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Why the Leopard delay is a (somewhat) big deal

I always tell people that getting a Mac buys you much more than just a computing device. One of the things that comes with ownership of an Apple computer is countless fun-filled hours of scouring the rumor sites and watching Steve Jobs' keynotes in breathless anticipation. Since I joined the club nearly four years ago, Apple's standard operating procedure has been fairly consistent: don't talk about plans, and release products when they're available, or at least ready to be ordered. This strategy has two important advantages: Apple gets to make a much bigger splash in the media when it has something new, and it avoids the Osbourne effect as much as possible, as customers keep buying the old products blissfully unaware that newer, better ones are on the way. HangZhou Night Net

But these days, Apple seems to be operating under a strange mix of the old regime and a new one, where products are announced much longer in advance. We got to learn about the AppleTV and the iPhone nearly half a year before their availability, and the announcement that Apple is working on Leopard at WWDC '07 gave away lots of details and seemed almost like the launch for a product that would be in stores shortly. Obviously, Apple needs to tell developers about stuff like 64-bit enabling the Cocoa and Carbon APIs and the imminent arrival of much higher resolution screens, but why show Mail templates or a web clipping widget? That's exactly the stuff that creates short-term consumer interest, but will have lost its shine eight months later, at the intended Leopard ship date.

In last week's statement, only weeks after vehement denials of the same, Apple said it would postpone Leopard's release from the intended WWDC '07 (second week of June) to October. However, I don't believe for a second that June was the original intended release date for Leopard. If that were the case, they wouldn't have said "spring." By one definition, June is already summer, and saying "summer" and releasing it in June simply looks much better than saying "spring" and doing doing the same. So in reality, Leopard has been delayed five or six months when it's released in early autumn.

And this is a bigger deal than what many people make it out to be, because Apple has painted itself, and thereby customers looking to buy their products, into a corner. It could be that iLife '07 and iWork '07 are delayed for completely unrelated reasons, but rumor has it, that the two suites will be Leopard-only. If true, this means that Apple may as well skip the '07 iteration and go directly to '08. Users don't seem to be screaming for new versions of iLife and iWork (although I wouldn't mind an improved version of Pages), but it's still lost sales. For the hardware, it's much worse. Prior to the Intel transition, hardware updates meant a few hundred MHz of CPU speed here or an integrated iSight there, nothing to get worked up about. However, last year, Apple upgraded the iMacs, MacBooks and MacBook Pros from a 32-bit to a 64-bit CPU. Not a big difference in everyday use yet, but it could be if the 64-bit optimizations in Leopard are as significant as some people claim they are.

The fact that the original MacBook Pro was a 32-bit machine was one of the reasons why I didn't upgrade. The other two are Blue-ray and/or HD-DVD support and the screen resolution. The DRM requirements for both the high definition optical formats are rather draconian: all kinds of internal pathways must be protected, as well as the DVI/HDMI link from the video card to the screen. So far, Apple doesn't support any of this, with no information whatsoever of what their plans are. I know many people don't care, but I don't want to pull the trigger on a new Mac moments before Apple's Blue-ray or HD-DVD plans materialize. What happened to the "year of HD?" Standard definition DVDs make my eyes water.

Something that should be a big deal for everyone are the screen resolutions. Apple is way behind the curve in this area. For a long time, they stuck to 100 pixels per inch, even claiming that it was the "perfect" resolution for a while, but they've gone up a little to around 110 PPI last year. Windows laptops are available with much higher resolutions than this. The reason why Apple can't simply up the resolutions is that the software still thinks all displays use 72 pixels per inch. This is the reason why documents shown at "actual size" are so much smaller on the screen than their actual actual size. In Tiger, there is rudimentary support for "resolution independence," a mechanism that allows software to take advantage of additional pixels by making text and images sharper, rather than have everything on the screen get smaller and smaller as resolutions go up. Resolution independence should be much more mature in Leopard, so it makes sense that Apple will come out with updated hardware to take advantage of this capability, although strangely, Apple told developers that this would happen in 2008. I predict that many of the people who buy a new laptop or an iMac with integrated screen between now and the moment the screen resolutions go up will be quite unhappy when they see how sharp text is on a 200 or even a 160 PPI screen. Remember, you're staring at that thing many hours a day.

The fact that Apple introduces these types of new technologies as part of a new Mac OS X release means that such releases, and thereby slipping dates, are at least somewhat of a big deal.

Hang on my dear PowerBook; you'll get to retire soon after your fourth birthday, I promise.

Guitar Hero Wii to have guitar controller, online play, downloadable content

Having spent much time in the arcade, I've grown used to seeing people virtually shredding a tune with a plastic guitar. I was there for the Woodstock of the instrument-based music genre, before it ever came home on a fancy disc like you kids are used to today. Alas, it goes without saying that Guitar Hero has become quite the phenom in recent years—and love for the guitar-based gameplay has only increased as the titlehits other consoles. The 360 release brought more people into the family, and the new Wii and PS3 versions—which have been officially announced—are likely to do the same. HangZhou Night Net

To go along with the announcement of the two new versions, developers Red Octane also let the public know about a patch for the Xbox 360 guitar that was distributed over Live yesterday, and theydivulged more details on the upcoming Wii version. Speculation over whether or not the Wii version would use the Wiimote ora more typical guitar led many to wonder how the game would work. When questioned about this by IGN, Red Octane's Kai Huang responded with the following:

We are really excited about the Wii game because there are so many options for the Wii remote. However, you will play the game with a guitar peripheral and it will be similar to a guitar you've seen in the past.

Huang went on to confirm that the Wii version would share the online play and downloadable content found in the Xbox 360 and upcoming PS3 versions of the game. Good news for Wii fans and Guitar Hero fans alike. Now, if only I could get a dual-remote drum game as seen in the original Wii promos.

Image courtesy of xkcd.com.

Internet radio dealt severe blow as Copyright Board rejects appeal

A panel of judges at the Copyright Royalty Board has denied a request from the NPR and a number of other webcasters to reconsider a March ruling that would force Internet radio services to pay crippling royalties. The panel's ruling reaffirmed the original CRB decision in every respect, with the exception of how the royalties will be calculated. Instead of charging a royalty for each time a song is heard by a listener online, Internet broadcasters will be able pay royalties based on average listening hours through the end of 2008. HangZhou Night Net

The ruling is a huge blow to online broadcasters, and the new royalty structure could knock a large number of them off the 'Net entirely. Under the previous setup, radio stations would have to pay an annual fee plus 12 percent of their profits to the music industry's royalty collection organization, SoundExchange. It was a good setup for the webcasters, most of whom are either nonprofits or very small organizations.

National Public Radio spearheaded the appeal, arguing that the CRB's decision was an "abuse of discretion" and saying that the judges did not consider the ramifications of a new royalty structure. Under the new royalty schedule, NPR will see its costs skyrocket.

The judges were unmoved by the webcasters' arguments. "None of the moving parties have made a sufficient showing of new evidence or clear error or manifest injustice that would warrant rehearing," wrote the CRB in its decision. "To the contrary… most of the parties' arguments in support of a rehearing or reconsideration merely restatearguments that were made or evidence that was presented during the proceeding."

SoundExchange is jubilant over the ruling. Executive Director John Simson called the CRB's ruling avictory for performing artists and record labels."Our artists and labels look forward to working with the Internet radio industry—large and small, commercial and noncommercial—so that together we can ensure it succeeds as a place where great music is available to music lovers of all genres," said Simson in a statement.

Noble words, but after today's ruling—which will take effect on May 15 unless the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agrees to hear an appeal—there probably won't be much of an Internet radio industry left for SoundExchange to work with.

In a case of unfortunate timing, the SaveNetRadio coalition today launched a campaign to save Internet radio. Given the CRB's decision, it may be too little, too late.

ESA awarded attorneys fees in fight against Louisiana video game law

A Federal Judge has awarded the Entertainment Software Association attorneys' fees after a Louisiana law regulating the sale of violent video games was found unconstitutional. In being forced to pay the ESA's $91,000 legal bill, Louisiana joins Illinois and a handful of other states that have had to write large checks to the ESA's law firms. HangZhou Night Net

Louisiana's law, which was passed in June 2006, would have fined retailers between $100 and $2,000 and also subjected them to up to one year in prison if they were caught selling violent games to minors. The law, crafted by video game demagogue Jack Thompson, attempted to adapt the Miller obscenity test to cover video game violence.

After the bill's passage, the ESA quickly filed suit to block the law's enforcement and have it declared unconstitutional. In August 2006, Judge James Brady issued a preliminary injunction against the law, and in November he made it permanent. Judge Brady found the studies connecting video game violence and real-world violence that were cited in the legislation "tenuous and speculative."

The judge also had harsh words for the Louisiana state government in his order awarding attorneys' fees. "This Court is dumbfounded that the Attorney General and the State are in the position of having to pay taxpayer money as attorney's fees and costs in this lawsuit," wrote Judge Brady. "The Court wonders why nobody objected to the enactment of this statute. In this court's view, the taxpayers deserve more from their elected officials."

For those keeping tabs on the financial costs offailed video game legislation, the Louisiana decision runs the total tab to over $1.71 million in attorneys' fees that have been awarded to the ESA, including $182,349 in Michigan and over $510,000 in Illinois. That $1.71 million covers nine rulings over seven years. "It's unfortunate that some officials continue to believe that unconstitutional laws are the answer, when time and time again courts have thrown out these bills and proven them to be a waste of taxpayers' dollars," said Gail Markels, senior vice president and general counsel of the ESA in a statement.

In the context of a state budget running in the hundreds of millions of dollars, a $91,000 award may appear to be insignificant. It does demonstrate, however, that there is a tangible cost when politicians embrace a hot-button issue and pass legislation without any reflection on said legislation's constitutionality.

Survey: user-generated content biggest worry, opportunity for media companies

Who's afraid of user-generated content? According to data collected for Accenture's annual survey of senior media executives, user-generated content is one of the biggest threats that traditional media companies face in the next few years. No one claims that video clips of Uncle Jim passing out in the punch bowl at his niece's wedding are going to drive shows like Battlestar Galactica into oblivion, but executives are worried—57 percent of them listed user-generated content as one of their top three concerns. HangZhou Night Net

For consumers, this could turn out to be excellent news, since media executives are being forced to rethink business models and strategies that worked well in a pre-Internet era, and the entire industry is entering a great Age of Experimentation. "To succeed in this environment," said Universal Studios Doug Neil, "you need to innovate and anticipate the needs of the consumer, be willing to take risks and try new things."

Roger Faxon, head of EMI, has shown that willingness to experiment by opening the EMI catalog to non-DRM sales. He told Accenture that the whole business of music selling needs an overhaul; rather than rely solely on internal A&R people to find and develop bands into hit-makers, the company could tap the power of social networking to find new acts, many of which now recognize that they have other distribution channels besides the traditional labels. This means that the labels could become "facilitators for bringing music and the rights that support them into the marketplace, as opposed to being originators of the content," said Faxon.

But challenge is also opportunity, at least for the 68 percent of the respondents who said they planned to make money off of user-generated content within three years. Not everyone has yet hit upon a strategy to turn such content into profits, though—24 percent of respondents said that they have no idea how to monetize it yet.

Some of the biggest names in the business understand that technology is hurling us quickly into an on-demand world with thousands or even millions of options, but they still believe that the big content creators can play a significant role; short YouTube clips only go so far. Leslie Moonves, head of CBS, stood up for his company's content, saying, "Current technologically driven distribution channels will expand and new ones will open. But without compelling content, every new platform is an empty shell. Companies that can combine world-class content with powerful national and local distribution will have the competitive advantage."

Or, in other words: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Microsoft gives Outlook 2007 a speed boost

After some users with large Outlook 2007 Personal Folders (pst files) complained about the e-mail client running slowly, Microsoft released a patch last week that is said to improve the application's performance. According to the patch's description, it fixes two problems: the first where a calendar item is marked as private if it is opened by the Search Desktop feature, and the second being the performance issue. HangZhou Night Net

Functionality that should become more responsive after applying the update includes:

Downloading messages from ExchangeDeleting messagesMoving and copying messagesSwitching between messagesOutlook startup

Microsoft's Jessica Arnold said that the performance problems were unapparent until now because of the lack of users running Outlook 2007. "I can't say that this will 100% solve the latency issues, but users should see a big improvement," she told ComputerWorld. Even with the patch, Arnold warned that Outlook is not an archiving system for all your files. "Outlook wasn't designed to be a file dump; it was meant to be a communications tool. There is that fine line, but we don't necessarily want to optimize the software for people that store their e-mail in the same .PST file for 10 years."

For users who continue to experience problems with Outlook 2007, Microsoft has created a list of recommendations that could give the program a speed boost. Of course, the first two suggestions are to delete items from your mailbox and archive old messages. Basically, don't use your inbox as a message archive.

The update, KB933493, is available from the Microsoft Download Center.

BBC’s plans for online programming archive creeping along

BBC license fee payers who have been waiting for online access to over a million hours of archived BBC content will soon be able to get a taste. The Observer reports that the BBC will begin trial access to the archive with 20,000 users in May, with a full rollout to take place some time in 2008. HangZhou Night Net

The BBC Archive is a big project, and one that has been in the works for some time. We first reported on it nearly four years ago and in September 2003, BBC new media director Ashley Highfield said that the network was considering a P2P solution for distributing archived material.At the time of the announcement, it was hoped that content would become available starting in late 2005.

Unfortunately for those of us living outside of the British Isles, the BBC decided to limit access to those who pay the UK's yearly television license fee, which is the primary source of the BBC's funding.

A mild furor erupted earlier this year when the BBC announced that it was going to rely on Microsoft's DRM for its iPlayer software—used to allow viewers to "catch up" on the last 30 days of programming—which the BBC defended as the next best thing to a nonexistent open DRM standard. The BBC will adopt a platform-agnostic approach within a "reasonable time frame," according to the BBC Trust and has looked for feedback from Mac and Linux users on how best to go about it. It's uncertain whether the BBC will use DRM to limit access to the Archive or whether it will rely on some other solution.

One of the reasons that we haven't seen the Archive yet is the maze of licensing and copyright that must be negotiated. Although the programming was originally aired on the BBC, the broadcaster does not have the right to repeat all of it. As a result, composers, actors, and even news anchors need to give their assent to the material being made available on the BBC Archives.

The Observer details some of the footage that will be available, and it looks like some of it will make for some compelling viewing. There's a 1981 performance of Othello starring Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins, a May 1940 appeal for help evacuating soldiers from Dunkirk from the UK government, and a 1981 interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono televised just two days before the ex-Beatle was murdered. The BBC also plans to make scripts, program notes, and other related material available—assuming it can get permission from the copyright holders.

It's a monumental project, one that is made more difficult by the fact that when much of this programming originally aired, there was no inkling that there would be a way to make episodes of The Frost Report from 1966 available for anyone to view, whenever they wanted.

Intel eyes home users with media, management, and an answer to QuadFX

Intel senior VP and general manager of the Digital Home Group, Erik Kim, outlined his company's plans for the consumer and enthusiast segments of the market today at IDF. The focus of Intel's desktop and consumer-oriented platforms from the second half of 2007 onward is squarely on media and entertainment, and specifically on Internet video. HangZhou Night Net

Intel's 3 Series chipsets (a.k.a., "Bearlake") will start things off with a debut this quarter, with support for a 1333MHz frontside bus, Microsoft DX10, DDR3, PCIe 2.0, Intel Turbo memory, and Intel Clear Video technology. The next-gen iteration of Intel's Viiv platform, codenamed "Salt Creek," will be based on a version of Bear Lake when it debuts later this year.

There's are also software and networking components to Intel's assault on the living room. One example of the former is Intel's desktop-to-laptop media sharing software, which enables a Viiv box to serve up streaming or downloaded media files to a Centrino-based laptop. On the networking front, Intel will make HomePlug AV powerline networking technology available as an optional part of its desktop platforms in 2008.

Skulltrail: Intel's answer to QuadFX

Moving from the home to the enthusiast segment, Intel unveiled its answer to AMD's QuadFX platform: the scarily-named Skulltrail platform. Skulltrail, which sounds more like a metal band than anything else, will let enthusiasts with lots of money to burn drop two quad-core QX6800 processors into a dual-socket system—one with four PCIe slots that appear to be intended to host graphics processors. Eight cores and four GPUs is ridiculous amount of horsepower, and you'll probably need 1.21 GIGAWATTS! worth of power to run such a system.

There's no mention of which specific graphics cards Intel intends for gamers to use with the new products, so we'll have to wait for further announcements to find that out.

SoCs for consumer electronics and media processing

Eric Kim followed up on Gelsinger's earlier "enterprise-class SoC" revelations by discussing Intel's plans to market SoCs for consumer electronics. According to Kim, Intel will debut a line of x86-based SoCs in early 2008 that will feature integrated graphics and media processing. In addition to its x86-based products, Intel will also launch the Intel CE 2110 Media Processor, a 1GHz XScale-based part that's aimed specifically at A/V applications.

Kim didn't give out much more detail on the XScale part, but Intel will be making a separate announcement about it later. So stay tuned.

Taking vPro home

Kim revealed that Intel is also planning to incorporate manageability features based on vPro into its home-oriented platforms, giving consumers the ability to have their home computers remotely managed, repaired, and updated. This way, if you're somehow able to delete all of the annoying adware and "craplets" that Dell installs by default, the company can helpfully reinstall all of it as part of their routine remote maintenance…. ok, Kim didn't say that, but one wonders if this is exactly what will happen.

Intel is insisting that the remote management features will be strictly opt-in for home users, and I hope they stick to their guns on this. I also hope that desktops from retailers and mail order houses don't nag users to "Let us manage your PC remotely! (Click "yes" to accept, or "later" for us to remind you again five minutes from now)."

College advises students to push back against the RIAA

The students of North Carolina State University (NCSU) are being advised to stand their ground against the RIAA, according to a report in the NCSU student paper, Technician Online. The RIAA has sent 23 subpoenas to university last week in hopes of discovering the identities of those they consider to be pirates, but the university's Student Legal Services department has been advising students to continue pushing back, all the way to federal court. HangZhou Night Net

The school was one of a handful of universities that received pre-litigation notices from the RIAA in February against unidentified parties that the RIAA had identified as participating in illegal file sharing. At that time, the RIAA had offered the accused parties the option of an early settlement with the organization, which included lowered payouts and the benefit of avoiding going to court. While some universities were quick to comply with the RIAA's request to forward the notices onto students, others were not, insisting that they were not capable of identifying the individuals within the university system based on the information given to them.

NCSU was one university that forwarded the notices onto students. But as it turns out, only one NCSU student came forward to take advantage of the initial settlement offered by the RIAA, according to the Technician. 23 others did not, and as a result, the RIAA was forced to file a series of "John Doe" lawsuits against the remaining parties through the university. The director of student legal services at NCSU, Pam Gerace, told the student paper: "The RIAA actually said they might have use for the names in the future," and therefore has been telling students not to give away their identities just yet.

The John Doe suits are the first step in discovering the identity of a suspected file-sharer. After the suits are filed, the ISP (in this case, NCSU) that owns the IP address block is served with a subpoena. NCSU could then fight either the subpoenas or turn the names over to the RIAA.

Once the RIAA gets the names out of NCSU, however, the students will no longer be able to hide behind the university and will be on their own when it comes to fighting the cases. While Gerace has been advising students up to this point, NCSU's student legal services told the Recording Industry vs The People that they cannot represent the students once litigation begins, either in the "John Doe" cases or in federal court.

So far, the majority of those targeted by the RIAA's pre-litigation notices have chosen not to take advantage of the RIAA's "generous" early settlement offer. As a result, the RIAA appears to be more than ready to move ahead with the lawsuits.