12/31/2007

IBM to buy Israeli startup for $300 million

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N) is in advanced talks to buy Israeli start-up XIV Information Systems for $300 million to $350 million, financial daily Globes reported on Monday.

XIV officials declined to comment.

According to Globes, XIV has developed a system that replaces conventional storage technologies through the use of grid technology and less expensive hardware.

Wal-Mart’s online movie failure: DRM, high prices to blame

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Wal-Mart, the leading DVD retailer, has announced plans to dismantle its commercial video download offering. The service lasted less than a year and never made it past the initial beta test stage. Wal-Mart’s decision to exit the video download market at this time was precipitated by HP’s plans to discontinue development of the HP Video Merchant Services system, the underlying technology that Wal-Mart used to operate the site. More important, Wal-Mart’s online store performed very poorly in the first place.

When Wal-Mart announced the service in February, we characterized it as underwhelming and predicted poor sales. In order to obtain distribution agreements with all of the major players, and to protect the sale of physical goods like DVDs, Wal-Mart allowed the studios to dictate the pricing model. New releases were priced equally with the physical DVDs and the content was all heavily encumbered with (Windows-only) DRM that prevented playback on more than one computer. Obviously, consumers didn’t see any value in paying full price for diminished flexibility.

At the same price, one could buy a DVD, which is more or less universally playable, or one could buy a DRMed movie that, throughout its entire life, can only be played on one computer, and cannot be backed up, clipped, or transferred elsewhere. DVDs sport a crude form of DRM in CSS, of course, but they are not tied to one computer for life.

Yesterday, we reported that peer-to-peer filesharing applications are present on a significant portion of the world’s computers. I suspect that those people aren’t all just swapping Linux ISOs and public domain literature. The message here is very clear: draconian DRM and unrealistic pricing are turning consumers away from legitimate retail channels and giving them a big incentive to adopt underground file sharing.

iPhone 1.1.3 Update Confirmed, Breaks Apps and Unlocks

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Gizmodo has gathered conclusive evidence which confirms that the iPhone Firmware 1.1.3 update is 100% real.

It installs only from iTunes using the obligatory Apple private encryption key, which nobody has. The list of new features, like GPS-like triangulation positioning in Google Maps, has been confirmed too.

Apparently it will be coming out next week, but there’s bad news as expected: it breaks the unlocks, patches the previous vulnerabilities used by hackers and takes away all your third-party applications.

Record data breaches in 2007, groups say

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

The loss or theft of personal data such as credit card and Social Security numbers soared to unprecedented levels in 2007, and the trend isn’t expected to turn around anytime soon as hackers stay a step ahead of security and laptops disappear with sensitive information.

And while companies, government agencies, schools and other institutions are spending more to protect ever-increasing volumes of data with more sophisticated firewalls and encryption, the investment often is too little too late.

“More of them are experiencing data breaches, and they’re responding to them in a reactive way, rather than proactively looking at the company’s security and seeing where the holes might be,” said Linda Foley, who founded the San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center after becoming an identity theft victim herself.

12/30/2007

Google’s privacy faux pas with Reader

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

In its attempts to add social elements to products, is Google pulling a Facebook?

Google Reader has allowed people to share items they are interested in with others since 2006 with hyperlinks, clips on blogs and storing them on a public page that you had to know the URL for to see.

Last week, Google tweaked Google Reader so that your shared items are automatically made available to your Google Talk contacts.

But, as anyone who uses instant messaging knows, not all of your IM contacts are friends. Many are acquaintances or people you barely know and with whom you may not want to share a reading list.

Google, has been crucified in the blogosphere over its Google Reader change, with bloggers saying the Google Talk contact sharing feature should be opt in, not opt out.

To calm the masses, Google posted an item on the Google Reader Blog that explains the company’s reasoning behind the change and tells how to clear the shared-items list and how to tag items to share with a limited number of people.

Windows Home Server bug corrupts files

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Given that the point of Windows Home Server is to allow you to store your media files, a bug in the storage process that could result in corrupted files is bound to get attention.

Microsoft has issued a support document for the 13 or so (just kidding) people using Windows Home Server, the company’s latest product for those attempting to build the digital home of the future. Apparently there’s a flaw in the way Windows Home Server works with certain Microsoft applications, such as Windows Vista Photo Gallery, that could result in corrupted files if you use those applications to save files to the server. A list of the specific applications can be found in the support document.

New security rules for batteries on planes

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

If you don’t want to lose your spare lithium batteries for your camera, notebook or cell phone, you might want to pack carefully for your next flight.

New rules from the Transportation and Security Administration that take effect on January 1 ban travelers from carrying loose lithium batteries in checked baggage. Passengers are allowed to pack two spare batteries in their carry-on bag, as long as they’re in clear plastic baggies.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about the batteries that are already installed in the devices you’re bringing. The TSA has said it’s safe to check in items like a laptop or iPhone that already have the batteries in place.

The agency said that loose lithium batteries not installed in devices pose a fire risk to passenger planes. Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board could not rule out the possibility that lithium batteries started a fire in a plane at the Philadelphia National Airport last year, according to the Associated Press.

Record Industry Goes After Personal Use

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Despite more than 20,000 lawsuits filed against music fans in the years since they started finding free tunes online rather than buying CDs from record companies, the recording industry has utterly failed to halt the decline of the record album or the rise of digital music sharing.

Still, hardly a month goes by without a news release from the industry’s lobby, the Recording Industry Association of America, touting a new wave of letters to college students and others demanding a settlement payment and threatening a legal battle.

Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

12/29/2007

Saudi blogger arrested, held without charges

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Saudi Arabian officials have reportedly detained a blogger whose writing has criticized religious extremism in the country, according to the two press freedom groups and a regional human-rights organization.

Blogger and IT professional Fouad Ahmed al-Farhan, 32, was taken into custody on December 10, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported on Wednesday. His Arabic-language site now has a “Free Fouad” banner in English across the top.

In a letter sent to friends shortly before his arrest, al-Farhan wrote that he had been told that the interior ministry was investigating him and would pick him up within two weeks. At the time he described the worst case as being jailed for three days, but he was still being held without charge as of Friday, according to Joel Campagna, Middle East program coordinator for the CPJ in New York.

Wal-Mart Abandons Online Movie Downloads

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has closed an online movie download service it launched less than a year ago.

The retreat for Wal-Mart, which accounts for about 40 percent of all DVD sales, follows the company’s 2005 decision to abandoned efforts to build an online DVD rental service. The world’s largest retailer instead turned its rental service over to Netflix Inc.

Wal-Mart still operates a music download service and continues to sell CDs and DVDs at retail stores and over the Internet for shipping by mail.

A message on Wal-Mart’s video download Web site said the store closed Dec. 21. The Web site said customers who already have bought movies could continue to watch them.

AOL pulls plug on Netscape Web browser

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Netscape Navigator, the world’s first commercial Web browser and the launch pad of the Internet boom, will be pulled off life support Feb. 1 after a 13-year run.

Its current caretakers, Time Warner Inc.’s AOL, decided to kill further development and technical support to focus on growing the company as an advertising business. Netscape’s usage dwindled with Microsoft Corp.’s entry into the browser business, and Netscape all but faded away following the birth of its open-source cousin, Firefox.

“While internal groups within AOL have invested a great deal of time and energy in attempting to revive Netscape Navigator, these efforts have not been successful in gaining market share from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer,” Netscape Director Tom Drapeau wrote in a blog entry Friday.

12/28/2007

Warner Offers DRM-Free Music on Amazon

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Warner Music Group, a major holdout on selling music online without copy protection, caved in to the growing trend Thursday and agreed to sell its tunes on Amazon.com Inc.’s digital music store.

Until now, Warner Music had resisted offering songs by its artists in the MP3 format, which can be copied to multiple computers and burned onto CDs without restriction and played on most PCs and digital media players, including Apple Inc.’s iPod and Microsoft Corp.’s Zune.

The deal raises the total number of MP3s for sale through Amazon’s music download store to more than 2.9 million. Warner Music’s entire catalog, including work by artists Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin and Sean Paul, will be added to the site throughout the week. The Amazon store launched with nearly 2.3 million songs in September.

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