Tech Tuesday

Tablets, LightSquared and the Corn Crop

Microsoft wants to take on the iPad, LightSquared decision so far not made and checking the corn crop from the sky.

In a capitalist society, companies vie for your business with innovative products and/or cut throat pricing. It's the American Way. Apple chooses to compete with innovation - and anyone who has bought an iPad knows their idea of cut throat is on the high end. Microsoft, long a power player in computers, sees what Apple has done and aims to play in the same space.

Monday, Microsoft rolled out Surface, a new tablet computer with a keyboard integrated into the unit's cover. Apparently there will be two versions of this machine - powered by Windows 8, a new operating system. The first will be in a form factor pretty similar to the iPad - a 10.6-inch screen and such. That keyboard-integrated cover is a nice innovation for those of you who don't like the "keyboard" on other tablets.

The second Surface design will be bigger and heavier, aiming for that power notebook market - those are the new ultra-thin notebooks that have "solid" hard drives - essentially chip memory rather than a hard drive. They boot up fast and are a kind of bridge between a laptop and a tablet computer.

So who cares? If you've been thinking of moving up to a tablet computer perhaps to make it easier to check email (it's easier to read than on a smart phone) but you're not a fan of Apple, or Android, the Microsoft Surface could be for you. I haven't seen one yet, probably won't until they are in stores, but this Surface will run an entirely new operating system - Windows 8. It's supposed to be the most significant upgrade to Windows in some time. Now veteran Microsoft Windows users know what that means - Windows 8.1 anyone?

Oh, and why is Microsoft getting into the actual computer-building business? Of course, their strategy is being influenced by Apple's successful approach. The industry predicts that tablet sales will triple to more than 180 million a year, and Microsoft wants a piece of the action.

Zombie company still lives

I'm beginning to think that LightSquared will be one of those "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated" companies that appear in a new form. Ever since the Feb. 15, 2012 decision by the Federal Communications Commission to reverse a decision for spectrum use, the company has been limping along, or rather bumping along, in bankruptcy.

Recently, LightSquared started talking about trading its spectrum (the part of its business that interferes with the GPS signal) to get access to other ways to develop that tower-based 4G Web network. There has been talk about some defense spectrum that could be traded. But there's another issue just hanging out there.

The website InsideGNSS reports that FCC has never actually pulled LightSquared's operating ticket. That's right, while the decision was announced and the public comment period has long expired - it ended March 30 - the final ruling has not been issued. That has the folks at Trimble and other GPS equipment makers worried.

InsideGNSS reports that Trimble held meetings with FCC and others over the issue in early June, in an effort to get that ball rolling. It's an interesting concern given that a government body can apparently make a decision, but not move on it. The question to ask is why would the FCC wait? Are politics involved? Check out the complete report.

Sky check of the corn crop

We've been carrying an interesting weekly feature on FarmFutures.com for the past two years that you might want to take a closer look at. The Vegetation Health Index maps we run every week offer you a bird's eye view of crop progress and could give you a heads up to trouble in the future whether you're looking out for your soybean or corn crop.

With the corn crop under stress in the Eastern Corn Belt, knowing how the ground looks when compared to the year before can be a risk management tool. We're in a full-fledged weather market and traders are looking for any information they can get their hands on. These VHI maps from Kansas State University offer you added insight as well. Check out the latest maps.

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