Startup and Technology News
Last feed update: Saturday December 7th, 2013 05:31:37 AM
Friday December 6th, 2013 04:41:39 PM
Microsoft’s public relations department was on encrypted cloud nine yesterday, riding a wave of high-five press reports for their swift action to protect consumers from National Security Agency surveillance. “We are taking steps to ensure governments use legal process rather than technological brute force to access customer data,” raged Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, writing about revelations that U.S. and British spy agencies are secretly tapping the data flows of top tech firms. Following Yahoo and Google, Microsoft will begin encrypting data in 2014, including services like Outlook, Office, SkyDrive and their signature operating system, Windows. Noticeably absent from their victory lap was any mention of Skype, the wildly popular communication service that has been a favorite target for surveillance. “I agree that Skype’s absence here is extremely interesting and concerning,” wrote the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Kurt Opsahl to us in an email. “Microsoft, as the owner of Skype, has totally failed to be transparent about this and it’s not surprising that users and security experts come to believe that it has something to hide.” A spokesman for Microsoft says that the announcement does “not exclude” Skype; it just wasn’t mentioned because they didn’t feel the need to mention all products. That’s an odd excuse, given that the communication has been headline news for many NSA stories. The Center for Democracy and Technology’s Joe Hall explained to me in an email that real transparency from Microsoft means “demonstrating that independent review from folks respected by the security community have examined Skype’s cryptographic methods and implementation, and said good things about it.” So far, that hasn’t happened. A Microsoft spokesperson declined to address these concerns. “I think Microsoft must be very transparent to make encryption in Skype meaningful,” Hall told me. “That means detailing the way Skype works technically, and demonstrating that independent review from folks respected by the security community have examined Skype’s cryptographic methods and implementation and said good things about it. Hopefully then anointing it as robustly ‘end-to-end.’ (Meaning only the parties at the ends of the conversation have access to the communication).” The real reason Skype likely won’t offer spy-resistant (end-to-end) encryption is because digital communications carry delicious amounts of user data. The who, what, where, and when of our phone calls helps Skype target feature upgrades and advertising opportunities. Lucrative user data is partly why Skype is more than happy to give its service away for free, while
Thursday December 5th, 2013 06:17:26 PM
Ding. Today investors unloaded Microsoft's stock following indications that current Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally won't be its next CEO. Ford board member Edsel Ford II stated that "Alan is staying through the end of 2014," a timeframe that is past the 12-month range that departing Microsoft CEO set to find his replacement.
Wednesday December 4th, 2013 06:55:10 PM
Microsoft's Imagine Cup is one of the world's largest software development competitions aimed at students. Since its launch 11 years ago, more than 1.7 million students have participated in it in some form and this year, there are $1 million in prizes up for grabs. In an effort to make the competition closer aligned to what students need to know to get jobs later on (or start their own companies), the company today announced a number to the competition.
Wednesday December 4th, 2013 02:37:50 PM
Tradition is a beautiful thing. As the world speeds up, goes digital, and eventually airborne, certain traditions keep us grounded throughout the years. One such tradition is tracking Santa across the globe with the NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) Santa Tracker.
This year, the Santa Tracker is much improved (thanks mostly to Microsoft) but without losing the traditional Christmas cheer that we've grown accustomed to.
Tuesday December 3rd, 2013 03:59:20 PM
Microsoft has recognized that people appreciate the chance to make their own stuff, possibly due to the success of PlayStation exclusive LittleBigPlanet, and that's why it created Project Spark, previewed back in June at E3. Spark is an even more freeform game creation engine with a focus on simultaneous game playing and building, which also encourages sharing among friends and family.
Monday December 2nd, 2013 01:00:59 AM
Just ahead of the holiday shopping season, Microsoft ramped up its FUD machine and launched the next phase of its infamous anti-Google Scroogled campaign last week. This time, the company is targeting Chromebooks, Google’s cheap ChromeOS-based, web-centric laptops. Why is Microsoft worried about Chromebooks? Because it can see the writing on the wall. For many mainstream users, the operating system they use is slowly becoming irrelevant, and even though Chromebooks are not right for everyone, they are slowly becoming a real alternative in the low-end laptop market. Most Chromebook distractors will argue that there’s no need to even try to poke fun at these devices. Who, after all, wants a laptop that can’t do anything else but surf the web? Who would even buy one of these things? It’s the platypus of the notebook world, after all. But while most people think of Chromebooks as laptops that can’t do anything else but surf the web and aren’t “real laptops” (an idea Microsoft plays up in its Scroogled campaign), that perception is quickly becoming outdated and that’s why Microsoft has decided to go for the FUD. Microsoft wants you to believe that you can’t do anything with a Chromebook when you’re offline. That’s just plain wrong at this point. Sure, Chromebooks make more sense in an always-on environment (which is where most people use them), but nobody is stopping you from playing Angry Birds while you’re offline. Indeed, while Microsoft specifically calls out Angry Birds as the kind of thing you can’t do on a Chromebook, Google would be more than happy if you downloaded it from its Chrome Web Store and played it offline. More and more ChromeOS apps now work this way, which is great, but if you think about it, how much of what you do on a laptop these days actually happens offline? Unless you really need Photoshop or high-end CAD software or a similarly demanding program, the software you’re probably using most on your laptop is your browser. Microsoft says you can’t play Call of Duty or Age of Empires on a Chromebook, and that’s fair enough. But you’re not going to enjoy playing Call of Duty on those sub-$250 Windows laptops that Microsoft highlights on its Chromebook vs. Windows laptop page, either. There may never be a Microsoft Office for ChromeOS, but there’s a pretty good version of it available on the web courtesy of Microsoft itself. You
Thursday November 28th, 2013 11:57:19 PM
According to Bloomberg, the potential pool of candidates being considered for the role of next CEO of Microsoft has narrowed, at least for the moment. Ford CEO Alan Mulally and current Microsoft executive vice president Satya Nadella are said to be the two front-runners.
Thursday November 28th, 2013 12:03:16 AM
This holiday season, only one of the two major next-gen consoles will feature an out-of-the-box game-streaming solution: Sony’s PlayStation 4. And that streaming feature taps into some powerful trends that should act as an ambassador for the hardware and Sony’s online network. If you’re not familiar with the feature, it’s very simple. The PlayStation 4 controller has a streaming button that you tap at any point while playing a game. From this screen you can upload a clip of your last 15 minutes of play (the console buffers a chunk at all times just in case you do something cool you want to share). But you can also choose to live stream your gameplay, with or without a feed from the PlayStation camera or mic that carries your image or voice. You can also choose to allow comments to be displayed on the screen during your stream. This is all powered by Twitch, the gaming video network born of Justin.tv. You can also use Ustream to send live video, but the majority of gamers I’ve seen are using Twitch. I’m not sure it matters which you use, as the audience is likely coming mostly from your shared links, not the networks themselves. Though this could change if either/or builds special browsing tools that surface new streams faster. While Microsoft has plans to implement game streaming, also via Twitch, those plans hit a snag and the only option available at launch is to save a video and upload it for later watching. You can’t do the same kind of real-time streaming on Xbox One as you can on PS4, at least not yet. Microsoft says that this functionality should arrive early next year. I’ve been testing out the live streaming on the PS4 and it’s a pretty awesome experience. The streaming is incredibly easy to get going. You can sign up for a Twitch account right in the flow and get going. You can share the stream to Facebook or Twitter so that people can hop in and watch, and a channel gets made on Twitch as well. People can comment on your gameplay as you run through Knack or Call of Duty or what have you. There’s something invigorating about having people watch your play in the game live. This partially taps into the ‘let’s play’ movement that’s been gaining steam on video sites like Twitch and YouTube in a
Saturday November 23rd, 2013 01:56:31 AM
Microsoft sent out some Xbox One PR today to various outlets, you may have seen the numbers. Over 1 million Xbox One (our review) consoles sold within 24 hours! That’s pretty good, and far better than the Xbox 360 sold on its opening day, marking a new record for Microsoft. But let’s make sure to put the numbers in perspective. Sony’s PlayStation 4 also sold over 1 million units in 24 hours when it launched around a week ago. So far, the two console giants are neck and neck. However, there’s just one little detail Microsoft fails to mention in its PR: The Xbox One launched in a total of 13 countries, 11 more than the PlayStation 4. Sony’s console launched only in the US and Canada, and will roll out to more regions later on. The Xbox One, by comparison, launched in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Spain, the U.K., U.S., and New Zealand. That’s a lot more territory to only match Sony’s numbers blow for blow so far. The PS4 won’t hit other major territories like the U.K. and Europe until November 29th. Unfortunately, we can’t draw too many conclusions from the numbers because Microsoft makes sure to mention the following: “Xbox One is now sold out at most retailers. We are working to replenish stock as fast as possible to meet the unprecedented demand from our customers.” So, with stock unavailable at ‘most’ retailers, the lack of additional sales could simply be a result of there being no cookies in the jar. People could want Xbox Ones but simply not be able to get them. Sony did not make a mention of selling out of its stock in its release. Also notable: The Xbox One retails for $100 more than the PS4 due to the inclusion of the Kinect motion sensor, so this amounts to more money for Microsoft at this point. I’m sure we can count on some fantastic sounding momentum numbers from both Sony and Microsoft in the days to come. But for now, they both appear to have at least some raw parity of sales numbers. Meanwhile, Nintendo has sold just over 3.9M Wii U units so far this year.
Thursday November 21st, 2013 07:01:48 PM
Looks like the llama may not get off so easily after all. AOL yesterday announced that it was shutting down Winamp, media playing software for Windows and Android devices that it picked up through its $80 million acquisition of Nullsoft in 1999. But today Techcrunch has learned that AOL is talks with Microsoft to sell Winamp, along with Shoutcast, a media streaming service also developed by Nullsoft. We have also learned that AOL has been planning to announce the closure of Shoutcast next week.
Thursday November 21st, 2013 12:15:21 PM
The wheel of fortune symbolism is clear: as Apple prepares to break ground on a new UFO-esque HQ, the former kingpin of mobile is quietly preparing to move out of its own headquarters -- to make way for Microsoft. Nokia will be moving out of its current headquarters in Espoo, Finland, once the sale of its Devices & Services unit to Microsoft goes through in Q1 next year.
Wednesday November 20th, 2013 05:00:08 AM
The final contender in the next-gen console battle has entered the arena. The Xbox One will launch this Friday, 8 years to the day after the 2005 debut of the Xbox 360. As someone who has happily played three Xbox 360s to their red-ringed graves, I couldn’t have been more excited. I spent the past few days living with an Xbox One, watching on as Microsoft shipped its final few last-minute patches and the third-party apps lit up across the store. So how is it? THE HARDWARE The Console: Beauty is a subjective topic, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would say the Xbox One is particularly beautiful. That’s not to say that it’s ugly, mind you — it’s not. It’s just… there. It’s a big, black box. Its materials are a mix of matte and gloss. It has lots of vents. To describe it more richly would be to use needless words. Many a commenter has suggested that the Xbox One resembles a VCR, and those comparisons aren’t wrong. It does look like a VCR, or the box your cable guy might install. Perhaps that was the intent. Microsoft has been pitching this as an all-in-one entertainment box from day one. For better or worse, it seems they’ve designed this box with the intent of it blending in with the aforementioned appliances, rather than having it scream “I AM A GAME CONSOLE!”. Regardless, it’s not very pretty. Looks aside, there’s one thing about the design that I do really love: it’s silent. Perhaps that’ll change as the days go on and the dust bunnies settle — but for now, this thing runs stealth. With that said, people tend to only really care about the way a console looks leading up to its launch, when pictures of the hardware are one of the few things they can really weigh in on. Far more important, however, is… The Controller: The Xbox One controller is absolutely superb. It is, perhaps, the best console controller I’ve ever held. The Xbox 360 controller was already very, very good, but it had a glaring fault or two. Its directional pad was, for lack of a better word, “mushy”, and it only got worse with age and use. The analog sticks lacked any real texture for your thumbs to grip on to, especially when the gaming got tense and the ol’
Tuesday November 19th, 2013 01:25:44 PM
Nokia's shareholders have approved the sale of its devices & services unit to Microsoft at an EGM held today in Helsinki, the FT reports. The transaction is still expected to close in the first quarter of next year, with Nokia in a caretaker role of its own mobile making division until early 2014.
Monday November 18th, 2013 07:16:36 PM
Good morning, super troopers. Out fresh this week is a neat little app from Microsoft Research that turns your Windows Phone into a remote to control Office documents on your PC. Dubbed Office Remote (natch), the app lets you run presentations on screen, or on a projector, say, from your smartphone, so that you can wander around a conference room, bedazzling the audience with your ability to not misspell large words bolded in your title sections. The app works with all forms of Office 2013, except for Office 2013 RT, so if you are rocking the new Surface 2, buzz off. It’s a neat little app that could make your grey corporate life slightly more lively. Via the lovely crew at The Next Web, here’s what the Windows Phone client looks like: You can snag the app here, if you are so inclined. Top Image Credit: Flickr
Friday November 15th, 2013 10:41:50 PM
Nokia's Lumia 2520 tablet will set you back $500 if you want to buy it flat out. AT&T is more than happy to sell you one at that price. Pick it up with a wireless contract, and AT&T will knock $100 off that sticker.
But pick up a Lumia 925, 1020, or 1520 at the same time, and the price of the Lumia 2520 drops to $200. That's an incredible decline in cost. I confirmed with AT&T that the phone itself would be subsidized, but subject "to a second agreement," or contract, so the deal only works if you are ready to pony up for two devices and requisite plans.
Thursday November 14th, 2013 09:44:11 PM
Microsoft, a company that has suffered from a flat stock price since I was in middle school, is in the midst of a surprisingly strong year. A quick scan of its long-term stock chart indicates that the company is trading higher right now than at any time since 2000. It's up 41.93 percent this year, having risen to $37.91 in mid-day trading this fine Thursday from $26.71 at the close of December 31, 2012. So what's going on?
Wednesday November 13th, 2013 09:51:10 PM
The Microsoft internal moves continue, with news out today that executive vice president Eric Rudder (pictured) is leaving his role atop Microsoft Research to instead focus on a perfectly un-parsable role in "Advanced Strategy." The company is mum on what is next.
Wednesday November 13th, 2013 03:30:04 PM
Microsoft today launched the latest version of its Visual Studio tools for developers at an event in New York City. The new version includes a number of user interface improvements, smarter tools for inspecting existing code in its context and support for Windows 8.1 application development. All of these were previously announced and available in the VS2013 RTM release.
Tuesday November 12th, 2013 06:51:32 PM
This morning an internal memo inside of Microsoft detailed a new employee ranking system that will replace former policy. Microsoft's former method for judging performance was widely considered backwards, poisonous, and generally a bad apple.
Tom Warren of The Verge published the memo this morning, and TechCrunch independently confirmed its veracity. A Microsoft spokesperson released the following statement to us: "These changes will encourage greater speed, creativity and teamwork to help us bring innovation to market faster and better serve our customers."
The former system used a method of rating employees that encouraged strong employees to surround themselves with weaker workers to ensure that they would stay at the top of their cohort, with the requisite performance incentives and job security. That's hardly a system that is conducive to strong teams and big new products.
Monday November 11th, 2013 11:08:51 PM
Yesterday, AppleInsider pointed out that Microsoft appears to have made a calculation error in a billboard touting the fact that its Surface tablets ship with the Office productivity set of applications. A math typo in Excel while shouting that Excel is bundled with your new hardware? That would be embarrassing.
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