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Windows 10 Breaks 100M Device Mark

October 5, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Windows 10′s user share growth slowed considerably in September, but by the month’s end approximately 110 million customers were running the new OS, data released today signaled.

According to U.S. analytics company Net Applications, Windows 10′s user share — a measure of the fraction of unique users who ran the OS when they went online — grew 1.4 percentage points in September to 6.6%.

Microsoft launched Windows 10 on July 29, making September the second full month that the upgrade for Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 devices was available to download and install.

September’s user share increase was substantially smaller than August’s record setting 4.8 percentage points.

Windows 10 accounted for 7.3% of all Windows devices in September, a slightly higher number than its raw user share number because Windows powered “just” 90.5%, not 100%, of all systems tallied by Net Applications. During September, Windows 10′s share of all Windows devices climbed by 1.6 percentage points.

Net Applications’ data represented 110 million Windows 10 PCs, assuming a total of 1.5 billion Windows devices globally, the figure Microsoft typically trumpets.

Microsoft has not publicized a Windows 10 download or installed data point since late August, when it said that 75 million devices worldwide were running the OS.

Net Applications’ Windows 10 user share portrait backed up the findings of another analytics developer, Ireland’s StatCounter, which has also portrayed the OS’s growth as slowing after its first month of availability.

By StatCounter’s measurements, Windows 10 gained 5.9 percentage points ofusage share — more of an activity indicator, as it counts web page views by OS — in the first four weeks after its launch. During the most recent four weeks, or from Aug. 31 to Sept. 27, Windows 10 grew by a much smaller 1.4 points.

Net Applications’ numbers also validate the slowdown in a different way. During the final three weeks of August, an average of 1.8 million devices were added to Windows 10′s rolls daily. But in September, the average daily increase dropped to less than half of that, to about 794,000 devices.

Even so, Windows 10 continued to best Windows 7′s performance during a similar stretch. In 2009, the then-new OS had accumulated a 6.2% share of all Windows personal computers through its second full month, or more than a point under Windows 10 at the same post-launch moment.

With about 110 million devices now running Windows 10, Microsoft is at the 7% mark toward reaching its goal of putting the OS on 1.5 billion systems by mid-2018.




GE Jumping Into Science Fiction

October 5, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

General Electric Co has decided to produce its own science fiction podcast series in an effort to raise its profile among a younger, tech-savvy audience.

GE, in partnership with The Slate Group’s podcast network Panoply, is running “The Message,” a fictional eight-episode podcast that will follow the decoding of a 70 year-old message from outer space. The cryptologists decoding the message turn to a real ultrasound technology developed by GE to decode the messages.

“It’s science fiction meets real science,” said Andy Goldberg, GE’s global creative director.

The idea for the series stemmed from the company’s historic “GE Theater” television series, which was hosted by Ronald Reagan, then an actor, in the 1950s.

GE is producing its own podcast series, rather than running ads on other podcasts because it specifically does not want the shows to come off as advertising, but rather as a way to raise brand awareness, Goldberg said. The 40-60 minute spots, which begin Oct. 4, will be advertisement-free and will be available for download for free. Goldberg declined to comment on how much GE is spending on the podcasts.

GE is among a number of firms whose interest in podcasts has increased since last year’s airing of “Serial,” the hit podcast chronicling a murder investigation.

“It flipped a switch for us that podcasting was no longer going to be informational pieces but could be entertainment,” Goldberg said.

Podcasts are a small, but growing part of the digital media marketplace. Seventeen percent of teens and adults listen to one podcast per month, up from 15 percent last year, according to Edison Research.

The medium has gotten so much initial interest, that the Interactive Advertising Bureau held its first “podcast upfronts,” for companies to promote their podcasts to advertisers in September.

While GE’s move is novel, it is likely that more advertisers will follow rather than just run ads during podcasts, said eMarketer analyst Paul Verna. It is like the next iteration of “native advertising,” where companies create sponsored content to promote their offerings, he said.



Microsoft, Google Cease Fire In Global Patent Deal

October 2, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft has been pursuing a more collaborative approach under CEO Satya Nadella, engaging longtime rivals like Salesforce, VMware and Apple. There hasn’t been much love between Microsoft and Google, but an announcement on Wednesday points towards an easing of those tensions.

Google and Microsoft have reached a broad agreement on patent matters, with a legal settlement ending some 20 lawsuits between the companies in the U.S. and Germany. Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but the deal brings a laundry list of lawsuits to a close.

“Microsoft and Google are pleased to announce an agreement on patent issues,” they said in a joint statement. “As part of the agreement, the companies will dismiss all pending patent infringement litigation between them, including cases related to Motorola Mobility.”

They also agreed to collaborate on patent matters and work together “to benefit our customers.”

The suits that have been settled include those related to mobile phones, video encoding and Wi-Fi technologies. That doesn’t mean Microsoft has given up its campaign to collect royalties from Android device makers for the mobile operating system’s alleged infringement of Microsoft patents.

It’s not clear from the statement what patent matters the companies will be working on together in the future, but changes have already begun. The two companies agreed earlier this month to work together (alongside other firms like Netflix and Mozilla) on a royalty-free video codec.

It remains to be seen if the settlement will lead to more work between Microsoft and Google in other areas. A major sticking point for consumers has been the lack of a Google-made YouTube app for smartphones and tablets running Windows.



Stagefright 2.0 Exploits Android Vulnerabilities

October 2, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Newly found vulnerabilities in the way Android handles media files can allow attackers to compromise devices by tricking users into visiting maliciously crafted Web pages.

The vulnerabilities can lead to remote code execution on almost all devices that run Android, starting with version 1.0 of the OS released in 2008 to the latest 5.1.1, researchers from mobile security firm Zimperium said in a report published Thursday.

The flaws are in the way Android processes the metadata of MP3 audio files and MP4 video files, and they can be exploited when the Android system or another app that relies on Android’s media libraries previews such files.

The Zimperium researchers found similar multimedia processing flaws earlier this year in an Android library called Stagefright that could have been exploited by simply sending Android devices a maliciously crafted MMS message.

Those flaws triggered a coordinated patching effort from device manufacturers that Android’s lead security engineer, Adrian Ludwig, called the “single largest unified software update in the world.” It also contributed to Google, Samsung and LG committing to monthly security updates going forward.

One of the flaws newly discovered by Zimperium is located in a core Android library called libutils and affects almost all devices running Android versions older than 5.0 (Lollipop). The vulnerability can also be exploited in Android Lollipop (5.0 – 5.1.1) by combining it with another bug found in the Stagefright library.

The Zimperium researchers refer to the new attack as Stagefright 2.0 and believe that it affects more than 1 billion devices.

Since the previous attack vector of MMS was closed in newer versions of Google Hangouts and other messaging apps after the previous Stagefright flaws were found, the most straight-forward exploitation method for the latest vulnerabilities is through Web browsers, the Zimperium researchers said.

Zimperium reported the flaws to Google on Aug. 15 and plans to release proof-of-concept exploit code once a fix is released.

That fix will come on Oct. 5 as part of the new scheduled monthly Android security update, a Google representative said.





Ghost Push Malware Giving Android A Hard Time

October 2, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Put your Android whatever back in its sand bucket. It is facing another threat. This one is spooky sounding and has been dubbed Ghost Push by Yang Yang and Jordan Pan of the Trend Micro security labs outfit.

The threat presents itself to people who download things from untrusted third-party stores, which is not everyone, and seems to behave in a way that is sophisticated – unlike perhaps people who download things from untrusted sites. Ghost Push is not new and neither is this method of infection.

“Halloween is still a month from now yet Android users are already being haunted by the previously reported Ghost Push malware, which roots devices and makes them download unwanted ads and apps. The malware is usually packaged with apps that users may download from third-party app stores,” said Yang and Pan.

“Further investigation of Ghost Push revealed more recent variants which, unlike older ones, employ routines that make them harder to remove and detect.”

Pan and Yang said that there are some 20 variants of Ghost Push in the wild, and that the threat has been active since April. It has ramped itself up during September and is presenting the worst side of itself in India and Indonesia, where 32 and 24 percent of infected devices can be found.

Trend does not think that this ghost theme is related to the XcodeGhost malware that bothers iOS users, but it does think that someone quite sophisticated is behind the attacks.

“It is likely that a team of cyber criminals are behind Ghost Push and they are not exactly new to the malware creation industry,” the researchers wrote.

“This group has already published 658 different malicious applications (1,259 different versions) in third-party app stores unrelated to Ghost Push. One of these apps has infected more than 100,000 devices, two more than 10,000 and seven more than 1,000.”

Third-party download sites are the reason for most of the affected devices and applications, but Yang and Pan said that a couple made it through to the official Google Play store.

“We also found two legitimate apps unrelated to Ghost Push that the same creators published on Google Play, which have since been removed,” they said, explaining that these apps accumulated some 10,000 downloads before being pulled.

“These show that this group possesses ample technical knowledge to effectively victimise thousands of devices and evade detection,” Yang and Pan said.

Once a device is infected the malware can launch other applications and services and steal personal information.


Facebook Rolled Out Updates For Mobile Profiles

October 2, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc introduced updates to mobile profile pages to enable users to better personalize their profiles and more easily control their privacy settings.

Facebook has been looking to improve and ease its mobile profile experience as it makes more of its $10 billion-plus in annual ad revenue off of phones. The updates also come during New York City’s 12th Advertising Week, where Facebook is courting the world’s largest advertisers and companies.

Among the new features are profile videos, or a short looping video clip that users can create in place of a static profile picture. The feature is similar to Vine, a video sharing app owned by Twitter Inc.

Users can also set a temporary profile picture that reverts to their old picture at a specified time. Those who want to support a sports team or charitable cause for a specific week, for example, can choose a picture to display for a short time period.

Facebook also introduced more ways to control privacy settings so that users can curate what pieces of information are public and which are only viewable to “friends,” or people that they have allowed to view profiles.



Google Unveils Two New Nexus Smartphones

October 1, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Google Inc has rolled out its new Nexus phones in its latest attempt to thwart Apple’s dominant share of the smartphone market.

The launch of the phones, the Nexus 6P and the Nexus 5X, comes a day after Apple Inc reported record first-weekend sales of its new iPhones.

The Nexus 5X 16 GB model will be priced at $379, while the Nexus 6P 32 GB will cost $499, Google said at an event live-streamed on YouTube.

Apple’s 6s and 6s Plus start at $199 and $299, respectively, with a two-year service-provider contract.

Nexus devices, which typically do not sell as much as iPhones or iPads, are a way for the tech giant to showcase its latest advancements in mobile hardware and software.

Google also unveiled a tablet built entirely by the company based on its Android operating system.

The latest version of Android, dubbed Marshmallow, will be available to existing Nexus customers from next week.

The Android mobile platform is a key element in Google’s strategy to maintain revenue from online advertising as people switch from Web browser searches to smartphone apps.

The Nexus 5X is made by South Korea’s LG Electronics Inc and the Nexus 6P by China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd . Both phones feature Google’s new fingerprint sensor, Nexus Imprint, which is located on the back.

The fingerprint sensors will help quickly authorize purchases made through Android Pay, the one-touch payment app on Android devices that competes with Apple Pay.

The phones are available for pre-order on the Google Store from a number of countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Japan.

The Pixel C tablet will cost $499 for the 32 GB model and can be bought with a detachable keyboard, which will cost $149.

The tablet will be available in time for the holiday season on the Google Store.



Tesla Debuts First Electric SUV

October 1, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Tesla Motors debuted the first of its long-awaited Model X electric sports-utility vehicles, a product investors are counting on to make the pioneering company profitable after years of losses.

The launch of the Model X represents a milestone for the loss-making Silicon Valley automaker during a period of high spending and modest growth, because it can now boast a second model in production beyond its Model S sedan, launched in 2012.

“I think we got a little carried away with the X,” Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk told reporters ahead of a launch event near the company’s Fremont factory, where luxury Model Xs have been moving down the production line in recent weeks, nearly two years behind the company’s original schedule.

Musk estimated that 25,000 customers had pre-ordered the crossover online or in its stores and that it would take 8-12 months for those ordering from now to receive the SUV.

In retrospect, the company may have done less, Musk said.

“There is far more there than is really necessary to sell a car. And some of the things are so difficult, they make the car better but the difficulty of engineering those parts is so high.”

Between 4,000-6,000 guests filled a cavernous space for the launch. Invited to the event were Model X reservation holders, Tesla employees and Model S and Roadster owners. The Roadster sportscar, which is no longer in production, was the company’s first vehicle.

Musk has said the all-wheel drive Model X – with two electric motors, the ability to travel about 250 miles (about 400 km) on a single charge and seating for seven people – was “the hardest car to build in the world”.

Priced as high as $144,000, it features so-called “falcon-wing” doors that open upward rather than to the side – controlled by sensors that can modulate the height to clear garage ceilings – seats that can be adjusted separately and a panoramic windshield that extends overhead.

Musk said the biggest challenges were making the doors open in a graceful “balletic” manner, the expansive windshield – which he said was the largest piece of glass ever used in a car – plus its sun visor and the moveable seats, which he said were deceptively tricky.

“One of the hardest things to design is a good seat,” he said.

Although global adoption of electric vehicles has been slow, Tesla has been the U.S. pioneer in luxury electric cars charged by batteries. It is betting that high-performance and stylish offerings will boost acceptance amid a sea of alternatives, such as hybrids or electric vehicles powered by hydrogen.

Tesla predicted its SUV would receive 5-star safety ratings in all categories, based on data from its crash tests, due to its low center of gravity, which helps reduce rollovers.


Target To Match Amazon, Walmart Online Prices

October 1, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Target Corp says that it will match its online prices with more than two dozen online competitors including and Wal-Mart Stores Inc from Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

The change in policy is a huge change for the fourth-largest U.S. retailer, which until now only matched prices at its own stores and not at online rivals, AP said.

Target is increasing the number of online rivals that it will match from five to 29, including for the first time stores that require membership, such as Costco Wholesale Corp and Sam’s Club.

Target will now allow 14 days, up from seven days, for shoppers to get a price adjustment, AP said.

This is the company’s latest move under Chief Executive Brian Cornell, who has sought to narrow the retailer’s focus to a handful of product lines where Target believes it has an edge on quality and price while also investing to catch up with rivals online.



Yahoo Announces It Will Proceed With Sale Of Alibaba Stake

September 30, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Yahoo Inc shares rose after the company announced it would proceed with the planned spinoff of its stake in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd despite the risk that the deal might not be tax free.

Shares of Yahoo, which said this month that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had denied its request for a private letter ruling on a possible tax-free deal, rose 3.6 percent to $28.60 in light premarket trading.

“We believe the likelihood of a positive tax outcome for the company could be more likely now,” Mizuho Securities analysts wrote in a note. “In our opinion, the IRS is maintaining the status quo on this issue, and with no changes to guidance on this matter, we believe that Yahoo should be able to complete this transaction in a tax-free manner.”

Mizuho cut its price target on Yahoo’s stock to $40 from $43, based on Alibaba’s lower valuation, joining several other brokerages in doing so.

Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer has been under intense pressure from shareholders to spin off its stake in the Chinese e-commerce giant.

The 15 percent stake is worth nearly $23 billion, as much as Yahoo’s market value, having halved this year as Alibaba’s stock has slumped 45 percent. Yahoo’s shares are also down 45 percent.

At a 40 percent rate, tax on the spinoff would be around $9 billion.

“The decision could potentially put shareholders on the hook for any tax liability should the IRS challenge (Yahoo’s) interpretation of tax treatment in the future. We expect this would trigger a legal battle,” MKM Partners analyst Rob Sanderson wrote in a note.

“We think this would present an overhang until clarity arrives,” he said, but added that the uncertainty was fully priced in.


Qualcomm Appears To Be Going To India

September 30, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Chipmaker Qualcomm is spending a fortune to set up shop in India by making itself the friend of the Indian government.

Qualcomm said it would invest up to $150 million in Indian startups via a venture fund. The announcement coincides with the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Silicon Valley. Modi is keen to make India a technology hub with lots of mobile resources to help the country grow.

Qualcomm wants to move into India as the China market starts to dry up and it falls foul of regulators.

Executive chairman Paul Jacobs met the Indian prime minister at the Digital Economy event in San Jose and said the venture fund was in support of the government’s Digital India and Make-in-India initiatives.

Jacobs said that Qualcomm shared Modi’s vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.

“India is at the cusp of a technology revolution and mobile technologies will lay the foundation for Digital India. We are committed to providing local innovative start-ups with the support needed to help India’s IOE ecosystem grow, increasing consumer choice and availability,” he said.

.The new venture fund, which will be advised by Qualcomm Ventures — an investment arm of the group — is expected to fuel innovation and foster promising Indian startups which are contributing to the Mobile and Internet of Everything ecosystem. It will also aim to provide startups with financial, marketing, technology and business support to help propel them forward in the competitive Indian market.


Tesla’s Autonomous Driving Mode Coming Next Month

September 30, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

An autonomous driving feature that will alleviate some of the stress drivers endure during long trips should arrive in Tesla cars in the next few weeks.

Earlier this year, CEO Elon Musk promised the feature as part of a “summer” update, and while Tesla will miss that deadline by a couple of weeks, it is about to roll it out.

The company has been testing the software for several months on long drives, including from its Silicon Valley headquarters to Seattle. It keeps the car safely in lane and adjusts its speed to allow for other vehicles, akin to an autopilot for the car.

Describing the system in March, Musk said it relied on ultrasonic sensors that cover the area around the car to a distance of about 5 meters, as well as a forward camera and radar.

The software will be rolled out as an update to Tesla cars in the next few weeks, Musk said late last week in an interview with Danish financial newspaper Børsen.

“We’re probably only a month away from having autonomous driving, at least for highways and for relatively simple roads,” he said.

Asked about the more ambitious goal of fully autonomous vehicles, Musk said he thinks that technology is still one to three years away, and that regulations could hold it up by a further one to three years.



Is Oculus Going Cheap With VR?

September 29, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

Oculus and Samsung had a few milestone announcements to make at yesterday’s keynote for the Connect 2 developer event. Gear VR got an update and halved in price. Oculus signed a few important content partnerships.

Samsung Gear VR, the wearable accessory that allows you to strap a compatible Samsung phone to your face and see the virtual worlds within, got a new version that now costs only $99. That’s without the phone of course, so you will have to BYOD.

Oculus, on the other hand, is bringing some much needed expansion to the content side of the equation. There’s games, movies, TV shows, streaming video, all becoming available in the next few months. This is widely expected by our tech journalist colleagues to finally bring VR into many more homes. We tend to agree that that’s a very real possibility.

Among the more important content partnerships are that with Fox, who’s bringing over 100 of its movies to the Oculus VR Cinema, and Lionsgate. But what’s really expected to bring VR into your average Internet-connected living room is the fact that Netflix follows suit, as will vimeo and Hulu in the fall.

Kids will be able to stare like zombies for hours on end into a VR version of their favourite gamers’ video feeds via Twitch. Hooray!

Facebook also announced 360 degree videos that will become available on the news feed. Disney, Vice, GoPro, Saturday Night Live and others have already been signed up to produce content.

We expect a version of VR goggles to come out soon enough with an Intel Realsense or similar technology, so we’ll be able to tune into someone’s surroundings in realtime. Microsoft’s Hololens seems like a perfect tool for such scenarios.

It’s without a doubt exciting times in the area of VR. Now, whether it will falter like 3D TV has, or live on to see another “day”, it’s too soon to tell. We will be following the developments closely.



Was The Hilton Hotel Chain Hacked In April?

September 29, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

The Hilton organization is reportedly trying to work out whether it has been hacked and, if so, what it should do about it.

We say reportedly as we have not been able to contact Hilton ourselves and can rely only on reports. They are pretty solid reports, however, and they concern a problem at the company that happened between 21 April and 27 July.

Brian Krebs, of KrebsOnSecurity, started this off with a report about a payment card breach. Krebs said that he had heard about the breach from various sources, and that Visa – the card provider – has mailed potentially affected parties with a warning, and the news that it is the fault of a bricks and mortar company.

Visa did not name the company, but affected parties, or banks to be more precise, have uttered it to Krebs. Its name is Hilton.

“Sources at five different banks say they have now determined that the common point-of-purchase for cards included in that alert had only one commonality: they were all were used at Hilton properties, including the company’s flagship Hilton locations as well as Embassy Suites, Doubletree, Hampton Inn and Suites, and the upscale Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts,” he wrote.

“It remains unclear how many Hilton properties may be affected by this apparent breach. Several sources in the financial industry told KrebsOnSecurity that the incident may date back to November 2014, and may still be ongoing.”

Krebs has a statement from the Hilton organisation in which the firm defended its security practices, and revealed that it is aware of the potential problem and is looking into it. This is a common theme among the breached, and should soon become part of mission statements.

“Hilton Worldwide is strongly committed to protecting our customers’ credit card information,” said the company in the statement to Krebs.

“We have many systems in place and work with some of the top experts in the field to address data security. Unfortunately the possibility of fraudulent credit card activity is all too common for every company in today’s marketplace. We take any potential issue very seriously, and we are looking into this matter.”

We have asked Visa and Hilton for their comments.



Google Upgrades Voice Search

September 29, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google said it has constructed a better neural network that is making its voice search work faster and better in noisy environments.

“We are happy to announce that our new acoustic models are now used for voice searches and commands in the Google app (on Android and iOS), and for dictation on Android devices,” Google’s Speech Team wrote in a recent  blog post . “In addition to requiring much lower computational resources, the new models are more accurate, robust to noise, and faster to respond to voice search queries.”

In 2013, Google brought the same voice recognition tools that had been working in Google Now to Google Search.

Along with being able to find information on the Internet, Google Voice Search also was able to find information for users in their Gmail, Google Calendar and Google+ accounts.

At the 2013 Google I/O developers conference, Amit Singhai, today a senior vice president and Google Fellow, said the future of search is in voice. For Google, he said, future searches will be more like conversations with your computer or device, which also will be able to give you information before you even ask for it.

The company went on to make it clear that it would continue to focus on voice search.

And this week’s announcement backs that up.

Google explained in its blog post that it has updated the neural network it’s using for voice search. A neural network is a computer system based on the way the human brain and nervous system work. It generally uses many processors operating in parallel.

The improved neural network is able to consume the incoming audio in larger chunks than conventional models without performing as many calculations.

“With this, we drastically reduced computations and made the recognizer much faster,” the team wrote. “We also added artificial noise and reverberation to the training data, making the recognizer more robust to ambient noise.”