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Another Tech Roundup

Posted by | Posted in Geek Stuff, Random, Technology | Posted on 05-11-2009

Morning all! I’m bored off my tits today, and seem to have no motivation to do anything much, so I decided to see what’s going on in the tech world right now, before I trundle off to this meeting a bit later on. And quite a lot is going on it seems…

First and foremost, Microsoft’s MSN.com has been given quite a large revamp. It’s the first major revamp of the site in around a decade, and Microsoft is hoping that the new look will help bring people back to Miscrosoft and all of it’s web-based services, such as the Bing search engine, MSN Messenger IM client, and Hotmail. You can read more about the new look on the BBC News website, but for the illiterate and/or lazy among you (hehe) you’ll be able use the new site at some point in 2010.

I actually think that Bing is decent search engine, and were it not for Google’s fanbase (of which I belong wholeheartedly) and it’s reputation as King Of The Hill, I reckon Bing would probably take over the search engine market. Microsoft has it’s usual advantage of making Bing the default search engine with all new Internet Explorer installations, and MSN.com as the homepage, but will that be enough to crank up their stats?

After my rant about iPhone prices not coming down despite the fact that Orange was entering the iPhone market, they’ve gone ahead and announced that they’re starting up a mobile phone recycling initiative. OK, so it’s not good news regarding the price of an iPhone, but it does mean I’ll be able to get some cash back for my old phone should I decide to upgrade. It seems as though a lot of people are jumping on the “phones-4-cash” bandwagon, and now that it’s taking off (under the guise of companies pretending to be environmentally friendly) I might just do my best to “collect” old phones and make some cash out of them. Or give them to charity for them to make some cash out of them.

For fans of Freesat and the BBC iPlayer, the iPlayer will soon be available for Freesat users. Since June 2008, Virgin Media subscribers have been able to access the web-based iPlayer via their TVs, and the BBC reckons that 25% of all programs watched  on the iPlayer since then were actually watched via a TV. So it’s a welcome change to the Freesat market that the iPlayer will be available to them as well, and should help encourage people to buy a Freesat box or TV set. I’d personally get one simply for the HD channels, but when Freeview start providing HD channels as well, Freesat will have more of a challenge on it’s hands.

In the debate about what should be done with illegal file-sharers, the EU has decided that file-sharers are to receive more protection before being cut off from the internet. That’s good news, of course, as there are plenty of ways to be seen as partaking in illegal file-sharing activities that, in actual fact, might be the result of both legal file-sharing technologies (such as the BBC iPlayer) or the result of other persons unknown using your wireless internet connection without permission, for example.

The rise of on-demand streaming television over the internet has led to a massive increase in traffic over the net. At peak times, 12Gb of data is streamed from the iPlayer every second. And peer-to-peer related technologies are not illegal themselves, and are used in more ways than just those stated by the anti-piracy advocates. Take distributed computing projects, for instance. They use peer-to-peer based technologies to distribute small amounts of data between large numbers of PCs in order to harness the power of hundreds or thousands of PCs at once. These projects are usually created to aid scientific research or charitable work. So would the ISPs be able to tell the difference between illegal filesharing and distributed computing projects, even though they’d both use the same peer-to-peer technologies? I doubt it, and even they could (as some people claim) it would be illegal to do so under the Data Protection Act.

It seems to me like the music, TV, and film industries have been raping the general public for all their cash for decades, and now that something threatens that, they want to use legalities to put a stop to it. Instead of realising that the world is evolving, and changing their business models to suit, they instead try to ban every technological advance that might help others, or they want to create another set of laws that are impossible to enforce without imposing on some pretty major privacy and human rights ideas.

I think they need to wake up and smell the roses, personally. The internet provides them with ample opportunities to expand their profit waistlines, but because they’re afraid of the unknown (by which I mean, they’re unsure if they’ll make as much money as they do now) they won’t put new ideas into practice, or embrace change as it’s happening. As a result, they’re losing profits due to advances in technology that they should be using to help their businesses, and now they’re trying to recoup the lost time and money they’ve wasted trying to put an end to the Internet.

I’d also like to point out that recent studies have found that people who take part in more illegal file-sharing activities also spend more money purchasing things legally. Basically, the illegal file-sharing part of the process is effectively marketing gone mental, and as a result, more people hear more music/see more films, and decide to spend more on the things they like. In fact, were it not for a *ahem* copy of an album that a friend sent to me to listen to, I’d never have gone out and bought it. Nor would I have pre-ordered the 2nd album the instant I heard about it. That says something about just how much “damage” the file-sharing market is doing to sales.

I agree, some people download illegally instead of buying their music and films, but I don’t think the law can be made (or changed into something) as black and white as the industry would like. At the end of the day, they’ll make more money out of people who have the money to spend, and less money out of people who don’t have money to spend. Prosecute the ones who take advantage, sure. Or the ones who make money out of illegally sharing other people’s copyrighted works, but don’t judge the ones who do it simply to expand their horizons and find new artists to spend their hard-earned cash on. And spend it they will, if they find something they like.

But anyways, I digress.

Another bit of tech news revealed today is that of the Google Dashboard. The Dashboard is basically a really high-level view of what information The Almighty Google knows about you, based on the Google products you use and the permission they have to store that data. It’s only a fairly primitive affair at the moment, and it basically just gives you a few totals (such as total Gmails sent etc) and lists the most recent activity for things like search. There are some Google services that don’t show up in the Dashboard, but which you can probably fnd out stats for anyway, by going to the website for that product and signing in. Google Analytics would be one such example.

It’s quite an interesting idea, and it’s always weird to be reminded of things that you have searched for in times past. Apparently, the last Image Search I performed was for Marjorie Dawes

On the film and TV front, I watched the pilot episode of V last night, and I have to say, it was the best pilot episode for a series I’ve seen this year. Far better than FlashForward at least. It’s a remake of a mid-1980’s TV mini-series of the same name, and revolves around V’s (or Visitors) coming to Earth and offering friendship and technological secrets in return for helping them replenish their supplies and for providing them with the opportunity to learn more about humanity.

Naturally, there are a few humans who don’t think it’s such a great idea and who don’t trust the V’s, and so a “resistence” cell forms and things start taking off (plot-wise, not literally). I’ll definitely be watching the rest of the season. As for FlashForward, and Stargate Universe for that matter, I’m still undecided.

There’s a film being released in the UK tomorrow called The Fourth Kind. They’ve advertised it on TV over the last week or two, and I have to say I’m quite looking forward to seeing it. I think it’s a trip to the cinema this weekend! Again, it’s about aliens, although this time it involves “true stories” and abductions. Can’t wait!

Oh, and happy 5th November!

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