operating system

Latest

What to do when your biggest friend is also a foe – a lesson from Mozilla

11:31AM | Thursday, 27 November

This past week Mozilla, the developer of the popular Firefox web browser amongst a number of other products, announced that Yahoo!, rather than Google, will become the company’s default search index in the US. In China, the default search engine will be Baidu, it will be Yandex in Russia, and it will remain as Google in all other markets. Hiding within this announcement, however, is a valuable case study for any business on what to do when your biggest paying customer turns into a competitor.   As I discussed in this column back in February, around 90% of Mozilla’s revenues come from Google, which pays a commission for searches originating from the search field in the Firefox tool bar.   As incredible as it might sound, that little search field in the top-right hand corner of Firefox on a PC or a Mac is worth around $US280 million ($327.5 million) per year in revenue.   To find out why that deal initially came about, we need to go back in time nearly a decade to when an engineer named Mitchell Baker – one of the most overlooked female leaders in Silicon Valley – launched Mozilla from the ashes of a company called Netscape.   Back when Firefox launched in September 2012, such an arrangement between Mozilla and Google was ideal for both sides. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer dominated the web, shipping by default on every PC and every Mac, and used MSN Search (now Microsoft Bing) as a default search engine.   As Firefox’s user base grew, so did the number of users it directed to Google. For Google, that growth in terms of users meant its lucrative search ad revenue grew, making the deal lucrative for both sides.   But a decade is a long time in the tech world. In that time Google released its own web browser, known as Chrome, and Google became the default on more than 1 billion devices using its Android or Chromebook platforms. Not only does Google now no longer need Firefox, but Firefox is now its chrome-covered competitor.   This put Mozilla in an incredibly awkward position: Its main source of income was now also its biggest rival. What Mozilla did next is rather counter-intuitive.   First it released Firefox OS, a slimmed down operating system based on the Firefox web browser primarily aimed at low-cost smartphones in emerging markets. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, it announced a smartphone that runs Firefox OS that sells for just $US25 outright. It was now competing head-to-head with Android devices at the very moment low-cost smartphones became a key growth market for Google.   Then it launched its own app store – known as the Mozilla Marketplace – that sells apps for any PC, Mac or smartphone that runs either Firefox or Firefox OS.   It followed this with the announcement of a string of devices running the platform, including tablets, smart TVs in partnership with Panasonic, low-cost computers and – most recently – a Chromecast-like HDMI stick called the Matchstick.   The new products and the app store will potentially create a new source of revenue for Mozilla, but also saw Firefox jump right in the path of Google’s mobile computing juggernaut, Android. That same Google – keep in mind –was also still Mozilla’s main source of income.   To paraphrase Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister, it was potentially a very “courageous” move. However, there was one strategic masterstroke by Baker and her team that hadn’t been revealed yet.   Google is not the only company on the internet that’s willing to pay to have a large number of web searches sent in its general direction. This is where the deal with Yahoo! comes in.   Better still, Yahoo! has no ambitions as far as making smart TVs, web browsers, HDMI sticks or app stores. In fact, if it leads to more people searching with Yahoo!, the online media giant has a good reason to promote those efforts.   As I said near the start of this article, there’s an important lesson hidden in this for any business or organisation whose biggest customer is also a competitor. In fact, it’s almost a case study on what to do (or try to do) in a very tricky commercial predicament, as Mozilla was.   That is to make sure you leave the door open for another customer or backer (in this example, Yahoo!) to potentially step in, while at the same time developing new sources of revenue over the longer term. Also, so long as your business has a Yahoo! waiting in the wings, it potentially matters less if those new revenue sources put you in direct conflict with your biggest customer (Google).   Because sometimes in business, your best friend can quickly turn into your biggest enemy.   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Beats Music to be bundled into iOS early next year

11:36PM | Wednesday, 19 November

As part of Apple’s revamp of Beats Music, the recently acquired music streaming service will be bundled directly into iOS.   The service will be bundled with the operating system early next year, instantly making it available on hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads, the Financial Times reports.   Beats will continue to be a paid service and will likely be rebranded under the iTunes umbrella. UK government funds free online startup education courses An initiative funded by the UK government and backed by the tech industry has launched, offering free online courses to those who want to learn commercial digital business skills, TechCrunch reports.   The Digital Business Academy is being overseen by Tech City, working in partnership with a host of educational institutions and tech mentorship organizations including Cambridge University Judge Business School, University College London, and Founder Centric, which in turn works with tech accelerators such as Seedcamp and others. 500 Startups launches 10 million mobile collective fund Global seed fund 500 startups has launched a new micro-fund, a $US10 million ($AU11.6 million) fund it’s calling the 500 Startups Mobile Collective, TechCrunch reports.   The fund will be headed up by Edith Yeung, who joins after running marketing and business development for Sequoia-backed mobile browser Dolphin Browser. She also co-founded angel investment firm RightVentures, where she made more than 20 investments. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 2.09 to 17,685.73. The Australian Dollar is currently trading at US86 cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Nine TED talks every entrepreneur should watch

11:24AM | Monday, 17 November

It’s a list that includes an Australian author, a former United States federal prisoner, a CEO of a multinational consumer goods company, a Harvard business school professor, a millionaire entrepreneur and more.   These nine TED talks are sure to inspire, stimulate and generate thought about how to successfully run a business. They’re a must watch for SMEs and entrepreneurs.   1. The failurist: Markus Zusak This one’s a little bit different. Markus Zusak isn’t a businessman – he’s an author, but he details an important subject many in the business world have to confront: failure.   The Australian writer is best known for his novels The Book Thief and The Messenger, but in this TED talk he explains how his personal failures cultivated motivation, and how his failures and humiliations made success feel so much better.   Zusak discusses his original failures, first as a child, then as an adult, which helped propel him to success. It was his original failures that gave him the motivation to do so much better; this is perhaps someone everyone in the business world can learn from. Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 2. Profit not always the point Harish Manwani, the chief operating officer of Unilever, calls for a redefining of business models in society, and asks for businesses – if they want to remain relevant in the 21st century – to define themselves beyond what they sell and produce.   Manwani asserts that in the 21st century for business, it shouldn’t be about generating revenue or turnover; it should be about creating a better culture – changing lives – in the process of doing business.   Story continues on page 3. Please click below. 3. How data will transform business Philip Evans provides a fact-driven, theory-based look into the future of the business landscape.   In this video, Evans, a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group, looks at how the power of technology is driving the boundaries of how we think about business strategies, and how it will change in the future. Evans explains why he thinks two longstanding theories in business strategy are invalid in today’s market and what he thinks the future of business holds.   Story continues on page 4. Please click below. 4. Success is a continuous journey Richard St John, entrepreneur and founder of marketing company the St John Group, poses the question of why so many people reach success and then fail.   St John reminds us that success isn’t a one-way street, rather, it’s a consistent journey. He uses his own personal experience of going from being a successful businessman to a failing and depressed shell of his former self. His search for true passion coupled with the use of eight key principles, “passion, work, focus, push, ideas, improving, serving, persisting” helped him to climb the ladder of success once again after his early failures.   Story continues on page 5. Please click below. 5. Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation Business author Dan Pink explores the mismatch between what science knows and what business does, and in doing so, opens up an entirely new operating system for business models.   Pink examines the rules underlying current workplace structures and unveils that, in fact, the rules are ill-defined. “The rules – if they exist at all – should be surprising and non-obvious,” he says.   During his presentation, Pink looks at Australian success story Atlassian, which grants employees 20% of their work time to autonomously work on ‘whatever they want’ to promote creativity, free thinking and a healthy working environment.   An interesting talk if you want to tackle the topic of motivation and rewards in business.   Story continues on page 6. Please click below. 6. Work-life balance is an ongoing battle The most poignant of all the TED talks on this list, Nigel Marsh talks about finding the balance between work and life, and how the ongoing battle can either destroy or build an individual and their business.   Marsh is the author of three books, Fat Forty and Fired, Overworked and Underlaid and Fit, Fifty and Fired Up, he is also the co-founder of Earth Hour.   Marsh says an individual needs to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that they want in their life.   He shows that the “small things” matter and that being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval. With the smallest investment in the right places, Marsh believes you can radically transform the quality of your relationships, the quality of your life, and society.   Story continues on page 7. Please click below. 7. Lessons in business … from prison Jeff Smith, a former US senator and prisoner, discusses the ways in which he saw a reflection between the top CEOs in the United States and the prisoners he spent time with in federal prison.   Smith talks of the ways in which the ingenuity of the prisoners behind the walls, their ambition, drive and can-do attitude, is something that those in the business landscape can definitely learn from and recreate to ensure greater success in the business realm.   Story continues on page 8. Please click below. 8. Your body language shapes who you are Harvard Business School associate professor in social psychology Amy Cuddy talks about what nonverbal communication does in terms of judgements from those we associate with.   Cuddy says our body language not only affects how other people see us, but also how we see ourselves.   What results is an interesting take on how to be more confident in your work, your life, interviews or general interactions, a key skill which will certainly help you become more successful in your business. Story continues on page 9. Please click below. 9. How to get your ideas to spread It’s not important how good your idea is, marketing guru Seth Godin says, it’s about how good your method of spreading the idea is – the idea he promotes is that “Ideas that spread, win”.   Godin says consumers don’t care about ‘you’ at all – they have more choices and less time – and in a world where everybody has more choices and less time, the obvious thing to do is just ignore things. The challenge is to spread an idea worthy of the attention of other people.   Godin says the most important question to ask when marketing an idea is: “Is it remarkable; is it worth making a remark about?”   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.

How these six new technology predictions fared in 2014: Control Shift

11:03AM | Thursday, 13 November

Futurologists are a common feature at business conferences.   Unfortunately, many aren’t held accountable to how their predictions pan out. We’re all still waiting for our flying cars, clean reliable fusion power plants and 3D holograms.   In November last year, I picked six new technologies that were likely to make an impact in 2014. So how did they fare?   Here’s what happened:   1. Curved and flexible displays   This first pick came with a caveat:   “Unfortunately, getting devices with a curved or flexible screen produced on a production line designed for flat screen devices has turned out to have been far more difficult than it initially seemed… As a result, you’re unlikely to see these devices outside South Korea in the immediate future.”   Sure enough, at the International CES in Las Vegas, Samsung demonstrated curved-screen TVs as the centrepiece of its display. In January, LG launched the G Flex curved-screen smartphone in Australia.   Meanwhile more recently, at its Unpacked 2014 Episode 2 event alongside the IFA trade show, Samsung unveiled a new curved-edge smartphone called the Galaxy Note Edge.   As predicted, there have been issues putting flexible and curved glass into mass production. However, LG Display appears to have come up with a solution: Using plastic instead of glass in a new display technology called P-OLED (Plastic-Organic Light Emitting Diode).   The thin, flexible display technology helped it to create a round-screen Android Gear smartwatch called the G Watch R, along with a smartphone that has a display that runs right to the edge screen.   The company expects smartphones and tablets that are designed to bend (and fold flat after being bent) to begin appearing next year, with rollable tablets, foldable-screen laptops and flexible TVs coming sometime in 2017.   2. Smart TVs   Whether it’s smart TVs that run apps out of the box, set-top boxes or HDMI thumb sticks (such as Google ChromeCast), 2014 was a massive year on the smart TV front.   The year kicked off at CES with LG reviving the Palm Pilot operating system (webOS) for its smart TVs and Panasonic partnering with Mozilla to put Firefox OS on its TVs.   Not to be outdone, in June Google announced Android TV, a new platform for smart TV apps and content. Last month, it announced the first set-top box to use the platform, known as the Nexus Player. Also from Google, a little device known as the ChromeCast finally reached Australia in May.   Amazon saw the action and said “me too”, releasing its version of the ChromeCast in October and a set-top box called Fire TV in April.   So what will people watch on all these smart devices? The best news is that streaming video service Netflix is set to launch in Australia.   It seems the humble “idiot box” has never been smarter than it was in 2014.   3. Smartwatches   Apple Watch was announced this year. Need I say any more?   Even putting Apple Watch aside, 2014 was a huge year for smartwatches. Google also announced its smartwatch platform, known as Android Wear, which in turn powers devices from a range of companies including Sony, LG, Samsung, Motorola and others.   These devices are all packed with a range of apps and features – and they’ll even tell you what the time is.   4. Augmented reality glasses   Google Glass got a limited public release this year with a range of fashionable frames and prescription lenses. Sony released the software development kit for its Google Glass clone.   But the real big mover was a related technology called virtual reality. Jaws dropped when Facebook paid $2 billion for virtual reality device maker Oculus. Last month, Samsung announced the first consumer device based on the technology, known as Gear VR.   You could say 2014 was the year augmented reality and virtual reality became a reality for consumers.   5. Home automation   Google kicked off the year by launching its home automation push with the $3.2 billion takeover of smart thermostat maker Nest. The tech giant encouraged other businesses, including Australian smart-light maker LiFX, to build new devices that connected to Nest.   Apple responded in June by launching HomeKit as part of iOS 8. The technology makes it easy for third-party device makers to allow their devices to be controlled with iPhones and iPads.   6. Low-end smartphones   This is a topic I’ve touched on over the past couple of weeks. The short version is we’re reaching a saturation point in the smartphone market, while low-cost vendors such as Xiaomi are booming in China.   The great news for consumers is, even with the Australia tax, buying an affordable smartphone has never been more affordable.   Throughout the year, a range of devices (including the Moto E and Moto G, the Kogan Agora 4G and the Microsoft Lumia 635 and 530) hit the local market. Each boasted features once the preserve of high-end devices and – best of all – prices well under $300 outright.   Conclusion   Forget about waiting for that flying car.   From smartwatches to smart TVs and low-end smartphones to home automation, the six technologies on the future gadget form guide ran a strong race in 2014.   When some of this technology will make it into the average person’s home is another question.   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.

Is anything ‘private’ anymore? How social media and tech companies sniff out your data

10:49AM | Thursday, 16 October

With all the new mobile devices come the potential new methods for advertisers to keep track of you across all your devices. They are given access through deals done by the large platforms and gatekeepers of your information.   Here are a few of the ways the big social media and tech companies are accessing your data and using it for profit.   Facebook: It has access to enormous amounts of very personal metadata collected from all of its users, including everything from employment, family, hair colour, friends, travel, home location and many other details. Mined from its users, this information is considered very valuable for advertisers and marketers.   Another way Facebook tracks your movements is when you use your Facebook sign-in for other websites. This is also tracked by Facebook.   And Facebook owns a number of apps, including WhatsApp and Instagram, that collect your information through your usage of the app. Facebook is large and looking to expand both its platform and ability to track your movements. It will keep purchasing and creating new ways to find and sell your information as this is its greatest income source.   Apple: Its main tracking is through your email address and iTunes account, which tracks your credit card data and usage. When you purchase anything through an Apple device or using any Apple system, this information is used so the ads you see are normally reflecting your past activities.   Google: When you log in to any Google account, you are then tied into the massive Google network. It also uses an Android mobile operating system which assigns each user a Google Ad ID. Google has many ad products and services such as AdSense, which access your ad identifier and compile the information with all the other YouTube, Gmail, Search and other personal digital history information, irrespective of what device you may be using. So why don’t they have to notify you of the use of your personal information? Because when you sign up to their services, you agree to their terms which include using your personal data as they please for advertising purposes. However, Google is still involved in class-action suits in various states in the US regarding its right to analyse message content and sell byproducts to advertisers. It is argued as beyond the scope of what is intended by the use of personal information.   Google maintains it has the right to collect even your most sensitive data as long as it flows across an open Wi-Fi network. Google has been doing a lot more than its lobbyists and executives are disclosing when they are defending their initiatives.   They could easily make collection of information for advertising more privacy-friendly if they wanted or were forced to, but at the moment we are at the mercy of the dominant operating system vendors who are not required to do so. Be aware: deals are being struck selling your information As you may have seen in the news recently, Facebook has struck a deal to sell access to your data to MasterCard. It claims it is not your ‘personal data’ but it includes your location, spending, connections and much more. This may not be personal data to some but it still seems very ‘personal’.   This is likely the first of many deals to help monetise the ‘free’ Facebook model and seems to be the model for many large platform service providers on the internet. It is likely not to be the last.   One thing that is important to remember about all this: it does not matter whether you are using an Android or an iOS device; you can still turn off many of the tracking mechanisms in the menu settings.   Yet it still makes one wonder what is left under the ‘personal data’ legal definition anymore.

When the ATM runs Windows, how safe is your money?

10:50AM | Wednesday, 15 October

How safe is Microsoft Windows? After all, the list of malware that has caused major headaches worldwide over the last 15 years is long – viruses, worms and Trojans have forced computers to shut down, knocked South Korea offline and even overloaded Google’s servers.   Now, how safe do you feel knowing that cash machines across the world run Microsoft Windows?   An exploit has been discovered, apparently spread across Russia, India, and China, whereby cash machines can be turned into a free money vending machine.   The hack requires re-starting the cash machine – essentially a Windows terminal – from a prepared CD that injects malware into the system to circumvent the security. At set times of the week, a unique code is generated and given to a “mule” who would approach the machine, enter the code, and withdraw up to 40 notes, anonymously and without trace.   From skimming to hacking   Attacks on ATMs (those more sophisticated than removing the cash machine and cutting into its safe) started around 10 years ago with card reader devices containing a tiny integrated camera and card reader. As a user withdraws cash, the device reads the account details from the card’s magnetic stripe and videos the pin number entered into the keypad.   Earlier generations of ATM machines were often built around computer terminals running IBM’s OS/2 operating system (which started life as a joint IBM-Microsoft venture, and which somewhat ironically spawned Microsoft’s Windows NT, the grandparent of modern Windows, and IBM’s OS/2 when that project collapsed). Due to its more esoteric and rare nature there are far fewer attacks for OS/2, but now it is standard builds of Windows, potentially vulnerable to all the usual malware and exploits, that run modern ATMs.   So it is not surprising that intruders have started to find ways inside the ATM’s card processing and cash dispensing systems. Malware that can offer external control to an ATM have been reported for some years, allowing attackers to dispense cash, record and print out card details and PIN numbers. Under the hood   This latest malware is Backdoor.MSIL.Tyupkin, which while running continuously will only listen for commands on a Sunday and Monday night. The criminal gangs operating the malware generate a random, unique, six-digit keycode that activates the program, which is given to the “mule” who is withdrawing the money.     Like previous efforts to crack into ATMs, the malware requires physical access to the ATM, typically by booting the ATM from a CD prepared to install the malware. At present the malware has been active on at least 50 ATMs in Russia and Eastern Europe, but also in the US, China and India.   The malware is the file ulssm.exe, which is copied into the c:\windows\system32 directory and which is protected and maintained on the system between reboots by modifying the Windows registry (a database of configuration settings) so that Windows automatically runs the program at startup. The program then interacts with the ATM through the Extension for Financial Services (XFS) library, MSXFS.dll. To avoid detection it will only allow access controller commands on Sunday and Monday evenings.   This shows an example of malware installing itself onto a system, updating the Windows registry to autorun when started (at 25:20), and then going into hiding.     Playing catch up   The threat of re-booting machines from CDs or bootable USB sticks in order to install malware and abusing Windows autorun feature to sustain the program in memory, is an exploit that has been common for over a decade. It seems few lessons have been learned in terms of securing physical access to the device, and also in the privileged rights that malware can gain. Even as companies focus on improving and securing the user interface, often the debugging and diagnostic side can provide further routes into a system.   Versions of Windows used in embedded control systems are now sufficiently secure, but as ATM manufacturers use standard installations of Windows they are opening themselves up to further problems – not least because it allows hackers the opportunity to simulate and craft their malware on well-known versions of the operating system.   However, at the core of this attack – as with those before it – is the need for physical access to the device, which implies an insider working in the bank. That means with monitoring of who has access to the cash machine, this can be prevented. The key lesson is that the ATM operating system is a weak link in the chain which needs to be closed.   *This article originally appeared on The Conversation.

Significant new features for app developers in Windows 10

10:10AM | Friday, 3 October

This week Tech giant Microsoft unveiled the next major release of its Windows operating system, known as Windows 10.   At this stage, Microsoft has only released an early technical preview for PCs, so it would be premature to praise the latest version too highly. Nonetheless, especially for small businesses and Windows app developers, there’s a lot of promising news about the new operating system.   The big change   The big overarching change is a shift in how Microsoft applies the Windows platform over a range of devices, including everything from smartphones and tablets to Xbox game consoles, PCs and servers.   With Windows 8, the idea was to create a single user interface (UI) that works the same way on everything from smartphones and tablets to desktops and servers. This led some to complain the tablet-optimised smart screen interface didn’t work well with a keyboard and mouse on a desktop PC.   As Microsoft executive vice president of operating systems Terry Myerson explains in a statement, there’s been a subtle but very significant shift that takes place with Windows 10. “We’re not talking about one UI to rule them all – we’re talking about one product family, with a tailored experience for each device,” Myerson said.   A key example of this is the return of the start menu in the desktop PC version of Windows 10. The start menu has been a fixture of Microsoft’s desktop user interface since the days of Windows 95 and NT, and its removal in Windows 8 in favour of the tile-based start screen was the cause of many complaints among loyal long-time users.   The revitalised start menu has an area to the right where users can arrange their tiles, in a manner similar to the start screen, without having to leave the desktop.   Another is that Windows Store apps will work in a window on a desktop, unlike in Windows 8, where they ran in full-screen like they do on a smartphone or tablet.   Likewise, on a desktop PC, users will be able to have multiple desktops. This has long been a favourite feature among desktop Linux users, and will be a very welcome addition to Windows desktops.   Good news for app developers   For developers, the really big news with Windows 10 is that while the user interface is tailored for all Windows 10 devices, universal Windows apps will work on all of them. One set of code will be able to target everything from a full-screen app on a smartphone or tablet through to a windowing app on a PC. Because of this, there will be just one Windows app store developers will need to deal with for all devices.   This is a huge step up from Windows 8, which required different versions of an app to be developed for Windows Phone smartphones, the desktop environment for PCs, and the start screen interface on Windows RT tablets.   Benefits for businesses   Meanwhile, for businesses, the major change is that mobile device management style separation for work and personal apps will be a feature of all devices running Windows 10, from smartphones through to tablets and PCs.   With a growing number of businesses opting for bring-your-own-device policies, the ability to securely wipe work files and data from an employee’s device while leaving their personal apps and files intact will be welcome.   Windows 10 will also make it much more difficult for sensitive data to accidentally or maliciously fall into the wrong hands. This is because the ability to open files will be linked to user accounts at a file level, meaning the protection follows a file wherever it goes.   And now we play the waiting game (or Hungry Hungry Hippos)   Now, as I mentioned at the start of the article – and this is very important to note – Microsoft has only released a technical preview at this stage. It is aimed at developers and IT experts who are comfortable with using and evaluating unfinished software.   Microsoft itself recommends people only install this software on a secondary computer, because there is a risk that there might be serious bugs on any given day. Sensible PC users should wait for the full version to be released before using it on their production machines.   Nonetheless, on a number of important fronts, the direction Windows 10 is taking should be exciting news for those who rely on Microsoft products for their business. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Lawyer for nude photo celebs threatens Google with $100 million lawsuit

10:10AM | Friday, 3 October

A lawyer representing over a dozen celebrities whose iCloud accounts were hacked and nude photos were stolen has written a letter threatening Google with a $100 million lawsuit, according to The Hollywood Reporter.   The letter, written by lawyer Marty Singer, accuses Google of “despicable, reprehensible conduct in not only failing to act expeditiously and responsibly to remove the images, but in knowingly accommodating, facilitating and perpetuating the unlawful conduct”.   “Google’s ‘Don’t be evil’ motto is a sham,” he writes.   A Google spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal the company had removed tens of thousands of pictures within hours of requests being made and has closed hundreds of accounts.   “The internet is used for many good things. Stealing people’s private photos is not one of them,” the spokesperson says.   Cyanogen Inc turned down Google buyout   Cyanogen Inc, a startup that distributes software based on Google’s Android mobile operating system, is discussing a Series C round and seeking a valuation close to $1 billion.   The news comes after the company reportedly rejected a buyout offer from Google.   Glow raises $17 million   San Francisco-based startup Glow, which develops apps designed to help women manage their reproductive health, has raised $17 million in a Series B round, as it looks to expand staff and develop more products, Re/code reports.   The round was led by Formation 8, who was joined by previous investors Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 3.66 to 16,801.05. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US88 cents.

The PC reaches its twilight years as Windows 10 becomes the last major upgrade

10:13AM | Thursday, 2 October

Microsoft will skip the version 9 of Windows and will release instead Windows 10 in 2015. This upgrade will be the last major release of Windows.   The decision to stop releasing Windows as a series of major releases is long overdue and follows the approach (including the choice of the number 10) taken by Apple in releasing minor versions of its Mac OSX system. After the disastrous release of Windows 8, subsequent releases have been largely about rolling back the more radical changes in the user interface. As attention shifts to mobile, the marketing and commercial advantages of releasing major upgrades to operating systems have all but disappeared.   Microsoft will now release changes to Windows via smaller point upgrades, following Apple’s lead with Mac OSX which will shortly be at version 10.10.   This is actually good news for both consumers and businesses who have to deal with the inevitable bugs that come with upgrades along with updates of software changed only to support the new operating system. At the same time, the new features in the upgrade are bringing diminishing direct benefits to consumers as changes become increasingly gratuitous. Insult is added to injury of course when consumers are actually asked to pay for the new versions, a practice that Apple at least has largely stopped.   Businesses who use Windows will also find the end of large upgrades easier to manage as it becomes simpler to deal with more frequent and smaller changes than to deal with a major version change. For Microsoft as well, this will have the added benefit of eventually persuading more of its users to all be on the same operating system. Currently only around 14% of Windows users are actually using Windows 8.x. Nearly twice that are still using Windows XP, a system they offcially stopped supporting this year.   Operating systems should never really have to change as much as they have. The fundamental core of the operating system, called the “kernel)” does now what it has always done. New hardware can be accommodated by adding “device drivers”, something that doesn’t need a change in the kernel to achieve. Likewise, Microsoft learned the hard way that major changes to the user interface are not necessarily welcomed by its customers and even in this case, it would be possible to change this without a major release in the operating system as a whole.   The fact the we may not see radically different versions of Windows, Mac OS or even Linux does not mean that this signals the death of the PC. Like the software that runs on it, hardware on PCs is unlikely to change radically in the future because it has turned out that people are prepared to use multiple devices. Functionality that might have been built into a PC is unnecessary because that functionality becomes available in distinct device types like tablets, phablets, mobile phones and wearables. It has also turned out that adding features like a touch screen to a laptop didn’t make much sense as this was largely made redundant through the use of the keyboard and mouse. Likewise, it is unlikely that devices like the “leap” motion tracking device will become standard on the laptop or PC because again it doesn’t radically improve on what you can already do.   It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that products can reach a point where they fundamentally do not evolve any further and reach a steady state. Technologies that we interact with every day are fundamentally the same as they have been for years, if not decades. A trivial example being the electric toaster which utilises the same technology that it has done for the past 100 years. With computing technology however, we have constantly held an expectation that each year will bring revolutionary change. This is because the mobile phone and tablet have really driven highly public declarations of change in annual launch events. Even here though, we will see mobile phones reach the so-called “climax state”, it might just take the public some time to accept and come to terms with it.   David Glance does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Apple and Google make changes in the battle for new markets

9:47PM | Tuesday, 23 September

Has Google finally decided to take total control of its Android destiny with the release of its Android One operating system?   Aimed at “emerging markets”, such as India, Google will operate the smartphone device rather than handing over to hardware partners such as Samsung and HTC.   Historically, Google has taken a hands-off approach to Android, providing it “free” to manufacturers as an open source product.       These manufacturers have a reputation for adding on their own extra features such as the Samsung TouchWiz user interface.   The assumed goal was that a better mobile experience for consumers would funnel them towards Google’s other products such as its popular search.   In contrast, Android One will not allow that customisation, giving Google full control of the operating system users get. So perhaps the latest move represents a paradigm shift for the company?   The life and times of Android   The approach taken with the Android operating system has always been more open than that taken by rival Apple with its iOS operating system.   In fact, in general Android has always been considered more open than iOS, starting from the very beginning before the company was acquired by Google and the original Android operating system was released open source to the community.   That version of the operating system still exists today and is used by companies such as Amazon on its Kindle Fire tablet. This creates what software developers call a “fork”, with the base Android operating system sitting underneath the customisations that Amazon makes.     But in recent times Google has begun to demonstrate a desire to take more control of its operating system. Starting with the Nexus phones and devices, which involved Google providing a reference design for both phone and operating system free of the extras added by the hardware manufacturers and the carriers.   This has continued with the announcement of Android One, with Google starting to become more involved in the entire process and trying to own the user experience.   Products such as Google Glass represent other forays into this vertical integration, an area traditionally embraced by their main competitor, Apple.   But Apple is starting to change its approach as well.   A more open Apple?   Apple has always been a product focused company. Starting with the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 and continuing with the iPhone and other iOS devices, Apple has always strived to control the whole experience of hardware, software and services.           Earlier this month in a television interview with Charlie Rose, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that Apple values vertical integration and wants to control their primary product.   But looking at Apple, industry insiders can begin to see a shift in the way that the company operates. The most recent hardware and software announced by Apple (announced one week before the first Android One smartphones) provides a lot more control for developers and users than they’ve ever had before.   Features such as extensions allow apps to communicate with each other and users to share data among apps through the share pane. Developers can add features to place small apps called widgets in the notification centre or to enable actionable notifications, allowing you to (for instance) respond directly to a Facebook message from within the notification.   And, in an unprecedented move, users can replace the Apple provided keyboard with a third party alternative. While all of these sound like small changes, they represent Apple relinquishing control of some parts of their iOS experience back to developers, a major departure from when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone in 2007.           In his interview with Charlie Rose, Tim Cook was also asked what companies Apple competed with and, without hesitation he nominated Google as the main competitor, even going so far as to downplay Samsung as a competitor as the Android operating system was created by Google.     This is especially interesting given that Apple has slowly moved Google out of its phones, (in)famously replacing Google Maps with Apple Maps a couple of years ago as well as slowly enhancing the voice recognising personal assistant, Siri, to perform many of the functions that Google performs with search.   Even though the Apple Maps launch was riddled with problems (with users claiming the experience was sub par compared to the Google offering and prompting Tim Cook to issue an apology), Apple is clearly looking to shed itself of Google and own more of this part of the experience too.   A new battle for market (and mind) share   So, over the course of September, both Google and Apple have shown a new side to themselves. Both are pushing into new markets, with Android One specifically targeted at the China/India market.   Many analysts suggest that the iPhone 6 Plus is an Apple foray into the desire for “bigger phones” in the same market.   To conquer this market and maintain a foothold on the market in existing developed countries, it would appear both companies are making some changes - with Google taking control of its destiny while Apple becomes more open.   Both are baby steps for now, but perhaps this is the beginning of a new battle, for the market (and mind) of more and more consumers.

What can we learn from Apple’s celebrity leak fail? Five ways to keep data safe

9:39AM | Wednesday, 3 September

The internet exploded this week with a cache of private photos taken from the devices or online accounts of several high-profile celebrities.   Beyond the ethical and social questions raised by this incident are the technology questions and risks that have been exposed through this leak. There are lessons here on what businesses can do to better secure their information and that of their customers.   From what we know so far, the photos were claimed to have been taken from the iCloud accounts of the celebrities involved. It’s recently been revealed that Apple’s Find My iPhone service was vulnerable to password brute-forcing.   Brute-forcing is a password analysing technique which works by testing a large number of passwords until one is shown to be the correct one. Because Apple didn’t block repeated incorrect login attempts, it was vulnerable to this technique.   This recent iCloud vulnerability, whether or not it’s how the photos were gained, is terrifyingly easy to exploit. It’s not a stretch to believe this vulnerability could have also been behind the iPhone ransom incident from a few months ago.   As data continues to move to the cloud, it’s important to implement good security practices to reduce the risk of exposure. If you operate a business that involves handling sensitive or personal information, you are responsible for the security measures that keep that information out of the wrong hands.   Here are five things businesses can do to prevent unauthorised access to their online information:   1. Perform regular security audits on any online applications that store personal data.   Even a fairly rudimentary security audit would have revealed the brute-force vulnerability that Apple was exposed to. You can perform your own security audits using software such as WebSecurify, or hire a “penetration testing” consultant.   2. Ensure all software developers that work on your online applications have adequate knowledge and training in computer security.   This one can be tricky to measure, but most software developers are quick to learn when made aware of hacking techniques and how to protect against them. Resources such as the “Security Now” podcast help increase awareness. Depending on the technologies your company relies on, following related technical blogs is a great way for your developers to stay abreast of any security developments they need to react to.   3. Do not reuse passwords across multiple applications and do not use easily guessable passwords.   The Find My iPhone vulnerability still required a fairly rudimentary password to successfully gain access to an account. Remembering passwords (and creating strong ones!) is a tough process, look to software tools that make it easier and also remember the passwords for you. My personal recommendation would be AgileBits' 1Password, but many software applications exist that do this well.    4. Keep software up-to-date by installing updates as promptly as possible.   This applies to everything from your operating system, to your browser, to the plugins it may rely on (Java and Flash updates in particular are crucial). Modern operating systems (Windows, OSX, iOS, Android) all display prompts for security updates. Mobile operating systems in particular prompt for updates often, don’t ignore them! If you’ve had a particular software package that doesn’t have auto-update or update prompts, be sure to periodically check online for updated versions of that particular software. Never run unsupported software, or software with known security issues.   5. Finally, if you ever have a security breach, make diagnosing and patching it your number one priority.   Depending on the breach, this is a task that can be performed by your developers, although in some cases you may wish to consult an expert with background in computer forensics or computer security to help diagnose and rectify the problem. Notify your customers if you have a vulnerability that concerns the integrity of their data, and give them the information they need to secure it again.   Remember, your customers might not be happy about the breach, but they’ll be furious if they find out you covered it up or failed to try your best to prevent it.   Farid Wardan is a lead software engineer at Terem Technologies, an Australian company that specialises in developing custom software and technology solutions for corporate innovations and high-tech ventures.

Five key features you can expect to find up Apple’s sleeve with the iPhone 6

9:22AM | Wednesday, 3 September

Apple is expected to launch the latest version of the iPhone at an event it is hosting at the Flint Center for Performing Arts in Cupertino, California, next week.   Apple has already sent invitations to an event taking place on September 9th at 10am, local time. In a curious move, there are reports the notoriously secretive tech giant has gone so far as to construct its own multi-storey structure alongside the venue.   The choice of location is particularly significant because it is the venue where Apple launched its first Macintosh computer in 1984. It is also significantly larger than the Yerba Buena Center or the theatre at Apple’s corporate headquarters, where the tech giant normally makes its major new product announcements.   Speculation about the new device hasn’t escaped its key rivals, with a list of consumer electronics giants including LG, Samsung, Microsoft and Motorola – and possibly others – all gearing up for major product launches of their own over the next month.   So what can we expect to find from the iPhone 6? Here are some of the more credible rumours about what we can expect from the device: 1. A larger screen and, perhaps, a phablet   As far back as November last year, there have been persistent and credible reports Apple has been working on two different models of the iPhone 6.   According to most reports, the first model is set to feature a 4.7-inch display, while the second will include a 5.5-inch screen. This would make them close in size to the 5-inch display on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the 5.7-inch display used on the Galaxy Note 3.   Along with the move to two screen sizes, Apple is reportedly moving away from the plastic casing used on its current low-end device, the iPhone 5s.   Aside from the usual Apple rumours sites, reports about the two screen sizes have appeared in a number of credible business publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.   Unfortunately, it is not clear if both versions of the iPhone will be available at launch, with some speculation the larger 5.5-inch phablet version could be on hold until next year. 2. Mobile payments   According to a second credible rumour, Apple has been working on its own mobile payments platform centred on the iPhone 6.   During the past week, a number of respected publications including The Information, Re/Code and Bloomberg have independently confirmed with sources that Apple has struck a number of deals with major payment providers, retailers, and banks.   Those signing up to the payment platform include credit card and payments giants American Express, Visa and MasterCard.   The reports suggest the iPhone 6 will include an NFC (near-field communications) chip, a technology used to power tap-and-pay credit cards and public transport systems.   It will allow iPhone 6 users to make purchases with their smartphones, rather than by using a credit card or by paying with cash.   While NFC-chip technology has long been a standard feature of Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry smartphones, Apple has long held out on using it in its devices. 3. Does Apple have anything up its sleeve?   For years, it has been rumoured Apple has had a smartwatch, or iWatch, up its sleeve.   In recent years, the hype surrounding wearable devices, including smart bracelets and smartwatches has grown, with many expecting Apple to eventually join the market.   Following the release of the Pebble in January 2013, a number of consumer electronics and device manufacturers have dipped their toes in the market, including Sony, LG, Motorola and Samsung, among many others. Other companies, such as Microsoft, are believed to be working on wearables of their own.   At the Google I/O developer conference, the search and mobile giant unveiled its Android Wear device platform. Meanwhile, rival consumer electronics makers are working on smartwatches with their own SIM cards, as well as round clockfaces.   The growing speculation is that the time is right for Apple to release its smartwatch – before it’s too late. 4. iOS8   Whether or not the iPhone 6 comes in a larger form, accepts mobile payments or is partnered to a smartwatch, one thing is for certain: it is set to run iOS8.   First unveiled during the company’s WorldWide Developer Conference during June, iOS8 will bring along a number of new features for users.   The new version of the mobile operating system is designed to be interoperable with the new version of Mac OS X, known as Yosemite.   The improved interoperability means users will be able to use their Mac as a speakerphone for their iPhone, read and send their iPhone messages from their Mac, or use a feature called Handoff to pass activities from one device to another.   It will also come with a new health tracking app called Health, which uses a new underlying API called Healthkit to gather health tracking data from a range of third-party health tracking apps and devices.   iOS8 also includes the foundations of Apple’s Internet of Things home automation platform, known as Homekit. 5. A sapphire display   In August, some photos of the new device leaked showing a thinner, lighter version of the iPhone. But one feature in particular was notable: the use of sapphire, rather than glass, for the screen.   While the choice of material is likely to make the device significantly more expensive, a less shatter-prone iPhone will certainly be music to the ears of anyone who has ever accidentally busted a mobile phone screen.   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

THE NEWS WRAP: China could have its own operating system by October

8:28PM | Sunday, 24 August

China could have a new homegrown operating system by October, to take on imports Microsoft, Google and Apple.   The US and China have had a number of disputes regarding cyber security in recent months.   The operating system would first appear on desktop devices, before being extended to smartphone and other mobile devices, the head of an official OS development alliance, Ni Guangnan, says.   Ni says he hopes the Chinese-made software would be able to replace desktop operating systems within one to two years and mobile operating systems within three to five years.   Coin apologises to customers   Connected credit card startup Coin issued an apology to customers on the weekend after mishandling the announcement of a product delay.   The San-Francisco based startup was criticised last week after revealing, after months of ambiguity, it would be delaying the launch of its connected credit card and replacing it with a beta program in which its 10,000 pre-order customers could opt in to receive a prototype. They would be required to pay $30 to upgrade to the finished product when it launched.   Coin reversed its stance and the beta program will now be free. It apologised to its users for a “lack of transparency and clarity” in its communications.   Facebook most popular app in US   In comScore’s latest mobile app report, which tracks the 25 most popular smartphone apps in the US, Facebook leads the way by a considerable margin.   The Facebook app had 115.4 million US unique visitors over the age of eighteen in June 2014, with YouTube finishing in second with 83.4 million. The top subscription app is Netflix with 28 million unique visitors.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 38.27 to 17,001.22. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US93 cents.

Google Android Wear review

7:54AM | Thursday, 10 July

At the Google I/O conference, the tech giant unveiled its new operating system designed for wearable devices, known as Android Wear.   The operating system powers two devices so far: The Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch. A third device, Motorola’s Moto 360, is due out in the coming months.   So is this the operating system that is going to catapult Google into a leadership position in the wearables market, as it has done with smartphones? Will it succeed where other devices have failed?   Key features:   A key feature of the Android Wear platform is that it automatically retrieves notifications from any existing Google app and displays them on your wrist.   It also integrated Google Now, the search giant’s Siri-style voice search and personal assistant feature.   Google also claims a range of apps specifically designed for Android Wear will begin appearing in the Google Play store.   The consensus:   In a very comprehensive review, Ron Amadeo from Ars Technica notes that genuine cross-platform support is something that’s difficult to implement. This means that, at least for the time being, you’ll need an Android smartphone or tablet to use an Android Wear smartwatch:   Like nearly all smartwatches, Wear devices rely on a Bluetooth-tethered phone, which needs to be running Android 4.3 and up. Running iOS or Windows Phone? You're out of luck: no Wear for you. Smartwatches seem to be the ultimate ecosystem lock-in device. Samsung's requires a Samsung phone, Google's requires an Android phone, and we're sure Apple’s will require iOS. There is so much cross-communication that needs to happen between a watch and phone that supporting multiple OSes becomes really hard.   On the upside, Amadeo also explains how Android Wear works with Android’s notification system, meaning it automatically works with most apps out of the box:   Android Wear data mines your phone notification panel and then creates its own interface on the watch. The thumbnail gets used as the background, the text is reflowed for the tiny screen, the app icon is pulled from the phone app, and each of the three actions (two buttons and the notification tap) get broken out into a separate action screens. The system's swipe-to-dismiss gesture gets ported over, too. … This is what makes Android Wear so special. Because Google laid the groundwork for Android Wear one year ago with Android 4.3, the OS has out-of-the-box compatibility with most apps. Where most smartwatches need custom-built notification compatibility, what you see above is the baseline functionality for everything in Android Wear.   Joanna Stern from The Wall Street Journal likes the predictive notifications the watch gives you. However, at this point, there’s no way to customise which notifications appear on your device:   But what sets Android Wear devices apart from previous smartwatches is that they tell you what you need even before you realize you need it. Google Now, which mines Gmail, calendar, Web searches and other Google interactions, is a perfect fit for the wrist. … There's simply not enough customization yet. Either I get buzzed every time someone emails me, or I don't get any email alerts at all. Sure, the watch helps me look at my phone less, but I'd prefer a middle ground, where my wrist vibrates only when my editor or fiancée emails me. Mr. Singleton says Google is working on contact-specific notifications and the next version of Android, due out this fall, will have deeper notification controls.   Aside from notifications off an Android tablet, Android Wear integrates the Google Now voice recognition system. This means you can launch a range of commands by saying “OK Google” to your smartwatch.   This is a feature that impressed Fortune’s Jason Cipriani:   In addition to touch input, Android Wear supports Google’s speech recognition software. I’m happy to report that it takes very little time to fire off instructions like “OK Google, remind me to flip the steaks in 7 minutes.” The same can be done to search, compose an email or text message, set a timer, or even call a Lyft car with a Batman-eqsue, “OK Google, call a car.”   Over at Engadget, Brad Molen describes Android Wear as the most advanced smartphone platform so far. However, there are still some issues to overcome:   Android Wear is the strongest smartwatch platform we've seen so far, and it has enough support from manufacturers and developers to thrive. But it's a first-generation product, and limited battery life, notification anxiety and other issues make it tough to recommend Wear quite just yet.   Meanwhile at Time, Jared Newman sums it up by describing the experience as still being a work in progress:   What we have now is a classic Google work-in-progress. The software needs more ways to surpass the abilities of users’ smartphones, and the hardware needs to get thinner, lighter and less clunky. (Motorola’s Moto 360 watch will bring some much-needed style to the lineup later this summer, but it’s not a panacea for bulky tech.) And while I’m not bothered by the one-day battery life of these watches, they need more convenient ways to recharge overnight, such as a wireless charging mat on your nightstand. Should I get one:   With Apple heavily rumoured to be working on a smartwatch of its own, it might be worth taking a wait-and-see approach to devices powered by Android Wear at this point.   There are also a few rough spots that need to be ironed out, such as battery life, or the ability to prioritise notifications.   That being said, Android Wear appears to be a solid first effort by the tech giant, and it will be interesting to see where they take the technology in the future.   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

THE NEWS WRAP: Bright Spark raises $5 million for Internet of Things operating system

7:15PM | Tuesday, 8 July

Spark Labs has raised almost $5 million in funding to help with plans to develop an Internet of Things operating system.   Last year the company built a development board that lets people make connected devices that could connect to a cloud service. It has raised $4.9 million in Series A funding from Lion Wells Capital, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, SOSventures and Collaborative Fund as well as a consortium of angel investors.   Spark Labs chief executive officer and founder Zach Supalla wants to build Spark OS, which will consist of a messaging framework, data storage options, an application layer and then finally a management layer for connected devices.   Uber price cap during emergencies   Uber has announced it will place a cap on price surges during emergencies across the United States. The company was criticised recently when there was a surge in pricing during extreme weather in New York City.   It’s unclear whether Uber will take similar steps in Australia.   Cloudian raises $24 million   Cloudian, a startup that operates on the premise that sensitive data needs to remain grounded, has raised $24 million in capital from a number of investors, including the Innovation Corporate Network of Japan.   The company plans to use the money to expand its sales and marketing and capitalise on its position in the Japanese market.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 117.59 to 16,906.62. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US94 cents.

Ex-Googler wants to help you crowdsource everyday decisions

6:24PM | Sunday, 29 June

Feeling indecisive? Want to delegate making a decision based on what your friends on social media think? Is your choice in style determined by what everyone else is wearing? Did your mother ever ask you if you’d jump off a cliff if all your friends did it too?   If so, there’s a new Android app set to launch that’s set to answer all your questions.   Known as Vich One, the app will allow users to create snap polls about everyday questions and situations for their friends to answer.   Founder Manish Jain, who recently left Google, says that crowdsourcing everyday decisions can help people to make better choices.   “The concept is that many people have questions in their life that need to be answered. Which movie to watch? Which dress to wear? Which food or cuisine to eat?” Jain says.   “And right now, there’s no platform to ask your friends those everyday questions.”   Upon posing a question, all of that user’s friends will get a notification showing their friend needs help and they have just 10 seconds to answer. The time limit is designed to add a sense of excitement and urgency to each vote.   Jain says that while he is looking at releasing Vich One for iOS and the “emerging platform” of Windows Phone in the future, the initial release will be for Android.   “In Australia, Android is the most widely used operating system for smartphones, so it makes sense to develop a version for it first… It won’t be on the web because the capabilities [to do an app like this] aren’t on the web,” Jain says.   Jain, who recently moved to Australia, proudly shares his experience as a former Googler who worked for the tech giant in Mountain View, California.   “I went to Singapore for my higher education. While at NTU [Nanyang Technological University] doing computer science, I got hired by Google as an intern,” Jain says.   “After eight months as an intern, I was hired by Google in Zurich where I worked for two years, then moved to the US for four years… overall, I worked for Google for around six-and-a-half years.”   With the app set to launch, there is no shortage of people willing to vote their approval for the app.   “We have a lot of followers already on Twitter, including big names at tech companies… and there’s been quite a few signups for people wanting to know more,” Jain says.

OPINION: Why open source is not always the best tool for the job

6:06AM | Thursday, 19 June

Earlier this year, I reviewed the latest version of an open source computer operating system called Kubuntu. For the uninitiated, like Windows, Mac OS-X or Android, Kubuntu manages a computer’s hardware, provides a user interface and allows users to run apps. It includes a desktop environment called KDE along with a set of apps covering everything from graphics and multimedia to internet, office and games.   While I was critical of the installation process (and deservedly so), I had many complimentary things about Kubuntu to say in the review, including the following:   “The good news is, assuming you get through the installation process, is that Kubuntu and KDE 4.13 does have a lot going for it.” “Firstly, there are preinstalled apps covering most of what you’d need to do, from word processing, to playing CDs, to watching videos and surfing the web.” “There are big improvements in how multiple screens are handled. It’s now literally a matter of dragging and dropping to have two connected screens mirroring each other, or having one to the side of the other.” “With a little tinkering, you can set it up to look like a Mac (including each app’s menu bar across the top of the screen), or like Windows (with the menu bar across the top of each window). You can also set up multiple ‘activities’ each with their own desktop layout.”   Yet, literally for months after the review was published, there were (at times incredibly detailed) comments from open source advocates arguing against the conclusion that this was not a product for everyone.   The open source basics   Kubuntu is an example of what is known as “open source software”. The basic idea behind the open source model is that the developer gives away a computer program for free, including the source code used to create that program. Users are free to make any changes they require in the future and share their modifications with others.   In terms of copyright, open source software is often made available under a licensing agreement such as the GPL, or under a Creative Commons licence.   Can you really have a free lunch?   Of course, this raises a question: How do software developers survive if they give their product away from free?   In many cases, open source projects are the work of hobbyists or not-for-profit groups, with Wikipedia probably the best example.   Some companies (such as Red Hat and IBM) give away software on an open source basis, but charge businesses for services such as setup and support.   An example I’ve discussed in this column previously is Firefox. Mozilla supports giving its popular web browser away for free based on the commission it receives from Google each time someone searches from the search bar. As incredible as it might sound, that little search field is worth around $US280 million per year in revenue.   One of the best known examples of open source software is the Android smartphone and tablet operating system. Here, Google makes its money by selling downloads, as well as the mobile services (Gmail, YouTube, etc.) it bundles with the platform.   Another well-known example is WordPress, which is offered by its developers (Automattic) on an open source basis, with a commercial cloud-hosted version at WordPress.com supported by ads and premium upgrades.   Open source software stands in opposition to proprietary or closed-source software, where the developer retains all intellectual property rights to the software, along with the source code. Windows, Microsoft Office, Photoshop and most other commercial apps are examples.   The best tool for the job   Advocates for open source software are certainly a passionate lot when it comes to their software licensing model of choice.   In many areas of the tech industry, there are open source products that are either market leaders, or are at least competitive in terms with features with their proprietary counterparts.   And certainly for many cash-strapped businesses, if finances are tight, choosing an open source option can be quite appealing.   However, there are many hidden costs in business that stem from using the wrong tech tool for the job, including lost productivity, the cost of IT staff for the initial setup and installation, maintenance costs, IT support costs and lost business opportunities.   When these additional costs are factored into account, the product with the lowest upfront costs might not have the lowest total cost of operation.   And the harsh truth for advocates is the open source option is not always the best option in the market, or the best choice for every business.   As the example of Kubuntu shows, an open source product that works well in one situation might not be the best choice for everybody.   So, when it comes to choosing a tech solution for your business, it pays to evaluate a range of options, both proprietary and open source – because being an ideologue with technology can be costly in the long run.   This article first appeared on Smart Company.

Amazon’s Fire Phone launch offers a warm platform for growth

6:36AM | Thursday, 19 June

Amazon, the e-commerce internet giant, is launching its first smartphone. Media attention is focusing on whether the phone’s features, such as its rumoured 3D interface, are really as cool as portrayed in its trailer video which aims to wow early users. But by entering into the fray of an already hyper-competitive mobile phone industry, Amazon is doing a lot more than adding another gee-whizz feature to a smartphone.   This launch tells us a great deal about CEO Jeff Bezos' strategy for his company – and what it might mean for the future of competition and innovation in our increasingly digital world.   First, let’s ask the obvious questions. Why is Amazon, known for internet retailing and related software development, entering a hardware market where leading incumbents like Nokia have already failed? After all, what does Amazon know about the telecoms business? Can it succeed where Google has failed?   We have seen Google, which has virtually limitless financial resources, enter the mobile phone handset industry by purchasing Motorola Mobile in 2012, only to take a heavy loss after selling it on less than two years later. Even incumbent firms who had a very strong set of phone-making capabilities have taken tough hits in this turbulent market – witness Nokia’s dramatic plunge, which led to a sale of its mobile phone business to Microsoft.   Platform Number 1   You cannot understand Amazon’s move without situating it in the broader context of platform competition. Platforms, these fundamental technologies such as Google search, Facebook and the Apple iPhone, are the building blocks of our digital economy. They act as a foundation on top of which thousands of innovators worldwide develop complementary products and services and facilitate transactions between increasingly larger networks of users, buyers and sellers. Platform competition is the name of the game in hi-tech industries today.   The top-valued digital companies in the world (Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook) are all aggressively pursuing platform strategies. App developers and other producers of complementary services or products provide the armies that sustain the vibrancy and competitiveness of these platforms by adding their products to them. The more users a platform has, the more these innovators will be attracted to developing for them. The more complements available, the more valuable the platform becomes to users. It is these virtuous cycles – positive feedback loops, or “network effects” – that fuel the growth of platforms and transform them into formidable engines of growth for the companies and developers associated with them.   The smartphone is a crucial digital platform. Achieving platform leader status in this space is a competitive position all the hi-tech giants are fighting for. Google has its ubiquitous Android operating system, Apple has shaped the whole market with the iPhone, Microsoft has purchased Nokia’s phone business, and Facebook has invested $19 billion in WhatsApp among other acquisitions for its growing platform.   In fact, I suppose I should have rephrased my question a little earlier – why hasn’t Amazon already staked its claim to lead this digital space after having launched its Kindle Fire tablet and Fire TV set-top box?   Opening the door   Simply put, the smartphone is the main gateway to the internet today, and, in the hand of billions of users throughout the world, is the physical embodiment of a conduit that links those users to each other and to the whole content of the internet. There are almost 7 billion mobile phones in the world (and only 1 billion bank accounts). And the trend is staggering. Mobile payment transaction value surpassed $235 billion worldwide in 2013, and is growing at 40% a year, with the share of mobile transactions already reaching 20% of all worldwide transactions.   So, while risky, Amazon’s entry into the smartphone business is a classic play: a platform leader entering an adjacent platform market that is also complementary to its primary business. All platform leaders aim to stimulate complementary innovation (think how video game console makers aim to stimulate the provision of videogames), and they often attempt not to compete too much with their complementors in order to preserve innovation incentives. But at some point all platform leaders start to enter these complementary markets themselves. Google has done it through Android, Apple has done it with iTunes, Facebook has done it with Facebook Home.   It happens when platform leaders feel threatened by competition in their core market, or when they want to steer demand, competition and innovation in a particular direction. The idea is to use their own user base as well as their own content and technologies to create an unassailable bundle, one that is difficult for external competitors to break into. Think of it as creating barriers to entry, while expanding the core market.   The reasoning behind entering a complementary market is well known, and related to the benefits of bundling. In the case of hi-tech platforms, the benefits are even stronger. By optimising and controlling the interface between a platform and complements, a company can have a structuring impact on the evolution of the platform ecosystem – and that means on all the innovators around the world that invest and make efforts to develop complementary products and services.   In your hands   So, these are the reasons why Amazon is entering the mobile phone market, despite the difficulties inherent in taking on an über-competitive market. This strategic choice makes a lot of sense.   As to whether Amazon has a fighting chance of succeeding, there are reasons to be optimistic. Beyond its deep financial resources, Amazon has learned something of what it takes in the development and successful commercialisation of various versions of the Kindle. That has given it expertise in hardware, on top of its software background, and should prove a useful training ground to allow it to launch other consumer products such as the smartphone.   But the ultimate judge will be you, gentle readers. Will you be willing to swap your favourite mobile phone for a yet another new kid on the block, even if it does let you browse Amazon’s ever-growing catalogue in splendid 3D?   Annabelle Gawer is Associate Professor in Strategy and Innovation at Imperial College Business School.   This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the

Controversial tech entrepreneur to political leader: The new startup career path

4:45PM | Tuesday, 22 April

Controversial tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom has announced the formation of a new political party, known as the Internet Party, ahead of New Zealand’s next general elections in September.   German-born Dotcom is best known as the founder of the controversial file sharing website Megaupload, for which he was indicted in the US on charges relating to piracy.   Since then, he’s gone on to launch a new venture, a highly encrypted cloud storage service called Mega.   His new party’s positions include delivering cheaper high-speed internet, better oversight of spy agencies, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, copyright reform, the introduction of a digital currency and the introduction of a digital bill of rights.   However, Dotcom is far from the first tech figure to turn to politics – with some having more success than others.   StartupSmart looks at five other high-profile tech figures from the tech world who have gone on to their hand at politics – often with mixed results.   1. Julian Assange, Wikileaks Party   Should Dotcom’s party get off the ground, his political career will inevitably be compared with that of Julian Assange.   Assange is best known as the founder of whistleblower website Wikileaks, along with a long-running series of court cases relating to rape allegations in Sweden. Since August 2012, facing the threat of arrest, Assange has been granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.   After being granted asylum, Assange announced plans to form a Wikileaks political party. The Wikileaks Party contested the 2013 federal election, but only received 0.66% of the vote.   Along the way, several high-profile candidates, including prominent academic and former Wikileaks lead Senate candidate Leslie Cannold, abandoned the party.   2. Ross Perot, Reform Party   A far more successful minor party campaign was run in the US by Texan tech entrepreneur Ross Perot.   Perot got his start in the tech industry all the way back in 1962, when he launched an information technology equipment company called Electronic Data Systems. Perot eventually sold the company to General Motors in 1984, which in turn sold the company to HP in 2008.   It was around the time of the sale to General Motors that Perot met another young tech executive named Steve Jobs. After being ousted from Apple, Jobs had launched a new tech startup called NeXT, and Perot decided to make an investment.   The products Jobs’ company developed included an operating system called NeXTStep, which would eventually form the basis of Mac OS-X and iOS after Jobs returned to Apple. Perot also sold another venture – Perot Systems – to Dell in 2009 for $US3.9 billion.   Of course, these days, Perot is best known for standing as an independent third candidate in the 1992 US presidential election against incumbent George Bush Snr. and Democratic Party candidate Bill Clinton.   The Texan stood on a platform combining a mix of policies mixing positions traditionally advocated with the left and the right of US politics. For example, Perot advocated a balanced budget, a tough stance on drug policy and opposition to gun control. However, he also advocated in favour of abortion rights, protectionism, an end to outsourcing and a strong Environmental Protection Agency.   Perot ended up winning 18.91% of the vote, an incredible result for an independent presidential candidate in the US. He stood a second time in 1996, picking up 8% of the vote against President Bill Clinton and Republican candidate Bob Dole.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 3. Rickard Falkvinge, Pirate Party   Of course, when it comes to Kim Dotcom, perhaps the best political role model to follow might be Rickard Falkvinge.   Falkvinge grew up in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, next door to the home ground of football club Västra Frölunda.   Falkvinge’s biography reads like a list of tech entrepreneur clichés. He got his first computer, a Commodore VIC-20, when he was just eight-years-old. By the age of 16, he had launched his first tech startup, a company called Infoteknik. At the age of 18, Falkvinge hired his first employee.   More than making profits, Falkvinge was motivated by the free exchange of ideas that came with the early home computer market. He grew increasingly concerned that harsher copyright laws being lobbied for by the motion picture and record industries could stifle online innovation.   His concerns about patents, copyright law and file sharing restrictions led Falkvinge to form a new political party. On January 1, 2006, he launched the website of his newest venture – dubbed the Pirate Party.   While the new party managed just 0.63% of the vote in its first Swedish elections, it grew to 7.13% for the 2009 European elections. The pirate party model was mirrored internationally, including in Australia. On January 1, 2011 – five years after its launch – Falkvinge stood down as party leader, handing control to his deputy, Anna Troberg.   4. Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal Party   In Australia, the most prominent example of a (far less controversial) tech executive turned entrepreneur is communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull. Before entering into federal politics, Turnbull has served in many roles, including as the general counsel to Kerry Packer’s Consolidated Media Holdings, the cofounder of law firm Turnbull McWilliam, the chair of the Australian Republican Movement, a journalist and a partner at Goldman Sachs.   Turnbull became the chair of pioneering Australian internet service provider OzEmail in 1994, also becoming an investor in the company. In 1999, at the peak of the ‘90s tech boom, Turnbull sold the company to US telco MCI WorldCom.   In 2004, Turnbull won the by-election for the federal seat of Wentworth, being elected as the local Liberal Party MP at the general election later that year. Since then, he has served as the environment minister in the Howard government, as well as the leader of the opposition.   5. Paul Fletcher, Liberal Party   These days, Paul Fletcher is best known as the Liberal MP for the federal seat of Bradfield, as well as a parliamentary secretary to the minister for communications. It’s a position he’s held since December 2009, when he won the seat at a by-election after former opposition leader Brendan Nelson retired from politics.   However, before entering into politics, Fletcher served as a senior executive in one of Australia’s largest telecommunications companies Optus, between 2000 and 2008.   After stepping down from the role, Fletcher authored a book titled Wired Brown Land? Telstra's Battle for Broadband, which dissected the case for Telstra being allowed to build the national broadband network.   He has also run a strategic consulting business focusing on the communications industry, and also served as the chief of staff to former communications minister Richard Alston.

Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich stands aside after criticisms of his opposition to same-sex marriage

4:49AM | Friday, 4 April

Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich has resigned as chief executive of the Firefox maker, following a backlash from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community over his opposition to same-sex marriage.   In a statement, fellow Mozilla co-founder and executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker announced the resignation while apologising to staff and users for failing to listen and engage.   “We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.   “Brendan Eich has chosen to step down from his role as CEO. He’s made this decision for Mozilla and our community.”   Baker says Mozilla supports equality “regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views”, with the organisation also supporting the free speech of its staff.   “What’s next for Mozilla’s leadership is still being discussed. We want to be open about where we are in deciding the future of the organisation and will have more information next week. However, our mission will always be to make the web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just: that’s what it means to protect the open web.   “We will emerge from this with a renewed understanding and humility — our large, global, and diverse community is what makes Mozilla special, and what will help us fulfil our mission. We are stronger with you involved.”   As an employee of Netscape during the 1990s, Eich was instrumental in the development of the Javascript programming language. He later co-founded Mozilla, serving as its chief technical officer since August 2005.   According to the LA Times, in 2008, Eich made a donation $1000 to a campaign urging people to vote in favour of Proposition 8, a law banning same-sex marriage in California.   While the law eventually passed, it was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 2013.   Following the resignation of former chief executive Jay Sullivan on March 24, Mozilla announced a shake-up of its executive leadership, which saw Eich appointed as Sullivan’s replacement.   At the time, Baker hailed the reshuffle as a return to Mozilla’s founders.   “Brendan has been an absolutely foundational element of Mozilla and our success for the past 15 years. The parallels between Mozilla’s history and our future are very strong, and I am very happy with this combination of continuity and change to help us continue to fulfill our mission, as Mozilla has big ambitions: providing a rich, exciting online experience that puts people at the center of digital life.”   However, within days of the appointment, Eich’s previous opposition to marriage equality became public. The critics included Mozilla’s head of education, Christie Koehler, who wrote a public blog post on the matter.   “I am not sure I can definitively determine Brendan’s suitability. I can, however, give insight as to what I experience at Mozilla as a queer woman and how I feel about the appointment.   “I was disappointed when I found out that Brendan had donated to the anti-marriage equality Prop. 8 campaign in California … It frustrates me when people use their economic power to further enshrine and institutionalise discrimination.”   Eich responded to the criticisms with a post on his personal blog on March 26, committing to work with the LGBT community on making Mozilla inclusive.   “I know there are concerns about my commitment to fostering equality and welcome for LGBT individuals at Mozilla. I hope to lay those concerns to rest, first by making a set of commitments to you. More important, I want to lay them to rest by actions and results.”   Three days later on March 29, Mozilla issued a statement clarifying it supports equality.   “Over the past few days we have been asked a number of questions about Brendan Eich’s appointment as CEO. This post is to clarify Mozilla’s official support of equality and inclusion for LGBT people.   “Mozilla’s mission is to make the web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just. This is why Mozilla supports equality for all, including marriage equality for LGBT couples.”   Despite the comments, the backlash continued. According to the BBC, dating website OkCupid blocked users from accessing its website.   “Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples.   "We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OKCupid.”   The move comes at a crucial time for Mozilla, which recently announced a partnership with Panasonic that will see a version of its Firefox OS operating system software power smart TVs.   Aside from its Firefox web browser, Mozilla is using its web-based operating system software to power a range of low-end devices, including low-end PCs, tablets and smartphones.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

prev
1234
loading...
loading...
loading...
loading...