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TiVo-like software draws ire of XM Radio

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Time Trax, a program designed to record XM radio programming directly to a PC’s hard drive, has drawn the attention of XM Radio and the RIAA — and not in a good way. Frustrated by his inability to listen to all the broadcasts he wanted to, Ontario programmer Scott MacLean wrote and began selling Time Trax. The application creates an analog recording of songs broadcast over XM along with track information which is then stored as an MP3 file. It will only work with the XM PCR receiver, as the auto and home stereo receivers lack a PC interface.HangZhou Night Net

Predictably, the RIAA and XM Radio are not amused, and are looking deeper into the legality of the software:

A spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America said his organization had not reviewed the software, but said that in principle it was disturbed by the idea. “We remain concerned about any devices or software that permit listeners to transform a broadcast into a music library,” RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said.

Yes, heaven forbid that a paying customer should be able to save broadcasts for his own personal use. Both XM Radio and the RIAA are looking closely at MacLean’s creation to see if it violates either the XM user agreement or copyright laws, apparently fearing that saved broadcasts could wind up on P2P networks. XM also has plans for a new version of its receiver with pause and rewind functionality, which is not as compelling when there is software that provides the same functionality.

Look for the lawyering to start soon, as XM considers it an “unauthorized” product. It’s a shame… not just because it’s a cool program, but because XM is displaying the typical knee-jerk reaction that media companies have when customers decided they want to use their products in a way the manufacturers did not intend. Too bad XM is choosing to see Time Trax as a potential legal battle rather than an sales opportunity.

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Lawsuit filed over CD antipiracy tech

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Big Five record label EMI is being sued in France over copy protection tech used in many music CDs. A French consumer group, UFC-Que Choisir has filed suit, alleging "deception over the material qualities of a product" since the CDs will not play in some home CD players, car stereos, and PC CD/DVD drives. In addition, the group is upset that the technology used by EMI prohibits consumers from making copies of the music for personal use.HangZhou Night Net

Julien Dourgnon, deputy director of the consumer group, said the ability to make copies for private use – for example by transferring music to a portable MP3 player – was important to many record buyers. "We’re defending that freedom, we’re not defending piracy," he said.

EMI and a retailer also named in the suit responded by pointing out that they inform consumers that the copy-protected CDs could cause problems in some situations and give full refunds to customers unhappy with the CDs. While the potential fines are not steep, any finding against the label could result in their being ordered to take the copy-protected CDs off the market.

It is an odd strategy the record companies have chosen ? irritating their customers by selling them a product that does not work as expected. While the CDs may be clearly labeled, the labels are in effect trying to change nearly 20 years of ingrained behavior: buy a CD, take it home, put it in the stereo, and listen to it. Obviously, if the customers don’t mind putting up with the problems inherent in copy-protected CDs (witness the success of Velvet Revolver’s release, which became the first album with copy protection to hit #1 in the US), then the labels will have no incentive to change their practices.

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Toyota reports a silicon carbide breakthrough

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Move over silicon chips, there is a new semiconductor king on the horizon. Silicon carbide’s (SiC) potential has been known since the 1950’s, but the properties that make is attractive also make it hard to work with. The material is a good semiconductor, extremely resistant to heat, and hard. So hard in fact, researchers had trouble making large enough SiC crystals without defects. Now, researchers from Toyota Central Research and Development Laboratories report in Nature (registration required) they have used a Repeated A-Face method of physical vapor transport to create large SiC crystals with virtually no defects. HangZhou Night Net

Takatori grows the silicon carbide crystals in several different stages. At each stage, further growth is only allowed on the cleanest face of the crystal. Hot silicon carbide vapour condenses on the crystal’s flat face and defects are gradually eliminated as the crystals grow up to seven centimetres across. Takatori’s crystals contain less than 1% of the number of defects found in a crystal produced by conventional methods.

What advantages would SiC have over traditional silicon based semiconductors? SiC has a higher energy efficiency, can handle high frequency electrical pulses and is tolerant to extreme temperatures. Previous research has shown SiC devices can operate at temperatures as high as 650C (1,202F) without the need for cooling. Kiss that noisy heat sink/fan combo goodbye! SiC’s properties could open up uses for electronic controllers inside jet engines and provide hardened circuitry for spacecraft.

Silicon is safe for now. The researchers have only been able to make pure SiC wafers up to 3 inches in diameter and improvements in the SiC deposition technique are needed to increase wafer size and lower production costs. SiC could see its first use in specialized circuitry that needs high heat tolerance, but mainstream commercial usage could be over 6 years away. The BBC also has coverage of the discovery here.

Cell launches “Article of the Future” format

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During the last year, Cell has spearheaded an initiative to change the way readers interact with research articles on the Internet. They note that, for a long time, research papers on the Web laid flat and lifeless on the screen, much as print articles do on the page, but they were capable of so much more. Cell came up with new layouts for research papers that take advantage of current Web technology, and presented the prototypes to its authors and readers, who voted and gave feedback on the designs.

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What Cell came up with was a format it has christened “Article of the Future.” Articles of the Future are broken down into their respective sections (Introduction, Discussion, Figures, and so on) with a navigation section at the top, allowing readers to jump to the sections they are most interested in. The landing section of each article is a bullet-point summary and abstract next to a representative image, allowing readers a quick take-away message if that’s all they’re looking for (video descriptions called a “PaperFlick” appear here, when available). You can even zoom in on images (!), which are presented under the Data tab as a film strip. The citations in the body of the paper are also linked to a separate section, where readers can view the citation in full.

Hold on, don’t reach for your smelling salts just yet. Doesn’t this sound a little familiar? It should—to an extent, all Cell has done is take features from dozens of websites and apply them to scientific publications. But, similarities aside, any effort to make research more accessible and readable is a good thing, and rare among Cell’s peers. Maybe this will encourage other publications to step into the Future—or, you know, at least 2001.

An embarrassment of Kepler riches, planetary and otherwise

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Earlier this week, we described a brief announcement from the team behind the Kepler space observatory, designed to spot the transit of planets in front of their host stars. That announcement was followed up by a paper in Thursday’s issue of Science, which provided a few more details on some of the planets and other things that have been spotted within its field of view. But that paper was really a vehicle for a massive information dump; it contains information about 22 papers submitted to the Astrophysics Journal, many of which have been posted on an arXiv preprint server.

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Many of these describe the instrument aboard the Kepler in greater detail, and others the scientific pipeline that handles the data it returns—eliminating false positives and coordinating follow-up observations are central to the process. One paper lists the follow-up resources available to the team, which include the Hubble and Spitzer in space, and Hawaii’s Keck telescope back on Earth. As of the end of 2009, there were already 177 items that were in or had been through the planetary pipeline. Five of these have already been confirmed to be signals from planets, and another 52 appear to be promising candidates. Another 65 are still under observation, status unknown.

Some of the planets are rather unusual, at least based on the bodies in our solar system. One, Kepler-4b is quite similar to Neptune (nearly the same size, and 1.4 times the mass). But, as the authors note in a fit of understatement, “A major difference between Kepler-4b and Neptune is the irradiancelevel for Kepler-4b is over 800,000 times larger.” If Kepler-4b and Neptune had the same composition, then that much heat (its equilibrium temperature is 1650K) would have caused the planet to swell dramatically. So, although the paper’s title refers to the planet as “Hot Neptune-like,” there seem to be some substantial differences in composition.

Another planet, Kepler-6b, does seem to have undergone some temperature-related bloating. Despite being only about two-thirds the mass of Jupiter, at 1,500K, it’s bloated up to a radius of 1.3 times Jupiter’s. That leaves it with a density of 0.35g/cm3 (for the metrically unaware, water’s value is 1). Although this seems odd based on our familiar planets, the authors describe these features as “fairly typical.” Kepler-8b, however, falls off the far end of typical. It’s got a density of 0.26g/cm3, making it one of the lowest density planets known.

Returning to a known planet, HAT-P-7 (which Kepler used to validate its instruments, scientists were actually able to detect the fact that the massive planet, orbiting so close to its host star, induced disturbances in the star’s surface. That’s good news for the observatory’s future. “The Kepler light of HAT-P-7 curve reveals ellipsoidal variations with an amplitude of approximately 37 ppm,” the authors of that paper note. “This is the first detection of ellipsoidal variations in an exoplanet host star, and shows the precision Kepler is capable of producing even at this early stage. For comparison, a transit of an Earth-analog planet around a Sun-like star would produce a signal depth of 84 ppm, a factor of 2 larger than this effect.”

Some of the other papers point out that, although Kepler’s primary mission is to hunt planets, it’s unusual in that it does so by staring intently at a the same stars, day in and day out (the ESA’s CoRoT does something similar). That is allowing researchers to do some asteroseismology, tracking the variations in stars over the short term, and allowing them glimpses into the processes that drive stellar evolution.

They’re also using the data to observe the orientation of the orbits of these planets in order to constrain our understanding of the development of planetary systems. These hot Jupiters can’t possibly form so close to the host star, but this the data will help identify whether they are typically dragged inwards by that star’s gravity, or shoved inwards by interactions with other planets.

All that in the first six months that Kepler has been operational.

Science, 2009. DOI: 10.1126/science.1185402

Greenpeace gives Apple gold stars for green efforts

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Despite the two companies’ somewhat spotted history together, Greenpeace has awarded Apple four giant gold stars for its efforts to rid its products of brominated flame retardants (BFR) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). (BFRs and PVC have long been on Greenpeace’s hit list of environmentally unfriendly chemicals.) In fact, Apple received a large gold star—the highest rating Greenpeace gave out—in each of the four categories rated in its latest report: desktops, portables, cell phones, and displays. Of the six companies with products in all four categories, Apple was the only one to receive a large gold star in any category, and, in general, it blew away the other five. Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, and LGE received only one small gold star each.

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Apple also made progress in Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics,where it now moves up into fifth place out of the 18 companies Greenpeace chose to rate. With a cumulative score of 5.1, Apple has moved up six places since July of 2009. Apple did lose points, however, for not providing “public positions” on some issues and not communicating future plans with regard to the elimination of certain chemical compounds.

Greenpeace has been riding Apple since as far back as 2006 when it issued a similar report and tried to light up the 5th Avenue Apple store in NYC with green flashlights in an attempt to bring Apple’s environmental failings into the spotlight. That same year, the organization went as far as making a mock Apple website lambasting the company. In 2007, Greenpeace tried another tactic by pressuring Al Gore (who is a board member at Apple) into changing the company’s ways. Though this certainly won’t be the last time we hear from Greenpeace, it’s nice to see the organization has finally let up a little thanks to Apple’s environmental improvement.

Microsoft: Google’s Nexus One will hurt Android

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Earlier this week, Google unveiled the Nexus One; the search giant’s first branded mobile phone. Then the company confirmed that Nexus One, and all subsequent Google phones sold via the company’s online store, will be available unlocked for use on every participating carrier. Microsoft has weighed in on this development, specifically where Google is both offering Android to its partners and allowing one partner to benefit from having a Google-branded phone, concluding that it is a flawed strategy. The software giant says that Google will have a hard time attracting partners to its mobile operating system after introducing its own handset, even if it is developed by HTC.

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Microsoft has been rumored to be working on its own mobile phone for months, if not years. Officially though, the company insists that releasing its own branded smartphone would be contrary to its strategy of offering just the operating system to a number of partners who then provide various hardware options so that consumers can have a myriad of devices to choose from. Thus it’s not too big of a surprise to hear Microsoft Entertainment and Devices President Robbie Bach bash Google for the move, saying that handset makers may fear the company will prioritize its own product over theirs and ditch Android as a result.

“Doing both in the way they are trying to do both is actually very, very difficult,” Bach said at CES 2010 yesterday, according to Bloomberg. “Google’s announcement sends a signal where they’re going to place their commitment. That will create some opportunities for us and we’ll pursue them. Over time you have to decide whether your approach is with the partners or more like an Apple approach that is more about Apple. Google’s is an interesting step. We’ll see how people react.”

Google may have a hard time convincing their licensees that they’re not in competition with them. Still, Google has at least one advantage over Microsoft: Android is free for licensees to put on their devices. If Google started off by launching the Nexus One and then began distributing Android, it would be a big problem. Since it’s the other way around, we must remember that gratis is an addiction hard to drop once you’ve had it for a few months.

The e-book wars of 2010: displays and hardware

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If I had any doubts that the e-book wars are officially on, my first day at CES dispelled them thoroughly. Note that I said “e-book wars,” and not “e-reader wars.” That’s because there’s a tidal wave of E-Ink-based e-readers that are about to hit the US, so that by the second half of this year (at the latest) E-Ink screens will be a dime a dozen. And on top of the E-Ink screens will be the tablets, and on top of those will be LCD/E-Ink tablet combos in various configurations.

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But as thick as the market will be with e-book hardware, the readers aren’t the only crowded part of the market. Everyone also wants to control a distribution platform. And then there are the publishers, who are scrambling to adapt to the new medium.

In short, right now, the emerging e-book market is in a full-blown melee—a free-for-all where everyone along the chain from content producer to reader is trying to be the first to figure it all out. Over the next few days, we’ll talk about how the battle lines are shaping up in the following areas: displays, chips, storefronts, and publishers. Many of the combatants are involved in more than one of these areas—Qualcomm is in displays and chips; newcomer Copia is pushing hardware and a storefront; Sprint, Hearst, Skiff, and LG are all allied across displays, storefronts, and publishers under the Skiff banner; and so on.

The Sprint/Hearst Skiff and the Plastic Logic QUE

Most of the e-readers coming out in the next few months are based on E-Ink, but that doesn’t mean that the displays will be identical. Reading devices will compete with each other on size, thickness, resolution, contrast, and price. The screens will also compete to offer color as quickly as possible.

Of the readers that I saw, the Skiff has the edge on size so far with an 11.5″ diagonal screen. Plastic Logic comes in a close second, but, to be 100 percent honest I couldn’t actually tell that there was much of a difference in sizes (I saw them one after the other); the Skiff executive I talked to told me that the Skiff’s screen was a bit bigger. Regardless, both are easily large enough to view a full 8.5 x 11 inch page without doing any scaling, and both have solid industrial design.

The Sprint/Hearst Skiff

As far as contrast goes, Plastic Logic’s screen definitely looks better than my Kindle DX—the latter has a grayish cast, while the former presents a much cleaner black-on-white look. I can’t judge between the Skiff and the Plastic Logic screens on contrast, though, because I didn’t see them in similar lighting conditions.

The Plastic Logic QUE

Both the Skiff and the Plastic Logic QUE were incredibly thin—about quarter of an inch or less. This thinness is made possible in part by the fact that both have flexible display substrates—Skiff’s uses a foil substrate developed by LG, while Plastic Logic’s uses a plastic substrate developed in-house. Both of these make for flexible displays, but of the two only the Skiff itself is physically flexible (you can actually bend the device a bit and it doesn’t hurt it).

On the resolution front, the Skiff wins at 174dpi to Plastic Logic’s slightly lower 150dpi. I couldn’t visually tell a difference, but again, lighting conditions were drastically different.

Color E-Ink is in the offing, and I saw a prototype of it at the Skiff presentation. At this point, the technology looks promising but it needs a lot of work. Color saturation was pretty poor, and right now I’d prefer the black-and-white to it. There are supposedly better color E-Ink prototypes than the one I saw, and if I can catch a glimpse of a superior iteration of the tech then I’ll post an update.

Why Microsoft killed upgrade versions for Office 2010

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When Microsoft revealed the retail pricing for its Office 2010 lineup earlierthis week, there was one piece of information that previous Office pricing announcements have almost always included. Upgrade versions are nonexistent. This isn’t a case of pricing that has not yet been finalized—no, consumers who already have an earlier Office release on their PC will simply not have the option to purchase discounted upgrade versions. We contacted Microsoft to see why it had made such a decision with Office 2010, and the company responded that it was part of the goal of simplifying the Office lineup (Microsoft has been trying to do this in many of the new versions of its products, including Visual Studio 2010 for example).

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“We are not offering upgrade pricing for Office 2010,” a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed with Ars. “Based on partner and customer feedback we’ve made many changes to the Office 2010 lineup designed to simplify the product lineup and pricing in the retail space. Removing version upgrades was one of those decisions. This reduces the number of products that our retail partners need to manage and also reduces customer confusion about which version of Office they should purchase.”

With previous Office releases, users who qualified for an upgrade (owning the previous version, or even the one before that) were enticed by a lower upgrade price to buy the latest version. The “full version” had a higher price and was for those who did not qualify, for those who did not bother to find out the difference and wanted to play it safe, or for those that did not want to deal with the hassle of having the previous version installed.

With Office 2010, Microsoft has eliminated this age-old concept completely (though you can bet there will be promotions soon after Office 2010’s launch to get users of older versions to upgrade). The new concept actually has a few advantages, though it’s a bit more complicated, if only because we’ve grown accustomed to the previous Microsoft strategy.

Each Office SKU still has two prices, but now instead of “upgrade” and “full” they are Full Packaged Product (FPP) and Product Key Card (PKC). The FPP price of each SKU will get you the Office 2010 media you need to install the suite as well as two licences (the Home and Student SKU is actually a Family Pack that will get you three licenses). The PKC price, which is lower, only gets you one license, and doesn’t come with any media. You’ll need to get the media from elsewhere: download a trial copy from Office.com or use a previously purchased retail copy of Office 2010 (it doesn’t matter if it’s your own, a friend’s, or a colleague’s). The PKC license can also be used in conjunction with the ad-supported Office 2010 Starter (basic versions of Word and Excel) that is set to replace Microsoft Works as the preinstalled productivity suite on newly purchased PCs. That is, preloaded images of Office 2010 will be available on these PCs and you will be able to unlock them by putting in the alphanumeric code from the PKC.

In short, while the upgrade promotion concept is dead in the water with Office 2010, you’ll still be able to save money (and the environment) if you weigh your options right. This especially applies if you’re planning on buying more than one license of Office 2010. You’ll just have to stomach, however, that whether you have a previous version or not doesn’t matter anymore.

Europe’s dysfunctional private copying levy to remain

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Europe’s “private copying levy” system is a mess. You might pay a hidden charge of �3.15 in Spain for an MP3 player but a full �25 in France. An inkjet multifunction printer levy could run �178.84 in Belgium but only �12 in Germany. Some countries, like the UK, have no levy at all. But the talks to reform the system have broken down.

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The levies are designed to compensate copyright holders for “private copying.” The definition of “private copying” varies by country, as do the rules on what devices are covered and how much should be paid. In many cases, no definitive guidance is given, and device resellers and importers have to work out agreements with various collecting societies who distribute the cash to members.

Rules that were clear in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s are less clear since the arrival of digital technology; today, just about any computer-like device can make or store “copies,” including computers, external hard drives, multifunction printers, MP3 players, smartphones, blank DVDs, CD-Rs, photocopiers, and more. Which devices should pay the levy, and how much should be charged? A computer’s key job (for most people, at least) is not making private copies of music, so determining a levy amount can be difficult.

The situation got so bad that the EU convened a summit between the device/media people and the collecting society people, hoping to get them to hash out a more coherent situation on their own. That process broke down yesterday.

Digital Europe, which represents the device/media people, said that the talks only served to show that “there are fundamental aspects of the private copy levy system which simply cannot be resolved in a stakeholder forum. A political and legislative intervention is required at the European level.”

GESAC, the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers, deplored the “unilateral decision to abandon talks.” In GESAC’s view, the two sides were close to an agreement that would fix problems with moving and selling goods within the EU. All that was needed was “exemptions and refunds for cross-border movement of goods subject to levies, a regime for distance sales, the call for consistent product definition throughout the EU, etc.” Simple, right?

As it stands, Belgians will keep driving over the border in search of good deals on multifunction printers.

Smartbooks tout battery life, features, but lack polish

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A number of smartbooks are floating around CES, and after spending much of the day looking at them, talking about them, and using them, several things are clear. Vendors are eager to exploit the power of ARM chips and Linux to deliver great devices with novel features and long battery life at low cost, and they’re succeeding. But their success will depend on raising the level of polish and the smoothness of the user experience, something that’s lacking in the models on display here at CES.

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Lenovo Skylight

The most-awaited smartbook here is the Lenovo Skylight, which uses Qualcomm’s celebrated Snapdragon ARM chip and runs a custom version of Linux. It’s got a 9″ 720p screen, advertises ten hours of battery life with the 3G running, which is likely, even accounting for exaggeration, to exceed current Atom netbooks by a wide margin. It will sell for $500 before contract, and is virtually certain to be carrier-subsidized by AT&T, the launch carrier.

The rounded shape of the Skylight is aesthetically pleasing, and definitely novel, but considerably less than practical. It’s thin, but not miraculously so, as compared to a Nexus One smartphone:

In the demo, its mini-HDMI output was connected to an HDTV above, cloning the same image. Unfortunately, this is the only mode the HDMI port supports; no independent multihead is possible. The HDTV was used to demo the Skylight’s unique, smartbook-suited UI:

The main screen, replacing a desktop, has six “gadgets” on the front, displaying realtime information from websites and other information. Clicking on any gadget brings up its appropriate application or website fullscreen. There’s also a three-window mode I didn’t get to see, because trying to open it caused the OS to hang. There’s also a dock at the bottom of the screen.

Most of the applications worked well, and the experience was comparable in snappiness to an Atom netbook. A notable exception was YouTube; stutter was notable and unwelcome. Since Flash support for ARM is one of the enablers for smartbooks, the stutter is somewhat worrisome.

On the hardware side, the Skylight’s chiclet keyboard was comfortable and relatively quiet. Its trackpad, though large, was blocky and imprecise in movements. I was told that the trackpad is one of Lenovo’s targets for improvement in the four months remaining until launch.

Entourage Edge Dualbook: Android learns to read

Another novel smartbook is the ARM-based Entourage Edge “Dualbook,” which, instead of a keyboard, has two screens. On the right is a touchscreen running Android, and on the left, a black and white, non-backlit E-Paper display running an unspecified Linux variant, both about 10″ in size. In Android mode, users can run one application on each screen and the two OSes can communicate, but the Android component can be shut down, letting the E-Reader part run for about 16 hours. This could be really great for use on airplanes.

The Android experience was a little sluggish, although I had to remind myself while waiting for windows to open, and to move from screen to screen, that the comparison point was Windows 7 on Atom. It’s usable.

The Dualbook is relatively heavy, though, and is about as thick as an ordinary laptop. Although I couldn’t measure, it’s probably as large, and as heavy, as the 13″ MBP. Price is unknown.

Conclusions

The takeaway is that while Smartbooks have features which could sell them, the user experience needs polish. Both the Skylight and the Edge had relatively slow UIs. They were both plagued by slightly strange bugs. And while we don’t have an MSRP for the Edge, the Skylight is going to cost $500, much more than most netbooks.

In its current form, the Skylight is slower, buggier, and more expensive than a mature netbook based on Menlow or Pine Trail. All of those things can change, and they’ll have to if the Smartbook is to become a commercial success.

Palo Alto will be prototype for revised Apple Store design

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Apple is planning to build a new Palo Alto store to serve as a “prototype” for future Apple Stores, featuring a completely transparent front and an indoor atrium “feel.” The revised, more open design will serve as a “commons for [Apple’s] community to gather,” according to documents filed with the City of Palo Alto’s Architectural Review Board.

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Though Apple is not named in the filing, uncovered by Silicon Valley Mercury News, the architect for the project is Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, who also designed the 5th Avenue Apple Store in New York. That store is well known for its large glass cube entryway for the underground retail area, open 24/7. Palo Alto planning manager Amy French told the Mercury News that it is her understanding that the location will be a new Apple Store.

“Apple is pretty secretive about that kind of stuff,” ARB chair Alexander Lew told the Mercury News. “But at the same time, when you look at it, the design is pretty unique—I think a lot of people have kind of guessed [that it’s an Apple Store],” he said.

The filing notes that the project will replace the fa�ade of the current unoccupied retail structure at 340 University Avenue with a glass front that will make the street “part of the store’s interior” so that “the energy of the store is shared directly with the street and the larger community.”

In addition to the open glass fa�ade in front, the roof will be modified to include large, open skylights. The natural light coming in will help three large trees, planted near the rear of the store, to grow inside. These features, along with materials choices and other energy efficiency design cues, will qualify the remodeled building for LEED certification.

The renovated location will occupy 10,700 square feet. The existing Palo Alto Apple Store, located just a block away, is about 6,500 square feet. The added space will include plenty of room to offer training for businesses and individual consumers.

The ARB recommended that the city approve Apple’s proposed renovations in a unanimous vote.

Moblin Linux on x86 smartphone: Intel’s small step forward

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During a press briefing at CES on Thursday, Intel CEO Paul Otellini revealed the LG GW990, a Moorestown-powered smartphone that runs Intel’s Linux-based Moblin operating system. The product is expected to arrive on the market in the second half of this year.

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When Intel lifted the curtain on Moorestown last year, the company contended that it would finally make it possible to bring the x86 architecture to smartphones. The claim seemed somewhat fantastical, but now Intel and LG could potentially deliver on that promise. Moorestown is said to be considerably more energy efficient than Intel’s previous Atom offerings, but it’s still not totally clear what kind of battery life we can expect to get from devices like the GW990 in real-world usage scenarios. LG says that the product has a 1850mAh battery and can endure five hours of 3G browsing on a single charge.

In some respects, the GW990—which has an impressive high-resolution 4.8-inch touchscreen display—seems more like a MID than a smartphone. It’s possible that we won’t see x86 phones with truly competitive all-day battery life until the emergence of Medfield, the Moorestown successor that is said to be coming in 2011. It is clear, however, that Intel aims to eventually compete squarely with ARM in the high-end smartphone market.

Intel originally launched the Moblin project in 2007 with the goal of creating an Atom-optimized Linux platform for MIDs. The focus shifted to netbooks when the company started work on Moblin 2, which began shipping on actual hardware last year.

Some of Moblin’s underlying components have great potential for facilitating rich smartphone application development, particularly the open source Clutter scene graph framework, which is used to build the Moblin user interface. Clutter—which was created by OpenedHand, a startup that Intel acquired in 2008—has been shown to be well-suited for building touschreen user interfaces. Although it’s not yet known whether Clutter is used on the GW990, it seems likely.

The GW990 will be Moblin’s first real test running on a smartphone form factor, but the platform is becoming an increasingly desirable choice on netbooks. Samsung had a large number of netbooks on display at CES, but its N127—running Novell’s SUSE-based variant of Moblin—really stood out. Moblin’s snappy and visually refined user interface is impressive and demonstrates the value that Linux can bring to the netbook market. It’s more responsive than Windows XP on the same hardware and it can clearly be customized with a look and feel that is better-suited for small screens.

Although Moblin has a lot of potential, it still suffers from some weaknesses and limitations. When we conducted extensive hands-on testing of Moblin 2 on the Dell Mini 10v back in October, the quality of the user experience was undermined by the platform’s incompleteness and lack of stability relative to other Linux-based netbook platforms.

Power management is still a major challenge, even though Intel is working on a number of ongoing projects to boost Moblin’s energy efficiency. The Novell engineers we spoke to at CES told us that the Moblin version of the N127 is at battery life parity with the Windows XP version (which means that a future Windows 7 version would likely do better still)

Another impediment for Moblin are the unanswered questions about the extent to which Intel will support the platform. Intel hasn’t been particularly responsive to concerns expressed by the Linux development community regarding the lack of proper Linux drivers for the GMA500, an integrated graphics component that Intel sold to many netbook makers.

During the Intel briefing, Otellini cited Nokia as its other major hardware partner for Moorestown smartphone action. As some readers may recall, Intel and Nokia announced a partnership last year to collaborate on Mobile Linux development. They have been working on a shared open source telephony stack for Linux called oPhono, but they haven’t had much to say publicly about what kind of hardware they were planning to build together. Now Intel has confirmed that Nokia is on board for Moorestown.

The GW990 is an impressive step forward for Intel’s vision of bringing x86 everywhere. The extent of its viability for real-world smartphone devices still remains to be seen. Engadget, which got some hands-on time with the LG GW990, found some evidence that it could potentially be headed to AT&T when it launches later this year.