C’mon, just upgrade to Vista this one time

Will you pre-order Windows Vista? Microsoft sure hopes so. The company is working towards making the release of Windows Vista as big as the Windows 95 release, with customers ogling at empty Vista Ultimate boxes and waiting in line at midnight to grab a copy of the new operating system on its release date. Microsoft thinks it can recreate the hype, but how? HangZhou Night Net

The company has a whole team in Redmond dedicated to creating a Vista marketing buzz. I envision a team of marketing personnel prototyping a viral marketing website and deciding on what the coolest PC is to give to Oprah Winfrey for her "favorite things" list. I can hear the marketing clan laughing now about how their viral marketing site that contains nothing but a violet-colored octagon and an animated GIF of Stimpy drew 1 million hits in a day. Okay, so it could get more complicated than that. Maybe.

Microsoft wants to have 400 million PCs running Vista two years after its launch. Of those 400 million, the company hopes that 50 percent of them will be running a "Premium" version of the OS, which is anything from Windows Vista Home Premium and up. To achieve this goal, the company has mapped out 14 scenarios where Vista outperforms its predecessors and competitors.

The first six tasks are geared toward the home user:

Digital memories Television Movies Games Music Mobile Communications

The next four goals are for small businesses:

SecuritySales performanceCollaborationFinancial management capabilities

The last four goals are for the big companies:

PC managementSecurity and complianceInformation access controlControl over distributed workers

If Microsoft can’t convince you to upgrade through improvements in those 14 areas, then it’s going to try to lure you in through third-party software vendors. The company will be offering its partners who wish to develop software for Vista a "Premium" logo if they refine their applications for the operating system. Better yet, said "Premium" software will be put out for up-front display at some of Microsoft’s larger conventions. Did I mention the logo?

All in all, this is just a small glimpse of what Microsoft is going to do to advertise for Vista. We need to brace ourselves for the television commercials with 4-year olds programming in DirectX and grandmothers sending e-mail. And after all the features have come and the advertising fluff has gone, will you be in line at Staples pre-ordering a copy of Windows Vista Ultimate?

Google says click fraud settlement near

Last February, Google was hit with a class-action lawsuit over click fraud, the idea that advertisers were charged for clicks on online advertisements that were either fraudulent or done in bad faith with “no intention of legitimate commerce.” The lawsuit was filed by Lane’s Gifts and Collectibles and Caulfield Investigations against Google, Yahoo, Time Warner, America Online, Netscape, Lycos, Miva Media, Go.com, LookSmart, and Ask.com.HangZhou Night Net

The company now believes that it is close to a US$90 million settlement, a figure that includes lawyer’s fees. The settlement must now be approved by a judge for it to be final. Nicole Wong, Google’s associate general counsel, posted an update on the situation on the company’s blog:

“This agreement covers all advertisers who claim to have been charged but not reimbursed for invalid clicks dating from 2002 when we launched our ‘cost per click’ advertising program through the date the settlement is approved by the judge,” Wong wrote.

Click fraud is a serious problem for on-line advertising companies, and Google has been dealing with the issue for many years now. In 2004, Google sued a company called Auctions Expert International for setting up a web site with the sole intention of generating false clicks and collecting advertiser fees. Google believes that they have largely solved the problem, however:

“By far, most invalid clicks are caught by our automatic filters and discarded before they reach an advertiser?s bill,” Wong said. “And for the clicks that are not caught in advance, advertisers can notify Google and ask for reimbursement. We investigate those clicks, and if we determine they were invalid, we reimburse advertisers for them. We will continue to do that, and believe that this settlement is further proof of our willingness to work together with advertisers to reimburse invalid clicks.”

Will this settlement change the way Google does business? At the moment, it doesn’t seem that it will, but the fact that the issue refuses to go away after all these years raises some interesting questions. Online fraud is a huge problem, but some companies have dealt with it in different ways. eBay, for example, relies on customer feedback to help minimize fraud, which leverages the power of the community to police itself. Google, on the other hand, relies on a lot of automated tools for its AdSense business. It is still possible to place an ad with Google using a software program and have both payment and placement approved automatically, without any human interaction ever taking place.

Google claims that their automated tools and filters catch most fraud attempts, but how sure are they that this is the case? And how many advertisers would be able to tell that invalid clicks were taking place in order to notify Google about them? This is a problem that Google will have to deal with as their business continues to expand. Certainly investors will be paying close attention to issues such as these, as well as other growing pains the company must inevitably work through.

China reinvigorates WAPI push

WAPI is back, with an enthusiastic new push to make it a state standard in the world’s most populous nation. You may be forgiven if you think the name "WAPI" sounds familiar, but aren’t quite sure what it means. WAPI, or Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure, is the Chinese-born encryption standard that competes directly with the encryption found in the IEEE 802.11 WiFi standards backed by much of the rest of the world.HangZhou Night Net

The Chinese government put WAPI on indefinite hold back in 2004, after a group of companies from outside of China—led in part by Intel—rallied against that country’s adoption of the technology as a mandatory national standard. At the time, there was concern that the initiative, which required outside companies to partner with licensed Chinese companies for access to the WAPI technology, would lead to price-gouging and possible theft of intellectual property. China backed down after Intel announced that it would stop selling any WiFi chips to that country.

Since then, things have been fairly quiet on the WAPI front, and it was widely assumed to be a dead issue, although there have been occasional discussions with the IEEE about incorporating WAPI into 802.11, as China has argued that WiFi isn’t secure enough in its current form. That may or may not be true, but as long as China refuses to release actual data to back its claim of greater security, we are left with little more than the opinion of a fairly biased nation as to the benefits of WAPI.

"The use of an undisclosed algorithm makes it impossible to evaluate the effective security of the proposed international WLAN standard," IEEE’s 802.11 Working Group said in a document. That document called for WAPI to be removed from consideration as part of an ISO standard.

Now, a group of 22 Chinese technology companies, including Lenovo and four major telecoms, have come together to call for the resurrection of WAPI. It appears that at least one American company is playing along in order to get a leg up, as chip manufacturer Conexant Broadband Communications has reportedly applied for membership in the WAPI alliance. Assuming, as seems likely, that WAPI is adopted again as a mandatory standard within China, the push will be underway to see it turned into a worldwide standard as well.

China’s increasing economic power gives plenty of weight to that nation’s pitch for WAPI adoption, but it’s hard to believe that Intel would let that happen without a major fight. WAPI is still seen as a proprietary standard by many, and as long as the technology remains within Chinese borders, that view is unlikely to change.

The Chinese press is portraying the WAPI alliance as the coming together of diverse companies seeking a solution to "loopholes" in Western technology. However, there is little doubt that the Chinese government has encouraged this alliance with an eye toward its own economic gain, and with WAPI’s algorithm still hidden in the shadows, one has to wonder who WAPI’s adoption would make more secure: consumers, or the Chinese government?

The bubble bursts for a new form of cold fusion

Although some methods of creating low-temperature nuclear fusion have been very successful to date, none of them have come close to generating useful amounts of energy. A recent contender for energy production appears to have been, at best, a misinterpretation of data. But questions about scientific misconduct are again raising their ugly head in this corner of experimental physics. HangZhou Night Net

The procedure under question was first reported by Rusi Taleyarkhan in a 2002 article in Science. It relied on previous findings that liquids bombarded with ultrasound would form temporary bubbles that would expand and collapse rapidly, generating high pressures and temperatures. When a deuterium containing compound was subjected to a combination of ultrasound and neutron bombardment, the authors claim that the energy input was sufficient to generate fusion. This claim was rare, in that it was challenged by Dr. Taleyarkhan’s own Department of Energy colleagues even prior to publication, and was almost immediately debunked, as it appeared that the temperatures in these bubbles fell several million degrees short of what was needed.

Nevertheless, Taleyarkhan continued to publish evidence for his claims, and was hired by Purdue, which put out a press release touting his continued experimentation. The romance between the investigator and Purdue appears to be coming to an end now, though, as the New York Times is reporting that the University has started an investigation into potential misconduct. Nature has some more details, although a significant part of that article is spent gloating about the misfortune of Science, its publishing competitor. Right now, it appears that fellow Purdue researchers have been denied access to some of Taleyarkhan’s equipment, and a scientist at UCLA suggests that the readings which indicated fusion had instead come from the radioactive decay of a different substance entirely.

Although questions about what’s actually gone on in Taleyarkhan’s lab remaining murky, one thing is increasingly clear: the quest for easy fusion is attracting people willing to sacrifice their integrity in return for attention. In the end, even if any form of energy-producing cold fusion is possible, its discoverers will now have to overcome exceptional skepticism due to the behavior of those who have come before them.

God of War designer talks about being recognized at Taco Bell, and the importance of value

There are onlya handfull of gaming developers and artists we know by name. Will Wright, Sid Meier, Carmack,Miyamoto, Kojima. We know them because they have strong personalities and interesting ideas about games that rise above the normal crap that the me-too houses crank out. No one really knows why David Perry is famous. He is handsome though. Rawr. HangZhou Night Net

David Jaffe is the newest name that a lot of people recognize. God of War was an incredible achievement, even moreso since it blew away most Xbox games on a system many people consider under powered. The guy still seems to have a good head on his shoulders though.

I’m putting together a talk for the DICE conference, and of the pictures I’m putting in my slide show, one is the old Service Merchandise where my parents used to take me to buy games, and the other is a Red Lobster where me and my brother would go after going to the Service Merchandise and we’d wait on our food. We’d be dying to play the game, and all we had was just the box and the instruction manual that we’d be pouring over at dinner. I’ve never forgotten what it was like, how special it was to drop $40 or $50 on a game and how important entertainment was since we didn’t have a lot of money. Even though I don’t make games for little 8-year-old boys, I’m always thinking about being an 8-year-old kid and how special that was, to buy a game with my dad. We really are asking for a large financial commitment on the part of the consumer, and we have a very big responsibility to entertain them and fulfill them. It’s always something that I remember and carry with me, and I’m happy about that. I know a lot of people who get a little jaded. We get so many free games that it’s really important to step back and realize that most people aren’t that fortunate in this sense and that these are important purchases for them.

Aw, I’m getting all misty. I did enjoy reading his speech though, once gaming becomes your job it’s very hard to remember how fun it used to be to just go into a store and buy a game you were looking forward to playing. Of all the things to get jaded about, gaming should never be one of them.

The entire interview is golden, who would have thought you’d get props at a Taco Bell?

Live.com gets face transplant, grows a few new limbs

Earlier today, Microsoft gave its Live.com site a substantial upgrade. While the site was so slow it was almost unusable for a bit, it is now up and chugging along just fine with several new additions and improvements. HangZhou Night Net

The first improvement that is visible at Live.com is a complete user interface overhaul. There’s now big blue tooltips, a "Directory" menu, all kinds of galleries, and multiple pages. Now that Microsoft allows for several AJAX-enabled pages, users won’t be confined to cramming all of their feeds, gadgets, and other links into one page.

The new upgrade to Live.com also brings about several changes that deal with RSS feeds. The freshly updated Windows Live Search allows users to search for feeds and add them to their pages. Feeds can also be discovered and added to pages through the Windows Live Toolbar. Aggregated feeds stored in OPML files can also be imported to a page for easy viewing. Basically, Live.com has been developed with the RSS fanatic in mind; that would be me.

While RSS is the headliner of this update, other improvements have also been made to the site. The performance of the site seems to be much faster. There’s very little delay between clicks (e.g. hiding and showing panels), and I was easily able to jump from page to page. The interface also feels cleaner. The bulky windows have been replaced with smaller but more detailed panels. And finally, I really like the expandability of the directory. It really is like using a web-enabled Windows Explorer.

From all the updates that Live.com has gone through, this one just might be the most significant. It’s the first time that I have found the site to be useful and not just eye candy. Take a look at the update for yourself. Is it something you’d like to call homebase?

Intel: WiMAX cards by the end of this year

WiMAX (whose name means “endlessly delayed” in ancient Greek) has been a long time coming. Intel was hoping to have a working chipset rolled out in 2005, but like everything else associated with the technology, the move was delayed—for two years. The company must be particularly pleased, then, to announce that WiMAX cards for laptops will actually be available ahead of schedule, most likely by the end of this year.HangZhou Night Net

Early adopters may want to think twice, however. Despite the immense advantages of the technology over conventional WiFi, WiMAX is not yet ready for prime time, though rollouts could begin in the first half of 2007. Current implementations (such as the one Speakeasy installed on the Seattle Space Needle) have relied on non-final versions of the specification, and it’s not yet clear if they will be able to interface with Intel’s gear.

Now that the spec has matured, one big problem for WiMAX rollouts in the US is bandwidth. Because the signal carries far better at lower frequencies, WiMAX supporters would like nothing better than to see the technology use the 700Mhz band, currently set aside for analog television broadcasts. For quite a while, it looked as though WiMAX would have to wait until the 700Mhz band is vacated in 2009, but pending legislation would open the “white spaces” in the television spectrum for immediate use, but the testing and development of such systems will take time. That means that initial WiMAX technology will probably use the unlicensed 5.8Ghz spectrum, which is less desirable. (Much of the rest of planet will use devices in the 3.5Ghz range, which is not available in the US.)

WiMAX has all sorts of implications for the industry, and the sooner it gets here, the better. This could well be a “disruptive technology” that allows new players to quickly build massive urban networks without laying fiber or cable, and it will allow municipalities to offer citywide wireless Internet access without expensive build outs. High bandwidth WiMAX deployments could quickly challenge the traditional monopolies held by cable and telephone companies by rendering the urban physical network obsolete and lowering the bar to entry (for companies like DirecTV, which has been pondering wireless broadband for some time). Though plagued with many delays, it looks like WiMAX is coming at last, and we in the Orbiting HQ couldn’t be happier to see it arrive.

A big boom shortly after the Big Bang

Back in September of 2005, the Swift space telescope picked up a gamma-ray burst, a sign that an extremely violent event had occurred somewhere in the universe. No surprise really—this is what the Swift was designed to do. Most such bursts tend to last about 10 seconds, after which the glow quickly drops into less energetic wavelengths. This one was quite different. The burst itself lasted nearly 500 seconds and, as it was tailing off, briefly flared back to higher energies several times. Other telescopes joined in on the observations as the energy of the explosion dissipated and the wavelengths dropped. HangZhou Night Net

Researchers are now done with the first analyses of the data, and it’s interesting stuff. Nature devotes three articles and a perspective to it, describing the burst itself, and its optical and infrared afterglows. The explosion was the second-most distant high energy object ever imaged, and it appears to have been produced by the formation of a black hole. But nicely behaved black hole formation these days results in a single, short burst. It’s unclear how the content of the early galaxies altered black hole formation, but something was clearly different from current conditions. Analysis of the afterglow also revealed that many heavy elements were already present at this early stage of the universe’s evolution.

My favorite aspect of the story, though, is how the incredible expansion of space-time since the explosion occurred affected the observations. Because the very fabric of space has expanded during the time the light travelled, the light itself stretched out with it. Although it took two minutes for Swift to move from sensing the burst to directing its focus on it, it didn’t miss as much of the burst as that implies. In terms of time at the actual point of the explosion, it only missed 23 seconds worth of data.

TiVo just wants to be free

TiVo followed expectations this week by announcing that its hardware would now be free—sort of. Though there is no longer an upfront fee, the monthly service charge has been boosted substantially, spreading the cost of the unit out over a longer period of time.HangZhou Night Net

The new prices look like this:

The price for a TiVo box and a one-year service commitment is $19.95 a month or $224 prepaidThe price for a TiVo box and a two-year service commitment is $18.95 a month or $369 prepaidThe price for a TiVo box and a three-year service commitment is $16.95 a month or $469 prepaid

Of course, if you want to pay up front, TiVo has no plans to stop you, and in fact they offer a fairly substantial discount for doing so. A two-year plan paid monthly is US$454.80, so the prepaid plan saves you US$85.80. The older option to prepay for a lifetime subscription on the device is disappearing, however; under their new business model, there will never come a time in which you are not paying for TiVo service.

What’s behind the move? Two things. First, TiVo needs to boost its subscriber numbers, and giving customers the ability to walk out of the store with a free piece of hardware may help convince tentative customers to give it a try. (For TiVo’s sake, we hope there will be some kind of one-month trial to let these sorts of customers give the service a shot, but so far we’ve heard nothing.)

Second, the company is still bleeding money. In the quarter that just ended on January 31, TiVo lost US$19.5 million. While that’s much lower than the US$33.7 million the company lost a year ago, it’s still a massive amount of cash, especially when you consider that total revenues were only US$60 million. (The company’s not about to die, though; with little long-term debt and US$150 million in assets, they can operate at this level for quite some time.) By eliminating the Lifetime option, TiVo wants to design a system where the cash never stops coming. The question is whether the new scheme will bring in more money or will turn long-time customers away. Those who are already sold on the service and want to upgrade to a new unit tend to like the thought of paying once; under the new plan, they’ll be paying as long as they use the box.

TiVo’s move is part of a broader trend in the technology world to subsidize the cost of hardware in exchange for earning a guaranteed and consistent monthly revenue stream. The cell phone industry is the obvious best example of this, but you can see it even in software products like Microsoft Money, which refuses to access the Internet after two years and forces you to upgrade. Companies love this sort of thing for obvious reasons and consumers often go along with it if they feel they are getting a good upfront deal in return. Will the new service model work out for TiVo? That’s still an open question, because DVRs from cable providers are usually leased for US$6-15 a month, subtantially lower than TiVo’s costs. The company is also competing against the rise of PC DVRs, which use something like MythTV or Windows Media Center Edition and generally have no monthly fees.

Being the most expensive product in the market isn’t necessarily the best way to sell more units, but it doesn’t have to hurt—just look at Apple. The iPod has always been a pricey music player, but people have been willing to pony up the cash because of its best-of-breed looks and functionality. If TiVo can do the same thing, the higher monthly fees may not work against it. If cable company DVRs are good enough, though, it could be “game over” for TiVo.

Teaching journalism with Neverwinter Nights

Game-based learning is nothing new; after all, if my cousin in elementary school can name over a hundred different Pokemons he should surely be able to tell me what the capitals of all fifty states are if he’s given the right game to learn with. By using a modified version of Neverwinter Nights to teach proper interview etiquette and other journalistic skills, professor Kathleen Hansen aims to make learning more interactive. And they say video games can’t teach you anything. HangZhou Night Net

To teach fact-finding skills, professors at the University of Minnesota have turned the fantasy computer game "Neverwinter Nights" into a tool for journalism students. Instead of slaying monsters and gathering gold, the players tackle sources and gather information.

"When we initially did the game, it still had lava pits, the editor looked like an ogre — stuff like that. The librarian had breastplates," said Nora Paul, director of the university’s Institute for New Media Studies.

With the help of designer Matt Taylor, the game environment was changed into the fictional town of Harperville. Students are then assigned to cover the story of a train derailment and toxic spill. By exploring their surroundings and starting conversations with the residents, students collect information with which to write their story with. But just like in real life, you can get a "No comment" from your interview subjects; if your in-game attitude is too rude, conversations will end with an abrupt "Excuse me, I don’t like your attitude."

But what’s a game without bugs? In this instance, the initial plan was to have a crowd of game characters milling about the scene of the accident, but any time a player approached a group of people, they would immediately be attacked and killed. Hopefully they’ll work out that one out next semester.

Powered by WordPress. Design: Supermodne.