Microsoft antes up $240 million for a piece of the Facebook action

All of the recent flirting between Facebook and Microsoft has turned into hot equity action, as the two companies have announced that Microsoft will make a $240 million investment in the social networking site. In addition, Microsoft will begin selling ads for Facebook outside of the US and will become the site's exclusive ad provider in the US. HangZhou Night Net

Facebook's value is not in the software itself—which could be duplicated relatively easily by a small group of programmers—but in the vast social networks the site has gathered, networks that contain information about people's interests and desires that would be invaluable for any marketing company.

Launched in early 2004, Facebook was originally targeted to college students, limiting registrations to those with a .edu e-mail address. The company opened the registration doors to all comers in September 2006, and the move appears to have paid off: the site is drawing an average of 250,000 new registered users every day, according to Facebook. Facebook now has over 49 million active users, according to VP of operations Owen Van Natta.

Just a couple of weeks before removing the college-students-only registration limitation, Facebook and Microsoft inked an advertising pact that made Microsoft the exclusive banner ad provider. The companies extended that agreement through 2011 earlier this year.

Google had also been rumored to be courting Facebook, but Microsoft appeared determined to close the deal. Google already has an exclusive $900 million pact with MySpace to provide that site—and other Fox Interactive Media properties—with contextual ads and search services. Yahoo has also courted Facebook in the past, but the $750 million to $1 billion offers were apparently not enough to scratch Facebook's financial itch.

Microsoft's $240 million investment is part of a new round of financing for Facebook, one that places a $15 billion valuation on the company.

PodSleuth to bring better iPod support to Linux

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Banshee developer Aaron Bockover announced the PodSleuth project earlier this week, which is designed to expose iPod metadata through the Linux Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL). PodSleuth replaces the old libipoddevice and is designed to be more adaptable and future-proof.

PodSleuth metadata will be merged into the iPod’s HAL device representation as properties so that the information can easily be accessed by any application that can interact with HAL. PodSleuth uses information extracted directly from plists on the devices and only relies on the model table to ascertain “cosmetic” distinctions, so devices that aren’t registered in the model table will still be supported. PodSleuth will provide an icon metatadata property through HAL for devices that are listed in the model table, enabling the proper icon for known iPod devices to be displayed in Banshee and Nautilus.

PodSleuth is currently available from the GNOME version control system, but is still under heavy development. An initial release is expected to take place next week along with a new version of ipod-sharp and Banshee 0.13.2. These releases will bring support for the new iPods to Banshee.

In a blog entry, Bockover also addresses criticisms of his choice to use C# as the programming language for PodSleuth. He points out that PodSleuth is a HAL service and not a library, which means that other programs don’t have to be written in C# to use the functionality. PodSleuth also only uses the ECMA approved portions of Mono, which means that it doesn’t rely on any patent-encumbered code.

Apple’s attempts to lock iPod users into iTunes have been unsuccessful and impressive open source software solutions continue to provide strong alternative music management options for current iPod owners. Despite the availability of iPod support on Linux, the need to constantly reverse engineer and hack around Apple’s lock-in mechanisms makes the iPod a poor choice for Linux users. There is no guarantee that Apple’s antihacker efforts will be so easily overcome in future firmware revisions. Linux users should still consider buying alternate products that support open standards.

Seagate customers eligible for manufacturer refunds, free software

Back in 2005, a woman named Sara Cho sued Seagate alleging that the company's use of binary when reporting hard drive sizes constituted false advertising. If you're not familiar with the difference between how the hard drive industry measures a gigabyte vs. how everyone else measures a gigabyte, it boils down to this. HDD manufacturers (including Seagate, Western Digital, Samsung, and Hitachi) define one gigabyte as one billion bytes. In other market areas, however, a gigabyte is technically defined as 1.074 billion bytes—a difference of 7.4 percent. The gap between the two measurements has grown along with hard drive capacities, at the one terrabyte level the gap increases to ~10 percent. HangZhou Night Net

According to details posted at the settlement website, Seagate has agreed to issue a refund equal to five percent of a drive's original purchase price, provided the hard drive was bought between March 22, 2001 and September 26, 2007. Alternatively, customers can request a free set of Seagate's backup and recovery products (valued at $40). Seagate has agreed to this settlement despite denying any liability (and all of Cho's claims). The settlement must still be approved by the presiding judge and no ruling regarding the merits of the case has been given.

In order to submit a claim, buyer's must fill out either an online claim form (for free software) or a mail-in claim form if you actually want the five percent refund. Drive serial numbers, merchant identification, and the month, date, and year of the purchase are all required for either form, so if you've already tossed the drive or don't remember when you bought it or who you bought it from, you're unfortunately out of luck.

As for the merits of Cho's case, I can see her point—but her failure to win any real concessions from Seagate regarding product labeling means that the problem will continue to occur. What might've seemed trivial at one megabyte becomes a notable loss at one terrabyte, though I have to admit that I don't plan on taking to the streets over the issue. It's quite possible, however, that Cho's settlement (if approved) will open the door for similar actions against other major hard drive manufacturers.

Simple Turing machine shown capable of solving any computational problem

A proof made public today illustrates thatStephen Wolfram's 2,3 Turing machine number 596440 is a universal Turing machine, and ithas netted a University of Birmingham undergraduate $25,000. In 1936, mathematician Alan Turing proposed a machine that was the original idealized computer. A small subset of these Turing machines are known as Universal Turing machines; they are capable of solving any computational problem known. In May, mathematician Stephen Wolfram put forth the challenge to amateur and professional mathematicians alike to determine if one of the Turing machines listed in his book, "A New Kind of Science," was indeed universal. HangZhou Night Net

Turing machines aresimple logic devices that can be made to simulate the logic of any standard computer that could be constructed. They consist of an infinite number of cells on a tape (the memory) and an active cell that is referred to as the "head." Each cell can be one of a set number of colors, and the head can have a fixed number of states. A set of rules determine how the combination of cell color and head state dictates what color should be written to the tape, what state the head should be placed in, and what direction it should move (left or right).

2,3 Turing Machine, number 596440
in Wolfram's numbering scheme

On the fifth anniversary of the publication of "A New Kind of Science," Wolfram issued a challenge, namely, "how simple can the rules for a universal Turing machine be?" In order to spur interest in this, he offered up a $25,000 prize for anyone who could prove, or disprove, that the 2-state, 3-color Turing machine illustrated at right is universal. Finding small universal Turing machines is not a major problem in modern computer science or mathematics. According to MIT computer scientist Scott Aaronson, "Most theoretical computer scientists don't particularly care about finding the smallest universal Turing machines. They see it as a recreational pursuit that interested people in the 60s and 70s but is now sort of 'retro.'" However, people on Wolfram's prize committee hoped this would spur new work.

While not the $1,000,000prize attached to the Clay Millennium problems, it spurred interest in at least one person. 20-year-old Alex Smith, an electronic and computer engineering student at the University of Birmingham in the UK, has solved the problem and will receive the award money.

Smith said he first heard about the problem in an Internet chat room, decided the problem was interesting, and attempted to tackle it. His proof was not direct; he demonstrated that the 2,3 Turing machine was computationally equivalent to a tag machine—something that is already known to be universal. In addition to his proof—available for free (PDF)—he developed a "compiler" that would generate 2,3 Turing machine code that is capable of solving any computational problem. According to Smith, he has no big plans for the prize money. "I'm just going to put it in the bank," he said.

Small plans: NVIDIA and the future of smartphones

It’s the last two decades all over again

The past two decades of PC history have been about desktops, servers, and laptops, but the "personal computer" of the coming decade is a small, pocket- or purse-sized device with a brightly lit screen, wireless networking and I/O, a sizable chunk of storage, and plenty of CPU and GPU horsepower on board. In short, you might say that the iPhone is the Macintosh 128K of the post-PC era, the 2008 lineup of Intel-based mobile products are the IBM PC XT, and we're all about to relive the 80s and 90s (complete with a brand new RISC versus CISC faceoff) but on a much smaller scale and in a more compressed timeframe. HangZhou Night Net

Over the past few weeks, I've told you a bit about Intel's plans for this coming wave of pocket-sized personal computers: Silverthorne/Poulsbo will bring high-powered x86 hardware down into the ultramobile PC (UMPC) form factor in 2008, followed by the even smaller 32nm Moorestown chip that will be Intel's first full-fledged x86 media SoC and which could possibly be the future brains of Apple's iPhone. But I haven't yet told you about Intel's competition.

NVIDIA, AMD/ATI, ARM, and other powerhouses in the PC and embedded spaces aren't sitting idly by while Intel takes direct aim at what will be one of the hottest new battlegrounds of the post-PC era: your pocket. In the coming days, I'll tell you what each of these companies is up to, starting with NVIDIA.

"It is ultimately a computer that ends up in your pocket"

I recently had a series of exchanges with NVIDIA, including a free-ranging chat with Mike Rayfield, the general manager of NVIDIA's mobile group, about NVIDIA's plans for handheld devices. Like the rest of the technology industry, NVIDIA has been closely watching the smartphone space in general and the iPhone launch in particular, and the company has learned a few things both from Apple and from their own experience with the GoForce line of media SoCs.

The first lesson of the emerging mobile market is this: desktop PCs are about applications and performance, but handheld devices are about functionality and features. And on the list of important handheld features, the ability to make a voice call has gone from the top to somewhere near the bottom in the post-iPhone era.

"Historically, the handset market has been all about making a phone call," said Rayfield. "When you see advertisements for every phone but the iPhone, it's all about showing the form factor of the phone, and what color it is, or what size it is. It's basically an industrial design advertisement, or an advertisement by the network saying that your calls won't get dropped."

"The iPhone was the first one where, when you see the ad, you're actually looking at the phone doing something. The last thing they show you on the advertisement is making a phone call. So we believe that's reflecting what's happening in the industry, that these handheld devices are ultimately becoming your most personal computer. It is ultimately a computer that ends up in your pocket."