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Microsoft

Facebook Chat: Feeding The Addiction

By business, opinion, sarcasm, technology

So the release of Facebook Chat is all the buzz this morning, at least from what I can judge by the status updates of my friends. Apparently no one saw it coming. I’ve known about it for a couple of weeks, but didn’t think it would be released for a while.

This is bad news for people like me who are already borderline addicted to Facebook. It’s just like putting a six pack in front of an alcoholic. The temptation is just too great. The interesting thing to note, though, is that Facebook sees this as an AIM-killer. They think that by integrating a chat system into their already intricate social network, users will see it as a one-stop shop for social networking and instant messaging, putting AOL Instant Messenger on the back burner. I don’t know about that.

Personally, I’ve had an AIM screen name for almost ten years. Most people I know have had theirs for years and years, too. I don’t think you’re going to see an abandonment of any grand scale anytime soon, if ever. It’s not so much that people are loyal to products like AIM, it’s their familiarity factor and the average computer user’s resistance to dramatic change in the technology realm that will ultimately save AIM’s bottom line.

Then again, I don’t use the AIM client itself, but rather a Mac program called Adium. I’ve always been surprised that AIM allows other programs to use its network, because by doing so there’s no banner ad or anything like there is on the actual AIM program and consequently no money in the pockets of AOL. But of course I applaud them for having such an open source platform of sorts.

At any rate, it’s a nice new feature, but Facebook’s claim that it’ll take over AIM is about as threatening as Microsoft’s claim two years ago that the Zune would be an iPod killer. And we all know how that one turned out. I’m still laughing at you two years later, Bill Gates.

Microsoft’s Next Step Toward World Domination: Purchasing Yahoo!

By Uncategorized

I really hate Microsoft, for so many reasons. This just deepens my loathing of the mega software giant. They’re apparently taking a big leap towards taking over the world and killing us all, this time by snatching up Yahoo for a cool $44.6 billion dollars. I don’t even really use Yahoo besides their Flickr service, and consider them way behind in terms of technology and services compared to Google, whose many services and cool technologies I fully implement and support. This deal seems rather hostile and will position Microsoft as an even bigger, more monopolistic company. I still don’t think Yahoo will ever really be able to compete with Google on a level playing field. They are so ingrained into people’s minds as THE premiere search provider that there’s just no way to knock them off their high horse. I’ll be very interested to see where this whole thing goes.

Microsoft Corp. went public Friday with an offer to buy Yahoo Inc. for $44.6 billion, a move designed to create a more credible competitor to industry leader Google Inc. and deepen Microsoft’s position in the market for online business software.

The unsolicited approach, outlined by Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer in a letter sent Thursday night to Yahoo’s board and published Friday, is aimed at pressing Yahoo to agree to a combination it rejected a year ago. Yahoo acknowledged the proposal and said it would be evaluated “carefully and promptly.”

The offer, for $31 a share in cash and stock, represents a 62% premium to Yahoo’s closing price Thursday. It comes offer comes as Yahoo continues to struggle against Google in the race for online-advertising revenue and Internet- search market share despite efforts to upgrade its systems. Yahoo’s shares have lost about 40% of their value over the past three months.

“While a commercial partnership may have made sense at one time, Microsoft believes that the only alternative now is the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo! that we are proposing,” Ballmer said in the letter to Yahoo’s board.

Yahoo shares jumped 55% to $29.72 in premarket trading. Microsoft fell 4.7% to $31.08 premarket. Google, down about 6% premarket after issuing weaker than expected fourth-quarter results late Thursday, and saw its stock slip further after the announcement and was recently down nearly 7%. The announcement pushed U.S. stock index futures higher.

A deal would bring together two pioneers in their respective industries that stagnated as new competitors did a better job of adapting to changing technology and the habits of users. It’s unclear how the combination of those cultures would work. Microsoft is widely viewed as a lumbering technology giant struggling to become more nimble, while Yahoo is trying to recapture the spark of its more free-wheeling days as an Internet startup.

Yahoo, however, would add a commanding presence in Internet content and users to Microsoft’s deep pockets and near monopoly over the desktop software that enables most routine computer use.

“In our view there is a compelling case that says yes, although the risks of a culture mismatch and potential employee attrition would have to be managed carefully,” Goldman Sachs analyst Sarah Friar said in a note. Goldman Sach has an investment banking relationship with Microsoft. It wasn’t immediately known whether Goldman is advising on the Yahoo offer.

Microsoft said Yahoo holders would be able to trade each of their shares for $ 31 in cash or 0.9509 of a Microsoft share, pro-rated so that no more than half of the overall purchase price is paid in cash. The deal values Yahoo at 65 times earnings. Currently, it trades at 40 times earnings, according to FactSet Research. Yahoo shares haven’t traded at $31 since November.

The companies held talks about partnering or merging in late 2006 and early 2007. Those talks included the potential of a merger proposal, but Yahoo told Microsoft in February it wasn’t interest in being acquired.

He noted Yahoo’s decision at the time was based on the “potential upside” of its own plans and a “significant organizational alignment,” led by the long- awaited overhaul to its search-advertising system dubbed Project Panama.

“A year has gone by, and the competitive situation has not improved,” Ballmer wrote.

Microsoft noted the market for online advertising is “increasingly dominated by one player. Together, Microsoft and Yahoo can offer competitive choice while better fulfilling the needs of customers and partners.”

Microsoft and Yahoo each have struggled to get bigger in Internet searches and search advertising despite heavy investment. Google was by far the most-used U.S. search engine in December, with a 58.4% market share, compared with 22.9% for No. 2 Yahoo and 9.8% for No. 3 Microsoft, according to data from ComScore Inc. (SCOR).

“The fact is that in this particular industry, scale matters,” Kevin Johnson, Microsoft’s president of platforms and services, said in an interview.

The company added the deal would also result in “combined engineering talent to accelerate innovation,” a hint that Microsoft can’t alone take on Google with its current staff. Microsoft said it would offer “significant retention packages” to employees, executives and engineers across Yahoo.

Microsoft expects at least $1 billion in annual cost savings and revenue enhancements from a deal, which it says could close in the second half of the year.

Takeover speculation fired back up after Yahoo late Tuesday posted a drop in fourth-quarter net income and issued a 2008 outlook that fell short of analysts’ expectations. Goldman Sachs analyst John Marshall, in a report published Friday, said the chances of a Microsoft bid for Yahoo had risen and recommended buying options on Yahoo. He cited the growing importance of the online services business to Microsoft. The software giant also cited that business, which involves licensing companies to use constantly updated software applications accessed via the Internet.

Speculation about a Yahoo buyout has swirled since last year, when Microsoft’s interest in such a deal was reported. Buying Yahoo would theoretically place Microsoft as significant competitor in the Internet search market, where it has so far lagged behind both Yahoo and Google. Microsoft, which has thriving software businesses that could fund a much deeper foray into Internet markets, hadn’t actively dispelled rumors it was considering an acquisition of Yahoo.

Microsoft said it will host a conference call to discuss the proposal at 8:30 a.m. EST. The company is to present a strategic update for analysts Monday in New York.

Trading In, Trading Up: iPhone

By Uncategorized

Ever since the iPhone came out in late June, I wanted one really bad. I told myself I wasn’t going to get one. Well, for one, I had Sprint and had no intentions of dropping them. But when Apple dropped the price of the 8GB iPhone by $200, I just had to take the opportunity to get one. I know I posted before about my enV (I got Verizon after I dumped Sprint about a month ago, but bought the iPhone when they dropped the price and got my money back from Verizon- they have a 30-day money-back guarantee) and I have nothing bad to say about Verizon. Unlike Sprint, I had great service with them and got a signal just about everywhere, including my office building downtown, which is a concrete barricade for most all cell providers and even the majority of local radio stations. But, I just felt that I needed more of a PDA-like device to organize all I have going on with school, work, everything I do with church, and extracurricular activities.

I absolutely love my iPhone. It’s just like my Mac: intuitive interface, easy to use, simple yet powerful, minimalistic architecture, aesthetically pleasing, elegant, and is designed beautifully. Everything made by Apple just makes sense, and this device is no exception.

I’d like to go through and review each home screen application individually, as they appear on screen, based on my personal experiences over the past week. Here’s my personal review:

Text – Sending texts on this phone resembles an iChat conversation (it’s not too far off from AIM, either) with the talk bubbles and conversation-based layout. The on-screen keyboard is very easy to use despite it’s small size because of the shear precision of the touch screen interface.

Calendar – Syncs with iCal (Mac) or Microsoft Office Outlook (PC). I have four color-coded calendars set up in my iCal: Personal, Work, Church, and VCU. They all sync seamlessly with the iPhone. All alerts, reminders, and other features remain intact and all events are editable on the fly. My Mac was already helping tremendously to organize my busy (as of lately) life, but now that I have my calendar with me at all times I always know what I have going on.

Photos – Displays photos automatically synchronized from iPhoto (Mac) or any set folder on your Mac or PC, or those taken directly with the iPhone’s built-in camera. Nifty interface with options for slideshows, transitions, and other cool things. You can also quickly zoom in or out on photos by “pinching” the screen (sliding your thumb and index finger together/apart).

Camera – Nice 2.0 megapixel digital camera that takes photos comperable to the iSight webcam built into my MacBook Pro. Good color quality with little to no brightness wash-out that you sometimes get with cameras on mobile devices.

YouTube – Excellent mobile version of the site with options for search, most popular videos, bookmarks, and more. Nice widescreen, full display of videos, fast loading, especially when connected to wi-fi as opposed to over AT&T’s Edge data network.

Stocks – As you could imagine, I’m not really into the stock market, but very nice interface for checking up on the performance of your favorite companies should you so choose

Maps – A mobile version of the Google Maps application, and just as with any Google software, it’s feature-rich and intuitive. “Pinch” to zoom in/out, view satellite imagery, get directions, search for the nearest anything (a simple search for Starbucks returns all the nearby Starbucks locations, complete with wi-fi information and phone numbers. Some even include store hours!

Weather – Simple, easy-to-use weather interface that shows the next few upcoming days’ weather forecast and high/low temperatures, easily customized for multiple locations

Clock – Includes a timer, stopwatch, alarms feature, and world clock that displays the time in any city of your choosing worldwide

Calculator – Does the job. Simple, big buttons, does what it needs to do

Notes – Similar to the Stickies application in Mac OS X, useful for writing down “to do” items or anything you need to remember

Settings – Controls for everything on the iPhone, including really cool built-in ringtones. A lot of times phones come with lame ringtones, but Apple did a good job with this.

Phone – Well, this IS why I have the thing, right? Among other things, yes. View all your contacts (synchronized from Address Book (Mac) or Microsoft Office Outlook (PC)), and just click to see all their details. Click below to get to your “Favorites” list (basically speed dial on most phones), and the voicemail menu brings up one of the coolest features: Visual Voicemail. No more dialing your mailbox to retrieve messages and listening to frustrating audio prompts from within. Visual Voicemail does just what it sounds like- visually displays your voicemail messages and lets you click on them to play (click below to stop or pause) and delete or save them, scroll through them much like you would with a song on the iPod, and call the person back, all with one touch of the screen. Amazing feature.

Mail – All mail messages and account settings are imported during sync, and you can set your iPhone to automatically check for new messages from multiple accounts up to every 15 minutes. Very sleek, nice interface, easy to read and reply. I have my two personal accounts, VCU, and GACC accounts set up and they all work together seamlessly.

Safari – The iPhone is the first phone to offer “true” internet, not the mobile version you find on most phones. With the ability to “pinch” and “pull” to zoom in and out on the page, you can easily view everything in a snap. The screen will rotate from the normal portrait mode to landscape (widescreen) when you flip the iPhone 90 degrees. Very, very cool.

iPod – All the features of a regular iPod, with the ability to actually hear the songs on the built-in speaker, and view Cover Flow (shows your album artwork like a jukebox) when you turn your iPhone in landscape mode.

So with all these wonderful features, I will say that there are actually a few downsides that I’ve noticed. Nothing’s perfect. Apple is due for another firmware update (1.0.3) within the next week or two, and I think they are going to squash most of the bugs. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

1. When I listen to music on the iPod application of the iPhone and open up Safari and get online, either Safari or the iPod application will crash sometimes. It’s about a 50/50 chance. You’re supposed to be able to multitask and have multiple applications open, so I think this is definitely something the update will address.

2. No picture mail (!). Can you believe that? A phone that can send emails, have full web access, and get on YouTube can’t send multimedia messages? Wow. There is a workaround I’ve found, though. You can email photos you’ve taken on your iPhone, so let’s say you wanted to send a picture to a friend who has Verizon. All you have to do is email it to FRIENDSNUMBER@vzwpix.com and it will be sent to their phone as a picture message. Cool, huh? It sucks you have to do that, but it works.

3. No instant messaging/AIM support. The texting application looks like iChat and resembles an online chat, but for some reason no AIM support was included. This is rumored to be included with the update that’s coming out, so we’ll see. There is a nice version of Meebo built for the iPhone, though, although it sometimes causes Safari to crash.

4. No video support. This is also a rumored update. The camera is completely capable of good quality video, so I think this will be supported.

5. Limited settings. The Settings application is very clean, but limited. For example, you can’t change the alert tone for texts, voicemail, email, or calendar alerts. Lame!

Overall, the iPhone is amazing. It’s far beyond any of the competition. Years away, I believe. I’m very happy with my purchase and look forward to the future additions and updates.

Mac Vs. Windows: Have The Tables Turned?

By Uncategorized

It’s long been known that Windows has been the operating system of choice for businesses, and the clear winner when it came to home computers, as well. Macs have been known to be associated with niche markets such as in education and for creative fields such as graphic design. But is the sturdy foundation that Windows built more than a decade and a half ago being chipped away by Apple? All recent indications point to yes. Here’s a small snippet from an article featured on the Apple Insider website:

The media frenzy surrounding the iPhone may have helped Apple claim a record share of customers for its portable line at the expense of its rivals Dell and HP, says a new survey from ChangeWave. An early August study that canvassed 3,665 of the financial research group’s existing members’ buying habits has revealed that nearly one sixth, or 17 percent, of respondents who had bought a notebook in the past three months had chosen one of Apple’s MacBook or MacBook Pro models. The gain was an “unprecedented” jump from 12 percent in June and eclipsed the Mac maker’s previous record of 15 percent set in January.

I bought a MacBook Pro in late June for college and I absolutely love it. I’ll never go back to Windows. Everything just works on a Mac. Adobe CS3 is running like a charm, iLife ’08, which I just upgraded to, is awesome, and Windows XP, installed via the Boot Camp Public Beta, runs faster and more smoothly than my previous eMachines (running XP with 1.5 GB RAM and an AMD Athlon 64 processor) desktop computer.

There are obvious disadvantages to running a Mac as well, such as software incompatibility (although the gap is quickly closing, especially with the move to Intel processors), peripheral incompatibility (such as camera memory cards that are factory preformatted for Windows), and a few other finicky things, but overall there are huge advantages to running Mac OS X. The software incompatability issue can be solved by installing Boot Camp as I mentioned above, which allows you to partition your hard drive and presents you with a boot screen allowing you to choose the OS you’d like to start up with.

Everything, in my opinion, runs more smoothly on a Mac simply becuase the same company that manufactures the computer also puts out the operating systems for their units. It just makes sense. I was a little concerned that I would be limited in what I was able to do with my computer if I purchased a Mac, but truth be told I’m able to do more than I ever thought possible on a PC, and in less time. The data proves this point, with Apple coming out on top when it comes to customer satisfaction:

No pun intended, but it looks like the “window” is closing on the success of the Microsoft empire. Bill Gates is set to step down from the company in the next year and a half, the company is looking into all sorts of new directions to diversify their business, and PC sales are slipping, most notably with traditional brand leaders such as HP and Dell. Here’s a comparison between Apple and Dell:

iPod and iPhone sales have generated a lot more interest in Macintosh computers, with users discovering just how user-friendly Macs really are. I’m excited to see what lies in the future for Apple, and what they will come up with next.

Leave your thoughts about your operating system of choice.