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Wed, 30 Nov 11
Siri Shows Up on Other Devices, for Cars, for Everything
An ecosystem is emerging around Siri, the intelligent natural language software agent that Apple introduced with its iPhone 4S. In the latest evolutionary news, a version of Siri has been made to run on other Apple devices, there's a comparable app for Android devices, and there's even an app to start your car with Siri voice commands.

One of Siri's many talents is voice dictation, and now a hack known as SiriOus allows for jailbroken iPhones 4 and 3GS, and the iPod Touch fourth generation, to offer that function. Jailbreaking involves getting around Apple's limitations on a device, such as installing non-App Store apps or changing the user interface.

Here Comes Cluzee

Owners of non-4S Apple devices aren't the only ones who might be a little Siri-envious. Now, a new, third-party "intelligent personal assistant" application called Cluzee provides similar features for Android-based devices.

Cluzee, available in the Android Market, also reportedly offers features beyond Siri. Tronton, the company that created Cluzee, has posted a video in which Cluzee answers a question like "what does my schedule look like today?" This not only includes a verbal recitation of one's calendar schedule, but also on-the-fly integration with external data, such as verbal advice to avoid the traffic on certain streets, in order to reach a doctor's appointment.

Tronton said that Cluzee can provide such additional capabilities as personalized recommendations of restaurants based on the user's previous choices, a health planner, a travel planner, notes management, personal radio and more. And, if you want a taxi, just tell Cluzee, "Call taxi."

Siri Controls for Any Machine

But instead of a taxi, you might want to tell your own car to start. A developer named Brandon Fiquett has created a plugin/PHP addition that allows voice commands through Siri to turn a car engine on or off, if the car has the...

Wed, 30 Nov 11
Cisco: Cloud Traffic To Grow 12-Fold by 2015
Global cloud computing traffic will grow 12-fold by 2015. So says the inaugural Cisco Global Cloud Index. The report projects a 66 percent annual growth rate for cloud traffic from 2010 to 2015 to ultimately reach 1.6 zettabytes.

To put that figure into perspective. 1.6 zettabytes is the equivalent to 22 trillion hours of streaming music; 5 trillion hours of business Web conferencing with a webcam; and 1.6 trillion hours of online high-definition video streaming.

Cisco estimates the cloud drives 11 percent of data center traffic today, and will grow to more than 33 percent of the total by 2015. Indeed, cloud is the fastest growing component of data center traffic and will reach 4.8 zettabytes a year by 2015. The cloud is becoming a critical element for the future of information technology and delivery of video and content.

Peak Cloud Hours

"Cloud and data center traffic is exploding, driven by user demand to access volumes of content on the devices of their choice," said Suraj Shetty, vice president of product and solutions marketing at Cisco. "The result: greater data center virtualization and relevance of the network for cloud applications and the need to make sense of a dynamically evolving situation."

According to Cisco, the vast majority of the data center traffic is not caused by end users but by the data centers and clouds themselves undertaking activities that are largely transparent to end users -- like backup and replication.

By 2015, Cisco predicts 76 percent of data center traffic will remain within the data center itself as workloads migrate between various virtual machines and background tasks take place. Another 17 percent of the total traffic leaves the data center to be delivered to the end user. The remaining 7 percent of total traffic is generated between data centers through activities such as cloud-bursting,...

Wed, 30 Nov 11
Mobile Apps To Get Ratings Similar to Video Games
Mobile applications and games on popular smartphones and tablets -- including Apple's iPhone and iPad and Android-based devices -- will soon carry age-based ratings.

The ratings that AT&T Wireless, Microsoft, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless plan to use starting next year may look familiar to many. That's because they are based on those created for video games by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) in 1994.

The app ratings, which will be officially announced today, include symbols such as "E" for "Everyone" or all ages and "T" for "Teen" or suitable for ages 13 and up. But the ratings also include descriptors detailing whether an app shares personal information or user-generated content, or connects to social networks, says ESRB President Patricia Vance.

CTIA-The Wireless Association chose the ESRB to create an app-rating system after soliciting bids earlier this year. As smartphones and the apps used on them evolved, CTIA saw the need for improved guidelines, says David Diggs, CTIA's vice president for wireless Internet development.

"In 2005, there was no such thing as an app, and the devices were radically different," he says.

Other providers are expected to implement the ratings, too. "It's an important milestone in our effort to make information available for parents and their kids," Diggs says.

CTIA's choice of the ESRB could allay industry fears about the voluntary ratings system. The video game industry created the self-regulatory ESRB after congressional hearings into violent content led to a federal ultimatum. Consumers are familiar with the ESRB ratings, Vance says. "And there's a certain credibility associated with them."

Calling the plan "consumer-friendly," Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said in a statement that "it's a win-win when industry takes proactive, responsible steps to protect children from inappropriate content."

Currently, each online app store rates content in its own fashion. Apple rates apps for age appropriateness, while...

Wed, 30 Nov 11
RIM's New Management Platform Includes Apple, Android Devices
Struggling mobile-device maker Research In Motion has decided it needs to position itself for a multiple-device world. On Tuesday, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company introduced its next-generation enterprise management platform -- designed not only for RIM's BlackBerry devices, but devices running Apple's iOS or Google's Android.

RIM Vice President Alan Panezic said in a statement that the new platform, called BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, makes it "easier for our business and government customers to manage the diversity of devices in their operations today." He noted that the new platform marries the existing BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.3 technology with management capabilities for iOS and Android devices, all of which can be managed from a single Web console.

Living in a BYOD World

Those devices can also include tablets, either RIM's PlayBook, Apple's iPad, or the various tablets running Android.

BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, which is in an early beta testing with selected customers, offers management for assets, configurations, applications, connectivity and security, the ability to secure and protect lost or stolen devices with remote lock or wipe, user- and group-based administration, and the ability to manage multiple devices for each user.

The release version of Mobile Fusion is expected in first quarter, and each Fusion server is projected to be able to handle 10,000 devices.

RIM said that, while more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies provision BlackBerries, there is growth in both company-provisioned and employee-owned devices -- a category being called Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD. This had led, the company said, to "an increased demand for mobile-device management solutions," as consumer-oriented devices increasingly populate the enterprise.

'Lemonade Out of Lemons'

Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said that RIM's new approach was "making lemonade out of lemons." In other words, he said, the company's strategy with the new platform appears to...

Wed, 30 Nov 11
Season of Part-Time Jobs Kicks Off with Holidays
Lloyd Slocum was unemployed for 18 months, but like hundreds of thousands of Americans, he's working part time this holiday shopping season, unloading trucks and stocking shelves for a Bealls store in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

"It gives you something to look forward to," says Slocum, 29.

He plans to use the cash to buy his father a Christmas present and hopes to parlay the gig into a full-time position with Bealls/Burke's stores, a Sunbelt chain.

Black Friday, the official start of the holiday shopping frenzy, also kicks off the less-celebrated season of the part-time worker. Retailers alone are hiring about 500,000 seasonal employees this year, most of whom are part time, according to the National Retail Federation. Retailers' recent shift to opening on Thanksgiving or midnight on Black Friday has intensified the need for part-time workers.

Holiday jobs offer financial and emotional lifelines for many of the nation's jobless. They also point up a troubling reality: A near-record number of Americans are working part time throughout the year, even though they would prefer full-time jobs. It's not just because of the sluggish economy. Economists cite a broader, longer-term shift toward part-time work as employers cut expenses and more precisely match staffing with the ebbs and flows of customer demand.

The number of part-timers who really want full-time positions -- so-called involuntary part-time employees -- has risen from 8.4 million in January to 8.9 million last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The total has hovered at 8.5 million to 9 million since early 2009 -- double the pre-recession level.

By contrast, the tally of unemployed Americans has stayed flat at about 13.9 million this year and is down from about 15 million in late 2009 as employers have added a modest 2 million or so jobs. The disparity underscores how the nation's official...

Wed, 30 Nov 11
Lines Blur for Online and In-Store Shopping
A tablet-toting Macy's salesperson ordering a diamond necklace with a Macys.com app -- for a customer standing in a Macy's store.

Walmart shoppers pulling up maps of their neighborhood store online -- so they can better navigate the aisles to grab the best in-store Black Friday deals.

Toy-seeking parents ordering Lets Rock Elmo from Toysrus.com -- yet heading to the physical store to pick the gift up.

The boundaries separating online and in-store shopping are fast dissolving.

Consumers are increasingly doing online research before they head out for holiday gifts. When they get to stores, they're pulling out smartphones and tablets to compare prices and read reviews.

For their part, retailers are both pushing people to their Web sites -- so they can cut back on in-store stock expenses -- and using Web-based initiatives, such as free Wi-Fi, to keep shoppers in their stores.

Online and offline experimentation will be omnipresent this holiday season, as retailers and consumers both try to figure out the most effective way to shop.

"One of our major strategies is to let (multiple shopping channels) blend together," says Martine Reardon, Macy's executive vice president of marketing and advertising. "My challenge is to give shoppers that great experience from every channel."

There is much at stake for the retailer who can't figure out how to integrate online and in-store shopping. Those who have slow-to-load Web sites, don't offer helpful apps or aren't optimized for digital and mobile devices could lose customers this season, experts say.

Underscoring the importance of retail Web sites: Thanksgiving Day online sales were up by about 20% over 2010 by noon PT, according to the Web analytics company IBM Coremetrics. Also, shoppers were using mobile devices more often to visit -- but not necessarily buy from -- a retailer's Web site Thursday, Coremetrics said. The share of consumers using mobile devices...

Wed, 30 Nov 11
Smartphone Viruses: Real Danger or Just Hot Air?
Every PC user knows that going online carries with it the danger of picking up a computer virus. But are the dangers the same with mobile surfing? Not quite ... so far.

Nonetheless, there is plenty of talk out there about dangerous mobile software, a lack of awareness about the need to secure mobile devices and a heightened danger for mobile devices and their users.

But a lot of that talk is coming from Internet security businesses that would like to see their wares on smartphones. Experts aren't quite as sure. Some even advise against virus-scanning software. It's enough to pay attention to the origin of the apps you download, they say.

"You could say that the anti-virus software makers have a great interest in playing up the danger, sometimes bigger than it really is," says Juergen Schmidt, chief editor of a German security publication. But he says the threat to smartphones is much smaller than that to Windows computers. "A virus scanner is, for now, definitely not a must for a smartphone."

The relative threat is not the same for all mobile operating systems. "At the moment, the risk for Android smartphones is higher. Some experts already say 'Android is the smartphone Windows of the future,'" explains Schmidt, referring to Windows susceptibility to viruses on PCs.

There is also some malware out there that targets the old Symbian system, whose applications can be installed for free, like Android apps. Meanwhile, there aren't many threats out there for Blackberry or Windows mobile systems.

The best when it comes to security is Apple's iOS, since it will only accept apps that comes from the official App Store, meaning they've all been reviewed by Apple.

"You can say what you want about the reviews by Apple, but it has certain advantages when it comes to security aspects," says Schmidt....

Wed, 30 Nov 11
Nokia's Lumia 800: Smartphone and Savior?
Nokia and Microsoft are both banking on the new Lumia 800 to provide them with a big comeback in the smartphone market, currently dominated by Android devices and Apple's iPhone.

The fact that two global market leaders -- Nokia has seen its market lead cut by Android and Apple, while Microsoft operates the world's premier PC operating system, while failing so far to crack the smartphone market -- have tied up so much hope in one device is reason enough to give it a close look.

Nokia announced in February that it was switching to Windows Phone as the operating system for its smartphones. The Lumia 800 is the first fruit of that partnership.

It is a purely Windows device. Controls and functions are identical to smartphones using the system, like those from HTC or LG. But the Lumia is supposed to get a boost from its design, its camera and Nokia's navigation service.

Nokia will have to deal with the fact that, just this summer, it released its first, and likely last, smartphone using the MeeGo operating system, developed in collaboration with Intel: the N9.

The Lumia 800 looks identical to the N9. It has a seamless polycarbonate housing with rounded corners, meaning it sits better in the user's hand. Connections for earphones and a mini-USB device are hidden under a plastic lid along the top side. Next to that is the dock for a micro SIM.

It comes in classic black, light blue and bright pink. The screen is also slightly arched and merged into the housing, keeping with the overall feel of the device. Measuring 3.7 inches (9.4 centimeters) diagonally, it has a resolution of 800 X 480 pixels.

Despite bright colors, that means the Lumia's display is significantly less defined than the display of the iPhone 4, with its 960 X 640 pixels.


Wed, 30 Nov 11
Microsoft Signs Agreement To Scrutinize Yahoo
It looks as if Microsoft wants a seat at the negotiating table if Yahoo decides to sell part or all of its business.

To gain better access, Microsoft Corp. has signed a nondisclosure agreement with Yahoo Inc., according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the agreement hasn't been formally announced.

The DealReporter and The New York Times earlier reported the arrangement between Microsoft and Yahoo.

Yahoo's board has been mulling the company's options since firing CEO Carol Bartz in early September. The alternatives include selling Yahoo's Asian assets, such as the Alibaba Group in China, and auctioning off the company in its entirety instead of hiring a new CEO. Tim Morse, Yahoo's chief financial officer, has been interim CEO since Bartz's ouster.

The DealReporter said that Yahoo's board is scheduled to meet next week to discuss its next step.

Microsoft unsuccessfully tried to buy Yahoo in 2008 for as much as $47.5 billion before walking away in frustration. Yahoo's stock is worth less than half of Microsoft's last offer of $33 per share.

Yahoo shares fell 3 cents Wednesday to close at $14.94. Microsoft's stock price dropped 32 cents to close at $24.47.

The New York Times reported that Microsoft is primarily interested in protecting its Internet search advertising alliance with Yahoo if its partner pursues a sale or a dramatic reorganization. Microsoft currently provides most of the search technology on Yahoo's Web site in return for 12 percent of the ad revenue generated from the results.

To preserve its business relationship with Yahoo, Microsoft already had explored contributing to a joint bid for Yahoo's U.S. assets with some of the buyout firms that have been considering making offers. That list includes Silver Lake Partners, Providence Equity Partners and the Texas Pacific...

Wed, 30 Nov 11
Qualcomm Challenges LCDs Through New E-Reader
A new electronic display is poised to challenge power-hungry LCDs after U.S. mobile chip maker Qualcomm Inc. teamed up with a South Korean bookseller to introduce a new e-reader.

The "Kyobo eReader" was unveiled this week in Seoul and will reach South Korean consumers as early as Dec. 1, Kyobo Book Centre officials said Thursday.

The e-reader features Qualcomm's 1.0 GHz "Snapdragon" processor, a custom Kyobo application based on Android and a 5.7 inch "XGA" mirasol display.

The mirasol display uses ambient light instead of its own in much the same way that a peacock's plumage gets its scintillating hues. Qualcomm's mirasols have already been used in a few Chinese and South Korean phones, and in an MP3 player on the U.S. market. The display contains tiny mirrors that consume power only when they're moving, easing battery drain. Mirasol displays also quickly change from one image to the next and show video.

The global market for e-readers is dominated by bright LCDs and grayscale "e-ink" screens. LCDs consume relatively more battery power while e-ink screens are slow to refresh.

The introduction of the e-reader jointly developed by Qualcomm and Kyobo signals increasing competition in the global market for tablets.

U.S. online retailer Amazon.com Inc. and bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. have recently released tablets of their own, Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, and are challenging Apple's iPad in pricing.

Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs noted South Koreans' near-100 percent literacy rate and digital reading skills during a launching ceremony in Seoul on Tuesday, according to the San Diego-based company. Fifteen-year-old South Koreans scored highest in their ability to absorb information from digital devices, according to a 2009 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Over 80 percent of households in South Korea have broadband Internet access.

The e-reader featuring the mirasol display will be priced at 349,000...

Wed, 30 Nov 11
EU Data Protection Reform To Replace National Laws
The European Union wants to replace a mishmash of national laws on data protection with one bloc-wide reform, updating laws put in place long before Facebook and other social networking sites even existed.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said Monday that social networks must become more open about how they operate. Under her proposals, businesses -- including Internet service providers -- would have additional responsibilities, such as having to inform users of what data about them is being collected, for what purpose, and how it is stored.

EU regulators have been concerned about how commercial online services use customers' personal data to attract advertisers, saying they want to make sure that citizens' Internet privacy rights are respected.

"All social network service providers active in the EU must fully comply with EU data protection laws," Reding said. "Companies have a specific responsibility when personal data is their main economic asset,"

Existing EU laws date to 1995, long before Facebook and other social networking sites existed. EU officials expect the draft legislation to be ready early next year, and after that, it could take up to 18 months for the bill to become law.

The EU has to iron out differences between its members over privacy issues. Countries like France and Germany favor stronger protections for privacy, while Ireland, Britain and others prefer more market-friendly rules.

A Eurobarometer survey this summer found that 75 percent of Europeans are worried about how companies -- including search engines like Google and social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn -- use their private information.

The proposed reform also would help businesses by replacing the current patchwork of 27 national regulations, she said.

"They need ... to have a 'one-stop-shop' when it comes to data protection matters, one law and one single data protection authority," Reding told the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU....

Tue, 29 Nov 11
LG's Nitro HD Is AT&T's Third LTE Smartphone
As the holiday season smartphone war begins to heat up, AT&T is breaking out the Nitro.

The tough-sounding Nitro HD from South Korean electronics giant LG has a 1.5 gigahertz dual-core processor and 4.5-inch True HD Advanced High-Performance In-Plane Switching display, and is able to access AT&T's brand new long-term evolution network for high-speed, 4G data.

Look for it online or at AT&T-owned stores Dec. 4.

That makes three LTE smartphones for AT&T, after this month's HTC Vivid and Samsung's Galaxy SII Skyrocket, since the nation's second-biggest carrier launched the LTE network in September. It recently expanded to 15 markets, with plans to reach 70 million Americans with 4G LTE by year's end.

Bang For Your Buck?

The Android-powered Nitro HD isn't cheap, running $250 with a two-year voice and required data contract. That's the same price as the Skyrocket but $50 cheaper than the Vivid.

Rival Verizon Wireless also charges a premium price for some of its LTE phones, with Samsung's Droid Razr and HTC's Rezound selling for $299.

But AT&T says it's worth the cost, citing the LG Nitro HD's slim 5.3"x2.7"x.4" design, 8-megapixel HD camera and 20 gigabytes of total memory (4 GB on-board and an included 16-GB microSD). It also features Wi-Fi Direct technology and DLNA features for wireless HD content-streaming options.

"With the LG Nitro HD as one of our last smartphones to arrive in 2011, we're closing out the year with a bang," said Jeff Bradley, senior vice president, devices, AT&T Mobility and consumer markets. "We've seen others get close to a true HD experience on Android super phones this year, but Nitro HD is the one that does it right."

Fast Pace

Three LTE phones in one month is a sharp pace for AT&T in catching up with top rival Verizon Wireless, which now has seven LTE phones -- including...

Tue, 29 Nov 11
Amazon's Black Friday Kindle Sales Quadruple
Amazon reported its best-ever Black Friday sales for the company's Kindle family of e-readers and media tablets, the online retail giant said Monday. Unit sales quadrupled across the board in comparison with Kindle sales the same day last year.

"Even before the busy holiday shopping weekend, we'd already sold millions of the new Kindle family," said Amazon Kindle Vice President Dave Limp. "And Kindle Fire was the best-selling product across all of Amazon.com" on Black Friday.

However, Apple's iPad also had an outstanding Black Friday, according to the sell-through observations made by investment firm Piper Jaffray. "We observed Apple stores selling 14.8 iPads per hour, up from 8.8 iPads per hour last year on Black Friday," noted Piper Jaffray analysts Gene Munster and Andrew Murphy.

One reason why was that Apple discounted iPads 8 percent to 9 percent for Black Friday this year, compared with 6 percent to 8 percent on Black Friday last year. "Apple stores were selling 68 percent more iPads per hour on a year-on-year basis," Munster and Murphy wrote in a Monday investor note.

Sales Channel Rivalry

Though Apple also sells the iPad via mass-market retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, the $199 price tag sported by the new Kindle Fire clearly helped Amazon beat Apple's iPad unit sales at Target's retail outlets nationwide.

"This was a great Black Friday for Target and for Kindle Fire, which was the best-selling tablet in our stores on Black Friday," said Target Vice President Nik Nayar.

Amazon also benefited from heavy Kindle sales at Best Buy. On the other hand, Apple's iPad is available worldwide and also distinctly appeals to business professionals in ways in which the Kindle Fire cannot -- due to Amazon's design emphasis on delivering multimedia entertainment as well as the limitations induced by the device's Amazon-centric user interface.

The Black Friday...

Tue, 29 Nov 11
AT&T, T-Mobile Aren't Giving Up on Merger
The AT&T move to merge with T-Mobile is entering a new phase. Even with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman and the Department of Justice opposed to the deal, the companies are not giving up.

Last week, after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski came out against the $39 billion merger and asked his board to refer the application to an administrative judge, AT&T and Deutsche Telekom AG, T-Mobile's owner, withdrew their pending application -- but it appears they are not abandoning their effort.

Removal of 'Competitive Force'

Genachowski had said his decision was based on review by the agency of hundreds of thousands of documents, dozens of petitions opposing the merger, and meetings with both companies. He contended that the deal would lead to higher prices for consumers and large job losses.

DOJ had filed an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T in August, with the hearings before a federal judge beginning in February. Justice had said that "the elimination of T-Mobile as an independent, low-priced rival would remove a significant competitive force from the market." Many observers had speculated that the one-two punch of the FCC and the Justice Department, if either and certainly if both succeeded in their legal actions, would most likely be enough to kill the merger.

But, on Thanksgiving, the companies announced in a statement that they are "continuing to pursue" the sale, and are focusing their efforts on "obtaining antitrust clearance for the transaction from the Department of Justice," either through the DOJ litigation currently pending in federal court, "or alternative means."

There are reports the company is prepared to sell as much as 40 percent of T-Mobile USA, if that would help obtain approval by the regulatory agencies. However, a key reason cited by AT&T for the merger is to obtain T-Mobile's spectrum, and divesting part of the company...

Tue, 29 Nov 11
Java Flaws Exploited in Hacker Kit
Oracle's Java is making headlines this week -- for all the wrong reasons. Oracle patched a whopping 76 security holes in hundreds of products that carry its brand name last month. But hackers are nonetheless haunting the holes and some are suggesting enterprises scrap Java.

At some level, it should come as no surprise. Kaspersky Labs listed Java in its top 10 vulnerabilities list in its second-quarter threat report. And Microsoft's Security Intelligence Report 11 said Java is "responsible for between one-third and one-half of all exploits."

Now, Java is at the root of exploits once again. The US-CERT/National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIT) is sounding the alarm on a vulnerability in the Java Runtime Environment component in just about every recent version of the software. According to the US-CERT/NIST, the vulnerability allows hackers to remotely access computers.

Hardened Browsing

Cyber thieves and hackers are always looking for a new way to obtain sensitive information, and infected Web sites continue to prove to be one of the best, according to Bill Morrow, executive chairman of Web browser information security firm Quarri Technologies.

"Java's recently patched critical security flaw is the latest example of how the bad guys can take advantage of the unsuspecting end-user," Morrow said. "Java exploits are most effective when included in exploit packs since they can turn any hacked Web site into a particularly dangerous place for end-users."

Morrow pointed to the browser at the end point as the weakest part of any network -- one wrong click of the mouse can open a company's most sensitive data to significant threats. This is not a new truth, but one that continues to be proven.

"As companies of all sizes increasingly use browsers as the primary platform for the delivery of information, browsers have also become the primary point of theft or data...

Tue, 29 Nov 11
Cyber Monday Expected To Break Records
Those sounds you can almost hear are countless, ringing virtual cash registers. It's Cyber Monday, and projections indicate it will be a record-breaker.

While sales in brick-and-mortar stores this past Black Friday increased 7 percent over last year, per ShopperTrak, online sales jumped even more. Black Friday saw a 26 percent gain in Internet sales over last year, according to comScore, for a total of $816 billion. More than 50 million Americans shopped online on that day. And an estimated 123 million Americans are expected to make purchases Monday, pushing sales to a record $1.2 billion -- a 15 percent increase over 2010.

Shopping from Mobile Devices

That Cyber Monday estimate comes from a survey for Shop.org by BIGresearch. It found that 78 percent of all retailers are scheduled to have a special promotion for the day.

Vicki Cantrell, Shop.org executive director, told news media that "retailers have invested heavily in mobile apps and related content," and many online stores are featuring sales that last only an hour or that offer deep discounts of specific product lines.

A key factor in this year's online sales, according to Shop.org, is the use of smartphones and other mobile devices to make purchases. The organization notes that the number of American shoppers intending to use their mobile devices for shopping on Cyber Monday has tripled in just two years, from 3.8 percent in 2009 to 14.5 percent this year. This year's figure is more than twice last year's 6.9 percent.

A report from IBM found that mobile shopping on this year's Black Friday increased to 14.3 percent of all online shopping, compared with 3.2 percent last year. It found that Apple's iPhone and iPad were the most frequently used, followed by Android devices.

About 87 percent of shoppers continue to use their home computer, but nearly 16 percent...

Tue, 29 Nov 11
Holidays Are Prime Time for Phishing Scams
As the holiday shopping season revs up, an increasing number of cybercriminals are trying to lure online shoppers into divulging sensitive information on bogus forms, or into clicking on viral Web links or videos that will infect your PC with a nasty data-stealing program.

So-called phishing plays on people's fears and expectations. Phishing always spikes with holiday shopping, celebrity scandals, weather disasters and big sporting events. Here are some tips from experts on how to protect yourself. Be on high alert for:

Bogus forms. E-mails and pop-up messages that ask you to type your account user name and password, credit card number or personal information such as Social Security number and date of birth are usually bogus. "Be very skeptical when opening e-mails," says Daniel Salsburg, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission's division of marketing practices. Legit organizations never solicit such information in an e-mail.

Don't reply. Instead, independently find the organization's phone number and call to verify the request. Never use a phone number listed in the potentially malicious e-mail.

Personalized warnings. Phishers will suggest urgent action that needs to be addressed in connection with an IRS, Social Security or Department of Motor Vehicles matter. The scammer may even use private information culled from a simple online search or from a social network to get you to submit information or click on a viral Web link, Salsburg says.

Some scammers do research on jobs Web sites to target the unemployed with bogus work-at-home schemes, says Peter Cassidy, secretary general for the non-profit Anti-Phishing Working Group. "The bad guys see opportunities to feast on the people who are looking for work," Cassidy says.

Innocent messages. An e-mail from a co-worker that says to open a file to see vacation or baby pictures could be a threat. The most effective phishing scams are the ones consumers...

Tue, 29 Nov 11
Retro Cell-Phone Handset Takes Off
Like Betty White and Buddy Holly glasses, the traditional phone handset is now retro cool. The makers of the product -- complete with hand cradle, the rounded receiver and transmitter and the curly cord -- say mobile phone users are snapping up the handsets.

Sales have soared in the past year, driven by the soaring number of people who have canceled their landline phones and gone wireless-only, the ergonomic awkwardness of holding a notepad-shaped device to the ear and concern over cell phone radiation.

The retro handset is a testament to the "classic" design of the Bell phones, says John Howard, CEO of industrial design firm KDA Design. "From the ergonomic standpoint, it was designed quite well. It was modeled for the human face," he says.

The retro handsets on the market are typically compatible with mobile phones and computers that have a 3.5mm jack for earphones, including iPhone, BlackBerry and Android-based phones. They have a button for picking up and hanging up directly from the handset.

Native Union, a Hong Kong-based manufacturer, started selling its $30 Moshi Moshi Pop handset in the U.S. last year and ships about 30,000 to 40,000 of them a week. The U.S. has become its largest market, overtaking China, South Korea and Hong Kong.

Yubz, a Las Vegas-based company, has sold a $40 rival product, Yubz Retro Handset, since 2007. With sales up about 60% this year, 2011 is turning out to be the best year yet, says Karin Brewer of Yubz. South Korea-based iClooly makes a $40 retro handset and base that holds the smartphone and charges the battery.

"When we first started, we didn't expect this kind of phenomenon," says John Brunner of Native Union. "It's picked up a cult following."

Moshi Moshi handsets received a jolt of unplanned publicity when a photographer caught musician Lenny Kravitz using the...

Tue, 29 Nov 11
AMD Struggles To Reinvent Itself, Fight Intel
Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Advanced Micro Devices was hoping to profit from a bigger share of the PC chip market after its longtime nemesis, Intel, suffered a string of antitrust regulatory rebukes in recent years.

But it hasn't quite worked out that way. Intel has extended its lead in the business while AMD has struggled to stay out of the red, ousted its CEO and recently announced it is gutting its workforce.

Now AMD, a Silicon Valley fixture for more than four decades, is considering a new strategy that some experts believe could dramatically alter its protracted struggle with the Santa Clara, Calif.-based Goliath, one of the most closely watched and acrimonious brawls in the tech industry.

"We're at an inflection point," said company spokesman Mike Silverman. "We will all need to let go of the old 'AMD versus Intel' mind-set, because it won't be about that anymore."

Although AMD has been vague about its plans, the company is widely expected to push hard to get its chips into smartphones and tablets. Those markets not only are dominated by other companies, but its gargantuan archrival is trying to elbow its way into them, too -- potentially moving the war with Intel onto a new battleground.

Nonetheless, AMD has to change to keep up with the fickle tastes of consumers, according to Mercury Research analyst Dean McCarron.

"The competitive dynamic has shifted because of these new markets opening," he said. "There's kind of a big restructuring of the world taking place and all of the companies are working to address it."

AMD, which was founded in 1969, and Intel, launched one year earlier, began feuding over patents and other matters in the early 1980s. That's when IBM chose to equip its personal computers with Intel's brainy x86 microprocessors and picked AMD as a backup supplier of those chips.

But the squabbling...

Tue, 29 Nov 11
Retailers Use Social Media To Offer Holiday Deals
Want a $25 gift card to Toys R Us for your holiday shopping? Enter the store's holiday scavenger hunt sweepstakes on Facebook and you could win one. Want to know where all your favorite Walmart products will be in stores on Black Friday? Facebook fans have access to localized store maps to help them navigate deals.

Shoppers looking for the best deals and most up-to-date savings during the holidays are turning to social-media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and even Foursquare to guide their purchasing decisions.

Retailers are responding with exclusive deals, interactive quizzes and savings coupons just for followers and fans:

CVS pharmacy has a holiday shopping quiz on its Facebook page that gives fans a 20%- off coupon for completing the quiz. It's also conducting gift giveaway contests through Twitter that enter active followers into drawings for gift cards.

Sears is letting customers vote online for products they want to see on sale throughout the holidays at Sears.com/pick, promoting each voting cycle through Facebook and Twitter.

RadioShack's "So wrong, so right" promotion asks Facebook users to upload photos of gifts gone wrong for the chance to win a "so right" gift, including an iPad 2 or iPhone 4S. Foursquare users can check in to "so right" places and activities, focused on philanthropy and personal wellness, to unlock a badge that donates $1 to Livestrong.

For retailers, social media is a cost-effective and easy way to reach not only their consumers, but their consumers' entire network of friends and followers.

Stores count on the fact that if you buy a deal or complete a quiz through Facebook, you'll share that with your friends, says Scott Silverman, co-founder of digital goods incentives Web site Ifeelgoods.

"Nothing is more powerful than an endorsement from someone you know and trust," he says.

It's the power of recommendations that has retailers pushing...

Tue, 29 Nov 11
Bing Hitches Holiday Hopes To Rudolph the Reindeer
Like Santa Claus on that one foggy Christmas Eve, Microsoft has summoned Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to guide some precious cargo -- a holiday marketing campaign for its Bing search engine.

The advertisements, debuting online and on TV this week, star Rudolph and other characters from the animated story about the most famous reindeer of all. The campaign is part of Microsoft's attempt to trip up Google Inc., an Internet search rival as imposing as the Abominable Snowman was before Yukon Cornelius tamed the monster.

Google has been countering with its own emotional ads throughout the year. Most of Google's ads show snippets of its dominant search engine and other products at work before swirling into the logo of the company's Chrome Web browser.

The dueling ads underscore the lucrative nature of search engines. Although visitors pay nothing to use them, search engines generate billions of dollars a year in revenue from ads posted alongside the search results.

The holiday season is a particularly opportune time for search companies because that's when people do more searches -- to find gifts online, look for party supplies and plan nights out on the town. That means more people to show ads to. Advertisers also tend to be willing to pay more per ad because they know people are in a buying mode.

To capture that audience, Microsoft and Google are both thinking outside the search box to promote their brands.

Although the text ads running alongside search results do a fine job of reeling in some customers, they still lack the broader, more visceral impact of a well-done television commercial, said Peter Daboll, chief executive of Ace Metrix, a firm that rates the effectiveness of ads.

"It's instructive that these companies who are all about the Internet and doing things in real time are actually doing these emotive ads...

Tue, 29 Nov 11
Review: New Acer Ultrabook vs. MacBook Air
I'm a big fan of Apple's MacBook Air computer. Revamped by Apple last year, the notebook is a thin, ultralight, speedy computer. Instead of a high-powered processor, a traditional hard drive and a DVD slot, the gadget uses a low-power chip and flash storage -- the same medium that's used to store songs and apps in a smartphone.

Pushed by Intel, other computer makers have been trying to copy Apple's success. Intel has come up with a concept it calls the ultrabook, which is something like a MacBook Air without Apple's Mac OS X running on it.

One of the first ultrabooks on the market is Acer's Aspire S3. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the S3 looks a lot like the MacBook Air. It has the same 13.3-inch screen as the larger of Apple's two basic Air models. It has about the same dimensions and weight as that model. And it has a metallic colored case that bears more than a passing resemblance to the all-aluminum Air.

The S3 does have some significant differences, though, some good and some not so much. On the positive side, it's considerably less expensive. The base S3 costs $900, which is about $100 less than the entry-level Apple machine. And for that, you get a 13-inch screen instead of an 11-inch one and twice as much memory.

One reason that Acer is able to offer the S3 at a lower price is that unlike the Air, it doesn't rely solely on a pricey flash drive for storage. Instead, it includes a small flash drive as a boot disc and a much larger hard drive on which you can store your programs, documents, videos, songs and the like.

The advantage of this approach is that it allows you to have a machine that starts up and resumes operation quickly while still having plenty...

Sat, 26 Nov 11
Twitter, Live Streaming Create Alternative News Network for Occupy
"You can't evict an idea whose time has come," read one tweet carrying the hashtag #OWS this week.

Less than a second later came a message that "after @MikeBloomberg and the #NYPD raided #ows -- less than one-fifth of the 4,000 books from the peoples library are usable."

Another declared that "Occupy Wall Street Protesters Are Back in Zuccotti Park."

Slinging Hashtags

That's just one of the hashtags -- a phrase accompanied by the pound sign that allows Twitter users to quickly identify trending topics of interest -- allowing members of the growing, nationwide Occupy movement to communicate. And more than two months after a tent camp first sprouted in downtown Manhattan's Zuccotti Park to complain about the inequality of American wealth, the tweets still move across the computer screen almost too quickly to read, at speeds usually seen only when a new iPhone comes out.

The hashtag #Occupy gives news about the broader movement with protests in California and elsewhere. "Occupy protesters arrested and cleared from Charleston Park," reads one tweet, while a successor complains, "I lost a child to the Occupy Movement."

Just as social media fueled the mass protests in Cairo and London last summer, it is proving to be a crucial communication and recruitment tool for the fledgling Occupy movement in the U.S., which lacks a defined agenda, a public figurehead or even so much as a post office box. (The URL occupy.com is currently unused, and up for sale.)

The protesters have also relied on Livestream.com for complete coverage of events. The Nov. 15 NYPD crackdown that cleared the park of protesters, and resulted in over 200 arrests, was carried live as well.

"I think a couple of interesting things are happening," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "Similarly to what we saw earlier this year during the 'Arab Spring,' OWS...

Sat, 26 Nov 11
Microsoft Promises No-Hassle Windows 8 Upgrades
Microsoft is working to streamline the installation process for Windows 8 once its newest operating-system version becomes available to consumers next year. The software giant's Windows setup and deployment team aims to "reduce the time from start to finish," said Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft's Windows business division.

Some PC users will avoid the problem altogether by buying a new PC that ships with Windows 8 pre-installed. According to Microsoft, however, more than 450 million PCs are running Windows 7 that also will be able to run Windows 8, and many systems running Windows Vista and even Windows XP also will be eligible for an upgrade.

"Support for these PCs running different Windows versions is a big challenge in terms of testing all possible upgrade paths, languages, service packs, architectures, and editions," noted Christa St. Pierre, a member of the Windows setup and deployment team.

Pushing Upgrades

Microsoft intends to reduce the number of hoops that users must jump through in order to get Windows 8 up and running on their machines. After all, the goal at Microsoft is the same as always: to compel as many PC users as possible to buy the company latest OS upgrade.

The problem is that many PC customers have come to regard an operating-system upgrade as a formidable challenge, either based on their own prior upgrade experiences or those of friends and family members.

In 2010 Microsoft commissioned a study of how people make PC purchase decisions, and also talked to customers to find out more. "Even though many customers wanted to upgrade" to Windows 7, St. Pierre noted, the current setup experience "just wasn't easy enough to make them feel confident in doing so."

With Windows 8, Microsoft intends to offer two upgrade paths: one for people looking to minimize the hassle and...

Sat, 26 Nov 11
Review: Nook Tablet Is Kindle Fire's Worthy Foe
Listen and I'll tell you the story of the bookstore chain that stormed into the hottest category in consumer electronics and conquered.

It's a nice underdog story, right? A bit like the tale of plucky rebels who attacked Lord Vader's Death Star.

But that was fiction. Barnes & Noble Inc.'s new Nook Tablet ($249) is a solid product, worthy of duking it out with Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle Fire. Considering that the Nook comes from a desert planet where the only entertainment was shooting womp rats (Sorry, I mean "from a bookstore chain."), it's really impressive.

But the Nook doesn't quite muster enough force to blow up a Death Star. Barnes & Noble's earlier Nooks were dedicated book-reading devices, and the Tablet is at most a half-way step into the world of general-purpose tablet computing.

Like the new Kindle Fire, the Tablet has a 7-inch, touch-sensitive color screen, about half the size of the iPad's. It's the same screen as on the Nook Color, the e-reader Barnes & Noble launched a year ago. I thought it was the best e-reader yet when it launched.

The Tablet improves on the Nook Color mainly by beefing up the processor and the memory and extending the battery life to 11.5 hours of reading, or 9 hours of video.

The Tablet also has improved software, but the Color will be getting the same software through a downloadable update.

The Tablet is debuting with Netflix and Hulu applications. Coupled with the nice, sharp screen, that makes for a good device for that TV and movie fix -as long as you're connected to Wi-Fi. The apps actually highlight one of the shortcomings of the Tablet: there's no way (short of hacking the software) to use it for offline viewing of movies you buy or rent.

Barnes & Noble promises to provide access to some sort...

Fri, 25 Nov 11
Giving Thanks Helps Your Psychological Outlook
Count your blessings this Thanksgiving. It's good for you. While it seems pretty obvious that gratitude is a positive emotion, psychologists for decades rarely delved into the science of giving thanks. But in the last several years they have, learning in many experiments that it is one of humanity's most powerful emotions. It makes you happier and can change your attitude about life, like an emotional reset button.

Especially in hard times, like these.

Beyond proving that being grateful helps you, psychologists also are trying to figure out the brain chemistry behind gratitude and the best ways of showing it.

"Oprah was right," said University of Miami psychology professor Michael McCullough, who has studied people who are asked to be regularly thankful. "When you are stopping and counting your blessings, you are sort of hijacking your emotional system."

And he means hijacking it from out of a funk into a good place. A very good place. Research by McCullough and others finds that giving thanks is a potent emotion that feeds on itself, almost the equivalent of being victorious. It could be called a vicious circle, but it's anything but vicious.

He said psychologists used to underestimate the strength of simple gratitude: "It does make people happier ... It's that incredible feeling."

One of the reasons why gratitude works so well is that it connects us with others, McCullough said. That's why when you give thanks it should be more heartfelt and personal instead of a terse thank you note for a gift or a hastily run-through grace before dinner, psychologists say.

Chicago area psychologist and self-help book author Maryann Troiani said she starts getting clients on gratitude gradually, sometimes just by limiting their complaints to two whines a session. Then she eventually gets them to log good things that happened to them in gratitude journals: "Gratitude...

Thu, 24 Nov 11
China Overtakes U.S. as World's Largest Smartphone Market
It's no surprise to analysts, but it's newsworthy all the same. China has overtaken the United States for the first time to officially become the world's largest smartphone market. So says Strategy Analytics.

The market research firm reports that smartphone shipments reached a record 24 million units in China during the third quarter of 2011. Smartphone shipments reached just 23 million units in the United States.

"China's rapid growth has been driven by an increasing availability of smartphones in retail channels, aggressive subsidizing by operators of high-end models like the Apple iPhone, and an emerging wave of low-cost Android models from local Chinese brands such as ZTE," said Tom Kang, director at Strategy Analytics. "Nokia currently leads China's smartphone market with 28 percent share, while HTC heads the United States smartphone market with 24 percent share."

Apple, Samsung Chasing Hard

Handset shipments grew 20 percent annually to reach record levels in China in the third quarter of 2011, according to Strategy Analytics. Competition is increasing rapidly from local Chinese brands ZTE and Huawei. What's more, the firm reports, Samsung and Apple are chasing hard.

If China Telecom launches a CDMA iPhone 4S early next year, Strategy Analytics expects Apple's share to spike further. HTC and Sony Ericsson were the big share gainers this quarter as their Android models captured shelf-share in major cities of east and south China.

In terms of the Asia Pacific, China is first in handset shipments, followed by India, Japan and South Korea. Together, these countries account for 70 percent of the region's market by volume.

"The United States remains the world's largest smartphone market by revenue, but China has overtaken the United States in terms of volume," said Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, noting that China is now at the forefront of the worldwide mobile computing...

Thu, 24 Nov 11
Samsung Promises Galaxy Nexus Volume-Bug Fix
We're working on the problem, we'll get back to you soon.

That was the message from Samsung Electronics after reports that its hot new smartphone, the Galaxy Nexus, had a somewhat unusual glitch: The volume control tends to have a mind of its own when operating on 2G networks in Europe.

Deliveries Frozen?

Announced last month and launched last week in the United Kingdom, the 4.65-inch, Super AMOLED touchscreen, 1.2-gigahertz dual processor Galaxy Nexus initially had a November U.S. release date via Verizon Wireless, but it has now been pushed off to December, Samsung told Business Insider.

Samsung U.K. released a statement via Twitter on Tuesday, saying: "Regarding the Galaxy Nexus, we are aware of the volume issue and have developed a fix. We will update devices as soon as possible."

That statement is nearly identical to one given to the Web site Android Police by Google, whose Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, is the operating system powering the device.

Citing information from app developer and tech blogger Steve Troughton-Smith, Slashgear on Wednesday said at least one major retailer warned that Samsung has temporarily halted Nexus shipments while the manufacturer assesses whether the volume bug is a hardware or software problem.

The company handling public relations for South Korea-based Samsung in the United States had not replied to e-mail inquiries as of publication time.

The user forum XDA Developers has a long thread about the Nexus problem, informing participants that "Every Samsung Galaxy Nexus handset seems to be affected by this problem.

'Majority of users, however, are not reporting the problem due to not using 2G networks....2G networks working on GSM 900 are majority of Europe, Africa, Australia, Middle East and large part of Asia. In U.K., the GSM 900 is used by O2, Vodafone, giffgaff, Tesco Mobile."

An online poll on the site found...

Thu, 24 Nov 11
Report Predicts a Happy Holiday for Kindle Fire
Amazon's Kindle Fire is catching fire, metaphorically. That's the prediction of a leading analyst, who foresees the new tablet selling 5 million units before the end of this year, hitting 12 million next year, and reaching 20 million in 2013.

If accurate, the projection by Citigroup's Mark Mahaney would mean the Fire would capture 15 percent of the growing tablet market in 2012. This would translate to more than $3 billion in revenue, or about 5 percent of the giant retailer's total revenue.

'A Substantial Segment'

"With an aggressive pricing strategy, an unmatched content cross-sell opportunity, a market-smart form factor, and probable product improvements," Mahaney told news media, "Amazon can own a substantial segment" of the tablet market.

Estimates by other analysts indicate that Amazon is losing some money on every Fire sold, in order to hit the magic price point of $199. Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster has estimated the loss as high as $50 on each unit, while others have pegged the loss at just under $3.

Just as phone companies offer subsidized smartphones so they can make their money on services, Amazon intends to turn a profit on Fire sales by moving its vast inventory of content, including e-books, apps, music, movies and other offerings. That ecosystem is an advantage over Barnes & Noble's new Nook Tablet, which has access to e-books but only to modest amounts of other kinds of content.

Impacting iPad Sales?

Mahaney's projection is in keeping with other forecasts. For instance, earlier this week market researcher ChangeWave found that 65 percent of those who intend to buy a tablet in the near future would choose the iPad, while 22 percent would buy the Fire. While far behind the iPad, the 22 percent would mean that the Fire would soar above all other, non-Apple tablets.

"Amazon is going to leapfrog the...

Thu, 24 Nov 11
FCC Chairman Opposes AT&T Merger with T-Mobile
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Tuesday that he opposed AT&T's proposed $39 billion merger with T-Mobile because it would lead to higher prices for consumers and big job losses. The chairman, Julius Genachowski, has sent a draft order to the other FCC commissioners, asking for the deal to be sent to an administrative law judge for review.

The move could signal curtains for the proposed deal. While the FCC cannot by itself block the purchase, a judge can. The request to send it to a judge needs to be approved by the FCC commissioners, who will meet again in the middle of next month.

AT&T: 'Disappointing'

Genachowski said his conclusion was based on review by the agency of hundreds of thousands of documents, dozens of petitions opposing the merger, and meetings with both companies.

In a statement, Larry Solomon, AT&T senior vice president of corporate communications, called the action "disappointing" and said AT&T was reviewing its options. He added that it was "yet another example of a government agency acting to prevent billions in new investment and the creation of many thousands of new jobs."

The Communication Workers of America union is backing AT&T, telling news media that "the path to secure jobs is through massive investment in a 4G LTE network across America," and noting that T-Mobile by itself cannot make that investment.

As expected, Sprint, which had opposed the deal, sang a different tune. Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Vonya McCann said Sprint appreciated "Chairman Genachowski's leadership on the issue," and that the company looked forward "to the FCC moving quickly to adopt a strong hearing designation order."

T-Mobile Losing Customers

The U.S. Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T in August, with the hearings before a federal judge beginning in February. Justice said that "the elimination...

Thu, 24 Nov 11
Larry Page-Run Google Shutters 7 More Projects
Google is continuing its streamlining efforts, shuttering projects that haven't panned out the way the search-engine giant hoped and folding others into other products as special features. Google's goal is to drive a simpler user experience.

In the latest round of closures, Google is getting rid of seven projects, some better known than others. Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of operations and Google Fellow, laid out the plans for each property, including Google Bookmarks Lists; Google Friend Connect; Google Gears; Google Search Timeline; Google Wave; Knol; and Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal. p It's good for Google to shutter projects and products that have very limited or no adoption. It helps with focus, said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. My question, however, is what will happen to Google's vaunted 20 percent time initiative out of which many of these projects came. p subhead Will 20 Percent Live? /subhead p A 20 percent project is a Google philosophy that allows employees to spend one day a week working on something not in the regular job description. News reports have suggested that Google's 20 percent project will continue. p Google's jobs page for engineers notes, We offer our engineers 20-percent time so that they're free to work on what they're really passionate about. Google Suggest, AdSense for Content, and Orkut are among the many products of this perk. p But there have been a lot of changes at Google since co-founder Larry Page took over the CEO reins from Eric Schmidt. By his own words, Page has focused much of his energy on increasing Google's velocity and execution since he took over in April. That has meant investing in acquisitions, including $12.5 billion for Motorola, as well as dropping more than 25 projects. p Page killed Google Buzz, for example, but then again it was the project that got the search-engine giant in hot...

Thu, 24 Nov 11
Free Alternatives To Microsoft Office
Microsoft Office remains the industry standard for office work, regardless of whether you're working with a Windows PC or a Mac, looking to type a document, making a presentation, checking email or making a spreadsheet. It doesn't matter if you work in a university or an office. p But there is some pretty tough competition out there. Better yet, many of them are free. p One of the pioneers of free office software was OpenOffice, released as freeware and commercial ware in 1999 by Sun Microsystems. But Sun was bought by Oracle in 2010, leaving many concerned that the new owner would have no use for distributing free software. p Which is what came to pass when OpenOffice.org was sold in June to the Apache Software Foundation. Adherents of freeware felt they had little choice but to start up an alternative, leading to the introduction of LibreOffice in September 2010. p The project was based on the code of the last stable version of OpenOffice, 3.2.1. Programmers sheared away 500,000 lines of unnecessary code, like that linked to support from the Adabas database, which was no longer available. p LibreOffice offers word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics creation and a database. It's now up to version 3.4. p At the same time, LibreOffice introduced a new import filter and improvements with conversions from the MS Office macro-language VBA, says Oliver Diedrich, an editor at the German computer magazine c't. p Programmers are also working on ways to optimize the import of data from Microsoft's spreadsheet program Excel, as well as getting other expansions and master copies online. p The creators of LibreOffice announced in mid-October that they would release versions of the program to work on web browsers and tablet computers. Versions for both Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating system are being planned. But users will have to wait until the end of 2012 or early...

Thu, 24 Nov 11
Customer Service Reigns in First Class
Flying has never been so good -- for those able to splurge. While most holiday travelers will fight for overhead bins and go hours without a snack or room to stretch their legs, life in first class is stress free. It's always been a special place on the other side of the curtain. Now, it's getting even cushier. p U.S. airlines, profitable again after a disastrous decade, are spending almost $2 billion to upgrade amenities for their highest-paying customers. On the most profitable international routes, high fliers are being treated with preflight champagne, flat-screen TVs and seats that turn into beds. Flight attendants greet them by name, hang up jackets and serve meals on china. p The lavish treatment is meant to keep people like Tim Carlson happy. Carlson, the chief financial officer of a semiconductor materials company, has taken 189 flights in the past two years, traveling 353,176 miles on United and its partners. p After the pilots, Carlson might just be the most important person on the plane. United will do anything to make sure another airline doesn't steal his business. Agents call him about delays and reroute him so he doesn't miss meetings. p I go to the top of the list for the next flight, Carlson says. p On a recent trip from Newark, New Jersey, to Brussels, he was met at the curb with a boarding pass and escorted to the front of the security line. Four minutes after being dropped off, he was past the checkpoint. p Most of the 3.4 million Americans expected to fly this Thanksgiving holiday week won't get anything close to that treatment. They've paid a little under $400 for their round-trip tickets. And it's a cutthroat business. To save $5, passengers are likely to choose another airline. p So, it's no surprise that the most loyal customers, and those willing to pay more...

Thu, 24 Nov 11
LivingSocial Goes National with Black Friday Deals
Here's one way to avoid getting trampled by bargain-hunting hordes knocking down store doors on Black Friday: Online deals service LivingSocial is unveiling a slew of bargains for the holidays that are just a couple of mouse clicks away. p LivingSocial is announcing Monday that it will offer discounts from national businesses such as Verizon Wireless, Electronic Arts Inc. and the sneaker brand Sketchers USA Inc., a contrast to the local deals for spas, restaurants and weekend escapes that it's known for. p Such offers will give national brands access to social media-savvy customers who might not otherwise think to visit their stores. It's also good, cheap marketing, as the deals are often widely shared on Facebook and Twitter. p LivingSocial, meanwhile, gets to sign up new subscribers and take a cut from the money they spend on the coupons. p It also gets to participate in a day-after-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza that's normally reserved for brick-and-mortar retail stores. p One set of deals, available for three days starting on Black Friday, includes $5 for magazine subscriptions that normally cost $12. Customers won't be able to redeem those coupons until Monday, so stores already offering monster sales on Black Friday won't have to cut their profit margins even thinner. p On Cyber Monday, the online shopping day that follows Thanksgiving weekend, LivingSocial will unveil another set of deals. Nearly all of the discounts are 50 percent off -- such as paying $40 to be able to spend $80 at wine retailer Wine.com. These coupons will go on sale Monday, Nov. 28, and can be redeemed starting the next day. p OfficeMax Inc. isn't known for attracting big holiday crowds, but Chris Duncan, a vice president of direct and loyalty marketing, said the company decided to offer a LivingSocial deal to reach new customers looking for e-readers, tablets and other gadgets. p Mitch Spolan, senior vice president of...

Thu, 24 Nov 11
Apps To Smooth Your Way on Thanksgiving
Planning and cooking Thanksgiving dinner is about as easy as juggling chain saws. From setting a menu to managing multiple dishes at once, even the seasoned poultry preparer can become overwhelmed. Luckily, mobile applications can help make Nov. 24 a little less stressful and a little tastier -- whether you're hooked on Apple devices or stuck on your BlackBerry. p Here are a few we've tested. p subhead PAPRIKA RECIPE MANAGER: /subhead p --Price: $4.99 p --Compatibility: iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad p --Ideal for: The culinary organizer p --There are countless recipe apps, but chances are none of them can outdo that well-worn box of handwritten note cards you inherited from your grandmother. Paprika allows you to store your culinary traditions digitally while easily discovering new ideas. Using the app to browse more than 150 sites from Food Network to Epicurious, you can download recipes straight to your device. Meal planning and grocery lists also take some of the stress out of getting organized. p subhead KEY RING: /subhead p --Price: Free p --Compatibility: iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, Windows p --Ideal for: The card-carrying shopper p --Before you can cook, you must shop. Lighten your load by dumping the stack of plastic loyalty cards that fatten your wallet and weigh down your purse. You can keep the savings with Key Ring, which can scan and store your information from more than 700 loyalty programs. When you want to redeem your deals in the store, just select the retailer and scan your barcode, all without fumbling for your keys. You can even join some programs without the paperwork. p subhead CHOW THANKSGIVING DINNER COACH: /subhead p --Price: Free p --Compatibility: iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad p --Ideal for: The traditionalist p --If you find Thanksgiving complicated enough without having to cull through hundreds of recipes to find the right instructions for an adequately cooked turkey, you might want to give Chow Thanksgiving Dinner Coach a try. With just nine preloaded holiday staples like pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, it trades flair...

Thu, 24 Nov 11
Geek-Meets-Cook with Gadget Protectors
Cooking with iPads and other tablet computers is on the rise. But what if a slip of the saute pan leaves that $500 gadget Wi-Fried? p Enter the growing market of wraps, stands and shields designed to make sure that floury hands and splattering pans don't turn into a recipe for techno disaster. p One solution is disposable, clear covers, such as Clever Wraps. You slide your device inside and, voila, grease, water and other undesirables stay out. p Clever Wraps cofounder Karen McElaney says the idea began with a desire to protect gear from kids, not cooks. She and her business partner had active teens who were apt to drop their phones and other handheld devices in snow, surf, etc. p They tried putting the gadgets in clear plastic bags, but that didn't work well since the bags tended to slip and the gadgets would end up getting pulled out. p It just came to us one day, `What if the bag for the device fit perfectly?' says McElaney. p The result was a product called Ringer Wraps, which has since morphed into Clever Wraps and includes a line of clear, plastic wraps that don't interfere with touchscreens or Bluetooth technology, while making sure that gadget-loving cooks won't have to cry over spilled milk. p The wraps were designed for single-use, though depending on what happens in the kitchen they can be wiped down and reused. p Among those closely following the rise of tablets in the kitchen are the staff of Epicurious.com, the online recipe site. p We've been fascinated by the adoption of the devices and the app downloads and the speed with which they have been downloaded, says Beth Ann Eason, senior vice president and general manager at Conde Nast, which oversees Epicurious.com. p Epicurious, which has the popular EPI recipe app, has been researching how customers are accessing recipes and found a significant increase in...

Wed, 23 Nov 11
New ASUS Tablet Has Quad-Core Chip
ASUS is prepping a December U.S. launch for the world's first media tablet to feature a quad-core processor. Called the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, the new mobile device uses Nvidia's new 1.3 GHz Tegra 3 chip, which is based on ARM's quad-core Cortex A9 technology.

Measuring 10.4 x 7.1 inches and just a third of an inch in thickness, the tablet weighs 1.29 lbs. Though shipping initially with the Android 3.2 Honeycomb operating system, the tablet also is upgradable to the new Android 4.0 platform, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS).

"Google has done a great job on ICS and has made the platform open to the ecosystem and easy to develop on," said Nvidia blogger Will Park on Tuesday.

"Thanks to Google's developer support, Nvidia's experienced software team was able to work with ASUS to quickly bring up ICS on the Transformer Prime," Park wrote.

Already available for pre-order on Amazon for $499 (32GB) and $599 (64GB), the ASUS Eee Pad is equipped with a 10.1-inch multi-touch screen made with Corning Gorilla Glass. The high-definition, 1280x800-pixel display also works at viewing angles of as much as 178 degrees.

Transformer Prime

The new tablet's Transformer Prime moniker is due to the device's optional detachable docking station, which hinges to the tablet's main body. Among other things, the docking station sports a full-size QWERTY keyboard, a multi-touch touchpad, two USB 2.0 ports, and a 4-in-1 SD card reader.

Available from Amazon for $110, the 1.41-lb. docking station also includes a reserve battery that adds six hours to the tablet's battery life. Additionally, the docking station doubles as a protective cover for the tablet's high-resolution display.

Beyond having Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 chip, the Eee Pad integrates 1 GB of DDR2 memory, both Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) and Bluetooth radios, a micro SD card reader and the...

Wed, 23 Nov 11
EU Investigates Apple-Samsung Patent War
Will the Apple-Samsung legal war turn into unfair competitive advantages? The European Union wants to find out.

The head of the EU's antitrust division said Tuesday that his agency was investigating the two companies' patent dispute. Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told news media that the EU has requested information from both Apple and Samsung, but has not yet received answers.

"We need to look at this because [intellectual property] rights can be used as a distortion of competition," he said.

'Tool to Abuse'

Almunia noted that, in technology, standardization and IP rights "can be used as a tool to abuse." The EU has the authority to fine companies as much as 10 percent of their global revenue for violating its rules.

Apple has sued Samsung in a number of countries, with various successes thus far, contending that Samsung has violated patents and other intellectual property rights. Apple is also suing HTC and Motorola, and Samsung has countersued Apple.

Recently, the patent war compelled Samsung to tweak its Android-based Galaxy Tab tablet in one European market, in an attempt to route around a legal injunction obtained by Apple. Last week, Samsung released its Galaxy Tab 10.1N in Germany, in which the only discernible difference, in addition to the letter "N" being added to the model name, was that a metal frame, or bezel, wrapped around the edge of the device.

In August, Apple had won a preliminary injunction that blocked the original Galaxy Tab, the 10.1, because of an alleged design infringement. The injunction, which applies only in Germany for products made by the South Korean company, also claimed the Tab was an iPad imitation.

Another change made by Samsung, in order to get around a Dutch injunction obtained by Apple for a software infringement, is how software on its Galaxy smartphones allows users to flip through a...

Wed, 23 Nov 11
Xbox Live Users Scammed in Phishing Attack
Bringing back memories of the Sony PlayStation hack that compromised thousands of gamer accounts, some British Microsoft Xbox Live users have been scammed in a phishing attack. Although Microsoft insists its network has not been hacked, the phishers have nonetheless fooled some gamers into disclosing credit-card information.

The Sun, a paper in the U.K., first reported that online crooks hacked into thousands of Xbox Live accounts to steal millions of dollars. The paper said the average catch was 100 British pounds, or a bit over $150 -- but that many suffered losses of more than 200 pounds.

"Xbox Live has not been hacked. Microsoft can confirm that there has been no breach to the security of our Xbox Live service," Microsoft said in a statement. "In this case, a number of Xbox Live members appear to have recently been victim of malicious 'phishing' scams."

Microsoft's Response

News reports suggest some Xbox Live users received e-mails tricking them into visiting "spoofed" Web sites and entering their personal information, including their credit-card numbers. Microsoft said it consistently takes measures to protect Xbox Live against ever-changing threats, and listed three current initiatives. Those initiatives sound like a lesson in basic Internet security 101.

For example, Microsoft is warning people against opening unsolicited e-mails because the messages may contain spyware or other malware that can access personal information on their computer without their knowledge or permission. Microsoft is also reminding all customers that they should be very careful to keep all personal information secure whenever online and never supply e-mail addresses, passwords or credit card information to strangers.

Finally, Microsoft said it is working closely with Xbox Live users who have been in touch with the company to investigate and/or resolve any unauthorized changes to their accounts resulting from phishing scams.

Back To Internet Basics

"It looks like...

Wed, 23 Nov 11
Penguin Removes New E-Books from Libraries
The growing availability of e-book titles for borrowing through public libraries has hit a bump. On Tuesday, Penguin Group USA announced it would no longer allow digital editions in any e-format of new titles to become available for library lending -- and it is disabling availability of all titles for lending in Amazon's Kindle format.

In a statement, the publisher said it had "always placed a high value on the role that libraries can play in connecting our authors with our readers." But, the company said, it would "delay the availability of our new titles in the digital format" until concerns about the security of digital versions were resolved.

The decision apparently does not affect library e-books of older titles in non-Kindle formats.

'Suspend Availability'

Penguin added that it was "working closely with our business partners and the library community" to create a secure and viable distribution model. It's not clear what the security issues are, or whether Penguin's withdrawal was permitted under the existing library licensing agreements.

Overdrive, the largest distributor of e-books to libraries, said in a statement that it was instructed to "suspend availability of new Penguin eBook titles from our library catalog." The distributor also noted that it was told to disable "Get for Kindle" functionality for all Penguin eBooks in libraries.

The availability of e-books on a lending basis to libraries has been rapidly evolving. Several major publishers, including Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, do not license to public libraries, while others have put limits on e-book borrowing through libraries. Only Random House allows e-book lending through libraries without conditions on the number of times a book may be borrowed, or limits on which titles are available.

New programs to allow patrons to buy e-books borrowed through libraries, such as one soon launching through the New York...

Wed, 23 Nov 11
Six Degrees of Separation Now Five, Thanks To Facebook
Facebook and the University of Milan have determined that the social-networking giant has reduced the degrees of separation between any two people in the world from six to about less than five -- and even fewer when people live in the same nation. The research continues psychologist Stanley Milgram's "small world experiment" from the 1960s that explored the structure of social networks.

Facebook and university researchers first measured how many Facebook friends people have. The distribution is much different than in past large-scale social network studies. The researchers also discovered that the degrees of separation between any two Facebook users is smaller than the traditional six degrees theory. In fact, it has been shrinking over the past three years as Facebook has grown.

The overarching conclusion: The entire world is only a few degrees away but a Facebook user's friends are most likely to be similar in age and from the same country. But does anybody really care?

Does It Matter?

"Social networks are tying people together or exposing the fact that people are more closely connected than perhaps we all thought. It's a bit of a surprise how closely connected, actually," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "Now if Facebook could only help solve political and social problems like budget crises, climate change or global poverty."

Sterling makes a relevant point. Although the Facebook-University of Milan study is the largest social network study ever released -- researchers examined all 721 million active Facebook users, which is more than 10 percent of the entire world population -- the results are interesting but not altogether significant in the immediate term.

But could it be possible that these interconnections could have an impact in the future? Perhaps. According to Facebook, for even the most distant Facebook user in the Siberian tundra...

Wed, 23 Nov 11
New Mobile Games Boast Pro Wrestlers, 3D Plumbers
Nintendo's most popular hero has finally found a space on the 3DS; Professor Layton is back; and a magician's assistant is about to start his last adventure. It's time for the season's new mobile console games.

Fans of Mario have had a long wait for Nintendo's near-trademark plumber to make his way onto the 3DS handheld. And, although there have been 3D Mario adventures since the Nintendo 64, Super Mario 3D Land is the first title with a true sense of depth and space.

Otherwise, the story is largely the same. Chief baddie Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach, leaving Mario no choice but to rescue her.

He has the option of putting on his raccoon suit, last seen in Super Mario Bros 3 for the NES. With it, he can use the tail to deliver some punches and to fly for short stretches. For longer flights, he needs his propeller. One new addition is a boomerang suit, which he can use to fight enemies far in the distance.

Gameplay is the same as in any other Mario game. The plumber continues to jump from one colorful level to the next, each full of hidden shortcuts and secrets. Players can also make use of the StreetPass function on the 3DS, which let players turn encounters with other 3DS players into opportunities to unlock bonus levels. The colorful jump-n-run game is on sale for about $57 dollars.

Professor Layton hasn't been around as long as Mario, but he's become almost as popular. On November 25, he'll start his fourth case on the Nintendo DS.

Professor Layton and the Last Specter takes players back to the past, three years before the events of the first game in the series. Players see how Layton and his assistant, Luke, meet and solve their first case together. The gimmick should make it...

Wed, 23 Nov 11
More Charges Filed in Celebrity Hacking Case
A Florida man has been indicted on two additional felony counts for allegedly hacking into an email account belonging to an unnamed actress, according to court documents obtained Friday.

Christopher Chaney, 35, of Jacksonville, Fla., was charged Tuesday with one count each of unauthorized access to a computer and aggravated identity theft. He now faces a total of 28 counts and more than 100 years in prison if convicted.

Chaney previously pleaded not guilty to 26 counts, including wiretapping. An email left Friday for Chaney's spokesman Ryan Julison was not immediately returned.

An unnamed actress complained that her email was compromised in October after federal agents served a search warrant at Chaney's home and seized his computer, according to an affidavit.

Federal agents believe Chaney hacked into her account 13 times last month. The woman, who is referred to only by her initials C.B. in court documents, reported the hacking might have occurred as early as April.

The woman joins more than 50 alleged victims, including Christina Aguilera, Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis, who prosecutors say had their emails hacked by Chaney.

Some nude photos taken by Johansson of herself were posted on the Internet, and the actress told Vanity Fair for its December issue the pictures were meant for Ryan Reynolds, her then-husband. They had their divorce finalized by a judge in July.

Chaney was arrested as part of a yearlong investigation of celebrity hacking that authorities dubbed "Operation Hackerazzi." He offered some material to celebrity blog sites, but there wasn't any evidence that he profited from his scheme, authorities said.

Chaney is accused of mining through publicly available data to figure out password and security questions for celebrity accounts. He used a forwarding feature so that a copy of emails a celebrity received was sent to an account he controlled, according to court documents.

A search warrant...

Wed, 23 Nov 11
Big Payouts for Tech Startups Excite Silicon Valley
Everyone dreams of striking it rich -- and what they would do with such a windfall. A new house? A fancy car? Maybe designer clothes selected by a personal shopper.

For some in Silicon Valley, those wishes may soon come true.

As restrictions on selling stock are lifted at a handful of sizzling startups, early investors and employees are preparing for big payouts.

What they'll do with their riches is anyone's guess, but luxury retailers and wealth managers say they're expecting a bump in business and have been preparing for this new crop of Internet millionaires.

"We anticipate more activity over the next few months," said Richard Levinsohn, manager at Porsche of Stevens Creek in Santa Clara. "A lot of these people will have new found wealth and they're looking for a place to spend it. We're only too happy to help."

After a company goes public, financial regulations prohibit investors and employees who held shares before the listing to immediately cash out. That means companies that started trading on the stock market in the summer are just now emerging from the so-called "lockup" period.

The first up with the most buzz? LinkedIn Corp., which went public in May.

With its lockup expiring this month, the Mountain View-based social networking site announced last week that employees and early backers sold nearly 7.5 million shares at $71 apiece.

In a regulatory filing Wednesday, the company listed six individuals and a group of a dozen unnamed executives and directors who sold shares. According to the filing, CEO Jeff Weiner stands to gain more than $25 million, based on the $71 share price minus fees. A handful of other stockholders and venture capital firms also sold shares for million dollar payouts.

While only a wee slice of the population, these newly minted high-end spenders can make a difference in the luxury goods...

Wed, 23 Nov 11
Gates Testifies in $1B Lawsuit Against Microsoft
Billionaire Bill Gates envisioned a computer in every home in America, and he wanted to be the one who put them there, the Microsoft Corp. co-founder testified Monday in a $1 billion antitrust lawsuit filed against the software maker by the creator of then-rival WordPerfect.

Gates took the witness stand in a case that accuses Microsoft of duping its competitor prior to the rollout of Windows 95. He began his testimony with a history of Microsoft and was expected to remain on the stand throughout the day.

Gates said he was just 19 when he helped found the software giant.

"We thought everybody would have a personal computer on every desk and in every home," he said. "We wanted to be there and be the first."

Gates, wearing a gray suit and a yellow tie, was the first witness to testify Monday as Microsoft lawyers presented their case in the trial that's been ongoing in federal court in Salt Lake City for about a month.

Utah-based Novell Inc. sued Microsoft in 2004, claiming the Redmond, Wash., company violated U.S. antitrust laws through its arrangements with other computer makers when it launched Windows 95. Novell says it was later forced to sell WordPerfect for a $1.2 billion loss. Corel now owns it.

The company argues that Gates ordered company engineers to reject WordPerfect as a Windows 95 word processing application because he feared it was too good. WordPerfect once had nearly 50 percent of the market for computer writing programs, but its share quickly plummeted to less than 10 percent as Microsoft's own office programs took hold.

Novell attorney Jeff Johnson has conceded that Microsoft was under no legal obligation to provide advance access to the Windows 95 operating system so Novell could prepare a compatible WordPerfect version. Microsoft, however, enticed Novell to work on a version, only...

Wed, 23 Nov 11
Chase Rolls Out Credit Card with Chip Technology
Chase is rolling out a credit card embedded with a "smart" chip technology that reduces fraud and is already widely used outside the United States.

The British Airways co-branded card, available Monday, is intended to appeal to frequent travelers who may experience hiccups with U.S. credit cards overseas.

The U.S. is the only developed country still primarily using credit and debit cards with magnetic strips. The rest of the industrialized world has already switched, or is transitioning, to the chip-based cards.

Chip-based cards aren't swiped like cards with magnetic strips. Instead, users insert the cards into a slot then punch in a PIN code to finalize a transaction. Although card terminals overseas also have a slot where magnetic strip cards can be swiped, cashiers in less-traveled areas are sometimes confused by how to process such transactions.

In other circumstances, such as train ticket kiosks, credit cards with magnetic strips can't be read.

Naney Pandit, general manager of Chase's card services, said not having a chip-based card was becoming a hassle for customers in recent years, as Europe and Asia adopt cards with the chip technology.

"What used to be a trickle a few years ago has become a frequent point of irritation," she said.

Chip technology nevertheless remains a rarity across the country. Magnetic strip technology is so entrenched that the transition to chip-based cards poses logistic difficulties. Stores have little reason to install terminals for smart cards because banks didn't issue them. Banks don't issue the cards because stores wouldn't accept them.

But increasing concerns over fraud could mean chip-based cards soon become more common. Visa this year announced new policies that will give U.S. banks, payment processors and stores incentives to adopt the smart cards, starting in 2015. Visa's move comes as industry experts are warning that U.S. merchants may become targets for fraudsters from countries...

Tue, 22 Nov 11
Prices Are Dropping on Chromebooks
Chromebooks are dropping in price -- but the question is whether the drop will help to raise their appeal. The new price cuts, as much as 30 percent, affect Acer AC700 models and Samsung's Chromebook Series 5.

The laptops, based on Google's Net-oriented operating system Chrome, have not yet caught on, but the new pricing could give them a boost. The Acer Wi-Fi model will go for about $300, from its former price of $350, and the Verizon 3G model has been cut from $449 to $399. Samsung's Series 5 Chromebook, formerly $430, will now be $350.

'Tis the Season'

Google's Web-oriented Chrome OS came out in 2009, with the idea that a Net-based computer could be an attractive alternative to Microsoft's and Apple's platforms. The Chromebooks, which first became generally available this summer, use the cloud for all work, play, communication and storage.

In a posting Monday on the Google Chrome Blog, entitled "Tis the season for Chromebooks," Google Software Engineer Miranda Callahan noted that the Chrome OS has recently undergone "a bit of a facelift," with a boot-up in eight seconds and a "fresh, clean login experience."

"We've also been working closely with our partners to continually improve the overall Chromebook experience while making them even more affordable," he wrote.

A new Tab page makes it easier to manage apps, bookmarks, and most visited sites, and there are new shortcuts, such as to File Manager, music apps, and games.

When the Chromebooks came out in the summer, the key advantages touted by Google included the machines' always-connected state, instant-on, an all-day battery, the ability to "access your stuff everywhere," built-in security, and continual improvements to the OS and apps that did not require user updating.


From the standpoint of security, the companies have described Chrome as "the first operating system designed from the ground...

Tue, 22 Nov 11
Stuxnet Strike on U.S. Utility Signals Disturbing Trend
U.S. security experts say a variant of the Stuxnet computer worm caused the destruction of a water pump at a public utility in Springfield, Ill., last week. Discovered in June of last year, Stuxnet targets the Windows-based supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems developed by Siemens to control and monitor specific industrial processes.

Though the destruction of a pump might not seem like such a big deal, there are oil pipelines, power plants, large communication systems, airports, ships and even military installations around the world using similar control systems. An earlier cyber attack targeting a control system at a hydroelectric facility in Russia killed more than 70 people in 2009.

The potential threats posed by cyber warfare are only outranked by nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, warned Gen. Keith Alexander, the commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency.

"When you look at the vulnerabilities that we face in this area, it's extraordinary," Alexander said earlier this month. "What we see is a disturbing trend -- from exploitation to disruption to destruction."

A New Cyber Arms Race

What's worse, Stuxnet may merely be the prototype for more powerful next-generation cyber weapons that ultimately will make the Web the new battleground in an ever-widening arms race.

"In the past there were just cyber criminals," said Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky. "Now I am afraid it is the time of cyber terrorism, cyber weapons and cyber wars," he warned the security industry in a speech delivered in November of last year.

The first known Stuxnet variants uncovered were specifically aimed at Iran-based organizations with probable ties to the nation's nuclear energy program. The sophistication of the worm's coding and other factors have led computer security experts to believe that Stuxnet was a state-sponsored worm specifically constructed for conducting cyber warfare....

Tue, 22 Nov 11
iPad Could Make Apple Tops in Computer Sales Globally
Tablet computers have shaken up the PC industry so much that Apple may overtake Hewlett-Packard as the world's biggest computer distributor by the second half of next year.

That's the claim of market analysis firm Canalys, which says Apple's industry-building iPad has already made the Cupertino, Calif.,-based giant No. 2 in the world during the third quarter of this year.

The Tab Is Fab

Soaring sales of last year's iPad and this year's iPad 2 will help drive total 2011 global PC shipments to 415 million, up 15 percent year-on-year, Canalys says, while tablet shipments will reach a whopping 55 million units by year's end. Heavy volume during the holiday season may drive fourth-quarter figures to 22 million, with the iPad dominating the market. Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet will also be competitive, the firm said.

But is lumping tablets together with laptops and desktops as personal computers, well, mixing apples and oranges?

No, says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group.

"Actually tablets historically were PCs, and as we move into next year the new ones, which started out more like big smartphones without the phone part, will be getting four- and five-core processors and begin to run Windows," Enderle said.

Finnish handset giant Nokia has recently signaled that its debut next year in the tablet market will be a Windows 8 device.

Noting that they are competitively priced, Enderle has been suggesting for some time that tablets should be included in PC market share numbers as consumers increasingly choose between the two.

"I've seen a number of reports that actually don't put Apple on the chart in order to make the PC vendors look better and I think that is a huge mistake, because it creates a false sense of confidence," Enderle said.

"The risk for Apple is much of their...

Tue, 22 Nov 11
Samsung Galaxy Nexus Volume Bug Draws European Customer Outrage
It seems Apple is not the only mobile-device brand that drives headlines when consumers report bugs. Samsung Galaxy Nexus owners in Europe are also making some noise.

XDA Developers points to multiple user reports of an automatic volume-changing problem in the Galaxy Nexus. It appears to be a hardware issue, according to XDA, which could translate to a costly recall for the iPhone competitor.

"What happens is that the phones volume will go haywire, it will start lowering volume hectically on the phone, especially during phone calls or when radio is being switched from 3G to 2G, or data connection is activated while Wi-Fi radio is turned off or on," XDA reported. "This only happens when the phone is on 2G connection."

Bug Blocks Usage

The volume bug appears limited to phones that use the 900Mhz radio band -- but that is the majority of Europe. XDA has confirmed that United Kingdom networks O2, Vodafone, giffgaff and Tesco Mobile use that frequency.

Apparently, the problem is even worse when the Galaxy-branded phone is in a low signal area. XDA reported that the bug often temporarily locks the use of the phone due to the spamming of what it is calling a "ghost volume button." The end result: calls are dropped and alerts are diminished.

"Currently it affects apparently more than 60 percent of handset owners in U.K.," XDA reported. "It is possible that this problem exists on every phone, other users simply are not on aforementioned networks or do not use 2G."

A PR Nightmare?

Apple's iPhone 4S suffered a bug when it debuted. Hundreds of consumers reported low battery life. Apple was silent until it developed a software update that worked to remedy the issue. So far, Samsung remains silent. Samsung could not immediately be reached for comment, and has not responded to the posts on its...

Tue, 22 Nov 11
Is Android Market Secure or Not?
There's a battle brewing over how secure the Android operating system is -- or isn't. Juniper started the brouhaha last week with a report that said mobile malware on Android platforms has climbed 472 percent since July.

Juniper's Global Threat Center report noted the main reason for the malware epidemic on Android was because of different approaches that Apple and Google take to police their application stores.

"Android's open applications store model, which lacks code signing and an application review process that Apple requires, makes it easy for attackers to distribute their malware," Juniper said. "There is still no upfront review process in the official Android Market that offers even the hint of a challenge to malware writers that their investment in coding malware will be for naught."

Security Firms Agree

Kaspersky Labs is essentially backing up Juniper. In a Thursday report, Kaspersky said the last quarter saw the share of all mobile malware in 2011 targeting Android OS reach 40 percent, firmly establishing that platform as the leading target of malicious programs.

"Kaspersky Lab analysts had anticipated that cybercriminals would look for new ways to make money on Android malware, and it didn't take long to happen," the firm wrote. "In July, an Android Trojan of the Zitmo family was detected that works together with its desktop counterpart Trojan-Spy.Win32.Zeus to allow cybercriminals to bypass the two-factor authentication used in many online banking systems."

Of course, these sorts of reports are nothing new. Symantec led the charge earlier this year by confirming Android malware was on the rise. In a February report, Symantec pointed out the latest threats and suggested that consumers only use regulated Android marketplaces for downloading and installing Android apps.

What Is the Truth?

Chris DiBona, open source and public sector engineering manager at Google, took exception to the reports about Android's security. He lashed...

Tue, 22 Nov 11
iPad Has a Second-Place Competitor -- the Kindle Fire
Apple's iPad may finally have a clear second-place competitor. After months of jockeying by various manufacturers to become the key competitor to the category leader, a new survey indicates that Amazon's recently released Kindle Fire has moved into that second position.

The survey, by ChangeWave Research, found that 65 percent of those who intend to buy a tablet in the near future would choose the iPad -- while 22 percent would buy the new Kindle Fire. "Amazon is going to leapfrog the competition," ChangeWave said in a statement, "and become the number two product in the tablet market."

Doing Apple a Favor?

While this means that the iPad now has a clear-cut competitor, ChangeWave noted that Amazon may actually be doing Apple a favor. That is because the Fire's success may damage "the tablet market hopes of the remaining competitors in the field."

Among several other tablet makers -- Motorola, Research In Motion, Dell, HTC, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba -- none have more than 1 percent of the future tablet demand, according to ChangeWave. The only exception is Samsung's Galaxy Tab, with 4 percent. In addition to struggling at that very low position, Samsung is also locked in a worldwide legal war with Apple, which contends that Samsung has infringed its patents and other intellectual property in its tablets and smartphones.

Barnes & Noble's $249 Nook Tablet, which began shipping a day after the Kindle Fire became available, was not mentioned in the ChangeWave results even though the Nook Color e-reader/tablet has been the No. 2 competitor to the iPad in terms of units sold prior to this month.

Forrester Research predicts that by the end of the year, Kindle Fire sales could reach 5 million and the Nook Tablet could hit 2 million.

Some other reports have suggested that the Fire is beginning to impact...

Tue, 22 Nov 11
Why That Corporate Cash Pile Isn't So Impressive
Hardly a day goes by without some politician or pundit pointing out that companies are hoarding cash -- roughly $3 trillion of it. If only they would spend it, the thinking goes, the economy might get better.

But the story is not as simple as that. Though it seems to have escaped nearly everyone's notice, companies have piled up even more debt lately than they have cash. So they aren't as free to spend as they may seem.

"The record cash story is bull market baloney," says David Stockman, a former U.S. budget director.

U.S. companies are sitting on $358 billion more cash than they had at the start of the recession in December 2007, according to the latest Federal Reserve figures, from June. But in the same period, what they owed rose $428 billion.

Before the recession, you have to go back at least six decades to find a time when companies were so burdened by debt.

Companies borrow money all the time, of course. They borrow to build factories, cover expenses, even make payroll. The problem: Debt doesn't go away. A business can cut costs during a recession. But it can't just shred the IOUs.

Heavy debt means companies could have to dip into those reserves of cash to pay their lenders. And when interest rates eventually go up, companies will have to spend more money just to service the debt.

In the last recession, which ended in June 2009, small businesses that depended on credit cards and bank loans got slapped with higher rates just as sales began to drop. Some got cut off all together.

Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak & Co., says business debt is too high even if the U.S. manages to stay out of a second recession. If economic growth doesn't pick up, "they'll be more bankruptcies, and more...

Tue, 22 Nov 11
Pakistan Bans 'Obscene' Words on Cell Phone Texts
Texters in Pakistan better start watching their language. Pakistan's telecommunications authority sent a letter ordering cell phone companies to block text messages containing what it perceives to be obscenities, Anjum Nida Rahman, a spokeswoman for Telenor Pakistan, said Friday.

It also sent a list of more than 1,500 English and Urdu words that were to be blocked.

The order was part of the regulator's attempt to block spam messages, said Rahman. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority refused to comment on the initiative.

Many of the words to be blocked were sexually explicit terms or swear words, according to a copy of the list obtained by The Associated Press.

It also included relatively mild terms like fart and idiot.

The reasons for blocking some words, including Jesus Christ, headlights and tampon, were less clear, raising questions about religious freedom and practicality. Any word could conceivably be part of a spam message.

The letter, which was also obtained by the AP, was dated Nov. 14 and gave cell phone companies seven days to implement the order.

Rahman, the Telenor spokeswoman, said her company first received the letter Thursday and was discussing how to proceed.

"It's a big issue, so it is being examined carefully from all points of view," said Rahman.

The letter said the order was legal under a 1996 law preventing people from sending information through the telecommunications system that is "false, fabricated, indecent or obscene."

It also stated that free speech can be restricted "in the interest of the glory of Islam."

Under pressure from Islamists, Pakistan has blocked pornographic Web sites and ones deemed anti-Islamic. Last year, it temporarily banned Facebook because of material on the site deemed offensive to Islam.

Tue, 22 Nov 11
Foreign Tech Firms Woo America's Best, Brightest
While politicians and tech leaders decry a lack of engineering talent in the USA, and college graduates struggle to find work, a growing number of tech companies overseas are swooping in and recruiting some of America's best and brightest.

The catch is that many of the recruiters are foreign-born tech workers who left the U.S. because of visa issues and now plan to take Americans back home with them as employees.

Kunal Bahl, CEO of Snapdeal, one of India's fastest-growing tech companies, visited four top U.S. universities this month in hopes of snagging 20 to 30 engineers, product managers and marketers. The recruiting trip had stops at Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University and Stanford University.

Mahindra & Mahindra, an Indian automotive company, is recruiting at Penn's Wharton School of business, as are the Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays.

The India-born Bahl, 28, was educated at Penn but unable to get an H1-B visa to stay in the U.S. Last year, he founded online-coupon company Snapdeal in Delhi, where he helped create 850 jobs. It expects $100 million in 2012 revenue.

It's not that those U.S. grads won't get job offers domestically, says Bahl, a former Microsoft employee. But they want high-level engineering and product-development jobs that are hard to get in the U.S.

"Spending a couple years overseas is not a bad idea professionally, and our work environment is similar to a U.S. company," says Bahl, who adds that resumes from students are pouring in and about one-third are from Americans. "There is a dearth of engineering talent in India and China."

The domestic brain drain comes as President Obama and others ask lawmakers to change strict U.S. immigration law.

"While we shut our doors and keep entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists out, other countries are welcoming them," says Vivek Wadhwa, director of research at Duke...

Tue, 22 Nov 11
IHOP Goes Self-Service for Speed, Hip Factor
Goodbye waitresses, hello Wi-Fi. IHOP, the chain known for coffee-pouring waitresses and high stacks of pancakes, will open an IHOP Express in a tourist-heavy San Diego location where you buy your meal at the counter and pour your own refills, and the waitresses are replaced by runners.

The location -- its first express unit that's not on a college campus or military base -- will have free Wi-Fi, offer a menu with some quicker and healthier foods and, in most cases, have you out the door in about half the time of a conventional IHOP.

This is not your grandfather's world of family dining. The move comes at a time the struggling family dining industry, whose $34 billion in sales have been basically flat since 2005, is looking to catch up with the 21st century. Rival Denny's is also testing express formats, but has so far limited them to college campuses.

The question is: What good will any of these do?

"The whole family dining sector is caught in the middle and not doing very well," says Ron Paul, president of the research firm Technomic. Many consumers, instead, are gravitating to fast-casual restaurants such as Panera Bread and Chipotle, he says, which typically serve food more quickly and where consumers aren't expected to leave tips. This, he says, is family dining's attempt to mimic fast-casual.

On top of that, Paul says, family dining locations are typically very big on breakfast, but many Millennials (who are key targets) simply don't do breakfast -- at least, not at conventional breakfast hours.

"We know some people don't come to IHOP because they don't have the time," says the chain's president, Jean Birch. "This (new format) gives them an option."

And, she says, she plans to open more. "This is part of the future, but it's not the only future," Birch...

Sat, 19 Nov 11
Skype Adds Facebook Video Chatting To Software
Internet phone service Skype said Thursday that it will let users of its software make video calls to their Facebook friends and receive them, too.

The free feature, released Thursday in a "beta" test version of Skype's software for Macs and PCs, expands on an existing partnership between the companies.

Since July, Facebook has allowed users with webcams on their computers to make Skype-powered video calls on the social-networking site. And it had already been possible to chat with your Facebook friends through Skype's instant-messaging feature, though there wasn't yet a video component.

Skype lets users make calls, conduct video chats and send instant messages over the Internet. Its basic services are free, while users pay for services such as calling regular phones from a computer.

Jonathan Rosenberg, Skype's chief technology strategist, said the company wants to help a billion people communicate, particularly with video. Working with Facebook "is really taking us a big step closer to that goal," he said.

Facebook, which is based in Palo Alto, California, has more than 800 million users worldwide. Skype, which is located in Luxembourg, has more than 170 million.

Skype was bought by Microsoft Corp. for $8.5 billion earlier this year. Microsoft owns a small stake in Facebook.

Sat, 19 Nov 11
Cox Kills Sprint-Based Cell Phone Service
Cox Communications, the country's third-largest cable company, stopped offering cell phone service Wednesday, saying it's too small to compete with the big cell phone companies.

Cox, based in Atlanta, inaugurated the service less than a year ago, and kept adding service areas throughout the year. It added San Diego and Santa Barbara, Calif., less than two months ago.

The company's goal was to tie all of its technologies together by offering customers four services on one bill: cable TV, Internet, home phone and cell phone service. But Cox lacked the scale to compete in the cell phone sector and wasn't able to sell "iconic wireless devices" -- meaning high-end smartphones like the iPhone.

Cox Wireless was available to less than half of Cox's roughly 4.8 million cable-TV subscribers. Service areas included parts of northern Virginia, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

Privately held Cox said that subscribers will have service through March, and will get a $150 credit for each line that's disconnected. It did not say how many customers it had gained.

Cox used Sprint Nextel Corp.'s wireless network for the service. Earlier this year, it killed plans to build its own wireless network. The company had spent $550 million on airwave licenses for the network.

Cable companies have a history of edging into wireless services, then backing out. Cox itself built and operated a cellular network covering Southern California and Las Vegas in the 1990s, then sold it to Sprint. It was part of a group of cable companies that teamed up with Sprint in 2005 to market wireless service to their TV customers, but the project was scuttled in 2008.

Sat, 19 Nov 11
Rambus Loses Antitrust Trial vs. Micron, Hynix
A California jury denied Rambus Inc. billions of dollars in damages as it determined that chip-makers Micron Technology Inc. and Hynix Semiconductor Inc. didn't conspire to fix prices of memory chips in order to raise the prices of products for which Rambus licenses the rights.

Rambus' stock sank 61 percent after losing its 7-year-old antitrust case in California Superior Court in San Francisco. Micron's stock rose 23 percent.

Rambus had argued that Micron and Hynix conspired to fix prices to hurt its business. Rambus, which makes most of its money by licensing its technologies to other companies for use in their products, had been seeking about $4 billion in damages. If the jury had found in favor of the company, the award would have tripled under California law.

The jury determined Wednesday that Micron and Hynix did not conspire among themselves or with Infineon Technologies AG or Samsung Electronics Co. to fix prices and keep Rambus out of the market, as Rambus had alleged.

The jury also found that neither company conspired to harm Rambus' relationship with Intel Corp., the world's largest maker of computer chips.

In a statement, Rambus CEO Harold Hughes said the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company is disappointed with the verdict.

"We do not agree with the several rulings that affected how this case was presented to the jury and we are reviewing our options for appeal," Hughes said.

Micron CEO Steve Appleton said his company is "very pleased" with the outcome. Hynix CEO O.C. Kwon said his company is "grateful" for the decision.

Rambus' stock fell by $10.93 -- more than half -- to close Wednesday at $7.11. It regained 19 cents after hours.

Micron's stock, meanwhile, jumped $1.28, more than 23 percent, to $6.74 in regular trading. It receded 20 cents to $6.54 after hours. Micron is based in Boise, Idaho, while Hynix is in...

Sat, 19 Nov 11
Government Shuts Down Mortgage Scams Tied To Google
The federal government has shut down dozens of Internet scam artists who had been paying Google to run ads making bogus promises to help desperate homeowners scrambling to avoid foreclosures.

The crackdown announced Wednesday renews questions about the role that Google's massive advertising network plays in enabling online misconduct. It may also increase the pressure on the company to be more vigilant about screening the marketing pitches that appear alongside its Internet search results and other Web content.

The criminal investigation into alleged mortgage swindlers comes three months after Google agreed to pay $500 million to avoid prosecution in Rhode Island for profiting from online ads from Canadian pharmacies that illegally sold drugs in the U.S.

A spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department division overseeing the probe into online mortgage scams declined to comment on its scope other to say it's still ongoing.

Google Inc. also declined to comment Wednesday.

No company wants to be tainted by a criminal investigation, but the prospect is even more nettlesome for Google because it has embraced "don't be evil" as its corporate motto.

That commitment may make it difficult for Google to fend off a call by Consumer Watchdog to donate the revenue from fraudulent mortgage ads to legitimate organizations that help people ease their credit problems. Consumer Watchdog is an activist group that released a report in February asserting that Google was profiting from ads bought by mortgage swindlers.

"Google should never have published these ads, but its executives turned a blind eye to these fraudsters for far too long because of the substantial revenue such advertising generates," said Consumer Watchdog's John M. Simpson, a frequent critic of the company.

To fight future abuse, Google has suspended its business ties with more than 500 advertiser and agencies connected to the alleged scams, according to the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of...

Sat, 19 Nov 11
AOL Revamps AIM To Stanch User Exodus
AOL is giving its AIM instant-messaging software a new look and new features in hopes of stanching an ongoing exodus of users who have turned to texting and other online messaging services.

The new AIM software marks the service's biggest revamp in several years and comes as AOL tries to revitalize its business. A Web pioneer back in the `90s, AOL has been struggling as its dial-up Internet service declines and its online content and advertising business isn't generating enough revenue yet to make up for it.

AOL made a preview version available Wednesday.

Among AIM's new features is the ability to view Web-based photos and videos within a chat window. Previously users would just see a link they would have to click to open a new browser window containing the image or video.

AIM will also now sync all the messages you send and receive across various devices you use to access the service, helping to prevent missed messages.

And its iconic "Buddy List" has given way to a list of AIM friends ordered by how recently you've chatted with them.

In an interview, Jason Shellen, AOL's head of AIM products, said many people think of AIM as "instant pestering."

Shellen, who joined AOL in 2010 when it bought the company behind online social software Brizzly, said the new software is "less instant, more message."

The effort to revitalize AIM -- which was originally released in 1997 -- comes as instant-messaging traffic is falling precipitously. Consumers are flock to social-networking sites including Facebook and Twitter, use the built-in chat features on sites such as Facebook and Google Inc.'s Gmail and send an ever-growing number of text messages.

In a move to keep people chatting over its service, AIM has allowed users to chat with friends on a number of other instant-messaging services, including Facebook's and Google's. This doesn't...

Sat, 19 Nov 11
Norway Hit by Major Data-Theft Attack
Data from Norway's oil and defense industries may have been stolen in what is feared to be one of the most extensive data espionage cases in the country's history, security officials said Thursday.

Industrial secrets from companies were stolen and "sent out digitally from the country," the Norwegian National Security Authority said, though it did not name any companies or institutions that were targeted.

At least 10 different attacks, mostly aimed at the oil, gas, energy and defense industries, were discovered in the past year, but the agency said it has to assume the number is much higher because many victims have yet to realize that their computers have been hacked.

"This is the first time Norway has unveiled such an extensive and widespread espionage attack," it said.

Spokesman Kjetil Berg Veire added it is likely that more than one person is behind the attacks.

The methods varied, but in some cases individually crafted e-mails that, armed with viruses, would sweep recipients' entire hard-drives for data and steal passwords, documents and confidential documents.

The agency said in a statement that this type of data-theft was "cost-efficient" for foreign intelligence services and that "espionage over the Internet is cheap, provides good results and is low-risk." Veire would not elaborate, but said it was not clear who was behind the attacks.

The attacks often occurred when companies were negotiating large contracts, the agency said.

Important Norwegian institutions have been targeted by hackers before.

In 2010, some two weeks after Chinese dissident and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo was named that year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Norway's Nobel Institute website came under attack, with a Trojan Horse, a particularly potent computer virus, being installed on it.

Other attacks on the institute in that same period came via email, containing virus-infected attachments.

Sat, 19 Nov 11
Will Amazon Make a Kindle Smartphone?
Amazon is burning up the tablet market with buzz about its new Kindle Fire. Now, some analysts are speculating that the e-commerce giant might introduce a smartphone next year.

Pointing to its supply-chain channel analysis in Asia, Citigroup suggested Amazon may be planning to roll out a smartphone in the fourth quarter of 2012. Reuters got its hands on a research note dated Nov. 17 in which the brokerage tied Amazon to Foxconn International Holdings, a contract manufacturer that works with Apple.

"With the clear success of the Kindle ereader over the past three years, and Kindle Fire possibly succeeding in the low-priced tablet market, we view this as the next logical step for Amazon," the brokerage said.

Kindle Smartphone Details

The Citibank note offered many details, none of which are confirmed, including the chipmaker and processor. Citibank expects Amazon to tap a Texas Instruments processor and Qualcomm's baseband chips, Reuters reported, and use Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry to make the device. Amazon was not immediately available for comment.

"I don't guess on rumors. People like to invent all sorts of information. It remains to be seen what Amazon might or might not do," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner. "A smartphone is different from the tablet and I think they are probably going to use the Kindle Fire as a learning experience. But what Amazon does next remains to be seen."

With Amazon preparing to sell as many as 5 million Kindle Fire devices in the fourth quarter, a smartphone could indeed be the next logical step. But the company may not be willing to sell the device at a loss. According to IHS iSuppli, it costs Amazon $201.70 to manufacture the Kindle Fire.

"The Kindle Fire, at a retail price point of $199, is sold at a loss by Amazon, just as the...

Sat, 19 Nov 11
Macs Hit 5.2 Percent Worldwide Market Share
While Apple's mobile devices have dominated or been among the leaders in their respective categories, its computers have occupied only a small sliver of the market. Now, new data indicates that Apple worldwide market share for its Macs is increasing more rapidly than other manufacturers and has reached 5.2 percent -- in part fueled by rapid growth among businesses.

This is the first time in 15 years that the Mac has passed the 5 percent mark in market share. According to analyst Charlie Wolf of Needham & Co., the growth rate of Mac shipments in the third quarter of this year -- 24.6 percent -- exceeded that of PCs for the 22nd straight quarter. By comparison, the growth rate of PC shipments for the quarter was 5.3 percent.

43.8 Percent Growth in Businesses

Wolf said that the record-setting unit sales of 4.89 million Macs for the quarter helped the company's computer line grow from 4.7 percent worldwide market share in June, and from 4.4 percent at the same time last year.

He noted that the growth in Mac shipments over the last year was 20 percent of the growth of all PC shipments, and that the number of Macs shipped in the third quarter alone was more than the annual Mac shipments for each year before 2006.

Macs are also no longer primarily for consumers. While Mac sales to the home market increased 25.6 percent, compared with an overall PC increase of 4 percent, unit sales to businesses increased a whopping 43.8 percent, compared with 4.8 percent for PCs.

Wolf said that this surge in business adoption of Macs is a spillover effect resulting from the widespread use of iPads and iPhones by employees and IT departments.

Interestingly, while Macs have traditionally been strongest in education markets, the new results indicate the computer product line showed...

Sat, 19 Nov 11
AT&T Bundles Samsung Tab and Smartphone
In an early holiday season promotion, AT&T is offering a limited time, two-for-the-price-of-one deal at its wireless stores. But the twist is, it's a free smartphone with the purchase of a tablet.

After Sunday, those who purchase the brand-new 8.9-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, powered by Android 3.2 and equipped for the carrier's new high-speed, long-term evolution data network, for $479.99, and sign up for a two-year data agreement, can also get one of two Samsung smartphones, gratis.

The choices include Samsung's first LTE smartphone for AT&T, the Galaxy S II Skyrocket, or the Galaxy S II, either of which will require a separate data contract. While the Galaxy S II doesn't use LTE, AT&T still considers it 4G because it uses the HSPA+ network.

The deal has a value of $250 for the Skyrocket, which has a slightly larger screen -- 4.5 inches instead of 4.3 -- or $200 for the Galaxy S II.

AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel downplayed the significance of the deal.

"It's a promotion, one of many we run at any given time," he said.

LTE is key

But observers see it as a smart way to drive adoption of the carrier's newly minted LTE network, in addition to boosting sales of the devices and new data plans. Sunday also marks an LTE expansion to a total of 15 markets: Athens, Ga.; Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City; Las Vegas; Oklahoma City; San Antonio; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C.

"They are trying to evangelize the LTE message," said wireless analyst Ramon Llamas of IDC Research. "It's still the early days for the network over there at AT&T so why not push as many as you can, as quickly as possible."

For Samsung, the incentives are clear: The push comes as a bunch of new tablets are trying to...

Sat, 19 Nov 11
Amazon Pays $201.70 To Build $199 Kindle Fire
A teardown of the new Kindle Fire tablet performed by IHS iSuppli researchers found that it costs Amazon $201.70 to make a device that began retailing this week for $199. "Amazon makes its money not on Kindle hardware, but on the paid content and other products it plans to sell the consumer through the Kindle," said Andrew Rassweiler, senior director of teardown services for IHS.

However, the Kindle Fire hardware cost breakdown released by the analyst firm Friday only tells part of the story. Amazon had not disclosed what it is costing the online retail giant to roll out the tablet from a software perspective -- including software design, development and testing.

"We can safely assume that launching such devices from a software perspective requires a serious long-term commitment to morphing Android into what Amazon is looking for," said Al Hilwa, director of applications software development at IDC.

According to Hilwa, a development team of a few hundred people would ultimately be needed to support an ongoing product such as the Kindle Fire, including the requisite maintenance as well as product evolution.

"I have no specific information on this, but I have always imagined that the team working on iOS at Apple, end-to-end, well exceeds a thousand people," Hilwa said. "Doing the estimates for things like that is complex because of shared resources in an organization."

Display and Touch-screen Costs

IHS iSuppli noted that its preliminary cost calculations for the Kindle Fire only account for hardware and do not include additional expenses such as software, licensing, royalties, marketing or other expenditures. However, Rassweiler compared Amazon's strategy of selling its new tablet at a loss to the business models followed by wireless carriers such as AT&T or Verizon.

"They sell you a phone that costs them $400 to $600 or more to...

Sat, 19 Nov 11
'Occupy Flash' Group Seeks End of Plug-In
As the physical world only has a limited number of places to occupy, the Occupy movement is now going virtual. In one virtual offshoot, a group of developers has launched Occupy Flash, "the movement to rid the world of the Flash Player" plug-in.

On a new Web site of that name, this descendant of Occupy Wall Street -- and countless other Occupy variations -- say in their manifesto that the "Flash Player is dead."

'A Fossil'

The time of Flash has passed, according to the group. They say the nearly universal desktop and laptop plug-in is "buggy," crashes frequently, "requires constant security updates," doesn't work well on mobile devices and is "a fossil, left over from the era of closed standards and unilateral corporate control of Web technology."

If it's so ancient, why worry about it? The group said it's not conducting a campaign against Adobe, maker of Flash, but is "simply trying to help them" get to the era of open Web standards "a little faster."

In other words, getting u


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