Technology and Gadgets 05-04-2007


Microsoft takes the high road with Google


It is no great secret that Google has its sights on the Microsoft prize. Having brought out various applications that compete directly with Bill Gates's products over the past couple of years, including a Google Spreadsheet and Word Processor, it is obvious where they are heading. At the moment, Google effectively is the internet – the majority of people consider it to have an impact on every facet of the web, according to a poll on technology website ZDNet. And, by the same rationale, Microsoft is the desktop.

The two companies have clashed in the past. A court case in 2005 over Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lei, who defected to Google, led to his temporary probihition from doing certain tasks that could cause him to aid Google in competing with Microsoft. Last week however, Microsoft took a different route towards sniping at their rivals. The software giant is attempting to take the moral high ground, declaring that the Google Book Search violates copyright protection.

In a speech in front of the Association of American Publishers, a Microsoft lawyer attacked the manner in which Google's search engine allows viewers to read parts of the books without coming to agreements with publishers, which is how Microsoft operates its Live Search Books project.

This bold PR move has led many to accuse Microsoft of attempting to switch hats. At the moment the company is generally assumed to be the bad guy, wearing the black hat. It will be interesting to see if they can steal the white hat of Google, whose company motto is “Don't be evil”.



‘Reality' stars online


The website YouTube, which was recently sold to Google for approximately €1.3bn in Google stock, has announced plans to pay contributors  of popular material by sharing advertising revenue. A little over two years old, the site enjoyed staggering growth in internet traffic in a short space of time. It was named one of the best products of 2006 by PC World magazine, and was also namechecked in  Time magazine's Person of the Year 2006, where user-created content was deemed to be the star.

Now this content, and its creators, have been recognised for their monetary worth as well as their cultural significance. One of the so-called stars of YouTube, lonelygirl15, who turned out to be an actress with a film crew behind her, has almost 90,000 subscribers, people who regularly watch her video posts. Other stars rise and fall at a moment's notice. It has not been announced how much these stars will be paid, but it cannot be long before children dream of growing up to be YouTube stars, leaving Hollywood in the dust.




Reducing the ‘digital  divide' in South Korea


South Korea has one of the highest penetration rates for broadband in the world. Recent estimates put it at more than 26.4 per 100 inhabitants. Well more than half the population uses the internet. Of Korea's 48 million people, more than 12 million have broadband, which is available at very high speeds and at the reasonable price of around €20 a month.

A country only 30 per cent geographically larger than the Republic of Ireland, Korea has become a world leader in high-speed internet access, in third position after the United States and Japan. This has been largely due to government policy and support. On the same league, Ireland is in 27th position, just above Greece and Slovakia.

Just 10 years ago, South Korea had no broadband access to speak of, until the government put it at the heart of its strategy for transformation towards a knowledge-based economy. The country derives real economic and social benefits from its broadband rollout strategy, including the rapid development of e-commerce, e-learning, e-government and e-growth, according to a study by Brunel University in the UK.

In 1999, the Korean government estimated that the cost of developing broadband technology, building the infrastructure and marketing would be around €23bn between 2000 and 2005. They aimed to “improve the quality of life for the general public”, “ensure the competitiveness of Korean industries as a whole” and “establish an electronic document distribution system to be used by administrative bodies”, as well as to reduce the “digital divide”. To do this, free internet access was provided in 3,000 public places, such as post offices and community centres.

The Korean government's 2007 plan aims to build on the above points, and directly aims to implement an integrated broadband network, which will act as a driver for economic growth in order to achieve the target of €15,000 national income per person.


Pictured: An employee of South Korea's information ministry gives a talk about ‘Ubiquitous Digital Life', a plan whereby computers and the internet will be available for free everywhere and anytime

Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images



The ones to watch


In many ways, the wristwatch met its demise the minute we all got mobile phones with their own clock. Now, the only hope for the humble watch is to innovate. Although one Japanese company may be taking things too far, producing watches that are so innovative they are seemingly impossible to read.


Twelve 5-9 G

The designers of the Twelve 5-9 G watch (right) were inspired by the architecture of Tokyo. Vaguely resembling a futuristic office building, the watch consists of a solid block of metal drilled with 27 holes, through which shine white LEDs to show the time. The name comes from the fact that the watch displays time using the base numbers 12, 5 and 9. For asthetic reasons, this model has six holes in the centre instead of the usual five. The  informational guide to the Twelve 5-9 explains that the top 12 holes display the hours and the second group shows five groups of 10 minutes. The last nine holes show individual minutes. In the picture, the time is 6.36. Finished in brushed gunmetal and with a leather strap, the website says, without a hint of irony, that you will “become the envy of your friends”.




Many males of a certain age will remember with excitement the watch worn by the Predator in the movie of the same name. It wasn't really a watch, more a machine for finding Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it was worn on the Predator's wrist. The closest we're going to get to it these days is the JLr7 (right). Named after the appearance of the first row of symbols, its display in no way resembles a traditional watch face, and even after examining the exhaustive instruction diagram, Village still couldn't figure out how to read it. But all the better to make people think you have Predator's watch. Apparently the top three rows show hours in groups of four. The next five rows are some kind of strange mix of minutes, grouped in 15s and 1s. Completely impractical, but lots of fun.

For extra wackiness, between 6pm and midnight the watch animates every 15 minutes to give the impression that it is malfunctioning. Thankfully, this feature can be turned off.



The Mugen (above), meaning ‘infinity' in Japanese, might make it look like you are some kind of Tetris fanatic. It tells the time using a series of spiraling blocks. Around the outer edges are 60 segments, indicating one minute each, in groups of 10. The inner spirals of blocks represent one hour each. Of the watches chosen, this is Village's favourite.

The blurb says that despite initial confusion, after a short time you will be able to read it as easily as a normal watch. We're not so sure, but the friendly design does not seem to make it a chore to read. At around €63, or 9800 yen if you prefer, this is the cheapest piece of the future you can find to wear on your wrist.


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