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Google now displaying tweets in desktop search

The integration began earlier this year with mobile devices.

A partnership between Google and Twitter that has placed tweets in Google search results on mobile devices since earlier this year has now been expanded to the desktop.

Relevant tweets will appear in desktop results for queries performed in English. The search doesn’t need to include the term “twitter” or twitter hashtags — if there are tweets that Google thinks are relevant, it will surface them anyway.

On Friday, for instance, a search for “President Obama” returned recent tweets from Obama’s Twitter account near the top of the page, below a few news articles.

The tweets that appear will include photos and links that may have been contained in the tweet.

Google has provided links to tweets in its search results for a long time, but showing the actual tweets could potentially give a boost to Twitter at a time when it’s struggling to add new users.

Google noted the expansion on Friday in an update to its earlier announcement around the mobile rollout.

The company has said it will make the feature available in other languages besides English.

 

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FIVE things you need to know about Google and Alphabet

A look at what’s changing, what’s not and what it all means for Google and its research

With Google restructuring its business and moving under the umbrella of new parent company Alphabet, executives may be trying to get back some of their old start-up swagger.

The restructuring will bring a lot of changes to what is easily one of the world’s most well-known companies. But company officials haven’t offered any information about the move since co-founder Larry Page offered up a blog post Monday.

So what does all of this mean for users and for the industry?

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said Google’s move is akin to a “middle-aged facelift.” What’s unclear is just what that will entail.

With that in mind, here are the five things you should know about Google’s restructuring:
Don’t worry

Like Google search, Maps or your Android phone? That’s great. No need to worry about them for now.

“I don’t think there will be changes to product,” said Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis. “All the road maps they have in place will continue. At least for the foreseeable future, which is about 18 months in this industry, all the plans Google has had in play will remain.”

It’s simple: Things like search and Android have been the money makers for Google. The company has no reason to shake them up.

“Companies periodically have to go through restructuring to position themselves for the future,” said Scott Strawn, an analyst with IDC. “This isn’t about product. This is just the way the business world works…. I don’t see any real product changes right now.”

Let Google be Google

Now that Google has been trimmed of research projects like autonomous cars, Google Glass, drones and smart contact lenses, the company will be far more focused on core Internet-related businesses.

Google executives will no longer be splitting their attention between search and high-altitude balloons, or between Android and funding startups. Instead, they can focus on the products and services that make money for the company — and that should mean more advances in those areas and more agility against competitors.

“It allows Google, the Internet property, to be more fiscally responsible and focused on what that company does,” said Shimmin. “Because they were pulled in so many different directions, [co-founders] Sergey [Brin] and Larry [Page] had a lot to contend with, in terms of prioritization and coordination. Leaving Google on its own should make the company more successful because executives won’t have to worry about so much else. They won’t have to worry about the success of Google Glass and how they might affect the whole business.”

The restructuring also means that Google’s research projects will get their own executives and their own singular attention.

Relieved of the hefty administrative chores related to managing the Google colossus, the company’s research arm can give more attention to things like Internet connectivity balloons, Google Fi and wearables.

“This new structure could help focus the founders’ attention, and resources, on all of the much smaller companies and technologies that Google has either purchased or developed over the past several years,” said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. “We could also see these ancillary businesses receive more authority to make decisions on their own, which could drive quicker innovation and greater consumer impact.”

Shimmin agreed, adding that Alphabet companies like Google X, which has been behind projects like Glass and driverless cars, will have more freedom under the new business structure.

“They won’t have to worry about pulling resources away from their responsible revenue-making entities,” he said. “Research will have its own set of finances. This lets the big multinational company sit separately, while the small, start-up-like entrepreneurial parts are set free. If they’re going to have the focus to do more research, we’ll see some innovations that have greater vision to them.”

A happier Wall Street?

Wall Street’s big investors are hopeful that the restructuring means they’ll get a clearer look at how the company spends its money and where these different research projects are heading.

For some time, Wall Street has been pushing Google to be more transparent financially. How much is it spending on high-altitude balloons and drones? What is the expected revenue for Google Glass?

The company, despite Wall Street’s insistence, has been mum on the subject. Now, though, that could change.

All of the businesses underneath the Alphabet umbrella should provide more financial information. Alphabet is expected to segment out its financials by its fourth-quarter earnings report, which should make Wall Street happy and could boost Alphabet’s stock.

“This is Google becoming more transparent,” said Kagan. “They were never really transparent and that has been causing them to stumble…. Google is a Silicon Valley creation. Everyone in Silicon Valley loves the young. Google has been growing and getting older, less youthful. This will hopefully help Google look more youthful to investors, workers, users and partners.”

Google’s new chief

As part of the restructuring, Sundar Pichai, who had been a vice president at Google overseeing Android, Chrome and Google apps, has been named CEO of the new trimmer Google.

“This is the man,” said Shimmin. “This is the guy who brought us Android and the guy who has already basically been running their biggest cash cow. He’s very charismatic and he’s definitely [at the] CEO level of competence and swagger that you would expect to see from a company like Google. I think he’s the perfect choice.”

For a man who already has had so much success at Google, Pichai now can run Google’s core businesses without having to figure out how other projects fit in and how to relate them to the board of directors and stock holders.

“With Pichai at the helm, I am hoping to see a Google more focused on all things Google as we’ve known it,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. “Pichai will need to make yet another run at being successful in social media, which has eluded Google so far.”


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Google reports strong earnings, stock jumps 7%

Revenue growth, however, has slowed in recent years

Google’s stock jumped more than 7 percent in the after-market hours on Thursday, after the company reported strong earnings results for the second quarter.

Total income for the period ended June 30 was $3.93 billion, up 17 percent from $3.35 billion in the second quarter of 2014, Google announced Thursday. Excluding certain expenses, Google reported earnings of $6.99, beating analysts’ estimates of $6.71, as polled by the Thomson Financial Network.

The company’s stock was trading at around $620 after Google reported its earnings at the end of trading, up from closing at $579.

Still, Google’s growth has been slowing.

Advances in the Internet giant’s crucial advertising sales have taken a hit the last few quarters. Revenue is still growing, but at a slower rate than in years past, as the company has made new investments in ambitious “moon shot” projects like self-driving cars and Internet balloons in the stratosphere.

The company’s sales for the second quarter were $17.73 billion, up 11 percent, and coming in just shy of analysts’ estimates of $17.75 billion.

But the 11 percent growth rate is the smallest revenue increase reported by the company since 2012.

The company reported mixed results in its ads business. Its paid clicks grew by 18 percent, but the cost-per-click paid by advertisers fell by 11 percent.

The company’s operating expenses, meanwhile, grew by 13 percent, to $6.32 billion.

One concern among investors is that Google is struggling to grow its ad revenue on mobile devices. In comparison to the desktop, ads in mobile search results are smaller, and can yield fewer interactions from users, driving down their price.

Google has tried to attract more users to its ads on mobile by adding more information and functionality to them, like product ratings and store inventory information. Just this week, the company said it was rolling out a new way to let users make purchases directly from the ads in mobile search results.

Google is also competing with a rising number of apps made by other developers built around specific types of searches or online activities. In April, Google made a change to its search algorithm that prioritized sites that had been optimized for mobile. By prioritizing higher quality sites, the effect, dubbed “Mobilegeddon,” was aimed at getting more people to use Google search on mobile.

Google doesn’t break out it’s desktop versus mobile advertising sales. But Google might be making new strides in mobile. In its announcement Thursday, CFO Ruth Porat said mobile “stood out” in the context of the company’s core search results.


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Google to pull Chrome plug on Windows XP at year’s end

Another browser on XP bites the dust

Google on Thursday announced it will shut down support for Chrome on Windows XP at the end of the year.

“We will continue to provide regular updates and security patches to Chrome on XP through the end of 2015,” said Mark Larson, Chrome’s director of engineering, in a short blog post Thursday.

A year and a half ago, Larson pledged to support Chrome on the even-then-aged operating system until “at least April 2015.”

“We know that not everyone can easily switch to a newer operating system,” Larson said of Google’s decision to continue supporting Chrome on XP after the latter’s retirement. “Millions of people are still working on XP computers every day [and] we want those people to have the option to use a browser that’s up-to-date and as safe as possible on an unsupported operating system.”

But enough was apparently enough.
Microsoft called it quits on Windows XP a year ago Tuesday, when it issued the final scheduled security updates for the 2001 OS. (The company made a one-time exception shortly thereafter when it shipped an emergency patch for its Internet Explorer (IE) browser.)

Because Microsoft halted security fixes for IE on Windows XP on April 14, 2014, security professionals urged the OS’s users to switch to another browser. Dropping IE for Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox or Opera Software’s Opera was one way to minimize — but not eliminate — risk, they said.

Neither Mozilla or Opera have publicized end-of-support dates for their browsers on Windows XP.

According to Web metrics vendor Net Applications, approximately 18.5% of all Windows PCs ran XP in March, slightly more than half the 34.5% the OS accounted for in October 2013, when Larson set Chrome’s earliest support demise at this month.

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Google Inbox: A guided tour

This guide compares and contrasts Gmail with Inbox to help you get started with what could become Google’s next-generation email service.

Inbox
Inbox is Google’s new experimental email service that’s currently open to the public to try out, if you request an email invite. It’s meant to present your incoming emails in a way that’s more personally relevant, but it can be a tad confusing learning how to use it. The Inbox UI is not immediately intuitive, but once you get the hang of it, Inbox can be a powerful tool. If you are already familiar with Gmail, this guide compares and contrasts Gmail with Inbox to help you get started with what could become Google’s next-generation email service.

Say hello to Bundles
With Gmail, an algorithm analyzes the contents of your incoming emails to sort them into four label categories: Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates. (There’s a fifth, Forums, which is not activated by default.) 

Inbox categories are referred to as Bundles. There are several more labels/bundles that the Inbox sorting algorithm puts your incoming emails into: Travel, Purchases, Finance, Social, Updates, Forums and Promos.

Tabs out, Timeline in
In the web version of Gmail, the label categories are presented as tabs under which incoming emails are grouped. In the mobile version, you swipe in or tap the three-bar icon to access these categories. With both the web and mobile versions of Inbox, emails that the algorithm doesn’t drop into a pre-existing Bundle, email threads, and Bundles themselves are all shown in a vertically scrolling timeline. Bundles are ordered based on the most currently dated incoming email.

More robust presentation
With Gmail, your emails are simply listed by their subject headings. With Inbox, your emails are shown in a far more robust way. In the website version, uncategorized emails, email threads, and Bundles are shown as a series of horizontal bars. In a Bundle, the horizontal bar lists the sender names or email addresses of the emails that are grouped within it. Email attachments are depicted as large icons. Clicking/tapping the icons for Google Drive or Microsoft Office files, or PDFs, will load most of them into a viewer. Attached pictures or video files, and certain links embedded within the email are shown as thumbnails.

Customization options
In Gmail, you can create a customized label and designate which incoming emails get tagged with it, based on things like sender email addresses or names, subject headings, or keywords in their message bodies). But in the website version of Gmail, these labels cannot be set to appear as tabs alongside the label categories already included with Gmail. With Inbox, not only can you create your own Bundles into which your incoming emails can be grouped, your custom Bundles can also be set to appear on the timeline.

Highlighting or stowing away your emails
In Gmail, when you mark an email to “archive,” it’s removed from the inbox, but stored for later retrieval under the label “All Mail.” Gmail also lets you mark an email or email thread with a star, which then files it under the Starred label. The engineers of Inbox appear to have rearranged Gmail’s archiving and starring functionalities into two features: You can mark an incoming email or email thread as “done” by clicking/tapping the checkmark icon. You can also mark all the emails in a Bundle by clicking/tapping the Sweep icon, the checkmark with three lines. Either way, emails or Bundles marked done are removed from the timeline and filed under the “Done” label.

Snooze alarms
Two new features in Inbox have no equivalents in Gmail. When you “snooze” an email, it’s removed from the timeline and will reappear tomorrow, next week, “someday” (the Inbox algorithm will determine when it should show you the email again), or on another day and time of your choosing. Under the mobile app version of Inbox, you can also set a snoozed email to reappear when you arrive at a location, like your home or office. 
Reminders are simple message alerts you write to yourself, which will appear at the top of the timeline on a day and time that you pick.

What’s missing?
It would be nice to have a one-click button to select all emails and/or Bundles on the timeline, or a button on the timeline to send all emails and/or Bundles to the trash: This seems to be less of an oversight on the part of the Inbox engineers, and more of a way to slow you from throwing away your emails. Why? So that Google’s algorithms can continue to sort through your unread emails, we presume. 
Likewise, the Inbox mobile app won’t let you trash an email, email thread or Bundle by swiping its horizontal bar on the timeline off the screen. (Swiping will only let you either mark an email/email thread as done or to set it to be snoozed. Swiping a Bundle will mark all the emails within it as done.)


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How Google avoids downtime

Hint: It doesn’t aim for perfection in keeping Google cloud, apps up

Google offers lots of services and it has pretty good reliability. How does the company do it?

Much of that is up to Ben Treynor, Google’s vice president of engineering, and founder of the company’s site reliability team. And he’s developed an interesting approach at Google for thinking about reliability.

People may assume that the vendor is aiming for Google Apps and its other services to be up and available 100% of the time. Sure that may be the goal, but Treynor is realistic. Each Google product has a service level agreement (SLA) that dictates how much downtime the product can have in a given month or year. Take 99.9% uptime, for example: That allows for 43 minutes of downtime per month, or about 8 hours and 40 minutes per year. That 8 hours and 40 minutes is what Treynor refers to as an “error budget.”

Google product managers don’t have to be perfect – they just have to be better than their SLA guarantee. So each product team at Google has a “budget” of errors it can make. Basically, they just can’t make more mistakes than what the SLA allows for.

Treynor explains that in a traditional site reliability model there is a fundamental disconnect between site reliability engineers (SREs) and the product managers. Product managers want to keep adding services to their offerings, but the SREs don’t like changes because that opens the door to more potential problems. This “error budget” model addresses that issue, though, by uniting the priorities of the SREs and product teams.

FUN FACT: Treynor collects cool cars
If the product adheres to the SLA’s uptime promise, then the product team is allowed to launch new features. If the product is outside of its SLA, then no new features are allowed to be rolled out until the reliability improves.

By putting the onus on the product developers to architect reliable systems, it’s a win-win for everyone. SREs get to have reliable systems, developers get to add features and users don’t experience downtime (hopefully). Having a system of error budgets – instead of mandating 100% uptime – gives developers and engineers some leeway, while more closely aligning the priorities of developers and site reliability workers. Watch a video of Treynor explaining the process here.

It seems to work. According to tracking firm CloudHarmony, Google’s IaaS cloud computing platform had some of the best uptime statistics among the major vendors last year. See more details of how Google compared to Amazon, Microsoft and others here. Of course outages still do happen; Google Compute Engine (GCE) suffered one this month, in fact.


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Even Apple and Google can’t protect users from inherent mobile app risks

To paraphrase a phrase, there is no such thing as a free app.

Yes, there are hundreds of thousands out there that won’t cost you a cent to download. But they still extract a price. The price, at a minimum, is information about you. As more than one expert has said, “You are the payment.” And that payment is not risk-free.

The large majority of mobile apps, even those vetted through Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store, are (with apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein) “getting to know you, getting to know all about you,” in exchange for helping you tune your instrument, see your way in the dark, find a new restaurant and any number of other services.

Except the goal of that knowledge is commercial, not romantic. The developers of those apps are selling information about you to analysts and marketers information that, knowingly or not, you are volunteering to give them.

That, in the view of many mobile users, is not necessarily risky if all it means is getting some targeted ads for things that already interest them. And there are apps available that are even designed to protect your privacy among them Telegram, Wickr and Confide for text messages and Snapchat for photos that delete what you sent in seconds or minutes.

But users may not be aware of how much more interested purveyors of malware are in them than they were even a couple of years ago.

The Mobile Security Threat Report from Sophos, released at this week’s Mobile World Congress, reports that while the first mobile malware appeared 10 years ago, it has exploded in the past two years, responding to mobile subscriptions now totaling about 7 billion and app downloads of about 110 billion just from Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store.

The company, which has tracked Android malware samples since 2004, reported that they remained relatively negligible until 2012, and since then have grown to more than 650,000.

And even with apps free of malware, users may not know how deep the collection goes, and how their information (about friends and business associates, their identity and their financial transactions) can fall into the wrong hands.

Domingo Guerra, cofounder and president of mobile app risk management vendor Appthority, contends that this is a greater risk than malware right now. While he agrees that malware is “growing exponentially,” he said it remains, “a sliver of the app ecosystem. Having analyzed over 2.3 million apps for our customers, we have found that less than 0.4% of apps have malware, while 79% had other kinds of enterprise risk.

In its Winter 2014 App Reputation Report, Appthority analyzed 400 apps the top 100 free and top 100 paid for each of the two most most popular mobile platforms, iOS and Android ndash; and reported multiple “risky” behaviors, most involving the privacy of users.

Of the free apps analyzed from both platforms, 70% allow location tracking, 56% identify the user’s ID (UDID), 31% access users’ contact list or address book, 69% use single sign-on, 53% share data with ad networks and analytics and 51% offer in-app purchasing.

That last item in-app purchasing can be especially risky, and expensive. Guerra said a growing trend is for apps to, “leverage in-app purchasing to monetize. For example, Candy Crush Saga, one of the most popular free apps, is also one of the top-grossing apps.”

Guerra said Apple recently settled a case with the Federal Trade Commission about in-app purchases specifically for children’s apps. “Parents thought they were authorizing one in-app-purchase transaction, but instead authorized any transaction during a 30-minute window,” he said.

“This resulted in many ‘unauthorized’ charges, as kids used in-app-purchases to buy additional content, features, virtual goods etc. And in-app-purchases can be as high as $99 per transaction.”

That does not mean paid apps are not invasive. “While 95% of free apps exhibited at least one risky behavior, so did 80% of the top paid apps,” Appthority reported. “Developers of paid and free apps are seeking new methods of generating revenue and unfortunately, it comes at the cost of the user’s privacy.”

Security vendor McAfee reported similar findings recently. In a recent post on the McAfee Blog, Lianne Caetano wrote that company researchers, “found that privacy-invading apps are more common than ever before, and beyond violating your digital space, some even contain malware and other suspicious characteristics.”

According to the report, 82% of the apps read the UDID; 64% know the wireless carrier; 59% track the last known location; 55% continuously track location; 26% read the apps used; 26% know the SIM card number; and 36% know the user’s account information.

While some tracking is inevitable, given that users expect certain apps to guide them to specific locations, “the real question is: What are these apps doing with all of the information that they collect? … some of these apps may be oversharing that information with third parties or using it to inform more nefarious groups,” Caetano wrote.

And some of the promises made about privacy may not be rigorously enforced. Among Apple’s latest rules for developers is that they should not request a UDID as a method of user tracking.

“However, 26% of top iOS apps still make requests for UDID, and on any device that is running an older OS than iOS7, the apps are still able to get the UDID directly from the device,” said Guerra.

Beyond the privacy risks, Guerra said many apps, “are communicating without encryption, so intercepting this data in motion is also easy.” A hacker doesn’t need to hack a device to get this data; they could simply sniff the network.

In spite of such multiple warnings about both privacy invasion and malware from mobile apps, there is so far no perceptible consumer backlash about the risks of mobile apps. That may be in large measure because, as Scott Matsumoto, principal consultant at Cigital, puts it, “there is no backlash because people don’t know it’s happening.”

But Matsumoto also said data collection on users is not a black-and-white issue. Some free apps, like those from a bank, collect information so they know users’ typical habits and can tell more easily if someone is trying to impersonate them.

Dan Dearing, vice president of marketing at MobileSpaces, agreed. “The problem is complicated,” he said. “You might want apps to see your contacts, to make your life easier, but not upload them to their server. But then the policy choices that a user needs to make get too complicated.”

There are things consumers and enterprises do to improve their privacy. Among the most basic are to buy apps only from reliable sources that have been vetted by companies like Google and Apple, and to take the time to limit the amount of tracking an app can do, through privacy and/or preference settings.

“Apps are generally collecting more information than they need,” Guerra said. “Why does a flashlight app need my location, calendar, and address book? The issue this creates is that these databases are not always built securely and can become targets for criminals or governments recall NSA’s comments about using Angry Birds data to track user data.”

Strong passwords and strong encryption also help, especially with handheld devices that can be lost or stolen.

Bogdan “Bob” Botezatu, senior e-threat analyst at Bitdefender, said encryption is crucial, since, “mobile phones and tablets spend the bulk of their time on unsecure, untrusted networks.”

Botezatu also said users should, “limit themselves to installing the applications they need, most of which come from trustworthy publishers. The smaller the number of applications installed, the smaller the attack surface.”


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Blogger beat: Google’s cozy $3.2B Nest buy – and hopes it won’t be too cozy

Google has been in smart home startup’s picture for a long time

Google’s $3.2 billion buyout of smart thermostat and fire alarm system company Nest caught many by surprise, but those who have been following Nest recognize that this is a deal that was meant to be.

After all, Google has been a significant investor in Nest, leading its B and C rounds on the way to $80 million in overall venture funding. What’s , co-founder Tony Fadell (of iPod invention fame) is a former Apple colleague of Andy Rubin, who built Android and now heads up Google’s robotics team.

Here’s what reporters/bloggers are saying about Google and Nest now that the companies are formally pairing up:

NYT’s Quentin Hardy: It’s not all about the money…it’s about algorithms and girth
Rather than the usual start-up founders, made suddenly rich after an acquisition, Nest’s Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers are both Apple veterans who had made decent fortunes before they started Nest. This isn’t just about the money, though in various funding rounds Nest has probably raised less than one-tenth of what Google is now paying (including funding from Google’s investment arm).

What Nest is getting is a like-minded corporate parent with muscle. Its business is based on algorithms, which Google knows how to write. Also, Nest’s competitors are very large multinational companies. Even a start-up as clever as Nest might not have been able to outlast those giants, but Google can. Unlike other start-ups, like Snapchat, which turned down its own multibillion-dollar acquisition offer from Facebook, Nest very likely needs that corporate girth to grow.

Wired’s Christina Bonnington: Google everywhere, really everywhere
The announcement sparked much discussion across the web, as many joked about Google+ integration with Nest’s products and Google Ads showing up when you turn off your smoke alarm. But according to a statement Fadell delivered to TechCrunch, Nest will only use customer information for “providing and improving Nest’s products and services,” indicating it will not be used for Google’s larger advertising schemes.

That said, Google could certainly use Nest data to hone its online ads and other web services, changing its behavior according to when you’re at home and even where you happen to be in your home. The company’s Google Now service is already privy to such information.

Pocketlint’s Jake Smith also ponders Google’s ubiquity
It’s obvious Google has plans to be connected within your home, which has some people worried. Following the announcement of Google’s acquisition, many took to Twitter poking fun. Some jokingly said Google will target advertisements when your Nest Protect alarm goes off during a fire, or that you can’t change your Nest thermostat temperature until you join Google+.

Rogers tried to dampen privacy fears by saying no customer data will be shared with Google: “Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services. We’ve always taken privacy seriously and this will not change.”

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber: Google’s really a hardware company, too
One of Alan Kay’s numerous oft-cited quotations is, “People who are really serious about software should partner with an OEM in Asia.” No, wait, that’s not what he said. What he said is, “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” That’s never been true of Google, putting aside Motorola (which they seemingly acquired for its patent portfolio than for its phone hardware acumen) and the niche Google Search Appliance.

In a sense, Google has always followed Kay’s adage. The software that Google was most serious about — web search, Gmail, and so forth — ran in the cloud, and with the company’s legendary data centers, they effectively built their own hardware.

Nest co-founder Matt Rogers: Fear not Apple users

Will Nest continue to support iOS so I can have the Nest app on my iPhone or iPad?

Yes, absolutely. We’ll continue supporting iOS, Android and modern web browsers so you can check in on your home and control the temperature from wherever you are.

Though Gigaom’s Katie Fehrenbacher says Apple itself might need to worry:
There’s been an urban legend swirling in the Valley for years that Nest would one day be bought by Apple, and Fadell would return to the fold of the iPhone maker. Even if that was completely untrue, Nest is one of the most Apple-like and Apple-inspired startups out there. Not only do its founders and key execs (like Apple’s former top lawyer) formerly hail from Apple, but it adopted many of the operating practices of Apple. It would have been a good fit with Apple and it would have given Apple a foothold in the connected home devices market.
on Winners/Losers in the deal

VentureBeat’s Devindra Hardawar: Google’s vision of the future
The Nest acquisition also seems to fit in well alongside Google’s recent moves to snap up several major robotics companies. If anything, Google is now positioning itself to be the centerpiece of all of your future technology interactions. Imagine waking up to a perfectly warmed house, thanks to your Nest; being driven to work in a car using Google’s self-driving technology and Android dashboard; and getting home just as your Google robot has finished walking the dog.

I’m not saying all of Google’s bets on the future will pan out, but at least it isn’t afraid to try.


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Google relaxes access controls to Apps docs

Google relaxes access controls to Apps docs
People without a Google Account will be able to view documents stored in the Apps suite

Adding convenience possibly at the expense of security, Google will now let people without a Google Account view documents stored in its Apps cloud suite.

The move is meant to simplify how Apps customers share files with outsiders.

Until now, Apps customers could only grant document access to users with a Google Account. People who didn’t have an account or who weren’t logged in to their account couldn’t get into the documents even when invited to do so via an emailed link from an Apps user.

That will no longer be the case, Google said on Monday.

The change applies to Word processing files created with Docs, presentations created with Slides and charts created with Drawings, which are all Google cloud productivity apps that are included in Apps, the company’s workplace collaboration and communication suite.

“As a result of this change, files shared outside your domain to an email address not linked to an existing Google Account can be viewed without having to sign in or create a new Google Account,” reads the Google blog post.

These recipients will only be able to view the file. They won’t be able to edit or add comments to it, actions that still require the recipient to be logged into a Google Account.

Google warns that “because no sign in is required, anyone may view the file with this sharing link.” In other words, the file could end up being viewed by unintended users who somehow get their hands on the link. This possibility is erased if the recipient creates a Google Account, at which point the link becomes unusable for others.

The company started to roll out the feature on Monday to Apps customers that are on the “rapid release” track, which delivers new and changed functions to administrators and end users as soon as they go live. The feature will later reach Apps customers on the “scheduled release” track, which delivers updates once a week and makes them available to administrators first.

Apps administrators will be able to disable this feature for their users on their domain control console.


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Rivals to again review Google’s promises in EU antitrust case

The EU competition chief expects a resolution of the case involving search results for Google services ‘by next Spring’

The European Union is to give Google’s competitors a chance to review the company’s latest proposals to avoid antitrust sanctions.

Google is accused of directing users to its own services in search results rather than those of competitors. In its first proposals to the European Commission to settle the antitrust case, it suggested labeling its own services as such in search results, but competitors were extremely unhappy with this. Some said it would even make matters worse.

The latest proposals from Google are significantly improved, according to the E.U.’s competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia.

Almunia said a settlement is possible, and the best solution for consumers. At a special hearing in the European Parliament on Tuesday, he said he hopes to resolve the case by “next spring.” However, he did not rule out the possibility of sanctions if Google’s proposals prove unsatisfactory.

The first review process, or market test, led Almunia to doubt whether it would be possible to reach an agreement on the measures to which Google must commit.

“Many respondents during the market test said that in this Google proposal the links to rivals that would be displayed for certain categories of specialized search services were not visible enough. In my opinion, the new proposal makes these links significantly more visible.”

Google is keen to bring the case to a close, according to the company’s senior vice president and general counsel, Kent Walker.

“Given the feedback the European Commission received on our first proposal, they have insisted on further, significant changes to the way we display search results. While competition online is thriving, we’ve made the difficult decision to agree to their requirements in the interests of reaching a settlement,” Walker said.

The case has been ongoing since November 2010, but Google is also facing other investigations in the European Union. It’s Motorola Mobility unit was sent a formal complaint by the European Commission for abusing its dominant position by imposing injunctions against Apple for the use of standards-essential patents.

Another probe that is at a preliminary stage concerns allegations received about some aspects of the Android ecosystem. Almunia said on Tuesday that he had not reached a decision on whether to launch a formal investigation into Android.


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Cloud fight keeps Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Rackspace clamoring for enterprise customers

At a Summit for its cloud services division, Amazon tries to make the case its cloud is more than ready for the enterprise

Amazon Web Services is attempting to distance itself from other cloud providers by enhancing its services to incorporate the differentiating features of its competitors.

But as Amazon sets its sights more keenly on the enterprise market, recent moves by Microsoft, Google and Rackspace to improve their infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud offerings are creating an increasingly competitive cloud market, experts say.

“There’s a war going on in the IaaS market,” says Paul Burns, an analyst at Neovise, a boutique research firm focusing on the cloud. Today in New York, Amazon hosted one of 13 Summits it plans to hold across the world in the coming weeks, touting the success of its platform and trotting out examples of enterprise customers using its services. And it provided the backdrop for Amazon to discuss the recent advancements of its services.

AWS, a division of the Amazon.com e-commerce site, began in 2006 with two basic cloud-computing services: scalable storage (through Amazon Simple Storage Service or S3) and virtual machines on demand (through Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud or EC2). Amazon CTO Werner Vogels says AWS now incorporates 33 major services and products in its cloud. He announced today that S3 now stores more than 2 trillion objects in its cloud, as of last week, and it serves, at its peak, 1.1 million requests for those files per second. The company has hundreds of thousands of customers in 190 countries, and it has reduced prices 31 times since launching in 2007. “And we will continue to do so,” Vogels says.

In the last month, Microsoft and Google have made significant announcements for their AWS-competing products. Microsoft made its on-demand virtual machines (which include both Linux and Windows OSes) generally available last week. The week before, the beta tag came off of Google Compute Engine, which offers pay-as-you-go virtual machines.

Burns, the Neovise analyst, says there are two battles going on in the IaaS market right now. One is for basic services: compute, network and storage. With Microsoft and Google making their IaaS offerings more open to customers, they’re adding competitive pressure to AWS for some of the company’s original services, he says. There is a second battle for higher-level services, like databases, security, disaster recovery and running business applications, though. And on that front, “AWS is the only game in town,” Burns says. “They’re walking away with the market on the higher end of the stack.”

The breadth and depth of AWS services it offers in its cloud all on an on-demand basis are unmatched in the industry, he says. AWS has multiple different database offerings, from its Relational Database Service (RDS) to DynamoDB, a non-relational key-value store database. Last year, the company rolled out a data warehousing offering named RedShift, and the company has a network of Elastic Load Balancers (ELBs), Elastic Block Storage (EBS), and application and management tools for deploying applications and configuring cloud architectures. Its partner system allows customers to run enterprise-grade applications from SAP, Microsoft, Oracle and dozens of other companies in its cloud.

Burns says Amazon could have the potential to take some hits from other providers on the lower end of the market where it is facing increased competition, and there is a growing market of IaaS providers each looking to carve out a niche of its own in the market on these basic services. Microsoft, for example, claims it is one of the only companies to offer a true “hybrid cloud” offering between its on-premises Windows Server and Microsoft Azure cloud. Rackspace offers “fanatical support” and has been broadening its database offerings recently; Joyent and ProfitBricks are among the cloud providers that focus on high-performance computing, while a company like FireHost emphasizes security in its cloud.

AWS is responding in turn, though. During the past few months AWS has begun incorporating the differentiating features of competitors’ services into its own cloud offering. In the past few months AWS has rolled out the following updates, for example:

-Trusted Advisor: A service that monitors customers usage, recommends ways to save money by using more appropriately sized resources and provides advice on how to improve security and reliability. AWS launched Trusted Advisor last year, but recently updated it with a new user interface and more detailed reporting information for customers. During the AWS Summit, Vogels said AWS has helped customers save $22 million through Trusted Advisor. “We’re actually advising our customers to spend less,” he says, explaining that customers who more efficiently use AWS resources will be more successful and be AWS customers longer. This service flies in the face of not just Rackspace, which emphasizes customer support, but also an ecosystem of third-party tools that provide real-time analytics of AWS services.

-AWS OpsWorks: One of the lingering questions about Amazon’s moves in recent years: Is the company turning its market-leading IaaS offering into a platform as a service (PaaS)? The biggest difference between the two is that IaaS is where applications run, whereas PaaS is generally where applications are developed.

AWS has a variety of PaaS-like offerings in its cloud, with the latest being OpsWorks, which makes it easier to configure AWS resources to run applications in its cloud. These complement services like AWS CloudFormation, which is helpful for tying various AWS services together, and Elastic Beanstalk, which helps users uploading applications to its cloud.

-CloudHSM: In an effort to beef its security practices, Amazon announced CloudHSM (Hardware Security Module) last month, an appliance used to store encryption keys that only AWS users have access to. The month before, AWS announced that the default setting for new virtual machines in the EC2 service would be “virtual private clouds” (VPC), meaning they are logically isolated virtual machines through network segmentation. Vogels said today at the Summit that security, and encryption especially, would be a focus of the company’s moving forward, and the HSM and VPC announcements seem right in line with that.

That doesn’t include a variety of other announcements the company has made, including new features for its RDS database, allowing users to scale up and set predefined input/output per second (IOPS) of up to 30,000 per database instance. AWS rolled out support for Hyper-V virtualization platform from Microsoft for its storage gateway, which work to synchronize data between customers’ premises and the Amazon cloud. Just today at the Summit, AWS announced new analytics tools for its DynamoDB non-relational database, and new encryption features for Oracle relational databases running in its cloud.

Mark Levitt, who tracks the enterprise cloud market for Strategy Analytics and attended the AWS Summit today in New York, says Amazon trotted out enterprise customers to discuss how they’re using AWS cloud services. Representatives from Bristol-Meyers Squibb, General Electric and NASDAQ all spoke about their use of the Amazon cloud. Following up on recent reports that the CIA is paying $600 million to Amazon to help build a private cloud, Levitt says the product enhancements, combined with the customer case studies, give more credibility to Amazon making the case that it is a viable public cloud provider for the enterprise market.

 


 

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Google Fiber divides users into ‘the fast’ and ‘the furious’

Google’s fiber push is making the ‘have nots’ mad. That’s a good thing.

Every day is a beautiful day in the fiberhood.

The chosen ones in Kanas City, Austin and Provo are getting Internet connections that are 100 times faster than average at very low prices, thanks to Google’s Fiber project.

Unfortunately, you and I don’t live there. So we’re stuck in a bandwidth backwater.

As Internet trolls like to say: U mad, bro?

If you don’t live in one of these cities, you should be mad. Google’s Fiber project demonstrates that very high Internet speeds are possible and nobody except Google has the vision or courage to make it happen.

One Internet bandwidth provider has admitted the ability to provide much faster speeds to consumers, but has decided not to. Time Warner Cable CFO Irene Esteves said in February that Time Warner is perfectly capable of “delivering 1 gigabit, 10 gigabit-per-second” Internet connectivity to consumers, but that the company just doesn’t “see the need of delivering that to consumers.” I believe Esteves’ statement accurately represents the thinking of most existing Internet providers.

Now are you mad?

The issue isn’t really that consumers don’t want faster Internet speeds. And it’s not that cable providers don’t care.

It’s really a chicken-and-egg problem.
Why your Internet is so slow

Average U.S. Internet speeds rank 12th or 13th in the world, which is pathetic for the country that invented the Internet and contains Silicon Valley, Hollywood and data-hungry Wall Street and a $15 trillion annual GDP.

Other countries are pulling away. A Sony-backed service recently announced 2Gbps download speeds in Tokyo for $51 per month — twice the speed of Google Fiber and 200 times faster than the U.S. average and at a lower price than Google Fiber.

Now are you mad?

Gigabit fiber Internet access is affordable, but only if everybody gets it. But everybody isn’t going to get it unless it’s affordable.

And that’s why we can’t have nice things.

At least, that’s what Esteves really means when she says that users don’t want faster speeds. Providing consumers with the faster speeds Time Warner currently provides to some business customers is very expensive because only a few customers pay for it all.

It’s not that Time Warner Cable’s customers don’t want fast Internet. They don’t want Time Warner Cable’s price for fast Internet.

However, if you lay fiber to every home in a city, and if a majority of homes sign up to use it, the cost can come way down. And that’s what Google Fiber is all about. It’s about making a bet on the future and investing heavily to bootstrap widespread use and high demand.

Google’s Fiber project involves the actual digging of trenches and the actual laying of fiber optic cables all the way to homes. There are innumerable logistical and legal hurdles to overcome for each city.

Google is already providing the service in Kansas City, and is still expanding into new neighborhoods there. The company recently announced that it would roll it out to Austin, Texas, then Provo, Utah.

Google offers consumers three “plans.” The first is Internet comparable in speed to ordinary broadband, and it’s free. The second is 1Gbps speeds and 1 TB of Google Drive space for $70 per month. The third adds TV plus a 2TB DVR box for a total of $120 per month.

Getting Google Fiber service is just like getting cable Internet service (except 100 times faster). You get a Wi-Fi capable router, and you plug your PC into it via Ethernet for the full-speed experience.

Google is spending $84 million to build the infrastructure necessary to serve 149,000 Kanas City customers. That’s $563.75 per customer, for you math majors. (If that sounds like a lot of money, consider that the infrastructure gives you 100 times faster Internet for the rest of your life for the price of an iPad. Still, customers don’t have to pay for it up front — Google is doing that.) And it gets cheaper per customer with each new person that signs up.

Goldman Sachs estimates that it would cost $140 billion to deploy Google Fiber nationwide.

To put that in perspective, that one-time investment would give entrepreneurs in every state of the union a radical advantage globally, ignite an economic boom comparable to the nationwide deployment of electricity 100 years ago and enable incredible new services — all for less than what the U.S. loses each year in offshore tax havens.

Now are you mad?
Why mad users are the best thing about Google Fiber

It’s unlikely that Google will lay fiber to every city in the US, and less likely still that Google will do that Internationally. And it doesn’t need to.

Google Fiber is already “inspiring” ISPs to boost speeds and investment. Google may be triggering an arms race for high-speed Internet connectivity, because it’s re-setting expectations about how fast the Internet should be.

This increasingly matters as HD movies and TV becomes more mainstream. Right now, Netflix alone consumes one-third of all the download bandwidth in the U.S. at peak times.

Hollywood and other movies-on-demand services had better get busy offering compelling services. More than half the upload bandwidth in the U.S. is consumed by BitTorrent.

I think the minority of providers who figure out how to offer vastly higher speeds at very low cost will survive, and the Time Warners will get out of the ISP business for good.

No, AT&T didn’t announce gigabit fiber in Austin

Hours after Google announced that Austin would get the Google Fiber treatment, AT&T (which is headquartered in Dallas) announced that it would build a gigabit fiber network of its own in Austin.

Or, at least that’s what the news reports would have you believe. But if you look at the press release, it was really a passive-aggressive bit of whining about Google getting special treatment from Austin authorities.

Instead of announcing a plan to build fiber optic connectivity in Austin, AT&T actually announced that “it is prepared to build an advanced fiber optic infrastructure in Austin,” according to the announcement press release.

“Prepared to build” does not mean “plans to build.”

Then the whining began: AT&T’s plans “anticipate it will be granted the same terms and conditions as Google on issues such as geographic scope of offerings, rights of way, permitting, state licenses and any investment incentives.”

The release ended with this zinger: “Our potential capital investment will depend on the extent we can reach satisfactory agreements.”

In other words, the whole reason for AT&T’s press release was not to announce the intention to build fiber optic gigabit Internet connectivity, but instead to complain about preferential treatment of Google by local authorities.

AT&T has a point. Local, state and government regulations and restrictions are a big part of why our Internet speeds are so slow. And that’s yet another reason why Google Fiber is so brilliant.
Google is simply smarter than AT&T

Rather than approaching individual cities and begging them for permission to lay fiber, Google held a big contest and said, in effect: “OK, we’re going to pick a city to gain a massive economic boost. You want it? What are you going to do for us?”

Then they started choosing from among the 1,100 applicant cities based on which ones were most serious about making Google Fiber possible.

In fact, Google Fiber triggered a gold rush of entrepreneurial investment and activity.

One enterprising local even rents their Google Fiber-connected home at a premium on AirBnB, and calls it “Hacker House.”

Google Fiber is creating a lot of hype and attention. It’s making people realize that affordable, ultra high-speed Internet connectivity is possible.

It’s making people look at their local governments and ISPs and ask: Why can’t I have this?

But mostly, Google Fiber is making people mad. And that’s the right emotion in the face of the incredible waste of time and money and opportunity that takes place every day that goes by while we’re held back by yesterday’s Internet speeds.

But let’s not just get mad. Let’s get fiber.


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Google-led group warns of ‘patent privateers

BlackBerry, Red Hat, Google and EarthLink say businesses use patent trolls as mercenaries to harass the competition

Patent trolls are increasingly becoming a weapon some companies can use to harm or harass their competitors, according to public comments jointly submitted today to the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department by lawyers for Google, Red Hat, BlackBerry and EarthLink.

The comment detail what the companies say is a rising tide of so-called “patent privateering” and called for a large-scale government probe of the matter. The term refers to the practice of selling patents to a patent-assertion entity (or patent troll), which enables the troll to turn around and sue a competitor without the original company having to expose itself to negative publicity or countersuits.

Google senior competition counsel Matthew Bye explained why the process works in an official blog post.

“Trolls use the patents they receive to sue with impunity – since they don’t make anything, they can’t be countersued. The transferring company hides behind the troll to shield itself from litigation, and sometimes even arranges to get a cut of the money extracted by troll lawsuits and licenses,” he wrote.

What’s more, according to the companies, patent privateering can be used to circumvent fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing agreements – exposing businesses that made good-faith decisions to create products based on a given technology to infringement suits by trolls.

Google and its co-signers urged an FTC investigation into the practice, saying that the extent of patent privateering and its effects is difficult to quantify without additional information.

“The secrecy in which PAEs cloak their activities exacerbates all of these concerns and leaves the public without information needed to access the likely competitive effects of patent outsourcing practices,” the companies said.

Google recently announced an Open Patent Non-Assertion Pledge, saying that it will agree never to sue over the use of some designated patents unless attacked first. The first 10 patents in the program all relate to MapReduce, a big data processing model.


 

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Industry coalition objects to Google’s domain names applications

FairSearch.org, which is backed by Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle, said Google could get a competitive advantage from generic industry terms

An industry coalition with backing from Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle has objected to Google’s application for certain top-level domain strings.

FairSearch.org said it has filed objections with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) over Google’s applications for generic top-level domain (gTLD) strings including “.search,” “.fly” and “.map.”

By accepting Google’s application, ICANN will enable the search giant to gain an unfair competitive advantage against other members of the community “through the improper grant of a perpetual monopoly of generic industry terms to a single company.”

Google, which controls over 79 percent of search queries in the U.S. and over 90 percent market share in Europe, doesn’t need more help against its competitors by giving it control over who gets access to new domain names, FairSearch said on Tuesday.

The industry coalition lobbies policy makers following what it describes as “growing evidence that Google is abusing its search monopoly to thwart competition.”

ICANN’s policy to open generic domain names to private parties has already attracted criticism from other fronts.

Publishing industry groups and bookseller Barnes & Noble have, for example, objected to Amazon.com’s application for top-level domain strings, including for “.book” and “.read.”

In its application for the “.book” gTLD, Amazon wrote that “.BOOK will be a single entity registry, with all domains registered to Amazon for use in pursuit of Amazon’s business goals.” There will be no resellers and market in “.book” domains, and Amazon will strictly control the use of “.book” domains, it added.

Placing generic domains in private hands is anticompetitive, and will allow already dominant, well-capitalized companies to expand and entrench their market power, Scott Turow, president of Authors Guild in New York, wrote in a letter to ICANN.

Google has applied for a large number of gTLDs including some related to its existing brands.

Specific new strings do not have inherent value from which applicants can derive competitive advantage, as Internet users tend to use the topAlevel domain names they are already comfortable with, particularly “.com,” Google wrote in a letter to ICANN earlier this month. A new gTLD operator will need to make significant investments to raise awareness of the TLD, and persuade users to make use of the new domains, it added.

Google has, however, said in the letter that it has identified four of its current single registrant applications that it will revise: “.app,” “.blog,” “.cloud” and “.search,” as these have been identified by governments and others in the community as being potentially valuable and useful to the entire industry.

“We also believe that for each of these terms we can create a strong set of user experiences and expectations without restricting the string to use with Google products,” it added, leading to speculation that the company may agree to open up these four domains to non-Google products.

“It’s possible that Google could access the data that flows over any other website who asks to register under a gTLD owned by Google, giving it even greater advantage over all other companies on the Internet,” FairSearch said. Google did not immediately comment on FairSearch’s objections before ICANN.

 


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Chrome 24 vs. Firefox 18 – head to head

A quick look at the two latest versions of the biggest non-Microsoft browsers on the market

With major new releases of both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox happening within days of each other, it’s been a big week for the browser market. Chrome 24 began to be rolled out to stable channel users via Google’s automatic background updater on Thursday, while Mozilla announced the release version of Firefox 18 on Tuesday.
Chrome vs. Firefox

FURTHER READING: Google revs up Chrome, crushes bugs

FIREFOX 19 BETA: Firefox getting built-in HTML5-based PDF viewer to improve security

But which browser got the biggest upgrade? Who’s the fastest? The safest? The easiest to use? We took a look at Chrome 24 and Firefox 18 to try and find out.
CHROME 24

Both Google and Mozilla highlighted performance boosts in their latest releases. Google said during Chrome 24’s beta phase that the browser had achieved a more than 26% improvement in JavaScript speed over the course of the past year, and Chrome has always had the reputation of being snappy and responsive.

But that isn’t all that’s been added to Chrome 24. New support for MathML, or math markup language, means that it’s a lot easier to display mathematical notation on web pages, and a Flash update will keep that plug-in working on Chrome for the near future. (It should be noted that MathML has been natively supported on Firefox for some time.)

Google made a number of security updates in Chrome 24, as well — 11 out of 24 of which were rated “high” risk by the browser’s security team. Three of those highly rated vulnerabilities resulted in bug bounties for their discoverers, with one prize of $4,000 and two of $1,000 handed out.
FIREFOX 18

One of the knocks against Firefox has long been its supposedly poky performance compared to the fleet Chrome, but Mozilla is apparently working to change that in Firefox 18 — the new IonMonkey JavaScript compiler should provide a 25% speed boost compared to the previous JavaScript engine used by the browser. Whether that’s enough to close the gap on Chrome isn’t clear, but it’s still a substantial improvement, if Mozilla’s figures are correct.

Firefox 18 also packs several new features like support for Retina display resolutions on sufficiently recent versions of OS X, and the underpinnings of support for the developing webRTC standard, which is designed to enable real-time communication via the Web.
SO WHO’S ON TOP?

Broadly, it’s still a matter of personal preference — Chrome’s cleaner design, blazing speed and instant updating will be more attractive to some, while Firefox’s flexibility and customization options will tempt others.

In this latest round of updates, however, it seems like Firefox has received more of a boost — the new JavaScript engine should help address one of the most common complaints about the browser, potentially giving it a more compelling user experience.


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