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A portrait of Apple founder Steve Jobs is shown in the window of an Apple store in Berlin. (Reuters)

Steve Jobs: FBI file says Apple CEO could 'distort reality'

By Matthew Shaer / 02.09.12

In 1991, the FBI conducted a background check on the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, who was then under consideration for a post in the George H.W. Bush White House.

Now, two decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the government has finally released the 191-page file, and the documents within offer an intriguing look at the man behind the Apple empire. 

Among the topics covered: Possible past drug use; a Top Secret government security clearance given to Mr. Jobs in 1988 (the reasons remain unclear); and the often contentious relationship between Jobs and his employees. "Several individuals questioned Mr. Jobs' honesty stating that Mr. Jobs will twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals," read the FBI documents, according to USA Today

(It's worth noting here that in 1991, when the FBI file was created, Jobs had been fired from Apple, and moved to positions at Pixar and NeXT Computer, which he founded. In fact, the employer listed on the 1988 security clearance was Pixar. In 1996, Apple purchased NeXT, and Jobs returned to his former company.)

Elsewhere, interviewees are more positive about Jobs's infamously prickly demeanor: "Strongwilled, stubborn, hardworking, and driven, which they believe is why he is so successful. And that Mr. Jobs possesses integrity as long as he gets his way; however they did not elaborate on this," reads one excerpt highlighted by the Los Angeles Times

As Philip Elmer-Dewitt of Forbes notes today, the files don't make for a particularly "flattering picture, but [it's] nothing we haven't heard before." Last year, Walter Isaacson published "Steve Jobs," an authorized biography of the Apple CEO, and although the book was largely flattering, it did take note of Jobs's frequent clashes with friends, allies, and competitors. 

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The iPad 3 will likely launch in March, according to a new report. Here, the Apple store in Grand Central Station, in New York. (Reuters)

iPad 3 unveiling set for March: report

By Matthew Shaer / 02.09.12

The release date of the iPad 3 draws nigh. That's the word from All Things D, which reports today that Apple will unveil the iPad 3 at a press event in San Francisco, almost exactly a year after the release of the iPad 2. Caveats abound: Apple hasn't confirmed the report, and Apple rumors are something of a national sport this time of year.

Still, the timing lines up, and John Paczkowski, who quotes anonymous industry sources, isn't the kind of reporter to be flinging around completely speculative gossip. So hey, if Apple does take the wraps off the iPad 3 in the first week in March, when will the tablet actually hit shelves? Well, probably a week or so after the launch event – standard issue for new Apple products. 

"As for the next-generation iPad itself," Paczkowski writes, "sources say it will be pretty much what we’ve been led to expect by the innumerable reports leading up to its release: A device similar in form factor to the iPad 2, but running a much faster chip, sporting an improved graphics processing unit, and featuring a 2048 x 1536 Retina Display – or something close to it."

Apple, of course, already uses the Retina Display on its iPhone 4 and 4S, and analysts have been waiting for the iPad to be fitted with similar technology. Assuming the All Things D report is correct – and as Paczkowski hints, almost every iPad 3 rumor has hinged on an improved screen, so there's no reason to suspect it's not – expect Apple to push the new feature in a major way. 

In related news, back in December, DigiTimes, a well-sourced Taiwanese newspaper, predicted the arrival of two new Apple tablets – a full-sized iPad 3, with a traditional display, and a smaller device, with a 7.85-inch screen. (That's about half the size of today's iPad.) No news has since broken about the pint-sized iPad – not in the All Things D report or elsewhere – so it may be safe to assume that this will be a one-iPad year. 

Not that there's anything wrong with that. 

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Windows 8 will get a 'preview' launch later this month. Here, the exterior of a Microsoft retail store is shown at a shopping mall in San Diego. (Reuters)

Windows 8 preview launch set for late February: Microsoft

By Matthew Shaer / 02.09.12

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."

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People wearing masks often used by a group that calls itself Anonymous take part in a rally in Madrid on May 15. 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. (Arturo Rodriguez/AP/File)

Negotiating with Anonymous: Symantec talks collapse, source code released

By / 02.08.12

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.

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The iPhone 4S helped Sprint attract a record number of customers in Q4 of 2011. But the subsidy costs were hefty. (Reuters)

iPhone on Sprint: Great for sales, terrible for profits

By Matthew Shaer / 02.08.12

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

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The Windows Start button is going the way of the dinosaur. Here, a Microsoft Office logo is shown on display at a Microsoft retail store in San Diego. (Reuters)

Windows 8: Is Microsoft really ditching the Windows Start button?

By Matthew Shaer / 02.07.12

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. 

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With Droid 4, Verizon doubles down on its 4G double-data promotion

By Matthew Shaer / 02.07.12

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."

In a related note, Verizon Wireless recently began selling the Droid Razr Maxx – also a 4G LTE-capable device. The Razr Maxx has won mostly positive marks from reviewers. 

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Facebook could soon begin running ads on the mobile version of its site. Here, a user accesses Facebook on his iPhone. (Reuters)

Facebook, already rich off online ads, gears up for mobile adverts

By Matthew Shaer / 02.06.12

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. 

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A sign outside the Facebook headquarters (not by David Choe) welcomes visitors. The graffiti artist worked on Facebook's old HQ back in 2005. (Reuters)

Facebook IPO turns graffiti mural into a $200 million payday

By Matthew Shaer / 02.03.12

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. 

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The new Gmail Man video spoofs Google's new privacy policy. Here, a still from the Gmail Man video. (YouTube )

With Gmail Man spoof, Microsoft assails Google privacy policy (+video)

By Matthew Shaer / 02.03.12

The war of words between Google and Microsoft just got a little bit hotter. 

Horizons readers will remember that earlier this year, Google unveiled a new, streamlined terms of service and privacy policy. The updated policy is a piece of a wider – and extremely controversial – Google initiative called Search Plus Your World, which mixes standard search results with information plucked from sources such as Google+ and Gmail

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. 

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