Windows Blue: Free, Annual Upgrades for Windows

Windows-BlueIt’s been just about a month since Windows 8 was released, but Microsoft is already hard at work on its successor. Of course, this isn’t really surprising. However, what is surprising is that Microsoft might be gearing up to launch Windows 8’s successor as early as next year.

The Verge is reporting that Microsoft plans on ditching its traditional big-bang release cycle in favor of a more iterative annual release cycle. The next Windows OS, which is currently going by the codename ‘Windows Blue’, is slated for launch in mid-2013. It will reportedly include UI changes and alterations to the entire platform. The Windows SDK will also be updated, and in a move that will surely infuriate developers, once Blue is released, Microsoft will stop accepting apps coded using the Windows 8 SDK in the Store. Thankfully, Blue will be fully backward compatible, and will be capable of running Windows 8 apps. The most interesting thing about Blue is that Microsoft plans on making the upgrade extremely cheap or even free for current Windows users.

Although Windows Blue is a dramatic departure from the tradional Windows release cycle, it does make a lot of sense. While previous versions of Windows were tasked with simply maintaining or improving Microsoft’s dominance in the PC market, Windows 8 has the additional burden of making Microsoft competitive in the tablet segment, where it is a late-entrant and an underdog. Without rapid iterations, it will be virtually impossible for Microsoft to remain competitive with Android and iOS, both of which offer free, annual upgrades.

Windows 8 is Not the New Vista, 40 Million Licenses Sold

Windows-8Recently, the blogosphere was abuzz with reports that Microsoft’s Windows 8 was a dud, as it had failed to meet projections. While there might have been some truth in those stories, the reports of Windows 8’s doom were undoubtedly greatly exaggerated. Tami Reller, corporate vice president for Windows, has revealed the actual sales figured for Windows 8, and they aren’t all that bad.

According to Reller, Microsoft has sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses so far. It’s not clear if Microsoft is reporting the number of units sold to end-users or the number of units shipped to retailers. The latter figure is almost always bloated, since it includes units sitting in the shelves waiting to be sold.

To put things into perspective, Windows 7 sold 60 million copies during the first ten weeks. So, Windows 8 is selling at least as well as (if not better than) Windows 7. Considering that Windows 7 was the fastest selling Windows in the history, this is hardly a bad performance. The sales figures look even better if you consider that Windows 7 was coming off the back of Vista, which was widely considered a flop. Even when Windows 7 was released, most of the people were using Windows XP, which was nearing its end of life. Consumers as well as enterprises were eager to upgrade to a newer, better operating system. Windows 8 doesn’t quite have the same advantage. On the other hand, Windows 8 has benefited from the extremely tempting upgrade offers ($39.99 for Windows 8 Pro). Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 8 is indeed outpacing Windows 7 in terms of upgrades.

Windows 8 represents a bold new direction for Microsoft. It not only has to maintain Microsoft’s dominance in the PC segment, but it also has to shoulder the responsibility of making Microsoft competitive in the post-PC segment. Microsoft badly needs Windows 8 to succeed. According to Paul Thurrott, Windows 8’s initial sales figures are well below internal estimates. Microsoft believes that Windows 8 would have sold even better if its OEM partners had more high quality hardware on offer, and it is probably right. Although a number of Windows 8 powered tablets, ultrabooks, and laptops have been announced by various manufacturers, most stores across the US are yet to stock them. However, the good news is that even if Windows 8 isn’t setting the market on fire, it is doing fairly well. It’s not the new Vista as many had feared it would be.

E-commerce Websites Gain Popularity Among Indian Mobile Users

Opera Mini usage in India has exploded over the past year, thanks to partnerships with major carriers like Airtel and Vodafone. In fact, India now has the highest number of monthly Opera Mini users worldwide. So, in this month’s State of the Mobile Web report, Opera Software decided to zero in on Indian users. State of the Mobile Web is a monthly report published by Opera Software, which utilizes data gathered from its Opera Mini servers to identify and analyze broad trends in mobile web usage.

While usual suspects like Facebook, Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Yahoo continued to be favorites among Indian users, Indian news and ecommerce websites experienced strong increase in popularity. The top five websites category in India were — News Portals, E-commerce, Social networking, Education, and Travel. In particular, the growth of e-commerce suggests that more and more Indians are getting used to the idea of buying stuff online. While e-commerce services took off in the western countries over the past decade, they struggled to break through in India, where users were often coy about buying stuff without seeing it. This seems to be finally changing, as e-commerce and classified websites made up 14% of total visits in India. Top five e-commerce related websites in India were — quikr.com, amazon.com /amazon.co.uk, flipkart.com, alibaba.com, and snapdeal.com.

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For a detailed zone-wise breakdown of top mobile websites in India, head over to Opera’s State of the Mobile Web Report.

Megaupload Preparing to Return as Mega

Speaking to Wired, Kim Doctom – the dynamic founder of Megaupload, detailed his plans for a comeback. Earlier this year, in a controversial move, the United States Department of Justice seized and shut down the file-hosting site Megaupload.com and moved criminal cases against its owners. However, Dotcom is already out on bail and working on his next venture – Mega.

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Like Megaupload, Mega will be a cyber-locker that will be driven by a subscription model, allowing users to upload and share files with ease. However, there will be a few crucial differences. Having been burnt once, Dotcom is trying to work around the legal pitfalls that led to the Megaupload’s downfall. Mega will automatically encrypt all uploaded files with AES algorithm and provide a key to the user. Mega itself won’t have the key, and hence won’t have any idea about the content of the files uploaded to its servers. Dotcom hopes that this will allow Mega to avoid liability for the uploaded content. However, if a content owner discovers that his content is being illegally shared through Mega, he can file a complaint with Mega and get his content removed. Dotcom informed the Wired that according to his legal experts, the only way to stop such a service from existing is to make encryption itself illegal. “And according to the U.N. Charter for Human Rights, privacy is a basic human right,” he elaborated. The presence of encryption algorithms will also mean that de-duplication, which is a technique used by file lockers to identify duplicate files and store only a single instance on their server, is not going to be possible. So, copyright owners will have to remove infringing content one instance at a time. Fingerprinting content to automatically remove copyrighted material is also out of the equation. As with Megaupload, Mega will allow content owners special privileges to directly remove infringing material themselves. “But this time, if they want to use that tool, they’ll have to accept, prior to getting access, that they’re not going to sue us or hold us accountable for the actions of our users,” Dotcom added.

Dotcom believes that his new entity will be on the right side of the law. However, he is not taking any chances. He is also making sure that Mega cannot be brought down by a single raid as it happened with Megaupload. Mega will store all data on two sets of redundant servers, located in two different countries. Additionally, in the long run, Dotcom wants Mega to become a network hosted by thousands of different entities with thousands of different servers, in countries all over the world. “We’re creating a system where any host in the world — from the $2,000 garage operation to the largest online host — can connect their own servers to this network,” Dotcom says. “We can work with anybody, because the hosts themselves cannot see what’s on the servers.”

In the face of increased resistance from copyright holders and law enforcement agencies, the piracy ring has little choice but to grow up. Couple of days back, we saw The Pirate Bay switching to cloud hosting to protect themselves from server seizures. Now, Mega – which on paper is a legitimate service, but will undoubtedly be exploited for distributing warez, is preparing to launch one of the most sophisticated file lockers we have seen. The cat and mouse game between the law enforcers and the law breakers is about to get a lot more interesting.

The Pirate Bay Looks to the Cloud to Stay Ahead of Law Enforcement Agencies

The Pirate Bay is known to have a penchant for theatrics. Staying true to their form, they have announced that they are getting rid of their “earthly form and ascending into the next stage”. In ordinary speak, what the infamous Swedish torrent website is trying to convey is that they are ditching the traditional web hosting model in favor of cloud hosting.

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TorrentFreak explains that The Pirate Bay is currently hosted at cloud hosting companies in two countries where they run several Virtual Machine (VM) instances. Running on virtual machines reduces both cost and complexity, since no physical maintenance is required. The added benefit of this arrangement is that it makes bringing down The Pirate Bay even more difficult. If they are kicked off by a cloud hosting service, they can just hop onto the next cloud host and deploy their virtual machines over there in matter of hours if not minutes. Thus, the threat of a server seizure bringing down TPB is reduced drastically.

However, The Pirate Bay isn’t ditching all its servers. There are still two components it’s not placing in the cloud. The load balancer and transit-routers are still owned and operated by The Pirate Bay. This apparently helps in hiding the location of the cloud provider and protects the privacy of users.

“All communication with users goes through TPB’s load balancer, which is a disk-less server with all the configuration in RAM. The load balancer is not in the same country as the transit-router or the cloud servers,” The Pirate Bay informed TorrentFreak. “The communication between the load balancer and the virtual servers is encrypted. So even if a cloud provider found out they’re running TPB, they can’t look at the content of user traffic or user’s IP-addresses.”

The pirates seem to have put a quite a bit of effort into making it tough for the law enforcement agencies. “If the police decide to raid us again there are no servers to take, just a transit router. If they follow the trail to the next country and find the load balancer, there is just a disk-less server there. In case they find out where the cloud provider is, all they can get are encrypted disk-images,” The Pirate Bay explained. “They have to be quick about it too, if the servers have been out of communication with the load balancer for 8 hours they automatically shut down. When the servers are booted up, access is only granted to those who have the encryption password,” they add.

RailRadar Tracks All Trains Running in India on Google Map

Indian Railways is hardly the most sophisticated public railway service, but it is one of the largest in the world. Given how every government treats the railways as simply a means to please the junta and gain votes, it’s a wonder that the Indian railways is still functioning as well as it is doing. However, the state-owned enterprise is capable of throwing us the odd surprise.

Today, I discovered on Hacker News, a neat Google Maps mashup developed by the Centre for Railway Information Systems or CRIS (an organization under the Ministry of Railways), called RailRadar. RailRadar is an interactive map that plots the position of trains running in India in realtime, and indicates whether they are on time or delayed. It uses the existing database of TrainEnquiry and presents it in a more visually interesting manner. Clicking on any train brings up more information including its next stop and route.

RailRadar-Track-Trains-in-India-in-Realtime

The conventional web and mobile interface of TrainEnquiry will still be more useful when you want to track a particular train. However, RailRadar deserves props as it’s not often that you see something as cool as this from Government of India owned entities. Now, if only CRIS would fix the nightmare that is IRCTC.

[ Visit RailRadar ]

Google Introduces Free SMS in Gmail

Gmail almost singlehandedly redefined the entire webmail segment after its launch in 2004. Since then, Google has steadily expanded the scope of its webmail service. It started off by integrating Google Chat with Gmail, and later added support for video chat, and recently integrated video conferencing through Google Plus Hangouts. Today, Google added another dimension to its mail service. You can now send free SMS to users around the world right from Gmail.

To be honest, this isn’t strictly a new feature. SMS in Gmail Chat has been available as a Labs feature for several years. Google is simply graduating this feature from Labs. To send an SMS to a contact who is offline, simply type his name in the chat window, and you will get the option to send an SMS from the “More options” section in the floating box that appears to the right of your contact. Of course, this will only work if you have your contact’s phone number.

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SMS in Gmail Chat supports all operators in the United States, and most prominent operators in more than 50 countries. In India, it supports Aircel, IDEA, Loop Mobile, MTS, Reliance, Tata DoCoMo, Tata Indicom, Vodafone (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Gujarat, A.P, Bihar, W.B. & A & N, Assam, N.E. circles only). The two big names that are missing from the list are Airtel and BSNL.

SMS in Gmail Chat is free; however, it does have some restrictions to prevent abuse. Initially, you will have a credit of 50 messages. Every time you send an SMS through chat, your credit will decrease by one, and every time you receive an SMS in Chat, your credit will increase by five. If your credit hits zero, you won’t be able to send a message. In such cases you have two options. You can either wait as the credit will increase back up to one 24 hours later. Or you can send an SMS to your own phone, and then reply to that message multiple times. Every time you send a reply message, your SMS credit is increased by five. Effectively, you will be buying more messages by paying your phone company for these outgoing messages.

News Reading App Pulse Launches Gorgeous Web App

Popular news reading app Pulse has finally unshackled itself from the mobile platform with the launch of Pulse for the Web. When Pulse arrived for the iPad in 2010, it instantly garnered widespread acclaim due to its intuitive and pretty interface. Since then it has broadened its reach to iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone, expanded its catalogue by signing up dozens of publishers, and diversified by adding video channels. Now, Pulse feels that it is finally ready to reach out to a wider audience.

Pulse-News-Reader-Home

Pulse for the Web focuses on the same things that made its mobile app so popular in the first place – a gorgeous clean interface that makes reading publications you love and discovering stories that you like simple and fun. In order to take full advantage of the larger resolution offered by desktops, Pulse has done away with its grid interface. Instead, the home page features a beautiful mosaic layout with large images and clean typography. Clicking on any link opens up the story in a clean distraction-free overlay. Pulse for the Web stays in sync with your mobile devices, and if you already have an account, all your settings will be instantly ported over.

Pulse-News-Reader-Article-View

Pulse team also worked with Microsoft to leverage advanced touch integration offered by Internet Explorer 10. Pulse web app supports swiping between articles, pinch-to-zoom, and more. If you have a Windows 8 tablet, Pulse for Web will practically behave like a native app.

Go ahead; take the new Pulse for the Web for a spin on pulse.me. I played around with it briefly, and the Pulse team is definitely not exaggerating when they claim to have not compromised on quality while porting to the web. In fact, the web app is even more beautiful and intuitive than the original mobile app. Pulse already has more than 15 million users, and Pulse for Web will only help in increasing that figure.

Samsung Accuses LG of Stealing and Leaking Its OLED Technology

Corporate-Espionage-Samsung-LG In a stunning development, Samsung has accused its rival LG of committing industrial espionage. Samsung Mobile Display, the wing of Samsung Electronics responsible for manufacturing displays, is blaming LG for the leak of its organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen technology.

On Sunday, 11 individuals were arrested in connection with stealing and leaking key technologies related to OLED displays manufactured by Samsung. According to the indictment, six of them are current or former researchers at Samsung, one is a sub-contractor from LG Display, and other five are executives at LG Display.

Samsung is demanding an apology as well as corrective action from its South Korean competitor. It is claiming damages worth “trillions of won” (1 trillion won is slightly less than 0.9 billion USD). “Executives of LG Display, which lacks OLED technology and related human resources, took the lead in this criminal act in order to overcome their shortcomings as quickly as possible,” it said in a statement.

LG is not taking the allegations lying down. It is threatening to sue Samsung Display for defamation. “We do not need Samsung’s technology, which works under a totally different display system,” it added. Samsung currently claims to have a 97% market share in the OLED screen market. If its allegations are proven in court, LG will have to contend with steep fines besides having egg on its face.

Microsoft Acquires Yammer for $1.2 Billion

YammerYammer, which is pretty much Facebook for enterprises, has been acquired by Microsoft for $1.2 billion in cash. Yammer was launched towards the end of 2008, and currently has more than 5 million users including employees at 85 percent of the Fortune 500. “When we started Yammer four years ago, we set out to do something big,” David Sacks, Yammer founder and CEO, said. “We had a vision for how social networking could change the way we work. Joining Microsoft will accelerate that vision and give us access to the technologies, expertise and resources we’ll need to scale and innovate.”

Microsoft will be folding Yammer into the Office division, where it will bolster Microsoft’s current enterprise offerings. The Redmond giant expects Yammer to complement existing products like SharePoint, Office 365, Dynamics and Skype. “The acquisition of Yammer underscores our commitment to deliver technology that businesses need and people love,” said Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft. “Yammer adds a best-in-class enterprise social networking service to Microsoft’s growing portfolio of complementary cloud services.”

Yammer will continue to be developed as an independent service, but Microsoft will leverage its existing products to boost Yammer’s adaption. Going forward, Microsoft’s biggest challenge will be monetizing Yammer. The enterprise social network operates on a freemium model, with four fifth of the current users accessing its services for free.