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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of January 9

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including CES 2006, MSN vs. the Chinese blogger, Microsoft's fixation with Google, Google and Yahoo break the bonds of the Web, MTV URGE, HP and Rhapsody, AMD Live, and so much more...

Mac Users, Companies Invade CES


I've always wondered why Apple holds its Macworld tradeshow so close to CES, which is a humongous industry-wide event that involves numerous companies and markets. This year, however, I've noticed a subtle Apple presence at CES (although the company is still holding its annual Macworld confab next week in San Francisco). Several people from Mac-oriented publications such as Macworld Magazine are here, as well as a few semi-official Apple contingents. With Apple moving into consumer electronics territory with its iPods and media-savvy Mac machines, maybe it's time for the company to simply establish itself as one of the dominant forces at CES. I mentioned this in my CES blog earlier in the week, but it bears repeating: Despite the fact that Apple is just one company, I fully expect it to generate more buzz, news, and excitement next week at Macworld than will all of the companies at CES this week. Watch it happen.


Microsoft Shuts Down Chinese Blog


Microsoft's MSN division has acceded to a request by the Chinese government that it shut down a blog that was hosted on MSN's China-based blog service. The person writing the blog had been discussing political issues in China, which, as you probably know, smacks of insurrection in that human rights-challenged nation. Microsoft defended its decision to shut down the blog by explaining that it must comply with local "laws and norms." Of course, the unspoken fact here is that Microsoft, like many other companies, relies on explosive growth in China to drive revenues. How strict are things in China? MSN must prevent the publication of words and phrases such as "democracy" and "human rights" in blogs hosted by the company, and of course the Chinese government spends an inordinate amount of time filtering outside Web content so that its citizens don't figure out that they live in a pretty bizarre place.


Gates: IBM, Not Google, is the Company's Biggest Competitor


Here's an interesting strategy: Instead of confirming that you've spent many sleepless nights worrying about a particular competitor, pretend that you're worried about a different company. Then, behind the scenes, continue strategizing how to thwart that company you're supposedly not all that worried about. That appears to be what Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is doing this week. When asked about his company's obvious focus on Google, Gates said that Microsoft was more concerned about IBM than about the Web search giant. "IBM \[has\] four times the employees that I have, way more revenues than I have," he said. "IBM has always been our biggest competitor. The press just doesn't like to write about IBM," said Gates. He then complained that the press just cares about Google and Apple and thus only writes about those companies, and not the companies that really matter, such as "Nokia, Sony, and all those others." He might have a point. But seriously, Apple is cool.


Google and Yahoo Aim for TV


And speaking of Google--which, by the way, is one hip company--it looks like the company is getting ready to enter yet another Microsoft market. Actually, both Google and Yahoo today will announce efforts to bring their search and other online technologies to TV and non-PC-based portable devices. Yahoo will unveil a service called Yahoo To Go that brings Yahoo services to televisions, cell phones, and other devices. Google has signed up with Motorola to provide Google Web search from Motorola cell phones and will offer a video download service. More info about this soon.


MTV Gets URGE To Enter Digital Music Market


During Bill Gates's keynote address on Wednesday at CES 2006, MTV officially unveiled its URGE digital music store, which will offer both a la carte song downloads and a subscription service. The big question is ... why? URGE is based on Microsoft's Windows Media technologies, which, let's face it, are excellent but haven't chipped away at Apple's iTune's dominance. Do we really need another Windows Media-based music service? Microsoft will bundle URGE with Windows Media Player 11 and will promote the service, which will ship in March. But that has to rankle existing Microsoft music partners such as Napster. On the other hand, one might argue that Napster has dropped the ball because its interface and marketing aren't up to par. Maybe MTV will have the clout and ingenuity to compete with Apple, but I doubt it.


HP Drops iTunes, Goes Rhapsody


It shouldn't have been a surprise that HP was looking to replace Apple's iTunes, because HP severed its iPod relationship with Apple last year. This week, HP announced that: RealNetworks' Rhapsody will automatically ship with most HP Pavilion, Compaq Presario, and HP Pavilion Media Center PCs. Rhapsody is an interesting choice because RealNetworks makes the RealPlayer product, which is more closely aligned with iTunes. In contrast, Rhapsody offers access to Real's subscription music offerings, which provide unlimited song access for $9.99 a month. I still feel that subscription services are a great alternative. Unfortunately, the success of the iPod, which doesn't support any subscription offerings, has effectively stopped such services from taking off. So far.


AMD Strikes Back at Intel ViiV


First, Intel copied AMD's x64 functionality and released Pentium 4 chips that support 64-bit capabilities. Now, AMD is striking back, and it's copying ... ViiV, Intel's media center platform. Amazingly, AMD has announced a Live! (rhymes with ViiV) platform that, yes, is aimed at media center PCs. Need I say more?


And Finally...


It's kind of a short Short Takes, if you will, but it has been a busy week, and there's all kinds of good info in my CES blogs. But, I'd like to leave you with a final thought for the week. At CES, attendees have repeatedly asked me to pick the one product I've seen that is the most exciting, the most innovative, the most interesting. There's no such thing; everything is just bigger (or smaller if appropriate), faster, better, and so on. It's the same old stuff, really. But the one thing I saw this week that really made me smile and think that everything was OK with the consumer electronics world was an HD DVD set-top box for just $499 from Toshiba that will ship this spring. This announcement came a day after Sony said that the initial release of Blu-ray devices would cost as much as $1800 and would ship later this year. Toshiba's good old-fashioned competitive gumption is great for the industry and for consumers. Although I think Blu-ray will offer some technological advantages over HD DVD, the breakthrough price point on HD DVD has decided who won the first round. I'm all for standards, but if there have to be two formats, I think that starting things off with a price war is going to make everyone's decision much easier.

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