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Major League Baseball posts content to iTunes Store

The snow has melted, the birds are waking me up at hours of the morning I didn't know still existed, and Sunday is opening day for Major League Baseball. March hasn't ended yet but spring is definitely here. Today Major League Baseball and Apple have announced that they will be delivering in-game content as well as highlights via Apple's iTunes Store. HangZhou Night Net

If you were expecting content similar to the NFL highlights, which we briefly reviewed back in September, you are in for a bit of a surprise. Instead of team by team highlights with a $7.99 "season pass," you can get a month's worth of 25-minute episodes of Daily Rewind (or pay the $1.99 for individual days at your leisure). You also—and here is where we differ from football—can download "Games of the Week" for $1.99 a pop, which are full versions of the best games from the American and National League. Full games! The full games are also available via "Seasons Pass" for $19.99 (it looks like for a month) where you will receive eight of the best games delivered to your desktop.

Major League Baseball could stop there and we would be more or less happy, but they don't! They will also be peddling "Baseball's Best" where they will be selling classic games "from the past" and weekly highlight roundups for $1.99 apiece. If they offer a certain game from September 29th, 1986 where a certain New England team plays Seattle, I know I will be buying.

When it comes right down to it, we could still get a foot of snow here in New England next week. But it's baseball season, and opening day is on Sunday; that's good enough for me. We will be sure to give you a little mini-review as soon as the first week of content is posted.

Dell’s new love for Linux: the proof is in the penguins

In response to recent demand for Linux preinstallation, Dell plans to expand its Linux offerings. At the present time, Dell's Linux lineup is limited to three Dell Precision workstations which come with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and sell for the exact same price as the equivalent Windows-based systems. After conducting a survey to help determine the wants and needs of Linux users, Dell decided to expand its Linux lineup to include additional desktop and notebook systems. HangZhou Night Net

Dell hasn't provided many details yet and, more importantly, hasn't addressed important questions like distribution selection and support options. It is possible that Dell's announcement is intended to show consumers that the company is giving serious consideration to public feedback while the relevant decisions are being made. According to Dell, more information will be made available within the next few weeks.

Citing support issues and the vast diversity of the Linux software ecosystem, I argued last month that Linux preinstallation on regular home consumer systems made little sense for Dell. Instead, I argued that Dell should focus on improving Linux compatibility in their regular consumer offerings and providing better support for large-scale Linux roll-outs for schools, companies, and public institutions—the market sectors where Linux provides the most value. Although I took some heat for the argument I made, it really is common sense, and it's not all that different from what other industry analysts are saying. In an editorial published earlier this week, Manek Dubash—TechWorld columnist and former editor-in-chief of the UK's PC Magazine—makes an argument virtually identical to the one I made last month.

It's important to note that Dell hasn't articulated the extent of its new Linux commitment. If the company does some math and decides that it just isn't profitable to do Linux preinstallation on a large scale, we will probably see little more than a few Dell Latitude laptops added to the Linux lineup. My guess is that Dell will either go with a token Latitude offering, or go all out by offering a limited selection of Dimension and Inspiron systems with optional third-party commercial support and a limited selection of distributions. In order to make Linux preinstallation worth more to end users than a simple compatibility guarantee, Dell will have to sell those Linux systems at a lower price than the equivalent Windows systems, which Dell doesn't do with its current Linux lineup.

Even if Dell succeeds in providing offerings that appeal to Linux enthusiasts like me, I still doubt that doing so will be particularly profitable any time in the immediate future, and I doubt that Dell will do much to make regular consumers more aware of its Linux offerings or the advantages of Linux. Dell's position on operating system value is relatively apparent to anyone who browses the company's web site. At the top of practically every page on the Dell web site (including the page where Dell sells its Linux-based Precision line) one can see text stating that "Dell recommends Windows Vista Business".

Linux preinstallation issues aside, Dell is already doing a few practical things that are beneficial to Linux users. In particular, Dell has acknowledged the importance of using GPL-licensed drivers and working with the Linux kernel community to ensure that Dell hardware provides better Linux compatibility regardless of which distributions Dell decides to make available to end users.

Take Two board bullied by shareholder revolt

Take-Two Interactive is in the news again, but this time not due to the content of one of its titles. The latest uproar at the parent company of Rockstar Games comes in the form of a successful shareholder revolt, which has resulted in the wholesale replacement of the company's board and the dismissal of CEO Paul Eibeler—who was named the Worst CEO of 2005 by MarketWatch. HangZhou Night Net

The shareholder revolt was led by four institutional shareholders that were dissatisfied with the company's management. Former management's misdeeds included stock options backdating, accounting issues, the Hot Coffee imbroglio, and general mismanagement that has already seen founder and former CEO Ryan Brant plead guilty to falsification of business records. As a result, the company has gained as much notoriety for what has gone on at corporate headquarters as it has for products like Bully and the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

The new board has been expanded to seven members from six and includes two holdovers from the previous board. The new board members come from the media industry, including BMG and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (which owns MySpace), but doesn't have much in the way of gaming industry experience. Perhaps most notably, one of the new members is Strauss Zelnick, who is the founder of turnaround specialists Zelnick Media.

Prior to the annual meeting, the company had strongly considered a sale of the company. Industry giant EA was considered to be one of the leading candidates to buy Take Two, with Activision, Ubisoft, or Elevation Partners the other possibilities from the gaming industry. Management ultimately decided against a sale, perhaps because there wasn't enough interest.

A sale is no longer a possibility, according to Zelnick. Instead, it would try to retain its entire creative staff and work on revitalizing the company and its properties. "Take-Two has exceptional brands and creative resources, and we are thrilled to be able to work with the many talented people within the company," said Zelnick. "The new Board plans to put in place strategies designed to revitalize Take-Two, focus on supporting and enhancing its creative output, improve its margins and ensure that the 2007 release pipeline meets expectations. We are here to maximize the value of Take-Two for shareholders, for game consumers, and for the Company's employees."

If the coup d'état results in more fresh content from Take-Two Interactive and its properties, that's all gamers will ultimately care about.

Mario is sexier than Sonic: more on the Sonic\/Mario Olympics title

Access is a funny thing. You need access to get the stories, but with that much power in the hands of the big names, it can be hard to keep your own voice and hold onto that access at the same time. This is why I'm such a big fan of N'Gai Croal: with the Newsweek name behind him he's able to get the juicy interviews, and he always asks a decent question or two. This, I shouldn't have to tell you, is rare. Croal was able to ask both Perrin Kaplan and Simon Jeffery, from Nintendo and Sega respectively, a few questions about the upcoming Olympics collaboration between Sonic and Mario. Let's start with this jewel: HangZhou Night Net

Why does Mario get top billing over Sonic?

Jeffery: Perrin, do you want to take that one?

Jeffery: Sega's being respectful. Mario is older than Sonic, and we'd like to give the old man some respect by letting him go first.

Kaplan: Here's the bottom line: He's Italian, he's really sexy, and he can get more women than Sonic.

I don't know if Perrin Kaplan has played the latest Sonic the Hedgehog, because Sonic and the princess share some interspecies sexual tension in that particular title. And the princess was voiced by Lacey Chabert. Points to Sonic on that one. We also know that Shigeru Miyamoto is giving this game some attention, which makes me very hopeful for the finished product.

Kaplan: Well, I have to say that while, yes, Miyamoto does touch a lot of the products, it varies in terms of how much time he spends. The fact that we're very publicly stating his involvement means that he will have more involvement than sort of the average game. It's definitely something he will spend time with.

Jeffery: Also, the fact that this isn't a Nintendo game–it's a Sega and Nintendo game–to have Miyamoto's involvement at this level is unprecedented.

Sega and Nintendo working together, with Shiggy's involvement. We're through the looking glass here, people.

Eidos may have set a dangerous precedent for PS3 devs

Things have been looking up for the PS3 as of late. Though the loss of exclusivity hasn't been very positive, the solid launch in Europe, the introduction of some new ideas and approaches, and the announcement of some awesome titles for the future have all been instrumental in helping Sony recover from a rough launch. HangZhou Night Net

However, the company still isn't completely out of the woods yet—especially not after the recent announcement on the part of Eidos stating that most PS3 titles would be held back until 2008 due to the lack of a solid installed base. A statement issued by the firm addressing the interim results for the end of last year was coupled with the thoughts of CEO Jane Cavanagh, who spoke about her company's cautious approach to producing PS3 software:

We believe that PlayStation 3 will be a successful platform, and are developing technology and products for this console. However, as we do not believe that the installed base will be high enough until the second half of our 2008 financial year, most of our major product releases on the PlayStation 3 platform are not scheduled before that date.

Though Eidos isn't the most prominent European developer—noteworthy releases for 2006 included the surprisingly decent Just Cause, Tomb Raider: Legend and Hitman: Blood Money—this may set a dangerous precedent for other developers. If Sony doesn't step up to become more proactive at keeping the flow of good games steady, the installed base may not continue to grow quickly enough and developers may begin to pull support, creating a lack of games. This vicious cycle is hard to escape, as Sony has previously learned with the PSP's port problem. Let's hope this isn't the start of a horrendous trend.

TJX consumer data theft largest in history

A data breach originally disclosed this January by the parent company of retailer T.J. Maxx could be the largest case of consumer information theft to occur to date. TJX Cos. disclosed in a regulatory filing this week that the company believes that data on at least 45.7 million credit and debit cards was stolen by hackers, and has reason to believe that the actual number could be much higher. The case that previously held the title of largest data breach was the 2005 disclosure from CardSystems, where 40 million cardholder accounts had been accessed by hackers. HangZhou Night Net

The breach happened in mid-2005 and on subsequent dates from mid-May 2006 to mid-January 2007. The 45.7 million cards stolen came from transactions that occurred at one of TJX's many retailers between January and November of 2003. More data was stolen from transactions that occurred between November of 2003 and June of 2004 as well as mid-May 2006 through December 2006, but the retail giant did not attempt to estimate the number stolen from that period of time because that consumer data had already been deleted from TJX's systems. It's unclear at this time why data before November of 2003 was not deleted, however.

TJX claims that at the time of the data theft, about three-quarters of the credit and debit cards stored in the system had expired and/or the corresponding PIN numbers were not stored in the system at the time. However, according to TJX's filing, 455,000 more customers had other personal information compromised, such as driver's license, military identification, and state identification numbers. This information was stored "together with related names and addresses, and in some of those cases, we believe those personal ID numbers were the same as the customers' social security numbers," reads the filing.

"Some banks and payment card companies have advised us that they have found what they consider to be preliminary evidence of possible fraudulent use of payment card information that may have been stolen from us," says the company. More detail comes from the Massachusetts Bankers Association, which says that fraud is now happening around the world. The MBA says that card activity from the breach has been reported so far in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Hong Kong, and Sweden, with more reports expected to come rolling in soon. The original hackers have yet to be identified.

The theft of such a massive amount of data occurred, unsurprisingly, due to glaring security holes in the computer systems that process and store payment information. TJX said in its filing that it believes that, during one of the many breaches, the hackers may have had access to decryption tools used by the retailer, allowing them to access credit card information as it was being transmitted for approval. However, the company also said that because they had deleted so much transaction data by the time they discovered the breach, there was no true way to know exactly how large the breach actually was. "We aren't able to specifically identify all of what we believe was stolen due to deletions of data in the ordinary course of business after the believed theft and prior to its discovery, the types of technology used by the intruder in the intrusion and the fact that we believe some data was stolen during the payment card approval process," reads TJX's FAQ page.

High schoolers turn in plagiarism screeners for copyright infringement

Four students from Arizona and Virginia have filed suit against plagiarism detection system, arguing that the service engages in massive copyright infringement. The lawsuit, filed this week in a Virginia federal court, claims that the infringement is willful and that Turnitin's parent company iParadigms owes $150,000 for every violation. HangZhou Night Net

Turnitin gives school districts an automated tool to search for instances of plagiarism. Students are generally required to submit their work to the site before receiving a grade on it, and the service returns an "Originality Report" on each paper. At Virginia's McLean High School, which two of the plaintiffs attend, students have no choice: failure to submit a paper through Turnitin results in a 0.

Judging by their lawsuit, students don't think much of this system. "The Turnitin system is capable of detecting only the most ignorant or lazy attempts of plagiarism by students without significant monetary resources," says the court filing, "and is ineffective if a plagiarist does anything aside from virtually exactly copying another's work, or obtains his or her paper from a pay web site."

But what bothers them most is the fact that Turnitin archives submitted work in order to build up its database. These student papers are then used to look for plagiarism in future submissions. The students allege that this is copyright infringement. Turnitin has known for years that this would be a sensitive issue, and in 2002 commissioned an opinion (PDF) from law firm Foley & Lardner. The group concluded that the use of the papers constituted fair use, but admitted that "the archival of a submitted work is perhaps the most legally sensitive aspect of the TURNITIN system." The lawyers argue that because the text is not displayed or distributed to anyone, it can hardly be called "infringement."

The students disagree, of course, and allege that parent company iParadigms "may send a full and complete copy of a student's unpublished manuscript to an iParadigms client anywhere in the world upon request of the client, and without the student's permission."

After the McLean school adopted the system, a group of offended students banded together and hired a lawyer to send Turnitin a letter in September 2006. The letter generated a strong response: Turnitin filed for a "declaratory judgment" from a federal judge in California, looking for a ruling that its service was legal. In that case, filed in early December, the company claimed once again that it was protected by the fair use exemption, and that it was actually protecting student copyrights. "Rather than infringing intellectual property rights, iParadigms is trying to protect copyright interests by students and other authors by preventing plagiarism of the very student papers that Turnitin receives," the company wrote.

iParadigms abruptly pulled the case without explanation two weeks later; according to the new filing from the students, this only occurred after the company was contacted by a Washington Post reporter.

The case is now in the hands of another federal court on the other side of the country, and it will center on papers from the four students involved. That means that "DBQ1: Ancient Greek Contributions," "What Lies Beyond the Horizon," "Under a Pear Tree," and "Day is Weary"—student papers with little monetary value—could eventually cost iParadigms $600,000 should the company be found guilty. If the students prevail, the company's current business model would be substantially damaged, and a vigorous fair use defense is expected.

Bungie and Microsoft thank fans with new Halo 2 maps

Despite the presence of numerous current-gen titles running rampant on the Xbox Live "most played" lists every week, Halo 2 still remains at the top of the pack. The original Xbox smash hit has managed to stay in contention for three years and one console generation, and it shows no signs of stopping—well, until Halo 3 comes out. While hungry fans await the third and final installment of the series, though, they're going to have some brand new content for Halo 2 to chew through. HangZhou Night Net

As a thank you to fans and in answer to their outcries for more maps, Bungie and Microsoft Game Studios have announced a pair of map remakes for Halo 2 from the original Halo. The two maps have been selected based on their popularity and will be completely remade and tweaked ever-so-slightly. From the press release:

The king of "Halo" maps has returned at last. Hang 'Em High, arguably the most popular multiplayer map for the original title, has been reimagined for "Halo 2" as Tombstone, with all-new graphics, features and a few hidden surprises. Now fans will enjoy the dangerous catwalks and trenches that made this the most requested "Halo" multiplayer map ever, with a modernized "Halo 2" flavor.

The second map, Desolation, is a symmetrical, Deathmatch-oriented map and a beautiful remake of the original Derelict. With new graphics and effects and a massive gameplay overhaul, the old favorite is now faster-paced and more balanced than ever – perfect for intense "Halo 2" combat.

The maps will cost a modest $4 and are set to release on April 17. Judging by the 800 million hours spent by Halo 2 players since the game's launch, I take it that these maps will be quite the hit.

Mac Office 2008 goes beta

Publishing Layout View

David Flynn at APC reports the latest news on Mac Office 2008, and it is big news. HangZhou Night Net

"We're in private betas right now" confirmed Sheridan Jones, Lead Marketing Manager for Microsoft's Mac Business Unit (MacBU), during an exclusive interview with APC magazine.

Mac Office 2008 will be the last major application for the Mac to be released as a Universal Binary. With Adobe CS being released next month, Steve Jobs will be able to declare yet another transition as being "over" sometime in the second half of the year. Mac users, especially those on MacBooks with 512MB of RAM—minus what the crappy integrated graphics steals—can look forward to much improved performance without Rosetta. While an RTM date has not been set, it will be closer to July than December, at least that is what I took away from my interview with Geoff Price, MacBU Product Manager, at Macworld Expo this year.

What else can you expect from Mac Office 2008? As has been previously reported:

Word Publishing Layout View: smooth and functional desktop publishing in WordDocument Parts: easily access and use footers, headers, TOCs, as "parts" of a documentExcel Ledger Sheets: smart templates for the formula challenged Office Art 2.0: clip-art and effects like you expect from KeynoteMyDay: a widget-like application for Entourage that tracks your day, but not your e-mail

Besides that, Mac Office 2008 will see the UI evolve.

"Part of our mission with Office 2008 is to expose all the things that are already there and make the product easier to use" says Jones. "We wanted to make it more discoverable, to bubble up the features that people didn't always find. We also have an opportunity to have a simple UI and a more intuitive interface."

I would—and did—describe the UI changes a little differently.

While the biggest news is Mac Office being UB, get ready for the MacBU's answer to the "Ribbon" in Office 2007: the Elements Gallery, also known as tabs. A set of tabs under the toolbar expand when selected, temporarily devouring screen space and giving access to options like templates in Word's Publishing Layout View, also new this year.

The problem is that while the tabs do "expose" features that might have been missed, nothing was done to reduce the clutter and duplication that results from another UI element. The Mac Office UI now has menus, toolbars, tabs, and a palette, all competing for attention and screen space. What Mac Office desperately needs in a UI is deprecation of some means by which features are accessed in favor of others. This is what Apple does so well, but Microsoft is not Apple, not even at the MacBu.

Microsoft to “periodically” check Vista installs for piracy

There's little doubt Vista is the most secure version of Windows, even as new vulnerabilities surface. When we talk about security in Windows we usually mean what Microsoft is doing—or not doing—to keep us safe. But it's also true that Microsoft intends to vigorously safeguard its own interests. That means Vista will also be the hardest Windows to counterfeit. HangZhou Night Net

Microsoft is serious about piracy. It likes to refer to the Business Software Alliance—"the voice of the world's commercial software industry"—which maintains that "35% of the software installed on personal computers world-wide in 2006 was illegal." Windows Genuine Advantage, part of Microsoft's antipiracy program, has been in a kind of beta since 2004, but now appears to be ready for prime time:

"Technology built into Vista allows Microsoft to periodically evaluate the OS to make sure it is legitimate, rather than just having one opportunity, when the product key is first entered at activation."

Certainly Microsoft has a right and, its shareholders would say, a duty to protect its intellectual property. The key is going to be how well activation schemes work. How often is "periodically?" Will routine maintenance performed by corporate IT technicians trigger it and perhaps cause a failure? Glitches are sure to occur. Minimizing glitches will be the key to success. Microsoft says it validated 300 million copies of Windows since July, 2005, with a failure rate of "approximately one in five."

"Most failed validations, approximately 80%, are caused by a misused or stolen volume license key. The remaining 20% of the failures have a variety of causes, including tampering, hacking, and working around product activation. Across the more than 300 million validations, only a small percentage of validation failures were found to be in error."

When you start at 300 million and go up, even a small error rate means a lot of customers. The average Joe can tough it out and, perhaps, forget about it. But if the MCPs in the trenches can't figure out which activation key will work this time and CIOs start seeing the total cost of ownership start to creep up, you can expect Microsoft reps to get an earful over activation.