Software pirates as heros. As we've often written, doing business in China means mastering not just the laws and the language, but also the cultural nuances. Today's Wall Street Journal has a case in point: Microsoft's battle against Tomato Garden, a small company that produces a free, wildly popular knock-off of the company's Windows XP operating system. Though Tomato Garden essentially copied Microsoft's code, the Journal calls it "more than a simple distributor of bootleg software." The company built an online distribution network, sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising to top Chinese companies, and, somehow, managed to become "the standard-bearer of Chinese innovation." Microsoft scored a victory last week when Chinese authorities sentenced the company's founder Hong Lei to several years in prison, but the sentence seems to have made Hong and his company even more popular. Says the Journal, "Despite being a legal victory for the company and Beijing authorities, the arrest and prosecution of Mr. Hong has turned him into a martyr of sorts, potentially turning more Chinese users against Microsoft."

MC Hammer, social media expert. Over 100 entrepreneurs and marketing professionals gathered yesterday at the Harvard Faculty Club for the Gravity Summit, a conference on social media marketing. Leading the discussion was none other than 1990's rap icon, MC Hammer. As the Boston Globe reports, Hammer has developed quite a following, with more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter, 43,000 Facebook fans, and almost 24,000 MySpace friends. Not bad for a guy who hasn't had a hit record in more than a decade. With a new reality show on A&E, Hammer has certainly made great strides in reinventing himself via social media. As he puts it, "I'm both an entrepreneur and a brand...I want to get out in front of the conversation." On a related note, gossip blog Gawker has a list of celebrities who would be wise to follow Hammer's lead, titled Seven Celebrities Who Should Get on Twitter Right Now. Included on the list are baseball player Pete Rose and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, two people who could use a little rebranding.

Hackers increasingly target small companies. Businesses that think they're small enough to avoid hackers focused on bigger prey should think again. Hackers are increasingly breaking into the websites of smaller companies to drop programs designed to steal financial information from visitors to your site. Others are rifling through databases to steal customers' credit card numbers or other valuable info. In fact, reports the Wall Street Journal, since most hackers use automated programs that look for a flaw in popular software to attack millions en masse, the size of your company is irrelevant. In the first half of 2009, 61 percent of the top 100 websites delivered something malicious to visitors (planted by hackers). What's worse, once your site is hacked, you can get blacklisted by Google and Microsoft, scaring away potential customers. The Journal offers some tips to avoid getting hacked, including: ferreting out bugs, managing your own server, getting the right hosting company, and even hiring a hacker to expose vulnerabilities. Check out Help! Somebody Save Our Files!: our guide to help you handle and prevent four of the most common IT disasters.

Skype is independent again. Skype, the free phone call service, has been popular with consumers for as long as its been around, but as a business, the company has had its ups and downs. The company's founders looked like heroes when they sold it to eBay for roughly $3 billion, but then eBay couldn't seem to turn it into a business. Now Skype is free again, TechCrunch reports. The company has been sold to an investor group led by Silver Lake Partners, a private equity firm, and Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm co-founded by Netscape creator Marc Andreessen.

Startups who are giving it all (or much of it) away. Om Malik of GigaOM has a post on how startups can make the most of "freemium," a business model which uses a basic, free service to hook customers and then offers premium features for a price. The model, espoused by venture capitalist Fred Wilson, whose firm has a boodle in Web 2.0 companies like Twitter and, is being put to good use by web startups Evernote, Remember The Milk, and Dropbox in addition to bigger names like Skype and LinkedIn. Malik's 10 Commandments for a freemium app are spot on, but Andreas Goeldi, the co-founder and CTO of the software company Buzzient, presents similar prerequisites for freemium success with more of a founder-beware attitude. For more tips on the future of free, read Chris Anderson's entire book (for free, of course) on the subject. Or for the skeptics, check out Malcolm Gladwell's review of the same.

2009's top business lessons, a few months early. Tech entrepreneur Neil Patel has gotten an early jump on the traditional year-end lists with his latest blog post, 10 Business Lessons I Learned This Year. Patel, a budding entrepreneur's best friend, takes the time to elucidate each tip, to give the reader explanations instead of mere bullet points. As he points out, "Although many of the business lessons I learned this year are basic, you should really take a close look at them. Even if you already know them, are you really using these principles within your business? Because the chances are, you aren't."

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