Google delivered some shiny presents to good little users a bit before the holidays this year.
In a surprise move, the search giant took its Chrome Web browser out of beta this week, in the hopes that business partners, such as computer makers, will bundle Chrome on their systems. Google launched the first beta version of Chrome in September.
However, Chrome is still rough around the edges to be a version 1.0 product. Also, although Chrome has been in development internally at Google for years, it's curious that the company would take Chrome out of beta when it's resisted the impulse to do the same with Gmail and several other high-profile projects.
Google also brought Gmail users a to-do list to help them be more productive. When the new Tasks feature is enabled, a box shows up on top of the Gmail window. In it, users can add, reorder, and delete tasks. It's also possible to assign a due date to each action and even convert e-mails into tasks.
The company hopes the second time will be the charm for a Gmail Labs feature that lets people send text messages to people's mobile phones with the company's Web-based e-mail service. After the feature's fleeting debut in October, Google removed it to fix a problem in which turning the feature on didn't actually fully turn it on. The feature returned this week, but is available only in the United States for now.
Also, Street View is continuing its seemingly inexorable spread across Google Maps, with Google announcing that it's doubled the feature's coverage of the United States. States that now have some coverage are Maine, West Virginia, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Pink slips at Yahoo
The mood wasn't so joyous over at Yahoo, which began issuing pink slips to the majority of the employees affected by its previously announced 10 percent job cut. Most of the 1,520 layoffs affect employees at Yahoo's U.S.-based locations and come from a number of areas within the company, Yahoo said.
Yahoo, which had annualized expenses of $3.9 billion before the cuts, also plans to achieve its $400 million goal by consolidating facilities and moving some of its business to areas where it costs less to operate, as well as shutting down parts of its business and putting others in a maintenance-only mode.
And while Yahoo is in the workforce reduction mode, one start-up sees it as an opportunity to snap up a few talented folks. TokBox, an online video calling company, sent out a taco truck to Yahoo's headquarters Wednesday afternoon, handing out free tacos to recently terminated employees, as well as conducting job interviews, a company spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, Yahoo's search for a new CEO is narrowing, with former Vodafone Group chief Arun Sarin reportedly high on the list. Yahoo has authorized reference checks for a few candidates in order to narrow the field even further so the informal search committee can make a recommendation to the board of directors.
One of the new CEO's first tasks may be to pay a visit to Redmond with hat in hand. Major Yahoo investor Ivory Investment Management is calling on Yahoo's board to restart talks with Microsoft and offered up a search buyout proposal that it claims could yield investors a value of $24 to $29 per share. Ivory, which holds a 1.5 percent stake in Yahoo, is proposing that Yahoo sell its search business to Microsoft for an upfront payment of approximately $15 billion, in which Microsoft then becomes the search provider for all of Yahoo's properties and its existing affiliates.
The iPhone is coming to Wal-Mart Stores, though when and for how much is still unclear. Four electronics department managers at Wal-Mart stores in Delaware, New Jersey, and New York say they were already training employees to sell Apple iPhones. Two department managers said the phones are expected to go on sale on December 28. Department managers on the East Coast also said they expect to be selling both the 8GB and 16GB versions of the phone. But they said they hadn't been informed of pricing yet.
iPhone users who had been using a Truphone app to make cheap international phone calls via a Wi-Fi connection now can make cheap calls from anywhere. The latest iteration of the application will allow iPhone users to make cheaper-than-usual international calls additionally via their carrier's cellular voice networks.
This means that users won't be tied to the confines of a Wi-Fi hot spot. But users should be wary of how they use the application, so as not to incur unexpected costs from their carrier. U.S. customers, especially, should be cautious, because AT&T charges roaming fees when calls are made from AT&T phones outside the country.
The iPhone is expected to make a dent in Motorola's dominance of the U.S. handset market. Motorola will hold onto the top spot in 2008, but the company's market share is rapidly declining, according to a report from market research firm MultiMedia Intelligence. Motorola is expected to provide 21 percent of all handsets bought in the consumer market in the U.S. in 2008.
But without any new hit products coming on the market, Samsung and LG are poised to surpass Motorola in terms of market share in 2009. BlackBerry maker Research In Motion and Apple's iPhone are also expected to gain market share in 2009.
Also of note
The Bush administration voiced its opposition to a Federal Communications Commission plan for free, nationwide wireless Internet access...In response to a customer revolt on the Internet, Intuit has decided to eliminate fees it introduced with TurboTax 2008 that would charge users for preparing multiple returns...Wikipedia functionality has returned for Brits after the country's Internet watchdog group reversed its decision to prevent users in that country from visiting a Wikipedia page containing an image of a naked child...Mozilla's second beta of Firefox 3.1 offers support for video and audio built into Web pages, a built-in service for telling Web sites a user's location if permitted, and private browsing.