Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Microsoft And Verizon Teaming Up Against iPhone

Story from the Wall Street Journal

Microsoft Corp. and Verizon Wireless are in talks to launch a touch-screen multimedia cellphone on the carrier's network early next year, in an ambitious effort to challenge Apple Inc.'s iPhone, according to people familiar with the matter.

The discussions are a gambit by Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to energize a mobile business that has lost buzz among consumers and software developers to Apple's iPhone and Google Inc.'s Android.

Microsoft is a major player in software for cellphones, but it is working hard to develop a new device that will rival Apple's.

Verizon, meanwhile, is pushing on several fronts to extend its smart-phone offerings and compete with AT&T Inc., which is the iPhone's exclusive U.S. carrier.

Verizon has also had discussions in recent months with Apple about partnering on devices other than the iPhone, people familiar with the matter say.

In a recent interview, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg declined to comment on whether Verizon and Microsoft were planning an iPhone-like device.

Microsoft's project, which is code-named "Pink," aims to produce a phone that will extend the tech giant's Windows Mobile operating system, adding new software capabilities. It would also likely include Microsoft's new Windows Marketplace for Mobile, a store for cellphone downloads along the lines of Apple's App Store, these people said.

While Microsoft is involved in the design of the phone's software and hardware, a third party is expected to build the device, just as Google has worked closely with partners to make handsets based on its Android operating system, some of these people said.

The Microsoft-Verizon relationship is evolving from a search-and-advertising partnership the companies struck early this year. The companies have been working on the Pink project for several months, but haven't yet decided key details such as how the device would be branded, one person familiar with the situation said.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC, is separately developing its own mobile application store, which it plans to announce soon, according to people familiar with Verizon's plans.

Various companies have their own download stores, but Verizon may add a twist: the company is considering selling applications for businesses, these people said.

AT&T's exclusive rights to the iPhone in the U.S. expire next year, but the carrier is trying to get a one-year extension, people familiar with the matter say.

Apple has had discussions with Verizon recently about its product plans, including a multimedia device that is bigger than the iPod Touch but smaller than a laptop, a person familiar with the situation said. However, the talks haven't become advanced, the person added.

The Pink project is the work of a team of designers within Microsoft's mobile division that includes staffers from Danger Inc., a company Microsoft acquired a year ago. Danger designed the software in the Sidekick, a popular cellphone sold by T-Mobile.

In the past, Mr. Ballmer and other Microsoft executives have said the company doesn't plan to build its own cellphone. A Microsoft spokesman, without commenting on the Verizon talks, said Microsoft hasn't changed its strategy of licensing Windows Mobile to handset makers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

AMD Introduces New Server Chip For Data Centers

Story from Wall Street & Technology

Just in time for Earth Day, AMD is introducing its Opteron EE chip, intended for companies that have large, power-constrained data centers.

"The financial services customers we work with were among the major contributors of feedback that resulted in the development of this processor, especially New York City financial services customers who have limited power availability," Gina Longoria, senior product manager in the server and workstation division at AMD. "They really need to watch their power consumption, which makes power-efficient computing very important to them." She says many New York City customers are adding facilities staff as a part of their IT decision-making team because the need to stay within a power envelope has become so critical.

The quad-core Opteron EE chip draws an average of 40 watts of power. It runs at 2.1 and 2.3 GHz speeds and includes the virtualization and power management features of other Opteron chips, including Smart Fetch, Power Cap and CoolCore. Smart Fetch lets IT managers move data in inactive cores to L3 caches that draw less power. The Power Cap feature lets IT managers set limits on server processor power consumption based on known workload peaks and valleys.The CoolCore feature lets managers turn off the memory controller and L3 cache when they're not needed.

The new chip is capable of uniquely services colocation centers in many major U.S. markets, including:

Atlanta Colocation
Chicago Colocation
Los Angeles Colocation
New York Colocation

Independent consultant Neal Nelson says he recently ran a benchmark test pitting a server loaded with AMD Opteron HE processors against a server running Intel Xeon low-power chips. He says the AMD processors used 13 to 21 percent less power while delivering better throughput than Intel's. Presumably, the lower-wattage EE version of the Opteron would fare even better in such a test.

Longoria says all of AMD's OEM partners have expressed interest in this new processor. She expects the Opteron EE to used in custom solutions for large data centers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Verizon Wireless Hub Presents New Threat To Landlines

Story from Business Week

The wired phone business, aka "plain old telephone service," is dying, with millions of landlines being canceled each year. That "plain old" qualifier may be part of the reason. Not only is wired service redundant for many people who use mobile phones, but these days even low-end mobiles are far more versatile than anything you can get with landline service from Verizon Communications (VZ) or AT&T (T).

Now, Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Britain's Vodafone Group (VOD), is poised to make inroads into the home with a device called the Hub. It's designed to replace your wired phone, swap information with your other Verizon cell phones in unique ways, and provide some limited Internet services as well. It's not a perfect product, but it's further indication of why the traditional phone business looks doomed.

The Hub ($200 after rebate, $35 a month for unlimited calling) is not some newfangled cell phone in a bigger box. At its core, it's a cordless phone that makes use of your existing broadband connection, which can be from any Internet service provider. As such, it makes phone calls and performs other feats over the Internet—similar to the business VoIP services offered by such upstart Internet phone carriers as Vonage (VG) and Skype.

The phone's base station features a seven-inch touchscreen that enables a variety of features, turning the Hub into an Internet message center that displays Web information, such as weather forecasts or movie showtimes. There's also Chaperone, a $10-a-month service designed to help parents keep track of their kids—something no landline could duplicate.

A Verizon Walled Garden

Unfortunately, the Hub can't make up its mind whether it is a full-fledged Internet terminal or a portal into a Verizon walled garden, and that ends up limiting its usefulness. The most glaring example: It has text and photo messaging, but they work only with other Verizon Wireless phones. For a device that's supposed to represent the future, this is a Neanderthal approach.

Other Verizon-centric features perform just as they should. With Chaperone, you touch an icon on the screen to call up a program that displays the location of any Chaperone-equipped Verizon phone on a map. The Hub also gives you limited access to the well-known VZ Navigator service. With this, you can look up an address using the Hub, then download a map and driving directions to a phone equipped with Navigator.

In some cases the features would be more useful if they took advantage of some standard Web tools. There's a calendar, but it doesn't synchronize with any of the popular Web-based calendar services—a bit surprising given that Verizon's own smartphones will do this. You can export contacts from Microsoft Outlook to the Hub, but there's no two-way sync with Outlook or anything else. The Hub includes a grab bag of other features: audio weather and traffic reports, V CAST video clips, Internet radio, and the ability to turn the Hub's screen into a digital picture frame.

As a phone, the Hub offers all the modern conveniences. It lists your voice-mail messages on the display so you can choose which ones to listen to, just as you can on an iPhone. And if you want, incoming calls will automatically switch to your cell phone—or any other phone—if they can't get through to the Hub because of a power failure or Internet outage.

The Hub is a welcome step forward for landlines, but it could be a lot better. Verizon Wireless has to understand the dominance of the Internet in both wired and wireless communications means openness. These days nobody is interested in staring at a garden wall.

Nokia Aims To Reconnect With America

Story from Business Week

Popular in much of the world, the Finnish handset maker goes after American consumers with an ultrathin smartphone

What do soccer club Manchester United, singer Robbie Williams, and Finnish handset maker Nokia (NOK) have in common? They're all hugely popular in most of the world, but have only a handful of fervent followers in the U.S. Now Nokia, with 37% of the global mobile-phone market, is making a new push to boost its meager 8% share in the U.S.

In May, AT&T (T), the largest wireless carrier in the U.S., plans to start selling Nokia's e71x, the thinnest smartphone with a Qwerty keyboard in America. The phone looks similar to Research in Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry but is a sleeker 0.39 inches thick. It also has a music player, video camera, and GPS capabilities. By offering an eye-catching phone for an expected $100 at retail, Nokia may have its best chance in years to compete in the U.S. smartphone market against RIM and Apple (AAPL), whose hot-selling iPhone starts at twice the price. "We are starting to gain momentum," says Mark Louison, president of Nokia's North American operations.

AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless have carried a handful of Nokia's cheap and midtier devices. But to get Nokia's highest-end phones, American customers had to buy them directly from the company via its Nokia.com Web site or Nokia stores. That meant consumers couldn't get the subsidies carriers often offer and would have to pay as much as $600.

HIGHER RETURNS OVERSEAS?

One cool phone can only do so much for Nokia, of course. The company has long harbored some ambivalence about the American market because of the heavy control wireless carriers exert and because wireless technology has not been as advanced as in Europe. Some experts believe Nokia let its U.S. share slide in part because it could reap higher returns in places like China, though Nokia executives say they haven't deliberately neglected the U.S.

To regain market share, Nokia will have to follow up the e71x with comparably promising phones. In particular, the company, which built its global dominance with stylish, durable phones built for wireless networks prevalent in Europe, needs to develop more phones with the CDMA wireless technology used by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel (S).

Louison points out that Nokia recently placed its third CDMA phone with Verizon. The company is collaborating with carriers two years in advance of a phone's release, customizing looks, software, and radios. While Nokia typically launches phones elsewhere and then brings them to America, Louison says that could change this year. "You'll see products that we'll start introducing in this market first," he says.

The U.S. business is growing more important. Apple users, concentrated in the States, have become the early adopters in downloading software to cell phones. Eventually, software applications tied to particular devices could become the deciding factor when buyers choose a smartphone, says analyst Charles Wolf of Needham & Co. Nokia has to figure out how to encourage developers to write as many new cool apps for its phones as they do for the iPhone.

The Finnish company needs to win over consumers, too. Unlike mobile-phone users in most of the world, Americans don't think of Nokia as the cool, go-to company for advanced cell phones. John Jackson, vice-president at consultant CCS Insight, says Nokia will need great products and better marketing to change that attitude. Without it, he says, "you should not hold your breath for an extended Nokia presence in this market."


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Marine in Iraq Sees Daughter's Birth Via Satellite

Story from OC Register

MISSION VIEJO – Lance Cpl. Juan Rodriguez missed the birth of his first daughter while he was at boot camp. He was sure he'd miss the birth of his second daughter when he got called to duty in Iraq in February. His wife was seven months pregnant.

atsiraq internet in iraqBut thanks to the efforts of Freedom Calls Foundation — a nonprofit that provides free video conferencing, telephone and Internet services to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — Rodriguez, a diesel mechanic with Camp Pendleton's CLB 7, saw his daughter's birth.

Ava Marie Rodriguez was born at 3:17 p.m. Monday after Destiny was in labor for eight hours. She was surrounded by friends and family — and joined with her husband for the moment through a satellite connection.

"We were both crying," said Destiny Rodriguez, 26, from her room at Mission Hospital. "It was exciting and emotional."

The foundation, said its executive director John Harlow, seeks to enable combat troops to participate in milestone events like weddings and births.

"The long-term vision is that our war fighters will be able to come home from a day on the battlefield and spend virtual time with their families every night using state–of–the–art technology," Harlow said via satellite broadcast. "The contribution of resources by community citizens like Mission Hospital enables the foundation to fulfill its mission."

The foundation organizes 200 to 300 conference calls a month for couples in similar scenarios. More than 2,000 people have been served since the company developed its technology four years ago.

Harlow said he was inspired to start the privately-funded foundation after he heard about a National Guardsman who spent more than $3,000 in one month to call his wife. Now the foundation, he said, saves military families more than $4 million a year.

On Tuesday the foundation hooked up another call to Al Asad, Iraq, where Juan, 27, is based.

It has become increasingly commonplace to see communications services, such as satellite and internet in Iraq.

This time Destiny – in the afterglow of new motherhood – dressed day-old Ava in a camouflage jumper and wrapped her in a Marine Corps blanket. She held her up to the camera's eye so Juan could see her.

"It feels like I'm home," Juan said, his eyes glistening and confessing to Destiny that he and his buddies smoked cigars to celebrate Ava's birth.

Aileen Slivkoff, a labor and delivery nurse, was in the Mission Hospital room with Destiny. Ava's birth marked the first time that Mission Hospital worked with the foundation to link a warrior with family back home. The Rodriguezes, originally from La Mirada, live at Camp Pendleton.

"It was really good for her husband to see the delivery," Slivkoff said. "I always have dads come into the room even if they say they're going to pass out. In the end I always get good feedback and they say they wouldn't have wanted to miss it."

Friday, April 10, 2009

AT&T And Apple Handcuffing Skype Users

Story from PC World

If you've been an InfoWorld reader for more than two years or so, you no doubt remember that we used to be a magazine. Now we're online-only and doing rather well, thank you. But it's been a wrenching change, and many other publications, particularly newspapers, have not done nearly as well.

The Internet is a source of what historian Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction, bringing with it enormous benefits along with the collapse of old business models. And now that wireless technology is well on the road to convergence with the Internet, even more business models are being challenged. Indeed, the technology itself is being pushed as consumers and businesses demand ever more complex services.

Which brings us to the latest episode of this story: Skype versus AT&T and Apple, a duopoly I like to call Ma iPhone. Since Skype put its app on the App Store, more than 2 million downloads have been recorded because people want to make cheap Skype calls with their iPhones. Go right ahead, says Ma iPhone, but you can only make those calls via Wi-Fi, not 3G.

Apple implemented the policy at AT&T's behest.

The high-speed Skype internet phone ban has touched off a wave of protests, including calls for Congress and the FCC to get involved, if not directly, via regulation that would clarify the issue of Net neutrality and wireless services once and for all. It's an important debate that speaks to issues that we in the IT community should be thinking about.

As you may have guessed, I'm on the side of the consumer. I don't buy Ma iPhone's arguments that it can't afford to give Skype, which it considers a competitor, a leg up. And I don't believe the claim made by pro-corporate bloggers that the iSkype would be a bandwidth-hogging problem child.

Just whose network is it?

Ma iPhone's argument was well summed up during an interview with USA Today. Jim Cicconi, AT&T's top public policy executive, says AT&T has "every right" not to promote the services of a wireless rival. "We absolutely expect our vendors" -- Apple, in this case -- "not to facilitate the services of our competitors," he says. "Skype is a competitor, just like Verizon or Sprint or T-Mobile," he says, adding, Skype "has no obligation to market AT&T services. Why should the reverse be true?"

On the surface, the argument has some appeal. Why help a competitor? But we're not talking about a widget maker. There is a well-established set of legal and regulatory principles regulating telecommunications networks. They must be open. AT&T can't pick and choose what services customers can use on their landlines. And it appears that the law also leans in the direction of opening the less-regulated wireless networks. "Telecommunications networks are there to provide access for everybody. If not, they [the carriers] are breaking the bargain inherent to communications," says Chris Riley, policy counsel of Free Press, a nonpartisian advocacy group that is pushing the FCC to act.

"Wireless broadband networks cannot become a safe haven for discrimination," he says. "The Internet in your pocket should be just as free and open as the Internet in your home. The FCC must make it crystal clear that a closed Internet will not be tolerated on any platform."

AT&T argues that it can't afford to deliver services to a competitor. I don't believe it. There's a lot more money to be made selling wireless services than there is in the moribund landline business. Just as InfoWorld had to change its model to live in the age of digital publishing, AT&T has to accept that its business model has to change. Like it or not, the old ways of doing business no longer work.

There's plenty of bandwidth

Riley, who sports a doctorate in computer science as well as a law degree, makes short work of the argument that Skype calls will slow down the network. "VoIP calls are low-latency, but also relatively low in bandwidth usage," he says. Indeed, AT&T, unlike some in the blogosphere, doesn't even make that bandwidth argument about Skype. But it has made the bandwidth argument about streaming video services. Several weeks ago, AT&T briefly changed its terms of service to ban certain third-party streaming video from the iPhone. It quickly backed off that position, but it's worth noting that -- while claiming streaming movies, television programs, and so on would clog the network -- the company continued to offer similar services over the same network. It even has a YouTube button on the iPhone, notes Riley. "AT&T wants to have its cake and eat it, too," he says.

I don't mean to argue that the bandwidth is unlimited. There are real issues here, and I'd encourage you to read a special report InfoWorld published on the subject late last year. Still, I think Ma iPhone is way off base in its treatment of Skype, and I urge you to defend the principle of Net neutrality, whether it be wired or wireless. But don't do so in a knee-jerk way: The destruction of business models by new technology is of great importance to those of us who make our living in media and information technology, and I'd urge you to give it real thought.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dell Beefs Up Its Data Center Business in a Big Way

New Software, Services Offerings Mark Effort to Match Rivals IBM and HP
Story from the Wall Street Journal
Dell Inc. on Wednesday is expected to become the latest technology giant to introduce new hardware and services in an intensifying battle to control corporate computer rooms.
Dell plans to announce new, more powerful server systems along with software from other companies to manage the vast flow of information that passes through corporate computing systems, people familiar with the matter said. It is also planning a new system for keeping track of data-center traffic, and it will offer services to assemble, monitor and manage those computers, they added

Dell has long sold what the industry calls "industry-standard" servers, machines that use microprocessor chips from Intel Corp. or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and sell in high volumes. But the company is not a major software provider, unlike rivals International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., nor has it developed a services organization on the scale of those companies. The announcement follows a series of moves by rivals. Networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. last week said it will start making servers in an effort to broaden its penetration of data centers, and H-P has been increasing its investment in networking gear. The Wall Street Journal last week reported that IBM is in talks to buy server maker Sun Microsystems Inc., a move that would bolster IBM's

Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies, said Dell's broader attack on data centers represents the company's "first major pass" at moving from a provider of low-end servers to more complete data-center systems.
It's an important move for Dell, which ranks third in world-wide server revenue after IBM and H-P, according to market-research firm IDC. Competitors are angling to become one-stop providers of technology and services to data centers. In a report this week, UBS analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos wrote that the "battle for the data center" may lead to ongoing consolidation in the field.
Dell is two years into a corporate turnaround effort spearheaded by founder and Chief Executive Michael Dell, who returned to the company in 2007 after it lost the No. 1 position in world-wide personal-computer sales to H-P. Mr. Dell has tried to spark new growth by moving more deeply into consumer PCs and by increasing Dell's corporate offerings.
Dell has often considered expanding their service offerings relating to data centers and colocation in major markets across the United States. Currently, many Top Ranked Tier 1, Tier 2, and carrier-neutral colocation providers actually compete in the colocation sector, including these key markets:


  • Atlanta Colocation


  • Chicago Colocation


  • Los Angeles Colocation

  • Miami Colocation

  • Austin Colocation

  • New York City Colocation

  • Houston Colocation

  • Seattle Colocation

  • San Francisco Colocation

  • Denver Colocation

  • San Jose Colocation

  • Orlando Colocation

  • Combining hardware with software and services is key to expanding its offerings to big companies, said Endpoint's Mr. Kay. To help achieve that goal, Dell earlier this year gave its services chief, Steve Schuckenbrock, responsibility for corporate computing products as part of a larger reorganization plan. Mr. Schuckenbrock has spent nearly two years building up largely automated services like data-center monitoring.
    In 2007, Dell spent $1.4 billion to buy EqualLogic, a maker of data-storage systems. Its new offerings will involve EqualLogic hardware, people familiar with the matter said, as well as software from Symantec Corp. and BMC Software Inc.
    Asked to comment Tuesday, a Dell spokeswoman referred to an email that characterized Dell's coming announcement as a "new strategy and enterprise portfolio designed to free customers from the restraints of costly and proprietary business technology."

    Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    Ensuring VoIP E911 Quality

    Story from TMCNet

    garlic.com business voipDespite the Federal mandate that all VoIP providers provide E911 services to their subscribers — as one would only deem reasonable, given the fundamental theory that VoIP is superior to PSTN voice services, thanks to its cost savings and features — the application is not as easy as one might think. Perhaps the most widely publicized E911 failure happened last year in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where a service provider routed an emergency call to a family’s previous residence in Mississauga, Ontario, resulting in a fatal delay in the proper dispatch of emergency personnel.


    At its heart, according to Firdaus Aryana, product manager, VoIP Technologies, at TCS (Telecommunication Systems), E911 really boils down to call routing, which is one of the areas in which Aryana says TCS excels, routing VoIP calls to the appropriate PSAPs.


    When I spoke to Aryana at NTCS’ Cable Show in Washington, D.C., he explained that, regardless of the VoIP provider, TCS does ensures its part in the process is flawless, not only using proven routing technology, but also verifying that both routing and location information is available.


    TCS pushes GIS and provisioning data to the providers, using multiple data sets from GIS data providers to create a superset, ensuring greater accuracy when comparing with the available data from the providers and their subscribers.


    Aryana conceded that the single greatest challenge still remains subscriber data input when moving between locations with their IP phones, and even the most effective routing and management systems cannot overcome incorrect data.


    “Our GIS data is updates as updated as providers update their databases, but our data can only be as good as what the user provides,” he noted.


    One of the ways TCS helps ensure subscriber data accuracy is through its VoIP Verify service, which provides, as its name suggests, verification of E911 routing availability immediately upon provisioning. By dialing 9-3-3 (or some other designated 911 variant in most cases), the subscriber hears a recorded message explaining the availability of E911 services and routing availability, including the subscriber’s location. The idea is to provide a semi-automated — the subscriber still has to initiate the verification call — process to increase the quality if data used to route call and dispatch first responders.


    Another recent development is the availability of TCS’ VoIP Blotter — a map that shows the precise location of all E911 calls routed through a system, from a national level all the way down to a street-level view for local providers. The graphical depiction not only can help track emergency calls in any area, but also could be used to help verify location, if necessary.


    In addition to its work with current ITSPs, including cablecos, WiFi (News - Alert) positioning provider Skyhook Wireless, and vehicle positioning service OnStar, TCS is ready to assist nearly any wireless provider — including WiMAX providers WiFi hotspot operators, with their E911 capabilities. In fact, Aryana says the software platform is ready for nearly any VoIP service implementation:

    Business VoIP Services
    Hosted Call Centers
    Hosted PBX Phone Systems
    Internet Phone

    The idea, explains Aryana, is that TCS’ software platform has been designed to stay ahead of the curve, so that the routing capabilities are available as providers roll out services, with a single routing engine capable of handling all communications, including SMS messages sent to E911 dispatch centers from business VoIP services. In fact, he says that TCS handles more emergency-related SMS messages than any other E911 provider, and has focused on that capability, with the understanding that there may be many circumstances where callers are unable to speak, but can text message.


    Ultimately, Aryana says that TCS is built to accommodate all forms of emergency calls, noting that, “a platform should be flexible enough to adapt and meet different needs.”

    Saturday, April 4, 2009

    Atlas V Rocket To Launch Military Communications Satellite

    As Posted to Patrick Air Force Base Website

    atsiraq for internet in iraq4/4/2009 - CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- The U.S. Air Force successfully launched a new-generation military communication satellite from here today at 8:31 p.m. (EDT) when an Atlas V rocket carried a Wideband Global Satellite Communication satellite into space.

    These satellites are designed to provide high-capacity communications to U.S. military forces. It will augment and eventually replace the Defense Satellite Communication System. The satellite provides a giant leap in communications bandwidth and technology, including expanded internet in Iraq.

    "We're helping to give the most versatile and sophisticated technology to our warfighters," said Brig. Gen. Edward L. Bolton Jr., 45th Space Wing commander. "Congratulations to the entire team for their hard work and dedication to the mission."

    "We only have one chance to get it right! In this profession you have to be meticulous to detail and patient to ensure mission success," said Capt. Jeffrey Fisher, Wideband Global SATCOM-2 Mission Lead.

    The Atlas V family of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) has achieved 100 percent mission success in launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

    This mission marked the 14th flight of an Atlas V rocket from here and the third launch this year from Cape Canaveral AFS.

    U.S. Troops Forced To Rough It In Low-Tech British Base

    As Originally Posted at Times Online

    internet in IraqThe Americans knew that it would be tough taking over from the British in Basra but they never knew how tough: weird-tasting sausages, no wi-fi, rationed shower water and no Pizza Hut.

    Other US bases in Iraq are like mini towns, equipped with coffee shops, ample access to internet in Iraq, well-stocked food stores and sprawling dining halls, serving up an unlikely range of food from burgers and stir-fry to ice-cream and cake. Constricted by a smaller budget, the main British base in Basra – which a US general will command from today – also offers various services to make the troops living there as comfortable as possible. The supplies are simply less extravagant and more, well, British.

    “You only get one choice of meat,” a US soldier said, voicing the general disappointment at the limited dining opportunities. He was particularly put off by British sausages: “They taste funny.”

    So different are the facilities from what the Americans are used to that an unofficial military website has warned the newcomers that they will have to rough it for a while. Staff Sergeant John Simms, a facilities manager helping to expand the base to accommodate US needs, is quoted as saying: “Nothing is comfortable in Basra right now, and won’t be until we are done building.”

    There are no AT&T calling centres, internet in Iraq access is limited and there could be a regime of “combat showers” – where water is rationed because of limited supply. The Americans, who have been moving into the base for several months, are busy rewriting the menus as a top priority. Now the choices include hot dogs, waffles, a pizza bar, sandwich bar and a salad bar.

    “We have a lot more fatty stuff. That is why you see fat American soldiers and why British soldiers are so slender,” said Sergeant Danny Choinard, 27, from New Hampshire, the acting manager of the Warhorse CafĂ©, as one of the former British dining halls is now named.

    British dinners were accompanied by a cup of orange squash, blackcurrant squash, water, tea or coffee. In contrast, US meals are washed down with five types of fizzy drink, energy drinks, flavoured milk or fruit juice. “We have more of a selection,” said Private First Class Cornelius Johnson, 25, from Kansas, who works at the Warhorse.

    A Subway sandwich stall is up and running, as is a bright pink trailer selling fresh pretzels and “pretzel dogs” – a pretzel-flavoured stick with a frankfurter sausage through the middle. It is only a matter of time before Pizza Hut, a standard on US bases, arrives.

    To complete the transition to the American way, out go the Mastiffs and Warriors, the British fighting vehicles, and in come the giant Humvees and MRAPs – mine-resistant ambush protected carriers. Out goes the British news on Sky; in come US news and sports channels – and more TV screens on which to watch them.

    The modifications have found favour with departing British soldiers, who are enjoying a last-minute shopping spree, particularly at the newly opened PX, an American-style food-and-supplies store that replaced a similar shop run by the British Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, the NAAFI.

    “It is better,” said Lieutenant Katie Fairley, 24, from Edinburgh, as she browsed a selection of mugs on a shelf. “There is more value for money, more choice.”

    Managing Technology: Unlocking Ideas

    Informed agencies use social media to brainstorm without exposing secrets.
    Original Story From NextGov.com

    Great ideas often get trapped in federal bureaucracies, but cutting-edge agencies are tapping into next-gen Web technology as the key to unlocking the power of information sharing.

    Government chief information officers, public affairs offices and knowledge management shops are embracing social media tools to foster idea sharing, enhance collaboration with other agencies and engage the public.

    But these online communities have inherent risks, so agencies must strike the right balance between opening up their operations widely and safeguarding sensitive information. Those with the most successful social media applications are taking various steps to protect information, such as assigning moderators.

    The Transportation Security Administration, for example, has three moderators who monitor the conversations on its Idea Factory, an online suggestion forum that 43,000 airport security officers and headquarters staff use. TSA launched the Idea Factory on its intranet in April 2007.

    "We have people who moderate the tool because there may be sensitive information shared, and we also moderate it for foul language," says Lynn Dean, TSA's manager of strategy and Web communications.

    Idea Factory users, who are identified by name, must adhere to terms of use to ensure online conversations are respectful.

    "Employees can include sensitive security information. This gives them the ability to really talk about the work they do," Dean says. "But let's say a person forgets to mark a comment as Secret Sensitive Information.

    Someone else can report that and say it's SSI." Idea Factory participants provide suggestions for improving their jobs, saving money or handling difficult situations with passengers. So far, they have submitted 7,000 ideas to the system, which ranks them based on popularity. A review panel determines whether they can be implemented.

    TSA has adopted 20 proposals from the Idea Factory, including a more efficient way of scanning cremated remains at the nation's 450 airports. Agency managers conduct contests on the online forum when they want to solve particular problems, and they reward employees who win these challenges.

    Dean says the return on the investment is an empowered workforce. In a recent TSA survey, 66 percent of respondents said the Idea Factory was important, and 36 percent said they visit it multiple times every month.

    "Our head of security operations will get on the tool and say, 'This is a great idea.' Now our workforce isn't just talking among themselves, they're talking to people higher up," Dean says. "It makes them feel valued, and it leverages their know-how and experience."

    Monitoring social media tools becomes more important when they are open to the public, early adopters say. That's why TSA has five moderators for its Evolution of Security blog, launched in January as a way to communicate airport security information to the public.

    When it was launched, the blog received 2,000 comments, questions and complaints. Now the site averages 50 to 100 comments per post. Each week, TSA files two or three blog posts, which are screened through public affairs.

    "The goal with the blog is to explain why we do what we do. There are a lot of common misperceptions and outright myths that are hard to debunk," Dean says. "We also wanted to humanize our workforce. The officers in the field can chime in to answer questions like why we are making you take your shoes off."

    The moderators delete public comments that are profane, threatening, abusive or duplicative. Early adopters like TSA embraced social media two years ago, and their sites are gaining popularity across government. The National Academy of Public Administration has identified 20 federal examples of Web 2.0 tools, including wikis, blogs, comment forums and social ranking applications.

    Lena Trudeau, program area director for NAPA, says a major challenge for agencies planning to deploy social media tools is the multiple regulations that govern information dissemination. "We've done a lot of research into these regulations.

    Whether they are procurement regulations or accessibility concerns or security concerns or records management or persistent cookies, these issues can limit the ability of some federal Web sites to behave in the same way as their commercial counterparts," Trudeau says, adding these risks shouldn't prevent agencies from adopting social media. "There are ways to look at these things . . . and figure out a best path forward."

    The Air Force has found a way to get around information security concerns with Knowledge Now, an online community for the military that provides discussion forums, blogs, wikis, comment capabilities, rating systems and user pages.

    Launched in 2002, Air Force Knowledge Now has 294,000 registered users, 60 percent of whom log in to the system at least once a month. "There's a misconception that only the millennial generation and younger are using these social media tools, and that is absolutely not true," says Randy Adkins, director of the Air Force Center of Excellence for Knowledge Management at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. "More than 70 percent of the colonels in the Air Force are registered, and these are not young people. And 80 percent of the chief master sergeants, the senior enlisted rank, have accounts. . . .Why is that? Senior folks are the ones with knowledge, and they need to share that information."

    Use of Air Force Knowledge Now has exploded, growing nearly tenfold in the past three years. Military and civilian employees as well as contractors viewed more than 10 million Web pages on the site in January.

    Adkins says Air Force Knowledge Now is popular because it enhances productivity more than other forms of communication, such as the telephone and e-mail.

    For example, the 1st Special Operations Maintenance Group Training Community on Air Force Knowledge Now disseminates 25 required training courses to 2,600 personnel worldwide. The Air Force estimates it is saving at least 6,000 employee hours annually because of the efficiencies gained through this one-stop shop for combat maintenance training.

    "The return on investment is time savings . . . it's also the ability to get information that you wouldn't have access to otherwise," Adkins says. "It makes you smarter."

    Air Force Knowledge Now runs on the Defense Department's nonsecure Internet backbone, known as NIPRNET. Users log in through the Air Force's Web portal.

    "We have integrated identity management, and that's what allows you to get into your online community," Adkins says. "A user might be doing some work on the internet in Iraq and need some folks from the Treasury Department to participate in a virtual workspace.

    As long as we're able to get them Air Force portal accounts, they can participate in Knowledge Now." The Air Force Knowledge Now community polices Web postings and helps keep the information on the site accurate and secure, though Adkins acknowledges that one of the biggest concerns about the site is that it will foster security breaches.

    "The whole philosophy is very much Web 2.0, and senior leaders in the Air Force had to get used to the idea of somebody posting something online that's incorrect," he says. "My response is that they are going to post it in a community of 50 people, and if some of those 50 people think the information is wrong, they are going to tell them."

    Moderators can't prevent security mistakes from happening online, Adkins says. Each community on the Air Force forum has a knowledge owner who is responsible for protecting information shared within that group and determining users' level of access.

    Adkins doesn't recommend that knowledge owners act as gatekeepers to approve content before it is posted. "Air Force personnel get lots of training on security and information assurance," he says. "We reinforce that but also rely on that, and the professionalism of our workforce."

    Adelaide O'Brien, research manager with Falls Church, Va., IT consulting firm Government Insights, says federal use of social media is spotty, particularly in communicating with the public.

    More agencies, like the Air Force, have deployed these tools on their internal Web sites than on the public Internet.

    "Some agencies have deployed RSS feeds so they can push information out to constituents of interest. Some of them have looked at YouTube videos," she says. But these tools aren't "consistently deployed so the citizens get the same experience from agency to agency."

    The Obama administration's focus on open and transparent government indicates that social media isn't going to be restricted to tech-savvy early adopters. Many observers now say embracing social media eventually will be a requirement for everyone in the federal government.

    "Based on what we saw during the campaign, the Obama team really believes in the democratization of data and all-around transparency and accountability," O'Brien says. "What we anticipate is that Government 2.0 will not be optional for federal agencies."

    Friday, April 3, 2009

    Two Services To Sell Tickets On Cellphones

    As Originally Posted at the Wall Street Journal

    Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. and Tickets.com Inc. are launching services to let customers buy tickets directly from their mobile phones, in an ambitious attempt to extend Internet commerce to cellphone screens.

    Starting this month, U.S. and Canadian BlackBerry users will be able to search Ticketmaster's inventory and purchase tickets on their handsets. Tickets.com will let baseball fans buy and receive tickets via cellphone from 13 Major League Baseball teams starting with the April 10 opening home game of the Oakland A's. Tickets.com is a subsidiary of MLB Advanced Media, LP, the interactive media and Internet company of Major League Baseball.

    The push for mobile ticketing comes as customers shift to smart phones, whose faster networks and larger screens come closer to the feel of ordering via computer. While the wireless industry has long awaited the time when cellphones would be used for buying, most purchases have so far been for items consumed on the phone itself, such as ringtones, wallpaper and music.

    Mobile ticketing will provide an early case to see how customers take to the new platform. Both deals are aimed at audiences -- BlackBerry users and baseball fans -- known as early adopters of new technologies.

    Ticketmaster President Eric Korman draws a comparison with online sales, which have grown rapidly in the past decade, from a small sliver of the company's business to the dominant way people buy tickets. "Today Ticketmaster sells 72% of its tickets online," Mr. Korman says. "That started as a small number 10 years ago."

    Baseball fans are increasingly using mobile phones to check game scores, and asking that tickets be sent as barcodes to their mobile phones. MLB.com sold 32 million tickets last year. Noah Garden, an executive vice president at MLB.com, said he expects mobile ticketing to account for 20% to 40% of the total in 2011.

    Baseball promoters are especially eager to spur last-minute purchases of seats, since clubs need to move tickets to 81 home games each season, compared with eight home games for National Football League teams. "I think mobile phones will have a tremendous impact on moving distressed inventory," said Larry Witherspoon, chief executive of Tickets.com.

    Previous mobile-ticketing efforts have required customers to connect to an operator to complete the purchase and then return to their computer to print out a receipt. That was mostly due to the technical limits of barcode scanners at airports and venues, which have trouble reading off a brightly lit screen.

    "The challenge is not all the digital technology in delivering the ticket, it's the physical technology in getting through the gate," said Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

    Tickets.com last year started delivering barcodes to mobile phones, letting holders scan their phones at special turnstiles to enter a venue, and will now let customers complete the entire purchase via phone. "They don't need a computer or a call center," to complete the purchase, said Mr. Witherspoon.

    Tickets.com hired Usablenet of New York, which converts Web sites into a format that can be read by 5,000 devices running on different networks. The company has devised sites for Sears.com customers to shop for refrigerators and New York residents to pay utility bills.

    Ticketmaster and BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd., which announced their exclusive partnership in September, have been working together to design the software platform. The feature is part of RIM's investment to spread its devices from the hard-core business user to the mass market. "It's bringing e-commerce to your belt," said RIM's co-chief executive, Jim Balsillie.

    Corrections & Amplifications
    Major League Baseball's online division, MLB.com, sold 32 million tickets last year. A previous version of this article said that MLB overall sold 32 million tickets. MLB sold 78.6 million tickets last year.

    PC Makers Challenge Microsoft, Test Google Operating Software

    As Originally Posted to The Wall Street Journal

    Hewlett-Packard Co. and other PC makers are considering using free software developed by Google Inc. to run some small computers, a move that would open a new front in the battle between the Internet giant and Microsoft Corp.

    PC makers are testing Google's Android operating system—which has so far been used to power mobile phones—for use in new models of so-called netbooks, inexpensive laptops that have become the fastest-growing segment of the PC industry.

    Google, which dominates Internet search, already challenges Microsoft on other fronts, including with its free word-processing and spreadsheet software, neither of which has succeeded in denting Microsoft's Office suite. The effort to move Android to netbooks targets Windows, which generated more than 60% of Microsoft's operating profit in its last fiscal year.

    Moving Android to netbooks will be an uphill effort because the software does not run popular PC programs. That is one reason that Windows now runs on the majority of the low-end laptops, even though early models used the Linux operating system.

    But H-P, the largest maker of PCs and a major Windows partner, has programmers testing Android for a potential netbook, said people briefed on the matter, though they said the company hasn't decided yet whether to move ahead with the project.

    "We want to assess the capability Android may have for the computer and communications industries, and so we are studying it," said Satjiv Chahil, a vice president of H-P's PC division.

    Taiwan's Asustek Computer Inc., which is the leading seller of netbooks by units, has also said it is considering making an Android-based version. An Asustek spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment.

    Dell Inc. has been customizing Android software for a range of devices it may introduce in the coming year, including a cellphone and pocket-sized computers called mobile Internet devices, said people familiar with the matter. A Dell spokesman declined to comment.

    PC makers' interest in Android is partly driven by the desire to maximize income on netbooks, which usually sell for less than $500. Companies like H-P can spend $15 or more per netbook for Windows, cutting into already-thin margins. Another driver is the possibility of offering netbooks at lower prices; industry executives predict that hardware without Microsoft's software could sell for less than $200.

    In contrast to Windows, Google doesn't charge for each copy of Android. The Internet giant hopes to justify its development effort by driving more Web use from mobile devices.

    A Google spokeswoman said Android was designed to be used in small gadgets like phones and bigger devices like the mini-laptops. "We look forward to seeing what contributions are made and how an open platform spurs innovation," she said.

    Market research firm NPD Group Inc. estimates that Windows comes on more than 90% of new netbooks. Microsoft said consumers returned Linux netbooks after discovering the PCs didn't easily work with popular programs and peripherals like printers—a challenge that could also be faced by Android, which is based on the core of Linux.

    "With a Linux machine, it's a crapshoot each and every time," said Brad Brooks, a corporate vice president, for Windows consumer product marketing.

    People familiar with PC makers' Android projects say they hope that netbooks that use the software would be embraced by cellular carriers, which already use Android for phones. Dell and H-P already sell some netbooks through the carriers, which subsidize them for customers who buy a long-term data plan.

    David Young, the president of international business at Borqs Beijing Ltd., a Chinese programming company that customizes Android for phone makers, says he expects Android to make its way into larger devices. He says there is a "convergence" between smart phones and mini-PCs.

    The notion of Android-based netbooks also could have sizeable repercussions for chip makers. Intel Corp., which helped popularize the term netbooks, has dominated the category with a microprocessor called Atom that can run software designed for PCs. Android, by contrast, is designed to work on chips that use processor designs licensed by ARM Holdings PLC.

    ARM and licensees that make chips for cellphones—including Qualcomm Inc., Texas Instruments Inc. and Freescale Semiconductor Inc.—are betting that Android could help them move those products into the new netbook market, too.

    "We have a pretty strong position," said an Intel spokesman. "But we don't take anything for granted."