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Copyright questions plague MediaCatcher introduction

Broadclip, a company introducing MediaCatcher, a Facebook application that acts as a Tivo for Internet radio, had a rough afternoon here at Techcrunch40, a showcase for emerging companies in San Francisco. First, the company chose to use its entire eight minute presentation slot for a canned video, with no people on stage. The audience refrained from booing. Barely.

â''So much of this business is about people,â'' noted expert panelist Loic LeMeur, an entrepreneur. â''It was a bad idea to escape from the stage.â''

It didnâ''t get better for Broadclip during the panel discussion that follows every group of five presentations. When questioned about the legality of a product that crawls the Internet and clips music streams out of live feeds, making those clips available for a user to move to a portable music player without payment, the company representative argued that the service increases revenue to music companies by increasing the number of listeners to a radio station broadcast. Panelist MC Hammer (yes, that MC Hammer, heâ''s gotten involved in a startup company lately) jumped in vehementally, â''You are not increasing revenues!â''

Don Dodge, former vice president of Napster, who was in the audience, couldnâ''t stay out of this discussion. â''I lived that life,â'' Dodge said. â''Youâ''re wrong, whether you are increasing revenues or not is irrelevant. You are going to have trouble.â''

And conference host Jason Calacanis closed the discussion, unable to resist commenting that Dodge put the nail in it and Hammer, well, the joke didnâ''t exactly flow, but it clearly wasnâ''t a good afternoon for Broadclip.

Look ma, no hands

Extreme Reality, demoing a hands-free 3-D computer interface at TechCrunch40 in San Francisco today, really made me wish this conference offered opportunities to see the stage demos up close and personal. (There is a demo pit, but it houses a whole different cast of companies, the main demonstrators essentially evaporate once they leave the stage.) I mean, itâ''d be hard to say something about whether or not a new mouse design was really a huge improvement over traditional mouse designs without trying it. That goes double for a 3-D interface.

That said, if Extreme Realityâ''s XTR 3DHMI is as fun to use as it seems, this software-only 3-D controller (it works by analyzing video from a standard webcam) could be a big hit. The demo featured hand gestures controlling basic computer functions (opening and closing applications), as well as navigating Google earth, zooming and turning. The company is targeting developers, who, it hopes, will build it into applications, games being the most obvious choice, and a game company already has a project in development.

â''Think how many carpal tunnel doctors heâ''ll put out of business,â'' commented expert panelist Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr.

And it will eliminate the â''Wiiâ'' problem of users accidentally pitching handheld controllers across the room.

Techcrunch gets organized and turns kids on to programming

This week I'm attending Techcrunch40, a San Francisco conference for emerging companies. The first companies on stage today want me to get more organized. Xobni can make my email more navigable (or could if I were an Outlook user); Orgoo can bring email, IM, and video chat together on one master communications screen accessible via web; and Mint will track all my credit card and bank activity and tell me exactly how Iâ''m spending every penny; though Iâ''m not entirely sure I want to know. While probably useful, none made me want to jump right in and start using them like TripItâ''s presentation did yesterday.

Kerpoof, last in the first group, is jumping in to the hot kidsâ'' website niche with a destination site that teaches object oriented programming basics through art and movie creation activities, intended to reverse the falling numbers of computer science majors at U.S. universities. This demo sparked an entertaining exchange between expert panelists Esther Dyson, internet and aerospace investor, and Guy Kawasaki, former Apple Fellow and recent founder of Truemors.

Kawasaki:

â''I like Kerpoof. Iâ''d use Xobni, but that is a dumbass name, if you paid for it if I were your investor I would shoot you.â''

Dyson:

"[Kerpoof] is like dressing a Barbie doll, it limits creativity."

Kawasaki: "Do you have children?"

Dyson: "I have 15 nieces and nephews"

Kawasaki: "That doesnâ''t qualify. Because I have four children I love entertaining mindless things."

Mindless entertainment or a powerful tool for teaching third graders programming and filling computer student pipeline? You be the judge here.

Microsoft and Anti-Trust - Spin versus Reality

It's not every day that the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have the same take when it comes to technology, and even less so when it comes to anti-trust issues. But we're seeing a rare convergence this week when it comes to the European Union's decision on Microsoft.

For both papers, the key point readers are supposed to take away from the case is that Microsoft is the canary in a coalmine of EU interference in technology and innovation. Let's first look at the case itself, which The Times sketched in three quick paragraphs.

European Court Rejects Microsoft Antitrust Appeal

LUXEMBOURG, Sept. 17 â'' In a stinging rebuke to the worldâ''s largest software maker, the second-highest European court today rejected a request by Microsoft to overturn a landmark European Commission antitrust ruling that the company had abused its dominance in computer operating systems.

Industry and legal experts said the decision bolstered smaller software makers and put market leaders on notice that they cannot take advantage of one technology niche to squelch broader innovation.

The European Court of First Instance, in a starkly worded summary read to a courtroom of about 150 journalists and lawyers here, ordered Microsoft to obey a March 2004 commission order to share confidential computer code with competitors. The court also upheld the record fine levied against the company, 497.2 million euros, or $689.4 million.

By paragraph #4, The Times's account turns stark indeed:

Software and legal experts said the courtâ''s decision might signal problems for companies such as Apple, Intel and Qualcomm, whose market dominance in online music downloads, computer chips and mobile phone technology is also being scrutinized by the commission. The ruling also could make it harder to Microsoft to continue â''bundlingâ'' new features into its Windows software.

â''What the court did was uphold E.U. law, which makes it illegal to leverage a dominant market position to obtain similar dominance in another area,â'' said Michael Reynolds, a Brussels antitrust lawyer with the firm Allen & Overy who filed the initial complaint against Microsoft in 1998 on behalf of a competitor, Sun Microsystems. â''Microsoft argued that the software industry, because of its dynamic growth, was an exception. But the court dismissed this argument.â''

In a Review & Outlook piece with the stark title, "Microsoft's Waterloo," the Journal took the same laser focus:

[T]his could get out of hand faster than the click of a mouse. Microsoft's general counsel, Brad Smith, points out that Apple's iPod dominates the MP3 player market, in which Microsoft's Zune is the underdog, and that Google's search engine has whipped Microsoft's MSN and all other comers. Not to mention the near-monopoly in some mainframe-computer markets held by IBM, which joined Sun Microsystems in pushing Brussels to take on Microsoft in 1998. Smith seems to be implying that two can play at this game of making "strategic complaints."

Neither paper cares much to entertain the fact that Microsoft has a functional monopoly on the desktop, nor the possiblity that Microsoft has indeed abused its monopoly position. As to the first, even by U.S. law, Microsoft clearly is, or certainly was at the time its anti-trust trial here, a monopoly. And it certainly used its monopoly position to promote its own software tools at the expense of its rivals, whether it was Internet Explorer versus Netscape or, as the EU focused on, Windows Media Player versus Real Player, QuickTime, et al.

Both papers seem to have unthinkingly bought into someone's spin. If you think for more than a moment about it, it's hard to see any parallels for Apple and Qualcomm. Apple's iTunes/iPod dominance is estimated to be 70 percent of the music player market, extending far beyond the 5 percent market share it has on the desktop. Qualcomm is anything but dominant in mobile phone technology; it is dominant in CDMA mobile phone technology, which is by far the minority technology when it comes to its third-generation cellular battle with GSM.

The case for Intel is harder to judge — it certainly has the same sort of CPU hegemony that Microsoft has on the desktop, but has it tried to extend it in the same way? It has instant credibility whenever it enters a market, and likewise confers credibility to a new technology when it adopts it — we're seeing that with WiMax. But the market has done a good job of smacking Intel down when it enters a market it doesn't have a superior product for — we've seen that with Hermon, as my colleague Harry Goldstein reported back in 2005 (see his "Intel Tries, Tries Again").

Microsoft's track record isn't flawless — again, Harry was the editor here to mercilessly single out one of the company's signal losers, a disfunctional wristwatch called SPOT (see, "A Dog Named SPOT") — but it has also had some stunning successes, including Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. The question isn't whether Microsoft has successfully leveraged its desktop dominance — it clearly has. The question is whether it has done so unfairly. The EU has weighed in. It would be nice to see The TImes and The Journal addressing it, instead of spinning it.

Oh where, oh where has my mechanosynthesis nanotechnology gone?

The Center for Responsible Technology (CRN), which can be described as a â''Think Tankâ'' on the subject of molecular nanotechnology, held a conference last week entitled: â''Challenges & Opportunities: The Future of Nano & Bio Technologiesâ''.

This broad title belied the fact that this conference was really focused on the prospects of molecular nanotechnology and manufacturing.

They assembled a wide spectrum of people to discuss the subject. And on the second day they had among the speakers:

â'¢ Dr. Ned Seeman of New York University to discuss his work on building structures with DNA

â'¢ Prof. Ralph Merkle at Georgia Tech Universityâ''s College of Computing to discuss mechanosynthesis

â'¢ Jim Von Ehr of Zyvex to discuss atomically precise manufacturing

CRN has made their presentations available for download. But what was really fascinating was the panel discussion and off-hand remarks noted in live blogging here.

There was much head scratching, finger pointing and exasperation at the fact that molecular manufacturing in the form of mechanosynthesis had not developed further over the last 20 years since it was first proposed by Eric Drexler.

Some of my favorite exchanges were when Chris Phoenix, Research Director of CRN, remarked that for MNT to progress, â''It will require some visionary that has many millions of dollars.â''

Unfortunately, he made this remark in the presence of Mr. Von Ehr, who after selling a company for $100 million devoted many of his resources to developing MNT through mechanosynthesis.

â''I had the money to do it, but couldnâ''t attract the right people. No amount of money will do it with an average person,â'' responded Von Ehr.

Mr. Von Ehr is being overly modest here. He is no average person.

But the classic line was left to Dr. Seeman, who after hearing a bit of this exchange, said, â''I donâ''t fit in this room. I am not a believer in anything.â''

Science is like that sometimes. Itâ''s not supposed to believe.

After Lunch at TechCrunch

After a morning heavy on search and social networking via cellphone, the after lunch demos at TechCrunch40, a showcase of startup companies, branched out. Among them, a new browser (Flock) optimized for social network and multimedia platforms like Facebook and YouTube, collaborative editing of videos (Story Blender), and a new model for publishing a print travel magazine (8020 Publishing).

My vote for most personally useful, if not revolutionary: TripIt and MusicShake. TripIt creates detailed travel itineraries from multiple sources; you forward your confirmation emails to it, and it creates an organized travel plan that you can use yourself and send to others. Sounds like a great idea, and I plan on testing it later this week. MusicShake, a company out of Korea, solves another fairly obvious problemâ''how do you get interesting, copyright-free music to attach to videos and other multimedia presentations that you want to put online? MusicShake has created a library of music blocks, all available royalty-free, that you can combine to create layered sound tracks. A musicbot helps the musically untalented (that would be me) avoid embarassing themselves.

A passion for Zimbra

In the upcoming October issue of Spectrum, IEEE member Eric Hahn talks about his passion for Zimbra, a company in which he was an early investor and for which has been an active advisor. This serial entrepreneur calls Zimbra his "quintessential project."

Turns out heâ''s not the only one who thinks Zimbraâ''s email technology is pretty cool; Yahoo just announced that it bought the company for $350,000. Hahn told Spectrum that when he invests in companies, he thinks of himself as â''the blue-haired lady in Atlantic City sitting at the slot machine with a box of quarters.â'' Success is not running out of quarters so he can keep playing.

Looks like Zimbra returned quite a few quarters.

Micro-GPS for Mangled Spines

Using an electromagnetic tracking device similar to GPS, researchers at the University of Rochester are aiming to reinvent the art of moving injured athletes. The existing methods for lumping bodies onto stretchers have names reminiscent of '80s dance moves, and Dr. Glenn Rechtine and colleagues have been trying to figure out which of them is least likely to further damage a victim's spine.

By placing three to five of these tiny devices on the upper body of a cadaver, researchers were able to precisely measure how much an injured cervical spine moves at several precise points in the process of removing a player from the field including taking off a helmet, putting on a cervical collar, and placing a player on the backboard for transportation to the ambulance.

Rechtine found that a technique called the "Modified Lift and Slide," where one person holds the head and several people support the body, causes less spinal movement than another common maneuver charmingly named the â''Log Roll.â''

Advice for entrepreneurs

Speaking at TechCrunch40 today in San Francisco, successful entrepreneurs Mark Andreessen (Netscape, Opsware), Chad Hurley (YouTube), and David Filo (Yahoo) offered advice for would-be company founders.

From Andreessen:

â'¢ Hire a founder who can be a CEO

â'¢ Beat off with a stick hiring too many people too quickly. [In particular] keep the engineering team small, most great products are built by small engineering teams.

From Hurley:

â'¢ (seconding the advice of holding back on hiring) If you only have a few people working on site, you are able to iterate faster, to move faster than larger competitors, keeping team small.

â'¢ Look at how you are personally using the product to make decisions, donâ''t rely on others.

From Filo:

â'¢ [Be] passionate about what you are doing, and attract peole who are passionate about it, so even if you fail they will feel like they had a great experience.

Europe Fines Microsoft for Monopoly Tactics

Europeâ''s second highest court has upheld a 2004 antitrust ruling against Microsoft with a sentence carrying a fine of 497.2 million euros, the equivalent of $689.4 million. In addition, the company must change some policies which the courts have argued aggressively stultify competition and undermine consumer rights.

In the past, Microsoft has packaged Media Player software into its operating system instead of giving buyers a choice of software, a practice the company has revised during its protracted court battle. But, Microsoft will take its biggest blow in the way it handles intellectual property. The ruling requires that Microsoft now share information with other software companies enabling them to write compatible programs.

Brad Smith, a senior vice president at Microsoft, did not say whether the company will file another appeal, and in a press conference signaled that the company would respect the sentence. â''Weâ''re 100 percent committed to complying with every aspect of the commissionâ''s decision,â'' he said. However, some of his true feelings about the ruling may have come out in subtle tones as he denounced the requirement to share software code with other companies and pointed out the â''unprecedented nature of that obligation.â''

The United States dealt with Microsoftâ''s practices years ago. On 30 August the Department of Justice and several U.S. states said that their efforts had â''protected the development and distribution of middlewareâ''including web browsers, media players, and instant messaging softwareâ''that has increased choices available to consumers.â''

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