Anyone looking forward to Toshiba's 30" OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) displays in 2009 or 2010 is either going to have to wait a little longer or find a different manufacturer. Toshiba announced this week that it was shelving plans to build large OLED displays because the current and short-term costs of mass production are too high to create a commercially viable product. It's surprising that a company of Toshiba's size would back away from OLED-based television manufacturing. OLED displays, after all, have been touted as the Next Big Thing™ as far back as 2001.
OLEDs have a number of advantages over current LCD technology. Unlike LCDs, they do not require a backlight to function, which allows them to draw much less power while active. OLEDs are potentially more efficient to manufacture than LCDs, can be printed on flexible substrates, have a much better viewing angle than modern LCDs, and display better and more realistic color. Furthermore, OLED displays are also faster than their LCD counterparts. All of these improvements, however, come with a cost.
To date, OLED production has been considerably slower than what was initially forecast. Manufacturers have wrestled with display lifetime for years. Originally, OLED displays had a lifespan of only 5,000 hours compared to an LCD's lifetime of 60,000 hours. This has slowly changed over time—manufacturers now estimate they can build OLED screens that equal or exceed the lifetime of a standard LCD—but these sorts of issues have pushed mass-market introduction of large OLED displays ever further into the future.
OLEDs have had some success in very small displays (think cell phones, MP3 players, etc.), but no sizable screens have been produced until this year. As the EETimes reports, Sony has launched an 11" OLED display in Japan—but production costs have forced the company to build just 2,000 of these displays per month. At around $1,700 for an 11" screen, this isn't exactly the kind of display anyone would pick up for movie watching, either.
Based on the current speed of OLED display development, Toshiba's decision to put 30" screens on hold appears to be a sound one. Even if 30" OLED displays become available in the next two years, they're likely to carry a hefty price tag and face a slow market ramp-up. It's reasonable to expect both LCD and plasma displays to improve (and costs to decline) between now and 2010, which will put OLED displays at a further market disadvantage. That's not to say that OLED panels won't be able to compete down the line, but that looks to be the proverbial Three to Five Years Away.
Companies like Sony and Samsung have reaffirmed their intent to push forward with OLED screen production despite the cost; it wouldn't be surprising if Toshiba is scaling back its own plans in this area to cut expenses while staying current enough to take advantage of eventual price drops.
The battle in the Senate over how to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) begins on Monday when, over the objections of prominent Democrats, Majority Leader Harry Reid will introduce the White House–supported version of a reform bill approved in October by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
This past Tuesday, fourteen Democratic senators—including presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joseph Biden, and Chris Dodd—signed a letter urging Reid to instead bring to the floor an alternative bill produced in November by the Judiciary Committee. That version of the legislation, which will now be offered as an amendment to the Intelligence Committee's bill, contained a variety of additional restrictions and checks on government wiretaps sought by civil liberties groups. It also, crucially, omitted a provision granting telecom companies retroactive immunity from lawsuits related to their cooperation with the president's extrajudicial eavesdropping program. President Bush has pledged to veto any FISA amendment that failed to provide such immunity—a threat that did not deter the House from passing just such a bill last month. Meanwhile, Senator Dodd, whose attempt to place a "hold" on the Intelligence Committee bill was overridden by Reid, is pledging to filibuster any legislation that does include retroactive immunity.
While Democrats have struggled to counteract a frustrated base's perception of congressional capitulation to the White House, the executive branch has mounted a full court press in favor of its preferred version of the law. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed on Wednesday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey warned that the changes made in the Judiciary Committee's version of the bill "would have the collective effect of weakening the government's ability to effectively surveil intelligence targets abroad." And on Thursday, Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell made their case directly to the Senate in a closed-door briefing.
With divisions sharp, various attempts to split the difference between the alternatives have fallen flat. Reid had earlier sought, under the Senate's Rule Fourteen, to offer a pair of his own bills mixing and matching provisions from the two committees, a solution that appears to have pleased nobody. And on Thursday, the Judiciary Committee rejected a proposal by Senator Arlen Spector to allow lawsuits against the telecom companies to go forward, but with the government substituted as the defendant. (The groups bringing the suits worry that the government would be able to invoke legal defenses, such as executive privilege and sovereign immunity, that are unavailable to private telecom providers.) Michelle Richardson, a legislative consultant for the American Civil Liberties Union, hopes that this may be a strategic blunder on the administration's part. "A lot of people would probably support giving the government broader authority if they would decouple that issue from the immunity question," says Richardson, "so they're probably shooting themselves in the foot by forcing it to go forward like this."
The current wrangling continues a debate that began this summer with the hasty passage of the Protect America Act in response to a ruling by the FISA court—a ruling which the court has declined to release, but which is purported to have required intelligence agencies to acquire warrants when wiretapping conversations between foreign parties that were routed (and recorded) through US telecom switches. Eavesdropping on purely foreign communications had previously been unrestricted—primarily because, traditionally, the physical tap on foreign-to-foreign calls had occurred overseas, outside US jurisdiction. But the Protect America Act, which is due to expire in February, went beyond merely closing this "intelligence gap" and authorized a broad program of surveillance, under minimal court oversight, that permits Americans' conversations with foreigners to be collected, so long as the American party to the communication was not "targeted" by an investigation. The bills now under consideration seek to establish a more permanent solution: the Intelligence Committee version of the FISA Amendment would remain in effect for six years, while the Judiciary Committee version sunsets in four.
While media attention has focused largely on the question of immunity for telecom firms, the additional limitations on surveillance contained in the Judiciary Committee's version of the bill are, arguably, at least as significant. That bill would explicitly bar "bulk" or "vacuum cleaner" surveillance of international telecom traffic that is not directed at a particular person or telephone number. It would require individualized FISA court review whenever the collection of an American's communications became a "significant purpose" of an investigation, whether or not that person was a "target" of the investigation. And it would provide for a congressional audit of past extrajudicial surveillance by the National Security Agency.
A spokesman for Reid says the majority leader hopes to be able to send a bill to conference before Congress adjourns for winter recess, though some observers find this unlikely, and civil liberties groups are anxious to avoid a repetition of the sort of last-minute legislation that produced the Protect America Act. Meanwhile, some civil libertarians are already casting an eye toward the next battle. "We're going to keep fighting to get the important judicial protections in, the immunity out, but if we can't do those things we're going to get as many no votes on the final product as possible," says the ACLU's Richardson. "We don't want the members owning this bill, owning this program, so that when it finally does sunset we can get meaningful changes."
The difficulty and frustration of building GNOME from source is a major impediment for many new contributors. Installing the dependencies, getting the tools working, and compiling major components of the desktop environment is a burden that detracts from time that could be spent making patches. In order to resolve this problem, the developers from rPath have created the GNOME Developer Kit, a complete environment for testing and developing GNOME.
The GNOME Developer Kit is based on the Foresight Linux distribution and includes regularly updated packages built from the latest code in GNOME’s version control system. The Developer Kit is made available as a VMware image as well as an installable ISO. The included package management system can be used to keep the system up to date as changes are made to GNOME during the development cycle.
“Once you download it, you will easily be able to update it every day with PackageKit or Conary, so no need to download new versions,” said rPath’s Ken VanDine in a blog entry. “There will be new downloads available regularly, probably daily, so when you download it, it will be ready to go immediately, without waiting for additional updates. The best of both worlds!”
In addition to providing a complete GNOME desktop environment, the GNOME Developer Kit also includes some experimental components that are under active development or being considered for inclusion in GNOME. For instance, Empathy, PulseAudio, PolicyKit, and PackageKit are all included by default. Although I like a lot of the nice things that are included in the GNOME Developer Kit, there are still a few other extras that I’d like to see added. In particular, I think it would be really nice if it included Mono and MonoDevelop from the latest sources.
Happy Friday, er, again! For those of you participating in Consumermas, remember: you only have a week and a few days left to shop. But check out these links while you continue to put off buying your mom some new tupperware:
Walt Disney World's "Spaceship Earth" ride in Epcot is a fond memory of many of our childhoods. Epcot recently added a tribute to Apple's beginnings to the ride with Steve, but now we're not so sure… well, which Steve it is. Originally thought to be Steve Jobs, Gizmodo calls that theory into question, saying that perhaps the Steve represented in plastic form is Woz instead.Apple has applied for a patent on a way to detect free-fall in electronics, which can be particularly helpful when protecting data stored on devices with moving parts (such as hard drives). This could eventually lead to better accident protection on devices like iPods (classic, of course) and laptops.If any of you were still stuck using Virtual PC, which is now owned by Microsoft, then you should give up any hope of using it in Leopard. The Mac BU confirmed to The Mac Observer this week that Virtual PC would not be coming to Apple's new OS—the last remaining version is Tiger-only.Speaking of Microsoft, Office 2008 is done and ready to go. For realz this time. The final build has been released to manufacturing (RTM) this week, putting it right on track to launch on January 15 at Macworld.Apple was named in a defamation suit against cable TV network BET this week. BET had aired a photo of Chicago gang leader Larry Hoover along with Houston residents James Prince and Thomas Randle while implying that the three were murderers. The piece eventually made its way to the iTunes Store, and
history a lawsuit was made.During last week's opening of the 14th Street Apple Store in New York, senior VP of retail Ron Johnson said that the company planned to open 40 more stores in 2008.
Now off to your endless string of holiday parties. Have some extra-spiked egg nog for us.
The prospect of having broadband while flying at 35,000 feet is enough to get most of us geeks a-twitter. We'd want it to be safe, of course, but frankly we're a little tired of the arguments against unencumbered in-flight WiFi that center on so-called 'Net etiquette. An AP report today recounts the objections of some travelers and airlines alike to in-flight WiFi, and they pull out the usual ghosts and goblins: armies of loud VoIP users, people "flaming" each other on planes (oh please), and guys who just can't stop looking at porn. These Chicken Little scenarios are tiresome and not supported by the evidence, yet they are being used by many airlines to justify blocking and filtering in-flight broadband. Some airlines will filter VoIP packets, others will use blacklists to block access to sites. (And meanwhile, people are still bringing "carry-ons" onto the plane that are two-times too large.)
We only need to look at current parallels to see that those fears have little basis in reality. Consider the porn fear. Laptops on airplanes aren't exactly a new phenomenon—people have been taking them out to catch up on work, watch movies, play games, and otherwise screw around regularly for over a decade now. How often do we see someone on a plane pulling up and browsing his porn collection? Not very often (I, personally, have never seen such a thing). This nonexistent problem isn't going to be exacerbated by the presence of an Internet connection.
Another major concern appears to revolve around passengers making regular—and loud—phone calls through VoIP software like Skype. Although many airlines have offered those seat-back, in-flight phones for some time now, few people actually use them due to the high cost associated with them. Or do those passengers also avoid them because, well, no one wants to make a phone call while on a plane? It could be a mixture of both—I know that I'm not all that tempted to make phone calls while in-flight, except maybe to tell someone that I'll be late. Still, for those who do want to make calls, flights are loud and people are already chatting with each other. A few more people chatting into a headset instead of the child next to them isn't going to make much of a difference that can't be blocked out by a decent set of headphones.
Nevertheless, some airlines are planning on blocking users from receiving calls in-flight, while others want to block VoIP entirely. Strangely, these fears didn't stop the airlines from trying to make money off of their proprietary phone services.
The AP brings up a few other concerns—what if the person in front of you wants to recline! Or, *gasp* what if the person next to you keeps peering over to see what you're doing? Again, these are problems that people already have while using laptops on airplanes. Sure, it's annoying, but certainly not worth banning or restricting in-flight broadband.
We could go on and on, but just consider a parallel example that has essentially changed our casual laptop travels overnight: the coffee house. Freely-available WiFi, combined with still-falling laptop prices, have caused the presence of laptop-users in coffee houses to explode over the last five years. At the right time of day, Panera and Starbucks look more like offices than restaurants or cafes.
The coffee house laptop crowd consists of all types, too. Gamers, business people, students… all people who would rather just do their thing than disrupt everyone with blaring porn or a loud Skype session. In fact, the presence of laptop users have brought an eerie silence to coffee houses—the last time I was at a Starbucks (armed with my MacBook and some headphones, of course), it struck me how oddly quiet everything really was, aside from the cheesy store music and the whir of the baristas doing their thing. People are generally very sensitive to those around them and tend to avoid viewing anything that might offend someone walking by, too. Something tells me that in-flight broadband will yield largely the same results.
Thankfully, some seem to realize the same thing. "We think decency and good sense and normal behavior" will prevail when it comes to in-flight 'Net etiquette, Aircell CEO Jack Blumenstein told the AP. "I'd rather have the responsibility in the hands of passengers and require them to be accountable for what they do on laptops and airplanes," Harvard Law School professor John Palfrey added.
We tend to agree. Bring on the in-flight broadband and let the complainers take the bus.