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Mobile OS Sailfish Continues To Struggle, Layoffs Loom

November 24, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

With Android and iOS controlling most of the mobile operating system market, it’s tough going for alternatives like Sailfish, now in survival mode as its maker, Jolla, moves to lay off a large part of its workers.

The first smartphone with the Linux-based OS shipped at the end of 2013. Adoption of Sailfish has been weak, however, and Jolla is selling only one smartphone model, via the company’s website, for about $303. It’s a Jolla-branded phone, made by a third-party contract manufacturer. A tablet is also available for preorder.

Jolla is restructuring debt in its home country, Finland, after a round of funding fell through. The company announced Friday that it will lay off “a big part” of its staff, without giving many details of future plans. The company did say it would be tailoring the OS to fit the needs of different clients, and that it has several “major and smaller potential clients.” It also said Sailfish is stable and ready for licensing.

For analysts, Jolla’s collapse wasn’t a surprise. In a copycat market, Sailfish offers cool customization features, for example. But it doesn’t have the backing of device makers or carriers, which is crucial for survival.

The China market was a big focus for Jolla, but Xiaomi took the country by storm with end-to-end offerings including OS, user interface and hardware, along with the creation of a developer ecosystem, said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

Many alternative mobile OSes like Ubuntu, Firefox, WebOS, Blackberry and others are in the same boat as Sailfish, trying to find a niche in a market ruled by Apple and Google. The biggest competitor to Android and iOS is Microsoft’s Windows Phone, which had just a 1.7 percent market share in mobile handsets, with 5.87 million units shipping during the third quarter this year, according to Gartner.

A Gartner analyst said Windows Phone could find adopters in the enterprise market. But Jolla doesn’t have the resources of Microsoft, of course, and this raises questions about the future of Sailfish.





IBM Introduces New Technology For Data Protection

November 24, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

At the beginning of the year IBM announced Identity Mixer, a new technology for protecting users’ personal data during authentication. On Friday, it announced that the technology is now available to developers on its Bluemix cloud platform.

It’s common for apps to require that users prove their identity and other credentials, but all too often that authentication process exposes a raft of unnecessary and potentially sensitive personal information along the way.

To access an online streaming-movie service’s app, for example, users might have to prove that they have a paid subscription and are over 18 years old. Traditionally, that would mean revealing their full date of birth along with assorted other personal details that aren’t necessary for the proof, such as first and last name, address, etc.

When a breach happens, there’s all that much more potentially sensitive information exposed.

Identity Mixer is designed to protect users’ privacy by focusing just on the essentials of the proof. Thanks to a set of algorithms based on cryptography work done at IBM Research, the tool allows developers to build apps that can authenticate users’ identities using what’s known as a “zero-knowledge proof” that collects no personal data.

Specifically, Identity Mixer authenticates users by asking them to provide a public key. Each user has a single secret key, and it corresponds with multiple public keys, or identities. Each transaction a user makes receives a different public key and leaves no privacy “breadcrumbs.”

So, in the streaming service example, users would have both identity and subscription credentials stored in a personal Credential Wallet. To access a movie, they could use that electronic wallet to prove that they’re entitled to watch the selected content without having to expose any other details.

The result, according to IBM, is that users’ privacy is better preserved, and the service provider is spared the need to protect and secure all that extraneous data.




Facebook Testing Work Chat App For Businesses

November 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it was developing a work-focused version of its social networking tools to try and convert its consumer success into a new stream of revenue from businesses.

On Friday, the company continued that push by quietly launching its new Work Chat app for Android, which lets users message workmates using an interface that’s almost identical to Facebook Messenger. Users can send messages to individuals or groups of co-workers, and include cute stickers to punctuate their point.

Work Chat also lets users place voice calls to colleagues in their network. As with Messenger, those calls use Wi-Fi or a cellular data connection rather than the telephone network, but it should connect coworkers without requiring them to use a shared telephone directory or make international calls.

The app is available for download on the Google Play Store, but people can only log into it if they have a Facebook at Work account. The only way to have one of those is to work for a company that Facebook has allowed into the private testing of its new enterprise-focused tools. According to an article from TechCrunch, 300 companies are testing the enterprise social network, and the company plans to launch it officially by the beginning of next year.

Facebook at Work will be a major entry by the social networking company into the crowded space of business collaboration. It’s going head-to-head with established players like Microsoft’s Yammer and upstarts like Slack.



Will Dell Sell Parts Of EMC Post Merger?

November 20, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Michael Dell has confirmed that the has no intention to asset strip EMC and flog off small bits of it.

Reuters had reported that the company could sell off $10bn of assets to reduce the $49.5bn of debt it will be taking on to fund the acquisition.

Logically this would mean Perot Systems, Dell’s own service arm, acquired for $3.9bn in 2009, Quest, which it bought for $2.7bn in 2012; and SonicWall, which it reportedly acquired in 2012 for $1.2bn would be logical sales. Dell’s Equalogic service must also be in doubt given that it overlaps with EMC’s SAN portfolio.

However Dell appeared to deny this.

When asked if he would sell off EMC assets where there was found to be comparable Dell products, Dell said:

“The portfolios of products are highly complementary. There are some overlaps in storage, but Dell product lines and EMC storage product lines are somewhat different. We are going from seven to nine [product lines], which is not a problem, and we’ll continue to enhance them.”

Of course he was not talking about VMware. Dell confirmed that the company has no plans to tie in VMware with Dell.

“We believe in choice and openness. VMware will remain an independent public company. We are not going to disadvantage VMware partners in respect to their relationship with VMware,” he said.



Survey Says Amazon Is Top Destination For Online Holiday Shopping

November 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A majority of U.S. consumers plan to go to for most of their online holiday shopping, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, even after traditional retailers have collectively spent billions of dollars to try to capture Web demand.

The survey of 3,426 adults conducted from November 12 to 18 found that 51 percent plan to do most of their online shopping at Amazon this holiday season, compared to 16 percent at Walmart, 3 percent at Target and 2 percent at Macy’s.

A little more than a quarter of respondents said they would use another retailer not listed in the poll.

The poll underscored the hurdles that traditional retailers faced in expanding online. Their own sales data this week showed that such efforts were falling short.

Target Corp said on Wednesday its digital sales grew 20 percent in the latest quarter, missing its expectations for a 30 percent gain. The discount retailer cited weakness in electronics demand.

A day earlier, Wal-Mart Stores Inc reported quarterly online sales growth of 10 percent, slower than its target growth in the mid-to-high-teens this fiscal year. Wal-Mart pointed to sluggish market conditions in China, Britain and Brazil, and said it fared better in the United States.

In contrast, Inc had posted a 28 percent jump in North American sales in its quarterly report last month.

“The Big Kahuna that continues to grab market share is Amazon,” said Craig Johnson, head of retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners. “Both Wal-Mart and to some extent Target have simply not kept pace enough.”

Johnson added that sluggish spending overall contributed to the weaker-than-expected online sales at Target and Wal-Mart, which also faced increased competition from other online retailers, such as Wayfair Inc.

According to the Reuters/Ipsos poll, 8 percent of adults said they plan to shop only online this year, compared to 6 percent a year earlier. The proportion of respondents who said they would shop mostly online remained steady at 17 percent.

All major retailers are investing in e-commerce.

Miles Can Be Used For In-flight Wifi Says United

November 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

United Airlines will begin allowing travelers to redeem frequent-flier miles for Wifi on flights, company officials said.

United, the second-largest U.S. airline by capacity, began testing a web portal on Thursday that lets customers use award miles to access the Internet on their laptops, tablets and smartphones, making it the first U.S. carrier with the feature, a spokesman said.

It hopes to roll out the portal to most U.S. domestic flights by early 2016 and to finish installations on international flights by mid-summer. Regional jets that United contracts for its United Express brand will get the portal later.

The move reflects an ongoing push in the airline industry to treat frequent-flier miles like a currency. Travelers already can redeem miles on U.S. carriers for hotel rooms, theater tickets, goods such as cameras and even identity theft monitoring.

This also marks United’s latest move to win over customers since Oscar Munoz took over as chief executive of parent United Continental Holdings Inc in September.

Munoz has solicited feedback from travelers on how to improve the airline, ranked the lowest in customer satisfaction of the largest North American carriers, according to J.D. Power’s 2015 ranking.

The team overseeing the sale of extra services such as Wifi is now focused on improving travelers’ experience more than maximizing revenue, United’s Vice President of eCommerce and Merchandising Scott Wilson said in an interview.

“There is a bias towards promoting that type of thinking. It’s always existed, but maybe where it was more balanced, it’s shifted a little bit,” he said.




SentinelOne Introduces Feature For Ransomware Victims

November 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

SentinelOne has announced a new feature for its endpoint detection products that can restore files encrypted by cybercriminals, a common type of attack known as ransomware.

The “rollback” feature will be available in the 1.6 versions of its Endpoint Protection Platform (EPP) and the Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) products at no charge, said Dal Gemmell, director of product management.

SentinelOne is among several vendors that are trying to displace traditional antivirus vendors with products that detect malware using deep analysis rather than signature-based detection.

The company’s products use a lightweight agent on endpoints such as laptops and desktops, which looks at the core of the operating system — the kernel — as well the the user space, trying to spot changes that might be linked to malware.

The rollback feature leverages built-in capabilities in Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s OS X. Both operating systems take snapshots of files on a computer. In Windows, it’s known as Volume Shadow Copy Service and on OS X asjournaling.

The technologies are used for restoring systems. The snapshots of the files are kept in a secure area and wouldn’t be affected by ransomware if it infected a machine. Gemmell said. SentinelOne is also adding some anti-tampering defenses to make sure the snapshots aren’t affected.

SentinelOne monitors the files that have been changed on an endpoint, and if someone becomes infected by ransomware, can roll back the changes.

“There are a number of different ransomwares that we’ve tested it out on,” Gemmell said.



Google+ Re-designed and Re-focused

November 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google  hasn’t given up on running a social network. The company gave Google+ a redesign focused on people getting together around shared interests.

When Google+ launched in 2011, it was designed as a competitor to Facebook, focused on connecting people with their friends through a series of “circles.” That proved unsuccessful, but people started using the service to discuss things that they’re passionate about, like books and astronomy. Google has built its new design around promoting both its Community groups and its Collections of user-curated posts about specific interests.

Users can opt into the new design (which appears to be rolling out gradually) by signing into the service on the Web and responding when they get a prompt that offers it. Luke Wroblewski, a product director at Google, said in a post to the social network that Google+ apps for iOS and Android will be out in the near future.

The redesign doesn’t have all the features of the old Google+, so people who rely on things like Events will have to stay on the old design (which they can flip back to with the press of a button). It’s not clear whether Google will bring all of the social network’s functionality forward into the new design, but Wroblewski said the company isn’t done developing the product.

All of this comes as Google has been demoting the social network from its previous place at the center of the company’s products. Earlier this year, it brought cloud-based photo editing and storage capabilities that previously were tied to Google+ into Google Photos, a standalone service. Hangouts, the chat system that used to be tied to Google+, now has its own website.



Citrix To Spin Off GoTo Business Into Separate Unit

November 19, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Citrix Systems announced plans to spin off its GoTo collaboration products business into a new company, to focus on its core business in the secure delivery of apps and data.

The mobile workspaces company expects to completely separate the GoTo business, consisting of products like GoToMeeting, GoToAssist, GoToWebinar, OpenVoice, Grasshopper and GoToMyPC, into a separate, publicly traded company by the second half of next year.

For the trailing 12 months ended Sept. 30, unaudited revenue from the GoTo products and services was about $600 million.

The initial results of Citrix’s operations review, which were announced Tuesday, also involves a “realignment of resources” that is expected to eliminate about 1,000 full-time and contract roles, over and above the effect of spinning off the GoTo business. Most of the layoffs and refocusing of resources are expected in November and in January 2016.

The review follows an agreement in July with investment firm Elliott Management whose affiliated funds own about 7.5 percent of the company’s common stock. Elliott is said to have asked the company to trim down its business, according to reports. The company’s CEO and president, Mark Templeton, retired last month as part of a plan announced in July.

The company plans to now increase emphasis and focus its resources on core enterprise products for secure application and data delivery, including its XenApp, XenDesktop, XenMobile, ShareFile and NetScaler.

The separation of GoTo will create a pure-play SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) company that will have a targeted focus with the flexibility to invest in its portfolio of products, said Bob Calderoni, interim CEO and president and executive chairman of Citrix. The GoTo family of products is best suited to grow and operate as a standalone business, he said in a statement.



Tim Cook Says No To iOS Powered Laptops

November 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Apple CEO Tim Cook has again shot down the idea of following in the footsteps of rival Microsoft to develop a notebook that runs his company’s mobile operating system, iOS.

“We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad,” Cook told The Irish Independent, Ireland’s largest daily newspaper, in aninterview published Sunday. “Putting those two together would not achieve either. You’d begin to compromise in different ways.”

But take Cook’s comments with a grain — or more — of salt. “These are tactical communications, nothing about what they might do, or what they potentially will do,” noted Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, in a Monday interview.

Cook, who has been on a swing through Europe to meet with Irish officials about an expansion of Apple’s facility in the country, and in the U.K. to trumpet the iPad Pro, which went on sale last week, again took time to take a swipe at the competition.

“What that would wind up doing,” Cook said, referring to a notebook-slash-tablet analogous to Microsoft’s new Surface Book, “is that neither experience would be as good as the customer wants.”

In earlier interviews while in Europe, Cook had previously bashed the Surface Book, a 2-in-1 with an integrated keyboard and detachable screen that reverts to a tablet when held separately. “It’s trying to be a tablet and a notebook and it really succeeds at being neither. It’s sort of deluded,” Cook said of the Surface Book.

Cook’s stance is not new: The CEO has repeatedly said Apple had no interest in 2-in-1 devices, at one point calling tablets with keyboards akin to a Frankenstein mashup of toaster and refrigerator. That, of course, was long before Apple decided to join the market with the 12.9-in. iPad Pro and its optional Smart Keyboard.



Get Ready For Online Fraud Increase, Says Study

November 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

As retailers and consumers gear up for the holiday shopping season, attempts by criminals to steal payment card information to commit fraud online are likely to rise, according to new research by ACI Worldwide.

The move by U.S. merchants and card issuers to switch to more secure chip cards for in-store purchases this year is likely to increase fraudulent attempts on transactions online.

The ACI research showed fraud rates by volume for transactions that don’t involve physically swiping a card have increased in 2015, with one out of every 86 transactions a fraudulent attempt compared with one out of 114 transactions in 2014.

Fraud attempt rates by volume have increased by 30 percent compared with 2014 as consumers shop with more devices online and card issuers are slower to shut down accounts after fraudulent activity.

“When it comes to fraud, 2015 is likely among the riskiest season retailers have ever seen,” said Mike Braatz, senior vice president, Payments Risk Management, ACI Worldwide. “It is critical that they prepare for a significant uptick in fraud, particularly within e-commerce channels,” he said.

ACI, which delivers electronic banking and payment solutions for financial institutions, retailers and processors around the world, said its data is based on an analysis of hundreds of millions of transactions from large global retailers between January and July 2015 compared with the same period in 2014.

The research also forecast a spike in buy online and pick up in-store attempted fraud rates.

That is expected to increase by 28 percent this holiday season as a result of chip-cards being deployed within stores and as retailers do not require consumers to re-run cards when they pick up products ordered online in store.



Russia’s Search Giant Yandex Wants EU To Investigate Google’s Android

November 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Russia’s dominant search site Yandex said it has asked the European Commission to investigate Google’s practices in relation to its Android mobile operating system in the European Union.

The new complaint could strengthen the case against Google, possibly giving enough ammunition to EU antitrust regulators to eventually charge the company with anti-competitive business practices, on top of accusations related to its Google Shopping service.

The formal request was filed in April 2015 and largely mirrors the Russian company’s claims against the U.S. company in a Russian anti-monopoly case that Yandex won.

Russia’s competition watchdog ruled in September that Google had broken the law by requiring pre-installation of its search application on mobile devices running on its Android operating system.

“We think that the Russian finding of abuse of dominance is instructive, and is a conclusion that can readily be adopted in other jurisdictions, including the EU,” Yandex said.

Yandex is one of the few companies to publicly complain about Android.

It joins U.S. tech firm Disconnect, Portuguese app store Aptoide, and lobbying group FairSearch whose members include Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor and French price comparison site Twenga.

Yandex, which rivals Google in Turkey as well as Russia and several other former Soviet republics, said its business development in Europe would depend, among other factors, on the outcome of the European Commission’s investigation.

“We hope the European Commission … offers their help in restoring fair competition and ensuring equal opportunity to pre-install mobile applications on Android-based devices not only for Google, but also for other developers,” it said.

Yandex is ahead of Google in Russia with a search market share of around 60 percent, but it has been slow expanding abroad – a position it flagged when selling shares in a $1.3 billion initial public offering on Nasdaq in 2011.



Microsoft Launches Office Insider, New Preview Program

November 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft has launched a new preview program for consumers who subscribe to Office 365 that will give them an advance preview of new features slated to be added to the subscription service in the next one to three weeks.

Office Insider was opened to subscribers of Office 365 Home, Personal and University — the third is a four-year deal available only to college students — who are running Office 2016 on a Windows device. Office 365 subscribers who instead work with Office 2016 on a Mac are excluded for now, although Microsoft said they would be added in the “coming months.”

Like the already-established Windows Insider, Office Insider will serve as a feedback source for Microsoft’s developers.

Differences abound, however: Office Insider is accessible only to consumers and students with an Office 365 rent-not-own subscription — not to the general population as is Windows Insider — and more importantly, will preview new features just weeks, not months, away from landing on the production track. For example, the tools Microsoft touted as now available only to Insiders — including a pair of features for PowerPoint, and new “Send As” options for Word and PowerPoint — are slated to ship this month.

Windows Insider typically previews changes to Windows 10 that are as much as six to nine months away from reaching everyone in the next upgrade.

“The features are typically only 1-3 weeks out from general release and just need a bit of fine-tuning before becoming more widely available,” a company spokeswoman said in an email reply to questions.

Microsoft has committed to shipping monthly upgrades to Office 365 customers, something the company reiterated today. “Every month, the Office engineering team ships updates across the Office apps (mobile, desktop and Office Online), to include new functionality,” the spokeswoman added.

Subscribers to the eligible Office 365 SKUs (stock-keeping units) may join Office Insider by downloading the preview edition of Office 2016 from a new section of their Office 365 account dashboard, dubbed “Additional Install Options.”




Facebook To Widen Safety Check Tool Feature

November 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook’s Safety Check tool to alert friends and family about their safety was activated for the first time after the terror attack in Paris on Friday, with a large number of users reporting they had benefited from it.

But that move drew widespread criticism online that the company had been partial, as it had not activated the feature in other locations recently hit in terror attacks, notably the twin attacks in Beirut on Thursday.

The social networking company was also criticized for releasing a photo filter that allowed users to show support for the people of Paris using the colors of the French flag on their profile pictures, with some people online charging the company with double standards for not releasing similar filters for the terror attacks in Beirut and other locations. One user, Hubert Southall, offered to design filters for users, saying that Facebook “needs to include all affected nations.”

Facebook’s current travails highlight the minefields a global company can encounter as it tries to accommodate sensitivities across the countries it operates in, where users’ priorities can be different and there is often the tendency for certain groups to feel they are not important enough for a giant multinational.

In the wake of the controversy over the activation of Safety Check in Paris, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg assured its users that the tool would be turned on more frequently in the future during human disasters. “Many people have rightfully asked why we turned on Safety Check for Paris but not for bombings in Beirut and other places,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page.

The Safety Check tool asks users believed to be in the location of an emergency if they are safe and lets them inform their friends by clicking a button. People also can check in on users who they believe are in the emergency area. The tool was first used in a “very early version” in Tokyo during the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster and later after recent earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile and Nepal as well as Tropical Cyclone Pam in the South Pacific and Typhoon Ruby in the Philippines.



Apple Pulling The Plug On Beats Music

November 16, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple is dropping the ax on Beats Music on Nov. 30, shortly after launching the beta of an Android app for its Apple Music streaming service.

The company is now encouraging both Android and iOS users of Beats Music to transition to the Apple Music streaming service, which was launched by the company in June.

After the launch of the Apple Music app for Android phones, it has become easier for Apple to do the inevitable – shut down Beats Music, transition Android users and focus on Apple Music.

“All the pros that curated music for you are still crafting more amazing experiences,” wrote executive Dale Bagwell on a Beats support page. “Plus, on Apple Music, you’ll get even better recommendations based on music you already listen to and love, 24/7 global radio with Beats 1, exciting material from your favorite artist, and more.”

Beats Music subscriptions will be cancelled on Nov. 30, but users have the option to move their picks and preferences over to Apple Music, he added.

The company also provided detailed instructions for users moving from Beat Music to Apple Music on the support page. Apple had said earlier it was no longer accepting new subscriptions for Beats Music and recommended to users to move their current Beats subscriptions over to Apple Music.

Apple unveiled in June the subscription music service, which is priced at US$10 a month with a family service also available for up to six family members for $15 per month. The subscription rates vary in some countries.

The service offers a three-month free trial. Unlike some of its rivals, Apple Music doesn’t offer free music supported by advertisements.