Netvibes rules — hear that, Bill?

The new Windows Live initiative that Microsoft launched with much fanfare recently — which was followed up by the two “sea change” memos from Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie — included an AJAX-driven customizable webpage at http://www.live.com, which was kind of buggy but promised to allow users to design their own home page and include RSS feeds of their choice, as well as other content. Which is a great idea, except for one thing: not only is Google already doing this to some extent with its home page, but a little startup called Netvibes.com is already doing it way better than either one of them.

I used to run my own RSS aggregator and feed reader based on a Linux server in my basement (running Debian and “feed on feeds” if you’re interested), but lately I’ve been using Netvibes.com, and it is fantastic. It is fast, customizable, accepts almost any feed — including tag-targeted feeds from Technorati.com — and updates the feeds automatically. Clicking a link opens a window with the item, and a link to open it in a new browser tab or window. When you’re done reading a feed, a simple click on a small arrow at the top of the box with the feed in it “rolls up” the window. You can also add a weather applet and a search box, and of course like most AJAX-y pages, you can drag all the boxes around and arrange them any way you want. Fast. Simple. Easy. Free.

Bill tries to rally the troops — again

The hot topic on various tech websites and blogs is Microsoft’s attempt to rally its troops and attack the new Web services market — an attempt that comes 10 years almost to the day after Microsoft tried to turn its giant ship around and get religion with respect to the Internet, a campaign that began with the famous “Internet tidal ave” memo from Bill Gates. This one begins with two memos: one from Bill G. and one from his new chief technology officer Ray Ozzie, one of the co-creators of IBM’s Lotus Notes and co-founder of Groove Networks. Tech guru Dave Winer managed to get hold of the two memos and has posted the full text of them on his website.

They make for very interesting reading — even if, as Dave and John Battelle suspect, they were written with the expectation that they would be leaked (Shelley at Burningbird thinks so too and Good Morning Silicon Valley says it might as well have been a press release.). If nothing else, the memos make it clear that Ray Ozzie is the new visionary at Microsoft, as Nicholas Carr points out on his blog. Om Malik says that despite the vision, Microsoft still appears to be looking in the rear-view mirror and ignoring the move to mobile devices or non-PC devices in their new vision. Robert Scoble says Microsofties are calling the Bill G. memo the “birthday memo” in honour of their supreme leader recently turning 50. Happy birthday, Bill.

Column: Call it YahooVo?

Here’s a column I posted at globeandmail.com about rumours that Yahoo might acquire TiVo:

“In what was no doubt a welcome ray of sunshine for shareholders of TiVo, the maker of personal video recorders announced a deal with Internet portal and search engine company Yahoo, which will allow TiVo owners to click a TV listing on Yahoo’s pages and automatically record shows on their PVR. This gave a small boost to TiVo’s somewhat beleaguered shares, but unfortunately the warm glow of the deal didn’t last for very long — the shares lost ground on Tuesday, the day after the announcement, and are still down by more than 50 per cent from their peak early last year.

Not surprisingly, the deal with Yahoo renewed the speculation that TiVo might be an acquisition target — if not for Yahoo then for Google, or Microsoft, or AOL, or maybe your Aunt Phyllis (that last one is just a joke). It might be stretching things a little to say that behind every TiVo takeover rumour there stands a disgruntled shareholder, but at this point an acquisition of the company seems to be about the only thing that might breathe some life into the share price. Although it more or less invented the PVR market, TiVo hasn’t been able to capitalize on that “first-mover” advantage, and so has been forced to watch the world pass it by.

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Yahoo and Tivo dating?

So Yahoo and TiVo announced a deal in which users of TiVo (why is the “v” capitalized? just wondering) will be able — under certain circumstances — to click a listing at Yahoo’s television-listing portal and have their TiVo record a show (if you’re Canadian, or any non-U.S. resident for that matter, don’t plan on having this ability until you are old and grey, unless you are already old and grey, in which case you will have to wait until you are dead). They will also reportedly have the ability to view Yahoo Photos on their TV and to see traffic reports, news and other services as well.

My colleague from the National Post, Mark Evans, theorizes that this might be the precursor to a Yahoo acquisition of TiVo (and Russell Shaw at ZDNet thinks so too, apparently), but I have to say that I don’t really see the logic. It’s obvious why TiVo might be interested, since the company has been struggling on its own, especially since its major partner DirecTV cut the PVR-maker loose and decided to see other people (the new services won’t work on DirecTV TiVos). And I can see why Yahoo might want to find more eyeballs for their content — but that doesn’t mean it has to buy the whole company. TiVo is losing market share to regular cable boxes with PVR functionality, and it’s not clear that aligning itself with Yahoo would change the situation dramatically.

Om seems skeptical as well, and notes that this feature has been available to AOL users for almost two years, something also noted by Good Morning Silicon Valley and Real Tech News.

MSFT ahead in AOL game?

My old pal Richard Siklos, whom I used to know way back before he got all famous because of his book on Conrad Black, has a story in the New York Times (via the International Herald Tribune) that says Microsoft is leading Google and Yahoo in the three-way wooing for America Online, which has gone from also-ran Internet has-been fiasco to belle of the ball in a relatively short period. However, Richard goes on to say that the talks have been difficult and appear to have bogged down over the issue of control. The discussions have been rumoured for some time, but Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons confirmed last week that the company was in talks with several major players about a partnership of some kind

Is quantum mechanics wrong?

Anyone remember “cold fusion?” The Guardian is running a piece about a controversial claim by a Harvard University scientist who says he has developed a power source that is orders of magnitude more powerful than conventional sources — and defies the laws of quantum mechanics: “Randell Mills, a Harvard University medic who also studied electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims to have built a prototype power source that generates up to 1,000 times more heat than conventional fuel. Independent scientists claim to have verified the experiments and Dr Mills says that his company, Blacklight Power, has tens of millions of dollars in investment lined up to bring the idea to market. And he claims to be just months away from unveiling his creation. The problem is that according to the rules of quantum mechanics, the physics that governs the behaviour of atoms, the idea is theoretically impossible.”

The ever-watchful gang over at slashdot.org note that Dr. Mills has been making these claims for some time: there’s a Reuters story from 1997, and a Village Voice story from 1999 which led to more skeptical comments on slashdot, and there is also a long entry in Wikipedia.org about Dr. Mills’ so-called “hydrino” theory. Still, the debate continues.

Jason Calacanis loses it

Being bought by AOL doesn’t seem to have mellowed Weblogs Inc. founder Jason Calacanis any — in fact, it seems to have riled him up even more. He recently posted a rant on his blog about another blog network called Creative-Weblogging.com, and how they “stole” his html code. Among other things, Jason says this makes them “look like a complete low-rent idiot,” then goes on to spray the other network with invective, saying “these slime buckets” recently raised some money and “whoever these loser investors are they should do some due diligence” because they are “investing in a bunch of worthless lies and cheats [and] whatever money you gave them is probably embezzled right now.” He finishes off by saying “if people think I’m going to get soft just because we were acquired they are sadly, and profoundly, mistaken. I’d tell you idiots you would be hearing from my lawyers, but at this point you should expect a call from AOL’s lawyers.” (The founder of Creative Weblogging has a response here). As more than one person has pointed out, including Ian Betteridge, these comments are clearly libelous and defamatory, and probably actionable. In any case, they are well outside the range of normal criticism, regardless of any similarities between the two websites. If borrowing the look and feel of a website or even some of the html code is illegal, than there are a lot of criminals out there.

Would we create the Web today?

Duke University lawyer and Creative Commons director James Boyle has a thoughtful piece in the Financial Times about the Web and whether it would (or could) be created today the way it is now. He ends with a depressing thought (via Slashdot):

“Why might we not create the web today? The web became hugely popular too quickly to control. The lawyers and policymakers and copyright holders were not there at the time of its conception. What would they have said, had they been? What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network…. The lawyers have learnt their lesson now. The regulation of technological development proceeds apace. When the next disruptive communications technology – the next worldwide web – is thought up, the lawyers and the logic of control will be much more evident. That is not a happy thought.” Definitely not a happy thought — but something to keep in mind nevertheless. (James Boyle’s bio page is here.)

Sony’s bait and switch

Princeton computer science professor Ed Felten writes about Sony’s DRM “rootkit,” which it installed without really telling you, and notes that the “patch” the company provides to remove the rootkit (which Sony claims is harmless) is “more than 3.5 megabytes in size, and appears to contain new versions of almost all the files included in the initial installation of the entire DRM system, as well as creating some new files. In short, they’re not just taking away the rootkit-like function — they’re almost certainly adding things to the system as well. And once again, they’re not disclosing what they’re doing.” As SiliconValley.com put it: “Sorry about those secret files — what we meant to install were these secret files.” Ed also points to a commentary by law professor Eric Goldman in which he ponders whether Sony’s EULA (end user license agreement) adequately disclosed what the company was installing. If it didn’t, it could be liable for legal action. Even if it did, it’s a pretty stupid move from a marketing point of view.

Update: Mark over at sysinternals.com got a response from the company that put together (badly, apparently) the rootkit software Sony’s CD installs, and they tried (and mostly failed) to rebut his criticisms of their kit and Sony’s behaviour.

Column: Nortel not out of the woods

Here’s a column I just posted at globeandmail.com about Nortel’s quarterly results:

“At this point, it’s not hard for Nortel Networks to impress anyone with its financial performance. All the company has to do is report a fairly clean quarter with maybe a little bit of growth here and there, no massive writedowns and no slashing of growth forecasts, and everyone goes home happy. And that’s pretty much what the networking-equipment maker did in its latest quarterly report — in fact, it did even better than that. Revenue, for example, climbed by a substantial amount in what is traditionally a weak quarter, and Nortel also narrowed its loss. To add some icing to the cake, the company even boosted its growth outlook for the current year.

So that’s it then — Nortel’s back. Right? Not so fast.

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