Intel Escapes Its Legal Morass, One Settlement at a Time

Intel and AMD have finally put a long and bitter disagreement to bed, and in the end, all it took was a little open communication and understanding, along with one and a quarter billion dollars. The two have been at it for years — accusations, threats, lawsuits. AMD said Intel engaged in anticompetitive behavior; Intel said AMD broke its licensing agreements.

Now Intel has agreed to pay AMD US$1.25 billion to stop with the lawsuits. That makes the underdog AMD the winner as far as this round is concerned, but just how much of a winner is uncertain because certain provisions of the settlement are to be kept secret.

And Intel is definitely not out of the woods yet — it still has these massive antitrust investigations going on. The EU has already ordered Intel to pay fines that are even bigger than the AMD settlement — $1.5 billion in that case. There’s also the New York State Attorney General’s office breathing down its neck, and the Federal Trade Commission is on its case as well.

But maybe, just maybe, this AMD settlement will help these regulatory problems go away soon too. It’s possible that AMD, being Intel’s sworn enemy and all, was going out of its way to help out any agency trying to pinch Intel for antitrust violations. It’s all speculation, but the settlement may have involved something about AMD being a little less eager to help out in that regard unless it’s served with a subpoena or three.

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I Want MySQL

The European Commission has gone from being officially worried about Oracle’s deal to acquire Sun Microsystems to issuing a formal objection. Months ago Oracle agreed to pay over $7 billion to buy out Sun, and that move was given a swift go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Justice. But Oracle and Sun are both big multinationals, and in order to keep doing business in Europe, the deal will need to pass muster with overseas regulators.

Oddly enough, the European Commission’s objection prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to chime in and underscore its own support of the deal, as though the EC cares what the DoJ thinks it should do. Last time the DoJ piped up about a big European antitrust investigation, the EC ended up blocking the purchase anyway. I know, different deal, but not such a great track record.

Groups standing in Oracle’s way — besides the EC itself — include the Open Rights Group and Knowledge Ecology. Their beef with the buy is that it would put the control of the popular open source database technology MySQL into the hands of Oracle, which makes a proprietary competing product. If Oracle gets Sun, they say, it’ll starve or even kill off MySQL. There’s also concern that even if MySQL remains healthy, Oracle will still have way too much dominance in the overall database market.

If Oracle should promise to sell off MySQL, that would probably settle matters very quickly, but CEO Larry Ellison insists he has no intention of doing that. Still, the EC is known for taking a very hard line on antitrust issues, and now that it’s formally started this process of objecting to the deal, Oracle may be forced to reconsider. Sun is losing $100 million per month due to the buyout’s delay, so this is turning out to be a very expensive game of chicken for both companies.

Filthy, Dirty Traffic

Back in the old-timey days, they used to sell things called “newspapers” at places called “newsstands.” And if you walked up to a newsstand, grabbed a paper, and walked away without paying for it, that was considered a crime. You were actually expected to buy news content, and if you took it without paying, it was called “shoplifting.” Barbaric, I know.

Today, now that we’re all nice and civilized, we get news online, usually through sites we can access for free — they support themselves with advertising. To make finding news easier, we use aggregators like Google News, which display a bunch of headlines from around the Web and link readers to the full story. Sites get more traffic, ads get more views, readers get more news — everyone wins, right?

Not according to Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp. His corporation owns a lot of media interests, including newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News. And he does not like it when the riff-raff wander in from the Google News gutter and start poking around in the lobby. He thinks Google News basically steals content — a headline and a few introductory sentences — for its own benefit. And what about the traffic it sends to his sites? Bah humbug. He’d rather have readers who a) pay for a subscription and b) represent a loyal audience that advertisers can count on coming back again and again.

In fact, The Wall Street Journal is one of the only major newspapers out there that makes you pay a fee to see the full versions of its stories — sort of. The unwashed masses arriving from Google News searches actually can see full versions once without paying, due to the way the Journal tells Google to index its pages.

But starting soon, the Journal and all other News Corp. publications might just tell Google not to index them at all — anywhere. During an interview with Sky News Australia, Murdoch talked about his intention to eventually close off his company’s content to Google’s search technologies altogether.

Doing that would be a pretty bold move, and it might actually make sense in the case of the Journal. That one’s all about making money, and the intel it provides is probably worth it to the Wall Street types who need that kind of info to do what they do. But charging for something like the Daily News is a little less certain. If you want snarky headlines and scandalous news from around New York, I’ve heard there’s a blog for that. Probably two or three, even.

Got to Get You Out of My Live

Your parents may have told you that cheaters never win, but by now you probably know that’s crap; cheaters win all the time. Case in point: Play some online video games sometime and witness certain players’ almost inhuman abilities to kill you dead again and again and again.

Granted, sometimes these people really are that good at video games, but they live in basements and subsist on Hot Pockets and Vitamin Water. The rest cheat, and they do it by modding. They’ve fiddled with the insides of their Xbox 360s, poured in a little special sauce, and turned their online characters into supersoldiers. It’s the virtual version of performance-enhancing drugs. It’s no fun playing when these guys are around, and that’s bad for business from Microsoft’s point of view.

Another way modders sometimes cheat is by cheating the system. They can program their Xboxes to play pirated copies of games — also bad for Microsoft, not to mention game developers and publishers.

So now Redmond’s taken a big-stick approach to the situation and clobbered anyone who’s ever done surgery on their Xbox 360 for any reason. Machines that have gone under the knife are no longer allowed on Xbox Live, the console’s platform for online gaming. Live’s terms of service have long prohibited the use of modded consoles; now Microsoft’s enforcing the rule. If it senses your box is on the juice, you can’t sign on.

This is probably good news for honest gamers who are tired of being bullied by invincible space marines. And small game makers that don’t have the resources to fight piracy themselves probably think Microsoft has done a good deed here. But one group has been caught in the crossfire: honest modders. Some tinkerers open their Xbox just to do something harmless, like putting the guts into a custom-built case they made just because they think it looks cool, or just installing a larger hard drive that doesn’t happen to be a pricey, Xbox-certified hard drive.

Others who might get screwed over include people who want to buy a used Xbox online. It’s the tainted Xboxes themselves that Microsoft has banned, regardless of who owns them. Locked-out Xboxes are no doubt flooding eBay and Craiglist right now, so buyer beware. And if you’re trying to sell an unmodded Xbox right now, well, good luck with that.

Life Is a Rock (But I Got Rickrolled)

You’d think — or maybe hope and pray — that the whole Rickrolling thing would have officially played itself out sometime last year, or perhaps last January at the very latest, when Nancy Pelosi started doing it. But no, the phenomenon will not die — will not give up, if you will.

For the blissfully uninitiated, Rickrolling is a running Web gag in which someone visits an online discussion board and posts a link to what they say is a relevant video. Instead, the link takes you to a YouTube clip of singer Rick Astley’s 1987 hit single “Never Gonna Give You Up.” This is high comedy for Internet people. Pranksters have figured out ways to Rickroll the masses in real life, too — sporting events, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and so on. It was like the John 3:16 of the Web world, minus the creepy Rainbow Man and any connection with an actual meaning or message.

Rickrolling’s latest victims are iPhone users who’ve jailbroken their handsets — in other words, hacked them to install unapproved software. Unless you’re a very thorough hacker, it seems that jailbreaking leaves a few security doors unlocked, and an Australian by the name of Ashley Towns has apparently developed a worm known as “Ikee” that spreads by creeping in through one these doors.

Sounds awful — iPhone users typically store a ton of personal info on their phones, and an aggressively spreading worm could theoretically be a major problem, at least for jailbreakers. But Ikee is actually pretty harmless per se — it just shows you an image of Astley with the message “Ikee is never going to give you up.”

In fact, it might actually be somewhat helpful — after it sneaks in, it closes up the security hole it came through. An informal poll conducted by Sophos’ Graham Cluley revealed that 75 percent of respondents thought Towns actually did iPhone jailbreakers a favor by pointing out the security holes. However, Towns did publish notes on how he did it, which could serve as a teaching guide for hackers whose idea of a prank is much worse than playing some old ’80s song.

Atom Nuked

Last week we told you about that Apple OS X Snow Leopard update that crippled, then did not cripple, so-called hackintosh netbooks. Well, consider them re-crippled. The final build of Snow Leopard’s latest update nixes the operating system’s ability to run on small laptops powered by Intel Atom processors. Apple doesn’t make products with these chips, but certain crafty individuals really really want them, so they hack the OS to run on a system it isn’t built to run on — thus, hackintosh netbooks are born.

Of course, that’s not all the update does. There are fixes for mail, Safari, MobileMe. There’s also a fix for a glitch that had some users really steaming a few weeks ago — every time they’d log into the OS as a guest for whatever reason, then log back in under their real user account, all their files would be missing. Glad that doesn’t happen anymore.

Back to the Atom item — anything Apple does, and everything Apple doesn’t do, is regularly analyzed by the brightest, most thorough minds in the field of consumer technology speculation and guestimation. What this move probably means is that the mythical Apple tablet — which still exists only in the minds of people who think about these kinds of things all day — is probably not going to run both Atom and Snow Leopard. Maybe one, maybe the other, not both. Or at least, that’s what they want us to think.

The Forgotten Droid

With all the noise Verizon was making last Friday about the arrival of the Motorola Droid, you’ve got to think that if the other smartphone the carrier launched that day was capable of doing so, it would feel very neglected and hurt. The other Verizon phone that touched down that day was called the “Droid Eris” from HTC. It’s very similar to the HTC Hero from Sprint, so perhaps that’s exactly why Verizon put it right in the other phone’s shadow; giving this thing its own launch day might not have been very impressive.

It also might have been pretty confusing. The thing’s called the “Droid Eris,” and Verizon also now has the just-plain “Droid.” Was this a moment of boardroom confusion? Not at all, according to Verizon spokesperson Brenda Raney. She told us, “The name ‘Droid’ is being used as a brand within Verizon Wireless so customers who want the great open architecture of Android will immediately know that this product line will offer you the features and benefits of a Google experience.”

Minus the fluff, that sounds like it might mean all Android phones from Verizon will bear the Droid name in some shape or form, regardless of the company that manufactured it — Motorola, HTC, whatever. Verizon does have this fetish for trying to make the carrier the center of attention, not the device, and drowning out the handset maker’s name with its own “Droid” brand could play into that.

So what does the Droid Eris actually have? It runs an older version of Android — 1.5. It has a 5 megapixel camera, touchscreen, Microsoft Exchange support — basically it sounds like a capable but not outstanding Android phone. Price sounds about right, though — 99 bucks after rebates with a contract.

Where Was I?

In the context of Facebook or Twitter, your followers are the people who presumably listen to what you have to say. Your utterances make it to their various news feeds. But if you’re talking about real-time location technologies like Google Latitude, your followers may literally be following you — every-breath-you-take style. Google Latitude is a location-aware application for mobile devices. Completely opt-in, of course — nobody can track you without your permission.

Now, Latitude users can also track their own movements — activating the application and then traveling around will result in a map that shows you exactly where you’ve been. Could be convenient in certain situations, like when you want to find that good vegan restaurant you stumbled upon two months ago, or retrace your steps after being taken to a secret location while blindfolded. That guy in “Memento” would have loved it.

There’s also a new location alert system, which pings you every time someone you know who’s also using Latitude is nearby. In order to use it effectively, of course, it needs to learn your usual routine — that’s so it doesn’t ping you 90 times every time you show up at work if everyone else at work also uses Google Latitude. That might get a little distracting. Once it knows where you go every day, it can ping you only when someone you know is nearby at unusual places or unusual times. So if you’re up to no good, do yourself a favor and turn it off.

A Clicker That Won’t Get Lost

Between Hulu, Netflix, CBS, Amazon and every other outfit out there offering some kind of TV or movie programming over the Web, it sometimes takes a little searching around to figure out how to find what you want to watch. Even if you try doing a regular old Google search, you’re likely to find a ton of short clips, low-quality videos and maybe some torrent files — which would get you the show you’re after, just not in a legally kosher way.

So now a new site called “Clicker” has come out of beta, and it’s all about online TV — where to find it, what people are saying about it, etc. It will act as a directory of shows and movies that can be found online, either through free services like Hulu or pay operations like Netflix’s streaming service. But here’s the thing — it’ll only index full-length content that comes through in broadcast quality on legally licensed outlets. No garbage, just the show you came to see. And Clicker isn’t the one hosting the content — it just links you to the place that does.

There’s got to be a money making angle, of course, and for Clicker, that will come in the form of advertising, lead generation and possibly even a premium version sometime in the future. For now, it also features stuff like wikis and playlists, which will help you keep track of series’ episodes you’ve already seen and those you have yet to view.

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