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back to article UK could have flooded world with iPods - Sir Humphrey

Britain could have invented the iPod – if it wasn't for a copyright law that everyone ignores. So says the UK government in a remarkable economic justification of the so-called "Google Review", the Review of IP and Growth led by Ian Hargreaves. The document was written for the government by civil servants at the IPO, part of the …

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Big Brother

Yes Minister Revisited

The Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister series covered the non-elected government quite accurately back in the eighties and nothing has changed since.

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FAIL

"nothing has changed since."

We have a government which nobody voted for, implementing policies which nobody was led to expect, and the "representative democracy" in which we live has twenty odd millionaires in a Cabinet of thirty or so people. That's representative?

So maybe one or two details have changed.

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Go

"Britain could have invented the iPod"

Agreed with the article in general, especially the mocking of the idea hardware companies would give consideration to the format-shifting dilemma considering people had been taping from the radio, other cassettes, vinyl and CD for years now.

Though anyone else a bit bored of the assumption Apple were there first with a hard-disk based mp3 player? Or that it was a purely engineering triumph? The iPod (love it or hate it) worked as an overall solution, without iTunes it's practically worthless to the general consumer.

From my memory at the time though, it was Archos or Creative that were churning out the first HD based players.

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Facepalm

Hmmm. Hmmm, I say.

Diamond's Rio was the first one I read about, back in 98 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rio_PMP300. But yes, MP3 players as a replacement for CDs and MiniDisc players only caught on when iTunes came around and established a legal, easy-to-use system for buying digital music and syncing it to a portable player. (Same thing seems to be happening with the iPad to a certain extent).

The specific examples given in Andrew's article are interesting, but misleading and a case of focusing on something overly specific that doesn't quite represent the wider situation. If I were looking to invest money in a product or service which could, potentially, be deemed illegal under old laws, and my lawyer said "no, it's fine, nobody's ever been done for it" I'd be getting a new lawyer - because if there are no past cases establishing a definitive and specifically-applicable precedent, and the law says you're in the wrong, the smart money doesn't bet against the law. Just look at the Extreme Porn act FFS - pirate dvd sellers on the high street were getting busted using that act because it turned out to be more convenient to do them for selling DVDs depicting bestiality than doing them for being involved in copyright infringement!

I highly doubt that this is the only factor influencing the UK's economic development in terms of creating new technologies, but it's hardly a negligible one. How many companies would have taken the risk involved in creating something like iTunes when the music industry was still in denial about public desire to have digital music (and therefore unwilling to licence their library for sale through such services)?

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Pint

@ Captain Underpants

The Rio were flash based though, I'm talking HD-based :-) Though I did love them - had a Rio 500 myself (64MB onboard, with SmartMedia expansion!)

Just found a pic of it and instantly gave me a rush of nostalgia - wish I still had it.

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(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

Re: Hmmm. Hmmm, I say.

As factors go, it's not even "negligible", it's non-existent. The High Court ruling was quite clear, and established the liabilities.

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First HDD personal music player

Was the compaq/hanGo Personal Jukebox. 1999. Development started in 1998 so psion would have been struggling to produce "the first hard-disk MP3 player" if it "was approached in 1999 with a clever design for a digital music player".

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Meh

The iPod?

"No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame."

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Facepalm

@Andrew

As is evident from my previus post, I disagree.

It may be established that manufacturers of relevant equipment wouldn't get themselves sued for producing such equipment, but that's not the only issue.

You acknowledge that the iPod only significantly took off when the iTunes Store launched, providing a clear and obvious link between easily getting legitimate digital media from one central repository and syncing that painlessly to a portable player. Apple's success in doing this was key in driving wider take-up of the iPod as a portable player, and given the UK's comparative backwardness when it comes to digital media services it's not difficult to see that there are very few companies in the UK that would have been both in a position to negotiate that kind of agreement and invest in the R&D required to design a winning device (hell, even just investing in the R&D to design a non-shit player, based on other comments here).

If you remove the idea of building a media store to drive wider uptake of the device, you run into the issue that arose with the JB7, where in order to encourage people to buy the machine you have to encourage widespread behaviour that is technically illegal.

The fact that no case had ever been pursued in that manner is irrelevant - the behaviour involved is deemed to be against the law, and therefore your hopes of selling such a device (to play content that at the time couldn't be bought easily and couldn't legally be created at home) wouldn't have been particularly good. No bugger wants to find himself the star of the test case that ends up establishing a precedent that everyone else said was unlikely, and unfortunately there's always going to be a first person tried under any law. You've only got to look at the uses of the Extreme Porn law (a more effective way of hounding pirate dvd sellers through their more colourful pirated pr0n) to see this.

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@Jerome

God I miss my zen nomad. 20 gig, came pretty close to it's stated 24 hour battery life and was built like a tank. Still the best MP3 player I've ever owned.

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Before that

You have to remember that Iriver nade several of the first Rio players.

As for the laws deterring uk electronic companies, I agree. It would not stop a music player, but the kind of ecosystem that Apple has built, is very difficult / risky in UK, ( I knwok, Apple sells in UK, but it was to risky back then).

As for Apple being the first.. of course it wasn't. It wasn't even from the "second wave".. they just liked the ideas other people had, and put it all together in a nice, slick box.... as usual.

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(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

Re: Before that

"but the kind of ecosystem that Apple has built, is very difficult / risky in UK"

The UK has more services than anyone else. The music industry needs to experiment much more, but the ones you describe are plentiful.

Liability for manufacturers was clarified in Amstrad vs CBS in 1988.

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iPod without iTunes?

Annihilator:

"The iPod (love it or hate it) worked as an overall solution, without iTunes it's practically worthless to the general consumer."

I've heard this said so many times, but I just don't get it. My 80G iPod has ~10,000 tracks on it, totalling more than 50 GB and I think maybe there's just three tracks on it that came from iTunes - and those are videos.

I fully concur that iTunes and the Store have been a major factor in the global success that Apple has achieved, but to refer to the iPod as "practically worthless" without them is a gross overstatement. It's an entirely functional device in its own right.

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iPod without iTunes

Annihilator:

"The iPod (love it or hate it) worked as an overall solution, without iTunes it's practically worthless to the general consumer."

I've heard this said so many times, but I just don't get it. My 80G iPod has ~10,000 tracks on it, totalling more than 50 GB and I think maybe there's just three tracks on it that came from iTunes - and those are videos.

I fully concur that iTunes and the Store have been a major factor in the global success that Apple has achieved, but to refer to the iPod as "practically worthless" without them is a gross overstatement. It's an entirely functional device in its own right.

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Stop

No chilling effect? Really?

It may be true that no consumer has ever been prosecuted for format shifting. But nevertheless it remains illegal. Are you seriously suggesting that doesn't act as some kind of brake on manufacturers? Like, oh, http://www.brennan.co.uk/itemcontent.php/content/Copyright2 for example?

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FAIL

Posted right here

ASA slaps advert for encouraging unlawful format shifting:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/31/regulator_says_music_player_ads_must_not_encourage_copying/

What more evidence of "chilling effect" could you want? Right from this very news source no less.

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Pirate

For the moment

The law is set to change on format shifting (amongst other things) - just have to wait to see if it actually does happen.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14372698

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(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

Re: Posted right here

That will have done wonders for Brennan's sales :)

Victimisation is central copyfighters psychology. They need to feel picked on by The Man / The System. It is a seige mentality. The little guy is being oppressed.

See:

"Kick me again, RIAA. Please!"

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/04/19/consumer_focus_spart/

and

"Dying quango says Britons oppressed by the Man"

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/04/19/consumer_focus_spart/

There is no chilling effect, and nobody is oppressing you. It exists in your head, because you prefer it that way.

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This post has been deleted by a moderator

Re: Posted Right Here

As the Brennan example shows, the main reason that "no-one gets prosecuted for ripping their CDs to their MP3 player" is because there's no money in it. The moment someone with deep enough pockets comes along, the rights holders will be into them. They may or may not win (remember the Diamond Rio case in the USA) but the expense of defending the case is most certainly a "chilling effect" to a startup.

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(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

Re: Re: Posted Right Here

Well you don't live here and didn't RTFA. If you assertion is true, Sky would have been sued for the PVR, there would be no tape-to-tape machines etc. CBS vs Amstrad in 1988 cleared that up.

It is really fascinating to watch people invent chills and threats that don't exist.

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Boffin

@Andrew O

CBS vs Amstrad did not clear _everything_ up, think you need to learn the difference between a single case and reliable, repeated legal precedant.

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Windows

Why does Britain fuc*k up?

Liquid Crystal Display?

Jet engine?

Oil in Saudi Arabia?

Dear God, why are us British so careless, and the US so careful whith their IP???

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why does Britain...

Because it's not 'property', it's knowledge. And as such it should be shared. To limit the dissemination of this knowledge is to hold back the progress and advancement of our species.

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Gone native

You only have to look at Yes Minister to realise this is EXACTLY what the civil service wants - and has wanted for decades.

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Mushroom

Leading the blind

I have a friend who was in the MoD and his explanation for the lack of leadership from the Ministers is simple: they are stupid and lazy. They don't WANT to know how the department works, they don't care about anything except their next step up the cabinet ladder and even when they do take an interest they rarely have anything to contribute one way or another other than blithering and guessing. And then they're gone after a year or two. They have no qualifications and no rational basis for agreeing with or refuting the civil servants' advice. It's an insane way to run a country.

Seriously, Andrew, have you not been watching politicians over the last few years? Surely their reactions to the economic crisis and the War on Terror(TM) have cleared away any misconception that these people are pro-active thinkers able to deftly steer the ship of state on to clear waters and new horizons?

We are a nation - nay, a world - run by idiots without a plan except to listen to advice - from civil servants, special interest groups, "experts", the markets, anything that gives them some fig leaf for their decisions because THEY DON'T HAVE ANY BETTER IDEAS THEMSELVES and that's because their only skills are in getting elected. The vast majority are quite unemployable in any real world capacity. Gordon Brown was chancellor for 10 years yet can barely add up properly. Harold Wilson preached the white-heat of technology but thought a giant spider was following him. Margaret Thatcher approved arms sales to Argentina while they were clearly making threats to invade the Falklands.

Don't go speechifying about unelected government power until you can tell us where to find anyone we can elect who can do better. Because people who can do, do. Those who can't teach, and those who can't even teach go into politics.

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So true!

We have a political class who listen to advisers chosen because they agree with and flatter its prejudices. They point to reports from 'think tanks' which think about nothing except how to tell them what they want to hear because that is what they were created to do. They have utter contempt for the concept of public service, yet harangue us with demands that we work for nothing while there is mass unemployment. Although they have never tackled any complex practical task, they assume that politicians MUST know better than health professionals about healthcare, and the police about policing.

Above all, they can't be TOLD anything:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

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So he doesn't have a Brennan JB7, then

The minister has to pick up just about any magazine these days to find an advert for the Brennan JB7, a non-portable format-shifting hard disk player which is functionally the equivalent of the iPod. And it's a British-developed product.

The more recent ads have included a statement saying that they have been asked to point out that format-shifting is technically illegal. But they also point out that no one has ever been prosecuted for it.

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Headmaster

A couple of facts to get in the way of your opinion

Firstly, the reason why no-one in the UK has ever been sued for home-taping a radio broadcast is that it is not copyright infringement, in the same way as recording television programmes is not either. It might, however, be copyright infringement to record content streamed over the Internet, which is arguably the modern equivalent.

Secondly, although no consumers have been prosecuted for format shifting, plenty of people selling pirated recordings have been. Therein lies the rub - ripping a single CD for private use is not sufficient to constitute a crime, so the police won't be interested, and it's not economically viable for the record companies to sue consumers for civil recovery, as even if the record companies succeed, they suffer minimal damage from each individual.

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Anonymous Coward

home-taping a radio broadcast

is permitted for personal use. BBC allow you to download podcasts from the internet for personal use. iPlayer, etc., permits you to review previous content. Recording for personal use may be an infringement - but probably wouldn't be chased down. If you want to use them for any other purpose, education included, then you need a licence. The BBC, and probably most other broadcasters, wouldn't probably worry about most education but the performing rights society do chase down people who infringe music broadcast at work.

Correction on the above is welcome.

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BBC permissions

This is negotiated into the contract when the work is commissioned.

Modern productions have clauses in the contract between the BBC (and ITV and Channel 4) and the producing company (which is almost certainly not the broadcaster), and the actors, which specifically allow the content to be available for a limited amount of time on a view-on-demand service such as iPlayer, as well as having repeat rights. This has been the case for most UK produced programs for many years now, but often does not include foreign produced material (for instance Torchwood Miracle Day, which is NOT on iPlayer when I last checked).

This is also why some programs are available as unlimited podcasts (very liberal contracts, and probably only on things that have little ongoing commercial value, like news coverage and topical documentary programs), and some are only available for a limited amount of time, where there may be money to be made on pay-for-view or DVD sales.

But archive material is a bit different. You quite often find old programs being repeated on the BBC, both radio and television, which do not find their way onto iPlayer. This is because in the original production contracts, and the contracts with the actors, there were clauses for repeat broadcasts, but not for distribution using other means (and this includes DVD, CD and tape for very old series). As these were not things considered when the contracts were drawn up (why should they be, nobody thought such things would be possible), the lawyers tread very carefully to avoid the possibility of future loss of royalties law suites.

In order to make such material available through things like iPlayer (at least before the copyright expires), it is necessary to get agreement from the production company, and all of the actors, or in the case of a dead actor, representatives of their estate, to allow the material to appear on formats not considered when the original contracts was drawn up.

This can prove very difficult for the older material, which is very unfortunate for us the viewer, preventing some programmes from being available on DVD or on video-on-demand sites.

As an aside, as different countries have different copyright and royalty rules, this won't necessarily be the case for all countries.

Oh well. Thank goodness for YouTube, which appears to have a very liberal attitude towards copyright, at least until challenged.

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What do our elected officials do?

"I know of one Cabinet member who estimates that only four of his 22 colleagues actually lead their departments: the rest just represent the views of their officials to Cabinet and Prime Minister."

MPs are only there as sock puppets to the cabinet and the cabinet sock puppets to the party. If the party moguls have no official bollocks to push then the MPs don't have anything to say. They just flap their mouths like guppies. Sack the lot of them. It wouldn't make politics any better but at least it would be a cheaper way to fuck everything up.

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Not just Psion sniffing around MP3 players

A long-gone and mostly forgotten British company that did launch a hard-drive MP3 player before the iPod: Memory Corporation.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/1999/03/22/uk_company_launches_portable_mp3/

And yes, it _was_ too early, the market _wasn't_ ready - oh, and it was a bit crap. Good call from Psion, I'd say.

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Coat

UK's technology record

I think that the UK's (relatively) poor technology record is the failure to invest in it. In Cambridge, there are a lot of companies doing tech, and getting investment there is OK, but in lots of other places, the banks or others will not lend. The UK has become more about finacial markets (gambling the money in the stock market, rather than investing it in technology).

It seems strange to me that they won't invest in anything ultil it is planned to the last atom and has a risk factor of 0.0001%, but betting millions in buying/selling currencies/bonds, etc. doesn't even turn heads.

The UK certainly has people who a bright enough to engineer the products, certainly there are people with the right ideas of what to engineer, it just doesn't seem to happen to the same degree as in other places.

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Happy

Heh

Andrew, the first hard-disk MP3 player WAS British.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empeg_Car

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IT Angle

Re: Heh

I was going to mention Empeg, too. Of course, if it's not Psion or Symbian or something that strengthens the pillars of some nascent myth or other then it didn't happen, obviously.

I'll concede that the reason it didn't become more popular might have been related to the usual dynamics of British business, and riding the American corporate bandwagon (the UK always had a fetish for "making it in the US" and a sense of inferiority) worked out even more poorly than, say, Computer Concepts' tie up with Corel.

As for the legal environment not encouraging such business models, others have already explained that it still isn't conducive to advertise such products, at least if you're not a big corporation. I bet that's a significant reason why the Empeg people sold out rather than making a go of it.

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Facepalm

Shouldn't the last sentence be

"Britain's unelected government appears to be more powerful than its elected one. They both don't half come out with some rubbish."

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Anonymous Coward

No investment - no surprise

Technology development in the UK doesn't attract investment. I don't know why exactly - perhaps investors are looking for the quick/easy money, or perhaps there's more to be made playing with banking and the stock market. I sought investment at one point and was told by all advisors - including Business Link - that the odds of obtaining it were vanishingly small. And UK business in general spurns quality developers - the thinking seems to be, "the cheaper, the better", so there is little incentive for young people to invest their time and effort in IT either. It makes me feel very cynical when I hear politicians talk about the UK becoming a "technology leader" when their actions are pushing us in the opposite direction.

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Patent costs

Patent costs are also sky high here.

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I may be wrong

Re: "But as we've seen, no attempt has ever been made to prosecute anyone for home-taping a radio broadcast"

I may be wrong, but doesn't that fall under the same category as using a VCR to record a live broadcast, which has specific exemptions for that very purpose? (I realise that if the exemption exists, plenty of home taping of radio would have pre-dated it, but I believe that as the law stands right now, it would be legal even taking into the format shifting issue)

Other than that, carry on! (Yes, we've had a lot of very clever people here but our historical stiff-upper-lippedness doesn't seem to be present much any more)

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There was successful British one!

In production from 1999 - I still have one in my car and one on my workbench. The Empeg, brainchild of Hugo 'Altman' Fiennes and a bunch of Cambridge geniuses (Genii?).

It wasn't as portable as the iPod - it was for a car - but it has hard drives, it can play mp3, ogg, flac, wav etc., and the sound quality is considerably better than its competitors, even now, as it was targeted at the high end market.

http://www.riocar.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=FAQ&file=index&myfaq=yes&id_cat=2&categories=Basic+questions+about+the+car+player+and+the+company&faqent=1#1

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Paris Hilton

Deo gratias! About time too!

Quote

Britain's unelected government appears to be more powerful than its elected one. And without political oversight, and left to their own prejudices devices, they don't half come out with some rubbish

Unquote

This has been the greatest danger to UK democracy since the 1960's from when it started growing and blossoming and usually allowed to fester so.

Note to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and that other chap: get a grip lads will you?

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Stop

UK players not around because we made the same old proprietory hardware/software mistakes

UK never make mp3 players? Im still trying to erase horrible memories of the SoulMate...

http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/emerging-tech/1999/11/04/memory-launches-its-soulmate-mp3-player-2074908/

I have one somewhere after I just gave up trying to use it and refused to buy any other player until someone borrowed me the archos multimedia hd based one.

The SoulMate never took off because it was crap.

How crap ? how about no facility to change or charge batteries, and needed to reupload each time you changed the batteries. And it used battery when not in use, so if you put it down and expected it to work the next day, you were in for a nasty surprise. The musicmatch software was awful, and it was proprietary crap that couldn't be made to work with any other programs or operating systems apart from windows 95/8. The dock was a huge edge connector on the pcb of the player behind a cover, that fitted into this huge dock connecting to the parallel port that used to need budding with alcohol periodically to work too.

Could have happened in the uk, provided they made one that actually was any good...

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IT Angle

Power To The People!

Nineteen posts so far, and none of them pays homage to the Tooting Popular Front? They had the right idea:

http://youtu.be/4TxZQClIqQY

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Anonymous Coward

A lot of this is down to local market size

A lot of this is down to local market size; if you are in the USA you can reach a large market without having to cope with foreign legal/regulation systems and shipping issues. If you are based elsewhere it is a lot harder to get traction. Even most of the teck news sites are USA based!

This is now becoming less of an issue for web based companies and software, but is still a problem.

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Anonymous Coward

OK it was from a former Civil Servant

In the programme for the recent "Yes Prime Minister" play, they had a piece from a former Whitehall chap.

He reckoned that one big problem Government had developed was the riubbishing of the higher echelons of the Civil Service as a career, and the introduction of the SpAd, so that lately a lot fo the advice comes from these party apparatchiks. You can oftern see them interviewed as "esperts" on things like Newsnight, the John McTernans of this world.

Another problem is the one of Interns, often paid for by Lobbying Firms.

The Civil service may have had its own inertia, but in some ways that may be preferable to the ideas corporations drive forward

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Anonymous Coward

iPod a flop?

"It is worth recalling too that Apple's own iPod, launched in October 2001, was a flop for a considerable time. It only began to gain traction when Apple launched the music acquisition part of the system, and ported iTunes to Windows, in 2003."

Personally, I would say many people thought it was going to be a flop (or a niche product at best) - lovely bit of kit, but far too expensive and Mac-only - but it wasn't. Certainly there was a boost in 2003 as you say, but the iPod was doing well and for my money, that Windows compatibility (something every Mac hack I knew didn't see coming) had been added a year earlier was an incredibly significant move.

It wouldn't have been that long after the launch (*well* before 2003) that I saw a bloke with white earphones confidently walking down the street – I then observed him fiddle with what I assumed was the iPod in his inside coat pocket… but passing him, I saw that it was actually a portable CD player and he flushed and look so embarrassed when he realised I had twigged he didn’t actually have an iPod. When I saw that, it really struck home that this was a device that people really thought was cool – and one that had a good chance of being successful.

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Happy

Flop

Flashback scene in the Big Bang Theory when Sheldon observes Raj's new purchase:

"Mmm, I assure you, you'll be sorry you wasted your money on an iPod, when Microsoft comes out with theirs"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: iPod a flop?

I seem to remember the iPod gaining traction among Windows users way before iTunes for Windows was launched. You just had to use another piece of software to transfer music to the player. I knew a lot of Windows users who bought them in those early days but didn't switch to iTunes even when it launched, preferring at the time to stick with WinAmp or WinMediaPlayer.

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Annihilator

As per the the first line in this article:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/11/01/review_creative_zen_touch/

Creative were the first.

Unlike the many iPod's in landfill, my Zen Touch 20GB is still in daily use. Therein lies the problem.

More money, more debt, more shiny things.

Less money, less debt, less shiny things.

98% of the population are lining the nests of the other 2% and these patents and copyrights only serve to reinforce that.

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