vendredi 28 février 2014

Chrome 34 Beta introduces hands-free Voice Search

After the underwhelming release of Google Chrome 33 FINAL last week, Google has unveiled a much more interesting update to its beta channel with the arrival of Google Chrome 34 Beta.

Chrome 34 comes with the promise of hands-free voice search, plus makes it possible for users to import "supervised" user profiles on to multiple devices. Also added are responsive images, and an unprefixed version of the Web Audio API.

Without a shadow of doubt, the headline feature in Chrome 34 is the new hands-free Voice Search feature. Users can now bring up the voice search feature simply by saying "OK Google" into their headset or microphone, then speak the rest of their search query. At time of writing, the feature is only available on and in US English, but should be rolled out to other languages later.

The feature can currently be added to the stable version of Chrome via the Google Voice Search Hotword extension.

Chrome 34 also adds support for setting up "supervised" users across multiple devices. Supervised users were added in Chrome 32 Beta, and allow parents to create managed user profiles for children, giving them regulated access to the web. By opening the Settings menu and choosing Add new user, a new "Import an existing supervised user" appears, allowing users to import previously set up users from a list.

Other changes are under the hood: there’s the promise of more responsive images by giving developers access to the srcset command, which allows them to provide multiple resources for displaying images in varying resolutions.

Version 34 also now ships with an unprefixed version of the Web Audio API, bringing it in line with the W3C draft specification. Prefixed versions will be removed in future releases, so developers are encouraged to switch now.

There are a number of further web platform changes -- developers can now control ligatures in text via CSS, while Chrome will now offer to remember and fill password fields. Some infrequently used web platform features have also been removed.

Google Chrome 34 Beta, which also retains other exclusive features from earlier releases like support for Google Now desktop notifications, is available now as a free download for supported builds of Windows, Mac and Linux.

Vikings invade internet streaming as season 2 premiers

I just recently spoke of the changing face of today's media world, with more TV becoming internet-based. There are early struggles with this, as cable and satellite providers are loath to lose those nice monthly fees and become simple bandwidth providers.

Now, with the debut of season two of Vikings, the popular History Channel drama about Ragnor and his crew, things take a turn towards the future.

The premier episode is up for live streaming on the internet, and I don't mean that it's on BitTorrent, though it likely is. Customers can simply visit the show's website and watch episode one in its entirety. No restrictions -- no proving you have a TV service subscription. It is just simply there and free.

Brother’s War is 45 minutes, and you get ads, but that is certainly understandable. Nobody loves them, but these things must be monetized in some way, otherwise they cease to exist.

Combine this with the recent Fox-NFL streaming of the Super Bowl without restrictions and we are starting to see progress in the market.

Also note that this seems to be US-only from what I have been able to find out from colleagues based elsewhere.

Major organizations face looming information crisis

Big data, cloud technology, social networking and the switch to mobile computing are all contributing to an increase in the amount of information enterprises have to deal with.

This is forcing companies to focus on the information that’s most relevant, risk related and value generating. As a result Gartner is predicting that 33 percent of Fortune 100 organizations will experience an information crisis by 2017, due to their inability to effectively value, govern and trust their enterprise information.

"There is an overall lack of maturity when it comes to governing information as an enterprise asset," says Andrew White, research vice president at Gartner. "It is likely that a number of organizations, unable to organize themselves effectively for 2020, unwilling to focus on capabilities rather than tools, and not ready to revise their information strategy, will suffer the consequences".

In order to avoid falling into this trap companies need an effective enterprise information management (EIM) strategy. This allows the sharing, management and reuse of information stored in different databases and created in different applications.

Having an EIM strategy though is only part of the answer. EIM initiatives must be designed so that sharing and reusing information creates business value, and the value created must contribute to overall enterprise goals.

According to Gartner analysts, three-quarters of individual information management initiatives are isolated from each other within the same organization. This leads to the benefits of EIM not being fully exploited. It says that IT leaders need to identify the key business areas that need improvement or are being held back by poor information management. This information can then be used to set new EIM priorities.

White concludes, "With effective information governance, business users will understand the impact of poor quality data on the outcome of desired business processes. This understanding leads to a desire, on behalf of the end user, to assure or 'steward' the data so that it supports their day-to-day business activities".

The impending information crisis will be discussed at the Gartner Enterprise Information & Master Data Management Summits 2014 on March 12-13 in London and April 2-4 in Las Vegas.

Image Credit: Maslowski Marcin / Shutterstock

jeudi 27 février 2014

How to force Office 365 to upgrade to Service Pack 1

Service Pack 1 has just started to roll out to Office 2013 users, but Office 365 users have been left out in the cold. You might think that as a subscriber your software is kept constantly updated -- and this is true to a point. But talking to Paul Thurrott, Microsoft reveals that a "handful of updates are totally new in SP1" and these have not all made their way to Office 365 yet. Unless you follow the little trick that Paul has shared, that is.

Unlike many applications Office 365 does not have a built-in means of forcing an update check -- so we have to force a forced update! The steps are very quick and simple to follow, and you can grab yourself a copy of SP1 in next to no time.

  1. Launch the Office 365 program of your choosing.

  2. Click the File tab and select the Account option.

  3. Click the Update Options button to the right and then select Disable updates.

  4. If a User Account Control dialog appears, click Yes.

  5. Click the Update Options button again, and then select Enable updates -- again, click Yes in the UAC dialog.

A notification area popup should let you know that updates are being downloaded and you'll be running SP1 before you know it!

AVG dumps LiveKive cloud backup service -- here’s what you need to do next

AVG has announced plans to discontinue its LiveKive cloud-based backup and sync service for Windows and Macs. The decision is unsurprising -- thanks to underwhelming reviews and fierce competition, it appears AVG has decided to concentrate its efforts on its core security products.

Existing LiveKive users won’t be cut adrift immediately, however: the service will continue as normal until April, and data won’t actually be deleted until August.

AVG has stated that from April, users will no longer be able to upload new files to their LiveKive accounts. Confusingly it’s stated that user files will be deleted on August 18, but that users will only be able to download their files for up to 90 days from the April cut-off date. The software is no longer featured on the AVG homepage.

AVG launched LiveKive back in 2011 using a rebadged version of the same client used by rival SpiderOak backup service. And SpiderOak is one alternative LiveKive users may want to consider going forward, although it only comes with 2GB free storage space.

Those looking to match or even exceed the free 5GB storage offered by LiveKive with a similar backup and sync feature set that works across multiple platforms will find plenty of alternatives. The first is Dropbox, which many only offer just 2GB free space when you start, but provides options for expanding this to 20GB through referrals and following various steps like using camera backup for mobile data.

Microsoft’s recently rebranded OneDrive service offers 7GB free off the bat with an opportunity to add up to 8GB more. Windows users might also want to look at Comodo cCloud, which comes with 10GB free storage, while Kim Dotcom’s MEGAsync offers a whopping 50GB free space, subject to various bandwidth limitations. Mac and Linux versions are promised soon alongside the existing Windows and mobile builds.

All of these alternatives offer paid-for plans too, but the end result is this: while AVG’s decision will inconvenience existing LiveKive users, the alternatives make switching a simple process, offering identical (or even superior) functionality as well as more free storage. Just don’t wait until the last minute before making your move…

You know what’s scarier than facing a horde of zombies? Facing a horde of zombies in the dark...

I was a beta tester for Papa Sangre II, the excellent audio-only game for iOS (if you’ve yet to try it I can whole-heartedly recommend it -- Sean Bean stars) and am a massive fan of Zombies Run, an audio fitness app, that you listen to while running and which takes place following a zombie apocalypse.

So naturally, the news that Papa Sangre’s creators Somethin' Else are working on a zombie-based audio-only first person shooter has me in a heightened state of excitement.

In Audio Defence: Zombie Arena you play a blind warrior. Instead of playing with your eyes, you must rely on your ears. I loved the duck hunting levels in Papa Sangre II, and this sounds similar but with zombies. You turn to aim your device where you hear the undead, and kill them before they can get to you.

"We wanted to make the Trojan Horse of audio games, the one that will convince people that audio games are a whole new world of untapped gameplay experiences. And so we have created Audio Defence: Zombie Arena, an awesome first person mobile shooting game that puts players out of their comfort zone, using the most powerful graphics card in the world: your imagination. This is a full-on action game with arcade roots about shooting Zombies from a fixed position, using just your ears. Survival requires nerves of steel, as one bite from a Zombie that gets to you means insta-death", Somethin' Else explains.

The game is penciled in for an early summer release, and will cost $1.99/99p. There’s currently a Kickstarter setup to raise money to ensure the game sees the light of day, with the usual selection of interesting rewards. If you live near London and pledge enough (£250 or more) you can even star in the game as a rampaging zombie.

AndrOpen Office extends touch support

AndrOpen Office -- "the world’s first port of OpenOffice for Android" -- has been updated to version 1.43 with the addition of some very welcome touch-friendliness.

New support for scrolling with a swipe means navigation is much easier. This build also supports zooming in and out by pinching.

Toolbar icons are now displayed larger by default, further simplifying program use. This also reduces the workspace for your document, but the smaller icons can easily be restored, if necessary (head off to the Settings pane, and uncheck "Large Icon").

The official release notes also mention some bug fixes, including a Macro crash and an issue with web browser previews.

AndrOpen Office 1.43 is still very much a port of a desktop suite, and the interface isn’t even faintly optimized for small screens. But this build does help to cut frustrations and improve all-round usability, so if you’ve given up on the program before, it just might be worth another try.

Third-party programs add to PC vulnerabilities

We reported earlier this week on how financial organizations are at risk from third parties with compromised security.

It seems that the same thing applies to software. The latest review by IT security specialist Secunia shows that third-party programs are responsible for 76 percent of the vulnerabilities discovered in the 50 most popular programs in 2013.

Secunia's review looks at the top 50 programs found on private PCs including those approved and maintained by IT departments and on those BYOD devices used with or without permission. Unsurprisingly 66 percent of the top 50 are Microsoft programs, however, they only accounted for 24 percent of the vulnerabilities in 2013.

Of the total of 1,208 vulnerabilities that were discovered in 2013, third-party programs were responsible for 76 percent. Yet these programs only account for 34 percent of the 50 most popular programs on private PCs.

"It is one thing that third-party programs are responsible for the majority of vulnerabilities on a typical PC, rather than Microsoft programs. However, another very important security factor is how easy it is to update Microsoft programs compared to third-party programs. Quite simply, the automation with which Microsoft security updates are made available to end users -- through auto-updates, Configuration Management systems and update services -- ensures that it is a reasonably simple task to protect private PCs and corporate infrastructures from the vulnerabilities discovered in Microsoft products. This is not so with the large number of third-party vendors, many of whom lack either the capabilities, resources or security focus to make security updates automatically and easily available," says Secunia CTO, Morten R. Stengaard.

But if organizations are alert, help to combat the threats is available. In 2013, 86 percent of the vulnerabilities discovered in the top 50 portfolio had a security update available on the day the threat was disclosed to the public, enabling companies to address the risk immediately. Though this of course relies on receiving and being ready to act on the vulnerability intelligence available.

For all products, in which 13,073 vulnerabilities were discovered across 2,289 products, 79 percent of the vulnerabilities had a patch available on the day of disclosure.

Stengaard concludes, "With these numbers in mind, we can conclude that intelligent, comprehensive and deployable patch management goes a long way towards protecting IT infrastructures. And supported by an effective risk management strategy it is possible for organizations to meet the threat posed by vulnerabilities, and to protect the business-critical and sensitive information they store in their systems".

You can read the full findings of the review on the Secunia website.

Image Credit: Pavel Ignatov / Shutterstock

Crunch your JPG files down to size with JPGmini

Last week we wrote about PNGmini, a useful tool which can cut PNG file sizes without any loss in image quality.

Developer Voralent has now released JPGmini 1.0, which applies similar lossless compression technology to crunch down your JPEGs. (No relation to the commercial JPEGmini, apparently. We predict Voralent will be hearing from them soon.)

The program looks and feels much like the earlier release. Drag and drop your images, click "Optimize", and wait as the files are processed: it couldn’t be much easier.

Compression rates are good, too. Our test set of 100 real web graphics -- tiny images which you’d expect to be well optimized -- saw an impressive 17.57 percent drop in size, while the program shaved 8.85 percent off our 25 HD photos. That may not sound much, but the total file size fell from 76.5MB to 69.8MB, more than enough to be useful.

It seems that Voralent has been listening to complaints about its software overwriting its source images, too. JPGmini can optionally make a backup copy of these, just in case of problems. And the same function has just been added to the new PNGmini 2.0.

Both programs have also gained a "compression level" setting, which appears to offer greater savings at the expense of compression speed. We’re not yet sure about this -- first impressions suggest the "maximum" level is just ridiculously slow with no real gain -- but tests are continuing.

We’ve some issues with JPGmini 1.0, then, but it delivers where it matters, being extremely easy to use and delivering good compression rates. Just keep in mind that it overwrites your source files, so check the "Backup" setting, or preferably work with copies of the original images.

mercredi 26 février 2014

Microsoft's attempts to persuade XP users to switch to Windows 8.1 are wide of the mark

On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will officially end support for Windows XP. After that date, users of the aging OS will no longer receive new security updates, hotfixes, support options, or online technical content updates.

Obviously the tech giant is worried about the dangers than might befall XP users who continue to cling on to the decade-and-a-bit old OS after that date, and that’s the reason for all the blog posts that have been appearing lately. I mean, sure, it looks like Microsoft is cynically using the death of XP support purely to try and persuade people to upgrade to Windows 8.1 but that’s not the case, honestly. Oh, okay, maybe it is. A bit.

Today’s new blog post is a prime example. It helpfully goes into details on what is going to happen after April 8, pointing out that, "Many newer apps won’t run on Windows XP; new hardware may not support Windows XP; and without critical security updates, PCs may become vulnerable to harmful viruses, spyware and other malicious software that can steal or damage personal information and business data". It also adds that "driver support will be discontinued, meaning that new printers, scanners and other devices may not be compatible with PCs running Windows XP and Office 2003".

So far, so helpful, but then suddenly the inevitable Windows 8.1 hard sell kicks in, and XP users are told it’s time to make their move into the modern PC era and are presented with a list of reasons why they should choose the tiled OS, as opposed to the massively more popular Windows 7, or a Linux-based solution, which my colleague Brian Fagioli suggests.

The post describes Windows 8.1 as the "best Windows yet", which is kind of true, and kind of not. I use Windows 8.1 and think it’s great, but you have to ask, if it’s truly the "best Windows yet" why is Microsoft still making wholesale changes to it? But I digress.

Then comes a list of reasons why XP users should choose the new OS, all filled with airy talk of "touch performance", "apps and services" and a "beautifully redesigned Windows Store". If I was an XP user, that would instantly put me off.

If you’ve been using XP since it launched, or for a very long time at least, pretty much your only reason for considering upgrading now would be for security purposes, and to ensure any new software runs properly. A tiled interface, Bing integration, a food and drink app, and the inclusion of IE 11 "designed from the ground up for touch devices" really aren’t going to appear on any XP user’s wish list.

"Windows 8.1 was built around you," the blog post proclaims, "and features an improved and even more customizable Start screen with variable tile sizes and more background designs and colors…"

That doesn’t sound like something built around a Windows XP user.

But that’s the problem with all these blog posts Microsoft has been producing lately. They start off talking about the end of days for XP and then end up cutting and pasting from the Windows 8.1 sales brochure.

If Microsoft really wants people to switch from XP to Windows 8.1, maybe it should be focusing on the features that might actually appeal to those users. Like the ability to automatically back-up personal content, the inclusion of modern drivers, improved multi-monitor support, various future proofing features, built-in protection against malware, ongoing security updates and support, and the fact you can refresh your PC without affecting your files. There are plenty of reasons for XP users to consider upgrading to Windows 8.1 but few of those users will be persuaded to make the leap if the best Microsoft has to boast about is a colorful tiled front end and built-in Bing.

Image Credit: Digital Storm/Shutterstock

What's new in Microsoft Office 2013 Service Pack 1?

Microsoft has unveiled the first Service Pack update for Microsoft Office 2013 with the release of Microsoft Office 2013 Service Pack 1 (32-bit) and Microsoft Office 2013 Service Pack 1 (64-bit). As expected, the SP1 is primarily a collection of previously released security patches and bug fixes, but does include some compatibility improvements as well as new apps for Office capabilities and APIs for third-party developers.

The update comes with the promise of improved compatibility with Windows 8.1 as well as Internet Explorer 11. It’s also optimized to work better with newer hardware, such as high-DPI screens and precision touchpads.

Program-specific changes include providing support for task pane apps in Outlook 2013, which will allow developers to extend the capabilities of the Compose window when writing new emails or calendar items. Meanwhile, PowerPoint 2013 gains the ability to insert and use content apps in individual slides.

Office 365 ProPlus customers also gain a new 3D visualization tool for mapping, exploring and interacting with geographical and temporal data in Excel called Power Map.

The update also renames its SkyDrive Pro client to OneDrive for Business, and includes all fixes and security patches released since Office 2013 rolled out -- a comprehensive list can viewed in this Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

The update also corrects a number of issues with Microsoft’s business conferencing tool Lync 2013, including one that made it impossible to hear the first few words of a call as well as another that prevented Windows 8.1 users from rotating the screen orientation in a video window.

Users are advised that if they subsequently uninstall the Service Pack from a Windows 8/8.1 machine, the Office application tile will become blank if pinned to the Start screen. Performing a repair install should resolve this behavior.

SP1 also blocks those COM add-ins known to crash on large numbers of machines -- users can selectively re-enable these via the File tab’s Options dialog: select Add-ins, then click COM add-ins on the Manager drop-down menu followed by Go. Simply tick those disabled add-ins and click OK to see if they’ll now work correctly.

Microsoft Office 2013 Service Pack 1 (32-bit) and Microsoft Office 2013 Service Pack 1 (64-bit) are both available now as free downloads for PCs running Microsoft Office 2013 -- the updates are already incorporated into those running Office as part of an Office 365 subscription. Also available is a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013.

US House of Representatives approves bill legalizing phone unlocking

Do you rue the day you signed up with your phone provider? Maybe you've found a better offer elsewhere and want to take your cell phone to another company. Now, if you're in the US, you are able to -- legally -- unlock your mobile and take it to whatever network you like. The bill was approved yesterday, having been brought about by a massive petition that gathered over 100,000 signatures. A 2012 ruling made unlocking illegal by closing a DMCA exemption loophole that had been permitted in 2006 and 2010.

In other parts of the world it is common practice to unlock phones and move them between providers, so it's understandable that US residents felt they were getting a poor deal. Now the bill has been approved, handset owners are able "to legally unlock their cell phones so that they can use it on other cellular networks." But this does not mean there is going to be a free-for-all; unlocking must be carried out "without violating anti-circumvention provisions".

But the bill does not goes as far as some people would like. The provision that "this bill does not permit the unlocking of cell phones for the purpose of bulk resale" is understandable up to a point, but there is also the risk that this serves to push up the price of handsets. There are also limits on the type of device that can be unlocked -- for now at least. Bill H.R. 1123 now permits the unlocking of phones, but a decision is yet to be made about tablets.

This is not to say that tablet unlocking will not be made legal at some point in the future, but for now the bill "directs the Librarian to study the issue of unlocking other cellular devices (e.g. tablets) and enact a rulemaking for these devices". It will be interesting to see just how quickly tablet legislation changes -- really there is no reason for them to be treated any differently to cell phones.

The bill is likely to be broadly welcomed by consumers, but for Public Knowledge, an organization fighting for consumer rights, it does not go far enough. A statement on the Public Knowledge website explains that the group "supported a previous version of the bill that did not draw a distinction between cell phone unlocking and bulk cell phone unlocking".

Sherwin Siy, Vice President of Legal Affairs at Public Knowledge said:

We're glad that the bill will allow Americans to unlock their phones. However, language recently added to the bill could be interpreted to make future unlocking efforts more difficult. We're disappointed that the House was unable to reach a compromise that would have prevented such barriers and still met the objectives of helping consumers.

It's clear that more needs to be done to prevent copyright law from interfering with consumers' rights and picking winners and losers between business models. There is bipartisan support for such an approach to reform and we're hopeful that the bill will be improved in the Senate.

Businesses will see the bulk unlock caveat as a serious obstacle and, ultimately, it means a worse deal (or at least not as good a deal as could be conceived) for consumers as well.

What do you make of it all? Is it a step in the right direction, or a watered-down piece of legislation?

Photo credit: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

Plan to buy Samsung's Galaxy S5? Get a microSD card too (or the 32 GB model)

The amount of storage that is advertised in a product's specifications sheet never matches the user-available capacity when software is preinstalled on the device. That is to be expected, but there comes a point when customers may be getting too little space to store some content and install a few apps. With just a couple of games, that are growing in size nowadays, there might be nothing left available.

That is what upcoming Galaxy S5 buyers will have to deal with, as the preinstalled software on Samsung's new flagship takes up more than half of the advertised storage on the 16 GB model. Yes, that is roughly 8 GB occupied out-of-the-box.

A photo of the Galaxy S5's storage screen, posted by Android Central, shows the 16 GB model coming with just 7.86 GB available on the pre-release firmware. Expect nothing to change in the final version, as Samsung is unlikely to remove anything in the meantime.

Galaxy S4 owners probably saw this one coming, as last year's flagship also arrived with roughly half of the advertised storage occupied by the firmware alone. This issue extends to other devices, the most notable of which are the Microsoft Surface tablets which take up even more space for Windows 8/RT and additional partitions.

Prospective Galaxy S5 buyers should buy a large microSD card to increase the available storage and/or shell out for the more expensive 32 GB model which will give them more room to play with. Luckily, microSD storage comes at a low price.

The storage requirements for preinstalled software are unlikely to change, but it would be nice for manufacturers to start to offer at least 32 GB of storage in their flagship models, which we know to bundle quite a few (unnecessary) apps. As you can see, 16 GB is just not enough.