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Sony fails to heed Stringer’s advice

Co. turns down Boxee despite open standards

During Sony chairman Howard Stringer‘s keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, Tom Hanks got most of the laughs, mocking the speech that scrolled by on the TelePrompter, which was peppered with plugs for Sony products. (Hanks was at the Vegas gadget fest to promote next summer’s Sony release of “Angels and Demons.”) But Stringer earned a few chuckles of his own when he professed Sony’s undying devotion to open standards, which allow outside developers and vendors to add features easily.

“Open technologies are winning the game,” Stringer said, listing seven strategic initiatives for the media and electronics conglomerate. “Closed systems are being disintermediated.”

This from the company that has embraced and tried to profit from closed, proprietary systems and formats ranging from Betamax to Digital Audio Tape (DAT) to the MemoryStick to the Ultra MiniDisc (UMD), a small silver disc that once held movies that could be played only on Sony’s PlayStation Portable gaming device.

But there was Stringer, claiming that the rise of Linux, an open-source computer operating system that has been growing rapidly, has persuaded Sony that openness is the wave of the future.

“Consumers expect choice, and they expect services to work with any device,” he told the throng assembled in a ballroom at the Venetian.

Ironically, just a few hundred yards away on the trade show floor, start-up company Boxee and its CEO Avner Ronen were showing off their open-source software, intended to make photos, music, and Internet video content easier to navigate on a television, using a remote control. Boxee’s software already runs on Apple computers, AppleTV devices and Linux computers. Ronen says the company had recently been trying to talk to Sony about getting the software to run on the company’s PlayStation 3 game console, but hadn’t made headway.

“They’re not sure whether they like the idea, and they don’t know how it will affect their business model,” Ronen says.

Perhaps not everyone at Sony has gotten Stringer’s memo about openness.