Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Google Windows inside, which may be a strategic error

Posted by Matt Asay

In a fascinating post, Scott Hanselman pulls apart the Google Chrome browser to discover Windows inside or, rather, Windows Template Library (WTL). WTL was open sourced by Microsoft back in 2004 and went somewhat silent until now, when it popped up in Google's open-source browser.

Hanselman calls out the reason for WTL's inclusion:

Chrome uses abstraction libraries to draw the GUI on other non-Windows platforms, but for now, what sits underneath part of ChromeViews is good ol' WTL. Makes sense, too. Why not use a native library to get native speeds? They are using WTL 8.0 build 7161 from what I can see.

Speed matters, and getting top speeds on Windows may require using native Windows libraries, graciously offered by Microsoft back in 2004 as open source.

However, not everything came free of charge (and effort) from Microsoft, as Hanselman points out, and it appears from a recent PCWorld article by Neil McAllister that the effort to bring Chrome to the Mac and Linux will be even harder. Hanselman writes:

Looks like The Chromium authors may have disassembled part of the Windows Kernel in order to achieve this security feature [Data Execution Protection] under Windows XP SP2. Probably not cool to do that, but they're clearly doing it for good and not evil, as their intent (from reading their code) is to make their browser safer under XP SP2 and prevent unwanted code execution.

So the Chrome authors have had to cut some corners to make the browser secure on Windows. Microsoft may not like the approach, but as Hanselman notes, at least Google is doing it for benevolent purposes.

Fine. But what I really want to see is Chrome for the Mac (and Linux). For this, however, PCWorld's McAllister suggests that we "shouldn't hold our breath," as the "Mac build is a work in progress that is much closer to the start than the finish." In part, this is because Google needs to code around Windows platform-specific elements like WTL.

All of which means that while Microsoft's open-source efforts may ensure it will take first place in the Chrome bake-off, Google is forcing the early adopters to stick with Firefox, rather than experiment with Chrome. The trendsetting crowd is with the Mac and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Linux, not Windows. (Of course, some data doesn't support this contention.)

It might make sense to aim for the mainstream (i.e., corporate IT, which would get the most benefit from an JavaScript-optimized Web browser), but the mainstream isn't in the habit of trying out the latest and greatest.

Personally, I think Google needs the entrepreneurial CIO and CTO if it hopes to make Chrome stick. That crowd, however, is likely not a Windows crowd. Time will tell if this was a strategic error on Google's part.

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Microsoft tester fired after talking about Xbox 360 defects

By Frank Caron

For Microsoft, the astronomical Xbox 360 defect rates and the infamous red rings of death are sensitive issues. The problems cost the company over $1 billion in warranty replacement and was largely attributed to the rush to be the first console to launch this seventh console generation. Thus, when Rob Delaware, a game tester working for Microsoft, decided to talk publicly about the behind-the-scenes perspective on the defects, he found himself without a job.

Delaware, frustrated by the ongoing Xbox 360 problems, decidedly to openly discuss his experience with the console's problems from behind the scenes. But his choice came at a cost, as Delaware was fired by Microsoft last Wednesday. The 29-year-old man was working as a game tester for Microsoft in Seattle, employed through temp agency Excell Data.

Working closely with Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat, Delaware walked through the sordid history of the Xbox 360 defects. The warranty replacement policy, which sees refurbished units sent out to those with failed consoles, is fingered as largely the result of Microsoft's decision to hurriedly get the Xbox 360 onto the market. "Delaware, who as of this writing works at Microsoft as a game tester, agreed to go on the record for this story because he said he believes passionately in his work, which involved painstakingly playing games over and over again in order to uncover bugs," wrote Takahashi.

For Delaware, this likely came as no surprise. He was breaking company policy by dishing the details on the Xbox 360 defects. In addition to losing his job, though, Delaware may also face civil charges from both VMC, the test grouping within Microsoft, and Microsoft itself. But Delaware doesn't seem fazed by the possibility. "I don't regret it," he told Takahashi. "I'll fight it. If they want to come after me, bring it on."

Even with Delaware's resolve, though, the bigger issues remains. "This kind of witch hunt mentality is wrong-headed," wrote Takahashi in response to Delaware's termination. "People like Delaware are more useful hunting down bugs and fixing problems. I think the company really should apply their energy in different directions, like making sure that consumers are treated right. The firing disappoints me, and I wish Delaware well."

A spokesperson for Microsoft has said that the company does not comment on personnel-related issues.

Microsoft has long tried to brush these problems under the rug in spite of the fact that the Xbox 360 defect rates are no great secret. And even with hardware revisions and the introduction of new SKUs, the consoles continue to break sporadically. This, of course, affects different users differently. You'll often hear anecdotal stories of those who've had their Xbox 360 units since launch back in November 2005 along with those on their eleventh and twelfth consoles.

But with the console thriving, it seems that the defect problem will be one that goes down in quiet infamy. Perhaps one day, after the dust has settled on this generation, Microsoft itself will be more forthcoming on the issues, so that people like Delaware need not worry about criticizing an obviously flawed product not for the sake of downplaying it, but for the sake of making the product that much better.

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Ubuntu-Firefox EULA dustup reignites OSS licensing debate

By Ryan Paul

Mozilla has received widespread criticism from within the open-source community for bundling a EULA with official binary builds of Firefox 3. Critics argue that including a conventional user license agreement in Firefox is antithetical to the principles of unencumbered use that are cherished in the open-source software community. The debate is now going on in full force in the Ubuntu community with the filing of a bug report about the EULA.

The EULA is largely meaningless because the terms of the open-source software licenses under which Firefox is distributed give users the ability to strip the EULA and compile a custom version of the browser that omits it. Mozilla's trademark policies, however, would make it impossible to include the Firefox name or branding on any derivative that deviates from the original sources in that manner. This poses a challenge for Linux distributors who don't want to impose the EULA display screen on their users.

A disgruntled Ubuntu user filed a bug report complaining about the EULA in an effort to draw attention to user frustration with the issue. The report launched a major flame war and inspired numerous other users to post comments expressing dissatisfaction and calling for Ubuntu to either do away with the EULA, even if it means dropping the Firefox branding, or switch to a native open-source browser such as Epiphany.

The Ubuntu developers already have a generic unbranded version of Firefox packaged as "abrowser" in the Ubuntu repositories. This could be used as a last resort if no compromise can be reached. Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth has revealed that he and several others in the Ubuntu community are negotiating with Mozilla to find a reasonable resolution.

"We have been holding extensive, sensitive and complex conversations with Mozilla. We strongly want to support their brand (don't forget this is one of the few companies that has successfully taken free software to the dragon's lair) and come to a reasonable agreement," Shuttleworth wrote. "We want to do that in a way which is aligned with Ubuntu's values, and we have senior representatives of the project participating in the dialogue and examining options for the implementation of those agreements."

Debian, the distribution from which Ubuntu is derived, has already changed the Firefox name and branding in its own builds over an unrelated dispute regarding licensing and trademark issues. The Debian flavor of Firefox is called IceWeasel, and it replaces the Firefox logo art with an image of a weasel humping a globe. Shuttleworth has rejected adopting IceWeasel for Ubuntu because he considers it inappropriate to mock Firefox.

Mozilla's Mitchell Baker has responded to the controversy and has indicated that efforts are under way to address the concerns that have been expressed by users. Mozilla is changing the text of the EULA to indicate that usage of the software is governed by open-source licenses. It remains unclear, however, whether a license will still be displayed when the program starts.

"The most important thing here is to acknowledge that yes, the content of the license agreement is wrong. The correct content is clear that the code is governed by FLOSS licenses, not the typical end user license agreement language that is in the current version," Baker wrote in a blog entry. "We take this very seriously and are working hard to fix it."

The rate at which this issue has escalated reflects the importance that users in the open-source software community place on licensing. Many Linux users have come to the platform in order to escape from the mess of confusing and highly restrictive licensing terms that are imposed by proprietary software applications. Rather than displaying legal boilerplate in an annoying dialog window the first time that the user launches the browser, it might be wiser for Mozilla to instead include a section in the first-run web page that explains in clear language the rights granted to end users by the permissive open-source licenses under which the browser is distributed.

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Linpus Linux Lite Review

By Gary

A few weeks ago I became the proud owner of an Acer Aspire One Linux edition (reviewed here). Out of the box, this little wonder comes with the relatively unknown Linux distribution Linpus Linux Lite, which has been customized somewhat by Acer to make the most of the hardware in the Aspire One. The screenshot above and many more pictures of Acer’s version of Linpus are available at, or you can find captures of the vanilla Linpus Lite 9.4 here.

The installation is indeed very ‘Lite’, and brings up the desktop from suspend in less than 10 seconds, or from cold boot in around 20 seconds. Part of the reason for these amazing startup times is that Linpus doesn’t attempt to start up a fully blown integrated desktop environment like Gnome or KDE, and is in fact based on XFCE, including the XFCE’s Terminal and Thunar Filemanager.

A big selling point for Linpus is it’s support for Asian languages out of the box, and the Acer version is no exception: I was able to type Thai characters with the default setup, and there are additional smart input managers for Korean, Japanese and both Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.

Under the hood, Linpus is actually based on Fedora Core 8, which betrays its age a little since Fedora itself left that release behind some time ago. That does, however, mean that with a little digging it’s possible to turn on the more advanced features we are used to seeing on a desktop class machine. Pressing ALT+F2 brings up a useful launch prompt, from which you can start the XFCE preference manager that Linpus doesn’t reveal by default — the so-called “Advanced Mode Hack. From here, all of XFCE’s options can be customized, including turning on the right-click desktop menu. Having done that, all of Fedora Core’s installed applications can be found inside this desktop menu, including the Fedora Package Manager.

In theory, the sky would be the limit here. Unfortunately it’s not entirely safe to add a bunch of Fedora 8 package repositories and let fly, since the patched Linpus packages are sometimes lagging behind the Fedora 8 versions. As I mentioned in my Aspire One review, if you accidentally update to a Fedora GTK+, then Linpus XFCE breaks. Even so, yum is your friend: With appropriate care, and judicious force installing of Fedora packages that might otherwise try to make unnecessary updates to Linpus, it’s not terribly difficult to add any application you might be missing. By now, I’ve updated to Firefox 3 and Open Office 2.4, and replaced the Acer media player with VLC, as well as added all the compiler tools so that I can compile things from source if necessary. Despite all that, the machine is still running as smoothly, if not smoother, than when I first took it out of the box.

Due to the very limited screen real estate of the Aspire One (1024×600 pixels) specifically, and netbooks in general, the Linpus desktop itself serves double duty as an application launcher. That is, once you’ve logged in, the desktop contains icons for the most commonly used (in Linpus’ opinion!) applications. This is perfect for casual users who just want to work on some office documents, or browse web and send some emails. Acer ships with an attractive Linpus desktop theme, splitting the screen into four zones (Connect, Fun, Work and Files), each with three launch icons and an arrow to ‘drill down’ into a subscreen dedicated to that zone that’s capable of showing up to another 9 icons (plus the original 3 from the main screen).

Another nice touch is the combined filesystem and internet search box included right on the desktop. The integration isn’t all it could be though, since the internet search merely launches Firefox to actually run the search. None-the-less, it’s quite nice to have it at your fingertips.

Acer ships a slightly out of date 2.6.25 kernel with the Aspire One, but they are sharing their patches, so there is no reason to avoid patching the Acer sources up to and recompiling if you need newer kernel features such as reliable TrueCrypt support.

In the end, Linpus is a slightly outdated rpm distribution, and under any other circumstances I would certainly replace it with a modern debian distro myself. But, despite the fact that it is tuned for casual users, and that I’m not at all fond of rpms, I’m still happily using it 3 weeks later. Why haven’t I swapped it out for Ubuntu yet, you ask? Mostly because it is exceptionally well integrated with the Aspire One hardware. I can kill the wifi connection with a dedicated button and get feedback from the associated LED; the aufs overlay filesystem makes excellent use of the SD memory card slots; the webcam, soundcard and microphone work flawlessly for Skype calls; and not forgetting the fantastic 10 second wake-from-suspend. Linpus certainly isn’t a distribution I’d be eager to install on my own initiative, but there’s no doubt that with some love and attention from a netbook vendor, it can be an excellent operating system for making the most out of low-end hardware.

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P2P Is Coming To YouTube

It looks like the idea of a P2P-powered YouTube is finally becoming reality, albeit without any contribution from Google. Singapore Shanghai-based P2P start-up PPLive, which we previously covered for its hugely successful P2P video platform, is experimenting with a P2P accelerator for Flash video streams. The application, which is dubbed PPVA, essentially distributes the stream of any popular Flash video from sites like YouTube via P2P without any involvement of the hosting server.

PPLive began a Chinese-language only beta test of PPVA in June, and says it already clocked more than 10 million downloads, with the maximum number of simultaneous users being as high as 500,000. We tested PPVA with some popular YouTube videos, and the results are intriguing — especially if you consider what this could mean for online video hosters and content delivery networks alike.

PPVA, which is so far only available for Windows, is essentially a small plug-in that just sits in your task bar until it detects a Flash video stream. The app then finds out whether other PPVA users have accessed and cached the same clip; if that’s the case, it will request some of the data from them. A small status window shows where the data for each clip comes from, as well as other details.

So how well does it work? That really depends on the popularity of the clip in question. Access one of YouTube’s most popular videos, and only the first few bytes are requested from the server. After that, P2P distribution kicks in and that number quickly rises to 100 percent. Other popular videos show P2P distribution rates of around 30 percent, whereas more obscure stuff comes straight from YouTube’s servers.

PPVA also seems to work quite well with popular CollegeHumor videos, but there was no P2P distribution available on Vimeo or Blip. In fact, in some cases the plug-in seemed to make things worse, causing noticeable stuttering during playback of some clips, while crashing with others.

Those beta woes aside, the potential implications of something like PPVA are huge. Google could save a whole bunch of money on YouTube traffic without actually doing a thing, and smaller hosters could avoid embarrassing server downtime that so commonly occurs when a clip suddenly becomes popular. PPVA could also make P2P CDN offerings like BitTorrent’s DNA obsolete. After all, why would anyone pay for P2P content distribution if users can do it for free?

Of course, some content providers might be uneasy about not being asked whether they want their videos distributed via P2P. This becomes an even bigger issue when advertisers start requesting more detailed statistics about online video usage. PPLive told us that every video gets an initial request from the hosting server, which should allow video hosters to keep a tally of requests and viewers. But Google is reportedly moving towards a more detailed statistical analysis that looks at which parts of a video are being watched and which are skipped. PPVA could seriously distort these statistics.

Does that mean Google will get upset about PPLive’s experiment? Only if they’re hypocrites: Google invested $5 million in a Chinese P2P startup called Xunlei in late 2006. And guess what? Xunlei’s download manager is doing for files pretty much the same thing PPVA is doing for video streams, speeding up http downloads through P2P without consent of the original hosting provider.

PPLive has told me that an English-language version of the plug-in will be available in about a month. Asked about ways to monetize PPVA, PPLive’s James Seng had this to say: “It’s new. It’s cool. We will figure out the rest later.”

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Review: Apple's fourth-generation iPod nano

By Prince McLean

For its third anniversary, the highly portable 4G iPod nano gets a new tall and slim design, Genius Playlists, audio recording and other new software features, twice the storage at the same price, and a new array of colors. It continues to offer high quality audio, and plays video games, podcasts, TV and movie downloads, and movie rentals. Apple still refuses to give it a capital n, however.

Hardware orientation

The most obvious difference over previous nano models is the 4G's return to a tall orientation. Last year's thin square model gave the nano line the full video playback features of the previous full sized iPod, including support for video games, by putting a reduced size but full resolution iPod video display into a new square case. In our review, we called the 3G iPod nano "a 5G video iPod in a nano-thin shell." This year, Apple delivered the 4G iPod nano as an enhanced version of the full sized iPod in a more conventional tall nano form factor.

In introducing the new model, Steve Jobs said that users didn't prefer the compact square form factor, so the new nano uses the same display in a dual orientation format, with menus presented in a tall portrait view, and videos and Cover Flow features that work in the horizontal landscape orientation. The new change brings obvious comparisons with Microsoft's flash based Zune models introduced last year; however, that design didn't sell well at all for Microsoft, no better than the original Zune. With the new 4G nano, Apple delivers a number of design improvements that address fatal flaws in the Zune.

The first is a coherent physical interface. The Zune presented a 'squircle' touch controller with no labels and two external physical buttons above it, one for play and pause and the other marked with a back arrow. When held sideways (a mode arbitrarily determined by the video being played), the touch controller reconfigured how it worked, but the physical buttons didn't (and couldn't obviously). This changed the layout and the relationships between the buttons, making them frustratingly unintuitive for everyone but the most determined users, and doing absolutely nothing to boost Microsoft's sales.
The 4G iPod nano, like earlier iPod models, presents the familiar iPod click wheel that always works the same. Its buttons are clearly labeled, and the most common feature, scrolling up and down or across (in Cover Flow) is performed by running your finger around the circle. Held sideways, the click wheel continues to work as expected.

Apple's hardware experience really shines with the 4G's software integration. While it makes sense for a direct feedback virtual interface to change, such as the touchscreen of the iPhone and touch does when held sideways, changing the way physical buttons work between orientations is not the correct behavior. For example, if you hold your hand sideways while using a laptop trackpad, you don't want the computer trying to account for your body position and movement and changing how the mouse moves.

However, when playing certain video games, the new 4G nano presents a screen indicating that controls are remapped for compatibility. A contradiction? Not really, as when playing back music the device works the same in both orientations, but when converting into a horizontal games machine, it enters a mode that makes sense for the given game.
Hardware form factor

Apple also applied its slick industrial design savvy to enhance the new 4G nano. It returns to a iPod Mini-like metal tube design similar to the second generation nano, except that rather than being a flat oval, the latest design pinches the long edges to a smooth corner, which results in it feeling even thinner than it actually is. Not that that was necessary; the new nano is already the thinnest ever even in advance of the svelte tapering illusion of smallness.

There are two side effects of the new case being thinner at the edges. The first is a slight curve over the glass face of the screen. In seeing the leaked design specs, we worried that this would result in a TV tube-like distortion, and other critics have suggested that this will cause excessive glare, as the glass could catch light from additional angles.

In actual use however, neither turned out to be the case. First of all, unlike a CRT tube, the nano's LCD screen is of course perfectly flat behind the curved glass. In order to see any "Coke bottle" distortion, you have to hold it at a very unnatural angle. Even from an extreme angle where you can start to see the roundness of the glass, the screen still remains clear and readable.

As for glare, while it's easy to position the nano screen in a way to pick up glare on purpose, we found that whenever we saw glare, making a very slight change to how we were holding it made it easy to remove any glare at all. In comparison, the glossy screens on MacBooks and most modern PC laptops do have a problem with glare, and there is often no way to escape from the glare without completely repositioning yourself to put the offending light source behind you. That kind of glare problem is simply not present on the new 4G nano. The only way to experience distortion or glare with the new 4G nano is to hold it at an awkwardly acute angle while being willfully obtuse.

In fact, the only problem we could imagine with the new shape is its two rounded but still butter knife sharp corners on both ends of the player. If you hold it like a stopwatch, the corners can be pointed enough to be uncomfortable in your palm. This time next week, there will no doubt be a class action lawsuit charging that the 4G nano's corners are at least as dangerous to unattended children as a spoon or perhaps a pencil. Of course, many nano users will have the device inside a case or arm strap, so this issue is also hard to get worked up about.

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iPhone 2.1 Firmware Review: It Fixes Everything We Can See

iPhone's 2.1 update last Friday was supposed to fix a whole dump truck-load of issues people have been having with the iPhone 3G. If the update did succeed in getting rid of dropped calls, improving battery life, dramatically speeding up backup times, improving application install speeds, more accurately displaying 3G signal strength display and eliminating keyboard lag, we could finally recommend the iPhone 3G to our friends without looking like asses. Did the 2.1 firmware do everything it promised? Oh yes.

Reception: This is the biggest improvement, at least on the surface. I'm now getting 4-5 bars in my office where I used to get between 1-2 (see photo above). Does displayed reception actually correlate correctly to actual reception? The hardware is the same, and one of the bug fix list has "improved accuracy of the 3G signal strength display" as one of its items, so is this just a placebo designed only to make you think that your reception is improved? No, it's actually improved.

Calls from my office used to get periodic drop-outs and injected silence, but I have not heard this once since I made the upgrade to 2.1. Brian, with his black hole of cellphone coverage that he calls his apartment, actually made a 12 minute conversation without disconnecting. What's the deal? How is the new software improving reception so much when the hardware is the same? Is it a new stack to handle transmission between the phone and the tower better? We have no idea, although recent reports have said that problems with the phone are caused by an immature chipset, and could be fixed via software, so this is somewehat likely.

It's too bad that Apple disabled the "Cell Information" screen in the iPhone Field Test Mode, which we used to test this ClearBoost case from Griffin, or else we could have used actual power readings from nearby towers to determine whether or not the signal has really been improved. What we can see in the Field Test Mode is that the dBm reading in the top left (where the reception bars were) show very similar numbers, flutuating on both phones between -97 and -103 from in the office. Sometimes one is higher than the other, but there's no consistency.

Verdict: Win.

Battery Life: Improved, but not dramatically. We did see an improvement in battery life this weekend when our phones lasted about 2 days on regular use. It previously only made it to somewhere around 1.5 to 1.75 days. Nothing dramatic, but noticeable.

Verdict: Slight win.

Reduced Backup Time: We definitely saw no more 20-40 minute backups with the 2.1 firmware, but the best indicator for this quirk being fixed would be the guy with an 8-hour iPhone sync. He reported back and told us that the same set of apps now give him a 14 minute sync time. Check this fix off as a winner.

Verdict: Win

3G Browsing Speed: This is an awkward one. The browsing speed wasn't actually noted as being one of the things fixed, but we decided to test it anyway because of the supposedly improved reception. For browsing, the same page loaded about 1.5 seconds faster on the OLD firmware (2.0.2) compared to the new one. On other sites, like, the old firmware actually loaded the page a whole 5 seconds faster than the new firmware. Strange.

We then used the Speedtest app in the iPhone App store to see if it was data transfer that was holding up page loads. On the 2.0.2 firmware we had download speed of 913Kb/sec, 581 Kb/s and 1048Kb/s. On the 2.1 firmware we had a 420Kb/s, 518Kb/s and a 718Kb/s. On the whole the new firmware seems to be slower in terms of data transfer, which leads to slightly slower page loads.

Verdict: Lose

Application Install: The same app (Speedtest) installed 15 seconds faster on the new firmware than on the old one. We downloaded this on the phone itself using the same Wi-Fi router for both. The downloading was just about simultaneous, but the install portion was much faster.

Verdict: Win

Crashing and hanging: It's only been about three days since we updated, but we haven't run into any crashes or hangs yet. 77% of you agreed with us on Friday.

Verdict: Probably win

Text messaging: Didn't see any keyboard lag here. Adam Frucci, the king of iPhone keyboard lag, claims that everything is fixed on this front.

Verdict: I guess a win?

Overall: Apple's really fixed the glaring reception, crashing and backup problems everyone's been seeing. Not only is everyone getting more bars than they were before, they're getting actual results. Brian's notoriously horrible AT&T reception at his apartment in SF is just bearably horrible now, kicking him down to EDGE from 3G where he can actually make phone calls that don't cut off after a few seconds. If you own an iPhone, you need to upgrade to 2.1—slower browsing be damned. Apple has finally put most of the iPhone 3G launch problems behind it, allowing the phone part of the device to be brought back up to par with the original 2G iPhone. [iPhone]

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Best Buy to acquire Napster for $121 million

By AppleInsider Staff

Best Buy said Monday it has agreed to purchase Napster Inc. for $121 million as part of a bid to accelerate growth in the emerging industry of digital entertainment and leverage its relationships with content studios.

The deal, which values Napster at $2.65 per share, is expected to close during the fourth calendar quarter and includes the service operator's approximately 700,000 digital entertainment subscribers, its Web-based customer service platform, and mobile capabilities.

Best Buy said intends to use Napster’s assets to reach new customers with an enhanced experience for exploring and selecting music and other digital entertainment products over an increasing array of devices.

"This transaction offers Best Buy a recognized platform for enhancing our capabilities in the digital media space and building new, recurring relationships with customers," said Brian Dunn, President and COO of Best Buy. "Over time we hope to strengthen our offerings to consumers, who we believe will increasingly seek devices and solutions that enable them to access their content wherever, whenever and however they want."

In May, Napster openly challenged Apple's iTunes Store when it launched an a la carte download service filled with DRM-free tracks that are compatible with both the iPod and iPhone. The service offered 6 million songs and was billed as "more than 50 percent larger than any other MP3 store" and not only the "largest major label MP3 catalog in the industry, but also the largest library of independent music available anywhere."

Best Buy, which partners with Apple on the sale of Macs, iPods and iPhones, said the addition of Napster will help it build stronger relationships with customers, expand the number of subscribers to Napster's service, and capture recurring revenue by offering ongoing value over a mobile digital platform.

Napster has approximately 140 employees, with its headquarters in Los Angeles. At this time, Best Buy does not plan to relocate Napster’s headquarters or to make significant changes in personnel.

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Report: Mac Spending Up Despite Poor Outlook for Consumer Electronics

By Prince McLean

Changewave's latest customer surveys report that general consumer electronic spending is low and trending lower, but that Apple's Mac sales are up and rising by a significant margin.

The group surveyed 4,416 participants in August to find that only 15% report plans to spend more on electronics over the next 90 days, while 34% plan to spend less. Changewave's surveys are held monthly and serve as an accurate overall barometer of future spending.

When asked where they planned to spend their back to school money, 8% said they would spend more money at the online Apple Store than they did last year, while 4% said they would spend less money there. Changewave noted that made Apple "far and away the biggest winner" of the sites respondents mentioned.

The group said participants' plans to buy new PC remained weak, with just 8% saying they would buy a new laptop in the next three months, and only 5% planning to buy a new desktop, a drop of 2 points from a year ago.

Of those planning a purchase however, 34% of laptop buyers and 30% planning to get desktop computer said they would be getting a Mac. That marks a steady rise from around 18% in the 2006 back to school season and the 23% to 28% reported last year.

Apple beat out Dell in forecasted sales in the US consumer survey, with the top PC maker only getting 28% of planned laptops and 28% of planned desktop PC purchases. HP ranked with 20% for laptops and 17% for desktops.

A full 17% of iPhone 3G owners said they are now more likely to buy an Apple laptop or desktop based on their experience with the phone, compared to just 1% who reported they were less likely to consider a Mac in the future.

"The key takeaway from these survey results," Changewave noted, "is that consumer electronics spending will remain weak over the next 90 days. The one bright spot is Apple, whose Mac sales are outperforming and are poised to once again reach new all-time highs."

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Not Big In Japan: The iPhone (AAPL)

japanese-phones.jpgEarlier this spring Japan looked like one of Apple's most promising markets for iPhone 3G (AAPL). But even a price cut isn't helping the gadget take off there. This doesn't seem to be a problem with the iPhone per se: It's a problem with the Japanese handset market, which has a ton of high-end phones at competitive prices. WSJ:

Like elsewhere, Japanese consumers lined up at stores in advance of the phone's release on July 11, and many locations sold out almost immediately. But now analysts estimate that demand in Japan has fallen to a third of what it was initially and analysts are now expecting fewer iPhone sales. There is no supply shortage: The device is readily available in Apple and Softbank stores and other outlets. Major electronics retailer Yodobashi Camera's megastore in the western city of Osaka, for example, recently had more than 100 of them stacked up in open view.

...According to market-research firm MM Research Institute, Apple sold about 200,000 phones in Japan in the first two months. Since then, however, demand has been falling steadily, and analysts now widely believe sales are unlikely to reach a total of 500,000 units. That is half the one million units that they previously thought Apple could sell. One big challenge is that Japanese users already have access to some of the most advanced mobile-phone technologies in the world. Models currently sold by Japanese cellphone makers typically contain a high-end color display, digital TV-viewing capability, satellite navigation service, music player and digital camera. Many models also include chips that let owners use their phones as debit cards or train passes.

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Apple releases Mac OS X 10.5.5 Update

By AppleInsider Staff

Apple on Monday released Mac OS X 10.5.5, a recommended update for all users of Mac OS X 10.5.x Leopard that includes over a hundred bug fixes and more than two dozen security enhancements.

As of press time, the 321MB update was only available via the Software Update mechanism located under the Apple menu of your Mac.

In addition to general stability improvements and over two dozen security enhancements, the update addresses issues with Address Book, Disk Utility, iCal, Mail, MobileMe, and Time Machine. A detailed list of those fixes follows:

  • Includes recent Apple security updates.
  • Addresses stability issues with video playback, processor core idling, and remote disc sharing for MacBook Air.
  • Addresses an issue in which some Macs could unexpectedly power on at the same time each day.
  • Resolves a stability issue in TextEdit that could be found when accessing the color palette.
  • Improves Spotlight indexing performance.
  • Fixes an issue in which contacts might not sync properly with PalmOS-based devices.
  • Improves iPhone sync reliability with iCal and Address Book.
  • Includes improvements to Active Directory (see this article for more information).
  • Improves Speech Dictionary.
  • Fixes Kerberos authentication issues for Mac OS X 10.5 clients that connect to certain Samba servers, such as Mac OS X Server version 10.4.
  • Includes extensive graphics enhancements.

Address Book
  • Addresses stability issues that may occur when creating a Smart Group.
  • Resolves a printing issue with address cards containing information that spans more than one page.

Disk Utility and Directory Utility
  • Improves reliability when rebuilding a software mirror RAID volume in Disk Utility.
  • Improves reliability of server status displayed in Directory Utility.

  • Updates iCal to more accurately handle repeating events.
  • Improves performance when choosing meeting attendees.
  • Resolves an issue in which the "Refresh All" option may be dimmed ("grayed out") in the contextual menu for certain calendars.
  • Fixes issues with read-only calendars.
  • Addresses an issue that prevents an invitee from moving an event to a different calendar.
  • Resolves an issue with syncing published calendars.

  • Addresses performance issues related to displaying IMAP messages.
  • Resolves an issue with SMTP settings for AIM, Compuserve, Hanmail, Yahoo!, and Time Warner Road Runner email accounts.
  • Addresses stability issues that may occur when dragging a file to the Mail icon in the Dock.
  • Addresses an issue with the "Organized by Thread" view in which the date does not appear when the thread is collapsed.
  • Resolves an issue in which RSS feeds could temporarily disappear from the sidebar.
  • Improves Mail robustness when sending messages.
  • Improves reliability when saving drafts that have attachments.

  • Improves overall sync reliability.
  • Improves Back to My Mac reliability.

Time Machine
  • Improves Time Machine reliability with Time Capsule.
  • Addresses performance issues that may affect initial and in-progress backups.
  • Fixes an issue in which an incorrect alert message could appear stating that a backup volume does not have enough free space.
  • Time Machine can now back up iPhone backups that are on your Mac, as well as other items in (~/Library/Application Support).
Original here

Everyone but Apple joins new "buy once, play anywhere" group

By Nate Anderson

Buying a movie online is simple; it's watching it on the device you want that's hard. The movie studios have been reluctant to allow DVD burning from online stores (and when they do, it doesn't always work), spawning a whole cottage industry of creative solutions for getting digital downloads onto the TV set. And slapping that newly-purchased Sopranos episode onto your iPod or PSP or Zune for a bit of mobile entertainment? Fuggedaboutit.

When pirates offer a better product, one that actually plays where consumers want their video to play, it's hard for digital download stores to compete, and the entire ecosystem of companies knows it. That's why movie studios joined retailers like Best Buy, consumer electronics companies like Sony and Philips, Intel, Microsoft, and others in a new acronym-ready alliance that will, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, put the consumer "at the center of the universe."

We covered rumors of the alliance back in August, but the group launched officially on Friday. Friday afternoons are better for burying bad political news than for launching alliances that will (FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER) put consumers at the center of the universe, but the timing may be intentional. While the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, a truly horrible name that should send shivers down the spines of the marketers who will be called upon to flog the group's technology, has grand plans for a "buy once, play anywhere" future, it doesn't have much to announce in the present apart from the name.

Mitch Singer, who has been CTO at Sony Pictures since 2006, will head up the effort. The goal is to allow purchased video content to play seamlessly on any device or screen that the buyer owns and to allow access to a "virtual library" of purchased content accessible from anywhere on the 'Net. According to Singer, video should become a buy once, play anywhere technology like CDs and DVDs.

It's all very much in the future, however. The press release is peppered with confidence-wilting phrases such as "will define and build a new media framework" (something this complex hasn't even been defined yet?), "we are developing," and "over time." Without even a spec in place, there's no way we will see working products for at least a year, quite possibly longer. And, if the strategy document we discussed in August remains accurate, new DECE-ready devices will be needed to make the whole scheme work. By the time video stores adopt the tech, electronics firms implement it, movie studios support it, and consumers purchase all the pieces to make it work, will it still matter?

It's hard to say this far out, of course, but one thing gives us pause: no Apple. Not only has iTunes become a major player in paid, downloadable video, but Apple has created a hugely successful iPod ecosystem that ties the downloads to its own devices. Without Apple onboard, DECE can create a compelling whole-house system, but it stands little chance of offering access to video on the go.

Given that Microsoft's PlaysForSure initiative largely failed for music under similar circumstances (worked with second-tier stores, second-tier players, Windows PCs), we're not sure that such an initiative can go far without major players like Apple, TiVo, and Amazon. DECE says it will "continue to seek broader industry support" in the days to come. If Apple signs on, we'd be shocked (though Steve Jobs does insist he hates that pesky DRM).

One wonders if the DECE initiative will spawn something new, cool, and exciting, or (like PlaysForSure) whether even the companies that created it will turn to other tech... or give up on DRM altogether.

Original here