The week in technology: Ups and downs of Xbox 360

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It was a relatively quiet week for the technology world: no billion-dollar deals, no new secret software discovered on music CDs, and news from the Googleplex was slightly less exciting/ominous than usual.

For gamers, however, it was a big week: Microsoft’s XBox 360 went on sale, marking the start of the latest battle in the Console Wars between Microsoft, Sony’s PlayStation3 and - possibly - Nintendo’s Revolution.

After thousands of wannabe 360 owners queued up for hours overnight - many having already gone to the trouble of reserving one, and, in some cases putting down a deposit, some were bound to be disappointed.

But even some of those who got hold of a console were disappointed, with several new Xbox 360 owners posting to games forums that their machines kept crashing.

Although there seemed to be just a handful of owners saying the unit didn’t work, the blogosphere went into overdrive. ”Unstable and crashy after one day... Much like Courtney Love,” wrote one wit.

When I read those comments... I knew I wouldn’t buy it!” wrote another blogger.

Microsoft for its part is losing about $150 on each unit sold, according to market researcher iSuppli, who pulled a 360 apart to determine the value of the components.

Microsoft expects its entertainment business, which incorporates the Xbox, to break even next year. The real profits will come from game sales down the track.

FT’s Lex cautioned that “the Xbox will not become what the iPod is for Apple, not least because iPod hardware sales are profitable rather than relying on future music revenues.”

More rootkit strife for Sony BMG

The FT last week reported that Sony BMG had bowed to pressure on its “rootkit”, software it that its music CDs installed surreptitiously on customers’ computers. The software was meant to prevent unauthorised copying of music, but also made the computer more vulnerable to viruses and malware - a nightmare for the computer owner and an all-out PR disaster for Sony BMG, which was forced into an embarrassing about-face on the software.

However the record label may not have yet faced the music on the root kit debacle, after the state of Texas announced this week it would sue the US-based company.

Meanwhile blogger Rupert Pollack posted a reasonably comprehensive look at the research into the effect of file-sharing on music industry sales. The conclusion? Consensus put the effects of P2P piracy at between 20 and 40 per cent of the recent decline in CD sales. But the effects of P2P are negative only for the top-selling 25 per cent of artists - lower-selling artists tend to benefit from it.

Google’s Click to Call

The latest addition to Google’s ever-expanding empire this week was “click-to-call”. The service is essentially an expansion of the click-to-buy or “search advertising” model that has served the company so well in the past few years. Rather than the “click” taking you to an advertiser’s website, however, it will result in the advertiser phoning you.

Click-to-call has been around for a little while but it first gained attention when eBay bought Skype in September. As pundits scratched their heads over how eBay would make use of its new acquisition, click-to-call was one of the areas identified by eBay’s chief executive, Meg Whitman, to make the Skype business pay.

Of course, a phone lead is more valuable to advertisers - Ms Whitman said they would pay between $2 and $12 for a phone lead.

The VoIP Blog lists a few technology providers who specialise in software to handle click-to-call here and here.

Interestingly, however, Google’s FAQ makes no mention of needing to have a VoIP service - users can register their details and phone number first, and then whenever they follow a click-to-call link, the advertiser will contact the clicker via Google.

Google was at pains to explain the service was not just a way of “tracking” users, saying advertisers would not be able to see callers’ phone numbers, and that Google would not share anyone’s phone number without their consent.

Fantasy world

Meanwhile there was more fun and games on the webosphere as a writer on comic website Penny Arcade managed to whip up a small frenzy around an imaginary fantasy franchise, “The Elemenstor Saga”. Using wikis, in the space of a few days the original idea, set in a world called Battal, was built up by web contributors into a full-fledged fantasy world with associated boardgames, morning cartoon, limited edition busts and hip hop street-wear franchise. Wired notes that the “franchise” even included a crazed creative director and a faked history of 28 years in the “real world”.

“I’ve been assuming it WAS something real”, wrote a poster on Metafilter, no doubt echoing the thoughts of many a confused punter.

technology@ft.com

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