Search What's Hot and What's Not:

Friday, November 21, 2008

One Account to Rule Them All

A new service combines many ways of communicating.

Thanks to the constant advance of communications technology, there are now more ways than ever to reach the people you know. But this doesn't necessarily mean that life's more convenient. Checking every account for new messages can be tedious and time consuming, and nowadays many people have multiple telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and instant-messaging accounts--even several social-networking identities. TelCentris, a company based in San Diego, hopes to untangle this mess by providing VoxOx, a single piece of software that can be used to communicate with contacts in a wide variety of ways.

Unifying communications tools is hardly a new idea. Over the years, several popular instant-messaging clients have been developed to let users from one network chat with those from others. And as cell-phone use has grown, companies like Grand Central (now owned by Google) and Ribbit (now owned by BT) have focused on bringing together multiple phone numbers. The idea has proved especially popular in the business world, with companies such as IBM building products that combine a variety of communications tools--voice mail, IM, Web conferencing--with business applications like Lotus Notes.

VoxOx continues this trend but offers a more exhaustive list of services. It allows users to send e-mail and instant messages, send text messages, host video conferences, make phone calls, post messages to social networks, and even share files--all from the same place.

Rebecca Swensen, a research analyst with IDC, says that the product is interesting and ambitious. She cautions that "they're still working out the kinks in terms of how to make it easy to use." Swensen also questions whether consumers will be willing to put in the effort required to configure a service like this. Although ultimately, the service might make one's life a little easier, she says, it's a fairly big commitment to start using a new service, and to get all contacts loaded in and sorted out.

Michael Faught, chief financial officer with VoxOx, says that the service is, initially at least, aimed at younger users who "are confronted with this chaotic world of many kinds of communication tools." Faught sees social networks as compounding the problem and says that there's no simple, efficient solution.

A preview release of VoxOx was launched last week and can be downloaded for free for both Windows and Mac computers. After signing up for an account, a user is given a free VoxOx phone number and configures the rest of the service by providing usernames and passwords for compatible IM, e-mail, and social-networking accounts. VoxOx pulls in these contacts, allowing the user to scroll through a composite list and select whom to talk to and how. In some ways, VoxOx functions like a powerful instant-messaging application. Whether messages are sent as texts, instant messages, or e-mails, the conversation pops up onscreen like an IM. A user gets two free hours of calling time within the United States and Canada when she signs up, and has the option to pay for more minutes or earn them by watching ads.

VoxOx can afford to hand out phone numbers for free because it is owned by TelCentris, a communications company with existing infrastructure, says CEO Bryan Hertz. The center of the company's technology, Hertz adds, is a hub that includes support for a wide variety of communications protocols, which can be extended to include many more. "For every type of communications protocol that's an open standard, we either support it already or are integrating it into the platform," he says.

Hertz believes that the real power of the service is its ability to unify different mediums--for example, when a VoxOx user creates a three-way conference call, adding one person on a mobile phone and another on a VoIP call. However, the company acknowledges that there are bugs to be worked out. Some users have reported problems making and receiving calls, while others have posted requests on the company's forums for support for Linux and Facebook Chat. Hertz says that the company is now focused on responding to this feedback and plans to introduce more features and support soon. The company also plans to launch a version of the application for business users in early 2009.


Social Bookmarking

Expanding the Mobile Web

An announcement by Adobe and ARM will let phones see more of the Web.

While it's true that more and more phones can surf the Web, it's also true that many mobile phones have only a limited ability to show much of the Web's best content. Videos that run in Adobe Flash Players, such as those by the New York Times, CNN, and Technology Review, and Flash-heavy websites simply don't work on many phones due to the software being incompatible with hardware. Today, in an effort to bring more of the Web to mobile devices, Adobe and microchip maker ARM, which powers 90 percent of mobile phones worldwide, have announced a collaboration to ensure that Adobe's software runs well on future ARM devices.

Specifically, the companies say that Adobe's Flash Player 10 and AIR (a platform for building complex Web applications) will be compatible and optimized for the ARM chips available in 2009. While ARM is used in a huge number of mobile phones, the announcement has broader implications: the chips are also used in set-top boxes, mobile Internet devices, personal media players, and automotive platforms.

The experience of publishing and viewing content on a PC is "near frictionless," says Anup Murarka, director of technical marketing of mobile devices at Adobe. "But when we get into devices like set-top boxes and phones, you run into a lot of roadblocks." While Murarka doesn't think all of the roadblocks will vanish immediately, he believes that the Adobe and ARM collaboration can help make it easier for people to post videos from their PCs or mobiles and access them anywhere.

To be sure, the agreement won't improve the Web on all devices. One big exception is Apple's iPhone. Steve Jobs has historically eschewed Adobe's Flash for the iPhone because the existing mobile version of Adobe's player, called Flash Lite, runs too slowly on the gadget. But for a vast majority of phones, the collaboration could make a difference to users. Murarka explains that the two companies worked together to optimize the software and hardware in three different ways.

First, the compiler used in Flash Player 10, which converts program code into microchip instructions, has been written to work smoothly with the ARMv6 and ARMv7 chip. This means that the software understands how these chips transport data and can tap into the right part of the chips at the right time, speeding up applications.

A second improvement, says Murarka, is that some ARM chips have been built with graphics subprocessors--pieces of silicon that are specifically designed to handle the heavy lifting of graphics rendering. Desktop versions of Flash, he says, don't use graphics processors, but the new version of Flash will take advantage of the graphics subprocessor, making graphics rendering more efficient on mobile devices and also saving battery power.

Third, the software that Adobe uses to compress and decompress videos will be optimized to run on ARM's chips. Today, content providers have to make sure that Flash videos are encoded in a specific way, in order to run on some mobile devices. This is how YouTube videos can play on the iPhone. "Flash now delivers over 80 percent of Web video," Murarka says. "By working with ARM, we can optimize that so that content that exists in video or audio form will be compatible with more devices."

A broader implication of this initiative is that both the hardware and software companies are providing the tools that programmers need to build content that works across devices, says Michael Gartenberg, vice president of mobile strategy at Jupitermedia, a research firm based in Connecticut. "The problem is [that] developers face a fragmented [mobile] landscape," he says. "And Adobe, by trying to get this content architecture on multiple handsets, is trying to make it easier for developers."

Earlier this year, Adobe announced the Open Screen Project, a collaboration with Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Qualcomm, and others aimed at standardizing Flash on mobile devices. The project led to Adobe removing licensing fees, which lets developers integrate Adobe Flash Player and Adobe AIR into any device or application without paying a fee. Many industry watchers saw the move as a reaction to Microsoft's release of Silverlight, a Flash competitor.

The announced Adobe and ARM partnership is "about the ability to get Open Screen Project onto handsets," says Gartenberg. "You've got the ARM folks supporting the technology, which is the critical first step."


Social Bookmarking

Sick Searchers Help Track Flu

Google releases a tool to track the intensity and spread of the flu.

On Tuesday, search giant Google released an experimental tool that tracks the intensity and movement of the influenza virus across the United States by monitoring the number of times that people search the Web using terms related to the disease.

The tool, known as Google Flu Trends, makes use of the fact that, before they go to the doctor's office, many people will search for information about what ails them. Using aggregate data on the number of searches for terms such as "flu" and "flu symptoms," software engineers from Google and researchers from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found a strong link between these searches and reports from doctors of flu outbreaks a week to 10 days later.

"We found that there's a very close relationship between the frequency of these search queries and the number of people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms each week," Jeremy Ginsberg and Matt Mohebbi, both software engineers at Google, write in a blog post describing the work. "As a result, if we tally each day's flu-related search queries, we can estimate how many people have a flu-like illness."

The result could allow the CDC to respond to outbreaks of influenza more than a week earlier than it could using intelligence based on trends in reports from doctors, the federal agency's top flu tracker says. "Influenza has a very short incubation period," says Lyn Finelli, lead for influenza surveillance at the CDC. "You can have a lot of transmission in a very short time, so the more warning you have, the more you can do to prevent an outbreak of the disease."

The Google researchers worked closely with the CDC for more than a year to improve their model. The tool reveals a close match between historical increases in searches related to the flu and increases in reports from doctors, Finelli says.

The idea of mining data that people leave behind through their electronic existence is not new, says Nathan Eagle, a research scientist with the Media Lab at MIT. "This isn't the first example of it, by any means," Eagle says. "Virtually any type of trace that you, as a user or as a citizen, leave could be mined for all sorts of purposes."

Eagle and other researchers have published research on tracking students' movement patterns using GPS to better understand how a disease can spread through a population. Another system, called HealthMap, plots news and blog reports related to different diseases on Google Maps. And Philip Polgreen, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, recently published a paper that used Yahoo search data to correlate searches for flu symptoms with the incidence of reports of the disease. "Every day, people search for information on health on the Internet, and we thought that the pattern of searches could give some information about future expectation or current incidents," Polgreen says.

Gunther Eysenbach, a health-policy professor with the University of Toronto, says that three years ago, he proposed to Google the idea of analyzing search data in the same way that Flu Trends does. However, he claims that he did not receive a response. Without direct access to Google's data, Eysenbach decided to take out an AdWords advertisement on the site. The ad not only gave him access to search data for the terms "flu" and "flu symptoms," but it also showed the number of people who clicked on the advertisements.

"If you count the number of clicks, then you can get a better prediction," Eysenbach says. "You can weed out the number of people who have flu symptoms from the number of people who just hear about the disease from media reports."

In a paper published in 2006, Eysenbach showed a strong positive link between Internet users' searches and the incidence of influenza in a certain region--in this case, Canada. While Eysenbach's work is briefly mentioned in Google's paper, the researcher says that he was "in a mild state of shock" that Google had decided not to collaborate with him.

In its announcement, Google tried to head off any concerns that the tool would impact users' privacy, stressing that, while the research "aggregates hundreds of billions of individual searches," the information is anonymized and therefore cannot be employed to track an individual user.

MIT's Eagle, however, says that people should expect that their data will increasingly be used in the future. "At the end of the day, this type of data is a fact of life in the 20th century," he says. "We could ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist, or we could use this data, without compromising privacy, in ways that can help people."


Social Bookmarking

Agriculture goes urban and high-tech

POMONA, California (AP) -- Terry Fujimoto sees the future of agriculture in the exposed roots of the leafy greens he and his students grow in thin streams of water at a campus greenhouse.

The program run by the California State Polytechnic University agriculture professor is part of a growing effort to use hydroponics -- a method of cultivating plants in water instead of soil -- to bring farming into cities, where consumers are concentrated.

Because hydroponic farming requires less water and less land than traditional field farming, Fujimoto and researchers-turned-growers in other U.S. cities see it as ideal to bring agriculture to apartment buildings, rooftops and vacant lots.

"The goal here is to look at growing food crops in small spaces," he said.

Long a niche technology existing in the shadow of conventional growing methods, hydroponics is getting a second look from university researchers and public health advocates.

Supporters point to the environmental cost of trucking produce from farms to cities, the loss of wilderness for farmland to feed a growing world population, and the risk of bacteria along extensive, insecure food chains as reasons for establishing urban hydroponic farms.

"These are university theories," said Jim Prevor, editor of Produce Business magazine. "They're not mapped to things that actually exist."

The roots of hydroponically produced fruits and vegetables can dangle in direct contact with water or be set in growing media such as sponges or shredded coconut shells. Most commercial operations pump water through sophisticated sensors that automatically adjust nutrient and acidity levels in the water.

Hydroponics are generally used for fast-growing, high-value crops such as lettuces and tomatoes that can be produced year-round in heated, well-lit greenhouses. So far, production is not large enough for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to track.

The country's largest hydroponic greenhouse is Eurofresh Inc.'s 274-acre operation in southeastern Arizona, where more than 200 million pounds of tomatoes were produced in 2007. Most large-scale commercial operations are in the arid Southwest, where water-efficiency is prized, or the sometimes frigid Northeast, where the method can be used year-round in heated greenhouses.

The technology has benefited from nearly three decades of NASA research aimed at sustaining astronauts in places with even less green space than a typical U.S. city.

Hydroponics also bears the dubious distinction of being a growing method for marijuana.

Fujimoto said one of his research assistants got a call from the FBI after using a credit card to buy nutrients for the campus greenhouse at a hydroponic-supply store.

There's clearly nothing illicit going on at the greenhouse, where thin streams of water pass silently though dozens of long white plastic tubes arranged in rows across chest-high stands. Rose-shaded lettuce leaves, pale-green stalks of bok-choy and sprigs of basil poke from the holes in the tubes.

Fujimoto aims to prepare his students to operate the urban hydroponic businesses that he thinks will gain importance in the future. They sell their lettuces, peppers, tomatoes and other produce to an on-campus grocery store and at a farmers market.

In Ohio, the ProMedica Health System network of clinics used a Toledo hospital roof to grow more than 200 pounds of vegetables in stacked buckets filled with a ground coconut shell potting medium. The tomatoes, peppers, green beans and leafy greens were served to patients and donated to a nearby food shelter, hospital spokeswoman Stephanie Cihon said.

When the project resumes in the spring, the hospital plans to expand into at least two community centers in economically depressed central Toledo, where fresh produce is hard to come by.

"From the health-care perspective, the more we can increase people's lifestyle changes and encourage them to eat better, it's going to impact our services greatly," Cihon said.

In a New York City schools program run by Cornell University, students grow lettuce on a school roof and sell it for $1.50 a head to the Gristedes chain of supermarkets.

Cornell agriculturist Philson Warner, who designed the program's hydroponics system, said his students harvest hundreds of heads of lettuce a week from an area smaller than five standard parking spaces by using a special nutrient-rich solution instead of water.

The numbers have some researchers imagining a future when enough produce to feed entire cities is grown in multistory buildings sandwiched between office towers and other structures.

Columbia University environmental health science professor Dickson Despommier, who champions the concept under the banner of his Vertical Farm Project, said he has been consulting with officials in China and the Middle East who are considering multistory indoor farms.

He is also shopping his concept to engineering teams in hopes of having a prototype built as he seeks funding.

"Most of us live in cities," he said. "As long as you're going to live there, you might as well grow your food there."


Social Bookmarking

What's Next for Yahoo?

After Jerry Yang, Yahoo may need to rethink its strategy.

Late on Monday, Yahoo announced that Jerry Yang would step down as CEO of the troubled Internet giant. The company's shares were trading up more than 11 percent on Tuesday morning following the news, but with ad revenue declining and after several rounds of layoffs, Yahoo still faces a major challenge to turn its fortunes around.

Yang, who cofounded the company in 1994 and returned to serve as CEO in June 2007, will move back to his previous role as "Chief Yahoo" and remain a member of the company's board of directors. He steps down after a hard year for Yahoo and decisions that helped heap pressure on him as head of the company.

This January, Yahoo rejected a buyout offer from Microsoft, which had offered $31 a share ($44.6 billion), a decision that proved unpopular with some shareholders and led to a protracted battle for control of Yahoo's board. The company then looked to an advertising deal with Google for help resuscitating its business, but Google walked away earlier this month when it appeared that such a deal could lead to an antitrust lawsuit.

Yang's departure may well reopen the way for a deal with Microsoft. Without such an agreement, Yahoo will be hoping that the open technology strategy spearheaded by Yang as CEO pays off as other companies make money from using its platform to develop new Web tools and software.

In the past year, Yahoo has bet heavily on an open strategy that the company credits Yang with creating. The idea is for Yahoo to open many of its tools, including its search index, to other companies and to share in revenues earned from the use of those tools. Yahoo also has plans to organize its disparate properties into a "single social platform."

Andrew Frank, a Gartner Research vice president, believes that Yahoo has a chance to salvage its fortunes using such an approach. Despite recent negative news, he notes that the company still makes money and still has a large and loyal audience. Frank says that he thinks the open strategy is the right one for Yahoo in the long term: "Yahoo's fortune, for better or for worse, is largely connected to the fortunes of open platforms and open companies on the Internet, from a technology standpoint."

But other experts are more skeptical that Yahoo can make the strategy pay. "I think the open strategy is on trend, as they say," says David Card, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. "A lot of people are creating more and more APIs [tools that open a Web service to outside developers]. It's acknowledged to be the way you do business, especially if you're not the leader."

But Card adds that Yahoo must ultimately decide whether to maintain core services such as search or social networking--a task that is becoming difficult in the face of competition--or to more substantially open up popular properties, such as Flickr and, to other companies, and create similar new niche services--a choice that would be humbling for the portal company. Card adds that Yahoo's current situation might be helped if the company continues to invest heavily in mobile, an area where no company has yet achieved dominance.

Considering how much the company has invested in developing new open systems such as Build Your Own Search Service (BOSS), Frank questions whether new leadership will shift the company away from this direction. Yahoo's biggest problem in the short term, he says, is the market's shaken faith in the company. Open projects may have to go on the back burner while the company works to appease investors, perhaps by inking partnership deals, or even agreeing to be acquired.


Social Bookmarking

Review: ThinkPad X301 still good for frequent fliers

In fact, with the exception of a new DisplayPort connector, the X301's case is essentially identical to that of the X300, right down to the built-in DVD burner. The real change is inside the case: Lenovo has stocked the X301 with Intel's latest Centrino 2 platform, including the just-released ultra-low-voltage Core 2 Duo SU9400 processor.

The new CPU helped the ThinkPad X301 realize measurable gains over its predecessor on our performance benchmarks, though it trailed similar systems that were built on full-voltage Centrino 2 processors, such as the Fujitsu LifeBook T1010.

The trade-off, of course, is that the ThinkPad X301 outlasted those systems on our battery drain tests. Though our biggest complaint with this ultrasleek ThinkPad remains the price--the base configuration costs $2,605 and goes up from there--we still recommend it for frequent travelers seeking portability and usability without sacrifice.

That said, users looking for a slightly less expensive ultraportable may want to consider the 12-inch ThinkPad X200.

Like all ThinkPads, the ultraportable X301 features a rectangular black case built around a sturdy chassis. There's still a blue ThinkVantage button above the keyboard, a fingerprint reader below it, and a keyboard light on the top edge of the display.

However, ThinkPad fans will notice small touches that make the X301 a bit more attractive than other ThinkPads. The lid and wrist rest feature an appealing soft matte finish; the ThinkVantage, power, and mute buttons glow when pressed; and the front edge is devoid of any ports or switches.

In addition to the keyboard light, the ThinkPad X301's display bezel includes a 1.3-megapixel Webcam and a noise-canceling digital microphone for Web conferencing. The matte-finish display itself features a 1,440x900 native resolution that's sharper than that of the MacBook Air and other similar-size screens, resulting in text and icons that are a bit smaller than you'd expect.

So far the sharper resolution hasn't caused tremendous problems, though we did find ourselves pumping up the font size on a newspaper's Web site so we could read a lengthy article. We also zoomed in a bit when working on documents and spreadsheets.

The trade-off: more screen real estate for multitasking and, when it's time for a break, beautiful video.

Given the amount of typing the typical executive does through the course of the workday, a keyboard can make or break an ultraportable. The ThinkPad X301 actually uses the same keyboard found on Lenovo's 14- and 15-inch models--which is to say, not the condensed keyboard found on previous X series models and many ultraportable laptops from other manufacturers.

After conducting several days' work on the ThinkPad X301, we still don't feel like we've been typing on a laptop. We love it.

Lenovo decided to include both the red eraser-head TrackPoint pointing stick and a touch pad on the ThinkPad X301.

The decision is understandable: many ThinkPad users are viscerally attached to their TrackPoints, while other users can't stand it, so why not include both methods?

However, the double sets of mouse buttons seem to run counter to the overall theme of simplification that the ThinkPad X301 embodies. In order to make room for the TrackPoint's buttons, the touch pad is placed rather low on the wrist rest, with its buttons near the laptop's front edge.

Fortunately, the ThinkPad X301 is thin enough that we could use the touch pad with our wrist resting on a desk surface--or on our leg, when the laptop was in our lap. Of greater concern is the fact that, during our lazier typing moments when our wrists dropped to the wrist rest, we were likely to graze the touch pad and accidentally misplace the cursor.

With just three USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and optional WWAN, the ThinkPad X301 keeps the same basic, business-focused feature set as its predecessor. The laptop still lacks a slot for PC Cards or ExpressCards, but we're not sure the expansion slot will be missed, given that Lenovo now offers the Gobi WWAN chipset with the X301.

Also new to this model: DisplayPort, a compact replacement for the standard DVI socket. As with the X300, the ThinkPad X301 incorporates a built-in DVD burner; opting out of the optical will knock $225 off the price.

The base model of the ThinkPad X301 costs a hefty $2,605. Much of that price can be attributed to the laptop's 64GB solid-state drive, which promises faster application launch and boot times as well as a longer lifetime than a traditional hard drive with moving parts. (Deep-pocketed buyers can also opt for a 128GB SSD, which adds $400 to the laptop's price.)

Our review unit included a few upgrades -- twice as much RAM as the base configuration, plus the integrated DVD burner and an extended-life six-cell battery -- that brought the price to $2,920. That's more expensive than a MacBook Air with a solid-state drive (though that system is based on Intel's previous-generation platform) and on par with a Toshiba Portege R500 configured with a 128GB SSD.

The ThinkPad X301 is the first laptop we've seen to incorporate Intel's newest ultra-low-voltage Core 2 Duo CPU, the 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo SU9400. Based on Intel's latest Centrino 2 platform, the ThinkPad X301 showed measurable gains over the X300 on CNET Labs' performance benchmarks (though not always the 20 percent the company boasted at the product's launch).

But the X301 trailed other Centrino 2 systems with full-voltage processors, such as the Fujitsu LifeBook T1010 and the 12-inch ThinkPad X200, most likely because the X301's CPU is designed to prioritize energy savings over performance muscle.

That's not to say it's pokey; as with any Core 2 Duo system, the ThinkPad X301 proved more than adequate for typical business productivity tasks, including Web surfing, media playback, and running office applications.

The ThinkPad X301's six-cell battery lasted 3 hours, 14 minutes in our video playback drain test. That places it at least 30 minutes ahead of similar-size systems based on full-voltage Core 2 Duo processors (such as the LifeBook T1010) and those built around the Intel's previous-generation Centrino platform (such as the Dell Vostro 1310).

In anecdotal testing, we were able to squeeze about 4 hours of runtime from the X301's battery--just enough for a half-day's work. Users who need more juice can extend their mobile computing time by purchasing an additional three-cell battery ($120) that fits inside the drive bay.

As Lenovo has moved toward offering built-to-order systems, the company has dropped the baseline warranty for ThinkPads to a single year. Extending coverage to three years costs $119; other reasonably priced upgrades add coverage for accidental drops or spills and LCD damage.

The preloaded suite of ThinkVantage applications helps users troubleshoot problems, and Lenovo's support Web site includes the expected troubleshooting topics, driver downloads, and user guides.


Social Bookmarking

How Google's Ear Hears

The new voice-search application for the iPhone marks a milestone for spoken interfaces.

If you own an iPhone, you can now be part of one of the most ambitious speech-recognition experiments ever launched. On Monday, Google announced that it had added voice search to its iPhone mobile application, allowing people to speak search terms into their phones and view the results on the screen.

In designing the system, Google took on an enormous challenge. Where an automated airline reservation system, say, has to handle a relatively limited number of terms, a Web search engine must contend with any topic that anyone might ever want to research--literally.

Fortunately, Google also has a huge amount of data on how people use search, and it was able to use that to train its algorithms. If the system has trouble interpreting one word in a query, for instance, it can fall back on data about which terms are frequently grouped together.

Google also had a useful set of data correlating speech samples with written words, culled from its free directory service, Goog411. People call the service and say the name of a city and state, and then say the name of a business or category. According to Mike Cohen, a Google research scientist, voice samples from this service were the main source of acoustic data for training the system.

But the data that Google used to build the system pales in comparison to the data that it now has the chance to collect. "The nice thing about this application is that Google will collect all this speech data," says Jim Glass, a principal research scientist at MIT. "And by getting all this data, they will improve their recognizer even more."

Mobile phones are assuming more and more computational duties; in much of the world, they're people's only computers. But their small screens and awkward keyboards can make text-intensive actions, like Web search, frustrating. While mobile browsers are getting better at predicting your search terms, and thereby reducing the amount of typing, nothing is quite as easy as speaking directly into the phone.

Speech-recognition systems, however, remain far from perfect. And people's frustration skyrockets when they can't find their way out of a voice-menu maze. But Google's implementation of speech recognition deftly sidesteps some of the technology's shortcomings, says Glass.

"The beauty of search engines is that they don't have to be exactly right," he says. When a user submits a spoken query, he says, Google's algorithms "just take it and stick it in a search engine, which puts the onus on the user to select the right result or try again." Because people are already used to refining their queries as they conduct Web searches, Glass says, they're more tolerant of imperfect results.

Even after the search application loads, the voice-recognition system kicks in only when the user puts the phone to her ear, as determined by its built-in motion sensors. "If you're listening all the time, then you trigger false positives," Glass says. "The typical solution is to make you push a button," but the motion-activated system is easier and more intuitive, he says.

The search application also uses the iPhone's built-in location-awareness system to prioritize results. For instance, if you search for Bank of America, one of the results will be a map of local branches. This saves users from having to include location terms--which can be open to misinterpretation--in their queries.

While Google won't disclose details about how its voice-recognition system works, it probably hasn't done anything too radical, says Nelson Morgan, director of the International Computer Science Institute, in Berkeley, CA. "Nearly everybody who does speech recognition has a system that looks about the same," he says. First, the system analyzes frequency characteristics of the voice input. Then, based on probabilities drawn from a huge number of real-world examples, it correlates them with words. Finally, those words are fed into a language model that uses common combinations or sequences of words to resolve ambiguities. For instance, if you say, "president of the United," it's likely that the next word is going to be "States."

While Google isn't announcing plans to use its voice-recognition technology for other services, the potential is easy to see. "Now we have tech to take spoken words and convert it to text," says Gummi Hafsteinsson, a senior product manager at Google. "There are a lot of options." Currently, there's no way to use your voice to access Google's calendar or e-mail applications or to write an e-mail or a text message. But that could change in the future. "I think this opens up a whole new dimension," Hafsteinsson says.


Social Bookmarking

The Next Chapter for eBooks

It appears publishers have no favorites among the current spread of eBook formats. "It's true -- publishers do not have a favorite or a preference at this point," Steve Potash, CEO of Overdrive and president of the International Digital Publishing Forum, told TechNewsWorld. "The field is wide open, and Adobe is well-positioned to seize the market."

The publishing industry is struggling to cash in on eBooks; so far the digital literary attempt has been fragmented and slow, both in terms of adoption and in getting the material to the reader. However, that may change soon, given new initiatives announced in the last few days ranging from the arrival of new industry standards to a new reader with some cool effects.

Until recently, publishers have slogged their way through a hodge-podge collection of technologies, trying to get books to readers in a digitalized format with mixed success. Still, they continue to think eBooks are worth the effort.

"Simon & Shuster is platform agnostic," Adam Rothberg, vice president of corporate communications at Simon & Shuster, told TechNewsWorld. "We work with all the major platforms because we think eBooks will be big business eventually. They will never replace printed books, but they will be a big part of our business."

Oddly, publishers have no favorites among the current spread of eBook formats. "We love all our children," laughs Rothberg. "Ultimately, the consumer will decide what it likes."

The waiting game appears to be the same strategy adopted by all leading publishers. "It's true -- publishers do not have a favorite or a preference at this point," Steve Potash, CEO of Overdrive and president of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) told TechNewsWorld. "The field is wide open, and Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE) Latest News about Adobe is well-positioned to seize the market."
Adobe's Approach

This week, Adobe Systems announced the release of Adobe Digital Editions 1.0, a new software application for acquiring, managing and reading eBooks, digital newspapers and other digital publications. It is available as a free download for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Latest News about Microsoft Windows Rackspace is the expert when it comes to delivering Windows and Linux hosting solutions. Click here to learn more. and Macintosh Latest News about Macintosh systems.

By using a new export feature built into Adobe InDesign CS3, publishers can create new Adobe Digital Editions-ready content, helping to significantly reduce cost and conversion time. In addition, with versions for mobile platforms and reading devices also planned, Sony (NYSE: SNE) Latest News about Sony has committed to embed Adobe Digital Editions technology into its portable reader product line.

With native support Linux MPS Pro - Focus on Your Business - Not Your IT Infrastructure. $599.95/month. Click to learn more. for Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) and XML-based publications, Adobe Digital Editions already works seamlessly with more than 150,000 commercially published titles. Using Adobe Digital Editions 1.0 readers will find that content automatically re-flows, adapting to different screen sizes, and support for Adobe Flash software promises to enhance digital publications through the integration of rich audio and video.

The public beta of Adobe Digital Editions generated more than 300,000 downloads in less than six months, and user feedback influenced the feature set. Adobe Digital Editions now enables users to annotate content through bookmarks, highlights and text notes. The library view offers advanced organization with multiple bookshelves. A slick new user interface enhances zooming and the overall reading experience, while support for the new IDPF Open Publication Standard (OPS) for XHTML-based reflowable eBooks guarantees a seamless viewing experience.

"At less than 3 MB, the file is so small that it downloads instantly," says Potash.

Adobe Digital Editions works in conjunction with Adobe Digital Editions Protection Technology (ADEPT), a new, hosted content protection service to guard publishers' rights while maintaining ease-of-use for consumers. ADEPT supports the company's Adobe Content Server (ACS) technology and protects both PDF and reflow-centric OPS XML eBooks. Purchase and lending business models include library lending, subscription and ad-supported models.
'New Growth Phase'

It looks as though the publishing industry is going to take a cue from the movie and music industries and pick things up a pace at least. "This is an exciting time in the eBook space," says Potash. "It's starting to enter a new growth phase, everything's accelerating as new standards help reduce costs for publishers."

IDPF, formerly the Open eBook Forum (OeBF), is the trade and standards association for the digital publishing industry. It announced the release of new standards for eBooks in recent weeks. IDPF has previously developed the already widely adopted Open eBook Publication Structure (OEBPS) standard.

The Container Format working group is set to release a container format to allow publishers to release only a single standard file into their sales and distribution channels instead of the multiple proprietary files that they currently produce. The new ZIP-based proposed standard, OEBPS Container Format (OCF), is an extension of the packaging format defined by the OpenDocument OASIS Standard (ISO/IEC 26300).

"Adobe has been very pleased with the rapid progress within IDPF towards creating an open and neutral container format," said Bill McCoy, general manager of ePublishing for Adobe. "An open packaging technology clearly has applicability across multiple areas of our solutions, including eReading systems, and we look forward to working with industry participants to finalize this community-developed standard in the coming months".

The container format is expected to be submitted to the IDPF for official approval in the next several weeks. A draft specification is publicly available.
Hardware's Angle

In a second specification, the OEBPS Working Group is developing the next generation of OEBPS to improve this XML-based standard as both a production and a final delivery format for digital publications. The effort will focus on detailed control of content rendering, navigation and accessibility, and alignment with other standards efforts.

"Mobipocket has been a great supporter of open standards in the eBook world since the OEBPS creation. We are excited about this new initiative, which is the right way to go to make this market mainstream. We plan to fully support this new standard in our product line," said Thierry Brethes, CEO & cofounder of, an Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) Latest News about company.

Hardware companies have also voiced implementation plans. "iRex Technologies will support the development of these standards as it will accelerate the momentum in electronic reading," iRex Technologies' VP Marketing and Business Development Willem Endhoven said. "We believe that consumers will benefit from a more harmonized, open system approach and simplicity of use. We expect to support the IDPF standards for use in the iLiad e-reader in the future."

IDPF has recently joined the OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) international standards consortium, and hopes that the IDPF OCF may be further advanced within OASIS as a general file containment technology standard.

"We are happy to have the IDPF join our organization and pleased that they plan to contribute proposed extensions to the OpenDocument OASIS Standard for their Open Container Format," said James Bryce Clark, director of standards development at OASIS. "We are looking forward to working with them on future standardization efforts."

IDPF is also cooperating closely with DAISY (Digital Access Information System), which is a member of the IDPF. The upcoming OEBPS revision is working to be aligned with requirements of the DAISY-based NIMAS initiative for accessible K-12 textbooks.

"The disability community is looking forward to the day when commercial eBooks are usable by persons with disabilities with their assistive technologies," said George Kerscher, secretary general of the DAISY Consortium.

The combined standards efforts will result in a non-proprietary way for publishers to deliver digital books through the distribution chain to consumers, similar to the MP3 format for digital music. No patent encumbrances are expected of either new specification.

After standards are set and formats are improved, will eBooks find a place in readers' hearts?

"We need to remember that the majority of people already spend their time staring at computer screens on a daily basis. I'm still not convinced anyone would want to come home, slide into bed, and then curl up with an eBook reader the same way they would with a traditional book," novelist Jon F. Merz told TechNewsWorld. "There are other senses engaged when it comes to reading for pleasure and no one has found a way to mimic those tactile and psychological experiences yet."


Social Bookmarking

Internet Explorer 8: Faster and easier

Compatibility View
Internet Explorer 8 is a beta release and some websites may not yet be ready for Internet Explorer 8. Click the Compatibility View toolbar button to display the website as viewed in Internet Explorer 7, which will correct display problems like misaligned text, images, or text boxes. This option is on a per site basis and all other sites will continue to display with Internet Explorer 8 functionality. To go back to browsing with Internet Explorer 8 functionality on that site, simply click the Compatibility View button again.
The Compatibility View button

Try clicking the "Compatibility View" toolbar button to fix the problem. It's located next to the Refresh button on the Address Bar.

You can maintain a list within Internet Explorer 8 for sites that should be displayed in Compatibility View. From the Command Bar, select Tools, and then select Compatibility View Settings to add and remove sites from this list. There are also options for viewing all websites and intranet sites in Compatibility View.
The Compatibility View Settings dialog box

Add and remove websites to be displayed in Compatibility View.
Enhanced Tabbed Browsing

It can be difficult to keep track of many tabs at once. Internet Explorer 8 introduces Tab Groups, which make tabbed browsing easier. When one tab is opened from another, the new tab is placed next to the originating tab and color coded, so that you can quickly discern which tabs have related content. If you close a tab that's part of a group, another tab from the same group is displayed, enabling you to remain within the context of the current task rather than suddenly looking at an unrelated site.
Tab grouping

Tab grouping allows you to easily keep track of related tabs
By right-clicking on any tab, you can close the tab, close the tab group, or remove the tab from a group. From the same menu, you can refresh one or all tabs, open a new tab, reopen the last tab closed, or see a list of all recently closed tabs and reopen any or all of them.
Better Find On Page

Internet Explorer 8 includes a completely redesigned Find On Page toolbar, which is activated by pressing Ctrl-F or choosing Find On Page from the Edit menu or Search box drop-down. Press the Alt key if you do not see the Edit menu option.
Find on page

The new find on page toolbar in action

The toolbar is integrated below the tab row, so that it does not obscure any content on the page. Instead of waiting for you to type an entire search term and hit Enter, the toolbar searches character-by-character as you type. Matches are highlighted in yellow on the page so that they're easy to identify.
Smarter Address Bar

The Address Bar in Internet Explorer 8 makes navigation easier than ever, becoming a highly useful search tool that enables you to just type a few characters and then go directly to the desired site. It searches across your History, Favorites, and RSS Feeds, displaying matches from the website title or any part of the URL. As you type, matched characters are highlighted in blue so you can identify them at a glance. In addition, you can delete any address in the drop-down box by clicking on the red X. This is especially useful for getting rid of misspelled URLs.
The address bar

The address bar generates results as you type.
Redesigned New Tab page

The New Tab page loads quickly and provided links make it easier to get started on your next browsing activity:

Use an Accelerator: Now you can use an Accelerator using any text you have copied to the clipboard.

Start InPrivate Browsing: Two things happen when you start inPrivate Browsing: your browsing activities, history and cookies are not retained, and third party web content providers may be blocked from tracking your online activities without your consent.

Reopen closed tabs: Reopen a tab that you've closed in your current browsing session, which can be helpful when a tab is accidentally or prematurely closed.

Reopen your last browsing session: Reopen all tabs that were open when Internet Explorer 8 was last closed, which can be useful if you accidentally close the browser.
The new tab page

Reopen tabs you were viewing if you accidentally close the browser.
Improved Zoom

Adaptive Page Zoom improves upon traditional zoom-in/zoom-out functionality in the browser by intelligently relaying out the page content and eliminating the need to scroll left and right. This will improve your ability to magnify pages with small fonts and be able to read more on the web.
A better back button

When using rich applications such as mapping on the Internet, you may be taken to the beginning of the application instead of the previous page when you hit the back button. Now when you hit the back button, more pages will behave the way you expect.

Download Here:


Social Bookmarking

Latest Developments in the .Net World

Do you want to know about the latest development in the .Net technology? Here is a comprehensive look at the latest developments in the world of Microsoft’s.NET.

If you are committed software developer, you must be aware that ‘web services’ is the latest buzzword to have hit the IT industry. And that this technology trend holds tremendous potential for addressing business problems.

Extensible markup language (XML) is the universal format for data on the web. With XML web services gaining momentum among developers as the next generation of internet-based computing. A platform that made it similar to build these solutions and provide a reliable framework for integration and interoperability was needed. Microsoft’s answer to this much-felt need was .NET—a platform for building, deploying, operating and integrating XML web services.

.NET is the only platform that has been built to support XML services ground up, and Microsoft has been extensively working with the industry to develop standard s like SOAP and UDDI, the XML web services search directory that exits today.

Let’s now take a detailed look at all that Microsoft’s .NET has to offer software developers by the analyzing the latest developments that have taken place in this platform.


ASP.NET is more than the next version of active server pages (APS) ----- it is the unified web development platform that provides the services necessary for developers to build enterprise-class web applications.ASP.NET is a compiled, .NET –based environment; you can author applications in any.NET compatible language, including ASP.NET Visual Basic .NET,C#, and the jscript.NET.Additionally, the entire .NET framework is available to any ASP.NET application.

Developers can choose from one of two features when creating an ASP.NET application, web services, or combine these in any way they see fit.

Web forms to allow you to build powerful forms-based web pages. When building these pages, you can use ASP.NET server controls to create common UI elements, and programs then from common tasks.

These controls to allow you to rapidly build a web form out of reusable built-in or custom components, simplifying the code of a page.

An XML web service provides the means to access server functionality remotely. Using web services, interfaces to their data or business logic, which is turn can be obtained and manipulated by client and server applications. XML web services enable the exchange of data in client-server or server- server scenarios, using standards like HTTP and XML messaging to move data across firewalls.

Each of these models can take full advantage of all ASP.NET framework and.NET framework common language runtime. These features and how you can use them are outlined as follow:

* If you have ASP development skills, the new ASP.NET programming model will seem very familiar to you. However, the ASP.NET object model has changed significantly from ASP, making it move structured and object oriented.
* Accessing database from ASP.NET application is an often-used technique for displaying data to website visitors. ASP.NET makes it easier then ever to access database for this purpose.
* ASP.NET provides a simple model that enables developers to write logic that runs at the application level. Developers can write this code in the global. Asax text files or in a compiled class deployed as an assembly.
* ASP.NET provides easy-to-use application and session-state-facilities that are familiar to ASP developers and readily compatible with all other .NET framework APIs.
* For advanced developers who wants to use APIs as powerful as the ISPI programming interfaces that were included with previous version of ASP, ASP.NET offer the IHttpHandler interfaces.
* ASP.NET takes advantage of performance enhancements found in the .NET framework and common language runtime.
* The. NET framework and ASP.NET provide default authorization and authentication schemes for web application.
* ASP.NET configuration setting are stored in XML-based files , which are human readable and writable.


Visual basic .NET enable you to create rich application for Microsoft Windows in less time, incorporate data access from a wider range of database scenarios, create components with minimal code, and build web-based application using your exiting skills. Builds powerful windows-based applications in less time and more robust windows-based applications with less code.

1. Web-based applications

Helps to create web solutions in visual basic.NET using the shared web forms designer and HTML designer

2. Flexible, simplified data access

Offers support to tackle any data access scenario easily with Microsoft ADO.NET and Microsoft Active X Data objects (ADO) data access.

3. Improved coding

It brings a multitude of enhancements to the code editor, including enhanced intellisence , smart listing of code for greater readability , squiggles , and a background compiler for realtime notification of syntax .

4. Direct access to the platform

Features quick leverage of registry , eventlog , performance counters , and file system in user’ application and eliminates the need to use declared statements .

5. Full object-oriented constructs

Helps create reusable, enterprise-class code using full object-oriented constructs .Language features include full implementation inheritance, encapsulation ,and polymorphism .

6. XML Web services

The new XML .Web services project templates builds all underlying Web services enable you to call components running on any platform.

7. Mobile applications

These new features give developers a single, mobile Web interface to support a broad range of Web devices, including WWL 1.1 for WAP-enabled cellular phones , compact HTML (cHTML) for i-mode phones ,and HTML for pocket PC handheld devices , and pagers . Reach out to more than 80 different Internet-enabled mobile devices using the Microsoft mobile Internet Toolkit .

8. Com interoperability

This feature enables seamless bi-directional communication between Visual Basic 6.0 and Visual Basic Net applications.


Visual Studio .NET is the comprehensive tool for rapidly building and inter grating XML. Web services and application dramatically increasing developer productivity, and enabling new business opportunities.

1. Enterprise Architect

Visually specify and communicate application architecture: It uses Microsoft Visio-based Modeling Language (UML) modeling to specify and communicate application architecture and functionality.

* Gain unparalleled support for database modeling: Full roundtrip engineering, with logical and physical data models, enables communication from the business analyst to the database designer.
* Easily shared best practices: Senior developers and architects can customize enterprise template projects to provide application starting points and guidance for less experienced developers.
* Use the industry-leading development environment: Leverage the powerful capabilities in Visual Studio.Net for rapidly building XML web services and applications that span devices and platforms.
* Define and communicate development policies: developers can immediately view any policy violations and discrepancies in their code in the task list window.

Enterprise Developers:

* Fast and easy test of XML web services and applications: VS.Net can quickly create and run tests within the visual studio.Net environment to fine-tune the performance of XML web services and applications and verify functionality.
* Maximize developer productivity: It leverages the powerful capabilities in Visual Studio .Net for rapidly building XML web services and applications that span devices and platforms.
* Simplify server-side development: This feature helps to visually build server-side components with the server explorer and Visual component Designer.
* Build, leverage, and extend scalable XML web services: it creates components that can be accessed on any platform by using XML web services easily publish and component as XML web services, and reuse existing XML web services running on any platform.

Get support for the complete lifecycle: The Visual Studio integration technologies bring a broad array of partners of visual studio .Net developers and enables third party languages, components and tools to integrate tightly with visual studio .Net through various stages of the development in lifecycle.
VS .NET Professional :

* XML web services : It helps to create components that can be accessed on any platform by using XML web services . Converts existing functions to XML web services and reuses existing XML web services.
* High-performance database application with XML : It uses the built-in Microsoft ADO.NET tools to build database applications with Microsoft SQL Server , Oracle ,or any other XML-based data source .
* Supports Rapid Application Devlopment (RAD) for the server developed for thin-client devices : Offers developers a single mobile web interface to support a broad range of web devices –including WML .1.1 for WAP cell phones , compact HTML(cHTML) for i-mode , and HTML, for pocket PC, palm-size PCs pagers .
* Shared IDE : It uses a single unified integrated development environment (IDE) for all languages with a single toolbox debugger and task window across Visual Basic ,C++ and C# project .

Windows CE .NET

Window CE .NET is the successor to Windows CE 3.0 Designed from the ground up for the embedded marketplace , Window CE .NET aims to deliver a robust realtime operating system for rapidly building the next generation of smart mobile and small footprint devices. With a complete operating system feature set and end-to-end development environment Windows CE-based devices that requires rich networking hard real time, and a small footprint , as well as rich multimedia and Web browsing capabilities. Windows CE .NET offers.

* Scalable wireless technologies : Windows CE.NET include scalable wireless technologies that enable mobile devices to flexibly connect into existing infrastructures . Supported wireless technologies include.
* Bluetooth : Windows CE .NET allows a devices to use a Bluetooth-enabled cellular phone as a data modem , and to use a Bluetooth-enabled local area network (LAN) access point to provide network connectivity.
* 802.1x/Zero Configuration – New features in window CE .NET i.e., 802.11 zero configuration, aim to simplify setup of 802.11 network and to enable seamless roaming from one 802.11 network to another. 801.1x and EAP enhance the security of 802.11 by enabling user/password, certificate, or original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specific authentication to log on to the network.
* Object Exchange (OBEX) protocol – Windows CE .Net’s support for OBEX works over Bluetooth and infra red data association (IrDA) protocols . Object Exchange (OBEX) is an efficient, compact binary protocol that enables a wide range of devices to exchange data spontaneously in a simple, efficient manner.
* Media Sense – This feature improves the roaming experience for mobile devices users by notifying application of network status.
* Real time collaboration and communication (RTC/SIP) – Real time communication (RTC) enables messaging, presence, and audio (voice over IP between any two IP-enabled devices.
* Realiable core operating system services for demanding embedded designs : Windows CE .ET offers reliable core operating system services that enable the most demanding real time embedded designs across a breadth of devices . New and enhanced operating system features include.
* Small footprint: Continuing the effort to minimize the operating system footprint for embedded devices, Windows CE .NET provides granular Kernel componentization. Windows CE .NET supports a minimum configuration platform as small as 200 KB with minimum Kernel functions only.
* Enterprise-scale – Network security enhancements include support for the Kerberos Security Protocol.
* Wide selection of CPUs- Windows CE .NET provides a high level of processor flexibility with support for the following four families of microprocessors and emulation technologies like ARM, MIPS, SHx, x 86 etc.
* Real time – Real time processing support for the most demanding support for the most demanding deterministic applications with 256 priority levels and nested interrupt support.
* Net- enabled for creating rich personalized experiences - Windows CE .NET enables you to build smart Microsoft .NET-enabled devices and create rich, personalized experiences.
* XML – XML allows developers to easily describe and deliver rich, structured data from any application in a standard consistent way.
* Net compact Framework : The .NET Compact Framework supports all processors supported by windows CE .NET . For more information on how to develop application using the .NET Framework, please see .NET on the MSDN site. Look in the .NET Compact Framework Read me’ for specific information about implementation issues in your embedded design.
* Microsoft Direct3D API – Provides support for interactive three-dimensional (3-D) graphics applications by allowing device dependent access to 30d video-display hardware in devices-independent manner.
* Windows Media 8 compressor/decompressor (codecs) and controls – Supports the latest Microsoft Windows Media 8 codes and controls ,which allows for the latest high-bandwidth encoded multimedia streams.
* Easy-to-use end-to-end tool set: Windows CE .NET provides an integrated end-to-end tool set to help developers reduce both operating system and application development time, allowing them to get devices to market faster. These tools include.
* Emulation technology - Windows CE .NET include emulation technology to enable developers to build and test their designs on their Windows 2000 or Windows xp professional workstations without additional hardware investments.

The new platform wizard – The new platform wizard provides a foundation for starting
Device designs for:

* Cellophanes / Smart phones
* Custom devices
* Digital imaging devices
* Industrial automation devices
* Internet/media appliances
* Personal digital assistants (PDA)/Mobile handhelds
* Residential gateways
* Retail point-of-sale
* Set-top boxes
* Tiny kernels
* Web pads Windows thin clients.

CE .Net also provides support for managed and native code – To write applications for Windows CE .NET, Microsoft offers a rich set of languages for creating managed .NET-enabled or unmanaged (native) applications.

NET Compact Framework

Microsoft Corp. Has recently released the beta of the Microsoft .NET Compact Framework, extending the .NET strategy to smart handheld devices. The .NET Compact Framework is Microsoft’s mobile application platform technology that harnesses the power of XML Web services on mobile devices. As a subset of the .NET Framework, the .NET Compact Framework shares same programming model and application development tools, enabling .NET developers to transfer their existing skills to build mobile applications, which is expected to accelerate adoption of mobile solutions.

It provides key features for smart devices such as a programming model unified with the .Net framework on desktop and server, integral XML web services support, enterprise-class data access using ADO.Net and XML, and rich class libraries that enable developers to build powerful applications in minimal time. Runtime features such as managed code and just-in-time compilation help ensure reliable, high performance applications for a better user experience.

The .Net compact framework is complemented by other technologies such as Microsoft SQL server 2000, windows CE edition version 2.0 and the Microsoft mobile internet toolkit (MMIT), SQL server CE is the compact, relational database for rapidly developing applications that extend enterprise data management capabilities to new smart devices. The SQL server CE is the only mobile database that integrates with the .Net compact framework, allowing data to be locally and securely stored and extracted to interact with back-end applications or web services.

The Microsoft mobile internet toolkit offers a wide reach to project applications to any kind of mobile device with a browser. The development experience for these technologies is unified through Microsoft Visual Studio >net, which provides a consistent set of tools and interfaces for building applications using Microsoft’s mobile technologies.


Social Bookmarking

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Microsoft to ship Windows 7 by holiday season 2009

Microsoft has been very shy about pinpointing the Windows 7 release date in the past, but a recent presentation given at the company’s WinHEC conference pretty much confirmed the software giant plans to have the operating system ready by the middle of next year – and on store shelves for holiday season 2009.

The company is trying to avoid the PR damage that would come with missing a deadline; so officially, Windows 7 is still slated to ship within three years of the January 2007 consumer release of Windows Vista. However, proof of how the next major Windows release is on a fast-track schedule is that the company already handed out a pre-beta at PDC 2008 late last month, and said it will ship a beta version early next year followed by only one release candidate.

Granted, the OS still needs some polishing here and there, but Windows 7 is a straightforward update from a technical standpoint since it is essentially built on the foundation of Vista but with some important enhancements centered on speed, usability and memory use. Here’s hoping the company can avoid past mistakes and have the operating system ready to roll in time for the holiday season 2009.


Social Bookmarking

Sunday tech reading: Interview with Google's CEO

Google at 10: Searching Its Own Soul Mr. Schmidt, 53, spoke earlier this week from the company’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters about his plans for managing Google in a downturn, the unraveling of an advertising partnership with Yahoo and his recent public endorsement of Barack Obama. NY Times.

Panasonic confirms Sanyo takeover talks Panasonic confirmed to day it is in talks to acquire its smaller rival, Sanyo, in a deal that would see the formation of Japan's biggest electronics maker. Guardian UK.

Creative releases X-Fi Linux 32bit/64bit Drivers Surprising yet welcome move by Creative earlier this week when they announced the release of a driver providing Linux 32-bit / 64-bit OS support for the Sound Blaster X-Fi and X-Fi Titanium series of audio devices. Creative Labs.


Social Bookmarking

Apple iPhone developers demand surges 500%

Apple's initial reluctance to provide an SDK for iPhone development was surely a mistake. Most people knew that from the beginning, but at least for Apple's sake hindsight is proving that releasing the SDK has had a positive impact on the platform. According to some sources, the SDK has increased demand for iPhone developers significantly, upwards of 500% in the past few months alone.

The largest increase in demand for iPhone developers came shortly after the Apple App Store opened, which no doubt drew both 3rd party companies and independent developers in. What's even more interesting is what some people see this leading up to, which includes accreditation for development. Could we see in the near future a "Certified iPhone Developer" program come out?

With a massive increase in developers, they also expect to see an increase in conflicts over intellectual property. This could easily happen between different developers, or between the developers and Apple. Apple has already proven they are willing to squelch any application they don't approve of on the App Store, which has included programs they feel "mimic" existing ones that they develop. Regardless, iPhone development has seen a huge surge, which is nothing but good news for the iPhone.


Social Bookmarking

Apple iPhone developers demand surges 500%

Apple's initial reluctance to provide an SDK for iPhone development was surely a mistake. Most people knew that from the beginning, but at least for Apple's sake hindsight is proving that releasing the SDK has had a positive impact on the platform. According to some sources, the SDK has increased demand for iPhone developers significantly, upwards of 500% in the past few months alone.

The largest increase in demand for iPhone developers came shortly after the Apple App Store opened, which no doubt drew both 3rd party companies and independent developers in. What's even more interesting is what some people see this leading up to, which includes accreditation for development. Could we see in the near future a "Certified iPhone Developer" program come out?

With a massive increase in developers, they also expect to see an increase in conflicts over intellectual property. This could easily happen between different developers, or between the developers and Apple. Apple has already proven they are willing to squelch any application they don't approve of on the App Store, which has included programs they feel "mimic" existing ones that they develop. Regardless, iPhone development has seen a huge surge, which is nothing but good news for the iPhone.

Social Bookmarking

Full-length films coming to YouTube?

When it comes to video websites YouTube undeniably leads the pack in terms of traffic, but it has struggled to find a workable advertising scheme to bring in revenue. Furthermore, its dominance could be compromised in the long run, with the rise of Hulu and others offering premium TV and movie content. Thus, is not surprising to hear that its parent company, Google, has been talking to movie studios about bringing full-length feature films on board.

The company recently signed a deal with CBS to begin showing full TV episodes and has also added a bunch of features to make longer viewing more comfortable, such as a widescreen viewing option and a “lights-off” feature. But the site’s inferior video quality and spotty audio still leave much to be desired. There’s no word yet on which studio is looking to add its movies to the site, but sources claim the new content should arrive in the next 30 to 90 days if all goes well.


Social Bookmarking

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro

Creative has been a leader in the PC audio market for as long as I can remember. In fact, the first Sound Blaster card hit the market almost 20 years ago, which can be considered an eternity in "computer years".

During this time, Creative has launched about a dozen major soundcards, with their latest outgoing product being the Sound Blaster X-Fi series, which replaced the popular Audigy line a few years ago.

The X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro that we are testing today is Creative's latest offering in the series, making use of a slightly modified chip called EMU20K2 that adds native PCI Express support among a number of improvements and fixes over the previous generation of cards.

Aimed at audio enthusiasts and especially gamers, Creative offers two versions of the X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro. The one we are testing that could be considered the lite version of the package that includes mainly the soundcard, while a more expensive version adds a 5 ¼” I/O drive similar to the ones Creative has offered in the past. Other than the added module, a remote control, and the extra $50, the two products are identical.

Opening the box doesn't reveal a whole lot. The bundle of this $130 soundcard is scarce and consists of just a quick start guide, the drivers disc, and the card itself.

As mentioned above, one of the first things you will notice about the X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty is that it uses a PCI Express x1 interface. If you don’t have a x1 slot on your motherboard or don't have access to one (due to an oversized video card cooler, for example) you can always install the card in a larger slot, be it x8 or x16.

Hardware installation went without issues as expected. I chose to install the X-Fi Titanium in a PCI Express x1 slot as I had one readily available. Software installation, on the other hand, was a bit more involved. Be prepared for this process to take a long time and require a few restarts. Also worth nothing, I experienced a blue screen of death (a.k.a. BSOD) during my initial install and had to start all over again.

This only happened once, after which I was able to successfully install the card's drivers and software. At this point it was made obvious to us that Creative has not made striding efforts to improve a nagging software installation that dates back to the days of the SB Live.

Creative includes an impressive software bundle with the X-Fi Titanium composed of lots of in-house utilities plus PowerDVD. For brevity, I will briefly cover the more relevant software and point out key features along the way in the next page.


Social Bookmarking

Force3D Radeon HD 4870 Black Edition review

It's been a busy year for the PC graphics world with both AMD and Nvidia going back and forth releasing new architectures, then improving them further to finally having to rearrange their line-up to match each other prices.

A perfect example is that of the Radeon HD 4870 which made its debut on late June with a retail price of $299, at the time significantly cheaper than the competition's GeForce GTX 260. Not too long afterwards we published our direct comparison of the GeForce GTX 260/280 and the Radeon HD 4800 series, where it became clear that the Radeon had the performance edge over the GTX 260 in spite of the lower price.

Nvidia was forced to heavily reduce the GeForce GTX 260 price to the Radeon's level, only to release an enhanced version that effectively replaced the original weeks later. The new GeForce GTX 260 which goes by the same name, now features 216 SPUs rather than the original 192.

However, these newer GeForce GTX 260 cards cost upwards of $310, meaning that the performance boost comes at an added cost. With many Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards currently priced as low as $270, the new GeForce GTX 260 is not necessarily more appealing than the original. In concluding our Radeon HD 4870 vs. GeForce GTX 260 comparison, in which the Radeon came out on top, there was but one small problem and that was heat generation.

Despite of using less power when under load, the Radeon HD 4870 runs considerably hotter than the GeForce GTX 260 using the stock cooler which is shared by a majority of outgoing cards no matter what the manufacturer. While the 80C+ load temperatures were a little concerning, it was the 70C+ idle temps that had us really worried. This means that even when sitting at the Windows desktop the Radeon HD 4870 is cranking out more than 70 degrees of heat, much of which escapes into the case.

This was also problem when we reviewed the Visiontek Radeon HD 4870, which used the AMD reference cooler. Using special software (Catalyst drivers support it now also) to increase the fan speed allowed for lower temperatures, but a noticeable increase in operating volumes came as a byproduct. Therefore we believed the best Radeon HD 4870 solution would be one that dropped the barely sufficient reference cooler for something more elaborate.

And finally we have a Radeon HD 4870 card that has done just that, the new Force3D Radeon HD 4870 Black Edition. Force3D has improved this special edition Radeon by overclocking the core and memory, albeit a small overclock, and replaced the reference cooler with one of the best VGA air coolers money can buy, the Arctic-Cooling Accelero Twin Turbo.

We can expect the Force3D Radeon HD 4870 Black Edition to be slightly faster than the original, but most importantly it's also going to be significantly cooler. Before we check out the performance numbers, let’s take a closer look at this impressive looking graphics card.


Social Bookmarking

Company of Heroes videocard performance

Recently a new real-time strategy game set in the Second World War was released, titled "Company of Heroes" this new RTS features full cinematic detail, and in doing so, it requires quite a lot of processing power.

With all the visual enhancements enabled, Company of Heroes looks stunning, easily making one of the best looking RTS games of all time. However, as a result you can expect many computers to struggle playing this game with all the eye candy turned on. This can be quite disappointing for some because as good as the gameplay and fun factor is in CoH, having visual settings set at their maximum really does this game justice.

Therefore, before purchasing this game or even considering a hardware upgrade, it will be important to know first if your computer will run it, and second how good it will actually look while at it. There is indeed a massive difference between low and high quality settings in Company of Heroes, suggesting older systems will still be able to run this title, which is always good news. However like I said, this game looks fantastic and playing it with low visual quality settings is almost criminal... a graphics card upgrade may be in order for some fanatics!

If you are wondering what's under the hood of CoH (besides the Havok 3 Physics Engine), here's an excerpt from Wikipedia's entry for the game:

Company of Heroes is the first game to make use of Relic's next generation engine, known as the "Essence Engine". This engine was designed and coded from scratch by Relic in order to make use of all next-generation graphical effects, including High Dynamic Range lighting, dynamic lighting & shadows, advanced shader effects and normal mapping. As producer John Johnson puts it "We will have every advanced graphical effect you'd expect from a game like Half-Life 2, and more."

For our testing purposes we have put together an average gaming platform. Rather than going with a much newer and expensive Intel Core 2 or AMD Athlon X2 processor, we chose an Athlon 64, as we believe it better represents the average gamer rig at the present time.

That said, if your particular graphics card does well on our Athlon64 3800+ system, then it is a given that it will run just as well on a Core 2 Duo, for example. The system has also been fitted with 1GB of memory rather than 2GBs. Since most gamers still get by with 1GB of memory, we felt it would make more sense.

We tested using three different in-game quality configurations (see next page for complete details) at three different resolutions (1024, 1280 and 1600). We have also put up a set of comparative screenshots depicting in-game graphics quality.

In total 14 graphics cards were tested from both ATI and Nvidia.


Social Bookmarking

Far Cry 2 performance in-depth

If like us you are a fan of first-person shooters, then there is a good chance you have spent the better part of this year anticipating the arrival of Far Cry 2. Last week marked the release date for this awaited sequel, and so we immediately jumped in and bought our copy. However, rather than play the single player mission from start to finish and then go into some multiplayer action, we have been hard at work for bringing you this article.

As usual our in-depth performance review takes various ATI and Nvidia graphics cards and compares them in this new first-person shooter title. Having recently completed a similar article with Crytek's Crysis Warhead, we have been keen to see if Far Cry 2 is just as demanding.

You may recall the original version of Far Cry was developed by Crytek using the CryENGINE, while it was actually published by Ubisoft. For Far Cry 2, Ubisoft's Montreal studios took over the development of the game using their own Dunia engine. This game engine has been designed for use with the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 platforms which resulted in last week's multi-platform release. The word Dunia means "world", "earth" or "living" in the Persian Language. As current players of Far Cry 2 will discover, Dunia offers a number of impressive features like destructible environments, dynamic weather, dynamic fire propagation, full day/night cycles, and many others.

Furthermore, the Dunia engine can take advantage of DirectX 10 when running on Windows Vista, but is also capable of running on DirectX 9 platforms. Now, unlike the engine used for Crysis games, Dunia is said to be less hardware demanding which could only come as great news for PC gamers. If you look back at our recent Crysis Warhead performance article you will see that this game requires a tremendous amount of GPU power to deliver playable performance.

Clearly only those with the most advanced gaming rigs are going to be able to enjoy Crysis Warhead in all its visual glory as we found that even a top of the line GeForce GTX 280 could struggle when pushed far enough. Far Cry 2, on the other hand, has been publicized to work perfectly on today's mid-range graphics cards in spite of the impressive eye candy.

As we move on, we will find out exactly how Far Cry 2 performs using a range of previous and current generation graphics cards. The quality presets tested include Ultra High, Very High, and High, which will be tested at 1280x1024, 1680x1050, and 1920x1200 resolutions. The built-in Far Cry 2 benchmark tool has been used to test the various graphics cards, so you will be able to accurately compare your systems performance to ours.


Social Bookmarking

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 500GB and Western Digital Caviar SE16 400GB Hard Drives review

Processors are incredibly fast, RAM is rocketing its way through our games, and videocards pack more punch than ever. With all these screamingly fast system components available, often the hard drive is neglected. It’s a commonly known fact that despite of several improvements in the past years, hard drives are still the biggest performance bottleneck in desktop systems today. That is why having a fast, large hard drive should be a priority for all computer users.

A large, dense and fast hard drive can become the key difference between a system that is sleek and responsive, and one that is aggravatingly slow. Even the fastest hard drives available cannot saturate the ATA bus, making striping an increasingly popular solution. While the relative physical size of drives has remained the same, storage capacity, spindle speed, interface and buffer size continues to be improved, and therefore the performance of the hard drives continues to go up.

Today we take a look at two of the largest desktop drives on the market from two of the most popular hard drive vendors. From Western Digital, we received the Caviar SE 4000KD which is a 400GB 4-platter SATA-II behemoth, and from Seagate, the Barracuda 7200.9 500GB 4-platter SATA-II drive.

This match is most interesting because of how similar the drives are. Comparatively, a Hitachi 500GB SATA uses a 5-platter design, and other WD drives use a 3-platter design, which can skew performance. In this case, both drives feature 4 platters, with the Seagate drive having a higher density per platter.

The Seagate drive also sports Native Command Queuing, a SCSI/SATA feature that helps the disk access data more efficiently in some cases. The Western Digital drive lacks this, though the level of performance gain NCQ offers to the desktop is arguable, with some even saying it can hinder performance in cases. For straight comparisons, NCQ will be disabled on the Seagate drive, which will give us a better picture of comparative performance.

Although I use Linux as my primary operating system, performance variations between Operating Systems are not commonly encountered; assuming drivers are functioning properly, of course. Unlike videocards, hard drive performance is not as affected as much by differences in drivers, allowing you to get a good grasp of how a drive will behave in any particular system. Since modern hard drives cannot saturate the bandwidth they have available to them in standalone configurations, it is safe to assume that performance will not be impacted based upon the operating system you are using.


Social Bookmarking

Blog Disclaimer

Today's Latest and Hot Stuff is a personal blog that aims to share online information about latest and in demand technology. This blog is a collaborative effort of individuals who are currently registered members of other online community sites. Today's Latest and Hot Stuff does not claim any form of ownership or copyright in the materials found in this blog. Most of the contents featured in this blog come from other sites. The said materials are owned by those sites where these resources are posted.