Archive for the ‘Xbox’ Category

The inside story of how Microsoft killed its Courier tablet

Steve Ballmer had a dilemma. He had two groups at Microsoft pursuing competing visions for tablet computers.

One group, led by Xbox godfather J Allard, was pushing for a sleek, two-screen tablet called the Courier that users controlled with their finger or a pen. But it had a problem: It was running a modified version of Windows.

That ran headlong into the vision of tablet computing laid out by Steven Sinofsky, the head of Microsoft’s Windows division. Sinofsky was wary of any product–let alone one from inside Microsoft’s walls–that threatened the foundation of Microsoft’s flagship operating system. But Sinofsky’s tablet-friendly version of Windows was more than two years away.

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For Ballmer, it wasn’t an easy call. Allard and Sinofsky were key executives at Microsoft, both tabbed as the next-generation brain trust. So Ballmer sought advice from the one tech visionary he’s trusted more than any other over the decades–Bill Gates. Ballmer arranged for Microsoft’s chairman and co-founder to meet for a few hours with Allard; his boss, Entertainment and Devices division President Robbie Bach; and two other Courier team members.

At one point during that meeting in early 2010 at Gates’ waterfront offices in Kirkland, Wash., Gates asked Allard how users get e-mail. Allard, Microsoft’s executive hipster charged with keeping tabs on computing trends, told Gates his team wasn’t trying to build another e-mail experience. He reasoned that everyone who had a Courier would also have a smartphone for quick e-mail writing and retrieval and a PC for more detailed exchanges. Courier users could get e-mail from the Web, Allard said, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

But the device wasn’t intended to be a computer replacement; it was meant to complement PCs. Courier users wouldn’t want or need a feature-rich e-mail application such as Microsoft’s Outlook that lets them switch to conversation views in their inbox or support offline e-mail reading and writing. The key to Courier, Allard’s team argued, was its focus on content creation. Courier was for the creative set, a gadget on which architects might begin to sketch building plans, or writers might begin to draft documents.

“This is where Bill had an allergic reaction,” said one Courier worker who talked with an attendee of the meeting. As is his style in product reviews, Gates pressed Allard, challenging the logic of the approach.

It’s not hard to understand Gates’ response. Microsoft makes billions of dollars every year on its Exchange e-mail server software and its Outlook e-mail application. While heated debates are common in Microsoft’s development process, Gates’ concerns didn’t bode well for Courier. He conveyed his opinions to Ballmer, who was gathering data from others at the company as well.

Within a few weeks, Courier was cancelled because the product didn’t clearly align with the company’s Windows and Office franchises, according to sources. A few months after that, both Allard and Bach announced plans to leave Microsoft, though both executives have said their decisions to move on were unrelated to the Courier cancellation.

The story of Microsoft’s Courier has only been told in pieces. And nothing has been disclosed publicly about the infighting that led to the innovative device’s death. This article was pieced together through interviews with 18 current and former Microsoft executives, as well as contractors and partners who worked on the project. None of the Microsoft employees, both current and former, would talk for attribution because they worried about potential repercussions. Microsoft’s top spokesman, Frank Shaw, offered only a brief comment for this story and otherwise declined to make Microsoft’s senior executives available.

“At any given time, we’re looking at new ideas, investigating, testing, incubating them,” Shaw said in a statement when word leaked in April 2010 that Courier had been cancelled. “It’s in our DNA to develop new form factors and natural user interfaces to foster productivity and creativity. The Courier project is an example of this type of effort. It will be evaluated for use in future offerings, but we have no plans to build such a device at this time.”

While the internal fight over Courier occurred about 18 months ago, the implications of the decision to kill the incubation project reverberate today. Rather than creating a touch computing device that might well have launched within a few months of Apple’s iPad, which debuted in April 2010, Microsoft management chose a strategy that’s forcing it to come from behind. The company cancelled Courier within a few weeks of the iPad’s launch. Now it plans to rely on Windows 8, the operating system that will likely debut at the end of next year, to run tablets.

Courier’s death also offers a detailed look into Microsoft’s Darwinian approach to product development and the balancing act between protecting its old product franchises and creating new ones. The company, with 90,000 employees, has plenty of brilliant minds that can come up with revolutionary approaches to computing. But sometimes, their creativity is stalled by process, subsumed in other products, or even sacrificed to protect the company’s Windows and Office empires.

‘Not a whim’
Courier was much more than a clever vision. The team, which had more than 130 Microsoft employees contributing to it, had created several prototypes that gave a clear sense about the type of experience users would get. There were still tough hardware and software issues to resolve when Microsoft pulled the plug. But an employee who worked on Courier said the project was far enough along that the remaining work could have been completed in months if the company had added more people to the team. Microsoft’s Shaw disputes that.

“There was extensive work done on the business, the technology and the experience,” said a member of the Courier team. “It was very complete, not a whim.”

Ballmer and Microsoft’s senior leadership decided to bet solely on Sinofsky’s Windows vision for the company’s tablet strategy. Though it crushed some innovative work from dedicated employees, that decision had plenty of logic to it. Corporate customers may be more inclined to use a Windows tablet than, say, Apple’s iPad, because those devices will likely include well-known management and security tools that should make them easy to plug into secure corporate networks.

A new survey by the Boston Consulting Group found that more than 40 percent of current tablet users in the United States want a tablet that runs Windows. That number jumps to 53 percent when non-tablet owners are included. The reason: familiarity with Windows, which still runs nearly 90 percent of all PCs sold.

“They think a common operating system will make this experience seamless across devices,” said Boston Consulting senior partner and managing director John Rose. “The products will be introduced, and they’ll be better (than the iPad) or they won’t be.”

Ballmer went out of his way to underscore Microsoft’s Windows strategy at the company’s financial analysts meeting last month, which it held concurrently with a conference where Microsoft wooed more than 5,000 developers to the Windows 8 platform for tablets.

“The first thing, which I hope is obvious, about our point of view is Windows is at the center,” Ballmer told analysts. “Certainly I can read plenty of places where people will question whether that’s a good idea or not. I think it’s an exceptionally good idea.”

But using Windows as the operating system for tablets also implies that Microsoft will update the devices’ operating systems on the Windows time frame, typically every three years. Compare that to Apple, which seems likely to continue to update the iPad annually, a tactic that drives a raft of new sales each time a new generation hits the market. By the time Windows 8 rolls out, Apple will likely have introduced its iPad 3. Moreover, Amazon’s much anticipated Kindle Fire tablet, which goes on sale November 15, will have nearly a year head start on the Windows-powered tablet offerings.

On the other hand, Courier, with its modified version of Windows, could have been updated more frequently than the behemoth operating system itself.

How far behind is Microsoft? Tablet makers sold 17.6 million devices in 2010, and are on a pace to sell 63.3 million more this year, according to industry analyst Gartner. In 2012, the firm expects sales to jump to 103.5 million devices. Just 4.3 million of those tablets, the ones that go on sale at the end of the year when Windows 8 debuts, will run Windows, according to the firm. Gartner expects Apple’s game-changing iPad to continue to dominate with a two-thirds share.

Building consumer muscle
Microsoft counted on Allard, more than any other senior executive in the last decade, to help it figure out how to reach the types of consumers who are now racing to buy iPads. Once an Internet wonk who helped a mid-1990s Microsoft wake up to the Web, Allard led the team that created Microsoft’s biggest non-PC consumer success story–the Xbox video game business. Always willing to stand up to leadership, Allard successfully argued that Windows wasn’t suitable to power the video game console, something Gates wasn’t initially keen on.

The success of the Xbox led Microsoft to create its Entertainment and Devices division under Bach. And Bach tapped the chrome-domed Allard to be his chief visionary.

Allard is a downhill mountain-biking maniac, who co-founded a cycling team, dubbed Project 529, whose name is intended to reflect the team’s after-hours passion, what they do from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. He often used Apple products, such as the iPod or the Mac, much to the disdain of some Microsoft colleagues. While he has serious technology chops, Allard also appreciated the importance of design, creating studios, rather than traditional office space, where his teams toiled. A key Allard trait: challenging convention.

Gizmodo broke the Courier story in September 2009, posting leaked pictures of what the device might look like and how it might work. Rather than the single screen that consumers have come to know as a tablet, Courier would have had two screens, each about 7 inches diagonally. The device would have folded in half like a book. It would have supported both touch and pen-based computing. The gadget-loving site drooled over what it had found.

“It feels like the whole world is holding its breath for the Apple tablet,” Gizmodo wrote. “But maybe we’ve all been dreaming about the wrong device. This is Courier, Microsoft’s astonishing take on the tablet.”

The gadget was the creation of Allard’s skunkworks design operation Pioneer Studios and Alchemie Ventures, a research lab that also reported to Allard. (The lab took the German spelling of “alchemy” to highlight the stereotypical Teutonic traits of structure and regiment it hoped to bring to its innovation process.) The two groups were created to identify consumer experiences that Microsoft could develop and hatch.

“Our job is to incubate those and work with the product teams to bring them to market,” said Pioneer’s co-founder Georg Petschnigg in a video posted to Microsoft’s developer Web site last year.

Allard created Alchemie to focus on innovation process to make sure that the efforts of Pioneer were not scattershot. It studied best practices, both within and outside Microsoft, to “design a repeatable, predictable and measurable approach for building new business” for Bach’s division, according to the Alchemie Ventures Toolkit, an internal Microsoft book reviewed by CNET.

“If Microsoft wants to truly implement effective and sustainable incubation, we have to embrace rigorous, repeatable, and measurable processes–and make those processes available to everyone,” Alchemie’s general manager Giorgio Vanzini wrote in the book.

Courier was born from the minds of both groups. And while Apple was working on its iPad at the same time, Courier was designed to be something entirely different. The iPad is all about content consumption–surfing the Web, watching videos, playing games. Courier was focused on content creation–drafting documents, brainstorming concepts, jotting down ideas.

“We weren’t fearful of it,” a Courier worker said of the iPad. “We were doing something different.”

Early on, the group opted to use Windows for Courier’s operating system. But it wasn’t a version of Windows that any consumer would recognize. The Courier team tweaked the operating system to make sure it could perform at high levels with touch- and pen-based computing. What’s more, the graphical shell of Windows–the interface that computer users associate with the operating system–was entirely removed. So while it was Windows under the hood, the home screens bore zero resemblance to the familiar PC desktop.

Creating a new approach
The Courier group wasn’t interested in replicating Windows on a tablet. The team wanted to create a new approach to computing. The metaphor they used was “digital Moleskine,” a nod to the leather-bound notebooks favored in the design world. In fact, according to a few team members, a small group led by Petschnigg flew to Milan, Italy, to pick the brains of the designers at Moleskine to understand how they’ve been able to create such loyal customers.

“Moleskine was interested but a little perplexed,” said one executive who worked on the Courier project.

Designers working on Courier came up with clever notions for how digital paper should work. One of the ideas was to create “smart ink,” giving text, for example, mathematical properties. So when a user wrote “5+8=” on, say, digital graph paper, the number “13” would fill in the equation automatically. Additionally, if users selected lined digital paper, words would snap to each line as they were jotted down.

The phrase at the core of the Courier mission was “Free Create.” It was meant to describe the notion of eliminating the processes and protocols that productivity software often imposes on workers.

“Free Create is a simple statement that acts as a rallying cry, uniting the consumer’s core need and Courier’s core benefit,” reads a passage in an internal Microsoft book memorializing the Courier effort, reviewed by CNET, that was given to the team after the project was shuttered. “Free Create is a natural way to digitally write, sketch and gather inspiration by blending the familiarity of the pen, the intuition of touch, the simplicity of the book and the advantages of software and services.”

It’s clear there were substantial resources behind the effort. The commemorative book, designed to resemble the journal-like look of the Courier, lists the 134 employees who contributed to the gadget’s creation. Moreover, Petschnigg writes on his LinkedIn profile page that he “managed $3.5 (million) seed funding, (and) secured $20 (million) to develop this new product category.”

Those funds helped build a multi-disciplinary team. It included interaction designers, who worked on new interfaces using pen- and touch-computing. There were also employees who worked on software to synchronize data from the Courier to Web-based services. The project had moved far enough along that there was staff that worked on brand strategy, advertising, retail planning, and partner marketing. Courier even had a deeply considered logo, something of a squiggle that looks a bit like an ampersand, meant to evoke the doodling that often is the start of a creative process.

“The Courier logo expresses the free-flow and formation of ideas,” reads the description of the logo in the commemorative book. “It references simple scribbles that are often the beginning of new ideas.”

While the software prototypes ran on existing tablet PCs built by Microsoft’s partners, they didn’t meet the performance goals for Courier. So Allard’s team also worked with several hardware makers, including Samsung, to create hardware prototypes.

“It was not off-the-shelf tech,” said a Courier team member. “There is no commercial product today that meets the specs we had for it. It was highly demanding and innovative and no one partner had all of the pieces.”

When Courier died, there was not a single prototype that contained all of the attributes of the vision: the industrial design, the screen performance, the software experience, the correct weight, and the battery life. Those existed individually, created in parallel to keep the development process moving quickly. Those prototypes wouldn’t have come together into a single unit until very late in the development process, perhaps weeks before manufacturing, which is common for cutting-edge consumer electronics design. But on the team, there was little doubt that they were moving quickly toward that final prototype.

“We were on the cusp of something really big,” said one Courier team member.

In late 2009, before the iPad had launched, the Courier team recognized the market for tablets was ready to explode. It laid out a detailed engineering schedule and made the case to Microsoft’s top brass that Courier could be a revolutionary device that would define a new product category. The team put forward a vision that Microsoft could create a new market rather than chasing down a leader or defending an established product.

“J (was) incubating with his tribe, very much thinking consumer and very much thinking the next few years,” a former Microsoft executive said. “He was trying to disrupt Microsoft, which hasn’t been good at consumer products.”

In fact, one of the mandates of Alchemie was to look only at product ideas and business concepts that were no farther than three years into the future. The Alchemie book includes something of an innovation process road map that lays out four “gates” that ideas needed to pass through to move from incubation to product development. And a source said that Courier had made it through all four gates.

So why did Courier die? The answer lies in an understanding of Microsoft’s history and cultu

Office 2007 SP3, another Mango phone event and more Microsoft news of the week

Now that Nokia World is over, I’m grabbing a pint (and a planned weekend of fun in London) before heading back to the states.

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the Microsoft tidbits I didn’t get to write up earlier in the week:

Office 2007 and SharePoint 2007 Service Pack (SP) 3 is out and downloadable. Here’s a Microsoft blog post with the download links. Here’s some background on this cumulative update that includes a couple of minor new features. SP3 is available via the Download Center as of this week, and will be pushed out as an Automatic Update in 90 days Microsoft execs said.

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Microsoft delivers new test builds of a number of System Center 2012’s components. Even though the official launch for the entire System Center 2012 family isn’t until some time in early 2012, Microsoft is continuing to roll out new Release Candidates (RCs) and betas of the point products before then. This week, the Softies made available for download near-final RCs of Orchestrator, Configuration Manager, and Endpoint Protection; and betas of Service Manager and App Controller. (App Controller is the private/public cloud-management dashboard app formerly known as “Concero”).

Microsoft is planning another Windows Phone Mango event in New York on November 7. Some of us press folks got invites to the “Backstage” event that will include appearances by Windows Phone President Andy Less and Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore. While the team didn’t share many details, the invitation featured a picture of three Windows Phones that looked like the HTC Radar, Titan and the Samsung Focus S, all bearing AT&T logos, making it seem that this will be the “launch”/general availability of these already-announced devices. The invitation also includes a mention of “a unique experience in the middle of Herald Square at 12 PM following this VIP event.” (which may have something to do with this?)

Microsoft’s biggest OEM partner isn’t quitting the PC business after all. In the company’s latest about-face, Hewlett-Packard officials have decided not to sell off the company’s PC business, after all. HP is Microsoft’s largest Windows PC OEM and is onboard with selling/support Windows 8 tablets. There’s no word as to whether HP will retrofit the TouchPad to be a Windows 8 machine or not. Meanwhile, there’s also no word as to whether HP will remain committed to webOS, going forward. I guess that is one reason the head of developer relations for webOS at HP just jumped to Nokia to head up developer relations….

Microsoft updates its view of the future of productivity: The Office Labs’ “Envisioning” team has made available its latest version of its regularly produced “Future of Productivity” videos. The “2021″ version doesn’t look a whole lot different to me from the 2019 one that Microsoft has been showing off until now. Computing devices will be lighter, thinner and more flexible. Touch, voice and gestures will figure more, but keyboards and stylus/pens won’t have entirely disappeared. And sensors/big data will allow users to interact more intelligently with their environments.

Pre-registered testers are getting the Xbox Live dashboard preview next week: The Xbox Live Dashboard update due “this fall” is going to preselected testers the week of October 31. The update includes support for Kinect voice search powered by Bing, as well as the promised Xbox Live TV service capability, among other new features. WinRumors has reported the coming update is codenamed “Madrid” and also will feature support for a marketplace for applications.

Stupid user tricks 5: IT’s weakest link

But we were prepped. We were almost grinning, because we were about to be heroes. We told the IT guy that we have virtual images of his servers, that we had their configs registered with a local outfit that will rent us replacement infrastructure until he gets the new stuff on order, so all we need are the backup tapes and we can have him up and running in about a day, maybe less.

 

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Boy, that would have been nice. But we also learned that Mr. IT had gotten tired of going to the second floor to replace backup tapes. After all, that disk array was doing just fine as a backup. So the last tape they had was from four months before the four-post header.

Fallout: Not only did Mr. IT get fired, but the IT team lost the contract — unfair.

Moral: Do your daily backups, and don’t treat your  IT infrastructure like a fridge.

Stupid user trick No. 5: Letting mom monkey around with the admin console
Incident: One IT consultant tells tale of yet another hard-learned lesson in proper password management brought to you by that time-honored IT pro, mom.

A small-business client had us install a Small Business Server box for her. She had about 12 people working for her, including her mom, who was doubling as the office manager and her daughter’s personal assistant.

We did as we were asked. Everything was set up, tested, and found to be working. We established an admin account on the server and left it with the owner with strict instructions that it’s for emergencies when she’s on the phone with us only. She, of course, gave the admin account info to her mom to keep someplace safe without passing on the last part of the instructions.

Her mother went exploring and found this thing called Active Directory. Next thing we know, we’re getting an angry call from the daughter because our email server was sending strange emails to all her clients and friends. The story: Her mom had figured out how to get into Computers and Users and had been adding everyone in her daughter’s address book into AD, along with generating them an internal email address in addition to the one listed in her daughter’s rolodex. The system sent everyone a welcome email with an introduction to the “new” network they’d just joined.

Fallout: Apology emails around, consultant fees to delete all those users and set AD right, and palpable tension between daughter and mom.

Moral: Server passwords aren’t status symbols. If a person doesn’t need one, don’t share it.

Stupid user trick No. 6: Paying before planning
Incident: Hubris is no stranger to the world of IT. But when a trumped-up higher-up puts the purchase before the plan, the fallout can mean only one thing — a derailed career, as one developer recounts.

I worked for an Internet startup back in the late ’90s, complete with big-time VC funding and a small DNA kernel of three business whizzes and one techno geek who gleefully grabbed the CTO title.

The startup’s goal was to create a Java-based vertical accounting system followed by inventory and sales systems that would eventually comprise a “suite” of offerings. The three kernel guys land a huge bundle of first-round financing and sit down with two “experts” from the vertical to discuss what the initial application should look like and how it should run.

They’re in germination meetings for about a week, coming out with huge schematics and wireframes for the first rev. The CTO decided a messaging bus platform is absolutely required and proceeded to do a deal with the leader in that space at the time (name withheld), for — wait for it — $5 million.

Microsoft offers students a free Xbox with new Windows 7 PCs

If you are about to plunk down some cash for a new Windows 7 PC for your college studies, you may be able to score a free Xbox with that purchase. Microsoft is giving away a free Xbox 360 4GB console with the purchase of a Windows 7 PC $699 or more beginning this week through September 3, or until it determines that supplies have run out.

 

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The offer requires that the purchaser provide verification of college student status by either purchasing the machine by using an e-mail with an “.edu” address or by showing a student id at participating retailers. Online participating retailers include Dell.com, HP.com (beginning May 26) or the Microsoft Store.

Microsoft also offers a somewhat annoying free tool, called the PC Scout, that can help students find the right Windows 7 PC. But don’t use it if you over eight years old and you have a low tolerance for corny jokes. It’s “interactive” meaning its got an MC doing a lot of talking in between offering you radio buttons to move the buying process along.

Instead, the Microsoft store does a good job of pinpointing available laptops and specs with a few clicks. It showed me nine laptops/netbooks in the $699-$799 range within seconds. That Dell Inspiron Duo Convertible PC looks awesome, but the Lenovo IdeaPad U260 also looks beautiful and durable.

Microsoft: We’re Not Bound by GPLv3

Microsoft shot back at the open source community Thursday, saying it would not provide support for software licensed under the GPLv3. The third version of the GPL — a license used for open source software — was officially launched a week ago by the Free Software Foundation.

 

 


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“Microsoft has decided that the Novell support certificates that we distribute to customers will not entitle the recipient to receive from Novell, or any other party, any subscription for support and updates relating to any code licensed under GPLv3,” the company said in a statement.

The reasons for this are simple: GPLv3 adds provisions into the agreement that make it difficult for Microsoft to assert its patents against Linux developers.

Additionally, the GPLv3 also makes future deals like its pacts with Novell, Linspire and Xandros illegal, something the Redmond company obviously wants to avoid.

“Microsoft is not a party to the GPLv3 license and none of its actions are to be misinterpreted as accepting status as a contracting party of GPLv3 or assuming any legal obligations under such license,” it added.

Certficates for Novell SUSE Enterprise Linux support distributed by Microsoft covered the GPLv2 version of the product. Novell is expected to sign on to the newer GPL version, which some have said would indirectly mean Microsoft would be bound by its provisions.

Additionally, since the certificates apparently have no expiration date, a customer could use the certificate for software issued in the future under whatever version of GPL is current at the time. This could potentially also cause problems for Microsoft.

Essentially, Microsoft is pulling out of the distribution part of its deal, as it says the certificates that it would distribute would not entitle the customer to any GPLv3 protected software, at least initially.

Regardless of what this means for GPLv3 and the future of the Novell deal with Microsoft, Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley said that some parts of the company’s strategy here did not “add up.”

Foley wonders how lawyers for Microsoft could let the company issue the certificates without any expiration date, as well as not thinking the Free Software Foundation would attempt to prevent Microsoft from making good on its legal threats in the future.

“Is Microsoft legal holding a trump card that no one knows about? Or is Microsoft really as inept in fighting off open source as it currently seems?” she asked.

How to Recycle Your Technology

The Best Places to Recycle Tech

e-Stewards
This program is run by the Basel Action Network (BAN), a non-profit dedicated to confronting environmental injustice caused by toxic chemicals worldwide. BAN helped expose the atrocious things happening in Asia and Africa caused by the so-called “recycling” of e-waste exported there. With help from some corporations and citizens, it created e-Stewards to address what it says the government doesn’t: “prevent the toxic materials in electronics from continuing to cause long term harm to human health and the environment.” BAN and its group of e-Stewards Recyclers even recently called on the United States to halt all export of e-waste generated by the federal government alone; BAN says the feds buy around 500,000 new computers a year, making it “the largest source of electronic waste in the world.” Washington should lead by example. By checking out the list of e-Stewards Recyclers on the site, you can be reassured that you are taking your digital detritus to someone you can absolutely trust to recycle it in the safest way possible.

 

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Best Buy
The nationwide electronics retailer has, arguably, the best recycling program going. Its Web site details what exactly it’ll take (small tube TVs, Bluetooth headsets, software, UPS battery backups, to name a few) and what it won’t (projection TVs, rooftop dish antennas, hard drives, old cassettes and 8-tracks, go figure.) Small items such as ink/toner, old cables, and batteries can go in recycling kiosks right by the door.

The list of items it’ll take is tremendously long, and even if it won’t take it in store, it might pick it up. That goes for several large kitchen appliances, plus old CRT televisions over 32-inches in size. Check the listing for your state, however, as what Best Buy accepts could differ depending on local laws.

What’s the catch? Not much. You can take in up to 3 items per day. It doesn’t matter if you bought it there or not. It’s mostly free: if you bring in a small tube TV or CRT monitor, they charge you $10 to take it… then turn right around and give you a $10 Best Buy gift card. Again, state rules can apply.

Even smarter: check Best Buy’s Trade-In calculator to see if what you think is junk could be used to offset buying some new toys.

Staples
Bring in as many as 10 ink/toner cartridges per month and you get $2 for each in Staple Rewards to spend. Staples will also take any other old office electronics, like computers, monitors, and printers, for $10 per large piece of equipment. If the electronics are smaller, such as input devices, phones or cameras, the recycling is free. For items with the Dell brand, all recycling is free. Staples does not take TVs or big copiers.

Staples also offers a service called EasyTech to move data from an old computer you want to get rid off to a new PC. Plus, it sells a line of Sustainable Earth products, such as remanufactured toner cartridges.

Office Depot
At Office Depot, you can buy what it calls a Tech Recycling Box. You can put as much electronic junk in one of these boxes as you want, as long as it will close. Then bring the box back to the store unsealed and drop it off for inspection. Office Depot will ship it off to waste management partners to do the rest. It promises to break the devices down to components of glass, plastic, copper and aluminum to reuse. The boxes come in different sizes and costs: small (8x15x18 inches) is $5, medium (20x16x16 inches) is $10, and large (24x18x18 inches) is $15. Check out its FAQ PDF of items it accepts and items doesn’t (which includes such obvious items as devices covered in or leaking liquid and anything radioactive).

Mobile phones, PDAs, batteries, and ink/toner cartridges can be dropped off for free with any sales associate, however. Or if you go to OfficeDepot.com, you can buy boxes—for the price of $0.00, including delivery to your home—to directly recycle laser toner and inkjet cartridges by mail.

E-Cycle
It’s no surprise that the company that was on site at MacWorld to take old iPhones when Verizon Wireless announced it would sell the current iPhone 4 is in the market to get your old iProducts. E-Cycle will buy iPhones and iPads from individuals or organization. Just go to its site, tell it what kind of device you have, and it’ll generate a quote. It’ll even take broken devices. You simply mail it in a pre-paid box E-Cycle provides, and then payment shows up in the mail. I got a quote of $145 for a working condition first generation iPad with Wi-Fi and 16GB memory; $315 for an iPhone 4 with 16GB, which is more than most people pay for them brand new (with a contract). E-Cycle will take other phones if you ask, but won’t pay you for them.

Call2Recycle is a non-profit program specifically for collecting and safely disposing of rechargeable batteries. Visit the site and enter your zip code and it will display any number of retailers that have a Call2Recycle drop off location. Partners include Lowes, Home Depot, RadioShack, Sears, and Best Buy, to name a few. This goes for not just your electronics, but all those rechargeable batteries on your tools and flashlights as well—none of them are doing us any favors in the landfill. Plus, it’s free. Precious metals are recovered from the dead batteries and turned into useful stuff. For example, the kitchen flatware you eat with may once have been powering your drill or phone.

How to Recycle Your Technology

We love our computers and electronics. That is, until they stop working. Then these computers and their peripherals, from printers to monitors, not to mention your handhelds, batteries, and accessories, often become digital garbage.

These things aren’t made to last after all. (No computer or phone maker is going to mind if you buy an upgrade every year or two.) Consequently, all of this junk ends up in the back of your closet or stored in your garage, collecting dust, because you aren’t sure what to do with the stuff. The best thing to do with this growing accumulation of old electronic equipment is to either donate or recycle it.

 



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Donate your old computers and phones whenever you can to groups that will fix and clean them up and then put them back to good use. Even the oldest computer, something you consider the most obsolete of digital dinosaurs, can probably be used by someone.

There are times, though, when a device is too far gone and there’s nothing else that can be done to bring it back to life again. Even a charity doesn’t want your unusable junk. That junk—called e-waste—is potentially dangerous. Electronics are filled with “heavy metals” (read: toxic metals) and carcinogenic chemicals that are fine when you’re using them, but not so much when sitting in a landfill or, worse, when people try to recycle them incorrectly. Thousands of tons of e-waste is shipped overseas yearly to countries like China and India where it gets dumped and maybe burned, which puts mercury and lead into the air.

So on this 41st Earth Day, we want to point out the places you can take your old or even dead electronics, so they can end up either being used by someone in need or safely recycled.

Google’s first quarter earnings miss projections as expenses spike; Page makes brief appearance

Google’s first quarter earnings fell short of Wall Street expectations as the company continued to invest heavily in data center infrastructure and headcount.

Google reported first quarter earnings of $2.8 billion, or $7.04 a share, on revenue excluding traffic acquisition costs of $6.54 billion (statement, preview). Non-GAAP earnings were $8.08 a share. Wall Street was expecting earnings of $8.10 a share on revenue of $6.32 billion.

 



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Google CEO Larry Page made a brief appearance on the company’s conference call. He said the reorganization has gone as planned and the team has “hit the ground running.” Page added that the quarter worked out well and he was excited about moves to “simplify our org.

“I’m very optimistic about our future,” said Page. Here’s what Page said in full:

It’s great to take just a few minutes with all of you. We’ve had a tremendous quarter, 27% year over year revenue growth in Q1. I’m really excited about that and I think it shows the strength of our business and our continuing — kind of continuing growth really in the tech industry. It’s really still at the beginning from a user perspective. There’s tremendous improvements to be had in our core products and our core business, and we are really excited about that. I also wanted to mention a little bit about the management team. Everything we told you last quarter has happened as we expected. It’s all working very well, exactly as we planned. I’ll just reiterate that quickly I am managing the day-to-day operations of Google as CEO, working very closely with my team, and I’m really excited about the progress we’ve had there. I think we really hit the ground running. Eric (Schmidt) of course is focused externally on the government partnerships, government relations, and partnership outreaches. Last quarter alone, he was in Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Spain. He’s been just doing tremendous things for the Company. Sergey, as we mentioned, is working very intensely on a few emerging projects for us. Like I said, this is all exactly as we planned, and I’m very, very excited about those changes. I’d also mention we made a number of changes to just simplify our org and improve our velocity and execution, basically simplify our reporting structures and such. Now I’m very excited about Google and our momentum, and I’m very, very optimistic about our future. I also just want to mention we have Jonathan Rosenberg, who’s usually done this call, is transitioning out of the Company as we have announced a while ago. I really wanted to thank him for all of his insights and hard work and all of the fine communication with all of you. And so we will clearly miss him, and we really want to thank him from the bottom of our hearts. So those are the main things I wanted to say. I’m tremendously excited about all of the things that lay before us as a company, and I also want us to say you’re in very good hands with the team here.

With Google it’s a tug-of-war between earnings today and investments for tomorrow. Indeed, Google beefed up a good bit and ended the first quarter with 26,316 employees compared to 24,400 at the end of the fourth quarter. That level of investment has investors worried about profit margins.

CFO Patrick Pichette kept Google’s common refrain going. “It’s clear that our past investments have been crucial to our success today–which is why we continue to invest for the long term,” he said. “We will continue to make capital investments.”

All units at Google are expected to show productivity as they invest, said Pichette. Pichette was making the case that Google closely watches expenses, but analysts were skeptical.

On the conference call, Pichette was upbeat about Google’s progress and cited Android, display ad progress and YouTube develop as a win-win platform.

Highlights from Google’s earnings call:

* 350,000 Android devices activated every day.
* Google is investing in marketing the Chrome browser. Why? It’s a locked in user and that lowers traffic acquisition costs. Google is tracking the lifetime value of a Chrome user and there are real returns there.
* Enterprise business continues to grow.
* Japan hurt international revenue.
* New hires are working on areas  “In fact, over half the [newglers] who joined this quarter are going to be working in high potential and revenue growth areas like YouTube, mobile, Chrome, commerce and local, and enterprise,” said Jeff Huber, senior vice president of commerce and local at Google.
* Social is a important as a search results signal.

By the numbers:

* Google’s owned and operated sites generated $5.88 billion in first quarter revenue, or 69 percent of total sales. AdSense delivered first quarter sales of $2.43 billion, or 28 percent of revenue.
* International revenue was 53 percent of the total sales pie in line with the year ago percentage.
* Paid clicks were up 18 percent in the first quarter compared to a year ago. Cost per click was up 8 percent.
* Data center expenses—or other cost of revenue—were $897 million, or 10 percent of sales.
* Google ended the quarter with $36.7 billion in cash and equivalents.

2011 Q1 Google Earnings Slides
View more presentations from Earnings

Oracle to patch 73 critical DB server flaws

The next batch of security patches from Oracle will be a biggie: 73 new security vulnerability fixes across hundreds of Oracle products.

According to an advance notice from the database server giant, some of the vulnerabilities affect multiple products and may be exploited over a network without the need for a username and password.

 

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The patches, scheduled for release next Tuesday (April 19, 2011), will affect the following products and components:

Security vulnerabilities addressed by this Critical Patch Update affect the following products:

* Oracle Database 11g Release 2, versions 11.2.0.1, 11.2.0.2
* Oracle Database 11g Release 1, version 11.1.0.7
* Oracle Database 10g Release 2, versions 10.2.0.3, 10.2.0.4, 10.2.0.5
* Oracle Database 10g Release 1, version 10.1.0.5
* Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g Release 1, versions 11.1.1.2.0, 11.1.1.3.0, 11.1.1.4.0
* Oracle Application Server 10g Release 3, version 10.1.3.5.0
* Oracle Application Server 10g Release 2, version 10.1.2.3.0
* Oracle Identity Management 10g, versions 10.1.4.0.1, 10.1.4.3
* Oracle JRockit, versions R27.6.8 and earlier (JDK/JRE 1.4.2, 5, 6), R28.1.1 and earlier (JDK/JRE 5, 6)
* Oracle Outside In Technology, versions 8.3.2.0, 8.3.5.0
* Oracle WebLogic Server, versions 8.1.6, 9.2.3, 9.2.4, 10.0.2, 11gR1 (10.3.2, 10.3.3, 10.3.4)
* Oracle E-Business Suite Release 12, versions 12.0.6, 12.1.1, 12.1.2, 12.1.3
* Oracle E-Business Suite Release 11i, version 11.5.10.2
* Oracle Agile Technology Platform, versions 9.3.0.2, 9.3.1
* Oracle PeopleSoft Enterprise CRM, version 8.9
* Oracle PeopleSoft Enterprise ELS, versions 9.0, 9.1
* Oracle PeopleSoft Enterprise HRMS, versions 9.0, 9.1
* Oracle PeopleSoft Enterprise Portal, versions 8.8, 8.9, 9.0, 9.1
* Oracle PeopleSoft Enterprise People Tools, versions 8.49, 8.50, 8.51
* Oracle JD Edwards OneWorld Tools, version 24.1.x
* Oracle JD Edwards EnterpriseOne Tools, version 8.98.x
* Oracle Siebel CRM Core, versions 7.8.2, 8.0.0, 8.1.1
* Oracle InForm, versions 4.5, 4.6, 5.0
* Oracle Sun Product Suite
* Oracle Open Office, version 3 and StarOffice/StarSuite, versions 7, 8

The highest CVSS 2.0 Base Score for vulnerabilities in this Critical Patch Update is 10.0 for Oracle JRockit of Oracle Fusion Middleware and Sun GlassFish Enterprise Server, Sun Java System Application Server of Oracle Sun Products Suite, the company said.

“Due to the threat posed by a successful attack, Oracle strongly recommends that customers apply Critical Patch Update fixes as soon as possible.”

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RIM BlackBerry PlayBook: The Unboxing

Next week, RIM’s first tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, will finally go on sale. Before we took the PlayBook to the labs for testing and itsfull review, we unboxed the tablet and played with it, taking photos all along the way, to give you a look at what you’ll get if you buy a PlayBook when it becomes available on April 19th.

 

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At launch, you can buy one of three versions of the tablet, all identical except for varying amounts of built-in storage. All current models are Wi-Fi-only, but 3G and 4G models are on the way. The 16BG model will sell for $499.99, the 32GB for $599.99 and the 64GB for $699.99—the same prices and capacities as the Wi-Fi-only Apple iPad 2.

Included with the PlayBook is a soft carrying pouch. And we also got our hands on optional rubber and leather cases from RIM. None of the cases have magnets or special interactions with the tablet, unlike the Apple iPad Smart Cover, which can wake up the iPad or put it to sleep by simply moving the cover on or off the tablet’s screen. The cases have cutouts for the Volume and Power buttons, and for the front- and back-facing webcams. Pricing has not yet been announced for either case.

The PlayBook runs a new operating system, optimized for tablets, called the BlackBerry Tablet OS. In the past few months, other competitors have redesigned their mobile operating systems to be optimized for tablets as well (like Google’s Android 3.0 and HP’s upcoming WebOS 3.0 for the HP TouchPad.)

Check out our full BlackBerry PlayBook review to see how the latest tablet stacks up against the competition. And hit the slideshow below for the unboxing photos.