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Sunday, March 15, 2009

IE8 to be the last IE-engine based Microsoft browser?

Could IE8 be the end of the line for the most popular (though declining) browser in the world? There have been rumors floating that indicate Microsoft may be making such a move, potentially switching development to a browser built off an entirely different engine. Whether based off the alpha “Gazelle” browser Microsoft has already introduced or the growing WebKit platform, there seem to be a lot of signs pointing towards IE8 being the last Internet Explorer to appear.

Some will certainly cheer such a change but others may dread it. There is a massive base of IE-only applications that exist around the world, from banking interfaces to media players to numerous pieces of software, all which bet on people most likely using (or willing to use) IE. For all of those, IE8 being the end means that inevitably they would need to move away from ActiveX and all other IE-backwards-compatible components. There's also the embedded application factor, where many programs use IE's engine to render content or perform other functions. It's a big change, and one that indicates Microsoft may be re-thinking their browser strategy altogether.

Of course, this is just speculation. There's a lot of good reasoning behind it, and Microsoft could potentially benefit greatly in doing so, but by the same token seek to lose a lot too. Part of their browser dominance originally focused around support for proprietary protocols and APIs, which gave them overwhelming advantages in many situations. If the software giant does ditch IE-based browsers, it'll represent a fundamental change in how many view the browser market. What's your take: should Microsoft dump IE in favor of something new?


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Microsoft-Novell partnership yielding little results

When Microsoft and Novell partnered some time back, many people predicted doom and gloom. Open source advocates said that the IP sharing and cross-licensing Novell had agreed to was detrimental to Linux and ultimately was just a trap to any potential customers that would sign up. Businesses tasked with running mixed-operating system environments seemed to initially welcome the deal, though, and the two actually expanded their alliance with further investments back in August.

Specifically, the software giant agreed to purchase up to $100 million of additional Suse Linux Enterprise Server certificates – paid in $25 million increments starting last November as the certificates were distributed. But things are now slowing down in the Novell-Microsoft relationship, as it turns out, the companies didn’t sign a single large customer during the most recent quarter. Novell's approach to this loss of sales has been to blame itself, claiming that their reseller channel is insufficient rather than pointing fingers at Microsoft.

Novell also said that they have to date invoiced $199 million, or 83 percent, of the original $240 million agreement. So why did Microsoft prepay $25 million for a new batch of certificates when it still had $41 million lying around? It’s clear that Novell needed the cash, the company reported disappointing first-quarter earnings and a slide in its Linux business, but Microsoft’s motivation for the move seems unclear.


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Download of the Week: Miro

The increasing adoption of broadband has made it easier than ever to enjoy digital media and online videos in particular – whether it is user generated or professionally produced content that you are looking for. With the growing sources for online video, though, sometimes you just need the right tool to stay on top of it all. Miro is a desktop player that doubles as your video library and can download online video from a number of sources just as well.

This free cross-platform application is a combination of a video and audio podcast player with a built-in BitTorrent client and media player (based on VLC under Windows). There is a comprehensive programming guide that can be set to download new videos via RSS or you can just subscribe to content on your preferred torrent site, all while keeping track of what you've watched already and what is queued up for you. It’s most recent version, Miro 2.0, brings integration with streaming sites, a windowed video player, and much-improved performance.

Unfortunately, support for streaming video still feels half baked as it merely loads up websites like in a browser inside the application to play the videos rather than using its own player. Regardless, it does offer the advantage of bringing together a bunch of video sources from around the web and putting them together in a single, clean interface.


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Online gaming grows on consoles, Xbox 360 leads the way

Although PCs are still the most widely used platform then it comes to online gaming, consoles are quickly rising in popularity. This according to a recent survey among 20,000 U.S. gamers by market research firm NPD, which found that consoles now account for a quarter of all online playtime, a “statistically significant” increase from 19 percent a year ago.

The Xbox 360 was second overall and the leader for online gaming using consoles, with 50 percent of the market, despite being the only one not giving out this functionality for free. Meanwhile, online use amongst Nintendo Wii owners rose from 18 percent to 29 percent. Specific figures for other platforms were not provided, but the company said that the PS2 fell dramatically and PS3 moved up from fifth place to third place among consoles. Additionally, the report claims online gaming has also become more popular among younger users, increasing 5 percent in gamers aged 13 to 17, while decreasing slightly among older gamers.


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Amazon uses DMCA to prevent third-party eBook sales

Apple isn't the only company with a proprietary device that they want total sale control over. Amazon's Kindle, for instance, is also designed to make use of online shopping exclusively through sanctioned Amazon avenues. Thus, when the retailer learned about a third party method used to extract the PID information from a Kindle, with the end goal being content delivery from a non-Amazon source, they acted quickly.

MobileRead published instructions on how to use a small piece of software to get your Kindle’s PID, and ended up receiving a DMCA cease and desist notice from Amazon, telling them to immediately pull the software and the instructions on how to use it. Though the site doesn't necessarily admit any wrongdoing, they complied with Amazon – but not before many mirror sites began replicating the content.

Their goal was simple: allow people to buy eBooks for the Kindle from anywhere. Given how much Amazon has invested into the device, you can't really blame them for waving the DMCA at anyone who would try to circumvent their direct channel to it. Many other companies, such as Apple, do exactly the same – despite protests from users who think the choice should lie with whoever owns the device. Amazon is resolute, though, claiming that information like the Kindle's PID is protected by the DMCA and users have no right to extract it.

This instance is yet another in a series of conflicts between hardware/software manufacturers and users, where the question asked every time but still unanswered remains: Who really “owns” the device, the user or the manufacturer?


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Apple goes to court over exploding iPod Touch

No matter what type of portable devices you carry around you certainly don’t want them to explode on you. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the past few years, there is always the small possibility of portable batteries overheating or having some other issue. Sony’s defective battery scandal was just one of many reminding us of that, and there have been isolated reports here and there about batteries that catch on fire or even explode. Even if it's a one in a million chance, it only takes that one incident for an irate customer to file a lawsuit. That's exactly what happened to Apple, in regards to an iPod touch that supposedly exploded, and must now face the courts.

We've seen several of these cases before, though many of them ended up being an instance where the device had a clone battery not sanctioned by the manufacturer or some other issue. Given that the iPod Touch doesn't have a user-replaceable battery, though, this case is likely to get more attention. The lawsuit isn't asking for millions upon millions of dollars, which most do, but rather less than a quarter million – a more reasonable figure, but one that Apple is still likely to defend themselves against. The company of course has issued no comment on the matter, but it will be interesting to find out the details of the exploding iPod.


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Microsoft details new changes to Windows 7

Following on from its previous update, Microsoft has unveiled 27 more changes it plans to make before upgrading Windows 7 from beta to release candidate. Once again, these are small tweaks based on user feedback aimed at improving the desktop experience, and more such adjustments are expected to come as Microsoft rushes to get their next operating system out the door.

This time the company has made some usability tweaks to how the taskbar thumbnail overflow feature works, modified the Control Panel Jump List so that it offers quick access to recently used items, and particularly focused on improving several aspects of the Windows Explorer file manager. Interestingly, Microsoft also decided to trim the shutdown and logoff sounds to gain up to 400 milliseconds because “every little bit counts.” The rest of the changes involve a number of different performance and operating areas, you can check out the full list on the Engineering Windows 7 blog.


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Opera tests server-side optimization technology

Opera has unveiled its latest innovation for faster browsing and posted a test version for those who would like to take the technology for a spin. In a nutshell, Opera Turbo is a server-side optimization and compression technology that provides improvements in browsing speeds by compressing network traffic. This will come in handy not only for those with slow internet access but also for connections with a monthly cap or people on a pay per usage plan.

When turned on, Opera Turbo will display the average compression rate along with the amount of bandwidth saved at the bottom of the screen. The company warns that, as a result of compression, images on a website may appear with a considerably lower resolution but the layout and text will look exactly the same. Also, for those worried about their privacy, Opera assures them that encrypted traffic will not go through their servers.

This is a limited time release but the company hopes to eventually make Opera Turbo a part of its desktop client. It should work with any type of connection. However, to get the most out of it, Opera claims users need to be on a situation with limited bandwidth.


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Free POP3 access hits Hotmail users worldwide, finally

Microsoft began rolling out free POP3 support to Windows Live Hotmail users back in January, albeit only on a few select markets. The company had previously offered this feature by asking users to pay $19.95 a year for a premium “Hotmail Plus” account, but with other online email services such as Gmail and Yahoo allowing it free of charge, Hotmail had to follow suit eventually – and it only took them a few years.

In all fairness, Microsoft has been offering a free way for synchronizing web services with offline clients since last year using their proprietary DeltaSync protocol. Another alternative for users is to use the Windows Live Mail desktop client which has built-in support for Hotmail. Neither solution, despite having their advantages over POP3, is more commonly used and accepted than the latter protocol.

Thus, those who had still been waiting for the update to hit their country will be happy to know that it has finally rolled out to every customer. Check out the details on how to setup your email client after the break.

POP server: (Port 995)
POP SSL required? Yes
User name: Your Windows Live ID, for example
Password: The password you usually use to sign in to Hotmail or Windows Live
SMTP server: (Port 25 or 587)
Authentication required? Yes (this matches your POP username and password)
TLS/SSL required? Yes

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VIA launches 1080p-capable chipset for netbooks

Via has launched a new chipset today described as a highly integrated ‘media system processor’ that meets the needs of today’s netbooks and other mobile devices. Dubbed VX855, the new part offers support for the Via Nano, C7, and Eden processor lines at 400 to 800 MHz FSB speeds while also integrating a DDR2 memory controller that handles up to 4GB of RAM and several input/output capabilities (including support for up to six USB 2.0 ports) in a single chip.

A new Chrome9 HCM graphics engine is also present to provide some modest 3D graphics – this is still a DirectX 9 part. Its main selling points, however, are its ability to deliver 1080p video playback while using a maximum of just 2.3W of power. The hardware supports a variety of video standards, including H.264, MPEG-2/4, VC-1 and WMV9.

Although it seems a bit unnecessary for a netbook to be capable of 1080p video decoding, considering the lack of a large display, it is a feat that Intel's current netbook platform is still unable to claim. Nvidia’s Ion platform, on the other hand, does offer such functionality but we've yet to see a retail product using it. Via could take advantage of this if it can get the VX855 chipset into a netbook soon.


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OLPC to use ARM processors on the XO-2?

The OLPC foundation has hinted today that it might be dropping x86 processors in their next generation XO-2 laptops in favor of an ARM based solution. Apparently the move is aimed at improving battery life while cutting costs, using a system-on-chip design, but this could also come at the expense of losing compatibility with Microsoft Windows operating systems.

The current XO model already uses an average of only 5 watts but the company claims power draw is still their biggest problem. A typical ARM processor, on the other hand, uses significantly less than a watt. Microsoft has traditionally declined to make a full-blown Windows OS for ARM, but then again, as Nicholas Negroponte states, the XO-2 is still 18 months away from release and a lot can change in that time frame.


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IE8 release date set for March 20?

The next (and potentially last) iteration of IE8 has been reviewed many times, demoed across several platforms and anticipated by many for a variety of reasons. Throughout development Microsoft has never given a solid release date for the browser, though there's been a lot of speculation that it would be out sometime this month. Now, however, Microsoft Taiwan representatives are offering a more specific date saying that the local version of Internet Explorer 8 will be released just over a week away, on March 20.

If true, it could also mean that the company has already ended development on the browser and is planning to unveil its final version, stateside, at MIX09 the day before. This is supported by the fact that, in the most recently leaked builds of Windows 7, the version information of IE 8 in the About screen does not reflect a release candidate status. It also means that IE7 has had a development lifespan of only two and a half years, compared to about five for its predecessor, and it can easily be said that the success of other browsers (most notably Firefox) fired up Microsoft's development team to try and keep up.


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Can Mozilla survive without Google?

Is Mozilla in danger of losing their biggest financial backer? The creator of the Firefox browser considers that a possibility. Currently, Mozilla sources nearly all of their monetary support from a partnership with Google, providing them with the top spot for searching, and in turn receiving a nice financial kickback. All in all, Google is responsible for footing nearly 90% of Mozilla's funds.

The reason Mozilla sees themselves in danger is due to Chrome. It's possible that due to Google pushing their own browser, they may not see any incentive to continue funding Firefox development. If Chrome usage rises to significant levels, Google may want to redirect their resources, after their three year contract with Mozilla expires in 2011. The search giant hasn't commented on any plans they have, though there's still a substantial benefit in working with Mozilla. After all, Chrome has yet to really take off and Firefox has a very large market share to play with.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that Firefox was not born with Google in mind and the browser will certainly not disappear should Mozilla suffer a massive revenue loss. A change in business, for sure, and it is also possible that development would be affected. Google may be king of search, but there are still other players, such as Microsoft and Yahoo – and there's nothing preventing Mozilla from working with them as well.


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News around the web: Battery that 'charges in seconds'

Battery that 'charges in seconds' @ BBC News
Scratch-proof cars on the way? @ Reuters
Q&A: The robot wars have arrived @
The Untold Story of the World's Biggest Diamond Heist @ Wired
See more articles and reviews.

Five years ago in TechSpot:
Jobs draws $1 paycheck again

SuperTalent Godfather Series 16GB USB Drive Review @ PCSTATS
Super Talent The Godfather 16GB USB Flash Drive Review @ OCC

CrossFire vs. SLI @ InsideHW
ATI Budget GFX Overview @ Driverheaven
XFX Radeon HD 4870 XXX 1GB video card review @ Elite Bastards

Evolution Gaming Gear MP2 Mouse Pad @ Overclockers Online
An Interview With The Developers Of FFmpeg @ Phoronix

FiiO E3 & E5 Portable Headphone Amplifier @ techPowerUp

Power Supplies
Topower Powerbird 1100 SE Power Supply @ Pro-Clockers

Cooler Master ATCS 840 @ PureOverclock
Xigmatek Achilles S1284C CPU Cooler @ TweakTown

Music Players
SanDisk Sansa slotMusic Music Player Review @ Futurelooks

A look at DDR2, DDR3 and SSD At Cebit 2009 @ Madshrimps

ECS 945GCT-D @ Legion Hardware
Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H AM2+ Motherboard Review @ Legit Reviews

Casio EXILIM EX-FH20 Digital Camera @ HardwareZone


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Apple set to unveil iPhone OS 3.0 next week

Apple has sent out invitations today to a press event where it will provide a sneak peek at the iPhone 3.0 operating system. Few details are available at the moment but, of course, speculation on what the update might include is already off and running. There are plenty of features iPhone users have been clamoring for since its release, such as Bluetooth stereo audio as well as native support for MMS and copy/paste functionality. Apple could also introduce tethering via Bluetooth and USB.

Perhaps the most significant enhancements the company could make to the device would be multi-tasking or the ability to run self contained web applications – the timing would be just about right to slow down all the hype behind the Palm Pre. Whatever it is that Apple plans to unveil we will know for sure on March 17. In the meantime, what are you hoping to see in iPhone OS 3.0? Let us know in the comments.


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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.