We all need some kind of authentication process if we are to access information systems at work or at home. We know why we need to do it: to make sure we have access to our data and unauthorised people don’t. So why do we routinely ignore such advice, particularly given the constant advice from cyber security professionals about the need for strong passwords that are changed frequently? It seems there is a significant disparity about what we do and what we want: is it security or is it usability? Most authentication we encounter today is typically implemented in one (or more) of three ways: Something you know (such as the humble password) Something you have (a smart card) Something you are (a fingerprint). Many systems use a username/password pair for access control, largely because the interfaces to most systems have typically been some sort of keyboard. Some smart phones use a PIN or fingerprint and bank ATMs use a combination of something you have (a card) and something you know (a PIN). The trouble with passwords Having a long random password is good advice. It provides a measure of security for guarding access to important information, such as your online banking account. Unfortunately, when faced with having to remember several random fifteen character passwords (characters being A to Z, a to z, 0 to 9 and an assortment of other printable characters such as ! @ # $ and %), most users apply a judgement to the value of the information protected by the password and act accordingly. Some accounts may have a relatively weak password, because of the cost of undue information leakage or harm to the owner if the account is compromised. Other accounts might have a stronger password, because users don’t want their money siphoned off by a cyber-criminal. These are judgements about the perceived value of the information. How safe is your password? If you must use a password, what makes a good one? How fast can a password be cracked? There are several websites that publish lists of common passwords. I have used a list of 14 million passwords as a test with a local science discovery centre in Perth. Attendees at the centre (mostly high school students) were asked to enter what they thought was a secure password and this was checked against the list. If not found on the list (a rare occurence), the password was sent to a fast computer for further processing. This computer could crack a random six character password in under two seconds, using a brute-force attack by trying to match “aaaaaa”, then “aaaaab”, then “aaaaac” and so on through all combination of six characters. It was surprising how little the fast computer had to do. Many users assume that words or phrases taken from well-established literature are somehow secure. They are not (forget anything from Lord of the Rings or War and Peace). A longer password takes longer to crack. A random 15-character password might take a week, but then the argument comes back to the time value of information. If a cyber-criminal has to wait a week, your account will still be there and will you change your random 15-character password every week? One way to add an extra level of security to your password is to enable any two-step authentication, whereby another code is sent to a device, such as your mobile phone, after a password is entered. Plenty of online services already offer this service. We need some other authentication If the humble password is not suitable due to usability issues, then there are alternatives such as the popular pay wave contactless payment system for bank cards and travel cards, with no password required for small transactions. The risk is that if your wallet or purse is stolen, small amounts can be siphoned from your account before it is blocked. Nonetheless, tapping a card is proving to be popular with consumers and with retailers, so convenience wins over security. Biometric methods, based on some physical property of the human body, are attractive because a person doesn’t need to remember a password or carry a card. Smartphones and computer operating systems already use fingerprint scanners to provide a simple and effective means of authentication. Other biometric devices in use include retinal scanners, iris scanners and voice recognition. Despite what is seen in popular movies, no-one likes having a laser shined into their eyes, so voice recognition might be the way forward. But there are known issues with biometric technology. But those issues are the same for any authentication system. Current error rates for single-fingerprint devices are approximately 2% at best – not good enough to be used on their own yet. Some systems don’t rely on matching the actual fingerprint, but match other behavioural properties of a user. For example, the angle and velocity of fingerprint scanning, which are properties that are different for each person, are measurable and repeatable. This defeats a physical attack such as removing a person’s finger in an effort to impersonate someone. Returning to the ATM example: for now, we are bound to cards and PINs due to their low maintenance and production costs. From a customer’s point of view, it would be simpler to speak to an ATM and ask it for cash, once your voice print linked to your account has been confirmed. This is a much more user friendly (and safer) future. Ultimately, until more robust security alternatives are widely accepted (and implementable at low cost), those who continue to ignore the advice on passwords must seriously ask what balance of security and usability they prefer, and what price they’re prepared to pay for weak security? Mike Johnstone is Security Researcher, Senior Lecturer in Software Engineering at Edith Cowan University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The arrival of Microsoft Windows 95 on August 24 1995 brought about a desktop PC boom. With an easier and more intuitive graphical user interface than previous versions it appealed to more than just business, and Bill Gates’ stated aim of one PC per person per desk was set in motion. This was a time of 320Mb hard drives, 8Mb RAM and 15” inch CRT monitors. For most home users, the internet had only just arrived. Windows 95 introduced the start menu, powered by a button in the bottom-left corner of the desktop. This gives a central point of entry into menus from which to choose commands and applications. The simplicity of this menu enables users to easily find commonly used documents and applications. All subsequent versions of Windows have kept this menu, with the notable exception of Windows 8, a change which prompted an enormous backlash. We take these intuitive graphic interfaces for granted today, but earlier operating systems such as DOS and CP/M allowed the user to interact using only typed text commands. This all changed in the 1970s, with Ivan Sutherland’s work with Sketchpad and the use of lightpens to control CRT displays, Douglas Engelbart’s development of the computer mouse, and the Xerox PARC research team’s creation of the Windows Icon Menu Pointer graphical interfaces paradigm (WIMP) – the combination of mouse pointer, window and icons that remains standard to this day. By the early 1980s, Apple had developed graphical operating systems for its Lisa (released 1983) and Macintosh (1984) computers, and Microsoft had released Windows (1985). DOS - these were not good old days. Krzysztof Burghardt Imagining a desktop All these interfaces rely on the central idea of the desktop, a comprehensible metaphor for a computer. We work with information in files and organise them in folders, remove unwanted information to the trash can, and note something of interest with a bookmark. Metaphors are useful. They enable users to grasp concepts faster, but rely on the metaphor remaining comprehensible to the user and useful for the designer and programmer putting it into effect – without stretching it beyond belief. The advantage is that the pictures used to represent functions (icons) look similar to those in the workplace, and so the metaphor is readily understandable. Breaking windows But 20 years after Windows 95, the world has changed. We have smartphones and smart televisions, we use the internet prolifically for practically everything. Touchscreens are now almost more ubiquitous than the classic mouse-driven interface approach, and screen resolution is so high individual pixels can be difficult to see. We still have Windows, but things are changing. Indeed, they need to change. The desktop metaphor has been the metaphor of choice for so long, and this ubiquity has helped computers find a place within households as a common, familiar tool rather than as specialist, computerised equipment. But is it still appropriate? After all, few of us sit in an office today with paper-strewn desks; books are read on a tablet or phone rather than hard-copies; printing emails is discouraged; most type their own letters and write their own emails; files are electronic not physical; we search the internet for information rather than flick through reference books; and increasingly the categorisation and organisation of data has taken second place to granular search. Mouse-driven interfaces rely on a single point of input, but we’re increasingly seeing touch-based interfaces that accept swipes, touches and shakes in various combinations. We are moving away from the dictatorship of the mouse pointer. Dual-finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom are new emerging metaphors – natural user interfaces (NUI) rather than graphical user interfaces. What does the next 20 years hold? It’s hard to tell but one thing that is certain is that interfaces will make use of more human senses to display information and to control the computer. Interfaces will become more transparent, more intuitive and less set around items such as boxes, arrows or icons. Human gestures will be more commonplace. And such interfaces will be incorporated into technology throughout the world, through virtual reality and augmented reality. These interfaces will be appear and feel more natural. Some suitable devices already exist, such as ShiverPad, that provide shear forces on surfaces that provide a frictional feel to touch devices. Or Geomagic’s Touch X (formerly the Sensible Phantom Desktop) that delivers three-dimensional forces to make 3D objects feel solid. Airborne haptics are another promising technology that develop tactile interfaces in mid-air. Through ultrasound, users can feel acoustic radiation fields that emanate from devices, without needing to touch any physical surface. Videogame manufacturers have led the way with these interfaces, including the Microsoft Kinect and Hololens that allow users to use body gestures to control the interface, or with their eyes through head-mounted displays. Once interaction with a computer or device can be commanded using natural gestures, movements of the body or spoken commands, the necessity for the Windows-based metaphor of computer interaction begins to look dated – as old as it is. Jonathan Roberts is Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at Bangor University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Microsoft’s aim to make Windows 10 run on anything is key to its strategy of reasserting its dominance. Seemingly unassailable in the 1990s, Microsoft’s position has in many markets been eaten away by the explosive growth of phones and tablets, devices in which the firm has made little impact. To run Windows 10 on everything, Microsoft is opening up. Rather than requiring Office users to run Windows, now Office365 is available for Android and Apple iOS mobile devices. A version of Visual Studio, Microsoft’s key application for programmers writing Windows software, now runs on Mac OS or Linux operating systems. Likewise, with tools released by Microsoft developers can tweak their Android and iOS apps so that they run on Windows. The aim is to allow developers to create, with ease, the holy grail of a universal app that runs on anything. For a firm that has been unflinching in taking every opportunity to lock users into its platform, just as with Apple and many other tech firms, this is a major change of tack. From direct to indirect revenue So why is Microsoft trying to become a general purpose, broadly compatible platform? Windows' share of the operating system market has fallen steadily from 90% to 70% to 40%, depending on which survey you believe. This reflects customers moving to mobile, where the Windows Phone holds a mere 3% market share. In comparison Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure platform Azure, Office 365 and its Xbox games console have all experienced rising fortunes. Lumbered with a heritage of Windows PCs in a falling market, Microsoft’s strategy is to move its services – and so its users – inexorably toward the cloud. This divides into two necessary steps. First, for software developed for Microsoft products to run on all of them – write once, run on everything. As it is there are several different Microsoft platforms (Win32, WinRT, WinCE, Windows Phone) with various incompatibilities. This makes sense, for a uniform user experience and also to maximise revenue potential from reaching as many possible devices. Second, to implement a universal approach so that code runs on other operating systems other than Windows. This has historically been fraught, with differences in approach to communicating, with hardware and processor architecture making it difficult. In recent years, however, improving virtualisation has made it much easier to run code across platforms. It will be interesting to see whether competitors such as Google and Apple will follow suit, or further enshrine their products into tightly coupled, closed ecosystems. Platform exclusivity is no longer the way to attract and hold customers; instead the appeal is the applications and services that run on them. For Microsoft, it lies in subscriptions to Office365 and Xbox Gold, in-app and in-game purchases, downloadable video, books and other revenue streams – so it makes sense for Microsoft to ensure these largely cloud-based services are accessible from operating systems other than just their own. The Windows family tree … it’s complicated. Kristiyan Bogdanov, CC BY-SA Platform vs services Is there any longer any value in buying into a single service provider? Consider smartphones from Samsung, Google, Apple and Microsoft: prices may differ, but the functionality is much the same. The element of difference is the value of wearables and internet of things devices (for example, Apple Watch), the devices they connect with (for example, an iPhone), the size of their user communities, and the network effect. From watches to fitness bands to internet fridges, the benefits lie in how devices are interconnected and work together. This is a truly radical concept that demonstrates digital technology is driving a new economic model, with value associated with “in-the-moment” services when walking about, in the car, or at work. It’s this direction that Microsoft is aiming for with Windows 10, focusing on the next big thing that will drive the digital economy. The revolution will be multi-platform I predict that we will see tech firms try to grow ecosystems of sensors and services running on mobile devices, either tied to a specific platform or by driving traffic directly to their cloud infrastructure. Apple has already moved into the mobile health app market and connected home market. Google is moving in alongside manufacturers such as Intel, ARM and others. An interesting illustration of this effect is the growth of digital payments – with Apple, Facebook and others seeking ways to create revenue from the traffic passing through their ecosystems. However, the problem is that no single supplier like Google, Apple, Microsoft or internet services such as Facebook or Amazon can hope to cover all the requirements of the internet of things, which is predicted to scale to over 50 billion devices worth US$7 trillion in five years. As we become more enmeshed with our devices, wearables and sensors, demand will rise for services driven by the personal data they create. Through “Windows 10 on everything”, Microsoft hopes to leverage not just the users of its own ecosystem, but those of its competitors too. Mark Skilton is Professor of Practice at University of Warwick. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The world’s move into the mobile post-PC age has accelerated, it seems, after Apple’s record quarterly sales of 74.5 million iPhones. To put this in perspective, this is almost the same as the total global quarterly sales of PCs, which were around 84 million. Because of the large amount of profit Apple makes from the iPhone, its profit was a record-breaking $US18 billion. This compares with Lenovo, the world’s largest PC manufacturer, whose last quarter saw them make just $262 million in profits. The drivers behind Apple’s success Although the drivers behind Apple’s success include those that are specific to the brand, it is what the phone means in terms of social- and self-identity that determines the difference between buying a Samsung phone and an Apple one. But there is another psychological driver that could be a candidate behind why Apple has succeeded where companies like Samsung have struggled. This driver is one that, according to Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile, is behind what motivates us at work and leads to the greatest levels of job satisfaction. Through extensive interviews and surveys of employers and employees, Amabile and her team distilled down the factor behind creative satisfaction and motivation at work to the feeling of “making progress”. This work actually builds on research reported in the 1960’s by Frederick Herzberg which stated that the principle driver behind worker motivation was a sense of “achievement”. Interestingly, although the research has consistently reinforced the view that making progress and achievement are highly motivating, senior managers and even CEOs commonly rank this driver at the bottom of what they consider important in motivating workers. This probably explains why many workplaces overwhelmingly give their employees a sense of futility in trying to effect change or contribute in such a way that workers get a sense that they are achieving something significant through their work. It is unsurprising then that Gallup has reported consistently that almost 70% of US workers are not engaged or are actively disengaged with their work. How does Apple give us the sense of “making progress”? Apple, and to a lesser extent Google, have brought out a new phone each year, along with new versions of the software that runs it. Each year, customers are able to upgrade the device that they increasingly use as the principal work productivity tool. 40% of US employees use their personal smartphones for work. Contrast this with the fact that employers commonly only upgrade work tools such as PCs ever 4.5 years. Very few employers will be operating on the latest versions of operating systems and the entire environment is locked down with the employee given very little control over the work computing environment. This technological stagnation at work is usually only one symptom of organisations that change very slowly, if at all. In such environments, individuals will find it difficult to experience any sense of “making progress” either in what they actually do, or how they go about doing it. Being able to use your own device, upgraded each year, brings the very latest technological features along with the sense of being in control and making progress. Every year, the phones are faster, lighter, more secure and more functional. Every year, a new technological enabler is made available through the device. This year, for example, through Apple Pay, it is mobile electronic payments. At the very least, it gives employees the belief that they are on an equal footing with colleagues and competitors and are not being “extrinsically disadvantaged”. The fact that companies are now supporting the ability of staff to use their own devices at work acknowledges that they will never be able to provide the flexibility that employees gain by being able to control this for themselves. In fact, the smartest thing companies could do would be to pay staff an extra bonus each year, specifically for this purpose. Of course, what this means is that Apple can theoretically continue to succeed with its iPhone business by providing for workers what their own employers are unlikely ever to do and continue to give them the sense that we are all making progress. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
A year ago, SmartCompany listed the top new technologies set to race into 2014. Well, another year has come and gone, and a new group of technologies are emerging over the horizon. So what new technologies should you look out for in 2015? It’s time to gaze again into the crystal ball and take a look at six technologies you should keep an eye on in 2015: 1. Make-or-break time for smartwatches Over the past year, both in the form of devices running Google’s Android Wear platform and the Apple Watch, the tech giants have made big bets on smartwatches. However, so far consumers have been a bit ambivalent. Sure, smartwatches can bring notifications to your clockface and apps on your wrist, and being able to do a voice search with Google without pulling out your phone or tablet is nifty. On the other hand, a majority of the people inhabiting the planet already carry a far more powerful device with a larger screen in their pocket or handbag, in the form of a smartphone. So the real question now is whether consumers will embrace this new technology. Over the next year, entrepreneurs and innovators will either come up with a “killer app” for the smartwatch that drives it into the mainstream, or else the technology will be remembered as a flash-in-the-pan tech fad. Either way, the next 12 months will be crucial to the long-term prospects of this much-hyped technology. 2. Mobile payments and tickets Another technology rapidly approaching the critical make-or-break point is mobile payments. These days, from “touch and go” chip-and-pin credit cards to public transport tickets, there are a growing number of smartcards that are based on a technology called near-field communications (NFC). Over recent years, a growing number of smartphones have embedded these chips, allowing the “tap to share” features on Samsung Galaxy and Microsoft Lumia smartphones. NFC technology received a surge of mainstream attention with its inclusion on iPhone 6, which uses the chip as part of its Apple Pay payment platform. Of course, the great thing about NFC is that you don’t need to be tied into a proprietary walled garden platform such as Apple Pay. Potentially, all of the smartcards in your wallet could potentially be replaced with an app on a smartphone with an NFC chip. Since we’re now at the point where just about every flagship smartphone has NFC, we’re also at the point where it’s plausible for consumers to replace a wallet full of cards with a phone full of apps. Whether consumers embrace the convenience over the next year will be interesting to watch. 3. Multi-device app development The number of tech gadgets on offer to consumers is greater than ever before. A couple of decades ago, the average consumer just had a desktop or laptop in their study at home, and a second on their work desk. Today, a consumer could potentially use a smartwatch, a smartphone, a tablet, a desktop or laptop computer, a smart TV (or a set-top box or games console) and an in-car entertainment system in the course of a single day – and all of them run apps. Where Apple, Google and Microsoft once created operating systems for single devices, they’re now creating app platforms and ecosystems for devices. With Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple added a feature called Handoff that allows users to pass activities from one device to another. With Windows 10, Microsoft will allow a single app to run across a range of devices, including everything from smartphones and tablets to Xbox game consoles, PCs and servers. Meanwhile, with 5.0 Lollipop, Android apps can now run on Chromebooks. Not only that, but Google has created a range of versions of Android for different devices, including cars (Android Auto), wearables (Android Wear), and TVs (Android TV). For businesses, what this means is that consumers are likely to increasingly expect their apps, websites and online services to work seamlessly across a range of different devices and contexts. 4. Health tech The interesting thing about many of these devices is they have potential therapeutic benefits for people with otherwise debilitating medical conditions. Others could be used as a preventative tool to warn users about possible health risks. For example, Google Glass can potentially overlay graphics for people with poor vision highlighting potential risks and dangers. Cloud platforms can be used to collate health records and readings from a range of different devices and sources. Robotics can be applied to help people with limited mobility carry out everyday tasks. The great news is that there are a range of Australian businesses already doing some great research in this area. A great example is Eyenaemia, a new technology, developed by Melbourne medical students Jarrel Seah and Jennifer Tang, which allows users to diagnose anaemia by taking selfies with their smartphones. The technology has grabbed the attention of none other than Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates himself. “I could see a future version for Eyenaemia being used in developing countries, especially with pregnant women, since anaemia contributes to nearly 20% of deaths during pregnancy,” Gates says. As of August, a health-tech startup group in Melbourne has already managed to attract close to 1000 entrepreneurs and medical professionals to some of its meetings, and a similar group in Brisbane is attracting around 100. Health tech is an area Australia could become a world leader in over the coming years – if the investment and political will is there. 5. Plastic OLED displays A year ago, low production yields put a limit to the production volumes of curved or flexible screen devices. The first curved screen displays appeared on smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy Round and the LG G Flex, and at some curved-screen TVs at the International CES trade show. However, prices were high and volumes were limited. It required specialist types of glass, such as Corning’s bendable Willow Glass, to make. The situation is set to change over the coming year thanks to a new technology called called P-OLED (plastic-organic light emitting diode). P-OLED works by sandwiching a layer of organic material, which lights up on receiving an electrical charge, between two sheets of plastic. Along with the organic material, there’s a thin grid made up of a transparent material that conducts electricity (known as an active matrix) that can deliver a charge to each individual pixel. Unlike LCD displays, which require a backlight, all of the light is generated by the organic material, meaning P-OLED displays are thinner as well. It is also thinner than glass AMOLED displays. LG Display, one of the top three display manufacturers worldwide alongside Japan Display (Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi) and Samsung, says we should expect to see bendable tablets next year, with rollable TVs and foldable laptops screens in 2017. 6. Rise of the Chinese tech giants This last one is not so much a new technology, per se, as it is a potential tectonic shift in the tech industry landscape. During 2014, Xiaomi overtook Apple as China’s second-largest smartphone maker and – according to some figures – overtook Samsung as its largest. By the end of the year, it was the world’s third largest smartphone maker by volume, trailing only Samsung and Apple. But while Xiaomi attracted most of the attention, it’s far from the only Chinese electronics maker set to make an impact over the coming years. Lenovo became the world’s largest PC maker by buying IBM’s PC division in 2005, and has recently completed its purchase of Motorola from Google. Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, is also making its consumer electronics play. In their shadows are a range of other brands, such as Coolpad and ZTE. But it’s not just device makers that are having an impact. Look no further than the record-setting $US231.4 billion ($A258.8 billion) IPO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. In conclusion From health tech to mobile payments, there are a range of technologies that will potentially have a big impact on Australian small businesses over the next year. But perhaps the most important thing for businesses will be to make sure your consumers have a seamless digital experience across all of them. This article originally appeared at SmartCompany.
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.
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.
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.
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’s main developer conference for the year – Google I/O – has kicked off in California. For weeks ahead of time, speculation about Android Wear smartwatches, new Google Nexus devices and a possible update to its Android or Chrome OS operating systems. So Google raised a few eyebrows when, ahead of the conference, it announced it’s shilling out $US555 million (approximately A$591 million) for a company called Dropcam. The newly acquired business is being combined with Nest, the smart smoke detector and thermostat company Google purchased in January for $US3.2 billion. The company makes small security cameras with built-in microphones and speakers that connect to the internet over Wi-Fi and stream encrypted video and video to the cloud. Once the camera is set up, the user can use the company’s iOS, Android or web app to stream video and video from their camera, or speak through the camera’s built-in speaker, allowing for two-way communications. The company also offers the option of recording up 30 days of continuous security video and share favourite clips with family and friends. The deal sparked a lot of discussion and speculation. Was Google interested in monitoring people’s houses, shops and businesses to glean even more data for its search rankings? No sooner had the ink dried on the contract when, in Australia, Telstra announced a security deal of its own. Through a joint venture with firm SNP Security, called TelstraSNP Monitoring, the telecommunications giant will offer will offer monitored security for business and residential customers. While SNP will continue offering guard and petrol services, its video surveillance and security alarm arm will be swallowed by the new venture. A secure solution Now, certainly both Google and Telstra have long been interested in security. But it’s mostly been of the cybersecurity and network security variety. So why the sudden interest in catching real-life crooks? The reason comes down to two topics I’ve discussed a fair bit in recent weeks: Cloud computing and the internet of things. While people still often think about the “internet of things” as connecting fridges to the internet. However, a real-world example of a situation where there are practical benefits in hooking up a device to the internet is with security cameras. As I’ve discussed previously, IoT is an evolutionary trend, rather than a revolutionary one. In this case, connecting security cameras and alarms to the cloud allows for easy off-site storage of footage (with a cloud provider), as well as the ability to monitor footage in real time from almost any device anywhere in the world. In many cases, internet-connected cameras will allow for more flexibility than if all the cameras were physically wired back to a control room or stored at the original location on video tape. (That being said, you can still do both of those things if you stream the footage over the internet). For reasons I’ve previously discussed, the cost of cloud-based services has fallen through the floor in recent times. Today's announcement of Google Drive for business, with unlimited cloud-based storage for $10 per user per month, is a perfect example. The cloud adding value With the cost of providing the underlying cloud computing and storage services falling, the real business opportunity for cloud providers such as Google and Telstra is in providing value added services over the top. Centralised video camera monitoring and security footage storage over the cloud is one example of where cloud service providers like Google and Telstra can add value for customers. And if you combine security camera vision in a cloud-based with real-time information from other devices, you begin to build a powerful platform that can be used to remotely monitor facilities and equipment, without physically needing to have staff on the ground. What it means for you So what does all this mean for your business? Well, in many sectors – such as retail or property management – security cameras have long been a fact of business life. A cloud-based, IoT solution could be a far more effective yet cost-effective alternative to existing video surveillance systems. And if loss prevention is part of your business, that’s certainly worth looking into. This article first appeared on Smart Company.
10 massive announcements from Google I/O: A new version of Android is coming for cars, smartwatches and TVs6:48AM | Thursday, 26 June
Google’s head of Android, Sundar Pichai, delivered a keynote speech overnight to the tech giant’s annual developer conference, Google I/O. In terms of big announcements, he didn’t disappoint, with key points including a new version of Android – called Android L – that will work with smart cars, wearables and TVs. For small businesses, a major piece of news is Google Drive for Work, a new cloud computing product set to go head-to-head with Microsoft’s Office 365 and OneDrive. The new product will cost businesses just $US10 per user per month, and allow them to access unlimited storage. Where Microsoft bumped its storage limits to one terabyte earlier this week, Google will allow individual files of up to five terabytes in size. Meanwhile, Google Docs, Sheets and Slides are now able to create or save Microsoft Office files in both Android and Chrome Browser, with support coming soon to iOS. Here are 10 other massive announcements from the Google I/O keynote: 1. Android is absolutely hammering Apple in the marketplace Sorry Apple fans, but the iPhone has well and truly been left in the dust. According to figures read out during Pichai’s keynote, the number of users to have actively used an Android smartphone in the past 30 days has grown to over a billion. This is up from 77 million in 2011, 233 million in 2012, and 538 million last year. But it’s not just in smartphones that Apple is being left behind. Google revealed that in 2012, 39% of all tablets ran Android, growing to 49% last year. This year, that has grown to 62%. In even worse news for the iPad, those figures exclude non-Google Android devices such as Amazon’s Kindle. As if Google needed to stick the boot in to Apple further, Pichai told the conference: “If you look at what other platforms are getting now, many of these things came to Android four, maybe five years ago.” The quote was a reference to a number of features, such as maps, text prediction, cloud services, widgets and support for custom keyboards, which have long been features of Android since around version 1.5, but have only recently been added to iOS. 2. Android L, with a new app platform and interface The biggest news out of the conference was, of course, the newest version of Android, codenamed “Android L”. The latest version is designed to power a range of new devices, including wearables, cars and TVs. The assumption will be that while users will always carry their mobile around with them, they are increasingly likely to be simultaneously using a second device. Cosmetically, the new version will be built around a new, “flat” design language called “Material”, which bears a slight resemblance to Microsoft’s tile interface. The new interface will be carried through Google’s mobile apps, including its Chrome web browser. However, the biggest changes are under the hood, with Android L getting upgraded to 64-bit. It also adds BlackBerry-style containerisation separating work and personal apps. Meanwhile Dalvik, the app runtime environment used in Android, is getting dumped in favour of the new Android Runtime Environment (ART). For most developers, the change will mean better performance with no need to change their code. ART is also truly-platform, meaning developers will be able to write apps once and deploy them to devices running Intel x86, ARM or MIPS processors. Android L will be available to developers starting from today. 3. Android Wear One of the big growth areas for mobile device makers is in wearables. Google has developed a platform for these devices, known as Android Wear, which it demonstrated at the conference. “Android Wear supports both round and square displays, because we think there will be a wide array of fashionable choices,” said Pichai. As many have predicted, notification cards and Google Now integration are key features of its wearables platform. LG has made its first Android Wear device, the LG G Watch, available for pre-order, while Samsung is releasing a version of its Gear smartwatches that runs Android Wear, known as “Samsung Gear Live”. Meanwhile, Motorola’s smartwatch, with a round clockface, will be available later this year. For developers, Google has made a software development kit (SDK) available allowing for customer user interfaces, support for voice actions, and transferring data to or from a smartphone or tablet. This article continues on Page 2. Please click below. 4. Android Auto Google has also released its smart car platform, known as Android Auto. Google says it has now signed up 25 major auto makers to the platform, including Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Volvo, Volkswagen, Kia, Renault, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Skoda, Jeep, Suzuki and Nissan. Android Auto will be able to be driven by voice commands, and is designed to make app development for cars as simple as developing apps for smartphones and tablets. Again, for developers, Google has released an SDK allowing for car and auto apps. Key focuses for the platform are navigation (Google Maps), communications (both audio and messaging) and streaming audio services. Android Auto also contains a screen that displays notification cards in real time. 5. Android TV Google’s new smart TV platform, announced during the keynote, is known as Android TV. It can be used to power a range of different devices, from smart TVs to set-top-boxes and dedicated streaming sticks. Android TV allows the user to use their smartphone, tablet or smartwatch as a voice-powered remote control for their TV. Android TV devices will include all the functionality of ChromeCast, but also add the ability of directly running apps directly. 6. ChromeCast Speaking of things TV related, Google says its low-cost ChromeCast sticks are currently outselling every other streaming device combined. New capabilities coming to the sticks include a new section on the Google Play app store for apps designed with added ChromeCast capabilities. ChromeCast owners will soon be able to mirror the screen of their Android smartphone or tablet wirelessly on their TV screen. Users will also soon get the capability of sending content to a ChromeCast device by logging in with a PIN, even if they aren’t on the same WiFi network. Another new feature is that users will be able to set a picture or photo as a wallpaper on their ChromeCast for when they’re not using the device. 7. Android L integration with ChromeBooks Up until now, Google has maintained two separate operating systems: Android for smartphones and tablets, and Chrome OS for its ChromeBook series of laptops. A massive update for Android L is that ChromeBooks will now be able to run Android apps. Meanwhile, apps running on a users’ tablet or smartphone will be mirrored on the screen of their ChromeBook device. 8. Google Fit At Apple’s WWDC, the introduction of a health framework was one of the largest announcements. Given the sheer volume of announcements at Google I/O, the introduction of Google Fit is almost an afterthought. Basically, like Apple HealthKit, Google Fit is a single set of APIs that blends data from multiple apps and devices to create a comprehensive picture of a users’ health. Google is promising a developer preview of Google Fit in the next few weeks. 9. Google Play Already, I’ve noted one big upgrade to Google Play, namely the addition of a section dedicated to apps with ChromeCast playback. Presumably, there will be similar sections dedicated to Android Wear and Android Auto. But there are other changes afoot for Google’s Play download store. First, Google says that it has paid out $US5 billion to app developers over the past year, which is two-and-a-half times higher than a year earlier. Second, Google also announced the takeover of a startup called Appurify, which will provide automation services for apps being developed either for Google Play and Android or iOS. And thirdly, for those interested in games, Google Play is adding the ability to save a snapshot of your progress in a game to the cloud, as well as special quests for games. 10. Cloud tools and services Last, but certainly not least, Google has added a range of new cloud tools and services. These include Cloud Monitoring, which provides a dashboard with real time metrics for apps running in Google’s cloud services. A second, called Cloud Dataflow, is a data pipeline service similar to Amazon’s Data Pipeline. And a third, called Cloud Debugger, allows developers to more easily trace slowdowns in cloud-based apps. This article first appeared on Smart Company.
Apple has unveiled iOS 8 in what it says is its biggest release since the launch of the app store. Some of the main features include: Interactive notifications which gives users the ability to respond to notifications within the notification pane, without having to switch apps. An improved mailbox with Mailbox-style actions enables users to easily tag or dismiss emails without needing to open them. Spotlight now lets you search for apps you haven’t installed yet, along with songs in the iTunes store, movie location times and more. HealthKit, which is a one-stop shop for all the health tracking apps on your phone. No Microsoft Start Menu until 2015 Microsoft won’t be delivering a new Start Menu for Windows 8 with its coming Windows 8.1 Update 2, sources told Zdnet. Microsoft’s operating systems group has decided to hold off on delivering a Microsoft-developed Start Menu until Threshold, the next major release for Windows, expected to be released in April next year. Google scraps Zavers The tech giant has decided to discontinue Zavers, a service that lets shoppers clip coupons online and get those savings when they purchase products in the stores of retailers. The service had been running for 17 months, launching in January of last year following Google’s acquisition of a startup called Zave Networks. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 26.46 to 16,743.63. The Australian Dollar is currently trading at US92 cents.
When it comes to smartphones, there’s a whole heap of jargon. Quad-core processors? AMOLED displays? Android or iOS? If you’re not a techie, it can be tough to make sense of it all. So here’s a layman’s guide to some of the mobile mumbo jumbo you’ve always wondered about, but been too afraid to ask. (Before we get started a note to the techie uber-geeks reading this. Old Taskmaster is completely aware some of these points are gross oversimplifications, that your early-90s BeBox had more than one processor or that I didn’t bother to mention MeeGo. No need for snarky comments. This is intended as a layman’s guide, so sue me!) What exactly do iOS, Android and Windows Phone do? A good, simple way of thinking about your mobile phone is as a pocket-sized computer that can also make calls. On most computers, there’s a piece of system software, called an operating system that basically manages the relationship between a computer’s hardware and the programs that run on it. In the computer world, most PCs use Windows or Linux, while Apple Macs use Mac OSX. Operating systems like iOS, Android and Windows Phone basically do the same thing, except they’re designed to work on a smartphone. If you run an iPhone, you run Apple’s iOS. If you run a recent Nokia, it almost certainly uses Windows Phone. Pretty much everything else – most notably Samsung Galaxy smartphones – use Android. So why do Androids come in Cupcake, Ice Cream Sandwich or JellyBean? Each major version of Android is code-named after a dessert. The first letter of each dessert goes up in alphabetical order. So you’ve had Android Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean. Why? Basically, because Google thinks ‘Android Gingerbread’ sounds cuter than ‘Android Build G’. What are the most recent versions of the major smartphone operating systems? The current version of Android is 4.2/4.3 Jellybean, although Google has announced Android 4.4 KitKat is coming soon. As fairly well publicised by their recent announcement, the latest version of Apple’s iOS is iOS 7. Windows is up to Windows Phone 8, although 8.1 is just around the corner. Finally, BlackBerry is up to BlackBerry 10.2. Given their current business status, Old Taskmaster wouldn’t bet on 10.3. LCD or AMOLED? LCD (of various descriptions) and AMOLED are the two common technologies you’ll find powering smartphone screens. An LCD (liquid crystal display) display is made up of thousands of tiny liquid crystals that modulate light to achieve a desired colour. The light itself is either provided through backlights or through a reflective back panel on the display. AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) displays are made of a thin film of organic material that lights up when charged by an electric current. The charge that makes different parts of the screen light up is provided by a thin-film transistor that sits behind the organic material. Which is better? LCD is the more mature technology of the two. Generally speaking, LCD will be clearer at different viewing angles and produce more realistic colours, but is less good at contrast. AMOLED colours are brighter, have better contrast and (because they don’t need to be backlit) generally use less power. Traditionally, they are less viewable in direct sunlight. What’s this resolution business? Whether your display is LCD or AMOLED, the number of pixels or dots of colour per square inch of screen size determine how clear your image is. In the past, Windows PCs used 96 points per inch, while Apple Macs used 72. The usual standard for the printing industry is 300 dots per inch. By comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 displays 441 pixels per inch. Dual-core? Quad-core? Octo-core? What-the-core? Historically, most computers were built around a single processor – called the CPU (central processing unit) – that computer programs ran on. One processor core, one chip, one computer. These days, most smartphones have more than one of these processor cores on a single physical computer chip, and these are known as multi-core processors. In effect, it’s like having two or four computer CPUs on your phone, except they’ve been shrunk down to fit on a single piece of silicon. Most current smartphones use a quad-core processor, although some older ones use a dual-core processor, while octo-core processors are beginning to be offered on some newer models. How is the processor in my smartphone different to the one in my computer? If you open up your PC or Mac, you’ll probably find it’s built around an Intel processor. The ancestor of this chip was the 8088 and 8086 chips in the very first IBM PCs. Over the past couple of decades, the design of these chips has been optimised for maximise performance, often at the expense of using more power. In contrast, the processor in your smartphone is most likely an ARM chip. Its great ancestor first appeared in a 1985 accelerator card add-on for the BBC Micro B. (Yes, the BBC Micro B is a distant relative of your smartphone!) Acorn’s Archimedes and Apple’s Newtons used this series of chips, too. Because they’ve spent most of the past 20 years being used in mobile devices, they’ve been optimised for battery life as well as performance. But my smartphone processor is built by Qualcomm/Nvidia/Samsung? ARM comes up with the basic designs for its processors. It then licenses them to a range of other chip companies, including Qualcomm, Nvidia, Samsung and Apple. In turn, these companies don’t usually make chips, they just market them. The chips themselves are manufactured by companies with chip manufacturing plants (foundries), including TSMC and Samsung. SNS integration? It stands for Social Network Service. It’s a fancy, jargony way of saying this phone has an app or hub that pulls your social media messages into one place. Over to you Are there any other bits of smartphone jargon you’ve heard but have been too afraid to ask about? If so, leave your question in the comments below! Mobile and mobile commerce is an increasingly critical part of every business. If there’s some piece of mobile mumbo jumbo you don’t understand, make sure you get it cleared up! Get it done – today!
This article first appeared April 13th, 2011. Android is fast becoming one of the most popular operating systems in Australia, challenging the iPhone for dominance in the smartphone sector.
Occasionally you’ll be reading something on your desktop computer at home, then hop on the train for a commute and want to continue where you left off.
I see so many start-ups that simply waste money, unintentionally (I've invested in them).
A Victorian start-up is among the winners of the 2012 national iAwards, after creating the world’s first modular, real-time, software-reconfigurable electric motor and generator.
A trend dubbed “Bring Your Own Apps” is gaining pace in the workplace, according to a Telsyte report, which shows businesses are encouraging their staff to use apps for work purposes.
Facebook’s disappointing debut on the Nasdaq doesn’t appear to have dampened the company’s spirits, with reports circulating the social media giant is about to make two more acquisitions.
The first question you should ask yourself before creating any type of app is “why on Earth would someone download this?”