Weekend news roundup: Windows 8 PC sales begin early, Twitter CEO is king of comedy

8 Oct 2012

In our look back on the weekend’s tech news coverage, we find some US retailers have begun selling Windows 8 machines ahead of Microsoft’s official launch (Heaven forbid!); US paranoia about China is manifest with possible M&A blockades against Huawei and ZTE; and did you know Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was an improv comedian before he was CEO of the social giant?

Windows 8 machines stuffed with shovelware available now!

ZDNet reported that some retailers are already beginning to promote Windows 8 machines ahead of the official launch of the new operating system. The report warned that not only have the retailers possibly jumped the gun in terms of timing but the computers are likely to be crammed with “pre-installed software” or crapware or shovelware that is more often than not the hallmark of a cheap PC.

It reported: “Both the Gateway and Acer units also toss in something called the ‘PC Essentials 22A Standard Software DVD,’ which is a classic collection of shovelware. The 19 included programmes are the very antithesis of what one expects in a modern PC, with a bunch of Corel products (Office, PaintShop Pro X4, and PDF Fusion) and a scrapbooking programme and My Perfect Wedding Planner and TurboFloorPlan 3D Home & Landscape Deluxe 16 and a whole lot more. That might be exactly what the HSN audience wants. As long as the contents of that DVD aren’t pre-installed, I’d classify the programmes as ‘mostly harmless’.”

Expensive swordplay blunts innovation

The patent wars are upon us and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are expensive and stifle innovation. The New York Times told a classic story of one company called Vlingo that made voice-recognition technology and was on the cusp of striking major deals with Apple and Google before lawyers for Nuance came along, legal proceedings began and all the money its founder Michael Phillips had set aside for R&D was swallowed up in lawyers’ fees.

The paper noted: “Mr Phillips and Vlingo are among the thousands of executives and companies caught in a software patent system that federal judges, economists, policy-makers and technology executives say is so flawed that it often stymies innovation.

“Alongside the impressive technological advances of the last two decades, they argue, a pall has descended: the marketplace for new ideas has been corrupted by software patents used as destructive weapons.

“Vlingo was a tiny upstart on this battlefield, but as recent litigation involving Apple and Samsung shows, technology giants have also waged wars among themselves.”

A new Cold War has begun

US distrust of (or paranoia about) China has become increasingly apparent in the course of the current White House race, with critics rounding on the Obama administration over the fact that China now owns a lot of America. While this has more to do with the actions of Wall Street than Obama, much of this growing distrust – a new Cold War, if you like – is being channelled through technology.

The Wall Street Journal pointed out that Chinese telecoms giant Huawei is being fingered with suspicion of being a national security threat … not because of its technology, but perhaps because it’s, well, Chinese.

As well as Huawei, another firm, ZTE, is also be collared with suspicion that its technology – everything from smartphones and Wi-Fi routers to advanced 3G and 4G network equipment – could be used for spying.

A year-long investigation by the House Investigations committee is due out today.

“In a report to be released Monday, the committee recommends that the US block acquisitions or mergers involving the two companies through the Committee on Foreign Investments in the US. It also recommends that the US government avoid using equipment from the firms, and that US companies seek alternative vendors for telecommunications equipment.

“The report is likely to add to tensions with China. American military and intelligence officials have long been warning privately that China poses a cyber-espionage threat to US defence systems and companies. Government officials have been reluctant to voice those concerns publicly for fear of angering China. That has begun to change, and the House report represents the most direct statement of concerns about specific Chinese companies.”

Twitter’s Dick Costolo – the CEO as a comedian

The New York Times carried an interesting profile of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, revealing that before taking the reins of one of the world’s most compelling technology start-ups and ushering it towards an IPO, Costolo was an improv comedian.

The question is will the entertaining Costolo navigate the IPO channels more deftly than Facebook or will investors be left squirming in their seats?

“Long before the Twitter revolution and his ascent to the heights of social media, Mr Costolo was a professional comedian. And you know what? He’s still doing improv — only it’s the business kind. He’ll wax on about growth and revenue like the next CEO. But then he’ll dig out a joke and do something that might hurt his business — and miff his investors — because, well, he thinks that something is the right thing to do.

“He has broken with the pack on the issue of patent infringement, an issue that drives the tech world crazy, and, in stark contrast to Facebook, has let newcomers to the site opt out of being tracked through the service — a daring move, given that Twitter makes money from advertising.

Even in Silicon Valley, that Neverland of Mark Zuckerberg and hoodied Lost Boy executives, Mr Costolo can seem an un-CEO. To which he says, essentially, whatever.”

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