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Wed, 29 Feb 12
Apple Sets Stage for March 7 iPad 3 Launch
If you're reading this on an iPad 2, get ready to feel obsolete.
March 7 is the day we'll find out which of the never-ending rumors about the next Apple tablet are true. Apple has sent out invitations to reporters for an iPad-related event that day in San Francisco.
The invitation features a finger on an iPad touchscreen, selecting the calendar feature with that date. "We have something you really have to see," it reads. "And touch." Some iPad watchers say the screen resolution looks richer than those current iPad models. The big event will be at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Novellus Theater, the venue for previous Apple launches, at 10 a.m.
Further fueling speculation of a new iPad, retailer Best Buy has lowered the price of the iPad 2 by $50.
The first iPad was released after months of fanfare and speculation in January 2010, followed by the iPad 2 last March. The first redesign featured a slimmer and lighter body with dual cameras and a faster processor.
So what can Apple do for the next encore? Rumors and supposed tips have suggested that there will be more than one version, offering two screen sizes, priced to take on more affordable competitors. Others say the newbie will have a better screen resolution, a multi-core processor and/or high-speed, long-term evolution data network compatibility.
"At this point, I'm leaning toward the notion of incremental improvement over revolutionary redesign," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "A significantly higher resolution display could be visually stunning, and improved cameras would enhance a number of multimedia functions. Moving up to a higher performing processor seems likely, too, as it could improve any number of applications or enable new functions."
Moving beyond the A5 dual-core 1-GHz processor would put the iPad in line with new tablets such as...
Wed, 29 Feb 12
Wed, 29 Feb 12
Here Comes the Battle of the Mobile Wallets
Get ready for the battle of the mobile wallets. At the Mobile World Congress now taking place in Barcelona, Spain, Isis upped its challenge to Google Wallet by announcing deals with several major credit card companies. p Isis, based in New York City, is a joint venture of ATT Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless. In the deal announced Tuesday, Chase, Capital One, and Barclaycard will allow their credit, debit, and prepaid cards to be used in the Isis Mobile Wallet, beginning in the middle of this year when the Isis Wallet will formally launch. p Trials for Isis Wallet will start in Salt Lake City and Austin, followed by a national rollout. p subhead Payment Networks /subhead p Like Google Wallet, which has been capturing much of the mobile wallet press attention up to now, Isis Wallet offers a convenient, secure way to use a smartphone to pay for purchases, redeem coupons and participate in loyalty programs from retailers. p Transactions are enabled by a tap of the phone to a merchant's near field communications reader. The phone must have NFC technology, which is beginning to appear on various models. Smartphone makers HTC, Samsung and Research In Motion, among others, have committed to including NFC in their products. p The three credit card companies now involved with Isis said they will be tailoring their cardholder service to the new mobile wallet experience. A key emphasis from retailers, credit card and payment companies for mobile wallets is the ability to forge new relationships with customers, particularly with on-the-spot promotions and loyalty coupons. p Last summer, Isis announced deals with the four major payment networks -- Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express. p One question is whether any of the emerging mobile wallets offer a competitive advantage in terms of features, reliability, number of participating retailers, ease of use, loyalty programs or any other factor....
Wed, 29 Feb 12
Cisco Thinks Small with Its Carrier-Grade Hotspots
Cisco turned heads at Mobile World Congress on Tuesday when it unveiled the first carrier-grade, end-to-end Wi-Fi infrastructure to deliver next-generation hotspots. p Cisco also announced deals with ATT, BT, PCCW, Portugal Telecom, Shaw Communications, Smart and True to deliver mobile services with a new generation of intelligent small cell solutions that tap into licensed and unlicensed radio technology. p We are now entering the post-macro-cell era, where small cells also will play a critical role in delivering the next-generation mobile Internet, said John Chambers, Cisco chairman and CEO. Existing mobile network infrastructures simply cannot sustain the growth we're seeing on their own. p subhead Catering to Wireless Users /subhead p According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2011 to 2016, worldwide mobile data traffic will increase 18-fold from 2011 to 2016. Physical limits and a shortage of licensed spectrum make it impossible for existing cellular networks to sustain the expected proliferation in mobile traffic and devices. p Cisco is demonstrating that it believes in its own data with its latest market moves. The Wireless Broadband Alliance-approved next-generation hotspot technology is based on the Hotspot 2.0 specification established by the alliance. The technology is designed to give mobile users a seamless Wi-Fi experience. p Cisco has already deployed more than 12 million access points, the majority of which can now be upgraded to support the new technology. These include in-flight Wi-Fi, retail hotspots, stadium and large venue coverage, and extensive data offload deployments. p Tomorrow's mobile Internet must span multiple networks and deliver seamless and highly secure mobile experiences, Chambers said. This requires an architectural approach powered by a cloud-intelligent network of networks. p subhead Delivering on the Promise /subhead p Enter Cisco's new Small Cell Gateway. The gateway is based on the Cisco ASR 5000 Series Mobile Multimedia Core Router and paves the way for operators to manage subscriber and service...
Wed, 29 Feb 12
HTC Unveils One Series at Mobile World Congress
HTC worked hard to set itself apart in the smartphone crowd at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, this week with its One series of devices. But is the new series of Android smartphones enough to turn heads in a market flooded with me-too handsets? p The HTC One series includes the One X, One S and One V. The smartphones are loaded with the Android 4.0 operating system overlaid with HTC Sense 4, the latest version of the handset-maker's branded user experience. The new lineup also introduces HTC ImageSense, a new suite of camera and imaging features. p HTC's line of new phones is incredibly thin. Some of them have a high-resolution display and very fast processors, said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis. The only problem I have with them is that the other vendors here at Mobile World Congress have also come out with rectangles that have high resolution displays and very fast processors -- and they are all running the same operating system. p subhead Multimedia Power /subhead p HTC hopes its ImageSense will differentiate its devices. HTC has improved every part of the camera, including the lens, the sensor, the software. The One series also offers a new custom HTC ImageChip. All this enables faster photo taking. HTC said you can take a shot in just 0.7 seconds and nearly unlimited continuous shots with a 0.2-second auto focus. p One way HTC stands out is with its software. HTC Sense 4.0 does have some nice touches, particularly in the camera application where you can go into burst mode and take lots of photos very quickly if you are photographing fast movements, Greengart said. p Another example is the Video Pic feature, which allows you to capture a photo and shoot video at the same time. p HTC is also focusing on sound quality by incorporating Beats by Dr....
Wed, 29 Feb 12
Quantum Computers in Our Lifetime? IBM Says It's Likely
If you are wowed by quad-core smartphones and high-powered laptops, hold on to your hat. IBM has announced a breakthrough that could lead to quantum computers within 15 years. p IBM researchers are presenting on Tuesday the results of successful experiments that could go a long way to solving some of the critical problems for quantum computing to become a reality, including increasing the lifetime of quantum informational bits. p subhead 'Within Our Lifetime' /subhead p The presentation, occurring at the American Physical Society in Boston, could represent a tipping point in whether quantum computing could happen within most people's lifetimes. p Mark B. Ketchen, manager of the physics of information group at IBM's famed Thomas J. Watson Research Center in upstate New York, told news media that people have usually thought of quantum computing of being perhaps 50 years away, it's a dream, maybe it'll happen sometime. p Now, he said, he thinks it will happen in 15 years or a little more. In any case, he said, it will happen within our lifetime. p IBM scientist Matthias Steffen said in statement that it's time to start creating systems based on this science. p A key obstacle for quantum computing has been that qubits -- a quantum bit that can simultaneously be a digital one and a zero -- have extremely short lifespans when researchers use supercomputing circuits, which is their preferred construction. p Previously, qubits' information disintegrated within a few billionths of a second, which is too short for computing. But the IBM researchers, building on a technique pioneered at Yale, have developed what they described as 3D qubits that last up to 100 microseconds. Researchers said this lifespan is just past the minimum threshold where error correction can capture and correct the information, making computation possible. p subhead More Than Atoms in Universe /subhead p Separately, IBM has also demonstrated a 2D qubit device that...
Wed, 29 Feb 12
Inmates To Be Allowed MP3 Players
Federal prison inmates will be allowed one more very personal item that had been traditionally checked at the door when they began serving hard time: music. p The U.S. Bureau of Prisons is unveiling a program that will allow many of its more than 200,000 inmates to carry MP3 players, packed with personalized music lists, to pass the time. p The music program, currently being tested at a women's unit in West Virginia, is expected to expand to the rest of the system this year, bureau spokeswoman Traci Billingsley says. p The devices, ubiquitous in the free world, will be sold in prison commissaries. p There is an important catch: Although inmates can choose from a song list of about 1 million titles, the list will be monitored to exclude explicit tracks, including material such as obscene or racially charged language. p Billingsley says the bureau will cull the list according to a content ratings system already established by the Recording Industry Association of America. In addition, she says, the prison agency can prohibit a title that it determines may disrupt the good and orderly running of the institution. p The MP3 program is intended to help inmates deal with issues such as idleness, stress and boredom associated with incarceration, Billingsley says, adding that keeping inmates constructively occupied is essential to the safety of prison staffers and prisoners. p David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, which advocates for inmate rights, says the music program is perhaps the first of its kind in the country and represents a positive step toward improving prison security and providing inmates a needed link to the outside world. Music, he says, allows for an important connection (with life on the outside) that assists with their eventual re-entry to society. p Not everybody is applauding. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, says it...
Wed, 29 Feb 12
Wild Online Ride May Be Over for Kim Dotcom
On his way up, he fooled them all: judges, journalists, investors and companies. Then the man who renamed himself Kim Dotcom finally did it. With an outsized ego and an eye for get-rich schemes, he parlayed his modest computing skills into an empire, becoming the fabulously wealthy computer maverick he had long claimed to be. p Now his wild ride may be over. Last month he was arrested in New Zealand for allegedly facilitating millions of illegal downloads of songs and movies through Megaupload, his once-popular Web site, now an important focus of the entertainment industry's war on online piracy. p U.S. prosecutors are seeking the 38-year-old German's extradition in what they say could be one of the largest copyright cases in history. Dotcom, who denies the charges, was freed on bail Wednesday after a month in jail, and authorities have seized, among other things, his twin giant TV sets, massive statue of the Predator movie monster, and Rolls-Royce (vanity plate: GOD). p His story is one of breathtaking audacity that spans both the globe and the modern computing era. Interviews conducted by The Associated Press and a review of court documents and other records indicate that Dotcom was able to create a legendary past, trade upon it by manipulating the news media and avoid serious consequences when he broke the law. p Dotcom makes for a larger-than-life defendant in almost every respect: U.S. court papers describe him as about 1.95m (6 feet, 5 inches) tall and weighing 146 kilograms (322 pounds). At various times, he has depicted himself online as a playboy surrounded by beautiful women, fast cars and guns; a terrorist hunter and a technology martyr ready to commit suicide. p Now he is confined to his home, has refused through his lawyers to grant interviews, and is forbidden to log on to the Internet. p Born Kim Schmitz in...
Wed, 29 Feb 12
Review: Oscars iPad App Wonderful, but Distracting
Interactivity during the Academy Awards telecast once meant booing at the television every time there was a winner I hadn't picked for my Oscars pool. This year, I had my head glued to an iPad instead. p The Oscars' official companion app returned this year, after winning an Emmy in 2011 for outstanding creative achievement in interactive media. Produced by ABC, the network that televised Sunday's ceremony in the U.S., the free software gave me backstage access, a journey through history and a chance to challenge friends on predicting winners. p Before the show, I used the app to link my Oscars picks to Facebook so I could compete with friends and track their progress throughout the evening. I viewed video clips on how people dress up for the ceremony and how celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck prepares a party appetizer. Movie critics, including The Associated Press' Christy Lemire, chimed in on major nominees. p There was video of Oscars host Billy Crystal's 1992 opening monologue, backstage speeches by winners last year and Jack Palance's spontaneous push-ups after winning best supporting actor in 1992. p During the show, I got a backstage pass to video not available on TV. Ads from Sprint occasionally interrupted the live streams. p The app was available in the U.S. for Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch, but you really needed the iPad's larger screen to make the best use of it. p Shamefully, there wasn't a version for the millions of Android phones and tablet computers out there, let alone BlackBerrys and other devices. It reminded me of how annoyed owners of Apple's Mac computers felt when companies made software only for Windows computers. p Those fortunate enough to own an iPad -- or borrow one, as I had -- got a more extensive, but less polished perspective than the one on TV: The app gave me access to 24...
Wed, 29 Feb 12
Feud Over iPad Highlights Faded Tech Firm's Woes
The battle between an ailing Chinese electronics maker and Apple Inc. over the iPad name is just as much a tale of obsolescence in the fast-moving global technology industry as it is a legal row over a trademark. p When businessman Rowell Yang Long-san launched his own iPAD-branded device in 2000, a decade before Apple unveiled its hit tablet, he declared it received an overwhelming market response. p We are confident that we will be one of the major players in the new post-PC era -- the information appliance era, Yang said in the announcement of his new Internet Personal Access Device, which was jointly developed with National Semiconductor. p But unlike Apple's iPad, introduced in 2010, Proview's version failed to hit the market sweet spot that might have made it a hit. Today, the company is deeply in debt and threatened with removal from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. p But Proview still claims ownership of the trademark in China and is waging its fight on multiple fronts: court cases, asking commercial authorities to ban iPad sales in dozens of Chinese cities, and seeking a ban on exports of iPads from China where Apple supplier Foxconn employs about a million people in manufacturing the sleek tablet computer. p There has been no sign yet of intervention from Beijing but top officials are unlikely to allow serious disruption of a business that employs a significant number of people. p Proview Electronics Co., a unit of Proview International Holdings, filed a lawsuit against Apple's use of the trademark in mainland China at the Santa Clara Superior Court on Feb. 17. An attempt by Proview to win an injunction to stop Apple from selling iPads in Shanghai was foiled last week when a court there rejected the case pending the resolution of a similar lawsuit in a higher court in China. Other court cases...
Wed, 29 Feb 12
Japanese Chipmaker Elpida Files for Bankruptcy
Computer chipmaker Elpida Memory Inc. filed for Japan's largest manufacturing bankruptcy Monday after amassing debts from nose-diving prices, competition from Samsung and flooding in Thailand last year that stifled demand. p Elpida, the only manufacturer in Japan to specialize in DRAM chips used in mobile phones and computers, reported debt of 448 billion yen ($5.5 billion) in filing for bankruptcy at Tokyo District Court on Monday. p That was the largest ever for a bankruptcy in Japan in the manufacturing field, according to Teikoku Databank, which compiles such information. p Elpida, set up in 1999 as a joint venture between Japanese electronics companies NEC Corp. and Hitachi Ltd., has been struggling for years to close the gap with rival Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea. p The Tokyo-based company, which employs more than 3,000 people, said its business was hit when DRAM prices declined from about 2007, and got worse with the global downturn. p The surging yen also came as a blow as well as intense competition, it said. p Elpida said the flooding in Thailand last year battered DRAM demand, furthering hurting its operations. Global hard-drive production was disrupted by the floods as Thailand is a major production base for hard-drive makers. p We have concluded that, if we continue the business by ourselves, we will face cash shortage soon, the company said. p In 2009, Elpida got government emergency aid totaling 30 billion yen ($375 million) in investments through the government-owned Development Bank of Japan. Other Japanese electronics makers have pulled out of the DRAM business.
Wed, 29 Feb 12
Nokia Pins Hopes on Cheaper Windows Smartphone
Struggling cell phone maker Nokia kicked off the world's largest mobile phone trade show Monday by unveiling a new low-cost Windows smartphone that operators could give away free to customers, and another aimed at snap-happy consumers demanding better photo quality. p Chief executive Stephen Elop told reporters at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that the new phones -- a low-price euro189 ($254) smartphone that runs on Windows software and a handset with a high-resolution 41 megapixel camera -- demonstrate the actions necessary to improve the fortunes of Nokia. p With great products for consumers, I think the rest will fall into place, Elop said. p In many countries, cell phone companies subsidize the sale of smartphones to customers who sign contracts. The low price of the new phone means their out-of-pocket costs would be low, even if they give the handset away. p But shares of Finland's Nokia Corp. were down more 6 percent to euro4.07 ($5.45) in Helsinki Monday afternoon after the announcements, erasing gains made Friday on investor hopes that Nokia would map out bolder plans to claw back market share. p Nokia launched its first Windows Phone in October, eight months after Elop announced a partnership with Microsoft Corp., in a major strategy shift for the firm. Nokia said it would gradually replace its old Symbian software in its smartphones with the Windows operating system. p Neil Mawston, a London-based analyst for Strategy Analytics, said Nokia's new PureView 808 high-resolution camera phone was impressive -- but that markets were expecting more. p Technologically it is 'wow' but they have integrated it into a Symbian phone which is viewed as, rightly or wrongly, yesterday's technology, whereas I think there was some expectation that it might be in a Windows phone which is tomorrow's technology, Mawston said. p Nokia has lost its once-dominant position in the global cell phone market, with handsets running on...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
Microsoft Intros Skype Beta for Mango Smartphones
Microsoft has released a beta of its free Skype voice-over-Internet-protocol application for smartphones running Windows Phone 7.5, also known as Mango.
Available for download from Windows Phone Marketplace, the trial VoIP software will enable Microsoft to receive valuable user feedback in advance of releasing the final commercial version in April, the company said.
Microsoft's new mobile software app is compatible with any smartphone running Windows Phone 7.5, though the beta release only provides English language support. According to Skype Vice President Rick Osterloh, Microsoft's new business division has already tested and certified Skype to run on Nokia's Lumia 710 and 800 smartphones, HTC's Titan and Radar handsets and Samsung's Focus S and Focus Flash models.
Mobile versions of Skype have been up and running on Android smartphones, BlackBerry OS6 handsets and Apple's iPhone for some time, but until Sunday it was not available for Microsoft's own Windows Phone platform.
"Many of you have been waiting for this," Osterloh wrote in a blog. The new Windows Phone 7.5 beta app "makes Skype available on almost all of the leading mobile smartphone operating systems."
Microsoft's new mobile Skype app has its own tile within Mango's new Metro-style user interface. Tap the Skype tile to automatically sign in.
Within the new Skype beta app, Mango phone users will be able to touch, type or swipe their way through their personalized group contacts and message lists. For example, voice or video calls can be instantly initiated by touching a recipient's contact list photo.
Any instant messages arriving while the user is engaged in a call will appear in the bottom left corner of the screen. To type a reply, users can swipe to the next screen.
Mango smartphones equipped with one or more cameras will be able to place and receive Skype...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
WikiLeaks Publishes Stratfor E-Mails
WikiLeaks will publish millions of e-mails from Strategic Forecasting, a global security analysis firm commonly known as Stratfor. The documents, which WikiLeaks is calling the Global Intelligence Files and which cover 2004 through last year, could create as big a controversy as the organization's 2010 release of U.S. diplomatic and military communications.
At the moment, WikiLeaks has published only about 200 e-mails, from which snippets of the Texas-based company's world of international security have started dribbling out. Founded in 1996, the privately owned Stratfor describes itself as a subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis, and its clients include multinational companies, universities, military and other governmental organizations. Some observers have called the organization a "shadow CIA."
Rolling Stone magazine, German broadcaster NDR, and other media outlets have indicated they have access to the material and, if newsworthy, may run related stories.
Julian Assange, the now-famous head of WikiLeaks, told news media that the e-mails reveal "a company that is a private intelligence Enron," a reference to the now-bankrupt energy giant whose manipulation of fuel prices and financial mismanagement have turned it into a metaphor for corporate corruption.
Assange contends the e-mails show that Stratfor sent money as payoffs to informants via offshore accounts, conducted extortion to obtain intelligence, kept tabs on activists for multinationals, and used inside intelligence to make investments, among other things.
According to news media, the e-mails include reports to Dow Chemical about activists concerned with the Bhopal disaster, in which a gas leak in India led to the deaths of thousands and injuries to nearly half a million people. Dow has said in a statement that it did nothing illegal in obtaining the reports, and that "major companies are often required to take appropriate action to protect their people and safeguard their facilities."
Stratfor has denied...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
Intel Bolsters Its Mobile Cred with Partnerships, New Offerings
At the Mobile World Congress on Monday, Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini offered up details on the company's latest mobile market moves. Those include plans for expanding Intel's smartphone product portfolio and new deals with Orange, Lava, ZTE and Visa.
During his announcement at the industry expo in Barcelona, Spain, Otellini also highlighted the company's strategy to expand its smartphone System on a Chip, or SoC, and Atom product roadmaps for the performance and value smartphone market segments. Intel did not return calls later seeking comment.
"It's obviously important for Intel to find known, sizable vendors that are willing to sign on to Atom as a mobile platform," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "With Orange and the rest of the partners they announced, Intel has filled that particular bill."
Intel had its partners on deck. Yves Maitre, Orange's senior vice president of Mobile Multimedia and Devices, joined Otellini at the news conference to discuss a new Orange smartphone based on the Intel Atom processor Z2460 reference design. Maitre discussed how the phone offers Orange services like Orange TV, Daily Motion, Deezer, Orange Wednesdays and Orange Gestures.
Meanwhile, Vishal Sehgal,co-founder and board director of India-based Lava, announced the launch of XOLO Smartphone. The XOLO X900 is based on Intel's smartphone reference design and will be the first Intel technology-based smartphone in the India market. The device will be available from top retail outlets early in the second quarter of 2012 and will support major Indian cellular networks. Â p Intel also announced a multiyear mobile device collaboration across smartphones and tablets with global handset maker ZTE. He Shiyou, executive vice president and head of the Terminal Division of ZTE, discussed how his company's alliance with Intel will enable ZTE to move faster and create unique and differentiated products for...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
Content Providers May Soon Pick Up Some Data Charges, Says ATT Exec
Imagine using all the apps you like without having to worry about breaking the limit on your data plan. Or browsing through movie and music offerings on iTunes or Amazon with promises of downloads on the seller's dime -- the digital equivalent of free shipping. p Those days may not be far off. As unlimited plans increasingly fall by the wayside, carriers and developers are fearful that budget-conscious customers will cut back on purchases and use of data-hungry apps. p So ATT is considering a new framework to let developers pick up the data tab, John Donovan, the company's vice president for technology and network operations told The Wall Street Journal. p subhead Like 800 Numbers /subhead p A feature that we're hoping to have out sometime next year is the equivalent of 800 numbers that would say, if you take this app, this app will come without any network usage, Donovan told the paper's Anton Troianovski at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, Monday. p Donovan said he already has partners interested in such an arrangement who see it as a means to keep users surfing as they reach the end of their monthly data allocation. p Technology consultant Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group said this model is essentially the way Amazon sells books via the Kindle 3G. p The cost of the book covers the cost of the data, he said. p Kindle users within the United States have unlimited access to the company's 3G Whispernet network without any monthly fees or contract. (The latest version, however, the Kindle Fire, is Wi-Fi only.) p But the emerging question is whether developers could make enough money from the sale of an app to cover what could be years of data usage. p The idea would not make sense for apps sold for single payments, but most offer premium upgraded versions, added features or subscription services. p Apps like...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
Cisco To Buy Optical Network Company Lightwire
Cisco is on another acquisition spree. In its latest play, the networking company announced plans to acquire privately held Lightwire. Cisco will pay about $271 million in cash and retention-based incentives for the company. p As its name suggests, Lightwire develops advanced optical interconnect technology for high-speed networking applications. That means the Lightwire acquisition is in line with Cisco's renewed focus on networking. p With Lightwire's tech in its toolbox, Cisco expects to deliver cost-effective, high-speed networks with the next generation of optical connectivity and pave the way for its service provider and data center customers to meet the growing demands of video, data, voice, mobility and cloud services. p Surya Panditi, senior vice president of Cisco's Service Provider Networking Group, promised the tech would help transform Cisco's optical connectivity business to an integrated technology platform that supports our customers' burgeoning need for cost-effective high-speed networks. Time will tell if Panditi is right, but Cisco is clearly moving in the direction of market trends with its latest acquisition. p subhead Silicon Photonics Technology /subhead p At the heart of Lightwire's innovation is a technology called silicon photonics, or CMOS. Cisco expects CMOS to play a significant role in the enablement of high-speed networks. As Cisco sees it, Lightwire has proven its expertise in CMOS photonics and packaging design, making innovations in optical interconnects by integrating multiple high-speed active and passive optical functions onto a small silicon chip. p The smaller size, lower power consumption and scalability of Lightwire's CMOS-based technology makes it possible for switches, routers and optical transport systems to have higher-density optical connectivity at a lower cost. This, Cisco said, allows carriers to slash operational and capital costs and offer new revenue-generating services. p The Lightwire acquisition builds on Cisco's existing optical networking expertise and complements Cisco's 2010 acquisition of CoreOptics, a designer of coherent digital signal-processing solutions and application-specific integrated circuits...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
Superphones Come Out at Mobile World Congress
The Mobile World Congress is under way in Barcelona, Spain, and the superphones are out. New features in even more powerful new devices include quad-core processors, 4G LTE, Android 4.0, and cameras with resolutions up to 41 megapixels. p Take HTC's new One X, for instance, the most muscular offering of the new One series that includes the One S and the One V. Running Android 4.0 OS also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, it offers a Tegra 3 quad-core processor, running four 1.5-GHz main cores plus a core for low-power tasks. The 1280x720-pixel screen has a 4.7-inch Super LCD for HD display, its 8-megapixel camera can shoot every 0.7 seconds, and it offers Beats Audio advanced sound processing software. The One X will be available in the U.S. in the spring, via ATT. p subhead Projectors, 3D Video, NFC Tags /subhead p The Samsung Galaxy Beam phone, with a mere 1-GHz dual-core processor and a 5-megapixel camera, has a 15-lumens projector that can show an HD 50-inch image at 720p on any surface. p LG's new Optimus 3D Cube Android smartphone can both shoot and edit 3D video right on the device, and its 3D MAX, which can also shoot 3D video, can display it on a 3D HD TV set. p LG is also hoping to create a new way of interacting using the near-field communication (NFC) technology now appearing in its -- and others' -- devices. NFC is generally used for mobile e-commerce transactions, so that users can leave their plastic credit cards at home. p But LG is releasing NFC Tag stickers that a user can place anywhere, to trigger desired functions. For instance, a Tag sticker could be placed in a car, so that, after a user touches the phone to the tag, the phone automatically increases its volume. p Tablets are part of the mix at the MWC. LG,...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
Study Details Digital Lives in U.S. by Age, Sex and Race
Women reign supreme on social networks, but men are more likely to tote tablet computers. Those are just a pair of the findings in a new analysis of research from Nielsen and NM Incite that was released Thursday. Women make up 54% of visitors to social networks and blogs and outnumber men, 53% to 47%, among online video viewers, the report finds. p Men account for 53% of tablet owners. However, the sexes are in a 50-50 dead heat when it comes to smartphone ownership. p A look at the bigger picture suggests that Internet access is becoming ubiquitous. About 27 4 million Americans have Internet access in their homes, at work or outside the home, at coffee shops, for example. That's more than double the 132 million who had such access in 2000. p The experience is completely different from what it was 10 years ago, says Radha Subramanyam, senior vice president of media analytics for Nielsen. Today, there are all these social experiences, and there is video everywhere, and there are apps. It's not just on one screen but on totally different screens. p Other findings: p The Internet generation is living up to its billing. Those ages 18-34, dubbed Generation C by Nielsen because they are constantly connected, make up 23% of the U.S. population but account for 39% of smartphone owners and 33% of tablet owners. p Generation X slightly nudges out the younger Gen C netizens on social networks, blogs and online video. Those ages 35-49 make up 28% of social networks and blog visitors and online video watchers, while the 18-34 age group comes in next, making up 27%. p Whites make up 61% of smartphone owners and 60% of tablet owners. Hispanics make up the next largest group of smartphone (17%) and tablet ownership (15%), followed by African Americans and Asian Americans. p African Americans, who make up 12%...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
Monitoring Your Health with Mobile Devices
Dr. Eric Topol is only half joking when he says the smartphone is the future of medicine -- because most of his patients already seem surgically connected to one. p But he says in all seriousness that the smartphone will be a sensor that will help people take better control of their health by tracking it with increasing precision. His book, The Creative Destruction of Medicine, lays out his vision for how people will start running common medical tests, skipping office visits and sharing their data with people other than their physicians. p Dr. Topol, a cardiologist at the Scripps Medical Institute in San Diego, is already seeing signs of this, as companies find ways to hook medical devices to the computing power of smartphones. Devices to measure blood pressure, monitor blood sugar, hear heartbeats and chart heart activity are already in the hands of patients. More are coming. p He acknowledges that some doctors are skeptical about these do-it-yourself devices. Of course, the medical profession doesn't like D.I.Y. anything, he said. There are some really progressive digital doctors who are recognizing the opportunities here for better care and prevention, but most are resistant to change. p Dr. Topol may be right about the caution in the industry, but he is far from the only person with this vision. Apple was promoting the iPhone as a platform for medical devices in 2009. An entire marketplace is evolving that marries the can-do attitude of hacking devices with the fervor of the wellness movement. p Smartphones make taking care of yourself more of a game, Dr. Topol said. I recommend these devices because it makes it more fun and I get more readings than if I ask them to do it manually. p The enthusiasm for this vision of do-it-yourself medicine with a smartphone, though, must be balanced with the cold reality that all...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
HP Has Open-Source Vision for 'Orphan' webOS
The future of webOS -- the innovative mobile software that three successive CEOs at Hewlett-Packard have struggled to make into a profitable product -- may lie somewhere in the windowless rooms of a Stanford Medical School radiology lab. p That's where researcher Andrew B. Holbrook is working on ways to operate a cutting-edge, million-dollar medical scanner with the help of a discontinued model Palm smartphone that he bought online for $50. p HP had bigger things in mind for webOS when it paid $1.4 billion to buy Palm two years ago: Executives talked about putting Palm's critically praised software on millions of phones, tablets and even PCs. But after a predecessor abruptly abandoned those plans, CEO Meg Whitman decided in December that HP would release the code under an open-source license, which means other companies and individuals like Holbrook are free to come up with their own uses. p And while many experts say it's unlikely the software will ever supplant more widely used mobile operating systems from Apple or Google, analysts say webOS could find a new life if developers use it to create applications for specialized automotive, industrial or medical equipment, such as Holbrook's MRI scanner. p Stanford's Holbrook, who has a Ph.D. in bioengineering and a tinkerer's enthusiasm for writing code, has been working with other researchers on using the MRI in conjunction with new treatment techniques for removing tumors or unwanted cells without invasive surgery. But as a sidelight, he's used webOS software to create new applications for tracking and adjusting some of the MRI's functions. p Holbrook uses those apps on a modified phone, as well as an HP TouchPad tablet, from which he's removed most of the metal components so he can take them into the room where patients are treated with the massive magnetic scanner. p That can save time, he notes, and perhaps let...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
Tough Times for HP Ahead; Will Investors Wait?
Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to spend years turning itself around as it addresses internal problems and battles broader threats from smartphones and tablet computers. p Investors willing to wait could be rewarded. Its market value is half of what it was about a year ago, and HP could start to improve in the second half of 2012. p It won't be easy, though. p After all, HP will need to fix itself as the personal-computing industry faces its own challenges, including reduced spending by consumers who are saving up for iPads and other popular devices. p Richard Gardner, an analyst at Citi Investment Research, described HP's road to recovery as not a journey for the faint of heart. p After presiding over her first full quarter as CEO, Meg Whitman said Wednesday that she has a good sense of what the company needs to do. p For starters, Whitman said, HP needs to fix its internal operations. The company is unable to turn orders into products quickly enough, and its supply chain is a mess. HP has numerous parts in its inventory, but not necessarily the right parts to fulfill actual orders. The variety also creates confusion in sales and technical support. Whitman said HP needs to invest more in internal systems and procedures. p Longer term, she said, the company needs to spend more money to grow businesses such as security services, information management and Internet-based systems known as cloud computing. p We didn't make the investments we should have during the past few years to stay ahead of customer expectations and market trends, Whitman said. As a result, we see eroding revenue and profits today. p HP reported a 44 percent drop in net income to $1.47 billion, or 73 cents a share, in the November-January period. Revenue was $30 billion, down 7 percent and slightly below forecasts of $30.7 billion. It was the fastest revenue decline...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
Apple CEO Hints Company Will Part with Some Cash
Apple CEO Tim Cook says he believes the world's most valuable company has more money than it needs. His next challenge is to figure out whether Apple should break from the cash-hoarding ways of his predecessor, the late Steve Jobs, and dip into its $98 billion bank account to pay shareholders a dividend this year. p During a question-and-answer session Thursday at the company's annual shareholders' meeting, Cook indicated he and the rest of Apple's board are nearing a decision. p The board and management are thinking about this very deeply, Cook said. This isn't a case where 100 percent of people are going to agree with what we do. p The question of how to handle Apple's cash stockpile is a touchy one, partly because company co-founder Jobs had steadfastly brushed aside suggestions that the company restore its quarterly dividend. Apple stopped making the shareholder payments in 1995 when it was in such deep trouble that it needed to hold on to every cent. p Things got so bad that Apple turned to rival Microsoft Corp. in 1997 for a $150 million infusion to stay afloat. Microsoft came to the rescue at the same time Apple named Jobs as its CEO -- a decision that turned out to be one of the smartest business moves ever made. p Haunted by memories of Apple's grim times, Jobs kept accumulating cash even as the company's fortunes soared during the final decade of his life. p Cook, though, appears willing to return some of the cash to shareholders since he succeeded Jobs as Apple's CEO last August. Jobs died Oct. 5 after a long battle with cancer. p During Thursday's meeting, Cook dropped his strongest hint yet that Apple will part with some of the money. Frankly speaking, Cook said, it's more than we need to run the company. p One Apple shareholder, Asif Khan of Sugar Land,...
Tue, 28 Feb 12
Company Claiming iPad Trademark Sues Apple in U.S.
Apple Inc. is facing yet another challenge to its use of the iPad trademark in China -- this time in a court in California. p Proview Electronics Co., a unit of Proview International Holdings, which claims it owns the iPad name, filed a lawsuit against Apple's use of the trademark in mainland China at the Santa Clara Superior Court on Feb. 17, Proview spokeswoman Alice Wang said Friday. p An attempt by Proview to win an injunction to stop Apple from selling iPads in Shanghai was foiled this week when a court there rejected the case pending the resolution of a similar lawsuit in a higher court in China. p Apple had no immediate comment on the California lawsuit. p The companies are feuding over whether Proview sold the mainland Chinese rights to the iPad trademark to Apple in a 2009 deal. p Proview claims the sale of the iPad China trademark to a company representing Apple by its Taiwan affiliate in 2009 was invalid. Proview has not challenged the sale of other worldwide rights to the iPad trademark to Apple in the 35,000 British pound ($55,000) deal. p Apple contends that Proview included the mainland Chinese trademark in the sale and says it violated that contract by failing to transfer the trademark rights to Apple. p Proview's lawyers have indicated their company is open to settling its claim to the trademark. In the meantime, the two sides have engaged in legal skirmishes in Hong Kong and in southern China's Guangdong province, where Proview's main office is based. p There, lower courts have sided with Proview in two cases. The Guangdong High Court is due to hear Apple's appeal of the first decision on Feb. 29. p Proview International Holdings was once one of the world's leading makers of computer monitors, with sales in 50 countries and more than 7,000 employees in factories in Taiwan and China. p But the...
Sat, 25 Feb 12
More Social Network Users Become Privacy Proactive
Social networking site users are becoming more vigilant in managing their online privacy, according to a Pew Internet Project study released Friday. The survey of 2,277 American adults shows that a majority of social network users have already adopted restricted privacy settings and pruned their profiles by untagging photos, deleting comments and unfriending individuals.
"Some 67 percent of women who maintain a profile say they have deleted people from their network, compared with 58 percent of men," said the report's author, Mary Madden, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet Project.
Young adults are even more active unfrienders when compared with older users. Additionally, the profiles that 62 percent of teens said they use most often are set to be private so that only friends can see the content they post.
Going forward, Madden believes it will be interesting to see what happens with Facebook's transition to Timeline -- a new format that gives users a more complete picture of what they have shared over the years.
"That is prompting many people to delete content that either isn't relevant or perhaps isn't appropriate for the people who are currently in their network," Madden said in an e-mail Friday. "We will be back in the field with more questions about privacy in the coming months, so we'll have a fresh look at the issue later this year."
When it comes to managing their social network profile privacy, 48 percent of Pew's survey respondents reported they had experienced some level of difficulty in using the available privacy controls. However, only 2 percent said that their experience was "very difficult."
Social media users between the ages of 18 and 29 are considerably more likely than any other age group to feel fully confident in their privacy controls, with 57 percent saying that...
Sat, 25 Feb 12
As Partnership Blooms, Nokia and Microsoft See Slight Gain
Reaping the first fruit of their fledgling partnership, Nokia and Microsoft are seeing a small gain as the Finnish handset giant takes the lead as the world's top vendor of phones based on the Windows Phone 7 operating system.
Microsoft's global share of the smartphone market crept up to 2 percent in the fourth quarter from 1.7 percent in the previous quarter, according to Boston-based Strategy Analytics.
Nokia and Microsoft, both needing a boost in a fast-changing mobile market dominated by Apple's iOS and Google's Android, announced a deal last year believed to be worth $1 billion to jointly produce Windows phones. The partnership follows Nokia's hiring of Canada-born Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft exec, as its CEO in late 2010.
After Nokia jettisoned its Symbian platform for smartphones, which failed to gain much traction in the important U.S. market, the company went from shipping no Windows phones in the third quarter of last year to 900,000 in the fourth quarter. During the same period, the number of units shipped by all other vendors fell from 2 million to 1.8 million.
Windows phones also are made by HTC in Taiwan, Dell in the U.S., and Samsung and LG in South Korea.
Much of Nokia's growth comes from HTC, which is also losing ground to Samsung for Android shipments.
"HTC is now at risk of being caught in a pincer movement between two giants of Samsung in Android and Nokia in Microsoft, and HTC must move with urgency to address the problem," said Tom Kang, the director at Strategy Analytics.
The outlook is somewhat rosy for Microsoft since overall shipments of Windows phones grew 36 percent sequentially to reach 2.7 million units in Q4 2011. But Strategy Analytics estimates that Windows still badly trails Android at 51 percent, Apple at 24 percent and Symbian at 12 percent.
Sat, 25 Feb 12
Apple Buys App Search Engine Chomp
Flush with cash and boasting the largest mobile app ecosystem in the smartphone world, Apple has snapped up an apps search company. The technology aims to make it easier for consumers to find the applications they want amid the hundreds of thousand of applications on the market. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Known as Chomp, the San Francisco-based search engine asks a simple question: "What kind of app are you looking for?" Users can select a radio button for iPhone, iPad or Android. There are also links to categories such as "Free Apps of the Day," "Trending Apps," "All Time Greats," "On Sale, "Top Twitter Apps," and "New Apps."
Chomp takes app searching a step further with suggested searches, which include categories like shooter games, mortgage calculator, social networking, poker and flight simulators. There's also a mobile version of the search engine for the Apple and Android operating systems.
What will Apple do with Chomp's technology? "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," Apple said in a published statement.
Apple clearly sees value in Chomp technology -- and so did investors. Venture capital firms and angel investors including BlueRun Ventures, Ron Conway and SV Angel, Aydin Senkut, David Lee, Brian Pokorny and Auren Hoffman backed Chomp before Apple gobbled up the company.
"Chomp brings useful technology and a talented team of people who can help Apple and its developers solve the challenge of app discovery. Both consumers and developers are frustrated by the overwhelming number of apps and the difficulties that poses for everyone," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.
"Even though the Chomp team and investors made out incredibly well -- assuming the Bloomberg report was accurate -- this is a small amount of money...
Sat, 25 Feb 12
OnLive Brings Flash, Gigabit Speed, Office to iPad
An iPad with a gigabit connection, continually updated Windows, full Office apps, and Adobe Flash. No, we're not talking about an alternate Apple universe. We're talking about the new OnLive Desktop Plus.
Plus is the latest version of the free OnLive Desktop app, made available last month from the company that specializes in fast streaming of hosted video games. Applying the same technology and data centers, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based OnLive has now released the Plus update.
For a $4.99 monthly fee, Plus adds one-gigabit-per-second speed, full Flash player capability, priority connectivity access, and Internet Explorer to the free app's features -- Windows 7, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe Reader for PDFs, and two gigabytes of online storage.
OnLive described Plus in a statement as "the world's fastest mobile browsing experience, if not the fastest consumer browsing experience available on any device." In fact, it pointed out, with Plus the iPad becomes not only completely Flash-compatible, but "the world's fastest mobile Flash player."
OnLive said that the high speed is not dependent on the device's local Internet connectivity. But the New York Times' David Pogue has noted that "3G connections and feeble hotel Wi-Fi hot spots are too slow to be satisfying" with Desktop Plus, and that a two-megabit connection, such as over LTE MiFi, works best.
The free Desktop App soon will be available for Android devices, Windows and Mac PCs, and even TV monitors through settop boxes. When the OnLive Desktop is available for other platforms, users can access their own desktop from any device, at any resolution.
An OnLive Desktop Pro is planned, with a $9.99/month fee. It will have the same features as Plus, as well as 50GB of cloud storage and the ability to customize the Desktop with any PC apps.
An OnLive Enterprise version...
Sat, 25 Feb 12
IBM Talks Security Intelligence To Beat the Bad Guys
Earlier this week, IBM showed of the first fruits of its Q1 Labs acquisition, rolling out the QRadar Security Intelligence platform based on technology it acquired last fall.
QRadar serves as a control center that integrates real-time security intelligence data from more than 400 different sources. One of the significant planned integrations for the QRadar platform is IBM's X-Force Intelligence Threat Feed, which is based on the real-time monitoring of 13 billion security events per day, on average, for nearly 4,000 clients in more than 130 countries. The QRadar platform will have visibility into the latest security trends worldwide to help protect enterprises against emerging risks.
We caught up with Michael Applebaum, Director of Product Marketing at IBM Security Systems Division, to discuss the QRadar approach to security and how it differs from other security platforms on the market.
That's precisely the challenge with traditional security approaches. The volume and variety of attacks of exploit techniques is going to continue growing unabated. You can't catch up simply by trying to plug the gaps and the vulnerabilities that you discover every week. You have to step back and look at the situation holistically. How can we detect and prioritize what's going on across our organization in a unified way? Because the current approaches just don't scale and they don't work.
It's about bringing more integration and automation to bear across a spaghetti, patchwork approach that most organizations have built in. Most security products fulfill a very specific but limited role, but attacks and threats today are multi-faceted. You might see a glimmer of an attack in one part of your enterprise and you might see a glimmer...
Sat, 25 Feb 12
Immigration Chief Seeks To Reassure Silicon Valley
The Obama administration's top immigration official said Wednesday he wants to keep more foreign-born high-tech entrepreneurs in the U.S. But to make that happen, he said he needs those entrepreneurs to turn their creativity to immigration itself.
Members of Silicon Valley's startup community met with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service Director Alejandro Mayorkas for what the agency billed as a summit to officially launch its unusual "Entrepreneurs in Residence" program.
The event held on the campus of the NASA Ames Research Center sought to address a common tech industry complaint: Non-citizens who come to the U.S. to study end up starting companies in their home countries because they say the immigration process has become too daunting.
With its new program, Mayorkas said the immigration service hopes to become more responsive to the fast-changing needs of tech startups. He said the agency would ultimately choose five applicants from the private sector to guide policy and training for officials who make decisions on individual immigration applications.
The goal, Mayorkas said, is to keep the agency from applying traditional formulas to the unorthodox business models common on the startup scene.
"To fail to do so is to fail to capture the lost potential to create jobs for U.S. workers when the need for those jobs is most acute," he said.
One questioner, Scottish entrepreneur Scott Allison, said he came to Silicon Valley to start his company, an online human resources software service called Teamly. He said immigration piled one more uncertainty on top of the many difficulties startups face.
"The immigration process shouldn't be something we have to worry about," Allison told Mayorkas. "But we do have to worry about it. I don't know where my home is."
The Obama administration has pushed for more liberal policies to keep foreign-born engineers and scientists in the U.S. In this year's State of...
Sat, 25 Feb 12
HP CEO Pleads for Patience as Earnings Fall
Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Meg Whitman pleaded for patience Thursday as she described operational challenges and other internal problems that contributed to a decline in earnings at one of the world's largest technology companies.
Even as HP blamed weak consumer demand and supply shortages due to flooding in Thailand for lost revenue opportunities in the latest quarter, Whitman said years of underinvestment in systems and procedures made those problems worse.
She described a company in transition and said HP needed to improve internal procedures and reduce costs to free up money for investments in growing areas. She said HP, which now makes much of its revenue from computers and printers, sees opportunities in security services, information management and Internet-based systems known as cloud computing.
Whitman described her turnaround plan as a "multiyear journey."
"I feel very good that we know the challenges," she said. "We know what we're going to do about them, and we're headed in the right direction."
HP's sales to consumers fared the worst in the November-January period, the first full quarter under Whitman. Revenue from consumer products and services fell 23 percent worldwide from a year earlier.
HP is the world's largest maker of PCs, but it's been performing poorly as buyers in the industrialized world turn their attention to Apple's iPads and Macs. Meanwhile, the company has been unable to properly capitalize on the growing appetite for PCs in emerging markets.
Whitman said HP also had to battle cautious spending by some business customers in the U.S. Worldwide, revenue in the company's commercial businesses fell 4 percent.
The company said it remained guarded about prospects in Europe, although some of the markets elsewhere in the world appear to be stabilizing.
HP earned $1.47 billion, or 73 cents per share, in the fiscal first quarter, down 44 percent from $2.6 billion, or $1.17 a share, a...
Sat, 25 Feb 12
Calif. Clamps Down on Nosy Mobile Apps
California is clamping down on nosy mobile applications, telling them they must give people advance warning if they want to keep pulling sensitive information from smartphones and computer tablets.
The crackdown comes six months after California Attorney General Kamala Harris began discussing the need for better privacy protections with six powerful companies that have shaped the mobile computing market, spawning nearly 1 million applications over the past four years.
Those talks led to an agreement requiring mobile apps seeking to collect personal information to forewarn users by displaying privacy policies before their services are installed on a device.
The companies working with Harris are: Apple Inc., the maker of the iPhone and iPad; Google Inc., the Internet search leader and maker of Android mobile software; Amazon.com Inc., the maker of the Kindle Fire tablet; Microsoft Corp., which makes a mobile version of its Windows operating system; Research in Motion Ltd., the maker of the BlackBerry; and Hewlett-Packard Co., which is donating its mobile software to the open-source community.
"We are assuming everyone is going to cooperate in good faith and not get cute," said Harris, who plans to review compliance with the guidelines in six months.
Harris, a Democrat, is taking her stand as lawmakers and regulators throughout the country are zeroing in on how technology has made it easier to pry into the lives of people who share personal information on Web sites and store sensitive data on their mobile devices.
The concerns have intensified in recent weeks as Google prepares to blend together a hodgepodge of privacy policies covering various services. The move will make it easier for Google to tie together personal information as it tries to sell more online advertising.
Harris and 35 other attorneys general sent a letter Wednesday to Google CEO Larry Page seeking a meeting with company officials to discuss...
Sat, 25 Feb 12
PlayStation Vita's Rear Pad a Touchy Subject
There's a suspicious knock on the wall. A dimwitted henchman working for an evil mastermind named Bakuki goes over to investigate the strange noise and then -- WOOSH! -- his blotchy body splatters across the room after a giant blade surprises him from behind. That's just one way players can flick their fingers to help heroes Lil and Laarg evade trouble in the cartoony video game "Escape Plan."
That suspicious knock on the wall didn't come from mashing a button or thumping a touchscreen but from tapping the back of the PlayStation Vita, Sony's new high-powered handheld console released Wednesday in the United States and Europe that features a touchpad located behind a touchscreen, giving gamers new ways to engage what's happening on screen.
With the popularity of touchscreen smartphones and tablets, stroking a screen to cut a virtual rope or propel a digital bird is no longer a novel idea, so Sony Corp. is smacking that mechanic on its bottom with a smooth rear touchpad covered with the company's circle, X, square and triangle icons located opposite a lush 5-inch high-definition screen.
Yes, there are old-school buttons and analog sticks as well, but the new interface means Vita users can also interact with images on screen by tapping the rear touchpad, front touchscreen -- or both for a "pinching" effect that elicits a different response, like prompting Lil in "Escape Plan" to fart as he floats around Bakuki's twisted headquarters.
"It just feels right to pinch the Vita like that to squeeze the air out of something," said Chris Miller, CEO at "Escape Plan" developer Fun Bits Interactive. "It was a prototype we thought could be a cool game mechanic. We initially tried mirroring what tablets and smartphones do with zoom and camera control, but that actually felt really awkward."
The idea of a...
Fri, 24 Feb 12
Mozilla Announces Platform-Independent App Store
A marketplace with apps for a variety of platforms. That's the vision of a new Mozilla Marketplace, announced Thursday by the non-profit maker of the Firefox browser.
"We are enabling the Web to be the marketplace, giving developers the opportunity to play on the biggest playing field imaginable," said Mozilla Chief of Innovation Todd Simpson, in a statement. In Mozilla's approach, the Web itself becomes the platform.
The "write once, deploy everywhere" vision has been tried more than once before, such as with Java-coded client applications and Web-based hosted applications. Mozilla said that its approach will provide open and flexible billing options, and that the use of Web standards will "massively reduce the cost of creating, versioning and maintaining applications."
Both Apple and Google have been backers of HTML5 technologies, but have so far avoided creating a venue for apps to run on others' platforms.
The Marketplace is one component of the new Mozilla Web App platform. It will be open for developers' submissions at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, and will be accessible to consumers and businesses later this year. Categories will include games, media, music, productivity and other areas.
The other two major components are proposed APIs, and a new identity system. The APIs will be submitted to the W3C standards body for approval, and the identity system is intended to tie apps to...
Fri, 24 Feb 12
Apple's iTunes App Store Beats Android Market on Pricing
A new study released by Canalys Thursday demonstrates that the world's most popular iPhone apps are being priced significantly lower in Apple's iTunes App Store than the top paid Android apps in Android Market.
In the United States, for example, the average price of Android Market's top 100 is $3.74 per Android app, vs. $1.47 per iPhone app in the iTunes App Store.
Though it is a plus for developers to apparently be able to charge more for their apps on Android, the reality is that fewer people are willing to purchase apps on Android than on iOS today, said Rachel Lashford, managing director for mobile and Asia-Pacific at Canalys.
"Developers and publishers need to balance the iOS volume opportunity with a potentially greater value per download opportunity on Android -- where more apps command higher price points," Lashford said.
Though selling more apps at higher prices is the Holy Grail for developers, achieving big volumes on Android is no small challenge, Lashford said.
"More aggressive price competition around Android apps would help to encourage more consumers to make their first app purchases, drive greater download volumes, and ultimately be good for the vibrancy of the app ecosystem," Lashford said.
There are several key factors that are likely influencing the mobile app price discrepancy between Android Market and the iTunes App Store, said Al Hilwa, director of applications software development at IDC. For example, the early market leads that Apple gained when it launched its iconic iPhone and iPad should not be overlooked.
Developers price their apps "based on the volumes they anticipate to sell," Hilwa said. "The bigger the demonstrable audience to monetize over, the lower and more competitively you can set a price."
What's more, Apple has not only captured "the upper end of the user-base" but also...
Fri, 24 Feb 12
IBM Security Platform Combines Analytics with Big Data Feeds
With security issues becoming hairier, IBM is moving to beef up its security intelligence platform that combines analytics with real-time data feeds.
The QRadar Security Intelligence Platform promises proactivity against the increasingly sophisticated and complex security threats you keep reading about in technology news. Indeed, Big Blue is responding to a real struggle in the enterprise: defending against an onslaught of ever-evolving data breaches. As IBM sees it, one point of failure stems from trying to cobble together technologies that don't integrate automatically and intelligently -- and hackers are exploiting patchwork approaches to security.
IBM acquired the QRadar Security Intelligence Platform last fall to tackle the problem head-on. QRadar serves as a control center that integrates real-time security intelligence data to include more than 400 separate sources. QRadar integration modules for IBM Guardium Database Security will be available in coming weeks.
"Trying to approach security with a piece-part approach simply doesn't work," said Brendan Hannigan, general manager at IBM Security Systems. "By applying analytics and knowledge of the latest threats and helping integrate key security elements, IBM plans to deliver predictive insight and broader protection."
QRadar offers real-time monitoring of 13 billion security events a day from the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Feed in order to help CIOs flag behavior that may be associated with advanced persistent threats. The security platform also unites events from both IBM and non-IBM products that span risk in infrastructure, people, applications and data. Finally, QRadar can drill down to basic data elements to help analyze issues emanating from network access information at the periphery to database activity at the core of a business.
The QRadar platform has been expanded with Big Data capabilities for storing and querying massive amounts of security information. QRadar also offers functions that aim to help secure virtualized infrastructures and provide more visibility....
Fri, 24 Feb 12
T-Mobile Investing $4 Billion into LTE Network
The day after Verizon Wireless posted another LTE network disruption, T-Mobile announced plans to invest $4 billion in its own 4G network. T-Mobile plans to launch a high-speed LTE network in 2013 in hopes of stopping a near-mass exodus of customers to competing carriers.
T-Mobile calls it its "challenger strategy," and plans include deploying advanced hardware at 37,000 cellular sites. T-Mobile said it would tap into the wireless spectrum band AT&T is offering as part of their merger-kill agreement, if the Federal Communications Commission approves the transfer.
"Though we are not satisfied with the contract customer losses and the decreased total revenues, the quarterly margin improvement year-on-year was impressive," said Rene Obermann, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile's parent company. "The spectrum gained through the break-up fee empowers T-Mobile USA to start LTE-based services in key U.S. markets and strengthens its competitiveness."
T-Mobile has to do something. Deutsche Telekom was betting heavily on the AT&T merger to pan out as the carrier continued to bleed market share -- and the bleeding hasn't stopped. T-Mobile lost 802,000 customers in the fourth quarter of 2011. That compares with a loss of 251,000 in the year-ago period.
The churn affected T-Mobile's revenues, albeit only slightly. T-Mobile posted $5.2 billion in fourth quarter 2011 revenues, compared with $5.4 billion in the year-ago period. On the year, total sales dipped 3.3 percent year-over-year to $20.6 billion.
T-Mobile pointed to negative impacts in the fourth quarter from the iPhone 4S launch at AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint. As the only major U.S. carrier without an iPhone in play, T-Mobile is an underdog in the smartphone wars.
"Not carrying the iPhone led to a significant increase in contract deactivations in the fourth quarter of 2011," said Philipp Humm, CEO and president of T-Mobile USA. "In 2012 and 2013, T-Mobile USA will invest...
Fri, 24 Feb 12
White House Proposes Online Privacy Bill of Rights
The online privacy movement has another guidepost. On Thursday, the Obama Administration released a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights for online users, including the ability for browser users to opt out of being tracked by advertisers and others.
The proposed document was described by the White House as "part of a comprehensive blueprint to improve consumers' privacy protections," while maintaining the Internet's growth and innovation. The Administration said the intent is to give users "more control over how their personal information is used on the Internet," and to help businesses grow while maintaining consumer trust.
The announcement, part of the Obama Administration's "We Can't Wait" effort, said that the U.S. Commerce Department will begin meeting with companies, privacy advocates, and other stakeholders to develop voluntary privacy policies based on the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The Administration will also seek congressional approval to make the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights into law.
The full document, called Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy, is designed around four key elements. These are the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights itself, a "multi-stakeholder process" for determining how the Bill of Rights applies to specific businesses, enforcement, and interoperability with other countries and their businesses.
The key concept in the proposed Bill of Rights is that consumers have a "right to control what personal data companies collect from them, and how they use it." Related concepts include easy-to-understand and easy-to-access privacy and security practices, an expectation that companies will use collected data only for the uses cited when it was provided, security of personal data, access to one's own collected data, and "reasonable limits" for the collection and retention of data.
The proposed framework also encourages Congress to grant specific enforcement powers...
Fri, 24 Feb 12
LG at Front of Quad-Core Parade with Optimus 4X HD
Dual-core is so last year.
It's all about multi-core now, and this year's magic number is four as manufacturers gear up their latest offerings for the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona next week.
South Korea-based LG is the first out of the gate with its Optimus 4X HD smartphone, the natural progression of last year's dual-core Optimus 2X.
The smartphone's Nvidia Tegra 3 1.5-GHz processor actually has five cores for extreme multitasking, with one known as the companion core in a process Nvidia calls 4-PLUS-1.
The Tegra 3 delegates responsibility by shifting lowly tasks like music play, browsing and voice calls to the companion core while reserving its powerful quartet for gaming, high-definition video playback and other memory-heavy tasks. This process is intended to extend battery life.
The 8.9-mm thick Optimus 4X, with a larger-than-average 4.7-inch 1280x720-pixels touchscreen, ships with the latest version of Google's Android operating system, 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, and has an 8-megapixel, auto-focus camera with LED Flash and a 1.3 megapixel secondary camera. It has 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage space.
No long-term evolution data speed for this baby, though. It's equipped for 3G, with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and HDMI via MHL, and capable of near-field communication for mobile payments. It can also connect to other home devices via the Digital Living Network Alliance standard.
LG has yet to announce price, U.S. availability or carrier partners. The device is expected to begin shipping in Europe in the second quarter, according to reports. Setting the price-tag right is crucial, said analyst Kirk Parsons of J.D. Power and Associates. "I'm sure cost will be a factor in consumer acceptance as it must show some sort of performance gain vs. current smartphone performance," he said.
Quad-core is likely to be one of the big stories coming...
Fri, 24 Feb 12
Some Consumers Love Siri, Others Not So Much
If you watched TV, you've probably seen the commercial where Siri, the personal digital assistant on the Apple iPhone 4S, recites directions, locates the chords to a popular rock 'n' roll song and reads back text messages.
Siri is easily the most-touted feature of the 4S, Apple's best-selling iPhone ever. And there's speculation it might be a feature in the next version of the Apple iPad, expected to be unveiled in early March.
Four months after Siri's debut, we wanted to see how consumers are taking to the talking assistant. Is it a must-have addition they couldn't live without, or a novelty that seemed fun at first but now is barely used?
We reached out to an unscientific sampling of USA TODAY readers to find out, and the verdict is 50/50. Some people absolutely love it, while others say they are no longer on speaking terms with Siri.
Ken Burke of Vancouver, Wash., says he checked in with Siri at the beginning because it was fun, but he got bored with it quickly. "I can count on one hand how many times I have used it in the last three months."
Norm Glismann of Dayton, Ohio, says he'd rather type in the information himself. "Siri typically misunderstands what I've asked, so the response isn't close to what I'm seeking. Once, it took me five tries to get a correct response."
But James Sherk of Redondo Beach, Calif., loves Siri and uses it to stay in touch with friends while behind the wheel. "I use it every day," he says. "To talk and drive and not be dangerous requires an assistant, and that's who Ms. Siri is. I tell her what to do, and she does it. It's maybe the best thing on the iPhone."
Apple, which declined to comment for this story, has not released specific numbers...
Fri, 24 Feb 12
Microsoft Sharpens Its Ads To Jab Rivals
From the Gmail Man, who peeks into people's private mail, to the VMware salesman stuck in the '70s, Microsoft's marketing campaigns have become quite pointed in the past year.
This week, the company will launch another such campaign: "Smoked by Windows Phone," a series of online ads challenging those who use iPhones, Android phones or other mobile devices to beat the speed of a Windows Phone in doing a browser search, sharing with their social network or shooting and posting a photo.
The 12 different digital ads featuring the challenge will run on tech sites as well as the Windows Phone Facebook page through the beginning of April.
Also on the Facebook page will be video footage from the original "Smoked by Windows Phone" challenge, which took place at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. There, at the Microsoft booth, CES attendees participated in speed challenges, winning $100 if their smartphone beat the Windows Phone.
The final tally for Windows Phone at the CES challenge: 30 wins, three losses, one tie.
That original challenge and the online campaign launching this week, are examples of a funnier, sharper, more direct and aggressive -- and sometimes snarkier -- approach to marketing for the software giant generally known for more earnest, wholesome ads.
It could even be seen as the scrappy move of an underdog -- which Microsoft is, in search and mobile, if such a thing could be said of a company that logged nearly $70 billion in revenue and $23 billion in profit in the past fiscal year.
"Over the last year, one of the things that we've actually done is say: 'We're not going to sit on the sidelines when our competitors do things that we disagree with,' " said Frank Shaw, corporate vice president of corporate communications at Microsoft. "We're going to make sure that we...
Fri, 24 Feb 12
Colorado Woman Must Turn Over Computer Password
Sophisticated encryption software has become so readily available and so effective, it's surpassed the federal government's ability to seize computers and gather evidence in criminal cases.
That development has raised questions in a mortgage and real estate fraud criminal case in U.S. District Court in Denver about whether turning over a computer password amounts to a violation of the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday refused to get involved in the case involving Ramona Fricosu of Colorado Springs, who has until Monday to comply with a judge's order and turn over an unencrypted version of the hard drive of a laptop. Fricosu's criminal case must first be resolved in the lower court before her attorney can appeal the order, the appellate court ruled.
But there's a twist.
"It is possible that Ms. Fricosu has no ability to decrypt the computer, because she probably did not set up the encryption on that computer and may not know or remember the password or passphrase," her attorney, Phillip Dubois, said in a statement.
Federal prosecutors argue not allowing the government access to encrypted computers would make it impossible to prosecute crimes such as terrorism, child exploitation and drug trafficking.
A judge last month sidestepped the issue of ordering Fricosu to turn over her password, and instead ordered her to turn over an unencrypted version of the hard drive. Prosecutors had argued the password was like gaining a key to a lock box and other instances where a defendant signs documents to allow investigators to access overseas accounts.
But DuBois said that the order establishes "a very dangerous precedent that a person may be forced to assist in her prosecution in a way the law has not seen ever before."
In a procedure agreed upon by DuBois and federal prosecutors, federal agents would meet...
Fri, 24 Feb 12
New Smartphone App Makes It Easier To Shop for Stocks
A new smartphone app is going to make it a lot easier for investors who follow the advice of "buy what you know." But some question whether the tool is telling them what they really need to know.
TD Ameritrade, a leading brokerage firm, [is adding] a new function to its mobile app allowing investors to scan UPC bar codes on any product and instantly see what company makes it, get stock information about that company and buy the stock on their smartphone. It will launch first on iPhone and iPad, and soon after, on devices running the Android operating system that have a camera.
The technology aims to bring Wall Street trading data to individual investors when they're at retail stores, when some do their research. For instance, an investor who noticed a consumer product that's nearly out of stock or selling well at a retail store could scan the item, see who makes it and place a trade without ever sitting in front of a computer.
Some of the best-performing stocks are companies that make "products that people on Main Street consume every day," says Nicole Sherrod of TD Ameritrade.
The move comes as more online brokerages roll out features to appeal to investors who use their smartphones to conduct trades.
Online brokerages garner much of their revenue from trading commissions when investors buy and sell. Mobile trading, which still only accounts for less than 10% of trades at TD Ameritrade, is one of the fastest growth markets as more people use mobile devices to conduct personal business, says TD Ameritrade's Steve Quirk.
"It's a growing percentage," says Patrick O'Shaughnessy of Raymond James. "They're taking (mobile trading) more seriously." It's an interesting tool that could appeal to investors, says David Lo of J.D. Power & Associates.
Yet some aren't so sure the additional information is...
Fri, 24 Feb 12
Guns and Androids: Pakistan Air Force Making Tablets
Inside a high-security air force complex that builds jet fighters and weapons systems, Pakistan's military is working on the latest addition to its sprawling commercial empire: a homegrown version of the iPad.
It's a venture that bundles together Pakistani engineering and Chinese hardware, and shines a light on the military's controversial foothold in the consumer market. Supporters say it will boost the economy as well as a troubled nation's self-esteem.
It all comes together at an air force base in Kamra in northern Pakistan, where avionics engineers -- when they're not working on defense projects -- assemble the PACPAD 1.
"The original is the iPad, the copy is the PACPAD," said Mohammad Imran, who stocks the product at his small computer and cell phone shop in a mall in Rawalpindi, a city not far from Kamra and the home of the Pakistani army.
The device runs on Android 2.3, an operating system made by Google and given away for free. At around $200, it's less than half the price of Apple or Samsung devices and cheaper than other low-end Chinese tablets on the market, with the bonus of a local, one-year guarantee.
The PAC in the name stands for the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, where it is made. The PAC also makes an e-reader and small laptop.
Such endeavors are still at the pilot stage and represent just a sliver of the military's business portfolio, which encompasses massive land holdings, flour and sugar mills, hotels, travel agents, even a brand of breakfast cereal.
The military is powerful, its businesses are rarely subject to civilian scrutiny, and it has staged three coups since Pakistan became a state in 1947. Many Pakistanis find its economic activities corrupting and say it should focus on entirely on defense.
"I just can't figure it out," said Jehan Ara, head of Pakistan's Software Houses Association,...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
Researchers Note Risks for Symantec's pcAnywhere
If you're running a PC with Symantec's pcAnywhere, beware. New security risks have been raised that could affect hundreds of thousands of users.
Last month, Symantec recommended that its pcAnywhere customers disable or uninstall the software while the company worked on fixes. Several patches were released, most recently an all-in-one patch Feb. 10. Following that release, Symantec indicated the software was safe to use, in conjunction with standard security best practices.
The software is typically used by mobile workers and others to access an office computer from the road.
But Boston-based security firm Rapid7 has recently estimated that as many as 200,000 PCs are running unpatched versions, including up to 5,000 point-of-sale systems that could be connected to financial systems in businesses, which could include credit card information.
In addition, Alert Logic, a security company based in Texas, has posted test code that could crash patched or unpatched PCs running pcAnywhere, via a denial-of-service attack that some observers believe could be used to hijack the machine.
Symantec's unusual move to recommend the disabling or uninstalling of its own software was in response to the 2006 theft of its source code, which the company only revealed in January. The company told the Reuters news service last month that the source code to its flagship Norton security software had been stolen in 2006, and that an internal investigation has shown the breach came from its own servers.
Previously, Symantec had said that the code had been stolen from a third party. There had been some evidence that it might have come from an Indian government server.
The internal investigation followed an extortion threat against Symantec by an individual claiming to be part of Anonymous, who sought a payment in exchange for not posting the source code. Symantec said it did not comply and...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
Though Google claims the switch is about making its privacy policies more transparent and understandable to users, the CDD said the Internet giant has presented the information "in a deceptive way" that suggests consumers will actually benefit.
In a new complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission, the digital media watchdog claimed the makeover is really all about giving Google a wider array of opportunities to exploit user data in ways that maximize online advertising sales opportunities and competitive edge.
"Google's own recent and emerging digital advertising and marketing practices are the driving force behind the policy change," CDD Executive Director Jeff Chester told the commission in a formal complaint filed Tuesday.
Last Friday, however, the FTC asked a U.S. District Court to dismiss a new lawsuit filed by EPIC that sought to compel the commission to enforce its own Google Buzz consent decree. In its response to the court, the FTC characterized EPIC's complaint as "so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit."
The FTC also cited other court rulings to buttress its claim that the commission's own enforcement decisions are not subject to judicial review.
Thu, 23 Feb 12
Verizon Battles LTE Outage, Cable Spectrum Opposition
Another month, another Verizon Wireless LTE network outage. At least that's the current story line as the wireless carrier investigates customer complaints of disruptions to its next-generation network.
The Wednesday outage marks four high-speed wireless black eyes for Verizon in the last three months as customers from Wisconsin, Arizona, Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and California jumped on the carrier's forums to complain early this morning.
"The Verizon LTE outage is unfortunate -- and this is a repeated occurrence, so it's definitely a problem," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis. "I don't have any idea what the technical issue is behind it or why they are experiencing these problems."
Apparently, neither does Verizon. And perhaps that's why it keeps happening. Verizon suffered three outages in the month of December, making this the fourth disruption to its high-speed wireless network since it launched. Verizon reported network trouble four times in 2011.
Verizon boasts about having the most reliable wireless network, but the rash of outages suggests there is a chink in the wireless carrier's armor -- and AT&T may be able to take advantage. Verizon has not offered an explanation for the outages.
"The danger for Verizon is that if this continues to happen it will mitigate a major marketing advantage for the carrier. Verizon has long claimed to have the best network," Greengart said. "If there are questions about Verizon's reliability, that would be problematic."
The saving grace for Verizon is that, despite what appear to be issues in a wide geographic area, the LTE network going down doesn't affect the masses. Many consumers do not have 4G devices, and if the LTE network goes down, devices that run on Verizon will fail over to the CDMA network. That essentially means consumers are losing the speed that 4G offers, but are still able...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
Google Planning Data-Display Glasses
You're in a new city, and, through a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, you view data overlaid onto your view of buildings, streets, fellow travelers, and more. This vision of a Terminator-like accessory is looking more likely, following new reports that such a device will be released by the end of this year by -- who else? -- Google.
According to a report in Tuesday's New York Times and elsewhere, the Android-based device will have a front-facing low-resolution camera, a small screen placed a few inches in front of someone's eye, a 3G or 4G data connection, flash for illumination, an ability to take photos, and a variety of sensors, including GPS and motion detection. The device is expected to sell for a price equivalent to unsubsidized smartphones -- $250 to $600.
This heads-up display, or HUD, takes place over only one eye. There have been reports that the display could be transparent with overlay, while others state the display is not transparent, although the other eyepiece is. There is reportedly a unique gestural navigation, where the user's head motions control scrolling and clicking.
Some rumors have indicated the device is an Android-based peripheral to an Android phone, while others have suggested it talks directly with Google's cloud through IP. The displayed information will be location-based, and will pull from Google Maps, Google Latitude for location sharing, and Google Goggles for searching images. The kind of information displayed will be governed by the user's preferences, location and Google's available data.
The glasses are expected to have some degree of voice recognition and generated speech response, and the device might also be able to function as a smartphone.
Augmented reality, or AR, glasses have long been a staple of science fiction. With early adopters looking for the Next Big Thing in mobile devices and with a...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
Microsoft Seems To Be Dragging Its Feet In Bringing Office to iPad
Adding Microsoft Office to the iPad would boost the transition of the iPad from a media tablet to a productivity tool for businesses, and sell millions of Office apps.
But, it could also cut into sales of the more expensive Office software for PCs and Macs, and give up a potential advantage for tablets based on Microsoft's mobile version of Windows. (Office is already available on smartphones running Windows Phone Series 7 and its predecessor, Windows Mobile.)
Maybe that's why the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant appears to be dragging its feet when it comes to offering an Office app for the iPad.
At the moment, Microsoft is denying a report in The Daily, News Corp.'s periodical for the iPad, that Office for Apple's iOS platform exists in the testing stage and will be available within weeks.
The Daily's Peter Ha said he had used a demonstration version of the new software, courtesy of a Microsoft employee, and said it would soon be submitted to Apple for approval. Ha said the demo was similar to the OneNote app that is already available free from Microsoft via the App Store (with paid features available). OneNote allows limited creation of Office documents.
Ha said demo version he used had "hints" of a new design user interface called Metro that is already used in Windows Phone 7 products and will be a part of Windows 8.
The report follows one in November in which The Daily said Office for iPad was in the works. An analyst told us then that it would likely take some time for Microsoft to pare down a complex system for a lower-performance, smaller capacity system like a tablet.
Microsoft quickly denied the latest report, telling The New York Times it was based on "inaccurate rumors and speculation," and that an image supposedly of a...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
Anonymous Angered Over Claim It Might Target Power Grid
Could Anonymous, the infamous mask-wearing "hacktivist" group, launch a successful attack against global power networks? Anonymous isn't claiming any such thing, but Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, has suggested that it's possible, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal cites people familiar with the matter noting that Alexander provided his assessment in meetings at the White House. Alexander has also publicly stated his concern over cyberattackers' potential abilities to attack computer networks. And he's not the only security specialist who is concerned.
"It's a real threat," James Lewis, a cybersecurity specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Journal. "You want to occupy Wall Street? How about turn Wall Street off? Even for a day."
Anonymous gained fame last year when it issued a hit list of Web sites hostile to WikiLeaks. The group went on to attack PayPal and MasterCard, which had stopped donations to WikiLeaks after the U.S. government shut down the site. Earlier this year, Anonymous, took down the Web site of Strategic Forecasting, a global intelligence firm that deals in business, economic, security and geopolitical affairs. But could Anonymous really take down global power grids?
"The power grid is not accessible via the Internet so Anonymous would have to have physical access to a control room in order to do any damage -- at least this is my understanding," said Jonathan Spira, author of Overload!, a recently published book on information overload and chief analyst at Basex, a technology think tank. "In the larger scheme of things, as more and more platforms and services are connected to the Internet, the risk for any kind of attack does in fact increase."
Spira isn't alone in his assessment. MIT researchers in December issued a report that suggests little reason for concern over threats...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
What Do Consumers Want in the New iPad?
A new iPad from Apple is expected in early March, and consumers are quite opinionated about changes they'd like to see in one of the best-selling tech devices of the past few years.
We reached out to consumers for feedback. In a nutshell, they want a USB port to connect the iPad to other devices, a faster processor, expanded memory, better resolution and a lower price.
Apple's tablet, first introduced in 2010, rewrote computing, starting a trend toward portable post-PC devices that has resulted in sales of 55 million iPads to date, and a slew of new tablets from rivals, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Samsung and others.
But Apple's iPad continues to dominate the category, with a 68% market share, according to researcher IDC.
Here are highlights of what consumers would like in the new iPad:
USB. "So that I can watch movies on a plane using my portable hard drive, or access files from that portable hard drive and utilize them on the iPad," says Randy Westfahl from Olathe, Kan.
Faster Internet. An iPad with 4G wireless Internet service. Current models have a 3G option. "What I want is not to have to haul around a 4G mobile hot spot when I'm traveling," said Wolf Butler, in a Facebook comment on the USA TODAY.com Web site. "Hotel and convention center Wi-Fi are expensive and usually awful. And 3G is mediocre for more than e-mail and text messages."
Lower pricing. "Make it cheaper, so I can get one," says Jo Miller, a tourist from Scotland, interviewed at the Manhattan Village shopping center in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Some readers came up with unique new uses for the iPad.
Lorie Simpson of Piqua, Ohio, would like a waterproof iPad, while Benjamin Wallace from Portland, Ore., suggests a "solar panel for a way to keep the battery charged."
Brian Calhoun, who lives...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
Technology Soars Again as Economic Driver
It's beginning to feel a lot like 1999 again in the technology business. Facebook recently filed for an initial public offering that could value the company around $100 billion. Social networking is soaring, and upstarts such as Groupon and Zynga are going public with much fanfare. The leader, Apple, has become the world's most valuable company.
I caught up with one of the leading venture capitalists to find out what's behind the vibrancy in technology and how sustainable it is this time around. Ben Horowitz, who started Horowitz Andreessen with Internet billionaire and Facebook board member Marc Andreessen, says the Internet has undergone radical transformation, and the trends are just beginning to gain long-standing traction. Our interview follows, edited for clarity and length.
Q: You've invested in technology for many years. Now we see new energy and money moving into the sector. What's behind it? Where are the opportunities?
A: We are in a super special time in technology. The number of people on the Internet means you can reach a giant market very quickly, reaching 2 billion people much faster than ever before in the history of business. The number of people on the Internet with smartphones is set to double over the next four or five years. At the same time, there have been a number of platforms that have come out, such as mobile computing, cloud computing. Thirdly, there's social networking. With those three major platforms hitting all at the same time, it's nearly unprecedented. Technology is now working to the point where you can build very interesting things in a way that was hard before. As a result, technology companies are getting into and dominating other industries at a pretty rapid rate.
Q: What have you been investing in?
A: We see opportunities in everything from construction to toys to photography...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
What's PlayStation Vita Got that My Smartphone Doesn't?
Sony named its new handheld game system the PlayStation Vita because "vita" means "life" in Italian. But can a dedicated portable game system live la dolce vita in a world full of people playing with smartphones and tablets?
Despite some evidence to the contrary, Sony foresees a successful life of five to eight years for the Vita, out Wednesday ($250 and up). "If you are a gamer, we are betting that you will be compelled to have this with you," says Shuhei Yoshida, who oversees Sony Computer Entertainment's Worldwide Studios.
Sony is no newcomer to handheld systems: It has sold 75 million PlayStation Portables globally since 2004. But even market leader Nintendo, which has sold more than 365 million handhelds since Game Boy launched in 1989, has faced hurdles with its latest device, the Nintendo 3DS.
Sales of dedicated handheld systems have declined even as more Americans play video games. About 135 million people play at least one hour a month, up from 58 million in 2008, according to the research firm Park Associates.
Though computers and traditional home consoles remain the most popular devices, younger players prefer mobile phones, the firm says in a recent report. And three-fourths of those who own tablets play games on them.
Handheld systems have a market "for the time being," says Parks Associates research analyst Pietro Macchiarella. "As long as handhelds manage to deliver unique experiences, there will be room for them on the market."
Sony's mantra in creating -- and marketing -- the Vita channels that strategy. Game designers were brought in on the development of the device before its features were decided. The aim, Yoshida says, "is to provide the gaming experience you cannot get on a smartphone."
The Vita is the first game system to sport an Organic Light-Emitting Diode display, technology touted as...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
Do Tax Apps on Mobile Devices Work Well?
A promotional video for TurboTax's iPad mobile app suggests that users can do their taxes while reclining on the floor, sitting in the lotus position or relaxing in a hammock. But given the complexity of the tax code, is this really a task you want to undertake from a prone position? And is it prudent to type sensitive financial information into a device that you might leave in the back of a cab?
Such is the promise and peril of tax apps for mobile devices. The rapid growth of iPads, Androids and other tablets has prompted the major tax software providers to develop apps that contain most of the features offered by their online programs.
Meanwhile, you can use your smartphone to track your refund, check your eligibility for tax credits or get help from the IRS.
Here's a look at what's available:
This application supports TurboTax's Deluxe, Premier, and Home and Business products. However, Deluxe is the only app you can download from the iTunes store. After that, you can upgrade if necessary.
You can download and try out the app for free. There's a fee to e-file and print your return. Prices start at $29.99 for a federal return. A state return costs $36.99.
As with TurboTax's online products, you can import financial documents from participating employers and financial institutions. If you used TurboTax Online last year, you can also import 2010's tax return.
Once you start your tax return on the tablet app, you can't transfer it to TurboTax online. If you start online, you can transfer the information to the iPad, but the process requires several steps. TurboTax recommends sticking with the device you start with, says spokeswoman Colleen Gatlin. Alternatively, users who want to switch back and forth can use their iPad browser to do their taxes on TurboTax online.
Thu, 23 Feb 12
Survey: E-Commerce Customers Generally Satisfied
Netflix customers were cranky for much of the year, but online shoppers in general are a contented bunch, according to an annual customer satisfaction survey.
The customer satisfaction score of the embattled video rental company fell 14% in the last year, says the American Customer Satisfaction Index's annual e-Commerce report released today. It's one of the largest drops in the index's history.
The index, founded at the University of Michigan but now run as a privately held company, measures customer evaluations of products and services for 225 companies in 47 industries in the U.S., based on a 100-point scale. Customer satisfaction with e-commerce Web sites inched up 1% to 80.1.
"Consumer expectation continues to increase" for e-commerce companies, says Larry Freed, author of the report and CEO of consulting firm ForeSee. However, "When you walk into a retail store, you don't expect to get better service," he says.
Total e-commerce sales rose 16% to $194.3 billion in 2011, say data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Amazon remains the top online retailer in customer service, though its overall score dropped slightly. The company invests heavily in subsidizing the cost of shipping and new technology, such as its e-readers, to keep consumer prices low. "It's the gold standard for e-commerce in many different ways," says Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research.
Netflix's score reflects the turbulent changes it introduced last year by raising prices and announcing a plan, which it eventually dropped, to split its DVD and streaming rental services. "Netflix shot themselves in the foot," Mulpuru says.
Newegg, an online retailer that specializes in electronics, registered the fastest rate of growth in satisfaction scores.
Online travel agencies' average score, at 78, was slightly lower than retailers. But the sluggish economy has unleashed a flood of deals and new Web features to attract more customers, says Douglas Quinby of...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
Company Suing Apple Over iPad Name Open to Talks
The lawyer for a Chinese company suing Apple Inc. in China over its use of the iPad trademark indicated Tuesday that his client would be willing to discuss a settlement.
Xie Xianghui, lawyer for Shenzhen Proview Technology, said that since no final decisions have been reached in various legal disputes over the issue, both sides are "still able to sit together and reach an out-of-court settlement."
Proview claims ownership over the iPad name. Apple says it bought the rights to the name in China and other countries in 2009, but that Proview failed to transfer the rights in mainland China as agreed.
Apple had no comment on the issue of a settlement. Its spokeswoman, Carolyn Wu, reiterated the company's belief that Proview has failed to honor its agreement with Apple.
Proview accuses Apple of acting dishonestly when it bought rights to the iPad name from its Taiwan affiliate and is seeking to prevent sales of the popular tablet computers in China. It has filed lawsuits in several places and has requested that commercial authorities in 40 cities block iPad sales.
A hearing is set for Wednesday in a Shanghai court. Meanwhile, Apple has appealed an earlier ruling against it in a court in Shenzhen, a city in southern China's Guangdong. The Guangdong High Court is due to hear that case on Feb. 29.
According to Xie, late last week a lower court in Huizhou, another city in southern China's Guangdong province, ruled that distributors should stop selling iPads in China.
But that ruling may not have a far-reaching effect since the High Court appeal is still pending.
Many in China expect the two sides to eventually reach a settlement rather than continue to battle in the courts. Chinese are just as crazy about iPads as consumers anywhere else and the devices are manufactured in China, employing hundreds of...
Thu, 23 Feb 12
China E-Commerce Firm Alibaba in Privatization Bid
Alibaba.com's parent company wants to take the Chinese e-commerce company private for $2.5 billion, the firms said Tuesday, part of a shift in business strategy that also includes plans to buy back a stake from Yahoo Inc.
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. said it is offering to buy the Hong Kong-listed shares of Alibaba.com that it doesn't already own for 13.50 Hong Kong dollars a share, at a cost of up to HK$19.6 billion ($2.5 billion). The offer is 46 percent higher than the stock's last price of HK$9.25 before it was suspended from trading on Feb. 8. The shares are to resume trading on Wednesday.
After years of rapid growth, Alibaba.com expects to add paying customers at a slower rate so it is now focusing more on improving the experience of existing manufacturers, wholesalers and trading companies that use the site. That could hurt financial results, the companies said.
"Taking Alibaba.com private will allow our company to make long-term decisions that are in the best interest of our customers and that are also free from the pressures that come from having a publicly listed company," founder and Chairman Jack Ma said.
Alibaba said the "depressed" share price is also having an "adverse impact" on business, its reputation with customers and employee morale. Taking the company private would eliminate that problem.
Yahoo owns about 40 percent of Alibaba Group, which in turn owns about 73 percent of Alibaba.com.
Alibaba Group has been negotiating with Yahoo to buy back its stake but those talks have stalled over the terms. The company noted that it is in talks with Yahoo to "restructure" its holdings in Alibaba Group but said the privatization offer isn't conditional on that deal's completion.
Wed, 22 Feb 12
Amazon Grows Share of Paid Android App Sales
The Amazon Appstore has quickly become a major force in paid mobile app sales for Google's Android platform, according to a new report from Distimo. The mobile app analytics firm found that 42 of the top 110 paid mobile apps available from both Google and Amazon generated more revenue through the Amazon Appstore than Android Market last month.
Amazon's new Kindle Fire, which sold more than 3.9 million units in the final three months of 2011, was the driving force behind Amazon's mobile app sales in January. However, Amazon may also have benefited from having less clutter in its Appstore, which offers about 26,800 apps as opposed to the 400,000-plus apps on tap in Android Market.
Only 32 percent of the mobile offerings at Android Market were paid apps in January. By contrast, paid mobile apps in Amazon's Appstore accounted for around 65 percent of the total and have also been selling for substantially less than what Google charges, on average.
The average price of the top 100 paid applications in the Amazon Appstore is 40 percent lower than in the Google Android Market, said Hendrik Koekkoek, author of the report for Distimo, which is based in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
"One of the reasons could be that Amazon is responsible for setting the price in its store," Koekkoek said. "While all available paid apps are $3.13 in the Google Android Market, these applications are $2.77 in the Amazon Appstore."
What Amazon appears to be doing is creating a platform within a platform, and is off to a good start with more than 26,000 apps already in stock, said Al Hilwa, director of applications software development at IDC.
"By leveraging the Android ecosystem, Amazon is able to bring apps very quickly [to market]," Hilwa said. "The work involved in...
Wed, 22 Feb 12
RIM's PlayBook OS 2.0 Finally Brings Native E-Mail
Research In Motion has finally made good on a promise to update its PlayBook operating system. The BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 is available for release now, but does it really smooth out all the problems with the tablet device?
RIM execs promised an "enhanced" tablet experience with PlayBook OS 2.0 with a "range of new communications and productivity enhancements" and "extended app and content support." But industry analysts aren't so sure those enhancements and extensions are going to satisfy enterprise users, much less consumers.
"Where are the applications? That's my broken record for you," said Michael Disabato, managing vice president of network and telecom at Gartner. "RIM needed to update the operating system in order to get people to use the PlayBook and hopefully accept it."
Although RIM has yet to update its hardware, the PlayBook OS 2.0 offers the much-anticipated integrated e-mail client. The new operating system gives users the option to tap a unified inbox that consolidates all messages in one place.
The BlackBerry Bridge has also been updated. This app connects the PlayBook and core apps on a BlackBerry smartphone via Bluetooth so users can view smartphone content on a tablet-sized screen. A new remote control feature, meanwhile, makes it possible to use a BlackBerry smartphone as a wireless keyboard and mouse for the PlayBook.
The PlayBook went on sale in April 2011. But it debuted with fundamental features missing, including a contacts database, a calendar, a chat application and a 3G or 4G connection, not to mention native e-mail.
"It's what the first PlayBook software should have been from a company which stakes its brand on messaging strength, with tightly integrated calendar, e-mail, and contacts," Frost & Sullivan analyst Craig Cartier told Reuters.
The PlayBook 2.0 built-in calendar pulls together information from social networks. Contact cards are also...
Wed, 22 Feb 12
Barnes & Noble Unveils New Nook Tablet that Matches Kindle Fire Price
Barnes & Noble opened a new front in the media tablet war on Tuesday with a President's Week rollout of its latest Nook device.
The 7-inch, $199 Nook Tablet has half the internal storage of the last Nook Tablet, 8 GB instead of 16 GB, but costs $50 less. Otherwise the specifications are the same: It's powered by a 1 GHz dual-core processor, with a slot for up to a 32 GB of memory on a microSD card, and Barnes & Noble says the battery is good for 11-1/2 hours of reading time or nine hours of video playback.
"For any customer who likes to read digitally, watch movies or TV shows, browse the Web, or help their kids read and learn through interactive books and apps, our new $199 NOOK Tablet with 8 GB is the best product value on the market," said Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch.
At the same time, Barnes & Noble, struggling to make headway against Apple's market-topping iPad (which starts at $499) and Amazon.com's new Kindle Fire ($199), dropped the price of the Nook Color tablet from $199 to $169.
The Tablet weighs just 14.1 ounces, boasts VividView screen technology and has the ability to download thousands of Nook apps via Wi-Fi, as well as stream movies, TV and music from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Flixster, Pandora, Rhapsody and more.
The Nook Tablet is similar to the Kindle Fire. Neither is equipped with 3G wireless compatibility, like the iPad or a range of Android-based tablets, but connect via Wi-Fi only.
Avi Greengart, a consumer devices analyst for Current Analysis, says that in a match-up, the Kindle Fire and Nook each have advantages.
"In terms of hardware, the Nook is better, with a much better screen and a slightly better processor," Greengart said. "But the real difference...
Wed, 22 Feb 12
Galaxy Note's a Handy Not-So-Little Hybrid
It's a tablet. It's a smartphone. It's a phablet. Samsung's new Galaxy Note is hard to pigeonhole. It resembles an oversize smartphone or an undersized tablet. Now throw in the fact that a key feature is a stylus-like pen -- Palm Pilot redux? -- and you're left wondering what gives.
For the record, Samsung positions Galaxy Note as a "super phone," one that goes beyond the usual multimedia and smartphoning capabilities and will also let you write and sketch as if you were using pen and paper.
The South Korean electronics giant insists Galaxy Note is a "mainstream product." To help get that message across, Samsung ran a commercial for Galaxy Note during the Super Bowl. My take, though, after a few days of testing, is that it will likely have more niche appeal than anything, especially at $299.99 with a two-year AT&T contract. The handset, already available overseas, hits AT&T, Best Buy and other stores Sunday.
Hybrid devices haven't exactly fared well in the U.S., as Dell found out with the ill-fated Dell Streak, a small Android tablet. Despite the odds against Galaxy Note, much of what you find in the device is quite sweet. Its 5.3-inch display (measured diagonally) is gargantuan in comparison with most smartphones, yet the device is thin, good-looking and well-proportioned.
It runs on AT&T's fastest 4G LTE network -- now in 28 markets but clearly not in parts of northern New Jersey, where I conducted some tests.
Inside is a powerful dual-core processor and 16 gigabytes of storage, expandable via microSD by 32 GB. It has an impressive rear-facing 8-megapixel autofocus camera that can capture stills and high-definition video, and a front-facing 2-megapixel camera for video chats.
In sizing up the smartphone market, many people already think state-of-the-art screens are plenty big enough, especially in the Android world where Galaxy...
Wed, 22 Feb 12
Twitter Unveils Self-Service Advertising System
Buying ads on Twitter is about to get easier for small businesses as the online messaging service adds a key piece to its moneymaking model.
Twitter is unveiling a long-awaited automated system that will enable advertisers to manage their marketing campaigns and budgets without having to deal with sales representatives.
Before Twitter opens the system to all comers later this year, the self-service approach announced Thursday will only be available to advertisers who accept or use American Express cards
To get the ball rolling, American Express Co. will buy $100 in Twitter ads for each of the first 10,000 qualified businesses in the U.S. that sign up at http://ads.twitter.com/amex. The ads, which Twitter calls "promoted products," will begin appearing within the flow of users' messages in late March.
Flipping the switch on self-service advertising is the latest sign of Twitter's ambition to build a powerful online marketing vehicle in the mold of Internet search leader Google Inc., by far the Web's most profitable company, and online social network Facebook Inc., technology's fastest-rising star.
It marks another stepping stone toward an eventual initial public offering of stock from Twitter, which has attracted more than 100 million users since its creation nearly six years ago.
The timetable for Twitter's IPO remains a mystery, although CEO Dick Costolo said in an interview Thursday that the company's decision won't be influenced by how well Facebook fares in its stock market debut this spring.
"I don't look at what other companies are doing," he said. "We don't think in terms of building this company for a particular IPO date. We are trying to build this company for the long term."
The company, which is based in San Francisco, isn't in desperate need of capital, having raised at least $700 million last year.
Twitter also probably needs a little more time to prove its financial...
Wed, 22 Feb 12
Clearwire Says It May Need To Raise More Money
Clearwire Corp., which runs a wireless data network used mainly by Sprint customers, says it may need to raise more money because it doesn't know how much revenue it will be able to pull in from a fourth-generation mobile broadband network that it's building and from its existing mobile WiMAX Internet network after 2013.
Sprint resells access to Clearwire's WiMAX network as "Sprint 4G."
The company said in a regulatory filing on Thursday that it had about $1.11 billion in available cash and short-term investments as of Dec. 31 after selling stock and debt in the past few months. It doesn't expect cash flow from its operations this year, and said it believes it will need to raise "substantial additional capital" to fund its business beyond the next 12 months.
The company said it is unsure how much more money it will need, but that the main factor in determining that amount will depend on how much money it receives from Sprint for its services.
Sprint agreed to use Clearwire's new 4G network, called Long-Term Evolution, back in December. The announcement had been a lifeline for Clearwire, whose WiMax network has been bypassed by all phone companies except Sprint.
Clearwire said that how much money it needs depends on whether or not it successfully constructs and completes its LTE network to meet Sprint's requirements and how much Sprint uses its WiMAX network after 2013. The company said it has become increasingly dependent on its wholesale partners, particularly Sprint.
Clearwire said that it is looking at various options for securing more money, which could including asset sales or making some more equity securities offerings.
The company also disclosed in the filing that it may lose some or all of the sales it receives through Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Inc. this year because of the companies' deals with...
Wed, 22 Feb 12
China Faces Conflict of Law, Business in iPad Row
Chinese officials face a choice in Apple's dispute with a local company over the iPad trademark -- side with a struggling entity that a court says owns the name or with a global brand that has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in China. Experts say that means Beijing's political priorities rather than the courts will settle the dispute if it escalates.
Shenzhen Proview Technology has asked regulators to seize iPads in China in a possible prelude to pressing Apple Inc. for a payout. There have been seizures in some cities but no sign of action by national-level authorities.
Proview has a strong case under Chinese trademark law, but that could quickly change if Beijing decides to intervene to avoid disrupting iPad sales or exports from factories in southern China where the popular tablet computers are made, legal experts say.
"If this becomes political -- and it's very easy to see this becoming political -- then I think Apple's chances look pretty good," said Stan Abrams, an American lawyer who teaches intellectual property law at Beijing's Central University of Finance and Economics.
The dispute centers on whether Apple acquired the iPad name in China when it bought rights in various countries from a Proview affiliate in Taiwan in 2009 for 35,000 British pounds ($55,000).
Apple insists it did. But Proview, which registered the iPad trademark in China in 2001, won a ruling from a mainland Chinese court in December that it was not bound by that sale. Apple appealed and a hearing is scheduled for Feb. 29.
"My gut reaction is that many of these activities really could be seen as pre-settlement brinksmanship," said David Wolf, a technology marketing consultant in Beijing. "Proview's motive is money, not to shut down Apple."
Shenzhen Proview Technology is a subsidiary of LCD screen maker Proview International Holdings Ltd., headquartered in...
Wed, 22 Feb 12
New Tools Make Self-Publishing E-Books Easier
Scott Nicholson, a prolific author with 70 books to date, has found most of his success online, selling self-published books at Amazon for the Kindle and other e-readers.
He handles the entire process himself -- from downloading stock photos at $4 to $5 a pop and making covers in Gimp, a free photo software tool, to converting the manuscripts into formats compatible for the e-readers.
"If I can do it, anyone can," says Nicholson, 49, who writes four novels a year from his home in Boone, N.C. He won't say how much he makes, but it's a "comfortable living," solely on e-book royalties. "I'm self-taught on every part of this."
Not everyone is as tech-savvy as Nicholson, and as willing to put in the extra hours. For those who would like some shortcuts, new tools are available to help authors with their conversions. Rates are relatively cheap, or free in Apple's case.
Red Staple and Folium Book Studio, both released in January, offer self-service online tools to convert your books into the ePub format, which, in turn, can be uploaded for Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, Apple's iPad and Sony's E-Reader, at varying prices. Red starts at $29.99, while Folium is $99.
That's the price for a basic book with mostly text and a cover you make yourself and upload.
What about for those who want to make an e-book that's a multimedia extravaganza?
Apple just released iBooks Author, a free software app for Apple computers that offers drag-and-drop self-publishing tools for Apple's iBooks bookstore. The app is available in Apple's App Store for Macintosh computers, where you'll need an operating system at least as current as 2009's Snow Leopard.
Even though the app is geared to textbook authors, writers of any stripe can add photos and video clips, though they must first be converted to Apple's...
Wed, 22 Feb 12
U.S. Seeks To Mine Social Media To Predict Future
The U.S. government is seeking software that can mine social media to predict everything from future terrorist attacks to foreign uprisings, according to requests posted online by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Hundreds of intelligence analysts already sift overseas Twitter and Facebook posts to track events such as the Arab Spring. But in a formal "request for information" from potential contractors, the FBI recently outlined its desire for a digital tool to scan the entire universe of social media -- more data than humans could ever crunch.
The Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence also have solicited the private sector for ways to automate the process of identifying emerging threats and upheavals using the billions of posts people around the world share every day.
"Social media has emerged to be the first instance of communication about a crisis, trumping traditional first responders that included police, firefighters, EMT, and journalists," the FBI wrote in its request. "Social media is rivaling 911 (emergency telephone) services in crisis response and reporting."
The proposals already have raised privacy concerns among advocates who worry that such monitoring efforts could have a chilling effect on users. Ginger McCall, director of the open government project at the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the FBI has no business monitoring legitimate free speech without a narrow, targeted law enforcement purpose.
"Any time that you have to worry about the federal government following you around peering over your shoulder listening to what you're saying, it's going to affect the way you speak and the way that you act," McCall said.
The FBI said in a statement to The Associated Press that their proposed system is only meant to monitor publicly available information and would not focus on specific individuals or groups but on words related to criminal...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
Apple's Patent Win over Motorola Spurs Quick Android Fix
Google is prepping a workaround for the Android mobile platform to replace the technology at the heart of an Apple lawsuit against Motorola Mobility in Germany. A court in Munich ruled Thursday that Motorola's current handset unlocking technology infringed on an Apple patent governing the unlocking of a device by performing gestures on an unlock image.
Industry observers have noted that the court's ruling is a permanent injunction that Apple can now attempt to enforce if it posts a bond. Given that Motorola has the option of appealing the court's decision, however, Apple would face a financial risk if it quickly moved to block Motorola's handset sales in Germany and then lost an appellate court decision.
Furthermore, the immediate effect of Thursday's ruling on Motorola's handset sales in Germany would be minimal, given that Motorola is already introducing a new software workaround.
"Motorola has implemented a new design for the feature," a Motorola Mobility spokesperson said in an e-mail Friday. "Therefore, we expect no impact on current supply or future sales."
Still, Thursday's ruling by Munich-based Judge Dr. Peter Guntz could potentially end up having a significant effect on Motorola Mobility, which Google is poised to acquire once all antitrust reviews have been completed by regulatory bodies around the world.
"There's no question that [Motorola] can keep their products available by modifying them," noted FOSS Patents blogger Florian Mueller. "But even with the current scope, this is largely a win for Apple."
Google filed a new "input to locked computing device" patent application at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Feb. 9. The move suggests that the Internet giant had been anticipating an Apple victory well in advance of the Munich court's final judgment.
Google's own patent filing describes several new methods for enabling user inputs...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
Airwaves to Be Freed Up for Faster, Better Wireless
A bill to auction off pieces of the public airwaves currently used for broadcast television so that they can be freed up for wireless Internet is making its way to President Obama's desk. Members of Congress are promoting it, in part, as a jobs bill.
"With 13 million Americans still seeking employment, job creation is a driving force behind efforts to expand wireless broadband," wrote U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton , R-Mich., and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore.
Obama is expected to sign the legislation, which could ultimately mean faster connections for wireless devices.
The need is great. The decision comes just says after Cisco's Visual Networking Index forecast an 18-fold growth in global mobile Internet data traffic from 2011 to 2016. The forecast predicts an annual run rate of 130 exabytes of mobile data traffic, which is equivalent to 33 billion DVDs, 4.3 quadrillion MP3s, and 813 quadrillion short text messages.
Will AT&T and Verizon snap up the bandwidth? Should they be allowed to? Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said the highest bidder is probably going to win -- and the wireless carriers will likely be among the highest bidders.
"When you are a government that's clearly well in the red, being too choosy about who can buy what probably isn't going to get you the money you want," Enderle said. "There certainly is going to be concern about too much bandwidth being concentrated in too few companies, but overall I think users will see at least initially a benefit from this bandwidth because carriers will have to do less throttling."
The bill's authors expect the spectrum auctions to bring in more than $15 billion in federal revenue. It also helps the Federal Communications Commission save billions of...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
U.S. Regulators Propose Limits for Car Tech Gear
As car companies pack more onboard gear into their products, Web-browsing, entertainment and all driver communication should be off limits to drivers while a vehicle is in motion, the U.S. Department of Transportation urged this week.
The department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted its guidelines online Thursday in the Federal Register, seeking public comment. They call for factory-installed equipment for secondary tasks, those not essential for driving, to be studied for their ability to distract drivers and, in a second phase, if found to be unacceptable, be designed as inoperable by the driver.
Tasks believed to most interfere with driving include "displaying images and video not related to driving; displaying automatically scrolling text, requiring manual text entry of more than six button or key presses during a single task; or requiring the reading of more than 30 characters of text (not counting punctuation)."
The goal is to keep drivers from watching videos, text messaging, Internet browsing or engaging in social media.
Public meetings will be held next month in Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles to discuss the guidelines. Specific dates have not yet been announced.
The guidelines define distraction as "a specific type of inattention that occurs when drivers divert their attention from the task of driving to focus on other tasks [from] navigation systems and cell phones." Distraction falls into three categories: Visual, aversion of the eyes from the road; manual, removing hands from the wheel; and cognitive, distracting drivers' attention.
The NHTSA said crash data show 17 percent of all accidents, or 899,000 events, were caused by driver distraction in 2010.
The guidelines are primarily concerned with integrated electronic devices, not more traditional equipment such as climate controls and other dashboard instruments or collision-avoidance control systems. The guidelines also focus on light vehicles rather than trucks because they comprise the...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
Google Insists Safari Privacy Bypass Didn't Collect IDs
A day after Twitter admitted that it uploads contacts from iPhones and other mobile devices via an application and keeps them for 18 months, Google was caught with its hand in the privacy cookie jar. The search giant developed a code to thwart the private browsing settings of Apple's Safari browser, allowing it to track unsuspecting users' Web surfing, The Wall Street Journal reported.
When the paper called Google to inquire about the practice, the code was discontinued.
The privacy breach was uncovered by Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student in computer science at Stanford University with an interest in cybersecurity. The Journal then had a technical adviser confirm that 22 popular Web sites installed the code on a test computer running Safari, while 23 left the code on an iPhone version of the browser.
Attempts to reach Mayer were not successful. Rachel Whetstone, Google's senior vice president for communications and public policy, said in an e-mail statement that the Journal's allegations were off-base.
"Apple's Safari browser blocks third-party cookies by default," she said. "However, Safari enables many Web features for its users that rely on third parties and third-party cookies, such as "Like" buttons. Last year, we began using this functionality to enable features for signed-in Google users on Safari who had opted to see personalized ads and other content -- such as the ability to "+1" things that interest them."
Whetstone said the code in question was actually "a temporary communication link between Safari browsers and Google's servers, so that we could ascertain whether Safari users were also signed into Google, and had opted for this type of personalization."
The link was intended to be anonymous to separate the data collected from personally identifying information, she said. But Google didn't anticipate that the functionality would then open the door for other...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
Many iOS Features in Apple's OS X Mountain Lion
Although iOS devices are outpacing Mac sales, Apple is nonetheless forging ahead with the next iteration of its computer operating system. Apple on Thursday released a developer preview of OS X Mountain Lion.
Mountain Lion promises to bring apps and features from the iPad to the Mac. Some of the new features include Messages, Notes, Reminders and Game Center, as well as Notification Center, Share Sheets, Twitter integration and AirPlay Mirroring. Mountain Lion is also Apple's first OS X release that incorporates iCloud features.
Mountain Lion previewers also will get a sneak peek of something Apple is calling Gatekeeper, which is a security feature that works to protect Mac users against malicious software by blocking apps that aren't Apple-approved. Mountain Lion will hit the market in late summer.
"The Mac is on a roll, growing faster than the PC for 23 straight quarters, and with Mountain Lion things get even better," said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing. He also noted that Mountain Lion is making its debut just seven months after Lion, the current Mac operating system, went on the market.
As part of Mountain Lion, the Messages App will replace iChat. Messages lets users send unlimited messages, photos and videos directly from one Apple product to another. Messages will continue to support AIM, Jabber, Yahoo Messenger and Google Talk. Meanwhile, Reminders and Notes are sort of virtual to-dos. And Game Center lets users personalize the Mac gaming experience.
Mountain Lion's Notification Center offers easier access to alerts from Mail, Calendar, Messages, Reminders, system updates and third party apps. Systemwide Share Sheets let users share links, photos and videos directly from Apple and third-party apps. And Twitter is integrated throughout Mountain.
"Apple is being less aggressive than Microsoft is with Windows 8, mostly because Microsoft doesn't have a large...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
Would Optimism Be Higher if Apple Were a Dow Stock?
Right now, Apple mania is the feel-good story on Wall Street. But the "Apple Effect" would have been even greater had the keepers of the Dow Jones industrial average added the maker of the iPad and iPhone instead of Cisco Systems in June 2009 when it ousted then-struggling General Motors.
The reason? Had Apple, now the planet's most valuable company, been added to the iconic stock index on June 8, 2009, the Dow would now be trading at a record 14,810.80, or 16% above Wednesday's close, according to a calculation by Bespoke Investment Group.
But in reality, at 12,781 the Dow is 9.8% below its Oct. 9, 2007, record close of 14,164.53.
Apple's meteoric rise -- including its first close above $500 a share earlier this week -- has some wondering what might have been. "We wonder if investor sentiment would be more positive if the Dow was trading at record levels," says Paul Hickey of Bespoke.
The Dow is a price-weighted index, which means the higher the stock price the bigger its impact on the index's overall value. Apple has risen from $143 in June of 2009 to $497.67 now, so at its current price it would have carried great clout -- both up and down. Wednesday's 97-point Dow drop would have been 167 points with Apple stock's $11.79 slide.
There is a line of thinking that during a period in which the mood of the investment community has been pessimistic, the psychology might have improved much sooner and created a positive feedback loop had the Dow been able to notch a record riding the coattails of Apple. Indeed, when it comes to an investor's psyche, new highs have a powerful effect on markets. They:
Breed hope. "There's a psychological factor," Hickey says. "New highs make people more optimistic."
Alter the national conversation. Fear has held...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
MSN Adds New Feature To Take Internet's Pulse
Microsoft is hooking up MSN.com with a hipper sidekick to broaden its appeal and stay on top of the Internet's hottest topics.
The trend-tracking service, called "msnNOW," tunes into the buzz by sifting through millions of Internet searches and links circulating among the hordes on Facebook and Twitter. The chatter is then distilled into the equivalent of a digital water cooler -- a place where people can go to keep in touch without taking up a lot of their time.
After months of development, the new feature debuts Thursday at http://now.msn.com.
The service is primarily aimed at college-age teenagers and young adults who are increasingly relying on smartphones and other mobile devices to remain plugged into what everyone is talking about from one hour to the next. It's an "information-snacking" addiction that msnNOW is looking to feed with a smorgasbord of morsels served up a team of about 20 editors who will write 100-word summaries of the stories driving online conversations, said Bob Visse, MSN's general manager.
Although it's tailor made for people on the go, msnNOW isn't offering an app for smartphones or computer tablets. It can be reached on all mobile Web browsers. The service also includes tools to make it easy to share on Facebook, Twitter and email.
Taking the Internet's pulse isn't new. The main page on Yahoo Inc.'s Web site has highlighted the top trends for years and Internet search leader Google Inc. calls out the top queries each day. Twitter regularly updates its rankings of the most-tweeted topics.
But MSN believes its new service will prove to be even more effective because it is drawing upon Microsoft Corp.'s expertise in data management and relying on human editors to ensure the real-time site is more compelling than a list of words and links.
Facebook Inc. and Twitter also have negotiated deals that...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
EU Court: Web Sites Need Not Check for Copyright Breaches
A European Union court ruled Thursday that social networking sites cannot be compelled to install general filters to prevent the illegal trading of music and other copyrighted material.
The decision is a victory for operators of social networking sites in the EU, but a setback for those who seek to protect copyrighted material from being distributed without payment or permission.
It also comes as protests are growing in Europe against ACTA, the proposed international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which is meant to protect intellectual property rights.
In Thursday's decision, the EU Court of Justice, which is based in Luxembourg, ruled that requiring general filters that would cover all the site's users would not sufficiently protect personal data or the freedom to receive and impart information.
SABAM, a Belgian company that represents authors, composers and music publishers, filed the lawsuit leading to Thursday's ruling. In it, the company objected to the practices of Netlog NV, a social networking site, saying users' profiles allowed protected works to be shared illegally.
Michael Gardner, head of the intellectual property practice at London law firm Wedlake Bell, called the ruling a further blow to copyright owners because it appears to rule out forcing operators of social network sites and Internet service providers -- at their own expense -- to impose blanket monitoring and filtering aimed at stopping infringements.
In November, SABAM lost a separate case in which it sought to require Internet service providers to install filters that would prevent the illegal downloading of files.
Gardner said the ruling would not stop copyright owners from seeking more limited injunctions against social networking sites or Internet service providers, but he said the injunctions would have to be more "proportionate" in scope and effect.
"Under EU law, there has to be a balance between the interests of copyright owners and the rights of privacy and freedom...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
Experts Urge Stronger Cyber-Regulation Bill
Cybersecurity experts are urging senators to close loopholes in legislation to give the government some ability to force critical industries to make their computer networks more secure.
Two experts are saying the bill could allow many companies to avoid regulation entirely or drag out the process for up to eight years before they would actually have to improve their computer security.
The legislation would limit the number of industries subject to regulation to those in which a cyberattack could cause "an extraordinary number of fatalities" or a "severe degradation" of national security.
"So an individual infrastructure owner, such as a rural electricity provider, has no responsibility under this title if it can show that an undefended cyberattack would only cause an ordinary number of fatalities?" said Stewart Baker, in testimony prepared for the committee's hearing on the bill Thursday. "How many dead Americans is that, exactly?"
Baker, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security who is now with the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson, and James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the bill takes important steps toward improving computer security.
But they said the measure has been weakened by corporate and other interests who argued against any attempt at regulation.
By using "terms like mass casualties, mass evacuations, or effects similar to weapons of mass destruction, we are essentially writing target lists for our attackers," said Lewis, also in prepared testimony. "They will attack what we choose not to defend."
The legislation is intended to ensure that computer systems running power plants and other essential parts of the country's infrastructure are protected from hackers, terrorists or other criminals.
The Department of Homeland Security, with input from businesses, would select which companies to regulate, and the agency would have the power to require better...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
More Chinese Cities Seize iPads Over Trademark
Authorities have seized iPads from more Chinese retailers in an escalating trademark dispute between Apple Inc. and a struggling local company that could disrupt global sales of the popular tablet computer.
Shenzhen Proview Technology claims it owns the iPad name in China, and a court ruled in its favor last year. This week, the Chinese company said it will ask customs officials to stop imports and exports of iPads, which are made in China.
A Web site run by newspaper China Business News said Thursday iPads were seized in the central city of Zhengzhou and the eastern port of Qingdao. Seizures were reported earlier in Shijiazhuang and Xuzhou.
Proview said it has asked regulators in more than 40 cities to investigate possible trademark violations.
Chinese media say Proview is deeply in debt, and observers have suggested the company needs a large settlement to repay creditors.
"We've appealed to Apple through its agents to have a settlement, but so far we haven't received any response from them," said a Proview lawyer, Xie Xianghui. He declined to say how much Proview wants.
An employee of the press office of Zhengzhou's Administration of Industry and Commerce confirmed some iPads were seized there.
"One of our local offices seized iPads from a shop and sealed them off based on the Chinese Trademark Law, although we did not carry out a city-wide seizure," said the employee, who would give only his surname, Jiang.
A spokesman for Qingdao's Administration of Industry and Commerce said he knew of no order to seize iPads but said the agency was monitoring the legal process.
"We're investigating iPad sales in the city and will move quickly once there is a final legal judgment," said the spokesman, who would give only his surname, He.
A spokesman for Weihai's commerce agency said he knew of no citywide seizures but said local offices...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
Whitney Houston Fans To Follow Funeral on Internet
They won't be there in person, but singer Whitney Houston's millions of fans worldwide will be able to share in her homecoming service Saturday as they watch her private funeral on the Internet.
It will provide a much-needed connection for fans who have lacked a formal place to eulogize Houston, one of the world's best-selling artists who died in Beverly Hills, California, on Saturday at the age of 48.
Some have gathered and placed flowers outside the Newark, N.J., church where the funeral will be held by invitation-only at the request of Houston's family, who wish to maintain some privacy. Others have stopped by the funeral home. But many have longed to share more fully in commemorating the superstar's life, and have shown their grief in one of the few ways available to them -- by buying her music.
Houston's funeral will be at New Hope Baptist Church, where she sang as a child. Her eulogy will be given by gospel singer Marvin Winans, a Grammy Award winner and longtime family friend. Afterward, Houston will be buried in Fair View Cemetery in Westfield, N.J., according to her death certificate. Her father, John Russell Houston Jr., was buried there in 2003.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, investigators for the coroner's office have subpoenaed records from the singer's doctors and pharmacies who dispensed medication found in the hotel room where she died.
Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said such inquiries are routine in virtually all death investigations.
Investigators have not said what medications they have recovered from Houston's room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The singer was found underwater in a bathtub by a member of her staff hours before she planned to attend a chic pre-Grammy gala. Police have said there were no signs of foul play and Winter said there were no signs of trauma on her...
Sat, 18 Feb 12
FTC: Parents Need More Info on Apps for Kids
Kids have easy and inexpensive access to hundreds of smartphone applications, but parents are in the dark about what personal information is being collected from their children and how companies are using the data, government regulators said Thursday.
The Federal Trade Commission said companies that make mobile apps, and the stores that sell them, should be providing parents with basic, simple-to-understand information about their products so they can choose which apps their children can use. The report also says developers should disclose whether their apps connect with social media services or include advertisements.
Mobile apps can automatically capture smartphone information, such as a person's location, phone number, call logs and personal contacts.
The market for mobile apps has exploded over the past few years, according to the FTC. In 2008, there were about 600 apps available to smartphone users. Now there are hundreds of thousands that have been downloaded more than 28 billion times, the commission said.
"This rapidly growing market provides enormous opportunities and benefits for app users of all ages, but raises questions about users' privacy, especially when the users are children and teens," the report by the FTC staff said.
Using the word "kids," FTC staff searched online app stores and examined pages promoting apps for word games, math and number games, and entertainment. Most of the product descriptions stated that they were for use by children. Prices for the apps ranged from free to $9.99. "But most apps were $0.99 or less, and free apps were overwhelmingly the most frequently downloaded," the report said.
Fri, 17 Feb 12
Twitter To Alert Mobile Users It Uploads Contacts
In yet another cringe-inducing privacy scandal, social-media micro-blogging giant Twitter is 'fessing up to raiding the contact lists of some smartphone users via its mobile app -- and holding onto that data for a year-and-a-half.
The Find Friends app, which enables Twitter access to those contacts to search for fellow tweeters, evidently holds onto that information long after the initial search.
Now, Twitter will not say it will stop the practice, just that it will be more open about it.
"We want to be clear and transparent in our communications with users," Twitter spokeswoman Carolyn Penner said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. "Along those lines, in our next app updates, which are coming soon, we are updating the language associated with Find Friends -- to be more explicit."
That means "scan your contacts" will be replaced by a more explicit "upload your contacts."
ABC News reported Wednesday that the latest controversy began when an app developer in Singapore, Arun Thampi, discovered that the social-networking service Path collected address book data from iPhones without permission.
Twitter also admitted to the practice after members of Congress sent a letter to Apple, which offers the mobile apps for those networks, expressing concern. Apple said the practice violates its terms of service for apps.
Penner told the Los Angeles Times that Twitter did not collect the names of contacts, only their e-mails and phone numbers, and stored them so that it could alert users if one of those contacts later uses the e-mail to sign up for Twitter.
It's the latest tension in the struggle over increasingly bold steps taken by big technology to mine data wherever they can get it. Facebook and Google -- which operates Google+, YouTube and Picasa -- have also been rapped for rapidly changing privacy practices and policies and have fallen under the...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
Apple's iPad Shipments Dampened by iPhone 4S Launch
Apple shipped 15.4 million iPads during last year's fourth quarter -- a 39 percent rise from the prior three months. Nevertheless, Apple's share of the global tablet market slipped seven percentage points, to 57 percent, "as many loyal Apple customers devoted their dollars to shiny new alternatives," said Rhoda Alexander, senior manager of tablet and monitor research at IHS iSuppli.
One of the drivers of Apple's share decline was Amazon's 3.9 million Kindle Fire tablet shipments. However, Alexander believes the launch of Apple's new iPhone 4S may have dampened iPad sales in last year's seasonally strong fourth quarter.
"The primary alternative wasn't the Kindle Fire -- which debuted to solid sales in the fourth quarter -- but Apple's own iPhone 4S smartphone," Alexander said.
The rollout of the iPhone 4S in October generated intense competition for Apple purchasers' disposable income, Alexander said. This did "more to limit iPad shipment growth than competition from the Kindle Fire and other media tablets."
According to IHS, the launch of value-priced tablets in the final three months of 2011 created chaos across the Android tablet marketplace. Among other things, it forced competitors to slash pricing in order to clear inventory, the firm's analysts said.
The surge in non-iPad shipments "was achieved at considerable financial cost, with sharp price reductions across most of the competing Android tablets and actual product giveaways from a number of vendors as part of promotional efforts for other electronic products," Alexander said.
Samsung Electronics boosted its fourth-quarter tablet sales sequentially by shipping an extra 290,000 units, but it was not enough to overcome the "respectable start" for Amazon's Kindle Fire, Alexander said. As a result, Samsung fell to third place with an 8 percent share of the global tablet market during the fourth quarter.
By contrast, Amazon's Kindle Fire...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
Intel's Crystal Forest Platform Aims at Video on the Network
Intel is offering a sneak peek at Crystal Forest, the company's next-generation communications platform. Crystal Forest promises to handle data processing across the network more securely and efficiently and deal with cloud connectivity and content processing. The new platform is scheduled to be available later in 2012.
Like Cisco, Intel sees the opportunity in video. Every minute of the day, 30 hours of video are uploaded across the network, according to Cisco's Visual Networking Index, and by 2015 it will take about five years to watch all the video crossing IP networks every second. That demand cries out for solutions that can manage traffic without lags in performance or security.
"The demand for increased network performance will continue to grow as more smart devices connect to the Internet every day," said Rose Schooler, general manager of Intel's Communications Infrastructure Division. "And with the popularity of social networking and other high-bandwidth services, such as video and photo uploads/downloads, interactive video, crowd-casting and online gaming, service providers will be challenged to efficiently provision sufficient upstream capacity and manage the spike in network traffic."
Crystal Forest is Intel's answer. The platform allows equipment manufacturers to consolidate three communications workloads -- application, control and packet processing -- on multi-core Intel architecture processors. The promised result: better performance and faster time to market.
Intel expects Crystal Forest to deliver up to 160 million packets-per-second performance for Layer 3 packet forwarding. With that kind of speed, it's possible to send thousands of high-definition videos across each network node. Previously, only ASIC or specialized processors were capable of sending more than 100 million packets per second.
Crystal Forest will also tap Intel QuickAssist technology, which processes and accelerates specialized packet workloads -- cryptography, compression and deep packet inspection included -- on standard Intel platforms. Using this technology, secure...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
HP Rolls Out Automation-Focused ProLiant Gen 8 Servers
The fruit of a $300 million, two-year program called Project Voyager, Hewlett-Packard just rolled out its ProLiant Generation 8 servers. HP hopes to redefine data center economics with an automation strategy that boasts more than 900 filed patents and new systems architecture known as ProActive Insight -- and ProLiant Generation 8 offers a glimpse of the possibilities.
HP is offering some metrics around those possibilities. In a typical 10,000-square-foot data center, HP estimates companies spend an average of $24 million in a three-year period on manual operations to support servers. HP ProLiant Gen8 claims to triple administrator productivity by eliminating most manual operations.
HP also claims ProLiant Gen8 can increase compute capacity per watt of energy by a whopping 70 percent and resolve unplanned downtime issues up to 66 percent faster through self-monitoring, self-diagnosing and proactive support. HP was not immediately available for comment.
Project Voyager is the third phase of HP's multiyear transformation plan for the server market, which launched in November 2011 with Project Moonshot. Project Moonshot aimed to change how servers are built for extreme-low-energy computing. Phase Two, Project Odyssey, redefined the future of mission-critical computing. Project Voyager works to automate every aspect of the server life cycle.
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, said ProLiant Gen8 offers interesting answers to a common quandary in the x86 server market, namely how vendors leveraging the same basic CPUs and associated technologies can effectively differentiate their solutions and go-to-market strategies. The same issue, he noted, applies to PCs and notebooks.
"The fact is that system and data center efficiency, both critical points in operational expenditures and facilities management, have long been challenges in scale-out x86 server environments, significantly impacting IT budgets and related business initiatives," King said. "That's the main sales point of HP's Project Voyager, as well as its related...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
Apple Previews Mac OS Update, Mountain Lion
Apple Inc. on Thursday released a developer preview of an update for the Mac operating system, dubbed "Mountain Lion," that will copy more features and apps from the iPhone and iPad to the Mac.
Apple said the new software will be on sale this summer, a year after it released the latest update, "Lion." The preview version will help software developers make products that take advantage of the new features of the operating system.
Mountain Lion will include Game Center, an iPhone app which stores high game scores and helps users find opponents. It will be integrated with iCloud, the new Internet storage service designed for the mobile devices.
The new Messages app, also copied from the mobile operating system, will replace iChat. Lion users can download a preview version of the app for free.
A new Notification Center will show alerts from email and calendar programs, just like on the iPhone.
Apple started the trend of making its Mac operating system more like its phone and tablet operating system, iOS, with the release of Lion. It borrowed phone features like a screen that shows all installed apps, and expanded the range of gestures that can be used to control a MacBook through the touchpad.
The Cupertino, California-based company sells Lion for $30. It didn't say what Mountain Lion would cost.
Apple has been growing Mac sales in a nearly stagnant PC market, but the sales aren't growing as fast as those of the iPhone. In 2010, iPhone sales overtook those of Macs for the first time.
Apple has been using the names of big cats to differentiate its OS versions since 2001.
Microsoft Corp. is set to release Windows 8 later this year, and a preview version is already in developer hands. It, too, will be borrowing features from phone software, and one version of the operating system...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
Facebook Effect Helps Boost Social-Media Stocks
Facebook's hotly anticipated IPO is months away, but investors apparently can't wait that long to jump on the social-media stock bandwagon. Companies in the business of connecting people online, mainly for marketing purposes, have seen their shares rocket 35% or more this year as investors scramble for a piece of the Facebook effect.
The big gains come as many social-media companies report financial results for the first time since going public. Zynga, the leading social-gaming company, reported a fourth-quarter loss of $435 million after the markets' close Tuesday.
"Facebook is shining a light on both the initial public offering market and on Facebook wannabes," says Francis Gaskins of IPOdesktop.com.
The social-media stock frenzy is apparent in the:
Big 2012 gains by U.S. social-media leaders. LinkedIn, a site that allows professionals to link with each other, and Zynga, an online gaming firm, are the key public U.S. social-networking stocks. LinkedIn and Zynga are up 35% and 53% in 2012, respectively.
Solid rises by global social-media stocks. Renren and Quepasa, generally regarded as the Facebooks of China and Latin America, have rebounded along with a rally of stocks in emerging markets. Shares of Renren and Quepasa are up 53% and 37%, respectively, undoing some of their poor performances last year.
Tailwind from related Internet stocks. Pandora, while not exactly a social-media stock, is enjoying the interest in Internet stocks, gaining 33%. The USA TODAY Internet 50 index, a collection of 50 big Internet stocks, is up 15%.
Facebook's IPO filing showed how profitable it is and silenced critics of the social-media business, says Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities. The filing revealed how critical Zynga is to Facebook's success and how the two are quickly dominating the industry, says Colin Sebastian of Robert W. Baird. Investors are wondering if this is a new area that's so big they have to...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
FCC Puts 'Robocalls' on Its Hit List
You should soon be getting fewer of those annoying "robocalls" at home. The Federal Communications Commission today is set to approve tougher rules giving consumers additional protection against unwanted autodialed or prerecorded calls to home phone lines. "We have gotten thousands of complaints," says FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "Consumers were still getting robocalls they don't want and shouldn't get."
He expects the commission to approve new rules that will require telemarketers to get written consent before making such calls.
Even though Congress in 2008 passed legislation making Do Not Call permanent, some telemarketers have continued to make unsolicited calls because of loopholes in the law.
Under the new FCC rules, telemarketers must get consent before calling home phones, even if the consumer hasn't included their number on the Do Not Call registry. Current rules already prohibit such calls to cellphones without consent.
Robocall telemarketers use predictive technology to automatically dial thousands of homes simultaneously and connect live representatives with call recipients. Often, consumers hear nothing when they pick up the phone because there's no representative available.
Previously, companies that consumers already had done business with could robocall them, but that exemption will be removed under the new rules. Other new provisions require telemarketers to give consumers a quick way to end the call and automatically add their number to telemarketers' Do Not Call lists.
Not covered by the new rules: robocalls from schools and other non-profit organizations and political groups, because they are considered informational. Those calls cannot be made without consent to wireless phones, however.
The FCC is also expected to require Internet-based phone services, such as Vonage, to alert the agency when outages affect 911 service. Traditional carriers already must do so. "Almost one-third of Americans use VoIP as their only telephone service," Genachowski says. "The reason we are updating our rules is to help...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
Google Has Intriguing Plans at the Googleplex
Google is in the midst of more than $120 million in construction projects at its Mountain View headquarters, including work on a series of new or previously secret hardware testing labs that hint at the Internet giant's expanding interest in crafting consumer devices like its rivals Apple and Microsoft.
Among the projects, revealed by a review of public records by this newspaper, are a lab to test a new consumer product under the brand name "@home" that will wirelessly stream music or data to other household devices, apparently similar to a prototype home audio service Google demonstrated publicly last year. And, most intriguingly, Google is modifying a lab for a project enigmatically named "Project X," which appears to involve precision optical technology and could be part of the secret technology projects Google co-founder Sergey Brin is heading.
The highest-profile project will be a "Google Experience Center" under construction at the core of the Googleplex. The 120,000-square-foot center will be a kind of private museum for Google's most important clients and partners, where the company plans "to share visionary ideas, and explore new ways of working" with up to 900 VIPs and other important guests, according to documents Google filed with the city of Mountain View.
"The Experience Center would not typically be open to the public -- consisting of invited groups, and guests whose interests will be as vast as Google's range of products, and often confidential," Andrew Burnett, an architect working on the project, explained in a letter late last year to Mountain View officials. "Therefore, the Experience Center must also operate somewhat like a museum, exhibit, or mercantile space allowing flexibility in the exhibits so that as Google's products and needs change, the space can adapt."
As Google becomes increasingly focused on selling its products to other companies, schools and government agencies,...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
The Psychologist in the Smartphone
The very idea of psychotherapy seems to defy the instant-access, video screen blur of popular digital culture.
Not for long, if some scientists have their way. In the past few years researchers have been testing simple, video-game-like programs aimed at relieving common problems like anxiety and depression. These recent results have been encouraging enough that investigators are now delivering the programs on smartphones -- therapy apps, in effect, that may soon make psychological help accessible anytime, anywhere, whether in the grocery store line, on the bus, or just before a work presentation.
The prospect of a therapy icon next to Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja is stirring as much dread as hope in some quarters. "We are built as human beings to figure out our place in the world, to construct a narrative in the context of a relationship that gives meaning to our lives," said Dr. Andrew Gerber, a psychiatrist at Columbia University. "I would be wary of treatments that don't allow for that."
The upside is that well-designed apps could reach millions of people who lack the means or the interest to engage in traditional therapy and need more than the pop mysticism, soothing thoughts or confidence boosters currently in use.
"That is what makes the idea so promising," said Richard McNally, a psychologist at Harvard whose lab recently completed a study of 338 people using a simple program accessible on their smartphones. "But there are big questions about how it could work, and how robust the effect really is."
The smartphone study is only one of the most recent tests of an approach called cognitive bias modification, or C.B.M., that seeks to break some of the brain's bad habits. The theory is straightforward. Consider people with social anxiety, a kind of extreme shyness that can be physically disabling. Studies have found that...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
Study: Computers Can 'Evolve' for Cybersecurity
U.S. researchers say findings from genetics research are inspiring them in their search for ways to combat the increasing number of global cyberattacks.
Scientists at Wake Forest University say they've used a genetically inspired algorithm to fight continual evolution of viruses, worms and malware with computer evolution, developing the first-ever automated computer configurations that adjust as quickly as the threats.
The algorithm proactively discovers more secure computer configurations by leveraging the genetic concept of "survival of the fittest" in a computer network, a Wake Forest release said Tuesday.
"Typically, administrators configure hundreds and sometimes thousands of machines the same way, meaning a virus that infects one could affect any computer on the same network," researcher Michael Crouse said.
"If successful, automating the ability to ward off attacks could play a crucial role in protecting highly sensitive data within large organizations."
Cyberattacks usually take place in two phases, the researchers said. In the reconnaissance phase, a virus simply observes, identifies possible defense mechanisms and looks for the best way in.
If nothing has changed since the reconnaissance phase upon the virus's return, it strikes, but even the slightest change in environment -- accomplished automatically by the algorithm -- can make a huge difference in deterring potential attackers, they said.
"If we can automatically change the landscape by adding the technological equivalent of security cameras or additional lighting, the resulting uncertainty will lower the risk of attack," researcher Errin Fulp said.
Fri, 17 Feb 12
Zynga Posts 4Q Net Loss on IPO-Related Stock Costs
Online game maker Zynga Inc. reported a net loss for the last three months of 2011, weighed down by hefty stock-compensation expenses and other costs in its first quarter as a public company.
Its adjusted earnings and revenue inched past Wall Street's expectations, but that wasn't enough to lift the stock of the company that is behind the most popular games played on Facebook. Zynga's stock fell 6 percent in after-hours trading following its report.
San Francisco-based Zynga said Tuesday that it lost $435 million, or $1.22 per share, in the fourth quarter. That's down from earnings of $16.1 million, or 5 cents per share, a year earlier when it was still privately held.
Adjusted earnings were 5 cents per share in the latest quarter, surpassing Wall Street's expectations by 2 cents. This figure excludes one-time items, including $510 million in stock-compensation expenses triggered by Zynga's initial public offering of stock in mid-December.
Revenue rose 59 percent from a year earlier to $311 million as Zynga grew its user base, ad revenue and the money it makes from games such as "CityVille," "FarmVille and "Zynga Poker." On average, analysts surveyed by FactSet were expecting $302 million.
Investors may have been hoping for more. Zynga's revenue climbed just 1 percent, compared with the third quarter. In contrast, its revenue grew by double-digit percentages from one quarter to the next for the year's first three quarters.
Zynga's IPO raised $1 billion, at the time the largest IPO by a U.S. Internet company since Google's in 2004. Facebook, though, is expected to dwarf both when it goes public in the next few months. The world's largest online social network plans to raise $5 billion in an IPO that could value the company at $100 billion. In comparison, Zynga's market capitalization was about $10 billion as of Tuesday.
Zynga relies on...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
Alibaba To Reach Out to Yahoo CEO on Stalled Deal
Alibaba Group and Japan's Softbank will go directly to Yahoo's chief executive, bypassing negotiators from the U.S. Internet company, after talks over the sale of Yahoo's Asian holdings broke down, a person familiar with the negotiations said Wednesday.
The struggling Internet company has been in discussions to sell its stakes in Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Yahoo Japan back to Alibaba and Yahoo Japan shareholder Softbank Corp.
But the person, who declined to be identified because the talks are confidential, said that Softbank and Alibaba will go directly to Yahoo Inc. CEO Scott Thompson for more clarity after talks broke down over the terms. The person said Yahoo's negotiating team seemed to have different ideas from the company's leaders.
"Softbank and Alibaba will be reaching out to Scott Thompson to get clarity on what the heck is going on," said the person, adding that the two Asian companies are still "very much in alignment."
The fate of Yahoo's Asian holdings remains in limbo after negotiations abruptly broke off. It's the latest twist in the drama that has been swirling around Yahoo since it fired Carol Bartz as CEO five months ago.
Yahoo wants to appease shareholders by selling its two most valuable assets -- the stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan -- to raise money for dividends or possible acquisitions. But a complicated deal that would have enabled Yahoo to escape taxes fell apart.
The person said the talks broke down over unreasonable terms but wouldn't specify what that meant, except to say that it wasn't over price.
"The strategic leaders were saying: We want to unlock some value here so we can free up some cash and focus on the core," said the person of Yahoo's top management. "Based on the behavior of the most recent negotiation session (in Hong Kong), it was...
Fri, 17 Feb 12
FCC Plans To Nix Wireless Network that May Jam GPS
Federal officials plan to kill a private company's plans to start a national high-speed wireless broadband network after concluding it would in some cases jam personal-navigation and other GPS devices.
The Federal Communications Commission said it will seek public comment as early as Wednesday on revoking LightSquared's permit after a federal agency that coordinates wireless signals, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, concluded that there's no way to mitigate potential interference.
When the FCC gave LightSquared tentative approval last year to build the network, it said the company won't be allowed to start operations until the government was satisfied that any problems are addressed. LightSquared and the FCC had insisted the new network could co-exist with GPS systems.
Device makers, however, feared that GPS signals would suffer the way a radio station can get drowned out by a stronger broadcast in a nearby channel. The problem is that sensitive GPS receivers, designed to pick up relatively weak signals from space, could be overwhelmed by high-power signals from as many as 40,000 LightSquared transmitters on the ground. LightSquared planned to transmit on a frequency adjacent to that used by GPS.
After conducting tests, the NTIA said Tuesday that it found interference with dozens of personal-navigation devices and aircraft-control systems that rely on GPS.
The agency said that new technology in the future might mitigate the problems, but it would take time and money to replace GPS equipment already used extensively in the U.S. The NTIA, a branch of the Commerce Department, also said adjustments to LightSquared's network could cost billions of dollars and might not solve all of the problems.
Virginia-based LightSquared had no immediate comment Wednesday.
LightSquared had hoped to compete nationally with super-fast, fourth-generation wireless services being rolled out AT&T, Verizon Wireless and other traditional wireless companies. It hadn't planned to sell directly to consumers. Rather,...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Powerful PlayStation Vita Has Great Line-Up, High Price, No TV Output
The next-generation PlayStation handheld device hits the market in less than a week, and while a countdown clock winds down on the Sony Electronics Web site, fans who can't wait can shell out an extra $50 to get a limited, First-Edition bundle that is already shipping.
For $349, Sony will send you the PlayStation Vita with a 4-gigabyte memory card and BigBig Studios' Little Deviants arcade game. Those who are more patient will get an 8 GB memory card, a one-month AT&T 250-megabyte DataConnect session pass and a PlayStation Network game for $299.
The Vita, which shares its name with a U.S. company that makes pickled herring and other food products, is powered by an ARM Cortex A9 quad-core processor and has a 5-inch, multitouch capacitive OLED screen. It's equipped with a three-axis gyroscope and three-axis accelerometer and includes front and back cameras. It's equipped for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or 3G connection.
Sony does not list the camera specifications on its site but PC World described them as 0.3 megapixels, far weaker than most cell-phone cameras.
The Vita will square off against Nintendo's latest handheld, the 3DS. Although if offers 3D play without glasses, slow sales of the 3DS last year caused the company to drop the price sharply from $249 to $169, which boosted sales in the next quarter.
ABI Research digital home analyst Michael Inouye sees the two products targeting different audiences.
"I think the 3DS and Vita are different enough that each will appeal to each respective company's customer base," he said. "The 3DS is still geared towards younger and more casual gamers, although Nintendo realizes the mobile threat and is trying to appeal to the core gamer as well."
That could be one of the reasons for the 3DS price drop, he said, as consumers failed to be impressed...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Cisco Bets on Indian Social Network, Avoids Repatriation Levy
Cisco Systems is notorious for making investments in companies and later acquiring them. This time around Cisco has snapped up a 17 percent stake in a social-media platform called Qyuki, according to The Economic Times of India.
Qyuki is a new media company in India founded by Shekhar Kapur, an Oscar award nominee, and A.R. Rahman, winner of a Grammy and an Oscar. The site is not yet live, but the company is actively hiring talent and an infusion of cash from Cisco could help it attract some keen developers.
"Qyuki will not be as inert as Facebook or as passive as YouTube. We want to shepherd people's creativity to create new films and score music collaboratively," Kapur told The Economic Times.
One practical example of Qyuki in action is a songwriter who could post lyrics and a music writer who could write the score. Those two could hook up on the social network with a marketer and then distribute the final product over the platform to various devices.
"Social media is obviously the wave of the future and that's clearly demonstrated by Facebook's valuation," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. "It sounds like these guys are finding ways to help communities connect with one another. Groups of people who maybe have never known each other before can meet up through this interface to collaborate on projects."
Kerravala is not surprised that Cisco would invest in this startup. He points to companies that are boasting tremendous value in the stock market, like Amazon, Facebook and eBay. Many of the hottest companies don't actually sell anything, he noted, they just facilitate transactions between people.
"If you look at something like Craigslist, the interface is terrible but there's a tremendous amount of value there because you can connect with people," Kerravala said. "Much of...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Google Wallet Returns to Business, but...
Prepaid credit cards for Google Wallet are now working again, thanks to a fix issued by the technology giant. On Saturday, Google had suspended use of the prepaid cards because of a reported security flaw -- but now another possible security issue has popped up.
The fixed flaw involves the ability of someone who has found a lost or stolen mobile device to illegally use any available funds on a virtual prepaid card. By going to device settings, wiping the PIN data for the Google Wallet app, and replacing it with a new PIN, someone could get access to the prepaid funds. The card is tied to the particular device, not to a user's Google account.
On Tuesday, Vice President for Google Wallet and Payments Osama Bedier posted on the Google Commerce blog that the company had restored the ability to issue new prepaid cards to the Wallet.
He also added that a fix was issued that "prevents an existing prepaid card from being re-provisioned to another user," although Bedier did not go into specifics. While the security issue had received wide attention on the Web, he noted that the company was "not aware of any abuse of prepaid cards or the Wallet PIN" because of that issue.
Another reported security flaw was not addressed in the fix. It involved the ability to determine a PIN if a mobile device has been "rooted."
Last week, security firm Zvelo noted that, using a rooted smartphone on which Google Wallet has been installed, someone other than the owner can get access to the Wallet's PIN via a brute force attack on the database storing the PIN.
Google has noted previously that the Wallet is not designed for smartphones that have been rooted, which is usually done by the owner. Bedier wrote that sometimes "users...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Cisco Appeals Microsoft's Skype Acquisition in EU
Cisco is battling against Microsoft's $8.5 billion Skype acquisition in the European Union's high court. Rather than trying to kill the acquisition itself, Cisco just wants to make sure Microsoft won't block other video conferencing services from interfacing with the platform.
Marthin De Beer, head of Cisco's video conferencing division, noted that the world remains some distance from the goal of video calls being as easy and ubiquitous as phone calls are today. He asked his blog readers to imagine how difficult it would be if they were limited to calling people who only use the same carrier or if their phone could only call certain brands.
"Cisco wants to avoid this future for video communications, and therefore today appealed the European Commission's approval of the Microsoft/Skype merger to the General Court of the European Union," De Beer said. Messagenet, a European VoIP service provider, joined Cisco in the appeal.
De Beer was quick to mention that Cisco does not oppose the merger, but believes the European Commission should have placed conditions that would guarantee standards-based interoperability so that no single company can control the future of video communications.
"This appeal is about one thing only: securing standards-based interoperability in the video calling space," De Beer said. "Our goal is to make video calling as easy and seamless as e-mail is today. Making a video-to-video call should be as easy as dialing a phone number. Today, however, you can't make seamless video calls from one platform to another, much to the frustration of consumers and business users alike."
Cisco is calling for open standards in a move to accelerate innovation, create economic value, and increase choice for users of video communications, entertainment and services. This is critical, De Beer noted, because the world will be home to nearly 3 billion Internet users...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Smartphone Sales Up 47% in Q4 to 149 Million Units
Global smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2011 soared to 149 million units -- a 47.3 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2010, according to Gartner. What's more, smartphone sales during full-year 2011 reached 472 million units and accounted for 31 percent of all mobile-device sales -- a 58 percent rise from 2010, the firm's analysts said Wednesday.
During the fourth quarter Apple became the world's third-largest mobile-handset vendor overall. The iconic device maker also led the global smartphone field with a 23.8 percent market share and 35.5 million unit shipments.
"Western Europe and North America led most of the smartphone growth for Apple during the fourth quarter," said Roberta Cozza, a principal research analyst at Gartner. "In Western Europe the spike in iPhone sales in the fourth quarter saved the overall smartphone market after two consecutive quarters of slow sales."
Even better for Apple, it led the global smartphone market by claiming a 19 percent market share for all of 2011. However, given that Apple will not benefit from delayed purchases as it did in the fourth quarter of 2011, Gartner's analysts expect its explosive 121.4 percent iPhone sales growth to decline on a sequential basis in the current quarter.
Worldwide sales of mobile devices overall rose 5.4 percent to 476.5 million units in last year's fourth quarter, and for the year as a whole 1.8 billion units were shipped -- an 11.1 percent increase from 2010. This year Gartner expects the handset market overall to grow by about 7 percent. Moreover, smartphone growth is expected to slow to around 39 percent.
Nokia led the handset market overall by shipping 111.7 million units in the final quarter of 2011. However, Samsung Mobile narrowed its gap with Nokia by shipping 92.7 million handsets overall, including...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Inkling Releases 'Breakthrough' e-Book Authoring Tool
The category of e-books is beginning to fill out. This week, a company called Inkling launched the next generation of its e-book publishing tool, called Inkling Habitat, which could substantially raise the bar and lower costs.
The company, founded by ex-Apple educational marketing manager Matt MacInnis, touts its new tool as being more versatile, faster, and with more interactive capability than Apple's recently released iBooks Author. The functions include 3-D rendering, guided tours, HD videos, interactive quizzes, and more. Habitat was announced at the Tools of Change for Publishing conference taking place in New York City.
In a statement, the San Francisco-backed company described Habitat as a "breakthrough software environment that represents the most significant advance in publishing technology since the advent of desktop publishing in the 1980s."
CEO MacInnis told news media that, "To reinvent the book, we had to reinvent the printing press." Habitat includes the ability to push updates to every target platform at once with a single "publish" click, with customized, device-specific layouts. Each publishing update is accompanied by automated tests for broken links, missing files and such details as glossary issues.
All work is conducted in the cloud, with the ability to collaborate and control versioning that cloud-based authoring allows. Every version is saved, and can be called up at any time. The content structure is object-oriented, so that the content can be managed as software components and separated from layout and device, rather than built as device-specific pages.
MacInnis said the eight e-books Apple showed last month when it announced iBooks 2 were created in a labor-intensive, one-person-at-a-time mode, as compared with Habitat's collaborative environment with built-in features.
Ross Rubin, executive director of connected intelligence for The NPD Group, noted that Apple's entrance into the e-textbook and e-publishing market, especially with its upgrade to iBooks...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Philanderers Find a Booming Market Online
Husbands and wives take note: If Valentine's Day expectations aren't met, your mate might soon be looking elsewhere for a little romance and appreciation.
That may sound like a cautionary tale, but for Noel Biderman and others who have founded dating Web sites for married people, it's a lucrative business.
"The day after Valentine's Day is one of our biggest days of the year," says Biderman, founder and CEO of Ashley Madison, a 10-year-old site that unapologetically caters to "discreet" encounters for the married or otherwise attached. "People are disappointed by their spouses' lack of effort, and they feel especially undervalued when there is a societal expectation of romance. Certain days of the year act as litmus tests for many people in relationships."
Web sites designed to facilitate cheating appear to be thriving; some earn tens of millions of dollars a year, and competition is growing. In addition to Toronto-based Ashley Madison, there's a growing crop of copycats that equate affairs with romance, passion and adventure.
Whether these sites promote cheating or just facilitate it is up for debate.
"People are going to cheat regardless of whether Ashley Madison is there or not," says sociologist Diane Kholos Wysocki of the University of Nebraska-Kearney, who has surveyed the site's members for her latest research. "There's a bigger social issue going on -- people aren't taking care of their marriages.
"It's not so much that they're going to these cheating Web sites because the sex is greater or the person is more beautiful. It's because the person is giving them attention they're not getting at home."
Some of the sites are based in Europe and increasingly have become international, with their eye on the USA.
"American people are really hypocrites about infidelity," says Teddy Truchot, co-founder of Gleeden, which launched in Europe in 2009, moved into Australia and entered the...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Apple's Stock Powers Past the $500 Mark
A falling apple proves the law of gravity. The price of Apple stock is proving otherwise -- soaring past $500 a share for the first time on Monday.
Powered by the popularity of mobile devices like the iPhone, Apple's stock continues its breathtaking rise that knocks down any thresholds that stand in its way. The latest was the $500-a-share barrier, a new record, as the stock stormed $9.18 higher to $502.60.
Last month, Apple trounced ExxonMobil as the most valuable company in the world. Now, Apple's market value is worth 16% more than Exxon's. Shares of Apple have enjoyed a 40% rise since last February and a nearly 500% gain from five years ago.
"It's a once-in-a-generation company that reinvents markets and does no wrong," says Michael Walkley, analyst at Canaccord Genuity.
Apple's astounding rise and dominance of almost any market it taps is allowing investors to thumb their noses at all the conventional wisdom about stocks, including:
The crowd is always wrong. The masses, which are bullish on Apple stock, have been dead right. The crowd of money managers, investors and analysts piling into the stock have enjoyed one of the greatest rides by a big stock in recent memory. Of the 40 Wall Street analysts who follow the stock, 38 rate it a "buy" or "strong buy."
Big companies, eventually, have difficulty maintaining their growth rates. As companies go from tiny upstarts to big-cap publicly traded companies, eventually their growth rates moderate. That's been the case at Microsoft, Intel and even Google. But Apple continues to post growth like a corporate whippersnapper. Apple's revenue grew 68% last year, its fastest rate of growth in the past five years, S&P Capital IQ says. Profit, too, jumped 98%, also the fastest clip of growth in the past five years.
Investors need to diversify. With Apple's stock rising...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Bringing Your Smartphone to Work: Security Nightmare?
Like many employees these days, Kim Gibbons uses her own smartphone and tablet for her job at Cisco Systems. That way, no matter where she is -- including weekend soccer matches with her children -- "I'm still very much connected with everything at work," she said.
Hers is one of a number of companies that encourages this bring-your-own-device trend. But the practice is causing consternation among executives nationwide. While loath to alienate employees by being too restrictive, many fear their companies' confidential or critical business data could be accessed from poorly secured gadgets by hackers, who are attacking firms with increasing ferocity.
As a result, rules regarding the use of personal devices vary widely. Some companies permit it with tight controls that include having the ability to remotely wipe the gadgets clean of all data -- personal or otherwise -- if the machines are lost or stolen. Others bar employee-owned devices altogether or haven't figured out what to do.
"The world is going mobile," said Bob Worrall, chief information officer at Santa Clara, Calif., chipmaker Nvidia, which recently decided to let employees use their phones and tablets at work. But how to adapt to that shift while protecting company secrets, he added, "has really become a question that legal and security teams have wrestled with across the industry."
For many workers -- particularly the young -- having to use a clunky company-issued phone or laptop is unthinkable. A Cisco survey of 2,853 adults younger than 30 last year found 70 percent preferred to use a work device of their own choosing. And among those in college, 81 percent expressed that preference.
Still, recent research by McAfee and the National Cyber Security Alliance has found that nearly three out of four adults fail to protect their smartphones with security software. Moreover, people often use their phones,...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Chinese Company To Seek iPad Import, Export Ban
A Chinese company said Tuesday it will ask customs officials to ban imports and exports of Apple's iPads due to a dispute over ownership of the trademark.
All of Apple's iPads are manufactured in China, meaning global sales of the popular tablet computers might be affected if authorities agreed to enforce such a request by Shenzhen Proview Technology.
The dispute with Proview, which won a court ruling that it owns the iPad name in China, has resulted in authorities seizing iPads from retailers in one city. Proview said it has asked for enforcement in 30 other cities.
"We are now working on a request to China Customs to ban and seize all the import and export of the iPad products that have violated the trademark," said Xie Xianghui, a Proview lawyer. He gave no indication when the request might be filed.
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, defended its ownership of the iPad name.
"We bought Proview's worldwide rights to the iPad trademark in 10 different countries several years ago. Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple in China," said an Apple Inc. spokeswoman in Beijing, Carolyn Wu.
Wu declined to comment on the possibility of Proview requesting a ban on iPad imports and exports.
China is Apple's fastest-growing market. Its iPads and iPhones are manufactured by a contractor, Taiwan-based Foxconn Technologies Group, at factories in southern China.
Shenzhen Proview Technology registered the iPad trademark in China in 2001. Apple bought rights to the name from a Taiwan company affiliated with Proview but the mainland company says it still owns the name in China. A Chinese court rejected Apple's claim to the name in China last year. Apple has appealed.
"Our case is still pending in mainland China," Wu said.
Chinese rules allow trademark owners to request seizure of goods that violate their rights, according to Stan Abrams, an American...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
UnitedHealth Unveils Online Patient-Info Service for MDs
UnitedHealth Group's Optum business is launching a service that allows doctors to share information about patients over the Internet, as health care companies continue their push to improve care with better coordination.
The system, known as cloud computing, involves storing information and software applications on remote servers that are accessed through a secure Internet connection.
In health care, this means a doctor does not have to go to a particular computer for patient information or care updates. He or she can use portable devices like smart phones or tablet computers.
Optum's cloud provides a platform that health care providers can use for software that helps them track patients. For instance, a doctor can use cloud-based applications, or apps, to receive automatic updates on a hospitalized patient's condition or to be notified when a patient visits an emergency room or fails to fill prescriptions, a company spokesman said.
Currently, most doctors have to rely on patients to tell them when they visit another physician or the ER.
Cloud computing also can allow doctors to share patient records and discuss a case more efficiently.
Optum worked with Cisco, IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. among others, to design the cloud and is launching a set of apps called Optum Care Suite to help providers use it. But it also is encouraging providers to design their own applications for the cloud as well.
UnitedHealth Group Inc., based in Minnetonka, Minn., is the largest U.S. health insurer. Its Optum business provides technology outsourcing, among other services.
Insurers and care providers have been more intent on improving care coordination. Last month, another insurer, WellPoint Inc., said it will boost primary care reimbursement by paying for care management it doesn't currently cover.
Some care providers also are forming accountable care organizations that coordinate care among doctors, specialists and hospitals.
Cloud computing platforms first started appearing in health care...
Thu, 16 Feb 12
Hackers Claim Attack on American Tear Gas Company
A U.S. security company whose tear gas has been used against Egyptian demonstrators has become the latest victim of the Anonymous movement, hackers claimed Tuesday.
In a statement posted to the Internet, hackers claimed to have broken into Combined Systems Inc.'s Web site and stolen personal information belonging to clients and employees of the Jamestown, Pennsylvania-based firm. They accused the company of being run by war profiteers who sell "mad chemical weapons to militaries and cop shops around the world."
The hackers' claims could not immediately be verified, although the company's Web site was down Tuesday.
Messages left for Combined Systems executives Donald Smith and Jacob Kravel went unreturned. A customer service representative said senior employees were unavailable for comment because they were in a meeting.
Anonymous has claimed a series of Web attacks worldwide and has increasingly focused on security companies, law enforcement and governmental organizations. The group has often worked in tandem with the Occupy protest movement in the U.S. and has expressed solidarity with the pro-democracy activists across the Arab world.
Anonymous said it had targeted Combined Systems because it was supplying weaponry used "to repress our revolutionary movements."
It published a series of what it claimed were intercepted emails, one of which appeared to be a warning that Combined Systems' site had been sabotaged, but the messages' authenticity could also not be confirmed.
Combined Systems says it sells a variety of crowd control devices -- including aerosol grenades, sprays and handcuffs -- to law enforcement and military organizations across the world. Journalists and activists have reported finding the company's tear gas canisters at Egypt's Tahrir Square, where authorities have repeatedly cracked down on demonstrators with deadly force.
Last year human rights group Amnesty International said that Combined Systems had delivered some 46 tons of ammunition -- including chemical irritants and tear gas -- to...
Wed, 15 Feb 12
Next iPads Believed To Be 4G LTE Capable
It seems like a dream technological match, and a natural progression: The top-selling tablet computer with the fastest data-speed technology available from wireless carriers.
And if the latest reports of the iPad 3 are accurate, a 4G long-term evolution version could be in consumers' hands within weeks.
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources "familiar with the matter," reported that both Verizon Wireless and its top rival, AT&T, will soon offer LTE-equipped iPads, which will be unveiled in the first week of March.
That's on top of reports that smaller version of the iPad with an 8-inch touchscreen, down from the current 9.7-inch model, though the Journal said Apple is only field-testing such a device, with no definite plans for release.
Apple is widely believed to eventually plan a range of tablet device sizes. The current model ranges only in storage capacity and 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity.
The next iPad is believed to have a Retina display that doubles its resolution, currently available on the iPhone.
Other tablets are already surfing the LTE universe, including the Pantech Element for AT&T, Motorola Xoom for Verizon Wireless and a 7.7-inch version of Samsung's Galaxy Tab for Verizon.
Verizon rolled out its LTE network at the end of 2010, while AT&T opened its network in November. Verizon leads in both footprint and available devices, with AT&T taking a much slower approach as it already had its HSPA+ network, which it calls 4G.
Jeff Orr, a mobile devices expert for ABI Research, said only about half of 3G- or 4G-enabled tablets are activated on a carrier network, since some consumers purchase them as an "insurance policy" in case they don't have Wi-Fi.
"An LTE offering suggests that buyers will want to be using their media tablets on-the-go all the time," Orr said. "So far, consumers [rather than businesses] have been...
Wed, 15 Feb 12
Spies Tapped Nortel for Nearly a Decade
In what sounds like the initial premise of a spy novel, hackers had access to Nortel Networks' internal network for nearly a decade. According to a new report, the attack appears to have originated in China, and was based on seven passwords stolen from top executives.
A story in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal noted that the unauthorized access went back at least to the year 2000. The hackers obtained technical papers, R&D reports, business plans and internal e-mails, among other documents. Additionally, spying software was embedded into some employees' computers for years.
The Journal report said that a former longtime Nortel employee, Brian Shields, led a company investigation. An internal Nortel report said that the company did little to keep the hackers out, except to change the stolen passwords.
The security breach was first noticed in 2004, when a batch of documents appeared to have been downloaded by an executive. The executive reported that he had not downloaded the material.
Over the years, there were indications that other data was being sent to Internet addresses in Shanghai, but Nortel chose not to conduct extensive countermeasures. By 2008, the company was in substantial financial trouble, and, shortly after Shields finally got an OK to examine some computers in more detail, he was laid off. At about the same time that he was let go, Shields discovered that rootkit spying software had been installed on some computers, but Nortel chose not to act on the information.
Nortel makes switches and other equipment for the telecommunications industry, and its products have been widely used in phone and data networks. The Canadian company is in the process of being sold off, as part of a bankruptcy filed two years ago.
Nortel has apparently not investigated if the hackers somehow compromised the security of...
Wed, 15 Feb 12
Splunk Makes a Splash with Enterprise Security for Big Data
With so many security breaches making headlines, it's no wonder young companies like Splunk are making their moves into the public markets.
The real-time operational intelligence firm, which was recently named a Gartner APM Innovator, sandwiched an initial public offering in between two major enterprise security announcements.
Splunk's latest innovation, Enterprise Security Intelligence Solution, includes the Splunk App for Enterprise Security 2.0, and Splunk Enterprise 4.3, the company's flagship software for collecting, indexing and harnessing machine data.
"While more and more organizations are embracing the power of Big Data, many are ignoring the security threats that lurk within that information," said Christina Noren, senior vice president of solutions for Splunk. "Customers who use Splunk Enterprise to monitor and analyze machine data to gain insights into their operations in real-time can use the Splunk App for Enterprise Security to monitor, identify, investigate and respond to critical known and unknown security threats."
Splunk Enterprise works to offer visibility into increasingly security-relevant IT events -- even those that some might see as beyond the purview of typical security solutions. Splunk offers this visibility through a Big Data engine that aims to help security professionals understand unknown threats hidden as patterns in terabytes of normal user-credentialed activities. Those unknown threats could include advanced malware or a malicious insider.
"Splunk is at the forefront of helping organizations harness their Big Data," said Rachel Chalmers, research director of infrastructure management at The 451 Group. "Splunk 4.3 is an exciting, logical and evolutionary step that embraces mobility and increased ease of use. Splunk 4.3 is especially important for business users, with dashboards that provide insights -- integrating real-time and historical data for analysis, and which are easy for business users to personalize on the fly."
The Splunk App for Enterprise Security combines with the core Splunk engine to...
Wed, 15 Feb 12
Cisco: Mobile Data Traffic To Grow 110 Percent in 2012
Cisco Systems predicted Tuesday that mobile data traffic will grow 110 percent year-over-year on a global basis during 2012. However, the evolving device mix and the migration of traffic from fixed networks to mobile networks have the potential to boost Cisco's estimated growth rate even higher, the company said in its latest global mobile data traffic forecast.
Cisco's new report predicts that mobile data traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate, or CAGR, of 78 percent from 2011 to 2016 -- equivalent to the consumption of 10.8 Exabytes per month by the end of the five-year forecast period.
The dramatic rise in data consumption will be driven by ever-more-powerful smartphones and tablets capable of running at average speeds of 5.244 megabits-per-second on super-fast 4G LTE and Wi-Fi networks. According to Cisco, 4G LTE will represent just 6 percent of connections, but 36 percent of total traffic by the end of the five-year forecast period.
"By 2016, 60 percent of mobile users -- 3 billion people worldwide -- will belong to the 'Gigabyte Club' -- each generating more than 1 gigabyte of mobile data traffic per month," Cisco Systems Vice President Suraj Shetty said. "By contrast, in 2011, only one-half percent of mobile users qualified," he said.
Among other things, a rising tide of data-intensive video offerings is expected to dramatically boost mobile data traffic growth. "Mobile video will grow at a CAGR of 90 percent between 2011 and 2016 -- the highest growth rate of any mobile application category that we forecast," Cisco's new report said.
What's more, the network gear maker predicts that the number of connected devices will exceed 10 billion by 2016. By contrast, the United Nations estimates that total number of people on earth will be 7.3 billion at the end of the forecast period.
Wed, 15 Feb 12
Patch Tuesday Delivers Nasty Grams for IT Admins
Microsoft on Tuesday issued nine security bulletins that addressed 21 vulnerabilities. Redmond rated six of the flaws critical.
"Six of the patches this month are marked as critical, the most we've seen in a while," said Joshua Talbot, security intelligence manager at Symantec Security Response. "While all these vulnerabilities should be patched as soon as possible, we recommend paying particular attention to the HTML Layout vulnerability and the GDI Access Violation vulnerability, both of which allow for remote code execution."
Talbot noted that the GDI Access Violation vulnerability was made public in December. While exploit attempts so far have only resulted in Denial-of-Service attacks, he explained, there is a possibility that it can result in a full system takeover, which is of course the ultimate goal for attackers.
"Exploits for both of these vulnerabilities are likely to be hosted as drive-by downloads on maliciously created or otherwise compromised Web sites," Talbot said. "So, as always we strongly advise avoiding sites of unknown or questionable integrity to protect from attacks seeking to use these security holes."
Andrew Storms, director of security operations at nCircle, quipped that IT security teams are not getting any candy hearts from Microsoft for Patch Tuesday. Instead, every version of Internet Explorer gets an update. Typically, he said, people expect newer versions of IE to be a little safer but that's not the case this month.
"We are also getting another 'nasty gram' with MS12-013, a bug in the Microsoft C runtime library," Storms said. "At first glance, this bulletin looks like bad news, but so far the only attack vector is via Microsoft Media Player. Patch this one right after you patch Internet Explorer -- attackers will probably have exploits for this very shortly."
Tyler Reguly, technical manager of security research and development at nCircle, said Microsoft knew exactly...
Wed, 15 Feb 12
Citrix Unveils CloudStack 3 Platform
Citrix is expanding its cloud offerings, with its announcement Monday of the general availability of its Citrix CloudStack 3 open-source cloud platform. When Citrix purchased Cloud.com last summer, the company acquired CloudStack, a Java-based open-source cloud management software.
CloudStack already is in use for more than 85 large production clouds, and CloudStack 3 allows the company to offer what it described as "true Amazon-style clouds to customers of all sizes," with virtual data-center resources via self-service. Current CloudStack customers include Datapipe, Edmunds.com, IDC Frontier, Nokia Research and Zynga.
Citrix said CloudStack is not a traditional enterprise service virtualization platform, with cloud-like management layers added on top. Instead, the company said, it was designed from the bottom up as an "open, multi-hypervisor platform" to help its customers use both public and private clouds in efficient and automated ways.
Like Amazon, where clouds of varying sizes and configurations can readily be offered, CloudStack 3 is intended to help enterprise customers create new clouds, use existing clouds, and improve security and performance for a range of cloud solutions.
Citrix Group Vice President and Cloud Platforms GM Sameer Dholakia said in a statement that, using the Citrix cloud portfolio, customers can obtain "an unparalleled set of cloud virtualization, orchestration and networking solutions" that can work with the products they already have.
The new version offers a cloud-optimized version of Citrix XenServer 6 as a key integrated feature, while also supporting leading platforms, such as KVM, OVM and vSphere. Citrix said this provides new levels of scale, manageability, security, multi-tenancy and virtual switching integration that is generally unavailable from other vendors' traditional enterprise virtualization solutions.
Cloud 3 also offers integration with Citrix NetScaler SDX and VPX appliances, supports the Swift object-storage technology for redundant, scalable storage using clusters of standardized servers, and allows service...
Wed, 15 Feb 12
Repeaters Help Get Around Wi-Fi Hurdles
Repeaters are one way of overcoming Wi-Fi problems caused by great distances or other hurdles. These small devices are set up about halfway between a router and a receiver, helping the signal reach its destination, reports German computer magazine c't.
There are two basic kinds of repeaters. The first are compact models that can fit directly into a power socket. If you've got more space, opt for a larger model that comes with its own adapter, as it's easier to place these where they can be most effective.
A c't test of 11 Wi-Fi repeaters, ranging in price from 26-70 euros (34-91 dollars), showed wide variations in power consumption between the different models. The least power-consuming models used the equivalent of 3 euros a year, while hungrier models consumed about 12 euros a year, more than an actual router uses in many cases.
It's generally easy to set up a repeater using a Wi-Fi protected setup. But important security steps, such as inputting a configuration password, usually have to be done by hand. Also, if you plan to use Wi-Fi in the 5-gigahertz (GHz) range, you'll find yourself with a limited selection of repeaters. Ten of the 11 tested models transmitted at 2.4 GHz.
Theoretically, old, unused routers could be put to work as repeaters. In practice, it usually only works if both the old and new router come from the same manufacturer.
Bear in mind, it's sometimes possible to get a Wi-Fi network back on its feet without buying extra gadgets. Sometimes it's just a matter of moving the router a few centimeters in one direction or turning it a bit, which can result in dramatic improvements.
Wed, 15 Feb 12
PC Spring Cleaning: Get the Gunk and Germs Out
Skin and hair, dust and crumbs, just about everything imaginable ends up getting lodged in your keyboard.
It's unpleasant and not healthy for the computer user. The only solution is regular cleaning. If you don't take the time, your computer could end up being a contagion zone, to say nothing of becoming gummed up by all the debris. Dust is the biggest threat to a computer's interior. If it gets inside the casing, it can clog up the cooling system.
"In the best case scenario, that just means the system is louder because the fan has to spin faster to get enough heat out of the housing," says Christoph Schmidt of the German computer magazine Chip. But, over time, the dust could cause overheating in the processor of the graphics chip -- if the cooling system doesn't work right it can get as hot as a stovetop.
It's usually only a question of time before dust gets inside a computer. The best defense is cleaning it out of troublespots such as seams or the grates of the vent and cooling system.
"If you want to clean up the inside of a PC, then you have to take off the side panels, usually the one on the left if you're looking at the PC tower from the front," says Schmidt, describing the first step. If you're cleaning up a notebook, then you have to remove the bottom panel, usually situated near the ventilation grates.
Be sure not to violate the warranty by opening up a computer. Rules vary between machines, so be careful. Schmidt offers some pointers.
"The warranty responsibilities are usually not lifted by opening up a side panel of a desktop PC, because those are laid out as an open system," he says. But if elements such as the base panel of a notebook are...
Wed, 15 Feb 12
Think 123456 Is a Great Password? We're On To You!
If you are one of the computer users with 123456 as a password, you have company, and lots of it. According to the list of the 25 worst passwords by SplashData.com, it's the second most commonly used password, surpassed only by (seriously?) "password."
Still, it's easy to see why some people take the slacker's path. Most of us feel overwhelmed managing an average of 25 passwords, according to a Microsoft study.
SplashData, a password management company in California, compiled the list from files containing millions of stolen passwords posted online by hackers.
The list is a good reminder that many users naively think abc123 (fifth on the list), letmein (eighth), iloveyou (13th) or football (25th) are unique.
Also popular are letter combinations that look obscure except on the keyboard -- qwerty (fourth) and qazwsx (23rd).
Hackers can easily guess passwords that seem obscure except to the hundreds of thousands of people who use them -- monkey (sixth), dragon (10th), master (14th), sunshine (15th), shadow (19th) and superman (22nd).
The security firm Duo Security proved last year that it could crack 200,000 user passwords in under an hour. Easy ones like 12345678 take seconds to crack, but the firm said that an eight-character password with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, spaces and symbols can send hackers packing in search of easier targets.
Wed, 15 Feb 12
Chinese City Seizes Apple iPads in Name Dispute
Authorities have seized Apple iPads from retailers in a city in northern China due to a dispute with a domestic company that says it owns the iPad name, an official said Monday. The Chinese company said it is asking for similar action in more than 20 other cities.
The dispute with Shenzhen Proview Technology threatens to complicate Apple's efforts to sell its popular tablet computer in China, its fastest-growing market.
Investigators started seizing iPads on Thursday in Shijiazhuang, southwest of Beijing, after receiving letters from Shenzhen Proview, said an official of the economic investigation unit of the city's Xinhua district. He would give only his surname, Wang.
"All the Apple iPads in the big shopping malls and supermarkets have been taken off shelves in Xinhua district," said Wang. He wouldn't say how many devices had been seized or the number of retailers affected.
An Apple Inc. spokeswoman in Beijing, Carolyn Wu, declined to comment.
Cupertino, California-based Apple has five stores in mainland China -- two in Beijing and three in Shanghai -- and authorized resellers in other cities. Phone calls to the Beijing and Shanghai commercial bureaus, which enforce trademarks, were not answered.
Shenzhen Proview registered the iPad name in China in 2001. Apple bought rights to the name from a Taiwan affiliate, Proview Taipei, that registered it in various countries as early as 2000. The mainland company says it still owns the name in China.
A Chinese court rejected Apple's complaint in December that Shenzhen Proview was violating its rights to the iPad name. The court ruled Proview is not bound by a 2009 agreement under which Proview Taipei transferred the trademarks to Apple for 35,000 pounds ($54,700).
Shenzhen Proview says it filed a trademark violation complaint in January with the commercial bureau of Beijing.
The company has asked authorities in more than 20 cities to investigate and...
Wed, 15 Feb 12
AT&T Customers Surprised by 'Unlimited Data' Limit
Mike Trang likes to use his iPhone 4 as a GPS device, helping him get around in his job. Now and then, his younger cousins get ahold of it, and play some YouTube videos and games.
But in the past few weeks, there has been none of that, because AT&T Inc. put a virtual wheel clamp on his phone. Web pages wouldn't load and maps wouldn't render. Forget about YouTube videos -- Trang's data speeds were reduced to dial-up levels.
"It basically makes my phone useless," said Trang, an Orange County, Calif. property manager.
The reason: AT&T considers Trang to be among the top 5 percent of the heaviest cellular data users in his area. Under a new policy, AT&T has started cutting their data speeds as part of an attempt to manage data usage on its network.
So last month, AT&T "throttled" Trang's iPhone, slowing downloads by roughly 99 percent. That means a Web page that would normally take a second to load instead took almost two minutes.
AT&T has some 17 million customers with "unlimited data" plans that can be subject to throttling, representing just under half of its smartphone users. It stopped signing up new customers for those plans in 2010, and warned last year that it would start slowing speeds for people who consume the most data.
What's surprising people like Trang is how little data use it takes to reach that level -- sometimes less than AT&T gives people on its "limited" plans.
Trang's iPhone was throttled just two weeks into his billing cycle, after he'd consumed 2.3 gigabytes of data. He pays $30 per month for "unlimited" data. Meanwhile, Dallas-based AT&T now sells a limited, or "tiered," plan that provides 3 gigabytes of data for the same price.
Users report that if they call the company to ask or complain about the...
Wed, 15 Feb 12
Iran: Nuclear Facilities Immune to Cyberattacks
A senior Iranian military official said Monday that Tehran's nuclear and other industrial facilities suffer periodic cyber attacks, but that the country has the technology to protect itself from the threat, an official news agency reported.
Iran considers itself to have been waging a complicated cyber war since 2010, when a virus known as Stuxnet disrupted controls of some nuclear centrifuges.
"Most enemy threats target nuclear energy sites as well as electronic trade and banking operations," said Gholam Reza Jalali, who heads an Iranian military unit in charge of combatting sabotage.
Jalali said that in addition to Stuxnet, Iran has discovered two espionage viruses, Stars and Doku, but that the malware did no harm to Iran's nuclear or industrial sites.
Iran says Stuxnet and other computer virus attacks are part of a concerted campaign by Israel, the U.S. and their allies to undermine its nuclear program.
The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran's nuclear program aims to develop atomic weapons. Iran says its program is meant to produce fuel for future nuclear power reactors and medical radioisotopes needed for cancer patients.
Jalali was quoted by the state news agency IRNA as saying that Iran's nuclear facilities possess the technology and skills to deal with malicious software.
"Iranian experts possess adequate knowledge to confront cyber threats. All nuclear facilities in the country are immune from cyber attacks," he said.
Iran has acknowledged that Stuxnet affected a limited number of its centrifuges -- a key component in the production of nuclear fuel -- at its main uranium enrichment facility in the central city of Natanz. But Tehran has said its scientists discovered and neutralized the malware before it could cause serious damage.
Iranian officials in April 2011 announced the discovery of Stars, which they said embedded itself in the file systems of government institutions and had the capability to cause minor...
Tue, 14 Feb 12
Remember Myspace? It's Scored a Million New Members
Just when you -- and your marketing department -- thought social networking had settled into Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, the category is showing that it is constantly evolving. One site with a familiar name has gained a million new users in the last month -- Myspace.
On Monday, the venerable social networking site announced that it had obtained more than 1 million new sign-ups in the last 30 days, directly resulting from the availability of its Myspace Music Player. The Player, the company said, is leading to more than 40,000 new registrations each day.
The new player features what the company described as the world's largest online catalogue of free music, with 42 million songs. It also has unlimited, on-demand listening, personalized radio, an advanced recommendation engine, and easy integration with another familiar name -- Facebook.
CEO Tim Vanderhook said in a statement that the influx of new members attests to "strong momentum and dramatic change for Myspace," adding that users are "getting excited" again about the site. In addition to the million new members, comScore reports that the site showed a 4 percent increase in traffic in January, the first increase in nearly 12 months.
While Myspace was once the leading social networking site -- at a time when the term "social networking" was barely known -- it was eclipsed by Facebook and others, and now, under new management, it seeks to become what the company describes as a "highly personalized experience around entertainment and connecting people to the music, TV, movies, and games that they love."
In January, Myspace announced it had signed a deal with Panasonic for Myspace TV, which allows for music videos and TV shows to be shared and commented upon. The deal will place a Myspace app into connected Panasonic Viera HDTVs so that...
Tue, 14 Feb 12
With Factory Inspections, Apple Shifts Scrutiny to Supplier
Following increased media scrutiny and tens of thousands of petition signatures, Apple has asked an international labor monitoring organization to inspect the Chinese factories that make its top-selling mobile products.
The move was welcomed as a sign of progress from workers rights organizations.
"Manufacturing issues in China are obviously complicated, but the good news is that Apple is great at solving complicated problems," said Mark Shields of Change.org a grassroots movement that says it has collected more than 200,000 signatures calling for better worker conditions at Apple suppliers. "As an Apple consumer, I'm relieved to hear that [CEO] Tim Cook is taking this seriously and breaking ground in the industry with Fair Labor Association auditing."
But Shields said the computer hardware giant needs to create a broader worker protection plan for new products, such as the coming iPad 3, "so that they're proactively taking care of their workers."
Another organization, SumOfUs, also launched a petition last month calling on Apple to "make the iPhone 5 ethically" after a New York Times report looked into conditions at Foxconn, the supplier where explosions have claimed the lives of four workers and high demand may have led to suicides. The syndicated radio show This American Life also looked at the issue in January.
The iPhone 5 is expected this summer from Apple, whose soaring profits led the company's stock price to hover around a record $500 on Monday.
SumOfUs had 59,212 signatures on its petition as of Monday afternoon.
Apple announced Monday that "special voluntary audits of Apple's final assembly suppliers, including Foxconn factories in Shenzhen and Chengdu, China," had begun. FLA President Auret van Heerden is leading the inspections.
The non-profit FLA, based in Washington with offices in Geneva and Shanghai, was created in 1999. The organization will publish its findings on its Web site next month.
Apple insists it...
Tue, 14 Feb 12
Google-Motorola Purchase May Help Defrag Android
U.S. and European regulators today approved Google's $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility Holdings, giving the green light to move ahead, although government approvals are still pending in Israel, Taiwan, and most notably China.
Google describes the acquisition as a move to supercharge its Android ecosystem. The company estimates that more than 150 million Android devices have been activated worldwide -- and more than 550,000 devices are activated every day -- through a network of about 39 manufacturers and 231 carriers in 123 countries.
The announcement set off speculation about Google rocking the smartphone market. Analysts discussed everything from Google making Android exclusive to Moto phones, to Google subsidizing Motorola phones and making them free. There were also questions of whether Google did the deal solely to obtain Motorola's patents and whether or not Google can pull off the merger. Industry analysts are still discussing why Google really wants Motorola to begin with.
"I think one of the reasons Google wants Motorola is because they have lost control of Android and they want to get it back," said Michael Disabato, vice president of network and telecom at Gartner. "Google wants all Android phones to look alike and operate alike and they know if they don't take back control, they are going to fragment [the Android] operating system into a million little pieces."
One of the promises of the Android operating system was its open-source model, which would allow for various flavors of the mobile OS. Disabato said that's a good model when consumers can create their own experience, but it's not so good when there are multiple vendors and more than a dozen experiences -- and consumers are left without the power to make it their own.
"You look at iOS. Apple comes out with a new version and everybody runs and...
Tue, 14 Feb 12
Cisco Teams with Citrix on Virtual Workspaces
Recognizing the rising tide of the mobile workforce, Cisco on Monday announced plans to resell Citrix XenDesktop as part of an integrated desktop virtualization solution based on its Unified Computing System, or UCS.
Cisco wants to make it easier to deploy high-definition virtual desktops and applications to users across the enterprise as part of a complete virtual workspace. The new solution is one of the core modules of Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure, or VEI, which includes voice and video to offer a flexible, secure, virtual work environment.
The Cisco UCS and Citrix XenDesktop solution aims to help desktop and data center IT managers accelerate desktop virtualization, while lowering costs with a simplified, secure and scalable solution. IT admins will get access to customized kits for Citrix XenDesktop user scenarios that work to speed up deployment times.
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, said the Citrix partnership makes good sense for Cisco, in part, because of the explosion of the Bring Your Own Device trend. BYOD is one of the hottest topics among CIOs -- and Cisco needs a solution, Kerravala said.
"One could look at the world and say, 'If every app was in the cloud maybe you wouldn't need VEI. But the fact remains that it's probably a decade or more before that happens," Kerravala said. "You can use it now and 'cloudify' the apps that you can and for the rest of the apps use VEI. VEI is almost a bridge to the cloud."
With the Citrix partnership, Cisco has the present -- and the near future -- in mind. By 2015, IDC predicts 37.2 percent of the total workforce will be mobile. The Americas region, which includes the United States, Canada, and Latin America, will see the number of mobile workers grow from 182.5 million...
Tue, 14 Feb 12
Security Flaws Move Google To Suspend Prepaid Credit Cards
Are credit cards in smartphone-based wallets safe? Google has insisted they are, but the company is now suspending prepaid credit cards in its mobile wallet because of some security issues.
The move on Saturday by the technology giant follows a report that someone other than a smartphone owner could use the balance on a prepaid card by adjusting the wallet's settings. In a posting Saturday on the official Google Commerce blog, Vice President of Google Wallet and Payments Osama Bedier wrote that the company has "temporarily disabled provisioning of prepaid cards," as a precaution while Google works out a fix.
The fix, he noted, is needed because of the possibility of "unauthorized use of an existing prepaid card balance if someone recovered a lost phone without a screen lock." Bedier noted that Google Wallet is protected by a PIN, as well as the phone's lock screen. However, many users do not utilize the screen lock, since doing so would require entering a password whenever someone returns to the phone after a break.
Google's action followed a security flaw that began circulating Friday. Since the credit card belongs to the phone and not to a Google account, someone in possession of a smartphone can go to the application settings, erase the data associated with Google Wallet, and change the Wallet's PIN. The funds on a prepaid card can thus become available -- such as to someone who finds a lost phone.
Last week, security firm Zuelo noted another security flaw. Using a rooted smartphone with Google Wallet, someone other than the owner can get access to the Wallet's PIN via a brute force attack on the database storing the PIN, and thus make illegal credit card charges.
Google has noted that the Wallet is not designed for smartphones that have been rooted,...
Tue, 14 Feb 12
Samsung Downscales Its 7-Inch Tablet
Samsung Mobile said Monday that it will be releasing a new version of its 7-inch tablet called the Galaxy Tab 2, which will run Android 4, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, and is expected to retail for $350.
The company has not announced the suggested pricing for the HSPA+ model. It expects to ship both models in March.
Although the Galaxy Tab 2 will be running the latest version of Google's Android, a comparison of the new device's specs with those of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 released last September shows that the new model will have less-capable features than the previous model.
For example, the new Galaxy Tab 2 will integrate a 1 GHz dual-core processor and front-facing VGA camera in place of the higher speed 1.4 GHz dual core chip and a 2-megapixel camera featured in the original Galaxy Tab 7.7 tablet.
The new model will have a conventional TFT screen instead of the prior AMOLED display and offer 1024x600-pixel resolution as opposed to the higher definition 1280x800p capabilities offered by the Galaxy Tab 7.7.
"Samsung's new Tab 2 is partly offensive and partly defensive," said Strategy Analytics Executive Director Neil Mawston. "Samsung is launching a new 7-inch model to attack the high-growth 7-inch tablet market [and] defend against the threat posed by rival lower-cost models from Amazon, Nook and others."
According to Strategy Analytics, Android tablet shipments tripled to 10.5 million units in last year's fourth quarter. The launch of dozens of new models by Amazon, Asus, Barnes & Noble, Samsung and others helped Google's Android platform capture a record 39 percent share of global tablet shipments in last year's fourth quarter, a 29 percent rise from the year-earlier period, Mawston observed last month. ...
Tue, 14 Feb 12
This Valentine's Day, Cupid Aims for Hearts and Wallets
Cupid wants your money, and he'll get more of it than ever this Valentine's Day. John Smith of Alexandria, Va., plans on dropping about $400 treating his wife to flowers, jewelry and dinner. And he isn't the only one splurging.
Consumers are expected to spend more this Valentine's Day than in the past 10 years, making February's ode to Cupid second only to the Christmas season in consumer spending, according to a National Retail Federation survey of more than 8,000 people, conducted by consumer surveyor BIGinsight.
Those celebrating Valentine's Day will spend an average of $126.03, up 8.5% from 2011 and the most since NRF began the survey 10 years ago.
Total spending is expected to reach $17.6 billion.
The ever-growing popularity of e-commerce is contributing to an increase in sales around holidays, says Megan Donadio, retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon, adding that the Web makes it easy to shell out for the discounts and daily deals consumers love.
Mobile apps also are vying for a share of shoppers' hearts. The free Moonit app, which had 15,000 downloads in the past week, invites people to send requests to "flirt" or "friend" other users and analyzes birthdays to deliver a "compatibility report" such as: "You're 98% compatible, we hear wedding bells!"
Men will outspend women on the holiday by almost double, spending an average of about $169 vs. about $86 for women.
"Valentine's Day is the 'put up or shut up' day for them. They don't want to make a mistake," says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow.
Dan Kassonie of Clayton, N.C., says he will buy something for his wife "because you pretty much have to if you're married, to stay out of the doghouse."
Actual doghouse dwellers are also receiving Valentine's Day appreciation. According to the survey, almost 20% of consumers plan to give their pets a gift.
Tue, 14 Feb 12
Product Packaging May Talk to You Someday
Product packages may soon give consumers information by talking to them through their smartphones or tablet computers, Finnish scientists say.
Researchers at the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland have been developing new wireless NFC-based (near field communication) applications that make life easier for the visually impaired.
In a pilot study a group of people with poor eyesight tested a speech-based item identification system and new "talking" packaging for medicine and food, a VTT release said Thursday.
In the study, touching the info code on the packaging with a smartphone resulted in product and dosage information being wirelessly sent to the phone to be heard by the user.
A smartphone application developed in collaboration with VTT by Finnish company TopTunniste called Touch 'n' Tag enables visually impaired users to identify everyday items, including food, with the help of voice memos.
Another application developed during the project was a so-called speaking medicine packaging. When touched, it provides spoken dosage instructions and other important information from data sent to the NFC chip by pharmacy staff that can be listened to by the consumer at home.
While the project is ongoing, most current mobile phones do not support advanced NFC applications and the new solutions are designed for platforms not yet on the market, researchers said.
Tue, 14 Feb 12
FBI Files: Steve Jobs Was Considered for Post
FBI background interviews of some people who knew Apple co-founder Steve Jobs reveal a man driven by power and alienating some of the people who worked with him.
In the FBI documents released Thursday, many of those who knew Jobs praised him, speaking highly of Jobs' character and integrity and asserting that he always conducted his business dealings in a reputable manner. They recommended him for a post during the George H.W. Bush administration.
The 1991 interviews were part of a background check for an appointment to the President's Export Council.
The Commerce Department confirmed Thursday that Jobs did serve on the council during the first Bush administration.
Export council members serve in an unpaid capacity and meet at least twice a year, advising the president on trade policy.
One person told FBI agents the Apple co-founder's enormous power caused him to lose sight of honesty and integrity, leading him to distort the truth.
Another interview subject described Jobs to the FBI as a deceptive person -- someone who was not totally forthright and honest and as having a tendency to distort reality in order to achieve his goals.
However, one former business associate who had a falling out with Jobs said that, while honest and trustworthy, Jobs nonetheless had questionable moral character.
The ex-business associate said he had not received stock that would have made him a wealthy man and that he felt bitter toward Jobs and felt alienated from him.
"Mr. Jobs alienated a lot of people at" Apple Computer Inc. "as a result of his ambition," an FBI agent wrote in an interview summary.
Two people associated with Jobs at Apple told the FBI that Jobs possessed integrity as long as he got his way. They did not elaborate, the FBI agent wrote.
Previously known parts of Jobs' life surfaced in the FBI interviews.
One person told the FBI...
Tue, 14 Feb 12
TelyHD Puts Video Calls on TV at a Lower Price
Video calling on computers, mobile phones and tablets is no longer the novelty it was even a few years ago. But such calls remain a rarity on your television. Never mind that some newer, connected smart TVs provide video-calling options. Or that in recent years companies such as Cisco and Logitech have introduced set-top options for turning your living room TV into a gigantic video phone. Video calls on the TV have barely registered with consumers. Too expensive. Not good enough. Some combination of the two.
Even so, I've always appreciated the idea behind using the TV for video calls. The screen on your TV is likely the largest and best display in your house. And consider how appealing it might be for the entire family to congregate in front of a camera to show off the newborn to out-of-town relatives, rather than having everyone try to crowd in front of a PC's webcam.
Enter Silicon Valley newcomer Tely Labs. With its compact TelyHD Skype-compatible set-top box that recently went on sale, the company believes it can succeed where others have failed. Inside the nearly a foot-long black box is a wide-angle high-definition camera, four noise-canceling microphones, a pretty powerful dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, and Android software. In other words, it has the guts of a computer, which suggests some interesting possibilities down the road.
For now, though, this is mostly about video calling via Skype. In my tests, TelyHD delivered generally acceptable but uneven video quality, even after I swapped one test unit for another. The box is capable of delivering high-definition video up to the 720p standard, though I certainly never mistook the pictures I saw for a supercrisp HD series on network television. You need a robust Internet connection of at least 1 Mbps (upstream and downstream) to achieve...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
Are iOS Mobile Devices Outpacing Macs?
Is Apple's iOS platform doing more Web surfing than the Mac OS platform? The argument in the affirmative has some new evidence, in the form of a study showing there are now more ad impressions being received on Apple tablets and smartphones than on desktops and laptops.
The report, from advertising company Chitika, looked at data sets of U.S. traffic from August of last year to this month for the Chitika Ad Network, which covers hundreds of millions of ad impressions. Aggregating the user agents, Chitika was able to determine the relative overall share of various operating systems.
The data indicated that the relative traffic volumes have been converging since last August, with iOS showing overall growth of nearly 50 percent, while OS X has dropped in market share by 25 percent since a September high point. This month, iOS passed OS X for the first time, showing 8.15 percent of all Web traffic, while OS X had 7.96 percent.
Given the legendary loyalty of Mac users, Chitika asked in its report why Mac might be experiencing a market share drop in ad impressions.
One obvious factor is the much larger number of iOS device sales compared with Mac. In the fourth quarter of last year, for example, Apple sold 37.04 million iPhones, 15.43 million iPads, 15.4 million iPods, but only 5.2 million Macs.
Chitika's data only gives a partial view of the landscape, since the data is derived entirely from its network, and its network is primarily directed at mobile devices. Other companies, analyzing their traffic data, have found that Macs outnumber iOS devices in surfing their Web sites, for instance.
Apple executives have commented publicly on the possibility that its popular mobile devices, which are joining other mobile devices in taking over many of the functions of...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
Google's Dedicated Home Device May Stream Music or Video
Taking another step in the bold journey into electronic hardware that began with branded smartphones, search giant Google is working on a home entertainment device that will initially stream music throughout homes and later other media, reports say.
The device is most likely to made by Motorola Mobility, which Mountain View, Calif.-based Google is in the process of acquiring in a $12.5 billion deal, The New York Times reported.
Google filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission last week for testing the new device, the Times said.
"Google is developing an entertainment device that requires testing outside the laboratory environment," reads the application. "The device is in the prototyping phase and will be modified prior to final compliance testing."
The testing, to continue through July, would measure "throughput and stability of home Wi-Fi networks using an entertainment device. Testing will include functional testing of all subsystems, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radio. Users will connect their device to home Wi-Fi networks and use Bluetooth to connect to other home electronics equipment. This line of testing will reveal real world engineering issues and reliability of networks."
A Google spokesman told us the company had no comment about the device reports. Google also did not provide comment for the Times story.
Melding content and hardware has become essential to technology companies: Apple uses content such as music, videos and apps to drive sales of its mobile devices, while Amazon and Barnes & Noble each developed e-readers and tablets to drive sales of digital books and other media. Software giant Microsoft developed the Xbox entertainment system to sell games and online memberships and services.
Google in May 2010 announced the development of its Google TV smart TV system for interactive features, but hardware partner Logitech dropped out of the project in November 2011 after losing...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
A U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., agreed Thursday to expedite a lawsuit filed against the Federal Trade Commission for failing to review Google's recent decision to consolidate the privacy policies governing its Web sites and services.
EPIC's lawyers asked the court to impose a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent Google's new policy from going into effect March 1.
Under the expedited rules, the FTC is required to respond to EPIC's latest briefs by Feb. 17. EPIC's reply is then due Feb. 21.
"The FTC has a non-discretionary obligation to enforce a final order," EPIC's lawyers wrote in a new brief. "But the agency has thus far failed to take any action regarding this matter, placing the privacy interests of literally hundreds of millions Internet users at grave risk."
Last year, EPIC contested several privacy aspects of the search-engine giant's plans for Google Buzz -- an online service that would have compiled and made public a Gmail user's social-networking list based on address book and Gchat list contacts.
In response, the FTC issued a consent order in October 2011, which EPIC's lawyers contend prevents "Google from misrepresenting the company's privacy practices, requires the company to obtain users' consent before disclosing personal data, and requires the company to develop and comply with a comprehensive privacy program."
"Given the wide range of services you offer, and popularity of...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
Microsoft Offers Details about Windows on ARM
Microsoft has begun releasing more details about Windows on ARM devices. Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky posted Thursday on the company's Developer Network blog a long description of the "reimagined" Windows on ARM, or WOA, as he called it.
WOA, he wrote, is a new category of the Windows operating system, like Windows Server, Windows Phone, and Windows Embedded. It will be available for ARM-based products, including tablets, smartphones, e-readers and embedded devices.
For those unfamiliar with ARM, it refers to devices that use technology from ARM Holdings PLC, a company based in the United Kingdom, that develops intellectual property (IP) for semiconductors. Rather than manufacturing actual semiconductor chips, ARM develops the technology and then licenses its intellectual property to partner companies that produce the semiconductors, chips, and devices.
These partners utilize ARM technology to produce system-on-chip designs, paying ARM a license fee for the original IP, plus a royalty on every chip or wafer produced.
ARM claims its technology is currently being used in 90% of smartphones, 80% of digital cameras, and 28% of all electronic devices.
Now, getting back to Microsoft's announcements regarding WOA, or Windows on ARM devices....
Out of the box, Sinofsky said, WOA will feel "just like using Windows 8" on x86/64 devices. Starting and launching apps and using the new Windows Store, for instance, will be the same. The goal is to ship WOA PCs at the same time as Windows 8 for x86/64.
ARM devices will feature a Metro mode, with a tile-based, touch-optimized interface, as well as a more traditional Windows desktop mode.
Apps designed for the Metro interface will be supported on both WOA and Windows 8 on x86/64, and WOA includes support for hardware-accelerated HTML5. WOA will offer desktop versions of the key apps in the new Office 15 -- Word, Excel,...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
Microsoft Shows Love to IT Admins with Light Patch Tuesday
Microsoft on Thursday offered some good news for IT admins via its advance notification service. Microsoft's February Patch Tuesday will include just nine bulletins, four of them "critical," to address 21 vulnerabilities.
Microsoft's February focus addresses vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, and .NET/Silverlight. The five "important" rated security bulletins address vulnerabilities in Microsoft Visio Viewer 2010 in the Office productivity suite and Sharepoint, the advance notification advisory reported.
The Microsoft Security Response Center also took space in its advance notification blog post to note that information on Microsoft's Security Development Lifecycle system has been downloaded more than 850,000 times so far. And the Trustworthy Computing initiative is 10 years old.
Marcus Carey, security researcher at Rapid7, said the four "critical" bulletins are rated so high because they allow remote code execution -- and three of them require a reboot for patching. Of the five "important" bulletins, two affect Microsoft Office.
The first bulletin is a core operating-system vulnerability that affects all modern deployed workstations and servers. The second bulletin is an Internet Explorer vulnerability allowing remote code execution.
"We're seeing a great many browser patches from Microsoft these days because researchers and attackers have realized that browser exploits have the most potential for harm and are currently the best attack surface," Carey said. "Browser-based attacks will certainly continue to be an attack vector from here on."
Bulletin No. 4 is the third critical over the last few months that patches .Net and Silverlight, Carey said, noting that media players and browser plug-ins are very popular attack vectors. Because browsers are effectively taking the role of operating systems for users, he explained, anything that can exploit the browser directly or indirectly will receive attention with exploit development and research.
"IT continues to benefit from Microsoft's security initiatives in 2012 with...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
BofA, Foxconn Breaches Display Diversity of Hacker Motives
This year has already witnessed a rise in data breach activity. Beyond the Symantec pcAnywhere drama and the Zappos breach, Bank of America came under fire via a merchant breach even while in the midst of a multibillion-dollar legal battle over faulty mortgages.
Bank of America could not immediately be reached for comment, but published statements indicate that the company has sent letters to customers to notify them of a possible compromise that may have exposed credit card account details. BofA has not disclosed how many accounts were affected in the breach.
"As part of our routine fraud monitoring, if we believe a customer's card may have been compromised at a third-party location, we will notify the customer and block and reissue the card, which is what happened in this case," BofA spokeswoman Betty Riess told Bank Info Security. "Security for our customers is a top priority, and we take proactive steps like this to protect our customers from fraud."
Lawrence Reusing, general manager for mobile security at Imation Corp., said Bank of America's disclosure of the recent breach again highlights the sophistication of criminals trying to breach network and mobile devices in 2012.
"The news proves that no business is immune," Reusing said. "Just weeks ago, Zappos came under scrutiny because of a network breach, and this latest disclosure from BoFA is concerning for businesses and the consumers that put trust in retailers, banks and other services companies to secure their private information."
At some level, the Zappos breach was worse. Some 24 million customer passwords were stolen in the hack, a black eye for the Amazon-owned property. Zappos was tight-lipped about the root cause of the attack. The difference is account-holder details were not accessed.
Whether for financial gain or social protest, hacker activity shows no sign of slowing...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
Ford's Touch Software To Be Upgraded
Ford will give new software to about 250,000 owners of vehicles with the often-maligned "MyFord Touch" dashboard technology in about two months to make the system easier -- and less distracting -- to use.
The company's new 2013 models will come with upgraded MyFord Touch, which replaces most knobs and buttons for climate, navigation and entertainment with a touch-screen. The system has both attracted buyers to Ford's brand and hurt it in some owners' eyes, says the independent market research firm J.D. Power and Associates.
Ford held customer clinics, and employees have been testing the upgraded system so it's a "high-quality experience," Ford spokesman Alan Hall says.
MyFord Touch is now available on 20% of Ford models, including the Explorer and Focus, and will be on 70% of new models by the end of this year.
Ford dropped from fifth to 23rd in J.D. Power's quality survey last summer, in large part because of this technology. The study looks at problems owners report in the first 90 days of ownership.
MyFord Touch "was a significant issue. Most of their declines from the previous year could be attributed to it," says David Sargent, J.D. Power's global vehicle research vice president. "Other than that, their quality was going fairly well."
Many complaints to J.D. Power centered on the system's tendency to freeze, which the company called "a hard defect," and its slowness.
Complicated controls could also be distracting for those "operating the system when trying to drive a vehicle," Sargent says.
The upcoming fix won't come in time to boost Ford's quality rankings in the June Power initial quality report, which only covers vehicles sold through this month. While Ford has made running improvements to the systems, Sargent says those could be offset by the increased number of models sold with MyFord Touch.
It can take up to 45 minutes to...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
More States Seek To Collect Online Sales Tax
Attention, online shoppers. The days of tax-free online shopping may be coming to an end. More than a dozen states have enacted legislation or rules to force online retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases, according to tax publisher CCH. Similar legislation is pending in 10 states.
Reasons for the spread of online sales tax laws:
Budget shortfalls. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that uncollected state sales taxes will cost states $23 billion this year. Residents of sales-tax states are supposed to pay taxes on online purchases, but because retailers don't collect them, they rarely do.
Heavy lobbying from retailers. Retailers have long argued that exempting online purchases from sales taxes gives online retailers an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar stores. The pressure escalated in December after online giant Amazon offered customers a one-day 5% discount if they used its Price Check app to make a purchase while in a physical store, says Jason Brewer of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which supports taxing online purchases.
"A store manager has the power to say, 'I'll match that price,' but they don't have the power to say, 'I won't charge you a sales tax,'" he says. "They go to jail if they do that."
Gridlock. Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate that would give states broad authority to require online retailers to collect state sales taxes, as long as they streamline the collection process.
Amazon supports the legislation, says spokesman Ty Rogers. Federal legislation to permit interstate collection of sales tax "is the only way to level the playing field for all sellers and provide states the right to obtain more than a fraction of the revenue already owed," he says.
Despite bipartisan support, though, the bill has languished in Congress. "Many of the states have gotten somewhat frustrated waiting for Congress to act,"...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
Kodak To Stop Making Cameras, Digital Frames
Eastman Kodak Co. said Thursday that it will stop making digital cameras, pocket video cameras and digital picture frames, marking the end of an era for the company that brought photography to the masses more than a century ago.
Founded by George Eastman in 1880, Kodak was known all over the world for its Brownie and Instamatic cameras and its yellow-and-red film boxes. But the company was battered by Japanese competition in the 1980s, and was then unable to keep pace with the shift from film to digital technology.
The Rochester, New York-based company, which filed for bankruptcy protection last month, said it will phase out the product lines in the first half of this year and instead look for other companies to license its brand for those products.
It's an especially poignant moment for Kodak. In 1975, using a new type of electronic sensor invented six years earlier at Bell Labs, a Kodak engineer named Steven Sasson created the first digital camera. It was a toaster-size prototype capturing black-and-white images at a resolution of 0.1 megapixels.
Through the 1990s, Kodak spent some $4 billion developing the photo technology inside most of today's cellphones and digital devices. But a reluctance to ease its heavy financial reliance on film allowed rivals like Canon Inc. and Sony Corp. to rush into the fast-emerging digital arena. The immensely lucrative analog business Kodak worried about undermining was virtually erased in a decade by the filmless photography it invented.
Today, the standalone digital camera faces stiff competition, as smartphone cameras gain broader use. Kodak owns patents that cover a number of basic functions in many smartphone cameras. The company picked up $27 million in patent-licensing fees in the first half of 2011. It made about $1.9 billion from those fees in the previous three years...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
Review: Soulo Converts iPad into Karaoke Machine
Karaoke lovers typically fall into two categories: Those who enjoy it, and those whose arms have to be twisted to get up and sing in public.
Enter Soulo, a software and microphone kit that can turn an iPad or other Apple device into a karaoke machine. It gives you instant karaoke in the privacy of your own home, or wherever you carry your Apple gadgets.
That's the idea, anyway.
In practical terms, the quality of the karaoke experience depends largely on the kind of sound system you pipe Soulo through.
The software app does a great job of emulating the sing-along video animation typically found in a commercial karaoke machine. It also offers a good selection of songs.
But I wasn't thrilled by the sound quality I got from the Soulo microphone. That dampened an otherwise entertaining way to use an iPad.
In particular, I like how the Soulo-iPad combo makes it a snap to record audio and video of a performance and then post clips -- not full songs -- on YouTube, Facebook and elsewhere.
Soulo is available with a digital wireless microphone, which retails for $99, or with a wired microphone, which sells for $69. Songs cost extra after the first handful. I tested the wireless version, which comes with a receiver that plugs into the iPad dock and syncs with the microphone.
The karaoke app and microphones are compatible with iPads, iPhones and the iPod Touch. Audio output options include listening through headphones or other speaker systems via the devices' stereo jack. The wireless receiver also can connect to a TV.
Transforming the iPad into a karaoke machine is easy. You download the free Soulo app from the Apple Store and register the software.
Soulo comes with a few songs and a code to download 10 karaoke tracks for free. You can purchase and download more songs...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
Lenovo Warns About Global Hard Drive Shortage
Lenovo Group Ltd., the world's second-biggest personal computer maker, said Thursday that quarterly profit grew by more than half but warned hard-drive costs would remain high amid a global shortage.
The company said it's confident of closing in on the top spot in PC sales as it reported strong sales growth across all major markets even as it focuses more attention on the burgeoning smartphone and mobile Internet market.
Net income rose to $153 million, or 1.46 cents per share, in the October-December period, which is the company's third fiscal quarter. That's up 54 percent from the same period the year before.
Sales jumped 44 percent to a record $8.4 billion as its share of the global personal computer market hit a high of 14 percent.
Lenovo posted 30 percent sales growth in China, which accounts for about two-fifths of total sales. Sales in Africa, Latin America and other emerging markets rose 13 percent.
Strongest growth came in developed markets including Western Europe and North America, where sales zoomed up 81 percent. They were helped partly by new a joint venture with NEC Corp. in Japan and the purchase of Germany's Medion AG, a maker of multimedia products and consumer electronics. Both deals were completed in July.
The company, which is based in Beijing and has U.S. headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina, said market share in China, the world's biggest PC market, hit a high of 35.3 percent.
Lenovo, which acquired IBM Corp.'s PC unit in 2005, overtook Dell Inc. in the third quarter of 2011 to become the second-largest PC vendor by shipments worldwide, according to both International Data Corp. and Gartner.
"We are closing the gap with No. 1," held by rival Hewlett-Packard Co., said Chairman Yang Yuanqing.
Gross profit margins dipped in the quarter because of higher prices for hard disk drives. Flooding in Thailand last...
Sat, 11 Feb 12
Oracle To Pay $1.9B for Taleo, Extends SAP Rivalry
Oracle Corp. is escalating its rivalry with German business-software maker SAP AG and plans to pay $1.9 billion for Taleo Corp., a company that helps businesses hire and manage their employees.
The planned purchase extends Oracle's offerings in the growing arena of cloud-based computing. With such an approach, businesses don't run software and services in-house, but rather send those tasks over the Internet to remote locations operated by companies such as Oracle, SAP and IBM Corp.
Taleo makes human-resources software that runs on the cloud. Taleo, which has about 1,400 employees, said it has more than 5,000 customers, including nearly half of the Fortune 100. Through its software, people can apply for jobs and companies can manage the careers of their hires.
Oracle is paying $46 a share for Taleo stock, 18 percent above Wednesday's closing price of $38.94. Taleo's stock rose $6.65, or 17.1 percent, to $45.51 in morning trading Thursday after the announcement came out. Oracle's gained 4 cents to $28.77.
The board of Taleo, which is based in Dublin, California, has approved the deal. It is expected to close in mid-2012 subject to Taleo shareholder and regulatory approvals.
In December, SAP announced plans to buy another human-resources software company, SuccessFactors, for $3.4 billion. The rivalry between SAP and Oracle has been escalating, and the latest deal underscores the growing importance technology companies see in delivering software over the Internet.
SAP's specialty is business applications, such as those used for payroll and managing relationships with customers and suppliers. In recent years, Oracle has spent billions of dollars pushing into that field, though it remains behind SAP.
Oracle said Taleo's portfolio of products would complement Oracle's existing offerings.
"Human capital management has become a strategic initiative for organizations," said Thomas Kurian, an executive vice president at Oracle.
Taleo CEO Michael Gregoire said the company's products give customers "the...
Fri, 10 Feb 12
Free Anti-Tracking Tool Meets Growing Demand for Private Browsing
With concern about tracking and malware on the rise, a Boston-based company that creates privacy tools is offering a free program it says will keep your browsing out of the public domain.
The company, Abine, says its Do Not Track Plus browser tool will not only fend off advertisers who want to monitor your shopping habits and show you which companies and technologies are spying on you on the various sites you visit, but also quadruple your browser speed.
"Online tracking is a very real thing, even though you can't see it," said Abine in a company blog post announcing the tool Thursday.
Abine is upfront about its intentions in offering the product free.
"We have a 'freemium' model, meaning that we offer a free base service (DNT+) and separate paid upgrades, such as our DeleteMe service that removes our customers' personal information from public Web sites," the company writes. "We are also working on another software offering called PrivacySuite that's currently in beta, but it will have premium upgradeable features like forwarded e-mails and phone numbers."
Once they have built up a base of free users, Abine hopes that at least 1 percent to 2 percent will upgrade to premium services down the road, making the undertaking worthwhile. The basic model of Do Not Track Plus, however, will always remain free, Abine promises.
For $99 a year, the DeleteMe service regularly checks people-search databases to remove customers' names, sending regular reports. Abine also has apps coming soon that allow a single log-in to sites with one click and to protect e-mail and phone numbers by "automatically generating unique forwarding contact info for each site."
Abine is not alone in offering free privacy tools. Yahoo! offers Anti-Spy, a spyware and malware removal program by Computer Associates, as part of its browser toolbar. Microsoft's...
Fri, 10 Feb 12
German Court Rules Samsung's Tablet Can Be Sold
Samsung's Galaxy Tab tablet, in its 10.1N version, still can be sold in Germany. That's the ruling on Thursday from a court in that country, the latest result in the epic Apple-Samsung legal battle that is raging across Europe and the world.
Samsung had released the 10.1N model, a slightly revised 10.1, specifically to avoid infringing on Apple's patent rights. The Regional Court in Dusseldorf decided that its modification was sufficient to allow it to continue on sale. In a statement, the court said "Apple's iPad computers and Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1N are rival products of equal value," adding that the 10.1N does not violate Apple's design patent or the country's laws against unfair competition.
The same court had imposed a preliminary injunction last fall against the earlier 10.1 model because of infringement issues. This is the third recent legal loss Apple has suffered in Germany. Courts in Munich and Mannheim have also refused Apple's request to ban the 10.1N, as well as Samsung's Nexus smartphone.
In addition, in December a U.S. court in California denied Apple's motion for a temporary ban on the Tab and several Galaxy smartphones. In Australia, the High Court ruled late last year that the 10.1 tablet could be sold in time for the holiday season, denying Apple's request to continue a temporary ban. A trial is scheduled in that country for March.
Last month, an appeals court in The Netherlands denied Apple's request to ban sales in Europe of the Tab 10.1 tablet. The decision upheld a lower court ruling in August, in which Apple had contended that Samsung illegally copied the iPad's design. Apple had previously won a Europe-wide preliminary injunction in The Netherlands against Samsung's Galaxy S, Galaxy S II, and Ace smartphones.
Apple has also sued Motorola in Germany over its Xoom...
Fri, 10 Feb 12
Google Reported Getting Ready To Launch Cloud Storage
Why should Dropbox and SugarSync have all the cloud storage fun? That's what Google seems to want to know.
Google is getting ready to launch a cloud storage service that would go toe-to-toe with Dropbox, a free service that lets you bring your photos, docs and videos anywhere and share them. Essentially, Dropbox eliminates the need to e-mail yourself a file.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Google's Dropbox-like service is called Drive. The Journal cited "people familiar with the matter" saying the reported Google move is a response to the growth of Internet-connected mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, as well as the rise of cloud computing.
Neither Google nor Dropbox could be reached for comment, but Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said the long-rumored "GDrive" would match Microsoft's SkyDrive. Windows Live SkyDrive offers a free, password-protected hard drive in the cloud.
"This rumor makes sense in the context of Google's online apps and docs and cloud storage strategy," said Sterling. Google has a cadre of cloud services in its cache, from Gmail to Google Docs to Google Apps and beyond.
The Journal reported Drive would come online in the next weeks or months and charge a fee to people who want to store large volumes of files. Last October, Dropbox, which has more than 45 million users, introduced a paid service called Dropbox for Teams. The service lets companies with a distributed workforce, small business with virtual teams, or entrepreneurs serving multiple clients tap into administrative controls, centralized billing, phone support and plenty of storage space for $795 a year for five users.
It's not clear how much Google would charge or what the parameters of its service are. Google would also be competing with Apple's iCloud. Apple launched iCloud, a set of free cloud...
Fri, 10 Feb 12
Cisco Focus on Networks Pays Off in Q2 Earnings
Cisco beat the street with its second-quarter earnings. The company's net income rose 44 percent in the quarter ended Jan. 28 as Cisco CEO John Chambers continued leading the company out of its 2011 funk.
After a round of layoffs and a renewed focus on its core business, Cisco tallied $2.2 billion in net income during the quarter. That compares with $1.5 billion in the year-ago period. At the end of the quarter, Cisco posted 47 cents per share earnings. Analysts predicted 43 cents per share.
"We are executing well on our three-year plan to drive earnings faster than revenue. Our operational focus continues to yield positive results -- we hit our billion dollar expense reduction a quarter early -- and our ongoing innovation enables our customers to solve their critical business needs," Chambers said. "You will continue to see a focused and aggressive Cisco that is helping our customers use intelligent networks to transform their businesses."
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, pointed out investor concern for Cisco's switching business in past quarters. It's a valid concern, considering switches are the largest part of Cisco's revenue.
"Much of the industry has been calling for a decline in margins. For a while the margins did decline. Part of that was due to the competitive landscape and some of the products from low-cost providers. I think Cisco was caught off-guard by that because of their lack of focus on networking," Kerravala said.
"Cisco was focused on flip cameras and consumer devices. Chambers made the promise that networking was going to be a focus for them last year and it has been. Now margins for switches are returning to what they were three years ago. For investors, that's a great sign."
Kerravala noted rumblings in the blogosphere about quality. As he sees it, there's...
Fri, 10 Feb 12
Google Rolls Out Chrome 17 Browser with 'Pre-Rendered' Pages
Google rolled out a stable release of Chrome 17 to browser users around the world Wednesday. Among other things, the upgrade begins to pre-render Web site pages based on what the user is typing in the browser's address bar, which Google has renamed the "omnibox."
"When you start typing in the omnibox and the URL auto-completes to a site you're very likely to visit, Chrome will pre-render the page, so it will appear faster -- sometimes, even instantly -- as soon as you hit Enter," wrote Chrome Software Engineer NoÃ© Lutz in a company blog Wednesday.
Chrome 17 also features a number of security enhancements, including greater protection from malicious downloads, some of which even masquerade as free anti-virus products.
Google hopes the speed and security improvements to Chrome 17 -- together with this week's launch of Chrome as a browser for mobile devices running Android 4 -- will help the browser resume its former growth trajectory in the global browser market.
According to Net Applications, Google's browser market growth stalled in January when Chrome lost 0.17 percent share on the desktop -- even as Microsoft's Internet Explorer gained 1.1 percent and Mozilla's Firefox dropped 1 percent.
Chrome 17 analyzes the properties of each Web site that users visit to determine the likelihood of it containing phishing pages. Moreover, this analysis is conducted in the background on the user's own PC and without any information about the Web sites that users visit being shared with Google.
"Only if the page looks sufficiently suspicious will Chrome send the URL of that page back to Google for further analysis, and show a warning as appropriate," noted Chrome software engineer Niels Provos and product manager Ian Fette.
The safe browsing functionality built into Chrome 17 downloads a continuously-updated list of known phishing and malware...
Fri, 10 Feb 12
iPad 3 Debut Reportedly Scheduled for Early March
Apple will reportedly hold a media event in early March to announce the iPad 3. As usually happens before a major announcement from Apple, rumors about the debut date and features of the new product version are flying around the Web.
The iPad 2 was first shown in March of last year, so the reported date for the event would be at an appropriate time. The event is expected to be held in San Francisco, although the company has not yet confirmed the reports.
A photo is circulating on the Web that purports to be a leaked image of the iPad 3, and it is driving some of the speculation.
Most reports suggest that version 3 of the popular tablet will have a very high-resolution Retina Display 9.7-inch screen, with resolution on the order of 2048x1536 pixels. Currently, the iPad 2 has a 1024x768 display, and, if the Retina Display does make its tablet appearance, Apple may choose to call the new model the iPad HD.
There's also expectation of a faster processor, although what kind is a subject of much dispute. Some contend that Apple could include a quad-core processor, but that appears to be a minority view. Most expect a faster A6 to replace the current A5, but a quad-core may be a bridge too far. The most frequently voiced expectation is that there will be faster graphics processing, and perhaps a dual-core central processor.
As is often the case with a next generation mobile device, a longer-lasting and perhaps larger battery is expected, as well as a better-quality camera, and thinner dimension.
Ross Rubin, executive director for connected intelligence at the NPD Group, said some competing tablets have emerged that are thinner than the category-dominating iPad, which "suggests that Apple will make theirs thinner" to catch up.
Fri, 10 Feb 12
Super Bowl Ads: Score One for the Doritos Baby
Score one for the bodacious baby. The Super Bowl was lost when quarterback Tom Brady flung a football halfway across the field -- that went uncaught. But the competition for the Super Bowl's best commercial was won by an ad about a crafty grandma who slung a sling-wearing baby across the yard -- to snatch a bag of Doritos.
This marks the first time that consumers -- not preselected panelists rating the ads during the game -- picked the winner in the USA TODAY/Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter. Online voting, which began after each ad aired in Sunday night's broadcast, ended at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday. Consumers picked from 55 commercials on which advertisers spent up to a record $3.5 million for each 30-second slot.
But for the Super Bowl's 38 national advertisers, this was also the Social Bowl. Never mind that they spent upwards of $230 million on just the TV advertising time. The purpose of most of the spots was to drive consumers to share the spots with friends, buzz about them and the brand and then try to find out more about the product.
Placing a close second in Ad Meter was Anheuser-Busch's beer-fetching dog, Weego. Two carmakers tied for third: Kia, whose ad featured a guy with ultraracy dreams that include supermodel Adriana Lima; and Chrysler, which turned actor Clint Eastwood into almost as big a Super Bowl presence as New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
The gutsy carmaker featured Eastwood in a two-minute "Halftime in America" spot that likened the nation's current plight to a football team revising its game plans at halftime. The spot was initially not included in Ad Meter because it aired at halftime, when fewer viewers are typically watching. But it was later added because of strong social-media sentiment.
Despite jeers from some Republican politicians that...
Fri, 10 Feb 12
Touchscreens Create Online Experience at Stores
Imagine browsing knife sets in an airport and then ordering one before you board your plane, or going to a department store to look at makeup without having to bounce from counter to counter to check out each brand's selection.
Companies including Macy's, HSN and Adidas are building large, TV-like interactive screens to give consumers experiences like these in an ever-increasing effort to bring the convenience of online shopping to the offline world.
"We are on the frontier of a really neat future of retailing," says Michelle Tinsley, general manager of retail at Intel, whose core processor is behind new shopping technology and digital signs from Macy's, HSN, Adidas, Kraft, Coca-Cola and others.
To enhance the in-store shopping experience, where the majority of retail sales are still rung up, retailers are looking for ways to bring the convenience, selection and ability for product comparison of the online world. For example, HSN's digital shopping wall could be set up in an airport and would allow someone to virtually browse knife sets while waiting for a flight, complete the purchase through their phone and have the item shipped home.
"It is a way to refresh the shopping experience without having to rebuild a new store," says Joe Skorupa, editor of retail publication RIS News.
While online shopping accounts for less than 10% of retail sales, consumers continue to demonstrate their preference for browsing, researching, sharing and buying in a digital environment. Online holiday sales were up 15% over 2010, aided by record Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, according to data from ComScore. In-store sales rose 3.4% from the previous year during the same time period, data from Retail Metrics show.
Macy's Beauty Spot kiosk, a rounded, roughly 7-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide structure inlaid with interactive touch-screens on both sides, allows a customer to browse the...
Fri, 10 Feb 12
Yahoo Ramps Up Executive Makeover
A month after naming a new CEO, Yahoo shook up its board Tuesday in a move to reinvigorate its business and possibly accelerate attempts to find a buyer.
The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company said longtime Chairman Roy Bostock and three other board members -- Vyomesh Joshi, Gary Wilson and Arthur Kern -- will step aside after the company's shareholder meeting.
Replacing them on the board: Alfred Amoroso, former CEO of Rovi, a digital entertainment company; and Maynard Webb, chairman (and former CEO) of LiveOps, a customer call center company that uses cloud computing. Webb also worked previously as eBay's COO.
The shake-up is part of Yahoo's ongoing housecleaning of its management. Analysts had expected Bostock's departure since co-founder Jerry Yang exited in mid-January. Scott Thompson, who ran eBay's PayPal business, was tapped as Yahoo CEO in early January, replacing Carol Bartz, who was booted last September.
Yang, Bostock and other departing board members angered major shareholders in 2008 when they turned down an unsolicited $45 billion offer from Microsoft shortly before the economic downturn, a decision which was widely criticized. Yahoo's current market value is about $19.6 billion.
Yahoo's outgoing management has also been blamed for its sluggish response to competitive threats from Google and Facebook in more- promising business categories, such as social network display ads.
"These guys had overstayed their welcome," says Jonathan Yarmis, an independent analyst.
Some analysts saw the latest board shuffle as a pre-emptive move to avoid a proxy fight from other still-angry shareholders. But Yarmis says the move, while it may placate some shareholders, stems more likely from Thompson wanting new board members.
Meanwhile, Yahoo says it continues to look for an equity buyer, and the revamped management team could give that effort new life, says Karsten Weide, an analyst at IDC. "The old board was just in place for too long and...
Fri, 10 Feb 12
New Computer Chip Design Boosts Speed
U.S. researchers say a new technique in computer chip design can increase overall computer processor performance by an average of more than 20 percent.
In the new design, graphics processing units and central processing units on a single chip, normally involved in separate processing activities, can collaborate, researchers at North Carolina State University said.
GPUs were initially designed for the single function of executing graphics programs and are capable of executing many individual functions very quickly while CPUs, or the "brains" of a computer, have less computational power but are better able to perform more complex tasks.
"Chip manufacturers are now creating processors that have a 'fused architecture,' meaning that they include CPUs and GPUs on a single chip," researcher Huiyang Zhou said in a university release Tuesday.
"This approach decreases manufacturing costs and makes computers more energy efficient. However, the CPU cores and GPU cores still work almost exclusively on separate functions. They rarely collaborate to execute any given program, so they aren't as efficient as they could be."
"Our approach is to allow the GPU cores to execute computational functions, and have CPU cores pre-fetch the data the GPUs will need from off-chip main memory," Zhou said.
"This is more efficient because it allows CPUs and GPUs to do what they are good at. GPUs are good at performing computations. CPUs are good at making decisions and flexible data retrieval."
The researchers said the new approach can improve fused processor performance by an average of 21.4 percent.
Fri, 10 Feb 12
Faster Data Storage Created by Heat
A new way of magnetic recording using heat will allow data processing hundreds of times faster than by current hard drive technology, British researchers say.
International research led by the physics department at the University of York found heat could be used to record information onto magnetic media at a much faster rate than current technologies, a York release said Tuesday.
"Instead of using a magnetic field to record information on a magnetic medium, we harnessed much stronger internal forces and recorded information using only heat," York physicist Thomas Ostler said.
"This revolutionary method allows the recording of Terabytes (thousands of Gigabytes) of information per second, hundreds of times faster than present hard drive technology. As there is no need for a magnetic field, there is also less energy consumption."
Until now it has been believed that in order to record one bit of information -- by inverting the poles in a magnetic medium -- there was a need to apply an external magnetic field.
The researchers demonstrated the positions of the poles of a magnet can be inverted by an ultrashort heat pulse, harnessing the power of much stronger internal forces.
"For centuries it has been believed that heat can only destroy the magnetic order," said Alexey Kimel of the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. "Now we have successfully demonstrated that it can, in fact, be a sufficient stimulus for recording information on a magnetic medium."
Fri, 10 Feb 12
Oracle Rejects $272M SAP Award, Demands New Trial
Business software maker Oracle Corp. has turned down $272 million in court-ordered damages from SAP AG in hopes of leaving a much bigger dent in its rival's pocketbook and reputation during a second trial over allegations of corporate theft.
The decision to extend the 5-year-old legal brawl had been expected since September. That's when a federal judge lowered a $1.3 billion verdict awarded to Oracle by a jury that sat through a three-week trial filled with evidence depicting Germany's SAP as a high-tech bandit. U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton lopped more than $1 billion from the jury's award after concluding it was "grossly excessive."
Oracle demanded the new trial in a Monday court filing.
In doing so, Oracle will try to prove the jury got it right the first time while getting another chance to sully SAP.
"We are disappointed that Oracle has passed up yet another opportunity to resolve this case," SAP spokesman James Dever said Tuesday. "We will work to bring this case to a fair and reasonable end."
Oracle, which is based in Redwood Shores, California, declined to comment.
The case revolves around SAP's $10 million acquisition of a small software services firm TomorrowNow that had promised to help corporate customers and government agencies maintain the applications that they had purchased from Oracle.
After SAP took over TomorrowNow in 2005, Oracle uncovered evidence that TomorrowNow was breaking into Oracle's computers to steal instruction manuals and other technical information about copyrighted software.
SAP acknowledged much of the misconduct before the first trial began in 2010, but argued it shouldn't be penalized severely because it didn't gain that much from the stolen data. SAP estimated it picked up about $40 million in revenue from the skullduggery, prompting it to set aside $160 million for the damages that it thought it might have to pay.
Signaling it wanted much...
Fri, 10 Feb 12
Report: Silicon Valley Sees Growth in Jobs, Wealth
Silicon Valley is creating jobs and wealth for highly skilled workers but may be leaving some residents behind as employment closes in on pre-Great Recession levels, according to a report released Tuesday.
The 2012 Silicon Valley Index found job growth in the high-tech hub far outpaced America as a whole last year. The region added 42,000 jobs, a jump of nearly 4 percent, compared with a nationwide increase of little more than 1 percent.
The current unemployment rate in the region stands at 8.3 percent, the same as the national average but well below the overall state rate of 10.9 percent.
Job growth occurred in all major sectors of the Silicon Valley economy except manufacturing. Key industries adding jobs included cloud computing, mobile devices, mobile apps, Internet companies and social media.
"Silicon Valley does seem to be mounting a fairly impressive recovery," said Russell Hancock, president and chief executive of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a nonprofit that compiles the index annually along with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. "We were the last to succumb to the national recession, and we appear to be the first emerging out of it."
Hancock said the improving economy hasn't resulted in the same widespread benefits as previous periods of growth. In the past, he said, advances in the high-tech industry would also create many mid-level jobs that served as the "spine" of Silicon Valley.
This time around, what Hancock called a "bonanza" for highly educated workers hasn't trickled down.
Per capita income for the four-county region covered by the index rose to $66,000 last year due to rising wealth among high earners.
The report does not provide a median income figure for 2011, but the number dropped by 3 percent between 2009 and 2010, and the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches rose.
"Technology used to be this tide that would...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
Windows 8 'Consumer Preview' Available February 29
Here comes Windows 8. On Feb. 29, Microsoft will offer a "consumer preview" of its next operating system, centered on an invitation-only event in Barcelona, Spain.
The two-hour special event, for which e-mail invitations have been sent out, will occur during the same week and in the same city as the Mobile World Congress.
Some observers have noted that a conference for mobile devices is an unusual venue to stage this major release of Microsoft's new platform for desktops, laptops and tablets, but the company has apparently decided to use this context as a way of emphasizing the mobile orientation of Windows 8.
In fact, mobile appears to be driving key elements of 8, such as its touch- and tablet-optimized Metro interface mode. Additionally, recent information has indicated that Windows 8 will share a number of the same components as Microsoft's next phone platform, Windows Phone 8, code-named Apollo.
The user interfaces for Windows 8 and Apollo are expected to be similar, as least in the Metro mode, and Phone 8 is expected to reuse the kernel, network stacks, security and multimedia coding of Windows 8. As a result, applications developed for Windows 8 could potentially run, with relatively little modification, on Apollo phones.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, CEO Steve Ballmer announced that a public beta of the "reimagined" Windows OS would be available sometime in February. The version released on the 29th will be the first widely available preliminary version.
It is apparently being called a "consumer preview" rather than a beta because of an overuse of the term by various companies -- including Microsoft -- and to convey that this version is intended for consumers as an early incarnation, not as a test version.
Some information on Windows 8 has already...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
Sprint Continues Flailing While AT&T, Verizon Grow
Despite carrying the No. 1 smartphone in its lineup after years of waiting, Sprint is still bleeding. In fact, Sprint's losses have grown larger since adding the iPhone to its smartphone mix. But it's not all bad news.
For 2011, the company posted the largest sequential increase in net operating revenues in more than five years, largely attributed to the iPhone. Sprint now serves more than 55 million customers, more than ever. And Sprint added a net 1.6 million subscribers, its best since 2005.
"Our strong fourth-quarter performance illustrates the power of matching iconic devices like the iPhone with our simple, unlimited plans and industry-leading customer experience," said Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint.
"During the past year, Sprint added more than 5 million net new customers and grew wireless service revenue by more than 5 percent, including 17 percent for the Sprint platform. This momentum gives us confidence as we execute our Network Vision upgrade and 4G LTE roll-out."
What Hesse didn't talk about were the fourth-quarter losses. Sprint reported a net loss of $1.3 billion. Much of the loss came from costs associated with subsidizing the iPhone on its network. Sprint sold 1.8 million iPhones in the fourth quarter. About 720,000 of those iPhone buyers were new Sprint customers. That drove up the carrier's subsidy expenses to about $1.7 billion.
Sprint's 1.8 million iPhone sales compares with AT&T's 7.6 million and Verizon's 4.3 million in the fourth quarter, despite the third-largest carrier's value-adds. For example, Sprint offers an all-you-can-eat data package, something its competitors do not do. In fact, AT&T is throttling heavy users on its network. Rolling out the iPhone with an initial unlimited data plan has been the go-to-market strategy for each of the U.S. carriers.
Sprint's plans start at $69.99 a month plus a $10 premium data add-on charge. Sprint's...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
Amazon Deal with Viacom Extends Digital Retail 'Empire'
Moving further beyond its origin as a mail-order online retailer, Amazon.com has taken another leap into full media services, agreeing to a licensing deal with Viacom to add dozens of shows to its streaming lineup.
Viacom's TV channels include MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, TV Land, Spike, VH1, BET, CMT and Logo, and it doesn't give up its content easily. The company is embroiled in a legal battle with Time Warner Cable over streaming-content rights which prevents subscribers from accessing those channels via Time Warner's recently released apps for Android and Apple's iOS.
The content is available to Amazon Prime members, who pay $79 a year for free shipping on many items available for purchase, access to the Kindle Owners Lending Library for digital reading and commercial-free, instant access to movies and TV shows. Streaming movies and TV shows are also available a la carte via Amazon Instant Video.
News of the agreement greets customers on the site's landing page in the form of a letter from founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. "We've just wrapped up another deal," he says.
Access to Viacom shows like The Hills, iCarly and Jersey Shore brings the total number of Prime Instant videos to 15,000, Amazon said. Prime content is available on 300 different devices.
"Over the last year we have received fantastic customer feedback about Prime Instant Video. We are constantly working to improve the service by adding the shows that our customers enjoy the most," said Brad Beale, director of video content acquisition for Amazon.
"This deal with Viacom brings Prime customers and Kindle Fire users thousands of comedies, kids' shows, reality TV and much more from some of the best cable networks available."
The Kindle Fire is a 7-inch touchscreen tablet that runs a customized version of Google's Android operating system.
Amazon previously struck deals with CBS, Fox, PBS,...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
Nokia Shifting Handset Assembly Operations to Asia
Nokia said Wednesday that the company plans to shift its mobile-handset assembly operations to Asia, with more than 4,000 jobs at Nokia's factories in Finland, Hungary and Mexico gradually being eliminated this year.
Following the lead of Apple and other smartphone makers, Nokia expects the movement of its handset assembly activities to Asia will help increase the company's competitiveness.
"Shifting device assembly to Asia is targeted at improving our time to market," said Nokia Executive Vice President Niklas Savander. "By working more closely with our suppliers, we believe that we will be able to introduce innovations into the market more quickly and ultimately be more competitive."
Nokia's factories in Komarom, Hungary; Reynosa, Mexico; and Salo, Finland, will continue to play an important role serving the company's smartphone customers, Savander said. "They give us a unique ability to both provide customization and be more responsive to customer needs," Savander said.
Nokia's relocation of handset assembly activities to Asia are part of Nokia's goal to reduce the company's longer-term operating expenses by more than $1.32 billion by 2013. At the same time, however, Nokia is "investing in smart-devices marketing to support Lumia, and we are also investing in mobile-phones R&D to support the Internet for the next billion strategy," said Nokia CFO Timo Ihamuotila.
The job reductions announced Wednesday are in addition to the 14,500 job cuts made by Steven Elop since becoming Nokia's CEO last year. The changes come at a time when the European Union as a whole is struggling to deal with debt issues that threaten the region's economic viability.
"We recognize the planned changes are difficult for our employees and we are committed to supporting our personnel and their local communities during the transition," Savander said.
Greater China and the Asia-Pacific collectively accounted for 43.5 percent of Nokia's handset...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
DDoS Attacks and Tools Increase Dramatically
Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks, or DDoS, are increasing in number, have become more effective in a shorter length of time, and frequently have political rather than monetary motivations. Those are some of the takeaways from several recent reports on the practice.
Security company Prolexic is reporting that, during last year's fourth quarter, there were 45 percent more DDoS attacks than the same time in the previous year, and more than double the number in the previous quarter. The company said that, while attacks are lasting a shorter period of time, they generally have a greater packet-per-second volume.
Prolexic also said that the average attack bandwidth in the last quarter was 148 percent higher than the third quarter, and 136 percent more than a year ago.
Attacks are likely to be shorter, said Prolexic CTO Paul Sop in a statement, but with much more impact in terms of packet-per-second volume. "In the past," he said, "attackers had a rifle," while now "they have a machine gun with a laser." Prolexic also reported an increase in application-layer attacks against e-commerce companies.
Chelmsford, Massachusetts-based network security provider Arbor Networks' annual Worldwide Infrastructure Report, released Tuesday, found that ideologically motivated "hacktivism" is the most frequent motivator for DDoS incidents. This replaces financial reasons, which had included competitive motives or extortion. Sometimes, the company said, DDoS attacks are used for distraction after financial theft has been conducted through the use of a Trojan.
The company also noted that there are a number of attack tools which have been developed in the last few years, making an attack something that people of various technical skills can readily launch. The tools include single user flooding tools, small host booters, shell booters, Remote Access Trojans with flooding capabilities, simple and complex DDoS bots, and even some commercial DDoS services.
Thu, 9 Feb 12
Hackers Post Symantec Source Code on Net
An Indian hacker group has made good on its threats to publish stolen Symantec source code. The disclosure comes after ransom negotiations -- which the company said involved law enforcement agencies on a $50,000 sting operation -- stalled.
A hacker that goes by the handle YamaTough, who is associated with an Indian group affiliated with Anonymous that is called the Lords of Dharmaraja, published the source code to Symantec's pcAnywhere. The software allows users to remotely access and control other computers. YamaTough appears to have published the code on Pirate Bay.
"Symantec can confirm that the source code for pcAnywhere has been posted publicly. It is part of the original cache of code for 2006 versions of the products that Anonymous has claimed to possess throughout the past few weeks," Symantec said in a statement. "Symantec was prepared for the code to be posted at some point and has developed and distributed a series of patches since Jan. 23rd to protect pcAnywhere users against known vulnerabilities."
That said, Symantec is continuing to urge pcAnywhere customers to ensure that pcAnywhere version 12.5 is installed, apply all relevant patches that have been released and follow general security best practices. And Symantec warned that there may be more fallout before the drama is over. Specifically, the firm expects Anonymous will post the rest of the code it has claimed to have in its possession.
"So far, they have posted code for the 2006 versions of Norton Utilities and pcAnywhere. We also anticipate that at some point, they will post the code for the 2006 versions of Norton Antivirus Corporate Edition and Norton Internet Security," Symantec said. "As we have already stated publicly, this is old code and Symantec and Norton customers will not be at an increased risk as a result of any further...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
Google Launches Chrome Browser for Android Smartphones
With more and more people connecting to the Internet through a phone or a tablet instead of a PC, Google Inc. is bringing its fast-growing browser, Chrome, to the newest Android-powered mobile devices.
The launch Tuesday of Chrome for Android Beta caps an engineering effort of more than one year within Google, and marks a convergence between two of the company's fastest-growing products. Both Android and Chrome launched in the third quarter of 2008, and both have had powerful growth spurts, with Android becoming the world's most popular mobile operating system last year and with Chrome on a track that could make it the world's most popular browser later this year.
"This is a big moment for us," said Sundar Pichai, Google's senior vice president for Chrome and applications. "The world is going mobile at a pretty phenomenal rate. Using the Web on a mobile device, I think, is in its early stages, and we think this a big step toward where we're headed."
The analytics firm StatCounter said Monday that the share of Internet visits that came from a smartphone nearly doubled over the past year, to 8.5 percent in January from 4.3 percent a year ago.
Chrome overtook Mozilla's Firefox to become the world's No. 2 browser behind Microsoft's Internet Explorer in November, according to StatCounter, and currently has more than 26 percent of the worldwide browser market and is growing, while Internet Explorer has about 40 percent and is slipping.
Google hopes the convergence of Chrome and Android will drive more smartphone users to try its browser, and will also attract independent software developers to focus more on apps that run on Google's products. And while native apps remain the centerpiece of smartphones and tablets, Google believes that's changing as browsers become ever more powerful under the latest standards of HTML5, the...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
FBI Using GPS Surveillance Less Often
The FBI has begun cutting back GPS surveillance in an array of criminal and intelligence investigations following a Supreme Court ruling last month restricting its use, a federal law enforcement official said.
The bureau began implementing the change the day after the Jan. 23 ruling in which the court found that attaching such a device to a car amounted to a search covered by the Fourth Amendment, requiring police to seek warrants in many cases.
The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter, said the GPS directive was issued until further legal guidance is provided on the use of the technology.
Meanwhile, the official said, additional FBI agents have been dispatched to cover costly, labor-intensive surveillance operations that had previously relied on GPS technology.
The FBI's actions represent the first evidence of a tactical change by federal law enforcement prompted by the court's ruling, which has raised new questions throughout the criminal justice and intelligence communities.
The Justice Department is in the midst of evaluating the ruling's implications, Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said.
It was unclear whether the court decision will force a change in the department's manual guiding federal law enforcement operations.
In that document, known as "The Attorney General's Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations," a list of approved investigative methods includes the use of GPS-type "direction finders and other monitoring devices," which "usually do not require court orders or warrants."
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said GPS surveillance is the subject of legal analysis within the intelligence community.
"We are now examining the potential implications for intelligence, foreign or domestic," he told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.
"That reading is of great interest to us. In all of this, we will -- we have and will -- continue to abide by the Fourth Amendment."
Ray Mey, a former FBI counterterrorism official, said the...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
Love Gone Wrong? Go Digital To Get Over an Ex
You thought you found your one true love online, but now you've been dumped by text or defriended on Facebook without a peep of explanation. Hours of bad TV in your bathrobe haven't helped. Your friends are tired of your whining.
Forget a pampering makeover to help heal your broken heart this Valentine's Day. Go for a "digital breakover" instead, using a growing number of tech tools to save you from yourself or to sob on a safe shoulder in the ether.
Online dating sites and apps for hooking up on the go are abundant. Only one of the Apple app store's recent top 12 downloads for the iPhone was about something other than romantic love, but breakup tech hasn't kept pace.
Melissa McGlone, 46, in Alexandria, Virginia, turned to The Ex-App after a three-year relationship ended recently with an unceremonious text. After a weak moment or three of electronically stalking her dumper, she used the text, call and email blocker to hold his digits at bay until she could resist temptation on her own.
"I no longer humiliate myself by trying to contact him," said McGlone, a divorced mother who was 18 years out of the dating scene when the two first met.
The free app took off last March with about 3,000 downloads in the first nine months. Unlike other blocking tools, The Ex-App also tracks the number of consecutive days spent NOT trying to ferret out a former love.
In New York, 28-year-old Amanda Green relied on the well-established Dear Old Love Tumblr blog after she was dumped on Independence Day 2009 a year into a relationship. The site for the lovelorn describes itself as an anonymous safe haven for "short notes to people we've loved (or at least liked). Requited or unrequited." A selection of notes from the site was later turned...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
Congress Passes FAA Bill That Speeds Switch to GPS
A bill to speed the nation's switch from radar to an air traffic control system based on GPS technology, and to open U.S. skies to unmanned drone flights within four years, received final congressional approval Monday.
The bill passed the Senate 75-20, despite labor opposition to a deal cut between the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House on rules governing union organizing elections at airlines and railroads. The House had passed the bill last week, and it now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The bill authorizes $63.4 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration over four years, including about $11 billion toward the air traffic system and its modernization. It accelerates the modernization program by setting a deadline of June 2015 for the FAA to develop new arrival procedures at the nation's 35 busiest airports so planes can land using the more-precise GPS navigation.
Instead of time-consuming, fuel-burning, stair-step descents, planes will be able to glide in more steeply with their engines idling. Planes will also be able to land and take off closer together and more frequently, even in poor weather, because pilots will know the precise location of other aircraft and obstacles on the ground. Fewer planes will be diverted.
Eventually, FAA officials want the airline industry and other aircraft operators to install onboard satellite technology that updates the location of planes every second instead of radar's every six to 12 seconds. That would enable pilots to tell not only the location of their plane, but other planes equipped with the new technology as well -- something they can't do now.
The system is central to the FAA's plans for accommodating a forecast 50 percent growth in air traffic over the next decade. Most other nations already have adopted satellite-based technology for guiding planes, or are heading in that direction, but...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
Looking for Work? There May Be an App for That
Looking for a promising career in a lousy economy? A new study suggests you're apt to find it in apps -- the services and tools built to run on smartphones, computer tablets and Facebook's online social network.
The demand for applications for everything ranging from games to quantum physics has created 466,000 jobs in the U.S. since 2007, according to an analysis released Tuesday by technology trade group TechNet.
The estimate counts 311,000 jobs at companies making the apps and another 155,000 at local merchants who have expanded their payrolls in an economic ripple effect caused by increased spending at their businesses.
The study asserts this so-called "app economy" is still in the early stages of a boom driven by the mobile computing and social networking crazes unleashed by Apple Inc.'s iPhone and Facebook's online hangout.
"This is a telescope into what the future looks like," said Michael Mandel, the economist hired by TechNet to put together the report. "This is one part of the economy that is actually expanding and hiring. Once you point people in that direction, they can realign their compass pretty quickly."
Apps makers were adding jobs even when the overall U.S. unemployment rate climbed to as high as 10 percent in late 2009, Mandel said. That bodes well for even more vigorous growth if the economy can extend a gradual recovery from the Great Recession. The national unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent in January, the lowest level in three years.
Government labor statistics don't yet track jobs focused on apps, partly because the market is still relatively new. That prompted TechNet to try to fill the void. The 15-year-old group represents executives at companies that employ more than 2 million people and generate more than $800 billion in annual revenue combined.
The app economy began to percolate in 2007 -- the...
Thu, 9 Feb 12
Hospitals Mine Patient Records in Search of Customers
When the oversized postcard arrived last August from Provena St. Joseph Medical Center promoting a lung cancer screening for current or former smokers over 55, Steven Boyd wondered how the hospital had found him.
Boyd, 59, of Joliet, Ill., had smoked for decades, as had his wife, Karol.
Provena didn't send the mailing to everyone who lived near the hospital, just those who had a stronger likelihood of having smoked based on their age, income, insurance status and other demographic criteria.
The non-profit facility is one of a growing number of hospitals using their patients' health and financial records to help pitch their most lucrative services, such as cancer, heart and orthopedic care. As part of these direct mail campaigns, they are also buying detailed information about local residents compiled by consumer marketing firms -- everything from age, income and marital status to shopping habits and whether residents have children or pets at home.
Hospitals say they are promoting needed services, such as cancer screenings and cholesterol tests, but they often use the data to target patients with private health insurance, which typically pays higher rates than government coverage. At an industry conference last year, Provena Health marketing executive Lisa Lagger said such efforts had helped attract higher-paying patients, including those covered by "profitable Blue Cross and less Medicare."
While the strategies are increasing revenues, they are drawing fire from patient advocates and privacy groups who criticize the hospitals for using private medical records to pursue profits.
Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a California-based consumer advocacy group, says he is bothered by efforts to "cherry pick" the best-paying patients.
"When marketing is picking and choosing based on people's financial status, it is inherently discriminating against patients who have every right and need for medical information," Heller says. Deven McGraw, director of the health privacy project...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
Motorola's Droid 4 Added to Verizon Lineup
Verizon Wireless stores will soon have more Droids hanging around than the Mos Eisley spaceport, with the latest of the Star Wars-themed devices hitting the shelves on Friday.
Motorola's Droid 4, the latest incarnation of the original Droid released in November 2009, will cost $199 with a two-year contract. Like its predecessors, the smartphone has a full QWERTY slide-out keyboard, but it now packs a dual-core, 1.2-gigahertz processor and is the latest device capable of surfing Verizon's high-speed, long-term evolution data network.
The Droid 4, introduced last month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is only a half-inch thick.
In addition to Motorola, Samsung and HTC also make Droid devices, which Verizon considers its top-shelf Android-based smartphones, offering a superior user interface.
And the nation's top carrier seems to have no reservations about expanding the lineup on a regular basis, as fast as its partners can make them.
Are they risking Droid fatigue? Not likely, says analyst Charles King of Pund-IT.
"The smartphone audience is large and diverse enough that it can absorb or tolerate more updates and new versions than many product categories, so long as they're properly targeted," King said.
The Droid 4, he said, is aimed at users who prefer slide-out keyboards, while other devices, such as HTC's Droid Incredible, are entirely touchscreen devices.
That doesn't mean, however, that too many similar devices and upgrades can't confuse the market.
"As the success of Apple's iPhone 4S demonstrates, there are huge potential benefits in delivering a new device with a true killer app -- in Apple's case, Siri," King said. "By comparison, simple OS upgrades or nominally improved features can appear a bit dowdy."
The Droid 4 won't ship with the latest version of Android, 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, but with 2.3.5, Gingerbread,...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
Siri's Companion, Wolfram Alpha, Emerges in Pro Version
Wolfram Alpha, the "computational knowledge engine" that launched in 2009, is now available in a higher-end Pro version on the Web. The paid service was released on Tuesday, and allows a user to apply analytical tools to a range of data inputs.
Company CEO Stephen Wolfram said that the Pro version's purpose is to offer tools used by data analysis, controlled by natural language processing and integrated with the engine's database of real-world knowledge. While the original Wolfram Alpha relies entirely on its own database of how the world works, Pro also includes the user's data.
Wolfram told news media that "you take the data, throw it at Wolfram Alpha Pro, and see what it has to say about it."
For example, dragging an image to the Pro version will result in an image analysis, such as color data and aspect ratio. Pro supports more than 60 file formats for text, data, sound, and other information.
In a demonstration for the press, Pro used the provided data to perform edge detection on a photograph, analyze a picture's color composition, and plot a timeline from a series of dated e-mails. Other examples include creating a color-coded bar chart from a table of data of France's gross domestic product over 50 years, and generating a chart from a table of campaign contributions to specific politicians, complete with a short text summary that noted some comparisons.
The engine can still be used in query mode, or a user can upload data and see what Pro does. Results can be saved in Wolfram's Computational Document Format, which allows interactivity for in-document data, such as some kinds of graphs.
Wolfram said that computations by the Pro engine will be limited to those that can be conducted reasonably quickly. The user...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
EMC Launches Flash Server Caching Solution
EMC is pushing hard on the flash front. In a move to extend flash technology to the server and drive the benefits of PCIe flash tech from social media and Internet to mainstream mission critical apps, the company just rolled out a new server flash caching solution dubbed EMC VFCache.
Coupled with EMC flash-enabled storage systems, EMC VFCache promises to improve application performance by tapping into intelligent software and PCIe flash technology. EMC's testing showed up to three times greater throughput and a 60 percent latency reduction.
"In 2012, we're seeing the extension of the storage hierarchy where flash is being managed from the server all the way through to the spinning disk array," said Dave Vellante, chief analyst at Wikibon.org (a professional community solving technology and business problems through open-source sharing of free advisory knowledge).
"An important development," Vellante points out, "is software that intelligently places data at the most appropriate location in this emerging storage hierarchy. Combined with FAST technology [which we explain below], EMC VFCache is a leading example of this trend coming to market as a solution."
Vellante is talking about EMC's integration with Fully Automated Storage Tiering architecture, called FAST for short. VFCache extends the EMC FAST architecture to make way for intelligent end-to-end data tiering and caching strategy from the storage to the server.
"What our clients will gain in performance and protection is complemented with the intelligence of EMC's unique automated storage tiering technology through EMC FAST," said Keith Norbie, vice president at Nexus Information Systems. "VFCache will help us satisfy the performance boost requirements, protection needs and automated intelligence for our customers with mission critical, hybrid cloud environments."
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, said companies running a high-end online transaction processing application that needs access to a customer or product database would find...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
Symantec $50,000 Sting Fails To Turn Out Hackers
Call it an attempted sting. A group of hackers claimed to possess source code for Symantec's pcAnywhere and Norton Antivirus software -- and wanted $50,000 in exchange for not leaking the code.
What the hackers didn't know was that it wasn't Symantec they were negotiating with in the e-mail exchange. Law enforcement officials acting as a Symantec employee were on the other side of the virtual communication.
The drama began in early January. That's when Symantec revealed that a segment of its source code for Norton products was stolen in a security breach. An Indian hacking group called Lords of Dharmaraja claimed it got its hands on source code used in the Norton anti-virus program. The group later claimed affiliation with the "hacktivist" group Anonymous.
The lengthy e-mail exchange began Jan. 18, but in the end apparently no money changed hands and no arrests were made.
Reuters obtained some of the e-mails from the hacker group. One, from a fake Symantec employee "Sam Thomas," read: "We can't pay you $50,000 at once for the reasons we discussed previously. In exchange, you will make a public statement on behalf of your group that you lied about the hack."
But the hackers turned the tables on Symantec. YamaTough, a hacker affiliated with Lords of Dharmaraja, told Reuters, "We tricked them into offering us a bribe so we could humiliate them."
Lords of Dharmaraja already embarrassed Symantec in late January. The theft led Symantec to advise customers using pcAnywhere to disable the software. Symantec disclosed that the source-code theft appeared to be the result of a security breach that occurred in 2006. In order to avoid man-in-the-middle attacks, Symantec suggested clients stop using the software until a patch was ready.
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, called the Symantec drama an "ugly little story on every level." He said...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
RIM Pushes BlackBerry as App Platform
It's an app world, and smartphone makers have to live in it. This week, Research In Motion, propelled by new executive leadership, is attempting to rally application developers about what a great platform they have in the BlackBerry.
On Tuesday, RIM Vice President of Developer Relations Alec Saunders told a DevCon Europe event in Amsterdam that BlackBerry users download an average of 6 million apps every day. More important to developers, he said that BlackBerry apps create 40 percent more revenue for their creators than Android ones do, with more paid downloads than on the Android Market.
Saunders said that this dynamic has resulted in about 13 percent of BlackBerry app developers having made more than $100,000 each, a higher percentage than from apps for Android or Apple's iOS. He added that the company's App World, whose 60,000 apps are a relative handful compared with other platforms, is the most profitable platform for developers after Apple's iTunes App Store. The App Store has more than 550,000 apps.
RIM said its App World has had more than 2 billion downloads total as of January. That figure, while impressive, is still dwarfed by the App Store's 10 billion as of a year ago.
A plentiful flow of great apps, and an enthusiastic developer community, is essential to righting the ship of RIM -- and getting the momentum needed to transition the company's products to the coming BlackBerry 10 platform.
RIM's strategy includes charging for paid apps on bills from carriers, an arrangement that is now available in nearly three-dozen countries. Carrier-based billing is considered an easier transaction for users, while Apple, as a comparison, conducts billing through iTunes.
Industry research firm GfK Group said last week that BlackBerry is still the best-selling smartphone in the United Kingdom, with about 27...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
Google Tackles World's Problems with 'Solve for X'
Having accomplished some of its goals in organizing the world's information, Google is now turning to crowd-sourcing for solving the world's remaining problems. The new effort is centered on a Web site, WeSolveforX.com, which the company said will be a place to discuss "radical technology ideas for solving global problems."
By "radical," Google means solutions that could help billions of people, and proposals whose audaciousness "makes them sound like science fiction." But they're redeemed from falling into make-believe by the fact that they are based on some real technology breakthrough, now or on the horizon.
The Web site -- devoted to "moonshot thinking" -- is sparsely populated for moonshots at the moment, with no real interactive discussion capability or descriptions of ideas, but that is expected to change soon as the Solve for X project evolves.
Richard DeVaul, a former Apple senior prototype scientist who works on Google's small Rapid Evaluation team, is a key figure in the Solve for X project, and he has said via Google+ that various invited individuals held discussions earlier this month at an unpublicized conference.
The Rapid Evaluation Team, according to DeVaul's personal Web site, is "charged with finding, inventing, or discovering the Next Big Thing for Google."
On Twitter, DeVaul, who goes by the name of Dr. Headcrash and posts under #solveforx, has tweeted some ideas that apparently were discussed at the conference, videos of which were posted this week on the X site.
The ideas include an "incredible" Web-based synthetic biology compiler for do-it-yourself genetic engineering, something called a "breathable" caffeine shot, a celebration of bugs -- apparently software ones -- as the key to learning, stretchable silicon sensors over skin, active electronics embedded in contact lenses, and others.
On Friday, DeVaul posted on Google+ that the talks in the "Solve for...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
Verizon, Redbox Target Netflix with Joint Venture
Watch out Netflix, Verizon and Redbox see an opportunity in your back yard. Verizon and Coinstar's Redbox have agreed to a joint venture that aims to give value-conscious consumers more choice and convenience.
Beginning in the second half of 2012, the joint venture will offer subscription services that combine Redbox new release DVD and Blue-ray disc rentals and on-demand streaming and download service from Verizon. The companies describe their service as easy to use, flexible and affordable.
Affordable may be a dig at Netflix. Netflix caused a customer uproar -- and a mass exodus -- last summer when it raised prices as much as 60 percent for its DVD and streaming videos service.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made matters worse with subsequent moves. Netflix stock took a hit and competitors clearly saw the opportunity.
"Netflix is weak. They haven't fully recovered from their mistakes. Verizon is trying to manage its network so connecting back with a streaming service should allow them to provide a better overall experience on the Verizon network for Verizon customers and create some interesting pricing bundles," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group.
"By going with Verizon you could get a bundled price much like you do when you go to Comcast or Verizon for your telephony or cable needs.
The pricing and availability of the Verizon-Redbox hookup are still unknown. But Bob Mudge, president of Verizon consumer and mass business markets, got straight to the heart of the matter: The joint venture combines a national rental kiosk footprint with anytime, anywhere streaming capabilities.
The joint venture is a limited liability company with Verizon holding a 65 percent ownership share and Redbox holding a 35 percent ownership share at the outset. The partnership leverages Verizon's relationships with entertainment content providers, as well as its cloud computing technologies...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
Small Businesses Get Help Exporting to China
New Orleans entrepreneur Kyle Berner is taking his all-natural rubber flip-flops to one of the world's fastest-growing markets: China.
This year, Berner plans to list his eco-friendly flip-flops on Chinese e-commerce site Tmall.com, joining the ranks of large American companies such as Levi Strauss that already do so. It's a step that Berner hopes will help take the small company he founded, Feelgoodz, from a "bootstrap business" that generated about $330,000 in sales last year to one with as much as $50 million in sales in five years. While the U.S. remains Feelgoodz's main market, exporting overseas helps protect against the risk of a domestic downturn, according to Berner, who also sells his flip-flops in New Zealand.
"The Chinese are starting to consume and spend money," he says. "You couple that with the gigantic size of the market, and it makes sense to us" to enter the market.
For large American corporations, exporting -- especially to booming markets such as China, India and Brazil -- is often seen as a logical part of their growth. But small and midsize businesses, with limited resources and staff, may see it as a hassle, according to Ed Marsh, a principal at Consilium Global Business Development Advisors, which advises U.S. companies on exporting. While more than 99% of U.S. businesses are small or midsize enterprises, they account for a relatively small share of U.S. exports, according to a 2010 report by the U.S. International Trade Commission.
"The government can jump up and down and talk about the benefit of diversifying your market and the opportunity to reach more than 90% of the world's consumers, but for a business owner who is frantically trying to keep up with his e-mail, the perceived benefits may not outweigh the perceived impediments" of exporting, Marsh says.
Small companies' mind-sets are starting to change,...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
Google's Growth Has Been Slowing for a While
Google is starting to show signs of a technology company hitting middle age. The 14-year-old company, which went public in 2004, is starting to exhibit some dramatic signs of slowing down. It's getting harder for investors to consider the company a rapid-growth story, as its growth continues to decelerate.
Shares of the company were slammed 8% on Jan. 20, the day after it reported disappointing fourth-quarter results. But the search-engine company's slowdown in profit growth has been brewing for quite some time.
Google's slowdown in growth has been most apparent in the number that matters most to investors: earnings per share. The company's earnings per share grew 13.1% in 2011, down from 29% in 2010, and 53% in 2009, says S&P's Capital IQ. In 2006, the company's earnings per share rose 98%, which explains why it won so many fast friends on Wall Street.
On a quarterly basis, Google's financial slowdown is also apparent. Earnings per share in the fourth quarter grew 5.3%, down from 28% growth in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Google's management, during its conference call with investors, vowed to jump-start growth again. It claims that it's very early in finding ways to make more money from the Android operating system for smartphones. The company gives Android away for free to companies that make mobile computing devices.
But the looming risks are large. The company is in the process of integrating Motorola's cellphone business, which gets Google into the less-profitable hardware business. And Google's famed profit margins are already in decline. The company's return on investors' equity was 18.7% in 2011, down from 20.7% in 2010.
Meanwhile, last week, rival Facebook filed plans to go public. Facebook has been much more successful than Google in the area of social networking, which is increasingly popular with advertisers.
Google's transition is coming just as investors are...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
City in Louisiana Blazes High-Speed Internet Trail
In this tradition-rich city known for its crawfish touffe and zydeco stomps, high-speed Internet rules. Web videos upload in a few quick seconds. Surgeons review online pathology reports from their living rooms. University students share bulky research files with one another electronically at lightning speeds.
More than 800 miles of fiber-optic cable hum invisibly underground in Lafayette, a city of 120,000, delivering Internet speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, or 100 Mbps -- rare for even major cities. The cutting-edge connectivity in the heart of Cajun country is due not to a private telecom giant but to a public municipal service that offers higher speeds and often lower rates than the private sector.
It hasn't come without a fight. From the time the cybernetwork was just a far-fetched concept, the city's two main private providers, Cox Communications and BellSouth (now AT&T), have fought the initiative every step of the way -- from an information campaign against the project to civil lawsuits.
LUS Fiber, a subsidiary of Lafayette Utilities System, the city-owned power company, offers the speedy Internet service along with cable television and phone service. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city in 2007, allowing the project to proceed.
"We expected some opposition. But no one has had the level of push-back we got here in Louisiana," LUS Fiber director Terry Huval says. Telecom companies "want to nip it in the bud to keep other municipalities from doing the same thing."
The battle over broadband in Lafayette is part of a growing number of clashes across the USA that pit municipalities against telecom firms for the right to deliver Web access to homes and businesses. More than 150 local governments across the country have built or are planning to build cybernetworks, says Christopher Mitchell of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
Tiles and Extra Security: Windows 8 Is Coming
This will be the year those anticipating a new Microsoft operating system have been waiting for. Windows 8 is set to arrive sometime in 2012, with new functions, a user interface dubbed Metro that takes its cue from tablet computers, and a focus on security.
As with the Windows Phone 7 operating system or the XBox 360 console, there are no longer program icons, but large colored tiles that also convey live information. Just like with Phone 7, controls have been optimized for touchscreens, although keyboards and mice can still be used.
Also, because of its mobile focus, Windows 8 will run on energy-saving ARM processors, which, until now, have largely been unique to smartphones and tablets.
If you'd already like a look, check out Windows Developer Preview, which has been set up for free online by Microsoft. There you'll find a fully functional advance version of Windows 8. A beta version, along with its new app store, has been announced for the end of February.
Testers will quickly notice that the new system starts significantly faster than its predecessors. That's because Windows 8 stores part of its working memory on the hard drive when it powers down. That means, at start up, it only has to read back this information, much faster than loading up every driver.
Microsoft has also cut down on resources required for operations, meaning Windows 8 system requirements are no greater than those for Windows 7.
Controls have been updated for Windows Explorer. There is now a menu bar, which will be familiar to users of Office 2007 or 2010. The goal is to reduce the confusion of submenus and make it easier to access significant commands more quickly.
It's also possible to pause orders to copy or move files, even if it's via network transmission. That means copying and transferring can...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
HP Awards New CEO Whitman with $16.5M Pay Package
Hewlett-Packard Co. ushered in Meg Whitman as its CEO with a $16.5 million compensation package that hinges on the one-time politician's ability to lift the stumbling technology company's stock price during the next two years.
Last year's pay consists almost entirely of 1.9 million stock options valued at $16.1 million, according to documents filed Friday. Whether Whitman ever gets an opportunity to cash in most the options will depend on whether HP's market value rises substantially from its depressed level when HP fired her predecessor, Leo Apotheker, as CEO last September.
HP disclosed Whitman would be getting the stock options shortly after her hiring, but didn't specify their value at that time.
The company, which is based in Palo Alto, also had previously disclosed Whitman's salary would be limited to $1 while she tries to rebuild the momentum that HP lost after ousting Mark Hurd as its CEO in a titillating scandal in 2010.
Apotheker fared even better than Whitman, partly because of a severance package that paid him more than $12 million in cash and allowed him to keep most of the stock awards that he got while he was CEO. Including the salary and perks that Apotheker received while he was still HP's CEO, his 2011 compensation package was valued at $26.7 million. That figure excludes a $3.7 million stock incentive that HP canceled as part of Apotheker's severance agreement.
If Whitman succeeds in her mission at HP, she could use the windfall from the stock options to offset her losses from her unsuccessful attempt to become California's governor in 2010. During that campaign as the Republican nominee, she spent more than $140 million of her own money.
Before entering the political arena, Whitman was best known as the CEO of eBay Inc. during the dot-com boom. She did so well there that she...
Wed, 8 Feb 12
Cybersecurity Plan Draws Business Opposition
A developing Senate plan that would bolster the government's ability to regulate the computer security of companies that run critical industries is drawing strong opposition from businesses that say it goes too far and security experts who believe it should have even more teeth.
Legislation set to come out in the days ahead is intended to ensure that computer systems running power plants and other essential parts of the country's infrastructure are protected from hackers, terrorists or other criminals. The Department of Homeland Security, with input from businesses, would select which companies to regulate; the agency would have the power to require better computer security, according to officials who described the bill. They spoke on condition of anonymity because lawmakers have not finalized all the details.
Those are the most contentious parts of legislation designed to boost cybersecurity against the constant attacks that target U.S. government, corporate and personal computer networks and accounts. Authorities are increasingly worried that cybercriminals are trying to take over systems that control the inner workings of water, electrical, nuclear or other power plants.
That was the case with the Stuxnet computer worm, which targeted Iran's nuclear program in 2010, infecting laptops at the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
As much as 85 percent of America's critical infrastructure is owned and operated by private companies
The emerging proposal isn't sitting well with those who believe it gives Homeland Security too much power and those who think it's too watered down to achieve real security improvements.
One issue under debate is how the bill narrowly limits the industries that would be subject to regulation.
Summaries of the bill refer to companies with systems "whose disruption could result in the interruption of life-sustaining services, catastrophic economic damage or severe degradation of national security capabilities."
Critics suggest that such limits may make it too difficult for the...
Tue, 7 Feb 12
Facebook Reported Considering Ads in Mobile Users' News Feeds
Speculation continues over Facebook's plans to generate even more revenue when it ultimately becomes a publicly traded company. Last week brought questions about whether the leading social media firm can resist the urge to charge membership fees or create a premium access level in the face of investor demands.
And now, inquiring minds are looking at mobile advertising as another way Facebook can cash in on its base of almost 850 million users claimed by the 8-year-old company.
A published report suggests Facebook is already at work with partners creating sponsored stories and other ways to get paid content onto users' screens when they log in on-the-go.
Although Google, Apple and others are all hard at work trying to master profitable mobile ads, it's a dicey prospect because tablet and smartphone screen sizes are small, and weaker mobile devices can quickly use up their volatile memory trying to load complicated pages.
Facebook's solution could be items that show up on the users' news feed, rather than in the right corners as ads display now on the conventional Web page. The Financial Times, citing unnamed knowledgeable sources, said that "within weeks Facebook will begin showing such messages to overcome its lack of 'meaningful revenue' from mobile device users."
Twitter already features what it calls promoted Tweets. For example, the feed that results from clicking on the hashtag #superbowl produces a static Tweet from Chrysler. Google also provides clearly marked sponsored results on its search page and on YouTube.
How would an iPhone or Android user react when beer or deodorant ads start showing up among status updates from their classmates, cousins or childhood friends?
"We don't have any concrete data on mobile ad successes but I have heard that cell phone users respond positively when the trade-off is free service or a trial period associated with gaining...
Tue, 7 Feb 12
HP Rolls Out OpenFlow-Enabled Switch Portfolio
Cisco and Brocade pushed out new cloud-minded switches last week. Now, Hewlett-Packard is answering back with a portfolio of OpenFlow-enabled switches that aim to simplify network management, performance and budget needs.
HP's new portfolio spans 16 models and includes the HP 3500, 5400 and 8200 series switches. HP also announced expanded support for OpenFlow across all switches in its FlexNetwork architecture in 2012.
OpenFlow is a network virtualization technology that promises customers flexibility and control to configure their networking environments by giving a remote controller the power to modify the behavior of varied network devices through a "forwarding instruction set."
But analysts have varied takes on how valuable the OpenFlow standard is. HP touts benefits like reduced complexity of network devices and automated tasks via simplified management. HP also points to how IT staff can better respond to changing needs in real time. But, again, analysts have mixed views.
Jon Oltsik, senior principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, is among those who see the value of OpenFlow. HP also has attracted partners like Indiana University, Stanford University and the Global Environment for Network Innovations Project, which is operated by Raytheon BBN Technologies and funded by the National Science Foundation.
"Enterprise data centers are in the midst of a massive transformation driven by data center consolidation, server virtualization, Web-based applications and new security requirements, which our research indicates has created numerous network challenges that can't be addressed with existing legacy networks and manual processes," Oltsik said.
"OpenFlow holds the promise of breaking the logjam in network flexibility as well as paving the way for network innovation in the data center -- and vendor support from companies like HP is crucial for advancing this technology in 2012."
But Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research, is still not sold on OpenFlow. As...
Tue, 7 Feb 12
Dynamics CRM Going Fully Mobile with Update from Microsoft
Days after Salesforce.com announced the release of a customer service desk for mobile devices, Microsoft has announced that the new service update for its Dynamics CRM will feature the ability to access full functionality on any device.
The cloud-based, mobile client service is intended for Windows Phone 7.5, iPad, iPhone, and Android or BlackBerry devices.
Dennis Michalis, general manager of Dynamics CRM, said that its customers, working in a "hyperconnected world," need to be able to "access their business-critical data on the device of their choice wherever they are."
As an example of the value of management via mobile devices, Microsoft noted that the update allows sales and marketing personnel to capture and convert leads, develop marketing campaigns, or conduct case management on smartphones and tablets, on the road.
As a cloud-based service, information in Dynamics CRM is automatically synced between, say, a smartphone and a desktop. All configuration, security, management, and updates are accommodated in the cloud. Each registered mobile user can access the service from as many as three mobile devices, and there is an offline mode on most devices to enable some functionality even without Internet connectivity.
CRM administrators at a company can determine the record types, forms, views, offline synchronization rules and navigation structure for the service, which is published once. Multiple profiles can be established to determine data and functionality available for given roles, and administrators can remotely wipe CRM data off devices if they are lost, stolen or moved outside a company.
While mobile access is highlighted, the second-quarter service update is also enhancing social functionality for real-time communication and more effective collaboration, and adding multiple Web browser options, including Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari, on PCs, Macs or iPads.
The Dynamics CRM service update last fall delivered micro-blogging and other social collaboration capabilities...
Tue, 7 Feb 12
CEO of Chipmaker Micron Dies in Plane Crash
The image Steve Appleton cultivated as a stunt pilot and off-road rally driver became the perfect metaphor for his wild, 18-year ride as the leader of Micron Technology Inc., where stomach-churning swings from billion-dollar profit to billion-dollar loss required the constitution of a business daredevil to survive.
Appleton, Micron's chief executive officer, died Friday morning when his experimental plane crashed at the Boise Airport, west of Micron's desert campus.
He was no stranger to plane crashes, surviving at least two earlier wrecks including one in 2004 that left him seriously injured. He was the only person aboard on Friday when the small Lancair crashed shortly after its second take-off attempt in Boise, according to safety investigators.
Appleton was known as a driven competitor in a volatile industry. Away from the office, he channeled that energy into high-octane hobbies, pursuing his passions as a stunt pilot, off-road racer and scuba diver.
"He lived life to the fullest, and while he enjoyed great success in business and in life, he never lost his intensity or his drive," Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter said in a statement.
In the wake of the 51-year-old's death, Micron's board of directors met in Boise on Saturday and named chief operating officer D. Mark Durcan to be Appleton's successor.
Durcan was appointed as Micron's interim CEO on Friday only hours after Appleton's plane crashed. The board's action removes the interim title.
The 51-year-old Durcan had been the company's president and chief operating officer, and just last week announced his intention to step down in August.
Company spokesman Dan Francisco told The Associated Press on Saturday those plans had changed and Durcan was no longer planning to leave in August.
Corporate governance experts raised questions in the past about whether Appleton, as CEO, should be engaging in a hobby as risky as stunt piloting, but Micron's board...
Tue, 7 Feb 12
Facebook Filing Lifts Zynga, Other Recent IPOs
Facebook's long-awaited IPO filing lifted the stocks of many Internet companies, including recent laggards Zynga and Groupon. But analysts said the halo effect may fade, because some companies basking in Facebook's glow just aren't as financially sound as the world's largest social network.
Zynga Inc. was getting the best ride on Facebook's coattails Thursday. Its stock jumped nearly 17 percent to close at $12.39 -- a new high. There's good reason for that. Almost all of Zynga's revenue comes from addictive games like CityVille and Mafia Wars that are played on Facebook. The social network's initial public offering documents revealed, for the first time, that 12 percent of its $3.7 billion in revenue last year came from Zynga.
Some of that revenue came from the 30 percent "toll" that Facebook takes on in-game purchases, the rest came from ads that Zynga bought on the site.
"It shows (Zynga's) an important partner, they're going to participate in Facebook's growth," said Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter.
Baird analyst Colin Sebastian said the filing suggests there could be upside to his forecast for Zynga's fourth-quarter earnings, which will be announced in two weeks.
He added that other Internet companies were justifiably trading higher partly because Facebook reported ad revenue growth of 69 percent in 2011.
"It shines a spotlight on the Internet sector," Sebastian said. "There's a lot to be excited about still among Internet stocks."
Daily deals site Groupon Inc.'s stock rose 7.4 percent to close at $23.08, while jobs networking site LinkedIn Corp. shares rose 6.4 percent to close at $76.98, even though their revenues aren't tied to Facebook.
Online radio service Pandora Media Inc.'s stock rose 3.3 percent to $13.32 and American depositary shares of Chinese social networking company Renren Inc. jumped 8.2 percent to $5.42.
All five companies made their stock market debuts last year. Only LinkedIn's stock has...
Tue, 7 Feb 12
New Profit Pressures To Hit Facebook
For all the huge numbers in Facebook's IPO papers, a surprisingly small figure stands out: $4.39, the amount the site generated per user last year.
It's one of the company's major challenges because the total is paltry compared with competing Internet companies. Google makes more than $30 a year from each registered user. Even struggling Yahoo and AOL make $7 and $10, respectively.
Once Facebook goes public, Wall Street will surely demand more. That means the social network will almost certainly have to attract a lot more users or be more aggressive with its advertising, perhaps by mining personal data even more than it does now.
But can Facebook do all that without spoiling the user experience?
The company may have a tough time increasing the number of ads on a site that has become primarily a home for online conversations.
"It's a communications tool. Can you imagine what a turn-off it would be if we were talking on the phone and AT&T tried to play an ad in the middle of our conversation?" said University of Notre Dame finance professor Tim Loughran, who studies IPOs.
Facebook stock probably won't begin trading until at least May, but analysts already believe the company will try to sell shares at a price that will give it a market value of at least $100 billion -- more than Yahoo, AOL and Hewlett Packard Co. combined.
To justify a valuation like that, Facebook will need to maximize its revenue to get closer to Google, one of its biggest rivals. Google's revenue of nearly $38 billion last year translated into about $35 per registered user.
Facebook recorded $3.7 billion in revenue last year.
The question is whether it can bring in more money without alienating the 845 million users who have become accustomed to hanging out with friends and family on the social network...
Tue, 7 Feb 12
Hackers: We Intercepted FBI, Scotland Yard Call
A sensitive conference call between the FBI and Scotland Yard was recorded by the very people they were trying to catch, the hacking group known as Anonymous claimed Friday.
The group released a roughly 15-minute-long recording of what appears to be a Jan. 17 conference call devoted to tracking and prosecuting members of the loose-knit hacking group.
The recording's authenticity could not immediately be verified, and it's not clear how the hackers got their hands on it. It appears to have been edited to bleep out the names of some of the suspects being discussed.
Anonymous also published an email purportedly sent by an FBI agent which gave details and a password for accessing the call.
"The FBI might be curious how we're able to continuously read their internal comms for some time now," the group gloated in a message posted to Twitter.
Calls to law enforcement officials on both sides of the Atlantic were not immediately returned.
Amid the material published by Anonymous was a message purportedly sent by an FBI agent to international law enforcement agencies. It invites his foreign counterparts to join the call to "discuss the on-going investigations related to Anonymous ... and other associated splinter groups." The email contained a phone number and password for accessing the call.
The email is addressed to officials in the U.K., Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and France, but only American and British officials can be heard on the recording.
Emails to the FBI agent and others coded in on the call were not immediately returned, but the discussion itself appears sensitive. Those on the call talk about what legal strategy to pursue in the cases of Ryan Cleary and Jake Davis -- two British suspects linked to Anonymous -- and discuss details of the evidence gathered against other suspects.
Karen Todner, a lawyer for Cleary, said that the...
Tue, 7 Feb 12
Google publicized its new privacy rules -- which regulate how the Web giant uses the enormous amounts of personal data its collects through its search engine, email and other services -- with much fanfare last week.
Since then, it has launched a huge publicity campaign informing its users around the globe of the new policy, which is set to come into force on March 1.
But that launch date may now be under threat.
In a letter to Google Chief Executive Larry Page, Jacob Kohnstamm, the chairman of the group of 27 national privacy regulators in the EU, said the French data protection agency has launched an investigation into the new rules and how they will affect Google users in the EU.
"We call for a pause (in the rollout of the new rules) in the interests of ensuring that there can be no misunderstanding about Google's commitments to information rights of their users and EU citizens, until we have completed our analysis," Kohnstamm wrote in the letter, which was sent Thursday and published on Friday.
Google's search engine has a market share of more than 90 percent in the EU, with rival services like Microsoft's Bing gaining little traction. The EU's competition authorities are already examining whether Google uses this dominance to stop other search engines from entering the market.
Google said in a statement that it had briefed data protection agencies before making its new policy announcement and that none of them had had substantial concerns at the time.
"Delaying the policy would cause significant confusion," it said in the e-mailed note.
Tue, 7 Feb 12
Japanese Entrepreneurs Aim for Silicon Valley
For an emerging generation of Japanese innovators, the dream isn't a job for life at a big company. They have new ambitions, and they're determined to go places. Especially Silicon Valley.
Small but growing numbers of Japanese entrepreneurs are jumping into the startup scene in northern California, particularly since the earthquake and tsunami last March. They include Naoki Shibata, who took the plunge by giving up the sort of life many Japanese in past decades spent their lives trying to attain.
Only 30, Shibata had an executive-level position at online retailing giant Rakuten Inc. and an assistant professorship at the prestigious University of Tokyo, where he earned a Ph.D. Last June he launched AppGrooves, an iPhone application discovery tool.
"I wanted a global company from the first moment," he said. "If you want to reach a global market, then you have to start from Silicon Valley."
Shibata and others say they are seeing a major uptick in Japanese entrepreneurs migrating to Silicon Valley or seriously contemplating a move, as their country struggles with two decades of economic stagnation and a rapidly shrinking and aging population.
Some venture capitalists believe the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear disaster that followed compelled many Japanese to take an increasingly uncertain future into their own hands.
"Whenever there's a natural disaster, people are pushed and pressed against the wall," said Annis Uzzaman, one of the founders of San Jose, Calif.-based Fenox Venture Capital. "And they want to come out as number one."
Attorney Yoichiro Taku, a partner at Silicon Valley firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, has taken on AppGrooves as a client, as well as Japanese-founded social network startups Wondershake and Mieple. Taku, who has among the most active startup practices in the U.S., said it's the most Japanese startup traffic he has ever seen in his Silicon Valley career.
Tue, 7 Feb 12
Pew Study: Facebook Users Get More than They Give
The goody-two-shoes among us say it's better to give than to receive. That's not true for the average Facebook user, though.
A new study out Friday found that the average user of the world's biggest online social network gets more than they give. That means more messages, more "likes" and more comments. Yes, even more "pokes."
Behind all that is Facebook's relatively small group of "power users," who do more than their share of tagging, liking and uploading. The report from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project comes two days after Facebook filed for a $5 billion initial public offering of stock that could eventually value the company at $100 billion.
Key to that mammoth valuation will be Facebook's ability to convince advertisers they can make money from the billons of connections and interactions that people partake in on its Web site and beyond. Though Pew's findings don't address the commercial side of people's activities, they shed important light on how people use the site and what they get out of it.
The study is the product of Pew's analysis of Facebook users' activities in November 2010. It consisted of data that Facebook provided to Pew after 269 users gave their permission. Those users were identified through a random telephone survey about broader Internet issues.
The researchers found that about 20 percent to 30 percent of Facebook users fell into the "power user" category, though they tended to specialize in different types of activities on Facebook. Some of them sent a lot of friend requests, while others tagged more photos than the average user. Only 5 percent were power users in every activity that Pew logged.
The way this plays out is that the average user is more "liked" than they click "like" on other's posts. They receive more friend requests than they...
Tue, 7 Feb 12
New Malware Attacks Target Online Banking
Computer criminals have found a way to hack their way past the latest generation of online banking security techniques, British researchers say.
In the scheme, account holders are tricked by an offer of training in a new "upgraded security system" after being logged into the bank's real site, after which money is moved out of their account but evidence of the theft is invisible to the user, the BBC reported Thursday.
The scam involves what has been dubbed the Man in the Browser attack, or MitB, where the malware the user has been tricked into downloading lives in their Web browser and can get between the user and the bank Web site, altering what is seen and changing details of what is being entered.
Some versions of the MitB will change payment details and amounts and can also change on-screen balances to hide its activities, experts said.
"The man in the browser attack is a very focused, very specific, advanced threat, specifically focused against banking," said Daniel Brett of malware testing lab S21sec.
Every time a new update to the malware is released, it takes security companies a number of weeks to learn how to spot it, he said.
Online banking fraud losses totaled $27 million in the first six months of 2011, a Financial Fraud Action U.K. spokesman said.
But banks are taking action against such scams, FFA's Mark Bowerman said.
"We've got intelligent fraud detection software, and it's used to seeing how you operate your online bank account.
"Any deviations from the norm and the software is going to pick it up -- that may be the type of transaction you've made or the amount," he said.
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Brocade Execs Offer Look Under OpenScript Engine's Hood
Can customers predict the future? Brocade is suggesting the notion as it launches its latest switch innovations.
This week, Brocade rolled out software advancements to its Brocade ServerIron ADX Series of cloud-optimized delivery switches. Brocade's stated goal is to help customers gain greater application control and service scalability.
The latest iteration of Brocade's ServerIron ADX comes equipped with a new OpenScript engine, an open platform that sets the stage for innovation. That is where the "predicting the future" comes in. The OpenScript engine can intelligently predict the effect of a script on a network before the script is deployed into production.
"Basically, we ported the Perl programming language to the ADX application processor so that you can use APIs to control application delivery with a script," said Greg Hankins, a global solutions architect at Brocade. "This means you get all the Perl goodness that you know and love for writing custom scripts to read or write layer three to seven headers based on your particular application needs."
Keith Stewart, director of product management at Brocade, stressed that OpenScript allows network operators to bring new services to market faster, and tailor them to the specific needs of their customers and business models.
"Unlike other closed and proprietary systems, Brocade OpenScript provides the scalability that network operators need, built on top of an open, standards-based Perl platform," Stewart said. "Brocade OpenScript gives operators the flexibility they need without locking them into a proprietary implementation."
Brocade OpenScript and Brocade ADX are key elements of Brocade's strategy for next-generation data centers, according to Stewart. He pointed out that Brocade is an active supporter of the Open Networking Foundation, and is building the enabling platforms for a world where applications and data can reside anywhere in the cloud.
IPv6 increases the pool of global IP addresses and simplifies...
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Smartphones Overtake Computers and Tablets
Move over, computers and tablets. For the first time, annual worldwide shipments of smartphones are larger than PCs and tablets.
According to figures released Friday by industry research firm Canalys, there were more than 158 million smartphones shipped in the fourth quarter of last year, a whopping 57 percent increase over the same quarter in 2010. For the entire year, smartphones were up 63 percent, to 487.7 million units.
By contrast, the global client PC market grew 15 percent last year, to 414.6 million units. This includes a huge, 274 percent growth in tablets, which are now the fast-growing segment in the client PC category.
Chris Jones, Canalys vice president and principal analyst, said in a statement that this is a "significant milestone." Jones said that, within a few years, smartphones "have grown from being a niche product segment at the high end of the mobile phone market to becoming a truly mass-market proposition."
The milestone comes as a previous report from Canalys, released earlier this week, showed that tablets are now 22 percent of all PC shipments. Coupled with Friday's report on the growth of smartphones, it's clear that the center of mobile computing is now in smartphones and tablets.
The Canalys report said that, while decreasing price points have been a key driver of the smartphone growth, there also has been an "increasing consumer appetite" for using smartphones for Net browsing, content consumption and apps.
However, the era of smart phones being more popular than computers or tablets may be short-lived. Canalys said it expects smartphone growth to slow this year, as vendors begin to emphasize cost control and profitability.
As an example, the company noted that some vendors who have focused on the low end, such as Huawei, ZTE and LG, are now turning their attention to higher-level, pricier models that cost more,...
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Mobile Phone Growth Slides In Fourth Quarter
Mobile phone shipments on a global basis reached 427.4 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011 -- a tepid 6.1 percent rise from the year earlier period, IDC says.
The global handset market's single-digit growth in the seasonally strong fourth quarter shows that handset vendors are not immune to weaker macroeconomic conditions worldwide, the firm's analysts said Thursday.
A surge in smartphone purchases led by Apple's iPhone 4S in the final three months of 2011 also caused feature phone shipments to decline faster than analysts had expected. Smartphone growth in Western Europe was not enough to offset the feature phones decline, despite successful product performances from Apple and Samsung.
With the exception of Apple, feature phones still account for a majority of unit sales at four of the five top handset vendors, said IDC Research Analyst Kevin Restivo.
"The introduction of high-growth products such as the iPhone 4S, which shipped in the fourth quarter, bolstered smartphone growth," Restivo said. "Yet overall market growth fell to its lowest point since the third quarter of 2009 -- when the global economic recession was in full bloom."
Unit shipments of Apple's red-hot iPhone 4S reached a record 37 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, which propelled the company into the No. 3 slot in the global handset market overall. During last year as a whole, Apple shipped 93.2 million iPhones.
According to Strategy Analytics, Apple is on track to ship well more than 100 million iPhones during 2012.
"China is becoming a key market for Apple this year, and we expect Apple's share to grow rapidly in 2012, despite countless copycat rivals," said Strategy Analytics Director Tom Kang.
Investment firm Piper Jaffray expects Apple to ship 134 million iPhone units during calendar year 2012.
"Despite the lack of...
Sat, 4 Feb 12
AMD Makes Risky Move Toward 'Ambidextrous' Strategy
While not leaping into the arms of ARM, AMD is hinting it's less wedded to the traditional x86 architecture that is its history.
AMD calls its strategy "ambidextrous" and says it builds on the company's current strengths in x86 and graphics products while embracing other technology and intellectual property the company hopes will differentiate its products in a competitive market.
The Intel rival sees its future in HSA, or heterogeneous system architecture. AMD outlined its strategy at its Financial Analyst Day this week.
"AMD's strategy capitalizes on the convergence of technologies and devices that will define the next era of the industry," said Rory Read, president and CEO of AMD. "The trends around consumerization, the cloud and convergence will only grow stronger in the coming years."
As Read sees it, AMD has a unique opportunity to take advantage of a key industry inflection point as executives continue the work they started last year to reposition the company. Read says the new strategy will "help AMD embrace the shifts occurring in the industry, marrying market needs with innovative technologies, and become a consistent growth engine."
A major part of the plan includes HSA, which promises software developers a way to program APUs by combining scalar processing on the CPU with parallel processing on the graphics processing unit -- all while offering high-bandwidth access to memory at low power. AMD is working to make HSA an open industry standard for the developer community.
"The battle plan that Read is articulating isn't to go head-to-head with Intel. He's suggesting going around Intel," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, who attended AMD's Financial Analyst Day. "Read was talking about going where the market was going, using whatever technologies they have access to in order to get there, including both x86 and ARM. You had to read between...
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 Reportedly Will Share Code
With Windows 8 moving toward release later this year, providing an integrated operating system for laptops, desktops and tablets, new details are beginning to emerge about Microsoft's plans for its next phone OS. Recent reports point to the ways in which Windows Phone 8, code-named Apollo, will advance the company's mobile platform and tie in with the tablet and computer OS.
The online reports began appearing this week. They build on a leaked video of a Microsoft phone executive, Joe Belfiore, which reportedly had been intended only for the eyes of Nokia executives, as well as various postings and hints by Microsoft.
According to the reports, the Apollo OS will provide support for multi-core processors, four different screen resolutions, removable microSD cards, wireless e-commerce, and near-field communication, which allows tap-to-share functionality that will work with other phones, computers and tablets.
From the perspective of user interface and application development, the interfaces between Windows 8 and Apollo are expected to be similar, and Phone 8 is expected to reuse the kernel, network stacks, security and multimedia coding of Windows 8. As a result, applications developed for Windows 8 could potentially run, with relatively little modification, on Apollo phones.
To speed up Web browsing, Apollo will also reportedly use proxy servers that compress and deliver pages to the Internet Explorer 10 browser on the phone, a la the Opera browser. The reports also indicate that a revised Skype, now owned by Microsoft, will be integrated with Apollo, there will be automatic Wi-Fi connectivity, and Microsoft's 128-bit BitLocker will be used for full disk encryption, which is expected to appeal to businesses. Support for SkyDrive will allow data to be shared among Windows 8/Phone 8 devices.
Apollo's release schedule has not yet been announced, but it is expected to occur sometime after the coming...
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Google's Bouncer Searches for Misbehaving Android Apps
Looking to bolster confidence in the security of its fast-growing market for mobile applications, Google is posting a bouncer at the door.
The service analyzes new applications in the Android Market as well as those already posted, and even developer accounts, looking for known malware, spyware and trojans.
Google's Bouncer also looks for "behaviors that indicate an application might be misbehaving," according to a post on Google's mobile blog Thursday announcing the service.
The service develops a baseline of previously analyzed apps and compares it with new ones for signs of trouble.
"We actually run every application on Google's cloud infrastructure and simulate how it will run on an Android device to look for hidden, malicious behavior," writes Hiroshi Lockheimer, vice president of engineering for Google's Android division.
Bouncer will also scrutinize new developer accounts to make sure those who are tossed as repeat offenders do not come back.
Bouncer works in addition to existing Android tools such as sandboxing, which builds virtual walls between applications and other software on the device so malware can't access data; permissions, which scrutinizes the capabilities of apps to help users make decisions; and malware removal tools that can remotely scrub intruders from a phone or tablet.
Still, the Android Market's growth -- it topped 11 billion downloads -- has made it a top source of malware. Juniper Networks in November announced that its Global Threat Center believes the easy process for posting apps led to a 472 percent increase in malware samples since the previous July.
"These days, it seems all you need is a developer account, that is relatively easy to anonymize, pay $25 and you can post your applications," wrote Juniper on its threat center blog. Lack of sufficient screening means poorly defined, unscreened apps will only be removed if malware is reported or detected by...
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Internet Breeds Political Incivility, Threats
As campaign rhetoric boils and Americans on both sides of the political divide hurl insults, law enforcement officials are watching social media carefully for threats or signs of violence.
The Secret Service says political incivility is nothing new, but the Internet is making more of the venom public.
"Historically, it's the same issues we've always had and the same things people are upset about," Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said. "There are just a lot more venues for people to put it out there, including the Internet."
Last week, a group of Arizona men, including a Peoria, Ariz., police sergeant, triggered a federal investigation when they appeared in a photo posted on Facebook with weapons and what appears to be a bullet-riddled image of President Obama. The sergeant has been removed from patrol and assigned to desk duties pending an internal investigation.
On Wednesday, the Secret Service assigned protection to Mitt Romney, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Republican contender Herman Cain, who has dropped out of the race, had also received federal protection.
The Secret Service assesses every potential threat, or what Sullivan calls "inappropriate interest," to determine whether someone is simply mouthing off or intends to act. The agency won't say how many threats it fields. "We are very aggressive in running it down," Sullivan said.
The agency established an Internet threat desk in 2000, spokesman Ed Donovan said. "Logic dictates we receive more information to sift through and look at, but it doesn't necessarily translate to more cases," he said.
Donald Tucker, a Phoenix private investigator who served as a Secret Service agent for 25 years, says he's stunned by the level of incivility and disrespect. He said he fears the nasty rhetoric could trigger violence.
"I have never seen any political campaign with the type of hatred, animosity and language directed not only...
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Investors May Feel Unfriended by Facebook IPO
Investors wanting to get in on the Facebook IPO might soon find out what it feels like to get "unfriended."
When it comes to the initial public offering of Facebook, the world's largest social network, there's ironically very little for the masses. Facebook's IPO, as with most IPOs, will only be sold at the offering price to privileged investors. Most regular investors who want a piece of the company will have to wait until the shares start to trade on the stock market, possibly at a price much higher than at which they were offered to initial investors.
Facebook is following the traditional investment banking model for IPOs, which typically limits the number of individual investors who can get access at the IPO price. How it works:
The company will first file the prospectus, or S-1, a document that explains the details of the business and IPO. As regulators review the S-1, Facebook will then meet with large investors such as mutual funds and pension funds.
When it comes time for the shares to be sold, they're first offered to these large mutual funds and pension funds able to buy the largest amounts of stock. Meanwhile, the major investment banks leading the deal, specifically Morgan Stanley, may allow some of their best customers, typically high-net-worth individuals, to buy shares at the IPO price, says Jay Ritter, professor of finance at the University of Florida.
Once the stock starts to trade on the exchange, those privileged investors may then sell into the open market, where all investors may compete to buy the shares. Most likely, if demand is as strong as expected, the share price may jump, forcing regular investors to pay up for the shares.
There has been some effort by discount brokerage firms to offer IPO shares to customers. Fidelity, for instance, has offered more...
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Challenge to Schools: Embracing Digital Textbooks
Are hardbound textbooks going the way of slide rules and typewriters in schools? Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski on Wednesday challenged schools and companies to get digital textbooks in students' hands within five years. The Obama administration's push comes two weeks after Apple Inc. announced it would start to sell electronic versions of a few standard high-school books for use on its iPad tablet.
Digital books are viewed as a way to provide interactive learning, potentially save money and get updated material faster to students.
Digital learning environments have been embraced in Florida, Idaho, Utah, and California, as well as in individual schools and districts such as Joplin, Mo., where laptops replaced textbooks destroyed in a tornado. But many schools lack the broadband capacity or the computers or tablets to adopt the technology, and finding the money to go completely digital is difficult for many schools in tough economic times. And, in some places, adopting new textbooks is an arduous process.
At a time when technology has transformed how people interact and even led to social uprisings in the Middle East, education has too often lagged, Duncan said.
"Do we want kids walking around with 50-pound backpacks and every book in those backpacks costing 50, 60, 70 dollars and many of them being out of date? Or, do we want students walking around with a mobile device that has much more content than was even imaginable a couple years ago and can be constantly updated? I think it's a very simple choice," Duncan said in an interview.
Tied to Wednesday's announcement at a digital town hall was the government's release of a 67-page "playbook" to schools that promotes the use of digital textbooks and offers guidance. The administration hopes that dollars spent on traditional textbooks can instead go toward...
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Microsoft Cuts About 200 Marketing Employees
Microsoft Corp. said it laid off some of its marketing staff on Wednesday as part of an effort to restructure its operations.
The company did not specify how many of its 92,000 employees were let go, but a person familiar with the software maker's strategy said about 200 people lost their jobs.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details of the restructuring effort.
In a statement, the Redmond, Washington-based company said it was taking steps to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its marketing operations.
"Some of these changes involved the reduction of a small percentage of marketing positions to better align our resources with our business needs and clarify roles across the marketing function," the company said.
Last month, Microsoft posted flat earnings for the final quarter of 2011 and improved sales of servers, Xbox games and its Office productivity software. Revenue rose 5 percent.
The company is gearing up to release a slate of new products this year, including phones, PCs and Windows 8, an operating system that should work similarly over PCs and tablet computers. A beta version of the software is due out later this month.
Shares gained 36 cents to $29.89 in regular trading. The stock added 6 cents to $29.95 in extended trading.
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Microsoft Slams Google User Data Policy in New Ads
Microsoft Corp. slammed search rival Google Inc. with full-page newspaper ads Wednesday, saying that recent changes at Google that allow it to internally merge the data it collects on user activity across services such as YouTube and Gmail are meant to allow advertisers to better target customers.
Google has touted the overhaul it announced last week as a simplification of detailed but obtuse policies and a way to provide a better user experience.
Microsoft offered up its own Web-based alternatives, saying for instance that users of its free email service, Hotmail, don't have to worry about the content of their emails being used to help target ads.
The attack ads appeared in newspapers including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
"Every data point Google collects and connects to you increases how valuable you are to an advertiser," Microsoft says in the ad.
The company does not dispute that it serves up ads based on words in private emails written by users of Gmail, but says such scanning is automated and is similar to how many email providers filter out spam. It has operated that way since Gmail's introduction in 2004.
Both companies offer several controls to prevent advertisers from tracking users' online activity.
He said Microsoft is in no position to point fingers, since it also collects a lot of user data from its search engine, Bing, and will adjust search results based...
Sat, 4 Feb 12
Zuckerberg Describes 'The Hacker Way' at Facebook
In Facebook's regulatory filing for an initial public offering of stock, CEO Mark Zuckerberg included a letter to potential investors about the company's thinking. He described it as a social mission to make the world more open and connected. He also discussed Facebook's approach to culture and management in Wednesday's letter:
"As part of building a strong company, we work hard at making Facebook the best place for great people to have a big impact on the world and learn from other great people. We have cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way.
"The word `hacker' has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I've met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.
"The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it -- often in the face of people who say it's impossible or are content with the status quo.
"Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words `Done is better than perfect' painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.
"Hacking is also an inherently hands-on and active discipline. Instead of...
Fri, 3 Feb 12
As IPO Nears, Facebook Paywall Seen as Unlikely
As Facebook heads toward its IPO destiny on Wall Street, speculation grows over whether the world's leading social network can and will continue to offer its service for free.
The company has long boasted that it's "free and always will be," even featuring that phrase on its sign-up page.
But will that change when investors start demanding even bigger returns than Facebook can provide from their current application partnerships and ad sales, which generated a $1 billion profit last year?
"Typically, investors put new pressures on a company that the company is not ready for," said technology analyst Jeff Kagan. "Investors always mean there are too many captains on the bridge. Do you focus on the customer, on the competitors, on the workers or on the investors? This is where many companies get it wrong and end up in trouble."
Even a $1 fee per month from what Facebook says are 850 million users would bring in more than $10 billion a year, offsetting operating expenses to maximize profit from traditional revenue streams. How many people addicted to sharing status updates and other information with their network of friends would bail rather than pay that nominal fee?
Alternatively, Facebook could set up a premium service, similar to Microsoft's Xbox Live membership that offers enhanced features over the free membership. Many newspapers now offer additional services and content behind a paywall.
Paid Facebook accounts would run contrary to the path of Internet trailblazer America Online, which started out with a range of account levels based on time spent online and is now free.
Perhaps because the progression seems so natural, rumors have long persisted that paid use is right around the corner. A viral hoax spread via status updates last fall said the new Timeline changes coming to user profiles would usher in membership fees.
Fri, 3 Feb 12
Researchers Look at Which Tweets Interest Users
Twitter is one of the most frequently mentioned social networks for businesses adopting social marketing. But how can you tell if a tweet is boring or not? A group of researchers is trying to set some guidelines, having found that users actively dislike, or are neutral about, most tweets.
The researchers, from Carnegie Mellon, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology, created a Web site called Who Gives a Tweet? at WGATweet.com. Users registering with the site are asked to rate tweets of friends and strangers, and to have theirs similarly rated.
Although more than 200 million tweets are sent by Twitter each day, few users get any feedback about whether their followers enjoy their mini-observations, or even if they continue to read them.
The researchers point out that a better understanding of what makes for an interesting tweet could lead to better content filters and other tools, such as automatically showing location check-ins on maps. It could also lead to more effective marketing and political use of Twitter.
One graduate student involved in the research, Kurt Luther at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said that the Who Gives a Tweet? site allows "a more nuanced type of feedback than is currently available," with insight on how updates are seen by different groups.
Over nearly three weeks in December, 1,443 users visited the site, and provided analysis of 43,738 tweets from more than 2,000 user accounts. The comments indicate that slightly more than a third of the tweets, or 36 percent, were enjoyed, while 25 percent were disliked. The feeling toward 39 percent was neutral.
Generally speaking, the researchers found, the least-liked tweets are those that relay snippets of other people's conversations, or that give an update on current moods or activities. The best liked were ones that...
Fri, 3 Feb 12
Mozilla's Firefox 10 Targets Businesses, Developers
Mozilla has unleashed a new Firefox 10 browser that marks the organization's first implementation of a new schedule that will give businesses and their vendors enough time to certify each new Firefox release while maintaining a high level of Web security.
Many enterprises, SMBs, academic institutions and government agencies have found it difficult to deploy Firefox to their users in a managed environment. To address their concerns, Firefox 10 will be Mozilla's first extended support release, or ESR.
Though future ESRs for business environments will occur at 42-week intervals, enterprises and other organizations will continue to receive security updates in the interim -- but without Mozilla making any other changes to the Web or its Firefox add-ons platform.
The new ESR schedule is key for enterprise adoption, said Al Hilwa, director of applications software development at IDC.
"Mozilla does not have a big base of enterprise customers at this point, but does have a few who have found rapid, forced updates a problem," Hilwa said in an e-mail Thursday. "This should help these customers and also potentially win over others."
Thursday's release of Firefox 10 comes at a time when the upward trend for Google's Chrome browser on desktop PCs and laptops has come to a halt, according to Net Applications. The bad news for Mozilla is that Internet Explorer's market share rose 1.1 percent last month to 53 percent, while Firefox slipped one percentage point to 20.9 percent. Google's Chrome declined 0.17 percent to 18.9 percent of the browser market.
Going forward, however, Mozilla will be able to distinguish itself by offering "a more customized browser that supports a broader range of operating systems -- and one that can help enterprises protect their privacy," Hilwa said. "I think this is a win for Mozilla, which stands to...
Fri, 3 Feb 12
Will Facebook IPO Be Long-Term Bust or Boom?
Facebook finally filed for its initial public offering. Now the social-media giant can look ahead to a potentially new source of revenue from "social advertising." Or it could come out with plump prices, only to deflate after a few quarters.
Many industry watchers expect Facebook's valuation to range between $75 billion and $100 billion. Facebook wants to raise up to $10 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. Facebook posted a $1 billion profit in 2011 on $3.71 billion in revenues.
"The social network IPOs have been trending down. What is interesting is there appears to be no connection to financial viability," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. "The weakest company was Groupon, which started the strongest. The strongest company was Zynga and it was also the most tightly connected to Facebook and it barely made it out of the gate."
As Enderle sees it, Facebook is massively popular but there is also a sense that people are tiring of social networks. And that, for all the hoopla over the long-anticipated Facebook IPO, could significantly dampen their initial success.
"Odds were this would go big initially and then collapse down to a more reasonable price. Facebook is limiting supply to drive initial price into the stratosphere," Enderle said.
"If investors see the subsequent fall like they apparently did with Zynga, Facebook's initial high could be a fraction of numbers we've been discussing so far. And their prospectus does point to a strategy that likely will have them operating in the red, with more investment expenses than revenue for some time after the offering.
"While I still think it will initially come out strong -- it is Facebook, after all -- the risk it won't is increasing, and suggests caution," he said.
But new research by Catherine Tucker, associate...
Fri, 3 Feb 12
Brocade Opens Up Cloud-Optimized App Delivery Switches
Brocade and Cisco are making a big splash in cloud-optimized switches this week. While Cisco is pushing 100-gigabit Ethernet capabilities to its switch portfolio, Brocade is rolling out advancements to its ServerIron ADX series of cloud-optimized application delivery switches.
Dubbed OpenScript, ADX now offers an open platform that paves the way for intelligent predictions of network impacts before developers introduce scripts into production. OpenScript is built on Perl, a standards-based programming language, and allows ADX customers to customize service delivery to drive performance and scalability improvements.
"Brocade has been dancing around the application delivery controller space for years -- since they acquired Foundry. F5 has been the run away leader in that market for some time," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research.
"Brocade's core competency was historically on the network side while Foundry was always focused on performance. The traditional app delivery space went more down a path where application prowess started being more than pure horsepower and raw speed, which was Foundry's strength."
With its latest innovation, Brocade is showing that it understands how critical service customization and traffic manipulation are for businesses as they move to deliver cloud-based services. The OpenScript engine promises network operators the freedom they need to deploy custom capabilities to meet their individualized needs.
And the Brocade OpenScript Performance Estimator lets network operators estimate the performance impact of custom scripts before implementing them in live production environments. That opens the door for more accurate service capacity requirement planning. Customers are responding positively to the new version.
"Application delivery performance, scalability and flexibility are critical requirements for our customers. These requirements have a direct effect on our ability to scale our business while exceeding customer expectations," said Rob Jackson, solution line leader for networking and security at Rackspace.
Jackson said the ADX solution would let Rackspace implement "stable,...
Fri, 3 Feb 12
Apple Now 3rd-Biggest Phone Maker, Thanks to iPhone 4S
Having established itself recently as the world's leading computer maker, Apple has now moved into third place among phone makers worldwide. According to a new report, the jump from the fifth spot is largely due to record-breaking shipments of its iPhone 4S smartphone.
The report, from industry research firm IDC, noted that sales of the 4S were particularly strong in Japan as well as the U.S. It also found that, while the overall mobile phone market grew 6.1 percent in the fourth quarter compared with a year ago, this is the lowest growth in over two years because the feature phone market is dropping fast. The third quarter of last year showed 9.3 percent growth overall.
Although smartphone sales are growing, most of the phones shipped are still feature phones. Ramon Llamas, an IDC senior research analyst, said in a statement that, "even though their proportion is ending, feature phones maintain their appeal on the basis of price and ease of use."
Even as the boundary between smartphones and small tablets is becoming less distinct, so is the difference between smartphones and feature phones. The IDC report noted that feature phones "are becoming more like smartphones, incorporating mobile Internet and third-party applications."
Michael Gartenberg, research director at Gartner, said that "it's hard to tell what's a smartphone anymore." He added that feature phones are showing more capabilities, and smartphones can be obtained through carriers for little or nothing.
"It's difficult to find a stupid phone these days," he said.
Gartenberg pointed out that, when the 4S was released, many observers expressed disappointment that it wasn't more innovative, more of an advance over previous models. But, he said, "Apple has sold boatloads of them," which has now pushed its position higher on the worldwide scale.
The IDC report noted that Nokia...
Fri, 3 Feb 12
Amazon Spending Up, Profit Down in Fourth Quarter
Despite rising sales, Amazon, the largest Internet retailer, reported a 57% decline in its fourth-quarter profit due to heavy spending.
The Seattle-based company also said it may fall short of analysts' earnings estimates for the current quarter as it continues to invest in long-term initiatives, such as the Kindle Fire tablet and Amazon Prime, aimed at enticing customers to buy more and exclusively on its site.
Net income fell to $177 million from $416 million a year earlier. Revenue rose 35% to $17.4 billion. But revenue fell short of analysts' estimates. The stock closed Tuesday at $194.44, but fell as much as 11% in after-hours trading.
Amazon's revenue growth was clipped as more customers flocked to items sold by other vendors on its site, Colin Sebastian, an analyst at Robert W. Baird, told Bloomberg. Millions of third-party sellers now represent 36% of products sold, Amazon says. "Whenever there's a mix-shift toward third party, it helps margins, but it reduces revenue" growth, he says.
Heavy spending ate into net income. Much of the $17.2 billion Amazon spent for operations during the quarter, a 38% year-over-year rise, was to pay for shipping, to subsidize the production of Kindle Fire and to build fulfillment centers.
Amazon's growth strategy involves enticing customers to buy its Kindle tablets and e-readers at low cost so that they'll be compelled to buy books, songs and movies from the company. The company is also heavily promoting membership in Amazon Prime, which costs $79 a year and includes free shipping and free streaming of selected TV shows and movies. Amazon is betting that customers will buy more if they're not concerned about shipping costs.
But some investors aren't convinced the bet will pay off. Sales of books and DVDs rose 14.8% to $6 billion. But Amazon stock has dropped 12.6% in the last six months.
Fri, 3 Feb 12
Review: Super Bowl Online Decent, Won't Replace TV
The television set won't be the only place to watch video of the New York Giants and the New England Patriots this Sunday. For the first time, U.S. football fans will be able to watch the Super Bowl live on a computer or on a phone.
You may be wondering whether anyone without super-strength eyesight would be able to follow the football on a tiny phone screen. And what about the ads? After all, many people tune in more for the commercials than for the game.
I got a chance to test the offering with a pair of playoff games and last weekend's all-star Pro Bowl. Although it's impossible to say what will happen Sunday, I have found the experience decent so far, but no substitute for the big screen.
The phone offering is made possible through a collaboration involving the National Football League, Comcast Corp.'s NBC and Verizon Wireless. The nation's largest wireless carrier had rights to carry NBC's Sunday night broadcasts live during the regular season, as well as some games from the NFL Network and ESPN. The post-season games broadcast by NBC are an extension of that package.
That means you'll need service through Verizon Wireless to watch on an iPhone or an Android phone. Unless you have the higher-speed 4G service through Verizon, you'll also need its V Cast video service, which costs $3 a day or $10 a month on top of your regular phone bill. A generous data plan or a Wi-Fi connection will help you avoid additional charges.
If you don't have the right phone or wireless carrier, or if you have a super-cheap data plan with low caps, you can watch for free on a computer instead at NBCSports.com. You can interact with the game more that way, but you won't get the same commercials.
To get started...
Fri, 3 Feb 12
CEO: Vevo Made $150 Million in Revenue Last Year
Vevo, the online music video service launched by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment in late 2009, pulled in $150 million in revenue last year, chief executive Rio Caraeff revealed on Tuesday.
The service gets most of its viewers through YouTube, where Vevo is one of the most popular channels. Because of its high-quality music videos, Vevo commands advertising rates on par with broadcast television programming, he said. Vevo's popularity has boomed, going from 350 million global views per month two years ago to 3.5 billion a month today.
Along with disclosing revenue, Caraeff said Vevo has paid out $100 million to the music industry for the licensing fees on the videos over the last two years. He also told the "D: Dive Into Media" conference that the company is profitable.
Caraeff said the future of the industry is not necessarily just tied to sales of songs or concert tickets.
"The future of music is about allowing billions of people on the planet to access music experiences, not trying to sell music to a small amount of people who want to buy it," he said.
Vevo carries music videos from three of the largest recording companies in the world: Vivendi SA's Universal, Sony, and EMI, which does not have an equity stake.
Warner Music Group Corp. is not part of the coalition. Outgoing chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. told the conference earlier that Warner's strategy is to build up the artists' brands, not that of another company.
Caraeff said there is value in aggregating multiple record labels' artists in one place.
"I'm confident that we will have a relationship with Warner Music Group," Caraeff said. "Right now we respectfully have gone separate directions."
Fri, 3 Feb 12
Sony's Hirai To Replace Stringer as CEO in April
Sony Corp. announced Wednesday that Kazuo Hirai, who leads the company's core consumer products business, will replace Howard Stringer as CEO and president effective April 1, as the electronics and entertainment company desperately tries to engineer a turnaround.
The 51-year-old Hirai, currently executive deputy president, was widely expected to succeed Stringer. The Welsh-born Stringer, one of the few foreigners to lead a major Japanese company, will retain his post as chairman of the board, Sony said in a statement.
In 2009, Hirai, who has also led the company's gaming business in the past, was named as part of a new management team to lead Sony, and Stringer had recommended to the board that Hirai replace him. Hirai, who is fluent in English, will be Sony's youngest CEO.
Sony has been fighting to regain its image as a global leader in gadgets as consumers have increasingly turned to rival offerings such as the iPod and iPhone from Apple Inc., making the Walkman brand a has-been. It has also fallen behind in liquid-crystal displays for TVs to South Korean manufacturer Samsung Electronics Co.
"Kaz is a globally focused executive," Stringer said in a statement. "I believe his tough-mindedness and leadership skills will be of great benefit to the company and its customers in the months and years ahead. I look forward to helping Kaz in every way I can so that succession leads inevitably to success."
The management shuffle came a day before the company was to announce fiscal third-quarter earnings.
Battered by a strong yen and poor sales in its flat-panel TV business, Sony has forecast its fourth straight year of net losses for the fiscal year through March. The company has gone through massive cost cuts and restructuring and is hoping to recover in flat-panel TV, gaming and personal computer businesses.
"The path we must take is...
Fri, 3 Feb 12
Super Bowl Advertisers Go After 'Second Screens'
Call it the "second-screen" Super Bowl. About two-thirds of smartphone and tablet owners use their gadgets to do things like text or post on Twitter while watching TV, according to research firm Nielsen. So, for Sunday's game, companies from Coke to Chevy are trying to reach fans on all the "second screens" they have.
Chevrolet rolled out the first Super Bowl smartphone app that allows Big Game watchers to enter a contest to win everything from pizza to a new Camaro. Kia is the first company to show its Super Bowl ad ahead of the game in movie theaters. And Coca Cola set up a Facebook page and Web site so viewers can see its animated polar bears -- one cheering for the New England Patriots and the other for the New York Giants -- reacting to the game in real time.
"The world is changing," says Pio Schunker, Coca Cola's vice president for creative excellence. "We needed to come to the party with something new and different."
Advertisers have big incentives to stand out. With more than 111 million viewers expected to tune into the game, the Super Bowl is by far the biggest stage for marketers. It's also not cheap -- NBC is charging an average of $3.5 million for a 30-second spot. And the competition is fierce: there will be more than 70 TV ads during the Super Bowl battling for attention.
To create buzz, it's no longer enough for marketers to simply get people talking at the water cooler the morning after the game. They also want to engage the people who like reacting to big events like the Super Bowl by posting on Twitter or Facebook or texting their friends, says David Berkowitz, vice president at digital marketing agency 360i.
"People are glued to their digital devices, sometimes sharing far...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
For SMBs, Salesforce Launches Mobile Social Customer Support
A mobile customer service desk for small- to medium-size businesses. That's the idea behind Desk.com, a new cloud-based customer service product from Salesforce.com.
Announced Tuesday, Desk.com allows any business to interact with customers on any major social network, via a mobile device. The company said in a statement that the service is "so simple that any company, even one without an IT staff, can get up and running over a weekend."
With nearly a quarter of all time spent online being spent on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, Salesforce.com has become a leader in integrating social networks into its customer service offerings.
The company envisions a scenario such as a customer posting a critical comment on Facebook about its newly purchased widget. While a desktop-based customer service worker for the widget maker might be the first stop for responding to the comment, the actual resolution might be better handled by a technical service person, who could be out in the field.
With Desk.com, that ticket can then be picked up by the technical service employee, and resolved via a mobile device. The ticket can be reassigned, have its status or priority changed, or have its customer information modified.
Salesforce said that, according to its data, nearly three-quarters of small businesses use mobile applications in their daily operations. With Desk.com, SMBs can use a help desk that integrates social networks, e-mail, phone and other Web components, making social networks into what the company described as "first-class citizens along with traditional support channels."
Desk.com runs on any smartphone that supports HTML 5, such as Android-based devices and Apple's iPhone. Reporting includes information on how many cases customer service agents have opened, resolved, replied to, reassigned, or reopened, and a dozen pre-built reports offer such data as handling time, time to first...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
Galaxy S3 Delay Could Mean Head to Head Challenge to iPhone
Samsung is flooding the mobile market with a galaxy of Galaxy products. From the original Galaxy S phones launched in March 2010 to the Galaxy Tab tablets, Galaxy S II phones and the new Galaxy Note, the South Korean manufacturer is making the most of its grandiose brand name, which has been well received by critics and consumers.
Now the company is gearing up for the third generation of its powerful, large-touchscreen handsets, with the Galaxy S3, and its launch may well coincide with the expected launch of archrival Apple's eagerly awaited iPhone 5 this summer.
Samsung raised some eyebrows by announcing Wednesday that it will not showcase the Galaxy S3 at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, later this month.
"Samsung is looking forward to introducing and demonstrating exciting new mobile products at Mobile World Congress 2012," the company said in a statement first reported by the Web site TechRadar. "The successor to the Galaxy S2 smartphone will be unveiled at a separate Samsung-hosted event in the first half of the year, closer to commercial availability of the product."
The U.S. versions of the Galaxy phones, with a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen, 1-GHz processor and 5-megapixel camera were first announced in June 2010 as T-Mobile's Vibrant, AT&T's Captivate, Sprint's Epic, and Verizon Wireless's Fascinate. U.S. Cellular later added a variant called the Mesmerize, and MetroPCS added the Galaxy Indulge.
The Galaxy S II was unveiled almost a year ago at the Mobile World Congress with upgraded features such as a 1.2 GHz, dual-core processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM, a 4.3-inch WVGA Super AMOLED Plus screen display and 8-megapixel camera with flash and 1080p high-definition recording.
The Galaxy Nexus, the first to run Google's Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system and with a 4.65-inch screen and near-field communication technology for...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
Apple Loses One Samsung Battle, Wins Another
In the latest battle in their worldwide legal war, Apple has failed to obtain a temporary ban in Germany on Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1N tablet and its Galaxy Nexus smartphone. The decision by the Munich Regional Court comes one day after an appeals court in Dusseldorf ruled in favor of Apple's request to ban the previous Samsung tablet model, the Galaxy Tab 10.1.
The 10.1N was released by Samsung with a few modifications to the 10.1 version, specifically to avoid a preliminary ban that had been granted for the earlier model based on patent infringements. A lower Dusseldorf court will soon hear another case filed by Apple about the 10.1N. If sales of the 10.1N are allowed to proceed, the Dusseldorf court ruling on the 10.1 may no longer be relevant.
The ban on the 10.1 model became effective in August. The 10.1N model, which adds a metal frame around the edge of the tablet to change its appearance enough to avoid the patent issue, went on sale in late November, and the decision Wednesday resulted from Apple's attempt to get the revised model banned as well.
For the Dutch market, Samsung had made a change to software on its Galaxy smartphones, which related to how users flip through a photo gallery. The change was made to get around an injunction obtained in that country by Apple, also based on patent infringements.
Florian Mueller, a Munich-based patent expert, wrote in his Foss Patents blog Wednesday that preliminary injunctions based on patents, which both Samsung and Apple have tried to obtain on the other, have frequently failed because they ask courts to make quick judgments about patents, which can be complex.
Meanwhile, the European Commission said Tuesday that it will look into whether Samsung had broken a commitment...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
Analysts Predict Late-2012 Apple TV Launch
A major TV component manufacturer revealed that Apple contacted it about providing TV display components, Piper Jaffray analysts said in a note to investors Tuesday.
"We continue to believe Apple is preparing to launch a television and is likely targeting a late calendar year 2012 launch," said analysts Gene Munster and Andrew Murphy. "But the timeline and scope of a revamped content solution is more uncertain."
The comments are the latest indication that Apple intends to fulfill the late CEO Steve Jobs' vision of delivering a simple but elegant user interface for revolutionizing the mainstream TV market.
Munster and Murphy believe that Apple's strong iOS developer community would likely jump at the chance to build apps for an Apple Television, and that millions of users of Apple products based on the iOS platform would be intrigued by an Apple TV offering. However, the launch of an entirely new platform is not without considerable risks.
"If you lead a developer ecosystem then you have to keep feeding them and you also have a responsibility to take them to the Promised Land or at least ever higher patches," said Al Hilwa, director of applications development software at IDC.
On the other hand, Apple may believe it is even more risky to cede the television market to rivals. "If Apple does not crack the TV or living room entertainment nut, then Microsoft, Google, Amazon or maybe even Facebook may get there before them," Hilwa said.
Apple could simply enable the Apple Television platform to manage a consumer's live TV service from within a unified interface much like TiVo does today. To avoid the high cost of market entry, however, Apple would need to rely on Multiple Services Operator partnerships.
"While this would be the easiest and most likely option, it would also be the...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
Cisco Pushes 100-Gigabit Ethernet Capability into Switch Portfolio
Cisco is pushing its cloud-ready switching portfolio to market. Cisco has updated its switch lineup with 100- and 40-gigabit Ethernet capabilities.
Cisco clearly sees opportunity. According to the Cisco Cloud Index, more than 50 percent of computing workloads in data centers will be cloud-based by 2014, and global cloud traffic will grow more than 12 times by 2015, to 1.6 zettabytes per year. That's the equivalent of more than four days of business-class video for every person on earth.
"This is a good announcement for Cisco," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. "Look at the popularity of 10 gig now for server interconnects. You typically want to keep your inner switch links at a higher speed than what you are running your servers at because you don't want the network to be a bottleneck. Cisco is not first to market with 100 gigs -- Brocade was -- but Cisco is not late to market, either."
Cisco said its new capabilities provide a "holistic architectural approach" across campus, data center and service provider environments, and address emerging trends like cloud, video, mobility and the proliferation of 10 Gb Ethernet.
The announcement is in line with cloud market moves Cisco has been making lately, including the recently rolled out CloudVerse solution. Cisco said the new switches are a key element of its strategy to help customers meet the demands of cloud computing trends and the "resulting data deluge."
"I think you'll start seeing the demand for these switches," Kerravala said. "We'll probably see more demand for the 40 gig than the 100 gig. But it's good that Cisco has a 100 gig option because companies that need the speed prefer that exponential jump from 10 gigs. In a lot of people's minds, mine included, 100 is the next logical step...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
IBM Rolls Out Endpoint Manager for Mobile Devices
IBM just got into the mobile management game. Big Blue rolled out software based on its 2010 BigFix acquisition that helps organizations manage and secure smartphones and tablets in the workplace while also managing laptops, desktops and servers.
Dubbed IBM Endpoint Manager for Mobile Devices, the new offering lets companies use a single solution to manages Apple iOS, Google Android, Nokia Symbian, and Microsoft Windows Mobile and Windows Phone devices. The software also adds a layer of security to combat the escalating threats from the bring your own device, or BYOD, trend.
"If you plant yourself in the data center and think about all the data and applications around you, somehow it has to all get pushed out so that people can use it on PCs, laptops, servers or elsewhere," said Bob Sutor, vice president of IBM Mobile Platform. "Many of the things you have to do in terms of provisioning applications, updating operating systems, and knowing what version is running, is very consistent with what's going on with mobile."
It's consistent -- and it's happening on a grand scale. IDC expects the mobile workforce to reach more than 1.19 billion by 2013, putting new pressures on enterprises to connect personal smartphones and tablets to corporate networks and provide employee access to business data on them.
At the end of 2011, almost half of mobile devices used in the workplace were employee owned, according to IDC. This BYOD trend raises additional concerns about managing security risks. Mobile exploits doubled in 2011 from 2010, according to the IBM X-Force Mid-Year Trend and Risk Report.
"Let's say that you discover that there is an incredible security flaw in some app. How can I push out an update to 100,000 employees?" Sutor asked. "What happens if you lose your phone? Remotely you need to either...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
Marketers Use Ads To Promote Super Bowl Ads
Coca-Cola has plastered ads on bus shelters and billboards. Honda and Volkswagen have posted online videos. Kia has launched movie theater ads.
Yet the ads don't specifically tout cars or cola. They hype the brands' Super Bowl marketing plans. In a trend sure to thrill sellers of ad space, and irk anti-commercialism activists, marketers are running ads for their ads.
Big Game advertisers, who paid an average of $3.5 million for each 30 seconds of airtime on NBC, are working ahead of Sunday's game more than ever before. They want viewers to actively seek out their big-budget TV ads and to get involved with the digital and social-media efforts of which the commercials are a centerpiece.
"You want to make sure that you get the most out of what is a very big and a very expensive event," says Pio Schunker, Coke North America head of integrated marketing.
By touting their ads early, marketers hope to stand out from the game-day commercial clutter, says Brad Adgate, research director at marketing agency Horizon Media. And unlike some other live events, consumers are hungry to see Super Bowl-related content and welcome these promotions, he says.
Says Coke's Schunker, "People want to feel that they've gotten inside and advanced information."
They also readily share it via social media. After VW posted its teaser ad on its Facebook page -- it showed dogs barking the Imperial March tune from Star Wars in its 2011 ad -- the video was "shared" more than 676,000 times.
"That's all free advertising," Adgate says.
Among pre-game efforts:
Online videos. Both VW and Honda's teasers end with "2.5.12" references to the game. Audi's video hyped its ad and included clips from its past Big Game spots. "Every February a new chapter unfolds," said Audi's ad. "But nothing has prepared you for this."
Outdoor ads. Coke's ads promote the polar...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
Consumers Ignore Most Apps on Their Smartphones
Our love for apps, it turns out, is fleeting. Faster data networks and fancier phones have steered more Americans to embrace the apps software craze born of our fondness for the computer-in-my-pocket. But like other shopping experiences done impulsively, the appeal of instantly downloading the latest apps -- prompted by recommendations from neighbors, cousins, blogs and news stories -- loses its luster quickly, industry data show.
Of smartphone owners, 68% open only five or fewer apps at least once a week, finds a survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Seventeen percent don't use any apps. About 42% of all U.S. adults have phones with apps, Pew estimates.
"The novelty wears off," Pew researcher Kristen Purcell says. "Most apps don't have sticking power."
But the ones that do, really engage users. Android phone users spend about 90 minutes a day on their phones, about two-thirds of that on apps, says Monica Bannan, a vice president at media research firm Nielsen. "We see a very familiar behavior with (iPhone users)."
An app that's retained by 30% of downloaders is considered "sticky," says Anindya Datta, founder of Mobilewalla, an app analytic firm.
"We are constantly deleting them. That's why the number of downloads is a very poor measure of how popular an app is," he says, estimating 80% to 90% of apps are eventually deleted.
Ghada Elnajjar, a newsletter writer in Atlanta, has downloaded 26 apps since she bought an iPhone 4 in June. She now uses only two regularly: Facebook and MyFitnessPal. "After a while, the fun is not there anymore, and you go back to your phone, e-mail and the browser."
Many of Elnajjar's apps are for her two sons, ages 3 and 5. They've got app burnout, too. "They went back to their toys."
Datta says there are about 1 million apps for...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
Apple Names European Exec To Head Retail Ops
In its quest to spread its stores around the world, Apple is reaching over the Atlantic to snatch the CEO of a British electronics chain to head its retail operations.
Apple Inc. said Tuesday that Dixons Retail PLC's John Browett will become its top retail executive on April 20. He will report directly to CEO Tim Cook.
Browett fills a job left open when Ron Johnson left to become the CEO of J.C. Penney Co. in November. Johnson pioneered Apple's highly successful retail stores, known for their stark design and their Genius Bar, where Apple customers get technology advice and support.
About two-thirds of Apple's 361 stores are in the U.S. However, of the 40 stores Apple expects to open this fiscal year, three-quarters will be outside the U.S., with China being a major focus. Apple currently has stores in only 12 countries, including the U.S.
Browett has served as CEO of Dixons since 2007. During his tenure, the company continued an aggressive expansion in Europe. It has about 1,200 stores and is Europe's second-largest electronics retailer, after Germany's Media Markt.
Dixons' brands include Currys in the U.K., Elkjop in Norway, Kotsovolos in Greece, Unieuro in Italy and Electro World in Turkey and the Czech Republic.
Analysts give Browett credit for improving customer service at Dixons.
"Our retail stores are all about customer service, and John shares that commitment like no one else we've met," Cook said in a statement Tuesday.
The chain hasn't seen much financial success during his tenure, however, as it has been undercut by the recession and subsequent belt-tightening in Europe.
Dixons' sales have risen only 8 percent in the past five years, and profits are down sharply. Its stock has lost more than 90 percent of its value in that time. It fell 7.6 percent further in London trading Tuesday after news of Browett's...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
Obama Wants Small-Business Bill Pronto
Seeking cooperation in a polarized climate, President Barack Obama called on Congress Tuesday to act quickly on bipartisan measures that would extend tax breaks for small businesses and help startup companies raise money. He said he would sign the legislation "right away."
Obama plans to include a series of business measures that have been percolating in Congress in his 2013 budget proposal later this month to flesh out a year-old initiative to give entrepreneurs incentives to expand their businesses or start new ones.
Obama made his remarks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. He noted that for the first time, the head of the Small Business Administration, Karen Mills, was participating as a full member of the Cabinet.
"It is a symbol of how important it is for us to spur entrepreneurship, to help startups, to move aggressively so that we can assure more companies that create the most jobs in our economy are getting a leg up from various programs that we have in our government," Obama said.
The White House legislative agenda for small businesses includes permanently eliminating tax rates on capital gains for investments in small businesses and a one-year extension on the ability of all businesses to immediately deduct all of the costs of equipment and software purchases.
The Obama administration also is seeking a new 10 percent tax credit for small businesses that add jobs or increase wages in 2012. In addition, the legislation would make it easier for new startup companies to raise money and to go public. It also would expand a government small business investment program from $3 billion to $4 billion.
"The president has made small businesses and particularly startups a key aspect of his economic growth agenda because he understands how much the newest and fastest-growing small businesses drive job growth in our economy,"...
Thu, 2 Feb 12
Apple in the Enterprise: Corporate Demand Is Growing
Microsoft's corporate Windows business is losing ground to Apple. Apple is hiring sales executives across the U.S. to get more of its products into Fortune 1,000 companies.
Microsoft has traditionally dominated the corporate workplace, and more than 85% of corporate computers still run some version of Windows software. But products based on Apple operating systems -- including Macintosh computers, iPads and iPhones -- are increasing in demand.
Apple declined to comment on its hiring moves. But Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett said a rash of recent want-ads by Apple is "strong evidence that Apple is responding to the demands of companies for a direct, formal relationship" with the company rather than buying products from the Apple Store.
The growing appetite for Apple products in the workplace underscores the changing nature of the corporate market. Workers want lighter laptops, tablet computers with longer-lasting batteries and smartphones with apps in the office environment. And information technology departments and buyers are listening.
Last year, 46% of companies in North America and Europe issued Macs to employees, according to a survey from Forrester Research.
That survey of nearly 10,000 workers worldwide found that 11% are using iPhones at work; 9%, iPads; and 8%, Macs.
Younger workers and those near or at the top of the corporate ladder were more likely to use Apple products in the office, according to the survey. Forty-one percent of Apple users were directors, 43% earned more than $150,000 a year, and 28% were between the ages of 18 and 24.
IT support for Apple products is also on the rise. Some 30% of workplaces support Macs, 27% support iPads, and 37% support iPhones.
Apple's gains, coupled with Microsoft misses on mobile devices, which increasingly are issued by companies and used by workers, may signal that "Windows' dominance is at an end," says Forrester's report.
However, Microsoft Office, including...
Wed, 1 Feb 12
Google Seeks to Reassure House Panel on Privacy Changes
Google responded Tuesday to a number of concerns raised by members of Congress about the company's plan to fold more than 60 product-specific privacy policies into one, beginning March 1.
The change, said Pablo Chavez, director of public policy at Google, is about treating each user as a single entity across all of the company's Web properties -- from Gmail, Google Maps, Google Apps and Blogger to Chrome, Android, YouTube and Google+.
The aim is to enable the company to deliver a simpler, more understandable and intuitive Google experience, Chavez said.
"By folding more than 60 product-specific privacy policies into our main Google one, we're explaining our privacy commitments to users of those products in 85 percent fewer words," Chavez said in a blog post Tuesday. This is "something that lawmakers and regulators have asked technology companies to do."
The search engine giant has been publicizing the policy change on its Search homepage as well as through e-mails and notifications to users of its numerous online services.
Eight members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, including Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., had questioned whether consumers would be able to opt out of Google's data-sharing system, either globally or on a product-by-product basis.
"We believe that consumers should have the ability to opt-out of data collection when they are not comfortable with a company's terms of service, and that the ability to exercise that choice should be simple and straightforward," they wrote in a letter Thursday to Google CEO Larry Page.
Wed, 1 Feb 12
IBM Acquires Worklight in Mobile App Management Play
In a move to beef up its enterprise mobile capabilities to meet a growing demand for all things mobile, IBM on Tuesday announced an agreement to acquire Worklight. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The Worklight acquisition sets the stage for Big Blue to offer mobile application development, integration, security and management at higher levels.
By integrating Worklight into IBM's mobility strategy, clients can tap an open platform that aims to help hasten the delivery of existing and new mobile apps to multiple devices while also safeguarding the connections between smartphone and tablet apps in enterprise IT systems. In other words, it's all about rapid deployment and security.
"If you think about what people expect from IBM, they expect a breadth of vision and implementation," said Bob Sutor, vice president of IBM Mobile Platform. "They don't want one mobile solution. They want the full range of what you need to build apps, build them securely, communicate to the back end, and connect to the database. We found Worklight to be extremely consistent with how we view the world of mobile."
IBM has done its homework on the mobile front. In a recent IBM study of more than 3,000 global CIOs, 75 percent of respondents identified mobility solutions as one of their top spending priorities. In fact, IBM noted, for the first time ever, shipments of smartphones exceeded total PC shipments in 2011.
Worklight supports both consumer and employee-facing applications. A bank, for example, can create a single application that offers features to enable its customers to securely connect to their account, pay bills and manage their investments, regardless of whether they are using an iPhone or Android device. A hospital could use Worklight technology to extend its existing IT system to allow direct input of health history, allergies, and prescriptions...
Wed, 1 Feb 12
Counting Tablets, Apple Takes Top PC Vendor Spot
Move over Hewlett-Packard, and move over desktops and notebooks. If tablets are counted, Apple is now the leading computer vendor in the world.
According to industry research firm Canalys, Apple's 15 million iPads and 5 million Macs shipped globally in the fourth quarter represent 17 percent of the total 120 million personal computing devices.
Tablets were 22 percent of all PC shipments, including Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet. The entire PC market, which includes netbooks, grew by 16 percent compared with a year ago.
The Canalys report also indicated the importance of tablets to the overall computer market. If tablets are excluded, PC shipments actually dropped by 0.4 percent. One reason: Floods in Thailand affected the output of hard drive assembly plants there, which caused some disruption in total PC shipments.
Lenovo was the only other PC vendor among the top five to have shown a market share increase, but that was only by two points. By contrast, Apple posted a six point increase year-over-year. The other three -- HP, Acer, and Dell -- showed declines in market share.
HP, which has stopped making its TouchPad tablet, dropped to second place. If HP is to regain its previous top place, or even stay in the running, clearly it has to get back into the tablet game. Canalys analyst Tim Coulling noted in a statement that the computer maker is now focusing on enterprise-oriented, Windows 7-based tablets, such as its recently launched Slate 2, and it intends to join the Windows 8 bandwagon once that OS is launched.
But, Coulling said, while early demonstrations of Windows 8 "seem promising," the technology giant needs to create "an intuitive user experience that is far less resource intensive."
Canalys also noted that Lenovo's adoption of the flourishing Android platform for its...
Wed, 1 Feb 12
Privacy Concerns Cloud Facebook IPO
While much of the technology world is focused on Facebook's valuation in the soon-promised initial public offering, others are looking behind the numbers at what may become an even larger thorn in the company's revenue-generating side: privacy.
To be sure, Facebook has long drawn the ire of privacy advocates and put consumers up in arms with its information-sharing practices. And in November, the Federal Trade Commission made it painfully clear that Facebook engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, deceiving consumers by telling them they could keep their information on the site private -- and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared publicly.
Meanwhile, the Irish Data Commission audited Facebook's privacy practices and also found problems. In December, Facebook agreed to a number of improvements, like simpler explanations of privacy policies and a better ability for users to make informed choices. But with the new Timeline feature about to become activated across the social network, Facebook probably hasn't heard the end of privacy complaints.
"While going public will raise as much as $100 billion, it will also expose Facebook's business practices, including how it captures and resells data to developers and others that create new applications or services," said Jake Wengroff, global director of social media strategy and research at Frost & Sullivan.
Facebook is already under heavy government scrutiny. Every two years for the next 20 years, Facebook is required to have independent, third-party audits certifying that it has a privacy program in place that meets or exceeds the requirements of the FTC order, and to ensure that the privacy of consumers' information is protected.
"One may wonder why Facebook is now deciding to go public," Wengroff said. "Of course, it means a big payday for employees -- including Mark Zuckerberg -- but Facebook needed to address business challenges that might serve as a...
Wed, 1 Feb 12
New App Turns Smartphone into Hotel TV Remote
Starting [this week], travelers in about 500,000 hotel rooms across the USA will have the ability to channel surf using their smartphones instead of an old-fashioned remote control.
LodgeNet, the biggest provider of hotel room television entertainment, has created a free app -- the LodgeNet Mobile App -- that turns iPhones, iPads and Androids into remote controls.
Besides serving as a remote for free TV channels, pay-per-view movies and on-demand TV episodes, the app also contains information about the hotel, local events, attractions, directions and restaurants.
About 2,000 hotels that carry LodgeNet's TV systems have been updated to accept the app's controls, LodgeNet CEO Scott Petersen says.
Once the app is downloaded, users see a screen with directions on how to link to a specific hotel TV. The app can even let guests turn off their TVs from outside their rooms.
LodgeNet expects the free app to be a hit for many reasons, such as being able to avoid handling a dirty remote. Studies have indicated that a TV remote is one of the dirtiest items in a hotel room. Dealing with a remote with dying batteries could also be a hassle of the past.
Forty percent of users ages 18 to 34 prefer to control their TVs with a smartphone or tablet instead of a remote, Petersen says, citing data from Altman Vilandrie & Co. and Research Now.
Keeping track of a phone or iPad can also be easier when watching TV in bed, because many of today's travelers have a closer relationship with their smartphones than with a hotel's remote.
"The remote I can never keep track of," says Greg Marquez, 36, of Chicago. "I'm always texting or Facebooking, so I always have my phone on me."
LodgeNet's Petersen says the app can make selecting TV channels and pay-per-view movies faster because users touch the specific channel...
Wed, 1 Feb 12
The Megalife of Megaupload's Kim Dotcom
He looked like a character Hollywood might produce: a giant, swashbuckling, black-suited jet-setter, bikinied babes on his arm, yachts, planes and exotic cars at his disposal. He displayed a villainous visage and a shotgun in his publicity photos, and his fleet boasted "GOD" and "EVIL" on license tags.
But the story of Kim Dotcom, 38, a German born as Kim Schmitz who liked to call himself King Kimble, reaches far beyond a cartoonish persona, self-promotion and a criminal record of pump-and-dump stock fraud.
The former computer hacker is the principle figure behind Megaupload, which U.S. prosecutors charge was a global empire that reaped a mega-fortune from illegal digital distribution of movies, songs and other copyright works.
In a New Zealand jail awaiting extradition to the USA on charges of racketeering, money-laundering and copyright crimes, Dotcom has found himself at the center of a high-stakes battle over Internet freedom vs. copyright protection. It is a fight touching institutions from Congress to Silicon Valley and pitting the recording industry against some hip-hop artists who see Megaupload as a way to bypass record-label middlemen.
Interviews with key players in the case and a close examination of the 72-page indictment and business records in Hong Kong offer a rare inside look at how a small group of computer wizards allegedly made hundreds of millions of dollars, funding Dotcom's flamboyant life of riches and creating one of the Web's most popular and controversial sites -- a site that came into the government's cross-hairs two years ago after a complaint from the Motion Picture Association of America.
In the days after Dotcom's arrest, the case has triggered an angry response from the hacker group Anonymous, which began an attack that briefly shut down Web sites including the Justice Department, FBI, Universal Music and others.
Despite the arrests of Dotcom and his top...
Wed, 1 Feb 12
Street Safety? There's an App for That
You're walking alone late at night, and you sense someone is following you. Is it possible to get protection from your cell phone without calling the police?
"I have four daughters, so developing something that creates a layer of safety for those who feel vulnerable was important to me," said Tom Rissman, CEO of PeopleGuard LLC and one of the developers of the StreetSafe app. "I wanted to create a sort of personal mobile security system, and that's when we thought up StreetSafe."
So why use StreetSafe instead of just calling 911?
"People think 911 can instantly track where a cell phone is, and that's not the case," he said. "It can take up to six minutes for the police to track a phone because they need to get permission (to do so). If someone is in our system, we have them on GPS and don't need to get permission to track it, so it's instant."
Rissman said the app offers two options -- green and red.
If you slide the red button, StreetSafe silently contacts your local 911 center with your location, tracks your every move through GPS and relays your position to the authorities, and transmits your identification information to the authorities age, physical description, etc.
"If you're in danger, keep your finger next to the red alarm and tuck the phone into your pocket," Rissman said.
If you slide the green option, you're immediately connected to a call center staffed by trained safety advisors and off-duty police officers.
Rissman said StreetSafe's non-emergency option -- the green button -- sets them apart, because it allows the user to talk to experts who can offer safety tips before things get dangerous.
"We call this the 'walk with me' service," he said. "Our staff is trained to help with any circumstance. It makes people feel better to know it's...
Wed, 1 Feb 12
Can a Home Computer Teach You To Fly a Real Plane?
Can flight simulator training on a home computer teach you enough to fly a real plane? Sort of.
Authorities say two teenagers in Utah planned to bomb their school, steal a plane and flee the country. They'd never flown a plane, but police said they'd spent hundreds of hours with a flight simulation program.
Flight simulation software gives hobbyists a highly accurate idea of the layout of airplane cockpits and controls. Many enthusiasts attach control sticks and rudder pedals to their computers and spend hours flying to and from the programs' simulations of actual airports, complete with portrayals of real runways and airport buildings.
The rub is that real aircraft are different from planes on the computer screen. A hobbyist used to smooth flying in the rec room can easily be thrown by the vibration, noise and wind effects in an actual light plane -- not to mention the higher stakes of real flying.
It wouldn't be impossible for a hobbyist to get a light aircraft off the ground on the first try, fly it some distance and land it. But the flight could be a rough affair and the landing hair-raising, even in good weather.
"It can be done, but it's a bit of a long shot," said Nels Anderson of Framingham, Mass., founder of Flightsim.com, a Web site for simulation enthusiasts.
Anderson also noted that "things vary from one plane to another." The instruments and startup procedures you learn in a simulator might not match those in a plane you suddenly find yourself in.
To many enthusiasts, however, the difference in handling between a real plane and a simulation is of little importance. They are more interested in the simulators' detailed renderings of engine, navigation and autopilot systems, particularly in simulations of large jets. Some hobbyists have created entire "virtual airlines," with pilots flying the...
Wed, 1 Feb 12
Suit Claims Silicon Valley Anti-Poaching Scheme
In Silicon Valley's white-hot competition for tech talent, programmers can face a daily barrage of calls from recruiters seeking to woo them to rival companies with offers of better pay and perks.
But workers for some of the biggest names in the business claim their phones fell silent because of a conspiracy among their employers. And they claim the world's biggest tech icon was at the center.
A lawsuit filed in federal court in San Jose claims senior executives at Google Inc., Intel Corp., Adobe Systems Inc., Intuit Inc., Lucasfilm Ltd., Pixar and Apple Inc. violated antitrust laws by entering into secret anti-poaching agreements not to hire each other's best workers. In doing so, the suit contends the companies were able to keep wages artificially low by preventing bidding wars for the best employees.
The plaintiffs also claim that company emails show Steve Jobs himself sought and orchestrated at least some of the so-called "gentlemen's agreements" while Apple's CEO.
"I believe we have a policy of no recruiting from Apple," then-Google chief executive Eric Schmidt wrote in a 2007 email cited by the plaintiffs. The email was originally furnished to the U.S. Justice Department, which investigated similar allegations in 2010. The same email included a forwarded message from Jobs complaining that Google's recruiting department was trying to lure away an Apple engineer.
"Can you get this stopped and let me know why this is happening?" Schmidt wrote. Google's director of staffing replied that the recruiter "will be terminated within the hour."
The companies' attorneys said the facts even as presented by the plaintiffs show no evidence of a conspiracy.
Rather, they said in court filings that some companies had separate one-to-one pacts among themselves as they worked together on various business ventures.
"The obvious explanation for the existence of these agreements were the collaborations," said Apple defense attorney...
Wed, 1 Feb 12
Teens Migrating to Twitter -- Sometimes for Privacy
Teens don't tweet, will never tweet -- too public, too many older users. Not cool. That's been the prediction for a while now, born of numbers showing that fewer than one in 10 teens were using Twitter early on.
But then their parents, grandparents, neighbors, parents' friends and anyone in-between started friending them on Facebook, the social networking site of choice for many -- and a curious thing began to happen.
Suddenly, their space wasn't just theirs anymore. So more young people have started shifting to Twitter, almost hiding in plain sight.
"I love twitter, it's the only thing I have to myself ... cause my parents don't have one," Britteny Praznik, a 17-year-old who lives outside Milwaukee, gleefully tweeted recently.
While she still has a Facebook account, she joined Twitter last summer, after more people at her high school did the same. "It just sort of caught on," she says.
Teens tout the ease of use and the ability to send the equivalent of a text message to a circle of friends, often a smaller one than they have on crowded Facebook accounts. They can have multiple accounts and don't have to use their real names. They also can follow their favorite celebrities and, for those interested in doing so, use Twitter as a soapbox.
The growing popularity teens report fits with findings from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a nonprofit organization that monitors people's tech-based habits. The migration has been slow, but steady. A Pew survey last July found that 16 percent of young people, ages 12 to 17, said they used Twitter. Two years earlier, that percentage was just 8 percent.
"That doubling is definitely a significant increase," says Mary Madden, a senior research specialist at Pew. And she suspects it's even higher now.
Meanwhile, a Pew survey found that nearly one in...