ASUS Eee PC expected to depress average selling prices for notebooks and UMPCs

For a system that hasn't even shipped yet, the ASUS Eee PC is certainly generating its share of hype. We've already covered the system specs and plans ASUS has for the device, including the company's stated goal of becoming one of the top five laptop manufacturers within the next three years. Now, it seems, market analysts are projecting the Eee PC will have a significant impact on the ASPs of other digital devices, all before the Eee has even launched. HangZhou Night Net

According to DigiTimes, the Eee should begin shipping later this month (as we've previously reported), and ship up to three million units in 2008. Intel has stated that the Eee PC could have a significant impact on the entire laptop industry, and could effectively decimate the UMPC market.

Personally, I think its a little early to be giving the Eee as much credit as some analysts seem willing to do. At $199, the Eee PC may reach a certain target market that the UMPC players would also like to engage, but the hardware limitations in the current Eee PC model (900MHz ULV Celeron, 512MB of RAM, and relatively limited storage) are going to keep the device confined to certain economic sectors. ASUS could certainly introduce larger Eee PCs (a 10"LCD version is also reportedly in the works), but again, these will come at higher price points. At launch, the newcomer certainly isn't going to present a total coup in the UMPC market.

I think the Eee PC may indeed find a strong market for itself and become a winning brand for ASUS, but such statements are a far cry from saying the device will be the beginnings of a sea change within the laptop industry. With all due respect to the industry analysts out there, I'm staying conservative on this one. Expect the Eee PC to make a splash—not to change the world.

Evidence for possible iTunes Store movie rentals found

Critics and would-be customers of the iTunes Store have been clamoring for new delivery models almost since the day the store opened in 2003. If a Flickr image posted by David Watanabe (yep, the developer of NewsFire and Xtorrent) is to believed, some of these wishful shoppers just might have a reason to finally whip out their credit cards soon. HangZhou Night Net

Watanabe snapped his shot (clipped below) while reporting a problem to the iTunes Store. As you can see, and as he notated at Flickr, one of the problem options is 'Did Not Receive Rental Movie.' Is this a slip-up from someone on the iTunes support team (in that case, our hearts go out to the intern who is undoubtedly getting fired right about… now), or Apple 's subtle way of firing up another hype machine?

Given John Gruber's musings yesterday on what Apple's CFO Peter Oppenheimer could have meant with his 'product transition' comment at the company's last earnings call, I wonder if, instead of (or in addition to) a new subscription-based accounting system for the new iPods like they debuted with the iPhone (so the company can provide new software and features without having to charge customers), Apple might finally be embracing rental and subscription-based content delivery models. If true, this could be the final move for Apple to reel in a good portion of customers sticking with subscription-based competitors.

Image source: Dave Watanabe

When rentals or subscriptions could debut (if ever) on the iTunes Store is anyone's guess. Apple has already unveiled a strong lineup for the '07 holiday season, and they could easily dominate holiday shopping without rentals or subscriptions in the store. After all, going by the numbers, we are talking about smaller—though still significant—demographic of customers. Still, Apple clearly wants to dominate the market, and unveiling these new shopping options for the iTunes Store could arguably be one of the final nails in the competition's coffin this holiday season.

Growl 1.1 released with better alert management, performance enhancements

For those who simply have too much happening on their Macs, the open source, system-wide notification utility Growl has been the favored way to stay on top of things. With its handy, customizable popup notifications that can alert you to finished downloads, new e-mail, the next iTunes song, or just about anything third-party developers want to plug in, Growl allows you to focus on the task at hand but still keep an eye on everything else. HangZhou Night Net

It's been quite a while since we've heard anything out of the Growl team, but today they released version 1.1, a fairly major update that brings some significant new alert management options. At the top of the list is a new global positioning system (apparently two years in the making) that allows you to specify any of your display's four corners to post alerts. Naturally, you can specify corners on a per-app basis, helping you to better organize your alerts and preventing apps from jumbling alerts in one corner.

Other new features to write home about include close buttons for alerts on mouse over, a completely redesigned System Preferences pane, a sound alert option, memory leak fixes, performance enhancements, a "whole slew" of new localizations, and more (on a side note: I prefer the old style of listing notification options for each app instead of in a drop down list; it's much harder to customize notifications this way now).

When we asked Chris Forsythe of the Growl team what he thinks of the app so far, he told us, "My favorite part is the fact that so many people use it in so many unexpected ways. If you want [my favorite new feature], I like the positioning most. It's massively cool in a geeky way."

While Chris might have a point with laying down the geek badge for Growl users, you can be proud of your nerdy tendencies because it just got a bit easier to get your multitask on. Growl 1.1 is a free download, and the previous 0.7.6 version is still available for those who need it.

Finding value in .Mac

.Mac when it was iTools, free, and a success, about seven years ago

No one has inadvertently described the failure of .Mac better than Steve Jobs himself. At the Apple Event in August, he said "we're pleased to announce we have over 1.7 million .Mac subscribers," which means the entire user base of .Mac now equals the number of computers Apple sold last quarter. Detractors of .Mac will nod heads and repeat the "I can get everything for free" mantra. Of course, this is exactly what Linux advocates say to anyone who will listen to them for five minutes without throwing a punch, so you had better be wearing a propeller hat with that argument. The reality is that people will pay for what they value, and searching for the value in .Mac begins with the features and not the price. HangZhou Night Net

Storage: Each .Mac user now gets 10GB of storage and 100GB of bandwidth each month (50GB bimonthly) to be used for file sharing, mail, website hosting, everything. While other services may offer more capacity and less lag, what is the value of extra storage that's not used? Sure, iDisk performance could be better—a lot better—but it is easily accessible from the Finder, whatever Windows is calling the file manager these days, and even a web browser.

Mail: You get one IMAP account and five "aliases" that are totally worthless to anyone who knows what an e-mail header is. However, what does have worth is ad-free mail, decent filtering for junk mail, and privacy. I personally prefer not to have a bunch of algorithms scanning my mail for advertising purposes and talking about me later around the water cooler.

Website Hosting: While iWeb is sold as a part of iLife, it really should be bundled with the .Mac service. Only with .Mac can iWeb publish just changes to a web site, and only with .Mac do you get password protection, comments, blog search, hit counter, and enhanced slideshows. However, one new .Mac feature, Personal Domain, does not actually require iWeb. Personal Domain allows you to use your own domain name for a site hosted on .Mac, rather than being forced to have something like ”web.mac.com/sitename” as part of the URL. To do so without using iWeb, all you do is follow the instructions here, then create a directory on your iDisk, ~WebSites. Whatever goes in that directory will appear in the address bar of a web browser as “www.yourdomain.com” or whatever. Finally, Web Gallery is the Flickr of .Mac, allowing for the easy creation of slick photo and movies pages from within iPhoto and iMovie. You can even add photos to Web Gallery from an iPhone.

Sync: If you have more than one Mac, this is one of those "it just works!" features that defines the Mac experience. Contacts, calendars, passwords, and bookmarks are all seamlessly updated between multiple computers. Contacts and bookmarks are also accessible via a web browser.

Backup: Some unkind things have been said about Backup, like it is maintained by the Punishment Development Group at Apple. While this may or may not be true, it has gotten better. I still wouldn't trust it to restore directly to my computer, but the "restore to an alternate location" feature has tested without fail in my recent experience. Admittedly, Backup does lack its own encryption, but I personally use encrypted disk images anyway. Still, the mirroring—not archiving—backup software is very user friendly, especially if one has friends or relatives that have ignored your repeated warnings about backing up their documents.

Assorted Crap: Besides every passive-aggressive well-wisher's favorite, iCards, there are some abandonware web page creation tools for those who refuse to use iWeb. There are also Groups, which allow family or club members to jointly create and access community calendars, storage, photo albums, and to send group e-mails.

Once you assess the features of .Mac, which you can do through a free 60-day trial, you need to buy it. If you or your technologically-declined friend or family member walks into an Apple Store and pulls a box of .Mac off the shelf, you've already been suckered—not as badly as an early adopter of the iPhone, but still. Instead of paying $99 a year for .Mac, the savvy buyer can routinely renew his or her subscription for $69, either with the purchase of a new Mac or during the Black Friday sale each year at any Apple Store.

At $69, valuing .Mac then comes down to counting the services you use. I use iDisk, Mail, Sync, website and media hosting, and Backup. Six distinct uses works out to about $6 a month for my .Mac experience, all tightly integrated into OS X and iLife—something no mismatched collection of services can match.

Finding the value in .Mac is in using it.

iTunes 7.4.1 released, breaks custom ringtones (but a workaround has been found)

Sure, iTunes 7.4 just landed with support for the new iPods and ringtones from the iTunes Store, but who wants days-old software? Apple has wasted no time in releasing iTunes 7.4.1, which apparently serves no other purpose than to one-up ringtone hackers by breaking the "just change the file extension to .m4r" trick (though it is widely reported that simply changing the extension back to .m4a works around Apple's new roadblock). Ambrosia Software's iToner ringtone app for the iPhone apparently still works, and a new 1.0.1 version that brings iTunes 7.4 compatibility now also supports drag-and-drop for files straight out of iTunes. iToner still suffers, however, from a lack of any sort of UI for actually trimming full songs down to ringtone-friendly snippets, but it still remains one of the easiest and cost-effective ways to get ringtones onto your iPhone without paying a per-tone charge. HangZhou Night Net

Back to iTunes 7.4.1, Apple is making it clear that ringtones are nothing to mess with. However, with 2006 ringtone revenues topping out at over $6 billion (often at $2.99 or more per 'tone vs. the iTunes Store's $0.99), it is more likely that the content companies are the ones mandating that iTunes crack down on users making their own ringtones (though Engadget has a nice post regarding your rights as a user to create your own 'tones). Either way, we're hoping this cat and mouse ringtone game doesn't go on for much longer; most users aren't going to go through all the trouble of creating their own ringtones (especially since the iTunes Store allows users to pick just the 30-second snippet they want), which means the content providers will rake in plenty of dough now that ringtones are an easy-breezy purchase, download, and sync via the iTunes Store.

Universal files suit against Veoh for mass copyright violations

Universal Music Group has filed suit against video sharing service Veoh, alleging massive copyright violations. The suit, filed last week in the US District Court for the Central District of California, contains very strong words. The world's largest music label accuses Veoh of benefiting from infringing on its artists' copyrights, saying it has "built its business on the back of others' intellectual property." HangZhou Night Net

Veoh—an AOL Time-Warner and ex-Disney exec Michael Eisner-backed service—works a lot like YouTube in that users can upload their own videos to the site in order to share them with the greater Veoh audience. Videos can be viewed online, but there is also downloadable software available for users who want to watch the videos in their native formats. Also like YouTube, Veoh users have been known to upload an infringing clip from time to time. The company maintains that it is not responsible for the content that is uploaded by its users, as per the DMCA's "Safe Harbor" provisions, noting that it always responds to takedown requests.

Universal, however, doesn't think that's enough. Veoh "follows in the ignominious footsteps of other recent mass infringers such as Napster, Aimster, KaZaA, and Morpheus, engaging in high-tech theft in the name of 'sharing,'" according to Universal's complaint. Further, Universal says that Veoh has participated in "mass infringement on the Internet to a new and dangerous level by supplying the public with an integrated combination of services and tools that make infringement free, easy and profitable for Veoh."

The suit covers much the same ground the lawsuit heard around the world filed by Viacom against YouTube, and the outcome of Universal's will likely hinge on that one. Viacom's suit, filed in March, accused YouTube of "brazen" copyright infringement and even alleged that YouTube was attempting to blackmail content providers by withholding access to automated content filtering technology.

Veoh provides no such technology either and wasn't afraid to say so when it preemptively filed suit against Universal last month. (DivX filed a similar, preemptive suit against Universal late last week.) Veoh said that it "lacks the ability and right to directly supervise the content provided by the 85,000 video publishers that frequent and populate its site and utilize its software."

Universal has never presented the company with any form of takedown notice, said Veoh, and the video site vigilantly enforces its copyright policy to the best of its ability by removing infringing videos and banning problem users. The company says that it has banned 1,096 users due to alleged copyright infringement as of July 2007 and that it "derives no financial benefit from the availability of allegedly infringing material on its system."

Meet the latest Starcraft II unit, the Protoss Mothership

The official Starcraft II website has released information about the Mothership, another new Protoss unit to be introduced in Starcraft II. The unit's information page offers a good deal of lore/backstory, mostly detailing where they came from. HangZhou Night Net

[Protoss] motherships are mighty vessels that were constructed centuries ago during the golden age of protoss expansion. They were intended to act as primary command ships to lead vast armadas of protoss explorers into the darkness of deep space and bring them safely home again. Those days are long gone, and the surviving motherships later became holy shrines to the protoss, representing an honored way of life and a part of the proud history of the protoss race.

[…]

After the loss of Aiur, however, the motherships were called back into service from the far corners of the galaxy. Now they are crewed not with mystics and historians, but with warriors. The oldest and most powerful weapons of the protoss have been awakened and are prepared to burn the galaxy to avenge the loss of the protoss homeworld.

The site also displays three looping gameplay videos demonstrating three of the Mothership's abilities: Cloak Field, Time Bomb, and Planet Cracker. The Cloak field is exactly what you think it is, a local field that cloaks other nearby protoss units, though not the Motherhsip itself. The misleadingly titled Time Bomb ability is not a time-delayed explosive as one might have guessed. It appears instead to be a time-dilation field which prevents enemy units within the field from attacking while protoss weapons are left unaffected. The Planet Cracker is an Independence Day-style energy beam weapon fired from the underside of the unit, and it appears to be awesomely powerful.

The Showdown: You have a PSP, should you ugprade to the new hardware?

HangZhou Night Net

The Showdown continues. Each week we pick a topic, flip a coin to see which OT writer gets which side to debate, and then we present it to you. Today? Ben and Frank debate whether or not the PSP Slim is worth upgrading to.

Ben: The new PSP Slim, PSP 2000, or whatever you want to call it, is on store shelves now in some areas. I was able to grab mine at the local GameStop. Now keep in mind the new hardware won't be an option next to the existing system; the Slim will be sold for the same price as the old hardware moving forward, this is the PSP from now on. Of course, the market will soon be flooded with affordable used original units as people rush to upgrade. The question is: if you have an existing PSP, is this worth the upgrade?

I think so. While the shell may feel a little cheap at first, over time you get used to it, and the lighter weight and slimmer design are much more comfortable for those epic-length playing sessions. I've also noticed a nice reduction in load times with the new expanded memory, and just how much that affects games is something we'll dig into more with the big review, but for now I think the new hardware is worth the money. Keep your original system around for a friend or loved one, or sell it on eBay to finance your new purchase, but the new PSP is a worthy piece of hardware for your portable collection.

Besides, the new white color and shiny plastic shell is much more resistant to fingerprints. That's worth some love right there if you find yourself constantly buffing out the front of your older system.

Frank: When the PSP Slim was unveiled at E3 this year, and the features were detailed, the majority of onlookers experienced the same feelings we did as we sat in the press conference: confusion followed shortly thereafter by disappointment. As far as hardware updates go, the PSP Slim is about as minor an upgrade as you can get. Yes, its slightly lighter, and yes, its a little perkier, but is that enough of a reason to warrant getting a new one? Absolutely not, especially not with this feature set.

Unless you absolutely must have the TV Out feature—which isn't even usable yet—then there's really no reason to upgrade to this trivial version increase. This isn't even close to the type of hardware revision that the DS got, and frankly I was a little disappointed with Sony. I'll be keeping Old Faithful around.

Ben: You can sell your existing system for what, $100? More? So you don't think quicker load times, more comfortable hardware, TV-out, and a better d-pad are worth the $70 to $100 an upgrade would likely cost? You're crazy. The PSP is a system that rewards longer playing session than the DS, and the overall design of the original system wasn't nearly as bulky and unattractive as the first DS. What the PSP needed was some tweaking, not an overhaul, and that's what Sony did. It's pretty cool to be able to dump a video onto your memory stick, and then use TV out to watch the video anywhere. You can also do same thing to be able to play all your games on the big screen. It effectively turns the PSP into both a console and a portable, and I think that's great.

I will have to say that comes with a large caveat: without the cables, I haven't been able to test this feature yet. But I did see the PSP slim at action at E3 doing the TV out trick, and it looked great there, so I'd be very surprised if the retail unit has a sudden drop in quality.

Frank: If you're already willing to go through the hassle of trying to unloading your older unit for the new one, then obviously there's no reason to try and convince you. All I'm saying is that the upgrade really doesn't warrant that much effort for the typical consumer. Is it really worth all that just to play PSP games on your TV? Doesn't that undermine the PSP's brilliant screen, one of the biggest selling points for the system? There's a reason why PS1 games look better on the PSP than they did on the original system: they're at a lower resolution! Without the second stick, a built-in hard drive, or some other significant upgrade, this seems like a waste to me.

My original PSP is in perfect working order, and the Logitech PlayGear case I have for it does the job fine. More importantly, the same fundamental design flaws are still present.

Thanks, but I'll pass on this one.

Let's hear your thoughts. Do you think the PSP Slim is a worthwhile upgrade?

DivX sues Universal over DMCA takedowns, Universal says: stop ripping us

This story has been updated with a response from Universal that came in after publication. That update is at the bottom of the report. HangZhou Night Net

After months ofhearing about Universal Music Group's displeasure, DivX yesterday filed a preemptive federal lawsuit of its own that asks a judge to exorcise the "specter of litigation" currently haunting DivX.

At issue is DivX's Stage6 video hosting service, which is a bit like YouTube but requires the DivX codec instead of Flash. According toa copy of thecomplaint seen by Ars, Universal has told DivX that the site is "knowingly involved in the infringement of UMG's copyrighted materials, and exploits that widespread infringement for its own commercial gain." In response, DivX points out the obvious: it complies with the DMCA and Universal has an easy method to request the takedown of any music video that infringes its copyrights.

According to DivX, Universal has been not interested in supplying actual DMCA takedown notices and instead "has chosen to posture and threaten DivX in the hopes of extracting an unwarranted windfall."

Both companies believe that the other one wants an "unwarranted windfall," and it looks like a judge will now step in and settle the matter. According to DivX, it has complied with every legitimate DMCA takedown request that it has received, and it goes even further than the law requires by using file hashes to block repeated uploads of the infringing content. Assuming this is true, Universal would not seem to have a case, which may be why the company has not yet brought an infringement lawsuit against DivX.

Remember, though, that plenty of content owners are engaged in suing YouTube (or are at least watching the case with terrific interest) over this very issue of the DMCA takedown notices. Some content owners believe that the infringement at such sites is so great, and that it requires so many of their resources to police, that the DMCA's "notice and takedown" requirement is insufficient to address the problem. These content owners want video-sharing sites to play a more active role in filtering content.

A declaration in DivX's favor could shore up the DMCA's notice and takedown requirements in such situations, though it's anyone's guess at this point which case will wrap up first. These and similar cases will have a profound impact on the way that video hosting sites operate, and DivX's preemptive filing puts the company on the offensive. If DivX does end up getting a declaration that Stage6 "is entitled to safe harbor protections under the DMCA," it could be a landmark decision.

Update:

Universal Music Group senior VP Peter LoFrumento has contacted Ars with a statement on the DivX case. He expresses bafflement at the fact that DivX filed the case now, as Universal and DivX are in negotiations. Apparently, DivX decided to roll the dice and take its chances in court; should they win, they won't need any sort of "deal" from Universal, though they will have to keep complying with DMCA takedowns.

Here's LoFrumento's statement in full: "Universal Music Group has been in negotiations with DivX and recently offered them a deal that would address the rampant copyright infringement occurring on their service and fairly compensate our artists and songwriters for the use of their audiovisual works. Universal is committed to supporting innovative new digital services, as evidenced by our deals with YouTube and others. However, DivX has nothing to do with innovation. Their Stage6 service directly violates the rights of content creators.DivX's purpose is to build traffic and sell advertising off of unlicensed content that is clearly illegal. They are perpetuating a disservice to the entire creative community."

Acorn?The OS X image editor we’ve been waiting for

Mac OS X users enjoy a fairly wide selection of image editing, sharing, and organizing applications than virtually span as far as a shareware site can scroll. That said, a gap has been growing for some time now between industry behemoths like Photoshop and more basic tools like iPhoto and ImageWell. Fortunately, Gus Mueller of Flying Meat has been paying attention, and today he released Acorn, his new image editor that wraps up some of the most powerful tools in the industry in a surprisingly streamlined, unique UI with plenty of refreshing new features and tricks to spare.HangZhou Night Net

Thankfully, Gus allowed me to play with Acorn during these last few weeks of its final development phase, and I must say I'm pretty impressed, especially for a spankin' new 1.0 app. With features like layer-based editing, blending modes, iSight capture, tablet support, gradients, vector shapes and text layers, rich plug-in support, GPU harnessing, a rich built-in selection of filters (many of which are based on Mac OS X's CoreImage libraries), and much more, Acorn packs a serious punch behind its deceptively uncluttered UI.

In fact, the user interface was one of Gus's primary areas of focus, as he told us he wants to "keep Acorn an app that my mother (in theory) could use. I don't mind adding features that other apps do, but it has to be added in a way that isn't intimidating to the user." With this initial release, I am inclined to say that Gus has met this goal pretty well. For example, instead of palettes and tools that float around all over your display, Acorn features one, unified palette that adjusts for the current tool. As you can see, there are similar tools grouped together in the same palette section, and just about every tool is accessible via keyboard shortcuts. Unsurprisingly, when we asked Gus what his favorite aspect of Acorn when actually using it, he answered, "My favorite feature is the single palette. I love having one place to go to."

As with many apps however, Acorn's primary appeal lies in both its major features and minor details. Having powerful, Photoshop-like selection tools (including a magic wand) and support for Wacom tablets is awesome, but so is the ability to resize or scale the canvas by holding the control and option keys, respectively. Acorn isn't perfect, however, so it won't make everyone happy. For example: if you're comfortable with apps like Photoshop, Acorn's single palette approach will likely take some getting used to, especially if you're bouncing between two different tools whose option palettes you traditionally prefer to keep open in tandem. Those looking for any kind of print support might also be disappointed, as opening a CMYK image evokes a warning that it will be converted to RGB, with apparently no options for going back.

Ultimately, Acorn is still a 1.0 app, which means Gus is listening very intently to feedback and feature requests. That said, there really is a lot to dig into in Acorn, so it helps that a demo is available for a thorough test drive. If Acorn does indeed knock a few icons out of your Dock, an introductory licenses is available for $39.95. Once version 1.1 comes around, that will increase to $49.95.