Yahoo says no to a joint Microsoft\/Icahn bid

admin | 08/08/2019 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

Despite having said it was done negotiating a number of times already, Microsoft appears to find Yahoo's search business too tempting to stay away for long. Yesterday, Yahoo released a statement that rejected yet another offer from Redmond, this one made jointly with Carl Icahn, who is engaged in a proxy battle for control of the company. The deal would have handed Yahoo's search division to Microsoft, leaving the remainder of the company in Icahn's hands. HangZhou Night Net

Microsoft has not publicly admitted to having made an offer; as a result, the only details about it come from statements made by Yahoo's board. According to them, the offer was made late Friday evening, and Yahoo was given less than 24 hours to respond. The board's response was to reiterate the offer to sell the entire company for $33 a share; they also were willing to negotiate a different deal for Yahoo's search property. Both of these alternatives were rejected by Microsoft.

Yahoo's response suggests it's going on the offensive, as its chairman, Roy Bostock, slammed the unexpected offer and tight deadline, as well as the company behind it: "this type of erratic and unpredictable behavior is consistent with what we have come to expect from Microsoft." The attempt to compel Yahoo's board to negotiate with Carl Icahn, the man who is intending to have them all replaced, was also termed "odd and opportunistic."

The offer may not be so much odd as strategic, as Microsoft almost certainly knew it would be rejected. Past statements by Yahoo have indicated that the company views its search business as a core part of its future plans, and it plays a key role in the company's deal with Google. Divesting itself of that business would apparently involve completely restructuring Yahoo's business model, and the board would presumably expect extensive compensation for it.

Instead, they were apparently offered the worst-case scenario that could result from the board elections scheduled for August 1: their own firing, with replacements chosen by Icahn. Bostock's comments suggest that the new board would arrive with no plan for successfully managing Yahoo's remaining businesses. Indeed, Bostock quotes Icahn himself, who, back in June, dismissed divesting Yahoo's search business as a viable option, saying, "it's crazy for this company now to do this alternative deal and give the store away."

Microsoft's decision to make an offer that was sure to be rejected serves two purposes. It keeps Icahn's proxy battle in the news, reminding disaffected Yahoo shareholders that they need to vote. It also serves as a useful reminder that Redmond and the insurgents are on the same page, meaning that there will be deals available should Icahn succeed in the proxy battle for the Yahoo board.

The maneuvering clearly indicates that Microsoft is still interested in adding Yahoo's search users to its own lagging search properties. Whether Microsoft has plans that will only come to fruition with a larger user base or simply views expanding their search property as an end in itself isn't as clear.

Category: 杭州桑拿

Microsoft cuts 20GB Xbox 360 to $299.99, launches 60GB model

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What would E3 week be without a price drop announcement? Hoping to stir more sales for its Xbox 360, Microsoft has finally announced the long-anticipated price drop for the standard 20GB Xbox 360 SKU while introducing a new model. The new price tag brings the 20GB down $50 to $299.99, making the once-premium 360 SKU now ever-closer to the price of the industry-leading Nintendo Wii. HangZhou Night Net

Formerly $349.99, the 20GB SKU will now be succeeded by the 60GB Xbox 360 at the same price point. The 60GB unit is identical to the 20GB, albeit with a bigger hard drive and the HDMI connection of recent 20GB hardware revisions. The black Xbox 360 Elite, with its 120GB hard drive, retains its current price of $449.99

This confirms word sent in by Opposable Thumbs' mole of the imminent introduction of a new SKU a few weeks ago. The introduction of the Xbox Live Video Marketplace has users filling up their 20GB hard drives quickly, so plans to introduce a new unit with a bigger drive that wasn't quite as expensive as the Elite SKU have been hinted at for a while now, as Albert Penello, Xbox director of product management at Microsoft, was quick to point out.

"We know consumers need more and more space to store the amazing digital content Xbox 360 offers, and we're giving it to them at no extra charge," said Penello. "No one device offers the depth and breadth of entertainment that Xbox 360 can deliver, and now you'll have three times the storage to manage all that great content."

With this latest update, Microsoft is gunning for another batch of new users to complement its flux of big holiday titles which include the likes of Gears of War 2, Fable 2, and Halo Wars. Also expected for users around the world is a boost to the Video Marketplace in the form of new movies and shows, and perhaps even a new content deal or two.

In contrast, competitor Sony has denied having any plans for a price drop of its own. Sony’s chief financial officer Nobuyuki Oneda recently spoke to investors and stated that the company's plan was "not to reduce the price" of the PlayStation 3. And, as for Nintendo, few would expect the company to move even an inch on the price of the Wii and the DS as the two continue to sell in record numbers.

This announcement is the first of many expected to arrive this week with the E3 Convention in Los Angeles. Keep your eyes on the front page and Opposable Thumbs for more news and hands-on coverage directly from LA.

Category: 杭州桑拿

No local election coverage on TV? No problem, says FCC

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The owners of 19 Chicago- and Milwaukee-area television stations can sleep soundly thanks to the Federal Communications Commission, which on Friday yet again turned down challenges to their licenses filed by two public interest groups. Chicago Media Action (CMA) and the Milwaukee Public Interest Media Coalition (MPIMC) had appealed the Commission's earlier rejection of their Petition to Deny the license renewals of these stations. But the FCC is sticking to its guns. The agency insists that, despite studies showing that the local election coverage these stations provide stinks, the CMA/MPIMC petition did not prove "bad faith" or that TV programming in Chicago and Milwaukee has "generally been unresponsive" to the public interest. HangZhou Night Net

The FCC's stance demonstrates, once again, that at present it is difficult, if not impossible to apply public interest pressure to TV stations via the Commission's license renewal process.

Down with them all

CMA's Petition to Deny Renewal challenged all of Chicago's full-power TV stations. Its November 2005 brief argued that the licenses "failed to present adequate programming relating to state and local elections during the 2004 election campaign." That put it politely. In fact, the petition included a survey showing that five of these signals' newscasts devoted less than one percent of their stories to non-federal elections in the last four weeks before Election Day in November. That is, for all practical purposes, no reporting at all.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) "2004 Campaign News Study in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Portland Markets" showed that in Chicago most coverage went to the Presidential race and the Senate campaigns, and most of that went to strategic and horse race style coverage. About 15 percent went to candidate sound bites, each on average about 10.2 seconds long. "Even though the [Senate] race was never close," the study observes, "the campaign between the new wunderkind of the Democratic party [Barack Obama] and the theatrical, outspoken Mr. [Alan] Keyes drew heavy coverage."

On the other hand, Chicago area TV viewers interested in Illinois state house races could expect to see two stories max during that four week period at each of four of the five studied stations. The fifth offered no such news at all. One station provided exactly one story about non-state legislature races. The best of them aired ten. A race for State Attorney in one county "received virtually no attention" until the father of one candidate was arrested on corruption charges.

As for the style of the stories, or "frame," as the CMPA study put it, most went to "horse race" stories (guesstimating a candidates' electoral chances at the moment) and "strategic" stories ("how the candidate was using an event to reach particular groups of voters"). Strategy and horse race items dominated coverage. Issues-oriented features counted for less than a fifth of air time.

These patterns were even more extreme in Milwaukee, according to CMPA, where nearly three quarters of election news stories went to the Presidential race. Every other kind of campaign got tiny percentages of next to nothing—except the Senate campaign, which got three percent coverage. Just short of 78 percent of TV election coverage in Portland went to the Presidential contest. 0.6% went to state legislature campaigns. 0.4% went to local, non-state legislature races.

Denying the deniers

Attorneys for CMA and MPIMC acknowledged in their original Petition that in 1984 Ronald Reagan's FCC dropped any requirement that TV and radio stations provide a specific quantity of news and public affairs programming. But they pointed out that the agency's Deregulation Order still emphasized "the basic responsibility to contribute to the overall discussion of issues confronting the community," calling it "a non-delegable duty for which each licensee will be held individually accountable."

Except in Chicago and Milwaukee, apparently. "The petitions have no provided evidence that the named licensees exercised their editorial discretion in bad faith," the agency ruled in 2007. "Quantity is not necessarily an accurate measure of the overall responsiveness of a licensee's programming." The Commission reiterated this stance in its response on Friday to CMA/MPIMC's appeal, which included an updated study indicating that Chicago and Milwaukee TV stations air more political advertising than election coverage during a typical thirty minute newscast.

It should be noted that the FCC could have done something short of denying all these licenses. The agency could have put into the files of some of these stations a comment observing the lack of local election coverage and a statement expecting more come the next license renewal date. But instead the Commission has boosted the status quo. When it comes to the renewal process, an FCC broadcast "license" continues to be that in name only. For all practical purposes it is real estate.

Further reading
The CMA/MPIMC Petition to Deny

Category: 杭州桑拿

Opinion: How Microsoft can turn the negative Vista PR tide

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Things have been awfully tough for Microsoft over the past year. Aside from all of its woes with Yahoo and Jerry Yang, the company has faced a PR nightmare on the Vista front. HangZhou Night Net

It's being hammered from all sides by companies like Apple that are trying to paint a poor picture of Vista, and almost every article about the OS discusses its problems, but never the fact that it's actually selling quite well. Or that most of the crashes were associated with poor graphics driver code, which has since been fixed. In essence, Microsoft has been able to turn things around, but no one seems to notice.

Over the past year alone, Microsoft has been shaken by criticism of bloated code, slow performance, device incompatibility, User Access Control annoyances, security problems, and much more. All the while, it has been trying desperately to finally do away with XP and force all of the Windows faithful to switch to Vista.

And although a lesser company with fewer dollars in the bank and no stranglehold on the industry could have collapsed under the pressure, Microsoft still has been able to enjoy billions in profit.

But will it last forever? With a seemingly ceaseless onslaught of attacks from all sides, Microsoft is experiencing extremely bad PR and needs to turn things around quickly if it wants to solidify Vista as XP's heir. If it doesn't, Vista may stand alongside Windows ME as another "forgotten" OS that is simply bypassed in favor of the next version.

The problems so far

Over the past 18 months, Microsoft has stayed relatively tight-lipped about the issues Vista faces. All the while, competitors like Apple have harped on problems like driver support and slow performance with nary a word from the Microsoft camp.

Microsoft now admits that it should have fought back sooner. At the recent Worldwide Partner Conference, Brad Brooks, Microsoft's VP of Windows Vista consumer marketing, said his company is finally ready to strike back.

"You thought the sleeping giant was still sleeping?" he said. "Well, we've woken up, and it's time to take our message forward."

But what exactly is Microsoft's message going forward? Surely, it can't simply ignore the fact that Dell and Lenovo each offered to downgrade customers' Vista software to XP Professional through a special loophole called "downgrade rights." And it certainly can't ignore General Motors and other companies that said they would rather stick with XP and are seriously considering "bypassing Vista." In reality, Microsoft can't ignore any problem before it starts taking its "message forward."

The problem isn't necessarily that the OS is that bad or that Windows 7 promises to be such a fantastic operating system. Instead, the real issue is that Microsoft has lost much of its focus and needs to realize that it's not doing enough to coax companies into switching.

According to the New York Times, Intel, a company that employs over 80,000 people, performed an internal study to decide if it should switch to Vista or keep XP. After trying to find potential benefits of upgrading to Vista, the company couldn't find one. That doesn't mean that it won't upgrade to Vista in the future, but doesn't it say something about the perceived viability of Microsoft's latest OS?

Microsoft obviously realizes companies aren't jumping on the bandwagon, and Steve Ballmer was willing to admit that his company has faced a number of issues while asserting that "Vista is a work in progress." But as Microsoft tries to turn things around, time is running out.

The company has already said that we should expect Windows 7 by early 2010 and it will have the same high hardware requirements that are needed to run Vista. But in two years, those "steep" hardware requirements won't be nearly as expensive, meaning that Windows 7 could look relatively lightweight and speedy compared to Vista at launch. And, with the advent of XP SP3, which adds some of the additional security features that made Vista a more valuable proposition, Microsoft is having a hard time justifying the need for its latest OS.

What must be vexing for Microsoft is that Vista's sales numbers are actually quite strong. Realizing that, why is Microsoft forced to release white papers to reassure potential customers that Vista is actually more secure than XP and they shouldn't wait for Windows 7?

"There is no need to wait for Windows 7," the company wrote. "It is a goal of the Windows 7 release to minimize application compatibility for customers who have deployed Windows Vista since there was considerable kernel and device level innovation in Windows Vista. The Windows 7 release is expected to have only minor changes in these areas."

Unfortunately, I just don't think that's enough to justify the purchase of Vista for all those holdouts. Why not just wait for Windows 7 and save all that money and deployment time? Instead, Microsoft needs to stop talking about XP and about Windows 7 and start focusing on the highlights of Windows Vista itself.

How to turn things around

It's no secret that Microsoft spent millions developing Vista, and the last thing it wants is to not see the kind of return it enjoyed on previous versions of the operating system. But in order to do that, it needs to change its messaging.

First off, Microsoft needs to continue harping on the fact that Windows Vista is actually more secure than XP and make companies understand that if they're worried about data security, XP is not the best option.

Secondly, Microsoft needs to stop the bleeding on the PR front and finally put Apple back on its heels. For the past year, Apple has run roughshod over Microsoft and the company has yet to respond. Maybe it should highlight the fact that Microsoft has sold over 140 million units of Vista and that Apple has failed to even come close to that figure. Even better, maybe it should point out that many of those incompatibility issues that plagued the OS last year have been fixed and most hardware running on XP should work just fine on Vista.

And finally, Microsoft needs to stop talking about XP and Windows 7 and focus all of its efforts on reassuring customers that Vista is the only operating system they should care about.

In the past few months alone, Microsoft has championed the release of Service Pack 3 and Bill Gates has gone on record discussing how much better Windows 7 will be than Vista. By doing that, Microsoft has made customers forget about Vista and start thinking that it's nothing more than a bridge between a known quantity in XP and a more efficient product in Windows 7.

Right now, Microsoft is in a strange position. Although it has been enjoying success with Vista, it's the only one to see it. With companies saying they would rather stick with XP and critics coming out in droves to feed off the PR carcass, Microsoft looks like it's at wit's end. But with a better PR campaign and a greater focus on Vista itself, there's no reason to think it can't highlight the fact that many of the issues that it faced back in 2007 are all but gone in 2008.

Category: 杭州桑拿

GM, Toyota fight proposed XM-Sirius HD radio mandate

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Two of the nation's top auto manufacturers have weighed in on the proposed merger of Sirius and XM radio, writing in opposition to a provision requiring post-union satellite radio receivers to incorporate HD radio technology. "The proponents of the proposed condition are seeking an unprecedented requirement regulating the choice of entertainment technologies in an automotive environment," a General Motors and Toyota exec wrote to the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday. HangZhou Night Net

The aforementioned proponents include HD radio investor Clear Channel, three United States Senators, a host of public radio stations, and, of course, Ibiquity, the developer and licenser of HD radio. Ibiquity filed with the FCC on Wednesday, arguing that all interoperable receivers built for the merged entity should include HD reception, with some exceptions. "Only devices that exclude analog AM/FM (satellite-only devices) or devices with a separate satellite control and display should be exempt from the requirement to include HD Radio technology," an Ibiquity veep told the agency. As long as consumers see a display that makes terrestrial and satellite radio seem interchangeable, "the condition to include HD Radio technology should apply," Ibiquity says.

In the past, Ibiquity has filed comments with the Commission expressing fear that a united XM/Sirius could hurt HD radio. "As the sole provider of satellite services, the merged entity will have greater leverage over retailers, car manufacturers and supplies," Ibiquity CEO Robert Struble warned in January. "This combined satellite monopoly would be in a better position to act anti-competitively to exclude HD Radio products."

But GM and Toyota see the future differently. To their minds, they're the ones most likely to get pushed around by the FCC's final decision on the merger. "HD is already penetrating the automotive sector without a mandate," they write. "Several manufacturers are either currently offering HD or have announced plans to make HD radio standard or optional in future models. Nothing in our companies’ respective agreements with XM inhibits our ability to offer HD radio."

And they add that a mandatory HD requirement might lessen the service's incentive to improve. "Any mandate will inherently distort the normal incentives to cost reduce and further improve the HD product offering," GM/Toyota conclude. "The Commission simply should not ignore the demonstrated success of a market-based approach."

Channels vs. spectrum

Meanwhile the reform groups Public Knowledge (PK) and the Media Access Project (MAP) are having themselves a mini-lobby-a-thon on this issue. On Thursday PK/MAP filed lengthy comments with the agency that challenge several of the "voluntary commitments" that Sirius and XM have put in writing in exchange for a merger, most notably the channel set aside promise and the open device commitment.

Sirius and XM say they will reserve four percent of their full-time audio channels for noncommercial and informational programming. They define said channels as those that "broadcast on a continuous basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week." But PK/MAP warn that this provision sets the stage for some pretty sneaky maneuvering."For example, the [merged] licensee could choose to shut down each of its full-time stations for 5 minutes a day when listenership is low," the groups write, "thus taking them out of the realm of stations that are 'broadcast on a continuous basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week'."

That's one of the reasons why MAP/PK wants a set-aside based on total spectrum capacity, not channels. "This will permit the number of actual channels to increase as compression technology improves," they suggest. "And it will prevent any effort by the new company to reduce the set-aside."

In addition, MAP/PK wonder why Sirius/XM proposes to wait as long as a year establish its open-device policy: "The merged company will permit any device manufacturer to develop equipment that can deliver the company’s satellite radio service," Sirius/XM promises, but "within one year following consummation of the merger." It will take long enough for manufacturers to develop new equipment even without a moratorium, MAP/PK says. The open-device requirement should start immediately.

Sirius and XM also say that they want to review receiver equipment built by competitive manufacturers to make sure that it satisfies "technical and quality assurance standards and tests established by the combined company." MAP/PK argue that this will just give the merged entity veto power over equipment builders. If the FCC thinks such oversight is appropriate, it should appoint an independent laboratory to do the testing, MAP/PK recommends. The Commission should also establish a "Monitor trustee" to oversee the merger/voluntary commitment process, or "create another enforcement mechanism that will permit the speedy resolution of complaints against the merged company."

Further readings GM/Toyota's filingIbiquity's latest filingMAP/PK's latest filing

Category: 杭州桑拿

Computer cashes in big at Texas Hold ‘Em tourney

admin | 08/07/2019 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

One of the proving grounds for artificial intelligence is games. Classic games have a fixed set of rules, and these make it easier for researchers to develop new techniques and algorithms that enable computers to play (and hopefully win) various games. Tic-tac-toe, checkers, and chess are all games where researchers have developed software that is capable of winning or drawing when paired off against the best human players in the world. Last weekend, researchers at the University of Alberta added another classic game to this list: poker. In a series of matches that took place over the Fourth of July weekend in Las Vegas, the researchers' Polaris poker program won against a groupof top-ranked online poker players. HangZhou Night Net

The first three games mentioned above are known as perfect information games. In games of this type, each player has all the available knowledge about the current state of the game. With that information, the player can, in theory, work out every possible outcome from that point. Given a computer's ability to evaluate hundreds of thousands (or more) of scenarios each second, they are an ideal tool for calculating probabilities in such games. Theoretically, with enough computing power, every possible outcome at each point in the game could be calculated, and a computer could never lose.

Poker, on the other hand, is not a perfect information game. Each player has a limited subset of the total information regarding the current state of the game. In Texas Hold 'Em, the poker variation played here, players are aware of the two cards they hold, plus the cards that are open to all on the table. But, critically, they do knot know what their opponents hold in their hands. Each action must be based on this limited amount of information. According to Prof. Bowling, the principal investigator on the Polaris project, "when you look at games where players are asked to make decisions with different amounts of information, missing information, poker is the quintessential game."

This was the second year that the Polaris software went head-to-head, so to speak, with human players. Last year, in a series of four matches, human players Phil Laak and Ali Eslami edged out Polaris 2-1-1. Over the course of the year, the researchers fine-tuned Polaris by improving its learning capability. The new Polaris was capable of identifying opponents' playing styles and could adapt by countering with a strategy that would be expected to give it the edge. To practice, the researchers said Polaris played eight billion games of poker against itself.

This year, Polaris again played four matches and, thanks to these improvements, it came out ahead. Each match consisted of 500 hands of poker. In the first of four matches, Polaris and the human players wound up in a draw. The second match ended with the human players up by $50,000. The third and fourth matches were decisive wins for Polaris—it won the two matches by ending up with nearly $150,000. While Polaris won, it is still not unbeatable, as shown by the first match. According to Bowling, though, given enough computational power, a computer could play perfectly. That would inevitably lead to a win, since people could be counted on to make mistakes.

With the win under their belt, the researchers are headed back to the lab—or cube—to code some new abilities for the Polaris system. Currently, it is limited to playing against two players and to playing a game of poker where the maximum bet is capped. The researchers hope to enable it to start playing more advanced versions of poker, such as the very popular no-limit Texas Hold 'Em. They also hope to extend this line of work into more real-world problems. "In general, problems in the real world are going to be more like poker than chess. You're not always going to have all the information," said Bowling.

Category: 杭州桑拿

The Second Coming: Ars goes in-depth with the iPhone 3G

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iPhone Parousia

iPhone 3G
Manufacturer: Apple (product page)
System requirements: Macintosh computer running Mac OS X 10.4.10 or later, USB 2.0 port, iTunes 7.7; Windows PC running Windows Vista or Windows XP SP2, USB 2.0 port, iTunes 7.7
Price: US$199 (8GB), US$299 (16GB) with new two-year contract in the US, $399/$499 unsubsidized for existing AT&T users. Worldwide prices vary depending on country and carrier. HangZhou Night Net

Buzz about the next version of the iPhone began before even the original iPhone was released just over a year ago. Although the EDGE-capable "2G" iPhone ended up being a smash success during its one-year reign, critics wanted a 3G version from the very beginning. And so Apple giveth. Even though the iPhone 3G may not seem much different than its predecessor to the average person on the street, that didn't stop the Apple RDF from permeating excited customers' brains as iPhone Launch Day 2.0 drew near.

Unfortunately, most of us know what happened on Launch Day 2.0. Activation woes galore turned what could have been a hype-worthy day that surpassed the original iPhone launch into a headache for pretty much everyone involved—and not just in the US, but across the entire world. Whether this affected Apple's first-day sales in any significant way we will probably never know. However, launch day is just one day, and things appear to have smoothed out since then. Customers lined up down and around the block for days in a row after the launch, making the iPhone 3G launch apparently far more successful than the original iPhone's launch.

In this review, we take a long, hard look at the iPhone 3G, both as a consumer device and as an enterprise device. After all, part of the appeal of the new device is that a number of software improvements have finally made it enterprise-ready, or so claims Apple's marketing. From a business user's point of view, however, if you think that the iPhone is a drop-in BlackBerry replacement, think again.

Unboxing and accessories

The iPhone 3G's box is nearly identical to the iPhone 2G's box in every possible way. Every dimension and every color, down to the way the top slides off of the bottom to reveal the iPhone laying on top of a packet containing the microfiber cloth and documentation, which in turn lifts off to reveal the accessories—it's all the same, except for the "3G" printed on the side of the box.

Contained within the accessory reservoir are a pair of iPhone headphones, an iPhone/iPod USB cord, and a USB-compatible power brick.

Faithful readers may remember our observations from last year, when we snapped a photo of the accessories included with the original iPhone (which included all of the above, plus a dock). "[T]his many accessories may or may not continue to come included in the box as future iPhone generations get released. As one commenter aptly observed in the discussion about Infinite Loop's iPhone unboxing photos, 'Look at all those accessories. I can't wait for the 3rd or so generation iPhone that comes with a phone and a cable.'" It certainly looks as if Apple has begun down the path of fewer included accessories with the iPhone 3G. Sometimes, it just sucks to be right.

If you want a dock for your iPhone 3G (which we, personally, consider important to us), then you'll either have to buy an iPhone 3G dock separately from Apple for $29, or buy the $9 iPhone 3G Universal Dock adapter (for use with your Apple Universal Dock, if you have one).

Meet the new iPhone, same as the old iPhone

The iPhone 3G is available in 8GB and 16GB form, and with either black or white backings (the front is black for everyone). Only the 16GB version is available in both black and white, while the 8GB version is only available in black. We have had many people ask us what our opinions are on white versus black (although it appears that the masses, in general, prefer black). Black seems to look slicker overall, but it's extremely finger-printy and it displays imperfections (smudges and scratches) much more than white does. White might get a little dirty, but, just as was the case with the old black and white plastic iPods, white tends to hide imperfections better. Ultimately, this choice comes down to personal preference.

The iPhone 3G is 4.5 inches tall, 2.4 inches wide, and 0.48 inches thick with a 3.5 inch (diagonal) screen—almost exactly identical to the old iPhone, which was 0.46 inches thick. However, the difference in thickness is practically invisible, thanks to Apple's slight refinement of the shape of the back casing. The back side of the iPhone now tapers towards the edges of the device, making it seem thinner in the hand than the old iPhone despite its extra thickness. Maybe the old iPhone is just big-boned.

EDGE iPhone on the left, iPhone 3G on the right

As you can see, the back of the new iPhone is also now plastic instead of metal. This change shaves 0.1 ounces off the weight of the device, to 4.7 ounces, which is surprisingly noticeable when holding the iPhone. Even though the weight difference from the original iPhone seems noticeable, the device still feels good to hold and pocket, and it doesn't feel cheap or empty. And, although it's still heftier than some competitors—like the Motorola Q, which weighs in at 4.0 ounces, and the BlackBerry Pearl at 3.2 ounces—the weight is once again considered a non-issue by all of the Ars Technica reviewers. Speaking of the BlackBerry Pearl, here are a couple of size comparison photos:

There are other, very minor differences in the iPhone 3G's accessories compared to the original set. Apple changed the shape and reduced the size of the miniature power brick that comes with the iPhone, making it not quite so smooth, but definitely more compact.

New on the left, old on the right

New power plug on top

The iPhone headphones have also pretty much stayed the same. They are still a slightly modified version of iPod headphones, except with a built-in speaker/clicker on the cord to the right earbud so that you can hold phone conversations over the headphones and control your music. After spending roughly the past year using this functionality built into our iPhone headphones, we find it hard to function without them. The iPhone 3G's headphones, however, gain about one inch in length from the old iPhone's headphones:

Of course, there are some third-party headphone solutions if you're interested in a different audio experience than the one Apple offers while still preserving the clicking and audio-in features. We tested out a pair of Skullcandy iPhone headphones at Macworld 2008, for example, and found them to offer better audio quality than Apple's. We'll speak more about audio quality on the iPhone 3G later in the review.

Category: 杭州桑拿

Report: security issues keep IMing out of UK businesses

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Instant messaging may have become nearly ubiquitous across the web since ICQ first launched in 1996, but a new report from IM research company ProcessOne suggests that the vast majority of UK businesses—72 percent—have deliberately chosen not to use publicly available IM services from the likes of AIM, Yahoo, MSN, or Gtalk. The programs' potential usefulness is not in question, given that 74 percent of the same test group believes that IM software could facilitate intracompany collaboration, but any company that wishes to use an IM client faces a myriad of security and data retention concerns that many UK companies are ill-equipped or simply unwilling to tackle. HangZhou Night Net

Government regulations in the UK (and in the US, for that matter), require companies to retain a record of all electronic communications, including both instant and text messages. Saving IM conversations isn't difficult—most, if not all, personal IM clients already offer the option to maintain logs—but centralizing and archiving the various (unaltered) conversations of dozens or hundreds of employees could quickly become an administrative nightmare. Most of the popular personal IM clients, including those with professional versions (AIM, Gtalk), avoid positioning themselves as full corporate solutions.

The enterprise instant messaging (EIM) market is officially served by a separate set of products, including Microsoft's Office Communicator, IBM's Lotus Sametime, and the open-source Jabber Extensible Communications Platform. These products offer an IM service that's oriented towards corporate needs, and can be configured to store and archive conversations in order to maintain regulatory legal compliance. Some of the various EIM products are also capable of interfacing with each other or with some personal IM clients.

The extremely high percentage of UK businesses that have officially banned IM programs based on security concerns suggests that the current crop of enterprise instant messaging software has yet to address the concerns of the group meant to form its core constituency. The strength of the correlation, however, is unclear. The ready availability of free personal IM alternatives, combined with security protocols that are rather more lax in reality than they are on paper, could easily lead to situations where personnel who might normally push for a corporate IM client have already finagled their own solution—sometimes with tacit permission, sometimes without. ProcessOne also notes that some corporations have cited perceived difficulties in persuading employees to use the new EIM product as opposed to a standard personal messenger as reasons for not adopting a corporate IM product.

Research has shown that a properly managed IM environment can significantly improve worker productivity by reducing the number and scope of interruptions most employees deal with on a daily basis. It's also a technology many employees are familiar with, and are comfortable using. Despite potential productivity gains, however, most companies are erring on the side of caution when it comes to formally deploying any type of IM product, be it personal or enterprise. The benefits, however tantalizing, have yet to outweigh the very real risks.

Category: 杭州桑拿

Protectionist trade law used to settle domestic patent tiffs

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Companies looking for a competitive edge over their rivals have in recent years been making use of a loophole found in US patent law. Normally, Company A will allege that Company B is importing a product that infringes its patent, at which point a court battle ensues, lawyers get rich, and so on. There exists a loophole, however, whereby Company A can also file an injunction with the International Trade Commission, who do not have to abide by a Supreme Court ruling that frowned upon sales injunctions. Obviously, this only works when Company B's product is manufactured overseas and imported into the US, but thanks to globalization, that category is pretty vast. HangZhou Night Net

In these cases, the ITC can ban the importation of Company B's product if it finds patent infringement. In fact, chip maker Qualcomm and a host of other companies have faced the possibility of having imports of their products banned by the ITC. Now Techdirt has found a law review article from Santa Clara University that examines the use of Section 337 of the 1930 Trade Act (the law in question).

The article finds that Section 337 is used as often as not between two US companies, hardly in keeping with a piece of protectionist legislation that was designed to protect US companies from foreign competition. Companies are also simultaneously using legal challenges through the courts and Section 337, and going the ITC route is often easier, as the ITC does not recognize defenses allowable in court.

In cases between a US company and a foreign rival, the ITC is supposed to show neutrality, simply deciding on the facts, although it has been alleged that this is often not the case, potentially in contravention of international trade treaties such as TRIPS.

Could US legislators be spurred into closing the loophole? Perhaps a particularly egregious case between two US companies might result in such an event. I'm skeptical of such an outcome; Section 337 can be painted by defenders as the best kind of protectionism against foreign competition, and in a time of economic hardship, relaxing trade barriers into the US seems more than a little unlikely.

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GAO: nobody’s minding store at the Universal Service Fund

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The Federal Communications Commission's messy, troubled, and financially unstable Universal Service Fund (USF) got another 2MB of brutally honest feedback on Friday, this time from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO's survey of the USF's High Cost (HC) program—designed to lower phone prices for rural and some urban consumers—concludes that HC's structure results in "inconsistent distribution of support to carriers in all states." That's a nice way of saying that the plan reimburses rural telephone and broadband providers that offer the same services for different levels of money, and the USF can't keep track of the discrepancies. HangZhou Night Net

"There is a clearly established purpose for the high-cost program," GAO concluded, "but the FCC has not established performance goals or measures." Specifically, the agency hasn't set across-the-board benchmarks for its recipients for "intermediate and multiyear periods." Translation: the agency hasn't established meaningful expectations at all.

But that's not the worst of it. GAO basically says that the USF's audits of carriers aren't really audits. "Carrier data validation focuses primarily on completion and not accuracy"—a polite way of saying that USF auditors make sure all the data is submitted, but don't check whether it's accurate.

"These weaknesses could contribute to excessive program expenditures," the GAO concludes. Uh, yeah—like a program that now costs over $4 billion a year.

You need ambition

It is a fact that ever since the dawn of telephone service, rural consumers have been getting the short end of the telco stick. Alexander Bell's Gilded Age telephone system focused on the urban middle class: doctors, businessmen, high-class clientèle. Theodore Vail's AT&T did a little better during the Progressive Era, but not much—independents provided much of the rural service, endlessly battling with AT&T over long-distance interconnection. Rural service sank like a stone during the Depression, not to improve significantly until the 1960s. As late as 2002 it cost telcos three times more to provide rural phone access than it did to provide service to city dwellers.

Some believe the USF should be
blown up like the Death Star

Shortly after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 established the goal of universal service, the FCC set up the USF, which tithes interstate phone bills to support its high-cost, low-income rural health care and schools and libraries programs. But nobody denies that the USF is a mess. Critics say that one reason its High Cost program is so troubled is that smaller competitive phone carriers get reimbursed based not on their actual expenses, but on the level of support that the big incumbent telcos receive. This is probably one of many reasons that the program's costs have ballooned of late, to $4.3 billion in 2007, a 153 percent jump between 1998 and 2007. More and more of that money, although not a majority of it, now goes to smaller firms.

Another reason for galloping costs, the GAO observes, is that the FCC doesn't keep HC recipients on a very tight leash. "12 years after the passage of the 1996 Act and after distributing over $30 billion in high cost programs support, FCC has yet to develop specific performance goals and measures for the program," the audit agency writes. The FCC doesn't establish intermediate objectives for providers, GAO says, a nice way of saying that the government doesn't actually lay out specific things it expects providers to deliver.

But perhaps the most important conclusion of the GAO report is that nobody really audits the cost records of these telcos for, well, the truth. FCC and USF data collection efforts only audit a small percentage of telcos, and "generally focus on completeness and consistency of carriers' data submissions, but not the accuracy of the data." In many instances the cost and line count data isn't verified. "Inaccuracies in cost and line count data, which are not uncovered through review, could facilitate excessive program expenditures," GAO concludes. Woah. Ya think?

The FCC responded to the GAO survey and says that it is already implementing some of the agency's recommendations. The Commission's Inspector General is presently auditing 650 USF program recipients, the FCC says: "As part of these audits, for the first time, the high-cost program is subject to statistical sampling and attest audits to determine compliance with the [Communications] Act and the Commission rules." Hope springs eternal.

Further reading:
The GAO report on the USF's High Cost Program

Category: 杭州桑拿