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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.



Facebook Pursuing TV Advertisers For Its Network

September 29, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook Inc unveiled a slew of new advertising products on Sunday, most of which are aimed at luring television advertisers onto the 1.5-billion user social network.

The advertising options, most of which will also be available on Facebook-owned Instagram, are designed to take advantage of the social network’s strengths on mobile devices. It has the world’s most popular smartphone app and generates more than three-quarters of its $10 billion-plus in annual ad revenue on phones.

Facebook is trying to convince advertisers, especially those who use video, that their dollars will be better spent on mobile platforms rather than on TV as users, especially millennials, spend more time on their phones than watching television. The rollout of the new products come ahead of New York City’s 12th Advertising Week, which runs from Monday to Friday and gathers the world’s largest advertisers and companies. Facebook also announced on Sunday that it has 2.5 million active advertisers in total, up from 2 million in February.

Digital video advertising spending is growing rapidly, projected to increase 13 percent to nearly $15 billion by 2019, according to eMarketer. Television ad spending, by comparison, is expected to grow 2 percent in the same time period to $78 billion. “Facebook is listening to the ad community and giving them what they are looking for,” said Debra Aho Williamson, social media marketing analyst with eMarketer. “Does Facebook want video ad dollars? Yes.”

On television, advertisers can buy ads based on how many people they will reach, an approach Facebook has adopted to ease the transition between television spending and digital spending.

In addition, it can target highly specific audiences, such as women aged 18 to 35 years old who have shopped on a specific website, which TV cannot do.



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.”



Did Intel Deliberately Slow PC Sales?

September 28, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Intel might have caused slow PC sales at the beginning of the year to boost the price of its Skylake chips later.

A recent study shows that the slump in PC sales in the first half was deliberately made to help Skylake sell better since August. Initially analysts believed that sales of the Skylake are hindered by existing stocks of previous Haswells, but it turns out this was untrue.

Tech Trader Daily has found that Intel significantly reduced shipments of its central processing units in the first half of the year, to leave PC maker inventories drained and empty.

This is normal practice since Intel needed to have all its PC makers and retailers with empty enough stocks in order to fill them up quickly with new Skylake models in August. But this year the plan worked too well. The Skylake stocks quickly evaporated and the first supply aps appeared between the months of August and September, with Intel quickly assuring its customers that new Skylake batches will return in stores as fast as possible.

Normally Chipzilla has a cycle of unit buildups in the first half of a financial year and then a controlled drain of units in the second half. This helps PC makers and retailers build systems in the first half and then sell them bundled without being compromised by stand-alone units selling alongside them at a higher pace in the second.

This time Intel launched the Skylake in the second half of the year, August onwards, so the cycle was stuffed up. Now it seems that this will mean a low supply of Skylakes in the first half of 2016. If you can find them, you might need to stock up now.

Intel is making piles from this. PC makers mainly build their systems on Skylakes and since the supply is low the price is high. Intel does not have to discount to shift the technology, the suppliers have to buy it at any price. Particularly as Intel’s only real x86 market, AMD, is having a bit of a snooze.

A full transition to Skylake will probably happen in winter, but the ongoing process at the moment gives Intel the much-needed money to financially buffer a slowdown in sales next spring.  All this gives a warning about what will happen if AMD goes under and Intel takes total control.


eBook Sales Appear To Be Falling

September 28, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

It is starting to look like the shift from hard content to digital content that killed off physical cds is not going to happen to books.

In the first five months of 2015, publishers’ revenues from e-books sales fell 10 per cent to $610.8 million, according to the Association of American Publishers, compared to a 2.3 per cent drop in print book sales in the fiction, nonfiction and religious categories (that the industry calls trade books.)

Anyone with common sense will tell you that the reason ebook sales are falling is because greedy publishers jacked up the price until people failed to see the point of ebooks. Ebook prices have risen and serious readers still prefer the tactile pleasure of a physical book and will choose that over a digital book for the same price.

Ebooks generated 24.9 per cent of publisher revenues between January and May, down from a peak of 26.5 per cent in the year earlier period.

Barnes & Noble reporting slight gains in comparable sales in its core book selling business after years of declines that had led many to wonder whether the largest remaining bookstore chain might suffer the same fate as Borders, which went out of business four years ago.

On the e-reader front, about 12 million devices industries wide were sold last year, down 40% from the nearly 20 million sold in 2011.


Intel’s Xeon Future Leaked

September 24, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

While the focus has been on Intel’s Skylake it appears that Chipzilla has not forgotten its server products.

CPU World has gotten its paws on a roadmap which predicts we will see a few Xeon chips for servers over the next two quarters.

Xeon E3-1200 v5 series for single-socket workstations will be released in the fourth quarter of 2015 and these will be under the “Greenlow” platform that will also include C236 series chipset. The CPUs will use Skylake microarchitecture and fit into socket 1151. Also in Q4, the company will expand Xeon D family for microservers with a few new models.

Xeon E3 line will be followed by Xeon E5 server processors in the first half of 2016. In the first quarter of the next year, Intel is going to launch Xeon E5-1600 v4 and E5-2600 v4 “Broadwell-EP” series for single- and dual-socket systems.

The Xeon E5-2600 v4 will have up to 22 CPU cores and support for DDR4-2400 memory. The E5-1600 v4 processors will have up to eight cores. Both E5-1600 v4 and E5-2600 v4 will be compatible with existing Grantley-EP platform and C610 series chipset.

Xeon E5-4600 v4 series for quad-socket servers will be launched in the second quarter of 2016.

Codenamed Broadwell-EP 4S they will be identical to the E5-2600 v4 series. Also in the second quarter of 2016, Intel will release Xeon E7-4800 v4 and E7-8800 v4 “Broadwell-EX” CPUs, compatible with existing Brickland platform.

Xeon Phi x200 products will be available in Q3 2016. These parts will use “Knights Landing” design.



Apple Drops iCloud Storage Plan Prices

September 22, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

For the second time in as many years, Apple dropped prices for its expanded iCloud storage plans, putting costs in line with rivals like Google, Microsoft and Dropbox.

Apple announced changes to iCloud extra storage pricing earlier this month at the event where it unveiled new iPhones, the larger iPad Pro and a revamped Apple TV.

Although the Cupertino, Calif., company did not boost the amount of free storage space — as Computerworld speculated it might — and instead continued to provide just 5GB of iCloud space gratis, it bumped up the $0.99 per month plan from 20GB to 50GB, lowered the price of the 200GB plan by 25% to $2.99 monthly, and halved the 1TB plan’s price to $9.99.

Apple also ditched last year’s 500GB plan, which had cost $9.99 monthly.

The new prices are in line with the competition; in one case, Apple’s was lower.

Google, for example, hands out 15GB of cloud-based Google Drive storage for free — triple Apple’s allowance — and charges $1.99 monthly for 100GB and $9.99 each month for 1TB. The smaller-sized plan is 33% more per gigabyte than Apple’s 200GB deal, and Google’s 1TB plan is priced the same as Apple’s.

Microsoft also gives away 15GB. Additional storage costs $1.99 monthly for 100GB — the same price as Google Drive — while 200GB runs $3.99 per month, 33% higher than Apple’s same-sized plan.

Microsoft does not sell a separate 1TB OneDrive plan but instead directs customers to Office 365 Personal, the one-user subscription to the Office application suite. As part of the subscription, customers are given 1TB of OneDrive space. Office 365 Personal costs $6.99 monthly or $69.99 annually.




Internet Growth Rate Slowing, According To U.N. Study

September 22, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Uncategorized

Growth in the number of people with access to the Internet is slowing, and more than half the world’s population remains offline, the United Nations Broadband Commission said on Monday.

Internet access in rich economies is reaching saturation levels but 90 percent of people in the 48 poorest countries have none, its report said.

The access growth rate is expected to slow to 8.1 percent this year, down from 8.6 percent in 2014. Until 2012, growth rates had been in double digits for years.

“We have reached a transition point in the growth of the Internet,” the report said.

The commission, set up in 2010 by the International Telecommunication Union and UNESCO, the U.N. scientific and cultural agency, said the milestone of four billion Internet users was unlikely to be passed before 2020.

It said growth in Facebook subscribers was outpacing growth in the Internet.

“Over half the world’s population – some 57 percent, or

more than 4 billion people – still do not use the Internet regularly or actively,” the report said.

It blamed the cost of extending last-mile infrastructure to rural and remote customers, and a sharp slowdown in the growth of mobile cellular subscriptions globally.

By the end of this year, 3.2 billion people will have some form of regular access to the Internet, up from 2.9 billion in 2014. That is 43.4 percent of the world’s population, still far short of a U.N. target of 60 percent by 2020.

Women in poorer countries were particularly disadvantaged, the report said. In the developing world, 25 percent fewer women than men had Internet access, a number that rises to 50 percent in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Only about 5 percent of the world’s estimated 7,100 languages were represented on the Internet, the report said. Many Internet users could not understand Latin script, so even reading domain names was a challenge, it added.



Goldman Sachs Using Snapchat For Recruiting Workers

September 21, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

In its latest attempt to appeal to millennials, Goldman Sachs Group Inc released a series of quick-hit recruiting ads on Snapchat on Friday, becoming the first major Wall Street bank to turn to the instant-but-fleeting messaging app for potential hires.

The ads appear on Snapchat’s Campus Story function, a curated platform for user-generated contents such as pictures and videos at college campuses nationwide. Goldman’s 10-second recruitment clips appear between user-generated content segments.

In the videos, Goldman says it is seeking a “Campus Environmental Leader,” “Youth Sports Coach” or “Crowd Funding Champion,” and provides a link to

Only Snapchatters whose phones indicate they are in and around a campus, or were there in the last 24 hours, are able to post to and view the Campus Story.

Goldman’s efforts to reach out to millennials comes amid mounting indications that careers in banking and finance hold a diminishing appeal among recent graduates. Even at elite business programs like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, the percentage of students opting for banking as a career is down by half or more since before the recession.

The move is the latest leg of Goldman’s bid to appeal to soon-to-be college grads and push back against the prevalent view of investment banking as an all-work-and-no-play career.

Goldman is also one of the few in the industry adding employees now. During the bank’s second-quarter earnings call, Goldman said its workforce grew 8 percent over the last four quarters, and rose 1 percent between March 31 and June 30. At the end of June, the bank had 34,900 employees.

Snapchat, which allows its more than 100 million users to send messages that disappear in seconds, is considered one of Silicon Valley’s most highly valued startups. As of May, the messaging app is valued at $16 billion.




Raspberry Pi To Get Mass Storage

September 15, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Bittorrent and WD have teamed up to create a 1TB drive for the Raspberry Pi. The Pi Drive has been designed especially for the Raspberry Pi Model B+ and the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, and offers a viable way to turn a Pi into a media centre, NAS and PVR all in one.

BitTorrent Sync makes it possible to sync content from all your devices straight to the drive, bypassing the cloud and making it an excellent backup device.

It differs from a standard hard drive, not least because it’s low-powered enough to be run off the USB port that charges your Pi, using a splitter cable supplied – no mean feat for a mechanical drive.

It’s not perfect. It’s a standard 2.5in drive but with a USB connection rather than a SATA which means it’s bigger than the Pi and you’ll need to create a bespoke case or let it all hang out in true maker fashion.

Essentially, it’s the same type of drive that you would see if you smashed open one of WD’s external drives, but it would take a brave soul to do so and this way you get the right cable and software to make it all work together.

The tie-up between BitTorrent and WD comes as the former announces version 2.2 of the Sync service which we have been following since inception.

The new version offers a clearer delineation between home and pro users. Home users can buy a lifetime licence for $39.99 which covers all 2.x releases. This comes in addition to the perpetual free version which will no longer be limited to 10 folders.

Instead the monetized version will come from business customers who remain on a monthly fee, and pro user subscriptions for advanced features such as collaboration and file sharing introduced in version 2.1.

The Pi Drive retails at $80 with a 35 percent discount offer through BitTorrent with the code WDPIDRIVE1TB. UK sellers are yet to be confirmed, but will form part of the newly launched BitTorrent Sync reseller programme that launches with this edition.



Facebook Continues Impressive Growth Rate In Africa

September 11, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook has nearly 20 million users in major African markets Nigeria and Kenya, statistics released by the social network revealed on Thursday, with the majority using mobile devices to access their profiles.

Facebook opened its first African office in Johannesburg in June as the continent’s growing population and relatively low levels of internet access present a large untapped market for the social network to earn advertising revenue.

The numbers, the first Facebook has published for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and Kenya, East Africa’s most developed, show the two nations as important entry points on a continent of nearly one billion people.

Nigeria had 15 million monthly active users as of June 30 this year, all of them using mobiles to like, share and upload content on the social network. In Kenya, 95 percent of the 4.5 million monthly active users did so via mobiles.

“Mobile is not a trend; it’s the fastest adoption of disruptive technology in history of communication,” said Nunu Ntshingila, Facebook’s head of Africa, in a statement.

South Africa has 12 million monthly active Facebook users, the data showed, and Facebook says with its strong advertising partnerships in Africa it would use the new office in Johannesburg to expand its business across the continent.

Facebook said its active user population in Africa grew 20 percent to 120 million in June from 100 million in September last year. A large portion of these users were in North Africa.



WD Upgrades My Cloud

September 9, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Western Digital subsidiary WD has announced a major upgrade to its My Cloud NAS drive series with a complete overhaul of the WD NAS operating system.

My Cloud OS 3 will roll out to devices later this month, and includes a number of new features backed with an updated version of the My Cloud Mirror device (below).

A new version of the My Cloud Photos app, to be called My Cloud Albums, will work alongside online access from to offer more comprehensive photo and video storage options, as well as direct link creation for collaboration and sharing on specific albums.

Also new will be WD Sync, a file syncing facility which allows folders to be synchronised across NAS devices, laptops, desktops and even mobile devices without the use of a third-party app as happens presently (we use Bit Torrent Sync – others are available).

The news reinforces the Western Digital subsidiary’s determination to break into a significant part of the cloud storage market, but through the hardware route by letting users take control of where their data is stored. That said, synchronisation requires WD’s own servers, so the issue of trust remains.

The new apps will be available in late September from the Apple Store and Google Play. Chromebook and Chromecast compatibility are confirmed. Users of NAS devices should also start to see firmware updates for their devices in the coming weeks.

The new version of My Cloud Mirror, specifically designed to be in a RAID 1 formation and therefore removing all doubt from the belt-and-braces backup approach, has an improved processor and 512MB of memory.

Prices will start at $309 for 2x2TB, up to $429.99 for 2x4TB. Meanwhile, the rest of the range will all be updated. This includes the My Cloud, My Cloud Mirror, My Cloud Expert and My Cloud Business range.