26/12/2006

GUESS WHAT? VISTA'S VULNERABLE...


Microsoft's new operating system Windows Vista, has already been pulled apart by hackers and security firms who have found several vulnerabilities already.

That was to be expected. If anyone thought Microsoft was going to deliver a water-tight product this time they were dreaming. It's a shame because from a user interface point of view and in terms of functionality, Vista is a good improvement on Windows XP. I've been playing around with it for a while and in conjunction with Office 2007, it's a powerful package. Hopefully Microsoft gets it together with Service Pack 1 to plug the gaps that have been found. There'll be plenty more holes discovered, no doubt. That tends to happen when every hacker in the world is looking for a way into your shiny new operating system. Nothing will change as long as MS has such a huge market share of the OS market. With Google and Sun be the ones to change that in 2007 - 2008?

TELSTRACLEAR, DR FREETH AND DICKENS

A great story turned up just before Christmas, broken by Juha Saarinen, who generally writes for Computerworld but had this particular gem published in Aussie telecoms industry magazine CommsDay.

The story arose from a leaked memo the chief executive of TelstraClear, Dr. Allan Freeth, sent to his key executives. The is quite bizarre, unlike anything I've ever read from a chief executive.

Dr. Freeth is an odd character to preside over a telecoms company. He came fromagricultural supplies company Wrightsons and has a scientific background. He's
notable for having completely departed from the style and and approach of previous TelstraClear Rosemary Howard, who had huge ambitions for the company, but departed once she realised she would never be able to achieve them without unbundling. On Freeth's arrival, he immediately went about distancing himself from the rest of the industry and reining in aspirations for the company. TelstraClear would now be a niche player, cherry picking business only where it's profitable for them to do so. That's all well and fine, Freeth could be seen as a shrewd and realistic operator for doing so. But TelstraClear has languished under his leadership and is in serious danger of being usurped completely by Vodafone and it's new acquisition ihug.

It's ironic that the challenger spirit Howard attempted to foster has been dumped and that Freeth is now complaining that TelstraClear is being hammered by its competitors. TelstraClear is in serious trouble. Only new leadership can save the company from ending up a patchy take-over target for one of its strengthening competitors.

Anyway, here's that bizarre Dr. Freeth memo for your amusement (thanks to Juha for supplying it)

From: Infoline
Sent: Tuesday, 19 December, 2006 15:01
To: * All TelstraClear Staff
Subject: Message from Chief Executive Allan Freeth

Message from Chief Executive Allan Freeth
This morning, I delivered the following message to the Leadership Team (LT) and senior managers, at the last ‘Start of Week’ for 2006 - week 51 for those of you who are counting.

Thank you for your hard work and commitment during 2006, I want to review the progress we have made during the last year and to outline some of the challenges, and the key challenge, we are facing for the remainder of this financial year.
So, as I have started some other presentations, the first few lines from Dickens’s
Tale of Two Cities come to mind:

" It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief it was epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way …"

For TelstraClear, it was the spring of hope and light with everything before us, because we have convinced Sol and Telstra, that we have a future and we intend to win - the so called Big Plays of 2007 - more on that later.

The best of times because we have been successful at completing a large number of very important and difficult achievements - let’s consider some of them:

* Implemented our new strategy and structure, including some of the last minute changes made this year to Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and Large Enterprise (LE)
* Established a Project Office and some impressive management of projects
* Began really thinking about the customer in a way that had been lost for sometime in the company
* Rebuilt our ISP’s ‘in flight’ and then upgraded them, so that today, we are way-ahead of the competition in dealing with spam
* Strengthened our core networks and began removing single points of failure
* Completed a good part of the South Island loop, the one talked about and never started for five years
* Have finished, done, dusted and blown-up the Mega billing system - remember the one we tried to get onto for five years
* We are building a 3G network in Tauranga that will lead the world in terms of a converged service and is, we hope, a precursor to a full national play
* Reclaimed our brand position with Hello World and product advertising
* Began looking at remuneration and leadership
* Achieved an improvement in our EOS results that reflects the turnaround underway in this company
* Cleared away the many headaches of audit problems and conducted one of the most
comprehensive disaster recovery tests undertaken by the company
* Opened our first retail store in Wellington with several to follow in Tauranga
* Reduced our install wait times in the Consumer on-net space to the lowest in the company’s history
* Undertaken a major project to see how to transform our Operational Support Systems (OSS) and Business Support Systems (BSS)
* Improved productivity throughout the company
* Taken the first steps to understanding our need to work as ‘One Team - One Company’
* Been the recipient of the benefits of the largest Government intervention in an industry since the 1984 Reforms of Roger Douglas, ironically the very philosophy which has denied us a fair go since
that time.

So yes, it has been the best of times, the age of wisdom and the season of light. But we have still not been able to translate all this into some notable achievements, namely:

* Our customer service is overall indifferent at best, rubbish at worst
* Our revenue and profit are not reflecting all the hard work
* We are slowly and gradually losing customers
* We are not hitting our Plan numbers, nor are we now hitting our forecasts – our Chairman last week accused me of running a company that ‘was out of control’
* We still work in silos and talk about them and us
* And, right now, we are on a trajectory to disaster, with a forecast EBIT (profit) loss of $7 million
for this current year - we are being out-marketed, out-smarted and out-gunned in the market place.
We are too slow in reacting and we lack the killer instinct.

Surprised - well join me, it was a surprise to me as well. Oh yes, we lack the killer instinct - we are too tame, too lame, and too timid to call ourselves a challenger.

A challenger winds their opposition, kicks them down to the ground, and then makes them bleed like something from a Quentin Tarantino movie and then finishes them off - fast.

In comparison, we are like a Walt Disney Bambi character. We are not Ulma Thurman in Kill Bill, we are more like Captain Feathersword in The Wiggles, all bluster and no action.

We are looking at the worst of times, the winter of despair, and nothing before us.
Two weeks ago, Sol’s parting comments to me were he ‘feeds those who feed themselves.’

Well,based on our current forecast, we will be anorexic and starving by the end of this financial year.

Sol has committed to this company, to me, and the Leadership Team, a number of very exciting and ‘incumbent terminating’ initiatives, some of which are underway now with launch dates for early next year. This, combined with the telecommunications regulatory changes in New Zealand, is everything we ever wanted.

At the time Sol made his commitment, he thought we were going to make $14.8 million EBIT (profit), with an attempt to get back on track for our Plan number of $19 million.

Instead, at some point over the next few weeks, I am going to have to explain to Sol that we will be forecasting a $7 million loss - with a hope of trying to get to breakeven.

Now, I know it’s not fair - I and everyone here at TelstraClear know that it’s not fair. When I started, I took over a company in operational distress. It had been the victim of not enough investment over four years, poor strategy, and a history of using accounting provisions, created at merger time, to make everyone look good.
Yes, it’s not fair, and the key point is, no one in the new team at Telstra gives a toss.

Yes it’s not fair, but let me be clear, there is no way I am going let this beat me because this company and I are going to win.

If you don’t believe that - then you are in the wrong place at the wrong time - it’s time to move on.

If you don’t have the stomach for the fight or the work that has to be done – then you are also in the wrong place at the wrong time - it’s time to move on.

But if you do, then step up and let’s move it.
So, before profit comes revenue, and as of last Friday, our overall revenue is behind Plan by around $67 million.

Assuming that’s one fight we won’t win in the next six months, what do we need to do? Here’s the

list:
* Consumer and Steve Jackson need capacity on the network, pre-consented access to multiple
dwelling units (MDU’s) and fast price changes.
* SME and Brenda Stonestreet need quick and fast on-net and off-net installations, a backlog of 300 orders turned on, and corridor plans on Arbor sorted – product development is also a problem.
* Large Enterprise and Mark Wilson need quick and fast installations and core stability of the network - I mean zero outages or at least zero effects of outages on key and corporate customers to ensure customers have faith and to stop penalty payments being incurred.
* Wholesale and Raymond O’Brien need the problems with ANIs and CDRs fixed, and all billing problems managed - they also need their product development completed.
* Unplugged or Helix must be delivered on time and to budget.
And that’s all.

Now, the other thing before profit is costs, and frankly, if it’s not providing oxygen or food, then it’s not important … shut it down and stop it where you can:
* But the headcount requests continue to pour in
* The travel has slowed down, but the message hasn’t got through
* People still continue to be focused on their pet projects or the fact they want this or that done
regardless of what’s happening around them, the context has changed, its like petulant teenagers throwing a tantrum against the real world
* Everybody wants to save someone else’s capital spend and opex
* Bottom line - if it doesn’t give me revenue, saves costs, reduce a real risk with a high probability, or improve customer satisfaction significantly in the next six months - then it’s no use to me or to you or to this company

That doesn’t mean it won’t be done, but it does mean that we live to fight another day and will do so at a time when we are generating more revenue from the big plays
So, at this worst of times, in the best of times, I really need your help - I need you all to step up, to go back to your teams and pull out your plans and budgets to ask some of the questions I have posed and the following:

* Will spending that money or undertaking that project deliver revenue this financial year?
* Will not spending that money hurt the company’s long-term success?
* Will not spending that money directly impact the business strategy? If you’re not sure, then talk to your LT member, especially about managing risk, they will help you decide.

I am not going to ask you to go away over Christmas and work this out, I need you to find the answers this week and begin stopping, starting, or changing things before you leave this Friday.

Later today, or early tomorrow, I will be appointing a person, reporting directly to me, whose job it will be to help shut down and defer projects, redirect resources to areas such as billing and sales support, to drive these initiatives.

That person, or the people they direct, will consult with you and the LT to help us focus and coordinate our efforts across the company. LT business heads will be asked to be specific about what they need and don’t need - they will call the shots in the first instance - they make the money.

Operations, support units, and I will deliver what they need while managing our costs and ensuring our strategic direction is not compromised and our long-term future is not compromised.

It is the best of times - we are poised for great things - it is our time, but it is also the most difficult of times - we need to be:

* Smart
* Clever
* Focused
* Determined
* A team in all things - a team
* And in terms of our market - premeditated, cold-blooded killers of our competition
* No tricks, no bad play, no underhand tactics, but no compassion, no quarter and no excuses, just hard, unforgiving, and ruthless actions. Giving customers a service and product set that others will die for or die by

* This is not a change of strategy, this is not a change of direction
* This is about getting oxygen, about surviving to fight the fight we want to
* This is about leadership - I know you have it in you, I hope you have it in you - if not, then you need to take stock
* This is about winning, winning, and winning
* Battles are fought and won in a day on tactics, wars are won over months and years on strategy and key principles
* If we get this right - then we are going to smash this market in 2007
* So once you have sorted out your plans, then take a rest, enjoy Christmas, rebuild your strength - next year is going to be a rush

So, finishing where I started - thank you, man for man, woman for woman, you are some of the best I’ve worked with - come back and live up to your potential - believe in it, so that it is the best of times..
It is the age of wisdom
The epoch of belief
The season of light
The spring of hope

With everything before us

And we are all going direct to Heaven

Thank you - make the next few days count.

Regards

Allan

And a column I wrote for the Herald at the time of Vodafone's purchase of ihug examining the potential impact on TelstraClear.

INTERRUPT
by Peter Griffin


Vodafone’s purchase of third-ranked internet provider Ihug is the first major side-effect of the Government’s move to open up Telecom’s fixed line monopoly.
The spirit of Ihug founders, the Wood brothers, has been well and truly laid to rest. Ihug is now owned by one of the biggest multinationals in the world, one that in May reported Britain’s largest ever corporate losses – ₤14.8 billion and is looking to convergence between mobile and fixed line services to get its business back on track.
But, more than anything the Vodafone-Ihug marriage will intensify the fight for the number two spot in the market for phone and internet services and TelstraClear is likely to be the big loser.

When Telstra bought Clear Communications in 2001, there was hope that for the first time we would have a real alternative to Telecom. Indeed we were initially promised that as chief executive Rosemary Howard repeated her “choice and competition” mantra.
Then came disaster – a Government ruling which went against the global trend not to unbundle the local loop and TelstraClear’s failure to win permission to run overhead fibre optic cables through the suburbs of Auckland.

Since then, TelstraClear has had a muddled image in the consumer market, a result of the shift in focus that followed Howard’s departure. Her vision of TelstraClear becoming a real competitor to Telecom across the board was abandoned.
Now that ambition lies with Vodafone and Ihug who with the help of the Government’s u-turn on unbundling may have the first real stab at delivering that triple-play offering of mobile, broadband and fixed-line voice services that’s so crucial to the economics of being a mass market telecoms player. Both companies know the importance of brand and of winning the hearts and minds of customers – that’s what lies behind their success to date.

Both companies have the advantage over TelstraClear of being popular with both business customers and consumers. TelstraClear lost much of the goodwill it had with consumers when it merged Clearnet and Paradise, squeezed the personality out of the two popular internet providers and let quality of service slip as the networks merged.

TelstraClear has complained for years about the restrictive nature of its resale deal with Vodafone and its weakness in not having its own mobile network is going to become more obvious as the Vodafone-Ihug relationship beds down.
Vodafone wants us all to have one handset that acts as home phone and mobile and owning Ihug will help deliver it.

Most of TelstraClear’s 029 mobile customers are business customers but the mobile business is low-margin for TelstraClear and Vodafone doesn’t appear predisposed to offering it a virtual network operator deal, the type that allowed players like Virgin Mobile to become serious competitors in Britain.

TelstraClear’s revenue increased just $11 million to $727 million in the year to June 30. The company is effectively in limbo as it waits for regulation to deliver lower cost access to Telecom’s network.

The most significant development at TelstraClear in the last six months has been its decision to spend $50 million on a wireless network – in Tauranga.

TelstraClear is still the second biggest player in the fixed-line world, but without the breadth of focus of Telecom and Vodafone, has much to lose from the latter’s move into fixed-line services.

At the launch of Ihug’s new flat-rate calling plans last month, chief executive Mark Rushworth said it was likely that Ihug would initially take more customers off TelstraClear than Telecom. There’s little love loss between those fighting it out in the shadow of the ultimate foe – Telecom.

When you can get your Ihug broadband and home phone line on the same bill as your Vodafone mobile account are we going to start seeing significant customer “churn” away from Telecom and TelstraClear?

That depends on how unbundling pans out in practice. Ihug boldly stated last year it would spend $20 million if unbundling went ahead, an investment promise more likely to happen with Vodafone as owner than if internet provider Orcon had been successful in its $30 million bid for Ihug. If Vodafone commits to a serious investment in putting equipment into Telecom’s exchanges and preserves Ihug’s strong identity, we may begin to see that real alternative we were promised.

25/12/2006

OUT OF THE BOX

So Phitek, the Auckland headphones maker which is trying to crack the consumer electronics market after doing well making headphones for a number of airlines, decided to give away threee pairs for readers of my Hot Technology column in the Herald on Sunday. I was late putting the competition together, so instead of getting the Herald to set up a competition email address for people to respond to, I put my own email address for competition participants to respond to.

Man, it's just as well I have a Gmail account (2.7GB of storage age rising). Several hundred entries so far. I have a nifty piece of software that acts as a randomiser to shuffle all the names of the participants I've received, but entering the names into this software requires me opening each email individually which I've just spent several hours doing (while nibbling on some mince pies). Next time, I'll let some poor schmuck at the Herald take care of that.

Still, it's good to know that lots of people are getting to the Hot Technology page. As for Blackbox, it will be interesting to see how they go. I think they're probably a tad too expensive. After all, they're entering a market already crowded with some credible players such as Sennheiser, who make great headphones. I've been using a pair of Phitek headphones, ones that precede the M14 headphones, and they've been pretty good. I like how lightweight they are and the ear cushioning and headrest are very comfortable.

Still, the plastic casing around the hinges which allow the headphones to swivel position has started to crack, which appears to be a design flaw. I hope they've fixed that with the M14.

My Herald on Sunday Christmas Eve column...

THE GIFT OF GADGETS... AND THE RETURNS BIN

If you’re very lucky or have wealthy relatives, chances are you are going to be unwrapping some cool, new piece of electronic gadgetry tomorrow.

The first thing you’ll want to do is get it out of the box, so you can show it off to your envious siblings. Then you’ll want to turn it on, make it work.
That’s fine, but be careful.

To start with, take care of the packaging your gadget came wrapped in.
Just as the three-pack of underpants your mum has bought you may not fit perfectly, the TV, computer or digital camera you’ve just received might not be suitable either. Unpack carefully, keep all the plastic bags, polystyrene mouldings and cable ties. Don’t tear the box. It makes it hard to give back.

Most electronics stores have an exchange policy where you can return the product and use the value of it to spend on something else, or get your money back.
The post-Christmas sales period is a great time to browse for electronics as the “returns” bin will be full of gadgets people brought back because they didn’t know how to use them. Aside from the crinkled, pawed packaging, they’re likely to be as good as new.

With any new gadget, plug it in and let it charge, preferably overnight, but for a good few hours anyway. New devices benefit from a decent charge first thing.
While it’s charging fill in the warranty card or register online. Some say a gadget isn’t worth owning if you need to read the manual to know how to operate it. Ignore that. Make sure you read the manual, at least the installation section anyway.
They’re often badly written in pidgin English, but the manuals at least offer enough guidance to stop you frying your new device before Boxing Day.

If you’re lucky enough to receive a computer as a gift tomorrow, you’ll probably want to spend part of the afternoon unpacking it, booting it up and checking out what it can do. Setting up computers is pretty easy these days, they generally come with all the software, including Windows XP, pre-installed. Many computers come with a big wall chart that steps you through the set-up process. Don’t let that chart get swept away with the discarded Christmas paper.

And remember that you’ll want your computer to work with all your peripherals – the printer, wireless router, mobile phone, music player and digital camera.
After the euphoria of holding your shiny new laptop in your hands wears off, put it down and go and find all those discs that hold the software that are going to make your various gadgets compatible with your new computer.

Always load the supplied software driver before you plug a device into your computer, as jumping in and connecting USB cables can lead to glitches in the installation process.

If you manage to botch your new computer set-up revert to that useful feature of Windows that lets you undo all the digital chaos you’ve created – System Restore. It will take you back to just before the point you did something that made the machine go haywire.

It pays to have all your passwords for internet and email accounts handy, so you can get onto the web as quickly as possible. If someone has given you the gift of broadband internet for Christmas, it won’t necessarily work on Christmas Day. Your phone line has to be prepared for broadband which involves a technician making a modification to your line at the local exchange. There’s usually a backlog of orders this time of year, so it could take a few days to come online.

If a family member has put a wireless broadband router under the tree for you, they’ve done well. Going wireless lets you access the internet wherever you are in the house. But setting up wireless gear can be fiddley. Read the instructions carefully and make sure you set security controls as soon as you plug in the broadband cable. Christmas is a time for giving, but you still don’t want your neighbours surfing on your internet connection.

Gaming consoles such as the PS2, PSP and Xbox 360 are easy to set up – just set the kids down in front of the TV, they’ll know what to do.
But to access the Xbox 360’s impressive online features, you’ll need an Ethernet cable and to be close to your broadband connection.

If you’ve scored the Nintendo Wii, take some time to get used to the Wii-mote that’s so central to the gaming experience. Over-enthusiastic gamers have been known to accidentally throw the controller at the TV screen or hit other players. The last place you want to be on Christmas morning is in the casualty ward needing stitches for a Wii wound.

16/12/2006

A BELATED U2 POST

I'd wanted to post my thoughts on last month's superb U2 concert, but I flew out to the US the following day and my feet barely touched the ground for the following ten days as I visited LA, San Diego, Pasadena, Kansas, New York and San Francisco.

It was a very rewarding trip which primarily revolved around visits to CDMA-centric partners of Telecom, such as Qualcomm, Sprint, and Lucent. We arrive in New Jersey the day of the Lucent-Alcatel merger so our planned visit to Bell Labs was canceled. I was gutted. I've always wanted to visit the home of the transistor. The upside was that a great guy called Bob was lent to us for the day so he could drive us around and show us the sights of New York. It was Bob's tour of Manhattan and he did a great job.



Anyway, back to U2. My thoughts on the gig, my second after the Zoo TV show at Western Springs I attended as a 13 year old, are partially encapsulated in the below column. While I thought the show was amazing and incredibly moving, I couldn't help feeling like I was at a corporate rock gig at Oracle World or E3.

There I was 20 feet from the stage and surrounded by a bunch of young people, quietly watching the show, taking photos on their digital cameras. It seems that since people stopped smoking, they made the beer incredibly difficult to buy and security was increased by a factor of ten, the atmosphere has well and truly been drained out of stadium rock concerts.

Don't get me wrong, the U2 show was fantastic, the stage and sound the best I've experienced in a long time. But where was the sweat, the surging crowd, the sheer energy you'd expect at such a major gig? It's a far cry from watching Casey Chaos of Amen fame break a microphone stand in two and stab himself with it in the Garage in London...

Anyway, an update on an earlier column about the initial U2 ticket debacle. I wrote about poor Tina, who made it into the Daily News when she burst into tears after missing out on getting a U2 ticket. She'd queued all morning, like I did and missed out on tickets as well. As it turns out, we both managed to get tickets. I was thinking of her as U2 kicked off City of Blinding Lights. Tina emailed me just before the concert, having only just read my column. Here's what she wrote:

TINA GETS VERTIGO

Hi Peter,

I have just finished reading your article:
"Why I still haven't found what I'm looking for" from way back in December 05'.

I wasn't aware of this particular article until this morning when a friend sent the link through to me. "ARRGGH! When will it end?!" was my original thought, when I read her email, titled "You never told me you were in the NZ Herald!"

I find myself emailing you now, to thank you. Why? Simply, for writing, quite possibly, one of the best articles I have read on the whole U2 ticket nightmare!

Not only did you tell the story of that morning in an accurate, first hand, compelling way, your article was relevant to the topic (IT and the U2 ticket fiasco). Not only that, you used my experience as an example and left out 'most' of the dripping despair and horror of human suffering that sold so many newspapers in Taranaki!

The only reason my story was one of the hundreds to make headlines was because a Daily News cameraman happened to be right there at the very moment, my sleep deprived, strung out, stressed self broke into a flood of tears. I remember looking up at him and marvelling at the way his entire being seemed to scream "OHHHH Human Suffering! EXCELLENT!"

I am rambling...I know. It is nice to look back, a year later, and after reading your article with wry amusement, rather than total embarrassment and despair. Of course, it does help that I now have tickets to the concerts at the end of this month! :)

So, thank you Peter Griffin - for writing a real story. It means more than you may know.

I am curious though, did you eventually find what you were looking for?


Kia Kaha...

Tina

15/12/2006

THE NEW HERALD ONLINE & OTHER STUFF

The revamped New Zealand Herald website is now live and while there are a few missing links and content on some pages aren't displaying corrently in my Firefox browser, I'm impressed with the over-all new design.


In particular, I'm happy the Herald has broken out science from the Technology section I write for, and the new layout allows them to present more technology news and opinion on the page at one time.

The Herald site has until now been optimised for low resolution screens which means at its default setting, it's only taken up two-thirds of the screen on higher-resolution screens and subsequently has looked pretty ugly. Now it fills the screen quite nicely. RSS feeds are available for each section and there are prompts everywhere telling people to click on multimedia content. It's clear, video is going to play a much more important part of the Herald's coverage.

What has to be noted is the similarities in look of the new site to Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald which had a nice revamp earlier in the year (see below).



But also check out the new Stuff website, which brings together the Herald's New Zealand rival papers, notably the Dominion Post, The Press and the Sunday Star Times. The site looks almost identical to the Herald and SMH sites. Some newspaper website designers have been reading from the same book.



The real changes to the Herald site will come next year when they get their online communities activities going and move into blogging and podcasting. The online news portal battle has stepped up a notch!

13/12/2006

A STRANGE COINCIDENCE

I was in one of my favourite places, San Francisco, last week and decided to pop into CompUSA for a look at Microsoft's new Zune player. The device itself is quite nice, but a look at the physical player itself doesn't reveal the unforgivable yet avoidable weaknesses of the player.

It's outrageous that Microsoft didn't make the Zune compatible with its own PlaysForSure standard, instead, attempting to mimic the iTunes-iPod model with the Zune Marketplace. Why couldn't Microsoft have worked hard to make Zune the best Windows-centric download store so everyone would want to use it anyway. Bad move, Microsoft. The Zune is dead in the water unless Microsoft backtracks on exclusivity.

The other major miss with the Zune is the restrictions around the wireless access, which effectively only allows you to share music with other Zune users. Even then, the music expires within three days. What a waste of time. If I buy a Zune with wi-fi built into it, I want it to connect via my wireless network to my computer so I can transfer music rather than having to plug the thing in and sync it with the Zune software.


At CompUSA, the Zune was barely even given any display space alongside the numerous iPods which were attracting most of the attention. The salespeople didn't seem to know much about the Zune either. I wrote the below article about the Zune's US reception while in San Francisco, which leads me to that strange coincidence. I wanted to quote a good US tech reviewer who had played with the Zune in my story. So I went to CNet, the home of respected music player reviewer James Kim.

I've always liked Kim's work and seeing as he's from San Francisco, I thought it would be highly appropriate to quote him. I should say that Kim was a respected CNet reviewer. He was found dead of hypothermia in Oregon last week after getting lost in a remote area with his family. Kim had left his family behind at the car to go for help but the elements conspired against him. It was a real tragedy and ironically, I was watching the manhunt progress as I was in the US. I only ever heard Kim referred to as James, so never made the connection. It was weird that by the time the article went to print back in New Zealand, Kim had died out in the Oregon wilderness. A very sad end for a talented member of the US tech community.

CNet's tribute to James Kim is published here

Zune just can't get with the music
Thursday December 7, 2006
By Peter Griffin
Microsoft's challenger to the iPod - the Zune - has had a less than spectacular debut in the US, slipping down the sales charts as American Christmas shopping activity intensifies.
After claiming 9 per cent of music player sales in its first week on the market, the US$249 ($363) Zune dropped to 2 per cent of the market in its second week, according to research company NPD Group.
That puts the Zune in fifth place, well behind the iPod, which claimed 34 per cent in the same week, but had a 75 per cent share of music player sales in the first nine months of the year.
Reviews of the Zune have been mixed, with its wi-fi and video functions, software interface and digital rights management system all being targeted as needing more work.
"I do feel the Zune is three-fifths baked, rushed to market to feed the holiday electronics frenzy and nowhere near its potential as a wi-fi-enabled portable media device," wrote CNet reviewer, James Kim.
The Business Herald visited several electronics stores in New York and San Francisco, but the Zune's presence was low key, the iPod continuing to dominate.
The lack of a stellar start for the Zune may be down to confusion over exactly what type of music it can play. While it supports a good range of audio file formats - MP3, Microsoft's own WMA and AAC included - playback is limited by the digital rights management attached to the music.
It means that AAC tracks downloaded from the popular iTunes.com music store won't play on the Zune, but tracks ripped to the iTunes software from a CD are unprotected and therefore will.
The device also doesn't support Microsoft's PlaysForSure digital media standard, supported by iTunes' big rivals in the music download space: Rhapsody, Yahoo! Music, and the reborn Napster.
Even Zune salespeople are having trouble explaining exactly what playback options are available. At CompUSA in San Francisco, when asked if music from download services other than the Zune Marketplace would play on the Zune, a salesman replied: "Out of the box it can't, but I think there's a plug-in you can download for that."
Down the road at San Francisco's Apple store, a giant snowman wielding an iPod Nano music player sat in the front window, grinning wickedly as shoppers milled around the displays. Apple's simple model of one device, one music service keeps working for the Californian computer company.
Microsoft wants a piece of the action with its Zune-Zune Marketplace combination but, with sluggish sales, the Zune is likely to remain a niche player this Christmas.
FEEDBACK FROM PAUL:
Hey Peter, just read your article on the Zune performance over the first few weeks. I purchased a Zune online and had it delivered here. I LOVE the device after using am iPod for many years and three generations of device. The Zune software brought my iTunes music across so nicely, and the device itself (brown is awesome) is beautiful and fits in the hand so well. Very impressed.

FEEDBACK FROM BEN:

Is the James Kim from CNET whom you quote in your December 7, 2006 review of the Microsoft Zune the same James Kim recently killed trying to rescue his family in the moutains of Oregon? http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/12/08/missing.family.ap/index.html If so, may be worth a mention in your next review. If not, it's an odd coincidence.

FEEDBACK FROM KEITH (AT MICROSOFT)
Figured you'd want to know...the CNET reviewer of the Zune - Kim - you mentioned has been a front page news story this week. They found him head of hypothermia after becoming snow-bound in Oregon with his family.

SPOT THE SONY GEAR!

My Herald on Sunday column about the proliferation of Sony product placements and tech product placements in general in big Hollywood movies. I'd love to have a chat with a behind-the-scenes type Hollywood insider who has the task of negotiating these product placement deals. I wonder how much money changes hands, how much control the companies have over treatment of their brands. Whatever the answer, it's big business and only going to get bigger...

Tech buffs play 'spot the Sony'
1.00pm Sunday December 10, 2006
It's been an average year for movies, but a great year for average movies crammed with technology product placements.
Going to the movies these days still requires you to suspend disbelief for two hours just before you stump up your $12 entry fee. The problem is that film making is now such big business that virtually every Hollywood blockbuster is a walking advertisement for some company or other.
In the tech realm, Apple, Nokia and Dell seem to get the most screen time. There's that shot directors repeatedly mimic, of the star of the movie tapping away on a laptop, the lid positioned perfectly to show off its maker's logo. Then there's the cut away to a news flash on a TV screen that includes just enough of the screen's frame to show us who made it.
As a technology enthusiast, I feel like a trainspotter going to the movies, constantly on the look out for which gadgets or consumer electronics have been negotiated into the scene. My most striking memories of Superman Returns, apart from the evil monologue from Kevin Spacey on the boat, are the numerous shots in Clark Kent's newspaper headquarters that capture those lovely Samsung flat screen TVs. Spike Lee's clever heist movie The Inside Man was loaded with tech product placements, Apple iPods and Macs battling with Dell computers for the most screen time.
Michael Mann's patchy crime drama Miami Vice devoted much of its tech quotient to ugly, featureless satellite phones, but Nokia got decent face time with its video phones and Sony's laptop made a cameo appearance.
In fact, Sony has this year claimed the title of tech product placement king. It helps that Sony owns the movie studio that makes the movies that feature its products. That's the beauty of being vertically integrated.
Tom Hanks played a tweed-wearing professor in The Da Vinci Code, but a stylish Sony Ericsson phone or Sony Vaio laptop was never far from reach. Sony's other blockbuster, Mission Impossible III was also heavy on Sony gear, but that movie's product placements pale in comparison to the ultimate Sony advert of the year - the new Bond flick, Casino Royale. This is the mother lode for Sony. There are the numerous Sony Ericsson mobile phones - one particularly gratuitous shot shows a close-up of Bond's GPS-enabled phone guiding him along a coastal highway in the Bahamas. Like, a secret agent would need GPS on an island slightly bigger than Waiheke.
In another shot, Bond looks at security footage conveniently recorded to a Sony Blu-ray disc recorder. Later, Bond composes his resignation on a Sony Vaio while sitting on a boat in Venice, and the latest Bond girl innocently snaps away on a Sony Cybershot digital camera. I'm surprised Bond didn't take time out from his high-stakes poker game for a different type of gaming - on the Sony Playstation 3, a product the success or failure of which is most likely to determine Sony's future.
As we start using digital recorders to cut ads out of TV shows, we can expect more product placements on the small screen. The big question is: Will the computers in Shortland Street be Dell, Apple or HP?

Feedback from Jaycen:

Hey there,

I was just reading your article in the herald and applaud the fact that someone else notice's that Sony is more than obvious with their placements of their products in their movies.

I went to see Fun with Dick & Jane and really felt that I watched Fun with Dick & Jane & Sony. It was THE worst I have ever seen with reference to Product placement.

I had pretty much grown accustomed to seeing Nokia phones with the "Nokia Ringtone" and ipods etc in various films but Fun... was so far over the line I felt that I was watching an infomercial for Sony.

One case in point would be a full screen closeup on the Vaio logo slowly pulling away to reveal Tea Leoni tying away.

Another was right at the end when they set Alec Baldwin up which begins with a full screen close up of the Sony logo on the News Camera which pans away to reveal that there are people in the film too.
To be honest, I felt that subliminal messages would have suited better but the blatant branding was sickening. I went to buy a HDtv the other day and felt nauseous every time I saw the Sony logo on a tv, I think I'll buy Samsung.

THE GENIUS OF MICHAEL MANN

There's an excellent feature in The Guardian entitled "Star Vehicles" which looks in some detail at the stylistic and story telling features of my favourite director Michael Mann. I watched Mann's latest film Miami Vice for the third time on a recent flight back from the US and my opinion of it is improving. Miami Vice is a bit of a stumble for Mann but there's some great, subtle moments you can't really appreciate in one viewing.



However, Mann's three movies Heat, The Insider and Collateral are what I'd consider to be his best three movies, with Heat his defining work. The coffee shop scene is one of my all-time favourites and the gun battle in downtown LA and the final dash across the LAX tarmac and the DeNiro-Pacino shoot-out are superb. The Insider is a movie I come back to time and time again to reignite my love of the journalistic profession. The "Are you a news man or are you a businessman" discussion in the middle of the movie is superbly scripted by Mann and Eric Roth. The Insider is the movie that led me to give up the IT editor's job on the Herald and move to Wellington to study under another genius, the playwright Ken Duncum, at the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University.

Anyway, most people I talk movies with haven't much time for Mann's unsentimental characters, violent, humourless storylines and empty, cold style. I love it all, I'm a dedcated Michael Mann fan and that Guardian article remnided me of everything I love about the director's films.

12/11/2006

MOVIES VIA XBOX AND WIMAX IN WELLINGTON

A couple more stories of mine from the Herald last week. No word yet on the availability of TV and movie content via Xbox Live for New Zealand customers but I'd be very wary before pressing "download" when it does arrive. That's because it may blow your monthly data cap out of the water in one fell swoop. You'll want to be on a high data cap to be downloading significantly through Xbox Live. That said, I think it could prove to be an impressive delivery vehicle for on-demand, high-definition content.

Movies with the Xbox factor
Thursday November 9, 2006
By Peter Griffin
New Zealand's first taste of high-definition TV might arrive courtesy of Microsoft's Xbox 360 console as the software giant prepares to send high-quality video down phone lines to subscribers.
Microsoft has struck deals with CBS, Warner Bros., Viacom, Paramount, UFC and Turner Broadcasting to offer TV programmes, movies and music videos for download through its Xbox Live service.
Users generally connect to Xbox Live to participate in multiplayer games, but Microsoft is keen to open up the Xbox to other uses before the release of Sony's Playstation 3, which is being pitched as an entertainment hub for the living room.
From November 22, Microsoft will make available for download in the United States high-definition versions of popular shows such as CSI and movies such as Superman Returns and V for Vendetta.
No details of content availability for New Zealand Xbox owners have been revealed.
"They'll roll it out in the US and go from there," a Microsoft official said.
The Xbox 360 may be the first medium for those equipped with broadband connections and high-definition TV screens to view programmes in the higher quality format.
The Freeview consortium plans to have free-to-air satellite digital TV available from early next year, but high-definition broadcasts are likely to be several years away.
Video-on-demand, where video is delivered over the broadband network on a pay-per-view basis, has been suggested as an alternative to digital television and Telecom is testing IPTV, which would see programming delivered over its copper line network to broadband subscribers.
Microsoft has yet to reveal pricing for the video download service. Movies would take up about 4GB (gigabytes) on the Xbox 360's hard drive, be displayed in the 720p HD format and be available for 24 hours after download.
TV shows will be available for permanent download.
The large downloads would prove troublesome to New Zealand broadband users who are mainly subscribers on plans that have data download caps at two, five or ten gigabytes. While the Xbox 360 is capable of displaying HD content, it did not ship with a HD-DVD drive to play discs carrying the content. An external drive will be made available for those wanting to watch HD-DVD movies.
Sony will include a high-defintion drive in its Playstation 3, which goes on sale for Christmas in the US. They will not be available in New Zealand until March.

APPLE TO FINALLY GO DIRECT IN NZ?

There was much excite generated at Publicaddress.net last week when Russell Brown suggested Apple had reclaimed its New Zealand domain from Apple distributor Renaissance as a preparatory move to dumping Renaissance in favour of setting up a direct presence in New Zealand. From the emphatic response I received from Renaissance boss Paul Johnston, I think it's likely Renaissance will hold the Apple account for at least another year.

I've never dealt with Renaissance as a customer - I bought my Apple iPod in Singapore and within two months had left it on an Air New Zealand flight from Brisbane to Christchurch never to be seen again. But I've heard awful things about Renaissance and Apple fanatics are convinced they're getting ripped off by Renaissance which they claim adds a big margin onto Apple products it sells here. That may be the case. A simple comparison shows we pay more than the Australians do for Apple computers and iPods after you take into acocunt the exchange rate. Would it be any different if Apple set up shop here itself? It would if it ran a Dell-like operation, effectively running the New Zealand arm out of Australia like most IT companies do. But I don't think Apple's pricing would suddenly dip with a move to a direct model in New Zealand. What I'd like to see if Apple do take over, is the opening of an Apple store in New Zealand, probably in Auckland, and the formation of the iTunes.co.nz music store. MAybe then we'd be on a footing with other Apple users around the world

My story from the Herald on Renaissance's staunch denial they are about to be retired by Apple...

Renaissance won't bite on Apple rumour
Friday November 10, 2006
By Peter Griffin
New Zealand's sole distributor of Apple computers and the iPod music player has rejected speculation it is about to lose the lucrative account that has fuelled its growth.
Renaissance Corporation managing director Paul Johnston said speculation on the Publicaddress.net Publicaddress.net weblog and other websites, about a move by Apple to ditch Renaissance in favour of a direct presence in New Zealand, was "off the mark".
"We've already been given our indicative targets for the next 12 months," Johnston said. The targets handed down by Apple suggest Renaissance's business with the California-based computer maker is safe for at least another year.
Renaissance, listed on the NZX, would no doubt be upset to see the Apple relationship end. Sales of the iPod helped push Renaissance profits up 120 per cent to $5.1 million last year. The Apple account remains the jewel in its crown despite attempts to diversify into other areas of IT.
Shares in Renaissance closed up 1c at $1.28 yesterday.
Johnston has warned that profit is likely to grow a more modest 20 per cent this year as the iPod buying frenzy abates.
Apple has a direct presence in many of the countries in which it sells computers and iPods and even runs its own retail stores. That fact, and a recent move by Renaissance's IT department to change the administration of Apple email addresses used by Renaissance staff, has led observers to suggest Renaissance's Apple-selling days are numbered.
Johnston was aware there was a perception that Apple products were sold at a significant premium in New Zealand compared with other markets, but said it was unfair to compare New Zealand and American pricing.
"Part of the problem is that lots of people do the comparison with the US. We buy through Apple Australia."
He said the exchange rate accounted for most of the difference between Australian and New Zealand pricing, but because of its hedging "it has to be a significant shift for us to make [pricing] different".
Johnston had no light to shed on reports that the opening of a New Zealand iTunes store was imminent.

ALL GAMED OUT

The video games are arriving thick and past as the Christmas release schedule starts to kick in. Below are some of my truncated reviews from the Herald of some of the recent big titles. I'm still hooked on Flight Simulator x, which I suspect will run slightly better when I upgrade to 1GB of RAM. Some big titles are still to come including: Splinter Cell - Double Agent and Age of Empires III: The War Chiefs.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X (Deluxe Edition) (PC)
Censor's classification: G
Herald rating: 5/5Pros: Every aspect of flying is re-created to produce the most realistic simulator on the market. Choose to take off from one of 24,000 airports and take scenic flights over the world's best known landmarks.
Cons: This game is an immersive experience and you need to put in some work to get the best out of it.
Verdict: An impressive leap forward for Microsoft's successful flight simulator.

Killzone: Liberation (PSP)

Herald rating: 4/5

Pros: A third-person action fighter with impressive graphics and challenging missions. Autosave points make it ideal for short gaming bouts.
Cons: This game has a straightforward premise and a slightly arcade-like look. It's often difficult to keep track of the action on the small screen.
Verdict: Has lush graphics and sound, and a storyline that will keep both fans and newcomers interested.
Censor's classification: 16+


B-Boy (PS2)
Herald rating: * * *
Pros: Once learned, the breakdancing moves are impressive to watch and the story and arcade modes work well.
Cons: B-Boy will have limited appeal for gamers seeking the storytelling and gaming action of other genres.
Verdict: There's no shooting or punching, the aim instead is to breakdance your way through street fights. A novel idea that doesn't quite sustain a full-length game.

Test Drive Unlimited (Xbox 360)
Herald rating: * * * *
Pros: The Hawaiian island of Oahu has been mapped in minute detail giving a realistic and picturesque backdrop and plenty of coastal roads to traverse. The 90 cars available look great and handle well.
Cons: The artificial intelligence of other computer-controlled cars on the road is patchy, making the single player game less enjoyable that venturing online for group races.
Verdict: It's fun, fast and offers an exhilarating style of street racing.


Mercury Meltdown (PSP)

Herald rating: * * * *
Pros: The fluid movement of the mercury is convincing and the games levels are well structured to keep the tension high. The graphics make it one of the better puzzle games for the PSP.
Cons: Levels are variations on the same liquid theme.
Verdict: Race against the clock to save globs of mercury disappearing into a bizarre, futuristic landscape. A fun puzzler that looks great.
Censor's classification: G

2/11/2006

GOD IS DEAD...ACTUALLY HE NEVER LIVED

Or so Richard Dawkins would have us believe. I just picked up his new book The God Delusion and only 40 pages in, I'm already feeling better about my slide towards atheism. I was brought up a devout Catholic in Dublin for the first years of my life and went to a Catholic school. After arriving in New Zealand, I continued to attend church and complete religious studies, but I just wanted to fit in with the agnostic kiwis around me who never even mentioned God and associated Sunday mornings with sleep-ins and cricket in the park rather than 10 o'clock mass, as I did.

New Zealanders have a lacklustre approach to religion except in those pockets where the conservative right has had a resurgence - Destiny Church and Exclusive Brethren strongholds.

I'm almost completely in agreeable with Dawkins on his Godless theories, but something holds me back from declaring myself an athiest. Maybe I'm hedging my bets.

Dawkins has helpfully constructed a faith scale so you can rank your level of belief in the creator of the universe. I'm pegging myself at number 6 on the scale. Do I believe in God. Dawkins No 6: "Very low probability, but short of zero. De Facto Athiest. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.

One step further (or higher) on the rung is No. 7: "Strong athiest. 'I know there is no God, with the same conviction that Jung 'knows' there is one."

A thought-provoking book, one I picked up to help in research for my next screenplay, which is about faith, belief and poltergeists...

Speaking of good books, here's my Pacific Journalism Review review of John Pilger's new book Freedom Next Time.

Freedom Next Time by John Pilger

Bantam Press, 2006, 356pp ISBN 0593055535

In Freedom Next Time, the renowned investigative journalist and documentary maker John Pilger writes of “empire, facades and the enduring struggle of people for their freedom”.

These are themes common to his entire body of work, for Pilger has over the last 30 years made a name for himself as a journalist on a mission to unveil the injustices of the world. In doing so, he has become so caught up in his subjects and the unfair politics of the world that it’s hard to imagine him being able to write about anything objectively.

But in the countries examined in Freedom Next Time, the under-reported facts speak for themselves with an irony Pilger no longer needs to underline.

Pilger writes of the “official” freedoms in place in the likes of South Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, devoting five long chapters to the stories of people that have struggled for years to win freedom and by and large, been denied it.

The fascinating opening chapter “Stealing a Nation” deals with the depopulation by the British of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It was a forced evacuation that passed the world by, barely reported in the media, the Chagossians kicked out of their island home in the 1960s to make way for the US and its military base.

As Pilger points out it was only thirty years after they lost their nation, when some of these “men Friday” returned from exile to their homes, that the media stumbled upon the story.

Pilger’s analysis of progress in South Africa since the fall of apartheid suggests that despite majority black rule, economic power remains in the hands of the wealthy white elite while black South Africans sink further into poverty. His evaluation of Nelson Mandela cast’s at least some of the leader’s glowing legacy in a whole new light.

The chapters on Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine are similarly filled with fascinating reading that’s nevertheless pervaded with a flat sense of pessimism.

Still, reality seldom makes comfortable material, and with its enduring focus on the dispossessed people of these countries, Pilger’s work actually does become the “beacon of light in dark times” Noam Chomsky has labeled it.

- Peter Griffin

BROWSERS AND BLACKBERRIES

My Webwalk column in the Herald looked at the various add-ons available for Firefox and Internet Explorer. With the two major browsers now pretty much identical in functionality these add-ons will become much more important in determining which browser become's the web surfer's primary choice...

Also see my story about the debut of the new Treos with Windows Mobile 5.0. I'm currently trialing the v750 and will file a report once I've sorted out MS Exchange hosting.

Peter Griffin: Browser wars - IE7 and Firefox 2.0 virtually equal
Thursday November 2, 2006
Life has just got a little easier for the world's web surfers with the release of the shiny new Internet Explorer 7 and equally good-looking Firefox 2.0 web browser.
I've been playing with the early release version of IE7 for months and really like it. Microsoft's popular browser was in dire need of a major overhaul, and that is exactly what it got. Security features are beefed up, the toolbar design improved, and Microsoft finally adds tabbed browsing, a feature available to Firefox users for years that lets you have several web pages open within one browser window for easy access.
Firefox, which maintained technical superiority over IE6 with regular upgrades, shot back this month with some tweaks to what was already a fairly comprehensive web browser. The single best new feature of Firefox is an inline spellcheck which will ensure you send literate messages when typing into web forms, blogs and webmail applications. You can download a comprehensive dictionary that is in written in "British" English.
The new antiphishing features help prevent you from falling victim to attempts by fraudsters determined to steal your personal information.
IE7 has both antiphishing protection and an inline spellcheck, so the playing field has been well and truly levelled.
After all the upgrades and redevelopment, Firefox still has a slight edge technically, but the average web browser user isn't going to notice. As Internet Explorer and its erstwhile competitor Firefox close the gap in functionality, what will ultimately determine which browser web surfers choose to use most of the time? It's the browser extension.
Microsoft and Mozilla, Firefox's developer, have the same idea when it comes to the web browser. They want to make the browser the primary point of contact with the web services you use on a regular basis.
Rather than surfing to a website, you can install icons on your browser's toolbar which connect you directly to your service of choice. Search Google and Wikipedia directly from your browser toolbar. Access file-sharing networks and organise your web bookmarks by clicking on the browser toolbar.
There are thousands of browser add-ons for both IE and Firefox. Many are free and take a lot of time and hassle out of web surfing.
With the weight of the Mozilla open-source developer community behind it, Firefox has no shortage of extensions. One I've been tinkering with recently is Foxytunes, a media player that sits at the bottom of Firefox and interacts with iTunes or Windows Media Player to access your music collection and stream content from the web. You don't have to interrupt your web surfing to change the tune.
LinkedIn puts a button on your toolbar that immediately connects you to this business networking service which is very popular in the US. There are only occasional references to New Zealand and Australia, so LinkedIn will be of limited use to you unless you want offshore contacts. But it's a good idea and a localised version would be popular.
A neat little add-on called DejaClick remembers the clickable web links on a page in an easy-to-access format. It's a great research tool for extracting links from web pages.
Torrent Search connects you from within Firefox to numerous peer to peer file sharing networks which avoids the need to open another application. Wordwiselookup acts as a dictionary and encyclopedia, a handy reference tool for checking facts, and KeyScrambler encrypts passwords entered through the browser so keyloggers can't steal them.
Microsoft has a similarly strong mix of add-ons for Internet Explorer. IE Autologin and Free Password Manager Plus allow you to safely store your numerous passwords so you don't have to keep entering them into your browser.
Yoono, which is available to both IE and Firefox, lets you search and share common-interest topics with other Yoono users - a networking and research tool of sorts. Calorie Count gives you nutritional information on your toolbar and lets you monitor how many calories you're munching.
More technical web surfers will appreciate Greasemonkey, which allows you to tweak the code behind web pages to change their format to suit you using DHTML.
All of these add-ons are free and typically only 100 to 500 kilobytes in size so make for quick downloads.


Palm gets a hand from Microsoft
Thursday November 2, 2006
Reviewed by Peter Griffin
It started the handheld computing revolution in the 1990s, but lost its advantage to eager competitors.
Now Palm is relying on former rival Microsoft to help it try to regain the dominance it once had.
Both Vodafone and Telecom this month launch, for the first time, devices from smart phone maker Palm which operate not on Palm's software, but on the Windows Mobile platform.
Palm has launched a charm offensive on mobile carriers the world over in a bid to bypass the popular Blackberry smart phone in favour of its Treo device, which acts as a phone and device running versions of popular Windows programs.
The Blackberry's addictiveness among executives, who use it to constantly stay in email contact, has earned it the nickname "Crackberry". Its rivals have geared their businesses up to try to beat it.
But Palm is one of several competitors hedging its bets. It has signed a marketing deal with Blackberry maker Research In Motion and the Blackberry Connect software now runs on the Treo.
Microsoft, too, is under pressure in the smart phone space, from the Blackberry and the Symbian platform used by Nokia.
In Europe, Microsoft's market share in smart phone operating systems fell to 16.9 per cent in the three months to September 30, down from 18 per cent in the same period last year, according to research company Canalys.
But in Asia Pacific, Microsoft is already the dominant player, holding 55 per cent market share in the third quarter, with Windows Mobile growing faster than other operating systems. Symbian held 16 per cent market share in the same period, Blackberry had 14 per cent while Palm's own software accounted for only 2 per cent.
Palm's sales director for New Zealand and Australia, Geoff Anson, said the Treo was a device that mainly appealed to business users but that all-you-can-eat, US$20 ($30) a month mobile data plans had made it popular with consumers in the US.
"The cost, return on investment and usability of data are the main drivers, plus, people just want one device that does everything well."
The Blackberry, he said, did not do that and its proprietary design meant it wasn't flexible for handing third-party software programs.
"We all know what happens to proprietary solutions. Anyone got a Wang word processor handy?"
Telecom is launching a Windows-based Treo, the 700wx, which uses Telecom's high-speed data network and sells for $999 on open term.
The 750v is being sold by Vodafone for $1299 on an open contract.
Microsoft solutions specialist Mark Bishop said any company running Microsoft Exchange Server could push email out to its employees' Windows-based mobile devices.
Small businesses and home users could instead use a hosted Exchange service.

The Treo
* Acts as a phone and runs popular Windows programs.
* Also runs Blackberry Connect software.
* Telecom and Vodafone are both offering versions of the device.


29/10/2006

TRAVELLING, TECHNOLOGY AND TIME...

Welcome to anyone checking in to this infrequently updated blog. I can't count you as a constant reader, but that's my fault, not yours. My blogging technique has been pretty...scattergun, but it's been a very busy time and I plan to get things back on track from now on...regular posts, tweaks to improve the site, maybe even that long considered switch to Wwordpress and a MySQL database...
There's been a lot of travel in the last couple of months - San Francisco, Singapore and at least three trips to Australia, one of which was to the Indy 300 on the Gold Coast - what a great event that was.
I've finished my fifth feature-length screenplay and have put it out to my trusted ring of writers and my script editor for feedback. Hopefully this will get some traction in the new year...
I've a stack of technology reviews coming up for the Herald/Herald on Sunday...among them the Motorola KAZR, the Vodafone Modem, the Thinkpad (T60 with embedded WWAN...lovely) Norton and McAfee 2007 suites, some lovely Philips toys and much more, keep an eye out here for those in the next few weeks.
I recently spent a day at Hewlett Packard's labs in Palo Alto, California, a visit that reinvigorated my passion for technology. It was a wonderful trip and I'll soon post more on what we were shown, including photographs.
Meanwhile, some articles I've written recently that may be of interest...
My Herald on Sunday column about DVD Jon, the Norwegian determined to crack open Apple's iPod-iTunes monopoly -
Peter Griffin: If only the animals spoke the same lingo
Sunday October 29, 2006
He's 22, Norwegian and he's done something that will appeal to thousands of New Zealand iPod users denied access to the iTunes.com online music store: he's hacked the iPod so it can be used with other music stores.
Jon Lech Johansen has a history of blowing open the copy-protection technologies that are built into many of our electronic devices to prevent piracy. As a teenager, he bypassed the encryption on DVDs, a move that saw him dragged into court. He was later acquitted.
Since 2003, Johansen has made available software that allows users to bypass the Fairplay digital rights management software with which iPod maker Apple encodes all music downloaded from its iTunes store.
The software has been difficult to use, designed with other geeks in mind. Now Johansen intends to make his copyright protection work-around mainstream and has started a company, DoubleTwist Ventures, to sell the software to music download providers and music player makers.
He can expect a fairly powerful legal salvo from Apple, which has so far been merciless in pursuing any company that's tried to tinker with its dream music model. Apple managed to fend off a similar attempt by Real Player to make the iPod compatible with its Harmony music download service. The legal fight is likely to be of Napster proportions, unless Johansen has also figured out a legal work-around. Even then, he may not have the financial power to handle legal action.
Currently, Apple's iPod exists in a highly successful and user-friendly but locked-down environment that links every player with the iTunes media and, for those who want to purchase digital music, with the iTunes store.
Fairplay ensures that you can play the downloaded music only on an iPod, and you can play the downloaded music on up to five other computers. Apple has an estimated 85 per cent of the market for legal music downloads - a monopoly in anyone's language. The closed system is pretty seamless, but there's only one supplier and one device: the Apple way or the highway.
Apple's competitors, both music player makers and music download providers, have been unable to break the iPod-iTunes spell. Jahnsen wants to enable songs to be downloaded from music websites other than iTunes to be played on the iPod. He also wants to make iTunes compatible with other music players.
"When you buy a DVD, you know that the DVD will play on your Toshiba or Sony or Philips player, but when you buy music or video online, you don't have that. It is kind of like the zoo: every animal is singing a different tune. We hope to make sense of that, and we have developed a technology to enable that," is how he put it to CNet news.
Johansen claims he's not removing Apple's Fairplay copyright protection, just adding the ability for it to be wrapped around music from other sources. It's likely that this will be the crux of the legal argument.
But would his technology loosen Apple's hold, were he able to commercialise it? Almost certainly. Apple has some respectable competitors among music download providers, but none of them have been able to gain access to the iPod. Creative, Sony, Philips, Toshiba, Cowon and a host of other manufacturers also fight it out for 20 per cent of the market because they cannot compete with the iPod-iTunes combo. Opening up the system will ultimately see iPod users drift to download services offering more competitive deals on music and to people choosing iPod rivals.
Johansen's attempts to crack open the iPod has particular relevance here in New Zealand, where the iTunes.com store is inaccessible for reasons that have never been properly explained by Apple or by the music industry. But at least 60 per cent of the music players on the market are iPods. This means that users of local download services like CokeTunes, Digirama and Amplifier can't directly transfer songs to their iPods. Without access to the iTunes store, iTunes is fairly useless here. Being able to download music straight to iPods would be a huge advantage.
I agree with Johansen that a lack of flexibility in music download services leads to people buying pirated and unprotected music. I hope Jahnsen's innovative plan comes to fruition, though I suspect his powerful rival will win the day - once again.
FEEDBACK:
Hi peter,
enjoyed your article on the iPod crack from that clever scandinavian dude. You mentioned the lack of an itunes online store in NZ, and no clear reason why its not here yet. I've heard that the main reason is that until copyright law in NZ changes ot make format shifting legal (which is what Itunes does), itunes won't lauynch here. What is depressing is the Min of Economic Development has done a bunch of work on possible revisions to this law, but the music industry has objected to all of them, including making it legal to copy music onto your cd, then transfer (format shift) it to your ipod. I recall Russell Brown interviewing Judith Tizard a year or so ago on BFM, and asking her about the new ipod she'd just been given, and had she loaded any music on it yet, and she of course said oh no, i can't do that, its against the law. Even the head of EMI Music UK has come out and said the CD is dead. You have to wonder about the music industry, really... heres the link to that emi ! story..

Peter Griffin: Star-fangled charity and low-paid workers
Sunday October 22, 2006
Do you feel guilty when you look at your gadgets: the iPod, the new mobile phone, the Xbox and the laptop?

If you do, Bono has the answer: the (Red) campaign. Recently launched in the US by the Irish rock star and Bobby Shriver of the Kennedy family, the (Red) campaign has the backing of several big brands which contribute a percentage of sales proceeds from certain products to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Buy a (Red) iPod from Apple for US$199 (NZ$298) and US$10 (NZ$15) will go towards antiretroviral drugs for African AIDS sufferers.
Motorola is also contributing proceeds from sales of its (Red) RAZR mobile phone to the charity. The brackets around (Red) symbolise an embrace. We're going to see more of this type of thing - the highly publicised siphoning off of a small percentage of consumer electronics makers' profits to benevolent causes.
As you browse the specifications of the latest music player or digital camera, you'll also be looking for the charitable cause your purchase will support.
Any move to divert some of the profits of a company for charity, especially in the fight against AIDS, is noble. But the electronics makers need to get their own houses in order before they jump on the star-sponsored charity bandwagon. They need to ensure that the people who make the gadgets are paid properly and enjoy good working conditions.
Most electronics manufacturing is outsourced to China, where claims of exploitation of workers are rife. Some work long hours for around $120 to $210 a month and live in cramped dorms. If they get sick, they're on their own. Occupational safety and health is often an unfamiliar concept and there's no pension plan. If they stop working they're in trouble.
Many support families in impoverished, rural areas. For millions of people in the sprawling factory compounds of Shenzhen in China, the closest they'll ever get to the latest popular electronics gadgets is the production line.
It's cool these days to be socially and environmentally aware and that's a zeitgeist the gadget makers are keen to tap into. I'm sure if any major electronics brand had the option of contributing to Bono's (Red) campaign or diverting profits to increase the wages of Chinese factory workers, they'd choose the former - because the halo effect will boost revenue as consumers buy in, offsetting the cost of the charitable move.
There's no such thing as guilt-free gadget buying. The economics of the electronics industry dictate that for the gadgets to be sold at a price that appeals to the mass market, millions of people have to slave away in factories somewhere. When China becomes too expensive, they'll simply move production to another region, eventually arriving in Africa. We get the gadgets, they get the short end of globalisation. But I'd be happier knowing that a fraction of the price of the electronics I buy is going to improve their lot than if it was diverted to some third party cause that I can contribute to separately. That's not called charity, its called a fairer deal.

10/08/2006

BLOODY WELL WRITE!

My Herald on Sunday column dealt with the very good free software Google Writely. I haven't started doing the bulk of my word processing in Writely but what I am doing is transferring the file from Word to Writely so I can convert it into a smart looking PDF file. I'm also going to start using it to create posts for this blog as I'm not a big fan of the Blogger user interface and Writely is much smoother. Give it a go! The headline on the story was a little off, it's not designed for bloggers, but word processor users!

Google Writely sets standard for bloggers
Sunday August 6, 2006By Peter Griffin

If you spend a lot of time using word processing software, you can imagine how frustrating it is to log on to a machine that doesn't have any.
Being reduced to using Microsoft's bare-bones Wordpad program after working in Microsoft's Word or Corel's WordPerfect is a real let-down.
But I'm amazed at how many times I've logged on to computers in internet cafes, hotels and the homes of friends and found no word processing software. I have to constantly remind myself that not everyone makes a living from writing.
Still, for those who want access to the same word processing tools wherever they are, Google has the answer in its new acquisition, Writely.
Google's web-based word processing tool lets you create and edit documents quickly and easily. It's completely independent of the programs on your computer - all you'll need to run Writely is a web browser and internet access.
Anyone familiar with Microsoft Word will be at home with Writely's user interface. Pull-down menus give you all the options you'll need to put together documents and import elements such as pictures, HTML content from the web and Word documents.
Your documents are stored in your Writely account on Google's servers, and you can email documents to your Writely account to add them to the collection. Whatever security qualms you had about storing personal information in Google's Gmail service can be applied to Writely, but Google claims that the contents of documents are kept private - if we want it that way.
The most powerful element of Writely is a collaboration tool that lets several Writely users work on the same document. This is fantastic for business people who are in different locations but want to draft a letter or business proposal together. Students could do a class assignment together via the internet in real time. You simply grant access to users you want listed as collaborators. Even then you can decide whether they can merely view the document or also edit it.
Several people can work on one document simultaneously, and when their updates are saved, any changes are highlighted in a colour specific to each editor.
Another great feature is the ability to save documents as PDF files - you usually need a paid-up version of a PDF maker to do this. Documents can also be saved as OpenOffice or Word files, HTML files, RTF files and even as RSS feeds.
The service seems to be skewed towards those who are writing for the web and want to easily convert content to post on websites. Writely lets you create, format and post blog entries automatically. This is a great feature for me, as the Blogger.com interface I use to generate entries for my blog isn't very user friendly. I've been using a Blogger plug-in for Windows to write blog postings, but Writely allows you all that functionality, wherever you are. A host of common blog services such as Wordpress and LiveJournal are supported, and you can set up posts to be added to your own website domain.
Writely is entirely web-based, but I hope Google develops a desktop-based version, because although Writely is in its early days (62 per cent complete, according to the site's beta meter) it could give MS Word a run for its money if released as a free download.
Sign up is by invite only, and you can join the waiting list at www.writely.com.

4/08/2006

TELECOM BY 2010: EXACTLY WHERE IT IS NOW

Considering everything that's gone on at Telecom in the last few months - the scandal around the Government unbundling report leaked to it, the subsequent $3 billion drop in the company's market value, the departure of Chairman Rod Deane, I thought it would be worth getting along to the company's quarterly earnings briefing held in Wellington today.

The event was well attended due to the fact that Telecom has merged its analyst briefing with that reserved for journalists, and despite the drama of the past months, Telecom succeeded in draining any emotion and colour from the proceedings. Good work on the behalf of their media-savvy executives.

It amazes me that the key executives who attended the briefing are still there at all considering two things: the dire performance of Telecom in Australia (a writedown of AAPT accounts for the loss for the year to June 30 of $450 million) and the fact that none of those top executives was able to judge the regulatory environment well enough to avoid the massive drop in Telecom's market value.

As far as AAPT is concerned, I have to agree with one of the Australian analysts who was on conference call from Sydney when he pointed out that it would probably be more sensible to close AAPT down than plow the $270 million into the fragile business that Telecom plans too over the next couple of years.

Still, what do you do? Sack the entire executive? Who will replace them and who is to say anyone else's judgement would be any better. AAPT was handed to the current executive by the previous administration, but the company's handling of regulatory matters has been unforgivable.

A few things of note from the briefing:

- Telecom's total DSL connections are now at 435,000 or 25 per cent of access lines and outstrip dial-up internet lines which are at 310,000. That shows that as far as Telecom's own internet customers, the transition to broadband is progressing reasonably well. Interestingly, 30 per cent of broadband sales happen online.
- Telecom Mobile continues to steam ahead and mobile data revenue was up 54 per cent year on year to $171 million. People are starting to understand mobile devices and laptop data cards and price drops have boosted uptake.
- Telecom will launch a consumer VoIP service in the next year nad plans to have 500,000 connections by the end of the FY07 financial year - that's an ambitious goal. What will be the drivers to VoIP? Lower prices (unlikely) or enhanced services like call management through a web browser (probably).
- Gen-i is a fast-growing IT powerhouse in New Zealand - revenue of around $950 million.
- Telecom insists it has no current plans to ditch its CDMA mobile network technology in favour of the more popular UMTS technology used by Vodafone and the majority of the world's mobile phone operators.

TELECOM'S STRATEGIC RESPONSE

If Telecom tried to get anything across in this briefing it's that the executive has a strategic response to the regulatory shift that will see the company right. But consider this interesting slide from the presentation which outlines the grim reality for Telecom and it's shareholders:

They're going to have to pull all the stops out just to keep EBITDA at the level it is now.

The loss in revenues associated with reduced prices and the erosion in calling as people move to competitors will be offset by cost-cutting and growth in information, entertainment and ICT services. While Telecom is successfully becoming a IT-centric company, these types of services will not provide Telecom with a major boost in EBITDA over the next few years, they'll serve to maintain the financial performance of the company. Telecom effectively has to work a hell of a lot harder, be more innovative and cut costs by 2010 to have the same financial result then as it has now. The alternative is a drop in EBITDA of up to $500 million by 2010 if it carries on with its pre-unbundling investment and cost-cutting strategies.

BUSINESS AS USUAL (AS CAN BE)

Overall, the earnings briefing oozed the same calm efficiency Telecom briefings are known for. There's an obvious desire on the part of Chairman Boyd and Theresa to send a signal that they have everything under control. The truth is that the fancy Powerpoint slides don't account for any of the emerging technologies that could upturn Telecom's projections in the next couple of years. Uncertain times are ahead and Telecom's success will hinge on how well it takes to the structurally seperated model it choose to adopt and th eunbundled model forced upon it.

** Éconet's managing director wins points for gate crashing the briefing and phoning in some questions about Telecom's mobile business. Theresa answered graciously, but Tex's questions confirmed my doubts about Econet - it's more interested in the business cases of its competitors than it's own "plans" to build a mobile network.

Full details of the results can be downloaded from Telecom's website (www.telecom.co.nz)