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Microsoft Confirms Next Generation Of Office To Launch In 2015

October 30, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft has confirmed that it plans to roll out its next version of Office for Windows in the second half of 2015.

ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley first reported on comments made by Julia White, general manager of marketing for Office and Office 365, at Microsoft’s Tech Ed Europe conference in Barcelona.

According to Foley, White said that the next version of Office on Windows would launch in the last half of next year, a broad timetable that was different from previous speculation, which had focused on the first half of 2015, perhaps as early as April.

During the end of a guest spot Tuesday on Channel 9, Microsoft’s online television channel, White did not specify the second half of the year, saying only “later in 2015.” But she did mention that the next version of Office would go through Microsoft’s typical testing process, including TAP (Technology Adoption Program) and a beta, with the latter presumably available to the general public.

TAP builds are pre-beta, and restricted to an invite-only group that’s usually composed of Microsoft’s larger corporate customers.

Microsoft confirmed that White’s comments were accurate as reported.

If Microsoft makes its target of the second half of next year, the upgrade would be on the same schedule as the last several editions, which have been released about two-and-a-half-years apart. Office 2013, for example, reached what Microsoft calls “general availability” in January 2013, while Office 2010 and Office 2007 made that milestone in June 2010 and January 2007, respectively.

The next office, code named Office 16, would carry the official label of Office 2016 if Microsoft follows convention.

 

 

Google Developing Nanoparticles To Aid In Cancer Fight

October 30, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google is focusing attention on tiny magnetic particles that could aid in cancer detection as well as other health problems by coursing through a patient’s bloodstream.

Andrew Conrad, head of the Google X research lab’s Life Sciences Team, told the WSJ.D Live conference that the particles can be directed toward different parts of the body by applying wearable magnetic devices to the skin.

The wearable would be able to count the particles and possibly compile information about what potential medical conditions they detected.

“Nanoparticles are the nexus between biology and engineering,” Conrad said in an interview at the conference, which was excerpted in a video. “We can make these nanoparticles behave in ways that we want them to do.”

The so-called Nanoparticle Platform comes in the form of pills that are covered with “antibodies or molecules that detect other molecules,” he added.

The particles would be less than one-thousandth the size of a red blood cell and would attach to molecules, proteins and cells in the body. The nanoparticles could help detect arterial plaque or high sodium levels, and might replace standard blood tests to detect early signs of disease, according to Conrad.

Conrad said Google would license the technology to other companies and it would not be responsible for managing information collected through nanoparticle monitoring.

Implementing the nanoparticles could take more than five years, The Wall Street Journal said in reporting the interview with Conrad.

 

 

 

BlackEnergy Malware Wreaking Havoc On Industrial Control Systems

October 30, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT) has warned that industrial control systems (ICS) in the US have been compromised by the BlackEnergy malware for at least two years.

The BlackEnergy family of malware is believed to be the same used in the cyber attack against Georgia in 2008.

It uses a malicious decoy document to hide its activities, making it easier for the hackers to mount follow-up attacks.

US-CERT said the malware campaign is sophisticated and “ongoing”, and attackers taking advantage of it have compromised unnamed ICS operators, planting it on internet-facing human machine interfaces (HMI) including those from GE Cimplicity, Advantech/Broadwin WebAccess, and Siemens WinCC.

It is currently unknown whether other vendors’ products have also been targeted, according to US-CERT.

“At this time, Industrial Control Systems-CERT has not identified any attempts to damage, modify or otherwise disrupt the victim systems’ control processes,” said the team in an alert.

“ICS-CERT has not been able to verify if the intruders expanded access beyond the compromised HMI into the remainder of the underlying control system.

“However, typical malware deployments have included modules that search out any network-connected file shares and removable media for additional lateral movement within the affected environment.”


US-CERT describes the malware as “highly modular”, and said that not all functionality is deployed to all victims.

An analysis run by the team identified the probable initial infection vector for systems running GE’s Cimplicity HMI with a direct connection to the internet.

“Analysis of victim system artefacts has determined that the actors have been exploiting a vulnerability (CVE-2014-0751) in GE’s Cimplicity HMI product since at least January 2012,” the alert read.

On Monday, US-CERT also warned of attacks spreading the Dyre banking malware, which steals victims’ credentials.

The department said that, since mid-October, a phishing campaign had targeted “a wide variety of recipients”, but elements, such as the exploits, email themes, and claimed senders of the campaign, “vary from target to target”.

“A system infected with Dyre banking malware will attempt to harvest credentials for online services, including banking services,” the alert warned.

Courtesy-TheInq

IBM, Twitter Teaming Up On Data Analytics

October 30, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

International Business Machines Corp (IBM) on Wednesday announced a collaboration with Twitter to aid in business decisions using data collected from tweets worldwide.

IBM will help businesses predict trends in the marketplace and consumer sentiment about products and brands and will train 10,000 employees to consult businesses on the best use of Twitter data.

IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty has been trying to shift the 100-year-old company’s focus away from commoditized hardware to higher-value cloud and data analytics products.

In July, IBM announced a partnership with Apple Inc to offer iPads and iPhones loaded with applications geared toward enterprise clients.

“Here we are seeing an alignment of old tech and new tech companies. It is the second such deal that IBM has announced in the last couple months. They realize they don’t have all the answers and a lot of other companies have asset offerings that can be matched well,” said Scott Kessler, analyst at S&P Capital IQ in New York.

In April, Twitter acquired social data provider Gnip to burrow into the 500 million tweets sent daily on its network.

Enterprise clients will now be able to filter the data based on geography, public biographical information and the emotion expressed in the tweet.

The company previously allowed third-party companies such as Gnip, Datasift and Dataminr to buy access to tweets and re-sell that data to corporate clients.

 

3D Printer Shipments Expected To Double By Next Year

October 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Shipments of 3D printers will double over the next year, reaching 217,350 units in 2015, up from 108,151 in 2014, according to research released by Gartner

That rate of growth is expected to increase each year over the next three years. By 2018, Gartner forecast shipments worldwide to top more than 2.4 million units.

The report points to the popularity of lower-cost, “plug-and-print” machines that require little or no technological knowledge to use. Users simply plug the machines into their desktops or laptops, upload 3D CAD images and hit “print.”

“As we noted last year, the 3D printer market is at an inflection point,” said Pete Basiliere, research vice president at Gartner. “Unit shipment growth rates for 3D printers, which languished in the low single and double digits per year throughout the 30 years since the first 3D printers were invented, are poised to increase dramatically beginning in 2015.”

As radical as the forecast numbers may seem, Basiliere noted that even the 2.4 million shipments Gartner expects to be sold in 2018 is still “a small fraction of the total potential market of consumers, businesses and government organizations worldwide.”

Gartner includes seven technologies in the 3D printer market that will propel growth, including the material extrusion products used to print objects. Two main thermoplastics dominate: PLA (Polylactic acid) and ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene).

The primary drivers for consumer-grade 3D printers include lower prices (below $1,000), improved performance and expanded global availability. The primary drivers for the enterprise 3D printer market are the viability of the technologies for rapid product prototyping and manufacturing coupled with lower 3D printer costs, improved quality and a wider range of materials, Gartner said.

 

 

Charles Schwab To Offer Free Investment Planning Offered By ‘Rob o-adviser’

October 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Charles Schwab Corp has confirmed that it will begin offering free automated investment plans picked by computer algorithms in the first quarter of 2015.

The program, which will be marketed as Schwab Intelligent Portfolios to retail investors and independent investment advisers, will create portfolios of exchange-traded funds managed by Schwab and other providers.

In offering the service without management, transaction or account service fees, Schwab intends to be “disruptive” to competitors that have rapidly been introducing “rob o-adviser” platforms that charge fees of about 0.25 percent of money invested, Schwab officials said in a conference call with analysts and investors.

Reuters reported Schwab’s plan to introduce a free rob o-program on Oct. 3.

Schwab said it can make money through fees from managing and servicing underlying ETFs and from investing client cash in the portfolios. While the portfolios could draw investors who use conventional Schwab accounts or hire advisers who trade through Schwab, the company is not afraid of “cannibalizing” its own revenue, executives said.

The service will appeal primarily to Schwab’s traditional self-directed investors who do not want to use its fee-based advice programs, Chief Executive Walt Bettinger said.

He would not name specific competitors Schwab expects to undermine, but said they range from independent firms that offer only automated programs, to “wire houses,” a reference to large full-service firms such as Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS AG’s U.S. brokerage unit.

“This has the potential to create impact across the entire market,” Bettinger said.

 

 

Microsoft’s Surface Finally Turns A Profit

October 28, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

After two years and nearly $2 billion in losses, Microsoft’s Surface finally became profitable in the September quarter.

For the three months ending Sept. 30, Microsoft recorded $908 million in revenue for the Surface tablet line, an increase of 127% over the same quarter in 2013. The nearly one billion in revenue was a one-quarter record for the Surface, and beat the combined revenue of the previous two quarters.

Using information in Microsoft’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), as well as data from earlier quarters, Computerworld calculated the quarter’s cost of that revenue at $786 million, leaving a gross margin of $122 million. Cost of revenue is the cost to make and sell a product, but excludes expenses such as advertising and R&D.

Microsoft said that the Surface line posted a positive gross margin — implying that outside estimates of prior losses were correct — but did not disclose a dollar figure.

According to Computerworld‘s estimate, the margin was small, about 13.4%. That’s more than the average for a Windows personal computer, but less than half or a third of the margins on tablets like Apple’s iPad.

It was even smaller by the figuring of Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, who has also used Microsoft’s SEC filings to estimate the Surface’s cost of revenue. He pegged the September quarter’s cost of revenue at $825 million, the gross margin at $83 million, and the margin rate at just 9.1%.

“That’s a gross margin … which is not earth-shattering and in fact about half the gross margin of the phone business at Microsoft. But it’s progress,” Dawson wrote on his blog, where he published his analysis of Surface’s financial performance.

Since its October 2012 introduction, Surface has been a money pit for Microsoft, in the hole to the tune of $1.73 billion through its first seven quarters. With the September quarter in the black, those overall losses have been reduced to about $1.6 billion.

Over the last four quarters, Surface also remained in the red, with losses of $325 million on revenue of $2.7 billion. Put another way, for each dollar Microsoft earned on Surface sales, it lost about 12 cents.

 

 

CVS and Rite Aid Stores Block Apple Pay

October 28, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Drug retailers CVS Health Corp and Rite Aid Corp have disabled Apple Inc’s  new electronic payments service Apple Pay from their stores over the weekend,according to the New York Times.

Apple Pay, which debuted in September, is a mobile payment app that allows consumers to buy things by simply holding their iPhone6 and 6 Plus devices up to readers installed by store merchants.

A Rite Aid spokeswoman told the New York Times that the company does not currently accept Apple Pay. The company is “still in the process of evaluating our mobile payment options.”

Rite Aid and CVS are not part of the group of retailers that had teamed up with Apple on its payment system. However, Apple Pay technology was working in Rite Aid and CVS stores over the week, the newspaper said.

The reason for the disabling was not immediately clear, the newspaper said.

According to analysts, disabling the acceptance of Apple Pay is a way to support a rival system that is being developed by Merchants Customer Exchange (MCX), a consortium of merchants that includes Rite Aid and CVS, the NYT reported.

MCX is developing CurrentC, an app that scans the bar code of the product and initiates the payment transfer by connecting to the customer’s debit card, according to MCX’s website. CurrentC will not be available until 2015.

Apple, Rite Aid and CVS could not be immediately reached for comment.

 

FCC Delays Low-frequency Airwaves Auction Until 2016

October 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission expects a major auction of low-frequency airwaves to be delayed until early 2016 from mid-2015 because of its complexity and a pending court challenge, an FCC official said in a recent blog post.

The FCC is working on rules for the so-called incentive auction, in which wireless carriers would get the first opportunity since 2008 to purchase airwaves that are considered the “beach-front property” of radio spectrum for their reach and strength.

The auction is regarded as the FCC’s most complex undertaking to date, balancing numerous economic, engineering and political considerations, including the need to woo broadcasters to give up the airwaves in the first place.

The delay gives the FCC more time to sway TV station owners to participate and T-Mobile US Inc to argue for bidding restrictions on larger rivals AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc.

The National Association of Broadcasters, concerned about the potential impact on TV stations, has petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review elements of the FCC’s planned auction process.

The court has pushed back the deadline on final briefs in the case until late January 2015.

“We are confident we will prevail in court, but given the reality of that schedule, the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016,” Gary Epstein, who chairs the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force, wrote in the blog post.

The NAB rejected the notion that its lawsuit was the cause of the delay.

“We look forward to a speedy resolution of our legal challenge and a successful auction that preserves access to free and local TV for every American,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said in a statement.

 

McDonalds Plans To Install Self-ordering Kiosks

October 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

McDonald’s has unveiled its plans to install self-ordering kiosks and mobile ordering at its restaurants. It isn’t the only food chain doing this.

The company that owns Chili’s Grill & Bar also said it will complete a tablet ordering system rollout next month at its U.S. restaurants. Applebee’s announced last December that it would deliver tablets to 1,800 restaurants this year.

The pace of self-ordering system deployments appears to be gaining speed. But there’s a political element to this and it’s best to address it quickly.

The move toward more automation comes at the same time pressure to raise minimum wages is growing. A Wall Street Journal editorial this week, “Minimum Wage Backfire,” said that while it may be true for McDonald’s to say that its tech plans will improve customer experience, the move is also “a convenient way…to justify a reduction in the chain’s global workforce.”

The Journal faulted those who believe that raising fast food wages will boost stagnant incomes. “The result of their agitation will be more jobs for machines and fewer for the least skilled workers,” it wrote.

The elimination of jobs because of automation will happen anyway. Gartner says software and robots will replace one third of all workers by 2025, and that includes many high-skilled jobs, too.

Automation is hardly new to retail. Banks rely on ATMs, and grocery stores, including Walmart, have deployed self-service checkouts. But McDonald’s hasn’t changed its basic system of taking orders since its founding in the 1950s, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a research group focused on the restaurant industry.

The move to kiosk and mobile ordering, said Tristano, is happening because it will improve order accuracy, speed up service and has the potential of reducing labor cost, which can account for about 30% of costs. But automated self-service is a convenience that’s now expected, particularly among younger customers, he said.

“It’s keeping up with the times, and the (McDonald’s) franchises are going to clamor for it,” said Tristano, who said any labor savings is actually at the bottom of the list of reasons restaurants are putting in these self-service systems.

 

 

HP’s Helion Goes Commercial

October 27, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

HP has announced general availability of its Helion OpenStack cloud platform and Helion Development Platform based on Cloud Foundry.

The Helion portfolio was announced by HP earlier this year, when the firm disclosed that it was backing the OpenStack project as the foundation piece for its cloud strategy.

At the time, HP issued the HP Helion OpenStack Community edition for pilot deployments, and promised a full commercial release to follow, along with a developer platform based on the Cloud Foundry code.

HP revealed today that the commercial release of HP Helion OpenStack is now available as a fully supported product for customers looking to build their own on-premise infrastructure-as-a-service cloud, along with the HP Helion Development platform-as-a-service designed to run on top of it.

“We’ve now gone GA [general availability] on our first full commercial OpenStack product and actually started shipping it a couple of weeks ago, so we’re now open for business and we already have a number of customers that are using it for proof of concept,” HP’s CloudSystem director for EMEA, Paul Morgan, told The INQUIRER.

Like other OpenStack vendors, HP is offering more than just the bare OpenStack code. Its distribution is underpinned by a hardened version of HP Linux, and is integrated with other HP infrastructure and management tools, Morgan said.

“We’ve put in a ton of HP value add, so there’s a common look and feel across the different management layers, and we are supporting other elements of our cloud infrastructure software today, things like HP OneView, things like our Cloud Service Automation in CloudSystem,” he added.

The commercial Helion build has also been updated to include Juno, the latest version of the OpenStack framework released last week.

Likewise, the HP Helion Development Platform takes the open source Cloud Foundry platform and integrates it with HP’s OpenStack release to provide an environment for developers to build and deploy cloud-based applications and services.

HP also announced an optimised reference model for building a scalable object storage platform based on its OpenStack release.

HP Helion Content Depot is essentially a blueprint to allow organisations or service providers to put together a highly available, secure storage solution using HP ProLiant servers and HP Networking hardware, with access to storage provided via the standard OpenStack Swift application programming interfaces.

Morgan said that the most interest in this solution is likely to come from service providers looking to offer a cloud-based storage service, although enterprise customers may also deploy it internally.

“It’s completely customisable, so you might start off with half a petabyte, with the need to scale to maybe 2PB per year, and it is a certified and fully tested solution that takes all of the guesswork out of setting up this type of service,” he said.

Content Depot joins the recently announced HP Helion Continuity Services as one of the growing number of solutions that the firm aims to offer around its Helion platform, he explained. These will include point solutions aimed at solving specific customer needs.

The firm also last month started up its HP Helion OpenStack Professional Services division to help customers with consulting and deployment services to implement an OpenStack-based private cloud.

Pricing for HP Helion OpenStack comes in at $1,200 per server with 9×5 support for one year. Pricing for 24×7 support will be $2,200 per server per year.

“We see that is very competitively priced compared with what else is already out there,” Morgan said.

Courtesy-TheInq

China Touts Homegrown Servers Admidst Cybersecurity Concerns

October 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

A Chinese firm has developed the country’s first homegrown servers, built entirely out of domestic technologies including a processor from local chip maker Loongson Technology.

China’s Dawning Information Industry, also known as Sugon, has developed a series of four servers using the Loongson 3B processor, the country’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday.

“Servers are crucial applications in a country’s politics, economy, and information security. We must fully master all these technologies,” Dawning’s vice president Sha Chaoqun was quoted as saying.

The servers, including their operating systems, have all been developed from Chinese technology. The Loongson 3B processor inside them has eight cores made with a total of 1.1 billion transistors built using a 28-nanometer production process.

The Xinhua report quoted Li Guojie, a top computing researcher in the country, as saying the new servers would ensure that the security around China’s military, financial and energy sectors would no longer be in foreign control.

Dawning was contacted on Friday, but an employee declined to offer more specifics about the servers. “We don’t want to promote this product in the U.S. media,” she said. “It involves propriety intellectual property rights, and Chinese government organizations.”

News of the servers has just been among the ongoing developments in China for the country to build up its own homegrown technology. Work is being done on local mobile operating systems, supercomputing, and in chip making, with much of it government-backed. Earlier this year, China outlined a plan to make the country into a major player in the semiconductor space.

But it also comes at a time when cybersecurity has become a major concern for the Chinese government, following revelations about the U.S. government’s own secret surveillance programs. “Without cybersecurity there is no national security,” declared China’s Xi Jinping in March, as he announced plans to turn the country into an “Internet power.”

Two months later, China threatened to block companiesfrom selling IT products to the country if they failed to pass a new vetting system meant to comb out secret spying programs.

Dawning, which was founded using local government-supported research, is perhaps best known for developing some of China’s supercomputers. But it also sells server products built with Intel chips. In this year’s first quarter, it had an 8.7 percent share of China’s server market, putting it in 7th place, according to research firm IDC.

 

 

Facebook Debuts ‘Rooms’ App For Chats

October 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook is going old school, with a stand-alone app for discussion boards geared towards allowin users to talk about shared interests without having to use their real names.

The company released Rooms on Thursday, its answer to the craze around posting and sharing anonymously. People can use any name they want and don’t need a Facebook account. The app contains rooms geared around various topics, all of which require an invite link to enter. Providing an email address is optional, for the purposes of having accessed rooms restored if the user deletes the app.

The app is only available on iOS. Plans for other platforms like Android or Windows Phone were not disclosed.

The app is not just about anonymity. With it, Facebook hopes to provide a discussion board-type platform where users can chat about shared interests outside of their usual social circles. It’s a concept that has been super popular since, oh, the web’s been around.

“One of the magical things about the early days of the web was connecting to people who you would never encounter otherwise in your daily life,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday.

“From unique obsessions and unconventional hobbies, to personal finance and health-related issues — you can celebrate the sides of yourself that you don’t always show to your friends,” the company said.

But the app’s ability to succeed likely depends on the number and diversity of rooms created by its users, and whether the app’s focus on visuals and photos appeals to them. There’s also no desktop version.

The app was developed as part of Facebook’s Creative Labs project, which has also released stand-alone apps like Slingshot and Paper.

Facebook stresses that Rooms will let users create a unique identity separate from their Facebook account. Your name can be “Wonder Woman” in the app, Facebook said.

I tried out the app, and was even able to use “Mark Zuckerberg” as my name. (A short “hello” post of mine then immediately generated several “high fives.”)

Facebook, however, may share information about Room users within the companies and services operated by Facebook, which would include Facebook itself and other apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, according to the Rooms terms of service.

 

 

Google Continues Artificial Intelligence Expansion, Partners With Oxford U.

October 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google Inc is growing its artificial intelligence area, hiring more than half a dozen leading academics and experts in the field and announcing a partnership with Oxford University to “accelerate” its efforts.

Google will make a “substantial contribution” to establish a research partnership with Oxford’s computer science and engineering departments, the company said on Thursday regarding its work to develop the intelligence of machines and software, often to emulate human-like intelligence.

Google did not provide any financial details about the partnership, saying only in a post on its blog that it will include a program of student internships and a series of joint lectures and workshops “to share knowledge and expertise.”

Google, which is based in Mountain View, California, is building up its artificial intelligence capabilities as it strives to maintain its dominance in the Internet search market and to develop new products such as robotics and self-driving cars. In January Google acquired artificial intelligence company Deep Mind for $400 million according to media reports.

The new hires will be joining Google’s Deep Mind team, including three artificial intelligence experts whose work has focused on improving computer visual recognition systems. Among that team is Oxford Professor Andrew Zisserman, a three-time winner of the Marr Prize for computer vision.

The four founders of Dark Blue Labs will also be joining Google where they will be will be leading efforts to help machines “better understand what users are saying to them.”

Google said that three of the professors will hold joint appointments at Oxford, continuing to work part time at the university.

 

Pandora’s Listeners Decline

October 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Pandora Media Inc, owners of the leading Internet radio service, reported a lower-than-expected increase in listeners in the third quarter, sending the company’s shares down 6 percent in extended trading on Thursday.

Pandora said it had 76.5 million active listeners as of Sept. 30, an increase of 5.2 percent from a year earlier.

Analysts, on average, had expected 76.7 million, according to market research firm StreetAccount.

Total listener hours rose to 4.99 billion from 3.99 billion, but again fell short of the average estimate of 5.02 billion.

Pandora’s profit and revenue both beat market expectations, however, as more people listened to streamed music on their mobile phones.

Mobile revenue increased 52 percent to $188 million, while local advertising revenue rose 118 percent to $41.8 million.

Despite its huge user base, Pandora faces stiff competition from Spotify, Apple Inc’s Beats online streaming service, Google Inc, and Amazon.com Inc in the fast-growing music streaming business.