Xerox Joins the Search Party

Everyone, it seems, is jumping into the search engine business these days. The latest is Xerox with something called FactSpotter, which focuses on semantic searches as a way to improve Internet research through analyzing the meaning of a question and a document to match the two for the best possible answer -- sort of part psychologist, part analytical software.

The woman in charge of parsing and semantics research at Xerox, Frederique Segond, explains. "Many words can be different things at the same time. The context makes the difference," she said. "The tricky things here are not the words together but how are they linked."

For example, a semantic search could help a user who wants to know who Abraham Lincoln's first vice president was. Typical searches using keywords such as "Lincoln" and "vice president" often won't render the correct answer. But asking a question using a semantic search would return the answer: Hannibal Hamlin.

FactSpotter, about four years in the making, will be released some time next year through Xerox Global Services as part of Xerox Litigation Services.

IBM's Big Blue 'S'
Earlier this week in New York, IBM showed off to Wall Street managers what it called the System S, which Big Blue is hoping will take a giant step toward finally commercializing stream computing.

What is stream computing? It's the attempt to deal with the need for faster data handling and analysis in both business and science applications, as well as the fire-hose spew of digital information coming from Web sites, blogs, e-mail, telephone conversations and even electronic sensors.

IBM's approach incorporates advanced software capable of analyzing data as it pours in. So, for instance, text-, voice- and image-recognition technology can be used to sort out what data is more relevant to address a specific problem.

IBM officials said System S is about ready for the marketplace. The first system based on the technology will operate on about 800 microprocessors, but can be scaled up to the tens of thousands. There's still work to be done with the system software that would allow applications to split up tasks -- like image and text recognition -- and then reassemble those pieces to provide answers.

Microsoft-Open Source Détente Stalls?
With the watershed agreement signed late last year between Microsoft and Novell that offered open source developers protection from patent infringement, it looked like the beginning of a new era of cooperation between Redmond and the open source world. Microsoft followed up its Novell deal with similar ones involving Xandros and Linspire that protected third-party and IT open source developers against potential lawsuits.

We may yet indeed enter this new era of enlightenment, but that era appears to be stuck at dawn. With Linux distributor Mandriva now saying it does not wish to enter into a similar deal with Microsoft, there are now three notable Linux distributors reluctant to sign, including Red Hat and Canonical, which controls the increasingly popular Ubuntu distribution.

This development, along with Microsoft saying recently that there are some 235 open source patents that violate its patents, has put a chilling effect on the détente between Redmond and the open source world. Microsoft officials have said they don't have the slightest intention of pursuing legal actions over these alleged violations -- but why bring this to light and create more of their own special brand of FUD?

It will be very interesting to see what the remaining Linux distributors decide to do over the next year. Their decisions could well determine whether this new era ever gets past dawn or slides back into the darkness.

Mailbag: Who Wins the High-Def Battle?
On Tuesday, in the wake of Blockbuster's decision to carry primarily Blu-ray DVDs in its branches, Peter asked readers what they thought about the high-def battle between Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Here are some of your responses:

Since the PlayStation 3 is still the cheapest Blu-ray player on the market, and all those kids who grew up playing the PlayStation 1 and 2 games are going to want to upgrade at some point, I think the Blu-ray should win out. The copy protection is superior as well, so that makes the studios happy.

In any event, I'm not sure how good my opinion is as I owned a Betamax in the early '80s and still have it buried in my junk in the basement along with Super Bowl XX (the Bears' only SB victory).


I'm using Blu-ray since I have a PS3. However, with the bigger price tag per Blu-ray disc, I have only four movies. I'm very picky on the collection I pick up -- want to make sure I have a version I can travel with on regular DVD.

I have a high-def flat-screen that goes up to 1080i. To be honest with you, the "quality" of the movies on Blu-ray are just not worth the premium price tag. What might make my experience better is if I had a home theater system plugged in, but I really don't want to spend the money on that right now.

For now, most of my DVD collection is in the old-school format. Considering I watch a DVD maybe once or twice, I can't really get the value yet out of the higher-cost Blu-ray. Plus, I still like to rent over owning a ton of movies that end up collecting dust. And with the $1 kiosks at grocery stores and fast-food restaurants -- you just can't beat that price.

After the Sony rootkit debacle a while back, I refuse to purchase anything with the Sony brand name on it. I don't like a business model that relies on FUD, deception and bullying the customers. That said, I obviously prefer the HD-DVD standard over Blu-ray.

I have not purchased a HD-DVD player yet for a couple of reasons. One, I am waiting for the price to come down to a reasonable level. Two, I am waiting for a winner to be declared.

I prefer the HD-DVD format because it is economical and compatible with existing DVD formats such that one side of the disc can be HD DVD and the other standard DVD. Sony also has a history of putting several layers of digital rights protection on its technology that adds overhead and, sometimes, viruses to the discs.

I don't own a high-definition DVD player; I'm among those waiting to see. But I do have a format preference in view of my large library of DVDs that would be worthless if Blu-ray wins the day.

But then, I did guess wrong back in the '80s when I bought a Betamax camera and recorder...and a ton of now-worthless Beta tapes.

Shame on both factions for letting the high-def war actually get this far, with two different formats shipping to consumers. If you recall, there was an effort to merge the two standards before products actually hit the street, which obviously failed.

Should I care? No. Look at dual-layer DVDs -- the standard has been around for years, and yet there is still no low-cost writeable media for DL discs. Can you imagine what it would be like to buy an HD-DVD or Blu-ray burner/player and not be able to use it effectively because there is no readily available or cost-effective media?

I have no desire to be an early adopter and lose my hard-earned money to a format that will go the way of the dodo bird. Right now, I have a Media Center PC that converts all my DVDs to near-high-def resolution. I'm not missing much while the various vendors club each other over the head for market share.

Tell us what you think! Send an e-mail to [email protected] or leave a comment below.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.


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