samedi 29 novembre 2014

Just in time for Christmas, Microsoft launches Digital Gift Cards for Windows Phone

Just in time for Christmas, Microsoft launches Digital Gift Cards for Windows Phone

It’s the time of year when attention turns to buying gifts. Black Friday is now out of the way, but there's still Cyber Monday for you to stock up on low-cost presents for yourself and others. There are plenty of electronic devices vying for attention as companies try to tempt you into parting with your cash, but if you're the indecisive type, there's always the trusty fall-back of the gift card.

Keen to give you as many ways as possible to throw your money in its direction, Microsoft has launched Digital Gift Cards for Windows Phone. This is an app that does very much what you would expect, making it possible to buy and share gift cards from the comfort of your Windows Phone. But Microsoft isn’t stupid. The gift cards themselves are not limited to Windows Phone purchases -- they can be used to buy apps, games, movies and music from Xbox and Windows stores.

Great for a last-minute gift, the digital gift cards are emailed out the instant payment is made. Bringing the gift card idea to mobile devices is interesting. Should you find yourself out shopping and unable to locate the perfect gift for your friends and family, you can opt to sort out all of your gift buying over a coffee -- send a batch of gift cards and leave your loved ones to decide what they would like to buy for themselves.

In a fine example of canny marketing, Microsoft is billing digital gift cards as "the perfect 'add-on' for family and friends receiving an Xbox or Windows device". Bought a Windows Phone, Xbox or even a Surface Pro 3 as a gift for someone? Microsoft thinks you might like to "top-up" the present with the gift card as an extra. It's a bit of a cheeky idea, but it makes perfect sense from a money-making point of view.

Of course, this is not just an app that can be used at Christmas -- although the timing is interesting to say the least. It is possible to schedule purchases throughout the year so you don’t forget an important birthday. Is it handy to have a dedicated app for this, or would the existing website have sufficed?

Picture credit: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

vendredi 28 novembre 2014

Manage PC processes, services, drivers with Listsp


Is your PC slow? Unstable? Whenever your system is misbehaving, it’s wise to take a look at how it’s configured, and the various processes it might be running.

You could get a basic view with Task Manager and assorted Control Panel applets. But the open source Listsp is a more complete solution, and gives you access to processes, services and driver information from a single interface.

The program is portable and adware-free. Unzip the download, launch Listsp.exe and it leaps into action, organizing details of your system across four tabs.

The default Processes tab displays a view of your running processes. It’s just a table (there’s no tree view), but you get a huge amount of detail: name, PID, priority, memory usage, threads, I/O reads/ writes, page faults, page file usage, handles, DEP status and more.

The problem with this is there’s too much detail, making for a very wide table and a lot of horizontal scrolling. We couldn’t see a way to turn off columns we didn’t need, and there’s no single Properties-type dialog to display everything about a process in one place.

Right-click a process and life gets more interesting, as Listsp provides an enormous number of process management tools. You can suspend and resume a process, close or restart it, change its process/ page/ I/O priority, reduce its RAM use, close file handles, inject a DLL, search for it online, and view a host of low-level details (modules, threads, privileges, memory blocks, strings, file handles, network connections, windows and more).

Many of these options open another window with more information, and additional tools. Choose to view the text strings in a process and you’re able to view them, maybe save them to disk. And the "List Windows" option displays a list of windows belonging to a process, includes some unusual low-level details (class name, style), and allows you to set their opacity, highlight them in the taskbar, set them to be "always on top", and more.

Listsp’s Services tab lists your Windows services in another extremely wide table. Including the Description field on a single line doesn’t help (that required more than twice the width of our 1920 pixel screen, all on its own).

But right-click, and again it’s surprising what you can do. There are options to set startup and service type, work with dependents and dependencies (including adding and removing them, stopping dependencies before you touch the current service), tweak error control, open the item in Regedit, even delete the service entirely.

The Drivers tab follows the same pattern. A cluttered table, but you can also start, stop, restart or disable a driver, change its startup type and more. That’s arguably a bad idea if you don’t know what you’re doing -- one mistake could cripple your PC -- but we like having these capabilities to hand.

The final Network tab is a little safer, displaying a more basic list of your open network connections. Right-clicking these displays an option to close them, although again you get a lot of choice: you’re able to close the local and remote port or connection.

Listsp’s cluttered interface means it’s not going to be anyone’s Task Manager replacement of choice. Process Explorer and Process Hacker are far more comfortable to use.

Still, the program provides a lot of low-level information and features, and Windows experts should probably keep a copy around for occasional use.

Social networks told to be honest and stop bamboozling their users

Social networks told to be honest and stop bamboozling their users

The UK parliament is calling on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to simplify their terms and conditions. The Science and Technology Committee has expressed concern that privacy policies and other documents are strewn with legal terms that most people do not read or understand. This means that most social network users are simply not aware that they have agreed for their personal information to be used in various ways -- and are certainly unaware of how it might be used.

The Committee is calling for social networks to make a commitment to explain in very clear terms how personal data is shared and used. It wants to work with the government to draw up a set of standards -- almost a social networking manifesto -- that companies can sign up to.

Facebook has already put forward proposals to simplify its privacy policy in the hope that people will actually read them. But the committee believes there is still a lot of work to do, expressing concerns that these contrasts are "not fit as a mechanism for demonstrating that users have given informed consent for some of the ways companies are now exploiting personal data". What many find particularly worrying is the trend for social networks to hang onto personal information that is not technically required to use the services.

Andrew Miller, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, said:

Let’s face it, most people click yes to terms and conditions contracts without reading them, because they are often laughably long and written in the kind of legalese you need a law degree from the USA to understand. Socially responsible companies wouldn’t want to bamboozle their users, of course, so we are sure most social media developers will be happy to sign up to the new guidelines on clear communication and informed consent that we are asking the Government to draw up.

At the moment there is just talk of a voluntary code of conduct, but the committee says that it will consider legislation if necessary. As The Next Web points out, the majority of social networks targeted by this venture are based in the US and are covered by US law, meaning that it would be difficult to make the UK guidelines anything other than voluntary.

Photo credit: Ivelin Radkov / Shutterstock

RootsMagic 7 adds automatic Web Hints, improves problem-fixing tools


RootsMagic, Inc has launched RootsMagic Essentials 7.0, a major new version of its free (and paid-for) genealogical tool.

Both free and paid-for versions gain a new Web Hints feature that automatically suggests record matches from a number of online websites, while paid-for users also gain a number of other useful tools and improvements.

The new Web Hints feature allows RootsMagic to claim the prize of being the first app to offer multi-platform record hints, but it’s worth noting it’s currently restricted to just two online repositories: FamilySearch and MyHeritage. When potential matches are found, users will see a light bulb appear next to the person’s name.

Clicking this reveals the number of potential matches at each site -- users then click on the number to view actual hints and then decide whether or not to incorporate them into their own research file. Sadly, confirming hints from MyHeritage requires a paid-for subscription to the service.

Those who upgrade to the full version of RootsMagic gain a number of additional new tools, including support for publishing and maintaining multiple online trees through the free MyRootsMagic online service, all of which can be managed from a single screen.

A new DataClean tool provides a one-stop shop for interrogating user files for potential problems -- users choose which types of problem to search for, then can review (and approve) any suggested changes made.

Also added to version 7 is support for comparing two RootsMagic databases side-by-side, with options for transferring data between the two files. Users can also import lists of selected facts, sources and other data from one file to another too.

A new QuickGroups feature allows users to organize individuals into specific groups based on selected criteria, such as people still marked as living or those born in a specific place.

Media improvements include support for dragging media files from Windows Explorer into a person’s media screen for adding quickly. Users can now also back up their media files alongside the main RootsMagic database.

RootsMagic 7 Essentials is a free download for PCs running Windows 2000 or later – Mac users can now run RootsMagic natively using the paid-for MacBridge for RootsMagic 7 program, which is currently on sale for $9.95. The full version of RootsMagic 7 can be unlocked from within RootsMagic Essentials for $29.95, while existing version 6 users can upgrade for $19.95.

BitTorrent unveils its first original TV series -- Children of the Machine


Although BitTorrent’s reputation is as a means to download music and movies illegally, the company is trying to change that by offering original, and legal content.

Two months ago, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke released a new album as a paid BitTorrent Bundle, and now the file sharing firm announces its first original TV series -- Children of the Machine.

Due to arrive in fall 2015, the eight-episode sci-fi show will be available as a free, ad-supported BitTorrent Bundle. If you like it, you’ll be able buy an ad-free version for $4.95, or $9.95 for a version with bonus content.

Children of the Machine’s producer Marco Weber said: "This is a science fiction show catered to the typical tech-savvy, male-dominated audience. We're not trying to launch a romantic comedy, so the concept of this show moved us toward BitTorrent".

jeudi 27 novembre 2014

UK High Court orders ISPs to block a further 53 piracy sites


If you live in the UK it’s getting ever harder to access pirated music and movies on the web. After years of trying to defeat pirates in various ways, including suing downloaders, representatives of rights holders have found that the easiest and most effective solution is to take their complaints to the high court and ask for the infringing sites to be blocked.

The process, which started with the banning of The Pirate Bay in 2012, is now so straightforward for the likes of the Motion Picture Association and BPI (British Phonographic Industry), that whole batches of sites are getting outlawed at a time. Yesterday there were 40 copyright infringing sites blocked in the UK, today that number more than doubles to 93.

53 new services, including the likes of Rapid Moviez, Torrentz, Sumotorrent, IP Torrents and BitSoup, will soon be inaccessible to customers of the UK's top six ISPs -- BT, EE, TalkTalk, O2, Sky, and Virgin Media. Visitors to any of the blocked services will see a message from their ISP explaining that their chosen site is not available due to an order from the High Court.

"Securing court orders requiring ISPs to block access to illegal websites is an accepted and legitimate measure to tackle online copyright infringement", Chris Marcich, president of the MPA's European division said, following the latest ruling.

"It carefully targets sites whose sole purpose is to make money off the back of other people's content while paying nothing back into the legitimate economy".

There are plenty of workarounds available of course, including VPNs and proxies, so the latest move will have little impact on seasoned downloaders, but the aim is to try and make life difficult for more casual pirates, in the hope they will opt for legal means of accessing movies or music instead.


Photo Credit: iQoncept /Shutterstock

When iPads fall, Windows tablets rise

Apple iPad vs Windows 8

The tablet market could be slowing down after years of growth, according to industry estimates, with Apple's iPad set to be hardest hit.

Research firm IDC projects that total tablet shipments globally are set to increase by only 7.2 percent this year, compared with 52.5 percent growth in 2013.

The downturn is said to reflect a growing reliance on PCs and smartphones, with most consumers and businesses still preferring to run the full-version of software packages on PCs.

Tablet owners are also keeping a hold of their devices for longer than expected, with many consumers keeping their tablet for three years or more. With the majority of new apps compatible with older hardware, there is often little reason to upgrade.

The IDC figures also take into account hybrid tablet devices that can function as laptops by adding an external keyboard. Shipments of these devices are only expected to grow by four percent.

Shipments of Apple’s iPad are actually set to fall this year, with predictions suggesting a 12.7 percent decrease in the number of units when compared with 2013. Apple CEO Tim Cook is looking to reverse this trend, with industry sources indicating that an enterprise partnership with IBM could be in the works to provide businesses with cloud-optimized mobile devices.

Compounding Apple's woes, shipments of Windows tablets are expected to grow by 67.3 per cent next year, totaling 10.9 million units, with Android shipments also increasing, this time by 16 percent.

IDC predicts that the market slowdown will continue until 2018, but did admit that there were a number of industry unknowns that could yet have an unforeseen impact on tablet sales.

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

What you should know about the E-Label Act

Nexus 7 electronic label FCC ID

The FCC label on radio-equipped devices sold in US has been mandatory since 1973. By now, we have gotten used to seeing it, no doubt because there is usually nothing that we can do to hide it. But, as technology evolves, its physical presence is bound to cause some serious problems (not to mention that it spoils the look of some gorgeous devices).

However, in mid-July, a new bill, called the E-Label Act, was introduced to give companies that operate in US the option to feature an electronic FCC label on their radio-equipped products. And, after passing through Senate and Congress, President Obama just signed it. Here is what you should know about it.

First off, it should be mentioned that the electronic labeling is not something new in US. "The rules already permit devices approved as software-defined radios and modular transmitters to display compliance information electronically through a display where available", says the FCC.

"The Commission has already permitted e-labeling for a small subset of devices", said FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly in late-April 2014. "In 2001, the Commission’s rules authorizing software defined radios (SDR) permitted the voluntary use of e-labeling by device manufacturers".

Interestingly, the FCC has introduced electronic labeling guidance that explains what should be displayed, how the information should be accessed and what other things are required, before the E-Label Act was even signed. (The last bit usually means that if a device makes use of an electronic FCC label it also has a removable, physical label on it -- some of us may have seen this already.)

The FCC said, when the guidance was published in mid-July 2014, that its electronic labeling guidance targets "devices that have an integrated display or devices that are subject to rules for software-defined radios or modular transmitters and are used in a host device that has an integrated display".

Notice the difference -- the E-Label Act adds devices with an integrated display into the mix. To consumers, the most prominent beneficiaries of this change will be smartphones, of course. However, the biggest beneficiaries will be much, much smaller devices, that will only grow in numbers with the move towards the Internet of Things. As the E-Label Act notes, "As devices become smaller, compliance with physical label requirements can become more difficult and costly".

Now, the big question is, of course, "When will we see more companies using e-labels on their devices?". Well, that is up to the FCC now. The commission has nine months to "promulgate regulations or take other appropriate action, as necessary, to allow manufacturers of radiofrequency devices with display the option to use electronic labeling for the equipment in place of affixing physical labels to the equipment".

That likely means that the earliest that we could see companies taking advantage of the E-Label Act is well-into next year. The next, for instance, iPhones could ship without the FCC logo on the back.

The screenshot at the top of the article (taken on my 2013 Google Nexus 7, running Android 5.0 Lollipop -- which was released in November 2014) gives us an idea of how the electronic label might look. I should point out that in the case of the second-generation Nexus 7 it is not quite easy to find. Whether the placement of the e-label will be different or not, in practice, remains to be seen. I am sure that, except for the FCC, not many of us will mind it if we cannot easily find that info.

It's time for enterprises to get crazy with communication


It’s been a long time coming. Fifteen years after VoIP proved its cost benefits, ten years after 'telephony' reinvented itself as unified communications and five years since the whole lot became 'just another app', we’re finally witnessing the consumerization and democratization of enterprise-class, personal communications and messaging by going ‘over-the-top’.

In the telecoms world, the OTT (over-the-top) acronym is well understood, if not a little overused. Traditional telecom providers have been forced into developing innovative services that move above their traditional infrastructure markets of lines and minutes, in order to compete with the innovative OTT services provided by the likes of Google, Facebook and Skype that capture the user so effectively and give them an experience they just can’t do without.

Now enterprise IT teams are getting in on the OTT act: To deliver business services with the kind of brilliant experience that consumers take for granted in their personal lives; to provide the kinds of communications tools to enterprise users whose reputation and user-base will grow within the business and to make unified communications (UC) really work.

In the past, UC has not had a great rep -- far too many organizations would tell you from experience that it was a poisoned chalice. The problems with UC’s promised benefits were that they could only materialize if you a) mostly stuck with one vendor everywhere and paid the price they asked you to pay and b) users actually used it.

In hindsight, we now know that the first was impossible to live with and the second impossible to enforce.

Many vendors maintained high margins through proprietary systems and expensive desktop hardware, leaving enterprises to really struggle to drive end-user adoption and deliver RoI. Thankfully, today’s outlook is very different as the consumerization of IT and availability of enterprise-ready cloud services have tipped the balance back in favor of IT teams and users alike.

Listen to the consumer inside every business user

The rise of the tech-savvy, mobile, enterprise consumer and the dramatic uptake of services such as Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp shows there’s huge demand for great communication services.

BYOD has progressed to Bring Your Own App, and there’s the obvious opportunity for enterprises to grasp the agility and potential cost savings proffered by tablets, mobile OS’s and the vibrant developer ecosystem that surrounds them.

Then, there’s the emergence of genuine, enterprise-grade cloud solutions for voice, video and messaging. Cloud services that are genuinely flexible and on demand, subscription or PAYG based and you don’t need to know whose hardware, or whose call control, makes it work. It just does.

Whilst not every enterprise is going to leap over to a pure cloud solution, they have served to shape perceptions of the value offered by traditional suppliers past and teach IT teams the art of the possible: They’re glimpsing ways to be a better service provider to their enterprise users.

For business communications there is really nothing more important; fail to deliver the right user experience, and forget any promised benefits of productivity or cost savings.

Users have got to want to use the communications tools you give them. They are crying out for services to match the mobile and app experiences they have in their personal lives, at work. And importantly, they want to do it on any device they choose, in a secure and compliant manner.

Find your inner service provider

IT teams need to turn themselves into the enterprise equivalent of an OTT service provider to rival the likes of WhatsApp and Snapchat. To deliver what employees want, need and will use as a go-to communications service, they need to go above traditional business communications – in the same way that traditional telecom providers are doing.

This is about giving the end-user the experience and choice they want, but without losing control over security, policy and cost.

Unlike UC solutions of the past, an OTT model can offer compatibility with any vendor and many-vendor, on premise and cloud. Cisco in your datacenter, Lync messaging in the cloud, and MobileIron securing devices? Sure! Who cares? It should just work. And any other combination thereof for that matter. Over the top.

The important bit is that it must work with a consistent user experience, on every device and OS out there. Plus, with the management tools and systems that allow enterprise IT teams to innovate, implement and deliver.

Enterprise OTT promises to brush away both of those old impediments of UC -- the right experience for the users, and for the teams delivering that experience. The RoI comes back to the promises initially made by UC vendors all that time ago: Productivity and cost savings. Except this time you’re unifying your users’ communications, rather than forking out for unified communications.

Is enterprise OTT simply UC reborn? Well, yes and no. Yes, it would be a simple way to anticipate the benefits that it will make in the market. But as I said before, UC has also become something of a pseudonym for proprietary, expensive and clunky. And the OTT market is working hard to be the antidote to that; an infrastructure agnostic, user-led approach to unifying communications.

It’s a whole different attitude for enterprise IT. If you can find it in yourself to embrace the service provider within you then you can recapture the imagination and cooperation of an increasingly savvy and cynical user-base, by innovating and delivering services that they will use and enjoy using, and that you control.

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

mercredi 26 novembre 2014

Does a deleted Microsoft blog post show it's about to buy mobile email firm Acompli?

Does a deleted Microsoft blog post show it's about to buy mobile email firm Acompli?

Web pages can be interesting, transient things; they can be there one minute and gone the next. But while a web page may vanish, that does not mean that all traces of it vanish from the internet. Earlier today an intriguing-looking article popped up in my news reader -- there are many benefits to sticking with RSS feeds: a post on the Microsoft blog with the title "blank post please delete".

Authored by Rajesh Jha, my RSS reader (InoReader) showed that the post's content was very similar to the title -- blank post, please delete. Just a comma added. Interest piqued, I clicked the link to see if there was any more to see. "We're sorry, but we can't find the page you're looking for" announced Chrome. But the URL is curious.

The link took me to a non-existent page on the Official Microsoft Blog formatted to indicate that the post had been made on November 25 -- But it's those last three words that are particularly fascinating. Microsoft acquires Acompli. Does it? What’s Acompli? Why have I not heard anyone else talking about this?

Acompli, it turns out, is a mobile email app that's available for iOS and Android. An email app with something of a difference as it features an integrated calendar and described by the Verge as "the Outlook for iPhone that Microsoft hasn’t yet built". It's easy to see why Microsoft might be interested in acquiring the app and company. A quick look at the Acompli blog revealed nothing, nor did endless web searches.

But this blog post and its intriguing URL did not spring out of nowhere. I contacted Microsoft and -- after something of a delay -- I heard back from a spokesperson who let me know that they were "unable to accommodate [my] request at this time". I've reached out to Acompli as well, and I'm waiting to hear back.

Watch this space. It's not clear if this is a business deal that is yet to happen and someone pushed the button too early, or if something fell through at the last minute. It may amount to nothing -- in which case forget I said anything. But we may soon hear that Microsoft has a new company in its folds -- in which case, you heard it here first!

Photo credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock

Now Twitter is going to start monitoring which mobile apps you download

Now Twitter is going to start monitoring which mobile apps you download

Hate 'em, loathe 'em or abhor 'em, it's hard to avoid ads. You know that you're a consumer. Companies exist because you consume, and you are encouraged to consume more and more. To help lead you to consume, you need to be subjected to advertising -- it's all part of the money-go-round of using the web.

Tailored ads are more likely to bring in cash, and social networks are in the business of gathering information about their users with a view to delivering the most laser-focused targeted advertising possible. The latest venture by Twitter involves keeping tabs on the apps you install on your iOS or Android phone or tablet.

This is not quite how Twitter puts it, of course. Collecting information about "occasionally updating the list of apps installed on your mobile device" is all for your own good: "so we can deliver tailored content that you might be interested in" and "to help build a more personal Twitter experience for you".

The app tracking feature -- known obscurely as your "app graph" -- will not be enabled by default on your mobile device if you have previously opted out of web-based ads, but otherwise it will be ticking away in the background. You will get a little warning. An in-app notification will let you know when the feature rolls out to your account.

Twitter says that the information that is gathered will be used to improve the suggestions it makes about who you might want to follow, adding "especially interesting" to your timeline, and to show you "relevant promoted content" -- or ads, as they are better known. If you'd like to switch off the feature head to the Other section of Settings in Android or the Privacy section of Setting in iOS and disable the Tailor Twitter based on my apps option.

Twitter does not go into detail about just what sort of promoted content you might see, but the chances are that if you have a large number of health and fitness apps installed, you're probably not going to see an influx of McDonald's ads.

Photo credit: digieye / Shutterstock

Amazon deal -- grab a Fire HD 6 and get a bonus


Amazon recently released new devices, including Fire tablets and Kindle readers. But with the holiday shopping season now upon us, it's time for deals. The retailer is responding with multiple ones, some already being available on the site.

This one is a bit different, though. The online store wishes for you to purchase its new Fire HD 6 tablet, and to entice you, the pot is sweetened.

If you grab the tablet now (though it's called a Black Friday deal) then you can also get six months free of Kindle Unlimited, which is generally priced at $9.99 per month.

The 6-inch device has 8 GB of storage and also has front and rear cameras. It runs Amazon's highly customized version of Android, which seems like a completely different operating system, but not in a bad way.

You can grab this deal from the retailer for $129. Other deals on Amazon products are coming this Black Friday, and some are already available -- the holiday shopping season seems to start earlier each year. We'll have a full list of the the products coming soon.

You better watch out -- online retailers' security practices under the spotlight

Santa naughty or nice

This time of year sees a spike in online shopping activity, but that also means added worries about how well our information is being looked after when we buy online.

Password management company LastPass has put together an infographic 'naughty and nice' list looking at how online retailers store information when we shop.

On the naughty step are some big names including Amazon and Walmart. Problems include weak password requirements, collecting too much information before you make a purchase and the storing of credit card details -- convenient for future buys but a risk if someone gains access to your account.

On the nice side of the list are eBay and the Apple Store, along with one of last year's bad guys Target. The graphic also offers some tips for staying safe as you shop including looking out for HTTPS connections, using a different password for each account and lying in your answers to security questions to reduce the chances of your account being hacked.

You can see the full infographic below and if you have any extra tips for surviving the online shopping experience do let us know in the comments.


Photo Credit: RTImages / Shutterstock