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Microsoft Slash Prices On Surface 2 Tablets

August 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

US Government Warns Major Businesses Hit By Backoff Malware

August 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

China To Unveil PC OS To Compete With Microsoft, Google

August 26, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Oracle Appears To Be Going To Court

August 26, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy-Fud

Amazon Developing Own Online Advertising

August 25, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon Inc is planning to develop its own software for generating advertisements online, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.

While the in-house platform is initially planned to replace ads supplied by Google Inc on Amazon’s own website, the new system could challenge Google and Microsoft Corp’s advertising business in the future, the newspaper cited the people as saying.

Amazon’s system would resemble Google’s AdWords, and is planned to make it easier for marketers to reach the company’s users, the newspaper reported the people as saying.

The retailer is also building a tool that would help advertising agencies buy in bulk for thousands of advertisers, the Journal said, citing the people.

Amazon is known as a sleeping giant in the ad industry because it has rich consumer data but has been tentative about using it for a lot of advertising.

The company already has an advertising service it employs chiefly on its own website.

Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

 

Unity Starts Pushing Open Source Plan

August 25, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Unity Technologies has stepped up its commitment to democratising game development by making key components of its ubiquitous engine open source.

At present, that applies to the Unity Test Tools and the engine’s new graphical user interface system, which was demonstrated in the opening keynote of Unite 2014. The features will be available under the MIT/X11 license, giving users the freedom to “control, customise and extend” their functionality.

The source code for the components will be hosted on BitBucket, and Unity has prepared a guide for any interested open source contributors. The source for the Unity Test Tools is already available, with the GUI to follow.

“Beyond that, we don’t have a concrete plan, but we have a lot of things in the pipeline,” the company said in a statement. “These components will all be isolated from Unity in such a way that you can modify them and use your own modified version with the official public Unity release.

“Although Unity Technologies has been active in the open-source community for quite some time, this is the first time we’ll be opening the source to components of Unity itself.

“We’re excited to see what you do with it.”

Courtesy-GI.biz

Ready For Tablets Priced At $35 Or Lower?

August 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Generic Android tablets with 7-inch screens and quad-core chips that deliver decent performance could soon make it to market for $35 or less.

Tablets with low-resolution screens are already selling for $45 on Amazon, many of which have single- or dual-core processors from a Chinese chip company called Allwinner.

But the prices could fall under $35 when Allwinner ships its “fully formed” quad-core A33 chip for only $4, said analyst firm Linley Group in a newsletter this week.

The chip’s quad-core processors will deliver better performance than older chips, and be capable of supporting 1280 x 800 displays, the analyst group said. The chip is based on ARM’s Cortex-A7 design and has a Mali-400MP2 GPU, which is capable of rendering high-definition video.

The cheap tablets will likely come from no-name vendors in China, and won’t offer the bells and whistles of Samsung or Apple tablets, but they could increase price pressure on brand names like HP and Acer, which have entry-level tablets priced around $100.

They’ll be most suited to first-time buyers or users who aren’t picky about hardware or software but certainly not power users, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research. That’s because they’ll likely have limited memory, storage and fewer ports than more expensive devices.

“Users eventually will move up in performance,” McGregor said.

The tablets would almost be disposable items, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

And they could be here soon.

Mass production of the chip has already begun and prototype tablets have already been built.

A lot would come from Shenzhen, China, where a bulk of the device development is taking place, said Brookwood.

“This Shenzhen ecosystem, it’s absolutely scary what they are doing,” he said. “They operate on very thin margins. The kind of margins that no U.S. vendor can think about running on.”

The no-name tablets usually don’t come with customer support, and some may not have the Google Play store.

 

UPS Joins The List Of Companies To Report A Data Breach

August 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Credit and debit card information belonging to customers made purchases at 51 UPS Store Inc. locations in 24 states this year may have been illegally accessed as the result of an intrusion into the company’s networks.

In a statement on Wednesday, UPS said it was recently notified by law enforcement officials about a “broad-based malware intrusion” of its systems.

A subsequent investigation by an IT security firm showed that attackers had installed previously unknown malware on systems in more than four-dozen stores to gain access to cardholder data. The affected stores represent about 1% of the 4,470 UPS Store locations around the country.

The intrusion may have exposed data on transactions conducted at the stores between Jan. 20 and Aug. 11, 2014. “For most locations, the period of exposure to this malware began after March 26, 2014,” UPS said in a statement.

In addition to payment card information, the hackers also appear to have gained access to customer names, as well as postal and email addresses.

Each of the affected locations is individually owned and runs private networks that are not connected to other stores, UPS added. The company provided alist of affected locations.

The breach is the third significant one to be disclosed in the past week. Last Thursday, grocery store chain Supervalu announced it had suffered a malicious intrusion that exposed account data belonging to customers who had shopped at about 180 of the company’s stores in about a dozen states. The breach also affected customers from several other major grocery store chains for which Supervalu provides IT services.

 

 

Opera Mini Browser To Become Standard On Windows Phones

August 22, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Norwegian software maker Opera inked a deal to take over the browser building unit of Microsoft’s Nokia cellular phone unit and reported second-quarter earnings above expectations on Thursday, sending it shares sharply higher.

“We have signed a strategic licensing deal with Microsoft. We are basically taking over the browser building department in Nokia,” Opera Chief Executive Lars Boilsesen said. “This means that Opera Mini will become the default browser for Microsoft’s feature phone product lines and the Asha phones product lines.”

The deal will be profitable from the start, he added.

“All the current user base will be encouraged to upgrade to Opera Mini and all the new phones will come with Opera Mini pre-installed as a default browser. This is a great deal for us. We have dreamed of this for more than 10 years.”

In a separate statement, Opera said the licensing agreement applies to mobile phones based on the Series 30+, Series 40 and Asha software platforms.

“As part of the agreement, people who use the current browser for these phones, Xpress, will be encouraged to upgrade to the latest Opera Mini browser. Factory-new devices will have Opera Mini pre-installed.”

 

 

HP Finally Sees Growth

August 22, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

HP has seen its revenue grow for the first time in three years to $27.58bn, helped by stronger than expected growth of its PC division, which grew 12 percent year on year.

The revenue rise was up from the $27.23bn the company made in Q3 2013, and up from $27.31bn in the same period last year.

Despite this growth, profits fell in Q3 2014, dipping under the $1bn mark to $985m. This is down from $1.39bn in the same period last year and $1.27bn in the previous quarter.

HP reported that its Personal Systems Group, which sells PCs, notebooks and workstations, saw revenues rise by 12 percent to $8.65bn. Consumer sales were up eight percent and business sales up 14 percent. Profit in the group was four percent of the total revenue.

CEO Meg Whitman was upbeat on this “excellent performance of the Personal Systems Group, noting that several factors were driving this uptick in sales.

“The Windows XP expiration has contributed to our growth. Although we believe we’re now through much of that benefit,” she said.

“However, our product line-up, driven by products like our EliteBook Series and our x360 convertible notebook, is the strongest we’ve had in years and we continue to see customers looking to refresh their ageing installed base.”

HP’s Enterprise Group division, covering areas such as networks and servers saw revenue rise by two percent.

However, all other units saw revenues fall. Printing was down four percent, enterprise services fell by six percent, software dropped by five percent, and financial services were down three percent.

Whitman touted HP’s recent unveiling of its new technology called The Machine as part of its efforts to conquer the software marketing around new areas such as big data.

“We rolled out our vision for what we call The Machine, a new computing platform for the Big Data era. The Machine has become a rallying cry across HP and frankly around the industry for the reinvention of how we compute,” she said.

Overall Whitman said that while the results were pleasing the company still had much to do to become a leaner, more productive outfit that the one she inherited a few years ago.

“Turnarounds are not linear and we face some tough comparisons in the fourth quarter, but overall I continue to be very encouraged by the progress we’re making.”

Courtesy-TheInq

YouTube Music Might Prove Lucrative For Google

August 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A beefed up version of YouTube offering exclusive content might turn out to be lucrative bait for Google to lure some of its users deeper into its digital video and music services.

YouTube appears to be readying a paid premium music service that would cost US$9.99 a month, called YouTube Music Key. Roughly a dozen purported screenshots of the service were recently published online on the blog Android Police, possibly showing how it would work. The images showed exclusive content such as remixes or cover songs, offline access to entire albums or concerts, and personalized playlists.

A YouTube spokesman declined to comment, but rumors of a paid music service from the Google-owned video site have been circulating for some time now. An earlier report in the Financial Times claimed YouTube was blocking or penalizing independent labels that were not signing up for the yet-to-launch paid service. Earlier this month, YouTube head Susan Wojcicki confirmed the company was working on some kind of subscription music service, in aRe/code interview.

So it looks likely that a premium version of YouTube just for music is on the way. The free version of YouTube works well for many right now, but a premium version might let Google monetize some new content and lead users to the company’s other digital media services.

The amount and diversity of content already available free on YouTube is massive, and the advertisements don’t interrupt the listening experience like those on Spotify or Pandora do. Plus, Google already offers Google Play All Access, a paid music service that syncs across devices and lets people listen offline, for $9.99 a month.

“Premium” might be the draw for a paid music service. The special content might include exclusive recordings of professional artists’ cover songs, or unreleased tracks similar to iTunes exclusives.

To do that, Google would probably have to strike new licensing deals with music labels. But if YouTube could convert just a tiny fraction of its billion-plus monthly users into paying customers, that might be a win for Google, argues Mark Mulligan, co-founder of the music and technology research firm Midia Consulting.

YouTube claims viewers watch more than 6 billion hours of video each month on its site — almost an hour for every person on Earth — and that 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute. That catalogue is peerless, Mulligan said, but Google probably wants to do more with it in order to take on streaming services like Spotify, Rdio or Beats Music.

“YouTube has the ability to offer so much more than anyone else, with video the killer component,” he said.

 

Snapchat Looking For Expansion Opportunities

August 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Snapchat Inc, creator of a mobile app that allows users to send messages that disappear within seconds, may be looking to expand its service to videos, news articles and advertisements, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.

The California-based company is currently in talks with advertisers and media companies about a service called Snapchat Discovery, the Journal reported, citing sources.

Snapchat Discovery, rumored to debut in November, will show content and ads to Snapchat users, the Journal quoted the sources as saying.

At least a dozen media companies have shown interest in providing content for Snapchat Discovery, the Journal said.

Snapchat Discovery will allow users to read publications and watch video clips by holding down a finger on the screen, as they do with photos and other messages on the app, the report said.

Snapchat, popular among teenage users, was not immediately available for comment outside regular business hours.

 

 

 

 

Cox Communications Shoots Down Rumors Of T-Mobile Merger

August 21, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Cox Communications Inc. is not interested in merging with wireless carrier T-Mobile US Inc or rival cable providers, according to Cox President Pat Esser, dispelling rumors recently swirling about the private company.

“We’re not in any discussions to buy T-Mobile,” Esser told Reuters. “I don’t see a movement inside of our company that we feel like we have to pony up or match up with a wireless company.”

Asked whether Cox, the third-largest U.S. cable and broadband company, was considering a merger with one of its smaller cable rivals, such as Charter Communications Inc or perennial takeover target Cablevision Systems Corp, Esser said family-owned Cox was not looking to become a publicly traded company.

“I would never say we’ll never be public in the future. But right now where the family’s at, where [parent company] Cox Enterprises is at, they like being private,” Esser said. “We have a very, very healthy balance sheet, we have a lot of capacity and we can do most of that inside of our current balance sheet and still remain private.”

Continuing a year marked by a whirlwind of dealmaking among telecom companies, sources told Reuters earlier this month that Iliad, a French telecom firm, was in talks with U.S. satellite and cable operators Cox, Charter and Dish Networks Corp regarding a potential joint bid for U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile.

Esser said that instead, he saw the future of Cox Communications in wi-fi offerings and connectivity services, such as home security.

“Wireless use of broadband is growing but it’s not through traditional cellular services, it’s wi-fi. Wi-fi is exploding,” Esser said. “Wi-fi is the future … Connected homes are the future.”

 

 

Are Physical Games On The Way Out?

August 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Gaming

Numbers added up by research firm DFC Intelligence, show that few physical games are being bought and that digital sales are where all the money is.

According to DFC, 92 per cent of PC game sales in 2013 were digital and it thinks this trend will continue and rise in 2014.

Gamers are starting to favour digital downloads over physical copies of the game, which is not really surprising given that who actually wants to own boxes and DVDs and manuals when all you really need is the game.

DFC Intelligence goes on to add that PC games outsold console games in terms of revenue so it means that channel is not the way gamers are playing. But then again the specs of consoles are well below PCs.

Courtesy-Fud

 

Are Evernote Extensions Spamming Chrome?

August 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Malwarebytes has warned of a fake Evernote extension for Chrome that spams users with unwanted advertisements by injecting Javascript into every webpage they visit.

The vulnerability means that on the surface, it looks like the popups and advertisements are coming from the websites users are visiting, when they are actually coming from the fake Evernote web extension.

Researchers at the company discovered the vulnerability in a “multi-plug .PUP” file, which installs the fake Evernote browser extension.

A PUP file is one that has the .pup file extension and is most commonly associated with the Puppy Linux operating system. PUP files run when an installer program is opened on the user’s computer and they are similar to the installer.exe files that are used with Windows applications.

“A quick look shows the PUP is digitally signed by ‘Open Source Developer, Sergei Ivanovich Drozdov’, although the certificate has since been revoked by the Issuer. This serves as another reminder that you can’t always trust a program just because it’s digitally signed,” said Malwarebytes malware intelligence analyst Joshua Cannell.

“When you execute the PUP, it silently installs a web extension for the Google Chrome, Torch, and Comodo Dragon browsers. The extension takes the form of three obfuscated JavaScript files and one HTML file. These files [are] installed in Chrome’s extension directory on a Windows 7 PC.”

For Google Chrome, the installation of the web extension is achieved by updating the “Preferences” file, which is a Javascript Object Notation (JSON) formatted file used to configure Chrome user preferences. The extension that’s installed is called “Evernote Web”, just like the real extension from evernote.com, but when taking a look at the Chrome extensions page, Malwarebytes found the extension installed there with the ID “lbfehkoinhhcknnbdgnnmjhiladcgbol”, just like the real Evernote Web extension.

“Clicking ‘Visit website’ directs the user to the Chrome webstore page for the actual Evernote Web extension,” Cannell added. “Chrome believes the real extension is installed, as verified by the Launch App button. When clicking this button with the fake extension installed, nothing happens, whereas normally the user is met with an Evernote login screen.”

Cannell explained that this is because the extension uses a content script to run in the context of the webpages a user browses.

“The content script is guaranteed to be loaded into every web page using the extension manifest (manifest.json). When visiting webpages, you’ll get a series of annoying advertisements, all leading to potentially more unwanted programs and offers,” he added.

To remove the extension, Chrome users need to visit the extensions tab in the browser and click the picture of a garbage can.

Evernote hit the headlines for its security concerns last year when it emerged that its network had been compromised by hackers.

The online note-taking service issued a password reset for all users after the discovery. It said that it “discovered and blocked” suspicious activity on its network, but claimed that no user data was compromised during the intrusion.

“In our security investigation, we have found no evidence that any of the content you store in Evernote was accessed, changed or lost,” Evernote said.

 

Courtesy-TheInq