Week in review: Deal or no deal

Deal makers and deal breakers abound, while tech faces test with Olympics. Also: Facebook games.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
5 min read

Merger mania is ramping up, with plenty of deal makers and deal breakers there.

Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio closed their long-awaited merger, ending a 17-month saga. The combined company, with more than 18.5 million subscribers, is now called Sirius XM Radio.

Sirius XM Radio will offer more than 300 programming channels spanning exclusive shows, such as those of Howard Stern and Oprah Winfrey, and a la carte programming. Subscribers will be able to select certain programs from each of the two former companies under one package.

The Federal Communications Commission formally approved the $3.3 billion buyout late last week.

In another closely watched deal, Google ended negotiations to buy social-news site Digg.com. The two companies had reportedly been in the final stage of talks to bring Digg into the Google News group for $200 million. Some sources said the trouble was due to technological incompatibilities, while another said it was more about a clash of personalities.

Phoenix lander scoop and soil
This week's big outer-space news: NASA says that the Phoenix lander has confirmed the presence of water on Mars. Click on the image for more details, and a full photo gallery. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute

Rumors of a bidding war between Microsoft, Google, and two unidentified media companies began in March, sending some Digg users into a panic about what a new corporate overlord might mean for the site. With a no-go on the Google deal, Digg could either pursue other offers or go after another round of funding and keep chugging along on its own.

There were also plenty of deals that don't seem to be running into much resistance.

BT bought Internet telephony company Ribbit, in a move that will bring the communications giant up against competitors ranging from Skype to Google's Android platform. In the deal, BT agreed to pay $105 million in cash for Ribbit, which bills itself as "Silicon Valley's first phone company." Ribbit provides what it terms "an open platform"--not to be confused with an open-source platform--to developers, who can create Internet telephony applications and services around it.

Ribbit's technology brings together communications over mobile phones, landlines, desktop applications, and Internet applications. Existing applications of Ribbit's technology have seen developers integrate voice into Salesforce.com and create voice applications to run within Facebook and iGoogle.

IBM plans to acquire business rules management software maker ILOG in a deal valued at $340 million. Under the deal, IBM will merge ILOG into its WebSphere brand, in a move to expand its middleware software footprint. Middleware is a layer of software that helps servers running databases and Web site software talk with servers running applications.

Tech analyst heavyweight Forrester Research acquired smaller rival JupiterResearch and its parent company JUPR Holdings for $23 million.

Let the games begin
The Olympic Games in Beijing begin next week, and more than 2,000 hours of live content and 3,000 hours of on-demand video will be available from the PC via NBCOlympics.com. And while it's a huge opportunity for Olympics fans, it is also a big test for both Web video and for the companies behind the site, in particular for NBC Universal and Microsoft, whose Silverlight technology is being used in the video player, and for Limelight Networks, whose network is being used to route all of those streams to Internet service providers.

Olympics via Silverlight
The view from within the Microsoft Silverlight-powered viewer on the NBC Olympics.com site. For a photo gallery, click on the image. NBC

Microsoft is hoping that its role in the Olympics will both prompt downloads of Silverlight in the short term, as well as help give the video-streaming technology a needed boost. However, those who can't get or don't want Silverlight will still be able to watch video from the NBCOlympics site, just without access to some of the cool features, such as the control room.

What you won't find is a lot of help if your computer runs into trouble during the Games. NBC is putting up online FAQs and other help, but there won't be e-mail or phone technical support. The good news is you can try things out now, with the video content already on NBCOlympics.com.

However, while there will be thousands of hours of content available live, you won't be able to watch some of the marquee events, like women's gymnastics and track and field, until after they have aired on the nightly TV programs.

But the ride to the Olympics had already had its share of headaches. Despite earlier assurances, journalists will have restricted access to the Internet at the Main Press Center and athletic venues, meaning that the some 5,000 reporters working in Beijing during the next several weeks won't have access to a multitude of sites such as Amnesty International or any site with Tibet in the address.

When Chinese officials were bidding for the right to hold the Games seven years ago, they assured international organizers that there would be ''complete freedom to report.'' In April, Chinese organizers told International Olympic Committee members that Internet censorship, which is routine for China's citizens, would be lifted for journalists during the Games.

A day after journalists learned their Internet activities would be limited, a senior IOC official admitted that committee members had cut a deal to let the Chinese government block sensitive Web sites, despite promises of unrestricted access.

Game over for 'Scrabulous'--or not
Facebook users in the U.S. and Canada must have felt like they were playing a game of hide-and-seek instead of their favorite word game when they lost access to Scrabulous, the faux-Scrabble game that quickly became one of the most popular applications on its developer platform. This was done independently on behalf of the Scrabulous creators, a Facebook representative told CNET News.

The game's disappearance comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed last week by Hasbro, the game manufacturer that owns the rights to Scrabble in the United States and Canada.

But word game fans weren't totally left in the dark. After all, Electronic Arts (which handles the digital rights to Scrabble for the game's parent company, Hasbro) had recently created an official beta version of Scrabble for the platform. Problem is, the servers that were hosting the "real" Scrabble app couldn't handle the load of new migrants, and the application seemed to crash on Tuesday afternoon.

However, EA said it wasn't an overload at all but that malicious hackers were to blame for the disappearance of its Facebook application.

"EA's Scrabble Facebook game experienced a malicious attack this morning, resulting in the disabling of Scrabble on Facebook," the statement read. "We're working with our partners to resolve this issue and have Scrabble back online and ready to play as soon as possible."

In the end, the game effectively returned to Facebook, but with a redesigned board, a few original play options, a different points tabulation system, and a new name, Wordscraper. Returning as Wordscraper is a way for its creators to keep the game running while avoiding legal complaints. In effect, it's just different enough.

Also of note
A New York City police officer was stripped of his gun and badge after a video posted on YouTube showed him body-checking a bicyclist during Friday's Critical Mass bicycle ride...Gary McKinnon lost his bid in a British court to fight extradition to the U.S. on charges he hacked into several U.S. military bases and even NASA...Apple released a security update to users of its Tiger and Leopard operating systems to address a critical and well-publicized Domain Name System flaw.