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Thursday, March 10, 2005

The New York Times > Technology > Sale of I.B.M. Unit to China Passes U.S. Security Muster

The New York Times > Technology > Sale of I.B.M. Unit to China Passes U.S. Security Muster

March 10, 2005
The New York Times
March 10, 2005
Sale of I.B.M. Unit to China Passes U.S. Security Muster

The Bush administration has completed a national security review of the planned sale of I.B.M.'s personal computer business to Lenovo of China, clearing the way for the deal, I.B.M. announced yesterday.

The unusual scrutiny given to the deal mainly reflects the ambivalence in Washington toward China, and its rising economic and military power.

Other Chinese companies are expected to follow Lenovo's example by shopping for acquisitions in the United States. "The lesson from the I.B.M. experience is that the government is going to be difficult on them all," said William A. Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council and a former trade official in the Clinton administration.

The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, a multiagency group, reviews purchases of American businesses by overseas corporations for any impact on national security. The I.B.M. inquiry was a full investigation, which occurs in far fewer than 1 percent of cross-border deals, according to former committee members.

The committee's proceedings are secret, and I.B.M. would not say what steps it took to address the concerns of the group, which includes representatives from the Homeland Security, Defense, Justice, Treasury and Commerce Departments. Two people who have been told of the committee's inquiry said I.B.M. made more in the way of commitments and assurances than concessions, which might restrain its sales or product development.

The steps, they said, included agreeing to separate Lenovo's American employees, mainly in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, from I.B.M. workers there who work on other products, like larger server computers and software.

The people close to the inquiry said I.B.M. also agreed to ensure that the chips and other parts in desktop PC's and notebooks were stamped with the name of their manufacturer and country of origin. Such labeling is fairly common among PC makers.

Steven M. Ward Jr., an I.B.M. senior vice president who will become chief executive of Lenovo, said he met with more than a dozen senior government officials to explain the sale for $1.75 billion in cash, stock and debt, announced in December. He said the steps I.B.M. took to gain the approval of the committee would not hobble the business.

"I'm delighted with getting this approval," Mr. Ward said. "And we expect to sell Lenovo PC's and ThinkPads to businesses, governments and individuals around the globe."

Some committee members were concerned that the sale to Lenovo, which is partly state-owned, could result in technology with important military uses being passed to the Chinese, but the people close to the inquiry said I.B.M. addressed that in briefings and demonstrations in Washington in mid-February.

I.B.M. engineers and executives, they said, dismantled a desktop PC and a ThinkPad notebook for the committee, identifying where the components were produced and explaining how the machines were assembled. Most I.B.M. PC's are made in China. They contain Intel microprocessors and are assembled with chips and parts made around the world, though mostly in East Asia.

The I.B.M.-Lenovo episode should prompt Congress to review the authority of the investment committee, which dates from the cold war, said Michael R. Wessel, a member of the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a group established by Congress.

Representative Donald A. Manzullo, an Illinois Republican, said yesterday that he planned to push for hearings to see if the committee's role should be expanded to "take more account of economic security as well as military security."

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

From oddity to commodity | Perspectives | CNET

From oddity to commodity | Perspectives | CNET

From oddity to commodity
March 9, 2005, 12:01 AM PT
By Michael Kanellos

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While sitting around a campfire about two weeks ago, my 10-year-old nephew told me that he discovered something recently: Every person, everywhere, is important.

Naturally, I was floored and elated, and I asked him how he came to that conclusion.

"It's when I was playing 'Halo 2,'" he replied. "When someone gets killed, the Covenant starts to gain the upper hand. If you lose two people really quickly, forget it."
Unpredictability remains the hallmark of the consumer world. You develop a game to stimulate compulsive hand-eye coordination, and the kids come away with philosophical insights.

Unpredictability remains the hallmark of the consumer world. You develop a game to stimulate compulsive hand-eye coordination, and the kids come away with philosophical insights.

A number of the monumental successes in this marketplace in recent years were largely unanticipated. Google? Consumers already had a wealth of search options. Word of mouth made it a global phenomenon. Conversely, the Moxi box sunk. Taste remains difficult to predict, and it's complicated by the fact that you have Harvard-educated MBAs trying to anticipate the needs of 13-year-olds in Missouri.

To get around the problem, venture capitalists often place smaller investments in a wider variety of companies, said Aneel Bhusri, a partner at Greylock Partners. This week, a number of small start-ups pitched their ideas at the iHollywood Forum in San Mateo, Calif. Here's a brief look at some companies that might either rock your living room or get on the next train to oblivion. Please vote with your comments on which might succeed.

• EZTakes. If the Easthampton, Mass.-based company has its way, it will now be a lot easier to get DVDs of award-winning foreign films or discs with outtakes from "The Beverly Hillbillies." EZTakes has developed software that lets consumers legally download movies from authorized sites to their PC and burn them to a standard DVD disc.

The idea is to circumvent the problems with the other video-on-demand ideas, founder Jim Flynn said. Consumers get to own a hard copy of the movie. "They also don't have to buy a new box," he said.

Conversely, producers can cut distribution and packaging costs in selling DVDs, which, in turn, permits them to offer a wider range of content. One film distributor is tinkering with the idea of using this as a way to disseminate the 250 movies and documentaries on the film festival circuit that rarely reach the public. Two film distributors are currently conducting trials. A formal launch will begin this spring.

• Pepper Computer. The Internet appliance is back for another sequel. The company is marketing a Linux-based device for searching the Web, viewing photos and sending e-mail.

The 2-pound gadget comes with a 20GB hard drive, an 8.4-inch screen, built-in Wi-Fi, a QUERTY keyboard, an ARM processor and speakers covered with Gore-Tex (to protect from spills).

CEO Len Kawell says he's familiar with the many failures in this market but that things for his company might be different. Consumers are now acclimated with digital entertainment, and Linux provides better security. Still, the lap-size pad costs more than the budget $699 laptops circulating these days. Pepper is taking pre-orders now and will start selling them in a few weeks.

• Powergrid Fitness. Crossbreed a joystick with a Bowflex, and you get the Kilowatt from Powergrid, a machine that lets you work out while playing video games like "Blood Wake" or "Smuggler's Run." Instead of pushing buttons, the user pushes against a shoulder-high rod to play a game.

"Sixty-three percent of the population wants to lose 20 pounds or more, but fewer than one-third exercise," CEO Greg Merril said. The company sold 250 units last year and hopes to sell 7,700 this year. It's unusual, noted George Zachary of Charles River Ventures, but so was the George Foreman Grill, when it first came out. Models range in price from $1,199 to $799.

• GalleryPlayer. Now bring the treasures of the Musee d'Orsay to your big-screen TV. The company has licensed paintings and photographs from Corbis, National Geographic, Time-Life and others, and delivers them to plasma and LCD TVs, CEO Craig Husa said. It sounds dopey, yes, but it is sort of cool to see the photos of Dorothea Lange on the big screen. The service starts at $4.99 a month. While testing it as an on-demand option, a major cable provider found that 4 percent of viewers tried it out.

And if there isn't a market for art, other things might sell. A source from a video-on-demand company added that one of his customers, an adult publisher, is interested in the technology.

• DigitalDeck. The company sells a home-networking system that lets you watch a DVD in one room and then watch it in a different room without moving the disc. A three-room system costs $4,500. But that's a bargain compared with the $10,000 systems now on the market, said Marin Levine, vice president of strategic development. The systems mostly will be built into new homes, but the price could be a challenge. You could probably decorate your lawn with 45 burl-wood bears for that kind of money.

• Streamload. The San Diego, Calif.-based company has come up with a way to let users send e-mails that contain 2GB worth of files, making it a lot easier to send video clips. For $4.95 a month, consumers get unlimited storage on the company's servers and an xStreamMail account.

• Orb Networks. This is sort of the opposite of Streamload. Rather than send a file, Orb's service transforms a PC into a server. With a password, you can watch a video clip or view photos from a remote location, so the file never has to travel or get copied. The tough part for the company is that it seems that there are a million people out there promoting the same thing.

Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas. He has worked as an attorney, travel writer and sidewalk hawker for a time-share resort, among other occupations.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Bright Future of Mobile Computing :: February 2005

The Bright Future of Mobile Computing :: February 2005

February 2005
February 2005

The Bright Future of Mobile Computing

By Bibhu Choudhary and Suvarna Singh
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The year is 2009 and Robert is the head of California Design Studio, a multi-million dollar architectural firm in San Diego. His firm is competing with three others for the prestigious commercial complex proposed near O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. Robert takes the morning flight to Chicago. He reviews the materials he is carrying on his Pocket PC, which consists of a PowerPoint presentation on the credentials of his firm, the concept design of the proposed plan in AutoCAD, a walk through simulation of the proposed complex in 3-D, and video clips from his firm's previous projects in Phoenix and Seattle.

His is a renowned West Coast firm, and this is his first attempt to expand his business to the middle of the country. He realizes that his presentation could shape the future of his firm. He notices a few mistakes in the presentation. He activates a laser projector built into his Pocket PC and the image of a keyboard is projected on the seat-back tray table. As his fingers touch the key images, the finger motion is recognized and translated into keystrokes. He makes some final changes to the presentation and changes the lighting effects on the 3-D model of the proposed complex. Then he pulls out his flexible display screen to get a panoramic view of the entire presentation.

Robert meets his clients the next morning. He pulls out his Pocket PC and hooks it to an external monitor in the boardroom and makes his presentation. As he opens a media player to display the video of his earlier projects, his Pocket PC automatically detects the wireless speakers in the board room. Robert chooses to use the speakers to make the commentary audible to the whole room.

The potential clients are impressed with the presentation but not sure that the proposed design will work well with the school building that they just completed in the neighboring plot. Robert asks for the AutoCAD drawing of the school building, downloads it to his Pocket PC, drops it into his onboard CAD program, and adjusts its position to fit the overall layout. It turns out that the proposed granite faade of the commercial complex is too bright for the surroundings. Robert taps on the paint-brush tool and quickly gives the faade the look and feel of exposed concrete. The final request is for the inclusion of an information kiosk in the design. Robert notes it down and heads back to his hotel room.

From his hotel room, Robert uses his Pocket PC to audio conference with his office and explains the clients' requests to his support staff. His California team works on the requested changes and sends him the updated designs. Robert presents these to the clients the next day. During the meeting he uses his Pocket PC to video conference with his team in California. When it's time to explain the innovative pile foundation used to support the complex, Steve, the structural engineer, takes over control of Robert's Pocket PC using terminal services and makes free hand sketches to explain the vertical section of the columns.

There are questions about the project schedule and completion dates. Robert pulls up his copy of Microsoft Project on his Pocket PC to refer to his Gantt charts. His VBA macro-enabled Microsoft Excel workbooks do the complex calculations for him and make accurate estimations of building materials and pricing. The clients are happy with Robert's presentation and he wins the contract.

In this futuristic story, we see a Pocket PC totally replacing the bulky notebook PC among mobile information workers. The truth is that many of the innovations described in this story are already available today as third-party add-ons, and others are in development. By 2009, most of these capabilities will be built into the Pocket PC.

Increased storage capacity lets you bring everything you need with you

The advent of high-capacity storage cards will make it possible for Robert to bring all the information he needs with him. This includes his e-mail, reference material, documents, presentations, high-resolution graphics, video files, additional applications, and more. Toshiba recently entered the Guinness Book of World Records by introducing the world's smallest hard disk drive-a 0.85 inch device with a 4 GB capacity! (Fig. 1) In five years, storage capacity will be even higher and the prices even lower. All this is set to change the storage paradigm on Pocket PCs and SmartPhones. We can expect hard disk drives to be built into future mobile devices.

Fig.1: Toshiba's 0.85 inch hard disk drive can store 4 GB of data.

Input innovations make data entry easier

We already have a variety of external keyboards and alternate input software available for Windows Mobile devices. In the near future we'll see more innovative solutions like the projection keyboards being developed by Canesta (Fig. 2). This solution combines a laser "pattern projector" to display a keyboard on a flat surface and "electronic perception technology" to recognize and translate finger movements into keystrokes.

Fig 2. Laser projection keyboard by Canesta

In addition to laser keyboards, improved voice-to-text capability and advanced transcriber technology will make it possible for Robert to create or edit data easily while on the move. Robert's phone-enabled Pocket PC will be able to translate conversations with his engineers into text format and save them as document files for later reference, or to cut and paste portions of them into a presentation. In addition to the soft input panel, the applications will come equipped with voice recognition capabilities which will let Robert drive his applications with his voice.

Enhanced display technology

Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition already supports resolutions of 480x640, but few devices have VGA screens. In the future, VGA screens will be common and Pocket PCs will be able to support even larger monitors and duplicate monitors (i.e., displaying on two screens at the same time). You can also expect to see flexible screen technology similar to Universal Display Corporation's innovative "Flexible Organic Light Emitting Device" (Fig. 3). This lightweight, ultra-thin display can be rolled up, or laminated onto just about any surface. Flexible screen technology can potentially put larger, more durable screens in handheld devices without increasing the size or weight of the device.

Fig. 3: Flexible screen technology developed by Universal Display.

In the future, the Pocket PC will have resolution and orientation-aware applications that will support multiple external monitors. Pocket PC applications will detect the presence of attached external monitors and automatically change the image resolution, shape and contents to optimize and suit the available display. One new tool, IA Screen Mirror 2.0, lets you project multiple Pocket PC screens on to an external monitor. With all these enhancements, Robert will be able to display his presentation on a variety of screens without compromising the quality of the picture.

Faster processors support feature-rich applications

The Intel PXA27x is the most recent processor series for Windows Mobile devices. It not only provides speeds up to 624 MHz, it is also more energy efficient. In addition, it includes Intel's Wireless MMX technology, which brings desktop-like multimedia performance to Pocket PC-based clients while minimizing the power needed to run rich applications. This better supports full motion video conferencing on mobile phones, as well as DVD-quality video playback on PDAs.

In five years Pocket PCs will have even more power, making it even easier for Robert to use the terminal services capability of his Pocket PC to access and control feature-rich programs running on his office server, like AutoCAD, 3D Studio, Microsoft Project and macro-enabled Microsoft Excel. Full versions of these programs may also be available for mobile devices. As Pocket PCs become more capable, the developers of these PC programs will add features to support these new mobility scenarios.

Stay connected with faster, more ubiquitous wireless

You can expect cellular data networks to expand and become faster in the next five years. AT&T's EDGE ("Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution") is expected to achieve speeds of about 130-200Kbps. 3G networks are expected to reach speeds of more than 2Mbps. Nokia's High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) is said to be capable of boosting 3G speeds to 10Mbps or even more. All this will make it faster, easier, and less expensive for Robert to access the Internet and check his e-mail while he's on the road.

However, when Robert is in his hotel room or at the client's office, he will be using Wi-Fi access points to connect to the Internet and conference with his team. All peripheral devices like mouse, speakers, microphone, keyboards, and monitors will connect to his Pocket PC via Bluetooth. If a particular device is not equipped with the required driver, it will automatically look for the driver on the Web, download, and install it.

Enhanced battery capacities and more power-efficient devices

Faster processors, increased dependence on wireless connectivity, and increased use of feature-rich applications all require more power and drain the Pocket PC's battery more quickly. Fortunately, we've seen a corresponding increase in battery capacities. Most developers of ruggedized/industrial Pocket PCs offer high-capacity battery options, and many consumer-oriented Pocket PCs have "extended battery" options that can double the battery capacity (and the time between recharges).

To further conserve power, the Intel PXA27x processor family incorporates Wireless Intel SpeedStep technology, which allows the CPU to dynamically adjust its performance and the power it draws based on the needs of the application that is running.

Over the next five years we can expect the Pocket PCs processors to become more efficient, and battery capacity to increase. Robert will be able to work uninterrupted throughout the day on his Pocket PC, checking his e-mail, taking notes, and giving rich presentations and demos to his clients without having to search for an available place to plug in his charger.

Portable processing power

Today, the mobile information professional expects a conference room to be equipped with an overhead projector and little else. If he needs speakers or a microphone, he makes arrangements for them in advance or brings them with him, along with his notebook PC, a power adapter, a variety of cables, etc.

In five years, fully-equipped conference rooms will be the norm, and mobile professional will carry a Pocket PC and nothing more. The Pocket PC will "sniff out" the available wireless peripherals, the user will tap on the screen to select them, and the presentation will begin. Of course, he'll still have to make a good presentation and close the deal. But he'll have all the portable processing power he needs-sitting in his pocket.