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Microsoft Makes Edge, Bing The Only Search Box Options For Cortana

May 3, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft began blocking competitor’s browsers and search providers from using Windows 10′s Cortana search box, the operating system’s prime search real estate.

“To ensure we can deliver the integrated search experience designed for Windows 10, Microsoft Edge will be the only browser that will launch when you search from the Cortana box,” said Ryan Gavin, general manager of search marketing, in a post to a Microsoft company blog.

The Cortana search box — at the lower left of the Windows 10 desktop — relies on Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Gavin defended the move by saying that “some software programs circumvent the design of Windows 10 and redirect you to search providers that were not designed to work with Cortana.” When that happens, Gavin said, users get a “compromised experience that is less reliable and predictable.”

While Gavin didn’t name names, Mozilla’s Firefox modified Windows 10 so that when that browser was made the operating system’s default, Firefox’s selected search provider generated results from in-Cortana queries, with the ensuing pages appearing in Firefox, not Edge. Other browsers, such as Google’s Chrome, did not go that far, but third-party extensions available in the Chrome Web Store did.

The changes won’t affect the basic functionality of non-Microsoft browsers, Gavin pledged: Chrome, Firefox, Opera and others will continue to work as before and will still default to their set search providers when queries are made from within those browsers.

But the Cortana search box is now Bing-and-Edge-only territory.

Microsoft has good reason for staking out Cortana as its exclusive turf, and not simply because of the disruption to Cortana’s delivery of personalized results that Gavin mentioned. The Redmond, Wash., company has bet that Windows 10 will generate revenue outside the traditional licensing fees that OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) pay.

Not only does Microsoft want to push users toward Edge as much as possible, but it’s expecting new revenue from increased use of Bing, which is tightly integrated with Windows 10. The Cortana-Bing scenarios that Gavin cited — buying concert tickets, clothes and pizzas — presumably produce revenue for Microsoft.

 

 

 

Phishing Apps Continue To Play Google Play

May 3, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Google’s attempts to safeguard the Android app store — Google Play — are far from perfect, with malicious apps routinely slipping through its review process. Such was the case for multiple phishing applications this year that posed as client apps for popular online payment services.

Researchers from security firm PhishLabs claim that they’ve found 11 such applications since the beginning of 2016 hosted on Google Play, most of them created by the same group of attackers.

The apps are simple, yet effective. They load Web pages containing log-in forms that look like the target companies’ websites. These pages are loaded from domain names registered by the attackers, but because they are loaded inside the apps, users don’t see their actual location.

In some cases attackers registered domain names that are similar to those of the impersonated online payment services, PhishLab Security Threat Analyst Joshua Shilko said in a blog post.

More recently, attackers used domain names similar to those of cryptocurrency companies, suggesting that the cryptocurrency industry is also targeted.

PhishLabs did not name the exact payment card companies and online payment services whose users were targeted by these fake apps. However, most of those companies provide links to their official mobile applications on their websites and users should always use those links instead of manually searching for them on the Play store.

“In one case, a targeted company explicitly states on their website that no mobile application exists for their company and that users should be wary of any mobile application using their brand,” Shilko said.

The danger is that if phishers manage to routinely bypass Google’s review process and upload such apps to the Google Play store, their attacks might extend to other industries in the future.

Another problem is that even when these apps are detected by third-parties and reported, it can take several days for Google to remove them from the app store, leaving a sufficiently large window of opportunity for attackers. It’s not clear how attackers promote these fake apps or if they rely only on users finding them themselves, but in general phishing attacks are most effective during the first several hours after they’re launched.

 

 

Are Tablets Dead?

May 3, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

There more evidence that tablets were never the game-changer that Steve Jobs tried to peddle them as, and were just the keyboardless netbooks we said they were.

IDC siad that for the first quarter of 2016, overall worldwide tablet shipments fell to 39.6 million, a 14.7 percent drop from the same period a year ago,  However the only part of the segment which did ok were tablets with keyboards – or as we used to call them, netbooks.

IDC said that the decline of ordinary tablets was partly due to traditional first-quarter slumps but also a complete lack of interest on the part of customers.

Traditional tablets accounted for 87.6 percent of all tablet shipments. But tablets that come with detachable keyboards increased of more than 4.9 million units last quarter. That was a gain of 120 percent from the same period last year and an all-time high for tablets with detachable keyboards.

Tablets are dying because more people are buying big-screened phones as an alternative. You remember Fablets? They were what Steve Jobs claimed would never work because they prefered smaller smartphones or bigger tablets. In fact he was talking rubbish and was trying to keep his keyboardless netbook idea going.

IDC said that the newer tablets don’t offer enough new features to entice people to upgrade. After all tablets were always looking for an app which made them useful, which never arrived.

To counteract the downturn, more manufacturers are turning to tablets with detachable keyboards that can thus serve as laptops – on otherwords returning to the netbooks that the Tablets were said to replace.

“With the PC industry in decline, the detachable market stands to benefit as consumers and enterprises seek to replace their aging PCs with detachables,” IDC senior research analyst Jitesh Ubrani said in a statement.

Apple saw its shipments and market share drop but remained in first place. Apple’s latest 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the new 256GB storage option for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro are “healthy additions” to the lineup, IDC said. Samsung also saw its shipments and market share decline. Though the Samsung Galaxy Tab lineup is still popular, its detachable TabPro S is dead in the water thanks to its $900 price tag.

Amazon has found success with its starting-at-$49 Fire, showing that consumers will still buy bargain-priced tablets. Missing from the list was Microsoft in spite of the popularity of its Surface Pro products, which start at $900.

IDC said:

“The Surface line is great. But it’s tough to drive volume in the first quarter. Prices of Surface products are fairly high, but Microsoft is in the top five list for tablets with detachable keyboards. The top five for tablets as a whole is a tougher nut to crack given the large slate volumes compared to detachables.”

Courtesy-Fud

 

Elon Musk Opens Training ‘Gym’ For AI Programmers

May 2, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Techie entrepreneur Elon Musk has rolled out an open-source training “gym” for artificial-intelligence programmers.

It’s an interesting move for a man who in 2014 said artificial intelligence, or A.I., will pose a threat to the human race.

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence,” Musk said about a year and a half ago during an MIT symposium. “If I were to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that… with artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. In all those stories with the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, and he’s sure he can control the demon. It doesn’t work out.”

Today, Musk is moving to help programmers use A.I. and machine learning to build smart robots and smart devices.

“We’re releasing the public beta of OpenAI Gym, a toolkit for developing and comparing reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms,” wrote Greg Brockman, OpenAI’s CTO, and John Schulman, a scientist working with OpenAI, in a blog post . “We originally built OpenAI Gym as a tool to accelerate our own RL research. We hope it will be just as useful for the broader community.”

The OpenAI Gym is meant as a tool for programmers to use to teach their intelligent systems better ways to learn and develop more complex reasoning. In short, it’s meant to make smart systems smarter.

Musk is a co-chair of OpenAI, a $1 billion organization that was unveiled last December as an effort focused on advancing artificial intelligence that will benefit humanity.

While Musk has warned of what he sees as the perils of A.I., it’s also a technology that he needs for his businesses.

The OpenAI Gym is made up of a suite of environments, including simulated robots and Atari games, as well as a site for comparing and reproducing results.

It’s focused on reinforcement learning, a field of machine learning that involves decision-making and motor control.

According to OpenAI, reinforcement learning is an important aspect of building intelligent systems because it encompasses any problem that involves making a sequence of decisions. For instance, it could focus on controlling a robot’s motors so it’s able to run and jump, or enabling a system to make business decisions regarding pricing and inventory management.

Two major challenges for developers working with reinforcement learning are the lack of standard environments and the need for better benchmarks.

Musk’s group is hoping that the OpenAI Gym addresses both of those issues.

 

 

 

 

Apple’s Mac Slump Continues, Sales Tumble 12%

April 29, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Apple revealed that it sold 4 million Macs in the March quarter, a 12% decline from the same period the year before, and a larger contraction than for the personal computer business as a whole.

The year-over-year downturn in Mac sales was the second straight down quarter, and excepting a brutal 22% drop at the end of 2012, the largest since Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007.

Analysts at IDC and Gartner earlier this month pegged the continued contraction of the PC industry at 11.5% and 9.6%, respectively. Both also missed the actual Mac number for the quarter in their forecasts for Apple, overestimating by 11% to 13%: IDC had tapped shipments at 4.5 million, while Gartner said it was 4.6 million.

Apple had been on an extended streak of besting the PC average, with sometimes-impressive gains during the four-years-and-counting slump of the overall market. But the March quarter’s results put an end to the years-long run, which the Cupertino, Calif. company often touted.

Neither CEO Tim Cook or CFO Luca Maestri mentioned the end of the streak in Tuesday’s earnings call with Wall Street.

“It was a challenging quarter for personal computer sales across the industry,” said Maestri, stating the obvious.

Cook said that Mac sales “met our sell-in expectations” and added that he remained optimistic about Apple’s computer business, a sentiment a CEO is duty-bound to share. “We’re confident in our Mac business and our ability to continue to innovate and gain share in that area,” Cook said.

But Mac-generated revenue for the quarter was $5.1 billion, 9% lower than the same period in 2015, and the smallest amount recorded for the line in almost three years.

Macs accounted for 10.1% of Apple’s total revenue of $50.1 billion, but the computer group slipped to No. 3 on the company’s list, behind — by a country mile — the iPhone (accounting for 65% of all revenue) and, for the first time, the relatively new Services category, which contributed 11.8% of all incoming dollars.

 

 

 

Intel’s Updated USB Type-C Designed To Replace Headphone Jacks

April 29, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Intel this week unveiled plans to make an upgraded USB Type-C connector that would enable audio input and output, potentially replacing the long-standard 3.5 millimeter headphone jack used in today’s electronic devices.

Intel, which revealed its plans during a lecture at its Intel Developers Forum (IDF) in Shenzhen, China, also believes USB Type-C would simplify connections of multi-channel audio equipment to various devices.

Unlike the traditional 3.5mm analogue audio jack, a USB Type-C interface could charge a device in addition to transmitting sound and data. For example, it could transfer health and fitness data from a mobile device.

The USB Type-C connectors are reversible, so orientation isn’t an issue when plugging something into a device. The USB 3.1 Gen1 specification offers up to 5Gbps of data throughput; the Gen2 specification offers up to 10Gbps.

USB Type-C cables and connectors would replace the last analog receptacles on computers and mobile devices. Intel’s strategy was first reported by AnandTech.

In Intel’s presentation, it described USB C-Type connectors as being able to support both analog and digital musical content. But the upgraded connector would “promote” a changeover from analog to digital as users would see “improved digital headset features.”

A USB Type-C connector that supports audio feeds would also enable new form-factors, improve user experience and “provide a future path for USB technologies,” Intel said in the presentation.

 

 

 

Samsung’s Gear 360 VR Camera Goes On Sale

April 29, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung’s Gear 360 camera for creating virtual reality content went on sale online today, the company announced.

The Gear 360 will initially be available only in South Korea and Singapore, a company representative said. A U.S. shipping date hasn’t been announced. In Korea, it will cost 399,000 won (US$347).

The camera, a bit larger than a golf ball, is Samsung’s bid to get consumers involved in creating virtual-reality content instead of just consuming it.

“We think 2016 is shaping up to be the year of VR,” said Andrew Dickerson, director of software engineering for Samsung VR, in a keynote presentation at the Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco.

The camera will have two 180-degree fisheye lenses back to back and will stitch together the video from each for a 360-degree view. With a total of 30 megapixels of resolution, it will provide 4K video quality. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge smartphones will link directly to the Gear 360 to act as live viewfinders.

VR is a key part of Samsung’s combined hardware, software and services strategy. The Gear 360 will join the Gear VR viewer and the recently announced Milk VR service for authoring and sharing content as part of the company’s plan to expand in this area.

In the next few years, Samsung expects to deliver a “holodeck” experience, said Injong Rhee, executive vice president and head of R&D for software and services. He was referring to the virtual environment used on the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

That experience will be truly immersive and allow users to roam around a physical space. It will make use of capabilities like gesture tracking to allow users to feel they are touching virtual objects, he said. To do this, the company is working to overcome problems including poor image quality, insufficient computing power, the heavy weight and restricted mobility of VR headsets, and the dizziness some users experience, Rhee said.

 

 

 

Mac Finally Gets Skype For Business App

April 28, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft’s new business communication product is finally making its way to the Mac.

The company announced the first technical preview of Skype for Business for Mac on Tuesday, giving users of Apple computers an easy way to connect to meetings they have scheduled through Microsoft’s professional audio and videoconferencing software.

When users sign into the app, they’ll see their Skype for Business meetings for the current day and the following one, and will be able to easily join in with the other people invited.

Skype for Business is the successor to the company’s venerable Lync product, which is still available for Mac during this transition.

The final release of the Mac version of Skype for Business is slated for the third quarter. Between now and then, Microsoft has two additional beta phases planned for the app. The second beta phase will include instant messaging, presence indicators and access to a user’s contacts.

In the third beta phase, Microsoft will bring along support for telephony and other advanced features supported by other versions of the product. That’s important for businesses that have paid for advanced Skype for Business features like the ability to place phone calls from the application over a traditional phone line.

This beta push is part of Microsoft’s ongoing strategy to extend the reach of its products to a wide variety of platforms, including the Mac.

 

Qualcomm and LG Settle Dispute

April 27, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Qualcomm has buried the hatchet with LG after the smartphone vendor agreed to pay more for its chips.

LG said the dispute with Qualcomm has been completely settled, although it did not say how much it had agreed to pay. Earlier it had claimed Qualcomm had overcharged for the chips under a licensing contract.

The news about the lawsuit settlement emerged following Qualcomm’s profit forecast for the second quarter in January, which was below what Wall Street’s tarot readers had predicted.

The company expected its mobile chip shipment to fall by 16-25 per cent in the second quarter. Additionally, it expected 3G and 4G device shipment to decline by 4 to 14 per cent. As for the first quarter of 2016, Qualcomm’s chip shipment fell 10 per cent , with a drop in revenue by 21.6 per cent. Revenue from licensing declined 10.4 per cent, suggests a Reuters report.

An LG spokesperson said that this kind of dispute was “actually nothing” and was similar to the ones that the industries had in the past.

“Qualcomm has lowered its royalty rate to LG in return for LG’s guaranteed purchase of Qualcomm processors, which are currently being used in its flagship handsets and will be used in upcoming flagship models,” added the official.

Qualcomm might have been a little nervy.  LG has invested millions to develop its own chipset, in an attempt to cut down its dependency on Qualcomm for mobile processors.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Survey Reveals The Depth Of Digital Crime In Germany

April 26, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

More than two-thirds of German industrial companies have falling prey to digital crime in the past two years, according to a survey carried out by Bitkom, Germany’s IT, telecoms and new media industry association.

The most common offence was the simple theft of equipment such as computers, smartphones or tablets, but a fifth of companies surveyed reported that sensitive documents, components or designs had been stolen, while 18 percent said their production had been sabotaged with the aim of damaging or paralyzing it.

Such crimes cost German manufacturing industry more than 22 billion euros ($25 billion) a year, Bitkom estimated following its survey of 504 German manufacturing companies with at least 10 employees.

“With the digitization of production and the networking of machines over the Internet, new contact points arise that are vulnerable to attack,” Winfried Holz, a Bitkom executive committee member, said in a statement issued at the Hannover Messe industry trade fair.

“German industry, with its numerous hidden champions, is an attractive target for cybercriminals and foreign intelligence services,” he added. Germany has hundreds of small and medium-sized family-owned manufacturers that are world leaders in their niche.

Bitkom said the 69 percent of manufacturing companies affected by cybercrime was a far higher proportion than the 51 percent average for German companies in general.

About 70 percent of the machinery and equipment manufacturers surveyed said they had been victims, 68 percent of chemicals and pharmaceuticals producers, 65 percent of electronics makers and 61 percent of carmakers.

Cybercriminality was most often found in production or assembly, with 36 percent of reported cases, followed by 30 percent in warehousing and logistics, 29 percent in IT and 23 percent in research and development.

 

 

Sirin’s Ultra High-end Smartphone To Retail For $20,000

April 26, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

A British-Israeli start-up is making plans to offer a mobile phone next month that will provide users unprecedented levels of technology and security — and retail for close to $20,000.

Sirin Labs AG said on Monday it had raised $72 million in private funds to launch the device, which would be aimed at executives. It plans to open its first store, in London’s Mayfair, in May.

“(Our) smartphone …brings the most advanced technology available – even if it is not commercially available – and combining it with almost military-grade security,” said Sirin co-founder and president Moshe Hogeg.

The phone will be based on the Android operating system and run otherwise unspecified technology two to three years in advance of the mass market, he said.

Hogeg told Reuters the phone would sell for less than $20,000.

He believes thousands of executives in the United States and Europe will pay that sort of price, since the cost of being hacked could be more expensive in terms of information lost.

Hogeg put the value of the global luxury phone market at about $1.1 billion, a fraction of total mobile phone sales. Most top end phones sold are more for status – regular phones with gold and diamonds.

Britain’s Vertu sells phones in that category from $10,000 to $300,000, while Apple’s iPhone 5 Black Diamond sold for $15.3 million.

Sirin’s financing came from Israeli venture capital fund Singulariteam – which Hogeg co-founded and included backing from Kazakh investor Kenges Rakishev – and Chinese social networking company Renren.

The idea for the start-up came about after Rakishev’s phone was hacked in 2013. He asked Hogeg why he couldn’t find a mobile phone that would ensure privacy and why new technology seen in tech shows and publications was not available in consumer devices.

“There were no good solutions that combined high-end technologies with maximum security,” Hogeg said.

 

Google Says A.I. Is The Next Big Thing In Computing

April 25, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Every decade or so, a new era of computing comes along that influences everything we do. Much of the 90s was about client-server and Windows PCs. By the aughts, the Web had taken over and every advertisement carried a URL. Then came the iPhone, and we’re in the midst of a decade defined by people tapping myopically into tiny screens.

So what comes next, when mobile gives way to something else? Mark Zuckerberg thinks it’s VR. There’s likely to be a lot of that, but there’s a more foundational technology that makes VR possible and permeates other areas besides.

“I do think in the long run we will evolve in computing from a mobile-first to an A.I.-first world,” said Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, answering an analyst’s question during parent company Alphabet’s quarterly earnings call Thursday.

He’s not predicting that mobile will go away, of course, but that the breakthroughs of tomorrow will come via smarter uses of data rather than clever uses of mobile devices like those that brought us Uber and Instagram.

Forms of artificial intelligence are already being used to sort photographs, fight spam and steer self-driving cars. The latest trend is in bots, which use A.I. services on the back end to complete tasks automatically, like ordering flowers or booking a hotel.

Google believes it has a lead in A.I. and the related field of machine learning, which Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt has already pegged as key to Google’s future.

Machine learning is one of the ways Google hopes to distinguish its emerging cloud computing business from those of rivals like Amazon and Microsoft, Pichai said.

 

 

 

 

Google, Microsoft Drop Regulatory Complaints Against Each Other

April 25, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc’s Google have reached a deal to drop all the regulatory complaints against each other, the companies told Reuters.

“Microsoft has agreed to withdraw its regulatory complaints against Google, reflecting our changing legal priorities. We will continue to focus on competing vigorously for business and for customers,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in an email.

Google, in a separate email, said the companies would want to compete vigorously based on the merits of their products, not in “legal proceedings”.

The companies in September agreed to bury all patent infringement litigations against each other, settling 18 cases in the United States and Germany.

“… Following our patent agreement, we’ve now agreed to withdraw regulatory complaints against one another,” Google said on Friday.

Google’s rivals had reached out to U.S. regulators alleging that the Internet services company unfairly uses its Android system to win online advertising, people with knowledge of matter told Reuters last year.

The European Commission also accused Google last year of distorting internet search results to favor its shopping service, harming both rivals and consumers.

 

New Point-of-Sale Malware Steals Credit Card Data, Sends Over DNS

April 22, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Uncategorized

Security researchers have uncovered a new memory-scraping malware program that steals payment card data from point-of-sale (PoS) terminals and forwards to attackers using the Domain Name System (DNS).

Dubbed Multigrain, the threat is part of a family of malware programs known as NewPosThings, with which it shares some code. However, this variant was designed to target specific environments.

That’s because unlike other PoS malware programs that look for card data in the memory of many processes, Multigrain targets a single process called multi.exe that’s associated with a popular back-end card authorization and PoS server. If this process is not running on the compromised machine, the infection routine exists and the malware deletes itself.

“This shows that while developing or building their malware, the attackers had a very specific knowledge of the target environment and knew this process would be running,” security researchers from FireEye said in a blog post.

FireEye did not name the PoS software that Multigrain targeted. However, threats like this show the need for companies to monitor the DNS traffic that originates from their own networks for suspicious behavior.

Multigrain was designed with stealth in mind. It is digitally signed, it installs itself as a service called Windows Module Extension and more importantly, it sends data back to attackers via DNS queries.

Stolen payment card data is first encrypted with a 1024-bit RSA key and then it’s passed through a Base32 encoding process. The resulting encoded data is used in a DNS query for log.[encoded_data].evildomain.com, where “evildomain” is a domain name controlled by the attackers. This query will appear in the authoritative DNS server for the domain, which is also controlled by the attackers.

This technique, while not specific to Multigrain, allows attackers to pass data out of restricted environments where other Internet communication protocols are blocked.

 

 

 

Apple To Pay Nearly $25M In Siri Patent Lawsuit Settlement

April 22, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Apple has agreed to shell out $24.9 million to a patent holding firm to resolve a 5-year-old lawsuit accusing Siri of infringing one of its patents.

Apple will pay the money to Marathon Patent Group, the parent company of Texas firm Dynamic Advances, which held an exclusive license to a 2007 patent covering natural language user interfaces for enterprise databases. Marathon reported the settlement in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday.

In response to the settlement, Magistrate Judge David Peebles of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York dismissed a lawsuit against Apple filed by Dynamic Advances and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, where the natural language technology was created.

A trial had been scheduled to begin early next month in Syracuse, New York. Dynamic Advances first filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Apple in October 2012.

A “portion” of the settlement will go to RPI, Marathon said in its SEC filing. The company believes “other voice recognition services also infringe patents involved in the settled action,” it said in the filing.

The natural language technology covered in the patent was invented by Cheng Hsu, then a professor of decision sciences and engineering systems, and Veera Boonjing, then a doctoral student at RPI, according to an amended complaint filed in June 2013.

The patent covers “novel methods” for processing natural language, wrote lawyers for the plaintiffs. The technology gives computer and smartphone owners “the ability to input search queries or commands in language they would use in conversation with another person,” they wrote in the complaint.

Apple’s Siri voice-enabled digital assistance service encourages users to use technology that “processes natural language inputs” as claimed in the patent, the complaint said. Since the first lawsuit in 2012, “Apple has known that, or has been willfully blind to the fact that” its customers are infringing the patent, the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote.