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HP opens up market share lead on Dell during fourth quarter

PC market share numbers for the fourth quarter of 2006 are out from Gartner Research, and once again, they do not paint a pretty picture for Dell. For the second consecutive quarter, Dell saw negative year-over-year growth as its worldwide market share in terms of units shipped dropped 8.7 percent from the fourth quarter of 2005, from 16.4 percent to 13.9 percent. The story in the US was the same, although Dell managed to hold on to its number one position.HangZhou Night Net

Rival Hewlett-Packard saw 23.9 percent growth during the same time period worldwide, moving nearly 11.7 million PCs—over 2.2 million more than it did during the fourth quarter of 2005. HP also made up ground on Dell in the US, moving closer to knocking its biggest rival off of its market share perch there. HP’s 4.05 million shipments and 25.3 percent market share in the US marked a 16 percent increase from the previous year—a marked contrast to Dell’s -17.3 percent slide.

Lenovo, Acer, and Toshiba rounded out the worldwide top five. Lenovo saw 9.3 percent year-over-growth, slightly ahead of the market’s 7.4 percent growth. In contrast, Acer and Toshiba both grew by leaps and bounds: 33.1 percent and 24.5 percent respectively.

Data source: Gartner Dataquest

For the entire year of 2006, the worldwide PC market grew 9.5 percent worldwide compared to 2005. Despite having two bad quarters back-to-back, Dell still managed to end up atop the worldwide market share figures—but just barely. The Round Rock, Texas-based PC maker shipped 38.05 million units during 2006, up 3.5 percent from 2005. HP was a close second place with 38.03 million, up 19.2 percent from the previous year’s 31.9 million. Lenovo’s growth of 10.9 percent was just over the market baseline of 9.5 percent, while Acer and Toshiba saw growth of 37.1 percent and 27.3 percent respectively.

Data source: Gartner Dataquest

In the US, Dell and HP still dominate with HP continuing to close the gap on Dell, which saw its market share drop to its lowest position in four years. For the fourth quarter of 2006, Gateway found itself in the number three position with 7.1 percent of the market, selling almost the same number of PCs as it had the previous year. Toshiba moved into the number four spot ahead of Apple, capturing 5.3 percent of the market compared with 4.2 percent during the last quarter of 2005. Apple is in the number five position, moving from 3.7 percent market share to 5.1 percent.

Apple was the leader in terms of US market share growth during the fourth quarter, moving 30.6 percent more computers than it did the previous year. Toshiba was second with 22.3 percent, HP third with 16.0 percent, while Gateway and Dell saw negative growth of -1.1 percent and -17.3 percent respectively. Overall, US PC makers shipped 3.2 percent fewer machines than they had a year previously.

Data source: Gartner Dataquest

Aside from Dell’s big slide and the strong growth of some of its competitors, the big story during the last quarter of 2006 was pricing. Most of Dell’s competitors gained ground with aggressive discounting, but the low prices were aimed at something other than the competition. "In the consumer market, the PC industry battled for wallet share against other consumer electronics products, such as game consoles and flat panel TVs," said principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa of Gartner Dataquest’s client computing markets group. Some of the price cutting was also intended to convince consumers to buy PCs during the holiday season instead of waiting for Vista’s launch at the end of this month.

2007 should bring more of the same in terms of growth, and Dell shouldn’t expect pressure from the competition to relent at all. The launch of Vista at the end of the month may spur the market a bit throughout the year; whether it will prove to be enough to reverse the overall decline in the US remains to be seen.

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The Midway: The “Whole lotta shootin’ going on” edition

Ah, the Midway. I'm actually starting to look forward to writing this;it givesme a good excuse to play all those little games that normally would just sap my wallet. It's a dangerous thing, being able to download console games online, and ever since I bought Jumping Flash through the PS3 to play on my PSP I've been hooked on getting more old PSone games portable. No one told me that if I bought four $5 games it would be $20! I thought they would stay affordable forever! HangZhou Night Net

Let's take a look at what we have this week:

Our pick of the week: Heavy Weapon on the Xbox Arcade. (800 points or $10) You won't have a hard time getting used to the controls on Pop Cap's newest casual game; like a ton of other Arcade title the left analogue stick moves your tank and the right analogue aims your turret. You can move your atomic tank to the left and right of the screen as the level scrolls and enemies try to attack you from the air and land, and that's about it. It's simple, uncomplicated, and fun as hell. There is nothing startlingly new or different about this game (choosing how to upgrade your tank between levels adds a litte bit of strategy), but it's fun nontheless. It's an easy game to get into and if you crank the sound the explosions and bullets all have a good "oomph" to them. Multiplayer co-op is also fun, and there are plenty of easy achievement points to grab if you want to pad your score. This beats last week's selection of Ms Pac Man pretty easily, and I'm looking forward to more play time tonight.

Also from the 360: three new Lumines downloads will be released next week, and one of them is free for Gold members. Feeling any better about that purchase?

What about theother systems?

The Playstation Store: No new titles here, although Sony has added Rally Cross to the list of PSone games available. I'm a sucker for rally games (Dr. Gitlin's post yesterday has me all giddy) so that may be worth grabbing. We also have the news that flOw is going to be released in February, and that's a must-buy. You can also grab a costume pack for Genji if you're into that sort of thing.

The Wii Virtual Console: Nintendo has been shooter-tastic lately with their Virtual Console picks. This week we have Xevious (NES, 500 points or $5), R-Type III: Third Lightning (SNES, 800 points or $8) as well as Moto Roader (Turbografx 16, 600 points or $6). I still have my copy of R-Type III on my real SNES, but Xevious will probably be a buy for me. Moto Roader I've never heard of, but it's another title that supports up to five players and may be fun for parties if your guests are into classic games.

My wish list for next week:

Tekken 5 (PS3)Worms (360)Goldeneye (Virtual Console)

What? I can dream, can't I?

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FCC says no to satellite radio merger

One rumor that has resurfaced periodically over the past couple of years was dealt a fatal blow today. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin told reporters after an FCC meeting that the Commission would not approve a merger between satellite radio rivals Sirius and XM Radio. According to Bloomberg, Martin said that "there is a prohibition on one entity owning both of these business."HangZhou Night Net

Most of the merger rumors have come directly or indirectly from Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin. In a November 2006 interview, Karmazin remarked that he would be open to a merger. "I have focused my entire career on shareholder value and wealth creation. Often mergers allow for that," said Karmazin. "I combined my radio company with CBS, and I combined CBS with Viacom."

At that time, we pointed out while that a merger would make sense financially—both companies have been hemorrhaging money from expensive programming agreements and satellite launches—it would have a hard time clearing regulatory hurdles. When the FCC initially licensed the two satellite radio companies in 1997, there was language in the licensing barring one from acquiring control of the other.

During a speech at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, Martin compared the satellite radio market to the satellite TV market. He suggested that the same barriers that thwarted an attempted 2002 merger between DIRECTV and DISH Network would come into play with Sirius and XM Radio.

Even if the FCC were to have a change of heart and green-light a merger between Sirius and XM Radio, it would still have to pass antitrust scrutiny by the Department of Justice. Although a combination of the two radio companies wouldn’t have the same effect that it would in the TV market, where satellite is the only alternative for some US residents, it would still have the effect of eliminating competition—something that rarely benefits consumers.

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Dolby to turn volume down on loud commercials

Gone will be the days of relaxing on the couch while watching TV, only to frantically jump up and turn the volume down when a particularly loud commercial comes on. That’s what Dolby hopes to avoid with a system introduced at CES last week, called Dolby Volume. The system introduces technology to equalize the volume accross TV channels, programs, and commercials.HangZhou Night Net

Dolby says that the goal of Dolby Volume’s aim is to deliver consistent volume levels by modeling how "humans perceive audio" to eliminate variable loudness in the audio stream. Dolby claims that the system does this automatically without any type of user intervention (aside from the initial setup). During the demonstration, Dolby’s engineers said that the adjustments will be non-linear and that they will be able to process all types of audio streams without worrying about sampling rates. The system will be able to handle up to a 30dB in reduction or amplification. No word on what happens when watching an action movie or TV show with explosions or or other sudden noises that are meant to be loud and startling.

Volume-leveling technology like this is nothing new—some television sets, DVD players, TiVos, and even digital music players have a similar technology built in—although Dolby Volume appears to have improved on the process quite a bit. Dolby says that the system is able to perform these functions without generating "disruptive audio artifacts," and reporters who attended the demonstration said that they did not notice any sort of delay or drop in audio quality.

How much will this miraculous volume equalizing technology cost? Dolby won’t say just yet, but claims that it shouldn’t raise television set prices by "more than just a few percent." Depending on your definition of "a few" and how expensive of a TV you’re thinking about buying, that means that Dolby Volume could potentially cost a pretty penny… or not much at all. The company hopes that television makers will be able to have Dolby Volume incorporated into their products by the end of the year.

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Third-quarter FCC indecency complaints released

The FCC has just released its amended numbers for complaints of all kinds that were filed in the third quarter of 2006. Dealing as it does with such a wide range of communications issues, the FCC hears complaints that cover everything from cell phone billing practices to digital television issues to electrical interference. Most interesting of all, though, are the obscenity complaints—and there were a lot of them.HangZhou Night Net

The FCC received 162,170 indecency/obscenity complaints between July and September 2006. The complaints were not evenly distributed within those three months, though, which is a pattern we’ve seen before. In July, only 179 people complained. In August, 404 people complained. But September is apparently the filthiest month of all, as it generated a whopping 161,587 complaints to the FCC—a one-month increase of 40,000 percent.

What generally happens is that activist groups like the Parents Television Council (“Because our children are watching”) monitor the dirtiest shows on television, then write up the foul language and sexual activity in excruciating, pornographic detail (if you think I’m kidding, look halfway down the PTC page about Nip/Tuck for the paragraph beginning “Sex acts depicted…”). Video clips are also archived and shown in order to generate the requisite outrage. Periodic, large-scale campaigns are then mounted to flood the FCC with complaints over particular shows, and whenever one of these is successful, there’s a massive spike in obscenity complaints. Judging from the numbers in July and August, few Americans care enough to contact the FCC without such prompting.

This holds true in areas besides obscenity. Although disgust with the customer service offered by cable companies and big telecom firms is widespread around the office water cooler, that doesn’t translate into many official complaints. Only 678 people complained about wireless service quality in the entire three-month period, and only 2,032 complained about any sort of billing or rate problem. Only 100 people were upset about their cable bills.

Surprisingly, 5,741 people complained about unsolicited faxes, which raises the obvious question: people still use faxes? (I kid, I kid.)

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Rumor: DVD Player to be overhauled with Leopard (updated)

I'm sure we all know many a Mac-using geek who absolutely loathes the DVD Player app that comes packaged with OS X. I use it just because it's there and it's simple, but I know many more who would rather stab their own eyes out with a rusty Zune than use DVD Player on the Mac. HangZhou Night Net

New rumors, however, say that DVD Player has gotten a major overhaul from Apple and will be shipping with Leopard when it gets released. DVD Player 5.0 will be "a significant upgrade" from the version included with Tiger, ApplerInsider's sources claim, and will sport improvements both in functionality and look & feel.

There will supposedly be a totally new, fullscreen chapter navigation interface, and users will no longer have to exit fullscreen mode in order to navigate between chapters. If the user is watching a movie in window mode (as I tend to do on occasion, if I don't plan on paying 100% attention to the movie and am doing other things), the chapter navigation floats vertically on the side.

Most excitedly, the new DVD Player 5.0 will supposedly have a time bar for visual scrubbing, and there will also be an audio equalizer added to the application. Other small improvements include the addition of a sleep timer and and an option to keep the viewer above other applications.

Will this improve the DVD-watching experience in OS X? Sure seems so, although of course nothing can be said for sure until the application gets put to real use. Are there other features that you'd like to see added to DVD Player?

Update: There are now reports that DVD Player 5.0 makes references to both HD DVD and Blu-ray:

"sd dvd folder" = "VIDEO_TS";
"hd dvd folder" = "HVDVD_TS"
; "blu ray folder" = "BDMV";

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The story behind the hypothetical Ghostbusters video and game

I was saving this for Viddy Well, but now that the whole story has come to light I figured it would be worth its own post. Here's the story: a video of what looked like footage from a Ghostbusters game popped up on YouTube, and suddenly the gaming sites went crazy with speculation about the title. The intriguing thing was how quickly this went around the Internet; it's clear that the Ghostbusters IP is still powerful. Those of us who remember the movies fondly from our youth would be very interested in a game based on the movies. Of course, that's only if it's done right. HangZhou Night Net

It turns out the footage came from the developer Zootfly, who really wants to make a Ghostbusters game. Gamespot asked them a few questions about the footage we saw, and while they don't have the rights to make the game yet, they're hopeful.

GameSpot: The first obvious question is, why release these videos of a prototype Ghostbusters game to the public? Was it designed to drum up interest in the game?

Bostjan Troha: We hoped the publisher would sort out the IP issue in a jiffy and we'd be recharging proton packs in no time. Unfortunately, they didn't push to untangle the IP hard enough and the whole thing stalled a bit. There’s actually no insurmountable problem with getting the IP. It's just that extra mile someone needs to stride to get it.

As die-hard Ghostbusters fans we somehow felt obliged to share the early prototypes with the public. Also, we hoped to show that the fan base is enormous and that there’s a wide and genuine interest for a next-gen Ghostbusters game.

Mr. Troha then went on to describe the response to the video as "unbelievable." These are some savvy businessmen: now we're all talking about a game they are working on but don't have the rights to, and now they can take these stories and the success of the video to the people who own the rights to the Ghostbusters name and prove that such a game would do well commercially. It was a clever use of YouTube and the gaming press, but only time will tell if it works.

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Apple’s record quarter: inside the numbers

Yesterday, Apple Computer, Inc. reported record profits of $1.14 per share ($1 billion) on revenues of $7.1 billion, which was also a record. The earnings were a pleasant surprise for Wall Street given analysts’ expectations of around 78¢ earnings per share. Ars listened in on the entire quarterly earnings call to learn more about what Apple’s excellent quarter means for the future of the company.HangZhou Night Net

Can you hear the music?

As usual, the iPod was the engine powering Apple’s earnings. The company sold over 21 million iPods during the quarter, up 50 percent from the first quarter of fiscal year 2006. Margins were strong as well—over 31 percent—due to better-than-expected component prices. Apple reported that iPod sales increased at a higher rate outside the US, but that it had 72 percent of the digital music player market in the US. The iPod also burst through the 50 percent market share barrier in Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, and the UK.

Music and video revenues from iTunes were up as well, 29 percent from the same quarter last year. Although sales of music and videos have significantly lower margins than the hardware sales, the good news for Apple is that the company continues to dominate the market. That’s especially true in the US, where the iTunes Store is responsible for over 85 percent of all downloaded music purchases according to Nielsen-Soundscan.

Retail was strong for Apple too. The company set a new record with $1.1 billion in revenues, which works out to about $6.7 million per store while seeing heavy foot traffic—roughly 13,000 customers per store, per week during the just-ended quarter.

Apple still makes computers, too

In recent years, the performance of Apple’s desktops and laptop has been something of an afterthought given the success of the iPod. For the past few quarters, however, Apple has been enjoying hardware growth that is significantly ahead of the overall PC market.

For the last quarter of 2006, Apple held the fifth spot in the US PC market. Gartner’s figures show that Apple moved 808,000 Macs in the US while Apple reported selling 1.606 million computers worldwide. According to Gartner’s figures, 67.35 million PCs were sold worldwide during that quarter, giving Apple 2.38 percent market share. That’s a significant jump—17.2 percent—from the company’s 2.03 percent share during the fourth quarter of 2005.

This marks the eighth of the last nine quarters where Apple’s growth has outpaced that of the overall market. In the US, the difference is huge: Apple computer shipments grew 30.6 percent, compared with the -3.2 percent growth seen by the overall US market.

Apple’s biggest winner on the computer side of the aisle was the MacBook. While Apple no longer breaks down hardware sales by product, they did say that laptop sales jumped 65 percent. The only bit of bad news for Apple came in the form of slower-than-expected sales of the Mac Pro, which Apple ascribed to a scarcity of professional apps than can run natively on the machine.

Looking ahead

Apple has managed to stay above the 5 percent market share point in the US for two consecutive quarters (they were at 4.8 percent for the second quarter of 2006). That’s a high-water point for the company this decade and its ability to grow much faster than the rest of the market bodes well for the future of Mac OS X as well as its desktops and laptops.

According to Apple’s own figures, over 50 percent of its retail store sales during the third quarter of 2006 were to people who had not previously owned a Mac. That trend continued during the fourth quarter, as Apple’s research showed that over half of the Macs sold during that time were to people new to the platform.

What’s driving Apple’s better-than-the-market growth? Various reports have cited the iPod halo effect, the switch to x86 hardware, the ability of Macs to run Windows, as well as more competitive hardware prices. It’s likely a combination of all of those factors working together, and barring any major missteps by the company, there’s little reason to believe that things will be different in the quarters ahead.

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Quarks, colored gluons, and quantum chromodynamics

As most casual fans of modern physics should be well aware, there are
two brilliant, exceedingly accurate theories that dominate the physics
landscape today: general
relativity at the large end, and quantum mechanics at the small. While
they are both correct at their respective length scales, and they both
collapse
down to what is considered classical physics under certain conditions,
they are in complete disagreement with one another. Of the four
fundamental forces in the universe, quantum mechanics handles three of
them—electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak
nuclear force—where as general relativity handles the
remaining
force, gravity. General relativity aside, there is an
interesting
question (well, many interesting questions) lying in the other forces.
Have you ever thought about what holds the nucleus of an atom together?
Classical electrodynamics, Coulomb's law in particular, states that like
charges repel one another, so how does a group of positively charged
protons and neutral neutrons stay together? The
answer is the strong nuclear force, more specifically my favorite named
subatomic particles:
gluons. Granted, this is a simplification. The details are contained in
a sub-field of quantum mechanics, quantum chromodynamics (QCD). QCD
states that gluons mediate strong color charge interactions of quarks
and are therefore indirectly responsible for the binding of protons and
neutrons in an atomic nucleus.HangZhou Night Net

Clearly,
this binding energy is strong, as it is capable of overcoming the
electromagnetic repulsion that two protons feel between one another,
but this leads to another question, one that is unanswered in nuclear
physics today. Why does this strong attraction stop? What is keeping
this force from pulling all the quarks that make up protons and
neutrons in an atomic nucleus from forming a big "quarkblob" as opposed
to the individual
subatomic particles we observe everyday? For any one who has studied
physical chemistry (or a related field) they should be aware of the
concept of interatomic potentials, equations that describe the
forces or potentials between two atomic bodies. While there are a
myriad of these potentials, for the most part they share a similar
shape, as shown in the figure to the right. At very long distances
there is little to no attraction, at medium distances there is a strong
attraction between particles (which can be thought of as a bond), and
at very short distances there is a very strong repulsion. It has long
been empirically believed that the nucleon-nucleon—where a
nucleon
is a neutron or proton—interaction has this general shape,
where
thishard-core type repulsion at short distances would serve
to keep the quarks that make up protons and neutrons from collapsing
into a large "quarkblob".

Proving that a potential like this exists within the QCD framework is
exceedingly difficult, however a team of Japanese researchers has done
just that. The research article on this work is available from
arXiv for
free, for the physically inclined to read. In order to
compute this potential, the researchers needed to create a pair of
nucleons on a computer from scratch and compute how the total energy of
the system changed as a function of the distance between them. Even
though QCD contains all the necessary physics to carry out this
computation, it is no easy task. At the simplest level (which
is about as far as I can intelligently discuss this topic), a proton is
made up of three quarks, two up quarks (u) and a down (d) (uud). While this
is not entirely accurate, if
someone could simulate the quark trio and let it equilibrate, they
would have made a proton. However, this glosses over much of the
important details of the actual process which involves additional
gluons and quark-antiquark pairs appearing during the process. In the
quantum mechanical reality, these would all exist simultaneously which
is something a modern computer could not handle. In order to study this
the researchers used massively parallel computing techniques to
construct and store all the potential configurations that would be
needed to create two nucleons. Using a technique known as lattice
quantum chromodynamics, and advanced algorithms the team was able to
derive the nucleon-nucleon interaction potential by solving for a
wavefunction that satisfied the Schröedinger equation, in the proper
reference frame.

What the team found was that this empirically known repulsion at short
distances is indeed a direct consequence of QCD theory, and they were
able to quantify the nucleon-nucleon interaction potential in a way
never previously done. However, some
computational limitations placed restrictions on values that the
simulations depended on: the masses of the u and d quarks were
higher than what is experimentally agreed upon. This results in the
final results of the paper being slightly less quantitative, and more
qualitative, yet it represents a huge breakthrough in the field of
nuclear physics and QCD. Beyond adding a definite answer to a decades
old problem, the methods devised can be applied to study exotic forms
of matter not directly accessible in a terrestrial laboratory. The
authors point out how this work can be used to study what are called
hyperons: particles that contain a valence strange quark (s) in place of a u or d quark. Matter
like this occurs in supernova explosions and within the centers of neutron
stars, not something that is accessible by us. This work is another example
of simulation and computational research that will let science go
beyond what is currently possible. However, as always work of this
nature must be viewed with care since this is such a rapidly evolving
field. As Prof. Frank Wilczek of the physics department at MIT states
in his review
of this work in Nature,
"yesterday's sensation is tomorrow's calibration"—which
coincidentally is one of my new favorite quotes.

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Balancing forces in the evolution of flight

Birds may make it look easy, but flight is very stressful for them. Or at least for their shoulder joints, according to some recent research. Because the muscles and ligaments that stabilize the shoulder all reside close to the body, they have little leverage to hold the wing in place. As a result, one of the muscles (the pectoralis) in a pigeon's wing needs to exert a force of seven times its body weight simply to hold the wing steady while gliding, according to a model of the wing built by the authors. To actually pull the wing down for flight increases the requirement to 13 times body weight. HangZhou Night Net

This would all be easy if the muscle were pulling against a rigid joint, but a bird's shoulder needs to be open and allow a broad range of movements. As a result, unless the pectoralis's force were balanced, it would pull the wing right out of its socket. The authors of this report tested a number of other structures in the wing for their ability to counter-balance the force of this muscle and found that a ligament (the acrocoracohumeral ligament, or AHL) was ideally located to provide an opposing force. In fact, tests with the actual ligaments of dead pigeons revealed that the AHL could survive strains of nearly 40 times a pigeon's typical body weight.

The authors ask what this ligament is doing when it's not stabilizing a wing? The closest living relatives of birds are the Crocodilians, which primarily flex their shoulders horizontally. In alligators, the ligament extends horizontally, and doesn't even seem to be put under stress during their normal stride—the force generated by the pectoralis seems to be counteracted by other muscles. This raises some obvious questions about how the ligament came to play such a key role in the wing.

Fortunately, the paths and attachments of ligaments leave landmarks on bones which can be detected even in fossils. Ancestors of birds such as therapod dinosaurs and the Archaeopteryx appear to have an arrangement very much like an alligator's. But after that point, other fossil species on the bird lineage indicate that the adoption of a new orientation for the AHL and a more flexible shoulder joint occurred both very gradually and in tandem. The timing of these changes suggest that the last common ancestor of all modern birds (which lived well after their split with reptiles) had an intermediate shoulder where only part of the stress of a vertical wing was transferred to the ligament, but that the process was at least underway.

It's a neat study that suggests that even mechanical engineers might have something to tell us about evolution.

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