Mark Wilson

The most popular stories on BetaNews this past week March 23 -- 29

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Microsoft has flirted with Apple's iPad on a couple of occasions this week. Early on in the week there was the case of a 12-year-old girl who wanted nothing more than an iPad Mini. Microsoft stepped in and managed to convince her that the Surface 2 was the way ahead. Way to spin! But this was not the big Microsoft-iPad news. In a move that many saw as almost sacrilegious -- but one that was welcomed by just about the same number -- Microsoft Office, finally, made its way onto iPad. This wasn't the only release from Microsoft this week -- the source code for early versions of MS-DOS and Word for Windows was made publicly available. Having faced criticism for the way it approached a recent investigation, Microsoft pledged that it would no longer read customer emails during the course of an investigation without getting law enforcement involved.

Windows XP may be in its death throes, but this isn't going to stop people from using it. To help keep these hardy fellows safe, Malwarebytes announced that it would keep its users protected for life. It's not just XP that Microsoft is lowering into the grave, Office 2003 also finds itself six feet under. As the door on XP closes, another one opens -- or closes, depending on how you look at it. The purchase of Nokia's Devices and Services division is due to close in April after initially facing some delays.

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The cheap, cheerful and lovable Microsoft Wireless 1850 mouse [Review]

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What can you get for $15 these days? Not a lot, really. A few Starbucks, perhaps, a burrito and a couple of slices? Or you can get yourself a cheaper, almost throwaway, replacement mouse to chuck in your laptop bag. This is the bill that the Microsoft Wireless 1850 fits. The mouse was announced just recently, and we've got our hands on one to put through its paces. To cut to the chase, this is a perfectly acceptable mouse, but it ain't going to blow your mind.

This is a mouse designed with the pocket in mind in more ways than one. Yes, it's super low-cost, but it's also super lightweight; and I mean that both in terms of mass and features. Oh, at this point it's worth highlighting something I touched upon the other day when talking about the price of digital downloads. While in the US this mouse costs $14.95, over here in the UK it has a £16.99 price tag. Sure, US buyers have to factor in taxes, but $14.95 should translate into about £9, so the trip across the ocean from One Microsoft Way has resulted in the price almost doubling!

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Kim Dotcom takes on politics and Bitcoin with the Internet Party

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Kim Dotcom -- the man behind the infamous MegaUpload, and then Mega -- has been out of the spotlight for a little while, but now he's back with renewed strength. This time around he's not trying to launch a new service, but a new branch of his career. Not content with bringing free cloud storage to the masses, Dotcom is now venturing into politics, launching the Internet Party in New Zealand. He finds himself in an interesting position as he is currently fighting extradition to the US where he faces charges of infringing copyright.

As the name suggests, the Internet Party is concerned primarily with what's happening online. The party has a fairly simple mission statement. "The Internet Party was founded on the spirit of the Internet, to get an open, free, fair, connected and innovative society". It is described as "a party that will give you faster, cheaper Internet, create high-tech jobs, protect your privacy, and safeguard our independence".

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Spam emails just not quite annoying enough? Google has the solution!

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Spam's great, isn't it? I know I just can’t get enough of it. I particularly love the in-your-face, unavoidable stuff that grabs my attention and ultimately has nothing to offer. Love it. This is one of the reasons I was indescribably happy when Gmail introduced its tabbed inbox feature. While some people saw it as a way of keeping their inbox clear, I saw it rather differently. Now I can see all of that level spam -- sorry, I mean "promotional emails" -- in one place: the handily named Promotions tab.

But there are too many emails that are just too subtle. They don’t grab my eyeballs and try to wrestle them from my head. Well, let joy be unbounded, Google has come up with the solution I've been looking for! It's like the company has been reading my mind! I've lost count of the number of times I've thought, "you know what's missing? Really big, graphic versions of my emails. If that was implemented, my spammy desires could be so much more effectively sated!"

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Keepin' it virtually real -- Facebook buys Oculus VR for $2 billion

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It has been a day of purchases today. If Intel purchasing wearable tech outfit Basis was not enough, everyone's favorite social network (or something like that), Facebook has splashed the cash on virtual reality startup Oculus VR. In a deal worth $2 billion, Mark Zuckerberg's company will hand over $400 million in greenbacks, in addition to 23.1 million Facebook shares. The purchase comes just weeks after Facebook bought messaging service Whatsapp for $19 billion.

Oculus VR is most readily associated with gaming, but Zuckerberg is more interested in the communication potential. Millions of people use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, family, celebrities and companies, but the firm wants to take things further. "We have a lot more to do on mobile, but at this point we feel we're in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining and personal experiences", says Zuckerberg in a statement on Facebook.

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Google teams up with Ray-Ban to gain some cool for Glass

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After trying to drum up more interest in Glass by dispelling some myths believed to have built up around the wearable tech, Google is looking to push things even further, gaining a little cool cred by teaming up with Luxottica the group behind well-known names such as Ray-Ban and Vogue. Teaming up with such a premium brand could be key to the success or failure of Glass, and Google is keen to push Glass as being the next step in the gradual evolution of eyewear.

At the moment, there are more than forty different looks for Glass (once the various frames, colors and styles are factored in), but it is hoped that the new partnership will result in even more designs. Love them or not, Ray-Ban and Vogue are names you will be quite familiar with, and it seems as though this is something that Google is keen to latch on to -- although it is, of course, a household name in its own right. "Luxottica understands how to build, distribute and sell great products that their clients and consumers love -- something we care deeply about at Glass, too," purrs Google on its Google+ page.

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Basecamp held to ransom as hackers launch massive DDoS attack

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Basecamp, the online collaboration and project management service, found itself on the receiving end of a massive DDoS attack yesterday as 20Gbps of data was pelted at servers. If this was not enough, the attackers tried to hold Basecamp to ransom, saying the server flooding would not come to an end until a fee was paid.

While the attack was underway, Basecamp was effectively taken offline but the team behind the service refused to bow to the ransom demands. Beavering away behind the scenes, technicians were able to restore service to 95 percent of users without parting with any money.

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UK digital download tax will cripple sales and damage the industry

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Last week in the UK, the announcement of the new budget for the country was closely watched as citizens kept an eye on whether they'll be paying more for beer and whether taxes are going up or down. There's a lot to talk about in George Osborne's 2014 budget, but this is not the place to discuss most of what it involves. One thing is of interest for technology enthusiasts, though. The cost of digital downloads -- meaning ebooks, music and apps -- could be set to rise as the chancellor (the guy holding the purse strings) closes a tax loophole.

At the moment, companies offering digital downloads are able to avoid paying taxes in the UK by routing them through another country where taxes are lower. This is not a new technique, and there is nothing illegal about it. It is a loophole that has been exploited for many years, but now plans are afoot to close it off. What is this likely to mean? Well, it should come as no surprise that, ultimately, it's probably going to lead to higher prices for people in the UK.

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As wearables flounder, Google struggles to dispel Glass 'myths'

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I have not hidden the fact that I'm yet to be sold on the idea of wearable tech. A post about smartwatches failing to take off lead to some interesting discussions, and many people leapt to the defense of watch 2.0. Judging from the comments, it seems that there is some love for wearable devices, but it still doesn't appear to be translating into sales. It's not just wearables fans who are quick to defend the honor of their beloved devices, the manufacturers are doing so as well. Google is the latest proponent of strapped-to-the-body-tech, which is hardly surprising considering the company's vested in the market with Glass.

Google Glass has received a bad rap, or so Google seems to think. Not happy to sit back and let the rumormongering run its course, Google has instead written a blog entry aiming to dispel some of the "awesome urban myths" (their words, not mine) that have built up around the technologically advanced spectacles. Considering this is a product that is yet to receive a full public release, it is interesting to see that Google already feels the need to stick up for its baby. But that said, this is a device that has seen the term "glass-holes" coined, even before launch.

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The most popular stories on BetaNews this past week March 16 -- 22

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Not a good week for Microsoft this week. Things kicked off as Mozilla shunned the Windows Store by opting to stop development of a modern version of Firefox and then things got a little awkward following the investigation of an employee involved in leaking information about Windows. The company then came under fire for accessing the email account of an individual, despite its claims that "Outlook and Hotmail email are and should be private".

There was better news as an LTE version of Surface 2 went on sale opening up a new income stream for the company and new mobile computing opportunities for customers. More good news for users came when OneNote was not only released for Mac, but also made free for all platforms. Mihaita wasn't overly impressed with the Mac version, though.

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Smartwatches -- the harsh truth is that no one cares

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OK, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. But wearable devices are really struggling to get off the ground, at least in the UK. All of the excitement that surrounds smartwatches that can be used to read email, VPN into a home computer, check vital stats, set off The Bomb, or tell the time (imagine!) -- maybe a couple of these are a little far-fetched -- seems to be little more than manufacturers' fluff and guff. The wheels of the marketing machine have been whirring away furiously, but it has had very little effect. With a population of approaching 65 million people, only a very tiny proportion of the nation has seen the need to invest in a smartwatch -- below 1 percent in fact.

Figures from Kantar World Panel show that a lowly 0.9 percent of UK consumers have put their hard-earned money towards a smartwatch. Other statistics to come from the research are of little surprise. Almost three quarters (72 percent) of smartwatch owners are male, and 56 percent are aged under 35. There are a small number of names associated with smartwatches, and the spread is fairly evenly distributed. At the top of the heap is Samsung with a 32 percent share, followed by Sony with 21 percent and Pebble with 18 percent. There is obviously a leader, but with the numbers being so low, percentages are very easily swayed.

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NSA lawyer says data collection occurred with tech firms' 'full knowledge and assistance'

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The NSA story isn't new. Scratch that. It's not really a story; it's a saga. Just when it seems safe to feel that there can't possibly be any more revelations to knock us sideways... oops... there's another little surprise for you! Just a week ago, I argued that Google's encryption of Chinese web searches amounts to little more than a PR exercise, designed to try to get the disgruntled user back on its side. This is not something that is related to the NSA revelations. When we found out that the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Yahoo (to name but a few) had been handing data over to the US government, all of these companies were falling over themselves to appear to be doing everything they could legally do to let their customers know what had been happening with their data.

Of course, it's not just the UK that has this problem, although that’s certainly where the attention has been focused -- the UK had (or possibly has) its own Optic Nerve program which was used to spy on webcam chats. The story we have heard time and time again is that these companies did not know what was going on. That the government had been collecting data without their knowledge. There were concessions that in some cases, FISA requests had been received but there were limitations on what could be publically revealed. Each company tried to outdo the others by appearing to reveal as much data as it could as quickly as humanly possible.

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Cloud storage price wars! First blood to Google!

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And so it begins. The price war in the cloud. There are few tech companies that would not like you to store all of your files in the cloud, and there are several big names vying for attention. The obvious contenders for the crown are Microsoft with SkyDrive (sorry, OneDrive), Dropbox and Google Drive -- of course there are plenty of others, but these are the names that trip readily off the tongue. As computer users we have become increasingly comfortable with the idea of storing files online; in fact we almost demand it. If an app or service does not offer cloud storage, there are instant complaints about the lack of between device syncing.

But cloud storage does come at a cost. On the face of it, online storage is available free of charge. All of the big names -- and many of the smaller ones -- provide gigabytes, in varying quantities, of space gratis. But for cloud storage to be truly useful, everything needs to be stored there. The 5GB of free space from one provider is not to be sniffed at, but 5GB disappears very quickly. Opt to store all of your photos online, for instance, and the gigabytes will very quickly be eaten up.

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Mozilla's Metro move shows that modern apps belong in the mortuary

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Just a few days ago, Mozilla announced that it would not bother releasing a modern version of Firefox for Windows 8.x -- this in spite of the fact that a team of developers have been working on it for over a year. It seems that the company behind the famous foxy browser regards the modern interface with just about as much disdain as everyone else. So much contempt, in fact, that it can't even bring itself to use the proper terminology: "I know [Metro is] not what Microsoft calls it anymore, but it remains how we talk about it in Mozilla", sneers Johnathan Nightingale, Vice President of Firefox.

Despite acknowledging that Mozilla is no longer "tiny" (far from it, really), Nightingale says that the company needs to focus its attention on those projects that will have the most impact. According to StatCounter, Firefox still manages to grab over 20 percent of the desktop browser market, dropping very slightly to just over 19 percent once tablets are factored in. But moving forward, there will simply be no more work carried out on the modern version of the browser. It is being abandoned like the runt of a litter.

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The most popular stories on BetaNews this past week March 9 -- 15

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This is the week that saw the web celebrating its 25th birthday and Tim Berners-Lee took the opportunity to call for a web bill of rights, which I argued is essential for the future of democracy.

Another week means a fresh batch of security concerns. In Europe, users were warned of the dangers of connecting to public wifi hotspots, while a new report found that cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their techniques. Ian was on hand with advice for anyone trying to tackle or avoid viruses.

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