IBM's 'Jeopardy' computer lands health care job

           IBM's Watson computer thrilled "Jeopardy" audiences in February by vanquishing two human champs in a three-day match. It's an impressive resume, and now Watson has landed a plum job.

IBM is partnering with WellPoint, a large health insurance plan provider with around 34 million subscribers, to bring Watson technology to the health care sector, the companies said Monday.

It will be the first commercial application of Watson, which is a computing system that aims to "understand" language as humans naturally speak it. IBM (IBM, Fortune 500) has been working on Watson for more than six years.

The goal is for Watson to help medical professionals diagnose and sort out treatment options for complicated health issues. Think of the system as an electronic Dr. House.Click here to visit the site

"Imagine having the ability to take in all the information around a patient's medical care -- symptoms, findings, patient interviews and diagnostic studies," Dr. Sam Nussbaum, WellPoint's (WLP, Fortune 500) chief medical officer, said in a prepared statement.

"Then, imagine using Watson analytic capabilities to consider all of the prior cases, the state-of-the-art clinical knowledge in the medical literature and clinical best practices to help a physician advance a diagnosis and guide a course of treatment," he added.

WellPoint plans to begin deploying Watson technology in small clinical pilot tests in early 2012.

Speed and natural language: Watson can sift through 200 million pages of data and provide a response in less than three seconds. But perhaps even more impressive than Watson's speed is its ability to process natural language, the way that humans speak it.

That's no easy feat for a computer. Human language is full of subtleties, irony and words with multiple meanings.

Take the "Jeopardy" example. Watson studies the questions by considering many factors, ranging from straightforward keyword matching to more complex challenges like homonyms (the bark of a tree is not the same as a dog's bark) and paraphrasing ("Big Blue" is the same thing as "IBM").

Watson is able to do this quickly thanks to software that runs on 10 refrigerator-sized racks of IBM Power7 systems. The machine is a grandkid to Deep Blue, the chess-playing IBM supercomputer that trounced world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

IBM said early on that health care is a field where it anticipated commercialization opportunities for Watson. Other markets IBM is eying include online self-service help desks, tourist information centers and customer hotlines.

Watson's "Jeopardy" face-off against champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, which first aired February 14-16, will be re-broadcast starting on Monday. To top of page

8 Fastest-Growing tech companies

1 of 8
100 Fastest-Growing rank: 4 (Previous rank: N.A.)
CEO: Robin Li
Address: 10 Shangdi 10th St., Beijing, China

Founded by Robin Li and Eric Xu in 2000, Baidu has evolved into the largest search engine portal in China with a market share of nearly 75%. Its services let more than 300 million Chinese users find news, web sites, audio files and images and targeted marketing tools like P4P, which lets companies pay for and generate ads that appear in search listings.

Recently, Baidu struck a two-year deal with One-Stop China, a local joint venture owned by Universal Music, Warner Music and Sony Music. It will let users legally download and stream over 500,000 songs for free. Aggressive moves such as these goes a long way to explaining why the search portal saw three-year annualized earnings-per-share growth of 78%.

Cirrus Logic
2 of 8
Cirrus Logic
100 Fastest-Growing rank: 11 (Previous rank: N.A.)
CEO: Jason Rhode
Address: 2901 Via Fortuna, Austin, Texas

This semiconductor company, which supplies integrated circuit products to a variety of consumer and commercial applications, saw huge three-year annualized earnings-per-share gains of 340%.

During 2010, it focused on its Digital Energy Control initiative with an LED lighting controller that it says is more effective than the competition, not to mention compatible with more LED light bulbs. But the largest driver of revenue over the last few years remains its portable audio business. Its products are used in everything from smartphones and tablets to Blu-ray players, bringing in $265 million during fiscal 2011, or nearly 70% of the company's annual revenue.
3 of 8
100 Fastest-Growing rank: 12 (Previous rank: 11)
CEO: Jeffery H. Boyd
Address: 800 Connecticut Ave., Norwalk, Connecticut

It was another great year for the travel booking service, which saw profits climb to $528 million last year on sales of nearly $3.1 billion. That uptick was driven largely by international sales, which accounted for 69% of the company's overall bookings and, the Connecticut-based international hotel reservations site it bought back in 2004.

Mercado Libre
4 of 8
Mercado Libre
100 Fastest-Growing rank: 15 (Previous rank: N.A.)
CEO: Marcos Galperin
Address: Arias 3751 7th Floor, Buenos Aires, Argentina

With more than 53 million registered users, eBay's Latin American partner is the largest e-commerce platform in the region. More than half of its business comes from Brazil. Last year, revenues climbed to $217 million from $172 million -- more than double what it was three years prior. The company also launched MercadoShops, a service that lets users set up, manage and promote their own online stores.

5 of 8
100 Fastest-Growing rank: 19 (Previous rank: 3)
CEO: Robin Raina
Address: 5 Concourse Pkwy NE Ste 3200, Atlanta, Georgia

The IT consulting and outsourcing company provides software solutions like carrier and agency systems to insurance companies and also runs online insurance data exchanges which account for nearly 71% of all revenues. The goal: become the leader in back-end insurance transactions.

If its performance in 2010 was any indication, it's certainly on track to achieve that. The company made three acquisitions last year and wrapped up a merger with ADAM, a health technology services company last February. Meanwhile, profits climbed 66% to $59 million, compared with the year before, on sales of $132 million.

6 of 8
100 Fastest-Growing rank: 21 (Previous rank: N.A.)
CEO: Tim Cook
Address: 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California

It may be a no-brainer, but Apple is on a roll. Last year, it launched two products to great success: the iPhone 4 sold 1.7 million units during its first three days on shelves; the iPad moved nearly 14.7 million units by the end of the year. That momentum carried over into 2011. During the company's most recent quarter, iPhone sales grew 142%, while iPad sales expanded a whopping 183% thanks to a major hardware update. All that contributed to profits of $7.3 billion on revenues of $28.6 billion, a record on both fronts.

Acme Packet
7 of 8
Acme Packet
100 Fastest-Growing rank: 25 (Previous rank: N.A.)
CEO: Andrew Ory
Address: 100 Crosby St., Bedford, Massachusetts

Catering to over 1,440 clients in 105 countries, Acme Packet manufactures session border controllers, multi-service security gateways and session routing proxies, all of which enable the delivery of voice, video and other types of multimedia sessions across different Internet protocol -- or IP -- networks. From 2008 to 2010, revenues nearly doubled to $231 million and profits almost quadrupled to $43 million, a company record. And as companies continue to replace older legacy technologies with IP-based solutions, Acme Packet expects to have a bigger role in what it in envisions as a multi-billion dollar market.

Riverbed Technology
8 of 8
Riverbed Technology
100 Fastest-Growing rank: 27 (Previous rank: N.A.)
CEO: Jerry M. Kennelly
Address: 199 Fremont St., San Francisco, California

This IT-focused company is concentrated on the wide-area network (WAN) market, selling a range of products that optimize network performance and data access, boosting network transmission speeds by as much as 100 times in some cases. To that end, profits jumped from $7 million to $34 million 2010 on sales of $552 million due to increased customer demand, with nearly half those sales coming internationally.

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Does Intel's ultrabook stand a chance?

            When Apple launched the MacBook Air, it got flack: not fast enough, not enough ports, too pricey, the optional external optical disc drive had as much portable appeal as a brick. Fast-forward three years, and the current version of the Air has become an industry example of what consumers want in mobile computing. Though Apple won't break down figures, an executive recently told Fortune that the lightweight notebook had been outselling its entry-level white MacBook earlier this year. (That model was ultimately discontinued.) Meanwhile, Gartner research reports Apple's overall growth in the mobile computing space outpaced PC makers -- for the last five quarters.

So what's a Windows PC maker to do? Fight fire with fire. That's partly why Intel (INTC) created the so-called "ultrabook," a new, svelte notebook category. The new name comes with a checklist of required hardware features attached: a model must be 0.8 inches thick or less, weigh under 3.1 pounds, use a solid-state flash drive, get five-plus hours of battery life in between charges and start at a price of $1,000. The chipset maker also set up the Intel Capital Ultrabook Fund, a $300 million fund for investing in companies working on ultrabook hardware and software, aiming foster technical improvements in battery life and storage for example.

If successful, Intel's prodding of PC makers to more diligently chase Apple (AAPL) could be a big boost to the Windows ecosystem as the surge in tablets threatens to take a bite out of notebook sales. (Apple reportedly threatened to walk away from Intel if the chip maker didn't make bigger gains in its technology.) But manufacturers like Toshiba, Lenovo, Asus and Acer -- all of which roll out ultrabooks this fall -- have plenty of obstacles that may be difficult to overcome.

Like design. While Toshiba's upcoming 2.5-pound Portege Z830, due in November, sports a look in line with the company's past products, Asus's offerings have drawn some criticism for looking too much like the Air, right down to the way that sheet of aluminum tapers in the corner. Comparisons in the looks department may be inevitable, though. "They're similar, but it's not hard to be similar," says Van Baker, an analyst with Garter Research. "You need the metal case for the structural strength, and they have to be thin because that's one of the requirements for the ultrabook brand. So when you say it's an all-metal case and thin, well guess what? It's gonna start looking like a MacBook Air."

Baker also points out the differences remain significant. There's the operating system for one; Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows still dominates in market share. Some of the aesthetic flourishes Apple is best known for may be hard to duplicate, meanwhile, such as backlit keyboards that light up in the dark. Such features may not make their way into ultrabooks for some time, if at all. Manufacturing such a thin chassis is a challenge, too, something Asus' own CEO Jerry Shen told The Financial Times, pointing to possible heat problems due to the processor.

Pricing will also be extremely important. Apple has never been considered "cheap," but the Air's recent $999 pricing scheme is reportedly a hassle for some PC makers who are dealing with higher production costs. Analysts Fortune spoke to indicate that, for ultrabooks to be competitive in the marketplace, they need to be priced below $1,000 and somewhere in between $700 and $750. This year, there will be few models that hit that sweet spot -- most of them have price tags starting at $1000 and climbing up to $2,000.

Intel and company will also have to do some savvy marketing. The chipset maker forecast that ultrabooks will own 40% of the global consumer notebook market by the end of next year, and 60% come 2013. That's an extremely aggressive prediction that some PC makers and analysts wonder is realistic. "That's going to take a lot of spend on Intel's part, to take a term that they invented and that consumers aren't aware of and get to the point where they go to a Wal-Mart (WMT) or Best Buy (BBY) and ask for an ultrabook," explains Baker, who remains skeptical.

Intel also has a mixed track record pushing specific types of computing tied to its chips. In 2004, the company sponsored an effective media campaign extolling the Centrino, which popularized the benefits of wireless Internet mobility. Other campaigns haven't fared so well. In 2006 for instance, Intel marketed Viiv to boost awareness of PCs designed as living room-friendly media centers. Viiv as a brand went nowhere and eventually died quietly, though the idea of the "media PC" lives on.

PC makers also have to fully commit. According to DigiTimes, Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba and Asustek may produce less than 50,000 units, too conservative to really make a dent in public awareness. And while Asus, for example, is technically capable of producing quadruple that each month, scaling beyond will require substantial investments in the company's supply chain, an investment that will likely be needed to take this category mainstream. Otherwise, the vaunted ultrabook may become just another uneventful blip on Intel's vast, expanding product roadmap.Click here to visit the site

Angry Birds: 350 million downloads and counting

           Angry Birds is the game franchise that just keeps on giving.

Some wonder whether the casual video game's popularity has peaked. Rovio's General Manager for North America, Andrew Stalbow, thinks otherwise. Today, Stalbow revealed that there have been 350 million Angry Birds downloads since the game's launch in December 2009. PLayers are putting in an astonishing 300 million minutes of gameplay -- every day. That's 150 million more downloads than when Fortune checked in on Rovio back in June and more than triple the number of downloads reported last March.

More surprising may be how big the merchandise side has become. As of last June, the company had sold three million plush toys, but now Stalbow says they're selling one million a month, in addition to selling one million t-shirts each month.
Click here to visit the site

The news bodes well for Rovio, which is capitalizing on Angry Birds' success in every way possible, with more than 25 ways to get it across multiple platforms -- iOS, Android, Nook, Chrome Web app -- to talks of an Angry Birds movie that would likely be developed in-house thanks to the acquisition of Helsinki-based animation studio Kombo earlier this summer. On the subject of Amazon's (AMZN) reported Kindle tablet, due out later this year, Stalbow wouldn't confirm an app, but given the companies' close relationship -- the two collaborated on the exclusive distribution of Angry Birds Rio -- Rovio's presence on the new platform seems inevitable, sooner rather than later.

And as we'd previously reported, expect two new Angry Birds experiences by the end of the year with new kinds of gameplay entirely unlike the current crop using buzzy new features like geolocation, something the company is tinkering with to draw foot traffic to stores and restaurants. In other words, there's lots more to come.

The gloom about tech IPOs

               Tech startups hoping to find an exit strategy in the public stock market might reconsider. First, market turbulence and the prospect of a double-dip recession led the likes of Zynga and Groupon to consider delaying their debuts. Now it seems 2011 is proving to be not just an unkind year for IPOs in general. It's especially unkind to tech.

Tableau Software, a Seattle-based data-analytics software company, looked at 24 technology IPOs that have listed on U.S. exchanges so far in 2011 and found that, as a group, they are significantly underperforming other sectors. Tech IPOs are on average trading 11.5% below their offering prices, while compared with a 5% decline in business and financial services IPOs, a 7% decline in real estate IPOs and a 8% decline in industrial and consumer product IPOs.

Many IPOs are down from their offering prices because most went public in the first half of the year, before a summer swoon brought nearly all stock prices down (since mid-July, the S&P 500 Index has dropped 14%). But even so, tech IPOs are being hit especially hard. Only IPOs in the energy industry, which are down an aggregate 12% from their offering prices, have performed more poorly than tech.

Only a third of the 24 tech IPOs Tableau tracked closed Monday above their offering prices, led by social network LinkedIn (LNKD), up 84%; business-software maker ServiceSource International (SREV), up 61%; and web-security company Qihoo 360 Technology (QIHU), up 49%. Those gains are comparable to the better performing IPOs in other industries: CVR Partners (UAN), a fertilizer company, is up 55% and cancer-drug developer Endocyte (ECYT) is up 80%.

But viewed from a different angle, tech performance isn't so stellar. LinkedIn and Qihoo saw their stock prices double on their first day of trading. LinkedIn is down 12% from its first-day closing price and Qihoo is down 37%. So many of the gains that were fleetingly available on the hottest tech IPOs evaporated quickly.Click here to visit the site lands $7 million for 24/7 streaming music club

    , one of the tech scene's most-buzzed about startups, has opened its online music venue to the public.

The addictive site took Silicon Valley by storm when it launched in January to a select group of invited participants. Tech insiders like Mark Zuckerberg and music celebrities flocked to the site to play with its 24/7 social streaming music service.

That means they've been spending time in virtual rooms, represented by an avatar, spinning music for a crowd or listening to other virtual DJ's play songs.

It was a strange concept for a music-sharing site: Everyone gets an avatar, enters a music venue, and DJs for their friends. There's also gaming element: Users who like the song click "awesome," while those who dislike the DJ's tune vote it "lame."

The concept caught on quickly, with early adapters raving about it and investors -- who in the past have steered clear of music startups because of their swampy legal challenges -- throwing money their way.

The site is now streaming a million songs a day at, with 40% of the 600,000 people who have signed up using the service actively.

"I think this really taps into something deep," co-founder Seth Goldstein said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco. "People really want to experience music together."

At the show Goldstein announced a $7 million funding round led by Union Square Ventures. The round also includes some non-traditional investors -- Lady Gaga's manager Troy Carter and musician Questlove, to name a few.

The crew released a free iPhone app on Tuesday that gives people the ability to take Turntable on the road.

It's addictive and growing fast -- but is there a business model here?

Not yet, but Goldstein is exploring options.

"There's a number of models," he said. "There's sponsorship, virtual goods, there's affiliate fees. Today we've been very successful and lucky to have such an engaged audience. They're telling us and they're leading us towards product iterations and product development and monetization techniques."

Next question: is it legal? It took another splashy new streaming music service, Spotify, years to negotiate licensing deals.

Goldstein says he's in talks with all the major records, but right now, the site is operating in the gray zone.

"The answer as to whether is legal is not necessarily an easy answer," entertainment and new media attorney Barry Heyman said. "It's very fact-specific, and arguments can be made for either side."

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act lets "non-interactive" streaming music services operate like radio stations, without striking licensing deals. That's how Pandora (P) operates, paying per-song royalties for the tracks it streams. could pursue a similar path. The same labels that blasted Napster into oblivion a decade ago are now more open to the idea that digital music is invevitable and partnerships can deliver a better payoff than legal standoffs.

The idea of music discovery makes the site appealing to the traditional labels, Goldstein said. If people like the music their friends play, they might, for example, one day be able to click a button and purchase it from Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) iTunes.

That would deliver an immediate payoff to the rights-holders -- and, perhaps, the start of a business model for To top of page

Google bid against itself for Motorola Mobility

          Almost immediately after Google lost the bidding for a package of Nortel patents that the search giant dearly wanted, it moved on to Plan B and contacted Motorola to see what it had for sale. Less than six weeks later, Google's blockbuster acquisition came together -- but only after Google raised its purchase price. Twice.

In a regulatory filing submitted Tuesday, Motorola Mobility breaks down in startling detail the timeline and milestones of Google's $12.5 billion takeover deal. Patents were what originally piqued Google's interest because it wants to arm up for Silicon Valley's ongoing patent war. But it didn't take long for Google to come around to Motorola's view that if Google wanted the patents, it should buy the whole company.

After a month-long series of meetings among the two companies' top executives -- initiated by Andy Rubin, Google's senior vice president of mobile -- Google decided to make its move on Aug. 1. It sent Motorola an acquisition offer for $30 a share.

Four days later, Motorola rejected that bid and suggested Google open its wallet a bit further. Google obligated: It came back on Aug. 9 offering $37 per share.

But in a sign of just how badly and how quickly Google wanted this deal done, it raised its offer again later that same day. After Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha told Google he would back a slightly higher proposed price, Google upped its all-cash offer to $40 a share -- kicking in an extra $3 billion over its initial bid even though Motorola was not in talks with any other potential buyers.

Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) told Motorola it wanted an answer within 24 hours. This time, Motorola (MMI) said yes. After a week of hammering out the fine print, the two companies stuck a final deal the morning of Aug. 15, and fired off their press release soon after.

Throughout the discussions, Motorola's board stayed in touch with Carl Icahn, a famously hands-on shareholder who owned 11% of Motorola Mobility's stock. He was sniffing around for a deal: In late July, he sent Motorola a letter suggesting it shop around its patent portfolio. Once Google's takeover bid hit $40 a share, Icahn threw his support behind it.

Motorola took advantage of Google's eagerness to extract some additional deal-sweeteners, including the steep $2.5 billion breakup fee Google will owe Motorola if it can't get antitrust clearances.

That regulatory review is ongoing. To top of pageClick here to visit the site

Gojee wants to plan your meal tonight

            When it comes to online recipes, readers' eyes are just as vital as their stomachs. Gojee, which launched in July, offers recipes in a slideshow format, with stunning photos of the finished product splashed across the screen. Clicking on a dish directs readers to the web page of an individual food blogger with the recipe's full details. The site just nabbed its first major funding, a $1.2 million seed round led by Kapor Capital.

Gojee CEO Michael LaValle, a West Point graduate who joined the infantry and spent a year in Afghanistan, returned to his hometown New York City in 2006 and spent three years at Morgan Stanley in the technology investing group. There he met co-founder Tian He, now Gojee's VP of Engineering, and the two hatched a plan to start the company together. The goal: use data to offer a new experience in online recipe hunting. Says LaValle, "No one was doing anything intelligent around harnessing food data to deliver something cool and useful."

Gojee makes use of data by linking up with supermarket loyalty cards to learn which items have been purchased, customizing recipes it displays by what ingredients are actually in the fridge or pantry. Currently, Gojee is only partnered with D'Agostino's, a Manhattan-based grocer, but users can also manually enter ingredients they have on hand or generally prefer to use.

The potential interest to supermarkets is obvious. "We have seen recipes on the Internet becoming a monster thing that customers are interested in," says Nick D'Agostino III, CEO of the eponymous chain. "I can provide you with a hell of a lot of recipes that meet your requirements, but that you'd never eat. You'd have to tell us 'Okay, I don't like salt, but I also don't like kumquats.'" D'Agostino's customers are an ideal test population for Gojee to find out what works and what doesn't.

What works, LaValle believes, is the way Gojee personalizes the experience, more so than sites like Epicurious, Yummly or the Food Network, big recipe outlets that make up Gojee's main competition. "Their sites always give the same experience," he says. Sounding annoyed, he ticks off a long list of similarities he perceives between his competitors – their layouts, search function and their tone.

Gojee, he says, is the only site responding to changes in Web usage. "The entire way of navigating the web is going to evolve in the next three years, so that led us to fullscreen photos and being able to swipe on a tablet or click left to right on a keyboard."

Perhaps Gojee's most surprising feature is that its recipes are hand-selected from chef blogs that the staff (seven full-time employees) vets. "Every blog we feature has to have great pictures, obviously, but also a unique perspective," LaValle says. "You get to step into their world. If you want to find good food bloggers, there's only our site."

Joshua Stokes is one of those food bloggers. A private chef in New York, Stokes has had a number of his recipes featured on Gojee and says that he's noticed a spike in traffic thanks to the site. He sees both advantages and challenges in Gojee's efforts to take on the larger recipe sites. "A flaw with, say, the Food Network site is that if Bobby Flay throws up a recipe, people will try it no matter what, because it's his," says Stokes. Stokes adds that if these recipes from brand-name chefs disappoint, users tend to abandon them, feeling defeated. They might not try cooking it again.

Still, sites like Food Network have the advantage of built-in audience and traffic dominance. "I've tried all the big recipe sites, mostly because, when I Google a recipe, they're the first to come up," admits Stokes. "It's hard to take on the Google (GOOG) factor."

Stephen DeBerry of Kapor says they invested in Gojee because the VC firm is increasingly interested in healthy food and in startups with a social impact. "We want to help get out of this wagging a finger at the consumer for lifestyle choices, and Gojee does it in a beautiful, fun way," he says. "On the back-end, there are some great opportunities once you learn what people are eating and connect it to retail. The data dimension is what really impressed us." Gojee is the first food-related startup Kapor has invested in directly.

If Gojee is going to grow, it'll need to aggressively announce its presence. Even with its creative features, it's starting from the bottom of a steep hill, at the top of which sit the more established recipe sites. Though Gojee won't disclose its traffic, the company says it has members in 199 different countries, and in has just doubled its stable of food writers, from 80 to 160. Its Google Chrome app has nearly 30,000 users.

"Food is a changing market," says Stokes. "Those other sites have the resources to change, but not always the wherewithal to see what changes are going to happen or should."
Click here to visit the site

SurveyMonkey turns online surveys into a hot business

                Dave Goldberg, a pioneering Internet music entrepreneur, used to have a glamorous job as vice president of music at Yahoo (YHOO), which bought his startup Launch Media for $12 million. Now, as CEO of Palo Alto-based SurveyMonkey, he peddles online survey tools to corporations, schools, and community groups. "A lot of people ask me, 'Really? Surveys?'" says Goldberg.

Really. It turns out that those prosaic online polls are a tidy business, thanks in part to a management and technology upgrade instituted by Goldberg -- who is married to Sheryl Sandberg, the ultraconnected and savvy operating chief of Facebook. Since becoming SurveyMonkey's CEO two years ago, he's tripled the company's registered users to 8.5 million, more than four times that of its nearest competitor, Zoomerang.

SurveyMonkey, founded in 1999 by Ryan Finley in a Madison apartment, has always been profitable. Finley ran the company on a shoestring; he didn't hire his first employee -- his brother, Chris -- until three years after launching, and he took no outside financing until he and his brother sold a majority stake to Spectrum Equity Investors and Bain Capital Ventures for an undisclosed sum in 2008. (The Finleys sit on SurveyMonkey's board.)

The Smartest People in Tech

Goldberg, who became CEO when the deal closed, saw an opportunity to lure more paying customers. Anyone can use its basic service free, but hard-core users can sign up for subscription plans ranging from $17 to $65 a month that include extras such as telephone support and the ability to brand surveys.

Goldberg beefed up the company's premium offerings -- SurveyMonkey's paying subscribers now have access to a bunch of new tools to help analyze results. Along the way, he increased the staff from 12 to about 100, expanding engineering, support, and management.

The strategy appears to be paying off: Today people in nearly 200 countries respond to some 33 million surveys produced by SurveyMonkey users. Its customers range from small firms to retailers such as Lands' End, which uses it to poll customers (How do moms balance cost vs. quality?) and employees (Where should the company host its picnic?).

Goldberg declines to disclose sales, but the company recently refinanced $100 million of its debt, a transaction that suggests an annual cash flow north of $35 million. "It's an incredibly efficient business model," says Jordan Rohan, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus.

As Goldberg looks for new ways to expand, he has an invaluable resource in Sandberg, who has opened their Atherton home to dinner guests from Bono to Rupert Murdoch. And while Goldberg says their companies don't have a special relationship, perhaps it is not surprising that SurveyMonkey's newest release is an app that runs on Facebook.
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Microsoft unveils a radically redesigned Windows 8

             Windows 8 is coming soon -- and it looks nothing like the Windows you're used to. Microsoft formally introduced Windows 8 on Tuesday to thousands of software developers gathered at the company's annual Build conference in Anaheim, Calif. The software giant said it reimagined Windows for the "changing world of computing."
Windows 8 has a completely new visual interface, optimized for touchscreens on mobile devices like tablets.
The result is a computer that operates as a kind of hybrid PC and media tablet, with all the functions of a standard PC operating system but the user experience of a tablet.
Windows 8 is designed to be "touch first, but equally at home with mouse and keyboard," said Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's Windows division president.
The changes can't come soon enough for Microsoft: Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPad is cutting deeply into PC sales, setting off warning bells for companies like Microsoft that rely heavily on consumers buying new PCs. Windows 7, which has been on the market for two years, only recently eclipsed Microsoft's decade-old Windows XP in its number of users.

Click to tour the new Windows 8

Windows 8 launched in "preview mode" on Tuesday for developers to toy around with. It didn't work perfectly in Microsoft's demonstration, but software in this early stage of development often is bug-ridden.
Still, the preview revealed a refined, simple, and in many ways elegant user interface that looks very similar to Microsoft's mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7. The change will mark Windows' biggest visual overhaul in decades.
Users begin with an opening screen that looks a bit like Microsoft's Bing search engine home page. A large photo takes up the majority of the screen, with icons that show the user how many e-mails, messages and notifications are waiting for them.
After the user logs in, they reach a "start screen" featuring interactive tiles that launch with a tap of the finger or the click of a mouse. Unlike most tablets on the market today, Windows 8-powered devices will be able to launch applications side-by-side. That means users can multitask between, say, a movie and an instant messaging program.
Behind the user interface, which Microsoft dubs "Metro," is a streamlined operating system that Microsoft says runs more efficiently than the current version of the OS, Windows 7.
"Everything that was great for Windows 7, we took that and made it better for Windows 8," said Sinofsky.
To prove it, Sinofsky demonstrated Windows 8 operating on a three-year old, first-generation netbook. Using Windows Task Manager, he showed that Windows 8 actually used less memory than the netbook did while running Windows 7. He also demonstrated everyday PCs, laptops and tablets that booted in less than 10 seconds.
That efficiency is hugely important to customers, who roundly rejected Windows Vista for its chunkiness. A lightweight OS is even more important now as tablet computers grow in popularity.
That's particularly crucial for Windows 8, because for the first time, Windows will work on power-sipping ARM-based chips made by Qualcomm (QCOM, Fortune 500), Samsung, and Texas Instruments (TXN, Fortune 500), among others.
"I promise you we did not lose sight of fundamentals," Sinofsky said.
But make no mistake: Windows 8 is a PC operating system. It may be optimized for touch and mobile, but applications are largely bifurcated into "Metro-style" apps and desktop applications.
There are applications that just won't work on a tablet user interface that are going to look and feel a whole lot like your old-fashioned point-and-click Windows-based software.
For example, one press of a Windows button switches back and forth between the Metro experience and the desktop experience. Windows 8, in a sense, has two interfaces.
In other words, Microsoft is betting that people want a full PC experience on the go and a tablet-like experience on their PCs. That's very different from the approach by Apple or Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), which build two separate operating systems for PCs and mobile devices.
Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) began revealing some of Windows 8's features as early as June. In a YouTube video, the company showed off some aspects of the new "Metro" user interface, and since then, the company has been giving weekly sneak peaks in a blog written by Sinofsky.

The company hasn't yet set a launch date for Windows 8, but it has hinted that its new operating system will begin rolling out in 2012.Click here to visit the site

Facebook wants you to 'Subscribe' now !

* Facebook unveiled the "Subscribe" button that will allow its 750 million-plus active monthly users to better control what their friends share with them, including updates, photos, videos, and links. It will also let users "subscribe" to public status updates from others much in the same way Twitter lets its users "follow" other users. To enable the feature, click here. (Facebook)

* Barclays analyst Anthony DiClemente predicts Amazon (AMZN) will sell 2 million Kindle tablets this year, still a significant number, but half what an earlier report claimed. (Boy Genius Report)

* Colleague Dan Primack on why Facebook doesn't need to ever go public. (Fortune)

* Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer revealed that an early developer version of Windows 8 has already been downloaded 500,000 times since last night.

* Music streaming services MOG and Rdio are following in Spotify's digital footsteps by integrating free features: MOG will roll out a web-based, ad-supported version of its service which retains listeners if they do certain things like share playlists with friends, while Rdio's free version will essentially serve as an ad-free trial period. (All Things D)

* Manila, a handy startup that keeps tabs on and helps you pay nearly all your bills from one central service, is now available on Android and iOS. Try it out for yourself. (Manila)

* Groupon is reportedly back on track with its initial public offering (IPO), aiming for October or early November. (The New York Times)

* Is BlackBerry's PlayBook tablet destined to meet the same fate as HP's TouchPad? (Boy Genius Report)
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ARM vs. Intel

            ARM is gunning for Intel by trying to break open the old-line PC and server markets. Meanwhile, Intel is charging ahead with new mobile offerings.

FORTUNE -- Crack open your smartphone, and chances are there's ARM—not Intel—inside. The British chip designer commands the mobile market. Last quarter alone, 1.1 billion of its power-efficient microprocessors were shipped in phones and tablets. But Cambridge-based ARM Holdings (ARMH) has bigger ambitions. In recent months, it has been talking up plans to get its chip designs into PCs and servers as well.

Meanwhile, Intel's (INTC) been ramping up its efforts at penetrating the fast-growing mobile market. The world's largest chipmaker owns the PC and server markets, but has failed to get its processors into smaller mobile devices. Recently, though, Intel scored several (albeit small) tablet wins. And it has said a phone powered by its Medfield processor will be unveiled by end of this year.

The two companies have long been on a collision course, but their battle for each other's territory is about to heat up. By next year, Intel-running tablets and phones will have finally hit the market and ARM-based processors will have made their way into notebook computers (like those running Microsoft's (MSFT) upcoming Windows 8). That will leave Intel breaking into a hot new sector just as ARM begins cracking open an old-line market.Of course, neither company is going to have an easy time taking on the other's monopoly.

Intel has struggled to get a low-power processor into smartphones and tablets, but ARM executives are the first to admit they are worried about the encroaching competition. "You never discount Intel," says Ian Drew, executive VP of marketing at ARM and a 14-year Intel veteran. "I've worked there long enough to know that they are a supreme manufacturing company."

In addition to superior manufacturing capabilities, Intel's size—whether measured in manpower or revenues—dwarfs ARM's. Then again, ARM's business model doesn't require building multi-billion-dollar fabs. Unlike Intel, ARM doesn't actually manufacture chips. Instead, it licenses its technology to companies like Qualcomm (QCOM), Texas Instruments (TXN) and Nvidia (NVDA) and collects royalties on every device shipped with its architecture.

"ARM has great architecture and a lot of momentum behind them and Intel has superior manufacturing," says UBS analyst Uche Orji. "Calling this one will be tough—the answer to this riddle won't be clear until at least four to five years."

In the meantime, predictions of who will grab what portion of market share are running rampant. Research firm IHS iSuppli recently said it projects that by 2015, 22.9% of notebook shipments worldwide will be ARM-based systems.

In the long run, the rivalry could be good news for consumer electronics manufacturers—and possibly even for consumers. Why? Because increasing competition among chip suppliers could eventually drive down prices. But it's not clear either company will end up "winning" this match.

"I think they will both be successful to a limited extent," says UBS's Orji. "I expect to see some ARM PCs next year, and I also expect to see some Intel handsets in the market next year."
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Apple's brand value rises to No. 2 in the world, after Google

            The Apple logo is now worth $39.3 billion according to Brand Finance

30 Top U.S. Brands. Click to enlarge. Source: Brand Finance

Microsoft (MSFT) is down 9% to $39 billion. Google (GOOG) is up 9% to nearly $48.3 billion. But Apple (AAPL) is way up -- 33% -- to overtake, for the first time, Microsoft, IBM (IBM), Wal-Mart (WMT) and General Electric (GE).

Those are the highlights of the interim brand value report issued last week by Brand Finance, a London-based consulting company that specializes in putting a dollar value what you might think is a rather intangible marketing concept.
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Overall, the value of the world's top 100 brands have fallen 2.4% since January, according to Brand Finance, dragged down by the plummeting reputations of financial institutions like Wells Fargo (WFC) and Bank of America (BAC).

As if to prove there's some wiggle room in these valuations, a competing firm, BrandZ, put the value of the Apple brand at $153.3 billion in May, ahead of Google. (See How Apple became the world's most valuable brand.)

BrandZ bases its ratings, in part, on a survey of 2 million consumers. Brand Finance uses a more straightforward discounted cash flow technique to arrive at a net present value of a company's trademark and associated intellectual property.

iPad vs. Windows 8: The war of the tweets

               A war of words -- blogged, tweeted and syndicated -- broke out at Microsoft's (MSFT) annual developers conference Tuesday when the company distributed Samsung tablets loaded with beta copies of Windows 8, its answer to Apple's (AAPL) OS X and iOS, rolled into one.

Paul Thurrott, the news editor of Windows IT Pro and host of the Windows Weekly podcast, set the tone when he tweeted an imaginary phone call in which the iPad concedes victory on the spot: "Hello, Windows 8? This is iPad. You win."

"Apple bloggers were apparently so flustered by the platform that they resorted to bombarding Twitter with jokes about cooling fans and Silverlight instead of stopping for a moment to realize that Microsoft is showing us the future of computing," wrote Boy Genius Report's Zach Epstein in a post entitled Sorry Apple, Windows 8 ushers in the post-post-PC era.

"I wasn't flustered," says The Loop's Jim Dalrymple, who had made one of those jokes, posting a photo of an industrial-size fan under the label Must-have accessory for Windows 8 tablet. "I was laughing my ass off."

Daring Fireball's John Gruber, speaking for the Apple establishment, granted that Windows 8 might turn out to be a successful OS, but added: "I'd be appalled if Apple were to unveil something in the half- (if that) finished state of Windows 8 for tablets."

Below: More sniping.

Epstein: "Down the road, Mac OS and iOS will merge into a single platform or OS X will adopt enough iOS-like characteristics that Apple will finally be comfortable with slapping it on a touch-enabled device... At that point in time, Apple will be able to offer a computing solution that is infinitely more versatile and capable than the company's current solutions. A solution like Windows 8."

Dalrymple: "I just threw up in my mouth."

Epstein: "If the iPad ushered in the post-PC era, then welcome to the post-post-PC era."

Dalrymple: "When Windows 8 is released and millions of people choose that over the iPad, then you can safely say that Microsoft ushered in something — until then, they have nothing."
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Microsoft to launch Xbox TV later this year

ANAHEIM, Calif. (CNNMoney) -- Microsoft is trying to succeed where Google, Apple and Sony have all flopped: The software giant wants to change the way people watch TV.

At Microsoft's financial analyst meeting in Anaheim, Calif., on Wednesday, CEO Steve Ballmer previewed the new Xbox TV platform that will launch this holiday season.

The demonstration was short on critical details like content partners, pricing, and what movies and shows will be available. But Ballmer said Microsoft would be working alongside "dozens or hundreds of additional video content suppliers" to grow the content choices available on the Xbox.

In addition to video on-demand, that Xbox content will include live television. Ballmer said the live TV offerings will include "news, sports, and your favorite channels."

It's not clear exactly how that will work, but Ballmer hinted it will be similar to what Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) has already done with foreign partners like Sky TV in the United Kingdom, Canal Plus in France, and FoxTel in Australia. Those partnerships allow Xbox customers to stream a limited set of channels right through the Xbox, without requiring them to install any additional equipment like cables, satellite dishes or set-top boxes.
Why Microsoft needs to buy Netflix

Microsoft believes the key differentiator between Xbox as a TV platform and the sea of failed competitors will be its voice and motion search tool. Utilizing the Kinect attachment, users will be able to navigate through content with voice commands. The search function will be powered by Bing.

"Having all of that content is right on, it's fantastic, but it brings a new challenge with it," Ballmer said. "Certainly we all know the frustrations of using guides and menus and controllers, and we think a better way to do all of this is simply to bring Bing and voice to Xbox. You say it, Xbox finds it."

In the demonstration, a Microsoft employee announced, "Xbox, Bing 'The Office,'" and the television immediately displayed all of the available seasons of NBC's "The Office" for on-demand viewing. Another voice search, in theory, could allow users to navigate to a particular season or episode, but that demo failed.

"It's a good thing that's shipping for Christmas," Ballmer quipped, to laughter from the audience.

Microsoft also hopes to integrate its community of 35 million Xbox Live users to create a social experience around watching TV and movies.

"The vision is kind of simple," said Ballmer. "You should have any entertainment you want with all the people you care about, really simply and on any screen."

The fact that the Xbox is the top-selling gaming console will give it a leg up over the competition.

"Microsoft has a very large install base," said Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner. "This is not about going out and buying a new piece of hardware, it's about adding capability to device that already exists in living rooms. It greases the skids for them to get further into the content game."

But can Xbox TV succeed where Apple TV, Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) TV and many others have failed -- including Microsoft, with Windows Media Center? Can it become more than just a "hobby," as Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) chairman Steve Jobs likes to call Apple TV?

Some analysts believe Microsoft is uniquely positioned to succeed.

"Microsoft has been around the content world long enough to know how to license content -- they surely won't forge forward without appropriate content deals like Google did with Google TV," said David Wertheimer, executive director of the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California.

Wertheimer believes that instead of trying to license content from providers like News Corp. (NWS), Comcast (CMCSA, Fortune 500), Disney (DIS, Fortune 500), and CBS (CBS, Fortune 500) themselves, Microsoft will instead use a "TV Everywhere" model, in which existing cable and satellite subscribers will be able to access their content on the Xbox. TV Everywhere is an idea championed by Time Warner (TWX, Fortune 500), parent company of CNNMoney.

Why would customers want to stream content to their Xbox when they already have that content on their TV? That's where Microsoft's voice search, motion navigation and user interface come in.

"That's the opportunity here for Microsoft -- can they work with the content owners to innovate on top of the content itself and provide a higher-value experience to consumers?" Wertheimer asked. "If they can, this could be big and meaningful."

But others think that model is inherently flawed.

"Is there anything Microsoft is doing that hasn't been done by other providers? No, not really," said Gartner's Baker. "Search is not discovery. Search as an answer to discovery implies you know what you're looking for. Most people have no idea what they're looking for."

Discovery is what separates Netflix (NFLX) from all of the other content delivery channels: Netflix's recommendation tool clues users into new content that they'll likely enjoy.

Voice search, motion control and a cool user interface are a good start. But if Microsoft can figure out how to intelligently drive users to new content, it may have something here. To top of page

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