Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Microsoft decision sparks dissent amid ISO members

A decision to dismiss appeals against the controversial fast-track approval of a Microsoft (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) document format has provoked six members of global standards-setting body ISO to question ISO's relevance.

Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela -- countries with fast-growing IT markets -- had appealed against ISO's stamp of approval for Microsoft Office Open XML (OOXML), an endorsement likely to help the software giant win more public-sector contracts.

A significant minority of national standards bodies had voted against approving the Microsoft format, which is an alternative to the open-source Open Document Format that has been a published ISO standard since 2006.

But ISO, together with the International Electrotechnical Commission, decided earlier this month that those appeals were not worth pursuing -- meaning OOXML will soon become an ISO standard, provided no new appeals are lodged.

This weekend, the state IT organizations of Brazil, South Africa, Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Paraguay published a declaration saying they were no longer confident that ISO would be a vendor-neutral organization.

"Whereas in the past it has been assumed that an ISO/IEC standard should automatically be considered for use within government, clearly this position no longer stands," they wrote on the South African representative's site (

"The bending of the rules to facilitate the fast-track processing... remains a significant concern to us," they said, referring to a process many parties had complained was too fast and not transparent enough for such a complex format.

Microsoft lost a first vote on OOXML -- which is opposed by advocates of open-source software that can be freely shared and modified -- but won a second vote after a week-long ballot resolution meeting to discuss the 6,000-page specifications.

Many public bodies prefer to keep documents in formats whose specifications are owned by ISO, to avoid the risk that they will be unable to access their own archives -- or have to pay to do so -- in the future.
ISO is a non-governmental organization made up of the national standards of 157 countries. It sprang up in the 1940s in response to demand for standard specifications for materials needed to rebuild the infrastructure of war-shattered countries.

Acer Aspire One Review

Written by Gary

Ever since the first rumors about an Apple tablet computer, and more recently an ultra-portable notebook caught my attention a couple of years ago, I’ve been holding out on upgrading my beloved Sharp Zaurus. Seemingly surrounded by Asus EeePC 701 in Manila after the New Year celebrations, I doggedly resisted the urge to buy, for fear of the ever-imminent Apple ultra-portable arriving and relegating to the back of the cupboard any other UMPC I succumbed to now.

Apple still hasn’t made good on the seeds it planted in the rumor mill so long ago, but I’m still glad I was disciplined enough to wait out the EeePC 701: I was lucky enough to find a demo unit of the Linux Aspire One at the Acer booth at an exhibition in Bangkok last week, and after toying with it for a few minutes couldn’t hold back any more. I’m now a bona fide member of the netbook craze and, boy, am I impressed with this little guy!


Obviously for a little over $400, I was expecting everything to be encased in plastic, but that plastic is not to brittle or too thin, and build quality of the enclosure and the rest of the machine for that matter is exemplary. The case itself, and more importantly the keyboard feel very solid. The hinge for the screen looks even more robust than the hinges Apple uses on their current macbook range, making me confident that I could take this with me on a plane or in a suitcase without fear of it being damaged.

Folded, and tucked away in the supplied slipcase, the Aspire One is about the same size as a large paperback book, though it weighs much less. Compared to carrying a macbook around under my arm, or in a shoulder bag, all day the Aspire One is a breeze to hold in one hand.

The size is exactly right, with a near full size keyboard that is easy to touch type on. The 8.9” LCD at 1024×600 is cramped but not unusably so. The bigger 10” Asus feels (and costs!) much more like a full size laptop, and the keyboard on the equivalent 8.9” EeePC is too small to touch type on. To make room for this nicely sized keyboard, the Aspire One designers have had to compromise on the trackpad, which in addition to being very small, places buttons 1 and 2 to the left and right, rather than the traditional position underneath the trackpad. It is still useable though, and in any case Acer gave me a mini-USB mouse to go with it, so I don’t need to fret too much.

512MB of SDRAM with 8GB Solid State Drive might seem very small, especially when you subtract the 1GiB swap partition from the tally. As shipped, there is a little over 3.5GiB left for user files. None-the-less, only a few years ago (well, maybe 10 if you want to split hairs) I was happily running Slackware on a disk half that size with an 8th of the memory. And even today I run Linux Mint in a 512MB/6GiB VM without any problems. Even so, Acer have cleverly provided a second SD card slot that is merged with the internal 8GB disk using overlayfs: insert an 8GB SD card, and the primary partition will gain an additional 8GB of space without repartitioning or funky mount commands. That makes it is easy to upgrade the drive space without cracking the machine open and voiding your warranty. 8GB SDHD cards are easily available for under $20, and if money is no object you could buy a pair of 32GB cards, one for each slot, and have 67.5GB for user files!

For those that don’t need a warranty, there is a vacant SDRAM slot inside the case that will take a 1GB memory stick should you need it. In practice, when surfing with Firefox or writing in Open Office, the machine barely touches the swap partition, so I’m not sure that the extra RAM is necessary in any case.

Luckily, I’m very fond of the glossy screens that a lot of manufacturers have being putting in their laptops of late, because the Aspire One is equipped with one too! The contrast and viewing angle are quite impressive, and even though there is some banding due to the 6-bit display depth the overall effect is very good. Especially at this price point. And since this is Linux, if the banding bothers you, there is a dithering patch you can apply to the X server that more or less eliminates that glitch.

If I thought the display was good, then the speakers in the Aspire One are nothing short of awesome. It’s pretty annoying to have to strain to hear movie dialog on the crappy speakers built in to my $2000 macbook, but the Aspire One not only has oodles of volume, but a way better bass frequency response when it’s sat on something solid like a table.

There are 3 USB slots, so adding a mouse, printer and external drive without a USB hub is no problem. The only real letdown is the dreadful battery life. If I turn down the brightness, switch off wifi, and use non-CPU intensive applications, I can squeeze a little over 2.5 hours between visits to a power point. The other compromises Acer have made, are a lack of built in blue tooth (you’ll need a tiny USB adapter) and an optical drive (you can make a bootable USB stick from the restore disk using another machine)

The Windows versions of this machine, however, come with a roomy 120GB of (non-solid state) disk space, and a 6 cell battery with more than twice the charge capacity. The Acer reps told me that these 6 cell batteries will last up to 7 hours between charges under very light usage, and should be available separately in the next few weeks. At least in Thailand ;-)


The Aspire One comes preinstalled with Linpus Linux, which in turn is based on Fedora Core 8. I’m not really a fan of rpm distributions, but Acer have tuned this installation to the point where it will resume from suspend in around 10 seconds, and cold boot to the desktop in less than 20 seconds, so I’m reluctant to change.

There’s no doubt that the distribution is aimed at casual users, but as I’ve said before, this is still Linux so it’s not impossible to tweak anything. It runs on a modified XFCE with active buttons for the main applications right on the desktop instead of a right-click menu. Be careful not to update the GTK libraries from the fedora repositories — or XFCE will break. In addition to the usual Linux software Acer have built their own Email client, and Instant Messenger that make better use of the small resources available on this machine. Both are decent programs, and I’m particularly impressed with the use of the webcam in the Acer IM program.

The Acer Media player, on the other hand is sub-par, crashes occasionally, and is easily confounded by all but the most common codecs. It’s easy enough to connect to the Fedora Core 8 package repositories and install VLC to overcome this shortcoming though. Similarly, Firefox 3 has better support for small screens than the supplied Firefox 2, so that is worth installing at the same time.

Additionally, Acer have bundled all of OpenOffice, which starts up very slowly the first time it is run, but after that it comes up reasonably quickly for such a big program. If you don’t need Open Office specifically, you could easily swap it out for abiword and gnumeric from an fc-8 rpm repository.

One final note is that Ubuntu is being actively ported to the Aspire One, and is in the process of ironing out the last few wrinkles as I write. I for one will be trying it out as soon as it is ready, and I’ll write a followup post to let you know about my experiences.


The Aspire One is not without its flaws, and for a power user, even the OS needs a good bit of tinkering to get the full potential out of the machine. There is a great user community already, and plenty of information on how to best make use of this little marvel.

Who cares about the never-ending macbook ultra-portable rumors anyway? Especially when people have gotten Mac OS running on the Aspire One already! If you are at all on the fence about getting a netbook, then this machine should make you climb down for at least a little while. Excellent value for money, especially when the 6 cell battery is available more easily and Ubuntu is fully operational.

Original here

How-To: Install Ubuntu Linux With No Optical Drive

Sick of burning CDs of Linux distributions every time you want to try out a new one? Don’t worry, you can reuse your USB stick as many times as you like and burn bootable ISOs to it. Is there an easy way to do this? Yes.

It’s actually pretty easy. But before I tell you how there’s a small list of things you need to do first:

  1. You need a USB stick that you don’t mind erasing all the data off of so you can put a distro of *nix on it.
  2. The computer you do this on must be physically connected to the router, i.e. no wireless here. Must be wired. Granted, some *nix distros come with decent wireless support, but better safe than sorry here. Configure the wireless later.
  3. The computer you do this on must be able to boot from USB. Being that the vast majority of computers can do this it shouldn’t be a problem. Just head into the BIOS, look at the boot device order and make sure USB is before HDD and you’re good to go.

A utility that you can use to create a bootable Ubuntu NetInstall image on a USB stick is UNetbootin. This is available as a Windows app or a Linux app.

In my particular situation I only had a 512MB USB stick at my disposal but wanted to install Ubuntu 8.10. Not a problem because Ubuntu has a "NetInstall" version so you don’t need a USB stick with large space (you could even get away with a 128MB).

I downloaded UNetbootin and ran it. This is what I did:


Above: I select the distribution as Ubuntu and the second drop-down menu as the 8.10_NetInstall because that’s the one I know will fit on the little 512MB USB stick. At the bottom the USB Drive is selected so that’s where the image will be written to.


Above: UNetbootin is retrieving the image from the internet to push to the USB stick.


Above: UNetbootin has completed the image install to the USB stick. Now I have a USB-loaded version of Ubuntu 8.10 NetInstall ready to rock. I clicked Exit to close the problem.

Notes before continuing: UNetbootin supports a ton of different *nix distros, including a few BSDs! You don’t have to use Ubuntu if you don’t want to. You could use Linux Mint or Fedora for example. But it should be noted that Ubuntu (aside from the "biz-card" ones like Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux) is the only one that has a NetInstall feature. This is the reason I chose it to begin with. I wanted a full distro without the size because the stick couldn’t hold it. Ubuntu was the one.

At this point you do the following:

  1. On the destination computer, make sure it’s wired into the router for internet connectivity.
  2. Insert the USB stick into the destination computer.
  3. Boot it.

If all goes well, the PC will boot from the stick, automatically acquire network connectivity and then ask you a series of simple questions (i.e. what keyboard layout do you want, etc.).

From there the base Ubuntu will be installed with no GUI.

After that you will be asked what you want for your Ubuntu. You can do the regular Ubuntu Desktop, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, "Media" version, "Basic Server" or whatever you like. Most likely you’ll just opt for Ubuntu Desktop which is what I did.

Depending on how fast (or moreover slow) your internet connection is, it may take time for the installation to complete. Possibly a really long time. Be patient. It will eventually complete.

If you didn’t use a NetInstall but rather a regular "full" distro, everything will load off the USB stick without issue and you’re good to go.

Original here

VIDEO: Sergey Brin on Why Google's Launching a Browser

Posted by: Rob Hof

Google’s Chrome browser is now officially available here. I’m afraid I haven’t had a chance to try it, though I hope to a little later; meantime, here’s an early review from Walt Mossberg of the Journal, who has had a week to test it out. He says it’s still rough around the edges (which is exactly what I expected early reviews to say).

Following is a video of a couple of questions I had a chance to ask Sergey Brin, Google’s cofounder and president of technology, after the demo at the Googleplex today. I had trouble with editing software, so there’s a piece of a question before my two questions, then a couple more from other reporters. (Technology ain’t working so well for me today….)

Update: You can now also see Google’s own video of the Chrome press event here.

Original here

Want On The Digg Home Page? That’ll Be $1,200.

by Michael Arrington

InvespBlog has published what it claims is an interview with a top Digg user - someone who has a 34% success ratio in getting submitted stories to the home page of Digg. The Digg user isn’t named - he or she says “I have a reputation to withhold” (we know what they meant).

In the interview the user talks a little about how he’s able to get stories to the home page of the Digg news site and drive significant traffic back to the destination, despite the increasing popularity of the site. There isn’t much that will surprise people, the user simply does a lot of networking and reciprocal voting with other top users.

But the user also claims to charge for his services. A submission is $300-$500 based on the “quality of the article,” with no additional “promotion.” If you want your article promoted it’s a flat $700 fee. An additional $500 is charged if it gets to the home page. That’s a grand total of $1,200 for a home page story, and you don’t even get guaranteed results.

Digg knows this kind of manipulation goes on, and wages a never-ending battle to try to keep spamming to a minimum. It seems to have worked in keeping organized spamming schemes from making any real progress. But on an individual level there isn’t much Digg can do to stop top users from selling their influence.

Way back in 2007, Netscape even tried paying top Digg users directly to defect to their new service, so there is no denying that you can make money by being good at spotting a likely popular story.

One thing this tells me is that Digg should strongly consider placing clearly labeled advertisements within the news stories. Even as paid ads they’ll get a ton of traffic and Digg can charge accordingly. TechMeme, a tiny site in comparison, has done this successfully for some time. If Digg can’t stop its users from making a little money on the side, they may as well get in on the game.

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MPAA Wants ISPs to Cut Off Pirates

Written by enigmax

Following on from the IFPI-inspired Italian blockade of The Pirate Bay, the MPAA’s President has been in Italy offering ideas on how to deal with the ‘problem’ of unauthorized file-sharing. Not wanting to flirt too much with originality, Robert Pisano is backing a 3 strikes-and-you’re-out policy. Just how far will the Italian government go in its currently tough anti-piracy mood?

mpaaHaving previously warmed up with the The Distributed Computing Industry Association (DCIA) in April and on the back of the IFPI Pirate Bay block in Italy, MPAA President, COO and donor Robert Pisano was in Venice taking part in a panel at which the heads of Italian movie producing groups were complaining heavily about the state of Internet piracy, which they claim threatens their business.

Although Pisano suggests the ‘carrot’ - encouraging file-sharers to use legal services of which he says there are dozens - the truth is they have completely failed to get into the minds of file-sharers with these services. “..our goal is not to punish anyone but rather to give them a reason to do the same downloading, but through legal channels,” said Pisano, according to a THR report.

But it seems the outcome is inevitable - the use of the ’stick’. Like the IFPI, the MPAA now seems to be taking the line that if you can’t deal with individual file-sharers effectively through the legal system with civil action, it’s time to deal with millions all at once by pressurizing their ISPs to take measures against them instead. It’s likely the MPAA will issue complaints to ISPs about file-sharers in the same way as it has always done - except with a sting in the tail.

“Maybe the first couple of times they get a warning e-mail, then perhaps the speed on their account is reduced,” said Pisano, “and if they keep doing it then maybe their account is closed.”

The Italian Society of Authors and Editors is also calling for action against file-sharers, and wants to back this up with ‘educational campaigns’ targeted at schools. In contrast, Riccardo Tozzi, President of the National Union of Producers wants to convert pirates into paying customers by offering movies at an affordable price.

In 2003, Silvio Berlusconi’s government passed one of the harshest copyright laws in Europe, but it hasn’t really been enforced to the extent the MPAA and IFPI would like. Unfortunately for them, January 2007 saw the top criminal court in Rome announce that downloading films, music or software from the Internet is not a crime if done for no profit. Although this announcement seemed like good news for individual Italian file-sharers, it didn’t turn out particularly well for Italy’s largest BitTorrent site. Colombo.BT was shut down after it was alleged the administrators illegally profited from the site.

Although Italian Minister for Culture Sandro Bondi said the fight against piracy is a priority for the government, it seems that support for the movie industry doesn’t stop there. Bondi previously announced that the government’s movie interests department ‘General Direction for Cinema‘ had announced to the EU it will take measures to give “fiscal incentives” to movie production and distribution companies via tax shelter and tax credits.

In October a technical roundtable will get underway in Italy which will promote collaboration between the music, movie and ISPs, i.e they will discuss the possible implementation of a “3 strikes” policy. Stay tuned for an update.

Original here

The electronic book that could spell the end of the paperback is launched in Britain

By Rebecca Camber

It will undoubtedly open another exciting chapter for the digital era.

This is the electronic book - the same size as your average paperback, but with a 160-novel memory, promising to keep you reading for much longer.

The Sony Reader is being launched in Britain this week by Sony and Waterstone's - and they believe its price tag of £199 should make it affordable to many.

Enlarge  Sony Reader

The Sony Reader costs £199 and can store 160 books

But not everyone will be gripped by its launch. Some doubt that the electronic novel could ever spell the end of the traditional page-turner.

At 9oz, the e-book weighs less than a hardback and has a battery which would probably give you long enough to read War And Peace five times, because it only uses power when you turn a page.

However, its 200-megabyte memory will ensure you do not have to read the same novel over again.

The e-book mimics the page-turning of an ordinary novel.

And unlike a computer, there is no glare on the screen. When you switch it on, it brings up the last page you read, and text can be magnified.

Each Sony Reader will be sold with a CD containing 100 books and plays, including Dracula, Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations.

Waterstone's has tens of thousands of titles waiting to be downloaded on to the e-book from its website. Buying one will cost about the same as a traditional book.


Would you choose a digital reader over a paperback?



The device, being launched on Thursday, is not the first e-book to hit the market. Amazon has been selling its Kindle in the U.S. for about £200 and Borders sells its own version, the Iliad, for £399.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has described books as 'the last bastion of analogue'.

But authors and publishers are divided on their future.

John Makinson, of publishers Penguin, said: 'There is a broad audience out there for electronic books. To what extent they will be a major alternative to traditional books, we don't know.'

By 2010, he predicts e-books will account for 1 per cent of sales.

But Nick Hornby, whose novels include Fever Pitch, is sceptical.

'There is currently much consternation in the industry about the future of the conventional book, but my suspicion is that it will prove to be more tenacious than the CD,' he said.

'Readers of books like books. Music fans never had much affection for CDs.'

Enlarge 028XA.1ST.02.jpg

Washington State court deals a blow to one-sided EULAs

By John Timmer

Anyone who has even a cursory familiarity with modern technology is undoubtedly familiar with one-sided terms of service agreements. Everything from bank accounts to phone service now requires consumers to accept that any contract disputes will be handled on the service provider's terms, which typically specify arbitration in a venue of the corporation's choosing. But the Supreme Court of Washington has now provided consumers in that state with some relief, ruling that the state's Consumer Protection Act makes lopsided service agreements void.

The case started when one Michael McKee signed up for AT&T long distance service in 2002. Although McKee lives outside of the city of Wenatchee, he wound up being assessed a monthly utility tax specific to that city. McKee was finally able to determine that the company assessed these taxes based on ZIP codes, regardless of whether the ZIP fell entirely within the city limits. He responded by filing a class-action lawsuit; AT&T responded by attempting to compel binding arbitration, per its customer service agreement. The appeals ultimately made their way to the Washington Supreme Court.

That court has now returned a unanimous ruling (PDF, via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) that reaffirms the decisions of lower courts: AT&T's service terms contain clauses that are, in legal terms, "unconscionable," meaning that no reasonable individual would have agreed to them had he or she realized their full scope. The specific issues, however, only apply to Washington State.

The ruling was based in part on which state laws apply. AT&T's contract stipulated New York, where it is incorporated, while McKee alleged violations of Washington's robust consumer-protection laws. The court ruled that, since the contract was negotiated, agreed to, and executed in Washington, the case should proceed there. The ruling's disdain for these sorts of service agreements appeared to peek through, as it referred to "negotiation (what little there was)."

With Washington law in effect, the court ruled that a number of aspects of the contract's dispute resolution agreement were unconscionable. These included a prohibition on class-action claims, which may be the only way to have access to effective counsel for issues as (individually) small as the service fees, which totaled less than $2 a month. Similarly, a confidentiality clause could prevent the full extent of small violations from being publicly recognized. Other aspects were simply abusive: AT&T stipulated it could collect attorneys' fees and consumers could not, and the agreement halved Washington's statute of limitations time period.

AT&T argued that the contract was valid, in that it sent McKee a copy of it and his continued use of the service constituted an agreement to its terms. The court did not agree, noting that there was no clear evidence that McKee had received his copy, much less made a positive assent to its terms. AT&T also noted that a later modification of the agreement brought its terms closer in line with Washington law (the original agreement is still available). The court, however, found that this one-sided dictation of terms reinforced its conclusion that there was no real agreement on the part of consumers.

The court had the option of determining that some portions of the contract were legally valid and could be enforced. Instead, the ruling determined that unconscionable conditions pervaded the dispute resolution agreement, rendering it invalid in its entirety. Ruling otherwise, the court reasoned, would simply encourage companies to write the most unpleasant terms possible: "If the worst that can happen is the offensive provisions are severed and the balance enforced, the dominant party has nothing to lose by inserting one-sided, unconscionable provisions."

This isn't a sweeping victory for consumers, as it is based on the laws of a single state. The ruling, the justices noted, relied on "Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, which evidences a strong public policy" in favor of consumers. Still, it is an indication that courts may find that use of a service does not necessarily imply agreement to all its terms, and companies cannot simply get away with writing the most restrictive agreements possible in order to have courts then parse it into the best legally sanctioned terms.

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Google pulls the plug on eco-friendly search engine Forestle

By Jacqui Cheng

Well, saving the environment from the comfort of our computer chairs felt good while it lasted. Google has ended its partnership with "green" search engine Forestle, saying that the site offered "incentives to click artificially on sponsored links." Forestle says that it is attempting to "clarify" the issue and get the site reactivated, but for now, we'll all have to put our environmentally-conscious searching on hold.

Forestle was forced to pull the plug late last week, only four days after it went public. When we wrote about the site at the beginning of the week, we noted that the search engine delivered results through Google and that money was made by offering sponsored advertising links at the top of each results page. Forestle said that it was donating all of the site's income from these sponsored links—minus administrative costs—to the Nature Conservancy's Adopt an Acre program that helps to sustain the world's Rainforests.

As a result, 0.1 square yards of Rainforest were "saved" with every single web search. As of last Monday, that total was more than 15,000 square yards of Rainforest saved, and Forestle says that on Wednesday alone (one day before shutdown), it saved 4,000 more square meters. (We're not entirely sure why the sudden change to the metric system.)

Forestle insists that, despite what Google thinks, it did not offer incentives to click on sponsored links or ads. At the top of every search result page, the company displayed a note explicitly saying not to click on Google sponsored links unless users are truly interested in them. "You harm Forestle, Google and the advertising websites with artificial clicking," reads the warning. Apparently that's not enough for Google, though, and perhaps the only incentive required to pull the plug is the mere admission that Forestle was making money on advertising that it planned to donate to charity.

"In our opinion Google ended the partnership, because Forestle became too successful," Forestle now writes on its home page. The company is asking users and bloggers to rally to bring Forestle back, but in the meantime, the company urges users to check out Znout, another eco-friendly search engine. Although Znout doesn't claim to donate money to green charities like Forestle did, it attempts to reduce energy consumption with the use of black backgrounds (thus reducing the amount of light needed to use it on your monitor) and EcoServers. Like Forestle, Znout has plugins available for Firefox, Opera, and Safari if you want to add it to your list of search engines available from the browser bar.

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Letter lottery defines spam load

Junk mail, BBC
Choose the right first letter and you could get less junk e-mail

How much spam you get may depend on the first letter in your e-mail address, a study reveals.

The analysis, of more than 500 million junk messages, revealed those letters that get more junk than average.

It found that e-mail addresses starting with an "A", "M" or "S" got more than 40% spam. By contrast those beginning with a "Q" or "Z" got about 20%.

The difference could be down to the way spammers generate e-mail addresses they want to target, said the study.

Letter attack

The analysis was carried out by University of Cambridge computer scientist Dr Richard Clayton, in a bid to understand the widely noted discrepancies in the amounts of junk mail or spam that different people receive.

Dr Clayton took as his dataset the 550 million e-mail messages sent to customers of net service Demon between 1 February and 27 March 2008.

Looking at the mix of messages landing in inboxes, Dr Clayton found a wide discrepancy in the amounts of junk that different addresses received which seemed to hinge on their initial letters.

The most popular letters for spammers were "A", "M", "S", "R" and "P". about 40% of all the messages arriving in the e-mail inboxes of accounts with addresses that had one of those characters as their first letter were junk. Much less popular were "Q", "Z" and "Y". For these cases, spam was running at about 20% or less.

The reason for the difference could be partly explained, said Dr Clayton, by the way that spammers generate e-mail addresses to which they then send junk messages.

Often, he said, they carry out so-called "dictionary" attacks. In these, spammers take the part of a live e-mail address in front of the "@" symbol that they know is live, and add that to other net domain names to generate a new one.

For instance, spammers who know that there is a real person attached to may try to see if that reaches a live account too.

As a result the relative abundance of names beginning with "M" compared to "Q" could explain some of the disparities, as spammers would be more likely to re-use popular names and send them more junk.

Dr Clayton said the research had thrown up some anomalies that needed further research. For instance, he said, addresses starting with the letter "U" appear to get more than 50% spam despite there being relatively few of them.

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Mozilla Not Worried About Google Browser

Om Malik

In response to today’s news that Google is releasing its own browser, code-named Chrome, I decide to call John Lilly, CEO of Mozilla Corp., the folks behind the fast-growing Firefox browser. My intention was to find out what Lilly thought about this development, especially since Mozilla has been viewed as close personal partner of Google’s.
The open-source browser maker depends heavily on a lucrative financial deal it has signed with the search company. The pair recently renewed the deal to last through 2011. Was Lilly worried about yet another browser in the market?

After all, the emergence of Linux has had an equally deflationary impact on the UNIX market. Can a Google browser, promoted on Google homepage and pushed through Google’s mobile OS, become a sticky wicket for Mozilla Firefox?

“We collaborate with them on a bunch of things and we have a financial relationship,” Lilly says. “So there is another browser and that makes for a more competitive world. Of course we would have to compete.”

Given that Microsoft still controls about 72 percent of the browser market, Google can’t afford to leave that business to chance. Web is its business, and the browser is a necessary weapon for the company. “It is not surprising that they are doing a browser. Google does many things (servers, energy) that touch their business,” he said. “They feel that they can make a better browser by starting from scratch…advances in browsers are good.”

Lilly pointed out that most of the other browser vendors — Microsoft, Apple and now Google — have other businesses and thus another agenda. For Mozilla, Firefox was the only agenda. “Our only agenda is to make web better — it is our single mission,” Lilly says. With over 200 million users worldwide and a development team made up mostly of volunteers, Lilly says he isn’t worried about Chrome just yet. “I really don’t know how it will impact us,” he says.

He is right to take a wait-and-see attitude. For one, browser market share doesn’t change overnight. Google, despite its awesome reach, has a history of launching products that tend to lose steam. It has yet to hit home runs that rival its search and contextual advertising businesses.

Not having seen Chrome, I will withhold any final judgement myself, but I would look at the privacy implications of Chrome very, very carefully. I have long since stopped buying into the “do no evil” drivel the company keeps espousing.

This tussle between Mozilla and Google is going to get more gripping in coming years. Mozilla has a services strategy — Project Weave – that could eventually compete with Google’s suite of services. Whatever it is, it seems like Mozilla is ready for the challenge. And just when we thought the world of browsers was getting boring.

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Third generation Zune pictures leak: 120GB and 16GB flavors

By Emil Protalinski

The third generation of Microsoft's Zune portable media player product line has been talked about and speculated for quite a while now, but very little has managed to leak out of Redmond, until now. A Canadian has supposedly somehow gotten his hands on both 16GB and 120GB flavors of the Zune, both of which are expected to be released under Zune 3.0 (recall that the original Zune 30GB is considered first generation and that the Zune 4, Zune 8, and Zune 80 are considered second generation). Zunited has four pictures the lucky Canadian supposedly took with a 2.0MP camera:

Check Zunited for the rest of the pics

If you doubt the authenticity of these pictures because the 16GB box is in English as well as French, recall that this is likely because the Zune came to Canada back in June. There really isn't much else to glean from these images, other than the fact that the third generation Zune really doesn't seem to have anything new going for it on the outside, except for maybe a little gloss on the front.

Microsoft probably isn't trying to stray away too much from what it currently has hardware-wise, because it is likely hoping to again roll out the new firmware version to previous generations (like it did when it released the second generation Zunes). The first generation Zune was really a modified Toshiba 1089, and only in the second generation did Microsoft truly take over the hardware, and give the firmware and software a serious revamp. The third generation will likely only have minor hardware tweaks, and of course a new firmware version. Zunited claims that it has "undeniable proof from an exclusive and disclosed source that the 120gb model is running 2.5 firmware."

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Line Rider Coming to iPhone, iTouch

I'm a huge fan of Line Rider, that's probably pretty obvious by now, and you regular readers probably know that I'm also a reluctant fan of the iPhone. So I was pretty psyched this morning when I saw that the inXile folks will br bringing their version of Line Rider to both the iPhone and iTouch for an absurdly low $3.

The i version of Line Rider will include the ability to upload and download tracks on the web via the official Line Rider site and will make use of the touch interface for track creation and play. You can also watch your tracks play out in a movie mode.

These new versions of the game are set to hit the App Store and iTunes later this month along with the DS, PC and Wii versions of the game.


inXile entertainment TO RELEASE LINE RIDER™

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Sept. 5, 2008 – inXile entertainment today announced they will release a version of the internet phenomenon Line Rider for the iPhone™ and iPod Touch™ in September 2008. The new version of Line Rider will be available on iTunes for $2.99 and will feature the ability to upload and download tracks on the web at the official Line Rider Web site Created in September of 2006, Line Rider was an immediate online sensation with millions of players worldwide and thousands of videos posted on showing off users “custom” Line Rider tracks.

“We have over a million visitors to LineRider.Com every month, and our strong and vocal audience has been asking for an iPhone™/ iPod Touch™ version of Line Rider ever since the touch interface was introduced,” said Brian Fargo, chief executive officer of inXile entertainment Inc. “Line Rider is a natural fit for the iPhone as mobile users will be able to share their tracks and ride the lines almost anywhere now.”

Line Rider ‘fan boy’ TechDawg will be collaborating with inXile to create some groundbreaking tracks that will be available for download from the Line Rider web site. The iPhone™ and iPod Touch™ version will feature a touch interface and will allow users to playback tracks in a ‘movie’ mode as well as upload tracks to the Internet for others to download and play. Players will be able to search for tracks by track name and/or author, rate other people’s tracks and browse the list of “Most Recent Tracks” as well as “Top Rated Tracks”.

Also scheduled for release in September 2008 is Line Rider™ 2: Unbound from Genius Products for Wii™, Nintendo DS™ and PC. These brand new games will feature new game modes, riders, community features and creative tools. Line Rider 2: Unbound is the next level in this gaming phenomenon and will feature 40 mind-bending puzzles created by the #1 Line Rider player in the world, TechDawg.

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What's Hot: Used Apple iPhones

by Olga Kharif

As the head of a company that sells used consumer electronics, David Chen follows sales of the iPhone with the precision of a mathematician. At the outset, the price of the first version of Apple's (AAPL) music-playing wireless device behaved as expected: When the newer iPhone 3G hit store shelves, demand for the earlier iteration plummeted. Then the unexpected happened.

Within days of the iPhone 3G launch, demand for used, older iPhone models began rising, and prices began a steady climb. "We've been raising our prices over the past few weeks," says Chen, who runs, a Web site that buys and resells used iPhones and iPods. "It's an anomaly, but there's still a lot of demand for the first-generation [device]." As of Aug. 26, NextWorth Solutions was paying $200 and $300 respectively for gently-used, 8-Gigabyte and 16-GB original iPhone models. That's up $50 from what his company paid a month earlier—and at the high end, on par with the price of a new 16-GB version of iPhone 3G—for the latest iteration of the iPhone, with more features and faster download speeds.

The used devices fetch an even higher price, of course, when they're sold to a consumer. On e-commerce site eBay (EBAY), where NextWorth peddles many of its wares, a 16-GB version of the first-generation iPhone goes for about $600, and an 8-GB model in good condition commands $500. When it was new, the 16-GB phone sold for $499; the 8-GB model went for $399. Today, AT&T's (T) most expensive iPhone 3G model sells for $300 with a two-year service contract. "The old iPhone [in mint condition] is very hard to find," says Shawn Zade, who sells mobile phones through New York-based "There's a lot of demand."

Bustling Competition

Why pay a premium for an older, less advanced model? Some users simply don't want to be tied to a long-term contract with AT&T, the only authorized iPhone carrier in the U.S. The old phones can be unlocked fairly easily, making it possible for people to choose another carrier or to simply use the device with no charge at Wi-Fi hot spots. A method to reliably unlock the iPhone 3G still hasn't been found, Zade says.

Owning the old model also helps users avoid the connectivity glitches (, 8/14/08) that recently forced Apple to push a software update for its phone. Some folks just don't do much comparison shopping, says Lidija Polutnik, a macroeconomics professor at Babson College, who also is an advisor to NextWorth. "When you go into the used gadget market, there's a lot of impulse buying," Polutnik says.

Whatever the reason, sales of the old iPhone are booming, and plenty of other companies besides NextWorth want in on the resale action. Many are striking trade-in agreements with retail stores like Circuit City (CC) to accept old iPhones on the spot. Some have powerful backers: One of NextWorth's board members is Stephen Spinelli, Philadelphia University's president and a co-founder of oil-service chain Jiffy Lube.

Even an Eco Pitch

Others are using complex problem-solving algorithms to make sure they can respond to swings in demand for the device and set prices accordingly. Flipswap uses a formula that adjusts prices in real time, based on sales data from the company's worldwide network of stores and buyers. NextWorth relies on an algorithm developed by MBA students and Polutnik at Babson College. The algorithm uses data such as an iPhone's storage capacity and extent of wear, as well as traffic to NextWorth's site and partner stores, to spit out the going price for your model right on the site's online calculator.

Some startups are relying on more than money to bring in sellers. Trade2save, due to launch in September, will not only pay for your old iPhone but also give you "carbon points" that can be used to buy other used products from the site, such as other phones. "When a customer trades in their iPhone, someone else will buy it instead of buying new," Trade2save CEO Chris Whittome writes in an e-mail. "Hence they will be saving money, and saving on the environment because they reduce the demand on manufacturing another unit."

The appeal of a used phone may be especially high outside the U.S. American consumers favor new gadgets, but overseas buyers are less averse to used phones. Flipswap, for instance, sends all of its iPhones to dealers in South America. "For a used phone, there's not as much stigma in South America as in the U.S.," says Flipswap CEO Sohrob Farudi. "They don't worry about its being used."

If enough consumers opt for used rather than new devices, Apple CEO "Steve Jobs [may have] a big problem," Whittome of Trade2save adds. Well, yes and no. Apple refreshes its product lineup on a regular basis, giving consumers a growing list of alternatives to dated devices that in any case won't remain gently used forever.

Farudi and his peers are enjoying the boom, however long it lasts. "When the iPhone 3G came out, we've continued to grow," he says. "It's been very good for our business."

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How To Build A Great iPhone App

Brian Caulfield

BURLINGAME, CALIF. - Tom Thornton calls it the "wow" factor. The third-party applications built for Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch have plenty of it. "It's 'Wow,' I can't believe a phone can do this now," says Thornton, a senior research science at usability specialist Perceptive Sciences in Austin, Texas.

But there's a dark side to wow moments, too. Thornton had one of those when he was fooling around with MyWeather. He discovered the weather application's best feature--a nifty, full-screen depiction of the weather--entirely by accident when he inadvertently tilted his phone on one side. That "wow," Thornton says wryly, translated into something like, why couldn't the developer leave users a hint about the feature.

"There is absolutely nothing telling you that," Thornton says. "A little extra messaging, a little extra guidance, would help."

The hundreds of new applications for Apple's (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ) iPhone and iPod Touch digital media player have created a sensation among the device owners. Within a month of the July launch of the App Store, Apple had sold $30 million worth of novel applications for its devices--a particularly impressive number when you remember much of the software is free.

But as fresh hoards of developers start to create applications, they could trample on what has been the sterling virtue of Apple's products--intuitive and consistent usability. And if users fill their devices with applications that lack Apple's knack for crafting easy-to-use software, the overall usability of the iPhone could diminish, Thornton suggests.

Of course, Thornton knows that trying out wild new applications are part of the fun, too. The iPhone is packed with an unusual combination of capabilities, and the phone's latest software gives developers access to practically all of them. That's likely to lead to a spate of applications that will wow even hardcore technophiles. For example, one application, Scribular, takes advantage of the phone's link to the global satellite navigation system to allow users to leave virtual graffiti that is linked to a physical location but only lives in cyberspace that other users can see.

The problem is, if applications aren't easy to use, they won't have a future. The phone only has a limited amount of memory. In addition, too many unused applications will only make the phone harder to get around. "Novelty increases people's tolerance for unusable things," says Dave Yeats, a senior research scientist at Perceptive. "As they use it and the novelty wears off, some of these usability problems will start to be more irritating."

Even when an iPhone has the capability to do something, some applications tap that feature better than others--a situation that can vex some users. For instance, some applications are tuned to be exquisitely sensitive to the phone's accelerometer. Tilt the phone just a hair in some applications and a game character, for example, might go flying off the screen. Other applications, such as a free game called "Tilt Snake," aren't sensitive enough. "You had to almost hold your phone upside down and shake it to get the snake to turn," Yeats says.
The iPhone's original applications typically relied on the same cues for navigating through a program. Not so with the hundreds of newbie apps. "Things that were typically on the top would go to the bottom," Thornton says. "Now there is more variation out there."

Shortcuts are another thing Apple does well. For example, when a user pulls up the keyboard to type in a URL on their gadget, it includes a button marked ".com" that saves them four taps. "They just put themselves in the users' shoes to think about what the user is doing at a particular moment," Yeats says.

The solution, according to Thornton, is to study the applications Apple has crafted for the phone and to copy their structure. One of Apple's best tricks, Thornton says, is to use visual cues to help users figure out what to do next. For example, when a phone goes into sleep mode, an animated slider bar draws users' attention to what they have to do to wake the phone up.

"It's a simple thing like letting your user know where they are at all times," says Yeats. "When your screen is so small, you have to let users know where they are at all times."

And if you're lost on how to help your users find their way, just crack open one of Apple's applications and see how it does it.

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5 Great Apps To Turn Your iPhone Into A Powertool

If you’re an iPhone user you’ll know why it’s such a knock-out device. It has email, browsing, calling, texting, and tons of other functions. Now with the addition of the App store, it has the potential to be much more than any prior incarnation. Here are a few great utility apps to turn your iPhone into a veritable Swiss army knife:


If you’ve ever been in a dark room and waved your iPhone around in order to see, you’ll understand the point of these two apps immediately. The iPhone’s screen can be pumped up to an eye-blistering brightness. The apps make the screen go white and turn it into a hand torch. There are more options on both apps though. You can choose a different color to display or even turn on a strobe light that’s perfect for any rave (myLite actually lets you wave your phone around to make the colors change).

A better app, called Light, used to actually max out the iPhone’s screen brightness, but unfortunately it was taken off the App Store for just that reason. These two other apps are the next best thing.


The last set of apps are great for finding your way around in the dark, but what if you’re lost in broad daylight? Well, with Compass, you can easily identify the cardinal directions.

Upon opening the app, it displays a compass rose with a patch of light running across it.

As the directions explain, simply get in the sun and lay the iPhone flat on a table. Placing your finger in the center of the compass will cast a shadow down one side of it. If you re-orient the shadow to line up with the “ray of light,” the compass on the iPhone will point to North. [Note: if you're below the equator, North and South are switched on the compass.]


“Measure twice, cut once.”

That old proverb is just as applicable in today’s digital world as it was when people first began measuring lumber for dwellings.

Ruler helps you make the best of your iPhone any time you need to get the length or width of a small object. The interface can be tuned to either Inches or Centimeters. Once set, your iPhone’s screen is laid out in tick marks for precise measurements.

Even better, there is a set of horizontal and vertical axes that allow you to mark your desired dimensions. There have been other, web-based rulers for the iPhone, but this App trumps them all. Definitely download this one…you’ll never know when you’re going to need it.

[Note: if you don't love this one, there is a similar ruler for longer measurements here.]

Dual Level

Moving into a new apartment and need to hang some pictures or posters? Dual Level will help you get the job done.

Place your iPhone on a flat surface to calibrate it (make sure that surface is already level with a “real” one). Press the calibrate button and you’re ready to go. Your phone will now be able to ensure anything you hang is just the way it needs to be.

I think if my dad had an iPhone, this would be the first App he’d download.

If Found

This last app is something you’ll never actually have to use…hopefully.

If Found creates an icon on your home screen with the words “If Found” displayed prominently under it. A single click brings up your address and contact information for anyone who finds your phone. The icon is a money sign and you can post a reward on the app if you would like.

Another feature is that it will set your information as your wallpaper so whenever your phone is locked it will display the info to the finder. This is the best option if you lock your phone with a password and still want to use the app.

A little bit of prior planning could save you a lot of money and data in the future. I suggest placing the icon on the front page of your home screen.

*Here’s a Bonus App*

More Cowbell!

With all of these utilities, don’t forget to have a bit of fun with your iPhone too! More Cowbell! is a neat way to personally re-live one of the greatest Saturday Night Live skits of all time. The app opens up to a picture of a cowbell and immediately plays Christopher Walken’s “I gotta have more cowbell” line.

Tapping the cowbell makes your iPhone sound just like the app’s namesake so you can play along to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” or any other song of your choosing. A new rev of the app has also added a “shake the iPhone” option in case you want to play it that way instead.

If you’ve somehow missed it in the past, here’s the video :

From Crackle: SNL Blue Oyster Cult

Got any other great utility apps you use all the time? Post them in the comments! Also, if there are any versions of these apps that you like better, let us know!

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Apple confirms September 9 Special Event: "Let's Rock"

By Jacqui Cheng

Apple has sent out invites to a Special Event taking place on September 9, which is exactly one week from today. The invite features the iconic iPod silhouette along with the tagline "Let's Rock." It will be taking place at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco—just down the street from the Moscone Center—at 10am Pacific Time next Tuesday.

The invite confirms previous rumors of an event taking place on September 9, and the design of the e-mail indicates that it does, in fact, have to do with iPods. There is currently nothing indicating that this will be a combined iPod-Mac event (which falls in line with recent buzz), but it's widely expected that Apple will introduce a new iPod nano design along with possible iPod touch price drops.

As always, you can expect to find live coverage of this Apple Special Event here at Ars Technica when it happens! Let the speculation begin!

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iPhone Web share hits record 0.48%, up 58% in one month

Source: Net Applications

The iPhone’s growing presence on the Web, having leveled off before the introduction of the iPhone 3G, surged in the month and a half since, according to preliminary data released Sunday by Net Applications, an Aliso Viejo, CA-based Web service company.

The percentage of Web hits coming from iPhones passed 0.2% in June and then dipped in the weeks that followed. But it peaked on August 23rd at a record high 0.48%, according to the new data, before drifting back last week.

Net Applications’ brief report, issued in advance of its August survey of operating system market share data, offered no explanation for last week’s fall-off, but it did attribute the jump in July and August to the flood of iPhones 3Gs sold by Apple (AAPL) and its partners since the device’s July 11 launch.

[In its August survey, released early Monday, Net Applications reported that the iPhone's share of global Web usage increased 58% in the course of the month, climbing from 0.19% in July to 0.30% in August. In other words, one out of every 333 Web hits in August came from an iPhone. See here.]

The iPhone has cast an oversize shadow on the Internet from the moment the original model was introduced in late June 2007. By the time Net Applications issued its July 2007 survey, the iPhone already represented 0.04% of the visits to websites operated by the firm’s clients. That’s more than double what one would expect, given that there were about 1.4 billion computers connected to the Internet at that point, according to Internet World Stats, and only 270,000 or so were iPhones.

You can see the latest data at the New Applications website here. The company’s surveys are based on data collected from the browsers of visitors — some 160 million per month — to its customers websites.

In the August survey issued Monday, the iPhone OS, with a 0.30% share, was the fourth-most popular operating system on the Web after Windows (90.69%), Mac OS (7.84%) and Linux (0.92%).

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