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Thursday, February 15, 2007, 05:05 pm PT (08:05 pm ET)

Briefly: Apple games, Ballmer on Vista sales (and Apple), patents

Apple has taken its search for gaming-related talent a step further by seeking interns to fill programming roles. Meanwhile, everyone's favorite Microsoft CEO was caught yapping about Apple and the Mac while attempting to reset Vista sales expectations. And Apple has tightened its grip on interface patents that cover both the iPod and iPhone.

Search for game staff continues

Yesterday's news that Apple is tracking down game artist interns has prompted well-informed students at Carnegie-Mellon University to reveal that the scope of Apple's search is much broader.

The Pittsburgh institution's private job site currently lists an opening for a game programming intern in Apple's Bay Area home, tasking the new hire with helping to solve code and design issues as part of the larger team. Again, the listing didn't mention the development platform.

Ballmer tones down Vista sales outlook

In what may be a sign of trouble ahead, Microsoft's "excitable" CEO Steve Ballmer told a gathering of financial analysts to lower their expectations for Windows Vista, cautioning the assembly that their current forecasts could be overly "optimistic."

"[Vista] is primarily a chance to sustain what [Windows-based] revenue we have," he urged. "Not every release is a revenue growing opportunity."

Ballmer was also quick to give a kind — if backhanded — compliment to Apple for the popularity of its recent "Get a Mac" TV promo campaign, which may have helped the Cupertino firm claw back some of its marketshare lost in years past. This contrasted sharply with previous remarks by long-time associate and company chair Bill Gates, who in a recent Newsweek interview accused Apple of lying in its commercials.

"I'll give Apple credit for what it's done," Ballmer said. "It's not like they've really grown a lot of market share [thanks to the ads]. Remember, when you're the little tiny niche guy who owns about 2 percent of the worldwide market, you can be cute one time and it helps you grow."

Apple patent covers iPod, iPhone UI

Although most pundits centered their attention on Apple's dock patent on Thursday, another filing may be just as important to the California-based company's long-term health: the US Patent and Trademark Office today published an Apple patent discussing its signature interface, specifically touching on its use on both the iPod and mobile phones.

The electronics maker's "Management of files in a personal communication device" application, originally filed back in December 2005, seemingly addresses just about every aspect of the legendary control scheme. Navigating the hierarchical menus to select music, synchronizing with a main computer, and the software's interaction with the iPod's famous Click Wheel are all described in exacting detail.

Crucially, Apple goes to great lengths to emphasize the patent's relevance to phones and includes example photos of the now defunct mobile iTunes found on Motorola's ROKR and RAZR V3i musicphones. The precision in terms may be an attempt by Apple to avoid repeating mistakes it made with its rival Creative, which squeezed a costly settlement out of the iPod maker by claiming that its music player infringed on the Zen's software interface.

Two additional patents made public involved "Auto stacking of time related images," relating to Aperture's ability to group photos by similar time stamps, and a "Method for providing stand-in objects" that creates temporary items to fill the information gaps in a database search.