Microsoft started its retail ground game a little late -- its stores didn’t start popping up until 2009 -- but it’s making up for lost time. On Thursday the software company announced that it’s partnering with Best Buy to open small “Windows Stores” in 600 Best Buys in the US and Canada. The Windows stores will replace the computer sections in those locations, and will have computers and tablets running Windows 8, Windows phones, and Xboxes on display for customers to try.
There may be some extra pressures behind this announcement, however, besides the companies’ desire to showcase Microsoft products. Windows 8, the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, hasn’t caught on the way the company hoped it would; PC sales were down last quarter by the largest margin ever, according to market-research firm IDC; and Best Buy lost $81 million that same quarter.
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Best Buy has taken a number of steps this year to fight back against competition from online electronics companies. In April, the store started allowing Samsung to open mini-retail stores -- staffed with Samsung employees -- in Best Buy outlets. And it instituted a policy of matching competitors’ prices, in response to consumers’ tendency to use the stores as showrooms (trying out products at Best Buy, then purchasing them more cheaply elsewhere). Now, the company hopes the Windows Stores will help people get more familiar with Windows 8 PCs, ultimately boosting sales.
“We’re pleased to partner with Best Buy in bringing the latest technologies to consumers ... where they can explore how Microsoft products fit together across entertainment, travel, music and other scenarios,” Microsoft executive Tami Reller said in the announcement. The operative words there are “fit together.” There are so many different Windows 8 devices out there that many customers feel bewildered and confused by how the phones, tablets, Ultrabooks, and computers are supposed to complement each other.
Windows Stores will give them a chance to get comfortable with the devices by having some hands-on time. Plus, Microsoft says it’ll give special training to Best Buy employees working in the Windows Stores, so they’ll presumably be well-informed and able to guide customers through a sometimes-confusing landscape of products.
The Windows Stores will roll out between June and September, and will be staffed by a mix of Microsoft employees and over 1,200 Best Buy associates.
Readers, do you do any of your computer shopping at Best Buy? Will the Windows Stores be helpful to you? Let us know in the comments section below.
Apple spent the lion’s share of its keynote address at this week’s Worldwide Developers Conference highlighting the flattened design and new features of iOS 7. But in spite of its mobile focus, the company certainly hasn’t been neglecting the computer market: Apple also unveiled new Macbook Air laptops and OS X 10.9 Mavericks, an update to its desktop operating system.
The biggest change to the new Macbook Air line is the inclusion of Intel “Haswell” CPUs, which have increased power efficiency and built-in graphics processing. The result? Better battery life -- Apple claims an improvement of 4 to 5 hours over previous Airs, and says users can enjoy “all-day” power -- and 40 percent faster graphics. The new Macbook Airs, like their predecessors, will come in 11- and 13-inch sizes and feature non-Retina displays (1366x768 resolution for the smaller model; 1440x900 for the larger). Apple announced that the flash storage in the new models is up to 45 percent faster, and that the machines will be compatible with snappy 802.11ac Wi-Fi networks.
The new Macbook Airs will ship with OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion), but they’ll be upgradeable to 10.9 when it comes out in the fall. The 11-inch model starts at $999 for a 128GB hard drive, while the 13-inch model starts at $1,099 (down $100 from last year) for the same capacity. And both can be upgraded with more storage, more RAM, or a better CPU.
On the software side of things, a non-feline moniker wasn’t the only change in OS X 10.9 Mavericks. Apple also showed off power-saving features, better support for multiple monitors, and a whole host of interface improvements. (It didn’t mention how much Mavericks will cost, though.)
One new feature is the introduction of Finder tabs, which let you bring several windows of files together into one, tabbing between them as you would in a browser. Apple also introduced system-wide file tagging -- you can add multiple tags to any file, and they’ll show up in the Finder sidebar and in the iCloud storage service -- which should help with filing and finding your stuff.
Mavericks also brings some extra iOS functionality to the desktop with automatic background updating for apps, as well as the introduction of Notifications, a feature that allows you to reply to e-mails and Facetime calls from within the notification box at the top of the screen. You’ll also see these notifications when your computer wakes up, much like you would on a phone’s lockscreen. And you’ll be able to receive push notifications, like news alerts, from an iPad or iPhone.
Apple has also made a number of tweaks that improve Mavericks’ power consumption, thereby giving laptop users a little extra battery life. “Timer coalescing” reduces the CPU activity by synchronizing app timers behind the scenes, so the computer isn’t constantly being pulled out of a low-power idle state. “App Nap,” a nifty feature built in to the Safari Web browser, makes sure the app isn’t drawing much power when you’re not actively using it. And other improvements to the way memory and system resources are used should make Mavericks less power-hungry, too.
Apple implied that a user running Mavericks on a low-power Macbook Air can expect pretty spectacular battery life -- users will have to wait until the fall, when the OS is released to the public, to try it for themselves, but there’s good reason to expect that Cupertino’s new hardware and software will be an efficient combination.
Many photographers, amateur and professional, are fearful the act will enable their work to be exploited without credit, permission, or payment.
The UK government says the act streamlines copyright licensing for works of unknown authorship.
This alteration to copyright law was tagged into a larger act aimed at cutting through regulatory red tape. Under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act – which last week received Royal Assent after passing parliament – “orphan works,” or works with an unknown author, could be used commercially or non-commercially.
The act alters the standing copyright regulations around “orphan works” by allowing businesses to pay a fee to use them if they can’t find the author. (The agency that receives the fee has yet to be established.) Usually, you’d have to wait for the copyright to expire to use an orphan work.
Orphan works include books, music, photos, and films of unknown authorship, but critics of the legislation say photos are particularly ripe for the taking.
The policy change still has one final tiny hurdle – that of authoring the “statutory instruments” or delegated legislation – that is, the exact workings of the law have yet to be formalized. Lawmakers have outlined a general plan, and that plan has been approved, and now all that’s left is filling in the blanks. A statutory instrument has not been voted down in 36 years, making it doubtful that any will this time.
The UK government says the purpose of the alteration is to make obtaining the copyright license of legitimate orphan works more efficient. “The powers [established in the act] do not remove copyright for photographs or any other works subject to copyright, nor do they allow anyone to use a copyright work without permission and free of charge,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Business, Innovations and Skills told the BBC.
The problem many see is, when a picture gets posted online, it gets shared around and posted on others’ walls, tweeted, and cross-tweeted, to the point where the original author can be near impossible to find. The average Internet user doesn’t include their author info in the metadata of all of their Instagram photos, and many images are orphaned soon after they are uploaded to the Web.
A media company can claim an image without ID after making a “diligent search” for the owner. If they can’t find one, they can then sublicense the work – in other words, they can obtain a picture that’s not theirs and charge others to use it, but only if they can’t find the author.
Many foresee a barrage of legal complaints revolving around the “diligent search” portion of the law, and whether or not a company actually searched “diligently.”
Greg Lastowka, professor of law at Rutgers School of Law-Camden, doesn’t think diligence will be quite so loosely interpreted. “There are very powerful image search engines out there right now,” he told MSN news. “Using an image search technology that looks all over the Web for a photo, or matching specific attributes of a photo, you can do a pretty good job of tracking the creator.”
Some of those opposed are upset that the alteration to copyright law has been inserted into an act that has nothing to do with copyright law as a whole.
"If this is copyright legislation, this deserves an act called the Copyright Act," said intellectual property expert Iain Connor to the BBC. "This [alteration] should not be tagged into a piece of legislation that has nothing to do with copyright."
Anyone that wants to use an orphan work will have to prove to an independent body that it performed a diligent search, says the BBC, and that body would then allow them to pay a licensing fee. That independent body will be outlined in the statutory instruments that haven’t been written yet.
Almost a year ago today, Facebook went public. Its infamous IPO last spring and subsequent price drop in stock had left investors worried.
However, much has happened in a year. When Facebook first went public, it had no real strategy for dealing with smart phones. Since then, it has launched Facebook Home, a series of Android apps that integrates Facebook into the phone’s operating system. There’s also been the release of Facebook Graph Search, which allows users to find other people by their job, likes, and locations. The Graph Search also allows advertisers to find and target users.
So, how else did Facebook beef up its revenue? Well, since last May, the company has updated its smart-phone application in order to ensure a smoother user experience. Right before the IPO, the social network also acquired Instagram, the photo-sharing application that became a hit last year.
All in all, the first quarter has proved that Facebook will continue to grow. The announcement of its $219 million revenue (up 38 percent from the previous quarter) signifies that Facebook must be doing something right, but what else does it mean?
1) Mobility is the key
Facebook has learned that if it’s going to make it as a company, it has to focus on mobile. The $219 million number announced today is made up of 30 percent mobile ad revenue. Coming from a company that had no mobile ad revenue last year, that’s something that should make analysts jump for joy.
2) Facebook still has “it”
The idea that Facebook is declining in popularity is, well, wrong. Chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social network continues to grow – this time in developing countries. “Now [new users] will be in developing countries -- after all so many people have already joined in places like the US and UK that Facebook is reaching saturation point,” writes the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones. Facebook saw its monthly users rise to 1.1 billion users in the last six months. That’s a total of 100 million new users.
3) Zuckerberg’s not afraid to take risks
It’s quite easy to get lost in the numbers announced. It looks as if everything is going great for Facebook; however, the company is still in an effort to prove itself. The numbers were strong, but they fell short of what Wall Street was originally expecting. The company’s high costs also have shareholders worried, but Mr. Zuckerberg insists that the money spent on new products like Home and Graph Search are “long-term investments.”
The loss of the titles comes at the heels of a deal expiration and the introduction of a new streaming service. Netflix’s deal with Warner Bros., MGM, and Universal came to an end last night, which resulted in the loss. MGM and Universal titles will now be available for streaming through the $10-a-month service, Warner Archive Instant.
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While the vast majority of the films will not be sorely missed, the loss could be an indicator of Netflix’s future.
To further add to the loss, it was recently reported that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is considering not renewing a deal with Viacom. If Mr. Hastings does not renew then Netflix will lose titles from networks such as MTV, Nickelodeon, and BET.
Streamageddon 2013 also serves as a reminder of the "great Starz purge of 2012." Just last year, Netflix ended its contract with Starz, consequently losing many big-name movies.
“The vast majority of the titles that expire on Wednesday are older features that were aggregated by Epix," says Evers, according to CNET. "We recently added many great, more recent titles such as ParaNorman (Universal), Hunger Games (Epix), Safe (Epix) and Bachelorette (Weinstein). Tomorrow we will also add MI:2, among many other titles.”
In an e-mail to Mashable, Netflix released an official statement explaining that it will add more than 500 titles today.
“Netflix is a dynamic service, we constantly update the TV shows and movies that are available to our members. We will add more than 500 titles May 1, but we also have titles expiring, this ebb and flow happens all the time,” says the official statement sent to Mashable. “We are selective about what’s available to watch on Netflix. We often license TV shows and movies on an exclusive basis, so we can provide a unique experience. We’ll forego, or choose not renew, titles that aren’t watched enough. We always use our knowledge about what our members love to watch to decide what’s available on Netflix.”
The statement goes on to explain that Netflix sees itself as an expert programmer that offers “a mix that delights our members, rather than trying to be a broad distributor.”
There’s much to speculate about Netflix’s future. The company has successfully launched two of its own series and has delighted users by creating new episodes of Arrested Development. However, the loss of titles whether popular or not, could prove to be detrimental.
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Reddit suffered a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack Friday that stretched into the afternoon.
At 6:02 a.m., the Reddit status Twitter account tweeted that the website was working to recover from what appeared to be a DDoS. A DDoS is when a botnet is sent out to cripple a server or to steal information from it. The source of the attack has not yet been announced.
A Reddit admin that goes by the username Alienth stated on an AskReddit thread that the person or people attacking the site have “a lot of time and bandwidth on their hands.” Alienth posted a graph of Reddit’s server load, claiming that none of the admins had ever seen an attack at this scale.
The attack on Reddit comes the morning that Boston has shutdown as a citywide manhunt continues for one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Reddit users had been actively pursuing and trying to help solve the bombing. The Internet sleuths offered high-res pictures and information with regards to the case. The users’ interests, however, did not always end successfully. Their own investigations have led to false accusations. As the manhunt began on Friday, Reddit featured a live stream of the breaking events. It is still unclear whether Friday’s events have anything to do with the DDoS attack on Reddit.
Reddit, in the meantime, has stated that it managed to “mitigate part of the DDoS at this time” but that “certain site functions are disabled.”
“The Internet’s not working. Or at least the self-styled ‘front page of the Internet,' ” writes VentureBeat’s John Koetsier. “One thing seems to be clear: The outages are deliberate, not simply caused by a flood of traffic from the ongoing Boston manhunt for the marathon bomber who remains at large.”
Reddit is working for the most part, but the site can be slow to load. For now, the website continues to handle the attack.
For more tech news, follow Aimee on Twitter, @aimee_ortiz
Google Glass guidelines for software developers were released this week, and the first prototype glasses have been shipping to developers and “Glass Explorers” in batches as they are produced. Those receiving early-access Glass have paid $1,500 for the privilege of field testing.
Along with the shipment, which some users can expect this week, the company released tech specs, and Google's device guidelines.
Glassware will be cloud-based, meaning the apps don’t live directly on the device, which will have “12 GB of usable memory, synced with Google cloud storage,” according to the tech specs.
As Google’s business model evolves into hardware, rumors of brick-and-mortar Google stores solidify. They already have kiosks in Best Buys to educate consumers about Google’s Chromebook, Nexus tablets, and maybe Glass. Having their own store may help the company compete on the same level as Apple and Microsoft.
Many people see the potential for Glass to invade privacy, or to affect social mores. Mashable.com, envisioning a future where everyone used Google Glass, asked questions about the social and health effects of such a device.
These questions have some people on edge. As The Monitor reported before, the group “Stop the Cyborgs” opposes the potential loss of privacy, and the power of big data to pry into consumers’ lives.
For now though, a select few are living on the cutting edge of technology.
The Winklevoss twins (two major characters Facebook creation story) are back in the news, this time making headlines with their $11 million purchase of one percent of all bitcoins, the virtual currency.
As of Thursday morning, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss own approximately 108,000 bitcoins. The virtual currency has had a volatile week. Bitcoins were trading for as high as $266 each on Wednesday. However, it crashed that same day and sent the online money plummeting down to $105. It eventually stabilized around $150.
So, what is bitcoin? It’s a virtual currency that was created in 2009 by an anonymous person (or people) under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoins work on a peer-to-peer computer network. They are not backed by any government. They are worth only what people are willing to pay for them.
Bitcoins are known for being favorites among hackers and, most notably, as the method of payment on Silk Road – a website where narcotics can be bought and sold. So, what would prompt the Olympic-rowing twins to invest in virtual money?
The New York Times Dealbook states that the Winklevoss brothers believe that the bitcoin will become the next gold.
“People really don’t want to take it seriously. At some point that narrative will shift to ‘virtual currencies are here to stay.’ We’re in the early days,” Cameron Winklevoss told the Times.
The twins also told the Times that the fluctuations are simply the “growing pains” for the bitcoin.
The brothers became known for their antagonistic roles in the movie "The Social Network." The film shows the real-life lawsuit the brothers had against Mark Facebook founder Zuckerberg, claiming that he had stolen their idea for Facebook. The pair settled for $45 million and Facebook stock.
"If you love something, set it free; and if it comes back, then it’s yours." That proverb seems to ring true for General Motors and Facebook. GM has announced that it will test-run advertising with Facebook after their very public break-up last May, just before Facebook’s initial public offering.
It was very bad timing for Facebook -- a major company pulling out $10 million just before its IPO. But now, less than a year from the split, GM and Facebook have reunited to advertise Chevrolet’s subcompact car, the Sonic. The Sonic is being marketed toward young people.
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GM pulled its paid advertisement at the behest of its former Chief Marketing Officer Joel Ewanick. Mr. Ewanick stopped paid ads with Facebook under the claim that there was no proof that such ads were more successful than the free GM brands pages.
However, many things have changed with Facebook since then. In January, reports were published that Facebook has become the most used mobile application in the United States. Close to a quarter of the time that Americans spend using mobile apps is taken up just on Facebook. It comes as no surprise, then, that GM will run its advertisements solely through Facebook's mobile site.
“It’s almost inevitable that they would be back," says Brennan White, directing manager of Pandemic Labs in Boston. “Facebook is the dominant mobile application. We’re seeing a huge increase in Facebook advertising dollars and Facebook mobile advertising.”
Mr. White explains that Facebook has put considerable effort into “cracking the mobile nut, so to speak.” Big companies like GM can better target potential customers if they pair up with Facebook, he says.
So, what else caught GM’s attention?
Facebook’s latest additions proved attractive to the automobile maker, according to valuewalk.com.
“Another key feature is the introduction of FBX ad-exchange, which inserts highly targeted promos into the users’ timeline. It increased the likelihood of users seeing and clicking more ads,” writes Vikas Shukla of valuewalk.
As was mentioned before, it was GM's Mr. Ewanick that decided against paid ads on Facebook. Ewanick was forced to leave GM last July after not giving full disclosure with regards to Chevy’s sponsorship of the soccer team Manchester United.
GM replaced him with Alan Batey, who has reversed many of Ewanick’s decisions.
In addition to returning to Facebook, Mr. Batey has also reversed Ewanick’s decision to split Chevrolet advertising between Goodby Silverstein and McCann Worldgroup, consolidating it under McCann and changed the “Chevy runs deep” campaign to “Find new roads.”
Mobile ads are becoming a big part of Facebook’s revenue. The recent unveiling of Facebook’s Home app could further cement its seat in the app-universe. The social-network giant estimates that 23 percent of its ad revenue in the fourth quarter came from mobile ad, according to CNN.
Will Facebook and GM stay together this time? Nothing is certain; the ads are, after all, a test-run. However, with the ad market turning digital, Facebook could play a much bigger part in many companies's ad plans.
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The Samsung Experience Shop will take up an entire section of Best Buy stores and will display Samsung phones, laptops, cameras, tablets, television, and, of course, accessories.
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In addition to a centralized shopping “experience,” owners of Samsung products will have access to in-store customer service.
The mini-shops, set to begin opening on April 8, will have Samsung employees there to assist consumers looking for new gadgets.
“This is our first opportunity to demonstrate connected mobile products in a location with educated Samsung employees able to walk a consumer through the experience,” says vice president of retail marketing for Samsung Mobile's American unit Ketrina Dunagan, according to ZDNet.
Ms. Dunagan goes on to say that "70 percent of the population lives within 10 miles of a Best Buy." A centralized shop for all Samsung products means that Samsung will be able to reach that wide audience.
According to a COMscore report released in March, Samsung holds 21.4 percent of the American smart-phone market. That’s just behind Apple, who ranked first with 37.8 percent.
Best Buy already sells Apple products from special, dedicated sections on the showroom floor. The Samsung Experience Shop, however, will be larger and will allow customers to purchase Samsung products directly.
Of course, Samsung already has retail locations, however, those shops have not had the success or popularity of Apple stores.
“Operating standalone retail stores has been a huge advantage for Apple, but it's a strategy that few companies have been able to replicate,” writes CNet’s Shara Tibken.
ZDNet’s Charlie Osborne explains that opening shops inside Best Buys will save Samsung the vast amount of money and time required to build multiple retail locations.
“For Best Buy, the move could help further establish the retailer as a player in the mobile segment and reverse trends that have seen Best Buy struggling as consumers increasingly opt for Internet-based shopping,” writes AppleInsider’s Kevin Bostic.
Best Buy’s struggles are nothing new. In a world where CDs and DVDs have been replaced by digital files, the tech retailer has had to find different ways to keep afloat. After realizing that customers were window-shopping in stores but purchasing the items online, Best Buy began to match online prices.
Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly was hired in August to the lead a “turnaround.” Mr. Joly says the Samsung Experience Shop will help revive the store.
So, will taking a page out of Apple’s book help Samsung and Best Buy? We’ll find out by June.
For more tech news, follow Aimee on Twitter, @aimee_ortiz
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