Justice Dept. probing IBM’s computer market conduct

The Associated Press reports that the Justice Department is looking into allegations that IBM Corp. has abused its dominant position in the market for mainframe computers, the data-crunching heavy lifters of the computing world that IBM introduced in the 1960s. The accusations stem from claims by IBM rivals that they’ve been illegally frozen out of the mainframe market because of IBM’s refusal to allow its mainframe operating software to run on non-IBM computers. IBM doesn’t have many rivals anymore that make mainframe computers, but some smaller companies are trying to develop technologies that would allow the software to run on cheaper hardware. They allege that IBM, which used to license its mainframe software to competitors and for the back half of the last century operated under an antitrust agreement with the government, stopped doing so in recent years to choke off competition. "IBM will tell big customers that if you buy that other stuff, we’re not going to let that stuff talk to our stuff," said Ed Black, CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association. "That’s very unsatisfactory for the customer base."

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Will antitrust probe keep Microsoft, Yahoo apart?

Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. hope that by joining forces, they can tilt the balance of power in internet search away from Google Inc. First, however, Yahoo and Microsoft have to convince regulators that their plan won’t hurt online advertisers and consumers, reports the Associated Press. As the U.S. Justice Department reviews the proposed partnership, approval figures to hinge on this question: Will the online ad market be healthier if Google’s dominance is challenged by a single, more muscular rival instead of two smaller foes? European regulators are also expected to review the deal, and Microsoft and Yahoo are bracing for the probes to extend into early next year, with the outcome far from certain. A decade ago, Microsoft’s stranglehold on PC software triggered an antitrust case that led regulators to conclude the company had abused its control over PC operating systems. Now, Google has emerged as the industry’s fearsome giant–a transformation underscored by the Justice Department’s decision to block Google’s proposed deal with Yahoo last year. Even if Google doesn’t object to the Microsoft-Yahoo alliance, the agreement merits an examination of how the two companies intend to share the data they gather about Web surfers, said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy watchdog group. "This will be a litmus test for the Obama administration on whether they incorporate privacy into antitrust review," Chester said…

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Preparing to sell eBooks, Google takes on Amazon

In discussions with publishers at the annual BookExpo convention over the weekend, Google said it plans to introduce a program enabling publishers to sell digital versions of their newest books directly to consumers, reports the New York Times. The move would pit Google against Amazon.com, which is seeking to control the eBook market with the versions it sells for its Kindle reading device. Google’s move is likely to be welcomed by publishers who have expressed concerns about Amazon’s aggressive pricing strategy for eBooks. Amazon offers Kindle editions of most new best sellers for $9.99, far less than the typical $26 at which publishers sell new hardcovers. In early discussions, Google has said it will allow publishers to set consumer prices. "Clearly, any major company coming into the eBook space, providing that we are happy with the pricing structure, the selling price, and the security of the technology, will be a welcome addition," said David Young, chief executive of Hachette Book Group. Google’s eBook retail program would be separate from the company’s settlement with authors and publishers over its book-scanning project, under which Google has scanned more than seven million volumes from several university libraries. A majority of those books are out of print…

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Tech giants line up for e-health dollars

With billions in stimulus dollars available to help doctors and hospitals digitize their health records, it stands to reason that tech companies want to make spending that money as easy as possible, CNET reports.  Several of the players–Allscripts, Cisco, Citrix, Dell, Intel, Intuit, Microsoft, and Nuance Communications–have teamed up in an alliance aimed at educating doctors on the many tools available to help set up electronic health records.
The EHR Stimulus Alliance is pulling out all the stops, with a road tour, Webcasts, telephone hotline, and other tools all aimed at demystifying the technology and showing case studies of where it has worked. President Obama’s stimulus package provides on the order of $20 billion for health care technology, with the central focus being nudging hospitals and doctors to move their records from manila folders to computers. Even with the money, though, it’s seen as a daunting task.
"The EHR Stimulus Alliance is a unified movement toward turning the national dialogue surrounding the EHR transition into action," Nuance Healthcare President John Shagoury said in a statement. "Each of the partners involved has unique solutions that are crucial to EHR implementation. In our case, because most doctors speak at least three times faster than they type, speech recognition technology helps increase the meaningful use and efficiency of EHRs by decreasing physician reliance on the keyboard and mouse."
The alliance hopes to reach half a million doctors with its message…

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Tech firms could see fallout from antitrust shift

If the Obama administration is serious about more aggressively responding to antitrust complaints, some of technology’s biggest companies could have to rethink their business strategies or expansion plans, reports the Associated Press. The administration on May 11 said it has abandoned Bush-era policies that it criticized as too friendly to companies that dominate their markets. Tougher antitrust enforcement could focus on technology companies such as Intel Corp., which could face a steep fine in Europe this week over its behavior in the microprocessor industry, and Google Inc., whose leading market shares in online search and advertising markets were already drawing scrutiny in the waning days of the Bush administration. It remains to be seen whether the Justice Department’s different approach will lead to more court cases or more challenges to proposed business deals. But antitrust lawyers say a more aggressive antitrust philosophy likely would make the Obama administration resemble the Clinton years far more than the Bush years. Under Clinton, the Justice Department brought 12 anti-monopoly cases that didn’t involve mergers or acquisitions. That included the long-running case against Microsoft in which a judge at one point ordered Microsoft split into two. (The case eventually was settled with the Bush administration, though it lives on: The Justice Department recently extended its oversight of Microsoft’s compliance with the settlement for another 18 months, into 2011…)

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IBM, looking to buy Sun, sets up a software strategy

IBM’s reported interest in acquiring the server computer maker Sun Microsystems for nearly $7 billion might seem to be a reversal of its recent efforts to move away from the hardware business. But analysts say there is more to Sun than servers — and that its strengths in software, systems design, and research make it an attractive target, reports the New York Times. IBM has pared back its dependence on hardware, where profit gains have declined, while increasing its investment in higher-margin software and services businesses. Sun has a solid share of the market for server computers used in enterprise data centers, but it, too, has been trying to expand in more profitable businesses. While it is struggling financially today, the Silicon Valley company has long been a source of technological innovation. Sun created both the Solaris operating system, a version of Unix, and Java, an internet-era programming language and related software tools. Java is the teaching language in most of computer science, and software programs written in Java are widely used in things like data centers and cell phones. IBM uses Java extensively in its big software group, which trails only Microsoft in size. It has its own Java-based tools for software developers, called Eclipse, and at times it has clashed with Sun, potentially weakening the Java camp as an alternative to Microsoft’s Windows software and tools. If it acquired Sun, IBM "would unify those warring groups and make for a stronger front against Microsoft," said Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management…

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Comcast sets monthly internet usage cap

The decision by Comcast–the nation’s second largest broadband-service provider (after AT&T)–to set an official limit on the amount of data that residential subscribers can download and upload each month could affect students who learn from home or live off campus, ed-tech observers say.

On Oct. 1, cable giant Comcast Corp. will update its user agreement to say that users will be allowed to transfer a maximum of 250 gigabytes of data per month, the company announced on its web site Aug. 28.

The move furthers what is a growing trend in bandwidth-management practices by cable internet providers: metering or capping monthly usage so there is enough bandwidth available for everyone. Comcast’s earlier efforts at solving the problem by blocking or delaying file-sharing traffic were found Aug. 1 to violate the Federal Communications Commission’s "net neutrality" principles.…Read More