Tech Watch: Microsoft's Hilarious Ad, and a Camera that Could Shoot It for Pennies

Is Microsoft's new viral ad a hit? Does RED's new camera have a shot? And will Mark Papermaster, former IBM exec, make a trip to Apple's iPod and iPhone division?

After its mildly off-putting Seinfeld-and-Gates advertisements, it looks like Microsoft has finally hit its comedy stride. The company's new viral video, which appeared on YouTube today, is genuinely, undoubtedly, shockingly, self-deprecatingly funny. It might get a few clucks of disapproval from PETA, but the ad's portrayal of an English biker gang taking a white lab-mouse skydiving involves one priceless scene - of the parachute-wearing mouse getting sucked out the door of a moving airplane - that is sure to bring a few LOLz from even the most partisan Apple fanboys.

The vague tag-line, "expect more from your mouse," is undoubtedly a nod to Microsoft's new laser-less mouse technology, the existence of which was hinted at by a September video released by the company that told users they would soon be able to "say goodbye to laser." Tech bloggers later discovered the "Blue Track" mouse on Amazon, a wireless travel-mouse that operates using a tiny wide-angle lens lit by blue LEDs. The Wireless Explorer mouse, as it's called, should track more accurately on surfaces like faux wood, which give traditional red laser mice vertigo. The mouse, now officially for sale, will ship January 10th and cost $80.

While the skydiving lab-mouse ad has the right kind of silliness and lack of merchandising to be called a "viral video," its production quality is clearly of the professional ilk that is usually funded by big corporate ad budgets. But that "professional" standard might be changing come November 13th. RED, an upstart camera company, has said it will make a special announcement on Thursday that could democratize professional film-making and photography in a way that amateurs have only dreamed.

The company released its first disruptive video camera, the ultra high-def RED One, in 2006, for about a tenth of the price of professional-level digital video cameras, and in the process brought low-budget film-making a level of quality unheard of from traditional camera companies. Its proprietary technology shocked industry insiders with its clarity and brilliance, especially in low-light conditions.

This week RED will be taking the wraps off two secret projects, dubbed Scarlet and Epic, which many of the technorati are expecting will have something to do with a new "DSMC," or digital still and motion camera. A RED DSMC would compete with the likes of the new 5D Mark II, Canon's new top-of-the-line digital SLR, which can shoot full HD video at 1920x1080. The 21-megapixel camera body sells for $2700.

RED founder Jim Jannard has let a couple of teaser images of the November 13th device slip on Reduser forum, showing corners of the device's unorthodox, angular design. The new camera clearly retains the RED One's masculine, bolted-together aesthetic, and if all goes according to rumor, it should ring up at a fraction of the price of Canon's and Nikon's offerings. Both companies are likely following the November 13th event with a mixture of apprehension, curiosity and sheer terror.

So while RED might be plotting the release of their next industry-changing device, Apple is hitting a stumbling block in the development of theirs. The Cupertino company recently lost one of its great brains, Tony Fadell, to retirement, and has since poached former IBM executive Mark Papermaster to head up its iPod and iPhone division in Fadell's stead. IBM immediately filed suit, saying that Papermaster was violating a non-compete clause in his contract that precludes him from working for a competitor for at least a year after his departure from IBM. In actuality, Papermaster left only a one-month hiatus between his stints at IBM and Apple. In a New York court ruling Friday, a judge ruled that Papermaster must "immediately cease" working for the iPod-maker. Apple is fighting the decision, which will be re-visited by the court on November 18th. In the meantime, perhaps Microsoft can take advantaged of a stumbled Apple; some humorous adventure-mouse ads could do good things for their Zune.

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