Essential networking tips

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Android KitKat Unveiled

Suprising move by Google

Windows 8

Nine unanswered questions about the new OS

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

NASA unveils 6-foot 'superhero robot' Valkyrie

Valkyrie robot

Valkyrie has 44 axes of movement and interchangeable arms.
(Credit: IEEE Spectrum )
Designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, this "female" robot could be the precursor to robo-astronauts that will help colonize Mars.

What if NASA's Robonaut grew legs and indulged in steroids? The result might be close to what NASA has unveiled: Valkyrie is a humanoid machine billed as a "superhero robot."

Developed at the Johnson Space Center, Valkyrie is a 6.2-foot, 275-pound hulk designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC).

It will go toe to toe with the Terminator-like Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics in what's shaping up to be an amazing modern-day duel.

In an interesting twist, Valkyrie seems to be a girl. While officially genderless, "Valkyrie" (a nickname, since the official designation is R5) evokes the goddess-like females of Norse myth.
Its Iron Man-style glowing chest ring nestles in a pronounced bosom that contains linear actuators for waist rotation.

"We really wanted to design the appearance of this robot to be one that when you saw it (you'd say) 'Wow. That's awesome,'" Nicolaus Radford of the NASA JSC Dextrous Robotics Lab says in the video below by IEEE Spectrum.

"When we were designing the robot, we were thinking about the competition from day one, and we wanted a very modular system. Specifically with the arm, we can yank one bolt and one connector, and we can take the arm off. It happens in a matter of minutes."

Valkyrie has 44 degrees of freedom, or axes of rotation in its joints, meaning it's a relatively flexible machine in terms of movement. Its power source is a battery stored in a backpack that can provide it with about an hour of juice.

Its sensors include sonar and LIDAR, as well as head, arm, abdomen, and leg cameras so operators can see whatever the robot is doing from multiple viewpoints.

Developed with the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, Valkyrie can walk around untethered, and pick up and manipulate objects, which are essential skills for the DARPA challenge.
The DRC is designed to help evolve machines that can cope with disasters and hazardous environments like nuclear power plant accidents. Participants will be presented with tasks such as driving a utility vehicle, walking over uneven terrain, clearing debris, breaking through a wall, closing a valve, and connecting a fire hose.

NASA, however, sees the DRC as part of its mission to explore space.

"NASA saw a considerable overlap between what the DRC was trying to accomplish and NASA's goals as an agency," says Radford. "We want to get to Mars. Likely, NASA will send robots ahead of the astronauts to the planet. These robots will start preparing the way for the human explorers, and when the humans arrive, the robots and the humans will work together."

The DARPA challenge gets going this month with a preliminary competition. Check out more details on Valkyrie in the vid below.

Source - CNET -

Thursday, October 17, 2013

PSA: Windows 8.1 update is now available to download

PSA: Windows 8.1 update is now available to download

Today's the day: October 17th, the day Microsoft starts rolling out Windows 8.1. And right now, the minute this post first went live, is 7AM ET, the exact minute the OS update will start appearing in the Windows Store as a free download. Don't have a Windows 8 device? You can still install 8.1 on a Win 7 machine; you just won't get the update for free. For folks using Windows 7, you'll pay the same price Microsoft was already charging for Windows 8: $120 for the standard version, and $200 for Windows 8.1 Pro.

Additionally, Microsoft will also be selling so-called full-version software, allowing you to install the OS on a machine that isn't already running Windows. At any rate, if you've already got a Windows 8 device in hand, we suggest you hit up the source link below to take advantage of the free download. Or, if you're a weirdo, you can also buy a boxed copy in a retail store. We won't judge. Either way, you're going to want to revisit our epic preview breaking down everything you need to know about the new features and apps that come with 8.1.

Source - Engadget

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Android KitKat unveiled in Google surprise move

KitKat with AndroidGoogle is calling the next version of its mobile operating system Android KitKat.

The news comes as a surprise as the firm had previously indicated version 4.4 of the OS would be Key Lime Pie.

The decision to brand the software with the name of Nestle's chocolate bar is likely to be seen as a marketing coup for the Swiss food and beverage maker.

However, Google told the BBC that it had come up with the idea and that neither side was paying the other.

"This is not a money-changing-hands kind of deal," John Lagerling, director of Android global partnerships, told the BBC.

Instead, he said, the idea was to do something "fun and unexpected".

However, one branding expert warned there were potential pitfalls to such a deal.

"If your brand is hooked up with another, you inevitably become associated with that other brand, for good or ill," said Simon Myers, a partner at the consultancy Prophet.

"If that brand or business has some reputational issues that emerge, it would be naive to think as a brand owner that your good name, your brand equity, would not be affected."

Nestle has faced criticism in the past for the way it promoted powdered baby milk in the developing world. It has also had to recall numerous products, most recently bags of dog food following a salmonella scare in the US.

Google has also attracted controversy of its own, including a recent report from the US government suggesting that Android attracts more malware attacks than any other mobile OS.

Google also announced that it has now recorded the system being activated on a smartphone or other device more than one billion times.

Cold call
Android KitKat mascotSince 2009, Google and its partners in the Open Handset Alliance have codenamed each Android release after a type of treat, with major updates progressing a letter along the alphabet.

Previous versions have been called Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo (short for frozen yoghurt), Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean.

Although the developers had referred to the forthcoming version as KLP in internal documents, Mr Lagerling said the team decided late last year to opt instead for the chocolate bar.

"We realised that very few people actually know the taste of a key lime pie," he explained.

"One of the snacks that we keep in our kitchen for late-night coding are KitKats. And someone said: 'Hey, why don't we call the release KitKat?'

"We didn't even know which company controlled the name, and we thought that [the choice] would be difficult. But then we thought well why not, and we decided to reach out to the Nestle folks."

Mr Lagerling said he had made a "cold call" to the switchboard of Nestle's UK advertising agency at the end of November to propose the tie-up.
The next day, the Swiss firm invited him to take part in a conference call. Nestle confirmed the deal just 24 hours later.

"Very frankly, we decided within an hour to say let's do it," Patrice Bula, Nestle's marketing chief told the BBC.

Mr Bula acknowledges there were risks involved - for example, if the new OS proved to be crash-prone or particularly vulnerable to malware it could cause collateral damage to KitKat's brand.
"Maybe I'll be fired," he joked.

"When you try to lead a new way of communicating and profiling a brand you always have a higher risk than doing something much more traditional.

"You can go round the swimming pool 10 times wondering if the water is cold or hot or you say: 'Let's jump.'"

Secret story
Google Jelly BeanExecutives from the two firms met face to face at a secret event held at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February to finalise the details.

To promote the alliance, Nestle now plans to deliver more than 50 million chocolate bars featuring the Android mascot to shops in 19 markets, including the UK, US, Brazil, India, Japan and Russia.

The packaging had to be produced in advance over the past two months. But despite the scale of the operation, the two firms managed to keep the story a secret,

"Keeping it confidential was paramount to Google's strategy," acknowledges Mr Bula. "Absolutely nothing leaked."
The Android team also took steps to preserve the element of surprise, notifying only a "tight team" about the decision.

"We kept calling the name Key Lime Pie internally and even when we referred to it with partners," revealed Mr Lagerling.

"If we had said, 'The K release is, by the way, secret', then people would have racked their minds trying to work out what it was going to be."

Most Google employees will have learned of the news only when a statue of the Android mascot made out of KitKats was unveiled at the firm's Mountain View, California, campus.

"A lot of things, especially in tech nowadays, become public before they are officially supposed to be," said Mr Lagerling.

"I think it's going to a big surprise for a lot of people, including Googlers."


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Essential networking tips for small business

So you’ve seen the light and turned your sluggish PC into a productivity powerhouse with better, faster gear. That’s a great first step. But putting together a state-of-the-art PC workstation without having a fast, reliable network to help it run at its best is like leaving your souped-up new ride on blocks in your garage.

Check out the tips below for ways to upgrade your network and storage, and take your productivity to the next level.

Embrace the flexibility of wireless

Though its speed and reliability make ethernet a must-have for optimal PC performance, Wi-Fi has its place, too. Without it, you’d never enjoy the work-anywhere flexibility of your laptop or mobile devices.
Like other dual-band routers, this Linksys EA6200 lets you use the 2.4GHz band for most data and the less-crowded 5GHz band for heavier loads such as streaming.
Instead of choosing a run-of-the-mill router, go for something with a little more oomph. A simultaneous dual-band router offers twice the bandwidth—2.4GHz and 5GHz—essentially giving you two independent networks. Connect frequently used devices such as your smartphone or tablet to the 2.4GHz band, and reserve the less crowded 5GHz band for high-quality voice and video streaming.
In addition, if your router offers either a guest mode or a second SSID, you can provide a wireless network for people who are visiting you. Setting a simple, memorable password can save you from having to repeat your 20-character passphrase for the umpteenth time.

Streamline your network

A cutting-edge router isn’t worth much if the ethernet switch that links all your networked devices isn’t equal to the job. Make sure the switching capacity offers adequate bandwidth. As a general guide, an eight-port gigabit ethernet switch should have 16 gigabits per second of switching capacity (8 ports x 1 gbps x 2 bands) for full duplex. Anything less than 18 gbps would render the switch incapable of operating at full capacity on all ports simultaneously.
On a good router switch, you should be able to find the switching capacity listed in the device’s specifications. However, many lower-end switches omit this information, which is why picking up a cheap one from the discount section is a bad idea. Similarly, chaining multiple small network switches to work in tandem is a recipe for hard-to-diagnose problems and performance bottlenecks. Instead, look for a single switch that has enough network ports to meet your needs.

Double down on Internet access

Your Internet connection is crucial for communicating with clients and customers and for accessing your company’s website. Unfortunately, if your ISP goes down—for any reason—so does your business. To reduce the risk of suffering downtime, sign up with two different Internet providers.
A multi-WAN router like the Peplink Balance lets you manage your primary ISP and your backup ISP from one device.
Dual Internet access doesn’t have to be costly or complicated. One strategy is to sign up for a lower-tier plan, and apply the resulting savings to a second provider. If the technological challenge of managing multiple Internet connections seems daunting, consider investing in an easy-to-use multi-WAN router such as the Peplink Balance.

Create your own cloud

Cloud storage is a great way to access frequently used spreadsheets and presentations, but it’s not optimal for storing large video files or data backups. And trying to rebuild a PC or server from backups stored in the cloud can be a trying experience, to say the least.
Network-attached storage (NAS) offers a more flexible approach. The perfect small-business replacement for the cumbersome file servers of yesteryear, a typical NAS—such as Synology’s DS413j—can accommodate two to eight hard drives. For even speedier file access, get a NAS equipped with dual-gigabit ethernet ports and link aggregation support.
Network-attached devices like the Synology DS413j provide spacious and flexible onsite storage.

Automate for peace of mind

An automated temperature sensor like this one from Ubiquiti can monitor your equipment's environment while you're away.
When you’re out of town, you don’t want to worry about what’s going on back at your office. Introducing a little automation—such as installing a switch to power off your multiple-monitor rig automatically at the end of the workday or adding a smart device to prevent your server from overheating—can go a long way toward easing your mind.

For the former, you can combine three components from Ubiquiti: an mPower power strip and an mPort controller with a Wall Mount Motion Sensor. For the latter, grab Ubiquiti’s Temperature Sensor.

You can soup up your system with everything under the sun, but it won’t get you far without a strong, capable network. Build out your office with good storage and fast, versatile networking equipment, and you’ll be well equipped for the everyday and the unexpected.

By Paul Mah

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Google Fiber spawns startup renaissance in Kansas City

Google's superfast Internet service launched a year ago in Kansas City. CNET's Marguerite Reardon takes a look at the impact it has on the local startup scene.

Ben Barreth liquidated his retirement account to buy the Homes for Hackers house to encourage startups to move to Kansas City for Google Fiber.
(Credit: CNET/Marguerite Reardon) 
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The modest two-story bungalow on State Line Road looks like the typical twenty something, post-college "share house."

The house is old; the decor is very basic. Like most homes to post-college grads, it's furnished with second-hand furniture. Several fake leather recliners line the walls in the living room and a big oversized sectional couch sits in the corner, offering plenty of room for geeks with laptops to comfortably park themselves while writing code. A big white board on the wall displays the email addresses and Twitter handles of the many hackers who have stayed at the house or just passed through.

In the adjacent room, which looks like it once served as a dining room, desks set up as work stations with Ethernet cables connected directly to Google Fiber line the walls. While there is a definite odor of mustiness from the aging and worn carpet throughout the house, it's not the same spilled beer and stale cigarette smell you might expect in a house where up to five guys live at a time. There are no pizza boxes strewn around. The common areas are tidy, as per the "house rules."

It's true you won't find any raging parties here. Rather, the house is crammed with entrepreneurs working on their own projects, part of a growing local startup scene sparked by Google's superfast Internet service.

The house is the pet project of Web designer and Kansas City local Ben Barreth, who did the insane last fall and cashed in his savings and liquidated his retirement account to put a down payment on a $48,000 house in the city's Startup Village. Why? Barreth, a husband and father of two small children, wanted to be among the first to buy a house in a Google Fiber neighborhood. His plan: to offer rent-free accommodations and access to Google's superfast 1Gbps service to entrepreneurs for a three-month period.

Google Fiber has been creating quite a buzz throughout the country since Google announced its intentions to build an all-fiber network that would deliver super high-speed broadband and TV services to people at affordable prices. Kansas City was one of more than a thousand cities vying for consideration as Google's first fiber city. Google finished construction of the backbone portion of its network last summer and began holding neighborhood "rallies" to determine which communities would get Google Fiber first.

Originally, Barreth's Homes for Hackers project was supposed to match startup entrepreneurs with local people already signed up for Google Fiber. The idea was that the Google Fiber households would act as host families for the out-of-town entrepreneurs, providing them free lodging and access to Google Fiber. But when the results of the first fiber rallies were released, none of the homes that had volunteered as hacker hosts were on the initial list to get fiber. So Barreth formulated a Plan B, and decided to go where the fiber was.

While Barreth's idea of giving entrepreneurs a chance to get their ideas off the ground might be a noble one, he currently makes no money from Homes for Hackers, and he said he never expects to. He sees the program as a way to give back to his city and to help stimulate what is becoming a growing startup community in Kansas City.

"I consider myself a devout Christian," he explained. "And this is one of the ways I see that I can show God's love. I can't offer full funding or mentorship to these folks. But what I can offer is accommodations."

The startup community

The Homes for Hackers house sits on State Line Road, a busy street separating Kansas City, Missouri from its sister city Kansas City, Kansas. Inside, white boards line the walls and work stations with Ethernet jacks connecting to the Google Fiber network stand ready for use. In total, there are 18 Ethernet jacks in seven different rooms in the house providing a hard line connection to the Google Fiber network.

There's a shared kitchen and two shared bathrooms. A life-sized poster of Barreth looks down on the living room. The house sleeps up to five people, typically four startup entrepreneurs and the last spot in the house is reserved for "fiber" tourists -- people who want to visit Kansas City to check out Google Fiber and the startup scene. The room is rented for $39 a night through AirBnB.

Barreth has a very simple application process for the program. There are really only two main criteria he considers for selection. First, the entrepreneur must be serious about his or her business. Secondly, he or she must abide by the house rules, which includes not doing anything illegal in the house, being courteous to others staying in the house, no sex in the house, cleaning up after yourself, and turning the coffee pot off when you're finished with it.

Mike Demarais, 21, a native of the Boston, Mass., area, was the first resident of the Homes for Hackers program back in October. He moved back to Kansas City in January with three of his buddies to form the 3D printing software company Handprint.
(Credit: CNET/Marguerite Reardon) 
Mike Demarais, 21, a native of the Boston, Mass., area, was the first resident of the Homes for Hackers program back in October. Demarais, who had considered moving to Detroit to start his company, was impressed with the ultra high-speed broadband service from Google. But he feels that the community that has formed around the Google Fiber network in Kansas City is the most compelling reason to be working on his company from Kansas City.

"We could have gone to any number of cities, but we came to Kansas City because people here will talk to us and answer our questions," he said. "If you go anywhere else, you're just hustling and hoping to be heard, instead of building your product."

At the end of his three-month stay, he went home to Boston, gathered his things and brought the rest of his team -- Alexa Nguyen, Jack Franzen, and Derek Caneja-- back with him. The four started Handprint, a software startup focused on making 3D home-printing easy.

Using all their savings, as well as money from parents and revenue from some freelance programming gigs, the Handprint group was able to cobble together enough money for a few a months rent in Kansas City. In April, the foursome won a competition offering a year's rent in a Google Fiber house sponsored by Brad Feld, a Boulder, Colo., based venture capitalist. Like Barreth, Feld bought a house in the first Google "fiberhood" in the hopes of encouraging tech entrepreneurs to build apps that use gigabit speed networks.

It takes a village

The Homes for Hackers house sits right in the middle of what has become known as the Kansas City Startup Village. This grass roots initiative sprang to life after Google selected the neighborhood, Hanover Heights, as the first community to get Google Fiber service.

Even though the 1Gbps service is designed and marketed toward residential customers. Startups in the area, many of which were already based out of people's homes, saw the value in super-high speeds. And they quickly began buying and renting houses in the neighborhood.

Leap2, a mobile search company, was among the first companies to put roots down in Hanover Heights. Tyler Van Winkle, director of product development and marketing for Leap2, said his company already had office space in a nearby neighborhood, but the company really wanted access to the cheap ultra high-speed broadband Google was offering. So they rented a house on State Line Road.

Since there was still plenty of room in the house and plenty of bandwidth to go around, Leap2 invited other startups to join them. The company's house on State Line Road is now home to three other startups: Local Ruckus, Form Zapper, and Rivet Creative.

Since then, others have also joined the community. And today, there are nearly two dozen startups within walking distance of each other. Startups have also begun flocking to other parts of the city where Google Fiber is being deployed.

Barreth says that the hackers in his house typically experience upload and download speeds between 800 and 900 Mbps when connected to the network via Ethernet. And when using the in-home Wi-Fi network, they can get upload and download speeds around 150Mbps.

The advantages of superfast broadband for technology startups are many. They can share big files over the network, upload large chunks of data in seconds, and collaborate with remote workers or partners via video conference seamlessly.

But Barreth and others in the Startup Village will admit that Google's gigabit speed network is overkill. Leap2's Van Winkle said that he'd still be able develop his company's app using far slower speeds than what Google is offering. But he said, having nearly a Gigabit worth of capacity makes some aspects of the job easier and faster. And the $70 price tag simply can't be beat.

"We have between five and 15 people on one Google Fiber connection at any one time," Van Winkle said. "And we don't even make a dent in the connection. So even though all that capacity isn't necessary, we never have to worry about how much bandwidth we are using, no matter what what we're doing."

Chris Baran, who currently lives in the Homes for Hackers house, said what he likes best about Google's service is its upload speeds, which are the same as its superfast download speeds. Most other broadband services from a cable operator or phone company might offer decent download speeds, but the service is not symmetrical meaning that the upload speeds are typically only a fraction of the download speed.

But Van Winkle said the real value of Google Fiber is that it's not only attracted a new group of entrepreneurs to Kansas City, but it has also brought the existing community together in closer proximity.

"Access to the gigabit network is nice," he said. "But it's more about the community that has grown up around the network. It's really helpful to be around a lot of like minded people who support each other."

A speed test of the 1Gbps Google Fiber service in Kansas City shows blindingly fast uploads and downloads.
(Credit: CNET/Marguerite Reardon)

Van Winkle said it's common for a programmer to walk down the dirt path behind the house, which leads to several other hacker houses to collaborate with someone from a different company to hash out technical problems. The companies and entrepreneurs also share other pointers, such as how to negotiate investment terms with interested VCs.

Kansas City, a hot bed for entrepreneurship?

Kansas City may not have the same cachet in the startup community as Silicon Valley or Boston, but the city has been fostering local entrepreneurs for years. And several technology companies have come up through the ranks there, including wireless operator Sprint Nextel, healthcare technology company Cerner, and GPS navigation provider Garmin.

Not only is the city home to the Silicon Prairie Technology Association, which was started in the early 1990s, but it's also home to the Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit foundation started nearly 50 years ago with an asset base of $2 billion that is focused on fostering entrepreneurship.

The Kauffman Foundation provides grants and mentorship opportunities to entrepreneurs as well as hosts several programs, including the weekly networking event 1 Million Cups. It is also a strong supporter of the Kansas City Startup Village and Barreth's Homes for Hackers.

Tyler Van Winkle, director of product development and marketing for Leap2, says that the 1Gbps service is a nice perk, but the real value in Google Fiber is the fact that it's brought local startups together.
(Credit: CNET/Marguerite Reardon) 
Van Winkle, 31, who has spent his whole life in Kansas City, said the city's startup scene was growing even before Google arrived with its fiber service, but he admits that Google has likely accelerated growth in the community.

"Google Fiber was definitely a catalyst to spur more interest," he said. "But there was already a lot going on here, even before Google."

Indeed, Google Fiber has gotten a lot of buzz, but it's still too early to say if the new network will have a lasting effect on local economy.

Unlike startup havens, such as Boston and New York on the East coast and Silicon Valley on the West Coast, there aren't a lot of venture investors in Kansas City -- or the Midwest, for that matter. That's not to say that there isn't any venture investing going on. Leap2 recently announced a $1.3 million round of funding. But so far none of the startups in the area have made it big.

"What we really need now is for some of the startups to have really big exits," Van Winkle said. "That establishes credibility in the market. And that's what we really need right now to attract more investors."

Still, even if Kansas City doesn't become the next Silicon Valley, it could prove a valuable playground, especially for young entrepreneurs like Handprint's Mike Demarais.

For him and other young startup founders, Kansas City offers a perfect opportunity to learn and actually try to build a business. And because of the low cost of living, it's a slightly more forgiving place in which to fail.

"I can't imagine trying to compete for any attention in the Valley or Boston right now," Demarais said. "I mean every kid at MIT and Stanford is building a startup out of their dorm room. It's hard to get anyone's attention. But here, it's still a tight-knit group, and people will talk to you and offer advice."

It's that sense of community and the super-high broadband speeds that will likely give Kansas City a leg up over other communities struggling to revitalize their economies. But as Google moves onto other cities such as Provo, Utah, and Austin, Texas, it will be interesting to see whether Google Fiber has the same effect on the startup scenes in those cities.

"The best asset that Kansas City has are its people," Barreth said. "But we need more tech talent and new people with good ideas in the local scene. The expectation is that the people who come through the Homes for Hackers program end up staying here for a long time."


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mozilla Readies Major Firefox Redesign As It Ponders What The Browser Of The Future Should Look Like

firefox_aurora“Maybe we shouldn’t even call it a browser anymore,” Mozilla’s VP of Firefox engineering Jonathan Nightingale told me a few days ago. “‘Browser’ is really an antiquated word. People don’t really browse all that much anymore.” Instead, he argues, we now mostly use our browsers to access sophisticated web apps, web-based productivity tools and social networks.
For browser developers, this means they have to start to rethink what their browsers should look like now that usage patterns have changed and that the majority of users have become pretty experienced Internet (and browser) users.

Australis: Simplicity Through Curvy Tabs

The project that has been guiding Mozilla’s exploration of what a modern browser should look like is Australis (because Mozilla apparently likes to name projects after star systems) and the fruits of this project will soon find their way into the Firefox release channels, starting with Nightly once it hits version 25 soon. After that, it will make its way through the usual release channels, though Nightingale told me that the team may hold it back from the stable channel a bit longer to ensure that everything works smoothly.

If you feel really adventurous, you can already install a version of Firefox from Mozilla’s relatively obscure UX branch and test it in its current state (but don’t blame us if it crashes a lot or shreds your hard drive).


So what’s Australis all about? At first glance, it looks a bit more like Chrome than the Firefox we know today. In its current iteration, the Australis theme features rounded corners for tabs and the same three-bar icon to the right of the URL and search boxes to bring up a drop-down customization and settings menu.

As Nightingale told me, the idea behind Australis was to design a browser that was just as capable as today, but simpler to use. The team was also tasked to look closely at how people actually use their browsers and then design the user experience around this. The new design, he believes, is cleaner and more intuitive. One example he cited is that in the current iteration of the design, unselected tabs basically blend into the background and don’t even have the usual tab borders around them. Instead of just shrinking tabs as you open more of them, even though you can’t even see the individual tabs’ icons anymore (the way Chrome does), the Firefox team has also decided to set a minimum width for tabs and then move to a scrolling tab bar once the maximum number of tabs has been reached.

australis_menuWhile the main Australis theme won’t land in the stable channel before October, Nightingale did stress that even today’s version of Firefox was already influenced by the results of the project. The combined stop/load/reload button in Firefox, for example, came out of this group. So did the new download manager and the fact that Firefox now doesn’t show the forward button anymore when there is no page to go forward to. The customization and tools menu now also uses icons in a three-by-three arrangement and dedicated buttons for copy, select and paste, as well as for increasing font sizes instead of just using a regular drop-down text menu.
Quite a bit of this, of course, is already visible in the Firefox for Android app, too, which in Nightingale’s words had a bit of a “rebirth over the last year.” It’s getting close to 40 million downloads now, however, and this success means a larger user base and the need to slow down radical changes that could confuse users on Android. (And just in case you are wondering, Mozilla still regularly looks at iOS and its opportunities there, but Apple’s current rules still don’t work for Mozilla. The team is, however, looking at “other things” Mozilla could do on iOS.)


Australis is not just about the design, though. One area that’s also changing with Australis is how you customize the look and feel of your browser. Mozilla currently offers quite a few tools for this, but the team believes they are hard to find and not “fun” enough to use. As Mozilla’s Gavin Sharp told me, the idea here was to get users to enjoy customizing their browsers for the way they use it. Unless users can find these features, though, they could just as well be left out, so the team is working on ways to make it a bit more obvious that users can rearrange and remove virtually all the parts of the Firefox interface to suit their needs.


Now that Firefox is on a rapid-release schedule, the team obviously can’t change the user interface with every update, so the current thinking is to roll some things out together once they are ready and, where it makes sense, roll others out individually. This means that while we’ll see Australis and its curvy tabs in the nightlies of Firefox 25 very soon, it may not actually land in the stable version of Firefox 25.

Building the browser of the future, of course, is not just about design. Mozilla is also trying to adjust to how its users now use their browser through tools like its Social API, as well as more perfomance-oriented initiatives like OdinMonkey and asm.js.

Still, the first thing users will notice once Australis rolls out is the new design. It’ll be hard not to look at it and think that it looks a bit like Chrome – and that will surely stir up a bit of controversy.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Google Glass rooted and hacked to run Ubuntu live at Google I/O

Google Glass rooted and hacked to run Ubuntu live at Google IO

Today at Google I/O the company held a session entitled "Voiding your Warranty" where employees demonstrated how to root Google Glass and install Ubuntu on it. What you're seeing above is a screenshot from a laptop running a terminal window on top and showing the screencast output from Glass on the bottom -- here running the standard Android launcher instead of the familiar cards interface. The steps involve pushing some APKs (Launcher, Settings and Notepad) to the device using adb, then pairing Glass with a Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad. After this, it's possible to unlock the bootloader with fastboot and flash a new boot image to gain root access. From there you have full access to Glass -- just like that! Running Ubuntu requires a couple more apps to be installed, namely Android Terminal Emulator and Complete Linux Installer. The latter lets you download and boot your favorite linux distro (Ubuntu, in this case). You're then able to use SSH or VNC to access Ubuntu running right on Glass. We captured a few screenshots of the process in our gallery. Follow the links below for more info -- just be careful not to brick your Glass okay?

Source - Engadget

How Google updated Android without releasing version 4.3

Google I/O didn't give us the Android update we were expecting—or did it??
Andrew Cunningham
Google covered a lot of ground in its three-and-a-half-hour opening keynote at Google I/O yesterday, but one thing it didn't announce was the oft-rumored next version of Android. However, persistent rumors insist that the elusive Android 4.3 is still coming next month—if that's true, why not announce it at I/O in front of all of your most enthusiastic developers?

The answer is that Google did announce what amounts to a fairly substantial Android update yesterday. They simply did it without adding to the update fragmentation problems that continue to plague the platform. By focusing on these changes and not the apparently-waiting-in-the-wings update to the core software, Google is showing us one of the ways in which it's trying to fix the update problem.

Consider the full breadth of yesterday's Android-related improvements: you've got an update to the Android version of Google Maps, due this summer, that incorporates some of the features of the iOS version and the new desktop version. There's a WebGL-capable version of Chrome for Android and an entirely new gaming API. A shotgun blast of improvements are coming to the Google Play Services APIs. And that's to say nothing of the products that affect Google's services across all supported platforms: Google Play Music All Access (say that five times fast), Hangouts, and Search improvements.

In iOS, most of these changes would be worthy of a point update, if not a major version update. With few exceptions, making major changes to any of the core first-party iOS apps requires an iOS update. This method works for iOS since all supported iOS devices get their updates directly from Apple on the same day (device-specific updates like iOS 6.1.4 notwithstanding).

This is not true of Android. Here, we've seen apps like Gmail and services like those provided by Google Play gradually decouple from the rest of the OS. This makes it possible for Google to provide major front-facing updates without actually relying on its notoriously unreliable partners to incrementally up the Android version number on their devices. Many of the new things announced yesterday are coming to your Android device whether you're running a Nexus 4 or a Galaxy S 4 or a Sony Xperia ZL or an HTC Thunderbolt.

And therein lies a partial solution to the platform's fragmentation problem. The abject failure of the Android Update Alliance announced at I/O 2011 made it clear that getting Android hardware partners to fall in line with respect to device updates would be a Herculean (or, perhaps, Sisyphean) task. So Google has in essence done what newcomers like Firefox OS are proposing to do: apply more device updates at higher layers of the operating system, layers that don't need to be customized by OEMs and verified by carriers.

Enlarge / The state of Android updates. The picture isn't pretty.
If this week's announcements are any indication, there are three kinds of things that Google is going to be able to update without actually updating the core of Android: their back-end services (things like Knowledge Graph improvements), first-party apps like Gmail and Google Maps, and the API layer (the single sign-in improvements, Google game services). This doesn't cover every part of the OS, but it does cover the vast majority of the user-facing features. The Google Play Services changes reach all the way back to Android 2.2, a necessity if Google wants all of its users to benefit (as of this writing, the Android developer dashboard reports that only 1.8 percent of the installed base is using an older version).

This is probably the right way for Google to move. Baking any of these features into a hypothetical Android 4.3 would have limited their rollout to the Nexus devices for at least a few months. A small subset of devices would've waited months or even years after that. Consider that Android 4.1, which was introduced at Google I/O last year, is only installed on 26.1 percent of all Google devices a year later. Last November's Android 4.2 update is only installed on 2.3 percent of devices. Obviously, if Google wants most of its users to have access to new features, the core of Android is not the best place to introduce them.

This is not a complete solution, obviously. Lower-level, wider-reaching changes—things like Android 4.2's multi-user support on tablets, Android 4.1's Project Butter, or Android 4.0's far-reaching UI overhaul—will still require brand-new versions of Android. The same goes for many security updates and bug fixes. New Android updates won't cease to be released if the most recent round of Android 4.3 rumors are any indication.

But by tying fewer Android feature updates to the OS itself, Google gains some flexibility. The company can combat the fragmentation problem without getting into a knock-down-drag-out fight with carriers and OEMs. The ability to introduce updates through other avenues gives Google the opportunity to let its partners catch up to the latest version at their own pace without completely arresting the operating system's development. It's not a perfect solution, but it's already doing more for the platform than the Android Update Alliance ever did.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Google Launches Version 1.1 Of Its Go Programming Language, Promises Noticeable Performance Boost

10-93149Google today launched version 1.1 of its open source Go programming language. It’s been more than a year since Google launched version 1.0 of Go. The language, which puts an emphasis on concurrency and speed, has seen three maintenance releases since then, but the team has been conservative with bumping up its version numbers. This new version, however, the Go team writes, introduces a number of significant performance-related improvements that warrant the new version number and existing Go code should run noticeably faster when built with Go 1.1.

Version 1 was meant to show that Go had arrived at a level where users could expect a certain level of maturity and stability, as well as compatibility with future releases. Today’s release, the team says, lives up to this promise. It introduces a number of significant languages and library changes, but all of these remain backwards-compatible. “Very little if any code will need modifications to run with Go 1.1,” the team writes.

Among the changes in this new version are, “optimizations in the compiler and linker, garbage collector, goroutine scheduler, map implementation, and parts of the standard library.”

The new version also introduces method values, makes some changes to return requirements (which should lead to more succinct and correct programs, Google says), as well as a new race detector, which can find memory synchronization errors.

flying_gopherOver the last few months, Go has definitely seen an impressive increase in developer interest and quite a few companies have now adopted it as their go-to language for problems that can benefit from Go’s support for concurrent programming. CloudFlare, for example, uses it in production to run important aspects of its Railgun software, Bitly uses it to power some parts of its infrastructure, as do Heroku and an increasing number of startups and established companies.

While Dart, Google’s browser-based replacement for JavaScript seems to have trouble catching on, the company is clearly on to something with Go and the language, which was first conceived in 2007, looks to have a bright future ahead of itself as developers look for a modern language with built-in garbage collection and concurrency.


Microsoft drops the Blue codename, confirms Windows 8.1 will be a free upgrade available later this year

Microsoft drops the Blue codename, confirms Windows 8.1 will be a free upgrade available later this year

One of the worst kept secrets rattling around Microsoft's campus is Windows Blue, the forthcoming update to Windows 8 that addresses users' bugbears about the OS. Now, Microsoft is officially rechristening the platform, and with a more staid name: Windows 8.1.

Tami Reller, the CMO and CFO of Microsoft's Windows Division made the big reveal during JP Morgan's Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. The upgrade will be free and available from the home screen when it launches, while a preview version will be opened up to the public on June 26th at the beginning of Build 2013. Unfortunately, Reller wouldn't get any more specific about a formal release date, saying simply that it will be delivered "later in the calendar year." The only clarification she would offer is, "we know when the holidays are."

As anticipated, the Windows 8.1 update will come to both the full version of the OS as well as the ARM-friendly RT. While we haven't officially seen any sub-10-inch slates announced yet, it's been rumored that 8.1 would enable smaller devices. Reller's comments only backed up those expectations, when she suggested that Windows 8 is great for everything from "the smallest tablets" to desktops.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Government Lab Reveals It Has Operated Quantum Internet for Over Two Years

One of the dreams for security experts is the creation of a quantum internet that allows perfectly secure communication based on the powerful laws of quantum mechanics.

The basic idea here is that the act of measuring a quantum object, such as a photon, always changes it. So any attempt to eavesdrop on a quantum message cannot fail to leave telltale signs of snooping that the receiver can detect. That allows anybody to send a “one-time pad” over a quantum network which can then be used for secure communication using conventional classical communication.

That sets things up nicely for perfectly secure messaging known as quantum cryptography and this is actually a fairly straightforward technique for any half decent quantum optics lab. Indeed, a company called ID Quantique sells an off-the-shelf system that has begun to attract banks and other organisations interested in perfect security.

These systems have an important limitation, however. The current generation of quantum cryptography systems are point-to-point connections over a single length of fibre, So they can send secure messages from A to B but cannot route this information onwards to C, D, E or F. That’s because the act of routing a message means reading the part of it that indicates where it has to be routed. And this inevitably changes it, at least with conventional routers. This makes a quantum internet impossible with today’s technology

Various teams are racing to develop quantum routers that will fix this problem by steering quantum messages without destroying them. We looked at one of the first last year. But the truth is that these devices are still some way from commercial reality.

Today, Richard Hughes and pals at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico reveal an alternative quantum internet, which they say they’ve been running for two and half years. Their approach is to create a quantum network based around a hub and spoke-type network. All messages get routed from any point in the network to another via this central hub.

This is not the first time this kind of approach has been tried. The idea is that messages to the hub rely on the usual level of quantum security. However, once at the hub, they are converted to conventional classical bits and then reconverted into quantum bits to be sent on the second leg of their journey.

So as long as the hub is secure, then the network should also be secure.

The problem with this approach is scalability. As the number of links to the hub increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to handle all the possible connections that can be made between one point in the network and another.

Hughes and co say they’ve solved this with their unique approach which equips each node in the network with quantum transmitters–i.e., lasers–but not with photon detectors which are expensive and bulky. Only the hub is capable of receiving a quantum message (although all nodes can send and receiving conventional messages in the normal way).

That may sound limiting but it still allows each node to send a one-time pad to the hub which it then uses to communicate securely over a classical link. The hub can then route this message to another node using another one time pad that it has set up with this second node. So the entire network is secure, provided that the central hub is also secure.

The big advantage of this system is that it makes the technology required at each node extremely simple–essentially little more than a laser. In fact, Los Alamos has already designed and built plug-and-play type modules that are about the size of a box of matches. “Our next-generation [module] will be an order of magnitude smaller in each linear dimension,” they say.

Their ultimate goal is to have one of these modules built in to almost any device connected to a fibre optic network, such as set top TV boxes, home computers and so on, to allow perfectly secure messaging.

Having run this system now for over two years, Los Alamos are now highly confident in its efficacy.
Of course, the network can never be more secure than the hub at the middle of it and this is an important limitation of this approach. By contrast, a pure quantum internet should allow perfectly secure communication from any point in the network to any other.

Another is that this approach will become obsolete as soon as quantum routers become commercially viable. So the question for any investors is whether they can get their money back in the time before then. The odds are that they won’t have to wait long to find out.


Microsoft Confirms Windows Blue Update Coming; Says Windows 8 Passes 100 Million Licenses Sold

Tami-Reller-Windows-8-380x285After months of rumors, Microsoft on Monday confirmed that it is readying an update to Windows 8 for later this year.

Code-named Windows Blue, the update will enable Windows to run on a wider range of devices (read: smaller-screen tablets). In a blog post, Microsoft said the update will also respond to some criticisms of Windows 8 and Windows RT, but the company didn’t go into specifics.

“Windows Blue is a codename for an update that will be available later this year, building on the bold vision set forward with Windows 8 to deliver the next generation of tablets and PCs,” Microsoft’s Tami Reller said in a blog post. “It will deliver the latest new innovations across an increasingly broad array of form factors of all sizes, display, battery life and performance, while creating new opportunities for our ecosystem.”

In the blog post, Microsoft also said that it has now sold more than 100 million licenses for Windows 8. And, despite the criticism, Reller said that Microsoft remains pleased with the operating system.
“Windows 8 is a big, ambitious change,” Reller said. “While we realize that change takes time, we feel good about the progress since launch, including what we’ve been able to accomplish with the ecosystem and customer reaction to the new PCs and tablets that are available now or will soon come to market.”

Microsoft billed Windows 8 as a “no compromise” operating system that would pave the way for devices that could offer all the benefits of both a PC and a mobile device. Hybrid designs allow for devices that act as both tablet and laptop, either through a flip of a swivel, a twist of the screen or the addition of a keyboard.

However, critics have said that the reality of Windows 8 has fallen short of its goal amid a lack of top-tier apps and devices that often force a choice of either limited battery life or limited compatibility with older Windows software.
PC sales have also not seen a hoped-for bump from Windows 8, as electronics buyers continue to spend money in other categories.

For her part, Reller noted that the number of apps in the Windows 8 storefront is now six times what it was at launch, and rejected the idea that the PC is past its prime.

“The PC is very much alive and increasingly mobile,” Reller said. “The PC is also part of a much broader device market of tablets and PCs. Windows 8 was built to fully participate in this broader and increasingly mobile device market.”


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Who’s Winning, iOS or Android? All the Numbers, All in One Place

Phil Schiller and J.K Shin

Bloomberg / Getty Images
Left, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller introduces the iPhone 5 on Sept. 12, 2012. Samsung CEO J.K. Shin brandishes two Galaxy S4 phones at the product launch on March 14, 2013
Who’s winning the mobile platform wars, Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android?

It’s one of the blogosphere’s favorite tech topics. Every new nugget of competitive information is fodder for an avalanche of coverage. Oftentimes, a story will declare that Android is beating iOS or that iOS is beating Android.

Really, though, it’s silly to obsess over any one data point. If what you’re after is a clear idea of how the world’s two dominant mobile operating systems are doing — rather than an excuse to make bold proclamations and/or cheer for your favorite — you want to consider lots of data points.

So that’s what I’m doing in this post. I’ve rustled up results from a bunch of studies, focusing on information that’s relatively fresh. (In some cases, it dates from the fourth quarter of 2012 — stats for the first quarter of this year are still scarce.)

A few notes on this exercise:

I’m not really going to look at changes over time. Trajectories are important, but there’s a limit to how much I can do in one story.

I won’t do deep analysis of why the numbers look the way they do. I’m collecting rather than interpreting, though I hope that some of you will draw conclusions in the comments.

I’m not going to include specific numbers for anything other than iOS and Android. Sorry, Windows Phone and BlackBerry — I’ll come back to you and how you’re doing at some point, I promise.

I won’t include forecasts and other predictions. I don’t believe in ‘em.

I’m not endorsing any of these studies. That’s dangerous unless you have a thorough knowledge of the methodology behind the numbers. Which I don’t.

Without any further ado, here are some key competitive questions, and the answers as provided by various research firms.

Which platform is selling the most smartphones?

In research conducted from mid-November through mid-February, Kantar Worldpanel Comtech showed sales of all Android phones outpacing the iPhone by a hefty margin: 52.1 percent to 43.5 percent. However, judging from past Kantar studies, these figures may be more of a freeze-frame of the competition at one particular point in time than a permanent reality: last year, Kantar had Android in the lead for a spell, and then it said that iOS had bounced back into first place.

Then there’s Comscore’s MobiLens study, which attempts to measure the smartphone platforms used by everyone in the U.S. over the age of 13 —  not just ones sold recently, but everything. The numbers it released this month are pretty similar to Kantar’s.

That’s the U.S. — how about everywhere else?

Worldwide, all those companies making Android phones sell a lot more units than Apple sells of the iPhone, says IDC. In the fourth quarter of 2012, Android had more than 70 percent share, vs. 21 percent for the iPhone.

And tablets?

Tablet shipment data is harder to come by than data for phones, and the most recent specific numbers by platform I could find were IDC’s full-year estimates for 2012, which it released on December 5 of last year. They had demand for 7″ Android tablets adding up to a decrease in the iPad’s dominance — but iOS still remained the most popular tablet operating system.

Which companies are selling the most smartphones?

Worldwide, according to IDC, Samsung — which deals primarily, but not exclusively in Android models — was the top manufacturer in the fourth quarter of last year, unit-wise. Apple was in second place.

In the U.S., however, Strategy Analytics says that Apple’s iPhone shipments outpaced Samsung. (Strategy Analytics says that its numbers are for “mobile phones,” so they may include plain ol’ flip phones as well as smartphones.)

Who’s making money selling smartphones?

As you might guess from the above two charts, Apple and Samsung are the ones raking in the bucks, says Canaccord Genuity. And Apple is raking in far more of them than Samsung, taking 72 percent of the profit in the last quarter of 2012. Samsung made 29 percent of the industry’s profit — mostly for Android phones, although it also has Windows Phone handsets. Everybody else in the business, including Android-centric makers such as HTC and Motorola, either broke even or lost money — which is why Apple and Samsung’s profits add up to more than 100 percent.


Which platform has the most apps?

After years of obsessing over the sheer quantity of apps available for these two platforms, the numbers seem to be similar, and similarly impressive, on both sides. Both Apple and Google currently claim more than 800,000 third-party programs for their respective platform.

What do the numbers look like for tablet-specific apps?

For iOS, Apple says there are more than 300,000 iPad-optimized programs. For Android: I wish I knew! As far as I know, Google hasn’t disclosed this number. But it’s safe to say that it remains piddling compared to Apple’s figure.

O.K., who has the best apps?

I hesitate to bring this up, because app quality is inherently subjective. But a company called uTest uses a system called Applause to crawl Apple’s App Store and Google’s Google Play, collecting user reviews and rankings. It then turns this data into scores from 1 to 100 for individual apps, and calculates average scores for each platform. In data published in a ReadWrite story in January, it said that the average iOS app, with a score of 68.5, is superior to the average Android app, at 63.3.

Which platform’s users are downloading the most apps?

According to Canalys, just over half of all apps downloaded in the first quarter of this year were for Android. iOS, at about 40 percent share, was the only other big-time player.

Who’s making money from app downloads?

According to Canalys’s data for the first quarter of this year, iOS users are spending much more on apps even if they’re downloading fewer of them overall.

Which platform gets used most on the Internet?

NetMarketShare publishes monthly stats on which browsers and operating systems are being used on the Net. Its report for March 2013 says that among mobile devices, iOS rules with 60.1 percent share. Android is way behind at 24.9 percent. Given that there are more Android devices out there, the data suggests that iOS users are disproportionately active online.
But here’s something weird: StatCounter, which does a similar study, comes up with numbers that are nothing like NetMarketShare’s. Its figures for March show Android usage easily outpacing iOS. Of course, the two organizations’ methodology may be radically different; I’m not sure, for instance, whether both, either or neither of them include the iPad in these numbers. But the disparity is a healthy reminder that it’s risky to draw conclusions from data you don’t know very much about.

Which platform is more widely used in business, iOS or Android?

A Citrix report covering the fourth quarter of 2012 comes as close to addressing this question as any recent study I’ve seen. It covers Citrix customers that “have deployed enterprise mobility management in the cloud,” and shows iOS as trouncing Android and everything else.

So who is winning — iOS or Android?

You had to ask, huh?

On some level, it’s too crude a question to take very seriously. There are just too many ways to define “winning,” and neither platform leads in every area. But here’s the closest thing to an objective answer I can manage.

“Android if you’re talking about market share; iOS if you mean financial success. So far, this is a strikingly different market than the PC business back in the 1990s, when market share translated directly into financial success.”

You, of course, are entitled to come to a different conclusion — and if you do, I hope you’ll share it in the comments.


Glass Explorer Edition gets unboxed, photographed (video)

We already know what Page and Co. will be packing along with Glass, but now that participants of the Explorer program have begun picking up the wearable hardware, we're getting a second-hand unboxing experience. For those in need of a refresher, the glasses will be accompanied by a microUSB cable and charger, a pouch and an attachable shade and clear lens. Though there isn't much to glean from the stream of images, one of Mountain View's adventurers noticed that users will be able to send navigation directions straight from a smartphone to the eyewear. Click the source links below to take a gander at the photos, or hit the jump to watch a video shot with Glass by a Googler.

Update 1: We've slotted in a video after the break of Glass user Dan McLaughlin extracting his device from its packaging. The footage is a bit choppy, but it certainly provides a closer look at the hardware.

Update 2: The intrepid folks at Tinhte managed to get their mitts on Google's headgear and have given us a tour -- albeit in Vietnamese -- of the contraption, replete with close-ups and solid video quality. Head past the break to watch the footage.

Sources - Youtube and Engadget

Monday, March 25, 2013

Major Windows 8 built-in app updates due Tuesday, Google Calendar sync will be disabled

Microsoft major event 
Microsoft is preparing some major updates to its built-in Windows 8 applications on Tuesday. The company is refreshing its communication apps: mail, calendar, and people. In our review of Windows 8 we found that the new built-in apps were significantly lacking functionality, and the performance of them on the Surface RT tablet was poor. Microsoft is attempting to address both of these issues this week.


The focus is really on mail with this round of updates. Speaking with The Verge, Windows user experience program manager Kip Knox explained that Microsoft recognises the importance of mail, calendaring, and contacts. "Since we shipped Windows 8 we've been working hard on this update," he reveals. The update includes some features and functionality that really should have been part of the original release, but at least Microsoft is starting to correct that. Folder creation, deletion, and renaming is now supported, alongside a filter that brings up unread messages.


Mail should sync a lot faster and more reliably says Knox, with a new feature to let users to mark mail as spam. With Gmail this will move the message to the spam folder, but with it will do the same and also alert Microsoft's spam filter about the mail to ensure a similar one isn't placed in the inbox in future. Flagging is now supported too, with a filter to view all flagged messages. One of the bigger improvements is search. You can now search all mail on the server, which brings up results regardless of the amount of email you have synced with your device.

Mail finally gets decent draft support and speed improvements

Microsoft has also improved the compose messages part of mail. Surface RT users will be able to create messages a lot quicker, and the mail client will now automatically provide contact suggestions based on the number of times you email certain people. Draft messages has also been greatly improved. When you back out of an email message, mail will automatically save a draft and show it inline with the rest of your messages. There's no way to turn this behaviour off, but you can go through the drafts folder to delete individual drafts. You'll also be able to paste in formatted charts a lot more reliably, and edit bulleted or numbered lists more easily. Adding, editing, and deleting hyperlinks is now supported too.


Other minor improvements include the ability to delete all messages in a folder or mark them as read, an option to save senders as new contacts, and support to send email from an alias. Microsoft is also building in information rights management email support for business users, allowing them to securely send email attachments and read encrypted ones.


On the calendar side, Microsoft has made some tweaks to the UI to improve readability. Font sizes and colors have been improved, and a new work week view lets you focus on Monday to Friday to find appointments. Calendar now includes the current time in day and week view that's displayed inline against your appointments. You can also forward meeting invitations and check the availability of attendees. Recurrence options for meetings have also been improved, with the ability to set end dates for recurring events.


Microsoft is removing Google Calendar support

One major change in calendar is the removal of Google sync support. "As of this update we will switch all Gmail accounts over to IMAP, we have to," says Knox. Microsoft currently supports Exchange ActiveSync for Google accounts in mail, calendar, and people, but Google has dropped this support for new devices. The app update will remove calendar support for Google, but Windows 8 users will still be able to add Gmail contacts to the people hub. Knox refused to comment on any plans for CalDAV support, which Windows Phone will soon support, so it looks like Windows 8 users will be left out in the cold if they want Google Calendar support natively in Windows 8. It's a disappointing result for users, regardless if you blame Google for the support removal or Microsoft for not implementing CalDAV and CardDAV support sooner.


The people app isn't getting any significant improvements with this round of updates, but Microsoft is taking the opportunity to tweak some parts. A new filter will let you control the content of the "what's new feed" by picking social networks, and navigation has been improved with clearer options when the app bar is enabled. A new change on the Facebook integration side lets you post directly to a friend's wall, handy if you use the app for Facebook at all. Finally, Microsoft is also building in support for its Active Directory Global Address List (GAL) for business users.

Solid improvements, but still more required

Overall the changes are major for mail users, with a host of improvements and performance enhancements that make the app a lot more usable. Although Messenger is part of the core communications apps, Microsoft isn't updating this app at all. It's unclear how the company plans to manage its Skype and Messenger merger, but given the Messenger app seems redundant now we'd expect it to disappear in time. Skype now supports Messenger conversations and having two apps support identical scenarios seems confusing and unnecessary.

However, Microsoft refuses to comment on its plans for the Windows 8 Messenger app. The built-in Windows 8 apps will all be available in the Windows Store by Tuesday, but If Google Calendar support is essential to you then you might want to hold off updating. The unclear CalDAV support situation leaves users in limbo, so Microsoft needs to reveal its plans before people are left with questions. Despite this, the mail improvements are significant enough make an update worthwhile, and we're hopeful that Microsoft will continue to improve the rest of its apps very soon.