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Shaky September For Google

September wasn't very nice for Google and its users. Just yesterday, Gmail was hit with its second outage in the space of three weeks, and while this one wasn't as bad as the one that hit on September 1, it's enough to make many of us question whether doing everything the Google way really is a good idea.

Google is pretty much the industry leader of cloud computing, where people can access Office applications and save their work on the Internet. It's a largely more accessible and more cost-effective business solution than, say, Microsoft Office. The success of Google Apps in the past few years has enticed other players in the industry, including Microsoft, to develop their own cloud-based offerings.

But now that even Google is having trouble keeping its servers up indefinitely, it's confirming what most skeptics are worried about -- that if Google goes, so does all your work.

I myself am not that keen about the cloud. I think I've written before that I'm not really that confident about leaving my work on the Internet and being stuck whenever I'm offline. Sorry, but I'd much rather do it the old-fashioned way.

Speaking of the old-fashioned way, Google's new offering, SideWiki, is also coming under fire. Back in the day, bloggers enjoyed the way people would comment on their writings. But SideWiki, an application that Google Toolbar users can use to comment on certain websites, might be intruding on something bloggers consider sacred.

Of course, Google plans to rule the Internet unconditionally one day. SideWiki is apparently a means of gathering information from certain sites, through viewer commentary, to accomplish that end. Naturally, bloggers aren't happy with the idea that comments that would otherwise have been posted on their sites instead end up in Imperial Google's index.

But that's okay -- it's probably only a matter of time before spammers take to SideWiki and flood it with so much useless information that Google will have to take it down. But if Google does find a way to filter out the ne'er-do-wells, THEN SideWiki just might be something to watch.

Disney Chairman Dick Cook Steps Down

It appears my initial enthusiasm about the changes happening in Disney these days (the blockbuster $4-billion acquisition of Marvel Comics and getting visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro on board) was a little hasty -- it seems Disney isn't merely adding to its repertoire, but going for a complete overhaul instead. Just recently, Disney chairman Dick Cook announced his resignation effective immediately.

Cook began his 38-year career with Disney as a tour ride operator when he was only 21. Many of his friends saw him as someone who thought, felt, and acted like Walt Disney himself, especially in the conceptualization and creation of films. To see him go so suddenly has raised several questions in the industry.

It's no secret that Cook and Disney CEO Bob Iger don't really get along, and that many of Iger and his company don't totally agree with Cook's veteran, traditional style of doing things. Despite the genial parting press statements from Iger, many believe that Iger actually fired Cook.

The shocking news came off the heels of the D23 Expo, where Cook revealed great plans on Disney's table for the coming years. There was news about taking over the Muppets franchise, Pixar sequels Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, and the highly-anticipated Johnny Depp movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. No one really expected the bad news to top the list.

Cook's resignation should ring bells for many of us in the industry -- remember when former Disney head honcho Michael Eisner fired now-Dreamworks CEO Jeff Katzenberg? Now it would be interesting to see whether Cook is going to start his own animation studio, but I think the bigger issue is this -- who's Disney replacing him with? I don't think anyone has better relations with the big names in the industry as Cook did.

Johnny Depp himself was shocked and saddened by Cook's resignation. Depp said that he trusted Cook deeply, and Cook had stood by his side when the actor's portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates movie raised eyebrows among studio heads.

We all know where the Pirates franchise, and Captain Sparrow with it, went from there. I definitely hope Cook's departure doesn't mean the 4th Pirates movie is going to get killed.

Steven Spielberg was also devastated by the news -- the legendary filmmaker said Cook was the main reason Dreamworks signed a contract with Disney.

Whatever Iger and Disney is planning, one thing is pretty clear -- the Disney we've come to know and love won't be the Disney we're going to be seeing in the future.

Disney To Buy Marvel For $4 Billion

The Walt Disney Company has just announced that they're planning to buy the comic book giant Marvel Entertainment for a massive sum -- $4 billion. The cash-and-stock buyout will give Disney ownership of Marvel and its 5,000 comic book characters. This is obviously a huge development between two of the most dominant entities in the entertainment industry today.

Interestingly, Marvel Entertainment started out similarly as the Walt Disney Studios did. Martin Goodman, a struggling publisher fresh out of the Great Depression, came out with Marvel Comics #1 in October 1939 -- almost 70 years ago. A few years later, Stanley Lieber -- the great Stan Lee, then only 19 years old -- joined the team, and he would propel Marvel into mainstream popularity over the next several decades.

Marvel today has been enjoying some great success in the movies. It all started with "Blade," a little-known Marvel comic book character, becoming a sleeper hit and grossing $131 million worldwide. The first "X-Men" movie followed and did even better, and "Spider-Man" enjoyed enough success to spin two sequels (with a third in the making). Robert Downey, Jr.'s "Iron Man" has also enjoyed its share of the spotlight, with films about Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers in the works.

The buyout is obviously going to be very good for Marvel -- if Disney gives Marvel free creative reign (as it does with Miramax), then the comic book giant stands to benefit from the massive exposure, advertising, and marketing prowess of Disney. It showed overnight -- Marvel's stock price jumped 26% when news of the buyout first reached the press.

On Disney's front, it's clear to me, this deal has acquired them Marvel's comic book character library. This now gives Disney direct access to the young (and adult) male demographic.

Then again, it does leave one to think -- just what does Disney have in mind? It doesn't stand to gain much unless it exerts some form of creative control over Marvel, which fans will definitely dislike. The edgy violence of Marvel also doesn't seem to fit into Disney's wholesome, feel-good image either. Apparently Disney shareholders think along the same lines -- share prices dropped 2% overnight.

I've seen worried bloggers say that Wolverine and Mickey Mouse wouldn't get along at all. I doubt this is what Disney has in mind, but let's see how things pan out.

Disgruntled Musician Gets Back At Airline On YouTube

I found this on YouTube two days ago and told myself I *had* to write a little about this for Friday's (today) article.

If you're working for an airline company, then here's a tip you might want to share with the guys at the baggage department -- Handle baggage labeled "FRAGILE" with care. Apparently it's a lesson that United Airlines is learning the hard way.

Dave Carroll, a Canadian folk singer, debut his first of three YouTube music videos earlier this week, entitled "United Breaks Guitars." It was a way of getting back at United Airlines for breaking his precious guitar on a flight he took last year and refusing to take responsibility for the damage.

Carroll was took a United Airlines flight between his hometown of Halifax, Canada, to a gig in Omaha, Nebraska in March last year. He was traveling with his band, Sons Of Maxwell, when a passenger sitting behind the group looked out the airplane window at the baggage handling people and exclaimed, "Oh my God, they're throwing guitars out there!"

Surely enough, Carroll's TAYLOR guitar was broken badly. He then spent the next year calling up United Airline representatives in Chicago, New York, Canada, and even India, with the guys at United passing the blame and saying it was someone else's fault.

When United Airlines ultimately refused to pay for the damages (which amounted up to US$1,200), the frustrated Carroll decided to make a music video about his experience and post it on YouTube.

700,000 views later, United Airlines is now trying to make peace with Carroll and his band. They've obviously taken notice of the video (and the announcement that two more music videos were on the way) and want to treat it as a textbook case in handling customer complaints.

I'd like to say this is a good thing for United to do (since I'm pretty sure Carroll's YouTube video will cost United at least a million dollars in business), and if other airlines know what's best for them, they ought to start getting their act straight, as well. They need to stop thinking that disgruntled customers will just have to swallow the bad service -- you'll never know what they can do with the Internet.

Up Still On Top After Two Weeks

Pixar's "Up" opened to theaters last week to a massive reception, and very soundly proved those rats at Wall Street wrong. (If you remember correctly, I wrote about how the rats at Wall Street dismissed "Up" as commercially unviable. Now we know who's REALLY responsible for this recession.) Wrapping up its second week, "Up" is still on top.

There's no doubt that the hype building up towards "Up" for more than a year was instrumental in making it a huge hit. Pixar without a doubt produces the best digital animated features in Hollywood, and its long list of successes was sure to continue with "Up."

What's impressive about "Up" is that it doesn't rely on star power to rake in the big bucks -- it doesn't have Mike Myers ("Shrek") or Jack Black ("Kung Fu Panda") or Miley Cyrus ("Bolt") to headline the cast. What we have is a curmudgeonly old groan named Carl Fredricksen and an enthusiastic explorer, Russell -- an odd combination, but the magicians at Pixar definitely know what they're doing.

"Up" managed to keep this week's new entry "The Hangover" at bay, by a slim margin of less than a million dollars. "The Hangover" is an R-rated comedy about the craziest ever bachelor party -- which, for some reason, managed to draw in almost as many women moviegoers as men. Might be one worth seeing.

"Angels & Demons" is still doing remarkably well two months into its release -- it became the first movie in 2009 to break the $400 million mark worldwide. It's still looks to be the year's highest-grossing film to date -- although "Up" may have something to say about that in a few weeks.

The disappointments keep piling up, though. Will Ferrell's "Land Of The Lost" didn't do so well, as marked by poor box office revenues for the first week. I love the guy, but I guess this just wasn't the best movie for him.

Same goes for Sam Raimi's return to his horror roots. "Drag Me To Hell" did just that in the box office, making me wonder just what Sam intends to do for his next film. Spider-Man 4 is of course in the works, and unless they do something to set the movie apart from the first three snoozefests, I think Sam's going to be in a world of hurt.

So my picks for this week? "Up" and "Star Trek" if you haven't seen them yet (I'm sure you've seen Angels & Demons), and "The Hangover" if you're looking for a comedy that actually delivers.

Is Wall Street Afraid Of Originality?

They say that the city of New York has about nine rats for every person. Does that include the ones at Wall Street?

Wall Street is pretty much vilified by the rest of the world today, but apparently that doesn't stop them from making themselves look even worse. The New York Times recently published a story about certain Wall Street analysts who claimed Pixar's “Up” was going to be a commercial failure because of its originality.

What a bunch of dumb-asses.

It seems to me that the guys at Wall Street think they're authorities on everything, when the only thing they're really good at is making money at the expense of other people. It also seems to me that they have the 4-second memory span of goldfish – “Wall-E,” also an original story with unconventional plotlines and characters, managed to drop-kick a 'superstar' panda at the Oscars this year.

It's funny because over a year before its intended screening, “Up” had already received rave reviews from all corners of the film industry. The trailers were very much anticipated and appreciated, and the main characters are already well-loved by the moviegoing audience. But the “experts” at Wall Street still think it's going to be a flop for the following reasons:

  • Younger boys may not be excited about a 78-year old protagonist
  • There's no female lead
  • Each Pixar film seems to be less commercially successful than the previous one (I think these experts need to Wiki more.)

I'm more inclined to think that these guys are just trying to exact their revenge on Disney/Pixar, especially for the money (in the billions) they lost when Disney bought Pixar three years ago. But then again, you can't really blame these guys for worrying about the money more than the art – it's the only thing THEY think they are good at, and in these uncertain times, you gotta stick to what you (somewhat) know.

All I ask is that these rats stop their well documented tradition of making jackasses out of themselves.

Skype On iPhone – End Of Cellular?

It's been a long time coming, but iPhone 3G users can finally rejoice at this bit of news – Skype has finally become available on the App Store last week. Now iPhone users who complain of bad reception and call difficulties can now bypass the networks and make clearer calls, and disregard the alternative of putting up their own cell tower in the backyard.

Of course, Apple won't let Skype take over the revenue it gets from AT&T and the other carriers. Using Skype to make free calls through the iPhone can only be done under Wi-Fi coverage – you can't use Skype in your carrier's 3G and EDGE networks (aherrmmm... that is until someone comes up with a workaround ;)). Nonetheless, I think this is another attempt at shaking up the cellular industry – one that can change some pretty big things down the line. Probably bigger than Mobile Video + Google Voice + YouTube + Grand Central + Android. Dammit' I didn't want this article to be about Google... but theeeeere I go again.

Skype calls aren't really all that different from other telephone calls – everything is data being routed over the carrier's networks. There's no real reason to charge different rates for processing the same kinds of data. This is one of the main reasons why the “astronomically high” rates charged to text messaging has been under fire for several years. With Skype, even text messaging would feel too expensive.

The idea of having Skype on smartphones isn't all that new. Some other smartphones, like those that run on Windows Mobile, have had it for a while. The use of Skype on mobile phones have also been tried outside the US and it hasn't really made all that big of a dent on carrier revenue. So why is Apple limiting things with Skype?

It's really simple – the problem isn't about revenue. But when Skype becomes available through millions of iPhones around the world, carriers are going to have to deal with the flood of data that'll come through. Most likely the state of their current networks won't be able to handle all that.

Still, I'm thinking maybe this is going to be another big transition in the industry down the line, similar to the move from traditional mobile phones to smartphones that's going on today. I'm also pretty sure it's going to spark smartphone makers to include Wi-Fi capabilities in all smartphone models they have on the drawing board. Believe it or not, more than 70% of all smartphones today don't have Wi-Fi capabilities.

So what's next for smartphone carriers today? It's really up to anyone who has the guts to jump onto the bandwagon completely. VoIP has been around for quite a while – it's just that most carriers just weren't prepared for it to appear in the smartphone party anytime soon. If someone manages to make calling through Skype easier than calling the traditional way, they'll stand to make a killing – and even steal some of the spotlight from the iPhone and Blackberry.

Then again **hint hint* who said Apple, with their uber-successful iPhone and Mac lines, are already working on the possibilities of voice over WiFi (VOW)?  :)

Dell Out To Buy Palm?

Dell has always been a well-known hardware provider in the PC market, but their first attempt in the smartphone market fell flat in its face. They recently came out with two smartphone prototypes that were unanimously rejected by carriers for being too dull. But Dell wasn't about to give up – they went straight back to the drawing board, and recently came out with an announcement of an acquisition in the near future.

This got me thinking. Dell really has its hands full with its entry into the smaller-screen market, up against powerhouses like Blackberry, Apple, and Nokia. If Dell has an acquisition in the works, everyone is pretty much sure it won't be any one of those three.

Let's take a look at America's most preferred vendors among smartphone users these days, according to a study conducted by Strategy Analytics this month:

  • Blackberry – 80%
  • Apple – 77%
  • Nokia – 41%
  • Motorola – 37%
  • Palm – 35%
  • Samsung – 34%
  • Dell – 19%

It's pretty clear that Dell has a lot of ground to cover, being at the far bottom of the pile. If it's going to make an acquisition, it's probably going to be either Motorola, Palm, or Samsung. My guess? It's gonna be Palm.

I'm thinking a Dell-Palm merger is a more potent combination than a Dell-Motorola or Dell-Samsung one in breaking into the top three smartphone vendors bracket. Palm is currently touting its “iPhone killer,” the Palm Pre, which will be out in a few months, which will definitely help Dell's case. I have my doubts that it'll match up to the iPhone or any of the Blackberries, but it does stand a good chance of knocking Nokia out of the top three.

Of course, the Pre also makes things harder for Dell to acquire Palm. It's probably Palm's biggest bargaining chip yet, and it's going to make things a bit more expensive if Dell wants to buy Palm over the next few months. Let's just wait and see.

It's A Time For Superheroes

Not many people know this, but Superman and Batman made their debuts in 1938 and 1939 respectively, when the United States were still getting back on its feet after suffering through the Great Depression. They were created by a largely-Jewish group of artists who wanted to provide some escapism for weary Americans. It's ironic how superheroes are making a massive resurgence recently – right smack in the middle of the global economic slowdown.

I'm probably going to anger the guys at by saying this, but the Joker wasn't the first villain that Batman encountered. Back then the caped crusader was named “The Bat-Man,” and he basically cleaned the town of thieves, embezzlers, corrupt higher-ups – in other words, the villains of the Great Depression. It wasn't until later that he and Superman were pitted against Hitler and the Nazi, when World War II broke out a few years later.

Business Hitting Rock Bottom? Maybe You Should Go Topless

It might be surprising to hear any kind of business doing well these days, but apparently an entrepreneur in Vassalboro, Maine, found a way to open a coffee shop that's getting more and more popular by the day. Its specialties? Coffee and (partial...) nudity.