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Microsoft today unveiled a new range of smartphones it hopes will rival the phenomenal success of Apple’s iPhone.

The company wants its new operating system, Windows Phone 7 (WP7), to put its mobile business back in the running against not just Apple, but also Google, which makes the Android phone software, among others.
Speaking at a launch event in New York this afternoon, Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer said: ‘Everybody should be able to take a look at a Windows Phone and say it can represent me.’

The world’s largest software company is hoping that the new phones, from handset makers Samsung, LG, HTC and Dell, will propel it back into the mobile market, which many see as the key to the future of computing.

The new phones, initially available on the T-Mobile network in the UK and on AT&T in the U.S., are much closer in look and feel to Apple’s iPhone, with colourful touch-screens and ’tiles’ for easy access to email, the Web, music and other applications.

Some analysts say they represent Microsoft’s last chance to catch up with rivals in the smartphone market who overtook it in the past few years.

‘I’ve been looking forward to this day for some time,’ Mr Ballmer said, showing off nine phone models.

Mr Ballmer, who has admitted that his company ‘missed a generation’ with its recent unpopular phone offerings, said the new phones would eventually be available from 60 mobile operators in 30 countries.

Meanwhile, at a simultaneous launch event at London’s Institute Of Contemporary Arts (ICA), Microsoft announced that WP7 will be coming on the Dell Venue Pro by Christmas.

Dell’s Venue Pro will join five other WP7 handsets – three from HTC and one each from LG and Samsung – in the UK market in the coming months.

The Venue Pro will offer something a little different to the market, with the other five all touch-screen tablet type phones, but the Venue Pro offering a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

Technology fan – and ardent Apple aficionado – Stephen Fry was at the ICA event and even took the stage to praise the WP7.

The comedian said: ‘I am genuinely thrilled. I never thought this day would come to stand on this stage and praise Microsoft for doing something they can be proud of…

‘I have felt enormous pleasure using this phone. Will I be using my Windows Phone 7? Yes’

In the U.S. the first phone from AT&T – priced at $200 – will be available on November 8.

Microsoft has a market share of only five per cent in the global smartphone market, according to research firm Gartner, compared with nine per cent a year ago.

Google’s Android system has a 17 per cent market share, jumping from only two per cent a year ago.

The market for multi-feature phones that allow users to email, surf the web and play games, as well as have access to music and video, is set to expand massively.

Gartner expects almost 270million smartphones to be sold around the world this year, up 56 per cent from last year.

In comparison, Gartner expects only a 19 per cent increase in worldwide PC sales to 368 million units this year.

Microsoft shares were up five cents at $24.62 on the Nasdaq this morning. AT&T shares were up 18 cents at $28.40 on the New York Stock Exchange.

But Microsoft has hurdles to overcome.

In the second quarter, Windows Mobile, Microsoft’s existing phone system, accounted for only about five per cent of smart phones sold worldwide, compared with 41 per cent for Nokia’s Symbian system, 18 per cent for Research in Motion’s BlackBerry phones, 17 per cent for Android and 14 per cent for iPhone.

The iPhone and Android are popular in part because of the tens of thousands of tiny applications – or ‘apps’ – made by outside software developers.

But those developers may not want to devote the resources to build programs for another smart phone system until it gains traction with users.

In the past, Microsoft focused narrowly on building phone software, giving handset makers and wireless carriers lots of leeway to adapt and customise their products.

In the wake of the iPhone’s phenomenal success, Microsoft has adjusted its strategy, retaining more control over the way the phones look and work.

The iPhone prompted a generation of lookalike smart phones, with screens filled with tiny square icons representing each program.

Microsoft has tried to avoid an icon-intensive copy, instead relying more on clickable words and images generated by content.

For example, a weather program might show a constantly updated snapshot of weather conditions, while photo or music libraries would be represented by a recent snapshot or the cover of the last album played on the device.

Windows Phone 7 borrows its aesthetic from the company’s Zune media players, and the entertainment ‘hub’ on the phone is based on the Zune the same way the music on the iPhone is filed under the ‘iPod’ section.

Many other Microsoft programs and services come built in on the new phones – there’s a mobile version of the Bing search engine, for example, and a games ‘hub’ that can connect to Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online gaming community.

Methi wants Jatuporn’s bail withdrawn

Posted by arnon_k On October - 12 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Former actor and red-shirt united front member Methi Amornvuthikul has asked the Department or Special Investigation to withdraw bail for United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leader Jatuporn Prompan.

Mr Methi called on DSI director-general Tharit Pengdit on Tuesday morning and made the request, saying Mr Jatuporn had made a threaterning call to him, who is now under a witnesses protection programme, about his being a witness in a terrorism case against UDD leaders.

He also told Mr Tharit some red-shirt leaders had siphoned about 68 million baht donated by UDD supporters and fled to Malaysia.

Mr Tharit said Mr Methi told him it was Mr Jatuporn who made a threatening call to him, saying the voice was very familiar to him. Mr Methi also showed him Mr Jatuporn’s telephone number which appeared on his mobile phone.

Although being kept as a witness, Mr Methi, who was arrested on charges of illegally having war weapons for official use in his possession, is allowed to use the telephone as usual without being bugged with DSI officials, Mr Tharit said.

Asked whether the statement given by Mr Methis would be used to withdraw bail for Mr Jatuporn, the DSI chief said the information needed to be verified. DSI officials had recorded Mr Methi’s statement, Mr Tharit said.

Mr Jatuporn is one of the UDD leaders charged with terrorism. However, he has been freed on bail using his parliamentary immunity.

Mr Tharit said the information on the alleged theft of the donation money was a personal matter and had nothing to do with the DSI.

Asked to comment on Cambodia’s statement that it had never allowed the red shirts to use its military camp for arms training, Mr Tharit said this matter would be discussed at today’s meeting of the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situations (CRES) to decide if the Foreign Ministry should be informed and seek explanation from the neighbouring country.

Nobel-winning analysis of benefits and labour markets chimes with governments preparing to slash spending and jobs

The Nobel prize for economics was handed today to three academics who argue that governments need to cut benefits and tackle restrictive practices and regulations in the labour market to boost employment levels.

The British academic Christopher Pissarides of the London School of Economics took the 10m Swedish kronor (£950,000) prize along with his American colleagues Peter Diamond of MIT and Dale Mortensen of Northwestern University for their work on unemployment and the labour market.

Their analysis of why unemployment remains high when jobs are available has found favour with governments attempting to create a more flexible environment for employers. One of their conclusions is that more generous unemployment benefits give rise to higher unemployment and longer search times.

The citation said the laureates had developed a “theoretical framework for search markets that has gained widespread influence”.

The academy said: “Peter Diamond has analysed the foundations of search markets. Dale Mortensen and Christopher Pissarides have expanded the theory and have applied it to the labour market. The laureates’ models help us understand the ways in which unemployment, job vacancies, and wages are affected by regulation and economic policy.”

Pissarides, 62, a British Cypriot, has spent several years analysing European labour markets during a period when continental governments have sought to replicate the flexible labour markets in the US and UK. He has advised the European Union on employment policy and has written extensively in professional journals. His book Equilibrium Unemployment Theory is a standard reference in the economics of unemployment.

Diamond, 70, who was nominated in April by Barack Obama to fill a vacancy on the US Federal Reserve board, is known as the father of matching theory. His initial nomination was blocked by Republican senators who said that he did not have the necessary macroeconomic policy background.

In recent years the theory has been applied to job searches and whether high benefit levels and unemployment insurance, along with restrictions on hiring and firing employees, have hampered flexible labour markets. The research is particularly relevant now when looming drastic government spending cuts in Britain will lead to thousands of job losses in the public sector.

“Yay Peter!” blogged Paul Krugman, the Princeton University professor and former winner of the economics prize, on the New York Times websitetoday. He said his former colleague’s win was “richly deserved”.

“The prize is for work on frictions in markets, which is very important stuff; but Peter, an incredibly profound thinker, has done much, much more. And yes, this is the same Peter Diamond whose nomination to the Fed board has been held up because of Republican doubts about his qualifications.”

The Nobel prize committee said: “According to a classical view of the market, buyers and sellers find one another immediately, without cost, and have perfect information about the prices of all goods and services … But this is not what happens in the real world.”

It said the trio’s work enhanced understanding of “search markets” where frictions exist as the demands of some buyers are not met and some sellers cannot sell as much as they want.

This could involve simple cases of a buyer and a seller of a product, as well as more complex relations between employers and job seekers, or between firms and suppliers.

The economics prize is not among the original awards established by the Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel in his 1895 will but was created in 1968 by the Swedish central bank in his memory.

Since the economics prize was first awarded in 1969, more than 40 Americans have received it. Laureates include the former chief economist of the World Bank Joseph Stiglitz, and the Indian economist Amartya Sen, professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard.

Last year, the economics prize went to the Americans Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson for pioneering research into how individuals co-operate and share resources, marking the first time a woman had received the economics award.

The American behavioural economists Richard Thaler, of the University of Chicago, and Robert Shiller, of Yale University, were the frontrunners for this year’s economics prize, according to Ladbrokes.

Chiang Mai 11 ‘claim’ Siem Reap training

Posted by arnon_k On October - 12 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Cambodia denies DSI story of guerrilla camp

Eleven people arrested in a raid on a resort in Chiang Mai and suspected of planning acts of terror claim they and 28 other individuals underwent weapons training in Siem Reap, the Department of Special Investigation says.

The group were arrested on Oct 2 at Doi Ku Fah resort in Mae On subdistrict.

DSI investigator Phayao Thongsen said a plot to assassinate high-profile figures, including former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, was among the group’s alleged missions.

Pol Lt Col Phayao said investigators had evidence of phone calls made between the group in Chiang Mai and red shirt community radio operators in Cambodia.

The Cambodian government yesterday denied the group had received arms training from its soldiers.

“Our constitution does not allow anyone to do that sort of thing [on Cambodian soil]. Nobody is allowed to do any such stupid thing in Cambodia,” said Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan.

“So I think this accusation is a made-up story to blame Cambodia, and is also [part of the] campaign against the red shirts, using Cambodia as a springboard for Thai local politics.”

Pol Lt Col Phayao said the 11 suspects had provided investigators with useful information. They were being held without charge under the witness protection programme.

He alleged the group had confessed they joined the red shirt protests led by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) and had witnessed clashes between protesters and government forces.

The investigator also alleged they were persuaded after the Bangkok protests by a group called Rak Chiang Mai 51, led by Kanyaphak Maneechak or “DJ Orm”, to join a faction planning to undergo arms training in Cambodia.

The 39 people were sent to Cambodia via several routes, bypassing all immigration checkpoints.

The 11 suspects in custody claimed they had met several red shirt leaders in Siem Reap, Pol Lt Col Phayao said.

Training took three weeks, he said. They were shown anti-monarchy videos during the first week, the second week involved lessons in general weapons knowledge, while the final week involved actual hands-on use of weapons, the investigator said.

They reportedly received 20,000 baht in cash upon completing the training, after which 35 of them returned to Thailand through Surin on Aug 16. Four others remained in Cambodia to act as bodyguards for red shirt leader Arisman Pongruangrong, he said.

The group of 11 presently in custody were summoned to the Chiang Mai resort to prepare for their missions. They were at the resort for more than a month prior to their arrest.

One of the 11 suspects, Kittichai Chansawat, reportedly could not stand the tough regimen at the resort and ran away, asking local people to bring him to the police, which led to the arrest of the other 10 suspects at the resort, Pol Lt Col Phayao said. Police reported earlier that a village headman had thought Mr Kittichai was acting strangely when he asked for directions and so he had called the police.

Investigators said they had seized detailed maps of planned routes to the homes of important people, including Mr Suthep.

The other members of the group alleged to have trained in Cambodia are suspected to have spread out to several provinces including Lop Buri, Bangkok, Chon Buri and Saraburi.