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Google, Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla team up to create faster browsers

Google, Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla team up to create faster browsers | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Engineers at GoogleAppleMicrosoft and Mozilla are partnering to createWebAssembly (a.k.a wasm), a bytecode for use in the browsers of the future that promises up to 20 times faster performance.

WebAssembly is a project to create a new bytecode (a machine-readable instruction set that’s quicker for browsers to load than high-level languages) that’s more efficient for both desktop and mobile browsers to parse than the full source code of a Web page or app.

Browsers currently use JavaScript to interpret code and enable functionality on websites such as forms and dynamic content. Improvements have been made to load times via asm.js, but bytecode-based systems like .NET are faster.

Proposed as a standard that could one day be implemented in all browsers, WebAssembly could bring app-like performance to Web content and apps.

Until WebAssembly becomes more widely available, the coalition of developers plan to bridge the gap with a JS script that will convert wasm to Mozilla’s widely supported asm.js for browsers that don’t support the new format yet.

WebAssembly is still very much in its early days: neither its specifications nor its high level design have been finalized yet. However, with major browser developers behind the project, it should see the light of day soon enough.

No comment yet.!

Google's Prototype Driverless Car Hits Public Roads This Summer

Google's Prototype Driverless Car Hits Public Roads This Summer | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google’s first consumer-focused prototype driverless cars will takes their first drive on public roads this summer, taking to the streets of Mountain View.

In a blog post, Google’s self-driving car project director Chris Urmson explained that a handful of the cars will rolled out in Google’s neighborhood. The cars—which will be fitted with a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal—will be supervised by safety drivers and capped to a maximum speed of 25mph.

The cars will be powered by the same software as Google’s experimental fleet of Lexus RX450h driver-less cars—which have so far clocked up around 1 million miles on the roads of California. The small prototypes, first unveiled by Google last May, are said to be built in Detroit and have in the past been tested on private facilities.

“We’re looking forward to learning how the community perceives and interacts with the vehicles,” writes Urmson, “and to uncovering challenges that are unique to a fully self-driving vehicle—e.g., where it should stop if it can’t stop at its exact destination due to construction or congestion. In the coming years, we’d like to run small pilot programs with our prototypes to learn what people would like to do with vehicles like this.”

Of course, these prototypes taking to the road is still a long way from you being able to buy one. But Google’s certainly trying to get there as quickly as it can.

No comment yet.!

Law Banning Default Encryption Unlikely

Law Banning Default Encryption Unlikely | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Laws rarely, if ever, keep up with technology, but even if they could, the consequences could prove more harmful than the benefits.

That was evident at an April 29 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology that addressed the encryption - and security - of mobile devices.

 Upholding civil liberties and civil rights are not burdens. They make all of us safer and stronger. 

Here's the problem the panel addressed that faces law enforcement: Encryption is the default setting for new Apple iPhone and Google Android mobile devices, meaning that law enforcement cannot gain access to encrypted data on the devices even if they have a search warrant. To gain access, the manufacturers would have to create a so-called "backdoor," and give law enforcement a special key to decrypt data on mobile devices. Without such a key, law enforcement could gain access only with the permission of the devices' owners, an unlikely scenario if the encrypted data contains incriminating evidence.

"We call it 'going dark,' and it means that those charged with protecting the American people aren't always able to access the information necessary to prosecute criminals and prevent terrorism even though we have lawful authority to do so," FBI Executive Assistant Director Amy Hess told lawmakers.

Backdoor Benefits

Hess furnished the subcommittee with examples on how accessing data enabled forensics experts to solve crimes, including kidnaping, false rape accusation and murder.

"Today's encryption methods are increasingly more sophisticated, and pose an even greater challenge to law enforcement," she said. "We are seeing more and more cases where we believe significant evidence resides on a phone, a tablet or a laptop - evidence that may be the difference between an offender being convicted or acquitted - but we cannot access it."

Advocates of giving law enforcement a backdoor key include President Obama and FBI Director James Comey. At the Congressional hearing, Suffolk County (Mass.) District Attorney Daniel Conley voiced strong support: "The Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement access to the places where criminals hide evidence of their crimes, once the legal threshold has been met," Conley testified. "In decades past, these places were car trunks and safety deposit boxes; today they are computers and smartphones."

Questioning Motives of Apple, Google

Conley dismissed Apple's and Google's contention that the default encryption they offer on their devices safeguards consumers' privacy.

"Their nominal commitment to privacy rights would be far more credible if they were forbidding themselves access to their customers' interests, search terms and consumer habits, but as we all know, that's not a step they're willing to take," Conley said. "Instead, they're taking full advantage of their customers' private data for commercial purposes while building an impenetrable barrier around evidence in legitimate, court-authorized criminal investigations."

Hess and Conley make a somewhat sound argument. After all, police, with the proper court order, can break into filing cabinets to retrieve evidence. But the rules of the physical world don't always translate well into the virtual one. And other witnesses at the hearing made more compelling arguments for why creating an electronic backdoor is a very bad idea.

"Unfortunately, harsh technical realities make such an ideal solution [a backdoor] effectively impossible, and attempts to mandate one would do enormous harm to the security and reliability of our nation's infrastructure, the future of our innovation economy and our national security," said cryptographer Matthew Blaze, an associate professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. "We just can't do what the FBI is asking without weakening our infrastructure."

Undermining U.S. Cybersecurity

Providing a backdoor would undermine America's cybersecurity. "While the FBI would have us believe that law enforcement alone will be privy to our sensitive data, history demonstrates that bad actors will always be ahead of the curve and find an avenue to manipulate those openings," said Jon Potter, president of Application Developers Alliance, a trade group. "As one well-regarded cryptographer said, 'You can't build a backdoor that only the good guys can walk through.'"

Creating a backdoor could potentially cost the American economy billions of dollars in lost business. Kevin Bankston, policy director of the think tank New America's Open Technology Institute, says a backdoor would give foreign users, including corporations and governments that especially rely on the security of technologies, even more incentive to avoid American wares and turn to foreign competitors. "To put it bluntly," he said, "foreign customers will not want to buy or use online services, hardware products, software products or any other information systems that have been explicitly designed to facilitate backdoor access for the FBI or the NSA."

Encryption Mitigates Risks

But the most compelling argument for retaining default encryption that's beyond the reach of law enforcement is that it makes everyone safer, especially on smartphones. "The vast amount of personal information on those devices makes them especially attractive targets for criminals aiming to commit identity theft or other crimes of fraud, or even to commit violent crimes or further acts of theft against the phone's owner," Bankston said.

"By taking this step for their customers and turning on encryption by default," he said, "mobile operating system vendors have completely eliminated the risk of those crimes occurring, significantly discouraged thieves from bothering to steal smartphones in the first place, and ensured that those phones' contents will remain secure even if they are stolen."

It's an argument that can persuade even the most ardent supporters of law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The subcommittee's chairman - freshman Republican William Hurd of Texas, a former undercover CIA agent and cybersecurity strategist, concluded the hearing by opposing offering law enforcement a backdoor. "I hold everyone in law enforcement and the intelligence community to a higher standard," he said. "Upholding civil liberties and civil rights are not burdens. They make all of us safer and stronger."

No comment yet.!

AT&T finally brings its gigabit internet to Chicago's suburbs

AT&T finally brings its gigabit internet to Chicago's suburbs | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Back in October of last year, we learned about AT&T's plans to launch its 1Gbps fiber network, GigaPower, in cities like Chicago. And today, more than six months after the original announcement, the company's finally flipping the switch in some areas of The Windy City -- including Elgin, Oswego, Plainfield, Skokie, Yorkville and other "surrounding communities." The U-Verse gigabit internet will be available as a standalone service and as a bundle with a cable or phone package, with prices ranging from $90 to $150 per month, depending on your selection. If you're not in any of the aforementioned zones of coverage, fret not -- AT&T says it will be expanding the service across Chicago later this summer.

No comment yet.!

The Apple Store will give you credit for old Android phones

The Apple Store will give you credit for old Android phones | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

If you’re ready to defect to the iPhone from Android or BlackBerry, the Apple Store will welcome you with open arms—and some store credit.

Apple retail stores are expanding their trade-in programs beyond the iPhone and iPad to include “select” smartphones from other manufacturers. Word of the new program first appeared on individual store websites, as spotted by 9to5Mac.

Apple has been offering credit for old iPhones and iPads at its retail stores since 2013. The company also accepts old Apple products and Windows PCs through its Reuse and Recycle website. This is the first time Apple will be offering store credit for Android and BlackBerry phones.

It’s unclear how much you’ll get for these devices compared to other tech buyback services such as Gazelle, NextWorth, and EcoATM. Apple hasn’t posted any trade-in details for its U.S. stores, and Engadget reports that employees some locations aren’t even aware that the program has begun. We’ve reached out to Apple for clarification.

Why this matters: It’s extremely convenient to be able to dump your old phone while getting a discount on a new one, which might explain why all four major U.S. carriers now have their own trade-in programs. Apple is just making sure that its own stores have the same option—especially for users who can’t wait to switch platforms.

No comment yet.!

Microsoft teams up with Samsung to squeeze out Google

Microsoft teams up with Samsung to squeeze out Google | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Microsoft on Monday announced a new and improved agreement with Samsung to pre-load Microsoft Office apps on Samsung's Android tablets.

Plus, Microsoft announced that it had lined up 11 other Android device makers to do the same, including close partner Dell. The apps include Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype.

This follows the agreement Microsoft and Samsung announced last month where Samsung would load certain Microsoft cloud apps on Samsung’s next flagship Android phones, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge. 

This is an interesting way for Microsoft to attack its old nemesis, Google.

Google controls the Android operating system and gives Android away for free to device makers. It makes money on Android from things like integrating search into these devices, getting a percentage when people buy apps, and by encouraging people to use these phones with its other paid services, like Google Apps.

XDA Jeshter2000A leak of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge shows the option of deleting Google apps

While Microsoft won't exactly be cutting off Google's ability to make money on Android, it's got a foot in the door with this Samsung deal.

That's because Samsung seems to be making good on its promise to let people delete unwanted apps from its Android devices.

A leak of the S6 edge on Android developer’s forum XDA on Saturday shows that the pre-loaded Microsoft apps can be removed. Those apps include OneNote (note-taking), OneDrive (storage), and Skype.

But so can the pre-loaded Google apps, including some services typically baked into Android like Gmail, Drive, even Google search.

XDA member Jeshter2000, who claimed to be in possession of an S6 Edge, posted a photo (see picture, right) showing the options to delete Google apps.

And that means, if you so wish, you can turn these next-generation Samsung phones into Microsoft friendly phones, and ditch Google.

No comment yet.!

Where Google went wrong with Glass

Where Google went wrong with Glass | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google botched its wearable, Google Glass, and now the director of GoogleX labs is openly talking about it.

Astro Teller, Google’s director of its research arm, GoogleX, was speaking to an audience at the South by Southwest conference in Austin on Tuesday when he said the company made mistakes with Glass.

Google, according to Teller, needs to work out its wearable’s battery and privacy issues, and address miscommunications about the state of the project.

Google Glass, even when it was being sold to early testers for $1,500, was never close to being ready for official sale. It’s a prototype and still solidly in the experimental phase.

The company, however, did not make that clear, especially when its executives and its PR people were repeatedly putting timeframes on an official Glass release.

Looking back at the Glass Explorer program, Teller said Google did one good thing it launched the project but it also did one thing wrong.

“The bad decision was that we allowed and sometimes even encouraged too much attention for the program,” he said. “Instead of people seeing the Explorer devices as learning devices, Glass began to be talked about as if it were a fully baked consumer product. The device was being judged and evaluated in a very different context than we intended.”

That tactic frustrated a lot of early adopters.

“While we were hoping to learn more about how to make it better, people just wanted the product to be better straight away , and that led to some understandably disappointed Explorers,” Teller said.

While thousands of people bought Glass to become early adopters, or Explorers , the application ecosystem for the product didn’t grow and the project became the target of jokes and waning interest.

“It sounded reasonable to them to have an alpha testing program where, rather than paying the folks testing the product and keeping it secret, they got the testers to pay for the privilege in a kind of a Tom Sawyer scheme, and made the test public,” said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. “Now the product has to dig itself out of a hole that wouldn’t have existed had they done the testing using traditional methods.”

A public experiment

Teller said the Explorer program, which ended in January, was invaluable.

“I can say that having experimented out in the open was painful at points, but it was still the right thing to do,” he said. “We never would have learned all that we’ve learned without the Explorer program, and we needed that to inform the future of Glass and wearables in general.”

According to Teller, Google learned that it has to work out problems with the wearable’s battery and with the privacy issues surrounding computerized eyeglasses that can take photos and short videos.

After the company stopped selling the prototypes early this year, speculation swirled that Google was giving up on the project altogether. Google said that’s not the case, and that Glass was pulled out of the spotlight to be retooled. The device also was moved from under the research umbrella of GoogleX and placed with its own team, much like the teams working on search and Android.

“Google did screw up,” said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research. “The way they talked about it led people to believe it was a finished off, polished product, which it’s not. So by hyping it so much, they set expectations they could not meet.”

Google had the hype ramped up way before it was time, said Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst.

“Google had the sizzle, they just didn’t have the steak,” Kagan said. “This is a perfect example of a company believing their own PR and not paying any attention to the realities that make something hot... This is a very painful and embarrassing lesson for Google to learn. It’s amazing that they haven’t learned it yet.”

Kagan said he can’t see Glass becoming a product anytime soon, but Kerravala said the device still has a good shot.

“Oh, sure they can recover,” Kerravala said. “They’ll have to take a step back but... there’s an expression that if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”

Richard Platt's curator insight, March 21, 2015 4:29 PM
Astro Teller, Google’s director of its research arm, GoogleX, said the company made mistakes with Glass. They needed to work out its wearable’s battery and privacy issues, and address miscommunications about the state of the project.. Even when it was being sold to early testers for $1,500, was never close to being ready for official sale. It’s a prototype and still solidly in the experimental phase. Even though its executives and its PR people were repeatedly putting timeframes on an official Glass release.Teller said Google did one good thing it launched the project but it also did one thing wrong. - “The bad decision was that we allowed and sometimes even encouraged too much attention for the program,” he said. “Instead of people seeing the Explorer devices as learning devices, Glass began to be talked about as if it were a fully baked consumer product. The device was being judged and evaluated in a very different context than we intended.” - That tactic frustrated a lot of early adopters
Tom Bryon's curator insight, March 25, 2015 3:35 AM

"Google had the sizzle, they just didn't have the steak".

Technology will surely experience some form of metamorphosis, Google is pushing another form of wearable technology, possibly we could see this as the mainstream form of communication. It hasn't picked up the momentum it needs yet, but as its usability increases and new needs arise, that may change.

"The device still has a good shot. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”

QindredCam's curator insight, April 1, 2015 3:25 PM

Privacy and battery life; these are two of the key challenges for wearable recording devices.!

Google has delayed its Android encryption plans because they're crippling people's phones

Google has delayed its Android encryption plans because they're crippling people's phones | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google is delaying plans to encrypt all new Android phones by default, Ars Technica reports, because the technical demands of encryption are crippling people's devices.

Encryption slowed down some phones by 50% or more, speed tests show. 

In September 2014, Google — along with Apple — said that it planned to encrypt all new devices sold with its mobile OS by default. This means that unless a customer opted out, it would be impossible for anyone to gain access to their device without the passcode, including law enforcement (or Google itself).

This hardened stance on encryption from tech companies came after repeated revelations about the NSA, GCHQ and other government spy agencies snooping on ordinary citizens' data.

Default encryption has infuriated authorities. One US cop said that the iPhone would become "the phone of choice for the paedophile" because law enforcement wouldn't be able to access its contents. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has floated the idea of banning strong encryption altogether — though the proposal has been slammed by critics as technically unworkable.

Apple rolled out default-on encryption in iOS 8 back in September. Google's Android Lollipop system was first released in November — but because the phone manufacturers, rather than Google itself, are responsible for pushing out the update, it can take months for a new version of the OS to reach the majority of consumers.

But as Ars Technica reports, Lollipop smartphones are now finally coming to the market, and many do not have default-on encryption. So what's the reason? The devices couldn't actually handle it.

Speed tests show that even Google's flagship phone, the Google Nexus 6, suffers serious slowdown when encryption is turned on. A "random write" test measuring writing data to memory showed that the Nexus 6 performed more than twice as fast with encryption switched off — 2.85MB per second as compared with 1.41 per second with it on. The difference was even more striking in a "sequential read" test to measure memory reading speeds. An unecrypted device achieved 131.65MB/s; the encrypted version managed just 25.36MB/s. That's a third of even the Nexus 5, the previous model, which came in at 76.29MB/s.

As such, Google is now rowing back on its encryption stance. Its guidelines now say that full-disk encryption is "very strongly recommended" on devices, rather than the necessary requirement promised. Users can still encrypt their devices (even if it slows them down), but it won't happen by default.

Google says it still intends to force it in "future versions of Android".

No comment yet.!

How Google's New Wireless Service Will Change the Internet

How Google's New Wireless Service Will Change the Internet | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google says its new wireless service will operate on a much smaller scale than the Verizons and the AT&Ts of the world, providing a new way for relatively few people to make calls, trade texts, and access the good old internet via their smartphones. But the implications are still enormous.

Google revealed on Monday it will soon start “experimenting” with wireless services and the ways we use them—and that’s no small thing. Such Google experiments have a way of morphing into something far bigger, particularly when they involve tinkering with the infrastructure that drives the internet.

As time goes on, the company may expand the scope of its ambitions as a wireless carrier, much as it had done with its super-high-speed landline internet service, Google Fiber. But the larger point is that Google’s experiments—if you can call them that—will help push the rest of the market in the same direction. The market is already moving this way thanks to other notable tech names, including mobile carrier T-Mobile, mobile chipmaker Qualcomm, and serial Silicon Valley inventor Steve Perlman, who recently unveiled a faster breed of wireless network known as pCell.

At the moment, Google says, it hopes to provide ways for phones to more easily move between cellular networks and WiFi connections, perhaps even juggling calls between the two. Others, such as T-Mobile and Qualcomm, are working on much the same. But with the leverage of its Android mobile operating system and general internet clout, Google can push things even further. Eventually, the company may even drive the market towards new kinds of wireless networks altogether, networks that provide connections when you don’t have cellular or WiFi—or that significantly boost the speed of your cellular connection, as Perlman hopes to do.

Richard Doherty—the director of a technology consulting firm called Envisioneering, who is closely following the evolution of the world’s mobile networks—points out that the carriers still have clout of their own, and that in many cases they will push to keep wireless networking as it is. But he also says the carriers won’t stand by if looks like Google will eclipse their services. “Do they really want all this happening on Google, when they’re not getting a penny?” he asks.

‘In the Coming Months’

On Monday, at the massive Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Google big-wig Sundar Pichai revealed that the company will transform itself into a wireless carrier in “the coming months,” confirming earlier reports that it would sell wireless plans directly to smartphone buyers. And true to Google form, Pichai was careful to say that the company isn’t trying to compete with major carriers.

“Carriers in the US are what powers most of our Android phones,” he said, referring to the world of smartphones that run Google’s Android operating systems and all its associated Google apps. “That model works really well for us.”

No comment yet.!

Google backtracks on Android 5.0 default encryption

Google backtracks on Android 5.0 default encryption | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

When the Nexus 6 handset arrived late last year, it came with full data encryption enabled out the box. Google also pushed its hardware partners to do the same at first, but now appears to have quietly changed the requirement with a strong recommendation to enable encryption by default, reports ArsTechnica.

The same site noted performance issues with Google’s Nexus 6 in November, particularly with regards to read and write disk speeds, which it attributed to the encryption. How much of an impact did the tests show? In some cases, the new Google Nexus 6 was slower than the Nexus 5 it was designed to replace, even though the handset had much improved internal components.

Google did say in September of 2014 that the then called Android L software — later to become Android 5.0 Lollipop — would have encryption enabled by default out of the box. New devices with Android 5.0, however, don’t have the security feature enabled: The new $149 Moto E with LTE, is a perfect example. So what’s changed?

According to Ars, Google’s Android Compatibility Definition document is what’s changed; specifically, the section on disk encryption with Google making emphasis on what it recommends:

If the device implementation has a lock screen, the device MUST support full-disk encryption of the application private data (/data partition) as well as the SD card partition if it is a permanent, non-removable part of the device. For devices supporting full-disk encryption, the full-disk encryption SHOULD be enabled all the time after the user has completed the out-of-box experience. While this requirement is stated as SHOULD for this version of the Android platform, it is very strongly RECOMMENDED as we expect this to change to MUST in the future versions of Android.

Essentially, Google has gone back to having encryption as an option for new Android 5.0 devices, not a requirement: They must support it but it isn’t necessary to enable it by default. However, the last sentence in the guidelines indicates that hardware partners should be ready for this to change back in a future version of Android.

From security standpoint, this is a bit of a disappointment. If encryption impacts performance, however, Google has little choice here.

The concern I have is that most mainstream Android users won’t know that they should enable encryption their device or simply don’t know how. My hope is that if Google reduced the requirements due to performance, it finds a way to address the root cause of the issue and then get device encryption back as a default option.

No comment yet.!

Google Launches Cloud Security Scanner To Help Find Vulnerabilities In App Engine Sites

Google Launches Cloud Security Scanner To Help Find Vulnerabilities In App Engine Sites | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google today launched the beta of a new security tool for developers on its App Engine platform-as-a-service offering. The Google Cloud Security Scanner allows developers to regularly scan their applications for cross-site scripting and mixed content vulnerabilities.

Google is obviously not the first company to offer a tool like this, but as it argues in today’s announcement, the existing tools aren’t always “well-suited for Google App Engine developers.” Google also notes that these tools are typically hard to set up and “built for security professionals, not developers.”

To run its checks, Google sets up a small botnet on Compute Engine that scans your site. Requests are throttled to about 15 requests per second, which App Engine should be able to handle without problems.

On its first run, the scanner quickly crawls your site and app to parse the basic HTML code. Then, as Google describes it, it makes a second pass that fully renders the site to look at the more complex parts of the app. Once all of this is done, Google will try to attack your site with a benign payload. To do so, it uses the built-in debugger from the Chrome DevTools, and the tool checks for any changes in the browser and DOM to see whether the injection was successful (and could be exploited).

By using the debugger, Google can avoid false positives, but the team also acknowledges that this means it may miss some bugs. Google, however, argues that this tradeoff is worth it because “most developers will appreciate a low effort, low noise experience when checking for security issues.”

Because the scanner actually tries to populate any field it finds and clicks on every button and link, there is a chance that it will actually activate some of the features on the site it is testing (so it may post a blog comment about how its roommate’s aunt made $9,000 per week last month working from home). To avoid this, Google recommends you either run the scanner on a test site or block some UI elements by adding some custom CSS code to them or exclude some URLs from the test.

Using the scanner is free, but it will impact your quota limits and bandwidth charges.

No comment yet.!

Android Wear update improves Google Fit syncing, squashes bugs

Android Wear update improves Google Fit syncing, squashes bugs | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Android Wear is getting a bump up to version 5.0.2, with some fixes for Google Fit syncing and other all-around housekeeping.

Android Police reports a build number of LWX49K is hitting the LG G Watch and Smartwatch 3, with LWX49L for the Moto 360.

The Moto 360 release notes don’t give us too many more details, indicating an update to Google Play services and a “variety of system optimizations and security updates to improve performance and stability.”

One clue is found in the Android Wear help forums, where Google employee Soji Ojugbele posted Wednesday that an update to Android Wear and Google Play Services would fix the issues with Fit. 

Presumably this update will roll out to other Android Wear watches, it’s just going to be a matter of waiting for it to arrive. If we spot any other feature improvements we’ll be sure to let you know.

The impact on you: If you have an Android Wear watch, this may fix some of the inconsistencies with Google Fit, which turns your wearable into a step counter and fitness tracker. Google Fit isn’t nearly as popular as the fitness platforms developed by Nike, Fitbit, or Jawbone, but it’s a useful enough feature that Google can’t just let any bugs go unsquashed.

No comment yet.!

Apple is now an existential threat to Android

Apple is now an existential threat to Android | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

For the first time ever, sales of Google's Android mobile devices have gone into decline — an astonishing defeat for a product that is given away free to manufacturers. And in the US, iPhone alone now outsells all Android devices, for the first time in three years.

Google ought to be terrified at this news. Apple's iOS operating system for iPhone and iPad is trampling all over the Android world right now. This isn't just an incremental shift in market share.

This is, if left unchecked, an existential turning point for Android and its developers and manufacturers. After all, if you can't win a battle against a product that costs about $700/£550 with a product that's equally good but free, then you're screwed. 

"Defeat" for Android is relative, of course. Apple sold 75 million phones in Q4 worldwide, whereas Android sold 206 million. So Android is still King Kong to Apple's Fay Wray. But Android has never seen a quarter of sales declines. Usually, market share shifts between Apple and Android, but Android always sells more phones. Now Android is selling fewer phones. And iPhone sales continue to spiral upward.

It has never been more depressing to be an Android fan than right now.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

In the official playbook, the iPhone is the phone of the rich, that handful of Western countries where $700 isn't a month's wages. Android is for everyone else — the poor, the working class, the ordinary people. For years, 80% of phones sold have been Android phones. While it might "feel" like everyone in London, New York and San Francisco has an iPhone, the reality is that outside those wealth bubbles it's an Android planet. In country after country, Apple could only muster market share in the single digits.

Android's noble mission

Android's mission is a noble one, too. Google didn't just launch a new phone product. It launched a free mobile computing platform that would let everyone have access to the internet at almost any price-point. Google introduced the Android One in India and other countries for just $100. Xiaomi launched a bestselling Android phone brand in China that looked and felt as cool as an iPhone but for a fraction of the price. While Apple rejoiced at selling 75 million expensive phones, Google wanted Android to get into the hands of the next 5 billion people. Developing countries are buying phones at a rate of 100 million units a quarter, and not because of Apple. That's Android's doing.

iPhone was for the 1%.

But Android was The People's Phone.

The People, however, appear to have had other ideas.

It's not simply the case that one product is better than the other. Android is arguably superior for users — you can do more with it in more flexible ways. Android had NFC payments years before Apple Pay showed up. And Android has a back button! iOS is great but it's also boring — there is only one way to use it. And Apple is about to ship an update to iOS that is focused on "stability" and "optimisation." In plain English, iOS is currently full of bugs and Apple wants to fix them. Remember when Apple shipped that iOS 8 update that prevented phones from making phone calls? That's how "superior" iOS is to Android. 

All that turned out to be irrelevant, however. In Q4 2014, Apple didn't just sell a lot of iPhone 6 units. That was expected: Apple always sells a lot of its newly launched phones in Q4, right after launch. Rather, Apple went a step further and actually stole market share from Android that — according to the playbook — Google should never have ceded.  

What's going on?

One thing that might be changing are assumptions around the role of price competition. The received wisdom is that when consumers are faced with two relatively equal products, but one is priced much lower than the other, then the cheaper product will solidify healthy market share. That iPhones are the most expensive phones on the market suggests that the poor will plump for Android.

But the ABI numbers (above), if they're accurate, suggest we're seeing a situation where even consumers on modest incomes are saving up and buying iPhones. There are very few products where poor people feel compelled to do that — cars and weddings are two of them. Apple is making inroads much further down the economic ladder than it used to, perhaps.

And then there are the manufacturers. Samsung is essentially imploding. For years it sold big-screen phones and took advantage because Apple only sold small screens. They were great phones, but those days are over. Now, Samsung phones — filled with self-promotional Samsung bloatware — don't look so good by comparison to iPhone 6.

Xiaomi has "forked" Android and is making its own great models — but they're only available in some Asian countries. Competing Android system developers like Cyanogen and Amazon are working to end Google's stewardship of the system.

Android is in disarray

StatistaDon't believe that strategic decisions about mobile platforms are important? Consider that it only took a couple of years for iPhone and Android to wipe BlackBerry off the map.

Android is in disarray, in other words. It has never faced so many threats from without and within. If Google makes the incorrect strategic decision about the direction of Android over the next five years, then it will be in serious trouble.

One hesitates to write Android's obituary, of course. Google really is intent on bringing the next billion people online (and Facebook is helping the company do it). For those people, people who are on a dollar a day or more but who need to be online, the iPhone may well be out of reach. Earth may once again become the Android Planet, and iOS may revert to its default status as the Rolls Royce of computer operating systems, used by people who think that having two cars, two televisions, and two showers a day is completely typical human behaviour.

But Apple has proved one major fact that Google must now accept: The reach of iPhone will be far greater than previously thought, and simply being the cheap/adequate alternative may not be good enough.

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Apple and Google ask Obama to leave smartphone security alone

Apple and Google ask Obama to leave smartphone security alone | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

FBI director James Comey has asked Congress for help getting around the upgraded encryption on Apple's smartphone, something he believes is creating too high a hurdle for law enforcement. It's not clear if his calls for new legislation have much chance for success, but they are clearly causing ripples in Silicon Valley. In a letter obtained by The Washington Post, tech heavyweights like Apple and Google call on President Obama to reject any new laws that would weaken security.

Better domestic surveillance is not an easy sell

There have been laws kicking around Congress for a while that would create the kind of backdoors Comey and other security hawks have been pushing for. CALEA II is one such bill, but it trips over all the outsized fears about government surveillance that the public has long held, even more so in the wake of Edward Snowden and revelations about just how much of our everyday communication is being vacuumed up by the NSA.

As we wrote back in October of 2014, that means "Comey's left exactly where we started, making ominous noises and generating headlines favorable to the FBI, but not actually doing anything. It's a bluff, a way to nudge public opinion without committing the bureau to anything. This isn't a crypto war — it's a pageant."

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Google's making high-res video on Chrome suck less

Google's making high-res video on Chrome suck less | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Trying to make YouTube's new super-high-res 4K 60fps video work? Good luck with that! Not only does such video require very fast internet, but also a super-charged computer. Google's new VP9 video codec helps with the connection speed part, but to make 4K60p, regular 4K or 1080p60 videos play with fewer hiccups, it's built a new video rendering algorithm for Chrome. To try it out, you'll need to set a flag in the latest experimental Chromium build, as detailed in Googler Francois Beaufort's post. That said, an Intel Celeron-equipped PC from 2007 probably still won't cut it. To put your own machine to the test, try the UltraHD 60fps video below and let us know how that goes.

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Google bursts into the wireless industry

Google bursts into the wireless industry | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google wants to be your wireless carrier.

The search giant on Wednesday announced its long-anticipated wireless service in the United States, called Project Fi.

Google hopes to stand out by changing the way it charges customers. Typically, smartphone owners pay wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon a bulk rate for a certain amount of data. Google says it will let customers pay for only what data they use on their phones, from doing things like making calls, listening to music and using apps, potentially saving them significant amounts of money.

For now, the program is invite-only and will only be available on Google's Nexus 6 smartphone.

"It's important that wireless connectivity and communication keep pace and be fast everywhere, easy to use, and accessible to everyone," Nick Fox, vice president of communications products at Google, said in a statement.

Google's new wireless service represents a shift in its efforts to remake the wireless industry. The company began in 2005, when it purchased the nascent Android mobile phone software, and began giving it away to handset makers like Samsung, LG and Lenovo. Competitors, like Microsoft, typically charged for their software. The plan worked: Today, Android powers more than 80 percent of the world's smartphones, and commands significant influence in the wireless industry.

The next step for the search giant is to expand into how the cellular and wireless connections themselves are delivered to you.

Google said it would offer one plan at one price. For $20 a month, you get voice, text, Wi-Fi tethering and international coverage in more than 120 countries. Then it's $10 per gigabyte per month. But if you don't use all of the data you bought, Google refunds you for what you didn't use. Their service won't require an annual contract.

Google isn't just offering a different way to charge customers. It will also offer a new technology to allow users to switch between cellular and Wi-Fi signals while on a call. The nascent technology will help Google to keep costs down, and help customers avoid relying on cellular networks that are often overburdened by wireless traffic. The program will also store your phone number on Google's servers, so yo'll be able to use your number to talk and text from a phone, tablet or laptop.

Google isn't building its own wireless network to do this. Instead, the Internet giant has made a deal with US carriers Sprint and T-Mobile to use their networks.

"We are proud to enable Google's entry into the wireless industry as a service provider," Sprint said in a statement.

Still, for wireless companies, Google's entrance to the market could be worrisome. Google, with its financial resources and influence, has the power to shake up the entire industry.

When Google product chief Sundar Pichai confirmed the wireless service in February, he sought to reassure the carriers. He said Google's wireless service was meant to be a small scale experiment. Google's rationale is said to be trying to innovate new practices and pricing models, and trying to get the wireless industry at large to follow suit.

"I think it will be a small market initially, but I have to believe [the carriers] going to be watching it closely," said Tim Bajarin, president of tech research firm Creative Strategies.

Google is the highest-profile company to do this, but it's not the only company that will offer this kind of service. Republic Wireless, a small North Carolina-based wireless company, will offer a similar service this summer.

Google has been dipping into the Internet access business in other ways too. The company began taking on the home-and-business Internet service providers in 2010 with a project it calls Google Fiber. The a service offered Internet connections to people's homes in cities like Kansas City and Austin for much less than larger rivals Comcast, AT&T and Verizon charge.

Google is also hoping to bring its service efforts to developing countries. The company has been building a way to beam Internet connectivity to rural populations via high-flying balloons with a project called Loon. Google is also experimenting with satellites for the same purpose.

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Acer to bring Chrome OS to an all-in-one PC, as vendors experiment

Acer to bring Chrome OS to an all-in-one PC, as vendors experiment | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Desktop devices running Chrome OS haven’t exactly found much traction, but that hasn’t stopped Acer from developing an all-in-one PC built for the Google operating system.

On Wednesday, Acer announced its upcoming Chromebase device, just after Google and its partners unveiled a range

of new Chrome-related products slated to launch soon.

Acer’s Chromebase is set to arrive in the second quarter in North America and Asia Pacific. The all-in-one has a 21.5-inch 1080p touchscreen display and an Nvidia Tegra K1 quad-core processor.

Included are a webcam, two speakers, and HDMI and USB ports, in addition to Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. No price was immediately given.

Last year, LG launched its own all-in-one Chrome OS device for $349. Vendors have also come out with so-called “Chromeboxes”, which are basically mini desktops that run the OS.

So far, however, the desktop models haven’t had much appeal, said Tracy Tsai, an analyst with research firm Gartner. Instead, most of the demand has centered on notebooks running Chrome, also known as Chromebooks.

The Google operating system is still a niche player in the market. Last year, about 85 percent of all Chrome devices were sold in North America, and mainly to schools, according to Gartner. Globally, the OS only had a 4 percent share of the mobile PC segment.

That probably won’t charge in the near future, given that customers still favor Windows, and Chrome OS only supports a limited number of applications, Tsai said. But even in the desktop space, vendors will still try to experiment with Chrome OS.

“The vendors always want to find any possibility to grow the market segment, and perhaps the all-in-one will find a place in schools,” she added. “Students may want a bigger screen to work with.”

Google seems to also have that in mind. The company has worked with Asus to come out with Chromebit, a thumb drive with a computer inside that can run the OS.

The Chromebit is made to be plugged into a TV or monitor, and the device will be priced less than $100. “It’s the perfect upgrade for an existing desktop and will be really useful for schools and businesses,” Google said in a blog posting.

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Google may have quietly launched a new Android feature that locks your phone if you're not holding it

Google may have quietly launched a new Android feature that locks your phone if you're not holding it | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google may be rolling out a new feature to Android that enables your phone to lock itself if it's not in your hand or your pocket, according to a new report from Android Police (via 9to5Google). It sounds as if your phone needs to be running Android 5.0 Lollipop or higher for the feature to work.

The phone would be able to detect whether it is in your hand through its accelerometer — a chip used to detect motion. If the accelerometer senses that you have placed your phone on a table, it would automatically lock.

You can already set your phone to lock a few seconds after the screen shuts off in Android, but the new feature makes it so that you do not have to remember to turn off the screen.

If you hand the phone to someone else while it is unlocked, the phone will remain unlocked because it can't tell who is holding the phone. The feature is called "on-body detection," and Android Police's tipster first noticed it on a Nexus 4 running Android 5.0.1, though it has also been seen on non-Nexus devices. 

It is another effort by Google to prevent phone theft in Android — earlier this month, the company announced a new Android feature called Device Protection, which launches with Android 5.1. This enables your phone to stay locked until you sign in with your Google account, even if the phone is reset to its factory settings. 

Google seems to be experimenting with different authentication methods with its newest version of Android. When Android 5.0 was announced at Google I/O in May, the company showed off a feature that automatically unlocks your device if you're wearing an Android Wear smartwatch paired to the device.  

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More than 1,200 popular Android apps still vulnerable to FREAK

More than 1,200 popular Android apps still vulnerable to FREAK | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

A total of 1,228 Android apps that have been downloaded 6.3 billion times from the Google Play store are still vulnerable to the FREAK bug, according to network security company FireEye.

Research published Tuesday by the company shows just how vulnerable both Android and iOS apps still are to a FREAK attack.

FREAK is a cryptographic weakness that permits attackers to force data traveling between a vulnerable website or operating system to servers to use weak encryption protocols. If combined with a so-called man-in-the-middle attack, the data could theoretically be intercepted and cracked as the user is unwittingly using a lower level of encryption than believed.

According to FireEye, as of March 4, both of the latest Android and iOS platforms are vulnerable to the security issue. As FREAK is both a platform vulnerability and an app vulnerability, even after Google and Apple issued patches, apps may still be vulnerable when connecting to servers that accept RSA_EXPORT cipher suites.

FireEye says this is why some iOS apps are vulnerable even after Apple patched the FREAK vulnerability in iOS earlier this month.

Researchers Yulong Zhang, Hui Xue, Tao Wei and Zhaofeng Chen crawled through the Google Play app store to determine how severe the FREAK vulnerability still could be. The team scanned a total of 10,985 popular apps with over one million downloads each -- and discovered that 11.2 percent of them, 1,228 apps in total, are still vulnerable to the bug because they "use a vulnerable OpenSSL library to connect to vulnerable HTTPS servers."

In total, 664 of these apps use Android's bundled OpenSSL library and 554 rely on custom libraries.

When it comes to iOS apps, the security researchers claim that 771 out of 14,079 -- 5.5 percent -- of popular iOS apps connect to vulnerable services and, therefore, are vulnerable to FREAK attacks on iOS versions below 8.2, which has been patched. In addition, seven of these 771 apps have their own vulnerable versions of OpenSSL and they remain vulnerable on iOS 8.2.

"Without necessarily breaking the encryption in real time, the attacker can record weakly encrypted network traffic, decrypt it and access the sensitive information inside," FireEye said.

For example, a FREAK attack on a shopping app could be used to steal login credentials and credit card information. In addition, "medical apps, productivity apps and finance apps" may also be vulnerable.

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Apple, Android Prep 'Freak' Fix

Apple, Android Prep 'Freak' Fix | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Numerous Apple and Android devices, as well as websites, are vulnerable to a serious flaw, which an attacker could exploit to subvert secure Web connections. The flaw exists in SSL and TLS and results from the ability to force crypto suites to downgrade from using a "strong" RSA cipher to a weaker, "export-grade" RSA cipher.

The researchers who discovered the vulnerability have dubbed it "Freak," for "Factoring RSA-EXPORT Keys," and warn that it can be used to crack a cipher key and then impersonate legitimate sites - such as the public-facing National Security Agency website - to vulnerable clients. In some cases it could also be used to hijack third-party tools, such as the Facebook "like" button functionality, and inject JavaScript into vulnerable clients and steal passwords.

"In case you're not familiar with SSL and its successor TLS, what you should know is that they're the most important security protocols on the Internet," Johns Hopkins University cryptographer Matthew D. Green says in a blog post. "In a world full of untrusted networks, SSL and TLS are what makes modern communication possible."

Security researchers warn that the flaw exists in versions of OpenSSL prior to 1.0.1k, and affects all Android devices that ship with the standard browser, although they say Google Chrome is immune. The flaw also exists in Apple TLS/SSL clients, which are used by both Mac OS X clients, as well as iOS mobile devices. The vulnerability has been designated as CVE-2015-0204.

Researchers say it's not clear how many users, devices or websites are vulnerable to the Freak flaw, or if it has yet been exploited in the wild. But 6 percent - or 64,192 - of the world's 1 million most popular websites (as ranked by Web traffic monitoring subsidiary Alexa) are currently vulnerable to the flaw, according to the Tracking the Freak Attack site, which is run by researchers at the University of Michigan, and can be used to check if clients are vulnerable to Freak attacks.

Researchers from French computer science lab INRIA, Spanish computer lab IMDEA and Microsoft Research have been credited with discovering the flaw and detailing how it can be exploited. "You are vulnerable if you use a Web browser that uses a buggy TLS library to connect, over an insecure network, to an HTTPS server that offers export ciphersuites," they say. "If you use Chrome or Firefox to connect to a site that only offers strong ciphers, you are probably not affected."

In recent weeks, the researchers - together with Green - have been alerting affected organizations and governments. Websites such as,, and - which implements the Facebook "like" functionality - were vulnerable to related attacks, but have now been fixed, Green says. But he notes that numerous sites, including the public-facing website, remain vulnerable.

Apple, Google Prep Patches

Apple tells Information Security Media Group that it is prepping a patch, which it plans to release next week. OpenSSL released a related patch in January, and content delivery networks - such as Akamai - say they've either put fixes in place or will do so soon.

While Google didn't immediately respond to a related request for comment, a spokeswoman tells Reuters that the company has already prepped an Android patch and distributed it via the Android Open Source Project to its business partners. She notes that it's now up to those businesses - which include such equipment manufacturers as Samsung, HTC, Sony, Asus and Acer - to prep and distribute patches to their customers. But while some OEMs have a good track record at prepping and releasing patches in a timely manner, others delay, or never release patches.

Businesses and users should install related patches as quickly as possible, says information security consultant and SANS Institute instructor Mark Hofman in a blog post. "To prevent your site from being used in this attack you'll need to patch OpenSLL - yes, again. This issue will remain until systems have been patched and updated, not just servers, but also client software," he says. "Client software should be updated soon - hopefully - but there will no doubt be devices that will be vulnerable to this attack for years to come - looking at you Android.

Crypto Wars 1.0 Legacy

Experts say that the Freak flaw is a legacy of the days when the U.S. government restricted the export of strong encryption. "The SSL protocol itself was deliberately designed to be broken," Green says, because when SSL was first invented at Netscape, the U.S. government regulated the export of strong crypto. Businesses were required to use the relatively weak maximum key length of 512 bits if they wanted to ship their products outside the country.

While those export restrictions were eventually lifted, and many developers began using strong crypto by default, the export-grade ciphers still linger - for example in previous versions of OpenSSL - and can be used to launch man-in-the-middle attacks that force clients to downgrade to the weak crypto, which attackers can crack. "The researchers have identified a method of forcing the exchange between a client and server to use these weak ciphers, even if the cipher suite is not 'officially' supported," Hofman says.


The researchers who discovered the Freak flaw have published a proof-of-concept exploit on the SmackTLS website, demonstrating a tool they developed, together with a "factoring as a service" capability they built and hosted on a cluster of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud - EC2 - servers. The exploit was first used against the website. "Since the NSA was the organization that demanded export-grade crypto, it's only fitting that they should be the first site affected by this vulnerability," Green says. Cracking the key for the website - which, it should be noted, is hosted by Akamai - took 7.5 hours, and cost $104 in EC2 power, he adds. Were the researchers to refine their tools, both the required time and cost to execute such attacks would likely decrease.

The researchers have reportedly been quietly sounding related alerts about the Freak flaw in recent weeks to vulnerable governments and businesses, hoping to keep it quiet so that patches could be rolled out in a widespread manner before news of the flaw went fully public. But The Washington Post reports that Akamai published a blog post on March 2, written by its principal engineer, Rich Salz, which brought attention to the problem sooner than the researchers had hoped.

Still, the Freak flaw has existed for well over a decade, and follows the 2014 discovery of such new "old" bugs as Heartbleed, POODLE and Shellshock, which existed for years before being found.

Moral: Encryption Backdoors

In the post-Snowden era, many technology giants have moved to use strong encryption wherever possible, in part to assuage customers' concerns that the NSA could easily tap their communications. Apple and Google also began releasing mobile devices that use - or could be set to use - strong crypto by default. And many U.S. and U.K. government officials have reacted with alarm to these moves. Often citing terrorism and child-abuse concerns, many have demanded that the technology firms weaken their crypto by building in backdoors that government agencies could access.

But Green says the Freak flaw demonstrates how any attempt to meddle with strong crypto can put the user of every mobile device, Internet browser or website at risk. "To be blunt about it, the moral is pretty simple: Encryption backdoors will always turn around and bite you ..." he says. "They are never worth it."

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Samsung loses smartphone crown to Apple - CNET

Samsung loses smartphone crown to Apple - CNET | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Apple scored the highest percentage of smartphone sales in the fourth quarter, courtesy of its new iPhones, according to a Gartner report released Tuesday.

For the final quarter of 2014, Apple took home a 20.4 percent share of worldwide smartphone sales, up from 17.8 percent during the same quarter in 2013. Over the same period, Samsung's share of the smartphone market, on sales of 73 million units, plummeted to 19.9 percent from 29.5. percent.

Last quarter, Apple sold 74.8 million iPhones to achieve its best quarter ever, Gartner said. Apple's phone lineup, now led by the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, enjoyed heavy demand in the US and China, where sales surged 88 percent and 56 percent, respectively, according to Gartner. The new iPhones spurred many existing owners to upgrade but also convinced buyers looking for big-screened phones to consider Apple as an alternative to Android.

In January, researcher Strategy Analytics had described the fourth-quarter standings as a tie between Samsung and Apple, with both at 20 percent of the global smartphone market. But the momentum was the same -- Apple trending upward and Samsung on the downswing.

Apple's record quarter was a definitive sign that the move to bump up the display size of its smartphone paid off. The company had been losing market share and sales to Samsung, which offered larger-screened phones such as the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note. But the iPhone 6 wasn't the only factor that helped Apple score the top spot. Samsung has also been hit on the low end by budget-friendly smartphones from Chinese vendors such as Xiaomi.

"Chinese vendors, such as Huawei and Xiaomi, are continuing to improve their sales in China and other overseas markets, increasing their share in the mid to low-end smartphone market," Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner, said in a press release. "Chinese vendors are no longer followers. They are producing higher quality devices with appealing new hardware features that can rival the more established players in the mobile phone market."

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Ikea is launching a new line of furniture that can charge your phone without wires

Ikea is launching a new line of furniture that can charge your phone without wires | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Ikea announced Sunday at Mobile World Congress it is introducing its first furniture line that offers wireless charging for phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

Ikea’s furniture, which it calls its “Home Smart” line, will integrate the popular Qi wireless charging technology into special “charging pads” on the furniture. People will then be able to buy and assemble the furniture and leave their Qi-supported devices on those pads for a quick battery charge. 

Smartphones that don’t support Qi will be incompatible with this furniture. The Qi wireless charging technology is controlled by the Wireless Power Consortium, which boasts 200-plus members including Samsung, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, HTC, Verizon Wireless, and others.

More than 80 different smartphones offer support for Qi, which is currently the most used wireless charging standard in the world. It works thanks to embedded magnetic coils that generate a small electromagnetic field — smartphones and tablets that support Qi then convert this field into energy to replenish the device’s battery.

Ikea says it will launch this new furniture line, which will include desks, lamps and bedside tables, in North America and Europe in April. 

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Time to Ban the 'Bloatware'

Time to Ban the 'Bloatware' | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

What will it take to make hardware manufacturers ditch "bloatware"?

That's one of the more charitable names for the software that so many manufacturers - Apple and Google being notable exceptions - preinstall on the devices they sell. Such software includes screensavers, toolbars, utilities or even Superfish Visual Discovery. That's the adware that Lenovo, the world's biggest PC manufacturer, was preinstalling on many of its consumer laptops until earlier this month, when security experts - including the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team - began warning that the software poses an information security risk to users.

 Manufacturers should be obliged to offer the option of buying all PCs as a bare-metal option, i.e. with no operating system preinstalled. 

The practice of adding bloatware - a.k.a. junkware or trialware - to PCs is common, Microsoft says, warning that such software may "slow down your computer and junk up your Start screen or desktop." That's why Microsoft in 2012 began selling "Signature" Windows systems that come with a vanilla version of Windows, with no such bloatware or trialware preinstalled, for the added price of just $99.

And therein lies the bloatware flaw: Too often, such software isn't designed to make life easier for paying customers, but rather operates at their expense. Indeed, some users reported that it took them days to track down odd behavior on their PC to the Superfish software, which was relatively hidden on their device, and which can be difficult to fully eradicate.

As the Superfish saga has unfolded, with Lenovo apologizing and saying it "messed up," you might think the company would distance itself from bloatware and offer customers the choice of a "clean" install of Windows. "Manufacturers should be obliged to offer the option of buying all PCs as a bare-metal option, i.e. with no operating system preinstalled," says Rik Ferguson, vice president of security research for security software vendor Trend Micro, and a cybersecurity adviser to Europol, which is the association of European police agencies.

"Not only would this reduce cost to the user, it would also increase freedom of choice of operating system and hand full control back to the owner of the device," he says.

Lenovo Promises Listening Sessions

But Lenovo's chief technology officer, Peter Hortensius, tells the The Wall Street Journal that "in general, we get pretty good feedback from users on what software we preinstall on computers."

Hortensius paints a picture of customers clamoring for more of these add-ons. "What we're going to do in the next few weeks is dig deeper, and work with users, industry experts and others to see how we can improve what we do around software that comes installed on consumers' computers," he says. "The outcome could be a clearer description of what software is on a user's machine, and why it's there."

Likewise, Lenovo spokeswoman Wendy Fung tells me Superfish was preinstalled "in our effort to enhance our user experience." But that's false logic. When Apple, for example, wants to improve its Mac OS X user-experience design, does it preinstall software that alters the images displayed in search results, even for supposedly secure HTTPS pages? That's what Superfish Visual Discovery was designed to do.

Fung also confirms that Lenovo received compensation from Superfish to preinstall its software, although it claims it wasn't a "financially significant" arrangement.

But following the bloatware money suggests a lot - including manufacturers taking advantage of consumers and small businesses who don't know better. One defense of PC manufacturers' bloatware practices could be that their profit margins are razor-thin, and that unless consumers want to pay more, they should expect to see privacy or even security tradeoffs. Consumers, however, aren't being clearly presented with that choice.

Can Bloatware Be Battled?

Unfortunately, it's not clear how we might rid the world of bloatware. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission could get involved and investigate bloatware-bundling practices, per its ability to police "unfair or deceptive acts." So far, one U.S. lawsuit has been filed that takes aim at Lenovo having preinstalled Superfish. In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, the Information Commissioner's Office, which enforces EU privacy protections, says it's planning to demand Superfish-related answers from Lenovo.

With luck, sharp questions from regulators and Lenovo's Superfish debacle will lead more manufacturers to rethink their business practices, and begin offering consumers a clean install. But too many will likely just default to offering the same old raw deal.

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Google, Facebook, and Amazon Have Forever Changed Computer Networking

Google, Facebook, and Amazon Have Forever Changed Computer Networking | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google, Facebook, and Amazon don’t sell networking switches. And they never will. But they’ve forever changed the way others sell them.

Networking switches are those things that send data across the massive data centers that drive the internet and the world’s private computer networks. Traditionally, big American companies like Cisco and Juniper dominated the switch market, selling rather expensive hardware that ran their own proprietary software.

But as Google, Facebook, and Amazon expanded their online operations to unprecedented sizes, the traditional gear didn’t really suit them. It was too expensive and too difficult to program. So they went to Asia for a simpler breed of networking hardware.

Basically, they arranged to run their own custom software on gear built by Asian manufacturers. At first, they kept these efforts on the down-low. And many dismissed the practice as something only the giants of the net would ever do. But now, the market is following suit.

Today, venerable hardware seller HP announced that it’s now selling “bare metal” networking switches—basic gear that anyone can load with their own software. That may seem like small news, but it represents an enormous shift in the hardware market. HP is following in the footsteps of both Juniper and Dell, another major hardware seller, in offering such switches.

“It’s all happening much faster than I thought,” says JR Rivers, the CEO of Cumulus Networks, a startup offering software for running box switches—software that will also be offered by HP.

For a brief time, Rivers helped design networking switches inside Google, and now, he’s directly pushing the same basic ideas to the rest of the market. Dell also sells the company’s software, which is based on the Linux open source operating system. Google built switches that it could load with its own networking software and modify as need be, and Cumulus lets companies do much the same.

Just last week, Facebook revealed that it’s now using its own switches and its own software inside its data centers. And Cisco downplayed the news. “Eight of the 10 largest Internet companies in the world are Cisco customers,” it said in a statement sent to WIRED. “Facebook has unique requirements that they are addressing with their own development.”

But the idea behind Facebook’s gear is hardly unique.

It’s not a complicated idea. It’s the same model that PCs and computer servers have used for so long, and it only makes sense. The hardware and the software are separate, and you can mix and match and modify as you see fit. It’s just that in the networking world, the idea was long overdue.

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Add-on lens could boost workplace apps for Google Glass

Add-on lens could boost workplace apps for Google Glass | IT Support and Hardware for Clinics |

Google Glass may have been pulled from the consumer marketplace, but one team of researchers is still trying to improve it for workplace applications.

Jibo He and Barbara Chaparro of Wichita State University in Kansas have developed an optical lens that dramatically expands the field of view for the camera on Glass.

The attachment, called Google Lens, can boost the camera view from 54.8 degrees horizontally and 42.5 degrees vertically to 109.8 degrees and 57.8 degrees, respectively, according to the researchers.

“The current Google Glass has a limited field of view, which reduces its applications in professional settings,” He said via email.

Google Lens is a simple optical attachment that clips onto the arm of Glass over the camera. It can be fitted with interchangeable lenses including wide-angle lenses.

Apps such as Livestream can turn Glass into a live broadcasting device from a user’s point of view. He and collaborators developed their own app called uSee that’s designed for mobile usability research and two-way communication. It allows remote observers to send text messages that display on the Glass monitor or a linked smartwatch. Users, meanwhile, can tap on the Glass touchpad to mark important events.

By bringing more into the view of the Glass camera, Google Lens could also open up possibilities for workplace applications, according to He. Medical trainees, for instance, could see more when watching the perspective of an instructor via the wearable, and student pilots could look through Glass for an instructor’s view of the cockpit.

Better applications could mean a lot for Glass, which saw the closure of its consumer-oriented Explorer program last month when the device “graduated” from the Google X lab. But the search giant has continued to promote its Glass at Work program, noting that startup Augmedix recently raised US$16 million to make Glass a time-saving device for doctors through an automated note-taking app.

Other medical possibilities for Glass include a trial at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston that involves using the device to provide mothers with a view of babies being treated in the newborn intensive care unit.

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