Wow! (updated)

A surprising announcement out of Sony, particularly since Apple’s FairPlay is not part of the deal: Sony bites music bullet, opts for Apple compatibility

The behemoth Japanese conglomerate, which once controlled the portable music market, announced Tuesday that the company’s data compression technology would be compatible with a number of rival formats, including Apple’s format of choice, AAC.

In the past, Sony has fiercely held to its own Atrac system. By switching to a technology that supports AAC, Sony appears to be acknowledging Apple’s dominance in the digital music playing market, say analysts.

[…] Sony’s new management system will allow iPod users to swap some of their music to a Sony Walkman, but only songs they ripped from CDs.

Later: Reader Luis Villa points out that, according to Engadget, the picture is not quite as portrayed at CNet: Sony to support AAC — heck not to freeze over

After all, the PSP — not to mention most Sony Ericsson musicphones — already supports AAC, and Sony was one of the developers (along with AT&T, Dolby and others) of the format in the first place. However, that hasn’t stopped various pundits from concluding that Sony’s AAC support marks some kind of victory for the company that leads the market for portable media players (or as PortalPlayer likes to call them, “our biggest customer”). But despite headlines such as “Sony bows to Apple format,” which appeared on earlier today, Sony will not be supporting Apple’s FairPlay DRM, so iTunes-purchased tracks will remain iPod-only. And, chances are, despite the AAC support, Sony’s products will still be Sonic Stage-only, so you can probably forget about using iTunes with your next-gen Bean. Now, move along. There’s nothing going on here.

Handicapping An Expected Fight

Considering the lessons of the past in outlining the boundaries of this expected conflict: Microsoft and Google Grapple for Supremacy as Stakes Escalate

It may not turn out that way. Markets and corporate fortunes routinely defy prediction. But it sure looks as if the two companies are on a collision course, as the realms of desktop computing and Internet services and software overlap more and more.

Microsoft, of course, is the reigning powerhouse of computing and Google is the muscular Internet challenger. On each side, the battalions are arrayed: executives, engineers, marketers, lawyers and lobbyists. The spending and competition are escalating daily. For each, it seems, the other passes what Andrew S. Grove, a founder and former chairman of Intel, calls the “silver bullet test” of strategic competition. “If you had one bullet, who would you shoot with it?”

How the Microsoft-Google confrontation plays out could shape the future of competition in computing and how people use information technology.

Do the pitched corporate battles of the past shed any light on how this one might turn out?

And I Thought The Book Was Disturbing

Yes, I confess: I did buy the first of the Left Behind series to see what it was all about. That was enough for me, but it looks like there are bigger things afoot than just emulating L. Ron Hubbard: Converting Video Games Into Instruments of God [pdf]

One game, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces,” which debuts today at the expo, features plenty of biblical smiting, albeit with high-tech weaponry as players battle the forces of the Antichrist in a smoldering world approaching Armageddon.

The creators hope the game packs enough action to appeal to a generation of kids reared on such titles as “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” and subtly coax them to consider their own spirituality.

“Eternal Forces” is part of a new wave of religious games coming out at a time when the mainstream industry faces increasing criticism that its products celebrate misogynistic mayhem. Another publisher is marketing games based on the “Veggie Tales” series of Christian videos for children. Another is pitching “Bibleman: A Fight for Faith,” about a superhero who stands up for the word of God with his sidekicks Cypher and Biblegirl.

Games “will be a new tool to get the two-minute generation to think about matters of eternal importance in a way that isn’t religious,” said Troy A. Lyndon, one of the “Left Behind” game’s creators.

[…] But critics counter that, in an effort to make Christian games appealing, developers such as Lyndon and Frichner are doing little more than putting a religious veneer on the same violent fare.

“We’re going to push this game at Christian kids to let them know there’s a cool shooter game out there,” said attorney Jack Thompson, an author and outspoken critic of video game violence. “Because of the Christian context, somehow it’s OK? It’s not OK. The context is irrelevant. It’s a mass-killing game.”

[…] To generate buzz for “Eternal Forces,” Lyndon and Frichner plan to distribute 1 million sample discs to churches nationwide.

Not surprisingly, Left Behind Games’ attempt to make Christianity accessible to youngsters through the use of lethal firepower has its critics. Thompson, for instance, said he severed ties with Tyndale House in a dispute over “Eternal Forces.”

“It’s absurd,” the video game critic said. “You can be the Christians blowing away the infidels, and if that doesn’t hit your hot button, you can be the Antichrist blowing away all the Christians.”

Fleshing Out The MPAA Piracy Report: A Look At Mexico

Inside Mexico’s bootleg market [pdf]

The MPAA has its work cut out for it here. Even some in the Mexican film industry argue that poor Mexicans can’t be expected to hew to the same standards on intellectual property as middle-class Americans, given the vast economic disparity between the two societies. “There’s not an awareness in the people that they’re committing a crime” when they buy pirated movies, said Horacio Rivera Rangel, co-director of the forthcoming comic feature “Los Pajarracos.” “It’s something routine.”

As a filmmaker, Rivera said, he’d obviously prefer that people buy tickets and see his films in a theater. But he believes that his movies can gain wider distribution and word of mouth through piracy, which may spur others to see them in a legitimate venue.

[…] [E]nforcing anti-piracy laws is difficult and expensive, says Víctor Ugalde, executive secretary of a group that promotes investment in Mexican film production. Ugalde disputed the idea that Mexican consumers of pirated and bootlegged movies don’t know they’re doing something wrong. But he suggested that if the Hollywood studios want to reduce piracy they should lower the cost of movie tickets and DVDs in countries that have large numbers of poor people.

“There is an option if North American [U.S.] companies lower their profit margin, which is very high,” Ugalde said. This would result in increased sales, allowing the Hollywood studios to “gain the same, or more.”

Unthinkable as that might sound to the heads of Time Warner Inc. or the Walt Disney Co., it might be easier than trying to shut down the vast and notorious Tepito market on the north side of the capital, a virtual mecca of hot merchandise that is run by organized crime networks and is so dangerous that many police refuse to enter there.

See earlier WSJ on the MPAA Piracy Study

Online Culture and Social Networks

This article from the LATimes made me think of a hypothetical case posed by Jonathan Zittrain at a recent workshop I attended at the Oxford Internet Institute.  What *is* network culture doing to social interaction?  Here’s one example: Take a number, pal [pdf]

LET’S begin with an exercise. First, name the eight most important people in your life — friends, family, rock stars. These are your Top 8. Now rank those people in order of importance. Finally, send a copy of this list to everybody you know, including people who didn’t make the cut. Be careful not to hurt the wrong feelings, or you may end up getting bumped from other people’s Top 8s.

Go ahead and bite your nails. Realize the magnitude of these decisions.

[…] If the Internet was once ungoverned by etiquette, those days are gone; MySpace and its siblings, by many accounts the future of the Net, are rife with discussions of good manners versus unforgivable faux pas. There isn’t an aristocratic class, just yet, but you can see the lines forming in the sand, renegades and bad boys posting bulletins pell-mell, uploading risque pictures, collecting “friends” as if it’s all some big popularity contest — while mannered netizens look on disapprovingly. Screw up and you just might get dumped, online and off.

[…] If you’ve steered clear of social networking so far, enjoy that simple existence while you’re able. Sooner or later friends will ask — then demand — that you migrate toward multidimensionality. There are more than 76 million people on MySpace (about 270,000 join daily), and Anderson wants to expand the MySpace experience until the entire Net rests within it. “Anything you do on the Internet, I want you to be able to do on MySpace,” he says. “That’s the goal and ambition. Almost all the things you can do online can be enhanced by the social structure of MySpace.”

Which suggests that the Top 8 will become only more central to the human experience, more dizzyingly complex.

“It’s the Seinfeldian Speed Dial Dilemma of our generation,” says Sarah Ciston, 22, a page designer at the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “I love it. But I think you should also get a Bottom 8, or a Bottom 20. A hall of shame of sorts.”