Archives| Jan 2015 | Dec 2014 | Nov 2014 | Oct 2014 | Sep 2013 | Aug 2013 | Jul 2013 | Jun 2013 | May 2013 | Apr 2013 | Mar 2013 | Feb 2013 | Jan 2013 | Dec 2012 | Nov 2012 | Oct 2012 | Sep 2012 | Aug 2012 | Jul 2012 | Jun 2012 | May 2012 | Apr 2012 | Mar 2012 | Feb 2012 | Jan 2012 | Dec 2011 | Nov 2011 | Oct 2011 | Sep 2011 | Aug 2011 | Jul 2011 | Jun 2011 | May 2011 | Apr 2011 | Mar 2011 | Feb 2011 | Jan 2011 | Dec 2010 | Nov 2010 | Oct 2010 | Sep 2010 | Aug 2010 | Jul 2010 | Jun 2010 | May 2010 | Apr 2010 | Mar 2010 | Feb 2010 | Jan 2010 | Dec 2009 | Nov 2009 | Oct 2009 | Sep 2009 | Aug 2009 | Jul 2009 | Jun 2009 | May 2009 | Apr 2009 | Mar 2009 | Feb 2009 | Jan 2009 | Dec 2008 | Nov 2008 | Oct 2008 | Sep 2008 | Aug 2008 | Jul 2008 | Jun 2008 | May 2008 | Apr 2008 | Mar 2008 | Feb 2008 | Jan 2008 | Dec 2007 | Nov 2007 |
Fri, 31 Dec 10
Blekko, Montage Offer New Ways To Search the Web
Internet search engines have become such a helpful fixture of everyday life that it's tough to imagine life before them. They gather information at eye-blink speed, can guess a user's intent and present real-time results from Twitter and other social sites.
But the experience of searching the Web remains largely solitary, or, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg might put it -- it's not social. While you can share the end result by pasting a link into an e-mail or a tweet, there's no way to share the cool stuff you brush past in the midst of a search.
That's starting to change, thanks to new search products, one from a Silicon Valley startup called Blekko and one from a tech giant as mainstream as they come, Microsoft.
Blekko, a Redwood City, Calif., search engine that can be found online at blekko.com, tries to screen out spam and links promoted by search engine optimization companies, which manipulate keywords and links to try to promote their clients in search results. But as of mid-December, Blekko also allows you to use your Facebook friends to filter Internet searches. In a sense, your friends provide the search algorithm, rather than Google or Bing.
The main focus of Blekko, which launched in November and has received funding from prominent Silicon Valley investors like Marc Andreessen and Ron Conway, is to use human editors to select a universe of authoritative Web sites. Blekko's intent is to screen out spam and SEO manipulation that can make many sites less useful, particularly in topics like personal finance, music lyrics and health.
Earlier this month, Blekko also started to allow users to harness their network of Facebook friends to "curate" search results. When a Blekko user enables the service, the search engine goes out and collects the large database of Web sites and pages...
Fri, 31 Dec 10
Buyers Snap Up Tablet Computers Over Netbooks
The surging popularity of the tablet computer -- popularized by Apple's iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab -- has put the kibosh on sales of netbooks.
Just a year ago, predictions were that the netbook would be the hot seller of 2010. But the ultra-compact, cheap notebook computers popularized by companies like Acer and Asus saw little growth this year. Meanwhile the tablet PC grew a category that barely existed a year ago, with sales of more than 20 million units, according to technology research firm Gartner.
Consumers preferred the styling, apps, touch-screen and compactness of tablets over the traditional netbook. Only 33.4 million netbooks sold in 2010, a slight increase over 2009's 32.2 million, Gartner says. "The predictions were that netbooks would surpass 40 million this year," says Roger Kay, an analyst at research firm Endpoint Technologies. "That didn't happen."
"The netbook was a disappointment to many consumers," Kay says. "It was perceived as a lousy notebook."
Netbooks won't go away, predicts George Shiffler, an analyst at Gartner. "We see them flattening out, and more or less holding the position they do now." He expects sales in the mid-30 millions for 2011. Kay disagrees, forecasting the demise of netbooks in the next few years. "The market will further shrink," he says. "It's just not up to the experience of the notebook."
Generally available for $250-$400, netbooks offer a full-size keyboard, Windows and a slower processor than bigger computers. "They were just too slow for many people," Kay says.
The iPad, at $499 for the entry-level model, is nearly twice as expensive but zippy and easy to operate.
Netbooks were also hurt by the falling price of laptop computers. Prices on some entry-level notebooks fell to $400 to $500 in 2010. "People started looking at what they could get for an extra $100, and opted for the notebook...
Fri, 31 Dec 10
Chinese Use Internet To Show Dissent
Every evening across China, the state broadcaster's flagship news program enters hundreds of millions of homes. And night after night, TV screens show dull reports of Communist Party meetings or leaders on inspection tours full of beaming farmers and clapping workers.
The morning's newspapers carry similar fare, so don't bother searching for satire or political cartoons: There aren't any. But go online, and it's a different story. While the government's cybercensors are quick, a growing number of Chinese Internet users prove quicker, posting humorous messages, pictures, videos and songs that mock the news of the day, the censors and the official party line.
"Some of the most cutting social criticism and criticism of the government is found in online humor," says Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of the Danwei Web site, blocked in China, that tracks the Chinese Internet.
"The Internet is the freest place for self-expression in China, and young Chinese people are increasingly media savvy," he says.
China's online population topped 420 million, the world's largest, by the end of June, reported state news agency Xinhua. The U.S.-based microblogging service Twitter is blocked in China, as is Facebook, but more than 75 million Chinese communicate using local, Twitter-like companies, the China Daily newspaper said this month.
Those microblogs are where political humor spreads the fastest, hotly pursued by the censors. China banned coverage of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony Dec. 10. The prize was awarded in absentia to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, derided as a "criminal" in the state-run press. But several microbloggers forwarded Twitter entries about "the Liu I most admire," written in mock-essay style. "He has won major international prizes ... and although he disappeared from our sight for a while, I believe his spirit will live forever," wrote one, teeing up the punch line: "His name is Liu Xiang," the champion hurdler...
Fri, 31 Dec 10
Pilot Defends Posting Security Videos on YouTube
A pilot who posted YouTube videos criticizing security at San Francisco International Airport said Tuesday he is shocked at the national uproar they've created.
Chris Liu, 50, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he wasn't aware so many people watch YouTube. He and his attorney, Don Werno, defended the footage showing how grounds crew can enter secure areas by swiping security cards and without undergoing further screening. It exposes a security lapse at the airport, they said.
"There have been numerous articles written about this security problem, and I just wanted to address it," Liu said. "I didn't really think that anybody was watching YouTube, so I didn't really think much of it."
Werno said his client, who has previously remained anonymous, decided to go public after reporters figured out his identity. Werno and Liu also held a news conference Tuesday at Sacramento International Airport.
"This was never about being famous for me," Liu, a Colfax resident, said with his wife, Sandra, by his side. "This was about aviation security."
Liu, who refers to himself as the "Patriot Pilot" on a website explaining why he made the videos, posted them in late November or early December. He took them down after the Transportation Security Administration objected, Werno has said.
Liu has been suspended from a federal anti-terrorism program that let him carry a gun on planes, and the TSA is investigating whether he revealed sensitive information. He works for a major airline but has declined to identify the carrier out of concerns about his job.
The videos - shot with a cell phone - number more than six.
One of the clips shows an ax in the cockpit that is used for emergencies. Werno has said his client believes the security pilots go through is "absurd" since once they get...
Fri, 31 Dec 10
Reports: SEC Looking Into Trades of Private Shares
The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the booming trade in the privately held shares of popular social networking behemoths such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Zynga, according to reports in The New York Times and elsewhere.
Citing unnamed people with knowledge of the matter, The Times said the SEC has sent "information requests" to several participants in the trading of these four companies' shares. It did not say who the participants are. The SEC declined to comment.
Shares of privately held companies can be traded on private stock exchanges such as SecondMarket, based in New York and SharesPost, based in San Bruno, Calif. The shares are generally sold by former employees or early investors in these companies. Only institutional investors or high net-worth individuals - those worth over $1 million - can buy the shares.
SecondMarket spokesman Mike Murphy said the company has not received any correspondence from the SEC regarding either a formal or informal inquiry on the issue. SecondMarket is a registered broker dealer and is regulated by the SEC, he added.
SharesPost said in a prepared statement it does not comment on "confidential discussion with any third parties," including regulators. It added it has, since its launch, "made efforts to keep the SEC's (staff) apprised of the evolution of its marketplace" and to comply with SEC guidance. Unlike SecondMarket, SharesPost has not registered as a broker dealer or an exchange, according to its website.
A big reason the SEC may be curious about the trading of these popular private startups' shares is because once a company hits 500 shareholders, it must disclose certain financial information to the public, even if it hasn't filed for an initial public offering. Facebook has been trying to put off reaching this threshold. For example, it has barred current employees...
Fri, 31 Dec 10
Trojan Grabs Private Information from Android Devices
A new Trojan is targeting Android devices. Known in security circles as Geinimi, the Trojan is powerful enough to compromise the personal data on a user's smartphone and send it to remote servers.
So says Lookout Mobile Security. In fact, the firm said the new Trojan is the most sophisticated Android malware its security researchers have seen to date. What's more, Geinimi is also the first Android malware in the wild that displays botnet-like capabilities. That means once the malware is installed on a user's phone, it has the potential to receive commands from a remote server that allow the owner of that server to control the phone.
"Geinimi is effectively being 'grafted' onto repackaged versions of legitimate applications, primarily games, and distributed in third-party Chinese Android app markets," the company wrote in a blog post. "The affected applications request extensive permissions over and above the set that is requested by their legitimate original versions."
Lookout said the Trojan's intent isn't entirely clear, but the possibilities range from a malicious ad network to an attempt to create an Android botnet.
Here's how it works: When a host application containing Geinimi is launched on a user's phone, the Trojan runs in the background and collects information that can compromise a user's privacy, Lookout said. That includes location coordinates and unique identifiers for both the device and SIM card. At five-minute intervals, Lookout explains, Geinimi attempts to connect to a remote server using one of 10 embedded domain names. If it connects, Geinimi transmits collected information to the remote server.
"This is unlikely to affect end users in the U.S. You have to go to a third-party site and enable and install third-party applications outside the marketplace. But it underscores the Wild West nature that is the Android platform," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at...
Fri, 31 Dec 10
New Skype App Brings 3G Video Calling To iPhone
Skype is hoping its latest innovation will help customers forget about the worst outage in company history. The VoIP provider just rolled out a new version of its iPhone app -- and it brings video calling to millions of mobile users around the world on both 3G and Wi-Fi networks.
With the new Skype for iPhone app, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch users can actually see families, friends and colleagues while talking to them. Skype expects video calling to make its app -- which is already one of the top five free iPhone apps of 2010 -- even more popular.
"With video calling representing approximately 40 percent of all Skype-to-Skype minutes for the first six months of 2010, our users have been eager to get Skype video calling on their mobile phones," said Neil Stevens, general manager of Skype's consumer business.
Skype said its app sets the stage for a video call to evolve communication from a mere transactional experience to a shared experience. Skype offered practical examples, including a military father watching the birth of his child while deployed abroad, loved ones communicating via sign language, or work colleagues collaborating around the globe.
"This is definitely something that Skype customers have been looking for. It does do FaceTime one better by working over the 3G network. Of course, it works with other Skype users that may not have an iPhone," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner.
"This is a natural evolution, and it does put pressure on some of the other video-chat providers that have been trying to gain traction in the marketplace," he added. "People are familiar with Skype. They probably have their Skype networks already in place. As we get into 2011, video conferencing and front-facing cameras are going to be standard on phones of a certain caliber."
Fri, 31 Dec 10
HTC Thunderbolt May Be Verizon's First LTE Phone
HTC's vow to be "first to 4G" appears to be gaining credibility as photos have materialized of a device from the Taiwan-based smartphone giant designed for the Verizon Wireless long-term evolution network.
The shots on a blog devoted to Android phones appear to be the HTC Thunderbolt, a 4.3-inch touchscreen device that has drawn comparisons to the HTC EVO, the first phone for Sprint Nextel's high-speed WiMAX network. Both devices run Google's Android operating system.
HTC's web site now features teasers promising to be "The first to 4G again," although Verizon Wireless COO John Stratton told The Wall Street Journal this week that "Motorola will be right there" when the company launches its first LTE phones at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 6. HTC and Motorola currently partner with Verizon in producing the popular Droid phones. In all, six LTE phones are expected, and other likely partners include Samsung and LG.
Irving Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, the co-owner with Vodafone of Verizon Wireless, is slated to give a keynote address at CES on Jan. 6, during which he'll likely announce the LTE phones. The company will also hold a press conference that afternoon with three top Verizon Wireless execs for what it says is a "sneak peak" at the phones. That event will be webcast live by Verizon.
The device featured on Droid Life has a built-in rear kickstand, front and back cameras, and four mechanical buttons under the oversized touchscreen, with the Verizon logo on the front and HTC's on the back, along with Verizon's 4G LTE logo. Specs were not listed. One photo shows a Thunderbolt startup logo on the screen.
That graphic is reminiscent of commercials currently promoting Verizon's LTE network, which feature a teenager opening a package that contains a bolt of...
Fri, 31 Dec 10
Mobile Apps for Android and Phone 7 Are Growing
Industry observers report that the number of applications available for Android smartphones has risen dramatically since October, when more than 100,000 apps were available from the Android Market. According to the AndroLib web site, which tracks Android metrics, Google's mobile platform gained more than 24,000 new apps in November and 26,000 this month.
Apple's App Store remains the market leader with 300,000 apps -- including more than 40,000 native iPad offerings. But the snowball effect driving Android app development is remarkable, considering that the Android Market only offered 30,000 apps in March and 70,000 by mid-July.
On the other hand, Windows Phone 7 reached 5,000 apps in just two months, while Android took almost three times as long to reach the same level, noted Al Hilwa, director of applications development software at IDC. "For a company that just a few months ago was nearing also-ran status in mobile, having 5,000 apps and 10 devices in 30 countries is by no means a trivial achievement," he said.
The reality for developers is that they want to be on all major platforms, Hilwa noted. "They want to reach everyone who is interested in their app, [and] the only way to do that is to [be on] all the major app platforms [covering] many devices, carriers or geographies," Hilwa said.
Still, launching a successful mobile platform presents a chicken-and-egg dilemma, where growth in device adoption is driven by the availability of apps, Hilwa observed. "App ecosystems are key in bootstrapping platforms into the market," he said. "Without them, there is really no platform."
Hilwa believes Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform has what it takes to become a successful smartphone OS player. "WP7 appears to be putting on about 2,000 apps a month, which is a really healthy clip for this stage of the game," Hilwa explained....
Fri, 31 Dec 10
Personalization and Virtualization Lead Predictions for 2011
It's crystal-ball time. Along with vows of making more money and losing more weight, the new year prompts visions of what the technology future will hold.
IBM has issued its big-five predictions, based on what it's working on and a five-year time span, visualized with an animation on YouTube. For data-center managers, the company envisions all that heat from computers being harnessed to heat water or cool buildings. Big Blue also sees commuters in this bright future enjoying the evolution of personalization in GPS-equipped smartphones and car-based systems, with real-time traffic data, displays of alternate routes, and details on parking availability making traffic jams a thing of the past.
Traveling may become easier, but virtual travel and expanded entertainment may make actually going someplace less important. IBM foresees glassless 3-D moving holograms that allow friends to share their telepresences, and that enable entertainment to blur the line between make-believe and reality even more.
While smartphones and other mobile devices have become more powerful, they are still limited by battery life. IBM envisions smaller batteries that last 10 times as long as current ones, and that can draw their power from air or from static electricity generated by the user.
Finally, the computing giant sees sensors inhabiting all manner of vehicles, devices and facilities, such that "citizen scientists" will be able to help real scientists and researchers map their environment by collecting and transmitting data about everyday surroundings. In other words, we all become Google Street View vehicles.
Not to be outdone by the people at IBM, Intel focused its predictions on just 2011 -- all of which, of course, involve areas of Intel R&D. Technologies picking up steam, according to Intel executives, include smart TV, hybrid tablets/netbooks, and "perceptual computers" that use object-recognizing, GPS and other sensors to create the next level in...
Thu, 30 Dec 10
3DS Can Harm Children's Eyes, Nintendo Warns
Nintendo is banking on 3-D to keep its DS portable gaming system on top in an increasingly crowded field that now includes smartphones as well as Sony's PlayStation Portable. But when the new no-glasses-required 3DS premieres next month at Nintendo World 2011 in Japan, it will come with a potentially troublesome disclaimer: Using the device can harm the vision of children under six.
Children under that age may face difficulty training their brains to focus their eyes after too much strain caused by the 3-D viewing, Nintendo fears, evidently heeding the advice of doctors.
As of Wednesday midday, there was no cautionary note posted under "safety warnings" or "info for parents" on Nintendo's U.S. products web site, but a message posted on its Japanese site, widely translated by media, warns that "Vision of children under the age of six has been said [to be in the] developmental stage. [The 3DS] delivers 3D images with different left and right images, [which] has a potential impact on the growth of children's eyes."
The DS is the most successful handheld gaming device in history, having sold more than 128 million units since its debut in 2004, although sales dropped last year to around 27 million from more than 31 million in 2008.
In June, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimee, speaking at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles, promised that the 3DS would raise the bar for gamers with its double 3.5-inch wide-screen lenses on the outside that can also display movies and photos in 3-D. "No more glasses!" he exclaimed.
A slider lets users determine the depth of the effect or turn it off completely to watch in one-dimensional mode. The U.S. price hasn't been announced, but it is said to be priced at the equivalent of $300 in Japan.
Consumer-devices analyst Avi Greengart of Current...
Thu, 30 Dec 10
Skype Says Bug in Older Software Caused Outage
Skype offered a detailed explanation Wednesday for the "critical failure" that prevented millions of Skye users worldwide from placing or receiving calls last week. According to the VoIP operator, a bug in an older version of the Skype for Windows client software caused 25 to 30 percent of the service's supernodes to fail.
Like any other peer-to-peer (P2P) network, Skype relies on supernodes with the ability to take on additional responsibilities compared to regular nodes by acting like a directory, supporting other Skype clients and creating local clusters, noted Skype CIO Lars Rabbe.
"Once a supernode has failed, even when restarted, it takes some time to become available as a resource to the P2P network again," Rabbe wrote in a blog. "As a result, the P2P network was left with 25 percent to 30 percent fewer supernodes than normal," which caused "a disproportionate load on the remaining available supernodes."
To recover the core system functionality as quickly as possible, Skype utilized resources normally dedicated to supporting group video calling, using them to deploy supernodes, Rabbe explained. "Over the course of Thursday night and Friday morning, we returned these to their normal use and restored group video calling functionality in time for Christmas," Rabbe explained.
Last week's outage underlined the risks involved with P2P-based communication services. "Many users felt lost, often also in corporations that rely on Skype for communication with remote clients and employees," noted Gartner Vice President Andrea Di Maio. "I guess that we have to learn," he wrote, that "nothing will ever be 100 percent reliable."
Online outages are inevitable -- as the service disruptions that occurred at Facebook, Twitter and Google's Gmail service have already demonstrated this year. Still, Skype's latest snafu came as an unpleasant pre-Christmas surprise for many business users, which Di Maio found...
Thu, 30 Dec 10
HP Wins $2.5 Billion NASA Contract for IT Services
Hewlett-Packard got a belated Christmas gift this year. NASA awarded the tech giant's enterprise services division a 10-year Agency Consolidated End-user Services (ACES) contract worth up to $2.5 billion.
The contract is a firm fixed-price deal with indefinite delivery and indefinite quantities. The initial term of the contract is four years, with two three-year option periods.
NASA personnel now support NASA's core business, scientific, research and computational activities. HP Enterprise Services will provide, manage, secure and maintain these essential IT services for the agency. Specifically, NASA will outsource management of its personal-computing hardware, agency-standard software, mobile IT services, peripherals and accessories, and other infrastructure to HP.
HP beat out Lockheed Martin for the project. "Our team is disappointed that NASA selected another solution," Sheila Collins, a spokesperson for Lockheed, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg. "We submitted a 'best-value' solution based on our knowledge of the program and our understanding of NASA's mission. We continue to serve NASA on other contracts."
But HP and NASA also have a longer-term relationship. HP first inked a deal with NASA in 2007. At that time, HP won a seven-year contract worth up to $5.6 million to provide personal computers, printers and other hardware to federal agencies through NASA's Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement program.
"This is a 10-year agreement, which is about as long of term as I have seen. For large, diversified IT providers like HP, it is not uncommon to have annual IT share of wallets in the $200 to $250 million levels, especially for a large governmental agency," said Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC. "Of course we are talking about NASA here, which is a huge consumer of technology -- we are talking about rocket science, after all."
HP is on a winning streak this December. The company announced earlier this month...
Thu, 30 Dec 10
Paul Allen Refiles Patents Suit Against Tech Giants
Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen has refiled a patent lawsuit that targets Facebook, Google, Apple and other technology companies. Allen alleges these companies are trespassing on technology his firm, Interval Licensing, owns.
Interval is a research company Allen cofounded in 1992. The company originally filed a patent suit in August in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington against major Internet search and e-commerce companies. The 11 defendants also include AOL, eBay, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo and YouTube.
Judge Marsha Pechman dismissed Allen's original suit on grounds that it didn't clearly name actual products or devices that the companies were allegedly infringing upon. Interval filed a new suit on Tuesday and is seeking unspecified damages as well as a ban on products that use the patents in question.
Interval Licensing holds patents of Interval Research, a defunct company founded by Allen and David Liddle to perform advanced research and development in the areas of information systems, communications and computer science. The patents in the lawsuit cover fundamental web technologies that Interval claims to have developed in the 1990s.
In the new suit, Interval points to the same four patents listed in the original suit. One patent is for an invention called Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data. Interval argues that this technology works to match ads from third parties with displayed content. Google, AOL, Apple's iTunes Store, eBay, Facebook, Netflix, Yahoo and Office Depot, the suit alleges, are infringing on this tech.
Interval claims two additional patents, Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device, and Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device, are being infringed by Google's...
Thu, 30 Dec 10
American Airlines Eschews Deals, Focuses on Customers
As United Airlines and Delta Air Lines led the frenzied deal-making reshaping the global airline sector, archrival American Airlines adopted the opposite tack, a "slow and steady wins the race" strategy.
Analysts were confounded; shareholders furious. But American CEO Gerard Arpey and President Tom Horton refused to budge. The next year will start to tell whether they made the right call: that American can keep pace with the two behemoths by simply focusing on airline basics.
While megamergers vaulted United and Delta past American to the world's No. 1 and No. 2 rankings, respectively, American channeled resources into a lower-risk "virtual merger" with British Airways, reconnecting with customers and bolstering hubs like Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
Analysts blasted American as unimaginative, and its industry-lagging results for 2010 seemed to prove them right. But market dynamics are starting to work in American's favor, said Horton, lanky and soft-spoken, who brings a marathoner's perspective to his post.
"I think that for those who don't follow the herd, there are some really interesting opportunities," Horton told the Tribune last month.
But will those opportunities materialize quickly enough to win over shareholders and analysts focused on short-term gains? Wall Street, so far, isn't convinced.
The Texas-based carrier's $2.6 billion market value is dwarfed by Delta's $9.83 billion capitalization and United's $7.65 billion value. American's labor discord, aging aircraft fleet and retiree benefit costs all weighed on its stock, analysts said.
American's financial results are beginning to nose upward, however. Ray Neidl of Maxim Group is one of several analysts who think American's stock has the greatest upside potential among its peers for 2011 since it was the most battered major airline stock this year.
Passengers already are reaping dividends as American tackles service bottlenecks, like with a program created by its O'Hare workers to speed international travelers with tight connections through immigration...
Thu, 30 Dec 10
Entrepreneurs Share Their Big Mistakes -- and Lessons
Pretty much, America was built on the simplest of business models: Take someone with a not-done-before or a no-one-does-it-better idea. Let that someone tinker in the back room, or the lab, or the storefront, putting that big idea to work. Watch it fly -- or flop.
Been that way since way before W.K. Kellogg peddled his toasted corn flakes. Or Henry Ford rolled out his odd four-wheeler, and called it, plainly, Model A.
Oh, wait, that reminds us: Edsel.
Need we say another word?
Fact is, entrepreneurs are the backbone of the economic engine that makes this country churn and soar. Boils down to folks with brains and guts. Or maybe just wild-eyed dreamers who don't believe in No.
We gathered up a flock of American small business success stories, picked the brains behind each tale, found out what they'd term their biggest mistake and most lasting lesson.
Thousands of pounds of Early Glow strawberries ago, back in the late 1970s, Justin Rashid was a lifelong wild-food forager from Northern Michigan who'd tried his hand at New York City theater, but went racing back to the woodlands he knew inside out. He was busy picking black morels when he met up with Larry Forgione, a New York City chef.
Wasn't long till Forgione, who'd set his sights on bringing the finest indigenous American foods to the plate, and Rashid, who basically wanted an excuse to poke around the woods every single day, decided they'd cook up the best fruit preserves in the world.
Thus was born, in 1982, American Spoon, an artisanal specialty food company based in Petoskey, Mich. Rashid and Forgione started out with two copper kettles in the basement of a candy shop, and now cook up a line of 100 award-winning spoon fruits, preserves and salsas (to skim the list);...
Thu, 30 Dec 10
Father's App Lets Disabled Son 'Speak' thru iPad
Victor Pauca will have plenty of presents to unwrap on Christmas, but the 5-year-old Winston-Salem boy has already received the best gift he'll get this year: the ability to communicate.
Victor has a rare genetic disorder that delays development of a number of skills, including speech. To help him and others with disabilities, his father, Paul, and some of his students at Wake Forest University have created an application for the iPhone and iPad that turns their touch screens into communications tools.
The VerbalVictor app allows parents and caregivers to take pictures and record phrases to go with them. These become "buttons" on the screen that Victor touches when he wants to communicate. A picture of the backyard, for example, can be accompanied by a recording of a sentence like "I want to go outside and play." When Victor touches it, his parents or teachers know what he wants to do.
"The user records the voice, so it's something the child's familiar with. It's not robotic," Paul Pauca said.
The app, which should be for sale for $10 in Apple Inc.'s iTunes store by early next week, is one of dozens of new software products designed to make life easier for people with a range of disabilities.
The category is expanding so fast that Apple now has a separate listing for it in the App Store. More apps are added every week, ranging from Sign4Me, a sign language tutor that uses an animated avatar, to ArtikPix, a flash card-like app that helps teachers and speech therapists improve their students' articulation of words.
"It opens up his mind to us, because he can show us what he's thinking," said Victor's mother, Theresa.
Victor has a rare genetic disorder called Pitt Hopkins Syndrome, a diagnosis he shares with about 50 other people in the U.S. The ailment causes delays...
Thu, 30 Dec 10
Holiday 2010: The Year Shoppers Came Back
American shoppers came back in force for the holidays, right to the end. After two dreary years, Christmas 2010 will go down as the holiday Americans rediscovered how much they like to shop.
People spent more than expected on family and friends and splurged on themselves, too, an ingredient missing for two years. Clothing such as fur vests and beaded sweaters replaced practical items like pots and pans. Even the family dog is getting a little something extra.
"You saw joy back in the holiday season," said Sherif Mityas, partner in the retail practice at A.T. Kearney.
A strong Christmas Eve augmented a great season for retailers. The National Retail Federation predicts spending this holiday season will reach $451.5 billion, up 3.3 percent over last year.
That would be the biggest increase since 2006, and the largest total since a record $452.8 billion in 2007. The holiday season runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, so a strong week after Christmas could still make this the biggest of all time. Spending numbers through Dec. 24 won't be available until next week and final numbers, through Dec. 31, arrive next month.
The economy hasn't improved significantly from last year. Unemployment is 9.8 percent, credit remains tight and the housing market is moribund. But recent economic reports suggest employers are laying off fewer workers and businesses are spending more. Consumer confidence is rising.
"I was unemployed last year, so I'm feeling better," said Hope Jackson, who was at Maryland's Mall in Columbia on Friday morning. Jackson bought laptops and PlayStation 2 games for her three daughters earlier in the season but was at the mall on Christmas Eve to grab $50 shirts marked down to $12 at Aeropostale.
Some spending growth online has been driven by free shipping offers and convenience. From Oct. 31 through Thursday, about $36 billion...
Thu, 30 Dec 10
New Tax Law Packed with Obscure Business Tax Cuts
The massive new tax bill signed into law by President Barack Obama is filled with all kinds of holiday stocking stuffers for businesses: tax breaks for producing TV shows, grants for putting up windmills, rum subsidies for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
There is even a tax break for people who buy race horses.
Millions of homeowners, however, might feel like they got a lump of coal. Homeowners who don't itemize their deductions will lose a tax break for paying local property taxes.
The business tax breaks are part of sweeping legislation that extends Bush era tax cuts for families at every income level through 2012. Obama signed the $858 billion measure a week ago. It also provides a new payroll tax cut for wage earners and extends jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed.
Most of the business tax breaks -- about 50 in all -- are part of a package that expires each year, creating uncertainty for tax planners but lots of business for lobbyists. Many of these tax breaks have been around for years but expired at the end of 2009 because lawmakers couldn't agree how to pay for them.
The new law extends most of them through 2011, some through 2012. They will be paid for with borrowed money.
Nearly 1,300 businesses and trade groups formed a coalition urging Congress to extend the business tax breaks. Others lobbied for specific provisions, including a generous tax credit for research and development and subsidies to produce alternative energy.
There is a generous tax break for banks and insurance companies that invest overseas, a tax credit for railroad track maintenance, more generous write-offs for upgrading motorsport race tracks, and increased deductions for businesses that donate books and computers to public schools and libraries.
Many of the tax breaks are designed to encourage economic activity. But passing them...
Thu, 30 Dec 10
What Can SMBs Learn from the WikiLeaks Fiasco?
The biggest security story of 2010 is the WikiLeaks posting of diplomatic cables that rocked the U.S. government -- more than once. The document leaks shed a blinding light on enterprise data security at a whole new level. But what can small and midsize businesses (SMBs) learn from the security fiasco? Plenty.
Similar to enterprise policy, SMBs should build best practices around measuring and monitoring who accesses their data and deny access based on rules, said Justin Strong, a product marketing manager at Novell. Data encryption and an automated way to enforce encryption when dealing with USB flash drives and other removable storage devices are the key to avoiding this type of leak.
"It is extremely important to educate employees on the dangers of RSDs -- Removable Storage Devices. Never use an unknown USB stick or other form of removable media --these can frequently have malware on them," Strong said. "Second, costs, which are top of mind with all SMBs, shouldn't prevent you from implementing a basic set of security policies. Even baseline solutions can go a long way."
Oliver Lavery, director of security research and development for nCircle, said the main lesson for every business in this mess is that information security matters. The government and many of the companies that are opposing WikiLeaks are just shooting the messenger, he said.
"The problem isn't WikiLeaks at all, and shutting them down is pointless. Once the information had been (taken by users), they could have uploaded it to BitTorrent, or any number of other online forums. The problem is that there was a systemic failure to protect information that was classified as secret," Lavery said. "Don't make the same mistake with critical data inside your organization. Once the information has been (taken), you have lost control and it can be made...
Wed, 29 Dec 10
Texting and Driving Don't Mix, AT&T Video Emphasizes
"LOL." "Where U at?" "Yeah." Single words, shorthand or fragments of sentences that flow from cell-phone keyboards millions of times each day. But in a few notorious cases, those words have led to carnage on the road at the hands of texting drivers, an increasingly dangerous form of distracted driving.
AT&T, the second-largest wireless carrier in the U.S. and one of the top companies putting cell phones in the hands of young drivers, is stepping up its campaign to stop the texting road menace. An 11-minute video produced by the company and released this week shows the heartbreaking consequences that can unfold in the few seconds a driver averts his or her glance from the road to a phone display.
Patrick Sims, who was 17 when he slammed into a bicyclist while texting LOL to a friend on a Denver highway in 2005, notes that if someone had asked him to close his eyes for five or six seconds while driving, he would never have done so.
"But if someone said read this text ... I had done it numerous times before," he tells viewers.
The video also features a Missouri state trooper describing the scene where Mariah West, a senior one day short of high-school graduation, flew off the road and hit a divider after texting "where u at?" Friends of Mariah, who died in May 2009, recall her addiction to texting and her ability to multitask.
The Department of Transportation says 5,500 people fell victim to distracted driving on U.S. highways last year, although that number held steady at 16 percent of all traffic fatalities after a sharp increase the previous four years.
Texting is specifically banned in 30 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, although in a controversial survey in September the Highway Loss Data Institute, which is operated by...
Wed, 29 Dec 10
Top Hacker Targets Include Mobile Devices and Mac
McAfee is making security predictions for 2011. The firm outlines its top threats for next year in the 2011 Threat Predictions report -- and Android, iPhone, Foursquare, Google TV, and Mac OS X are listed as major cybercrime targets. Politically motivated attacks are also expected to increase, a la WikiLeaks.
"We've seen significant advancements in device and social-network adoption, placing a bullseye on the platforms and services users are embracing the most," said Vincent Weafer, senior vice president of McAfee Labs. "These platforms and services have become very popular in a short amount of time, and we're already seeing a significant increase in vulnerabilities, attacks and data loss."
Social-media threats are nothing new, but expect to see more of them next year. McAfee Labs expects social-media services that use URL shortening will be under attack because its easier for cybercriminals to mask the full URL and direct users to malicious web sites.
Then there's geolocation services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places. In just a few clicks, cybercriminals can see in real time who is tweeting, where they are located, what they are saying, what their interests are, and what operating systems and applications they are using. That opens the door to targeted attacks.
On the mobile front, McAfee predicts the widespread adoption of mobile devices in business environments, combined with a historically fragile cellular infrastructure and slow strides toward encryption, will bring a rapid escalation of attacks and threats to mobile devices, putting user and corporate data at very high risk.
Historically, the Mac OS platform has remained relatively unscathed by malicious attackers, but McAfee Labs warns that Mac-targeted malware will continue to increase in sophistication in 2011. The popularity of iPads and iPhones in business environments, combined with the lack of user understanding of proper security for these...
Wed, 29 Dec 10
Wi-Fi Hot Zones for AT&T Customers To Be Expanded
AT&T said Tuesday that the wireless carrier will expand its Wi-Fi hot-zone pilot project through the launch of additional Wi-Fi hot zones in New York City near Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Moreover, AT&T said it will expand its coverage of Times Square as well as launch a new Wi-Fi hot zone in San Francisco's Embarcadero Center.
AT&T's project has been providing supplemental mobile broadband coverage in the downtown areas of New York City; Charlotte, N.C.; and Chicago since May. AT&T customers with qualifying wireless data, LaptopConnect and AT&T High Speed Internet plans continue to receive unlimited access to all these hot zones at no additional cost, noted AT&T Senior Vice President Angie Wiskocil.
Heavy broadband consumption by data superusers -- particularly from AT&T subscribers equipped with Apple's iPhone -- has been a major headache for AT&T for the past two years. "Our network today supports more integrated devices than any of our competitors and more data traffic than any of our competitors," said Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T's Mobility and Consumer division.
Piper Jaffray estimates that 80 percent of the smartphones sold by AT&T in this year's third quarter were iPhones. Moreover, the firm's analysts predict that AT&T will sell more than 15 million iPhones for all of 2010.
To help mitigate data bottlenecks in congested urban areas, AT&T has been devoting special attention to its initial Wi-Fi efforts in the downtown areas of New York City, Charlotte and Chicago. During the past six months, AT&T customers made more than 350,000 connections at these three hot zones, noted AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan.
"The pilot demonstrated the clear benefits of having fast and readily available Wi-Fi options for our customers and our network, and so we have decided to deploy hot zones in more locations," Donovan said....
Wed, 29 Dec 10
Suit Says iPad and iPhone Apps Send IDs To Advertisers
Apple is the latest brand to get hit with privacy complaints -- and a lawsuit. The iPhone and iPad maker has been accused of letting apps transmit users' personal information to advertising networks without permission.
The complaint was filed Dec. 23 in a San Jose, Calif. federal court and the plaintiff attorneys are seeking class-action status. The suit alleges that Apple's iPhones and iPads contain identifiers that make it possible for advertising networks to not only track what apps users download, but also how frequently they are used and for how long.
"Some apps are also selling additional information to ad networks, including users' location, age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and political views," the suit said.
The suit was filed on behalf of Jonathan Lalo of Los Angeles County. The complaint names apps, including Paper Toss, Dictionary.com, the Weather Channel, and Pandora, as defendants alongside Apple. Scott A. Kamber and Avi Kreitenberg of KamberLaw in New York is representing Lalo.
The complaint outlines the use of a Unique Device Identification, also called a UDID, on iPhones and iPads. According to the complaint, users cannot block the UDID. The complaint also spells out Apple's claim that the company reviews all apps in its App Store and forbids app makers from transmitting data without express permission from customers.
Finally, the lawsuit claims that such transmissions are a violation of federal computer fraud and privacy laws. Attorneys, therefore, are vying for a class action that would include Apple customers who downloaded an app on their devices between Dec. 1, 2008, and last week.
These suits, as well as other activity at the Federal Trade Commission and in Congress, suggest 2011 may become "the year of privacy" and we may see a lot more litigation around the issue. Certainly the lawyers smell...
Wed, 29 Dec 10
Call Center Report Gives Bank of America Low Marks
Bank of America routinely takes longer than its peers to answer phone calls from borrowers with distressed home loans and loses the highest percentage of calls, too, six months of Treasury Department reports show.
BofA's answering time has averaged 40 seconds or more each month since May, when Treasury began collecting call-center data from the eight largest servicers in its mortgage modification program. BofA, the largest U.S. bank and the largest mortgage servicer, had the slowest answering speed in four of the six months.
OneWest topped BofA in July and October, the latest month in Treasury's reports.
BofA lost the highest percentage of calls in five of the six months, including October when its abandoned call rate was more than 3%, the reports show.
Mortgage servicers have drawn criticism recently after revelations that their employees or contractors may have created thousands of potentially faulty foreclosure documents.
BofA suffered another blow Dec. 17 when the Arizona and Nevada attorneys general filed separate lawsuits accusing it of misleading borrowers seeking loan modifications. The Arizona complaint characterized BofA as ranking "last in virtually every homeowner experience metric" tracked in Treasury's reports.
The reports also show that BofA has one of the lowest rates among 17 large servicers in the government's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) for converting trial loan modifications to permanent ones.
BofA says that helping customers stay in their homes is a "top priority," that it's done 746,000 loan modifications since January 2008 and that it's working to improve its conversion rate. Since HAMP's start last year, BofA says, the bank leads the industry with 93,500 permanent modifications started.
BofA says its automated answering system is better designed to identify callers' needs and transfer them to the right people than competitors' systems.
That may take extra time but is "ultimately more efficient and a better overall experience for the customer,"...
Wed, 29 Dec 10
Retailers Get Less Grinchy on Return Policies
It's going to be easier and less costly to return a Christmas gift you don't like: Many retailers are dropping restocking fees and return deadlines as a post-holiday present.
"It leaves the consumer feeling more appreciated and better about shopping in these stores," says Lee Pernice, director of retail marketing for ADT Security Services.
In one of the latest changes, Best Buy announced on Dec. 17 that it is eliminating its restocking fee on all products except special orders. The chain previously charged 15 percent for returning opened items such as computers, cameras, camcorders and GPS units, and 10 percent for returned mobile phones.
Stores often have stringent return policies because of consumer fraud, which is estimated to total $3.7 billion this holiday season, up from $2.7 billion in 2009, according a National Retail Federation study of 111 retailers. The fraud includes returning stolen merchandise, using counterfeit receipts and returning used items.
Roughly 8 percent of returns during the holiday season are fraudulent, says Joe LaRocca, senior adviser of asset protection at the National Retail Federation.
Instead of strict return policies, some stores are using other means to fight fraud, such as video surveillance and customer databases to track and target faulty returns, Pernice says.
Target, for example, lets shoppers exchange items without receipts, provided the total cost doesn't exceed $70 a year. Wal-Mart flags a transaction if the customer has returned more than three items without a receipt in 45 days.
"Retailers can enact more advanced technology to ... deter return fraud, while increasing customer-service policies," Pernice says.
More than 88 percent of consumers find store return policies to be fair, according to an NRF survey of nearly 9,000 consumers in November.
"I find that the hassles of making the returns are getting fewer -- store policies are more clearly stated and the advent of gift receipts has...
Wed, 29 Dec 10
Facebook, PayPal Tycoon Embraces Sci-Fi Future
In the movie The Social Network, the character of Peter Thiel is played as a slick Master of the Universe, a tech industry king and kingmaker with the savvy to see that a $500,000 investment in Facebook could mint millions later.
Reality is a little more rumpled.
On a recent December night, Thiel walked, slightly stooped, across a San Francisco stage to make a pitch to an invitation-only audience of Silicon Valley luminaries -- investors and innovators who had scored sometimes huge fortunes through a mix of skill, vision and risk-taking.
The billionaire PayPal co-founder didn't tell them about the next big startup. He wanted them to buy into a bigger idea: the future.
A future when computers will communicate directly with the human brain. Seafaring pioneers will found new floating nations in the middle of the ocean. Science will conquer aging, and death will become a curable disease.
If anything can transform these wild dreams into plausible realities, he believes it is the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley -- the minds and money that have conjured the technological marvels that have already altered everyday life.
"Do we try to pursue ideas that are weird and have optimism about the future, or do we give up on all new things and compromise?"
Sitting before him in the audience, among others: Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman and technology publishing guru Tim O'Reilly.
As venture capital in Silicon Valley chases the next big mobile app or group discount service, Thiel was asking for them to fund technological breakthroughs that some believe in fervently and others see as sheer fantasy.
He even has a name for it: Breakthrough philanthropy.
Instead of just giving to help the less fortunate here and now, Thiel encouraged his fellow moguls to put their money toward seemingly far-fetched ventures that he believes could improve...
Wed, 29 Dec 10
Minnesota Ceiling Lights Send Coded Internet Data
Flickering ceiling lights are usually a nuisance, but in city offices in St. Cloud, they will actually be a pathway to the Internet.
The lights will transmit data to specially equipped computers on desks below by flickering faster than the eye can see. Ultimately, the technique could ease wireless congestion by opening up new expressways for short-range communications.
The first few light fixtures built by LVX System, a local startup, will be installed Wednesday in six municipal buildings in this city of 66,000 in the snowy farm fields of central Minnesota.
The LVX system puts clusters of its light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, in a standard-sized light fixture. The LEDs transmit coded messages -- as a series of 1s and 0s in computer speak -- to special modems attached to computers.
A light on the modem talks back to the fixture overhead, where there is sensor to receive the return signal and transmit the data over the Internet. Those computers on the desks aren't connected to the Internet, except through these light signals, much as Wi-Fi allows people to connect wirelessly.
LVX takes its name from the Latin word for light, but the underlying concept is older than Rome; the ancient Greeks signaled each other over long distances using flashes of sunlight off mirrors and polished shields. The Navy uses a Morse-coded version with lamps.
The first generation of the LVX system will transmit data at speeds of about 3 megabits per second, roughly as fast as a residential DSL line.
Mohsen Kavehrad, a Penn State electrical engineering professor who has been working with optical network technology for about 10 years, said the approach could be a vital complement to the existing wireless system.
He said the radio spectrum usually used for short-range transmissions, such as Wi-Fi, is getting increasingly crowded, which can lead to slower connections.
"Light can be...
Wed, 29 Dec 10
Man Quits Job, Makes Living Suing E-Mail Spammers
Daniel Balsam hates spam. Most everybody does, of course. But he has acted on his hate as few have, going far beyond simply hitting the delete button. He sues them.
Eight years ago, Balsam was working as a marketer when he received one too many e-mail pitches to enlarge his breasts.
Enraged, he launched a Web site called Danhatesspam.com, quit a career in marketing to go to law school and is making a decent living suing companies who flood his e-mail inboxes with offers of cheap drugs, free sex and unbelievable vacations.
"I feel like I'm doing a little bit of good cleaning up the Internet," Balsam said.
From San Francisco Superior Court small claims court to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Balsam, based in San Francisco, has filed many lawsuits, including dozens before he graduated law school in 2008, against e-mail marketers he says violate anti-spamming laws.
His many victories are mere rain drops in the ocean considering that Cisco Systems Inc. estimates that there are 200 billion spam messages circulating a day, accounting for 90 percent of all e-mail.
Still, Balsam settles enough lawsuits and collects enough from judgments to make a living. He has racked up well in excess of $1 million in court judgments and lawsuit settlements with companies accused of sending illegal spam.
His courtroom foes contend that Balsam is one of many sole practitioners unfairly exploiting anti-spam sentiments and laws. They accuse him of filing lawsuits against out-of-state companies that would rather pay a small settlement than expend the resources to fight the legal claims.
"He really seems to be trying to twist things for a buck," said Bennet Kelley, a defense lawyer who has become Balsam's arch nemesis over the years in the rough-and-tumble litigation niche that has sprung up around spam.
Kelley created a Web site with a similar...
Wed, 29 Dec 10
Cloud Growth Will Be Tempered By Some Restraints
Whatever else 2010 might have been, it was the Year of the Cloud. Cloud computing became the buzz phrase of the moment, with Salesforce.com, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon, Rackspace, Dell and others investing major efforts to position themselves in the new clouds. But what's ahead for cloud computing?
It depends who you ask, of course. For instance, a new study by Cisco Systems, released earlier this month, found opportunity for enterprises and service providers.
For enterprises, the report projected that almost 12 percent of all enterprise workloads will run in the public cloud by the end of 2013. This includes not only desktop applications, e-mail, collaboration and enterprise resource planning, the study said, but potentially any application. "Enterprise executives," the report said, "believe that no applications should be automatically excluded from migration to the cloud."
The report said the key opportunity for service providers is that they could "differentiate themselves by becoming cloud service providers."
The study involved in-depth interviews with more than 80 enterprise IT decision-makers in 43 enterprises and public-sector organizations in the U.S. It said the key issues determining migration decisions revolve around perceptions by executives about security and control, data-center overcapacity and scale, and the availability of skilled IT people.
But discerning patterns in the clouds, as any sky-watcher can assert, depends on one's perspective and disposition. While Cisco's study focuses on opportunities, a new study from Gartner describes cloud computing as currently at "the peak of inflated expectations."
"Misconceptions abound, especially as they relate to cost-cutting," the Gartner report said.
Nevertheless, the study found that half of the world's 1,000 largest companies will be using external cloud-based services for the top 10 revenue-generating processes within the next five years. To handle that volume and the complexities of integrating and coordinating cloud suppliers, Gartner envisions that...
Tue, 28 Dec 10
With iPod Rival, Samsung Aims To Match Apple Products
Building out its family of products, Samsung Electronics has confirmed that it will debut a personal media player based on its Galaxy smartphones at next week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The four-inch touchscreen Samsung Galaxy Player has Wi-Fi, front- and back-facing cameras, and comes with eight, 16 or 32 gigabytes of data storage -- much like Apple's iPod touch -- according to a blog that covers Samsung products.
Samsung Hub also reported that the player is 9.9mm thick and runs Android 2.2 with a one-gigahertz processor, a microSD card slot, and access to Samsung Apps and the Android Market, which has more than 200,000 offerings. The South Korea-based Samsung previously released the Galaxy Player 50 at the IFA conference in Berlin in September, with a smaller 3.2-inch display, only a rear-facing camera, and running Android 2.1. A similar device, the GB-70, is also expected at CES.
Having launched the Galaxy Tab in September -- a seven-inch answer to Apple's 9.7-inch iPad tablet, with one million sold in the first two months, as well as a line of Galaxy smartphones that have sold more than five million units on all major carriers, Samsung seems poised to try to match the Cupertino, Calif., computer giant product for product in the aggressive consumer electronics arena.
"Samsung is trying to match Apple family by family," said technology consultant and analyst Rob Enderle. "Samsung is one of the few companies that can match Apple's distribution. Although they don't have their own stores like Apple, in terms of being able to [compete] in the same kind of stores, they can do that."
Enderle added that other companies trying to match Apple's success have done so "piecemeal, without going after the full set of products."
"Samsung is one of the most powerful consumer electronics companies in...
Tue, 28 Dec 10
Apple Has Reportedly Boosted iPhone Production
According to sources, Apple has boosted its iPhone global shipment target for the first quarter of 2011 to between 20 million and 21 million units -- up from 19 million previously. Industry sources also told the Taiwan-based DigiTimes on Monday that Apple intends to ship five to six million WCDMA iPhones to carriers in North America and the Asia-Pacific region during the first three months of next year.
The unconfirmed production boost would be substantially higher than the 15 million iPhone shipments that Wall Street analysts have predicted for the fourth quarter of this year -- up from the 14.1 million units Apple shipped in the three months through September. But demand would increase dramatically if Apple terminates its U.S. exclusivity agreement with AT&T and launched a CDMA-compatible iPhone to satisfy pent-up demand for such a device from rival Verizon Wireless' 90 million subscribers.
"We believe that Apple's exclusive agreement with AT&T has limited demand for the device," Piper Jaffray analysts Gene Munster, Michael Olson, and Andrew Murphy noted earlier this month.
The United States is the only remaining country of the 89 nations in which the iPhone is sold that involves an exclusive agreement, Munster, Olson and Murphy observed. "The company has exhibited a clear trend toward the multi-carrier model in recent months, and we believe [Apple] will complete the trend by adding Verizon in the U.S. in the first half of 2011," they wrote.
Apple currently trails behind Nokia (36.6 percent) and Android (25.5 percent) in the smartphone market with a 16.7 percent share worldwide, according to Gartner. So launching the iPhone on Verizon's network early next year would undoubtedly help Apple continue to grow even as Google's Android platform becomes more widely available on a global basis.
Moreover, the iPhone's move to Verizon's network might even take...
Tue, 28 Dec 10
Hacktivism Could Escalate Security Problems in 2011
As IBM predicts information-technology innovations, The Wall Street Journal offers Walt Mossberg's best products of 2010 list, the Financial Times names Apple CEO Steve Jobs Person of the Year, and so on, some security researchers are turning their eye toward 2011.
Indeed, security issues plagued the high-tech industry in 2010. From the infamous WikiLeaks issues to Google hacks from China to social-media attacks to mobile-device threats and beyond, 2010 was a year to remember for security researchers.
But what will 2011 bring? More of the same. Much more, said Paul Henry, a security analyst at Lumension. Read on to learn about some of the top security predictions for 2011. (It's not all bad news.)
The year 2010 in security all started with China and the Google hacks. Remember? What drama! More recently, we watched the Stuxnet state-sponsored malware attack wreak havoc on Microsoft users. More drama. The lesson? It's no longer your disgruntled employee or even the opportunistic hacker simply taking advantage of a chink in your armor that you need to worry about.
"Your disgruntled employee and opportunistic hackers have limited budgets and resources, while today's state-sponsored threat comes with unlimited resources. After all, they print the money," Henry said. "The increased risks associated with state-sponsored cybercrime require more diligence."
With Facebook reportedly planning to vie for LinkedIn's audience, the risk of exposing personal information continues to grow. As Henry sees it, it's hard to believe that the companies that proved they could not be trusted with the simplest of information now want to host our resumes.
"As social media expands to contain more personal information, so does the risk that this very same information will be used in more effective spear phishing-like attacks," Henry said. "By expanding the information we are placing on social web sites,...
Tue, 28 Dec 10
Kindle Is Amazon's Best-Seller Despite Tablet Rivals
For all the talk of tablet computers -- in particular, the Apple iPad -- eroding interest in e-book readers, Amazon.com is reporting strong Kindle sales as holiday-season numbers roll in. On Monday, Amazon announced that the third-generation Kindle is officially the best-selling product in company history, eclipsing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7).
Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, said he's grateful to the millions of customers who have made the all-new Kindle the best-selling product in the history of Amazon. Then he made it clear that he isn't running away from the hyped-up battle between e-book readers and tablet computers.
"We're seeing that many of the people who are buying Kindles also own an LCD tablet," Bezos said. "Customers report using their LCD tablets for games, movies and web browsing, and their Kindles for reading sessions."
Bezos went on to point out some reasons why the third-generation Kindle is still holding its own despite the success of tablets like the Apple iPad. He specifically mentioned the price. Compared to $499 for an Apple iPad Wi-Fi edition, Kindle's $139 price is a key factor in the success of the e-reader.
"[Customers] report preferring Kindle for reading because it weighs less, eliminates battery anxiety with its month-long battery life, and has the advanced paper-like Pearl E Ink display that reduces eyestrain, doesn't interfere with sleep patterns at bedtime, and works outside in direct sunlight, an important consideration, especially for vacation reading," Bezos said.
Phil Leigh, an analyst at Inside Digital Media, said part of the Kindle's success is the fact that it offers an end-to-end digital book-reading experience. The experience of shopping, purchasing and reading digital books is better than it is at Apple, he argued.
"Amazon also makes a number of books available for free. As a matter of...
Tue, 28 Dec 10
Momentum May Drive a Tech-Industry Recovery in 2011
It's a thought-provoking headline, isn't it? After some ups and downs in 2010 -- welcome after the dips and twists of 2009 -- many industry watchers are bullish on a tech-industry recovery in 2011. The momentum that started to build in the second half of 2010 should continue next year as corporations and consumers alike loosen the purse strings.
Based on the information KPMG has received from U.S technology executives, Gary Matuszak, KPMG global chair for the information, communication and entertainment practice, is optimistic. In KPMG's most recent survey of tech executives, the firm found that business leaders expect significant improvement in 2010 over last year in revenue and employment, and they are more optimistic about next year.
"Almost nine out of 10 executives said they expect business conditions in the technology sector to improve in 2011, including stronger revenue," Matuszak said. "When participants were asked to name the biggest drivers of revenue growth over the next three years in the technology sector, 54 percent named cloud computing, 51 percent said mobile applications, 43 percent identified client computing/virtualization, and 42 percent said advanced analytics. About half the respondents believe the growth rate for both cloud computing and mobile applications could exceed 10 percent over the next two years."
KPMG also recently completed a global survey of the semiconductor industry. Executives from that industry also expect solid increases in sales and workforce growth in 2011. According to the KPMG survey, conducted in collaboration with the Semiconductor Industry Association, 78 percent of semiconductor executives expect revenue to grow by more than five percent next year.
"In looking at jobs, 29 percent of the respondents predict workforce growth of greater than five percent, compared to 23 percent in 2009," Matuszak said. "Our findings show that the semiconductor industry expects moderate growth...
Tue, 28 Dec 10
Retrogaming: Playing Old Games on New Computers
Computer games are getting ever more realistic, but that's sometimes a turnoff for gamers who fondly remember the simple graphics of the classics.
But even if you don't have the right hardware to run the old games, special software can help to bring the old games to life on new computers. From there, it's a quick step to enjoying classics like Defender, Asteroids or Monkey Island.
And it doesn't stop there. After all, there's 20 years or more of computer gaming history to explore. Their age and their unbroken popularity have turned these games into classics.
The first step, if you're interested in retrogaming, is to stop worrying about finding an old computer for the classic games and focusing your attention on finding an emulator for the computer you have today.
Emulators are small programs that simulate classic systems like the Commodore 64 (C64) or the Amiga 500 on modern computers. Most emulators are designed for the PC or Mac, but there's already a C64 emulator out there for the iPhone.
However, many of the older, and sometimes more difficult, games are hard to navigate with touchpads.
"The advantage of emulators is that you don't need to get any special hardware," says Hansjoerg Wuethrich, a retrogamer who has written a book on the trend.
An older Pentium-III PC can already emulate a lot of the older systems with no problem. Wuethrich recommends the C64 emulator FRODO or the WinUAE for Amiga fans.
MAME and MESS are two other interesting options. While MAME focuses on old arcade-style games like Pac-Man or Outrun, MESS, which is still in development, would bring together a lot of older system under one interface.
Emulators only simulate the device. The game to be played has to be available in a special format like ROM or ISO.
The games are long gone from store shelves, but it's...
Tue, 28 Dec 10
After the iPad, What Tech Surprises Lay in Store for 2011?
What's in store for technology in 2011? Plenty. While 2010 saw the unveiling of hot products like the iPad and iPhone 4 -- as well as the widespread adoption of the Windows 7 and Android operating systems -- 2011 looks poised to build on the best of what the preceding year had to offer. Read on for some predictions.
Apple's iPad was just the beginning. In 2011, expect an onslaught of competitors that want to take a bite out of Apple's near monopoly in the "pad" market.
New models from HP, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, Motorola, Dell, Asus, Cisco, Lenovo, and others are expected to be rolled out in 2011.
While these products may not have the instant name recognition of an iPad, they'll all likely have something that the iPad doesn't: affordability. What will Apple do in response? There are plenty of shortcomings in the iPad that could be addressed by an iPad successor. Expect to see one in 2011.
Upstarts like Facebook and Twitter took the world by storm in 2010. Will tech heavyweights like Google stand by and watch success like that go unchallenged? Unlikely.
Twitter's 140-character niche may be tough to replicate, but expect 2011 to see competitors attempt to chip away at Facebook's success. Google is currently rumoured to have a "Google Me" product in the wings, which is expected to give Facebook some competition in 2011. Others are likely to follow suit.
There are plenty of reasons for cloud computing to be taken seriously -- by both corporations and consumers -- in 2011.
The first is accessibility. Internet access is close to ubiquitous in many areas now, so storing your data on some server that you can reach only when online is less of an issue than it used to be.
The second, though, is cost. In...
Tue, 28 Dec 10
Smartphone Navigation Systems: Are They Worth It?
Smartphones now come with GPS receivers and big screens that make them suitable for use as navigation devices. All important platforms now boast free navigator programs in their app catalogs. High-mileage drivers may find them to be of only mixed utility, though. And the quality of the programs varies strongly.
Modern mobile phones are Internet surfboards, cameras, gaming consoles, and MP3 players all in one. Thanks to GPS receivers, they are now also ready to serve as no-cost navigation devices. To get started, a user needs one of the free solutions that has been created for each platform. The software is very well suited for occasional drivers. High-mileage drivers might find them less reliable, though.
Navigational software for mobiles has always been cheaper than those external navigators that are affixed to the inside of the windshield. The real game changer came in late 2009, when Google turned the market upside down. The Internet giant announced a free navigation solution for smartphones running its Android operating system. At almost the same time, startups like Skobbler began releasing inexpensive apps as well.
The competition had an effect, with free navigational programs now available for all major smartphone platforms. "Vehicle navigation is becoming more of a standard feature on smartphones," says Achim Barczok from German computer magazine c't.
It should be noted, though, that the quality of the programs varies widely. Even more importantly, drivers should understand that free programs can't compete with full-featured commercial navigator systems. That includes services like a lane-selection adviser and up-to-the-minute reports on traffic jams.
"The underlying quality is relatively good for all solutions, but if I'm someone who needs to rely on my navigation system, then I should spend the money for full-featured systems," advises Oliver Stauch from Stuttgart-based Connect magazine.
Among the solutions considered to be not full-featured is the one from...
Mon, 27 Dec 10
Businesses Are Moving Toward Unified Communications
Most tech-aware consumers communicate through multiple electronic modes, and business users are similarly finding that the different media have their advantages. But integration and management remain issues, which is why a recent report shows that solutions for unified communications (UC) are quickly gaining popularity among businesses in North America.
The report, released by market research firm Infonetics Research, found that a "stunning" 96 percent of surveyed companies plan to "eventually integrate the various modes into a single unified user experience." The study added that, although the unified-communications term has been abused by some vendors, "unifying disparate modes of communication has strong appeal because it ultimately simplifies the lives of users and increases their productivity."
The report, written by analyst Matthias Machowinski, points to video, short messaging, and social networking as the "rising stars" in the UC market. The study said the key reasons for companies to move to a UC platform are to improve productivity, reduce operational costs, and satisfy requests by executives for integrated solutions.
The study found that delivery is frequently through a desktop computer, but, as in all computing, that is rapidly migrating to smaller and more portable devices, such as laptops, tablets or smartphones.
Among the medium and large companies in North America that were surveyed, Cisco Systems (CSCO) is the leading IP telephony provider, and Microsoft (MSFT) reigns as the leading e-mail and IM provider, with Google close at Microsoft's heels.
Infonetics Research interviewed purchase decision-makers at more than 100 U.S. and Canadian companies with at least 100 employees that use multiple types of communication, including IP telephony/VoIP, e-mail, and instant messaging (IM).
The medium and large enterprises were asked by Infonetics about their UC technology deployment models, expenditures, service provider selection criteria, reasons for and against UC deployments, vendors and service providers used, and which vendors...
Mon, 27 Dec 10
2010 Sees Apple at Pinnacle of Tech Industry
As 2010 draws to a close, much of the tech world is struggling to regain its footing after a difficult recession. Then there's Apple.
Never before has this venerable company, which at age 34 is a grizzled veteran by Silicon Valley standards, stood so firmly atop the high tech industry. Earlier this year, Apple's market capitalization surpassed that of Microsoft, making it the most valuable property in the tech universe. And during its just-completed fiscal year, it broke four consecutive quarterly revenue and profit records. Amid the worst recession in decades, Apple hired thousands while others cut jobs.
But what most distinguishes Apple is the way it has climbed these heights. While other tech titans spent 2010 cutting costs and acquiring new technology through mergers, this $65 billion company is innovating like a startup.
"It has a different cultural mind-set," said Charles Wolf, an analyst with Needham & Co. "They are acting like a start-up though they are becoming a $100 billion company."
Its iPhone revolutionized the market for smart phones, the must-have product of the decade. Its iPad is now creating consumer electronics' most promising new market, for tablet computers.
"This past year has arguably been among Apple's best, if not the best, year," Kaufman Brothers analyst Shaw Wu said.
Experts point to three key factors that drive Apple's relentless innovation: It invests heavily in R&D, is unafraid to cannibalize or kill its own products, and is able to extend its core technology across a host of different products to create a dominant ecosystem of consumer gadgets.
"Never in our history has one company done so much to drive personal technology," said Mark Gilmore, co-founder of Wired Integrations, a San Jose technology consulting firm. "IBM developed the PC, but that was really geared to businesses. Ford developed the assembly line to help consumers have more access...
Sat, 25 Dec 10
IBM Unveils Memory Technology Breakthough
IBM is developing a new type of ultra-low-cost solid-state memory featuring a storage capacity that vastly exceeds what today's hard disk drives can provide. Called racetrack memory, the technology may one day replace hard disk drives in PCs, laptops and servers as well as displace flash memory chips in smartphones, digital cameras, and tablets.
The radically new type of storage memory is based on a breakthrough technology known as spintronics, which manipulates the two types of independent electrons found in electrical current -- called the "spin-up" and "spin-down" electrons. The goal is to enable computing devices to store bits of information by manipulating the magnetic state of a region within a nanowire that is just a few tens of nanometers wide.
"We discovered that domain walls don't hit peak acceleration as soon as the current is turned on -- it takes them exactly the same time and distance to hit peak acceleration as it does to decelerate and eventually come to a stop," said IBM Research Fellow Dr. Stuart Parkin on Thursday. "Now we know domain walls can be positioned precisely along the racetrack simply by varying the length of the current pulses, even though the walls have mass."
Conventional hard disk drives remain popular because they are cheap, but the technology is also slow, prone to read/write errors, and can suffer irreversible damage if dropped or hit. Though solid-state memory chips are superfast and far more reliable, they also cost about 100 times more per gigabyte of memory than hard disk counterparts.
Nanowire racetrack technology promises to bring the benefits of solid-state construction to PC and server memory storage without a comparable boost in cost, IBM researchers observed. Even mobile handheld devices may one day ship with astounding amounts of storage memory, they added.
By sliding magnetic...
Sat, 25 Dec 10
Skype Restores Service, Offers Customers Credits
After the longest, most widespread outage in Skype history, the VoIP company is offering credits to customers. The move comes amid a strong backlash from faithful customers.
Skype CEO Tony Bates produced a video and offered a detailed update on the so-called "supernode" issue. Bates said engineering crews had successfully stabilized Skype after building and deploying dedicated supernodes. That put most of Skype's users back online -- except for some of the ancillary services.
"Audio, video and IM are running normally. But a couple of our offerings, including offline IM and Group Video Calling, are not available yet, and we are working hard to restore them in due course," Bates said. "We now understand the cause of the problem and we believe it was not caused by a malicious attack. But we are still doing a full analysis and we will provide an in-depth postmortem."
Although Bates admitted that nothing can make up for the missed experiences, he said Skype will send its pay-as-you-go and prepay users a Skype credit voucher via e-mail. The voucher offers about 30 minutes of free calling to landlines anywhere in the world. Skype is also crediting active subscribers with a week's extra subscription service.
"It may take a few days, but once implemented, it will be applied from your next renewal date," Bates said. "Again, we sincerely apologize to all of you for this service outage and the inconvenience it has caused. We know how important it is for Skype to be available so you can connect to your friends, family and colleagues."
The root of the problem seems to be the failure of supernodes -- millions of individual connections between computers and phones to keep things up and running -- due to a software issue. Skype explained that it isn't a network like a conventional phone...
Sat, 25 Dec 10
HTC May Release the First Verizon LTE Smartphone
The race to be the first smartphone on Verizon Wireless' brand-new long-term evolution (LTE) network is on, and 4G leader HTC appears determined to be first out of the gate.
Taiwan-based HTC launched the first phone designated 4G for Sprint Nextel's high-speed WiMAX network in June and a house ad on its company web site this week shows a veiled phone with the words "The first to 4G again," widely interpreted to be a promise to lead the LTE race on Verizon. HTC also makes the G2, which works on T-Mobile's high-speed HSPA+ network.
When Verizon Wireless Vice President and CTO Tony Melone announced the launch of the LTE network early this month for 38 markets and 60 airports -- initially for computer modem users only -- he said smartphones would be available in the first half of 2011 with announcements at the industry's biggest event, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Jan. 6 through Jan. 8. HTC reportedly has a press conference scheduled on the same day Verizon is to announce its LTE phones.
More recently, Verizon Wireless CEO John Stratton told The Wall Street Journal this week that Motorola, maker of Verizon's top-selling Droid, Droid X, and, most recently, the Droid Pro, will have an LTE smartphone, but he offered few details.
"Motorola will be right there," Stratton said.
Fourth-generation network coverage is still in its infancy, and with tiered data plans making it an expensive proposition, it may be some time before adoption matches the level of 3G. So making the first LTE smartphone for the largest carrier in the U.S. is more valuable for bragging rights than for sales in the short term, said wireless analyst Gerry Purdy of MobilTrax.
"Samsung, Motorola and HTC all have the technical capability to do it," said Purdy. "The real challenge...
Sat, 25 Dec 10
A Look Back at the Tech Highlights of 2010
When tech historians look back on 2010, they'll remember this remarkable period for seismic shifts in the way folks create, consume, communicate and share infotainment. Think about it:
*The long-dormant tablet product category was elevated to superstar status thanks to Apple's introduction of the iPad.
*Facebook was embroiled in more controversy over privacy, but that hardly prevented every person you ever knew from joining the world's leading social network -- adding to an online population that's now north of half a billion. Some Facebook friends even let you know their whereabouts in real time by checking in via a new Places feature.
*Speedy "3G" cellular networks started giving way to even faster 4G wireless networks, making surfing and communications on the go zippier and, in some instances, more expensive. Verizon's variety, called LTE, hasn't hit smartphones or tablets yet.
*Smartphones continued to get smarter. The iPhone 4 added cool FaceTime video chat and pristine Retina Displays. Android devices advanced the ball, too: I gave favorable reviews to the Droid X and Galaxy S handsets, each with impressive screens.
*Really high-quality 3-D televisions started invading the living room. It's too bad that there's a limited supply of decent 3-D entertainment to justify what for most TV junkies remains a premium purchase and that the glasses required to view that extra dimension are pricey.
*Apps make sense on smartphones and tablets. They even came to the Jawbone Icon Bluetooth headset (for voice dialing and dictating texts).
The year also saw its share of disappointments, arguably none more so than Google TV. Here's a rundown on some of the highlights:
As I wrote at the time of its arrival last spring, it's not so much about what you can do with the iPad -- browse, do e-mail, play games, read e-books and more -- but how you can do it....
Sat, 25 Dec 10
More and More, Wii and Dance Go Hand in Hand
So you think you can dance? There's a video game for you.
Actually, millions of Americans already have converted their game systems into dancing machines. How else to explain the success of games such as Just Dance 2?
A sequel to last year's Wii hit that has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide, Just Dance 2 -- with choreographed songs from artists such as Katy Perry and James Brown -- has been among the 10 top-selling games the past two months, according to market tracking firm The NPD Group.
Just Dance 2 and Dance Central, a new Xbox 360 game from the creators of the Rock Band franchise, helped increase the number of music and dance games sold by 38% over last November, NPD says.
The best dancing games do an entertainment two-step: in party mode, the games let light-footed folks strut their stuff; as solitary experiences, wallflowers can work on their moves in privacy.
Just Dance games for the Wii require you to move the wireless remote properly as you dance along; Dance Central tracks your body movements using the Kinect hands-free control system.
"When you make the moves and the exact motions, and the console repeats it back to you in real-time without skipping a beat, that is a powerful sensation," says Scott Steinberg of consulting firm TechSavvy Global.
With sales of Just Dance 2 outpacing those of the original, Ubisoft hopes to capitalize even more on the dance trend with other releases Just Dance Kids ($30, all ages) and Michael Jackson: The Experience ($50, ages 10-up, for Wii; due in 2011 for PS3 and Xbox 360). "The dance category is exploding," says Ubisoft's Tony Key.
Other games stepping out:
*Zumba Fitness ($40 for PS3 and Wii, $50 for Xbox 360, all ages) transforms the Latin dance fitness program into a game experience for up to...
Sat, 25 Dec 10
Review: Chrome OS Gives a Peek at Computing Future
What if nearly everything you usually keep on your computer -- photos, documents, music and software -- was stored online? Your machine would be speedier and perhaps less vital because you could simply use another machine to recoup your digital life should you lose your laptop.
This premise -- somewhat scary, yet liberating -- is behind Google Inc.'s upcoming Chrome OS, which will make notebook computers more like netbooks than most actual netbooks.
The software powering Chrome OS, which is based on the search giant's eponymously named browser, serves mainly as a tool for connecting your computer to the Web. That's where nearly everything you use is housed and linked to your Google username and password. It's a concept known as cloud computing.
A peek at the upcoming operating system and its vision of cloud computing shows a promising idea that could make computing faster and more convenient. But it still needs a lot of work.
Google expects the first computers powered by Chrome OS to be released this summer, and initially they'll be made by Acer Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.
For now, though, Google is operating a pilot for some individuals and companies to test an unbranded laptop that runs Chrome OS. The company lent The Associated Press one of these machines, which aren't going to be sold to the public.
The laptop itself, called the Cr-48, doesn't really deserve to be critiqued, because it is a stripped-down machine that is chiefly a frame for Google's OS oeuvre. The shell is entirely matte black plastic, without a hint of branding. It has a webcam, a screen that is about 12 inches diagonally and a full-sized keyboard with a search key in place of the caps lock key.
The machine also has 16 gigabytes of flash memory for storing files, if you feel absolutely compelled to...
Sat, 25 Dec 10
Santa Trackers at NORAD Keep an Eye on the Big Guy
Santa Claus, the man who keeps up better than anyone with the latest electronic devices and game software, is going Web 2.0. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which tracks his famous one-night worldwide flight as well as such other things as incoming missiles, announced that this year's trip will be updated on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, the NORAD Tracks Santa web site (www.noradsanta.org), and TroopTube, the online video site for military families.
The NORAD Santa site, available in seven languages and featuring holiday games and activities that change daily, will post up-to-the-minute updates on Google Maps and Google Earth of Santa's trip, beginning at midnight on Christmas Eve. NORAD also promises that web-site visitors will be able to watch the energetic old guy getting his sleigh ready, running down his preflight check, and whatever else one does before taking a long, long trip in a single night.
About 1,200 volunteer Santa trackers at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado will begin answering phones and replying to e-mail at 4 a.m. EST on Christmas Eve, through 5 a.m. EST on Christmas. The toll-free number is 1-877-Hi-NORAD, and the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The telecommunications company Avaya noted that its real-time voice communications system, which feeds into NORAD's Contact Center, will be enlisted for the effort. The volume could be significant, as last year's was more than 74,000 calls from around the world. Given that NORAD deals with events without do-overs, like Santa's annual trip and nuclear war, Avaya said its system has been tested to ensure reliability -- "when failure is not an option."
Although NORAD may have been busier in those days, the origins of the tradition trace back to the Cold War era. In 1955, a Sears Roebuck ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper encouraged children...
Sat, 25 Dec 10
Which Smartphone Works Best for You?
The best-selling tech item around the world is a cellphone and, for the last two years, it's been all about the smartphone, the device that puts the Internet in your pocket.
But unlike computers, which give you two main choices, Windows or Mac, smartphones come in four distinct varieties offered by several different wireless carriers.
Each platform -- Apple, Google's Android, BlackBerry and Windows -- has its pros and cons. (Palm, bought by Hewlett-Packard, is no longer heavily marketed.) Most smartphones sell for $199, with a two-year contract, although some carriers are offering holiday deals.
The iPhone helped reinvent the category in 2007. Some 50 million iPhones have been sold, fueled by the App Store, a collection of about 300,000 software programs, for free and for sale, that enhance the iPhone. Apps include everything from airline schedules and calendars to games. There's even a program that lets you plug in your electric guitar and have the iPhone replicate an amplifier.
"The experience on the iPhone is still the best," says Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research. "The range of apps and things you can do with it and the amount of information that is out there helping you learn about interesting and new things you can do with the iPhone is almost overwhelming."
The major drawback with the iPhone is the phone service. Consumers complain about dropped calls with the iPhone, and Consumer Reports declined to recommend it earlier this year because of problems with its antenna. And AT&T, the iPhone's only U.S. wireless carrier for now, was just rated dead last among the big four carriers, by CR. The biggest problem: dropped calls.
Verizon (No. 1 in CR's rankings) is expected to add the iPhone to its offerings soon. "I tell everyone who's interested in buying an iPhone, 'Wait until next year for Verizon,'...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
Even the President Has Praise for Apple CEO Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs is getting plenty of recognition this week. From action figures on eBay to the Financial Times to President Obama, the Apple CEO is in the media spotlight for doing things right.
Obama talked about Jobs in a press conference. The president was discussing the economy and mentioned Jobs as one who is living the American Dream.
"Something that's always been the greatest strength of America is a thriving, booming middle class, where everybody has got a shot at the American Dream. And that should be our goal," Obama said.
"That should be what we're focused on. How are we creating opportunity for everybody? So that we celebrate wealth," the president said. "We celebrate somebody like a Steve Jobs, who has created two or three different revolutionary products. We expect that person to be rich, and that's a good thing. We want that incentive. That's part of the free market."
"We also want to make sure that those of us who have been extraordinarily fortunate, that we're contributing to the larger American community so that a whole bunch of other kids coming up are doing well. And that means schools that work and infrastructures like roads and airports that function, and it means colleges and universities that teach and aren't restricted to just people who can afford it but are open to anybody with talent and a willingness to work."
The Financial Times named Jobs "Person of the Year." The paper called his recovery from a liver transplant "the most remarkable comeback in modern business history."
The paper also wrote, "Little more than a decade earlier, both Mr. Jobs' career and Apple, the company he had cofounded, were widely considered washed up. By the start of this year, however, the rebound was complete."
Finally, a Jobs action figure was removed from...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
OpenBSD Founder Says No FBI 'Backdoor' Found
Bugs -- yes. Backdoor -- no. That's the conclusion of OpenBSD founder and project leader Theo de Raadt, who reviewed code following a claim earlier this month that the FBI had planted a secret backdoor in the OpenBSD IPsec stack.
Gregory Perry, ex-CTO of Network Security Technology (NetSec), had said his company was paid by the FBI about 10 years ago to provide the backdoor. De Raadt published an e-mail earlier this week with his assessment of the in-progress code audit. De Raadt said two bugs have been found that could have security implications, but they have been resolved and don't appear to have been deliberate attempts to create secret access.
Earlier this month, De Raadt sent an e-mail to the OpenBSD list revealing that he had received an e-mail from Perry about the alleged plot.
He reprinted the e-mail, in which Perry said his non-disclosure agreement "with the FBI has recently expired, and I wanted to make you aware of the fact that the FBI implemented a number of backdoors and side-channel key leaking mechanisms," designed "for the express purpose of monitoring the site-to-site VPN encryption system." He cited one developer by name, Jason Wright, as well as other unnamed developers.
Wright has denied any knowledge of a FBI-initiated backdoor project, as have others. However, Wright and another developer mentioned by De Raadt who worked on the OpenBSD project, Angelos Keromytis, have both been reported to have worked for NetSec at various times.
Perry said this effort "was probably the reason why you lost your DARPA funding," since that U.S. defense organization "more than likely caught wind of the fact that those backdoors are present and didn't want to create any derivative products based upon the same."
In addition, Perry said, the backdoor implementation is "also why several FBI...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
Firefox 4 Beta Provides Support for 3-D Graphics
Mozilla launched a new Firefox 4 beta release for PCs and laptops Wednesday featuring expanded support for 3-D graphics, together with a revamped Firefox add-on manager. And on the mobile side, Mozilla introduced several enhancements to the mobile version of Firefox 4 beta for smartphones based on Google's Android and Nokia's Maemo platforms.
The popular browser's new 3-D enhancements are based on WebGL -- an open standard for accelerated 3-D graphics rendering on the web that eliminates the need for users to install special plug-ins. As a result, developers will be able to render amazing visual experiences directly within the browser window, noted Firefox Product Manager Mike Beltzner.
"Firefox 4 beta now supports WebGL for most modern built-in graphics cards, making it easier for developers to create interactive 3-D games, vivid graphics, and new visual experiences for the web without the use of third-party plug-ins," Beltzner wrote in a blog.
Applications that formerly would have been possible only on the desktop or with plug-ins become possible in any modern browser that supports WebGL, noted Principal Firefox Engineer Vlad Vukicevic. "3-D games, interactive product displays, scientific and medical visualization, shared virtual environments, and 3-D content creation all become possible on the web," he wrote in a blog.
WebGL is based on OpenGL ES 2.0 -- the same 3D API used for Android and iOS development, Vukicevic observed. By including WebGL -- together with Mozilla's work on HTML5 video and audio support -- Firefox 4 beta now supports "a full set of web technologies" for building rich and compelling applications on the web, he wrote.
"WebGL focuses on OpenGL ES 2.0 feature compatibility to ensure content compatibility with mobile devices," Vukicevic explained. "However, ES 2.0 is behind the latest advances on the desktop today, [and] in the future various desktop...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
Skyfire Launches Popular $4.99 Browser for iPad
Almost two months after its iPhone version effectively sold out on Apple's App Store, Skyfire's browser for the iPad went live on Thursday. The cost is $4.99, compared to $2.99 for the iPhone version.
The browser's claim to fame is that it enables users of Apple's iOS devices to view Adobe Flash-based content, which is otherwise blocked by the system because Apple doesn't want a layer of software between the platform and developer. Apple believes it would degrade performance.
Skyfire does an end run around the ban by uploading Flash graphics that would otherwise be blocked with an error message to the company's cloud sever and streaming them back to the device in HTML5.
But Mountain View, Calif.-based Skyfire Labs wants it known that enabling Flash isn't the app's only asset. In a promotional video, product manager Robert Oberhofer showed off some of the latest features that enable quick social networking and easy web browsing on the iPad's 9.7-inch display.
"We asked ourselves what can Skyfire bring to the table beyond enabling Flash, and it was clear to us that [we should] try to make the browsing experience on the iPad more fun, more connected, and most of all, more effective," he said.
Skyfire's Fireplace, working with Facebook, shares recent links posted by the user's friends, bit not other posts. "It's a great starting-off place for exploring the Internet," said Oberhofer.
When visiting a particular site, a Popular Content feature displays "what is hot right now," Oberhofer said -- all the links from that site that have been posted by friends. There is also a universal Like button integrated into the browser.
Skyfire is also available on the Android Market, Microsoft's Windows Marketplace, and Nokia's Ovi Store, but the iPad app represents its first foray into tablet-size performance.
Demand for the...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
IE9 Blocks Malware, But Older Versions Are Vulnerable
It's one step forward and one back for security on Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. A new report from a security firm found that IE9 beta offers "vastly" more protection from malware than other browsers, while Microsoft on Wednesday issued a warning that there is a vulnerability in IE 6, 7 and 8 that could allow someone to take remote control of the computer.
The software giant said there is no evidence this vulnerability has actually been used. Dave Forstrom, director of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing group, said Microsoft was "currently unaware of any attacks trying to use the claimed vulnerability or of customer impact."
The attack could be hidden as malicious code in a web page, and involves the way computer memory is managed when the browser processes Cascading Style Sheets. CSS is widely utilized to control how a page is presented.
Microsoft has issued updates to fix the memory management problem, but now it appears the updates aren't completely effective. While it works on a more permanent fix, the company has recommended the use of a free Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit that it offers. But, the company said, "the issue does not currently meet the criteria" for an out-of-cycle fix.
The company said IE Protected Mode on Windows Vista and Windows 7 "helps to limit the impact" of this vulnerability. But according to some security researchers, the vulnerability can be still exploited in up-to-date Windows 7 and Vista computers.
Meanwhile, NSS Labs has tested live malware threats of various browsers and found that IE9 beta caught what it called an "exceptional" 99 percent of live threats.
IE9 has both SmartScreen URL filtering and the new SmartScreen Application Regulation service, the combination of which NSS Labs credited for the good performance. The report also found that the presence of SmartScreen URL filtering...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
Skype Scrambling To Fix Global 'Supernode' Outage
Skype went down suddenly Wednesday -- and still hasn't come back online for millions of users around the world. As of Thursday morning, about five million people are back online.
Peter Parkes, Skype's blogger-in-chief, said the ability of one Skype user to find another relies on what the company calls "supernodes." On Wednesday, he explained, a number of those supernodes failed due to a software issue. Skype has identified the issue and engineers are working to resolve the problem.
"Millions of you are already reporting that you can now sign in to Skype normally, and we estimate that there are already almost five million people online," Parkes said. "As a guide, this is around 30 percent of what we'd expect at this time of day -- and that number is increasing all the time. Unfortunately, it's not possible for us to predict on an individual level when you'll be able to sign in again, and we thank you for your patience in the meantime."
Brad Shimmin, an analyst at Current Analysis, said it's interesting to watch the reaction -- not so much of Skype but of Skype's consumer and business users -- to the outage. As he sees it, more moderate expectations of availability driven by the consumerization of IT, coupled with the seemingly impervious nature of the Internet itself, have created a strange brew where customers anticipate outages like this yet still feel outraged when they occur.
"Certainly Skype is no longer a tiny, private startup playing the role of market disruptor," Shimmin said. "If anything, the angry shouting that has followed on the heels of this outage point to the fact that Skype is now an enterprise player, and as such it must adhere to a higher standard of performance and, if not performance, then responsibility."
Shimmin pointed to vendors like...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
Muve Service Includes Unlimited Music Downloads
Recording companies fed up with people illegally downloading music have a possible solution: Add the cost of music to monthly phone bills.
Mobile phone operator Cricket Communications Inc. will introduce a new unlimited plan entitling people to talk, surf the Web, send text messages, stream video -- and download music -- to their hearts' content. The service, dubbed Muve Music, is the first of its kind in the U.S.
The service will cost $55 per month when it launches in January with a catalog of music from major recording labels such as Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Music. Muve even includes unlimited use of the popular app Shazam, which identifies the name of a song that is playing near the phone.
The plan's price is reasonable, given that Cricket subscribers already pay $55 per month for all of these unlimited features (minus the music downloads, of course) on a smart phone running Google Inc.'s Android software.
On its own, a comparable music subscription service, from the likes of MOG, Rhapsody, Thumbplay and Rdio, costs $10 a month.
Under the Muve plan, phone owners won't technically own the music they download. The music cannot be removed from the phone, for instance, and transferred to a computer or a digital music player such as an iPod.
And music will vanish if a subscriber cancels service.
That model dissuades cell phone customers from canceling, while recording labels receive an unspecified percentage of those $55-per-month subscriber fees.
Cricket, based in San Diego, doesn't require its customers to sign contracts as larger carriers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless typically do. Cricket has more than 5 million subscribers, which it describes as predominantly low income. Only half of them, for instance, are estimated to have computers in their homes.
Their customers, it says, aren't likely to purchase...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
Activision Targets EA in $400 Million Lawsuit
Activision Blizzard Inc., the video game maker behind the smash-hit shooter "Call of Duty: Black Ops," on Tuesday added a new target in its lawsuit against two former executives: rival Electronic Arts Inc. Activision also put a price tag on its claim for the first time, seeking $400 million.
The amended complaint filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court is the latest salvo in a legal shootout that began when Jason West and Vince Zampella sued Activision for $36 million in March, claiming Activision fired them to avoid paying royalties for their work on the "Call of Duty" franchise.
Activision, owned by France's Vivendi SA, claims EA lured the men away, starting as early as July 2009, despite their having two years left on their contract, in part by using talent agency Creative Artists Agency as an intermediary. It alleges EA dispatched a private jet to Southern California to shuttle West and Zampella to a secret meeting at the home of EA's chief executive John Riccitiello near San Francisco in August 2009.
The two later formed Respawn Entertainment, hiring about 40 employees away from Activision. Respawn said in April it will create games exclusively for release by EA.
In the complaint, Activision alleges that EA intentionally interfered with contracts, engaged in unfair competition and aided and abetted breaches of fiduciary duty by the executives.
EA, which is based in Redwood City, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
West and Zampella did not directly work on the "Black Ops" game, which Activision said Tuesday had exceeded $1 billion in global sales. The men's unit at Activision, Infinity Ward, works on roughly every other game in the "Call of Duty" franchise with Activision subsidiary Treyarch.
Shares of Activision, which is based in Santa Monica, rose 10 cents to $12.33 in after-hours trading on Tuesday, after closing...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
Texts, Web Really Do Allow Santa To Be Everywhere
He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, and he knows how many followers you have on Twitter.
Not long ago, there were two ways to tell Santa Claus what you wanted for Christmas: sitting on his lap or writing a letter. Now, like with just about everything else, St. Nick is available by text or e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. Kids can watch his worldwide journey online or take a phone call.
Santa Claus is truly everywhere. And just as unfettered access sometimes tempts adults to lose their cool on e-mail listservs or Facebook comments, spoiled kids can be tempted to flame out on Santa.
"Some people have texted Santa that aren't so happy with Santa," said Drew Olanoff, who plays Santa on a text messaging system. "They've been a little rude. I've let them know that would be considered bad behavior. You really shouldn't talk to Santa like that."
The increased use of electronic services to reach Santa Claus reflects another reality of life outside the North Pole. Some major post offices, including Philadelphia, say they're handling far less mail directed to him. Chicago has handled about 10,000 letters to Santa this year, down from 15,000 to 20,000 in 2009.
So tech services are finding they can get a promotional boost from Kris Kringle without renting a red suit and a white beard. Most of them are in their first few years and use the gimmicks to show the power of their technologies.
Portable North Pole, a project launched by Montreal-based video web developer UgroupMedia, sends kids personalized videos from Santa -- even those who deserve a lump of coal. Tell the site your kid hasn't been so good, and the video Santa peers over his glasses and tells the child: "You're on my naughty watch."
Another site, TextSanta.net, expects to send out...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
Kindle vs Nook vs iPad vs Galaxy Tab: Which Wins?
Nobody expects books on paper to go the way of LP records and film cameras -- at least not soon. And yet in the last few years, electronic readers have evolved from curiosities to mainstream gadgets high on holiday shopping lists.
There are many reasons the readers have become so popular: You can carry a boatload of books, periodicals and documents when you travel. You can change fonts and type sizes, look up definitions on the fly, search for text and more.
Research firm Gartner expects "connected" e-reader sales of 6.6 million units worldwide this year, up 79.8 percent from 2009. In 2011, worldwide e-reader sales are projected to surpass 11 million units.
Amazon's Kindle was mostly responsible for kick-starting a nascent market when it arrived about three years ago. Today, Kindle still generates the most buzz in the e-reader/tablet category, according to Zeta Interactive, which scans blogs and online sites to form buzz rankings. That places Kindle ahead of the Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iPad, and Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Indeed, competition for the affection of bookworms is fierce and becoming even more so. Some things to think about when it comes to choosing an e-reader:
Do you want to buy a device whose singular purpose is reading? Would you rather purchase something that'll let you spend a fair amount of time browsing, playing music and games, watching videos and, oh yeah, reading, too? In a nutshell that's the difference between dedicated readers -- such as Kindle, Sony Reader and Nook -- and the iPad and other tablets. Of course, there are trade-offs that come with the extra flexibility of a fully featured tablet, starting with the price. The entry-level iPad costs $499, compared with just $139 for the entry-level Kindle.
Barnes & Noble is marketing Nook Color as a hybrid between...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
Android and iPhone Competitors Wage Weak Battle
In the smartphone business, the conventional wisdom is that everyone is battling for third place behind Google and Apple.
But after listening to briefings from some of their competitors, I'm beginning to think Google and Apple may soon have the market to themselves. In other words, in the not-too-distant future, your choices of a smart phone may well be an iPhone or one running Google's Android -- and that's it.
At the D: Dive Into Mobile conference in San Francisco earlier this month, representatives of Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion were brought on stage to talk about their companies' smart phone strategies. But under questioning from the hosts and the audience, none could articulate a clear or persuasive case for how their platforms will survive the coming shakeout.
Take Joe Belfiore, a corporate vice president at Microsoft who oversees the company's Windows Phone 7 software, which hit store shelves early last month. When asked how well devices using the software are selling, Belfiore declined to give any sales figures. When pressed to do so, he said it was "too soon to talk about sales numbers." He added that Microsoft was "getting good feedback" from its customers.
Microsoft, of course, has no obligation to release its Windows Phone sales figures, and Belfiore, as a midlevel executive, may not even be authorized to give them out. But his silence spoke volumes. You better believe that if Windows Phone 7 was seeing blockbuster sales, he would have trumpeted the fact.
Sales figures aside, Belfiore was just plain unconvincing when it came to explaining how Microsoft planned to make Windows Phone 7 devices competitive. Conference host Walt Mossberg noted that despite coming to market more than three years after the iPhone, Windows Phone 7 still comes up short, lacking features such as multitasking and copy-and-paste. Belfiore's response was...
Fri, 24 Dec 10
Review: Gingerbread Makes Nexus S a Smart Cookie
For some people, the holidays go hand in hand with gingerbread, in the form of houses or cookie-cutter men. This year, you can add smart phones -- specifically, the Nexus S, the first device running the freshest version of Google's Android operating software, Gingerbread.
Developed by Google Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., the phone has a cool curved glass screen, back- and front-facing cameras and the ability to read special tags on such things as stickers embedded with Near Field Communication chips.
Combined with a fairly good price, it's likely to be on a number of holiday wish lists.
Best Buy stores will sell it for $200 with a contract from T-Mobile, or for a more wallet-stretching $530 if you want it to work on either T-Mobile's or AT&T's network.
The Nexus S is the follow-up to the Nexus One, an HTC Corp. phone that Google trotted out early this year but stopped selling months later as plenty of similar Android-running devices became available.
Although Nexus One was a good phone, it wasn't as amazing as Google thought it was. The company avoids this problem with the Nexus S, which is both a brainy and cool-looking handset.
First, let's get to the brains.
There are a number of subtle changes that come with Gingerbread, such as zippier overall performance.
The most obvious update is with the on-screen keyboard. It is better than previous versions of Android at recommending words as you type, such as last names and other words that you've typed before, but hadn't been in the phone's original dictionary. The keyboard features more space between keys and a multi-touch capability that make typing easier and speedier than on Froyo, Gingerbread's Android predecessor.
The copy and paste tools are simplified in Gingerbread, too, with a little slider that appears on the screen that you can move to select...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
Apps Could Mean Phone 7 Coming To Verizon Soon
Smartphones powered by Microsoft's newest mobile operating system may find their way into Verizon Wireless stores in the very near future, judging from some apps that have been discovered on the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace.
Some searchers noticed My Verizon Mobile, Netflix for Verizon, and Slacker Radio in the online app store and alerted a blog that focuses on Windows phones. WMPoweruser said the apps are likely a signal that a CDMA-capable Phone 7 device may be available from the nation's top carrier as soon as next month rather than mid-2011 as Verizon said earlier.
Microsoft currently has distribution deals only with AT&T and T-Mobile. In a Q and A on the company blog Tuesday, Vice President Achim Berg said Microsoft's manufacturing partners -- Samsung, Dell, HTC and LG -- shipped 1.5 million Phone 7 devices to retailers in 30 countries in six weeks. "We're in the race," Berg said. "It's not a sprint, but we are certainly gaining momentum and we're in it for the long run."
Verizon Phone 7 devices -- the first of which is expected to be the HTC Trophy -- would serve the goals of both companies well. Microsoft desperately needs to boost its dismal share of the smartphone market as Google's Android and Apple's iOS increasingly dominate, and Verizon needs a larger variety of offerings to avoid being pegged as the Android carrier. Although it carries phones powered by Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS, Nokia's Symbian, and HP-Palm's webOS, the company has gone all-out to promote its top-selling Android devices, particularly the three Droid phones.
Kirk Parsons, a wireless analyst at J.D. Power and Associates, said it's likely that a Phone 7 device will be on Verizon's shelves in the first quarter of 2011.
"It's good news for Microsoft to increase their share," said Parsons. "How much...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
Amazon Sees Strong Holiday Sales for Kindle E-Reader
According to media reports published Wednesday, Amazon.com now believes it will ship more than eight million Kindle e-readers this year -- about 60 percent more than the 4.8 to five million range forecast for 2010 by financial analysts. Earlier this month, the online retail giant observed that it has been seeing huge demand for its latest Kindle devices.
"In just the first 73 days of this holiday quarter, we've already sold millions of our all-new Kindles with the latest E Ink Pearl display," Amazon noted. "In fact, in the last 73 days, readers have purchased more Kindles than we sold during all of 2009."
According to iSuppli, however, e-readers from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com were priced over the summer at about the breakeven level with respect to their bill of materials and manufacturing costs. "With zero profits on their hardware, both these companies now hope to make their money in this market through the sale of e-books," explained iSuppli director and principal analyst William Kidd.
The ultimate goal for Amazon is to retain command of the digital-content side of the market, which is why the company has worked hard to enable Kindle books to be seamlessly read across multiple computing platforms. "Amazon has a larger inventory of e-books than anyone else, and Amazon really should account for at least 60 percent of e-books, possibly 70 percent," noted Forrester Research Vice President James McQuivey earlier this year.
The market for a wide variety of digital publications is still in a relatively early stage of its growth. However, Forrester expects the revenue opportunity to rapidly expand from $966 million this year to $2.8 billion in 2015.
"We have plenty of room to grow beyond the seven percent" of U.S. consumers reading e-books today, McQuivey wrote in a blog. "More e-book readers...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
Sony Launches iTunes Competitor with Six Million Songs
Sony on Wednesday launched its iTunes competitor. Dubbed Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity -- not the catchiest name in the streaming-music world -- the cloud-based music service offers consumers access to about six million songs from major labels.
Sony has inked licensing deals with Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and EMI Music, as well as independent labels and major publishers around the world. Of course, Sony also has its own catalog through Sony Music Entertainment, giving it a slight advantage profitwise on digital music that carries its brand.
"As we continue to expand Qriocity globally, these services 'powered by Qriocity' offer a single ID log-in and wallet solution, and empower users to easily consume content, including music and video, across a growing number of integrated devices," said Kazuo Hirai, president of Sony's Networked Products and Services Group.
Much like Apple connects its iPod and iPhone devices to its iTunes Store, Sony is working to tie Music Unlimited to many different Sony-branded devices.
Sony says Music Unlimited users can play music on demand on a wide variety of Internet-connected Sony devices, including Sony's 2010 models of network-enabled BRAVIA TV, Blu-ray Disc player, Blu-ray Disc Home Theater system, PlayStation 3, and VAIO and other personal computers. Sony said Music Unlimited will also become available on Sony's portable devices, on Android-based mobile devices, and other portable devices.
The only catch so far is limited availability. Music Unlimited is currently available in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The service won't come online for customers in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, and the U.S. in 2011 -- but Sony didn't say when in 2011.
Will Sony succeed with its iTunes competitor?
"At the center of this is the question of whether people want to rent or own music. Apple believes that people...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
Net-Neutrality Reaction Is Far from Neutral
It's the day after the big Federal Communications Commission vote approving Net neutrality, and the reaction is anything but neutral. Neutrality advocates, some telcos, and some politicians are not happy, but a few observers backed the measure as a step forward.
The vote was, as expected, 3-2, with the three Democratic commissioners in favor and the two Republicans opposed. In an op-ed recently in The Wall Street Journal, Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell described the plan as "jaw-dropping interventionist chutzpah as the FCC bypasses branches of our government in the dogged pursuit of needless and harmful regulation."
On the other side of the fence, the pro-neutrality Free Press said the proposal ignores "overwhelming public support for real Net neutrality, instead moving forward with industry-written rules that will for the first time in Internet history allow discrimination online."
Although the three Democratic commissioners supported the plan, some leading Democratic politicians think it's insufficient. In particular, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) called the plan "worse than nothing," although he later described it as "a small step forward -- too small by my estimation, but forward nonetheless."
Republican politicians, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, were nearly universal in opposing Net neutrality on the grounds that it mandates too much government interference in the marketplace.
Among the big four U.S. carriers, Verizon Wireless and AT&T expressed strong disapproval, while Sprint Nextel called it "a fair and balanced approach" and T-Mobile adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, who attended the FCC meeting Tuesday, said he didn't think the rules "went far enough."
In a press release issued after the vote, the FCC pointed to three major rules enacted by the proposal. Rule 1 is transparency, requiring companies to "publicly disclose accurate information" so consumers can make informed choices. The FCC, for instance, took action against Comcast...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
AT&T's Qualcomm Deal Aims To Improve 4G Growth
Under pressure to offer better wireless service for iPhone customers, among others, AT&T has invested $1.925 billion to acquire Qualcomm's spectrum licenses in the lower 700-MHz frequency band.
AT&T expects the move to help the company provide an advanced 4G mobile broadband experience in the coming years. But could it ward off Verizon Wireless as rumors continue swirling that the carrier will pick up the iPhone in the first quarter of 2011?
"With the fact that the Qualcomm spectrum includes significant assets in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco -- the first and last of which have been particularly sore spots for iPhone users -- you can see the strategy behind the deal," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
"But it isn't just the iPhone -- the continuing success of the iPad and the likely emergence of other 3G- and 4G-enabled tablets will put additional strain on wireless networks," he added. "Buying existing spectrum from Qualcomm, while expensive, should help AT&T become more quickly competitive with Verizon and other vendors."
Qualcomm uses the licenses to support the service business of its FLO TV subsidiary. The sale follows Qualcomm's previously announced plan to evaluate strategic options for FLO TV. Qualcomm expects the FLO TV business and network will be shut down in March 2011.
The spectrum covers more than 300 million people nationwide. Twelve MHz of Lower 700-MHz D and E block spectrum covers more than 70 million people in five of the top 15 U.S. metropolitan areas: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. And six MHz of D block spectrum covers more than 230 million people across the rest of the U.S.
As part of its longer-term 4G network plans, AT&T said it plans to deploy the spectrum as supplemental downlink, using carrier-aggregation technology. This...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
MS Reported Working on Windows for ARM Tablets
With the operating-system war for mobile devices in full swing, a new report indicates Microsoft is preparing a version of Windows for devices based on the ARM processor. Such an OS could help the company get into the game for tablets and shore up its position on smartphones.
According to a report that first appeared on the Bloomberg news service, Microsoft is working on an OS optimized for low-power devices that run on chips from ARM Holdings PLC, in addition to x86 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. The reports, attributed to unnamed sources, indicate the new OS will be discussed by Microsoft at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, although it won't be available for two years.
Representatives from Microsoft, Intel and ARM declined to comment.
ARM chips are used in many smartphones and in Apple's iPad. There are already versions of Microsoft Windows that run on such phones, but this could be the most fully featured version for those platforms. Microsoft's OS has had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Intel chips, but Intel has also been working with Google on its Android open-source operating system, and has codeveloped the new MeeGo mobile OS with Nokia.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, pointed out that just because Windows might be available for ARM processors, it's not clear to what extent the OS will be optimized for either tablet or smartphone form factors and use cases.
"The main problem with using Windows on a tablet," he said, "is not battery life, but that the user experience is not optimized" for that style of device. He added that "supporting a chip architecture is only one step" that Microsoft must address if it is to become a major player in tablets.
In fact, Greengart said, "it's not even...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
CSOs Have Grown from Guardians To Business Enablers
Security 2.0. That may not be an official moniker for the state of security, but with Web 2.0 and Cloud 2, perhaps it should be. Indeed, the role of the chief security officer has evolved -- and expanded -- in the past 10 years. Even in the past year, policy, process and technology look different.
A security professional needs to embrace the change from controlling what devices employees use, how the devices connect to the corporate network, and what applications are allowed. That leads to a new approach that most organizations are moving toward to provide the capability for employees to connect to the corporate data from anywhere and any device.
For example, technology allows employees to easily connect their work and home lives through social media, blurring the line between personal and work. Another shift that a CSO must embrace is the move away from implementing controls to protect data, to developing ways to trust cloud vendors as data moves out of their control.
"Many CSOs are struggling with the increased use of personal devices like iPad, iPhones, Droids, etc. Some still believe that they can control what the users can and cannot use in their corporate environments," said Randy Barr, CSO at Qualys. "Unfortunately, they have not realized that they are slowly losing the ability to control what their employees can and cannot use. Users today have more knowledge about supporting their devices compared to users 10 years ago."
Access to the Internet through employees' personal devices is much faster. Organizations that block tools like instant-messaging services and sites like Facebook and Twitter are finding these are now easily accessible through personal devices like iPhones, iPads and Android-powered devices, Barr noted.
Tools available as a service are also more accessible to employees than in the past....
Thu, 23 Dec 10
Foursquare Location Service Adds Comments, Photos
Foursquare, a popular location-sharing service for smart phones, is now letting you upload a photo of that tasty burger you're about to bite into. You can also let your friend know, through a comment on his recent check-in at a bar around the corner, that you'll meet him when you're done chowing down.
Photos that you upload with check-ins will only be viewable by your friends on Foursquare and other social networks with which you share your Foursquare data. Those could include Facebook and Twitter.
You can also upload photos to go with tips or the location itself -- such as to show a cool vintage sign on a building's facade. Those will be available for anyone using Foursquare to see.
Only your friends on Foursquare and friends of your friends will be able to view comments.
Foursquare is one of a growing number of startups that let users broadcast their location to friends and strangers using a phone application. By far the biggest among them is Facebook, which recently introduced Places.
Foursquare has more than 5 million users, and they check in with the site more than 1.5 million times each day. Users earn virtual badges once they've earned a certain number of check-in points or complete a task, such as riding a ferry. Users can become "mayors" by checking in at a location more than any other visitor.
The new features was rolled out in an updated app for Apple Inc.'s iPhone on Monday, and for smart phones running Google Inc.'s Android operating software next week. Users of Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry smart phones will get the features in January.
Alex Rainert, Foursquare's head of product, said Friday that new features should enhance how users interact with each other and perhaps inspire them to add more information about the places they're going and things...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
More Than Half Age 25-29 Have Only Cell Phones
In a first for any age group, more than half of Americans age 25-29 live in households with cell phones but no traditional landline telephones.
A report on phone use by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that the younger children are, the likelier they are to live in homes that only have wireless phones. That suggests that younger parents are showing increasing comfort relying only on cell phones even as they adjust from being single to a more settled family lifestyle, according to one of the report's authors.
Taken together, the figures released Tuesday provide the latest evidence of how young people are leading the nation's evolution away from landline phones.
"You could say that among that age group, wireless only is the new norm," said Stephen Blumberg, a senior scientist at CDC and an author of the survey.
The shift toward cell phones and away from landlines is having a wide impact, changing not only how people communicate but the telecommunications industry and the work of pollsters and others who collect data.
The survey showed that overall, 27 percent of U.S. households had only cell phones in the first half of this year, up 2 percentage points since the last half of 2009. That number has been growing rapidly -- in the first six months of 2007, just 14 percent of households relied only on wireless service, roughly half of current levels.
Among 25- to 29-year-olds, 51 percent lived in homes with only cell phone service in the first half of 2010. That was up 2 percentage points from the previous six-month period.
For both age groups bracketing them -- 18- to 24-year olds, and 30- to 34-year-olds -- 4 in 10 lived in cell-only households. After age 35, the likelihood that people live in homes with only wireless service falls...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
Technology Sends Holiday Card Sales Tumbling
If it seems like you're getting fewer holiday cards this year, don't worry. Chances are it has nothing to do with your popularity.
The practice of sending Christmas cards is fading, collateral damage of the digital age.
After experiencing slowing growth since 2005, Christmas card sales declined in 2009. While the drop was slight, 0.4 percent, according to research firm Mintel International Group, evidence is building that the next generation of correspondents is unlikely to carry on the tradition with the same devotion as their parents.
The rise of social networking, smart phones and Apple iPads is changing the way friends and family stay in touch, diminishing the Christmas card's long-standing role as the annual social bulletin.
"People are up to date all the time on Facebook," said Kit Yarrow, a Golden Gate University professor who studies the 20- and 30-somethings of the Generation Y culture. "Gen Yers are notorious for not sending thank you notes and not RSVPing. I just think that method of communication is foreign to them. And that doesn't bode well for the future of holiday cards."
Americans sent more than 1.8 billion Christmas cards through the mail last year, according to greeting card industry statistics. That figure is expected to drop to 1.5 billion this holiday season. Facebook, for its part, passed the 500 million member milestone in July.
Erika Maschmeyer, 30, won't be sending holiday cards. She has mailed holiday cards only once in her life, in her early 20s, when she had time on her hands.
"There are so many other ways to keep in touch," Maschmeyer said. "I stay in touch with e-mail and Facebook. It's an easy way to quickly see what people are doing."
While Christmas remains the holiday that sparks the most greeting card sales, fewer people send cards each year, according to Unity Marketing. The percentage...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
Make Facebook's New Profile Work for You
It's time for another Facebook redesign. But when you switch to the new look, it might remind you of something familiar: LinkedIn.
Facebook switched around the order of a few things on your profile, and the new layout adds categories that could give your page more of a resume feel -- important if your friend network includes professional connections.
Before Facebook forces everyone to switch to the new design, you can get a head start and update your profile right now. I recommend getting the new look because it requires you to tweak a few fields to make sure you're presenting your profile in the most flattering way. (Go to facebook.com/about/profile to switch over.)
On the new profile, your basic information is displayed on the top in a short narrative digest, such as where you work and where you live. You can now add what languages you speak to the list. (If you only speak English, don't bother adding that detail. It will look tacky.)
The profile also displays the five most recently tagged photos of you. Your friends can still only see the photos they have permission to view. To clean things up and only show your best photos, hit (x) in the top right corner of each photo to remove one from the section. Deleting it from this view does not delete it from Facebook.
You can list others who attended work and school with you, what projects you've done and classes you took.
If you have a large company, it can be strange to list a handful of people you work with and leave others off the list. Better to only use this feature if you have a small company and can include everyone. The same goes with listing schoolmates.
Check with your boss first if it's OK to list a project you're working...
Thu, 23 Dec 10
New MapQuest Site Shows Maps For and By the People
MapQuest is diving farther into crowdsourcing, with online maps edited by the people, for the people.
The AOL Inc. subsidiary is launching a separate Web site Thursday where people can chime in with corrections and additions to MapQuest's U.S. maps and label previously unmarked destinations like specific rides at Disneyland or swing sets at their neighborhood parks.
The open-source mapping site lets users report errors, or they can register to be map contributors to suggest and make changes themselves. Maps at http://open.mapquest.com update every 15 minutes, and directions to newly marked spots are available within 24 hours. MapQuest says rogue editors would be policed by the community.
Denver-based MapQuest has been launching similar capabilities since July for maps of specific countries by using OpenStreetMap data and popular open-sourcing mapping software. OpenStreetMap is an editable world map with thousands of contributors. In one of OpenStreetMap's recent, high-profile efforts, volunteers in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in January mapped camps and downed bridges to help aid workers get help where it was needed.
The idea is to create richer mapping data for people who would like to develop location-based applications using MapQuest.
"We would like to 'out-open' Google," MapQuest general manager Christian Dwyer said.
Google Inc.'s Map Maker lets "citizen cartographers" sign in to draw and edit maps in more than 150 countries and territories, particularly in the developing world, but it hasn't launched those capabilities for the U.S. yet. Community-edited suggestions eventually can make their way onto Google Maps.
Everyday users of Google Maps also can report errors. It can sometimes take about a month for Google to vet suggestions.
Eventually, http://open.mapquest.com and MapQuest's main site might merge into one, but that could be at least a few years away, Dwyer said.
MapQuest is hoping to re-establish its relationship in the developer community, allow new applications to be built and...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
Microsoft Sees Gains for Windows Phone 7 Devices
Disclosing official numbers for its Windows Phone 7 devices for the first time, a top Microsoft executive on Tuesday said the company is "gaining momentum" in the bitterly competitive smartphone arena.
Vice President for Mobile Communications Achim Berg, in an in-house Q&A posted on the software giant's corporate site, said mobile carriers and retailers grabbed up 1.5 million devices running Phone 7 in their first six weeks on the market.
"We know we have tough competition, and this is a completely new product," Berg said. "We're in the race -- it's not a sprint, but we are certainly gaining momentum and we're in it for the long run."
The first Phone 7 devices are the Dell Venue Pro, HTC HD7, HTC Surround, LG Quantum, and Samsung Focus.
The million-and-a-half figure doesn't compare well to Apple's top-selling iPhone. Apple said it and its partners, including exclusive U.S. carrier AT&T, sold three million iPhone 4s in the first three weeks, despite widely reported signal problems related to the design of its antenna. Google claims that 300,000 phones running its Android operating system are activated every day.
Consumer-devices expert Avi Greengart of Current Analysis said Microsoft is still making no claim about consumer adoption of the devices.
"It is definitely good news that Microsoft is releasing some numbers, and that those numbers are above a million," said Greengart. "However, this just reflects shipments to carriers and retailers. It is clear that Microsoft's distribution channel has bought into the new platform in a big way, but it is hard to know how well the phones have actually been selling to consumers."
When asked in the Q&A if the sales met his expectations for Phone 7, Berg said "Yes, and I think our expectations are realistic for a new platform. We started fresh with Windows Phone 7, and it's...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
Chrome OS May Not Unfold as Google Envisions
Google has big plans for its forthcoming Chrome operating system, with the first products expected to hit the marketplace in mid-2011. Though Google clearly hopes to benefit from an anticipated cloud-computing boom next year, some industry observers are skeptical.
Gartner Vice President Nick Jones believes Google's approach to Chrome OS is based on fallacious thinking. "Google seems to assume that most of us will have a perpetually connected, fast, low-latency, affordable wireless pipe," Jones wrote in a blog. "This is both wrong and narrow-minded because it makes Chrome a product for western mature markets only."
IDC forecasts worldwide IT spending of $1.6 trillion in 2011 -- up 5.7 percent over 2010. That means transformative technologies such as cloud computing are expected to make the critical transition from early adopter status to early mainstream adoption, noted IDC Senior Vice President Frank Gens.
"As a result, we'll see the IT industry revolving more and more around the build-out and adoption of this next dominant platform, characterized by mobility, cloud-based application and service delivery, and value-generating overlays of social business and pervasive analytics," Gens said.
To successfully ride the next IT spending wave, Google has already partnered with Citrix Systems to launch next year a new platform that will let enterprise workers with Chrome OS machines to run corporate apps remotely within the secure environment of the enterprise data center. The goal is to free enterprises from security concerns about attempts to compromise sensitive corporate apps and data.
To make Chrome OS a practical work environment for users, however, Google will have to overcome several obstacles. For example, Chrome OS developers plan to leapfrog potential printer-driver problems by making it possible for users to print directly from the cloud, which will require a whole new generation of printers featuring unique Internet delivery addresses.
Wed, 22 Dec 10
Motorola Will Release an Android 3.0 Tablet at CES
Motorola's new video, called Tablet Evolution, opens in a museum. First up is an Egyptian hieroglyphic tablet (good graphics, but heavy), then the Ten Commandments tablets (durable, but can't edit), the Rosetta Stone tablet (multi-lingual support, but low-res), and on through others to Apple's iPad (like a giant iPhone) and the Galaxy Tab (Android OS for a phone). Finally, the camera rests on a tablet covered with a cloth and on a pedestal bearing Motorola's logo.
Motorola has certainly raised expectations. The new tablet, based on the tablet-optimized Android 3.0 or Honeycomb, will be released at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month -- as will a variety of other tablets, each seeking to become an iPad slayer.
Few details are available about the Motorola tablet. Google Vice President Andy Rubin showed one at the D: Get Into Mobile Conference earlier this month, but he didn't do a full demo and was mum about the details.
Observers indicated that the tablet Rubin held had a screen size of about 10 inches and a unique interface. Rubin mentioned that it runs on a Nvidia dual-core CPU, and noted its 3D image-processing capability as he showed a new version of Google Maps.
For months, the iPad has had the tablet category almost entirely to itself. In November, Samsung's Galaxy Tab started selling, and, according to Samsung, has reached sales of a million units -- although it's not clear if those are all to end users or if the number includes distribution channels.
Now with CES only a few weeks away, the battle of the videos and the leaked reports has begun. While not matching the production value or humor of Motorola's teaser video, a company called Notion Ink has released a basic demo video of its new tablet.
The 10-inch tablet,...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
Apple Removes WikiLeaks App from the App Store
Apple has pulled the WikiLeaks app from its App Store. That app was just added to the store a few days ago.
WikiLeaks launched the $1.99 app on Dec. 17, offering access to the web site and the @wikileaks Twitter stream. The whistle-blower site described the app as offering "instant access to the world's most documented leakage of top-secret memos and other confidential government documents."
"Apple is all about privacy, and they are not likely to look kindly on a service that allows folks to leak information to the press. While it isn't a wonderful move for users who undoubtedly would like the choice, part of what you get in the Apple package is that Apple makes choices for you," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"Apple also has to consider litigation and the chance one of their own internal documents could be leaked on WikiLeaks, and providing it on the phone would make it look like they only disagreed with the practice as applied to them," he said. "This is vastly easier for them. Apple provides a lot of strong benefits; unfortunately, freedom isn't one of them."
WikiLeaks recently released 250,000 confidential cables to the public, a move that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called an attack on America and the international community. She said the leaks were a "tear in the fabric" of responsible government and the Obama administration is taking "aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information."
Will Apple's moves make it the latest target of Anonymous, a group that created a hit list of sites it plans to target as the fallout from the WikiLeaks drama continues unfolding? Anonymous has already attacked PayPal, MasterCard and others, and pledged to attack any institution that tries to silence or discourage...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
FCC Orders a 'Level Playing Field' for Wired Internet
In a major milestone in the fight over Net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission voted Tuesday to accept a proposal from Chairman Julius Genachowski. The vote, as expected, was 3-2, with the three Democratic commissioners, including Genachowski, voting in favor and the two Republican commissioners against.
Genachowski said that "for the first time, we'll have enforceable rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness." But legal and legislative battles are expected to challenge the new rules, with neither Net-neutrality advocates nor those advocating no rules at all completely happy with the plan.
For instance, pro-neutrality Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has called the plan "worse than nothing," while Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) has threatened to defund the FCC's ability to enforce the new rules.
In a posting earlier this month on the FCC's blog, Genachowski proposed "basic rules of the road" in order to "preserve the open Internet." The basics, he wrote, include the right that "Americans have the freedom to access lawful content on the Internet, without discrimination," so that neither corporations nor government can decide what users can or can't do on the Net.
Genachowski also said consumers and businesses have a right to basic information about their broadband service, and the Internet "will remain a level playing field."
This last item is arguably the central issue in the fight over Net neutrality. "Our rules," Genachowski said, "will protect against corporate gatekeepers prioritizing access to one person's content over another's."
Such "playing favorites" has seen examples in the market in the last few weeks. Earlier this month, Comcast informed telecommunications company Level 3 that it would add a surcharge for Netflix movie-streaming traffic delivered through Level 3 to Comcast's Internet service. Level 3 protested that, among other things, this would allow Comcast to make Netflix more expensive because it competes...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
SEC Probes Ex-HP CEO Mark Hurd for Possible EDS Leak
Just when you thought the Hewlett-Packard drama had died down, regulators have begun investigating the circumstances surrounding Mark Hurd's sudden departure as president and CEO of HP.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the Securities and Exchange Commission's probe. The Journal cited anonymous sources saying the SEC is investigating claims that Hurd shared insider information with an ex-contractor before the company acquired Electronic Data Systems for $13.9 billion in 2008.
Hurd resigned suddenly in the wake of an investigation into his relationship with a former actress named Jodie Fisher, who accused Hurd of sexual harassment. A company investigation cleared Hurd of any wrongdoing with Fischer, but Hurd resigned, saying there were instances in which he "did not live up to the standards and principles of trust, respect and integrity" that he espoused at HP. Hurd is now a president at Oracle.
The SEC's investigation doesn't surprise Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. Between Hurd's original $40 million sweetheart deal -- later reduced after shareholders screamed bloody murder -- and several resulting investor lawsuits, there's plenty for the SEC to investigate, he said.
"Additionally, as the melodrama around HP, Hurd and Jodie Fisher was spinning out, one rumor that appeared late in the day was that Hurd had spoken out of school to Fisher about the then-in-progress EDS acquisition," King said. "Such allegations are far more serious than the harassment and expense fudging Hurd was accused of, and, if correct, would be a natural target for the SEC."
What about HP clients and shareholders? Should they be concerned? King doesn't think so, but then again it depends on whom or on what the probe focuses.
If the primary target is Hurd and allegations about leaking information about the EDS deal, King said, the company can note that it acted quickly and...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
Smartphone Rivalry Plays Out in Patent Suits
Competition among smart phone makers is heating up at retail, in advertising and, increasingly, in the courtroom as handset and software makers wield patent lawsuits to protect their turf and slow down their rivals.
Just a few years ago, smart phones were mainly for office workers who needed to check e-mail after hours. For most people, the Web browsers and other programs were too much trouble, and the data connections too slow.
Apple Inc. changed all that with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. Its touch-sensitive screen and big icons made it easy to use. Its programs were designed from the ground up to work well on the small screen. And the sleek design made it an instant hit with consumers.
Even as competitors have rushed out copycat designs, the iPhone still sets the agenda.
But that throne is weakening. And as the other devices, including those running Google Inc.'s Android system, catch up with the iPhone, smart phone makers are having a harder time standing out to consumers or persuading them to pay more for their devices.
In turn, that has prompted a slew of patent disputes over all aspects of basic phone use, from the way a user swipes a touch screen to perform an action to the method a phone uses to extend battery life. Nokia is suing Apple, Apple is suing HTC, Microsoft is suing Motorola and more.
"In consumer electronics and related fields, it's a great challenge to earn a profit," said Bruce Sunstein, an intellectual property lawyer at Sunstein Kann Murphy & Timbers in Boston. "The way you can usually get profit is through innovation."
Smart phone makers must not only come up with novel features, he said, but must also stake claims to the technology behind them and thus reap the rewards in licensing fees.
Consumers shouldn't worry about buying...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
Gawker Hack Underscores Flaws with Passwords
The fallout from a hacking attack on Gawker Media Inc. a week ago underscores a basic security risk online: Using the same username and password for multiple sites is convenient, but costly.
After the attack on the publisher of such blogs as Gawker, Gizmodo and Jezebel exposed account information on as many as 1.4 million people, several unrelated companies had to freeze their accounts and force users to reset passwords.
Gawker Media itself didn't have all that much sensitive information about its users. But the usernames and passwords obtained there could open doors to more valuable accounts elsewhere, including e-mail and banking.
Twitter, Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., among others, saw the potential damage and began resetting their passwords en masse, disrupting users as they tried to check their e-mail or post a tweet.
"It shows one of the fundamental problems with passwords -- they get reused and shared across multiple sites," said Jeff Burstein, a senior product manager with the Symantec Corp. security firm.
Despite repeated warnings from security companies not to do so, users tend to reuse passwords anyway because they can be hard to remember and manage. Users may have dozens, perhaps hundreds, of accounts -- for e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, e-retailers, banks and the growing number of news Web sites and blogs requiring registration.
Although account information gets compromised all the time, the infiltration of Gawker's servers is noteworthy because the hacked data were posted online, for free. In most other breaches, the stolen data are never made public, but sold underground to criminals.
Because the databases were freely available, other sites were able to score the data and look for matches with their users.
Twitter acknowledged resetting some passwords for its 175 million users after hackers used the Gawker data to break into Twitter accounts and pump out links to a site selling acai...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
Tapulous Tries Cross-Promotion in Disney Games
When The Walt Disney Co. bought mobile game maker Tapulous Inc. in July, Disney wanted the startup's cofounders to build upon the popular "Tap Tap Revenge" franchise of music apps for iPhones and other gadgets and set the strategy for its fledgling mobile games division.
This month, the efforts of Tapulous co-founders Bart Decrem and Andrew Lacy are giving shape to Disney's plan for mobile and social games to reverse hundreds of millions of dollars in annual losses at its interactive unit.
Early Monday, the Disney interactive unit released the fourth version of "Tap Tap Revenge" in time for the rush of downloads expected by people who get iPhones and iPads for Christmas. Last year, Tapulous sold 800,000 games on Christmas Day and it's aiming for a million this year.
In "Tap Tap Revenge," which works on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad from Apple Inc., players tap the screen in time to the music to score points. Each version includes a different set of songs, and players can pay to add even more.
Disney also just released "Tron: Legacy," a game that will test Decrem and Lacy's first major strategy decision at Disney to promote new mobile apps within existing games. "Tron: Legacy," based on the recent movie of the same name, literally taps into 40 million Tapulous games that have already been downloaded. Disney apps, meanwhile, have been downloaded just under 20 million times.
Tap Tap players can get points for playing Tron songs, while Tron promotes Tap Tap titles with in-game advertising.
The Tapulous founders say such cross-promotion is a way to stand out from the 200,000 other apps available on Apple Inc.'s app store.
"If you're not in the Top 100, if you're not featured by Apple, users don't know about you," Decrem said in an interview. "The only way to find out...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
Facebook's CEO Visits China's Top Search Engine
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg toured the offices of China's top search engine Monday during a visit that has sparked speculation the social networking magnate is looking for business opportunities in the world's largest Internet market.
Facebook is blocked on the mainland, but Zuckerberg has expressed a business interest in China and has studied Mandarin.
Photos of Zuckerberg's visit to Baidu Inc. were quickly posted online.
Kaiser Kuo, Baidu's director of international communications, told The Associated Press that Zuckerberg had lunch with Baidu CEO Robin Li. He said he didn't know what they talked about but added that the two had met before.
Zuckerberg, who co-founded Facebook, is traveling with his girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, and no apparent entourage.
"Mark has had a long personal interest in China," Kuo said.
But Zuckerberg has also hinted that he's interested in more than that, saying during a speaking engagement in October, "How can you connect the whole world if you leave out 1.6 billion people?"
Kuo tried to tamp down such speculation, though, posting on his Twitter account: "C'mon people. Robin and Mark have known each other for a while. Mark's interest in China is well known. Keep the speculation in check."
Not many in China are familiar with Facebook, but Zuckerberg is known for being Time magazine's 2010 Person of the Year, according to Kuo.
Aside from a visit Monday morning to a Tibetan temple in Beijing, the rest of Zuckerberg's schedule in China is not known.
China censors Internet content it deems politically sensitive and blocks many Web sites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
China's nervousness about the power of social networking was on display Monday, when the computer scientist seen as the father of China's "Great Firewall" of Internet controls apparently was forced offline by angry comments within a few hours of opening a microblog.
Anonymous posters peppered the microblog of Fang Binxing...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
eBay Bets on Technology To Take on Rivals
If it's the holiday season, it's crunch time for any self-respecting online merchant. But for some, the stakes are higher than others.
A few years ago, eBay was getting battered by the likes of Amazon.com and was dismissed as an auctions has-been. Its technology was long in the tooth. And it was losing its iconic CEO, Meg Whitman, whose political ambitions led to a run for California governor this year.
Now eBay is betting its future on whipping its technology into shape as it navigates the limp recovery and red-hot competition from rival Amazon and hundreds of smaller, specialized retail sites.
The biggest marketplace on the Web -- eBay has 93 million active users -- is going all in on mobile shopping, a booming market that is projected to top $119 billion by 2015.
"I look through the eyes of the customer," says the affable CEO, John Donahoe, a commanding presence at 6-foot-5. "As a company, we needed to be more customer-driven and technology-driven."
The four-year eBay veteran, named to succeed Whitman as chief executive in early 2008, has been on a nearly three-year quest to infuse the Silicon Valley icon with new technology, including:
*Buffing up the site's e-commerce technology.
*Expanding eBay's mobile capability.
*Opening up PayPal, eBay's online payment service, to developers for new applications, which has helped continue its dominance.
*Orchestrating a series of acquisitions that reinvigorated the online auction pioneer.
He also audaciously moved to pick the brains of rivals on how to improve customer service -- people such as Tony Hsieh, CEO of shoe and apparel e-tailer Zappos.com, and Ron Johnson, who oversees the Apple Store chain.
"EBay had enjoyed enormous success, but the environment around us was changing, and buyers and sellers have higher expectations," says Donahoe, an ardent eBay shopper who typically is first to sign up for beta tests of new eBay products...
Wed, 22 Dec 10
Wireless Mice and Keyboards Are Now Hot Sellers
They lived a fringe existence in their early years, but they are now standard parts of the home office: wireless keyboards and mice. The rise of the laptop in particular has helped accelerate the spread of these cordless devices.
Wireless mice and keyboards open up space on the desktop. They are designed to broadcast signals to a receiver, typically attached to the computer's USB or PS/2 port.
Devices communicating via the Bluetooth standard are typically more expensive than standard wireless devices. That said, many newer computers already offer Bluetooth connectivity and don't require a separate receiver.
There can be quite a broad price spectrum, however. There are keyboard/mice sets available from $18,, but it's also quite easy to spend $70 or more, reports Germany's Computer Bild. The magazine tested a broad range of models.
When making a purchase, the buyer should check that the mouse fits comfortably and ergonomically into the hand. Two navigation buttons and a scroll wheel in the middle are at this point considered standard equipment.
It can also be helpful if the scroll wheel is capable of moving left and right as well. "That makes it easier to flip through a large Excel table, for example," the magazine says.
One thing to watch for in keyboards is how far the keys need to be pressed before the letter appears. Keys that require a lot of movement before the letter appears can make fingers tired on longer documents.
The keys should also be divided into clear zones, such as a zone for the numerical keypad.
For a long time, the benefits of wireless connectivity were mitigated by performance issues.
The devices were simply unable to deliver data to the computer via the wireless connection as quickly as a standard cable-bound model could. Newer, more refined technology has since been introduced and closed the gap somewhat.
Tue, 21 Dec 10
AT&T Buys Qualcomm Spectrum To Boost LTE Network
Laying the groundwork for its anticipated 4G network next year, AT&T has signed a deal with San Diego-based mobile-device chipmaker Qualcomm to buy spectrum licenses in the lower 700-megahertz band, the carrier announced Monday.
That spectrum, currently used for Qualcomm's FLO TV, covers more than 300 million people nationwide. Qualcomm acquired that spectrum, on which signals can travel long distances and penetrate walls, after television stations switched to digital transmissions last year.
The company reportedly invested $683 million to build a network that broadcasts video to mobile phones, but failed to gain enough subscribers and now plans to shut down FLO TV by March. FLO TV (an acronym for forward-link only) uses Qualcomm's Media FLO technology.
Pending regulatory approval, the deal with AT&T should close in mid-2011, the companies said.
Qualcomm said Monday that restructuring costs from the failed venture are estimated at between $125 million to $175 million in fiscal 2011, primarily related to contractual obligations, but the company may have to pay more "depending on the outcome of the evaluation of strategic options for the business." Shutting down the FLO TV network and associated business exit costs may add even more to the tab, the company said.
AT&T, which will pay $1.925 billion for the licenses, will deploy the spectrum as supplemental downlink, using carrier aggregation technology designed to deliver substantial capacity gains, the company said. p> The new spectrum covers areas where AT&T's Apple iPhone users have complained about dropped calls, but it won't affect current 3G users and may not affect voice users at all for some time, said Sue Rudd, director of tariff and revenue strategies at Strategy Analytics.
"Qualcomm's Media FLO spectrum is not adjacent to AT&T's LTE spectrum, but it will be used with it next year for supplemental bandwidth," Rudd said. "The spectrum will not be...
Tue, 21 Dec 10
Google Asks TV Makers To Delay Google TV Sets
Google's TV plans are having technical difficulties. The technology giant has requested that the manufacturers of its TV-plus-web sets delay product introductions to give the company more time to tune the software.
Sets branded as Google TVs were expected to make a big splash at the Consumer Electronics Show next month in Las Vegas. The products seek to take Internet-ready TVs to the next level with a Google search engine that searches TV programming as well as the web, plus other innovations. But early reviews of the platform have been less than raving.
The delay is the latest in a series of Google-promised revolutionary platforms that have left manufacturers tapping their feet as the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant postponed launches to refine the software. These have included the Chrome operating system for web-focused laptops, the Android OS for tablets, and now Google TV.
Because of the delay, and the missed opportunity of a big launch at next year's CES, some observers expect Google TV will have to wait at least another year before it has the opportunity to catch the public's imagination and pocketbook.
The planned TV sets, ranging from a $600 24-inch HDTV to a $1,400 46-incher, were expected to be complemented by devices from Sony, Logitech, Samsung and others that would allow consumers to keep existing TVS while adding Google's bells and whistles. According to news reports, Samsung is going ahead with plans to introduce its add-on appliance at CES, and the Logitech device is already on the market.
A key question is how differentiated Google TVs will be. Net-connected TVs, or TVs that have Internet access through Blu-ray players, game consoles, and the like, are becoming more commonplace. Netflix and other online programming services can be accessed on these sets, increasing the number of movies and TV shows...
Tue, 21 Dec 10
What Recession? Consumers Are Snapping Up Tablets
Consumers have been snapping up computer hardware online during this year's holiday shopping season, with e-purchases growing 25 percent over the same period last year, according to a new report from comScore. The research firm said the upsurge in demand is being driven by purchases of handheld devices such as Apple's iPad.
Other popular hardware purchases include e-readers, laptops and flat-panel TVs, with the latter growing 22 percent over the same period last year due to attractive pricing. Additionally, purchases of computer software, excluding PC games, rose 16 percent from the same period last year.
For the holiday season to date, $27.46 billion has been spent online -- a 12 percent increase compared to the corresponding period of 2009, noted comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni on Monday. "Free Shipping Day [Dec. 17] punctuated an exceptional week in which consumers spent more than $5.5 billion online, representing a 14 percent increase from last year," Fulgoni said.
The high interest in Apple's iPad this holiday season may be only the beginning of a multiyear upswing in tablet sales, according to industry observers. Moreover, consumers aren't the only ones keen on getting their hands on these red-hot devices.
"We've had over 200 conversations with IT customers about iPads and other tablets since January," noted Forrester Research Vice President Ted Schadler in a blog. "The interest is incredible and IT is ahead of the curve on this one, determined not to be playing catch-up, as happened with employee and executive demand for iPhones."
Gartner believes the tablet market overall will reach 54.8 million units in 2011 -- up 181 percent from this year. The research firm also predicts that tablet sales will surpass 208 million in 2014.
Gartner expects wireless service providers currently subsidizing mini-notebooks to drive mobile broadband by shifting their marketing spending...
Tue, 21 Dec 10
Amazon Will Offer Oracle Servers and Databases on EC2
As Oracle moves deeper into the cloud with the launch of Oracle Cloud Office and Open Office 3.3 last week, Amazon.com plans to let Oracle customers run a wide variety of apps on Amazon EC2 in the near future.
Working with Oracle, Amazon published a set of pre-configured AMIs (read: web servers, app servers, and databases) based on the Oracle VM Templates so Oracle clients can be up and running in a matter of minutes instead of weeks or even months.
"The application AMIs are all based on Oracle Linux and run on 64-bit high-memory instances atop the Oracle VM," said Jeff Barr, senior manager of cloud-computing solutions at Amazon. "You can use them as-is or you can create derivative versions tuned to your particular needs. We'll start out in one region and add more in the near future."
Oracle started with Oracle Linux, Oracle Database 11gR2, Oracle E-Business Suite, and a number of Oracle Fusion Middleware technologies, including Oracle Weblogic Server and Oracle Business Process Management.
Now Amazon is offering a laundry list of applications that are available as AMIs on EC2. The suite of applications includes Peoplesoft apps, Oracle's E-Business Suite apps, and JD Edwards Enterprise One apps. Barr said Oracle customers can take advantage of EC2 features such as Elastic Load Balancing, Auto Scaling, Security Groups, Amazon CloudWatch and Reserved Instance pricing.
Amazon first discussed plans to allow Oracle customers to run apps on EC2 earlier this year. At that time, Barr noted that customers could use their existing Oracle licenses at no additional license cost or acquire new licenses from Oracle.
"We implemented Oracle VM support on Amazon EC2 with hard partitioning so Oracle's standard partitioned processor licensing models apply," Barr said. "All of these applications are certified and supported by Oracle. Customers with active Oracle support and...
Tue, 21 Dec 10
Wireless Carriers Eye Metered and Biased Internet
With perfect timing, two cellular-service companies are proposing a plan for wireless carriers to monitor usage and charge extra by the kind of site or service visited. The proposal by wireless suppliers Allot Communications and Openet comes right before the Federal Communications Commission meets to vote on the latest plan for Net neutrality.
A private PowerPoint presentation by the companies to an industry seminar was leaked late last week. In it, the companies describe the burden of carrying such sites or services as Facebook, YouTube, Skype or BitTorrent where revenues and traffic are "decoupled." In their scheme, Facebook users would be charged an additional fee of two cents per megabyte, Skype users three euros monthly, YouTube users 50 cents monthly for a limited version, and Vodafone users would not be charged an additional fee. Vodafone is a customer of both Allot and Openet.
The plan also calls for encouraging usage in a off-peak, uncharged "Happy Hour." There's also a provision for "split billing," in which revenue from a streaming movie is split between the Internet service provider and the movie service. Currently, the movie service receives the per-movie or per-month user fee, while the ISP receives a monthly fee for Internet service, regardless of what is watched or used.
The vision offered, which resembles cable TV's tiered pricing arrangement, is exactly the kind of dystopia feared by advocates of Net neutrality. Not only would a carrier be able to pick and choose which sites or services would cost more, but it could favor its partners or subsidiaries in ways that hurt competitors. Vodafone, for instance, could offer a streaming movie service with no additional fees for customers, while YouTube or Netflix users would have to pay more.
The current Net pricing model is not unlike that of a common-carrier utility, such as a...
Tue, 21 Dec 10
Microsoft-Nokia Alliance May Battle Android and Apple
Look out, Android-based device makers. Take caution, Apple. Two mobile powerhouses are rumored to be readying a smartphone that aims squarely at your business.
The speculation is swirling around Microsoft and Nokia. Some believe the Finnish phone maker is going to build a new line of smartphones based on Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 operating system.
This isn't the first time there has been talk about Microsoft and Nokia tag-teaming to target competitors. With Stephen Elop, former Microsoft Business Division president, taking the CEO position at Nokia, it's easy to see how these rumors gain merit.
Could Nokia and Microsoft take on Apple and Android in the smartphone wars? That remains to be seen -- and that's if the rumor is even true. In the meantime, Al Hilwa, a program manager at IDC, does have some observations about Microsoft's mobile business. For starters, he noted that the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace has reached 4,000 apps two months after launch -- one of the most rapid ramp-ups in recent times.
"Of course, with both iPhone and Android app stores being much bigger, Microsoft still has its work cut out for it," Hilwa said. "However, reaching this milestone faster than Android -- which took from October 2008 to March 2009 to reach about the same level -- it is not bad!"
For a company that just a few months ago was an also-ran in mobile, Hilwa said, having 10 smartphones released in 30 countries is not a trivial achievement. As he sees it, Windows Phone 7 has changed the conversation, and it's quite possible that Microsoft could have the third-largest app portfolio in the industry by the middle of next year.
That, he said, is because Microsoft has really strong application-development tools and a strong developer ecosystem from its PC universe, and it has...
Tue, 21 Dec 10
Microsoft's Kinect and Sony's Move Take on Nintendo Wii
Video games used to be solitary experiences spent sitting on the sofa. No more. This holiday season's hottest video game gifts involve getting physical while playing with others.
It was four years ago that the Nintendo Wii took the now-$20 billion industry by storm and transformed people of all ages into gamers, with parlor pursuits such as bowling and tennis played by making arm motions with Wii's wireless remote.
Nintendo's competition is no longer sitting -- or standing -- still. Microsoft and Sony are finding success with their own gesture-based devices for controlling the companies' respective video game consoles, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Both of the new systems appear to be hits this holiday season. Online retailers and stores across the nation are reporting shortages. Nintendo's Wii continues to be a hot seller, so the season has come to represent a renewed battle among video game companies for space in your living room.
Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony each are positioning themselves to grab a greater share of your entertainment dollars.
"Much like the iPhone really kind of reinvented cellphones, I think these motion-gaming platforms are reinventing how you interact with your television set," says Geoff Keighley, host and executive producer of GameTrailers TV on cable channel Spike.
Technologically superior to the Wii, if a bit more pricey, the new motion controllers each have its own lineup of all-in-the-family activities aimed at turning living rooms into high-definition activity centers. Microsoft's Kinect ($150 for Kinect Sensor and Kinect Adventures game) has amusement-park-like water rides and workout programs with fitness trainers who never blink. Sony's Move ($100 for Move controller, PlayStation Eye camera and Sports Champions game) offers gladiator fighting, beach volleyball and party games.
Each system has virtual pets and realistic sports simulations, too. And, yes, each has a bowling game.
Sony has sold more than 4.1 million...
Tue, 21 Dec 10
iPhone Secrets Among Tips that Led to Arrests
Secrets about Apple Inc.'s iPhone were among insider trading tips that led to the arrests Thursday of three employees at public companies and a sales executive at a California expert-networking firm, authorities said.
The new arrests boosted to six the number of people detained in a wide-ranging Wall Street insider trading probe.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara portrayed James Fleishman, 41, a networking executive who worked at Mountain View, California-based Primary Global Research, as central to the scheme that led to the latest arrests. Fleishman was charged with wire fraud and conspiracy for providing confidential information to the firm's clients, including hedge funds, the prosecutor said.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said some of the tips resulted from inside information that was shared about highly confidential Apple sales forecasts information, new product features for the iPhone and a top-secret project known internally at Apple as "K48," which became the iPad, launched this year.
Others charged were Mark Anthony Longoria, 44, of Round Rock, Texas; Walter Shimoon, 39, of San Diego; and Manosha Karunatilaka, 37, of Marlborough, Massachusetts. They were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud, according to papers filed in federal court in Manhattan.
The new federal insider trading probe targets industry analysts, experts and consultants.
In a release, Bharara said the charges allege that a "corrupt network of insiders at some of the world's leading technology companies served as so-called `consultants' who sold out their employers by stealing and then peddling their valuable inside information."
He said the allegations describe criminal conduct that went "well beyond any legitimate information-sharing or good faith business practice."
Longoria worked at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. as a supply chain manager, Shimoon worked at Flextronics International Limited as senior director of business development and Karunatilaka worked as an account manager at...
Tue, 21 Dec 10
Oracle Reports Profit Jump, Bucking Industry Fears
Oracle Corp.'s net income jumped 28 percent in the latest quarter, its biggest increase in more than two years and another sign that companies are spending more liberally on technology.
The company also forecast net income and revenue in the current quarter above analysts' expectations, and its shares rose 4 percent in extended trading.
Oracle's strong performance arrived amid worries about the industry's recovery. Other technology big shots, such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Intel Corp., stirred fears with recent earnings reports that showed sluggish demand from consumers and state governments in the U.S.
Oracle, one of the world's biggest software makers, demonstrated in its latest numbers that it is shielded somewhat from sudden market swings because nearly half of its revenue comes from support contracts that provide consistent revenue throughout the year. The results were reported Thursday after the market closed.
Locking in new customers so they'll buy those support contracts is critical to Oracle. A key measure of how well the company is doing that -- the sale of new software licenses -- was higher than Oracle had earlier predicted.
Oracle also cited improving profitability at the Sun Microsystems business it bought nearly a year ago for $7.3 billion as another reason for its better-than-expected results. That acquisition gave Oracle a computer-server business and transformed the company into more of a one-stop shop for technology.
Oracle's outspoken CEO, Larry Ellison, used a conference call with analysts as an opportunity to slap Oracle's new foe, Hewlett-Packard Co., whose servers Ellison called "slow" and "expensive" and "extremely vulnerable" to losing market share.
An HP representative noted that HP is the world's No. 1 server seller, a spot it frequently trades off with IBM Corp., and said "Sun customers are running to HP in droves because they recognize we deliver superior technology, performance and pricing."
The results, and Ellison's...
Tue, 21 Dec 10
Justice Department and SEC Expand HP Probe
The U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are expanding their probe into possible kickbacks on the part of computer maker Hewlett Packard Co., a regulatory filing said.
The agencies have already been investigating the Palo Alto, California, company for possibly bribing authorities in Russia and Germany. Now, the agencies are also investigating similar improprieties in Austria, Serbia, the Netherlands and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
According to this round of allegations, local HP employees may have paid kickbacks to government officials, private organizations and channel partners who distributed HP's products. The bribes are said to date back 10 years.
In September, the agencies joined German authorities in investigating bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion -- all related to a transaction between Hewlett-Packard ISE GmbH, a former HP subsidiary in Germany, and the chief public prosecutor's office of the Russian Federation. That subsidiary allegedly paid (EURO)35 million ($46.43 million) in kickbacks between 2001 and 2006.
No charges have been filed. However, if HP is ever found guilty of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it faces civil penalties of $500,000 per bribe and criminal penalties in excess of $2 million.
HP said it is cooperating with the investigations.
Sun, 19 Dec 10
Product Review: Xbox Kinect vs Nintendo Wii
Three years ago, my kids were dragging me to every Game Stop, RadioShack and Toys R Us within a 20-mile radius looking for a Nintendo Wii video-game console, the hottest ticket of the holiday season. We never found one on the shelves, but my oldest son, Zachary, was lucky enough to get one for his bar mitzvah.
Over the months that followed, our family was leaping, swatting, punching and kicking our way around the basement engaged in virtual adventures and sports competitions, waving wireless controllers and nunchuks at the motion sensor. Good fun and good exercise, hard to complain (except when it comes to the price of the games).
Within 18 months though, the Wii became lonely, collecting dust on the shelf above the TV with only an occasional reprieve from isolation when a new game arrived or certain of the kids' friends came over. Whether it's because Facebook is the only nonhuman commitment today's kids are willing to make, or perhaps because of some shortcoming of the Wii, it failed to pass the longevity test.
Then, last year, Zachary started to pine for an Xbox after experiencing it at friends' houses. When Microsoft launched the Kinect, its motion-sensing answer to the Wii, the tide turned in its favor. I suppressed concern that both platforms were future eBay fodder and bought the Xbox and Kinect bundle for $350 at Toys R Us.
So how do the two platforms compare? Both are similar in capabilities and specs with similarly fast processors in the 700-megahertz range. You can surf the Internet or watch videos from Netflix on either system.
But whereas the Wii allows online play with some games through WiiConnect24, Xbox Live opens an entire world of interaction with other gamers. You can even watch Netflix videos party style with other movie fans, and pausing...
Sat, 18 Dec 10
New iPhone App Translates Spanish in Real Time
You're in a restaurant in another country, trying to figure out the dishes on the non-English menu. You take out your iPhone, take a video of the item you might want, and the application turns the dish into English in real time. But in true 21st century fashion, the English words actually replace the foreign-language words on the menu in the image you are watching -- in real time.
The new application is called Word Lens. While the app itself is free, it can't do anything useful without the in-app dictionaries, which are $4.99 each until the end of this month, at which point they'll be $10 each. The software works on the iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, or iPod touch with video camera. Currently, only Spanish to English translation, or vice versa, is offered. No Internet connection is required during translation.
Released Wednesday by San Francisco-based QuestVisual, the app is already causing a wave of favorable buzz. It was developed by QuestVisual cofounders Otavio Good and John DeWeese over two and a half years.
Although only in the iTunes App Store for a day, the app is already in ninth place among the top free apps.
When the app replaces the text in the image with the translated version, the font style, color and perspective are also matched. Some reviewers have described the app's performance as "augmented reality," while others simply prefer the term "magic."
Blogger John Gruber, writing on Daring Fireball, said the app "seems impossible" and called it "mind-bending." It's as if, he continued, "near-future time travelers started sending us apps instead of terminators."
Some reviews have noted that the translated words tend to wiggle somewhat, or switch between the two languages or between translation variations, but this can be reduced by holding the camera steady.
Additionally, reports indicate that the translation tends...
Sat, 18 Dec 10
RIM Reports Record Growth in International Markets
Research In Motion told investors Thursday that it shipped 14.2 million BlackBerrys in its November-ending fiscal business quarter. Moreover, RIM said its BlackBerry account base grew to more than 55 million through the addition of 5.1 million new subscribers during the three-month period.
According to RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie, international markets continued to adopt the BlackBerry in record numbers in the latest quarter, making it the number-one smartphone in several markets in Western Europe, including the United Kingdom. "The prepaid smartphone market in the U.K. alone grew 245 percent year over year versus postpaid, at only 65 percent growth," he said.
Balsillie also noted that RIM is hugely investing for the future -- not only for growth in numerous markets around the globe, but also in new categories and value-added services.
"This is not a time to be penny-wise, pound-foolish," Balsillie observed. "Business models are changing, and I think we'll have some pretty pleasant surprises in what we're doing throughout 2011."
Certainly RIM has picked up in the consumer space, thanks to its BlackBerry Messenger instant-messaging service, but more so thanks to the cheaper prepay options that were offered by network operators, noted Gartner Research Vice President Carolina Milanesi.
"I believe that for RIM to grow more share, there is a need to have a device with the price point of the Pearl but with a full touchscreen design," Milanesi said. "Competition from Android is growing rapidly and the price point is decreasing, making it an interesting proposition to both carriers and consumers."
Balsillie noted that Verizon Wireless continues to be a strong RIM partner and has been one of the most aggressive carriers to promote BlackBerry in the United States. "BlackBerry products are featured in most of Verizon's holiday promotion across various media, including TV and print advertising,...
Sat, 18 Dec 10
Oracle Rolls Out Cloud Office and Open Office 3.3
In a move to grab a share of the cloud-based office-applications market, Oracle has launched Oracle Cloud Office and Open Office 3.3 -- two open standards-based productivity suites for the desktop, web and mobile devices.
Based on the Open Document Format (ODF) and open web standards, Oracle Cloud Office lets users share files on any system. The software is compatible with both legacy Microsoft Office documents and modern web 2.0 publishing.
"First -- good for Oracle -- late to the game is better than never, I suppose," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "The real question is whether or how enthusiastically anyone is using -- or may eventually use -- this stuff. Sun's Star Office was never a huge success, even with the company's dedicated user base."
Looking to give both Microsoft and Google a run for their money in cloud-based productivity suites, Oracle Cloud Office and Oracle Open Office 3.3 offer applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases and drawings. With its Office products, Oracle promises personal productivity gains, web 2.0 collaboration, and enterprise-integrated document tools on Windows, Mac and Linux computers; web browsers; and even smartphones.
Michael Bremmer, vice president of Oracle Office, said the new products are "designed and optimized" for Oracle clients. He pointed to reduced costs, increased productivity, and faster innovation for clients who opt for the open-source products. This is similar to the marketing message Google and Microsoft use for their cloud-based productivity suites.
Oracle is working to make good on its promise with APIs and an open standards-based approach that offers flexibility and freedom from vendor lock-in. Essentially, clients can build a complete Open Standard Office Stack on the back of Oracle's products.
Both products allow for ubiquitous document authoring and collaboration across the enterprise. For example, Oracle Cloud Office 1.0 is a web and mobile-office...
Sat, 18 Dec 10
Besides Job Cuts, Yahoo Will Shut Down Web Sites
After mass layoffs earlier this week, Yahoo is taking its cost-cutting knives to another area of the company. Yahoo is reportedly shutting down Delicious, Yahoo Buzz, MyBlogLog and Alta Vista. So far, the only confirmed closure is Yahoo Buzz.
"Part of our organizational streamlining involves cutting our investment in underperforming or off-strategy products to put better focus on our core strengths and fund new innovation in the next year and beyond," the company told All Things Digital on Thursday.
"We continuously evaluate and prioritize our portfolio of products and services, and do plan to shut down some products in the coming months such as Yahoo! Buzz, our Traffic APIs, and others," Yahoo said. "We will communicate specific plans when appropriate."
"Yahoo is trying to rationalize and streamline its product lines, especially after cutting heads this week," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "People are most upset about the possibility that Delicious will be shuttered."
To others, Sterling continued, all the changes seem to be further evidence of Yahoo's decline or shrinking nature. As for the future of Yahoo, Sterling said the Internet world will have to wait to see what happens.
"Levinshon and Irving are smart people," Sterling said. "However, the negative impact on morale has got to be significant. It's the latest in a series of cuts and reorgs that have taken place over the past two years."
Earlier this week, Yahoo cut 600 employees, about four percent of its workforce. Yahoo employs about 14,000 workers in Sunnyvale, Calif. Perhaps ironically, CEO Carol Bartz insisted Yahoo was still "hiring every day" as recently as mid-November. Most of the job cuts are expected to come from the product division.
Yahoo has been struggling for years. Enderle said Yahoo is still trying to recover from shunning Microsoft's acquisition offer in 2008....
Sat, 18 Dec 10
Facebook Can Automatically Tag Faces in Photos
Facebook is becoming more intelligent about faces. On Wednesday, the popular social-networking site announced an intelligent photo-tagging system that uses facial recognition. The enhancement is intended to make tagging easier, but it could also spark another Facebook privacy backlash.
On the company blog, Facebook engineer Justin Mitchell noted that 100 million tags are added to photos every day on the site because tagging is a popular way to remember the people and events depicted. But it can easily become a chore, he wrote, if "you had to tag your cousin and her fiancé over and over again in 64 different pictures of their engagement party, and then go back and tag the guests. p subhead Tag Suggestions /subhead p That's where intelligent tagging by Facebook comes in. Group tagging was introduced in October, where one name could be tagged to multiple photos. Now the process has gone further with tag suggestions. p Face-recognition software, which Facebook compares to the kind found in photo-editing applications, can now match faces in newly uploaded photos to those in photos already tagged. Similar photos are grouped together, and the software offers the name of the person it has determined to be previously identified. The user can accept the suggestion or not. p So in the case of the 64 engagement party photos, the software groups together pictures of the bride, assuming she's appeared before in tagged photos. By saving the suggestion, a user avoids 64 repeated taggings for that one name. p If a user has been automatically tagged on a photo, a notification is sent and that user can undo the tag at any time. p Since privacy issues are a continuing concern on Facebook, users can disable the use of their name in suggested tags by going to Privacy Setting, and then Customize Settings. A user's name will then no longer be suggested by the system,...
Sat, 18 Dec 10
No IPO Any Time Soon: Twitter Raises Another $200M
Don't expect Twitter to be tweeting about an initial public offering any time soon. The popular online communications service has raised another $200 million so it can keep growing without Wall Street's help. p Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, one of Silicon Valley's best-known venture capital firms, is leading the investment announced Wednesday. Twitter also added two successful entrepreneurs, Mike McCue and David Rosenblatt, to its board of directors. p The funding was first reported by the technology blog, All Things Digital. p Twitter's association with Kleiner Perkins is likely to add to the intrigue about the moneymaking potential of a service that each day blasts out more than 65 million short messages, or tweets, limited to 140 characters. p Kleiner Perkins' past Internet bets include investments in online search leader Google Inc., now worth about $190 billion, and leading Web merchant Amazon.com Inc., now worth about $80 billion. p The venture capital firm obviously thinks highly of Twitter, which started in 2007. The $200 million investment values Twitter at $3.7 billion, up from $1 billion 15 months ago when the company last raised money from ventures capitalist. Some of Twitter's previous financial backers upped their ante by joining Kleiner Perkins in the latest round. p Twitter has now raised about $360 million since its 2007 inception. p With so much cash being supplied by investors, Twitter's management has been able to focus on hiring more workers and adding more features instead of worrying about how to make money. The company, based in San Francisco, now employs about 350 people, more than tripling its payroll since the beginning of the year. p Most of Twitter's revenue so far has flowed from deals that have given Google, Microsoft Corp.'s Bing and other Internet services better access to its messaging stream. Over the past eight months, Twitter has gradually allowed...
Sat, 18 Dec 10
Google Chromebook: Much To Rave About at First Look
Most people will never get their hands on the Google Chrome Cr-48 notebook that the search giant started distributing to a chosen few these past several days. The prototype computer is part of a Google pilot program and offered only to selected applicants -- anyone can request one online -- who Google feels will provide frequent feedback. The machine, however raw, is worth paying attention to for what it says about Google's vision of a mobile computer and, more specifically, the cloud-based Chrome operating system software at its core. p The Cr-48 is the first real access anyone outside of Google or the development community has had to examine Chrome OS. The software looks and behaves a lot like the Chrome Web browser you can download onto a Windows PC or Mac. The first true Chrome OS-based computers aren't expected to go on sale until the middle of 2011. Acer and Samsung will be the first to sell such machines. Final hardware may look quite different. Google says other PC makers will follow. No pricing has been announced. p Google has been inundated with applications to test drive the notebook but will be accepting requests through Dec. 21 (head to www.google.com/chromeos/pilot-program.html). The company says the pilot program is not for the faint of heart, which, based on my experience, is true. p Google didn't want me to review the Cr-48 as if it were a finished product because, well, it is not. There's an icon at the top of the screen that you click on to report bugs. Right now, you can't stream Netflix movies, the gesture-driven touchpad is a mess and you can't Skype (though you can make video calls with the built-in camera and Google Talk). p Still, there are several things worth raving about. Setup was a breeze. I signed in with my Gmail credentials,...
Sat, 18 Dec 10
The Year in Retweets: Oil Spill and Justin Bieber
So many people love Justin Bieber. They love him so much, that this year Twitter changed the way it counts its most tweeted-about topics to effectively exclude him. p Still, the teenage heartthrob made it into not one but three of this year's 10 most retweeted tweets. Tweet that? p No. 1 was no other than that lovable faux-conservative TV comedian Stephen Colbert with his June 16 tweet, In honor of oil-soaked birds, `tweets' are now `gurgles.' p Bieber himself was No. 4, with Te quiero mucho mi amor (I love you so much, my love) on July 11. But two more tweets about him -- from Joe Jonas and Rihanna -- were No. 6 and No. 8. p Rounding out the top 10 was another guy named Justin, who tweets about the stuff his dad says on a much-followed Twitter account that is now the subject of a TV show. p Twitter is just one prominent tech company offering up year-end insights this week. On Tuesday, Facebook released its 2010 Memology list, the terms that grew the most in status updates this year compared with 2009. As with Twitter's trending topics, counting how much certain terms grew in use gives a more interesting picture of the year's trends than simply counting the most commonly used phrases, which may well be along the lines of It's raining. p Justin Bieber figured prominently here, too, making it to No. 6 as the number of times he was mentioned in publicly viewable status updates soared along with his career. Haiti, the rescued Chilean miners and the iPad and iPhone 4 were also in the top 10, but at No. 1 was something more personal: HMU. Short for hit me up, slang for get in touch with me, the shorthand was this year's biggest surprise, Facebook data scientist Lars Backstrom said in a blog post. p In...
Sat, 18 Dec 10
New Report Calls for Online Privacy Bill of Rights
The Commerce Department is calling for the creation of a privacy bill of rights for Internet users. It would set rules of the road for companies that collect consumer data online and use that information for marketing and other purposes. p The proposal, outlined in a Commerce Department report Thursday, is intended to address growing unease about the vast amounts of personal information that companies are scooping up on the Net -- from Web browsing habits to smart phone locations to Facebook preferences. That data is often mined to target advertising. p The Commerce Department proposal isn't binding, but is intended to guide lawmakers and a White House group looking at issues of privacy and Internet policy. p The new report proposes the creation of a voluntary, but enforceable industry code of conduct to ensure that companies give consumers clear notice about what data is being collected and exactly how it is being used. p It would give consumers the opportunity to opt out of, or decline, some or all of that data collection. Consumers would also get the ability to correct errors in the information. p The code would also set clearer limits on the use of this information and would require companies to secure the data they gather. p In addition to broad industry-wide principles, the Commerce Department also envisions establishing specific codes of conduct for particular segments of the Internet ecosystem. Those could include social network sites, services that deliver location-based pitches to mobile devices and Web publishers and marketers that target ads based on a consumer's browsing activity and other online behavior. p The new codes would be binding on the industry. The Federal Trade Commission could take actions against companies that commit to abide by the codes and then don't comply. p And in what could prove to be one of the more controversial elements of the Commerce Department proposal, the...
Sat, 18 Dec 10
A Gadget Wish List from High-Tech CEOs
What do you get that someone who seems to have everything? High-tech CEOs, surrounded by the latest and greatest in gadgetry, can think of plenty of great digital gifts. p We asked a few to pass along their wish lists and what they're buying others. Like consumers, many of these CEOs fancy digital cameras, Apple products and auto-related doo-dads. Here's a peek at their lists: p *EBay CEO John Donahoe. I want a new laptop for home with an Intel 5 core processor so we can stream whatever is on the laptop onto any of the TVs in our house. I wonder if I could persuade folks to set up an @ebaygroupgifts for it. p *SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott. The head of the business software giant plans to give tablets, tablets and more tablets to friends and family. p *Garrett Camp, CEO and co-founder of StumbleUpon, a discovery-based online search engine. The fledgling photographer has his eyes on a Leica M9 camera, which combines classic range-finder design with the latest digital technology. He also wouldn't mind receiving Google TV. I don't watch a lot of TV, but the idea of integrating the Web, television and apps into one seamless experience is great, he says. p Camp is also a fan of SoundRacer, a transmitter that can be plugged into a car lighter and set to the FM dial. It lets drivers make their vehicles sound like high-performance sports cars. It turns your Honda into a Ferrari, he says. p *Amit Kapur, CEO of Gravity, a new personalized search engine. The former MySpace chief operating officer plans to give as gifts the Xbox Kinect video game accessory, the Dyson Air Multiplier, the X-mini Capsule Speaker and Google TV. p *Walt Doyle, CEO of location-based service Where. I'm completely loving my iPad, he says. I've got the 3G version, and it's a godsend on the train...
Sat, 18 Dec 10
Google Launches Next Phase of Voice Recognition
Google on Tuesday switched on a new program that will dramatically improve the accuracy of its speech recognition service, which allows people to use verbal commands to search the Internet, send an e-mail or post a Facebook update. p That's of growing importance to the Mountain View, Calif., search giant, which sees Internet searches on smart phones as a significant part of its business. While the company doesn't disclose specific numbers, one in four searches on Android devices are now done by voice, and the search volume on Android phones climbed by 50 percent in the first six months of 2010. p A lot of the world's information is spoken, and if Google's mission is to organize the world's information, it needs to include the world's spoken information, said Mike Cohen, who heads the company's speech efforts. p Users of the latest Android-powered smart phones can now allow Google to recognize the unique pattern of their speech by downloading a new app from the Android Market. The service gradually learns the patterns of a person's speech and eventually will more accurately understand their voice commands. p Google's ambitions don't stop at improving voice recognition. Its recent purchase of Phonetic Arts, a British company that specializes in speech output, highlights Google's plans to allow your computer or smart phone to speak back to you, in a voice that will sound increasingly natural, and even human. p Google earns the vast majority of its revenue through search advertising, and expects a majority of its Internet business to flow through smart phones and other wireless devices in the future, so high quality voice services are of critical importance. p The linguistic models that Cohen's team has helped develop over the past six years at Google, based on more than 230 billion searches typed into google.com and speech inflections recorded from millions of people who used...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
Apple May Boost iPad Production To 6M Per Month
Apple is reportedly gearing up its supply chain for the production of six million iPad devices per month, beginning early next year, according to sources cited by DigiTimes on Thursday. The iPad maker has added two additional touch-panel manufacturers to its list of suppliers, industry sources told the Taiwan-based newspaper.
Some industry observers see the unconfirmed report as a sign that Apple may introduce a new iPad model as soon as January or February. However, six million units per month would be more than three times Piper Jaffray's forecast of 5.5 million iPad shipments in the entire fourth quarter of 2010.
On the other hand, the financial firm's analysts noted earlier this month that the iPad's growth potential remains substantial. "The tablet opportunity is massive, and we expect the enterprise opportunity within it to also be significant in itself," noted Gene Munster, Michael Olson and Andrew Murphy. "Apple has focused on enterprise features in iOS -- for iPhone and iPad -- to seize the opportunity."
Piper Jaffray forecasts that Apple will sell 13 million iPads in all of 2010 and estimates 79 percent year-over-year growth to 23.3 million units in 2011. Though Apple sells products such as Mac computers and iPods in more than 160 countries worldwide, the iPad is currently only available in 30, they noted. "We believe that Apple will eventually sell at least the Wi-Fi-only iPad in all 160+ countries," Munster, Olson and Murphy wrote.
What's more, the iPad is reaching new demographics and is poised to become "the Mac of the masses," the analysts observed. "The bottom line is that Apple's addressable market is expanding with the iPad, and, as a result, we believe the potential for upside from the iPad increases over the next 12 months," they wrote.
Additionally, the analysts believe the 30 countries in which...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
BlackBerry Is Losing Ground Among Verizon Customers
Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphones are starting to look like Droid food as devices made by Motorola and HTC running Google's Android operating system gobble up an increasing share of Verizon Wireless customers.
New data from ITG Research, published online by The Wall Street Journal, show that BlackBerry devices from Canada-based RIM plunged from 90 percent of sales at the nation's largest carrier in October 2009 to just under 20 percent last month.
During that time, sales of smartphones made by Motorola, including its popular Droid and Droid X devices, climbed from an almost-flatlined under 10 percent last October to almost 40 percent last month. HTC, which makes the Droid Incredible, rose from under 10 percent to just under 20 percent.
Eighty percent of Verizon's sales are now powered by Android devices, and 46 percent of those are Verizon's branded Droid phones made by Motorola and HTC, Matthew Goodman of ITG Research told the Journal's Digital Daily blog.
The first Droid hit the market in November 2009, followed by the Droid Incredible in April, the Droid X in July, and the Droid 2 in August. The Droids stand out because of their fast processors and large screen size.
RIM is still Verizon's second-biggest smartphone supplier, with 3,411,000 units sold this year, according to the data, compared with Motorola's 5,002,000, and both companies trail Samsung in overall device sales with 10,846,000.
But RIM faces an uphill battle trying to regain market share, especially if the widely held belief that Verizon will begin carrying Apple's top-selling iPhone next year comes true.
"[RIM] will never be able to complete with Android on [market] share as a free open-sourced OS platform that has many OEM vendors using its software in their devices versus a proprietary system like BlackBerry," said wireless industry analyst Kirk Parsons of J.D. Power and...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
Mac App Store Revolution Will Begin in January
The Mac App Store opens for business on Jan. 6, creating a new front in the app wars. Apple, which announced the start date Thursday, said free and paid apps will be available in such categories as Education, Games, Graphics & Design, Lifestyle, Productivity and Utilities.
CEO Steve Jobs said Apple hopes to revolutionize apps for personal computers as the company's App Store has for mobile devices, "by making finding and buying PC apps easy and fun."
Mac users will be able to browse new apps, see staff favorites, search categories, and read ratings and reviews by customers. Downloading and installing apps will be a one-click process, which, by itself, could revolutionize how users perceive and use apps.
Updates will be delivered through the Mac App Store, another innovation for personal computers. The software to run the Mac App Store will be available as a free download to Mac OS X Snow Leopard users, through Software Update. The next major version of Mac OS X, Lion, is expected to have Mac App Store integrated.
Developers will establish their own prices for apps, and keep 70 percent of the sales price. Hosting, store marketing, and credit-card fees will be borne by Apple.
Although app stores for smartphones and devices such as the iPod touch and iPad have changed those devices into platforms, an industry question is whether such a store is needed for personal-computer software.
Mobile phones have evolved from devices designed to wirelessly make voice calls to devices that can do almost anything, while computers have been able to do almost anything for quite a while. The evolution of phones has been driven by app stores.
The Mac App Store allows a user to find and download an app through an iTunes interface, instead of through a browser, which gives a single funnel for...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
WikiLeaks Founder Released on Bail
The once-elusive Julian Assange was freed on bail Thursday, releasing the WikiLeaks founder to continue his work as Sweden pushes its case for extradition and the United States considers its own criminal charges over his Web site's release of secret information.
The silver-haired Australian emerged from London's neo-Gothic High Court building after a tense scramble to gather the money and signatures needed to free him. Speaking under a light snowfall amid a barrage of flash bulbs, Assange -- who's been out of the public eye for more than a month -- told supporters he would pursue his efforts to bring government secrets to light.
"It's great to smell the fresh air of London again," he said to cheers from outside the court. "I hope to continue my work."
Assange is now headed to Ellingham Hall, a 10-bedroom mansion about 120 miles (195 kilometers) northeast of central London that belongs to Vaughan Smith, a WikiLeaks supporter and founder of London's Frontline Club for journalists.
Assange will have to observe a curfew, wear an electronic tag and report to police every day -- restrictions imposed by High Court Justice Duncan Ouseley.
WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said Assange could use the 600-acre estate to continue coordinating the publication of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, whose publication has angered U.S. government officials, embarrassed allies and nettled rivals. The U.S. State Department says that international partners are have already curtailed their dealings with Washington as a result of the cable leaks, but there's still much more to be disclosed.
So far WikiLeaks has published some 1,621 U.S. diplomatic cables -- less than 1 percent of the 250,000 cables it claims to have in reserve. A batch of 74 new cables appeared on the organization's Web site about two hours before Assange was released.
Hrafnsson described the restrictions on Assange's movements as amounting to...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
Apple's iPad Leads Tablet March Into Businesses
Businesses are rapidly acquiring computer tablets, especially Apple's iPad. That's the main takeaway from a new report by ChangeWave Research.
The study of more than 1,600 IT purchasers found that seven percent of the companies already have tablet computers for their employees, and 14 percent indicated that tablets are on their buying list for the first quarter of next year. The iPad has only been shipping since April, and Samsung's Galaxy Tab tablet, the second most-popular product in a category that currently has few choices, started selling in October.
Given its dominance of the category, it's little wonder that 78 percent of the respondents prepared to buy a tablet in the next quarter said they plan to purchase iPads.
Nine percent of those ready to buy are planning for a Dell Streak, nine percent the upcoming Research In Motion PlayBook, eight percent the Hewlett-Packard Slate, and only four percent Samsung's Galaxy Tab. Samsung recently announced that its Galaxy Tab has sold a million units, although the company didn't specify if the sales were all to end users or if the total included sales to distribution channels.
Of the tablets in use in business today, 82 percent are iPads, 11 percent are HP Slates, and seven percent are Dell Streaks. As for user satisfaction, 69 percent of iPad users are very satisfied and 26 percent are somewhat satisfied. Among HP owners, only 23 percent are very satisfied and 46 percent are in the somewhat satisfied category, while Dell users are 12 percent very satisfied and 62 percent somewhat.
Usage patterns are becoming clearer, according to the ChangeWave report. Seventy-three percent of respondents are using tablets to access the web, a large increase from the 55 percent reported in a ChangeWave survey in late summer. E-mailing is conducted by 69 percent, up from...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
Bing Update Will Evolve Along with Social Internet
Microsoft is readying a new release of Bing that stays true to its core concept of reimagining what search can to do help consumers make decisions. It adds new technologies to make search more intuitive.
"The core of our work addresses the fact that the web is getting more complex and faceted -- not less," said Satya Nadella, senior vice president of Microsoft's Online Services Division. "At the same time, your time is being compressed more than ever. But this ever-evolving web provides footholds on which Bing can build that can help cut through the noise."
He said the evolution challenges search engines to more thoughtfully define search quality as more than just speed or how well links match a query. As Nadella sees it, quality search means a visually organized experience, a focus on tasks, a socially relevant experience, and device intelligence that shapes results.
"The bottom line is that search will continue to evolve at a rapid pace as consumers come to expect more solutions at the end of their online journey rather than just more questions," Nadella said. "It's an ongoing journey, to be sure."
The Bing update aims to be more helpful, more social, more local, and more mobile. More social by expanding on its exclusive partnership with Facebook. The new Bing will show searchers which of their friends have "liked" search results to help them decide the best answer to their query.
On the local front, the new Bing will offer easier-to-read and faster maps and a focus on making the 40 percent of queries with local intent much easier. A Taxi Fare Calculator, Parking Lot Finder, and Twitter Maps all work to help people make decisions.
"Our Map Apps have been favorites of many users, and we're exposing those apps more broadly by making them front and...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
Nokia Takes Patent Battle with Apple To Europe
Nokia is taking its patent battle against Apple to Europe. The Finland-based handset maker has filed claims in the U.K. High Court, Düsseldorf and Mannheim District Courts in Germany, and the District Court of The Hague, Netherlands. p The suits allege that Apple infringes Nokia patents in many of its products, including the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, sold in those countries. The actions add 13 further Nokia patents to the 24 already asserted against Apple before the U.S. International Trade Commission and the Delaware and Wisconsin federal courts. p The Nokia inventions protected by these patents include several which enable compelling user experiences, said Paul Melin, vice president of intellectual property at Nokia. For example, using a wiping gesture on a touchscreen to navigate content, or enabling access to constantly changing services with an on-device app store, both filed more than 10 years before the launch of the iPhone. p subhead Nokia's Complaints /subhead p During the last two decades, Nokia has invested approximately 40 billion euros (US$52.8 billion) in research and development and built an IP portfolio with about 11,000 patent families. None of the asserted patents in the legal filings have been declared essential to any wireless communication standard. p Nokia's filing in the U.K. covers four Nokia patents related to touch user interface, on-device app stores, signal noise suppression, and modulator structures. Nokia's filing in Düsseldorf covers seven Nokia patents related to touch user interface, antenna structures, messaging functionality, and chipsets. p Nokia's filing in Mannheim covers five Nokia patents related to on-device app stores, caller ID, display illumination, and the integration of multiple radios. Nokia's filing in The Hague covers two Nokia patents related to signal noise suppression and data-card functionality. p subhead Apple Doesn't Have To Play Nice /subhead p It's patent wars. It's not like Nokia has a lot of choices here, but there are some real risks this time, said Rob Enderle,...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
Air Force Blocks Media Sites that Post WikiLeaks
The Air Force is blocking computer access to The New York Times and other media sites that published sensitive diplomatic documents released by the Internet site WikiLeaks, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. p Air Force Maj. Toni Tones said more than 25 Web sites have been blocked and cannot be viewed by any Air Force computer. The ban -- aimed at preventing the viewing of classified information -- does not apply to personal computers. p She said the action was taken by the 24th Air Force, which is commanded by Maj. Gen. Richard Webber and is responsible for cyberwarfare and computer security for the service. The move was approved by Air Force lawyers, she said. p The Army and Navy say they have not taken similar actions. p If a site has republished the documents, then we block it, she said, adding that the move to prevent access to the media sites was done recently. She said she was not sure of the date. p Tones said the New York Times is the only major U.S. newspaper included in the ban. Others include Der Spiegel in Germany, the Guardian in Britain and Le Monde in France. p Tones said that the 24th Air Force routinely blocks network access to Web sites that host inappropriate material, including classified information such as that released by WikiLeaks. Any computer on the Air Force network is now unable to link to the sites. p WikiLeaks released more than a quarter million sensitive State Department cables in late November. p The White House on Dec. 3 formally reminded all federal employees and government contractors that anyone without a security clearance is not permitted to read classified documents, such as the diplomatic messages published by WikiLeaks, even on a personal computer at home outside work hours. p It was not immediately clear how the U.S. government would enforce this, but the White House said employees...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
Gift Wish List Makers Have App-y Holidays
The most critical thing that Patrick Clayton brings along to do his Christmas shopping isn't his wallet. It's his shopping list. p On his cellphone. p The 31-year-old Manhattan resident keeps his Christmas list on a special application on his iPhone. That way, he says, he's always got it with him. p Sometimes you just want your phone, your keys -- and your debit card, says the new store construction manager for the Pret A Manger restaurant chain. I can keep track of my phone a lot better than a folded piece of paper. p It's a bizarre holiday tradition for consumers to trudge to the mall -- reach into their pockets -- and wince at the awful realization that they left their shopping lists at home. But the shopping list is alive, well and making a high-tech comeback this holiday. p Major retailers -- from Walmart to Toys R Us to Amazon.com to Best Buy -- are only too happy to provide consumers with state-of-the-art holiday shopping lists via their Web sites or smartphone apps. These lists can be very useful tools for consumers looking to save time and hassles. p Some apps are basically highly organized mobile shopping lists that help consumers categorize gifts for family, friends and co-workers. By touching the screen, users tap in names, gifts and expenses. p Other retailer apps, such as Walmart's, work by clicking on pictures of suggested gifts, then clicking add in order to add them to your shopping list. p But some retailer apps also serve as savvy sales tools that can nudge consumers to purchase more stuff than they intended. p The goal of the retailer isn't to help you be an efficient shopper, says Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail, a consultancy. It's to sell you more. p That's why, this holiday in particular, consumers who use retailer shopping lists really need to check them twice. p Don't just...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
Computer Expert: Virus Hit Iran's Nuclear Program Hard
The Stuxnet computer virus has set Tehran's nuclear program back by 24 months, an Israeli newspaper reported Wednesday, quoting a top German computer consultant. p The malicious software, or malware, reportedly targeted Iran's nuclear facilities this year, causing damage. Stuxnet infiltrates and reprograms Windows operating systems. p It will take two years for Iran to get back on track, Ralph Langer told the Jerusalem Post. p This was nearly as effective as a military strike, but even better since there are no fatalities and no full-blown war. From a military perspective, this was a huge success, he said. p Langer, one of the first experts to analyze the Stuxnet code, said Iran's best move would be to throw out all the computers infected by the virus, which he termed the most advanced and aggressive malware in history. p But even once all the computers were thrown out, Iran would still have to ensure that those used by outside contractors were free of the virus, he said. p Although no one has claimed credit for Stuxnet, Israel, which regards Iran's nuclear program as its most pressing existential threat -- has been touted as the most likely creator. Langer said he believed at least two countries -- possibly Israel and the United States -- were behind the virus. p We can say that it must have taken several years to develop, and we arrived at this conclusion through code analysis, since the code on the control systems is 15,000 lines of code, and this is a huge amount, he said. p This piece of evidence led us to conclude that this is not by a hacker. It had to be a country, and we can also conclude that even one nation-state would not have been able to do this on its own. p The Jerusalem Post also quoted Eric Byes, a computer security expert whose Web site provides solutions for...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
Economists Round Out Tech Giants' Workforces
In addition to software engineers, computer scientists and web designers, Silicon Valley giants ranging from Yahoo to Google to eBay are scrambling to hire economists, a little-known and increasingly valuable weapon as these companies create new businesses and fine-tune existing ones. p In the wake of the example of University of California-Berkeley economist Hal Varian, who helped Google perfect the auction process behind its multibillion-dollar search advertising revenue stream, big Internet companies are competing to woo economists away from universities, or work with them on specific projects. p Yahoo has been among the most aggressive, but eBay, Amazon.com, Facebook and other companies also are recruiting practitioners of what used to be called the dismal science. Illustrating how crucial companies think those skills are, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer personally recruited economist Susan Athey from Harvard. p Other companies have recognized that economists really have a lot to contribute, said Varian, who joined Google full-time in 2007 after working as a consultant for the search giant since 2002. Google has 10 economists, statisticians and other quantitative analysts on Varian's staff, and is looking to hire more. p Internet companies see the economists as critical in their efforts to fine-tune advertising networks that serve millions of online ad impressions a day, and to better understand e-commerce platforms with tens of millions of buyers and sellers, as well as to determine if new businesses or new approaches will be effective. p For instance, Yahoo's economists have been searching out a holy grail of advertising -- tangible evidence that online ads actually make people buy stuff in a real-world store. And Google needs to understand non-Internet markets like transportation and retail as it tries to move into the sale of airline tickets and local ads. To match up buyers and sellers, you need to understand where the buyers are coming from and the sellers are...
Fri, 17 Dec 10
Road Warrior-Tested Gift Ideas for the Business Traveler
Road warriors are in perpetual pursuit of simplicity and lightness in their traveling ways. p Gadget makers are more than happy to oblige, rolling out new product versions each year that are getting lighter in weight and simpler to operate. p USA TODAY asked its panel of Road Warriors, who log millions of miles combined each year in the air and on the road, for recommendations on ideal holiday gifts for frequent travelers. Many leaned toward technology-consolidating products that enable them to pack fewer items -- ranging from GPS-embedded cameras to iPad-like tablet computers. p Gadgets that take the pain out of travel were also popular -- items such as noise-canceling headphones, thermal neck pillows and Knee Defenders, a pocket-sized gadget that helps protect knees against air passengers who recline their seats. p I will not get on a plane without (my noise-canceling headphones). They let the guy next to me know 'I am not going to chat,' says Pat Makovitch, a medical sales executive from Fredericksburg, Va. p Some travelers recommended less exotic products. Ellen Davis of Peachtree City, Ga., praises her small water spray bottle, used to spritz her clothes. Spray, shake the clothes and hang them up in the closet overnight, she says. No ironing required. p Like other technology-dependent travelers, Douglas Mapson, a baseball scout for the San Francisco Giants, travels with a tangled mess of cords and chargers. I would suggest a small, soft-sided lunch box to keep (them in one place). A good, inexpensive gift, he says. p Other Road Warrior recommendations: p *iGo powerXtender. Provides emergency power to cellphones and other mobile devices using AA batteries when electrical outlets aren't nearby. I find it great during any long delays at the airport, says Marilyn Repinski of Gig Harbor, Wash. I even used it during a power outage at home during a storm. IGo claims it can provide up...
Thu, 16 Dec 10
MetroPCS Expands Feature-Phone LTE To More Cities
The small but ambitious wireless carrier MetroPCS expanded its LTE coverage for high-speed access Wednesday, adding New York, Sacramento and Boston to its network. Last month the Dallas-based company launched the first commercial LTE network in the U.S. in Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. (Sprint Nextel and Clearwire use a high-speed standard called WiMAX, while T-Mobile uses HSPA+.)
The announcement comes 10 days after Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest carrier by subscribers, opened its own LTE network to customers in 38 markets and 60 airports around the United States, with the goal of covering its current 3G footprint by 2013.
MetroPCS, the fifth-largest carrier after Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, specializes in prepaid flat-fee plans and its 4G service, available only via the Samsung Craft, a feature phone it released in September, costs $55 per month. The Craft, with a 3.3-inch AMOLED screen and a slide-out keyboard, is available for $299 after a $50 instant rebate.
"As the only no-annual-contract, pay-in-advance wireless service provider offering 4G LTE services, we continue to build our network to allow more customers to experience our unparalleled value and flexible, affordable service," said Roger D. Linquist, president, CEO and chairman of MetroPCS.
The Craft doesn't run Android, Windows Mobile, or webOS, but has its own operating system. However, it has a browser and access to video and music via MetroSTUDIO and has a built-in social-networking application and navigation feature. A MetroPCS LTE-capable Android phone will be available in February, a spokesperson told PC magazine.
MetroPCS plans to expand its LTE system to Atlanta, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa early next year.
The company's standard CDMA network is currently in 11,000 cities. Its emphasis on flat fees takes it in the opposite direction of Verizon and AT&T, which are moving toward tiered pricing to reduce data...
Thu, 16 Dec 10
IT Controls Configure Chrome Browser for Enterprises
Google has introduced new controls for its Chrome browser that will enable IT administrators to configure, customize and deploy the company's latest release in the enterprise space. The goal is to help businesses take advantage of Chrome's increased security, speed and enhanced capabilities, such as HTML5, while meeting each organization's specific business requirements.
For example, Google now offers an MSI installer that will enable IT administrators to use standard deployment tools to install Chrome for all managed users, noted Google Product Manager Glenn Wilson and Google software engineer Daniel Clifford. "And we're working hard on polishing the next set of policies that will make Google Chrome even more customizable and useful to users in the future," they wrote in a blog.
Over the past few months, Google has been testing Chrome with IT administrators in large organizations, from Vanguard and Boise State University to Proctor & Gamble and Google itself. "We have already successfully deployed Chrome to thousands of users," Wilson and Clifford wrote. "They've provided us with excellent feedback, and we're continuing to work on the next set of features that they've requested."
What's more, the Internet search giant is providing enterprises with Chrome policy templates showing which registry keys can be set to configure the browser, and what the acceptable values would be. According to Google, Chrome relies on the values set in these registry keys to determine how to act.
Additionally, Google is encouraging businesses to check out the Chrome browser...
Thu, 16 Dec 10
FBI Probes Gawker Hack as Sites Urge New Passwords
An attack on sites in the Gawker blog network has led to an alert about passwords on other sites and an investigation by the FBI. A group called Gnosis stole account information for 1.3 million of Gawker's 1.5 million registered users, including passwords and e-mail addresses.
Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn and the online World of Warcraft, among others, have requested that users change their passwords as a result of the attack. Gnosis said it hacked Gawker because of its "arrogance."
Gawker sites had criticized the hacker group 4Chan, which has reportedly been involved in recent online attacks against MasterCard's site. The MasterCard attacks were in response to the credit-card company's closing WikiLeaks' account following the controversy surrounding WikiLeaks' release of classified government documents.
The sites in the Gawker network that were compromised were Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Jezebel, io9, Jalopnik, Kotaku, Deadspin and Fleshbot. Registration is required on those sites if a user wants to comment.
The purloined e-mail addresses and passwords were posted on peer-to-peer networks in a large file. Along with the download, Gnosis posted a note. "So, here we are again," the note read, "with a monster release of ownage and data droppage. Previous attacks against the target were mocked, so we came along and raised the bar a little."
Earlier this week, the New York Post reported that the FBI was meeting with Gawker Media CEO Nick Denton to look into the matter.
A column about the attack was recently posted on Lifehacker. "We understand how important trust is on the Internet," the column noted, adding that Gawker was "deeply sorry for and embarrassed about this breach of security -- and trust." The column, written by "the management of Gawker," said the sites were "working around the clock" to ensure security, and recommended changing user passwords on other accounts, especially if the same...
Thu, 16 Dec 10
Fourth Amendment Protects E-Mail, Appeals Court Rules
Call it a landmark decision. In an appeal of U.S. vs Warshak in the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the judges have ruled that the government needs a search warrant before it can covertly seize and search e-mails stored by e-mail service providers.
In the controversial case that could have widespread implications, the court decided that e-mail users have the same reasonable expectation of privacy in their stored e-mail as they do in their phone calls and postal mail.
"Given the fundamental similarities between e-mail and traditional forms of communication [like postal mail and telephone calls], it would defy common sense to afford e-mails lesser Fourth Amendment protection ..." the court wrote. "It follows that e-mail requires strong protection under the Fourth Amendment; otherwise the Fourth Amendment would prove an ineffective guardian of private communication, an essential purpose it has long been recognized to serve."
"[T]he police may not storm the post office and intercept a letter, and they are likewise forbidden from using the phone system to make a clandestine recording of a telephone call -- unless they get a warrant, that is," the ruling said. "It only stands to reason that, if government agents compel an ISP to surrender the contents of a subscriber's e-mails, those agents have thereby conducted a Fourth Amendment search, which necessitates compliance with the warrant requirement."
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the decision is the only federal appellate decision that squarely rules on e-mail privacy. The EFF said the issue is made all the more important by the fact that current federal law -- in particular, the Stored Communications Act -- allows the government to secretly obtain e-mails without a warrant in many situations.
"We hope that this ruling will spur Congress to update that law as EFF...
Thu, 16 Dec 10
Record Patches Fix Stuxnet, Spur Twitter Discussion
Microsoft on Tuesday issued 17 security bulletins that address 40 vulnerabilities, eight of them rated as critical. With the release, Microsoft broke several records.
For starters, Joshua Talbot, security intelligence manager at Symantec Security Response, noted that 17 bulletins are the most ever issued in a single month. And with 106 bulletins in 2010, Microsoft has broken the all-time Patch Tuesday annual record. The next closest was 78 in 2006 and 2008. By Symantec's count, Microsoft far surpassed the number of vulnerabilities patched in a single year with 261. The previous record was 170, set last year.
"The most notable patch this month fixes the fourth zero-day vulnerability used by Stuxnet," Talbot said. "The Task Scheduler issue allows a regular user to schedule a task that will run with elevated privileges, allowing the newly created task full access to the system. This could lead to a complete compromise of the affected computer. Symantec has also seen two additional threats recently begin leveraging this vulnerability."
Rapid7 security researcher Josh Abraham agrees with Talbot. But in a month where resources are already limited, thanks to the WikiLeaks drama, he pointed to some good news. In addition to addressing a major Internet Explorer issue that has been circulating in the wild for more than a month, only two of the bulletins are rated critical.
"This means that they require much more time and effort before they can be weaponized and added into an exploitation framework like Metasploit," Abraham said. "ASLR and DEP are two mitigations that Microsoft has added into their newer versions of Windows. They are used to reduce the impact of many vulnerabilities which make remote code execution more difficult; however, it seems that Microsoft hasn't done much as of late to reduce the number of bulletins coming out of Redmond."
Thu, 16 Dec 10
Time Names Facebook's Zuckerberg Person of the Year
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has taken another step toward becoming a cultural god. On Wednesday, the cofounder of the popular social-networking site was named Time magazine's Person of the Year.
On the heels of a hit movie in which the Zuckerberg character has the central role, the World's Youngest Billionaire captured the honor that Time says goes to the person who has most influenced the culture and the news in the last year. His site, the magazine said, would be the third-largest country in the world, behind China and India, if it were a country. But, the magazine said, it has become something more.
"It started out as a lark, a diversion," the magazine continued, "but it has turned into something real, something that has changed the way human beings relate to one another on a species-wide scale."
As the magazine noted, one of every dozen people on this planet has a Facebook account, and more than 700 billion minutes of human activity are logged on the site every month. In the U.S., a quarter of all page views on the Internet are on the site, and the 550 million membership is growing by about 700,000 people daily.
Among past Time selectees for this honor, only Charles Lindbergh at 25 in 1927 was younger than this year's selection. Queen Elizabeth II, who has recently established her own Facebook account to keep in touch with her subjects and other friends, was 26 when she graced the magazine's cover in 1952.
Zuckerberg's cultural-hero status wasn't diminished by his recent contribution of $100 million over five years to the Newark, N.J., school system. With a net worth estimated as high as $14 billion and derived from his ownership of a quarter of Facebook's stock, the CEO recently joined Bill Gates' Giving Pledge,...
Thu, 16 Dec 10
New Online Security Code To Be Tested
A competition is on to find a replacement for a computer security algorithm used in almost all secure online transactions, U.S. officials said.
The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., will pit the five finalists for the code to become Secure Hash Algorithm-3, or SHA-3, against cryptanalysts who will do their best to crack them, NewScientist.com reported Monday.
After an international community of cryptanalysts test and analyze the algorithms for weaknesses, one will be selected as the winner in 2012.
The need for the competition dates to 2004 and 2005 when Chinese cryptanalyst Xiaoyun Wang shocked security experts by revealing flaws in the current algorithm SHA-1, the gold-standard relied upon for almost all online banking transactions, digital signatures, and the secure storage of some passwords for e-mail accounts and other online activities.
A less-widely used SHA-2 algorithm is similar and shares the same vulnerabilities.
Hash algorithms scramble computer files into a fixed-length string of bits called a hash.
Under SHA-1, it was thought the only way to unscramble a hash would require millions of years' worth of computing power, but Wang found a shortcut, raising the possibility that online transactions could someday be rendered insecure.
NIST launched the competition to find a replacement in 2007.
NIST received 64 entries, pruned to a list of 14 that warranted further consideration, and then on Dec. 9 NIST announced it had settled on just five finalists.
"We picked five finalists that seemed to have the best combination of confidence in the security of the algorithm and their performance on a wide range of platforms" such as desktop computers and servers, William Burr of NIST said.
The competition is a big deal for cryptographers and cryptanalysts alike, Burr said.
"These are incredibly competitive people. They just love this," Burr said of the cryptanalysts who will test the new algorithms. "It's almost...
Thu, 16 Dec 10
Walgreen, McDonald's Say E-Mail Databases Breached
Walgreen Co., McDonald's and Twitter reported unrelated security breaches Monday.
Walgreen said hackers who gained access to a list of customer e-mail addresses may have sent spam directing customers to enter personal data into outside Web sites.
McDonald's said private information that customers supplied when signing up for online promotions or subscriptions was exposed when a subcontractor improperly handled the data.
And Twitter said hackers broke into an unspecified number of its users' accounts and sent spam promoting acai berry drinks.
Twitter said the hackers used passwords harvested in an earlier breach at Gawker Media, which runs Gawker, Gizmodo and other technology and media sites. Gawker warned subscribers Sunday that its database had been hacked and urged them to change their passwords. Twitter reset passwords it suspects were compromised.
Twitter said only a small share of its 175 million users were affected, though it didn't know how many.
The breach highlighted the danger in using a single password for multiple online accounts.
Attacks via networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are popular because they can make spam look as though it was sent by friends, but the effect is similar when spam or data-seeking e-mail seems to come from a trusted merchant.
Walgreen would not say how many customers were affected but told customers that no personal information beyond e-mail addresses was exposed.
"Your prescription information, account and any other personally identifiable information were not at risk because such data is not contained in the e-mail system, and no access was gained to Walgreen's consumer data systems," Walgreen told customers.
Both McDonald's and Walgreen reminded customers they do not seek personal or financial information by e-mail and cautioned against ever responding to such requests.
McDonald's Corp. said Monday that some customers' e-mail and other contact information, birthdates and other specifics were exposed but would not say how many people were affected,...
Thu, 16 Dec 10
Jeopardy! To Pit Humans Against IBM Machine
The game show "Jeopardy!" will pit man versus machine this winter in a competition that will show how successful scientists are in creating a computer that can mimic human intelligence.
Two of the venerable game show's most successful champions -- Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter -- will play two games against "Watson," a computer program developed by IBM's artificial intelligence team. The matches will be spread over three days that will air Feb. 14-16, the game show said on Tuesday.
The competition is reminiscent of when IBM developed a chess-playing computer to compete against chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.
The "Jeopardy!" answer-and-question format is a different kind of challenge. It often requires contestants to deal with subtleties, puns and riddles and come up with answers fast.
"Watson" is named for IBM founder Thomas J. Watson. It will look nothing like the computer "maid" on "The Jetsons." Rather, IBM said its on-screen appearance will be represented by a round avatar.
The computer has already been tested in some 50 games against past "Jeopardy!" champions. But neither IBM nor "Jeopardy!" representatives would say what "Watson's" record was.
The winner gets a $1 million prize. IBM said it would donate its winnings to charity, while Jennings and Rutter said they would give half of their prize money away.
Jennings had the game show's longest winning streak, taking 74 games in a row during the 2004-2005 season. Rutter has won more money than any other "Jeopardy!" player, nearly $3.3 million during his original appearance and three subsequent tournaments.
IBM is hoping the technology it exhibits will have some practical uses eventually, for instance helping doctors diagnose illnesses or solving customer problems at technical support centers.
Thu, 16 Dec 10
Survey: CEOs Expect To Hire More as Sales Grow
More top corporate executives expect to hire workers and boost spending on their companies over the next six months.
A survey released Tuesday by Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of big U.S. companies, shows 45 percent of executives say they expect their companies to add more workers.
That's the highest percentage who have said they planned to add jobs since the survey began in late 2002. Meanwhile, only 18 percent said they expected their work forces to shrink, one of the lowest readings over the past five years, and 38 percent predict no change.
That follows years of layoffs. Unemployment has jumped from 5 percent in December 2007, when the recession began, to 9.8 percent in November. Hiring has picked up recently, but major U.S. corporations continue to slash jobs. Yahoo Inc., for example, is reportedly planning to lay off 600 to 700 of its employees, about 5 percent of its work force.
The group said its 193 member companies, which are major corporations including Yahoo, employ more than 12 million workers and together have annual revenues of almost $6 trillion.
Small businesses, which have had a tough time accessing credit since the downturn began, are also growing slightly more confident.
The National Federation of Independent Business said Tuesday that its optimism index rose to 93.2 in November, the highest level since the recession began in December 2007. But the NFIB says this level is still a "recession-level reading."
Over the next three months, more small businesses said they planned to hire workers than cut them, the group said. The average employment change per firm over the last three months was 0.01 workers -- a barely positive reading. That measure was zero in October, and had been almost exclusively in negative territory since December 2007.
"Small firms employ half the work force, and their sustained weakness relative...
Thu, 16 Dec 10
Acer Releases New Tablet Computers
Acer is pushing a new series of devices in the booming market for tablet computers. The company will have to compete with the current giant in the field, Apple's iPad.
The Taiwanese manufacturer is offering three new tablet PCs as well as the Iconica, a tablet-style computer with two screens. Tablet devices are notable for their user interfaces, which focus on touch displays operated with fingers.
The first two of the new tablets are still lacking a name but are going to appear running Google's Android mobile operating system and featuring 7 and 10.1-inch screens, respectively. A third device, also slated to come with a 10.1-inch display, will run on Microsoft's Windows operating system.
All three devices feature Wi-Fi and 3G Internet access and can reproduce films and photos in HD quality. The 10-inch Android tablet also supports 3D games, while the 7-inch unit can be connected to your home network via the DLNA standard to serve as a multimedia hub.
Acer announced the Windows tablet for February 2011, while the Android devices will be available starting in April 2011.
The Iconica is a novel device that looks somewhat like a laptop, but possesses two displays. Input is made using a virtual keyboard on the front display. Both screens can also be used as displays, such as for reading ebooks or digital newspapers.
The "all point multitouch" function lets all 10 fingers be used for navigation. The backlit LCD displays measures 145 inches along the diagonal and offer 1366x768 pixel HD quality. The glass screen feature a special anti-scratch coating that also prevents fingerprints.
The Iconica weighs in at 2.8 kilograms, placing it well outside the lightweight class, and features an Intel Core i5 processor with an integrated graphics card. The Iconica is expected in spring 2011.
Wed, 15 Dec 10
Army May Issue iPhones or Android Devices To Troops
Which smartphone would you rather have with you in a foxhole? An iPhone or an Android-based device? That question could be a welcome choice for U.S. Army troops overseas in the near future as generals contemplate making smartphones -- with adjustments for security and endurance in harsh conditions -- standard government issue alongside rifles, canteens and boots.
Other mobile devices could also find their way to the battlefield.
"We're looking at everything from iPads to Kindles to nook readers to mini-projectors," Mike McCarthy, director of the mission-command complex of the Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss, Texas, told the Army Times.
The newspaper said the Army may even pay soldiers' phone bills. It's all part of a plan to help field personnel get quick access to real-time intelligence and video from unmanned systems such as drones and to track friends and enemies in the theater of operations.
The Army's embrace of the two fastest-growing smartphone platforms in the U.S. is likely at least partially motivated by recruiting and retention concerns, said analyst Charles King of Pund-IT.
"I expect that part of the military's decision is generational," King said. "If you want to keep young troops -- or employees -- engaged in their work, give them the tools they know and understand. That should allow them to perform their duties more effectively, but it also helps ensure that they stay interested and engaged in their responsibilities to the point that they don't leave for greener, more IT-literate pastures when their terms of duty are finished."
The smartphone program also suggests that where once military technology led to consumer advances, the roles are now reversed. But Meredith Eitt, a senior mobile-devices analyst at Current Analysis, said military innovation will still need to be applied to smartphones.
"Obviously, the Army finds consumer electronics sophisticated enough to be...
Wed, 15 Dec 10
Android, iOS Tied for Mobile Ad Impressions
Google's Android and Apple's iOS remained tied for the top spot in U.S. mobile advertising in November, with both platforms holding 38 percent ad-impression shares, according to Millennial Media. Among mobile gadgets, however, Apple led the field last month with a 25.5 percent share, based on the number of ad impressions delivered to the iPhone (14.78 percent), iPod touch (8.96 percent) and iPad (1.76 percent).
Although Android and iOS were tied on ad impressions, Android apps beat Apple's offerings last month, Millennial said. The company monitors the largest mobile-media audience for brand advertisers in the United States. Android represented 54 percent of Millennial's application platform mix, followed by Apple at 39 percent.
Android has been "averaging 10 percent growth month over month for the past four consecutive months," noted Millennial Senior Vice President Mack McKelvey.
Although the mobile-advertising market is starting from a very small base, it has been showing solid growth, according to ABI Research. About one-third of the smartphone owners the research firm polled this year said they had clicked on at least one mobile advertisement.
"There was a shift starting at the end of last year from the pioneering phase to what we might call the 'early growth phase,'" noted ABI Practice Director Neil Strother. "By now, probably 20 percent of all major companies have done something with mobile marketing, and some of them are doing so repeatedly."
Spending on mobile ads accelerated with the arrival of the autumn back-to-school season and year-end holidays and is expected to approach $1 billion for all of 2010, according to ABI. "Today's mobile campaigns can cost $100,000 or more, and annual budgets may run to several million dollars," Strother said.
And smartphones are not the only targets advertisers have in mind. Though 58 percent of the mobile devices serving up ad impressions...
Wed, 15 Dec 10
Ballmer May Announce Windows 7 Tablets at CES
Get ready, Apple. Microsoft is planning to release several possible iPad killers at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.
According to a report in Monday's New York Times, the Redmond, Wash.-based technology giant will announce "a slew of new slates" at the big event in Las Vegas. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is expected to make the announcement during his keynote address, highlighting devices built by Samsung, Dell and other partners.
The Times quoted unnamed sources who said they were "not authorized to speak publicly by Microsoft or partnering companies." Microsoft has not commented.
The Samsung offering is similar in size and shape to the iPad, the Times said, but a bit thicker and includes a slide-out keyboard. The tablets will run a version of Windows 7 when held in landscape view, it said, but a "layered interface" will be shown when the keyboard is tucked away and the tablet is in portrait mode.
Microsoft is reportedly encouraging its partners to build applications using HTML5 technologies. The apps will be sold in the partners' online stores and accessible through the tablet. And, as might be expected, the tablets will emphasize the ability to get work done through Microsoft Office productivity apps.
The Times also cited a report that Ballmer might demonstrate a tablet or other devices running a version of the next Microsoft operating system, Windows 8.
Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates has been talking about tablet computers for at least a decade, and Ballmer showed a Windows-based Hewlett-Packard tablet at last year's CES. There has even been a concept video released of a purported Microsoft two-screen tablet, which never emerged, and the company has fallen behind in the tablet category.
Not long after last year's CES demo, HP downplayed its Windows tablet, and instead has focused on a tablet based...
Wed, 15 Dec 10
Floundering Yahoo Lays Off Four Percent of Workers
Leaks about a mass layoff at Yahoo made headlines across the U.S. Yahoo laid off 600 employees on Tuesday as the company continues to struggle.
Yahoo job cuts amount to four percent of its workforce. Yahoo employs about 14,000 workers in Sunnyvale, Calif. Perhaps ironically, CEO Carol Bartz insisted Yahoo was still "hiring every day" as recently as mid-November. Most of the cuts are expected to come from the product division.
"Carol Bartz is the most highly paid underperforming CEO in the market," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "These layoffs reflect the fact that Bartz was the wrong choice for the job and the company is really suffering for it. Yahoo is a company in search of a vision, and she hasn't been able to provide that vision and carry the company forward."
Of course, the problems didn't start with Bartz. Yahoo has been struggling for years. Enderle said Yahoo is still trying to recover from shunning Microsoft's acquisition offer in 2008. The software giant offered $44.6 billion to acquire Yahoo, a 62 percent premium over Yahoo's stock at the time. But Yahoo snubbed Microsoft repeatedly, even fighting off a hostile takeover.
The question is: Could Microsoft have done any better? Enderle thinks so. That's because Microsoft has internal leadership that knows how to run a property like Yahoo. Microsoft has a strong track record with MSN, which remains the leading Internet portal.
"Of the companies out there that could have done something with Yahoo, Microsoft is one of the few that actually had the resources to do it," Enderle said. "And Microsoft is clearly not under financial stress itself, so they would be willing to spend whatever it took to recover the property. It wouldn't have been perfect, but it would have gone better than this...
Wed, 15 Dec 10
U.K. Court Grants Bail to WikiLeaks' Julian Assange
A British judge granted bail to Julian Assange on Tuesday under strict monitoring conditions but the WikiLeaks founder remained in custody pending a possible appeal by Sweden.
Swedish authorities had two hours to lodge an appeal against the bail decision and their lawyer, Gemma Lindfield, said it was likely she would. An appeal would have to be heard by Britain's High Court within 48 hours.
The 39-year-old Australian has been held in a London prison for a week since surrendering to Scotland Yard due to a Swedish arrest warrant in a sex-crimes investigation. He denies any wrongdoing and his lawyers say he plans to fight Sweden's extradition request.
One of Assange's lawyers, Mark Stephens, said the court was demanding 200,000 pounds ($316,000) in bail up front before Assange could be freed.
At Tuesday's hearing, District Judge Howard Riddle said Assange would have to wear an electronic tag, live at a registered address, report to police every evening and observe two four-hour curfews each day.
A total of 240,000 pounds ($380,000) has been promised as a guarantee by several supporters, including filmmaker Michael Moore, but Stephens said it was taking time to get the money in cash.
"It's impossible to say how long it will take" to raise the money, Stephens told reporters outside City of Westminster Magistrates' Court. "Whatever happens, Mr. Assange will have to stay behind bars."
Assange's next court appearance was set for Jan. 11, ahead of a full hearing on Feb. 7 and 8.
Lindfield, acting on behalf of Swedish authorities, had asked the court to deny Assange bail because the allegations in Sweden were serious, Assange had only weak ties to Britain and he had enough money "to abscond."
Another Assange lawyer, high-profile human rights advocate Geoffrey Robertson, said Vaughn Smith, founder of the Frontline Club, a London journalism venue, had offered to put up...
Wed, 15 Dec 10
MS Opposes Google's Deal for ITA Travel Technology
Microsoft doesn't like Google's plan to acquire ITA Software. In fact, the software giant is taking issue with it publicly by joining the FairSearch.org coalition. Microsoft is the latest to join the effort, which was launched in October to support competition, transparency and innovation in online search.
Microsoft will join FairSearch.org in urging the U.S. Justice Department to challenge Google's proposed acquisition of ITA, the flight-search technology that powers many of the web's most popular travel sites. Foundem, Level...com (levelfrance.com), and Zuji have also joined the coalition. Existing members include Expedia, Farelogix, Kayak and Sabre Holdings, which owns Travelocity.
"Competition in online travel search over the last decade has not only created more choices and innovation for travelers, but has also driven prices lower around the world for consumers," said Roshan Mendis, president of Zuji. "We are concerned that less competition in flight search in the U.S. will result in less innovation in travel search globally, and, more importantly, less pressure on travel service providers to offer the lowest price for consumers regardless of where they are located."
ITA provides the technology behind 65 percent of all online flight searches at airline web sites in the U.S., and its flight search software powers six of the top 10 air carriers in the U.S. ITA customers include American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Hotwire, KAYAK, Orbitz, Southwest Airlines, TripAdvisor, United Airlines, US Airways, and Virgin Atlantic.
Google offered $700 million in cash for ITA Software in July. At the time, Google said the acquisition would benefit passengers, airlines and online travel agencies by making it easier for users to comparison shop for flights and airfares and by driving more potential customers to airlines' and online travel agencies' web sites. Google also said it would honor all existing agreements with ITA clients, and the...
Wed, 15 Dec 10
Nokia Plans Multiple Upgrades for Symbian OS
The world's best-selling mobile operating system will get a series of upgrades in the new year. On Tuesday, Nokia outlined as many as five upgrades to the Symbian OS over the next year to 15 months.
While Symbian is still the most widely used phone OS, its market share has been slipping and Nokia has been criticized for not revamping the OS at a time when Apple's iOS, Google's Android, and other platforms are capturing market share. According to Gartner, Symbian's worldwide share of the growing smartphone market dropped to 36.6 percent over the last year from 44.6 percent, even though the number of devices sold actually rose by about nine million. The research firm expects Android to replace Symbian as the world's top platform by 2014.
Nokia presented its vision of changes to Symbian on Tuesday at the 2010 International Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing. It plans incremental rather than wholesale changes.
The plan outlined by Nokia senior manager Gunther Kottzieper begins with a software upgrade in the first quarter that includes as many as four dozen enhancements. A new user interface, a HTML5-compatible browser that is separate from the OS, and a home screen with increased flexibility are on the drawing board for the second and third quarters.
There are also expectations that Nokia will accompany these upgrades with hardware improvements in future devices, including dual-core processors and real optical zoom.
Nokia's plan for Symbian is not its only horse in the race. MeeGo, a new operating system now in development in collaboration with Intel, is expected to be released in late 2011, and there are indications that a completely different approach to the user interface will be offered.
Nokia's first major device using MeeGo is expected to be the N9, and there are reports on the web of...
Wed, 15 Dec 10
Database Leak Puts Informants in Jeopardy
A Colorado sheriff's online database mistakenly revealed the identities of confidential drug informants and listed phone numbers, addresses and Social Security numbers of suspects, victims and others interviewed during criminal investigations, authorities said.
The breach potentially affects some 200,000 people, and Mesa County sheriff's deputies have been sifting through the database to determine who, if anyone, is in jeopardy.
"That in itself is probably the biggest concern we have, because we're talking about people's personal safety," Sheriff Stan Hilkey said.
The FBI and Google Inc. are trying to determine who accessed the database, the sheriff said. Their concern: That someone may have copied it and could post it, WikiLeaks-style, on the Internet.
"The truth is, once it's been out there and on the Internet and copied, you're never going to regain total control," Hilkey said.
Thousands of pages of confidential information were vulnerable from April until Nov. 24, when someone notified authorities after finding their name on the Internet. Officials said the database was accessed from within the United States, as well as outside the country, before it was removed from the server.
The information was so stunning that Jay Seaton, publisher of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, thought it was obtained illegally.
A source provided the western Colorado newspaper with a computer disk shortly after Thanksgiving. The paper first published details of the leak -- but not its contents.
"We got that disk returned to the proper authorities," he said. "As a general rule, I don't mind taking some risks. But in something like this, where you can actually get people killed, I'm out."
The disk's contents were legally gleaned from a sheriff's department database. In April, a Mesa County information technology employee moved the database into what the employee believed was a secure server, county spokeswoman Jessica Peterson said.
The information sat there as a large text file....
Wed, 15 Dec 10
Conn. AG Demands Access to Google's Data 'Mistake'
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Friday demanded that Google provide access to data the company said it accidentally collected from public Wi-Fi networks.
The Democratic U.S. senator-elect said he and the state Consumer Protection Department issued a "civil investigative demand," which is like a subpoena, that says Google must provide access to the data by Dec. 17 or face being taken to court.
In May, Google announced that it had inadvertently collected fragments of people's online activities from unsecured Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries while taking photographs for its Street View mapping service.
Google's disclosure prompted investigations around the globe. Blumenthal and officials in nearly 40 other states have been seeking to review the information to see if Google improperly accessed e-mails, passwords and other private data.
"Verifying Google's data snare is crucial to assessing a penalty and assuring no repeat," Blumenthal said in a statement. "Consumers and businesses expect and deserve a full explanation, as well as measures shielding them from future spying."
The company apologized again in a statement Friday, saying it never wanted the information and hasn't used it in any products or services.
"We want to delete this data as soon as possible and will continue to work with authorities to determine the best way forward, as well as to answer their further questions and concerns," the statement said.
Blumenthal said Google first said the data it gathered was fragmented, but later acknowledged that it might have captured entire e-mails and other information. He also said Google has refused to give his office access to the information while allowing Canadian and other authorities to review it.
"We will fight to compel Google to come clean," Blumenthal said.
Wed, 15 Dec 10
Red Dead Redemption Branded Game of the Year
Rockstar Games' Wild West epic "Red Dead Redemption" rounded up four trophies at the Video Game Awards in Los Angeles, including Game of the Year.
Other multiple honorees at Spike TV's eighth annual event on Saturday were BioWare/Electronic Arts' "Mass Effect 2," which won best Xbox 360 game and two other prizes; and Sony's "God of War III," whose two prizes included best PlayStation 3 game.
Additional major winners included Nintendo's "Super Mario Galaxy 2," best Wii game; Activision Blizzard's "StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty," best PC game; and Sony's "God of War: Ghost of Sparta," best handheld game.
Spike's award show has become a high-profile showcase for forthcoming video games. This year's broadcast featured debut trailers for BioWare's "Mass Effect 3," Warner Bros.' "Batman: Arkham City," and Sony's "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception."
The program was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, who won the "best performance by a human male" VGA for providing the voice of Peter Parker and Spider-Man in Activision's "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions."
Besides taking home the big prize, "Red Dead Redemption" -- from the studio behind the controversial "Grand Theft Auto" series -- also won VGAs for best song, best original score and best downloadable content.
Wed, 15 Dec 10
Web Video Future at Heart of Comcast, NBC Review
It won't be long before video from the Internet is always within reach -- whether it's on a smart phone, a tablet computer or a high-end television in your living room.
But what if there's nothing worth watching?
Just as the online video market is starting to take shape, federal regulators have a rare opportunity to help protect its future as they scrutinize Comcast Corp.'s proposal to take over NBC Universal.
Regulators are pushing for tough conditions to ensure that Comcast can't stifle online video services by withholding content or pushing up prices for marquee NBC programs at a time viewers are starting to turn to the Internet for recent movies or the latest episodes of "Saturday Night Live," "30 Rock" and other popular TV shows.
The concessions they extract from Comcast in its bid for NBC will help determine whether customers can someday realistically drop their cable subscriptions and go online-only for their TV.
So far, established media companies, including broadcasters and cable providers, are moving online with caution, fearful that the Internet could jeopardize business models they have relied on for decades. They have kept many television shows and movies off the Web, and built barriers around what's available online, restricting who can watch it and where.
Comcast has been resisting federal regulators' efforts to tear down some of those walls, arguing that those efforts are unnecessary because NBC Universal accounts for about 10 percent of television viewing in the U.S. and less than 10 percent of U.S. box office revenue -- and is therefore too small to dictate how the industry will develop.
But the two sides are close to an agreement, which could pave the way for the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department to approve the deal as early as this week.
Comcast's proposed $13.75 billion purchase of a 51 percent stake...
Wed, 15 Dec 10
Man Behind Groupon an Unabashed Eccentric
As a youngster, Andrew Mason was the creative one with an offbeat sense of humor, organizing projects for his sister and friends that included forts made out of afghans, costumes and stages for plays, and building a bike path in the woods near his Pittsburgh-area home.
"He was absolutely the leader," said Bridgit Wolf, who now playfully refers to herself not as Andrew's mom but as Groupon mom. "He could talk (his friends) into doing things that they had no intention of building."
The projects he built with 2-by-4s didn't turn out quite as well -- he's no carpenter, Wolf said -- as his current project, the juggernaut of daily, largely local cyberdeals known worldwide as Groupon Inc.
"I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur," Mason said in an interview last week that he agreed to only if there was no mention of Google Inc., which wanted to buy Groupon Inc. for more than $5 billion. "I have a lot of ideas on things, and I like to try and create things. Everything that's happened to me, it's just meeting up with the right group of entrepreneurial people who exposed me to this community, and I've learned a ton."
After earning a bachelor's degree in music from Northwestern University in 2003 and working in Web development for serial entrepreneur Eric Lefkofsky, much of that learning came at The Point. The Web site was launched from Chicago in November 2007 to bring together people with a common cause to take action, whether it be fundraising or letter-writing. But by late summer 2008, still waiting for traffic to the site to increase and watching the bills pile up and the economy erode, the site was retooled and Groupon was born.
"I don't think I would have dropped out of college, graduate school, if one day someone...
Tue, 14 Dec 10
Paul Allen's Patent Suit Dismissed for Lack of Details
A lawsuit by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen against a who's who of high-tech companies has been dismissed for being too short on specifics. The suit contended that patents received by Interval Research, a now-closed company that Allen founded and headed to research new technology, were violated by Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, eBay, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples.
The suit was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman, who gave Allen until Dec. 28 to file a more detailed complaint. Pechman wrote that the "allegations in the complaint are Spartan." Through a spokesperson, Allen described the judge's dismissal as only a "procedural issue," a point on which several legal observers agree.
Apple and Google filed motions to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it didn't indicate what products or devices the defendants offered that violated the patents.
Allen's suit cites four patents. No. 6,263,507 covers information displayed by electronic devices "in a manner that allows the body of information to be reviewed quickly and in a flexible manner." It gave as an example a "news browser," which can allow a user to quickly review news stories obtained from TV broadcasts or text news sources.
Two patents, No. 6,034,652 and No. 6,788,314, are entitled Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device. They call for the presentation of information that makes use of the "unused capacity" of a display device, such as during periods when the user is not actively engaged in interaction with the device. The information, according to the patent, can also be presented during active periods of engagement, but in an unobtrusive manner, such as in a less-active portion of the screen.
The fourth, No. 6,757,682, concerns the alerting of users to "items...
Tue, 14 Dec 10
Seagate Offers 2.5-Inch 1TB Drive For Data Centers
Seagate has rolled out the storage industry's first one-terabyte hard disk drive in the 2.5-inch form factor. Squarely aimed at enterprise data centers and cloud data-storage applications, the Constellation 2 consumes just 6.4 watts of power on average when deployed in directed attached storage (DAS), network attached storage (NAS), and storage area network (SAN) environments, Seagate said.
Available with standard capacities of 250GB, 500GB and 1TB, the Constellation 2 is also being offered with 6Gb/s serial advanced technology attachment (SATA) or 6Gb/s serial attached SCSI (SAS) interface options, noted Seagate Vice President Carla Kennedy. "With its class-leading reliability, record-breaking capacity, and improvements made along its entire range of features, the Constellation 2 drive is a perfect solution for dense server and storage systems," Kennedy said.
IDC projects that hard-disk drive shipments for enterprise applications will increase from 40.5 million units last year to 52.6 million in 2014. What's more, the research firm expects the HDD industry to ship more petabytes for enterprise applications in the next two years than it did in the preceding 20 years.
"We're definitely seeing intensive cost-cutting measures among end users striving to bring more efficiency to current solutions," said IDC Research Manager John Rydning.
With Constellation 2, Seagate's goal is to fulfill the needs of data-center managers looking for more efficient storage technologies that meet their capacity growth requirements, Rydning noted. "Reaching the 1TB capacity in a small-form-factor design gives IT managers more options to meet capacity requirements with efficient storage platforms," he said. "IDC expects the use of capacity-optimized drives like Seagate's 1TB Constellation 2 to increase by more than 50 percent from 2010 to 2014."
Among other things, the 2.5-inch drive's small form factor will help enterprises maximize their data-center footprints by supporting densities of up to 76TB per square foot, noted...
Tue, 14 Dec 10
iPhone May Be the First Offering for Verizon's LTE Network
It seems like the holy grail of consumer wireless technology: The top-selling smartphone in the U.S. connected to the high-speed network of the wireless carrier often rated most reliable.
And if the latest rumor is true, it already exists. A blog that covers Apple products says Verizon Wireless already has a version of the iPhone that will work on its newly launched Long Term Evolution 4G network as well as on the more widely available 3G system.
Neither Verizon nor Apple has confirmed widespread reports that the iPhone will be available via Verizon early next year, a development that would break three years of exclusive U.S. distribution of the popular iPhone through AT&T.
But MacDailyNews said Verizon is already training managers to prepare for an iPhone release after Christmas -- the delay possibly being a concession to AT&T to avoid hurting its holiday iPhone sales. The blog, quoting what it said was a single reliable unnamed source, said the iPhone will be Verizon's only available LTE-equipped phone and will not be shipped to third-party retailers to avoid leaks.
Because the LTE network only covers 38 major U.S. markets, the report said, the new iPhone would also contain a chip for compatibility with the current 3G CDMA network footprint.
"We don't comment on rumor or speculation," a Verizon spokesperson told us in an e-mail.
The report is unique in asserting that a Verizon iPhone would be 4G-capable. In a conference call with reporters earlier this month announcing the initial LTE rollout for computers equipped with high-speed data modems, Verizon Vice President Tony Melone said the company will introduce LTE-capable phones after the Consumer Electronics Show in February for release later next year.
While it makes sense for Apple to want a high-speed network for its data-hungry phones -- Verizon says its network will deliver download speeds...
Tue, 14 Dec 10
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Shatters Gaming Record
Less than one month. That's how long it took for the video-game industry to see yet another blockbuster title.
In November, Call of Duty: Black Ops shattered theatrical box office, book and video-game sales records for a five-day worldwide sell-through of more than $650 million. Now World of Warcraft: Cataclysm looks like it might repeat the performance.
Blizzard Entertainment, maker of the popular World of Warcraft series, announced that Cataclysm -- the third in the series of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game -- sold more than 3.3 million copies during its first 24 hours on the market.
That qualifies Cataclysm as the fastest-selling PC game of all time. The previous record was 2.8 million-plus copies sold in 24 hours in November 2008. That was also a Blizzard title -- and also a World of Warcraft title: Wrath of the Lich King.
"We had to bring Azeroth to the brink of destruction in Cataclysm, but the result was our best expansion yet," said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard. Before the launch of Cataclysm, World of Warcraft's subscriber population had grown to more than 12 million players globally.
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, is seeing a strong season for video games across the board this holiday shopping season. He pointed to titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops and World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, as well as Microsoft's success selling its Kinect peripheral for Xbox and new Xbox 360s. But he also noted the growing popularity of nontraditional games.
"Angry Birds racked up five million paid downloads with $1 million a month worth of advertising revenue, according to reports. So it's not just traditional game platforms, but also these new mobile gaming platforms that really didn't exist a few years ago, that show consumers are still very much interested in...
Tue, 14 Dec 10
Dell Will Buy Enterprise Storage Provider Compellent
Dell is expanding its data-center portfolio with the announcement Monday that it will buy Compellent Technologies, a provider of virtualized storage solutions. The price is $820 million.
Dell said the purchase is the latest in its strategy to offer more enterprise-class storage solutions to "help customers better manage data growth, reduce storage costs, and dramatically simplify the management of IT infrastructure."
Compellent's offerings feature automated data management, such as tiering and thin provisioning, for on-site and cloud-based environments. Other lines in Dell's growing storage portfolio include PowerVault, EqualLogic, and Dell/EMC.
Fluid Data is Compellent's name for its approach to automated data storage, which it claims can slash the time and cost of storage up to 80 percent.
Compellent, which sells exclusively through channel partners, will maintain its current operations in Eden Prairie, Minn. Dell said it expects to expand Compellent's channel program, including offering other storage options for data centers.
Data-center products and services can help Dell grow beyond its traditional desktop and notebook market, which has lower profit margins due to a highly competitive pricing environment. The Round Rock, Texas-based computer giant has projected sales of $30 billion by 2014 for servers, storage and networking for data centers. This would be nearly double Dell's sales to that market in the last fiscal year.
Dell's move follows the purchase of Netezza last month by IBM, an agreement by EMC to buy Isilon Systems, and Hewlett-Packard's purchase of 3PAR. The 3PAR deal came after a bidding war between HP and Dell in September.
Storage requirements in data centers are booming, with needs changing and increasing because of virtualization and cloud computing, media storage, security and backup, data-based business intelligence, and other growth areas.
Some industry observers are suggesting that Compellent's products compete with Dell's own EqualLogic offerings, but Dell said the two companies complement each other....
Tue, 14 Dec 10
Gawker Hack Hits Twitter, May Ripple Across the Web
First Gawker, then Twitter ... who's next? A hack that compromised the commenting system on Gawker during the weekend and then drove a Twitter spam attack could create a ripple effect across the Internet.
Gawker's commenter database houses about 1.5 million usernames, e-mail addresses, and passwords. And those 1.5 million virtual identities are likely similar on sites across the web.
"That's like the Armageddon scenario that everyone who lives in a virtual online world fears the most but feels they are powerless to steer clear of," said Brad Shimmin, an analyst at Current Analysis. "If you ask 10 people how many passwords they maintain, I would guess eight of them would say one or two. The rest of them would be the nerds that have their software generate unbreakable passwords."
It all started over the weekend. In a published statement, Gawker said the passwords in its database were encrypted -- but "simple ones may be vulnerable to a brute-force attack." Gawker advised its users to change their password on both Gawker and on any other sites where they use the same passwords.
The advice may have come too late for some -- or perhaps it wasn't heeded. By Monday morning, the hack spread to Twitter. Twitter initially thought a worm was running rampant through its site, sending tweets that talked about "acai berry." But Twitter said on its @security feed that the spam was actually traced back to the Gawker incident. It seems some Gawker users and Twitter users have the same passwords.
"If you ask any security expert, they will tell you the same thing, but it is an unfortunate circumstance of human nature that we all strive for simplicity, and that simplicity creates these all the eggs-in-one-basket scenarios," Shimmin said.
"The lesson is just how interconnected these different services...
Tue, 14 Dec 10
WikiLeaks Protests Attacked with Botnets
An effort by supporters of WikiLeaks to take down Internet retailing sites at the height of Christmas shopping got a boost Thursday from hackers who can launch thousands of unwitting computers into the fray, Internet security experts say.
The attackers, who briefly disabled Web sites for MasterCard and Visa a day earlier, also focused on PayPal, which accepts payments for 8 million businesses, said Tal Beery of Web security firm Imperva. The attack is "gaining more speed and momentum," Beery said.
Attacks on PayPal slowed operations but did not stop transactions or jeopardize customer information, spokesman Anuj Nayar said. PayPal blocked donations to WikiLeaks because it believes the online whistle-blower encourages illegal activity, such as leaking classified documents, he said.
Twitter postings by people who say they're part of the attack accuse PayPal and others of blocking free speech.
Enlisting armies of computers, as happened Thursday, could cause the kind of damage that occurred during a conflict between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 2008 and during Iran's 2009 elections, said Beth Jones of Internet security firm Sophos. Both times, hackers shut down government computers.
"That's when we're going to see how good the systems are at Amazon or PayPal," she said.
Internet activist Gregg Housh, who is involved with Anonymous, an organization working with Operation Payback, told the Associated Press that the number of computers at the group's disposal was rising rapidly, now about 30,000 strong.
Some companies threatened by online action, such as Twitter and Amazon.com, are considered less vulnerable because of their many defenses.
Beery, who monitors hacker activity, said downloads of software designed to flood Web sites jumped to more than 23,000 Thursday from 10,163 Wednesday and 3,369 the day before. More than 30% of the downloads were in the USA.
"One could have thought that maybe this is an anti-U.S. campaign,...
Tue, 14 Dec 10
Video Game Sales Rise Eight Percent in November
U.S. video game sales in November rose 8 percent from a year ago to $2.99 billion, helped by Microsoft Corp.'s new motion-detecting controller, Kinect, and hot sales of the first-person shooter "Call of Duty: Black Ops."
Research firm NPD Group said Thursday that Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 platform accounted for more than 40 percent of total industry sales, and in just one month, the Kinect became the biggest revenue-generating accessory of the year.
Both the Kinect and "Call of Duty: Black Ops" began selling in early November, and the overall boost in sales of hardware, software and accessories came just in time for the holidays.
"Gains in November offset a good portion of the year-to-date declines," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier.
NPD said year-to-date sales were still down 5 percent to $14.06 billion.
For November, accessory sales were up 69 percent to $413 million. Hardware rose 2 percent to $1.08 billion and software rose 4 percent to $1.46 billion.
"Call of Duty" was the top-selling game, with 8.4 million units sold after its Nov. 9 debut. That was a quarter of all game sales. Its maker, Activision Blizzard Inc., has said the game made a record $650 million in its first five days.
The Nintendo DS remained the top-selling gaming device.
But the Xbox 360 saw a stunning 68 percent sales jump to 1.37 million consoles, partly boosted by bundles that included the Kinect. It was the best November ever for the console and marked its sixth month in a row on top.
"We certainly feel like this is a great wind in our sails," said David Dennis, group product manager with Xbox. "It's the biggest year for us so far."
Tue, 14 Dec 10
Channel the Internet's Flood of Information
The Internet is an almost unlimited source of information. Web feed formats such as RSS and Twitter allow users to channel and filter this flood. New subscribers just need to familiarize themselves with the possibilities.
Users looking to maintain an overview of what's going on in the world could decide to carry out regular daily checks on certain webpages, keep up to date with their emails, and see what's new with their Facebook friends and favorite bloggers.
But all that takes effort and time and there are easier ways to keep pace with what's happening online.
The magic word is RSS, a web feed format used to publish frequent updates in a standardized format. RSS allows the information to be filtered and tailored to a user's needs, presenting the possibility of everybody being in the position to create a personal news ticker or even an online newspaper.
This includes information from the main news sites, blogger updates, local travel and weather information and, in many cases, messages from friends.
The principle behind the concept is simple. RSS functions like a normal subscription service, albeit without the costs and the paper.
The starting point is to set up a menu of news sources by choosing the Web sites on offer from RSS feeds, which can be read using software called an RSS reader, of which there are many, and can be web-based, desktop-based, or mobile-device-based.
Web feeds allow publishers to syndicate content automatically, offering a lot of possibilities, almost as many options as there are RSS readers.
The RSS reader regularly checks the user's subscribed feeds and downloads any updates, removing the need to manually inspect all of the Web sites. The free Netvibes RSS reader, for example, permits emails to be displayed while Google News, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook can also be shown.
At its optimum, the webpage...
Sun, 12 Dec 10
Pentagon Bans Removable Drives on Classified Network
In an effort to thwart future unauthorized releases of government documents, the Pentagon is now banning the use of removable drives on its classified network. The move comes after thousands of classified documents and several military videos were released to the WikiLeaks web site earlier this year.
The order, initially from the Air Force and reportedly from the other services as well, prohibits users of its classified network, SIPRNet, from using what the Air Force described as "removable media on all systems, servers and stand-alone machines" on the network. Removable media include thumb drives, DVDs, CDs and similar devices.
The order noted that "unauthorized data transfers routinely occur on classified networks using removable media and are a method the insider threat uses to exploit classified information."
The Pentagon conducted an internal review this summer, which suggested that all computers storing classified information have the ability to write to removable media disabled. But excluding removable media makes the logistics of the system more difficult, since computers storing classified information are sometimes disconnected from a network, or in areas where the network connection is spotty or slow.
"Users will experience difficulty with transferring data for operational needs, which could impede timeliness on mission execution," according to the Pentagon order. But this isn't the first time removable drives have been banned. In 2008, they were prohibited following a widespread worm infection on the Pentagon's computers, but the ban was removed last February.
In a statement after WikiLeaks published diplomatic cables, the military said "the theft of materials traces to the lack of sharing of information and intelligence prior to and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."
According to the statement, issued by the American Forces Press Service, a commission report following the terrorist attacks "found that agencies weren't sharing enough...
Sat, 11 Dec 10
IBM Offers CIOs Predictive Analytics for Data Planning
In yet another move to use analytics to transform business, IBM has rolled predictive analytics into its global technology-services portfolio -- including IT and strategic outsourcing services. This time it's all about helping CIOs make better decisions about IT operations.
The predictive analytics aim to empower CIOs to construct specific, fact-based financial and business models using tools that help interpret and model data. Practically speaking, that means better planning for data-center capacity or emerging technologies such as cloud computing.
"Until now, CIOs have been unable to access many of the predictive, analytics-driven tools that CEOs or CFOs have used for years," said Steven Sams, vice president of IBM Site and Facilities Services. "In essence, this broad array of new analytical capabilities take data generated from IT operations and turns it into a set of facts that clients can then use to make smarter business decisions."
One example is IBM's Alternate Cash Flow Analysis. The tool can help determine which alternatives in data-center or IT infrastructure operations can cost-effectively meet business goals. This analysis calculates the "do-nothing strategy" -- for example, what would happen to investments if left in their current state -- as a baseline for other financial comparisons.
IBM's Physical Threshold Capacity Analysis can help forecast data-center capacity requirements many years into the future, allowing clients to know how long their data centers will remain viable and when they will need to be upgraded. Based on a client's input on expected application growth, IT strategy, and current data-center capabilities, the tool provides objective analysis on the data-center capacity thresholds to predict energy and space requirements.
IBM's Resiliency Rationalization Analysis works to help clients correctly gauge resiliency within their data-center infrastructure. IBM said current metrics for understanding reliability typically focus on the capital costs and don't facilitate the business decision of understanding the...
Sat, 11 Dec 10
Record Patches Add To IT's Load with WikiLeaks Threat
Microsoft is getting ready to break its record again. The software giant will deliver a record 17 security updates for December's Patch Tuesday. The updates aim to fix 40 vulnerabilities in Windows, Internet Explorer, Office, SharePoint and Exchange.
Of the 17 updates, two bulletins are rated critical, 14 are rated important, and one is rated moderate. That brings the total bulletin count to 106 for the year, breaking an annual record. The number of vulnerabilities patched climbs to 266, also a new record.
"We're addressing two issues this month that have attracted interest recently. First, we will be closing the last Stuxnet-related issues this month," said Mike Reavy, director of the Microsoft Security Response Center. "This is a local Elevation of Privilege vulnerability, and we've seen no evidence of its use in active exploits aside from the Stuxnet malware."
He said Microsoft is also addressing the IE vulnerability described in Security Advisory 2458511. That vulnerability exists thanks to an invalid flag reference within IE. In a specially crafted attack, IE can allow remote code execution. Microsoft acknowledged target attacks attempting to exploit the vulnerability.
"Over the past month, Microsoft and our MAPP partners actively monitored the threat landscape surrounding this vulnerability, and the total number of exploit attempts we monitored remained pretty low," Reavy said, adding that customers running IE8 are protected by default.
It's enough that IT administrators are addressing the current denial-of-service attacks surrounding WikiLeaks, where anyone could very quickly become a target, but now organizations also have to address this disruptive Patch Tuesday with 17 bulletins, which may all require a restart, said Paul Henry, security and forensic analyst for Lumension.
"With the advancement of communication technologies such as the real-time ability to communicate using Twitter, we have ushered in a new realm of 'hactivism,'," Henry said. "The...
Sat, 11 Dec 10
Caution -- Software Creates Fake Amazon Receipts
You're a small retailer doing business on Amazon.com, and a customer submits a receipt for a refund. The receipt looks genuine, and the customer says the purchased item didn't arrive. But it's a scam.
An Amazon "receipt generator" is being distributed online, and it allows a user to enter information -- like order placed, order number, item name, your name and address, and so on -- and create a fake receipt that looks virtually identical to the one Amazon provides for you to print. The fake receipt can be printed, or captured in a screen shot for e-mailing.
The receipt generator was brought to light on GFI Software's blog, which said the AmazonReceiptGenerator.exe file has been circulating for "about a month or two." The blog said the fake receipt is "identical" to the real thing, including "total before tax," "sales tax," and other such details.
The generator also has other, relatively sophisticated, assets to make it as convincing as possible. For instance, a 17-digit order number is randomly generated and shown in orange at the top. GFI said it sent the generator file to Amazon.
Wouldn't a small business be able to tell if someone actually made a purchase by checking its records? The scam appears to rely on businesses big enough to have a steady stream of Amazon orders, but small enough that it doesn't have time to check whether an order was actually placed.
While the scammer might seek to get a cash or credit-card refund, a more likely payoff is getting the seller to reship the product, which the "receipt" says has already been paid for.
Michael Gartenberg, research director for Gartner, said he didn't think many businesses would fall for this. "It's easy enough to check the submitted receipt against their records," he said,...
Sat, 11 Dec 10
Review: Tron Video Game Suffers Power Shortage
As a young video-game fanatic, I was one of the first on my block to line up for "Tron" when it hit theaters in 1982. So I was one of the first to be dazzled by its then-state-of-the-art computer graphics -- and disappointed with its jerry-built story of corporate espionage, a tale with less emotional resonance than a game of "Asteroids."
William Gibson gave us a more convincing vision of cyberspace in his 1984 novel, "Neuromancer." And video games have inspired far better movies, from "The Matrix" and "Run Lola Run" to this year's "Inception" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." But gamers still feel a connection to "Tron," whatever its flaws, because it was the first movie that tried to address our passion.
The long-awaited sequel, "Tron: Legacy," which opens Dec. 17, is just one part of The Walt Disney Co.'s massive multimedia reboot of the franchise. There will be comic books, toys, an animated TV series and even "Tron"-themed computer accessories. And of course, there are video games.
"Tron: Evolution" (Disney, for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3, $59.99; PC, $39.99) takes place during the 1990s, halfway between the original film and "Legacy." (The less ambitious versions for Nintendo's Wii, DS and PlayStation Portable are set in the 1980s.) You control Anon, a security program who appears as a humanoid avatar; Anon's job is to prevent a virus called Abraxas from destroying the cyberworld.
The action boils down to three elements. Least satisfying is the combat against Abraxas' minions, who pop up and attack Anon at regular intervals. Your only weapon is a glowing disc, which you can fling from a distance or use in up-close attacks. You earn more powerful discs, like one that explodes, as the game proceeds, but most of the fights devolve into simple button-mashing.
Sat, 11 Dec 10
RockMelt Social Browser Appeals to Facebook Fans
There's a lot to keep track of online.
You probably have a Facebook account and an e-mail address or two. You might use Twitter or another service to share where you are or what you're reading, thinking or doing. You follow the news and do some old-fashioned Web browsing.
I do all of the above (and more), so I'm always looking for ways to wrangle my tangle of online accounts.
That's what I was hoping for when I tried RockMelt, a new Web browser backed by Marc Andreessen, who was behind the Web's first commercial browser, Netscape. RockMelt aims to bring together social networking, news feeds and Web browsing.
Does it do the job? Mostly if you rely on Facebook for social networking.
RockMelt, which is available on an invitation-only basis for now, is built on the same foundation as Google Inc.'s 2-year-old Chrome browser. For general browsing purposes, you can expect Chrome's pros (speed, stability) and cons (some sites don't work, including the one for paying my cable bill).
Once you install RockMelt, you set it up by giving it permission to integrate your Facebook account. You don't need to create a new account the way you do with Flock, a competing "social browser" that's been around for five years. You can then choose to add Twitter and Gmail accounts. RockMelt stores information in the "cloud," so your settings will automatically follow you to other computers.
On the right of the main browser window is what RockMelt calls the App Edge, where buttons offer access to social-networking sites and other Web sites. On the far left side is the Friend Edge, a column of buttons representing Facebook friends. Above the Friend Edge is your Facebook profile picture -- click to send a Facebook status update or tweet.
The buttons in the App Edge point out unread updates...
Sat, 11 Dec 10
FCC Ponders Refereeing Broadcasting Disputes
Federal regulators will explore whether they can do more to protect consumers from losing their television signals because of disputes over the fees that subscription-video providers pay broadcasters for their programming.
Wednesday's announcement by the Federal Communications Commission comes on the heels of a high-profile spat between Cablevision Systems Corp. and News Corp.'s Fox network. That impasse left 3 million Cablevision subscribers in the New York area without Fox programming for 15 days -- including through two World Series games -- after the broadcaster pulled its signal in October.
Cablevision had called on the FCC to prohibit Fox from withholding its signal and to require binding arbitration. But the agency remained on the sidelines during the dispute. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski argued that under existing law, the commission had very limited authority to get involved in what were essentially private business negotiations. Genachowski said Congress should consider changing that.
In the meantime, the agency will examine what role it can nevertheless play in allowing fees "to be set by market forces while protecting the interests of consumers," William Lake, head of the FCC's media bureau, said in a speech Wednesday.
Among other things, the agency will study what it can do to ensure that both sides negotiate in good faith, and it will consider rules that would require consumer notification when talks break down and a signal could get pulled.
The dispute between Cablevision and Fox was the latest in a series of high-stakes standoffs over programming fees over the past year. Broadcasters have been demanding more for their signals as advertising revenue has dropped off, and they warn that if they are not paid enough, they would no longer be able to invest in high-quality content, including sporting events and local news.
But cable companies and other pay-TV providers complain that existing government rules favor...
Sat, 11 Dec 10
Dell Near $876 Million Deal for Compellent
Computer maker Dell Inc. is close to acquiring data storage provider Compellent Technologies for about $876 million, the company said Thursday.
The acquisition would extend a recent string of deals in the data storage industry as tech firms position themselves to help big companies and government agencies deal with ever increasing amounts of digital information.
Dell fell short in its effort to expand in the storage business earlier this year when it lost the bidding for 3Par Inc. to rival Hewlett Packard Co., which ended up paying $2.35 billion.
Now, Round Rock, Texas-based Dell said it has a tentative agreement to buy 3Par competitor Compellent Technologies Inc., which is based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, for $27.50 per share. The company cautioned that a deal may still not happen.
But investors appear to have already anticipated a takeover offer -- and perhaps a fatter premium for the shares.
Dell's offer represents an 18.2 percent discount to Compellent's closing share price Wednesday of $33.65. The stock tumbled $4.40, or 13.1 percent, to $29.27 in morning trading, but remained above the offer price.
Dell shares edged up a penny to $13.69.
The world's biggest technology providers have been stepping up acquisitions to make sure they can offer a full package of hardware, software and services for the back-office operations of big customers.
Dell has fallen behind HP in broadening its offerings. More than half of its revenue still comes from selling personal computers, a niche where profit margins have shrunk because of low prices and the increasing cost of components.
Sat, 11 Dec 10
USDA Heads To the Cloud, Courtesy of Microsoft
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is moving to a cloud-based system for e-mail, with its data being stored in Microsoft's data center in suburban Chicago.
Cloud computing moves applications to the Internet, cutting costs and facilitating easier access to information. The USDA said it awarded a contract in May to Dell for Microsoft Online Services, aiming to move all of its e-mail, instant messaging and collaboration applications to the cloud.
The USDA said it is the first Cabinet-level agency to make such a move, and that it has been working with Dell and Microsoft during the past six months to migrate more than 120,000 users to the common system. Previously, employees were on 21 different e-mail systems.
Companies such as Microsoft and Google are competing to be the leading provider of cloud-based services to government agencies and other businesses. Last week, the General Services Administration announced it is the first federal agency to move its entire e-mail system to the cloud, using Google products. The agency said it expects to cut its e-mail costs in half over the next five years.
Microsoft's data center in Northlake, Ill., opened in September 2009 and is home to thousands of servers that provide processing power and storage for the company's cloud services.
Curt Kolcun, vice president of the U.S. public sector at Microsoft, said the Chicago center is one of the most heavily requested customer-visit sites for the businesses he oversees. The facility is a way to show senior government officials, state governors and other officials a tangible representation of the cloud, Kolcun said.
"Historically, many people would say that government is more risk-averse," said Kolcun. "But in this case, they are leading the charge, not only in the move to the cloud, but what are the appropriate security standards that need to be implemented. They're not just sticking...
Fri, 10 Dec 10
Verizon Slashes Prepaid Price In a Competitive Market
The nation's top wireless carrier by subscribers has quietly slashed the cost of prepaid daily unlimited calls from $3.99 to $1.99. At the same time, Verizon Wireless doubled the cost of the plan's text messages from one cent to two cents.
The new pricing is reportedly available only on a select group of feature phones, according to research group Current Analysis, which discovered the change. Fierce Wireless, a telecom blog, was the first to report it.
Prepaid rates appeal to many customers because they don't require a contract and can be cheaper than a monthly postpaid account since customers aren't charged for days when their phones are idle.
Verizon also offers a 99-cent daily plan for limited talk and a 25-cents-per-minute plan.
"Given that our economy continues to be slow, many people are switching to prepaid because they realize that they can save money," said Maidy Whitesell, a wireless expert at Current Analysis. "Many companies such as Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, TracFone, Leap and MetroPCS have started tweaking their prepaid offerings, but they are not alone. Traditional postpaid carriers, like AT&T and Verizon Wireless, are now offering plans that undercut their postpaid offerings."
She added that prepaid has long been stereotyped as appealing only to people with bad or no credit, who had to pay a premium for the service. Today, plans are more affordable and competitive, with more phones offered.
"The competitiveness of the prepaid arena has also helped transform the companies' strategy," Whitesell said. "As many carriers are now offering more customized plans, there are others that offer exclusive plans at retail stores, such as Straight Talk, Common Cents, and Cricket PAYGo [which] are only available at Wal-Mart. ... Therefore, I think customers can find a plan that fits their budget along with a device that can help them fully utilize their plans."
Fri, 10 Dec 10
300,000 Android Phones Now Activated Each Day
The number of Android devices Google is activating each day has grown 500 percent since January, when the company reported 60,000 activations per day. In a tweet late Wednesday, Google Vice President of Engineering Andy Rubin said "over 300,000 Android phones" are being activated each day on average.
In September, Apple CEO Steve Jobs sought to downplay Google's August report of 200,000 daily Android activations by announcing that Apple was then "activating a little over 230,000 iOS devices per day -- and that's new activations." He added, "We think some of our friends are counting upgrades in their numbers. If we counted upgrades in our numbers, they would be way higher than 230,000."
In response, Google told media outlets that it only counts the number of Android devices that become activated for Google services each day. As a result, the company said, the figures it reports only represent a portion of the total number of new Android-based devices entering the global marketplace on a daily basis.
Google's latest Android activation count is primarily for smartphones, whereas Apple figures always include a significant number of non-smartphone devices such as the iPad and the iPod touch. Based on Apple's report of 4.19 million iPads sold in the company's latest business quarter, for example, the iPad alone could account for as many as 46,000 iOS activations per day.
The iPad and iPod touch "contribute to the strength of Apple's ecosystem and the iPhone in a way that smartphone-only manufacturers cannot compete with," noted Gartner Research Vice President Carolina Milanesi. "While Android is increasingly available on media tablets and media players like the Galaxy (Tab), it lags far behind iOS's multi-device presence."
On the other hand, Apple's daily numbers have also risen since September. According to a November Gartner report, Apple by then had boosted...
Fri, 10 Dec 10
Google Offers Exchange Backups -- and Easy Migration
Google is offering a new backup plan for businesses worried about Microsoft Exchange downtime. On Thursday, the company announced Google Message Continuity, which can "help you ensure that your users never lose access to e-mail" during an Exchange outage.
On-premises Exchange accounts are synchronized with the Google cloud, and the backup service gives users access to e-mail inboxes that are always up to date and available through the Gmail interface even when the on-site servers are down. When Exchange is back up, current messages, deletions, folder assignments, and other updates recorded by the Continuity service update Exchange.
The cost is $25 per user per year for new customers, or $13 per user per year for current customers of Postini, a company that Google acquired in 2007.
The backup service is intended to do more than simply offer a mirrored e-mail account. Google said Message Continuity customers get "a smooth bridge" to the Google cloud, where they can experience Google's Gmail, Contacts and Calendar without disruption to the current e-mail service. And if the company decides to deploy Google Apps, e-mail won't need to be migrated, since it would already be in sync.
On its Google Enterprise blog, the company said all incoming e-mail is first filtered through Postini for spam and viruses, and then sent to the Gmail and Exchange servers. During normal usage, a user interacts with an account on Exchange. Any changes to that account are reflected through Google Sync Server, which updates the corresponding Gmail account.
Each Gmail account stores 25GB in the cloud, and includes the security features of Google Message Security, such as antivirus and antispam detection, content policies, and encryption. No hardware installation is required for Message Continuity, and everything is available through a web interface.
Microsoft has an Exchange Hosted Archiving service, which...
Fri, 10 Dec 10
WikiLeaks Battle Fuels Cyber Revolution Attacks
An anonymous group has created a hit list of sites it plans to target as the fallout from the WikiLeaks drama continues unfolding. Naming itself Anonymous, the group claims to have no affiliation with WikiLeaks or its founder, Julian Assange. But the group is fighting for "transparency and anti-censorship."
PandaLabs has detected two attacks against PayPal and its blog for suspending donations to WikiLeaks. The attack took the site down for eight hours. MasterCard also came under attack, reporting "traffic and slow access." Meanwhile, PostFinance.ch bank has witnessed 11 hours of downtime thanks to backlash from Anonymous.
The group has pledged to attack any institution that tries to silence or discourage WikiLeaks. The next targets could be Facebook and Twitter. Both companies have deleted the accounts of cyberactivists who are launching the missives.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, said the WikiLeaks drama has the potential to be the seed of a revolution. As he sees it, the DDoS attacks have the feel of revolt, right now against authority in general, but it could become more focused as time goes on.
"Technology allows a small number of talented people to quickly organize and mobilize large groups very quickly, and that capability appears to be being demonstrated here," Enderle said. "Confidence in authority, particularly in the U.S., is at historic lows, and coupled with high unemployment the risk of revolt would appear to be unusually high."
All that seems to be needed is a big-enough spark, he said. Enderle sees the WikiLeaks drama as more of a warning of what could be coming. "How the U.S. and other governments respond will make all the difference," he said. "Right now they seem to be making things worse, which probably won't end well."
Anonymous isn't the only group...
Fri, 10 Dec 10
Chrome Web Store Puts Desktop in the Browser
At long last, Google has opened its Chrome Web Store. Google first mentioned the store for its open-source browser at its I/O conference in May.
The web apps Google is listing in the store are regular web applications built with standard web tools and technologies. The applications will also run in other browsers that support these technologies.
Although there are a growing number of free apps online, Google decided it was time to build a single open marketplace where consumers can find them. The Chrome store also gives developers opportunities to reach consumers by offering a single platform where consumers can search for apps. The store is currently only available in the U.S., but Google promised to expand it early next year.
"Developers have already started uploading apps, and we expect the number to grow over time," Linus Upson, vice president of engineering, and Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management, wrote in a Google blog post. "The store will be featured prominently in Chrome, helping people discover great apps and developers reach millions of users around the world."
Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, is bullish on the prospects for the Chrome Web Store. As he sees it, the mobile market, the popularity of mobile apps, and other online stores such as the Salesforce app exchange paved the way for the Chrome store.
"Given that no software can be downloaded to the new Chrome OS notebooks, apps are a way to provide a richer desktop-like software experience in the browser," Sterling said. "It also creates a way for developers to make money on browser-based software where they might have trouble charging for site access in a conventional web environment."
Meanwhile, Google is planting seeds about Chrome OS notebooks' potential in the enterprise. Google pointed to InterContinental...
Fri, 10 Dec 10
Businesses Could Reach Out To You in Google's Vision
You're standing on a street corner and, without you searching, your smartphone serves up today's special at a nearby Japanese restaurant. That vision of "contextual discovery" -- a new way for businesses and customers to interact -- is increasingly being emphasized by Google, most recently by Vice President of Consumer Products Marissa Mayer on Wednesday.
At the Le Web conference in Paris, Mayer said the search giant has "a couple of things we're experimenting with," which will be out in 2011. The key concept, she said, is to let users find "what they want without them actually searching for anything," such as by using their location "as a piece of context."
Stores, museums, theaters and other businesses or attractions would automatically send messages, ads, menus, promos or other enticements to a user. In addition to location, this "serendipitous search" could also get contextual hints from a user's posted profile, web-searching habits, or other factors.
"We're trying to build a virtual mirror of the world at all times," she told news media. The main idea is that some information is pushed to people about things they want, like or need, and especially at times when they can best use it.
Mayer also noted that, in addition to other issues, the user interface is a "challenge." She said her team is working on interface solutions, which could include a panel in one corner of a smartphone. Mobile devices are the key target here, since the place-based information could more easily be acted upon if you're standing near the advertiser's place of business.
In September, CEO Eric Schmidt similarly laid out a vision for what he called "autonomous search," where Google knows enough about users' preferences, interests and location to provide information without the user having to find it. He positioned Google Instant's predictive search...
Fri, 10 Dec 10
Accessorize: Gift Ideas for the Gadget Geeks in Your Life
Chances are there's at least one or two people on your gift list who can't live without their smartphone or the new tablet computer they scooped up this year.
The good news is you can buy a holiday present that adds functionality, fashion and longevity to any favorite portable gadget.
Bluetooth headsets and speakerphones are obvious. But there are other gift ideas to consider, divided into various categories, and ranging in price from $15 to $350.
And, no, we won't think you're more naughty than nice if you decide to keep these for yourself.
The OtterBox Defender line of cases ($49.95; otterbox.com) safeguards your smartphone in three ways: a clear membrane that covers the screen, a hard polycarbonate skeleton that surrounds the smartphone and a wrap-around silicone skin that absorbs bumps and shocks. Awarded a Gear of the Year nod by National Geographic Adventure, the Defender series is available in multiple colors, supports different kinds of phones and includes a swivel belt clip.
If you'd rather rock out than go rugged, the iMainGo X ($69.95; imaingo.com) is a protective case and ultra-portable speaker system rolled into one. Designed primarily for iPhone (but it should fit most other smartphones and MP3 players), this product lets you control and view your device without having to take it out of the case. A 3.5-mm jack connects to the rechargeable speaker (AC plug included), which lasts up to 12 hours on a single charge.
Tablet owners might prefer a stylish bag, such as those by STM Bags. Available in olive or ochre, the Scout ($50; stmbags.com), for example, is an over-the-shoulder canvas bag with multiple pockets. A Velcro and buckle closure over the tablet area offers added protection. The water-resistant bag weighs 1.2 pounds.
For iPad owners who do a lot of typing, there's the new Bluetooth keyboard...
Fri, 10 Dec 10
Woz Eases on Down the Technology Road
Those under 40 may remember Steve "Woz" Wozniak as the lovable computer geek doing the samba on Dancing With the Stars. But in Silicon Valley, he's high-tech royalty.
Apple's legendary co-founder -- he's known in the valley as the nice Steve, compared with Steve Jobs -- made an infrequent appearance last week as a personal tour guide of the renovated Computer History Museum [in Silicon Valley].
"I saw products that strike me in awe. It floods the best memories of my life," Wozniak said during a far-ranging, 30-minute interview at the eye-popping museum.
Version 2.0 of the 8-year-old Computer History Museum, scheduled to reopen to the public on Jan. 13, is the valley's answer to the Smithsonian. The 25,000-square-foot exhibit is jam-packed with more than 1,100 inventions -- from tiny circuits to giant supercomputers -- that trace the evolution of technology and innovation.
Among the gems: ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first general purpose electronic computer; UNIVAC I (Universal Automatic Computer), the first commercial computer produced in the U.S.; a butcher scale designed by IBM; German-production encryption machines used during World War II; plenty of early Macintosh models; and RAMAC, the first hard disk drive.
"Blows the mind, doesn't it?" says Dag Spicer, the museum's senior curator. The $19 million renovation was bankrolled by 65 private donors, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Many items were donated by individuals and other museums, including the Smithsonian.
Tech wizardry has always been paramount to Woz, the engineer who shaped the design of Apple's first personal computers. He is one of 45 fellows named by the museum for his contributions to the computer world. Other recipients include Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, Internet pioneer Vint Cerf and Linux creator Linus Torvalds.
Cradling a cup of tea as he battled the remnants of a nagging cold, Wozniak mused on:
*Apple. "Its (success)...
Fri, 10 Dec 10
Technology Makes WikiLeaks Elusive
Can WikiLeaks really be stopped? The United States government hopes so, as it is reportedly looking at all possible ways to prosecute its founder, Julian Assange, and bring down his now famous whistle-blowing Web site. And bowing to political and public pressure, company after company is lining up to publicly disassociate itself from WikiLeaks. The latest to pull the plug are Amazon.com, which provided web services, and PayPal, the payment processor. Both claimed that WikiLeaks violated a terms of service agreement.
Despite these headwinds, WikiLeaks' story -- and its influence -- just seems to keep growing. The reasons lie in part, of course, in the WikiLeaks mission, which seeks to disseminate heretofore classified information under the precept that all information should be public. That message strikes a chord with many. But the other significant reason that WikiLeaks is almost impossible to quash lies in the technologies -- past and present -- that are fueling the Internet itself. Let's look at a few.
Part of the problem of shutting down WikiLeaks -- for those who want to -- is that the site is now "mirrored" on over 500 servers around the world. Mirroring essentially means that a copy of the current site is maintained on that many different servers, and if one server is shut down, either by the company that hosts the server or by legal authorities within a country in which the server resides, a simple change to the site's "Domain Name System," or DNS, records can shift Internet users to one of the other mirrors when the site is accessed.
That's a big reason why authorities in any given country have such difficulty in shutting down an Internet entity that has gained support -- and mirrors -- around the world, as in the case of WikiLeaks. In today's interconnected world, unless...
Fri, 10 Dec 10
Palm's Turnaround Thwarted by Swifter Peers
The head of smart-phone maker Palm said the company's attempt at a turnaround -- which ended earlier this year when it was bought by Hewlett Packard for $1.8 billion in cash -- was thwarted by competitors that simply moved too quickly.
Speaking at a tech conference Tuesday, Jon Rubinstein said that Palm Inc., a pioneer in the smart phone market that fell behind in recent years, had many of the necessary elements for success when it launched its fresh operating software, webOS, and accompanying Pre and Pixi smart phones in 2009. These strengths included a solid team and software, a great product pipeline and over $500 million in cash.
Still, "the world moved faster than we expected and we ran out of runway," he said.
Palm was founded in 1992 and helped originate the handheld computing market with its Palm Pilot "personal digital assistants" in the 1990s. But after Palm reshuffled itself repeatedly -- it was bought by U.S. Robotics, a modem maker that itself was bought by 3Com Corp. in 1997, and then spun off again as its own company in 2000 -- other companies took control of the market.
Apple Inc.'s iPhone was already a major success when Palm announced its turnaround plans in early 2009; its popularity has continued to skyrocket, most recently buoyed by the iPhone 4. And Google Inc.'s Android operating software, which was first released on a smart phone about two years ago, is now running on 172 different handsets worldwide. Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry smart phones have remained popular, too.
Rubinstein said that, given all this, Palm saw that it could be small and successful but that didn't seem like a sustainable business long term.
Instead, Palm turned to Palo Alto-based Hewlett-Packard Co., which said in April that it would buy the company.
The acquisition came after Palm studied...
Fri, 10 Dec 10
Review: Nookcolor Is Best Dedicated E-Reader
When Barnes & Noble Inc. began to sell its first electronic reading device, the Nook, a year ago, I found it as welcome as a bookcase landing on my toe. It was a terrible design -- slow, confusing and buggy.
The successor, the Nookcolor, is a huge improvement and the best dedicated e-reader on the market this holiday season.
The new color touch screen makes navigation and reading much easier. At $249, it is great for consumers who are not yet willing to spring for a pricier tablet computer such as the iPad.
The original Nook had two screens: one big, Kindle-like gray-scale "electronic ink" display for reading and one small touch-enabled color display for navigation. It was like an unholy marriage between a Kindle and an iPod Touch, worse than either product on its own.
The Nookcolor, which went on sale two weeks ago, dispenses with the e-ink screen. The color screen has swelled to 7 inches diagonally, taking over the whole surface and making the Nookcolor look like the mid-sized product of a happy union between an iPhone and an iPad.
Other color e-book readers have hit the market this year from smaller names, including Sharper Image with its Literati. They've been hampered by poor screens that make the text shimmer uncomfortably. Barnes & Noble's screen uses the same technology as Apple Inc. does for its iPad, and it's wonderfully crisp.
E-ink readers such as the Kindle do have one selling point: They provide a more paper-like reading experience, which sounds attractive to people who find that staring at a computer screen for hours on end is uncomfortable. However, I believe most of this discomfort derives from screens that are set to shine too brightly. I found the Nookcolor quite comfortable to read on, partly because it's easy to adjust the brightness of the...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
Users of Android Smartphones Consume the Most Data
A study of soaring smartphone use by software maker Arieso suggests that as consumers become increasingly hungry for data, their choice of device helps determine how much demand they place on wireless networks.
The study found that users of phones powered by Google's Android operating system, available from numerous manufacturers and carriers, are consuming the most data. Using its location-aware and customer-centric network management solution, ariesoGEO, the company collected data from one 24-hour weekday in an urban Tier-1 network, in which more than 440,000 subscribers made more than 22 million voice and data calls.
Arieso analyzed the activity of devices used by at least 1,000 subscribers, such as the BlackBerry Bold 9700, the Google Nexus One, the HTC Desire, the Sony Ericsson Xperia, and the Apple iPhone 4. The iPhone 3G was used as a benchmark for high data usage.
The iPhone 3G was chosen as the reference point because of its significance as a game changer in the smartphone market, under the rationale that those who demand more data than iPhone 3G users set a new bar that network operators must anticipate.
"Smartphone subscriptions are rising and so, too, is subscriber appetite for mobile data," said Michael Flanagan, author of Arieso's white paper, titled Emerging Smartphone Trends: The Next Wave in the Digital Tsunami. "Since the launch of the iPhone 3G, we've seen a multitude of popular new smartphones arrive on the market, successfully driving app and service usage. It's a trend that's set to continue. Operators must now be able to quantify the impact of the devices they support, how subscribers use them, and prepare their networks accordingly."
Comparing all the other phones against the iPhone 3G, Arieso found a 250 percent increase in total data call time, a 130 percent increase in data calls, a 130 percent increase in...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
Operation Payback Floods MasterCard for WikiLeaks Shutout
MasterCard's web site was the target Tuesday of denial-of-service attacks from a group that vowed revenge for the company's suspension of its credit-card service on WikiLeaks. According to news reports, the attacks were orchestrated by an "Internet vigilante group" called Anonymous and hackers connected with 4Chan, a message-board network.
Someone allegedly allied with Anonymous tweeted that the action was called Operation Payback. The attacks flooded the MasterCard site with "traffic and slow access," according to spokesperson James Issokson. MasterCard has said there had been no request from the U.S. government or any other source before its decision was made.
Online attacks by Anonymous have, in the past, been reported against the Church of Scientology and the music industry.
MSNBC reported Wednesday that the MasterCard site was down Wednesday morning, although it was live in the afternoon. MasterCard has acknowledged it experienced a "service disruption" of its system for verifying online payments, but has said its service remains operational.
On Monday, MasterCard announced it was discontinuing the acceptance of MasterCard-branded products on the WikiLeaks site. The action stems from WikiLeaks' unauthorized publishing of a quarter-million U.S. Embassy diplomatic cables. WikiLeaks' head, Julian Assange, was arrested Tuesday in the United Kingdom, following an international arrest warrant on rape charges. He has denied the charges.
On Tuesday, Visa Europe Ltd. in London also said WikiLeaks would not be able to use its services. eBay has similarly discontinued WikiLeaks' account because of what it described as a violation of its acceptable-use policy, and Amazon.COM has shut down the site's use of its hosting service.
As of Wednesday, WikiLeaks was live through the early afternoon, and it still showed a MasterCard logo on its donations page, as well as one for Visa. It also offered other ways for visitors to donate, including transfers to banks in Germany and...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
The speed of the Chrome browser has been Google's biggest focus since day one -- from the moment the user clicks on the icon to everything he or she does in the browser, noted Google Vice President Sundar Pichai. This helps explain why Chrome has enjoyed "300 percent growth since January of this year" and now has "120 million users worldwide," he said during a Google media event in San Francisco.
Earlier this year, the company's design team launched a new feature on Google's home page called Google Instant, which displays search results even as the user is typing a query. Now the company is planning to bring the same instant experience to the Chrome Omnibox -- Google's name for the URL window at the top of the browser.
"That's one part of the equation, but, as you know, the Omnibox is about more than search results -- it's also about getting to the URLs you frequently go to," said Google Director of Product Management Brian Rakowski.
The next Chrome browser release will be able to immediately recognize the URL for a favorite web destination such as ESPN as soon as the user types the letter "E", Rakowski noted. "I don't have to hit enter, I don't have to finish the query -- the page loads instantly."
Google has also been working on a built-in PDF reader for Chrome with the focus on "making it really, really fast," Rakowski said. "It makes loading PDFs a breeze."
To further accelerate browser performance, the next Chrome release...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
Salesforce Unveils Heroku Acquisition at Dreamforce
Amid a flurry of announcements surrounding Dreamforce this week, Salesforce.com has announced its intent to acquire a leading Ruby application platform-as-a-service company. Salesforce.com offered about $212 million for Heroku.
Ruby has become the leading development language used to write next-generation apps that are social, collaborative and deliver real-time access to information across mobile devices. Founded in 2007, Heroku powers more than 105,000 apps written by Ruby developers. Last week alone, developers added 2,600 new apps to the platform.
"The next era of cloud computing is social, mobile and real time. I call it Cloud 2," said Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com. "Ruby is the language of Cloud 2, and Heroku is the leading Ruby application platform as a service for Cloud 2 that is fueling this growing community. We think this acquisition will uniquely position Salesforce.com as the cornerstone for the next generation of app developers."
With a growing community of more than one million developers, Ruby is the development language used to write apps for Groupon, Hulu, 37 Signals, and Twitter. Salesforce.com is betting the Heroku acquisition will help it accelerate the shift to the next era of cloud computing in the enterprise -- and across the entire industry.
Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC, called the Heroku acquisition a good buy. However, he added, the valuation is eye-popping. As he sees it, firms that provide a hosted platform for Ruby represent the kind of new application workloads that Salesforce hopes to attract to its own cloud offering.
"In theory, Heroku customers will be candidates for Database.com, and so the synergies for cross-selling are one of the main attractions. The two leaders of the Ruby space are Heroku and Engine Yard," Hilwa said. "This move will likely precipitate an acquisition of other such application-platform boutique firms and drive up...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
IE9 Will Let Users Control Tracking on Web Sites
With global attention on how companies track people browsing online, Microsoft has decided to take a proactive approach to privacy with the next version of Internet Explorer. IE9 will offer a feature that Microsoft had originally planned for IE8 called Tracking Protection.
The feature aims to put consumers in control of potential online tracking as they surf the web. Tracking Protection lets consumers filter content in a page that may have an impact on their privacy.
"Our job in developing the next version of IE9 is to find the right balance between the real consumer benefits that can come from sharing, while providing the user choice and control with respect to their privacy," said Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft corporate vice president and head of Internet Explorer development. He said Tracking Protection will give consumers control over their information online.
Here's how Tracking Protection works: Consumers can indicate what web sites they would prefer to not exchange information with. Hachamovitch explained that consumers do this by adding Tracking Protection lists to IE. Anyone, and any organization, on the web can create and publish Tracking Protection lists.
"By default, there are no lists included in IE9, which is consistent with our previous IE releases with respect to privacy," Hachamovitch said. "These lists include web addresses for IE to treat as 'Do Not Call' unless the consumer visits the address directly. The lists also include 'OK To Call' addresses to make sure that the user can get to these addresses even if one of their lists has it as 'Do Not Call.' Once the consumer has turned on Tracking Protection, it remains on until the person turns it off."
In practice, this means that if you visit a news site, then a sports site, then some other web site, third-party advertisers can't build a profile of...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
New Era with Mac App Store Pushed Back To January
The launch of Apple's app store for Mac has been pushed back to January, according to a report. An earlier report this week had said the launch would be Dec. 13. But, while app stores for smartphones changed those devices into platforms, a key question is whether a store is needed for a personal computer.
The tech blog AppleTell, citing "inside sources," reported Tuesday that the Mac App Store would launch on Dec. 13, but the blog now says its sources indicate a January launch. There have also been reports that Apple has informed third-party developers to have their products ready to launch with the store. Apple hasn't made an official announcement.
The Mac computer, of course, has always been a latform for applications. While mobile phones evolved from devices you could use to make a phone call into devices with which you could do almost anything, Macs and other personal computers have always been the machines that do almost anything.
A Mac App Store will allow a user to find and download an app through the iTunes interface, not through a browser, which has many advantages for the customer. Currently, downloading and installing software for the Mac involves several steps to unarchive a file and install. By contrast, installing App Store apps for iOS on Apple's mobile devices involves fewer steps.
Another advantage for customers is that all products in the Mac App Store will have been screened by Apple. Software version updates could also be managed through the store rather than each vendor communicating separately with the customer. A customer could also peruse alternative products more quickly, such as competing business applications.
And, like any store, an app store also offers the opportunity of serendipitously discovering new products as you browse.
Avi Greengart, an analyst for...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
Gift Guide: Consoles To Bring Out the Gamer in You
With two new motion controllers out this fall, video game companies are giving even the most hand-eye-coordination challenged of us a chance to find our inner gamer. And for those who already have, lower-priced console bundles and an experimental game streaming platform can be reason enough to get a second -- or third -- gaming system this holiday season.
Here's a handy rundown of what's out there, how much it costs and who might want it:
This is the futuristic motion controller from Microsoft Corp. It removes remotes entirely from the gaming experience. Kinect is basically a fancy camera that tracks your movements, hand gestures and voice. It can also recognize faces and scan in objects so you can use them in certain games. For now, two people can play simultaneously, though that will likely change as more games are developed. This holiday season, retailers are also bundling Kinect with a low-end version of the Xbox 360 at a discount.
Good for: Families with young kids, anyone averse to games with lots of buttons and complex controls. Wii graduates or anyone who's been meaning to get a Wii all this time and just never got around to it.
Not so good for: Dorm-bound college students and city dwellers in tiny apartments, as Kinect needs at least 6 feet -- though more is better -- between it and the players to work. Hardcore gamers could go either way, so best to check first.
Cost: $150 for the standalone Kinect camera system, or $300 for the Kinect with a 4 gigabyte Xbox 360. Both come with a game, "Kinect Adventures."
Must-have game: "Dance Central" ($50)
Sony says it had considered selling a controller-free controller a la Kinect but then thought better of it. Many games, it turns out,...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
Groupon Spurns Google's Takeover Attempt
Google Inc.'s attempt to buy local-coupon site Groupon Inc. appears to have failed for now, according to published reports.
Groupon, whose ties to local merchants and some 35 million subscribers worldwide made it a company worth potentially $5 billion to $6 billion to Google, has decided to stay independent for now, according to the Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, which cited unnamed sources close to the negotiations. The reports say Groupon may pursue an initial public offering of stock.
Google declined comment Saturday. Messages by The Associated Press for Groupon representatives were not returned Saturday.
Groupon, a 2-year-old startup based in Chicago, dangles a different bargain each day to people signed up for the service.
Google was pursuing Groupon in an attempt to turn the Internet's largest advertising network into an even more powerful marketing vehicle. It would have marked the highest price that Google paid for a company, eclipsing its $3.2 billion purchase of online advertising service DoubleClick Inc. in 2008.
Forrester Research retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said Groupon made a mistake if the reported $5 billion figure had been an up-front cash payment "because that was the best the company would do on a valuation standpoint."
But Mulpuru said that if the proposed payout was some kind of staggered deal, subject to Groupon meeting certain performance targets over the next few years, walking away "wasn't such a bad idea, because they probably weren't going to meet those hurdles."
Groupon's aggressive expansion may mean that the site is "already coming up against diminishing returns, and that's been fundamentally one of the biggest challenges of this space," she said in an interview with the AP. "The success of the business is based on great deals, and to get great deals, you have to have...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
Samsung's Nexus S Can Make Payments at Retailers
The new Nexus S smart phone can do something older Android devices can't: make payments.
Nexus S, from Samsung Electronics Co., is the first phone to run the latest version of Google's Android software and has a feature called Near Field Communication.
With it, someone can wave the phone near a bar code or sensor to make payments in much the same way people can already swipe a security card to enter a building. If enough vendors make it possible to pay for things this way, people could begin using their phone to pay instead pulling out a wallet with credit cards.
The software also has a new on-screen keyboard and makes it easy to place phone calls over the Internet, something people can already do from a PC using software programs such as Skype.
The phones will be available through Best Buy Co. Inc. stores starting Dec. 16. People can either sign up for a two-year contact with T-Mobile USA Inc. and pay $199 for the phone, or forgo a contact and pay $529 for just the device.
Carphone Warehouse retailers will sell the phone in the U.K. starting Dec. 20.
Following in the footsteps of other supersized smart phones announced this year, the S has a fast 1-gigahertz processor for relatively fast operating speeds and a large, 4-inch screen that claims vibrant colors and wide viewing angles. Other features include a 5-megapixel camera that also records high-definition movies, a GPS radio for navigating directions, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 16 gigabytes of internal memory for storing music, photos and apps.
About a year ago, Google unveiled another Nexus phone, dubbed the Nexus One, made by HTC Corp. This, too, was eligible for T-Mobile's service plans and was the first to run what was then the latest version of Android: 2.1. What made that phone exemplary, though, was...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
Google Mobile Chief Calls Nexus One Too Ambitious
The head of Google's Android mobile operating software says the search company "bit off a little more than we could chew" with the sale of the Nexus One, a smart phone Google began selling online early this year but then stopped offering after similar devices powered by Android hit the market.
Speaking at the D: Dive Into Mobile technology conference run by the tech blog AllThingsD Monday evening, Andy Rubin said that Google Inc. figured that it could sell the phone over the Web and people would buy it as they already do electronics like digital cameras.
Google unveiled the Nexus One with much fanfare in January as a challenger to Apple Inc.'s iPhone. Made by HTC Corp., the phone was sold unlocked so users could choose their own service provider -- either T-Mobile USA or AT&T Inc. in the U.S. -- or they could buy it locked through T-Mobile. Mobile phones are commonly sold in Europe unlocked, and users pick a carrier.
Consumers didn't flock to the phone, though. And two other carriers, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp., later decided not to sell the phone because they preferred other Android-powered phones. Google closed its online store that was selling the phone in May, saying it would rely on traditional retailers instead.
Rubin said Google's big problem with the Nexus One was one of scale. For each wireless operator it worked with, it had to do things like set people up with phone numbers, perform credit checks and more, he said. The process was time consuming, and given that there are more than 150 carriers worldwide, it seemed like a better idea to focus on things like building newer versions of Android, he said.
Rubin said that the Nexus S, the follow-up to the Nexus One that Google and Samsung Electronics Co. unveiled Monday,...
Thu, 9 Dec 10
Review: Paper Wins Over E-Books for Travel Guides
It sounded like a better, lighter way to pack for a trip to Germany: a Kindle with a Lonely Planet travel guide in lieu of an 844-page brick of a book.
Yet to my surprise, the 10-day visit to Munich, Dresden and Berlin turned into a lesson about the pitfalls of cramming an old medium -- the book -- into a new one -- the electronic reading device.
It's a good thing that I had the foresight to bring a paper copy of Lonely Planet's "Germany," borrowed from the public library. My plan was to bring it as a backup in case something went wrong with the Kindle, but leave it in the hotel room to lighten my backpack. Instead, I ditched the Kindle and carried the book around.
That made me sad, because the Kindle, and the e-reading revolution, promises so much.
The e-reader from Amazon.com Inc. is light and can store not only the travel guide, but all the bulky novels I've been meaning to catch up on. A built-in dictionary lets me look up strange words.
The Kindle lets me type notes, highlight passages, and find them easily again. I added tips on tipping and transit fares as well as a reminder to visit a concentration camp memorial outside Berlin. The Kindle also lets me add bookmarks, the digital equivalent of the folded corners, or doggie ears, that I've marred many paperbacks with in the past.
Preparing for the trip, there was no need to go to a book store or even a computer. I just bought the book through the Kindle's wireless connection. The Kindle version of the Lonely Planet guide was cheaper, too -- $15.39, compared with the paper version at $18.47 on Amazon (the list price for both is $27.99).
Lonely Planet also let me buy individual chapters -- for example,...
Wed, 8 Dec 10
Chatter Free Lets Salesforce Users Chat with Colleagues
Salesforce.com on Tuesday rolled out a new edition of Salesforce Chatter that is completely free. Chatter Free lets any Salesforce user invite colleagues to collaborate with Salesforce Chatter.
Chatter is an enterprise collaboration app and platform that leverages the social features made popular by Facebook and Twitter -- such as profiles, status updates, and real-time feeds. Chatter lets employees "follow" documents, people, business processes, and application data.
Salesforce.com characterizes Chatter as a Cloud 2.0 app. Cloud 2 came onto the scene with consumer social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter that people use every day to connect and collaborate with friends and family. Chatter aims to bring that level of sharing to the corporate world to drive productivity gains with social collaboration.
"The industry's reception of Salesforce Chatter has blown away our expectations," said Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com. "The fact that more than 60,000 enterprises have deployed Chatter within the first five months is amazing, and the Chatter Free social invites are going to take Chatter enterprise-wide."
Joining Salesforce Chatter and Chatter Plus in Salesforce.com's social-collaboration suite, Chatter Free lets enterprises extend the social-collaboration technology to every employee within an organization. But Chatter Free uses the social-invitation model Facebook made popular.
"Salesforce Chatter has been transformative in how business value can be derived from social technology," said Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research Group. "With salesforce.com embracing the social-invitation model that helped Facebook reach half a billion users, Chatter Free will unlock productivity across the workplace for customers. It may also be the seminal offering that enables salesforce.com to create deeper relationships than ever before with its customers."
Any Salesforce user can invite any colleague -- even those who aren't Salesforce users -- to collaborate with Chatter. The goal is to create a network effect, as the pool of...
Wed, 8 Dec 10
Chrome OS Pilot Project To Provide Free Laptops
Google on Tuesday showed off new details of its forthcoming Chrome operating system. The company also announced a pilot project under which qualified consumers, developers, educators and businesses will receive a free Chrome-powered laptop dubbed the Cr-48 between now and January.
Though Google CEO Eric Schmidt and others had envisioned building computers that could run applications remotely over networks back in 1997, it has taken more than 13 years for the underlying technologies to emerge.
"This is a journey we have been talking about for a very long time," Schmidt said. "With Chrome OS we have the development of a viable third choice on the desktop" that is strong enough, scalable enough, and fast enough.
Google and Citrix Systems are already developing software to enable machines running Chrome OS and Citrix Receiver to access a wide variety of business applications that reside in private clouds, noted Citrix Senior Vice President Gordon Payne. There are major benefits in "having both the apps and the data secure in the data center," Payne said. "This will be available in the first half of next year."
Businesses are interested in such features because they offer significant advantages in security, simplicity and total cost of ownership, noted Google Vice President Sundar Pichai. Many CIOs would rather spend their IT budgets "on high-value opportunities" rather than on IT personnel configuring computers, running updates, or installing patches, he observed. "The TCO is a couple of orders of magnitude" lower than on standard PCs, Pichai added.
Chrome OS will include several security enhancements, such as the automatic encryption of all data. Machines running the new OS also will feature a verified boot that "takes the core initial part of the OS and puts it on the device in read-only firmware, which no software can modify" without "physical access to...
Wed, 8 Dec 10
iPad 2 with Dual Cameras May Ship as Soon as February
Apple's Taiwan-based manufacturer, Foxconn, could start shipping the next-generation iPad tablet computer as soon as February, with an initial run of 400,000 to 600,000, according to a published report Tuesday.
DigiTimes, which covers the electronics industry in China, said Foxconn's plant in Shenzhen, China, was originally to begin production in January, but pushed it off because the device's firmware is still being tested. The paper cited anonymous sources for the information.
Rumors and speculation about the iPad's refresh have been circulating for months as the first anniversary of the trend-setting device, which was the subject of intense media interest last winter, approaches. Last month RBC Capital Markets analyst Mike Abramsky wrote in a research note that the iPad manufacturing schedule "implies [a] possible iPad 2 launch [in] February-March." The refresh, he said, may include the FaceTime video-chat application with the necessary front- and rear-facing cameras to use it, and other "beefed-up specs."
Consumer-devices expert Avi Greengart of Current Analysis said he doesn't put much faith in rumors from newspapers or financial advisers. "However, I do believe that Apple is on a (roughly) 12-month schedule with the iPad, which would have the next model reaching the market in the April 2011 time frame."
Unlike the first iPad, which entered a virtually empty field when it hit stores in April, an iPad 2 will face a slew of competitors, some of them rushed into the market to compete, and some, like Samsung's Galaxy Tab, that may have a refresh of their own coming up.
"Obviously it will be challenging to compete with the iPad, which leads the market today, but it is too early to tell how the second-generation iPad will stack up against upcoming tablet products because none of them have been announced, let alone are on the market yet," Greengart said.
Wed, 8 Dec 10
Analyst: Tying iPhone To AT&T Led To Android's Rise
Apple made mistakes by not originally subsidizing the iPhone when it was launched, and by signing an exclusive deal with AT&T in the U.S. Those are some of the conclusions of widely followed Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.
The observations were made in a note that Munster sent to clients on Tuesday. In it, he said Apple corrected its subsidizing mistake by lowering the price on the first iPhone not long after its release, and by offering a subsidized price for the 3G version.
Munster noted that, at some point, Apple will likely offer a subsidized deal for the iPad, such as AT&T increasing its data plan from $25 monthly to $35, and then dropping the price of the 3G 16GB iPad from $629 to $389 with a two-year commitment.
As for the deal with AT&T, Munster pointed out that the U.S. is the only market where Apple still has an exclusive deal with a wireless carrier. This excludes countries like China, where the arrangement with the only carrier in the market is technically not exclusive.
The AT&T deal, he said, is the key to why Google's Android-powered phones have begun to outsell the iPhone in the U.S. "In countries where the iPhone is available on multiple carriers and competes with Android," he wrote, "we see the iPhone outselling Android."
The biggest factor in Android's success thus far, Jaffray said, is that Verizon Wireless "customers are loyal to their carrier." He added that, when Verizon does get the iPhone, "Android's success in the U.S. will be tested."
On Tuesday, Consumer Reports rated AT&T as the worst wireless carrier in the U.S. The report was based on a survey of more than 58,000 subscribers to the magazine. AT&T was rated in last place in 2009 as well, but now it's even further behind the next-best...
Wed, 8 Dec 10
Google Shows Prototype Tablet Running Android 3.0
Samsung was so eager to release an iPad competitor, the Galaxy Tab, that it did so without waiting for Google to create a tablet-optimized version of the Android operating system. On Monday, a Google engineer showed a prototype tablet computer running the new Android 3.0, which is designed for that form factor.
The demo, by Android engineering chief Andy Rubin, was presented at the Dive Into Mobile conference currently taking place in San Francisco. The Motorola-made tablet, according to Rubin, has a dual-core Nvidia processor, supports video chat, and, according to observers, appeared to be a 10-inch screen.
Motorola has announced it will launch two tablets next year, a seven-inch and a 10-inch. The dual-core processor would be a competitive advantage over the current iPad, but tablets are expected to leapfrog each other as other device categories have.
The not-yet-released Android 3.0 is dubbed Honeycomb, and Rubin said it was designed specifically for the tablet form factor, in addition to supporting smartphones. Honeycomb is expected to be released in 2011, but Rubin said the tablet "isn't due out for a while."
In the demo, Rubin presented Google Maps for Mobile 5.0. The new version of Google Maps, which is expected to be released within a few days, includes 3-D viewpoints. The tablet's 3-D capability allows building shadows to be displayed as the view is zoomed in, and a 3D landscape is shown when the map is tilted.
The prototype tablet had no hardware buttons, unlike the hardware home button on Apple's iPad. All the buttons are on-screen, and they reposition themselves to follow the tablet's orientation.
Al Hilwa, program director at industry research firm IDC, noted that Android 2.3, which Samsung adapted, was designed primarily for smartphones, and 3.0's tablet-oriented capability is "crucial" for applications to be developed that...
Wed, 8 Dec 10
Salesforce Will Offer Cloud Database for Building Apps
Salesforce.com is rolling out the first enterprise database built for the cloud. Appropriately dubbed Database.com, the machine is built from the ground up with cloud-based, mobile and social applications in mind.
Database.com empowers developers using any language, platform or device to focus on building applications instead of investing time tuning, maintaining and scaling databases. Built on Salesforce.com's infrastructure and technology, Database.com is spinning out as a stand-alone cloud database.
"We see cloud databases as a massive market opportunity that will power the shift to enterprise applications that are natively cloud, mobile and social," said Marc Benioff, chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com. "For the first time, we are making Database.com, the database that is proven and trusted by our 87,000 customers, available as an open, stand-alone service to accelerate the creation of these new apps."
Salesforce.com points to the industry shift to mobile apps, a social data model, and an event-driven push model -- essentially the next generation of enterprise apps -- as reasons for adopting Database.com.
Since Database.com is open, developers can write apps in Java, C#, Ruby, PHP and other languages. Developers can run their apps on any platform -- Force.com, VMforce, Amazon EC2, Google AppEngine, Heroku or Microsoft Azure. And the apps can run natively on any device, like an Android or BlackBerry smartphone, an iPad, or an iPhone.
Salesforce.com also emphasized security. Database.com offers SSL, single sign-on, identity confirmation, and anti-phishing tools. It also provides secure access, including user and role-based security, sharing rules, and row-level data security. Database.com boasts some of the most stringent security certifications in the industry, including ISO 27001, SAS 70 Type II, and SysTrust.
As Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, sees it, Salesforce is revving up the cloud data era with a highly desirable set of features in Database.com....
Wed, 8 Dec 10
Leaked Cable: China Ordered Hacking on Google
Contacts told American diplomats that hacking attacks against Google were ordered by China's top ruling body and a senior leader demanded action after finding search results that were critical of him, leaked U.S. government memos show.
One memo sent by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to Washington said a "well-placed contact" told diplomats the Chinese government coordinated the attacks late last year on Google Inc. under the direction of the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of Communist Party power.
The details of the memos, known in diplomatic parlance as cables, could not be verified. Chinese government departments either refused to comment or could not be reached. If true, the cables show the political pressures that were facing Google when it decided to close its China-based search engine in March.
The cable about the hacking attacks against Google, which was classified as secret by Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Goldberg, was released by WikiLeaks.
The New York Times said the cable, dated early this year, quoted the contact as saying that propaganda chief Li Changchun, the fifth-ranked official in the country, and top security official Zhou Yongkang oversaw the hacking of Google. Both men are members of the Politburo Standing Committee.
The cable notes that it is unclear if Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were aware of the reported actions before Google went public about the attacks in January.
The Times, however, said doubts about the allegation have arisen after the newspaper interviewed the person cited in the cable, who denied knowing who directed the hacking attacks on Google. The Times did not identify the person it interviewed.
Another contact cited in that cable said he believed an official on the top political body was "working actively with Chinese Internet search engine Baidu against Google's interests in China."
Google's relations with Beijing have been tense since...
Wed, 8 Dec 10
As Hackers Advance, U.S. Works To Secure Networks
It will take several more years for the U.S. government to fully install high-tech systems to block computer intrusions, a drawn-out timeline that enables criminals to become more adept at stealing sensitive data, experts say.
As the Department of Homeland Security moves methodically to pare down and secure the approximately 2,400 network connections used every day by millions of federal workers around the world, experts suggest that technology already may be passing them by.
The department that's responsible for securing government systems other than military sites is slowly moving all the government's Internet and e-mail traffic into secure networks that eventually will be guarded by intrusion detection and prevention programs. The networks are known as Einstein 2 and Einstein 3.
Progress has been slow, however. Officials are trying to complete complex contracts with network vendors, work out technology issues and address privacy concerns involving how the monitoring will affect employees and public citizens.
The WikiLeaks release of more than a quarter-million sensitive diplomatic documents underscores the massive challenge ahead, as Homeland Security labors to build protections for all of the other, potentially more vulnerable U.S. agencies.
"This is a continuing arms race and we're still way behind," said Stewart Baker, former Homeland Security undersecretary for policy.
The WikiLeaks breach affected the government's classified military network and was as much a personnel gap as a technological failure. Officials believe the sensitive documents were stolen from secure Pentagon computer networks by an Army intelligence analyst who downloaded them onto a CD.
The changes sought by Homeland Security on the government's nonmilitary computers would be wider and more systemic than the immediate improvements ordered recently by the Departments of Defense and State as a result of the WikiLeaks releases. Those changes included improving the monitoring of computer usage and making it harder to move material onto a portable computer flash...
Wed, 8 Dec 10
Visited Porn? Web Browser Flaw Secretly Bares All
Dozens of Web sites have been secretly harvesting lists of places that their users previously visited online, everything from news articles to bank sites to pornography, a team of computer scientists found.
The information is valuable for con artists to learn more about their targets and send them personalized attacks. It also allows e-commerce companies to adjust ads or prices -- for instance, if the site knows you've just come from a competitor that is offering a lower price.
Although passwords aren't at risk, in harvesting a detailed list of where you've been online, sites can create thorough profiles on its users.
The technique the University of California, San Diego researchers investigated is called "history sniffing" and is a result of the way browsers interact with Web sites and record where they've been. A few lines of programming code are all a site needs to pull it off.
Although security experts have known for nearly a decade that such snooping is possible, the latest findings offer some of the first public evidence of sites exploiting the problem. Current versions of the Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers still allow this, as do older versions of Chrome and Safari, the researchers said.
The report adds to growing worry about surreptitious surveillance by Internet companies and comes as federal regulators in the U.S. are proposing a "Do Not Track" tool that would prevent advertisers from following consumers around online to sell them more products.
The researchers found 46 sites, ranging from smutty to staid, that tried to pry loose their visitors browsing histories using this technique, sometimes with homegrown tracking code. Nearly half of the 46 sites, including financial research site Morningstar.com and news site Newsmax.com, used an ad-targeting company, Interclick, which says its code was responsible for the tracking.
Interclick said the tracking was part of an eight-month experiment...
Wed, 8 Dec 10
Report: AOL Considers Breakup, Deal with Yahoo
The Internet company AOL Inc. is considering breaking itself up and then combining its content division with Yahoo Inc., a published report said Monday.
The news agency Reuters said Monday that AOL's plans are in the exploratory stage and that it has not approached Yahoo. Reuters cites unidentified people close to the plans.
Under the transaction reportedly being considered, AOL would sell its dial-up business to another Internet service provider and combine its content business with Yahoo, which publishes news and a widely used network of maps.
New York-based AOL and Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale, California, each declined comment on the report.
Time Warner Inc. bought AOL, then a ubiquitous Internet service provider, in 2000 for $162 billion, only to spin it off in 2009. As of Monday, AOL's market cap was $2.69 billion.
AOL earned $171.6 million, or $1.60 per share, in the third quarter, more than doubling its profit after selling its instant messaging business ICQ and its stake in the travel site Kayak.com.
However, its revenue fell nearly 36 percent to $563.5 million. Its dial-up business in particular, which had 26.7 million subscribers at its peak, lost 24 percent of its subscribers, reducing the total to just 4.1 million. Revenue for that division fell 26 percent in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, online advertising revenue fell 27 percent.
With these losses as a backdrop, AOL is attempting to re-invent itself. Earlier this year, under CEO Tim Armstrong, a former Google executive, the company sold the social network Bebo as well as AOL's digital marketing unit, uSamp.
During the third quarter, AOL introduced its new advertising system and launched redesigned versions of its home page, as well as AOL Travel and MapQuest. And in September, the company bought the technology blog TechCrunch and its sister sites for an undisclosed sum, bolstering a stable of content that already included...
Wed, 8 Dec 10
Sprint To Start Phasing Out Nextel Network in 2013
Sprint Nextel Corp. on Monday said it will start phasing out the Nextel part of its network in 2013, a decision that follows near-constant subscriber losses since Sprint bought Nextel in 2005.
Sprint had said before that it would eventually shut down the aging Nextel network, but hadn't said when. It has about 10.6 million subscribers on the Nextel network, some of whom are using it under the Boost Mobile brand. Another 400,000 use phones that can access both the Sprint and Nextel networks.
Altogether, more than one in five Sprint subscribers use the Nextel network. Sprint plans to offer them Nextel's signature push-to-talk function on the Sprint network instead.
Nextel's fast, walkie-talkie-like push-to-talk function made it popular with outdoor workers such as construction crews. However, the network doesn't support fast data transfers, making it unsuitable for smart phones. In 2009, Sprint made a push to use the network for cheap prepaid service, but it has shifted away from that strategy this year.
The phase-out is part of a network modernization plan announced Monday that will cost $4 billion to $5 billion. It is aimed at saving Sprint $10 billion to $11 billion over seven years. Sprint is hiring Alcatel-Lucent SA, LM Ericsson AB and Samsung Electronics Co. as the main vendor for the program.
Nextel's network equipment and phones are supplied nearly exclusively by Motorola Inc., which invented the underlying iDEN technology.
Shares in Sprint, which is based in Overland Park, Kansas, rose 26 cents, or 6.7 percent, to $4.18 in morning trading Monday.
Sprint, the third-largest wireless carrier in the country, has lost money in every quarter since 2007. Part of the reason is that it's been saddled with the cost of running two incompatible networks, compared with its larger competitors, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc.
Tue, 7 Dec 10
Consumer Reports Readers Like iPhone, But Not AT&T
A survey of 50,000 readers of Consumer Reports found AT&T to be the least popular wireless carrier. But it's not the only company to get bad news. Nearly half the respondents were dissatisfied with their carrier, making the cell-phone industry one of the least popular services evaluated by the magazine. Two-thirds of the respondents had at least one major gripe.
"America is in love with the cell phone, but they are lukewarm about cell-phone service," said Paul Reynolds, electronics editor at Consumer Reports. "They're especially concerned about its cost in these tight economic times."
Respondents who were customers of Verizon Wireless gave that carrier their highest rating in 26 cities, 74 points. Smaller U.S. Cellular won the highest overall national rating, 82 percent, based on ratings of plan value, voice, data, texting, phone, e-mail, web site, staff knowledge, and the resolution of issues.
The full survey will be published in the January issue of the magazine, published by the nonprofit Consumers Union.
The magazine in a summary noted "Verizon was above average on every attribute, including customer support, voice connectivity, and data service, and has the biggest network in the industry, but it tends to be costly. About one in five Verizon customers cited high cost as their top complaint; Verizon's $60 nationwide basic with 900 voice minutes is more expensive compared to carriers such as T-Mobile, which offers 100 extra minutes for the same price."
After Verizon, Consumer Reports readers placed T-Mobile in a statistical dead heat with Sprint Nextel, 69 and 73 percent, respectively (a four-point disparity is considered inconsequential). The poll rated T-Mobile as "the next-best competitor to Verizon in overall satisfaction, and worth considering as a good value," but noted that the company scored low on voice, messaging, web and e-mail services.
Tue, 7 Dec 10
Android 2.3 Will Debut on Samsung's Nexus S Smartphone
Google has taken the wraps off Gingerbread -- its code name for the next-generation Android 2.3 smartphone platform. Moreover, Google said the new mobile OS will take its inaugural bows on Samsung's forthcoming Nexus S smartphone, scheduled for a U.S. release later this month.
With the launch of Gingerbread, it appears that Android-powered devices are the only serious competition for Apple's iPhone until Windows Phone 7 ramps up with CDMA carriers and gets some much-needed updates, noted Al Hilwa, director of applications development software at IDC.
"One of the key focus areas for Gingerbread appears to be the VoIP video telephony and conferencing, which continues to whittle away on the telco services that these phones consume -- relegating the carriers into passive data plumbers," Hilwa said. "Surprisingly, carriers are marching headlong into this because they have to mount competition to the iPhone."
The Nexus S sports a four-inch color display made of curved glass that rests comfortably in the palm of the hand or against the user's face. And the new device is equipped with two image sensors: A rear-facing five-megapixel camera/HD camcorder with flash and a front-facing camera capable of capturing VGA-quality images and videos.
Under the hood, the new handset integrates a one-gigahertz Hummingbird processor paired with 16GB of internal memory and a dedicated graphics processing unit to enhance the gaming experience, as well as 3G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and A-GPS radios. The Nexus S can also function as a Wi-Fi hot spot for up to six other portable devices.
Near-field communication (NFC) hardware enables users to read information by holding their phones in the immediate vicinity of smart posters or tags. Other hardware features include a microUSB 2.0 port, a three-axis gyroscope, an accelerometer, and haptic feedback, together with built-in proximity and light sensors.
Slated to become...
Tue, 7 Dec 10
Profile Pages Redesigned Before Facebook Interview
Your Facebook life now has a new look. On Sunday, the popular social-networking site launched a redesign of its profile pages. The launch preceded an interview with CEO Mark Zuckerberg on CBS' 60 Minutes television program, where the redesign was discussed with reporter Lesley Stahl.
The new page design includes a listing at the top with key profile details that might, in the real world, be called "conversation starters" -- including job, hometown, relationship status, college, languages spoken, and birthday. Under those items, the five most recently posted photos are shown. An "infinite scroll" feature allows visitors to browse all of a user's photos.
The redesign was also announced by engineer Josh Wiseman on Facebook's official blog. "Now it's even easier for you to tell your story and learn about your friends," he wrote.
Friends can be highlighted in groups, projects under way or classes being taken can be listed, and other areas can be featured, including favorite musicians or sports teams. Wiseman noted that all interests and experiences can be represented with images, "making your entire profile a more compelling visual experience."
Top interests can appear as a row of images, which can be dragged and dropped to put favorites first. Recently tagged photos can show a user's latest interests. Friends can be found in ways that Facebook said are quicker than before -- searching by name, hometown, school or other parameters.
According to the 60 Minutes report, the designers and coders behind the redesign worked in a "war room," with a clock running down the time left before the deadline for launch.
The redesign of profile pages on a web site would not normally be the subject of discussion on 60 Minutes, but normally it would also not affect the lives of half a billion users, as this update...
Tue, 7 Dec 10
Widevine Purchase Will Protect Google Streaming
Google has scooped up yet another Internet-based innovator. This time, the search giant acquired a company that creates digital rights management software that Google needs to connect the dots as it moves deeper into the streaming-video world. Terms of the Widevine Technologies acquisition were not disclosed.
Google is betting the on-demand video market will post more growth. Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management at Google, said streaming video is rapidly becoming the standard way to find content to watch right away. He pointed to YouTube -- which gets more than two billion views daily -- as well as the growing popularity of subscription services and tablet devices.
"Content creators and distributors are making huge strides in bringing us content in this way, but to do so, many require high-quality video and audio, secure delivery, and other content-protection and video-optimization technologies," Queiroz said. "With these tools in place, they can easily and effectively give you access to the rich library of content you want to watch, with the immediacy you've come to expect."
For all those reasons, Google acquired Widevine. Google liked Widevine's diversity. The company has worked with the studios that create popular TV shows and movies, cable systems and channels that broadcast them online and on TV, and hardware manufacturers who allow streaming.
"By forging partnerships across the entire ecosystem, Widevine has made on-demand services more efficient and secure for media companies, and ultimately more available and convenient for users," Queiroz said.
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, sees the acquisition as a good move. DRM, he noted, has been an issue for the Android platform. Netflix, for example, recently said it has not issued services for Android because there's no central DRM it's comfortable with.
"Acquiring Widevine makes sense for Google," Gartenberg said. "One of the...
Tue, 7 Dec 10
Google eBookstore Debuts with Three Million Titles
Google on Monday rolled out an e-book service that aims to compete with both the gorilla and the elephant in the business. Google eBooks are now available from the new Google eBookstore.
The Internet bookstore lets consumers browse and search what Google bills as the largest e-book collection in the world. With more than three million titles, including free classics from the public domain and current bestsellers, Google is looking to give Amazon.com and Apple a run for their digital money.
"We designed Google eBooks to be open. Many devices are compatible with Google eBooks -- everything from laptops to netbooks to tablets to smartphones to e-readers," said Abraham Murray, product manager for Google Books. "With the new Google eBooks Web Reader, you can buy, store and read Google eBooks in the cloud. That means you can access your ebooks like you would messages in Gmail or photos in Picasa -- using a free, password-protected Google account with unlimited e-books storage."
Beyond the web reader, Google also launched free apps for both Android and Apple devices. Murray said many books allow consumers to choose the font, font sizes, and day or night reading mode, as well as the line spacing they prefer. Like the Kindle devices, the Google apps let readers pick up on a page where they left off when switching from one device to another.
As Gartner Analyst Michael Gartenberg sees it, the Google eBookstore is a competitive effort against Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble. The e-books, he noted, will work across the competitive devices that are out there -- Android, iPad and iPhone. And rather than building for Mac or PC environments alone, Google is optimizing for the web.
"This doesn't feel very differentiated from offerings that we've already seen from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and...
Tue, 7 Dec 10
MS Moves To Grab Customers as Salesforce Event Opens
Salesforce.com's Dreamforce 2010 conference opened Monday in San Francisco -- and Microsoft is making a bid to capture Salesforce's customers. In an open letter released Monday, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant announced it will rebate customers up to $200 for each Salesforce.com or Oracle customer who switches to Microsoft's upcoming Dynamics CRM Online 2011.
In the letter, Microsoft Vice President Michael Park said Salesforce.com customers should ask themselves some questions. These include, he said, "How can I justify paying two to three times more for an enterprise CRM system than I need to?"
Other questions he raised compare Microsoft's "financially backed 99.9 percent uptime commitment" for every Dynamics CRM customer with Salesforce.com's commitment to "commercially reasonably efforts" to keep a business running. He also touted Microsoft's refreshed-as-needed real-time access to data and dashboards, and the integration of Dynamics CRM Online with Microsoft's Outlook and Office.
Microsoft's price per user per month is $34 in an introductory offer during the first year, which, with the addition of a $200-per-customer one-time rebate, means that one user's cost will be slightly more than $200 per year. The list price of Salesforce's Enterprise Edition is $125 per user per month.
"At Microsoft," Park said in the letter, "we do not believe you should be forced to pay a premium to achieve business success."
Organizations that currently license any of the Salesforce.com editions, or Oracle's Siebel CRM or CRM on Demand, are eligible. The organization will need to buy at least 15 user licenses, and sign a two-year licensing agreement for Dynamics CRM Online. The deal runs from Dec. 6 through June 30, 2011.
The Dynamics CRM Online 2011 product is expected to launch in January, with the on-premises version being available sometime in first quarter.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Corp., called Microsoft's...
Tue, 7 Dec 10
eBay Acquires Local Shopping Engine Milo
EBay Inc. said Thursday that it bought a local shopping engine that lets consumers search online for products available at stores near them.
The company plans to add results from Milo to those that eBay users already get when they search the company's Web site and mobile apps.
Milo tracks inventory ranging from laptops to body jewelry at about 50,000 stores in the U.S. in real time. Visitors can search for products that are usually carried by those stories and learn whether they are in stock. Once users find the product they want, Milo can also send them to Google Maps for directions.
Milo, which is based in Palo Alto, has more than 140 retail partners, more than half of them small and medium-sized companies. Larger retailers include Target Corp., Best Buy Co. and Barnes & Noble Inc.
EBay did not disclose terms of the acquisition, which marks the San Jose-based company's latest attempt to penetrate the world of offline retail and intermingle it with its online marketplace.
In June, eBay bought barcode-scanning iPhone app RedLaser, which lets you scan an actual product and see its price at online stores and on eBay. That helps you decide if you should buy the product right away or purchase it on the Web.
EBay will start incorporating Milo's data by adding it to the RedLaser app. It will add Milo's search results to eBay.com next year.
Mark Carges, eBay's chief technology officer, said the Milo purchase shows that the lines between "pure e-commerce and pure brick-and-mortar really are starting to blur."
People are increasingly using their phones these days to shop online while on the go, and they may use a phone or laptop to start looking for a product and then decide if they should buy it online or in a store. Some may even check out a product...
Tue, 7 Dec 10
Russian Case Highlights Insidious Nature of Spam
A 23-year-old Russian man accused of running a worldwide spamming network, which Internet-security experts say on some days accounted for one of every three unwanted e-mails, is scheduled to appear in a Wisconsin courtroom to hear charges against him.
Oleg Y. Nikolaenko, of Moscow, will be arraigned Friday in federal court in Milwaukee. He is charged with violating the CAN-SPAM act by intentionally falsifying header information in commercial e-mail messages and sending at least 2,500 spam e-mails per day, the minimum threshold for the charge. Prosecutors say his network may have sent up to 10 billion messages per day.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Nikolaenko was arrested last month at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. He is being tried in Milwaukee because that's where an undercover FBI investigator ordered Viagra through an e-mail distributed by Nikolaenko's alleged operation and received bogus herbal pills instead, said Lance Barnes, the FBI's supervisory special agent of the Milwaukee cyber squad.
In the criminal complaint against Nikolaenko, prosecutors say authorities were tipped off to his involvement after another man pleaded guilty in Missouri federal court to a charge of conspiring to traffic in counterfeit Rolex watches. That defendant told investigators he solicited customers by paying spammers more than $2 million to send a barrage of e-mail ads.
That information led the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to a spamming operation in Australia, where investigators discovered the workers had exchanged e-mails with Nikolaenko. Subsequent digging linked Nikolaenko to one of the most sophisticated spamming networks in the world -- "Mega-D," which investigators said accounted for 32 percent of all worldwide spam.
Nikolaenko's attorney, Chris Van Wagner, said Thursday he hadn't seen the evidence and hoped to have access to it soon.
"We intend to present a rigorous defense to whatever...
Tue, 7 Dec 10
WikiLeaks Fights To Stay Online Amid Attacks
WikiLeaks struggled to stay online Friday as corporations and governments moved to cut its access to the Internet, a potentially crippling blow for an organization dedicated to releasing secret information via the web.
Legal pressure increased on the site's founder, Julian Assange, who appeared to move closer to arrest in a sex-crime case after Swedish authorities refiled a European arrest warrant in response to procedural objections from British officials that tied up the case for more than a day.
Assange's lawyer said that he is in the U.K. but she hadn't received a warrant by Friday afternoon.
Assange said that his arrest would do nothing to halt the flow of American diplomatic cables being released by his group and newspapers in several countries. Hundreds have been published in redacted form this week and Assange said that all of the cables had already been distributed in a heavily encrypted form to tens of thousands of people.
If something happened to him, he suggested, then the password needed to unencrypt the data would be released and all the secrets would go out at once.
"History will win," Assange said in a web chat with readers of The Guardian newspaper, one of the media organizations helping to coordinate the documents' publication. "The world will be elevated to a better place. Will we survive? That depends on you."
Manchester, New Hampshire-based company EveryDNS, which had been directing traffic to the Web site wikileaks.org -- stopped late Thursday after cyber attacks threatened the rest of its network. WikiLeaks responded by moving to a Swiss domain name, wikileaks.ch -- and calling on activists for support. Two companies host the Swiss domain name, one of which is in France. The other is in Sweden.
Officials in France moved to ban WikiLeaks from servers there, with Industry Minister Eric Besson calling it unacceptable to host...
Tue, 7 Dec 10
IBM: Computers May Rival Speed of Thought
Computers using a new type of chip that integrates both electronics and optics could rival the human brain for speed of thought, U.S. experts say.
IBM unveiled a new type of computer chip Wednesday that integrates both electrical and optical nano-devices on the same piece of silicon, a technology that could make it possible for supercomputers to perform 1 million-trillion calculations, or an exaflop, in a single second, NewScientist.com reported.
A thousand times faster than today's most powerful petaflop machines, such computers would have processing power approaching that of the human brain, IBM researcher William Green said.
A main roadblock to superfast computers is the time needed to transmit large amounts of data between chips, he said.
Optical fibres are much better at doing this than copper wires, but components that convert electrical data into photons tend to only exist in separate off-chip devices, he said.
This means that data still has to flow through slow copper wires to reach them, which creates a bottleneck.
IBM says it has developed a range of tiny "nanophotonic" switches, waveguides, detectors and modulators, all of which are made out of silicon and can be integrated directly into chips.
The same silicon that makes up the electrical circuitry and transistors of the chip can now also be used to convert and convey photons and channel them between chips at high speeds in the computing process.
This could greatly improve the speed and power consumption of computer chips, Hiroshi Mizuta, head of the University of Southampton's Nano Research Group in the United Kingdom, says.
"(Computing) performance is heavily limited by the interconnections," he says.
IBM says the technology could create powerful exaflop supercomputers within the next five years.
Mon, 6 Dec 10
Oracle Says New Sun SPARC Servers Faster than Any Before
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison says its new SPARC T3-based servers, based on Sun technology, run Oracle databases faster than anything ever before. The software giant (ORCL) completed its $7.3 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems earlier this year, putting it in direct competition with hardware and server makers IBM and HP.
And now, it seems Oracle is ready for heavy-duty, high-performance action in the server market. At a December 2nd customer event, Ellison introduced the SPARC Supercluster and Solaris-based Exalogic Elastic Cloud System, highlighting plans to cut the trend of customer defections and reinvigorate revenues from Sun hardware.
Oracle's SPARC Supercluster is billed as a complete infrastructure solution including software, servers, networking and storage, and optimized for running Oracle database RAC environments. Based on the architecture used in Oracle's new TPC-C world record, the SPARC Supercluster solution utilizes SPARC servers, FlashFire, InfiniBand QDR, Oracle Solaris, and the ZFS Storage Appliance.
Oracle also announced Oracle Exalogic Cloud T3-1B, a new model that aims to bring the strengths of SPARC Solaris servers to Oracle Exalogic Cloud-engineered systems. The new product is designed for large-scale, mission-critical deployments. Oracle tuned the hardware to run Java and non-Java applications.
The Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud T3-1B combines SPARC servers running Oracle Solaris 11 Express with InfiniBand-based I/O fabric, the Oracle WebLogic Server, and other enterprise Java-based Oracle middleware products. Oracle said it's optimized for multi-threaded applications, making way for customers to see increased performance for multi-threaded enterprise Java software, such as Oracle WebLogic Server.
"With the SPARC Solaris model of Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud, customers who have standardized on SPARC Solaris can easily obtain the extreme benefits of Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud and consolidate their data center while leveraging their existing investment and skills," said Hasan Rizvi, senior vice president of Oracle Fusion Middleware.
Mon, 6 Dec 10
IT Engineers May Desperately Need Sleep
Researchers in India say software engineers may have a high rate of insomnia due to job-related stress.
Sara Sarrafi Zadeh and Khyrunnisa Begum of the University of Mysore in India say insomnia affects information technology workers' physical and mental health and, if left untreated, poor sleep has been associated with severe depression and coronary heart disease. The researchers suggest insomnia is underestimated and deserves greater recognition and attention.
The study, published online in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, indicates more than half of the software engineers studied had insomnia. Thirty-five percent had mild insomnia and 21 percent had severe insomnia.
The researches linked poor sleep to job-related stress and said younger engineers were more likely than their older counterparts to be insomniacs.
"In view of the serious health consequences of insomnia in software engineers who are at high risk, suitable awareness programs should be developed as a preventative measure," the study authors say in a statement.
The researchers advised sleep assessment as part of routine medical check-ups so the problem is caught in the early stages.
Zadeh, Begum and colleagues studied of 91 software engineers -- ages 21-45 -- who were asked to complete two questionnaires.
Sat, 4 Dec 10
Copyright Protection Policies To Be Developed by Google
Google said Thursday that it expects to introduce more stringent copyright protection policies to prevent questionable web sites from participating in Google's services. The goal is to protect content creators from having their intellectual property exploited, the company said.
According to Google General Counsel Kent Walker, the new policies will be rolled out over the next several months. "We respond expeditiously to requests to remove such content from our services, and have been improving our procedures over time," Walker wrote in a blog Thursday. "But as the web grows, and the number of requests grows with it, we are working to develop new ways to better address the underlying problem."
Google is promising to build tools to make it easier for rights holders to file violation notices against the Internet's "bad apples," beginning with Google products such as Blogger and web search. "For copyright owners who use the tools responsibly, we'll reduce our average response time to 24 hours or less," Walker explained.
The new effort is good news for the music, TV and motion-picture industries, which lose a huge amount of revenue to piracy each year. "Most users want to access legitimate content and are interested in sites that make that content available to them -- even if only on a preview basis," Walker wrote. "We'll be looking at ways to make this content easier to index and find."
At YouTube, Google already offers Content ID -- a set of audio and video matching tools that give content providers controls to manage their content if someone uploads it. Participating rights holders provide reference files for comparing with the content on YouTube, and when matches are found the rights holder is given the opportunity to block, track or earn money from creations.
"We're seeing media companies make the most of...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
Chrome 8 Released by Google with App Store Access
Google started shipping Chrome version 8 on Thursday. It's the first browser to include built-in access to an app store, which could add a new dimension to the revived browser wars.
Other new features in Chrome 8.0.552.215 include a built-in PDF reader with sandbox security protection instead of a PDF plug-in. There have been a number of reports of security issues with Adobe's PDF software, which sandboxing -- or isolating the browser from the system -- is expected to address.
Google said the update has 800 "bug fixes and stability improvements." New versions are coming out about every six to eight weeks, although Chrome 8 came only slightly more than six weeks after Chrome 7.
Chrome has been steadily climbing in worldwide market share. According to Net Applications' Net Market Share, Chrome 7.0 gained 5.64 percent global usage share in November, the second-highest monthly gain in the tracking company's history. Firefox 3.6 is the record holder with a 6.09 percent increase from February to March this year.
Chrome's total market share worldwide as of last month is 8.02 percent, so the November jump is bringing the browser out of the shadows. Microsoft Internet Explorer 8.0 still reigns supreme at 32.79 percent, with Firefox 3.6 second at 18.17 percent. IE 6 is at 13.72 percent, and IE 7 has 9.53 percent, followed by Chrome 7. Chrome 6.0 is way down at 13th, with 0.37 percent.
But browser usage varies by market and demographic. For instance, some tech sites are reporting that Chrome is now beating Firefox as the browser used by most of their visitors, with Apple's Safari and IE as runner-ups.
Firefox 4 is expected to be released early in 2011, Microsoft is readying IE 9, and Opera 11 beta is being released, so the browser wars will undoubtedly heat up. Chrome and Opera,...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
Amazon Invests in LivingSocial To Compete with Groupon
While controversy swirls around Amazon.com's decision to pull hosting for WikiLeaks and rumors churn about Google's plans to acquire Groupon, LivingSocial is making some headlines that may ultimately affect the social fates of both companies.
LivingSocial just announced a $175 million investment from Amazon, as well as an additional $8 million investment from Lightspeed Venture Partners. The company said it will use the funds to "maintain a steady drumbeat of worldwide launches and overall business growth."
With more than 10 million subscribers, LivingSocial is available across the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia. The company reports revenues of more than $1 million a day, on average, and is expected to post well more than $500 million in revenue in 2011.
"To be the biggest player in the local commerce space, there is no one better to work with than Amazon," said Tim O'Shaughnessy, CEO of LivingSocial. "As the social-shopping space continues to heat up, LivingSocial is committed to staying focused on providing the high level of quality that consumers and merchants have come to expect when working with us."
LivingSocial is a competitor to Groupon. Essentially, the site is an online hub that lets consumers find restaurants, shops, activities and services in their area. The company has dedicated area experts in every location working directly with business owners and researching the best in local adventures. The deals on the site typically offer customers between 50 percent and 70 percent savings.
Recently, LivingSocial expanded its business by acquiring adventure company Urban Escapes and launching three new verticals, including LivingSocial Family Edition, Campus Deals, and LivingSocial Escapes, a travel site that offers savings on curated adventures.
"Beginning in 1999 and 2000, we saw a lot of activity in what you could call the natural evolution of e-business. Companies were trying various...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
SPARC Supercluster and Solaris Elastic Cloud Debut
Oracle on Thursday announced a new SPARC Supercluster and the Solaris-based Exalogic Elastic Cloud System. As it executes new products based on Sun Microsystems technology, Oracle hopes to stem the tide of customer defections and reinvigorate revenues for the division.
Oracle's SPARC Supercluster is billed as a complete infrastructure solution for running Oracle database RAC environments. Based on the architecture used in Oracle's new TPC-C world record, the SPARC Supercluster solution utilizes new SPARC servers, FlashFire, InfiniBand QDR, Oracle Solaris, and the ZFS Storage Appliance.
"The SPARC Supercluster is a new family of general-purpose machines that includes software, servers, networking and storage," said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. "The combination of Oracle's world-class software and the latest hardware innovations represented by the new SPARC T3-based servers runs Oracle databases faster than anything ever before."
Oracle also announced Oracle Exalogic Cloud T3-1B, a new model that aims to bring the strengths of SPARC Solaris servers to Oracle Exalogic Cloud-engineered systems. The new product is deigned for large-scale, mission-critical deployments. Oracle tuned the hardware to run Java and non-Java applications.
Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud T3-1B combines SPARC servers running Oracle Solaris 11 Express with InfiniBand-based I/O fabric, the Oracle WebLogic Server, and other enterprise Java-based Oracle middleware products. Oracle said it's optimized for multi-threaded applications, making way for customers to see increased performance for multi-threaded enterprise Java software, such as Oracle WebLogic Server.
"With the SPARC Solaris model of Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud, customers who have standardized on SPARC Solaris can easily obtain the extreme benefits of Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud and consolidate their data center while leveraging their existing investment and skills," said Hasan Rizvi, senior vice president of Oracle Fusion Middleware.
As Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, sees it, the performance Oracle is reporting is impressive. However, he's not going...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
Verizon Refutes AT&T on LTE, Says It's Committed To 3G
Responding to an attack on Thursday by rival AT&T, Verizon Wireless said it isn't abandoning its 3G network as it launches its higher-speed Long Term Evolution system on Sunday. "We continue to invest in and enhance our 3G network to stay ahead of the fast-growing demand by our Droid smartphone customers," said Verizon Wireless spokesperson Howard Waterman in an e-mail to us.
AT&T Chief Technical Officer John Donovan wrote on a company blog Thursday that companies who rush to LTE -- a clear reference to Verizon -- without investing in their current network were setting up customers for "jarring speed degradation" if they leave the limited LTE coverage area.
"Their claim is untrue," wrote Waterman. "We have invested $50 billion in our network since 2000, more than any other U.S. carrier."
The war of words comes as Verizon is set to launch its version of 4G coverage in 38 markets in major cities in the U.S. and 60 airports, with data speeds up to 10 times faster than its current 3G network. The service will be available for mobile computer users only until the middle of next year, when 4G smartphones will make their way into Verizon stores.
AT&T is also planning a 4G network sometime next year, while also working to enhance its current HSPA+ network. In addition to Verizon, Sprint/Nextel, Clearwire and T-Mobile have 4G networks, but AT&T has made a point of taking its time.
Waterman noted that as of Sunday, one-third of Americans will live in areas covered by Verizon's LTE. "AT&T has said publicly they expect to have 70-75 million people covered with their LTE network by the end of 2011," he added. "On Sunday morning, we will have 110 million covered."
On Friday, Verizon announced its second 4G-compatible USB wireless modem, the Pantech UML290, which will sell for...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
Samsung Puts Galaxy Tab Sales at One Million
Samsung has announced that its Galaxy Tab tablet computer has sold a million units. The news appears to position the seven-inch device as the main competitor for Apple's category-dominating iPad -- at least for now.
The Tab was launched worldwide in mid-October, and began selling in the U.S. in the middle of last month. Apple's iPad has sold about 7.2 million units since its launch in April.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, pointed out that Samsung hasn't made clear how many of the million units were sold to end users or to distribution channels. Obviously, end-user sales are more impressive.
He also noted that, even if it's end-user sales, a head-to-head comparison with the iPad doesn't yet account for the all-important holiday sales season. Samsung is estimating it will sell another half million by the end of this month. The iPad sold about two million iPads within its first two months.
But the rate of sales, as announced by Samsung, is already impressive. Two weeks ago, the company said it had sold 600,000 units and, at that time, was projecting one million in sales by the end of 2010.
The Tab utilizes Google's open-source Android operating system, supports Adobe Flash, and is being distributed by the big four U.S. wireless carriers -- AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Sprint. The iPad is handled by two carriers, AT&T and Verizon, as well as by Apple and other retailers.
Greengart said that, while the Tab has a seven-inch screen and the iPad's is 9.7 inches, the difference when they are side by side is dramatic. "You can literally fit two Tabs onto an iPad," he said.
Greengart described the Tab as "a very nice tablet," adding that if a user has limited needs and wanted a smaller form...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
Dwolla Enters Electronic Money Transfer Fray
Just as plastic rendered paper checks nearly obsolete, gadgets may soon do the same to credit and debit cards.
Smart phones and other mobile devices are staples for many holiday shoppers. That's because retailers are taking advantage of their low-cost ability to offer deals on Web sites like Facebook and Twitter (Think: no paper or mailing costs). Technology is also making mobile payments easier and helping to provide what can be a less expensive option for businesses.
It's an important development because companies like PayPal and the major credit card issuers charge 2 percent or more per transaction. But more informal money transfers are another key factor and their number is growing. This may include purchases from smaller businesses or just sending money to friends and family without writing a check.
Already such direct electronic money transfers between individuals are estimated to total some $3 trillion a year, and that's only expected to increase.
That means there's a clear profit potential, making the business ripe for additional players with new ideas to emerge.
A Des Moines-based company called Dwolla Corp. is one of the new players.
On Wednesday, the company launched nationally its lower cost payment processing service for use by businesses and individuals. The company was already operating in Iowa and California.
Dwolla offers a payment service that charges a flat fee of 25 cents per transaction.
Banks have relied too long on debit and credit cards and their high fees, said Matt Harris, managing general partner of New York-based Village Ventures, a venture capital firm.
"It has sparked a lot of entrepreneurship on the part of people thinking they can do it better than these sleepy giants," Harris said.
That certainly rung true for Dwolla creator Ben Milne. As the owner of an audio equipment business he disliked the high fees he paid credit card companies to process...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
Companies Beware: The Next Big Leak Could Be Yours
WikiLeaks' release of secret government communications should serve as a warning to the world's biggest companies: You're next.
Computer experts have warned for years about the threat posed by disgruntled insiders and by poorly crafted security policies, which give too much access to confidential data. And there is nothing about WikiLeaks' release of U.S. diplomatic documents to suggest that the group can't -- or won't -- use the same methods to reveal the secrets of powerful corporations.
And as WikiLeaks claims it has incriminating documents from a major U.S. bank, possibly Bank of America, there's new urgency to addressing information security inside corporations and a reminder of its limits when confronted with a determined insider.
At risk are companies' innermost secrets -- e-mails, documents, databases and internal Web sites that are thought locked to the outside world. Companies create records of every decision they make, whether it's rolling out new products, pursuing acquisitions, fighting legislation, foiling rivals or allowing executives to sell stock.
Although it's easy technologically to limit who in a company sees specific types of information, many companies leave access far too open. And despite the best of intentions, mistakes happen and settings can become inadvertently broad, especially as networks grow more complex with reorganizations and acquisitions.
And even when security technology is doing its job, it's a poor match if someone with legitimate access decides to go rogue.
With the right access, a cheap thumb drive and a vendetta are the only ingredients an insider needs to obtain and leak secrets. By contrast, outside attackers often have to compromise personal computers at the bottom of the food chain, then use their skills and guile in hopes of working their way up.
Employees go rogue all the time -- for ego, to expose hypocrisy, to exact revenge or simply for greed.
A former analyst with mortgage...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
Gift Guide: Tablet and E-Reader Buying Advice
This holiday season, it will be hard to enter a store without setting eyes on a tablet computer or an e-reader. In both categories, big-name manufacturers -- along with some you might not have heard of -- are jumping on the bandwagon, trying hard to undercut each other with lower-priced gadgets.
It doesn't help that so many of them claim to do the same thing. The iPad dominates the field, but there's a slew of contenders that all run Google Inc.'s Android software, which is already common on smart phones. Meanwhile, the smaller tablets look almost indistinguishable from some new e-readers that hope to unseat the Kindle.
So which to buy? Here are the best options and some advice for figuring out which is the right choice for the person on your list.
Amazon Kindle (Wi-Fi only: $139; 3G: $189)
Pros: The Kindle's display, which measures 6 inches diagonally, uses "electronic-ink" technology, which makes it easy to read books, newspapers and magazines in direct sunlight. It falls somewhere between an iPhone and an iPad in size and weighs half a pound, making the device from Amazon.com Inc. thinner and lighter than Barnes & Noble Inc.'s Nookcolor, its strongest rival. The Kindle also lasts longer on a charge: up to one week with Wi-Fi on and two to three weeks with it turned off.
Cons: Screen is gray-scale only. The pages are slow to turn, and zooming and scrolling don't work. Lacks a built-in light source. Clunky built-in Web browser. Doesn't accept books from public libraries.
Barnes & Noble Nookcolor ($249)
Pros: Displays books and magazines in color. The brightness of the 7-inch touchscreen can be adjusted for comfortable reading in a wide range of lighting conditions. Besides a large library of books, magazines and newspapers, Barnes & Noble sells children's books with built-in narration tracks. Some books...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
Google Admits Trespassing But Pays Couple Only $1
Google Inc. has acknowledged that it trespassed when it took a photo of a Pittsburgh-area house for its Street View service, but will pay only $1 in damages to a couple who sued.
U.S. District Magistrate Judge Cathy Bissoon on Thursday signed off on a consent judgment, a mutually agreed-upon verdict, between the Mountain View, Calif. company and Aaron and Christine Boring, of Franklin Park.
A Google spokeswoman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which first reported the parties had agreed to the judgment, that the settlement is limited to the Borings.
"We are pleased that this lawsuit has finally ended with plaintiffs' acknowledgment that they are entitled to only $1," Google said in a statement to The Associated Press, adding that its ability to continue the Street View feature is unaffected.
The Borings' attorney, Gregg Zegarelli, said his clients are satisfied to have made the point that Google trespassed and realize they "can't control a company such as Google that operates worldwide."
"This is about right and wrong. Maybe my client and I are hopeless romantics, but I suppose some people said the same thing in 1950 about a male executive calling female staff 'sweetie/honey,' or African Americans just sitting a few seats farther in the back of the bus," Zegarelli said.
The Borings said in a statement released by Zegarelli that the amount of the judgment isn't the issue.
"This is one sweet dollar of vindication," the statement said. "Google could have just sent us an apology letter in the very beginning, but chose to try to prove they had a legal right to be on our land. We are glad they finally gave up."
Google's Street View feature lets users view homes and businesses as though they are driving along a three-dimensional street. It's assembled by having cars with digital cameras collect images that are then paired...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
Apple iPods: Original Music Player Is All Grown Up
Apple revamped its iPod lineup Sept. 1, and gracing store shelves are new models of the iPod Touch, Nano and Shuffle.
IPOD SHUFFLE: I was fortunate enough to be in the audience in January 2005 when Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod shuffle. After the keynote, I strolled the three blocks to San Francisco's flagship Apple store and bought one.
The original iPod Shuffle was a simple plastic case with a small navigation ring to control music playback.
Fast-forward five years: The Shuffle is now an aluminum case with that same navigation ring.
My original Shuffle held 512 megabytes and cost $99. Today's Shuffle holds 2 gigabytes and costs $49. The 2010 Shuffle comes in five colors and features 15 hours of battery life.
Apple did a rare thing when it released the new Shuffle -- it brought back a previous design.
The new, fourth-generation Shuffle looks almost identical to the second generation. The third-generation Shuffle was designed without any buttons on the iPod -- the controls were integrated into the earbud cord. That wasn't popular with users.
I'm impressed that Apple listened to users who made the second-generation Shuffle a success.
The best feature is called Voice Over. Pressing a small button on the top of the Shuffle makes it announce the name and artist of the song playing. You can also press and hold the Voice Over button to hear the playlist menu and press it twice to hear battery status.
The Shuffle always has been the darling of the workout set. In the ever-competitive world of "make it better, stronger, faster, smaller" design, Apple made the Shuffle too small and too stylish. Now that it has come back to the old design, I'll bet sales will increase.
With any luck, Apple will leave this design alone for a long time.
IPOD TOUCH: Outwardly, the Touch looks...
Sat, 4 Dec 10
BP Oil Spill Swamps Yahoo Search Engine in 2010
It took a man-made disaster to topple a celebrity from the top spot on Yahoo Inc.'s annual list of most popular search requests.
BP PLC's massive oil spill in the Gulf Coast drew the most interest among the tens of millions of people that used Yahoo's search engine during 2010. The Internet company released its top 10 rankings Tuesday.
Michael Jackson was Yahoo's most requested subject in 2009, the year that the entertainer's death stunned the world. Britney Spears, another star-crossed singer, held the No. 1 position on Yahoo's search list from 2005 through 2008.
After falling to No. 5 last year, Spears dropped to No. 10 on Yahoo's list this year.
Although Yahoo's search engine is the second most used on the Web, it's not the best barometer of people's online interests. That's because Google fields billions more search requests than Yahoo, Microsoft Corp.'s Bing and AOL Inc. combined.
Bing and AOL released their top searches earlier this week, with reality TV star Kim Kardashian topping Bing's list and golfer Tiger Woods leading the pack of celebrities at AOL. Kardashian came in fourth on Yahoo's list and seventh in AOL's celebrity rankings; Woods was third on Bing and didn't appear among Yahoo's Top 10.
Google doesn't plan to break down its top searches until later in December so it can get an even better handle on what piqued Web surfers' curiosity this year.
As usual, pop culture dominated the rest of Yahoo's Top 10. Other celebrities on Yahoo's list included teen singer and actress Miley Cyrus (No. 3), singer Lady Gaga (No. 5), actress Megan Fox (No. 7), teen heartthrob Justin Bieber (No. 8) and TV's top-rated show, the American Idol talent competition (No. 9).
Soccer's World Cup, which drew huge crowds and television audiences in June, grabbed the second spot on Yahoo's list while Apple Inc.'s...
Fri, 3 Dec 10
Rivals Insist Verizon's LTE Isn't Ready for Prime Time
As Verizon Wireless prepares to activate its high-speed Long Term Evolution Network on Sunday for mobile computer users, its biggest rival opened fire Thursday, warning Verizon customers about "jarring speed degradation." At the same time, Clearwire boasted that its network can handle more capacity.
Without mentioning the carrier by name, AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan in a blog post hit Verizon for not investing in its current 3G network while it rolls out LTE, which it calls 4G. AT&T is taking its time going to a faster network, while still working to improve its existing 3G infrastructure.
"Our HSPA+ network and upgraded backhaul is expected to deliver speed performance similar to initial LTE deployments," Donovan wrote. "That matters, because when we begin commercial deployment of LTE in mid-2011, customers on our LTE network will be able to fall back to HSPA+." AT&T says it will upgrade its current HSPA+ network to 21 megabits per second.
Donovan's counterpart at Verizon, Tony Melone, on Wednesday boasted in a media conference call that the new LTE network will operate at 10 times the speed of its 3G system, five to 12 Mbps for downloads and two to five Mbps for uplink. He said that's fast enough to upload 20 pictures in a minute, the digital equivalent of traveling from New York to Tokyo in 80 minutes.
If Verizon's 3G is markedly slower than LTE, Donovan wrote, when users move outside the 38 markets covered by the initial LTE rollout, "they'll experience a jarring speed degradation. If they're online and on the phone when they move to sites that don't support simultaneous voice and data connections, they'll drop one of those connections. And if they're watching video, it's not going to be pretty."
We sent a request for comment to Verizon on Thursday afternoon, but the company...
Fri, 3 Dec 10
RIM Buys Design Firm To Create Better User Interfaces
The Astonishing Tribe will become part of Research in Motion. RIM, maker of the popular BlackBerry smartphone, has acquired the Swedish design firm in an effort to improve its screen designs. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
In a posting on RIM's Official BlackBerry Blog, Chief Technology Officer David Yach wrote that TAT's talent will be used on the new BlackBerry PlayBook tablet and its line of smartphones. He said TAT "is renowned for their innovative mobile user interface designs and has a long history of working with mobile and embedded technology."
TAT has three main areas of concentration -- user interface (UI) technology, UI turnkey solutions, and UI design and prototyping.
The firm is known for its design work for smartphones, which it said has included about one-fifth of the devices currently on the market. The company has worked with Sony Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and Samsung. One of its most visible projects was the design for Google's first Android phone, the G1.
TAT cofounder Paul Blomdahl said in a statement published Thursday on his firm's web site that the move to "join a larger tribe" is a "huge leap toward our vision to help create a full user experience for a great line of devices and products."
He added that the firm will "honor our current agreements" and has "taken all the necessary steps to keep the two commitments separated."
Among other examples of its work, TAT's web site includes a project called the Future of Screens.
The project description says screen technology is moving beyond the "commodity" of capacitive screens, and "we will soon have dual screens; malleable screens; screens built into Wi-Fi-connected mirrors, desks or backsides of gadgets clothed with E Ink screens; tactile feedback; color screens with great contrast in sunlight; holographics/stereoscopic screens; color E...
Fri, 3 Dec 10
iPad Tops Galaxy Tab as It Rises To 'Mac of the Masses'
Piper Jaffray predicts Apple will sell 13 million iPads by the end of this year, when it's expected to hold 89 percent of the global tablet market. However, the investment firm expects the iPad's market share to decline as competitors enter the market next year, even though the firm's model shows Apple shipping 23.3 million units in 2011.
"We estimate this share will drop to 53 percent in 2011 with more competition from Android garnering a 33 percent share on 14.4 million unit shipments," Piper Jaffray analysts Gene Munster, Michael Olson, and Andrew Murphy wrote in a report Thursday. In addition, the analysts expect the new PlayBook tablet from Research In Motion to grab market share next year.
"The PlayBook is separate from the 33 percent Android market share," Murphy noted in an e-mail. "I didn't mention it in the report, because our survey was only iPad versus Android, but we estimate that RIM will have about five percent market share -- selling about two million PlayBooks in 2011."
Despite facing new competition from rival Samsung, Apple's iPad continues to dominate consumer preferences in the tablet space it created. In a small survey of 65 consumers conducted by Piper Jaffray recently, 85 percent expressed a preference for the iPad versus 15 percent for Samsung's new Galaxy Tab.
However, respondents perceived the value of both devices at levels that were considerably less than their suggested retail prices. Though the iPad 3G is priced at $629, the average perceived value was only $417. Moreover, Samsung's Galaxy Tab was only valued at $283 versus the device's suggested retail price of $599.
Overall, the survey results indicate that Apple continues to dominate the web tablet space it pioneered with the iPad. "While we expect both the iPad and Android tablet platforms to find success...
Fri, 3 Dec 10
Amazon Shuts Down WikiLeaks Under U.S. Pressure
Amazon.com has plenty going on in the midst of a holiday shopping season where it's breaking its own sales records. But the e-commerce giant had to turn its attention to a national controversy this week in the form of WikiLeaks, which Amazon hosted.
WikiLeaks, a whistleblower site, released 250,000 confidential cables to the public, a move that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called an attack on America and the international community. She said the leaks are a "tear in the fabric" of responsible government and the Obama administration is taking "aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information."
Amazon pulled the plug on WikiLeaks after the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee contacted the company on Tuesday, asking for an explanation. As Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), chairman of the committee, sees it, Amazon should have taken the action earlier based on WikiLeaks' previous publication of classified material.
"The company's decision to cut off WikiLeaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies WikiLeaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material," Lieberman said. "I call on any other company or organization that is hosting WikiLeaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them."
"WikiLeaks' illegal, outrageous, and reckless acts have compromised our national security and put lives at risk around the world," he added. "No responsible company -- whether American or foreign -- should assist WikiLeaks in its efforts to disseminate these stolen materials. I will be asking Amazon about the extent of its relationship with WikiLeaks and what it and other web service providers will do in the future to ensure that their services are not used to distribute stolen, classified information."
As Lieberman indicated, this isn't the first time WikiLeaks has posted classified information. Just months ago, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of...
Fri, 3 Dec 10
FTC Proposes 'Do Not Track' Option To Protect Privacy
You can sign up for the "do not call" registry to keep marketers from calling you, and now the Federal Trade Commission is proposing a similar option for the web. On Wednesday, the agency proposed a "do not track" mechanism that would be universally offered to online users as part of a larger framework to protect privacy online.
Marketers are increasingly tracking users' web-surfing habits, a practice that allows them to target advertisements based on users' interests. But privacy groups and many consumers have raised concerns about such tracking.
The proposed framework appears in a preliminary staff report issued Wednesday. The FTC said the proposal aims to "balance the privacy interests of consumers with innovation that relies on consumer information to develop beneficial new products and services."
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told news media that his agency seeks to promote "privacy, transparency, business innovation, and consumer choice."
The staff report said industry efforts related to privacy through self-regulation "have been too slow, and up to now have failed to provide adequate and meaningful protection."
Leibowitz said the FTC will follow up its policy recommendations with action against companies "that cross the line with consumer data and violate consumers' privacy," especially if children or teens are affected.
As online technology has advanced, the FTC noted, the means for rapid data collection and sharing have similarly advanced -- often invisibly to consumers. Privacy policies are commonly posted to explain what companies are doing, but the FTC said such statements are "long, legalistic disclosures that consumers usually don't read and don't understand if they do." The burden, the FTC said, is too much on forcing consumers to protect their privacy.
The "do not track" option recommended by the report isn't specified, except to say that it should be a "simple, easy to use mechanism" so that consumers can...
Fri, 3 Dec 10
Google Corrects Algorithm Hole To Block Bad Businesses
How embarrassing. New York Times reporter David Segal penned an article on Nov. 26 that left Google red-faced and spurred the search giant to immediate action.
The Times article told the disturbing tale of Clarabelle Rodriguez, who typed the name of her favorite eyeglass brand in Google's search bar. As the story goes, Rodriguez found some frames she liked through a link at the top of the search results and proceeded to pay $361.97 for them through an online transaction. After a hassle with the retailer via phone, she received what appeared to be counterfeit shades -- and she was charged an extra $125. It got worse from there.
"By treating your customers badly, one merchant told the paper, you can generate complaints and negative reviews that translate to more links to your site; which, in turn, make it more prominent in search engines," Google Fellow Amit Singhal wrote on the Official Google Blog. "The main premise of the article was that being bad on the web can be good for business."
Singhal said even though Google's initial analysis indicated Rodriguez's experience did not signal a widespread problem in search results, programmers built an algorithmic solution. But Google considered several other options first. Singhal said Google could have blocked the particular offender, but that wouldn't solve the larger issue.
Google, he continued, could also have used sentiment analysis to identify negative remarks and turn negative comments into negative votes. While this concept may sound promising, Singhal said, it turns out to be based on a misconception. Google does have a sentiment-analysis system, but Singhal said if the company demoted web pages just because there are negative comments against them, the sites of elected officials, among others, might not be easily accessible.
Singhal cited yet another option: Placing user reviews and ratings for...
Fri, 3 Dec 10
As Browser Habits Shift, the Race Is on for Contenders
When Dawn Shrum was in college a few years ago, her one and only Web browser was Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Boy, has her browsing changed since then.
The 26-year-old online marketing analyst for Itron, a smart-metering company in Spokane, Wash., now often uses four at once: IE; Google's blur-fast Chrome; non-profit Mozilla Foundation's Firefox; and Apple's Safari, when on her Mac.
The same is true with Eric Timm, 34, a senior network architect in Madison, Wis. Chrome is his preferred choice. IE is his default browser at work. For maximum use of the Pandora Internet-radio service, Timm prefers Firefox. And he uses Safari on his iPhone.
"It's refreshing to get different views, since I'm on a browser eight to 10 hours a day," Timm says, chuckling.
Shrum's and Timm's changes in habit reflect a significant shift in how millions of Americans use browsers to traverse the Internet for information, pictures and video. A decade ago, the Web browser market was a two-horse race between Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape Communications' Navigator. (We all know who won.) Today, it's a crowded field. Microsoft is still No. 1, but its lead in market share faces challenges from Mozilla, Google, Apple and others.
Indeed, every few weeks, there seems to be a major browser announcement. This week, Flock beefed up its social-networking browser by upgrading its speed and adding LinkedIn, a popular networking site used by 85 million people.
Earlier this month, start-up RockMelt -- the brainchild of former Netscape Communications employees and financially backed by Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen -- launched to glowing user reviews. At about the same time, Google delivered an update to Chrome that is faster and more secure, and does a better job of reading digital files.
Not to be outdone, new versions of IE and Firefox are due early next year.
"There are more good options...
Fri, 3 Dec 10
Customers Pay by Swiping Smartphones, Not Credit Cards
That smartphone in your pocket might soon replace your credit card.
Dozens of wireless carriers, handset manufacturers and Silicon Valley start-ups are working toward that goal, fueled by the massive adoption of iPhones, Androids and BlackBerry models. The idea is that instead of reaching into your wallet for your credit card, you'll instead drag out your phone and swipe it to pay -- either via embedded software in the phone itself, or a small chip that attaches to it.
Market tracker Juniper Research says one in every six mobile phone users will have a phone able to make mobile payments by 2014.
*AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile formed Isis, a mobile payments network launching in 2011 that will let subscribers pay with smartphones.
*Google's upcoming update to its Android phone system software will include technology to pay bills via an embedded chip, the company said.
*Start-ups Boku, Obopay, Zoompass and Square all offer ways to pay for goods with smartphones.
One start-up sure to get more attention is in Palo Alto, Calif., a few miles from the headquarters of Google and Apple. Bling Nation, which services the "local" section of PayPal's app for the iPhone and iPad, has signed up the city of Palo Alto, Stanford University gift stores and dozens of merchants on University Avenue, the city's main drag.
Customers attach a small Bling chip to their phone. To pay, they swipe the phone/chip at a Bling terminal near the cash register. That taps their PayPal account for the transaction. EBay owns PayPal.
"Everybody always has their phone on them," says Jean-Paul Coupal, who runs the Coupa Cosas coffee shops in Palo Alto. "The wallet, sometimes they leave it. It's bulky. But paying with your phone is nice and easy."
At Sprouts Cafe in Palo Alto, Bling is used for 20 percent to 25 percent of transactions after...
Fri, 3 Dec 10
Wireless Carriers Muddy Waters with '4G' Marketing
The marketing world is full of vague adjectives like "new," "better" or "healthy" that don't necessarily mean much.
The wireless industry has its own buzzword: 4G. Carriers have taken the technical-sounding term for fourth generation and turned it into a vehicle for competing advertising claims that could confuse consumers.
Starting with Clearwire Corp. and Sprint Nextel Corp., wireless carriers have used 4G to describe a major leap in speed, capacity and power over other networks. But operators don't agree on what constitutes that technological milestone. As a result, 4G has become a marketing term almost unrelated to its technical definition, which is determined by industry standards bodies.
Earlier this month, T-Mobile USA Inc. said it had expanded its 4G service to six markets, adding them to a roster of "America's largest 4G network." The carrier's announcement prompted grumbling from some of its competitors, which said T-Mobile was trying to pass off an improved 3G network as a new 4G network. Critics noted that the carrier itself had refrained from using "4G" to describe its technology, called HSPA+, when it was introduced.
T-Mobile is unapologetic.
"For customers, it's setting an expectation of a significant change in their experience," said Bentley Alexander, T-Mobile's regional vice president of engineering and operations. "It's a step above and beyond the experience folks are having today. ... It's appropriate to call it a 4G network, and we're proud to call it that."
The raised eyebrows over T-Mobile's 4G announcement underscore the ultracompetitive nature of the wireless industry, which is hungry for revenue from mobile data services -- Web surfing, video streaming and photo sharing -- that will be further enabled by the newest network technology. Every carrier wants to show it has the best pipelines for that data, and 4G is elegant marketing shorthand.
"To us, what it means is it's the next...
Fri, 3 Dec 10
Hackers Steal Lady Gaga, Timberlake Tracks Online
Two German hackers allegedly stole and sold unreleased tracks from pop stars including Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake via the Internet, a state prosecutor said on Wednesday.
A 17-year-old disc-jockey from the city of Duisburg and a 23-year-old from nearby Wesel allegedly wrote simple programs -- called Trojans because of their ability to enter private networks -- to access unreleased tracks which they sold online.
"Basically we are talking about illegal bootlegged publication and spying on data using Trojans," said state prosecutor Rolf Haferkamp, confirming an earlier report in daily Neue Ruhr/Neuer Rhein Zeitung.
The alleged perpetrators have not yet been arrested or charged as investigations are still ongoing. Both still live with their parents, Haferkamp said.
He said musicians targeted by the scam hurriedly released their new albums and went on tour earlier than intended, due to the pressure generated by the illegal distribution of their tracks.
The prosecutor also alleged that the hackers had acquired a suggestive photo which they used to blackmail one of their victims, US singer Kesha.
The prosecutor said they had probably found the image by accident whilst searching for music, using relatively simple hacker software.
"The trick itself is nothing special. All it requires is a bit of know-how and perseverance to achieve criminal success," Haferkamp said.
Investigations had revealed that the pirated tracks were sold online. The prosecutor said the damage to the stars was likely to be far bigger than the money generated by the bootlegged sales, as tracks sold for more through official channels.
The alleged hackers were exposed by fans, who objected to music being sold from dubious sources. When they approached a fan club for U.S. singer Kelly Clarkson, members became suspicious and contacted her agency. They in turn notified the police.
Fri, 3 Dec 10
Motorola To Break into Two Parts in January
Motorola Inc. will split into two companies effective Jan. 4, finalizing the breakup of one of the founders of the U.S. electronics industry.
Motorola is splitting its consumer-oriented side, which makes cell phones and cable set-top boxes, from the side that sells police radios and barcode scanners to government and corporate customers.
Shareholders of record on Dec. 21 will receive shares in both the consumer business, Motorola Mobility, and the professional business, Motorola Solutions.
The breakup is motivated by the desire to present two simple stories to investors, rather than one complicated one.
Motorola set the breakup plan in motion in 2008 after prodding from activist investor Carl Icahn. The goal was to complete the separation by 2009, but the economic downturn and the continuing collapse of Motorola's phone sales prompted it to postpone the plan. Motorola announced the new date Tuesday.
One big piece of Motorola won't make it to separation: The company is selling a division that makes network equipment for cell phone companies to Nokia Siemens Networks, a Finnish-German joint venture. The deal is expected to close before the end of the year.
Motorola's phone division has continued to shrink, but cost-cutting and a focus on smart phones such as the Droid X allowed it to post an operating profit for the July-to-September quarter. It was the first profitable quarter in three years.
Once the second-largest phone maker in the world, Motorola is now the seventh-largest and sells fewer phones than either Apple Inc. or Research In Motion Ltd., the maker of the BlackBerry.
On Jan. 4, shareholders will receive one share of Motorola Mobility for every eight shares of Motorola Inc. Motorola Inc. share will then go through a 1-for-7 reverse stock split, as the company renames itself Motorola Solutions. Both stocks will trade on the New York Stock Exchange.
Shares of Motorola, which is...
Thu, 2 Dec 10
Virgin Beats News Corp. with First Publication Made for iPad
Richard Branson's Virgin Group beat rival News Corp. to the punch this week by unleashing the first digital publication made exclusively for Apple's iPad. Branson joined forces with U.K. publisher Seven Squared and Anthony Noguera, former editor of Arena, to produce Project, which Virgin says "looks like a style magazine and acts like a web site."
The publication will update itself "minute by minute at times" to provide a month of content with one download. The app is available free, with issues selling for $2.99 per month.
News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch has reportedly been working since last May, just after the release of the iPad tablet, to launch The Daily, which will have a newspaper format but no print edition or web site. The Daily's expected debut will be in January, selling for 99 cents per day or $4.25 for a monthly subscription. The Daily will have a staff of 100 based in New York, Women's Wear Daily reported last month.
The premiere of Project, featuring Oscar-winner and Tron: Legacy star Jeff Bridges on the cover, features some pioneering interactivity -- virtual "dirt" covering an article about farming that can be "wiped" off the touchscreen. The cover animation, previewed on Virgin's web site, shows Bridges flickering electronically as if displayed on a faulty computer.
Branson, a flamboyant British entrepreneur, prides himself on diversity, running an airline, music business, wireless communications service, and, soon, the world's first commercial space travel service. The aptly named Project will test iPad users' appetite for specialized content. They can already access other magazines or newspapers through their web sites or via apps that reformat the content for the iPad's screen.
History suggests digital magazines are still an unknown quantity.
"Turn back the clock about 10 years -- remember eZines for the PC?" asked ABI Research mobile-devices analyst Jeff Orr....
Thu, 2 Dec 10
Google's E-Book Store Will Offer 'Read Anywhere' Storage
Get ready for Google Editions. According to news reports, the search giant is on the verge of launching its own e-book store.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Google is putting the finishing touches on its delayed online retailer, which was originally planned for launch last summer. The Journal quoted "people close to the company" as saying the new store has cleared technical and legal hurdles. Google Editions is expected to appear before the end of the year in the U.S. For international markets, it will debut in the first quarter of next year.
Reportedly, independent booksellers have begun to receive contracts from their trade groups and publishers are in the process of exchanging files with Google. Some industry observers estimate that as many as 200 independent booksellers in the U.S. alone could become part of the Google effort.
Google is hoping to provide a new model for customers to distinguish it from the e-book retail outlets from Apple, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. The new model is expected to have the e-book living in the cloud and allow "read anywhere" usage.
Customers would be able to buy e-books from Google or other online booksellers and connect them to an online Google account. The account can then be reached from any device. Some observers expect a downloadable version will also be offered for those times when users don't have high-speed wireless access.
By contrast, purchasers of e-books from Amazon can only buy them from that source, although they can read them on multiple devices that have the Kindle software player, as well as on Amazon's Kindle e-reader.
Google is also expected to use its hugely popular search engine to drive sellers to the store. Additionally, its massive Google Books initiative, which scans out-of-print books, could allow rare books to become commonplace.
Thu, 2 Dec 10
Cloud Data Is Often Not Protected Against Disaster
The challenge of managing virtual and cloud environments as well as physical ones is adding complexity to disaster recovery (DR) efforts -- sometimes resulting in inadequate protection. That's the conclusion of the sixth annual Disaster Recovery Study from Symantec, a Mountain View, Calif.-based provider of security, storage and systems management solutions.
The global report found that 44 percent of data on virtual systems is not routinely backed up, and only 20 percent of respondents use replication and failover technologies in virtual environments. Sixty percent of virtualized servers are not in the DR plans of those surveyed, an increase from 45 percent in last year's report.
The report found that "using multiple tools that manage and protect applications and data in virtual environments causes major difficulties for data-center managers." It found the effort to be a "large challenge" for 58 percent.
Dan Lamorena, director of Symantec's Storage and Availability Management Group, said his company expects to see organizations "adopt tools that provide a holistic solution with a consistent set of policies across all environments." The keys for data-center managers, he said, are simplification, standardization and treating "all environments the same."
Toward those aims, Lamorena recommended using integrated tool sets, simplifying data-protection processes, prioritizing planning and tools to "automate and perform processes which minimize downtime during system upgrades," identifying issues as quickly as possible, and avoiding shortcuts that could have "disastrous consequences."
Since the study found that about half of mission-critical applications are being run in the cloud, inadequate DR planning poses a major problem. The respondents recognize that fact, with 66 percent reporting that security is their chief concern about using the cloud.
About 80 percent of backups take place weekly or less frequently, instead of daily. Resource constraints, including people, budget and space, were the biggest issue, with...
Thu, 2 Dec 10
Verizon Ready for 'Dramatic Leap' To LTE Speeds
The nation's largest wireless carrier will launch its much-vaunted Long Term Evolution network on Sunday, promising data speeds 10 times faster than its current 3G network.
"This is dramatically different," Verizon Wireless Senior Vice President and CTO Tony Melone told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. He promised that LTE will enable downloads of five to 12 megabits per second and uplinks of two to five Mbps, fast enough to upload 20 photos in one minute. "Imagine if you were going to take a flight from New York to Tokyo that takes 13 hours today and technology let you get there in 80 minutes. That's the kind of dramatic leap we're talking about with 4G."
Although the company calls its new technology 4G, the International Telecommunications Union defines 4G as capable of delivering 100 Mbit of data per second, faster than any system currently claiming to be 4G. When a reporter pointed this out, Melone said "what you call it is not that relevant. It's a quantum generational step up. Even if you want to call it something other than 4G, it's a real step up."
The network will roll out in 38 major markets for modem-equipped data devices and gradually spread to cover Verizon's current 3G footprint by the end of 2013, Melone said. Verizon stores will begin selling LTE-compatible VL600 USB modems made by LG on Sunday for $99.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate. A second modem by Pantech will follow later.
The modem will give 3G users speeds of 600 kilobits to 1.4 megabits per second for downloads and 500-800 kpbs for uploads. Smartphones equipped to work on both the current 3G network as well as in areas where LTE is available will debut at February's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The company announced two LTE data plans,...
Thu, 2 Dec 10
FCC Chief Proposes Solution To Net-Neutrality Battle
One day after a major broadband provider reported that Comcast required an additional fee for streaming a rival's Internet movies, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission offered a new Net-neutrality proposal. On Wednesday, Julius Genachowski proposed barring wireline providers from blocking "lawful content" or applications, and banning "unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic." But his proposal does allow "reasonable network management," including usage-based metering.
The proposal also includes "a basic no-blocking rule" for wireless providers, but since that environment is "evolving rapidly," Genachowski gives wireless more latitude, with unspecified monitoring for "anticompetitive or anticonsumer" conduct. While the FCC had been considering the reclassification of Internet providers as "telecommunications" rather than "informational" services to give the agency broader powers, the FCC is now trying a different approach.
Instead of reclassification, the FCC chairman is attempting to utilize a provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that allows the agency to step in if broadband goals are not being met, including fostering an environment for business innovation.
Genachowski's argument is that, unless service providers are prevented from discriminating against competing services, an innovation-friendly environment cannot be obtained. The proposed framework will be subject to a vote at the FCC meeting on Dec. 21.
Many industry observers expect Genachowski's proposal to be accepted by at least one, and possibly both, of the FCC's Democratic commissioners. One of the two, Michael J. Copps, has voiced support for more stringent regulations, while the two Republican commissioners are expected to oppose the framework.
Matt Davis, an analyst with IDC, described the FCC proposal as "an ingenious solution" to the issue of Net neutrality, since there has been substantial political and industry opposition to reclassifying Internet providers as "telecommunications" services.
He noted that the FCC has been "building its case that broadband is essential to the health of...
Thu, 2 Dec 10
BlackBerry OS Tops Apple's iOS in U.S. for November
StatCounter released a report Wednesday suggesting that the rise of Google's Android operating system and the resilience of Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS are having an impact on Apple's grip on the U.S. smartphone market. RIM overtook Apple to claim the top smartphone OS slot in November with a 34.3 percent market share, beating Apple's iOS for the first time, the Dublin-based web-metrics firm said.
StatCounter CEO Aodhan Cullen noted that BlackBerry and Android combined are on course to become twice the size of Apple's iOS in mobile Internet usage next year. "These figures suggest that developers should not be developing solely for the iPhone to the exclusion of BlackBerry and Android," Cullen said.
Still, it's difficult to gauge how accurately the StatCounter data reflects reality since all such surveys are based on the web-site sample skews of the particular survey company, noted Al Hilwa, director of applications development software at IDC. "But it is likely the data reflects greater use of browsing in BlackBerry phones, thanks to improved browser capabilities in OS version 6," Hilwa said.
According to StatCounter, Android has been rapidly gaining market share over the past 12 months, during which the usage of Google's platform almost tripled to 23.8 percent. By contrast, Apple's iOS market share declined from 51.9 percent to 33 percent over the same period, Cullen said.
From a developer perspective, there is no doubt that the era of the iPhone as the sole smartphone developer platform is over, Hilwa observed. "Most developers are already beginning to think about the space in terms of a range of platforms," He said.
The recent launch of BlackBerry OS 6 and Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 platform mean that software developers can target between three and six platforms, "depending on the geography or type of...
Thu, 2 Dec 10
Tech Firms Work on Online Programs To Keep Kids Safe
The technology industry is making an intensified national push to try to keep children safer online.
*Microsoft is sponsoring a national program called Generation Safe to provide training for teachers and school officials to build community networks for protecting children online.
*The International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium -- which refers to itself as (ISC)4, pronounced ISC-squared -- is dispatching volunteers into classrooms to discuss cybersecurity.
*Non-profit groups StaySafeOnline.org and iKeepSafe.org, which are sponsored by large corporations, are providing online safety tips and teaching curricula to parents and teachers.
*GoGoStat Parental Guidance offers a free program that allows parents to monitor their offsprings' use of a PC or iPhone.
Smartphones, tablet PCs, Internet TVs and even video-gaming consoles let children access Web sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, where cyberbullies, sexual predators and identity thieves prey on minors ranging from infants to teenagers.
"Kids really need to know the risks that are out there and what sensible behavior is," says Richard Harrison, spokesman for (ISC)?.
Numerous studies show that children routinely engage in risky online behavior, such as befriending and sharing personal data and photos with strangers.
A recent survey by anti-virus software maker AVG found mothers of young children may be unwittingly exposing their offspring to unforeseen dangers. Some 82% of 2,200 mothers of children under age 2 in 10 nations had posted prenatal sonograms or baby photos on the Internet; U.S. respondents led, with 92% of mothers posting. That can make kids vulnerable to sexual predators, experts say. Photos can be widely viewed and quickly copied, says J.R. Smith, AVG's chief executive officer.
And data of all types persist indefinitely on the Web, says Caroline Knorr, parenting editor at Common Sense Media, a non-profit advocacy group. "Every sort of admissions office, whether it be a pre-school, a private school or college or an employer is going...
Thu, 2 Dec 10
Donations Going Digital: Mobile Is the Next Step
When people buy smartphones and tablet computers they discover thousands of software applications ("apps," for short) that make it easy to buy, find, read, watch and hear almost anything they want.
But there's one thing they frequently can't do with apps: Donate money to a favorite charity.
Non-profit organizations are "very interested (in mobile apps) and there's a lot of experimentation -- but it's still in the baby steps mode," says Marcia Stepanek, new media adviser at New York University's Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising.
Charities are torn. They know that the next generation of volunteers and contributors organize their lives around wireless devices and social networks. But many are still struggling to figure out how they can fit into this new communications ecosystem.
Interest in mobile soared in January after the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
Cellphone users contributed more than $30 million to the American Red Cross. People sent text messages that authorized their wireless providers to pass along donations tacked on their monthly bill.
The hit talent show American Idol also employs texted donations for its "Idol Gives Back" charitable campaigns.
Yet, while the strategy works for emergencies and high-profile events, "we haven't found that texting-to-donate works when you're not in a crisis mode," says Patricia Goldman, chief marketing officer for the March of Dimes.
That's why there's so much interest in apps that would make it easy for mobile users to make contributions.
"When we send out e-mails we know the biggest response will be within the first 24 to 48 hours," Goldman says. "So if you're sitting on a bus and get an e-mail and can act right away, that's a lot more effective."
But many groups are reluctant to invest $12,000 or more to create an app at a time when the soft economy has depressed charitable giving.
Seven out of 10 charities surveyed by...
Thu, 2 Dec 10
Avoid Cyberscams in Your Holiday Shopping Carts
If you plan to get jolly at your computer this holiday season shopping for online deals, beware. Internet scammers are lurking, just waiting for the opportunity to fill your stocking with a big ol' lump of coal.
Now more than ever, online shoppers must be vigilant.
"There are people in law enforcement who will admit off the record that the bad guys are probably about five years ahead of the good guys right now," said Adam Levin, a consumer credit and fraud expert at Credit.com. "People tend to take convenience over security."
In the rush and thrill of finding outstanding deals online, shoppers sometimes click on links they shouldn't -- or spend money on goods they will never see.
To avoid getting scammed online this holiday season, take a slightly slower and steadier approach. Avoid Web sites you've never heard of in favor of better-known outlets. If you see a great deal on a seemingly obscure site, take a few moments to open a new browser and research the site. What have other consumers said about it? Are there complaints? Is it legitimate?
Complete the purchase only on secure Web sites, those with an "s" at the end of the "http" and a padlock to the right of the URL. If the Web site has a padlock, double-click on it to make sure it has a digital certificate. For instance, the padlock for Amazon.com says the connection to that company's Web site is encrypted -- in other words, safe.
Be careful when typing in a company's name. Sneaky scam artists sometimes buy up Web addresses with common misspellings of popular companies, then create separate Web sites designed to fool consumers.
"That's when they ask you for information you may well be sorry you gave out," Levin said.
Be stingy with your personal information. If a company sends you...
Thu, 2 Dec 10
HTML5 and Flash Battle It Out for the Future of the Internet
Whether your computer is showing colorful fish floating in an aquarium, bouncing balls, or a mouse pointer that takes on the form of a paintbrush, it's probably thanks to Flash technology.
But soon, many of these same features could be delivered by HTML5, an up-and-coming web standard. That would mean freedom from Adobe and its Flash Player plug-in. But will this new technology spell the end of Flash. Experts say -- maybe.
The recent decision by Apple boss Steve Jobs to pick HTML5 over Flash has caused the debate to perk up again. But at the end of the day, both technologies have their advantages -- and their limitations.
"HTML5 attempts to bring applications directly into the browser," says Phoenix, Arizona-based web developer Stephanie Sullivan Rewis. That makes it significantly easier to design web applications.
At the same time, she told the German Press Agency dpa she can't imagine that Flash will become irrelevant. "The W3C is absolutely not interested in integrating all of Flash's possibilities into the standard."
The W3C is short for the World Wide Web Consortium, the guarantor of web standards. Directed by Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, the W3C invested a lot of energy into developing HTML 4.01 and XHTML1.1, the two current valid standards.
But, in October 2009, the W3C opted to put the more rigid XHTML standard on ice and direct its energies toward HTML5.
For all that, the new features are relatively basic. There are fewer than 30 new tags -- computer code items listed in brackets that define the role of individual elements of a Web site, like a single paragraph. It's mostly about expansions of the "semantic web," getting elements named so their name implies what they do.
Using a blog entry as an example, the updates become obvious. Currently, the various parts of the blog are split into elements...
Thu, 2 Dec 10
Google's Newest Features Explained
Google continues to be the world's most-used search engine. So you might think that the search engine giant would roll out new features gently, not wanting to upset its massive user base, right? Not quite. Google introduces new features of its search engine with little warning and even less explanation of how to use them. The Instant Preview, Wonder Wheel, Timeline, and Date Ranges features are prime examples. What are they all about? Read on to find out.
You've probably stumbled upon Google's new Instant Preview feature by accident. The feature consists of thumbnail snapshots of full-length web pages that appear on the search page itself -- to the right of your search results. Although Instant Search is supposed to be activated by clicking the little magnifying glass icon to the right of the title of a search result, clicking anywhere within the search result's descriptive text will turn on the feature as well. Instant Preview thumbnails are supposed to save you time by allowing you to view a tiny version of a Web site before actually visiting it.
The problem is that the thumbnail previews are sometimes so large that, depending upon your monitor's size, they can somewhat obscure the list of search results, leading to annoyance as much as help. The good news is that you can deactivate Instant Preview temporarily by clicking the magnifying glass icon next to any search result. The bad news is that, currently, there's no way to permanently deactivate Instant Preview.
The Wonder Wheel is another new search tool that Google has said next to nothing about, and because it is hidden under the More Search Tools link in the left-hand sidebar of Google, you may miss it entirely. That's unfortunate because, unlike Instant Previews, this is one tool that's both useful and easy...
Wed, 1 Dec 10
WikiLeaks Saga Underscores Need for Data Controls
As the furor over thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables intercepted and spread to news organizations by WikiLeaks continues, the corporate IT world is surely looking inward for lessons to be learned.
The site was accessible again on Tuesday, reportedly going through a rented server in the U.S. after it came under apparent attack from hackers who blocked it in the U.S. and Europe.
Former President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on the fallout Monday.
In a webcast discussion with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Bush said "leaks are very damaging, and people who leak ought to be prosecuted." And Clinton said the disclosure of documents by WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange in 2006 and owned by the Sunshine Press, "is not just an attack on America's foreign-policy interests [but] an attack on the international community -- the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations, that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity," according to USA Today.
The Obama administration has ordered a review of all government communication procedures and vowed to prosecute anyone who leaks classified information.
But what can private IT teams do to safeguard their internally classified information from some future corporate WikiLeaks?
Not much, according to Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, a cybersecurity school in Bethesda, Md.
"You cannot simply say 'Don't trust the users,'" Paller said. "I suppose the best advice is that data-leakage and data-transfer monitoring is worth the money -- much like a security camera -- to raise the chance that a thief could get caught."
Charles King, principal analyst of Pund-It, said the real lesson of WikiLeaks, which exposed thousands of documents on the wars in Iran and Afghanistan last summer in the biggest security breach in U.S. history before this month's diplomatic cable release,...
Wed, 1 Dec 10
Google Earth 6.0 Offers a Full Walking Tour Experience
Google introduced a major upgrade for Google Earth on Monday that gives users the ability to zoom in on many locations on the planet and instantly transform the perspective to a view from the street. The free Google Earth 6 release also includes other new features for exploring the planet virtually, including historical images for selected urban locations.
Though Street View took its inaugural bows in Google Earth during 2008, the new release now fully integrates the virtual walking tour experience. "You can journey from outer space right to your doorstep in one seamless flight," noted Google Earth Product Manager Peter Birch in a blog.
The streets available for conducting virtual walking tours are all in selected city locations. To switch to Street View mode, drag the Google Pegman icon at the top of the zoom control onto any road highlighted in blue, Birch wrote.
"Unlike our earlier Street View layer, you can now move seamlessly from one location to another as if you're walking down the street by using the scroll wheel on your mouse or the arrow keys on your keyboard," Birch wrote. "If you want to visit somewhere farther away, simply click the 'exit' button and you'll immediately return to an aerial view where you can easily fly to your next destination."
Google Earth 6 integrates a huge array of photos of major urban areas, including major landmarks and tourist attractions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. When visiting these locations using Google Earth, users are able to pan 360 degrees to view everything else in the area.
Though historical photos have been available in Google Earth since 2006, the new release makes it significantly easier for users to discover and access these images. "When you fly to an area where historical...
Wed, 1 Dec 10
Comcast 'Toll Booth' for Netflix Revives Net Neutrality
The fight for Net neutrality now has a practical case that could affect the future of streaming media on the web. Comcast is requiring that a major Internet service provider pay an additional fee for delivering Netflix's streaming movies.
The fee is being imposed on Level 3 Communications, one of the broadband backbone networks that Netflix uses to provide its newly expanded streaming service. The movie service, which made its name by providing DVD rentals in red envelopes via the U.S. Post Office, has steadily been increasing the films available for immediate streaming over broadband connections. Recently, it launched a streaming-only membership option.
On Monday, Level 3 issued a statement that it had been informed on Nov. 19 by Comcast that there will be a "recurring fee from Level 3 to transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast's customers who request such content."
Level 3 called the fee a "toll booth" allowing Comcast to "unilaterally decide how much to charge for content which competes with its own cable-TV and Xfinity delivered content."
Level 3 added that the action "threatens the open Internet and is a clear abuse of the dominant control" Comcast has as the nation's largest cable provider. The backbone provider said it accepted the payment terms "under protest" to ensure customers would not experience disruptions.
Level 3 said it is asking regulators and policy-makers for action to ensure that "a fair, open and innovative Internet does not become a closed network controlled by a few institutions."
Comcast said its payment demand was being "misportrayed" by Level 3, and was only part of the "commercial negotiations" between the companies. It said the fee "has nothing to do with Level 3's desire to distribute different types of network traffic," but instead reflects the cable company's "established" commercial arrangements with content...
Wed, 1 Dec 10
Faster, Bigger Memory Cards for Photos Planned
Taking and sharing digital photos has reached the mainstream, and it's causing old-school companies to think about the next decade. The goal is faster and bigger storage cards.
That's just what SanDisk, Nikon and Sony are setting out to offer. The companies have collaborated to develop a set of specifications with the future demands of photographers and videographers in mind.
Digital photography and HD video have changed the industry -- but to get to the next phase, professional photography and high-definition video applications need a new generation of memory cards that can process much larger files much more quickly.
SanDisk, Nikon and Sony have proposed their specs to the CompactFlash Association (CFA). The companies hope to standardize the format and lead the charge in the next wave of professional imaging products.
The competition so far seems to be friendly as the international organization that sets the standards is made up of leading manufacturers with a common cause. Once CFA -- led by a Canon executive -- approves the new spec, hardware manufacturers can drive innovation in the photography and video markets.
"This ultra-high-speed media format will enable further evolution of hardware and imaging applications and widen the memory-card options available to CompactFlash users such as professional photographers," said Canon's Shigeto Kanda, chairman of the board at CFA. "This next-generation format is expected to be widely adapted to various products, including those other than high-end DSLRs."
Here's the technical side of the story: The proposed specifications would create products with data-transfer rates of up to 500 megabytes per second. Those faster speeds would make possible imaging and video applications that cannot be accomplished with the current specs. CF6.0, released this month, only offers maximum performance of up to 167 megabytes per second.
With the faster speeds, photographers and videographers can take continuous shots...
Wed, 1 Dec 10
EC Opens Antitrust Probe of Google's Search Practices
The European Commission opened an investigation into Google on Tuesday. Europe's top antitrust regulator is exploring allegations that the search giant abused its market-leading position in online search, violating European Union rules.
The EC said the formal investigation comes after competing search providers filed complaints about unfair treatment of their services in Google's unpaid and sponsored search results. The complaints also allege that Google gives preferential treatment to its own services in search results. The EC was careful to say that it currently has no proof of any infringements, but is nevertheless making its investigation into the complaints a priority.
"The EC/EU is using the occasion of these complaints to express its deep frustration and dissatisfaction about what it sees as Google's market power -- and as a potential opportunity to rein the company in," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.
Google offers two types of results to people searching for information: Unpaid search results -- also called natural or organic results -- and sponsored results, which are paid third-party advertisements displayed at the top and the right-hand side of Google's search results.
The EC is investigating whether Google has abused a dominant market position by allegedly lowering the ranking of unpaid search results for competing services such as price-comparison sites, effectively shutting out competitors.
The EC is also investigating allegations that Google lowered the quality score for sponsored links of competing vertical-search services. The quality score is one of the factors that determine the price advertisers pay Google.
The EC will probe allegations that Google imposes exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their web sites, and on computer and software vendors, with the aim of shutting out competing search tools.
Finally, the EC will explore suspected restrictions on the portability of online advertising-campaign...
Wed, 1 Dec 10
Jumo Links Charities and Donors Via Social Networking
Suppose you're totally worked up about a cause and you want to do something. But how? A new social-networking site, launched Tuesday in beta by a Facebook cofounder, is trying to provide an answer.
Jumo is the name of the new social-networking site designed to connect volunteers and donors for cause-based organizations and charities. It was founded by Chris Hughes, whose previous credits include serving as the main digital organizer during the presidential campaign of Barack Obama and being the cofounder of Facebook. That popular social-networking site's CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, was Hughes' roommate at Harvard.
Hughes said Jumo means "together in concert" in the West African language of Yuroba, and he intends to bring together philanthropy, volunteering and social networking. The Omidyar Network, founded by eBay creator Pierre Omidyar, has contributed $3.5 million in grants.
A Jumo user creates a home page with news feeds from friends and groups. About 3,500 groups are currently represented, focused on a range of causes that include the environment, gay rights, education, Haiti and other areas.
Groups have their own pages, and news articles, Twitter tweets, YouTube videos, and other information can be posted on the pages, as well as user comments. As one might expect, there are also tie-ins to the Facebook ecosystem, such as following friends' causes and projects.
Hughes has told news media that Jumo's approach is not just about how much money is being donated to a group, but "the kind of relationship you are building with that organization," since this will help users stay involved over a longer period of time. He hopes Jumo will do for charities and cause-based organizations "what Yelp did for restaurants."
Hughes has said Jumo is unlike Facebook Causes, an app for that site through which users can create groups based on issues in which they're interested....
Wed, 1 Dec 10
SAP at a Crossroads After Losing $1.3B Verdict
On the losing end of a $1.3 billion jury verdict for stealing a rival's intellectual property, SAP AG is facing the difficult decision about whether to double down -- by appealing -- or folding.
Either route is going to cost the German company dearly, and will have implications for how other technology companies approach copyrights.
A jury in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Tuesday found that SAP's behavior in plundering software and documents from archenemy Oracle Corp.'s secured Web sites was so egregious that it awarded Oracle nearly all of the damages it was seeking.
If SAP appeals, it will have to endure several more years of disastrous publicity, a jackpot for Oracle.
"I'm not sure what the grounds for an appeal are -- I'm not sure what the argument would be," said Patrick Walravens, an analyst with JMP Securities. "It's not like this was a trial that was done in a quick and dirty manner. It was three years and hundreds of millions in legal fees -- things were pretty well vetted."
The judge in the case still has to formally affirm the jury's verdict, and could reduce the award. An order could come sometime in the next week.
Many analysts suspect that SAP will stand down and try and figure out a way to pay one of the biggest software piracy penalties on record. Doing so would put the $10 million acquisition of the tiny, now-shuttered company called TomorrowNow that landed SAP in this mess that much farther in the rearview mirror.
SAP would only say that its legal team is "currently assessing all options available to us after this disappointing verdict," including post-trial motions and appeals. "Unfortunately, this is a process that we expect to last a while. We continue to hope that an appropriate resolution can be reached...
Wed, 1 Dec 10
The Pros and Cons of Facebook's New Mailbox
Facebook hopes to bring its online community even closer together with its new mailbox.
That new interface will now carry text messages, chats and email -- all of which can be archived for eternity. But keeping all this personal data private will mean Facebook users will have to be even more responsible about protecting their accounts.
Facebook plans to slowly introduce the system over the next few months, starting in the United States.
Until now, members of the world's largest social network have only been able to communicate within Facebook via internal mail and chats. But now messages from external sources, like text messages and email, can be received. Similarly, users can get an @facebook.com address so they can communicate outside Facebook.
Unlike its other new product introductions, Facebook has touted the increased security protocols for this new system from the start. For example, users can stipulate that emails from people who are not on their contact list get blocked.
"Instead of having to worry about your email address getting out, you're now in control of who can actually reach you," wrote the company on its blog.
Alongside the news -- just like everywhere else on the platform -- there will be personalized ads. But company head Mark Zuckerberg has promised that conversation contents will not be analyzed for targeting ads.
But bundling that much private data can bring risks.
"It's questionable whether it's a good idea to hand over so much information to one provider," said Johannes Caspar, data security chief for the German city-state of Hamburg. His office oversees Facebook operations for Germany.
That bundling means that if a hacker stole a person's password, he would have access to a wide range of information.
Facebook is already a focus for criminals. A study by software security firm Kaspersky showed that about 6 per cent of all phishing emails...
Wed, 1 Dec 10
Japan iPhone Craze Attracts Global App Developers
The iPhone's popularity in Japan is cracking open an industry long thought inaccessible to outsiders.
For years, the typical Japanese cell phone -- built to operate on a network hardly used anywhere else in the world -- has been stuffed with quirky games and other applications that cater to finicky local tastes.
That helps explain why Japan's mobile phone industry earned the nickname "Galapagos" -- drawing parallels to the exotic animals that evolved on the isolated islands off South America -- and why cell phones are called "galakei," which combines "keitai," the Japanese word for cell phone, with Galapagos.
Foreign developers of applications for phones didn't give the Japanese market a second thought because of its insularity. But that is changing as the iPhone, for which tens of thousands of applications have been created, dominates Japanese smartphone sales.
Everywhere one turns, on commuter trains and urban cafes, people are tapping away at their iPhone screens in a relatively rare Japanese embrace of technology that isn't homegrown.
Azusa Furushima, a 22-year-old college student, who has an iPhone in a glittery Hello Kitty case, says she already has about 35 apps, including those for dieting and practicing typing.
American and other foreign developers for the iPhone now have eyes on this potentially lucrative market. And Japanese users, thanks to galakei culture that has long had services that charged small fees, such as "i-mode," are used to paying for their applications.
"Japanese are well-educated. They will pay for applications," said Brian Lee, a manager at Taiwan-based Penpower Inc., which sells an app for digitally organizing business cards. "A lot of developers are coming into this market."
Japanese developers, previously trapped into targeting galakei, in turn have a chance for a piece of the global iPhone pie, which topped 3 billion application downloads globally in less than 18 months, according to Apple....
Wed, 1 Dec 10
Convictions Upheld in Pirate Bay File-Sharing Case
A Swedish appeals court on Friday upheld the copyright convictions of three men behind The Pirate Bay, a popular file-sharing site that remains in operation despite attempts by authorities to shut it down.
The Svea Appeals Court agreed with a lower court ruling that found Fredrik Neij, Peter Sunde and Carl Lundstrom guilty of helping users of the site to break Sweden's copyright law.
However, the appeals court reduced their prison sentences from one year each to between four and 10 months and raised the amount they have to pay in damages to the entertainment industry to 46 million kronor ($6.5 million).
The lower court had set damages at 32 million kronor ($4.5 million).
A fourth man convicted by the lower court, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, didn't appear in the appeals court hearings, citing illness.
The Pirate Bay has been a thorn in the side of the entertainment industry for years by helping millions of people illegally download music, movies and computer games.
The defendants have denied any wrongdoing, saying the site doesn't actually host any copyright-protected material itself.
Instead, it provides a forum for its users to download content through so-called torrent files. The technology allows users to transfer parts of a large file from several different users, increasing download speeds.
Neij's defense lawyer, Jonas Nilsson, said he wasn't surprised but disappointed by the appeals court ruling and said they would probably appeal to the Supreme Court.
It was not clear whether Sunde and Lundstrom would appeal. Their lawyers did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Swedish authorities have been unable to shut down The Pirate Bay despite the guilty verdicts. But Monique Wadsted, a lawyer representing entertainment companies including Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, said she believes the site's days are numbered.
"My assessment is that in two years this type of piracy activity will be completely dead," she...
Wed, 1 Dec 10
Celebrities Sign Off Twitter To Raise Money for AIDS
Alicia Keys and Lady Gaga take charity work seriously, and they're going offline to prove it.
Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Usher and other celebrities have joined a new campaign called Digital Life Sacrifice on behalf of Keys' charity, Keep a Child Alive. The entertainers plan to sign off of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, which is World AIDS Day. The participants will sign back on when the charity raises $1 million.
"It's really important and super-cool to use mediums that we naturally are on," Keys said in a phone interview from New York last week.
For the campaign -- which also includes Jennifer Hudson, Ryan Seacrest, Kim and Khloe Kardashian, Elijah Wood, Serena Williams, Janelle Monae and Keys' husband, Swizz Beatz -- celebrities have filmed "last tweet and testament" videos and will appear in ads showing them lying in coffins to represent what the campaign calls their digital deaths.
"It's so important to shock you to the point of waking up," Keys said. "It's not that people don't care or it's not that people don't want to do something, it's that they never thought of it quite like that."
The campaign, she said, puts the disease in perspective.
"This is such a direct and instantly emotional way and a little sarcastic, you know, of a way to get people to pay attention," said Keys, who has more than 2.6 million followers on Twitter.
The foundation, which began in 2003, will accept donations through text messages and bar-code technology, which is featured in the charity's Buy Life campaign. Raised efforts support families affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India.
"We're trying to sort of make the remark: Why do we care so much about the death of one celebrity as opposed to millions and millions of people dying in the place that we're all from?" said...
Wed, 1 Dec 10
Court To Review Patent Judgment Against Microsoft
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to referee a $290 million dispute between Microsoft Corp. and a Canadian technology company over complaints that a tool used in the popular Microsoft Word program violated patent protections.
The high court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from the Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, which wants the multimillion dollar judgment against it erased.
Toronto-based i4i sued Microsoft in 2007, saying it owned the technology behind a tool used in Microsoft Word. The technology in question gave Word 2003 and Word 2007 users an improved way to edit XML, which is computer code that tells the program how to interpret and display a document's contents.
The lower courts say Microsoft willfully infringed on the patent, and ordered the world's largest software maker to pay i4i $290 million and stop selling versions of Word containing the infringing technology.
Microsoft now sells versions of Word that do not contain the technology in question.
Microsoft executive David Howard said the company is glad the justices decided to hear their appeal.
"It's a clear affirmation that the issues raised in this case are critical to the integrity of our patent system," Howard said. "We look forward to presenting our case to the Supreme Court."
Chief Justice John Roberts did not take part in the consideration or the decision in this case. He reported owning between $100,000-$250,000 worth of Microsoft stock in 2009 on his annual disclosure report.
The court will hear the case sometime next year.
The case is Microsoft v. i4i, 10-290.