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No Neutrals on Net Neutrality

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When technology and politics collide, it’s often corporations versus the people’s rights and the Internet has always been a prime battleground. Some have embraced it, others see it as an evil of the modern age, but no one can deny the power it brings to the masses and the fear it strikes into the hearts of those in power. In the last year, governments have begun to take sides on the issue of net neutrality, the sovereignty of the Internet and the rights of people using it.

Unsurprisingly, the US has come out in favour of suppressing and limiting the use of the Internet, voting against proposed legislation to enshrine net neutrality in law, but more attempts are expected. The US is among the largest providers of Internet content ranging from games to video services and limiting these services or the speeds to them may stunt their growth in the future. However, it is unlikely that all out policing of the Internet, such as China’s policies, will ever be put in place by the government, as it would require huge resources and fuel an already active lawsuit community in the media industries. The Dutch parliament recently passed through legislation enforcing net neutrality in the mobile industry, preventing mobile operators such as Vodafone from blocking or charging extra for services like Skype and WhatsApp. Net neutrality is also supported by the Council of Europe, which believes users should be able use the internet however they choose and not be limited depending on the size or type of content.

Here in the UK however, the government is currently in the process of abolishing net neutrality altogether with the Digital Economy Act, making ISPs monitor everything on the off chance they catch someone downloading copyrighted material without permission. The problems of enforcing this, should it eventually go through, are well known in terms of both the technical and the legal ramifications. ISPs would incur huge costs which would likely be recouped by raising prices of broadband, further delaying the progress of a network that is already far behind other countries and in danger of isolating the UK, as the rest of the world continue to improve and grow in this technological age.

ISPs are currently caught in the middle of this battle and will not find the outcome to be beneficial to them no matter who wins. On the one hand, policing the Internet would be a hugely costly operation and would not endear them to their customers and if net neutrality wins out in the end, then ISPs would lose some freedom in choosing what to charge for and prevent them from differentiating their services from those of competitors. This battle is far from over, in fact it’s just beginning. The outcome may appear to be in the hands of politicians, but the practicalities of policing the Internet and the complications it brings still seems beyond them and perhaps realisation may come too late. However, with the EC in favour of net neutrality, we may see one of the first tangible benefits to ordinary people, of being in the EU. In the end, the Internet community has proven time and again that it is amazingly resistant to any attempts to limit or block content and many of the decision makers of the world remain ignorant about new technologies and afraid of change. Staving off net neutrality will only stunt the growth of economies and slow progress, but will governments see this in time? Only time itself will tell.

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Written by atalukdar

July 1, 2011 at 1:00 am

Sony Fragmented

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For decades, Sony has been synonymous with technology.  From TVs to camcorders and cameras, games consoles to PCs and now entering the tablet Market, Sony has established itself as a prominent player in the electronics and digital entertainment industries.  However, the corporation has seen it’s position slide over the past decade, with massive shifts in almost all of it’s markets.

Sony grew tremendously over two decades, with revolutionary products and technologies like the Walkman, Trinitron TVs and the Playstation games console defining, growing and advancing the industries they sought to conquer.  However the increase in competition and the pace at which new technologies emerge made it difficult for Sony to maintain it’s dominance.  The arrival of the iPod signalled the end of the Walkman, which like every other device has failed to compete with Apple’s digital media devices and Trinitron technology, the heart of Sony’s CRT TVs was made redundant by the advent of LCD HDTVs.  Sony knew it had to adapt and change to meet the diverse needs of an evolving world.

Fragmented Sony

In June 2005, Sony appointed Howard Stringer as CEO, marking the first time a foreigner has been given the position.  At the time, the British-born businessman said he would bring the group together to offer better products and services.  Since then, Sony has seen major changes to some of it’s divisions, but continues to suffer substantial losses and still doesn’t have the kind of prominence it had just a decade ago.  The corporation’s market capitalisation fell behind one of it’s biggest rivals in the games industry in 2007 when Nintendo rose to second place in Japan, adding to the already humbling market conditions Sony experienced.

However, one division has continued to perform strongly and consistently throughout this trying decade.  Sony Computer Entertainment, which is responsible for the highly successful Playstation games consoles, has been very profitable and offset some of the losses of other divisions.  Sony’s entry into the console space solidified a new source of profit and the latest generation, the Playstation 3, is the most forward thinking yet and is now in it’s prime with exclusive titles and the power of the hardware finally paying off.  Yet despite the success these products, Sony is still fragmented, a collection of separate divisions that lack a common focus.  A prime example of this was the distribution of the James Bond films, something under the purview of Sony Pictures and yet they were available on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Market place before Sony’s own Playstation Network store.  This is exactly what Sir Howard was talking about addressing when he took over Sony in 2005.

Playstation Buttons

What Sony lacks is a common focus and an integrated environment in which consumers can experience it’s products and services.  The Japanese corporation needs to leverage it’s considerable resources to create an unparalleled experience by directing the different divisions to a common goal.  Sony has great influence in consumer electronics, video games, film and music and combining these resources would result in a more cohesive company with focus, direction and a global image that is unique.  If Sony can achieve this coherence, it may once more lead innovation and technological advancement and see a return to prominence.

Written by atalukdar

May 30, 2011 at 1:00 am

Microsoft Skype

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In an increasingly imperial World Wide Web, Skype has remained a service that isn’t broad, but very good at what it does.  So it was no surprise when the Microsoft empire has now acquired the service to add to it’s arsenal in the war against Google and Apple.  It is however interesting to note that Microsoft already has it’s own application, msn messenger, which includes chat, voice and video communication, but Skype offers something that msn is currently lacking, a thriving user base, largely due to social networking sites such as Facebook having the same features as msn integrated.

Clearly Microsoft has recognised this huge shift to social networking sites, as it has already created a new division to house Skype, with a focus on bringing social networking to the service.  However, it is this new focus and broadening of Skype’s feature set that could lead to the application’s downfall. Microsoft doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to innovation and is constantly playing catchup with the competition.  Furthermore, Google has made numerous attempts to create a social network to rival Facebook, but every attempt failed to gain any traction and like Microsoft itself, is left with a trail of disjointed services and cancelled projects.

Microsoft Skype

So what does this mean for current users of Skype?  Microsoft has promised that support for rival devices will continue, but the new focus on social networking is a worry for many.  The company doesn’t seem to realise that the success of Skype is partly due to the small contact lists users have.  It’s a way of keeping in touch and communicating with close friends and family, rather than the hundreds of friends on a social network and many users may object and defect to other services.

This presents a new problem for users.  What alternative is there?  Apple, Google, aol and many others all have offerings in the chat, voice and video communication space, but none have the awareness that Skype enjoys and this could make it difficult for any of them to replace it.  Which leaves new and future options to take up the reins.  Apple’s FaceTime is particularly well placed to succeed, with hugely popular mobile devices such as the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 sporting the app, as well as all Macs with a camera also compatible with it.  However the potential to replace Skype as the communication standard of choice is in fact that FaceTime is an open standard, meaning any application could use it, allowing communication between multiple different applications and platforms.  It is the adoption of the standard by other companies and the addition of text and voice only chat that will ultimately determine whether or not it becomes the de facto communications tool.

Major changes to Skype won’t happen overnight, but it’s highly likely many current users will reject the new direction of the service.  It will probably be 18 to 24 months before the more significant changes come into effect and the next major shift in Internet communications will happen.  For now it appears Microsoft have remembered that old saying.  If you can’t beat them, buy them.

Microsoft Skype

Will Skype just be squeezed in?

Written by atalukdar

May 13, 2011 at 10:01 am