Microsoft Throws Support Behind USB 3.0 With Windows 8

Microsoft is incorporating a software stack in its upcoming Windows 8 OS to natively support devices based on the USB 3.0 interconnect, which is in a battle for adoption with Intel's Thunderbolt.

USB 3.0 is the successor to USB 2.0 standard and can transfer data 10 times faster between computers and external peripherals such as cameras and storage devices. Most laptops and desktops today come with USB 2.0 ports and many PC makers are offering USB 3.0 ports as an option. The current Windows 7 OS does not include native support for USB 3.0, but device makers offer drivers to ensure products are compatible with the OS.

The growing support for USB 3.0 and wide usage of USB 2.0 was a compelling reason to improve the USB software stack, said Dennis Flanagan, Microsoft's director of program management for the devices and networking group, in an entry on the company's Building Windows 8 blog.

"By 2015, all new PCs are expected to offer USB 3.0 ports, and over 2 billion new 'SuperSpeed' USB devices will be sold in that year alone," Flanagan wrote.

Microsoft is writing a new software stack and controller for Windows 8 based on the "design principles" of USB 3.0, which will bring plug-and-play support for new devices such as external storage, webcams and keyboards, Flanagan wrote. The company is retaining the existing software stack to support older USB devices.

But there are few USB 3.0 devices available today, so to create the new software stack the company had to simulate and build virtual USB 3.0 hardware, including ports, hubs and devices.

The hardware support for USB 3.0 is also growing. Intel has already said it will integrate USB 3.0 support in chipsets for processors code-named Ivy Bridge, which will reach PCs early next year. AMD has already integrated support for USB 3.0 in its Fusion chipsets, which are already shipping for PCs.

USB 3.0 transfers data at speeds of up to 5 gigabits per second, which is slower than the transfer speed of rival interconnect technology Thunderbolt. Developed by Intel, Thunderbolt can transfer data between host computers and external devices such as displays and storage at up to 10 gigabits per second. Thunderbolt has been viewed as an alternative to USB 3.0, but Intel has the said the technologies are complementary. Apple uses Thunderbolt in its products.

Thunderbolt currently supports the PCI Express and DisplayPort protocols, and the interconnect does not require any OS support beyond existing software stacks for those protocols, an Intel spokesman said in an e-mail.

But Microsoft's backing will aid the fast growth of USB 3.0 and provide higher transfer speeds for consumer devices, said Jim McGregor, research director at In-Stat.

"Thunderbolt will be one of many peripheral options available, just like IEEE1394 and Firewire, but I think USB will be the predominant interface because it is so heavily tied to the largest growth segment of the market, mobile devices, for both interconnectivity and power," McGregor said.

Thunderbolt is based on copper wires, but ultimately will be based on optical technology. That will boost the interconnect's transfer speed and distance, Intel has said.

"[USB 3.0] will still not be as fast as the Thunderbolt optic link, but copper never will be as fast as optics," McGregor said.

Wireless charging could trump both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt, provided it takes off, McGregor said. The transfer speeds may not be as fast, but device makers are showing interest in the technology, he said.

"It may eventually eliminate the need for peripheral connectors on mobile devices and then everyone will look to wireless interfaces," McGregor said.

Other than enthusiast users, drivers aren't something average PC users need to worry about, but native support for USB 3.0 in Windows 8 can't hurt, said Nathan Brookwood [CQ], principal analyst at Insight 64.

"When they are talking about the history of Windows 8, they are going to be talking about the user interface and ... touch," Brookwood said.

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IBM Shines in Strong Q2 Server Market

IBM's worldwide server revenue jumped a healthy 24.5 percent in the second quarter, putting it neck and neck with Hewlett-Packard for the top spot, IDC reported Tuesday.

Helped by a surge in mainframe sales, IBM's revenue climbed to just over US$4 billion in the quarter, giving it 30.5 percent of the overall market. HP's sales climbed a more modest 9.3 percent, to $3.9 billion, for 29.8 percent of the market. IBM crowed that it had recaptured the server crown, but IDC declared it "a statistical tie."

Server sales were strong overall, with worldwide revenue climbing 18 percent from a year earlier to $13.2 billion, IDC said. Unit shipments were 2.1 million, the second-highest total ever reported for a June quarter. The highest was in 2008, just before the economy went south.

"These numbers were actually slightly better than we were expecting," said IDC analyst Jed Scaramella.

Recent Unix upgrades from HP, IBM and Oracle helped lift the results, as did new mainframes from IBM. In addition, companies that put off buying new gear during the recession finally had to make purchases, IDC said.

The second half of the year won't be so rosy, however. The refresh cycles are starting to dry up and "weakening macroeconomic concerns around the world will serve to moderate demand for servers later this year," IDC said in a statement.

The research firm predicts "a soft landing" for the server market in the second half, Scaramella said.

Still, for now business was brisk in all segments. Sales of volume systems, which by IDC's definition cost less than $25,000, were up 17 percent from a year earlier, while sales of midrange systems, priced from $25,000 to $250,000, were up by the same amount. Sales of high-end systems -- those priced above $250,000 -- climbed 23 percent, IDC said.

The high-end sales undoubtedly were helped by IBM's System z mainframe sales, which were up 61 percent from a year earlier, to $1.2 billion. Blades also performed well, with revenue up 27 percent year over year, IDC said.

All vendors saw their server revenue increase from a year earlier. Fujitsu, the smallest of the top five vendors, saw its revenue more than double, largely thanks to the K-computer high-performance computing system in Japan. It finished the quarter with 6.5 percent market share, in a statistical tie with Oracle, whose sales increased just 4.2 percent.

Dell's server sales increased by 5.1 percent, IDC said, putting it in the middle of the pack with revenue of $1.8 billion.

"This was the fifth consecutive quarter with double-digit year-over-year revenue growth, as the market recovery continued to extend from x86 servers to midrange Unix to high-end mainframe class systems," IDC analyst Matt Eastwood said in a statement.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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Google's Stealth Updates: Why Nobody Else Gets Away With It

Google has a big advantage over competitors when it comes to pushing out patches for Chrome and other software products: The company can, by default, automatically update users' systems on Windows and Apple platforms. That's good for Google and for users in that it ensures people are running the newest, most secure version of the company's wares, which in turn helps to keep Google off top 10 lists of vendors with the most exploitable software. But Google seems to be the exception to the rule, and dealing with unpatched software remains a huge issue for the industry.

According to Kaspersky Lab, for example, Adobe and Java software now accounts for all 10 of the most popular successful exploits. Yet most of the holes discovered in those offerings are patched relatively quickly after public disclosure; it's just that people aren't downloading the patches. According to Zscaler's latest "State of the Web" security report, for example, more than 56 percent of enterprise Adobe Reader users are running an outdated version. This trend is not overly different for many of the world's most popular applications.

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For example, according to Microsoft (my full-time employer), only 3 percent of Microsoft Office exploits targeted vulnerabilities that had been patched in the preceding year; put another away, 97 percent of exploits targeted vulnerabilities for which patches had been available for a year or more. Fifty-six percent of successful exploits were against systems that had not patched Office 2003 since the day it was installed; more than five years had gone by without a single patch.

When I go over to friends' houses to help clean up malware, I almost always see hundreds of megabytes of patches begging to be installed, with apps sending pop-up messages asking if it's OK to install, only to have the user delay over and over again. My friends always ask, "Should I update this thing?" Uh, yes.

These types of statistics and experiences probably makes you wonder why all the major vendors can't automatically update their software without end-user approval, like Google does with its Chrome browser and other products. (For clarification, Google Chrome only automatically updates on Windows and Apple platforms by default. Auto-updating can be managed or disabled. On Linux platforms, updates are covered using the normal update mechanisms.)

The major answer is that any update from any vendor can potentially cause operational issues. If an update causes operational issues, there's a potential for a lawsuit. Microsoft was lambasted years ago for updating its automatic update mechanism, even though it caused no operational problems, was configurable, and warned the user performing the installation.

It's true, to a degree, that if vendors better tested their patches, users wouldn't be scared to automatically accept updates. But in a world where there are millions of customized applications and hundreds of thousands of different hardware components, no vendor can perform 100 percent comprehensive compatibility testing.

Once, after Microsoft discovered a critical internal bug affecting services, I mentioned a way to fix the hole on an internal forum. Someone did the research and agreed that my suggested fix would close the hole, but it would cause operational problems with 1 percent of customized applications. I said, "Great, let's do it!" My colleagues replied, "We would fire you first" -- because 1 percent of Windows applications accounts for a lot of pissed-off customers. Until that moment, I didn't realize how strict backward-compatibility testing was.

Crazy though it may sound, a company can face a backlash for rolling out patches that are incompatible with popular malware. Microsoft has had more than a few application and software updates that crashed a moderate number of computers because they were infected with malware. The blogosphere went wild, and trade publications featured article after article discussing Microsoft's update and how it crashed computers around the world, along with quotes from disgruntled customers. It's so bad that Microsoft now checks for popular malware prior to applying some of its updates and patches.

Vendors may make software patches better, but they'll never be perfect. For that reason, many admins and end-users choose not to apply patches in a timely manner. Most vendors recommend thorough testing patches before applying them. Some organizations do this, though some do it too well, spending weeks to months before the latest patches are applied. Many other users simply wait a few days to a few weeks to see if any major problems are reported by earlier adopters. And a significant portion of the population simply never applies patches -- ever.

Many people think the SaaS cloud paradigm will change all of this. The traditional idea is that updating will be frequent and invisible, because the vendor can update their centralized software and every end-user will be immediately updated, too. Not so fast.

Numerous cloud vendors are telling customers they can run a version or two behind and select when to start using the latest iteration. Again, this is for operational and, I assume, training reasons. Updating in the cloud should certainly make patching easier to accomplish, but I sadly suspect some of the old patching habits will still be extended in the new world.

To be honest, I'm jealous of Google's default, automatic, silent updating. How does the company get away with it when nearly every other major vendor defaults to end-user or admin approval first? What is the company's secret? Higher-risk tolerance? A stronger-written EULA? And if Google Chrome secures huge market share and is relied upon in production environments, will maintain its install-first, ask-questions later update policies?

These are good questions to ask, because our current patching policies aren't working. We need to do something else. I'm sure all vendors would love to be able to force customers to update quicker. It's more secure, less frustrating in the end, and would lead to lower support costs (because fewer versions would need to be supported).

This story, "Google's stealth updates: Why no one else gets away with it," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Keep up on the latest developments in network security and read more of Roger Grimes's Security Adviser blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

For more IT analysis and commentary on emerging technologies, visit InfoWorld.com. Story copyright © 2011 InfoWorld Media Group. All rights reserved.

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Get Android Running on a TouchPad, Win Up To $1500 in Prizes

A bounty as high as $1500 is up for grabs to the first person to get Android running on HP's ill-fated TouchPad. Details of the contest were posted to the site Hack n Mod following a weekend of TouchPad price cuts and a rush by shoppers to snap up the tablet for as little as $99. As you many expect, following the seemingly sharp increase in the TouchPad's installed base, it wasn't surprising to see the hacking community get behind the abandoned device.

A similar effort to install the Android OS onto the HP tablet is underway by a group called TouchDroid. The TouchDroid team revealed plans to get the Gingerbread version of Android working on HP's 9.7-inch tablet Monday.

Unlike TouchDroid, the Hack n Mod offer includes cash prizes as an incentive. Hack n Mob will reward $450 to first person to port Android to the TouchPad. It pays $350 more if you can get Android Wi-Fi support to work on the TouchPad, $300 more for audio support, $300 if you can get the camera to work, and $100 for multi-touch support. See the Hack n Mod site for complete details.

If you have grabbed a TouchPad, will you be looking to put Android on it? Let us know in the comments.

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Future of HP's WebOS: The FAQ

The Future of HP's WebOSWebOS-enabled devices from HPHewlett-Packard may be giving up on making webOS devices such as the Pre 3 and Veer smartphones and TouchPad tablet, but executives at the company say committed to developing its mobile platform. HP appears convinced it can wring some value from the mobile OS it picked up after purchasing Palm last year for $1.2 billion.

In a number of interviews, Stephen DeWitt, who heads up the HP division responsible for webOS, has emphasized that webOS will live on in PCs and as an embedded platform for printers and appliances. "We made the decision to focus on the platform," DeWitt recently told Engadget. "We could bring webOS to the market and expand the ecosystem...We can look at licensing; we can look at OEM and ODM-type relationships." DeWitt also told Engadget that HP has been in talks with third parties about webOS, but declined to say which companies HP was talking to.

HP's Stephen DeWittHP's Stephen DeWittWith so much speculation about the future of webOS, it's hard to know for sure what's going on. And, truth be told, it doesn't look like HP is all that certain either. Here's a quick FAQ covering what we know so far about the future of webOS.

Will HP Continue to Develop WebOS?

For the foreseeable future, HP says it will continue to work on and invest in webOS. Dewitt told Bloomberg that the company plans to evolve, update, and support webOS.

Are WebOS Updates Coming to Current Devices?

Yes, DeWitt says updates for the Veer and the TouchPad will continue, but it's unclear when that would change.

Where Will WebOS Show Up Next?

HP says it is still committed to developing webOS for PCs and for printers. So you may still see the mobile OS show up on HP computers in the near future. HP earlier this year said it planned to use webOS as an enhancement to Windows that would allow for synchronization between mobile webOS devices and HP PCs.

The future of the company's PC business is still unclear. HP recently said it wants to get out of the consumer device business, but HP's consumer PC business will continue normal operations until it has been spun off, sold, or meets another fate.

HP's webOS may also show up as a platform for devices beyond printers, phones, and tablets. “There are going to be appliances of so many different sizes and shapes in the future that are going to require a human interface for data," DeWitt told Bloomberg, suggesting future appliances could run webOS.

HP is currently searching for potential webOS partners to help make its platform dreams a reality. "HP webOS is an awesome software platform and now we can explore the best hardware partner for it," Richard Kerris, HP's vice president of worldwide developer relations for webOS, recently said on Twitter.

HP's hopes for a "webOS everywhere" strategy may be wishful thinking, however, as Linux and Microsoft already have a strong foothold as platforms for financial trading, motorcycles, cars, and numerous other devices.

What About the HP App Catalog?

HP claims it is still invested in attracting developers to create apps for webOS. "We will continue to support, innovate, and develop the webOS App Catalog. Our intent is to enhance our merchandising and presentation of your great products and to continue to build our webOS app ecosystem," Kerris said recently on the HP webOS Developer Blog.

But convincing developers to invest time and money in a platform without any new devices in the pipeline won't be easy. HP may be in denial about this, but Microsoft already smells blood in the water and is circling around webOS devs who might be looking to bail on HP.

Brandon Watson, Microsoft's director of developer experience for Windows Phone 7, on Twitter recently promised webOS developers--with already published apps--free development phones and other enticements to develop for Phone 7. The ploy appears to be attracting interest from a number of webOS devs.

Will HP Sell WebOS?

That's certainly a possibility. There have been many reports speculating that HP's patents for webOS could prove enticing to competitors such as Dell or LG. For now, however, HP is hoping to license webOS to third parties. But it's unclear whether hardware makers committed to Google's Android such as HTC or Samsung would be willing to dump their investments for a relatively unproven mobile platform. Samsung, however, is reportedly concerned about Android after Google recently announced it intends to acquire Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. So, maybe there's still hope for future webOS handsets.

What About Open Source?

So far, HP wants to hold onto webOS and hopes to develop it further. Some may want to see webOS under an open source license, but at this point that doesn't appear likely.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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Fox's 8-Day Content Delay Encourages Piracy

Fox recently decided to stop releasing free online streams of its TV shows on Hulu the day after they air--instead, Fox is delaying free streaming for eight days. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this choice by the network has resulted in an over-100-percent increase in piracy.

It's pretty clear: denizens of the Internet don't take too kindly to being stripped of instant gratification.

After correctly predicting that Fox's August 15 switch from a one-day delay (like other networks) to an eight-day delay would encourage piracy, TorrentFreak tracked two Fox shows: "Hell's Kitchen" and "MasterChef."

Not even one week later, BitTorrent copies of Hell's Kitchen increased by 114 percent, while the season finale of MasterChef saw a whooping 189 percent surge in downloads.

Fox began withholding its shows from Hulu (but not subscription-based Hulu Plus) to appease cable and satellite TV distributors, according to the New York Times. These distributors pay monthly fees for Fox content and disliked the fact that what they were paying for was available elsewhere for free.

So while Fox's choice makes sense for contractors, viewers -- the people who keep shows airing on television in the first place -- were miffed about having to wait an additional week and one day before being able to see their favorite programs. Naturally, this meant the viewers turned to less-than-legal means.

It's possible that Fox saw this coming, or that Fox just doesn't care. But if Fox, for a moment, believed people wouldn't find an alternate route for getting their quick-fix (especially since said fix was available up until August 15), they ought to rethink their strategy--and other networks should take notes.

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Facebook Tweaks Site to Clarify Who Can See What

Facebook is making a series of design changes to the site to make it clearer to users who can see the content that they post, an issue Google has been criticizing Facebook about since it launched its own social network, Google+, in June.

"You have told us that 'who can see this?' could be clearer across Facebook, so we have made changes to make this more visual and straightforward," Facebook said in a blog post on Tuesday.

The main change is that Facebook will now display the intended audience for a photo, a text post, a tag or any other piece of content right next to it, or "inline" as stated in the blog post. Until now, those controls have been on a separate Settings section of the profile.

"Your profile should feel like your home on the web -- you should never feel like stuff appears there that you don't want, and you should never wonder who sees what's there," the post reads.

Now, every piece of content on a user's profile will have a drop-down menu that lists its current access level, and other available options for changing it. These include sharing something only with people on one's "friends" list, with "friends of friends," with "everyone" on or off Facebook, or with a "custom" hand-picked list of people. The "everyone" option is changing its name to "public" because Facebook has determined the word "public" is more descriptive of that broad level of access.

These "inline" access options will also be added to the content-posting box so that they are more easily accessible to people when they're posting new photos, videos or written messages.

"This dropdown menu will be expanding over time to include smaller groups of people you may want to share with, like co-workers, Friend Lists you've created, and Groups you're a member of. These will make it easy to quickly select exactly the audience you want for any post," Facebook's blog post said.

Since launching Google+, Google has been claiming that its site offers a simpler, more effective way to share content than Facebook. Google has said that Facebook's privacy and content-sharing controls are too complex and inconvenient, leading users to often share inadvertently with a larger audience than intended.

While the jury is still out on whether Google+'s Circles feature indeed offers an improvement over Facebook's functionality, Facebook's move today clearly seems motivated to address any competitive advantage Google may be trying to get with Circles.

Another change Facebook is introducing is allowing users to modify the audience of a post after it's published, which they couldn't do before, the company said.

Facebook is also introducing a review period for photos and posts in which users are tagged, giving the tagged users a chance to review the photo or post before it's displayed on their profile, in case they want to un-tag themselves.

A feature Facebook has had for years, which lets users see how their profile looks to another user, is gaining a more prominent placement in the profile page to make it more easily accessible and promote its usage.

Along with the privacy-awareness changes, Facebook is also expanding users' ability to tag others and label posts with geographical locations.

Previously, users could only tag people on their "friends" list, but now it will be possible to tag anyone. With locations, it was only possible to "check in" with the Places feature on a smartphone, but now people will be able to add location tags from any device, and apply them not only to places but also to status updates, photos or other posts.

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Facebook Changes Aimed at Improved Privacy

Facebook Tuesday announced changes to its user interface that are designed to improve user privacy and make the social network's privacy options easier to find.

The changes make it easier for a user to control who sees what he or she posts to the social network and what is able to be seen on a user's Facebook page. The changes affect your profile page, your posts, and tagging and adds a new addition: A do-over feature if you change your mind about who sees your post.

Change Details

The changes start with a user's profile page (see image below). Any content on the page will have a drop-down menu beside items there that lets the user know who can see the content--the public, friends, or custom viewers. Those options can be changed with a single click.

Drop-down menus have also been added to posts that users make. Those menus will be refined over time, according to Facebook Product Vice President Chris Cox. "These will make it easy to quickly select exactly the audience you want for any post," he wrote in a company blog.

Facebook is also introducing a sort of "do-over" feature. If you change your mind about who should see a posting after you post it, you can change that with the drop down menu, even after it has been posted (see image below).

Tagging has also been altered. Previously, photos and postings in which users were tagged automatically appeared on their profile pages. Now the user can approve or reject a tagged item before it appears on their profile page. They can't, however, block the tagged item from appearing on another user's pages.

Tagging has been expanded a bit, too (see image below). Users now can tag "friends" or non-friends, as well as pages, whether they "like" them or not. In addition, options for removing tags have been clarified.

Location options have also been changed. Previously, you could reveal your location only through the Places feature on a smartphone. Now you'll be able to add location information to anything—status update, photo or wall posting—and from any device. Of course, you can also choose not to reveal that information, too.

"These changes will start to roll out in the coming days," Cox wrote. "When they reach you, you'll see a prompt for a tour that walks you through these new features from your homepage."

Not Enough Privacy?

However, at least one security expert maintains the social network should have gone further to protect users' privacy.

As good as the new changes are, Facebook missed a real opportunity to advance privacy on its network, says Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant with Sophos, a cyber security software maker. "A lot of these things are quite cosmetic," Cluley told PC World. "They could have done more about general privacy and safety on Facebook."

"Some of the things they've done here are great, and they're a step in the right direction," he added, "but I worry that there are more fundamental opportunities they could have taken which they ignored with this revamp."

One of those opportunities cited by Cluley was to put more "opt-in" choices in the Facebook system, instead of requiring users to "opt-out" of its offerings. "They've put a nice varnish over Facebook," he said. "But what we haven't got is anything which says, 'From now on, whenever we introduce a new feature, we're not going to share your information without your express agreement."

Changes: Google+ Inspired?

Although Facebook denies it, it appears that the changes are a response to Google's upstart social network, Google+. "Even some of the terminology which Facebook is now using is a direct copy of Google+," Cluley asserted. "For instance, you no longer share with everyone, you share with 'public.'"

"This is a reaction to Google+," he said. "That's not a bad thing. That's how competitiveness develops things. Facebook should be applauded from that point of view."

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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Data Centers Largely Unaffected by East Coast Quake

Staff were evacuated at several data centers following Tuesday's earthquake but operations at most facilities appear to have been unaffected, according to Twitter posts and other sources.

The earthquake was centered in Virginia and hit just before 2 p.m. local time with a magnitude of 5.8, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That's not particularly big by global standards, but it was enough to shake buildings and send people pouring into the streets in Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C., according to news reports. It was the biggest earthquake to hit Virginia since 1897, according to the USGS.

Amazon Web Services, which operates a large data center in Virginia, said its services were unaffected. "All AWS services in the US East region are operating normally at the present time," a spokeswoman said via e-mail.

One AWS customer did report a brief uptick in page loading times. SeatGeek, a search site for tickets, saw a "pretty nasty" spike in its page response times when the earthquake struck.

"Over here at SeatGeek, we were excitedly discussing the tremor when Mike, our trusty sysadmin, realized that our Amazon AWS servers were all in Virginia, right near the epicenter," the company said in a blog post, where it posted a graph showing the slowdown.

"Lessons Learned? 1) Earthquakes make Web Servers sad [and] 2) Real time system monitoring is awesome," the company wrote. The spike lasted about two minutes, SeatGeek said.

Many other service providers rushed to Twitter after the earthquake to report that their operations were unaffected, including Microsoft's Dynamics Online CRM group.

"East Coast earthquake has not impacted the [North America] datacenter so CRM Online is business as usual; close monitoring during aftershocks," the CRM group said in a Twitter post.

"The Razor data center was not impacted by the #earthquake. All services are currently normal," said hosting company Razor Servers, whose main data center is in Philadelphia.

"Just ran regression tests in our VA data center- Everything is up & running normally," Contact Solutions said in a tweet. "I guess we can say we run an earthquake-proof service!"

Bluto's Hosting, Clook Internet, PAETEC and Distributed Systems Service were among others reporting no interruption to service. Big commercial operators such as Digital Realty Trust, QTS, Sungard and Terremark also had no problems, Datacenter Dynamics reported.

Several data center workers said they had been evacuated from their data centers, one as far north as Boston. Other companies jumped on the chance to promote disaster recovery services.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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Asus Eee Pad Transformer Tablet, $349

The Asus Eee Pad Transformer has a 10.1-inch screen and runs on Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). Our reviewer called it "an attractive choice," but gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars because she was concerned about its durability and she would have preferred more ports. The extra-cost Mobile Docking Station adds a keyboard and more ports, and turns the tablet into a little netbook. The 16GB Asus Eee Pad Transformer usually sells for about $400, but Walmart.com has it for only $349, with 97-cent shipping.

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A TouchPad for $49? Maybe If You're Rick Astley

With geeks still scrambling to get their hands on the last of Hewlett-Packard's US$99 TouchPads, a $49 deal just seems too good to be true.

And, as the thousand or so people who tried to buy cheap TouchPads on an HP look-alike website Tuesday learned, one should steer clear of things that seem too good to be true.

The prank site -- registered Tuesday as Hewlett-packard.org.uk -- looks legitimate. In fact, many of the links on the site go to real HP addresses.

But anyone who tries to buy the $49 TouchPad gets Rickrolled. It's a popular type of Internet prank where the victim clicks on a seemingly irresistible link -- a $49 TouchPad, or a sneak copy of a Kim Kardashian wedding video -- and ends up instead sitting through a YouTube clip of schmaltzy soul singer Rick Astley singing his 1987 hit, "Never Gonna Give You Up."

Clicking on the TouchPad's "Add to Cart" button brings up the Rick Astley video and the line, "srry no hp touchpad! looooool," along with a running count of how many people have been fooled (925 as this article was completed).

The prank website is registered by Phillip Sullivan of Los Angeles. Sullivan could not be reached Tuesday, and it's unclear whether the name is a pseudonym.

Corporations typically register domain names, even if they don't intend to use them, but in this case, the prankster was able to register a believable-looking domain, hewlett-packard.org.uk, that HP hadn't managed to snatch up.

The site could have been used for something much worse than a harmless prank, according to the Social-Engineering.org website, which first blogged about the prank HP site on Tuesday. "If this were actually a malicious scammer how many people would have clicked?" Social-Engineering.org wrote on its blog. "How many would have inserted credit card info?"

This isn't the first phoney TouchPad site to pop up. Yesterday HP warned about another fake TouchPad site, called Hptouchpadsale.com. "IT IS FAKE!! Do not buy from there," HP spokeswoman Bryna Corcoran said in a Twitter message.

Last week, HP announced it was killing off its iPad competitor due to poor sales. But when it slashed retail prices to $99 it transformed the TouchPad from a flop to a hot item. The TouchPad initially sold for $499.

Most U.S. retailers sold out of the devices quickly when the sale began Saturday, but people are still trying to find them online.

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's e-mail address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com

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8GB iPhone 4 in the Works: Rumor

8GB iPhone 4 in the Works: RumorApple has started manufacturing an 8GB iPhone 4 model that could be sold alongside the brand-new iPhone 5 this fall, according to a Reuters report. The 8GB flash drives for the low-end iPhone 4 are being manufactured by a Korean company, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Rumors of a low-end iPhone debuting with the iPhone 5 are not new. The idea of a scaled-down version of the iPhone being sold alongside a new model is not new either. Apple has been selling an 8GB iPhone 3GS at a discount alongside the iPhone 4 for the past year, so it’s not going to be a surprise if an 8GB iPhone 4 hits the market this fall.

It’s unclear for how much the year-old technology in an 8GB iPhone 4 would sell for. Apple sold the 8GB iPhone 3GS for half the price of the entry-level iPhone 4 ($99, then dropped the price to $49), so we could see a similar price drop this fall. According to Reuters’ sources, the 8GB iPhone 4 is expected to “launch within weeks,” which matches previous reports that the iPhone 5 would be announced at the end of September.

Details over the features of the iPhone 5 are still conflicting. Some reports indicate the iPhone 5 would be an incremental update (also known as iPhone 4S) with a better processor and camera, but sporting the same screen size and body, while others point toward a device with a larger screen and radically different design.

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Pinnacle Cart

TopTenREVIEWS - Bronze Award - Awarded for excellence in design, useability and feature set
Pinnacle Cart is perhaps the most elaborate shopping cart software we’ve reviewed. Their mile-long feature set is packed with superb options in every essential eCommerce category, including (but not limited to) customer management, inventory tracking and business analytics. Having a feature set as large as the one Pinnacle Cart offers is a definite plus because it gives your store numerous tools for growing and becoming more successful. That being said, the amount of features this shopping cart software has could be intimidating to newer users. While Pinnacle Cart couldn’t be any easier to use, the feature set might make the software seem quite complicated.
With its gigantic feature set loaded with powerful options, Pinnacle Cart is a shoe-in as our TopTenREVIEWS Bronze Award winner. This shopping cart software’s feature set might seem daunting, but it has options that can satisfy the needs of pretty much any kind of internet retail store.
Web Design:
This shopping cart software creates URLs for you or lets you create your own URL structure. All URLs can be managed at the page, product or category level. If you’re moving from a different application, Pinnacle Cart will match your new URLs to the old ones. Every page created via the control panel can have a meta keyword, title and description added to it. You can upload a robot.txt file with Pinnacle Cart to control how search engines process your site.
Pinnacle Cart supports the ability to generate meta tags based on product descriptions and upload customized HTML pages to assist in search engine positioning. If you’re good at coding web pages, you’ll love that this service supports the ability to modify HTML or CSS via your internet browser. This shopping cart software automatically generates a site map for your page and an XML sitemap.
With the web design features associated with Pinnacle Cart, you’re able to choose from 30 different button styles, change your site's layout, add your own custom header and footer to your site and create an unlimited number of additional pages. It also allows you to create your own buttons and headers and upload them via the control panel. Pinnacle Cart gives you over 100 box headers to choose from, and you can adjust and add boxes. Additionally, this shopping cart software enables you to create advertising areas as well as upload YouTube videos, flash presentations and other multimedia files. Products from pages outside the cart application can be added to the cart without any problem.
“Design Mode” makes it possible for anyone to create a professional looking store, even if they have never designed a web page before. With the “Catalog View” manager, you can select between a text, thumbnail single, thumbnail double, three-column or two column view. Pinnacle Cart’s templates are compatible with Dreamweaver, and they're W3C/XHTML-compliant. They easily integrate with your existing design and can be edited from the control panel with File Manager. The drag-and-drop layout design feature makes designing with these templates a painless process.
Admin/Inventory Control:
Inventory can be tracked at an inventory or attribute level. With attribute-level tracking, only defined combinations are tracked and sold. This option allows you to be more flexible in the ways you track and sell your products. Pinnacle Cart supports two-way synchronization with desktop order management applications like Webgility and Store Manager. With Pinnacle Cart, you have the option to set “low stock” notifications and control when and how inventory is removed from your website. You have the ability to remove products from your site or show an “out of stock” message when a product's inventory reaches zero.
The opportunities for sales and promotions are plentiful with Pinnacle Cart. Date-driven promotional codes create a sense of urgency, motivating customers to take part in the sale immediately. Global or product-level promotional codes can serve as your sales on a more ongoing basis. Pinnacle Cart even lets you set sale prices for every item in your store. You can also create offers where customers receive free shipping if they spend a certain amount or get one item free after they buy another.
Pinnacle Cart integrates with MailChimp, opening up a world of possibilities for you in terms of email marketing. With MailChimp, you can manage bounced emails and create newsletters to promote your store and particular products. RSS product feeds are also good tools to keep customers up to date. The email list you generate with MailChimp can be exported to other applications as a CSV file.
Security: Summary:

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Audials Tunebite

Audials Tunebite Platinum is an impressive application with a number of functions, including video converting. The comprehensive video converter software has everything you need to convert, compress and copy content without compromises. With all the right file formats, codecs and containers available for both input and output, the video converter is equipped to get the job done. But more than just being capable, the software is flexible, easy to use and provides professional results.
While we’ll focus this review primarily on the video converting capabilities of Audials Tunebite, it should be mentioned that the suite is capable of so much more. More than just converting a file from one format to another (which it does quite well), this valuable application includes all the tools necessary to rip music and video from DVDs, online movies and more. Best of all, it does it all legally by using a re-recording process so you don’t ever break the DRM protection. Audials Tunebite video converter software doesn’t make any compromises in copyright or quality.
Input Files:
Audials Tunebite Platinum can even help you capture content to convert. The software isn’t just a great converter, it’s also a universal recorder. You can copy movies from DVDs, YouTube or any websites that stream movies. It doesn’t matter what the source is or what file format it’s played in, you can capture it. Audials lists over 85 websites and services you can get quality content from, with step-by-step instructions for each one. You can even use the software to capture otherwise unobtainable RTMP-E protected movies.
Audials re-records videos at the network level as it’s streamed on your computer (unless it’s RTMP-E protected, and then it uses a built-in screen recorder). The video converter software essentially takes photos of each shot and then puts it all together. But you don’t have to worry about HD media losing quality, the audio and video not syncing, or even your PC not being able to handle the intense process. The technology behind Tunebite works, works well, and works without you having to control (or even monitor) it.
The video converter software pretty much takes care of everything for you, recognizing the source, optimizing as needed and producing professional results. Tunebite takes care of everything automatically, including drawing the perfect video capture frame, syncing the video and audio, or cutting the film up into chunks that your processor can handle. In fact, the software compares the copy to the original and can even repeat the process as needed until the quality is perfect.
And because the video converter software is technically re-recording the movie, it’s completely legal as long as you own the content or have the right to access it, and you’re not sharing it with others. So making a backup copy of a DVD movie you own (or an online movie you have the right to access) for playback on your cell phone is legal, whereas copying a movie you rented – while possible – is illegal (especially if you plan on making a copy for your friend too). The re-recording process doesn’t break the DRM protection to make a backup copy, so it’s perfectly legal.
Output Files:
Audials Tunebite 8 Platinum is able to convert to all the major file formats that you need for quality playback on popular devices, including PCs, portable media players, cell phones, iPods, video game consoles (home and portable) and more. With so many different devices and proprietary file formats, it’s nice to have a problem-solving solution like Tunebite.
Still, it is worth mentioning that the video converter software doesn’t cover all your bases. While the output file formats available are the most common (WMV, AVI, Xvid, 3GP, MP4), they aren’t an exhaustive list. In fact, comparatively the list is pretty weak. If converting video to and from obscure file formats is what you need, this converter falls short.
The frame rate can also be customized to balance file size with optimum playback. You can adjust the fps (frames per second) from anywhere between 6 and 60 fps.
If you have a lot of files that need to be converted then you can take advantage of the batch convert mode. While the target output format has to be the same across the batch, the input files can be different file types.
The software also includes the ability to convert audio files, but you can also extract audio from movie files to make your own soundtrack.
Ease of Use:
More demanding users can access the advanced controls and tweak settings as needed. If you have an uncommon file conversion need or simply want to tweak the output options, you can. You can adjust the frame rate, sample rate, video dimensions and more.
Overall, Audials Tunebite has professional results but is completely manageable. It’s video converter software that is comprehensive – but also comprehendible.
Help and Support: Summary:

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SurfEasy: Browsing privacy for the less tech-savvy

The SurfEasy USB key pops out of a business-card-sized holder.
(Credit: Rafe Needleman/CNET)

VANCOUVER--The Grow start-up conference here is supposed to be off the record. I'm here as a mentor, not to cover it. But you know how it is with entrepreneurs--you can't stop them from pitching.
One such entrepreneur here (not in one of my mentoring sessions) is Chris Houston, who showed me a hardware mockup of his safe Web surfing package SurfEasy. It's a USB key that stores in a business-card-size container and holds an auto-launching version of a portable browser--it runs straight from the USB stick--that connects via an encrypted link to a proxy server farm that SurfEasy maintains.
I didn't get to try the app so I can't vouch for its ease of use or speed, but the pitch is good: For people who need to browse safely from other peoples' computers, it's the simplest way possible to open a secure and private Web experience that leaves no traces behind on the host computer. Houston says it's a good app for students (he says half of teenagers report that their Facebook accounts have been hacked, usually because they forgot to log off after checking their status on someone else's computer), for office workers who are not allowed to browse to personal sites on their work computers, and for travelers who use rented or borrowed computers. He pitches SurfEasy for everyone who's either paranoid or concerned about security or for whom security on the computer they use is restrictive. Yes, SurfEasy will bypass Facebook blocks. It can also report a different location from where you actually are, if you want to watch the US Netflix library in Canada, for example.
While Houston plans to sell SurfEasy directly to consumers, it could also be configured to work well for businesses, as a VPN-on-a-stick for business travelers.
I'll bet you're thinking, this isn't a product for me or anyone I know. First of all, if I want a secure browsing experience, I'll get my own portable Firefox and connect over Tor or Cocoon to hide my tracks. Or maybe you're looking at the rich Menlo Park kids you know, who primarily browse from their own smartphones. Fair enough on both points. But think of the rest of the world. We've been teaching people to be paranoid about security; a lot of them are still using old Windows desktops; and this little service could sell well if marketed correctly. See also Clickfree, the backup service that I'm told is doing well by selling on QVC. There are people who value simplicity and who are not using the latest gear.
This would also be a good product for Internet cafes to sell.
What SurfEasy does three years from now when everyone is primarily on a smartphone, I don't know, though. Houston did say he was considering a software-only version (his Mozilla-based browser plus the hard-coded connection to the SurfEasy proxy services).
SurfEasy is being pre-sold for US$49.99 on KickStarter (more for marketing than to raise funds, I think). It works on Windows and OS X. Final sale price and potential subscription fees (if any) have not yet been determined.
Via CNET Asia

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Samyang 24mm F1.4 unveiled

(Credit: Samyang)
Third-party lens manufacturer Samyang recently announced its latest 24mm F1.4 prime lens for Nikon, Canon, Four Thirds, Pentax K, Sony Alpha and Samsung NX mounts.
Constructed with 13 optical elements in 12 groups, this lens is equipped with low dispersion and aspherical glass as well as multi-layered lens coatings to help reduce color fringing and flare in images. Its fast F1.4 aperture will also enable users to shoot in lowlight conditions, and conceal background distractions when used wide open.
What's interesting about the lens is the different focal lengths it gives on various sensors. For example, on Four Thirds cameras sporting a 2x crop factor, the 24mm gives a normal (48mm equivalent field of view which is suitable for portraits. Whereas on a full-frame sensor, the 24mm becomes a true wide-angle lens which is great for landscapes or street photography. However, do note that the Samyang 24mm F1.4 has no autofocus capabilities and will require manual focusing.
The company says that the lens will be available for sale at the end of the year or early 2012. Pricing in Asia has yet to be confirmed.

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VLC Media Player

The VLC Media Player is one of the most popular DVD player software applications for good reason. It is extremely simple to download and use and comes with an impressive feature set. However, what really sets this free DVD player software apart from competition is the huge selection of supported video formats. When no other media player will play your video file, VLC Media Player is the best choice. Whether it is an obscure file format, or a simple standard format such as an MPEG 4, the VLC Media Player can quickly recognize and play your video with great video and audio quality.
Feature Set:
While the DVD player software offers an assortment of basic features, there are not as many easily-accessible advanced features that some of the higher ranked products offer. For example, it does not offer a parental control feature. We love the simplicity and straightforward approach the software takes, but it lacks innovative features.
Ease of Use: Video Quality: Audio Quality: Help/Support: Summary:

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Skype Wi-Fi access iOS app now available

Skype's Wi-Fi access app is coming to Apple iOS devices.
The company said Wednesday that its Skype Wi-Fi app, formerly called Skype Access, will soon be a free app in the Apple Store, allowing iPhone, iPod touch (running iOS 4.1 and above) and iPad users to connect to over 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the world via their existing Skype accounts.
This will let people connect to Wi-Fi hotspots in hotels, airports, train stations convention centers bars and restaurants using Skype Credit in their accounts. The benefit of accessing these hotspots through Skype is two fold: It allows users to use their existing Skype account and credits. And it also allows people to use the Wi-Fi hotspot for short durations without paying for a full hour or a full day.
"Skype Credit you only pay for the minutes you use," the company said in its blog. "So, there's no need to buy an hour or day WiFi voucher if you're only looking to check your email or make a quick Skype call." The company says the app is great for travelers all over the world, offering a cost-effective and simple way to get online with an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.
Pricing for Wi-Fi access via the Skype app is about US$0.06 per minute, and users are only charged for the minutes they use. There are no limits on the amount of data you can upload or download while in the hotspot.
Via CNET News

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Dropbox 1.1.40

Dropbox is the easiest way to store, sync and share files online.

File Sync 2GB of online storage for free, with up to 100GB available to paying customers.Sync files of any size or type.Sync Windows, Mac and Linux computers.Automatically syncs when new files or changes are detected.File Sharing Shared folders allow several people to collaborate on a set of files.You can see other people's changes instantly.Online Backup Automatic backup of your files.Undelete files and folders.

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Google Chrome 15.0.854.0 Beta

Google Chrome is a browser that combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the web faster, safer, and easier.

One box for everything

Type in the address bar and get suggestions for both search and web pages.

Thumbnails of your top sites

Access your favorite pages instantly with lightning speed from any new tab.

Incognito mode

Don't want pages you visit to show up in your web history? Choose incognito mode for private browsing.

Safe browsing

Google Chrome warns you if you're about to visit a suspected phishing, malware or otherwise unsafe website.

For information about alpha and developer builds, check out the Chrome dev channel here.

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App Aims: Keep Your Cards in One Convenient Location
Reviewer Comments:
If we know you, and we think we do, you want to save money. Not just save money, but get rewarded for spending your money. Is that right? That means you probably have loyalty cards to 90 percent of the places you shop, just like us. Go to the grocery store, get a discount. Go to your favorite clothing store, get a reward. These are all things that businesses get us to spend more money, right?
So what to do with all our cards? Every place either gives a credit card sized card or a smaller card to add on our keychains. But to prevent us from hauling around books full of cards and having our keychains weigh 20 pounds, the CardStar iPod/iPhone app has the answer.
You might ask how CardStar can help us continue to save money and get rewarded without having to drag around hundreds of loyalty cards. Have no fear. You simply enter one of the many cards they accept. Out of all our cards, the only ones they didn’t have available at the time of this review was Shopko, a retail superstore with 142 stores in 13 states in the western and northern United States and Maverick, a gas station chain with over 400 locations in the Midwestern United States. While these two examples will most likely be added over time, right now it’s not a huge oversight. One of the things we love best about this app is that it’s absolutely free.
One of the things we didn’t like about the app was the selection process of the cards. When we initially tested it, we thought we could go through the list and select all the cards we wanted to add and then it would pull them up one by one to be added, but you can only select one at a time and then hit the Next button. Obviously this isn’t that big of a deal, but it would have been nice if, after selecting a card, it took us to the screen where we could add information.
Once you have your card information added in, you can use your iPhone as your card and have the cashier scan it to take advantage of the deals. CardStar also shows the information of your closest retailer and their webpage along with a telephone number to contact them. Another beneficial thing that CardStar offers is each retailer can add different deals available through your iPhone.
You can enter in your current card information or you can sign up online with a limited number of retailers. Be sure you have an internet connection if you want to access this.
Conveniently located within the app is the opportunity to send an email directly to CardStar’s customer support if you have an issue. They also provide a link to their Twitter feed and their home page. They also have a great Help section with a detailed information page and a FAQs list. One thing we noticed with this app is that to access the Help screen we had to edit our cards. Otherwise, we never would have found it.
If you’re a retailer I would suggest adding CardStar to your list of things to do. After all, it’s all about pleasing the customer right? And who wouldn’t want to make things more convenient for them?

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WinZip 15.5.9579

WinZip is the most trusted way to work with compressed files. No other compression utility is as easy-to-use or offers the comprehensive and productivity-enhancing approach that has made WinZip the gold standard for file-compression tools.

You can quickly and securely zip and unzip files to conserve storage space, speed up e-mail transmission, and reduce download times. State-of-the-art file compression, strong AES encryption, compatibility with more compression formats, and new intuitive photo compression, make WinZip the complete compression and archiving solution.

Building on the favorite features of a worldwide base of several million users, WinZip adds new features for image compression and management, support for new compression methods, improved compression performance, support for additional archive formats, and more. Users can work faster, smarter, and safer.

This is a 45-day trial version.

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RealPlayer has always enabled you to play RealAudio (*.ra) and RealMedia (*.ram) files.

Download videos from thousands of Web sites with just one clickBuild your own video library and playlistsPlay all major audio and video formatsFlash Video supportDVD, SVCD, VCD burning and video recording

RealPlayer for personal use includes audio CD burning capabilities, DVR-style playback buffering, multimedia search, Internet radio, a jukebox-style file library, an embedded web browser (using Microsoft Internet Explorer), and the ability to transfer media to a number of portable devices, including Apple's iPod, MP3 players, and Windows Media devices.

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Process Explorer 15.02

Process Explorer shows you information about which handles and DLLs processes have opened or loaded.

The Process Explorer display consists of two sub-windows. The top window always shows a list of the currently active processes, including the names of their owning accounts, whereas the information displayed in the bottom window depends on the mode that Process Explorer is in: if it is in handle mode you'll see the handles that the process selected in the top window has opened; if Process Explorer is in DLL mode you'll see the DLLs and memory-mapped files that the process has loaded. Process Explorer also has a powerful search capability that will quickly show you which processes have particular handles opened or DLLs loaded.

The unique capabilities of Process Explorer make it useful for tracking down DLL-version problems or handle leaks, and provide insight into the way Windows and applications work.

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Facebook Issues Security Guide for Teens, Parents, Teachers

Facebook has published a free, 20-page guide aimed at teens, their parents and teachers that explains best practices for protecting their safety and privacy on the site.
Titled "A Guide to Facebook Security," the pamphlet is available on the site and was co-written by security experts Linda McCarthy and Keith Watson, and editor and teacher Denise Weldon-Siviy.
McCarthy has more than 20 years of experience in IT security and worked as Senior Director of Internet safety at Symantec, while Watson is an IT researcher at Purdue University.
The guide goes into topics like securing access to Facebook accounts through proper password selection and use; avoiding falling prey to phishing and other scams; taking advantage of the site's advanced security features, like HTTPS encryption, one-time passwords and log-in notifications; recognizing impostors; and recovering a hacked account.
"This guide is all about empowering you to Own Your Space -- to understand what Facebook is doing to make the site safe and secure and to take the actions that are needed in this new digital world to protect yourself and your account," the authors wrote.
Privacy and security have been a concern for years for users of social networking sites, which are particularly attractive to scammers because of the amount of personal information that people post on their profiles.
As the world's most popular social networking site, the issue is a critical one for Facebook, whose continued success depends in part on providing a safe experience for users, especially minors, who sometimes are victimized by predators they meet online.
Experts stress that people need to become fully acquainted with the privacy-protection features offered by the social media sites they use, as well as be informed and savvy about security practices and tips.
Otherwise, they may end up exposing their posts, photos, videos and other content to more people than they intend to, or become a victim of a scam in which their social networking account becomes compromised, leading potentially to ID theft and financial fraud.
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LogMeIn Hamachi is a VPN service that easily sets up in 10 minutes, and enables secure remote access to your business network, anywhere there's an Internet connection.
It works with your existing firewall, and requires no additional configuration. Hamachi is the first networking application to deliver an unprecedented level of direct peer-to-peer connectivity. It is simple, secure, and cost-effective.
Advantages of LogMeIn Hamachi:
LAN over the Internet - Arrange multiple computers into their own secure network, just as if they were connected by a physical cable.Files and Network Drives - Access critical files and network drives.Zero-configuration - Works without having to adjust a firewall or router.Security - Industry leading encryption and authentication.Cost Effective - Free for non-commercial use.
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Firefox Numbering Debate Is a Tempest in a Teapot

Mozilla generated a virtual storm of controversy with the introduction of its new, Chrome-like rapid release schedule for Firefox earlier this year, and now it seems to be stirring up a fresh hornet's nest with practically every move it makes.

firefoxCase in point: version numbering. Last weekend quite a debate arose on a Mozilla developers' forum when it was suggested that Firefox stop providing a version number in its "About" dialog box.

Under that new scenario--which is not part of the new Firefox 6 but would be introduced in a future version--the About window would instead say something like, "Firefox checked for updates 20 minutes ago, you are running the latest release." Full version information would still be available, however, from Firefox's Help, Troubleshooting menu.

“We're moving to a more Web-like convention where it's simply not important what version you're using as long as it's the latest version,” Firefox Product Manager Asa Dotzler wrote by way of explanation in the Mozilla developers' usability forum. “We're also already in a new system where there is no supported version except the latest version, so the overwhelming majority of users will be on that latest version and for them, the most important thing isn't the number of the release. The most important thing is confidence that they're on the latest release. That's what the About dialog will give them.”

Makes sense to me. Nonetheless, there's been quite a fuss kicked up about it all, and Dotzler has reportedly even reached out to several press outlets to clarify that version numbers won't be unavailable, but rather just accessible in a different place.

Is this a big deal? Should users or IT departments freak out? I hardly think so. Here's why.

1. It's Still There

First and foremost, this isn't a matter of taking something away. It's just a matter of moving it. Why the fuss? It will still be there when you need it--which, incidentally, I doubt most ever will.

As Dotzler notes, on the new Firefox schedule--which, to repeat, is pretty much just like Chrome's now--the number no longer really matters. In fact, in this new world of continuous and automatic updates, it can create some confusion, when all anyone should really care about is that they're on the latest, supported release.

2. Reflecting Reality

Again, in this new, continuously evolving world of Web browsers, version numbers don't actually mean much anymore--what matters is simply that you stay up to date. Making a big deal out of those numbers, however, gives them more importance than they deserve.

The world seems to be used to Google's fluid transitioning from one Chrome release to another, but now that Firefox is doing it too, some people accustomed to its previous ways are surprised that each successive version doesn't add more to the preceding one.

That's missing the point. Rapid releases are keeping us all better updated all the time--without having to wait for big, incremental upgrades--and updates are happening automatically. Using numbers, however, leads some to expect the monumental upgrades of yore--or at least some distinction between “major” and “minor” releases.

In light of the continuous release model, such concepts are more or less obsolete, so downplaying numbers makes a lot of sense.

3. Chrome Does It

So, just to hammer this home one more time, Firefox's de-emphasis of version numbers is far from unique. It's essentially what Google has been doing with Chrome for some time, and nobody on that browser seems to care.

Most Chrome users, in fact, couldn't tell you what “version” they're using, and it totally doesn't matter, because version numbers no longer mean much of anything in this rapidly updating arena. Are you up to date? Good, then that's all you really need to know.

mozilla4. Nothing Is Lost

One of the more popular criticisms of this new strategy seems to involve painting a picture of a hapless user trying to get support for Firefox but suddenly unable to find out what version they're on.

Once again: that information will still be there, just in a different spot. Much more relevant for troubleshooting purposes, however, is knowing that they're up to date. If they are, that pretty much says it all.

It's not that I have any particular interest in seeing this version information moved; as a Firefox user myself, I don't especially care where it's put, and I doubt many others will, either.

To make such a huge deal out of such a small and increasingly irrelevant thing, however, seems way out of proportion. You'll always be able to get at that version information, if you actually need it. But I'm betting few ever will.

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AT&T Kills Low-Tier Text Messaging Plan, Pushes Unlimited Usage

AT&T has confirmed that it's killing off a text messaging fee plan that allows up to 1000 messages per month, nudging customers to an unlimited plan or fees for every message.

Starting August 21, your choice of AT&T SMS plans are either 20 cents for every text message sent or received, or $20 per month for individuals and $30 per month for families of up to five lines.

If you're not a callous-thumbed teen sending between 3000 and 22,795 text messages every month, mangling the English language while driving, and want to keep your existing 1000 texts plan, AT&T will grandfather you in at the same $10 per month rate. It’s a benevolent gesture rare among carriers, although AT&T did it previously with its now-extinct unlimited smartphone data plan.

But that fee-per-text plan is considerably less than benevolent, and it’s not limited to AT&T. If a text message is limited to 160 bytes, and each text costs 20 cents, that means AT&T has an SMS data transfer charge of $1310.72 per megabyte. Conclusion? Be thankful for unlimited texting plans – just what AT&T intends.

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Windows 7 Codecs 3.0.2

All the codecs you need for Windows 7 to play AVIs, DVDs and more!

It does not contain a media player and it does not associate file-types. With the Windows 7 codec package installed you will be able to use any media player, limited only by the players' capabilities, to play all movies and video clips. Streaming video is supported in several formats in all popular web browsers. Users of the Windows 7 media center codecs have the ability to choose what is installed and where to install it using the public redistributable. After installation you can select to remove specific portions without removing the entire package. You can also re-add the removed items at any time.

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Tablets Are Here for Good, Just Not at HP, Company's CEO Says

HP believes that tablets have a promising future--but company officials said Thursday that the reaction to HP's first tablet, the TouchPad, was so negative that it didn't make sense for the company to continue in that market. In the company's hotly anticipated earnings call, HP's CEO took pains to keep his options open regarding the company's PC division, which could be spun off or sold.

HP TouchPad"The tablet effect is real," said HP CEO Leo Apotheker, "and our TouchPad has not been gaining enough traction in the marketplace." And thus ends HP's decidedly short-lived venture into the tablet market.

HP is calling it a transformation: At Thursday's earnings call, shareholders learned of the company's plans to shift gears, potentially dropping its role as the world's largest PC manufacturer in favor of focusing on the more lucrative sides of the multifaceted organization.

The news about HP's WebOS platform--in addition to ditching the TouchPad, the company is also discontinuing WebOS phones--is not altogether surprising. Consumers have spoken, and in light of the TouchPad's less than stellar market performance, HP's decision to scuttle production of its ill-received tablet a mere six months after the TouchPad was first announced is likely in the company's best interest, financially.

But the announcement that the company is also considering a "full or partial separation of the Personal Systems Group" still comes as something of a shock. (The PSG is the division of HP that produces desktops and laptops.) Truth be told, the writing has been on the wall for some time. Consumer interest in traditional PCs has waned, owing in no small part to Apple's iOS juggernaut. HP's desktop and notebook revenue dropped 4 percent since last year's third-quarter report, and while the PSG division remains profitable, falling revenue and shrinking margins--coupled with the failure of HP's attempt to break into the tablet arms race--have likely soured the company on sinking any more resources into a division whose end is likely nigh.

Before HP made its stunning announcement, new sales figures showed that HP had slipped behind Apple in sales of laptops and tablets. During the quarter, Apple shipped 13.6 million units, 10 million of them iPads. That meant that Apple sold more iPads than HP did laptops (the company shipped 9.7 million notebooks in the period).

Over the course of the call, Apotheker repeatedly made clear that HP is merely examining its options with PCs. "I want to make sure people understand ... that PSG is part of HP, and will be managed in a very normal way." Or, more succinctly: " We will refrain on commenting until the board has made a decision." While the powers that be mull over the viability of spinning the PC business into its own company--or selling it outright--it'll be business as usual, which means you probably shouldn't start trying to hawk your new TouchSmart 610 as a rare collector's item just yet.

TouchPad fans, though, are out of luck. "About a year ago, we made a bet on WebOS," said CFO Catherine Lesjak. It didn't pay off. "Strong reviews were met with poor sell through," and investing the time and resources to make the platform strong simply presented too much risk, with no clear sign of returns. So HP has opted instead to eliminate the hardware entirely. That said, HP hasn't quite sounded the death knell for WebOS--the company is "exploring strategic alternatives to optimize the value of the software platform."

"Decisive steps are never easy, and change doesn't happen overnight," Apotheker remarked at the close of the call. An HP without PCs would be a tough pill to swallow, to say nothing of the sudden disappearance of the promising WebOS. Whatever the company's decision regarding the PC business, it has become clear that even household names aren't immune to the winds of change.

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AMD Catalyst Drivers 11.8 Vista

AMD's award-winning Catalyst graphics and HD video configuration software delivers unprecedented control of performance and visual quality with AMD Radeon graphics processors. AMD Catalyst drivers deliver stable performance and push the limits of innovation with advanced user-oriented features.

Precision controls for power users. Tweaks for gamers and video enthusiasts. Simple wizard-assisted setup, easy multi-monitor configuration, and ultra reliable operation for working professionals. New user or seasoned expert, AMD Catalyst puts you in charge of The Ultimate Visual Experience.

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AMD Catalyst updates are focused on improving graphics performance, including enhancements for popular Direct3D and OpenGL game titles.

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AMD Catalyst includes the AMD Catalyst Control Center, delivering innovative features and unprecedented control of performance and visual quality with AMD Radeon graphics.

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Catalyst drivers for Windows Vista and Windows XP are Microsoft WHQL-certified to deliver the industry's most stable and reliable graphics performance.

This version is for the 32-bit version of Vista.

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HP's PC Spinoff Puts Heat on Microsoft with Windows 8

Hewlett-Packard's spin-off of its PC business will put pressure on Microsoft to "hit the ball out of the park" with Windows 8, an analyst said today.

"This is concerning no matter how you look at it," said Wes Miller, an analyst with Kirkland, Washington-based Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that specializes in following Microsoft. "HP has been a very strong partner of Microsoft for a very long time, so you have to ponder the change in its strategy."

A sale of HP's Personal Systems Group (PSG) is an indication of the decline in the importance of the PC -- and thus Windows, which powers the vast majority of personal computers -- in favor of other devices, including smartphones or tablets that run other operating systems, said Miller.

And that puts the heat on Microsoft to crank out another OS winner.

"This re-emphasizes the need for Microsoft to hit the ball out of the pack with Windows 8," Miller said.

Windows 8, which doesn't yet have an official release timetable, will radically revamp the 21-year-old operating system's look and feel and will run on tablets, Microsoft has said.

Joining the Spin-offs

HP has confirmed that it is shuttering its webOS-based device business -- including the just-launched TouchPad tablet -- and looking at "strategic alternatives for its Personal Systems Group" that may include "a full or partial separation of PSG from HP through a spin-off or other transaction."

"HP sees the future where the PC is not the focus," said Miller, "just like IBM did in 2005."

Six years ago, IBM sold its PC Company Division to China's Lenovo.

But a sale or spin-off of HP's PSG -- the world's largest seller of PCs last quarter, according to Gartner -- doesn't mean the death of the personal computer.

"PCs will remain highly strategic because they run the apps that run businesses," said Mark Margevicius, a research director at Gartner. "The fact that everyone is struggling [selling PCs] does not makes the platform any less strategic to business. PCs are a worldwide, 100-million-unit business. It's not dying in any way."

The PC sales attributed to HP won't suddenly evaporate because the division is run as a separate entity, or sold to a rival, said Margevicius. "Ultimately, someone will own the business."

For the short term, then, Microsoft is unlikely to notice any difference in Windows sales.

However, like Miller, Margevicius saw the move as a signal of a troubling trend.

Tablet Troubles?

HP will retain the webOS operating system it acquired last year from Palm, but it will halt development and production of any tablets based on webOS.

HP's webOS-based TouchPad went on sale only a month ago, and several former Palm executives, including former Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein, currently have high positions in HP's Personal Systems Group.

"HP tried to put the defibulator on its PC business with the TouchPad, but it's not yielding the kind of results it wanted," said Margevicius. "The patient isn't dead, but it's moved into assisted living."

Ironically, Miller saw the withdrawal of HP from the tablet hardware business as a win for Microsoft.

HP made it clear that it was betting on its own webOS, rather than Windows 8, for its tablets. By exiting the market, it means that there's "one less partner" to convince that Windows 8 is the right OS for tablets.

"For Windows 8 to succeed [on tablets] Microsoft needs a partner that's passionate, and one that will work with Microsoft to make a great tablet," said Miller.

Both Miller and Margevicius attributed the decision by HP to dump the PC side of its business to the small, fragile margins on Windows-based personal computers.

"This is MBA 101," said Margevicius. "This part of their business may be attractive from a legacy perspective, but it's the part of [HP's] business that generates the least amount of revenue. And HP is run by someone with no strong ties to hardware. [Leo] Apotheker has three things in mind: software, services and support, and not particularly in that order. All those businesses are far more profitable than PCs."

HP hired Apotheker, a former CEO of German software and support giant SAP, as its president and chief executive in September 2010.

Margevicius said that Dell, the world's No. 2 PC seller, will likely reap the most benefit from HP's ridding itself of its PC group. "Dell will be viewed as the vendor that is safe and solid," he said.

For more enterprise computing news, visit Computerworld. Story copyright © 2011 Computerworld Inc. All rights reserved.

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Maxthon Beta

Maxthon Internet Browser software is a powerful tabbed browser with a highly customizable interface. It is based on the Internet Explorer browser engine (your most likely current web browser) which means that what works in the IE browser will work the same in Maxthon tabbed browser but with many additional efficient features:

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Swap, add, move, remove, and change Maxthon's tool bars, icons, menus, colors, skins, and layouts until it looks the way you would have designed it.Don't like menus? Use hot keys, word aliases, toolbars, or mouse gestures - it's all up to you.Pick from more than 1,400 plug-ins that make Maxthon the do-all of browsers.Remote conferencing, screen capture, electronic passports, and automatic password inlcuded, free.


Maxthon is 100% free of viruses, spyware, adware – any kind of malware.The built-in Ad Hunter blocks harmful, or just irritating ads, images and pages.Filter packs screen out offensive and irritating Web pages.

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AT&T Microsites Show Local Network Upgrades

AT&T has begun launching localized websites where residents can find out about nearby network improvements -- and get the carrier's pitch for its proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA.

The first of the wireless carrier's "microsites," called Focus: Kansas City, went live on Thursday. It has a map of the Kansas City, Missouri, area with numbered icons representing places where AT&T has recently improved its network. Visitors to the site can navigate the map, or search for a particular city or neighborhood by name, to see what has been done in that area.

Below the map is a section for news, which on Thursday linked to an interactive map that showed how much of Missouri would get high-speed LTE (Long-Term Evolution) coverage with and without the addition of spectrum from T-Mobile. It shows vast empty patches being reduced to small, isolated clusters.

A site for the St. Louis area also went live on Thursday. In a press release, AT&T said it launched the sites in response to customer feedback. The carrier has an interest in highlighting network improvements, because network quality is a key differentiator between service providers and the main reason AT&T gave for the T-Mobile deal. That acquisition is still being reviewed by regulators and has garnered fierce opposition from critics who say it will reduce competition and raise prices.

The microsites do give more detailed information about network improvements than is usually available in one easily accessible place. They highlight new cell sites, added wireless capacity and beefed-up wired backhaul capacity. By scrolling over the box listing the upgrades at a particular site, visitors can see a brief definition of each type of upgrade. All work done since the beginning of this year is listed.

AT&T said it will update the Kansas City site every Thursday. The carrier also established a Twitter feed, with the handle @ATT_KC, that will deliver current information about its activities in the area.

The sites also include locations of stores and AT&T Wi-Fi hotspots, as well as information about new devices and tips for managing battery life and personal data consumption.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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HP's WebOS Crashes Under Apple, Android Pressure

hp webos android appleHewlett-Packard's announcement on Thursday to stop making tablets and smartphones based on webOS surprised many analysts, who said the company buckled under the pressure of Apple's momentum and growing support for Android.

HP announced it would stop selling webOS devices, including the TouchPad tablets and smartphones, as it looks to transform its operations to focus on enterprises. HP plans to concentrate on its enterprise and printer businesses and sell or spin off its Personal Systems Group (PSG), which is responsible for sales of the PCs and webOS devices.

However, the company said it would look for ways to use and "optimize" the webOS platform, including licensing it to hardware makers. HP acquired webOS along with Palm last year for US$1.2 billion, and at the time said it would use the OS across a range of devices including tablets and printers.

But sales of webOS smartphones and tablets have not been gaining traction in the fast-moving and complex consumer market, said Leo Apotheker, HP's CEO, on a conference call to discuss third-quarter financial results.

"Sales of the TouchPad are not meeting our expectations," Apotheker said.

Tough Tablet Market

HP hoped to establish webOS as a clear second OS platform for mobile devices, but the software ecosystem is poor and the TouchPad hardware was not received as anticipated, said HP's chief financial officer, Cathie Lesjak. The pricing of TouchPad tablets was cut by $100 shortly after launch in July, and the profit margins on those devices grew thinner, Lesjak said.

The TouchPad couldn't compete in a market dominated by Apple's iPad and the many available Android tablets, said David Daoud, research director at IDC.

Much like Apple's mobile device strategy, HP intended to wrap together hardware, software and services but lost patience and decided to cut its losses, said Ezra Gottheil, senior analyst at Technology Business Research.

"With their OS, building the market would've taken time. It's clearly an offering that required patience," Gottheil said.

Gottheil didn't expect HP to give up on webOS so quickly as it had the promise of being a high-margin product for HP, much like Apple's products.

With the decision to separate the hardware and software businesses, HP runs counter to the trend in the mobile market to vertically integrate development. With Google's planned acquisition of Motorola, Windows Phone became the only major OS whose creator doesn't also make hardware. Now, however, HP joins Microsoft as developer of an OS that is licensed to hardware makers.

"Now that Google has acquired its own hardware vendor, webOS could be a good alternative for some of the Android-only vendors," said Chris Hazelton, an analyst with The 451 Group.

Which Phone OS?

While phone makers like HTC and Samsung use other OSes, they rely heavily on Android. Many experts have said they expect those hardware vendors to be wary of Android after Google's Motorola acquisition, since it's likely that Google will favor Motorola.

While it looked like Windows Mobile might benefit as a result, Hazelton says that HP's announcement may put a damper on that potential boost.

"WebOS could be a cheaper alternative to Windows Phones" for hardware makers looking for non-Android options, Hazelton said.

hp webos android appleIn addition to the likely lower cost for webOS, handset makers would have more options with webOS to choose their own added services. Google and Microsoft both like licensees of their phone software to use their search, map and other services. But with webOS, a handset maker could choose whatever services they wanted or even build their own, Hazelton said.

Still, even though many people have praised the webOS software, the announcement doesn't look good, since it's clear that HP was unable to successfully sell phones using the software. That means HP will face a significant challenge: convincing developers to continue working on the software.

Developers must have the confidence in the success of the platform to convince them to spend the money required to develop for it, said Will Stofega, an analyst with IDC.

"You can have the greatest OS in the world, but you also need applications to run on that platform," Stofega said.

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Google's Photovine app finally appears on iTunes

Continuing its march into social networking, Google launched its Photovine picture-sharing service on iTunes this morning.

The service, which debuted as an invitation-only application last month, lets users snap photos and share them with friends much the way they'd blurt out tweets on Twitter. With Photovine, though, photographers group pictures thematically, with one person taking a snap of, say, their desk and sharing it under the theme of "cluttered desks." Other Photovine users, then, can add pictures of their work spaces. In the parlance of the new application, that's a vine.

Vines can be mundane, like the "cluttered desk" example, or personal, like "girls night out." Among the most popular vines today are "cutest dog" with the requisite adorable puppy pics, and "Things I Love About Summer" with shots of a cold glass of beer and another of kites flying over a beach, among others.

Anyone can see photos you post, either by browsing the vine in which the photo was included or by browsing your profile. People following you, though, will receive the snaps automatically in their feed. In Photovine, no approval is needed to browse or follow another person.

The service is entirely iPhone-based, with both pictures and vine titles composed on the device. Users can share photos and vines on Facebook and Twitter. Oddly, there is no integration yet with Google's own social-networking service, Google+. And Photovine only exists on iTunes now, and not for devices running Google's Android mobile operating system.

That's probably because it wasn't developed by home-grown talent, but rather the team from Slide, the social-media company Google acquired a year ago.

Via CNET News

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Nero Kwik Media 10.6.12300

Nero Kwik Media is a media management software for photos, videos and music. It lets you conveniently play back your music files, plus manage and create playlists. You can import new music from a CD or sync your music library with your mp3 player (Nero Kwik Move it).

Nero Kwik Media lets you easily create cinema-style videos and photo slide shows with integrated movie themes, plus conveniently manage your multimedia projects. Improve the quality of your photos with just a few clicks, cut off some unwanted parts, or automatically remove red-eyes. Use the Faces feature to sort your photo library by the people in your pictures; it automatically detects and even recognizes faces in your photos (Nero Kwik Faces).

You can play back your photos and all your videos right on your PC with all the convenience of a built-in DVD player (Nero Kwik Play). In addition, you can burn a music CD or burn your compilations on DVD as a gift for friends and family (Nero Kwik DVD) – or share your photos through upload to your favorite online community.

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Survey: Verizon, iPhone MMS Views Increasing

A mobile platform marketing agency, Mogreet, that measures video-based MMS advertising, released its analytical report for the second-quarter 2011 analyzing consumer behavior in viewing and reacting to video advertising. The survey revealed that Verizon lead the pack in mobile messaging views by carrier, whereas Apple’s iPhone was the leading choice for viewing MMS ads by handset type.

Mogreet MMS ads inline Survey: Verizon, iPhone MMS Views Increasing

Verizon customers were responsible for 44.2 percent of the mobile video messaging views in the survey, followed by AT&T at 37.1 percent. While by handset, the views were broken down in a different way, with Apple’s iPhone leading the field by almost twice as much as the next competitor. The iPhone earned 7.4 percent of all video messaging views, followed by the LG enV 3 at 3.9 percent, the Samsung Intensity at 2.9 percent, tying with the LG Cosmos at exactly the same percentage.

The success of mobile video messaging views is considered as a leading indicator of how frequently consumers are using video and MMS messaging services on their devices.

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