Archive Month: April 2020
Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

Microsoft has officially launched its Windows Vista Beta 2 Customer Preview Program. The program finally makes Beta 2 available to the general public, and it will be used in the future for release candidates as well. The build offered is 5384, the same one released at WinHEC (5384.4, weighs about 3.13GB). M-Dollar hit this news last night, but it deserves attention on the front page.HangZhou Night Net

What’s all the hubbub? Check out our tour of Vista Beta 2 for a look at what’s in the beta.

Wondering if your computer is up to snuff? Try the Vista Upgrade Advisor beta. The application will tell you where your weak spots are, and most importantly, it will tell you what Vista does and does not have drivers for yet.

Microsoft has also established a web page rounding up various Beta 2 related things, such a product information, community links, and a pointer to the Office 2007 beta.

Beta isn’t the second letter in the alphabet for nothing!

Now, it goes without saying (or rather it should) that this is beta software. The OS is not complete. Judging from my morning surfing, the Internet is awash with people who are shocked and amazed that x driver isn’t available or y feature doesn’t work right. While Beta 2 is quite usable in my opinion, we do not recommend that users install this OS on their primary computers, or any system that they need. Furthermore, any complaints about not being able to run Half-Life 2: Episode One perfectly on your Vista box instantly earn you three demerits.

That said, we can expect an explosion of chatter online, as it appears that many people are diving in to this beta head first. As another note of caution, let me say that there is no guaranteed upgrade path from Beta 2 to the final release.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

The Slingbox, Sling Media’s flagship product, promises to do for “place-shifting” what TiVo did for “time-shifting.” The silver box has one job: it hooks up to your antenna or cable service and streams good-quality television across a local network or the Internet. With a Slingbox in place, a laptop becomes a portable television that always has access to the same content you have while at home. While consumers like the idea, Hollywood has been less enthusiastic. In fact, television and cable companies have been downright hostile, threatening Sling with lawsuits (though none have been filed yet).HangZhou Night Net

But it’s not just the distribution side of the television industry that has reservations about the new technology. Content producers also worry that the Slingbox and similar devices could erode their profits, though at first glance it’s difficult to see how this might happen. After all, the device simply allows people to watch more TV, and it doesn’t let them skip ads like TiVo. In essence, it’s like sitting down to watch your television at home, except that you can do it from anywhere in the world.

That’s exactly the problem. Most content providers simply want more eyeballs, and they don’t care where they come from. If people are watching, then executives are happy. Sports leagues function differently, though, and license their broadcasts at different rates in different markets. They care very much about where, exactly, you’re watching their programming, and the fact that the Slingbox makes geographical considerations irrelevant poses a problem for their traditional approach to handling television contracts. Major League Baseball is especially upset at Sling, and recently participated in a debate with the company at which the gloves came off.

George Kliavkoff, an MLB vice president, sat down with Rich Buchanan, Sling’s marketing VP, for a chat at the Digital Media Summit. Cnet’s coverage of the event made it sound like an interesting exchange, and it’s clear that despite their willingness to talk in public, the two sides remain far apart.

Baseball sells transmission rights to specific geographical locations. So, a cable subscriber in San Francisco who watches a Giants baseball game from his or her laptop during a visit to Chicago is stealing from the Chicago cable operator who paid to transmit MLB games in that city.

But we’re not talking Napster here, argues Buchanan. The cable subscriber in such a scenario already purchased the content from a programmer back home and under the law can watch it wherever he or she chooses, he said.

“Your interpretation of the (cable and satellite user agreement) is wrong,” Kliavkoff told Buchanan as the two spoke before some 200 conference attendees. Sling Media users “are violating the scope of their user agreements.”

For MLB, the bottom line is this. Your TV, turned on, with no one watching the game: OK. Your TV, turned on, with the game streaming to you and only you while on business in Philly: illegal.

With all the heated rhetoric surrounding the Slingbox, the device will probably end up as the centerpiece of a court case within the next year, but Sling is not content to rest on its laurels. The company is actively pushing forward with new products that will sling media to cell phones and other portable devices as well as laptops, a move that will probably anger cell phone providers as well as content producers (both of whom would love for you to pay again for the privilege of watching something on that postage stamp screen). Sling has also made a recent push into Europe with the introduction of its device into the UK market.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

Oh, the joys of Dance Dance Revolution. No other game has done more in getting gaming good press than Konami's rhythm title. Schools use it to keep kids fit, and now the bastion of all things pregnant, Parenting Magazine, is including it in a writeup about games that keep kids active instead of sitting stone-faced in front of a television set. The article points out DDR, as well as Donkey Konga and EyeToy titles, as games that can keep kids entertained and also working out. HangZhou Night Net

While it's easy to mock this sort of writeup because Parenting is coming to the party a year or so late (none of these games are new, and the benefits of Dance Dance Revolution have been written about extensively), I think the fact this article exists at all is a good thing. The illustrations of happy and active kids are something that may make parents less scared of the videogame boxes in their living room. A trusted magazine like Parenting lauding games also makes the message come through much clearer than it would from any other source. Most parents don't read about games online, and of course the mainstream press very rarely covers them in a responsible way. This may be the first time parents are presented with games in a positive way that can make their kids healthier, or even aid in their development. Instead of preaching to the choir, this is getting the message right where it needs to go.

Parents need to realize that video game consoles these days can be almost anything you want them to be: from dancing games and rhythm games to educational software and even workout routines, violent games are only a small facet of what consoles offer.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

The Federal Trade Commission has announced that Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar games will settle charges that the companies failed to properly inform consumers of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas‘ full content. The FTC’s investigation into the game began after the notorious Hot Coffee scandal erupted into a political frenzy, with lawsuits and chants of "think of the children!" in tow. A grandmother who bought GTA:SA for her 14-year old grandson even got in on the action. HangZhou Night Net

Controversy erupted not only on account of naked bodies, however. Soon it became clear that this was no normal Easter egg. No, the offending content was enabled by a mix of on-disc content and third party modifications. The FTC’s investigation puts the responsibility squarely on the the game’s publishers and developers, however.

"According to the FTC, the companies, in advertising the Entertainment Software Rating Board (“ESRB”) rating for the game, did not tell consumers that the game discs contained potentially viewable nude female characters and a potentially playable sex mini-game. Although San Andreas players could not access or view this sexual content during normal game play, sophisticated players posted a program on the Internet, dubbed “Hot Coffee,” that revealed this content on the PC version of the game. PlayStation 2 and Xbox players eventually were able to access the Hot Coffee content by modifying or adding an accessory to their game consoles, installing special software, and inputting “cheat codes” developed by third parties," the FCC said in a statement.

The FTC charged that it was a violation of the FTC Act for Take-Two and Rockstar to market the game as being "M" when "unused, but potentially viewable" nude images and sexual content were not disclosed. It does not matter if they were enabled by a third-party.

The FTC has placed Take-Two and Rockstar on notice, but they have opted not to fine either company. It was revealed that Take-Two has already incurred US$24.5 million in costs stemming from the recall, relabeling, and other aspects of the fallout. If the FTC finds the companies in violation again, they will be charged $11,000 per incident, which in the case of game sales could prove disastrous.

The FTC also said that Take-Two and Rockstar have been ordered to establish a comprehensive review system designed to ensure that ESRB reviewers are aware of all content on the disc before making their official ratings.

The best outcome?

In a previous editorial relating to this topic, I argued that the ratings process is flawed because third-party modifications can change so much about a game. In that instance, the debate centered on Oblivion, which had just been re-rated Mature (up from Teen) on account of nudity introduced by a third-party modification.

While it behooves companies like Rockstar to be careful with what they put on their game discs, will third party modifications magically be unable to introduce nudity, sex games, or other "inappropriate content" as a result? No. It may be harder for them to do so, and the incentive may be lost, but the "problem" isn’t gone. While the likelihood of modders adding a sex game to any given title may be rather low in the absence of hidden on-disc content, it’s not non-existent. I doubt we’ve been the last of these scandals.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

Writing for this journal sometimes has me reaching for the SSRIs. Week after week, month after month, more and more reports come out about yet another ecosystem close to collapse, another species on the brink of extinction, more avoidable deaths caused by a complete failure of co-operation and empathy. So when there's good news, I like writing about it. HangZhou Night Net

And that's just what we've got today. If, like me, you're old enough to remember the 1980s, you'll remember when scientists discovered that the ozone layer, a slice of our stratosphere that's packed full of O3, was full of holes. Discovered first above Antarctica, and later over the Arctic too, the loss of this part of the atmosphere is bad news, because stratospheric O3 is very good at absorbing UV radiation. UV light is very good at being able to damage DNA, and cells with damaged DNA can easily become cancerous.

So, high level ozone good, UV light bad*. But what was causing this degradation of our planet's sunblock? It turned out to be chloroflurocarbons (CFCs), that were used as propellants for aerosol cans and as refrigerants in air conditioners, fridges and freezers. When released into the atmosphere, the CFCs would eventually travel up to the stratosphere where they were broken down by UV light. The breakdown products of these CFCs were able to attack O3, which is less stable than O2.

I'm reminded a lot of the climate change debate here. We all knew CFCs were bad, although if you looked hard enough I'm sure you could find industry-funded think tanks that tried to push an alternate explanation. And yet, the global community actually managed to get together and create guidelines to phase out these chemicals for less destructive alternatives. That was the Montreal Protocol of 1987, and according to new findings , so far it has been a success. Ozone levels are stabilizing, and with any luck over the next five or six decades, we might be able to return them to normal.

Which shows me that the kind of global co-operation needed to put aside our immediate interests for the good of all our futures can work. It's just a shame they aren't when it comes to many of the other big problems we face right now.

*In another interesting news item , scientists have come out and said that being pasty-white is not so good after all. Sunlight is still essential for the formation of vitamin D, and even in the UV drenched Antipodes, it is still a good idea to get at least 15 minutes of sun a day. So all you geeks out there that have translucent skin, try to take the time to leave your monitors and keyboards for a quarter of an hour. Your bones, colon and general disposition will thank you.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

A recent discussion hosted by BusinessWeek and available as a webcast (video, free registration required) highlights some of the advantages and difficulties on the road ahead as we progress in the broadband era. The roundtable discussion includes commentary from Dr. John Rutledge, Chairman of Rutledge Capital and former advisor to the Reagan and Bush administrations; Christine Heckart, General Manager of Marketing for Microsoft TV; Leo Hindery, Jr., Managing Partner of Intermedia and former CEO of AT&T Broadband; and host Steve Rosenbush.HangZhou Night Net

All of the guests agree that more and better broadband access will be required if the US hopes to remain competitive in the global market, but the form of that access, as well as the best methods of achieving it, places them at odds with each other. China is poised to graduate more engineers this year than the US, Germany, and Japan combined, so staying competitive has moved from a theoretical notion to a very real concern. All agree that broadband continues to be a high-grade economic engine.

As may be expected given his background, Rutledge sees capital generated by business to be the most important issue. It is his belief that the primary goals for the future should include adding spectrum to broadband to reduce its cost, trimming the FCC to create a less-regulated market, outlining clear and simple property rights for the infrastructure owners, and possibly, using the "bully pulpit" of the presidency to drive technology into the educational system. He argues that it isn’t a problem if content and infrastructure are supplied by the same company, and advocates protection for content owners, even if content is tied directly to infrastructure (for example, if Comcast wouldn’t allow material produced by its subsidiaries to be shown on other cable or satellite systems).

Heckart advocates more of a hands-off view than either of the other panelists. She believes that an unregulated market will find its own equilibrium which best caters to the needs of the country. It is her position that, while broadband availability continues to be an issue, it is the lack of devices with which to access that broadband that provides the greatest concern. In essence, poor and rural people are less likely to have PCs. Therefore, when broadband finally brings the Internet to TVs, universal access will be more likely. She points out that, if the US is to accept some sort of mandate for what defines universal access, a minimum set of requirements needs to be defined before we can meet that mandate. Heckart also brings up the 1984 AT&T settlement with the Department of Justice, and uses it as an example of regulations that continue to bind the hands of business long after their goals have been achieved.

Surprisingly for a recently former AT&T staffer, Hindery repeatedly touts the need for universal broadband access, no matter what the income level or geographic location of the user. He also argues in favor of some type of regulatory system to prevent vertical abuses by companies that use their control over both content and infrastructure to wield an unfair advantage over competitors. He distinguishes between the attitudes toward broadband of three classes of nations: developing nations, which see broadband primarily as a communications medium; emerging nations such as China and India, which see broadband as a generator of capital; and mature nations, which see it more as an entertainment medium than anything else.

It’s clear that broadband and economic development are tied together at this time, and the point is made that recent studies have shown a 1 percent increase in phone lines tends to correspond to a 3 percent increase in GDP—at least assuming a certain unspecified critical mass of connections is achieved. If it’s unclear in that statement exactly which is the chicken and which is the egg, that’s fine, because the two statistics probably are symbiotic in nature.

All of the panelists make good points. I would be hard-pressed to sit and argue economics with them at their level, and I won’t try. I do think that the idea that bringing broadband to the TV experience equates to economic opportunity is an oversimplification which may be forgiven from someone in the marketing department of Microsoft TV. Similarly, I think history has shown that complete deregulation can lead to abuses which are mitigated when some type of controls are installed, while overregulation (or misguided and erroneous regulation) can be damaging as well. Perhaps a happy medium exists between the two extremes?

The webcast lasts about an hour and has a few dry spots. However, it’s good viewing for anyone interested in seeing a variety of opinions and occasional arguments from industry leaders on the issues surrounding broadband penetration. Much of our future economy (and individual careers) may be tied to how the government chooses to approach this important topic, so you may want to check it out.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

Introduction

New Super Mario Bros.
Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo DS
Price: US$34.99
Rating: E (Everyone)HangZhou Night Net

Mario is an institution: the first home system for many gamers was an NES, and of course our plucky plumber’s game came packed in with the NES for a number of years. Before that, we were fans of his work with Donkey Kong when he was simply Jumpman. Since those humble beginnings he has been in games across every Nintendo platform, been a star in any number of sports games (while still retaining that big ol’ belly he’s known for) and never seems to get down—even though he can’t keep his girlfriend with him for more than a few minutes at a time before she’s stolen off into the night. Yup, Mario and gaming just seem to go together.

Although we’ve seen him usher in the 3D-era in Mario 64 and give us some headaches in Mario Sunshine, a lot of people have been wondering if we’d ever see Mario go back to his 2D roots. Sure it’s fun when he golfs, and as a tennis star he can throw down some heat, but at the end of the day we really just need him to run from the left to the right and jump onto some goomba-skulls. That’s what he’s there for. That’s what he does. If you’re into how the kids are talking these days you might even say that’s how he rolls.

It’s been a long time since Super Mario World, his last straight-up 2D adventure. We’ve seen all his old exploits resold to us on the GBA, but it’s about time for the classic game play to get a new look. A lot of people were hoping for a new Mario game as a launch title for the Nintendo DS, but we had to make do with a slightly updated version of Mario 64. Not bad for a new system, but certainly not the new Mario game we were all hoping for. Nintendo first showed some of what would become the New Mario Bros. as a tech-demo for the DS. It was way to prove they were going back to their roots.

Finally, after being teased by magazine scans, YouTube videos, and ultimately a demo at E3, the real deal has been released. Nintendo has the chance to give us another classic: Mario Brothers 3 and Super Mario World are both considered classics in 2D game design and introduced the Tanooki Suit, Yoshi, and the everlovin’ SHOE for the love of Miyamoto. What new things can we expect from the DS Mario title?

This koopa will never see it coming
All images courtesy of Nintendo

While it appeared that the game was only minutes long, it turned out that the Princess was in another castle. I’m very sorry for the spoiler, but I thought you deserved to know that the first castle wasn’t the last one.

Well, I’m off to save the Princess. How dare they keep moving her on me! I grew up on Mario and I still get chills thinking about the first time I saw the Mario 3 commercial with the Mario face on the world. Mario’s been around for 25 years—does he still have it in him to deliver a good 2D experience?

Let’s flip open our DS Lite (you did import one, right?) and find out.

Ron Jeremy is the real Mario

Don’t come into this game expecting a great story. The setup is simply this: Mario and the Princess are having a leisurely stroll, the castle gets bombed, Mario investigates, and Bowser Jr. grabs the Princess. Damn that boy! Well, we owned his ass in Mario Sunshine. I’m pretty sure we can do it again. That’s pretty much the entire story.

There’s an overworld map that’s very much like what we’ve grown used to in Mario 3 and Super Mario World. There are eight worlds in total, and moving around six of them is easy. It’s simply a linear progression. Two of the worlds will require some digging to get to, but it’s pretty easy to figure out. You’ll also very quickly find warps to the later areas in the game, meaning you won’t have to fight through the six main worlds to beat the game.

The first thing you’ll have to realize is you can beat this game quickly. I mean QUICKLY. If you have a free afternoon, you can rush through and see the end. You’ll see so little of the game it would be criminal. Once you realize that you can unlock new worlds and new levels by grabbing the three big coins in each level and then finding new paths by picking out the secret exits from the levels, you’ll start to see how deep the game actually is. You may be able to find the Princess in an afternoon, but it’ll take you much longer to see everything the game has to offer.

A clever player can hijack that cloud…

This is a dream for the player who simply can’t rest until they’ve found every power-up, every hidden path, and every coin. There are enough secrets that you will spend a lot of time playing through each level before you see everything that level has to offer. While a lot of reports are saying this game is short, I think that’s missing the point. The replay value and number of secrets this game holds is very impressive.

While I’m glad Nintendo decided to bring this game to the DS to take advantage of the system’s upgraded graphics capabilities, the touch-screen is mostly wasted. You’ll use it in the mini-games and to select your backup items but that’s it. You’re given a map that shows you how far along you are in the level, but knowing how close we are to the end really isn’t helpful information. I’m not sure what they could have done with the bottom screen, but that’s Nintendo’s job to figure out, not mine. As it stands, they wasted the opportunity to give us more information or just something amusing to look at.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

According to a Dell marketing director, computers that run the open source Linux operating system represent approximately 25 percent of the company’s enterprise market sales. Reportedly, that 25 percent is primarily composed of sales stemming from migrations from proprietary Unix platforms like Solaris. According to Jay Parker, Dell’s worldwide marketing director for PowerEdge servers, Dell expects to see even more Linux migrations in the future: HangZhou Night Net

"As part of Dell Service, we have managed over 500 Unix-to-Linux migrations," Parker told ZDNet UK. "We see that growing, not shrinking, over time."

Dell and Red Hat have had a strong relationship for the past two years, and both companies have reaped the rewards. Dell is currently one of the biggest hardware providers working with Red Hat, and the two companies have helped each other increase their visibility within the Linux market. Red Hat also works with other major enterprise hardware and services vendors like IBM and HP.

Although Red Hat is currently Dell’s distribution of choice, the computer builder plans to support and distribute Novell’s increasingly popular SUSE Linux distribution as well. According to Parker, Dell is "in the process of approving Novell/Suse Linux as a ‘tier 1’ offering."

Novell has invested a tremendous amount of developer resources in its Linux offerings in an effort to win developer mindshare and compete squarely with Red Hat for dominance of the enterprise Linux market. A relationship with Dell could give Novell the edge it needs to catch up with Red Hat. The SUSE Linux distribution has a number of unique features that make it a compelling choice for enterprise servers. For instance, upcoming versions of SUSE will feature the AppArmor security platform and a relatively new management system for proprietary drivers that will enable the distribution to provide broader hardware support.

Although Dell doesn’t really do Linux on regular consumer desktop computers (for regular Linux consumers, they sell a few workstation models without Windows), the company fully acknowledges the importance of Linux and open source software in the server market. Dell managed to gain a major foothold in the realm of Unix to Linux migrations by leveraging Red Hat’s software and expertise. Now Dell is expanding its Linux server offerings and giving corporate consumers a broader selection of choices. If Dell’s success in the Linux market is any indication, I think we can expect to see more proprietary Unix users turning to the open source operating system in the future.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

Nintendo has been awarded a patent for a video game messaging service that utilizes a buddy list and can display information about game activities and user status. Initially filed in 2000, a year before the release of Microsoft’s Xbox and two years before the official launch of Microsoft’s Xbox Live Internet service, Nintendo’s patent is relatively broad and could potentially lead to litigation against other major players in the game console market. Although the text of the patent itself refers to the Nintendo64 and Game Boy Color by name, some have speculated that this patent could portend an instant messaging system for the Wii. HangZhou Night Net

In the claims section, the patent describes a chat system that uses a remotely stored buddy list, supports multiple statuses, broadcasts information about active gaming activities, displays notification of events including the arrival of new e-mail messages, facilitates transmission of player preferences, and enables users to communicate with each other either with voice or text messages. Keep in mind that this patent does not cover game-oriented chat in general; it specifically describes a console gaming chat mechanism that displays game information and uses a buddy list.

At first glance, it certainly appears as though Microsoft’s Xbox Live service may be infringing upon Nintendo’s patent. Although I doubt that Nintendo could shut down Xbox Live with this patent, the gaming company could possibly use the patent as leverage to extort a settlement out of the Redmond giant, assuming that the patent is valid and that Microsoft’s service infringes on it. Nintendo could also use the patent to force Microsoft into a cross-licensing deal. Cross-licensing deals are becoming increasingly popular, and many companies cultivate massive patent portfolios purely for defensive purposes and cross-licensing negotiations. Microsoft has several rather broad patents of its own that Nintendo may want to license, including a patent on a video game voice communication system that performs audio compression in real-time. Microsoft may challenge the validity of the patent by demonstrating that the patented invention is obvious, or that prior art exists. It is worth noting that the Dreamcast featured an Internet chat system that shares some (but not all) of the relevant features described by Nintendo’s patent.

This isn’t Nintendo’s first chat-related patent. In February of this year, Nintendo was awarded a patent for a voice-to-text chat conversion system for video games that uses speech analysis to generate text with specific styles and attributes.

Although the existence of a patent doesn’t necessarily imply that a particular invention will be included in a commercial product, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Wii ended up with support for Internet chat, if not at launch, then eventually. With the rumor of an integrated microphone for the Wiimote, one begins to wonder if voice chat could end up on the menu. I think that integrated voice chat would be a great feature for multiplayer Internet gameplay, particularly in games like Smash Brothers and Mario Kart that are typically more fun in a party setting. In the context of a single player game, it could get a lot more annoying. The incessant repetition of "Hey listen" in Ocarina of Time made me long for a flyswatter, so I doubt that I would enjoy something as invasive as listening to a real person babble about something comparably irrelevant while I am trying to save Princess Peach. I like my games to be immersive, and Internet chat could detract from the experience. Fortunately, the system described in the patent features a block list as well as a rather comprehensive status system that could potentially make it difficult for my little brother to beg me for hints and cheats while I’m trying to enjoy a game.

Will Nintendo be able to use this patent against Microsoft, or even Sony? At this point, it is hard to say. This patent is certainly indicative of the problems inherent to the patent system. Even though Nintendo applied for this patent in 2000, independently developed technologies that have emerged in the interim resemble it in many ways. Even though none of Nintendo’s products include the features described in the patent, the game company could initiate legal action against a rival and use the patent to stifle development of new technologies. Not that anybody at Microsoft has any right to complain, the Redmond behemoth is just as predatory as Apple, Nintendo, Sony, and just about every other major technology company with the rare exception of those that are committed to openness. As a system designed specifically to promote innovation, the entire patent process is becoming increasingly self defeating as companies continue to abuse intellectual property law to manipulate competitors and stifle innovation to the detriment of consumer needs and desires.

Apr 28 , 2020 / By :

Like the bloke in the Chumbawumba hit, net neutrality gets knocked down and gets back up again. Although it has been voted down in committee a couple of times already, it continues to resurface (that’s a hint, Congress). Before the end of the week, the US House of Representatives is expected to vote on a telecommunications bill along with two amendments dealing with the question of network neutrality.HangZhou Night Net

There are two proposals on the table. The first comes from Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), which would take the curious route of modifying US antitrust law to ensure network neutrality. Under Rep. Sensenbrenner’s amendment, broadband ISPs would have to provide all content providers with the same speed and quality of service. That would have the effect of preventing broadband providers from throttling or prioritizing certain traffic.

The second proposal is offered by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA). This would allow ISPs to do some traffic prioritization, but it would have to be offered for all services. By way of example, if AT&T wants to prioritize its own VoIP traffic over its network, it would have to give the same priority to VoIP traffic from its competitors.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, has been opposed to net neutrality. In committee, he effected the removal of the bill’s original language around the issue, saying it is not yet necessary. However, he has been overruled by House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-IL), who said that lawmakers should be able to vote on it once it comes up on the House floor.

Even if the House gives network neutrality a big thumbs-up, it still needs to be approved by the Senate. So far, the upper house has rejected attempts at writing it into law. The most recent action came last month, when the Senate Commerce Committee stripped language about the topic from its own rewrite of the nation’s telecommunications laws and endorsing broadcast flags for both TV and digital radio. Yesterday, however, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who chairs the Commerce Committee, allowed that he is open to revisiting the issue because "many members do not believe the provision in the existing bill goes far enough."

A number of groups are heavily lobbying Congress on the issue. Google is encouraging its users to to weigh in on the issue, asking them to call their Congressional representatives. Google cofounder Sergey Brin was in Washington DC earlier this week to lobby lawmakers on the issue (where he also shared some thoughts on his company’s involvement in China). Unlikely ideological bedfellows Christian Coalition and Moveon.org have also joined the fight.

Will it pass this time? I’m not placing any bets one way or another. What has become apparent is that congressmen are realizing that this is a Big Deal, and are actually listening to both sides of the issue. Even if the amendments proposed today fail, the issue will inevitably resurface as soon as the dust from today’s vote clears, no matter what Ed Whitacre says.