Friday, October 30, 2009

Old Electronice = New Work In Sunrise, Florida

Miami Herald

If you've recently thrown out some sort of gizmo, have you ever wondered where it goes?

It lands in a warehouse at the edge of Sunrise, where tossed-out televisions and computers stack up like towers. Maria Agro, a 44-year-old woman with small hands and thick bifocals, picks one up and starts prying the sprockets. She tosses them into a box where LaToya Reynolds will pick them up. Or Eduardo Fabian might try to refurbish them. Or they might be touched by the hands of the dozen or so special-needs adults responsible for recycling and refurbishing nearly all of the county's discarded electronics.

This week in Washington, D.C., elected officials are debating a climate change bill. There'll be lots of talk about cap-and-trade and inconvenient truths and capital footprints. More than 1,000 miles away, at the Achievement and Rehabilitation Center off Commercial Boulevard, are the quiet foot-soldiers of the green movement.

For more than half a century, the nonprofit organization has worked with people who have Down Syndrome, autism or another disability. They cater to more than 1,000 disabled children and adults -- giving them the chance to receive job training, play basketball, take trips, make friends.

Most of them aren't allowed to live or drive on their own. Their passion for recycling is based on something simpler and more personal than healing the world.

When Agro places items inside her box, she's really placing herself out of one.

``It makes me feel independent,'' she says.

• • •

The computer crunching began in 2001, when ARC won Broward's first contract to do its electronics recycling.

At first, the center devoted 1,000 square feet to the recycling program. That's grown to 12,000 feet.

The added space has helped them deal with the exponential increase in electronics recycling. In two years, the number of people who recycle their electronics in Broward has gone from about 9,000 to 19,000, county statistics show. By year's end, numbers will climb even more because many people have thrown out their televisions after this winter's conversion to digital TV.

This is good news for Peter Foye, who directs Broward's recycling program.

If they're not turned into refurbished desktops, the machines will end up in a landfill, where lead and other contaminants could leak and slide into drinking water. But as the public's concern about the state of the earth grows, more people are choosing to drop their electronics at a local site, where the center's workers pick them up.

``There is more awareness of the program and of the need to be more conscious about the material we throw away,'' Foye said.

• • •

Like her colleagues, Agro works three days a week, five hours a day. She wakes at 6 a.m., fixes herself breakfast and gets picked up by a group van that drives her to the center. There, she stuffs her small hands in gloves that are too big.

``This place is really nifty,'' she said. ``I earn my own money, I have friends, I found a boyfriend. His name's Frank.''

She sits at a station. Signs around her remind her to ask for help and to never take the gloves off. She carries a spiral notebook and opens a page to ``Maria's Work Day.'' She pulls the sprocket, then puts down a stray mark. One down.

``I want to make sure everyone knows what work is mine,'' she says.

Tupac Shakur raps softly from the speakers. Behind her, 27-year-old LaToya Reynolds is hauling a crane and a deep box full of electronics. She gathers up the unused parts and wires, which will be taken to another location so they can be shredded.

 Eduardo Fabian, 34, picks up the processors. He searches for the hard drive for corrosion. Then, he'll clear its memory and restore it with Windows XP.

The process of restoring used computers takes almost two hours, but he says he never gets bored. It's the only job he's ever wanted to do. It's the only job he really feels comfortable doing.

``Computers have always been what I've been good at,'' Fabian says. ``I've been working with them since I was 17.''

The workers do four weeks of training before they start. And its repetitive work -- pull, crank, toss, wait -- that bodes well for their abilities.

Racquel Henry is their supervisor. In her three years overseeing the staff, she has never seen anything worse happen to one of them than getting a deep cut.

On this day, she has just returned from a computer recycling conference that brought in companies from all over the country. Many were nonprofits; none used people with adult disabilities.

While she understands their contributions to the globe, she mostly sees their self-esteem and independence increase.

``It is amazing to see where they are coming from,'' Henry said. ``I asked one woman what she did with the money and she said she just saved it in her pocket book.

I had to tell her, `No, you should open up an account.' And in a few weeks, she was so happy to tell me she had her own bank card.''

The center itself also benefits from the arrangement. Broward County just signed a $3 million contract for the center to continue this work for another five years. And while the center donates some computers to charity, they also resell refurbished laptops and processors, starting at $175.

Then, there are the contracts with companies that want the center to handle their recycled electronics directly. With funding in the nonprofit world shrinking, the quirky project that started eight years ago is now helping the center weather the recession.

Little of that matters to Agro. What does matter is her one luxury: When she gets her paycheck, she calls her sister-in-law and invites her to lunch.

They dine at Sweet Tomatoes, where Agro will fix herself a big salad. And then, she'll pick up the tab.

The rest of the money goes to her savings fund. Ultimately, she wants to leave this place. She knows the stereotypes of a person with special needs. She's been mocked and underestimated all her life. So she wants to do something big.

``I want to go to college to be a pharmacist, or a scientist or a businesswoman,'' she says. ``I'll do it on the weekends, so I can make money here to pay for classes. I can do it. All I have to do is think positive, close my eyes and dream.''

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Getting More Personal With Netbooks

From Government Technology

What's the optimal size of a personal computer? That's a question PC makers wrestle with all the time in designing new models, and it's a question every PC buyer should consider as well.

The trend is clear: Small. For the most part, stationary desktops as well as portable PCs have gotten smaller over time, one exception being monitors, which have increased in size.

When taken to an extreme today, you wind up with a handheld computer, also called a palmtop computer. Taken to an extreme in the future, we'll likely have fully functional, voice-activated, talking computers embedded in our wristwatches, clothing, and eyeglasses.

For now, the more mundane and more practical issue is how small should you go when buying new computers device for work, play, or both.


A relatively new category of computer devices, netbooks, adds a new option. Also called mininotebooks or sub notebooks, these are the smallest laptops today that have keyboards that you can type into with both hands for quick data entry. Unlike notebook PCs, they don't typically include a CD-ROM/DVD drive.

The name "netbook" came into use because these devices are ideally suited for using Web applications. Instead of running programs that reside on your computer's own hard drive, you run programs over the Internet that reside on server computers elsewhere. Google Docs ( is the best known.

Netbooks as a product category are only about two years old, emerging in late 2007, though some contend that netbooks first came into existence in 1999 with the Psion netBook, a device that never caught on. Today's netbooks have caught on, comprising nearly one-fourth of all portable PCs sold, according the latest report by the market research firm DisplaySearch. Compared with a year ago, netbook sales revenue grew a whopping 264 percent.

The attraction of netbooks is clear. Compared with other laptop computers, they're lighter, run longer on batter power, and cost less. The main negatives are the flip side of the positives. The smaller keyboards are more difficult to type on and the smaller screens are more difficult to read.

Some analysts have speculated that the netbook boom will end when the economy recovers, removing some of the attraction of their low price, which ranges from about $250 to $500. But market research firm iSuppli Corp. predicts that their popularity will continue to rise, with netbook shipments projected to quadruple over the next four years.

Top netbook brands, according to the latest testing by Consumer Reports, PC World magazine, and the online sites CNET and, include those by Acer, Asus, Gateway, HP, and Toshiba.

I tested out netbooks by Acer and Gateway. The Gateway LT3103u is typical of larger netbooks, while the Acer Aspire One AOD250-1042 is typical of smaller ones. The Gateway has an 11.6-inch screen, 2 gigabytes of memory, and a 250-gigabyte hard drive, the Acer a 10.1-inch screen, 1 gigabyte of memory, and a 160-gigabyte hard drive.

I liked the Gateway better, but I'm a dyed-in-the-wool desktop PC aficionado, preferring faster typing and easier viewing over the convenience of smaller size. The Gateway is available from Gateway's site for about $400, the Acer from retailers such as Wal-Mart for about $250.

Most netbooks come with Windows XP as their operating system, though you can find them with Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Linux. The MacBook Air is Apple's answer to the netbook trend, but it's considerably pricier than Windows or Linux netbooks.

Here are some observations from regular users of netbooks, picked up from perusing various online discussion groups: Netbooks are good for just about anything except video editing. Typing speed increases with keyboard size, and typing error rate decreases. You're more likely to take a netbook with you when out casually than a notebook. A netbook is convenient even if you rarely or never take it out of the house, in moving it from room to room.

According to what I've observed, younger people take to netbooks more easily than bifocal folks. If you're used to texting on an iPod or cell phone, a netbook will seem positively roomy. But if you want to optimize ergonomic comfort as well as speed and efficiency when working, nothing beats a full-size stationary desktop computer.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Not All Energy Star Appliances So Efficient

NY Times

The Energy Department has concluded in an internal audit that it does not properly track whether manufacturers that give their appliances an Energy Star label have met the required specifications for energy efficiency

Some manufacturers could therefore be putting the stickers on unqualified products such as kitchen appliances, according to the audit, by the Energy Department’s inspector general, Gregory H. Friedman.

The Energy Star program, jointly managed by the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, has benefited from a renewed emphasis by the Obama administration, as a mechanism for reducing the waste of energy and curbing resulting greenhouse gas emissions. Under the federal stimulus bill, $300 million will go to rebates for consumers who buy Energy Star products.

Some consumers choose energy-efficient appliances for the same reason they might choose a car with good fuel economy: to save money or reduce the environmental impact.

Teams from the Energy Department and the E.P.A. oversee different categories of products. Last December, the environmental agency’s inspector general said the Energy Star ratings for products it oversees, like computers and television sets, were “not accurate or verifiable” because of weak oversight by the agency.

The Energy Department vowed then to scrutinize its performance in evaluating the products that it oversees, like windows, dishwashers, washing machines and refrigerators.

The new audit, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, indicates that the Energy Department has also fallen far short. Those shortcomings “could reduce consumer confidence in the integrity of the Energy Star label,” according to the department’s inspector general. The audit is to be submitted to Energy Secretary Steven Chu this week. While the Energy Department requires manufacturers of windows and L.E.D. and fluorescent lighting to have independent laboratories evaluate their products, the report said, companies that make refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, water heaters and room air-conditioners, which consume far more energy, can certify those appliances themselves.

One refrigerator manufacturer tipped off the Energy Department that some models from a competitor that carried the Energy Star label did not meet the criteria, the audit said. That problem was also described by Consumer Reports magazine in October 2008 about tests it had conducted. In a settlement last year, the manufacturer, LG of South Korea, agreed to modify circuit boards in the machines already sold, to reduce their consumption and to compensate consumers for the extra power consumed.

The report also noted that while the government said in 2007 that it would conduct “retail assessments” to ensure that all the products carrying the Energy Star logo deserved them, it is still not doing so for windows, doors, skylights, water heaters and solid-state lighting. And the department is not following through to ensure that when inappropriately labeled products are identified, the labels are actually taken off, the audit said.

In one category, compact fluorescent lights, the government has certified nearly all existing products, the audit said. “When 90 percent of the products qualify, the consumer cannot easily judge the relative efficiencies of C.F.L. products,” the report said.

Jen Stutsman, an Energy Department spokeswoman, cited the recent agreement with the E.P.A., and said, “The Obama administration is strongly committed to ensuring that all Energy Star products provide American consumers with significant energy and cost savings, and has moved forward with steps to streamline and enhance the program.”

An outside expert, Lane Burt, the manager of building energy policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said some of the criticisms were justified.

“It’s been a tremendously successful program,” Mr. Burt said. “It’s grown by leaps and bounds, and any time you have that kind of growth, you’re going to have growing pains.”

Nonetheless, he said, “it’s crucial to make sure consumers are actually saving money and energy when buying an Energy Star appliance.” On Sept. 30, the Energy Department and the E.P.A. signed a memorandum of understanding that seeks to address some of the shortcomings detailed in the report.

Other Energy Star Appliances:

Mr. Burt said the memorandum committed both agencies to having all of their products evaluated by certified independent laboratories, and to expand the Energy Star program to cover products that were not in common use when it began in 1996. No target date was set.

The memorandum called for a “super star” program within Energy Star to identify the top-performing 5 percent of products, ranked by efficiency, he said.

Lenovo Expects Lift From Windows 7


Lenovo, the world's fourth-biggest personal computer maker, expects a boost in its PC sales from the launch of Microsoft's new operating system, Windows 7, its chairman said on Saturday.

"It will have a big impact, and we have made a lot of preparations for it," Lenovo Chairman Liu Chuanzhi said in remarks, translated from Mandarin, which indicated the impact would be positive.

Liu spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of an industry forum but declined to give a revenue contribution forecast.

Earlier this week, Lenovo launched two new laptops under its corporate line, both running the new Microsoft operating system.

Industry-watchers are betting on further recovery of computer sales next year as the global economy improves and businesses replace old machines. However, opinion is divided on how strong the impact of Windows 7 will be.

Microsoft Corp launched Windows 7 on Thursday, its most important release for more than a decade, aiming to win back customers after the disappointing Vista.

Taiwan's Acer Inc's chairman J.T. Wang also told Reuters recently he expected the launch of Windows 7 to be a positive factor for sales as consumers look to upgrade computers running on the Vista or the 8-year-old XP system.

PC shipments in the Asia Pacific region, excluding Japan, grew 17 percent in the third quarter, research firm IDC said on Tuesday. Lenovo had the largest market share in Asia.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nokia Sues Apple, Claiming Patent Infringement

From Information Week

Nokia has filed patent infringement litigation against Apple, charging that the iPhone infringes on several Nokia patents.

The litigation, which involves 10 patents, was filed Thursday in the Federal District Court in Delaware. The patents at issue, Nokia said, involve GSM, UMTS (3G WCDMA), and wireless LAN standards.

"The basic principle in the mobile industry is that those companies who contribute in technology development to establish standards create intellectual property, which others then need to compensate for," said Ilkka Rahnasto, Nokia VP of legal and intellectual property, in a statement. "Apple is also expected to follow this principle. By refusing to agree [to] appropriate terms for Nokia's intellectual property, Apple is attempting to get a free ride on the back of Nokia's innovation." Apple did not immediately respond to reports about the Nokia complaint.

The litigation is just the latest in the mobile industry, which has been racked by scores of patent and intellectual property suits. Nokia itself was involved in long and bitter patent litigation with Qualcomm that was settled in July 2008 with Nokia agreeing to make payments to Qualcomm over a 15-year period. That agreement included licenses for GSM features, which appear to constitute a major piece of Nokia's complaint against Apple.

Nokia pioneered GSM, which has figured in AT&T's exclusive network deal with the iPhone in the United States. The AT&T network also utilizes UMTS, likewise cited in the Nokia litigation. AT&T was not named by Nokia in the litigation. The Nokia complaint appears to be aimed largely at handset intellectual property, although Nokia didn't completely spell out the charges in its Thursday press release.

Nokia noted that it has successfully entered into licensing agreements with about 40 companies that include the patents cited in the Apple litigation, adding that it maintains that all Apple iPhones shipped since the smartphone's debut infringe on Nokia patents that cover wireless data, speech coding, security, and encryption.

Last week Nokia reported its first quarterly loss in years, while Apple reported very favorable earnings and revenue. Nokia leads the world in handset shipments with a 38% market share while Apple, still relatively new to the mobile market, is gaining share at a rapid rate.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Apple Launches New MacBook, iPod Mini And iMac

From Wired

Apple has revealed its 'holiday season' lineup - nothing earth-shattering, but some cool new hardware for Mac fans.

First up is a new MacBook. This now has a MacBook Pro-style 'unibody' one-piece chassis (still plastic, though), so no unsightly joins like other notebooks or laptops and hopefully fewer stress fractures after long-term use. There's a faster processor and up to seven hours' battery life, thanks in part to a low-power LED display.

The Mac Mini range has been tweaked - you can now get it with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo and 4GB RAM, but the base model remains laughably underspecced for £500 - where does Apple even find these 160GB hard disks? Maybe from the same bankrupt stock as the previous MacBook's CD writer.

More interesting is the creation of a Mac Mini desktops server - by removing the optical drive Apple has squeezed in two 500GB hard disks. This comes pre-installed with the unlimited client version of Snow Leopard Server for your £799, and is aimed at small businesses as a relatively inexpensive and easy way of setting up an email, calendar and file server.

The big brouhaha was about the new iMac line of computers. This was very pretty. There's now a 21.5 inch and 27 inch model to replace the 20 inch and 24 inch versions, and resolutions are up to full HD 1,920 x 1,080 and CAD package-friendly 2,560 x 1,440. No Blu-ray drive for spinning disc HD playback, but you should be able to plug your blu-ray player into the 27 inch model's Mini DisplayPort input once Belkin brings out a suitable adaptor.

Product Review: New Bose SoundDock 10

From cNet

Believe it or not, iPod speakers were once rare objects--and Bose's SoundDock was one of the first to hit the market back in 2004. Since then, the company has followed up with the SoundDock II ($299) and the SoundDock Portable ($399), even as the iPod speaker category has become completely commoditized (nowadays, there are plenty of sub-$100 clock radios with built-in iPod docks). For the 2009-2010 buying season, Bose has gone back to the drawing board and produced the SoundDock 10.

Bose says it worked for several years on this new speaker system for the iPod and iPhone, with the lofty goal of building a product that can deliver "audio performance previously unattainable from a one-piece speaker system for iPod." The SoundDock 10 is bigger and more expensive (costing a whopping $599) than previous SoundDock models, but it's still relatively compact, measuring 17 inches wide by 9 inches high by 10 inches deep, and has a nice clean, understated design that gives the whole system a classy look.

We really liked the design, though it's worth noting that since there are no buttons on the unit itself, you have to use the included remote to control playback. Lose the remote and you'll have a problem, especially when it comes to adjusting volume. (The remote controls your iPod's basic functions, and, while the system does have a video output, Apple doesn't allow the iPod menus to be displayed on a TV or other video source, which would make it much easier to navigate the device from afar.)

The centerpiece of the unit is a hefty, custom woofer, bracketed by two Bose Twiddler transducers (no, that's not a new social-networking site; it's a combination of a high-frequency transducer and midrange driver). The woofer alone adds a lot of weight to the unit, and while the speaker can be moved around the house easily enough, the SoundDock 10 weighs a beefy 18.9 pounds (that's three times as much as the aforementioned SoundDock Series II and SoundDock Portable). Held in hand, this model feels quite substantial and well built.

As far as extra features go, you don't get a whole lot. There's no radio or clock, but you do get an audio input for other audio devices and a composite-video output for showing iPod/iPhone images or videos when connected to a TV. While Bose is known for its sound and not its video, we wish it had incorporated a component-video connection because composite video really offers a mediocre picture. Particularly at this price point, if you're going to include video, you might as well make it decent.

Bose also has equipped the SoundDock 10 with a proprietary interchangeable docking architecture, which it says is designed to "future-proof" the system and make it compatible with any hot media players or smartphones that might come along (around back, there's a USB port for uploading any future firmware updates). For instance, if Microsoft's Zune really took off, it could add a dock for that, but right now it's only offering an optional Bluetooth dock that costs an additional $149. For 600 bucks, you'd have hoped Bose would have integrated Bluetooth into the unit, but it didn't.

As you might imagine, that Bluetooth dock allows you to stream music wirelessly from your iPod Touch or iPhone to the SoundDock 10 using your Apple device as a source and a remote. When you move too far away from the device--we got about 40 feet away--or run into some interference issues (i.e., microwaves or other Bluetooth devices), a light starts blinking on the dock, which alerts you that the quality of stream may be affected. If the light blinks faster, you're more likely to have a problem.

For our Bluetooth tests, we used an iPhone 3GS, and the Bluetooth worked well. While Bluetooth streaming compresses the audio, we didn't notice a marked difference in sound quality (the degradation was only very slight). All in all, we really liked the option of using our iPhone as remote, but there's one serious drawback to the Bluetooth dock: if you have it plugged in, you can't charge your iPod or iPhone in the SoundDock 10. That's just unfortunate.

In terms of sound quality, the first thing you'll notice is that the SoundDock 10 plays loud and doesn't distort when you crank your tunes. Typically, most compact iPod audio systems just can't fill a large room with sound, but this model definitely plays much bigger than it looks.

We played an eclectic mix of music--everything from Bach to Dan Aurebach to Elvis Costello to Rihanna and Lady Gaga. The sound is rich, detailed, and well-balanced. That specially designed woofer delivers lots of bass. While it's not incredibly tight, it does have some good thump to it, and we agree with Bose that the SoundDock 10 has some party chops.

While some people might lament the lack of bass and treble controls, Bose tends to cater to an audience that isn't inclined to tweak their audio settings and just wants a system that's optimized out of the box. (Note: In some ways we prefer testing products that are optimized by the manufacture because it help eliminate a layer of subjectivity.)

So, does Bose deliver on its lofty sound goals? In large part, yes. For a compact speaker system, the SoundDock 10 sounds really good. If there's a weakness, it is that, like most iPod speakers that have their drivers placed right next to each other, you don't get much in the way of stereo separation. (Bose reps explained that its engineers designed the drivers to fire off at an angle rather than straight ahead, but you still don't get much stereo separation.) Despite that shortcoming, you'd be hard-pressed to find an iPod speaker system this compact that delivers better sound.

Of course, there's that little nagging issue of price. Six hundred bucks is a lot to spend on an iPod speaker and you can get home-theater-in-a-box systems that sound better for the same amount of money or even slightly less. You can also pick up something like the Altec LansingMix iMT800 iPod/iPhone boom box or the iHome iP1 for half the price of this model, but you're not going to get quite as good sound (the iMT800 is fairly close, however) or the upscale look of the Bose. B&W and Geneva also make iPod speakers in this price range that sound really good. However, their designs are more unique and may turn some people off.

Weighing the SoundDock 10's pluses and minuses, it's pretty easy to say that it's not for everyone. Its price is high and we wish Bose had integrated Bluetooth into the unit and not made it an extra feature that costs an additional $150. But if you're someone who's less concerned about price and really values the concept of a compact iPod/iPhone audio system that looks classy, plays loud (without distorting), and sounds really good for its size, we have no problem recommending the SoundDock 10. It's also worth noting that Bose does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can test it out yourself and return the thing for a full refund if you don't think it's worth $600.

Upstart American Television Maker Leads The Industry


Americans will buy about 35 million televisions this year, and Japan's Sony and Korea's Samsung are two of the biggest brand names.

But there's a California company sharing the top of the list with those industry leaders: Vizio.

Like many other American brands, the Orange County-based upstart doesn't manufacture anything in the U.S. Vizio made its mark as the low-priced value brand. It was at the right place at the right time, with the right idea.

Back in 2001, Vizio's three founders had a company that was making computer monitors, but co-founder Ken Lowe says the trio was looking for the next big thing,

"We thought that flat panel TVs looked really nice," says Lowe, who heads the company's engineering department. "But a really nice plasma TV cost about $8,000, and we thought, 'That's too rich for us.' "

However, Lowe and his partners thought, "We know how these things are made; they shouldn't cost that much."

A Disruptive Company

The three worked their connections in the manufacturing world in Asia and created a 42-inch plasma TV that retailed for less than half the going price.

"At that time, we called ourselves a 'disruptive company,' because our price was so much lower than the competition," Lowe says.

Vizio's TVs sold briskly, and the company was soon producing well-priced products under its own name. Today it's among the top three sellers of TVs to U.S. consumers.

Industry analyst Paul Gagnon, of the market research firm Display Search, calls Vizio's rise very surprising: "They've managed to kind of catch lightning in a bottle — quick moving, aggressive, highly focused company."

Vizio had the foresight to jump into the market just as the industry was converting from old technology to digital TVs. That meant that all the manufacturers were, to some degree at least, starting from square one. But while the established firms had large legacy costs, Vizio did not.

"We're like outsourcing on steroids, right," Lowe says. "It's myself here and a few other engineers. That's it for Vizio."

New Pressure From Competitors

Lowe says only about 130 people work at the company headquarters, and a couple of dozen more work in another U.S. facility. All the manufacturing, along with the detailed design work, is done primarily in Asia.

"I specify exactly what picture performance I require, what inputs I require. I get these teams of engineers to sit down and work out all the circuitry to make that happen," Lowe says. "I like to say I've got a thousand engineers working for me, but they're all paid by another company ... in Asia."

He chuckles a bit as he says this, but he adds that building TVs in the U.S. would require a huge capital investment — and right now, at least, Vizio isn't about to make it.

The company buys the flat panels — the major component in TVs — directly from the suppliers, sometimes the very same suppliers that make panels for more expensive brands. Because Vizio sells so many TVs, it has the clout to negotiate good prices on the parts it buys.

There's yet another factor in the value price equation.

From the very beginning, Vizio sold its TVs through Costco and at Sam's Club, Walmart and, more recently, Target. Those retailers generally work on smaller profit margins, and that's helped to keep Vizio's prices low.

Industry analyst Gagnon says there's no question that Vizio has been instrumental in driving down the cost of digital TVs.

"Vizio made a lot of big companies blink," he says.

At first, the well-established leaders didn't pay that much attention to the new company. But Gagnon says that as Vizio began selling lots of TVs with premium features and low prices, the industry giants had to respond. They did, cutting their prices and putting new pressure on Vizio.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Verizon Pushing Motorola Droid Vs. iPhone

From eWeek

Less than two weeks after promising to sell smartphones, netbooks and other devices based on Google's Android mobile operating system, Verizon Wireless kicked off a television ad touting its Motorola Droid phone and shredding Apple's iPhone in the process. Verizon Wireless will begin selling the Droid on Oct. 30, as far as anyone can tell. Boy Genius tested a Droid and said the device is blazingly fast, running Version 2.0 of Android. Jefferies Research said that such traction will lead to a boon in Google's mobile applications, noting that Google's location-based services such as Local Search, Google Maps, Search by Voice and Latitude should be readily monetizable over time.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said on the search engine company's earnings call last week that Android was about to take off.

Time will tell on that score, but if it doesn't happen it won't be for lack of trying. Less than two weeks after promising to sell smartphones, netbooks and other devices based on Google's Android mobile operating system, Verizon Wireless kicked off a television ad touting its Motorola Droid phone and shredding Apple's iPhone in the process.

Shown on Fox and CBS in between the action of NFL football games Sunday afternoon, the 32-second clip blitzes the iPhone for what it doesn't have, including a keyboard, 5-megapixel camera, and the ability to run simultaneous apps, widgets and even take pictures in the dark. It also knocks the iPhone for not being open and allowing developers to customize apps for it, ending the ad by noting, "Everything iDon't, Droid Does."

The ad campaign would be devastating, if only Apple hadn't already sold more than 50 million iPhones and iPod Touch devices under the aegis of exclusive iPhone carrier AT&T. Even so, the ad reminds everyone that Verizon Wireless and Google are at full war with AT&T and Apple. Verizon Wireless also launched a dedicated Website Droid here.

Verizon Wireless will begin selling the Droid on Oct. 30, as far as anyone can tell. Boy Genius tested a Droid, and said the device is blazingly fast, running Version 2.0 of Android.

It's thin, metal and comes with a non-spring-assisted slide, with soft-touch plastic, but has easily the best screen of any Android handset to date, including the T-Mobile Android G1, T-Mobile myTouch 3G, Sprint HTC Hero and the half dozen other Android phones. Boy Genius wrote:

    "Have we mentioned this phone flies? It's the Android device to beat, and easily the most impressive. From what we've been told, Google had a direct hand in the Motorola Droid. Something to the point of almost dictating every move Motorola made when designing and making the phone. Interesting, huh? ... No one wants to listen, but it makes the [Motorola's Android-based] CLIQ looks like a child's toy (partly because it is, and partly because the Droid, even in its non-final form, is the most impressive phone we've used since the iPhone. It's positively amazing)."

That's the kind of gushing that will make Google and its Android partners smile, savoring a coup over iPhone, provided people buy the Droid when it comes out. In any event, Android is on the rise.

Today, Android is available on nine devices across 26 countries on 32 carriers. Dell even said it will sell an Android-based phone on AT&T's network, and Sprint is working with Samsung to deliver its second Android-based phone. Android devices should be available on all four major carrier networks in the United States in 2010. This is exactly the kind of broad adoption Google was hoping for when it unveiled Android almost two years ago in November.

Jefferies Research analyst Youssef Squali said in an Oct. 8 research note that such traction will be a boon to Google's mobile applications, noting that Google's location-based services such as Local Search, Google Maps, Search by Voice and Latitude, as well as core apps such as Gmail, YouTube and others, should be readily monetizable over time:

    "Such a trend should stimulate search volume and drive mobile page views, two crucial elements to Google's successful monetization strategy. We estimate that Google's worldwide gross search revenue in mobile will cross the $500 million mark in 2011, up from roughly $180 million in 2009."

No wonder why Schmidt said Oct. 15 during the earnings call:

    "Android adoption is literally about to explode. You have all the necessary conditions, you have the vendors, you have the distribution and so forth. This is a very critical period with all of everything being delivered."

Will Schmidt's comments prove prescient?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Military Laser Technology To Be Used To Fend Off Pirates, Paparazzi

From CNN

LONDON, England -- A military-grade laser that blinds temporarily is the latest security technology available to wealthy superyacht owners afraid of pirate attacks.

 The "SeaLase" laser, similar to weapons used for crowd control in Iraq and Afghanistan by the U.S. military, has a range of four kilometers and becomes harder to look at the closer an attacker comes.

At a distance of one kilometer, attackers develop strong nausea and can no longer see, according to Lasersec Systems, the Finnish company that developed the lasers for commercial use.

"We don't have guns, so we need non-lethal systems to defend yachts," Lasersec CEO Scott Buchter told CNN.

Buchter, who recently launched the $104,000 multi-colored laser at Monaco Yacht Show, says the loss of eyesight the laser inflicts is only temporary and that no permanent damage is inflicted.

Hi-tech military-grade security systems like SeaLase have become increasingly popular with superyacht owners looking to protect multi-millon dollar yachts on the open seas.

Pirate attacks on oil tankers and other boats in dangerous waters like the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia -- a maritime link between Europe and Asia --have fueled the growing worry that superyachts may be the next target.

Because law regarding the use of deadly force on ships is ambiguous in some countries and the transport of guns is illegal in most international waters -- yacht crews favor the use of non-lethal weapons for security. This has fueled the recent market boom for weapons like SeaLase, according to Buchter.

SeaLase is the latest of these kinds of weapons, which include "L-Rad," a long-range acoustic device that temporarily deafens enemies and the $450,000 "SeaOwl" tracking system, which combines radar and infrared or thermal cameras to detect incoming threats as far as five kilometers away.

BAE Systems, the world's second largest global defense company, is thinking even bigger with plans for a sophisticated electronic early warning system for supertankers that some experts say could cost several million dollars.

"Piracy is on the rise," said Nick Stoppard of BAE systems. "Attacks in 2008 were double those of the previous year and there is a clear need for better methods to help commercial ships identify and evade pirates before an attack occurs."

The early warning system would use extremely advanced radars that could see over the horizon, as far as 25 km away.

But pirates are not the only enemies of affluent yacht owners.

For some, the paparazzi, using long range lens to take pictures of them on their yachts, can pose a privacy headache.

According to reports in UK newspaper, The Times, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has installed an "anti-pap system" that would fire light beams at a camera, disrupting its ability to take images.

Aside from the anti-pap system, it has been widely reported that Abramovitch's yacht "Eclipse" carries an anti-missile defense system and an escape submarine. The yacht is also said to have doubled in price to $1.2 billion since its commissioning three years ago.

Michael Howorth, former super-yacht captain and technical editor at SuperYachtWorld magazine, told CNN for a previous article: As a yacht owner, "you would be an absolute fool if you didn't have this sort of advanced defense technology.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Iraqi Troops Tailgate For Packers Game Via Satellite

From Today's TMJ 4 Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE and MADISON - The Packers host the Lions at Lambeau Field this Sunday.

As thousands of fans tailgate outside the stadium this morning, members of the Wisconsin National Guard will be firing up the grills in Iraq.

It's a tradition for many Packers fans before kickoff - crack open a few colds ones and throw a couple of brats on the grill.

Some come from hundreds of miles away to enjoy the festivities.

This weekend, they'll come from 7,000 miles away...sort of.

It's called Tailgating for Troops.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, including satellite television and internet in Iraq the Wisconsin National Guard 32nd Infantry Brigade, currently serving in Iraq, will be able to tailgate with their families here in Wisconsin via satellite.

"We're getting them together for a day of fun, football and family time and watch a little Packers football, so it will be a great day," said organizer Brian Hoag with the group

He explains that large video screens at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison will be hooked up so relatives can watch the game and see the soldiers in Iraq in real time.

3,000 are expected to show up.

"Lots of children, parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, everything else.  It's shaping up to be a great day."

Not only will soldiers get to watch the game, they'll also get some private time with their relatives.

To top it all off they'll get to eat some brats.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Window Shopping: Windows 7 Preview

Windows 7 is no Windows Vista. But it remains a Windows operating system. 
Story from the Washington Post

That is, Microsoft's new release, arriving in stores and on new computers Thursday, ought to turn the troubled Vista into a bad memory. But it shouldn't make people forget about Apple's Mac OS X.

The primary reward 7 offers to Vista users who shell out for the upgrade -- $119.99 to go from Vista's Home Premium edition to 7 Home Premium -- is better performance.

In particular, 7 upgraders should see their computers win back some free memory (about 200 megabytes' worth, going by the figures in Windows' Task Manager tool on an HP and Dell laptop) and disk space (about 7 gigabytes even when upgraded to 7's overpriced Ultimate edition, the only kind provided by Microsoft's PR firm). Their computers may start up and shut down faster, although the HP took as long as ever to boot up.

Windows 7 also disciplines Vista's most annoying feature, the "User Account Control" dialog that asks you to confirm that you really want the computer to perform a given task, just in case a virus is trying to take over the system. You'll still get hit with a "UAC" prompt when you install a program, but you should no longer see it during such routine actions as joining a new wireless network.

On its desktop, 7 introduces a new, Mac-like version of the taskbar on the bottom of the screen. Here, the old rectangular taskbar buttons have been condensed to squares that can be rearranged and can point both to open programs and ones you use often -- much like Mac OS X's Dock.

On a computer with enough graphics processing power to run 7's Aero graphics, each open program's taskbar button will also present a pop-up preview of its windows (or, in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, Web pages you have open in tabs inside its window). A right-click on these buttons brings up "jump list" menus of frequently-used commands. These changes combine to allow much more fluid switching between programs than in Vista, let alone XP.

Another welcome shift comes at the far right end of the taskbar. Windows 7 sweeps the tray clear of meaningless icons left by third-party programs to show only such core system-status indicators as the volume control and a laptop's battery gauge.

The Start menu, however, remains the same old mess, though that's also the fault of programmers who ignore Microsoft's software guidelines.

But 7 takes a step back with its new Library folders, a set of prominent shortcuts to all the documents, music, pictures and videos on a computer. On a computer used by only one person who already sticks to the default Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos folders, they're more likely to confuse.

Further confusion may result from Microsoft's decision to remove most of the applications it bundled with Windows Vista. This well-meaning effort to declutter the desktop excises a few programs nobody will miss, but others -- like Windows Mail -- are widely used.

Worse yet, Microsoft's suggested remedy of free, souped-up "Windows Live" replacements will introduce far more clutter: The Live installer comes preset to install everything from instant-messaging software to a video editor to a blogging tool to a browser toolbar.

One Vista extra returns in improved form: its backup software, which now comes set to preserve all of a user's files and settings, not just a vaguely defined subset of them. But this program's inability to restore a selected program's data files -- say, e-mail archives -- to its original, hidden location in your user directory makes it useless in many common software malfunctions.

On a new computer, Windows 7 should work well -- numerous third-party programs, such as Apple's iTunes and Google's Picasa, all worked just as they did in Vista.

But upgrading an older machine from XP to 7 is a recipe for pain even if the computer meets 7's hardware requirements. Your first warning should be a flyer in the 7 box that begins "Please read these instructions carefully and completely . . . " -- as if it were the manual for a new circular saw.

Microsoft calls an XP-to-7 upgrade a "custom install," but "destructive install" is more accurate. You run an Easy Transfer utility to back up your files, the 7 installer wipes out XP, your programs and the drivers enabling your computer's hardware; Easy Transfer reloads your files and settings; you reinstall programs. On a test XP system, this left some applications missing their settings or files.

But even if you're just moving from Vista to 7, things can go wrong. A Dell laptop wouldn't connect to a wireless network it had used reliably in Vista, while an HP laptop needed updates to its fingerprint-recognizer and TV-viewing software -- and the latter update failed two times in a row. You might want to wait a month or so for your computer's manufacturer to ship a round of bug fixes.

In other words, if you were hoping to stop policing random software-versus-hardware squabbles, Windows 7 isn't the operating system for you. Nor does it bring an end to drawn-out program installations and uninstallations, the risk of virus and malware attacks, the need to submit the computer to "validation" checks, or compatibility problems between 32-bit software and 64-bit installations of Windows.

Then again, for Vista users weary of that operating system's foibles, Win 7's selling points can stop at two words: "not Vista."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Apple Developing Radio App for iPhone, iPod

From eWeek

Apple is reportedly prepping an in-house radio application for the popular iPhone and iPod touch, according to the Apple blog 9to5Mac. Citing unnamed sources, the blog’s publisher and editor Seth Weintraub said Apple is developing a to serve as an FM radio similar to that found in current iPod Nanos, with likely Live Pause functionaliy. “The source mentioned that this application could also be incorporated into the before release,” Weintraub wrote. “The holdup on this app is that Apple is trying to integrate the Mobile iTunes Store purchases into the functionality of the program.”

According to the blog, Apple is also working on tagging capability that allows users to view and download specific music tracks from the iTunes Website. Currently on Apple’s App Store users can select a series of radio-based applications such as ESPN Radio ($2.99) and Pocket Tunes Radio ($6.99), which offers thousands of free stations and uses GPS technology to find stations in range.

Satellite radio conglomerate Siruis XM announced in August the impending release of the SkyDock, which allows users to connect to satellite radio via the iPhone or iPod touch. The SkyDock acts as a dock by plugging into the base of the device, providing power as well as linking it to Sirius XM’s satellite radio signal.

The SkyDock expands the company’s relationship with Apple, as Sirius XM announced in June the release of an iPhone application that serves as a mobile extension of a user’s paid satellite radio service. The application, which allows users to access more than 120 channels, comes with a seven-day free trial, at which point a prospective user must subscribe to keep listening. However, the mobile application does not feature Howard Stern as part of the accessible lineup, though Sirius XM made the Howard Stern Show available to iPhone and iPod Touch users as a free download from the iTunes store.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wi Fi Direct For Home Consumption

Story from Business Week

A consortium that includes Intel, Cisco, and Apple is set to release new technology called Wi-Fi Direct that will turn a slew of gadgets into hotspots

Going Wi-Fi is about to get a lot easier. For many consumers, setting up an in-home Wi-Fi connection point is something of a hassle. Before you can enjoy the convenience of logging onto the Web without cables and wires, you need to hook up some gear and create your own "hotspot."

But that's set to change come mid-2010, when a tech upgrade will make it easier for users of consumer electronics to exchange files between electronic gadgets.

On Oct. 14, the Wi-Fi Alliance, a tech industry consortium, said its members will release technology that effectively turns gadgets into mini access points, able to create wireless connections with other Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets or broadband modems within a radius of about 300 feet. The alliance includes Intel (INTC), Cisco Systems (CSCO), Apple (AAPL), and more than 300 other makers of the equipment that runs Wi-Fi networks, often used to provide wireless Web connections in homes, caf├ęs, hotels, and airports.
Sales Erosion Possible

The new technology, called Wi-Fi Direct, will be built directly into consumer electronics and automatically scan the vicinity for existing hotspots and the gamut of Wi-Fi equipped devices, including phones, computers, TVs, and gaming consoles. Owners of most existing Wi-Fi-enabled devices will be able to upgrade to Wi-Fi Direct with a simple software download.

While the revamp may make life easier for consumers and business owners, it may erode sales of other Wi-Fi compatible equipment. For starters, Wi-Fi Direct may curb demand for routers and other products that make up the $1 billion annual market for Wi-Fi access points, now present in about 30% of U.S. homes. "The IT department doesn't have to set up an access point," says Victoria Fodale, a senior analyst at In-Stat. "Same thing in the home. You can do the same thing with less equipment." Cisco and Netgear (NTGR) are among the biggest sellers of Wi-Fi equipment.

The feature also could disrupt usage of wireless Bluetooth technology that, for example, helps users of the Apple iPhone play games with each other outside a wireless network. In the future, some consumers may use Wi-Fi Direct instead. Though Wi-Fi connectivity tends to drain battery life faster than Bluetooth, it's also faster and allows for transfer of richer multimedia content like video.

Marketing Blitz on the Way

For Cisco, Wi-Fi Direct could make up for lost sales of Wi-Fi access points through other Wi-Fi-enabled equipment including camcorders. The company didn’t make a representative available for this story.

Members of the Wi-Fi Alliance plan to promote their new technology with a major marketing blitz. Intel has already begun briefing retailers, who will promote the feature in their stores, says Gary Martz, senior product manager at Intel. The chipmaker will also heavily promote the capability in the first quarter of 2010 as it unveils its next-generation Wi-Fi chip package for computers.

Chipmaker Marvell (MRVL), meantime, is planning to collaborate with its consumer-electronics partners to mark enabled devices with special stickers and to promote the capability through ads. "We will make a big splash with Wi-Fi Direct," says Bart Giordano, product marketing manager at Marvell.

A Boon for Smartphones

Almost half of the 760 North American consumers surveyed in May by In-Stat said they use their Wi-Fi-enabled devices for more than connecting to the Internet. "We feel that it opens up a whole new set of applications and use cases," Giordano says. "Wi-Fi Direct will really drive the next generation of growth in [the use of Wi-Fi] consumer devices."

The feature could boost usage of Wi-Fi capabilities in smartphones and television sets in particular. "It makes adding Wi-Fi to devices that don't have Wi-Fi more compelling," says Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director at Wi-Fi Alliance. Marvell is already talking to makers of TVs, few of whom offer Wi-Fi connectivity today but are now considering adding the capability to let users wirelessly transfer photos and video from their Wi-Fi-enabled cameras, camcorders, and netbooks directly onto TV screens.

There's also growing interest from manufacturers of cheaper cell phones, Giordano says. Today, Wi-Fi can be found mostly on high-end smartphone models. "The new use cases are really going to allow the technology to proliferate among devices it's not been considered for," Giordano says. "We are expecting that this will drive a lot of growth for us." Worldwide, shipments of Wi-Fi-enabled cell phones should rise from 64.9 million units last year to 314 million units in 2013, according to consultant IDC. "This technology is going to be ubiquitous in every notebook and netbook in 12 to 18 months; it's going to be a very fast ramp," Martz says. "And I think that's a pretty conservative [estimate]."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nokia To Sell Netbooks At Best Buy For $300

Story from the Wall Street Journal

Nokia said Tuesday that its first netbook will go on sale in the U.S. next month for $300, as the cellphone maker aims for a big holiday push.

Best Buy will sell the mini-personal computer, dubbed the Nokia Booklet 3G, starting in mid-November. The consumer-electronics company will be its exclusive retailer through the holiday season, said Barry Judge, marketing chief at Best Buy, during a launch event in New York.

The Nokia Booklet comes in black, azure blue and “ice,” and its features include Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system, a 12-hour battery and “silent” operation due to its lack of a noisy internal fan.

Its price tag includes a two-year contract with AT&T, which provides its network connectivity. A carrier-free option, similar to an unlocked iPhone, is available for $600.

The carrier has inked several deals outside of the telecommunications space in recent months, including electronic readers and GPS devices. Computers such as the Nokia netbook represent an even larger revenue opportunity, said Glenn Lurie, head of AT&T’s emerging devices unit. It worked with Nokia for nearly a year on the device, he added.

Nokia first showed the netbook in September, saying at the time that such a device was a natural step toward growing its mobile-services business. The company faces ongoing competition from other manufacturers, such as Research In Motion and Samsung, as well as newer players like Apple.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Notebooks Getting Slimmer And Stronger

From Mobile Computing News

Companies like Sony and Apple are engaged in manufacturing world class laptops that can easily replace a desktop PC. These laptops are manufactured using quality assured raw material and cutting edge technology that ensures a hassle free long functioning life. These laptops have high functional speeds and can be used for things normally reserved to desktop PCs, such as gaming. The notebooks and gaming laptops are fitted with various other features as well which makes it one of the most demanded notebooks all around the world.

Some of the best laptops that can replace desktop PCs include the Sony Vaio VGN-NW11Z/T, Sony Vaio VGN-NW11S/S and Apple MacBook Pro (MB991B/A). The Sony Vaio VGN-NW11Z/T is a very advanced laptop fitted with the kind of specs normally found in a desktop PC. These include a fast 2100 Mhz Intel Core 2 Duo T6500 processor, as well as a decent 4GB of RAM, which is expandable to 8GB. Additionally the hard disk memory of the device is around 500 GB so that you can efficiently store all types of audio, video and other documents. It is also fitted with an ATI Mobility Radeon HD4570 graphics card that allows you to play all sorts of PC games.

On the other hand the Apple MacBook Pro (MB991B/A) provides a clock speed of 2,530 Mhz. The 4096 MB of RAM further enhances the speed of the laptop. The hard disk memory of the laptop is around 250 GB so that you can store whatever you want. The above mentioned are some of the best laptops available in the market.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Do VoIP Providers Have A Right To Block Calls?

From Business Week

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission sent a letter to Google, asking the search giant to explain how its Google Voice service works, how many people are using it, and how much money it makes — information Google has not disclosed publicly. The inquiry was launched a couple of weeks after AT&T sent a letter to the FCC, alleging that Google may be “systematically blocking telephone calls…. in certain rural communities.”

The inquiry raises a big question: Do providers of over-the-Web calling services have to complete all calls? As of today, such companies — called, in industry lingo, VoIP providers — aren’t considered to be telcos, though they often act as such. Some of them, such as Skype, don’t charge for many services. And these Web-calling outfits aren’t required to complete all calls. Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, writes that the FCC “inquiry should be more far-reaching than this relatively isolated case. We learned recently that another VoIP provider,, reserved the right to block calls to rural areas.”

There’s another aspect to this inquiry, of course: AT&T and its supporters are firing back at Google after being grilled by the FCC over delays in approving Google Voice mobile app. On Oct. 6, AT&T announced that it will abolish its old practices and allow Web-calling applications onto its wireless network. It’s unclear whether, under AT&T’s definition, Google Voice qualifies as such an app.

In either case, “today’s letter, although over a relatively minor aspect of a relatively minor service, raises an issue of far greater magnitude: the scope of the agency’s regulatory authority, and the continued erosion of lines dividing regulated and unregulated services as the Internet ecosystem continues to multiply and divide,” Stifel Nicolaus analyst Rebecca Arbogast wrote in an Oct. 9 note.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

M & A Returning To Tech Industries

Story from Time

While economists and investors fret over rising unemployment and fears of a double-dip recession, investment bankers and corporate lawyers are practically giddy over a recent surge in mergers and acquisitions activity in the tech sector, replete with limos, late dinners and potentially fat fees.

A recent wave of deals, such as Cisco's decision to buy Tandberg, Xerox's plan to acquire Affiliated Computer Services, Dell's pending purchase of Perot Systems and Adobe Systems Inc.'s acquisition of Omniture have given analysts and investment bankers optimism that a nearly two-year drought in M&A activity is finally over, with tech leading the way out.

Small investors, pension funds and investment bankers are now scouring the sector, wondering which name might be taken out next. Even venture-capital and private-equity players are making their way to the edge of the M&A diving board, ready to spring back into the deal waters.

"We've certainly seen a noticeable uptick in M&A activity in the last six months and that's accelerated in the last few weeks," says Thomas Ivey, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

IPO activity is also on the upswing. "Since July 4, we have been mandated on five technology IPOs and are competing for two more," says John Moriarty, a managing director and head of technology investment banking at Robert W. Baird & Co. "A year ago, there were none."

Industry analysts say decisions by several big-name tech companies to plunk down billions of dollars on deals in recent weeks is a sign that senior executives believe the economy has bottomed and that buying now is better than buying later. "It's clearly a sign of renewed optimism" in the market and sector, says Peter Bell, general partner at Highland Capital Partners, a venture-capital firm in Boston.

Moriarty expects the deal spigot to accelerate in the next year. "Companies are focused on growing in 2010 and 2011," he says. "Many are afraid that if they don't buy now it will get more expensive [later]."

Make no mistake, this is not a replay of the late 1990s, when frenzied private-equity players and venture capitalists tripped over each other in a mad dash to snap up the next best tech company — and paid outrageous prices for starry-eyed growth forecasts. Today's deals involve strategic buyers, who are seeking out companies with solid track records and real customers. "People are focused on buying proven businesses and technologies as opposed to ideas and dreams," says Moriarty.

The bar is also higher for new IPOs. "Back in the '90s, people were able to go out with just a business plan, raise money in an IPO and then spin the company off to somebody without ever even renting office space," says Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald. Those quick-buck days are long gone as venture capitalists and others are now prepared to hang on to an investment for up to eight years.

What inspires current deals is an almost desperate need for growth. Many computer giants are struggling with declining sales and profit margins as consumers and businesses hang on to their PC systems and laptops longer, and view software upgrades as a luxury. Also, companies are being forced to slash prices on computers and related equipment to compete with cheaper products being produced in low-cost economies like China.

As a result, tech companies are eager to expand into new product lines and markets to generate growth. One such area is information-technology services. Basically, IT-services companies offer everything from integrating computer systems to IT consulting to overseeing back-office processes that handle accounting and health-care plans.

By bringing an IT-services firm in-house a tech company also answers customer demand for one-stop shopping — tech companies that will not only sell products but can also streamline the customers' business processes and manage their tech systems. "A lot of organizations want to go to one vendor to get everything, so if something breaks there's one [firm to call]," says Troy Jensen, a managing director at Piper Jaffray.

Hewlett-Packard kicked off the IT-services trend with last year's $13.9 billion acquisition of Electronic Data Systems Corp. But the trend heated up last month when Dell unveiled a $3.9 billion plan to buy Perot Systems and Xerox made a $6.4 billion bid for Affiliated Computer Services.

Other names being mentioned as possible takeover candidates in the tech services sector include Computer Sciences Corp., Informatica Corp., Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., Concur Technologies Inc., Teradata Corp., CGI Group Inc. in Montreal, Unisys Corp. and a few firms in Mumbai such as WNS Holdings Ltd. and Patni Computer Systems Ltd. Many of the firms have seen their stocks hit 52-week highs in the past month on takeover speculation.

Some technology companies are also doing deals to diversify into adjacent businesses to gain market share. Adobe's acquisition of Omniture will expand Adobe into Web analytics, where demand has been growing for programs that monitor website traffic and improve online advertising. Oracle's $7.4 billion purchase of Sun Microsystems expands the software company into the computer hardware market and Cisco's recent $3 billion bid for Tandberg will boost the company's presence in the growing videoconferencing market.

Jensen predicts data-management firms, such as CommVault Systems Inc., 3PAR Inc. and Compellent Technologies Inc., could also be attractive takeover candidates.

Today's deals don't come cheap. Xerox's bid for Affiliated Computer Services, for example, represented a 33% premium on ACS's closing price on the previous trading day while Adobe's $1.8 billion acquisition of Omniture represented a 45% premium on Omniture's average closing price in the month leading up to the offer.

Moving into new businesses is no slam dunk. "There is always a risk when a company acquires a business that's outside their core competency," says Ivey. For example, when eBay gobbled up Skype, its plan to tap into Skype's massive customer base failed, and it's now selling Skype.

"If you're going after new markets, new products, new technologies, there's clearly a risk," concurs Bell. "But without risk, there's very little reward."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nortel Agrees To Ciena's $521 Million


Canada's Nortel Networks has agreed to sell its optical networking and Internet infrastructure business to Ciena Corp for $521 million, part of a series of sales following its bankruptcy.

Ciena, a U.S. network gear maker, hopes to expand its product lineup with the deal. The agreement includes all assets of Nortel's metro ethernet businesses, among them long-haul optical transport gear, switching technology, and network management software.

Ciena's offer of $390 million cash and 10 million Ciena shares is a stalking horse offer, which sets a floor price. That means Nortel may receive competing bids, but any other prospective purchaser would have to pay more.

Most analysts have said they do not expect other bidders to emerge.

Shares in Ciena, a top telecoms equipment maker, were up 4 percent to $13.58 on the Nasdaq. While there were worries that the deal could weigh on Ciena's operations and balance sheet, most analysts said it was a good move, given consolidation in the telecoms industry.

"For Ciena, it's a much longer-term positive in doing the deal ... Near-term, there are integration challenges, and the potential dilution leaves us to step to the sidelines," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Sue.

Nortel, once North America's biggest telecommunications equipment company, filed for bankruptcy protection in January. It is selling off its assets rather than trying to restructure.

The Toronto-based company has already sold a group of its wireless assets to Sweden's Ericsson for $1.13 billion. Its enterprise business is being sold to U.S.-based Avaya Inc for about $900 million.


Ciena said it plans to keep at least 2,000 Nortel employees, more than 85 percent of the number now working at the Nortel businesses. That would almost double Ciena's current work force of about 2,110 employees in Canada, the United States and India.

Despite the increased scale, Ciena CEO Gary Smith said he expects a quick transition as the company had been studying the acquisition for over a year.

"We've had plenty of time to do planning on this, so we would be aggressive about that," he told Reuters in a phone interview.

Ciena expects to incur integration costs of about $180 million, mostly in 2010. It expects the deal to add to its bottom line by 2011.

The deal is subject to competitive bidding and requires the approval of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

The assets to be acquired generated about $1.36 billion in revenue for Nortel in 2008 and $556 million in the first six months of 2009.

Amazon Drops Kindle Price

From PC Mag

Amazon launched its Kindle e-reader on a worldwide basis on Wednesday, discounting the price of the basic version by $40 for U.S customers.

The basic version of the Kindle is now priced at $249 in the U.S. Amazon said it launched the international version of the Kindle, complete with international wireless service, at $279. Amazon left the price of the larger Kindle DX unchanged; an international version of the Kindle DX will be launched in 2010, according to the U.K.'s Mirror.

The international version of the Kindle, of which there will be just one, will be launched in over 100 countries, including China and most of Europe, on Oct. 19.

Internationally, the device uses AT&T's 3G wireless service, instead of Sprint's service within the U.S. E In this case, however, AT&T contracts with local carriers to let the Kindle roam. However, neither Amazon nor AT&T will charge its customers fees for the privilege.

"With this new Kindle, you can get your books, newspapers or magazines delivered wirelessly whether home or abroad in over 100 countries," Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said in a note to customers. "Whether you're in Paris, Mumbai, or Sao Paolo, you can think of a book and be reading it in less than 60 seconds."

Bezos told Reuters that he was not "in principle" against making the works available on rival devices like Sony's own e-reader, but was focused on platforms with "large installed bases."

Bezos claimed that the Kindle was the most "wished for," gifted, and the highest-selling product across all of

Texas Instruments To Open New U.S. Chip Plant

From the Business Review

After nearly five years of waiting, Richardson, Texas, will see the opening of a 1.1-million-square-foot chip-manufacturing plant from Texas Instruments Inc. that will eventually employ up to 1,000 people.

The plant's October launch was announced by officials of Dallas-based TI Tuesday morning.

TI broke ground on the plant in 2004, but the building sat unused for years while TI waited for the right time to open it. That time has come, company officials say.

"We're seeing increased demand for the high-performance analog (chips) that this (facility) will be manufacturing," said Kim Morgan, a TI spokesperson, in an interview with the Dallas Business Journal, a sister publication of The Business Review. "Just like you can't predict downturns, you can't predict upturns ... Opening the facility now will position us for future growth."

The plant is the first chip-manufacturing plant to open in the U.S. since 1996, and is the first globally to use 300-millimeter silicon wafers to manufacture analog chips. Chips are built on, and cut from, silicon wafers, most of which are currently 200 millimeters.

"We can fit more chips onto a wafer. . . The more chips you fit on a wafer, the lower the cost and greater the efficiency in making them."

GlobalFoundry's $4.2 billion computer chip plant under construction in Malta, N.Y., will make chips also on 300mm wafers. That plant, which will eventually employ 1,400 people, is set to opne in 2012.

The Richardson facility plans to ship its first round of chips from the new location by the end of 2010, TI said in a statement.

Once the company’s first phase of equipment is up and running, Texas Instruments expects it will be able to ship more than $1 billion worth of analog chips annually. TI has only 13 percent of the roughly $35 billion to $36 billion market for analog chips, although officials view that as an opportunity for the business to grow.

The need to create more chips at once inspired Texas Instruments to begin pursuing the development of the plant several years ago.

“The time is right for this investment,” said Rich Templeton, the company’s chairman, president and CEO. “Customer demand for analog chips is growing, and there’s tremendous desire to save energy and protect the environment. The chips produced here will help our customers make thousands of electronic products that are more energy-efficient. It is significant that these devices will be made here, in North Texas, in one of the industry’s most environmentally responsible fabs.”

TI’s (NYSE: TXN) chips are used in electronic devices such as smartphones, Netbooks and computer systems. The company said Tuesday it will immediately begin hiring 250 people to fill positions at the plant.

“These are high-quality, well-paying engineering, manufacturing and administrative jobs for our North Texas region," Templeton said in a statement. "The infrastructure that a facility like this requires will create other indirect jobs with suppliers and support services."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Siemens Issues Ultimatum

Story from Bloomberg

Siemens AG gave ex-Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld and other former managers until mid November to declare if they are willing to settle a bribery case or face legal action by Europe’s largest engineering company.

The targeted Siemens managers also include Kleinfeld’s predecessor, Heinrich von Pierer, as well as former management board members Heinz-Joachim Neubuerger, Uriel Sharef, Juergen Radomski, Johannes Feldmayer and Thomas Ganswindt, the Munich- based company said today. The managers are accused of failing to halt a bribery scandal that has plagued the company since 2006.

The company has had about 2.5 billion euros ($3.7 billion) in costs related to the bribery scandal for which it claims its former board members are partly responsible. Siemens was investigated in at least 12 nations, including the U.S., over allegations employees bribed clients to win contracts.

The company found 1.3 billion euros of “unclear payments” made from 2000 to 2006. Siemens settled last month with former board members Klaus Wucherer, Rudi Lamprecht, and Edward Krubasik, who each agreed to pay 500,000 euros.

Siemens’s supervisory board is seeking to have the former officials reimburse the company for alleged breaches of “organizational and supervisory duties” that led to the scandal. Kleinfeld, now CEO of Alcoa Inc., and Von Pierer, are being investigated for administrative offenses by Munich prosecutors. Both have denied wrongdoing.

Winfried Seibert, a lawyer for von Pierer, declined to comment because the negotiations are pending.

Von Pierer and Kleinfeld announced their resignations within a week of each other in April 2007 as the bribery scandal unfolded. Von Pierer was Siemens’s chief executive officer from 1992 until 2005 when he became chairman. Kleinfeld was at the company for about 18 years before he succeeded von Pierer.

Hewlett Packard Launches Laptops, Notebooks

Story from Information Week

Hewlett-Packard has introduced a line of premium laptops to take on Apple's MacBook Air and Dell's Adamo, and has also launched a couple of thin and light notebooks and two netbooks.

HP launched the systems on Tuesday, in what analysts say is a slowly improving PC market brought on by a more stable global economy.

Among the new laptops were two premium models under the sub-brand Envy. The 13-inch model with an aluminum and magnesium case and etched-metal palm rest is less than an inch thick and weighs under four pounds, making it competitor to the Macbook Air andDell ( Dell)'s Adamo.

However, the Envy 13, which is powered by a 1.86 GHz Intel (NSDQ: INTC) Core 2 Duo processor, is more expensive than its rivals, starting at $1,700 versus $1,500. As a differentiator, HP has partnered with rapper Dr. Dre's Beats company in developing audio software for producing better sound. The system is available with an extended life battery for up to 18 hours of power.

For consumers seeking a faster system, HP launched an Envy laptop with a 15.6-inch display, an Intel Core i7 processor, and an ATI Mobility Radeon 4830 graphics processor from Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD). The Envy 15 has a magnesium alloy casing, is an inch thick and weighs just over five pounds. Prices start at $1,800.

Both laptops are scheduled to be available Oct. 18.

The HP ProBook 5310m is a lower-priced system for mobile professionals; the Pavilion dm3 is a lower-cost option for consumers. Both systems have a 13.3-inch screen and are less than an inch thick. However, the dm3 is about a half pound heavier, 4.2 pounds versus 3.7 pounds.

The ProBook 5310m is available with a Core 2 Duo processor or a less expensive Intel Celeron dual core chip. The dm3 is available with either an Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Neo Dual Core processor.

Both systems are scheduled to be available starting Oct. 22 with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT)'s Windows 7 operating system. Prices for the dm3 start at $549 with an AMD processor and $649 with an Intel processor. The ProBook 5310 starts at $699 with the Celeron dual core and $899 with a Core 2 Duo.

Finally, HP unveiled the Mini 311 and Mini 110 netbooks. The Mini 110 is designed by Dutch artist Tord Boontje and is aimed at the youth market. The Mini 311 is being marketed as offering better graphics than other mini-laptops through an 11.6-inch high-definition widescreen display and Nvidia Ion graphic processors. The system sports a keyboard that's 92% of full-size, a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom processor and up to 3 GB of system memory.

Both systems are scheduled to be available this fall and have a starting price of $400.

In launching all the new systems, HP is in line with a couple of trends in the PC market. First is the popularity of netbooks, which have been the fastest growing segment of the PC market; and the growing popularity of low-priced thin and light laptops that are more mainstream than netbooks and have full-size keyboards.

In addition, HP and other computer makers are refreshing their product lines in anticipation of a stronger PC market. Global PC shipments rose 1% in the second quarter from the previous quarter, joining a number of other indicators that point to the start of a market recovery that's expected to continue through the rest of the year, according to researcher iSuppli.

Siemens Splits Up U.S. Units

Story from M.A. News

Nearly two years after announcing a broad corporate reorganization, Siemens today said it was bringing its U.S. automation business in line with that restructuring, merging its Alpharetta, GA-based Energy & Automation group with a number of other Siemens units in the United States to form a new company.

The new company, called Siemens Industry, Inc., will be led by President and Chief Executive Daryl D. Dulaney, 56, formerly president and CEO of Siemens Building Technologies, Inc. Dennis Sadlowski, who was president of Siemens Energy & Automation, has left the company, according to a Siemens spokesman.

Siemens Industry will consist of the former Siemens Energy & Automation as well as Siemens businesses in such areas as transportation and building technologies. Six divisions form the new company: Industry Solutions, Industry Automation, Drive Technologies, Building Technologies, Mobility, and Osram Sylvania. The unit will have roughly 33,000 employees, including about 10,000 from SE&A.

In November 2007, parent Siemens AG reorganized into three sectors: Industry, Energy, and Healthcare. The reorganization was announced by CEO Peter Loscher, who took over Siemens earlier that year as the company grappled with an embarrassing bribery scandal. The reorganization was designed, in part, to provide greater transparency and accountability as a reaction to that scandal, but Loscher said at the time that the change was also in response to “mega-trends” in demographics and climate change. An evaluation of Siemens’ capabilities showed, he said, that they cut across market lines, necessitating the three-sector structure.

Today’s action is the latest step in Siemens’ efforts to align its businesses around the world with the three-sector structure. Siemens said that it will now be able to offer its U.S. customers more integrated automation products as well as more “comprehensive industry-specific solutions.”

ARC Advisory Group analyst David Humphrey, who had not yet been briefed by Siemens on the reorganization, said in an interview that his initial reaction was that the change may provide Siemens with some advantages.

“They are pulling all of these companies under one roof and duplicating the global corporate structure in the U.S.,” said Humphrey, who is based in Germany. “I don’t think it is wrong. The U.S. is a special market and Siemens is still not the market leader in the U.S. They need a strong CEO who has some freedom to adapt products to American tastes.”

The reorganization, he said, “may help Siemens take one more step in the direction of being a truly global company.”

SE&A was formed in 1978 as Siemens-Allis and was jointly owned by Siemens AG and Allis-Chalmers of Milwaukee. Siemens-Allis sold standard electrical equipment for utilities and other industrial companies. In 1983, Siemens-Allis acquired the low-voltage electrical products business of Gould, Inc. Two years later, Siemens purchased Allis-Chalmers’ remaining interest in the company and changed the name to Siemens Energy & Automation.