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Twitter Unveils Redesign Of User Profile Pages

April 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc has revealed a redesign of its user profile pages, the latest in a series of steps promised by the company to bring new users to the seven-year-old service.

In response to an all-time low in user growth figures during the recent quarter, Twitter Chief Executive Dick Costolo informed worried Wall Street analysts that the company would make a number of changes to freshen up the service.

The redesign, while mostly cosmetic, hinted at what Costolo described in February as a willingness to experiment with new ways to organize content. Users can now “pin” a tweet to stay at the top of their feed, a rare instance of Twitter departing from the continuously rolling format that has defined the service.

Tweets that have received more re-tweets or replies will also appear slightly larger to spur more user engagement.

The new layout, which will be available to a small group of users initially, will be widely deployed to Twitter’s 241 million users in the coming weeks, the company said.

Twitter reported higher-than-expected fourth-quarter revenue on February 6, but investors focused on user growth of just 3.8 percent, the lowest rate of quarter-on-quarter growth since Twitter began disclosing user figures. The San Francisco-based company went public in November.

In recent weeks, Twitter has also reportedly been testing a number of new advertising units, such as ads that include download links for mobile apps.

As part of Tuesday’s refresh, Twitter said users will also be allowed to select a large banner picture to display across the top of their profile page, as well as a much larger profile picture, two features that resemble another social network familiar to most of the world’s Internet users: Facebook.


Juniper Networks Give Employees The Boot

April 7, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Juniper Networks plans to reduce its global workforce by six percent and focus on its high-growth businesses. Juniper said most of the cuts would impact middle management positions and that it expected to incur cash charges of about $35 million in the first quarter, related to severance and other expenses. The company had 9,483 full-time employees as of December 31.

Juniper also said it would stop development of the application delivery controller technology, which helps remove excess load from servers, resulting in a non-cash intangible asset impairment charge of about $85 million. The company said it plans to consolidate its facilities, flog off of about 300,000 square feet of leased facilities.

Juniper added that it expected to record other non-cash asset write-downs of about $10 million in the first quarter and that it expects to carry out more restructuring in the second quarter.

Hedge fund Elliott recently claimed that Juniper shares were “undervalued” and could be worth $35-$40 if Juniper focused on revamping its core business of making routers and switches for mobile carriers such as Verizon and AT&T. Shares of Juniper are currently worth at $26.35.



SkySQL Joins IBM On SQL Merger

April 4, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

SkySQL has announced a line of MariaDB products that combine NoSQL and SQL technology, offering users the ability to handle large unstructured data sets alongside traditional database features to ensure data consistency.

Available immediately, MariaDB Enterprise 2 and MariaDB Enterprise Cluster 2 are based on the code used in the firm’s MariaDB 10 database server, which it also released today.

According to SkySQL, the availability of an enterprise grade SQL database system with NoSQL interoperability will be a game changer for developers building revenue generating applications and database administrators in charge of large, complex environments.

The two new products have been developed with support from other partners in the open source community, including Red Hat, IBM and Google, according to the firm, and are aimed at giving IT managers more options for managing large volumes of data.

In fact, Red Hat will use MariaDB Enterprise 2 as the default database for its enterprise customers, while Google has also moved large parts of its infrastructure to MariaDB, according to Dion Cornett, VP of Global Sales for SkySQL .

Cornett said that customers have been using a wide variety of databases over the past few years in order to meet the diverse requirements of applications.

“The types of applications have evolved over time, and the challenge we now have today is that people have different IT stack structures, and trying to integrate all that has been very challenging and required lots of custom code to be created. What we’re doing with MariaDB is introduce an array of features to combine the best of both worlds,” he said.

The features are designed to allow developers and database administrators to take many different data structures and integrate them and use them in a cohesive application, in the same way that standard database tools presently allow.

These include the Connect Storage Engine, which enables access to a wide variety of file formats such as XML and CSV files, and the ability to run familiar SQL commands against that data.

A key feature is dynamic columns, which enables MariaDB to “smartly interpret” incoming data and adapt it to the data structure that best fits, according to Cornett.

“At a technical level what you’re actually looking at are files within the cells of information that can vary in size, which is not a capability you’ve traditionally had in databases and that flexibility is a big leap forward,” he said.

The new MariaDB products can also plug into the Apache Cassandra storage engine, which can take a columnar data store and read or write against it like it is a traditional SQL table.

An example of how MariaDB Enterprise 2 might be used is if a service provider has a large-scale video server and wants to combine that with billing information, Cornett said.

“The customer’s video history and what they’re consuming could be very unstructured, but the billing structure will be very fixed, and it has been something of a challenge to bring the two of those together up to this point,” he explained.


Target Announces Overhaul Of Information Security Practices

March 7, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Target Corp announced an overhaul of its information security processes and the departure of its chief information officer as the retailer tries to re-gain customers and investors after a massive data breach late last year.

CIO Beth Jacob is the first high-level executive to leave the company following the breach, which led to the theft of about 40 million credit and debit card records and 70 million other records of customer details.

Jacob, who comes from a sales background and has been CIO since 2008, will be replaced by an external hire, according to sources at Target.

“It’s a decision that should have been made by the CEO on January 1, not through the resignation of an employee that overlooked critical weakness in the operating model,” Belus Capital Advisors CEO Brian Sozzi said.

The breach at Target was the second largest at a U.S. retailer, after the theft of more than 90 million credit cards over about 18 months was uncovered in 2007 at TJX Cos Inc, operator of the T.J. Maxx and Marshalls chains.

Hacking has become a major concern for retailers in the United States. In the latest reported breach, beauty products retailer and distributor Sally Beauty Holdings Inc said on Wednesday its network had been hacked but no card or customer data appeared to have been stolen.

Target Chief Executive Gregg Steinhafel said the company would elevate the role of chief information security officer as part of its plan to tighten its security.

The company will also look externally to fill that position as well as the new position of chief compliance officer.

Steinhafel said Target would be advised by security consultant Promontory Financial Group as it evaluates its technology, structure, processes and talent.

“I believe this is definitely a measure in restoring faith and really showing that they are taking the breach seriously,” Heather Bearfield, who runs the cybersecurity practice for accounting firm Marcum LLP, told Reuters.

Target, the third-largest U.S. retailer, said last week customer traffic had started to improve this year after falling significantly toward the end of the holiday shopping season when news of the cyber attack spooked shoppers.


Mt. Gox Being Sued In The USA Over Bitcoin Losses

March 3, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, has been hit with a lawsuit by a customer in what may be the first of many U.S. lawsuits seeking to recover millions of dollars of losses linked to a hacking attack that led to the exchange’s bankruptcy.

In a complaint filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, plaintiff Gregory Greene said Mt. Gox and its chief executive, Mark Karpeles, were negligent and committed fraud for having failed to protect the Tokyo-based exchange from theft.

Greene said bitcoin prices plummeted after Mt. Gox found the security breach, but said he and other investors in the virtual currency could not cut their losses because the exchange had halted trading. Mt. Gox took down its website on Tuesday.

“Mt. Gox intentionally and knowingly failed to provide its users with the level of security protection for which they paid,” said Greene, who estimated his bitcoin stake at $25,000.

The lawsuit seeks class action status on behalf of Mt. Gox users, restitution, monetary damages and other remedies.

It was not immediately clear which law firm would defend Mt. Gox against the lawsuit. Baker & McKenzie, a Chicago-based firm that represents the exchange in Japan, did not immediately respond on Friday to requests for comment.

At a news conference on Friday at the Tokyo District Court, Karpeles said he was “very sorry” and blamed Mt. Gox’s collapse on a “weakness in our system,” but predicted that the bitcoin market would continue to grow.

Mt. Gox said it may have 750,000 of its customers’ bitcoins and 100,000 of its own, equal to about 7 percent of bitcoins worldwide, for a total loss of about $480 million.

The exchange reported having 127,000 creditors, liabilities of 6.5 billion yen ($64 million) and assets of 3.84 billion yen ($38 million).

It is common for alleged frauds that generate significant losses or attention to result in a slew of U.S. lawsuits seeking class action status, even if the alleged wrongful activity occurs outside the country.

“This is a case of serial mismanagement, if not outright fraud, by Karpeles and Mt. Gox,” said Steven Woodrow, a partner at the Edelson law firm in Denver, who filed Greene’s lawsuit. “Users of the exchange are collectively out millions while Mt. Gox holds onto their bitcoins. We intend to get to the bottom of this in an American court.”


Barnes & Noble Has A Suitor

February 24, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Investment firm G Asset Management said on Friday that it had offered to acquire a 51 percent stake in either Barnes & Noble Inc or in the bookseller’s Nook digital business.

The little known firm said the proposal for Barnes & Noble as a whole would be for $22 per share, which would value the top U.S. bookstore chain at $1.32 billion. It comes after earlier proposal in November for $20 per share, its second.

G Asset, which not did detail how it would finance a deal, also made an alternative offer to buy Nook for $5 per share, saying spinning off the digital books and device business would create “substantial shareholder value.”

The latest offer for the whole company would value Barnes & Noble at $1.32 billion, while the proposal for Nook would value that unit at about $300 million.

The firm has previously pressed the company to spin off its Nook unit from Barnes & Noble’s bookstore and college units.

Michael Glickstein, G Asset’s Chief Investment Officer, and the only person listed on the firm’s website, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Barnes & Noble shares were up 5.8 percent at $17.75 in afternoon trading after going as high as $19.12 after the news was released, suggesting Wall Street analysts were doubtful a deal would get done.

A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman declined to comment beyond confirming that the company had received G Asset’s offer.

The original Nook device was launched in 2009 to help Barnes & Noble fend off Inc and allowed the retailer to win as much as 27 percent of the U.S. e-books market.

But the company lost hundreds of millions of dollars trying to keep pace with deep-pocketed rivals such as Amazon, Apple Inc and Google Inc. It has scaled back its Nook business and focusing more on content and software.

Two years ago, Microsoft Corp invested $300 million in the Nook unit for a 17.6 percent stake, valuing the division at $1.7 billion. In late 2012, Pearson PLC took a 5 percent stake in Nook for $89.5 million.



Will BlackBerry Benefit From Facebook’s Purchase Of WhatsApp?

February 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Facebook Inc’s awe-inspiring $19 billion bid for fast-growing mobile-messaging startup WhatsApp sent shares of BlackBerry Ltd surging after the closing bell as early as Wednesday, as investors were cheered by the lofty valuation for the messaging platform.

The deal sent shares in BlackBerry up as much as 9 percent in trading after the bell because it put a rough valuation metric around the smartphone maker’s own BlackBerry Messaging service.

BlackBerry Messaging, or BBM as it is more commonly known, was a pioneering mobile-messaging service, but its user base has failed to keep pace with that of WhatsApp, in part because BlackBerry had long refused to open the service to users on other platforms.

WhatsApp, with a user base of some 450 million, has grown rapidly. Its service works on Apple Inc’s iOS platform, Google Inc’s market-dominating Android operating system, along with devices powered by both the Windows and BlackBerry operating systems.

BBM remains popular, even though BlackBerry devices have waned in popularity. Late last year, the Waterloo, Ontario-based smartphone maker finally opened the messaging platform to users of iPhones and Android devices, and the service currently has over 80 million active users.

However, investors have attributed little value to the asset within the company. On Tuesday, Raymond James analyst Steven Li, in a note to clients, broke out a sum-of-parts valuation of the company and pegged the value of BBM at merely $240 million, or $3 per user.

Facebook’s valuation of WhatsApp translates into roughly $42 per user, and that could lead investors and analysts to rethink their valuation of the asset within BlackBerry.

BlackBerry has given no indication it is keen to sell the asset. While there has been some speculation that BlackBerry may seek to carve out the unit, or even sell it, the company’s new Chief Executive John Chen has so far said that BBM remains a core asset for the company.


HTC Places Profitability Hopes On Cheaper Smartphones

February 11, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

HTC Corp said new lines of mid-tier handsets will help it return to profitability in 2014, predicting cheaper products may aid them in reclaiming market share and put an end to over two years of sliding sales.

HTC’s optimism comes despite 27 consecutive months of falling year-on-year revenue amid stiff competition from heavyweights like Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co. On Monday HTC said January sales slid 38 percent from a year earlier to T$9.67 billion ($319.23 million).

Chief Financial Officer Chialin Chang told an analyst and investor briefing on Monday that 2014 should see a rise in gross profit margins due to an improved product mix. “What we’re shipping in there, we want to make sure is competitive,” Chang said.

HTC’s decline has been swift, squeezed by cheaper rivals in China as well as Apple and Samsung. Just over two years ago it supplied one in every 10 smartphones sold around the world: in 2013 its global market share had fallen to just 2 percent, according to Strategy Analytics analyst Neil Mawston.

That decline has left its mark on investors. HTC’s share price has shown no signs of recovering from a three-year slide in value to one-tenth of its record high.

HTC has acknowledged the need for action. “The problem with us last year was we only concentrated on our flagship. We missed a huge chunk of the mid-tier market,” said co-founder and Chairwoman Cher Wang, speaking to Reuters in an interview in New York last week alongside Chang.

Amid the decline in its fortunes, HTC’s brand image has suffered, and investors have been desperate for signs of a clear strategy – though the announced push into mid-tier smartphones may offer a glimmer of hope for the company.

The CFO said on Monday that new mid-tier and low-end handsets should provide the majority of revenue, bar sales from its flagship HTC One phone, after the first quarter. For January to March, it expects revenue to fall to T$34 billion to T$36 billion from T$42.8 billion a year earlier.

The company in January reported its second consecutive quarter of operating losses, with a slim net profit of T$300 million ($10 million) for the fourth quarter helped by an asset sale.

Chang was optimistic about prospects for its flagship, feature-loaded HTC One smartphone, which won rave reviews last year that have yet to translate into matching sales.

During the investor call, Chang also hinted at a venture into wearable technology. He declined to give details as to the type of product, or when it may be announced.


Investors Drop Telecom Stocks, Fear Pricing War

February 4, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Shares in U.S. mobile operators dropped dramatically on Monday after a AT&T Inc price cut fueled fears from investors that market leader Verizon Wireless and other rivals would have to react.

AT&T shares closed down 4 percent a day after the No. 2 U.S. mobile services provider slashed the monthly fee for a data plan from $40 to $15.

Some analysts saw the price cut as a drastic step that could force rivals such as Verizon Communications to response with their own price cuts and, as a result, hurt profits across the industry. AT&T and T-Mobile have been at each other’s throats for months, with offers aimed at each other’s customers, but many analysts had hoped that fight would be contained.

Shares in Verizon fell 3 percent, as did No. 4 operator T-Mobile US shares, and Sprint stock ended down 5 percent after AT&T’s move on Sunday.

“Now we’re seeing real evidence of increasing competition having real cost to the industry,” said Jonathan Chaplin, a New Street Research analyst who saw the price cut as a sign that AT&T’s recent efforts to regain market share lost to T-Mobile had not been successful.

“It makes investors worry the market is really in trouble.”

AT&T lowered its monthly fee for a 10 gigabytes monthly data share plan aimed at families to $15 per device, from $40.

Chaplin expects the price cut to shave a relatively modest 0.5 percent to 1 percent off his previous estimate for AT&T 2014 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of $42.7 billion and a 1 to 2 percent cut to his 2015 EBITDA estimate of $43.3 billion.

But he sees the move as only one step in what could result in a bigger decline in prices across the industry.

“If this was the end, we wouldn’t care and neither would the market,” Chaplin said, but added: “World War I started with one archduke getting assassinated.”

The competitive pressure started with aggressive discounts by market laggard T-Mobile last year, which helped the company report three quarters of customer growth after four years of losses, mainly at AT&T’s expense.

AT&T countered on January 3 by offering to pay consumers to switch from T-Mobile, while No. 3-ranked Sprint promised big discounts for family and friend groups days later. T-Mobile then upped the ante with an offer to cover the hefty exit costs for consumers switching to its service.

T-Mobile’s announcement last month “may have pushed AT&T too hard,” making it fight back, J.P. Morgan Securities analyst Philip Cusick said on Monday.

“The back and forth in price cuts is a negative for the entire wireless industry,” J.P. Morgan’s Cusick said.

Some analysts had hoped that at least Verizon could stay above the battle, but Jefferies & Co analyst Mike McCormack said on Monday that AT&T’s new pricing plan also targets Verizon’s “prized” family plan customers.

McCormack said it was unlikely that Verizon would respond with service price discounts. But others were less convinced, as Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said this month that his company would react to competition when required.

“(Verizon) will be the one to watch, in our view as they have been on record saying it would react to price moves if they felt the need,” Wells Fargo Securities analyst Jennifer Fritzsche wrote in a research note.

A Verizon Wireless spokesperson said that the company does not comment on its competitors plans.


Facebook Celebrating 10th Anniversary

February 4, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook plans on celebrating its 10th birthday today, an occasion likely to spur an outpouring of reflection on its past and speculation about its future.

Mark Zuckerberg launched “Thefacebook” from his dorm room at Harvard University on Feb. 4, 2004. The site was conceived as a way to connect students, and let them build an online identity for themselves.

It has since expanded to cover a large swath of the planet, with more than 1.2 billion people — one-seventh of the world’s population — using its site on a monthly basis, according to the company’s own recent figures.

Zuckerberg reflected on the 10-year milestone at an industry conference in Silicon Valley this week. Not surprisingly, at the start he never envisioned Facebook becoming so large or influential. After launching the initial version, “it was awesome to have this utility and community at our school,” he said at the Open Compute Project Summit.

He figured at the time that someone, someday would build such a site for the world. “It didn’t even occur to me that it could be us,” he said.

Since then, Facebook’s site and its business, now a public company, have changed dramatically. There are now more than a trillion status updates, text posts and other pieces of content stored within its walls — the company is trying to index them as part of its Graph Search search engine.

The company was slow to react to the important mobile market, and when it went public in 2012 investors were skeptical it would be able to monetize its service on smaller screens. But this week it reported that more than half its ad revenue now comes from mobile devices.

All the while, Facebook is making its ad business smarter, using targeting tools to show ads it deems most relevant.

The company is also experimenting with new ways to present content. Next week it will release Paper, an iPhone app that provides a new way to share photos and published articles.

It’s part of a larger effort Facebook hinted at this week to release a variety of standalone apps for different tasks.

The company is also trying to bring the Internet to more people in the world, an effort that’s part philanthropy and part business sense as Facebook aims to reach its next billion users. Asked this week why he launched the project, called, Zuckerberg suggested he feels a weight of responsibility.

“There aren’t that many companies in the world that have the resources and the reach that Facebook has at this point,” he said.


Will Nintendo’s Long Term Strategy Work?

February 3, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo has issued a detailed and far-reaching response to the pervasive concerns about its future as a business.

In a meeting with investors, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata outlined the company’s strategy in both the short-term and as far ahead as 2016. From changing the fortunes of the Wii U to evolving the way we think about game consoles as a concept, Nintendo displayed striking candour in its attempt to allay the criticisms it has received since it drastically reduced its sales forecasts earlier this month.

However, Iwata was clear about one thing from the outset: regardless of what followed, there are certain aspects of Nintendo’s business that will not change, namely the frequently proposed idea that it should take its IP stable to new platforms.

“Dedicated video game platforms which integrate hardware and software will remain our core business,” he said. “Naturally, we are moving ahead with research and development efforts for future hardware as we have done before, and we are not planning to give up our own hardware systems and shift our axis toward other platforms.

“Dedicated video game platforms which integrate hardware and software will remain our core business… We are not planning to give up our own hardware systems and shift our axis toward other platforms”

“From a medium- to long-term standpoint…we don’t believe that following trends will lead to a positive outcome for Nintendo as an entertainment company. Instead, we should continue to make our best efforts to seek a blue ocean with no rivals and create a new market with innovative offerings.”

Here are the key points from Iwata’s presentation

The Wii U is Nintendo’s top priority

It is no secret that Nintendo has struggled to repeat the success of the Wii with the Wii U, but Iwata reassured investors that it has no intention of abandoning its ailing console. The possibility of a further reduction in price was ruled out immediately, with Iwata instead emphasising the company’s ongoing failure to adequately demonstrate the value of the GamePad controller, and to distinguish the console from its hugely popular predecessor.

“By looking at the current sales situation, I am aware that this is due to our lack of effort,” he said. “Our top priority task this year is to offer software titles that are made possible because of the GamePad… We have managed to offer several of such software titles for occasions when many people gather in one place to play, but we have not been able to offer a decisive software title that enriches the user’s gameplay experience when playing alone with the GamePad. This will be one of the top priorities of Mr. Miyamoto’s software development department this year.”

Iwata offered a strong first-step by setting an official May release date for the release of Mario Kart 8, but he also indicated that Nintendo’s development teams would focus on the GamePad’s near-field communication (NFC) function – the same basic technology as that used in lucrative franchises like Skylanders and Disney Infinity. Iwata promised more details of its plans for NFC at E3 in June.

The end of “device-based relationships”

While many have cited the Wii U as evidence of Nintendo’s failure to respond to the changes in the games industry since the launch of the Wii, Iwata stated that the company has already laid the foundations for a fundamental shift in the way it thinks about its products.

Before now, Nintendo had “device-based relationships” with its customers. This was mitigated somewhat by the strength of its software IP, but fundamentally the link with any given consumer followed the lifecycle of each piece of hardware. “We became disconnected with our consumers with the launch of each new device as we could only form device-based relationships,” he said.

However, the Wii U saw the introduction of “Nintendo Network IDs,” an attempt to create “account-based” customer relationships that could continue across different hardware platforms and generations. In the future, Iwata said, “connecting with our consumers through NNIDs will precisely be our new definition of a Nintendo platform.”

With this in mind, Iwata was able to put an end to the speculation around Nintendo’s strategy for smartphones and tablets. He made it quite clear that Nintendo has no plans to release its games on smart devices, but it does intend to use them as a way to communicate and build relationships with new audiences. Iwata offered few details of how the company intends to accomplish that goal, but he indicated that it would include a mobile app that leveraged Nintendo’s existing IP to raise awareness of its hardware and software.

“I have not given any restrictions to the development team, even not ruling out the possibility of making games or using our game characters. However, if you report that we will release Mario on smart devices, it would be a completely misleading statement. It is our intention to release some application on smart devices this year that is capable of attracting consumer attention and communicating the value of our entertainment offerings.”

Flexible pricing for existing and emerging markets

The existence of NNIDs and account-based relationships will also give Nintendo the ability to alter the way its products are sold. Iwata highlighted the company’s role in establishing the model of selling a console for several hundred dollars and individual games for fifty or sixty dollars, but Nintendo now recognises that this model is no longer viable in the long-term.

The first aspect of this that Nintendo intends to challenge is the fixed price-point of software. Iwata suggested a system where the price of a games could be tailored to individual customers based on their NNIDs: someone who purchased five games in a year might pay less and less for each one, for example, or there might be incentives tied to recommending a game to a friend.

“If we can achieve such a sales mechanism, we can expect to increase the number of players per title, and the players will play our games with more friends. This can help maintain the high usage ratio of a platform… Nintendo aims to work on this brand-new sales mechanism in the medium term, but we would like to start experimenting with Wii U at an early stage.”

“While we will continue to devote our energy to dedicated video game platforms, our first step into a new business area is the theme of ‘Health’”

This flexibility will also extend to emerging markets for gaming across the world. Nintendo is a globally recognised brand, but Iwata conceded that the price of its products has put them beyond the reach of people in certain countries. While Iwata didn’t mention any specific regions, he is likely referring to countries like Brazil and India, where the interest in gaming has increased in concert with the disposable income available to the population.

“To leverage Nintendo’s strength as an integrated hardware-software business, we will not rule out the idea of offering our own hardware for new markets. But for dramatic expansion of the consumer base there, we require a product family of hardware and software with an entirely different price structure from that of the developed markets.

“We aim to connect with consumers who do not own Nintendo’s video game systems yet, which will play an important role in cultivating new markets. Once we can establish such a connection with consumers in these nations, we will be able to use smart devices to share our information as well as important content distribution infrastructure. We plan to take significant steps toward such a new market approach in the year 2015.

Going beyond games

There may be no chance of playing Super Mario World on an iPad anytime soon, Iwata did state Nintendo’s interest in making money from its IP outside of first-party video games. Nintendo has always been very cautious of damaging its iconic characters through excessive merchandising and licensing, but one need only look at Rovio’s Angry Birds to see how much profitable such deals can be. Indeed, Iwata attributed the strength of Nintendo’s IP stable to that very reluctance, but, he said, “we are going to change our policy going forward.”

“To be more precise, we will actively expand our character licensing business, including proactively finding appropriate partners. In fact, we have been actively selling character merchandise for about a year in the U.S. Also, we will be flexible about forming licensing relationships in areas we did not license in the past, such as digital fields, provided we are not in direct competition and we can form win-win relationships.

“By moving forward with such activities globally, we aim to increase consumer exposure to Nintendo characters by making them appear in places other than on video game platforms.”


Nintendo’s new business idea: Health

Iwata closed the presentation with Nintendo’s planned entry into an entirely new area of business, one that will provide the “blue ocean” the company so desperately needs.

“While we will continue to devote our energy to dedicated video game platforms, what I see as our first step into a new business area in our endeavour to improve [quality of life] is the theme of “Health.” Of course, defining a new entertainment business that seeks to improve [quality of life] creates various possibilities for the future such as “learning” and “lifestyle,” but it is our intention to take “health” as our first step.”

Again, exact details of what this focus on health will entail were not provided, but Iwata described the concept as “an integrated hardware-software platform business” that will use the company’s experience making products like Wii Fit, Brain Age and the Touch Generations series as a springboard for a more pervasive and persistent initiative.

“We will be able to provide feedback to our consumers on a continual basis, and our approach will be to redefine the notion of health-consciousness, and eventually increase the fit population… I feel that not only can this [quality of life]-improving platform utilise our know-how and experience about video game platforms, but also we can expect it to interact with games and create a synergistic effect.

“While we feel that this is going to take two to three years after its launch, we expect the [quality of life]-improving platform to provide us with new themes which we can then turn into games that operate on our future video game platforms, too. Once we have established such a cycle, we will see continuous positive interactions between the two platforms that enable us to make unique propositions.”

Iwata promised to announce more details this year, and confirmed that the new business will officially launch during the fiscal year ending March 2016.

Can The Infiltrate Hack Oracle Servers

February 3, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has claimed that Oracle’s servers can’t be subverted or monitored by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Ellison made the claims at an Oracle shareholder event, according to a Reuters report. He didn’t mince his words and came out with the frank statement that whatever it does, it can’t touch Oracle.

“To the best of our knowledge, an Oracle database hasn’t been broken into for a couple of decades by anybody,” Ellison said. “It’s so secure, there are people that complain,” he added.

Some would disagree, including British security researcher David Litchfield, who has written a book called “The Oracle Hacker’s Handbook” and has been publicly calling out Ellison’s company for over a decade.

On Twitter today, Litchfield suggested that Ellison is “someone who should spend less time sailing and more on what’s actually going on with his software”.

In the early days Ellison set up the company to assist the CIA and other US government agencis by creating a database system. The name for that database was Oracle, and Ellison adopted the name for his company.

Recently and more commonly, information technology firms have distanced themselves from reports about the NSA and other three and four letter US government agencies, and we can’t think of another that has challenged people to attack it.

Earlier this week several firms including Apple, Microsoft and Google welcomed a policy change that allows them to be more open about data surveillance requests and disclosures.

Last summer Ellison spoke out about NSA surveillance, but not in any way that might be considered critical.

“Who’s ever heard of this information being misused by the government? It’s great,” he said, “President Obama thinks it’s essential. It’s essential if we want to minimise the kind of strikes we just had in Boston.” However Oracle is very worried about terrorism. After all, it’s a longtime friend of the CIA.


Does Nintendo Need Smartphones To Survive?

January 27, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo blew it. That much is clear, and even Satoru Iwata doesn’t debate it – Nintendo blew it. The financials could be much worse, but the unit sales? Way, way below targets, and in the case of Wii U, way below sustainability. Nintendo blew it! Shout it from the rooftops, if you can find space on a rooftop next to all the people who are already shouting it, with altogether too much peculiar jubilance in their snide, told-you-so voices.

Nintendo blew it. Blew what, though? That’s a tougher question. The company’s year has been a lot more complex than anyone is giving it credit for. In 2013, Nintendo was proud owner of the best-selling console in every major territory worldwide, and launched an enviable range of first-party software titles that sold over a million copies each – more than any other publisher out there. The company retained its crown as the biggest platform holder and the biggest software publisher in the business.

Yet, Nintendo blew it, because it also had a platform that utterly under-performed even the most conservative of estimates – a console that, on its current trajectory, is set to undershoot the low bar set by the GameCube and become the firm’s worst performing home console ever. Moreover, Nintendo blew it in a subtle but crucially important way – with startling incompetence for a company of its size, the firm predicted sales figures for both the 3DS and the Wii U which were absolutely ludicrous and then failed to revise them as the year carried on, meaning that even the solidly performing 3DS has undershot its targets, while the Wii U looks even worse than it ought to (which is pretty bad to begin with).

“Nintendo’s stock didn’t tumble too badly after it revised its guidance, largely since nobody with a clue actually thought the firm was going to hit its targets anyway”

This latter aspect has made the coverage of Nintendo’s situation even more negative than it would already have been (and there are plenty of people waiting to pile onto the company at the slightest provocation), since it covers up the success of the 3DS and its software line-up – seriously, 3DS has had an amazing year for software and is now set up with a library that effectively secures the console’s future – in a heavy smearing of corporate incompetence. It has also, understandably, deeply annoyed shareholders, because they rely on companies making accurate predictions to figure out whether or not to pick up stock in a firm. That said, Nintendo’s stock didn’t tumble too badly after it revised its guidance, largely since nobody with a clue actually thought the firm was going to hit its targets anyway. Incidentally, the company’s stock price is about 50% higher today than it was 12 months ago, in line with the rise in the Nikkei 225 index – which means that Japanese investors, at least, are rating the company as broadly neutral rather than actually negative.

Still, Nintendo blew it, and that means lots of people are making angry noises. Iwata must go, say some; Nintendo must exit hardware, say others; time for Mario on smartphones, say still others. The owners of all of those voices are going to be disappointed – not least, I believe, because very few of them actually understand Nintendo as a company or the Japanese corporate environment in which it operates. They don’t understand that activist shareholders don’t mean a tuppenny damn to a company whose shares are largely held by a combination of the founding family, the senior staff and (more significantly still) the complex web of interrelated share- and debt-holdings that connects Nintendo with Japanese banks and other corporations, none of whom have the slightest concern in being “activist” except in the most extreme of circumstances. An earnings miss? Pah! Japanese corporations routinely missed annual earnings every year for decades after the Asian Financial Crisis of the early 1990s, but shareholder pressure to change top management never materialised then, and it won’t materialise now. Iwata is secure until he does something sufficiently wrong to have a taint of scandal around it, and that’s deeply unlikely to happen.

Exiting hardware? Absolutely no chance. Nintendo’s primary view of itself is as a toy company and its core business model is selling hardware (generally profitably) and then selling software that runs on that hardware (extremely profitably). The synergy between the company’s hardware side and its software side is legendary, as is the extent to which each Nintendo platform is designed with the requirements of planned first-party software in mind. For that reason alone, it’s likely that the Wii U will eventually have a clutch of startlingly excellent games, matching last year’s critically acclaimed Super Mario 3D World in quality – although whether that will actually do anything to resuscitate sales is another question entirely. The point is that this approach isn’t going to change; the inertia behind Nintendo as a hardware company is immense, and moreover, despite this year’s earnings miss, it’s largely working. Nintendo is, pretty much every year, the largest and most successful game software company in the world. Would it retain that crown on someone else’s hardware? If you rush to answer “yes!” to that question, either your crystal ball gazing skills are excellent or you haven’t thought about it hard enough; I don’t think there is a good answer to that question right now, and I know Nintendo will be eyeing Sega’s post-hardware decline and thinking about its own potential fortunes as one-among-many on a smartphone app store. Right now, Nintendo has around 40 million 3DS owners who are keenly anticipating future first-party releases from the company – keenly enough that they start to agitate and make noise if there’s ever a gap in the release schedule. Would that be true on iOS, or Android, or even on a competitor’s console platform?

“one of the company’s failings, in some regards, is that it still doesn’t really have a global outlook, with Nintendo of America and Nintendo Europe being rather stunted”

How about a limited engagement with smartphones, then, even if they wouldn’t make the leap entirely? That’s plausible. Nintendo’s primary point of reference for its product decisions is Japan – one of the company’s failings, in some regards, is that it still doesn’t really have a global outlook, with Nintendo of America and (even more so) Nintendo Europe being rather stunted local offshoots whose actual contribution to the firm’s planning and success is pretty obviously minimal. In Japan, smartphone games are a huge sector, and interestingly, there’s seemingly more of a market for premium-priced games than there is in the west, where free-to-play is increasingly the only show in town (although premium-priced games are carving out an interesting niche there too). There is, I believe, some potential for Nintendo to start putting Virtual Console titles on smartphones, perhaps initially through a tie-up with one of Japan’s carriers. However, I’d expect this roll-out to be slow and careful, with Nintendo incredibly mindful of the possibility of damaging its core brands by launching Mario or Zelda games tainted by emulation problems or crap touchscreen controls. Still – it could happen, and is by far the most likely of the “demands” being made of the firm to actually be met in some limited form.

If Iwata isn’t going to go (he’s not), Nintendo isn’t going to exit hardware (they’re not) and the company’s future isn’t on smartphones (it’s not, although some cautious toes in that water may be seen in time), then what is Nintendo’s reaction to its present situation going to be?

I’ve stated this before, but it bears repeating – Nintendo has incredibly, insanely deep pockets. The firm has set aside a vast war chest over the course of its successful years, and it can easily ride out even the complete failure of a console platform, supporting that platform sufficiently to satisfy consumers while quietly working on a replacement. That’s what Satoru Iwata told me Nintendo would do if the Wii failed completely – they’d make something else and try that instead – and I see no reason why that logic would have changed. If anything, the firm’s financial position is even stronger now than it was then.

What will Nintendo make? There’s a lot of speculation around that, but most of it is evolutionary. A faster, more powerful DS / 3DS style handheld. A Nintendo tablet, capable of handheld gaming and being hooked up to a TV. A full-spec next-gen console built to rival the PS4. All of these are options for the company – the tablet computer one is even an interesting one, combining as it does the handheld market (which Nintendo always dominates) with the home console market (where it’s hit and miss). However, they all miss the crucial ingredient which Nintendo actually requires to bring itself back to success – surprise.

“Nintendo needs the element of surprise. It surprised the hell out of everyone with the DS, it surprised everyone with the Wii”

Nintendo needs the element of surprise. It surprised the hell out of everyone with the DS, a daft, stupid idea for a handheld console that everyone expected to be trounced by the much more comprehensible PSP. It surprised everyone with the Wii, a weird, tiny, underpowered system with a controller that looked nothing like we expected – so odd that it led me to rather bluntly ask Iwata what he planned to do if everyone hated it and the system flopped, hence his comment above. The DS is the best-selling console in history (or at least, tied for that honour with the PS2); the Wii trounced the Xbox 360 and PS3 in the last generation of hardware. Nintendo does exceptionally well when it surprises people. It creates a clear gap between itself and the competition and makes “the Nintendo Difference” into more than just a silly slogan. Even those who own a more “mainstream” console end up wanting a Nintendo one too, because it’s so interesting and different, while those from outside the core gamer market find themselves intrigued by the very peculiarity and curiosity of the devices and their software.

3DS and Wii U fail the surprise test. They’re practically indistinguishable from their predecessors, both in appearance and in branding. 3DS suffered terribly from being mistaken for a new version of the original DS hardware; the Wii U, I suspect, is doing even worse, with many consumers not realising that it’s a new console entirely and not a new controller for the Wii. There’s been a disastrous failure of communication, branding and marketing, which has compounded the more basic error – assuming that the success of the Wii meant people wanted more of that kind of thing. Nintendo’s strength is providing people will surprises, things that look daft to begin with and then turn out to be precisely what we always wanted and never realised. If it’s to successfully come back from its present mess, it needs to do so by surprising us, not by following along the dull path analysts would now demand of it.

That, I earnestly hope, is what the company is working hard on in Kyoto right now. I don’t want Nintendo to abandon the Wii U, and I don’t think that will happen. The installed base is small, but big enough to be worth caring about, and the console still has the makings of a profitable platform, albeit a niche one. However, alongside continued support for the Wii U (and hopefully, a drastic change in marketing and branding), Nintendo is hopefully also working on something else; something more important and simply more Nintendo; its next big surprise.

vmWare Buys Airwatch

January 24, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

VMware will buy mobile management and security startup outfit Airwatch for $1.54billion.

The firm announced today that the deal has been approved by both companies’ boards and is forecast to close by the end of this quarter.

The deal will see VMware, which also announced estimated revenue of $1.48bn for the fourth quarter of 2013, pay $1.175bn in cash and $365m in installment payments.

Airwatch has nine offices worldwide with a workforce of 1,600 people and lists over 10,000 global customers.

The acquisition, which will help redefine VMware’s product portfolio and bring it more up to date with the industry’s threat landscape, will see the integration of Airwatch staff into the company’s End-User Computing Group, with the team working from its Atlanta base. VMware said it will continue to answer directly to Airwatch founder and CEO John Marshall, who will report to ex-Intel executive and VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger.

VMware EVP and GM of the End-User Computing group Sanjay Poonen said that the company plans to expand Airwatch’s Atlanta offices to become the centre of its mobile operations.

“Our vision is to provide a secure virtual workspace that allows end users to work at the speed of life,” he said. “The combination of Airwatch and VMware will enable us to deliver unprecedented value to our customers and partners across their desktop and mobile environments.”

Almost a year ago, VMWare announced a two percent increase in quarterly profits despite an impressive 22 percent increase in sales, and announced 900 job cuts.

The virtualisation specialist is one many firms to acquire security companies over the past year. Advanced threat specialist Fireeye announced plans to buy end-point protection firm Mandiant earlier in January for $1bn.


Will Nintendo Move To Smartphones And Tablets?

January 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Nintendo reportedly is looking to mobile devices to save its struggling business, after it admitted last week that the Wii U isn’t selling.

On Thursday, Nintendo slashed its Wii U sales forecast, acknowledging that despite previously expecting to shift nine million units between April 2013 and March this year, it now expects sales of just 2.8 million. Nintendo’s 3DS console isn’t selling well either, leading the firm to admit that it expects to post a $240m annual loss.

These clearly are signs that Nintendo is losing its appeal in the gaming market, and although there are still many dedicated Wii U gamers out there, the firm is struggling to compete against the Sony Playstation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft Xbox One games consoles.

It seems that Nintendo is starting to realize this too, and it admitted over the weekend that it might look to mobiles and tablets to save the future of the company, following rumors that the firm may be planning its own Android tablet for educational use.

Although the company had previous said that you’re unlikely to ever see Mario Kart running on an iPhone, Nintendo president Satoru Itawa hinted that the firm’s stance on mobile devices has changed, with the company exploring the possibility of bringing its titles to smartphones and tablets.

“We are thinking about a new business structure. Given the expansion of smart devices, we are naturally studying how smart devices can be used to grow the game-player business,” Itawa said.

“The way people use their time, their lifestyles, who they are have changed. If we stay in one place, we will become outdated.”

However, Itawa admitted, “It’s not as simple as enabling Mario to move on a smartphone,” hinting that the firm will develop dedicated games for mobile devices, rather than porting those it already has.