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MacBook Gets Pumped, Microsoft Gets Fined, YouTube Gets Blocked

By ECT News Staff MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Feb 29, 2008 9:33 AM PT

Apple has been developing a habit of putting out new stuff each Tuesday. Exactly what it comes out with is almost always a surprise, but since the beginning of the year, it's really taken a toll on the nerves of Apple followers who've been anxiously awaiting a refresh of the MacBook Pro.

MacBook Gets Pumped, Microsoft Gets Fined, YouTube Gets Blocked

They finally got their wish; Apple has updated the MacBook Pro and the standard MacBook. Both now feature Intel's new Penryn processor, and the Pro model features the same multitouch track pad found on the MacBook Air. Also, the hardware divide between the two lines of notebooks is becoming thinner and thinner.

For example, a top-of-the line MacBook now contains the same processor, L2 cache and front-side bus specs as the lowest-priced MacBook Pro. Of course, with the Pro you do get a bigger screen and a new Nvidia graphics processor. Due to this trend of putting out new stuff on Tuesdays this year, we're going to have to amend our prediction for iPhone 2.0's birthday. Previously we put it at May 5 -- Cinco de Mayo -- but now we'll have to say Tuesday, May 6, birthday of George Clooney, Bob Seger and Sigmund Freud.

Listen to the podcast (12:17 minutes).

Microsoft's Big Fine

Last week, Microsoft promised more transparency on a lot of software and information it had once considered secret. Some people saw that as a move to persuade European Union regulators that the company really is trying to comply with its antitrust demands and end a conflict that's been roiling for years.

EU regulators didn't seem all that impressed, and they proved as much by slapping Microsoft with a US$1.35 billion fine. The company is now the first in 50 years of EU competition policy to be fined for failure to comply with an antitrust decision. The conflict focuses on what constitutes a reasonable price for licensing Windows Server communication protocols. No matter who you are, $1.35 billion isn't chump change, but if anyone can shake it off, it's Microsoft. That figure represents just over five weeks' of the software giant's income.

YouTube Dead End

You can blame a Danish cartoonist and a Dutch filmmaker if you weren't able to watch video on YouTube last weekend. Offended by the cartoonist's depiction of the prophet Muhammad and insulted by a video promoting the Dutch film, Pakistan moved to block users within its country from accessing the popular video-sharing Web site.

What happened, though, was that nearly all traffic intended for YouTube was redirected to a dead end. The blocking method Pakistan used essentially tricked users' browsers into thinking that YouTube had relocated. The problem became a worldwide issue when other ISPs duplicated Pakistan's rerouting instructions, so that even viewers in Taiwan and the United States were cut off.

Cyber-warfare? Not exactly. Cyber-whoops? That's more like it.

Finally, an iPhone SDK

Get this, Apple fanboys: March 6 is the day Steve Jobs takes the stage once again to wow us with his ... software development kit. Coincidence? I think not.

OK, maybe it doesn't sound all that sexy, but the kit will enable developers to build all sorts of little applications for the iPhone that previously weren't allowed by Apple's famously restrictive policies.

Also on the schedule is a discussion of Apple's plans for the iPhone in the enterprise. Again, not the sexiest topic, but when you consider that Apple's trying to penetrate a market dominated by the BlackBerry and Treo, it's a significant development.

All You Can Talk

It might have been coincidence, might have been collusion, or it might have been light-speed me-too-ism. Whatever it was, last week, three out the big four wireless carriers in the U.S. laid out all-you-can-eat voice plans at around $100 a month, all on the same day. While everyone talked about a coming price war, Sprint remained the only company not offering its own flat-rate plan.

Now it looks like it's out to trump everyone with a $100-a-month plan that includes a lot more than the other companies are offering. With the Simply Everything plan, users get unlimited voice, data, text, e-mail, Web surfing, Sprint TV, Sprint Music, GPS navigation, Direct Connect and Group Connect. It all sounds like a great deal, and it might well be from the consumer's perspective. But InStat's David Chamberlain told ECT News it's probably not going to be enough to dig Sprint out of the hole it's in.

He said, "Sprint's problems have been coming for a very long time. Those customers who have decided to leave aren't likely to change their minds for a new pricing plan. Ditto for pulling people from other operators."

Across the Ocean Blue

Google is one of five companies that are pooling their money to build a $300 million undersea fiber-optic connection to Asia. While there are plenty of cables running the transatlantic route, the connections between the US and the Far East aren't as abundant.

The cable will initially contain five pairs of optical fibers and be expandable to eight pairs, and it will run between Los Angeles and Chikura, which is near Tokyo.

From there, it can connect to various parts of Asia, including India and the Philippines -- where lots of IT outsourcing takes place. It also will serve China's growing hunger for bandwidth which, of course, is fueled by its enormous hunger for pirated American movies and music.

To the Moon, Alice!

In every neighborhood, there's always a kid offering other kids a dollar to do crazy stunts, usually involving skateboards, bicycles, downhill streets and homemade ramps. Those kids grow up to become members of the X Prize Foundation, a group that offers millions of dollars to reward organizations that can accomplish amazing things like successfully completing the first private, manned space flight.

The latest contest is the Google Lunar X Prize, so named because Google is ponying up a large chunk of cash. The first private entity to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon, deploy a robotic explorer, and send back images gets $20 million. The second gets $5 million, and there's another $5 million in bonus prizes for pulling off stunts like capturing images of man-made objects left there from past visits.

Google recently announced 10 organizations that will compete for the prize. Designing, building and launching a spacecraft to the moon will likely cost way more that $20 million, but it sure will generate a lot of publicity and prestige for whoever can pull it off.

There's a deadline, though -- starting in 2013, the prize money starts decreasing. X Prize officials say they expect serious moon shots to begin around 2011.

EA Tries a Little Grand Theft

The sky might be the limit for Electronic Arts in its Take-Two takeover bid. It offered $26 per share in cash for the Grand Theft Auto maker, which amounted to about $2 billion and represented a 64 percent premium over Take-Two's closing price on Feb. 15.

That was up from EA's first offer of $25 per share. Take-Two has rebuffed both offers, though, finding them lacking. Take-Two said EA was trying to time the deal so it could benefit from the release of Grand Theft Auto 4 on April 29. Take-Two is resisting any negotiations toward a sale until after the title's release.

Vista Incapable

When Microsoft launched Windows Vista a year ago, it gave computer makers the go-ahead to slap stickers reading Vista Capable on a lot of their new machines. Problem was, some of those machines were so weak, they couldn't handle anything more robust than the most bare-bones version of Vista -- the version that doesn't include the OS's much-trumpeted Aero interface.

The Vista Capable issue turned into a class-action lawsuit that's just been given the green light by a federal judge in Seattle. The case may not have very good legs, though. Microsoft can argue that the computers were, in fact, capable of running a version of Vista -- so buyer beware.

No, it wasn't the fact that Windows Live was running on the newly released Windows Server 2008 that left millions unable to sign on to their Hotmail accounts, Microsoft insists. True, the outage occurred the day before the introduction of its new server software -- and true, Microsoft does eat its own dog food. Still, it was something else that brought Windows Live to its knees for an entire day: The problem was with the Windows Live logon service.

It not only prevented people worldwide from signing on to Hotmail, but also kept them from instant messaging, photo sharing, calendaring, storing and using a bunch of other services. If you were already signed in, no problem. If you weren't, though, you had to wait another day to find out about the check that nice man in Nigeria wants to send to you.

Data Freeze

If you think you're employing bulletproof security by encrypting your hard drive, some Princeton researchers have news for you: Anything less than a total shutdown leaves you dangerously exposed.

If you put your computer in standby or hibernation mode, the dynamic RAM remains powered, and the encryption key stored in your computer's memory can still be accessed.

Furthermore, a MacGyver-like trick employs an upside-down keyboard cleaner to preserve those encryption keys even when the chip is removed entirely. It works by slowing the rate at which the data decays after power-down, essentially freezing the information in place.

Sure, it's an unlikely way for hackers to access your data, but doesn't it sound cool?

Also in this episode: Sprint's financial woes continue, EMC buys cloud storage company, Google shares slide lower, Yahoo launches slow-scrolling Buzz.

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How do you feel about accidents that occur when self-driving vehicles are being tested?
Self-driving vehicles should be banned -- one death is one too many.
Autonomous vehicles could save thousands of lives -- the tests should continue.
Companies with bad safety records should have to stop testing.
Accidents happen -- we should investigate and learn from them.
The tests are pointless -- most people will never trust software and sensors.
Most injuries and fatalities in self-driving auto tests are due to human error.