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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.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Western Digital Goes Purple

October 29, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

WD announced that it will begin shipping larger capacity drives in its surveillance series.

The WD Purple range, launched in February, will now include a 6TB version designed for use in video surveillance environments.

WD Purple drives are capable of recording in groups of eight hard drives, monitoring a total of 32 high-definition camera feeds.

“Video surveillance has long been a pioneering Internet of Things application,” said Matt Rutledge, senior vice president and general manager of WD’s Storage Technology group.

“Driven by machine-to-machine interaction between high-resolution, high bit-rate video cameras and high-capacity surveillance video recorders, IoT brings access and big data analytics to improve users’ security. WD Purple 6TB drives enable innovation in this fast growing market.”

As well as the storage credentials, the firmware of the drives contains a few surprises. Allframe reduces video frame loss, improves playback and increases the number of drives supported. This is coupled with regular firmware updates that improve the quality and reliability of the playback.

Intelliseek analyses its environment to optimise searching speeds for the temperature, system resource workload and power consumption in a given situation, while reducing noise and vibration.

The 6TB version is shipping now at $300. It joins the existing range with capacities from 1TB to 5TB.

WD has had a busy year across its consumer and enterprise ranges, releasing the WD Red and WD Red Pro, the WD Ae range for cold storage, featuring incremental disc sizes, and most recently its first wireless addition to the decade-old My Passport range for consumers.

Courtesy-TheInq

Amazon Acquires Rooftop Media, Expands Digital Content

October 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon.com Inc is set to acquire online comedy service Rooftop Media, a small deal that underscores the Internet retailer’s broader ambition of becoming a media and entertainment powerhouse.

Amazon is persisting in buying content to round out its service, with designs to take on Netflix Inc and other online digital media services. But that increasing spending has helped keep the company in the red, inviting criticism from investors.

Audible, the audiobooks service it bought in 2008 for $300 million, is picking up the 10-person company for an undisclosed sum. Audible founder and Chief Executive Donald Katz said in a statement on Monday the company had been attracted by Rooftop’s content as well as its pool of comic talent.

Rooftop records comedians at clubs across the country and licenses the digital rights to thousands of hours of comedy, which is broadcast either live or later on demand. The company’s media partners include Apple Inc and Yahoo, and it also works with streaming services such as Sirius XM,  Spotify and Pandora.

Its content now becomes part of Audible, itself a fast-growing seller of online audiobooks, and vastly increases Rooftop’s audience, said Rooftop Chief Executive Officer Will Rogers.

Amazon is expected to continue acquiring digital content at a rapid clip. In past years, it began investing heavily to branch out from its online retail roots, delving into Hollywood-style content production as well as developing a line of tablets, smartphones and set-top boxes to accelerate the sale of digital content.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

U.S. Government Investigating Medical Device Hacking Threats

October 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking into about two dozen cases of suspected cybersecurity flaws in medical devices and hospital equipment that officials believe could be exploited by hackers, a senior official at the agency told Reuters.

The products under review by the agency’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, or ICS-CERT, include an infusion pump from Hospira Inc and implantable heart devices from Medtronic Inc and St Jude Medical Inc, according to other people familiar with the cases, who asked not to be identified because the probes are confidential.

These people said they do not know of any instances of hackers attacking patients through these devices, so the cyber threat should not be overstated. Still, the agency is concerned that malicious actors may try to gain control of the devices remotely and create problems, such as instructing an infusion pump to overdose a patient with drugs, or forcing a heart implant to deliver a deadly jolt of electricity, the sources said.

The senior DHS official said the agency is working with manufacturers to identify and repair software coding bugs and other vulnerabilities that hackers can potentially use to expose confidential data or attack hospital equipment. He declined to name the companies.

“These are the things that shows like ‘Homeland’ are built from,” said the official, referring to the U.S. television spy drama in which the fictional vice president of the United States is killed by a cyber attack on his pacemaker.

“It isn’t out of the realm of the possible to cause severe injury or death,” said the official, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitive nature of his work.

Hospira, Medtronic and St Jude Medical declined to comment on the DHS investigations. All three companies said they take cybersecurity seriously and have made changes to improve product safety, but declined to give details.

 

 

Google Launches Two-Factor Security Key

October 23, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Google has added account authentication via USB stick to its two-step verification process, offering users a more convenient way to sign in to their accounts in a secure manner.

As detailed in a Google security blog post, a compatible USB Security Key can now be used to log-in to Google accounts with two-step authentication.

The addition of the USB Security Key, Google claims, ensures that the log-in website is an actual Google website and not a fake.

Two-step authentication normally asks the user to enter a secret code sent to their phone in addition to entering their password online.

This process prevents potential attackers using passwords that might have been stolen or guessed in order to impersonate account holders, as presumably they won’t have the user’s phone to enter the code.

The USB Security Key adds another layer of protection to the process. Instead of entering a secret code, the user can simply insert their USB Security Key in their computer and tap when prompted in Google’s Chrome web browser.

Google said: “When you sign into your Google Account using Chrome and Security Key, you can be sure that the cryptographic signature cannot be phished.”

The USB Security Key implements the open Universal 2nd Factor protocol promoted by the FIDO Alliance, which means it can be used by other web browsers in addition to Chrome and other websites in addition to Google’s.

Google has recently enhanced the level of security it provides, and the extension of two-step authentication to include a physical security key is simply another step.

Courtesy-TheInq

Microsoft Releases First Windows 10 Update

October 23, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft has issued the first update for Windows 10 Technical Preview, launching its fast-paced release strategy.

The update, designated as Build 9860, followed the Oct. 1 release of the preview, which Microsoft has offered businesses and technology enthusiasts to give potential customers a look at the work in progress and collect feedback during development.

The Oct. 1 version of Windows 10 was labeled Build 9841.

“Sometimes [updates] will be more frequent and sometimes there will be longer gaps, but they will always be chock full of changes and improvements, as well as some bugs and things that are not quite done,” wrote Gabe Aul, of Microsoft’s Operating Systems Group on a company blog.

Aul said that Build 9860 had been handed to his group only a week ago, and repeated earlier warnings by other Microsoft managers that the preview remains incomplete and unpolished.

Although rapid iterations are nothing new to preview or beta software, Microsoft plans to accelerate the delivery of updates — ones that will include not only security patches and performance fixes, but also new features — once Windows 10 officially ships in mid-2015.

Updates will ship as often as monthly for consumers, while businesses will be able to choose between that and two additional tempos that Gartner has tagged as “near-consumer speed” and “long-term servicing.” The former will roll up the “consumer-speed” updates every four to six months to versions that fast-acting enterprises will test and deploy, while the latter will remain feature- and UI-static for as long as two to three years, receiving only security updates.

Other analysts have contended that Microsoft is pushing frequent updates to Windows 10 Technical Preview as much to test the process — both the back-end Windows Update service and the Windows 10 clients’ ability to absorb the changes and smoothly install the updates — as for the company’s stated reasons of gathering feedback and offering users an early look.

“Changes in Windows Update were put in place to make this possible,” Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said in an interview earlier this month. “The biggest question for Microsoft is how the updating process works with the Technical Preview.”

In the preview, customers have an update frequently choice of only “Fast” or “Slow.”

Build 9860 will be delivered automatically to most PCs running Windows 10 within days, but users can manually initiate the process by going to “PC Settings,” choosing “Update and recovery” and then “Preview builds,” and finally clicking the “Check Now” button.

Aul said that the download would weigh in at between 2GB and 2.7GB, and that the reboot, the reconstruction of the OS’s search index, and the syncing of OneDrive would take “longer than normal” and “some time.”

Microsoft will ship a second consumer-oriented preview in early 2015, but it’s virtually certain that the firm will provide more-or-less-monthly updates to the Technical Preview between now and then.