Online postage has stamps licked

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By  Published  September 29, 2006

The UK’s Royal Mail has introduced a new free service that could signal the end of the postage stamp as we know it. Customers will now be able to buy their postage online, the BBC has reported.

All they have to do is pay for the postage online by credit card and print off the barcode for each mail at home.

Ordinary mail can be posted in a post box but recorded, special and international deliveries must be taken to a post office.

The bar code allows the Royal Mail to track individual items of mail through its system and customers can follow its progress online.

“We have launched this service in response to demands from the public who want to be able to buy and print their postage online, direct onto an envelope or a label,” said Alex Batchelor, the marketing director of Royal Mail.

The aim is to cut queues at post offices and help home workers as well as people trading on online auction sites such as eBay. However, with the Royal Mail losing its monopoly services this year, as well as its post office network losing US$3.8 million a week, the 24-hour service will ultimately help the firm to substantially cut costs.

MS gets down

Microsoft is finally getting the knack of download offerings. Following the announcement of the Zune media player, the software giant has announced the introduction of video-sharing site Soapbox, reports the BBC news.

Capitalising on the success of similar sites from YouTube, MySpace and Google, Microsoft was bullish about its chances of taking a slice in this market.

“It’s really early days in online video; this is still act one,” claimed Rob Bennett of MSN.

Soapbox will run on machines with Mac or Windows operating systems (OS) and support Firefox and Safari browsers, as well as Internet Explorer.

However some experts are not certain it will be a success, after all MSN Video was actually the most popular video site on the web until user-generated sites such as YouTube took off.

“Microsoft is jumping on the bandwagon with some uncertainty with where it’s going, but the company believes it needs to be on board,” said Joe Wilcox, analyst at Jupiter Research.

It also seems that MSN will have to sort out a few teething problems first — the testing site was shut down after a technical problem. “Oops. It’s not anything you did — it’s us. Our site’s down. Please try again later,” it meekly admitted to users.

Google rumours

In any case, Microsoft has to get its act together quick as it seems its two biggest rivals will be teaming up.

According to a report in news magazine Newsweek referred to by newswire CNet, Apple and Google may be getting together over the computer giant’s iTV device (see IT Weekly, 23-29 September 2006).

Apple’s iTV is a wireless networking device that will plug into a TV and access movies stored on a computer while videos could also be purchase via the firm’s iTunes service.

It now appears that Google’s video service could be part of the equation. Speculation over such a link-up was heightened when Google CEO Eric Schmidt was appointed to Apple’s board of directors. The search engine giant’s subsequent bland statement on the rumours has further fanned the flames.

“We have nothing to announce at this time,” it states baldly.

This is one rumour that could become reality very soon.

The paper chase

Google has problems of its own, however. Its quest to make everything created by man in history available to its users has hit the buffers in the most unlikely of places — Belgium.

A Belgian court has told Google that it cannot reproduce articles from French newspapers as part of its news aggregation business, reports UKonline newswire The Inquirer.

The action has been brought by Copiepresse, an organisation that looks after interests of German and French-speaking press in the home of comic book hero Tintin, which claimed Google was infringing upon its copyright. The search engine giant faced a fine of US$1.2million a day if it did not comply.

A spokesperson for the search giant claimed the ruling was flawed and it intended to appeal.

Computer consultant Luc Glovers told the court that Google News must be considered an information portal and not a search engine because cached versions can be seen using Google servers long after the articles have been taken down from their original newspaper websites.

Google asserted that it did not have cached versions. Nevertherless, it did comply and post the copyright ruling on its Belgian web sites.

The big fear for Google is that organisations similar to Copie-presse might take action across the European Union (EU).

And if the EU can haul Microsoft over the coals, why not take on its rival Google too?

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