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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Microsoft makes Net phone deal with SoftbanMicrosoft makes Net phone deal with Softbankk

Microsoft and Softbank will jointly offer Internet-based telephone services to corporate customers in Japan.

Microsoft's Japan unit, Tokyo-based Softbank, and its Japan Telecom affiliate will sell a package that includes Internet phone, e-mail and Internet access starting in the spring, the companies said.

Microsoft is developing software for making and managing phone calls through the Internet to compete against eBay Skype Technologies.

Softbank, Japan's second-biggest provider of high-speed Internet service, already offers Internet-based phones to consumers in Japan via its Yahoo! BB Internet access service.
Seven & I Holdings

7-Eleven owner buys Japan retailer

Seven & I Holdings, owner of 7-Eleven convenience stores in Japan and the United States, said Monday it will pay $1.13 billion to buy department-store operator Millennium Retailing in a deal creating Japan's biggest retailer.

Aside from 7-Eleven, Seven & I also owns the Ito-Yokado supermarket chain. Millennium owns Japanese retailers Sogo and Seibu Department Stores.

Their combined revenue would come to around $38.8 billion for the year ended Feb. 28, making Seven & I the biggest in Japan's retail industry.

Seven-Eleven Japan became a shareholder in Dallas-based 7-Eleven in 1991 and finished buying all the shares in November.

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Nissan to Debut Xbox Car

In a move that could steer some attention away from the lack of Xbox 360 game consoles available in stores, Microsoft said Wednesday it helped develop a concept car created by Nissan that would include the software giant’s console in its design.

The concept car allows a driver to play Microsoft’s driving game Project Gotham Racing 3 on an embedded Xbox 360 while the car is in park mode, using the car’s steering wheel, the gas and brake pedals, and a flip-down screen.

The car was developed by Nissan Design America and will debut at the North American International Auto Show on January 9.

Shares of Microsoft dropped $0.04 to $26.42 in recent trading.

In Short Supply

Microsoft’s latest marketing move could help provide a temporary distraction from the fact that Microsoft has produced far fewer Xbox 360s than the world market currently demands.

The Redmond-based company boosted its marketing to create buzz for a consecutive worldwide launch in November that delivered long lines and completely sold-out retail outlets (see Xbox 360 Invades Europe).

But Microsoft only made about an estimated 300,000 Xbox 360 units available in the United States, and roughly the same amount available in Europe. Japan likely saw less than half of that figure.

Microsoft made fewer consoles than the expected demand because the company is also losing money on each unit, which costs the company from $525 to over $700 to make, according to varying estimates (see Xbox Loses Money).

The console is still sold out in pre-orders to retail outlets and on various web sites (see Xbox 360 Sold Out Online). On Internet auction sites, the price is as high as $1,000.

The lack of supply has meant the company could fail to meet analysts’ former estimates of 1.5 million consoles sold by the end of the year (see Xbox Losing Japan Game).

The company could barely meet the 1-million mark by the end of the year, if more supplies don’t reach stores soon.

Analysts think that Microsoft could meet the 3-million console mark by February but will need to ramp up supply to make the deadline.

The milestones are important in that Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has a head start of several months in the console war against Sony’s PlayStation 3, due out sometime next year (see Xbox 360 Starts Console War).

Weak Game Sales

Microsoft’s attention to its driving game, Project Gotham Racing 3, also signals the company’s attempts to boost individual game sales.

Microsoft was criticized for not developing any blockbuster games for its console launch. Critics say that beyond the supply chain issues, the company has few “winning” games on the market for its new console (see 18 Games Launch for Xbox 360).

Analysts say PGR3 is a solid title, but not the kind of title that moves an industry like a Halo 2 or a Grand Theft Auto.

In addition the game industry took a hit this Christmas after consumers failed to buy enough game titles. And the industry saw a 20 percent drop from the previous year’s holiday season game sales (see Holiday Game Sales Freeze).

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years

We're living in the golden age of the gadget. Don't believe it? Check your pockets. Odds are you're carrying a portable music player, an electronic organizer, a keychain-size storage device, a digital camera, or a cell phone that combines some or all of these functions. And you'd probably be hard-pressed to live without them.

At PC World, we'd be lost without these things. We don't merely test and write about digital gear, we live and breathe the stuff. In honor of this raging gizmo infatuation, we polled our editors and asked them to name the top 50 gadgets of the last 50 years. The rules? The devices had to be relatively small (no cars or big-screen TVs, for example), and we considered only those items whose digital descendants are covered in PC World (cameras, yes; blenders, no). We rated each gadget on its usefulness, design, degree of innovation, and influence on subsequent gadgets, as well as the ineffable quality we called the "cool factor." Then we tallied the results.

After a lot of Web surfing, spreadsheet wrangling, and some near fistfights, we emerged with the following list. Some items in our Top 50 are innovative devices that appeared briefly and then were quickly consigned to museums and future appearances on eBay, but whose influence spread widely. Others are products we use every day--or wish we could.

With the holidays in full swing, and as folks shop for the right gear to give their loved ones, join us as we visit with the ghosts of gadgets past and present.

1. Sony Walkman TPS-L2 (1979)

Sony Walkman TPS-L2 (1979)Portable music players are so cheap and ubiquitous today that it's hard to remember when they were luxury items, widely coveted and often stolen. But when the blue and silver Walkman debuted in 1979, no one had ever seen anything quite like it. The $200 player virtually invented the concept of "personal electronics."

The first Walkman (also branded as the Stowaway, the Soundabout, and the Freestyle before the current name stuck) featured a cassette player and the world's first lightweight headphones. Apparently fearful that consumers would consider the Walkman too antisocial, Sony built the first units with two headphone jacks so you could share music with a friend. The company later dropped this feature. Now, more than 25 years and some 330 million units later, nobody wonders why you're walking down the street with headphones on.

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