Microsoft Disrupts Nitol Botnet

In an operation named Operation b70, Microsoft was able to disrupt the Nitol botnet that was used to spread malware and launch DDoS attacks. The operation was carried out by Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit with the permission of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The operation was a result of a study conducted by Microsoft which discovered hackers selling pirated copies of Windows that was embedded with malware. They then got these copies into different unsecured (a distributor or reseller selling products from unconfirmed or unauthorized sources) supply chains for distribution. In the research, it was found that about 20% of pirated copies of Windows consisted of different types of malware.

These malware was used for a multitude of illegal purposes including stealing passwords, credit card information and even remotely turning on the microphone and webcam connected to the victim’s computer.

The computers that were part of the Nitol botnet was controlled by a Nitol command server. The DNS of the server was found to be provided by a rogue website called 3322.org which has been known to be a part of several targeted attacks in the past. With the successful takedown of 3322.org, Microsoft was also able to take down around 500 different strains of malware stored in 70,000 sub-domains of the rogue website.

The operation was part of Microsoft’s wider MAPS (Microsoft Active Response for Security) program which is intended to protect Windows users against malware. This is the second such action against botnets by Microsoft, which had taken down Zeus botnet earlier this year.

Via: Official Microsoft Blog

Microsoft Advertising Introduces Bing Ads and Yahoo! Bing Network

Microsoft has announced rebranding of adCenter to Bing Ads and the launch of Yahoo! Bing Network, formerly known as Search Alliance.

Yahoo! and Microsoft Search Alliance was born two years ago and reaches 151 million people today. The network includes the reach and benefits of Yahoo! Search and Bing partner publisher sites. Earlier this year, Microsoft brought all advertising marketing programs from Microsoft Advertising to the Bing umbrella. The latest announcement is a step in the same direction of streamlining a single digital advertising platform.

Bing Ads is a reimagined and improved way for managing campaigns on the Yahoo! Bing Network. Along with the rebranding, the platform has introduced a new Import Campaign feature which allows advertisers to import their search campaigns from Google Ad Words into Bing Ads. This will give their campaigns greater visibility and reach beyond just one search platform. Also, the new Editorial Exceptions feature will help advertisers resolve any editorial disapprovals during and after the ad submission process. With ongoing enhancements to the Bing Ads Editor tool, advertisers have an additional resource for tracking performance and identifying growth opportunities.

The Yahoo! Bing Network represents 70% of all searchers in the US, 20% of which are unique to the Yahoo! Bing Network. According to a comScore report quoted by Microsoft, searchers on Yahoo! Bing Network in the U.S. are likely to spend 24% more than the average searcher, and likely to spend 5% more than Google searchers.

Apple’s OS X Passes Windows Vista in Worldwide Usage

A new report about desktop operating shares from analytics firm Net Applications reveals that Microsoft’s Windows Vista fell in August to 6.15 percent of traced web usage. During the same time period, Apple’s latest operating system, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion increased to 1.34 percent of all tracked web usage.

For the first time ever, Apple’s OS X operating system dethroned Microsoft’s Windows Vista. Also, for the first time, Windows 7 has passed Windows XP to become the world’s largest operating system.

Apple’s most popular Mac continues to be OS X 10.7 Lion. OS X Lion 10.7 represents 2.29 percent of computers tracked on the web. Snow Leopard accounted for 2.23 percent of usage and Leopard accounted for 0.65 percent. The total share of OS X was 6.51 percent, which beat the 6.15 percent held by Windows Vista. In addition, Apple’s OS X 10.4 Tiger, which first launched in April of 2005 represent 0.15% of operating systems seen online.

Apple’s share of devices is of course much higher when the iPhone and iPad are included. Net Applications found that the iPad represented for 3.37 percent of web traffic, while the iPhone was 2.42 percent. The smallest share listed in the report was Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which accounted for 0.04 percent of devices.

 

 

 

A Brief Look At Microsoft’s Touch Mouse Lineup

From the very moment that Microsoft lifted the curtain and revealed Windows 8 at the D9 conference last year up to now, quite a lot of people have been arguing about just how easy the new Metro-infused user interface — one that is rather gesture-heavy and designed primarily with touch in mind — will be to use with a keyboard and mouse.

Whether you’re using peripherals or your fingers, there will always be a bit of a learning curve with Windows 8 due to its relatively gesture-heavy nature compared to the likes of iOS. There are things that you can do with pretty much every corner and side of the screen, and this isn’t a necessarily bad thing. After spending some time using the OS, I became rather well-acquainted with it.

However, as I’ve discovered with OS X Lion — an OS that, on a smaller scale, has also thrown a few touch paradigms into the mix — using a touch-enabled mouse and/or trackpad really enhances the experience. Simple things such as the ability to swipe to go back/forward on a website, tap with two fingers to access Mission Control and see all of your windows, switch spaces with the flick of two fingers, or scroll both vertically and horizontally save time and make using the OS more intuitive and fun.

That being said, I decided to request Microsoft’s entire lineup of touch-enabled mice for review: The Microsoft Touch Mouse, Explorer Touch Mouse, and Arc Touch Mouse to get a feel for their existing approach to touch peripherals.

Before I proceed, however, I need to clarify something. The only “touch” support that the latter two mice have to offer is with scrolling. Not a bad thing, though, as they’re still decent mice; the Arc Touch is awesome from a mobility standpoint, for one. But labeling them as touch mice is pretty misleading as most normal people associate touch with gesture support, and not just a better scrolling experience.

The Touch Mouse actually lives up to its name, however, and offers an assortment of gestures to help users better interact with Windows 8 on their PCs, where the keyboard and mouse still reign as the preferred input method.

Read on for thoughts on using the Touch Mouse in Windows 8, along with general thoughts on the other two mice.

Touch Mouse

 

So, here it is: Microsoft’s flagship touch mouse. With a sleek and ergonomic design that makes it comfortable to use — as with most Microsoft peripherals — the touch-sensitive zone is denoted by Xs and dots that also add a pleasant texture to the mouse. Taking a page from Apple’s playbook, the mouse is technically just one giant button, though you can still easily right-click. If you’re not accustomed to this from using Apple mice, you may find it a bit unusual at first.

Having just one button isn’t the issue at hand, however. The problem lies with the actual clicking experience, which feels stiff and unusual. In some cases, right clicks just didn’t seem to register. If, in the next iteration of the mouse, they address this issue, it’ll be much more enjoyable to use.

The mouse communicates with your PC through a USB nanotransceiver that’s easy to lose, so, for safekeeping, it is recommended that you store it in the slot at the bottom of the mouse. The Touch Mouse also utilizes Microsoft’s BlueTrack technology, allowing it to perform well on an array of different surfaces.

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the Touch Mouse’s non-touch functionality; the real reason behind this post are the touch gestures offered by this device, after all.

Back in July, Microsoft announced that some new gestures were made available on the Touch Mouse, designed specifically for Windows 8. To recap, here they are:

  • A one finger swipe will allow you to move side to side or up and down, shifting content on your screen.
  • Two finger movements manage apps, allowing users to display Windows 8 charms, switch through open apps and show app commands.
  • Three finger movements will let you zoom in and out.
  • Thumb gestures navigate backward and forward through apps.

As you can see, there’s certainly a cornucopia of gestures that make Windows 8 more intuitive to use when the keyboard and mouse are your primary forms of input. However, that’s useless if the gestures fail to work at all; the mouse often has trouble properly recognizing gestures. It may even misinterpret certain gestures — for example, I may try to gradually scroll down the page, but it would misinterpret it as a flick and sentence me to the very bottom of whatever I was reading — or miss them completely.

If they work out the kinks of this mouse with the clicking experience and gestures, I would definitely recommend it to add to the Windows 8 user experience. However, until then, I can’t say that I recommend purchasing this mouse.

Arc Touch Mouse

 

Next up, we have the aptly named Arc Touch Mouse, which is explicitly designed for portable, on the go use. When called upon for use, it springs into action and assumes a curved arc position which turns the mouse on, flattening and turning off once the user is finished. While the design, pictured above, may initially look peculiar, the mouse is actually surprisingly ergonomic and enjoyable to use. The area where your palm rests is comprised of a comfortable, soft material — which, unfortunately, is a magnet for dust — while the button area is a glossy plastic.

Now, in terms of touch functionality, what this mouse has to offer is the ability to use your finger to scroll. You may flick, glide, or tap to navigate and scroll through a page. The coolest bit about the scroll area on this mouse — which lies in between the two buttons — is that it gives back tactile feedback in response to your scrolling. Given that there is no actual scroll wheel in that area, this certainly simulates the feeling of one in a much more satisfying fashion.

This mouse doesn’t work with your PC using Bluetooth, though. Instead, a USB nano transceiver is offered, which you can magnetically store at the bottom of the mouse for safekeeping, as pictured above.

The Arc Touch Mouse is rather awesome, and if you’re someone who owns a laptop and frequently takes it with you everywhere you go, or if you travel frequently, I’d definitely recommend it. It’s both portable and usable.

Explorer Touch Mouse

 

Finally, we have the Explorer Touch Mouse. Like the Arc Touch Mouse, it’s compact and designed for portability, though it’s arguably less portable; while small in size, it cannot be flattened for storage when not in use. Nevertheless, it should still be sufficient for most travelers to carry around and pack. The mouse is also pretty lightweight, thanks to the plastic that it’s made out of. Unfortunately, due to this same reason, the mouse lacks a sense of build quality and sturdiness, but I suppose that the weight advantage outweighs this issue, given its objective to be a very portable mouse.

Like the former two mice, this one communicates with the PC through a USB nanotransceiver and uses BlueTrack tracking technology. And, like the Arc Touch Mouse, it lacks more complex gesture supports.

However, it does offer some pretty nifty scrolling functionality. The mouse supports four-way directional scrolling by using just your finger, and that delightful tactile feedback that we all know and love is given off as you scroll. I find it interesting how four-way scrolling isn’t present on the Arc Touch, which has a scrolling area that closely resembles that of the Explorer Touch Mouse.

If the unorthodox form factor of the Arc Touch mouse doesn’t satisfy the grasp of your palm, and you’re more interested in a regular — but relatively minuscule — portable mouse, than this is the one for you.

Conclusion

Given Windows 8 and the importance of using new gestures to navigate its UI, I was really hoping that the Touch Mouse would come through and be the one, but I’m unable to look past the stiff clicking and frequent misinterpretation of gestures to properly recommend it. However, I’m confident that Microsoft is aware of these issues and will fix them in the next revision of the mouse. Provided this does happen, I’d have no problem wholeheartedly recommending it as an excellent companion to Windows 8.

The real winner in this review has to be the Arc Touch mouse. It’s unique and surprisingly comfortable to use, given its anorexic form factor. You can “flatten” the mouse when you’re not using it, allowing for maximum portability while on the go. And, on top of being portable and pleasant to use, the tactile feedback you receive when scrolling is also a nice touch.

The Explorer Touch Mouse was okay, but nothing really stood out to me about it. But, for those of you who do like smaller mice like it and want a Microsoft hardware product with tactile four-way scrolling and Bluetrack, then you’ll like it a lot.

To learn more about each of these mice, check out the Microsoft Hardware website.

Microsoft SkyDrive App For Android Launched

I’ve been using Microsoft’s Skydrive service from the last 5 years, when there was no Dropbox or Google Drive for saving my important documents, college projects and vacation pictures on the cloud. Earlier, SkyDrive used to offer 25 GB of online storage before cutting it down to 7 GB for new users. I have already installed the Dropbox, Google Drive and Box apps on my Android smartphone, which offers 2 GB, 5 GB and 50 GB of online storage respectively. However, I was eagerly waiting for the official SkyDrive app, since the third-party apps does not work as advertised.

The official SkyDrive app is already available for Windows Phone and iOS users, which allows them to access SkyDrive content and manage files on the go. Apart from changing the SkyDrive logo and redesigning the website with Modern UI, Microsoft has already teased the official SkyDrive app for Android by showing off a couple of screenshots.

Today, Microsoft finally launched the much-awaited SkyDrive app for Android devices. SkyDrive for Android allows you to upload multiple photos and videos directly from your smartphone. You can even open SkyDrive files through other Android apps installed on your device. In terms of features, this app is almost similar to the Windows Phone and iOS version of the SkyDrive apps. Check out the complete features after the break.

Features:

  • Access all of your SkyDrive content including files shared with you.
  • View recently used documents.
  • Choose multiple photos or videos to upload from your phone.
  • Share your files and photos – send a link in email or in another app.
  • Open your SkyDrive files in other Android apps.
  • Manage your files – delete, or create new folders.

SkyDrive app is currently available for devices running on the Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) or the newer version of the OS. However, this app is designed to work best with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) OS. To download the SkyDrive app for your Android smartphone, head over to this page at Google Play Store. We will be posting the complete review of this app in the coming days. Stay tuned!

AOL Patent Sale Goes Through; Announces $600 Million Stock Buyback, $5.15 Dividend

AOL has been in the news lately only for two reasons. One, its lagging business and underperforming stock, and two, its recent patent sale to Microsoft, and eventually Facebook, which helped the latter stave off Yahoo’s patent assault on it.

AOL sold off most of its patents to Microsoft for $1.1 billion. Today, the sale has been completed, and AOL, true to its word, has announced that it will be giving the cash back to its shareholders.

It has announced a $600 million repurchase of AOL stock, and a one-time cash dividend of $5.15 per share, which adds up to nearly $480 million.

By returning cash to shareholders, AOL has bought itself some more time to get back in the game. However, that would be much more likely if it had reinvested all the cash in the business itself.

Tim Armstrong, AOL’s CEO, sent out a memo to his staff:

“Our first strategic goal is to build world-class brands that are meaningful businesses and we are going to continue to pursue that with alacrity. The second strategic goal has been to build a substantial financial foundation for our investors and more importantly, our investors’ investors. While we continue to successfully navigate AOL’s turn-around, we are also trying to build immediate value for all of our shareholders.

This morning, we announced the final steps in returning approximately all of the $1.1 billion proceeds from the patent deal with Microsoft to our shareholders by year-end. Specifically, we have begun a transaction with Barclays that is allowing us to pursue the repurchase of $600 million in AOL stock. We also announced a special one time cash dividend of $5.15 per share. The combination of the repurchase program and the special dividend is delivering what we had promised our investors and also allows us to give all shareholders the ability to own a bigger stake in AOL.”

via Techcrunch

Microsoft’s Modern Logo

Those following Microsoft know 2012 is probably Microsoft’s biggest year with the company updating pretty much their entire product range. In addition to new features, Microsoft is giving the products a cohesive face lift. Previously known as Metro, the UI has spread like a virus within the company and is now part of all the products.

One of the major changes with Windows 8 was the product’s new logo. The 4 colors that have become popular due to Windows have been replaced with a single Blue color. Similarly, Office has a new logo too. (Personally, I find the Office logo way cooler than the Windows 8 logo.) Today, Microsoft has unveiled their new brand identity. After 25 years, Microsoft has a new logo:

A few thoughts on the logo:

  • It’s Metro
  • This is the first time Microsoft has the iconic Windows flag as part of the logo (previously it was always just the word Microsoft)
  • As Abhishek Baxi points out, Microsoft gets the 4 colors while Windows is a single color
  • Oddly, the Microsoft logo is a square facing front, Xbox is a circle facing front while Windows and Office are squares facing left
  • The 4 colors seem to have been dulled down, they just don’t seem that bright

The logo is simple and the 4 colors that have been synonymous with Microsoft, given that it makes a lot of sense for Microsoft to adopt it. And giving it the Metro Modern treatment signifies the new look of all Microsoft products.

Janet Tu at Seattle Times broke the story.

Dell Discusses Plans To Launch Windows 8 Tablets, Isn’t Worried About The Surface

When Microsoft announced the Surface, they didn’t just want to make a high-quality piece of hardware that’s intended to make Windows 8 shine. They also did so to push otherwise sloppy OEMs to step up their game and develop equal — if not better — devices that are both exceptional in quality and innovative. With the exception of Acer, OEMs have been largely positive about the Surface. Dell is joining Lenovo and HP in making generally neutral/positive comments about the device, while also stating during an investor’s call that they have plans to release Windows 8 devices of their own throughout the fourth quarter and into next year.

Here’s what Senior VP Brian Gladden had to say about it:

“As you think about Microsoft entering the space, clearly, as we think about it, we’ve spent time talking to Microsoft and understanding sort of how they’re thinking about it. There clearly are opportunities for us, as Windows 8 comes through, in having differentiated products. And I think at the same time they have announced the Surface product that would be in the space, we will have products in there, and I think you’ll see a diverse set of offerings that take advantage of what Windows 8 brings to market.”

As you can see, they’re generally neutral about the Surface, unlike Acer, whose executives have been pretty bitter and negative about the device in public statements. Here’s the tidbit in which Gladden mentions Dell’s plans to launch Windows 8 devices:

“You’ll see new Windows 8 ultrabooks, all-in-one tablets and converged devices in the fourth quarter and headed into next year.”

The form factors that he hints at in this comment are interesting. I’m curious to find out what the “converged” devices look like, and how they differ from the all-in-one tablets. Perhaps they’re Galaxy Note-esque devices, which lie somewhere in between a tablet and a phone?

IDC: Microsoft to Make 3 Million Surface Tablets

As the launch date for the Microsoft Surface nears, speculation about the tablet, including its pricing and production has started. IDC has kicked off the race to guess the pricing and estimated production volumes. It expects Microsoft to build more than 3 million units of the Surface tablet in the initial run. It also thinks that Microsoft may launch a $199 version of the Surface RT tablet with a two year subscription, as well as a $599 version which can be bought outright.

The hypothetical $199 variant would come with a subscription bundle combining Microsoft’s Office, Music and Video offerings.

However, pricing the Surface at such a low price point might anger its other device partners who would have to price their products much higher to not lose money on device sales.

We’ll see more details about the Microsoft Surface in October, when it is launched along with Windows 8. While the device is really impressive, Microsoft may be too late to the party. However, if Microsoft is able to price the Surface RT tablet below the iPad and closer to the Google Nexus tablet, it might be able to wrest some tablet market share out of Google’s and Apple’s hands.

Also check out: The $199 Surface and Windows 8 RT OEMs

via CNET

Kodak May Not Sell Digital Imaging Patents in Auction

Kodak’s patent auction promised to be one of the most exciting turning points in the ongoing patent wars, with its digital imaging patents touted to be worth billions of dollars. Kodak had put up more than 1,100 patents up for sale, with most of them related to digital imaging and image capture, processing and transmission technologies for digital cameras and smartphones.

We also saw prominent tech giants teaming up with each other to buy the patents, with the likes of Google, Samsung and RPX in one camp, and Apple, Microsoft and Intellectual Ventures in the other.

However, as the bidding progresses, it seems that Kodak may not be able to fetch what it expected to in the auction. Kodak had previously stated that the patents might be worth around $2.2 to $2.6 billion, but the current bidding rate is around $500 million.

Kodak has announced that it might decline to sell some or all of its patents if the bidding fails to push the prices up. It has already pushed the patent auction deadline twice, and may do it again to drum up interest in the auction and fetch a higher price.

Even if the auction does go through, there is no guarantee that it will be cleared by regulatory authorities due to possible antitrust issues.

Kodak filed for bankruptcy months ago, and owes nearly $1.4 billion to Citigroup and other bondholders.

via WSJ