WEEKLY RECAP

Yahoo Makes Its Case – Again, Gamers Make New Life Forms, Android Won’t Make It on Time

Seeking to reassure investors — many of whom were still stinging from Yahoo’s decision to walk away from a multibillion-dollar merger with Microsoft — CEO Jerry Yang and Chairman Roy Bostock sent a letter making their case for hooking up with Google instead of inking an ad deal with Redmond.

The letter argues that the Google partnership strikes the right strategic balance and gives the company more flexibility than Microsoft’s proposal to acquire Yahoo’s search business.

It also urges owners of Yahoo stock to back the existing board of directors over the slate put forward by angry activist investor Carl Icahn. Whether the shareholders will stick with the old board or dump them is the big question to be answered when they convene Aug. 1.


Listen to the podcast (12:58 minutes).


Create Your Own World

Back in the ’80s, Sim City let you play mayor. Then Sim Ant let you lead your colony to glorious victory over a family of suburban homeowners. After that, The Sims came along and let you play a sort of all-controlling, all-seeing neighborhood voyeur. Now, finally, the game Spore really will let you play God.

Spore is made by Maxis, same as the other three games, and when it comes out in September it will let players guide the destiny of a planet’s life forms from primordial ooze all the way up to space-faring masters of the universe.

To tide fans over and scare up a little prerelease buzz, the game’s creators released the Spore Creature Creator, a mini-game that lets players design their own organisms piece by piece, for better or for worse. A free version is available, as is a $10 version that has a better choice of body parts.

What’s the Holdup?

If you believe The Wall Street Journal, then you probably think Google is having a little bit of trouble getting its Android smartphone platform off the ground. However, if you listen to Google, everything’s just fine.

According to the Journal, Android partners are running into problems that could delay the platform’s launch beyond the promised “second half of 2008.”

One partner, China Mobile, was confident enough to promise an Android handset in the third quarter. Now, it’s telling the Journal that consumers won’t see its Android phone until next year, thanks to problems translating the software into Chinese.

Google put out a statement that made it look like everything was on track — until you read between the lines. “We remain on schedule to deliver the first Android-based handset in the second half of 2008,” Google said. Just that first handset, hmm? What about all the others? Well, they might be a while.

Symbian’s Newfound Freedom

Pouncing on Google’s perceived weakness, Nokia thundered into the smartphone platform development arena by purchasing the portion of Symbian it didn’t already own — and then making the whole thing open source.

Symbian is the most widely installed smartphone operating system, and Nokia is the largest handset maker, so when it says open source is the future for smartphones, people listen. And the ones who should be listening the most are in Redmond, Wash., where they still believe consumers ought to pay for their operating systems and not ask to see the source code.

With the emergence of Google’s Android — as well as the LiMo Foundation’s mobile Linux platform and now Symbian — the advantage of numbers is on the open source side, even if Apple has carved out a nice little chunk of the market with its iPhone.

WiFi in Motion

If you have WiFi access in your car, can you still call it a hot “spot?” Maybe hot streak would be more like it.

Anyway, semantics aside, that’s what Chrysler is promising for its 2009 model year — a WiFi router specially designed for use in motion, to let passengers stay connected while in the car. Notice I said “passengers.” Please don’t go out and get one of these and then try to use it while driving. The service is called “Uconnect,” and it will be available as an option on all Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles starting with the coming model year.

It’s more than a router, though. The service connects with a 3G cell network and uses a pretty fancy algorithm to maintain the connection even though the hotspot is in motion.

That’s to prevent dropped connections — kind of like the ones I can’t seem to avoid with my mobile phone — even when I’m standing perfectly still.

The Streisand Effect

Proving that the United States leads the world in prudish attitudes toward sex, JCPenney has distanced itself from a supposedly unauthorized advertising spot that never aired, but managed to win an award at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

The video features a young couple separately racing against the clock to see how fast they can put their clothes on. The two then meet up at the girl’s house, where they tell her mom that they’ll be in the basement, uh, “watching TV.”

The retailer never authorized the ad for airing, but someone at the video production house that works for Penney’s ad agency submitted it to the contest. It became a viral sensation, thanks to YouTube. Then outraged critics started frothing at the mouth, JCPenney complained, and YouTube took it down.

Copies are still floating around, however, because once something hits the Internet, there’s no reining it in. In fact, the ad undoubtedly gained even more attention, thanks to the controversy. And you still think JCPenney had nothing to do with it?

Web Tracking About-Face

Doesn’t it make you feel all cared-for and warm inside to know that so many powerful and well-funded organizations are working tirelessly to bring you nothing but the best Web-surfing in the world? Firms like NebuAd want to, “ultimately deliver the best Internet experience possible to consumers,” says spokesperson Anthony Laredo.

Isn’t that nice of them? Well, for these companies, the so-called best Internet experience has less to do with connection speed and availability and more to do with what kind of ads they can shove in your face.

True, sometimes you want ads shoved in your face — if there’s a very particular thing you want to buy and you’re not very good at looking for yourself. But when that means a company’s sifting through all the various places you visit on the Web to figure you out, it gets more than a little creepy.

Consumers don’t really like that, which Charter Communications found out the hard way. Last May it teamed up with NebuAd on a pilot program to target ads by monitoring user behavior. That’s bad enough when Google does it, but at least you can avoid Google.

Your ISP, on the other hand, is the gatekeeper to all your life online. After some members of Congress started huffing and puffing over privacy issues, the ISP dropped the pilot program. I just wonder what those politicians look at online, hmmm …

ABC Chases Young, International Men

ABC is making a move to get its content somewhere on the Web other than its official site, but it’s way behind its competitors.

NBC and Fox teamed up to launch Hulu.com months ago as a joint platform for their programming, and CBS is already the leader in providing content to a variety of Web sites, including Joost and AOL.

Now ABC has signed a deal with Veoh Networks, letting the online video site display links to its programs. However, instead of viewing shows directly on Veoh, users who click on an episode of, say, “Ugly Betty” will open an ABC media player in a separate window.

ABC presumably will pay Veoh for traffic sent to its programming and ads. The deal gives ABC access to Veoh’s demographic, which skews younger, more male and more international than other online video Web sites. Veoh already has deals with CBS, Viacom and Warner Bros.

eBay Double-Dips

eBay has introduced beefed-up fraud protection for users who pay for purchases via its PayPal payment service.

The move is the online giant’s latest effort to increase user confidence in its e-commerce platform and boost PayPal use. PayPal is already used on the vast majority of eBay auctions, but the company is eager to see its use expanded even further both on its own platform and elsewhere on the Web.

eBay stirred up a hornet’s nest in Australia when it announced a plan that would require all transactions on its down-under marketplace to be paid for with PayPal. The outcry was loud enough to get eBay to step back and promise not to implement the change immediately.

Still, that’s clearly the direction it wants to go, since it hauls in revenue twice for every transaction paid for with PayPal — once when it receives a cut of the auction proceeds and again when it takes a processing fee for using the PayPal service.

Radio Interference

A new study suggests RFID chips can cause some medical devices to fail when in close contact. Researchers set up two different kinds of RFID devices inside an empty ICU room and measured the distances at which electromagnetic interference from the chips interfered with 41 nearby medical devices.

They observed 22 hazardous incidents, including ventilators switching off or changing rates, syringe pumps stopping, external pacemakers malfunctioning, and kidney replacement devices shutting down.

RFID chips have grown in popularity for such uses as corporate inventory-tracking, library management, passport data control and store theft control. More recently, some hospitals have begun using the technology to monitor medical products and other hospital resources.

U.S. health providers are currently spending $90 million a year on RFID systems — an amount expected to more than double in the coming decade, according to the study.

Refusing to Die

Windows XP is dead but it won’t lie down.

Microsoft wants users to move on to Vista, but lots of XP users are resisting — they claim Vista is full of problems, XP is good enough, and they’ll put their OS to bed when they’re good and ready, thanks.

Well, to scoot things along, Microsoft has told vendors not to sell computers with XP preinstalled anymore, though manufacturers like Dell have figured out little end-runs around that rule. But Microsoft is giving in a little — it’s agreed to extend technical support for XP through 2014.

That means if Windows 7 turns out to be a dud, you may be able to skip that one too.

A Hill of Beans

IBM makes some of the biggest-brained computers in the world. Those supercomputers are put to a lot of different tasks, like simulating the sound of one hand clapping, perfecting tic-tac-toe, and figuring out the answer to life, the universe and everything.

The latest target for IBM’s big guns is the cacao tree, which produces cocoa beans, which make chocolate.

Big Blue is teaming up with Mars of Mars Bar fame, as well as the U.S. department of agriculture, to sequence the entire cocoa genome. That could take up to five years, but when they’re done, the organizations believe their research can help farmers grow trees that are more resistant to disease and produce higher yields of beans.

Also in this week’s podcast: OpenSuse update, top tech cities, water on Mars.

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