colinneagle writes: A few weeks back, it was rumored that web content giants Microsoft, Google, and Amazon might sue the maker of Adblock Plus, the Firefox/Chrome plugin that blocks ad content on web pages. Instead, they are bribing the company.
According to a new report from the Financial Times (registration required), Microsoft, Google, Amazon and content delivery provider Taboola have been quietly paying Eyeo, the German company that developed Adblock Plus, to let their links slip through Adblock Plus's filters.
Eyeo has what it calls "acceptable ads," which can be whitelisted and bypass its program filters. This tends to be for smaller companies with "non-intrusive" ads, according to Eyeo's site. Microsoft and the other companies are hardly small, and people often want to block them. In fact, this is not new. Taboola, which counts MailOnline, Business Insider, and NBC News as customers, was added to the Adblock Plus whitelist last November to serve ads in the form of "sponsored content" at the bottom of news articles.
colinneagle writes: Blogger Andy Patrizio writes about the new web browser Vivaldi from the former CEO of Opera Software Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner:
But it also has some nice new features, such as thumbnails of the websites you have open and stacking tabs at the top. This way, instead of a whole bunch of tabs across the top, you can group related ones, much like the way you can make folders on an iPhone by dropping one app on top of another. You can also pull down the menu bar and, instead of tabs, the whole site is rendered in a small box at the top, so you can see the site, not just its name. The new browser also comes packed with a "Notes" feature that allows users to mark down notes about a site. So you can leave a note to yourself about why you came to a particular site in the first place, or something you want to remember about it. There's also a "speed dial" feature that allows users to quickly access sites from one place, and you can make multiple speed dials for different groups of sites."
The article includes a chart showing benchmarks comparing Vivaldi to Chrome and IE.
colinneagle writes: Kim Dotcom, the controversial German expat living in New Zealand whose file-sharing site was busted by U.S. federal agents, has launched an end-to-end encrypted voice and video chat service that operates through the browser called MegaChat, which will now be available for free to the 15 million registered users of his file-sharing service Mega.
MegaChat aims to provide an alternative to the current voice and video chat services which Dotcom himself has accused of cooperating with government snooping. "No U.S.-based online service provider can be trusted with your data," Dotcom once claimed. "Skype has no choice. They must provide the U.S. government with backdoors."
However, Dotcom has also claimed that there are backdoors in Chrome and Firefox, so if you are using them to browse, how can he guarantee end-to-end encryption? And while Mega is great for file sharing, its track record for security is a little dubious. Right after its launch, there was criticism of the implementation of the site's security, from cross-site scripting flaws to poorly implemented encryption, and later it was found that Mega passwords could be extracted with basic hacking tools.
colinneagle writes: In the 2014 Deluxe edition ($59.99), which was always sufficient to do self-employment taxes, Intuit has removed Schedule C, D, and E, which self-employed people use. The full Schedule C is now only available in the Home & Business version, which runs $99.99, while Schedule E and the complete Schedule D, which has importation brokerage data, are now only available in their Premier edition or higher ($89.99). If you have Deluxe, like me, you will get prompted to make a purchase of an additional $30 to $40.
Needless to say, Intuit is getting skinned alive on Amazon. As of this writing, Turbo Tax 2014 has 852 one-star ratings on Amazon and just 81 five-star ratings, and TurboTax has been far and away the most popular home tax prep software on the market for years.
H&R Block, which has always run a distant second to TurboTax, smells blood in the water and is offering a free copy of its tax prep software, federal and state, to the many furious TurboTax users. There isn't a site for this, you have to email H&R Block at SwitchToBlock@hrblock.com and include your name, address, and phone number, operating system and a photo, scan, or email showing proof of TurboTax Basic or Deluxe purchase. Once approved, H&R Block will then send a link for one free download of H&R Block Deluxe + State tax software. You can even import last year’s tax return from TurboTax into the H&R Block tax software.
colinneagle writes: Some irresponsible reports around the technology blogosphere have noted that Microsoft Lumia phones have disappeared from sale on the Verizon Wireless website, and jumped to the conclusion that Verizon stopped selling them online. In fact, they are sold out.
Microsoft confirmed that its Lumia models are sold out, not discontinued. “VerizonWireless.com has temporarily sold out of Lumia smartphones. We’re looking forward to bringing more Lumias to market with Verizon,” a Microsoft spokesperson told me via email. A representative for Verizon Wireless also confirmed the sold out phones and that Lumia devices are still available in Verizon Wireless stores.
The articles in question (I won't name names) note that non-Lumia phones like the HTC One (H8) and Samsung ATIV SE are still for sale. But apparently some people couldn't bother to send an inquiry to Microsoft's and Verizon's media relations departments to ask.
colinneagle writes: In May, Google released a teaser image showing a mock-up of the autonomous vehicle it planned to build. Today, the company followed up with an image showing the finished product. Google says the first edition of its self-made self-driving car will feature “temporary manual controls as needed while we continue to test and learn.” When Google introduced its prototype back in May, the company claimed its self-driving cars “won’t have a steering wheel, accelerator pad, or brake pedalbecause they don’t need them.” Apparently, it still has yet to reach that point.
The development is an important step forward for Google’s driverless car efforts, which have been deemed impractical by many of late. Last year, the Financial Times reported that Google had difficulty finding manufacturing partners that would build vehicles featuring the self-driving capabilities used in its Prius. In that light, maybe Google’s willingness to build its own hardware just to get the technology on the road means that its self-driving car team knows something the rest of the industry doesn’t.
colinneagle writes: Despite success with its Note line of smartphones, Samsung has given up ground in the smartphone market to Apple on the high end and to low-cost Android competitors like Xiaomi and Huawei on the low end. And Samsung’s flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5, has been a disaster. The S5 sold an estimated 12 million units in its first three months, some 4 million fewer than the Galaxy S4 did in 2013. In China, Galaxy S5 sales have dropped a reported 50% compared to the S4 over six months. Sales came in so far under predictions that the Korean company was forced to dismiss several of its top mobile executives.
Samsung’s smartphone selling prices and margins continue to fall, while IDC reports the company’s smartphone market share fell all the way from 32.2% in Q3 2013 to 23.7% in Q3 2014. The company still leads the smartphone market in overall share, but among the top five companies in that category, it was the only one to post a negative year-over-year change, according to IDC. Is it too late for Samsung to turn itself around and retain dominance of the smartphone market?
colinneagle writes: Who’s old enough to remember when the best technology was found at work, while at home we got by with clunky home computers and pokey dial-up modems? Those days are gone, and they don’t look like they’re ever coming back.
Instead, today’s IT department is scrambling to deliver technology offerings that won’t get laughed at—or, just as bad, ignored—by a modern workforce raised on slick smartphones and consumer services powered by data centers far more powerful than the one their company uses. And those services work better and faster than the programs they offer, partly because consumers don’t have to worry about all the constraints that IT does, from security and privacy to, you know, actually being profitable. Plus, while IT still has to maintain all the old desktop apps, it also needs to make sure mobile users can do whatever they need to from anywhere at any time.
And that’s just the users. IT’s issues with corporate peers and leaders may be even rockier. Between shadow IT and other Software-as-a-Service, estimates say that 1 in 5 technology operations dollars are now being spent outside the IT department, and many think that figure is actually much higher. New digital initiatives are increasingly being driven by marketing and other business functions, not by IT. Today’s CMOs often outrank the CIO, whose role may be constrained to keeping the infrastructure running at the lowest possible cost instead of bringing strategic value to the organization. Hardly a recipe for success and influence.
colinneagle writes: After coming across a Russian website that streams video from unsecured video cameras that employ default usernames and passwords (the site claims it's doing it to raise awareness of privacy risks), a blogger used the information available to try to contact the people who were unwittingly streamed on the site. It didn't go well. The owner of a pizza restaurant, for example, cursed her out over the phone and accused her of "hacking" the cameras herself. And whoever (finally) answered the phone at a military building whose cameras were streaming on the site told her to "call the Pentagon."
The most common location of the cameras was the U.S., but many others were accessed from South Korea, China, Mexico, the UK, Italy, and France, among others. Some are from businesses, and some are from personal residences. Particularly alarming was the number of camera feeds of sleeping babies, which people often set up to protect them, but, being unaware of the risks, don't change the username or password from the default options that came with the cameras.
It's not the first time this kind of issue has come to light. In September 2013, the FTC cracked down on TRENDnet after its unsecured cameras were found to be accessible online. But the Russian site accesses cameras from several manufacturers, raising some new questions — why are strong passwords not required for these cameras? And, once this becomes mandatory, what can be done about the millions of unsecured cameras that remain live in peoples' homes?
colinneagle writes: This Friday is Halloween, but if you try to buy a PC with Windows 7 pre-loaded after that, you're going to get a rock instead of a treat. Microsoft will stop selling Windows 7 licenses to OEMs after this Friday and you will only be able to buy a machine with Windows 8.1. The good news is that business/enterprise customers will still be able to order PCs "downgraded" to Windows 7 Professional. Microsoft has not set an end date for when it will cut off Windows 7 Professional to OEMs, but it will likely be a while.
This all fits in with typical Microsoft timing. Microsoft usually pulls OEM supply of an OS a year after it removes it from retail. Microsoft cut off the retail supply of Windows 7 in October of last year, although some retailers still have some remaining stock left.
f the analytics from Steam are any indicator, Windows 8 is slowly working its way into the American public, but mostly as a Windows XP replacement. Windows 7, both 32-bit and 64-bit, account for 59% of their user base. Windows 8 and 8.1 account for 28%, while XP has dwindled to 4%. Steam, an online games vendor (think iTunes for PC video games) is fully skewed toward gamers and consumers, obviously.
colinneagle writes: I personally have worked for more than one tech giant without actually working for the company in question. And I know many contract tech workers who have toiled full time for years doing the same work as regular employees, making less money, getting few or no benefits (much less in the way of equity options, etc.) from the contract outsourcer, and enjoying zero job security. And that’s the upscale side of the practice. Things are much worse for folks doing service work at far lower pay grades. But Google’s recent decision to actually hire some 200 security guards at the Googleplex may shake up that cozy practice.
Google—like many other companies—had been getting its guards supplied by Security Industry Specialists, which has long been the target of union protests at Google headquarters, the San Francisco Apple Store, and other spots, claiming low pay and irregular hours—basically that SIS workers don’t share in the wealth created by the tech companies at which they’re working. By becoming Google employees, the security guards will be eligible for the same sweet benefit packages enjoyed by other Google workers. And that, according to the Wall Street Journal, is "a move that could reverberate around Silicon Valley." For instance, when Google released a report on the diversity of its workers earlier this year, other tech heavyweights in the Valley quickly followed suit.
colinneagle writes: The real question on my mind is whether Windows 10 will finally address a problem that has plagued pretty much every Windows OS since at least 95: the decay of the system over time. As you add and remove apps, as Windows writes more and more temporary and junk files, over time, a system just slows down.
I'm sure many of you have had the experience of taking a five-year-old PC, wiping it clean, putting the exact same OS on as it had before, and the PC is reborn, running several times faster than it did before the wipe. It's the same hardware, same OS, but yet it's so fast. This slow degeneration is caused by daily use, apps, device drive congestion (one of the tell-tale signs of a device driver problem is a PC that takes forever to shut down) and also hardware failure. If a disk develops bad sectors, it has to work around them. Even if you try aggressively to maintain your system, eventually it will slow, and very few people aggressively maintain their system.
So I wonder if Microsoft has found a solution to this. Windows 8 was supposed to have some good features for maintaining the OS and preventing slowdown. I wouldn't know; like most people, I avoided Windows 8 like the plague. It would be the most welcomed feature of Windows 10 if I never had to do another backup, disk wipe, and reinstall.
colinneagle writes: A military contractor has come up with something that has the U.S. Marine Corps interested. The Augmented Reality Sand Table is currently being developed by the Army Research Laboratory and was on display at the Modern Day Marine Expo that recently took place on Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.
The set-up is simple: a table-sized sandbox is rigged with a Microsoft Kinect video game motion sensor and an off-the-shelf projector. Using existing software, the sensor detects features in the sand and projects a realistic topographical map that corresponds to the layout, which can change in real time as observers move the sand around in the box. The setup can also project maps from Google Earth or other mapping and GPS systems, enabling units to visualize the exact terrain they'll be covering for exercises or operations. Eventually, they hope to add visual cues to help troops shape the sandbox to match the topography of a specified map.
Eventually, the designers of the sandbox hope to involve remote bases or even international partners in conducting joint training and operations exercises. Future possibilities include large-scale models that could project over a gymnasium floor for a battalion briefing, and a smartphone version that could use a pocket-sized projector to turn any patch of dirt into an operational 3-D map.
colinneagle writes: Consumer site MoneySavingExpert.com reported today that it has seen “many complaints” from users who believe a recent increase in data-related charges on their cellphone bills are the result of Facebook's auto-play feature. The default setting for the auto-play feature launches and continues to play videos silently until the user either scrolls past it or clicks on it; if the user does the latter, the video then goes full-screen and activates audio. The silent auto-play occurs regardless of whether users are connected to Wi-Fi, LTE, or 3G.
However, it’s likely that Facebook isn't entirely to blame for this kind of trend, but rather, with the debut of its auto-play feature, threw gas on an already growing fire of video-sharing services. Auto-play for video is a default setting on Instagram’s app, although the company refers to it as “preload." Instagram only introduced video last summer, after the Vine app, a Twitter-backed app that auto-plays and loops six-second videos, started to see significant growth.
In the first half of 2014, Instagram saw a 25% increase in usage, while Vine usage grew by 27%, according to a study released by GlobalWebIndex in May. The mobile app that saw the most growth in usage over that period was Snapchat, which also allows users to send and view videos over 3G and 4G wireless connections; Snapchat usage grew 67% in that period, according to the study.
So while Facebook’s auto-play feature is likely to have a hand in an epidemic of cellphone data overages, it’s just one culprit among many new mobile apps that are embracing video, all of which happen to be popular among teenagers, who aren't likely to know or care about how auto-play video features might affect their parents’ wallets.
colinneagle writes: Bloomberg reports that Nadella is making changes to the engineering organization and that QA testers may feel the ax. The publication attributes to him the notion that "it often makes sense to have the developers test and fix bugs instead of a separate team of testers."
This would be an incredible move if it's true, because it would fly in the face of more than 30 years of development processes. The whole premise of Agile development is based on building one small piece, test, test, test, add another feature, test, test, test, rinse, repeat. You don't let programmers debug their code for the same reason you don't let writers be their own editor; you need fresh eyes to see what the other person might not.
Microsoft does use a different technique for development. Rather than straight QA people, it uses what it called Software Developer Engineer Test, or SDET, who create software that identifies bugs and fixes them when possible. There is still a layer of human intervention for harder-to-find bugs, but the process does automate testing.
Might Microsoft be bold enough to cut QA for its software products and increase its automated testing processes? Or is this just a nightmare scenario that has cropped up amid Microsoft layoff rumors?