Microsoft announced today a launch date for a "consumer preview" version of Windows 8, the long-awaited update to its flagship operating system. Microsoft will take the wraps off the new OS on February 29, during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. But according to Computerworld, Windows 8 will get its own separate event, at a local hotel – the better, presumably, to cater to a small army of curious reporters.
So hey, why isn't this Windows 8 preview emblazoned with a "beta" sticker? In a post over at ZDNet, Ed Bott argues that the "widespread use" of the phrase "beta" has "muddled its meaning beyond repair."
If Microsoft had filed the release under beta, "Old-school Windows beta testers would be demanding to know where to file bug reports, while the real target market might be scared off by the 'don’t get mad at us' asterisk," Bott writes.
Instead, Microsoft is signaling that the Windows 8 preview is for all users – not just the hardened geeks.
As we noted yesterday, it seems that Microsoft will strip from Windows 8 the iconic Start button, long an integral part of the Microsoft Windows experience. In its place, users will get something called a "hot corner," which will be available on tablet and desktop versions of the new Windows OS.
Microsoft has framed Windows 8 as a particularly versatile operating system, fit for the modern computing landscape, which includes both traditional laptops and tablets computers. The interface on Windows 8, currently dubbed Metro, will run on both types of machines, Microsoft has said. As the team at Ars Technica notes today, "this is a desktop operating system that won't be confined to the desktop."
Looks like the hackers win this round.
On Tuesday afternoon, the "hacktivist" network Anonymous published the source code to security software vendor Symantec's pcAnywhere program on torrent sites, apparently after negotiations to the tune of $50,000 fell through. Anonymous posted emails earlier this week detailing the negotiations, which took place between "Yamatough," an online personality representing an Anonymous-affiliated group, and either a Symantec employee or a law enforcement sting operation (it depends on who you ask).
According to the emails, Symantec offered Yamatough $50,000 in exchange for the destruction of the source code and a public statement saying that Symantec hadn't been hacked in the first place. Negotiations broke down when Yamatough demanded the money be sent through Liberty Reserve, an offshore account, and accused Symantec of cooperating with the FBI. Symantec asked for more time to negotiate and asked to send the money in small chunks, but the email exchange broke off after Yamatough gave the company ten minutes to "decide which way you go."
The alleged hack happened way back in 2006, but the issue didn't surface until last month. When Anonymous threatened to release the code in late January, Symantec initially asked users to stop using pcAnywhere, fearing that known vulnerabilities might be exploited. A few days later, it released patches for affected version that plugged the security holes.
At the same time, however, Symantec was apparently negotiating with the hackers to prevent the public release of the code. And now that negotiations have broken down, "pcAnywhere" is out in the wild, accompanied by the logo of the Anonymous subgroup "AntiSec." The group also threatened to publish the source code to several Norton antivirus programs, although that hasn't happened yet.
What's to be done? Well, it doesn't look like users are at much risk. Symantec has already released patches for pcAnywhere to protect against the vulnerabilities in the leaked code, and it says the Norton code is too old to be used for cyber attacks. But the hack certainly leaves Symantec with a public relations mess on its hands. Cris Praden, the company's Senior Manager for Corporate Communications, commented that Symantec contacted law enforcement as soon as the "attempted extortion and apparent theft of intellectual property" came to light.
Readers, are you battening down your security hatches? What do you think the fallout for Symantec will be for this incident? Let us know in the comments.
The Apple iPhone was the top-selling smartphone of the last quarter, according to a new report from the International Data Corporation – the king of a smartphone market that has expanded by as much as 55 percent over the past year. It makes sense, therefore, that a company such as Sprint, which recently began selling the iPhone, would see a major hike in profits.
But as several outlets have reported this afternoon, the situation isn't quite that simple. Consider the Q4 numbers posted by Sprint: 1.8 million iPhones sold, to a record number of first-time customers. At the same time, since Sprint must subsidize the cost of every iPhone, Sprint's subsidy costs have also soared, to the tune of $1.7 billion over the course of the last quarter of 2011.
"The dilemma is that the more iPhones sold, the bigger the near-term hit," Roger Cheng of CNET writes today. CNN frames the whole thing a little more starkly: "Subsidies almost single-handedly devastate profit margins" for carriers, CNN reporter David Goldman argues. Sprint, for its part, has noted that the Q4 sales beat expectations; in a conference call, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse called the iPhone launch "very successful."
Is he right? Even in the face of those subsidy costs, was Sprint correct to pen a deal with Apple? Yes, says Larry Dignan of ZDNet. "It’s too early to tell after one quarter, but it’s quite possible that Sprint didn’t have a choice," Dignan writes. "Why? The iPhone represented table stakes for Sprint. If the company was going to be a player it needed the iPhone."
Not convinced? Refer back to the beginning of this post: The iPhone is the most dominant smartphone on the market right now. (Android technically has a larger share of US smartphone users, but Android doesn't have a single blockbuster device, which serves as a magnet for sales.) Sprint couldn't very well turn down a chance to sell the handset, especially if it wants to continue to vie with Verizon Wireless and AT&T.
The Start button, long an integral part of the Microsoft Windows experience, could be headed for extinction.
The news comes courtesy of a tech site called PC Beta, which has obtained screenshots of a "consumer preview" of Windows 8, the forthcoming OS. Meanwhile, several tech reporters, including Adrian Kingsley-Hughes of ZDNet, have managed to confirm that the Start button will be replaced, probably by something called a "hot corner" – a feature that "duplicates the functionality offered by the old button," Kingsley-Hughes writes.
The "hot corner," the team at The Verge reports, will provide "a consistent way to access the Windows desktop and Start Screen in Windows 8 regardless of touch or mouse input. The new interface is activated on hover from the lower-left corner of Windows 8 and includes a thumbnail preview of where you will navigate to after clicking on the new visual element."
For Windows geeks, this marks the end of an era.
Since Windows 95, the Start button has served as a kind of visual shorthand for Windows itself. (It's no accident that Microsoft used the song "Start Me Up," by the Rolling Stones, to help hype Windows 95.) The button has been modified frequently over the past decade and a half – Windows XP, for instance, used a Start "halo" instead of a Start rectangle – but the feature has remained a central part of the Windows landscape.
Still, Windows 8, set for release later this year, is meant to be a radically rejiggered operating system, translatable to both smartphones and tablet computers. It makes sense that Microsoft would want to re-envision the Windows desktop presentation. So how will users react to the new scenery? Well, as Gavin Clarke notes over at the Register, "any change," major or minor, poses risks for Microsoft.
"You risk alienating customers," Clarke writes. "Microsoft's last great interface change was Office 2007, which introduced the much-hated Ribbon interface. Microsoft could be on safer ground with the Start button, given it has said Windows users were only using the Start Button to access the items most commonly used on their desktops."
In other words, since plenty of users have stopped clicking on the Start button, they might not even miss it once it's gone.
On Friday, Verizon Wireless is set to release the Droid 4, a handset which has been described as "the greatest Android keyboard slider yet." But the Droid 4, which runs on Verizon's 4G LTE network, can also be something of a data hog – after all, if you can download media very quickly, you often tend to download a lot of data, full-stop. (It's no accident that one reporter, reviewing a Verizon 4G modem, called the device "dangerously fast.")
So this week Verizon is also reintroducing a double-data promotion: Sign up for a new 4G data plan, and get double the data cap for no extra cost. Right now, Verizon prices its data plans at three different points: $30 for 2 gigabytes of data a month, $50 for 5 GB, and $80 for 10 GB. With the promotion, those data limits are raised to 4 GB, 10 GB, and 20 GB, respectively.
Why is doubling the data cap important? Well in that "dangerously fast" review, CNET found that a Verizon 4G modem can regularly hit download speeds of 12 Mbps, fast enough to download a 2-hour, 1080p HD movie in about an hour. That means 10 gigabytes in one hour – or, phrased differently, it means that you might burn through your entire 10 GB monthly limit in just one hour.
The LA Times has reported that the deal – which is a repeat of a similar promotion issued in November of last year, in the run-up to the holiday shopping season – is restricted to customers "who are either new to Verizon or are upgrading from a non-4G handset to a 4G phone." So if you've already got a 4G Verizon handset, you won't be eligible for the deal.
The timing of the promotion, of course, is no accident. "The first quarter often sees a letdown in sales for wireless carriers, particularly after the frenetic pace of sales during the holiday period," Roger Cheng of CNET writes today. "Verizon has been particularly aggressive in pushing its 4G LTE products."
Last week, when Facebook filed its S-1 papers with the SEC – a necessary stepping stone to an IPO – it revealed that more than half its 845 million users access the social network via a mobile device. This is not especially good news for the company, which has thus far failed to capitalize on all that mobile traffic. Facebook runs quite-lucrative advertisements on its website, but has not fully implemented them into phone apps or its mobile site.
But according to a new report, Facebook is already mulling a new mobile advertising strategy, and it could go live as soon as next month. Writing in the Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw offers details on an upcoming Facebook initiative to push "featured stories" – sponsored links or news items, in other words, that would appear in a user's mobile news feed.
That initiative, in turn, would be followed by other types of advertisements, including – eventually – location-targeted ads, Bradshaw says. (Stuck in New York on a layover? Ads for local pizza parlors might appear on your Facebook feed.) "Featured stories," writes Bradshaw, "is likely to be Facebook’s first mobile marketing format of many, potentially including 'rich media' such as video and potentially exploiting the narrow geographical targeting of its users."
Of course, mobile marketing has proved tricky in the past – as opposed to a traditional computer screen, there isn't much room on a smartphone display, Flash-based ads won't work on many mobile devices, and banner ads would be itty-bitty. But plenty of pundits think Facebook could make it work.
"It’s something that’s been talked about for quite some time and is now starting to become more of a reality and more effective," Rob Jonas, of the ad network InMobi, told the FT. "As long as you are creating relevant content, it will be a good user experience."
Maybe. After all, folks certainly got used to being bombarded by customized advertisements on Google, Gmail, and other Google-operated sites. (Have you seen Microsoft's spoof: the Gmail Man?) But if Facebook does decide to roll out location-specific adverts, it could spook a lot of users, who may not have realized that their smartphone has been tracking their progress all over town. Right? Drop us a line in the comments section.
And for more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.
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Good work if you can get it.
In 2005, the artist David Choe was hired to paint some murals in Facebook HQ. Facebook, then a young and scrappy social network, offered Choe a choice of two forms of payment: cash or Facebook stock. In an interview with the New York Times this week, Choe recalled that he eventually decided on the stock option, even figured his choice was "ridiculous and pointless." Fast forward a few years, and Choe is poised to become a multimillionaire.
According to the Times, assuming Choe hasn't otherwise unloaded the stock, his Facebook shares will be worth approximately $200 million when Facebook goes public later this year. (On Wednesday, Facebook filed S-1 papers with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, a move that brings the social network, which could be valued at $100 billion, one step closer to its long awaited IPO.)
Choe, for his part, seems to be handling the news pretty well. In a not-appropriate-for-children post on his personal blog, Choe said the whole thing was "very very similar to another dream I have where I wake up at noon to my phone ringing, and the ringtone is butterfly wings, I pick it up and it’s Howard Stern, the view, Ellen, Charlie Rose, Telemundo and every news outlet in the world."
The artist went on to call himself "the most highest-paid decorator alive."
Hey, you know who else the Facebook IPO will benefit, aside from Choe and the Facebook brass? Social gaming juggernaut Zynga, which saw its shares soar in morning trading yesterday. According to the S-1 papers filed by Facebook, a whopping 12 percent of Facebook's revenue last year came from Zynga games – approximately $445 million, by one estimation.
Meanwhile, a peek inside the Facebook filing papers shows that the social network's IPO will likely create literally hundreds of millionaires.
Critics have cried foul. Users have complained. And now Microsoft, Google's longtime competitor, is piling on, as well. Meet "Gmail Man," the spoof character introduced in the Microsoft-made video below. The funny video leaked last summer, but it's back now with Microsoft's official blessing. Gmail Man, according to the video, is "everywhere and nowhere at the same time" – he probes "all your sentences and punctuation" and he has "his nose in every colon and situation."
He is a walking embodiment, in other words, of one particular view of Google's perceived overreach. Of course, as the team at The Verge notes, Microsoft's attack strategy is hardly confined to the Gmail Man clip. In addition, the company has taken out a string of ads in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, among other publications, assailing the Google privacy makeover.
"The way [Google is] doing it is making it harder for you to maintain control of your personal information," reads one of the advertisements. "Why are they so interested in doing this that they would risk this kind of backlash? One logical reason: Every data point they collect and connect to you increases how valuable you are to an advertiser."
Google, for its part, has offered up a detailed "myth busting" post on its public policy blog. "We’ve always believed the facts should inform our marketing – and that it’s best to focus on our users rather than negative attacks on other companies," the post reads.
There's no stopping the rise of the smart phones now.
We've known for a long time that regular cell phones, also called feature phones, are on the wane. The latest numbers from market research firm IDC confirm the trend, but their biggest surprise is how much the iPhone has risen: Apple jumped ahead of LG to become the third-biggest worldwide vendor of mobile phones this year, trailing only Nokia and Samsung.
Although cheaper feature phones still made up the majority of sales in 2011, smart phones are gaining. A lot of that growth is thanks to Apple -- the iPhone now makes up 6 percent of the total market, compared to 4 percent last year and 2 percent the year before that.
There's still a pretty big gap separating Apple from Nokia and Samsung, though: Nokia controlled 27 percent of the market in 2011, and Samsung controlled 21.3 percent. A lot of that share comes from feature phones (remember, Apple's only model is the iPhone), although both companies have been making waves with high-end smart phones. Nokia took a hit while retiring its Symbian OS, but it recently launched the Lumia line running Windows Phone 7 software, and early reactions have been pretty positive.
Samsung, meanwhile, is rising steadily thanks to Android devices (the Galaxy S II and Galaxy Nexus handsets in particular) and Windows Phone 7 ones (including the Focus Flash and Focus S models). Although Samsung's overall market share is boosted by a healthy bulk of feature phones, it actually trails Apple in the smart phone market.
It's been a bit of a rough year for LG, the fourth-largest phone vendor. Its selection of smart phones isn't as robust as Nokia's, Apple's, or Samsung's, and feature phone sales are down from 2010. LG finished 2011 with 5.7 percent of the market, followed closely by Chinese manufacturer ZTE with 4.0 percent. ZTE is mainly known for low-end feature phones, but it, too, has been making roads lately with some smart phone models.
Overall, the mobile phone market grew at a healthy clip of 11.1 percent during 2011, but that's down from 18.9 percent in 2010. IDC says the statistics indicate that the phone market is "not immune to weaker macroeconomic conditions worldwide," but also expects brisk growth in 2012 as more consumers gravitate toward smart phones.
Readers, how do these stats square with what you've seen this year? Are you or your friends still rocking feature phones, or have you upgraded to a smart phone? Let us know in the comments.
Roughly 47 percent of smartphone owners in the US use an Android phone, according to the most recent figures from tracking firm comScore. A big number, obviously, and with it have come very big vulnerabilities, including a flood of Android malware. As we noted late last year, Android phones are the top target for Internet ne'er-do-wells; in fact, in the third quarter of 2011, practically all malware was directed right at Android.
Enter "Bouncer," a new service from Google. Bouncer, Google exec Hiroshi Lockheimer wrote in a blog post today, is a kind of virtual guardian, which automatically scans the Android Market, and notifies Google of any possible malware.
Bouncer "looks for behaviors that indicate an application might be misbehaving, and compares it against previously analyzed apps to detect possible red flags," Lockheimer explained. "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. We also analyze new developer accounts to help prevent malicious and repeat-offending developers from coming back."
And there is evidence that Bouncer is already working – according to Lockheimer, the service, which has been active for several months, has led to "a 40% decrease in the number of potentially-malicious downloads from Android Market." In other words, malware is still being flung at the Android market, but the new security system is keeping out at least some of it.
And thank goodness for that, writes Dan Goodin of Ars Technica.
"For years, critics have said Google doesn't do enough to police its own servers for apps that steal user data, rack up expensive charges, and carry out other undisclosed abuse," Goodin notes. "Google's guidelines for Android developers promise they have 'complete control over when and how they make their applications available to users.' While many developers and users welcome the freedom, it has also allowed malware purveyors to install their titles on tens of thousands of Android phones."