Australian students 'pro-rape' Facebook scandal

Monday, November 30, 2009

The page, set up by mostly past and present students at the all-male residential college St Paul's, called itself "Define Statutory" and described itself as "pro-rape, anti-consent", local media reports said.

It has since been taken down.

Former sex discrimination commissioner, now New South Wales state parliamentarian, Pru Goward said she understood the site was designed to "draw an analogy between rape and competing with another football team".

"If that is a case, that they have very foolishly used the metaphor of rape to encourage people to be aggressive and competitive on the sporting field, then it shows an extreme insensitivity," she told The Sydney Morning Herald.

"(The) college has got to take extremely strong action. It is a shocking reflection on the culture."

Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence said he was "appalled by the reported behaviour and apparent attitudes of some students".

"There can be no excuses for sexual assault," he said in a statement.

"The university and the residential colleges have been working hard to bring about a change in attitudes and behaviour. Obviously we still have much to do."

St Paul's, founded in 1956 as an Anglican college, said it condemned all forms of sexual assault and that disciplinary action could be taken against those students involved in the Facebook page.

The university's student body has urged a review of residential colleges.

"It is widely recognised that there is a real problem with sexism and sexual harassment within the University of Sydney college system," Student Council president Noah White said.

"While this behaviour is not representative of college students as a whole, it is certainly representative of a subculture that is alive and well at these institutions," he told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Brazil blackouts result of cyber hacking: report

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The CBS news program 60 Minutes said it had learned that the 2007 blackout in Espirito Santo State, which affected over three million people, and a smaller incident in Rio de Janeiro in 2005, were perpetrated by hackers.

The program, to be aired on Sunday, included the revelations as part of an investigation into the threat of cyber attacks on the United States.

Former Chief of US National Intelligence Mike McConnell told the 60 Minutes that he thought a similar attack is poised to take place on US soil.

If cyber hackers were able to infiltrate the US power grid, he said, "the United States is not prepared for such an attack."

Earlier this year the White House, State Department and Pentagon websites were among US government entities targeted in cyber attacks, amid suspicion that North Korea or its supporters are to blame.

In May South Korea and the United States agreed to cooperate in fighting cyber attacks against their defense networks.

Jim Lewis, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, emphasized to 60 Minutes that US cyber security has come under significant attack from foreign nations in the past few years, including a breach of the CENTCOM Network, the US command post heading the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We know it was a foreign country. We don't know which one -- this was a very sophisticated set of skills," Lewis told CBS.

Advertisers face resistance to on-line tracking

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Corporations have always collected personal data on the people who buy their products but in the past this information came from sources such as magazine subscriptions and warranty cards, experts at a three-day privacy conference that wrapped up Friday in Madrid said.

Now it is flowing at breakneck speed into databases from multiple online sources, from dating services to newspaper websites, giving companies the unprecedented power to create detailed profiles of their customers, in many cases without their being aware of it, they added.

"There are so many grey areas in advertising that if the end user knew about it all, it would make their hair grey," said Jorg Polakiewicz, the head of the law reform department at the Council of Europe, a European rights watchdog.

The body is working on a new legal instrument on consumer profiling that it hopes will assist its 47 member states to better protect individuals from abuses, he added. So far only a few member states have legislation in place.

In the United States, Rick Boucher, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, announced in September that he planned to introduce privacy legislation to regulate this so-called behavioral targeting of consumers.

The move towards greater regulation comes as surveys in the United States and Europe show that a majority of consumers on both sides of the Atlantic are against corporations are monitoring their Internet use for marketing purposes.

Two-thirds of Americans object to targeted online ads, according to one of the first independent survey to examine the issue carried out by the University of California and University of Pennsylvania and published last month.

In the European Union 60 percent of people are concerned about the commercial use of data, according to a European Commission survey carried out in April, said Willemien Bax, the deputy director general of European Consumers' Organization BEUC which is pushing for tougher restrictions.

"It is very important that consumers are firmly in control of their personal data. I think it is unacceptable that our profiles are built up and we cannot see what they are," she said.

Some major corporations have reacted to the concerns by imposing their own limits on the use of online tracking of consumers.

Visitors to Web pages belonging to Procter & Gamble, the world's largest household products maker, "must opt in to have an online relationship" with the company, according to the firm's global privacy executive, Sandra R. Hughes.

The company also has set up a privacy education Web page and it provides consumers with examples of what kind of adverts and discounts they will receive if they agree to provide personal details.

But Jeffrey Chester, the executive director and founder of the Center for Digital Democracy, a US consumer watchdog group, said such efforts to self-regulate are largely a failure and stricter legal safeguards are needed.

"Self-regulatory schemes are inadequate, they fail to address the key issues," he said.

Many computer users hesitate to ride the Wave

Friday, November 27, 2009

Part of the reason is a reluctance to entrust important data to someone else's servers, even those of giant Google. But another factor is old-fashioned resistance to change.

"If I knew how long it will take for Google Wave to be adopted, I'd be a lot richer than I am," said Stuart DeVaan, CEO of, a Minneapolis firm that provides IT outsourcing of services such as e-mail to 2,000 firms worldwide. "The user experience is the Holy Grail of computing, and once people are used to using something like e-mail it's hard to get them to use something different. Google will have to win people over by proving Wave offers a better user experience."

With Wave, people can exchange messages, share or edit documents, even play games in a computer desktop space that is shared by many people simultaneously. Google introduced it for testing by a select group of users in May, and in September opened up the testing -- by invitation only -- to about 100,000 people.

Wave immediately ran into a wave of skepticism.

"People have a reluctance to change," said Mark Bowker, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. "E-mail is pretty simple, and people understand what it does. Maybe the consolidation of instant messaging and e-mail Google Wave represents makes sense, but it might be years before it happens."

"I kind of like Google Wave," said Bill Konkol, vice president of technology for Hopkins radio advertising firm Marketing Architects. "It saves running separate computer servers to do a lot of different things, such as live video meetings, instant messaging and e-mail. But are people willing to trust Google Wave as a replacement for e-mail? That's going to take years. After all, it's taken some time for people to adopt Gmail, Google's free e-mail."

Gmail, introduced in 2004, has only recently been adopted by local universities that plan to outsource student e-mail to Google in order to save money. The University of Minnesota, Macalester College and Hamline University have done so, and Macalester also put its faculty and staff on Gmail.

Microsoft brings more Web data to Bing results; teams up with WolframAlpha

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Traditionally, search engines from Google Inc. and others respond to users' queries by offering links to other sites that Web surfers can go to for information.

Microsoft Corp., whose search engine ranks third behind those from Google and Yahoo Inc., introduced several changes Wednesday aimed at answering people's questions without sending them to an outside page.

Microsoft will show on the results page more information on travel options, events and attractions in destination cities, in-depth weather reports, product details and even hospital reviews, often culled from multiple sources, including some with which the company has forged deals.

The software maker also improved the preview window that pops up when a user rolls the mouse over a link. Instead of just a text description, a smaller, thumbnail image of the Web site appears.

Microsoft also announced a partnership with WolframAlpha, which bills itself as a "computational knowledge engine." Now, when people type in certain types of information, including math problems and searches for nutritional information, Bing will use WolframAlpha's data-crunching power to deliver answers at the top of the page, in addition to a list of regular search-results links.

The improvements will begin to appear on Bing in the next few days.

Bing's share of U.S. searches totaled 9.4 percent in September, a slight gain from the month before, according to comScore Inc. Yahoo captured about 19 percent of searches, and Google took about 65 percent. Stephan Weitz, a director in Microsoft's search division, said Bing is "on the right trajectory" and making "good progress."

But it's tough going, Weitz acknowledged, saying, "We really know we have to go win one query at a time."

Improving security with face recognition technology

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb, professor and chair in the UM Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering has developed state-of-the-art systems capable of photographing an image of someone's face and ear and comparing it against pre-stored images of the same person, with 95-100 percent accuracy.

Abdel-Mottaleb presented his findings at the 2009 IEEE International Conference on Image Processing in Cairo, Egypt on Saturday, November 7 - Tuesday, November 10. He describes his research as "satisfying, especially when you know that what you're doing has real-world applications that will benefit people and enhance personal security."

The systems the researchers have designed can use 3-D facial images, or combine 2-D images of the face with 3-D models of the ear, which they construct from a sequence of video frames, to identify people by unique facial features and ear shapes.

In the first method, the researchers use 3-D facial images with over 95 percent recognition rate, in the lab setting. Conventional shape matching methods commonly used in 3-D face recognition are time consuming. Abdel-Mottaleb uses a method that effectively increases computational efficiency while maintaining an acceptable recognition rate. He reduces the number of vertices (distinguishable landmarks of each face) considered when matching 3-D facial data, by automatically selecting the most discriminative facial regions. These automatically selected landmarks were found to be primarily within the regions of the nose, eye brows, mouth, and chin.

The second method called "Multi-Modal Ear and Face Modeling and Recognition" obtains a set of facial landmarks from frontal facial images and combines this data with a 3-D ear recognition component-- a much more difficult identification process given the technique's sensitivity to lighting conditions.

Fusing the scores of these two modalities, the researchers achieved an identification rate of 100 percent in the lab. "No single approach can give you 100 percent accuracy," Abdel-Mottaleb says. "One way to increase the accuracy is to use different biometrics and then combine them."

These high-tech identification tools help fight crime, and enforce border security. In the future, the researchers hope to expand their techniques to faces demonstrating facial expressions and to recognize faces using only profile images.

Stars Fueled by Dark Matter Could Hold Secrets to the Universe

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Over the past two years, researchers have further investigated the properties of dark stars, as well as how these unusual stars may help scientists better understand dark matter, black holes, and other astronomical features. In a new study, the group of scientists that originally theorized dark stars has presented a review of the research on dark stars and predicted future areas of research. Katherine Freese of the University of Michigan; Paolo Gondolo of the University of Utah; Peter Bodenheimer of the University of California, Santa Cruz; and Douglas Spolyar, currently with Fermilab, have published their results in a recent issue of the New Journal of Physics.

As the scientists explain, dark stars would represent a new phase of stellar evolution - the first phase, occurring just 200 million years after the big bang. At that time, dark matter densities in the early universe were higher than they are today, and the first stars are predicted to have formed in the middle of dark matter haloes (which are precursors to galaxies) as opposed to today’s stars that are scattered about the edges of a galaxy. According to the theory, these early stars grew larger by accreting mass from their surroundings, pulling in dark matter along with the surrounding gas.

Inside these stars, weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), a candidate for dark matter, could accumulate. Since WIMPs can be their own antiparticles, they could annihilate to produce a heat source. If the dark matter density was high enough, this heating would dominate over other heating (or cooling) mechanisms, such as nuclear fusion. Compared with fusion, WIMP annihilation is a very efficient power source, so that only a small amount of dark matter is required to power the star.

Palm's webOS hasn't gotten the attention it deserves

Monday, November 23, 2009

That's unfortunate, because I still consider Palm's webOS software, which debuted in June on its Pre, to be the most elegant and easiest-to-use smart-phone operating system available.

Like Apple's iPhone operating system, webOS allows users to interact with it via a number of touch-screen gestures such as pinching and swiping, but webOS takes the concept further, using gestures in places where the iPhone would rely on hard-to-click virtual buttons.

Like Google's Android operating system, webOS will run multiple applications at once, but it makes closing or switching between those programs much simpler.

Fortunately, Palm has some news of its own that could help boost the prospects of both webOS and of the company. I'm just hoping people pay attention -- and that it's not already too late.

Next month, the company will essentially relaunch its application store, potentially boosting the number of programs users will find there.

To date, Palm has listed in its App Catalog only programs submitted by a select few companies, such as The New York Times, Pandora and ESPN. But beginning next month, the store will be open to the unwashed masses of software developers. According to the company, its development kit for webOS has seen tens of thousands of downloads, which could indicate a coming boom in the number of apps available for Palm devices.

That's something Palm needs. Smart-phones are handheld computers. As is true with PCs, having access to a robust collection of programs is quickly becoming an essential feature for the devices.

The more programs available for smart-phones, the more the gadgets can do. And the more programs available for a particular phone or phone operating system, the more likely that platform will attract new users. And, completing the loop, the more users a platform has, the more likely it will be that programmers will write new applications for it, giving it added abilities.

A Battery-Free Implantable Neural Sensor

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanks to the shrinking size of electronics, researchers have been exploring increasingly sophisticated implantable devices, paving the way for new prosthetics and brain-machine interfaces. But a big challenge has been how to deliver power to electronic components embedded within the body.
Now electrical engineers at the University of Washington have developed an implantable neural sensing chip that needs less power. Other wireless medical devices, such as cochlea or retinal implants, rely on inductive coupling, which means the power source needs to be centimeters away. The new sensor platform, called NeuralWISP, draws power from a radio source up to a meter away.

The device contains a microprocessor powered by a commercial radio-frequency reader that doubles as a data-collection device. The same equipment is used to power and read information from radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. In experiments, the researchers used the new device to sense central nervous system activity in a moth in order to study its locomotion.

There have been some advances in reducing the size of neural implants recently, but the majority of implantable devices are still relatively cumbersome. These devices typically require multiple components--such as a clock for timing operations and an antenna for communication and power-harvesting--that are quite large compared to the transistors on the microcontroller, says Brian Otis, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington and lead researcher on NeuralWISP.

Sleek Hardware Makes Up For Uncomfy OS

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Business users whose lives revolve around their mobile phones won't be disappointed with Samsung's Intrepid smartphone. The handset, which uses Sprint's (NYSE: S) 3G network (EV-DO Rev.A) domestically and also connects to 3G networks abroad, is packed with features aimed at the pinstripe crowd.

Samsung Intrepid smartphone
Samsung Intrepid smartphone

Intrepid (US$149.99, excluding taxes, with two-year service agreements, $50 instant savings and $100 mail-in rebate) runs under the latest version of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) cellphone operating system, Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional.

One improvement in this edition of Windows Mobile is a customizable Today screen. It displays frequently used features, the arrival of new text and email messages, missed calls and calendar appointments. You can also dial calls from the keyboard when that screen is displayed. Typing numbers from the keyboard ordinarily requires the use of the "Fn" key. That would make keyboard dialing very awkward. In Today mode, though, numbers can be dialed without using Fn.

Built for Road Warriors

Intrepid is designed for power-hungry business users. It has Microsoft Office Mobile for editing Word and Excel files and viewing PowerPoint presentations. Email is handled through Windows Mobile email. Other features include stereo Bluetooth and WiFi, microSD card support and easy access to social networking sites like Facebook, Flickr and Twitter, as well as instant messaging and threaded text messaging.

The unit is a one-piece mobile phone along the lines of the Palm (Nasdaq: PALM) Pixi or Treo Pro.

On the unit's front is a Qwerty keyboard and 2.5-inch display. Between the keyboard and display are controls for starting and ending calls, accessing the Windows Mobile operating system, navigating around the screen and giving the OK to perform a function. In addition, there are two "soft" keys which change function from task to task.
Comfortable Keyboard

The phone's 320-by-240 pixel display is sharp and bright, but text in smaller fonts is difficult to read. Items displayed in the screen can be manipulated via touch or a telescoping stylus that is conveniently stored in the side of the phone. The addition of the stylus is a necessary one since some of the icons on the screen are so small, poking them with a finger can very difficult. Generally, the display is responsive to tapping by digit or stylus -- although less so compared to something like an iPhone or iPod touch -- but from time to time multiple jabs are necessary.

The Qwerty keyboard is comfortable to use for thumb typists. Because the keys are rounded slightly, they can be securely pressed without accidentally hitting an adjacent key. Some of the keys do double duty on the keyboard. These secondary functions appear as red characters above the Qwerty ones and can be accessed via an Fn key. The typography for the secondary characters is very small and largely difficult to see.
Designed for Convenient Use

On the left side of the Intrepid is the volume control and charger. On the right side of the unit are the power and camera buttons and the compartment for the stylus. At the back of the unit is the lens for its 3.2-megapixel camera, a speaker and a reflective button. The button can be used to frame self-portraits or arms-length shots. On top of the phone is a jack for a headphones.

As sophisticated as the Intrepid is, it's designed for convenient use. Need to make a call? Press the green talk button. A telephone keypad pops up on the screen. You can start poking in numbers or use screen icons to access your address book or a log of recent calls. If you start punching in numbers, as you do so, the phone automatically checks the address book and call logs for the digits and dynamically displays corresponding matches on the screen. This technique greatly speeds up the process of making a call.

When you've found the number you're looking for, you can poke an onscreen send button to make your connection. Once connected, more buttons appear that allow you to turn your speaker on or off, access your call log, make a note about the call or mute the phone. The speaker button is especially opportune because it eliminates the need to hunt for the speaker control when you're making a call.

Nokia Recalls Potentially Hazardous Chargers

Friday, November 20, 2009

After a flaw was uncovered in some of its handset chargers that could expose consumers to a shock hazard, Finnish mobile giant Nokia (NYSE: NOK) on Monday announced a recall program through which it is offering a free exchange.

The problem affects a limited number of chargers of certain model types manufactured by Chinese third-party supplier BYD Electronic, Nokia said. Specifically, the affected models are the AC-3E and AC-3U models, manufactured between June 15 and Aug. 9 of this year, and the AC-4U model, manufactured between April 13 and Oct. 25, 2009.

Affected chargers may have been sold with a Nokia device or purchased separately as an accessory.

Nokia is not aware of any incidents or injuries related to the affected chargers, but is offering the free exchange as a precautionary measure, it said. It has set up a Web site to facilitate exchanges on a country-by-country level.
Problematic Plastic Cover

The problem was discovered during a routine quality control process, Nokia said.

Specifically, in the affected chargers, it was determined that a plastic cover could come loose and separate, exposing the charger's internal components. That, in turn, could pose an electrical shock hazard if the consumer were to touch certain internal components while the charger is plugged into a live socket.

The number of chargers affected may be as high as 14 million, according to media reports. Nokia did not respond by press time to TechNewsWorld's request for comment.

The company's stock was up 2.73 percent to US$13.58 in midday trading on Monday.
'A Good Reputation'

"In the consumer marketplace there are millions of devices, old and new," wireless and telecom analyst Jeff Kagan told TechNewsWorld. "Occasionally, there will be a problem with one."

Nokia has a good reputation, Kagan added. "I am glad they found the problem and are correcting it before customers get hurt and it becomes a problem," he said.

In fact, the charger recall is not Nokia's first encounter with such a problem. Back in 2007, the company recalled 46 million batteries because of their potential to overheat.

Microsoft Pushes UC With Latest Exchange Release

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) on Monday announced the worldwide release of Exchange Server 2010.

Exchange Server 2010 is at the heart of Microsoft's unified communications push. The idea behind unified communications is to let users contact other people based on their availability and communicate with them in the best possible way. This could be e-mail Increase Customer Sales with Email Marketing -- Free Trial from VerticalResponse, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), instant messaging, or audio, video or Web conferencing.

All communications are accessible with a single sign-on and in a single in-box. Users can connect with other people from within Microsoft Office applications.

Exchange Server 2010, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 are among a new generation of Microsoft solutions designed for increased productivity and reduced costs coupled with innovation. Redmond calls the combination "the New Efficiency." Other applications included in this are SharePoint Server 2010, Visio 2010 and Microsoft Project 2010.

Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 has an integrated email archive which makes it easier to store and query email across an organization. Other features include MailTips, which warns users before they make a mistake with email such as sending an email to a large group, for example; and an email "mute button" which lets people remove themselves from an irrelevant email string.

Exchange Server 2010 went into public beta in April. It is scheduled for release to manufacturing in the first half of 2010.

IT departments get common tools to manage security, compliance and archiving policies for corporate messaging and telephony systems in Exchange Server 2010. Built-in security technologies include real-time antivirus, antispam and security for email and instant messaging. Exchange Server 2010 also has built-in compliance and encryption features, and offers failover and redundancy enterprise-wide.

New Worm Gives Jailbroken iPhones the Ol' Rickroll

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Although it apparently causes no actual harm besides a trivial annoyance, a worm that hits jailbroken iPhones has security researches worried.

The so-called Ikee worm was discovered by security researchers recently. It installs a picture of pop singer Rick Astley and displays the message "Ikee is never going to give you up" on victims' iPhones. The concept is based a widespread Internet prank known as "Rickrolling."

However, the worm prevents further reinfection by shutting down the vulnerability it exploited.
How the Worm Works

The Ikee worm exploits the SSH, or secure shell, protocol on jailbroken iPhones. SSH is a network protocol that lets two networked devices exchange data using a secure channel. It is primarily used on Linux- and Unix-based systems to access shell accounts.

"The problem is, iPhone users don't think of their devices as being Unix computers," Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser at security company Sophos, told MacNewsWorld. "But that's just what it is."

The worm searches for vulnerable iPhones by scanning a handful of IP ranges, most of which are in Australia, Mikko Hypponen, a researcher at security software vendor F-Secure, said on the company's Web site. It attacks jailbroken iPhones whose users have not changed their default root login password.

The worm will not affect iPhones that have not been jailbroken. "Apple has a locked system with whitelisting so this type of vulnerability will only affect jailbroken iPhones," Sean Sullivan, a security adviser at security vendor F-Secure, told MacNewsWorld.

The attack is a variation on a prank known as "Rickrolling." Originally, users in an online discussion were provided a link claiming to take them to a video relevant to the topic but which actually took them to the music video for the 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up" instead.
Opening Up Pandora's Box

Sophos identified the author of Ikee as 21-year-old Australian student Ashley Towns, according to senior researcher Graham Cluley's blog. Towns goes by the online handle of "ikex."

His phone had infected 100 others, and he had no idea how fast the worm is spreading, Towns reportedly told interviewers. There are four variants of the Ikee worm, and Towns has posted the full source code of all four existing on the Web. This could lead to a lot of trouble.

"The worm could be used for just about anything," warned Sophos's Wisniewski. "It could send spam, make phone calls, send SMS, or listen to your conversations, for example."

The iPhone's increasing penetration of corporate America may also be cause for concern, Sophos's Wisniewski warned. That's because most enterprises don't centrally manage their iPhones, as these often are purchased by users and then used in corporate business, he explained. "People treat their iPhones very much as a personal device, even if they're using them for corporate purposes," Wisniewski said. "One third of the people I know have jailbroken iPhones."

Has Firefox Peaked?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It was exactly five years ago Monday that Mozilla released version 1.0 of its open source Firefox Web browser, and fans around the globe marked the occasion with a multitude of special events held as part of the "Light the World with Firefox" campaign.

Celebration ideas were plentiful at the Spread Firefox Web site, while photos of the results were available on Flickr. A Mozilla-sponsored contest, meanwhile, invites Firefox fans to design a celebratory poster image.

"We've vastly improved the browsing experience for hundreds of millions of people around the world," wrote Christopher Blizzard on the Mozilla Hacks blog. "We've managed to keep Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) honest and forced them to release newer versions of their browsers."

Firefox's presence was "a large factor in Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) being able to ship a browser to its user base as the Mac came back to the market," Blizzard added. In addition, "we've made it possible for third party browser vendors like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) to enter the market. We've proven that people care about improving their experiences on the web."
330 Million Users

With more than 330 million users around the world, Firefox currently holds the No. 2 spot in browser market share, accounting for just over 24 percent, according to researcher Net Applications.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer, currently the market leader, holds 64.64 percent, while Safari, Chrome and Opera hold the next three spots with 4.42, 3.58 and 2.17 percent, respectively, according to Net Applications' October data.

Indeed, Firefox's market share is a testament to the magnitude of its achievements over the past five years.
'Out of the Ashes of Netscape'

"Mozilla rose out of the ashes of Netscape, and I think there was a kind of emotional appeal," Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence, told LinuxInsider. "It was the underdog, like in David and Goliath."

Firefox was also innovative on a number of fronts, Sterling added, "but I think part of its appeal was that it was not Internet Explorer."

Arriving as it did at a time of increasing awareness of security concerns on the Internet, Firefox benefited not only from its own innovative features, but also from perceived weaknesses in Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
IE Security Concerns

"I think the growth of Firefox was a product both of its own design philosophy -- a slimmer, smaller browser with features like tabbed browsing that could be customized to each user with a plug-in architecture -- and Microsoft's lack of investments in Internet Explorer post-version 6," RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady told LinuxInsider.

"The relatively slow, gradual gain in market share and prominence in Firefox shows it was more of a case of advantages and benefits of the software among its users," maintained 451 Group analyst Jay Lyman.

"However, there is no question that security concerns about Internet Explorer drove significant use and growth of Firefox among consumers, home offices and even enterprises," he told LinuxInsider.

Mobilization and the Big Security Opportunity

Monday, November 16, 2009

It seems like it was just yesterday that talking on a mobile phone made you cool. You were obviously important, walking around with the confidence that you could be reached at all times. Well, times have certainly changed. Roughly half the planet's population (over 4.1 billion people) now pay for what was once limited to a select few, according to a recent United Nations survey.

However, the widespread adoption of mobile phones is just one way communications have changed in the last 10 years, fostered in large part by the dramatic growth of the Internet. We want the ability not only to talk anywhere and anytime to anyone, but also to transact (banking, retail Increase Customer Sales with Email Marketing -- Free Trial from VerticalResponse, gaming, business, etc) at our convenience -- most notably through the Internet.

For example, more than 50 million people in the U.S. had undertaken some sort of online banking by the end of 2008, according to comScore, with many replacing traditional ways of transacting (e.g., checks) with electronic alternatives (e.g., online billpay).
So What?
What does this mean, other than we get to talk when and where we want to, and we don't have to be in the office or go to a bank to actually get things done?

Well, it means a few things:

1) the mass adoption of both the internet and mobile devices has attracted criminals who are aggressively conducting their trade on line;

2) mobile devices can actually be used by organizations today to help increase security; and

3) the convergence of the Internet and mobile devices, combined with the sophistication of those devices, is driving new user behaviors that need to be addressed quickly.

Criminals Get It

Around the same time that it was über cool to have a mobile phone, hackers were a disorganized bunch intent on creating mayhem, with only a few focused on trying to make money. Again, times have changed.

No longer is the threat from the lone basement hacker. Instead, sophisticated criminal organizations are intent on defrauding users. There were 49,084 active phishing sites detected in June 2009 alone, according to the latest report. That's the second-highest number recorded since APWG began reporting on this measurement.

Snow Leopard Smashes Atom

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mac OS X 10.6.2 includes general operating system fixes, font fixes, graphics fixes, mail fixes, MobileMe fixes, and Safari browser fixes.

One of the general operating system fixes deals with the problem of Macs deleting data when a user logs into a guest account. That data-eating bug was first reported shortly after Apple released Snow Leopard in August, and sparked considerable user outrage. Some users who, for various reasons, logged in as guests found their home directories had been replaced and all files had been deleted.

Some of the fixes seem to indicate that Apple is working hard to position the Mac as an enterprise computer. One of these deals with the creation of mobile accounts for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Active Directory users; another spotlights search results not showing Microsoft Exchange contacts; and a third, which is a mail fix, deals with email messages received from Microsoft Exchange servers not being formatted correctly.

Microsoft Active Directory is used in many corporate networks. It lets system administrators authenticate users and provide corporate directory services, assign policies, deploy software, and apply critical updates.

Other mail fixes include ensuring deleted RSS feeds do not return and resolving a problem that caused Address Book and Mail to stop responding when opened. Graphic fixes include general reliability and performance improvements when using some applications and functionality within specific display modes.

Snow Leopard's fixes for Apple's Safari browser remedy graphics distortion in Safari Top Sites and improve plug-in reliability.

Intel-Dell Dealings Under Fire

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It was called the Mother of All Programs, or MOAP for short. That was the code name Intel (INTC) bestowed on a series of payments it made to Dell (DELL), one of its largest customers, over a five-year period through January 2007.

Now that $6 billion in payments has become the mother of all predicaments for Intel, the world's largest computer-chip maker. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, in a federal antitrust lawsuit, says Intel wielded those payments to coerce computer makers into using its chips instead of those made by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

Over several years, Intel used payments to a host of computer makers including Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and IBM (IBM) as part of a "systematic campaign of illegal conduct" intended to harm AMD, according to the lawsuit. Cuomo's suit follows legal action by antitrust regulators in Europe, Japan, and South Korea who also allege that Intel used the payments to gain an unfair advantage over AMD.

Newly filed court documents in the New York Attorney General's case draw on extensive communication among senior executives at Dell and Intel and shed fresh light on Dell's increasing reliance on Intel money to meet financial targets. Capping an investigation announced in January 2008, the lawsuit also provides added insight into the accounting methods used by Intel to justify payments that prosecutors say had no legitimate business purpose, and the swift retribution that followed Dell's decision to begin using computer chips from AMD.
Intel Labeled Payments as "Rebates"

At the crux of Cuomo's case, in an 87-page complaint filed with the U.S. District Court in Delaware, are payments Intel labeled as "rebates" to companies using its chips. Cuomo alleges the payments gave Intel leverage to induce PC makers to limit the use of AMD chips in personal computers and servers. Cuomo argues that these payments "bore no genuine relationship to pro-competitive volume-based discounts or reasonable efforts to meet specific competitive offers."

Intel denies the allegations and says the payments resulted in lower prices for customers. The company says most of the material cited in Cuomo's complaint duplicates arguments made by regulators in other parts of the world, as well as in a federal lawsuit filed by AMD. "We disagree with the New York Attorney General," says Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy. "Neither consumers who consistently pay lower prices for PCs and computer power and get increased innovation, nor justice are being served by bringing this case at this time. Clearly we will defend ourselves." On Nov. 4, Intel shares rose 9¢ to 18.59.

An Upbeat Launch for Windows 7

Friday, November 13, 2009

What a difference a debacle makes. Three years ago, Microsoft's introduction of the supposedly new, improved version of its flagship operating system was plagued by problems of every stripe. Vista, then the latest version of Windows, was years late. It was released to corporations in time for the yearend selling season but not available to consumers until January.

The software itself was riddled with glitches and incompatible with millions of printers and other electronics. What's more, Microsoft's (MSFT) $500 million ad campaign hyping the software fell flat with consumers and PC makers alike. "I didn't like the Vista launch," says Gianpiero Morbella, head of marketing for Acer.

But as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage in New York on Oct. 22 to unveil the new Windows 7, there was more glee than grumbling. This time around, Microsoft coordinated closely with PC makers, retailers, and consumers in the runup to the launch. "They've done a very good job this time," says Morbella. The result was a relatively glitch-free introduction that features a wider array of machines at varying prices than previous Windows launches. Says Alex Gruzen, senior vice-president for the consumer products group at Dell (DELL), "the Microsoft I've been working with for the past year and a half on Windows 7 is a very different Microsoft than I've ever worked with before. The level of openness and collaboration was really new."

Nokia Launches Critical N900 Phone

Thursday, November 12, 2009

When thousands of suppliers, developers, and analysts converged on Stuttgart in September to attend Nokia World, the Finnish company's annual in-house trade fair, the buzz was all about the new Booklet 3G netbook—Nokia's first foray into the hot category of pint-sized PCs. But away from the show floor, some Nokia execs had a surprising take: An even more crucial upcoming product, they said privately, was the company's new N900 handset and its computer-like operating system, called Maemo.

On Nov. 10, Nokia (NOK) finally began shipping the N900 after a two-month delay. Though no larger than an Apple (AAPL) iPhone or other Internet-friendly handsets from the likes of Research In Motion (RIMM) or HTC, the N900 may well be the closest that Nokia or any company has come to packing a real computer into a pocket-size package. But the high-end gizmo—aimed primarily at tech-savvy users—and its sophisticated software may not yet be the iPhone killer that Nokia shareholders have been hoping for. "Maemo is really only a small step in the right direction," says Neil Mawston, an analyst at market researcher Strategy Analytics.
N900: A Smartphone Laboratory

The N900, priced at $750 before operator subsidies, comes with enough memory to compete with laptops of a few years back: 32 gigabytes worth, enough to hold 40 hours of high-quality video, Nokia says. But aside from its top-of-the-line specs, what really sets it apart is the Maemo 5 software. A variant of the open-source Linux operating system, Maemo 5 lets users run several programs at once, browsing the Internet wirelessly and displaying graphics and video as fast as a PC. "A computer platform allows us to drive the convergence of mobile and Internet much more radically," says Michael Halbherr, a Nokia vice-president who works on mobile mapping applications from offices in Berlin.

Google competes for the future; Microsoft, the past

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Google was born on the Web and is increasingly giving Microsoft fits by forcing the decades-old software giant to compete on Google's terms. Like open source. Like cloud computing.

Microsoft may shore up its fortunes in the short term with a successful Windows 7 launch. But in the long term, its very success with outdated "desktop" products threaten to cede the market to Google.

We'll have all of it, please

It's not really fair to Microsoft. Microsoft is a victim of its own success, needing to cater to its existing clientele with each new release, in true "Innovator's Dilemma" fashion. Hence, Microsoft continues to make a lot of money, but its last two quarters have seen traditional strengths like Windows become a drag on earnings as enterprises spend more money with Google, Red Hat, and others.

Google's lack of legacy frees it to innovate rapidly and broadly, as Genentench CIO Todd Pierce, a Google Apps customer, suggests:

The rate of innovation at Google is - well I mean, the Oracle, SAP and Microsoft product cycle is five years; Google's product cycle is five days. It's incremental. In five days you're not going to be able to cancel your Microsoft Office license, but in five years, you won't have Microsoft Office.

Microsoft, for its part, is so concerned with "backward compatibility"--"Is this product/feature compatible with our ability to continue to monetize our 1980s-style desktop monopoly?"--that it continues to struggle to embrace the Web. CNET blogger Dave Rosenberg points out that Windows 7 should have been Microsoft's launchpad to cloud computing, but isn't.

There are a lot of "should have beens" for Microsoft when it comes to the Web.

Meanwhile, no one is slowing down for Microsoft. Let's stick with cloud computing for a minute. VMware dominates virtualization and has a strong claim on cloud computing, though open-source rivalry from Eucalyptus and VMops threatens to challenge both VMware and Microsoft as they seek to dominate cloud computing.

And then there's Google, which provides an increasingly wide array of cloud-based services to enterprises looking to untether themselves from the desktop. In an interview with CNET News, Google CEO Eric Schmidt argues that "The browser can be both enterprise- and consumer-capable. The architecture is driven from the browser. That is the story of enterprise IT today."

Intelligence Explained

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A series of black-and-white snapshots is splayed across the screen, each capturing a thin slice of my brain. The gray-scale pictures would look familiar to anyone who has seen a brain scan, but these images are different. Andrew Frew, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, uses a cursor to select a small square. Thin strands like spaghetti appear, representing the thousands of neural fibers passing through it. A few clicks of the cursor and Frew refines the tract of fibers pictured on the screen, highlighting first my optic nerve, then the fibers passing through a part of the brain that's crucial for language, then the bundles of motor and sensory nerves that head down to the brain stem.

Frew is giving me a tour of my white matter--the tissue connecting the neurons, or nerve cells, that make up gray matter. Something about the twisting, turning neural wires that ferry information between the neurons--their individual thickness, perhaps, or their abundance, or the specific paths they take from one part of the brain to another--may explain, at least in part, the variations in human intelligence.

Scientists have been searching more than two centuries for the source of intelligence--the general cognitive ability often quantified in the form of IQ. With the advent of technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers concentrating mainly on gray matter have been able to map the parts of the brain that appear to play a role. But this has taken them only so far, and the focus on gray matter has not told the whole story. Not until the last few years, as new variations of MRI home in on the brain's white matter, has a deeper understanding begun to emerge. "Scientists are now able to switch the focus from particular regions of the brain to the connections between those regions," says Sherif Karama, a psychiatrist and a neuroscientist at McGill University's Montreal Neurological Institute. Their initial findings have led Karama and others to believe that neural wiring and the way it carries information around the brain may be crucially important to IQ.

Apple punts on lower-cost MacBook

Monday, November 9, 2009

The announcement Tuesday of the $999 white polycarbonate MacBook was pretty ho-hum as product refreshes go (same price, same color as before) but the implication was important: Apple is surrendering a large, emerging laptop market to Microsoft and its coterie of PC makers.

Not that it's necessarily a bad strategy. Market researcher Gartner said recently that Apple's shipments in the U.S. grew year-over-year by 6.8 percent to total 1.57 million during the third quarter, putting it right behind Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Acer. Comparatively, overall PC shipments in the U.S. grew by 3.5 percent from a year earlier.

But among those unimpressive overall PC numbers (HP's third-quarter shipments grew only 2.7 percent), was an impressive statistic for Acer: buoyed by Netbooks, Acer's shipments grew by 61.4 percent year-over-year and it blew past Dell to become the No.2 PC maker worldwide based on this growth.

Granted, Netbooks are a relatively low-profit segment (i.e., profit on a $400 Netbook is going to be a lot less than that on a $999 laptop). Nevertheless, they're a hot market. Intel CEO Paul Otellini has stated numerous times that Intel was able to create a market that grew faster than either the iPhone or Nintendo Wii. Case in point: Windows 7-based Acer Netbooks are now big on the Home Shopping Network--which claims to have sold more than 5,000 in one segment on Saturday.

And that's not the only market Apple is punting on. A new category of inexpensive, thin laptops has emerged with the rollout of Windows 7 on Thursday. Like Netbooks, these laptops are light (typically 4 pounds) and don't include an optical drive. But they are relatively powerful and full featured. The 15.6-inch Acer Aspire Timeline, for example, with a 320GB hard disk drive and dual-core Intel processor is fairly well-endowed at only $500.

Apple is not receiving a lot kudos in the mainstream business press by sticking to its $999 guns. The Wall Street Journal said that users can get roughly equivalent laptops for a lot less at Dell and HP. And other publications have said that Apple is not just ignoring new market realities but, in fact, ignoring the Mac lineup as a whole in favor of the iPhone.

So, do consumers lose by not getting the chance to buy a competitive low-cost Apple MacBook? The short answer to that rhetorical questions is yes--because Apple offers no alternative to, for example, a thin, light $650 HP Pavilion dm3 laptop.

Mozilla tries to build the ultimate in-box: Raindrop

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mozilla's Thunderbird team has been working on software called Raindrop that aims to unify communications channels such as e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter into a single interface with enough built-in smarts to separate the important messages from the routine.

"E-mail used to house the bulk of the conversations that took place on the internet, but that's no longer the case today. In today's world people use a combination of Twitter, IM, Skype, Facebook, Google Docs, e-mail, etc., to communicate. For many of us this means that we have to keep an eye on an ever-growing number of places we might get new messages," the Raindrop developers said in a blog post about the technology. "We hope to lead and spur the development of extensible applications that help users easily and enjoyably manage their conversations, notifications, and messages across a variety of online services."

A key part of the effort will be to spotlight messages that are important.

"Raindrop intelligently separates the personal messages from the bulk," said developer Bryan Clark. Among other things, it will automatically recognize messages from e-mail lists and from sources such as Facebook or Amazon that send numerous updates, filing them accordingly.

Given Mozilla's two main projects, Firefox and Thunderbird, there's one particular interesting aspect to Raindrop: It's a Web application, not downloadable software. "Our flagship applications will be built entirely for any modern web browser that supports Open Web technologies," the developers said. However, the group expects to support front-end software, including applications for mobile devices, that can use the Web-based service.

The vision has been knocking around Mozilla for some time. David Ascher said in a 2007 interview as he was taking over as chief executive of the Mozilla Messaging subsidiary, "People end up subscribing to more and more channels of communications. It makes it hard to keep track of what's going on if they have to check six different inboxes, search across a variety of systems." He said the group wanted to address the issue.

Spying on a stolen laptop

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Imagine your laptop gets stolen. Wouldn't it be great to remotely spy on the machine and get it back?

Clair Fleener, chief executive of IT outsourcer InertLogic, got that chance after a laptop belonging to a customer was stolen.

Fleener was instrumental in the investigation that led to the recovery of the laptop, monitoring the activities of the laptop user for two weeks using remote software and sharing the information with law enforcement in Omaha, Neb.

The story starts back in mid-May, right around Mother's Day, Fleener recounted this week. Someone broke into the car of an employee working for an InertLogic customer and stole the laptop, which had work and personal information on it.

Months went by before anyone realized that technology InertLogic uses to help manage equipment remotely was sitting on the laptop and could be flipped on to monitor it. The technology, from Kaseya, captures screenshots from remote machines and can be used to install keyloggers, as well as record audio and images from a Webcam.

Fleener relied only on the screenshots that were taken captured every 5 or 10 seconds to see what the user of the laptop was up to. Within a short time, he learned the name, address, and other sensitive information about the man using the laptop. (Fleener is careful not to accuse the individual of being the thief because there is no proof of that.)

The man visited Facebook, MySpace, and other social networks, according to Fleener. He used Google to search for auto parts and did queries on how to remove security tags from merchandise. He looked at porn and made pirate copies of DVDs, including "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Every time the laptop went online, typically on weekend nights and never on Tuesday, Fleener and others got paged.

Benjamin Lavalley, a senior engineer at Kaseya, figured out that by looking at the nearby Wi-Fi access points and doing an online map search, they could try to find out the exact location of the laptop.

The list of Wi-Fi access points indicated that an AT&T store, a Burger King, and a Cubbies restaurant were all nearby. Lavalley searched Google Maps for a location with those merchants in close proximity and narrowed the location down to a spot about 20 miles away from where the laptop was stolen. A drive-by confirmed it--the laptop appeared to be in an automotive shop and gas station where the man using it happened to work.

On Wednesday night, about two weeks after the sleuthing began, sheriff's agents went to the auto shop and caught the man using the laptop.

"He had a cover story and it was pretty well thought out," Fleener said, explaining why no arrest was made. The man claimed he had bought the laptop from a customer of his for $500 and didn't know it was stolen. Despite losing the money, he handed the machine over with no objections, Fleener said.

"It's like every movie or TV program where there's a mystery involved," Fleener said of the investigation. "You find yourself getting involved in the story. It was very exciting."

Nokia pushes back N900 Net tablet

Friday, November 6, 2009

The N900 was previously set to arrive in October--and Nokia's preorder site still states that. However, it is now set for release "during November," Peter Schneider, head of Maemo marketing at Nokia, said Thursday in a post. Schneider did not state the reason for the delay, but Reuters reported that the company is waiting for more feedback from developers.

N900, which costs $649, is part cell phone and part computer. It's considered a potential game-changer for Nokia, which is pushing it as "fusing the power of the computer, the Internet and the mobile phone."

The device uses Nokia's Linux-based Maemo 5 operating system to offer multitasking, Web browsing via Mozilla, a touch screen, and slide-out keyboard. It includes an ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 1GB of application memory, and 32GB of storage (expandable to 48GB with a MicroSD card). It measures 4.4 inches by 2.4 inches and features a 3.5-inch widescreen display.The device also sports a 5-megapixel camera.

Why I choose 3G over Wi-Fi

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Say what you will about the wireless phone companies, but in a crunch their managed 3G cellular networks get the job done when Wi-Fi connections fail.

I was in Chicago at a telecom trade show this week and had to cover a Federal Communications Commission's meeting via Webcast. Ironically, the meeting was focused on the FCC's proposal to draft new regulations to keep the Internet "open" and "free."

The video for the Webcast, which I was watching over an unprotected Wi-Fi connection, started out fine. But after only a few minutes, the picture began to break up, the buffering wheel on the media player churned wildly, and the audio stopped and started so often that I only could make sense of two or three words at a time. Sometimes the audio would start up where it had left off, but then quickly jump ahead to the live stream, cutting out entire sentences and paragraphs.

When I couldn't take it any longer, I shut down my computer, rebooted, and plugged in my Sprint 3G air card.

Almost immediately after launching the video, Chairman Julius Genachowski's face popped up on the screen clearly. But the best part was that I could hear everything he was saying. I didn't experience one hiccup, not one pause. There was no little circle turning round and round as the video buffered. It was working perfectly.

The problems I experienced were likely due to congestion on the unsecured Wi-Fi network. Even though I didn't see a lot of people connecting to the network, there was still likely a lot of traffic. Meanwhile, Sprint's 3G wireless network is more tightly managed, because the licensed spectrum is a limited resource that must be used efficiently. So even if there had been congestion, I might not have even noticed.

Sprint, which owns spectrum licenses, has more control of the traffic that is on its network than the trade show folks who put up the Wi-Fi network, which uses unlicensed spectrum. In theory, the Wi-Fi network should be at least three times faster than the cellular network. But when there is a lot of traffic on the Wi-Fi network, Web pages load slower and video gets warped and choppy.

New from NASA, an iPhone application

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A NASA App for the iPhone and iPod touch is available free of charge at the App Store from Apple. The NASA application will deliver a wealth of information, videos, images and news updates about NASA missions to people's fingertips.

"Making NASA more accessible to the public is a high priority for the agency," said Gale Allen, director of Strategic Integration and Management for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. "Tools like this allow us to provide users easy access to NASA information and progress at a fast pace."

The NASA App collects, customizes and delivers an extensive selection of dynamically updated information, images and videos from various online NASA sources. Users can access NASA countdown clocks, the NASA Image of the Day, Astronomy Image of the Day, online videos, NASA's many Twitter feeds and other information in a convenient mobile package. It delivers NASA content in a clear and intuitive way by making full use of the iPhone and iPod touch features, including the Multi-Touch user interface. The New Media Team at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., developed the application.

The NASA App also allows users to track the current positions of the International Space Station and other spacecraft currently orbiting Earth in three views: a map with borders and labels, visible satellite imagery, or satellite overlaid with country borders and labels.

"We're excited to deliver a wide range of up-to-the-minute NASA content to iPhone and iPod touch users," said Gary Martin, director of the New Ventures and Communications Directorate at Ames. "The NASA App provides an easy and interesting way for the public to experience space exploration."

Largest solar panel plant in US rises in Fla

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

For nearly a year, construction workers and engineers in this sleepy Florida town of citrus trees and cattle farms have been building the nation's largest solar panel energy plant. Testing will soon be complete, and the facility will begin directly converting sunlight into energy, giving Florida a momentary spot in the solar energy limelight.

The Desoto Next Generation Center will power a small fraction of Florida Power & Light's 4-million plus customer base; nevertheless, at 25 megawatts, it will generate nearly twice as much energy as the second-largest photovoltaic facility in the U.S.

The White House said President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the facility Tuesday, when it officially goes online and begins producing power for the electric grid.

As demand grows and more states create mandates requiring a certain percentage of their energy come from renewable sources, the size of the plants is increasing. The southwest Florida facility will soon be eclipsed by larger projects announced in Nevada and California.

"We took a chance at it and it worked out," said Bove, construction manager at the project, set on about 180 acres of land 80 miles southeast of Tampa. "There's a lot of backyard projects, there's a lot of rooftop projects, post offices and stores. Really this is one of the first times where we've taken a technology and upsized it."

Despite its nickname, the Sunshine State hasn't been at the forefront of . Less than 4 percent of Florida's energy has come from renewable sources in recent years. And unlike California and many other states, Florida lawmakers haven't agreed to setting clean energy quotas for electric companies to reach in the years ahead.

California, New Jersey and Colorado have led the country in installing photovoltaic systems; now Florida is set to jump closer to the top with the nation's largest plant yet.

The Desoto facility and two other solar projects Florida Power & Light is spearheading will generate 110 megawatts of power, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3.5 million tons. Combined, that's the equivalent of taking 25,000 cars off the road each year, according to figures cited by the company.

An Upbeat Launch for Windows 7

Monday, November 2, 2009

What a difference a debacle makes. Three years ago, Microsoft's introduction of the supposedly new, improved version of its flagship operating system was plagued by problems of every stripe. Vista, then the latest version of Windows, was years late. It was released to corporations in time for the yearend selling season but not available to consumers until January.

The software itself was riddled with glitches and incompatible with millions of printers and other electronics. What's more, Microsoft's (MSFT) $500 million ad campaign hyping the software fell flat with consumers and PC makers alike. "I didn't like the Vista launch," says Gianpiero Morbella, head of marketing for Acer.

But as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage in New York on Oct. 22 to unveil the new Windows 7, there was more glee than grumbling. This time around, Microsoft coordinated closely with PC makers, retailers, and consumers in the runup to the launch. "They've done a very good job this time," says Morbella. The result was a relatively glitch-free introduction that features a wider array of machines at varying prices than previous Windows launches. Says Alex Gruzen, senior vice-president for the consumer products group at Dell (DELL), "the Microsoft I've been working with for the past year and a half on Windows 7 is a very different Microsoft than I've ever worked with before. The level of openness and collaboration was really new."

Amazon's Early Holiday Cheer

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Booming sales of e-book readers and material to read on them brought early holiday cheer to online retailer (AMZN) in the third quarter. And judging from the company's better-than-expected forecast for the current quarter, robust sales will continue through yearend at Seattle-based Amazon.

On Oct. 22, Amazon said third-quarter net income surged 68%, to $199 million, while revenue jumped 28%, to $5.45 billion, compared with Wall Street's estimate of $5 billion. "This looks like holiday-season performance and they're doing it in the third quarter," says Jeff Lindsay, analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein. For the quarter that ends in December, Amazon forecast sales of $8.1 billion to $9.1 billion, compared with $8.19 billion expected by analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News.

The performance and forecast reflect growing demand for the Kindle electronic book reader, which now sells more units and contributes more revenue than any other product on the site, Amazon said. The company doesn't release individual sales numbers for the device, but Citigroup (C) analyst Mark Mahaney estimates that it will sell 1.5 million, worth $700 million. An international edition of the reader went on sale the same day Amazon announced its third-quarter results.