Sunday, January 11, 2009

Microsoft postpones Windows 7 public beta

Microsoft Corp. postponed the rollout of the Windows 7 beta today, citing "very heavy traffic" on its Web site.

The company did not offer a new schedule for delivering the beta of its newest operating system.

"Due to very heavy traffic we're seeing as a result of interest in the Windows 7 Beta, we are adding some additional infrastructure support to properties before we post the public Beta today," a spokeswoman said in an instant message reply to earlier questions about's performance. "We want to ensure customers have the best possible experience when downloading the Beta."

On Wednesday, CEO Steve Ballmer promised that the beta would be released to the general public today. Later, a company spokeswoman said that Microsoft would post the beta today at noon PST.

Early today, however, several Microsoft domains, including the main page and the designated download site, were overwhelmed by users eager to grab the beta. Although those URLs were later revived, attempts by Computerworld and others to download Windows 7 from a TechNet page aimed at IT professionals have been stymied for several hours.

Users who have tried to download the beta have been greeted with messages such as "Server is too busy" and "This site is currently experiencing technical difficulties, please check back in the next business day."

The Microsoft spokeswoman did not know when users could expect to download the beta. "No ETA at this point," she said via a follow-up instant message.

Although Microsoft has said it will cap the number of Windows 7 beta activation keys at 2.5 million -- perhaps one of the reasons users felt a sense of urgency today about getting the download -- it is not expected to yank the download after that mark is reached. Users unable to obtain an activation key in the initial rush will still be able to download and install the beta, then run it under the operating system's 30-day trial.

By using the same "slmgr -rearm" command that gained notoriety after Windows Vista's debut, users can extend that trial period to a total of 120 days.

This is not the first time that Microsoft has run into problems offering beta code by download. In June 2006, after it launched Windows Vista Beta 2, it urged users to order a DVD copy of the preview rather than download, claiming that if it boosted its bandwidth enough to handle all the demand, that could cripple the Internet as a whole.

"We are literally saying that if we increased our bandwidth any further there's a possibility of taking down the Internet," an unidentified Microsoft representative told Dutch blogger Steven Bink at the time.

In 2006, Microsoft also reportedly considered, then rejected, distributing Vista Beta 2 using the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol.

Late last month, a copy of a 32-bit Windows 7 build -- later identified as the same as the beta Microsoft began offering developers this week -- leaked to BitTorrent sites. In the past 48 hours, the official beta -- apparently obtained from a subscriber to TechNet, one of Microsoft's paid services used by developers and IT professionals -- has also appeared on BitTorrent sites.

gOS 3.1 Updates Gadgets Support, Firefox

By Kevin Purdy

gOS, the Ubuntu-derived Linux desktop that's focused squarely on Google products and other webapps, has updated with newer versions of its core products, including the Windows-app-running WINE, Firefox 3, and support for newer Google Gadgets.

If gOS is new to you, check out Adam's tour of its monstrous webapp powers. Along with some pretty refined theming and taskbar implementation of the standard Ubuntu look, gOS can run as a fully-fledged Linux system in itself.

gOS 3.1 is a free download, requires an x86-based computer with 256MB of RAM to run or install.

Netlabel Shares Music on BitTorrent Sites, for Free

Written by Ernesto

An increasing number of musicians are experimenting with giving away their music for free on BitTorrent. This trend has led to the formation of a new Netlabel, CXCR6, which specifically targets the BitTorrent community with new album releases. We got in touch with its founder about his motivation to promote free music.

cxcr6Unlike traditional record labels, CXCR6 doesn’t work with contracts, nor does it claim copyright to the music of the artists that join. It’s a non-profit operation whose goal is to get the music out in the open by distributing it to as many people as possible. That’s where BitTorrent comes in.

The label distributes its artist’s albums on well know BitTorrent sites such as The Pirate Bay, Demonoid,, and Indietorrents - and doesn’t mind when they leak to even more sites. TorrentFreak spoke with Lloyd Cox, one of the founders of CXCR6, who is a musician himself. We asked him how the label operates, and why he feels BitTorrent is such a great way to share music.

Lloyd told us that CXCR6 is more like a collective, although it functions as a label. “The label works because it’s basically pooling resources. Under a ‘label’ we essentially share any promotion we get, because everything comes back to CXCR6. So if one of the artists blows-up, the other artists get more promotion and downloads through it,” he explained.

The main purpose of the label is to promote the artists in any way possible, free of charge. “As well as just promoting the music, we also send copies for review to various sites and publications, general ‘label’ things like that. We don’t sell anything at CXCR6 but you can donate directly to the PayPal of the artists themselves,” Lloyd said.

CXCR6 is just starting as a Netlabel, but they already have 5 artists on board. Three of them - Xihilisk, Slicepad and Severn - have posted their albums already. The other two musicians are expected to follow soon. Lloyd already has some experience with BitTorrent as a promotional tool. Last year he released one of his albums exclusively on Demonoid.

CXCR6 on The Pirate Bay


This experience was one of the things that encouraged him to motivate others to join in the concept. “Some artists I’ve found make incredible music, but aren’t getting heard by anywhere near the amount of people they deserve. With CXCR6, I can potentially get that music to a ton of people,” Lloyd said.

“I’ve been sharing my own music on BT for a few years now, but the precursor to CXCR6 was organizing a couple of unsigned music compilations on They’ve had nearly 30,000 downloads in a few months, and that made me realize that using BT is the right way to promote new music. I don’t know many other ways you could get 30k downloads of some compilations by a load of artists no-one has heard of.”

“BitTorrent provides the ultimate convenience,” Lloyd explained. “You can try something new, for free, and if you don’t like it, you can just delete it. If you really like something, you can donate to the artist, buy one of their CDs or go see them live to show your support. And who doesn’t like getting something for nothing?”

We have to agree with him there, don’t you?

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Report: Gmail about one-third as expensive as hosted e-mail

By John Timmer

What does it cost to host an e-mail account? It seems like a simple question, but a remarkable number of enterprises surveyed by Forrester had no idea of how to answer that question. A new report by the research company has taken a look under the hood of both in-house and commercial e-mail services, and put some numbers on the per-user costs associated with a variety of options. The surprise result was not so much that Google's corporate services come out ahead, but rather how large a lead it has on every other option.

The title of the report, "Should Your e-mail Live In The Cloud? A Comparative Cost Analysis," is actually somewhat misleading. The cloud implies a diffuse network of servers that hold partially redundant copies of information. Some of the services examined by the report don't necessarily offer that sort of setup, although the report frequently refers to any off-site service as "the cloud."

Semantics aside, Forrester surveyed over 50 IT workers at major enterprise companies to see how they handle e-mail, contacts, and calendaring services. They also discussed options and costs with 21 vendors of these services, and created some rough estimates of how much each portion of the various services cost.

One of the things they discovered is that the business community is largely unaware of the costs of running an e-mail account. Many of those surveyed gave guesses from $2 to $11 per user, although a detailed accounting showed that the costs were often several times that (Forrester came up with $25.18 per month, compared with $8.47 for Gmail). Part of the problem is that costs are often split among several cost centers, with software licenses part of a different department's budget from the salaries of the people that support it. In some cases, the e-mail system was running on older hardware that had initially been bought for a different purpose and had been depreciated.

Despite the confusion, a lot of companies realize that e-mail has become expensive for two simple reasons: spam and malware. Nearly half of those surveyed were evaluating off-site solutions because e-mail costs had risen, while another 30 percent were performing the evaluation as part of an upgrade or service consolidation process. Fully 85 percent of these companies were leaning towards moving some of the services off-site.

The biggest reason for doing this seemed to be so that someone else could deal with staying on top of spam and malware; over half of those surveyed were planning on implementing a hybrid system where an external service filtered mail on its way into and/or out of the company's internal servers. Reasons cited include the challenges of staying on top of the threats and up-to-date with the software, as well as the resource-intensive nature of combating mal-mail. Another 30 percent were leaning towards a complete outsourcing of the service, presumably in part because of these costs.

The author of the report calculated the monthly costs for the components of various systems, such as storage and client software. The biggest cost was clearly archiving, which is often legally required for a lot of positions. Beyond that, the software and filtering costs all came in at roughly 10 to 15 percent of the costs when they're needed—off-site services, for example, eliminate separate purchases of server and filtering software, and lower staff costs in exchange for a monthly subscription. The overall conclusion is that any company with an employee count of under 15,000 would probably benefit from using off-site services.

The two examples of actual cloud services, Microsoft's Exchange Online and Google Apps for Business, came out significantly ahead. Exchange Online provided significantly lower costs until somewhere above 30,000 seats, while Google Apps' monthly cost consistently came in at half the cost of others, in part because its subscription cost is so low, and in part because the "client software" is a free web browser.

The author of the report cautions that there are a lot of variables to consider, such as how often the company adds and removes users, the frequency of large attachments, and the archiving requirements. Still, the results make it clear that Microsoft is now undercutting most of other services available, including those that rely on Exchange itself. But Google has managed to significantly undercut Microsoft. Although its solution is nowhere near as integrated as Exchange, an increasing percentage of the workforce is getting comfortable with managing their life and e-mail through a web browser.

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Charging gadgets using a magnet

By Mark Ward
BBC News technology correspondent, Las Vegas

Magnetic charger and PSP
Developers say the magnetic charger can power a wide range of gadgets

Magnetic induction could soon spell the end of tangled cables and a frustrating hunt for the gadget's charger.

Two firms at CES showed off ways to use the phenomenon to re-charge batteries inside gadgets when they are laid on a special mat.

Sensing systems allow devices with very different voltages to be charged at the same time.

The technology can also be used to power household objects such as flat screen TVs or kitchen appliances.

Israeli company Powermat uses RFID tags to identify what is being laid down to charge. The RFID tags are held in a case made to fit around popular gadgets such as iPods, laptops, and mobile phones.

Its almost like plugging it in, but instead you just set it down

Leroy Johnson
Leggett and Platt

When a gadget is laid down on a Powermat, it reads the RFID tag to ensure that each device only gets the charge it needs.

"It can charge a 100-watt gadget side by side with an iPod Nano that is very low power," said Ron Ferber, president of Powermat. "It knows what's on the mat."

A series of Powermats, including travel versions, should be on sale in the US by Autumn 2009, said Mr Ferber.

Also at CES, Leggett and Platt showed off a line of devices called eCoupled, made by Fulton Innovation, which uses a different method of identifying gadgets.

Leroy Johnson, senior director of emerging technologies at Leggett and Platt, said its system embeded a signal in the induction coil fitted to a gadget that helps charge it up.

"Inside each device is a coil that sends an identification signal that says 'I'm a flashlight with a three-volt Li-on battery'," he explained.

"It's almost like plugging it in, but instead you just set it down," he added. The first products fitted with the eCoupled technology should appear by late 2009, said Mr Johnson.

He said the technology was safer too, because it almost removed the need to plug devices into a wall socket.

The charging plates produced by both Powermat and Leggett can be embedded in walls, counter tops, or furniture to turn them into power stations for recharging or powering any gadget or item placed upon them.

In late December 2008, five companies joined together in a bid to create universal standards for wireless power systems. Initially, they want to develop a five-watt standard and address more power hungry gadgets.

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-G3 WiFi camera reviewed: wait for generation two

by Darren Murph

WiFi cameras are far from new -- over the past couple of years, we've seen P&S after P&S arrive with minimal functionality that would allow it to sync pictures with one specific online photo portal (or similar). Sony has stepped up the game for cameras to come with the Cyber-shot DSC-G3, which is the first of its kind to include a web browser for logging into pay-hotspots and uploading to practically any photo sharing site on the web. Popular Science got to handle one for a few weeks, and in the end, they were in love with the idea but hesitant to praise the execution. The T700-turned-wireless took satisfactory pictures, but the browser experience was less than awesome. You can hit the read link for all the dirty details, but unless you're willing to deal with "agonizingly" slow load times, you're probably better off waiting for the next revision. Or for some other company to whip out a bona fide competitor.

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Palm Pre Preview: Simply Amazing

By Adrian Covert

Hey, I just had some time to play with the Palm Pre, maybe the most important handset to be announced in two years, and here's what it was like to use it. Updates coming.

The Palm Pre is a lot smaller than I initially thought it would be. A good size comparison would be an iPod classic with a big hard drive. In terms of thickness, it's definitely not as thin as the iPhone, or even the bold, but it's an acceptable size considering it's a slider.

The Pre's Web OS UI and and UX really looks great. After watching (and using) for 20 minutes, It rarely looked (or felt) unresponsive, choppy, or laggy and it's clear a lot of thought was put into the design, especially with regard to how the phone would be used with fingers, as opposed to a stylus or d-pad

The Card system is really a great way to keep your information in front of you and know what you're working on. When you launch an app, you can drag it onto your phone desktop to create a new card, then when you're finished with a card for a specific app, closing it is as simple as flicking the card upwards.

The input technology that doesn't involve the screen is also top notch. Palm created the gesture bar, which is the black surface under the screen, because they found it was too hard to control a touchscreen phone with one hand, especially when trying to reach the upper part of the screen. The Gesture Bar streamlines some of the navigation so you can use the phone on the go.

There's also an accelrometer that works with apps like the web browser and photo viewer, which automatically rotates the screen depending on its orientation. It's the same as what's on many other phones, but it's worth noting that the accelerometer works quite well.

If you're working in a specific app, you can drag your finger up from the Gesture Bar to the screen, hold it for a second, and the wave dock will appear, making it easy to quick launch another app. The trackball, which feels similar to that of the G1 and Blackberry phones, provides another quick way to get around the Web OS interface.

There's also the keyboard. It pretty much looks and feels the same as previous Palm keyboards of late, which isn't spectacular, but it works well enough. When asked why they opted to go with the vertically oriented slide out keyboard, Palm had two main reasons—they didn't see much less of a difference in effectiveness when compared to a horizontal slider, and found that more people messaged holding the phone vertically. Second, they said there aren't really any other smartphones with a vertical QWERTY slider, so it makes the phone more recognizable.

While the hardware is definitely high quality, I'm not entirely blown away by the design. It looks really nice, and original, but it's a little too cutesy in shape and kind of reminds me of an oversized pebble. A slightly larger screen could have definitely been put to good use, and I really don't like the black space on the side's of the screen.

I think this phone's biggest appeal will be the central role the internet plays in the OS. The way it pulls data from various web services, and melds it into its own framework is top notch. I think being able to text, and gChat and send IMs over AIM all from the same window is such a benefit to the user to not have to switch windows for 3 different apps for messaging. And obviously, you won't be talking to someone on a bunch of different messengers at once, but over a period of a week, you might have convos over these different services, and it's good to keep track of all these interactions in one place.

The browser is also a far cry from Blazer that was on the Treo's Garnet OS. The new browser is built on top of Webkit, just like the Android and iPhone browsers, and renders full pages in under 10 seconds. The zoom and drag/pan functionality is very much like the other browsers, both in operation and feel. There was no glitchiness and the browser was extremely responsive.

I also love the way you can search for something on your phone, and then shoot that same query up to Google or Wikipedia without having to launch your web browser. It's another way the internet has subtly worked its way into the phone without being constricted to a specific app or browser.

The design influence of the iPhone OS is definitely apparent in Web OS. The App dock that sits at the bottom of the home screen is definitely a page out of the iPhones playbook, and for good reason—it works well. The design of the menus such as the contacts list take that same simple approach of not showing more than you absolutely see on any one page, something the iPhone perfected.

The screen is beautiful, and it really shows when looking at photos, which are so bright and colorful, I'd almost say it looks sharper than any other phone.

The camera takes really beautiful photos as well. Even in lighting that wasn't super bright, colors came out rich, and though a little grainy, it didn't suffer the same washed out, sandy look that other camera phones generate. This is also due in part to some image post processing that takes place behind the scenes of the camera app.

As far as video recording goes, it's not available on the Pre for now, but it's something Palm is looking at for future upgrades. I find this slightly disappointing, because Palm is touting this as an internet phone, and user generated video is a very big part of what's going on in the online world. A feature where you could live stream or auto upload to YouTube seems like an idea that fits in with the Pre philosophy. I think this absolutely has to be added in the next year.

The Apps and SDK for Web OS i think will be promising. Palm will make the SDK available to anyone to use, but there will be an App Store which will be accessible on the phone only and an approval process for apps. Palm says there are always exceptions, but they will not play the role of Big Brother so much when it comes to apps. What they are mostly concerned with are the security and stability of the apps. Making sure there aren't apps that crash or provide holes for their phones to be hacked. They also say they will work close with select partners on app and give them access to deeper areas of the OS that are not available in the SDK.

Like Android, there is an Amazon music store app that looks and smells very similar to that on the G1. It lets you preview songs, as well as download from the same screen.

When I asked Palm about flash on the Pre, they said it wasn't something they were talking about for now. But Dan Lyons over at Newsweek claims that the phone will run flash on it.

It also has a few features not found on the iPhone, which include copy and paste and MMS messaging, something hardcore iPhone users have been clamoring for since its introduction.

I asked Palm if the Pre and the Web OS platform will be married to the Sprint service, and they said that Web OS-based products will eventually be available on other carriers, but they have no specific announcements on that.

From an earlier set of impressions:

It transcends what a mobile device should feel like. It's smooth but also tough enough to feel like you're using something that's going to last. I really like how the back of the slider is reflective like an iPod touch (might be good for the ladies and their make-up too).

The display looks richer in color gamut than any handset I've ever seen (almost like a mini Cinema Display). The GUI seems fluid enough so that it's not overtly cheesy and plasticky looking (transitions are still rough around the edges sometimes and not always as snappy as you'd like.) Speakerphone seems more than adequate for being Monophonic (totally useable for listening to music/calls.)

This is just like OS X, Expose, Spaces, Spotlight—uninterrupted multitasking. Even the cal is like iCal—on the desktop OS. When you get a call, the OS puts what you're doing down at the bottom, instead of dumping it like on iPhone. [Palm Pre Details; Palm Pre's wireless charger; Palm Pre Full Coverage on Gizmodo]

[Correction: I passed these notes off to a colleague who stated that I, Brian Lam, got to handle the phone in an earlier version of this post. That was an error in communications in the heat of the moment, and I've updated it to say that the impressions were from a friend. We will have more photos and impressions in a bit from our own experience with the phone. The post is now under Adrian Covert's byline, because the new hands on impressions are his.]

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New SDXC Memory Card Spec Supports 2TB Capacities

By Sean Fallon

The SD Association has announced a new card spec dubbed SDXC (eXtended Capacity) that can support memory capacities up to 2TB with read/write speeds to 104MB per second.

According to their calculations, that would mean you could store 100 high-def movies, 60 hours of HD recording, or 17,000 fine-mode photos on a portable device. Again, keep in mind that this is spec at this point—not an actual product. But we could see something based on it as early as next year. Obviously, there aren't many devices out there that could make full use of it right now, but a card with this kind of capacity and bus speeds could pull the industry forward.


SDXC Memory Cards Provide Consumers with Massive Storage,
Incredible Speed in Familiar, De Facto Standard

LAS VEGAS – CES Booth South 3 #31277 – Jan. 7, 2009 – The next-generation SDXC (eXtended Capacity) memory card specification, announced today at the 2009 International CES, dramatically improves consumers' digital lifestyles by providing the portable storage and speed needed to store weeks of high-definition video, years of photo collections and months of music to mobile phones, cameras and camcorders, and other consumer electronic devices. The new SDXC specification provides up to 2 terabytes storage capacity and accelerates SD interface read/write speeds to 104 megabytes per second this year, with a road map to 300 megabytes per second.

The SDXC specification, developed by the SD Association, leapfrogs memory card interface speeds while retaining the world-leading SD interface. Specifications for the open standard will be released in the first quarter of 2009. SDHC, Embedded SD and SDIO specifications will also benefit from the new SD interface speeds.

"SDXC combines a higher capacity roadmap with faster transfer speeds as a means to exploit NAND flash memory technology as a compelling choice for portable memory storage and interoperability," said Joseph Unsworth, research director, NAND Flash Semiconductors, at Gartner. "With industry support, SDXC presents manufacturers with the opportunity to kindle consumer demand for more advanced handset features and functionality in consumer electronics behind the ubiquitous SD interface."

Turning mobile phones into media centers
SDXC allows users to enjoy more from their mobile phones. Larger capacity and faster transfer speeds allow for expanded entertainment and data storage. A 2TB SDXC memory card can store 100 HD movies, 60 hours of HD recording or 17,000 fine-grade photos.

"With SDXC, consumers can quickly download higher quality content to their phones, including games, video and music – giving consumers a richer media and content experience," said James Taylor, president of the SD Association. "The SD interface already has proven itself valuable in mobile phones. Now, SDXC memory card capabilities will spur further handset sophistication and boost consumer content demand."

Shooting pictures at the speed of life
SDXC is also the first memory card specification to provide 2TB storage without hindering the high-speed performance necessary for high-end photography. It will provide maximum speeds even when the SDXC specification achieves its maximum 2TB storage capacity.

"SDXC is a large-capacity card that can store more than 4,000 RAW images, which is the uncompressed mode professionals use, and 17,000 of the fine-mode most consumers use. That capacity, combined with the exFAT file system, increases movie recording time and reduces starting time to improve photo-capturing opportunities," said Shigeto Kanda, general manager at Canon. "Improvements in interface speed allow further increases in continuous shooting speed and higher resolution movie recordings. As a memory card well suited to small-sized user-friendly digital cameras, the SDXC specification will help consumers realize the full potential of our cameras."

SDXC will enable camcorders to provide longer, professional level HD video recording with a small form factor.

The SDXC specification uses Microsoft's exFAT file system to support its large capacity and interoperability in a broad range of PCs, consumer electronics and mobile phones. The exFAT system was designed for increased compatibility with flash media, from portability of data to interoperability with multiple platforms and devices on removable media.

"The SD Association is committed to answering and anticipating consumer demand for easy-to-use memory card storage that is interoperable in any device with a matching SD slot," Taylor said. "The SDXC card gives consumers a new, yet familiar, high-performance card that will be used in hundreds of manufacturers' device offerings."

SD Association
The SD Association is a global ecosystem of more than 1,100 technology companies charged with setting interoperable SD standards. The association encourages the development of consumer electronic, wireless communication, digital imaging and networking products that utilize market-leading SD technology. The SD standard is the number one choice for consumers and has earned nearly 80 percent of the memory card market with its reliable interoperability and its easy-to-use format. Today, mobile phones, Blu-ray players, HDTVs, audio players, automotive multimedia systems, handheld PCs, cameras and camcorders feature SD interoperability. For more information about SDA or to join, please visit the association's web site,

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