Windows 8 DOA

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview has been out long enough for people to try and get used to its dual Metro/Desktop interface. But the longer it’s out there, the less people like it, and there’s a backlash against the dual system from people ranging from normal users to engineers. Will Microsoft listen and fix the hybrid operating system?

What a whole lot of FAIL, Vista 2.0 here we come. This is great for tablets, but tablets are a fad. This has no place on a desktop operating system. Smart phones are the evolution of computing. Mark my words – in 5 years, tablets will not exist. You will have a phone that will be your primary mobile computer. At home, you will connect your phone to a wireless mouse, keyboard and display.

Ex-Microsoft program manager Mike Bibik launched a broadside against the new operating system because of how difficult it is to use with a keyboard and mouse. He launched a site fixingwindows8.com to air his complaints. (Note: When I tried visiting the site today, it displayed only blank pages.) Among other complaints he has is this accurate one:

“Windows 8 just dumps you into the Start screen. No tutorial, no help icon on the main screen, nothing. This will be fixed by launch or Windows 8 will fail.”

Bibik is on target. Most people who use Windows 8 on traditional computers rather than tablets will spend their time in the Desktop because that’s where the apps they most use are, notably Microsoft Office, which won’t run as a Metro app. Yet the Windows 8 Desktop is less useful than in previous versions because the Start menu and Start button have been taken away.

Metro and the Desktop are essentially two different operating systems incompletely bolted together. Sure, techies can figure out how to navigate between the two interfaces, but other people will have a hard time.

Intel Joins LibreOffice

Summary:  Intel distributes LibreOffice, can Microsoft be pleased?

The month of February is a month to remember for the LibreOffice project. LibreOffice, the OpenOffice fork, is a very popular open-source office suite. But, while it has great support from Linux distributors, like openSUSE and Ubuntu, LibreOffice has never had a major corporate backer on the Windows side… until now. Intel is now offering LibreOffice to Windows users via its AppUp application store. I wonder how Microsoft feels about this. (more…)

LibreOffice 3.5

Still using OpenOffice? if you are your behind the times. LibreOffice is a free and open source office suite developed by The Document Foundation as a fork of OpenOffice.org. It is largely compatible with other major office suites, including Microsoft Office, and available on a variety of platforms. LibreOffice has no licensing fees, is available in a large number of local languages and gives users the opportunity to participate in its development.

LibreOffice is a hybrid word, meaning “Free Office”. Libre means free (as in freedom) in French and Spanish. Between January 2011 (its first stable launch) and October 2011, LibreOffice was downloaded approximately 7.5 million times. It is the default office suite in many Linux distributions, such as Fedora, Linux Mint, openSUSE, and Ubuntu.

LibreOffice can be run on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or newer, and Linux-based systems running Linux kernel version 2.6.18 or newer. (more…)

$35 Personal Computer

Some people may dismiss this idea, but I see the real genius behind it. Using one of these devices, you would be able to browse the web, shop and do your online banking securely without worrying about picking up computer viruses or malware.

Budding computer hackers/scientists are about to get a welcome gift, albeit a bit late. The non-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation (RPF) is nearing the release date of its surprisingly powerful and remarkably affordable Raspberry Pi line of bare-bones machines that have been developed in an effort to broaden kids’ access to computers in the UK and abroad. How affordable? The figure above was no typo. Read on to learn just what US$35 will get you when these nifty, fully-assembled, credit-card sized computers go on sale next month (sorry, case, monitor, keyboard and mouse not included … we did say bare bones).

Early models of the Pi will be offered in two versions. The first, Model A (US$25), will sport 128M of RAM but no Ethernet port. Presumably, most of these will end up in educational use. The second, Model B (US$35), will have a larger production run and offer 256M of RAM along with 10/100MBit networking capability. Both are powered by 700MHz ARM11 CPUs and include hardware support for OpenGL ES 2.0 and Blu-Ray caliber (1080p30 H.264) playback.  (more…)

Anticipated Android Apps

2011 has almost come to an end, and we’ve already seen some great Android apps come out this year. But 2012, which is just around the corner and it looks like it will be another eventful year for Android. Now that the latest OS version, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), has hit the market, several device makers are expected to release ICS handsets for a ready consumer market. LG is the latest to reveal its plans around ICS, kicking into high hear during the second quarter of next year. Among the first phones to get the upgrade are the Optimus 2X, which made waves as the world’s first dual-core smartphone earlier this year, and the Optimus LTE. Others in the Optimus lineup, including the 3D, Black and Big, will also receive the ICS update by Q3 of next year.

 

Android’s competition in the mobile and tablet market, Apple has had a long head start in mobile apps over it’s new archival Google. However, new data shows that the number of Android apps has grown 127 percent since August and offerings in Google’s Android Market should outnumber the total for iPhone apps by mid-2012.

2012 has some great apps in store for the open-source mobile platform. (more…)

Bookseller Defends Itself

Microsoft has sued Barnes and Noble for use of Android in the Nook Color. The bookseller has filed a supplemental notice of prior art that contains a 43-page list of examples it believes counters Microsoft’s claim that Nook violates Microsoft’s patents. I posted the PDF and slides at: http://jet-computing.com/patents/barnes-noble/

Instead of focusing on innovation and the development of new products for consumers, Microsoft has decided to invest its efforts into driving open source developers from the mobile operation systems market. Through the use of offensive licensing agreements and the demand for unreasonable licensing fees, Microsoft is hindering creativity in the mobile operation systems market.

The complaint also notes some odd behaviors on Microsoft’s part, such as refusing to explain what patents it was threatening B&N over, unless B&N agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement. (more…)

Apple vs Android

Steve Jobs’ legacy at Apple Inc. goes well beyond cool gadgets, a thriving retail chain and a music empire. He also launched the company’s all-out legal war on Google Inc.

In the last months of Jobs’ life, Apple unleashed a patent-suit blitzkrieg on its Silicon Valley rival, filing 10 lawsuits in six countries that accuse the Internet search giant of stealing its smartphone and tablet computer technology.

The campaign is rooted in Jobs’ belief that Google and mobile device manufacturers that use its Android software copied key design and technology features from Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

 

“I’m willing to go to thermonuclear war on this,” Jobs told author Walter Isaacson for his recently released biography. “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product.”

He then vowed to battle Google until “my last dying breath.”

Google and manufacturers using Android are vigorously contesting Apple’s claims, which could take years to play out in court. But one thing is certain: There is a lot at stake for the company Jobs built. If it is unable to protect the iPhone’s distinctive look and feel, lower-cost competitors imitating its technology could threaten the future of its most profitable products, analysts say.

“Unless they can keep Android at bay, they cannot sustain their incredibly high margins,” said Florian Mueller, a patent specialist who has been closely following the disputes. “They’ll have to compete with much lower-priced devices with essentially the same features coming out of China and other places.”

Alternatively, victories by Apple would enable it to extract hefty ransoms from any phone maker that uses Apple-like technology, or even force its rivals to water down or remove popular features from their smartphones, including screens that respond to multiple finger touches, the graphical display of text messages, and the way users send email and browse the Internet.

That type of technological rollback, analysts and patent attorneys say, could demolish much of Google’s recent success in the $160 billion smartphone market, and gain Apple an unparalleled advantage in the industry. The market is growing rapidly as many consumers dump simpler cellphones for the more powerful and versatile smartphones.

“Some of the revelations from the Jobs biography suggest that this is almost a religious war,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein Co. The question is whether Apple’s battle is based on a rigorous legal analysis of company’s patent holdings or part of a personal vendetta by the company’s late co-founder, he said.

Apple’s aggressive legal attack comes as it is losing ground to its rivals in the smartphone industry. Samsung Corp., whose devices run Google’s Android software, dethroned Apple in the most recent quarter to become the world’s largest vendor of smartphones, accounting for nearly a quarter of handsets sold last quarter, compared with about 1 in 7 for Apple, according to data from Britain-based Strategy Analytics.

Apple has hired some of the nation’s top patent lawyers, including William F. Lee of WilmerHale, who helped win networking chip maker Broadcom Corp. an $891 million infringement settlement against rival Qualcomm Inc., and Harold McElhinny of Morrison & Foerster, who led Pioneer Corp. to a $59 million judgment against Samsung.

In recent weeks, Apple has been successful in temporarily banning sales of Android-powered tablets in Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. The company is now involved in lawsuits covering dozens of patents, some of which date to the technology created for 1990s-era personal computers designed a decade before smartphones were invented.

But what may look like a shotgun approach may actually be a carefully crafted battle plan. Apple is using its initial round of lawsuits to see which of its many patent claims can survive intense legal scrutiny, analysts said. The ones that are successful will become the spearhead of Apple’s litigation strategy.

“Once they’ve found the battle-tested patents that can survive challenges,” Mueller said, “they’re going to assemble all of them, put the winning team together and enforce them against everyone.”

Although Apple’s patent war stretches around the globe, the heaviest assault is in the U.S. The company is currently locking horns with Samsung in separate federal lawsuits in Washington, Delaware and Northern California, where Apple’s attorneys have demanded court orders preventing Samsung from selling its smartphones and tablets in the U.S.

“This kind of blatant copying is wrong,” Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said in a statement. “We need to protect Apple’s intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.”

Google has called the patent attacks “bogus,” but in August it made a major move to defend itself, announcing the largest acquisition in its 13-year history by paying $12.5 billion in cash for Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc., one of the leading Android manufacturers and the holder of 17,000 technology patents that Google could use as ammunition to fend off the lawsuits.

Google allies Samsung and HTC Corp., two major device makers, are also striking back against Apple, filing countersuits that ask courts around the world to ban Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices. Each patent case can cost upward of $8 million, according to attorneys and analysts said.

So far, Samsung has had mixed results with its legal fusillade against Apple, with courts in Italy and the Netherlands initially denying its motions to bar sales of Apple’s recently released iPhone 4S.

Samsung has denied that its phones infringe Apple’s patents, and has instead accused Apple of illicitly using Samsung communications technology in multiple iPhone, iPod and iPad models. The company said it has spent tens of billions developing its own digital technology in recent years, and has amassed nearly 30,000 patents in the U.S. alone.

Apple “continues to violate our intellectual property rights by selling these products,” Kim Titus, director of public relations for Samsung Telecommunications America, said in a statement. “The courts will find Apple has indeed been free-riding on our technology.”

But many of the technologies that these patents protect are so abstruse or vague that companies may end up running afoul of the law without even knowing it, said Bijal V. Vakil, a partner at law firm White & Case in Palo Alto, Calif.

“It’s become a virtually unmanageable task to go and see if you have the freedom to operate,” he said. “Procedurally it would be impossible to check all of (the valid patents) – even large companies can’t afford to do that.”

Many organizations around the world fear competition. They are scared that another bigger badder organization is going to come along that can offer the same features and benefits but will offer them: quicker, cheaper, with more customization, with better customer service, etc. Competition is actually a good thing, in fact it’s a great thing.

Without competition Apple would have never created their Ipod, Microsoft would have never created Windows, and Google would probably be non-existent. Competition is essential because it leads to one very important thing, innovation.

People are always looking for products with more features and capabilities, products that cost less but can do more, and products that just plain solve their needs/wants better than any other product can. When companies compete, consumers get what they want.

Competition pushes you to be more creative and innovate, and to truly master your skill set. A lack of competition may lead to your skills getting stale or hitting a plateau. Competition sharpens your skills and ultimately helps you achieve long-term success.

Computer Chip Breakthroughs

These circuits communicate using a germanium laser

Due to new research and findings, the computers of today will look just as slow as do computers 10-years ago or more.

The next five years will be a very exciting time for electronics,” says David Seiler, chief of the semiconductor electronics division at the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Germanium Laser Onchip Photonics

Jurgen Michel, a researcher at MIT’s Microphotonics Center in Cambridge, Mass., wants to replace all onchip wires with flashing germanium (Ge) lasers that transmit data via infrared light. A Germanium laser can transmit bits and bytes 100 times faster than electricity moving through wires can, which means the critical connections between the chip’s processing cores and its memory, for example, won’t hold the rest of the device back. The chip will have a series tunnels and caverns undert the surface to transmit the pulses of light; tiny mirrors and sensors relay and interpret the data.

By 2015, it’s likely that there will be computer chips with up to 64 independent processing cores, each working simultaneously. “Connecting them with wires is a dead end,” Michel says. “Using a germanium laser to connect them has huge potential and a big payoff.”

Memristors

The memristor is basically a resistor with memory. A commercial version will be called ReRAM, for resistive random access memory, these chips can store roughly twice the data as flash chips but are more than 1,000 times faster than flash memory and could last for millions of rewrite cycles, compared with the 100,000 that flash memory is certified for. The bonus is that ReRAM’s read and write speeds are comparable, while flash takes a lot longer to write data than to read it.

HP and South Korea’s Hynix have teamed up to mass-produce ReRAM chips that could be used in a variety of small devices, such as media players that can hold terabytes of songs, videos and e-books. They expect to see the first products on the market sometime in 2013.

It’s possible to stack memristor arrays on top of each other within a single chip. There’s no fundamental limit to the number of layers we can produce,” adds Stanley Williams. “We can get to petabit chips within about 10 years.”

In 20 years or so, the technology could rewrite basic computer design since memristors can also be logic devices and can mimic synapses.

Programmable layers

From the fastest processor to the smallest memory module, just about every chip used in electronics today has one thing in common: Its active elements reside in the top 1% to 2% of the silicon material it’s made of. What if you could trick the circuit into rearranging itself on demand so that it only appeared to other components to have several layers of active elements? That’s the idea behind Tabula’s Spacetime technology and its ABAX chip design.

ABAX uses reprogrammable circuits that can change their abilities on demand. Its current products deliver the equivalent of up to eight different chip layers that can be changed faster than the blink of an eye.

The chip’s reprogrammable circuits are fed with its next series of assignments and duties in just 80 picoseconds — 1,000 times faster than the chip’s computational cycle. That way, the layers can be changed on the fly while the chip is waiting for its next commands. The technology can increase the density of circuits twofold, and memory and video throughput can be boosted by as much as 3.5 times.

Tabula is well on the way to creating a 12-layer version, with a 20-level chip on the drawing board. “There’s no limit to the number of levels we can integrate,” Tieg says.

Graphene

“If it pans out, graphene could yield a terahertz processor,” he predicts — roughly 20 times faster than today’s best silicon chip.

The first commercial graphene devices in about 2013 will have specialty uses where cost doesn’t matter as much as top speed and low power use.

Printed circuits: Chips on the cheap

PARC’s design and prints circuits directly on the base material in a process that’s often only slightly more involved than printing a mailing label. It requires some special materials, like silver ink, but these devices can be printed on flexible polyethylene sheets rather than on brittle silicon.

By adapting a variety of printing techniques, including ink-jetting, stamping and silk screening, PARC has made amplifiers, batteries and switches for a fraction of what it costs to manufacture them the traditional way. The company recently succeeded in making a 20-bit memory and controller circuit this way, and will start selling it next year. It’s a drop in the digital bucket compared with megabit flash and DRAM chips, but it’s a start.

Printed circuits will likely never catch up to silicon in terms of speed or the ability to put billions of transistors on something the size of a fingernail. But there are lots of places where cost counts for more than speed. As early as 2012, printed devices should start showing up in toys and games that incorporate rudimentary computing, like synthetic voices, as well as in car seat sensors for controlling the deployment of air bags in an accident.

Further out — around 2015, Ernst estimates — printed circuits could end up in some very interesting places, such as flexible e-book readers that can be rolled up when not in use or clothing made of a solar-cell fabric that can charge a music player or cell phone. Market analysis firm IDTechEx forecasts that sales of these flexible printed circuits will grow from $1 billion in 2010 to $45 billion in 2016 and show up in a variety of devices.

Are You Pwned?

2011 has been called the year of the data breach, with hacker groups publishing huge troves of stolen data online almost daily. Now a new site called pwnedlist.com lets users check to see if their email address or username and associated information may have been compromised.

Pwnedlist.com is the creation of Alen Puzic and Jasiel Spelman, two security researchers from DVLabs, a division of HP/TippingPoint. Enter a username or email address into the site’s search box, and it will check to see if the information was found in any of these recent public data dumps.

Puzic said the project stemmed from an effort to harvest mounds of data being leaked or deposited daily to sites like Pastebin and torrent trackers.

“I was trying to harvest as much data as I could, to see how many passwords I could possibly find, and it just happened to be that within two hours, I found about 30,000 usernames and passwords,” Puzic said. “That kind of got me thinking that I could do this every day, and if I could find over one million then maybe I could create a site that would help the everyday user find if they were compromised.”

Pwnedlist.com currently allows users to search through nearly five million emails and usernames that have been dumped online. The site also frequently receives large caches of account data that people directly submit to its database. Puzic said it is growing at a rate of about 40,000 new compromised accounts each week.

Puzic said information contained in these data donations often make it simple to learn which organization lost the information.

“Usually, somewhere in the dump files there’s a readme.txt file or there’s some type of header made by hacker who caused the breach, and there’s an advertisement about who did the hack and which company was compromised,” Puzic said. “Other times it’s really obvious because all of the emails come from the same domain.”

Puzic said Pwnedlist.com doesn’t store the username, email address and password data itself; instead, it records a cryptographic hash of the information and then discards the plaintext data. As a result, a “hit” on any searched email or username only produces a binary “yes” or “no” answer about whether any hashes matching that data were found. It won’t return the associated password, nor does it offer any clues about from where the data was leaked.

Any site that raises awareness about the benefits of strong passwords is a good thing in my book. But deciding what action to take — if any — after finding a hit on your email address at pwnedlist.com.

Answering the question of, “What now,” pwnedlist.com offers the following advice:

“Don’t panic! Just because your email was found in an account dump we collected does not mean it has been compromised. Your first reaction should be to immediately change any passwords that might be associated with this email account. It is probably a wise idea to go through all your accounts and create new passwords for each of them, just in case. Once one account has been compromised its best to assume all others have been too. Better safe than sorry.”

Length and complexity are two of the most important factors in determining a strong password. It’s also a good idea to periodically change passwords for sensitive accounts, provided you have a decent way to recover the password should you forget or lose it.

Puzic said while his site does not store username or email address submitted to the pwnedlist.com form, for security reasons he does keep a record of Internet addresses of those who use the site: It seems some users have been trying to poison the database or include malware and exploits in data dumps submitted to the site.

“We have attempts about every other week [to plant malware or hack the site], but nobody’s done it yet,” he said. “We’ve had lots of different attempts. Someone tries just about every week.”

The two researchers plan to begin publishing regular updates to their Twitter account (@pwnedlist) when new data dumps are discovered. Longer term, Puzic said he has multiple goals for the site, including a longitudinal study on password security.

“I would love it if this could raise awareness about cybersecurity,” he said. “Also, it could serve as a good measuring stick for the amount of breaches that happen every day. For example, if you see that all of a sudden I have eight million more entries, something big may have happened.”

Android/Linux Innovation

Microsoft is a marketing company, they buy and stifle innovation. A business that harasses customers will soon lose customers. Microsoft has repeatedly violated this rule by suppressing competition. The result is a huge body of customers/consumers who are ready to bolt at the first sign of an alternative. Witness the avalanche of consumers who have chosen Android/Linux smart phones instead of stupid phones with Microsoft’s stuff on board.

They attempt to stifle innovation and if unsuccessful, they resort to patent extortion via *bogus* patent fees. According to Microsoft, Google’s Android OS is infringing on many of its patents and hence those manufacturers who use Android for their devices owe royalties to Microsoft. But the intriguing fact is that, instead of suing Google itself for infringing on its patents, Microsoft is finding it easy to sue or threaten smaller firms which don’t have the financial muscle to fight a legal battle with the Redmond troll giant.

It’s just wrong. They too old and useless to make a decent product itself, can hold innovators for ransom. What justice is there in a legal system that can allow this to happen. What is truly ironic is that Microsoft now makes FAR more money from Android than they do from Windows Phone, and it’s a business in which they don’t actually have to produce or sell anything. FOSS challenged Microsoft when they said that Linux violates 235 of their patients. When FOSS asked them to show us which ones, Microsoft backed down and instead attacked the OEM’s.

Larry Page commented on that when he discusses Google impressive growth,

 “Rather than seeing, for example, Microsoft compete in the marketplace with their own smartphones, they’ve really continued resorting to legal measures to hassle their own customers, right? So it seems kind of odd. And we haven’t seen the details of those total agreements, and I suspect that our partners are making good deals for themselves there.”

Android/Linux is on most smart phones these days and Phoney “7″ is on 5%, the opposite situation we see in the retail shelves of personal computers. The difference is consumers have a choice in smart phones. They soon will have the same choice in all personal computers because the suppliers who are making money using Android/Linux are not beholden to Microsoft cash cow and can make personal computers of all kinds to compete with Microsoft’s legacy stuff that’s too bulky, hot, noisy and unreliable. Folks who love Android/Linux on smart phones know there are better ways to compute. That knowledge is spreading quickly. This Christmas we will see Android/Linux taking up lots of space on smart thingies and notebooks and desktops in retail shops.

I can think of one awesome piece of kit, the ASUS Transformer, with detachable keyboard and mouse.

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