Back in early 2005, I was working as a blogger for Engadget, and, in a brainstorming discussion with some of the other bloggers, I raised the idea of a software blog. We’d cover new releases, betas, warez, the whole scene. The idea was quickly shot down; there wasn’t a big enough audience, and besides, Beta News, Tucows and Download.com already covered that market. A few months later, however, I learned that geek minds think alike, when I got an IM from Weblogs Inc. honcho Jason Calacanis letting me know he was launching Download Squad—a software blog—and he wanted me to help run it. I jumped at the chance, and began posting for DLS in June 2005. For the next eight months, I had a blast writing about everything from DOS nostalgia to Google Goo, and especially about non-downloadable, cloud-based apps, which—despite the site’s name—Jason felt were the most vital segment of the software market (gee, looks like he was onto something, there). After eight months, with DLS up and running smoothly with a talented team of software-obsessed bloggers, I went back to working at Engadget full-time, but I continued to keep a watchful eye on DLS, and saw it grow to become a successful blog in its own right. Later, some of WIN’s other platform-specific blogs were rolled into DLS, giving it a larger audience—and a new pool of talented bloggers. The site grew in popularity, and even gained the grudging respect of bigger competitors such as Lifehacker . Last year, PC Mag listed it as one of the " Top 100 Undiscovered Web sites." It looked like the naysayers were wrong after all.
Until this morning. That’s when word leaked out that AOL, as part of an effort to "trim up for a sale," would be pruning its blogroll. One blog, DIYlife, would get the axe immediately. DLS (and The Unofficial Apple Weblog, another WIN property) would be going on a one-week hiatus. "DLS bloggers should immediately press pause on new content," wrote an AOL programming manager in an internal memo. According to the memo, the site will "emerge stronger" on August 1st, but it’s hard to see how that will happen—or how a one-week break, apparently instituted to help balance the July books, really accomplishes anything. During that week, RSS feeds will go dead, writers will turn to other sources of income, and advertisers will lose faith. How will that help a potential acquirer? Despite the negative prognosis, I’ll be rooting for DLS. I need my Time Wasters, freeware fixes, and web service updates, and I believe AOL does too.
Archive for the 'Engadget' Category
As Bill Gates leaves Microsoft today, it’s fascinating to watch the media’s treatment of him. While just a few years ago, he was reviled as a rapacious monopolist, he’s now treated as an elder statesman. Much of that undoubtedly has to do with the good work he’s doing with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But a lot of it, I believe, also has to do with real changes that have occurred at Microsoft. The company is far more open than it was back in the early days of this century, releasing public betas of many of its products and encouraging developers to blog. The colossal failure of Vista, as well as Microsoft’s underdog status in the search market (not to mention the Zune), also help make the company seem like less of a monolithic threatening force. Microsoft may still be a powerhouse, but the company doesn’t always get what it wants, and doesn’t even dominate some core markets in which it competes. So, it’s easy to bid Bill a wistful farewell, and muse, as Engadget does today, on Microsoft’s best and worst hits of the Gates era.
This is definitely one of the more bizarre trademark-protection efforts by a major corporation: T-Mobile is going after my old alma mater, Engadget (or, more specifically, Engadget Mobile), for using the color magenta in its logo. Apparently, the wireless giant is worried about “possible confusion with the consumer regarding the origin or sponsorship of your blog” and, of course, about “trademark dilution.” Engadget, not surprisingly, has responded as I’d expect them to: they’ve added magenta highlights across-the-board. And in an act of solidarity rare among hyper-competitive tech bloggers, competitors Phone Scoop, Phone Arena and GearBits are in on the action (or at least were as of yesterday; as usual, I’m a few hours late to the party). Somehow, I suspect this isn’t the reaction T-Mobile hoped for. But it’s the one they should have expected. Respecting trademarks is important, and Engadget has always been respectful. However, it’s one thing to trademark the use of a color in very specific context of selling a good or service, and quite another to issue a blanket statement that prohibits media organizations form using a similar color in their work. It sort of reminds me of the fiasco a few years back when Sun went after coffee sites for using Java in their names. We all know how that turned out; this time around, instead of continuing the fight, I have a feeling T-Mob’s magenta-faced execs will quietly let this one die, and avoid inflaming things further by dragging it out.
I’ve been using gadgets, widgets and gizmos on my computers for as long as I can remember. Even before tools like Apple’s Dashboard and Konfabulator/Yahoo Widgets, there were programs that let you put the weather, calendar and annoying eyeballs in your taskbar. And, of course, before that, there were TSRs, those memory-resident programs that, in the pre-multitasking, MS-DOS era, allowed you to bring up an ASCII chart or notepad with a mere flick of a keystroke. Over time, as widgets have become more common, they’ve also, I believe, become less useful, in relative terms. Today’s widgets have enormous potential to serve as a control panel for your life, but they’re hampered by business models and a lack of easy portability. So, if you want to use Google Desktop Sidebar and include your buddy list in the panel, you’d better be using Google Talk. True, browser-based platforms like Netvibes work better, but that sort of defeats the whole idea of widgets as standalone, always-active tools.
That’s why I’m excited about the potential of Chumby, the dedicated widget device that’s finally on sale after over a year of hype. Chumby is essentially a hardware version of Windows Vista’s SideShow feature—without Vista or any proprietary software, or even the need for a computer. You can put a Chumby on your nightstand and use it as an Internet-enabled clock radio (at this point, I’m only assuming the radio part; if this doesn’t support Internet radio and UPnP all bets are off). Or put it on your desktop as an email station. The options are limited only by what developers come up with, and it won’t take too many applications to make Chumby indispensable (at least for the geek class). I don’t expect Chumby to ever become mainstream. But it does herald a future of non-PC, always-connected, software-defined devices. I could easily see putting one of these in every room in my home, but at $175 each that’s a bit prohibitive, so I’ll settle for one in the kitchen or bedroom, and await the revolution for the bathroom model.