Tag Archives: Tech News

Is Google Cracking Down on Employees for Opposing it on Google Plus Names Policy?

Censorship Last week, Vic Gundotra the man in charge of Google Plus, revealed that Google Plus will soon support pseudonyms and other forms of identity. The announcement marked a major victory for privacy advocates who had been vociferously protesting Google Plus’s “common name only” policy. However, the controversy might not yet be over.

It all started in July 2011 when Google began suspending accounts with fake names or pseudonyms. The move was widely criticized by privacy advocates like EFF, and gave birth to the Nymwars. In spite of the backlash from the press and the public, Vic Gundotra remained adamant that anonymity has no place in a social network. Nevertheless, over the weeks Google improved the suspension and enforcement process by introducing grace period before suspension and account verification for celebrities. Several Googlers also joined in on the debate and shared their views on Google Plus.

The cause for anonymity and privacy on the internet is an issue that Google employees obviously care deeply about. About 10% of Googlers had signed on a petition in support of pseudonyms before Google Plus’ launch, and their voice probably played a crucial hand in convincing the bosses at Google to change its policy. However, reports are now appearing that Google might be cracking down on employees sympathetic towards pseudonym advocates.

Earlier today, an anonymous submission on Hacker News read:

Word coming out is that one person was, just this week, put on an unexpected 60-day PIP (Performance Improvement Plan) for sharing opinions of the Real Names policy on internal G+. It’s likely that he’s been set up to fail. If this is accurate, and I believe it is, there’ll be more to tell in late December.
It’s worth noting that individual Googlers have shown nothing but support for this person as the story has developed.

Google using Performance Improvement Plan as a paper trail to fire employees is nothing new, and to be honest Google isn’t the only company that uses PIP as an excuse to fire employees. However, putting employees on PIP for sharing opinions on internal social network is definitely incompatible with Google’s Do No Evilmantra.

The Hacker News submission is anonymous and unverified, and could very well be complete fabrication. Unfortunately, this is not the first time someone has accused Google of punishing employees for being sympathetic towards anonymity supporters. Back in July, @skud highlighted circumstantial evidence that hinted at the usage of gag orders on employees.

Google is entirely within its rights to gag employees who criticize company policies in public. However, gagging and punishing employees who raise their voice internally, or attempt to offer a neutral and balanced point of view to the public (instead of blindly toeing the company line) might be taking things too far. Having a human face matters, and by being too strict Google might end up hurting itself.

Windows 8 Developer Preview and Me

Based on the jungle news and the Windows 8 Developer Preview by Microsoft, we can expect Windows 8 to be released by Q3 in 2012. Start getting used to terms like “Live Tiles”, “Socialite”, “Tweeny”, and “Metro Interface”, to name a few. As it is with all things from Microsoft, this new vocabulary will most probably be assimilated into our lingo soon enough.

This post does not cover a lot of these new terms, but we will have a post on that soon.

Download the Windows 8 Developer Preview

At the Microsoft Build developer conference about a month ago, a demo and deck with the new OS in its current state was presented. Though the Windows 8 Developer Preview is targeted at developers, anyone can download it.

Out with the Old

Windows Vista support ends on April 10, 2012.  Windows XP, the most popular Microsoft OS, will no longer be supported after April 2014.

Use the same Hardware

Microsoft announced that it will maintain the same hardware-requirement level as Windows 7, but  jungle news suggests that Microsoft  may even  try to lower hardware requirements  for Windows 8.

Green is the new Blue

The first thing that struck me was the change in the primary color used in the Windows 8 Developer Preview from blue to a very soothing, hospital-curtain green. It does not scream inspiration at all.

Check the Slide Show  below for a look at this feature.

Faster Boot-Up Time

The Windows 8 Developers Preview boots up in just a couple a seconds. It is a definite improvement from Windows 7.

Microsoft has been quoted saying the following about the Boot-up time.

When it comes to talking about “fundamentals”. We want to start with boot time no feature gets talked about and measured more. We designed Windows 8 so that you shouldn’t have to boot all that often (and we are always going to work on reducing the number of required restarts due to patching running code). But when you do boot we want it to be as fast as possible.

No Start Menu

There is a Start button in the Windows 8 Developer Preview, which takes you to the “Metro Shell”. The Metro UI is believed to be in for a major upheaval. The good news is that if this new UI proves to be unstable or uncomfortable, you can always go back to the Classic Menu option.

Tiles are used very prominently. Personally, I think that Microsoft is trying to bring the tablet and desktop visual experience closer together.

Check the  Slide Show  below for a look at this feature.

Power-Saving for your Device

You can use your device for approximately an additional  hour with the Windows 8 Developer Preview. This may sound unbelievable, but it is completely real. This may be due to the decreased number of memory Read/Writes.  Also, when you are not viewing an application, the application suspends itself automatically. This saves your computing resources, which in turn makes your device consume less power. There is quite an extensive menu for power options too.

Lock Screen is inspired by Bing

A Ctrl + L will no longer be a show for your screen saver alone. Microsoft introduced the concept of a   Lock Screen for the Windows 8 Developer Preview. Why do we need one now? Because the new OS is touch-based.

There is a clear inspiration, from the visual perspective, between Bing and Windows 8 Developer Preview. A look at the Locked Screen can confirm that. Notice the icons for unread e-mail and chat notifications. You can add more widgets to the Lock Screen too.

Check the  Slide Show  for a look at this feature.

Task Manager has a New Look

The Task Manager in Windows 8 Developer Preview has changed, but not too much. It should not be too hard to get around it.

Check the  Slide Show  for a look at this feature.

 Windows Explorer has a New Look too

The new look for Windows Explorer uses the Microsoft Office ribbon. I am not complaining, because I believe that the ribbon is one of Microsoft’s better innovations. However, this look does not match with the green-Metro theme; this is a disconnect.

 Same Old Media Center

The new Media Center is not included in the Windows 8 Developer Preview. The Metro Shell already seems to be a media platform, so it will be interesting to see what the new Media Center brings to the plate.

New BSOD

The  legendary and  feared BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) has a new look. The use of the emoticon does soften the emotions I might have felt otherwise.

Skype and Lync Integration

There is some indication that Skype may be integrated with Microsoft’s Lync communication software.

Ballmer has been quoted saying,

“With the combination of the power of Lync and Skype under the same umbrella, we think we’re going to be able to do even more fantastic things together”

Here is a Slide Show that provides a peek at the Windows 8 Developer Preview.

Images used are from Microsoft-registered Web sites.

Sending Out an S.O.S.! – 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Telegraph

Today marks an important milestone in the history of the world: the completion of the Transcontinental Telegraph. 150 years ago, today, the final line was terminated from Carson City, Nevada. Associated Press contributor, John Rogers, compared the Transcontinental Telegraph to today’s internet.

A rudimentary version of the Internet — not much more advanced than two tin cans and a string — had been born. But it worked, and it grew.

The Transcontinental Telegraph connected the war-torn eastern United States with the newest member state, California. California was admitted to the U.S. in 1850 and had a booming economy at the time. Most of the eastern U.S. was already wired, as well was California, but there was no means of connection between them. The importance of communication between the union and the newest non-contiguous state became immediately apparent, which prompted congress to authorize the U.S. Post Office to spend $40,000 per year to build and maintain an overland line. In 1860, the Pacific Telegraph Act awarded Hiram Sibley, president of the Western Union Company, the funds to make this overland line possible. Sibley was able to build a consortium between his company and the California telegraph companies to share in both construction and profit of the new line.

Construction of Transcontinental Telegraph
Courtesy of WikiMedia Wood Engraving after George M. Ottinger

It is really amazing when you consider the parallels between the Transcontinental Telegraph and the internet of today. For instance, the struggles that the U.S. Postal service is having today due to the impact of e-mail and instant messaging, is reminiscent of the impact the telegraph had on the Pony Express. Before the telegraph, the Pony Express was the fastest means to get messages between California and the Union. Upon completion of the Transcontinental Telegraph, the Pony Express shut its doors two days later.  It is hard to measure the impact that this new technology had on the nation. The government in Washington could communicate with the distant west in real time. Business could now be done across the country at mind-blowing speed. Much like today’s internet, the telegraph connected a society across great distances.

Samuel Morse's Telegraph
Courtesy Wikimedia.org Samuel Morse's First Telegraph

I would be remiss if I did an article on the impact of the telegraph without mentioning the father of the U.S. telegraph, Samuel Morse.  It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. This statement certainly rang true in the invention of the telegraph. Samuel Morse, a scholar and inventor, was also a great painter and was commissioned to do some work in Washington. While there, he received a message via a horse messenger that his wife was ill. By the time reached her back home, she was already buried. This was the motivating factor in his working on a long distance communication medium. Morse’s chance encounter with Charles Thomas Jackson on a sea voyage home inspired him to develop the single-wire telegraph. It wasn’t long after that his telegraph became the standard across the U.S. and the U.K. Morse is also credited with the invention of Morse Code which became the standard method of transmitting telegraphic information.

So, today, when you type that e-mail or Tweet something out to your friends, take a moment to remember the early pioneers who truly connected the world with wires. When you type LOL today, remember that HEE was  Morse  code for humor intended long before you or your grandparents were even thought of. It seems appropriate to remember such a milestone on the same day that Steve Jobs’ biography is released. Maybe the thought of the great men behind world-changing technology will inspire us all to achieve a little further today.

 

New Windows 8 Video Demonstrates a Significantly Enhanced Explorer

Thanks to the numerous leaked Windows 8 builds and Microsoft’s demo at D9, we already have a fair bit of idea regarding what to expect in Windows 8. We know that Windows 8 will feature a new Metro inspired full-screen interface, ribbon interface for Windows explorer, new touchscreen gestures, pattern logon, enhanced task manager, in-built PDF reader and webcam apps, and an app store. However, there is still a lot that Microsoft has managed to keep under wraps.

A few minutes back, Microsoft published a new video to demonstrate the enhanced new Explorer that will be shipped with Windows 8. We already knew that Microsoft will be using the Ribbon UI in the new Explorer. However, the real charm lies in the details.

Windows-8-Explorer-Ribbon-UI

Windows Explorer already includes plenty of nifty little features. However, most of these features are rarely used by users as they are hidden in obscure locations. Microsoft’s telemetry data suggests that the top 10 explorer commands form over 80% of the explorer usage. The new Ribbon interface will put these commonly used functionalities front and center. At the same time, the Microsoft is also attempting to reveal lesser known features through tabs in the Ribbon UI. Check out the video embedded below to see the new Explorer in action.


Download

At first glance the Windows 8 explorer seems to offer the perfect blend of simplicity and power. Advanced users will appreciate features like copy path, launch Command Prompt in Administrator mode, and context aware searching. However, the simple and logical organization of all of these features into tabs will ensure that novices aren’t scared away.

BlackBerry Offers to Help in Tracking Down London Rioters, Official Blog Gets Hacked in Retaliation

You are probably aware of the shameful display of hooliganism that has ravaged several British cities including London, just a year before it is due to host the Olympics. According to reports, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) was the primary tool used to spread and organize the riots.

The riots started on August 6, in response to the Police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham. A protest march by a couple of hundred people turned violent, and resorted to rioting, vandalism, and looting. Over the next few days, the disturbance spread to several other cities including Birmingham, Liverpool, and Nottingham. As mentioned earlier, the vandals, who were mostly youths, resorted to using BBM as the primary means of communication. UrbanMashup has dug up evidence that illustrates how BBM was used to spread information about areas that were being attacked and were vulnerable.

Reacting to the widespread allegations of misuse of BBM during the riots, the official BlackBerry UK Twitter account promised to co-operate with the police during the investigation. It issued the following brief statement on the aforementioned micro-blogging platform:


We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.less than a minute ago via CoTweet Favorite Retweet Reply

Although RIM has declined to reveal the extent of its co-operation with the police, according to The Inquirer, The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act could be used to force Research in Motion (RIM) – the Canadian manufacturer of BlackBerry, to hand over data from its encrypted BBM network.

This announcement obviously didn’t sit well with some people. A group called Team Poison defaced the official BlackBerry blog in retaliation. Team Poison has urged RIM to not cooperate with the UK police, as it believes that handing over BBM data will lead to innocent bystanders, who were at the wrong place at the wrong time, getting implicated. It also threatened to release RIM’s UK employee database to the angry rioters, if the Canadian company didn’t back down. The offending blog post has already been removed by RIM, but a screenshot provided by an HN user is embedded below.

BlackBerry-Hacked

Facebook Tweaks Account Settings, Again

Facebook might have come under fire on numerous occasions over privacy concerns; however, the fact is that Facebook has always offered fairly granular settings. The trouble has always been with the default settings, and the often convoluted process involved in changing these default settings.

In an attempt to fix this, Facebook has tweaked the accounts settings section on several occasions in the past. The latest refresh was rolled out a few minutes ago. No settings have been added or deleted. Facebook has simply improved the design of the Account Settings page to make editing and updating your account information easier. Perhaps stung by criticism about the closed nature of its service, Facebook is also making it easier to export your own data. Unfortunately, the data that gets exported hasn’t changed and is still pretty limited.

Facebook-Account-Settings

This update is purely a cosmetic change. However, traditionally every little change on Facebook has been met with a vocal backlash. It will be interesting to see if there’s one in this case too. My guess is that most people simply wouldn’t notice the changes as they are quite insignificant, and the loudmouths are busy shouting about the horrendous new chat-bar anyway.

Internet Explorer Popular Among People with Low IQ, Study Suggests

Aptiquant, a Vancouver based Psychometric Consulting company, which specializes in helping organizations objectively assess applicants and employees, has released the results of its study in which it correlated the IQ (Intelligent Quotients) of users with the browser they were using. The results aren’t all that surprising.

On an average, Internet Explorer users were found to have the least IQ, while Opera users had the highest. Camino users and Internet Explorer users with Chrome Frame plugin were also found to have higher than average IQ. The results are pretty much what you would expect. The dominance of Internet Explorer has long been attributed to its bundling with Windows. A sizeable portion of users tend to just use what Windows ships with instead of looking for alternatives. Heck, many people don’t even know what is a web browser. On the other hand Opera, which has remained the niche browser, is often dubbed as the browser for geeks and power users.

Browser-User-IQ

In order to collect the data Aptiquant relied on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (IV) test, which is available on its website. The gender, geographic location, and browser of netizens taking the test were recorded along with their test results. The scores of more than 101,326 individuals were analyzed.

Aptiquant also compared their recent dataset with the data they had collected in 2006. The older dataset paints a significantly different picture. The mean IQ of Opera users drops significantly, and Internet Explorer (6 and 7) gets a significant boost. Clearly, over the last five years, Internet Explorer has lost its share of intelligent users, as power users have migrated elsewhere.

Aptiquant also divided the users into IQ groups based on their percentile ranks. Once again, Internet Explorer users dominated the lower percentile groups, while Firefox, Opera, Chrome and Safari users dominated the higher percentile groups.

Aptiquant’s study reinforces that stereotype that Internet Explorer is a dumb user’s browser. It also demonstrates that Microsoft has simply not been able to stay abreast with its competitors. Even though Internet Explorer 7 and 8 users have a higher IQ score than Internet Explorer 6 users, Microsoft has failed to stop the flow of power users to third-party alternatives. Internet Explorer still has a healthy market share. However, masses often follow the early adopters and power users. Microsoft will need to come up with something pretty brilliant if it hopes to reverse Internet Explorer’s fortunes.

Hat tip: @Opera

Google’s Quest for Speed: Google Fiber Begins on the Ground Deployment

One of Google’s stated missions is to speed up the web. Over the past few years, Google has been consistently coming up with new stuff to realize this mission. Here’s a quick look at some of the things that Google has released to make web surfing faster:

Google-FiberGoogle Web Accelerator: Released in 2005, it was perhaps Google’s most misguided effort. It worked through page compression, prefetching of content, and shared caches. Unfortunately, it never really took on, and came under the scanner due to severe privacy risks. This project was shelved in 2008.

Google Chrome: Chrome has probably had the biggest impact in speeding up web browsing. It ignited the speed wars, and has continued to push the boundaries ever since its release. As a result of Chrome, every other modern browser is now striving to offer the absolute best rendering performance possible.

Google Public DNS: Google released its own public DNS servers in 2009 that can often resolve domain names faster than your ISPs DNS server.

Page Speed and Speed Tracer: Google has also released tools that will help web developers ensure that their website is lightweight and breezy. Page Speed and Speed Tracer are Firebug and Chrome extensions respectively that can aid developers in reducing the time required to load their website.

WebP: Google even went so far as to release a new image format that reportedly offers better compression than the other popular existing image formats. Unfortunately, the only two browsers to support WebP at the moment are Chrome and Opera.

SPDY: If you thought releasing a new image format in order to speed up web surfing was rich, wait till you hear this. In 2009, Google released SPDY (pronounced speedy), a new application-layer protocol for transporting content over the web, designed specifically for minimal latency. Currently Google uses SPDY for serving Google Search and Gmail to Chrome users.

Google Page Speed Service: Persisting with its lofty goal of bringing a faster web, earlier today, Google unveiled Page Speed Service. Page Speed Service is a CDN (Content Delivery Network) with a few critical differences. Like typical CDNs, Page Speed Service will fetch content from your servers and store them on Google’s servers, from where they will be served to users. Since Google’s servers are located all around the globe, and are typically extremely fast and reliable, this will increase both performance and availability of the website. Additionally, Google will also rewrite the webpages by applying web performance best practices to further reduce the loading time.

However, often the best and the simplest way to speed up web surfing is to get a faster internet connection. This obvious fact is not lost on Google. Last year it announced a new project whose sole aim is to deliver extremely high speed internet connectivity to residents and community centers. The experimental Google Fiber project vouches to provide 1 Gbps internet connections at competitive rates to selected communities.

Last year, Google picked Kansas City to be the first benefactor of the Google Fiber project after going through over a thousand applications. Now, Google has announced that it is finally ready to begin on-the-ground work that will enable it to begin operations in early 2012.

If you’re in Kansas City in the next few weeks, you may notice a few engineers walking around, consulting maps and surveying your street or neighborhood. These engineers are kicking off the next phase of Google Fiber—detail engineering.
There’s still a lot of work to do before we can offer ultra-high-speed broadband to Kansas City in early 2012.

The average internet speed in US is about 4 Mbps, which is a fair bit lesser than the average internet speed in several parts of Asia and Europe. Google is hoping to make meaningful contribution to the shared goal of delivering faster and better Internet for everyone. To be realistic, the limited reach of the Google Fiber means that it will probably not succeed in achieving anything more than publicity for Google, but then, it’s hard to criticize any mission that tries to make the internet faster.

The Legacy of MS-DOS [Editorial]

MS-DOS, the humble little operating system that was instrumental in establishing Microsoft’s dominance over the PC industry, turns 30 today. On July 27, 1981, Microsoft bought the rights for QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System). QDOS went on to be rebranded as MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System), which then went on to dominate the market for nearly fifteen years.

MS-DOS-Logo

Colored Beginning

MS-DOS helped Microsoft blossom into a software giant that became both feared and hated for its often aggressive and sometimes illegal tactics. However, even before Microsoft was a household name, and even before Microsoft was a monopoly, Microsoft was no stranger to sneaky and clever business strategies. In those days, CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers) by Gary Kildall of Digital Research, Inc. was the dominant OS, and IBM initially wanted to use it on their forthcoming PCs. However, talks broke down due to Kildall’s refusal to sign a non-disclosure agreement (although more colorful versions of the story are often told in tech folklore).

The next company that IBM approached was Microsoft, which had little experience in developing operating systems. Microsoft decided to license QDOS written by Tim Paterson, a Seattle Computer Products employee. Sneakily enough, Microsoft initially hid its IBM deal from Seattle Computer and managed to acquire the rights for less than $100,000. QDOS, which is often alleged to be virtually identical to CP/M, would soon succeed in obliterating the latter. However, the smartest decision that Microsoft took was to convince IBM to allow it to hold on to the rights for marketing DOS. As a result, Microsoft would go on to earn hundreds of millions in revenues over the next several years.

Redditor Receives Phishing Email, Hacks the Scammer, and Reports Him

While surfing through Reddit this morning, I stumbled across an interesting submission from a Redditor going by the username “Tomble”. Apparently, Tomble received a standard PayPal phishing mail demanding personal information for “verification purposes”. However, unlike most of us, who would simply report it as a phishing attempt and be done with it, Tomble decided to do some snooping around.

Tomble noticed that the domain name had a structure similar to “http://www.example.net/~joe”, which indicated that the username for that domain’s control panel as well as ftp account was probably ‘joe’. He then decided to try his luck by assuming that the ftp address will be similar to the domain name. His guess turned out to be correct. He still didn’t know the ftp password. However, the domain indicated that this particular webspace was provided by an ISP. Hoping against hope that the webmaster hadn’t changed the default password, which is often just ‘password’, he entered ‘password’ as the ftp password. Amazingly, it worked, and Tomble managed to break into the server.

The website actually belonged to some clueless gentleman who probably had nothing to do with the scammer. The scammer probably managed to break into the server in the same way Tomble did, and planted a few PHP scripts to collect PayPal authentication information.

Tomble found all of this information stored in a single text file. So far, three gullible PayPal users had fallen for this scam. He immediately notified the concerned ISP. However, he didn’t receive any immediate response. On the other hand, two more users had fallen victim within the next thirty minutes.

Tomble now decided to intervene. He made a few modifications to the phishing website (see screenshot below). All of the victims, with the exception of one guy from Thailand, had left their phone numbers for verification purposes. Tomble emailed the Thai guy, and called up the other four with the following helpful suggestion.

Hi, my name’s Tomble, this might sound weird but I received a scam email pretending to be from PayPal this morning. I was able to follow it back and discovered your contact information there. You should contact your bank and let them know your credit card has been compromised, so they can protect you from fraudulent charges.

Scammer-Gets-Scammed

While one of the victims was initially suspicious, all of them eventually realized that Tomble was one of the good guys. In one case, he had to leave a message with the wife of the victim, who will probably find himself in some minor domestic trouble due to his gullibility.

It’s unfortunate that even today people are falling for phishing scams and Nigerian scams. Significantly, all of the victims were between the ages 39 and 60. While the younger ‘cyber-generation’ is by and large aware of the threats they face online, many from the older generations still need to be educated. Do you bit today, and educate your parents and grandparents about online security. As our fine Australian friend, Tomble, has shown, a little effort can go a long way.