Allen vs. Gates and Ballmer, Amazon Takes on Apple, Intellectual Ventures Whips Up a Market, & More in the Seattle-Area Tech Roundup

4/5/11Follow @curtwoodward

A juicy excerpt from billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen‘s new autobiography caused plenty of chatter around Seattle and the broader tech world this past week, and considering that he’s starting a book tour, I guess that’s the point. The stunning vignette, in the excerpt published in Vanity Fair, was a scene in which Allen writes that he caught co-founder Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer conspiring to dilute Allen’s stake in the company while he was undergoing cancer treatment.

That blow-up, in Allen’s retelling, basically sealed his departure from day-to-day duties at Microsoft. Gates called Allen a friend in a reply statement, but did say he may remember events differently. In any case, I kind of thought the attention to that very noteworthy episode actually obscured the more nuanced, diverse portrait that Allen sketched of the two entrepreneurs’ relationship. Basically, it emerges as a complicated partnership—over the years traced in that writing, Allen is by turns amazed by, suspicious of, and angry at Gates. In any case, the whole book should be good reading.

Amazon.com continued its march into new cloud-based businesses by rolling out a music player and storage service tied to Android devices. There was a lot of focus devoted to the spat that Amazon apparently kicked up by not securing licenses from the record labels. But the even more interesting angle may be that Amazon is leapfrogging ahead of other big-name competitors—especially Apple—by taking personal music collections up to the cloud for storage and playback in a variety of places. Basically, it looks like Amazon is trying to position its freemium service as iTunes for Android—which is a pretty nice market to pursue.

—I sat down with Don Merino from Intellectual Ventures, Nathan Myhrvold’s unique patent-licensing and invention firm in Bellevue, WA, to get an inside take on how the company went about setting up a first-of-its-kind modern, large-scale middleman market for intellectual property. Merino was a pivotal player in this tale, having personally purchased about half of the first 1,200 patents that Intellectual Ventures secured—the portfolio is said to number above 30,000 at this point. This topic gets more energy every week, it seems, particularly in mobile—just this week, Google announced it was going big in a bid for Nortel patents in a bankruptcy auction.

—We also checked in with the folks at Seattle’s Zipline Games, which rolled out its new Moai development platform and cloud-hosting service for professional game developers. Moai’s main selling point is that it tries to bust down language barriers in game building by letting developers use Lua, a familiar game coding language, and translating that work into the different formats needed to make mobile games run on iPhones, Android devices and back-end infrastructure. They’re trying to make game development even faster—which I didn’t know was actually a problem—at a time when Nintendo’s president is saying that quick and inexpensive casual games are a real threat to the premium gaming industry.

Xconomy had some news to spread about itself, on two fronts: We’ve officially opened a New York bureau, with veteran business journalist Arlene Weintraub at the helm to report the latest on tech startups, venture capital, and all things innovative from the Big Apple. Here in Seattle, we welcomed Omri Mor, a super-sharp UW student who will be helping us build audience engagement as our social media marketing intern.

Cheezburger Network went all in with the hiring stunts, setting up shop outside a big Amazon company meeting at KeyArena to hand out Dick’s burgers (and Top Pot doughnuts) along with job-opening flyers and business cards. They said they weren’t trying to recruit actual Amazon employees—just get recommended to any Amazon workers’ friends who might be looking for work. CEO Ben Huh is flush with a recent $30 million venture financing, but may be working against the reputation that Cheezburger does not pay very well in an industry that can offer nice wages—something that Huh blogged about last year by discussing a pair of job openings that advertised wages of $8.55 and $10 per hour. Startup Giant Thinkwell immediately one-upped Huh’s burger stunt by purporting to offer Amazon workers an actual cat for interviewing—plus, their video was even better than my iPhone masterpiece.

Microsoft‘s longtime marketing chief Mich Mathews stepped down—oddly, just one day before word got word that her counterpart at Apple was also leaving. Mutual disarmament? We got a look at the emails that went out to Microsofties about the departure. They were pretty standard examples of the species, although it was interesting to read the recaps of how much the company has grown since Mathews first signed on 22 years ago.

—In the bad-news department, Sony Online Entertainment cut about 200 jobs in the West, including the shuttering of its Bellevue game development office. The Bellevue outpost was a main source for the undelivered spy-shooter game “The Agency,” which Sony also said it was shutting down. It wasn’t clear how many people still worked over at Sony Bellevue at the time. Work from two other offices closed in the restructuring was being migrated to headquarters in San Diego.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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