All posts by Pallab De

Pallab De is a blogger from India who has a soft spot for anything techie. He loves trying out new software and spends most of his day breaking and fixing his PC. Pallab loves participating in the social web; he has been active in technology forums since he was a teenager and is an active user of both twitter (@indyan) and facebook .

Samsung Galaxy S4 Cases Leaked, Suggests SII Like Design

Samsung is the undisputed champion of the Android world, and the only manufacturer that can even come close to the hype and marketing blitzkrieg of Apple. The Korean giant squashed its Android competition with the Galaxy SIII, which helped it solidify its spot as the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer. However, it will be facing stiffer competition this year from the likes of HTC and Sony, which seem to have finally got their acts together.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is set to be unveiled in an exclusive event in New York on March 14. So far, the Korean giant has done well to keep its next flagship under the wraps. It is rumored to have a 5” full-HD (1080p) AMOLED display, with an Exynos Octa 5 (8-cores) processor powering the latest version of Android (Android 4.2 – Jelly Bean). Rumors also suggest that the US kit might ship with Samsung Exynos 5440 (quad core). However, what we don’t know is exactly how the phone looks.

Now, thanks to Mobilefun, we can get some idea about the design and size of the new Galaxy S4. Mobilefun has published snaps of a bunch of Galaxy S4 cases, which we have faithfully reproduced below for your viewing pleasure. The cases suggest a design that is more in line with the Galaxy SII than the Galaxy SIII, which was famously dubbed as ‘the phone designed by lawyers’ by AndroidPolice. The button and port placements are quite similar to its predecessor. The Galaxy S4 will feature the volume control buttons on the left, the power button on the right, the micro-USB port at the bottom, and the headphone jack at the top. The back case suggests the presence of a big camera (reportedly 13 megapixel), LED flash, and a rear speaker.

Samsung-Galaxy-S4-Case-Pictures
Pictures of Samsung Galaxy S4 Cases

Major Developer Exodus: The Untold Story Behind Opera’s Engine Change

As you might have heard by now, Opera Software had decided to dump its own rendering engine in favor of Chromium, which is based on Webkit. While announcing its dramatic shift, Hakon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera, stated that the change will enable Opera to dedicate more of its resources to developing new features. While rumors surrounding layoffs were floating in the air, Opera’s PR refused to comment beyond stating, “We have never had more people at Opera working on our products than right now, and we look forward to contributing to WebKit”. Now, Norwegian IT journal Digi.No has confirmed that leading up to the change, Opera underwent what is probably its most dramatic downsizing operation.

Opera-Presto

Digi.no is reporting that as many at least 90 developers were pushed out of the door over the past few months. Several employees took the severance package before Christmas, including Yngve Pettersen, André Shultz and Lasse Magnussen, who were among the first developers to join the company in the 1990s. Pettersen was in fact employee number 3 in the company that was co-founded by Jon Tetzchner and Ivarsøy Geir. After the new year, several more (Digi.No puts the figure at 50-70) were asked to take the severance package. Most of the affected employees were from the Core team. However, a sizable number of developers were also retained and moved to other divisions (mainly mobile). What is not clear is whether these employees were given the option of picking between working on something else and taking the severance package, or were they simply fired. It’s quite possible that veteran developers voluntarily left the company due to the dwindling opportunity to work on core technologies. Opera’s “Open Web” team, which was tasked with promoting web standards and fixing website compatibility issues also probably contributed to the headcount reduction.

Wilhelm JoysAndersen, who used to manage Opera’s core testing team before quitting last year, is alleging that the situation is far worse than being reported in the press. He believes that the number of people forced out might be close to 200. He also claims that the “morale is at rock bottom, with a number of people leaving on their own” and “those laid off are terrified to say anything publicly”. Opera was once known for housing extremely talented engineers, and managed to lead the way in terms of core-technologies as well as user facing innovations. However, there has been a noticeable exodus of talent over the past few years including the likes of Ian Hickson and Anne van Kesteren. Opera has also lost key executives like Chief Development Officer Christen Krogh, and Chief Strategy Officer Rolf Assev. Although I am yet to hear back from Opera’s PR, Opera’s Håvard Moen has dubbed Digi.No’s report as misinformation.

Interestingly, just days before Opera went public with its engine shift, news emerged that Opera co-founder and previous CEO Jon S. von Tetzchner sold large chunk of his shares in the company for between 180 and 200 million NOK (about 32-35 million USD). He resigned as CEO in 2010 and resigned from his post as strategic advisor in 2011. “It has become clear that The Board, Management and I do not share the same values and we do not have the same opinions on how to keep evolving Opera”, Tetzchner had revealed in his parting email. It’s well-known that Tetzchner was averse to the idea of letting Opera being acquired, but he will no longer be able to singlehandedly sway the board’s decision. Looking at the timeline of events from the outside, one can’t help but wonder whether Tetzchner, a man who placed more importance on values and ethos than cut-throat business, decided to reduce his stake in the company because the Opera that he knew and built is gone forever?

Update: Nils Broström, VP of Communications, Opera Software, issued the following clarification:
“Opera has never had more people working on the end user product than we do today. Shifting technology platform means that we can put our clever people on developing end user benefits and innovations rather than developing and maintaining our own core. This required a lot of people, and with our move to WebKit, our aim was to fill as many of these more product related positions by recruiting internally from our core team.

Included in the 90 are people from various parts of the company, including marketing and sales. Opera has worked with each of these to provide and offer severance packages, so nobody has been laid off in this process, but this was of course somewhat emotional for all of us anyway. We never like to see good people leave, but at the same time, we need to make sure everybody works on what we are focusing on in the future, making the best possible end user product. The move to WebKit is an engineering decision, and the reasoning is that we now can focus on what matters most for our users: really good products.

It’s always sad to loose good colleagues. These guys are very talented, and they will be a great asset in the IT industry, either in Norway, or where they choose to work in the future.”

Opera Ditches Presto, Will Begin Using Chrome’s Engine

Opera Software has never had it easy. Opera has always been the browser that is ignored by most, and loved zealously by a few. Yet, not only has it managed to survive for almost two decades, but has also grown into a profitable publicly traded company employing almost a thousand people across the globe. Today, the Norwegian browser firm announced that it has reached the milestone of 300 million users.

Three hundred million is a major landmark for Opera, which had reached the hundred million mark less than three years ago. However, Opera Software can hardly afford to sit back and relish its achievement. It’s desktop market share has practically stagnated, and its head-start in the mobile segment has been practically nullified by the rise of Android and iOS. Realizing the difficult situation it is in, Opera has done what very few fans and followers could have even imagined. It has decided to completely ditch Presto.

Opera-Presto-Rendering-Engine

Presto is Opera’s layout engine, and one of its prized creations. It has served Opera well. It allowed Opera to promote web standards, push for a faster surfing experience, innovate with advanced developer features, and earn additional revenue through licensing deals. However, it was also turning out to be Opera’s biggest drawback. Developing and maintaining a rendering engine is an extremely complex task. The fact that there are only four modern rendering engines – Trident (Internet Explorer), Gecko (Firefox), Webkit (Safari), and Presto (Opera) — exemplifies this. The fact that Presto had the least market share often meant that developers didn’t test their websites on Presto. The end result was annoying compatibility issues in Opera. Opera Software tried long and hard to tackle the compatibility issue. It created dedicated positions called “Web Opener” to promote cross-browser development practices, and in extreme cases, even fixed website bugs on its own through browserjs. However, with Webkit becoming a de-facto standard in the mobile space, and gaining momentum rapidly in the desktop market, Opera was fighting a losing cause.

This is not the first time Opera is making a big, bold move that few could have predicted. Back in 2005, Opera went from being a shareware to a freeware on the back of a search deal with Google. The move allowed Opera to break out of its niche, and increase its user base from hundreds of thousands to millions. Now, Opera is taking another bold step. Will it work? Or is it too little too late for the browser that seems destined to be forever the little guy.

I believe that Webkit offers Opera a way out that didn’t exist earlier. It’s a shared code base that is being used and improved by multiple entities. Switching to Webkit will free up valuable resources for Opera, as it will finally be able to stop worrying about website compatibility. It will also save Opera the effort of duplicating cutting edge standards that other browsers have already implemented. Yet, I can not help but wonder, how things would have turned out if Opera had open sourced Presto earlier.

Through this year, Opera will be transitioning to the the Chromium rendering engine, and V8 JavaScript engine. We have already seen an experimental browser called Opera Ice, which utilizes Webkit. At this year’s MWC, Opera will be exhibiting another new Webkit based Android product.

While the move to Webkit is undoubtedly the right one for both Opera Software and its users, it’s hard not to feel a tinge of sadness to see Presto go. When it was released, it was the fastest and the most standards compliant engine in the market. It did a lot of good things, for Opera as well as the web. Hallvord Steen fittingly paid homage to the mere bits and bytes that was Presto.

Its software personality was one of surprising brilliance combined with equally surprising shortcomings. It was resourceful, forward-looking and often ahead of its time yet at other times neglectful of even long-stated needs and requirements. It had some hissy fits and temperamental interaction with other software, especially certain plug-ins. Nevertheless it carried out great work and brought the company that cared for it 300 million users, over the years being ported to an incredible number of platforms.

HTC One High Resolution Shot Leaked

HTC will be unveiling its newest flagship smartphone on February 19th, in parallel press conferences held in New York and London. The star of the show will certainly be the smartphone we have been have been reading about under the codename M7.

Last week, FrAndroid suggested that the M7 will retain its name when its launched officially in France on March 8 for €649.99 (about $870). However, @evleaks, a Taiwanese tipster who has been accurate before, is now suggesting that the M7 might be just a codename. The fresh report suggests that HTC will officially unveil the M7 as the HTC One. Evleaks has also obtained a high-resolution press shot of the HTC One, which shows off the 4.7” monster in all its glory.

HTC-One

The HTC One will be powered by a 1.7 GHz Snapdragon processor, and feature 2 gigs of RAM, 32 gigs of internal storage, a 13 megapixel rear camera, and a 2 megapixel front camera. The rear camera is speculated to be using a stacked sensor with ultrapixels that will boast of an extremely impressive f/2.0 aperture. The camera will also be capable of super slow-motion and HDR video capture in 1080p. On the software side of things, it will ship with Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean), and sport the latest HTC Sense 5 user interface. The HTC One will also feature something called “Double HP techno Beats” technology for enhanced music experience.

Carbon for Twitter Arrives on Android with Its Gorgeously Animated User Interface

After teasing us for months, Dots and Lines has finally introduced Carbon for Twitter in the Play store. Carbon made a name for itself on the WebOS App Catalog and Windows Phone Market as a gorgeous, intuitive, and powerful Twitter client for the masses as well as power users. Making the cut in the crowded Play app store will be tougher, but judging from the initial spate of downloads, there’s still room for a carefully crafted Twitter app for Android.

Carbon-Twitter-Android

Carbon for Twitter makes a positive impression the moment you launch it. After a quick splash screen, you are asked to authenticate yourself, and within seconds your Twitter stream is laid out in front of you in neatly arranged cards. Two-finger downward swipe takes you to the bottom of the list, while a similar gesture in the upward direction will take you to the top. Swiping right will take you to the Mentions and Direct Messages screens. There are subtle animations for practically everything you do, and Carbon for Twitter feels alive in a way very few Android apps do. My favorite is the little card tilt animation that Carbon does while jumping in and out of a conversation. In spite of having a beautiful user interface that is livened up with thoughtful use of animations and clever gestures, Carbon feels fluid and fast. None of the lags and momentary freezes that are oh-so-common in Android are present in Carbon.

Carbon-Twitter-Stream

This is not to say that it’s all rosy with Carbon. The first version is understandably buggy, and crashes every once in a while. I have already had to reinstall it once to fix a crash loop. Carbon is pretty feature complete, and includes support for native retweets as well as classic retweets, lists, searches, hashtags, and trends. The Filters feature deserves a special mention, since it’s something I am only used to seeing on desktop clients. You can cleanup your Twitter stream by filtering out content based on people, hashtag, or keywords. However, power users might spot that a few features they are accustomed to using in other clients are absent in Carbon. Sync frequency can’t be changed (it’s either once every fifteen minutes or not at all), the app doesn’t have a widget, integration with third-party url shorteners and image uploaders as well as services like Twitlonger and Tweetshrink is absent, and video uploads don’t seem to be supported at all. Tablet support is also missing at this point. However, this is only the first version. I am sure that M.Saleh Esmaeili, the developer, wanted to get a working version out as soon as possible, and feature enhancements will come later.

Carbon-Twitter-Profile

Carbon for Android was initially supposed to be a paid app; however, since Play store doesn’t support payments in the developer’s country, he decided to release it for free. As of now, Carbon is a completely free app without any in-built advertisement. It’s the most visually attractive and fun Twitter client I have seen on the Android app store. If none of the missing features I listed above are dealbreakers for you, go ahead and take it for a spin. It’s still early days for Carbon, but it has definitely raised the bar for Android apps as far as aesthetics is concerned.

Carbon-Twitter-Conversations

[ Download Carbon for Android ]

Sony Announces ‘my Xperia’ Remote Security Service for Xperia Smartphones

Sony is working on rolling out its own security service called ‘my Xperia’ for its Xperia range of Android smartphones. The new service will be similar to the remote security features offered by Samsung Dive and HTC Sense.

Sony’s my Xperia service will be capable of:

  • Locating your Xperia smartphone remotely, and placing it on a map. If the device can’t be located immediately, you have the option to be notified at your associated Google account once it has been located.
  • You can sound an alarm if the device is misplaced.
  • You can lock your device remotely and display a custom message on the screen.
  • You can specify a contact phone number where the finder can get in touch with you.
  • You can perform a remote wipe to delete data stored in the internal memory as well as the memory card.
  • You will receive confirmation in your Google account once your device has been locked or wiped.

Sony-my-Xperia

The my Xperia service will be available globally in the second quarter of this year. However, a pilot program will be started in Nordic countries in a phased manner over the coming weeks. The pilot program will start with the Xperia Acro S, and new devices will be added later. Users selected to participate in the pilot program will receive a notification in their handset.

While ‘my Xperia’ is rather limited when compared with what some of the other alternatives like Avast can do, it’s a welcome initiative. I only hope that Sony will aggressively push it to ensure that most new users install the service. I have seen too many people waking up to the needs of remote security apps only after their device has been stolen.

LG Optimus L7 II Dual Leaked

LG’s L-series of style conscious smartphones is about to get a new member in the form of a sequel to the L7. The L7 II Dual, outed by a Russian website will introduce dual SIM support, in addition to bumping up the specs.

LG-Optimus-L7-Dual

The L7 II will feature a 4.3-inch IPS display and ship with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) powered by a 1 GHz dual-core Cortex A5 processor of unknown make. On the multimedia side of things, it will ship with an 8-megapixel rear cam with 720p HD recording, as well as a front-cam for video calls. The battery will also be beefed up to 2460 mAH and should offer significantly improved performance. LG’s usual Optimus UX with proprietary apps like Q Memo, and Q Slide will also be present. The phone will come in two standard colors – black and white.

The LG Optimus L7 II Dual is slated to be launched in Russia towards the end of February for $432. With MWC also scheduled next month, we might catch a glimpse of the L7 II in Barcelona.

Microsoft Office 2013 Launched with Cloud Integration

We have already written a fair amount about Microsoft Office 2013, including an in-depth review. However, until now, the latest iteration of one of Microsoft’s biggest money-spinners was available only to a select group of users. That changes today with the public release of Office 2013.

Microsoft-Office

Office 2013 is a significant step forward for Microsoft in more ways than one. The biggest change is not in the product itself, but in how it is sold. In an attempt to counter the threat possessed by Google Apps and other similar cloud based productivity suites, Microsoft is offering a subscription model for Office. Office 365 Home Premium, as the cloud service is being called, will cost home users $10 per month. Users will have the flexibility to turn it off any time they feel like. Alternatively, users can also signup for an annual account, and get access for $100. Office 365 includes all the popular Office tools including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access. Additionally, it also comes with 20 GB of SkyDrive cloud storage and 60 minutes of Skype calls per month. On top of this, the subscription model offers allows access to Office apps on 5 PCs or Macs. If cloud is not your thing, you can purchase individual Office apps for $110, or purchase the Office Home & Student for $140, Office Home and Business for $220, and Office Professional for $400. Each of these installations are restricted to a single PC.

In terms of features, the biggest talking points include support for touch, roaming profiles with documents, dictionaries, and settings being automatically stored in the cloud, and full PDF editing. Check out this list for a brief quick overview of what’s new in Office 2013.

Nvidia’s GeForce Experience Tool Optimizes Your Game Settings Automatically

Unless you are lucky (and rich) enough to own the latest Alienware, squeezing the best out of your rig on new games is an exercise in trial and error. Running latest games at maxed out settings will knock your fps (frames per second) down to single digits, but the preset quality modes often don’t do justice to your hardware. Getting the best possible combination of quality and performance often involves carefully balancing individual aspects like texture quality, reflection detail, and shadow quality.

Nvidia GeForce Experience is a new utility that strives to makes things a bit easier for gamers with a GeForce graphics card. The GeForce Experience software analyzes your system configuration and then recommends and applies the optimum configuration for recognized games. The GeForce Experience project maintains a cloud database of top games and their recommended configurations for various specifications. It can scan through your hard disk to detect installed games and their current settings. The Windows app clearly highlights the differences between your current settings and the recommended settings. It also explains the impact of some of the crucial settings with the help of images from the game.

GeForce-Experience

The GeForce Experience tool is currently in beta, and this shows. The tool picked up Max Payne and Team Fortress installations automatically. However, it missed Trine, Portal, Braid, and The Walking Dead. In its defense, none of these games are graphically demanding by today’s standards or they have simple configuration options. I have a hunch that the GeForce Experience uses the pre-existing GeForce guides, and is actually fairly restricted in terms of games available in its database. It also made a couple of questionable recommendations for Max Payne. It completely disregarded the native resolution and aspect ratio of my display, and it recommended turning off shadows completely. I accepted most of its recommendations and found them to be optimal, but changed the display resolution to match my AR, enabled shadows, and decreased the shader quality a notch (to compensate).

[ Download GeForce Experience Beta for Windows ]

Antigua Government Planning to Open Legal Warez Portal

Legal piracy might become a reality soon, if the Antigua Government goes through with its plans. Antigua has been trying for more than a decade to get United States to repeal its prohibition of cross-border gambling services. Gambling revenues, which forms a significant chunk of Antigua’s GDP, fell from $2,392 million in 2001 to $948 million in 2007 as a result of the US ban. Now, Antigua is looking to fight back by striking at the US entertainment industry.

Antigua Government wants to run a pirate site, which will offer movies, music, and software for free. TorrentFreak is reporting that in a meeting held in Geneva, the World Trade Organization authorized Antigua’s request to suspend U.S. copyrights. This confirmed the preliminary authorization Antigua received in 2007, after the WTO found the Internet Gambling Ban to be illegal. The original ruling had basically granted Antigua a free ride in matters of copyright violations, as well as patent and trademark infringements.

“These aggressive efforts to shut down the remote gaming industry in Antigua has resulted in the loss of thousands of good paying jobs and seizure by the Americans of billions of dollars belonging to gaming operators and their customers in financial institutions across the world,” Antigua’s Finance Minister Harold Lowell explained to TorrentFreak.

Antigua-Piracy

Ideally, the Caribbean island hopes to resolve the dispute before having to open the warez site. However, so far, USA hasn’t shown any inclination to comply with the 2007 WTO ruling. Antigua’s piracy website will be more about registering its protest than causing real harm. Downloaders seeking pirated material already have plenty of sources, including the notorious ThePirateBay. However, that hasn’t stopped music records from going platinum and movies from raking in hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s unlikely that Antigua’s website will.