Finger-Pointing in the Senate, XP’s Stay of Execution, Tech Profit Bonanza

It seems there’s no love lost between FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Comcast. In testimony before a Senate committee about the practice of blocking peer-to-peer traffic on the Internet, Martin said Comcast lied when it described its practices to the FCC.

Comcast maintained that it was merely engaging in justifiable management of network traffic in order to preserve the Internet experience for all customers. What it actually does, though, is send false reset packets to P2P recipients, making it seem as though senders are disconnecting the torrent. It does this whether or not there is excessive traffic on the network, Martin said.

Tricky and heavy-handed, perhaps — but technically not blocking.

Still, critics say Comcast ought to put its effort — and its money — into widening the network pipes so all these shenanigans would be unnecessary.

Listen to the podcast (12:09 minutes).

Reprieve for XP?

No matter how much Steve Ballmer dances and screams and sticks out his tongue and sweats, it seems he just can’t force people to love Windows Vista and let go of XP.

Microsoft intended to take the older operating system off the shelves by June, but due to vocal protests from some XP users, CEO Ballmer might just reconsider. He says it’s a “statistical truth” that most people who buy new PCs today buy them with Vista.

But critics counter that they’re forced to buy Vista because manufacturers pre-load the OS onto the computers before they go to retail. Some even downgrade back to XP after buying a Vista machine. One online petition demanding a reprieve for XP has collected 165,000 signatures.

So what’s everyone’s beef with Vista? Critics say it’s an unnecessary upgrade that just costs more money. They say it’s a bloated OS that puts a greater strain on computers but doesn’t make up for it with enough worthwhile benefits.

Google Still Clicking

Google posted first-quarter results showing not only that it remains king of the online advertising space but also that it can continue to grow sales and profits in uncertain economic times.

The search giant’s revenue rose 42 percent year-over-year to US$5.2 billion, and its net income increased 8 percent to $1.31 billion. The report came under a cloud of concern that paid clicks would be down or flat. Instead, the number of clicks on Google search ads was up 20 percent from a year ago and up 4 percent from the fourth quarter.

Google shares skyrocketed following the news, gaining enough steam to mark the largest one-day bump since the company went public in 2004.

Big Mobile Boost

AT&T also lit up Wall Street, posting an eye-popping 22 percent increase in net income for its first quarter — a total of $3.5 billion. The telecom saw a 6.1 percent rise in revenue, hitting the $30.74 billion mark, which exceeded analyst estimates.

AT&T’s overall performance was driven by the strong showing of its wireless business unit. Its growth masked the stagnation of the company’s traditional phone line services and the plodding progress of its data product line. AT&T added 1.3 million wireless subscribers — the majority of whom were no doubt iPhone customers.

That raises the question of whether the telecom would be sitting quite so pretty without the juice it got from Apple.

Mac, iPhone Boost Apple

Apple continued to rake in the dough in its fiscal second quarter.

The company earned $1.05 billion, a 36 percent increase when compared with the year-ago period, and its revenue rose 43 percent to reach $7.51 billion. Fueled by sizzling sales of Mac computers, as well as iPods and iPhones, the quarter was the company’s strongest second quarter yet.

Things look even rosier for Apple in the second half of the year. Company CEO Steve Jobs said, “We have strong momentum to launch some terrific new products in the coming quarters.”

Yahoo Beats the Street

Yahoo reported first-quarter earnings of $50 million, or 11 cents a share, beating out analyst estimates by 2 cents. The company’s revenue increased 9 percent.

Although those are respectable numbers, they don’t appear strong enough to dissipate the 44-point-6 billion-dollar takeover cloud hovering over Yahoo’s head. In fact, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made a point of saying his company plans to stick to its original offer.

If it can’t convince Yahoo shareholders to take the deal on those very generous terms, Ballmer indicated, Microsoft is prepared to move on without a merger. Of course, Redmond is not about to gently back away. More likely, it will switch into attack mode — possibly lowering its offer and taking steps to replace Yahoo’s board with more like-minded individuals.

Hail, Hardy Heron!

The latest version of Ubuntu Linux has hit the streets, er, skies.

Hardy Heron, version 8 of the operating system that names itself after animals but isn’t Apple, launched to great fanfare — at least as much fanfare as you can get when you give your product away and have no marketing to speak of.

Nevertheless, the release carries with it some attractive improvements over the last version: It comes bundled with Mozilla’s Firefox browser and has improved photo editing software. Both the server and the desktop versions are being offered as long-term support releases, meaning they’ll be supported for three years on the desktop and five years on the server.

Subscription Test Drive

Microsoft is already exploring one option for what it will do when its Windows software is no longer the cash cow it is today.

The company is beta-testing a suite of productivity and security software apps that it hopes to sell on a subscription basis. Code-named Albany, the suite includes versions of all your Office favorites — Word, PowerPoint and Excel — as well as its Live OneCare security software. Subscribers will have access to the latest versions and will be able to use them on up to three computers.

Once they stop paying, they lose access to the applications. However, in its infinite generosity, Microsoft will allow users continued access to the documents they created using them. Thanks, Ballmer!

Monster Hard Drive

Traditional hard disc drives with moving parts, called “HDDs,” are under attack from solid-state drives, or SSDs, that have no moving parts, work faster and with less energy, and are more durable.

Trouble is, SSDs are really freakin’ expensive, so hard disc drive makers still have some room to innovate and stay competitive.

Western Digital’s latest offering is the VelociRaptor disc, a 300-gigabyte HDD that runs at 10,000 RPM and actually uses less power than a slower 7,200 RPM drive. It comes in a standard, desktop-ready 3.5-inch casing, but the disc inside is actually 2.5 inches — that’s laptop size. The extra room is for IcePack, a special heat sink system.

Western Digital says VelociRaptor doesn’t actually need IcePack; it’s just nice to have. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a stripped-down, no-IcePack 2.5-inch VelociRaptor is headed for laptops any time soon. Even though it consumes less power than other desktop drives, it still needs more juice than most notebooks could give it.

What’s Apple After?

Apple made a lot of waves in the technology universe three years ago when it announced it was changing from PowerPC CPUs to x86 chips — specifically, ones made by Intel. It was kind of a big deal.

That’s why it took some people by surprise when Apple plunked down a handful of its giant cash reserves for P.A. Semi, a maker of PowerPC chips. P.A.’s products may be suitable for Apple’s lineup of mobile devices, according to Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andy Hargreaves, who said, “It’s lower power and low heat, so fitting into mobility solutions would make sense.”

Drawing connections between P.A. Semi and Apple’s mobile products got people talking about Apple’s relationship with Intel and whether there might be a little trouble in paradise. Intel’s newest Atom processor is designed for just the kind of device the iPhone is growing up to be, so what’s this PowerPC company doing in the mix?

Well, maybe we’ll see more PowerPC hardware in Apple products. Or maybe it’s not about PowerPC at all; maybe Apple just wanted to buy up a whole roster of big tech brains and valuable patents. You never really can tell with Apple.

Give It to Me Straight

Sony can be a bit of tease sometimes, especially its PlayStation gaming unit.

Earlier this month, Peter Dille, a senior VP, wrote on PlayStation’s official blog, “While I don’t have any new announcements here for the PlayStation Nation, it’s already been confirmed that we’ll be offering a video service for the PS3 in a way that separates the service form others you’ve seen or used.”

What does that mean? Who knows. Without actually saying it, he’s basically saying that Sony’s working on a movie and TV download service. It’s called speaking in PR. Newspaper people, though, they like to be a little more straightforward with things.

Later, the L.A. Times cited unnamed sources familiar with the matter who said a video download service for PS3 is indeed in the works, and it’ll be here this summer. That’ll put it up against Xbox Live, which boasts 10 million subscribers already.

It might also put the PlayStation 3 up against Blu-ray, in a way. That’s odd because the PlayStation 3 is the best-selling Blu-ray player out there. People still generally like to have their movies on physical discs, though, and it’ll likely be a while before most prefer downloads.

Keep It to Yourself

Your Internet Protocol address is private — as long as you live in Europe or New Jersey. Everywhere else, watch out.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that an individual’s IP address is private information that can’t be obtained by authorities without a warrant from a grand jury. The rest of the country still considers such information not so private — and, as you know, the federal government has an aversion to obtaining warrants.

So, if you think your IP address is nobody’s business, you’d better move to France — or Newark.

Also in this episode: Video-game sales buck economic trend; security researcher finds redirect flaw; Skype offers international calling plans.

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