vendredi 31 octobre 2014

Next-gen firewalls need to evolve to avoid becoming irrelevant


When Gartner coined the phrase "next generation firewall", in 2003, it captured a then-nascent approach to traffic classification and control. Combining traditional packet filtering with some application control and IPS layered on top, today's 'legacy' NGFWs do pretty much what they say on the tin.

However, while NGFWs continue to be a vital part of an organization’s protection, they were designed for a time before advanced targeted threats started attacking our enterprises -- threats which often go undetected until it's too late.

Most organizations today secure their networks using disparate technologies that don't -- and can't -- work together. They leave gaps in protection that today's sophisticated attackers exploit. These point solutions lack the visibility and control required to implement effective security policy to accelerate detection of all threats and response. In addition, disparate solutions add to capital and operating costs and administrative complexity.

From my own discussions with security professionals I know that they are frustrated with disparate point solutions and the cost, complexity and administrative headaches they create -- not to mention the gaps in security.

So what's to do?

NGFWs must evolve to stay relevant in a world that is dealing with dynamic threats -- threats that we couldn't have anticipated just a few years ago. It's time for a shift in mindset regarding the level of protection an NGFW must provide, to improve visibility, detect multi-vector threats, close security gaps that attackers exploit, and combat other sophisticated threats.

Until now, NGFWs have focused on policy and application control and have been unable to address advanced and zero day attacks. In short, existing detection mechanisms -- even the latest innovations around sandboxing -- simply won't protect against the advanced malware and zero-day attacks we're seeing today. In order to combat today's dynamic threats a different approach is needed -- one that delivers continuous monitoring and full contextual analysis of threats before, during and after the attack.

In order to deal with today's security challenges, an NGFW must offer capabilities that address these three strategic imperatives:


To address today's era of threats, a visibility-driven approach enables insight into all users, devices, OS, applications, virtual machines, connections and files, to provide real-time contextual awareness, give network defenders a holistic view of the network and make it easier to pinpoint suspicious behavior, when it happens. Full stack visibility and contextual awareness for integrated security serves as the basis for both streaming and automating defense responses. Granular application visibility and control and URL filtering are also crucial to reduce the overall attack surface.


This entails delivering integrated threat defense, across the full attack continuum – before, during and after the attack. Threat-centric protection must combine market-leading NGIPS, with advanced malware protection (AMP) that is third-party tested to confirm security effectiveness. Because today's advanced malware is designed to evade "point-in-time" security layers, threats still get through, so organizations now require technology that not only scans at an initial point-in-time to detect, understand and stop threats, but also makes use of continuous capabilities, which can "go back in time" to alert on and remediate files initially deemed safe, that are later determined to be malicious.


IT professionals are now under tremendous pressure to reduce complexity in their environments, keep operational costs low and maintain the best defenses to keep pace with the dynamic threat landscape. In today's world, platform-based now entails delivering a simplified architecture and reduced network footprint, with fewer security devices to manage and deploy. To meet today's challenges, a next-generation firewall must combine proven firewall functionality, leading intrusion prevention capabilities, and advanced malware protection and remediation in a single device. These firewalls must be highly scalable, and enabled by open APIs, to deliver security across branches, the internet edge, and data centers (physical and virtual environments) in order to cope with growing demands.

Organizations are continuously evolving their extended networks and must have defenses in place that can address the dynamic threat landscape. To remain relevant, an NGFW must offer next-generation security capabilities that are visibility-driven, threat-focused and platform-based.

Addressing these three imperatives is crucial in enabling organizations to maintain a robust security posture, that can adapt to changing needs and provide protection across the attack continuum -- before, during and after an attack.

Sean Newman is a security strategist for Cisco Security Business Group

Published under license from, a Net Communities Ltd Publication. All rights reserved.

How to choose the file sharing service that's right for your business

file folder share sharing torrent

In only a handful of years, a wide range of file sharing services have popped up, from completely free services aimed at consumers (including the likes of Dropbox, Google and WeTransfer), to enterprise-focused services (such as Mimecast, EMC and Citrix).

Considering the long list of available offerings on both sides, making the right choice for your business can be difficult, so it's a good idea to do your research first...


For every organization, security is a key consideration in the selection of any new IT service. When it comes to a file sharing service, it can be no less vital. Data privacy features can start with role-based access control and encryption for files in transit and at rest, but may differ between services.

More robust authentication mechanisms should also be provided by the service during sensitive transactions or when users are accessing sites from less secure locations. The provider being considered should also offer integration with policy-based data leakage prevention tools and be capable of limiting where and with whom files can be shared.

Integrated anti-malware controls are also invaluable, particularly in terms of protection against spam and phishing attacks. The latter are now routinely used in the majority of the advanced targeted attacks (or spear-phishing) and should be carefully guarded against.


For compliance purposes, it's important that businesses know where their data and files are shared and stored. In order to meet compliance standards and to provide a measure of disaster recovery protection, files should be duplicated and stored in geographically dispersed data centers in geographically defined locations.


Any service being considered should provide a 100 per cent service availability SLA. This should include automatic failover during outages in order to provide a seamless, uninterrupted service and constant access to files.


The service chosen should be as flexible and scalable as possible, providing support for an unlimited number of users at any given time. Services that use file volume upload limits should be avoided as they often encourage users to bypass the corporate service and use consumer-oriented offerings instead.


A particularly useful function of enterprise-grade file sharing and storage services is the ability to manage all processes via a single management console.

This saves IT time and money by providing centralized administration and can help to encourage enforcement of corporate policies. Native integration with Active Directory and other LDAP directories is also helpful in terms of assisting in the effective provisioning of users.

Devices and support

So many firms are employing BYOD policies, it's vital that any solution considered is able support a wide range of devices. It's likely that users will need to access the company systems via mobile browsers, the web, desktop and mobile applications, so all possibilities should be seamless and integrated, whilst also providing support for a wide range of document types.

Telephone and email support options are often overlooked at this stage but it's important these suit the company's needs and all the locations in which it operates. For example, such services should be available during local office hours in each region and SLAs should also be in place regarding timescales for resolving issues.

End user tools

It's vital that ease of use should be on a par with, or better than, consumer-oriented services. The service should be so tightly integrated with commonly used programs such as Outlook, that end-users may not even notice that it is in place.

A number of self-service tools such as self-service sign-up, file recovery and password resets would also be recommended. IT support should also not be needed when users want to perform basic search and retrieval activities.

Awareness and user training

Any service, no matter how well considered and implemented, will not be effective if end-users do not buy into it. Users should be informed of the security issues surrounding file sharing services such as Dropbox and WeTransfer, otherwise there is a strong likelihood that they will continue to make use of them, regardless of the company's new investment. Similarly, policies should be put in place so that end-users are provided with sufficient training on the new service, showing them how to get the most out of the improved functionality.

Image credit: Modella/Shutterstock

Orlando Scott-Cowley, is an evangelist, strategist and technologist at Mimecast.

Published under license from, a Net Communities Ltd Publication. All rights reserved.

Mobile devices make sales work more complicated

mobile phone raincloud

We're frequently being told that the use of mobile devices makes our work lives easier, but it seems that a sizable percentage of people don't share that view.

Mobile sales solution company Seismic has released the results of its Salesforce Spotlight survey showing the complex relationship between business users and mobile technology.

The survey carried out amongst Dreamforce attendees reveals that Salesforce is still the main platform for handling sales data and that 57 percent of respondents use the package for more than two hours a day. When it comes to mobile access though, 21 percent said they had no plans to implement the Salesforce1 platform.

Of those who have already implemented Salesforce1, 66 percent say they access it via both smartphone and tablet. Those that use it on just one platform favor their smartphones, but more than 60 percent of respondents using both reached for their tablet more frequently than their smartphone for CRM, content management and presentation tasks.

Perhaps most interesting though is mobile's perceived impact on working lives. Whilst the previous survey in 2013 showed that seven percent of Dreamforce users thought mobile technology would complicate their work life, this year's findings show nearly 20 percent feel that mobile technology has made their work lives more complicated in the past year.

"While our survey findings validate the growing importance of mobile devices in the enterprise, it was surprising to find that users view mobile technology as a complication to their work lives," says Seismic CEO Doug Winter. "Cutting-edge mobile technologies should be simplifying marketing and sales processes, not complicating them. Organizations need to become more strategic and agile when implementing new software if they want to gain a competitive advantage".

The full report is available to download from the Seismic website.

Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

Understanding the cloud

man in cloud

How many of you really understand the cloud? If you were tasked with explaining "the cloud" to a child could you manage it?

A recent discussion with top industry professionals and cloud thought leaders revealed that, for cloud solution providers, education was the biggest hurdle in cloud service adoption. Thankfully at a SAGE hosted round table, we dissected exactly what the cloud is, what it does, and how it can benefit you.

This is what the cloud is

Are you ready for a single sentence to surmise the cloud?

"The cloud is a range of IT services that aren't on the premises" Craig Sharp, Director of Abusi, proclaimed. IT service meaning; encryption, backup and storage, security, servers, applications, and any other IT service you can think of. All these services are now available through the "cloud".

"The cloud" utilizes the speed of our communications networks to use Internet-based services as a sort-of virtual hard drive (HDD). Instead of physically accessing data stored on your HDD (such as documents, applications, or other data) or using your computer's processing power you can use offsite servers to complete tasks.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (an arm of the US department of commerce) lists five "essential characteristics" that determine if an IT service is under the cloud umbrella:

  • "On-demand self-service" -- A user can use more computing resources (storage, processing, bandwidth, active user accounts) as need be without needing to talk to anyone

  • "Broad network access" -- The services can be used or accessed by different devices, such as smartphones, laptops, work stations

  • "Resource pooling" -- The cloud service provider's computing resources are utilized by multiple organizations, and the computing resources adapt to suit each organization’s computing needs

  • "Rapid elasticity" -- The scale of the user's available resources can expand or contract according to need, so that to the user computing resources appear unlimited

  • "Measured service" -- A user's computing resources use is measured and can be controlled. The usage data can be reported to both user and provider.

Rather than treating the cloud as a separate entity, understand that "the cloud" is a set of Internet services that have the aforementioned features.

This is what the cloud does

In the previous section we looked at the "essential features" that a provider has to demonstrate to qualify as a cloud service, in this section we'll discuss how those features are actually utilized. I'm going to gamble that you're already using/have heard of consumer cloud services, such as Netflix, Dropbox, or Spotify so I'll relate those to businesses-use cases of the cloud.

On-demand self-service

In my household we have Netflix, me and my housemate like to watch on our laptops but my girlfriend enjoys watching on her iPad. If suddenly my sister drops by and demands "I must watch my television shows!" what we can then do is set up another Netflix user on the same account and my sister can then watch Netlfix on another device.

What Netflix allows consumers to do is set up more users on the same account, with all the users having access to the same library, and assigns enough bandwidth to the account for each user to watch different videos simultaneously. Using a cloud based service such as Office 365 is the Netflix of office documentation. You can add users on the fly, choose which documents your staff can access, and have everyone use the same Office 365 account on separate devices at once.

Broad network access

I have the Spotify app on said girlfriend's iPad, my laptop, and my Windows phone, this means that I can use my login details on any of these devices and have access to my playlists, my favorited artists, and artists Spotify has recommended to me. So I can enjoy a new album on my laptop, log in to the app on my phone and listen to the same music as I walk to the shops, and then show-off my musical discovery to my girlfriend on her iPad.

Because I can access the same data on a multitude of devices I have a much greater degree of mobility. Utilizing a cloud service you can conceivably; write a first-draft of a report on your home PC, re-read the report on your phone during your commute making annotations and editing notes, then have the report with the annotations available at your work station. If you choose your data can be synchronized across multiple devices. At a basic level this avoids embarrassing cock-ups like forgetting a USB stick or bringing the wrong version of a document. At a complex level it allows easier collaboration between staff regardless of their locations.

Resource pooling

Both my father and I use Dropbox, we have separate accounts, separate files, and separate subscription models. Just because I have 10GB of storage and my father has access to 5GB it doesn't mean that he couldn't upgrade to 10GB. Similarly if my dad suddenly needed a whopping 1TB of Dropbox storage, Dropbox wouldn't need to limit my usage to accommodate my father's.

Essentially no matter how many people from different enterprises are actively using the service there should never be a drop in quality for any user. What this means for businesses is that SMEs (small to medium enterprises) have access to the same level of computing resources as MNCs (multi-national corporations). This means your organization is incredibly scalable, we'll talk more about that under the next heading.

Rapid elasticity

I couldn't think of a particularly good analogous consumer service, but "rapid elasticity" is a simple concept to understand.

Say your company is expanding and you need more storage space for your data and more people need to access that data, so you buy more servers. Your company keeps expanding and you buy more and more servers, but there's an unexpected financial crash and suddenly you can't afford to keep on the same number of staff. The reduced staff number means that all those fancy servers you bought are now just boxes with lights on, not being used by anybody.

As we touched on under the previous heading, one of the strengths of cloud services is their scalable nature. This means that if your business begins hiring new staff, you don't need to buy more servers or data racks to accommodate the new users, you can just acquire more computing resources in the cloud. Similarly if you downscale your operation you can simply tell the cloud service provider that you don't need the extra storage space, number of user accounts or bandwidth anymore.

Measured service

Amazon's on-demand video service allows you to "rent" video for a single watch much like visiting Blockbuster (other video rental shops were available). Assuming I don't want to clutter my house with DVDs I may only watch once, this means that I only get charged for what I use.

Because cloud services are strictly measured and both you and the cloud service provider have access to the measurement data, you can judge what level of computing resources you know you need. Although most cloud services providers won't provide you with an exact you-pay-for-what-you-use model, most will offer a flexible payment model that fits in with their product.

Do you now understand the cloud?

The cloud is the future of IT infrastructure, owning physical servers is expensive and cumbersome and severely limits a business's agility and growth prospects. The biggest takeaway from the roundtable was this: the jargon surrounding cloud technology gets in the way of selling it.

All of the attendees were confused by the tech industry's insistence of using confusing terms to describe basic functions. A great litmus test for determining if a sales person is full of it or if they can actually help you is query every word you don't understand, that'll have some sales people nervously tugging their collar!

Image Credit: ND Johnston/Shutterstock

Published under license from, a Net Communities Ltd Publication. All rights reserved.

Getting the basics of network security right

Network security firewall

With every new breach, network security hits the news, yet many people and companies still don’t get the basics right.

UK-based wireless network specialist Exigent Networks has produced an infographic that looks at the importance of network security and offers tips and expert advice.

It covers the essentials of what network security does as well as looking at some of the most common attack vectors like eavesdropping, trojans and denial of service attacks. It also looks at the technology of network security and sets out some best practice guidelines for businesses.

It concludes with quotes from some of the industry's leading security experts on why network security is vital. You can see the full infographic below.


Image Credit: rosedesigns / Shutterstock

Samsung's new Galaxy A5, A3 smartphones boast very thin metal designs

Samsung Galaxy A5

Samsung is slowly moving away from its oft-maligned, all-plastic smartphone designs of the past, in an attempt to convince consumers that it too can make premium-looking and feeling devices. The first smartphone to reveal what the future holds was Galaxy Alpha, announced just a few months ago. Then Galaxy Note 4 came along, stepping things up even further in the high-end segment.

And now we see how Samsung's vision will impact its less expensive Galaxy devices, as the company just took the wraps off Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A3 today, two mid-range to low-end smartphones featuring "refined full metal unibody designs" that happen to be very, very thin (for whatever reason): 6.7 and 6.9 mm, respectively.

"The Galaxy A5 and A3 offer a beautifully crafted full metal unibody, slim design, superior hardware and the best possible social media experience", says Samsung CEO JK Shin. "These devices make our advanced Galaxy experience even more accessible to young and trend conscious consumers". In fact, Samsung is calling Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A3 its "slimmest smartphones to date", thanks to those low profiles.

And when Shin says Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A3 are designed for "young and trend conscious consumers", he means it. Both smartphones have 5 MP front-facing cameras, which should take quality selfies. But they also support 4G LTE connectivity, which means that those selfies should be uploaded in no time to Facebook or Instagram. Here's what Samsung says: "Users are also able to quickly and easily share photos or videos on their favorite social media channels with the device’s fast network speed of LTE Category 4 standard".

Both smartphones ship with Super AMOLED displays, a feature that is rarely seen in below-premium Galaxy smartphones (like Galaxy Alpha, Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4). Galaxy A5 has the bigger panel, measuring 5.0 inches, with the higher resolution, of 720 by 1,280. Galaxy A3 makes due with a 4.5-inch screen with a resolution of 540 by 960. There's a similar thing going on inside. Here are the other noteworthy specs:

Galaxy A5: 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, 13 MP main camera, 2 GB of RAM, 2,300 mAh battery; 16 GB of internal storage; microSD card slot; Wi-Fi 802.11n; Bluetooth 4.0 LE; NFC (only in the 4G LTE model); Android 4.4 KitKat. It comes in at 139.3 x 69.7 x 6.7 mm and 123 grams.

Galaxy A3: 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, 8 MP main camera, 1 GB of RAM, 1,900 mAh battery; 16 GB of internal storage; microSD card slot; Wi-Fi 802.11n; Bluetooth 4.0 LE; NFC (only in the 4G LTE model); Android 4.4 KitKat. It comes in at 130.1 x 65.5 x 6.9 mm and 110.3 grams.

As you might have figured out after going through the specs, both will be sold in 4G LTE and HSPA+ versions. And, of course, they will feature Samsung's usual TouchWiz add-ons, like Ultra-Power Saving Mode and Adaptive Display.

Samsung Galaxy A3

Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A3 (pictured above) will be sold in Champagne Gold, Light Blue, Midnight Black, Pearl White and Platinum Silver, starting in November; the color names (trickling down from more expensive Galaxys) sound fitting for their upmarket designs.

I do have to wonder what Samsung means by "full metal unibody designs", as the backs of the two smartphones look like they are still made out of plastic (polycarbonate). That is not a problem in my eyes, as the design seems to work great for Galaxy Alpha and Galaxy Note 4 where the back cover can be removed to switch the battery and insert a microSD card. But that description may lead people into thinking that it will feature as much metal as an iPhone, which does not appear to be accurate.

jeudi 30 octobre 2014

Apple's Tim Cook is gay -- the fact it needs to be announced shows what’s wrong in tech

Apple's Tim Cook is gay -- the fact it needs to be announced shows what’s wrong in tech

The sexuality of people in the public often comes in for scrutiny. Whether we're talking about Michael Stipe coming out at the same time as REM released Monster, Morrissey using Autobiography to give a beautifully tender glimpse into the loves of his life, Ellen DeGeneres revealing her sexual preferences to Oprah Winfrey, or any one of countless other celebrities who chooses to make their sexuality public, where those in the limelight fit onto the sexual spectrum has long been -- and will undoubtedly continue to be -- of endless interest to people.

Writing in Bloomberg Businessweek, Apple CEO Tim Cook, entirely unprompted, has said that he is gay. For many people this will come as no surprise, for most it will be of no consequence, some will take exception to it. But what's interesting is that, in 2014, a man (or woman, for that matter) proclaiming their sexuality, is news. Tim Cook is currently the top trending topic on Twitter.

The whole thing is slightly odd. Tim Cook is CEO of Apple, a technology company loved and hated in just about equal measure, but always regarded with sage admiration. In the realms of the tech world -- which is what we at BetaNews generally concern ourselves with -- what we are interested in is the hardware and software that is pumped out with reassuring frequency , and assessing it in terms of value for money, aesthetics, usefulness and so on. The sexuality of the man at the top matters no more than whether he likes to eat cereal for breakfast or fruit and yogurt.

And yet tech blogs, newspapers, computing websites, social media have lit up at Cook's editorial. I realize there is a slight irony in writing a news article proclaiming that the very thing being referred to may not be newsworthy. But the fact that it is in the news, and so prominently, makes it newsworthy; it's slightly meta in that way.

Cook's sexuality was never a secret as such. As he says, "while I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either", and "plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay". It wasn't even an open secret, it was just something that many people assumed, some knew, and most couldn't care about. There has been an incredible reaction to the words "I'm proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me". It is an interesting turn of phrase which is sure to set tongues wagging.

Websites have practically fallen over themselves to heap their praise on the announcement. Some, like Neowin, have also questioned whether it should be reported as news, and plenty have labored over carefully chosen words that the writers hope convey how totally cool they are with the notion -- is acknowledging one's sexuality better than "admitting" it? PC Mag seems to suggest that Cook has been mute for a while ("Tim Cook today broke his silence"), and Ars Technica seems to think there has been "debate" about his sexuality. Re/code points out that Cook is "the most prominent openly gay business executive" -- Harvard Business Review says that he is the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company to come out.

Cook says that while he has "tried to maintain a basic level of privacy", he feels that "I've come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important". Men and women who work their way to the top of the world of tech often become known for other things. Bill Gates is now more readily associated with philanthropic work than Microsoft -- something Mark Zuckerberg would no doubt like for himself and Facebook. Cook makes it clear that he is not an activist, but says that "if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it's worth the trade-off with my own privacy."

Part of the problem -- if it can be described as such -- with anyone coming out as gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, transvestite or as falling into some other group covered by the broad LGBT umbrella, is that all too often it reduces people to fitting into a particular box. Many people's view of Cook will now be forever colored by today's announcement. If this sounds like glib, it is certainly not supposed to. The whole event, and the sickly sweet reactions, is a sad state of affairs, and it just goes to show that the world of technology -- like many other businesses and the world in general -- remains dominated by white, heterosexual, middleclass, right wing men, and any deviation from this is frowned upon, or requires a special announcement followed by acceptance.

Cook's public proclamation was a brave move. Even with the support of friends, family and colleagues, it cannot have been an easy decision. But the very fact that there is such a reaction to something so... normal... is sad. Big love to you, Tim, your anti-discrimination article is inspiring. You're right to be proud. A person can only be proud of two things -- who they are and what they do. You’ve done better than most on both fronts. The fact you're gay simply doesn’t enter into it.

Photo credit: Lester Balajadia /

10 clever ways Microsoft could improve Windows 10


Aurélio "Baboo" knows what he wants to see in Microsoft’s next operating system, and has put together his own vision of Windows 10 "build 9928", spending over 50 hours on creating images in Photoshop that show the changes he thinks Microsoft should implement.

Top of his list, and that of many Windows users, is the return of Aero. Flat might be where it’s at right now, but there’s no question that adding some transparency effects to windows looks good, and I’d be happy to see Microsoft include this option in Windows 10. "I’m honestly not worried about the extra cents in energy consumption Aero that costs me when I’m using my desktop or laptop, because Windows is much more enjoyable with it", Baboo says.

Second on his wish list is the ability to easily back up Windows to the cloud using not only OneDrive but third party services like Dropbox. He also wants to see the option to create a system image. Adding third party services to the mix introduces potential security risks, but Microsoft could add a disclaimer, and give users the choice of where to backup their data.

The ability to back up and restore drivers from within Device Manager, Baboo’s third suggestion, is a great idea and while probably less than 1 percent of people will ever make use of it, it’s something I’d like to see implemented too.

Tabs in the Command Prompt, and in File Explorer are other suggestions that could definitely be useful. If you’ve ever used a third party file manager like Explorer++ then you’ll appreciate the benefits that tabs offer.


The introduction of a GPU section in the Performance area of the Task Manager I can personally live without, but others will find it useful.

Baboo suggests introducing an Optimize option that can remove useless registry entries, and run disk cleanup and a smart defrag in one go, which could help with regular maintenance. He also wants the Status Bar reintroduced, so that more options are available when viewing images.


In This PC, Baboo would like to see much more information about drives and partitions, such as the type of disc, fragmentation status, and SMART status, which is something I’d definitely like to see implemented.


His tenth idea is improved zip support, which is something many people would welcome.

All in all, I think the ideas and suggestions that Baboo has come up with are great. They aren’t revolutionary, but they would definitely improve the future operating system which is why I wanted to share them here.

What’s your view on the ten suggestions (you can view the other images Baboo created here), and do you have any ideas of your own you’d like to see Microsoft implement? Leave your comments below.

Xiaomi is the third-largest smartphone maker

Xiaomi Mi 4

For a manufacturer that has only been selling smartphones for a couple of years now, Xiaomi is doing better than expected. The Chinese company, founded in 2012, became the third-largest smartphone vendor in Q3 2013, surpassing the likes of Lenovo, LG and Huawei. Xiaomi is also closing in fast on Apple, which has enjoyed a comfortable lead, in volumes, over its immediate competition.

Xiaomi's shipments have increased by 211.3 percent year-over-year, to 17.3 million units in the past quarter from just 5.6 million units in Q3 2013. That is more than eight times higher the the market average, of 25.2 percent. Meanwhile, Apple's shipments only grew by a mere 16.1 percent, which is well below the market average, to 39.3 million units from 33.8 million units.

Xiaomi's main market is China, where there is plenty of room for it to grow even further. "Key to its success was the launch of its Mi4 smartphone in August, which was positioned as a high-end alternative to the status quo", notes IDC. Xiaomi is also active in markets around China, where it also has a strong presence. But, in western markets, its devices are nowhere to be found officially, and it will be interesting to see how well they could be received in mature markets like Europe and US.

The leader of the pack, Samsung, saw its shipments decrease by 8.2 percent. The South Korean maker moved 78.1 million units in Q3 2014, down from the 85 million units a year ago. The reasons for the decline are pressure from other manufacturers and "cooling demand" for its premium handsets.

Still, unlike Apple, Samsung will continue to maintain a comfortable lead over the competition in the quarters to come, which should give it plenty of time at the top. That should also translate into plenty of time to recover and then strengthen its position, as it is obvious that Samsung is taking hits from all directions.

Speaking of Apple, IDC notes that Q3 2014 is its best third-quarter yet. "Although the company posted strong results of 10 million units sold during its initial launch weekend, what should not be overlooked is the sustained demand for its older iPhone 5S and 5C models, which comprised the bulk of its volume for the quarter", adds IDC. In the opening weekend, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus sales were 10 million units, breaking the previous record set by iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c last year. The two are also in high-demand in mature markets, like Europe.

In Q3 2014, IDC estimates that 327.6 million units were shipped. Lenovo and LG complete the top five, with 16.9 and 16.8 million units, respectively. A year ago, smartphone shipments totaled 261.7 million units.

UK national videogame museum set to open in 2015


A videogame museum is opening in Britain that hopes to become the "hub for videogame culture".

The National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham will display a selection of highlights from the National Videogame Archive, a collection of 20,000 objects owned by the Science Museum.

The project, which aims to open in March 2015, will cost £2.5 million and already has the backing of British gaming icon Ian Livingstone.

"For the millions of people who love them, it's only natural that videogames should have their own permanent, cultural home -- just as fine art enjoys the National Gallery, performance has the National Theater, and film and music have many permanent spaces that celebrate them," he said.

The arcade will also be home to themed exhibitions, educational programs and specially commissioned works centered around video games.

Ian Simons, director at GameCity and one of the key figures behind the project, added that it was important non-gamers visited the exhibition, particularly parents worried that gaming will turn their children into "sociopaths".

"Gaming is the fastest-growing cultural industry in the world but it's often seen as something a bit trivial," he said.

"We very carefully chose the word 'Arcade' rather than 'Museum' because we believe passionately that games are more interesting when they have people playing them. Games are only really alive when they are played. We want this to be a place where everybody can come".

Nottingham was chosen, not only because of its central location, but also because it hosts an annual gaming festival called GameCity.

Mr Simons also confirmed that there would be a charge for some of the temporary exhibitions, but other elements of the arcade would be free.

The US is also set to open a videogame museum of its own in April next year in Frisco, Texas.

Image Credit:National Videogame Archive

Published under license from, a Net Communities Ltd Publication. All rights reserved.

Microsoft introduces Band smart activity tracker, Health platform

Microsoft Band

Microsoft is getting into the wearables business, but not with a smartwatch as the rumors have suggested for more than a week. The software giant is actually approaching this market with a smart activity tracker called Band, and a dedicated platform called Health.

Like the rumored smartwatch, which could have competed with Android Wear devices and Apple Watch, Band works on all three major mobile platforms, Android, iOS and Windows Phone. It is designed for both fitness junkies as well as average folks who wish to keep track of their daily activity.

Band has 10 "smart sensors" which keep track of things like the user's heart rate, calorie burn, sleep quality and the like. But those are things other activity trackers can do as well, and for significantly less money. Band actually costs $199, which makes it quite pricey. The added value, on top of what a normal band does, comes from the built-in display and smartwatch-like software features. And, of course, there are tiles on the display, which look really nice there.

Band also provides workouts tailored for the user's fitness goals. It ties in with Cortana, if the user is using a Windows Phone 8.1 device, and, using the built-in screen, delivers notifications for calls, calendars, emails, messages and social updates as well as other info like the UV index, from the built-in UV monitor.

With Cortana the user can, for instance, set a reminder or get directions There is no integration with other personal assistants at this point, but, given that Google just introduced a NOW API, we could see Band playing nice with it (or Microsoft bringing Cortana like it is on Windows Phone to Android and iOS). Speaking of directions, Band has a built-in GPS, which can also record your routes, when walking or running.

You can use Band with any Bluetooth-enabled device running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, iOS 7.1 and Windows Phone 8.1, or newer.

What else should you know about it? Well, its battery life is rated for up to two days. It can be less depending on your usage. A full charge takes about an hour and a half. It works fine between 14 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 and 40 degrees Celsius), and up to 7.45 miles (12,000 meters). It is, obviously, "sweat and splash resistant". It weighs 2.12 ounces (60 grams). The built-in display measures 0.43 x 1.3 inches (11 x 33 mm) and it's touch-enabled. There is an ARM Cortex M4 MCU processor, and 64 MB of storage inside.

Band is available today, from Microsoft's online and brick and mortar stores. Supplies are said to be limited. For the money you also get a free $5 Starbucks gift card and a two-week Gold's Gym trial. It is available in three sizes, small (39 mm high wrists), medium (41 mm high wrists) and large (49 mm high wrists).

Now, let's take a look at Health. As the name of the platform suggests, it is designed to act as a collection of fitness and wellness-related data, like step counts, burned calories, heart rate and other information, from all sorts of wearable devices and related services. Microsoft says that it works with Jawbone Up, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper and MapMyFitness, as well as Microsoft Band, with more to be added in the future. All this data will be collected and made available through Android, iOS and Windows Phone apps, which are hitting the respective app stores now.

What does Microsoft do with this information? Well, the software giant says that the user will get insights, the ability to combine data with calendar, email and location information, and much more. It's like Apple's HealthKit, if you will, as it also packs APIs for device manufacturers and services to leverage. But, it can also share data with your medical provider, through HealthVault. It will be interesting to see just how accurate the collected information is, considering the variations known to occur between different wearables.

The NHS is still clinging on to Windows XP


NHS Trusts across the UK are risking a security meltdown due to the widespread presence of Microsoft’s outdated Windows XP OS with the government looking at another £5.5 million bill from Microsoft for support.

Citrix, the mobile workspace company, filed a freedom of information act request that found all the of 35 NHS Trusts questioned are still using Windows XP and that just five are utilizing desktop virtualization technology to handle migration away from it.

"Like the rest of the public sector, the NHS is under tremendous pressure to do more with less. The IT department is no exception," Jason Tooley, UK country manager at Citrix commented. "These findings highlight a wider opportunity for NHS trusts across the UK to harness technology today to transform IT processes for the better. Utilizing IT -- including desktop and application virtualization -- can positively impact the entire workplace, delivering increased productivity and ultimately improved patient care".

Even though Microsoft announced Windows XP’s end of life on 8 April 2014, the government has an extension on support until 8 April 2015 and with this in mind, 74 percent of the trusts surveyed admitted their last devices wouldn’t be migrated until March 2015.

Worryingly another 14 percent are unsure when they will transition their last computer away from Windows XP and in addition to the five that are already using virtualization, just two more plan to take a similar path before the deadline.

There is already talk that the UK government could end up signing another extension with Microsoft to provide a second year of support and it’s likely to cost the same £5.5 million it shelled out for help this year.

Under that agreement, Microsoft provides security updates for the 12 year old OS as well as Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 for the entire UK public sector, and a similar deal was also signed by the Dutch government for the same level of support.

With Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 failing to get the public sector’s juices going, the UK government may wait for Windows 10 to come to its rescue and there's a distinct possibility we will be talking about an NHS stuck on Windows XP this time next year.

Image Credit: Flickr (Ian Burt)

Published under license from, a Net Communities Ltd Publication. All rights reserved.