Microsoft Rethinks Japanese Contracts

Microsoft has announced changes to its contracts with PC suppliers in Japan after its Tokyo offices were raided in the middle of the week.

The part of the contract that the Fair Trade Commission was so concerned about related to a clause preventing manufacturers from suing Microsoft over patented technology. If manufacturers did not agree to the clause, then they could not sell PCs with Windows preinstalled.

Microsoft’s statement

New Memory Card Format Aimed at 3G Phones

Motorola will be using a new memory card format in their new phones (the E1000 and A1000, reported here this week), with capacities from 32mb to 512mb. These new cards are about half the size of a SIM, making them slightly smaller than the miniSD format, which was launched less than a year ago.

The cards are intended to be removable so that users can share files or transfer data. The specification for the cards will be open, so other manufacturers will be able to adopt it. No details for performance or electrical characteristics have been released yet.

Chances are then, that your PDA, phone, games console, MP3 player, robot dog and camera will all use entirely different memory cards. If that’s not enough to send you sobbing down to the shops to get a new all-in-one device, then we don’t know what is.

PC World almost seem pleased

AOL Drops Broadband Service in US

With broadband price cuts from telephone operators and ISPs in the US, packaging a DSL service with access to AOL services was rapidly becoming uneconomic for the content giant.

America Online found that it couldn’t offer a price-competitive service: being so far down the value chain meant that the subscription cost of AOL broadband product was often far higher than that of competitors, once subleasing prices had been piled on top.

As the numbers of dial-up subscribers dwindle, AOL is moving towards providing content to users who supply their own access, thus concentrating on their core competencies and not wasting resources trying to be a telco. The market seems to be segregating out a bit: last year, Microsoft also dropped DSL access plans. How long will it be before companies which are more geared to providing access to the internet, such as BT, drop their content offerings?

Broadband without the bandwidth

Audiolunchbox – DRM-free music specialises in indie music and amongst many bands we’ve never heard of (All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors, anyone?), the site provides non-DRM restricted legal downloads of tracks and albums from Moby, Sasha and even The Pretenders.

Some 160 labels have licensed content to Audiolunchbox, and they use a familiar distribution model — US99c allows you to download a track to your PC, and then you are free to store it, or use it on any capable device. Albums are available from US$8.99. Users buy a “Lunch card” in a variety of values, which helps to bring access to kids without credit cards.

There’s an interesting twist – the site also offers Ogg Vorbis encoded downloads, so at last it will be easier for Linux users to play legally purchased music on their distributions. As MP3 is a proprietary format, there are no open source codecs for the OS.

“When you purchase audio from us, do with it as you please, as long as it’s for personal use.” — from the website.


Give Ogg Vorbis a try

Ofcom Propose 056 Numbers for Voice Over IP Numbering Services

Users wishing to place and receive Voice over IP calls through their broadband service will be able to have their own number in the future, as outlined in Ofcom’s proposal just issued. The proposal is intended to simplify access to VoB services, and distinguish them from other more traditional services.

05 is currently reserved for corporate PABX systems, and it’s Ofcom’s proposal that 055 is used for corporate VoB services, whilst 056 will tend to be more for residential customers.

Ofcom are against geographically dependent numbers – and we heartily agree that a numbering scheme that varies from town to town makes no sense for a system that is not so dependent on the location of a physical exchange, especially since users may want to pick up calls whilst travelling.

Ofcom’s proposal

Microsoft’s Tokyo Offices Raided

Microsoft (MS) received a visit from fifteen members of Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) at 9am Tokyo time. The FTC are looking for evidence of unfair and monopolistic practices in the company’s dealings with PC suppliers in Japan. It’s actually their second visit – the FTC last knocked on MS’s doors in 1998, when they confiscated documents relating to their OS range, browser and office suite.

This second raid isn’t too surprising – over the months Microsoft has had the same thing happen in the US and Europe, and its operating system and software bundling deals with PC hardware manufacturers have long been regarded as anti-competitive in Japan. After a slow start, the country is now the third largest market for PCs in the world, with annual sales of about 13m units.

In Europe, Microsoft could face millions of Euros in fines in March when it reaches an agreement with officials over the way that Windows Media Player is tied to its range of operating systems. Microsoft claims its legal bills for such cases came to US$1.55bn in 2003, though the recent US Department if Justice settlement is regarded as ineffective by many in the industry.

The BBC on the Raid

Digital Home Working Group: “Share Content Anywhere, On Any Device”

Craig Barrett, CEO if Intel, is as annoyed as you are at the often badly implemented restrictions preventing people from using and sharing media on different devices. As part of the Digital Home Working Group (DHWG), due to publish their standards specification in Q2, Intel have come out against inflexible, confusing and unfair DRM programmes in the market, or in development.

Of course, much of the timing and pitch of the Intel/DHWG rumblings will be because they have a set of standards to plug, but they do have a point given the draconian DRM restrictions placed on users.

Ironically, DRM restrictions often make it harder to move or use the media that customers have actually paid for – an inconvenience that provokes some users into acquiring cracked or unsecured versions of media and files.

“The basic concept of the DHWG is the ability to use that content anytime, anywhere within your home once you’ve purchased it.” said Barrett.

Formed in 2003, the DHWG features more than a hundred other members, including Microsoft, Nokia and Sony. If they all agree on their set of standards, then adoption should not be an issue.

Hopefully the new standards will protect the content producers and artists whilst giving consumers the ability to use licensed content fairly.

Digital Home Working Group

DHWG’s chairman Scott Smyers: “The DHWG is open to all players.” (Downloadable WMV, interestingly enough)

3G: “The Networks are Ready, but the Phones Aren’t”

One of the many things coming out of the 3GSM Summit is the conflict between mobile network operators like Vodafone and T-Mobile and handset manufacturers: the network operators have made the networks, but the phones aren’t good enough to entice users to subscribe.

Mobile phone operators spent billions of euros on licenses to run 3G networks and are understandably concerned that they have not been able to make full use of new revenue opportunities.

At the 3GSM summit in Cannes, Arun Sarin, chief executive of Vodafone criticised existing phones for being bulky, possessing poor battery life and featuring unsatisfactory heat dissipation. He added “The experience today is unacceptable to our customers.”

Part of the problem is related to poor coverage in Europe. Not only does this mean that services are simply unavailable in areas, but it also requires that the phones run in dual 2G/3G mode, thus consuming far more power – hence the heat and battery problems not generally witnessed in Japan which has far better coverage. Since it is projected that, even by 2008, only 75% of all phones will be 3G, dual mode issues are expected to be around for a while.

Some see Sarin’s comments as a little dig at Nokia, with whom Vodafone have had a stormy relationship over the years, but with Nokia expected to have a strong 3G handset offering by the end of 2004, things seemed to have thawed between Sarin and Nokia’s CEO Jorma Ollila.

The Nokia/Vodafone Lovefest

Sarin: GSM stands for “God Send Mobiles”

More details of BBC iMP revealed – All content DRM’d

More details of the intriguing BBC interactive media player, iMP, first made public at IBC 2003, were revealed this evening at a AIGA meeting in London. Sara Watkins, Executive Producer, Broadband, BBC New Media gave the audience further details of what iMP will do and importantly, what it will not.

The most significant revelations were concerning the protection of the content. All content will be DRM’d, only available for a limited period time, once downloaded. As expected, it will also only be available to UK broadband users. In a break with the BBC’s long-standing support of Real, Microsoft DRM will be used for the technical trial, but it appears that no final decision has been made.

Sara started by running a video giving an overview of what the BBC hope the iMP will be and where it might go.

As was known previously, the EPG (Electronic Programming Guide) will cover fourteen days; seven looking forward and seven backward. The programs that have been broadcasted will be downloadable to the computer simply by clicking on them. A preview of a piece can be watched before committing to download a complete show.

Although it was not mentioned in this presentation, in previous discussion we have had we understood that upcoming programs could be selected to download, once they have been broadcasted.

People will also be able to recommend programmes it to friends.

The iMP, originally envisaged by BBC man Ben Lavender, will be a PC-only application that will be downloaded from the BBC website.

Further into the future they are looking forward to having the content on other devices, such as portable music players and even further forward, towards mobile phones. This portable content will initially be limited to audio, as the rights to these programmes are nearly all owned solely by the BBC.

Running through the demonstration version of the product, we were shown the player would have four sections

_Library area

A list of the content residing on the computer will be shown, as you would expect from any filing system. A new revelation was that the rights information for each show would be displayed on the right hand side of the screen.

Each separate show will be capable of having its own DRM setting, primarily how many days it will reside on your machine and therefore, how quickly you will need to watch the show before it become unavailable.

The examples given were

Eastenders (most popular UK soap) might be available for two weeks
An episode of Blue Planet (recent super budget natural history programme) might be available for two days.

The amount of compression applied to each piece of content will vary, so the video quality will vary. More popular programmes will be lower quality but programmes that would benefit from better quality will receive it, such as Blue Planet.

_Traffic area

As per standard peer-to-peer (P2P) packages – showing what is being transferred to and from your machine at any time.

It was reiterated that P2P file sharing technologies would be used to automatically exchange content between broadband-connected computers running iMP, thus saving the BBC a considerable amount of money on individually serving each files.

_TV and radio guide areas

No real details were given about this.

Stages of development

The BBC plan to carry out an internal technical trial, where they will work out the logistics of how to get the content from its original source (tape, etc), how to will be encoded, archived and make it available.

Later in the year, possibly around Easter, a closed network of users will be given the product to test it. During this phase they hope to understand how effective the interface design is.

Following these stages they will enter a product development mode – taking all of the learning and re-polishing the product. No date was mentioned for a public release.

During the Q&A session another interesting revelation concerning the Greg Dyke’s idea floated at RTS Edinburgh 2003, the Creative Archive. The content that makes up the Creative Archive will be downloaded using a similar application, but will not be restricted by DRM enabling people to re-edit it, or use it to make other programmes. Importantly it will not be the complete BBC archive, the examples given was – it will be nature programmes but it will not be show such as Dad’s Army (An old very popular comedy show first show in the 1970’s).

AIGA London


Eminem Sues Apple Over Unauthorised Use of Song

Because of what seems to be a rather surprising error by Apple, rap star Eminem is suing the computer company for featuring lyrics from the song “Lose Yourself”, sung in the advert by a ten year old boy, in their 2003 campaign for the iTunes music service.

Eminem’s company Eight Mile Style said “Eminem has never nationally endorsed any commercial products and … even if he were interested in endorsing a product, any endorsement deal would require a significant amount of money, possibly in excess of $10 million”.

The ad was shown multiple times on MTV, and it seems odd that Apple would feature the song without first seeking permission. Apple Computer has yet to comment.

Slashdot on Grey Tuesday, Slim and Apple