Careful with that iPhone, or you might end up in Kazakhstan (Updated)

admin | 02/09/2019 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

As the B-list of reviewers churn out mounds of information about their iPhone 3Gs this weekend, a number of us have discovered a glaring bug in the iPhone's geotagging data. It appears as if Apple's software accidentally pegs some of us (or everyone?) in the wrong hemisphere, and when you apply those coordinates to a map, they end up on the other side of the world. For example, my photos taken in Chicago are showing up in China, near Kazakhstan: 苏州美甲

This bug is also being seen by Ars Technica's Clint Ecker (also in China, which looks shockingly like Wicker Park in Chicago), Macworld's Dan Moren (he's in Kyrgyzstan, also known as Boston), and Macworld's Jason Snell (sitting in a boat in China's Yellow Sea, which is nicknamed "San Francisco"). In fact, there's already a thread about the issue on Apple's support discussion boards as it applies to those in the southern hemisphere, like Australia, because Apple stores the data as Latitude North and Longitude West instead of Latitude South and Longitude East. Whoops.

Clint's digging further into the issue as we speak, but for the time being, do some sight-seeing while you're on the other side of the world, would ya?

Update: Further tests show that on occasion, the iPhone tags photos with the right data, and other times, it tags it wrong. We are unable (as of yet) to find any sort of consistent pattern that can correlate when it's right with certain conditions and when it's wrong with other conditions. The problem is reproducible across multiple iPhones on multiple computers, but those same iPhones and same computers will occasionally spit out correct data too. Weird.

Update x2: We have nailed down the problem to an iPhoto -> Finder bug. As it turns out, it's not a problem with the iPhone specifically, but some data that gets lost when you drag photos from iPhoto into the Finder. Apple is already aware of the issue, so hopefully it will be resolved soon!

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Off shore wind farm locations found via satellite

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With oil and energy prices skyrocketing, more people around the world are starting to look at green and renewable energy sources. Wind power, which was found to be a true green alternative to fossil fuels, has gotten a recent boost thanks to a bet by oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens. His company, Mesa Power, is planning a $2 billion investment in what will be the world's largest wind farm ever built, set to be located in west Texas. According to Pickens, if the US were to take advantage of what he calls the wind corridor that runs from western Texas to the Canadian border, the country could have 20 percent of its energy supplied by wind power. 苏州美甲

Image credit: NASA/JPL

20 percent is not bad, but where else could large scale wind farms be built? A Publication in the current issue of Geophysical Research Letters by a team of scientists from NASA's JPL uses satellite data to measure the surface stresses over the oceans. Recent technological advances have made floating wind farms possible, but the key is putting them in the right locations. The article examined eight years of data from the QuikSCAT data to determine the energy distribution over the world's ocean. The research identified three causes of regional variations in the power carried by the winds: "land mass deflection of the surface flow, the gap wind channeled by land topography, and surface stress variation produced by atmospheric buoyancy driven by ocean front."

From the data, the researchers found that high wind areas over the ocean could be used to harness between 500 and 800 W/m2. That's less than solar power can generate under ideal conditions, which is 1000 W/m2, although ideal solar conditions are rare. Given the higher efficiency of wind power over solar, however, the cost per kWh of electricity produced would be less. The research identified a host of locations where the winds blow continually almost year round due to various combinations of geographical and physical effects. High wind areas highlighted by the JPL were Cape Mendocino off the coast of northern California, the seas around Tasmania and New Zealand, in the south Pacific, and off Tierra del Fuego in South America.

Geophysical Research Letters, 2008. DOI: 10.1029/2008GL034172

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Apple details security fixes in iPhone\/iTouch 2.0 firmware

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Now that the iPhone and iPod touch 2.0 firmware is out, many device owners have probably already downloaded it in order to take advantage of new features. Some folks may have downloaded it because iTunes told them to, but others may be waiting a bit to make sure the new firmware won't turn into the Nokia phone from Transformers. If you're in the latter group and need some encouragement, or if you're just curious about the contents of the firmware, Apple has posted the list of security updates included in the 2.0 update. 苏州美甲

There are 13 fixes in all, 11 of which are related to Safari or WebKit. The two non-browser fixes are for the CFNetwork framework and the kernel itself, and correct issues with HTTPS proxy spoofing and a device reset that can be caused by certain types of network packets. One of the WebKit updates removes a cross-site scripting vulnerability related to URL handling, and the two other WebKit fixes take care of JavaScript issues that could cause crashes.

That's five vulnerabilities down and eight to go, all of which are related to Safari. The first of the updates addresses a spoofing vulnerability with Unicode, and the firmware also fixes another cross-site scripting vulnerability related to Unicode and HTML. A certificate bug that could cause information to be disclosed has been tidied up, as have not one but two JavaScript crash issues in Safari. Also corrected are a WebCore problem with style sheets that could crash the browser, a memory consumption issue with XML, and a libxslt crash bug. None of the issues present major threats, but you should still go get the new firmware just to be on the safe side, so hit up iTunes for the goodies.

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Tip: Updating iPhone to 5A347 reduces yellow tinge

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Many of our readers have noted that their new iPhone 3Gs purchased this past Friday had screens that were exhibiting a much yellower hue than their original iPhones, even when updated to the latest firmware using iTunes. Some individuals have even gone so far as to use a professional chroma meter to measure the temperature of each screen (no mention of firmware version). 苏州美甲

Jason Snell of Macworld wrote an article on the new warmer screens and managed got the following comment from Apple PR:

“We moved the white point in order to make [the display feel] more natural,” Borchers said, suggesting that consumers are more likely to appreciate warmer images, especially when viewing photos.

Ars Technica forum readers have discovered that the reason is because the iPhones purchased in-store shipped with a slightly older firmware revision—2.0 5A345. Updating your older phone via the built-in mechanism in iTunes will have picked up the newer revision, which resets the screen's color calibration to be a little less yellow and more like the original iPhone. Furthermore, store-purchased iPhones can be set to the 5A347 firmware by attaching the device to your main computer, allowing a backup to be performed, and then clicking the "Restore" button.

This process will take you at least 30 minutes depending on how much content you have on your iPhone, but if that yellow tinge is bothering you, it might be worth it.

Apple's previous comments on this issue makes the situation even more confusing.Did they make the screen too yellow in 5A345 and decide to tone it down in 5A347?

Two iPhone 3Gs running 2.0 firmwares 5A347 (left), and 5A345 (right)

We have confirmed that updating the firmware from 345 to 347 changes the color calibration to be less yellow. We did this by taking an iPhone purchased at an AT&T store on Friday (5A345), restored and updated its firmware, and compared it to other iPhone 3G models running the 5A345 firmware and 5A347.

We synchronized the screen brightness levels and auto brightness features and confirmed that all iPhone hardware running the 5A347 firmware exhibited a less-yellow calibration than their 5A345 brethren. The resulting color temperature change can be seen in the above photograph.

Update: 2.0 firmware is prefixed with 5A, not 3A.

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NFL throws flag on Comcast for NFL Network discrimination

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The NFL Network (NFLN) is sticking with its claim that Comcast discriminates against the sportscaster. Its 100-page statement, filed with the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday, says yet again that the cable giant harms the NFL by putting its programming on a higher-priced tier while broadcasting Comcast's own sports channels on a basic tier. 苏州美甲

The statement comes in response to a June 20 filing by Comcast answering NFLN's original complaint. Comcast insists that the NFL Network agreed to the current arrangement. "The NFL's complaint is a blatant example of regulatory gamesmanship," Comcast wrote to the FCC in its own defense. "It is an attempt to repudiate agreements that were freely entered into by two sophisticated parties, one of which is the most lucrative and powerful sports enterprises in the world."

NFLN calls this bunk: "The act of discrimination about which the NFL Network complains is not that contract," the entertainment group writes, "but rather Comcast's subsequent action: moving the NFL Network to a digital tier for which subscribers have to pay a premium, while at the same time leaving its own national sports channels on the basic analog tier."

NFL Network wants the FCC to fix the problem by ordering Comcast to run the service alongside its own basic tier sports channels, prominent among them Versus and the Golf Channel. And NFLN wants that parity to start right away with the upcoming season.

In 1992 Congress added Section 616 to the Communications Act, which forbids a multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) from discriminating against content providers "on the basis of affiliation or nonaffiliation" with the MVPD. NFLN invokes this law on its behalf. It charges that Comcast's "discriminatory" tiering practices have caused a "dramatic" drop in NFL Network subscribers, more selling and operating costs, and have harmed the programmer's ability to compete for advertising revenue.

Comcast's June 20 filing argues that NFL Network does not need its services and can bargain for broadcast access elsewhere. "The NFL is a sophisticated party," Comcast wrote on June 20, "with abundant expertise in bargaining, experienced counsel, and all of the other resources needed to negotiate business arrangements concerning programming that it monopolizes."

But NFLN insists that Comcast represents the monopoly in this relationship, dominating a third of all cable programming: "Comcast's unparalleled size and market reach as the nation's largest MVPD put it in a unique position to determine the success or failure of an independent programming service [italics are NFLN's]."

It's not discrimination if you suck

Comcast defends its segregation of the NFL Network in a more expensive sports tier by comparing it unfavorably to its own Golf Channel and Versus networks. Its June statement highlights what Comcast calls "just a few inconvenient truths"—that NFL Network carries an insufficient number of live, regular season games and charges a high per-subscriber license fee to MVPDs, that Cox also carries NFLN on a sports tier, that when Comcast and NFL Network cut their carriage deal, NFLN did not feature any live regular-season games (and now offers only eight each season).

"Despite its vastly smaller slate of live-event programming, NFLN charges cable operators license fees that are more than twice the fees charged by either the Golf Channel or Versus," Comcast says. "Comcast's decision not to saddle most of its customers with the high costs of the limited-appeal NFLN is eminently reasonable, and the decisions of other MVPDs further validate that choice."

NFLN's latest filing concedes that some of these assertions are true. But they don't really matter, the sportscaster asserts, because what really matters are ratings, and the NFL Network's ratings are much higher than Comcast's sports channels. "Comcast's justification for its discriminatory conduct is therefore empty and unavailing," NFLN concludes.

There's also a he said/she said going on here about whether Comcast committed the no-no of demanding a financial interest in NFL programming and made it a condition for getting access to any tier at all. NFLN says that happened. Comcast says it was the opposite: the indie sports programmer sought "equity interest" in Versus, because, according to Comcast, NFL team owners wouldn't have to share that kind of profit with NFL players in a union contract.

"The NFL is the richest and most powerful of all sports leagues with immense market power," Comcast exec Sena Fitzmaurice told reporters after NFLN submitted its filing on Thursday. "The NFL has received precisely what it bargained for and needs no government assistance." Ars suspects that this fight could go on for a while.

Further reading
The NFL Network's latest filingComcast's June 20 statement

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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. 苏州美甲

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.

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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. 苏州美甲

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.

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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. 苏州美甲

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

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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. 苏州美甲

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.

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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. 苏州美甲

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

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