Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tech News of the Month - June 2009

In the past month, events outside the technology world dominated the news, however technology had a strong influence on the "real" world and vice versa.

Turmoil in Iran
In a controversial presidential election in Iran, incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated reform candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Following results of the election, protests broke out due to suspicions of voter fraud. As the protests grew in intensity, violence erupted and the government conducted raids, made arrests, and filtered or blocked various communication channels: TV broadcasts, internet access, and mobile phone services.
  • The tag #IranElection was used to communicate on Twitter and immediately became one of the top topics, remaining there since.
  • Immediately after events started to unfurl, CNN was criticized for not reporting on events in Iran more. The tag #CNNFail became a trending topic and people turned to Twitter as a better source for information.
  • Many users showed support for protesters by changing their Twitter avatar icon to a shade of green (Mousavi's campaign color) by overlaying the color over their existing image. Many also changed their location and timezone to match Tehran to make it difficult for censors to identify and target protesters.
  • The U.S. State Department requested Twitter to delay schedule maintenance so that Iranians could continue to communicate with the outside world.
  • More people than probably ever before learned what a proxy server is, as proxies were put up to help citizens of Iran circumvent censorship of their Internet access.
  • Statistical analysis showed that it was highly unlikely that election results happened as a normal occurrence, due to the distribution of digits in the vote counts. The numbers were skewed toward those that psychologically people choose more often, suggesting the likelihood of fraud.

Celebrity Deaths Shock The World
The world was shocked by the sudden deaths of Michael Jackson, David Carradine, and Billy Mays, as well as the passing of Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon. As news of Michael Jackson's death spread, people flocked online to learn more and discuss. Internet traffic spiked, causing some web sites to slow down or become unresponsive. Some companies, like Google, initially thought the spike in traffic was an attack on their servers.

SmartPhone Wars
  • iPhone 3GS: Apple launched a new version of the iPhone, the iPhone 3G S. At $199 for the 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB model, with contract, it was very competitively priced against the recently announced Palm Pre. Compared to the previous iPhone, the new 3GS features a faster CPU, a better camera, longer battery life, video recording, voice recognition software, a built-in compass, and the ability to be tethered as a modem. Many speculated that the new video recording feature and ability to upload recordings directly to web sites will be a boon for video sharing sites like YouTube.
  • Palm Pre: Palm released the highly anticipated Pre smartphone, considered one of the best competitors to the iPhone. The Pre runs a new operating system called WebOS, the long awaited Linux-based replacement for the old Palm OS.
  • Android: T-Mobile announced the MyTouch 3G, the second smartphone to use Google's Android operating system. Unlike the G1, it does not have a physical keyboard, resulting in a slimmer and sleeker profile.
  • Flash: Adobe announced that a new version of Flash will be supported on various smartphone operations systems: Android, Palm WebOS, Windows Mobile, and Nokia's Symbian. Notably absent are iPhone and BlackBerry.

Social Networking Anti-Climaxes

North Korea vs. Euna Lee & Laura Ling
Asian-American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling were sentenced to 12 years in hard labor prison in North Korea, for allegedly entering the country illegally and supposed "hostilities". The sentencing appears to be highly politically motivated, as it happened at the same time that several countries are attempting to block North Korea from obtaining materials for nuclear weapons. People created Facebook groups, Twitter accounts and hash tags, blog posts, and online petitions to support their release.

  • Microsoft launched Bing, a revamped search engine poised to compete against Google. Pricing was announced for Windows 7, set to be released in October. Probably as well known as the product announcements themselves were the marketing and advertising campaigns that Microsoft launched for Bing and IE8.
  • Mozilla released Firefox 3.5. Changes include a faster JavaScript processing engine and a private browsing mode. I upgraded one of my instances and it ran smoothly - I'm waiting for compatibility for a couple last add-on extensions before upgrading the rest of my Firefox installs.
  • TweetDeck and Seesmic both released new versions of their Twitter desktop clients. TweetDeck also released a version for the iPhone.
  • Google released developer preview beta versions of Chrome for Mac and Linux. A significant number of features are still not available.
  • Sun released VirtualBox 3.0. I wonder how VirtualBox will fare after Oracle completes the Sun acquisition.

Fail of the Month Club
  • The city of Bozeman, Montana was criticized and ridiculed (deservedly so) for requiring job applicants to disclose login credentials for online accounts. Responding to the media backlash, they subsequently eliminated the requirement. Not only was the policy a major privacy infringement, it would have been a major security violation. What if online accounts fell in to the hands of a malignant hacker, terrorist, sexual predator?
  • Congressman Pete Hoekstra, Republican Representative from Michigan, made a buffoon out of himself for comparing the aftermath of the Iran election with Republican results from their last election. The site was quickly launched (by the same people who brought us for people to post equally outlandish comparisons, but in a humorous and facetious manner.
  • The RIAA was awarded $1.9 million in damages against Jammie Thomas, the defendant in the first significant file-sharing copyright infringement case. Although she was originally accused of illegally sharing over 1700 songs, the verdict was based on only 24 songs, coming out to over $80,000 per song. Ironically, she was only fined $222,000 in the previous trial which ended in 2007.

Exit Strategy
  • Notorious file-sharing site The Pirate Bay agreed to be acquired by Swedish company Global Gaming Factory for 60 million Swedish kronor ($7.8 million). Some fans of the site branded them as "sellouts", while others acknowledged that it was a predictable fate.

  • MySpace layoffs: MySpace announced that it would lay off over 400 employees, or about 30% of its staff, leaving it with 1,000 employees.
  • Yahoo kills acquisition after only 17 months: Yahoo decided to shut down Maven Networks, despite acquiring it only in January of last year.
  • Clear, the program for expedited access through airport security, shut down operations.

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