Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

First Demonstration of a Working Invisibility Cloak
October 23, 2006

A team led by scientists at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering has demonstrated the first working “invisibility cloak.” The cloak deflects microwave beams so they flow around a “hidden” object inside with little distortion, making it appear almost as if nothing were there at all.

Cloaks that render objects essentially invisible to microwaves could have a variety of wireless communications or radar applications, according to the researchers.

The team reported its findings on Thursday, Oct. 19, in Science Express, the advance online publication of the journal Science. The research was funded by the Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

The researchers manufactured the cloak using “metamaterials” precisely arranged in a series of concentric circles that confer specific electromagnetic properties. Metamaterials are artificial composites that can be made to interact with electromagnetic waves in ways that natural materials cannot reproduce.

The cloak represents “one of the most elaborate metamaterial structures yet designed and produced,” the scientists said. It also represents the most comprehensive approach to invisibility yet realized, with the potential to hide objects of any size or material property, they added.

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In Microsoft Plan for Future, All Roads Lead to Internet
August 2, 2006

In a daylong meeting with analysts on Thursday, Microsoft executives detailed how the company was spending heavily to build Internet services into all its products, from operating systems to video games. But they cautioned that any big payoff from those investments would not come for a few years.

Internet search, according to Microsoft, will increasingly become seamlessly integrated into the Windows desktop operating system, Office productivity software, cellphones powered by Windows and Xbox video games.

“Search will not be a destination, but it will become a utility” that is more and more “woven into the fabric of all kinds of computing experiences,” said Kevin Johnson, co-president of Microsoft’s platforms and services division.

The company lags well behind Google in tapping online advertising so far, but Microsoft is optimistic about its prospects. The $27 billion online advertising market, analysts predict, will double in size over the next three years. “That’s a great opportunity,” Mr. Johnson said, “and Microsoft is uniquely positioned.”

Analysts attending the meeting said the Microsoft strategy, presented in greater detail than in the past, was a pragmatic one.

“It’s not really about beating Google,” said Richard Sherlund, an analyst at Goldman Sachs & Company. “But Microsoft has to do well enough to keep people in the Microsoft environment — on the desktop, the Web or gaming online — so they don’t leave the Microsoft environment to go to Google for search.”

As a business, Internet search is crucial because ads linked to search words have been such a fast-growing advertising market — and Google has been the runaway leader.

Microsoft has spent the last two years, and hundreds of millions of dollars, building its own search advertising technology, called AdCenter. The new advertising system was introduced only two months ago. In a demonstration, Microsoft showed how the AdCenter system lets advertisers measure clicks on the keywords they purchase by time of day, day of the week and often by the age, gender and geographic location of the person seeing the ad. Microsoft’s MSN services like Web e-mail require users to register and submit some personal information, which Google does not.

“You get better information on what’s working in your ad campaign and better return on investment,” said Yusuf Mehdi, chief of advertising strategy for Microsoft’s Internet services. “That’s something you can’t do on other systems.”

In a demonstration, Mr. Mehdi showed some of the work being done by a group exploring the future of advertising in Microsoft’s research labs. In a digital television prototype, a viewer who liked a dress worn by Sarah Jessica Parker in an episode of “Sex and the City” could click on it, automatically pausing the video, and on the screen an Internet search result would appear, identifying the dress, its maker and a link to buy it.

Still, Microsoft expects its progress in advertising to be gradual. The company projected that in fiscal 2007, which began this month, the revenue from its online services business would grow 7 percent to 11 percent, to $2.5 billion to $2.6 billion. That would be an improvement from last year, when online services revenue fell 2 percent, to $2.3 billion, and the unit lost $77 million.

By contrast, Google, in its recent quarter alone, reported that profit doubled to $721 million while revenue grew 77 percent to $2.4 billion.

Microsoft executives acknowledge that as computing increasingly gravitates to the Web and often toward ad-supported services, it creates both a technical and business challenge for a company whose great strength is in personal computer desktop software.

But the Microsoft vision is that Internet services can complement rather than cannibalize the company’s traditional business if they are built into products like Windows.

“Microsoft’s current offerings represent a huge advantage that we can migrate into this services world,” said Ray Ozzie, the chief software architect.

Despite its struggle to adapt to Internet services, Microsoft as a whole is performing quite well. In the year ended last month, the company’s revenue grew 11 percent, to $44.3 billion, and its operating profit rose 13 percent. to $16.5 billion.

Even though Microsoft has grown fairly strongly for years, its stock price has been stagnant. Investors worry that the future of computing belongs to new Internet-based rivals, like Google.

In private conversations, Microsoft executives said that the skeptics were taking a short-term perspective and that Microsoft had repeatedly proved skeptics wrong.

Craig Mundie, the chief research and strategy officer, noted that in the 1990’s, when Microsoft began to move into corporate data centers with server software, many industry experts scoffed. Microsoft, they predicted, would surely fail.

Last year, Microsoft’s server and tools business reported revenue of $11.5 billion and operating profit of $4.3 billion.

“It took real research and development and a long time to get there,” Mr. Mundie said. “We’re doing that all the time. We make big long-term bets. That’s what’s going on here now, and it’s very different than this general perception that the company isn’t really doing anything interesting.”

At the meeting, Microsoft declined to pledge that Windows Vista, its new operating system, would be shipped to consumers in January, the most recent prediction given. Vista has been repeatedly delayed, and Microsoft said there was no reason yet to push the schedule back further.

But Mr. Johnson, co-president of the platforms and services group, said, “We will ship Windows Vista when the product is ready,” leaving open the possibility of added delays.

Microsoft’s shares fell 2 percent, to $23.87, on Thursday amid concern about the timing of Vista’s debut.

Steven A. Ballmer, the chief executive, said the company’s pace of Windows releases would accelerate. “We will never repeat the experience of Windows Vista again,” Mr. Ballmer said. “We will never have a five-year gap in major releases again.”

(REDMOND, Wash., July 27)

Google launches open-source repository
August 2, 2006

In its latest effort to further the open-source programming movement, Google opened a site Thursday where programmers can host their software projects.

As expected, Google engineering manager Greg Stein announced the project hosting site during a talk at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland, Ore.

“One of our goals is to encourage healthy, productive open-source communities. Developers can always benefit from more choices in project hosting,” Google said on a frequently-asked-questions site.

One choice for programmers is VA Software’s, which hosts more than 100,000 open-source projects.

Google’s hosting service, which accumulated dozens of new projects on its opening day, features mechanisms to store software, discuss it with mailing lists and track bugs. Google permits projects under a variety of open-source licenses–but not the full range.

“We’d like to see projects standardize on the most popular, time-tested ones. The selected licenses offer diversity to meet most developer needs,” Google said.

Google’s service uses hosting software called Subversion, which Stein had worked on in his previous job at CollabNet. That start-up, which still oversees Subversion development and sells hosts distributed programming projects for its clients, welcomed Google’s move.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said CollabNet co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Brian Behlendorf, who added that Google still contributes to the Subversion project. “It’s not too often that Google can deploy something they didn’t entirely write.”

(By Stephen Shankland, Staff Writer, CNET, July 27, 2006)