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Kumbaya time?

Disk formats may put aside differences If you’ve followed this Cybernaut column for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that I have a bit of an unhealthy fixation with the ongoing battle over the next generation of high capacity DVD

Disk formats may put aside differences

If you’ve followed this Cybernaut column for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that I have a bit of an unhealthy fixation with the ongoing battle over the next generation of high capacity DVDs – specifically the ongoing battle between HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats.

Years as a consumer who makes bad choices have made me suspicious of choices in general – in my view, the less choice out there, the less chance I’ll make the wrong one. It runs in my family – my parents bought a Betamax and everyone knows what happened when Beta lost out to VHS. I don’t want to go through that ordeal again.

So when I heard that two different groups were working on competing versions of high capacity disks that use blue light lasers to allow for enough storage capacity to hold definition movies, I lost a bit of my sanity.

History has shown that having multiple formats for the same technology is not healthy, and that one format always triumphs over the other. I knew I would choose the wrong one by buying a Blu-ray system, only to have HD-DVD win the battle, or vice versa. At first I hoped the entertainment industry would step in and force these two groups to decide on one technology, but it hasn’t happened yet – probably because most of the major entertainment studios are owned by or partnered with the leading technology companies on both sides of the issue.

Time is running out. The next generation Sony Playstation is going Blu-Ray and the next generation Xbox is going HD-DVD, and both systems will be released within the next year.

But then last week, in what could be called the 11 th hour after three years of fighting, the two groups pushing the different formats met and decided to push for a common DVD format.

The Blu-ray disk group, backed by Sony, Dell, Samsung, Philips and Matsushita (Panasonic) and the HD-DVD group, backed by Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo, are actually at the table.

Rather than choose one standard over another, they two groups will unify their concepts into one. Both sides felt that two formats would confuse and alienate customers – especially those that bought betas, eight tracks, digital tape machines, Amiga computers, Sega Dreamcasts or other doomed technologies in the past.

Each format had its advantages. Blu-ray disks could store more, and would come in protective cases that work like minidisks or those 3.5 inch floppy disks to prevent damage. HD-DVD disk players would be backwards compatible and able to read old DVDs, and would be cheaper to manufacture and sell.

What isn’t clear is what the compromise will look like or what the trade-off’s might be.

What is clear is that it looks like I won’t have the chance to make the wrong choice once again. Dodged a bullet there.

Google pays off

Although Google’s initial public offering got off to a shaky start, from the high buy-in price the number of share offerings given to employees and select partners, anyone who bought into the web browser is popping the champagne corks rights about now.

With near market dominance – most stats put Google at between 50 and 75 per cent of Internet users – an incredible product, and a knack for keeping things simple, Google has literally exploded. First quarter profits for 2005 were up a whopping 477 per cent, almost entirely from online advertising that most people don’t even realize is there because advertisers can’t use graphics or banners.

The announcement pushed Google shares up $20 each to $220, with dividends of about $1.29 per share. Google started out at about $85 a share.

As long as the stock keeps increasing and paying dividends, it’s going to be a while before the bubble bursts.

One reason is that Google is always working hard to cement its number one status by offering users perks that no other browser can match. Last week Google offered users a new service – My Search History. This service gives users the ability to view past searches, making it easier for users to navigate their way back to sites they’ve viewed previously. You can also use this service to customize searches more effectively.

The service is only available to users registered to Google Gmail and chat services, and you can opt out of it if you want.

The World Privacy Forum is calling the new service a bad idea, alleging that it could make your personal search information available to hackers, online identity thieves and governments. Depending on what you search for, they may have a point – even the most insidious of hackers will have a tough time making hay out of your searches for cookie recipes and Metallica guitar tabs.

Tiger off the leash?

After a lot of expectation, Apple released Tiger, the latest update to their OSX line of operating systems. There are about 200 new features, the majority of which will mean nothing to the average ‘I bought Mac because it’s easier’ customer, but there’s a few awesome additions. One is Spotlight, a new search tool that makes it easier to search your own system, including e-mail, your address book, PDF fukes and your system preferences. Another neat feature is Dashboard, a new interface that allows you to access mini applications you can program to quickly check things like weather, flight times and prices, stock market quotes, the day’s headlines, etc. Dashboard comes with 14 widgets, and hundreds more can be added from third party sources.

If you don’t own a Mac, this means nothing. If you do, you’re probably going to want this and soon. Check it out at