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New Products at DEMO

For 18 years Demo has been a place for start-up tech companies to strut their stuff to an audience of tech-insiders including venture capitalists, tech journalists and entrepreneurs. About 900 people are attending the show, which opened on Monday and continues till Wednesday. 

This year there are 72 companies, all of which, according to Demo rules, must show products that have never before been seen in public. And, thankfully, they have to show it in no more than six minutes. This is not the place to be if you want to hear long speeches or PowerPoint slides with endless lists of product features. 

A big crowd pleaser was a program from Maverick Mobile that helps people recover lost or stolen cell phones or at least disable missing phones. Increasingly people are storing a lot of information on their phone including confidential contacts, credit card numbers and other data that shouldn’t get into the wrong hands 

The product, which works on phones that runs on some but not all phones, allows a cell phone owner to remotely disable a phone that is lost or stolen. The person who found it, stole it or bought it from the thief won’t be able to use it or see any data on the phone and it’s even possible to remotely trigger a piercing alarm that will continue to sound off until the battery is removed or dies. The software works even if the person who has the phone replaces the SIM card (phones on GSM networks, including most phones used in Europe, Africa and parts of Asia as well as AT&T and T-mobile in the US use GSM). If someone is using the phone, a log of all that person’s phone calls, contacts and text messages will be sent to the rightful owner. 

Even without special software, the iPhone is pretty much a personal computer but a new application from (that’s both the name of the company and its URL) allows iPhone users to access a virtual PC via the Internet. was at last year’s Demo to show off its web-based virtual machine but by downsizing it to the iPhone, users are able to have a PC-like desktop on their handheld device complete with 5 gigabytes of storage and access to a full range of Linux-based software including a suite of office applications. Of course, limitations of the screen and input device will limit some of the things you can do with a handheld but you will be able to access all of your data and at least some of your applications. In addition to the iPhone version the company plans versions for Blackberry and Windows Mobile. 

There are plenty of photo-sharing sites out there so when the folks from took the stage, a lot of Demo attendees were prepared to yawn. But the company has a unique offering for anyone who wants control over who can see photos they share. Like other photo-sharing sites you have the option of password protecting your photos but Photrade takes this a step further by letting you encrypt photos so they can’t easily be copied, printed or otherwise used without permission. I use the word “easily” because there’s no way to completely protect digital data but standard screen copying methods like the Windows Print Screen key won’t work. The idea, according to Photrade founder Andrew Paradies, is to protect the rights of people who want to sell photos as well as those who simply don’t want their photos misused online. 

One example given is online pictures of kids that, if unprotected, could be reposted on other sites. Paradies showed me a picture of a somewhat overweight teenage boy with the word “failed” superimposed on the image, implying that he’s a failed athlete because of his size. Had the picture been posted on Photrade, it would be been a lot harder for someone to have misused the picture. 

The site can also be used to help photographers sell their pictures. Paradies envisions a small cottage industry for budding professional photographers who can sell their photos for whatever the market will bear. There are plenty of stock photo agencies that sell pictures but, says Paradies, his company will let photographers set their own price and let the photographer keep 80 percent of the revenue which is a much bigger chunk that most stock photo agencies pay photographers. 

One of the biggest stories of opening day was the announcement of Real Network’s DVD Ripper, Windows software that “legally” allows users to copy encrypted DVD movies to a PC hard drive so that they can be viewed later without having to reinsert the DVD.

 Podcast: CBS News tech analyst Larry Magid talks with Real CEO Rob Glaser about the Real DVD Ripper.

There is some question as to whether the movie industry might try to prevent Real from shipping the product but, in an interview, Real CEO Rob Glaser said that there is legal precedent for his product and that he is confident that the product will pass legal muster. Movies copied by the software must be played from the internal or external hard disk or memory stick they’re initially written to but they can be viewed from up to five registered computers.