Category: Computers


Windows 8 To Offer Both Desktop, Tablet Interface

Users of the coming Windows 8 operating system will be able to switch between a traditional desktop PC user interface and a tablet-friendly look patterned after Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform.

Some industry observers clearly have been worried about the dumbing down of the next Windows OS release. However, users who highly value the full-blown desktop experience will have the full set of PC capabilities at their fingertips, said Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft’s Windows division, writing in a blog.

“If you want to, you can seamlessly switch between Metro style apps and the improved Windows desktop,” Sinofsky wrote. “Essentially, you can think of the Windows desktop as just another app.”

Windows 8 tablet users who prefer Windows Phone’s Metro-style UI for accomplishing tasks on the fly will never even need to see the platform’s desktop version.

“We won’t even load it — literally the code will not be loaded — unless you explicitly choose to go there,” Sinofsky said.

Moreover, the new Metro-style UI “is much more than the visual design — [it is] fast and fluid, immersive, beautiful, and app-centric,” Sinofsky said. And tablet users who do not need the full-blown Windows desktop experience won’t have to comply with its more stringent memory, battery life and hardware requirements, he added.

The Innovator’s Dilemma

Microsoft has to negotiate an innovator’s dilemma with Windows 8, said Al Hilwa, director of applications software development at IDC.

“They have to create a product which is appealing to an apparently large segment of the user population who loves a simpler touch-first approach to computing, while maintaining Window’s existing user-base that is comfortable with the precise control a keyboard, a mouse and a file-oriented interface provides,” Hilwa said.

Just how Microsoft will go about accomplishing the delicate balancing act of having both Windows 8 user interfaces operating together harmoniously remains unclear right now. However, more concrete details are expected to emerge at Microsoft’s Build conference for developers beginning Sept. 13 in Anaheim, Calif.

The bottom line is that Microsoft will need to ensure that both user segments remain happy with Windows 8, Hilwa said. The software giant also will need to “maintain two parallel application development models until these begin to blend more naturally down the road,” he added.

The Ribbon Users Love To Hate

Already featured in the 2007 and 2010 releases of Microsoft’s Office business productivity suite, the ribbon is one design element that some Office users love to hate. This helps explain this week’s flurry of negative comments about the addition of a ribbon to the new file management tool for Windows 8.

Still, Sinofsky pointed out that the addition of a ribbon will enable the platform’s designers to create an optimized file manager that positions the most frequently used commands at reliable, logical locations.

“The flexibility of the ribbon with many icon options, tabs, flexible layout and groupings also ensured that we could respect [Windows] Explorer’s heritage,” Sinofsky said.

What’s more, the Windows Explorer ribbon provides for a much more reliable and usable touch-only interface than pull-down-menu or context-menu designs could provide, Sinofsky said. Though some critics have complained about the additional screen real estate that this feature would occupy, Sinofsky said users would be able to display the Windows Explorer ribbon in either an open or minimized state.

Source: NewsFactor

Red Hat CEO thinks the desktop is becoming a legacy application

A running joke at this years LinuxCon is that “X is the year of the Linux desktop.” Jim Zemlin, head of the conference’s sponsoring organization, The Linux Foundation, started it with his keynote in noting how often he’d made that prediction and how often he’s been wrong. The current prediction, which I believe Linus Torvalds made last night was : “2031! The year of the Linux desktop.” Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, has another year in mind for the Linux desktop though: Never. Oh, and the Windows and Mac desktops? Get ready to say good-bye to them soon.

In an interview with me, Whitehurst told me that he believes that the “Fat client operating system [the traditional desktop] is becoming a legacy application.” What he meant by that isn’t that your desktops are suddenly going to vaporize into puffs of smoke in 2016 like from some really lame disaster movie. No, his point is that the cost of maintaining and securing a desktop operating system is growing increasingly higher.

So, what he sees happening is that everyone, and it’s not just Linux, “writing their functionality for the back engine. Why would anyone with all the different platforms—smartphones, tablets, etc.—and the costs of securing all of them want to spend money on that? The cost to manage and secure a fat client is ridiculous.”

So what will replace it? He sees several possibilities. In the short run, for businesses he sees Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) becoming increasing more important. Here, he sees Citrix, which has long provided Windows desktops via its VDI platform, continuing to be the major player. “It’s Citrix’s market to lose,” said Whitehurst.

Red Hat will also play a role in VDI as well. In 2012, Red Hat will be reintroducing ts Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments (SPICE)-based VDI. On the server side, SPICE depends on KVM (Kernel Virtual Machine) for its horsepower. Don’t think though that Red Hat plans on head-to-head competition with Citrix for tomorrow’s VDI desktop. They don’t.

Instead, Whitehurst said, “SPICE will be part of a packaged offering for those who want it.” He sees its market as being primary users who are already using Linux desktops, terminal applications, or Linux-based thin-clients. It’s a great offerings, but as for using it to run say “20,000 Windows desktops?” No, that’s Citrix’s market.”

So what kind of desktop does he see the enterprise user moving to, since after all, there’s only so much you can do with any tablet or smartphone? Whitehurst thinks it will probably be based on a KVM-based cloud and using a Web browser as its primary interface.

He added that he thinks Google’s Chrome operating system looks promising and that he plans on trying out the Samsung Chromebook himself sometime soon. You see, unlike many CEO’s, Whitehurst is also a techie. His first exposure to Linux was running Slackware on his own. Today, he runs Fedora 15 as his desktop. He knows Linux. As Red Hat gets ready to become the first billion-dollar open-source company, it’s clear he knows business. He knows the desktop. If he says the fat-client desktop is getting ready to become yesterday’s news, I’m inclined to listen to him.

Source: ZDNet

Chromebooks get VPN, secure Wi-Fi, Citrix virtualization

Since the unveling of its Chromebook, Google has billed the cloud-based notebook as the ideal device for both enterprise customers and their beleaguered IT departments.

With the most recent update, Google is proving its case.

In an addition that perhaps should have been part of the Chromebook from the beginning, Google is adding virtual private network (VPN) support, allowing users secure remote access of their corporate or institutional networks.

That’s not all. Google is also adding support for the secure 802.1X protocol, which allows network managers to require authentication for users to access secure Wi-Fi networks.

Sweetening the deal is Citrix desktop application vitualization, ideal for companies that rely on expensive software suites but are increasingly made up of road warriors.

Google says all three feature additions are in response to feedback from its business and education customers. With such widely-used features in these sectors, though, why wasn’t it a no-brainer?

Source: ZDNet / Google

Acer’s MacBook Air-cloning Aspire 3951 Ultrabook Leaks Out

A hinted-at Acer ultrabook may have had its first public sighting through leaked renders and details in Vietnam. The 13.3-inch Aspire 3951 would borrow more than a few cues from the MacBook Air Intel’s ultrabook spec is meant to imitate and would have a supposedly 0.51-inch thick, aluminum, 3.09-pound shell. In a nod to the Dell Adamo, however, Sohoa‘s look showed that most of the ports would be moved to the back, where the hinge design would make sure they stayed available.

The system would also make the solid-state drive optional. Buyers could pick the likely Intel-made 160GB SSD or opt for more traditional 250GB and 500GB hard drives. Not much is known about the choice of processor other than using a 2011 Core chip, although the Aspire would follow Apple into including Bluetooth 4.0 while swapping out the Thunderbolt for a plainer HDMI output. A card reader is in view on the right-hand side.

Acer is believed to be focusing on longevity, offering a competent though shorter six hours of battery use as well as 30 days of standby; the long idle time might only be true for the SSD option. Moving from sleep to wake should take 1.7 seconds.

Earlier rumors have had Acer’s ultrabook shipping at the very end of the year. The 3951 might undercut the MacBook Air with estimated prices of between $769 to $961 depending on the model, although it’s not clear what a base model would involve. Any lower pricing is likely to entail a slower rotating hard drive and might go below the 1.7GHz Core i5 Apple uses in its own system.

Intel devised the ultrabook spec as a way of sustaining notebook sales in the face of tablets through taking a cue from the Air. The decision may have triggered a pushback from Windows PC builders who have been fighting to lower the price after they were worried they would have no choice but to match Apple’s price after Intel set similar quality and performance goals.

Source: Electronista

Foxconn to replace workers with 1 million robots in 3 years

Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn will replace some of its workers with 1 million robots in three years to cut rising labor expenses and improve efficiency, said Terry Gou, founder and chairman of the company, late Friday.

The robots will be used to do simple and routine work such as spraying, welding and assembling which are now mainly conducted by workers, said Gou at a workers’ dance party Friday night.

The company currently has 10,000 robots and the number will be increased to 300,000 next year and 1 million in three years, according to Gou.

Foxconn, the world’s largest maker of computer components which assembles products for Apple, Sony and Nokia, is in the spotlight after a string of suicides of workers at its massive Chinese plants, which some blamed on tough working conditions.

The company currently employs 1.2 million people, with about 1 million of them based on the Chinese mainland.

Ryan:  I don’t like to read about Foxconn workers jumping off buildings, it’s also bad for PR.

Source: Xinhua News

Men build small flying spy drone that cracks Wi-Fi and cell data

Built by Mike Tassey and Richard Perkins, the Wireless Aerial Surveillance Platform (otherwise known as the WASP) is a flying drone that has a 6-foot wingspan, a 6-foot length and weighs in at 14 pounds. The small form factor of the unmanned aerial vehicle allows it to drop under radar and is often mistaken for a large bird. It was built from an Army target drone and converted to run on electric batteries rather than gasoline. It can also be loaded with GPS information and fly a predetermined course without need for an operator. Taking off and landing have to be done manually with the help of a mounted HD camera. However, the most interesting aspect of the drone is that it can crack Wi-Fi networks and GSM networks as well as collect the data from them.

It can accomplish this feat with a Linux computer on-board that’s no bigger than a deck of cards. The computer accesses 32GB of storage to house all that stolen data. It uses a variety of networking hacking tools including the BackTrack toolset as well as a 340 million word dictionary to guess passwords. In order to access cell phone data, the WASP impersonates AT&T and T-Mobile cell phone towers and fools phones into connecting to one of the eleven antenna on-board. The drone can then record conversations to the storage card and avoids dropping the call due to the 4G T-mobile card routing communications through VoIP.

Amazingly, this was accomplished with breaking a single FCC regulation. The drone relies on the frequency band used for Ham radios to operate. Not wanting to get into legal trouble with AT&T and T-Mobile, they tested the technology in isolated areas to avoid recording phone conversations other than their own. The duo play to discuss how to build the WASP at the DEFCON 19 hacking conference.

Source: Digital Trends / Yahoo! News

Intel has big plans for Ultrabooks

In an era of smartphones and tablets, Intel is banking on the Ultrabook to breathe new life into the PC. Intel execs have said this new class of powerful, affordable ultra-thin notebooks could represent as much as 40 percent of consumer laptops by the end of next year.

But what exactly makes the Ultrabook different from, say an Apple MacBook Air, hasn’t been clear. Part of this is because the Ultrabook will take several years to fully evolve. The first Ultrabooks from the likes of Asus, HP, Lenovo and LG Electronics are due in time for the holidays. But from the start Intel has said that it will require several generations of new silicon, and hardware and software engineering, to realize the concept.

Now Intel is providing more details on how the Ultrabook will evolve. In a blog post this week, Becky Emmett, a media relations manager at Intel, wrote about the “substantial changes to the way Intel and its partners design, produce and market devices and their components” to enable the Ultrabook.

The first Ultrabooks, based on ultra-low voltage version of the second-generation Core processor (better-known as Sandy Bridge) will arrive in time of the holidays. The basic features of these Ultrabooks are already well-known:

  • Less than 0.8 inches thick
  • Fast start-up from hibernation with Intel’s Rapid Start technology
  • Five to eight hours of battery life
  • Enhanced security features to secure laptops and prevent identity theft

The Asus UX21, an 11.6-inch laptop, is expected to be the first when it ships this fall, followed by the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s and LG P220. But lately there have been rumors that computer makers are having trouble putting these together for less than $1,000 so the ramp of these first-generation Ultrabook may be slower than anticipated.

The second wave of Ultrabooks, due in the first half of next year, will be based on Intel’s first 22nm processors, known as Ivy Bridge. Intel claims these will have longer battery life, better performance, beefier security and high-speed data transfers with USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt, the I/O technology in several Apple Macs and the Sony VAIO Z Series.

Finally the third phase will be based on a new microarchitecture, Haswell, which Intel should release in 2014. With Haswell, Intel plans to change the basic design of its processors so that they use around half the power of today’s CPUs. In other words, you’ll get the performance (and price) of a mainstream processor combined with the battery life of today’s low-voltage versions. They should also be able to fit into even thinner and lighter systems that require less cooling.

PCs are always getting thinner, lighter, faster and cheaper. Intel is promising something bigger here comparing the Ultrabook with major shifts of the past such as the introduction of the Pentium processor in 1995 and the Centrino mobile platform in 2003. Intel says that eventually he Ultrabook will become “a tablet when you want it, a PC when you need it.” As someone who has spent a lot of time using convertible tablets, with mixed success, I can tell you that would be “an historic change” if Intel and the rest of the industry can pull it off.

Source: ZDNet

Apple Laptops Vulnerable To Hack That Kills Or Corrupts Batteries

Your laptop’s battery is smarter than it looks. And if a hacker like security researcher Charlie Miller gets his digital hands on it, it could become more evil than it appears, too.

At the Black Hat security conference in August, Miller plans to expose and provide a fix for a new breed of attack on Apple laptops that takes advantage of a little-studied weak point in their security: the chips that control their batteries.

Modern laptop batteries contain a microcontroller that monitors the power level of the unit, allowing the operating system and the charger to check on the battery’s charge and respond accordingly. That embedded chip means the lithium ion batteries can know when to stop charging even when the computer is powered off, and can regulate their own heat for safety purposes.

When Miller examined those batteries in several Macbooks, Macbook Pros and Macbook Airs, however, he found a disturbing vulnerability. The batteries’ chips are shipped with default passwords, such that anyone who discovers that password and learns to control the chips’ firmware can potentially hijack them to do anything the hacker wants. That includes permanently ruining batteries at will, and may enable nastier tricks like implanting them with hidden malware that infects the computer no matter how many times software is reinstalled or even potentially causing the batteries to heat up, catch fire or explode. “These batteries just aren’t designed with the idea that people will mess with them,” Miller says. “What I’m showing is that it’s possible to use them to do something really bad.”

Miller discovered the two passwords used to access and alter Apple batteries by pulling apart and analyzing a 2009 software update that Apple instituted to fix a problem with Macbook batteries. Using those keys, he was soon able to reverse engineer the chip’s firmware and cause it to give whatever readings he wanted to the operating system and charger, or even rewrite the firmware completely to do his bidding.

From there, zapping the battery such that it’s no longer recognized by the computer becomes trivial: In fact, Miller permanently “bricked” seven batteries just in the course of his tinkering. (They cost about $130 to replace.) More interesting from a criminal perspective, he suggests, might be installing persistent malware on the chip that infects the rest of the computer to steal data, control its functions, or cause it to crash. Few IT administrators would think to check a battery’s firmware for the source of that infection, and if undiscovered the chip could re-infect the computer again and again.

“You could put a whole hard drive in, reinstall the software, flash the BIOS, and every time it would reattack and screw you over. There would be no way to eradicate or detect it other than removing the battery.” says Miller.

That attack would require finding another vulnerability in the interface between the chip and the operating system. But Miller says that’s not much of a barrier. “Presumably Apple has never considered that as an attack vector, so it’s very possible it’s vulnerable.”

And the truly disturbing prospect of a hacker remotely blowing up a battery on command? Miller didn’t attempt that violent trick, but believes it might be possible. “I work out of my home, so I wasn’t super inclined to cause an explosion there,” he says.

In fact, the batteries he examined have other safeguards against explosions: fuses that contain an alloy that melts at high temperatures to break the circuit and prevent further charging. But Miller, who has worked for the National Security Agency and subsequently hacked everything from the iPhone to virtual worlds, believes it might still be possible. “You read stories about batteries in electronic devices that blow up without any interference,” he says. “If you have all this control, you can probably do it.”

Miller, currently a researcher with the consultancy Accuvant, isn’t the first to explore the danger of explosive batteries triggered by hackers. Barnaby Jack, a researcher for with antivirus giant McAfee, says he worked on the problem in 2009, but he says he ”benched the research when I didn’t succeed in causing any lithium ion fires. Charlie has taken it a lot further and surpassed where I was at the time.”

Miller says he’s received messages from several other researchers asking him not proceed with the battery work because it could be too dangerous. But Miller has worked to fix the problems he’s exposing. At Black Hat he plans to release a tool for Apple users called “Caulkgun” that changes their battery firmware’s passwords to a random string, preventing the default password attack he used. Miller also sent Apple and Texas Instruments his research to make them aware of the vulnerability. I contacted Apple for comment but haven’t yet heard back from the company.

Implementing Miller’s “Caulkgun” prevents any other hacker from using the vulnerabilities he’s found. But it would also prevent Apple from using the battery’s default passwords to implement their own upgrades and fixes. Those who fear the possibilities of a hijacked chunk of charged chemicals in their laps might want to consider the tradeoff.

“No one has ever thought of this as a security boundary,” says Miller. “It’s hard to know for sure everything someone could do with this.”

Source: Forbes

Where Have All the Spambots Gone?

First, the good news:  The past year has witnessed the decimation of spam volume, the arrests of several key hackers, and the high-profile takedowns of some of the Web’s most notorious botnets. The bad news? The crooks behind these huge crime machines are fighting back — devising new approaches designed to resist even the most energetic takedown efforts.

The volume of junk email flooding inboxes each day is way down from a year ago, as much as a 90 percent decrease according to some estimates. Symantec reports that spam volumes hit their high mark in July 2010, when junk email purveyors were blasting in excess of 225 billion spam messages per day. The company says daily spam volumes now hover between 25 and 50 billion missives daily. Anti-spam experts from Cisco Systems are tracking a similarly precipitous decline, from 300 billion per day in June 2010 to just 40 billion in June 2011.

There may be many reasons for the drop in junk email volumes, but it would be a mistake to downplay efforts by law enforcement officials and security experts.  In the past year, authorities have taken down some of the biggest botnets and apprehended several top botmasters. Most recently, the FBI worked with dozens of ISPs to kneecap the Coreflood botnet. In April, Microsoft launched an apparently successful sneak attack against Rustock, a botnet once responsible for sending 40 percent of all junk email.

In December 2010, the FBI arrested a Russian accused of running the Mega-D botnet. In October 2010, authorities in the Netherlands arrested the alleged creator of the Bredolab botnet and dismantled huge chunks of the botnet. A month earlier, Spamit.com, one of the biggest spammer affiliate programs ever created, was shut down when its creator, Igor Gusev, was named the world’s number one spammer and went into hiding. In August 2010, researchers clobbered the Pushdo botnet, causing spam from that botnet to slow to a trickle.

But botmasters are not idly standing by while their industry is dismantled. Analysts from Kaspersky Lab this week published research on a new version of the TDSS malware (a.k.a. TDL), a sophisticated malicious code family that includes a powerful rootkit component that compromises PCs below the operating system level, making it extremely challenging to detect and remove. The latest version of TDSS — dubbed TDL-4 has already infected 4.5 million PCs; it uses a custom encryption scheme that makes it difficult for security experts to analyze traffic between hijacked PCs and botnet controllers. TDL-4 control networks also send out instructions to infected PCs using a peer-to-peer network that includes multiple failsafe mechanisms.

Getting infected with TDL-4 may not be such a raw deal if your computer is already heavily infected with other malware: According to Kaspersky, the bot will remove threats like the ZeuS Trojan and 20 other malicious bot programs from host PCs.  “TDSS scans the registry, searches for specific file names, blacklists the addresses of the command and control centers of other botnets and prevents victim machines from contacting them,” wrote Kaspersky analysts Sergey Golovanov and Igor Soumenkov.

The evolution of the TLd-4 bot is part of the cat-and-mouse game played by miscreants and those who seek to thwart their efforts. But law enforcement agencies and security experts also are evolving by sharing more information and working in concert, said Alex Lanstein, a senior security researcher at FireEye, a company that has played a key role in several coordinated botnet takedowns in the past two years.

“Takedowns can have an effect of temporarily providing relief from general badness, be it click fraud, spam, or credential theft, but lasting takedowns can only be achieved by putting criminals in silver bracelets,” Lanstein said. “The Mega-D takedown, for example, was accomplished through trust relationships with registrars, but the lasting takedown was accomplished by arresting the alleged author, who is awaiting trial. In the interim, security companies are getting better and better about working with law enforcement, which is what happened with Rustock.”

Attacking the botnet infrastructure and pursuing botmasters are crucial components of any anti-cybercrime strategy: TDSS, for example, is believed to be tied to affiliate programs that pay hackers to distribute malware.

Unfortunately, not many security experts or law enforcement agencies say they are focusing attention on another major weapon in battling e-crime: Targeting the financial instruments used by these criminal organizations.

Some of the best research on the financial side of the cybercrime underworld is coming from academia, and there are signs that researchers are beginning to share information about individuals and financial institutions that are facilitating the frauds. Recent studies of the pay-per-install, rogue anti-virus and online pharmacy industries reveal a broad overlap of banks and processors that have staked a claim in the market for handling these high-risk transactions. Earlier this week I published data suggesting that the market for rogue pharmaceuticals could be squashed if banks and credit card companies paid closer attention to transactions destined for a handful of credit and debit card processors. Next week, I will publish the first in a series of blog posts that look at the connections between the financial instruments used by rogue Internet pharmacies and those of the affiliate networks that push rogue anti-virus or “scareware.”

Source: Krebs on Security

Leave your charger at home: New laptops could be powered simply by typing

Battery life can be a deal maker or a deal breaker when shopping for a new electronic gadget, and laptops are especially notorious for overpromising and underdelivering when it comes to how long they can last between charges. A new twist on an old technological advancement might change all that by turning your keystrokes into power. Using a thin film that exhibits piezoelectric properties, the pressure of your fingers hitting each key could potentially generate enough energy to keep a notebook battery charged.

Piezoelectric materials, many of which are man-made ceramics, actually generate electric current when impacted. The science behind it has been used for many years in things like mechanical actuators and sensors, but has seen limited application in consumer electronics. Australian researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology have been testing a piezoelectric film that could, in theory, be applied underneath a notebook keyboard. It would absorb the impact of each keystroke and use the electric current generated to charge the device’s battery.

There are currently no plans for a consumer-level device that would employ the technology, but the research is promising. According to the scientists, other applications for piezoelectric material might also be on the horizon, including running shoes that could charge your cell phone and pacemakers that are powered by blood pressure alone. So for now, if you’re desperate to lengthen your laptop’s lifespan, you might just want to check out our guide to doing just that.

Source: Yahoo! News

Seagate unveils ‘world’s first’ tablets with hard drives

Most tablets on the market today host solid state drives and flash memory. Seagate has introduced two new tablet computers with physical hard drives on board.

Touted as the “world’s first handheld tablet computers with hard drives,” the 8-inch Archos 80 G9 and 10-inch Archos 101 G9 sport 2.5-inch Seagate Momentus Thin hard drives. Those hard drives have 7mm profiles and capacity options are set at 320GB, 250GB and 160GB. The last nitty-gritty detail about the hard drives specifically is that buyers can opt for 7200RPM and 5400RPM spin speeds with 16MB of cache.

For those who might want to use these tablets for business and/or host sensitive data on those Momentus Thin hard drives, Seagate is offering some extra (optional) security measures, including government-grade encryption to protect data.

Most other details about the tablets haven’t been publicized, except that these slates run on 1.5GHz processors. We should know more about these Seagate tablets closer to their unspecified release date in late September.

Based on pricing alone, these tablets appear competitive as the Archos 80 G9 and Archos 101 G9 have starting prices of $279 and $349, respectively. However, we’ll need to know more about the operating system and other features, before comparing it to other tablets already available.

Source: ZDNet