Steven Levy

Stories by Steven Levy

  • FAREWELL, WEB 1.0! WE HARDLY KNEW YE.

    Are you ready for the new Web? It's getting ready for you. It turns out that bidding on eBay, gathering with Meetup and Googling on, um, Google are only the opening scenes in a play whose running time will top "Mahabharata." While we've been happily browsing, buying and blogging, the tech set has been forging clever new tools and implementing powerful standards that boost the value of information stored on and generated by the Net. Things may look the same as the old Web, but under the hood there's been some serious tinkering, and after years of hype among propeller-heads, some of the effects are finally arriving.That was the big takeaway last week at a conference in San Francisco called Web 2.0. The idea of the confab was to explore the implications (and, for a number of attending VCs, to ponder the investment opportunities) of these new layers of technology and the massive activity on the Web that makes them sing."Web 1.0 was making the Internet for people," said Amazon.com's Jeff...
  • NO NET? WE'D RATHER GO WITHOUT FOOD.

    Your tech-stock portfolio might still be aching from a three-year hangover, but when it comes to the Internet's effect on our lives, the binge is just getting underway. What's more, participation is no longer optional. That was the bottom line in two very different research studies released last month. Taken in tandem, they present a breathtaking picture of how quickly and indelibly the digital world has made an impact on our lives.The first report would have landed on the desk with a resounding thump, had it not arrived in a PDF digital file that weighed nothing. (Thanks, Internet!) It's the fourth in an annual series of voluminous, carefully documented studies from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future, attempting to track "the most important technological development of our generation."It's only been a decade since the first decent Web browser began transforming the Net from something cherished only by Star Trek fans with modems the size of shoeboxes to something your...
  • MEMO TO BLOGGERS: HEAL THYSELVES

    Things are quiet on the Where Is Raed blog these days. Quite a contrast to the weeks preceding the Iraqi war, when self-described "accidental journalist" Salam Pax (a pseudonym) became an international celebrity by providing a view of what it was like to live in a country awaiting invasion. He could do this on impulse because he had a Web log (also known as a blog). These are self-published online journals that are as easy to produce as a word-processing document, yet instantly available to the entire Internet. By providing an account unavailable in the traditional media, Pax became a symbol of the potential of blogs to broaden and enrich the national discussion.Pax has now ventured into the dead-tree world and written a book, but blogging itself has found its way into the media food chain, taking credit for uncovering a slew of media omissions and boo-boos, most recently the validity of the documents in CBS's bungled report on the Bush National Guard years. In particular, a core of...
  • FORECAST: SONG COSTS MAY FALL LIKE RAIN

    As residents of the Gulf Coast were reminded last week, there's no turning away nature. You can't pass a law that snuffs a hurricane at the border. You can't sue it. You've got to understand it, and make the right plans to deal with it. Technology generates its own form of nature, a set of conditions that enforce an artificial, yet equally unstoppable, reality. With the Internet, fast computers, cheap storage and high bandwidth, it's now just a fact that digital files--be they documents, images or Hoobastank tunes--can be sped through the ether with ease, a phenomenon no easier to halt than a storm surge.That's why it's so fascinating to watch the music industry's efforts to claim some high ground in its fight against piracy. For the longest time, the labels viewed digital music as something that could hurt them with hurricane force but made no efforts to adjust to this new reality, let alone exploit it. Finally, they were persuaded to license their works to online music sellers....
  • SURVIVING THE IPO FROM HELL

    Months ago, when the idea of Google's inevitable IPO could be discussed by its leaders only in hypothetical terms, cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were trying to explain to me (and perhaps themselves) why going public would not necessarily change the search-engine giant, or disrupt its mission. "I think there's always the opportunity to screw it up, be it private or public," said Brin. "Perhaps I'm naive."We all know what happened next. Google's offering closed last week, crossing the finish line with the burnt-out lungs of a marathon runner. The company started by eschewing the traditional clubby IPO format (hard-to-get, underpriced shares dealt out to insiders, quickly turned around for profit) in favor of a risky, but supposedly more democratic, auction process. Then the wizards of Mountain View, Calif., committed a series of bumbles that made it look as though they were taking corporate advice from Inspector Clouseau. Improper share distributions to employees. Confusing...
  • TECHNOLOGY: WINDOW WASHING

    Microsoft has finally released Service Pack 2, its long-delayed fix of many of the security problems of Windows XP. If you're among the 250 million or so users of that operating system, get it. "SP2 will make your computer more secure against hackers, viruses and malicious code, and will make it easier to stay secure and manage your security settings," says product manager Greg Sullivan. It does this by turning on the protective firewall by default, blocking pop-ups and thwarting applications that commandeer your machine without permission. The update is free at microsoft.com/protect.
  • IPOD WORLD

    Steve Jobs noticed something earlier this year in New York City. "I was on Madison," says Apple's CEO, "and it was, like, on every block, there was someone with white headphones, and I thought, 'Oh, my God, it's starting to happen'." Jonathan Ive, the company's design guru, had a similar experience in London: "On the streets and coming out of the Tube, you'd see people fiddling with it." And Victor Katch, a 59-year-old professor of kinesiology at the University of Michigan, saw it in Ann Arbor. "When you walk across campus, the ratio seems as high as two out of three people," he says.They're talking about the sudden ubiquity of the iPod, the cigarette-box-size digital music player (and its colorful credit-card-size little sister, the Mini) that's smacked right into the sweet spot where a consumer product becomes something much, much more: an icon, a pet, a status indicator and an indispensable part of one's life. To 3 million-plus owners, iPods give not only constant access to their...
  • Airplane Reading: 'Memorial Day'

    Vince Flynn didn't need a wakeup call on September 11, 2001. Since the mid-90s, the former Kraft corporation salesman (who was frustrated by a medical disqualification when he tried to join the Marines) has been banging out a series of increasingly hysterical thrillers focusing on the terrorist threat to America. By the time the real-life towers fell, the fictional realm of Flynn-dom had already seen radical Muslims take over the White House (supported, no less, by Saddam Hussein--could this be the source of the CIA's confusion?).Flynn's imagined attack, like several others, had been ultimately turned back by American's last, best line of defense: Mitch Rapp, a CIA operative who is as skilled in assassination skills as Dan Silva's Gabriel Allon, as cool a gamer as Clancy's Jack Ryan, and as superhuman in soldiering as Rambo himself. Even Flynn's made-up president, a well-meaning but insufficiently ruthless Democrat, relies on Rapp the way that the people in comic books depend on...
  • steve-jobs-2004-07-26-ipod-nation-tease

    iPod Nation

    In just three years, Apple's adorable mini music player has gone from gizmo to life-changing cultural icon
  • THE NEW IPOD

    Veteran Podsters understand that at least once a year Apple performs a feat that at once infuses them with dread and delight: an iPod upgrade. The delight comes from a new look and new capabilities. The dread comes from the realization that you're a step behind the cutting edge and must consider whether to buy your way back on it.And here it goes again. The considerably tweaked fourth-generation iPod will roll out this week, and NEWSWEEK got an advance peek. It looks a bit different, operates more efficiently, has a few more features and costs less. Here are the highlights.The click wheel. The iPod keeps getting slimmer and more streamlined. While the initial version had a relatively boxy feel, subsequent versions have been curvier and smaller. This one is about a millimeter thinner and, more significantly, eliminates the control buttons that sat under the display screen. Instead, it uses a "click wheel," where the controls are placed on the compass points of the circular touchpad...
  • MEET THE EYE CAM

    Our precious peepers are valued primarily for one crucial function: letting us see. But eyes can also be a source of information to those observing them, mostly by giving intuitive clues to emotions or intentions. And now two computer scientists from Columbia University have come up with a way to make use of a hitherto unexploited property of eyes: their ability to mirror the world around them.Specifically, postdoc researcher Ko Nishino and Prof. Shree Nayar, codirector of the Columbia Vision and Graphics Center, have devised a system to capture and analyze the evanescent pictures displayed on our own little ocular movie screens. Their "corneal imaging system" seems at first rather prosaic: basically it involves using a high-resolution digital camera to snap a close-up of a face. The real action takes place when the image is downloaded to the computer: sophisticated software isolates the circular area around the iris called the limbus, where a film of tear fluid over the cornea...
  • THE TROUBLE WITH E-BALLOTS

    It's now official: Walden O'Dell is no longer raising funds for George W. Bush. Why should you care? That was Walden O'Dell's attitude last year, when he promised, in his role as rainmaker for Ohio's presidential re-election campaign, to deliver the state to the incumbent. To his surprise, he learned that lots of people did indeed care--once they realized that his day job was running Diebold, a company that makes electronic-voting devices used by millions of voters. So it was prudent for Diebold to adopt a new policy that banned its executives from outside political work, adopted months ago but formally announced just recently.Unfortunately, Diebold hasn't conceded its bigger problem--that the current generation of computer-voting devices, the ones that many of us will use this November, are flawed by their inability to verify that the voter's choices are actually the ones that count in the final tallies.In a visit last week to NEWSWEEK, O'Dell, whose company is under increasing...
  • Airplane Reading: Intrigue at 35,000 Feet

    What do you read on the airplane? For many of us, it's a well-paced, deftly plotted so-called thriller, ideally situated on the banks of genre fiction with one toe in the pond of literature. Our demands are few but rigid: a compelling protagonist (typically genial and witty, though probably a bit more comfortable with bashing people's heads in than the folks with whom we actually socialize), a plotline that doesn't stray too far from reality (though details of things like armaments and police procedure should be straight out of the manual) and some unexpected twists and turns to keep the pages moving. It also helps immensely if the author can handle the English language as well as his characters wield Walther pistols.That's what makes my plane rides tolerable, but it's amazing how many books try to fulfill these criteria and fail miserably. Picking among the hundreds of tomes in the Mystery section in the Barnes & Noble is an odds-against crapshoot. Most of the brightly colored...
  • A FUTURE WITH NOWHERE TO HIDE?

    We're all too familiar with the concept of technology as a double-edged sword, and wireless is no exception. In fact, the back edge of this rapier is sharp enough to draw blood. Yes, the idea of shedding wires and cables is exhilarating: we can go anywhere and still maintain intimate contact with our work, our loved ones and our real-time sports scores. But the same persistent connectedness may well lead us toward a future in which our cell phones tag and track us like FedEx packages, sometimes when we're not aware.To see how this might work, check out Worktrack, a product from the Mountain View, California, "mobile services" company Aligo. The system is sold to employers who want to automate and verify digital time logs on their workers in the field. The first customers are in the heating and air-conditioning business. Workers have GPS-equipped cell phones that pinpoint their locations to computers in the back office. Their peregrinations can be checked against the "Geo Fence"...
  • CUTTING LOOSE

    In the '90s, people went bananas about wireless. Electronic communications once thought bound permanently to the world of cables and hard-wired connections suddenly were sprung free, and the possibilities seemed endless. Entrenched monopolies would fall, and a new uncabled era would usher in a level of intimate contact that would not only transform business but change human behavior. Such was the view by the end of that groundbreaking decade--the 1890s.To be sure, the sepia-toned hype of those days wasn't all hot air. Marconi's "magic box" and its contemporaneous inventions kicked off an era of profound changes, not the least of which was the advent of broadcasting. So it does seem strange that a century later, the buzz once more is about how wireless will change everything. And once again, the commotion is justified. Changes are afoot that are arguably as earth shattering as the world's first wireless transformation.Certainly a huge part of this revolution comes from untethering...
  • Something in the Air

    HERE'S WHAT WE'RE LEARNING WITH OUR CELL PHONES, SENSORS AND WI-FI: LOSING THE WIRES IS ONLY THE BEGINNING. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IS UNPREDICTABLE, EMPOWERING AND SOMETIMES A BIT UNNERVING.
  • MAKING THE ULTIMATE MAP

    There it is, that good old pale blue dot in all its earthly glory, right there on your computer screen. It's a familiar sight, even from a sky-high perspective experienced only by astronauts and angels. But hold on. By mousing around and clicking, you swoop like Superman, down, down, down, to a location on terra firma. Coastlines and rivers come into view, then cities, houses and even cars. And then, with another mouseclick, you can see the roads labeled, highlight the high-crime areas and locate the nearest Chinese restaurant. (The photography is provided by a combination of satellite images and pictures from aircraft flyovers.) If an alien flying-saucer jockey ever had an urge for chicken in black-bean sauce, this software would come in handy.This particular Web-based program is called Keyhole and costs under $100. (Spy agencies used to spend millions for this, and they didn't even get the restaurant overlay!) But it's just one impressive product of many in an area marked by...
  • Software: Need An Office?

    If you're a Macintosh owner, you're probably using Microsoft Office for everyday apps. Should you spend $239 to upgrade to the newly released Office 2004 for Mac? There's a spiffed up and more efficient interface for the organizer Entourage, along with a nifty feature that tracks all the files, e-mails and Web pages associated with a given project. (But searching through e-mail is still clumsy and slow--hasn't Microsoft figured out why people love Google?) PowerPoint ninjas will drool over the "presentation view" that enhances control of slide shows. And inveterate archivists will appreciate the new Notebook function in Word. If this turns you on, consider the upgrade, but casual, penny-pinching users can sit tight. Student bonus: the full-featured education version at $149 is a bargain.
  • The Google Supercomputer

    How many computers does Google have? The answer may interest you if you're considering a bid in the upcoming Dutch auction for shares in the firm's recently announced IPO. One way to view to the processing power of the search giant is to count the powerful servers that store, scan and analyze all the information it scrapes from the World Wide Web. Since Google's own estimate is not really helpful (for years now it's been saying the number is "more than 10,000"), obsessed observers have filled the backs of many envelopes to make their own estimates. A consensus now believes that Google has about 100,000 servers, an awesome number. Meanwhile, other Google watchers take a different approach to the question and have confidently produced a more precise answer: one.As Rich Skrenta, CEO of news aggregator Topix.net, wrote in a widely discussed blog posting last month: "Google is a company that has built a single, very large custom computer." He's among those who believe that Google's...
  • Still Standing, Pat

    No surprise that Pat Mcgovern is big on brains. He's CEO of IDG, a privately held business launched back in 1964 that rakes in $2.4 billion a year from selling head food: more than 300 computer magazines (Computer World and Linux World, for example), over 170 tech conferences and the IDC market-research firm. McGovern, 66, also gushes about a recent conclave held at the $350 million research institute he and his wife funded at MIT, where scientists discussed brain scans of Buddhist monks and which the Dalai Lama himself attended. Steven Levy (once a columnist for IDG's MacWorld), caught up with the upbeat billionaire in New York:NEWSWEEK: Is the tech business improving?MCGOVERN: We've been through three bubbles and collapses in the 40 years that we've been publishing. You go through a couple of years where there's depressed spending, and then you start to have growth. What's deceiving right now is that we're having about 12 percent growth in the company, but only 2 percent is coming...
  • A Very Public Offering

    Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one." With those words, one of the chattiest, most idealistic and economically momentous "S-1" forms ever--the filing that announces a public stock offering--hit Wall Street with a wallop. The century's most anticipated IPO was on, and the document, revealing the search giant's financial details, business strategy and risk factors instantly eclipsed Bob Woodward's Iraq book as the most-talked-about tome in the nation. Thousands downloaded it from the SEC's Web site, poring through hundreds of pages with a single question on their minds, a query not answerable by the otherwise perspicacious Google search engine: should I get in on this?In a period where many investors are still nursing portfolios wounded in the dot-com bust four years ago, that's more than a stock pick: it's a dilemma worthy of Kierkegaard. So much attention, in fact, will be spent contemplating a bid in the Internet auction that will determine who gets...
  • Grass-Roots Guide To Everything

    Here's an encyclopedia that evokes a variation on the famous Groucho line: would you get your information from a reference work that accepts you as an author? Wikipedia is a huge online compendium (250,000 entries in English, and growing furiously) written and amended by anyone who wants to participate. Amazingly, the quality of information, says cofounder Jimmy Wales, "puts us head to head" with rivals like Britannica and Expedia. Much in the same way that the collective "open source" movement has created a grass-roots, pro bono authorship of high-quality free software, Wikipedia.com relies on volunteer contributors to share their knowledge for what Wales hopes will be "the largest encyclopedia ever written," and thousands so far have done so. Quality is maintained by hundreds of "core regulars" who eyeball all the recent changes and vet the entries and additions for accuracy and fairness. Since the work is Web-based, there's plenty of room for pictures and endless potential to...
  • Itunes And Lawsuits

    Last Wednesday brought two pieces of news in the ever evolving digital music wars. On the positive side, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was singing "The Anniversary Song" in celebration of the first birthday of his iTunes store, by far the biggest emporium of legal song downloads. On the other coast, the Recording Industry Association of America, the lobbying arm of the major labels, crooned its old favorite, "You're in the Jailhouse Now." It sued 477 more music lovers for copyright infringement, this time focusing on college students.Even the RIAA admits that the lawsuits are a short-term measure to discourage otherwise law-abiding folk from sharing tunes with a few million people on Kazaa. Long-term, the strategy is supposedly moving the wired masses to legal services like iTunes, where the industry gets its cut. But while Jobs and other purveyors of online music are working hard to lure customers, the music industry's actions betray a persistent mistrust of the technology that will...
  • EXTREME MAKEOVER

    After 12 years at the helm of Autodesk--the San Rafael, Calif., company that creates the computer-aided design applications that help create "everything God doesn't"--Carol Bartz has spiffed up her company and herself. Autodesk has announced better-than-expected earnings, and for the first time anticipates a billion-dollar-revenue year in 2005. Personally, in what company insiders refer to "the Transformation," the 55-year-old CEO dramatically slimmed down. She recently reflected on her tenure. LEVY: Is your strong performance a signal that the economy is coming back?BARTZ: Our customers are the people who make the world's goods, so we are a bellwether. And so I believe [the economy is] definitely on the way up.What's "the digital-design data revolution"?The way that data gets around now is FedEx, feet, flying, phone and fax. The process has to be automated, so you can keep that information digital and manage it a lot better.Where do you stand on outsourcing?We have a development...
  • FREE? HE SAYS FEE!

    Darl McBride, the CEO of the most hated company that most people never heard of, considers himself simply a guy trying to save a struggling business. It just so happens that doing so could stifle software competition and reap rewards for a business model based on a legal form of extortion. His strategy? Launching a litigious cluster bomb so he can collect property rights from users of a software product created to avoid the drawbacks of property rights. The product is Linux, the lynchpin of the open-source movement that has become Microsoft's biggest operating-system rival. McBride's weapon is a questionable claim that Linux contains code that belongs to him. And much of the money that's helping to finance his campaign is directly or indirectly attributable to Linux's biggest foe, the Redmond monopoly.No wonder McBride's face is on the dartboard of a thousand geeks, and his Web site the target of endless hacks.The intricacies of SCO's four (and counting) lawsuits are positively...
  • ALL EYES ON GOOGLE

    Short of "you're under arrest" there are very few things that the leaders of a young technology company would like less to hear than "Bill Gates thinks you've kicked his butt and now he wants your business." But Sergey Brin and Larry Page don't seem ruffled at all. Hanging out one day in their spacious new headquarters, the two young cofounders of Google are calm, even confident, in the face of a rising tide of competitors, technology challenges and the tricky process of using the principles of disorganization to build a substantial company out of one unquestionably brilliant idea.Let's face it--it's good to be Google. Every minute, worldwide, in 90 languages, the index of this Internet-based search engine created by these Stanford doctoral dropouts is probed more than 138,000 times. In the course of a day, that's over 200 million searches of 6 billion Web pages, images and discussion-group postings. Searches for golf clubs, song lyrics, tomorrow night's blind date, recipes and the...
  • DEAN'S NET EFFECT IS JUST THE START

    For many of us, Howard Dean's bid for the white house is already fading into the wonkier recesses of our brains, the famous scream taking its place in politics-junkie lore with Mike Dukakis's tank ride and Ed Muskie's tears. The only remaining question in this saga involves the campaign's innovative use of the Internet for community building, policy positioning and raising money. Considering the campaign's January cliff dive, one might reasonably ask whether this megapublicized phenomenon was overhyped.A portion of the punditry can't resist comparing the campaign to the tech boom of the '90s--an overinflated bubble that left its naive believers drenched in soap scum.Try telling that to the architect of Dean's strategy, campaign manager Joe Trippi. "It wasn't a dot-com bust," he insists. "It was a dot-com miracle." Point taken. It was only through the Internet that an obscure former governor raised more bucks than a pack of better-known heavy hitters. It was only through the Internet...
  • GEEK WAR ON TERROR

    Not long after 19 terrorists boarded four airplanes on a rendezvous with infamy, Jeff Jonas asked himself a question: did officials have the necessary information to identify these killers before they took their seats back on September 11, 2001? Since Jonas's livelihood is fingering bad guys--the Las Vegas firm he founded, Systems Research and Development (SRD), helps casinos shut their doors to mobsters and card counters--he had his own ideas for exploiting information that had, in fact, been available before 9/11. First, he found that two of the terrorists, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, flying under their real names, were on a State Department watch list. A third had the same address as Alhazmi; two others (including Muhammad Atta) shared a residence with Almihdhar. Five others had the same phone number as Atta. Another had the same frequent-flier number as Almihdhar. All in all, using the techniques that Jonas has perfected at SRD, 14 of the 19 terrorists might have been...
  • BILL JOY, TO THE WORLD

    Bill Joy is one of the top minds in computing, a technologist with a sweeping vision of the world. A cofounder of Sun Microsystems in 1982, he has accomplishments that range from working on the Java computing language to writing a jeremiad in Wired magazine about nanotechnology, genetic engineering and self-replicating robots. Last fall the Aspen, Colo., resident shocked the tech world by leaving Sun. As enterprise found, unemployment hasn't dulled Joy's insights.LEVY: What have you been doing since leaving Sun? ...
  • MICROSOFT: HEY, YOU'VE GOT WORMS

    Last week the internet--and maybe your own PC--hosted Mydoom, the fastest-growing computer worm ever. Like its parasitic predecessors (Blaster, Sobig), this troublemaker appears as an e-mail with a misleading subject line and an attachment. Click on the latter, and Mydoom infects your machine, mails out similar messages and, at a certain date, uses your browser to attack the Web site of a company called SCO. (Why? Because SCO is pursuing a patent claim against the Linux operating system, beloved by geeks.) Craig Schmugar of Avert, who codiscovered and named the worm, says that at its peak more than 10 percent of all e-mail was Mydoom, with about half a million computers infected.Like previous big-time cyberworms, Mydoom runs on Microsoft Windows--two years after Bill Gates's "Trustworthy Computing" memo, wherein he pledged an all-out effort to fight such scourges. Nonetheless, Michael Nash, head of Microsoft's security business unit, says, "I feel very proud of the progress we've...
  • TECHNOLOGY: EYE ON THE DASH

    In the latest skirmish in Microsoft's epic online war with AOL, broadband services take center stage. MSN Premium, $10 a month to customers already paying for high-speed connections, gives you up to 11 accounts (which can be bequeathed even to distant friends and relatives), pop-up guards and ongoing virus protection. (Disclosure: NEWSWEEK has a strategic alliance with MSN.) The souped-up browser--with big fat icons on top--has a slick "dashboard" that you can configure to add stuff like stocks, local weather and a personal slide show. Mail, as always, is superior to AOL's version. But the coolest feature is Photo E-mail, which lets you share scrapbooks' worth of pictures without clogging up the in boxes of those, um, lucky recipients.
  • OK, MAC, MAKE A WISH

    Twenty years ago there was panic in Cupertino, Calif. Only a week remained before the team of whiz kids designing Apple's radical new computer had to turn in the final code. The giant factory was ready. The soon-to-be-famous Super Bowl commercial was ready. But the computer wasn't.As recounted by software wizard Andy Hertzfeld on a new cyberdigital history site (folklore.org), the already overworked Mac team trudged back to the cubicles for seven days of debugging hell, fueled by espresso chocolate beans and a dream. And on Jan. 24, 1984, their leader, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, recited a verse from "The Times They Are A-Changin'," then formally unveiled the Macintosh, a boxy little guy with a winning smile icon on its nine-inch monochrome screen. The Mac-oids fully expected to make computer history, and they did. What surprises them now is that their creation is still around two decades later.Only nine years after the first personal computer (a build-it-yourself box whose only...