Merger Madness: Love Is in the Air

Cisco isn’t content to just sell products for the deepest, darkest innards of the data center. It’s also got its eye on consumer technology.

It already has Linksys, which sells stuff like home network routers, and Scientific Atlanta, which does set-top boxes. Soon it will add Pure Digital Technologies, the company that makes the Web-friendly Flip Video camera.

Cisco has agreed to pay US$590 million for the relatively young company, and it’s also shelling out $15 million in bonuses to make sure Pure Digital employees stay put. So what’s an outfit like Cisco going to do with a pocket-sized video camera designed for the YouTube crowd?

Well, it’s just one more piece in the puzzle — if they have your home router, your set-top box and your camera, maybe they can give you live chat on the big screen. Home use? Enterprise use? Who knows? Really, any kind of use is good for Cisco, because as more and more data-heavy video files go flying around the Internet, companies need to buy more big networking equipment — which Cisco also happens to sell.

Listen to the podcast (14:54 minutes).

Match Made in Heaven

IBM could be close to buying struggling server maker Sun Microsystems for $7 billion.

Though Sun is best known for making high-end server hardware, its crown jewel is its software — especially Java, the ubiquitous Internet programming language.

There’s also the Solaris operating system, which powers Sun’s servers and workstations. Sun also created a free software suite of desktop applications known as “OpenOffice” that pretty much mirror what Microsoft’s Office suite does.

If a deal with IBM goes through, IBM will bring Sun’s famously loyal customers under its umbrella, which is probably a good thing for the customers. IBM has a reputation for treating its customers well.

For Sun staffers, though, the merger will likely be painful. IBM’s not likely to need them if it shuts down Sun’s competing line, and given their Sun-specific knowledge and expertise, there likely won’t be many places for them to go.

Bring Your Friends

He may be young, super-rich and a little bit annoying, but Mark Zuckerberg sure does know a thing or two about social networking.

His latest move, incorporating Facebook Connect into the iPhone platform, is an example of this, as much as it pains me to admit it.

Facebook Connect gives users a single sign-on for any participating application or Web site, so you don’t need to re-enter all of your information multiple times, create new friend lists and all that social-networky stuff that takes up all the time you’re supposed to be working. One of the first iPhone apps to support Facebook Connect was the already-popular Urbanspoon, and it didn’t take long for the new users to start rolling in, according to Urbanspoon’s CEO.

If you think about it, combining the most sought-after mobile device in the world with the most popular social network — it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s a smart combination. Maybe Zuckerberg is just lucky, after all.

Evil Aliens Ate My Brain

So, Hulu, which one is it? First, the good folks at Hulu told us they were creating an online source for television episodes and movies so we could all watch our favorite content without a TV set or a trip to the theater.

Then — during the Super Bowl no less — they let us in on the secret: They’re actually evil aliens who are trying to turn our brains to mush and gobble them right up. To add insult to injury, they revealed that Alec Baldwin was one of them.

Now, to top it all off, the actual real secret behind Hulu appears to have come out — but it’s much less interesting. They’re turning us all into the world’s biggest focus group. Why else would they add all of those social functions like recommending videos or commenting on movies?

They want to read what we’re saying and then use that information to make decisions on what shows to pick up. Wow, now that’s really evil. I’d rather they just gobbled up my brain, already.

Farewell to an Icon

After nearly a century and a half, the presses have stopped for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer print edition. Seattle’s oldest newspaper will continue as an online-only publication, but with a much-reduced news staff.

Following on the heels of the shutdown of the Rocky Mountain News and widespread reports of financial problems and layoffs at other major news outlets, the loss of the print P-I has darkened the pall hanging over the news publishing industry.

An exec at the Newspaper Association of America told us the industry’s plight is not really as bad as it looks, however. Randy Bennett, senior vice president of business development, said, “You have to keep this in perspective.” It’s mainly a handful of big dailies that are in trouble, according to Benett. Plenty of newspapers are still profitable in medium to small markets, he said.

With both readers and advertisers trending toward the Internet, though, and a little economic problem called a recession, smaller newspapers are bound to take some hits. Whether they can transition to a profitable new business model is the big question.

Google’s Cloud Burst?

It must be tough being Google. One little bug and suddenly you’ve got the Federal Trade Commission on your case.

That’s what happens, though, when you’re one of the world’s top cloud computing providers and the bug allows unauthorized people to view documents they aren’t supposed to see. In fact, the party bringing the complaint, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is asking the FTC to shut down Google’s cloud services altogether until the problem is sorted out.

A couple of weeks back, a bug in Google Docs inadvertently provided that kind of access, so EPIC filed a letter of complaint accusing Google of, essentially, false advertising. By promising security and privacy and failing to deliver, Google is subject to allegations of unfair or deceptive trade practices, according to EPIC.

The center’s director, Marc Rotenberg, admits a full shutdown of Google’s cloud services is unlikely. He says he just wants better security measures so people’s privacy is protected. Well I guess if you ask nicely …

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

A lot of Google applications seem to suffer from Peter Pan syndrome — they just don’t want to grow up and out of the beta phase. Look at Gmail — it should be getting ready for kindergarten by now, but it still wears that beta tag like a pacifier.

But that was not the case with Chrome, Google’s Web browser. Chrome got pushed into 1.0 status just months after it debuted. But now it seems to have reverted back to beta. What’s going on — some kind of emotional breakdown?

No, the stable final release version is still out there, as is the developer preview version. This new beta version will be a testing ground for new builds and features. For example, the new Chrome beta boasts speeds up to 35 percent faster than the stable version.

Google engineers plan to tweak the beta often to test out new tidbits. The tradeoff, though, is that the beta version will probably be a lot buggier and crashier than the stable version — which is why they call it the stable version.

So if you’re the breakfast-eating, Brooks-Brothers type, go stable, and if you’d rather browse through life on the razor’s bleeding edge, go beta.

Trend Setter

If you build the most popular Web browser in the world, you’re going to have to walk around with a target on your back — that’s just how life works. So when Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer 8, was it any surprise that it triggered a bunch of other browser-related news? Of course not.

Here’s a partial list of the browser-related news that came out in the days surrounding the IE8 release: Google put out a beta of its browser, Chrome, even though it’s already got a stable version on the market; Mozilla rolled out a beta of Fennec, its mobile browser that’s named after a tiny little fox; and at the CanSecWest conference in Vancouver, hackers were able to exploit weaknesses in both Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s new-and-securer Internet Explorer 8, busting through their defenses to pwn — and own — the computers they were installed on.

It sure is lonely at the top, I guess.

Chips Are Down

Intel and AMD are at each other’s throats again. The companies are playing out their latest spat over a cross-licensing agreement via separate filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

AMD’s new joint venture, Globalfoundries, is at the center of the argument. Intel says AMD has no right to transfer its intellectual property to the JV and is threatening to revoke AMD’s licensing rights.

AMD is not only denying the accusations — it’s also accusing Intel of failing to follow the dispute resolution procedure established in the cross license. Therefore, Intel has breached the license, says AMD.

Intel’s material breach of the license makes AMD the good guy — at least, in AMD’s scenario — giving it the right to terminate Intel’s rights while retaining its own. Neat turnaround if AMD can make it work.

And what happens if these two foes can’t work this thing out amicably? Well, lots of bright-eyed lawyers are hoping they’ll get to spend a few years fighting it out in court.

Hot Tip

Pacific Crest Securities equity analyst Brent Bracelin called it “the worst-kept technology news secret in all of California.” He also called it “the most blogged-about product this year,” though I’d argue that honor belongs to the Snuggie.

Bracelin is talking about Cisco’s new Unified Computing System. It’s a series of new products and services for consolidating vast networks at big businesses, uniting computing, networking, storage access and virtualization into a single, scalable system.

The Yankee Group’s Zeus Kerravala gave us another perspective on it: “It’s like when Mr. Scott from ‘Star Trek’ has to move power from the Enterprise’s forward shields to the ship’s life support systems. That’s the way data center automation is supposed to work. That’s the problem Unified Computing System is supposed to address.”

The new products and services will put Cisco in head-to-head competition with some of its biggest partners like HP and IBM, but when has that ever been unusual in the tech industry?

It’s About Time

Our iPhone overlords in Cupertino have finally seen fit to throw cut-and-paste and MMS to the masses. The two features, which are commonly found in many other smartphones, will finally make their iPhone debut with the release of iPhone OS 3.0, coming this summer.

Apple released a preview of some of 3.0’s new functions, which also include a phone-wide search application, peer-to-peer connectivity via Bluetooth and push notification. Another feature, called “in-app purchases,” will let developers design applications that charge you money as you use them.

Want to unlock new levels? Pay another dollar. Want to get full functionality out of that enterprise app? Make it $20 — you do have an expense account, don’t you? In-app purchases could bring about new ways to design apps that really do offer features developers didn’t bother building in before because they just weren’t profitable.

But if devs aren’t very disciplined in implementing this feature, it could make using a lot of iPhone apps a real headache. And judging by the number of flatulence applications you can get in the App Store, discipline is apparently not a trait that all iPhone devs possess.

Free Books

You know the Kindle? Amazon’s hot e-book reader? How about the Sony Reader? Didn’t think so. The Sony Reader is to the Kindle sort of as the Zune is to the iPod.

But the Reader just got a whole lot cooler — that is, if you didn’t get enough of Dickens and Hardy in high school and you’d like to read a few hundred thousand other public domain books. In its hunger to control the universe of all knowledge, Google has digitized half a million of those texts and made them available to Sony, which is now giving them away for free with its Reader.

However, if you want to download the latest book by John Grisham, Janet Evanovich or any other current author while you’re out and about, you’ll want the Kindle. It has wireless functionality — the Reader does not. The Reader is also limited to shades of gray, which probably makes it a lousy choice for graphic novels or children’s books.

But then again, who wants to read a graphic novel or a children’s book on a handheld electronic device? Probably the same people who want to read newspapers on computers. Which is to say, eventually, all of us.

Also in this week’s podcast: Big Blue gets into the deep blue; HTC promises G2, G3 and G4; Google SVP goes slumming.

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