Archive | September 17th, 2008

Microsoft Embraces “I’m a PC”

17. September 2008

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Curiouser and curiouser. An hour or two after news broke that Microsoft’s Windows ads would go Seinfeldless, the New York Times has lots of details on the new commercials in the campaign. They won’t be free of celebrities: Eva Longoria, Deepak Chopra, and Pharrell Williams will be on hand. (As will Bill Gates, but apparently only in a supporting role.)

But the most intriguing thing about the new ads is this: They will make explicit reference to Apple’s “Get a Mac” spots. The Times says that a Microsoft engineer who looks like John Hodgman (aka Apple’s PC) will even say thw words “I’m a PC”–before launching into what sounds like a possibly whiny, but accurate, complaint about being stereotyped by Apple’s ads.

I’m no ad critic, but I will take a tiny bit of credit for at least noticing that the phrase “PC” was used in the second Seinfeld/Gates ad, and wondering what was up with that:

At the end of the commercial, the phrase “Perpetually Connecting” turns into the abbreviation “PC.” I can’t think of another ad in recent Microsoft history that’s made reference to Windows-based computers as PCs–it feels like an almost direct response to Apple’s Get a Mac ads and their Mac and PC characters. I wonder if future ads will also call PCs PCs. (Actually, I hope not: I used to be a stickler for the notion that all personal computers, including Macs, are PCs; I’ve sort of given up, though.)

So yup, we now know that Microsoft will call PCs PCs, and it is a response to Apple’s ads.

Other tidbits from the Times story:

–The ads will use the theme “Life Without Walls”–I’m not sure if this is instead of the rumored “Windows, Not Walls.” or in addition to it. There will be a microsite called LifeWithoutWalls.com (which, right now, seems to simply redirect to the main Windows site).

–Microsoft will let real people upload video and photos explaining why they’re PCs, too, and will use some of this material in ads.

I’m done judging ads I haven’t seen yet, but we’ll all apparently get the chance to start critiquing these ones tomorrow. And I do have a few more questions:

–Can the campaign both be about PCs and not about PCs? Microsoft blogger Chris Flores said just a few days ago that the campaign “will talk about Windows in all its forms. Not just the OS for PCs we happen to be shipping today. In fact, not just an OS. And not just on PCs. Simply put, this campaign isn’t about Windows Vista. It’s about Windows.” Sounds logical enough, but possibly hard to reconcile with ads that take on Apple’s ads directly and talk about PCs.

–What does “Life Without Walls” mean, anyhow? And what does it have to do with PCs or operating systems? If Microsoft argues that Windows is better because it’s available in multiple forms on multiple devices, isn’t it contending that walls can be good?

–Will we ever learn whether Microsoft changed course with the Seinfeld spots? In a new post, Flores says that the company always planned to move beyond Seinfeld as the campaign progressed. I’m sure that’s true. But he doesn’t really address whether we ended up with less Jerry than was originally planned based on initial response to the campaign. (The Times article has a couple of research firms saying that buzz about the Bill/Jerry ads was highly favorable to Microsoft–news to me!)

Stand by for more bulletins as events warrant…

Windows, Not Jerry: Microsoft to Can Seinfeld Ads?

17. September 2008

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[Update: See this post for the latest news on Microsoft’s next wave of Windows ads.]

It’s unthinkable. And astounding. But the world will probably survive. Valleywag is reporting that Microsoft will announce phase two of its $300 million Windows ad campaign tomorrow–a phase that doesn’t include Jerry Seinfeld.

According to Valleywag, Microsoft is maintaining that the company planned to say goodbye to Jerry all along. But it’s hard to imagine that they paid him $10 million to do two spots, or that the two spots we saw were all the Seinfeld that Microsoft intended to give us. And Valleywag quotes Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw as saying “People would have been happier if everyone loved the ads, but this was not unexpected.”

Continue reading this story…

SlingCatcher: It’s Almost Here–Finally!–and Looks Neat

17. September 2008

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Way back in January of last year, Sling Media–the inventors of the nifty SlingBox box, which can broadcast TV from your home across the Net to your laptop or phone–announced its second major project. The SlingCatcher, it said, was a new device that would flip around the Slingbox’s functionality, sending video in a multitude of formats from a PC across a home network to a TV. It got lots of attention.

And then…nothing happened. For a long time. But I met with Sling co-founder/CEO Blake Krikorian today, and am happy to report that the release of Slingcatcher, which Krikorian said turned out to be a more challenging engineering project than anyone expected, is imminent. It’s not exactly the box that Sling unveiled in 2007: It offers a wired Ethernet connection but not the Wi-Fi it was originally going to include, and costs $300 rather than the sub-$200 pricetag that Sling targeted. But it’s still an intrguing product, and one which–like the Slingbox–is unique.

Continue reading this story…

Sarah Palin’s Personal Yahoo E-mail Hacked

17. September 2008

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The McCain campaign may soon find itself defending against criticisms from a entirely new angle, thanks to some hackers who have apparently broke into two personal e-mail accounts of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. While details of what exactly was included in those inboxes are still in the process of being disclosed, it could possibly add fuel to speculation that Palin had been using personal e-mail accounts for state business.

McClatchy reporter Lisa Demer reported on this practice on Tuesday, writing that the Governor is not the only one to use personal e-mail for official work, but several others in Palin’s administration do so. Some see this as a potential method for Palin and others to get around archiving laws.

Activists have been pressing the government for more disclosure on exactly what Palin has been doing in these e-mails, which may have been the impetus for the hackers known as “anonymous” to attempt the hack. According to Wikileaks, the group gained access to Palin’s account sometime Tuesday.

While in fairness to the governor, many of the e-mails appear harmless and of a personal nature, a few are addressed to state officials. One is to Lt. Governor Sean Parnell, another to Governor’s Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse member Amy McCorkell. There also appear to be quite a few e-mails to Ivy Frye, an aide of Palin’s (see here and here). The contents of the Frye e-mails are not known.

Wikileaks says the Guardian has looked at the data and found that some of the e-mails include a draft of an email to Governor Schwarzenegger, discussions on state appeals court nominees, and e-mails from a “DPS,” likely the Alaska Department of Safety.

The e-mail accounts in question have since been deleted, which could be a potential problem in the ongoing investigation of the so-called “Troopergate” mess (Critics argue that Palin may have used this accounts in connection with those events). Either way, the McCain campaign has wasted no time in quickly denouncing the hack.

“This is a shocking invasion of the Governor’s privacy and a violation of law. The matter has been turned over to the appropriate authorities and we hope that anyone in possession of these emails will destroy them. We will have no further comment,” McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said.

I doubt however that the campaign will be able to stay quiet, especially if it is discovered that Palin was misusing the accounts as has been suspected.

VMware Fusion 2.0: A Better Way to Run Windows on a Mac?

17. September 2008

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For more than two years now, my primary computing platform has been Apple’s OS X with a virtualized copy of Windows XP and/or Vista running inside it. I started running the first program that could virtualize Windows on a Mac, Parallels Desktop, the moment it became available as a beta. And mostly, I’ve stuck with Parallels.

But Parallels’ archrival, VMware Fusion, is now shipping in version 2.0, after a few months of public beta. I’ve been using it for a few days and enjoying it. A few major features of the new version:

–The ability to do multiple snapshots of the state of a virtual machine, and to have Fusion create them automatically at set intervals, so you can jump  backwards if something goes wrong;

–Keyboard mapping so you can simulate Windows keypresses that don’t exist on a Mac;

–Better handling of file associations so Windows apps can open Mac documents and vice versa;

–mirroring of folders so that Windows’ My Pictures shows stuff stored in OS X’s equivalent, for instance;

–Support for DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 2 3D graphics, making Fusion a more plausible platform for gaming and other heavy-duty 3D apps (the previous version and Parallels only go up to DirectX 8.1; Parallels also supports OpenGL);

–A year of free McAfee Viruscan Plus security (Parallels comes with six months of Kaspersky’s suite);

–Support for multiple monitors;

–General polish and fit and finish improvements to make the app as Mac-like as possible.

I wanna live with Fusion for a while before I make any attempt to declare a winner in the Mac virtualization race; both it and Parallels are pretty darn good, and the competition between them has unquestionably resulted in two strong products. There’s no doubt, however, that VMware tried to catch up with Parallels or surpass it in a number of places where the latter product was in the lead until now.

Virtualization still can’t replace running a native operating system in every case. Both Fusion and Parallels exact a stiff tax in the form of reduced battery life on my MacBook Pro, I find. And there are still apps that run poorly, or not at all. (As an experiment, I just tried to run Real’s RealDVD, thinking that the DVD-ripping functionality would be a good stress test–but it wouldn’t even install in Fusion.) So I also use Leopard’s Boot Camp feature to turn my MacBook Pro into a true, non-virtual PC…and I have a Vista desktop, too.

Oh yeah–what do I run within virtualized Windows? Office 2007, for one thing–I like it much more than the Mac’s Office 2008. And Internet Explorer 8. And Chrome. And other applications as I need ’em–it’s a blessing to be able to run nearly any Windows application without leaving OS X, as any virtualization fan can attest.

VMware Fusion is $80, but it’s a free upgrade for current users. You need a copy of Windows XP or Vista to use it (or another of the 90 operating systems it supports, including Linux and OS X Leopard Server). More thoughts once I’ve spent more time with it…

Is Swoopo Nothing More Than a Well-Designed Gimmick?

17. September 2008

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[UPDATE: We’re about to talk to Swoopo. Have a question for them? Tell us here.]

I first ran across Swoopo in one of my Google searches earlier this week. What caught my eye was the claim in its ad that it had just sold an iPod Touch for $28.05. My journalistic curiosity got the best of me, so just for the heck of it I clicked the link to investigate.

Indeed Swoopo was legit: the company was selling not only iPods, but computers, televisions, and other products at prices that seemed just too good to be true. So where did this company come from? Apparently its not new at all (at least in Europe). Founded in Germany in 2005 as Telebid, it expanded to the UK last year, and launched in Spain this Spring.

The concept goes something like this: items are put up for bid, and each time a user bids, the price is increased by 15 cents. At the same time the amount of time added to the auction also increases up to 20 seconds with each bid. If no new bids are received before time runs out, the last bidder wins the item.

Swoopo claims that this allows users to purchase items at about 35 percent of the retail price. A check of recently ended auctions seemed to indicate that was generally accurate, although most seemed to either be at substantial savings or not much of a deal at all.

It is fairing rather well financially for a start-up. In 2007, the company recorded about 11 million Euros ($15.5 million USD) in sales, with 20 million euros ($28.3 million USD) in revenues expected this fiscal year. It expects to attract 50,000 customers in the US during the rest of 2008, increasing to 800,000 by next year.

These deals sound too good to be true to you? In a way they are. Users cannot just simply register and bid. Instead once registered a user must fill his or her account with prepaid bids. Yes, that’s right, you pay to bid. Each bid costs the user $1, and can be purchased in packs of 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500. There is no discount for buying larger packs.

Here’s where it begins to get gimmicky, and Swoopo begins to lose me. Before the first bid, you’re already financially into the whole thing for as much as $500. What’s worse is that if you lose an auction, you also lose all the bids you placed, and thus have essentially given the site free money for just giving you the privilege to bid on the item.

Thus once you start bidding, you have a vested financial interest in winning that item. While the winner is likely to get a very good deal, especially on bigger items where the final price is hundreds below retail (even when you add the cost of bidding), those who lost could have spent quite a bit just to bid, and are likely doing so because of the money they need to spend to win.

Suddenly it does not look like Swoopo is really that crazy: in some cases, they could be making quite the profit through this system. Take this auction for example: this guy paid $423.55 altogether for an 80GB PS3 worth $399.99. I’m sure there are other examples, or auctions where the total number of bids from all bidders when added to the final selling price mean a sizable profit for the site.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand these sites need to make a profit. However, the way this is done just doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t those who lose get their bids back, even at least partially? I think that is much more fair, and would make using the site more attractive to many.