Catch up on this week's tech and science news with the latest TowleTech from our correspondent Daniel Williford.
For those of you who get sexually aroused by the latest techy gadget, innovations have been streaming all week out of Germany, where the bi-annual IFA Consumer electronics was held. Mobile phones with television tuners, massive flat-screen TV's, high definition, wireless, shiny, beepy, and blinky were all on hand. You can still browse the virtual show, even if you weren't able to attend.
Top Hewlett-Packard execs might get in some serious trouble with the law, as an investigation by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer is underway to determine if they used illegal methods to locate loose lips within their own company. Several tech journalists were contacted and told that their phone data may have been obtained by HP's private investigators without their knowledge, which is illegal in the state of California. HP said they were "dismayed," and were cooperating with the investigation. Lockyear called their conduct "stupid cubed."
Each week it seems, more and more entertainment media is available as legal downloads -- everything is going digital. Two of the largest media retailers are going head to head on the digital movie front: Amazon released its Unbox video download service this week, and Apple is expected to release theirs next week. But their success might depend on who has the best selection: "One large discrepancy between Apple's download service, which would be sold through its popular iTunes store, and Amazon's Unbox is the number of studios that signed up to have their films sold. Amazon has secured the the commitment of every major studio except Walt Disney Co. Apple, on the other hand, has only secured a commitment from Disney."
More details have emerged about Microsoft's Zune player -- the company's overdue answer to Apple's iPod. It will be manufactured by Toshiba, who already has MP3 players out on the market. It will have a 3-inch LCD screen, a 30GB hard drive, and wireless connectivity will allow users to interact and share content with friends. It is expected to be released in time for this year's holiday season.
On the digital music front, two other familiar sites hope to cash in on their massive user base and their parent company's media connections: both MySpace and AOL began selling music downloads recently. Music.aol.com lets users view music videos and access other feature content, but it also sells MP3s directly. MySpace, already popular with musicians who want to promote and communicate directly with other MySpace users, now allows artists and labels to sell their MP3s directly from their profile page. The song owners can even set their own price for the sale of the songs, giving MySpace a small cut and keeping the profit for themselves. Who knew MySpace had the potential to be one of the best indie music stores around?
With all this great new digital media, Apple hopes to make its latest desktop a central entertainment hub. The new iMac has an updated processor, space for tons of memory, and a really bright 24" hi-res LCD flat screen. Since the entire computer hides in the elegant flat panel and includes a remote control, the latest iMac could very well be what Windows Media Edition never quite was.
The next Windows, arriving in January, will be an entirely new experience that will likely be much like the current Mac OS X. The cost however, might be more than the just-announced $100-$259 upgrade (the range depends on if you choose the basic or the ultimate versions). Much of the cool new features of Vista will require a hardware upgrade, and most consumers won't bother upgrading from XP, some analysts say. At least one columnist isn't sure it will be worth it at all: "Here's a modest proposal: Boycott Vista. Keep your old Windows XP PC around. Don't buy a new one. That's the only way we have to let Microsoft know Vista is an overhyped, late, and pointless update to XP - a perfectly fine operating system."
Wal-mart and Costco are considering a payment checkout system that lets customers pay with their thumbprint. The retail superstores determined that a large majority of their customers are already familiar with being fingerprinted. Ouch!
Many of Earth's lifeforms are far more sensitive to subtle climate changes than us temperature-controlling, high-tech-home-dwelling humans, and some scientists fear that the planet is poised to lose 10-50% of its species. Global warming is introducing temperatures that haven't been felt in 24 million years. "We may very well already be on the breaking edge of a wave of mass extinctions."
First Google announced that they would make classic literature available for free download as a PDF, and now they are making America's "rough draft of history" entirely searchable. "Google Inc. has added the ability to search through more than 200 years of historical newspaper archives alongside the latest contemporary information now available on Google News."
Visit our correspondent Daniel Williford at his blog, Until Today...