This is the final roundup before Christmas and the penultimate one of 2014. Things are very much starting to wind down for the year, and the world of tech is starting to go into something of a hibernation mode. But that's not to say that there hasn't been a fair select of big stories over the past seven days. If you're dreading the prospect of traveling across the country to meet up with family, Microsoft may have a solution -- just turn to Skype instead!
Valve's highly anticipated Steam OS was made available to the public as a beta, so gamers can create their own rigs. Gamers with a lots of spare cash floating around might prefer to opt for a solid gold Xbox One -- but the price tag is an eye-watering £6000 (around $9,800)! For those to whom quality matters, Amazon's announcement that all new shows in 4K Ultra HD will come as great news. For entertainment at slightly lower resolution, Redbox Instant made an appearance on the Kindle Fire HDX -- a tablet that I was quite enamored with. Roku 3 users can also celebrate the arrival of YouTube for their video entertainment.
It's probably not something you need worry about in relation to your personal files just yet, but according to a newly published paper (the snappily titled "RSA Key Extraction via Low-Bandwidth Acoustic Cryptanalysis") it appears that it is possible to extract 4096-bit RSA decryption keys by listening to the sounds made by a computer.
This might sound like the talk of someone paranoid, but it is actually more feasible than you might first think. And the paper has been penned by no less than Adi Shamir, the co-inventor of the RSA algorithm.
If you had access to 500,000 pieces of Lego (yes, they are Lego bricks or pieces, not Legos!) what would you build? When Steve Sammartino, an American entrepreneur, joined forces with "crazy Romanian teenager" Raul Oaida the answer seemed obvious -- build a full sized car capable of hitting 20km/h. Sammartino and Oaida met online, came up with the wacky idea for the plastic vehicle and tweeted to ask for help with funding.
The tweet lead to the birth of the Super Awesome Micro project. Having read the tweet -- "Anyone interested in investing $500 - $1,000 in a project which is awesome and a world first tweet me. Need about 20 participants" -- Ford Australia pledged some funding, as did some other investors, and the project was able to get off the ground.
One of the problems facing an organization investing in subscription software is determining what package to opt for. It makes sense to keep things as cheap as possible and plump for the lowest priced package, but what happens when your business expands and your needs grow? Microsoft is looking to make things a little easier for Small Business users who find that their needs change over time, making it possible to easily jump to the Midsize or Enterprise plans.
The Switch Plans program also makes it possible for Midsize Business subscribers to switch to an Enterprise plan. This is a great option for businesses whose employee numbers swell faster than expected, or for those who discover that they need access to additional features and options that are not available on the plan they originally chose.
It's that time of year once again. Approaching the end of another 365 and a quarter days cycle puts us all in a reflective mood. It's not uncommon to look back at what has happened in the previous 12 months and pick out the highlights of the year. It's also quite common to look forward in anticipation of what the coming year might have to offer. But how about something a little different, something a little more downbeat? What have been your lowlights and disappointments? There's no need to end the year on a high, after all!
I am one of those people still devastated at the loss of Google Reader. Both as a journalist and as someone who simply devours news from all manner of sources, this was my go-to service for getting my daily -- well, hourly… oh, OK, five minutely -- fix of headlines from hundreds of websites. Double disappointment came when I thought an ideal solution was to be found in Feedly, but slow updates and a pricing structure I found objectionable meant that this soon fell by the wayside. Disappointment number two. Still, it helped me to discover InoReader -- every cloud, and all that.
I've worked my way through a fair share of tablets over the years. An iPad 2 with its 9.7 inch screen, a Sony Tablet S with a slightly smaller 9.4 inch display, followed by a series of 7-inchers -- the Nexus 7, Tesco's Hudl and the GOCLEVER Aries 7o. Oh, and the Surface Pro; I have a tendency to forget this is a 10.6 inch tablet as I use it in laptop mode.
All of my tablets have been used for much the same things: checking email, writing the odd document, viewing photos, watching videos, updating Facebook and Twitter, browsing the web and playing a few games. Taking the Surface Pro out of the equation, I've always found the circa 10-inch tablets too big. I thought I was settled on 7 inches as offering the best dimensions. It seems I might have been wrong.
The customer is always right, right? As a customer it is understandable that this old adage seems like something set in stone, but looked at from a company's point of view things are rather different. A large proportion of customers are in fact idiots. While it is reasonable to expect a company to listen to what its customers have to say, does this risk stifling innovation as customers demand that things be done a certain way?
Here on BetaNews we've had a little debate about whether Microsoft should reintroduce the Start menu. Despite the number of people calling for its return, Brian does not think it is a good idea saying that "the company should ignore these customers, even if they are the majority". I am of the opinion that it would be good to at least make it optional, particularly for enterprise customers.
Anyone who fancies the idea of building their own gaming box can head over to the Valve website can grab themselves a beta copy of SteamOS. The Linux-based operating system is available for anyone to download free of charge and coincides with the shipping of 300 prototypes of Valve's Steam Machine devices to specially selected testers. The OS and boxes have both been designed with pure gaming in mind -- but the system requirements are quite specific.
The download weighs in at 960MB, and there are reports that the servers are struggling as legions of eager gamers hit the link. But before you rush over to the site and start the download for yourself, take a moment to check whether your rig is up to the task. You'll need a 64-bit processor, but both Intel and AMD will do the job equally well, and 4GB of RAM is also required.
Things are starting to get festive, and that means there's also a lot going on. This past week has been quite a busy one! It might not come as a surprise, but the figures are in -- Windows 8.1 is not performing anywhere near as well as Windows 7 in terms of sales. Part of the reason for the slower adoption could be the Start screen and the absence of the Start menu. There has been some debate here at BetaNews about the possibility that the Start menu could make a return. Brian is very much opposed to the idea, I think it's probably a good idea, particularly for business users, while Wayne showed us how to get the Start menu back right now.
The backlash against NSA surveillance continues, and now Microsoft, Apple, Google and a number of other big names have joined forces and written to President Obama asking for reform. Joe was not impressed. To help protect user accounts, Microsoft beefed up security.
A number of YouTube users who post game walkthroughs and feature footage from games in other ways are finding that their content is being flagged for copyright violation. It seems that uploaders are falling victim to YouTube's automated ContentID system which is responsible for weeding out all manner of copyrighted material. What is interesting is that videos are not being removed from YouTube, but are unable to earn money from advertisements, leading to a loss in revenue for a lot of people.
Uploaders are warned that their videos are still viewable but told that the flagged video's copyright is owned by someone else. What is confusing is the fact that the companies named in relation to the warnings do not actually seem to be the copyright holder. For example, VentureBeat cites the case of warnings being handed out for videos featuring footage from the game Metro: Last Light.
Unlike my colleague Brian Fagioli, and many other disillusioned users, I think Microsoft made a serious mistake when the Start menu and button were removed from Windows 8. The company practically admitted as much when Windows 8.1 saw the reintroduction of the Start button. But this was simply not enough. Windows is all about the Start menu, and for many people the Start button and Start menu are so inextricably linked that to have either without the other just makes no sense.
Sure, we have the Start screen in Windows 8.1 and from it you can achieve pretty much what you were able to do with the Start menu. But it is not the same. Windows 95 was all about the Start button and the Start menu that it conjured up. Yes, we may be the thick end of 20 years down the line, but this is at least partly the point. We have had almost two decades to get used to a particular way of working. It would be strange if there wasn’t a backlash against something we have become so used to.
It's not all that long ago that the idea of posting news, thoughts and ideas on a social network (or "micro-blogging service" as it is infuriatingly referred to) that imposed a limit of 140 characters on posts seemed absurd. Now Twitter is so commonplace that any company, or even TV show, worth its salt has its own account. The word hashtag entered the technical lexicon a little while ago, but such is Twitter's dominance that it is now spoken aloud: hashtag yousoundstupid.
2013 has been a big year for Twitter, perhaps most notably due to it starting to trade on the NYSE. But there have also be great strides made in how Twitter is used. Of course it is still home to vainglorious, the trolls and celebrities, but 2013 is also the year in which Twitter proved itself to be genuinely useful.
Google Street View is a great way to explore the world around you without having to move from the comfort of your armchair. Not that we're lazy here at BetaNews, you understand! In fact, sometimes we like to get out and about. Like us, there are probably places you go to time and time again -- a favorite park, a trek up a hill, a stroll on the beach -- that are so breath-taking that you'd like everyone to experience them. Well, today Google makes that dream possible by letting anyone put together their very own Street Views.
In a post on the Google Maps blog, Product Manager for Google Maps and Photo Sphere, Evan Rapoport, explains that it is now possible to create a series of Photos Spheres, link them together and then share them on Google Maps. Unlike Google, there's no need to drive around in a special car kitted out with high tech camera equipment -- all you need is a DSLR or an Android phone.
Headlines about government surveillance of web usage all over the world have been difficult to avoid this past year. Since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on activities by the NSA, both companies and web users have been asking for greater transparency in data collection and there have been endless calls for dragnet data collection to be stopped completely. It is often the case that when confronted with a common enemy, some unlikely alliances are forged. This is certainly true with the NSA, and now Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL are all coming together to present a united front and push for legal reform.
The collective has written an open letter to President Obama and congress, warning that "the balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual". There has been quite a backlash against the number of requests for data that the US government has made of companies, and the letter makes it clear that the eight companies that have joined forces are not happy:
The tech world seems to be slowling down slightly in the run up to Christmas, but there have still been a lot of stories over the past seven days. There are sure to be a whole new raft of sales to look forward to both before and after Christmas, but if the Thanksgiving sales are anything to go by they may not offer as good a deal as first appearances would have you believe. Whether you bag a bargain or not, it looks as though tech presents are going to be as popular as ever this year -- and if you buy a Windows device, you'll get a free gift card.
After Microsoft tried comparing the Surface to the iPad Air, Amazon decided to follow suit -- guess which was more popular! Microsoft kept its fire trained on Google, taking a swipe at the Chromebook. Tablet makers may be pushing their product in the run up to Christmas, but PC shipments have suffered the largest decline ever. New computers will have an updated USB connection in the near future. USB type C brings to an end a problem that has plagued anyone who has ever plugged in a USB cable -- this generation can be plugged in either way up!