Tech Industry

Week in review: Microsoft and Google get touchy

Microsoft shows off plans for new Windows interface, while Google shows off Android capabilities. Also: future in the stream.

In an interesting but not surprising move, Microsoft revealed that it would add a multitouch interface to Windows 7.

The new interface, which is expected to appear in late 2009, was unveiled at the D: All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, Calif., this week.

Corporate Vice President Julie Larson-Green demonstrated the multitouch technology, painting with several fingers at the same time to show how it can process not just touch, but multiple simultaneous input.

Microsoft had previously hinted that the touch gestures would find their way into Windows. In an interesting twist though, the new technology will work with existing touch screens, Microsoft said.

A Microsoft blog with a demonstration of the new interface can be found here.

As much as the conference is about tech's A-listers getting together to discuss emerging trends in the industry, the confab also brought together all the major players in the as-yet-failed Microhoo merger. So did anyone want to talk about it? No.

When Bill Gates was asked if he had a comment, he said, "No. Steve (Ballmer) might give a more nuanced answer." Gates said he knew the question would come up on stage and that he wouldn't have more to say. "You won't see me answer, since it's all up to Steve."

However, Ballmer wasn't eager to offer much more during an on-stage discussion. "We are talking with them about other ideas, but we are not rebidding on the company. I won't comment on what we are talking about." You can read the entire on-stage interview in this blog.

In an interview, Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and President Sue Decker did little to shed any more light on the negotiations or possible outcomes.

Observers weren't so tight-lipped. News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, who is no stranger to the Microsoft-Yahoo affair, said even he is shaking his head at the lack of a deal.

"I'm mystified," Murdoch said. "I cannot understand the whole thing. Jerry Yang is a friend whom we all love and admire, and he's emotional about it."

Murdoch said Microsoft offered a price that the vast majority of shareholders wanted but that Yang has managed, at least for now, to nudge off. At the same time, he said he's surprised that Microsoft didn't press the point, something he said comes from its lack of megadeal experience.

Thomson Reuters CEO Thomas Glocer still expects the two companies to work out a deal.

"I don't think Jerry needs my advice," he said, but then he went on to say, "I think they need each other. I think it makes a lot of sense. One way or another, I'd be surprised if there wasn't some way to make that happen."

More than anything, D6 seemed like an opportunity for many to try to set the record straight.

•  Michael Dell, on mistakes the PC maker has made: "We missed some pretty big things that were going on in the industry."

•  InterActiveCorp CEO Barry Diller on the threat posed by Google: "The market is not going to be controlled by one party. Google is irrelevant to us. It's a different competitive-set issue (than Microsoft's).

•  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on whether he would sell the social-networking site to Microsoft for $15 billion: "The goal of the company is to execute on the things we talked about before, become more open, and share more information. The end goal isn't to sell the company or IPO. We evaluate how it will help us along the way."

•  Melinda Gates on the difficulty in giving away billions of dollars: "The world does not treat all lives with equal value."

In touch with Google's future
Farther up California's coast, in San Francisco, developers flocked to the Google I/O conference to see what Google sees in its crystal ball.

Google demonstrated some new tricks of its Android mobile-phone software, including an elaborate use of Google Maps Street View and a touch-screen interface with abilities known for their presence on Apple's iPhone.

After calling up a view of San Francisco using a Web browser, the demonstrator turned around, and the Street View screen panned left or right accordingly, reflecting his orientation.

Also new were demonstrations of a central notification service that can display new e-mail, missed phone calls, and calendar appointments; the ability to unlock the phone using a specific connect-the-dots swipe across the screen; an option to put browser or contact list shortcuts on the Android desktop; and a version of Pac-Man from Namco.

Google also showed off working prototypes of new possibilities for its Gears project--an open-source plug-in that endows browsers with a number of useful features to make them a better foundation for running elaborate software.

When Google launched Gears a year ago, the company overemphasized its ability to make Web applications work, even when the browser is disconnected from the Internet. The new features, though, head in dramatically different directions: notifications on the desktop of various events, support for location information, better interactions with a computer's file system, and technology to let large file uploads proceed, even when hampered by intermittent network connectivity.

MySpace said it's using Gears to make the social-networking site easier to use. Gears hasn't caught on widely, but MySpace gives the project more clout.

At the same time Google is working on the open-source Gears project, competitor Yahoo has begun similar efforts, announcing its BrowserPlus, which has a similar philosophy: expand what's possible to make Web applications a better alternative to programs running natively on a personal computer.

Among its abilities: "Different Web sites can use BrowserPlus to support things like drag and drop from the desktop, easier file uploads, more efficient and secure acquisition of feeds and information, and native desktop notifications," Yahoo said. Right now, it's available only in a "sneak peek" on some Yahoo-operated Web sites.

Gadgets in the stream
During the interview at D6, Jeff Bezos announced a streaming-video service.

"We are working on a new version of video-on-demand, a for-pay streaming service we will release in the next couple of weeks," he said. "The streaming service will start instantly, and it's a la carte, for pay."

Netflix is banking on the idea of streaming movies to people's living rooms being the future.

CEO Reed Hastings said during Netflix's investor day that he expects the business of renting physical DVDs to peak within the next five years. However, Netflix representatives later said they forecast that DVDs will remain strong for at least a decade.

Hastings said that through streaming, Netflix could grow to 20 million subscribers worldwide. But the company cautioned that it will be some time before its streaming-movie service, which is offered free to consumers, will pay off big.

As Netflix was telling its investors about streaming video's promise, rival Blockbuster was pitching another idea to its investors. Even though the video rental chain has put some good money toward streaming-video efforts, it plans to set up in-store kiosks for consumers to download movies onto portable devices, usually in about two minutes.

Initially, the system will work only with Archos devices, but Blockbuster expects the kiosk to be an "open system" that is compatible with a range of devices. Keyes declined to predict how many titles will be available on the kiosk, noting that Blockbuster is still in negotiations with the major studios for content.

Also of note
The New York State Supreme Court ruled that Dell engaged in fraud, false advertising, deceptive business, and abusive debt collection practices...Yahoo filed suit against unnamed "lottery spammers" who tried to fool people into thinking that they won a prize from Yahoo so they'd share passwords, credit card numbers, or other sensitive information...Revision3 investigated the denial-of-service attack that kept it offline over the Memorial Day weekend and concluded that antipiracy group MediaDefender is to blame...A Swedish art student who claimed to have created the "biggest drawing in the world" using a GPS device and an international package delivery service admitted that the drawing is a hoax.