All posts by Paul Paliath

I founded and regularly wrote blog posts on GeekSmack from 2008 until 2011, when I failed at running a blog. I now write about Microsoft for Techie-Buzz. When not writing blog posts, I'm usually found designing websites and learning how to code. You should follow me on Twitter here.

Microsoft Store India Hack Worse Than Anticipated, Financial Data Possibly Compromised

Remember that nasty incident earlier this month where the online Microsoft storefront in India — whose operation, by the way, was outsourced to a local Indian company called Quasar Media — had their users’ passwords stored in plain text in the database? At the time, it was thought that no serious financial information was compromised.

However, Microsoft has just sent out a new followup email with users of the Microsoft Store India website stating otherwise:

In a previous email on Feb. 12, 2012, we notified you there may have been unauthorized access to some of your customer account information on the Microsoft Store India site (http://www.microsoftstore.co.in) operated by a third party. We suggested you reset your password, among other security precautions, and to contact us with further questions.

Further detailed investigation and review of data provided by the website operator revealed that financial information may have been exposed for some Microsoft Store India customers. So, as an additional precaution, if you used a credit card on the Microsoft Store India website, we recommend the following actions:

Contact your credit card provider and alert them to potential unauthorized access to your account information.
Closely monitor and review your credit card account for abnormal activity, and if seen, immediately contact your credit card provider.
Microsoft is committed to protecting customer privacy and takes this situation very seriously. We understand that you may have additional questions, so we have set up a team of specialists to address any of your concerns. Please call them between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. at 1-800-102-1100.

Thank you,
Chakrapani Gollapali
General Manager, Microsoft India

Scary. Medianama is guessing that that perhaps Microsoft has learned that the hackers somehow breached the payment gateway itself, or that the site was also storing credit card payment credentials in plain text as well.

This is unfortunately a PR nightmare for Microsoft; having to retract a statement assuring customers that their financial data is safe reflects, well, horribly on them. But it’s worth noting that, while Microsoft is partly to blame here, we really need to aim the pitchforks and the riots at Quasar Media, the company that owned, operated, and managed the storefront. If you’re a client of theirs — low or high profile (which Quasar sadly has plenty of) — I strongly urge you to reconsider, lest you have a similar breach. No company that’s incompetent enough to store passwords in plain text deserves any business whatsoever, and we can only hope that Quasar suffers as a result.

ZTE Announces Entry-Level ‘Orbit’ Windows Phone

ZTE has announced that it will be launching an entry-level Windows Phone device — dubbed the ‘Orbit’ — come Q2 of 2012. Taking advantage of the new, lowered hardware requirements and significant performance enhancements to ‘Tango’, ZTE were able to produce such a lower-cost device. While pricing is yet to be announced, we imagine that the pricing will be similar to that of the Lumia 610; priced at 189 Euros, it is Nokia’s low-cost contender that’s tailored to developing markets.

The Windows Phone Marketplace was recently enabled in Argentina, Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru and the Philippines, and will be enabled in Bahrain, Bulgaria, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Estonia, Iceland, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, Venezuela and Vietnam in the coming week.

“We’re broadening and expanding the range of prices that we support so you’ll be able to buy even more affordable phones, in more languages and countries and on more kinds of networks throughout the world,”

Microsoft’s focus on emerging markets with these lower-cost devices is commendable, but it will come at the cost of slight fragmentation. Unfortunately, it appears that 5% of the 65,000 published apps on the Marketplace will not be able to run on these lower-end devices. Nevertheless, perhaps the benefit of being able to bring smartphones to these emerging markets will outweigh the cost of this slight fragmentation.

HTC Confirms Plans To Launch Windows Phone ‘Apollo’ Devices

Speaking to Pocket-Lint, HTC has confirmed that it plans to create and launch Windows Phone handsets that will run the next major OS update, ‘Apollo’, later on this year. HTC mentioned this when Pocket-Lint inquired as to whether or not we can expect a Windows Phone (or multiple of them) to eventually join the ranks of the HTC One Android lineup. Here’s what Kouji Kodera, HTC’s chief product officer had to say when asked:

“For Windows Phone we haven’t decided on the branding yet, but you will see a new range of Windows Phones from us when Microsoft release their new Apollo operating system,”

Interesting. Could this mean that HTC will not have any (or, perhaps, any flagship) Windows Phones to announce at this year’s Mobile World Congress? Should that be the case, they’ll be joining the ranks of LG, who also does not have any devices to announce; and perhaps for similar reasons. HTC’s decision to hold off on creating a “new range of Windows Phones” until Apollo is a clear indication that this update is very major. Could the hardware that the OS will run on be significantly different?

We’ll see. Leading up to the end of the year, information about the mysterious major update is sure to trickle out, little by little.

Nokia Announces Lumia 610, Lowered ‘Tango’ Minimum Requirements Official

Nokia has just announced the new, entry-level Lumia 610. Priced at the low cost of 189 Euros before taxes and subsidies (approximately $255 US), it is now Nokia’s cheapest Windows Phone.

This low price point has been made possible thanks to the (now official), formerly rumored lowered Windows Phone specifications; as we reported earlier this month, a leak of Windows Phone Tango features revealed that Microsoft will be lowering certain hardware requirements to accommodate cheaper phones.

The minimum required amount of memory has been diminished to 256MB from 512MB, OEMs are now required to include a camera of at least 3MP (this is a good thing, they previously didn’t need to add a camera at all), and a lower-performance processor (the minimum here is currently unknown, though the Lumia 610’s is 800MHz, perhaps this is the new minimum). As some apps may not work on these lower-speced phones — and as there are some software differences as well — many, including myself and fellow Microsoft writer Manan are concerned that this will be the beginning of Windows Phone fragmentation.

The Lumia 610 will hit the shelves sometime in Q2 of 2012, and it will be available in Cyan, White, Black, and Magneta. The Verge have managed to get a hands-on with the device, so for a video and some additional photos, their post is worth looking at.

Microsoft Releases Skype For Windows Phone Beta; Final Release Slated For April

The wait is now over for those of you who were eagerly anticipating Skype for Windows Phone; Microsoft has just announced that a beta of Skype for Windows Phone is now available on the Marketplace.

Allowing users to make audio and video calls to Skype contacts over 3G, 4G, or WiFi, along with calls to mobile phones and landlines with Skype Credit, the app has been tested and certified to provide the best possible experience when used on one of the following Windows Phone devices:

  • Nokia Lumia 710
  • Nokia Lumia 800
  • HTC Titan
  • HTC Radar
  • Samsung Focus S
  • Samsung Focus Flash

This is only the beginning for Skype for Windows Phone…it’s just going to get better and better. We see incredible potential to include Skype capabilities in Windows Phone in order to enable a great experience for you.

You may snag Skype on the Windows Phone Marketplace either through the web-based Marketplace, or through Zune. The final version of Skype for Windows Phone is set to be released sometime in April.

 

LG Has No Plans To Announce Windows Phones At MWC

Despite a recent rumor that LG was working on a new Windows Phone — the LG Miracle — it turns out that the company will be exclusively debuting Android handsets at this year’s Mobile World Congress.

Speaking to All Things Digital, LG smartphone unit leader Ramchan Woo mentioned that LG has been experiencing “slower-than-hoped-for” sales of Windows Phone devices. He also noted that the demand for Windows Phones from carriers largely varied; some carriers wanted devices to balance out their Android offerings, while others were still struggling to sell Windows Phone devices.

“Some operators, they ask (for) Windows Phone to balance Android; however, the others, they are (still) figuring out how to sell Windows,” Woo said.

This doesn’t mean the rumored LG Miracle — which allegedly boasts a NOVA 4″ WVGA display, a 720p 4MP camera, a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 8GB of storage, and possibly NFC — will not come to fruition at all. This just means that LG has nothing to share about future Windows Phone handsets at MWC.

Another possibility here is that LG is waiting for the next major Windows Phone update, Apollo, to touch down later this year before launching any serious handsets that run the Windows Phone OS.

Microsoft To Release Visual Studio 11 On February 29

If you’re underwhelmed by the impending swarm of Windows Phone device debuts and news, or Microsoft’s plans to drop the Windows 8 Consumer Preview build, perhaps this additional tidbit will satisfy you: It turns out, Microsoft will also be releasing the Visual Studio 11 beta on the 29th.

Packing a new — albeit colorless — design, Microsoft states this will help prevent distractions, bringing the code to focus. Personally, I find the lack of color to be quite depressing; the last thing stressed coders need is for something to push them over the edge when they’re already emotionally unstable from code that doesn’t compile. They’ve also simplified the iconography.

On top of the aesthetic changes, a number of improvements were also made. They’ve reduced the amount of toolbar commands, added workflow hubs and preview tabs.

For a full run down of the new features, head on over to the official blog post.

Office 15 Has A Touch Mode Toggle

One of the biggest questions surrounding Office 15 right now has to do with just how touch-friendly it will be on ARM devices. We know they aren’t producing a proper Windows 8 Metro App; Microsoft confirmed in an official Building Windows 8 blog post that this is the case, and that we will instead receive a mode of sorts that is “significantly architected” for touch.

ZDNet’s Mary-Jo Foley received a screenshot from a source — likely the same one that supplied The Verge with those Office 15 Technical Preview screenshots — revealing a button that seems to toggle a “touch mode”. According to Mary-Jo’s source, clicking the button in the build as of right now does nothing. It is, of course, an early build, so it’s likely that the touch mode still needs more time in the oven.

That being said, since we don’t know what it does exactly, it’s still hard to determine just how touch-friendly this mode will be. Perhaps, despite not having a proper Metro app, legacy Office will still pack a touch-friendly UI in its pockets, ready to perform metamorphosis on command. I think it’s safe to assume that this mode will be automatically enabled on a Windows on ARM device.

According to MJF’s sources, Microsoft hopes to RTM Office 15 by late 2012. Come the time around the beta, we can likely expect to get a better glimpse of the touch alter-ego in Office 15.

HP Looking To Launch A Windows 8 Tablet For Businesses By The Holidays

On Wednesday during an earnings call, HP CEO Meg Whitman stated that we can expect HP Windows 8 x86 PCs by this holiday season. According to reports, Whitman stated at a small gathering of “entrepreneurs and executives” that HP plans to release a tablet device targeted towards business and enterprise users by the end of the year. Presumably, it will not be an ARM device, but rather a full-featured x86 device.

“It is not really a tablet market, it is an iPad market” exclaimed Whitman. Whether she was referring specifically to the enterprise sector, or to the general consumer sector, she would be right in either case. Surely, HP intends to try to steal away some of that marketshare with x86 Windows 8 tablets for the enterprise, and ARM tablets for average consumers.

She also claimed that iPads and iPhones are currently insecure.

“There is a big trend to BYOD to work; which is all well and good until there is a security breach,” she said, referring to people increasing bringing their own devices such as iPhones or iPads to use on the job.

“We are going to provide an alternative.”

What’s interesting is that she broadly specified “devices”, and mentioned the iPhone in her example. I don’t want to read too far into this quote, but is she hinting at HP possibly making phones — Windows Phones — sometime down the road as well? Perhaps after the webOS flop, they didn’t want to back out of the game entirely. Seeing that Windows Phone does have traction, potential, and enthusiasm, it’s likely that they’re contemplating using it as their next mobile OS platform to complement their Windows 8 tablets.

Smoked By Windows Phone Ignites Into A Digital Ad Campaign

Remember the Smoked by Windows Phone campaign, where Microsoft’s Ben Rudolph headed to CES, challenging smartphone users to tasks to see which phone can complete them the quickest? Starting today, Microsoft is debuting a new digital ad campaign showing off the many victories — Windows Phone won 88% of the time at CES (95% if you factor in the California Smoked by Windows Phone tour) — in 15 to 30 second segments. Among the sites that the ads will be shown on are Forbes, CNET, Entertainment Tonight, Geek.com, and Daily Candy.

Microsoft’s recent, increasingly aggressive advertising approach against competitors has been quite entertaining. What I like — and what I think people will like — about this particular campaign, however, is that, unlike the Gmail man and Googlighting videos, Microsoft is attacking the products of its competitors by showing how their own products are better. The videos attacking Google, however, are exaggerated (but I found them funny, with a true underlying message.)

If YouTube comments are any metric of public reception, the feedback of Smoked by Windows Phone has been far more positive than that of the recent Googlighting video. Also, speaking of YouTube, the videos of the challenges have been viewed over 500,000 times. This is one of the few genuinely cool ad campaigns produced by Microsoft, and it would be cool if they also produced a “Smoked” television commercial. And if Ben goes on a coast-to-coast Smoked By Windows Phone tour.

SkyDrive Isn’t Getting PC-to-PC Syncing

Now, this bit of news will be a bummer to you Live Mesh users out there who are taking advantage of device-to-device syncing: In the upcoming major SkyDrive update that we recently wrote about, Microsoft has no plans to implement this feature when SkyDrive swallows up Mesh. Here’s a comment from SkyDrive team member Mike Torres on the SkyDrive announcement post on Building Windows 8:

We won’t be offering a way to sync between PCs without using the cloud as we’ve found that it adds complexity. Both technical complexity as well as, more importantly, complexity in the overall user model. The SkyDrive model is really quite simple in that it’s “cloud-first” and not “cloud-optional” which means you no longer have to worry about the timing of various PCs being online to sync, or having files that are only available on PCs but not through SkyDrive.com or mobile devices. Conflicts are far less likely as well since the cloud is always “online”. The fetch feature addresses the need to “get back” to stuff that you haven’t put in SkyDrive yet. There are tradeoffs either way, we realize that, but we decided to focus on a simple model and really work to get that right.

It turns out that Mike Torres, Omar Shahine (the SkyDrive guys), and Steven Sinofsky have all been actively answering the questions of curious users on the original blog post. LiveSide has a list of some of the more important things revealed in the comment thread, including a comment where Mike addresses the difference between Microsoft’s intent with SkyDrive, and a cloud backup solution.

While this is an unfortunate feature omission, the SkyDrive update is still huge, and I look forward to using SkyDrive regularly following the release of the desktop clients.

New Office 15 Technical Preview Screenshots Surface

In reaching the Technical Preview stage of development — during which a build is fed to third-party OEMs and partners for evaluation purposes — information leaks are imminent. Tom Warren over at The Verge managed to get his hands on screenshots of the Technical Preview build, giving us an early glimpse of what the software giant is planning for what is now its greatest source of operating income.

Thus far, there aren’t any colossal, noteworthy changes. Understandable, considering that we’re still at an early stage of development where UI changes or features are fairly sparse. One noteworthy change to Office 15 is that now, the ribbon is hidden by default. It’s still there, and can be brought back from hiding by clicking on a “pin” icon, but it’s an interesting design choice. Perhaps they did so to provide the user with more screen estate for the document they’re working on; the ribbon is somewhat hefty.

One new Office 15 feature is the ability to broadcast documents online. Expanding on the “Broadcast Slide Show” feature in Powerpoint 2010, this functionality has been brought to the other Office applications. Basically, you broadcast documents by sharing them online through Windows Live.

UI-wise, by far the biggest change is with Outlook. There, a dash of Metro can be found, as there’s a navigation bar at the bottom that allows you to switch between “Mail, Calendar, People, and Tasks”.

Ultimately, we’ll have to wait until the first beta rolls around to see any noteworthy changes. I’m curious to see what Microsoft are doing to “architect” Office for touch on Windows on ARM. To see the full gallery of Office 15 screenshots, head on over to Tom’s post.

ZTE To Unveil Windows Phones At Mobile World Congress

In a press release sent out today, ZTE revealed their plans to pull the curtains on new Windows Phones. They claim that they are going to be releasing a flagship, quad-core handset, on top of devices with LTE, 4G radio, and “the latest Android and Windows Mobile platforms.” Now, the question here is, what OS will that flagship device be running. If Android, will they be creating a Windows Phone counterpart?

ZTE hopes that these devices will help propel them to become a “top three handset provider by 2015.” In all, eight devices will be shown off in Barcelona. So, ZTE enthusiasts: Hold on to your knickers, we shall find out more about the upcoming handsets on Monday. It should be pretty refreshing to see a new face on the block, to add some competition to the “usual” guys, HTC and Samsung.

Here’s the complete press release:

23 February 2012, Shenzhen, China – ZTE Corporation (“ZTE”) (H share stock code: 0763.HK / A share stock code: 000063.SZ), a leading global provider of telecommunications equipment and network solutions, will next week announce a significant extension of its Smart Terminal capabilities – both in its product range and routes to market – including a major new quad-core flagship handset.

ZTE will unveil eight new devices, delivering significant advances in power, high definition multimedia capabilities and design. Based on technology innovations including multi-core chipsets, LTE, 4G radio and the latest Android and Windows Mobile platforms, the new devices form a core component of ZTE’s ambition to become a top three handset provider by 2015.

On the infrastructure side, ZTE will be demonstrating a wide range of application scenarios covering LTE/LTE-A, smart networks and cloud computing.

“There is no doubt that this year’s Mobile World Congress will again see some exciting device launches. The new devices from ZTE will demonstrate how ZTE is without doubt among an elite group of handset providers as next generation telecommunications networks roll out globally. ZTE returns at least ten percent of its revenues back into R&D to ensure that it sustains its position as a true market innovator – and we’re counting down to being able to showcase this to the world’s mobile industry next week,” said Mr. He Shiyou, Executive Vice President and Head of the Terminals Division at ZTE.

The devices will be officially unveiled in a press conference at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday 27th February at 10:30 CET. The new devices, together with a comprehensive portfolio of ZTE terminals, will be on display at the ZTE booth in Hall 8, stand B145.

HP To Launch Windows 8 PCs By The End Of The Year

Well, it looks like HP will have Windows 8 PCs out in time for the holidays (given that Microsoft sticks to schedule, of course). During HP’s earnings call earlier today, HP CEO Meg Whitman stated that the company “will be well positioned on Windows 8 x86 by the holidays.” She went on to add “we’re rooting for a fantastic Windows 8 product that’s out on time for holiday.”

With that being said, what about ARM? During the earnings call, she didn’t seem to state what HP’s plans were as far as a timeline for releasing a Windows 8 ARM device. Considering that Microsoft intends to RTM Windows 8’s ARM alterego at the same time as the x86 version, it’s unusual that HP aren’t also rushing to be among the first to bring Windows 8 ARM tablets. Perhaps after the flop that was the HP Slate, they’re going to give it a bit of time before jumping on the Windows 8 tablet bandwagon.

Windows 8’s release date is currently unknown, but will be somewhere around the latter part of this year. Microsoft will be releasing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview a week from now on the 29th at the Mobile World Congress.