<IT WORLD> Microsoft books
ahead By Martin J
HUA HIN, Thailand - Software giant
Microsoft made a big move on e-books this week
when the company agreed to invest around US$600
million in Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader. The
deal will give the company a 17.6% share of a new
subsidiary, which will include the e-book division
and Barnes & Noble's bookstores unit, which
operates more than 640 outlets.
investment, to be made over the next five years,
aims at helping Microsoft battle rivals Amazon and
Apple in a new arena for it. Shares in B&N
surged over 50% following the announcement and
closed at their highest value for over two years.
The move comes around six months before
Microsoft is due to launch its latest
touch-enabled operating system, Windows 8. Being
able to include a well-established e-book
platform, such as
the Nook, will give it a
competitive edge to Apple's iPad and Amazon's
Microsoft is taking another
gamble by signaling its intentions to shift from
desktop software such as Windows and Office
despite the fact that it still generates 85% of
its revenue from them. Recent high-profile
partnerships and acquisitions include last year's
deal with Nokia whereby it would provide the
operating system for Nokia handsets, a much sought
partnership with Yahoo to enable it to catch
Google in the search market, and the buyout of
Skype for $8.5 billion.
The B&N deal,
which only initially accounts for 0.5% of
Microsoft's estimated $60 billion cash reserve, is
strategic for both companies. The software giant
needs more offerings and a decent application and
digital content store if Windows 8 is to make
headway into the tablet and touch-screen market,
and B&N needs the cash and the capacity to
significantly expand its digital book business.
By using the Windows platform, which still
runs on over 90% of the world's computers, B&N
can expand the customer base for its already
popular Nook e-reader.
Amazon has the
lion's share of the US digital book market with
around 60%; Barnes & Noble claims to have
around 27%. The Nook has been the bookseller's
fastest-growing business, with a 64% year on year
sales surge in the most recent quarter. B&N
still struggling to boost profit, with reported
earnings from its digital business falling 42% to
$163 million in the fiscal year that ended in
April 2011. This latest tie up should result in a
win-win situation for both companies.
Telecoms South Korean
electronics giant Samsung took the lead in the
smart-phone race for the first quarter of this
year. Its secret weapon over rival Apple is choice
- a wide range of different smart-phones ranging
in screen-size, specifications and price.
The company sold 93.5 million handsets in
the first quarter, 36% more than a year earlier;
44.5 million were smart-phones. Nokia shipped 82.7
million handsets, down 24%, and Apple sold 35.1
million units, an 89% increase from last year,
according to researcher Strategy Analytics.
Samsung announced its much anticipated
flagship Galaxy S III smart-phone at an event in
London this week. The Android-powered device
boasts an ARM quad-core processor, 4.8 inch amoled
(active-matrix organic light-emitting diode)
screen, 8 megapixel camera, 16 Gb expandable to
32Gb storage, one gigabyte of RAM and a full range
of connectivity options. The handset certainly
puts Apple's latest iPhone in its place in terms
of hardware specifications.
Internet The High Court in the
UK has ordered all Internet providers to block
Swedish file sharing website The Pirate Bay. The
British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the UK's
equivalent of the Recording Industry Association
of America, stated that "sites like The Pirate Bay
destroy jobs in the UK and undermine investment in
new British artists,".
The Pirate Bay
claims to be the world's largest file-sharing
website, with over 4 million trackers, or links to
files. It makes over $3 million in monthly
advertising, according to record labels. The
owners of the website claim that it does not host
any copyright material itself and just acts as a
file search engine in a similar fashion to Google.
In April 2009, the Swedish courts found
the four founders of the site guilty of helping
people circumvent copyright controls. The ruling
was upheld after an appeal in 2010, but the site
continues to function.
Critics argue that
blocking websites and censoring the Internet is
pointless as users will simply switch to proxy
servers or use other techniques that mask their IP
address and location to access blocked material.
Science Renowned physicist
Michio Kaku has predicted that Moore's Law will
run out of steam in around 10 years or so as
silicon microchips run up against the boundaries
of physics. The 1965 physics prediction, which has
been the foundation for processor technology ever
since, stated that the number of transistors that
can be packed onto a silicon chip will double
every year. This was later amended to two years.
The law has lasted a lot longer than
originally envisioned by its founder Gordon Moore.
In recent years, microchip giants such as Intel
have managed to double the performance instead of
the transistor count to achieve the same rapid
growth in computing power. By employing multiple
cores and tri-gate transistors the company has
been able to boost performance of its CPUs.
Current chip architecture is 20 nanometers
but as silicon transistors get down to 5
nanometers and below they will cease to function
due to excessive overheating. Kaku stated that
silicon is limited to the laws of thermodynamics
and quantum mechanics. The industry will need to
start embracing new technologies such as molecular
or quantum computers.
Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent
based in Thailand.
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