Dec 29, 2005

Europe launches own GPS system

The European Union has launched the first satellite in its mission to build a GPS (Global Positioning System) of its own, rivalling the existing system offered by the US Military. Named Galileo, the new system will offer more precise navigation with an accuracy of upto one yard, beating the US system which offers only a five yard precision. The system is slated to be operational by 2008.

Other than the technical improvements that it offers, Galileo will offer the European Union an independent navigational system of its own, and unlike the US system, it will be more open to civilian uses. The system was developed in co-operation with China, Israel and Ukraine, and more countries including India, South Korea, Norway and Argentina are expected to participate in the future.

The current GPS system is controlled by the United States, which had recently warned that it would cut off or deny access to countries considered enemies in times of national emergency. The EU said that Galileo will be available at all times except in the case of "direst emergency." What qualifies to be one is left to the imagination.

The launch of Galileo comes at a time when Russia is moving forward with a positioning system of its own known as GLONASS. They have already put three satellites into orbit, and their system is due to be operational by 2010.

Read more on the Galileo program.

Dec 26, 2005

Amazon jumps into Web Search battle

"If you think about it, when you shop online, you're really searching for whatever you want to buy. What would happen if people went to Google or Yahoo instead of to Amazon every time they were looking to buy something on the Web? That thought must scare the bejeezus out of Bezos."
- Erick Schonfeld, Business 2.0

Not a bad piece of observation at all. With Microsoft and Yahoo battling it out to beat Google's domination of the Web Search market, you would think the party is hot enough already. But throw in another Internet heavy-weight, Amazon, and you can expect some fireworks. After all, when people are looking for things to buy on the Internet, going to Google or Yahoo is only a natural thing to do. That will be a good thing for online shops like Amazon, or eBay for that matter when the user sees these sites listed in the top search results. But when they don't, things do look a bit bleak for likes of Jeff Bezos and Meg Whitman and co.

Amazon has unleashed Alexa Web Crawler to the public, which runs on A9 search technology which powers the searches on Amazon. Besides trying to become a major search engine on its own, the opening up of the technology to programmers may see the spawning of many smaller search engines, which may cut into the biggies like Google and Yahoo. And guess what, all of these engines will be using Amazon's database for generating results? I don't think that will hurt Amazon's interests one bit. Smart move, Jeff.

Dec 19, 2005

Creative attacks iPod kingdom

It is kind of hard for a marketer when your competition defines the market; when their brand is synonymous with the product name. And Apple's iPod is definitely synonymous with portable digital music players around the world, much like Google is for Web search. And that is exactly the predicament that Creative Technology faces when they launch their own 30 GB version of Apple's dream machine, with almost the exact same specifications.

The Creative 30 GB Zen Vision:M is almost an exact replica of iPod, and has almost the same user interface. It also features a 2.5 inch screen at 320 * 240 resolution. It is also slightly larger and heavier than iPod too, hinting that Creative has not been able to replicate Apple's finesse. It also will make your wallet lighter to the tune of $30, with a price of $329 against Apple's $299. Frankly, I don't know why someone will buy the Creative machine, when it is bigger and heavier and even costs more.

Dec 17, 2005

Lawsuits against illegal file sharing

Relentlessly waging its battle against music piracy on the Net, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has filed hundreds of lawsuits against users who have been allegedly downloading pirated music from the Internet. The move comes as RIAA steps up its efforts to curb music piracy which has been consistently draining the industry of billions of dollars in lost revenue.

The defendants, the RIAA claims, had been using popular peer to peer file sharing networks such as Kaaza and Gnutella to download music from the Internet. These networks work in a very simple way - Anybody who has bought a music CD can "rip" it and convert the songs into MP3 format and put them in a folder which can be shared using programs like Bearshare or Limewire. Other users in the network can easily search for the song and download it from this user, who in turn can access the files shared by other users. Anybody can share a single song which becomes accessible to everyone else, and the potential size of the library will be enormous. However, copyright laws in many countries forbid such practices explicitly and some even consider it a criminal offence.

The defendants in the latest batch of suits include
students at the University of Southern California and Drexel University, the Boston Herald reports. University students are believed to be active users of the file sharing networks targeted by RIAA.

Dec 13, 2005

Yahoo Mail Beta - Where is it?

It has been really a long time since Yahoo announced that it will be rolling out its beefed up version of web-based email. When I first checked their sign up page where you can submit your email address to be invited to try the program as a beta tester, they said that it was being offered to US users only. A few weeks have passed since that and when I checked it again, it is still the same thing.

Google offered its Gmail as an alternative to Yahoo and Hotmail and I don't know how successful they have been in whisking away users from these services. One thing I know for sure is that I have found it quite useful, although sometimes the site is awfully slow to respond and even times out at times. I don't care much for their thread-type email 'conversations', but a lot of people apparently like it. I use their POP services frequently and it is the one of the few free and reliable services out there.

Yahoo, apparently, needed to respond fast to the Gmail threat and did. They expanded the storage to 1 GB too. (Gmail went one step ahead, and is offering 'infinite storage space', which grows everyday, all the time. Just check their home page.) Their Beta offering is rumoured to look like Microsoft's Outlook email client, with drag and drop functionality and quick preview and everything else. As someone said (I don't remember who), Yahoo's mail service is designed to look like an email client that nobody should be using in the first place. So Yahoo's service better be really good if it intends to fight off Gmail's persistent attempt to siphon off its userbase.

Dec 3, 2005

The Web and open standards

“Anyone who slaps a ‘this page is best viewed with Browser X’ label on a Web page appears to be yearning for the bad old days, before the Web, when you had very little chance of reading a document written on another computer, another word processor, or another network.”

- Tim Berners-Lee in Technology Review, July 1996

The great thing about great men is that they are able to see and foretell something that becomes obvious to the rest of us only after a few years or decades. Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the WWW, predicted the potential danger that open standards faced from proprietary technologies and we can see it today on some web-sites that proclaim their loyalty to one or two browsers and send the rest away, just like that.

One of the most important factors that made the Web so popular is the universal accessibility that it provided to the users. Regardless of the hardware or software they were using, they could easily access the information without worrying about the operating system, network platform, software versions or whatever. And now, the Web is being threatened by one or two browsers that obviously can't accept the beauty of the system and want to dominate the WWW with their own proprietary technologies. What is even worse is that webmasters and page designers actively encourage this trend just to make their site a bit more flashy than the rest by discouraging other browsers which are far more efficient and HTML standards compliant.

I am glad to mention a site, Viewable with Any Browser Campaign, which is fighting this and I suggest you take a look there too. And speaking of better browsers, see this article, Browser war heats up with Mozila 1.5 which speaks of the Mozilla foundation's effort to break the browser dominance on the WWW.

P.S.: I personally use Mozilla and Opera web browsers because they are definitely more faster, secure and respect the HTML guidelines of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).