Friday, September 19, 2008

Update: Hackers claim to break into Palin's Yahoo Mail account

By Gregg Keizer

Editor's note: Links to screen shots of e-mails sent to and from Sarah Palin's Yahoo e-mail address have been removed from the story.

A group of hackers that hit the Church of Scientology's site earlier this year have apparently cracked the Yahoo Mail account belonging to Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, according to documents and screenshots posted on the Web.

A security expert called the practice of using private e-mail accounts "incredibly dangerous" for public officials such as Palin.

The group, which calls itself "Anonymous," announced that it had gained access to Palin's Yahoo account in a message last night to, a site that regularly posts confidential documents. Among the files that WikiLeaks had posted for download were five screenshots from, an address book and two digital photos of Palin's family.

One of the account's screenshots shows a short exchange in July between Palin and Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who is running against Democrat Ethan Berkowitz for Alaska's lone congressional seat. In her reply, Palin called Anchorage-based conservative radio host Dan Fagan "inconsistent and purposefully misleading" in his comments about Parnell.

Another screenshot displays the text of a message to Palin from Amy McCorkell, whom Palin appointed to the Governor's Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in October 2007. According to a press release issued by Palin's office at the time, McCorkell was previously a private legal investigator, an office worker and a fitness instructor and, like Palin, lives in Wasilla, Alaska.

In the message dated Sunday, McCorkell said: "I am reading the paper and have thoughts and prayers going your way ... don't let the negative press wear you down! Pray for me as well. I need strength to 1. keep employment, 2. not have to choose. Lately I just pray may God's will be done."

The day before, The New York Times had published a story critical of Palin's hiring practices as governor. The story did not mention McCorkell but said that Palin had appointed at least five former high school classmates to state positions since she took office.

Palin has come under criticism for using private e-mail accounts to conduct state business, with some alleging that she and others in her administration have used them to skirt message-retention and public records laws. The Bush administration has been accused of doing the same thing.

"Using private accounts for government or business use is incredibly dangerous," said Adam O'Donnell, director of emerging technologies at message security vendor Cloudmark Inc. "There's a reason why you have an official account. It's so that you can apply proper security management to the account."

Earlier this year, the Anonymous group launched several attacks against the Web site of the Church of Scientology, claiming that it wanted to "save people from Scientology by reversing the brainwashing."

The Republican National Committee and the McCain-Palin campaign had no immediate comment.

Original here

Microsoft Ads Featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld Not Canceled

From a trusted Crispin Porter + Bogusky source, we've learned that some sites have jumped the gun and that the Microsoft Gates/Seinfeld ads have not been axed. It's true, Microsoft apparently asked the agency to focus on the new "I'm a PC" spots. And it's true, the agency has gotten plenty of "I don't know what this means" response in their measured statistics of the Gates/Seinfeld ads. But no one has pulled the plug on the dynamic duo just yet.

In fact, CPB has another completed spot featuring the lovable, affluent couple in the can, ready to air (even though it won't quite yet). And while the agency has prioritized development to the anti-Mac ads, there are still full plans to go ahead and produce more Seinfeld/Gates spots unless Microsoft were to pull the plug first (which, once again, they have not at this time).

It's good to know that in a time of economic uncertainty, Gates and Seinfeld haven't been laid off just yet.

Original here

Microsoft announcement tomorrow: No more Seinfeld ads!

Remember those awful Microsoft ads with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates? Well, now you can forget them. Microsoft flacks are desperately dialing reporters to spin them about "phase two" of the ad campaign — a phase, due to be announced tomorrow, which will drop the aging comic altogether. Microsoft's version of the story: Redmond had always planned to drop Seinfeld. The awkward reality: The ads only reminded us how out of touch with consumers Microsoft is — and that Bill Gates's company has millions of dollars to waste on hiring a has-been funnyman to keep him company. Update: In a phone call, Waggener Edstrom flack Frank Shaw confirms that Microsoft is not going on with Seinfeld, and echoes his underlings' spin that the move was planned. There is the "potential to do other things" with Seinfeld, which Shaw says is still "possible." He adds: "People would have been happier if everyone loved the ads, but this was not unexpected." Update: CPB confirms that Seinfeld spots already in the can will not be aired.

Original here

Mozilla to remove Firefox EULA

Ubuntu users who couldn’t stand the idea of a EULA (End User License Agreement) for the popular Firefox Web browser are going to get their way. The Mozilla Foundation’s chairperson, Mitchell Baker, has agreed to entirely remove the Firefox EULA.

In her blog, Baker wrote, “We’ve come to understand that anything EULA-like is disturbing, even if the content is FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) based. So we’re eliminating that. We still feel that something about the web services integrated into the browser is needed; these services can be turned off and not interrupt the flow of using the browser. We also want to tell people about the FLOSS license — as a notice, not as as EULA or use restriction. Again, this won’t block the flow or provide the unwelcoming feeling that one comment to my previous post described so eloquently.”

What this new way of telling people about Firefox’s license, the MPL (Mozilla Public License), will be hasn’t been determined yet. “We’re still working on this. There’s been a bunch of helpful feedback. We appreciate this. We think we’ve integrated the feedback into something that’s a good solution; different from out last version in both its essence and its presentation and content.” She added that this new “solution” should be made public sometime today, September 17.

This EULA fight began when Mozilla issued Firefox 3.02 with a new EULA that rapidly drew fire from Ubuntu users. Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, urged users to calm down while Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, and Mozilla worked on the problem.

Baker quickly tried to get on top of the problem by issuing a proposed revision to the EULA. When this version also drew far more complaints than praise, Baker and the rest of the Mozilla leadership decided to abandon entirely a EULA approach and take a different approach.

While it still isn’t entirely clear what this will be, simply dropping any sign of a EULA will likely go a long way to calming upset Ubuntu Linux users.

Original here

5 Great iTunes Replacements for Managing iPod in Linux

We all love the iPod, but sadly, Apple is still not kind enough to provide an iPod manager for those of us who use Linux. However, this is not really a big issue nowadays as there are other means to manage your iPod under Linux. Thanks to these excellent free and open source media players that are certified to handle your iPod the way iTunes can.


Banshee is built upon Mono and Gtk# and uses the GStreamer multimedia platform for encoding, and decoding various media formats, including Ogg Vorbis, MP3 and FLAC. Banshee can play, import, and burn audio CDs, and supports many portable media players, including Apple's iPod. Music stored on the iPod can be played without synchronization, and album art stored in the Banshee library is transferred to the iPod.

Banshee is highly extensible and customizable. Current stable plugins include:

* Audioscrobbler: Adds the capability of reporting played songs to a user's playlist.
* Podcasting: Enables Banshee to subscribe to podcast feeds, which are updated on a regular basis. There is also a "Find new podcasts" feature which utilises Podcast Alley.
* DAAP music sharing: Allows sharing of music libraries with iTunes and other DAAP-compatible music software. The current version of Banshee is only partially compatible with iTunes 7, allowing iTunes to open a Banshee library, but not vice-versa.
* Metadata searcher using Musicbrainz: Automatically retrieves missing and supplementary metadata for library items, including album art.
* Music Recommendations using Recommends music based on the currently playing song.
* Mini-Mode plugin: Provides a small window with minimal playback controls and song information.
* Multimedia keys support in GNOME: Banshee can be controlled via multimedia keys as configured through GNOME.
* Radio: Provides support for streaming internet radio stations.

A tutorial on managing iPod using Banshee can be found HERE.

Amarok makes use of core components from the K Desktop Environment. Aside from playing music files, it serves many functions. Here are some of Amarok's main features:

* Playing media files in various formats including but not limited to (depending on the setup) FLAC, Ogg, MP3, AAC, WAV, Windows Media Audio, Apple Lossless, WavPack, TTA and Musepack. Amarok does not play digital music files embedded with DRM.
* Tagging digital music files (currently FLAC, Ogg, WMA, AAC, MP3, and RealMedia).
* Associating cover art with a particular album, and retrieving the cover art from Amazon
* Creating and editing playlists, including smart and dynamic playlists. The dynamic playlists can use such information as the "score" given to a song by an Amarok script, and the playcount which is stored with the song.
* Synchronizing, retrieving, playing, or uploading music to the following digital music players: iPod, iriver iFP, Creative NOMAD, Creative ZEN, MTP, Rio Karma and USB devices with VFAT (generic MP3 players) support.
* Displaying artist information from Wikipedia and retrieving song lyrics.
* support, including submitting played tracks (including those played on some digital music players) to, retrieving similar artists, and playing streams.
* Podcast

A tutorial on managing iPod using Amarok can be found HERE.

Rhythmbox is originally inspired by Apple's iTunes and is designed to work well under the GNOME Desktop using the GStreamer media framework. Rhythmbox offers a growing number of features which include:

* Playback from a variety of digital music sources;
* Searching and sorting of music in the library;
* Track ratings;
* Audio CD ripping and burning;
* Comprehensive audio format support through GStreamer;
* iPod support;
* Album Cover display;
* Song Lyrics display;
* Support;
* Jamendo Support;
* Rhythmbox has been extensively integrated with a number of external programs, services, and devices;

A tutorial on managing iPod using Rhythmbox can be found HERE.

Songbird is a media player and a web browser developed by a group known as Pioneers of the Inevitable (with members who previously developed for both Winamp and the Yahoo! Music Engine). Here are some of Songbird's primary features:

* Ability to play multiple audio formats, such as MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC and WMA
* Able to play Windows Media DRM audio on Windows platform
* A skinnable interface, via feathers
* Media files stored on pages viewed in the browser show up as playable files in Songbird
* Built-in RSS subscription and MP3 file download
* The ability to subscribe to MP3 blogs as playlists
* User-created bookmarks
* Ability to build custom mixes
* Ability to scan the user's computer for all audio files and add them to a local library
* A configurable and collapsible graphical user interface similar to iTunes, and miniplayer mode
* Automatic updates
* eMusic integration using the eMusic Integration plugin
* and HypeMachine integration
* Microsoft MTP compatible device support
* The ability to edit metadata tags and save back to file

A tutorial on managing iPod using Songbird can be found HERE.

Though gtkpod does not support some of the more advanced features of iTunes, it still tries to perform the role of an iTunes for Linux. Album art and videos are now supported, and preliminary support for the iPhone and iPod touch is available if jailbreaking of the device is performed.

Gtkpod will let you:

* Read your existing iTunesDB (i.e. import the existing contents of your iPod including playcounts, ratings and on-the-go playlists).
* Add MP3, WAV, M4A (non-protected AAC), M4B (audio book), podcasts, and various video files (single files, directories or existing playlists) to the iPod. You need a third party product to download podcasts, like 'bashpodder' or 'gpodder'
* View, add and modify Cover Art
* Browse the contents of your local harddisk by album/artist/genre by adding all your songs to the 'local' database. From there the tracks can be dragged over to the iPod/Shuffle easily.
* Create and modify playlists, including smart playlists.
* Detect duplicates when adding songs (optional).
* Remove and export tracks from your iPod.
* Modify ID3 tags -- changes are also updated in the original file (optional).
* Refresh ID3 tags from file (if you have changed the tags in the original file).
* Sync directories.
* Normalize the volume of your tracks (uses mp3gain or the replay-gain tag)
* Write the updated iTunesDB and added songs to your iPod.
* Work offline and synchronize your new playlists / songs with the iPod at a later time.
* Export your korganizer/kaddressbook/thunderbird/evocalendar/evolution/webcalendar... data to the iPod (scripts for other programs can be added).
* and more

A tutorial on managing iPod using gtkpod can be found HERE.

Original here

Norbits Hackers Threaten to Release User Info

Written by Ernesto

Norbits, the largest Norwegian BitTorrent tracker is going through some rough times. For several days now, the site has been offline due to a DDoS attack. The site has allegedly been hacked by a group called MORRADi, which is threatening to publish all IPs and more information on the users, unless the tracker is closed.

norbits down hackedDDoS attacks are not an unusual event for many private BitTorrent trackers. Although they are sometimes used as an excuse for server issues, most of the larger trackers have been subject to such attacks at least once.

Norbits is one of these trackers, a medium sized community with over 10,000 members, most of them from Norway. Norbits has suffered downtime because of DDoS attacks before, but this time the threat may be more serious than that.

In an NFO file obtained by by IT-Avisen, a group called MORRADi takes responsibility for the attack on Norbits. “Once again we show our power! Once again we show your foolishness! This is not the first time we have done it, and it won’t be the last,” they write (translated).

“Enough is enough, you are becoming a real nuisance, and you are also a bunch of idiots that try to hide, so it’s high time we punish you! P2P is not something we want, when will you understand that? Do we have to take it as far as publishing your user database online?”

The message seems to suggest that “sceners” are behind the hack and the attacks, since they don’t want their releases shared on BitTorrent trackers. IT-Avisen journalist Trond Bie thinks this is plausible, as he told Dagbladet: “I know that there are people on the FTP scene that don’t like Norbits. It’s not improbable that such a group wanted to attack the servers. It’s happened before.” Whether the group actually has access to all the IPs, usernames and transfer logs of Norbits users remains unclear.

This would not be the first time that a private BitTorrent tracker has been hacked. Earlier this year the IP-addresses of seedboxes and of top-users on some of the larger private trackers leaked to BitTorrent. Nevertheless, this kind of information is useless to anti-piracy organizations, as it is impossible to verify whether it is legit or not.

Original here

Is Facebook Distracting Us From Porn? No

Porn is and always has been a key component of the Internet -- 10% of all Web searches, according to Hitwise. But it used to be bigger -- and could be getting displaced by social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Reuters:

[Bill] Tancer, general manager of global research at Hitwise, an Internet tracking company, said one of the major shifts in Internet use in the past decade had been the fall off in interest in pornography or adult entertainment sites.

He said surfing for porn had dropped to about 10 percent of searches from 20 percent a decade ago, and the hottest Internet searches now are for social networking sites.

"As social networking traffic has increased, visits to porn sites have decreased," said Tancer, indicated that the 18-24 year old age group particularly was searching less for porn.

"My theory is that young users spend so much time on social networks that they don't have time to look at adult sites."

For argument's sake, let's say Tancer's stats are accurate. We still have a hard time with his analysis -- that people are so busy with MySpace that they don't have time to look at porn. Instead, we think the answer has to do with the growth of the Web, and other changes in the way people use the Web. Fleshbot's Lux Alptraum -- link probably not safe for work -- takes a stab at it:

  • The Internet is bigger than it used to be, and more people are using it, especially kids, so it makes sense that relatively fewer people are looking at porn.
  • You can look at Facebook at work, while you probably can't look at porn at work. (And you're definitely more likely to be using the Web at work than you were ten years ago.)

But we'd also add that porn on the Internet is probably deceasingly a Web activity, and probably increasingly a non-Web activity. Serious porn seekers, who might have looked on AltaVista for smut ten years ago, aren't necessarily looking on Google today. They're downloading hi-def Blu-ray rips or photo collections off BitTorrent, which isn't likely to show up in Hitwise's search queries, or get classified as "porn" visits.

But that's not to say porn can't catch back up with the Web. Some YouTube-like video sites like YouPorn and RedTube are taking off:

Original here

Digg Database Architecture


by timeless

Welcome back to the Digg technology blog, where you get to read about what the tech people at Digg are thinking about. Let’s get right into it, shall we?

How Many Databases does Digg Have?

As Joe hinted in his earlier blog entry, the particulars of how many machines Digg has is one of the most often asked questions, and yet one of the least relevant to Digg employees. None of us directly responsible for putting machines into our production cluster bothers to know the answer to this question, including myself.

The simple answer, which seems flippant, is that we have enough to do what Digg does. But I suppose you deserve a more detailed answer. So let’s go into it a little, shall we?

We have about 1.8x to 2.5x the theoretical minimum number of machines required to run Digg. Operations mandates that we want 2x the server capacity required to run Digg, so this makes sense. But why the spread? Let’s go into some of the reasons as they pertain to the databases.

Load deltas can be caused by errors or brilliance by Digg employees, such as bugs or fixes from the developers or improved indexing or bad I/O subsystem layout by the DB team, for example. Although it’s fair to say improvements far outnumber the mistakes, they both exist and both must be dealt with (feel free to ponder about what various ways performance improvements must be “dealt with”).

Sometimes Digg performance is changed when we enable or disable a particular costly feature of Digg. The DB team must be prepared for the human element of performance. Sometimes a feature is considered valuable enough to keep even though it causes what may appear to be an undue strain on the databases. At some time in the future, the feature may become so system-intensive that the hard decision is made to cut it. Until that point, the systems can be “overloaded,” and more importantly, once the feature is disabled, the systems become underutilised.

Pool utilisation can also be changed when the Digg members, as a social group, stop using a feature, or start using another that Digg itself made no change to.

All such factors contribute to the number of machines deployed in our production cluster at a given moment being either more or fewer than we desire, but if we’re careful, there are always more than the theoretical minimum required to run Digg, even during spikes in load.

Database Pools

At the highest level, you can think of the Digg databases as a four-master set of clusters. We shall call them A, B, C, and D. Two of the masters (masters A and B) are masters only, and two (masters C and D) are slaves of one of the other masters (A).

Each cluster has several slaves in it. I shall call a grouping of slaves a “pool.” At the highest level, you can think of all the slaves in a particular pool of masters B through D as equivalent, but the slaves in the pool underneath master A are special. This is for historical reasons. So let’s dig into history, shall we?

The original Digg database was designed as a single monolithic DB, and additional capacity was created by adding slaves. As Digg grew, we added more database clusters (B, C, D) into the mix. This is your classical scaling via distribution of writes, but the original database cluster (A) remained with most of the read/write throughput. Scaling it has proven to require a bit more ingenuity as its slaves have always historically had the most disk contention.

At first, to get more cache hits on a slave in A’s DB pool while still keeping all tables on each slave, they were split into subpools, call them A_alpha and A_beta. All queries sent to the slaves of A were given descriptors, and the database access layer was given a mapping of descriptors to subpools. Thus queries that mostly hit only tables M and N could be sent to A_alpha, and those that hit mostly I and J could be sent to A_beta. Hence the index and data pages for M, N, I, and J would most likely be in RAM on their respective database slaves.

This worked rather well for some time until the write load on A_[alpha|beta] became too intense, and further optimisations were required. These include dropping indexes and tables that aren’t needed in their respective subpools.

If you’re a MySQL DBA running MySQL 5.0 or lower, you know that there isn’t a simple report that MySQL will generate that shows you a list of indexes or tables that are used in a database. The assumption is that if your company created a table or index, that it will always be in use.

The radical changes to Digg’s front-end architecture over the past several years means that isn’t true. We know there are tables and indexes we don’t use in our A_alpha and A_beta subpools. So to determine what could be dropped from these two subpools, we analysed the output ( is covered in some detail in the section on Database Overload, below) using Basically it does an EXPLAIN on every query on the slave to generate a list of tables and indexes used (special note, I didn’t use the word “exhaustive” in the preceding sentence). If you use this tool, be sure you read the caveats in the script comments! As with everything high volume, nothing is ever simple.

Database Access Layer

The Digg database access layer is written in PHP and lives at the level of the application server (Apache). Basically, when the application decides it needs to do a read query, it passes off the query with a descriptor to a method that grabs a list of servers for the database pool that can satisfy the query, then picks one at random, submits the query, and returns the results to the calling method.

If the server picked won’t respond in a very small amount of time, the code moves on to the next server in the list. So if MySQL is down on a database machine in one of the pools, the end-user of Digg doesn’t notice. This code is extremely robust and well-tested. We worry neither that shutting down MySQL on a read slave in the Digg cluster, nor a failure in alerting on a DB slave that dies will cause site degradation.

Every few months we consider using a SQL proxy to do this database pooling, failover, and balancing, but it’s a tough sell since the code is simple and works extremely well. Furthermore, the load balancing function itself is spread across all our Apaches. Hence there is no “single point of failure” as there would be if we had a single SQL proxy.

Monitoring and Alerting

Though it is an integral part of our database architecture, I will keep this section a bit short, since it isn’t my specialty. We use Nagios to alert us on predicted failure modes of databases. The most common alerts are slave lag, disk space low, and complete machine death. Slave lag is caused by a number of things, including spikes in system usage, long-running update queries, or intermittent disk failure.

For monitoring, we use a Cacti-like Digg-written tool called MotiRTG. Suffice it to say it resembles Cacti in several ways, but is specialised to Digg’s cluster layout and is more suited to a cluster that has machines entering and leaving every day. It is written and maintained by our Networks and Metrics manager, Mike Newton. It is a strong candidate for open sourcing in the future.

Our alerting and monitoring subsystems are used in the traditional fashion. Alerts are for predicted failure modes, and monitoring is for post-failure analysis and future trending.

Database Overload

One of the most common problems on Digg systems is a spike in load, often caused by large news events like Apple announcements or hurricanes or… well, anything newsworthy. Assuming the spike isn’t taken care of by one of the myriad other spike-limiting features of Digg’s infrastructure, and the spike makes it to Digg’s databases, there are two simple mechanisms to limit the effect.

The first is the aforementioned over deployment of machines in our DB cluster. I estimate that this takes care of more than 99% of database spikes in load. It may be no exaggeration to say 99.99%; we get several such spikes in database load per minute.

It is possible that a combination of adverse conditions will contribute to a spike that causes a particular segment of our DB resources to become 100% utilised. Under such conditions, it is not acceptable that Digg go down entirely. Hence the second mechanism, a tool called “” (which you can download the source code for), is used. It’s a daemon that watches the MySQL instance for queries that have been running longer than a time limit set on the commandline, and kills queries that take longer than that.

Combined with separate DB subpools for different sorts of functionality on Digg, an overload on the DBs will only affect the portion of Digg serviced by that subpool, and then only a subset of the total requests coming in.

Note that the front-end application must deal with killed queries gracefully, since some of the killed requests will originate from legitimate users. If you use this tool, be sure you test your code in some environment where the kill time is set to a much lower value than you’ll actually use in production, and under stress, to be sure your application doesn’t barf out some nasty stack trace on the user when a connection gets killed.

Be very careful of adding logic where the front-end resubmits the request at no explicit request from the user. I recommend adding no such logic. It can easily negate the advantage of using Don’t worry. The user will hit reload. There is no need to DOS your own databases.

Original here

Is Apple's success the result of luck or skill?

Posted by Don Reisinger

According to Forrester, Apple has finally reached the single milestone that could change the dynamic of the computing business for good: its U.S. laptop market share has reached 10.6 percent during the second quarter of 2008. Just one year ago, it captured just 6.6 percent of the same market.

Globally, Apple's market share is reportedly hovering at just about 3.3 percent--a far cry from its success in the United States--according to one report, but Net Applications places it closer to 5.5 percent. Which estimate is correct? You decide.

Either way, it illustrates an important point: Apple is successful, and its popularity is growing each day. Years ago, no one thought that Apple would survive another year, let alone capture 10 percent of any market. But today, it's sitting atop the technology industry, and companies in every major market are looking up.

But how did this happen? Is Apple's success in the computing market a by-product of Steve Jobs' insight and uncanny knowledge of what people want? Or is it pure luck, thanks to questionable moves by competitors and being in the right place at the right time?

Apple zealots would undoubtedly contend that Apple's success has nothing to do with luck, while Microsoft fanboys would argue against that point. In reality, Apple's success in the computing market is the by-product of both skillful positioning and a healthy dose of luck.

Here's why:

There's no debating the fact that Steve Jobs knows what he's doing. With each passing "Stevenote," I become more aware of just how sound his business sense is. I also get a sense of his uncanny ability to give customers what they want before any other company can.

When Jobs returned to Apple in the late '90s, he changed the company's focus to hardware and used software as the key driving factor behind selling that hardware. He made sure that Apple didn't license its operating system and abandoned its plans of copying competitors.

He realized that the industry was filled with derivative products that failed to address consumer desire. Armed with that knowledge, Jobs set out to improve Apple's operating system and create a different experience that would make people take notice. And because the company was so inconsequential at the time, Jobs knew all too well that few competitors would pay attention--a fortuitous by-product of failure.

From there, Steve Jobs led his company out of the doldrums to the position it's in right now. He understood and used hype as a means of promoting a product and reintroduced a shroud of secrecy that kept the press licking its chops.

In other words, Steve Jobs pressed all the right buttons and made everyone happy: shareholders, customers, the press, and his employees.

He also understood the power of convergence and branched out into other areas to make Apple more than a computer company, while still maintaining its drive to sell computers. After all, if people liked other Apple products like the iPod, wouldn't they want to own a Mac?

It was a well-calculated risk that paid off.

But all the credit can't be given to Steve Jobs. It should also be given to the poor management at Microsoft, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and others. Those companies were complacent, focused on the wrong markets, and generally failed to realize that Apple was starting a movement that wasn't waiting for them to catch up.

Microsoft's biggest downfall since the return of Apple is Windows and its willingness to let it slip into the mud. Sure, it faced problems with XP, and eventually people came around, but do you really think that Vista would have been such a disaster a decade ago?

I don't. Bill Gates would have never let that happen back then.

In Microsoft, I see a company that's deathly afraid of Google and even more scared of being cornered out of the online space. And so in its desire to capture more search market share and gain a foothold in the advertising market, it forgot about Windows. It also forgot about Apple.

Meanwhile, Apple kept plugging away at creating a better experience and captured significant market share under Microsoft's nose. Yeah, I know, 3 percent to 5 percent isn't huge, but let's face it: given the number of computers in the wild, and considering Microsoft's dominance over vendors and retailers alike, gaining that much share is no small feat.

But Hewlett-Packard and Dell are just as guilty. Both companies were under the impression that Windows would be the savior, no matter what, and that computer design didn't matter. Sure, that may have been true years ago, when laptops were a pie-in-the-sky idea, but today, laptops are quickly becoming the toast of the town, and people are looking for devices that say something about them. And for quite some time, those consumers have been looking for beauty.

Apple has always understood that and does its best to make its computers more elegant than its competitors. HP and Dell are just waking up to that fact.

Worse, HP is just waking up to another fact: tying a business model to Windows isn't always the best move. In fact, the company is reportedly trying to get in on the operating-system business by developing a Linux-based system to offer its customers an alternative to Windows.

Thanks for waking up, HP. Where have you been for the past five years?

But a discussion about luck wouldn't be anything without mentioning the media. Go to any conference--major or otherwise--and count the number of Macs being used compared to the number of Windows-based machines. I'm willing to bet that 90 percent of journalists are using Macs.

Granted, computer choice shouldn't have an impact on coverage, but if the vast majority of press members are using Macs, doesn't that work in Apple's favor? Of course, some would surely say the only reason they use Macs is because "Apple computers are better for what they do," but I don't tend to agree. I can do this on my Asus Eee PC 1000H without a problem.

But because the press has fallen in love with Macs, everything is easier for Apple. It's a strange phenomenon, but people that start using Apple products have a sense of loyalty to them unlike any other computer brand. And it's that phenomenon that Apple uses to its advantage and what keeps the press coming back for more. And in turn, Apple's customers keep coming back for more too.

It's easy to say that Steve Jobs knows it all, if you're an Apple zealot, and even easier to say he knows nothing, when you hate Apple. But in reality, Apple's success is due to significant skill and a healthy portion of good luck.

To say otherwise is foolhardy.

Original here

Google’s $199 phone to compete with the iPhone

By Yi-Wyn Yen and Michal Lev-Ram

The Google-powered cell phone is coming soon, and it will retail for $199, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The price of the new Google (GOOG) smart phone would put the device head-to-head with Apple’s $199 iPhone (AAPL). The Google phone, which features a touchscreen and is made by Taiwanese manufacturer HTC, faces some stiff competition. The iPhone 3G has generated significant interest among consumers for redefining touch-screen technology, popularizing mobile applications and significantly improving Web navigation on cell phones.

T-Mobile (DT), the first carrier that will run Google’s Android mobile software, will show off the new phone to analysts and reporters on Tuesday in Manhattan. It is expected to hit stores later this fall.

Representatives from Google, HTC and T-Mobile would not comment on the Journal’s report.

Google unveiled features of the Android operating system on an unidentified black HTC handset at a developers conference in London on Wednesday.

The HTC phone is just the first of many Google-powered phones, according to the search giant. For Google to reach its ultimate goal - driving mobile Internet use and, in turn, ads - it will need to get multiple devices in the hands of mainstream consumers. The price will also need to be right, given that companies like Palm and Samsung already offer entry-level smartphones for $100.

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Free Alternatives to 10 Popular Commercial Mac Applications

free apps for macs We all love free apps. MakeUseOf is all about free apps! Why pay for certain applications when you can get another which works almost (or just) as well for free? While there are a few applications which have no free counterparts, you can most definitely find a majority of others which carry one or several alternatives that performs about the same tasks; and it won’t burn a hole in your pocket!

For your convenience, I’ve managed to gather a short list of the most frequently used Mac applications and provided a free counterpart for each of them. Hopefully, they’ll serve you as well as the paid versions.

This is MakeUseOf’s edition of Software for Starving Students.

Commercial app #1: AppZapper $12.95

AppZapper is an uninstaller. Mac applications are very simple to install: it’s a straightforward click-and-drag over to the ‘Applications’ folder. Uninstallation is supposedly just the same, dragging the application to Trash. But there are always remnants of the application in System and Preferences folders. An uninstaller finds these remnants and removes them as well. AppZapper is the best in the game.

Free counterpart: AppCleaner
There are hardly any noticable differences between these two applications, even if you put them side by side. AppCleaner works just as well as AppZapper.

appzapper mac

Commercial app #2: Parallels Desktop for Mac $79.99

Parallels Desktop for Mac is a virtualization program which enables installation of multiple operating systems in a virtual environment. Use this to install Windows, Linux or any other OS while running Mac OS X at the same time.

Free counterpart: VirtualBox
Jason has covered this program in great detail. Check out his post to learn more about using VirtualBox and what it has to offer.

Commercial app #3: Xslimmer $12.95

Xslimmer is a program which removes unnecessary architecture from Universal Binaries. Because of Apple’s transition to Intel, developers had to make their programs cater for both PPC and Intel processors. It will also remove unwanted localization (language) files to drastically reduce the amount of space used by the application.

Free counterparts: TrimTheFat, Monolingual
TrimTheFat will only remove the PPC architecture from applications leaving the Intel side of it. Then use Monolingual to remove unwanted languages. Monolingual can also remove unneeded architecture but this feature is very unpolished and there are some reports that Monolingual causes severe damage to Intel Macs. Do not use Monolingual for that purpose, although removing languages works without a glitch. So, two free apps to replace Xslimmer’s functions. Using these two applications, you can very well free up several gigabytes.

xslimmer mac

Commercial app #4: CoverSutra 14.95€

CoverSutra is an iTunes controller and scrobbler which provides a beautiful album art jewel case on the desktop. But 14.95€ is too much money to pay for something which will only help me control my music.

Free counterpart: GimmeSomeTunecoversutra mac
Although GimmeSomeTune is free, in many ways it could possibly be better than CoverSutra. GimmeSomeTune can automatically fetch album artwork and lyrics, scrobble to and has global hotkeys to control almost every aspect of iTunes.

Commercial app #5: TextExpander $29.95

TextExpander allows you to use customized abbreviations to “expand” frequently used phrases and text-strings. This application is valuable when you are always finding yourself typing the same line of text repeatedly such as in HTML editing.rapidowrite

Free counterpart: RapidoWrite
I honestly can’t tell the difference between TextExpander and RapidoWrite. To pay or not to pay?

Commercial app #6: Awaken $12.95

Awaken is an iTunes alarm, when it goes off, it will play a preset playlist. It can also be set to sleep your Mac after a certain time period is over, allowing you to listen to music while drifting off into slumber.

Free counterparts: iTunes Alarm, iTaf
I’ve covered this topic of alarms for iTunes before. iTunes Alarm and iTaf are very capable to perform the same tasks as Awaken, perhaps even more! Check out my older post to learn more about these little gems.

itunes alarm clock

Commercial app #7: iWork $79, Office 2008 for Mac (Home and Student Edition) $149.95

I’m sure we all know what Office 2008 is. iWork is the Mac productivity suite which comprises of Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (presentation).

Free counterpart: NeoOfficeneooffice for mac
NeoOffice is a full set of office applications and is a port of OpenOffice created specifically for Mac OS X. Some may argue that the interface is not as polished as it could be but we’re looking for productivity here. NeoOffice has just been recently updated and performs quicker among other enhancements. If what you’re looking for is a capable word processor (which is the most often used application within a productivity suite), why bother paying so much when NeoOffice is free?

Commercial app #8: Paragon NTFS for Mac OS X $39.95

If you are in a community where you’ll get exposed to a Windows NTFS formatted hard disk (like student life), you’ll definitely need to have NTFS support on your Mac. One method to do this is to buy Paragon NTFS. The other way is completely free!macfuse

Free counterpart: NTFS-3G with MacFUSE
I’ve explained how to use NTFS-3G in my first Macnifying OS X post. The NTFS-3G project has come a long way since it first started. The driver is pretty stable now and there is even a ublio version for better performance.

Commercial app #9: Photoshop CS3 $649

Photoshop is an image editing tool which is incredibly successful because it is simply so capable.

Free counterpart:
Right, this is a very touchy topic. So, let’s get this straight: No free application will ever be good enough to completely replace Photoshop. There are always alternatives if you’re not looking to spend $650 to touch up your photos. This is one of them. is specifically ported to Mac OS X so don’t mistake it with GIMP. Before this, running requires X11 to be installed but there is now an experimental native version which doesn’t need X11 to run. I’ve tried it, takes a little long to launch but it works. I don’t mind waiting a bit and saving $650.

Commercial app #10: Cha-Ching $40, MoneyWell $39.99

These two applications are personal finance managers, and pretty good ones at that. But they cost a bomb. I don’t know about you but I’m hardly willing to spend $40 to manage my finances.

Free counterparts: Cashbox, Mini$
Simple, easy-to-use, straightforward, free. That’s all I need. Granted, Mini$ and Cashbox are not as fully-featured as Cha-Ching and MoneyWell, they don’t have the fancy frills of schedulers and buckets styles but they still manage to help me keep track of my finances.

So I hope that this list prevented the major hole in your pocket which could have been if you paid for these applications. Are there any other applications you use which I didn’t list? Maybe you would like to find out if the application you were thinking of buying has a free alternative? Shoot away in the comments!

(By) Jackson Chung is a full-time medical student attempting to perform a juggling act with relationship, studies and his future.

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