The gales of the Blackberry Storm just weren't strong enough to wash away Apple's iPhone success. Between its average reviews and customer complaints over bugs and OS stability, the Storm seems to have severely underperformed in customer satisfaction. And now, the latest figures from Blackberry maker Research In Motion (RIM) show that it has underperformed in sales, too.
Only half million Blackberry Storm devices were sold in the U.S. since November, according to the Wall Street Journal . During the same holiday period, Apple sold more than two million iPhones, totaling over a quarter of the North American smartphone market. RIM's shares have also dropped more than 5 percent since news broke that Storm users are still unhappy with their experience on the device.
Speculation from various sources blames Blackberry Storm's woes on the phone's software glitches, crashes, and bugs. Many of these these problems occurred because of Research In Motion's eagerness to make the Storm available in time for the 2008 holiday season, starting with Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.
RIM tried to address users' complaints and released a software fix for the Blackberry Storm in December. Despite that fix, many users remained unsatisfied with the device's basic functionality, such as the lack of a conventional QWERTY keyboard when the phone is used in portrait mode-a feature that's available on the iPhone and other touch-screen smart phones. RIM officials acknowledged Storm's further software issues and promised another update that will solve many of the phone's problems.
But the Blackberry Storm will soon face even more competition. A new smartphone battle is coming up this year with the imminent launch of Palm's much-hyped Pre. Nokia is also joining the game with its N97, so RIM should address users' concern quickly.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Nokia announced three attractive new phones--and they couldn't be more boring. While most phone makers are trying to wow consumers with yet another iPhone killer or some super trendy device based on Google's Android platform, Nokia is launching middle-of-the-pack phones with features we've seen before.
Nokia reported disappointing earnings results last week, and the company expects its market share to decline even further during the first few months of 2009. These "new" phones aren't expected to hit the shelves until at least April, around the same time as Nokia's N97.
Will these new phones be able to revive Nokia's recent sagging fortunes? Well, anything's possible. Nokia currently holds a sizable chunk of the cell phone market--about 37 percent--and hopes to attract customers with usable phones and a variety of online services built around its Ovi portal. And, hey, don't we all love that distinctive Nokia ring?
So without further ado, here is Nokia's sleeper cell (phone) lineup:
Nokia 6700 Classic
This phone is a follow up to its popular 6300 model. It has a sleeker design and sports a new 5 megapixel camera, upgraded from the 6300's 2 MP shutter. The phone also features assisted GPS navigation and high-speed HSPA Internet. Nokia hasn't released official U.S. pricing for this little gem, but it should hover around $300. The 6300 is a very popular device and highly rated by users everywhere, so it's no surprise Nokia has built on this success.
The Nokia 6303 Classic
This one comes with a "large" 2.2-inch screen, a 3.2 megapixel camera, assisted GPS, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a mobile music player. The 6303 will go for about $175.
The Nokia 2700 Classic
This phone falls in the affordable class coming in under $100. It sports a 2 megapixel camera, a music player, and a removable card slot that can take up to 2 GB of storage.
Despite my criticisms, boring but capable phones could be the right move for one of the world's largest phone makers. A sagging economy might reveal a public unwilling to shell out big bucks for the latest touch screen wonder. So these mild mannered phones just might fit the bill...or not.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Pope will be taking his 2000-year-old religious message onto the often controversial and irreverent YouTube, the Vatican announced Friday.
The Vatican's dedicated YouTube channel went live at midday on Friday, offering short video news clips of Pope Benedict XVI's activities and links to more in-depth information about the Catholic Church.
There will be no advertising on the channel and the Vatican has not paid Google for a platform on its popular file sharing site, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told a press conference presenting the new communication initiative.
"The Pope sees it as a positive step," Lombardi said. The Vatican may consider in the future whether it might be possible to carry appropriate advertising on its YouTube site, but would not be doing so immediately, the spokesman said.
"We won't be making money out of the Vatican channel. We believe it is our job to bring important information to our public," Henrique De Castro, managing director of European sales and media solutions at Google, told the press conference.
Initially the channel will carry up to three new videos a day of up to two minutes in length illustrating the Pope's activities or important events taking place in the Vatican, Lombardi said.
The site will offer a number of interactivity options: the possibility of sharing videos with friends, receiving new videos via i-google and a chance to send comments to the Vatican press office, Lombardi said, but he added he could give no guarantee that all messages would be read or receive a reply from his office.
The Vatican's YouTube page will initially operate in English, Italian, Spanish and German and will carry links to its traditional online news outlets. There will be a link to the Vatican's institutional Web site that was founded in 1995, as well as to Vatican TV, Vatican Radio and Vatican State sites, Lombardi said.
"We considered it was a positive thing to be present on Google, to be present where human beings are present," Rev. Claudio Celli, president of the pontifical council for social communications, told the press conference. "This was how the journey of Christianity began."
People had been asking him why the Pope was "lowering" himself by appearing on YouTube, Celli said. "The Pope doesn't lower himself by going on Google. It's a question of having a strategic vision. This is a first small step towards becoming a church that enters into dialogue with today's world."
Asked whether Pope Benedict XVI used the Internet himself, Celli confessed that he wasn't sure. "I presume he does. Knowing the man, my answer would be affirmative."
In a speech on new technologies released Friday, the Pope praised the Internet as offering rich opportunities for dialogue, friendship and spreading the Christian message.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
The White House on Pennsylvania Avenue isn't the only presidential home getting a renovation today. Barack Obama's virtual home, WhiteHouse.gov, also has a brand new look to go with the brand new presidency.
Inside the New WhiteHouse.gov
A revamped WhiteHouse.gov went live during Obama's inaugural ceremony this afternoon. The site features a modernized interface with rotating news headlines and an official White House blog. Upon its launch, the main headline proclaimed: "Change Has Come To America." The blog section followed suit with the title: "Change Has Come To WhiteHouse.gov."
Obama's WhiteHouse.gov also offers links to various presidential agenda and a "briefing room" that will host clips of the president's weekly video addresses. Photo slideshows and information on appointments, proclamations, and executive orders will be made available in that section as well.
Interestingly, given the ongoing focus on interaction and community involvement, the site does not appear to have an open comment function within the blog section or any other area. There is, however, a "contact" page that offers an HTML-based form to submit questions and comments to the president.
"President Obama is committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history," the page states. "To send questions, comments, concerns, or well-wishes to the President or his staff, please use the form below."
The introductory blog does suggest more opportunities for interaction could arise as the weeks wear on.
"Citizen participation will be a priority for the administration, and the Internet will play an important role in that," the site says. "One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the president: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the president signs it."
Of course, no change is without its share of issues. The site offered a link to Obama's inaugural address before it was actually online, and the first blog post stated Obama had been sworn in before the ceremony had been completed. Still, the virtual transition appears to have gone more smoothly than the last (and only other to date): When President Bush first took office in 2001, his WhiteHouse.gov launched with broken links and template messages in place.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Resident Evil 5, Capcom's fifth chapter in their renowned zombie-slaying survival horror franchise and first Resident Evil game on Xbox 360 and PS3, releases on March 13, 2009, but you don't have to wait two months to play the game.
A playable Resident Evil 5 demo will be available for download on Monday, January 26 on Xbox Live and about a week later on PSN. The exact date of the RE5 demo on the PlayStation 3 is unknown, but it's promised to be around February 5 when a new PSN update is scheduled to go up.
Two levels from Resident Evil 5's story mode will be included in the free demo which can be played either online or offline in the game's cooperative mode where players massacre parasitic hordes as series hero Chris Redfield and female newcomer Sheva Alomar.
It's still unconfirmed what stages in particular will be in the demo, but they'll likely be the first two levels where you battle infected villagers, the hulking axe-carrying executioner, and even the new one-eyed chainsaw-wielding madman.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Here's a new way to get Microsoft to pay attention to you: Slip a brief message into the malicious Trojan horse program you just wrote.
That's what an unnamed Russian hacker did recently with a variation of Win32/Zlob, a Trojan program victims are being tricked into installing on their computers.
The message is surprisingly cordial, given that Microsoft's security researchers spend their days trying to put people like Zlob's author out of business. "Just want to say 'Hello' from Russia. You are really good guys. It was a surprise for me that Microsoft can respond on threats so fast," the hacker wrote, adding, "Happy New Year, guys, and good luck!"
Zlob is one of the most common types of Trojan programs used to attack Windows these days. In a typical Zlob scam, the victim is sent a link to what looks like an interesting video. When the link is clicked, the user is told to install a multimedia codec file in order to watch the video. That file is actually malicious software.
It's not clear whether the author of this message is the creator of Zlob, according to Joe Stewart, a researcher with SecureWorks. That's because "Zlob is one of those things that gets mislabeled by AV companies a lot," he said via e-mail. "Basically any time they see malware being spread by 'you need this video codec...' messages in multimedia files, it gets the Zlob label."
This isn't the first time this particular hacker has sent a note to Microsoft's security group. Last October he wrote a slightly creepy message, saying, "I want to see your eyes the man from Windows Defender's team."
Unlike the October message, this latest note wasn't caught by Microsoft. It was found Friday by a French security researcher using the hacker handle S!Ri.
According to this latest message, it may be the Zlob hacker's last note to Microsoft. "We are closing soon," he wrote. "So, you will not see some of my great ;) ideas in that family of software."
"It warms my heart that they're 'closing soon,'" wrote Microsoft spokesman Tareq Saade in a blog post.
All things considered, hiding messages in source code may not be the most effective way of reaching the Windows Defender team. "Considering the enormous amount of malware we go through every day, it can be difficult to track follow up samples like this," Saade wrote.
The hacker also claimed that Microsoft had once offered him a job to help improve Windows Vista's security. Microsoft hired a large number of outside security consultants to test Vista's code before it was released in late 2006. "It's not interesting for me," the hacker concluded. "Just a life's irony."
Friday, January 16, 2009
Paris Hilton's Web site has been hacked and is serving visitors a malicious Trojan program designed to steal sensitive information from their computers.
The hack was discovered by security vendor ScanSafe, which said that Parishilton.com (note: this site is not safe to visit as of press time-Jan. 13-2009) had apparently been compromised since Friday. Visitors to the site are presented with a pop-up window urging them to download software in order to enhance their viewing of the site. Whether they click "yes" or "no" on this window, the site then tries to download a malicious program, known as Trojan-Spy.Zbot.YETH, from another Web site.
"The popup points to a directory on that Web site; that's where the malware is being loaded from," said Mary Landesman, a security researcher with ScanSafe. Once installed, the Trojan steals online information and tries to install more malicious software on the victim's computer.
Landesman believes thousands of other Web sites may also be serving up this variant of the attack her firm uncovered. However, Parishilton.com, the celebrity's official Web site, is the best-known target. "The big thing with Paris Hilton is the number of visitors that she gets," Landesman said. "It's always doubly concerning when we see a high-profile Web site get compromised."
To make things worse, most antivirus products are not identifying the Trojan program being served by Parishilton.com. On Monday afternoon, only 12 of the 37 vendors tested by VirusTotal identified the Trojan.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Users trying the Windows 7 beta who keep their computers safe with McAfee virus protection are in for a bit of disappointment -- and a loss of security. According to a Channel Web report, when you try to run McAfee Total Protection in the Windows 7 beta, an error message pops up. "The version of Windows installed on this machine is not supported. Please refer to the product documentation for a list of supported operating systems."
McAfee's antivirus tool isn't the only one affected by the Windows 7 beta. A thread on Norton's community forums mentions errors that occur when running Windows 7. The official response from Norton? "At this time, we do not support Windows 7. Once Windows 7 is released, we will provide solutions for the OS." In the past, prerelease copies or even early shipping versions of Windows updates were often flagged as "potential viruses" by antivirus programs (prompting lots of jokes about Windows being fingered as a virus).
One popular virus protection software that seems to be immediately compatible with Windows 7 beta is Spyware Doctor, which reports in its forums that the software is running smoothly.
Personally, I use Avast on my PC, although I haven't gotten around to checking out Windows 7 yet. It looks like Avast does have some issues, though for the most part it still runs in Windows 7.
The main problem seems to be that Windows 7 is still in beta, so no virus protection software has been optimized for the OS yet. As always when installing beta software, you do so at your own risk. Just know that this risk could impact your entire PC's security.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Hackers have taken down two high-profile targets as they continue their ongoing Web attacks in support of Palestine, defacing Web sites run by the U>S> Army
and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The attacks on Thursday took down the Web sites for The United States Army Military District of Washington and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, according to Zone-H, a Web site that tracks defacement activity.
The NATO site is now back online, but the U.S. Army site was still offline Friday morning. A version of the Web page cached by Google reads: "Stop attacks u israel and usa ! you cursed nations ! one day muslims will clean the world from you ! "(Defacement images shown above) NATO didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Most other U.S. Army sites do not appear to have been affected by that attack. The U.S. Army Military District of Washington is an army command, based in Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C.
Using what's known as a SQL injection attack, the group also defaced the Web site of the Joint Force Headquarters of the National Capital Region, which handles military incident response for the Washington, D.C., area, according to Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics with the University of Alabama at Birmingham. A U.S. Army spokeswoman was unable to immediately comment on reports of the hacks.
All of these attacks are credited to a Turkish hacking group called Agd_Scorp / Peace Crew.
This group has claimed many Web hacks over the past few months, including Microsoft's Web sites in Canada, Ireland and China; Shell; Harvard University; and the U.S. National Basketball Association, Warner said in a blog posting.
"Although the group is now calling themselves 'Peace Crew,' the same membership was calling itself 'Terrorist Crew' as recently as December," Warner wrote.
As tensions in Gaza have intensified over the past few weeks, loosely organized hacking groups from countries such as Morocco, Turkey and Iran have defaced thousands of Web pages. This latest wave of attacks has mostly focused on Israeli sites, particularly easy targets belonging to individuals or small businesses. However, some high-profile targets have been hit too, such as news site Ynetnews.com.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Intel's Jeff Ravencraft, who is also president of the USB Implementers Forum, discussed more details about USB 3.0 today at the Storage Visions conference in Las Vegas.
The focus of the new spec is three-fold: Retain backward compatibility, increase speed, and provide better power handling.
"USB has been the most successful interface in history of personal computing," Ravencraft noted. "Over 6 billion products are in the market, and over 2 billion ship a year now."
Backward compatibility shows up in the new standard. USB 3.0 maintains the extensive device class driver infrastructure of USB 2.0, and a USB 2.0 devices will work via a 3.0 connector.
Performance improvements are notable, too. "We have research that shows that after 1 minute, 1.5 minutes waiting for a transaction, users get impatient.," says Ravencraft. "The transfer times have to get much faster." Hence the evolution of USB SuperSpeed's Sync & Go concept.
SuperSpeed USB 3.0's 5Gbps data rate (compared with Hi-Speed USB 2.0's 480Mbps) should help--and with very clear real-world advantages. For example: A 25GB HD movie will take 13.9 min to transfer with USB 2.0, and 70 seconds with USB 3.0, says Ravencraft.
Practically speaking, the implications are tremendous. Imagine not having to wait hours on end for your full-drive data backup to complete, or not having a lengthy delay when off-loading 32GB flash memory cards from your digital camera.
As for power consumption, "power today is king for portable devices. It is the pinnacle, the focus for the PC, the notebook, and all devices. All of these new specs had to be optimized for power efficiency," says Ravencraft.
For example, there's no longer any device polling, so connected USB devices can enter a virtual sleep mode; more power will be able to go to the device (which will hopefully eliminate some of the power issues we see today with portable hard drives that require extra power from a second USB port); and USB 3.0 will no longer broadcast information to all connected devices, thereby saving power, too. Plus, when a device's battery is drained, it will now still be recognized by a laptop, for example, so you can charge it (this doesn't work with USB 2.0).
The intention is for SuperSpeed USB 3.0 to provide headroom for the next five years.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Who wants scads of commercial PC games for free? No, I don't mean the kind you download illicitly, silly. I'm talking about older but as well a few newer games, including the occasional award-winner, that publishers have made available over the years and on the house.
Games like Richard Garriot's pre-Ultima RPG Akalabeth (1979). Revolution Software's Beneath a Steel Sky (1994). The original Command & Conquer Red Alert (1996). SSI's Dark Sun: Shattered Lands (1993). Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto 2 (1999). Sierra's Tribes 2 (2001). Even S2 Games's just-last-January Savage 2 (2008).
No comment on Wikipedia's value as a repository for factual data, but its "List of Commercial Games Released as Freeware" is both convenient and verifiable. It's an alpha-sorted collection of older and some not-so-old titles with links to their Wiki pages, which in turn link to each game's freeware storehouse.
Have a look. There's Abe Lincoln Must Die! (2007), the fourth in the recently released gonzo Sam & Max series -- obviously bait for the other five episodes outstanding, but worth a look just the same.
Remember Bungie's pre-Halo Marathon Trilogy? Yep, all three, available gratis (and the first one's a whole 4.7MB!).
Pick of the litter? Possibly Virgin's SubSpace. It's a simple two-dimensional multiplayer space shooter, easy to learn, challenging to master, and pathologically habit-forming. It was also still being updated, according to Wikipedia, through 2007.