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Oracle Identifies Its Products Affected By Heartbleed, But No Estimates On Fixes

April 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Oracle issued a comprehensive list of its software that may or may not be impacted by the OpenSSL (secure sockets layer) vulnerability known as Heartbleed, while warning that no fixes are yet available for some likely affected products.

The list includes well over 100 products that appear to be in the clear, either because they never used the version of OpenSSL reported to be vulnerable to Heartbleed, or because they don’t use OpenSSL at all.

However, Oracle is still investigating whether another roughly 20 products, including MySQL Connector/C++, Oracle SOA Suite and Nimbula Director, are vulnerable.

Oracle determined that seven products are vulnerable and is offering fixes. These include Communications Operation Monitor, MySQL Enterprise Monitor, MySQL Enterprise Server 5.6, Oracle Communications Session Monitor, Oracle Linux 6, Oracle Mobile Security Suite and some Solaris 11.2 implementations.

Another 14 products are likely to be vulnerable, but Oracle doesn’t have fixes for them yet, according to the post. These include BlueKai, Java ME and MySQL Workbench.

Users of Oracle’s growing family of cloud services may also be able to breath easy. “It appears that both externally and internally (private) accessible applications hosted in Oracle Cloud Data Centers are currently not at risk from this vulnerability,” although Oracle continues to investigate, according to the post.

Heartbleed, which was revealed by researchers last week, can allow attackers who exploit it to steal information on systems thought to be protected by OpenSSL encryption. A fix for the vulnerable version of OpenSSL has been released and vendors and IT organizations are scrambling to patch their products and systems.

Observers consider Heartbleed one of the most serious Internet security vulnerabilities in recent times.

Meanwhile, this week Oracle also shipped 104 patches as part of its regular quarterly release.

The patch batch includes security fixes for Oracle database 11g and 12c, Fusion Middleware 11g and 12c, Fusion Applications, WebLogic Server and dozens of other products. Some 37 patches target Java SE alone.

A detailed rundown of the vulnerabilities’ relative severity has been posted to an official Oracle blog.

 

Lavaboom Offers New Encrypted Webmail Service

April 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A new webmail service named Lavaboom promises to provide easy-to-use email encryption without ever learning its users’ private encryption keys or message contents.

Lavaboom, based in Germany and founded by Felix MA1/4ller-Irion, is named after Lavabit, the now defunct encrypted email provider believed to have been used by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Lavabit decided to shut down its operations in August in response to a U.S. government request for its SSL private key that would have allowed the government to decrypt all user emails.

Lavaboom designed its system for end-to-end encryption, meaning that only users will be in possession of the secret keys needed to decrypt the messages they receive from others. The service will only act as a carrier for already encrypted emails.

Lavaboom calls this feature “zero-knowledge privacy” and implemented it in a way that allows emails to be encrypted and decrypted locally using JavaScript code inside users’ browsers instead of its own servers.

The goal of this implementation is to protect against upstream interception of email traffic as it travels over the Internet and to prevent Lavaboom to produce plain text emails or encryption keys if the government requests them. While this would protect against some passive data collection efforts by intelligence agencies like the NSA, it probably won’t protect against other attack techniques and exploits that such agencies have at their disposal to obtain data from computers and browsers after it was decrypted.

Security researchers have yet to weigh in on the strength of Lavaboom’s implementation. The service said on its website that it considers making parts of the code open source and that it has a small budget for security audits if any researchers are interested.

Those interested in trying out the service can request to be included in its beta testing period, scheduled to start in about two weeks.

Free Lavaboom accounts will come with 250MB of storage space and will use two-way authentication based on the public-private keypair and a password. A premium subscription will cost a!8 (around US$11) per month and will provide users with 1GB of storage space and a three-factor authentication option.

 

Ubuntu Goes 64-bit On ARM

April 18, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Canonical has announced its latest milestone server release, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

The company, which is better known for its open source Ubuntu Linux desktop operating system, has been supplying a server flavor of Ubuntu since 2006 that is being used by Netflix and Snapchat.

Ubuntu 14.04 Long Term Support (LTS) claims to be the most interoperable Openstack implementation, designed to run across multiple environments using Icehouse, the latest iteration of Openstack.

Canonical product manager Mark Baker told The INQUIRER, “The days of denying Ubuntu are over, and the cloud is where we can make a difference.”

Although Canonical regular issues incremental releases of Ubuntu, LTS releases such as this one represent landmarks for the operating system, which only come about ever two years. LTS releases are also supported for a full five years.

New in this Ubuntu 14.04 LTS release are Juju and Maas orchestration and automation tools and support for hyperscale ARM 64-bit computing such as the server setup recently announced by AMD.

Baker continued, “We’re not an enterprise vendor in the traditional sense. We’ve got a pretty good idea of how to do it by now. Openstack is gaining a more formal status as enterprise evolves to adopt cloud based solutions, and we are making a commitment to support it.

“Openstack Iceberg is also considered LTS and as such will be supported for five years.”

Scalability is another key factor. Baker said, “We look at performance. For the majority of our customers it’s about efficiency – how rapidly we can scale up and scale in, and that’s something Ubuntu does incredibly well.”

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS will be available to download from Thursday.

Courtesy-TheInq

Does Samsung Fingerprint Sensor Work?

April 18, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Security experts from from Germany’s Security Research Labs have broken into Samsung’s fingerprint technology by taking a fingerprint smudge from the smartphone and creating a “wood glue dummy” finger with it. Apparently the S5 falls for the fault every time.

The problem is because the scanner has such a high trust rating within the phone, it will also mean that any thief will have access to the owners PayPal account. Neither of these actions require an additional password to be entered. PayPal has said that while it was taking the findings from Security Research Labs seriously, it was confident that fingerprint authentication offers and easier and more secure way to pay on mobile devices than passwords or credit cards.

The scan unlocks a secure cryptographic key that serves as a password replacement for the phone and this can be deactivated from a lost or stolen device, and you can create a new one. Paypal also uses sophisticated fraud and risk management tools to try to prevent fraud before it happens.

However you would think someone would have learnt by now a similar method was used to break the iPhone 5S’ fingerprint scanner last year. A better method was to cut the iPhone owner’s finger off. It was more messy but a lot more satisfying. There is a video of German researchers figuring out ways of making your phone talk after the break.

 

 

Courtesy-Fud

Intel Looks To Android To Boost Tablet Business

April 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Its becoming more obvious lately that Intel and Microsoft are no longer joined at the hip. Intel is trying desperately to make a dent in the tablet market, and with Windows struggling on those devices, Android is where it’s at.

Intel hopes to see its processors used in 40 million tablets this year, and 80% to 90% of those will be running Google’s Android OS, CEO Brian Krzanich said on Tuesday.

“Our mix of OSes reflects pretty much what you see in the marketplace,” Krzanich said during Intel’s quarterly earnings call.

Most Intel-powered tablets running Android today use the older Medfield and Clover Trail+ chips. More Android tablets running the latest Atom processor, called Bay Trail, will ship later this quarter.

That’s not to say Intel is abandoning Windows — far from it. It’s just going where the market is today. Krzanich said he expects Windows to “grow and gain traction,” and more Intel-based tablets running both Android and Windows will be shown in June at the massive Computex trade show in Taipei.

The first Android-based Bay Trail tablet, the DreamTab, was announced in January, but it hasn’t shipped yet.

Intel is chasing ARM, the U.K. company whose processor designs are used in most tablets today, including those running both Android and Apple’s iOS.

The 40 million Intel tablets that will ship this year will give the company 15% to 20% of the tablet market, Intel CFO Stacy Smith said on the earnings call.

Intel is providing discounts and development funds to tablet makers to reduce the cost of using its chips. It’s looking for growth with the white-box Chinese tablet makers, which are expected to ship up to 130 million tablets this year.

Intel chips are available in some tablets now priced under $99, but most will be priced between $125 and $250, Krzanich said.

Microsoft hasn’t made much of a dent yet in Google’s and Apple’s share of the market, but IDC estimated last month that Windows would have 10.2% of the tablet market by 2017. Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard have launched Windows 8 tablets with Bay Trail, and Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 2 uses an Intel Core processor, but the tablets haven’t sold well.

 

 

 

Google Glass One Day Sale Proves Successful

April 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Google’s one-day sale of Google Glass appears to have been a success with all units sold out, a blog post by the technology titan suggests.

“All spots in the Explorer Program have been claimed for now, but if you missed it this time, don’t worry,” the Google Glass team wrote on its blog on Wednesday.

“We’ll be trying new ways to expand the Explorer program in the future.”

Google did not respond to a request for more information, but an earlier post about the one-day sale spoke of brisk sales of the $1,500 Internet-enabled headset.

“We’ve sold out of Cotton (white), so things are moving really fast,” the team wrote.

Aside from the white version, Glass was being offered in shades marketed as Charcoal, Tangerine, Shale (grey) and Sky (blue). Buyers had the choice of their favorite shade or frame. Google announced the one-day sale available to all U.S. residents over 18 last week, adding it wasn’t ready to bring the gizmo to other countries. Shoppers who missed it have to sign up for updates at the Glass website.

Only a few thousand early adopters and developers had Glass before the one-day sale, which coincided with a major software update for the heads-up display that put video calling on hold.

An official launch of Google Glass may happen later this year.

 

Red Hat Goes Atomic

April 17, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

The Red Hat Summit kicked off in San Francisco on Tuesday, and continued today with a raft of announcements.

Red Hat launched a new fork of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) with the title “Atomic Host”. The new version is stripped down to enable lightweight deployment of software containers. Although the mainline edition also support software containers, this lightweight version improves portability.

This is part of a wider Red Hat initiative, Project Atomic, which also sees virtualisation platform Docker updated as part of the ongoing partnership between the two organisations.

Red Hat also announced a release candidate (RC) for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7. The beta version has already been downloaded 10,000 times. The Atomic Host fork is included in the RC.

Topping all that is the news that Red Hat’s latest stable release, RHEL 6.5 has been deployed at the Organisation for European Nuclear Research – better known as CERN.

The European laboratory, which houses the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and was birthplace of the World Wide Web has rolled out the latest versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation and Red Hat Technical Account Management. Although Red Hat has a long history with CERN, this has been a major rollout for the facility.

The logging server of the LHC is one of the areas covered by the rollout, as are the financial and human resources databases.

The infrastructure comprises a series of dual socket servers, virtualised on Dell Poweredge M610 servers with up to 256GB RAM per server and full redundancy to prevent the loss of mission critical data.

Niko Neufeld, deputy project leader at the Large Hadron Collider, said, “Our LHCb experiment requires a powerful, very reliable and highly available IT environment for controlling and monitoring our 70 million CHF detectors. Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization is at the core of our virtualized infrastructure and complies with our stringent requirements.”

Other news from the conference includes the launch of Openshift Marketplace, allowing customers to try solutions for cloud applications, and the release of Red Hat Jboss Fuse 6.1 and Red Hat Jboss A-MQ 6.1, which are standards based integration and messaging products designed to manage everything from cloud computing to the Internet of Things.

Courtesy-TheInq

Reddit Going After More Users, Advertisers With New Feature

April 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Reddit, a website with a retro-’90s look and space-alien mascot that tracks everything from online news to celebrity Q&As, is trying to attract even more followers, and advertising, by allowing members of its passionate community to post their own news more quickly and easily.

Reddit, majority owned by Conde Nast parent Advanced Publications, last month unveiled a new feature that lets users of the nine-year-old site post live updates, allowing them to report in real time.

The live updates allow selected users, dubbed “reporters” by Reddit, to instantly stream unlimited posts during the course of an event such as the conflict in the Ukraine, an earthquake in Los Angeles, or a game played in real time, without having to refresh the page.

The capability is still in testing mode. So far only users selected on a case-by-case basis can create a live thread. The feature has attracted attention. For example, live threads linked to “Twitch plays Pokemon,” in which users of the Twitch website played an old Nintendo game, garnered 2 million page views in 30 days.

“Reddit members are doing amazing things with very minimal tools and were hitting some barriers,” said Erik Martin, general manager.

Martin, who said the site is not yet profitable and declined to give specific revenue figures, added: “We want to give people a more powerful way to make updates.”

Reddit’s move toward enabling users to fluidly update is the latest move in a battle between social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to use news to engage users, and attract more ad dollars.

Before, Reddit users could not update in real time. The new feature is similar to how people instantly send tweets but keeps the updates together through one thread or “subreddit.”

Reddit, which also gets revenue through e-commerce, has ramped up efforts of late to attract more advertisers. Next week, it plans to unveil city and country targeting capabilities that allow advertisers to address users by geographic market.

One recent ad, specific to Reddit, featured the actors Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray, stars of the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” as individual threads.

Some 62 percent of Reddit users get their news through the platform while about half of all Facebook and Twitter users do the same, according to a recent report on the State of the News Media from the Pew Research Center.

“Reddit is all about the community, that is the value they brought to the site as they created it,” said Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, who has been following Reddit since it was founded.

“News has always been really important to Reddit,” she said.

Reddit has more than 114 million unique visitors worldwide and has doubled its traffic in 12 months, said Martin. Facebook has more than 1 billion users and Twitter has more than 240 million.

 

MediaTek Shows Off New LTE SoC

April 17, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

MediaTek has shown off one of its most interesting SoC designs to date at the China Electronic Information Expo. The MT6595 was announced a while ago, but this is apparently the first time MediaTek showcased it in action.

It is a big.LITTLE octa-core with integrated LTE support. It has four Cortex A17 cores backed by four Cortex A7 cores and it can hit 2.2GHz. The GPU of choice is the PowerVR G6200. It supports 2K4K video playback and recording, as well as H.265. It can deal with a 20-megapixel camera, too.

The really interesting bit is the modem. It can handle TD-LTE/FDD-LTE/WCDMA/TD-SCDMA/GSM networks, hence the company claims it is the first octa-core with on board LTE. Qualcomm has already announced an LTE-enabled octa-core, but it won’t be ready anytime soon. The MT6595 will – it is expected to show up in actual devices very soon.

Of course, MediaTek is going after a different market. Qualcomm is building the meanest possible chip with four 64-bit Cortex A57 cores and four A53 cores, while MediaTek is keeping the MT6595 somewhat simpler, with smaller 32-bit cores.

Courtesy-Fud

Google Reveals Email Scanning Practices In Revised Terms Of Service

April 16, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google Inc updated its terms of service earlier this week, informing users that their incoming and outgoing emails are automatically analyzed by software to create targeted ads.

The revisions more explicitly spell out the manner in which Google software scans users’ emails, both when messages are stored on Google’s servers and when they are in transit, a controversial practice that has been at the heart of litigation.

Last month, a U.S. judge decided not to combine several lawsuits that accused Google of violating the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of email users into a single class action.

Users of Google’s Gmail email service have accused the company of violating federal and state privacy and wiretapping laws by scanning their messages so it could compile secret profiles and target advertising. Google has argued that users implicitly consented to its activity, recognizing it as part of the email delivery process.

Google spokesman Matt Kallman said in a statement that the changes “will give people even greater clarity and are based on feedback we’ve received over the last few months.”

Google’s updated terms of service added a paragraph stating that “our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.

 

Mt. Gox Founder Refuses To Appear In U.S. Regarding Bankruptcy

April 16, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Mark Karpeles, the founder of Mt. Gox, has refused to come to the United States to answer questions about the Japanese bitcoin exchange’s U.S. bankruptcy case, Mt. Gox lawyers told a federal judge on Monday.

In the court filing, Mt. Gox lawyers cited a subpoena from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which has closely monitored virtualcurrencies like bitcoin.

“Mr. Karpeles is now in the process of obtaining counsel to represent him with respect to the FinCEN Subpoena. Until such time as counsel is retained and has an opportunity to ‘get up to speed’ and advise Mr. Karpeles, he is not willing to travel to the U.S.”, the filing said.

The subpoena requires Karpeles to appear and provide testimony in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

The court papers also said a Japanese court had been informed of the issue and that a hearing was scheduled on Tuesday in Japan.

Bitcoin is a digital currency that, unlike conventional money, is bought and sold on a peer-to-peer network independent of central control. Its value has soared in the last year, and the total worth of bit coins minted is now about $7 billion.

Mt. Gox, once the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange, filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan last month, saying it may have lost nearly half a billion dollars worth of the virtual coins due to hacking into its computer system.

According to Monday’s court filings, the subpoena did not specify topics for discussion.

In the court filings, Karpelès’ lawyers asked the court to delay the bankruptcy deposition to May 5, 2014 but said that Mt. Gox could not guarantee that Karpeles would attend that either.

 

Intel Shows Off New Hybrid Laptop Geared Towards Schools

April 15, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Intel unveiled a laptop-tablet hybrid with Windows 8.1 for the education market, where Chromebooks and tablets are also vying for customers.

The Intel Education 2-in-1 hybrid has a 10.1-inch screen that can detach from a keyboard base to turn into a tablet. Intel makes reference designs, which are then replicated by device makers and sold to educational institutions.

The 2-in-1 has a quad-core Intel Atom processor Z3740D, which is based on the Bay Trail architecture. The battery lasts about eight hours in tablet mode, and three more hours when docked with the keyboard base, which has a second battery.

Intel did not immediately return requests for comment on the estimated price for the hybrid or when it would become available.

Education is a hotly contested market among computer makers, as Apple pushes its iPads and MacBooks while PC makers like Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo hawk their Chromebooks.

Some features in the Intel 2-in-1 are drawn from the company’s Education tablets, which also run on Atom processors, but have the Android OS.

The 2-in-1 hybrid has front-facing and rear-facing cameras, and a snap-on magnification lens that allows students to examine items at a microscopic level.

The computer can withstand a drop of 70 centimeters, a feature added as protection for instances in which children mishandle laptops and let them fall. The keyboard base also has a handle.

The screen can be swiveled and placed on the keyboard, giving it the capability of a classic convertible laptop. This feature has been drawn from Intel’s Classmate series of education laptops.

The 2-in-1 has software intended to make learning easier, including tools for the arts and science. Intel’s Kno app provides access to 225,000 books. Typically, some of the books available via Kno are free, while others are fee-based.

 

 

BlackBerry Plans To Release Patch For ‘Heartbleed’ Vulnerability

April 15, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

BlackBerry Ltd said it will release security updates for messaging software for Android and iOS devices by Friday to address vulnerabilities in programs related to the “Heartbleed” security threat.

Researchers last week warned they uncovered Heartbleed, a bug that targets the OpenSSL software commonly used to keep data secure, potentially allowing hackers to steal massive troves of information without leaving a trace.

Security experts initially told companies to focus on securing vulnerable websites, but have since warned about threats to technology used in data centers and on mobile devices running Google Inc’s Android software and Apple Inc’s iOS software.

Scott Totzke, BlackBerry senior vice president, told Reuters on Sunday that while the bulk of BlackBerry products do not use the vulnerable software, the company does need to update two widely used products: Secure Work Space corporate email and BBM messaging program for Android and iOS.

He said they are vulnerable to attacks by hackers if they gain access to those apps through either WiFi connections or carrier networks.

Still, he said, “The level of risk here is extremely small,” because BlackBerry’s security technology would make it difficult for a hacker to succeed in gaining data through an attack.

“It’s a very complex attack that has to be timed in a very small window,” he said, adding that it was safe to continue using those apps before an update is issued.

Google spokesman Christopher Katsaros declined comment. Officials with Apple could not be reached.

Security experts say that other mobile apps are also likely vulnerable because they use OpenSSL code.

Michael Shaulov, chief executive of Lacoon Mobile Security, said he suspects that apps that compete with BlackBerry in an area known as mobile device management are also susceptible to attack because they, too, typically use OpenSSL code.

He said mobile app developers have time to figure out which products are vulnerable and fix them.

“It will take the hackers a couple of weeks or even a month to move from ‘proof of concept’ to being able to exploit devices,” said Shaulov.

Technology firms and the U.S. government are taking the threat extremely seriously. Federal officials warned banks and other businesses on Friday to be on alert for hackers seeking to steal data exposed by the Heartbleed bug.

Companies including Cisco Systems Inc, Hewlett-Packard Co, International Business Machines Corp, Intel Corp, Juniper Networks Inc, Oracle Corp Red Hat Inc have warned customers they may be at risk. Some updates are out, while others, like BlackBerry, are rushing to get them ready.

 

Can Micro-Consoles Compete With True Gaming Consoles?

April 15, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

With Amazon’s Fire TV device the first out the door, the second wave of microconsoles has just kicked off. Amazon’s device will be joined in reasonably short order by one from Google, with an app-capable update of the Apple TV device also likely in the works. Who else will join the party is unclear; Sony’s Vita TV, quietly soft-launched in Japan last year, remains a potentially fascinating contender if it had the right messaging and services behind it, but for now it’s out of the race. One thing seems certain, though; at least this time we’re actually going to have a party.

“Second wave”, you see, rather implies the existence of a first wave of microconsoles, but last time out the party was disappointing, to say the least. In fact, if you missed the first wave, don’t feel too bad; you’re in good company. Despite enthusiasm, Kickstarter dollars and lofty predictions, the first wave of microconsole devices tanked. Ouya, Gamestick and their ilk just turned out to be something few people actually wanted or needed. Somewhat dodgy controllers and weak selections of a sub-set of Android’s game library merely compounded the basic problem – they weren’t sufficiently cheap or appealing compared to the consoles reaching their end-of-life and armed with a vast back catalogue of excellent, cheap AAA software.

“The second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail”

That was always the reality which deflated the most puffed-up “microconsoles will kill consoles” argument; the last wave of microconsoles sucked compared to consoles, not just for the core AAA gamer but for just about everyone else as well. Their hardware was poor, their controllers uncomfortable, their software libraries anaemic and their much-vaunted cost savings resulting from mobile game pricing rather than console game pricing tended to ignore the actual behaviour of non-core console gamers – who rarely buy day-one software and as a result get remarkably good value for money from their console gaming experiences. Comparing mobile game pricing or F2P models to $60 console games is a pretty dishonest exercise if you know perfectly well that most of the consumers you’re targeting wouldn’t dream of spending $60 on a console game, and never have to.

Why is the second wave of microconsoles going to be different? Three words: Amazon, Google, Apple. Perhaps Sony; perhaps even Samsung or Microsoft, if the wind blows the right direction for those firms (a Samsung microconsole, sold separately and also bundled into the firm’s TVs, as Sony will probably do with Vita TV in future Bravia televisions, would make particular sense). Every major player in the tech industry has a keen interest in controlling the channel through which media is consumed in the living room. Just as Sony and Microsoft originally entered the games business with a “trojan horse” strategy for controlling living rooms, Amazon and Google now recognise games as being a useful way to pursue the same objective. Thus, unlike the plucky but poorly conceived efforts of the small companies who launched the first wave of microconsoles, the second wave is backed by the most powerful tech giants in the world, whose titanic struggle with each other for control of the means of media distribution means their devices will have enormous backing.

To that end, Amazon has created its own game studios, focusing their efforts on the elusive mid-range between casual mobile games and core console games. Other microconsole vendors may take a different approach, creating schemes to appeal to third-party developers rather than building in-house studios (Apple, at least, is almost guaranteed to go down this path; Google could yet surprise us by pursuing in-house development for key exclusive titles). Either way, the investment in software will come. The second wave of microconsoles will not be “boxes that let you play phone games on your TV”; at least not entirely. Rather, they will enjoy dedicated software support from companies who understand that a hit exclusive game would be a powerful way to drive installed base and usage.

Moreover, this wave of microconsoles will enjoy significant retail support. Fire TV’s edge is obvious; Amazon is the world’s largest and most successful online retailer, and it will give Fire TV prime billing on its various sites. The power of being promoted strongly by Amazon is not to be underestimated. Kindle Fire devices may still be eclipsed by the astonishing strength of the iPad in the tablet market, but they’re effectively the only non-iPad devices in the running, in sales terms, largely because Amazon has thrown its weight as a retailer behind them. Apple, meanwhile, is no laggard at retail, operating a network of the world’s most profitable stores to sell its own goods, while Google, although the runt of the litter in this regard, has done a solid job of balancing direct sales of its Nexus handsets with carrier and retail sales, work which it could bring to bear effectively on a microconsole offering.

In short, the second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail. Moreover, they’ll be “trojan horse” devices in more ways than one, since their primary purpose will be as media devices, streaming content from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Hulu, Netflix and so on, while also serving as solid gaming devices in their own right. Here, then, is the convergence that microconsole advocates (and the rather less credible advocates of Smart TV) have been predicting all along; a tiny box that will stream all your media off the network and also build in enough gaming capability to satisfy the mainstream of consumers. Between the microconsole under the TV and the phone in your pocket, that’s gaming all sewn up, they reckon; just as a smartphone camera is good enough for almost everyone, leaving digital SLRs and their ilk to the devoted hobbyist, the professional and the poseur, a microconsole and a smartphone will be more than enough gaming for almost everyone, leaving dedicated consoles and gaming PCs to a commercially irrelevant hardcore fringe.

There are, I think, two problems with that assessment. The first is the notion that the “hardcore fringe” who will use dedicated gaming hardware is small enough to be commercially irrelevant; I’ve pointed out before that the strong growth of a new casual gaming market does not have to come at the cost of growth in the core market, and may even support it by providing a new stream of interested consumers. This is not a zero-sum game, and will not be a zero-sum game until we reach a point where there are no more non-gaming consumers out there to introduce to our medium. Microconsoles might do very well and still cause not the slightest headache to PlayStation, Xbox or Steam.

The second problem with the assessment is a problem with the microconsoles themselves – a problem which the Fire TV suffers from very seriously, and which will likely be replicated by subsequent devices. The problem is control.

Games are an interactive experience. Having a box which can run graphically intensive games is only one side of the equation – it is, arguably, the less important side of the equation. The other side is the controller, the device through which the player interacts with the game world. The most powerful graphics hardware in the world would be meaningless without some enjoyable, comfortable, well-designed method of interaction for players; and out of the box, Fire TV doesn’t have that.

Sure, you can control games (some of them, anyway) with the default remote control, but that’s going to be a terrible experience. I’m reminded of terribly earnest people ten years ago trying to convince me that you could have fun controlling complex games on pre-smartphone phones, or on TV remote controls linked up to cable boxes; valiant efforts ultimately doomed not only by a non-existent business ecosystem but by a terrible, terrible user experience. Smartphones heralded a gaming revolution not just because of the App Store ecosystem, but because it turned out that a sensitive multi-touch screen isn’t a bad way of controlling quite a lot of games. It still doesn’t work for many types of game; a lot of traditional game genres are designed around control mechanisms that simply can’t be shoehorned onto a smartphone. By and large, though, developers have come to grips with the possibilities and limitations of the touchscreen as a controller, and are making some solid, fun experiences with it.

With Fire TV, and I expect with whatever offering Google and Apple end up making, the controller is an afterthought – both figuratively and literally. You have to buy it separately, which keeps down the cost of the basic box but makes it highly unlikely that the average purchaser will be able to have a good game experience on the device. The controller itself doesn’t look great, which doesn’t help much, but simply being bundled with the box would make a bold statement about Fire TV’s gaming ambitions. As it is, this is not a gaming device. It’s a device that can play games if you buy an add-on; the notion that a box is a “gaming device” just because its internal chips can process game software, even if it doesn’t have the external hardware required to adequately control the experience, is the kind of notion only held by people who don’t play or understand games.

This is the Achilles’ Heel of the second generation of microconsoles. They offer a great deal – the backing of the tech giants, potentially huge investment and enormous retail presence. They could, with the right wind in their sales, help to bring “sofa gaming” to the same immense, casual audience that presently enjoys “pocket gaming”. Yet the giant unsolved question remains; how will these games be controlled? A Fire TV owner, a potential casual gamer, who tries to play a game using his remote control and finds the experience frustrating and unpleasant won’t go off and buy a controller to make things better; he’ll shrug and return to the Hulu app, dismissing the Games panel of the device as being a pointless irrelevance.

The answer doesn’t have to be “bundle a joypad”. Perhaps it’ll be “tether to a smartphone”, a decision which would demand a whole new approach to interaction design (which would be rather exciting, actually). Perhaps a simple Wiimote style wand could double as a remote control and a great motion controller or pointer. Perhaps (though I acknowledge this as deeply unlikely) a motion sensor like a “Kinect Lite” could be the solution. Many compelling approaches exist which deserve to be tried out; but one thing is absolutely certain. While the second generation of microconsoles are going to do very well in sales terms, they will primarily be bought as media streaming boxes – and will never be an important games platform until the question of control gets a good answer.

Courtesy-GI.biz

Wi-Fi Problems Plague Apple-Samsung Trial

April 15, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

There’s a new sign on the door to Courtroom 1 at the federal courthouse in San Jose, the location of the Apple v. Samsung battle that’s playing out this month: “Please turn off all cell phones.”

For a trial that centers on smartphones and the technology they use, it’s more than a little ironic. The entire case might not even be taking place if the market wasn’t so big and important, but the constant need for connectivity of everyone is causing problems in the court, hence the new sign.

The problems have centered on the system that displays the court reporter’s real-time transcription onto monitors on the desks of Judge Lucy Koh, the presiding judge in the case, and the lawyers of Apple and Samsung. The system, it seems, is connected via Wi-Fi and that connection keeps failing.

“We have a problem,” Judge Koh told the courtroom on April 4, soon after the problem first appeared. Without the system, Koh said she couldn’t do her job, so if people didn’t shut off electronics, she might have to ban them from the courtroom.

In many other courts, electronic devices are routinely banned, but the Northern District of California and Judge Koh have embraced technology more than most. While reporters and spectators are limited to a pen and paper in courts across the country, the court here permits live coverage through laptops and even provides a free Wi-Fi network.

On Monday, the problems continued and Judge Koh again asked for all cellphones to be switched off.

But not everyone listened. A scan of the courtroom revealed at least one hotspot hadn’t been switched off: It was an SK Telecom roaming device from South Korea, likely used by a member of Samsung’s team.

The hotspot was switched off by the end of the day, but on Tuesday there were more problems.

“You. Ma’am. You in the front row,” Judge Koh said sternly during a break. She’d spotted an Apple staffer using her phone and made the culprit stand, give her name and verbally agree not to use the handset again in court.

As a result of all the problems, lawyers for Apple and Samsung jointly suggested using a scheduled two-day break in the case to hardwire the transcription computers to the court’s network.

The cable wasn’t installed.

“I believe there were some issues, We’re attempting to install it,” one of the attorneys told IDG News Service during the court lunch break.

So for now, the problems continue.

The clerk opened the day with an appeal to switch phones off, “not even airplane mode.”

That still didn’t help.

The transcription screens failed at 9:09 a.m., just minutes into the first session of the morning.