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3 Supply Chain Contingency Planning Tips for Medical Device Companies

The recent months have brought some intense weather to all corners of our country.  From the “Polar Vortex” last winter to violent tornadoes across the Midwest to Hurricane Arthur, each new day and week holds something new and potentially challenging.  The only thing constant about weather is change.  Theses volatile climate patterns unfortunately bring more than wind, snow, rain and lightning.  Unfortunately these events cause a spike in emergency room and hospital visits.  There have already been 41 tornado fatalities in 2014, according to NOAA.  In fact during the Polar Vortex, Modernhealthcare.com reported that hospitals in Detroit brought in additional staff on multiple occasions to treat ER patients.

To make things more challenging, these additional visits and demands on hospital staffs and medical groups are often coupled with constraints on resources and accessibility.  Over the 4th of July weekend, Hurricane Arthur left over 40,000 people with power and even caused a part of North Carolina Hwy. 12 to buckle on Hatteras Island.  Last winter’s frigid temperatures and precipitation forced numerous surgeries and procedures to be rescheduled or cancelled.  While organizations have contingency plans and redundancies in place to account for these scenarios, what back up strategy is there to account for supply chain complications? 

The timely and precise demands that define medical device logistics needs to be maintained, especially in times of great need.  Investing the time, energy and resources into contingency planning is like buying insurance.  Hopefully you’ll never need it, but having the plans and process in place when these challenges arise can be the difference between life and death. These 3 elements can be implemented into your medical device supply chain, allowing your organization to persevere in the most difficult times.

1.)    Be pre-emptive:  While weather plays a major role in the disruption of services and the addition of constraints on resources, there are many other factors that could disrupt your supply chain.  Manmade disasters, business decisions and governmental factors, just to name a few.  However by having a finger on the pulse of what is happening around your organization can allow you to forecast possible problems.  Notifying the key logistical partners that make up your supply chain is key.  Ensure everyone is on the same page and ready to find answer to potential questions.

 

2.)    Increase your essential supplies: To combat any lags or disruptions to your supply chain, having an abundance of the most necessary and important supplies stocked and accessible is crucial.  Any device that you’ve been without in a similar situation should be maintained at a higher level to prevent a recurrence.  While your bottom line is still a major consideration, you don’t have to throw your inventory management plan out of whack, but you do need to account for any delays. 

 

3.)    Supplier audits:  This is a key element in maintaining visibility.  Understanding and seeing the process your logistic partners leverage, and more importantly the results, can show the imperative steps to protect it in an emergency, as well as where other resources can be pulled to create a lean, agile fulfillment plan when necessary.

 

Supply chain contingency is a key element within your overall strategy.  Identifying and responding to potential risks can mitigate a substantial threat to not only your operations, but your community.  In an Inbound Logistics survey, 73% of participating companies claimed to have experienced a supply chain disruption.  32% of those said it took over 1 month to recover.  Working closely with your supply chain personnel and partners is a critical step in preparing for the worst.  With a focus on visibility and a track record of results, Barrett Distribution Centers has the technology, man-power and resources to play a key role in your contingency planning.



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Logitech Announces Affordable UC Headset Designed for Comfort

Logitech Announces Affordable UC Headset Designed for Comfort | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

(Business Wire Today Logitech (SIX: LOGN) (NASDAQ: LOGI) introduced the new Logitech USB Headset H570e, designed for all-day comfort, ease of use, and reliability, at an affordable price. Compatible with most unified communication (UC) platforms, the enterprise-quality H570e headset is stylish with unmatched features in its category, enhancing the UC and collaboration experience in the workplace.

The H570e headset is available in stereo for employees who need to block out surrounding noise during desktop calls, and in mono for employees who prefer to have an open ear to their surroundings. It has a durable and adjustable padded headband for all-day comfort, while the metal reinforcement provides strength and flexibility for the best fit. The leatherette headset ear pads are also designed to be comfortable for hours of use and can be easily cleaned or replaced as needed. Inline controls include volume up/down, microphone mute and call answer/end and are designed to be intuitively navigated by touch.

“With over 15 years of experience in audio technology, we understand the quality requirements and know that IT decision makers need a comfortable, reliable and affordable headset to deploy in the workplace,” said Marcel Stolk, senior vice president, Logitech. “The H570e is a lightweight, business-grade UC headset built for quality and outstanding audio performance, and it is affordably priced for high-volume soft phone deployment.”

Ensuring an integrated UC experience, the USB Headset H570e and all headsets in the Logitech UC audio portfolio are optimized for Microsoft® Lync™, Cisco Jabber™ compatible, Skype™ certified, and compatible with most leading UC platforms.

The Logitech USB Headset H570e headset combines a human-centric design and wide array of user-friendly features Logitech products are known for. Additional features include an LED indicator that flashes with incoming calls (in compatible UC applications) providing a convenient visual cue to answer the call. The digital signal processing enables precise tuning for both the microphone and speaker so conversations are more life-like, and acoustic echo cancelation blocks unwanted noise coming from the speaker from entering the microphone path for a clearer communication experience.

Pricing and Availability

The Logitech USB Headset H570e is available through select resellers worldwide for a suggested price of $44.99 USD (mono) and $49.99 USD (stereo). Replaceable leatherette ear pads are available for a suggested price of $9.99 USD. For more information, please visit www.logitech.com/news/H570e or our blog.

About Logitech

Logitech is a world leader in products that connect people to the digital experiences they care about. Spanning multiple computing, communication and entertainment platforms, Logitech’s combined hardware and software enable or enhance digital navigation, music and video entertainment, gaming, social networking, audio and video communication over the Internet, video security and home-entertainment control. Founded in 1981, Logitech International is a Swiss public company listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange (LOGN) and on the Nasdaq Global Select Market (LOGI).

Logitech, the Logitech logo, and other Logitech marks are registered in Switzerland and other countries. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. For more information about Logitech and its products, visit the company’s website at www.logitech.com.


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The new $350 Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is now shipping

The new $350 Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is now shipping | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

We were expecting to see the new iteration of the Oculus Rift arrive on developer's doorsteps earlier this month, but unfortunately it hit a couple of delays. Road to VR points out a Reddit thread where pre-orderers confirmed their credit cards have been charged ahead of shipping. Community manager cyberreality confirmed in the thread that it's happening, and the "DK2" hardware we (and Mark Zuckerberg) were so impressed by is ready to roll. The initial production run is only supposed to cover some 10,000 of the 45,000 units ordered, so for some your wait is just beginning (until next month). In the meantime, you can check out our hands-on video of the latest and greatest in virtual reality after the break (or the new X-Men related Comic-Con demo) -- hopefully Sony's Project Morpheus team responds to this as quickly as they did on Blu-ray 3D.


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Your Smartphone Will Soon Know If You Have Bipolar Disorder | TechCrunch

Your Smartphone Will Soon Know If You Have Bipolar Disorder | TechCrunch | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

In the United States, 1 in 50 people over the age of 25 have some form of bipolar disorder. In fact, the United States has more cases of bipolar I and II per-capita than any other nation in the world. Researchers at the University of Michigan are now testing a new smartphone app for Android, code-named PRIORI, that can help detect if someone is having a bipolar episode.

While the app still requires more testing before launch, a group of 60 volunteer American patients are already starting to show promising results, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and facilitated by the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund at the University of Michigan Depression Center.

PRIORI is designed to learn over time to monitor a person’s voice and detect subtle changes in mood. A change is a signal that the user might be having either a manic or depressive episode.

Privacy in conversations may be of concern to patients wanting to use this app, but, according to the research team, only the patient’s side of the conversation is recorded. The app will simply alert the person’s health care team of the possible early signs of a mood swing.

Here’s how the app works to illustrate:

“These pilot study results give us preliminary proof of the concept that we can detect mood states in regular phone calls by analyzing broad features and properties of speech, without violating the privacy of those conversations,” said Zahi Karam, a member of the Michigan team, at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing in Italy.

According to the team, which is led by computer scientists Karam and Emily Mower Provost, and psychiatrist Melvin McInnis, this technology could also help people with other conditions, such as schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Seed funding for the app and research study came from the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research.



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Sense sleep sensor monitors your zzz's and wakes you up at the best time

Sense sleep sensor monitors your zzz's and wakes you up at the best time | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

You're lucky if you can sleep easily and wake up feeling refreshed all the time -- some people need a bit help to get a good night's rest from apps and gizmos, like this new device called Sense. The gadget, which looks like a crystal ball with rubber bands, acts as some sort of a bedside sleep guardian that monitors not only your sleeping habits, but also environmental conditions. It comes with a "Sleep Pill" that clips to your pillow, which tracks your tosses and turns, automatically transmitting data to Sense via Bluetooth Low Energy and ANT. The gadget then relays all the info you need, including a sleep number to let you know how well (or how bad) you've slept, through the system's iPhone or Android app.

Sense has other things to offer other than this core feature, such as the ability to record sudden loud sounds that might disrupt your sleep through its built-in microphone. (If you're wondering, creator James Proud told The Verge that it's not always recording, and it only ever saves sudden sound spikes.) The device can also detect pollen or dust in the air that might trigger allergies or determine whether you need heavier drapes to block out the light. Even better, the device can wake you up at the end of an REM cycle, so you don't feel sluggish when you get out of bed.

Sense's developers, Hello Inc., launched a KickStarter campaign recently to raise $100,000, which the project has now surpassed, as it's already received $420,000 in pledges, thus far. A SEC filing spotted by StrictlyVC, however, proves that the company already has serious VC backing to the tune of $10.5 million, indicating that its KickStarter campaign is but a PR move. You can use the campaign to your advantage, though, since you can get the device and a Sleep Pill by pledging $99, whereas pre-ordering the system later on will cost you $129. By the way, in case Sense still ends up falling short of your expectations, you can always pair it up with a smart bed when one does hit the market.



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ADATA Launches XPG V3 DDR3 Range

ADATA Launches XPG V3 DDR3 Range | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Despite the talk surrounding the introduction of DDR4 to the market, the volume product for the foreseeable future is still DDR3. We have done a number of memory scaling articles in the past [1,2,3], but due to the resurgence of growth in the gaming segments over the last several quarters, there is still a demand for high speed DRAM, especially those that match the style of the build if the user or gamer wants to show it off at an event. This has caused some of the enthusiast DRAM manufacturers to re-launch their high end modules under new names and new skins, with the option of customization. This lies at the heart of ADATA’s new XPG V3 DDR3 range.

The finned array for the heatsinks can be removed, similar to other high end ranges, and replaced with a custom color. ADATA is saying that the first batches of these modules for retail will include a second set of fins, so users can select between gold and red. There are plans to launch other colors in the future.

Launched SKUs will first be available in gold/red, in either 2x4 GB or 2x8 GB kits, with the following speeds:

DDR3-1600 9-9-9-24 1.50V
DDR3-1866 10-11-11-30 1.50V
DDR3-2133 10-11-11-30 1.65V
DDR3-2400 11-13-13-35 1.65V
DDR3-2600 11-13-13-35 1.65V
DDR3-2800 12-14-14-36 1.65V
DDR3-2933 12-14-14-36 1.65V
DDR3-3100 12-14-14-36 1.65V

All kits will support XMP 1.3, use 8-layer PCBs with 2oz copper to improve signalling, and Thermal Conductive Technology (TCT), which is a fancy way of saying that the DRAM chips themselves are in contact with the heatsink, so the heatsink may be hard to remove depending on the bonding.

With the high frequency modules, it is always worth noting that these are designed for use with Ivy Bridge and Haswell CPUs, and the quality of the memory controller will determine the maximum speed possible. All the Ivy Bridge and Haswell CPUs I have tested, at stock, will easily do DDR3-2933, and should find DDR3-3100 OK as well with a small base frequency overclock. Overclocking the CPU may reduce the peak memory frequency possible, and thus if running an overclocked system, a balance may be needed as well as the expertise/guide to manage that balance. This is true with any high speed memory, not just the ones here, such as our reviews of the TridentX style or ADATA's own XPG V2 DDR3-2800.

ADATA has offered us a review sample which should arrive shortly. Stay tuned for the review. I am currently awaiting a full list of MSRPs and will update the news when it arrives.

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iPhone 6 Rumored to Arrive in September, in Two Sizes

iPhone 6 Rumored to Arrive in September, in Two Sizes | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

A mockup of the iPhone 6, next to an iPhone 5s and iPhone 4s, by Sonny Dickson (SonnyDickson.com)

It’s been a little over 10 months since Apple released the iPhone 5s. This means that more than enough time has passed to start demanding: When’s the next one coming out already?!

Well, calm yourself down, eager iShopper. If the latest prominent rumors prove reliable, we could be seeing the iPhone 6 in less than two months. 

Mark Gurman of Apple specialty site 9to5Mac reported that Apple is tentatively planning an iPhone 6 unveiling event for the second or third week in September. This isn’t something Apple officially told him, of course; the secretive company would never divulge its future plans. Gurman’s report comes from his anonymous sources.

That might ring a little sketchy to you, but there are plenty of reasons to put faith in the rumor. First: Gurman is generally trustworthy when it comes to Apple rumors. He’s not batting 1.000, but he gets way more right than he gets wrong. He has earned a reputation as one of the most reliable Apple reporters going. On stature alone, you could put stock in the mid-September rumor. 

But there is supporting evidence beyond reputation to buttress that rumor, too. As I’ve written many times before, Apple tends to release its iPhone in predictable one-year cycles. The new iPhone comes out one year after the last. A year passes; the next iPhone arrives. For the past three years, the updated iPhone has debuted in the fall. It stands to reason that this one will, too. 

And Gurman isn’t singing the September rumor alone: Other reputable sources have pegged it as the month we’ll see the iPhone 6, too. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has been impressive with his Apple predictions in the past several years, has written that the “consensus" indicates a September-October release for the next iPhone. The Wall Street Journal also expects a mid-September debut.

Mark it down: We’ll probably see the new iPhone by the end of September.

The other major rumor surrounding the next iPhone concerns its screen size –– or screen sizes. Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal both recently reported that Apple plans to unveil two new iPhones. One of the iPhones will have a 4.6-inch screen, they say; one will have a huge 5.5-inch screen. Both would be substantially larger than the iPhone 5s, which features a 4.0-inch display. The thinking is that a larger iPhone would better appeal to smartphone shoppers in China, who have been more drawn to large-display phones from Samsung and LG than they have been to the relatively svelte iPhone 5s.

For your reference, here’s the iPhone 5s next to Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3, which boasts a 5.7-inch display. That’s the kind of screen size upgrade we could be looking at should these rumors prove true. 

This one, however, doesn’t seem quite as concrete. Analysts and reporters disagree on the timing of the two iPhones. Some say they will be released together; others believe the larger will lag behind by a couple of months; a few predict the larger could be delayed until next year. (This talk of delays arises from the apparent difficulty of bulk manufacturing the display for the 5.5-inch iPhone.)

All of this disagreement seems to be a sign that not even Apple knows its plan with 100 percent certainty at this point. Tech companies’ plans can change quickly, especially if there are manufacturing difficulties from suppliers. If you can’t make tens of thousands of new iPhones, and have a good stock ready for a September release date, then you delay the thing until you do. 

Longtime Apple watchers might remember a similar situation in 2011. Almost everyone expected Apple to release two iPhones that year, too: The iPhone 4s, which would be the same size as the iPhone 4, and the iPhone 5, which would be larger and thinner. When only the iPhone 4s came out, disappointment followed. Where was the larger iPhone? 

2014 could be a repeat, with only one new iPhone arriving on time. Granted, that iPhone could boast a substantially larger screen, from 4.0 to 4.6 inches, so the grousing about “It looks the same!” wouldn’t be as pronounced. 

To sum up: The iPhone 6 will likely have a larger screen than the iPhone 5s. Whether it comes with an option for a much bigger screen, we don’t quite know yet.

Check back in a month –– when we’re a month away from the release of the next iPhone.



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YouTube star sued for copyright to the tune of $150,000 per song

YouTube star sued for copyright to the tune of $150,000 per song | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Most YouTubers just get a takedown notice if someone reports them using copyrighted tunes with their videos. But when that user is a huge star on the video portal like make-up guru Michelle Phan, who has almost 7 million subscribers and was even featured on YouTube's TV ad campaign, then things get a bit more intense. Electronic dance record label Ultra Music (home to Deadmau5 and other popular artists of the genre) just slapped Phan with a copyright infringement lawsuit, which accuses her of using 50 tracks released under the company without permission. Ultra wants Phan to pay $150,000 for each instance, claiming she profited from its artists' music, most likely because 1.) she's a YouTube partner, and 2.) the fame she gained on the website eventually led to lucrative deals with cosmetics companies Lancôme and L'Oreal.

Phan's adamant that she didn't do anything wrong, though, and her spokesperson told the BBC that Ultra gave her permission to use the company's tracks as background music for her make-up tutorials. While we've yet to find out which side is telling the truth, one of the label's own artists, American DJ Kaskade, defended her and lambasted existing copyright laws on Twitter at the same time:



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EBay faces class action suit over data breach

EBay faces class action suit over data breach | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

EBay faces a class action suit in a U.S. federal court over a security breach earlier this year.

The consumer privacy class action lawsuit, filed Wednesday by Collin Green, a citizen of the state of Louisiana, alleged that the security breach was the result of eBay’s inadequate security in regard to protecting identity information of its millions of customers.

The e-commerce site’s failure to properly secure the information “has caused, and is continuing to cause, damage to its customers, the putative class members herein,” according to the complaint by Green which asks for class action status.

EBay informed users in May that it was aware of unauthorized access to eBay systems that may have exposed some customer information. The company said there was no evidence that financial data was compromised. The company subsequently advised users to change their eBay passwords as the attack compromised a database containing eBay user passwords.

“The thieves had access to, and reportedly copied, customer names, encrypted passwords, email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, and dates of birth, at a minimum,” according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

The company did not immediately notify its customers when it first became aware of the February 2014 security breach and instead waited to inform customers until after the news had leaked out of the company, according to the complaint. “eBay’s profit-driven decision to withhold the fact of its security lapse further damaged the class members who were prevented from immediately mitigating the damages from the theft,” it said, while blaming eBay for not adequately securing the data.

EBay could not be immediately reached for comment.

Green, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, has asked for a jury trial. The combined claims of the proposed class members exceed $5 million exclusive of interest and costs.




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Lenovo reveals smartglasses prototype that apes Google Glass, seeks hardware partners

Lenovo reveals smartglasses prototype that apes Google Glass, seeks hardware partners | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Lenovo showed off a smart glasses prototype on Thursday, part of a push to attract developers and other hardware manufacturers to a new partner program.

The wearable device looks similar to Google Glass, but has its battery attached down at the user’s necks. More details will be announced in October.

Lenovo is also looking for partners to help it develop products ranging from wireless routers to air purifiers for its home market of China. The PC maker wants to team up, and even invest in tech companies that work on products beyond PCs and smartphones.

To that end, Lenovo has established the “NBD” platform. If it wants to address a broader market, including connected devices that make up the so-called Internet of things, Lenovo can’t just build the hardware independently, and hope it sells, company executives said to journalists on Thursday.

“Right now there are too many kinds of devices you can develop for the Internet of Things. It’s too rich. Not one company can do it all,” said Chen Xudong, Lenovo senior vice president.

Michael Kan

The NBD platform, which in Chinese stands for “new bench,” can offer funding, manufacturing, hardware research and other logistical support to partners. It’s currently geared for the Chinese market, but Lenovo could use it to jumpstart products for international distribution.

“We hope to use Lenovo’s advantages to combine with innovators,” Chen added. “This platform can help them quickly start selling products, and create a supply chain for the market.”

In addition to Lenovo’s own smart glasses prototype, the vendor is partnering with U.S. smart glasses maker Vuzix to bring its own product to China. The M100, which uses Android 4.0.4 and a 1GHz dual-core processor, will first go on sale to developers for 8,000 yuan ($1298) in August or September, and is meant for business users.

German company Luftmed is working with the NBD program to sell an affordable air purifier in China that can be controlled via smartphone. The New Air X330 is meant to offer cleaner air and more accurate statistics than competing products.

Also on display Thursday was a wireless router, developed in partnership with other Chinese companies, that can be managed remotely via a mobile device.

As it branches out beyond PCs, Lenovo has typically introduced new product categories in China, before deciding whether to sell them internationally. It took this approach with smartphones, tablets and smart TV products.

Other Chinese companies are also seeking to extend their influence through partner programs. In April, the country’s leading search engine, Baidu, announced its own project to attract hardware makers to build smart devices using the company’s technology.




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Samsung Might Have Found A Shortcut To Mobile Virtual Reality Through Oculus VR | TechCrunch

Samsung Might Have Found A Shortcut To Mobile Virtual Reality Through Oculus VR | TechCrunch | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

If you’re interested in virtual reality, then a new report from CNET that maintains Samsung is working directly with Facebook-owned Oculus on a headset that uses mobile devices to generate VR environments and experiences should get you excited. We’ve heard before that Samsung was working on its own VR headset, but this is further evidence that they might have a helping hand from a pioneer in the field, and the company that is arguably the farthest along in terms of delivering on the promise of consumer-focused virtual reality, following a report from Engadget in May.

Samsung understandably wants to create a VR headset powered by mobile devices, according to CNET’s sources, which makes sense given the potential such a device has to augment and drive sales for their main mobile business, in addition to opening up another potential revenue stream for Samsung in addition to mobile.

Rumors of Samsung’s efforts in VR originally came off as yet another example of the company trying to experiment in a potential direction for where the consumer tech market might be headed in the next few years – Samsung is perhaps the best current example of a major tech company that likes to spread its bets around, after all: The incredibly varied line of smartwatches it has introduced in less than a year is testament to that, as is its recent foray into high-end audio accessories.

But partnering up with Oculus could mean that Samsung’s foray into VR isn’t just another hasty bet placed mostly to get out ahead of the potential competition. Such a partnership would mean that Samsung doesn’t have to build the experience from scratch, or crib what it can by poaching expertise from Oculus competitors who aren’t nearly as far along when it comes to realizing the dream of consumer VR. If Samsung wants to achieve mobile VR fast and well, teaming up with Oculus is the right way to do it.

For Oculus, the partnership provides a shortcut to a key market they haven’t yet addressed: Mobile. Current efforts for the Rift development kits have been aimed at the desktop market. But if Samsung’s key expertise in mobile device development and design can offer them a shortcut to a market that they must, given Facebook’s focus on mobile, be looking at with hungry eyes, then that presents a huge advantage for Oculus in terms of anticipating the future of the VR space, and possibly reading a broader user base for its software platform, too.

The VR market is so early it would be premature to even call it nascent, but if Oculus is already working with major hardware partners like Samsung, that’s a smart move. Its new parent company Facebook has had success as a software-only company that’s happy to work with whatever hardware maker will further its own interests, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see its newly acquired VR company chart a similar path.

We’ve reached out to both Samsung and Facebook, but as of press time, neither had responded to a request for comment.



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Apple reportedly releasing OS X Yosemite in October alongside 4K desktop and 12-inch Retina MacBook

Apple reportedly releasing OS X Yosemite in October alongside 4K desktop and 12-inch Retina MacBook | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Well, this is a timely rumor: Today is the day Apple opens up OS X Yosemite for public beta-testing, and now we're hearing the final version of the OS will come out in late October. The report comes from Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac, who has a strong track record when it comes to Apple rumors, and he claims that in addition to OS X, Apple will release a 12-inch Retina display MacBook, and either an iMac or a standalone monitor with a 4K screen. Obviously, Apple could do a 180 and release the same old computers with minor spec bumps, but if you ask us, everything Gurman is reporting seems plausible. First of all, Apple already promised it would release a final version of OS X sometime in the fall, and surely it plans to do that before the holiday shopping season starts up in November.

Secondly, a Retina display MacBook Air has been rumored for ages now, and the way the laptop market is going, it seems Apple is going to have to release a Retina-grade Ultrabook sooner or later; it's already getting tough for us reviewers to make excuses for the Air's 1,440 x 900 screen when you can easily find Windows machines with 2,560 x 1,440 or 3,200 x 1,800 screens. As for the 4K all-in-one? That seems inevitable too, though we've admittedly heard less scuttlebutt about that one.

Both computers are expected to be available in late Q3 or early Q4, according to the report, but constraints having to do with Intel chipsets -- among other possible delays -- could push the on-sale date to early 2015. If Gurman is correct, we'll find out more at a fall media event -- again, very typical of Apple. The one thing we're not sure of? Whether the mythical iWatch will be there, as Gurman says. Because we've been hearing about that thing forever now. We'll believe that one when we see it.



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Facebook Is Now Worth $190 Billion | TechCrunch

Facebook Is Now Worth $190 Billion | TechCrunch | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Facebook is worth more than Amazon. Following yesterday’s earnings report, Facebook shares hit an all-time high in after-hours trading at $75. Price has been very stable this morning as well, confirming yesterday’s pop. Shares opened at $75.96 a share, then set a new record at $76.74. Now, shares are trading at $75.13.

In other words, Facebook’s market capitalization is now around $190 billion, above Amazon’s market capitalization of $165 billion.

With $2.91 billion in revenue and earnings of $0.42 per share, the company beat the analysts’ expectations. When you see Facebook’s earnings chart, it seems like there is no end in sight. Facebook is a great example of a tech company that has performed very well since going public.

It could have bigger consequences on the stock market. Investors could become bullish on other tech stocks due to Facebook’s good performance.

Facebook is a much different company than it was when it went public in May 2012. At the time, most of its users were browsing the social network on their laptops, and the company’s ad offering wasn’t as effective as it could be. Now, most users go to Facebook on their phones, and the mobile ads are performing very well.

But if you look back even further, nobody would have thought five years ago that Facebook would be worth more than Amazon, around half of Google and Microsoft. One last number, Facebook is now worth more than eight times Twitter.


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China's Lenovo steps into ring against Samsung with Motorola deal

China's Lenovo steps into ring against Samsung with Motorola deal | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Lenovo Group, the Chinese technology company that earns about 80 percent of its revenue from personal computers, is betting it can also be a challenger to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Apple Inc in the smartphone market.

On Wednesday, Lenovo said it would buy Google Inc's Motorola Mobility handset unit for $2.91 billion in the fourth-largest U.S. acquisition by a Chinese or Hong Kong company ever.

"We are not only the number one PC company in the world but with this agreement we will become a much stronger number three smartphone company," said Wong Waiming, Lenovo's chief financial officer, on a conference call on Thursday.

 
 

Investors, however, took a dim view of the deal, which came less than a week after the company announced it was buying IBM Corp's low-end server unit for $2.3 billion. The stock fell 8.2 percent on concerns Lenovo might have overpaid for a loss-making business and would dilute the value of shares by issuing new ones to help pay for the purchases.

Together with the IBM agreement, Lenovo has agreed in the last week to fork over as many as 800 million shares, representing about 7.7 percent of its outstanding stock.

With its acquisition of Motorola, Lenovo is emerging as the most viable contender to global smartphone leaders Apple and Samsung - albeit still a distant third-place player.

The deal will allow Lenovo to step outside its China comfort zone and firmly into other regions, including the United States, where Chinese smartphone makers have struggled, and Latin America, where Motorola remains a strong brand.

Google has the opposite problem. China is one place its presence is barely felt since it left the market in 2010 because of network security concerns.

Its search engine, which dominates in most of the world, recorded China market share by usage of just 1.6 percent in December, according to Beijing-based data firm CNZZ. Before 2010, its share reached 29 percent, according to Analysys Mason.

Even Google's Android operating system, which Samsung also uses, has struggled in China. Only 3.5 percent of Android devices in China have its Google Play app store installed, limiting its profit potential.

Whether the Lenovo partnership might reopen the door to China remains to be seen. Programs such as Google Maps and Google Plus, which is blocked by censors, would still be unavailable to most mobile users.

NEW CHALLENGER

Lenovo's global smartphone market share following the acquisition will be more than 6 percent, compared with Samsung's 28.8 percent and Apple's 17.9 percent as of December 31, according to Lenovo and IDC.

For Motorola, Lenovo will pay $660 million in cash, $750 million in Lenovo ordinary shares, and another $1.5 billion in the form of a three-year promissory note, Lenovo and Google said in a joint statement.

Lenovo will receive more than 2,000 "patent assets" as part of the transaction, the companies said, but it remains unknown which will change hands and whether they might be subject to extra scrutiny from regulators.

"This has a huge impact not only to the smartphone market but also the Android ecosystem," said CK Lu, a Taipei-based tech analyst with Gartner. "Samsung dominates in the Android ecosystem but now they have a new challenger which is Lenovo."

China would like to see a home-grown competitor to both Android and Apple's iOS. Earlier this month, it launched its own "China Operating System".

SHARES DIVE

Wong said Lenovo has no "urgent need" to raise additional funds to pay for the IBM or Motorola acquisitions. The deals together require capital outlays of $2.8 billion, while Lenovo has on-hand cash of more than $3 billion, Wong said. Lenovo also raised $1.2 billion in loans in December.

Motorola Mobility lost more than $1.5 billion, after taxes and extraordinary items, since Google acquired the unit in May, 2012, according to a Lenovo filing on Thursday. Google will report its fourth quarter and annual earnings later on Thursday.

"It looks like Lenovo is acquiring the Motorola unit at a premium," said Linus Yip, a Hong Kong-based strategist at First Shanghai Securities.

But Wong said he was "very confident" Lenovo can return the business to profitability. He declined to give a time frame.

Lenovo's smartphone business generates about $4 billion in annual sales, said Wong, and with the addition of Motorola the company should approach $10 billion in revenues "within a reasonable time".

"That actually gives us a much bigger scale platform for us to grow further," Wong said.

The deal may not be about market share so much as markets.

"It's not about entering the U.S. but about stepping outside of China," said Gartner's Lu. "They have the chance to compete with Samsung and Apple."


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BlackBerry forges ahead in healthcare | Healthcare IT News

BlackBerry forges ahead in healthcare | Healthcare IT News | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

BlackBerry continues to expand further its scope in the healthcare arena after one of its subsidiaries unveiled a new clinical operating system for medical devices.    QNX Software Systems, which was acquired by BlackBerry in 2010, today released its new operating system that is IEC 62304 compliant. With its sights set on alleviating the regulatory and financial burden for device manufacturers, the operating system supports both single core and multicore devices based on ARMv7 and Intel x86 processors. The OS also features application programming interface so that it's compatible with other QNX operating systems, officials note.    [See also: BlackBerry enters healthcare IT arena.]   "When it comes to medical device software, the OS sets the tone: Unless it provides the architecture to enable reliable operation and a clear audit trail to substantiate claims about its dependability, the entire process of device approval can be put in jeopardy," said Grant Courville, director of product management at QNX Software Systems, in a July 15 press statement. "By providing an OS that has been independently verified to comply with the IEC 62304 standard, we are helping manufacturers reduce the cost and effort of developing devices that require regulatory approval from agencies such as the FDA, MDD and MHRA."   This is far from BlackBerry's first big move into the healthcare space. Just this April, the telecommunication behemoth announced it was financially backing cloud-based health IT company NantHealth, a startup spearheaded by billionaire healthcare mogul Patrick Soon-Shiong, MD. 

 

  "The systems that are currently structured really don't talk to each other, the proprietary systems, the systems that are based on really old software that's not interoperable," said Soon-Shiong in an interview with Healthcare IT News earlier this year. And the financial backing from BlackBerry will further support NantHealth's clinical operation system that has captured some 3 billion vital signs in the cloud.    "We've built supercomputers that can do the genomic analysis in real-time; we've built super computers that can actually take feeds of CT scans from EMRs and feed it directly to mobile devices. All of that, regardless of where it comes from, regardless of the EMR, regardless of the device, whether it be via ventilator, or IV tube, we're agnostic to, and it speaks to this operating system," said Soon-Shiong. 



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Apple might be launching its mobile wallet with the iPhone 6

Apple might be launching its mobile wallet with the iPhone 6 | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Apple might be launching a mobile wallet alongside the iPhone 6, according to The Information. The company is reportedly in discussion with various banking institutions and credit card associations, including Visa who has allegedly agreed to work with the unannounced payments product.

The Information writes that the purported system will store a user's financial credentials on their smartphone's secure element, a tamper-resistant piece of hardware meant to house sensitive data. Details about how Apple intends to handle information transfer remain unclear. It is believed that the company has informed partners that it intends to utilize near-field communication chips. One of The Information's sources has also stated that Apple may opt to focus on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi instead. If reports prove true, it looks like Apple aims to proceed without surrendering control to wireless carriers, which in turn may allow it to circumvent some of the difficulties faced by the competition.



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Non-IBM Power8 servers to appear early next year

Non-IBM Power8 servers to appear early next year | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

The first third-party servers licensed to use IBM’s Power architecture will be on the market early next year.

IBM last year started licensing the architecture so other companies could build Power servers, chips and components. The first third-party Power servers will be for cloud and high-end applications, said Ken King, general manager, OpenPower alliances at IBM’s Systems and Technology Group.

Ultimately, low-end servers could use Power chips, but that's for server makers to decide, King said. Derivative Power8 chips being designed outside IBM could be used in third-party servers, King said. However, a timeline for third-party Power8 chips hitting the market has not been confirmed, IBM said.

IBM’s Power hardware has been used in the Linux-based Watson supercomputer, which beat humans in the TV quiz show “Jeopardy.” But IBM’s Power server shipments have declined in recent years as buyers move to commodity hardware running on x86 chips. IBM agreed to sell its x86 server business to Lenovo for US$2.3 billion and is now focusing exclusively on the Power architecture.

The non-IBM Power servers will compete with IBM’s high-end System Z and customized PureSystem offerings. But King didn’t seem concerned about that, saying the reason for licensing Power to other vendors is so that the architecture will proliferate in more servers.

“It’s about making Power more relevant in the marketplace,” King said.

Mainframes and IBM’s Power are fading away, so the company had to start licensing the chip architecture, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

“More important for the company is to get Power out into the larger IT industry, [to] show that its got a place outside its homegrown systems,” Brookwood said.

IBM last year formed the OpenPower Alliance to cooperate with other companies on hardware and software development for the Power architecture. OpenPower members include Google and Tyan, which have already shown developer boards based on the Power8 architecture. Other notable members include Samsung and Micron, which are developing memory, and Nvidia, which is developing graphics chips.

IBM recognized Power’s struggles and made a smart move by opening it up to other companies, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

IBM may lose Power server shipments to competition, but there could be revenue from licensing, services and system deployments. Power could find some acceptance in high-performance and cloud computing. Pund-IT’s King said.

“One thing Power is effective at as compared to x86 is the ability to support a larger number of virtual machines in a concurrent system. Power CPUs support classic reliability, availability and serviceability features that IBM servers are well known for,” King said.

Google was perhaps intrigued by the higher level of virtual machines supported by Power compared to x86 systems, King said.

“That could translate to better VM performance and responsiveness to cloud requests,” King said.

But IBM still faces an uphill battle in getting server makers to move to Power, Brookwood said.

Server infrastructure is too invested in x86 and companies will be hesitant to move to a new architecture. That requires developing software, which takes time, money and resources, Brookwood said.

“The problem with computing systems on a shrinking user and application base is they go away. It happened to DEC Alpha, Tandem NonStop, it’s happened to dozens of systems,” Brookwood said.

Sun Microsystems, now owned by Oracle, opened up its Sparc microarchitecture through OpenSparc, but it didn’t work out. Hewlett-Packard is also moving away from the Itanium chip and providing a path to migrate to x86 chips.

But if IBM plays its cards right, there’s a chance Power can live on.

“To ensure the longevity of Power8 is to get other people to use it and develop on it,” Brookwood said.



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Google is collecting medical data to paint a picture of perfect human health

Google is collecting medical data to paint a picture of perfect human health | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Google has started to collect medical data from volunteers as part of an ambitious project designed to build a database of records that show what a healthy human being should be. The project, developed by Google's experimental Google X wing and called Baseline Study, sees the company first harvesting anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 people. According to The Wall Street Journal, Baseline Study will soon draw information from thousands more in a bid to create a picture of a person in perfect health.

Project Baseline will collect genetic and molecular data

The project is designed to pull together a huge amount of data that will not only allow medical professionals to detect and treat major health issues such as heart disease and cancer earlier, but will also enable them to detect trends and patterns in human health, making medicine more about the prevention of illness than the cure. It's helmed by Dr. Andrew Conrad, who joined Google X in March 2013 after helping develop cheap, high-volume HIV tests for blood plasma donations. The Wall Street Journal reports Conrad has built of a team of between 70 and 100 experts for the projects, from medical fields including physiology, biochemistry, optics, imaging, and molecular biology.

Project Baseline will use Google's computational power to identify "biomarkers" in the data that could help people stave off or avoid health issues. Medical science has traditionally discovered biomarkers for late stage diseases, but it's Google's hope that Project Baseline will also be able to crunch through data to detect tendencies in our bodies that can be addressed before they become life-threatening.

Dr. Conrad posits an example where the data allows researchers to pick out a biomarker that shows some people can break down fatty foods efficiently. Others, he suggests, may lack the marker, putting them at risk from heart disease. By identifying such trends before the disease has become too severe and treatment is necessary, Project Baseline's information could suggest people change their behavior before their first heart attack, or enable scientists to develop something to help at-risk people break down fatty foods.

The exam includes the collection of bodily fluids including urine and tears

Dr. Conrad warns against expecting the data to spit out an immediate cure for cancer, saying that advances will be made in "little increments." The project began this summer when a clinical testing firm that Conrad declined to name enrolled 175 people in an exam that demands the collection of bodily fluids including urine and tears. The unnamed clinic, plus other facilities at Duke and Stanford Universities, will run further exams in the future, collecting samples and removing information such as names and social security numbers from participants.

The rapidly decreasing cost of collecting genetic and molecular information has only recently made Project Baseline possible. Participants' genomes will now be sequenced — a process that once cost $100 million, now reduced to around $1,000 — along with their parents' genetic history. The Wall Street Journal says data on how they metabolize food, nutrients and drugs, how fast their hearts beat under stress and how chemical reactions change the behavior of their genes will also be recorded.

Participants' genomes will be sequenced

The project promises much, but by collecting so much information about participants, it also raises privacy concerns. What happens if a person's molecular makeup get into the hands of others? Already Google has clarified the medical data it receives will be anonymous by the time it gets its hands on it, and specified that such information would not be shared with insurance firms. Dr. Sam Gambhir, a Stanford doctor who has been working with Google for more than year, says that the issue of privacy has been discussed. "Google will not be allowed free rein to do whatever it wants with this data," he told The Wall Street Journal.

It's unclear how Project Baseline will tie in to Calico, the Google company tasked with extending human life, but it's obvious the company is serious about making humans live longer. But although Google X is actively entering the health care market, creating glucose-measuring contact lenses, the company's leaders have expressed their frustration at the industry's regulation and restrictions. Speaking earlier this month, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said health care in the US was "so heavily regulated that it's just a painful business to be in;" at May's Code conference, he expressed his exasperation over how jealously medical companies guard their data, suggesting that by applying machine learning to existing sets of data to pick out patterns, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved every year.

Google and Apple have both announced health-tracking platforms this year, but Project Baseline looks to be more ambitious than both Apple's Healthkit and Google Fit. If Google's attempt to apply its number-crunching capabilities to our medical records pays off, the hundreds of thousands of lives Sergey Brin mentions could be spared. We might also get the dubious pleasure of meeting the world's healthiest person in the process.



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Control All Your Laptop's Hardware from the Windows Mobility Center

Control All Your Laptop's Hardware from the Windows Mobility Center | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Windows: Your laptop has a ton of hardware with various settings to fiddle with. Some you can access from the task bar, others are buried in the Control Panel. However, most can also be found in the lesser-known Windows Mobility Center.

From the Mobility Center, you can adjust your system volume, display brightness, battery profile, external display connections, and more. You can even add custom tiles, though the process is a bit complicated. In Windows 8, you can access the Mobility Center by pressing Win-X and selecting it from the menu, or finding it in the Control Panel. The latter method is a bit roundabout, but you can use this to create a shortcut to find it easier later.


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Part of the reason this feature isn't well-known is because it's disabled by default in some Windows installations. As tips blog MakeUseOf explains, the Mobility Center is designed to be used on laptops, so it's automatically off on desktops, and may still be disabled if your laptop wasn't configured correctly. If you don't have it enabled on Windows 7 or 8, you can enable it with a registry hack found here.




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Bose sues Beats over headphone patents

Bose sues Beats over headphone patents | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Headphone maker Bose has launched a patent-infringement lawsuit against rival Beats Electronics, which Apple recently agreed to acquire in a US$3 billion deal.

In its complaint, Bose alleges that the “active noise cancellation” system in Beats Studio and Studio Wireless headphones infringes on five of its patents that relate to digital audio processing, compression and noise cancellation technology.

They are U.S. patents 6,717,537; 8,073,150; 8,073,151; 8,054,992; and 8,345,888.

In addition to the suit, which was filed in Delaware, the company also lodged a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission asking the trade court to ban Beats from importing the headphones into the U.S.

Companies are increasingly filing lawsuits with the ITC in addition to the domestic court system in the hopes an import injunction will provide extra leverage when it comes to negotiations over alleged infringement.

The lawsuit comes just under two months after the Apple deal was announced. The acquisition is expected to close by the end of September, and it’s unknown if the lawsuit could change that schedule or the acquisition price.

Apple and Beats did not immediately respond to requests for comment.




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Future phones could house a terabyte of memory

Future phones could house a terabyte of memory | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

You may think that the 3GB of memory in your new smartphone is hot stuff, but that pales in comparison with what Rice University has in store. Its scientists have detailed a form of resistive RAM (RRAM) that can be made using regular equipment at room temperatures, making it practical for everyday gadgets. The trick is the use of porous silicon oxide where metals (such as gold or platinum) fill the gaps. Using the silicon material doesn't just give manufacturers something familiar to work with; it requires much less power than previous techniques, can last through 100 times as many uses and isn't fazed by heat. It's also far denser than earlier RRAM, storing nine bits per cell where even conventional flash storage stops at three. The result should be an easy-to-make RAM chip with the kind of capacity that you'd normally expect from much larger permanent storage, like an SSD -- as the company Crossbar hinted when it first discussed this approach, you could stuff 1TB into a component the size of a postage stamp.

That's just about ideal for mobile devices, and could mean that future phones and tablets won't have to worry about low memory errors for a long, long time. Crossbar's technology is due in later this year in chips destined for embedded uses like appliances and cars, so the breakthrough won't be noticeable at first. Research lead James Tour tells MIT that he expects a deal with an unnamed manufacturer in the next couple of weeks, though, so it's entirely possible that this super-capacious memory will become commonplace.


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These smart shoes vibrate to point you in the right direction

These smart shoes vibrate to point you in the right direction | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

One of the best uses for wearable technology is to help you get around without being hunched over your smartphone. Google Glass and smartwatches do this, but you're still staring at a screen instead of enjoying the scenery. That's all set to change thanks to an Indian company that wants to put navigation equipment in your shoes. The Lechal interactive haptic footwear hooks up to your smartphone and when you reach a junction, vibrates the left (or right) foot depending on which turn you need to make. The gear is expected to launch in September, and you'll be able to choose between full shoes or just insoles that'll fit inside your regular pair of kicks. You can register your interest on Ducere's website right now, and can expect to pay $150 for a pair -- hopefully a portion of which will go to the creators of Red Dwarf, who came up with a similar idea 26 years ago.



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Hackers steal user data from the European Central Bank website, ask for money

Hackers steal user data from the European Central Bank website, ask for money | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Hackers have stolen user contact information, including email addresses and phone numbers, from the website of the European Central Bank and attempted to extort money from the institution.

The attackers exploited a vulnerability to access a database serving the ECB’s public website, the institution announced Thursday on its website. No internal systems or market sensitive data were affected, the ECB said.

The compromised database primarily contained contact information provided by users when registering for various ECB events and conferences. Most of the data was encrypted, but email addresses, phone numbers and street addresses were not, according to the ECB.

The database contained around 20,000 email addresses and a lower number of phone numbers and physical contact addresses, an ECB spokeswoman said Thursday. It’s not known at this time if the attackers copied the entire database or only parts of it, but 95 percent of the information in the database was encrypted, she said.

ECB learned of the breach late Monday night when it received an anonymous email from the attackers seeking financial compensation for the data.

The ECB has not and will not pay anything, the ECB spokeswoman said.

The incident was reported to police in Frankfurt, where the ECB is headquartered, and an investigation has been launched. The Frankfurt police did not immediately respond to an inquiry seeking more information about the extortion attempt.

The ECB has reset all user passwords on its website as a precaution and is contacting people whose email addresses and other data might have been compromised. The vulnerability exploited by the attackers has been identified and fixed.

Given that people typically interested in ECB events work in the financial industry, the stolen email addresses could prove a valuable resource for phishers.

The affected individuals could be at a higher risk of fraud and phishing attacks following this security breach, said Jon French, a security analyst at email and Web security firm AppRiver, via email. Personal information about the target could make a phishing attack more convincing than a random spam email. “Likewise the attacker could just attempt to use the gained personal data and attempt to use it to commit fraud.”

Extortion attempts using stolen customer data are increasingly common. In June, hackers threatened to release stolen personal information on more than 650,000 French and Belgian customers of Domino’s Pizza unless the company paid them 30,000 euros (over US$40,000).

“Unless we’re missing some important facts, it makes little sense for the ECB to pay a hacker money in this circumstance, as there’s no guarantee that he won’t also sell access to the data in addition to getting the ransom,” said Tim Erlin, director of security and risk at security firm Tripwire, via email. “Data isn’t the same as a physical object or person. It’s copied, not stolen.”




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AMD "Core Is Back" Teaser Video Hints at New CPU Announcement | Computer Hardware Reviews - ThinkComputers.org

AMD "Core Is Back" Teaser Video Hints at New CPU Announcement | Computer Hardware Reviews - ThinkComputers.org | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

AMD has recently posted a “Core is Back” teaser video over at their Facebook page, which hints to the fact that they may have a CPU announcement coming very soon. The teaser and video come directly from AMD’s official Facebook and YouTube pages so we are very interested to see what all this is about.

The above photo was posted on AMD’s official Facebook page with the following statement, “The war continues to rage and battles may be lost but heroes will evolve. #AMDEvolved”.

Then on AMD’s official YouTube page they have posted the above CGI video. The about section of the video says, “As you browse the web, play games, watch videos, and get work done — your PC is being tested. Applications fight for resources in order to be responsive and complete tasks. Processors battle these applications to control resources and maintain balance. Re-live the epic battle within your PC and watch hardware rise to the challenge as applications become more robust.”

We can only guess that this is the start of a viral marketing campaign for a new product. At first glace I thought this could be for a new CPU, such as a new FX processor, but the logo at the very end has the AMD A-Series logo on it which is meant for AMD’s APUs. This could mean that AMD would be releasing an updated Kaveri APU to bridge the gap until Carrizo launches next year. Time will only tell.



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The Best Microsoft Word Alternatives That Are Totally Free

The Best Microsoft Word Alternatives That Are Totally Free | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics | Scoop.it

Microsoft's titan of a word processor is used almost everywhere by almost everyone, but what if you don't want to spend seven bucks a month? Here are our favorite alternatives to Word. They're all free, they're all capable of working with the ubiquitous .docx format, and they all offer some very useful features on top as well.

Microsoft does offer a stripped-down online version of Word free of charge with your OneDrive account, so if you're committed to Office that should be your first stop. If you're looking outside the blue box, though, here are five alternatives worth your time:

1. LibreOffice (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)

If you're looking for a solid, dependable desktop tool in the mold of Word then LibreOffice is one of your best bets. Its Writer component is a more-than-capable replacement for Microsoft's program despite a slightly old-fashioned appearance, and it comes with all of the features you're going to need such as auto-save, change tracking and a commenting. Word users will feel at home right away, particularly if they're familiar with older versions of the Microsoft product.

The look of the software is fresh and clean, and the quick access toolbars make editing and formatting straightforward. Importing and exporting Word documents works fine—though it's not perfect all of the time—and there's also the option to export your documents as PDFs. All of the usual word processor mainstays, from spelling and grammar checks to header and footer support, can be found in LibreOffice.

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There are some basic wizards you can play around with to create standard letters, agendas and so on, and the autocomplete feature is something a lot of users will find helpful. More complicated document layouts are handled with aplomb, or at least as well as they're handled in Word, while the only significant feature you might miss is the format painter functionality that's built into Microsoft Office.

LibreOffice split from OpenOffice four years ago, with the latter suite of products eventually taken over by the Apache Software Foundation. OpenOffice has got plenty going for it too, and is very similar in look and feel to LibreOffice thanks to their shared history; give OpenOffice Writer a whirl if LibreOffice doesn't grab you. A lot of the differences between the two packages are minor.

2. Google Drive (Web)

Google Drive/Docs is improving all the time, and Microsoft is feeling the heat, forced into releasing its own free-to-use Web-based suite of products. But Google's effort feels more intuitive and comfortable on the Web than Microsoft's app, perhaps as it's been built from the ground up as an online tool rather than an adaptation of existing software. Now that QuickOffice has been merged with Google Docs, opening and editing Word files is more seamless than ever before, and you shouldn't run into problems working with contacts who are using Word.

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There are all the usual benefits of using a cloud app as well: access to your files from anywhere, no need to save your documents, and the ability to collaborate on work with other people in real-time. It's more lightweight in terms of features than the desktop edition of Word, so don't expect to be able to pull off advanced layouts or mail merges using the online app.

That lightweight approach has its advantages though: Drive's word processor is quick and simple to use, and some of its best features—such as the option to research topics on the Web in a separate sidebar—leave Microsoft's word processor feeling a bit out of date. For those who've grown up on the Web, Google's software feels much more natural, but power Word users will bump up against limitations.

3. AbiWord (Windows, Linux)

One of the very few word processors you can get hold of without an attached office suite, AbiWord might look like it was last updated in 2004 but it's got everything you're going to need from a desktop word processor. It recently added an online component called AbiCollab to make it easier to store documents on the Web and collaborate with other users.

AbiWord's list of features reads like a checklist for the definitive word processor program: spelling and grammar checking, headers and footers, table and column support, templates, footnotes and so on. All of the standard character and paragraph formatting options are here too so you can get your documents looking the way you want them too.

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The application itself is compact and lightweight—worth considering on older, slower systems—and there are a pile of plug-ins available on the Web to enhance the software even further (by adding in auto-translation capabilities, for example). The ability to add annotations is one of the newer features added to the AbiWord code.

If you're after a capable and free word processor but don't want the hassle of a bundled office suite then AbiWord is ideal. It's perhaps not as slick and modern-looking as some of the other options, but it gets the job done with the minimum of fuss.

4. Zoho Docs (Web)

Zoho Docs may not be as well known as Google's online office suite, but it's actually far more comprehensive in some areas. As well as the word processor, you get finance, HR, and customer support tools, making it an all-in-one business solution you can run through a browser. Personal users are welcome too, and get 5GB of storage space for free.

The word processor itself has a clear and friendly interface, managed via a Word-style tabbed menu along the top of the screen—it feels more like a desktop program than Drive does. Unfortunately it doesn't have the extensive pile of Google Web Fonts offered by its competitor, but there's an adequate selection that will meet most people's needs.

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You can import and export documents saved in the .docx format, while collaborating on documents and reviewing changes is intuitive and painless. If mail merge is an important feature for you then Zoho Docs can handle that too. Images, tables, symbols, shapes, links, YouTube clips and document metadata can all be neatly dropped into your text as required.

The integration with other Google products and its polished mobile apps make Google Drive a convenient choice for online word processing, but Zoho Docs has plenty to offer, particularly if you're running a small business and want access to a full suite of complementary tools. There's also a desktop sync tool available to install on Mac or Windows for getting your files into the cloud more easily.

5. Scribus (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)

Scribus is officially a desktop publishing package but we're including it here as a free option for those who need a Word replacement for more advanced layouts: think posters, flyers, newsletters and the like. It does a decent job of packing in a lot of features without being too overwhelming, though it might take you some time to adapt from the standard Word workflow.

Once you get into the DTP mindset—as in, you need to create a text box before you start doing any typing—the strengths of Scribus soon become apparent. The application has no problems with tables, oddly shaped selection boxes and flowing text around objects, but you won't get some of the standard word processor features like the ability to create outlines and a table of contents.

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As we've said, this is a Word alternative specifically for those looking to get creative with their layouts. You can use it as a standard word processor but you'll need to launch the Story Editor module to apply most of your formatting and paragraph style effects. If you don't mind this way of working then Scribus has a lot to offer wordsmiths.

Scribus was first released more than 10 years ago, so there's a wealth of features and expertise to fall back on. It can punch above its weight in terms of a direct comparison with Adobe InDesign or QuarkXpress too. While text can be imported from Microsoft Word, you can't export it back in the other direction, so it's not suitable for situations where you're sending documents back and forth between people.


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