Author Archive | David Worthington

Supreme Court Leaves Software Patent Issues Unanswered

Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down a long awaited decision on a patent case that could have changed how or whether software patents are granted. Ultimately, little changed, except that the Court’s decision was at odds with 150 years of patent law, says a legal expert.

The Court’s Bilski v. Kappos decision could have invalidated many software patents had it accepted a Federal circuit court’s “machine or transformation” test for what is patentable. Proponents of the lower court’s decision had hoped that the high court would finally bring an end to excessive patent litigation and eliminate questionable patents that they say can slow the pace of innovation in technology.

The Bilski case involved a patent claim for a business method for hedging risks in commodities trading. The Justices affirmed the lower court’s decision that the Bilski patent was too abstract and therefore un-patentable. However, it did not accept the machine or transformation test, thus failing to provide any guidance to government patent examiners, defendants, or patent filers.

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Windows 8 Details Emerge: Microsoft Embraces "Always On"

Windows enthusiast Francisco Martin got his hands on portions of a secretive “Windows 8” presentation, and posted some of the slides on his blog today. Microsoft allegedly presented the slides to computer manufacturers to preview the next version of Windows.

Microsoft wants OEMs to build PCs that rapidly wake up from sleep mode and are aware of their surroundings. The PCs should leverage hardware including Webcams and proximity sensors to recognize users and sense when those users are nearby their machines. It’s a logical step–not an innovative one so much as a necessary one.

The era of light computing has begun. Apple’s iPad is only the first among a new class of devices that turns on instantly, and gives the user access to the workflows that they want. The industry has been overselling hardware; most people don’t utilize their PC’s full capacity. Surfing the Web, writing an essay, or sending e-mails doesn’t require the latest and greatest hardware. The iPad’s popularity is an indication that people’s needs weren’t being met by the traditional PC paradigm.

That is not to say that the PC is going to be unseated any time soon, but its kingdom will be diminished. So, Microsoft has a challenging problem to solve: It needs to get Windows users to sit at their desks when more and more of their computing activities are happening with smart devices. “Always on” doesn’t fit that criteria; the iPad does that better than Windows can and did it first. The Windows interface also needs some work to work well on “slate” devices that it was not designed for. Don’t give me an elephant and call it a donkey.

There is however potential for an intelligent PC to really “know” its user and its environment, and it’s neat that Microsoft is looking into that. Windows 7 is selling well, and Microsoft has plenty of cash in its coffers. Windows Phone 7 demonstrated that the company is capable of fresh thinking. There is a similar opportunity with Windows, if Microsoft has the courage to press the reset button and try something new.


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iPhone 3G Users: Quit Complaining

Sometimes it is difficult to discern whether complaints are coming from actual users or are a product of blogosphere hyperbole, as was the case yesterday when the iPhone 3G didn’t get all of the new features available in the iOS 4 upgrade. One thing is for certain: had those customers received those features there would be real cause for complaints.

iOS4 performance on the iPhone 3G is a mixed bag, according to tests compiled since its release. That’s without all of the bells and whistles such as backgrounds and multitasking. When a Gizmodo reader e-mailed Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking why backgrounds were not included in the update, Jobs replied, “The icon animation with backgrounds didn’t perform well enough.” If that’s the case, just imagine the performance hit that multitasking would take.

The iPhone 3G’s hardware is substantially less powerful than the 3GS and iPhone 4. Had Apple chosen not to omit those features, many more people would be complaining about bad performance and being “forced to upgrade.” A phone should be snappy– not slow like an old PC overloaded with new software. Anything less is unacceptable. Apple did the correct thing by its customers.

Were  many people complaining about not having wallpaper before yesterday’s free upgrade? Absolutely not. If you liked your iPhone yesterday, there are no fewer reasons to enjoy it today. If you don’t like your phone, sell it, and find something that better meets your requirements. You can get good money for it on trade-in sites.


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The Physics of a Good Touchscreen Game

I don’t play many games on my iPhone, but occasionally come across one that proves compelling. A game called Toy Physics is my latest fixation. It drew me in, and is a great example of a multi-touch platform being put to its best use.

Toy Physics involves drawing flat or sloping lines to halt, accelerate, or slow falling toys. The objective is to steer the toys into moving bins. Varying objects make the toys’ fall less predictable, requiring the player to devise a different strategy to pass each level. It would not have been possible to really enjoy the game without the iPhone’s touch screen interface; it was a natural fit. The game is available for just a dollar.

Other iPhone games just don’t fit with the interface, and are better played on the desktop. (I stopped playing SimCity on my iPhone after the first play). Games should take advantage of the hardware, not simply be ports of the same old thing on a smaller scale. Perhaps Apple has a point in rejecting applications that weren’t designed with the iPhone in mind.


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iPad: The Reason Behind Microsoft's Reorg?

The retirement of Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices (E&D) division, made some waves today. Bach’s resignation, along with the departure Xbox lead designer and senior vice president J Allard, has inspired talk of palace intrigue within the halls of Redmond. I don’t believe that the reorg was inspired much by politics–Microsoft is responding to the iPad.

Earlier today, I spoke with Directions on Microsoft director of research Robert Helm. Helm believes that introduction of Apple’s iPad raised the threat level to Windows so much so that the company required a new management team to formulate a clear response. “The primary mission of the Entertainment and Devices division has been to protect the Windows PC from threats by low-end consumer devices like game consoles and smartphones,” he explained.

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Memeo Connect Brings Google Docs to the Desktop

Trying to choose between Microsoft Office and Google Docs? Why not use both? Memeo Connect is a utility that brings Google Docs to the desktop. I’ve been kicking its tires for several weeks now using an account provided to me by Memeo, and have become a regular user.

I appreciate being able to access and share my documents on Google Docs, but still prefer to work in Microsoft Office. There are just too many advanced features that Google suite still lacks for me to take the plunge to a Web-only workflow. That is where Memeo comes in.

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Verizon Plans FiOS IPTV Service

Verizon is in the early phases of deploying an Internet Protocol television (IPTV) system in a move to bring its FiOS brand to the Web, according to a well-placed source within the company. The service will extend beyond PCs to gaming consoles.

While I was was not given any timetable for the service’s arrival, Verizon is operating under a sense of urgency. “We are late to the game,” my source told me. Internal testers at Verizon are already using the service, including software for Sony’s PlayStation 3. A Verizon spokesperson said that the company did not comment on “rumor or speculation.”

“Verizon is a clear leader in video entertainment innovation, and as such, we are always looking at new ways to transform and enrich the user experience,” the spokesperson said. “Consider all of the features and services that FiOS introduced first: widgets; online video programming, including HBO Go, EPIX and last week’s announcement that we’ll be launching Turner networks online in June; social media (Facebook and Twitter) and Internet Videos (YouTube, Dailymotion, etc.) on TV, and more…”

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Hey, My TV Just Crashed!

There’s a little-known fact: you don’t need to buy set-top boxes or gaming consoles to enjoy digital media on your TV. Unfortunately, buying more hardware is oftentimes the easier–although more limited–option at the moment.

I just got a great deal on a nicely equipped Samsung LCD television. It comes equipped with DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) client software. DLNA is an industry specification that allows devices to share content over a home network.

DLNA servers share content that is played and viewed on clients like televisions. Samsung provides free software to turn your PC into a home media server.

Easy, you might think. Wrong. Samsung’s DLNA server software only works on Windows, and the application’s interface is hardly intuitive. Weaker yet, the client can only play a limited volume of codecs, and has no support for copy-protected media. The average non-geek would be in over his or her head.

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Who Needs Syncing?

Nearly two years ago, I reviewed internal documents about Microsoft’s plans to design and develop an entirely new operating system called Midori. While I am uncertain about the exact state of the project, bits and pieces of the Midori vision are emerging in the company’s latest technologies.

Owning a PC was once a big deal; now it’s common for multiple computers to reside under one roof. Today’s households are filled with PCs, Pads, and Pods–devices that are loosely synchronized and loaded with apps. Information and applications are getting distributed, with many pieces working in parallel. Midori is intended to support exactly that kind of distributed application architecture, and Microsoft assigned some of its top talent to support the project.

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Forget Bob–Let’s Talk About Packard Bell Navigator

Thinking back to my youth, my dad suffered from deal myopia. He was always looking for one, and couldn’t pass up buying whatever appeared to be the best value for our family. Sometimes those deals turned into ordeals– like the time when he purchased a PC that was preloaded with Packard Bell’s Microsoft Bob-like front end. I thought about it as I read our coverage of Microsoft Bob‘s fifteenth anniversary today.

The Packard Bell that was rigged to boot into an interface called Packard Bell Navigator, an alternative shell for Windows that was designed to make using a PC easier. It presented the user with a virtual study instead of the Windows desktop and had a brief and unremarkable existence during the mid-1990s. But it predated Bob, and surely reached far more people–Packard Bells may have been famously shoddy, but they were also the era’s best-selling home PCs.

Our prior family PC had run Windows 3.x, and we had a great collection of shareware games. I became proficient at booting into games from DOS, and prior to that, a Commodore 128. The Packard Bell and its virtual room interface befuddled me. It was difficult to determine which objects had any function or not. My greatest discovery was learning how to turn it off.

In all fairness to my dad, he did make some good buys from time to time. The Commodore was incredibly fun, and prior to that, my siblings and I played on a Magnavox Odyssey. (There weren’t any deals on Ataris.)

The Odyssey still sits in my mother’s basement, and I may attempt to get it running again at some point in the future. Thanks dad–let’s just forget about that Packard Bell…Sears riding mower, fiberglass pool lining, and the Didi Seven.


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