WEEKLY RECAP

Rifling Through Twitter’s Underwear Drawer

Getting your personal email hacked is generally a personal problem. There might be some minor career implications if it happens while you’re running for vice president of the United States, but it tends to be more embarrassing than costly. But when you use the same password for personal email that you use for accessing work-related documents, then things might start to spin a little out of control.

That’s apparently what happened to a Twitter employee. Her Gmail account was hacked, and then the intruder allegedly exploited that break-in to access official Twitter company documents stored on Google Apps. The consequences for Twitter aren’t quite clear at this time — nobody’s saying the pilfered info was on par with the Pentagon Papers or the Nixon tapes. Twitter cofounder Biz Stone likened it to having his underwear drawer searched: It was embarrassing, but nobody should be surprised about what’s in there.

He was particularly irked that the documents somehow found their way to publications like TechCrunch. The founder of that site, Michael Arrington, apparently had a different take on Twitter’s underoos: He didn’t think exposing any of the info should be embarrassing; in fact, he seemed to think Twitter’s skivvies were really pretty interesting. TechCrunch and others couldn’t resist publishing some of the information, and they didn’t confine themselves to 140 characters.

Twitter has warned that TechCrunch and the others may have crossed some legal boundaries by airing Twitter’s laundry, but if the issue does make it to court, there are sure to be some interesting arguments in defense of freedom of the press.


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Privacy, Please

Nobody’s calling Canadians themselves antisocial, but the country’s government does have privacy laws that online social networks may find a little constraining.

A few months ago, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, which is part of the University of Ottawa, lodged a detailed complaint with Canada’s Privacy Commissioner. It outlined a dozen ways in which Facebook’s practices and policies may be in violation of the law.

So the Commission investigated. Four issues were dismissed outright, and four were settled with the cooperation of Facebook’s management. However, four problems remained, and Facebook has so far not agreed to implement the Commission’s suggestions for resolving conflicts relating to third-party applications, account deactivation and deletion, accounts of deceased users, and non-users’ personal information.

The Commission is going to check back in a month. If it’s still not satisfied, its next stop could be a Canadian federal courthouse.

Droop of the Decade

Looks like that funny thing that happened to the global economy in the late 2000s will probably end up sending PC shipments into their first year-over-year decline since that other funny thing happened to the dot-com bubble in the early 2000s. That’s according to iSuppli, which sees a 4 percent fall in PC shipments from 2008 levels, down to 287.3 million units.

iSuppli is actually being pretty optimistic; for example, Gartner sees something closer to a 6 percent shrinkage.

But there are signs that things may start turning around by the end of this year. Intel put out some relatively strong quarterly numbers this week, and PC demand is booming in Asia. Windows 7 will be coming out this fall, and lots of PC users would rather trade up for a new, better computer with a new OS preinstalled than go through the process of upgrading.

Then there are netbooks. They’re cheap — and lately, cheap is beautiful. They may not do a whole lot of good for vendors’ bottom lines, since their margins are usually razor thin, but if you’re measuring the health of the industry by units shipped, then you ought to love them, because you’ll manage to ship a whole lot more US$400 netbooks than $1,200 desktops.

60 Percent Empty or 40 Percent Full?

Microsoft has a lot riding on its release of Windows 7 this fall, and a new survey from ScriptLogic may be encouraging — or very disappointing, depending on how you look at it.

The survey found that 59 percent of businesses don’t have any plans in place to upgrade to the new operating system by the end of 2010. On the one hand, it seems bleak: After learning a harsh lesson from Vista, Microsoft is determined to make things right with Windows 7 — yet three out of five businesses still aren’t ready to open their wallets.

On the other hand, it seems pretty encouraging: ScriptLogic has pointed out that a 40 percent adoption figure for the first year isn’t so bad. In fact, it ran a similar survey years ago, when Windows XP was ready to launch, and less than 15 percent of respondents said they had immediate plans to climb on board. The early adoption figure may have ballooned for Windows 7 due to pent-up demand among businesses that chose to hold their breath and wait for Vista to pass over. And some of the 60 percent who said they didn’t have immediate plans to go Windows 7 may be holding back due to the economy rather than due to a deep-seated animosity toward Microsoft over Vista. It is very expensive to upgrade all of a business’s computers.

But that raises the question, what DO they plan to do? Perhaps look at other platforms, like Linux or Mac? Or maybe just cling to XP until support fades away completely, and after that maybe revert to clay tablets and an abacus? No driver compatibility problems there, and zero crashes despite thousands of years of run-time.

How Long Can Bing Sing?

Microsoft’s new search engine Bing has managed to attract some attention. Redmond is claiming an 8 percent rise in unique hits over the month of June — the first full calendar month Bing has been open for business. That’s thanks in part to a big marketing campaign Microsoft pushed out — you’ve probably seen the ads.

Still, Microsoft’s search properties have never been the alpha dog, or even the beta dog, and even after a fairly warm first-month reception from users, it’s still far behind Yahoo and Google. And other figures, supplied by JPMorgan Chase analyst Imran Khan, paint a darker future for Bing.

In a nationwide survey, Khan found that although a quarter of respondents were willing to try Bing, more than 98 percent of them would ultimately not make it their primary search engine. It seems that Google is just so heavily bookmarked and so thoroughly carved into users’ muscle memory that they’ll drop the habit only out of temporary curiosity.

Your Office or Ours?

Three out of four Web-using adults in the U.S. and Canada have purchased licenses for Microsoft Office applications, according to Forrester. Meanwhile, Google is standing in the corner shouting that free is better.

Certainly, some people who shelled out cash for MS Office really didn’t need to if all they wanted was a basic office suite and they happened to always have Web access. Though online suites like Google Apps have been around for years as free, online competitors to Microsoft Office, only about 3 percent of consumers regularly use online productivity applications.

Still, Microsoft senses a threat, so it’s added a free, online component to the next iteration of its suite, Office 2010. Users will be able to access online versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, and it looks like they’ll be able to get there regardless of whether or not they buy a copy of the presumably more robust installed software. Office 2010 just entered an invite-only preview; general availability is slated for the first half of next year.

What’s different about Microsoft’s online offering is that users can host documents on their own networks. With Google Apps, everything is stored in Google’s servers, which by now contain untold terabytes of shopping lists, pathetic never-to-be-finished novels, junior high book reports, awful poetry, and maybe even a spreadsheet or two of invaluable corporate data.

Information Puree

Is regular, old, high-definition, surround-sound TV just not doing it for you anymore? Does it leave you understimulated and groggy? Perhaps while watching TV, you just can’t stop thinking about what’s going on with Facebook. Or maybe you can’t help but wonder what’s on TV whenever you look at Twitter.

Verizon wants to mash it all together for you with its Widget Bazaar, a new offering that basically puts a seven-course multimedia meal into a blender and serves it up as one easy-to-drink media milkshake. A collection of widgets will lasso feeds from Facebook, ESPN, Twitter and other sites and display who’s saying what on the TV screen alongside whatever show you’re taking in. For example, you can set it to pick up and display what people are tweeting about a show that’s airing — something that could perhaps turn “60 Minutes” into a slightly starchier version of “Total Request Live.”

Users will also be able to search out user-generated videos from sites like Blip.tv and Veoh.

Follow the Red Envelopes

Just about all video rental stores have taken a beating since Netflix mailed out its first little red envelope a decade ago. A lot of Mom-and-Pop stores have simply gone under. Meanwhile heavyweights like Blockbuster have lingered and suffered and tried to figure out what to do.

First Blockbuster followed Netflix into a sorta-similar DVD-by-mail model. Then it followed Netflix into a Web-connected, dedicated set-top box model. And when Netflix expanded over-the-Web movies to other TV-connected knick-nacks like video game consoles and Blu-ray players, Blockbuster signed some deals of its own, most recently with Samsung.

Certain Samsung products like TVs, home theater systems and Blu-ray machines will now have a Blockbuster feature. Samsung, of course, is also in bed with Netflix — some of its products stream Netflix content.

But Blockbuster isn’t exactly following all of Netflix’s moves to the letter. Blockbuster’s online movies are downloaded, not streamed, and instead of Netflix’s method of offering an unlimited buffet of video for a subscription fee, Blockbuster charges for movies a la carte, just like iTunes. That makes studios a little less reluctant to allow Blockbuster to offer newer, bigger-budget movies for sale or rent. The movies that Netflix streams are either low-profile or kind of old. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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