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Monday, December 26, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Top tidbits for 2005

Seattle Times technology writers

Date: Sept. 19.

Kai-fu lee-dom

Maybe former Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee will start feeling lucky in real estate, now that potential buyers of his Bellevue house know he's not coming back to work in Redmond.

Lee left Microsoft for Google in July, then put his Bellevue pad up for sale and moved to California. But his job transfer bogged down in a little dispute, settled last week, over the noncompete agreement he signed at Microsoft.

Lee's legal limbo didn't affect efforts to sell the home, according to listing agent Tere Foster of Windermere Real Estate. "One is not really related to the other," she said. "I don't think people are aware [that it's Lee's house] other than a neighbor."

Listing photos reveal the rooms are bare in the five-bedroom, 6,300-square-foot Lakemont-neighborhood house. The house, with "high-tech cabling," a wet bar and a jetted tub, is priced at $2.1 million and change.

Legal filings in the case reveal that Google asked Lee to move south and become a California resident. Lee, in turn, asked the company to pay for the closing costs and commission on the sale of his Bellevue house.

The update:

As of last week, the mansion was still for sale, but Foster said she has had some bites. "It's still available, but we have some serious interest in it."

Who knew that it would take longer to sell his house than it would take to settle his legal problems with Microsoft?

Date: Aug. 1.

Virtually up-to-date

When Microsoft debuted a test version of its Virtual Earth mapping site, it was overshadowed by some unexpected discoveries — mainly that Apple Computer's Cupertino, Calif., campus was missing from the maps.

Evidence of some foul play on Microsoft's part? Not exactly. But the finding did show that Microsoft was using some pretty old maps as the foundation for Virtual Earth.

The company said it was using aerial imagery from its Terraserver product, which digitizes images from the U.S. Geological Survey. For parts of Cupertino, including Apple's HQ, the images used were from 1991.

It's impossible for every image on Virtual Earth to be updated, but c'mon, using ones that are 14 years old should be out of the question — particularly for a site that purports to give accurate location information and driving directions. Virtual Earth also showed images of the World Trade Center buildings in Manhattan.

Microsoft emphasized that Virtual Earth is a beta product and that many changes will be made before the final version. It's a safe bet that Cupertino will get a virtual face-lift soon.

The update

Cupertino did go under the knife earlier this month when Microsoft changed the name of Virtual Earth to Windows Live Local. And, although it's only a test site, the photos are recent; in fact, you can almost see Steve Jobs grinning from the corner office.

Date: Oct. 3.

Google lifts gag

It seems Google is talking to online news outlet CNET again after banning any communications with its News.com reporters for more than two months (and threatening a yearlong blackout).

Google imposed the ban in retaliation for a story about the kinds of personal information available through a Google search, including the home address of Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Maybe Google is starting to act like the 7-year-old company it is, instead of just a 7-year-old.

Then again, maybe not.

Google was planning a partner forum for 400 people in Mountain View, Calif., according to the Search Engine Watch newsletter. Along with the heads of major companies, plenty of journalists and bloggers have been invited, but no news coverage was permitted.

The update

Good thing for Google the ban was lifted. It otherwise would have missed out on something like 322 mentions on CNET between Sept. 26 and Dec. 21 after Schmidt himself lifted the ban.

Date: April 18.

Ringing in Sales

Cingular Wireless announced that the British band Coldplay would debut its new single "Speed of Sound" as a ringtone instead of playing it first on radio or television.

The news presented a possible change in how the music industry does its marketing. David Dederer, a guitarist in the Seattle rock band The Presidents of the United States of America, said to bring it on.

Although The Presidents have not debuted a song via a ringtone, it did hook up with Seattle-based Dwango Wireless to sell cellphone rings through Dwango's partnership with Rolling Stone magazine. "There was very little money involved," Dederer said, but the relationship got The Presidents a valuable full-page ad in Rolling Stone a couple of issues back.

"I'm all for it," he said.

The update:

No one is willing to say how many ringtones Coldplay sold of its single "Speed of Sound," but it must have been good enough. In November, the UK band elected to feature the song "Talk" as a ringtone in an episode of CSI: NY.

Although there's still no word on whether The Presidents plan to roll out songs as ringtones, it won't be with Dwango. The company changed its name to Dijji. However, the band is experimenting with mobile by filming an entire music video with a mobile phone. The three-minute, six-second video for "Some Postman" can be viewed at: www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2681939.

Date: May 23.

New roads to write

Will Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' next book explore new roads?

Will fans start camping out at Barnes & Noble, waiting for the third installment of the digital trilogy that began with "The Road Ahead" in 1995?

News resurfaced that Gates planned to write a third book. Gates first mentioned the project at a San Diego conference March 9, and it was reported by Microsoft Watch reporter Mary Jo Foley that day.

Gates, during a question-and-answer session after his keynote speech, said he was hashing out the project with Peter Rinearson, co-author of "The Road Ahead." Rinearson won a Pulitzer Prize as a Seattle Times reporter and later became a Microsoft vice president.

The book may revisit predictions made in "The Road Ahead." It also could look at global issues created by information technology or the digital lifestyle, Gates said.

"We're toying with that, but probably over the next year, year and a half, we'll do something," Gates said.

Gates' second book, "Business @ the Speed of Thought," came out in 1999.

Although Gates said he was talking with Rinearson about "what do we want to do next," a decision has not been made on who will collaborate on the project, Microsoft spokesman John Pinette said. The book may draw on essays Gates has written, such as last week's white paper on the "New World of Work."

No wonder he hasn't started that blog — he's been saving it all for a book.

The update:

Rinearson was unavailable for comment last week — a relative said he was in South America, although it's unclear whether he was there on vacation or doing research into "The Jungle Ahead."

Date: April 11.

Duo do-over

The "Digital Duo" is back. The technology- and gadget-focused PBS show hit small screens during the dot-com boom and was canceled when the bubble burst.

Now, IDG's PC World magazine is reviving the show. Produced in Seattle and hosted by journalists Stephen Manes and Angela Gunn, "Digital Duo" premiered on Seattle's KCTS on April 26.

Give the show credit for taking risks — in one episode, Gunn and Manes, a columnist with Forbes and co-author with Paul Andrews of "Gates," talk about the 1xRTT, EDGE and EV-DO wireless networks. Now that's going where few shows have gone before.

The update:

The show is still going strong. The next episode, a show on PC buying, is scheduled to run Jan. 15, according to the KCTS Web site.

Date: Jan 17.

New Gates hobnobs in Vegas

Is Bill Gates getting a public-relations makeover? That's what some are suggesting after Gates' visit to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show.

The Microsoft chairman gave his first interview to a blog, Gizmodo, at the show and agreed to be photographed in bed with an Apple laptop computer to get some laughs during his keynote speech. He even hung out with a couple who won a "meet a celebrity" contest sponsored by Swatch (he was the celebrity).

His actions led CNET News.com commentator Jeff Pelline to suggest that Gates has lightened up, aged and has his children to help put things in perspective.

That may all be true, but perhaps Microsoft's omnipresent public-relations team had a hand in this as well.

Time will tell if the CES-ification of Gates is permanent, or if what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

The update:

As this year's CES approaches, Gates doesn't need much PR help. He just appeared on the cover of Time magazine with his wife, Melinda, and rock star Bono, who together were named the magazine's persons of the year.

Date: Feb 28.

Bracing for Google office

Google opened an office in Kirkland in November and apparently liked the Pacific Northwest so much, it recently decided to buy 30 acres of land at the Port of The Dalles, Ore., for a new technology facility. Google is paying $1.87 million for its land, 85 miles east of Portland.

Wasco County officials there say that Google could bring in 50 to 100 jobs earning an average of $60,000 a year — twice the county's average income.

The Dalles is a center for wind-surfing, fishing and camping.

Area residents are preparing for a Google-fueled real-estate bubble of their own. A four-bedroom home there sells for around $160,000, compared with nearly $1 million for a similarly-sized home in Google's headquarters city of Mountain View, Calif.

The update:

Real-estate prices since have risen 35 to 40 percent, according to a real-estate agent in The Dalles. It wasn't all because of Google, but "Google was the alarm that woke everyone up," said the agent. Google, by the way, is expanding its office space in Kirkland and may be shopping for a more substantial facility on the Eastside next year.

Feb. 28.

Picture this again

After giving Amazon.com's new photo-heavy A9.com Yellow Pages service a few weeks to settle in, we thought it was time to give it a serious test drive.

Armed with a list of 20 Seattle businesses, we set out to see how well A9.com did at showing photographs of their locations.

Turns out that A9 showed a correct photograph about half the time, accurately displaying such businesses as REI, Linda's Tavern and Ezell's Fried Chicken. It missed the Trader Joe's in Queen Anne but identified the University District location.

The service showed no photograph at all, or the wrong photograph, of the Barca and Man Ray bars in Capitol Hill, the Pink Elephant Car Wash, Left Bank Books at Pike Place Market and the Utilikilts clothing store.

A9 allows businesses to upload their own photographs to the site, so its accuracy ratio may improve. The service did answer a trick question somewhat correctly: When asked about the Space Needle, it showed a street corner with a lopped-off image of the Space Needle in the background.

The update:

Still missing or inaccurate photos of most sites mentioned above, although Utilikilts and the Queen Anne Trader Joe's now show up. The Space Needle image hasn't improved.

Date: July 4.

Boom time 2005

It really is 2000 all over again. The number of new Web pages is exploding this year and probably will surpass the previous record set in 2000, according to a Netcraft Web Server .

So far this year, 10.7 million new host names have been added to the Internet.

"Barring a dramatic slowdown, 2005 should easily exceed the record growth of 16 million host names in 2000," Netcraft said.

One factor is a return of the speculative market for domain names. Resale prices for Web-site names are going up, and people can make pay-per-click ad sales even on "parked" domains.

Also driving the growth are increased business use of the Web; explosive growth of Web logs, many of which are buying domain names for branding purposes; and strong online ad sales that encourage business models such as commercial blogs and domain parking, Netcraft reported.

The total number of Web sites Netcraft found: 67,571,581.

Update:

What was supposed to be a record year for Internet growth "ended with a whimper rather than a bang," according to Netcraft's December survey.

After gaining 17.5 million sites for the first 10 months, the Internet lost 30,000 sites in the final two months, according to the survey.

Huge blocks of .name and .info domain names expired during that time and weren't renewed.

Download is gathered by The Seattle Times technology staff. We can be reached at 206-464-2265 or biztech@seattletimes.com

Too many things happened in tech in 2005 to list them all. Fortunately for you, we didn't try.

Instead we decided to retell some of our favorite items from the weekly Download column, which attempts to make light of the technology news that's normally too light to report.

Many of the items revolved around Microsoft, Google and Apple, highlighting the stiff competition being felt by all three in the last year.

For instance, remember when Microsoft forgot to include Apple's Cupertino headquarters in its aerial photographs? Or the rumor that Bill Gates was writing a new book? What about Google's move to Kirkland?

After scouring through nearly 200 items from the past year (with no help from Google or Microsoft, we might add), we came up with a list we thought deserved updating. Here they are, in no particular order.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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