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iTunes site up for Canada

After more than a year in operation south of the border, and more recent openings in the U.K., France and Germany, Apple is at last bringing its iTunes online music store to Canada.

After more than a year in operation south of the border, and more recent openings in the U.K., France and Germany, Apple is at last bringing its iTunes online music store to Canada.

The site will offer a library of more than 700,000 songs, available for 99 cents each, with deals for people who buy the whole album. Incidentally, that’s the cheapest iTunes deal out there, with songs going for $0.99 U.S. south of the border.

Although it’s more bad news for Canadian CD retailers, the record companies and artists are at least hoping to make back some of the money they’ve been losing to peer-to-peer file swapping services. With a cheap alternative available, and the Canadian Recording Industry Association attempting to sue illegal music traders, their Web providers, and anyone else with an illegal MP3 on their hard drive, it’s a safe bet that iTunes will do pretty well here.

Of course it’s not the only online music store to open in Canada, but iTunes already has a 70 per cent market share in the U.S. despite the fact that there are dozens of competitors out there, including the likes of Microsoft, Wal-Mart and Sony.

The iTunes store is available to everyone who downloads iTunes from www.apple.ca/itunes, Mac or PC.

Canadian fans can also take comfort that there will be a healthy selection of home-grown artists. After only a day in operation, two Canadian tunes, The Tragically Hip’s Night is for Getting? and K-Os’ Crabbuckit, were already on the iTunes Canada top-10 list.

Lycos backs down on anti-spam challenge

It’s been a while since Lycos (www.lycos.com), the Internet search engine, has been in the news for anything. The fact they have 22 million users is a little surprising in these days of Google dominance, so obviously they’re doing something right, but they’ve always done it under the radar.

Not anymore, however. The once nice, quiet Lycos hub stepped up in a big way last week with the creation of a new screen saver device that lets you harass spammers when your computer is at rest.

It works like this: when you step away from your computer and it goes into sleep mode, an automated system sends requests to servers that are known for sending spam e-mails, as determined by leading anti-spam agencies. Thousands of requests add up, all but paralyzing the performance of these servers after they answer one wrong number after another. So far almost 70,000 people have signed up for the service in its first few weeks, with numbers approaching the critical mass needed to seriously inconvenience the spammers of the world.

A lot of worm viruses do the same thing, attacking targets like Microsoft and the Recording Industry Association of America at set times.

It was a good idea, but Lycos unfortunately didn’t have the guts to see it through. After days of negative publicity over concerns that innocent servers may be targetted or that Internet bandwith will be clogged up by Lycos users who are out there to make a point, the company pulled the plug on its "make love not spam" protest.

As satisfying as it was to know that you could help cause serious headaches for spammers, maybe it’s for the best. Think about the precedent it sets that other groups might follow in the future. Say a number of conservative groups takes exception to the anti-Bush liberal website, and gets their members to download a screensaver to bombard their server with requests until it shuts them down. Or an angry Microsoft user organizes enough people to slow up Hotmail services for everyone else. Or someone doesn’t like the Canadian government’s decision to stay out of a war, so they create and share a screensaver that shuts down our federal computers.

Used the wrong way, this technology could do a lot of harm to free speech, while giving groups with the ability to organize members the ability to shut down anyone they don’t agree with.

Like I said, it’s a neat idea, but it could do a lot of damage in the wrong hands, especially if it is as legal as Lycos claims.

The EA sweatshop

For the past decade or so, Electronic Arts (www.ea.com) has been the world’s leading video game creator with literally hundreds of titles for all the major gaming and computer platforms. It’s inventory of games ranges from NHL 2005 and Tiger Woods Golf in the sports category and Medal of Honor Pacific Assault and The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth in the action category.

What is the secret to this company’s success? Shrewd business practices? A commitment to producing quality games on the cutting edge of technology? A wide field of the top titles in each genre, which they consistently improve upon with each successive sequel? The answer to all those questions is yes, but it appears it’s not the whole story.

It seems it took a lot of late nights as well to become number one, as well as some workplace practices that would make an 18 th century industrialist cringe.

Last week EA, which has a development centre in Burnaby, admitted there was a problem with its corporate culture and promised workplace reforms after stories surfaced of 80-hour work weeks, refusal to pay overtime, and managers that mushed their employees like dogs.

The company, which logged three billion dollars in revenues last year, pledged to change the way it operates, ensuring that there aren’t as many last minute updates, fixes and changes that require the staff to stay late and come in on weekends for months in a row. The good news so far is that EA hasn’t relocated its software development operations off-shore like so many other high-tech companies, keeping jobs in Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asian regions like Hong Kong and Japan.




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