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Archive for October, 2008

Intel, Asus partner on ‘dream PC’ design site

Posted by comtech3 on October 30, 2008

If you could design your own computer, what features would your dream machine have?

That’s what Intel and Asus are hoping to learn from WePC.com, a Web site launched jointly by the two companies Wednesday that solicits ideas from consumers with the goal of producing what they call “the world’s first community-designed PCs.”

The site divides its focus into three “conversation groups,” in which consumers work together to design Netbooks, notebooks, and gaming notebooks.

“Visitors to the site can share ideas, vote on submitted concepts and engage in discussions with other community members about the qualities of the ‘dream’ PC,” Intel said in a statement.

“Intel believes the spark for innovation can come from anywhere,” Mike Hoefflinger, general manager of Intel’s Partner Marketing Group, said in a statement.

Many of the contributors’ suggestions are fairly mainstream desires for most PC users: more powerful batteries, less shiny screens, and lighter overall weight. Some have specific desires for processors, while others have asked for high-definition screens and 3G connectivity.

However, there have been some creative suggestions that some visitors might not have considered. One suggestion asked for a durable notebook that was waterproof with a “nighttime look to glow in the dark.”

One reader suggested doing away with the notebook’s buttons and screen for a virtual reality experience. “I know that the technology for plugging your nervous system directly into your brain is very far off, but we’ve got some fairly cheap technology that could be applied to a computer that would be fairly awesome.” Another reader suggested telepathic communication that would rely on the sensing of brainwaves.

But some ideas may just leave you shaking your head.

“I like the idea of a laptop that has hair on it. You can than cut said laptop’s hair to your liking. The hair of course grows so you can have multiple haircuts a year,” wrote one visitor.

Some of these ideas may make it into a PC some day–if they make the cut.

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Motorola to call on Google in cell overhaul

Posted by comtech3 on October 29, 2008

October 28, 2008 10:40 PM PDT
Posted by Steven Musi

Motorola is expected to place a heavy bet that Android–Google’s mobile operating system–phone can turn around its struggling cell phone division.

Sanjay Jha, co-CEO and head of mobile devices for Motorola

(Credit: Qualcomm)

Sanjay Jha, the company’s co-chief executive and head of its cell phone division, is expected to focus on Google’s operating system in an overhaul of the cell phone division that includes addition job cuts and the elimination of four platforms, according to a report Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal. Jha is expected to detail his plans as early as Thursday when the company announces its earnings.

Motorola is expected to trim the number of operating systems it uses to three: Motorola’s midtier devices will be based on Android, while retaining Microsoft’s Windows Mobile as well as its own platform, P2K.

Business Week reported earlier this week that Motorola was prepping a social-networking smartphone based on Android that would debut in the second quarter of next year. Motorola’s Android phone, according to the report, is expected to feature a touch screen similar to Apple’s popular iPhone, as well as a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that allows users to connect to such social-networking sites as MySpace and Facebook. It is unclear how similar it will be to T-Mobile USA’s newly released G1 phone, manufactured by HTC, which also uses Android.

Motorola tapped Jha in August to be co-chief executive and head of the mobile-device business after announcing earlier that it will separate the mobile-device business from the rest of the company. Jha, 45, spent the past 14 years at cell phone chipmaker Qualcomm, where he most recently ran the company’s CDMA division.

In August, the company surprised Wall Street with a small profit for the second quarter. But the company’s handset division continued to drag on earnings. Most of the gains in the second quarter came from cost cutting and from its Internet and cable businesses. Still, the company managed to hang on to its market share position, a surprising result, as many analysts had expected No. 1 Nokia and No. 2 Samsung to pick up share.

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Next version of Office heads to the browser

Posted by comtech3 on October 29, 2008

October 28, 2008 9:00 AM PDT

Posted by Ina Fried

LOS ANGELES–After years of questioning the value of Net-based productivity applications, Microsoft confirmed Tuesday that it will offer new versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that can run from within a standard Web browser.

As first reported by CNET News last week, Microsoft will use its Professional Developer Conference here to show off browser-based versions of its Office programs.

Click for gallery

In an interview, Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop said that the browser-based editing capabilities are being developed in conjunction with the next version of Office, known as Office 14. Microsoft won’t say when that version will arrive, but Elop said that a technology preview of the browser-based products will come later this year and that a beta version will be released in 2009.

Microsoft will offer browser-based Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in two ways. For consumers, they will be offered via Microsoft’s Office Live Web site, while businesses will be able to offer browser-based Office capabilities through Microsoft’s SharePoint Server product.

The company has been pushed into this arena by Google, which has been offering its free Google Apps programs for some time. In competing with Google, Microsoft is touting the ability to use Microsoft’s familiar user interface, as well as the fact that all of the document’s characteristics are preserved.

“If you go into some competitive products right now and take a Word document in and then spit it out afterword, it’s unrecognizable,” Elop said. “You lose a lot of fidelity.

Elop said that not all of the editing capabilities of the desktop products are in the browser versions. “The editing we are characterizing as lightweight editing,” he said.

Although Google Apps has seen most of its popularity among consumers, it has started to attract attention from corporate customers. Google Apps got a strong look from Procter & Gamble, which only decided to stick with Office after a strong push from Microsoft. Part of that pitch, Elop said, included Microsoft offering details on its plans for the Web-based versions of the Office programs.

“This was part of the conversation, absolutely,” Elop said. “We have been sharing with customers under varying circumstances to a greater or lesser extent.”

Although he didn’t name names, Elop said Microsoft has found itself in a competitive situation with Google in other business accounts as well.

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Windows 7: A better Vista?

Posted by comtech3 on October 29, 2008

October 28, 2008 9:00 AM PDT

Posted by Ina Fried

LOS ANGELES–Microsoft on Tuesday offered up far more details on Windows 7, successor to the company’s oft-maligned Windows Vista.

In particular, Microsoft is focused on improving the time it takes for Windows to start up and shut down. In addition to its own work, Microsoft has been working directly with computer makers to address all of the factors that affect system performance.

Click for gallery

As far as other features, Windows 7 features support for multitouch input and a new taskbar that makes it easier to manage multiple open Windows.

“The focus is on making sure the things you do (today) are easier and that the things you always wanted to do are possible,” Corporate Vice President Mike Nash said in an interview Monday. “There’s a lot of work we’ve done to just make things easier and faster.

The early, prebeta version being handed out to developers at the Professional Developer Conference here has all of the programming interfaces that will be in the final version but only some of the planned features.

Several enthusiasts who have been checking out the new code for the past couple of days praised the stability of the release, particularly for an operating system, at this early stage.

With Windows 7, Microsoft has changed the way it approaches building early releases. In the past, Microsoft included features at various stages of development. With Windows 7, features are included in the main Windows build, only after they are fully baked.

Microsoft is clearly looking to leave a far different first impression than it did with Windows Vista, which made major changes under the hood and led to considerable incompatibilities. With Windows 7, Microsoft is not introducing any major changes to the Windows kernel and is keeping much of the other plumbing substantially similar to that of Vista.

The software maker has also tried to reduce some of Vista’s other annoyances, such as the frequently criticized User Account Control feature, which some complained led to too many annoying dialog boxes. With Windows 7, users will be able to choose for themselves how often the system warns them of changes being made to their computer.

The next external release of Windows 7, a feature-complete public beta, is slated for early next year.

Nash wouldn’t say whether the company plans more than one beta version before its final release. “We’ll see how the first one goes,” he said.

The company has said it will have the release out within three years of Vista’s January 2007 mainstream release, however, CEO Steve Ballmer has said he wants Windows 7 out next year.

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Software unlock for iPhone 3G coming soon?

Posted by comtech3 on October 28, 2008

October 27, 2008 10:32 AM PDT
Posted by Tom Krazit

An unlocked iPhone 3G is a little closer to becoming reality, according to the iPhone Dev Team.

An easy way of unlocking your iPhone 3G could hit the Internet relatively soon.

(Credit: CNET)

Gizmodo picked up on a video produced by the iPhone Dev Team demonstrating that it has gained access to the baseband processor used by Apple in the iPhone 3G. The baseband chip is what controls the connection between the phone and the mobile phone network, meaning that a software download that could let you use your iPhone 3G on a carrier network other than the ones officially designated by Apple could be released soon.

I’m sure you remember the fuss about the original iPhone and those who sought to unlock it from the four carriers that were Apple’s launch partners for the first iPhone. The iPhone 3G has proven a tougher nut to crack, because Apple apparently changed the baseband to make it more difficult to exploit than the baseband used on the original iPhone. You can unlock your iPhone 3G to use it on another carrier by modifying the SIM card, but what the iPhone Dev Team is trying to accomplish is a software-based unlock that you would just download and install.

There hasn’t been as much demand for unlocked iPhone 3Gs, given the much greater distribution of that phone around the world. However, there are still some countries like China that don’t carry the iPhone, and there are still some users who want to use their iPhones on a different carrier than the one designated for the iPhone in their country.

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Why the iPhone is now Apple’s most important product

Posted by comtech3 on October 22, 2008

October 21, 2008 6:52 PM PDT

Posted by Tom Krazit

When Apple Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in January 2007, even he might not have realized how soon it would become a huge part of Apple’s business.

(Credit: Declan McCullagh/CNET News)

The rampant success of the iPhone has forced Apple and its financial watchers to re-evaluate the value of the company.

Saying that Apple’s iPhone business “had become too big to ignore,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs made a rare appearance on the company’s earnings conference call earlier on Tuesday to explain just how much money the iPhone is dumping into Apple’s coffers. For the first time, the company used supplemental financial details to give some color on the contribution that the iPhone could be making to Apple’s bottom line if iPhone sales were handled like Mac sales, and the numbers are astonishing.

The iPhone now accounts for 39 percent of Apple’s business, having generated $4.6 billion in revenue on sales of 6.9 million units during the quarter. (Apple TV revenue is lumped in with that number, but let’s be real: iPhone sales account for the vast, vast majority of that figure.) Those numbers, however, are not included as part of Apple’s official quarterly results because of the way the company chooses to account for the sale of each iPhone; Apple reported just $806 million in iPhone and Apple TV revenue for its fourth quarter in accordance with GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).

So what gives? In order to explain, please permit me to wade through some boring-but-necessary Accounting 101 review.

Apple uses a subscription-based accounting method to recognize the revenue from the sale of an iPhone or an Apple TV unit. Remember the outrage in January 2007 over Apple’s decision to charge certain MacBook customers $1.99 to unlock the faster Wi-Fi chip hidden inside their notebooks? The company didn’t decide to charge people because it was short on cash; Apple had to in order to satisfy accounting rules that require a company to establish a value for future upgrades if a decision was made to recognize all the revenue from the sale of a product at the time it was purchased.

To avoid the same situation with its brand-new iPhone customers, Apple announced shortly after the launch of the product that all iPhone revenue would be recorded over a 24-month period, allowing the company to ship software upgrades to the iPhone for free. Note that for whatever reason, it doesn’t apply that treatment to its Mac or iPod product lines, meaning that Apple has to charge iPod Touch owners a fee for the exact same upgrades that iPhone owners receive.

The problem with this accounting treatment is that it pushes most of the revenue associated with the sale of an iPhone out into the future, making it difficult for investors to determine just how much revenue and profit is being generated by the sale of a particular unit until long after that unit has been sold. In addition, Apple has to recognize engineering and marketing costs associated with the sale of those iPhones in the quarter in which they occurred, not over the 24-month period.

Starting Tuesday, however, Apple decided to open the kimono on its iPhone business in a new way.

Apple revealed the numbers it uses internally to measure the performance of the iPhone business for the first time on Tuesday. Imagine Apple treated the iPhone like it did the Mac: it would have recorded an additional $3.8 billion in revenue and an additional $1.3 billion in net income during the company’s fourth fiscal quarter.

Total iPhone revenue of $4.6 billion would have represented 39 percent of Apple’s overall adjusted revenue of $11.7 billion, and would have ranked it third among all mobile phone vendors as measured by revenue after just 15 months on the market, according to the company. “If this isn’t stunning, I don’t know what is,” Jobs said.

A few words of caution are necessary regarding the use of supplemental results to evaluate a company. Apple posted a lengthy disclosure on the numbers in its press release, warning among other things, “these non-GAAP financial measures may be unique to the Company, as they may be different from non-GAAP financial measure used by other companies. As such, this presentation of non-GAAP financial measures may not enhance the comparability of the Company’s results to the results of other companies.” (Jobs, of course, did just that in ranking Apple third among all mobile phone vendors as measured by revenue, so there you go).

But we’re still talking about real money. Regardless of how Apple decides to account for iPhone revenue, it’s still real revenue, and it provides cash for the company to invest in iPhone engineers (such as the former P.A. Semi team, for example), market the iPhone, and work on software enhancements to the product.

It allows us to make imperfect estimates on just how much Apple is receiving in subsidies on each iPhone 3G. $4.6 billion in revenue divided by 6.9 million units equals $666.67 per iPhone. That’s a little high, since some portion of that revenue has to be attached to Apple TV sales, but even making the unlikely assumption that Apple sold $500 million worth of a product it calls a “hobby” during the fourth quarter puts the average cost of an iPhone 3G at $594.20.

And it also underscores that Apple has completed its transformation from a computer company into a consumer electronics company, the only computer company of its generation to successfully pull off that transition. They all tried, but no traditional PC company has managed to shift the bulk of its business from low-margin PCs to high-margin consumer electronics: the iPhone now represents 39 percent of Apple’s revenue using the supplemental metrics, while the Mac accounts for 30 percent.

The iPhone isn’t just the third leg of Apple’s business that Jobs promised it would become back in January 2007, when he introduced the iPhone and changed the name of the company from Apple Computer to Apple Inc. It’s now the single largest contributor to Apple’s bottom line.

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Microsoft: We’re all ‘mixed source’ companies

Posted by comtech3 on October 20, 2008

October 17, 2008 4:00 AM PDT

Posted by Ina Fried

In case you were wondering, Microsoft thinks the battle of open source vs. proprietary software is basically over.

“Today, but increasingly in the future, we are all going to be ‘mixed source’,” Microsoft’s top intellectual property lawyer said in a lunchtime interview on Thursday. To bolster his claim, Horacio Gutierrez notes Microsoft is releasing plenty of stuff as open source, while open-source companies like Red Hat often license commercial software alongside their open-source products. “I actually think the war between proprietary and open source is a thing of the past,” he said.

Gutierrez: If every effort to license proves not to be fruitful, ultimately we have a responsibility to customers that have licenses and to our shareholders to ensure our intellectual property is respected.

(Credit: Microsoft)

That doesn’t mean Microsoft is ready to sing Kumbaya with Red Hat, or other companies that haven’t made an IP deal with Redmond. While Microsoft is patient, Gutierrez indicated that Microsoft’s patience is not unlimited.

“If every effort to license proves not to be fruitful, ultimately we have a responsibility to customers that have licenses and to our shareholders to ensure our intellectual property is respected,” he said.

Microsoft has, on a number of occasions, asserted that Linux violates a ton of Microsoft patents, but Microsoft has never sued a company over those claims.

Gutierrez said he would like to keep that record intact, noting that the Novell deal, in particular, is an example of how working with a rival can ultimately benefit both companies.

It’s generally thought that if you want to kill a good technical discussion, just bring in the lawyers.

But Gutierrez notes that it’s often the complete opposite. In fact, he credits Microsoft’s stepped-up licensing efforts that began five years ago for having helped the company find a way to talk to rivals that it had shunned in the past.

“It is truly a business mechanism to start discussions that weren’t possible before,” he said.

He notes that before software patents were in widespread use, companies were reluctant to share any technical details, jealously guarding all their know-how as trade secrets–another form of intellectual property protection that largely requires information to be kept confidential.

Patents remain a double-edged sword for Microsoft, however. Gutierrez said the company is defending about 50 patent cases at the moment–half of all the company’s litigation docket.

“I actually think the war between proprietary and open source is a thing of the past.”

–Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft intellectual property lawyer

While some are high-profile cases such as the disputes with Alcatel-Lucent, most are with companies that don’t actually make goods related to the patents they hold.

In an effort to help head off patent disputes, Microsoft is an investor in Nathan Myrhvold’s patent-buying Intellectual Ventures effort and has also made deals with several other such patent companies. “We’ve done deals with a number of others,” Gutierrez said.

On the positive side, though, are deals like the Novell one, Gutierrez said. In the end, Novell has grown its business, Microsoft got added revenue and customers end up with products that work better together. Gutierrez wouldn’t name names, but he said to expect more deals along the lines of the ones Microsoft struck with Novell and Sun Microsystems.

“We have tasted the opportunity to put IP to work in a very constructive way that leads to better products and more satisfied customers,” he said.

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Fake Microsoft e-mail contains Trojan virus

Posted by comtech3 on October 15, 2008

October 14, 2008 8:10 PM PDT

Posted by Steven Musil

Along with the vulnerabilities posed by the flaws for which Microsoft released patches on Tuesday, users of the software giant’s products have a new obstacle to grapple with: a fake notification mailing that looks remarkably legitimate.

Attackers are apparently taking advantage of Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday to send legitimate-looking mailings to Microsoft customers that include a Trojan virus called Trojan.Backdoor.Haxdoor that could allow attackers to execute files and steal information from compromised computers. The fake mailing includes a legitimate-looking PGP signature, as well as purporting to come from a real Microsoft employee.

Christopher Budd, a security program manager in the Microsoft Security Response Center, offers this perspective on the mailings in a security posting:

We received some questions from customers about an e-mail that’s circulating that claims to be a security e-mail from Microsoft. The e-mail comes with an attached executable, which it claims is the latest security update, and encourages the recipient to run the attached executable so they can be safe. While malicious e-mails posing as Microsoft security notifications with attached malware aren’t new (we’ve seen this problem for several years) this particular one is a bit different in that it claims to be signed by our own Steve Lipner and has what appears to be a PGP signature block attached to it. While those are clever attempts to increase the credibility of the mail, I can tell you categorically that this is not a legitimate e-mail: it is a piece of malicious spam and the attachment is malware. Specifically, it contains Backdoor:Win32/Haxdoor.”

Dancho Danchev at ZDNet’s Zero Day ponders whether the timing of this malware campaign will beef up its success rate.

“Compared to the recent targeted malware attack against U.S schools, and the massive fake CNN news items campaign taking advantage of client-side vulnerabilities, this one is definitely going to have a lower success rate – no matter the timing,” Danchev writes.

Microsoft’s October 2008 security bulletin included four critical bulletins concerning Windows, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Host Integration Server, and Microsoft Excel.

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More MacBook rumors and pics surface

Posted by comtech3 on October 13, 2008

October 12, 2008 1:22 PM PDT

Posted by Dan Farber

Corrected at 2:45 p.m.: This report misidentified one of the MacBook Pro’s rumored features; it is a mini-DVI connector. The report also misidentified the Web site attributed to the original report. It was AppleInsider.

Despite the tanking economy, Apple’s new MacBooks due to be unveiled Tuesday are creating some buzz (see Techmeme) and propping up Apple’s stock price. The latest alleged pictures in the wild are of the new aluminum case (above) of the forthcoming systems posted on MacX.cn.

According to AppleInsider.com, the new higher end MacBook Pro will include a mini-DVI connector and a single FireWire 800 connector.

Overall the changes don’t look major other than the shift to aluminum and the rumored substitution of Intel’s chip set of Nvidia’s graphics chip set, as reported by AppleInsider.

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Yahoo investor: Sell to Microsoft for $22 a share

Posted by comtech3 on October 10, 2008

October 9, 2008 10:22 PM PDT

Posted by Michelle Meyers

As Yahoo stock reaches new lows, it appears a private equity fund that owns a small percentage of Yahoo’s stock has proposed a new deal for selling the company to Microsoft.

Mithras Capital Partners, which reportedly owns more than 1.9 million shares, or .14 percent of Yahoo, suggested a new deal Thursday to sell the company to Microsoft for $22 a share, a 74 percent premium on Yahoo’s current stock price, Reuters reported. A Mithras Capital partner plans to send a letter proposing the deal to Microsoft and Yahoo Thursday night, Reuters said.

Under the deal, the software giant “would unload Yahoo’s Asian assets and non-search businesses, extract $3 billion worth of cost savings, and receive $2.8 billion of tax benefits,” Reuters said. In other words, the software giant would pay $10.3 billion for Yahoo’s search business.

In May, Microsoft walked away from its buyout offer of $47.5 billion to snap up all of Yahoo, only later to return with a partial buyout offer of $9 billion to acquire just the company’s search assets.

The Internet company on Thursday dipped for the first time into the $12-a-share range, ending the day at $12.65. That followed Wednesday’s crossing into the $13-a-share range. Analysts have noted that these crossings into new dollar ranges are psychological landmarks for investors.

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