Weekend news round-up: Facebook phone speculation; the future of computing

14 Jan 2013

In our round-up of some of the top tech coverage over the weekend, the death of 26-year-old internet folk hero Aaron Swartz stuns the computing world; Facebook’s big phone reveal is expected this Tuesday; and the future of computing could be more personal than you can believe.

Zuckerberg and his plans to be Lord of the Ring-rings!

There seems to be definite Lord of the Rings vibe to MG Siegler’s TechCrunch columns (gollums!) of late. Last week, imagery of the Nazgul were emblazoned on an article seeking the fifth horseman of tech as he wondered if Samsung deserved the title. And at the weekend he describes Gollum’s torture by Sauron’s minions as they tried to find the identity of the ringholder.

While they got ‘Baggins’and ‘Shire’ out of poor Gollum, Siegler’s own torturous road of discovery surrounding Facebook’s big announcement on Tuesday got the words ‘big deal’ and ‘mobile’.

So, will there be an actual Facebook phone? Has Facebook created a new mobile OS? Or is it ramping up a whole new suite of mobile services now that it has secured a beachhead in the mobile messaging space?

Siegler himself isn’t so sure. “It’s not entirely clear if this will be an actual piece of Facebook-branded hardware or if they will simply use hardware from a phone maker to show off some sort of new Facebook OS for mobile. That is to say, it could very well be that the ‘Facebook Phone’ is more about a Facebook OS running on a phone (or a few phones).

“This has always been a point of contention in the Facebook Phone saga. When Facebook has denied working on a phone in the past, it has typically been careful to say it wasn’t building a phone – as in, hardware. It’s just the type of non-denial denial that allows politicians to weasel their way out of sticky situations.”

Death of a computing prodigy and internet folk hero

The internet world was stunned at the death by suicide of 26-year-old computing prodigy Aaron Swartz, who clashed with the US legal system over his use of the MIT network to hack into and publish academic journals stored on the JSTOR website in order to prove a point about internet freedoms.

In a detailed report, The New York Times described Swartz as something of an internet folk hero; a pioneer who built technology that changed the flow of information, who dropped out of Stanford, formed a company that merged with Reddit and led a successful effort to oppose a Hollywood-backed internet piracy bill.

At age 14 Swartz helped to create RSS, a leading standard for subscribing to news online.

Suffering already from depression, Swartz’s legal troubles began when he broke into the computer networks at MIT, kickstarting a federal investigation with the threat of a US$1m fine and more than 30 years in prison.

Computing is about to get very up close and personal

Technology is now at a tipping point for wearable computing, with radical new approaches to manufacturing hardware that will lead to screens and sensors that can be stuck anywhere you can imagine, according to an interesting piece on Quartz.

“Smartphones are the key to this trend. Now that we’re all carrying powerful general-purpose computers on our person, which are in easy radio range of whatever other devices we might carry, we’re creating our own personal, local cloud-computing networks. Our phones are like brains, and everything from our wireless headsets to our heart-rate monitors are their distributed nervous system.

“It sounds crazy, but the cyborgification of humanity is proceeding apace. It will change how we live and how we work, and for the same reason that none of us can put down our mobile devices, we will be powerless to resist.”

And the world’s biggest computer company is … (drumroll) … Lenovo!

Lenovo has stolen a march on its competition and slowly but steadily has morphed to become the world’s largest computer company, according to The Economist.

The respected business magazine described how from humble origins – US$25,000 in a guard shack in China – Lenovo pulled off a corporate coup in 2005 when it acquired IBM’s PC business, an organisation nearly double its size.

“Gobbling up an entity double its size was never going to be easy. But cultural differences made it trickier. IBMers chafed at Chinese practices, such as mandatory exercise breaks and public shaming of latecomers to meetings. Chinese staff, said a Lenovo executive at the time, marvelled that: ‘Americans like to talk; Chinese people like to listen. At first we wondered why they kept talking when they had nothing to say.’ Two Western chief executives failed to turn things around. By 2008, as the financial crisis raged, Lenovo was bleeding red ink.

“Given all this, its recent success is startling. In the third quarter of last year, Gartner, a consultancy, declared Lenovo the world’s biggest seller of PCs, ahead of Hewlett-Packard (HP). Even if HP briefly recaptures the lead in the fourth quarter, the trend seems clear: Lenovo is on a roll.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years