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Microsoft Begins Purge Of Dubious Apps In Windows App Store

August 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Microsoft has started getting rid of sham Windows Store apps that try to dupe users into paying for free software, the company has announced.

“Most of the developers behind apps that are found to violate our policies have good intentions and agree to make the necessary changes when notified,” said Todd Brix, general manager for the Windows Store, in a blog post yesterday. “Others have been less receptive, causing us to remove more than 1,500 apps as part of this review so far.”

The Windows Store is the official source of Windows 8′s (and 8.1′s) “Modern,” née “Metro” apps, the touch-based programs designed for tablets and touch-enabled notebooks.

Earlier this year, Brix’s team changed Windows Store apps’ certification — the process under which apps are admitted to the market — to require newly-submitted programs be clearly named, properly categorized and appropriately identified with an icon. Those modifications were made, said Brix, to “better ensure that apps are named and described in a way that doesn’t misrepresent their purpose.”

The same requirements have now been extended to apps already in the store.

The timing of Brix’s blog and Microsoft’s efforts to cleanse the Windows Store was no coincidence: More than a week ago, How-To Geek described its probe of the store in a piece titled ”The Windows Store is a Cesspool of Scams — Why Doesn’t Microsoft Care?”

In the story, How-To Geek pointed out worthless apps, some as expensive as $8.99, that did little more than point users to links for downloading Apple’s iTunes (free), Mozilla’s Firefox (also free) and VideoLAN’s VLC Player (yes, free). The publication also found fake — and paid — versions of Adobe’s Flash Player, Google’s Picasa, King’s Candy Crush Saga and Mojang’s Minecraft.

How-To Geek blamed Microsoft for the scam-app pollution. “Here’s one of the most shocking parts of this. People from Microsoft are actually examining each of these scammy apps, checking their content, and approving them,” the site said, pointing out pertinent parts of Microsoft’s certification process.

The apps How-To Geek fingered have been removed from the Windows Store, presumably as part the 1,500 Brix claimed had been bounced out.

How-To Geek’s story was widely cited by other websites, blogs and publications last week, reigniting charges that the Windows Store was packed with junk.

A quick look at MetroStore Scanner, which tracks each day’s new and updated apps, showed that Brix and his team have their work cut out for them. On Tuesday, according to MetroStore Scanner, 12 copies of the free KMPlayer, a media player owned by a Korean TV streaming company, were published to the Windows Store. However, the dozen KMPlayer copies — all using the transparently copycat name of “KM* 5.1 Player” but each with a different icon — were priced at either $0.99 or $1.99.

The real KMPlayer is currently at version 3.9.

MetroStore Scanner’s tally of the number of apps in the Windows Store was approximately 172,000 as of late Wednesday, meaning that the apps removed so far represented less than 1% of the total in the e-mart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Samsung Unveils First Of Its Kind Smartwatch, Mobile Phone Not Required

August 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd on Thursday debuted what it said was the first smartwatch capable of making and receiving calls without a mobile phone nearby, in the South Korean firm’s latest effort to find a new growth driver.

The world’s biggest smartphone maker has been pushing hard to develop the wearable devices market as it looks to counter slowing earnings in its mobile division, which led to weaker-than-expected second-quarter earnings.

Samsung is hardly alone in pushing wearables, which have yet to catch on with consumers. Rival Apple Inc is expected to launch its own device this year and LG Electronics Inc on Thursday announced its new G Watch R smartwatch featuring a circular plastic OLED screen, a stainless steel frame and leather strap.

Samsung’s new smartwatch, called the Gear S, differs from its predecessors with a bigger 2-inch (5 cm) curved display and offers features like WiFi connectivity, pedestrian navigation and a built-in GPS. This device will run on Samsung’s nascent Tizen operating system.

Samsung said the Gear S will start selling from October. It did not give details on pricing or where it will be available.

LG said its G Watch R will launch in key markets in the fourth quarter, without indicating a price.

 

 

Bitcoin Adoption Rate Continues Its Upward Trajectory

August 29, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Bitcoin is gaing greater acceptance at U.S. online merchants including Overstock.com and Expedia, as customers use a digital currency that just a few years ago was virtually unknown but is now showing some staying power.

Though sales paid for in bitcoin so far at vendors interviewed for this article have been a fraction of one percent, they expect that as acceptance grows, the online currency will one day be as ubiquitous as the internet.

“Bitcoin isn’t going anywhere; it’s here to stay,” said Michael Gulmann, vice president of global products at Expedia Inc. in Seattle, the largest online travel agent. “We want to be there from the beginning.” Expedia started accepting bitcoin payments for hotel bookings on July 11.

Until recently a niche alternative currency touted by a fervent group of followers, bitcoin has evolved into a software-based payment online system. Bitcoins are stored in a wallet with a unique identification number and companies like Coinbase and Blockchain can hold the currency for the user.

When buying an item from a merchant’s website, a customer simply clicks on the bitcoin option and a pop-in window appears where he can type in his wallet ID number.

Still, broad-based adoption of bitcoin is at least five years away because most consumers still prefer to use credit cards, analysts said.

“Bitcoin is a new way of making payments, but it’s not solving a problem that’s broken,” said George Peabody, payments consultant at Glenbrook Partners in Menlo Park, California. “Retail payments aren’t broken.”

There are also worries about bitcoin’s volatility: its price in U.S. dollars changes every day.

That risk is borne by the consumer and the bitcoin payment processor, such as Coinbase or Bitpay, not the retailer. The vendor doesn’t hold the bitcoin and is paid in U.S. dollars. As soon as a customer pays in bitcoin, the digital currency goes to the payment processor and the processor immediately pays the merchant, for a fee of less than 1 percent.

“We don’t have to deal with the actual holding of the bitcoin: it’s the payment processor that takes the currency risk for us,” said Bernie Han, chief operating officer at Dish Network Corp, in Englewood, Colorado. “That’s what makes it appealing for us and I guess for other merchants as well.”

 

 

HP Recalls 6M Laptop Power Cords Over Fire Concerns

August 28, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Hewlett-Packard has recalled more than 6 million laptop power cords that could potentially cause fire and/or burning hazards.

HP is recalling LS-15 AC power cords used with HP and Compaq branded laptops. The company is recalling about 5.6 million power cords in the U.S. and 446,000 units in Canada.

The cord pulls out of one end of the AC adapter. It came with laptops and accessories sold between September 2010 through June 2012, HP said on its power cord recall website.

There have been 29 reports of power cords overheating and melting, which led to claims for minor burns and property damage, HP and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said in a statement.

Customers are eligible for a replacement at no cost. The power cords are black and can be identified by the tag LS-15, which is on the AC adapter.

Customers can call 1-877- 219-6676, or visit HP’s website for the replacement.

 

 

Apple To Go Big With iPad Next Year

August 28, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

First there was the iPad at around 10 inches and then there was the iPad Mini that is closer to 8 inches. Now Apple Inc is gearing up to roll out a larger, 12.9-inch version of its once dominant iPad for 2015, with production set to begin in the first quarter of next year, Bloomberg cited people with knowledge of the matter as saying on Tuesday.

The report comes as Apple struggles with declining sales of its tablets, which are faltering as people replace iPads less frequently than expected and larger smartphones made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd  and other rivals have taken a bite out of its sales.

Apple has been working with its suppliers for over a year on larger touch-screen devices, Bloomberg cited the sources as saying.

It is expected to introduce larger versions of its 4-inch iPhone next month, although the company has not publicized plans for its most important device.

Apple was not immediately available for comment.

 

 

Apple Replacing Some iPhone 5 Batteries Free Of Charge

August 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Apple has agreed to replace some iPhone 5 batteries free of charge, claiming that “a very small percentage” of the smartphones needed to be charged more often and that those charges were quickly exhausted.

The program, which was announced last week, only in a support document published on Apple’s website, offered free battery replacements for iPhone 5 devices that “suddenly experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently.”

According to Apple, the affected phones were sold between September 2012 and January 2013, and “fall within a limited serial number range.” The Cupertino, Calif. company also said that only “a very small percentage” of iPhone 5 devices were impacted.

Computerworld‘s experience was different. Out of an admittedly small sample — three iPhone 5 phones bought during the stretch in question, each several weeks apart — two were eligible for the battery replacement. Neither of the two that qualified, however, had required more charging than was normal for a nearly-two-year-old iPhone, nor did their batteries drain any faster than the third, ineligible, device.

Apple started selling the iPhone 5 on Sept. 21, 2012. It retired the model last year when it was replaced by the iPhone 5S and 5C.

This was not the first time that Apple has dealt with iPhone battery issues. In October 2013, the company confirmed that it was contacting a “very limited” number of iPhone 5S owners and offering them a replacement phone.

In both 2009 and 2011, iPhone users also reported battery-draining problems with their iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4S devices, respectively.

Customers can check their iPhone 5 for battery replacement eligibility onApple’s website by entering their device’s serial number. That can be found under Settings/General/About.

Until Friday, Aug. 29, the replacement deal will be available only in the U.S. and China; on that date, other countries will come online.

 

 

 

Qantas, Virgin To Allow Smartphone Usage Throughout Flights

August 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Australian airlines Qantas Airways Ltd and Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd said passengers may use mobile phones and tablets during their flights, after a regulator relaxed a ban on electronic devices on planes.

The airlines said they would begin allowing passengers to use personal electronic devices for the duration of their flight after Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority followed a similar ruling from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in 2013.

The Australian airlines will hope giving customers almost continuous access to personal devices will increase their appeal as they engage in a price war with each other and other market participants. Currently, passengers are forced to switch off devices until the plane reaches cruising altitude.

The two domestic rivals are expected to post annual net losses later this week.

“We’re delighted to give Qantas customers the freedom and flexibility to use their personal electronic devices from the moment they board the plane until they disembark,” Qantas Domestic chief executive officer Lyell Strambi said in a statement.

Virgin Australia chief customer officer Mark Hassell said the high number of passengers who travel with a smartphone or tablet shows “how valuable gate-to-gate access is to their overall travel experience”.

 

 

Amazon Acquires Live-Streaming Game Network Twitch For Nearly $1B

August 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon.com Inc has acquired live-streaming gamingnetwork Twitch Interactive for about $970 million in cash, reflecting Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos’ vision to transform Amazon into an Internet destination beyond its roots in retail operations.

The deal, jointly announced by the two companies, is the largest deal in Amazon’s 20-year history and will help the U.S. e-commerce company vie with Apple Inc and Google Inc in the fast-growing world of online gaming, which accounts for more than 75 percent of all mobile app sales.

The acquisition involves some retention agreements that push the deal over $1 billion, a source close to the deal told Reuters.

“Twitch will further push Amazon into the gaming community while also helping it with video and advertising,” Macquarie Research analyst Ben Schachter said in a note.

Twitch’s format, which lets viewers message players and each other during live play, is garnering interest as one of the fastest-growing segments of digital video streaming, which in turn is attracting more and more advertising dollars.

The deal, expected to close in the second half of the year, is an unusual step for Amazon, which tends to build from within or make smaller acquisitions. Tech rival Google was earlier in talks to buy Twitch, which launched slightly more than three years ago, one person briefed on the deal said.

Neither Amazon nor Twitch would discuss how the deal came together or comment on Google’s interest.

In an interview, Twitch Chief Executive Officer Emmett Shear said the startup contacted Amazon because its deep pockets and ad sales expertise would allow the startup to pursue its strategic objectives more quickly.

“The reason why we reached out to Amazon, the reason I thought working for Amazon, having Twitch being a part of Amazon, would be a great idea for us (because) they would give us the resources to pursue these things that we honestly already want to pursue and they’d let us do it faster,” Shear said.

 

Does The NSA Have A “Bing” Like Search Engine?

August 27, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Uncategorized

National Security Agency (NSA) has its own homegrown search engine that it offers to similarly minded US intelligence outfits.

Website the Intercept was first to report this and attributes its news to information provided by whistleblowers. It said that the search engine is shared with a number of other US organisations and institutions.

The search tool is called ICREACH, according to the report, and has been available and in use for some years.

Documents gathered by the Intercept show the system in use in 2007, and calls the information that it offers “wholesale sharing”. The news website reports that the system is capable of handling two to five billion new records every day, and makes sense of email, phone call, fax, internet and text message metadata. It can also share location information culled from mobile phones.

“The ICREACH team delivered the first-ever wholesale sharing of communications metadata within the US Intelligence Community,” (IC) the report notes.

“This team began over two years ago with a basic concept compelled by the IC’s increasing need for communications metadata and NSA’s ability to collect, process and store vast amounts of communications metadata related to worldwide intelligence targets.”

We asked the NSA to comment on this, and it said that intelligence sharing is an important security feature and has been for some time.

“The appropriate and prudent sharing of information is a pillar of the post-9/11 Intelligence Community (IC),” the NSA said. According to the spy agency, the US Congress and two US administrations have requested that data and information not get “stove-piped” within separate US intelligence agencies.

“By allowing other IC organisations to query legally collected foreign-intelligence repositories of appropriately minimised data, analysts can develop vital intelligence leads without requiring access to raw intelligence collected by other IC agencies. The highest priority of the Intelligence Community is to work within the constraints of law to collect, analyse and understand information related to potential threats to our national security,” the NSA said.

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Microsoft Slash Prices On Surface 2 Tablets

August 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Microsoft has lowered the prices of its Surface 2 tablets by as much as 22%, dropping the entry-level Windows 8.1 RT device to $349.

It’s unknown whether Microsoft discounted the Surface 2 to clear inventory before it discontinues the tablet, in preparation for a successor, or simply to move a slow-selling product.

A clue may be in the length of the limited-time sale: Microsoft said that the reduced prices were good from Aug. 24 to Sept. 27, or “while supplies last,” and set the maximum number of devices per customer at a generous five.

Intriguingly, Microsoft is to host a press event on Sept. 30 to unveil the next edition of Windows, code named “Threshold” but perhaps officially to be called “Windows 9.” Rumors have circulated that Windows RT will also be revamped to drop the desktop mode and/or to add support for the pen bundled with the Surface Pro 3.

If those claims are accurate, the Sept. 30 event would be a perfect time to tout a revamped Windows RT and unveil replacements for the Surface 2.

Microsoft cut prices by $100 for each of the three Surface 2 models it sells: two Wi-Fi only tablets with 32GB or 64GB of storage, and a 64GB device that can connect to a cellular data network at LTE speeds.

The lowest-priced 32GB Surface 2 is now priced at $349, a 22% discount, while the 64GB tablet now costs $449, an 18% reduction. The sole LTE model, now $579, received a 15% price cut.

Microsoft’s Surface 2 is powered by Windows RT 8.1, the touch-centric, tile-interface that runs only “Modern,” nee “Metro,” apps. Windows RT cannot handle legacy Windows applications.

The Surface 2 was the follow-up to the disastrous Surface RT, the tablet which sold in such small volume — and which Microsoft built in such large numbers — that the company was forced to take a $900 million write-off in mid-2013.

Although the Surface Pro 2, which went on sale alongside the Surface 2 in October 2013, was updated to the Surface Pro 3 in May of this year, the Surface 2 has not been refreshed since its launch.

At its new price, the 32GB Surface 2, which boasts a 10.6-in. display, costs less than Apple’s entry-level 16GB iPad Mini with a 7.9-in. Retina-quality screen. That iPad Mini lists at $399.

Microsoft is selling the re-priced Surface 2 on its online store.

 

 

 

 

US Government Warns Major Businesses Hit By Backoff Malware

August 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Over 1,000 major enterprise networks and small and medium businesses in the U.S. have been compromised by a recently discovered malware package named Backoff and are probably unaware of it, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has said in a cybersecurity alert.

Backoff first appeared in October 2013 and is capable of scraping the memory contents of point of sales systems — industry speak for cash registers and other terminals used at store checkouts — for data swiped from credit cards, from monitoring the keyboard and logging keystrokes, from communicating with a remote server.

“Over the past year, the Secret Service has responded to network intrusions at numerous businesses throughout the United States that have been impacted by the “Backoff” malware,” the alert said. “Seven PoS system providers/vendors have confirmed that they have had multiple clients affected.”

The malware is thought to be responsible for the recent data breaches at Target, SuperValu supermarkets and UPS stores, and the Secret Service is still learning of new infections.

DHS first warned of Backoff in late July, when it noted the malware was not detectable my most antivirus software. That made it particularly difficult to stop, because much of the fight against computer viruses and malware rests on antivirus applications.

Most antivirus packages now detect Backoff, but DHS is advising network operators take immediate action to ensure they haven’t been affected.

“DHS strongly recommends actively contacting your IT team, antivirus vendor, managed service provider, and/or point of sale system vendor to assess whether your assets may be vulnerable and/or compromised,” it said. “The Secret Service is active in contacting impacted businesses, as they are identified, and continues to work with and support those businesses that have been impacted by this PoS malware.”

In many cases, hackers gained access to machines through brute-force attacks on remote log-in systems offered through companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google and other third-party vendors. Once inside, they were able to copy the malware to the machine and set it capturing credit card data.

The DHS asked that instances of it are reported to a local Secret Service field office.

 

China To Unveil PC OS To Compete With Microsoft, Google

August 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

China plans to roll out a home-grown operating system by October to wean the country from foreign-made OSes like Windows, the government-run Xinhua news agency said Sunday.

The operating system, which Xinhua did not name, will be initially offered on desktop PCs, with the plan to later extend it to smartphones. The news service cited a report in the People’s Post and Telecommunications News, a trade paper run by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the agency responsible for, among other things, the regulation and development of China’s software industry.

“We hope to launch a Chinese-made desktop operating system by October supporting app stores,” Ni Guangnan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told the trade paper, according to a translation by Reuters on Sunday.

Ni leads an official operating system development alliance established in March by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

According to the People’s Post and Telecommunications News, Ni cited the end of Windows XP support and the ban on Windows 8 on government computers as giving domestic OS developers an opening.

Earlier this year, China officials banned the use of Windows 8 on government computers, a move triggered by the end of Windows XP’s support in April. Before that, authorities had blasted Microsoft for halting security updates to the 13-year-old OS.

Historically, China has been a stronghold of Windows XP, in large part because of massive piracy of Microsoft’s software.

China has long been at odds with foreign technology firms, particularly Microsoft and Google — but also at times with Apple — over their impact and influence in the country. But that animus increased significantly last month when government antitrust regulators raided several Microsoft offices, seizing computers and documents in a first step of an investigation. The probe had been prompted by complaints lodged since July 2013 about how Windows and Microsoft Office are bundled, about Windows-Office compatibility and about other unnamed concerns.

The People’s Post and Telecommunications News‘ story (Chinese language version) cited by Xinhua ran on Thursday, and provided more detail about the domestic OS plans.

Ni spelled out a timeline that could replace foreign operating systems on the desktop in one to two years, then in three to five years expand to mobile devices. Private industry, Ni added, may co-fund development of the home-grown OS.

“Creating an environment that allows us to compete with Google, Apple and Microsoft, that is our key to success,” Ni said.

China has worked on a its own OS before: In 2000, Red Flag Linux, which was funded in part by the government’s Ministry of Information, was released. Later that year, Red Flag was mandated as the replacement for Windows 2000 on all government PCs. Tensions at the time between China’s government and Microsoft were at the root of that order.

 

 

 

Oracle Appears To Be Going To Court

August 26, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Oregon is so unhappy with the performance of the website that Oracle built for its Obamacare rollout it is suing and it is not mincing its words.

Oracle billed hundreds of millions of dollars to build the site and when it did not work Oracle sued Oregon for $23 million more for its work.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber in May “asked the state attorney general to take legal action against” Oracle to get its money.

The complaint from the state of Oregon is vicious. It said that over the last three years, Oracle has presented the State and Cover Oregon with some $240,280,008 in false claims under those contracts.

It called Oracle “racketeering activity” that has cost the State and Cover Oregon hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ellen Rosenblum, the Attorney General for the State of Oregon, along with the State and Cover Oregon, brings this lawsuit to recover losses to the State and Cover Oregon caused by Oracle’s fraud, racketeering, false claims, and broken contracts.

Oracle couldn’t show a working website by September 2013 and the state realised that, according to the complaint, “Oracle’s assurances were worthless.”

To make matters worse a former Oracle employee told the State that it had been sold a lie.

Apparently Oracle cobbled together collection of products which it called the “Oracle Solution” was not flexible, was not integrated, and most importantly, did not work “out-of-the-box.”

Courtesy-Fud

Intel Moving Closer To ‘Wire-Free’ Computing

August 25, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Intel is moving closer towards providing what it calls “wire-free” computing by 2016, a plan the company first talked about publicly in June at the Computex trade show.

The company is developing a smart dock through which laptops can wirelessly connect to monitors and external peripherals, it said in a blog entry.

The dock will remove the need to plug HDMI or DisplayPort display connectors directly into laptops. The wireless dock will provide USB 3.0-like speeds to transfer data to external peripherals.

“When you walk in the office with your laptop, it will automatically link with your wireless-enabled monitor or projector to deliver an HD streaming experience without the hassle of plugging into your HDMI or DisplayPort,” Intel said.

The chip maker is also developing technology so wireless monitors automatically start and link up when laptops are within a specific distance. Intel calls this “proximity-based peripheral syncing” technology.

Intel demonstrated the technology in a video accompanying the blog post. Users could also log on with face recognition, without the need to touch the keyboard.

Intel has said most of its wire-free computing will be based on WiGig, a fast-growing wireless data transfer technology. WiGig is considered faster than the latest Wi-Fi technology. Intel is also considering WiGig to connect wireless keyboards and mice to laptops.

The company also wants to get rid of power adapters and is developing wireless charging technologies for laptops. Intel at Computex showed laptops charging on a table equipped with a charging pad based on A4WP’s Rezence magnetic resonance technology.

Intel will talk about wire-free computing for business PCs at the Intel Developer Forum next month in San Francisco. The company will share details about wireless docking and displays as part of vPro, Intel’s platform for managing PCs remotely.

Intel wants to make laptops easier to use, so they are more like smartphones and tablets, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

“If they don’t make investment like this, an old-school laptop starts looking really old,” McCarron said. “The goal of all this stuff is to make things seamless and transparent.”

The wire-free development also underscores the importance of WiGig, with more companies investing in the technology, McCarron said.

 

 

Microsoft Helping Hardware Makers To Offer Cheaper PCs

August 25, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft is aiding hardware manufacturers in building low-priced Windows PCs to challenge Chromebooks, and the early results of that effort are hitting the market.

Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo are selling laptops priced less than $250 that run on Windows 8.1 With Bing, a royalty-free version of the company’s flagship operating system. Windows 8.1 With Bing is the same as Windows 8.1, but it has Bing as the default search engine in Internet Explorer.

Microsoft is using Windows 8.1 With Bing, which was unveiled in May, to spread Windows to more low-cost PCs and tablets. It’s also an attempt to take on Google’s free Chrome OS, which is used in Chromebooks, the inexpensive and lightweight laptops that are growing in popularity among the Web-based computing audience.

The first PCs featuring Windows 8.1 With Bing were shown at Computex in June. The cheapest is a Lenovo desktop model that costs $225. Laptops start at $249. Microsoft has promised that laptop prices will fall to $199 with HP’s Stream 14 model, which has not been unveiled – though information about it has leaked out.

Some Acer Chromebooks sell for less than $200, but HP, Dell and Lenovo are selling Windows laptops that are priced lower than their Chromebooks. The laptops have basic processors and specifications, much like comparable Chromebooks.

The Windows laptops have common features such as 1366-x-768-pixel resolution screens, hard drive storage and HDMI ports. The processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are good for basic computing and casual gaming, but the laptops do have some deficiencies.

HP is shipping the 15z, a 15.6-in. nontouch laptop, and the Pavilion 10z, which has a 10.1-in. touchscreen. Both are priced at $249.99 and run on low-end AMD processors. Features include Wi-Fi, up to 500GB of hard-drive storage and a maximum of 4GB of memory. The laptops have poor battery life, with the 15z offering 4 hours and 15 minutes, and the Pavilion 10z offering 4 hours.

Lenovo’s G40, which has a 14-in. screen, and the G50-30, which has a 15.6-in. screen, are priced at $249. The laptops have 320GB hard drives, 2GB of memory and Intel’s Celeron 2830 processor, which is based on the Bay Trail architecture.

Dell’s $249.99 Inspiron 15 Non-Touch laptop has no USB 3.0 port but is instead equipped with two USB 2.0 ports. PC makers often sacrifice some hardware features in inexpensive laptops. The Inspiron also has the Celeron 2830 CPU, 500GB of storage and 4GB of DDR3 memory.

The least expensive PC featuring Windows 8.1 With Bing is Lenovo’s Q190 mini-desktop, which is selling for $224.99, compared to $285.99 for the Windows 8.1-only version. The desktops have Intel’s Celeron 1017U processor, which is based on the older Ivy Bridge microarchitecture.

The desktop is priced much lower than the $490 IdeaCentre Q190, which shipped with a Core i3 processor and Windows 8 last year.