Switzerland sides with Microsoft...Facebook's $240 M payday...Digg shouts up

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Red Hat takes Switzerland to task for lack of neutrality

Morning of May 26, 2009 · An announcement from Red Hat may not change the way some think about Microsoft, but it could affect your view of geopolitics. You don't typically think of Switzerland as a bastion of bias or favoritism, or as a place that tends to side with one party or philosophy over the other. But in an undeniable signal that everything now truly has changed, Switzerland is being accused of giving unfair treatment to Microsoft, in a new legal request filed last week with the Swiss Federal Administration Court, on behalf of itself and 17 other software companies that had intended to bid.

As Red Hat's spokespersons have stated and as eWeek Europe first reported, the legal brief is not a lawsuit, contrary to other reports -- Switzerland is not being sued. But the brief does charge the country's Bundesamtes für Bauten und Logistik (Bureau for Building and Logistics) with awarding a three-year renewal contract last February for workstations, software, and support to Microsoft without a public bidding process. Red Hat states that the BBL stated that the decision not to hold an auction was because no real alternative existed to Microsoft software, and that statement appears to have been confirmed by a Radio Switzerland report over the weekend. As it turns out, companies such as these may have been locked out of the bidding process for numerous federal contracts, but last February's incident was the final straw.

Red Hat's request asks the court to reverse the Bureau's decision, and open up the contract process to fair bidding. Exactly how the court would determine which companies would be qualified to bid and what assurances they must give beforehand, has not been suggested.

Germany asserts #3 spot on supercomputer list

Evening of May 26, 2009 · It's a shame that all this processor power being amassed for academic supercomputers hasn't really been put to work. Apparently the Jülich Supercomputer Center in Germany came to that conclusion -- maybe a little late -- as it announced yesterday it will be leasing out services for what's believed to be Europe's fastest supercomputer, an IBM BlueGene/P contraption named JUGENE with 65,536 cores.

But in making that claim, Jülich claimed it had the world's third fastest supercomputer. If it does, it's because JUGENE has had some...enhancements since last November, when the last Top 500 list was scored. Officially, JUGENE stands at #11, behind the Top 9 machines -- all American -- and the #10 machine in Shanghai. The newest version of the list comes out in just a few weeks, and maybe Europe's preparing us now for a little surprise...or perhaps to be surprised, assuming everyone else in the competition stands still. Which they generally don't.

[A note from the ME before we continue: I want to take a moment to thank the person who essentially created this new regular feature on Betanews: Tom Brokaw set the standard for managing editors in the field of electronic journalism, and he suggested to me the concept for this feature back in 2000.

Brokaw was a stand-in at a technology conference, if you can believe it, for Gen. Colin Powell, who had just been nominated as Secretary of State and couldn't appear. At the keynote, I asked Brokaw if he were to be ME for one of our publications for one week, what change would he make right away? Here's how he responded: "It takes a lot more effort to cover those [technology] stories effectively and well, and what you have to do is stand back from the rush to the obvious story of the day, and say, 'What best serves my audience, the people who are tuning into this Web site? And how can I connect to them in a way that will give them relevant, useful information, of not just what's going on in their life today, but what is likely to happen to them tomorrow and beyond?'

"News is a two-cycle engine -- now/next, now/next. What's happened now, what happens next," Brokaw continued, rocking a little back and forth and making a pancake-flipping gesture with his right arm. "And there's been too little emphasis on the 'next' part, too much emphasis on the 'now' part."

It's about time I took his advice. So thank you again, sir. And by the way (an inside joke in case he's reading this morning)...Good evening!]

Tech headlines from around the net

The New York Times

- Claire Cain Miller pokes at the $200 million Russian investment in Facebook that the social-networking site and Russian investment firm Digital Sky Technologies announced Tuesday. That outlay buys Digital Sky a 1.96% stake in the company; in contrast, Microsoft got just 1.6% when they threw in $240 million in 2007. (Though truthfully, it would probably be bigger news if Microsoft didn't get the fuzzy end of any given investment lollipop.)

- Did AT&T skew the results for the latest American Idol showdown by providing phones for free texting and lessons for Kris Allen fans looking to cast blocks of votes for the not-Adam-Lambert singer? Will you care about any of these people in a week? We thought not.

The Wall Street Journal

- Regional electronics stores are thriving even as the carcasses of giants like Circuit City are picked clean. (Story available to subscribers only.)

- A poker game for the wild at heart? Jamin Brophy-Warren looks at the logic of Texas Cheat 'Em, which builds in unsavory behavior choices such as peeking at opponents' cards, stealing chips, and replicating desirable cards in one's own hands. All this talk of "the zeitgeist of cheating," as Wideload games honcho Scott Corley puts it, is swell, but Brophy-Warren wins the day with a comparison of the game's cheerful duplicity to the rules of Calvinball.

- Keep WSJ reporter John Kell in your heart this morning; you have no idea what sort of toll these depressing earnings reports can take on a reporter's nerves. The latest bad news comes from Take-Two, which lost $10.1 million last quarter and will delay the releases of Mafia II and Red Dead redemption until after the end of its fiscal year in October. Kell quotes the company as saying it's a quality-and-sales-potential issue.


- Intel's new "Nehalem EX" server chip hits the manufacturing facilities in the second half, increasing the number of cores from six to eight and designed each of those eight cores to handle two threads, not just one. (And discretion being the better part of valor, Reuters' reporter throws to the Intel press release rather than attempt further annotation.)

- IBM's plowing billions into smart-infrastructure projects; first the company announced $2 billion to be spent in the US, and this morning they've revealed another $2 billion in earmarks for projects in Europe and $1 billion for Asia-Pacific. Big Blue's efforts are, an IBM official told Reuters, complementary to and faster-moving than government funding.

- Steve Ballmer is driving a new light-blue Ford Fusion Hybrid, hand-delivered by the Ford CEO right to the front door of the Redmond campus. It almost makes sense: Mulally's an old Seattle hand from his decades at Boeing, while Ballmer's dad was a Ford employee who raised his family in Detroit.

The Register

- The Reg runs the numbers and figures that Facebook's value is now $10 billion, down from $15 billion when Microsoft bought shares in 2007. They've got other impressive stats, too, including a link to a piece in Data Center Knowledge that figures the site is spending between $20 million and $25 million per year just on data center space.

- The far-right British National Party is claiming they were knocked offline in "in [the] largest cyber attack in recorded history" by those damned dirty Marxists, so give them money. Problem is, the BNP is claiming that other sites were also DDoSed, but those other sites say that didn't happen. You, uh, don't think a group of white supremacists and Holocaust deniers would lie about stuff, do you?

- Microsoft didn't get a renewal on a government-wide purchasing deal it has had in place with New Zealand's State Services Commission since 2000.


- NewTeeVee is among the first to report that Satish Menon, vice president of the Consumer Platforms Group at Yahoo, is leaving. Yahoo's video teams have been hit hard by recent layoffs. The NewTeeVee coverage has interesting details on just how chaotic Yahoo's video efforts look from inside the hamster wheel; if you load the page and hold your ear against the screen, I'm pretty sure you can hear Carol Bartz cussing.

- Tell your grandmother to hand over the handset: PhoneScoop reports that Samsung has voluntarily announced a recall for two models of their oldster-friendly Jitterbug, which urgently needs a software update to allow connection to 911 services when users roam out of their defined calling areas. Users can take their phone to a service center for updating, or they can ship it straight to Samsung, which will do the update and send it back in about a week.

- Digg is dropping Shouts, its "blog this" feature, claiming low legitimate usage. Digg has replaced the feature with e-mail, Facebook and Twitter sharing options.

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