Sunday, May 31, 2009

Microsoft to Remove Three App Limitation from Windows 7 Starter

One of the biggest limitations to the Starter editions of Windows XP and Windows Vista is being able to run only 3 concurrent applications on a PC at a time (excluding background processes such as anti-virus software, wireless and Bluetooth, and system tools like Explorer and Control Panel). As Windows 7 Starter is going to be available on many netbooks, Microsoft has wisely decided to remove that limitation on its upcoming operating system.

Despite that change, there will still be many limitations to the OS:

Windows 7 Starter does not include:
  • Aero Glass, meaning you can only use the “Windows Basic” or other opaque themes. It also means you do not get Taskbar Previews or Aero Peek.
  • Personalization features for changing desktop backgrounds, window colors, or sound schemes.
  • The ability to switch between users without having to log off.
  • Multi-monitor support.
  • DVD playback.
  • Windows Media Center for watching recorded TV or other media.
  • Remote Media Streaming for streaming your music, videos, and recorded TV from your home computer.
  • Domain support for business customers.
  • XP Mode for those that want the ability to run older Windows XP programs on Windows 7.
Starter will still be limiting for those used to more powerful versions of Windows. In fact, in the blog post announcing the Windows 7 Starter change, Brandon LeBlanc noted:
After using Windows 7 Starter out myself on my Dell Mini 9, I loved the advancements that it inherently offered versus Windows XP but also concluded that I wanted more. [...] I’ve since moved to Windows 7 Home Premium on my Dell Mini 9 and am glad I did.

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How to Rid Yourself of Microsoft's Stealth Firefox Extension

I hate stealth installs, software components that are installed without your knowledge and frequently aren't all that easy to remove. Not content to muck around with its own software, Microsoft has decided to start mucking around with competitor software: in this case, Mozilla's Firefox.

A friend brought this to my attention after reading about it on Security Fix; once you install the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 update from earlier this year, you get an extra Firefox extension, the "Microsoft .NET Framework Assistant (ClickOnce)." Besides not being too clear on exactly what the heck the thing really does, Microsoft has disabled the Uninstall button on the extension. You can disable it, but not uninstall it.

While Microsoft didn't elaborate on just what this extension does, I will. It adds ClickOnce support to Firefox. ClickOnce is what, you might ask?
ClickOnce enables the user to install and run a Windows application by clicking a link in a web page. The core principle of ClickOnce is to bring the ease of deployment of web applications to the Windows user. In addition, ClickOnce aims to solve three other problems with conventional deployment models: the difficulty in updating a deployed application, the impact of an application to the user's computer, and the need for administrator permissions to install applications.
Meanwhile, describes this extension as follows (emphasis mine):
This update adds to Firefox one of the most dangerous vulnerabilities present in all versions of Internet Explorer: the ability for websites to easily and quietly install software on your PC. Since this design flaw is one of the reasons you may've originally choosen to abandon IE in favor of a safer browser like Firefox, you may wish to remove this extension with all due haste.
I might not go as far as to say "most dangerous," but I do hate it when something is installed and I cannot uninstall it. In fact, since trying out BitDefender (and uninstalling it) I've been stuck with its antiphishing toolbar in Firefox, unable to uninstall, for the same reason. Once again, I've disabled, but not uninstalled it.

How do you remove the Microsoft extension? Here's what Microsoft says:

To uninstall the ClickOnce support for Firefox from your machine

1) Delete the registry key for the extension
  • From an account with Administrator permissions, go to the Start Menu, and choose 'Run...' or go to the Start Search box on Windows Vista
  • Type in 'regedit' and hit Enter or click 'OK' to open Registry Editor
  • For x86 machines, Go to the folder HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SOFTWARE > Mozilla > Firefox > Extensions (regedit image shown above, click to enlarge)
  • For x64 machines, Go to the folder HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SOFTWARE > Wow6432Node > Mozilla > Firefox > Extensions
iv. Delete key name '{20a82645-c095-46ed-80e3-08825760534b}'

OR alternatively
  • Open a command prompt window (must be 'run as Administrator' on Vista and later)
    • Copy and paste the appropriate command below and hit 'Enter'
    • For x86 machines:
    • reg DELETE "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Mozilla\Firefox\Extensions" /v "{20a82645-c095-46ed-80e3-08825760534b}" /f
    • For x64 machines:
    • reg DELETE "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Mozilla\Firefox\Extensions" /v "{20a82645-c095-46ed-80e3-08825760534b}" /f
2) Reset the changes made to the Firefox user agent
  • Launch Firefox, go to the Firefox address bar and type in 'about:config'
  • Scroll down or use 'Filter' to find Preference name 'general.useragent.extra.microsoftdotnet'
  • Right-click on the item and select 'reset'
  • Restart Firefox
3) Remove the .NET Framework extension files
  • Go to the Start Menu, and choose 'Run...' or go to the Start Search box on Windows Vista
  • Type in 'explorer' and hit Enter or click 'OK'
  • Go to '%SYSTEMDRIVE%\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v3.5\Windows Presentation Foundation\DotNetAssistantExtension\'
  • Delete the 'DotNetAssistantExtension' folder and all its contents
All that because someone didn't see fit to allow easy uninstallation. Sigh. I'm still stuck with the Bitdefender toolbar if anyone knows how to uninstall that easily.
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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Japanese University Tracks Attendance With IPhones

Are you a university professor having trouble keeping track of which students are attending your classes and which ones are blowing them off? Well, Japan's Aoyama Gakuin University has a plan for you, using one of the most desired electronic devices around to sucker, I mean, give students an incentive to attend.

The plus of joining the project: a free iPhone. And while it's sneaky, students have to know "how" to participate, so it's not like the University can hide the way the project works. The project is being tested right now, with a formal launch in June. 550 first- and second-year students and some staff are participating.

As students enter the room, instead of writing their name on an attendance sheet, they type in their ID number and a specific class number into an iPhone application. The application uses GPS location data and checks which router the students are logged in to to make sure they don't log in from their rooms.

While professor Yasuhiro Iijima demonstrated the application, he told Reuters:
"We don't want to use this to simply take attendance. Our hope is to use this to develop a classroom where students and teachers can discuss various topics."
Of course, students will go to enormous lengths to avoid attending class. You could just hand your iPhone to someone else, couldn't you?
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LG Launches Universal Translator for Teen Speak

It's no secret that texting has actually become more popular than talking on cell phones, and skews more toward the youthful set. Parents though, might not understand when a teenage child texts them with "TTYL" or "ROFL." LG has unveiled DTXTR (or “de-text-er”), a translation tool for us old fogies.

According to LG's press release, the translator offers access to over 2000 texting acronyms, such as the over popular ROFL (Rolling On Floor Laughing), PAW (Parents Are Watching), and ^URS (Up Yours).

At the same time, LG also announced the results of the "LG Mobile Phones Survey on Parents, Teens and Texting" which surveyed 1,000+ parents of teens who text as well as 1,000+ teens/tweens on their texting habits.

Some interesting (frightening?) statistics:
  • Teens and tweens are sending 20,209 texts every second, or more than 1.2 million texts every minute, in the U.S. alone.
  • 52% of teens say a parent reading their text messages is worse than if they read their emails or diaries.
  • 32% of teens feel like they can say things in a text message that they wouldn't have the nerve to say otherwise.
  • 31% of teens think parents check their texts.
  • Actually 47% of younger parents read their teens' texts without consent.
Of course, without DTXTR, how could they understand half of the messages? At any rate, TTYL (talk to you later).
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Sprint Tells AT&T and Verizon to Back Off on the Pre

Both AT&T and Verizon have both been expressing their desire to get their paws on the Pre ASAP, but Sprint made sure to remind them on Friday: hands off, it's exclusive.

Sprint spokesman James Fisher said:
"We have the Pre through 2009."
Wouldn't want to waste a lot of time on extra words, now would we? But this actually does nothing more than verify what we already believed: that Sprint has six months exclusivity on the Pre.

However, it does not invalidate the belief that AT&T will have the Eos, a different Palm Web OS device, later this year, perhaps in December.
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Obama to Create "Cyber Czar" Post

On Friday, President Barack Obama announced the creation of a new post, the so-called "cyber czar." Obama has previously created two other technology-related posts, Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, and Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra.

Obama's "cyber czar" announcement came as the administration released a report (.PDF) on a review of the state of the United States' cyberspace policy.

There is, and should be, concern over possible cybersecurity issues. In fact, during last year's conflict between Georgia and Russia, a number of Georgian sites were taken down, reportedly by Russia (who of course denied the issue). Obama even noted this event during his speech regarding the creation of the new post. Citing a number of past and potential examples, Obama went on to make a powerful case for the creation of a "cyber czar" (officially known as the Cybersecurity Coordinator).

Some of Obama's comments regarding the creation of the "cyber czar" post:
We will work with all the key players -- including state and local governments and the private sector -- to ensure an organized and unified response to future cyber incidents. Given the enormous damage that can be caused by even a single cyber attack, ad hoc responses will not do. Nor is it sufficient to simply strengthen our defenses after incidents or attacks occur. Just as we do for natural disasters, we have to have plans and resources in place beforehand -- sharing information, issuing warnings and ensuring a coordinated response.
For those (and there will be plenty) concerned over possible privacy issues and maybe the loss of net neutrality:
Let me also be clear about what we will not do. Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not -- I repeat, will not include -- monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans. Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be -- open and free.
Sounds like a focus on net neutrality to me, but if you want still more of an indication of how careful the administration was with tailoring its report to the American public, check how many times the word "privacy" exists in the .PDF document.

In response, a bipartisan applauding of the action. Senators John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said in a joint statement:
"We applaud President Obama for highlighting the extraordinarily serious issue of cybersecurity. No other president in American history has elevated this issue to that level and we think him for his leadership."
Similarly, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-MI, and the committee's ranking Republican Peter T. King (NY) responded equally as favorable.

Thompson said, "This is a thoughtful review and I agree with many of its findings," promising to work with the Obama administration "to improve our nation's cybersecurity posture."

King called Obama's "cyber czar" action "a very positive step. We have to make sure that all of the federal departments and agencies are properly coordinated in their cybersecurity efforts."

We'll see how bipartisan support really is when appointment time comes around.

Watch Obama's speech below.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Leakapalooza: Palm Pre Default Ringtone

With a little over one week to go, the leaks continue to come fast and furious. It's not enough that we have leaked Palm Pre manuals; nope, now we have the leaked default ringtone.

As if that's not enough (insert some degree of sarcasm here), there's also some information on the composer that's been leaked.

The file is playable / downloadable below. There is a blog post at the composer's web site outlining his role in the ringtones.
Bourland praised Palm for having the vision to commission “micro-compositions; not just phone emulations, or paid-for chunks of pre-existing songs.” Each ringtone is roughly 24 seconds long before it kicks into the message service.

Titles include “PRE”, “Flurry”, “Raindance”, “Scamper”, “Discreet”, “Triangle”, “Dulcimer”, and “Anticipation”.
Ironically, according to Bourland, the ringtones were composed using Apple’s LOGIC 8 software.

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Palm Pre User Guide (and More) Leaks

Can't get your hands on enough Palm Pre material prior to the launch of the device on June 6th? Well, I can understand that. And thanks to Coal at the Sprint Guru forums, we've got just about everything a potential buyer might want to have.

Here are links to the Pre Fact Sheet, Features Guide and Getting Started manual. The User Guide itself is embedded below. Start reading!

Pre Fact Sheet
Pre Features Guide
Pre Getting Started

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Church of Scientology Banned from Editing Wikipedia

Wikipedia has decided enough is enough. After too many self-serving edits by the Church of Scientology, Wikipedia has decided to ban edits from IP addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates.

Here's a word for the church though: proxy server. At any rate, regardless of whether or not the Church manages to get around the ban, this is an unprecedented move.

The "trial," played out on an arbitration page, took more than five months. The Arbitration Committee voted 10 to 0 (with one abstention) in favor of the ban, which took effect immediately.

Wikipedia is known as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." There are limits to that, however, and abuse is not tolerated. That's where this arbitration case came in.

Individuals have been banned for gaming the system before, but according to The Register, which first broke the story of the "court decision," multiple Wikipedia admins indicated that the barring of Church of Scientology IP addresses marks the first time Wikipedia has officially barred such a high-profile organization.

Additionally, The Register adds:
According to evidence turned up by admins in this long-running Wikiland court case, multiple editors have been "openly editing [Scientology-related articles] from Church of Scientology equipment and apparently coordinating their activities." Leaning on the famed WikiScanner, countless news stories have discussed the editing of Scientology articles from Scientology IPs, and some site admins are concerned this is "damaging Wikipedia's reputation for neutrality."
Moreover, Tory Christman, a former member of Scientology's Office of Special Affairs who left the Church in 2000 told The Register:
"The guys I worked with posted every day all day. It was like a machine. I worked with someone who used five separate computers, five separate anonymous refute any facts from the internet about the Church of Scientology."
Christman also runs a site, "30 Years Before I Woke Up," which is "dedicated to all of the many critics who have spent years helping to expose the abuses of the organization known as the Church of Scientology and to those who have helped people wake up and see the light."

It's not as though, besides this new ban by Wikipedia, that the Church of Scientology doesn't have other critics on the Internet. A group of hackers calling themselves Anonymous has waged a cyberwar against the Church of Scientology for quite some time.
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Bing! Here's Microsoft's New Search Engine

On Thursday, Microsoft unveiled Bing, which we all knew was coming and was the new name for its long-rumored Kumo search engine revamp. Moreover, it's not just a search engine. Nope, it's a decision engine, and Microsoft also states that Bing is a new brand, as well.

To me, Bing either brings to mind Chandler Bing from Friends, or cherries. It will go live worldwide on June 3, with some Live Search users getting results from Bing on June 1st.

To be honest, nothing Bing announces is a game-changer that would result in a user saying "Eureka, I couldn't do that on Yahoo! or Google." However, Microsoft has integrated technology from Powerset (a natural language search technology company Microsoft acquired in July of 2008) to display related search results down the left side of the page.

The user interface has been changed quite a bit as well. But it's the focus on marketing Bing as a decision making tool that is the real difference. Not just a search engine, but something that will help you in your life. Here's what the press release says;
Microsoft is committed to building better tools to help people find the shortest distance from their initial search query to the point of making an informed decision. Bing is an important first step toward this long-term vision and a strong indicator of Microsoft’s commitment to move search technology forward for customers.
Microsoft also managed to snag the domain and here's what they said there:
We took a new approach to go beyond search to build what we call a decision engine. With a powerful set of intuitive tools on top of a world class search service, Bing will help you make smarter, faster decisions. We included features that deliver the best results, presented in a more organized way to simplify key tasks and help you make important decisions faster.
As par of using Bing as a brand, Microsoft added the following:
The new brand portfolio will include the following changes to existing Microsoft programs:
  • Microsoft’s mapping platform, Virtual Earth, will now be branded as Bing Maps for Enterprise. More information can be found here.
  • Technology from Microsoft’s April 2008 acquisition of Farecast is now a central part of Bing Travel. More information coming soon.
  • Microsoft’s popular cashback program, now dubbed Bing cashback, with more than 850 merchants and more than 17 million products available, will be fully integrated into the Bing Shopping experience.
Bing cashback? Ugh. Bing has a Facebook page and you can follow Bing on Twitter.

Watch a video of the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg interviewing Steve Ballmer on Bing (among other bings, er, things):

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Verizon, AT&T Wish to Sell Palm Pre After Sprint Exclusivity Ends

It's been theorized that Sprint has exclusivity on the Palm Pre for six months or so, and it appears that Verizon has confirmed that, in a roundabout way.

During an investor conference Webcast on Thursday, Verizon Wireless executive Lowell McAdam said the following:
"Over the next six months or so you will see devices like Palm Pre and a second generation Storm."
This comes a day after AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, speaking with host Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal at the D Conference in Carlsbad, CA, confirmed a similar desire to sell the Palm Pre once Sprint's exclusive deal with the smartphone is up.

Leaked information already points to AT&T selling a "Centro-ish" device with the Pre's Palm Web OS on it, the Eos.

Verizon also indicated Android devices were coming, though no specifics other than "later this year" were given.
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Google Waves Hello to a New Paradigm

Google on Thursday unveiled what it called a new "conversation" service. Called Google Wave, it promises to blur the lines between IM, chat, and email.

The idea, according to Google, was that while email and IM developed to mimic other, already understood "technologies" such as snall mail and phone calls, respectively, interaction between people had grown to include many more alternatives, such as social network.

Why not start from scratch and try to create a new paradigm that encompasses all that the communication venues we current have (or at least try)? That's where Google Wave comes in.

A wave is when a user does some activity you might think would involve communicating with others (such as uploading photos to Facebook, writing an email, starting an IM). The similarity ends there, because you can add multiple contacts to a wave, they can comment or respond to sub-portions of the wave, and added contacts can add other contacts to the wave (unless the originator forbids new entrants).

You can also use "playback" to rewind the wave and see how it developed. Oh, and rather requiring "Enter" to be used to complete your "thought," so to speak, characters appear in real-time (although a wave can be set to require the "enter" or "return" key).

A user creates a "wave" by typing a message or uploading photos and adding contacts to the wave as they see fit. Other contacts can be added later, and those people can add other contacts to the wave unless the original wave starter doesn't allow new entrants to the wave.

But Google see this not as just a product, but as a developer platform, with three possible types of projects foreseen:
  • Google Wave as an interface for conversations on other social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and the like.
  • Creating applications that run within a wave. An example given at Google's presentation was collaborative gaming.
  • Wave as a possible enhancement to an existing workflow within an enterprise. An example used was a bug tracking system that might use a wave for a new bug, and then assign the bug and have team members collaborate and comment within the wave.
A game-changer? The fact that the presentation received a standing ovation speaks volumes. The key will be adoption. No word on when Google Wave will go live, but you can sign up to be updated here.
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Palm Pre Will Work with iTunes: Report

As one of my friends eyes the Palm Pre, his only lament has been that Apple has iTunes and the App Store as the 800-pound gorilla in the corner with the iPhone. According to a report Thursday from, that's not going to be an issue, after all.

Or perhaps I should say half of that lament won't be an issue. For while Palm will need to build up its own App Catalog to compete with the App Store, which has a huge application base already built up, says that for iTunes, at least, the Palm Pre will appear the same as an iPhone.

It first leaked at Comdex in January, but it was never confirmed after the initial (and probably premature) statement. Plug a Palm Pre into a computer and iTunes will happily recognize it and sync. DRM-laden tunes won't work, of course, with Apple's proprietary DRM in place, but that's no longer an issue, is it?

Third party software to allow this "sort of" functionality have been available for some time, but by building the code directly into the ROM of the Palm Pre, Palm has made it all easy, and something available right out of the box. And it does it by IDing the device as an iPod, something bound to raise Apple's hackles.

Of course, anyone remember what Tim Cook said during a conference call with analysts in January?
We like competition. As long as they don't rip off our IP and if they do we're going to go after anybody that does.
While Apple has not pursued legal action against these third parties mentioned earlier, what about Palm and its nascent Pre? Will Apple attempt to place a roadblock in the way of Palm's new device?
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Spam Now Accounts for 90% of Email: Report

Symantec released their MessageLabs Intelligence Report for May 2009 on Monday, and the news isn't good. Their analysis indicates that spam rates increased 5.1% from just April. This means that more than 9 out of every 10 emails is spam, for a total of 90.4%.

I can't wait until it reaches 100% of my email.

Seriously, though, I filter all my email accounts through Gmail. It has such great spam-blocking, I rarely see anything get through.

For the first time, Symantec also noted that the time you receive spam depends on your geographic location. The research conducted over a 7-day period, shows the following:
  • US residents see spam peak between 9 and 10 a.m. local time and a drop overnight
  • Europeans are more likely to receive a steady stream of spam throughout the workday.
  • Those in the Asia-Pacific region start their day with an inbox full of spam and see less trickling in throughout the day.
Paul Wood, MessageLabs Intelligence Senior Analyst, Symantec said:
"These patterns suggest that spammers are more active during the US working day. This could be because most active spammers are based in the US, according to data from Spamhaus, or because this is when the spammers' largest target audience is online and likely to respond."
Unsettlingly, MessageLabs Intelligence also found that cybercriminals are starting to favor older and well-established domains to host their malware. 84.6% of domains blocked in May for hosting malicious content were well-established domains more than a year old.

Wood said:
"Spammers using better-known and thus more widely trusted web sites to host malware is reminiscent of the spammers who rely on well-known webmail and social networking environments to host spam content. The trustworthy older domains can be compromised through SQL injection attacks while newer sites are more likely to be flagged as suspicious -- a temporary site set up with the sole purpose of distributing spam and malware -- and thus faster to get shutdown."
Highlights of the report:
Web security: Analysis of web security activity shows that 34.2 percent of all web-based malware intercepted was new in May. MessageLabs Intelligence also identified an average of 1,149 new web sites per day harboring malware and other potentially unwanted programs such as spyware and adware, a decrease of 67.7 percent since April (some good news at least).

Spam: In May 2009, the global ratio of spam in email traffic from new and previously unknown bad sources was 90.4 percent (1 in 1.11 emails), an increase of 5.1 percent since April.

Viruses: The global ratio of email-borne viruses in email traffic from new and previously unknown bad sources was one in 317.8 emails (0.31 percent), a decrease of 0.01 percent since April. In May, 7.0 percent of email-borne malware contained links to malicious sites, a decrease of 6.3 percent since April.

One in 279.7 emails (0.36 percent) comprised some form of phishing attack, an increase of 0.11 percent in the proportion of phishing attacks compared with April. When judged as a proportion of all email-borne threats such as viruses and Trojans, the number of phishing emails had remained unchanged at 89.7 percent of all email-borne malware and phishing threats intercepted in May.
Symantec releases a new MessageLabs Intelligence report each month.
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AT&T May Have Gamed "American Idol" Results: Report

Oof. Many have wondered just how Kris Allen (pictured) won American Idol last week, as Adam Lambert had been the favorite for much the season. A report in the New York Times points a finger straight at American Idol sponsor AT&T, and may have created a new term to boot: texting irregularities.

As you may know, only AT&T customers are able to text message their votes in for the American Idol series. The report states that AT&T representatives attended two parties being held for Allen in Arkansas (his home state), and that at both parties provided demo phone as well as instructions on how to power text (deliver 10 text messages at once) to attendees.

Unfortunately, while there were also parties for Adam Lambert, AT&T did not provide demo phones or instructions on power texting there (oops).

In fact, on Tuesday AT&T released the following statement:
“In Arkansas, we were invited to attend the local watch parties organized by the community. A few local employees brought a small number of demo phones with them and provided texting tutorials to those who were interested.”
These party votes seem to violate American Idol rules, as an on-screen statement at the end of each episode warns that blocks of votes cast using “technical enhancements” can be thrown out. Power texting would seem to fit into this area.

Additionally, the show regularly states that text voting is open only to AT&T subscribers. Obviously those using demo phones may not be subscribers.

Still, while obviously a public relations problem, it's unlikely that the number of respondents at two parties could possibly have affected the voting to a large extent. It is something that AT&T should be careful not to repeat in the future.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Apple Quietly Boosts the Entry-Level MacBook's Specs

In addition to its back-to-school promotion, Apple on Wednesday quietly tweaked the specs on its entry-level white $999 MacBook.

Same price, better specs. For the same $999, users now receive a 2.13GHz processor (up from 2.0GHz), a 160GB 5400 RPM SATA hard drive, (up from 120GB), and 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM (up from 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM).

This is the second update to the entry-level white MacBook since January; on Jan. 21st the model received NVIDIA's 9400M integrated GPU, an upgrade to 2GB of RAM, and the same 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 1,066MHz front-side bus in the mid-range aluminum unibody MacBook.

As with most technology, keep waiting and specs will improve and prices will drop. Same old quandary: buy now or wait?

Speaking of the back-to-school promotion, the entry-level white MacBook is eligible for it, which can get buyers a rebate on any of several iPod models, including the 8GB iPod touch.
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Zune HD Coming This Fall: Microsoft

A high-definition version of the Zune, Zune HD, which I wrote about earlier when images and specs were leaked to the Web, has been finally confirmed by Microsoft.

Definitely targeted at Apple's iPod touch, the Zune HD will finally get a browser. Microsoft also notes that Zune HD will feature an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) touch screen, but if leaked specs for the next-gen iPhone are correct, it won't be long before the iPod Touch has a similar screen.

Other highlights, according to Microsoft, will be:
  • Zune HD comes with a built-in HD Radio receiver so users can listen to higher-quality sound than traditional radio on the go. Users also will have access to the additional song and artist data broadcast by HD Radio stations as well as additional channels from their favorite stations multicasting in HD. If you don’t like the song playing on your station’s HD channel, switch to its HD2 or HD3 channels for additional programming.
  • The bright OLED touch screen interface allows users to flip through music, movies and other content with ease, and the 16:9 widescreen format display (480x272 resolution) offers a premium viewing experience on the go.
  • The HD-compatible output lets Zune HD customers playback supported HD video files from the device through a premium high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) audiovisual docking station (sold separately) direct to an HD TV in 720p.*
  • Zune HD will include a full-screen Internet browser optimized for multitouch functionality.
  • Zune HD is Wi-Fi enabled, allowing for instant streaming to the device from the more than 5 million-track Zune music store.
* Supported 720p HD video files play on the device, downscaled to fit the screen at 480 x 272 — not HD resolution. Zune HD and AV Dock, and an HDTV (all sold separately) are required to view video at HD resolution.

Microsoft has also launched an official Zune HD site, which is, unfortunately, not working at this time. Prices and capacities have not been announced, though we know the device will use flash-based storage.

Thing is, while Microsoft told C|Net that Zune HD is targeted at the iPod touch, if Microsoft really wants to battle Apple's top-of-the-line iPod, Zune HD will have to be more than just a multimedia player; it will have to be able to run software applications just as the iPod touch does.

And there's a hint of that in the press release, which though vague around these lines, does indicate that there will be Xbox Live integration for Zune Marketplace videos. In fact, it adds that at next week's E3, "attendees will see first-hand how Zune integrates into Xbox LIVE creating a game-changing entertainment experience."

Sounds good (no pun intended), but will it deliver?

Finally, one more thing that would really place the Zune HD in a battle with the iPod touch: yep, a so-called Zune phone. No word on this, but I wouldn't count it out just yet. It would be a natural extension of this product.
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Snare a Free 8GB iPod Touch with Apple's Annual Back-to-School Promotion

It's back-to-school time, at least as far as Apple is concerned. On Wednesday they kicked off their back-to-school promotion, and qualifying Mac purchases can earn a buyer an iPod touch, or other similar iPod, for free.

Well, free after rebate that is. You add the iPod touch to your shopping cart, and once you receive the Mac and iPod touch, you submit a rebate application online. Afer that, you can, of course, login at any time to check on rebate status.

Those eligible for the offer are:

Any employee of a public or private K-12 institution in the United States is eligible. In addition, school board members who are currently serving as elected or appointed members are eligible. PTA or PTO executives currently serving as elected or appointed officers are eligible.

Higher Education

Faculty and staff of Higher Education institutions; and students attending, or accepted into a Higher Education institution are eligible to purchase. Purchases from the Apple Store for Education Individuals are not for institutional purchase or resale.

Higher Education Parents

Parents purchasing on behalf of their child, who is a student currently attending or accepted into a public or private Higher Education Institution in the United States, are eligible to purchase.
The iPods eligible for the offer are the 8GB iPod touch, 8GB iPod nano, 16GB iPod nano, 120GB iPod classic, or 4GB iPod shuffle. In all cases you will receive a rebate equal to the cost of the device (minus sales tax, natch).

The following Computers qualify for this promotion: iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac Pro. Custom configured orders quality, refurbished computers do not.

Full details of the offer have been posted by Apple in PDF form online.
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Facebook Sued for $70.50 Over Virus

Facebook has been sued, because of a virus that allegedly spread across the social network, resulting in the user's account being disabled. Additional cost to the end user, Theodore Karantsalis, of Miami Springs, FL, was that his photos and friends were not restored.

The amount of the lawsuit: $70.50. Hmmmm. Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt told C|Net:
"We're very interested to hear how he came up with the figure of $70.50. He's not going to get it but we promise to refund all the money he paid to use Facebook. Seriously, we're glad to know how important Facebook is to Mr. Karantsalis but his account was not disabled, is currently active, and he is using it, so I'm not sure what the problem is."
Part of the reason that Karantsalis has sued is that he had to re-add his photos and friends himself. Theodore Karantsalis is a librarian at Miami-Dade College. He also has multiple sclerosis.

So, Facebook's rather snide comment doesn't look so well when taken in the context of an MS sufferer who has to re-add their friends and photos again. Perhaps he came up with $70.50 based on his hourly wage and simply wants his time back?

On the other hand, a look into Karantsalis' background comes up with a few lawsuits, leading to the implication that perhaps he is overly litigious. He recently settled a lawsuit against Miami Springs, Miami-Dade County and Florida’s Attorney General for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

He also won a case against Sprint-Nextel and Wells Fargo over a data breach of his Sprint account (and the Consumerist even applauded his resolve!).

It's unlikely that Karantsalis has much of a case, though. After all, the Facebook ToS says you use Facebook at your own risk.
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Mac Clone Maker Psystar Files for Ch. 11 Bankruptcy

Mac clone maker Psystar has filed for bankruptcy, perhaps bringing to an end the legal issues with Apple over it selling an unauthorized Mac clone, or, more likely, just stalling the process.

The bankruptcy documents were filed with the Federal Courts in Florida on Thursday. The declaration (.PDF) and the Ch. 11 filing (.PDF) assert that the company is more than $250,000 in debt, owed mostly to shippers, the IRS, and the law firm Carr & Farrell.

In the filing, Psystar pins its financial troubles on the recession. However, the legal battle against Apple cannot be discounted. Psystar began selling desktops running Mac OS X in April of last year. It later added laptops. In July, Apple sued the company for copyright infringement.

The big problem with their product, naturally, is that the OS X EULA clearly says:
"You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-labeled computer, or to enable others to do so."
The bankruptcy filing will halt Apple's lawsuit for now, until the Ch. 11 morass is ironed out, but after that, the lawsuit will resume its forward march.
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SP2 for Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 Now Publicly Available

Waiting for official, non-TechNet, non-MSDN access to Windows Vista SP2? Well, you can now download it.

Remember, this is a combined service pack for both Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. Service Pack 1 is a prerequisite for installing Service Pack 2.

Highlights of the changes, many of which have already been delivered separately, include:
  • Windows Search 4.0 for faster and improved relevancy in searches
  • Bluetooth 2.1 Feature Pack supporting the most recent specification for Bluetooth Technology
  • Ability to record data on to Blu-Ray media natively in Windows Vista
  • Adds Windows Connect Now (WCN) to simplify Wi-Fi Configuration
  • Windows Vista SP2 enables the exFAT file system to support UTC timestamps, which allows correct file synchronization across time zones.
Microsoft has a more detailed look at the changes in a "notable changes document" on TechNet.

Here are the downloads:
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Apple Set to Release Three New iPhones, New nano: Report

A report from iLounge citing a source with a "perfect track record" states that there will be three new iPhone models coming out (soon, of course), two of them tailored to the 3G networks of the countries they will be sold in, and one for China. Each of the models will come with two different storage capacities.

One device will have enhanced 3G capabilities (capable of 7.2Mbps downloads) for countries like the U.S. which have more mature 3G networks (yes, I know, some AT&T customers would probably argue over this), while another version for other countries will be similar to the current iPhone 3G, capable of 3.6Mbps 3G downloads.

China would also get a version, and with price an issue there, perhaps a non-3G version or one that supports the government backed TD-CDMA standard.

Additionally, the report stated that the new iPhones would come with "a less scratchable matte plastic body," which matches earlier leaked photos above. They would also maintain the same overall size and shape, which would be great for we cheapskates who would prefer to not have to buy (and wait for) new cases.

This adds some sort of confirmation to the earlier firmware strings found in beta versions of the iPhone 3.0 OS referencing both iPhone2,1 and iPhone3,1, as well as ChinaBrick.

The source also cites a fifth-generation iPod nano, which will arrive sometime between July and September and add a camera on the back as well a screen aspect ratio of 1.5:1, up from 1.33:1 on the current 4G nano.
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Twitter, the TV Show

Is this the business plan that Twitter has been searching for? At the very least, it's something. On Monday, Twitter, Reveille Productions and Brillstein Entertainment Partners announced a plan to develop an unscripted (i.e. reality) series based on the service.

Few details about the series have emerged. We know that it’s going to be a “competitive TV series” which will “harness Twitter to put players on the trail of celebrities.” So we're talking about some competitive reality series, like "Survivor: Twitter," it sounds like.

It will be interesting to see what celebrities are sucked into the show; you'd expect they would have to give their permission. B-list, or lower? Like on the "World's Dumbest ..." series with the likes of Tonya Harding, Leif Garrett, and more?

According to Variety, the show's concept was developed by novelist/screenwriter Amy Ephron. One of the producers, Brillstein’s Jon Liebman, said:
"We've found a compelling way to bring the immediacy of Twitter to life on TV."
Immediacy, as long as they don't cheat like NASA, that is. The vagueness of the description leads a lot to the imagination, and there's no indication of timing. However, the networks have already announced their fall schedules, so definitely not then.
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Monday, May 25, 2009

Lenovo S12 First Netbook to Use NVIDIA's Ion Chipset

NVIDIA's Ion is finally in an actual netbook, the (as we expected) Lenovo S12 netbook which will ship in August. The Ion chipset combines an Intel Atom CPU with NVIDIA's GeForce 9400 GPU, creating a netbook that while still netbook-ish will provide enough CPU / GPU power to be reasonably multimedia-savvy and also capable of playing a decent number of video games.

There was some conjecture during December of last year, with a first, later denied by Intel, that stated that Intel would not unbundle the Atom CPU from its 945GSE and 945GC chipsets, thus killing the Ion platform. With both the Lenovo S12 and the earlier Asus Revo nettop, we see that's definitely not the case.

With the NVIDIA Ion chipset, the Lenovo netbook is basically a midrange, 12.1" netbook. Full specs are:

IdeaPad S12 Netbook
  • Display: 12.1" WXGA (1280 X 800) LED 200 nit, 250g
  • Processor: Intel Atom N270
  • Graphics: Intel integrated GMA 950, NVIDIA Ion (option)
  • Memory: Up to 1GB DDR2 533 MHz
  • Hard Drive: Up to 160 GB SATA (160, 250, 320)
  • Battery Life: 3 hours with 3-cell, 6 hours with 6-cell
  • Weight: 1.4kg with 3 cell, 1.55kg with 6 cell
  • Dimensions: 292 X 216 X 22-28.9mm
  • Connectivity: 10/100m Ethernet, Broadcom 578M, Intel WiFi Link 5150 1X2 AGN, Intel WiFi Link 5100 1X2 AGN, Non-Intel wireless b/g, Non-Intel wireless b/g/n, Bluetooth
  • Other: 3 USB, 1 Expresscard slot (Intel and VIA platforms), 4-in-1 card reader, VGA, RJA45, HDMI
  • XP Home SP3 (32 bit)
Pricing: $449 sans Ion, $499 with. Reports are that Lenovo also plans to offer a Via Nano version, with a 1.3GHz Nano 2250 and Chrome 9 HC3 graphics, outside the United States, also for the $449 price.

Additionally, while certainly not competition, game-wise to a full-sized laptop with dual-GPUs in SLI, this netbook will reportedly be able to hold its own in at least modern games. This might be the first netbook that can pretty much meet my specifications for performance.
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