samedi 31 août 2013

Microsoft and Google (don’t really) want to tell you more about government data requests

Sounds nice, doesn't it? Two big names have listened to the concerns of the people that matter -- their customers -- in the wake of the NSA debacle, and want to share more information with the public about precisely what information the government is asking them to hand over. If only it were that simple.

In a blog post on TechNet, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith reveals that both Microsoft and Google filed lawsuits back in June to try to force the government to permit them to publish details of data requested under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders. Smith says they [the two companies] believe they have a "clear right under the US Constitution to share more information with the public".

Despite weeks of negotiations with government lawyers, talks have amounted to nothing. According to Smith, on six occasions the government was granted more time to respond to the lawsuit, but nothing has come of it.

My colleague Brian Fagioli wondered aloud, on group chat, why the company has agreed so many times to grant the government more time to respond to the lawsuits. "After three attempts, did they not get the message?", he pondered. I can see his point to some extent, but at the same time Microsoft and Google find themselves in an awkward position.

If they keep giving the government more time to reply, people will complain that they are bowing to pressure, or not being hard enough on authority. Give up trying after three attempts and people would complain that they had given in too easily. It's a classic case of damned if they do and damned if they don't.

At the same time, continually making the requests could be seen as being a fool's errand. The government is so unlikely to change its mind about what data can be released it is practically pointless to ask about it. It's all too easy for catch-all "national security" reasoning to be bandied about.

So what's all the fuss about? Microsoft's blog post points out that the government will "begin publishing the total number of national security requests for customer data for the past 12 months and do so going forward once a year". But that's not enough. Smith believes it is vital to "publish information that clearly shows the number of national security demands for user content, such as the text of an email".

He goes on to say, "And unless this type of information is made public, any discussion of government practices and service provider obligations will remain incomplete". When he says, on behalf of Microsoft and Google, "with the failure of our recent negotiations, we will move forward with litigation in the hope that the courts will uphold our right to speak more freely", you can almost foresee the shoulder-shrugging and hang-wringing as they sigh, "well, we tried!"

Even if Google and Microsoft get what they are fighting for, it will be something of a Pyrrhic victory. We already know that the lawsuits have been dragging on for at least a couple of months; that's not cheap.

If they manage to "force" the government to be more transparent about collection of and use of data, do they not realize that the same demand will very likely be made of Google and Microsoft by their customers?

If Microsoft and Google reveal more information about the data they've already shared with the government, is this going to make customers more or less trusting of the companies?

Yes, this is obviously a PR campaign. The likes of Google and Microsoft get a lot of bad press (as well as good) so it should come as no surprise that they're keen to come across as the good guys, fighting for the average man on the street.

But to me it just comes across as misguided and ill-judged. It's a PR campaign doomed to backfire. Freedom of speech is one thing -- and it's something I'm a keen advocate for -- but to play the "constitutional right" card in this instance feels cheap, and undermines the whole debate surrounding the secret collection of data.

Microsoft and Google need to appreciate that what they're asking of the government could well be demanded of them. Is that a price they're willing to pay?

Photo Credit: mikute/Shutterstock

via BetaNews

vendredi 30 août 2013

Create stylish photo collages with Collagerator

Photo collages can be a very effective way to present a group of your favorite digital images. They’re also very time-consuming to produce manually, though, so if you’re interested in collage creation then you might prefer the free Collagerator.

The program starts with some basic configuration options, like choosing your preferred collage design (background color, how the images will be arranged), its size and orientation (portrait or landscape). Add a few images and they’ll immediately be organized according to your rules.

This first pass probably won’t look great, but fortunately the design can be tweaked in various ways. At a minimum, you might drag and drop any particular image to relocate it, while right-clicking the picture displays options to move it above or below neighboring shots.

Clicking the Theme button provides several useful options for fine-tuning your work. So you can enable a frame around each photo, set its color and size. Your images can have shadows, with your choice of color, angle, size and blur radius. And you’re able to set the collage background to solid colors, or a custom gradient.

But if all this still doesn’t deliver the results you need, there’s always the "Arrange" option. Clicking "Randomize" here reorganizes your photos into an entirely new pattern, and "Arrange" then optimizes that layout, resizing the images for the best-looking results.

If all this is taking a little longer than you expected, the current layout can be saved at any file. Reopen it later and you’ll be able to carry on where you left off.

Once you’re happy, though, the program can normally export your collage in various image formats (BMP, ICO, JPG, PNG, TIFF and more), with your choice of width, height and DPI settings.

"Normally"? The current Collagerator build is a beta, and while it mostly works just fine, we did come across a major problem: the program crashed whenever we tried saving a collage from one of our test systems, making it entirely useless.

The export option worked just fine on other PCs, though, and as we’re unsure how widespread this problem might be, the program is still worth a try. Just make sure you try saving your collage immediately after adding some images, before you’ve spent any significant time on it. If it works, great, carry on exploring; if not, uninstall it and move on.

via BetaNews

IObit Advanced SystemCare 7 Beta 2 adds welcome new features

IObit has released the second public beta of Advanced SystemCare 7.0, its flagship PC maintenance suite, with even more new tools and options.

The package comes bundled with IObit Uninstaller 3, for example, which now supports listing and removing browser plugins.

IObit’s Start Menu 8 has been added for Windows 8 users.

A ManageMyMobile option attracted our attention, with the claim that it would "clean and boost" Android devices from the PC. But in reality it just installs IObit’s Advanced Mobile Care app on your Android device, then controls it remotely (scanning for malware, deleting junk files and more), so isn’t adding any great value to previous versions.

The Homepage Protection module also proved a little disappointing. It aims to offer "better homepage and default search engine protection", yet on our PC just installing it reset our Internet Explorer home page to MSN, without even asking.

There is also good news here, though. Program Deactivator can now disable and enable services, making it much better at turning off resource-hungry software. Privacy Sweep offers more control, including the ability to clear only browser history more than a week old. The program is better at clearing junk files in general, it includes various bug fixes, and fully supports Windows 8.1 and Internet Explorer 11.

We would still treat the program with great care. It’s a beta, so you probably shouldn’t use it to find and automatically delete whatever it likes, at least unless you have a full system backup to hand.

If you like the suite, though, there’s certainly plenty to explore, and downloads of IObit Advanced SystemCare 7 Beta 2 are available now.

via BetaNews

Bitdefender Antivirus Free adds Windows 8.1 support, squashes bugs

Anti-malware developer Bitdefender has released Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition 1.0.20, a minor refresh of its free Windows anti-malware tool. Version 1.0.20 is notable for adding support for the upcoming Windows 8.1 release, due October 18.

Version 1.0.20 also squashes a few bugs and improves compatibility with Outpost Firewall Pro 8.1 too, resolving an issue with slow boot when both apps were installed alongside each other.

The major reason for updating Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is support for the upcoming Windows 8.1 release, which will be a free update for existing Windows 8 users. However, there are a number of minor bug fixes that make the update worth pursuing for all users of the software.

First, two fixes resolve issues with Refresh time in Threat Control and an "access denied" error appearing for read-only items when attempting to delete all quarantined files. Threat Control is Bitdefender’s Quarantine window, and is the place to go for detailed analysis of any threats found during a scan.

The update now also excludes false positives and keeps blocking infected mail archives after performing an auto-scan of the Quarantine.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is available now as a freeware download for PCs running Windows XP or later with the latest Service Packs installed.

For even better protection, check out the Downloadcrew Software Store, where paid-for versions of Bitdefender products can be purchased with discounts of over 60 per cent available.

via BetaNews

FastPreview lets you add image previews to Explorer right-click menus

The Windows Explorer Preview pane can be a convenient way to display the currently selected image without launching a separate viewer. This also consumes a large chunk of screen space, though, which is why many people prefer to leave it turned off.

You could still preview graphics files by turning on a folder’s icon view, of course. But if that’s rather less than convenient, FastPreview (from the author of the popular Firefox add-on DownThemAll) offers a simpler and more lightweight approach: just right-click any image and you’ll find a thumbnail embedded in its context menu.

The program installs quickly and easily (as long as you make sure you have the right version for your system, anyway -- either 32-bit or 64-bit), and integrates with Explorer right away. Right-click an image, and a preview appears in the middle of the menu: very helpful.

We also found the previews to be a little large, at least by default (300 x 300 pixels), and this meant some context menus would almost span the entire screen. But if that’s a problem, right-click an image, select FP Info and Settings, and you’re able to set whatever thumbnail size you’d prefer.

As a bonus, FastPreview adds an FP tab to the Explorer image Properties dialog, which is then filled with every scrap of metadata it can find (Exif, IPTC and Adobe’s XMP are supported). There’s so much information that finding what you need can sometimes be a problem, but when you do need the full metadata picture then it will be helpful.

You can also use FastPreview’s built-in image viewer as a separate tool (right-click > Open With > FastPreview Viewer), although this is much less useful. It has a few small extras, including right-click options to choose your preferred resampling method or display the standard Explorer context menu, but you’re probably better off with the standard Windows viewer.

Overall there’s nothing too surprising here, but if a lack of previews means you’re regularly opening images in a photo viewer than FastPreview’s context menu thumbnails should save you time.

via BetaNews

BlackBerry Q10 is NOW available at Sprint

The BlackBerry Q10 was officially unveiled by the Canadian maker during a special event held in late-January. But, sadly for impatient US fans, the QWERTY smartphone only arrived in June at local mobile operators Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T. Furthermore, Sprint subscribers had to wait even longer to get their hands on the new device.

Good news! Starting today, the BlackBerry Q10 is available at Sprint, after "just" seven months since its unveiling. The US mobile operator offers the smartphone for $99.99, alongside a traditional two-year agreement.

BlackBerry's smartphone market share was at a mere 2.9 percent in Q2 2013, and it's unlikely that BlackBerry Q10 sales on Sprint will significantly boost the company's numbers. By contrast, IDC places Microsoft's Windows Phone at 3.7 percent market share, a number which was boosted by sales of low-end smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 520.

That is a type of handset which BlackBerry currently does not offer, with the cheapest in its new portfolio being the mid-range BlackBerry Q5. BlackBerry's standing in the market even led the company to announce that it is considering a possible sale.

The highlights of the BlackBerry Q10 include: 3.1-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 720 by 720 and a 330 ppi (pixels per inch) density; 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor; 2 GB of RAM; 2,100 mAh battery; 8 MP camera on the back and 2 MP shooter on the front (1080p video recording with the former, 720p video capture with the latter); 16 GB of internal storage; microSD card slot (can accommodate 32 GB cards); 4G LTE connectivity; Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 4.0 and BlackBerry 10.1 operating system. The smartphone comes in at 4.7 x 2.6 x 0.37 inches and 5.07 ounces.

via BetaNews

New infographic shows the history of mobile technology in business

Mobile technology moves pretty fast these days. Think back ten years and things were very different. Most people had basic mobile phones with physical button keypads, and despite Microsoft’s attempts to bring tablets to the masses it was Apple launching the iPad in 2010 that finally made it happen.

The past decade has seen some amazing innovations, and changed the face of business. According to a 2013 AT&T Technology Poll, 98 percent of small businesses use wireless or mobile technology in their daily operations and 66 percent of small businesses have stated that it would be a major challenge to operate their business without such technology.

Mobile payment processing company SwitchPay has created an infographic titled "The History of Mobile Technology in Business" which details the major milestones in mobile communication.

Highlights include the very first mobile call in 1946, the first telephone call from a mobile phone in 1973, the launch of the first commercial 3G network in 2001, BlackBerry (or RIM as it was) launching its first smartphone in 2003, and of course the Apple iPhone in 2007.

It’s interesting to see how much has happened in the past decade and makes you wonder what the next ten years will bring. Will wearable tech be the next big milestone?

via BetaNews

Nokia announces HERE Connected Driving in-car navigation solution

On Friday, Finnish mobile maker Nokia announced HERE Connected Driving, a cloud-connected in-car navigation solution with offline mapping, real-time traffic information and mobile device app support. Labeled by the company as "the only end-to-end driving solution on the market", it will be officially demoed during the International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany.

Nokia's in-car navigation solution is comprised of four parts -- HERE Auto, HERE Auto Cloud, HERE Auto Companion and HERE Traffic. HERE Auto takes care of navigation instructions, with or without a data connection, similar to the company's HERE Drive+ Windows Phone 8 app. It provides turn-by-turn voice-guided navigation in 95 countries, while supporting 2D, 3D and satellite map views (street imagery is also included). According to Nokia, Continental's Open Infotainment Platform already integrates HERE Auto and it is expected to arrive in cars in upcoming months.

Through HERE Auto Cloud users can get real-time traffic updates and alternative routing, fuel price info in Canada, Europe and US, location of close-by charging stations, find nearby points of interest (POIs) and parking, and more. The component delivers similar functionality to other, existing solutions like the one from Audi (the German car maker relies on Google services -- like Search and Maps -- nowadays for such info).

HERE Auto Companion is the companion app from Nokia's in-car navigation solution. It can be used to lock and unlock the car, sync favorites, locate the car through LiveSight (an augmented reality feature) and view various car-related statuses (fuel level and tire pressure, among others). The app works with Android and Windows Phone handsets. This is not a new concept in the automotive world as car makers like BMW for instance, have released similar offerings in the past couple of years (although with scarce, if any, Windows Phone support).

The fourth component, HERE Traffic, is designed to deliver optimized travel estimates, through the Halo engine, by taking into account various details like weather, traffic congestion and construction zones, among others.

If you want to experience Nokia's HERE Connected Driving you'll have to be in Frankfurt, at the International Motor Show on September 10. The Finnish maker has yet to reveal which car models will embrace its new solution.

Photo Credit: ssguy/Shutterstock

via BetaNews

jeudi 29 août 2013

Hidden File Finder lets you quickly identify hidden files on your PC

If a malicious program wants to hide objects from you, then the simplest approach is to mark those files or folders as "hidden". By default they won’t be visible in Explorer, and even if you’ve changed that setting (see Folder Options in Explorer) they’ll still be just a few files out of many. You may never notice their existence.

When you’re checking a PC for malware or similar issues, then, it makes sense to highlight hidden content, and Hidden File Finder makes that very easy indeed.

The program attempts to install a couple of toolbars during the setup process, but the "Decline" button means they’re easily avoided. And after that, it’s all very straightforward: point the program at your starting folder, or the entire system; click "Start Scan", and then watch as the program lists anything of interest. (It won’t take long: our test PC saw around 36,000 folders 220,000 files checked in under a minute.)

Once the scan has finished, you’ll be presented with a report which includes each hidden file and its name, type, size, creation date and path. This can be sorted by each attribute, too, so you can easily pick out the largest files, or those created most recently.

To help you further, the program highlights executable files in red, while ignoring hidden files of known types (desktop.ini, thumbs.db) entirely.

And if you do spot anything which looks suspect, right-clicking it provides options to check the file at VirusTotal, search for it on Google, unhide the file or delete it entirely.

None of this is exactly sophisticated, of course. Hidden File Finder can only pick up the simplest attempts at concealment, with the hidden file attribute; if your system has something more advanced, like a rootkit, then the program is most unlikely to find any trace of it at all.

Still, checking your hidden files occasionally can be useful, and if you’ve no way to do this currently then Hidden File Finder is worth a try.

via BetaNews

Flickr for iOS gets a revamp with new filters and photo editing tools

Yahoo has released Flickr 2.20 for iPhone and iPod touch, a major new update to its app for quickly sharing and uploading photos using your iOS device’s camera.

The new build adds three major new filter-based features to its roster, plus adds new camera tools while dropping the paywall on some of the more professional editing tools. Both sets of tools are also jazzed up with new animated transitions for "the best camera experience yet".

The mobile app debuts a brand new set of filters that appear to have been inspired by Yahoo’s recent acquisition of GhostBird, the publisher behind PhotoForge and KitCam on iOS.

In addition to this, users can also apply live filters to their snaps, allowing them to preview various effects and use them as a lens while snapping the shot. Finally, if users don’t like the stock filters provided, they can be further customized to personal preference.

The update also adds a number of tools to help take better photos, with grids, pinch-to-zoom support, focus lock and improved exposure management controls, allowing users to ditch other third-party apps for snapping photos for use on Flickr.

Yahoo has also removed the paywall on its professional editing tools, meaning users can further enhance their photos with the help of enhance, crop, sharpen, adjust color, use levels and vignette adding tools among others without having to pay for the privilege.

The end result is an app that gets a much-needed update to close the gap on rival photo-sharing services like Instagram. Flickr 2.20 for iPhone and iPod touch is available as a free download now. Also available is Flickr 2.1 for Android.

via BetaNews

Inevitably, Windows 8.1 RTM leaks on to the Internet

Microsoft might want you to wait until October 18 before upgrading to Windows 8.1, but the ever-impatient Internet has other ideas. The RTM versions of the OS refresh are now available to download and install if you know where to look (i.e. the usual torrent sites).

The leaks began on Tuesday with a Chinese version, and then there was a WIMs (Windows Imaging Format) release in English that had less technically minded would-be installers scratching their heads and begging for help.

Finally, infamous Russian leaker WZOR, the source behind multiple Microsoft software leaks in the past, came up with the goods, leaking pretty much everything including Windows 8.1 Pro x86 and x64, Windows 8.1 Enterprise x86 and x64 and Windows Server 2012 R2 RTM, all in English, and in (allegedly) official and untouched ISOs.

So what's new in the RTM build (9600)? As you'd expect, not much has changed since we covered the last major leaked version. Skype comes pre-installed, and you get a new default wallpaper called Harmony. When you visit the Windows Store, you don't need to sign in to look around, just to download apps.

Although it's the RTM, if you intend to download and install it, it's worth doing so in a virtual environment, to make sure you haven't managed to snag a dodgy version. There are hacked "Frankenbuilds" reportedly floating about. You'll need activate it, to be able to access features such as Personalization.

We would obviously caution against downloading a leaked release and installing it as your main OS. I know October seems a long way away, but General Availability will be here before you know it…

via BetaNews

Grungetastic transforms ordinary photos into grimy works of art

Most graphics software will do its best to clean up your photos, removing noise, optimizing brightness and contrast, and generally leaving them bright and polished.

If you’re bored with this approach, though, you could always try Grungetastic ($0.99 iPhone -- $7.99 Windows, Mac), which prefers to reduce colors, add layers of scratches, dirt and grime, tear image borders, and generally leave your pictures looking as though they’ve been left in a box in your garden for a very long time.

Why? Strange as it might seem, trashing your pictures in this way often produces amazing results. Ordinary portrait shots, or dull photos of places or objects, can be transformed into cool images which look like stylish album covers. Don’t take our word for it: check the gallery at the bottom of the official "Grungetastic Story" page to see for yourself.

We’re not just talking about the feeble "oil painting" or "old photo" effects you’ll get with some photo editors, either. Grungetastic is much more powerful, combining so many filters, textures, color tweaks and distortions that the results can be very impressive indeed. Whether you’re looking for some heavily processed, posterized effect, or just a great way to make a new image look like a scratched and damaged old photo, there’s something for you here.

All this power doesn’t make the program difficult to use, though. At a minimum, all you have to do is open an image, and click the "Randomize" button. Grungetastic will randomly combine a range of styles, and you can either save the result (in the full version, anyway -- "Save" is disabled in the trial) or click "Randomize" and try again.

And if you need more control, there are separate options for "Tone", "Contrast", "Grit", "Paper Strength", and more. Helpful tooltips do a reasonable job of explaining what these do, but you don’t have to understand the low-level details -- just drag each individual slider to fine-tune the image.

We did occasionally wish there were a few more settings. The images can often be a little on the dark side, and being able to tweak the brightness alone would have been useful.

Overall, though, Grungetastic is a great tool, which combines several powerful techniques to (often) spectacular effect. Give it a try.

via BetaNews