Thursday, March 31, 2016

Amazon USB-C Policy

There’s good news in the fight against rogue USB-C cables, some of which have caused major problems with smartphones and laptops, after Amazon tightened the regulations around the type of cables that it sells.

The online retail giant has added non-compliant USB-C cables to its list of items prohibited for sale on its website, which already includes pirated DVDs and non-compliant electrical products.

Any USB-C™ (or USB Type-C™) cable or adapter product that is not compliant with standard specifications issued by “USB Implementers Forum Inc.”

In other words, at last, non-compliant USB-C cables, which can damage or shut down a device entirely, will be banned from sale on Amazon. This is a policy update though, and Amazon will need to police its seller community and shut down any who continue to offer dodgy cables.

This small but important update was spotted by Benson Leung, the Google engineer who has raised awareness of the dangers of faulty cabling after a USB-C destroyed his Pixel. Leung was tasked with testing USB-C cable compatibility with the Pixel and, among many things, he identified a flaw within the OnePlus type C charging cable and has generally championed increased vetting and standards.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Get Windows 10

Microsoft's Get Windows 10 campaign is persistent, aggressive, and occasionally annoying. Annoying enough, in fact, to have spurred a cottage industry in third-party upgrade-blocking tools.

But despite those complaints, the program appears to be working.

Eight months after its launch, Microsoft says its new operating system is being "actively used on more than 270 million devices." Windows boss Terry Myerson made the announcement today at the opening of Microsoft's annual Build conference in San Francisco.

In his remarks introducing Myerson, CEO Satya Nadella said Windows 10 is "off to the fastest start in Windows history" and is being adopted at a dramatically faster pace compared to Windows 7 in the same timeframe, among both consumers and enterprise customers. Microsoft didn't offer any comparisons with Windows 8's adoption rates.

Today's milestone represents a major leap since the beginning of the year, when Microsoft announced that Windows 10 was in use on 200 million devices.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

MSFT Win 10 Update

When you think of cool tech, Microsoft Windows probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind.

You're not alone. Even after Microsoft got into the business of selling sleek, powerful gadgets like its Surface tablet-laptop hybrids, the company has struggled to convince people it's on the cutting edge of tech.
Case in point: Windows 10. The highly regarded operating system -- launched last year and designed with mobile devices like Surface in mind -- runs on slightly more than 12 percent of the world's PCs. That doesn't sound too bad until you consider that more than half of the PCs running Windows out there use a version released by Microsoft more than six years ago.
So while Windows may be the world's most popular software, people aren't rushing to use the latest versions on PCs, let alone on the phones and tablets that are the biggest growth engines in the tech industry today.
That's why the company that Bill Gates co-founded 40 years ago needs to work on changing its image this week at its annual Build developers conference in San Francisco. The world's biggest software maker is expected to talk up refinements to Windows and unveil new tools that encourage developers to make their iPhone and Android apps work on Windows, too.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Foxxconn to Acquire Sharp

Sharp Corp and Taiwan's Foxconn are set to sign a takeover deal next week after repeated delays, with the two sides set to agree on a smaller bailout than originally planned for the troubled Japanese electronics maker, two sources familiar with the talks said on Saturday.

The two companies will hold board meetings on Wednesday to approve the deal and officially sign a deal the following day, said the two sources with direct knowledge of the talks.

Both of the sources declined to be identified as they are not authorized to speak to the media.

A Sharp spokesman declined to comment, while Foxconn officials were not immediately
available for comment.

Foxconn, formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co is set to cut its earlier 489 billion yen ($4.3 billion) offer for newly issued Sharp shares by about 100 billion yen, the sources said.

The companies had come close to signing a deal last month but Foxconn hit the pause button following revelations of previously undisclosed liabilities at the Japanese company.

The deal would be the largest acquisition by a foreign company in Japan's insular technology sector. In choosing to negotiate with Foxconn, Sharp turned down a rival offer by a state-backed fund.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Google to Kill App Launcher

Google’s attempted invasion of the Windows desktop is now officially over. The Chrome-maker recently announced that the Chrome app launcher will be removed from Windows, Mac, and Linux in July, though it’ll stick around in Chrome OS. Google says it’s dumping the app launcher in the name of streamlining the browser after discovering that most Chrome users “prefer to launch their apps from within Chrome.”

The app launcher was one of three Chrome browser features that appeared to be specifically designed to turn Chrome into a “platform within a platform” on Windows. In addition to the app launcher—which sat in the taskbar and allowed users to fire up Chrome apps just like a normal desktop program, miming Windows Start menu functionality—Google killed Chrome’s notification center in October. That feature was replaced with native web push notifications, a standardized feature that sites can use across all browsers.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

New Vizio TVs

Vizio revealed Tuesday the next installment of its step-up P-Series 4K Ultra HD displays with support for two high dynamic range (HDR) formats, full-array LED backlighting and a new SmartCast-enabled streaming platform.

The TVs will also offer either 126 or 128 zones of local dimming.

Vizio said the new Vizio SmartCast streaming ecosystem in the displays swaps out a traditional smart TV platform and tuners to let users stream content from SmartCast and Google Cast connected tablets, phones and PCs. The SmartCast system will also work across supporting sound bars and standalone speakers coming this summer, Vizio said.

The system works much as a TV connected to a Google ChromeCast device would, but without the need of another out-boarded device.  A supporting Android Lollipop tablet with SmartCast app installed is included as the displays’ remote.

The series, which is available on starting today and will ship to other retailers next week, includes: the 50-, 55-, 65- and 75-inch screen sizes, with suggested retail prices ranging from $999.99 to $3,799.99.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Sad Day

Intel's former CEO and Chairman Andrew S. Grove (born born András István Gróf; in Budapest, Hungary) has passed away today, March 21st. He was 79 years old. The company owes much of its success to Grove, who was the company founders' first hire. Back in the day, Intel used to manufacture memory chips (DRAMs), but it was forced to change directions when Japanese imports made them available at much lower prices. Grove was one of the company executives who steered Intel towards microprocessors and who convinced IBM to use their products exclusively.

The company made the 386 and Pentium processors, which Intel says "helped usher in the PC era," under his auspices. It was also under his leadership when the corporation's yearly revenues swelled from $1.9 billion to over $26 billion. That's why he was once described as ''a guy who drove the growth phase of Silicon Valley." Intel's current Chairman Andy Bryant said his predecessor was an effective leader because he "combined the analytic approach of a scientist with an ability to engage others in honest and deep conversation."

That said, it wasn't always smooth sailing for Intel when Grove was at the helm. He once brushed off concerns regarding a flaw in the Pentium processor, and it cost Intel half a billion to fix the issue. The man was also criticized for being too intense and demanding as a leader. Still, his tremendous contributions to the industry and his role in the rise of personal computing are undeniable and will continue to inspire generations of entrepreneurs and tech bigwigs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

iOS 9.3

Apple has released a new software update for iPhones and iPads.

Users should update as soon as possible as it fixes a major flaw that could allow some encrypted content used in iMessage to be unscrambled.

The company said Monday that iOS 9.3 comes with a fix that would fix a flaw which allows images and videos stored in iCloud to be decrypted.

The research team which found the flaw, led by cryptography expert Matthew Green, were able to brute force techniques using custom-built software to unscramble cloud-stored content.

Monday, March 21, 2016

IMPORTANT Kindle Update

This is pretty much your final warning: If you have a Kindle, you need to update it before March 22 or it's going to lose Internet connectivity.

That, just to be clear, would be very bad, because without the update you'll no longer be able to access the Kindle Store or sync your device with the cloud, not to mention any other Kindle services you might be using. According to Amazon, the update is required to ensure the Kindle remains compliant with continuously evolving industry web standards.

You'll know if your Kindle didn't get updated in time because you'll see the following message on your device:

Your Kindle is unable to connect at this time. Please make sure you are within wireless range and try again. If the problem persists, please restart your Kindle from the Menu in Settings and try again.

If you've been using your Kindle regularly then it's most likely going to be fine. Kindles will update automatically via Wi-Fi, but if the device has been turned off or out of battery for a while, charge it up and make sure you Sync and Check for Items.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Linux Laptop

In a world of PCs dominated by Windows and Macs, Dell's line of "Project Sputnik" laptops with Ubuntu Linux have secured a cult following.

The latest Project Sputnik laptop is the XPS 13 Developer Edition, which shipped last week. With its sleek design, the XPS 13 brings a new, sexy look to otherwise dull Linux laptop designs.

The XPS 13 DE is also significant because it brings new technologies from the Mac OS and Windows to Linux laptops. The XPS 13 DE models have 4K screens, Intel Skylake chips and the Thunderbolt 3 interconnect, which are new to Linux laptops.

The Linux laptop is a cousin of the XPS 13 with Windows 10, which was announced earlier this year. The Linux version has Ubuntu 14.04, but it couldn't be launched at the same time because the Linux drivers weren't ready. Support for Skylake chips in Ubuntu was announced on Feb. 18, which also held back the laptop's release.

Friday, March 18, 2016

New Waze Feature

Turn-by-turn navigation application Waze announced this morning a handy new feature that will make it easier for those who are planning to drive to an upcoming appointment, meeting or other important trip: Waze Planned Drives. The option allows you to tell the app when you need to reach your destination, and it will then alert you as to when you should leave, while taking into consideration things like expected traffic conditions, aggregated traffic history, and more.

The idea here, explains the company, is to make it easier for users to manage their time and schedule more flexible to-do’s, whether those are errands, road trips, or other outings.

The feature can also optionally integrate with your calendar and Facebook Events, which is even more useful. In these cases, once Waze is given access, it can automatically create Planned Drives on your behalf then send you a push notification alert when it’s time to go.

Meanwhile, even those Planned Drives you enter in manually are also designed to be a “set it and forget it” thing, says Waze. The app will automatically make smart adjustments to departure times based on real-time traffic conditions – there’s nothing you need to keep track of, after the drive is entered.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Amazon Fire Sales

Amazon increased its global fourth-quarter tablet share to place third in tablet shipments, thanks in large part to the September launch of its $50 7-inch Fire tablet, ABI Research said.

The research company estimates Amazon sold 5 million tablets in the quarter, up from a year-ago 1.5 million, and a total of 7.6 million in the calendar year.

Amazon made it to sixth place in calendar-2015 tablet share, thanks to a business model in which it sells hardware at little or no profit in order to sell digital content for its hardware, ABI said. The Fire’s price is significantly lower than other vendors’ average retail of $323, the research firm noted.

“Unlike other tablet manufacturers, Amazon views hardware as a commodity and emphasizes focus on its recurring digital content revenue stream, generated from selling digital books, music, TV, and video programming to owners of its devices," said ABI research director Jeff Orr. “The incredibly low pricing of the Fire Tablet is a smart and strategic move as few others can afford to accept a lower margin on their tablet devices in favor of driving a surplus of content-related revenues."

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Playstation VR

Sony Computer Entertainment is hoping to ride the coattails of its top-selling game console, the PlayStation 4, to gain traction in a new market: virtual reality.

On Tuesday, the company said its PlayStation VR, its virtual reality headset that connects with a PlayStation 4, would cost $399 when released in October. The PlayStation VR includes a 5.7-inch screen and multiple sensors for 360-degree head tracking, or the ability to follow where the viewer looks.

In order to use the virtual-reality accessory, consumers will also have to buy the PlayStation Camera, which costs $44. When combined with the price of a PlayStation 4, which is $349, the total cost of owning a PlayStation VR system would be roughly $800. Some consumers may also buy the Move, Sony’s motion-based controller, which costs $40, to use with the new device.

“We leveraged our expertise across engineering and industrial design to create a VR system with the most compelling experiences,” said Andrew House, the chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment, on stage at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

More On Malware

Spammed Word documents with malicious macros have become a popular method of infecting computers over the past few months. Attackers are now taking it one step further by using such documents to deliver fileless malware that gets loaded directly in the computer's memory.

Security researchers from Palo Alto Networks analyzed a recent attack campaign that pushed spam emails with malicious Word documents to business email addresses from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

The emails contained the recipients' names as well as specific information about the companies they worked for, which is not typical of widespread spam campaigns. This attention to detail lent more credibility to spam messages and made it more likely that victims would open the attached documents, the researchers said.

The documents contained macros that, if allowed to run, execute a hidden instance of powershell.exe with special command-line arguments. Windows PowerShell is a task automation and configuration management framework that's included in Windows by default and comes with its own scripting language.

Monday, March 14, 2016

No More Bitcoin at the MSFT Store

Microsoft has quietly stopped supporting bitcoin payments just over one year after it added support for the crypto currency within the Windows Store.

You can no longer redeem Bitcoin into your Microsoft account. Existing balances in your account will still be available for purchases from Microsoft Store, but can’t be refunded.

Microsoft was lauded for adopting bitcoin back at the end of 2014. The company, which partnered with payment firm Bitpay, said at the time that the move was a sign of “giving people options and helping them do more on their devices and in the cloud.”

It isn’t clear what has happened since then, presumably few Microsoft customers used the payment option which made its retention unnecessary.

Microsoft’s move comes amid challenging times for the bitcoin community, which is divided on whether the digital currency needs to make major changes to its infrastructure in order to increase its capacity in response to growth.

Friday, March 11, 2016

News From Apple

Apple Inc sent an invite to reporters on Thursday for an event at its Cupertino, California headquarters on March 21, possibly signaling the unveiling of a new, smaller iPhone.

The world's best-known technology company often reveals new products at such events. It is expected to update its flagship iPhone and iPad products soon.

Some Wall Street analysts expect the company to use the event to unveil a four-inch (10-cm) screen phone, reintroducing the smaller size after enlarging screens with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in 2014.

Apple shares have risen in the past two weeks as Wall Street bet the company will launch a less expensive iPhone this month to boost sales in developing countries like China.

With U.S. consumers upgrading their smartphones less often, manufacturers have been relying on China for growth.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Facebook Streaming Video

Thursday Night Football could soon share screen time with your Aunt Vera's pictures of Cabo.
Facebook, the world's largest social network, is reportedly in talks with the National Football League for streaming rights for the Thursday games.

A matchup of the titans of tech and TV would mark a watershed moment for the media and Silicon Valley, whose leading companies are flush with cash and hungry for premium content to attract more eyeballs and ad dollars.

The NFL, in turn, could use those deep pockets to help push up the bidding for its Thursday games, which were introduced 10 years ago.

"The more customers, the higher price the NFL can command," said Brett Sappington, director of research at Parks Associates. "For Facebook, the NFL would drive huge volumes of consumption to get advertising and data. Facebook has to remain relevant. With other social media platforms emerging, Facebook has to push the envelope."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

2-in-1 Sales

Worldwide tablet sales, combining slates and detachables, will fall in 2016 but will begin growing in 2017 and beyond by single-digit percentage rates as demand grows for models with detachable keyboards, IDC forecast.

Worldwide tablet shipments, combining slates and detachables, will drop 5.9 percent to 195 million units in 2016, IDC said.

Detachables feature detachable keyboards built by the tablet’s maker and either sold with keyboard included or as an option, IDC tablet research director Jean Philippe Bouchard said. They include products such as the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 3 whose keyboards are a separate purchase, he noted.

Detachable share: Shipments of detachables will grow from 16.6 million in 2015 to 63.8 million in 2020, accounting for 8 percent of the 2015 tablet market and 30 percent, respectively, IDC said. In 2016, detachable unit sales will rise 73 percent, and they will rise 15 percent in 2020 over 2019, IDC forecast.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Apple Malware

Apple has shut down what appears to have been the first, fully-functional ransomware targeting Mac computers. This particular form of cyber threat involves malware that encrypts the data on your personal computer so you can no longer access it. Afterwards, the hackers request that you pay them in a hard-to-trace digital currency – in this case, bitcoin – in order for you to retrieve your files. This ransomware, called KeRanger,” was first reported by researchers at Palo Alto Networks. They also noted that Apple has now revoked the abused certificate that was used in the attack and updated its built-in anti-malware system XProtect with a new signature to protect customers.

Technically, KeRanger was not the first ransomware aimed at Mac users. The security firm said that another malware application known as FileCoder had been previously discovered. However, FileCoder was incomplete at the time it was found, which is why the firm believes that KeRanger is the first functional ransomware to appear on the OS X platform.

The fact that OS X has now been targeted speaks to the popularity of Apple’s operating system – ransomware is a fairly common form of cyber threat these days as victims are often likely to cave into attackers’ demands. This has even been the case in some high-profile attacks, as with the ransomware that shut down servers in an L.A. hospital last month. The hospital eventually paid a ransom equivalent to $17,000 in bitcoins to get its systems back up-and-running.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Amazon Encryption Inc. will restore encryption as a security option on its tablets and other devices that use the Fire operating system, following a customer backlash driven by increased sensitivity about data protection as Apple Inc. grapples with the FBI over access to a terrorist’s iPhone.

Amazon removed encryption from the devices in late 2015, possibly to reduce costs for its tablets and electronic readers. The devices aren’t intended for communication of sensitive data, although they can be used to access the Internet and e-mail. Some customers complained about the change after they updated their Fire software on older devices and saw encryption was no longer offered.

Amazon reversed course late Friday night, saying in an e-mail that it would restore encryption as an option on Fire devices with a software update “this spring,“ without being more specific.

The dispute between the FBI and Apple over access to a San Bernardino killer’s locked smartphone has sparked a debate about balancing personal privacy and public safety. Most major technology companies, including Amazon, have sided with Apple.

Friday, March 4, 2016

MSFT Loves Android

If you visit the Google Play Store on your Android phone right now, you'll find no fewer than 85 apps from Microsoft. The list contains some serious heavyweights, including the entire Office suite, with Word, Excel, Outlook, and company boasting more than 10 million downloads apiece.
Even more impressive is how frequently those apps have been updated in the past year. Last year around this time, I surveyed the Microsoft app landscape on Android and found some serious gaps. The only option for working with Office files was the weak Office Mobile app, for example, and Outlook was still known by its old name, Acompli.
I've been using Microsoft apps and services on Android for the past nine months, and in that brief time the evolution has been impressive. Not surprisingly, I've become significantly more productive in that time.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

More Apple News

Public opinion may be divided on whether Apple should modify its mobile software to help the FBI gain access to a terrorist's iPhone, but several leading tech companies and privacy groups are definitely siding with Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the first in what's expected to be a series of amicus briefs in federal court supporting Apple's decision to challenge a February 16 court order that demands the company write a new version of its iOS software to bypass the phone's security. Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Facebook, and privacy groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have said they're also going to submit amicus briefs on Apple's behalf by the March 3 deadline.

Apple has set up a dedicated page on its website to collect all the amicus briefs.
"While the government can in some circumstances require private parties to support law-enforcement enforcement may not commandeer innocent third parties into becoming its undercover agents, its spies, or its hackers," the ACLU wrote in its brief on Wednesday (see below). "If the government prevails, then this case will be the first of many requiring companies to degrade the security and to undermine the trust in their products so essential to privacy in the digital age."

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Apple vs. the FBI

FBI Director James Comey told a congressional panel on Tuesday that a final court ruling forcing Apple to give the FBI data from an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters would be “potentially precedential” in other cases where the agency might request similar cooperation from technology companies.

The remarks were a slight change to Comey's statement last week that ordering Apple to unlock the phone was "unlikely to be a trailblazer" for setting a precedent for other cases.

Tuesday's testimony from Comey and remarks before the same U.S. House Judiciary Committee by Apple's general counsel, Bruce Sewell, brought to Congress a public fight between Apple and the government over the dueling interests of privacy and security that has so far only been heard in the courts.

On Feb. 16, a federal court in California instructed Apple to write special software to unlock the iPhone 5c used by gunman Rizwan Farook, an order the company is contesting.

Sewell and Comey's remarks also clarified some areas where the two sides fundamentally disagree. Comey said the tool created for Farook's iPhone would not work on other models. But Sewell said the tool that Apple was being asked to create would work on any iPhone.

"This is not about the San Bernardino case. This is about the safety and security of every iPhone that is in use today," Sewell said.

Committee members seized on Comey's statement that the case could set a legal precedent allowing the agency access to any encrypted device.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Say Bye-Bye MSFT

Microsoft's browsers took a beating of historical proportions last month, losing user share at a rate that could put it in second place, behind Google, as early as May, new data signaled today.

The several editions of Internet Explorer (IE) and two versions of Edge lost a combined 2.1 percentage points of user share in February, the largest one-month decline for Microsoft in the 11 years of recorded statistics that Computerworld has compiled from metrics vendor Net Applications.

IE and Edge -- Net Applications dumps the latter's user share into the bucket labeled "IE" -- accounted for 44.8% of all browsers used to reach the Web last month. A year earlier, that number was 57.4%.

Microsoft's browsers dipped under the major milestone of 50% only in December, but if the user share drain stays on the pace set in the last three months, it will slip under the 40% bar sometime in May.

When changes in IE's user share over the last 12 months were used to model its fall, the under-40% mark occurred in July.

In either forecast, IE's plunge was mirrored by the rise of Google's Chrome, which is poised to replace Microsoft's browsers as the world's most-used in the same months that IE is projected to drop below the 40% mark.