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    Monday, August 31, 2009

    Reuters - Disney to acquire Marvel in $4 billion deal

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    Disney to acquire Marvel in $4 billion deal

    Monday, Aug 31, 2009 8:20PM UTC

    By Paul Thomasch and Gina Keating

    NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co on Monday agreed to buy Marvel Entertainment Inc for $4 billion in the biggest media deal of the year, banking on Marvel's roster of superheroes to broaden its lineup of movie franchises that appeal to boys.

    Disney adds Iron Man, Incredible Hulk and Thor to its roster of lovable characters like Mickey Mouse and Snow White, and will feature the comic book heroes in movies before rolling out associated theme park rides, TV shows and merchandise.

    But the deal comes at a tough time in the entertainment business, with advertisers avoiding spending on new campaigns and consumers cutting back on everything from DVDs to travel.

    The deal is also expensive. The price tag values Marvel at 37 times its estimated 2009 earnings, and offers shareholders a 29 percent premium to Friday's closing price. Standard & Poor's reacted by placing Disney's credit rating on its negative watchlist.

    But the risk of overpaying did not deter Disney from seeking out a deal to address an area of concern among investors: How can it better reach more young males.

    "This helps give Disney more important exposure to the young male demographic that they have sort of lost some ground with in recent years," said David Joyce, an analyst with Miller Tabak & Co.

    Indeed, Disney has long been a blockbuster brand with girls thanks to characters such as "Hannah Montana," "Cinderella" and "Snow White," but has struggled to achieve the same kind of success with boys.

    Movies including "Iron Man 2," due to hit theaters next year, or 2011's "Spider-Man 4" and "Avengers" should help resolve that issue.

    Disney will also be able to use its marketing and entertainment strength -- stretching from ABC to cable television to theme parks -- to promote and build characters such as Thor in ways Marvel never could.

    The deal is Disney's largest since the $7.6 billion purchase of Pixar in 2006, and it immediately caused reverberations. Shares in DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc spiked 5 percent on speculation it may become a takeover target.

    And analysts raised questions about companies like Viacom Inc, Discovery Communications Inc, and Hasbro Inc that have existing business partnerships with Marvel.


    To acquire Marvel, Disney agreed to pay a total of $30 per share in cash plus about 0.745 Disney shares for each Marvel share owned. The deal was approved by the boards of both companies.

    The shares of Marvel, which was founded in 1939 and rolled out its first blockbuster character, Captain America, in 1941, shot up to a high of $49.29 before falling a bit to close at $48.37 on the New York Stock Exchange.

    Disney approached Marvel a few months ago "to get to know them," Disney Chief Financial Officer Tom Staggs told Reuters. The overture began with a meeting between Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger and Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter and evolved into merger discussions over a series of meetings.

    "We at Disney had admired them because of their position and asset base," Staggs said. "With conversations over time we came to believe in the value of a combination."

    Shares of Disney, which will acquire ownership of more than 5,000 Marvel characters, fell 3 percent to $26.04. The deal is expected to close by year-end, but will not add to Disney earnings until fiscal 2012.

    The acquisition came as a surprise, even though Iger had mentioned recently the company would consider acquisitions that bolstered Disney brands across international markets and on new technology platforms.

    While it could kick-start more deal making in the media sector -- where stocks have outperformed the broader Standard & Poor's 500 this year -- few analysts see another bidder making a play for Marvel.

    A major reason is the presence of Marvel's Perlmutter, who owns 37 percent of the company and will oversee it within the Disney empire. Perlmutter will trade his stake in Marvel for a 1 percent stake in Disney, but will not receive a seat on its board of directors -- as did Pixar CEO Steve Jobs.

    Disney executives drew a number of parallels between the Pixar and Marvel deals, and suggested it would keep the Marvel brand intact.

    "The goal here is not to rebrand Marvel," Iger said on a conference call.

    Caris & Co analyst David Miller said Disney was "sandbagging a little" by estimating the deal would not add to its earnings for another two years.

    "They said the same thing with the Pixar deal," said Miller, who has "above average" ratings on both Disney and Marvel. "I think they will make it accretive a lot sooner. They are underpromising, as they always do."

    (Reporting by Paul Thomasch; additional reporting by Franklin Paul, Gina Keating and John Tilak; editing by Derek Caney, Andre Grenon and Bernard Orr)

    Reuters - Time Warner Cable, Verizon to test TV on the Web

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    Time Warner Cable, Verizon to test TV on the Web

    Thursday, Aug 27, 2009 10:36PM UTC

    By Yinka Adegoke

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two more U.S. pay-TV providers, Time Warner Cable Inc and Verizon Communications Inc, plan to test systems to offer shows on the Web to paying customers in a bid to protect their subscription revenue.

    Time Warner Cable and Verizon separately announced their plans on Thursday and will follow Comcast Corp, the largest U.S. cable operator, which said in July it would test a Web TV service with some of its customers.

    Pay-TV companies are concerned that the recession-resistant subscription revenue of cable television could be undermined if cable shows became widely available over the Web, effectively cutting out the cable and satellite TV operators.

    So the cable network industry, led by Time Warner Inc Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes, is testing a concept called TV Everywhere as a way for paying cable subscribers to access cable shows over the Web via an authentication process.

    Time Warner Cable said its TV Everywhere trial will include the NBC Universal-owned Syfy channel; Time Warner's TNT, HBO and TBS; Cablevision Systems Corp's AMC, IFC and Sundance Channel; and BBC's BBC America.

    CBS Corp and Discovery Communications Inc are also involved in the trial.

    Time Warner Cable's test involves making TV shows available on the Web to 5,000 homes of paying subscribers. They will be able to access the shows on the networks' own websites, as well as on Time Warner Cable's Web properties.

    Verizon, meanwhile, will launch a TV Everywhere trial of its FiOS TV online with programing from Time Warner's Turner networks, TNT and TBS for no extra cost to FiOS subscribers.

    DirecTV Group Inc, the largest U.S. satellite TV provider, is also working on a version of TV Everywhere, according to a person familiar with its plans.

    While cable network owners are determined to stop the successful pay-TV television business model from being undermined by programing made available free on the Web, the major broadcast networks have taken a different approach.

    Because free-to-air broadcasters are dependent on advertising revenue rather than subscriptions, they have made their shows readily available over the Web. Sites like Hulu, owned by News Corp, NBC Universal and Walt Disney Co, are free to anyone and feature broadcast network programs such as "The Office" or "House."

    In a few cases, some episodes of full cable programs are now available free on the Internet.

    (Additional reporting by S. John Tilak in Bangalore; editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Andre Grenon)

    CNN - Police: 'No known suspects' in 8 Georgia deaths

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    Police: 'No known suspects' in 8 Georgia deaths

    Authorities believe at least one person not in custody may have information about the deaths of eight people in a Georgia mobile home, Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering said Sunday.

    "I'm confident to say that there's somebody, at least an individual, that we would like to know about that's not at the scene," whether or not they were directly involved in the case, Doering said.

    Seven people were found dead Saturday at a residence in the New Hope mobile home park in Brunswick, Georgia. Two others were hospitalized in critical condition, and one of them died Sunday, authorities said.

    Police have "no known suspects," Doering told reporters Sunday afternoon. "We are not looking for any known suspects. That doesn't say that there are no suspects. They're just not known to us."

    One person, 22-year-old Guy Heinze Jr., was arrested Saturday night, Doering said. Heinze is related to one of the victims, he said, and was the one who called 911. He told police he discovered the bodies when he arrived home.

    Heinze was being held on suspicion of having a controlled substance and marijuana, as well as evidence tampering and making false statements to a police officer, Doering said. He told reporters Heinze has been cooperative.

    "We're still looking for anybody and everybody that may be related to this," he said. "That naturally includes [Heinze]. Of course we're looking at him." He stopped short, however, of calling Heinze a suspect in the deaths.

    Autopsies on the victims were taking place Sunday in Savannah, Georgia, Doering said. Police have tentative identifications for the victims, who ranged from children to adults in their mid-40s, he said.

    Police have been called to the home before, Doering said, but would not say why.

    Doering remained tight-lipped Sunday about many aspects of the case, refusing to say how the victims died or to give a breakdown of male and female victims. All nine victims lived in the mobile home, he said, and police do not believe any of them conducted the assault.

    He said police are making progress, and have narrowed down the timeline for when the deaths occurred.

    Brunswick is about 300 miles southeast of Atlanta, on the Georgia coast.

    Volunteers conducted an extended search of the area around the mobile home, but nothing was found, Doering said.

    Meanwhile, police removed additional evidence from the mobile home. Authorities are examining surveillance video from nearby areas, but are not aware of any surveillance system in the mobile home park, he said.

    "There is cause for concern," Doering said. "We just simply don't have a whole lot to go on, and I'm not going to sit there and tell everybody not to be cautious, because people need to be."

    Friday, August 28, 2009

    CNN - Michael Jackson's death was a homicide, coroner rules

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    Michael Jackson's death was a homicide, coroner rules

    The Los Angeles County coroner has ruled that Michael Jackson's death was a homicide involving a combination of drugs.

    "The drugs propofol and lorazepam were found to be the primary drugs responsible for Mr. Jackson's death," said a news release issued Friday by the coroner.

    "Other drugs detected were: midazolam, diazepam, lidocaine and ephedrine."

    The release said Jackson died from "acute propofol intoxication," but it added "other conditions contributing to death: benzodiazepine effect."

    Lorazepam, midazolam and diazepam are benzodiazepines.

    The full and final autopsy report and the complete toxicology report "will remain on security hold at the request of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County district attorney," the release said.

    "In accordance with this request, the Department of Coroner will not comment on its completed investigation."

    Jackson was found dead on June 25.

    Thursday, August 27, 2009

    Reuters - Bolt says he may take up long jump

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    Bolt says he may take up long jump

    Thursday, Aug 27, 2009 3:33PM UTC

    By Brian Homewood

    ZURICH (Reuters) - World 100 and 200 meters champion Usain Bolt is also fixing his sights on the long jump.

    "I definitely want to try the long jump," the triple Olympic gold medalist told a news conference on Thursday. "I think I would be a really good long jumper.

    "I've messed around with the long jump since I've been at school and I'm definitely going to give it a try."

    American Mike Powell, whose long jump world record of 8.95 meters has stood since the 1991 world championships, said last Friday that Jamaican Bolt could jump nine meters in the event.

    Bolt won the 100 and 200 at this month's world championships in Berlin, breaking the world records in each event.

    The Jamaican, who is due to run in the 100 and 4x100 relay at Zurich's Weltklasse meeting on Friday, said he had not yet discussed the long jump seriously with his coach or set a date for when he could take up the event.

    "It's just a case of me wanting to try it," he said.

    Bolt, who spent an hour at Zurich railway station at lunchtime signing around 3,000 autographs, said the recent success of Jamaican athletes in sprint events was because many had stayed at home to train rather than move to the United States.

    "When you go to the States you get a lot of injuries because you have to run week after week," he said. "I have a good coach who understands this.

    "The guys who are doing well are the ones who stayed in Jamaica, they can decide when they want to run."

    (Editing by Tony Jimenez)

    Reuters - Sharp eyes niche between netbooks, phones

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    Sharp eyes niche between netbooks, phones

    Thursday, Aug 27, 2009 10:29AM UTC

    TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Sharp Corp said it plans to launch a paperback-sized mini mobile PC that features a quick start-up time, touch-screen display and full keyboard, targeting niche demand between smartphones and netbooks.

    Smartphones, such as Apple's iPhone, pack many computer functions in regular cellphones, and netbooks are smaller and cheaper than regular notebook PCs and optimized for simple computing tasks such as Web browsing and email. Both have enjoyed robust demand despite the global downturn.

    "You can take cellphones anywhere with you, and they are always on. But you have to live with a small display. Notebook PCs offer a large display and full keyboard, but their battery life is short and it takes time to start them up," Sharp Executive Vice President Masafumi Matsumoto told a news conference.

    "We are introducing a mobile device that you can take with you wherever you go and comes with all major notebook PC functions."

    The new product, dubbed "NetWalker," has a high-resolution LCD screen and runs 10 hours on a single charge.

    Sharp plans to launch the device in Japan in September and expects it to sell for about 45,000 yen ($480).

    The company aims to sell 100,000 units by March 2010.

    No specific timing was set for release overseas, Sharp said.

    (Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

    Reuters - Microsoft cuts high-end Xbox price by 25 percent

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    Microsoft cuts high-end Xbox price by 25 percent

    Thursday, Aug 27, 2009 12:29PM UTC

    By Gabriel Madway

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp plans to slash the price of its high-end Xbox 360 video game console by $100, or 25 percent, stepping up the price war in the video game console market following a similar move by rival Sony Corp.

    Effective Friday, Microsoft will drop the price of the Xbox 360 Elite to $299.99, just days after Sony cut the rival PlayStation 3 to $299.

    Analysts have said that the cuts would put pressure on Nintendo Co Ltd to lower the price of its best-selling Wii console, but for now the company is not changing the price.

    "We don't have such a plan," Nintendo spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa said when asked if the company plans to cut prices on the Wii.

    The Xbox is the No. 2 console in the U.S., behind the Wii, which sells for $249. But Xbox sales are up 17 percent in the U.S., the only console to show growth.

    The price on the entry-level Xbox Arcade model will stay at $199.99, and Microsoft will phase out its mid-range Pro console, leaving it with two models. The Pro will sell for $249.99 until supplies run out.

    Microsoft spokesman David Dennis said the price cut was in the works for some time, and was not a response to Sony's move, which was announced last week at the Gamescom video game trade show in Cologne, Germany.

    Rather, Dennis said the price reduction would attract new buyers and help simplify its product mix for manufacturers and retailers as well as customers.

    "It really makes the decision for consumers a lot easier," he said. "They're either price conscious and they gravitate toward the Arcade or they the want the full Xbox 360 experience."

    Game publishers such as Activision Blizzard have been clamoring for console price cuts, which help boost sales of software.

    The industry remains mired in a slump brought on by a lack of big-name releases and a recession that has pinched consumer spending.

    Despite the slump, Hirokazu Hamamura, President of Japanese game magazine publisher Enterbrain Inc, says that Nintendo may resist a Wii price cut.

    He suggests that the more powerful PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 machines are not attractive to Wii shoppers, who enjoy a range of family and fitness-based games.

    "The price cuts by itself won't stop people from buying Wiis. The users are too different," he said. "With Nintendo, the issue is not about the price so much as saturation and ability to grow in new markets."

    Microsoft shares were down 8 cents to $24.47 in thin premarket trading.

    (Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Mayumi Negishi in Tokyo, and Franklin Paul in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Derek Caney)

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    Reuters - Nokia bets on Linux in iPhone battle: sources

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    Nokia bets on Linux in iPhone battle: sources

    Wednesday, Aug 26, 2009 10:35AM UTC

    By Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent

    HELSINKI (Reuters) - Nokia Oyj will try again to tackle Apple Inc's iPhone in the top-end of the handset market with a bet on Linux software, several industry sources told Reuters.

    Top handset maker Nokia will show its first high-end phone running on Maemo, a version of Linux, next week at the annual Nokia World event in Stuttgart, Germany, the sources said.

    But analysts said it would likely not become clear before next year at the earliest whether this would help Nokia achieve its aims.

    The Finnish group has dabbled with Linux since 2005, using it in "Internet tablets" -- sleek phone-like devices used to access the Web that have failed to gain mass-market appeal in part due to their lack of a cellular radio.

    "It looks like Maemo, or at least a Linux derivative of some description, will play a key role for Nokia in high-end (products) over the next year or two," said Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics.

    Nokia's workhorse Symbian operating system (OS) controls half of the smartphone market volume -- more than its rivals Apple, Research in Motion Ltd and Google Inc in total.

    Yet analysts said Linux-based products could have important advantages.

    "Maemo is clearly far more flexible than Symbian, so it's a better option for advanced devices using various display technologies and rapidly evolving user-interface software," said analyst Tero Kuittinen from MKM Partners.

    A Nokia spokesman said the company could not comment on future phone launches.


    High-end products are important for Nokia because the company has not only lost market share in this segment but its average selling prices have declined faster than the industry average.

    Goldman Sachs expects Nokia's value share (a measure reflecting average prices as well as underlying market share) for phones costing more than $350 to decline to 13 percent this year from 33 percent just two years before.

    "Maemo's got to be the best bet Nokia has in that battle." said eQ Bank analyst Jari Honko.

    Linux is the most popular type of free or open source operating system. It competes directly with Microsoft Corp, which charges for its Windows software and opposes freely sharing its code.

    Linux suppliers earn money selling improvements and technical services.

    Nokia has already talked about its work with Linux-based systems.

    "Maemo is taking the desktop Linux environment and making it mobile," Kai Oistamo, the head of Nokia's key phone unit, told Reuters in a recent interview. "We have proven it really can be made, you can take desktop Linux and make it work on mobile."

    Linux has had little success in cellphones so far but its role is increasing with Maemo and also with Google using it for its Android platform.

    Nokia's bet on Maemo does not mean the firm would replace Symbian software -- at the same time it is moving Symbian extensively into its cheaper phones, expanding its target market.

    Confirming the trend, Nokia on Tuesday unveiled a new touch screen smartphone, the 5230, which runs Symbian and is expected to sell for just 149 euros ($213.4), excluding operator subsidies and local taxes.

    (Editing by David Holmes)

    ($1=.6983 Euro)

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    CNN - Sleepless night preceded Jackson's death

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    Sleepless night preceded Jackson's death

    Michael Jackson couldn't sleep.

    Maybe it was anxiety over his upcoming comeback concert series in London, England. Perhaps his body was trying to process too many different medications.

    The reason may never be known, but a sworn affidavit makes clear that the King of Pop couldn't get rest the night before he died on June 25.

    The affidavit, from Detective Orlando Martinez of the Los Angeles Police Department, outlines probable cause for search warrants on the offices of doctors who are thought to have treated Jackson.

    Yet it also opens a window into Jackson's final hours, revealing information about the singer's treatment and the drugs given him by Dr. Conrad Murray, his personal physician, before his death.

    Based on interviews, visits to Jackson's home as well as records and documents gathered during the investigation, the affidavit provides the following account of Jackson's last days:

    In May, Jackson hired Murray, a cardiologist. The singer was spending long days rehearsing for concerts that he saw as crucial to reviving his career.

    For six weeks, Murray told police that he treated Jackson for insomnia. He said he had been giving the singer an intravenous drip with 50 milligrams of propofol, diluted with lidocaine, every night to help him sleep.

    Jackson was already familiar with propofol, a powerful anesthetic, Murray said. The singer even called it his "milk" because of its milky appearance, he said.

    With the concerts approaching, Jackson started to need these drugs every night, Murray said -- and the doctor said he worried that Jackson was becoming addicted to propofol. He wanted to wean Jackson off the drug.

    Three days before Jackson's death -- on June 22 -- Murray gave the singer a combination of drugs that he hoped gradually would move the singer off propofol.

    That mixture involved propofol, the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam (known by its brand name, Ativan) and midazolam (known as Versed). It succeeded in helping Jackson to sleep for that night and the next, Murray said.

    But by the night of June 24, Jackson again apparently was unable to sleep.

    At 1:30 a.m. on June 25, Murray decided to forgo the propofol in favor of 10 milligrams of Valium. Half an hour later, with Jackson still awake in bed, Murray injected the singer with two milligrams of lorazepam.

    It still wasn't working.

    At 3 a.m., Murray gave the singer two milligrams of midazolam, pushed slowly into his IV. And two hours later, with Jackson still awake, Murray administered another two milligrams of lorazepam through Jackson's IV.

    The drugs did nothing to help Jackson sleep.

    At 7:30 a.m., Murray gave the singer another two milligrams of midazolam in his IV.

    By that point, Murray wasn't even leaving Jackson's room anymore, let alone his bedside. The doctor told police he sat next to the singer in his bedroom, monitoring Jackson's pulse and oxygen levels.

    More than three hours later, despite a night of medication and doctor's care, Jackson remained awake.

    Jackson was repeatedly asking -- even demanding -- that Murray give him more propofol to help him sleep, the doctor told police. So Murray finally administered 25 milligrams of propofol diluted with lidocaine via Jackson's IV drip.

    The singer now had his "milk," and it worked. After a restless night, Jackson was finally able to close his eyes and go to sleep.

    Murray told police he watched Jackson sleep for about 10 minutes before going to the bathroom. It had been a long night for both of them.

    The trip to the bathroom took less than two minutes, Murray told police. But when he came back, he said, he saw Jackson wasn't breathing.

    He started cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but it didn't work.

    Jackson was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead later that afternoon.

    According to court documents released Monday, Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, the chief medical examiner-coroner for Los Angeles County, concluded Jackson died of an overdose of propofol.

    Sathyavagiswaran reached that preliminary conclusion after reviewing toxicology results carried out on Jackson's blood, according to a search warrant and affidavit unsealed in Houston, Texas.

    The coroner's office would not comment on the statements in the affidavit. But Ed Chernoff, Murray's attorney, took issue with some of the information included in the court documents.

    "Much of what was in the search warrant affidavit is factual. However, unfortunately, much is police theory," Chernoff said, specifically referring to media reports the coroner would rule Jackson's death a homicide.

    The Los Angeles County district attorney's office said it has not yet seen a police report on the case, and no criminal charges have been filed.

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Reuters - Nokia to enter PC industry with first netbook

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    Nokia to enter PC industry with first netbook

    Monday, Aug 24, 2009 12:23PM UTC

    By Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent

    HELSINKI (Reuters) - The world's top cellphone maker Nokia said on Monday it would start to make laptops, entering a fiercely competitive, but fast-growing market.

    Nokia has seen its profit margins drop over the last quarters as handset demand has slumped, and analysts have worried that entering the PC industry, where margins are traditionally razor-thin, could hurt Nokia's profits further.

    "We are fully aware what has the margin level been in the PC world. We have gone into this with our eyes wide open," Kai Oistamo, the head of Nokia's key phone unit, told Reuters.

    Its first netbook, the Nokia Booklet 3G, will use Microsoft's Windows software and Intel's Atom processor -- offering up to 12 hours of battery life, and weighing 1.25 kilograms. Netbooks are low-cost laptops optimized for surfing the Internet and performing other basic applications. Pioneered by Asustek in 2007, other brands such as HP and Dell have also pushed out their own lines since then.

    Research firm IDC expects netbook shipments this year to grow more than 127 percent from 2008 to over 26 million units, outperforming the overall PC market that is expected to remain flat and a phone market which is shrinking some 10 percent.

    "Nokia will be hoping that its brand and knowledge of cellular channels will play to its strengths as it addresses this crowded, cut-throat segment," said Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight.

    "At present we see Nokia's foray into the netbook market as a niche exercise in the context of its broader business."

    Nokia said it would unveil detailed specifications, market availability and pricing of the device on Sept 2.

    A source close to Nokia said the new netbook would use the upcoming Windows 7 operating system. Microsoft says a stripped-down version of Windows 7 will be introduced to netbooks the same time as its general release on October 22

    (Additional reporting by Kelvin Soh in Taipei; Editing by Rupert Winchester)

    Sunday, August 23, 2009

    Reuters - Hollywood playing catch-up with videogames

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    Hollywood playing catch-up with videogames

    Friday, Aug 21, 2009 1:39PM UTC

    By Scott Roxborough

    COLOGNE, Germany (Hollywood Reporter) - Films and videogames would seem a match made in heaven, so why are games based on hit movies so bad? Despite sharing the same demographic of devoted fans, action, sci-fi and fantasy films rarely translate into branded videogame hits.

    "Movie-based games almost never work. No matter how cool the movie, the game is almost always lame," said Philipp Dollinger, a gamer reviewer for German blog and one of thousands of gamers swarming the halls of the gamescom trade fair, which runs until Sunday in Cologne.

    "Most are just bad imitations of better games already out there," he added.

    Hollywood has been burned before in the gaming space. Just ask Brash Entertainment, the U.S. group that raised $400 million to buy up film licenses and turn them into hit games. After two major flops -- an "Alvin and the Chipmunks" game and one based on Fox's sci-fi feature "Jumper" (2008) -- Brash folded. It was a similar story for Pandemic Brisbane, the Australian outpost of the Los Angeles-based game developer, which shuttered in February after a disastrous attempt to deliver an ambitious game based on Christopher Nolan's blockbuster "The Dark Knight."

    Despite those warning signs, there are plenty of new A-list movie ties at gamescom, and plenty of developers saying they have learned their lessons.


    "For a lot of movies, the game is an afterthought," said Jake Meri, a producer at LucasArts. "The filmmakers are close to finishing production and they say, 'Oh, what about the game?' But a good game takes years of development."

    LucasArts put in the time for its new release, "Star Wars: The Old Republic," a game it is developing with Canadian outfit BioWare for games giant Electronic Arts.

    "Star Wars"-based games have gotten mixed reviews in the past, but the buzz has been strong for "The Old Republic." LucasArts and BioWare have spent years designing the title, which will be a massively multiplayer online game similar to "World of Warcraft" -- a game intended to be played online by thousands of people simultaneously.

    PC Gamer U.K. called "The Old Republic" "a credible 'World of Warcraft' killer," and the lineups to see the demo at gamescom have been longer than those at most movie premieres.

    "We have a lot to live up to with this game, which is why we've spent so much time and money on it," Meri said. "It will be the first fully voiced MMO game in the world. Voicing this game has been the most ambitions voiceover project ever -- we have thousands of characters speaking more than 200,000 lines of dialogue."

    LucasArts is famous for its obsessive protection of the "Star Wars" franchise, but the trend toward closer cooperation between film and games studio is one seen across the industry. James Cameron was hands-on for the more than three years France's Ubisoft took to develop "Avatar," a combat game based on Cameron's upcoming film.

    "It was really unprecedented," Ubisoft developer Patrick Naud said. "We had full access to everything -- the story boards, the concept art, the sound, the voices, the animation. It wasn't a typical movie licensing, where you buy the license and go away and make the game. It was a much closer collaboration."

    "Avatar" will be one of the first big tests of this kind of tight movie-game teamwork when it hits stores in November, ahead of the film's holiday release. "It might be too soon to say this, but James Cameron is a trendsetter, so maybe, in the future, this is the way everyone will be doing business," Naud said. "It would certainly make a lot more sense."

    (Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    Reuters - MySpace to buy Web music service iLike

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    MySpace to buy Web music service iLike

    Thursday, Aug 20, 2009 12:41PM UTC

    By Yinka Adegoke

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - News Corp's MySpace said on Thursday it has agreed to buy music recommendation service iLike, as the once-hot social networking site tries to reinvent itself as an entertainment portal.

    MySpace declined to disclose financial terms of an acquisition that brings iLike's twin brother founders Ali and Hadi Partovi and Nat Brown into the MySpace fold.

    The site was backed by venture capital funds and Ticketmaster Entertainment. Several blogs, including AllThingsDigital, reported earlier in the week that iLike would be bought by MySpace for around $20 million.

    iLike is best known as a popular social music discovery service on Facebook, the social networking site that has overtaken MySpace as the top Web destination for friends and family to share photos, messages, video clips and other media.

    MySpace, which was once the most popular and fastest growing social networking site just two years ago, has lost ground with users who have moved onto Facebook or other sites.

    "We think that integration of iLike should help drive stickier traffic and ultimately improve monetization of MySpace user base," said JP Morgan analyst Imran Khan.

    The acquisition comes as News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch has pressed to reinvent MySpace as an entertainment portal, taking advantage of its continued strength in areas like music and movies.

    While it is still one of the most popular video and music sites, data from Nielsen shows time spent by users on MySpace fell by 31 percent between April 2008 and April 2009. In the same period, user time on Facebook grew 700 percent.

    MySpace Chief Executive Owen Van Natta said on a conference call that iLike's social discovery technology can be extended to other areas for MySpace users beyond music -- areas such as entertainment, video and games.

    He explained this is why MySpace, rather than MySpace Music, made the acquisition. MySpace Music, which launched last September, is a joint venture between MySpace and the four major music companies EMI Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group.

    (Reporting by Yinka Adegoke; Editing Bernard Orr)

    Wednesday, August 19, 2009

    Reuters - Sony rolling out new, cheaper PlayStation 3

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    Sony rolling out new, cheaper PlayStation 3

    Wednesday, Aug 19, 2009 12:22PM UTC

    By Christoph Steitz

    COLOGNE, Germany (Reuters) - Sony Corp will launch a slimmer, cheaper version of its PlayStation 3 game console next month, hoping to jumpstart sales and win back market share from rivals Microsoft and Nintendo.

    Starting in September, the latest, less bulky version of the PS3 will be rolled out at $299 in the United States, 299 euros ($422.7) in Europe and 29,980 yen ($315.6) in Japan, the company said on Tuesday.

    That represents a major price cut from the existing PS3 models, which runs between $399 to $499 and have proven less popular than Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Wii.

    "The main thing is that there is a significant price cut," said Ed Barton, analyst at Screen Digest. "We have argued since the beginning that there must be a substantial cut and this is a positive development."

    Sony's new PS3 comes with a 120 gigabyte hard disk, but consumes 34 percent less power than the original model and is 32 percent smaller, Sony Computer Entertainment Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai said at the Gamescom video game trade show in Cologne, Germany.

    "In 2004, as you may recall, we launched a slim version of PlayStation 2, a defining moment for that console, helping us to really expand the user base of PlayStation 2 further," Hirai said. "Today is that day for PlayStation 3."

    The price cut comes after weeks of pressure from gaming industry leaders like Robert Kotick, the CEO of publisher Activision Blizzard Inc, who say lower console prices would spark the slumping sector.

    Jesse Divnich, an analyst with Electronic Entertainment Design and Research, said he expects PS3 sales to increase a minimum of 20 percent in September.

    He expects Microsoft to cut the price on its higher-end model to $299 from $399. He said Nintendo's Wii, whose sales have been declining rapidly, is in need of either a price cut or a hardware or software bundle.

    "The Xbox 360 does have stronger momentum right now than the PS3, so it's going to take at least two months before I consider these systems to be at an equal level because it just takes some time for consumers to react to things like price cuts," he said.

    Indeed, price cuts are not unusual for video game console makers. Microsoft's sales got a boost last September after the company cut prices on some of its Xbox 360 consoles by about $50. The Xbox 360 now sells in three models ranging from $200 and $400.

    "A smaller console size does not necessarily mean more value for consumers. Starting at $199, Xbox 360 offers the best gaming and entertainment experience at the most consumer-friendly price on the market," Microsoft said in an emailed statement when asked about a comment on Sony's move and about a potential price cut for the Xbox 360.

    Nintendo did not immediately have any comment about Sony's announcement.

    (Additional reporting by Franklin Paul and Gabriel Madway in San Francisco; Editing Bernard Orr)

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    Reuters - Telecom operators hurt selling iPhones

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    Telecom operators hurt selling iPhones

    Monday, Aug 17, 2009 3:41PM UTC

    By Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent

    HELSINKI (Reuters) - Heavy subsidies shelled out by telecom operators around the world to lure consumers to buy an Apple iPhone have done nothing to increase profits, and have even dented them in some cases, a research report showed on Monday.

    "According to the research we have conducted on the operators, not one of these have increased their market share, revenue, or their earnings as a result of introducing the iPhone," Strand Consult says in the report.

    "On the contrary, some operators have sent out profit warnings because of the iPhone," the Copenhagen-based wireless consultancy said in report scheduled to be published this week.

    Cupertino, California-based Apple released its first iPhone in mid-2007, and it quickly became a consumer phenomenon thanks to its unique design and ease of use.

    In its June quarter Apple sold 5.2 million iPhones. This compares to 268 million phones sold globally by all handset manufacturers.

    But not everyone has profited.

    "We have not found one operator which has created shareholder value with iPhone," Strand said. "When looking at the numbers we can't see the iPhone effect -- a lot of competitors are actually doing better."

    AT&T Inc, iPhone's exclusive carrier in the United States, said in June its costs to sell the new version of the iPhone would be similar to those for the original 3G iPhone, which pressured its profits last year.

    SingTel, Southeast Asia's largest phone firm, has reported falling profits due to iPhone launches, saying the iPhone alone hurt operating profit margin by 3-4 percentage points.

    TeliaSonera, the top operator in the Nordics, has launched the iPhone with large marketing campaigns in all Nordic countries, but it has not helped it to boost market share or lift revenues per subscriber (ARPU) according to Strand's report.

    TeliaSonera's ARPU in Denmark has declined from 212 Danish crowns to 168 crowns over last two years, twice the pace of ARPU fall of Sonofon whose ARPU in first quarter was 205 crowns. Its market share is unchanged from two years ago.

    In Sweden TeliaSonera has lost one percentage point of market share in two years, and its the lowest ARPU carrier among top firms, with ARPU falling to 179 Swedish crowns in the first quarter.

    Operators have heavily subsidized iPhones, hoping to reap benefits later, but as Apple moves away from exclusive deals operators are seeing their window of opportunity close, Strand says.

    "Operators are definitely looking for alternatives to the iPhone that return more value back to the operator," said Frank Meehan, chief executive of INQ Mobile, a phone making arm of Hutchison.

    Strand's report says other handset makers are starting to catch Apple, whose latest model is very similar to original 2007 iPhone, and noted several small operators have started to successfully court iPhone customers of other operators. (Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Rupert Winchester)

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    Reuters - Struggling Sony Ericsson taps Nordberg as new head

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    Struggling Sony Ericsson taps Nordberg as new head

    Monday, Aug 17, 2009 10:50AM UTC

    By Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent

    HELSINKI (Reuters) - Sony Ericsson on Monday entrusted the head of Ericsson's U.S. technology division with the task of leading the struggling cellphone maker back to profit and reversing a sharp decline in market share.

    The 50-50 venture said it named Bert Nordberg as chief executive in place of Dick Komiyama, who retires at the end of this year.

    Sony Ericsson has reported steep losses in past quarters and seen its market share slip to below 5 percent, sparking market speculation of a possible breakup.

    "I would go for increased market share and restoring profitability," Nordberg told Reuters when asked where he hopes to see the company in 1-2 years' time. He said he would pursue ongoing restructuring and step up efforts to develop "smash-hit" products.

    Nordberg, 53, currently Executive Vice President at Ericsson and head of the firm's Silicon Valley business, said he was extremely confident in support from both parent companies, while turning to profit "can't be too far away."

    Of the top five cellphone vendors, Sony Ericsson saw the sharpest drop in sales from the first quarter.

    The firm has missed trends like full keyboards, Internet browsing and navigation, and research firm Gartner said last week its market share fell to just 4.7 percent globally.


    "Nordberg has some big decisions to make from day one," said Ben Wood, head of research at CCS Insight.

    "Sony Ericsson needs to streamline its mobile software strategy and further reduce its dependence on mid-tier feature phones while working to restore profitability in the toughest economic climate the mobile phone industry has ever seen."

    Sony Ericsson is known for its phones focusing on music and imaging, but it has so far lacked a strong offering of smartphones.

    Nordberg said he would look for a strategic revamp of the firm's product portfolio. "In this industry you need smash-hit products," he said.

    The firm also said Sony CEO Howard Stringer would become new board chairman on Oct 15, replacing Ericsson head Carl-Henric Svanberg, who will become chairman of BP in January.

    Nordberg has been with Ericsson since 1996, prior to which he worked with companies including Data General Corp. and Digital Equipment Corp.

    In July Sony Ericsson posted a pretax loss of 283 million euros ($400 million), and said the rest of the year would be difficult, with the overall market to shrink at least 10 percent.

    Shares in Ericsson were 1.3 percent lower at 66.30 crowns by 1033 GMT, outperforming a DJ Stoxx European technology index down 2 percent.

    (Reporting by Tarmo Virki and Brett Young, editing by Will Waterman, John Stonestreet)

    Sunday, August 16, 2009

    Reuters - Go viral for laughs with UK's Idiots of Ants

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    Go viral for laughs with UK's Idiots of Ants

    Wednesday, Aug 12, 2009 4:53PM UTC

    By Paul Casciato

    LONDON (Reuters) - Don't despair if you haven't already bought tickets to the sold-out Edinburgh Festival Fringe show of one of British comedy's best up and coming troupes. Go viral.

    Idiots of Ants, four young Englishmen whose serious white shirts and black ties offset their absurd sketches, will prance, preen and make you laugh until it hurts your spleen in your own living room today.

    The troupe that had Monty Python's John Cleese laughing out loud on a tour of Canada this year and was chosen by leisure bible Time Out magazine as a top pick of the three-week long Fringe has also racked up millions of hits on YouTube with sketches like "Facebloke" and "New York Cop."

    "We're frantically making as much viral (video sketches on the Internet) as we can to show off our style and what we do," Elliott Tiney, one of the four Idiots, told Reuters.

    Tiney, alongside Benjamin Wilson, James Wrighton and Andrew Spiers have been selling out successively bigger venues at the Fringe for the past three years. They were invited on a Canadian tour alongside Cleese and other "best of British" comedians and have the television producers sniffing around.

    "I guess that's a sign that things are going in the right direction," Wrighton said in an interview with Tiney and Wilson.

    Their madcap sketch show "Idiots of Ants -- This is War" at the Pleasance in Edinburgh was sold out this year before it opened and is an onslaught of gags, video clips and some pretty outrageous humor about the male perspective on life.

    They are not afraid of high risk comedy, making one member of the audience a major part of the show each night. At the Fringe, where people wander from bar-to-theater with drinks in hand, that kind of risk-taking can go badly wrong.

    As the crowd enters, Wilson is already on stage picking out which audience member he thinks will get the most laughs and give the least amount of trouble.

    "I'm kind of giving the briefest psychological assessment you'll ever give when I'm stood at the front going 'right who looks the least mental,'" he said.

    After that, they're off with skits on the "Federation of Fatherhood Preparation" in which dads-to-be learn how to tell terrible jokes and be generally embarrassing, a bachelorette party -- where four women wake up with hangovers and sex changes -- to a cheerfully morbid song about cannibalism for airline crash survivors stranded on a mountain.

    How did they come up with their quirky name?

    Tiney said he thought that Idiot Savants would be a good name for a comedy club and quickly Wrighton and Wilson spoke up to say they didn't.

    "We thought that was quite pretentious, so Jimmy said what about Idiots of Ants, which is a funny collection of words but also it has a double meaning buried in there," Wilson said.

    When asked about the growing comparisons to Monty Python's Flying Circus, the 20-something Ants shuffle their feet, look embarrassed and then Elliott tells the story of how they caught sight of Cleese laughing out loud in the wings at one of their shows and then asking them for advice about a joke.

    "He asked us did we have any different ideas for the punchline of one of his jokes and we just all stood there like bumbling idiots kind of saying it's fine, it's brilliant John you did really well, John."

    (Editing by Steve Addison)

    Reuters - IBM uses DNA to make next-gen microchips

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    IBM uses DNA to make next-gen microchips

    Sunday, Aug 16, 2009 5:11PM UTC

    By Clare Baldwin

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - International Business Machines Corp <IBM.N> is looking to the building blocks of our bodies -- DNA -- to be the structure of next-generation microchips.

    As chipmakers compete to develop ever-smaller chips at cheaper prices, designers are struggling to cut costs.

    Artificial DNA nanostructures, or "DNA origami" may provide a cheap framework on which to build tiny microchips, according to a paper published on Sunday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

    Microchips are used in computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.

    "This is the first demonstration of using biological molecules to help with processing in the semiconductor industry," IBM research manager Spike Narayan said in an interview with Reuters.

    "Basically, this is telling us that biological structures like DNA actually offer some very reproducible, repetitive kinds of patterns that we can actually leverage in semiconductor processes," he said.

    The research was a joint undertaking by scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Center and the California Institute of Technology.

    Right now, the tinier the chip, the more expensive the equipment. Narayan said that if the DNA origami process scales to production-level, manufacturers could trade hundreds of millions of dollars in complex tools for less than a million dollars of polymers, DNA solutions, and heating implements.

    "The savings across many fronts could add up significantly," he said.

    But the new processes are at least 10 years out. Narayan said that while the DNA origami could allow chipmakers to build frameworks that are far smaller than possible with conventional tools, the technique still needs years of experimentation and testing.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009

    Reuters - Deadline for U.S. broadband grants, loans extended

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    Deadline for U.S. broadband grants, loans extended

    Friday, Aug 14, 2009 5:30AM UTC

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The deadline for online applications for the first round of the U.S. government's $7.2 billion program to provide broadband access to all Americans was extended to August 20 from August 14 because of technical problems caused by the high number of applicants.

    Applicants who started the process using the online Easygrants System will be given until the close of business Thursday, August 20, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said.

    The NTIA said additional servers had been added.

    Paper applications are still due by Aug 14.

    The Commerce Department administers the broadband program with the Agriculture Department.

    The government is awarding $4 billion in loans and grants to applicants who meet certain criteria and compete for the funds. The money would have to be used to expand broadband infrastructure.

    Companies, organizations, and state and local governments are eligible to apply in the first round. Big carriers like Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc are not expected to apply.

    Broadband has been the central focus of workshops being held by the Federal Communications Commission, which has been charged with creating a national broadband plan, that will be presented to Congress in February.

    As part of the stimulus broadband plan, the government is overseeing a $350 million mapping program to determine the extent of broadband use in U.S. homes and bring high-speed Internet service to more people.

    Last week, the NTIA said telecommunications providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast Corp had agreed to provide some information about their broadband networks as part of the mapping program.

    (Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

    Reuters - Asian Web connections set to resume by end of Thursday

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    Asian Web connections set to resume by end of Thursday

    Friday, Aug 14, 2009 1:33PM UTC

    TAIPEI (Reuters) - Up to 90 percent of all voice call and Internet services from parts of East Asia that were disrupted after Typhoon Morakot damaged undersea cables will resume by the end of Thursday, a senior Chunghwa Telecom official said.

    Many Web users in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines experienced slow Internet connections this week as undersea landslides damaged cables connecting them to websites hosted in the United States.

    Full repair work on the damaged cables will only be completed in about two months, and Chunghwa is working with other affected telecommunications companies in the region to use alternative routes to restore connectivity.

    Chunghwa Telecom, a former state-owned monopoly and Taiwan's largest telecoms company, shares the undersea cables with other operators in East Asia.

    "We see that most Internet and voice connections should be back to near-normal levels by the end of Thursday," said T.F. Leng, president of Chunghwa's International Business Group.

    "The typhoon didn't destroy the cables all in one go, which would have led to a sudden outage of services. It slowly destroyed some of the cables, which is why it took a few days before some users were affected."

    The cost of repairing the cables will be shared among various telecoms companies, and Chunghwa Telecom's share of the costs should not exceed T$3 million ($91,240), Leng said, declining to name the other companies involved.

    The last time Internet users in East Asia experienced an Internet outage as a result of a natural disaster was in 2006, when an earthquake off the coast of Taiwan damaged undersea cables.

    (Reporting by Kelvin Soh; Editing by Chris Lewis and Sugita Katyal)

    Reuters - Leaked Radiohead song has fans on alert for new EP

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    Leaked Radiohead song has fans on alert for new EP

    Friday, Aug 14, 2009 9:16PM UTC

    By Andre Paine

    LONDON (Billboard) - There is speculation that Radiohead will issue a new digital EP as early as Monday, after the leak of a track online assumed to be a new song by the band.

    Fan site At Ease reports that the track "These Are My Twisted Words" was posted on its message board, and it has since appeared on YouTube. According to At Ease, the source file includes the title "Wall of Ice" -- assumed to be the name of the EP -- and the release date August 17.

    Radiohead, which does not have a long-term label deal at present, released its 2007 set "In Rainbows" via its own Web site on a pay-what-you-want basis for the MP3 and followed that with a full release in January 2008 via XL Recordings in the U.K and ATO/Red in the U.S.

    In an interview with the Australian Friday, multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood said: "Traditionally we'd be looking for 10 or 11 songs and putting them together, but that doesn't feel as natural as it used to, so I don't know what we'll do. Maybe we'll find four songs that work together and we'll call that a release. I don't know. No one knows how to release music any more, including us. How to put it together, in what format, how long. We're in the dark as much as anyone, I think."

    Radiohead is rehearsing for festival appearances including Leeds and Reading (August 29 and 30) in the U.K.

    Last week it issued the digital track "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)," with proceeds going to the British Legion, the U.K. charity that supports the armed forces and its veterans. Harry Patch, who died aged 111 on July 25, was Britain's last surviving veteran of World War I.

    (Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)

    Reuters - Facebook to face off with new Web rivals

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    Facebook to face off with new Web rivals

    Saturday, Aug 15, 2009 4:14PM UTC

    By Alexei Oreskovic

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook's vision of becoming a "utility" that offers activities to keep people online for hours could set it on a collision course with the Web's giants.

    In recent days, the No.1 social networking company revamped its search engine and bought a start-up that some call a rival to hot micro-blogging service Twitter. It is also testing a stripped-down version of its service to boost growth overseas and is developing an electronic payments system.

    These moves mark a new phase in Facebook's evolution as the five-year-old company meshes the viral power of social networks and its huge member base to barge into new markets.

    "When you become the site that people spend enough hours on everyday it's very natural to take advantage of that and to become the site that tries to provide all the services that portals provide," said Haim Mendelson, a professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

    The site, co-founded by 25-year-old Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard University dorm room, could challenge Web portals like Yahoo Inc and Google in content and communications, Brigantine Advisors analyst Colin Gillis said.

    Facebook, which Zuckerberg has described as a "social utility," could take on eBay Inc's PayPal online payments system and maybe Apple Inc's iTunes for digital downloads, he added.

    "People only do so many things on the Web," said Jeffrey Rayport, founder of digital media consultancy firm Marketspace. "There are a lot of companies that would like to own that set of activities."


    With more than 250 million members, Facebook was the world's fourth most visited website in June, according to comScore. It is on track to bring in more than $500 million in revenue this year, most of it from advertising sales.

    The new initiatives represent the natural evolution of the service, said Facebook Vice President of Product Christopher Cox. He downplayed the increasing overlap between Facebook's new search engine and Twitter's search engine, or Google's dominant Web search engine.

    Facebook's previous search engine was useful for finding other people on the site, but the new version lets users look up what others are saying about particular topics, from healthcare to Iran. The search results are relevant to each person, Cox said in an interview.

    "When you're trying to figure out what to eat, or what shoes to buy, or who to vote for, you don't go ask thousands of strangers," said Cox. "The Web should reflect that."

    Facebook's recent acquisition of FriendFeed, which lets people share and search for content in real time across social networks and blogs, gives it another key asset as it seeks to perhaps extend its search scope beyond the site's boundaries.

    Google recently unveiled new search engine prototype, dubbed Caffeine, that promises faster, more relevant searches.

    Asked about Facebook's search efforts, a Google spokesman said, "We have many competitors, and we take them all seriously. But what we take more seriously is innovation and making search better."

    Facebook is likely not interested in going head-to-head in Internet search with Google, Stanford's Mendelson said. But the areas of overlap between the companies are increasing, and by beefing up search, Facebook could become more competitive with Google, he added.

    At the same time, Facebook could go after PayPal with the online payments system it is developing. Companies like 1-800-Flowers have already set up shop within Facebook, and e-commerce could become more popular on the site.

    Software developers who sell applications on Facebook are testing the payments system, Cox said, but it is not clear whether it will handle e-commerce transactions across the Web.

    "We're really just trying to get our bearings on what the right product is here with a handful of people at this point," said Cox.

    (Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic. Editing by Robert MacMillan)

    Thursday, August 13, 2009

    CNN - Guitar, studio wizard Les Paul dies at 94

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    Guitar, studio wizard Les Paul dies at 94

    Les Paul, whose innovations with the electric guitar and studio technology made him one of the most important figures in recorded music, has died, according to a statement from his publicists. Paul was 94.

    Paul died in White Plains, New York, from complications of severe pneumonia, according to the statement.

    Paul was a guitar and electronics mastermind whose creations -- such as multitrack recording, tape delay and the solid-body guitar that bears his name, the Gibson Les Paul -- helped give rise to modern popular music, including rock 'n' roll. No slouch on the guitar himself, he continued playing at clubs into his 90s despite being hampered by arthritis.

    "If you only have two fingers [to work with], you have to think, how will you play that chord?" he told in a 2002 phone interview. "So you think of how to replace that chord with several notes, and it gives the illusion of sounding like a chord." Do you play a Les Paul guitar?

    Guitarists mourned the loss Thursday.

    "Les Paul was truly a 'one of a kind.' We owe many of his inventions that made the rock 'n roll sound of today to him, and he was the founding father of modern music," B.B. King said in a statement. "This is a huge loss to the music community and the world. I am honored to have known him."

    Joe Satriani said in a statement: "Les Paul set a standard for musicianship and innovation that remains unsurpassed. He was the original guitar hero and the kindest of souls. Last October I joined him onstage at the Iridium club in [New York], and he was still shredding. He was and still is an inspiration to us all."

    In a statement, Slash said, "Les Paul was a shining example of how full one's life can be; he was so vibrant and full of positive energy."

    Lester William Polfuss was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on June 9, 1915. Even as a child he showed an aptitude for tinkering, taking apart electric appliances to see what made them tick.

    "I had to build it, make it and perfect it," Paul said in 2002. He was nicknamed the "Wizard of Waukesha."

    In the 1930s and '40s, he played with the bandleader Fred Waring and several big band singers, including Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters, as well as with his own Les Paul Trio. In the early 1950s, he had a handful of huge hits with his then-wife, Mary Ford, such as "How High the Moon" and "Vaya Con Dios."

    His guitar style, heavily influenced by jazzman Django Reinhardt, featured lightning-quick runs and double-time rhythms. In 1948, after being involved in a severe car accident, he asked the doctor to set his arm permanently in a guitar-playing position.

    Paul also credited Crosby for teaching him about timing, phrasing and preparation.

    Crosby "didn't say it, he did it -- one time only. Unless he blew the lyrics, he did one take."

    Paul never stopped tinkering with electronics, and after Crosby gave him an early audiotape recorder, Paul went to work changing it. It eventually led to multitrack recording; on Paul and Ford's hits, he plays many of the guitar parts, and Ford harmonizes with herself. Multitrack recording is now the industry standard.

    But Paul likely will be best remembered for the Gibson Les Paul, a variation on the solid-body guitar he built in the early 1940s -- "The Log" -- and offered to the guitar company.

    "For 10 years, I was a laugh," he told CNN in an interview. "[But I] kept pounding at them and pounding at them saying hey, here's where it's at. Here's where tomorrow, this is it. You can drown out anybody with it. And you can make all these different sounds that you can't do with a regular guitar."

    Gibson, spurred by rival Fender, finally took Paul up on his offer and introduced the model in 1952. It has since become the go-to guitar for such performers as Jimmy Page.

    "The world has lost a truly innovative and exceptional human being today. I cannot imagine life without Les Paul," said Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar, in a statement. "He would walk into a room and put a smile on anyone's face. His musical charm was extraordinary and his techniques unmatched anywhere in the world."

    Paul is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Inventors Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is survived by three sons, a daughter, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Until recently he had a standing gig at New York's Iridium Jazz Club, where he would play with a who's who of famed musicians.

    He admired the places guitarists and engineers took his inventions, but he said there was nothing to replace good, old-fashioned elbow grease and soul.

    "I learned a long time ago that one note can go a long way if it's the right one," he said in 2002, "and it will probably whip the guy with 20 notes."

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Reuters - Desperate times bring desperate men to television

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    Desperate times bring desperate men to television

    Wednesday, Aug 12, 2009 7:2PM UTC

    By Jill Serjeant

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Television audiences who thought the ladies of "Desperate Housewives" were troubled haven't seen anything yet.

    When ABC premieres its new sitcom "Hank" during the season that starts in September, the show's out-of-work CEO joins a growing list of American male characters taking extreme measures to cope with recession, unemployment, housing troubles and soaring medical costs.

    "Leading characters are doing things that a generation ago would never have been the activities of the protagonist of a TV show," said Robert Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.

    "You could argue that when you have lost your job, the last thing in the world you want is to watch TV about people losing their jobs. But as it's a recession, TV executives think people want to see stuff about relevant issues, so they develop these kind of shows," Thompson said.

    On "Hank," Wall Street big shot Hank Pryor (Kelsey Grammer) loses his job, sells his fancy New York apartment, moves to Virginia and must learn to make his own toast.

    He follows in the footsteps of high school basketball coach Ray Drecker on HBO's new series "Hung," who finds himself divorced, broke and homeless, so he reluctantly decides to market himself as a gigolo to keep from having to live in a small tent on the grounds of his burned-down house.

    And then there is chemistry teacher Walt White in critics' darling "Breaking Bad" on AMC, who suffers from terminal cancer and faces massive medical bills, so he uses his chemistry skills to cook up and sell the drug crystal meth.


    "I think the story is very relatable in this economic climate where people find themselves without health insurance, without a job, and wondering what they are going to do and how they are going to provide for their family," said actor Bryan Cranston, who won an Emmy for playing Walt after the show's first season last year.

    But being entertainment on television, the shows are not all doom and gloom. Both "Hung" and "Breaking Bad" have elements of dark comedy that transcend their bleak premises, and "Hank" is a traditional 30-minute sitcom starring Grammer of award-winning "Frasier" fame.

    Creator Tucker Cawley said "Hank" was inspired by the failure last year of consumer electronics retailing giant Circuit City, which was for decades a family-run business.

    "We will be touching on riches-to-rags things. But Kelsey's character doesn't look on the new situation as something people should feel sorry about. It's the kind of old-fashioned American optimism with which he views the world which hopefully will be appealing," Cawley said.

    Grammer's character loses his maids, his yacht, his sub-zero fridge and his king-size bed, along with his blissful ignorance about the basic tasks of human existence.

    "These are the kinds of things you can deal with in comedy. A sitcom about a big shot like Kelsey Grammer's character who is now having to make his own toast can really be therapeutic," said pop culture watcher Thompson.

    (Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Will Dunham)

    Reuters - "The Sims" creator eyes the world beyond games

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    "The Sims" creator eyes the world beyond games

    Thursday, Aug 06, 2009 12:24PM UTC

    By John Gaudiosi

    NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (Reuters) - Will Wright, the creator behind top-selling videogame "The Sims," is eyeing life outside the virtual world.

    Since leaving Electronic Arts in April to run entertainment think tank "Stupid Fun Club," Wright said he views himself as an "entertainment designer" rather than game maker and wants to create worlds crossing every spectrum of media.

    Following on from his bestsellers like "The Sims 3" and "Spore," Wright is working on new franchises that can go beyond games to the Web, mobile devices, and traditional Hollywood outlets like television and film.

    Wright, 49, said he was fascinating by watching gamers using the editing tools provided with "Spore" to make over 100 million user-generated alien species, space ships and even design games.

    "We're taking the idea that you can have a million people engaged not just in entertainment, but also have them creating huge amounts of content for other people to experience," said Wright.

    "The question is how can you transfer that to other fields besides games," he added, while refusing to divulge the details of the project he is working on.

    In an industry that has more failures than successes, Wright has distinguished himself in the game world by attracting mainstream audiences to his creations.

    "The Sims" franchise has sold over 100 million copies worldwide and it's relationship-focused, non-violent gameplay has attracted an unprecedented female gaming audience -- half of "Sims" players are female.

    EA has already sold over 817,000 copies of "The Sims 3" in the United States since June, according to The NPD Group.

    "Spore" has sold over 1.7 million copies in the United States alone since last year, according to The NPD Group.

    ""The Sims" was always an experiment," said Wright. "We never thought it'd be a mainstream thing. We simply did a game and started adding expansion packs and did a sequel and added more expansion packs."

    Wright said good examples of "cross-media" companies were George Lucas' empire, which runs the gamut from special effects house Industrial Light & Magic to LucasArts and LucasFilm, and the Walt Disney Company.

    Speaking at SIGGRAPH this week, the annual gathering of computer graphics professionals, Wright pointed to J.J. Abrams' "Lost" television show, which has used the Internet, as well as games, to build a story expanding beyond the serialized content.

    Wright, in his first public appearance since parting ways with Electronic Arts in April, said the fusion of technology will enable future entertainment to be more than interactive.

    "Games and stories are generative with one leading to the other," said Wright, who added that games allow people to build models in a virtual world to apply back to the real world.

    "People can learn lessons about the past, present and future in an entertaining way."

    (Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

    Reuters - Looking for a job? Try LinkedIn or Twitter

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    Looking for a job? Try LinkedIn or Twitter

    Wednesday, Aug 12, 2009 4:2PM UTC

    By Sue Zeidler

    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Job-seeking in this 21st century recession may just have gone viral and mobile.

    Since the start of the recession in December 2007, about 6.7 million workers have been laid off according to latest statistics -- at a time the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have exploded, drawing millions of users per day.

    As these sites continue to alter social and cultural landscapes, they are also transforming the job search process, enabling more and more people to connect with potential employers, promote their own skills, set up support groups and search for job leads and contacts.

    "Mobile technology and social networking has shifted the whole job search paradigm," said Susan Joyce, editor of Job-Hunt.Org, a site offering online job search tips. "You don't need to stay glued to your phone or computer at home anymore."

    With mobile devices playing a bigger role in the social networking phenomenon, any job hopeful with a Web-connected or smartphone can now compose resumes, view job listings and contact prospective employers on the go.

    Joyce suggests creating a resume through popular networking site LinkedIn -- a business networking site that lets users create a profile, list skills, work history, employment goals and contact details -- is among the more secure ways to compile a resume online.

    It can be done via Research in Motion Ltd's Blackberry device or Apple Inc's iPhone, she added.

    "The LinkedIn Profile is really the resume of the future," Joyce said. "The 'resume' on LinkedIn is really the standard LinkedIn Profile, but it's very popular with recruiters looking for good candidates.

    "You could build your whole LinkedIn presence from any Web-enabled phone."

    There are any number of job-search applications -- downloadable programs for your phone -- available for the iPhone, for instance, including one piloted by recruitment consultancy Harvey Nash. Others pool information on jobs in travel and in education, among other sectors.


    With jobs still scarce, many hopefuls are getting creative about getting noticed. Many have begun using Twitter -- a microblogging service that allows users to send 140-character messages at a time -- to get the word out.

    A career is unlikely to be launched on Twitter alone, but candidates are increasingly "tweeting" or posting messages to outline their skills, experiences and career goals. They are pasting links to their resumes on the micro-blogging service.

    People can also use Twitter to follow recruiters or companies of interest and learn of networking events.

    Job seekers have gotten job leads and tips on networking events that they otherwise would have missed, had it not been for their Twitter or Facebook account.

    "It's really helped in these hard times. You have a much easier time finding job and networking events. And every time I go to one of these events, I add at least one connection," said Nilo Sarraf, who was laid off from Yahoo Inc recently and formed a Silicon Valley online networking group called Layoffs Cafe at

    Layoffs Cafe is one of several online support groups that have sprung up during the downturn, tipping off job seekers where physical networking events are taking place.

    Chris Hutchins, a former management and business strategy consultant in Silicon Valley, launched LaidOffCamp as the online component to offline events.

    "We focus on organizing events for people who are unemployed," said Hutchins, noting there have been about 11 "LaidOff Camps" set up around the country, drawing anywhere from 100 to 600 participants who attend panels on topics such as how to live on a budget, how to develop a personal brand and how to find a job in the current market.

    "We spent no dollars on marketing. If it weren't for social media and blogs, Laidoff Camp wouldn't exist," he said.

    While candidates these days are taking advantage of to easily access job information, one of the downsides, according to job seekers and employment experts, is managing the data.

    "It can be overwhelming. It's hard to weed out all the information and manage your time," said Sarraf.

    Privacy issues and falling prey to the many recruiting, work-at-home, make-a-million and resume creation software scams are also risks for the unwary.

    "When someone is job hunting, they need to be careful. I know a lot of people who have been hurt by bogus resume companies. People tend to think if its online, its legitimate and when you're doing a resume, people are being asked to provide a lot of personal information, such as where you live and your social security number," she added.

    (Reporting by Sue Zeidler; editing by Edwin Chan and Andre Grenon)

    Reuters - Microsoft, Nokia form alliance to rival RIM

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    Microsoft, Nokia form alliance to rival RIM

    Wednesday, Aug 12, 2009 8:5PM UTC

    By Bill Rigby and Tarmo Virki

    SEATTLE/HELSINKI (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp and Nokia announced an alliance on Wednesday to bring business software to smartphones and counter the dominance of Research in Motion Ltd's BlackBerry.

    The alliance between the world's largest software company and cell phone maker means the latest versions of Microsoft's Office applications, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and messaging, will be available on a range of Nokia cell phones, which make up 45 percent of the global smartphone market.

    The two companies, at one time fierce rivals in the mobile telecommunications business, expect to offer Nokia phones running Office sometime next year.

    "This is giving some of our competitors -- let's spell it out, RIM -- a run for their money," said Nokia Executive Vice President Robert Andersson, in a telephone interview. "I don't think BlackBerry has seen the kind of competition we can provide them now."

    Research in Motion's BlackBerry created the market for mobile e-mail, and its dominant position in the corporate sector, especially in North America, has protected it from Nokia's attempts to crack the market in recent years.

    "RIM should be reasonably safe in the near-term because Nokia's presence in the U.S. is relatively small," said Neil Mawston from research firm Strategy Analytics. "Partnering more closely with Microsoft will help to raise Nokia's profile in the U.S."

    The alliance also aims to counter Google Inc's recent move into free online software, targeted at Microsoft's business customers, and the growing popularity of Apple Inc's iPhone device.

    "It's clear that Nokia and Microsoft are both facing competitive challenges, most notably from Google," said John Jackson, an analyst at wireless research firm CCS Insight. "It makes sense for these two companies to work together to see if they can pool their competitive strengths to try and counter some of this pressure."

    The alliance means Microsoft's new Office suite of applications could be available to a much wider audience than the users of Windows Mobile phones, which make up 9 percent of the smartphone market.

    "We see this as a great opportunity to deliver Office Mobile to 200 million Nokia smartphone customers," said Takeshi Numoto, an executive at Microsoft's Office business.

    Analysts said Microsoft is clearly looking at the largest possible audience with the Nokia deal.

    "The deal is a good win for Microsoft and it will surely now be hoping to upsell the Microsoft suite of operating systems into Nokia's possible portfolios of smartphones, mobile Internet devices and netbooks over the next couple of years," said Strategy Analytics' Mawston.

    The two companies stressed that the new venture will not affect the future of Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Nokia's Symbian operating systems for smartphones. Executives said Nokia has no plans to make a Windows Mobile device.

    "We are extremely committed to Symbian," said Andersson. "This is very clear. This is a multi-year collaboration building on Symbian. We are as committed as before, if not more," he said.

    Microsoft shares rose 2.1 percent to $23.62 on Nasdaq while Nokia rose less than 1 percent to 9.30 euros in Helsinki. Shares in RIM were 0.5 percent lower in Toronto.

    (Reporting by Bill Rigby in Seattle and Tarmo Virki in Helsinki, editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Robert MacMillan) Keywords: MICROSOFT/NOKIA

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009

    Reuters - Facebook buys social media start-up FriendFeed

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    Facebook buys social media start-up FriendFeed

    Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009 5:25PM UTC

    By Alexei Oreskovic

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook, the world's largest social networking site, said it will buy FriendFeed, netting a group of prized ex-Google engineers in the fast-growing Internet business.

    FriendFeed, an up-and-coming social media startup, lets people share content online in real time across various social networks and blogs.

    The service is similar to, though less popular than Twitter, the microblogging site that Facebook tried to buy for $500 million in 2008, according to sources familiar with the matter.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed on Monday, but Facebook said FriendFeed would operate as it has for the time being as the teams determine long-term plans.

    Facebook's big gain in the acquisition is the engineering talent at FriendFeed, rather than the actual product, which has won critical praise, but lagged in popularity compared to Twitter, said Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang.

    "These guys know how to build scalable, social applications," said Owyang.

    In a statement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he admired the FriendFeed team for having created a service he described as simple and elegant.

    "As this shows, our culture continues to make Facebook a place where the best engineers come to build things quickly that lots of people will use," said Zuckerberg.

    FriendFeed's four founders are former Google Inc employees who count well known products like Gmail and Google Maps among their accomplishments.

    Facebook said the founders will hold senior roles on its engineering and product teams.

    FriendFeed had talked with Facebook "casually" for a couple of months, and that it became clear that the teams were "cut from the same cloths," FriendFeed co-founder Bret Taylor told Reuters in an interview.

    He declined to say whether FriendFeed had been in talks with other companies.

    One bridge between Facebook and FriendFeed might have been Matt Cohler, Facebook's former management vice president. He joined FriendFeed backer Benchmark Capital last year.

    Asked what role the connection played in the deal, FriendFeed's Taylor said the decision to be acquired by Facebook was made entirely by the team at FriendFeed.

    Facebook has more than 250 million registered users. In May, the social networking company announced a $200 million investment from Russian investor Digital Sky Technologies that pegged the value of its preferred shares at $10 billion.

    Facebook has said its revenue is on track to rise 70 percent this year, and board member Mark Andreessen has said the company will bring in more than $500 million in revenue in 2009.

    But Forrester's Owyang said that Facebook must make the content generated within the site more accessible to the public instead of only to closed networks of Facebook friends, so that the company can sell more ads.

    Earlier this year, Facebook announced changes to its privacy controls to allow people to make their status messages and posts viewable to a broader Internet audience.

    (Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing Bernard Orr and Robert MacMillan)

    Sunday, August 9, 2009

    Reuters - Be careful what you post online, career counselors warn

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    Be careful what you post online, career counselors warn

    Thursday, Aug 06, 2009 5:53PM UTC

    By David Gregorio

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - People concerned about their careers should be extra careful about what they post on the Internet during a recession, career counselors say.

    Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and other venues present numerous opportunities to sabotage your hunt for a job or promotion at a time when employers can afford to be picky.

    "With social media, you can be vapid, boring and annoying with alarming frequency," Patricia Vaccarino, owner of a Seattle public relations firm, warned clients in a newsletter.

    Vaccarino said many of her Facebook friends have posted "in great detail about their colonoscopies, dead teeth pulled, dead dogs, flatulence, adult acne, marital breakups, battles with mental illnesses and drinking problems."

    If this information can make friends cringe, she added, imagine the impression it would make on a potential employer.

    Kurt Weyerhauser, an executive recruiter at Kensington Stone in Los Angeles, said one human resources department "found a picture online of a candidate smoking what appeared to be pot, and in another case a company found a few severely off-color jokes that a candidate had posted dealing with race and gender."

    He said the blunders can be roadblocks to being hired, regardless of the candidate's ability to perform the basic functions of the job.

    Hiring people with that kind of public record online may even put a company in legal jeopardy.

    "If there is ever a problem with drug use or the harassment of coworkers the company could be liable," he told Reuters.

    In some U.S. states, hiring or promoting people who have exhibited drug use or racist or sexist attitudes "could constitute negligent hiring or negligent retention," according to Weyerhauser.

    Even innocuous postings can cause problems.

    He cited the example of the single mother raising four children who posts about her day-to-day life, which might convince an employer that she is too tired and overburdened to be considered for a promotion that might require more time and energy.

    Weyerhauser had one final tip. He urges job hunters to think about their email address.

    "Nothing gives one more cause for pause than receiving a resume from an email address like ''," he said.

    Friday, August 7, 2009

    Reuters - Hacker attacks silence Twitter, slow Facebook

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    Hacker attacks silence Twitter, slow Facebook

    Friday, Aug 07, 2009 6:7AM UTC

    By Alexei Oreskovic

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Twitter and Facebook suffered service problems from hacker attacks on Thursday, raising speculation about a coordinated campaign against the world's most popular online social networks.

    The attacks, which came a month after the White House website was targeted in a similar online assault, left millions unable to carry out daily routines that have assumed an increasingly central part of their lives.

    The incidents also underscored the vulnerability of fast-growing Internet social networking sites that have been heralded as powerful new political tools to counter censorship and authoritarianism.

    Twitter, which allows people to broadcast short, 140-character text messages over the Internet, became a key form of communication in Iran amid the protests and clampdown that followed the country's disputed June elections.

    A Facebook executive said Thursday's cyber attacks were aimed at a Georgian blogger with accounts at the various affected sites, according to a report on technology news site CNET.

    In a blog post earlier on Thursday, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said the company preferred not to speculate about the motivation of the malicious attack that knocked the site offline and made it inaccessible for several hours earlier in the day.

    "Twitter has been working closely with other companies and services affected by what appears to be a single, massively coordinated attack," said Stone.

    Members of Facebook, the world's largest Internet social network with more than 250 million active users, saw delays logging in and posting to their online profiles. Like Twitter, Facebook said the problems appeared to stem from a so-called denial of service attack, a technique in which hackers overwhelm a website's servers with communications requests.

    Once access to Twitter had been restored, many of the site's users posted short messages lamenting the disturbance.

    "now I know Im addicted to Twitter...I wasnt rite all day," Twitter user hotlilNINA posted.

    Speculation swirled on the Internet that other sites, including Google, had also come under attack, after relatively lesser-known site LiveJournal said it, too, had been targeted by hackers on Thursday. But those rumors could not be confirmed.

    Google said in an emailed statement that it was in contact with some non-Google sites that were impacted by Thursday's attacks to help investigate.

    "Google systems prevented substantive impact to our services," the statement said.


    Motives for denial-of-service attacks range from political to rabble-rousing to extortion, with criminal groups increasingly threatening to hobble popular websites that don't pay demanded fees, according to security experts.

    In July a wave of similar attacks disrupted access to several high-profile U.S. and South Korean websites, including the White House site. South Korea's spy agency said at the time that North Korea might have been behind the attacks.

    Twitter's newfound fame makes it an easy target for hackers, said Steve Gibson, the president of Internet security research firm Gibson Research Corp.

    The number of worldwide unique visitors to the Twitter website reached 44.5 million in June, up 15-fold year-over- year, according to comScore data.

    Security experts said a single group could have been behind the problems on Twitter, Facebook and the other sites as hackers evolve their ability to attack multiple sites at once.

    "History would tell us that it's probably the same attacker or group of attackers that is launching both attacks," said Kevin Prince, the chief technology officer of security services provider Perimeter eSecurity.

    While there are ways for websites to protect themselves from denial of service attacks, Prince said the defenses were expensive, whereas mounting an attack was a relatively simple feat for hackers.

    Twitter said in a blog post later on Thursday that its site was back up, though it said certain users would experience degraded service while it recovers completely.

    Some Twitter users appeared to be taking the incident in stride.

    "It's just an annoyance. Remember Twitter was down in 2007 and 2008 all the time," said Robert Scobble, a commentator on the technology industry who boasts 93,000 "followers" on Twitter, referring to a period when Twitter's rapid traffic growth occasionally led to several service disruptions.

    For lawyer Zabi Nowald, it was just another day -- Twitter or no Twitter -- as he headed to work in downtown Los Angeles with a laptop in one hand and a Blackberry in the other.

    "None of my friends do Twitter; none of my employers do," said Nowald, 27. "It affects my life zero. I lost something I never had."

    (Additional reporting by Clare Baldwin and Laura Isensee, editing by Edwin Chan, Bernard Orr and Hans Peters)

    Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Reuters - Google bolsters video push with On2 deal

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    Google bolsters video push with On2 deal

    Wednesday, Aug 05, 2009 7:36PM UTC

    By Alexei Oreskovic

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc said it would acquire video compression software maker On2 Technologies Inc for $106.5 million, stepping up efforts to foster the spread of Internet video.

    The stock deal, which represents a 57 percent premium to On2's Tuesday closing price, is Google's first acquisition of a publicly traded company.

    On2's technology shrinks video files, making it easier to send video across the Internet. It has become increasingly important as more people watch and share videos online.

    Google, which bought popular video sharing site YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006, could use On2's software to drive down the cost of producing and distributing Internet video.

    "As you think about how important video delivery is for Google, controlling the mechanisms for compression is probably a next logical step," said Thomas Weisel Partners analyst Christa Quarles.

    Although YouTube is the top U.S. video site, Google has lost money on it because it costs a lot to stream billions of videos, with only a tiny swathe of them being supported by advertising.

    Google is also expanding into new markets such as handheld electronic devices that use its Android operating system. Last month, the company announced plans to release an operating system for PCs dubbed Chrome OS.

    With On2's video technology, Google could field its own software that allows videos to play on PCs and mobile devices, creating a rival to Microsoft Corp's Windows Media, Apple Inc's QuickTime and Adobe Systems Inc's Flash, analysts said.

    Google could also use the technology to build an application that competes with Skype, the popular Web-based voice and video calling company that parent eBay Inc plans to spin off, Merriman Curhan Ford analyst Richard Fetyko said in a note to investors.

    Adobe and Skype currently license On2 technology.

    By owning On2's video compression technology, Google could avoid paying licensing fees to shrink YouTube videos, which could save the company tens of millions of dollars a year, Fetyko said.

    Shares of Google were off slightly at $451.34 in afternoon Nasdaq trade. Shares of On2, which are traded on the American Stock Exchange, rose to 58 cents on Wednesday.


    Each outstanding common share of On2 will be converted into 60 cents worth of Google Class A common stock under the deal.

    On2 Technologies was founded in 1992 as the Duck Corporation, but merged with another company in 1999 and became On2. The company has lost money for the past five years and had $16.3 million in revenue in 2008.

    In a blog post announcing the deal on Wednesday, Google said it would not reveal specific product plans until after the deal closes.

    Google does not break out YouTube's financial performance, but analyst estimates of its losses this year range from $174 million to $470 million.

    Google executives said in July that YouTube would be profitable in the near future.

    The main alternative to On2's technology, the H.264 standard, requires companies to pay licensing fees that aren't cheap, Gartner analyst Andrew Frank said.

    While On2 also charges fees, Frank said that Google will have the option to make the software as low-cost and as open as it feels is necessary to make Internet video proliferate.

    Separately, Google has sold its Google Radio Automation business, which created software to automate broadcast radio programing, to privately held WideOrbit Inc.

    (Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic, additional reporting by Franklin Paul in New York; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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