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Friday, July 31, 2009

RP has new information technology commissioner

The Philippines’ Commission on Information and Telecommunications Technology (CICT) now has a new commissioner.

Graciano Sitchon, the agency’s executive director, has recently been appointed to head the body, replacing Lorenzo Formoso III.

Sitchon will also sit as head of the Telecommunications Office (Telof), CICT chair Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua said last week.

Besides being Formoso’s deputy at Telof and the CICT’s second-in-command, Sitchon is also a lawyer like Formoso.

Formoso’s resignation came after the Telof was again transferred back to CICT from the Department of Communications and Technology (DOTC).

The Telof was first put under the CICT when the latter was created by Executive Order 269 in 2004. However, it was reverted to the DOTC in 2007.

While under the DOTC, Formoso was embroiled in the NBN-ZTE controversy, defending the government by acting as the transport agency’s legal counsel.

As the new Telof chief, Sitchon will also assume the position of CICT commissioner alongside Angelo Tim Diaz de Rivera, Monchito Ibrahim, and Consuelo Perez.

The Telof is in charge of the Information Infrastructure Group of the CICT which focuses on universal access and provision of ICT-related services in unserved and underserved areas.

For many years, Telof has been working to convert its nationwide network of calling stations into community eCenters where rural folk can be trained to use modern technology.

At the Next Wave Cities annual report launch, Roxas-Chua said he is desperately hoping that the bill creating the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) would still be passed by Congress.

“Unlike a full-fledged department, the problem with CICT just being a commission is that it can be easily demolished by the next administration. All that is needed by the next president is to sign another EO. That would be the end of the programs we’ve put up over the years," he said.

Paypal's Asia Mall now open

PayPal announced Thursday the opening of its online Asia Mall, an online shopping store offering great deals and special offers for cash-conscious online shoppers.

Major online retailers in Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan are already present in PayPal’s Asia Mall and are offering a range of promotional offers to PayPal customers, from 20 percent discounts to free warranties and free cross-border delivery.
PayPal shoppers can browse through the promotions offered by Asian retailers in a range of categories, including the hugely popular online health and beauty store,, and the leading online gadget store, DealExtreme, with more Asian retailers expected to join the online store in coming months.
“Online shoppers today are looking for choice, convenience and bargains and will happily purchase from overseas retailers to satisfy these needs,” said Farhad Irani, Vice President of Asia Pacific, PayPal.

“Our Asia Mall offers Asian merchants the opportunity to connect with millions of these shoppers and drive cross-border trade for their business.”
Asia Pacific is currently one of PayPal’s fastest growing regions with 12 million accounts and more than $4 billion of total payment volume processed in the region in 2008, an increase of 56 percent from 2007.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Yahoo-Microsoft deal finally worked out (confirmed)

The story has had quite a volume of press since a few months ago when Microsoft's offer to buy out Yahoo! for $47.5 billion was turned down by then Yahoo CEO Yang.

A couple of weeks later, rumors about a different Yahoo-Microsoft deal came out. This time, it was only for the Yahoo's search business, and Microsoft's advertising arm. In this new deal, it was supposed that Microsoft will handle Yahoo's search engine, while Yahoo handles Microsoft's online advertising.

Just yesterday, however, a deal not very different from what was rumored was confirmed to have been struck between the two tech giants. The obvious drive behind this would be to take on search and targeted advertising giant Google. But the question of whether it's going to work remains.

The long-expected deal means Microsoft's new Bing search engine will be combined with Yahoo's experience attracting advertisers in the first serious threat to Google Inc -- if the companies get regulatory approval and can make the partnership work.

Yahoo shares fell 12 percent as some investors were disappointed by the limited scope of the deal, which did not include up-front payments for Yahoo. Some investors had expected up to $3 billion up-front, according to a Bernstein report.

"I would have preferred more money," said Ryan Jacob, chief investment officer of Jacob Asset Management, pointing to the lack of an upfront payment, as well as revenue-sharing and cost-savings terms that were not as high as he expected.

"There are risks on both sides. Big deals like this tend not to work out. It's a long-term deal that's going to take a long time to implement," said Jacob, whose $40 million fund holds some Yahoo shares. "It's better than no deal."

Microsoft shares closed up 1.4 percent, while Google shares fell 0.8 percent.

Yahoo estimated the deal would boost its annual operating income by about $500 million and yield capital expenditure savings of $200 million. Yahoo also expects the deal to boost annual operating cash flow by about $275 million.

Antitrust obstacle

Under the deal announced on Wednesday, Microsoft's Bing search engine will power search queries on Yahoo's sites. Yahoo's sales force will be responsible for selling premium search ads to big buyers for both companies.

The partnership poses only a theoretical challenge to Google at present. It could take two-and-a-half years to get approval and be fully implemented, according to Yahoo Chief Executive Carol Bartz, which would mean the partnership would not be fully effective until early 2012.

Microsoft and Yahoo still face antitrust and privacy issues. Google dropped a planned search partnership with Yahoo last year under pressure from the U.S. Justice Department.

But experts said the deal would likely get the go-ahead after examination by Obama administration antitrust officials since it would create a stronger rival to market leader Google.

Google said only that it was "interested" in the deal, while the chairman of the US Senate antitrust panel said it warrants "careful scrutiny."

Microsoft and Yahoo expected the deal to be "closely reviewed" by regulators, but they were "hopeful" it could close in early 2010.

The deal concludes a lengthy, and at times contentious, dance between the two companies. They have been in on-again, off-again talks since Yahoo rebuffed Microsoft's $47.5 billion takeover bid last year.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer clashed last year with former Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, who was strongly opposed to an all-out acquisition. Relations between the two companies improved under new Yahoo CEO Bartz, who took the reins in January and started to shake up Yahoo's management.

Ballmer and Bartz met "three or four times" over the past six months as they hammered out a deal, according to Ballmer.

How the deal works

While Bartz had previously said any deal would require a partner with "boatloads of money," she said on Wednesday the agreement provided "boatloads of value," adding the revenue- share agreement in the Microsoft deal was more valuable to Yahoo than a one-time payment.

"Having a big up-front cash payment doesn't really help us from an operating standpoint," Bartz said.

Microsoft's AdCenter technology will serve the standard sponsored links that appear alongside search results. Microsoft will pay Yahoo an initial rate of 88 percent of search revenue generated on Yahoo sites in the first five years.

That means Yahoo can concentrate on selling ads on its websites, while still generating revenue from search ads without the expense of maintaining its own search engine.

Bartz said the deal will result in "redundancies" in Yahoo's staff, although she declined to be specific. She stressed any changes would not occur until after full implementation of the partnership.

According to comScore, Google has a 65 percent share of the US search market, compared with Yahoo's 19.6 percent and Microsoft's 8.4 percent.

"Microsoft will be able to report a greater share in terms of search ... And Yahoo doesn't have to spend any more money on search," said Barry Diller, CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp, which owns rival search engine

Yahoo shares closed down $2.08 at $15.14 on Nasdaq, while Microsoft closed up 33 cents at $23.80 and Google shares closed down $3.61 at $436.24.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Friendster hunting for a new owner

We've all seen this happen before. In Friendster's case, it was just a matter of time. Of course, we also remember the time when the original form of this social networking service was offered $30 million for a buyout. The offer was turned down. The company sought to increase its user base (incidentally they found home in the Asia Pacific region). We all know the story. Only that now, Friendster is looking for someone who will buy the company and hopefully save themselves one big losing whoop. in its usual way leaked out screenshots of several pages of an alleged document showing what the Friendster team is trying to market through Morgan Stanley's brokering efforts.

Supposedly, the old timer social network could be worth $210 million when compared to Facebook's $10 billion valuation. Now, a lot of folks disagree with these numbers, but still the most conservative figures are significant. The question now is how much Friendster might go out for.

A lot of Asians still use it of course, no matter what the Northern Hemisphere says. People do use the network. But for how long are they going to stay there. I can give critics this much: what Friendster claims to be their tremendous user base is not the same with actual people using the site. I personally know so many FS fanatics who've given up their accounts for either Facebook or nothing at all.

The turn of events when Friendster began its Asian decline, I think, was when the company sought to monetize the whole thing from the home page to shoutouts, galleries to comments. I mean, every step of the way you get not just ads and popups, but layers and layers of ads and popups. Add that to the site's poor handling of javascript and flash. Friendster applications are simply clogged up with trash and junk.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Apple to release new digital music album format with tablet-like computer

Recent reports floating around on the Web say that, when Apple launches its much-awaited tablet-like computing device, the company will also introduce a new format of audio music for albums in September. Presumably, the new format is also to be natively supported by other Apple products like the iPod and iPhone.

The music industry first proposed an enhanced album format to Apple in 2007, according to a couple of people who also said that the music labels have been independently working on a separate project code-named "CMX". These labels included EMI Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music, who plan to release the new format around September.

Despite the apparently desperate efforts by the music labels, Apple decided to go with their own format. It's ironic that it was Apple who finally ended the Audio CD's reign in 2003 when the iTunes Store was launched and made a hot hit.

Of course, these music groups want to revive their album format domination. The bulk of their wealth came from CD sales back then. People simply opted for the 99 cents/track scheme rather than spend $8.00 to 10.00 for a CD.

The new Apple album format is expected to have new interactive features which might include artist interviews. This fresh new approach will of course be pegged at a higher price than the current album formats, but this only proves that fans are ready to spend more for higher quality content.

We'll just have to wait and see what happens. With all the major music labels squirming under the pressure of piracy (or so they say), and Apple's next probable hot trend, a lot is yet to be seen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Growth of IT in the Philippines: what's the catch?

Arroyo's State of the Nation Address (SONA) today boasted of significant growth in the IT sector in the country. Says Internet World Stats, the Philippines has seen Internet usage shoot up from two million in 2000, to 20, 650, 000 as of March this year. That certainly is a significant increase.

But is this really the right way to measure development in Information Technology? I'm not going to go into whether these numbers are valid, or what exactly caused this increase. I just think that we need to put the figure in the right perspective.

E-commerce in the Philippines

According to the statistics, a third of all urban Philippines already use the Internet. It looks like cost is no longer a barrier against it. In fact, the paper called "Yahoo Nielsen Internet Habits Study for the Philippines" from 2008 shows that about 85% of Filipino Internet users are from class D and E, while the rest from class A, B or C.

However, this doesn't actually always translate to development. Sure, more and more people are riding the Web wagon, but how much of this increase in traffic translate to income or actual gain for the average Filipino? Developed countries have long embraced the conveniences and benefits of transacting over the Internet. Many of our Southeast Asian neighbors also are beginning to see rise in usage of electronic means of trading. I would be willing to bet that quite a chunk of the figures today's SONA boasted about comes from youth activity gravitating towards social networking, communications between family and friends, and instant messaging (chat). That's not a bad thing.

But if we, both the government and the private sector, fail to turn a significant portion of that traffic into something that will bring measurable return, then we suffer a great loss of opportunity. The statistics only proves that we have capability in terms of infrastructure. We now need to provide the Filipino a reason to work, shop, trade and in general transact on the Web, and at the same time reason also to trust that moving towards Internet transactions would be secure and reliable.

Just look at the recent GSIS-IBM debacle. The government agency and international IT giant sue each other for an error that caused the agency's database(s) to crash and become unreliable. Now, what kind of message does this send to people? It blatantly and openly shouts that this kind of technology in the Philippines is simply not to be trusted. Users of the government-operated site reported that they weren't able to get to their records, and some even said that they did get access to records - only that the ones they got weren't theirs. I don't think this says much about security.

The government needs to show the Filipino that there's security and reliability in this technology, and thereby prove that it should lead to benefits for the people. And I'm not talking about downloadable forms, or records that can be viewed via the Internet from home. We need to provide something that will help ease the burden of government offices, at the same time make citizens' government dealings more efficient and convenient. The government needs to make available online all its services. This will then lead people to trust other sites in online transactions. The hope is to create a sense of security and sureness in the people to bring about better E-commerce usage.

Hopefully, the president's idea of creating the Department of Information and Communications Technology will contribute to the betterment of the Philippines IT sector - for real.

State of the Nation Address Live is hosting a live show of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's ninth State of the Nation Address (SONA) today.

Watch it live directly from your Web browser. Make sure you have flash player.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Post Twitter status via SMS - the right way

Last year around September, Globe Telecoms launched their Twitter service in the Philippines as response to Twitter's blocking of their UK number from sending updates to people outside of the United States, Canada or India.

The thing is, the Globe Twitter service costs Php2.5o per text message sent or received. You get the first three personal updates for free, then 2.50 after that. You can imagine how expensive this can add up to at the end of the day.

With the coming of the iPhone and other Wi-Fi enabled phones to us, posting updates over Twitter Mobile became more popular. Rather than going through SMS, people simply log onto the Web service and do their micro-blogging from there. Or they might get Twitter apps that work on their phones/smartphones.

But what about the rest of us without Wi-Fi phones or smartphones? Well, there's recently been good buzz about a service called "I Speak over Internet Protocol". It's not actually a protocol, just some marketing gimmick I guess? But the point is that registering with them will enable you to send updates via SMS to Twitter for P1.00 per update, or at no additional cost if you're on the Unlimited Text offering of your carrier.

Here's how it works.

You register with Then they ask you for your Twitter username and password. Then they give you a mobile number that you can send your updates to. And voila. You get to update your Twitter status via SMS.

What happens behind this is that when you register and give your Twitter username and password, they will post the messages you send them via the number they gave you. You text your update to, they read the message, then copy that message to your Twitter status.

Technically, it's a workaround. I don't see how this won't work though. It's a great service since doesn't actually charge you for this. If you get charged, it's done by your carrier (Smart, Globe, Sun Cellular).

One shortcoming though is that you still don't get SMS updates from Twitter via I guess you really need to go with Globe for that. I'll post about this other Globe offer later, if I can.

Facebook is allowing advertisers to use your info

This might have been long happening, but I recently received word that Facebook has been allowing third-party advertisers to use your photos, personal feeds and event notifications so that they can advertise their ware to your network or friends.

So many have been asking the same question for quite some time now. How is Facebook going to make money? People say that there's no good way to really monetize the social networking site. Others say that it's in advertising. Well, as far as I can see they are trying.

The question whether to whom uploaded information (like photos, notes, articles, feeds, etc.) belongs to is a debate better discussed elsewhere. However, I doubt that anyone would like the idea of their own data being used by third parties, advertisers for that matter, to further their own gains - seemingly without express permission to boot.

Sure, this might have been in the original terms of usage agreement. But hey, everyone (I mean everyone including Facebook) knows that no one ever reads those long winded legalese novellas. You either check the I Agree box, or you don't sign up at all. So, with this in mind, express permission should have been sought before this is allowed.

Fortunately, there's is a way to turn it off. It's buried beneath a few settings pages, but it's there.

What Facebook should have done is to have this off by default, instead of on. They could have asked later on whether users want their stuff used or not. I'm sure there would have been people who won't mind. After all, there's a whole cadre of guys and gals on the site who are just looking for exposure.

So here's how to turn it off. First, go to your Account Settings page (it's found in the dropdown options from the Settings button, near the top of any Facebook page, beside the Logout button).

When you're in Account Settings, scroll down and look for "Privacy" in the Settings tab then click Manage. This brings you to the Privacy settings page.

Select News Feeds and Wall, then click on the Facebook Ads tab. There, choose "No one" in the Appearance in Facebook Ads dropdown.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Budget tips for your next laptop

Looking for the best-deal laptop isn't as easy as you might think - unless you know what to do or where to go. So here are a few tips that will help you save up some cash while not scrimping out too much on the specs.

Before we go way too deep into this, here are a few questions you'll want to ask yourself first.

What do you want your laptop to do? Are you just into the social networking sites (Facebook, Friendster, LinkedIn, etc.), Email and chatting? Or will you be doing video editing, power gaming (Counter Strike, WoW, etc.)? Or are you the tech savvy businessman who needs to run the latest MS Office version?

How much, exactly, are you willing to spend? Much like in other things, the more you want the more you'll need to spend. If you've answered the first question honestly, then you might have a fairly good idea of what your next laptop will cost you. If you want something that will do just the basics like Emails, Web surfing and chat, then you probably want an off-the-shelf notebook. If you need more power, you might be better off trolling through some Online laptop catalogs (don't worry, I'll give you tips where to look). If you need a business computing machine, then read on because you might just find what you're looking for.

Try a Netbook. If your computing needs are low, or even basic (web b
rowsing, office doc work, and not too much need for heavy-duty graphics or HD video), Netbooks offer a great package for very little money. Mainly equipped with Intel Atom processors and running Windows XP, they're not so great at multitasking, but they'll do the work that most computers handled five years ago with ease. Low-end Netbooks are where the best value's at, with some coming in at under Php21,400, like ACER Aspire One. There's the infamous Asus EeePC, on sale, that started all the netbook buzz a couple of years ago, and it comes in at Php8,999 if you buy it up front with cash.

There are a lot of great deals at Villman's. You might even find an installment plan so that you don't break the bank with your next laptop purchase.

Big on portable, thin-and-light laptops. Apple's MacBook Air came out two years ago and presented itself as the world's thinnest laptop. It's now a lot cheaper than when it was launched. Buying it from the Apple Store would cost you Php85,990. However, there are a number of alternatives to this, just like the MSI X320 at a much affordable price. It comes in at Php40,000 with basically the same specs. And with a supported credit card, you might just get a no-interest deal for it at about Php3,000 per month.

The point is, these very portable laptops are just getting cheaper and cheaper, so look out for some of the best deals around. A little online window shopping won't hurt.

Go for the barebones specs. Unless you really, really need more memory, a larger hard drive, faster processor, or better graphics, you'd do better to look for a laptop that serves you just right. Going for a powerhouse computer that you don't have use for isn't a very intelligent move, especially if you don't plan to stick with your laptop to the last breath. You can live without a built-in Webcam or fingerprint reader. And you don't need a blu-ray drive on it - a DVD drive is just fine. You can always download HD content on your hard drive.

It's important to remember that unless you need something on your laptop, it's better to not have it at all. This rule will definitely save you thousands of pesos.

A good processor will pay off. One thing you can't replace is the main CPU, and spending a little more for the config you feel will run your software best is a good bet, because it means a laptop that will last a few more years before an upgrade. A standard Intel Core 2 Duo processor, which should be your default choice, can be found in most laptops starting at around Php12,000.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pros, while not super-cheap, have decent processors and above-average integrated graphics (in the form the Ncidia's GeForce 9400) graphics that will last you through several rounds of OS changes and updates. Or, you could even go with the white MacBook, which costs Php13,000 less and offers similar specs but has a shorter battery life.

More tips. Just remember that buying from a company's official website is often cheaper that going to a retail store and buying from a distributor. If you don't have a credit card, or if you're not very comfortable with shopping online, go through online product catalogs. Here are a few places to start with:

And one final tip. With all the advice you've gotten above, hopefully you've narrowed down your choices. When you make the final choice (before buying the laptop of course) take a little time reading about laptops. There are loads of reviews floating around on the Web. Look into CNET's Laptop Reviews section. Search for your choice of notebook and see what both users and editors say about the product. You might also come across alternatives there.

Happy hunting!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Intel's P10,000 PC: good or bad idea?

Remember Intel's NetTop from last year? Well, they just launched the second iteration of the cheapo personal computer targeting the Philippine market at large.

The idea is that they want to increase PC and Internet penetration rates in the country by providing the most affordable computer. There's a news piece available from ABS-CBN News.

The company says that this little machine should be perfect for basic computing tasks like Emails, chat, VoIP and word processing. Maybe you could throw in DVD movies and music. But the gist is that it isn't made for power gaming or video editing.

If you ask me, this isn't exactly a good idea. At the price it's currently pegged at, the Nettop 2 will save you about Php5,000 when compared to a basic off-the-shelf rig from the mall.

Why not?

When buying a computer, you don't just think of the cash you're shelling out. Like anyone with enough common sense, you will want to ask yourself: "will this be worth my money?". At 10k, you are getting a barebones package. Put that side-by-side with a basic box, you're actually losing money when looking at the value you get for the price.

Another thing you'd want to look out for is the machine's capacity to get upgraded. Say you want to buy a PC for the whole family. Sure, all you want is Web surfing, maybe word processing, a few slide presentations here and there, instant messaging (chat) with your aunt abroad; you still get all these from NetTop 2.

But what happens when your high school kid gets to college, and suddenly learns he/she needs to run Photoshop, AutoCAD, or some business software that needs better processing and handling capability? You would want your computer to be able to take upgrades like additional memory, better video card(s), processor replacement and a plethora more.

Basic today isn't all that basic anymore
Come on, admit it. What people called "simple computing" 5 years ago is not the same thing as what it is today. Back then, no one could expect a 14-year old kid to make the next Christmas part photo movie, or for your daughter to be in charge of music remixing and editing for the big school project. It's no longer as simple as it was before. I could imagine NetTop doing the basic, basic stuff just fine. But what about that Christmas show, or that school project?

My take: don't scrimp out on your next PC investment. The longer your computer lives to serve, the longer it will pay off.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

China suicide put Apple on Center Stage

In the United States, it's been the longstanding culture of Apple Inc. to be as secretive as can be when it comes to their products and internal workings, especially upcoming models or devices that they make.

Of course, this is understandable. Corporations cannot be too careful in cutthroat competitive markets - like the phone manufacturing industry. The iPhone, one of Apple's hottest products, is being manufactured somewhere in southern China by a Taiwan company's subsidiary, Foxconn.

Now, Foxconn has this 25-year old manager who jumped out of his 12th floor apartment building after a raid of the police of his place. The manager Sun Dayong was one of the people in charge of the 16 prototypes of the fourth generation iPhone, one of which went missing. He got frantic, sent out text messages to his girlfriend and a former classmate.

Since then, there's been a big buzz about the news on the Web about how Apple's culture of secrecy led to this terrible incident.

This company has had quite some record on it for keeping secrets. It goes to the extent of threatening lawsuits (and in several instances actually following through) against people who publish news about upcoming products, or stuff that shouldn't be out in public.

On one hand, I think Apple couldn't be directly blamed for this - legally or morally (up to a certain degree). I mean, come on people, a company as good and hot as Apple really has a right to keep a lid on their important stuff if they want to make a good living out of what they do. Other companies can afford to lose a model or two, but we're talking about Apple here; trend leader, innovator, market setter.

On the other hand, this company should learn to better manage its own culture. I know that sounds ridiculous. The guy (manager Sun) is dead. He probably thought he had a hand in the losing of the prototype else he wouldn't have killed himself. Who in his right mind would commit suicide over a phone? Even if it was the best kept secret in the world, I still wouldn't think it more important than my life. Now, I realize that his might not even be accurate. All the details about the incident, in traditional Apple behavior, was kept quiet. But killing himself over that is just not right. He might have been under pressure additionally caused by something else.

The thing is, this company should communicate what it wants its culture to be. I don't think they want an environment where people kill themselves if they fail. Sure, this might sound good for Steve Jobs, but what the heck? There's surely something wrong here.

You get my drift. What do you think?