The Podiyan

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tsunami - சுனாமி - அலைக்குக் கொடுத்தவிலை!!!

Woman knocks down pope at Christmas Eve Mass - Video!!!

Woman knocks down pope at Christmas Eve Mass - Video!!!

Woman knocks down pope at Christmas Eve Mass

VATICAN CITY – A woman jumped the barriers in St. Peter's Basilica and knocked down Pope Benedict XVI at the start of Christmas Eve Mass, but the 82-year-old pontiff got up unhurt and proceeded as planned with Thursday's service.

Witness video obtained by The Associated Press showed a woman dressed in a red hooded sweat shirt vaulting over the wooden barriers that cordoned off the basilica's main aisle and rushing toward the pope before being swarmed by bodyguards.
The video showed the woman grabbing the pope's vestments as she was taken down by guards, with Benedict then falling on top of her.

The commotion occurred as the pope's procession was making its way toward the main altar and shocked gasps rang out among the thousands who packed the basilica. The procession came to a halt, the music stopped and security rushed to the trouble spot.
A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini said the woman appeared to be mentally unstable and had been taken into custody by Vatican police. He said she also knocked down Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who was taken to hospital for a checkup.
"During the procession an unstable person jumped a barrier and knocked down the Holy Father," Benedettini told The AP by telephone. "(The pope) quickly got up and continued the procession."

It was the second year in a row that there had been a security breach at the Christmas Eve service and this was the most serious incident involving the public in Benedict's five-year papacy. At the end of last year's Mass, a woman who had jumped the barriers got close to the pope but was quickly blocked on the ground by security.
That woman too wore a red hooded sweat shirt, but Benedettini said it was not immediately known if the same person was behind Thursday's incident.
MaryBeth Burns from Paris, Texas, was about four people away from the woman who jumped the barriers and was filming the pope's procession as the commotion started.
"All of a sudden this person sort of flew over the barricade and the Holy Father went down and all the security people were on top of it, a whole pile there, getting her off and him back up," said Burns, who was visiting Italy with her family on a religious pilgrimage for Christmas.

"I'm really mad because I had a perfect shot lined up," she added. "I'm still shaking."
Benedict lost his miter and his staff in the fall. He remained on the ground for a few seconds before being helped back up by attendants. At that point, a few shouts of "viva il papa!" (long live the pope!) rang out, followed by cheers from the faithful, witnesses said.
After getting up, Benedict, flanked by tense bodyguards, resumed his walk to the basilica's main altar to start the Mass. The pope, who broke his right wrist in a fall this summer, appeared unharmed but somewhat shaken and leaned heavily on aides and an armrest as he sat down in his chair.

Few people who were watching the Mass on giant screens set up in a rain-soaked St. Peter's Square even knew that the pope had fallen, with many saying that either they weren't looking or had arrived too late.

Benedict made no reference to the disturbance after the service started. As a choir sang, he sprinkled incense on the altar before opening the Mass with the traditional wish for peace in Latin.

The incident was the first time a potential attacker came into direct contact with Benedict, and underscored concerns by security analysts who have frequently warned the pope is too exposed in his public appearances.

There have been other security breaches at the Vatican.

In 2007, during an open-air audience in St. Peter's Square, a mentally unstable German man jumped a security barrier and grabbed the back of the pope's open car before being swarmed by security guards.

Then there was the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca in 1981. John Paul suffered a severe abdominal wound as he rode in an open jeep at the start of his weekly audience in the Vatican piazza.
The pope is protected by a combination of Swiss Guards, Vatican police and Italian police.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S., the Vatican has tightened security at events where the pope is present. All visitors must pass by police to get into the square, with those entering the basilica going through metal detectors or being scanned by metal-detecting wands.

However, Sister Samira, an Indian aide to Vatican officials who attended the service and saw the incident, said she is never searched by security when she attends papal Masses, and said the same holds true for other people in religious garb.
Burns, the U.S. pilgrim, said security had been tight, and that it seemed there was no way to have prevented the woman from getting to the pope other than keeping the public out altogether.

"This is Midnight Mass in the heart of our church," she said. "I guess the Holy Father puts himself at risk every time he's around anybody, any crowds really."
In a similar incident, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was attacked as he was greeting the crowd at a political rally earlier this month. A man with a history of psychological problems hurled a souvenir statuette at the politician, fracturing his nose and breaking two of his teeth.

Benedict celebrated this year's Christmas Eve Mass two hours earlier than the usual midnight starting time in a move by the Vatican to ease the pontiff's busy holiday schedule.
Benedict has been remarkably healthy during his pontificate, keeping to a busy schedule and traveling around the world.

But in July, he broke his wrist during a late-night fall while vacationing in an Alpine chalet and had to have minor surgery and wear a cast for a month — an episode that highlights the risk he ran in Thursday's tumble.
In his homily, delivered unflappably after the incident, the pope urged the world to "wake up" from selfishness and petty affairs, and find time for God and spiritual matters.

"To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality," Benedict said in Italian. "Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world."

Benedict's next scheduled appearance is at noon on Christmas Day, when he is to deliver his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" speech (Latin for "To the city and the world") from the basilica's balcony.
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yelp and Google? Sure, Local is Everything

Seriously, could there be a better marriage of Web properties than one between Google and Yelp? Google is all about maximizing search value for customers. Yelp is about making sure the stuff you find in your area is actually worth checking out.

Virtually every search engine provider has been talking about—and working on—localization for years. The only barrier has been the fact that some consumers are freaked out by the fact that Websites can figure out where they live based on their IP address. But seriously, wouldn't you rather have pizzeria results from their own area, rather than getting Murray's Home Slice from another state, 200 miles away?

The surge of the smartphone industry has turned the local market into a virtual supernova. Now you search wherever you are. (I use Google Mobile Apps. Microsoft also recently launched Bing for the iPhone.) When you're on an unfamiliar street or traveling in another city, you need local, relevant information fast: Where can I get cheap gas? Who can fix this car and not break my warranty? Where can I get a good vegan meal?

Finding the answer to any of those questions is obviously just step one. Getting qualitative information about whatever you find is, of course, the key. Yelp, in addition to offering a virtual rated Yellow Pages of local businesses for the US, closes that loop. Google would love to have not only the deep local analysis Yelp's audience already provides, but also the engine that manages it.

Perhaps that's why this $30 million (in reported profits) company is actually worth a possible half-billion dollars to Google. You can't put a price on good local information, can you? Yelp has over 20 categories of ratings for thousands of businesses. Some places, like a local hair solon in NYC, have as many as 56 reviews. There are a lot of data points here, folks, and the written reviews are surprisingly rich.

I guess my only question is why Google is possibly looking at buying Yelp instead of building its own local business directory and rating system. Do they think it would cost more than half a billion dollars to do so?

Either way, Yelp or a service like it fits in with Google's mobile plans. No, I'm not among those who believe Google will sell its own phone, but it will definitely continue to have Google-branded phones with carrier partners. And it will continue to make sure that each and every one has the Google search button (real or virtual—always a magnifying glass) and easy access to search results. Combining the localized search with local reviews could propel Android phones past most competitors, including the iPhone, since their results and local information will inevitably be from third parties.

Yelp also handles things like events. I can envision a scenario where you're looking for something to do at night—maybe a show. You search through Google and find local results with Yelp-driven info blended right in, but Google's AdSense also adds deals and other offers for this event and others in your area. Each one also has a little Yelp link so you can decide if you want to take a different deal and watch a show that has 45 reviews and a four-star rating.

With neither Google nor Yelp confirming, it's premature to imagine what the post-acquisition Yelp would look like inside of Google. That said, local and mobile local will remain on the top of Google (and its competitors) priority lists for the foreseeable future. There will be deals—if not this one, then others. You can bet on it.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Dubai gets $10B from Abu Dhabi to cover debt

Dubai's government says it gets $10 billion from Abu Dhabi to cover debt as deadline arrives

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Dubai got a $10 billion lifeline from oil-rich Abu Dhabi to save one of its prized companies from imminent default Monday, calming fears for now about the city-state's shaky finances. Dubai's main stock market spiked more than 10 percent on the news.

Dubai World -- a sprawling conglomerate with assets ranging from the oceanliner Queen Elizabeth 2 to luxury retailer Barney's New York -- had been up against a Monday deadline to repay a pile of loans from its Nakheel property division. Some $4.1 billion of the emergency funds will be used to pay off those bills. The rest will go to shore up Dubai World itself.

Dubai officials' reluctance to fully stand behind Dubai World's $60 billion in debts had raised serious concerns about the emirate's creditworthiness, and the move by Abu Dhabi appeared aimed at quashing those worries before they undercut confidence in the United Arab Emirates as a whole. The two emirates share control of the UAE, a federation of seven semiautonomous city-states.

Authorities also softened their stance Monday, vowing that the city-state was committed to "transparency, good governance and market principles." Officials outlined a legal framework that promised to increase openness and protect creditors in future dealings with the conglomerate, offering lenders further reassurance in a country where formal bankruptcy proceedings are largely untested.

"We are here today to reassure investors, financial and trade creditors, employees and our citizens that our government will act at all times in accordance with market principles and internationally accepted business practices," Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of the Dubai supreme fiscal committee, said in a statement.

The bailout is the latest by Abu Dhabi. The emirate which controls the UAE's presidency has directly and indirectly provided Dubai with $25 billion over the past year, mostly by buying Dubai bonds. In all, Dubai owes more than $80 billion -- roughly equal to its total economic output last year. The full extent of its liabilities is unknown, however, with some analysts putting the total at $100 billion or more.

The aid package is key for Dubai, the second-richest of the UAE's city-states but which has little of the oil wealth held by Abu Dhabi. Dubai's ruler is the UAE's vice president and prime minister.

Dubai created Dubai World -- which has interests in seaports, real estate, tourism and retail -- to diversify its economy and boost its international clout. Much of the growth was fueled by easy credit. As the bills came due, Dubai struggled to repay as its economy was battered by the global economic downturn.

Dubai said the rest of the funds provided by Abu Dhabi will be used to cover the conglomerate's interest expenses and general business needs through the end of April, and to pay bills owed to "existing trade creditors and contractors."

Bankers said the last-minute cash injection signaled a national approach to tackling Dubai's problems rather than leaving the struggling emirate to fend for itself.

"This is a very significant development," said Marios Maratheftis, head of regional research at Standard Chartered Bank. "It shows once again there is a one-country approach in dealing with the crisis, which is positive."

Investors cheered the news, which provided some clarity in a crisis that erupted late last month when the conglomerate unexpectedly said it was seeking new terms on repaying roughly $26 billion of its debts.

The Dubai Financial Market's main index shot up 10.4 percent at the close. Abu Dhabi's stock market jumped 7.9 percent. Stocks in Asia rebounded from earlier losses after Dubai's announcement.

Fahd Iqbal, a Dubai-based analyst at Middle East investment bank EFG-Hermes, said the rally was to be expected but urged caution.

"This announcement constitutes a specific bailout of Nakheel, suggesting that as an entity (it) was deemed to be 'too big to fail,'" he said. "It does not, however, constitute a bailout of Dubai Inc. or Dubai World as a whole and this is important to highlight."

Nakheel is a property developer and hotel operator best known for building manmade islands in the shape of palm trees and a map of the world off Dubai's coast.

Standard & Poor's, which along with other credit rating agencies has aggressively cut its outlook on Dubai state-run companies, called Monday's move "a step towards rebuilding confidence," but warned that the government's ability to bail out other firms remains uncertain.

Dubai World said in a separate statement it welcomed the financial support, which will provide "funding and a stable basis" for a restructuring the company announced last month.

The conglomerate said it is pushing ahead with talks to convince lenders to agree to a "standstill" -- effectively a delay -- on repaying some of its debt.

"As long as a standstill is successfully negotiated, Dubai World has assurances that the government of Dubai ... will provide financial support to cover working capital and interest expenses to ensure the continuity of key projects," the company said.

To further reassure the market, the UAE's central bank, based Abu Dhabi, said it remains committed to standing behind the country's banks, including those with exposure to Dubai World and Nakheel.

Dubai was also looking to salvage the sheikdom's reputation.

Officials said the emirate plans to introduce a reorganization law that could be used in case Dubai World is "unable to achieve an acceptable restructuring of its remaining obligations."

A person close to the Dubai government said the new law provided a legal framework for addressing corporate debt, though it did not mean a bankruptcy filing by state-owned companies was certain.

"The current bankruptcy law is untested," the person said. "Dubai World needed a legal process to go through. The government was very focused on creating something that would be fair and transparent to everybody."

He insisted on anonymity as a condition for briefing reporters on a conference call.

It was not immediately clear what, if anything, Abu Dhabi would expect in exchange for Monday's funding. Analysts had said an Abu Dhabi bailout could result in it exerting greater influence on high profile neighbor going forward.

But the individual close to the Dubai government said the money came with no strings attached.

"Let me be clear: Dubai has not given anything up. There have been no conditions on the funding," he said.

The individual said it was premature to discuss what assets Dubai World might be willing to sell to pay additional bills, though he added that "all options will be discussed."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tiger Woods in the news: tabloid revelations and blind eyes!!

As we wind down from TigerCrashGate -- yes, it's true, we're almost done, at least until he returns to the course -- it's worth taking a look at the way that this story spiraled from one-car hydrant-bump to worldwide scandal, one whose cost will eventually be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Here's the key question to all of this: did we need to know about Tiger Woods' secret, off-the-course life? Many argue that this is an unforgivable invasion of a family's privacy, that we're interested in Tiger Woods as a golfer, not as a family man. As long as he keeps sinking long putts on Sunday afternoons, who cares what he does later that evening?

But that just-golf-it mindset doesn't account for the fact that Woods is not "just a golfer," he's the public face of an entire corporation. What he does on his own time is not his own business, not when his actions can do financial harm to those who have invested hundreds of millions in his image. That financial impact, not the "more mistresses or more majors?" question, is the real story here.

Still, the reason why this scandal exploded the way it did is because Woods' secret dealings were allowed to continue unabated, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The more Woods got away with his misdeeds, the bolder -- and stupider -- he got. (Leaving your name on a voicemail? Sending texts from your own phone? Really, Tiger?)
Part of this is surely because of the coverage bubble that Woods enjoyed for all of his career, a bubble that was born fully formed in Gary Smith's absurdly over-the-top introduction/sanctification of Woods in a legendary 1996 Sports Illustrated article entitled "The Chosen One." The see-no-evil approach to Tiger then dominated the golf media for more than a decade, partly because everyone was so in awe of Woods, and partly because Woods would cut off any access to any media outlet daring to poke around the edges of the mystique.

Did Tiger Woods have everyone fooled? Did the golf media know about Tiger's affairs and cover them up? Did everyone just happen to look the other way at the proper time? Those are questions that each media member will have to answer for him- or herself, but here's one huge clue: there are several golf media members who have not written a single word about this, the biggest story to hit golf in decades. Why? Well, you'd have to ask them, but it's a fair bet that they're setting themselves up as good guys when Tiger eventually does return. ("See, Tiger? All those other guys piled on, but I didn't! I'm still your pal!") On the flip side, credit longtime golf writers like Steve Elling who actually did call out Woods, knowing full well that they'll find that next one-on-one interview that much tougher -- if not impossible -- to secure.
Many in the golf media got completely outplayed on this story because of their insistence that it was no golf story at all, it was nothing but celebrity garbage, tawdry trash-digging that was beneath them. And again, if it was nothing but the personal affairs of a private family, that would be true. But Tiger's absence from the Tour is going to cost people and corporations hundreds of millions of dollars and fundamentally alter the game of golf for the short term -- so, yeah, that very much is a golf story.

Journalists who complain that the tabloids were setting the agenda in this story should have been practicing a little shoe-leather journalism themselves. After the initial revelation on the day before Thanksgiving that Rachel Uchitel was somehow involved with Woods, it was a blogger who trumped the mainstream media and first contacted her. In the absence of comments from Team Tiger, the tabloids filled in the gaps, and despite their "bat boy/UFO abduction" rep, were on the whole more accurate than not. (Tiger's admission of "infidelities" plural is a testament to that.)
There were some notable missteps on the tabloids' part. The story about Elin Woods moving out proved to be completely groundless, even though many outlets picked it up and ran with it. (We decided not to here because of the flimsiness of the sources.) More significantly, the Life & Style story about two professional golfers calling out Woods turned out to be an utter falsehood; we had decided to mention it here because there was on-the-record attribution, not "unnamed sources." Surely, we figured, no magazine would be foolish enough to print actual names without verifying. Wrong. Lesson learned -- and that's an aspect of this story that deserves further scrutiny.

This is not to defend the tabloids' approach to celebrity -- they look at stars the way that the rest of us look at a Thanksgiving turkey right out of the oven -- but their dogged method of running down a story does indeed have its merits. (Paying interview subjects is not one of them, nor is publishing articles without bylines.) Still, if other journalists were similarly unconcerned about their future access to their subjects, they'd be able to uncover some secrets on topics more important than celebrities' sex lives.

For now, though, the Tiger story has reached a natural stopping point. We can take some time over the holidays to breathe deep, stop wondering about how many more mistresses will come out of the woodwork, and -- thank you, heaven -- stop hearing lame Tiger jokes.

The old Tiger Woods is gone. The new one -- well, we haven't met him yet. But he won't be on the same celebrity-worship pedestal as the old guy ... and, all in all, that's probably for the best.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama defends US wars as he accepts peace prize!

OSLO – President Barack Obama entered the pantheon of Nobel Peace Prize winners Thursday with humble words, acknowledging his own few accomplishments while delivering a robust defense of war and promising to use the prestigious award to "reach for the world that ought to be."
A wartime president honored for peace, Obama became the first sitting U.S. president in 90 years and the third ever to win the prize — some say prematurely. In this damp, chilly Nordic capital to pick it up, he and his wife, Michelle, whirled through a day filled with Nobel pomp and ceremony.
And yet Obama was staying here only about 24 hours and skipping the traditional second day of festivities. This miffed some in Norway but reflects a White House that sees little value in extra pictures of the president, his poll numbers dropping at home, taking an overseas victory lap while thousands of U.S. troops prepare to go off to war and millions of Americans remain jobless.
Just nine days after ordering 30,000 more U.S. troops into battle in Afghanistan, Obama delivered a Nobel acceptance speech that he saw as a treatise on war's use and prevention. He crafted much of the address himself and the scholarly remarks — at about 4,000 words — were nearly twice as long as his inaugural address.
In them, Obama refused to renounce war for his nation or under his leadership, saying defiantly that "I face the world as it is" and that he is obliged to protect and defend the United States.
"A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms," Obama said. "To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism, it is a recognition of history."
The president laid out the circumstances where war is justified — in self-defense, to come to the aid of an invaded nation and on humanitarian grounds, such as when civilians are slaughtered by their own government or a civil war threatens to engulf an entire region.
"The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it," he said.
He also spoke bluntly of the cost of war, saying of the Afghanistan buildup he just ordered that "some will kill, some will be killed."
"No matter how justified, war promises human tragedy," he said.
But he also stressed the need to fight war according to "rules of conduct" that reject torture and other methods. And he emphasized the need to exhaust alternatives to violence, using diplomatic outreach and sanctions with teeth to confront nations such as Iran or North Korea that defy international demands to halt their nuclear programs or those such as Sudan, Congo or Burma that brutalize their citizens.
"Let us reach for the world that ought to be," Obama said. "We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace."
In awarding the prize to Obama, the Nobel panel cited his call for a world free of nuclear weapons, for a more engaged U.S. role in combating global warming, for his support of the United Nations and multilateral diplomacy and for broadly capturing the attention of the world and giving its people "hope."
But the Nobel committee made its announcement in October when he wasn't even nine months on the job, recognizing his aspirations more than his achievements.
Echoing the surprise that seemed the most common reaction to his win, Obama started his 36-minute speech by saying that others who have done more and suffered more may better deserve the honor.
"I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage," the president said. "Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize ... my accomplishments are slight."
The list of Nobel peace laureates over the last 100 years includes transformative figures and giants of the world stage. They include heroes of the president, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and others he has long admired, like George Marshall, who launched a postwar recovery plan for Europe.
Earlier, Obama had said that the criticism might recede if he advances some of his goals. But, he added, proving doubters wrong is "not really my concern."
"If I'm not successful, then all the praise in the world won't disguise that fact," he said.
The timing of the award ceremonies, coming so soon after Obama's Afghanistan announcement, lent inspiration to peace activists.
The president's motorcade arrived at Oslo's high-rise government complex for Obama's meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as a few dozen anti-war protesters gathered behind wire fences nearby. Dressed in black hoods and waving banners, the demonstrators banged drums and chanted anti-war slogans. "The Afghan people are paying the price," some shouted.
Greenpeace and anti-war activists planned larger demonstrations later that were expected to draw several thousand people. Protesters have plastered posters around the city, featuring an Obama campaign poster altered with skepticism to say, "Change?"
The debate at home over his Afghanistan decision also followed the president here. He told reporters that that the July 2011 date he set for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to begin will not slip — but that the pace of the full drawdown will be gradual and conditions-based.
"We're not going to see some sharp cliff, some precipitous drawdown," Obama said.
Obama's first stop in Oslo was the Norwegian Nobel Institute, where the Nobel committee meets to make its decisions. After signing the guest book, Obama told reporters he had penned thanks to the committee and noted the pictures of former winners filling the wall, many of whom gave "voice to the voiceless."
In the evening, Obama is expected to wave to a torchlight procession from his hotel balcony and stroll with Norwegian royalty to a dinner banquet. He will offer comments a second time there and cap his brisk jaunt to Europe.
The president and his wife, Michelle, arrived here in the morning, coming off Air Force One holding hands and smiling. Having left Washington Wednesday night, Obama was due back by midday Friday.
The Nobel honor comes with a $1.4 million prize. The White House says Obama will give that to charities but has not yet decided which ones.
Associated Press writers Matti Huuhtanen and Ian MacDougall contributed to this report.

Monday, December 7, 2009

HP MediaSmart EX495

Once again, HP has retooled the MediaSmart Server EX490 and EX495 with new capabilities, including faster hardware and better MAC support. That makes it all the better to connect to your home network to serve as your personal backup center and media server. Additionally, HP changed the Windows Home Server (WHS) styled user interface (UI) available on the MediaSmart Server EX487 and EX470 to a Web style UI logon. HP could have done a better job improving the software before launch, as bugs were encountered, even with the new Windows 7. So, while the $699.99 MediaSmart EX495 is an improvement over previous generations, it's still not perfect.

Hewlett-Packard Company

Price as Tested: $699.99
Device Type: Fixed Home NAS
Storage Capacity: 1360 GB
Rack-mount or Standalone: Standalone
Hard Disk Configuration: Fixed Single
Hard Disk Manufacturer: Seagate
Wired Network Speed: 10/100/1000
Network Medium: Wired

Design and Setup

With the EX495, HP kept the MediaSmart enclosure identical to the two-year-old models. If it wasn't for a slightly different hue of the front LEDs at the bottom of the case, you couldn't tell them apart. On the back of the enclosure are the same e-SATA, Ethernet and USB ports in the same spots. There's still a USB port tucked under the front grill next to the status LEDs.

Although the enclosure has remained a fixture, HP upgraded the internal hardware. HP has moved away from the Celeron and gone with an Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200, 2GB RAM, and 1.5 TB of storage. The single hard drive is allocated to storage and the Windows Home Server (WHS) software, the same as with previous MediaSmart servers.

Installing and configuring the WHS Console client hasn't changed. During the setup, for instance, you can allow WHS to backup your computer while in hibernation or in sleep mode. The rest of the WHS installation differs only slightly.

I used the included WHS Connector Setup software to connect to the MediaSmart Server and to switch to another WHS server I was reviewing on the same network, the Lenovo IdeaCentre D400 Home Server. However, switching back and forth between WHS consoles never worked right. It's probably best not to run two WHS boxes on the same network.

System management got a great makeover in the new start up page created by HP. If you find that the MediaSmart server is performing too slowly, a look of the performance indicators on the System Status page could help you figure out if the problem is in the Server or the network. It also displays storage utilization, remote access connectivity and general server status alerts. To modify any of the server settings, however, you still have to use the Settings Window, which hasn't changed at all. Using that, I changed the remote and backup settings, and tested the media settings.

I was disappointed to see that some network settings were removed in this version. For example, you can't change the DHCP settings to static IP. Instead, HP provides a TZO dynamic DNS client account which is free for one year with a "" domain, or a life-time free Windows Live Custom Domains client. Either one can be activated when accessing MediaSmart over the Web with a domain name. With the Windows Live Custom Domain service, you have to settle with the "" name. TZO also lets you use your own domain if you pay $59.95 a year.


HP chose a black background with blue banners and small fonts in white for it's new UI. The new design has its pluses and minuses. You get a smooth experience as you navigate between the new features. However, the entire environment is still based on WHS, so many of the features are only accessible in the old UI anyway. HP couldn't hide all the WHS, so users have to settle for this odd mix of UIs. As I played with the new features, I found a couple of errors in both UIs. Some of the panes were blank or took a long time to come up. I also found encountered a port access error when accessing User Accounts. The only solution was to reboot the server to clear it away.

The improvements (specifically features like the Media Collector, Web/iPhone Streaming, and HP Video Converter) are more than touch ups. Media Collector gathers files from computers on your network and organizes them based by dates or by folders. The internal file conversion is done automatically, except with videos, which you can select and reconvert the files for use on computers or mobile devices and many media devices. The Apple media files require that you download a free iStream app from the Apple App Store. When I tested this on Windows 7, I got an incompatible connection status.

Resetting the collection database or rebooting the server did not fix the error, nor was a fix easily found on HP's Web site or in the help files. When I tried with Windows XP, the Media Collector was able to scan and copy the files to the server. Once the files were collected, the file conversion, publishing and streaming worked well. We talked to HP about it, but they couldn't get the Media Collector to work with Windows 7 either, though the regular network access worked fine. HP says the issue comes from Windows Media Player 12, that it works fine with the older WMP 11 and there's a workaround.

The EX495 Video Converter can transcode DIVX, FLV, M2TS, MOV, MP3 and many other media file formats, even non-copy protected DVDs from remote computers. Setting up a DVD so that the converter can access the file requires a couple of manual steps, but nothing that a novice can't manage.

Accessing folders on the MediaSmart from computers on your home network or the Web also requires a few manual steps. The older and more stable access features of WHS such as User Account, Shared Folders and Backup haven't changed. I found that the User Guide can help with many of the networking steps.


HP spruced up the performance of the EX495, so I ran a couple of quick tests by uploading a 1 TB file to the MediaSmart over a Gigabit Ethernet network. The EX495 averaged 22 Megabytes per second (MBps) with a single drive. Our last WHS Editor's Choice winner, the Western Digital WD ShareSpace managed only 11.2 MBps with a slightly larger file. However, ShareSpace was configured with RAID 5, and this reduces the hard drive access speed quite a bit.

Bottom Line

No doubt, HP has put a lot of effort in improving usability, but it would have been nice to eradicate the infrequent UI errors before releasing the EX495 to market. Despite some of the problems I encountered, MediaSmart is still leading the pack among home servers by supporting many features that are not available in other network storage devices. It's far from perfect, but definitely still leads the WHS product market.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

PayPal Admits to Phishing Its Own Users

Categories: E-Commerce, E-Mail, Identity, Phish, Top Threat
Tags:fraud, paypal, phish

Actually, the headline is a teeny bit misleading, even if it's true, strictly speaking.

Randy Abrams of ESET, a security software company, received an e-mail from PayPal that included a link in it. This is bad practice, especially from a big phishing target like PayPal, so Abrams sent it back to PayPal with an explanation of what was wrong with it.

The response he got from PayPal stated (in part—see the ESET blog for the full response):Thanks for forwarding that suspicious-looking email. You're right—it was a phishing attempt, and we're working on stopping the fraud. By reporting the problem, you've made a difference!.

Obviously this is a canned response and of course PayPal doesn't have humans looking at every such submitted e-mail, and so their automated analysis system mistook the e-mail for a phishing attempt.

As Abrams concludes:

That is why legitimate businesses should NEVER include links to log on pages, or most places. Not even PayPal support can tell the difference between a legitimate PayPal email and a phishing attack.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Mozilla Thunderbird 3.0 - Conclusion

In the end, Thunderbird is a decent mail reader, but I question the need for it, because webmail systems like Yahoo Mail and Gmail have gotten so feature rich—they do pretty much everything Thunderbird does. And for businesses, Thunderbird offers nowhere near the calendaring, scheduling, and reminder features of Outlook, and it doesn't support the universally used Exchange server, which you can access right in Snow Leopard's mail client or in its own Web interface.

If you need a free installed mail client that handles multiple accounts, I actually prefer Windows Live Mail, which is slicker, even more intuitive, and much more versatile at handling attached photos. And Mac users are quite well served by that platform's Mail app. One group, however, that will just love Thunderbird are Linux users—after all, they have no better option for an installed mail app.

Mozilla Foundation

Price as Tested: $0.00 Direct
Type: Business, Personal, Professional
Free: Yes
OS Compatibility: Windows Vista, Windows XP, Linux, Mac OS, Windows 7


Mozilla Thunderbird 3.0 - Add-Ons

Similar to Firefox, actually identically to Firefox, Thunderbird supports add-ons that extend the functionality of the software. In fact, many Firefox extensions work here, too, such as AdBlocker. The extension developer just marks his work as compatible with Thunderbird, and bing, you can use it. One clever add-in is Thunderbrowse, which lets you open a Web page link right in Thunderbird, rather than having to open a browser. Of course, if you're using webmail, that's not an issue.

One area of weakness for Thunderbird is its lack of built-in calendaring. Even free webmail clients like Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, and Gmail include calendars linked to the inbox. Mozilla has calendaring projects Lightning and Sunbird, which look promising but are not yet officially released (they're at version 0.9). Lighting is a plug in and Sunbird a standalone client, so the former makes more sense for Thunderbird users. Another complaint is that the Web-based Help isn't well organized and is all about version 2 at this point—even when you click from version 3.


Mozilla Thunderbird 3.0 - Composing Mail

One neat new feature is Thunderbird's Attachment Reminder, which looks at the message you're composing, and if it detects the word "attachment" but no actual attachment, prompts you to add one. But you lose Yahoo Mail and Hotmail's ability to store large attached files and photos on Web storage rather than filling up your recipient's inbox with many megabytes. And you get basic text formatting and a smiley dropdown, but there's no stationery like that in Windows Live Mail or Yahoo Mail.
Like pretty much every modern mail client, recipient e-mail addresses will autofill if you start typing one of your contact's names, and your drafts are automatically saved. A spell-check button assures you of your orthography, and it even works on the fly as it does in Outlook (you know, the squiggly red underlines).


Mozilla Thunderbird 3.0 - Reading Mail

Search now has two interfaces. If you right-click the folder you want to search in, you'll see a dialog that lets you choose things like whether you want to search on the subject line or e-mail contents, and in which folder. This displays hits at the bottom of the same dialog. If you just use the built-in search box at the top, however, you'll see results in a full tab window, with a new set of filters along the left. These let you choose people, folders, and like Google's advanced search options, show of bar graph of message volume over time. It's nice to be able to click on a bar to get messages from that time period.

In fact, search is one area where Thunderbird soundly beats Outlook, which takes too long and doesn't give you as much filtering assistance. Webmail services like Yahoo and Google, however, offer pretty quick, configurable search; and Windows Live Mail actually offers quick, sortable mail search from a box at the top, too. Another helpful Thunderbird feature is Filter Rules, which you can run at mail retrieval to sort messages from certain users or with specified subject text to folders of your choice.

Message summary view lets you select multiple e-mails; you'll see the first few lines of all selected messages in the preview pane below. But Outlook does this one better, with an Autopreview view that shows the first few lines of every message in the inbox.

The new archive feature is somewhere between deleting and keeping a message in your inbox. Just click the Archive button and the message will disappear from your Inbox, but still be accessible if you really need it. But it doesn't offer Auto Archiving like Outlook's.

The Activity Manger window shows you all Thunderbird's interactions with your mail servers and plug-ins. It doesn't really manage, but it gives you a view that could help track down problems.

Tagging is another nice perk, with choices like To Do, Important, and so on, but you can't give them a deadline as you can in Outlook. A one-click way to add to your address book is also a welcome feature—all e-mail addresses in any message's header will have stars next to them, and clicking on the star instantly adds them to your address book.

Thunderbird has good tools for protecting you from annoying e-mails: a junk mail filter that learns based on what you mark as spam, the ability to tie in with your antivirus software to quarantine malware, and phishing warnings. Like Outlook and most other mail readers, it also doesn't download images unless you give the okay.


Mozilla Thunderbird 3.0 - Installing and Configuring Thunderbird

As with Firefox, there are Windows, Mac, and Linux versions of Thunderbird available, and you get a choice of 43 languages from Afrikaans to Ukrainian. I tested on Windows 7, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, and Ubuntu Linux. The installer is a slight 8.4MB on the PC (18.6MB for Mac, and 10.3MB for Linux). Once you've run the standard installation, you're left with a blank application surmounted by a dialog asking you simply for your name, e-mail address, and password. Mozilla stores configuration data for common mail services, so in many cases that's all you'll need to enter those to get up and running. Version 2 asked you about POP, IMAP, and SMTP, regardless of whether the account was with something like Gmail or a lesser-known host.

When I entered the username and password for a Hotmail account in Thunderbird 3, the next dialog had all the server fields automatically filled in, and I could just hit Create Account to add the account to the mail app. After this, a dialog asked whether I wanted Thunderbird to be my default reader for newsgroups as well as e-mail and feeds. I could also indicate whether mail would be accessible to Windows Search. But for some reason, I couldn't actually receive mail in the account.

Trying to set up a account failed too, but when I tried creating an entry for AOL, the software did better. And it warned me that the AOL servers don't use encryption, which it considered a no-no. The dark red dialog even included a checkbox saying "I understand the risks" that I had to check before the account would be allowed. A final account using a friend's server seemed to set up correctly, but then wouldn't receive or send e-mail either. An AOL account worked swimmingly with auto-setup, however.

Once I got an account working in the software, a super-simple display appeared: a standard window with menu choices atop, just four toolbar buttons under that, and the standard left-side panel showing accounts' mailboxes and folders. Like Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird lets you access multiple e-mail accounts from this left sidebar. It defaults to "Smart Folders," which let you combine inboxes while still showing the separate account entries below the combined inbox. You have a choice of three views—Classic, Wide, and Vertical—but the choices aren't as fluid as in Outlook, which also offers Autopreview and, in Office 2010, a sophisticated conversation view.

In the main window area, the interface is truly hand-holding. Only two choices show up under the E-mail section at the top: Read messages, and Write a new message. Sections below this with similarly few options let you view account settings or add a new account, and Advanced options let you search messages and manage message filters.

The big news in Thunderbird 3's interface is tabs. Because Thunderbird is actually built on top of the same code base as Firefox, its tabs look and act pretty much identically to the browser's, although I wish they had the X's to close them as Firefox does.

If you double-click an e-mail's entry, it opens in a new tab. You can also right-click any left-panel folder or account and choose Open in New Tab. Yahoo Mail has had tabs since 2007, and I think it makes sense in a browser-based interface, but I prefer a standalone client to pop out a new window when you double-click a message entry. Conversely (or perversely), when you start a new outgoing e-mail message, it opens in a new window—here I'd prefer a new tab, the way Yahoo Mail does it. And one final kvetch: You can't drag tabs out to a new window as you can in Firefox.


Mozilla Thunderbird 3.0

Its Web-browsing vulpine sibling may get all the attention, but Mozilla's other product, the Thunderbird open-source e-mail client, has its own devout following, and has now taken flight with a new version. Thunderbird 2 was strictly for power users, but version 3 changes all that. It's as simple as pie, having cut down on the number of toolbar options and simplified mail account setup. It also adds tabs and archiving. Based on the same code platform as Firefox, Thunderbird also boasts a wealth of add-ins to customize and extend its capabilities. Unfortunately, it still leaves business users out in the cold, as it lacks Exchange support—something that even Apple's new OS, Snow Leopard, offers.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Daily Gift Idea: Apple Magic Mouse

Product: Apple Magic Mouse
Price: $69.99

You're a PC, she's a Mac—what can you say, opposites attract. So you guys don't agree on things like Windows Media or anti-virus software, but in the end, love will prevail over even the most intense operating system incompatibilities. Consider this mouse a little, white, multi-touch flag. It's a slick and stunning, if pricey ($69.99), little peripheral—in other words, it's apple to its core. Show that special someone that you love them and want them in your iLife.

If you've used an iPhone or an iPod touch, or even a Macbook Pro's trackpad, you're familiar with Multi-Touch technology, which uses gestures such as finger flicks and swipes to navigate and resize Web pages, flip through album covers in iTunes, or move through images in iPhoto. Now Apple brings Multi-Touch to your desktop with the first-ever gesture-based mouse, the Magic Mouse ($69 direct; ships with all new iMacs). While this wireless Bluetooth mouse works very well, its compact, minimalist design takes some getting used to. Plus, the Multi-Touch features only work with Macs. For those reasons alone, the Magic Mouse is assured a limited appeal. Even so, Apple scores big points for innovation and sleek design.


Panda Cloud Antivirus Free Edition 1.0

Every time new or newly mutated piece malware bursts forth, security vendors have to boil it down into a signature that lets their antivirus products recognize and remove the threat. Given the accelerating pace of malware creation, we could be headed for a singularity—virus signature databases so big they implode into a black hole! Panda Cloud Antivirus Free Edition 1.0 (free for personal use) aims to head off disaster by pushing its malware detection activity into the cloud, eliminating the need for local signatures. Panda likes to call it "the first antivirus without an update button." It's a powerful defender against malware attacks—and it's free.

Panda Software

Price as Tested: $0.00 Direct
Type: Personal
Free: Yes
OS Compatibility: Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7
Notes: FAQs, forums moderated by Panda personnel


Sunday, November 8, 2009

BlackBerry Bold 9700 (T-Mobile)

The BlackBerry Bold 9700 is like a classically-tailored suit: elegant, predictable, practical, and easy to slip into, but not visibly innovative. It advances the state of the art without making unsettling changes. In some ways, this is good; the Bold is fast, clean, and a great messaging and media phone. But BlackBerry's slow Web browser, lack of consumer-level Exchange support, and aging interface are starting to look weak next to the competition.

Research In Motion Ltd

Price as Tested: $199.99 Direct
Service Provider: T-Mobile
Operating System: BlackBerry OS
Screen Size: 2.4 inches
Screen Details: 480-by-360, 65k-color TFT LCD screen
Camera: Yes
Megapixels: 3.2 MP
802.11x: Yes
Bluetooth: Yes
Web Browser: Yes
Network: GSM, UMTS
Bands: 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 1700
High-Speed Data: GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSDPA
Processor Speed: 624 MHz


Analysis: Google's Dashboard Tackles Transparency

One product stood out this week amongst the standard flurry of Google product releases. It wasn't a Gmail Labs experiment or a new parameter for search. It was a fairly unassuming new product called Dashboard, which aggregates users' personal information from more than 20 Google services into a single, password-protected page.

Google unveiled the new service with a blog post titled, "Transparency, choice, and control – now complete with a Dashboard." The choice and control parts of the equation are pretty clear – users can update their account information directly from the new Dashboard, which is far handier than being forced to visit each page individually.

However, the fact that Google opted to lead its Dashboard blog post with the word "transparency" speaks to a fundamental concern about the company's current position in the world. Some time ago, the company adopted the admirable motto "Don't Be Evil," a slogan pundits have often suggested is a dig at Microsoft.

As Google quickly discovered, however, the adherence to such an abstract notion is at times inversely proportional to the size of a company. As a company grows, opportunities for evil become more numerous, and the ability to police them decreases. Things get even trickier when a company's stated objective is to gather and catalog all the world's information.

Over the past few years, concerns about the "anti-evil" corporation have grown at nearly the same rate as the company itself, from its cooperation with the Chinese government to the cameras it perches atop its Street View vans. The sheer breadth of Google's knowledge base is staggering, something that becomes far more apparent on a personal level when one investigates their own Dashboard.

But if Google has always been so devoted to transparency, why are we only seeing this feature rolled out now?

The answer is that, ultimately, even the most noble corporation is only as transparent as they have to be. The good news, however, is that in this post-Web 2.0 world, the bare minimum is ever increasing. As personal information becomes more publicly available, the same goes for corporate information. The informational megaphone that is Twitter and the blogosphere makes protests all the more powerful.

Remember Amazonfail, the Twitter protest against a seemingly homophobic move on the part of the online retailer? What about the online kerfuffle surrounding Facebook's new Terms of Service? When information moves at the speed of the Web, corporations must operate at a similar pace. This means more than just creating a corporate Twitter account, it means offering information in anticipation of complaints, which is where the concept of transparency comes into play. Companies that make information publicly available have less to hide, and it therefore becomes more difficult to bandy about words like "evil." Sunlight, as the saying goes, is the best disinfectant.

While the advent of Dashboard can be seen as a response to past criticism and an attempt to avoid future accusations, the availability of information like our Web history does have the effect of bringing to light even more questions — such as what exactly does Google plan to do with our information? It's a reminder that, as we hand more and more of our own personal information over to a company like Google, we need to keep asking questions.

Fortunately, the Internet is history's most powerful suggestion box, and if corporations want to operate in that world, they have to listen.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Army officer opens fire at Fort Hood, killing 12

FORT HOOD, Texas – An Army officer opened fire Thursday with two handguns at the Fort Hood military base in an attack that left 12 people dead and 31 wounded. Authorities killed the gunman and apprehended two other soldiers in what appears to be the worst mass shooting at a U.S. military base.

There was no immediate word on a motive. The shooting began around 1:30 p.m., said Lt. Gen. Bob Cone at Fort Hood. He said all the casualties took place at the base's Soldier Readiness Center, where soldiers who are about to be deployed or who are returning undergo medical screening.

"It's a terrible tragedy. It's stunning," Cone said.

A law enforcement official identified the shooting suspect as Army Maj. Malik Nadal Hasan. The official said Hasan, believed to be in his late 30s, was killed after opening fire at the base. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

A defense official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hasan was a mental health professional — an Army psychologist or psychiatrist. Officials say it was not clear what Hasan's religion was, but investigators are trying to determine if Hasan was his birth name or if he may have changed his name and converted to Islam at some point.

A graduation ceremony for soldiers who finished college courses while deployed was going on nearby at the time of the shooting, said Sgt. Rebekah Lampam, a Fort Hood spokeswoman.

Greg Schanepp, U.S. Rep. John Carter's regional director in Texas, was representing Carter at the graduation, said John Stone, a spokesman for Carter, whose district includes the Army post.

Schanepp was at the ceremony when a soldier who had been shot in the back came running toward him and alerted him of the shooting, Stone said. The soldier told Schanepp not to go in the direction of the shooter, he said.

The base was locked down after the shootings. The wounded were dispersed among hospitals in central Texas, Cone said. Nine were taken to Scott & White Memorial Hospital in Temple. A hospital spokeswoman says all had been shot and are adults. A Fort Hood spokesman said he could not immediately confirm any identities of the injured.

Lisa Pfund of Random Lake, Wis., says her daughter, 19-year-old Amber Bahr, was shot in the stomach but was in stable condition. "We know nothing, just that she was shot in the belly," Pfund told The Associated Press. She couldn't provide more details and only spoke with emergency personnel.

"I ask that all of you keep these families and these individuals in your prayers today," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said.

The shootings on the Texas military base stirred memories of other recent mass shootings in the United States, including 13 dead at a New York immigrant center in March, 10 killed during a gunman's rampage across Alabama in March and 32 killed in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Around the country, some bases stepped up security precautions, but no others were locked down.

"The bottom line for us is that we are increasing security at our gates because the threat hasn't yet been defined, and we're reminding our Marines to be vigilant in their areas of responsibility," said Capt. Rob Dolan, public affairs officer for the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz.

In Washington, President Barack Obama called the shooting "a horrific outburst of violence." He said it's a tragedy to lose a soldier overseas and even more horrifying when they come under fire at an Army base on American soil.

"We will make sure that we get answers to every single question about this horrible incident," the commander in chief said. "We are going to stay on this."

Covering 339 square miles, Fort Hood is the largest active duty armored post in the United States. Home to about 52,000 troops as of earlier this year, the sprawling base is located halfway between Austin and Waco.

About a mile from Fort Hood's east gate, Cynthia Thomas, director of Under the Hood Cafe, a coffee house and outreach center, was calling soldiers and friends on the post to make sure they're OK.

"It's chaotic," Thomas said, as a SWAT team just drove by. "The phones are jammed. Everybody is calling family members and friends. Soldiers are running around with M-16s."

Fort Hood officially opened on Sept. 18, 1942, and was named in honor of Gen. John Bell Hood. It has been continuously used for armored training and is charged with maintaining readiness for combat missions.

We're using it to dry!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Change you can Believe in !!!

Next Right to be Announced!!!

The Oasis of the Seas - the largest passenger vessel ever built-Part III

The Oasis of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship which is owned and operated by Royal Caribbean International, is shown during sea trials in this handout photo taken near Turku September 28, 2009. Royal Caribbean took delivery of the ship October 28 and it is scheduled to leave Finland enroute to its home port of Ft Lauderdale, Florida on October 30. Picture taken September 28, 2009.

The Oasis of the Seas - the largest passenger vessel ever built-Part II

The Oasis of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship which is owned and operated by Royal Caribbean International, is shown during sea trials in this handout photo taken near Turku September 28, 2009. Royal Caribbean took delivery of the ship October 28 and it is scheduled to leave Finland enroute to its home port of Ft Lauderdale, Florida on October 30. Picture taken September 28, 2009.

The Oasis of the Seas - the largest passenger vessel ever built

This Oct. 30, 2009 photo released by Royal Caribbean shows Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas departing a ship yard in Finland. The Oasis of the Seas, the largest passenger vessel ever built, is set to be handed over to Royal Caribbean International on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009.

Win 7: The Last Major Windows Release?

Believe it or not, I have been to the launch of every version of Microsoft Windows. Some have been spectacular, like the Windows 95 launch in Seattle that featured Jay Leno, and the launch of the first Windows in New York City, which offered something of gala-like atmosphere. The New York launch of Windows XP, on the other hand, occurred just after the September 11th attacks, and was, not surprisingly, comparatively subdued.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I flew to New York City two weeks ago to attend the Windows 7 launch. The event, it turns out, fell somewhere in the middle. It wasn't as flashy as the Leno event, but it was a lot more upbeat than the Windows XP launch. My colleagues at PCMag covered the event extensively, but I wanted to weigh on something that the media missed in the shuffle.
As you're likely aware, two major surprise factors have impacted the PC industry in the past two years. The first was introduction of the netbook in the fall of 2007. This new space has been a boon for the industry in terms of sales figures, but the devices' pricing has had a devastating effect on PC vendors. While netbooks aren't designed to meet all of the needs of a standard laptop, they're great for a number of users, and as such, have sold extremely well.

As a result, however, netbooks are changing consumer expectations about what a standard laptop should cost. The industry has responded by dropping the price of notebooks down by as much as 40 percent over the last 18 months. That means that vendors have to increase PC sales by 25-35 percent just to maintain their revenue levels from two years ago. Margins have also been reduced, and bottom lines and overall profitability have suffered as a result.

The second major factor that has impacted the industry is the recession. In October 2008, consumer began buying less, and the purchase of a new PC became a luxury. The worldwide demand for PCs shrunk by as much as 13 percent. Business users and consumers hunkered down and tried to squeeze as much as they could out of their current systems. Twenty-five million fewer PCs were sold in 2008 than in 2007.

With these factors in place, Windows 7 couldn't have arrived at a better time. Windows launches have always been important to both Microsoft and PC vendors, but this latest version of the OS offers the potential to increase the wavering demand for new systems and revitalize the declining PC market. As one executive from a major PC manufacturer put it, this time "Windows really matters."

At present, most market researchers foresee a 12 percent growth in the PC market, thanks to Windows 7. And while consumers will no doubt be the first to adopt the new operating system, Gartner Research predicts that 15 percent of enterprise users will be running Windows 7 next year. Considering that enterprise demand for PCs has declined 17 percent since Oct of 2008, this jump seems to indicate that business are loosening their purse strings.

So, Windows 7 does, in fact, matter. But for how long? At the moment, we live in a client/server world, so the operating system will likely matter on the enterprise level for some time. On the consumer level, the availability of thousands of Windows apps for PCs may well help this dominant OS live on as well. But as always, the world of technology is changing, and as such, it's possible that this may be the last major version of Windows to come out.

There are two things occurring in the space that will eventually force Microsoft to transform Windows. If you follow Apple at all, you're aware that it rarely completely reboots its operating system. Instead, the company largely relies on version upgrades. So, while Leopard was a big release, Snow Leopard, the latest version of OS X was more of a features upgrade. But really, even Leopard was considered something of an extension of its predecessor, Tiger. Apple found that this method is ultimately less disruptive to Mac owners. To some degree, Microsoft also issues smaller OS updates in the form of service packs. But it wouldn't surprise me to see the company head even more in that direction, focusing on more "gentle" releases, adding extra features instead of constantly pushing major upgrades.

Google's Chrome browser and OS may also shape future iterations of Windows. We have been playing with the browser version Chrome for some time now and are beginning to understand how it will evolve into a full-blown operating system, delivering direct calls to the CPU and system BIOS, controlling PCs in much the same manner that traditional OSes do today.

The Chrome OS will be tied to other Google apps in a manner similar to approach that Apple takes with OS X and its iLife suite. When you buy a Mac, it comes loaded with OS X and a number of Apple products, including iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie. Web-based operating systems will approach personal computing in a similar manner, controlling the user interface and system commands, while still tying everything to the cloud. The company's online apps will be integrated into this environment.

Microsoft understands this approach, and is already moving in that direction. The company has started offering free versions of its software. Given Google's push toward a cloud-based OS, I'm convinced that Microsoft will eventually do something similar with Windows.

With these factors in play, Win 7 may end up being the last major Windows release. Next time out, the OS may be much more focused on the cloud. Like Google's Chrome, such a release would likely be free. Over the next few yeasr, Microsoft will have to figure out how to make money from cloud-based services, rather than from selling the operating system outright. In order to do this, the company will have to reinvent itself—something that will have to happen if Microsoft is going to survive and thrive in the future.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Will Twitter Lists Kill Follow Friday?

Twitter's recently rolled out Lists feature may spell the end of a micro-blogging tradition.

Follow Friday is one of the longest lasting and most beloved traditions on the micro-blogging site. But thanks to the new Twitter Lists feature, its days may be numbered.

As I type this, Follow Friday is topping Twitter's Trending Topics list. No surprise there. Apart from natural disaster or celebrity death, few things in this world have been able to knock the popular alliterative tradition off the list each and every Friday. Each week, like clockwork, countless Twitter users cull together a list people them deem worthy of a follow. All things considered, Follow Friday has had a pretty good run, especially given the fickleness that dominates the social media space. But as anyone following enough Tweeters can tell you, Follow Friday has started to wear out its welcome. Unless you're new to Twitter, weeding through the countless lists of names can be cumbersome. Enter Twitter Lists.
Like most things that Twitter does, Lists are elegant in their simplicity. Users essentially round up a select group of fellow tweeters and put them on their own landing page (complete with a vanity URL). The content of Lists is entirely up to the creator—there's no opt-in function. When I woke up yesterday, I found myself on a number of lists with names like Entertainment, Funny, Social Media, PCMag, and, I think, most pertinently, Permanent Follow Friday. (There were also a few more with slightly more baffling titles, such as Tracy Gold and Eye Candy for Your Butt).

The landing pages are easily accessible from the outside: The URL is Users can jazz up the page as they would their own Twitter homepages, with a background and so on. Once the list is created, it is accessible from the homepages of all of those on it. (Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an easy way to opt out at present; so if you find your way onto, say, a list called "The World's Biggest Douchebags," anyone who follows the link from your site will know.) If you like a list, just click Follow This List at the top of the page. For more on how Lists works, check out this AppScout post.

Lists are a good way to follow people without having to weed through a million tweets on your homepage. They're also an easy way to let other people know which users are worth following—in other words, now every day is Follow Friday. And the Lists feature is far less ethereal than sending out a bunch of names in a tweet. Best of all, unless you choose to repeatedly alert others about to existence of your list, the feature is less intrusive than Follow Friday.

But before we start morning the inevitable death of Follow Friday, let's instead celebrate its legacy. One of Twitter's greatest strengths as a company is its ability to learn from its user base, a fact well demonstrated by Twitter Lists; the new feature is built around needs that were addressed by Follow Friday and also by third-party user directories such as Kevin Rose's WeFollow (itself recently purchased by Rose's flagship project, Digg). If anything, Twitter Lists are the logical in-house conclusions of such initiative. Follow Friday may soon be gone, but it won't be forgotten.