Monday, February 27, 2006

TechBoard taking a break - back next week

TechBoard is taking a break.

We'll be back on air 6th March.

And expect some surprises!!

Microsoft about to launch a new gadget - or is it just press speculation

Microsoft seems to have launched a speical site to announce the launch of an all new gadget. Could it be their answer to iPod - or is some mini-tablet?

The Web site,, suggests that the introduction of a personalized mobile device that "will change your life" is in the offing, but gives no details. It promises an update on Thursday.

Who knows what it will be, but as I just stated in the last post on Vista, the press war is hotting up between Microsoft and Apple/Google in particular. And Apple has just called a bunch of journalists to their head office for a splattering of new product releases.

OK, so it's your turn now Google...

Microsoft to launch multiple customer versions of Windows Vista

Microsoft will launch 6 versions of their new operating system, Windows Vista. And they are aimed at customer type and behavior rather than device type.

Microsoft expects Windows Vista Home Premium to be the mainstream consumer product, allowing users to record and watch high-definition TV, burn and author DVDs and perform other multimedia functions.

It also incorporates Tablet PC technology to decipher handwriting to let users write notes on the computer.

Vista Home Premium will be the mid-level option for consumers, sandwiched between the high-end Windows Vista Ultimate, which also includes business-oriented features, and a bare-bones Windows Vista Home Basic without the multimedia capabilities.

For business users, Microsoft plans Windows Vista Business for small and medium-sized businesses that are unlikely to have IT support staff.

Windows Vista Enterprise will be aimed at large, global companies with encryption features to protect information even if a computer is stolen and tools to enable compatibility with applications designed for older operating systems.

This all seems to make sense. Microsoft are in for one big year thanks to all their new product launches. And they are winning the PR war again as they push out positive announcement after positive announcement. They are even stealing the thunder back from last years idols Google and Apple.

Google and Apple need be careful not to lose their product and market momentum under this wave of attack from Miscrosoft. For the battle has just begun.

Vodafone stumbles again

Poor old Vodafone, stumbles again as their embattled management team announce a massive writedown of around $48bn and reduce their revenue and earnings outlook for this year citing competitive pressures.

I get the strangest feeling of deja vue with Vodafone. They feel to me and are even starting to behave like the old fixed line encumbants that went into a slow revenue and earnings death slide thanks to increased competition and then erosion of calling prices thanks to surplus capacity and then VOIP. They only recovered when they set up effective data services businesses offering mainly hi-speed Internet access.

Vodafone may be at the beginning of a similar cycle. Their call revenues per customer just continue to slide as pricing erodes thanks to increased competition and regulatory challenges.

And VOIP has only just begun to hit the mobile sector. Vodafone only have one way out - building an effective data services business. And they are taking too long to achieve it. This is their real achilles heal.

As 3G gets more broadly adopted Vodafone has to turn the overly expensive and walled off Vodafone Live into an open and cost effective mobile Internet service. They have to increase services, packages, open up Internet access to many, many more sites and reduce the price of all of this.

And they'd better do it fast or they'll slide even further and possibly have investors determine their future direction rather than management (which could spark a terminal death slide - just look at British Telecom).

AskJeeves to become

AskJeeves, the US 4th argest search site, has re-branded and become And it has been revamped with a bunch of useful services which should see the ex-butler outfit continue it's recent run of market share gains. For it is now the fastest growing search engine!

The new features a slick, do-it-yourself toolbox that helps users refine more types of searches with the first click of their mouse for maps, images, dictionaries, weather, local info or documents stored on their computers.

Users can select from up to 20 different types of specialized search tools has developed. Later this year, Ask will encourage outside developers to build tools to perform more specialized searches.

Ask are well positioned to take advantage of the trend towards more specialised and niche searches and becoming a search platform as well as engine bodes well. Shame about the butler though. Was he knocked off by the parlour maid or the doctor?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Apple's iPod winning the Japanese market?

Apple's iPod seems to have captured the notoriously tough Japanese market for their digital music player. And they have beaten back entrenched local players such as Sony and Matsushita.

By the end of 2005, iPod had cornered 51.3% of the digital-music player market, up from about 32% in 2004, according to research firm BCN. Sony was a distant second with 16.2%, while Panasonic grabbed just 8.2% of the market.

The usual combination of great design, powerful hardware and software that are seamlessly integrated with the iTunes service has proved the killer combination in this market too.

But, look for the fight back from Sony this year. Their designs get better and better and they are working hard to improve their Connect service. And perhaps the biggest challenge is yet to come - from the mobile operators with the major handset manufacturers. And Japan has one of the most advanced and highly utilised 3G networks
in the world to support this move.

Look out Apple. And for the millionth time - what's your mobile strategy?

Google getting US National Archives video online

Google is working in stages to put as many as possible of the US National Archives' 114,000 film reels and 37,000 videos online.

They have just started popping up at Google Video. It will take many years to complete (assuming they do) but is a wholly worthwhile exercise.

At least there should be no copyright issues with this one! Everything is in the public domain and much already available at

Friday, February 24, 2006

Google and Microsoft launch web site creation for the masses

Google and Microsoft have both launched their version of web site creation tools for the masses. Google's is called Page Creator and Microsoft's is Office Live.

Both are essentially Web page creation tools for the masses. And this time Microsofts is the more ambitious and professional. For Office Live allows small businesses to pick a domain name, set up a simple web site and attach up to 5 email addresses to it. Microsoft will then host it. And all this is for free.

Google's purely allows people with a Gmail account to set up individual web pages. Both are so simple that anyone can do it. With Microsoft's you have to download software and with Google you do not.

Office Live is designed for small businesses and Google's for individuals. Both are in Beta, but Google Page Creator had to temporarily shut to new sign ups due to too much demand. Shame.

But the battle for anyone to be able to set up and manage a web site has begun. By 2010, we should all be building and running quite sophisticated sites with commerce and advertising embedded (plus laods more) without any technical skills whatsoever. Bring on that day. Then anyone can become an Internet entrepreneur.

Blackberry injunction postponed. RIM and NTP given public flogging!

BlackBerry users will have to wait a little longer to find out whether the service will be shut down.

In the hearing today between NTP and Research In Motion over the wireless email service, US District Judge James Spencer did not issue an immediate ruling, saying he would take the matter under advisement.

And he gave the two companies a right royal public spanking for not settling between themselves. Quite right - they absolutely should have. The big question is which side made it impossible for them to reach a settlement?

If it was Blackberry they could end up paying very dearly - and if so investors and customers should punish them for such an irresponsible act. But, we'll have to wait until next week to learn any more.

Verizon and Disney agree wide ranging content deal

Verizon and Disney have just announced details of a wide ranging content deal that will both boost Verizon's DSL services and Verizon vdeo-on-demand.

Subscribers to Verizon Online DSL or Verizon FiOS Internet access will be able to watch programming provided by ABC News Now, Disney Connection, ESPN360 and Max.

And Fios TV, Verizon's recently launched alternative to cable and satellite, will make available more than 80 hours a month of on-demand programming from Disney Channel, Toon Disney, Radio Disney, Jetix, ABC News, ABC Family, SoapNet, ESPN Desportes and ESPNU.

Perfect for more syntilating couch potatoing. Verizon and AT&T are moving fast. All these digital distribution options, including cable, satellite, fibre and mobile prove more than ever that the ultimate winners will be the content creators and owners.

Blackberry devices to switch off today? Who will be the real loser?

A federal judge may decide TODAY whether to pull the plug on US BlackBerry email devices used by millions as part of a fight over NTP patents for the pocket-sized technology.

And you'll know when he's reached his ruling cos that Blackberry screen of yours will go blank.

On a more serious note, the judge may well rule against Blackberry and grant NTP an injunction. Blackberry will figure out some kind of work around or agreement with NTP, but the real loser may be US patents.

For such a ruling would have to call to account the entire patent and copyright protection processes and laws in the US. Too many senior execs and politicians have been adversly affected by the Blackberry/NTP tussle. And I'm not sure they are fully on NTP's side over this one.

Your Blackberry is just too personal. That, at least, RIM can be proud of.

GQ dives into text messaging - it's direct mail with a twist

GQ, owned by Conde Nast (nice name) is about to launch a new initiative for their readers. It's a voluntery (i.e. readers get to sign-up rather than getting blasted) text messaging service.

GQ will offer readers information on events, private sales, shopping nights and giveaways. But, no pics - they promise. Oh, I thought that's why people read GQ.

And who thought direct mail was dead. No, the battle to litter our lives has just moved to mobile phones instead.

Viacom to triple digital revenues by providing content to portals

Yesterday we wrote about how Viacom's latest results were a little uninspiring. And we pointed out that one of their footnotes was that they intended to take digital revenues from $150M to $500M over 3 years.

They seemed a little iffy on how they planned to do it. Well, no longer, for they have now explained that they want to achieve such meteoric digital expansion by providing content to portals.

And lost of it. And they seem happy to provide the content for free in return for a share of advertising revenues. That makes sense. And should prove timely given the drive by all major portals into video-on-demand this year.

In an effort to draw more traffic to its websites, Viacom earlier this year signed agreements with Yahoo, AOL and TV Guide to make its content available to their video search engines.

I guess a Google deal is inevitable - and, where's the cornerstone iTunes deal?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Viacom results uninspiring - Paramount turnaround, Pixar integration and digital vital for future

Viacom, the de-merged cable network and movie studio, announced that its 4th quarter profit fell 68% on a string of charges related to its split from CBS and severance costs, but revenue rose on higher advertising sales at its MTV Networks.

The results were solid if uninspiring. To turn that around Viacom needs to improve things at Paramount and make sure that the acquisition of Pixar is a big success (and the two are inexorably linked). Viacom needs more than just MTV to shine.

And a footnote in their announcement reveals that they aim to grow their digital business from revenues of $150M last year to $500M in three years. I cannot understand any media company right now that has digital as a footnote. Oh, well.

WebMD Health to help consumers manage their own healthcare

WebMD Health has just announced a new initiative that takes advantage of the trend toward US employees managing and paying for their own healthcare. And it could see WebMD Health, the leading healthcare information site, develop revenues other than for information alone.

By helping people enrolled in employer health plans compile personal health information online, WebMD Health wants to tap into the growing corporate trend of having employees pay more, if not all, of their own health costs. With more of their own money at stake, the thinking goes, people need information to help make decisions about health care.

WebMD says it has signed contracts with big health insurers and employers to operate private-access sites where employees can keep track of their medical records, look up information about diseases and compare costs and ratings for doctors and hospitals. Employers or their insurers pay licensing fees to WebMD, based on the services and number of health plan members.

This is a smart idea for both WebMD, employers and consumers. Where are those old records of mine anyway?

Reuters disappoints - what happened to the turn-around?

Reuters has just announced their full year results for 2005. Since Tim Glocer took over a few years ago, and since the collpase of the markets in 2000, Reuters has been battling to stem losses in revenues and re-invent themselves. They cut costs and announced a restructuring plan aptly named Fast Forward that was supposed to rev up the old British news agancy.

But for the past 4 years revenues at Reuters have continued to slide. And Bloomberg flourished, which just made things worse and made Mike Bloomberg relaxed enough to take on a new day job sorting out New York. The latter looks easier than project Fast Forward.

But finally, Reuters has seen their 2005 revenues stabilize for they were flat after taking account of exchange rates, bla, bla, bla. Flat. Mmm, that's exciting. Project Fast Forward sounds like it should speed up. Reuters needs to keep re-inventing, keep consolidating the industry (they recently bought Telerate), and get ever tighter with their key customers. A deal just announced with Citibank looks like the way forward.

Ultimately Reuters needs to recognize that their core business of financial information for the financial services industry has matured and will only deliver slow growth going forwards. They need to find new markets and new product offerings that are higher growth. A move into consumer information looks almost interesting, but may not be a break through.

How about using their technology skills to help banks with trading and settlement over the Internet. After all, look at how well they did with Tibco. Just a thought.

HP attacks retail photo printing business

HP has announced plans to compete with the likes of Kodak by offering retailers products to better enable them to service customers who want to print their digital photos in stores.

The company, which already has a presence in the in-home and online photo markets, is set to announce two new products: a digital photo-finishing unit for use behind the counter in commercial photo processing labs; and a smaller stand-alone in-store kiosk.

And their USP to retailers will be tight integration with HP printers and computers to reduce the cost of printing out photo's and the ability to print out poster size photo's as standard as well as a hard back photo album. If retailers take this offering up HP will then run the gammut of digital print solutions for consumers; at home, online and in-store.

Whether this enough to take on current market leaders such as Kodak we're not so sure.

RIM wins legal reprieve for Blackberry

RIM, the Canadian maker of the BlackBerry, received a boost yesterday when the US Patent and Trademark Office issued a final rejection of another two claims at the centre of a patent infringement dispute that threatens to disrupt BlackBerry's service in the US. And this disruption could even kick in as soon as this Thursday - yikes!

For US District Judge James Spencer is due to hear arguments in court then on whether he should reimpose an injunction against RIM that could force the Canadian company to shut down most US BlackBerry services. This follows the four-year legal battle between RIM and NTP. And the legal battle has already created a wave of executive trauma almost as shocking as Janet Jackson at your average superbowl.

If Judge Spencer reimposes an injunction Thursday, RIM promise their users that they have a work-around. NTP promise they will attack the legality of the work-around. Blackberry's competition promise they are ready to welcome Blackberry's customers in the US with arms wide open (that's sweet) and we promise to keep covering this corporate courtroom drama. It's better than any network TV legal drama - honest!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Fox to launch new TV network

News Corp's Fox is launching a new TV network this Autumn called My Network TV. This looks set to be a new style and lower cost station utilising many of the formats that are so successful today such as celebrity escapes, find the next supermodel and cracking real crimes. It's like user/celebrity generated content for the TV. And they say it will be profitable from day one.

The announcement of the new network comes a month after Time Warner and CBS created the CW and said they would shut down their respective WB and UPN networks. The shutdown of those networks left about 10 stations owned by News Corp. without a network.

Upon launching on Tuesday, September 5th, 2006, My Network TV will feature quality primetime programming from 8.00-10.00pm (EST/PST) Monday through Saturday, totaling 12 hours of original content per week. Providing broadcasters a viable and station-friendly option for primetime, involving no reverse compensation, My Network TV will position stations with operational flexibility through an appealing affiliation term and attractive inventory split, further building asset value.

I must say Fox really knows how to innovate and re-invent broadcast programming. And this format looks also to be well lent to online download services the likes of iTunes and perhaps even MySpace?

Online panel at answer questions from TechBoard on Google

A distinguished panel of analysts and journalists take questions from Philip Letts of TechBoard today about Google's future and value, live at

The web panel and online Q&A is well worth tuning in to. (Go to and click on top banner on home page.)

We also quote from one of Philip Letts key questions and the response from the panel:

"Google’s growth needs to be augmented by new revenue streams to justify their lofty valuations. Offerings such as Google Base, Google Video and Google software (Pack etc) hold promise but deliver little to the top line today. And there are endless rumours of Google Music, payments etc etc.What new revenue streams/offerings does the panel think will help Google meaningfully diversify their revenues in the mid term and what should that do for their stock price?"
Philip L Letts, TechBoard

Cody Willard: Google Wallet is likely to come out soon, and the implications of such a rollout are big. If Google is to maintain critical mass in search - and continue to grow its reach - adding a Google wallet will help Google become a (and perhaps THE) de facto means of distribution, including paid-for distribution, which will be key in the non-piracy world of online downloading. Google currency? Apropos my earlier year end target for Google, I wonder who will be on their $500 bill?

Jeff Matthews: Good question.

The biggest risk to Google’s existing revenue base may be dilution from its own success in search. More keyword bidders are driving up the cost of keywords to uneconomic levels - at least that’s what has happened at two large search marketing users, FTD Group and Blue Nile.

Google Mail, Google Maps and Google Base only exist to drive more search, which runs the risk of further diluting the search model. As I write this e-mail in Google Mail, ads are popping up alongside this email. There is such as thing as too many search ads chasing not enough clickers. Consequently, as you point out, I doubt Google Base or Maps or Mail adds much to Google’s search revenue.

As for Google branching into the pay-per-download revenue model via Google Video, the speed with which mainstream media is adopting a video download model (after watching the music industry fight the trend unsuccessfully) probably renders Google too late to benefit in a significant way from an Apple-style video download business.

Thus, like most great new technology innovators that break through with a new technology only to find it impossible to diversify into new businesses, I suspect the next big revenue stream for Google will be adopting its search model to a “click-to-call” model in which consumers can click a button or an icon and be connected with the company or service provider. The value of a live customer on a phone is far higher than a person who simply clicks on a web-based ad.

Stephen Schurr: One of the great conundrums in analysing Google’s prospects is understanding which of the 100 or so major initiatives the company is working on will have a meaningful impact on the bottom line.

My guess is that over the short term, the new revenue streams that will boost Google’s bottom line are ones that are very similar to what it does today: for instance, Google’s push into mobile searches. Mobile search just takes Google’s successful model and puts it in a new venue. The question remains whether mobile search ads truly represent a diversified revenue stream in the event of a recession that causes a slowdown in advertising.

Comparisons to Microsoft may seem facile, but I think Google does face similar challenges in successfully diversifying away from its core product.

I have some concerns regarding other new initiatives. Google Video is a case in point. While the company has been explicit in saying the video product is still in beta mode, I must admit Google Video comes off as pretty amateurish. I have no doubt that the company will improve the service – and the 70/30 profit sharing arrangement with content providers could be quite lucrative for Google. However, it is a highly competitive landscape and Google doesn’t appear to have quite as many advantages over its competitors when it comes to content. (For more on that point, you can check out these interesting comments:

Broadly speaking, my biggest worry with the new initiatives is that Google will never be able to replicate the high-margin, high-growth miracle that online search advertising has been for the company. That’s natural, but I don’t think the stock price reflects this. The moves to diversify are the right moves to make sure Google is positioned for long-term growth. However, I doubt they will happen upon a second golden calf; and if the first golden calf slows substantially, Google’s growth prospects will be diminished.

Windows servers overtake Unix servers for number 1 spot

Microsoft's Windows servers last year overtook Unix servers as the largest sellers for the first time ever, according to an IDC report.

Computer makers sold $17.7 billion worth of Windows servers worldwide in 2005 compared with $17.5 billion in Unix servers, IDC analyst Matthew Eastwood said of the firm's latest Server Tracker market share report. "It's the first time Unix was not top overall since before the Tracker started in 1996."

And in another first, fast-growing Linux took third place, bumping machines with IBM's mainframe operating system, z/OS. Linux server sales grew from $4.3 billion in 2004 to $5.3 billion in 2005, while mainframes dropped from $5.7 billion to $4.8 billion over the same period, Eastwood said.

And a bunch of other interesting trends have emerged. The vast majority of servers sold are now sub $25,000. This category sees strong growth and is led by IBM, HP and Dell. Sun looks set to make a comeback this year with their new line-up of cheaper servers and with Solaris going open-source. AMD has made strong gains.

And Blade servers are the future. Other than that expect to see Windows servers continue to extend their lead and watch Linux Servers overtake Unix servers in the number 2 spot by 2010. And these last are TechBoards predictions - so they must be right - yeah?

Microsoft challenged by rivals and customers

The European Commission has been approached by a group of Microsoft rivals and custiomers to urge the EC to force Microsoft to rapidly and fully comply with the EU's ruling against the worlds number one software company, which they are currently battling with Microsoft over.

The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) said in a statement that Microsoft "threatens to deny enterprises and individual consumers real choice." ECIS, which dates back to 1989, includes IBM, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Nokia, RealNetworks and others.

The complaint asks the Commission to put an end to the practices that the group says have hemmed in its members. ECIS said that limits which were placed on Microsoft in the 2004 antitrust court ruling - now under appeal by the company - needed to be rapidly and fully enforced.

The group said Microsoft Office software was one example of a Microsoft product that did not permit rivals to interoperate properly with the Windows operating system, preventing them from competing.

They European Commission will likely win this battle with Microsoft (in some shape or form), but Microsoft have become masters at tying such rulings up in legal knots so that they can stretch their business practices out until the next their next set of product releases. And then the cycle can start all over again.

Maybe Microsoft rivals should settle more of these issues in the marketplace as well. They should perhaps take Microsoft on more directly as a grouping - that's the only real way of changing business practices. If they teamed up more and rode new innovations such as open-source and Internet sevices/Web 2.0, they have an even better chance of taming Microsoft than through the courts.

Sprint Nextel results lack shine - what's their future?

Sprint Nextel has announced their first set of quartely reults as a merged company. Profits were roughly in line with analyst expectations and not very exciting. And revenues were up 7%.

And they have forescast 2006 consolidated revenue of $41 billion, assuming high-single-digit to low-double-digit growth in wireless and a mid- to high-single-digit revenue decline for its long-distance business.

Lucky they brought Nextel, for their fixed line business is in trouble medium and long term. Revenues will just keep declining. The only hope is that they manage to strengthen their wireless offering versus the might of Cingular and Verizon and that their traditional corporate telecomms business develops.

Or maybe they should merge with an international player. How about Vodafone? Now there's a thought.

Google's thumbnails come under legal attack

Google has received the first major setback to the legality of their core technology. A judge in the district of California has ruled that the picture thumbnails on their image search service infringed on the copyright of a site that sells pornographic images called Perfect 10 (an interesting name for a porn site!).

Google had failed three of the four tests of the “fair use” defence, the judge ruled. Since the company sells adverts to run alongside its search results, the image search service does not fall under the “non-commercial” test, he wrote. Also, the “creative” nature of the images meant they should have protection, though this counted “only slightly” in favour of Perfect 10, he said. Finally, Google’s thumbnail-sized pictures had a direct impact on Perfect 10’s ability to make money from its images, since it had licensed a UK company to distribute similar-sized pictures to mobile ‘phones.

The only fair use defence on which Google prevailed was its argument that it had not produced more of Perfect 10’s images than was needed for the purposes of its search service.

This is a blow for Google. And they have other cases pending in the US on their use of thumbnails for books, news, and more. Let's hope this does not set too much dangerous precedent and the judge words the ruling narrowly enough so that Google's vital thumbnails when seraching do not become a thing of the past.

Even though I am a writer and founder of businessuncut, I believe that we have to be extremely careful not to hamper the growth of the Internet and freedom of information by protecting copyright of information too aggressively. If search engines have to pay to display information, the Internet will take a huge step backwards and the greatest losers will be all of us. Then the Internet will not fulfill it's huge potential as the information centre of choice for the global masses.

Apple gets hackers attention

Apple's Macintosh users reported that an image file purported to contain screen shots of a forthcoming OS X update actually contained a computer worm. Since then, at least two other OS X security threats have emerged.

As Apple prepares themselves for the battle versus Intel PC makers and Microsoft's Windows, with their all new line-up of Intel Macs, better security was to be one of their USP's. After all, the Mac OS is almost never attacked.

Industry pundits have been debating for a while whether this is because Apple has a more secure OS or simply because they do not have the attention of serious hackers yet because they have such a small user base. The argument then follows that as Apple's user base grows, they will become more of a security target.

It looks like both sides have merit. Apple's OS will come under more attack as their popularity grows, but their OS is also inherently more secure. Apple just need ensure that their OS continues to stand up to such attacks and they can more than ever claim to have a safer system and continue to use the "security" proof nature of their OS as another reason to convert users from Windows PC's to Mac PC's.

By the way, has anyone out there come acroos any stats on how Apple's Intel PC sales are fairing? If so please share them with us.

NBC launches new TV series on iTunes - and it's free!

NBC has announced plans to make its newest television series available for free on Apple's iTunes store 10 days before its network premiere. The series is Conviction, a legal drama.

And the move marked the first time that a broadcast network has debuted a series for free on iTunes. This is a bigger deal than it seems. For this is a sign of things to come. The pay per view nature of online TV needs to develop into a free, or ad based model.

Developments such as this will accellerate the process. This particular one reflects an effort to use iTunes as a promotional tool - particularly among young viewers. Given the amount of choice becoming available at iTunes - the download fee alone will not work. Or at least will only work for the odd billionaire. How about the rest of us!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

AOL launches business messaging services with WebEx

AOL has launched a couple of business focused messaging services with WebEx. Quite why we're not so sure!? Hey, at least it should help build their SME base.

In a partnership with Web-conferencing leader WebEx, AOL is launching the tentatively named AIM Pro. One AIM Pro package will target small businesses and the self-employed, while another is intended to appeal to larger companies. Both will differ from the free AIM service by offering a customized interface, additional security, voice, video and Web collaboration capabilities.

Messaging is becoming a killer application for most portals. Expect even more innovation through the year.

3 Italy launches mobile TV with a subtle name

3 Italy, the leading hi-speed mobile network operator known for recently pulling their IPO has just announced launching a mobile TV network. It's gonna be called LaTre, which is about as subtle a brand as ever I've seen.

The TV-phone service launches this summer and uses a new technology called DVB-H that utilises digital TV airwaves and not the mobile network. They also bought a small TV broadcaster so they can be a media company and content originator as well as mobile operator. Convergence of telecomms and media continues.

They launch in June with 15 channels and coverage of the soccer world cup from Germany. That should kick things off with a bang (yep, pun intended. Sorry.). They will charge $20-$35 per month for the service and expect 600,000 users by year end. Maybe that'll help them IPO next year!

RadioShack CEO resigns

Yesterday we wrote a piece about the RadioShack CEO under seige. He had just announced terrible results for the US' 3rd largest electronics retailer, admitted to lying on his resume and even going to court for a drink driving offence (and all in a week - Wow, poor guy).

Well, today he did the right thing and resigned. And the board stated that they would from now on vet all resume's. It seems odd that they need a mess such as this to better vet candidates. What did they do before?

One of the worlds leading search firms, Spencer Stuart, has been hired to find a new CEO - I guess they'll vet like never before!

Monday, February 20, 2006

IBM announces breakthrough in chip sizes

IBM researchers will today announce a breakthrough (and don't say we can't pick up on scoops!) in reducing the width of circuits on silicon chips to less than 30 billionth of a metre.

This is apparently 3,000 times thinner than a human hair - no I didn't measure it dummy. And it's one third the size of the 90nm circuits currently dominating production in the chip industry.

And if all this chip (sadly not french fry) chat makes you dizzy - it means that Moore's law looks set to continue. I.e. the number of transistors on a chip will double every 18 months to 2 years. Zzzzzzzzz...

RadioShack CEO in dire straits - company losses, resume porkies and drink driving!

The CEO of RadioShack is in about as deep as you can get. He has been CEO for less than a year and on Friday he had to report a massive loss for the group and a huge reorganisation plan that could see them close as many as 700 outlets.

Given how hot the consumer electronics market is right now and how well peers such as Best Buy are doing - this is no mean feat of, well, savoir non faire.

But if this weren't enough (and it really should be) their CEO, Edmondson, admitted that he "clearly" misstated his academic record and that his resume was wrong. While he originally said he received a Bachelor of Science degree, he now says he believes he received a ThG diploma, awarded for completing a three-year degree in theology, but adds that he cannot document that.

Does he have any degree at all? Why can't the college he went to pull out their records? Edmondson now says his fate lies in the hands of the board. Der, yeah! As yet they have done nothing. I just wonder whether any other employee would be still there after the performance and resume faut pas'.

But, then, just to prove that most businesses are as much fun as an episode of Friends, we now discover that Edmondson is about to go to court for a drunk driving offence - and it's his third in 17 odd years. WHAT!

And the board is still wondering what to do? Maybe they should all go. Or at least they should make even more losses by using cabs in the future. Sorry shareholders.

NTL looks set to buy Virgin Mobile

NTL, the UK's leading cable operator looks set to announce their acquisition of Virgin Mobile over the next week.

And who said convergence wasn't back. Here you have a cable operator and media company (they create some of their own content) buying a leading mobile phone operator.

And it looks like the Virgin Mobile team is to stay on - so cable pioneers will sit alongside mobile pioneers. This could be an extremely successful formula.

Everyone in the media and telecomms sectors should take not of this deal - for it is the future.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sony to delay launch of Playstation 3?

Sony’s next-generation PlayStation 3 video game console might not appear in key markets this year and could cost the electronics giant $900 per unit to produce initially.

Merrill Lynch analysts are suggesting that the Japan launch may move from this Spring to the Autumn and the all important US launch may be delayd until next year.

And to make matters even worse Sony may have to dribble machines out slower than expected to spread losses they are expected to incur in shipping each console.

Microsoft may be handed a considerable advantage in getting ahead with sales of their new Xbox 360. The Playstation 3 looks so good people may be willing to wait - but not 6-12 months - surely.

And my son is craving his. Come on Sony - get your act together. Or is Merrill Lynch wrong in which case they need to get their act together. I guess we'll find out whose the real donkey soon enough.

MySpace becomes target for sex offenders

It looks like MySpace may be becoming a target for sex offenders aiming at teenagers, thanks to an article in Reuters today.

And now there are 56 million users on MySpace, most of which are young. This raises an interesting dilemma for parents. Sites such as MySpace allow people to store and share an unprecedented amount of information that could assist offenders to more easily target their members.

Should MySpace police and vet members harder? I think they may have to given the current negative madia this issue is attracting.

If not, parents may police by banning their kids from using such sites. Of course it need not be said that as usual the greatest shame is that such offenders exist in the first place. But they do.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

FT scathing about blogging revolution - are they right?

The Financial Times today produced an in depth article and opinion piece about the blogging revolution. They present the blogging revolution reasonably well, but end up dismissing it and discarding the possibility that blogging might deliver any kind sustainable social or economic change.

I would strongly suggest that anyone involved in blogging read it. And anyone planning to launch a business using blogging should use it as a sensible health warning about the financial realities surrounding commercial blog sites.

For the part that I agree with is that setting up commercial blog sites is hard and the business is slow to build. But then which business is not. For today commercial blog sites are merely content sites. And content sites are a dime a dozen and painfully slow and expensive beasts to develop.

But, it's the conclusion of the article that I fundamentally disagree with. For the FT believes that blogging will not deliver a step change for the commercial media industry.

And I think the FT forgets that blogging is a young technology and not a new publishing process alone. The fundamental revolution that blogging has delivered is to provide any individual on the planet with the tools to easily set up and deliver a web site. And that web site is free to develop and host.

The FT also make a mistake in assuming that blogging technology will only ever enable you to produce an online journal or webzine. Today blog sites also deliver audio and video, allowing those with specific skills to set up truly multimedia websites that can incorporate content with search, links, radio, TV and film.

And blogging technology is still so young. It could well be that in another 5 years free blog services will allow people and businesses all over the world to set up the most sophisticated web sites with no technical skills whatsoever. And these web sites may include easy to set up and use commerce and shopping applications as they offer publishing applications today.

So, the likes of may provide sophisticated web services for any or all of us to set up advanced online businesses from our living rooms with no or little cost. This will allow students without engineering degrees to launch as successful Internet businesses as the hottest from Stamford. But their businesses will ber about the application of the Internet and not technologies per se. But that is the future.

The FT as well as underestimating the relevance and application of blogging technologies also I feel misunderstands what blogging, even today, is really about. They state that blogging will not replace the worlds newspapers. But I'm not sure that is what blogging is trying to do.

Newspapers are about news gathering and reporting. Blogs are about opinion. Blogging is the talk show technology of the Internet. Bloggers need newspapers and newspapers increasingly need bloggers. The one actually feeds and promotes the other. They are additive and synergistic with eachother - not in competition. At least not for a while.

And bloggers are realising that if you want to build a media company around blogging it takes an enormous amount of time, a great deal of patience and a bunch of money. For the real cost of setting up a blog is not the cost of the technology or of the production of information, but is the cost of people and marketing as with any publishing company.

But patience will pay off for the talented and blogging technology will finally allow the masses to share in the wealth of the Internet - for now anyone and their dog can own and run their own online business. And they don't even need the VC's. Now there's a revolution if ever I've heard of one.

Google lashes out at DOJ

Google yesterday lashed out at the DOJ over their desire to examine Google's users search records. Google is clearly intending for this to become a legal matter so that precedent can be set on protecting users online and search privacy.

In a strongly worded legal brief filed with a federal judge in San Jose, California, the search company accused prosecutors of a "cavalier attitude," saying they were "uninformed" about how search engines work and the importance of protecting Google's confidential information from disclosure.

I have to support Google and so do they. Their entire business model is and will continue to become dependent on users trusting them with more and more of their private information. Google needs to get heavily involved in the debate over user privacy online and this is as good a place as any to start.

They can't just become a snooper on behalf of any government unless someone has specifically and visibly broken a law. But, Google need to be careful that they are consisitent. And as they defend themselves against the US DOJ they also need to be entirely clean and consistent over their China policy. They might even need to review it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Amazon online music offering becomes clearer

It seems as though Amazon is taking a hybrid approach to their digital music offering. They will offer a dedicated branded music player, to be made for them by a consumer electronics player, so that their music service will easily and seamlessly work with the Amazon player as Apple's iPod does with iTunes.

But their music service will be subscription based and not a fee per download. The subscription service will be an all you can eat one - or all you can stuff on the player.

Before the player is shipped to you, you can pre-order a bunch of music and Amazon will then use their customer preference technology to advise you on other music you may enjoy. Amazon is also taking a page out of the mobile operator play book by discounting the player if you sign up for a longer contract (maybe 12 months).

And you will be able to get discounts on Amazon CD's if you buy digital online versions. Amazon is taking an interesting approach and using their specific strengths to create some valuable USP's.

If you ask me, the extent to which they will succeed will all depend on how well their player is designed. And how coolly they market it. That has been the secret to Apple's success and no on else has managed to replicate it yet.

It will be interesting to see how Amazon does. I just question whether the Amazon brand is cool enough. Google may just fare better in this department if they ever launch a rival player/service.

US satellite radio companies both announce increased losses

XM Satellite Radio and Sirius, the US' two satellite radio pioneers are locked in a costly battle for subscribers. Both of them have announced considerably wider losses on revenues and subsciber improvements.

Sirius said it ended 2005 with 3.3 million subscribers, after adding 1.1 million in the fourth quarter. The subscriber gains outpaced the number of new subscribers racked up bigger rival XM Satellite Radio in the quarter.

Both spend around $100 (Sirius a little more) to acquire each subscriber, which seems like a lot of money. It takes their customers nearly a year to pay back those costs.

And both Sirius and XM have shelved out a huge amount of money to attract the likes of Howard Stern and Oprah. Though Oprah seems cheap at the price compared to the $500M for Stern. The pay back can only come with considerably improved customer numbers.

Both investors and board members seem concerned about the cost overruns. And both companies have seen their shares slide. XM was further hurt by one of their board members resigning over his concern at runaway costs.

So Sirius and XM are taking a big gamble. Sirius expects 2006 losses of around $600M. But, if they keep pulling in the subscribers at the rate they are, then their businesses sould turn profitable in the next couple of years.

They probably need about 15M subscribers each to achieve it. If they don't, there's gonna be a whole load of cost slashing in the fledgling US satellite radio industry. And the two leaders might even be forced to merge.

Dell's latest results impress - nearly

Dell put in a strong set of results for the 4th quarter and for last year as a whole. But analysts are left with a sour taste as it looks like Dell will not deliver double digit growth in the current quarter for the first time since the slowdown at the beginning of the decade.

Revenue for the 4th quarter, was $15.2 billion, up 13% from revenue of $13.5 billion last year. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call had expected the company to record $14.8 billion in revenue.

Net income was $1 billion, up 52% from $667 million last year. Revenue for the full year was $55.9 billion, up from $49.2 billion in 2004. Net income was $3.6 billion, a 17% increase from the prior year.

And it looks like Dell has nearly concluded their transition from a low cost provider of PC's mainly to small and medium sized businesses to a broad provider of a wide array of hardware for major enterprises around the world.

For Dell now provide servers and storage systems and hi-end PC's and laptops. And these categories seem to have driven much of their revenue and earnings growth. That and international operations particularly in Europe and Asia.

The big question is as Dell behaves more like the IBM of old (focusing on enterprise wide hardware systems), will they also deliver lower growth a la IBM. The 1st quarter of this year certainly provides reason for caution.

And the competitive environment has toughened considerably thanks to a revitalised HP, a bulked up Lenovo and Apples Intel computers. Dell needs to continue to focus on moving themselves up the food chain and deeper into the worlds leading enterprises. They also need to become your total "Intel hardware of choice" provider around the globe.

If they do that, there should be enough scope for growth in the upcoming years. And if not - they could always think of merging with Motorola. Now that's a thought. The mobile handset business sure has legs to it.

France consolidates under one major pay-TV player

Vivendi Universal and Lagardère today announced an agreement under which Lagardere will take a 20% stake in Canal Plus. Lagardère currently owns 34% of CanalSat, the satellite television operator controlled by Canal Plus, which is in turn controlled by Vivendi. In December, Vivendi announced that it planned to merge Canal Plus with TPS, the smaller rival to CanalSat.

How's that for confusing. What it all boils down to is that in any single country within the European market there is only really room for one cable and one satellite TV provider. The scale just isn't there for two to both profitably survive long term. The UK and Italy have already gone through this - with Sky as the dominant winner. Now France gets to follow.

Playtech to go public in London valued at nearly $1bn

Playtech, a software group that builds systems for online gaming operators, has announced plans for an Aim float that will value it at £550m ($954m).

Investor appetite for online gaming stocks is strong. So Playtech is seeking a near $300M placing on Aim. The float will be the biggest so far of 2006.

And who said the public markets were nervous of online gambling stocks. The tech market bull continues.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Amazon will launch music service to rival iTunes

All the business media is today awash with the news that Amazon is soon to launch (probably Q2) a digital music service to rival iTunes. This is a natural for Amazon and a timely move (assuming they launch on time).

Now it's just up to Google to complete the picture and announce their own. The Amazon announcement should put pressure on them.

Oracle buys yet another company - this time it's messaging

Oracle has just announced buying yet another company. They are on a fast track to become an M&A machine. I just hope for their shareholders sake they can actually integrate them all, for strategically you can make a strong argument for any of them.

The latest is Hotsip, and with their messaging technology from Stockholm, the Sweden-based messaging software company could potentially make it easier for Oracle business software customers to take advantage of telephone or computer instant-messaging features from within Oracle's existing applications.

Now that's the future. And Hotsip uses presence, telephony, video conferencing and messaging in a fully inegrated manner. This is one smart play.

Finally a clear explanation of what we can all expect from Office 97

Finally someone has provided a clear and reasonably complete picture of what we can all expect from Microsoft's Office 97 when it comes out later this year. Thanks CNET.

I particularly like the new $149 home edition. Well, at least I like the price. On the enterprise side - the features look great. Microsoft may even do better than anyone thinks with their Office franchise. (?)

Likely US legislation coming out of China Internet issues

Nearly every US company with a Web site located in China will have to move it elsewhere or its executives would face prison terms of up to a year, according to proposed legislation expected to be introduced this week in the US Congress.

If enacted, the draft would dramatically change the business practices of corporations with operations in China, Iran, Vietnam and other nations deemed to be overly "Internet-restricting."

The proposal, created by Rep. Christopher Smith, in response to recent reports about censorship in China by Google, Yahoo and others, also makes it unlawful to filter search results or turn over information about users to certain governments unless the US Justice Department approves. It would also impose new export restrictions to those nations.

Ooh! If this gets enacted (which is unlikely in it's current form) this would be a major coup for freedom of information and a major blow for free trade. I could see a move like this creating a wave of reactionery nationalism from the Chinese in particular.

Or maybe the hard ball approach might get the Chinese to finally change their ways - I very much doubt it. I think everyone has to be extremely careful about how they tread over this China/Internet freedom of information thing.

CNET on open-source - can it really survive?

CNET produced an interesting article on the likely direction of open-source. And this is clearly a hot topic right now.

Oracle is snapping up open-source outfits like it's going out of fashion. And people are already speculating about their real intentions. Do they want to ride the open-source wave or kill it.

SAP on the other hand believe that open-source is doomed and as more and more corporates look to consolidate their business applications under one or two players, then only the huge encumbants can survive.

And the big debate for this year could well be whether open-source can become the new way to build all manner of software or whether it will just prove to be another collaborative fad that will fade out as the hippy era did.

I'm not so sure. The real reason that open-source can happen is the Internet. And the Internet isn't going away. It is on a guaranteed path to all pervasiveness (see digital big bang for proof).

And as the Internet changes so much, it could usher fundamentally in new ways of working, such as open-source. Open-source could become more important - not less. And open-source could become more pervasive - not less. Open-source could build a great deal more product categories than just software, including books and movies and games.

If I were SAP I would be extremely careful about dismissing open-source projects. I would embrace them as Oracle is (we hope!). The big question is how open-source becomes mainstream and even better organised. For if it doesn't they may even fulfill SAP's wishes.

HP puts in some impressive results

HP continued their run of impressive results as they announced their latest quartery financials. And the most shocking part of all was that the star this time was their much maligned PC division.

HP beat both its own and Wall Street forecasts for revenue and earnings growth in its most recent quarter.

The rebound in the company’s PC division came on the back of a 26% bounce in unit sales of notebook computers. Operating profit margins in the business, long HP’s most troubled unit, rose to 3.9%, “their highest level in many years,” said CEO Hurd.

Laptops look set to be the growth sector in the PC business thanks to the growth in Wi-Fi and hi-speed mobile networks. At least until the media center PC takes off as the hub for the digital living room/home. It'll be intersting to see how Dell's results come in later today.

Mark Hurd, CEO of HP, seems extremely adept at executing on ex-CEO Fiorina's strategy. You can't but wonder how HP might have done if Fiorina were Chairman or CEO and Hurd was executing for her as CEO or COO. Oh well.

Barcelona wireless event all about convergence

The FT today ran a great piece on convergence as the key theme for the worlds number 1 wireless event just finishing up in Barcelona.

I think they're spot on and I'm reminded of an interview I had with a leading O2 executive not long ago when he told me that he thought the mobile phone industry could behave increasingly like the cable industry. Well that looks pretty spot on right now.

The problem is that not enough mobile operators are doing this. They talk about content but show little talent at packaging and distributing it succeefully to their users. As a result users turn to the wired Internet or even their iPod before reading news or listening to music or watching video on their phones.

For the one thing that cable companies learnt is that you have to provide eat all you can content packages for monthly fees not much more than $50. The mobile operators will never succeed until they figure out how to offer similar packages for even less - after all your mobile will always be a less impressive experience due to small screens and network latency.

Mobile operators need to behave like the content distributors they should be and need to alter their employee skillsets to reflect this. Until they do, my money's on the ESPN's and Virgin's to win in the mobile data space. I wonder how many other media savvy entities it will take to enter the mobile operator space before the telco's change.

Internet giants get Washington grilling

Internet giants got one mama of a grilling yesterday from US lawmakers and were even compared with the use of IBM’s technology in the organisation of the Holocaust. Ouch.

And they were accused of “enthusiastically volunteering for China’s censorship brigade”. And worse. Both Republicans and Democrats seemed less than impressed with the company's desire to dive into bed with the Chinese and some of their less than impressive practices.

Most hard hitting was California congressman Tom Lantos, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, who asked each of the companies whether they felt “ashamed” and whether they would agree to discriminate against women if asked to by a repressive regime. Apparently the representatives for Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco were left speechless by this one!

And they were the ones that I felt came out the worse. For the only response from the 4 corporates was that they were not entirely sure wether their Chinese policies were right or not and that they would welcome greater government direction.

What, leading tech companies welcoming government intervention into their business practices? Now that's a volt face if ever I've seen one. And in a world where corporate governance and corporate morales are increasingly valued, their responses looked naive and it times irresponsible.

It could well prove that the largest losers will end up being the Internet giants. And government legislation could well hamper their businesses in China yet provide a welcome veil to hide behind

All this China policy issue does sadly prove that certain business matters are still better done by government. Shame.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Nintendo DS to watch TV and browse the Internet

For those of you that think that the highly impressive (or at least impressive to my son) Nintendo DS is complicated enough this announcement isn't for you. For it's about to get even more powerful/complex.

Nintendo have just announced that they will soon launch a card and antenna that will allow you to watch TV over your Nintendo DS. Don't ask how yet - cos their not saying.

And if this isn't impressive enough then they are also launching a browser with Opera that put together with another card will give you Wi-Fi Internet access.

So all that is left is for them to add telephone features and you have everything you could ever wish for. Oh, and Nintendo did also state that they will launch another bunch of games for the highly popular portable that was once only a games machine. Oh and a slimmer version. Oh and they've sold nearly 15M worldwide since launch.

Oh, no, I guess my son'll be hassling me for the TV and browser add-ons soon. Unless of course he never finds out. Well, I won't tell him so long as you all...

CEO of Vodafone could take some of his own medicine

Arun Sarin, speaking at the annual mobile industry event in Barcelona attacked the mobile handset manufacturers slowing the take-up of 3G networks because they are charging too much for the devices.

"There's a $60 difference between 2.5G and 3G handsets," Sarin noted, adding that customers should be "indifferent" to which generation of handset they're buying.

"Aside from price, complexity is the next barrier to be breached, said Sarin. By that he means complexity of configuration, of operating system or of browser. "I think we have a little way to go - we need to make things simple for customers...There's a whole alphabet soup of difficulty out there."

Yeah, starting with an alphabet soup at Vodafone Live. For Sarun's own service suffers from exactly the issues he accuses others of. Vodafone Live is too expensive, and far too complex. Maybe Mr Sarun should fix his own back yard before throwing stones at others.

Intel backs 3G connectivity for laptops

Intel and the GSM Association have together launched an initiative to try and get automatic 3G connectivity on all laptops. In fact they want laptops to be able to access/roam any wireless network.

Intel and the GSMA announced the initiative yesterday and will be publishing guidelines for laptop manufacturers to encourage them to integrate modems capable of picking up various networks, including 3G, HSDPA or EDGE, in their products.

I just hope someone figures out fast how to make sure you're getting the cheapest rate as you roam, for I'd hate to be paying high mobile fees when I could be accessing a cheaper Wi-Fi or city-wide WiMax network.

But the future lies in hybrid network devices. Expect to see exactly the same happen to mobile phones. Now that's gonna hurt the poor old mobile operators. Unless they have hotspots too!

Oops - could be wrong about US gov's approach to Internet companies in China

Sorry. Need to amend the second last post. It looks like the US government may actually try to make it illegal for US companies to restrict freedom of speech/privacy when operating in such countries as China.

This would force the likes of Microsoft, Yahoo and Google to change their recent practices. No wonder Gates is supporting the governement. They could then hide behind them and it would look less like they as companies are going angainst China etc. directly.

Mmm, very canny.

The return of online marketplaces?

Well it looks like online marketplaces are back. The old Internet exchanges that looked like they had gone the same way as Pompeii have mysteriously returned as Pheonix's from ashes.

For only a few days ago I wrote about person-2-person loans over the Internet. And today the UK government have launched one of the worlds largest government procurement exchanges aptly named Zanzibar.

And there even seems to be a business case and smart strategy to this one! Wow, and coming from UK government - that's a first. Yep, this online market baby will apparently reduce the cost of UK government procurement by around 4%. Given what a monstrous amount of money the UK government spends (and that's a whole other issue) this could be a lot of tax payer money saved.

Hey, I've got an even better idea than Zanzibar. Why not give the savings back to taxpayers by way of reducing taxes. Yeah right. Oh well, at least the worlds watching to see how Zanzibar does - so at least that should keep it on track.

I still wish they'd give some money back...

Microsoft's Gates weighs in on China privacy debate

Bill Gates today weighed in on the raging debate over foreign Internet company practices when doing business in China. Gates suggested that he would welcome government intervention in how Microsoft and peers should behave when doing business in tricky countries such as China.

But he spke against any kind of ban on US companies operating in China or presumably any ban on specific business practices that would normally be considered legal by local or international law.

Gates speaks up right as other Internet operators go before congress on specific privacy issues. And this is a rare opportunity for Gates and Microsoft to take the high route on a major regulatory issue. For Microsoft have no servers in China and have not fallen as foul as either Yahoo or Google in bending over to Chinese authorities.

It will be interesting to see what the US government come up with if anything. My guess is they'll come out with a bunch of suggestions and frameworks for doing business in somewhat dodgy privacy/free speech/undemocratic states. Hey, if they really go overboard, they could do even more to inflame tensions than the Danish cartoons!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Warner Music profit flies on digital music sales

As if we need anymore evidence that digital music is the future. Cos it is! Well, actually today Warner Music (spun out from Time Warner a while ago) announced a near doubling of their quarterly profits thanks to a tripling of digital music sales.

Digital music sales now account for over 7% of their total sales. Overall their revenues were a little down which still proves that they should be selling a whole load more digital songs cos analogue sales just keep sinking.

And of course the fact that Warner Music is now making loads of money will be another shot to the head for poor old Dick Parsons, CEO of Time Warner, who presided over their sale when it was evident things were no longer rosy at the music group. Would you have spun this one off Mr Icahn?

Nokia and Sanyo partner to bolster eachother

Nokia clearly made their important announcement yesterday. For today we get the somewhat less exciting news that now they're partnering up with Sanyo.

That way Sanyo can help them manufacture CDMA devices found mainly in the US and Japan - leaving Nokia to be able to keep focussing on their strength - the GSM market.

And if that all sounds like a load of gobbledy gook to you - then this is basically a partnership of two weaknesses. Sanyo needs to sell more of their kinds of handsets used only by a few Americans and the odd Asian and Nokia knows how to sell. This leaves Nokia focussed on selling their own very widely used products to everyone else - which is a whole load more folk.

And that's why Nokia is a very, very large and profitable company and Sanyo is not. Got it now?

Texas Instruments to provide chip for $20 mobile phone

Texas Instruments says it will soon start supplying mobile phone producers with a single chip that powers an entire entry-level handset, saying those GSM handsets might sell as low as just above $20.

This should drive mobile phone subscribers to 3 billion worldwide - maybe even by 2010.

Oracle getting serious about open source

Oracle seems to actually be serious about open source. Mind you, it's not really surprising. For no one in the software industry can get away with not being serious about open source (even Microsoft is almost serious about it) and Ellison does like new trends.

So oracle have put their money where their mouth is and bought Sleepycat. Which seems to make a lot of sense as:
1. They presumably got them cheap (a mere rounding error compared to their recent foray!)
2. They presumably got them cheap.
3. They presumably got them cheap.

OK, ok only kidding. It also looks like a shrewd move as embedded databases are a natural for open source and could prove synergistic with Oracle's other database offerings. Plus, this helps Oracle get closer to the development community.

And, Sleepycat has the worlds largest open source developer database product with over 200M downloads.

And just to prove that Oracle is really serious about open source - look out for them buying Jboss soon.

Microsoft launches Office Live - zzzzz!!

Microsoft is just about to launch the beta of Office Live. And what a disappointment it is. The free stuff you get is a domain name, a handful of email accounts, a basic web site suite and free hosting. And that's it. Yep, that's it.

You can get most of this stuff free or nearly free at any number of other websites including Google and Yahoo. And the compelling stuff which is Microsoft's application software such as MS Office and MS Outlook you will have to pay a monthly fee for. This may be a little less than you would normally pay - but so what!

Shame Microsoft - it looks like they are not willing to take Internet services seriously yet. I just wish Google would move a little quicker on free software applications over the Internet - they could still steal a march.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Nokia dives into Internet telephony

Nokia has thrown their weight behind Internet telephony in a move that could herald the beginning of the shift towards VOIP on mobile devices. If this proves popular mobile operators could see their voice revenues start to decline as has already happened in the fixed line world.

This could also force mobile operators to accellerate their data services - which is sorely needed.

Jorma Ollila, CEO of Nokia, unveiled their first mass market dual-mode handset, the N6136, which will work on both an operator's mobile network and switch to a fixed-line broadband connection when it is within range of a Wi-fi hotspot.

Nice move Nokia. The quicker the sleepy mobile operator universe recognizes that their voice revenues are truly under threat the sooner they'll get more serious about delivering data services that users actually want to use.

They need data services that are easy to use, cheap, sometimes free and often supported by ad based revenues rather than overly expensive mobile phone bills. And if the mobile operators do not crack it soon - others will!

And mobile operators would look really stupid if they saw both their voice revenues spiral downwards thanks to VOIP (which will happen) and data revenues fail to take off thanks to a whole new breed of device competition.

Mobile IM coming later this year

The mobile industry has announced that Instant Messaging (IM) for mobile phones will be available later this year.

Fifteen of the world's top mobile operators, including Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, Telefonica and China Mobile have announced plans to roll out the PC-type IM services initially targeting some 700 million mobile users.

Vodafone and Orange today also announced interoperability between their two networks. The only catch is that you will have to pay to send an IM - but not to receive one - rather like texting.

As always the mobile industry has a catch and the catch is that services that we all take for granted as free on the fixed-line Internet are not free on mobile networks. Which means they take a great deal longer to get adopted on mobile or do not get adopted at all.

I just wish the mobile industry would stop thinking like luddite old world telco operators and start thinking like new world Internet/media entities that they need to replicate if they want to succeed in the data world. For data is nothing like voice.

They need to recognize that the consumer will not pay a fee every time they do something on their mobile phone. They need to offer some services for free to win market share and they need to figure out how to create ad based services.

And if they do not their competitors will - including a whole new breed of media savvy MVNO's like Virgin who have just announced a major mobile TV initiative.
Microsoft has purchased MotionBridge, a Paris-based company that specializes in mobile search.

Microsoft said it plans to continue offering MotionBridge's current services--which are used by cell phone operators such as Sprint Nextel, O2 and Orange - and use the company's people and technology to expand the mobile capabilities of Windows Live.

Mobile search is a category that is as yet fairly undeveloped. And lets face it, niche search may be the future - either device/netwrok specific search or subject specific search. And Microsoft is making a great deal of inroads into the mobile sector.

It is interesting watching Microsoft's Live strategy starting to take shape. They are still a long way behind leaders Google and Yahoo. Bolt on acquisitions to speed up their Internet services strategy has to make sense. This one hits at two of their major pushes at once: Windows Live and Windows Mobile.

Motorola to launch Windows Media phones alongside their iTunes phones

Motorola has today announced that starting this summer they will sell mobile handsets carrying Windows Media which will enable mobile phone operators to offer their own digital music services to rival Apple's iTunes.

Motorola is both hedging their bets by selling the Rokr and Slvr as iTunes devices alongside Microsoft Media devices as well as responding to mobile operator demands for the Microsoft phones which allow them to offer their own services to rival iTunes.

Nokia has already agreed to launch Microsoft Media devices. And both Nokia and Motorola state that the benefit of Microsoft music phones is that users will be able to download songs directly to their mobile phones from operator music services as well as downloading them from their PC.

The iTunes service only lets you download to your PC - then you have to put the songs on your phone. Mind you looking at Google desktop technology it may be that one day it will not matter where you archive your music - Google technology will make it available to any device that runs Google desktop.

And if all this techno talk has confused the heck out of you - then stick with iTunes and an iPod - it's all much easier. You'll have to wait for the Apple iPod phone to really complete the picture - but it may be worth it for ease of use.

I still find operator services full of promise but woefully lacking in ease of use and seamless integration. That's why the Blackberry still owns the mobile email market and it may well prove why Apple can hold onto the digital (mobile) music market for a lot longer than anyone expects.

Virgin Mobile, Microsoft & BT launch mobile TV

Virgin Mobile, Microsoft and BT are about to launch Europe's first nationwide mobile TV broadcast service across the UK. This is a real coup for Virgin Mobile in the battle for mobile data customers. And they don't even need a 3G network. Clever bunnies!

Virgin Mobile, is preparing to launch the TV service to subscribers by the middle of the year following a four-month trial in 2005. It is expected to offer at least five TV stations and access to a large number of radio channels.

The service is offered on a wholesale basis by BT, the UK fixed-line telecoms operator, which has developed it in conjunction with Microsoft. And smartest of all Virgin Mobile TV, as it is expected to be called, will run over the UK’s nationwide established digital audio broadcast (DAB) network. So they don't need to roll out a monstrously expensive 3G network.

The use of the DAB networks also means no further spectrum is required before services can be launched, a hurdle facing other competing technologies. And DAB is designed for broadcast whereas 3G is not.

Well this move should not only accellerate the take up of mobile TV in the UK and make Virgin Mobile a bunch of money - but it may also finally push NTL over the line in their desire to acquire Virgin Mobile. Nice one Branson.

3GSM congress in Barcelona this week - the worlds number 1 mobile event

The world's number one mobile event starts tomorrow in Barcelona, 3GSM. Normally it takes place in the South of France at Cannes, but has shifted westwards for this year proving at least that the event organisers know how to pick their locations.

So while mobile/wireless industry execs are cavorting on the boats and piers of Barcelona we here at TechBoard will try and remain sober and bring you all the RELEVANT stories.

If you think we have missed anything please shout. As if we have to say it. You're not exactly a bunch of shrinking violets at the best of times!

Microsoft finally launches push email to rival Blackberry

Microsoft has been readying for a long time to launch push email to rival the Blackberry. And now they can finally launch. For all the pieces are technically in place and mobile operators and device makers are ready to go to market.

The technology was made possible by combining devices running Windows Mobile 5 with servers using Exchange 2003 Service Pack 2. The final piece, a messaging and security service pack, was shipped last year, but had yet to show up on devices in the market.

Microsoft has now announced that a number of carriers, including Amena, Chungwa Telecom, Cingular Wireless, Orange, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and Vodafone are offering free upgrades for customers that will allow them to get the "Direct Push" e-mail abilities as well as new security features.

And numerous devices are coming to market over the next couple of months supporting Microsofts latest technology. RIM's owner Blackberry should be concerned. For Microsoft are natural owners of this space given that there are 400M Outlook users worldwide.

And Microsoft love going after a large market with only small players around then. For there are 600M corporate email users worldwide, but only 10M have mobile email devices. That leaves a huge amount of market share to go after.

And the only large scale contenders are Microsoft, RIM and Nokia. Expect Microsoft to become number one in this market by 2010.

HP announces move to become more aggressive about mobile

HP has announced a move which should see it become a great deal more aggressive about mobile handheld devices and mobile technology in general. And it looks like they will make the iPaq more of a hand-held and phone. Which would be handy for the hand-held only market is shrinking fast.

HP has announced that they will separate their portable device business from their notebook computer operations to benefit from the growth of devices that allow consumers to make phone calls and check email.

And they have appointed David Rothschild, a former executive at rival Sun Microsystems and also Pixo and Netscape, to lead the hand-held business.

Poor old RIM. It looks like everyone has decided to take a pop at them. But then with 600M corporate email users out there, you can't exactly blame them. And with HP's experience in enterprise sales and their popular hand-held device - they have a good start.

I just wonder whether they will ever really make a dent on the Nokia's of this world.

Livedoor executives prosecuted

Tokyo prosecutors prosecuted Livedoor executives, including Takafumi Horie, former chief executive, and three other former employees for violations of the securities and exchange law.

They also stated that there was much as yet to be uncovered at the ill fated leading Japanese Internet company. The Livedoor saga is looking increasingly ominous. You just get this sinking feeling that underneath everything lies another Enron.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Amazon and Google readying to launch music services to rival iTunes

Music industry execs have been blabbing off to the business media that they are in conversations with both Amazon and Google about launching digital music services to rival iTunes. So what's new?!

Well, nothing much, for both Amazon and Google have little choice. They would be complete corportate loonies not to enter the market. But they would be wise to get their service right first and to offer real USP's versus iTunes. For breaking the iTunes hold on the market could prove as hard as breaking Microsoft's hold on the PC software market (and we all know what has happened to those that tried to challenge Microsoft - yep, they got squelched).

The most interesting leak is that Amazon seems closer to launching anything than Google and may even do so in Q2. Google seems to have slowed up a little. Perhaps they are being more cautious post the somewhat lame early launch of Google Video.

3 Italia delays IPO citing weakness in Euro telecom stocks

3 Italia's long expected IPO was yesterday pulled by the board of the 3G mobile operator. They cited the poor performance of European telco stocks this year. They concluded that they would not attain their desired valuation of just short of $15bn under current market conditions. Which is corporate mumbo jumbo for the road show was a bit of a pig.

It looks like 3 Italia will not try again until after the summer at the earliest. As a result it look unlikely that 3 UK will go public this year. Poor old Hutchison, that owns 3 Italia, 3UK and the six other countries 3 operates in. They're gonna have to wait a while longer to recoup any of the monstrous $25bn they've invested in the businesses.

Mind you they'll make an absolute fortune in the end in anycase. So what's another 6 months.

Friday, February 10, 2006

MSN looks set for revamp - or is it more of the same?

It looks like MSN will receive a revamp this year, following a string of new executive hirings and promotions, which will expose it's inner soul. Looks like they'll need it as they have always struggled to creep out from under the shadows of Yahoo, AOL or now even Google.

But, MSN, had nearly 60% reach among US Web surfers in December, and is ranked second among portals, behind Yahoo, which has 68% active reach, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Like the others, MSN is planning to appeal to users' interest in video entertainment and user generated content and to offer more content in niche areas like money, lifestyle and sports, and tie everything more closely together.

Sounds good guys - but isn't this just a rehash of what Yahoo plans to do? I just wonder when MSN will become a little more innovative and different. If not, you wonder how they'll ever seriously creep out of the others shadows.

Open-source challenge to iTunes goes live

Only a couple of days ago sister network, business-rant, was touting the first real challenger to the iPod - the Sony Ericsson Walkman phone that has sold more than 3 million devices since their launch only last August.

Now an open-source start-up, Songbird, has gone live with their answer to iTunes for the open-source community. It's based on Firefox and if Songbird it's anything like as successful as them - Apple had better watch out.

Songbird's vision is software that makes little distinction between songs that happen to be located on a local drive and music that is online. The player can also be used to tap into online music services such as RealNetworks Rhapsody or Yahoo's music subscription service.

It's designed as a universal music service on the Internet and stands in the opposite court to Apple's proprietary approach. At the least, Songbird is likely to force some competition on Apple which can only be a good thing. Look at what Firefox has done to speed up innovation at Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Oracle sheds 2,000 staff, announces bounce in revenues and chases open-source - go figure!

Oracle has just announced that they are to lay off 2,000 employees - following restructuring post Siebel. They simultaneously announced a surprising bounce in revenues - go figure!

Oracle issued financial forecasts that reflected an unexpectedly strong rebound in sales in its core database business. "We are seeing substantial increases in our licence revenue growth, more than we had been expecting," said Larry Ellison.

And as if that wasn't enough Oracle oddity for one day - now cnet have unearthed that Oracle is planning their next buying spree - and this time it's open-source!!

It looks like they may be negotiating to buy JBoss, Zend and Sleepycat (all private open-source outfits) to boost their middleware offerings and their subscription based on-demand revenues.

Actually - it does all make sense. For the reduction of 2,000 was a planned part of the integration with Siebel. And both Oracle and Siebel employees lost out - which at least on the surface seems reasonably equitable.

And lets face it - Open Source is the way to go and Oracle's app server in particular lacks, well, market share. JBoss would solve that nicely. So that just leaves the unexpected bounce in database revenues - that's the real shocker. Why? Your guess is as good as mine - so viewer participation would be much appreciated.

Google back in the privacy hot-seat - this time it's Google Desktop V3

Google just can't stay out of the public eye when it comes to privacy. Just as they seemed to be recovering from controversy over their China strategy - mainly cos everyone's more distracted with Yahoo's goofs - now a privacy group, the aptly named Electronic Frontier Foundation, is publically challenging them over their newest release and innovation with Google Desktop V3.

If consumers choose to use it, the controversial Google Desktp V3 feature allows them to search across multiple computers they may own or have access to locate a personal document, such as a Word document, PDF, or spreadsheet. The issue is that to enable this feature, users must allow Google keep their personal data on its servers for up to 30 days.

And we all know what might happen to users data on Internet servers - Yep, good ol' Uncel Sam comes a calling. So, for those of you with shady tax information or dodgy porno piccies - the new Google Desktop may not be one for you.

For the rest of us - go get it! It looks great to me.

TeliaSonera - another traditional telco earnings bite the dust

Ooh, a pattern is emerging among trdaitional fixed line telco's. Only a few days after British Telecom and Cable and Wireless revealed that their fixed line revenues continue to sink into gradual rigamortise - now TeliaSonera, the leading Scandinavian operator, slumps too.

Shares in TeliaSonera dropped sharply today after the Nordic telecoms operator's 4th quarter earnings were hit by fierce competition in its home markets.

Their bright spot was international operations and investments in mainly Eastern Europe, Turkey and Russia. So, too wireless was better. Funny that.

If these guys don't accellerate their hi-speed Internet access, IPTV and IP telephony roll-outs - their fixed line revenues will end up going the way of the Titanic.

Ad based video-on-demand coming

San Diego-based Entriq is launching a new content serving technology that lets companies serve up ad-based and subscription-based video and other media to online customers.

The company has for a while been offering an online content platform for secure delivery and management of video content. Now they have added an ad based solution as well.

Yippee! We have for a while been spouting about the importance of someone delivering a workable and scaleable ad-based offering for video-on-demand. There is no way the video/TV-on-demand revolution can get properly underway until consumers have the simple and prevalent (ooh, big word) choice OF PAY-PER-VIEW OR FREE thanks to embedded online ads.

Go get 'em entriq. And Google, sit up and watch - cos you need a video-on-demand ad solution and you need it fast. Before Google Video becomes embarrasing for you.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Apple launches free university and college podcasts

Apple has introduced a free service that enables colleges and universities to put course lectures and other learning materials online using Apple’s iTunes software.

They have been working with six US universities, including Stamford, on the pilot project for more than a year and have recently invited a bunch of other universities to participate. This is the most fabulous idea.

ITunes U allows students to download podcasts and vodcasts on their computers and iPods so they can listen to and watch the recorded lectures anywhere, any time. Hey, no need to go to university or college any more to listen.

Also damned clever move by Apple to further broaden their penetration of the student and teen market. The more boring lectures they have to listen to the more likely they are to download a tune on iTunes and 'take a break'.

XM Satellite Radio signs 3 year deal with Oprah

XM Satellite Radio has signed a three-year, $55 million deal with Oprah Winfrey to introduce a channel on the top US subscription radio service, sending their shares up as much as 10%.

The new channel, called "Oprah And Friends," is scheduled to launch in September and will include a weekly show hosted by Oprah, as well as programs featuring other personalities from her popular nationally syndicated TV talk show.

This should boost XM's new subscriber numbers and rekindle their brand. They have been hiding under rival Sirius' bright light for much of the last 6 months as they launched Howard Stern's show.

XM aims to have 9 million subscribers by the end of 2006 and wants to break even. They might even get there now thanks to the Oprah magic.

RIM announces Blackberry workaround

RIM today unveiled a plan that it says will let its BlackBerry e-mail device work even if it loses a patent fight, and said the workaround will prevent a shutdown of service in the US.

The announcement has been made as the clock ticked to a February 24 court hearing on patent holding company NTP Inc.'s request for an injunction to halt BlackBerry's US service, RIM also said it was still willing to negotiate a deal.

RIM has stated that they have figured out a work around for all Blackberry devices on the market should an injunction come into place. The workaround alters the way e-mail messages are delivered and queued, but aparently "users will not see any changes in the way they use the BlackBerry device."

NTP has stated that Blackberry is just announcing this as a blackmailing tactic to get them to settle nefore the trial. Either way RIM's shares popped up nearly 5%, just proving how expensive this case really is for them.

Yahoo denounced by leading Chinese critic

A leading Chinese critic of the Communist party and an international press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders, have denounced US portal Yahoo for allegedly assisting Beijing authorities to track down and prosecute a dissident three years ago.

Oops. And Google thought they had problems with their China strategy. Time for all Internet groups and the US/EU governments to develop their own policies re disclosure of information locally and internationally.

Ebay's Whitman sees Ebay, Yahoo, Google and Amazon specialising rather than competing

In an interview with the Financial Times yesterday Meg Whitman of Ebay stated that she sees the four leading Internet groups: Ebay, Yahoo, Google and Amazon focussing on their specialisations and strengths over time and not competing with eachother.

"I think we will end up specialising," she told the FT in an interview on Tuesday. "We have specialised in e-commerce, payment and voice communication. Google stands for search, Yahoo largely stands for content - so I think we may on the fringe compete, but I suspect that over time the businesses will become more specialised."

Come on Meg! Isn't that a little hopeful. It looks to me like the four groups will increasingly converge. And Ebay moved away from their specialisation a long time ago. How does Google Base have anything to do with Search and how does Yahoo mail and IM have anything to do with content.

I agree that the four companies will always be different by virtue of their origins (which may be what Whitman really means), but to expect us to believe that the four will not increasingly compete and converge over time feels like someone's trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

British Telecom fails to excite

British Telecom announced their latest quarterly numbers and failed to excite anyone. Their revenues were up an anaemic 3%. And their net profits were flat and down a chunk after one off items.

Revenues from their traditional fixed line business continued to erode and were down 3%. The only bright spot was so-called “new wave” revenues: broadband, networked IT services and mobile, which rose 42% to £1.6bn and now represent a third of BT’s business.

So BT is finally behaving like the utility that conservative investors wanted them to. I bet they don't feel so good about that now. Particularly when they have had to sit on the sidelines and watch BT's old mobile business, MMO2, perform superbly over the last few years and get sold for an absolute fortune this year to Telefonica. BT should never have let go of O2.

And things will get tougher for BT in the medium term as the UK fixed line telco market gets further deregulated with local loop unbundling. BT has to be a case in point of the dangers of cutting businesses back too far and listening too much to investors.

You just have to look at Verizon, AT&T, Telefonica, France Telecom etc to see what might have been. The future for encumbant telecoms operators is to be leaders in IPTV, wireless and business services with an eye to international expansion. BT lacks the full mix. Shame.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

IAC posts strong results - shares surge

IAC/InterActiveCorp, Barry Diller's Internet media conglomerate, just posted strong quarterly profits, helped by improved results at Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster and

Their shares rose as much as 8% in early trading thanks to results being better than analysts expected. 4th quarter profits were $113.1 million, versus a net loss of $45.9 million a year earlier.

Revenue rose 45%, to $1.79 billion from $1.24 billion, which was slightly higher than consensus expectationsa. They were helped by the acquisitions of AskJeeves and online retailer Cornerstone Brands.

IAC keeps powering ahead. And who said conglomerates were going the way of dinosaurs. Well, maybe industrial conglomerates are - but not so tech conglomerates. IAC is one of the first true M&A driven Internet conglomerate of size.

I always get an unsettling feeling with IAC about how strong the performance is at each of their underlying businesses. For they can't keep growing forever through such aggressive M&A. What happens when the music stops and they have to prove their organic growth engine. I wonder.

Vonage files to go public

Internet telephone service provider Vonage Holdings Corp. may raise up to $250 million in an initial public offering, according to a regulatory filing today.

Lead underwriters include Citigroup, Deutsche Bank Securities, and UBS Investment Bank, according to the filing with the US SEC.

Vonage, which says it has more than 1.4 million subscriber lines as of February 8, lost $189.6 million on revenue of $174.0 million in the first nine months of 2005, according to the prospectus.

Well, the long awaited IPO of Vonage has kicked off. And it looks like they could get valued at a few billion dollars. Unless of course someone comes and buys them before they can go public. How about Verizon or AT&T or one of the smaller bells? Mind you, it would be much more fun to see them go public. Who said we're not in the middle of a tech bull market!

Cisco announces solid results for their latest quarter

Cisco announced solid results for their latest quarter. Cisco's sales grew 9.3%, to $6.6 billion, which was roughly in line with Wall Street estimates. Orders in the router business increased nearly 10% in the quarter over the previous year, while orders for Cisco's switch business rose more than 15%.

And it looks like investments that Cisco and others have made in fast growing new teshnologies may be spurring this spending. VOIP phone systems, network-security products, and consumer-networking equipment, plus a digital video-networking effort which will go into high gear once Cisco's completed its acquisition of Scientific-Atlanta, are all spurring upgrade cycles in big ticket switches and routers.

So, even though Cisco is a long way from their glory days at the beginning of the decade, they are making a lot of solid bets at the moment. Their stock may even start rising more aggressively again soon. Plus, connecting consumer electronics devices to the Internet will be huge going forwards and Cisco could sit at the centre of it.

And the overall news from this tech bellwether was the sort that builds confidence. With so many corporations and consumers looking to use the Internet to do so many new things - from VoIP at big companies to IPTV rollouts by telecoms like AT&T and Verizon - there's little doubt that Cisco holds an enviable hand.

Motorola announces mobile payments for the US

Motorola has just announced that they will soon be launching a mobile payment system for US mobile phones. The service, to be known as the M-Wallet, won't be the first in the US; Cingular is testing a similar near-field communication service with Nokia in Atlanta. It could be the first to launch nationwide.

And indeed companies throughout Asia and Europe have largely unsuccessfully been trying to crack mobile payments for over a decade. But mobile payments has to happen one day. And the fact that the major hansdset manufacturers and operators are now diving into it proves that soon it should take off.

I am just left wondering when it will happen and what the compelling application for smart mobile wallets will be that will shift the consumer away from intrenched habits such as pulling out cards or coins.

Founder of Expedia launches real estate web site

The founder of Expedia has just launched a site which could in the future challenge real estate agants as Expedia challenges travel agents. And the site went live today at

And if is only half as successful as Expedia then realtors should be shaking in their boots. For today, thanks in part to Expedia, 80% of travel by Americans is booked online, and the number of US travel agents has fallen nearly 40% since 1996.

What wants to do initially is to help buyers and sellers understand much better the value of their homes. By typing in an address, the user gets an instant valuation of one home or all homes on a street or neighborhood. To get that information, Zillow pores over county records and other government data on 60 million US homes nationwide. It then uses proprietary computer analysis to determine current values, which the company calls “zestimates.”

The Seattle-based company’s objective is to create as complete a record as possible on individual properties. Providing a home’s history, including all past sales transactions, tax assessments and other details, should help put buyers and sellers on better footing during a real estate transaction.

One of the more interesting features is being able to view what previous owners paid for the property. This could even go up to the last 20 owners. Now that would be handy.

But lets face it the real value of the site has to be to allow the users to then view listings (including photographs) on the house and to be able to get in touch with the most suitable agent online. would probably then receive a smallish fee if a subsequent sale goes through.

In the mean time will have to make do with a highly sophisticated national valuation service alone. And Zillow's backers will have to make do with only making money by selling ads to agents and property companies.

And at the very least will shake up the weakish online real estate market. Expect, IAC/InterActiveCorp’s Domania, HomeGain, HouseValues and other sites to develop quicker and provide more comprehensive services.

The real estate market has been in for a major shake up for a while. Let's hope Zillow and others can provide it.