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Archive for February, 2012

Google to Sell Heads-Up Display Glasses by Year’s End

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

People who constantly reach into a pocket to check a  smartphone for bits of information will soon have another option: a pair of Google-made glasses that will be able to stream information to the wearer’s eyeballs in real time.

According to several Google employees familiar with the project who asked not to be named, the glasses will go on sale to the public by the end of the year. These people said they are expected “to cost around the price of current smartphones,” or $250 to $600.

The people familiar with the Google glasses said they would be Android-based, and will include a small screen that will sit a few inches from someone’s eye. They will also have a 3G or 4G data connection and a number of sensors including motion and GPS.

A Google spokesman declined to comment on the project.

Seth Weintraub, a blogger for 9 to 5 Google, who first wrote about the glasses project in December, and then discovered more information about them this month, also said the glasses would be Android-based and cited a source that described their look as that of a pair of Oakley Thumps.

They will also have a unique navigation system. “The navigation system currently used is a head tilting to scroll and click,” Mr. Weintraub wrote this month. “We are told it is very quick to learn and once the user is adept at navigation, it becomes second nature and almost indistinguishable to outside users.”

The glasses will have a low-resolution built-in camera that will be able to monitor the world in real time and overlay information about locations, surrounding buildings and friends who might be nearby, according to the Google employees. The glasses are not designed to be worn constantly — although Google expects some of the nerdiest users will wear them a lot — but will be more like  smartphones, used when needed.

Internally, the Google X team has been actively discussing the privacy implications of the glasses and the company wants to ensure that people know if they are being recorded by someone wearing a pair of glasses with a built-in camera.

The project is currently being built in the Google X offices, a secretive laboratory near Google’s main campus that is charged with working on robots, space elevators and dozens of other futuristic projects.

One of the key people involved with the glasses is Steve Lee, a Google engineer and creator of the Google mapping software, Latitude. As a result of Mr. Lee’s involvement, location information will be paramount in the first version released to the public, several people who have seen the glasses said. The other key leader on the glasses project is Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, who is currently spending most of his time in the Google X labs.

One Google employee said the glasses would tap into a number of Google software products that are currently available and in use today, but will display the information in an augmented reality view, rather than as a Web browser page like those that people see on smartphones.

The glasses will send data to the cloud and then use things like Google Latitude to share location, Google Goggles to search images and figure out what is being looked at, and Google Maps to show other things nearby, the Google employee said. “You will be able to check in to locations with your friends through the glasses,” they added.

Everyone I spoke with who was familiar with the project repeatedly said that Google was not thinking about potential business models with the new glasses. Instead, they said, Google sees the project as an experiment that anyone will be able to join. If consumers take to the glasses when they are released later this year, then Google will explore possible revenue streams.

As I noted in a Disruptions column last year, Apple engineers are also exploring wearable computing, but the company is taking a different route, focusing on computers that strap around someone’s wrist.

Last week The San Jose Mercury News discovered plans by Google to build a $120 million electronics testing facility that will be involved in testing “precision optical technology.”


Wall Street Beat: Tech Reaps Rewards of Market Surge

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Tech companies, coming off a strong earnings season, were big winners Thursday as markets rose to multiyear highs on reports of a strengthening economy.

Though tech bellwethers during the last month have reported strong earnings, market watchers have feared that spending on IT could be curbed this year by slow economic growth and the specter of a sovereign debt default in Greece, which would likely send financial markets into a tailspin.

But positive economic news pushed markets up Thursday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 12,904.08, up by 123.13, hitting its highest point in four years, before the implosion of Wall Street in the third quarter of 2008. The tech-heavy Nasdaq ended up at 2,959.85, up 44.04, its highest point in 11 years. The S&P rose by 14.81 to close at 1,358.04, its highest point in nine months. At the start of trading Friday some major indexes were up, though the Nasdaq slipped somewhat — not unusual after a day of big gains.

The U.S. Labor Department Thursday said initial jobless claims for the week ended Feb. 11 were 348,000, less than the prior week’s total of 361,000. Meanwhile, European central banks are ready to convert their holdings of Greek bonds into new bond issues in a move to pave the way for a private sector debt deal, according to reports from Reuters and other news organizations.

Tech companies grabbed a lion’s share of the rewards on the good news. The Nasdaq Computer stock index Thursday was up by 30.29 points to 1,598.83. Four of the top five most actively traded companies on the exchange were tech vendors, all of which experienced share price increases: Microsoft shares rose 4.11 percent; Nvidia closed up by 1.37 percent; Cisco shares rose 1.4 percent and Intel shares increased 0.92 percent.

Another winner was Apple, experiencing a 0.91 percent uptick in its share price, which closed at US$502.21. Apple shares crossed the $500 mark earlier in the week, for the first time in its history. Last year it became the most valued company on the planet in terms of market capitalization (share price multiplied by number of shares on the market), passing Exxon Mobil. Apple jumped $3.00 in early morning trading Friday.

The jump in tech shares indicates that tech investors have confidence that, underlying worries about the economy, there is strong demand for technology. Despite concerns that the fourth quarter, plagued among other things by natural disasters that crimped the supply of hard drives, would be tough for tech, bellwether IT companies on the whole did well.

Apple was the star of earnings season, posting record quarterly revenue of $46.33 billion and record net profit of $13.06 billion, compared to revenue of $26.74 billion and net quarterly profit of $6 billion in the year-earlier quarter. But market leaders in other sectors of IT had good quarters as well.

Cisco, which came under fire last year when its sales slipped, reported that cost-cutting efforts had paid off. Cisco’s net sales for its second fiscal quarter were up 10.8 percent year over year to $11.5 billion, while earnings rose 43.5 percent to $2.2 billion. On the software front, SAP said it has its best year ever, supported analyst forecasts for a strong year for enterprise software.

With most of the large tech vendors having already reported quarterly earnings, results this week came from second-tier players. Though results were mixed, tech investors appeared to stress the positive aspects of the reports.

On Wednesday, for example, graphics chip maker Nvidia said revenue for the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2012 was $953.2 million, up 7.5 percent from $886.4 million in the same period a year earlier. However, net income declined to $116.0 million from $178.3 million. Sales of the company’s Tegra 3 processor have failed to live of up to expectations, partly as a result of the lingering impact of the hard disk-drive shortage caused by Thailand floods.

Many analysts looked past the current problems and remained optimistic.

“We expect continued graphics share gain in the coming year, reflecting design wins on new notebook platforms,” ThinkEquity analyst Suji De Silva wrote in a research note.

Nvidia shares rose by $0.27 Thursday to close at $16.45.

Though market analysts have predicted that hardware will have a tougher year than software, in part because of component shortages that may not clear up for several months, the boom in tablet computers has injected excitement into the personal computing market. Tablet sales will exceed sales of traditional desktop and notebook PCs by 2015, according to a report this week from BI Intelligence. The report forecast that the tablets will generate a market valued more than $100 million by 2015, achieving a sales run rate 500 million per year.

Tech investors also appeared to take the long view on storage vendor NetApp, which Wednesday said that for the quarter ending Jan. 27 profit was less than a year earlier, but that sales rose. NetApp had net earnings of $120 million on revenue of $1.57 billion, compared with earnings of $186 million on $1.29 billion in sales in the same period a year ago. Its guidance for the current quarter was for revenue of $1.65 billion to $1.73 billion, on earnings of $0.60 to $0.65 (excluding one-time items). On the high end of the guidance, the results would beat expectations of analysts, who are forecasting earnings per share of $0.63 on sales of $1.69 billion. NetApp shares rose $2.14 to $42.74 Thursday.


Coming in 2012: Firefox for Windows 8′s Metro

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Mozilla plans to release a concept version of Firefox for Windows 8′s new Metro interface in the second quarter with alpha and beta versions to follow in the second half of 2012.

Mozilla announced the Firefox for Metro project in conjunction with its 2012 strategy documentation deluge.

Metro is a new user interface that replaces the Windows start button and menu with a grid of tiles. Those tiles launch software, but when they’re on people’s home screens they also can display anything from photos to message notifications. Deeper down, Metro comes with an entirely new set of programming interfaces called WinRT that mark a big departure from the last several years of software development on Windows.

“The feature goal here is a new Gecko-based browser built for and integrated with the Metro environment,” Mozilla’s planning document said, referring to the Firefox browser engine. “Firefox on Metro, like all other Metro apps will be full screen, focused on touch interactions, and connected to the rest of the Metro environment through Windows 8 contracts,” a mechanism by which one app can hand off tasks–opening a Web page or sharing a photo, for example–to another app.

Windows 8 also offers a “classic” interface for old-style apps, and Mozilla expects supporting it will be a simple update to Firefox. But supporting classic only would mean that Firefox won’t run when people are using Metro, which Microsoft is billing as core to its future.

It’ll be work to port Firefox to Metro, but it beats the alternative: being sidelined. Mozilla has had a rough time expanding to new operating systems.

First, Apple only permits browsers that use its own WebKit browser engine that comes with iOS, ruling out Firefox’s Gecko-based software. Mozilla’s first mobile operating systems for mobile Firefox were designed for Meego, which Nokia has dumped, and Windows Mobile, a commercial failure that has been replaced by the Windows Phone.

Mozilla therefore is pinning its mobile hopes on Android, Google’s mobile operating system that is fully open to others’ browsers. But even as Firefox is in the midst of a very disruptive “reboot” designed to speed up Firefox by using native Android interface abilities, Google just launched Chrome for Android.

Even though Windows Phone cosmetically looks similar to the forthcoming Windows 8, with the bright-colored tiles, it uses a different programming approach that relies on Microsoft’s Silverlight programming foundation or on a related technology called XAML, short for Extensible Application Markup Language.

Greg Sullivan, senior product manager for Windows Phone 7, said last year that Microsoft doesn’t bar other browsers from Windows Phone but that the Microsoft’s requirements make it unlikely Firefox would appear.

“If you can write a browser in Silverlight or XAML, you could submit it to the market,” Sullivan told CNET in an interview.

Firefox uses lower-level software that runs natively on a mobile phone’s processor, though, and Sullivan said Microsoft has no plans to offer a native development kit the way Google has with Android. “We think our development platform and tools are a key strength of the platform,” Sullivan said.

But the door is open on personal computers. With Windows 8, Microsoft’s developer tools will let Mozilla and others write Metro apps that run using lower-level native software.

On PCs, where the vast majority of browsing today still takes place, Windows 8 will come with Internet Explorer 10–both classic and Metro incarnations.

Metro is very important to Microsoft’s future. Most obviously, it’s a radical revamp of an operating system used by hundreds of millions of people but that’s under threat from iOS, Android, and Mac OS X. One key feature to Metro is a “touch-first” interface priority that’s crucial to Windows’ success on tablets.

More subtly, Metro is key to Microsoft’s expansion to ARM processors from its current x86-only world. That’s tricky, though, since ARM processor designs are different when they actually arrive in processors from companies such as Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Nvidia, Apple, and Samsung. Old-style x86 apps for Windows won’t run on ARM devices unless those apps are painstakingly rewritten, but Metro apps bring cross-platform advantages to programmers wanting to span both hardware designs.

Programmers at Mozilla and elsewhere will know a lot more about Metro on February 29 when Microsoft debuts the “consumer preview” of Windows 8, which ordinary folks probably can safely think of as a beta version.


Windows 8: Your Chance To Preview Coming Soon?

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Microsoft appears to be getting set to launch a preview of the Windows 8 operating system that will allow average computer users to check out the forthcoming OS several months after IT pros got their first look.

It hasn’t announced a release date yet, but the software maker earlier this week was touting the Windows 8 Consumer Preview with a page on its Bing search engine that was live for several days. The page, since removed, displayed a swimming betta fish—a nod to the fact that the OS is still in the development phase–as well as links to Windows 8 resources for users and developers.

Most of the links, including one for the “Windows 8 Consumer Preview,” did not appear to be functioning. Likewise for a link to a “Windows Store,” where consumers will presumably be able to download apps for Windows 8 PCs and tablets in a manner similar to how iPhone and iPad users buy software from Apple’s App Store. Other links on the page connected to Microsoft’s online Dev Center, where users can learn to write Metro-style apps for Windows 8.

In September, Microsoft released the Windows 8 Developer Preview along with tools that programmers can use to build apps and get familiar with Windows 8, which represents the most fundamental redesign of the OS since the debut of Windows 95.

For its interface, Windows 8 relies heavily on design elements taken from Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 environment, including Metro themes and Live Tiles–blocks of screen real-estate that feed real-time updates from social networks, messaging, e-mail, and other services to the home screen.

Newly leaked screenshots appear to show that Microsoft has gone so far as to eliminate the Start button, a familiar Windows navigation tool in past versions, and replace it with a swipeable area users can touch to bring up various menus.

Such a design is more tablet-friendly, and Microsoft has made little secret of the fact that it’s counting on Windows 8to make it a player in the tablet market, which is dominated by Apple and Google-powered devices. Still, the strategy isn’t without its downsides. In drastically overhauling the OS, Microsoft risks alienating users that have grown used to the familiar Windows desktop over the years.

“It’s a huge risk in a market that doesn’t always like major changes,” said Rob Enderle, principal consultant at Enderle Group. “This is going to require a massive promotional effort and we haven’t seen any signs of that yet.” Enderle noted that the computing industry landscape was significantly less competitive when Microsoft last overhauled Windows with Windows 95, which brought a number of new graphical elements to the platform. “By that time Apple was weak and there were really no alternate platforms.”

The move, however, could make Windows more appealing to consumers who have already jumped on the tablet bandwagon. A recent survey by market research firm iYogi found that 85% of existing tablet users would prefer a desktop OS that mirrors their tablet experience. “Windows 8 provides a real alternative to the iPad for PC users looking for a seamless interface and ease of integration,” said iYogi marketing president Vishal Dhar.

iYogi’s survey also found that 69% of PC users would prefer a tablet that mimics their desktop experience. Microsoft has yet to announce a formal ship date for Windows 8, though many analysts expect it may show up in devices in time for the 2012 holiday season.


Windows XP still hanging on as dominant OS

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

imageThe decade-old OS has slowly been losing more users to Windows 7, but January marked a small resurgence in its grip on the market, according to stats out today from NetApplications.

For the month, Windows XP grabbed 47.19 percent of all OS users, inching up from 46.5 percent in December. At the same time, Windows 7 saw its market share dip to 36.4 percent from almost 37 percent the previous month.

Obviously, a fraction of a percentage point is nothing for XP to crow about, especially since its overall share has dropped from almost 58 percent a year ago. But it does point to the continued popularity of an OS that Microsoft would like to see kick the bucket.

The folks in Redmond have been pushing both consumers and companies to jump ship from XP to Windows 7.

As part of that push, Microsoft has been constantly reminding people that support for XP runs out in April 2014, at which time security patches and other updates will no longer be available. Though that gives individuals plenty of time to upgrade, enterprises face a longer path to migration, putting more pressure on them to switch to Windows 7 before too long.

Microsoft has even advised companies still on XP not to wait for Windows 8 and instead plan their moves to Windows 7 now.

Despite the minor drop in Windows 7′s market share last month, more people may be following Microsoft’s message.

The current flavor of Windows has seen its cut of customers rise from 23 percent a year ago to its present 36 percent.

Of course, as more people buy new computers outfitted with Windows 7, the percentage naturally grows, but probably not fast enough for Microsoft’s taste.

Windows 8, which has been available as a Developer Preview since last September, saw its share of users actually dip to 0.2 percent from half a percentage point last month. Fewer people may be checking out the Developer Preview in anticipation of the beta version, which is due to launch sometime this month.

Among operating systems in general, Windows remains in top place by a long shot with an overall share of 92 percent. Apple’s Mac OS X grabbed 6.39 percent of users last month, a minor increase from December and around a one percentage point bump from a year ago.