IBM Nixes Standards Shenanigans; Plus: Flying Lipstick-Wearing Pigs!

IBM has had enough of the silliness that goes on at some of the standards bodies it belongs to. So Big Blue now has a new policy: No shenanigans.

Setting standards for hardware, software, communications protocols, document formats — is a job that’s way too important to be done in the dark, says IBM. IBM denied that its new policy was a response to the approval of Microsoft’s Office Open XML as an international standard by the ISO, even though the competing standard, OpenDocument Format, is found in the IBM-sponsored OpenOffice suite.

So while it won’t actually walk away from any of the bodies whose practices allow for manipulation and back-room deals, it will use its substantial weight to effect change. Hey, they don’t call it Big Blue for nothing.

Listen to the podcast (14:15 minutes).

Cisco’s Switch

Cisco is lumbering into Microsoft’s backyard, and it’s about to pull a transformer act. Not that it plans to stop selling routers and switches — on the contrary, it expects its network gear business to keep growing at a healthy pace.

However, Cisco wants to be more than a big metal giant. It wants to cleverly fold itself inside out and upside down and become — ta da! — a sleek, nimble software company.

Specifically, Cisco is focusing on corporate communications, online collaboration and virtualization. The company has made a slew of acquisitions to help it along that path — WebEx, TelePresence and PostPath, for example.

Its most recent buy was just last week, when it picked up Jabber, a developer of open source cross-platform instant-messaging technology. Basically, it lets people chat with one another regardless of the application they’re using — AOL, Yahoo Messenger or whatever. Cisco can probably succeed in the Web app arena more easily than Microsoft and Google can remake themselves as hardware companies, though we’re not saying that pigs with lipstick can’t fly.

What’s Wrong With the World?

And we’re also not saying that Oracle is a pig or wears lipstick. However, we wouldn’t be surprised if CEO Larry Ellison could fly. The super-CEO managed to stun the crowd at OpenWorld with a truly unexpected announcement: Oracle is plunging into the computer hardware market.

That’s right, I said hardware. Cisco in software, Oracle in hardware, the season premiere of “Heroes.” The world just doesn’t make sense anymore. Here’s Oracle’s story: After it bought up all the enterprise software it could possibly use — and perhaps some that it just squirreled away for a rainy day — it became obvious it had to take a new tack. So, it’s slapping its brand on a couple of HP servers and selling them directly to its business customers.

The equipment will make Oracle’s software products run better. The deal will give HP access to Oracle’s customer base. And it might just give IBM something to break a sweat about.

Android’s Awakening

Google and T-Mobile officially kicked off the era of Android with the announcement of the G1, the first phone that will use the Linux-based Android software platform.

T-Mobile will be its exclusive carrier. How long it keeps that status is hard to say, since Android is designed to run on multiple phones from different manufacturers, and those new phones could very well be offered by different carriers. But whatever — for now, it’s T-Mobile’s big day. Manufactured by HTC, the G1 will be available Oct. 22. It features a touch screen, a slide-out Qwerty keyboard, and a track ball for navigation.

It will sell for $179, and on top of the voice plan you already have, two T-Mobile data and text-message plans to choose from: a limited plan for $25 a month, or an unlimited plan for $35 a month. The G1 will come preloaded with some applications, including Google Street View and an app from Amazon that will let users download music and video directly to the phone — without DRM.

More applications will be available from the Android Marketplace, an App Store-like market that won’t be subject to anything like Apple’s iron-fisted control policies.

Great Expectations

Though the G1 is getting a lot of positive buzz, it’s not without its problems. For one, when it comes to network infrastructure, T-Mobile is lagging way behind AT&T, Verizon and Sprint.

Specifically, it doesn’t have much of a 3G network to speak of, and if Android phones are really going to go up against the iPhone, they’ll need high-speed 3G connectivity. T-Mobile has already promised a major buildout of its small 3G network, covering cities like Boston, San Diego and New York, but the kind of build-out it needs to rival AT&T could take months or years.

Meanwhile, if you can’t find a T-Mobile 3G signal in your neighborhood, you’ll have to use the EDGE network or WiFi — just like a first-generation iPhone. But at least you won’t be paying as much for service. T-Mobile’s cheapest plan for the G1 is about 5 bucks less per month than the iPhone’s barest-bones plan — and text messages aren’t even included on the iPhone starvation diet. You have to pay extra for those.

Store Policy

Then there’s the matter of the application marketplace. With the iPhone App Store, you get what Apple says you can have. The company inspects each app, meaning you’re less likely to get something that simply doesn’t work.

However, it’s Apple’s house and Apple’s rules, meaning it can snub any app it considers to be competition to its own wares.

The only way to really be sure your app will get the go-ahead is if you come up with yet another flashlight program.

With the Android Marketplace, on the other hand, you can get anything that anyone out there can manage to cobble together. Some of it might be great, but a lot of it might be garbage. We’ll just have to wait and see what floats to the top. Oh yeah, and one thing about the G1: no headphone jack. Even though it has a built-in music app, you need an extra adapter to actually listen with headphones. Brilliant.

Beyond Vista

Here’s one way to build anticipation for your product: First, own practically an entire market — say, the computer operating system market. Then, put out a product nobody likes very much or is very interested in upgrading to.

Yeah, I know, those Mojave people oooed and ahhhed, but they probably didn’t have to deploy it across a corporate enterprise. Anyway, step 3 is to talk about the next product. Assure everyone you’re working very hard on it and that you mean to address all the major issues that your stinker OS screwed up on. Then maybe you’ll get them lining up around the block.

Developers at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference next month will indeed get an alpha version of Windows 7.

Even though it’s pretty standard procedure for Microsoft to let developers into a new OS at this stage in the game, there was some drama recently when rumors circulated that Windows 7 wasn’t even ready for an alpha release, and the world would just have to stay stuck with Vista for that much longer.

But Microsoft confirmed devs will get their rough cut, which they’ll use to plan new versions of their software to release once Windows 7 comes along and makes everything OK again.

Try Again

Well, the obvious is now official: $222,000 is way too much money to fine somebody for file-sharing a bunch of songs. Hey, this is a judge talking, not just me.

In the case of the Recording Industry Association of America versus Minnesota single mom Jammie Thomas, the judge issued a ruling that threw out the original verdict. He even suggested that Congress make a new law that would limit the amount a jury can award in such cases, saying that a penalty that’s 4,000 times actual monetary damages is a little, well, excessive.

His honor also rejected the, “making available” theory of infringement, which says you don’t have to actually share something in order to be a pirate — all you have to do is make it available for download.

So, Jammie and file-sharers everywhere won, right? Wrong. The judge kicked back the case for a whole new trial. The RIAA says it’s confident it will win. And we’re confident the music industry will succeed in alienating even more of the hard-working, honest people who used to buy its overpriced products.

Keeping You Safe

Here’s more on the global effort to stop nuclear weapons proliferation — sorry, to stop music pirates, I meant to say.

Yes, the United States Trade Representative is reportedly negotiating an agreement with several other nations to combat international piracy, and the rumors are flying: The deal could make peer-to-peer file-sharing a crime. (That’ll show you, Jammie.) It could allow officials to confiscate your iPod at the border in order to make sure you don’t have any illegally downloaded content. It could allow your Internet service provider to more closely monitor what you do online.

Seems no one knows for sure what it could do — or at least, those who do know aren’t talking. The deal is being negotiated in secret, and the government won’t release any details, despite a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge. The citizen groups contend the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is being fast-tracked to get it signed and sealed by the end of the year.

But you’re not important enough to know about it, because it’s not about your rights, dummy. It’s all about the rights of the studio bosses to protect what’s left of their dying business model.

Are You Kidding?

Speaking of business models, here’s something new and not completely different: It’s the latest in musical convenience, says SanDisk and the great innovators known as the music studios: Slot Music.

What Slot Music is, is a flash memory card with an album loaded on it, complete with cover art, liner notes and all the songs.

The advantages here are that there’s no digital rights management attached to the files, and they’re recorded and play back at a bitrate of 320 kilobits per second, which is almost twice as hi-fi as Apple’s .aaf music format. And sure, I suppose a micro SD card is smaller than a compact disc — which was the music industry’s last real stroke of genius.

But clearly, these guys are in download denial, because this concept really isn’t likely to knock iTunes out of the top music-seller spot it now owns.

Hey, guys? What say you just let us download the music at 320 Kbps with no DRM — instead of going to the store, buying a card, taking it home, loading the music onto our computers and then losing track of that tiny little card? Stay tuned for next week’s podcast, when we surely will be reporting on Slot Music’s failure to launch.

Not a Recall

Let’s get something straight — Apple does not do product recalls. They do product exchange programs.

A recall is when you take a potentially dangerous defective product off the market. An exchange program is when you offer to replace a crappy product with a better one that has an insanely great little green dot on it, whereas the previous version was white and plain and ugly and unstylish. OK, that was all pretty sarcastic and a little unfair.

Truth is, Apple is recalling the wall socket mini-chargers that shipped with the iPhone 3G. Apparently, they can break off in the socket and pose an electric shock hazard, although the company said it’s not aware of that actually happening to anyone.

If you have an old charger, you can turn it in for a safer one, which will have the little green dot on it. For now, Apple recommends that iPhone 3G owners should charge their phones by plugging the USB cable into a computer rather than using the bad old wall socket charger.

The new chargers will be available on Oct. 10, so you’d better grab your tent now and head to your nearest Apple store if you want to secure a decent spot in line. Get going!

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