MediaFile

Microsoft switches off CES

Microsoft, one of the most visible superpowers at the Consumer Electronics Show, has decided its keynote and booth at the upcoming event in January will be its last.

The world’s largest software company, which has long tried to boost the profile of its consumer business, usually puts up a huge duplex on the floor to show off its games, phones and other gadgets running its products at the Las Vegas jamboree. CEO Steve Ballmer is a regular keynote speaker, as Bill Gates was before him.

But the company is now admitting what it has said privately: that a show right after the holiday season just doesn’t fit its consumer product cycle. That is to say, Ballmer rarely has much new to say, when all its Xbox, phone and software news is done and dusted for the year.

In the words of Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s PR chief: “Our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing.”

It will certainly save Microsoft valuable time and resources getting ready for the show, which yields an uncertain return at best. Remember, Apple conquered the consumer electronics market without exhibiting at CES at all.

The value of Google’s Firefox browser deal

Google has thrown the creators of the Firefox Web browser a lifeline.

On Tuesday, Firefox-maker Mozilla announced that it had renewed a “mutually beneficial revenue agreement” with Google for at least three more years.

The deal basically means that Google remains the default search engine built-in to the Firefox Web browser, a privilege for which Google pays Mozilla an unspecified fee.

Since Google signed the original deal in 2004, the search giant has introduced its own Web browser, dubbed Google Chrome. And with Chrome now used by one in four Web surfers, speculation had grown that Google might not renew the Firefox licensing deal, depriving the non-profit Mozilla of a vital revenue source (according to AllThingsD, which broke the news of Tuesday’s deal renewal, Google contributed 84 percent of Mozilla’s $123 million in 2010 revenue).

Microsoft goes social. Sort of.

Microsoft, which owns a small part of Facebook, dipped its own toe in the online social scene this week with a low-key unveiling of its So.cl (pronounced “social”) service.

The site, which is for students to share interesting discoveries online, looks like a curious blend of Facebook and Google +.

Microsoft's so.cl

Right now it’s restricted to certain universities, and is a blend of web browsing, search (Bing, of course) and networking — including what it calls “video party”.

Tech wrap: Apple changes course on iAd

The WSJ.com reports that Apple is softening its approach to its iAd mobile advertising service due to the tepid response as it loses ground to Google in the fast-growing mobile-ad market.

Marketers say they have been turned off by iAd’s high price tag as well as Apple’s hard-charging sales tactics and its stringent control over the creative process which has forced Apple to make some changes.

Facebook is probably not the first place that comes to mind when contemplating new career opportunities.

Tech wrap: AT&T, T-Mobile deal less likely than ever

The chances of AT&T’s bid for T-Mobile USA succeeding rapidly diminshed after AT&T said it would take a $4 billion charge in case its takeover fails. The telecommunications group and T-Mobile owner Deutsche Telekom, said they would continue to pursue anti-trust approval for the $39 billion takeover from the Department of Justice, but withdrew for now applications to the industry regulator.

Both the DOJ and the FCC oppose the deal. FCC approval would be meaningless if the DOJ blocked the transaction, and AT&T and Deutsche Telekom said they would return to the FCC process if they secured approval from the DOJ. Analysts said the merger, badly needed by sub-scale T-Mobile USA , looked less likely than ever to succeed.

Microsoft is planning the first beta of its Office 15 software in January, techblog WinRumors writes.

Tech wrap: Microsoft allowed looks at Yahoo’s books

Microsoft has signed a confidentiality agreement with Yahoo, allowing the software giant to take a closer look at Yahoo’s business, according to a source familiar with the matter. Microsoft joins several private equity firms that are also poring over Yahoo’s books and operations, as they explore various options for striking a deal with the struggling Internet company. Microsoft’s signing of a nondisclosure agreement with Yahoo occurred “recently,” according to the source.

Shares of Groupon fell for a third day , sinking below the company’s initial public offering price of $20 less than three weeks after the daily deal company went public. Groupon raised more than $700 million in an IPO in early November, making it the biggest IPO by a U.S. Internet company since Google raised $1.7 billion in 2004. Analysts have cited concerns about increased competition, a greater availability of the company’s stock for short-selling, and a sharp reversal of market sentiment that is taking down more speculative companies. Groupon shares ended the day down 15.5 percent at $16.96.

Big-Box retailer Best Buy has no regrets about stocking Research In Motion’s PlayBook tablet, despite the product’s poor reception and subsequent sharp discounting. RIM says it has shipped 700,000 PlayBooks since its launch, a figure dwarfed by the millions of iPads Apple sells each quarter. “When a product is less successful, you do what you need to do, and you move to the next thing,” Best Buy’s president for the Americas, Mike Vitelli, told Reuters. “That kind of quick reaction by the suppliers, whether it is BlackBerry or HP with their product, I actually think that is good for consumers too,” Vitelli said.

Windows L8?

Microsoft’s next operating system — provisionally known as Windows 8 — may not hit the shelves until early 2013, one respected company-watcher thinks, giving Apple, Google and Amazon more time to fine-tune their tablet offerings.

That’s later than most people expect for the new OS, which represents Microsoft’s first real foray into the touch-friendly, tablet-optimized world. The feeling is that Microsoft really needs to make its move before Apple’s iPad and tablets running Google’s Android march off with the whole market.

“I think it’s about a year away,” said Michael Cherry at independent research firm Directions on Microsoft, asked when Windows 8 code would be completed.

Tech wrap: Microsoft shareholders grumble

Microsoft Corp shareholders left the software giant’s annual meeting grumbling that they did not get to ask more questions in their once-a-year opportunity to quiz Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer. One thing the chief executive did tell shareholders was that there is no benefit in breaking the company up. In response to a question about how the company can jolt its stock price out of a 10-year rut, Gates played up the company’s strong balance sheet and said the market would respond to innovation.

Some of Facebook’s estimated 800 million global users received a shock over the past 24 hours when unsolicited graphic content such as pornography and violent images appeared in their news feeds. It is unclear how the material was distributed across the social network but many Facebook users vented their anger through other social media such as Twitter. “It seems every other day there is some new Facebook ‘threat,’ but this is just the new reality of Web 2.0 and social networking,” online security expert Paul Ferguson told Reuters. “It is ‘low-hanging fruit’ for criminals.”

The LinkedIn lockup is almost over and shareholders are winding up to sell more than 6.7 million shares. They are looking to realize gains in the stock, which has risen 74% since its initial public offering in May. Bain Capital is unloading its entire stake in the professional networking company now that the lockup period restricting insider sales is expiring, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Bain led a $53-million investing round in LinkedIn in 2008 which valued the company at more than $1 billion.

Microsoft’s Kinect eyes path beyond gaming, into other industries

As Microsoft Corp’s Xbox gaming console nears its 10th anniversay, the company said its future may lie beyond gaming.

“That’s still the core of what we do, but if you think of the next 10 years of our business, it’s all the new opportunities and possibilities that Kinect is opening us up to,” Craig Cincotta, director of communications for Xbox, told Reuters.

Microsoft’s Kinect, launched last year, is a sensing camera and microphone device that plugs into the Xbox 360 console, allowing users to play games purely with gestures and voice commands.

Tech wrap: Olympus shareholders want entire board purged

Pressure mounted on Japan’s Olympus to take radical action after it admitted to hiding losses on securities investments for decades, with the camera and endoscope maker’s largest foreign investor demanding the resignation of the company’s entire board. Southeastern Asset Management, which owns about five percent of the 92-year-old company, said Tuesday’s admission “changes everything”.

Brushing aside new Olympus President Shuichi Takayama’s insistence he was “absolutely unaware of the facts,” Southeastern told Reuters correspondents Sinead Cruise and Kirstin Ridley that any further reign of the Olympus board risked damaging the company’s key medical business. Takayama, a previous board member who was promoted last month, blamed former Chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, Vice-President Hisashi Mori and internal auditor Hideo Yamada for the cover-up, saying he would consider criminal action.

Former Olympus CEO Michael Woodford, who was fired on October 14 after persistently asking why the company had spent around $1.3 billion on obscure fees and acquisitions, told Reuters that the company’s partners should come under close scrutiny after Tuesday’s admission and that questions remained to be answered about the money trail. “You need forensic accountants going in there to find out where the money has gone, who has worked with Olympus, who has cooperated with Olympus, who has received fees from Olympus,” he told Reuters Insider. “Those are questions we need answered. And then we need an impairment test.”