piatok 9. marca 2012

Google Voice Lets You 'Send a Call From Santa' Once Again

Google is getting into the holiday spirit once again with its "Send A Call From Santa" website. Last year Google gave jolly old Saint Nick his very own Google Voice phone number (855-34-SANTA), that people could call from their Google Voice accounts (or regular phones).

Santa's got the same phone number this year, so you can call up the North Pole and leave him a message (he can't pick up, because, well…he's pretty busy these days). This is a great tech-savvy way to get your kids' Christmas lists to Santa--instead of having them write it down, just have them dictate it through a VoIP service to Santa's voicemail! Very Christmas 2.0.

You can also send your child (or someone else) a personalized call from Santa using Google's Send A Call From Santa website. Just head on over to sendacallfromsanta.com, fill in some info about the person you want to send a call to (such as name, your relationship, their favorite food, etc.), and they'll get a cool, personalized call from Santa himself.

While you can make the personalized call "kid-friendly," you can also make it funny if you want to send it to your friends. For example, you can have Santa refer to your buddy as your "brother from another mother" who likes to eat "chicken and waffles" before Santa "polishes his rims."

Google naturally sticks some shameless self-promotion in the choices: you can say your friend wants an "Android phone," "better Google Voice number," or "New Gmail Theme" for Christmas. One of the "favorite food" options is Ice Cream Sandwich--a nod to Google's anticipated Android refresh.

It doesn't have to be a Christmas call, either--there are options for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, as well as non-denominational wintry holidays.

Google is also celebrating the holiday season with a little search trick: search for "Christmas" on Google and you'll be treated to a colorful string of Christmas lights above your search results. Search for "Hanukkah," and you'll be treated to a string of Hanukkah lights. Nothing happens if you search for "Kwanzaa."

On top of all that, Google promises a "bonus surprise" coming out in a few days. We're not sure what it is, but it'll be on the Send A Call From Santa website, and it should arrive shortly…

Microsoft Bails From CES Tech Trade Show After 2012

Microsoft today announced that next month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will its last as an exhibitor.Microsoft today announced that next month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) will its last as an exhibitor.

"We have decided that this coming January will be our last keynote presentation and booth at CES," said Frank Shaw, the head of Microsoft's corporate communications, in a blog post Wednesday.

As Shaw noted, January's CES will also be the last time that a Microsoft executive gives the gigantic trade show's opening keynote. Former CEO and current chairman Bill Gates delivered his first keynote in 1994 and ended with the 2008 CES. Current chief executive Steve Ballmer, who has taken the stage the last two years, will do so for the final time Monday night, Jan. 9.

"We won't have a keynote or booth after this year because our product news milestones generally don't align with the show's January timing," said Shaw.

Microsoft decided to downsize its role at CES, Shaw also said, because the company was "look[ing] at all of the new ways we tell our consumer stories," Among those new avenues, Shaw cited Microsoft's home-grown events, website, and the retail stores it's launched in more than a dozen locations, as well as social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.

"It feels like the right time to make this transition," Shaw said.

The show sponsor, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), echoed Shaw in its own statement today.

"Both CEA and Microsoft have agreed that the time has some to end this great run [of 14 keynotes]," a spokeswoman said.

CEA also confirmed that Microsoft will not seek booth space for 2013 in the Central Hall, where it's had a massive presence for years.

Microsoft's move is reminiscent of Apple's decision in late 2008 to end its active participation -- which also included booth space and the delivery of the keynote address -- after the January 2009 Macworld Conference & Expo.

Shaw's list of alternative ways to communicate Microsoft's product messaging was similar to the ones given by Apple's head of marketing Philip Schiller three years ago. At the time, Schiller said Apple was "reaching more people in more ways than ever before" and that "trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers."

Like Shaw, Schiller also pointed to Apple's retail stores and its own website as alternatives to trade shows.

"This is all part of the very long decline of the various technology trade shows," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "A trade show like CES is a very difficult and expensive selling environment, and although they may be a good way to connect with small retailers, the very largest technology companies don't have to sell that way."

Gottheil saw parallels between Apple's and Microsoft's decision to pull out of major trade shows like Macworld and CES.

"Microsoft isn't simply copying Apple, but like Apple, they have the kinds of products and the kinds of messaging where you want to get across something deep and complex, and you want to get this across without distractions of other products," said Gottheil.

Microsoft has stepped up the number of self-made events it has hosted this year, and like Apple, has shifted to invitation-only product launches or meetings with media and developers.

Last month, for example, Microsoft used a such a meeting to unveil more details about its upcoming online Windows Store -- its version of Apple's Mac App Store -- and to announce the late-February availability of Windows 8's beta .

The latter was a departure for Microsoft.

In early 2009, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the availability of Windows 7's beta during his CES keynote.

The CEA declined to answer questions about how Microsoft's future absence will affect the trade show.

The association's spokeswoman, however, did note that it had already heard from companies on its waiting list which wanted to discuss taking up the exhibit space slack.

Microsoft has used CES to introduce major products -- such as the Xbox in 2001 -- the show has been the scene of some infamous gaffes, including the "Blue Screen of Death" that popped up on a Windows PC during Gates' 2005 keynote.

pondelok 6. februára 2012

Amazon Updates Kindle Fire Software: Fixes Some Nagging Issues

Amazon is pushing out a free over-the-air software update for the Kindle Fire, that fixes a batch of problems with the tablet. The update comes just over a week after Amazon vowed to address users' complaints with the $200 low-cost iPad alternative.

The Kindle software update version 6.2.1 is meant to “enhance fluidity and performance” and “improve touch navigation responsiveness,” two problems with the tablet that contributed to a flurry of negative one and two-star reviews on Amazon’s website. More than 3 million Kindle Fires were sold so far, Amazon said.

Other big gripes with the Kindle Fire addressed by the update are the new option to choose which items display on the carousel, and the ability to add a password lock on Wi-Fi access. It’s still unclear whether the password lock fixes the lack of security and parental controls that can lead to children viewing inappropriate content or racking up huge content bills.

To update your Kindle Fire, Amazon advises to ensure your battery is fully charged and that you are connected to a Wi-Fi network. You then tap the Quick Settings icon in the upper right corner and then "Sync." Next, a new notification will appear in the upper left hand corner of the drop down notification bar. Select "update" and the 6.2.1 update will automatically download in the background and will be applied when the device is asleep. Amazon also has a set of instructions to install the software manually.

The first Kindle Fire users to receive the update reported it was slow to download, but said it is “an improvement”. One particularly welcomed the changes to the carousel, saying, “my carousel can now be cleaned up from all the junk that was there, including the Facebook junk.”

sobota 21. januára 2012

No Car Thief Can Fool This Japanese Car Seat

AppId is over the quota
AppId is over the quota

Even though nothing can prevent someone from smashing your car window, it would be nice to ensure that your entire vehicle could never be stolen right off the street. Anti-theft tracking devices and biometric car starters are a good start, but what if someone actually figures out how to steal your fingerprints and disable the GPS system? The Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology in Tokyo thinks your body weight should do the trick.

Geekosystem relays news and images of a new kind of car seat that can actually recognize the person sitting in it. When someone settles in to take a drive, the seat's various pressure sensors will read the driver's body weight and create a map that matches the exact distribution of their mass. All that data's collected in an external computer, and once the pressure map is properly registered, it acts as the "key" for the car.

So far, the pressurized car seat is about 98 percent accurate, but thanks to the mapping software, someone who weighs the same as the driver shouldn't be able to fool the system so easily. As Geekosystem rightly points out, there's a lot of variables to wonder about here. If the seat locks your body weight in at a specific setting, how will it recognize you under different circumstances?

It's fair to say that no person sits in their car the exact same way every time. And with the pressure sensors in mind, you'll undoubtedly need to empty your back pockets before every drive. Or, suppose that you lose (or gain) enough weight to throw off the sensors, rendering you unable to drive your own vehicle -- will you have to reset the system every time?

[Images via Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology, Geekosystem]

McKinley Noble is a former GamePro staff editor, current technology nerd and eternal mixed martial arts enthusiast. He also likes Japanese sports dramas and soap operas. Follow him on Twitter or just Google his name.

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nedeľa 15. januára 2012

IT Groups Reveal Their Best Enterprise Tablet Tricks

AppId is over the quota
AppId is over the quota

New generation tablets are being adopted en masse by enterprises, despite the lack of any support infrastructure from the manufacturers. Many enterprise users, and IT groups, are making determined efforts to secure and manage tablets with whatever tools are available.

[BACKGROUND: 3 tips for avoiding tablet management headaches]

We talked with IT pros and executives from three companies that have deployed tablets:

Bayada Nurses, a Moorestown, N. J. company that provides nursing and other home-based healthcare services. It has 14,000 nurses, aids, therapists, social workers, based in 52 branch offices in 20 states. It has rolled out 2,000 Android-based, 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tabs so far;

Main application: Homecare Homebase (HCHB), a Web-based app for managing and reporting on home-delivered services to patients.

Hawthorn Pharmaceuticals, a Madison, Miss., specialty pharmaceutical company founded in 1998. Of 160 employees, 120 are sales staff. It has rolled out the Apple iPad, replacing discontinued HP iPaq PDAs running Windows Mobile.

Main applications: iPoint CRM application, from Pharmaceutical Operations Provider; Fiberlink MaaS360 for mobile device management and software distribution

The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, Ontario, which has 3,000 iPads deployed to doctors, interns and pharmacists.

Main applications: custom-built apps, one for electronic ordering by doctors of lab tests, medical imaging, medication; another for electronic patient health record; MobileIron, for iOS device management.

1. How to get tablet apps your end users need?

All three of the deployments here were at least initially built around one mission-critical application.

Bayada was actually piloting a Windows Phone-based version of the HCHB application (which requires an on-device database), when the vendor introduced the Android tablet version. Bayada quickly shifted to the tablet. "When we went live on the [larger-screened] tablets, the training time, the user satisfaction, the whole mood [of our employees] was totally different," says David Baiada, division director and practice leader for Bayada's Skilled Visit Services.

When Hawthorn Pharmaceuticals discovered that iPoint was being ported to Apple iOS, the company asked the software vendor to speed up development. "We were maxed out on the iPaq," says Clay Hilton, director of information technology. "We wanted to do more. We wanted to gather additional data."

Ottawa Hospital, a very early adopter of the original iPad, was ahead of its software vendors. It turned to outside software development shops, through an RFP process. CIO Dale Potter insisted that the developer provide a full-time ergonomics expert for the application design process, so that the app's screen flows matched and mirrored the workflows of end users. The hospital also made the decision to invest heavily in internal iOS development: there are now close to 70 programmers.

"Cross-platform development is an expensive proposition," says Greg Jenko, executive director, mobility services for Accenture, the big IT consultancy and systems integrator. "CIOs with BlackBerries, Androids, and iPhones are not going to invest in developing for all three. They'll pick one. The iPad is the one today."

2. How big a problem is tablet security?

All three companies take tablet security seriously, yet none ran into any stonewalls. The general consensus: tablet security is manageable, if you manage it.

Potter is blunt. "Security is grossly over-rated as a topic," he says. In the case of Ottawa, very little data is stored on the tablet. In fact, his analogy is that the iPads are like TV screens: all information is streamed to the device. When the user logs off, everything is flushed from memory. "And there are all kinds of security strategies that can be applied to the device, such as providing strong passwords," he says.

It was a harder transition for Hawthorn's Hilton.

"I cringed at the thought of purchasing for our sales force 100 devices running iTunes," he admits. "I was used to a certain amount of control [over client devices]. This was outside my comfort zone."

[Tech argument: Corporate-owned vs. employee-owned mobile devices]

Hawthorn makes use of some of the security features in Fiberlink's MaaS360 management application, such as automatically locking the screen or wiping the device after a set number of failed logon attempts. Hawthorn doesn't use VPNs for the iPads, in part because so much of the tablet's usage is Web-based. "We've got a sales [department] extranet, a Web portal accessed with username/password," he says. "Seventy-five percent of our employees never touch the corporate LAN."

Bayada relies on a framework of controls and application-level security to safeguard personal health information, says Baiada. The tablet's SIM card can be remotely disabled if the device is lost or stolen. "We wanted to start 'open' and then restrict as needed," he says.

Can you secure a corporate iPad to the degree you can a corporate laptop?

"You can get pretty dang close," says Accenture's Jenko. Passwords, a range of enforceable password policies, and the growing security capabilities of mobile device management applications, are all necessary elements. "The biggest challenge is that it's a completely different set of tools from those used with laptops," he says.

3. How will you manage the tablets?

"Mobile device management is a massive topic," says Ottawa Hospital's Potter. "We're not doing it well, because no one is. It's becoming critical to our deployment."

Ottawa Hospital currently uses MobileIron. "At the time, it was the only game in town," Potter says. The hospital is readying an RFP to revisit mobile device management as it prepares to deploy about 1,500 iPhones, to cover 5,000 nurses working in shifts. Shift-based device management for iOS gear is "quite a hot topic," Potter says.

Ottawa Hospital and Hawthorn rely on third-party management applications, which create an infrastructure that both Apple and Google lack. Both OS vendors have been introducing management APIs that can be used by these applications.

Fiberlink's Maas360 offers its own application catalog for internal apps, and lets Hawthorn's IT group track software downloads and updates to the iPads. Recently, the group pushed out a self-install app to the sales team. Everyone had picked it up within 18 hours, but the next morning, Clay could see that five iPads had not run the installation. IT staff called each of those users and told them to run the app.

One of the biggest complications with iOS is that it doesn't support an administrative password, and therefore, third-party management applications can't either. As a result, there's no simple, standard way to restrict what users can do with the device, as they can be restricted with a Windows PC, for example.

"My users are as 'powerful' as my technical team," Potter says. "They can download anything they want, upgrade their operating system. It's a whole different game."

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Follow him on Twitter or Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

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Microsoft Revamps Bing Maps Routing Feature

Bing's Maps search engine has an improved capability for generating driving directions, according to Microsoft.

The improvements, courtesy of a brand new algorithm for computing driving-direction queries, include reduced latency and higher performance, Microsoft said in a blog post.

"For any of our route calculations we're now processing requests twice as fast as we ever have," Chris Pendleton, a lead program manager for Bing Maps, wrote in the blog post.

For developers, the new routing engine, called Customizable Route Planning, includes a new API for alternate routes. It lets developers request up to three routes with one request, according to Microsoft.

More details about the inner workings of the new feature can be found in a paper published last year by the Microsoft Research team.

Online maps are one of the most popular vertical search engines, because they deliver local business listings, driving directions, street-level images and other useful geographic information for people looking to find locations.

Although Google remains the dominant player in search, Microsoft continues investing on and enhancing Bing, with the hopes that it will eventually eat into Google's usage market share. Beefing up Bing's Maps search engine is key in achieving these aspirations.

streda 11. januára 2012

Sony Sued For Preventing Playstation Network Users From Suing Sony

Along with the mixed news coming out from Japan regarding the PlayStation Vita launch, it appears Sony has another lawsuit to deal with.

You may remember that Sony updated the PS3 Terms of Service in September to forbid users from filing class action lawsuits against Sony if they wanted to access the PlayStation Network service. Of course, you can always send a physical letter to Sony cancelling that part of the contract. Given the hassle of doing such for a free online service, opting out was probably not worth most PlayStation Network users’ time. Now a Northern California man may have filed a lawsuit against the very clause that forbids PlayStation Network users from filing lawsuits.

GameSpot reports that an anonymous man has filed a class action lawsuit against Sony in a Northern California court. The class action lawsuit aplies to anyone who bought a PS3 before the change in September, and the suit alleges that the updated Terms of Service are evidence that Sony is engaging in unfair business practices of forcing customers to forfeit rights or lose access to the online service they joined to when they bought their Sony PlayStation 3 console. The suit also claims that the optional opt-out policy via physical mail is unreasonable, and that Sony deliberately buried the Terms of Service change within the 21 pages of the contract that are only available for review on the PlayStation 3 (previous changes to the Terms of Service were available for review before release on the website).

You may remember the recent class action suit against Sony alleging that disabling the option to "Install Other OS" was evidence of deceptive business practices; that lawsuit was thrown out by district court judge who declared it bad business, but not illegal. This time the charges seem more serious, and we'll keep you updated as more information comes to light.