Why on earth would Google do a PC?

There’s been a mountain of chatter on the Web about rumours that Google might announce a Google PC – rumours that got a new lease on life from a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times, although they have been around for a while. Those rumours, which have been tracked by CNet, have now been denied by a spokesman for the search giant, and by Wal-Mart, which was supposed to be the company’s partner (along with Wyse Technologies).

It’s a tempting rumour in part because people seem to lust for a strong competitor for Microsoft – and what better competitor than a cash-rich company with a great brand and a market value that is bigger than Coca-Cola and Cisco Systems, and just behind IBM? A little Google cube with a version of Linux on it and some Web-based office software sounds so great, doesn’t it?

The only downside is that it seems like a pretty stupid idea in a lot of ways, as Carlo at TechDirt and John Battelle have both noted. Why should Google bother selling such a system, when it can just avoid all the cost and hassle by distributing software that does the same thing on other people’s computers? I just don’t see the point. Neither does Alec Saunders, (who invokes the ghost of Michael Cowpland).

Bill censors a Chinese blogger

Blogging is more than just something that geeks with a lot of time on their hands do for fun. In countries like China, blogs are one of the few ways dissidents can try to exercise a little freedom of speech — something we in the West take for granted. In that sense, they are a little like the “samizdat” newsletters that were photocopied and handed around in the USSR under Stalin.

That’s why it’s so depressing to see a company like Microsoft’s MSN censoring a dissident blogger in China, as described by Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center who specializes in international media, and in particular Internet usage in China. She describes how the blog of a noted dissident named Zhao Jing — also known as Michael Anti — was taken down by MSN.

Robert Scoble of Microsoft says he too is upset by his company acting as a “state-run thug” in cases such as this, and that he has raised it with a senior MSN executive. Others have also said they will be raising the issue. No offence to the Scobleizer, who seems like a nice guy, but I can’t say I’m optimistic about such efforts having any real effect.

Microsoft isn’t the only one to engage in this kind of thing — Yahoo has already helped identify a dissident to the Chinese government and Google has been accused of filtering its search results in China to avoid dissident material. Everybody wants to do business in China, and no doubt they justify their government-friendly attitudes as being better than having no Internet at all, but that doesn’t make MSN’s behaviour right.

Vongo to Canada: get lost (updated)

Vongo, the newly-announced downloadable video service from Starz Entertainment (a unit of John Malone’s Liberty Media), sounds like a pretty cool idea — it would let you download Hollywood movies, concerts, TV shows and other content to various devices, including portable video players (although maybe not iPods, according to the New York Times).

There’s just one problem — at least for someone like me, who happens to live in the Great White North (i.e., Canada). Vongo is restricted to U.S. residents. Here’s what I got when I went to the webpage: “You need to be in the United States to view this site.” On a somewhat redundant note, under the heading of Minimum System Requirements, the only requirement is that you be “located in the U.S.”

I know there are probably all kinds of perfectly reasonable legal requirements for that kind of thing, but I have to confess that it still pisses me off — or maybe it’s just the suggestion that living anywhere other than the U.S. constitutes a “geographic failure.”



As you can see if you read the comments, someone from Starz responded to this post within about an hour of it going up, which I have to say is pretty good, considering I don’t get a lot of traffic. Alesya Holick said the U.S.-only requirement is necessary because the company only has the U.S. distribution rights for the content it will be distributing (which is pretty much what I figured), and that Starz would change the description on the website to make that more clear — and remove that nasty “geographic failure” part.

Nice to see a company responding so quickly to a post by a puny little Canadian blogger like me.

Update 2:

Rafat over at PaidContent notes that the Vongo terms of service carry a number of restrictions — which makes Thomas Hawk wonder why anyone would want to use it instead of just recording or torrenting whatever they want to watch. A fair point.

Update 3:

As the latest comment on this item shows, Vongo hasn’t changed the page that first comes up when you hit the site, so top marks for quick response to my blog, but subtract all those and more for not doing anything about it.

Wi-Fi shouldn’t be a toll road

I don’t fly to Boston much, but I’m still interested in the fight going on between Logan airport and Continental Airlines over public Wi-Fi. The airport — which is run by the Massachusetts Port Authority — shut down Continental’s wireless network last fall, and the airline has asked Congress to intervene.

Massport says it wants to avoid interference from a bunch of competing wireless signals, but the airlines (including American Airlines) argue that what it really wants is a monopoly on Wi-Fi, for which it charges $8 an hour. I’m with Fred Wilson (and others) on this: Wi-Fi should be a form of public infrastructure, like roads or bridges.

I also like an analogy I first saw in a Wired article by Paul Boutin: Wi-Fi is a condiment, like sugar or cream, or salt and pepper. Providing it is a service that you hope will make people want to come back to your establishment. Hardly anyone charges for the use of their washrooms either — not even airports.

There’s more discussion at WSJ writer Jeremy Wagstaff’s blog and at WiFi Networking News. Dana Blankenhorn at ZDNet has also posted on it, as has my friend Rob Hyndman.

Coldplay’s label — loser of the year?

Okay, maybe the first day of the new year is a little early to be calling someone the year’s biggest loser, but I’d like to start the bidding early by nominating Coldplay’s record label, which as far as I can tell is EMI (the record company the Sex Pistols made infamous).

A note inserted in the band’s latest CD — a label you can’t see until you buy the disc — has a laundry list of places you probably won’t be able to play the new CD you paid so dearly for, a list that includes many portable music players, most computers, CD players in cars, and other incredibly common places for playing music. Arif in Hyderabad found the note after buying the disc.

What is a company thinking when they do this? It might not be as bad as the comically inept DRM exploit that Sony tried to foist on an unsuspecting public, but it’s still a ridiculous way to approach your market or your customers. Assume that they are thieves, and tie their hands in every way imaginable so that they can’t enjoy their music as they wish — after they’ve already paid money for your product. Nice.

I’d like to hope that we could chip away at that kind of dinosaur thinking this year, but I’m not optimistic.