May 31 2010

Russian Search Engine Challenges Google

Google is the premier search engine today, the search engine that other competing search engine companies dream of dethroning. So far, that has not happened yet, but Google is facing a formidable competitor: a Russian search engine called Yandex.

Though many Americans may not have heard of Yandex, it is extremely popular in Russia. Founded in 1997, it is the search engine of choice for many Russians and is actually quite good—for searching the Runet (Russian Internet), it rivals Google.ru, the Russian version of Google. Yandex launched its international, English-language version on May 19 at Yandex.com.

The international version of Yandex is also very good. It may even rival Google: its results are relevant and accurate. It is certainly better than Microsoft’s Bing (which, in all honesty, I have not found to be all that bad). Google originally took off because it had the best results of any search engine, but over the years it has deteriorated. Could Yandex be the next big thing? Only time will tell.

Via the Belfast Telegraph, image via Yandex.

Mar 17 2010

FCC National Broadband Plan Submitted To Congress

The Federal Communications Commission submitted its National Broadband Plan, as expected, to Congress yesterday.  Still in its preliminary stages, it outlines some of the Commission’s major goals.  There is a lot of work cut out for the FCC, and it wants to first establish a standard metric for network quality.  This will come in the forms of broadband benchmarking and pricing reports; unsurprising, as they already have shown interest in setting up speed tests and collecting data from ISPs in terms of latency.

The FCC’s policy fleshes out four major recommendations that they want to see  implemented:

  1. Encourage and ensure “robust competition”
  2. Use government resources and controls to update the networks
  3. Deploy “broadband and voice in high-cost areas” and allow for broadband to be accessible and affordable to lower income Americans
  4. Maximize government usage and benefits of broadband in public sectors

This is coupled by 6 long-term goals to guide the next decade:

  1. The famed dream of 100 million US homes having access to 100 Mbps Down/50 Mbps Up
  2. The US becoming the leader of “mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation”
  3. All Americans having “affordable access to robust broadband service”
  4. All communities having access to 1 Gbps lines to provide vital services for education, healthcare, and government
  5. All first responders having “access to a nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband public safety network”
  6. All Americans being able to use broadband to check on their energy consumption in real-time

The budget costs may be paid off following the successful auctioning of a 500 MHz spectrum to mobile carriers.  Any additional cost to taxpayers should be offset by the benefits coming from improved government efficiency, and using previously allocated government funding.  The full plan is a comprehensive 6-page report, but it still is officially and likely always be, like most Google products, in beta.  The FCC has the surprisingly realistic sentiment that the Internet is constantly in flux, and the plan will need to account for future changes.

Via Engadget, FCC

Mar 11 2010

Twitter Allows Users to Share their Locations

Twitter just got a bit too personal by introducing a new feature today that allows users to automatically share their location with their tweets. Make no mistake: I’m not anti-Twitter or anything. I have Twitter and I use it. I think it’s very fun and quite useful for sharing links and the like. But location sharing on the Internet, is, in my opinion, going way too far.

At least Twitter is handling the whole situation properly. When I logged in today, I was asked if I wanted to turn on the location sharing feature or not and was given the opportunity to learn more about the feature if I wanted to. Of course, I did not opt to turn it on. I do commend Twitter for handling this new feature a lot better than Google handled their new Google Buzz back when they introduced it.

Twitter is responding to the recent trend of location sharing over the Internet. Many other Internet services have adopted location-sharing features, and Facebook is expected to join them soon. Twitter’s new feature works with Chrome and Firefox 3.5. For it to work in Internet Explorer, a download of extra software is required.

Via The Associated Press, image via Twitter.

Mar 3 2010

HTML 5’s Champion: Ogg Theora vs. H.264

Adobe Flash has lead the internet in terms of content delivery.  We have enjoyed streaming our videos and  little games to play during class when we should be paying attention to a lecture.  But sometime around the release of Firefox 3.5, we all remembered another up and coming technology, HTML 5. HTML 5 was supposed to provide native video support into the browser, resolving the need for a proprietary plug-in to watch your favorite Rick Astley song.

Sadly, this has taken longer than we hoped and doesn’t look like it will be on the fast track anytime soon. The issue keeping us back with FLV is we haven’t determined what codec should become the web’s standard.  It boils down to a debate between the open source community’s Ogg Theora versus the industry standard of H.264.  The argument is one between the importance of a true open internet and the practicality of refusing a perfectly capable and widely used codec.

H.264 gained public acceptance, because it’s shown to be very effective in preserving most quality while being in compressed forms and decompression preserves this.  In fact, Vimeo and YouTube both accepted H.264 as their format of choice for the HTML 5 versions of their sites.  However, H.264 is not an open codec, and is subject to royalty pricing.

While both Safari and Chrome have accepted this and intend to use it for HTML 5 video, Firefox and Opera have raised concerns regarding this issue.  The fact of the matter is, both Firefox and Opera are essentially free browsers, not backed by major  companies.  Companies that tend to use those browsers would likely not be able to afford the royalties for H.264 codec support.  Instead, they have chosen the less efficient (but 100% open) Ogg Theora format over the alternative.  While Ogg does result in a decrease of quality, many GPLers are arguing that having H.264 as the norm, doesn’t change the internet at all from using Flash video instead.  Both are proprietary formats and allow for certain components of the Internet to be controlled by a single company.

Still, this is a major issue for multiple parties.  What route will deliver videos in place of Flash? For manufacturers and users of operating systems, not having Flash may have already taken a hit to their reputation. We will see who is crowned victor in this battle.

Via Ars Technica

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