to about 65 people who tweeted about the incident. "Every person that mentioned Cork'd on Twitter got a message from me and a link to the video," he says.

Mr. Vaynerchuk says his Web site saw no drop in traffic during the days that followed. He also received about 75 emails from customers complimenting him on how he handled the matter.

Scott Townsend used Twitter to contact laundry-service customers in an ice storm.

To be sure, Twitter can also be the root of a problem for entrepreneurs. Virginia Lawrence, a director at Ballantines PR, a boutique agency in Los Angeles, monitors Twitter daily on behalf of several small businesses for tweets that could harm their reputations.

Recently, she says she found several criticizing a client that were from a former employee the firm had fired. The dismissed worker "was saying negative things about how the company was run, as if they were doing illegal things," she says. Ms. Lawrence notified the client, who then approached the terminated employee about the matter, and soon after the scurrilous tweets stopped.

Twitter can also be an effective way to get a message across to consumers in an emergency. When an ice storm struck the Bartlesville, Okla., area last winter, United Linen & Uniform Services notified customers about the status of their orders through Twitter in addition to its Web site. Scott Townsend, marketing director for the laundry service, says many consumers today will find information about a business on Twitter before anywhere else because it's where they hang out online. "You fish where the fish are," he says.

Mr. Townsend adds that while email was also an option, entering customers' addresses would have been tedious and time-consuming.

Entrepreneurs should bear in mind that Twitter is unlikely to be of help in dealing with a problem if it isn't used regularly otherwise, says Shel Israel, author of "Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods."

"If you just go to Twitter when you have a crisis, you will have no followers and no credibility," he says. "The key to using Twitter effectively is to build trust with people who are relevant to your business."

Steve Fusek, owner of Fusek's True Value LLC, a hardware store in Indianapolis, now has an employee dedicated to updating the shop's Twitter profile during business hours. Mr. Fusek says consumers expect to see frequent tweets and swift responses to customer-service inquiries they post.

"You can't just sign up and leave it. You have to have someone on it," he says. "If you're not legitimate, you'll be found out quickly."

Microsoft Zune HD Review

Story from the Wall Street Journal

At long last, Microsoft has made a portable media player that you can be proud to carry around: the Zune HD.

This fourth-generation Zune ( is ultra thin and has a stunningly vivid 3.3-inch touch screen that covers most of its surface, doing away with the old device's touchpad. It comes in one small size rather than the older large and small versions, and has capacities of 16 and 32 gigabytes for $220 and $290, respectively.

The Zune HD does a nice job of integrating and artistically displaying content about an artist, song or album whenever possible. It has an acceptable built-in browser that surfs the Web using a Wi-Fi connection, and a customizable Quickplay menu on the home screen that displays your content using tiny, stylish tiles. The corresponding Zune Marketplace finally offers movies—about 500 for renting or buying, half of which have HD resolution. And a $90 docking station works with the device to display its HD content on your HDTV.

Given all the improvements of this new Zune, it's a shame that this makeover stopped short of revamping its commerce system, which is still too confusing. Rather than inviting newcomers to the Zune and its online store by allowing them to use real money to buy content, it is still tied to the points system made popular by Microsoft's Xbox gaming console. In this gamer-friendly system, the cost of one song is 79 points, roughly the equivalent of a dollar, and users must buy points in buckets ranging from 400 for $5 to 5,000 for $62.50. People who are trying to watch their budgets don't need the hassle of calculating points per purchase. And Amazon's Kindle e-reader and Apple's iTunes Store have proved that using dollars and an uncomplicated one-click system is a successful strategy.

The way I prefer to get the most out of the Zune system is by using the Zune Pass for $15 monthly. This charge allows free continuous streaming of music from any computer's browser as long as you log in, and includes 10 free MP3 downloads a month that are yours to keep even if you bail on using the Zune software. The Zune Pass lets you listen to Smart DJ playlists that can be built in one of three ways: using your own library; using a mix of Marketplace content and music from your library; or using only songs from the Marketplace. These also can be set to last for a certain amount of time—say for a 30-minute jog or a two-hour party.

I created several Smart DJ playlists including one using Dierks Bentley as the seed artist from which other suggestions were generated. This country singer was a good test for the Zune software because Mr. Bentley's music blends new and old country sounds. I set the Smart DJ to produce a mix using only content from Marketplace and it returned a great list that included songs from newer group, Little Big Town, as well as older stuff like Joe Diffie's "John Deere Green." Any Smart DJ list can be dragged onto the Zune HD.

Apple's iPod Touch is the Zune HD's biggest rival and its iTunes Store has much more content in all categories compared with Zune Marketplace. But let's put music, movies, TV shows, podcasts and music videos aside and say we're satisfied with the amount of content offered by Zune Marketplace.

One of the iPod Touch's best features is its ability to access Apple's App Store, a catalog of 75,000 applications. The Zune HD only dips its pinky toe into a pool where Apple is already swimming laps: Only nine apps can be downloaded from the Zune Marketplace (all are free). They're colorful and simple to use, but nine apps won't be enough to compete head on with the iPod Touch.

It would be a real boon to Zune if it somehow inherited the gaming genes of Microsoft's already-established Xbox, especially considering how Apple has heavily marketed the iPod Touch as a portable gaming system. Microsoft will only say that later this year Zune will offer apps for Twitter and Facebook as well as 3-D games like "Project Gotham Racing: Ferrari Edition."

The only same-capacity model in the Zune HD and iPod Touch is the 32-gigabyte, which costs $290 and $299, respectively. The Zune HD is smaller than the iPod Touch so its organic light-emitting-diode touch screen is 3.3 inches compared with the Touch's 3.5-inch screen. The Zune fits easily in any pocket and is just 0.35-inch thick. A thin horizontal button on the face of the device takes you to the home screen, and a hidden button on the left side pulls up an on-screen menu for volume and playback controls—or just tap the screen when content is playing. It doesn't have a speaker like the iPod Touch, so you'll always need earbuds to hear anything that's playing.

Quickplay is one of my favorite features on the Zune HD. It uses tiny tiles to visually represent your content in four categories: currently playing; anything pinned (or labeled with a shortcut tile) to Quickplay; a history of recently opened content; and anything that's new to the player. This includes all of your photos, videos, music, Web pages and apps. I easily pinned, a "Saturday Night Live" video and a favorite photo to the Quickplay menu. Clever animation sends this menu to the background of the home screen or swiftly pulls it into the foreground when needed.

I rented and downloaded the movie "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and opted to pay 360 points for the HD version rather than paying 240 points for the standard-definition version. A helpful on-screen explanation described the advantages of each according to where it would be played. Movie rentals last for 14 days or 24 hours after you first press play.

Listening to music on the Zune HD is a lot of fun—and even educational. Whenever the screen goes idle while playing a song, large images of the artist and album cover fill the entire screen while text—album name, artist name, song name—scrolls across these images. With one touch, I saw a list of other albums and songs by that artist, an artist biography, related artists, and pictures of the artist. This is a lot more interesting than staring at one image on the screen, and I learned a lot of new information about musicians I've been listening to for years.

The newly added Web browser on the Zune HD gets the job done, but has downsides. Its on-screen keyboard for entering names of Web pages has very small keys and doesn't use predictive typing to fix your mistakes. Some Web pages rendered normally on the browser, but a couple—like—looked normal only when I turned the Zune HD horizontally.

As with other Zunes, this Zune HD has a radio receiver and now uses HD radio for finding more stations with clearer signals. If you like a song, an on-screen button tags it for buying and downloading immediately or later.

The Zune HD is a great-looking little player, and users will especially appreciate its Quickplay menu, rich collection of artist information and mesmerizing screen. If its points system was scrapped and its Zune Marketplace was filled with more content, I'd like it better.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

PC Makers Cultivate New Buyers in Rural China

As Posted to the Wall Street Journal

BEIJING -- As demand for personal computers remains weak across the globe, top manufacturers like Lenovo Group Ltd. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are zeroing in on one largely untapped but growing market: rural China.

The companies are aggressively expanding their sales networks in China's countryside, where over half of China's population resides and broadband access is increasing, but where the average per capita annual income is only $700, according to government statistics.

They're aided in part by a $586 billion government subsidy program designed to stimulate the nation's economy by encouraging spending in rural areas. According to the Ministry of Commerce, 414,000 PCs were sold by August under the program, which gives rural residents a 13% rebate when they purchase select products.

Though difficult to penetrate, China's countryside is "probably still the world's most promising market" in terms of the number of people "who've never owned a PC before, who would like to own a PC and who have that capability," says David Wolf, CEO of Wolf Group Asia, a Beijing-based marketing strategy firm.

Gong Xiangnan, a 24-year-old migrant worker from Mengyin county in Shandong province, says she used the rural subsidy to recently buy her first PC, a Lenovo desktop for 3,000 yuan ($439).

Ms. Gong says many residents in her town took advantage of the subsidy, buying motorcycles, televisions, and other home appliances. "In our home, we already have refrigerator, TV, a washing machine," she says.

Smaller cities and rural areas in China are tricky because incomes are still very low, towns and villages are spread far and wide in places where big electronics retailers rarely go, and users aren't as knowledgeable about PCs or brands. As a result, PC vendors are adopting some new marketing tactics.

Lenovo, which is targeting rural customers with lower-cost computers and 700 new retail stores, has begun marketing computers as high-status betrothal gifts, which by tradition should appear as generous as possible.

Beijing-based Lenovo, which sold 28% of PCs in China in the first half according to IDC, is also using slogans such as, "Buy a Lenovo PC, Be a Happy Bride."

"They like to give desktop PCs because the boxes are large," says Li Zhong, director of Lenovo's consumer business in the Beijing and Hebei region. "They deliver the computers to brides' families on trucks, which everyone can see. In these cases the bigger the box, the better."

The efforts appear to paying off. According to the Ministry of Commerce, about 40% of PCs sold under the rural subsidy program were from Lenovo. H-P represented about 1% of such sales.

Globally, PC shipments have dropped in recent quarters as spending by companies and consumers has decreased. But in China -- where about 40 million PCs are sold annually, making it the world's second largest PC market after the U.S. -- sales have continued to grow, albeit at slower rates.

In Dongguang county in China's northern Hebei province, Ma Zengyan, the owner of two local computer stores, says sales are rising as customers hear about the subsidies through ads by Lenovo and the government.

One of his stores, a full-service Lenovo showroom with a conspicuous orange exterior, has a corner dedicated to some of the 30 products tailored for rural users for 2,500 yuan to 3,500 yuan apiece.

The PCs are built to accommodate any unpredictable variations in power supply voltage, which are a frequent problem in the countryside, and are packaged with software such as inventory management for farmers.

H-P, too, has been aggressively expanding its sales network outside China's largest cities over the past several years, says Weekee Yeo, director of the company's consumer-PC business in China.

The company promotes its products by sponsoring variety shows and film screenings in small cities to entertain residents where they also display and hold demonstrations with H-P computers.

In addition, the company has dispatched flashy buses to small-city and rural elementary schools to teach children and residents about their products, and vans to rural-area markets, where villagers gather a few times per month to buy goods.

H-P's market share in China increased to 14% in the first half of this year from just 5% in 2005, according to IDC. The company now has 7,000 stores and 10,000 resale partners in China.

In the long term, analysts say the most important edge a PC vendor can have in China's smaller cities and rural areas will depend heavily on their physical proximity to customers.

"In the U.S., the infrastructure is there. Even consumers who live in small towns can take highways and drive an hour or two to the closest city to shop," says Simon Ye, analyst for research firm Gartner in Shanghai. "In China's [smaller] cities, it's rare to find a person who'd drive someplace so far to buy a computer."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dell Moves Into Services With Perot Deal

By The New York Times

Dell announced on Monday that it would acquire the information technology provider Perot Systems for $3.9 billion as it seeks to expand beyond its core personal computer business.

Michael Dell, the company’s founder and chief executive, has spent much of the recession talking about directing his company’s cash stockpile toward acquisitions, particularly in the services arena. By agreeing to buy Perot Systems, for $30 a share in cash, Dell has made just such a purchase. But even with the acquisition, Dell’s services arm would remain far smaller those of rivals Hewlett-Packard and I.B.M.

Perot Systems, based in Plano, Tex., handles a wide range of technology services, including data center management, software and consulting.

Perot Systems is “a premium asset with great people that enhances our opportunities for immediate and long-term growth,” Mr. Dell said in a statement. “There will be efficiencies from combining the companies, but the acquisition makes such great sense because of the obvious ways our businesses complement each other.”

Dell and Perot Systems, which was founded in 1988 by H. Ross Perot, said that the terms of the deal had been approved by the boards of both companies. Perot Systems, which had revenue last year of $2.8 billion, will become Dell’s services unit and be led by Peter Altabef, the Perot Systems chief executive. Ross Perot Jr., the chairman, is expected to join the Dell board.

“Today’s announcement is the next step in formalizing a relationship that has flourished for some time,” Ross Perot Jr. said in the statement. “When my father founded Perot Systems, he envisioned a global information-technology leader. The new, larger Dell builds on that promise and its own successes by taking Perot Systems’ expertise to more customers than ever.”

The combined heft of Perot Systems and Dell’s own services organization should result in about $8 billion of services revenue annually, according to Dell’s statement. Services deals tend to have far higher margins than selling things like PC’s and computer servers.

Since its overall business has slowed significantly in recent years, Dell has been exploring more profitable growth areas. It has been slowly building up its own services division through smaller acquisitions over the last two years. It has claimed to offer lower-priced services than its larger rivals and Indian services firm.

But the acquisition of Perot Systems now places Dell in much the same arena as its competitors.

Dell, based in Round Rock, Tex., is one of the world’s largest computer makers, with a customer base that includes corporate, government and home users. Dell said in late August that its profit fell 23 percent to $472 million in the three months through the end of July, as businesses reduced their computer purchases and prices tumbled. Revenue fell 22 percent to $12.8 billion.

For the fourth straight quarter, the No. 2 marker of PCs maker posted a drop in sales and profit from a year earlier. But in a sign Dell’s business may be stabilizing, it said sales rose slightly from earlier this year.

Dell posted earnings for its fiscal second quarter ended July 31 of $472 million, or 24 cents a share, down from $616 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier. Revenue was $12.76 billion, down 22% from a year ago.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Microsoft Launches Windows 7 Ads

By Information Week

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) on Thursday kicked off an advertising campaign for the new Windows 7 operating system with a spot on the CW's "Vampire Diaries".

The 30 second commercial features a young girl using her father's Windows 7-equipped PC.

"I found these happy words all over my dad's computer; 7,7,7,7," she says. The girl goes on to launch a slide show featuring a cute menagerie comprising bunnies, cats, and unicorns.

The ad concludes with the girl saying, "I'm a PC, and more happy is coming."

The spot is noteworthy in that it eschews the use of celebrities to promote Microsoft's new OS. The company previously tapped comedian Jerry Seinfeld for a campaign to promote Windows, but the series was widely panned for being too abstract and failing to connect viewers with Microsoft technology.

Windows 7 has already been released to some business customers, and is slated to go on sale to consumers starting Oct. 22nd.

Microsoft needs the OS to be a hit, as its predecessor—Windows Vista—failed to win the hearts of consumers and was virtually shunned in the enterprise market. Complaints ranged from Vista's incompatibility with older software to its intrusive security measures and heavy horsepower requirements.

Partly as a result, Windows sales have slumped significantly in recent months.

The full version of Windows 7 Home Premium is priced at $199, with an upgrade from Vista or XP costing $119. The full version of Windows 7 Professional is $299, with upgrades going for $199. Windows 7 Ultimate is priced at $319, with the upgrade version at $219.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

AMD: Time to Play Down Chip Speed in Marketing PCs

By The Wall Street Journal

There was a time when people cared a lot about the microprocessors in their PCs–a bit like teenagers once bragged that their Impala had a 450-horsepower V8 engine under the hood. Advanced Micro Devices seems to be betting those days are over.

The Silicon Valley company–perennial underdog to Intel in the microprocessor wars–has been sending out signals that it wants to move away from marketing such chips based on how fast they are. Customers don’t need to know that kind of techie stuff–what’s more important is what desktops with one of its chips does, what chores it’s best suited for. A new marketing campaign based on that concept, dubbed Vision, is expected to be announced Thursday.

To some extent, the strategy smacks of capitulation. AMD, which from 2003 to 2006 boasted a performance edge over Intel, subsequently fell behind because of its own execution issues and Intel picking up its game. The problem was exacerbated by a line of Intel chips, code-named Nehalem, that matched one of AMD’s key technical advantages and added other design benefits.

That technology has been available since November to buyers of high-end desktop PCs, willing to pay for a chip called Core i7 that lists for $999. But Intel on Monday introduced versions of that speedy chip line that list at the more mainstream price points of $284 to $562, and a model called iV that starts at $196. Those chips add to the pressures on AMD in desktop PCs.

At the same time, Intel shook up the portable market with an ultra-small chip called Atom that helped fuel the market for netbooks, low-end laptops that frequently cost less than $300. AMD hasn’t much played in that fast-growing market.

But AMD does have one advantage, brought about by its costly purchase of ATI Technologies several years ago–chips that excel at high-performance graphics and related chores such as running high-quality video. AMD executives argue that those media-heavy chores are becoming more and more important to users than the general-purpose number crunching that is usually handled by microprocessors.

Meanwhile, Intel’s own messaging has become complicated by a proliferation of brand names. Though the company in June pledged to simplify the mix, for the moment it retains the brands Atom, Celeron, Pentium and Core (the latter mainly referring to chips that have the core circuitry of more than one processor). Intel also seems wedded to the idea of trying to get customers to search out computers based on its technology, an approach known as ingredient branding.

Some think AMD can endear itself to PC makers by playing down its own technology while helping customers choose the right laptop. AMD marketing materials might suggest that one be good for watching regular videos, one might be good for watching high-definition videos and a third might be good at making high-definition videos.

The customer “doesn’t care that it’s AMD” supplying chips for the machine. It’s very zen. AMD has to deny itself to realize itself.

Update: In a news release describing the Vision effort early Thursday, AMD said new notebooks based with its technology are expected to be widely available on retail shelves and online during the holiday buying season, timed to the release of the Windows 7 operating system from Microsoft.

The company said it will use three basic terms–Vision Basic, Vision Premium and Vision Ultimate–to describe a range of capabilities from simply creation of digital content to content creation. In other words a classic “good, better, best” kind of labeling. In the first quarter of 2010, AMD plans to introduce a fourth level, Vision Black, to apply to high end gaming PCs that use its technology.

Sprint Prepares October Launch Of Google Phone

By The Wall Street Journal

Sprint Nextel Corp. said Thursday it will sell its first phone running Google Inc.'s Android software in October, giving the Internet company a larger foothold in the mobile world.

Consumers have been slow to embrace the mobile platform, which has been available only through T-Mobile USA. Sprint offers Google a larger subscriber base.

The decision is likely to help Android become a more "mainstream operating system," said Roger Entner, a telecommunications analyst at Nielson & Co.

Sprint, based in Overland Park, Kan., needs to fend off subscriber poaching by other wireless carriers. In the past few months, it has released a string of high-profile devices, including one from Palm Inc., hoping to find a match for Apple Inc.'s iPhone.

Now Sprint plans to sell the Hero from Taiwan-based HTC Corp. The Android-based smart phone uses a customized user interface from HTC, called Sense. Sprint will be the first carrier to offer the phone in the U.S.

The device will sell for $179.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate and two-year service contract. It will be available in stores on Oct. 11.

The Hero can access Android Marketplace's 8,000 programs, said David Owens, Sprint's director of national marketing. Still, Apple's App Store boasts more than 65,000 programs.

A wave of Android devices are expected to hit the market in the next few months. Motorola Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. are expected to unveil Android phones in September. But because so many are expected to hit the market, analysts say few are expected to match the iPhone's success.

Google is pushing the open-source Google SEO mobile operating system to manufacturers in a bid to expand its presence in the mobile sector and generate advertising revenue. But the first Google phone, the G1, didn't turn many heads, and the follow-up, the MyTouch 3G, was just one of many high-end smart phones launched in the past few months.

Dell Offers Peek At Notebook Thinner Than Apple Air

By Information Week

Dell on Wednesday offered a peek at a "design concept" for a stylish, high-end laptop that could become the computer maker's next challenge to Apple's MacBook Air.

A profile of the laptop, which would be the newest addition to Dell's ultra-thin Adamo line of notebooks, is shown on a Web site specially created to show off the PC. The system is slightly less than four-tenths of an inch thick. That's almost half the thickness of the first Adamo Dell released in March. That system is 0.65 of an inch thick, which is the same as the Air.

Dell is clearly going after Apple's Air with its Adamo line. In sending an email announcing the new Adamo site, Dell called the latest line of laptops a "design concept" and gave no other details.

The Air and current Adamo have starting prices of $1,499. The Air has a faster Core 2 Duo processor, 1.86 GHz versus 1.2 GHz, but the Adamo comes with a solid-state drive instead of a hard drive. Both systems have 13-inch displays, but the Air weighs three pounds and the Adam four pounds.

Dell used the same marketing scheme in trying to generate buzz for the first Adamo. The company launched a teaser site in December 2008, the month before Dell showed the system briefly at the Consumer Electronics Shows in Las Vegas.

Ultra-thin laptops under an inch thick are alternatives to less-expensive netbooks. The thin systems typically have more power, full-size keyboards and larger displays than the mini-notebooks--as well as bigger profit margins, making them more attractive to vendors.

Association Recertifies Penn College’s CAD Technology Major

By The Wall Street Journal

Pennsylvania College of Technology's computer aided drafting technology major recently was re-certified by the American Design Drafting Association.

ADDA, an organization for designers, drafters, architects, illustrators and technical artists, provides certification to recognize schools whose design/drafting curriculum meets established and approved standards.

It is an important credential for many CAD drafting department's to maintain. This annual activity allows colleges and universities to closely examine their drafting and design CAD degree program in many areas, such as curriculum, faculty background, employment placement of graduates and classroom capabilities, to name a few. Earning re-certification is a very detailed process, and many CAD department's can take pride in this continued accomplishment.

Colleges and Universities are certified for one-year periods; Penn College’s certification will remain in effect through Aug. 31, 2010. The college has earned certification for its computer aided drafting technology associate-degree major every year since 1997.

A letter from ADDA noted: "It is programs such as yours that assure competent design and drafting professionals for the future. The association's certification program and the commitment to excellence it represents provide a quality-assurance program, which benefits both education and industry."

In addition to an associate degree in computer aided drafting technology, Penn College offers a CAD degree in computer aided product design.

Established in 1948, ADDA is the oldest design-drafting association in the world. It is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Apple Is Expected to Update iPods

By The Wall Street Journal

Apple Inc. is expected to unveil an updated line of iPods at an event next week as it aims to boost slowing demand for the music players.

The Cupertino, Calif., company issued invitations Monday to media and analysts for a "special event" in San Francisco on Sept. 9 that Apple indicated would be related to its iPod music players. The email invitation showed the dancing silhouette of a person with an iPod and the words: "It's only rock and roll, but we like it".

Mobile SEOThe media event will be Apple's first since Chief Executive Steve Jobs returned from medical leave in late June after a liver transplant. It is unclear whether Mr. Jobs, who hasn't appeared in public since an Apple MacBook event last October, will appear on stage at the event.

The iPod music players have been one of Apple's biggest businesses, but sales have slowed as more consumers have opted instead to buy the company's iPhones, which offer mobile SEO and can double as iPods. In its most recently reported quarter ended June 27, Apple partly blamed an 11% decline in iPod revenues on "cannibalization" from the iPhone. IPods generated $1.49 billion in revenue for the quarter, or about 18% of total revenue, making the devices Apple's third-biggest business behind its Macintosh computers and the iPhone.

Apple typically unveils its new lineup of iPods every year around this time. Some analysts predict that Apple will introduce a digital camera feature in the iPod touch and possibly the classic iPod and iPod nano models.

Apple is expecting they'll renew the entire lineup with the exception of the iPod shuffle, which was refreshed in the spring.

Software developers for Apple's App Store say the development kit for an upcoming version of the iPhone operating system -- which also runs on the iPod touch -- opens up more camera features, making it possible to come up with more innovative photo-taking applications for both devices. The development kit refers to the set of tools that third-party software engineers use to create the so-called Apps -- or applications -- which can be downloaded from the App Store.

Samsung Prepares App Store For European Phone Owners

Samsung plans to open its first app store

By The Wall Street Journal

Samsung today announced it's preparing an online app store for its Omnia smart phone, setting high expectations for future smart phone launches.

Following the success of the Apple App Store, handset manufacturers are launching online stores so phone owners can download custom programs for smartphones. Furthermore, it's a good way for independent developers to help the community while also cashing in on revenue sharing with manufacturers.

Samsung will include 300 apps at launch for phone owners in the United Kingdom, France and 30 other nations across Europe in the next few months. Specifically, the Omnia-centric store will grow to have more than 2,000 apps before 2010. Phone owners will be able to download apps using the Omnia's built-in Wi-Fi.

Omnia owners will be able to pay for apps by credit card or adding the charges to their mobile phone subscription plan. Furthermore, Samsung said the store will be compatible for future Omnia II, Omnia Lite, Omnia Pro and other smartphones.

The app store will be located at in the future. "Samsung Application Store is coming soon!" the Samsung site says. "Please visit us again soon."

Research In Motion (RIM), Nokia, LG Electronics, Palm also have their own stores, with several other companies expected to launch their own stores in the next few quarters. Samsung and LG have solid smartphones, but analysts have been critical of their software, especially if compared to Apple and RIM.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The PC Goes on an Energy Diet

Personal computers suck up enormous amounts of electricity—often when they aren't even being used. Manufacturers are tackling the problem.

By The Wall Street Journal

Some of the biggest energy hogs in a company sit in front of workers everyday: their PCs.

For a company that has 10,000 personal-computer desktops, for example, just leaving most of them turned on all night can cost more than $165,000 a year in electricity bills, while spewing more than 1,380 tons of carbon dioxide into the air per year.

That's roughly the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from driving a car for two months. In all, estimates are upwards of $1.7 billion that is being wasted in the U.S. with about 15 million tons of carbon emitted by desktops left on overnight.

As a result, corporate IT managers are clamoring for ways to rein in their PCs energy and expenses. And technology manufacturers are responding. For instance, Array Networks Inc. last November announced that its Desktop Direct program would let people remotely access their desktop even when it is turned off. Dell Inc. says the displays on its laptops use 43% less energy after older cathode screens have been swapped out with more efficient LED ones. And Hewlett-Packard Co. says its has saved 41% energy consumption on its lineup of PCs, compared with 2005 models, because of fewer components and other factors. Many other technology manufacturers are going green, as well.

In the end, this all adds up to smart business.

Returns on Investment

Developers say its desktop energy consumption has stayed roughly the same despite increasing the work force to 50 from 30 employees since 2008 because it switched to more efficient machines. The company's 200 desktops, laptops and refurbished laptops from H-P use about 40% less power than earlier models.

The move to greener PCs has picked up steam over the past five years, following mounting pressure from shareholders and environmental groups to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions that most scientists believe cause global warming. The PC makers have also faced heat for not doing enough to keep obsolete models out of the scrap heap. Many have since launched computer take-back programs, and have also switched to more recyclable materials.

Leading the Way

Three of the more active manufacturers in green PCs have been Dell, H-P and Apple Inc.

H-P, which has long operated an environmental program, ramped up its efforts on PCs in 2005 after someone asked, "What more can we do?," H-P redesigned its entire PC product line in 12 months, beginning in 2006, to include green features such as more efficient power supplies and the ability to go into power-saving sleep mode faster.

More recently, H-P in 2008 launched an EliteBook line of laptops that lets the user access email, calendars and contacts without having to power up the computer. The laptops use a technology called QuickLook, a separate, miniature operating system that doesn't require booting up the machine's main OS. QuickLook is also a feature on H-P's ProBook line of laptops.

Earlier this year, the company began shipping some consumer laptops featuring batteries that can hold a charge for as long as three years. That saves energy because they don't have to be recharged as much, H-P officials say.

Meanwhile, Dell over the past few years has revamped its OptiPlex desktops and Latitude laptops to include energy-saving features. Last year, the Round Rock, Texas, company introduced Latitude models that also can access email and Internet sites without booting up the computer; these models also have batteries that last twice as long as those of the previous model—six hours instead of three. One of the biggest savings, Dell officials say, has come from the shift to LED screens on laptops.

Among the biggest beneficiaries of the energy savings: Dell itself. The company more than a year ago installed night shut-off software in 50,000 desktops and notebooks across a number of its operations world-wide, achieving an estimated $1.8 million in power savings annually.

At Apple, company officials play up another benefit of green PCs: their reduced carbon output. The Cupertino, Calif., company calculates the amount of carbon each model uses. In the case of the MacBook Air laptop launched in 2008, the company says 43% of its carbon emissions come from the energy it uses. So to cut down on energy, the MacBook is equipped with features such as more efficient power supplies and enhanced sleep mode. The new 13-inch MacBook Pro released earlier this year draws just 15 watts when idle with display on—a quarter of the power needed to run a single household lightbulb—versus about double that for some other new laptops.

Remote Control

Software makers are also stepping up to address the problem of PC energy. Some programs currently being used let IT managers remotely adjust energy use of computers—such as being able to shut them off when not in use. They say their customers have saved more than $30 million in energy costs since it began offering the service about three years ago.

One customer, Cox Communications Inc., says it has seen a 40% drop in energy consumption in 15,000 desktops and used laptops since the company began deploying Surveyor last April. The Atlanta cable firm, a unit of Cox Enterprises Inc., uses Surveyor to remotely turn on desktops at night when they need software updates, and then turn them back off when the download is complete, says Peter West, vice president of IT and operational development.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Microsoft to Continue Shipping Word Pending Appeal


Microsoft Word lives on – for now.

A federal appeals court on Thursday granted the software giant a stay of an injunction that required Microsoft to stop production of Word.

On Aug. 11, a District Court in Texas handed down a $290 million judgment against the software giant and ordered the company to remove Word from the market within 60 days because it violated a patent held by i4i.

Microsoft promptly filed an appeal and requested that the injunction be delayed pending appeal. The Federal Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit agreed, and the two sides will meet again in court on September 23.

Loudon Owen, chairman of i4i, accused Microsoft of using scare tactics in order to continue its distribution of Word. Owen "is confident that the Final Judgment in favor of i4i, which included a finding of willful patent infringement by Microsoft and an injunction against Microsoft Word, was the correct decision and that i4i will prevail on the appeal," he said in a statement.

"Microsoft's time will eventually run out," Owen concluded.

In its formal appeal, Microsoft argued that stopping the shipment of Word would cause it and its distributors irreparable harm, but a stay pending appeal would not significantly harm i4i.

The judgment is baseless, Microsoft argued in its appeal, for four reasons: Microsoft is likely to succeed on the merits because the district court committed legal errors; Microsoft will be irreparably injured by an injunction that has the potential to remove its flagship product from the market for months; i4i, whose main product is an add-on to Word, will not be injured by a stay pending appeal; and the public will face hardship if Word and Office are absent from the market for any period.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sprint to Sell Its First Google Android Phone

By The Wall Street Journal

Sprint Nextel Corp. said Thursday that it will sell its first phone running Google Inc.'s Android software in October, giving the Internet company a larger foothold in the mobile world.

Consumers have been slow to embrace the mobile platform, which has been available only through T-Mobile USA. With Sprint, Google has a larger subscriber base to potentially tap.

The decision by Sprint will "help Android become a more mainstream operating system," said Roger Entner, a telecommunications analyst at Nielson & Co.

Sprint, meanwhile, needs as many weapons as it can get to fend off other carriers that want to poach its subscribers. The company, based in Overland Park, Kan., continues to lose its most valuable subscribers. But over the past few months, Sprint has released a string of high-profile devices including the Palm Inc., in the hopes of finding a match for the Apple Inc. iPhone.

Enter the HTC Corp. Hero. The Android-based smart phone uses HTC's own customized user interface, called Sense, and is regarded by the company as its flagship product. The device has been available overseas, but Sprint will be the first carrier to offer it in the U.S.

The device will sell for $179.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate and two-year service contract. It is to be available in stores on Oct. 11.

The Hero marks the first in a wave of Android devices expected to hit the market in the next few months. Motorola Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. are expected to unveil Android-based phones in September. But because so many Android phones are expected to hit the market, few are expected to post iPhone-like numbers, analysts say.

Google is pushing the open-source mobile operating system to handset manufacturers in a bid to expand its presence in the mobile sector and generate mobile advertising revenue. The Internet company hopes the Android phones generate mobile advertising revenue.

But the first Google phone, dubbed the G1, didn't turn many heads, and the follow-up device, the MyTouch 3G, was just one of many high-end smart phones launched during the past few months. Both devices were made by HTC and sold through Deutsche Telekom AG's T-Mobile.

Sprint is the latest carrier to join the Android platform. Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC, has committed to carrying Android phones before the end of the year. While AT&T Inc. has remained mum, industry observers say it will be pressured to follow suit.

A Data Deluge Swamps Science Historians

As Paper Trails Fade, Digital Material Grows in Size and Complexity; How to Decipher Those 80-Column Punch Cards

By The Wall Street Journal

In a vault beneath the British Library here, some grapple with a formidable challenge in digital life. The library's first curator of eManuscripts, is working on ways to archive the deluge of computer data swamping scientists so that future generations can authenticate today's discoveries and better understand the people who made them.

Their task is only getting harder. Scientists who use laptops to collaborate via email, Google, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook are leaving fewer paper trails, while the information technologies that do document their accomplishments can be incomprehensible to other researchers and historians trying to read them. PCs -intensive experiments and the software used to analyze their output generate millions of gigabytes of data that are stored or retrieved by electronic systems that quickly become obsolete.

It would be tragic if there were no record of lives that were so influential.

Usually, historians are hard-pressed to find any original source material about those who have shaped our civilization. In the Internet era, scholars of science might have too much. Never have so many people generated so much digital data or been able to lose so much of it so quickly. Desktops world-wide generate enough digital data every 15 minutes to fill the U.S. Library of Congress.

In fact, more technical data have been collected in the past year alone than in all previous years since science began. The data is doubling every year.

The problem is forcing historians to become scientists, and scientists to become archivists and curators. Digital records, unlike laboratory notebooks, can't be read without the proper hardware, software and passwords. Electronic copies are difficult to verify and are easy to alter or forge. Digital records "can be more direct, more immediate and more candid. But how can we demonstrate to people in the future that these are the real thing?

These files likely contained crucial drafts of research papers, emails and other information that could illuminate an influential life of science, as recorded through 40 years of computing technology.

To extract the antiquated data required more than a password.Scientist gradually assembled a collection of vintage computers, old tape drives and forensic data-recovery devices in a locked library sub-basement.

For more than a decade, policy makers and data experts have been debating the best way to preserve important digital records. "What you keep and how you pay for it are difficult issues.

The growing scale of new science projects, however, has university data custodians worried. We are swimming in data these days, and people are overwhelmed.

Consider a new computerized star atlas called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Using a telescope in New Mexico, the project in its first two days collected more data than gathered in all the previous history of astronomy. Its final data set catalogs 230 million celestial objects, encompassing 930,000 galaxies, 120,000 quasars and 225,000 stars, all encoded in 140 terabytes of digital data.

The next generation of experiments will be even more data-intensive. A new proton smasher near Geneva called the Large Hadron Collider is supposed to produce 15 million gigabytes of data annually -- enough to fill more than 1.7 million DVDs every year. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, an astronomy program under construction in northern Chile slated to launch in 2016, will regularly image the entire sky, recording more than 30,000 gigabytes of data every night.

Earlier this month, the U.S. National Science Foundation awarded $20 million to the Data Conservancy and another $20 million to the DataONE group to develop more effective data-preservation tools over the next five years, especially for researchers working on their own or in small teams.

For future generations to get much use from 21st-century data, though, it won't be enough to simply archive email exchanges and file formats. The problem is to actually capture the way scientists interact with the data. Today's graduate students are starting to use instant messaging in their scientific work. We have to figure out how to capture these.

In the long run, no scientific data can outlast the storage media that contains it, unless it can be accurately recopied and reliably re-authenticated. Many computer CDs, DVDs and flash drives last only a decade or so. The oldest known star atlas, inscribed on a scroll discovered in Dunhuang, China, has survived for more than 1,000 years. It might have been traced from an even older star map.

Earlier this year, researchers unveiled a memory chip designed to last for centuries. In April, physicists published the design of a digital device that could store data for a billion years, at least in theory.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

AT&T Gets a Fuzzy Signal on Apple's iPhone

By The Wall Street Journal

Did AT&T get a sour apple when it snagged the iPhone?

Maybe. AT&T's exclusive right to offer Apple's smart phone over the past two years has attracted new customers, and at least initially enhanced the phone company's image. But it is difficult to know whether those benefits are worth what have been some considerable costs, both short and long term.

For investors, and for federal regulators investigating such exclusivity deals, it is worth considering some factors. While AT&T has disclosed at least 10 million activations of iPhones since it became available in mid-2007, only about 40% of those were new customers. That number dropped to 35% in the most recent quarter when the 3GS phone became available.

The New Apple iPhone 3G S on Display at an Apple Store.That means only four million new customers signed up, about 5% of AT&T's total, or 6% of "postpaid" customers on costly monthly contracts. Complicating the math is that some activations represent upgrades from earlier iPhone versions. AT&T said last month that it had about nine million iPhone customers.

More important, perhaps, is that the iPhone likely has kept some AT&T customers from defecting. AT&T's churn, the percentage of customers who leave, has dropped to 1.49% from 1.7% since the third quarter of 2007. Over the same period, Verizon Wireless's churn has risen to 1.37% from 1.27%.

Then there is the extra revenue. AT&T has consistently said iPhone customers generate much higher revenue per user than the average, close to $100 a month. AT&T's "postpaid" average revenue per user has risen 4.7%, to $60.21, since the third quarter of 2007.

But partly offsetting that revenue is the reported $400-a-phone subsidy that AT&T has paid Apple since June of last year. That implies an iPhone customer brings in nearly $2,000 of revenue over the life of a two-year subscription, after recouping the subsidy cost.

Even so, J.P. Morgan Chase analyst Mike McCormack, who is skeptical of the return generated for AT&T from the iPhone, notes that AT&T has said other smart phones -- carrying a much lower subsidy -- tend to generate similar average-revenue-per-user levels as Apple's device. The iPhone subsidy has depressed AT&T profit margins. The metric AT&T emphasizes for its wireless division, operating income before depreciation and amortization, as a percentage of service revenue, has dropped from 41.2% in the second quarter of 2008, before the subsidy began, and has bounced in a range of 33.5% and 40.9% since. AT&T has said repeatedly it expects the margin to rise to the mid-40s long term.

And that margin doesn't reflect the impact of capital expenditures required to upgrade AT&T's network capacity so it can handle the average iPhone users' heavy Internet habits.

It is no secret that iPhone users download games, video and other Web data at two to four times the rate of other smart-phone users. Yet AT&T charges the same $30-a-month fee for unlimited data use it levies on its other smart-phone customers.

The heavy iPhone Web habits have strained AT&T's network, now the subject of numerous complaints. Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett noted AT&T's name was "jeered at every mention" by application developers at an Apple conference in June.

AT&T is taking steps to improve its 3G performance, but the damage to public perception of its network may be difficult to repair.

It is possible Verizon's network would have reacted similarly if that company had offered the iPhone. No matter: It seems likely that if Verizon eventually gets the right to offer the iPhone, some of those four million customers who signed up for AT&T may defect. Indeed, some of the older AT&T customers also may go. So whatever value AT&T got from the device, it seems clear that Apple was the real beneficiary.

Microsoft, Nokia Take Aim at BlackBerry

Giants Strike Alliance to Bring Office and Collaboration Software to Nokia's Cellphones

By The Wall Street Journal

Microsoft Corp. and Nokia Corp., once bitter rivals in the mobile market, formed an alliance to strengthen their positions at a time when other competitors have become far more troublesome.

The deal between the two companies will bring Microsoft's Office programs and other software to Nokia phones. It is aimed squarely at the professional market that Research In Motion Ltd. targets so successfully with its BlackBerry line of smart phones.

For Microsoft, the deal is an attempt to increase the appeal of Office -- a lucrative franchise that includes Word, Excel and other productivity programs -- to a business audience that is being courted by competing products from rivals that range from Google Inc. to Cisco Systems Inc. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

In a conference call, a Nokia executive was particularly blunt in saying the deal represents more of a threat to the BlackBerry maker than to Apple Inc., which is thriving among consumers with the iPhone.

It's about creating a formidable challenger to RIM than anybody else. RIM, which is based in Waterloo, Canada, didn't respond to requests for comment.

Nokia remains the dominant supplier of smart phones, but its market share has been shrinking, falling to 45% of world-wide unit sales in the second quarter from 47.4% in the same period the prior year.

RIM, meanwhile, jumped to 18.7% of the market from 17.3% during the same periods, while Apple soared to 13.3% from 2.8%.

Part of Nokia's problem, analysts say, is that its devices, which rely mostly on the Symbian operating system, have lost technological ground to rivals.

Nokia is suffering right now from having a really old user interface in Symbian. It's not that exciting.

While the Microsoft deal won't provide more eye-catching interfaces for Nokia phones, it could give users a better experience on the go as they try to stay connected to work, whether editing Word documents or viewing Excel spreadsheets.

Microsoft said next year it will offer a Nokia version of an existing product called Office Communicator Mobile that makes it easier for users to be reached through a single phone number, rather than requiring callers to hunt for them by dialing multiple numbers.

The two companies will work on other projects, such as conferencing software that will allow Nokia phone users to participate in teleconferences that use interactive slide presentations.

Microsoft's strategy is to make it tougher for business users to switch to applications from rivals such as Google. Microsoft's approach here is to put an anchor point in ground.