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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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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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Mozilla reports flat revenue from Google-Firefox search deal+

Revenue growth stalled in 2013 but expenses climbed 42%

Mozilla today said that 2013 revenue from its deal with Google was flat compared to the year before, as was its income overall, even as expenses jumped by 42%.

The flat-lining of revenue was in stark contrast to its previous financial statement, which had shown a bullish increase of 88%.

The Mozilla Foundation’s 2013 revenue was $314 million, up half a percentage point from 2012, according to the financial statement released Friday (download PDF).

Mozilla Foundation is the non-profit that oversees Mozilla Corp., the commercial arm that develops the Firefox browser and Firefox OS mobile operating system.

Virtually all the foundation’s 2013 revenue came from search providers, which paid Mozilla to place their engines as the default in Firefox. In 2013, those royalty payments accounted for 97% of the year’s income, a slightly-lower portion than in 2012.

Royalty revenue totaled $306 million in 2013, up $3 million, for a very small increase of just 0.5%. In 2012, Mozilla’s royalty payments had doubled over the year before due to a new contract with Google, its global search partner, that was signed in late 2011. At the time, reports circulated that claimed the contract guaranteed Mozilla $1 billion over the three-year deal.

Payments from Google in 2013 were approximately $275 million, an increase of $1 million from 2012. Google’s contribution accounted for 88% of Mozilla’s total revenue last year.

As it has in the past, Mozilla did not name its largest source of income, saying only that, “Mozilla entered into a contract with a search engine provider for royalties which expires November 2014. Approximately 90% of royalty revenue for 2013 and 2012, was derived from this contract.”

But that “search provider” was Google.
On Wednesday, Mozilla announced that it had not renewed the Google contract, and had signed with Yahoo for the U.S. market. Yahoo will replace Google as the default Firefox search engine early next month, probably when Firefox 34 launches during the week of Dec. 1. Additionally, Mozilla said it has agreed to other deals in Russia and China, and would try to forge partnerships with search providers on a country-by-country basis.

But because of Mozilla’s financial release timetable, the results of the new monetary strategy won’t be apparent until November 2016.

Most of Mozilla’s expenses — 67% in 2013 — were devoted to software development, which increased from $143 million in 2012 to $197 million last year, a jump of 38%. Another line item, branding and marketing, increased by even more, 60%, to $46 million in 2013.

Overall expenses increased 42% year-over-year. Along with flat revenue, that halved Mozilla’s “profit” — it tagged the line as “net cash provided by operating activities” — to $36 million.

But the foundation’s financials remained in good shape. Cash, cash equivalents and the organization’s investments totaled $272 million in 2013, up 13% from the year before. With that in the bank, Mozilla could survive at its 2013 expense pace for just shy of four quarters if income suddenly vanished.

Yet Mozilla still faces a rough road, especially if 2013’s pattern of flat revenue-versus-increasing expenses continues.

Firefox’s share of the desktop browser market has slipped by 26%, or about 4.8 percentage points, in the past 12 months, according to metrics firm Net Applications, even as the global share of browsing from the desktop has fallen because of the move toward mobile devices.

Meanwhile, Firefox OS faces an uphill battle against ultra-cheap Android-derived devices in the emerging markets Mozilla has targeted.

Some analysts have begun to wonder whether Mozilla can be a long-term player in browsers, much less mobile.

“Mozilla’s browser share is likely to shrink over time,” contended Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, in an interview yesterday. “Because there are more costs to cover moves [like Firefox OS], it’s stretched thinner than before. If its [browser] share shrinks, it will have less revenue, which means it can spend less on development. That may make its products less appealing to users, so fewer people use them.”

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Google unseats Microsoft as the U.S. browser powerhouse

Google’s strength in mobile browsing pushes it past Microsoft’s Internet Explorer

Google has unseated rival Microsoft as the leading browser maker in the U.S. for the first time, Adobe said this week, citing data from its analytics platform.

The rise in Google’s domestic fortunes followed Microsoft’s reduction to second fiddle worldwide in May 2013.

According to the Adobe Digital Index (ADI), a measurement of browser usage based on tracking visits to the average U.S. website, Google’s desktop and mobile browsers — Chrome on both platforms, the aging Android browser on the latter only — slipped past Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), which retained its premier position on the desktop but had little to show for its effort on smartphones.
U.S. browser share chart
The U.S. browser war reached a milestone in April as Google replaced Microsoft as the No. 1 maker of Web browsers, said Adobe. (Image: Adobe.)

For April, Google accounted for 31.8% of all browser usage in the United States. Meanwhile, Microsoft owned a 30.9% share.

Apple’s Safari was in third place with a combined desktop and mobile share of 25%, while Mozilla’s Firefox, which lacks a meaningful presence in mobile, was a distant fourth with just 8.7%.

The rise of Google’s browsers, and to a lesser extent Apple’s Safari, and the corresponding declines of both IE and Firefox, can be attributed to mobile browsing, primarily that conducted on smartphones. “Today, mobile [operating systems are] more important, giving Google and Apple a leg up with default status on Android and iOS,” said ADI analyst Tyler White in a statement.

Adobe tallied visits, which in analytics parlance is synonymous with a session on a website, a period during which a user may view numerous pages before leaving, or before a time limit of inactivity expires. Adobe thus actually measures a type of “usage share,” or how active users of each browser are on the Web.

Other analytic firms count differently. California-based Net Applications uses visitors, an expression of the number of unique individuals — actually their browsers, as the tracking is done with cookies — to measure “user share,” which is analogous to the number of copies of each browser in use during a specific period.

Because Adobe drew its data only from consumer-facing sites — some 10,000 of them during April — it was little surprise that the Chrome/Android browsers outpaced IE. Microsoft’s browser has a lock in businesses, where it’s often mandated as the only allowed desktop browser, but it has a less-dedicated — some would say less-coerced — base among consumers. On mobile, IE accounted for just 1.8% of usage.

Google’s climb to the top spot in the U.S. followed its push into that place globally by almost a year: Adobe’s data had Google’s Chrome/Android passing Microsoft’s IE in May 2013 worldwide. “Outside the U.S., Google’s browser share has grown even more rapidly,” an Adobe spokesman said in an email Friday.

Adobe’s take on the desktop versus mobile contest was in line with other, earlier calculations by Net Applications, in that while IE’s strength was its desktop browser, the rise in mobile browsing caused its overall share to drop six percentage points in the last year. Meanwhile, Chrome/Android and Safari benefited from their primary positions in mobile on Android and iOS, respectively, the two most-used mobile operating systems on the planet.

Chrome’s 31% usage share on the desktop, for example, lagged behind IE’s 43%, but Google’s mobile browsers made up for that shortfall in spades. Safari’s puny 10% on the desktop — in fourth place in the U.S. — was helped out of the cellar by Safari’s 59% usage share on mobile.

Mozilla, Adobe said, was in the weakest position of the Big Four because of its lack of a viable mobile strategy. In the last two years, Mozilla has lost a steady drip of Firefox desktop users and been hit by the increasing importance of mobile browsing, with its total usage share falling from nearly 20% to its now sub-9%.

Although Net Applications’ numbers are global and not U.S. specific — the company does not publicly release the latter — the trends shown by its data are similar to Adobe’s.

But not identical.
By Net Applications’ reckoning, Microsoft remained the top browser maker worldwide in May 2014 with a desktop + mobile user share of 48%, more than double that of runner-up Google and its 21%. Apple and Mozilla continued to battle for third place, with the former making strides in its move to pass the latter. In May, Firefox accounted for 13.8%, Safari for 13.4%. Safari cut the April gap between it and Firefox by more than half in May, and may become No. 3 as early as this month.

Firefox’s decline could not come at a worse time. Mozilla’s contract with Google for making the latter’s search engine the default on Firefox comes up for renewal in November. According to Net Applications, Firefox had a combined desktop + mobile user share of 21.1% three years ago when it negotiated the current contract, which paid Mozilla approximately $300 million annually, nearly all of its revenue.

Going into this year’s tête-à-tête with Google, Mozilla will be bargaining from a much weaker position, down 35% in total share since 2011.

Net Applications had mobile gaining more ground at the expense of desktop browsing in May. By the end of the month, mobile browsing had jumped to 18% of all browsing worldwide. At the current pace, mobile should reach the 20% milestone in October, and account for more than a quarter of all browsing by this time next year.


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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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Microsoft to face computer makers’ rebellion at CES

Microsoft to face computer makers’ rebellion at CES
Windows 8.1 PCs that also run Android should ‘scare the heck’ out of Microsoft, says analyst

Microsoft will face a rebellion of long-time partners at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) when OEMs introduce Windows personal computers also able to run Android mobile apps.

According to two analysts, multiple OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) will roll out what one called “PC Plus” at CES, the massive Las Vegas trade show slated for early January.

Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies mentioned PC Plus in passing in a Dec. 16 piece he authored for Time. “A PC Plus machine will run Windows 8.1 but will also run Android apps as well,” Bajarin wrote, adding that the initiative would be backed by chip maker Intel. “They are doing this through software emulation. I’m not sure what kind of performance you can expect, but this is their way to try and bring more touch-based apps to the Windows ecosystem.”

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, confirmed the project. “This is going to make buzz at CES,” said Moorhead in an interview. “OEMs will be trumpeting this … it’s going to be a very hot topic [at the trade show].”
Concept isn’t new

The concept of Android apps running on Windows isn’t new.
BlueStacks, which both Bajarin and Moorhead mentioned, launched its App Player software for Windows in March 2012, added a Mac version in June of that year, and rolled out a Surface Pro-specific version in March 2013. The App Player, offered both as a free download from BlueStacks’ website and through agreements with several OEMs bundled with some Windows-powered PCs and tablets, relies on virtualization — dubbed “LayerCake” by BlueStacks — to run Android apps on other OSes.

In July 2013, Taiwan OEM Asus introduced the Transformer Book Trio, a convertible device that, as a laptop, could execute both Android apps and Windows 8 programs, including the latter’s “Modern,” nee “Metro” apps. More recently, reports circulated that Samsung is developing a dual-boot tablet that could launch into either Android or Windows RT 8.1, Microsoft’s touch-centric operating system.

The PC Plus project, however, is aimed at personal computers, most likely traditional “clamshell” notebooks, not tablets. And it doesn’t rely on BlueStacks’ technology, even though Intel invested in the Palo Alto, Calif. company in March. “This is very different from BlueStacks,” Moorhead said.

While Bajarin vouched for some kind of emulation that would make Android apps possible on Windows 8.1, Moorhead posited several technologies OEMs could deploy.

“There are three [possible] implementations, including dual-boot, which would be a fast-switch mode where you press a button and within seconds you’re in Android,” Moorhead said. Others would include software emulation of Android within Windows, and some type of virtualization-based solution that would run an instance of Android in a virtual machine, just as OS X users can run Windows on their Macs through VMware’s Fusion or Parallels’ Desktop for Mac.

Ideally, the Android apps would run in full-screen mode after the user clicked on its tile within Windows 8.1.

While some have mocked the idea — previously, Bajarin called Asus’ Trio “gimmicky” — Moorhead said that the maneuver is legitimate. “Tactically, this is a way for OEMs to differentiate their products, and build out the amount of apps on their devices,” he said. Focus on mobile apps

The latter is among OEMs’ biggest concerns about its software partner. Microsoft has been criticized by customers, analysts and even computer makers for the small size, relative to Apple and Google, of its Metro app store. Selling touch-enabled laptops has not been easy for OEMs because consumers have balked at paying the higher prices when they see little in return from Windows and its app arena.

By adding Android apps to the available inventory, the computer makers can promote their wares as able to handle not just legacy Windows software but also Google’s OS and its enormous ecosystem.

If that smacks of some desperation, well, OEMs are desperate. They’ve watched their PC business shrink over the last 24 months as consumers worldwide have postponed upgrades or forgone new purchases, instead spending their technology dollars on smartphones, tablets and hybrid “phablets” — large-screen phones that double as a diminutive tablet for basic tasks like watching video.

Also, many OEMs who depended for decades on Microsoft and each iteration of Windows to bump up sales have been critical of the Redmond, Wash. company’s Windows 8 implementation and strategy, and with the firm’s decision to enter the hardware business and directly compete with them.

“OEMs are throwing some real deep passes as they see double-digit declines in the PC market,” Moorhead observed. “This is one of the long balls that they’re throwing, hoping something sticks.”

For Moorhead, PC Plus is also another sign that OEMs are, in the face of Windows 8’s sluggish start and shaky reputation, willing to desert Microsoft and enlist alternate OSes, even if those moves are experimental in scale.

“Strategically, [PC Plus] could get millions of consumers more comfortable with Android on PCs,” said Moorhead. “The gamble is coincident with OEMs’ interest in alternative operating systems. Just imagine for a second what happens when Android gets an improved large-screen experience.”

Some computer makers, including Windows stalwarts like Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, have already introduced laptops powered by Google’s browser-based Chrome OS as a way to circumvent Windows on screens larger than tablet-sized displays.
Limited options

Android and, to a much lesser extent, Chrome OS, are the only alternate games in town for OEMs. Linux has failed to spark interest except among a tiny fraction of technology’s cognoscenti. Apple’s iOS and OS X are out of bounds, as Apple restricts them to its own hardware.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft reacts to the double dipping of these OEMs. While a PC with Windows 8.1 still means Microsoft has been paid for the operating system’s license, the company will not be happy with PC Plus and its implications.

“This should scare the heck out of Microsoft,” said Moorhead. “They should be very, very afraid because if goes widespread, it demotivates developers to create native Windows apps.”

As evidenced by the size of the Windows Store’s app stock and the rushed quality of some apps, including many from top brands, Microsoft already has a hard time convincing developers to invest in a platform that has yet to gain a significant portion of the OS market. In addition, it’s a platform in which many users seem comfortable sticking with the traditional desktop half and its familiar mouse-and-keyboard applications.

“Google does not actually sanction this and Microsoft has not taken a position on this dual-OS integration idea yet,” said Bajarin. “It will be interesting to see if this takes off and, if so, how Google and Microsoft will feel about it once it hits the market.”

If Microsoft isn’t able to convince OEMs to drop the PC Plus idea, Moorhead said, it has carrots and sticks for more serious arm-twisting.
How Microsoft could respond

“I think what Microsoft will do is pull co-marketing funds from any SKU that offers Android,” said Moorhead, referring to “stock-keeping units,” or each individual PC model that hews to PC Plus. That would effectively raise the OEMs’ cost of doing business for those PCs that support Android apps.

And if, as Bajarin said, Intel is behind PC Plus, then Microsoft faces another defection from the partnership that brought in billions for each company over the last two decades. Intel already makes processors able to run Android, and if its support for PC Plus relies on customized silicon it offers OEMs, the backing will further fragment the Wintel oligarchy.

Microsoft declined to comment on PC Plus and OEM plans.

Neither Bajarin or Moorhead had seen PC Plus in action, and Moorhead refused to offer an opinion on its chances until he did.

“I have to see the experience before I can weigh in,” said Moorhead. “It could be completely transparent [the switch from Windows to Android and back], or it could really screw up the experience. There are a lot of ways you can confuse customers, and this has the potential to confuse people who use it.”

The jarring discontinuity of Windows 8.1 — which boasts not only a traditional desktop but also the tile-based, touch-enabled Metro user interface (UI) — could be trivial compared to a disastrous combination of Android and Windows UIs.

PC Plus also has the potential to alienate Google, Moorhead noted. “I don’t think Google will like this either,” he said. “I think they’d be okay with dual booting and toggling between OSes, but I don’t think they would like Android apps being used full-screen.”

Google could retaliate by barring such hardware from obtaining apps from the Google Play e-market, speculated Moorhead, because it would see a full-screen implementation as threatening its revenue if the PCs aren’t tied — as are brand-name Android smartphones and tablets — to the services, like search and mapping, that bind customers to its ecosystem of behavioral and location tracking.

CES will run Jan. 7-10, and Moorhead is looking forward to the trade show because of PC Plus and its impact on Microsoft-OEM relationships.

“This is a gift that will keep on giving,” said Moorhead, predicting not only a splash of coverage next month, but after those initial shots of rebellion, months more ripples from PC Plus’ impact.


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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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Windows Phone 8 could out-earn Android, if Microsoft would let it

Windows Phone 8 could out-earn Android, if Microsoft would let it
Some unofficial analysis of Android revenue and that of Windows Phone 8 shows Microsoft’s true potential in the smartphone market.

Take a step through the looking glass, folks, and see a world where Windows Phone is more lucrative than Google’s Android.

Actually, you don’t have to. That world is real and you live in it. Here’s how it works.

Let’s start with the basics. Google offers the Android operating system to manufacturers for free so long as they use Google’s homegrown tools and applications with it. Google figures it will make that money back through search. The phrase is frequently called “giving away the razor and making money on the blades.” Game consoles operate like this, too.

The Android operating system enjoys global dominance approaching 75% of the market, with iOS a distant second and WP8 getting the scraps. BlackBerry, despite a nice showing with BB10 and the new phones, is imploding. IDC puts 2012 smartphone sales around the 720 million mark, which means 540 million phones shipped in 2012 that didn’t pay a penny in royalties. Google might want to rethink its strategy there.

Google doesn’t break out the profit and loss of products in its annual reports. Motley Fool reported that the best picture we have comes from the ongoing lawsuit between Google and Oracle, in which Oracle estimated that Google generates $10 million per day on Android, which would total $3.6 billion per year. Of course, that’s Oracle’s estimate, and they want beaucoup damages.

During trial, the judge revealed that Android generated roughly $97.7 million in revenue during the first quarter of 2010, well below Oracle’s estimate. Granted, $400 million a year is nothing to sneeze at, but for a company the size of Google, it is chump change.

And then there’s Windows Phone 8. There’s actually a lot of back-and-forth between the two companies. Microsoft paid Nokia $1 billion in flat-fees, while Nokia pays Microsoft a per-set fee for every phone. Now, the Fool estimates Nokia pays Microsoft about $35 per device, while other analysts have guestimated the licensing fee for Windows Phone 8 to be around $30 to $35 per device. Microsoft has never officially confirmed it.

Microsoft also makes money when customers use the applications built into Windows Phone, like Bing, and there are Bing ads used in ad-driven applications.

With 7.4 million Lumias sold in the most recent quarter, that’s an estimated $259 million for Microsoft. I can’t rightfully compare it to the $97.7 million estimate from the Android trial since that is based on a 2010 number, but I can compare Android’s position in the market in 2010 to Windows Phone’s in the most recent quarter. In the first quarter of 2010, Android was breezing past Apple to account for 28% of the market, assuming the No. 2 spot in the market behind Research In Motion, the NPD Group estimated at the time. Meanwhile, Windows Phone 8 reached an all-time high in market share in the most recent quarter – a whopping 4%, according to Strategy Analytics.

By these estimates, we can say Microsoft earns more revenue from a platform that accounts for 4% of the market than Google did when Android stood at 28%.

So while it’s far from a slam dunk, it looks like Windows Phone brings in more money for Microsoft than Android, the vastly more popular OS, has for Google in the past. Admittedly, these aren’t perfect numbers, but the bigger picture here is that the Windows Phone 8 strategy stands to earn Microsoft a whole lot of money if it can get some momentum.

A per-set fee, on the other hand, might not be a bad idea for Google. It might help clean up the low end of the Android line, which is really low-rent.

But Microsoft really needs to get its tail in gear with WP8. It needs another OEM, if only to keep Nokia honest, it needs to support developers better, and it needs to fix the ad pipeline for in-app advertising, because that has been broken for months. It has a potential winner if it would just apply some effort.


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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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NotCompatible’ Android malware rears its ugly head, again

NotCompatible’ Android malware rears its ugly head, again
Mobile security vendor Lookout says Android malware is showing signs of sudden activity

The “NotCompatible” malware, designed to infect Android devices and turn them into unwitting Web proxies, is suddenly showing a sharp uptick in activity, according to mobile security vendor Lookout.

The malware is essentially a simple network proxy, which pretends to be a system update in order to get unwitting users to install it. The idea seems to be gaining access to protected networks through victims’ infected Android devices. It was named for its apparent command-and-control server, at notcompatibleapp.eu.

Last weekend saw the number of detections for NotCompatible rise to 20,000 per day as of last Sunday and Monday, wrote researcher Tim Strazzere, who said that the malware had been largely dormant since it was discovered in May 2012.

But while the initial discovery saw the malware being installed by hacked websites, the latest wave of NotCompatible is being spread by email spam. The usual subject line is “hot news,” and the infected messages appear to contain links to fake weight-loss articles.
NotCompatible malware
Credit: Lookout Security
The hacked Web page that can contain the NotCompatible malware.

“Depending on the user’s Android OS Version and browser, they may be prompted about the download. Many stock browsers will transparently trigger a download to the device /Downloads folder whereas Chrome displays a confirmation dialog,” wrote Strazzere.

Lookout said there is little chance of direct harm to infected devices, and victims must allow NotCompatible to be installed for it to function, further minimizing the overall threat to the majority of Android users. The best advice for safety is simply to never allow any .apk whose provenance you’re even a little bit unsure of to be installed on your phone.


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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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Santa and NORAD: Microsoft nicer than Google this year

NORAD switches to Bing Maps to help you track Santa’s journey on Christmas Eve

Google apparently hasn’t been naughty in Santa’s eyes, but Microsoft must have been pretty nice. NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, will switch from using Google Maps to Bing Maps to track Santa Claus on his Christmas Eve trip around the world.

This year’s NORAD team includes many members, from Verizon to Avaya Government Solutions, but Microsoft appears to be the lead sponsor, getting high play for products and services ranging from Bing to Windows Azure cloud services to Windows 8 and Windows Phone.
NORAD tracks Santa
Credit: NORAD

GIFT GUIDE: Be a hero for the holidays

We say that Google must not have been naughty in that NORAD is still pushing its YouTube channel, and YouTube of course is a Google property. NORAD is also offering Android and iOS apps in addition to Windows Phone and Windows 8 ones.

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land writes that Google Maps have been used over the past five years by NORAD for Santa tracking.

The good news for good little children around the world is that NORAD apparently is not relying on Apple Maps for Santa tracking. Apple Maps have proven to be a big problem for Apple this year, even confusing the Dark Knight and being called a life-threatening issue in Australia.

Last year NORAD introduced mobile apps and games (including elf tossing) to its repertoire.

NORAD’s tradition of tracking Santa started in 1955, with kids of all ages able to call NORAD to check on the jolly old elf’s progress (and you can still do this in 2011 on Christmas Eve by calling 1-877-Hi-NORAD). Naturally, the tracking and communications processes have become more sophisticated over the years, with the rise of the Internet.


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