Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sprint network to use Google Search

Google is already a leader in the Internet Search market, is competing with Microsoft in the desktop search, and now has made an entry in the mobile search market. It has announced a tie-up with Sprint Nextel Corp that will add the Google search and mapping services to Sprint's high-speed wireless network. This is a good deal for Sprint in the sense that Google is a world-leader in the area of search and has an excellent brand name.
Sprint's plan is to create a high speed WiMax network that will be 5 times faster than today's networks, and will cover a city wide area. It can be used by devices other than mobile phones, given that it is actually a wireless network accessible by all devices that support this kind of connection. Once this network is rolled out, it is a service that Sprint will charge for, and Google will be available on the home page of this network.

The agreement gives Reston, Va.-based Sprint the prestige of working with the most popular search engine, along with a source of revenue, West said. For Google, the deal brings a way to extend its search engine into the mobile-device market.
West said Google will pay Sprint as part of the agreement, declining to be specific. Sprint and Craig McCaw's Clearwire Corp. said last week they would use a technology called WiMax to build a wireless network that's more than five times faster than today's standard.

This deal is a big deal for Google. Given the speed with which the mobile platform is proliferating and the increased tendency to build devices that allow for internet access, it is important for Google to be available on this platform. In addition, given that there is a class of devices that use Microsoft's Mobile platform, one can be sure that Google will not be the default search on those devices, so Google needs to network with all other providers and platforms.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Microsoft drops price of HD DVD add-on for Xbox 360

The battle for the next generation of DVD players is getting hotter, although it is a long way from decided right now. Sony's Blu-Ray seems to be ahead in the race with the HD DVD, with increasing adoption by the retailers and media industry. However, these are such early days that things can change a lot in the next few months, eventually leading to a decision on the winner. The ones who lose out are the early customers, who end up choosing Blu-Ray or HD DVD players and discs, and then it turns out that the format they choose is the loser and not supported later, or that they buy a player and do not get movies for the player later.
Microsoft is doing its bit in the fight against Blu-Ray and for the HD DVD player, by reducing the price of the HD DVD add-on to the Xbox360 by $20 to $179. In addition, Toshiba extended the offer of 5 free HD DVD movies to people buying this add-on:

"With the price reduction to $179, the Xbox 360 HD DVD Player continues to be the most affordable way to enjoy high definition," said Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of the global marketing, interactive entertainment business, entertainment and devices division at Microsoft.
This price drop and movie giveaway may entice some buyers who already own an Xbox 360, but Sony and Blu-ray's recent victories in retail and rental outlets may prove to be a more powerful weapon. $179 HD DVD players won't be too attractive if consumers can't easily find HD DVD content in their favorite stores. Conversely, if Microsoft's price drop results in sales of large numbers of HD DVD players, retailers may change their tune.

Still a long way to go, and the fight to attract people to these respective platforms will keep on happening for some time more. It would seem like that Blu-Ray is currently leading the fight, and Sony will keep on pushing for more alliances and adoption.

Saturday, July 21, 2007 goes for anonymous search

Google has faced some rough times over the past few years due to its policies on privacy getting thoroughly questioned by privacy experts. It has had to reduce the amount of time that it carries information about users, and is now down to 18 months, from the previous years and years that it used to carry such information. Well, has thrown down the gauntlet significantly, and if another search engine were to implement such a policy, the pressure on Google would grow significantly. took a major step toward protecting protecting the privacy of its users when it announced yesterday that it would be launching a new tool that would allow users to use its search engine anonymously. The tool, called AskEraser, will ensure that users' search records will not be retained by the company in any form for any period of time. Users will be able to set AskEraser settings in their privacy preferences, and the company says that the settings will be clearly displayed on results pages so that users will always be aware of the privacy status of their searches.
The move comes after Google's recent attempts to placate privacy advocates by shortening the lifespan of its search preference cookie (as long as users never return) and anonymizing its server logs after 18 months. also decided that it will anonymize server logs after 18 months, ensuring that even users who don't make use of AskEraser will be able to rest easy knowing that their search histories won't be kept around forever.

This is currently a voluntary measure on, and users will have to change their settings for this to work. However, one is always curious about this major fight regarding privacy, since all such time limits such as 18 months is based on the fact that a user does not return to Google, and it is hard to find people who have used Google once and not used again for 18 months, at which time the user's information will be wiped off from the servers.

Duke and iPhone resolve problems

Earlier this week, there was a major issue over the iPhone apparently causing a Denial of Service attacks on the Duke wireless network, and the issue quickly blew up. Apple would have been in the forefront of attempts to make sure that this issue gets resolved due to the potential bad publicity for the iPhone. Well, it's now blown over, and Apple gets a clean chit:

Initial reports of the problem placed the blame for the outages squarely on Apple's iPhones, which flooded the Cisco WAPs (Wireless Access Points) with thousands of address requests per second. However, in a statement released this afternoon, Cisco Systems admitted that the problem was caused by a Cisco glitch.
The problem could be particular to Duke. Other large universities—specifically the University of Wisconsin at Madison—have not experienced problems with its registered iPhones and Cisco-based Wi-Fi network, according to Dave Schroeder, an administrator in UW's Division of Information Technology. "We have seen upwards of 120 unique iPhones since June 30 on our campus-wide wireless infrastructure, which also uses Cisco 802.11b/g access points. To date, we have not encountered or detected any undesirable behavior from iPhones," said Schroeder. "As I have also not heard reports of errant 802.11 iPhone behavior from any other institution or site, it appears that the issue at Duke may be unique. There may be something unique to Duke's particular wireless installation configuration that the iPhone may be exposing," he added.

Of course, that is something that needs to be investigated further. There is something in the Duke network that was causing the problems to happen, and there is no certainty that such issues will not happen again.
There is an additional comment in the bottom of the article quoted above that could also cause certain problems

"My suspicion is that Duke's network requires Cisco's (Lightweight Extensible Authentication Protocol) security encryption and the iPhone doesn't have that incorporated into it. That could be a source of the problem," said Van Baker, a research vice president at Gartner in San Jose, Calif.
"Cisco's LEAP is an enterprise deployment not seen in the consumer market at all. The iPhone doesn't have a lot of the features you'd normally expect to see in an enterprise class phone," he added.

This was certainly a negative comment by an analyst, and this is something that Apple needs to quickly address. Apple would want this phone to be adapted in the enterprise segment as well, those segments carry a number of phones with them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

iPhone causing denial of service attacks

Could it be too good to be true ? The iPhone is one of the tech marvels that happens once in a few years, and it has shown itself to be a revolution in the designing of phones, although the restriction on carriers and the relatively slow network are acting as hobble-stones.
Well, in the latest news on this area, the iPhones have been caught to be behaving very strangely on the Duke University campus, with around 150 iPhones (a fraction of what would be available once the students come back from holiday) bring several wireless access points to a halt, in an imitation of a Denial of Service attack, probably the last thing that Apple wants to hear at this point:

The iPhone is flooding wireless access points at the US Duke University with MAC address requests, resulting in a denial of service-like attack that is taking out 20 to 30 access points for 10 to 15 minutes at a time – weird! The iPhones are asking for an address that isn’t on Duke University’s network, and when the iPhones don’t get a response, they keep on sending out requests, flooding the available bandwidth.
Help has been sought from Cisco, the maker of the school’s networking equipment, and technical support has been sought from Apple, although there is only speculation online as to precisely what might have caused the problem – Apple isn’t saying anything yet as it no doubt investigates the problem. When the fix inevitably comes, either the iPhone, Cisco’s equipment, or both, will simply be patched with a software update to resolve the problem.

So even though it will probably be a short-lived problem, the fact that such a problem occurred reflects badly on Apple's quality regime. And it is good that it happened at a time when the university was thinly populated, otherwise at peak times and if happening in a number of places at the same time, the problem would have been magnified many times and probably resulted in a loss of face for Apple.

Security company warns against using iPhone's web dialer

The iPhone has a great new feature, and since it is a combination phone and browser, the feature can work really well for most users. But like any other new great feature, there is tremendous capability for misuse, and seeing the ease of misuse, security companies are warning users against using this feature, or to be very careful when using this feature.
What is the feature? Well, the iPhone uses Safari as a web browser. Now, if the web site displays a phone number, all that the user has to do is to click on the phone number in the browser, and the number will get dialed. This is a great feature, but so is the scope for misuse. Imagine the phone in the hand of a neophyte who is viewing some 'interesting' site on the browser, and there is a number displayed along with a catchy slogan. Press the number, and if the number is an international number, or a fraud number, the calls could become very expensive very soon.

Attackers could exploit a bug in this feature to trick a victim into making phone calls to expensive "900" numbers or even keep track of phone calls made by the victim over the Web, said Billy Hoffman, lead researcher with SPI Labs. The iPhone could even be stopped from dialing out, or set to dial out endlessly, he said.
In order for the attack to work, the bad guys would have to either trick iPhone users into visiting a malicious Web site or make a legitimate Web site send untrustworthy information to the iPhone using what's known as a cross-site scripting attack. "Any time someone could control the content that's getting sent to the iPhone [the possibility of an attack] exists," Hoffman said.

It is not as difficult as it looks. It is actually as easy as letting the iPhone be used by a child or by somebody else who is not so experienced, and it is not difficult to create a site that will look attractive and feature this kind of mischief. But as of now there is no way to prevent it, so being careful is the only good way of dealing with this problem.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Some Democrats criticize carrier restriction for iPhone

This seems a bit funny. During a Congressional hearing on regulation in the wireless industry, some Democratic leaders lit up on Apple and the iPhone for restricting usage only to AT&T as an exclusive carrier for 5 years. It was sought to be portrayed as a limitation to customers who either had other providers or who were located in areas where AT&T did not provide coverage. Seems a bit strange to be objecting to something that seems so central to how the wireless industry works:

The iPhone "highlights both the promise and the problems of the wireless industry today," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecom and the Internet. "This cutting edge technology breaks new ground … [but] consumers can't use this service with other wireless carriers" and those in areas not reached by AT&T cannot use the iPhone at all, he said.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., was less concerned. "Competition spurs carriers to innovate and build a better mousetrap," he said. "The iPhone is the newest mousetrap and now other carriers will be working to top it." Members convened the hearing to debate whether wireless service agreement regulation should be transferred from state public utility commissions (PUCs) to the federal government. The wireless industry has long favored a more national approach, but state PUCs are hesitant to give up control.

This restriction to AT&T has long been sought as a major weakness for the iPhone, since there will be a number of customers who will not be able to switch over to AT&T because of existing contracts. However, the iPhone is not a device that has a major share of the market, and there will be more devices that will come out of a similar nature that will allow people to use these devices. It is not in the nature of an anti-trust deal that requires lawmakers to comment. It would be nice if there was no restriction, but this is a commercial contract.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Google buys Postini for $625 million

Continuing in its quest for trying to beat Microsoft in the office category, Google made another big buy, buying a 'communications security' firm, Postini, for $625 million. What does Positini do ? Well, it lets corporations set security rules for all communication happening inside the company, such as e-mail, instant messenger and browsing activities. Such policies are necessary for companies, be it to maintain a track of communications for legal purposes, to filter e-mail for spam and viruses, or to prevent employees from accessing certain type of information.

When corporations adopt Postini's software, they can access, filter and impose restrictions on their employees' e-mail, instant messaging and Web habits. And because Google's moving into corporations -- it's fighting Microsoft for the right to rule over our cubicles -- helping firms keep an eye on their workers is an important goal.
There's a useful purpose to these corporate lockdowns, of course. Google notes that companies are under regulations to preserve all their data; the SEC is going to want to know if you discussed setting up Cayman Island shell corporations over AIM. So companies that are itching to use Google's office apps -- Gmail, Google documents, Google Talk, etc. -- can't switch over until the software can be made to obey such archiving rules. Companies are also targets of espionage, they're subject to leaks, and they suffer losses due to viruses and other network attacks. By keeping workers' computers pinned down and monitored, Postini can mitigate all these risks, it says.

Postini is not meant for the employee, it is meant for the corporations to better enforce policies. This acquisition by Google will help make Google's apps (such as Google Pack, Google Talk, etc) be more usable in an office context, and give them a realistic chance of competing with Microsoft's products, Google's prime goal.

Don't use iPod in a thunderstorm

In a report on a man struck by lightning while jogging and using an iPod, the report concludes that even though the iPod did not attract the lightning, once struck, he suffered far greater harm to his body due to wearing the iPod. Refer this report:

His eardrums were ruptured, his jaw fractured and he suffered first- and second-degree burns from his chest — where the device was strapped — up into his ear channels, along the trail of the iPod's earphones. He also had burns down his left leg and foot, where the electricity exited his body, blowing his sneaker to smithereens in the process.
Heffernan said in an interview with the Canadian Press that the man's experience ought to be a cautionary tale for anyone wearing earphones outdoors during a thunderstorm. "Using things like this, a mobile phone or an iPod, there isn't actually an increased risk (of incurring a lightning injury)," he said from Vancouver. "But we just suggest that if you are unlucky enough to be hit by lightning while listening to anything with earphones, you may be more likely to do yourself some damage."
"But once electricity contacts the iPod, then the metal will conduct the electricity and can cause secondary burns, as this gentleman had to his chest underneath where the iPod was and up where the wires went up into his ears, and possibly even cause enough muscle contraction that either caused the jaw fracture or perhaps he fell forward onto his jaw."

Sp, even though the iPod did not cause the electricity to hit him, once he got hit, it amplified the damage and caused him some permanent damage. So this is more of a precaution to not use devices such as iPod's and mobile phones in a thunderstorm or when there is a higher chance of electricity hits.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Selling security exploits

The biggest fear of software makers, application system makers and the like (Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, and numerous other big entities) is coming true. Ever since software holes and bugs started to come into existence, there was always the pressure between the software company trying to release a patch, and hackers trying to exploit this defect. In the past, software makers would try to apply pressure on the defect finders to keep it quiet till the patch is released. If the patch was found by a big company, they would normally respond to pressure from the likes of Microsoft and not release into the public domain.
However, this was not happening more and more, with the security companies releasing their findings independently of the software makers. Some of them would even sell these to people who would exploit them for nefarious purposes. As an example, review the number of botnets that exist in the internet today, with millions of computers being hacked into and controlled. The situation was literally demanding a market-place for such bugs:

An eBay-like auction site that sells vulnerabilities will improve security by ensuring researchers get a fair price for their work, its founders say. "The existing business model to reward researchers is a failure," said Herman Zampariolo, chief executive of WSLabi, and the man behind the WabiSabiLabi auction site. A tiny minority of vulnerabilities currently get patched, he said, because IT experts aren't paid for their work in uncovering them.
"As long as vulnerabilities are bought and sold privately, the value can't be the right one," Zampariolo said. "Our intention is that the marketplace facility on WSLabi will enable security researchers to get a fair price for their findings and ensure that they will no longer be forced to give them away for free or sell them to cybercriminals," he added.
So far, no bids have been posted, possibly because of delays in identifying the buyers, each of whom must use snail mail or fax to deliver proof of their identity and their bank account--electronic currencies are not accepted on the site. Around 20 buyers have been registered so far, as well as 30 sellers, who have provided another batch of flaws that should be on the site next week.

In this case, the intention may be genuine; however, where is the control mechanism to ensure that these sales are happening to the right people. If we are just dependent on the operators of the exchange, then there is no guarantee. Later, if the number of such buyers increases, it would be very easy for the cyber-criminals to pretend to be a genuine buyer and get access to top-notch holes on a very quick basis.

Playstation prices to reduce

Sony's Playstation 3 has got walloped by the Wii in its major markets, and the fact that the PS3 is much more expensive than the Wii. One thing that is expected to happen is that the price of the PS3 would be dropped, not only to compete better with the Wii and the Xbox 360, but also to promote Blu-Ray movies more effectively. This is a particularly critical time to promote the new standard, since a lot of the decision making by other stakeholders such as major studios, etc is being done. Their decision will have a big impact on which of the 2 rival formats (Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD) eventually gets selected as the default format.
Currently, the President of Sony (Ryoji Chubachi) sticks to the no-price-drop-for-PS3 stand, but things may change before the Christmas season:

The fact is that Sony, bereft of PS3 games at present, has flushed out most of the hard core gamers who would buy Sony's latest latest console at any price. The Wii is in a different class and the real competition for the high end of gaming is Xbox 360.
Sony will cut the price of PS3 for two reasons. One is to bridge the gap with Xbox 360 and the other is to drive the nail deeper into the coffin of the HD DVD high definition format.
Given the fact that there are hardly any PS3 games worth buying yet, Sony's nextgen console has done remarkably well to have sold nearly 4 million units worldwide so far. Despite the naysayers, I believe much of this has to do with the PS3's capability as a Blu-ray player. After all, until PS3 games hit the market en masse why would you buy the most expensive console on the planet?
Sony has promised 380 PS3 games will hit the market by next March. If that promise is kept, it will provide a huge filip to PS3 sales. Meanwhile, Blu-ray movie titles continue to grow, HD flat panel TVs continue to sell and PS3 continues to be the best selling HD video player on the planet.

Sony would be constantly trying to evolve its strategy. Both the Blu-Ray and PS3 are high-stake strategies for Sony, and if a price cut is required for sales to increase, a price cut it will be.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Open document formats push by states and Microsoft

There is a large amount of money in software contracts by American states. Hence if a state makes a push for moving onto an independent document format, it has a major impact on Microsoft, since Office makes around 1/3rd of Microsoft's revenue, making around $14 billion.
There have been attempts by some American states to try and push through legislative bills to mandate the use of an open document format (ODF), something that Microsoft's Office did not have. Such a measure could have a domino effect on other states also trying out similar efforts, and hence Microsoft's intense lobbying of legislators paid off. The states of Florida, Texas, California, Oregon, and Connecticut had these bills defeated and never became law. Chalk one up for Microsoft. Remained Massachusetts.
To get around the obstacle of not having an Open document format, Microsoft proposed a new format called 'Open XML' and promised to allow any company to make software that will produce documents in the Open XML format. In addition, the new format was also validated by an open standards body called ECMA International.
These gambits seem to have worked. When Massachusetts finally decided on this topic, the decision was 'Okay, fine'. This means that Microsoft Office is still on the list of softwares that can be bought by the state of Massachusetts, handing Microsoft a great victory and crushing the hopes of some open source competitors such as Open Office. Now that state agencies can continue to use MS office, there is much less of an incentive to switch to open source software.

Bethann Pepoli, Massachusetts' acting chief information officer, said her office is seeking public comment through July 20 on the plan to approve the Microsoft format. But Pepoli already seems convinced. "It does meet our criteria for an open standard," she said.
Andrew Updegrove, a Boston lawyer who tracks the open document dispute, said that Microsoft's embrace of its Open XML provides more choices to consumers, because rival software companies can make compatible products. "If you look at it from the standpoint of Microsoft customers, it's a good thing," Updegrove said. But he warned that if Microsoft's Open XML becomes the dominant format, driving out ODF, Microsoft could try to modify the standard in ways that would put competing software products at a permanent disadvantage.

And that last point is the major one. Microsoft has not been known for its usage of business ethics and has been known to use all sort of tactics to get victory. The hope remains that things will change this time.

iPhone: The hacking race begins

In the past, there was a great market for cracking the service linkages of phones. The concept being, SIM based GSM phones in many countries are locked to service providers. They are much cheaper than their cost because of the service conrtract, with a subsidy being provided by the telecom carrier such as AT&T, SPrint, etc. This subsidy is provided because the contract normally locks the user in for a 2 year conract, and the company can recover the subsidy during this period.
The iPhone is a somewhat different model. AT&T does not provide any subsidy for the iPhone, with the full cost of the phone being the amount charged ($499 for a 4 GB one, and $599 for a 8 GB one); but Apple, presumably in a bid to repay AT&T over the allowances allowed to Apple while designing the phone prevents another SIM from being used in the phone. In addition, no functionality of the device such as music playing, video, camera, etc can be used without activation (which can only happen with AT&T in the US - and not yet allowed outside the US).
Thus the cat and mouse game between a company and hackers has now begun. The iPhone is a prime target for hackers and crackers, many seeing it as a game / test; and many seeing it as something worth a great deal of money. When Apple would have designed the phone, it would have been a priority to set the security of the phone such that the protection would have difficult to crack:

Locked phones can only be used with cellular service from one carrier, a move designed to guarantee carriers recover the cost of subsidizing a handset through monthly service charges. But the cost of the iPhone, which is priced at either US$499 or $599 depending on the model, is not subsidized by AT&T. Users must pay full price for the handset and sign a two-year contract, which requires them to pay from $59.99 to $99.99 per month for cellular service.
Unlocking the iPhone will enable the handset to be used with any cellular provider with a GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) or EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) network, not just AT&T's network. That's an attractive proposition for users who already have a cellular contract with another carrier, or users outside the U.S. who can't wait to get their hands on Apple's new handset.
Efforts to unlock the iPhone are being tracked on several Web sites, including Hackint0sh and the iPhone Dev Wiki.

This is also something that is a bit odd. If users are being made to pay the full amount for the phone, then they should be able to use the phone at their discretion. It is understandable if the iPhone was subsidized, in which case the service provider locks the phone until the subsidy has been paid. But to lock the phone till activation and prevent usage of other functions is very strange, and once could argue, an extra charge that a user has to bear for having the iPhone. Especially because the AT&T network has been shown to be a slow one, and limiting the speed of wireless browsing.
It is bound to happen sooner or later that the unlocking scheme will fail, and when that happens, it will be a pretty simple job to do this in mass. That will be time when the world proliferation of the iPhone begins.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The time involved in getting the iPhone to actually start working

In all the launch buzz of the iPhone, there has been an incredibly successful publicity campaign that has been run, and market watchers have been waiting to see whether Apple will do anything to trip up on this success story. Well, there is some news, just not enough to trip up the iPhone story, but enough to give a serious headaches to the thousands of people affected.
Normally, the process of wireless activation involves the sales person in the shop handling the activation process, something that would take rougly an hour. However, to make things easier for the large crowds expected, Apple changed the activation process to something that can be done via the user's own computer, through their version of iTunes. However, in the end, this caused problems for a number of buyers, with no clarity regarding contact numbers, and in many cases, with buyers having to spend more than 10 hours waiting for activation to happen.
This can actually be the most frustating thing in the world as of that point, if you imagine spending some time in queue to buy a new phone for around $600-700, and then having to wait while customer service tells you that you need to wait. Obviously, these are teething problems, and Apple should be happy that otherwise people are happy with the phone, otherwise this issue would have escalated into a disaster.

Apple and AT&T unveiled an innovative activation scheme with the iPhone launch. Usually, activating a new cell phone means spending almost an hour or so in a wireless store as the sales representative lights up the phone. But with the long lines expected last Friday, Apple came up with a way to use iTunes to connect to AT&T's activation process so iPhone customers could set up the device at home.
Activation was supposed to be a snap: hook up the iPhone to a Mac or PC with the latest version of iTunes installed, and the software would automatically walk you through the process. After entering a credit card number and selecting a rate plan, the system was supposed to send an e-mail confirming the iPhone had been activated. But waiting for that e-mail turned into a frustrating experience for some iPhone customers.
Other iPhone owners on Apple's Web site reported problems with the SIM (subscriber identity module) cards inside their iPhones. SIM cards hold information unique to a mobile phone account and allow users to easily switch between phones while keeping their numbers and contacts--except on the iPhone, which uses a SIM card that works only with the iPhone. It seemed that the activation system was unable to recognize the SIM cards in some iPhones, which led it to bypass the activation screen and move straight into syncing music, movies and contacts. One user reported that his local AT&T store switched the SIM card that originally came with his iPhone for a new one, fixing the problem. Others said they had done the same thing.

Of course, Apple made a feature that caused a lot of worry to those users who were not activated. Unless the phone was activated, users could not even access other features on the phone; this was something that Apple should have thought through much more clearly, and from the perspective of phone users, not from the perspective of AT&T.