MediaFile

Tech wrap: Microsoft backs Ballmer

Microsoft’s board stood behind CEO Steve Ballmer, defending its longtime leader after influential hedge fund manager David Einhorn touched off a debate by calling for his dismissal. The fund manager, who made his name warning about the financial health of Lehman Brothers before the investment bank’s collapse, accused Ballmer on Wednesday evening of being stuck in the past, launching the sharpest attack yet by a high-profile investor against the company’s leadership.

Google and four bank and telecom partners unveiled “Google Wallet” and “Google Offers”, taking U.S. shoppers a step closer to paying by waving their mobile phones at the checkout counter. Designed to work as an app on Android phones, it hitches a ride on MasterCard’s “PayPass” technology, which lets shoppers tap cards for payment. Google has signed up retailers including Macy’s, American Eagle Outfitters and Subway to blend the service with loyalty programs and discount offers.

Google, MasterCard, Citigroup, First Data and Sprint will make the service available this summer to people in New York and San Francisco.

LinkedIn will seek out opportunities in China to capitalize on its massive user base even though it sees the market as complicated, a company executive said. LinkedIn has a small presence in the country and is one of the few foreign social networking sites to still have access to Chinese Internet users.

Two Democratic political consultants may proceed with their suit alleging that The Huffington Post’s founders stole their idea for the news website, a New York judge has ruled. The attorneys for co-founders Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer and TheHuffingtonPost.com had asked the court to dismiss the complaint filed by the consultants, Peter Daou and James Boyce, who alleged that the defendants broke their promise to work with them to create the site.

Tech wrap: Twitter swallows TweetDeck

Twitter confirmed that it has bought TweetDeck, a popular third-party software application that organizes tweets, the short messages delivered through the online social network. Terms were not disclosed but a source told Reuters earlier this month that a deal for up to $50 million was imminent.

Twitter will seek to notify its users so they can defend themselves before it hands over user information to the authorities, a senior manager said when asked about a privacy dispute in Britain. Users have posted details on Twitter of celebrity scandals, in contravention of so-called super injunctions and could face an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison.

“Platforms should have responsibility not to defend the user, but to protect that user’s right to defend him or herself,” said Tony Wang, general manager of Twitter’s European operations.

Tech wrap: Microsoft carts out Mango phone OS

Microsoft announced an update of its Windows phone software, code-named Mango, hoping a host of new features will help it close the gap on smartphone leaders Google and Apple. The update involves 500 new features, including IE 9 as the mobile browser, integrated Twitter and LinkedIn feeds, automated Facebook check-ins, and access to more than 17,000 downloadable applications.

The updated software will appear on new Windows phones beginning this fall, and be available for existing Windows phone users before that, although Microsoft has not set a timetable for making the update available.

Nokia said in statement that their first Windows Phone devices will be powered by the Mango OS.

Tech wrap: Sony takes a $3.2 billion beating

Sony will post its third straight annual net loss for the year that ended in March after writing off tax credits in the wake of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, the latest in a string of grim headlines on the consumer electronics giant. The firm, which previously forecast a net profit of 70 billion yen for 2010/11, surprised markets on Monday by declaring the need to update investors with revised estimates ahead of its official earnings report on Thursday. Sony said it now expected to post a net loss of 260 billion yen ($3.2 billion). The annual net loss would be Sony’s second-largest ever.

IBM surged past old rival Microsoft in market value for the first time since April 1996, marking the latest twist in the fluctuating fortunes of two of the world’s most storied tech companies. Microsoft’s stock has been stagnant since the tech bubble burst in 2000, as investors doubt its ability to move beyond its Windows operating system and Office suite of software. In the meantime, “Big Blue” has refashioned itself as a specialist in business software, servers and consulting, jettisoning its PC business along the way.

Shares of Apple regrouped after Wall Street brushed off the impact of an explosion last week that shut a Foxconn factory in China producing its iPad.

Tech wrap: Sony’s new security setback

Mere days after Sony began restoring access to its PlayStation Network, the company said it had discovered a security flaw on one of the websites set up to help the millions of users affected by April’s massive data breach reset their passwords.

The “security hole“, as Sony spokesman Dan Race termed it, could allow the hackers who perpetrated the April breach to access the accounts using the data they had stolen. Sony shut the webpage down in response. No hacking had taken place prior to taking down the page, Race noted.

Hacking occupied the minds of executives at the Reuters Global Technology Summit as well. Mobile hacking in particular was a hot topic of discussion, with executives at software giants and startups alike expressing their desire to cash in on ways to help smartphone users protect themselves as hackers increasingly target mobile devices.

Rent-a-Google

Google, in a new bid to diversify its way out of an overwhelming dependence on search ad revenue, has once again taken aim at a giant in another industry. Having disrupted the disruptor that is Apple in the smartphone arena, Google is now challenging Microsoft’s 800-pound-gorilla status in the enterprise market.

Chromebooks for Business, unveiled at the Google I/O developer’s conference in San Francisco, ties together a number of threads the company has been dangling — not the least of which its seemingly Quixotic venture into the computer hardware game. But with hardware partners Samsung and Acer, Google is doing what Google does best: create a mechanism (inexpensive netbooks) that increases dependency on its cloud ecosystem — just like its advocacy of high-speed Internet connections that support its core business.

But this time there is potential revenue attached to that other agenda, and a genuinely viable business model. For $28 a month (less for schools) you get everything you need in hardware, software and service — including machine upgrades. Those machines boot up in seconds, connect to WiFi hotspots effortlessly, can tap into Verizon’s 3G data network if necessary (at an extra cost) and are elegantly tied in with (what else?) Gmail, Google Voice, Google Docs.

Tech wrap: Facebook smear campaign blows up

Facebook admitted to hiring PR firm Burson-Marsteller to plant negative stories about Google, The Daily Beast reported. Burson urged journalists to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy and offered to help privacy advocate Christopher Soghoian write an op-ed on the matter for national newspapers. The plot backfired when Soghoian rejected Burson’s offer and posted online an email exchange between them.

Facebook adopted a warning service to help users avoid clicking on dubious Internet links. The new warning service by Finnish startup Web of Trust calculates the reputation of 31 million Web pages and updates the ratings twice an hour, based on feedback from some 20 million users.

The recent hacker attack at Sony and other corporate data breaches are attracting more class-action lawyers eager to score a payday, though huge monetary settlements may be elusive, writes Dan Levine. At least 25 lawsuits have been filed against Sony in U.S. federal courts over the theft of user data from the PlayStation game network, according to Westlaw, a Thomson Reuters legal database. The challenge for plaintiffs’ lawyers lies in establishing a loss of value or additional costs suffered because of a hack, Levine adds.

Tech wrap: Microsoft’s Skype deal roasted

Microsoft’s move to buy money-losing Internet phone service Skype for $8.5 billion was immediately skewered by critics and investors, who questioned the logic of the deal and suggested the software giant is paying far too much. The price is about double the expected value of Skype if it had gone ahead with its planned IPO.

“They really have to do some explaining as to how this company merited that price and how they’ll return the value to shareholders,” said Kim Caughey Forrest, at Fort Pitt Capital Group, which holds Microsoft shares.

The deal was a fresh reminder that Microsoft has no record of making acquisitions pay off. Its 2007 deal to buy online ad firm aQuantive for $6 billion was a flat-out failure, writes Bill Rigby.

Tech wrap: RIM shares dive ahead of BlackBerry World

RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook is seen in a handout photo. REUTERS/RIM/Handout

Research in Motion shares tanked to their lowest level since October after the BlackBerry maker slashed its sales and earnings forecasts Thursday, an unexpected blow that followed an anemic forecast in late March and last week’s troubled launch of its PlayBook tablet. “We’ve heard for too long about RIM’s great product roadmap. Consumers are not listening nor waiting,” National Bank analysts said in a note. “RIM does not even seem to have dual cameras on its upcoming BlackBerry product line-up. The last time we checked, video is the future.” All hope seems to rest on what the Canadian company pulls out of its labs and onto center stage at BlackBerry World, starting Monday, where the company will unveil a new generation of touchscreen BlackBerrys.

Microsoft shares fell their most in almost two years, a day after reporting a dip in Windows sales. Investors were concerned with lower personal computer sales nagging at Windows, Xbox sales bringing down profit margins and losses in Microsoft’s online business.

Strong demand for smartphones gave a further boost to overall cellphone market volumes in January-March and made Apple a rare winner on the market, research firms said. IDC saw January-March market growth of 20 percent, helped also by strong gains by smaller vendors as the three largest phone makers — Nokia, Samsung and LG — lost market share. Apple’s iPhone sales more than doubled from a year ago, buoyed by strong sales on Verizon Wireless and additional carrier deals elsewhere, with market share rising to 5 percent.

Tech wrap: Microsoft earnings fail to excite

Microsoft reported a dip in quarterly sales of its core Windows operating system, mirroring a recent downturn in personal computers. The world’s largest software company met Wall Street profit estimates, as strong sales of its Office suite of applications and game systems took up the slack. “Microsoft to me is no longer a growth stock but it is a very attractive value stock. They continue to generate tremendous free cash flow. Their balance sheet is really unmatched,” Channing Smith of Capital Advisors said.

Sony could face legal action across the globe after it delayed disclosing a security breach of its popular PlayStation Network, infuriating gamers and sending the firm’s shares down nearly 5 percent in Tokyo Thursday.

Mobile privacy safeguards should also extend to third party application developers, two lawmakers said after reviewing the practices of four major U.S. wireless carriers.