Tag Archive: Microsoft


For the first time, Facebook has revealed details about how it tracks users across the web.

Through interviews with Facebook engineering director Arturo Bejar, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes, Facebook corporate spokesman Barry Schnitt and Facebook engineering manager Gregg Stefancik, USA Today‘s Byron Acohido was able to compile the most complete picture to date of how the social network keeps tabs on its 800 million users.

Here is what Acohido learned:

    • Facebook doesn’t track everybody the same way. It uses different methods for members who have signed in and are using their accounts, members who are logged-off and non-members.
    • The first time you arrive at any Facebook.com page, the company inserts cookies in your browser. If you sign up for an account, it inserts two types of cookies. If you don’t set up an account, it only inserts one of the two types.
    • These cookies record every time you visit another website that uses a Facebook Like button or other Facebook plugin — which work together with the cookies to note the time, date and website being visited. Unique characteristics that identify your computer are also recorded.
    • Facebook keeps logs that record your past 90 days of activity. It deletes entries older than 90 days.
    • If you are logged into a Facebook account, your name, email address, friends and all of the other data in your Facebook profile is also recorded.

Data about web searches and browsing habits could be used to figure out political affiliations, religious beliefs, sexual orientations or health issues about consumers. According to USA Today, this type of correlation doesn’t seem to be happening on a wide scale, but the concern of some privacy advocates is that selling data could become a tempting business proposition — both to social networks like Facebook and online advertising players such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo that similarly employ cookie tracking techniques.

Facebook told USA Today that it uses data collected via cookies to help improve security and its plugins and that it has no plans to change how it uses this data. It has, however, applied for a patent on a technology that includes a method that correlates ads and tracking data.

“We patent lots of things, and future products should not be inferred from our patent application,” Facebook corporate spokesman Barry Schnitt told USA Today.

Regardless of how Facebook is handling the data it collects through cookies, by doing so it has entered a very sticky debate about whether consumers should be able to opt out of being tracked by such methods. Aproposed law that would create this option was introduced in February.

While a recent poll found that about 70% of Facebook users and 52% of Google users were either somewhat or very concerned about their privacy, some argue that online commerce would suffer without online tracking.

Thanks: Mashable

 

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Retail outlets looking for new, innovative ways to get hands-on with their customers will soon have a new tool – the Samsung SUR40.

Companies are already using Microsoft Surface to give potential customers virtual tours of plane interiors, help them plan flights, provide them with the ability to create immersive photo books, and entice bank customers into brick and mortar branches. Those experiences only hint at how the new Surface device will be able to help businesses engage with customers, said Somanna Palacanda, director of Microsoft Surface.

“With what’s happening in the world of touch and the fact that touch is becoming ubiquitous, people are looking for more immersive relationships with screens,” he said. “The new Surface takes technology that’s always existed in the backs of stores and brings it front and center. So now customers and retailers can interact together, a doctor and a patient can have a more immersive consulting experience, and a banker and a customer can sit together and work on a simulation where in past the banker would be the only one in control.”

Samsung and Microsoft announced today that a new, more versatile Microsoft Surface device is now available for pre-order, the near final stop on its journey from lab to marketplace. Now, businesses in 23 countries can visit the Samsung website to find a local reseller and place an order for the Samsung SUR40. Shipments are expected to start early next year.

The Samsung SUR40 was just named a2011 “Best of What’s New” award winnerby Popular Science magazine and is featured in a special awards issue currently on newsstands. Corinne Iozzio, senior associate editor at Popular Science, said the magazine’s editors were impressed with the update to the original Surface, a 2008 “Best of What’s New” winner.

“We very much liked the idea of the package of the Surface, which had packed so much computing intelligence and so much sensor technology into such a thin package,” she said. “It’s a tabletop that can be put anywhere without harming the functionality and in fact makes a system like the Surface much more accessible.”

The Samsung SUR40 also earned strong praise by the likes of Forbes and Gizmodo when released at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.

Palacanda said the new Surface device incorporates all the key features of the original – a massive multi-touch screen, the ability to recognize fingers, blobs, and objects – as well as PixelSense, a new technology that lets LCD panels “see” without the use of actual cameras. The technology has helped slim down the second version of the Surface device and enables a new form factor – one that can be turned on its side. With a screen that’s only four inches thin, customers will have the option to use the Samsung SUR40 horizontally as a table, hang it on a wall, or embed it into furniture, Palacanda said.

“We listened to our partners and customers’ requests for a lighter and thinner form factor that gives them flexibility because there’s no one-size-fits-all in the retail space,” he said.

Several existing Surface customers, including Dassault Aviation, Fujifilm Corp. and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), plan to use the Samsung SUR40 in locations around the globe early next year. RBC is already using the first version of Surface as a new medium to engage with its customers, Palacanda said.

He explained that RBC is redesigning their stores to offer customers a new retail experience, where Surface is playing an important part. For example, RBC launched a direct mail campaign to invite their customers into their stores through a sweepstakes. When customers visit, they drop their brochure onto the Surface machine to find out if they’ve won a prize. At the same time, RBC employees can use Surface to highlight the bank’s products and services.

The results encouraged RBC, Palacanda said. A typical direct mail response rate is less than 1 percent; RBC is seeing a conversion of above 10 percent.

“We’ve always spoken about collaboration from a computing standpoint, but before Microsoft Surface we truly did not have a device where two or more people could actually engage together with the same piece of digital content,” Palacanda said. “I think this announcement is the first step in delivering a next generation device that improves even further on the original Surface experience, which enables two or more people to collaborate in a very meaningful way.”

The new device is also popular with developers, said Luis Cabrera-Cordón, senior program manager for Microsoft Surface. The Surface 2.0 software developer kit (SDK) was released at MIX11 in April, and already it’s been downloaded more than 7,000 times.

The SDK features an input simulator that enables developers to write Surface applications on any Windows 7 PC, an approach Cabrera-Cordón called “Write once, touch anywhere.”

“The SDK allows developers to write a single application that can adapt to all sorts of types of hardware,” he said. “That makes for a great investment: they can target Microsoft Surface hardware as well as any Windows 7 touch-enabled PC. This is a flexible platform so developers can create the best user interface for the person actually using the computer.”

Cabrera-Cordón encouraged developers to download the SDK and start building apps as the Samsung SUR40’s release date draws near.

“Touch apps are an area that is new. There is a lot to discover and innovate on,” Cabrera-Cordón said. “And I hope that by playing with the Surface 2.0 SDK, they’ll discover they can innovate and create things that we don’t have today.”

Thanks: Microsoft

Perception is killing Internet Explorer

 

Even though a new version was just released back in March, Internet Explorer is still bleeding market share. The growth that IE9 has gotten is mostly just cannibalization of older versions of IE, and overall it recently fell below 50% of market share. IE6, released in 2001, controls as much of the market as the latest version.

Microsoft has been trying very hard, especially with IE9, to breathe new life into it’s browser. Arguably, they got it right this time. But it’s not helping. Some people think that it’s Microsoft’s lack of a major presence in mobile that’s hurting them. Other people will tell you that it’s the lack of extensions and updates. But what’s really behind the long, painful demise of Internet Explorer? It really began picking up steam with IE3 in 1996, very quickly becoming the #1 browser. They must have been doing something right. Somewhere along the line, though, something went horribly wrong.

It began in 2002. At that point, IE had 95% of the browser market. Netscape couldn’t touch it, and there wasn’t another real competitor on the horizon. Microsoft was king, so they could rest and enjoy the fruits of their labor, right? Wrong.

Phoenix came, quite appropriately, out of the ashes of Netscape, and by the time it became known as Mozilla Firefox in 2004, IE’s cracks were starting to show. Compared to Firefox, it was clunky, slow, and boring. IE was a dog. It sucked. Microsoft’s answer was to do nothing. It wasn’t until October 2006, more than five years after the launch of IE6, that Microsoft released IE7. For the first time, IE had tabbed browsing, something that Firefox already had in 2002. IE7 was an improvement, but it was too late. The damage had been done; IE was the browser you used to download a better browser.

By the time IE8 was released in 2009 there was a new kid on the block: Google Chrome. It was fast, sleek, extendable, with all of Google’s marketing power behind it. IE8 wasn’t a dog, but it was hardly impressive enough to win any new fans, either.

Microsoft realized that they had to do something truly radical if they wanted to regain some of their lost market share. Rewriting large portions of the code from the ground up, they overhauled the entire interface of the browser. From the first time it was shown off, IE9 was well received.

It was released in March of 2011. Firefox 4.0 came out a few days later, and Google Chrome was already in it’s 10th incarnation. Testing found that IE9 easily matched the speeds of its competitors, and it boasted a cleaner interface that allowed more room for the web. By all accounts, it was a worthy competitor to the best of them, though it still lacked strong support for extensions.

Even with all the praise it has received, IE9 is still getting the short end of the stick. Firefox’s growth is more or less stagnant at this point, but Chrome continues to gobble up market share at an ever faster rate, much of it taken out of IE.

The real problem is the reputation that Internet Explorer ‘earned’ through the botched releases of yore. It doesn’t matter how good of a product Microsoft releases, Internet Explorer has too much baggage behind it.

If Microsoft ran something similar to the Mojave Experiment like they did with Vista, demonstrating IE as a different product, I believe that it would be much more well received. Face it: the vast majority of consumers couldn’t care less what browser they are using. They just want to get online and do what they want. They just want the browser to stay the hell out of their way (something IE is good at). Most of the criticism directed at IE comes from people like you and I. We like to think of ourselves as being ‘in the know.’

We are the people who fix our elderly neighbor’s computers. We are enthusiasts. Some of us do this for a living. Many of you hate IE because of what it used to be, not because of what it is. If it was left up to a large portion of users, they would never move beyond it. Not because they hate it and they’re being forced to use it, but because it works perfectly well enough for them. Like me, I bet that a lot of you are guilty of installing Firefox or Chrome on other people’s computers. You couldn’t leave IE on their computer in good conscience, not when it was the mess that it used to be.

It’s not something I want to see happen, but from a business standpoint, I think that it’s the best solution. Microsoft needs to drop the IE name. It might be lamented by the likes of us, an old friend going away, but I think that it would be best for Microsoft. They could hold on to the technology that they have built, but get rid of all the excess baggage that comes with the name Internet Explorer. It would be starting from a clean slate, and it would cost brand recognition. But is the recognition that comes from Internet Explorer really the kind of recognition that Microsoft wants?

Thanks: Neowin

 

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As promised, Microsoft has begun pushing its Windows Phone 7.5 update to all compatible phones from around the world, no matter what the carrier or device. The LG Optimus 7 on Telefonica in Spain and Samsung Omnia 7 on Deutsche Telekom were updated on Wednesday, for example. Users can check if their handset will get the update online. If an update for a phone is not listed as “scheduling” or “testing,” it will get the update.

Major changes in Windows Phone 7.5 focus on multitasking, a modern IE9-based browser, and Twitter integration. custom ringtones, visual voicemail, new speech commands and threads in e-mails, social networks and text messages. E-mails from multiple accounts can also be funneled into a single inbox and can also be organized in a more flowing conversation view.

Firmware updates beyond 7.5 itself are being sent out to certain phones around the world. The patches will improve phone performance, fix bugs and activate new features if supported by the hardware. These updates are sent to phones on particular carriers in some countries and certain phone models.

Thanks: Electronista

Review: Windows XP, ten years later

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Today Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system officially turns 10 years old. While PC makers started taking orders for new PCs with Windows XP installed a few weeks prior to October 25, 2001, this was the day that consumers were able to walk into a store and buy a copy of the OS in order to update their current PCs to the new version of Windows.

10 years later, Windows XP is still used on a ton of PCs around the world. This was due in part because Microsoft decided not to release a major new update to Windows until 2007 with Windows Vista. However, Vista never caught on with either businesses nor the public due to bugs and poor hardware driver support. As a result, many people didn’t bother upgrading to Windows Vista and waited until Windows 7 was released in 2009 to update to a new version. Windows XP is just starting to lose its grip among PC users, according to recent statistics.

The world has changed a lot in the last decade and certainly the PC business has changed as it faces competition from new smartphones and tablets. But 10 years ago, Microsoft had people standing in line at their local software stores to buy their software. We now know that Windows XP turned out to be the most successful and the longest lasting operating system that Microsoft ever produced. But what were the reviews like at the time of its release.

CNet’s review of Windows XP Home Edition, back on September 8, 2001, gave the OS four out of five stars. It said that the new user interface for Windows XP, as compared to Windows 95/98/Me, looked much different. It concluded:

While its new, hand-holding “task-oriented” design may annoy experienced users, Microsoft nevertheless managed to create an OS that works equally well for novices, corporate users, and enthusiasts. Despite hefty system requirements (a Pentium II-300 or faster, 128MB of RAM, and 1.5GB of free disk space), onerous product activation, and some not-so-obvious touting of Microsoft’s business partners, you’ll want to consider an upgrade–if not immediately, certainly the next time you buy a PC.

It’s interesting to read about the “hefty” hardware specs for Windows XP now. Many smartphones that are on the market now easily exceed the processor, RAM and storage space that is needed to run Windows XP.

ActiveWin reviewed the Windows XP Professional Edition 10 years ago. Overall the web site gave the OS a review score of 84.9 (out of 100). It took down some points on its high price and also on its applications support. However, overall it praised Windows XP. The conclusion said:

Microsoft has listened to their customers by adding many new features they were requesting. Not only is Windows XP one of the most reliable operating systems ever released but it also offers an unprecedented level of conviviality thanks to a user friendly interface that includes smart enhancements to adapt the system to the way users work. In fact Windows XP is a treasure combining a marvel of conception, a gorgeous design, and innovative features; in other words: it’s worth the wait!

From a PC gaming perspective, the FiringSquad web site posted its review on October 29, 2001. It gave it a grade of 85 (out of 100). Once again, Windows XP was slammed for some high system requirements. The review added, “The question simply comes down to whether or not you need and or want the new features that Windows XP offers. If you’re a gamer and are satisfied with Windows 98SE, by all means, don’t upgrade and risk losing the ability to play some of your favorite games.”

Overall, FiringSquad gave Windows XP high marks, saying:

Overall, Windows XP addresses many issues that users have been asking for and then some. For those lingering on Windows 95, 98 or NT4 machines, Windows XP provides a solid foundation on which to grow on. There’s bound to be users who will upgrade no matter what we say, and realistically, Windows XP is a well designed, well implemented and well supported product. For the general population, you can’t go wrong by moving to Windows XP, but you can’t be 100% satisfied either.

The web site also went further and did a performance test of Windows XP with a number of games and benchmark tools. The final conclusion of those tests was also positive with FiringSquad saying:

After running these tests, and assuming that these benchmarks provide a decent estimate of what to expect, we can conclude that XP does not pose a performance risk. Most of the scores were either on par with Win2K or better than it. Win98SE took some leads in a few of the tests, but stability on that OS is something that is left to be desired.

Windows XP certainly had more than its share of support and popularity. But things are finally changing. Windows 7 is now firmly in place on a small majority of PCs in the world (depending on what statistics you use) Once more, Windows 8’s release is on the horizon. Microsoft continues to urge people, especially large businesses, who have yet to upgrade from Windows XP to do so to Windows 7 and not wait until Windows 8 comes out.

Officially, Microsoft will no longer offer technical support nor any software upgrades to Windows XP after April 2014. Even though Microsoft will do its level best to get PC users to switch to Windows 7 or 8, it’s more than likely that there will still be a large number of PCs around the world that will still run Windows XP. It just goes to show that if you make a successful and stable operating system, lots of folks don’t want to fool around with a major upgrade if they don’t need to.

Windows XP wasn’t the only major launch for Microsoft. A few weeks later the company launched the original Xbox game console. But that 10th anniversary is the subject for another day.

Thanks: Neowin

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Science fiction movies and TV shows that show people using holographic touch interfaces on their PCs may be closer to reality than previously thought. The official Microsoft Research web site has announced that it has been working on two different types of touch interfaces. One of them is called OmniTouch and enables nearly any kind of surface to be used as an user interface.

Microsoft’s Hrvoje Benko said, “The surface area of one hand alone exceeds that of typical smart phones. Tables are an order of magnitude larger than a tablet computer. If we could appropriate these ad hoc surfaces in an on-demand way, we could deliver all of the benefits of mobility while expanding the user’s interactive capability.”

The prototype is supposed to be wearable by a person, using a combination of a camera created by PrimeSense with a laser-based pico projector. As you can see from the pictures above, the projector creates the image of the user interface which can be interacted with via the camera. While the prototype camera is pretty bulky to use, the web site claims the projector and camera combo could be made as small as a matchbox at some time in the future.

Another way of creating a different kind touch interface is called PocketTouch. It’s a design that allows a smartphone or other device to be accessed without the user taking it out of his or her pocket. The site says, “It uses the capacitive sensors to enable eyes-free multitouch input on the device through fabric, giving users the convenience of a rich set of gesture interactions, ranging from simple touch strokes to full alphanumeric text entry, without having to remove the device from a pocket or bag.” You can see examples in the pictures above.

So how does this process work, especially since smartphone users generally have no idea how their device is oriented in their pocket or bag? The site says, “The team resolved this by using an orientation-defining unlock gesture to determine the coordinate plane, thus initializing the device for interaction. Once initialized, user orientation can be from any direction as long as it’s consistent. PocketTouch then separates purposeful finger strokes from background noise and uses them as input.”

Thanks: Neowin

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Internet users usually open up their web browsers to surf their favorite web sites without a lot of thought put into it. But Microsoft is launching a new web site that is designed to alert Internet users to the dangers of web surfing, particularly on older web browser versions. The web site is Yourbrowsermatters.org which tells a visitor how secure their browser is to threats like malware and phishing attacks on a scale of 0 to 4.

According to a post on Microsoft’s official Internet Explorer web site, 24.4 percent of all the PCs in the world that are connected to the Internet run an outdated version of a web browser. Microsoft says that amount comes to 340 million PCs that don’t run the latest version of their web browser software. The number of PCs in the world that run Internet Explorer 6 or 7 total 15.2 percent while PCs who run Mozilla’s Firefox 3.6 or older amount to 7.5 percent. PCs who run the 12th version or older of Google’s Chrome browser are in 1.7 percent of all PCs. Chrome is the only one of the three web browsers that now automatically updates to the newest version, without any need for a user’s approval.

Yourbrowsermatters.org goes over some of the things that people can do to be more secure while browsing the Internet. That includes downloading the latest version of your web browser, making sure your operating system is also up to date, being able to recognize phishing attacks and more.

Image via Microsoft

Thanks:Neowin

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Now that Windows Phone 7.5 – or Mango, to its friends – is here, the first wave of new handsets running the latest version of Microsoft’s mobile OS are starting to arrive. HTC’s stylish Radar and mighty Titan have recently gone on sale; Samsung recently announced its Focus Flash and Focus S devices for the US, and its mid-range Omnia W for other markets; and LG recently announced its new E906 handset, in conjunction with minimalist fashion designer Jil Sander.

Although Dell appears to be taking a step back from Windows Phone production, for now at least, other manufacturers are preparing to launch their first devices on the platform, including ZTE, which recently announced its WP7 debut with the Tania; and Acer, which will shortly release its first Windows Phone, the Allegro.

Telecompaper reports that Acer has confirmed its plan to put the device on sale in Europe before Christmas, and that it will carry a budget-friendly price tag of just €299EUR (just over $400USD or around £260GBP) off-contract. To put this into perspective, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) in many European markets for HTC’s new Titan is double that, at €599 ($800/£520).

But does the aggressive pricing of the Allegro mean that compromises have been made in its design or specification? So far, Acer hasn’t publicly issued any confirmation about the Allegro’s spec list, but the company did reveal a Windows Phone during the summer at Computex called the W4 (also known within Acer as the M310), before showing it again at IFA in September.

That device’s specifications were fairly unremarkable for the second-generation Windows Phones, with a 3.6” WVGA display, 1GHz Snapdragon and 8GB of storage, along with the usual suspects such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and A-GPS, and a 5MP camera. It also includes DLNA media streaming with compatible devices, and Acer’s FastCharge system which claims to offer an accelerated battery charging facility when the handset is connected to an Acer computer.

Acer has previously confirmed its plans to launch the W4 with Mango, so it would certainly make sense if that model has become the Allegro that the company is now getting ready to put on sale.

The availability of new Windows Phones at more accessible price points will be an important part of increasing the market share of the mobile operating system, which has so far seen sluggish sales. Acer won’t have this end of the market all to itself, though, as Nokia has declared its intention to compete at the entry level with some of its new Windows Phones too, the first of which are expected to launch later this month.

Thanks: Neowin/Engadget

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The most visible change in Windows 8, the new Start screen, has arguably been the focal point of discussion on the Building Windows 8 blog and across the web regarding the upcoming operating system. Starting today, Microsoft is kicking off a set of posts on the blog to better address the concerns of a move to a new launcher mechanism that, to some, appears more touch-friendly than for keyboards and mice.

Chaitanya Sareen, a program manager lead on the “Core Experience Evolved” team (also known for his introduction of Windows 7’s then-new “Superbar”), begins the post with responses to recurring questions regarding the Windows 8 Start screen and Metro-style applications:

There will be a way to close Metro-style applications without jumping into the Task Manager in the ‘old’ desktop. There will be a more efficient way to scroll through the list of programs using a mouse in the beta. There will be more details of switching through currently running applications via mice and keyboards as the beta approaches.

So why the move to a fullscreen launcher? What were the problems with the current Start Menu in Windows 7? According to Microsoft’s telemetry data, the usage of the Start Menu actually decreased from Windows Vista to Windows 7. Part of the reason, as Sareen explains, was attributed to the much-improved taskbar introduced in Windows 7, which allowed for one-click launching and switching between most frequently used applications, and for Internet Explorer 9, favourite web sites.

The use of links to user folder locations – Documents and Pictures – fell with the availability of Jump Lists and the ability to pin favourite folders to the Explorer taskbar button. Pinning items to the Start Menu also fell in favour of saving one click by pinning the item to the taskbar.

The drop in the use of ‘All Programs’ is also tied with one of the usability challenges Microsoft identified with the Start Menu, which the new Start screen addresses:

Browsing the list of all available applications in a small cramped space, relative to the available screen estate Search pane also not given enough space to show results across a wide range of sources, requiring an extra click of “See more results” Limited customization of the Start Menu Static icons for shortcuts

Thanks: Neowin
Image Credit: Building Windows 8 blog

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Mozilla on Tuesday posted the finished versions of Firefox 7 (Linux, Mac OS X, Windows). The new release is still part of Mozilla’s fast track schedule and focuses most on running faster and more efficiently than before. Version 7 uses 20 to 50 percent less memory and also now cuts back on memory leaks and waste from Javascript.

Closing tabs now directly removes those tabs from memory and leads to more resources free as time goes on.

Other changes are minor but noticeable. The address bar now eliminates the URI from the current page and highlights the primary domain to simplify spotting fake sites. Bookmark and password syncing occurs more frequently, and the renderer now supports CSS3’s Text Overflow and web load time analytics for developers. Windows users now get hardware acceleration of HTML5 Canvas pages.

Another major Firefox revision is expected within about six weeks. Mozilla has entertained the prospects of a partial return to slower, major milestone releases but hasn’t signaled any such change coming before Firefox 8.

Thanks: Electronista