Google, Facebook and Microsoft on Tuesday asked the government for permission to reveal details about the classified requests they receive for the personal information of foreign users, Claire Cain Miller reports in The New York Times.
They made the request after revelations about the National Security Agency’s secret Internet surveillance program, known as Prism, for collecting data from technology companies like e-mail messages, photos, stored documents, videos and online chats. The collection is legally authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which forbids companies from acknowledging the existence of requests or revealing any details about them.
Google for the first time publicly acknowledged it had received FISA requests and said it had complied with far fewer of the requests than it received. Facebook and Microsoft did not go as far as discussing requests they had received but, like Google, said it wanted to be able to publish information on the volume and scope of the government requests.
Some inexpensive Intel-based laptops and tablets will come with Google’s operating system, and others with Microsoft’s, according to sources and analysts.
Intel CEO Paul Otellini earlier this week said touch devices could debut at prices as low as $200, as CNET reported. But the cheapest devices may be based on a non-Windows operating system, according to sources — not necessarily Windows 8, as originally reported.
“There are design wins for Android tablets at that $200 price point. Intel will be participating in that market this year,” a source familiar with Intel’s plans told CNET.
A report in Digitimes on Friday said Intel is promoting “Android convertible notebooks” and that Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, Acer, and Asus will launch products in the coming months.
That said, IDC’s Bob O’Donnell told CNET on Friday that he has heard chatter about upcoming 7-inch Windows 8 tablets using Intel Atom processors priced as low as $299.
And IHS iSuppli’s Craig Stice doesn’t think $200 to $300 Windows 8 devices are out of the question.
“Spending [three times as much] on a PC vs. a $200 tablet is a big barrier that I feel has been a factor in the struggles the PC market endured the last year,” he said.
How, exactly, did Microsoft do it? It’s like a magician’s trick. The raw numbers for Windows revenue in Microsoft’s Windows division were very substantially up - from $4.633bn (£3bn) in the first three months of 2012, to $5.7bn in the same period this year.
That’s a 24% increase, at a time when we’ve been hearing that PC sales have slumped. How has Microsoft done this? Has Steve Ballmer invented antigravity?
Sadly, no (though it would make a great new business line).
Make no mistake: Windows is still incredibly important to Microsoft. In this quarter it generated 27% of revenues, and 45% of profits. But how is it doing so well when the PC business is so dismal?
Here’s the first part of what happened. In June, Microsoft offered a scheme where people who bought a Windows 7 PC could update it to Windows 8 for just $15. The scheme ran through to December, and only after that could all the money received in it be cashed in. That gave a $1.1bn boost in “deferred” revenue which was really earned in the preceding six months, but couldn’t be recognised then.
To welcome new users, Microsoft is financing what it believes to be the biggest marketing blitz in the history of email. Outlook.com will be featured in ads running on primetime TV, radio stations, websites, billboards and buses. Microsoft expects to spend somewhere between $30 million to $90 million on the Outlook campaign, which will run for at least three months.
The Outlook ads will overlap with an anti-Gmail marketing campaign that Microsoft launched earlier this month. The “Scroogled” attacks depict Gmail as a snoopy service that scans the contents of messages to deliver ads related to topics being discussed.
The Gmail ads are meant to be educational while the Outlook campaign is motivational, said Dharmesh Mehta, Outlook.com’s senior director.
“We are trying to push people who have gotten lazy and comfortable with an email service that may not be all that great and help show them what email can really do for them,” said Mehta.
As Microsoft continues its attempts to lure users away from Gmail, the firm says that after releasing Internet-based Outlook.com as a preview, millions of people have signed up to the service.
The Redmond giant announced on its blog that it was “humbled” by active users of the email service — which has grown from none to 60 million users in a six-month span.
Microsoft has taken Outlook.com out of its preview stages and it is now open to the public. In addition, users of Hotmail will be moved over to Outlook by summer automatically — although you can upgrade at any time — and you won’t be forced to change your email address.
Outlook.com’s final release features include the ability to send large files, address books that automatically update, approximately 60 percent fewer advertisements than Hotmail and the option to connect and update through social media sites including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Accessible via web browser, Outlook.com will work on Windows and Mac-based PCs, as well as Google’s Android through a downloadable application.
Introduced in July to try and compete with Google’s free Gmail service, Outlook.com is meant to bring together Microsoft’s existing domains, including MSN.com and Hotmail, as well as come with a bevy of features to make it a worthy contender against other popular services including Gmail and Yahoo.
Despite Microsoft having been warned of the issue, for more than two months Skype has been vulnerable to a bug that enabled attackers to easily hijack any user’s Skype account.
Details of the vulnerability were first published in August on an online Russian-language hacking forum. Tuesday, the same Russian hacking forum user posted an update, reporting that the flaw still hadn’t been fixed.
That finally led Skype Wednesday to acknowledge the security vulnerability and begin working on a fix. “Early this morning we were notified of user concerns surrounding the security of the password reset feature on our website. This issue affected some users where multiple Skype accounts were registered to the same email address,” wrote Skype Web quality assurance engineer Leonas Sendrauskas in a blog post. “We suspended the password reset feature temporarily this morning as a precaution and have made updates to the password reset process today so that it is now working properly. We are reaching out to a small number of users who may have been impacted to assist as necessary. Skype is committed to providing a safe and secure communications experience to our users and we apologize for the inconvenience.”
Steven Sinofsky, who since 2009 has served as president of Microsoft’s Windows and Windows Live divisions, has left the company less than a month after launching what Steve Ballmer called the most important operating system in Redmond’s history.
“It is impossible to count the blessings I have received over my years at Microsoft,” Sinofsky said in a statement on Monday. “I am humbled by the professionalism and generosity of everyone I have had the good fortune to work with at this awesome company.”
Stepping up to lead product development for all future versions of Windows will be Julie Larson-Green, who has led various projects at Microsoft since joining the company in 1993. Most recently, she was responsible for program management, UI design and research, and internationalization for Windows 7 and 8.
In addition to heading up the Windows group, Larson-Green’s new role will see her in charge of engineering for future Windows-based hardware products, such as the company’s recently launched Surface fondleslabs.
Not a great few weeks for high level executives in major technology companies.
“IT TRULY is a new era at Microsoft,” gushed Steve Ballmer, the giant software company’s boss, in a letter to shareholders this month. For once, such grandiloquence seems justified. On October 26th Windows 8, the newest version of Microsoft’s operating system for personal computers, is due to be released. It looks very different from past editions; it is designed for touchscreens on both PCs and tablets; and it can run on processors designed by ARM, a British company whose allies dominate mobile devices, as well as chips made by Intel, Microsoft’s long-term partner. Also on sale will be the Surface, a tablet-cum-PC bearing Microsoft’s own brand. A version of Windows 8 for smartphones is due on October 29th.
Whether the new era will be a successful one is an open question. It got off to a stumbling start when the European Commission warned Microsoft not to repeat the sin of steering users away from rivals to its Explorer browser. (The company insisted all would be well before the launch.)
What is not in doubt is how much is at stake for Microsoft. To see that, look at the chart. In its past financial year its Windows division accounted for about a quarter of its revenue of $73.7 billion; three-quarters of that came from sales of Windows to PC-makers for installation on new desk- and laptops. Windows is the dominant system on such devices, with more than 90% of the market despite the growing popularity of Apple’s Macs. But that market has slowed. In the year to the third quarter, shipments of PCs fell by 8.6%, according to IDC, a research firm. However, the drop largely reflected a clear-out of stocks by PC-sellers before Windows 8’s arrival as well as the ropiness of the world economy.
People are doing more and more computing on the go, using tablets and smartphones. Apple rules the tablet market, although devices powered by Google’s Android operating system have been taking a bigger share. On October 23rd Apple unveiled the fourth incarnation of the iPad as well as a smaller version with a screen less than eight inches (20cm) across; Google and Amazon had already launched much cheaper seven-inch tablets. In smartphones, Android devices account for most of the volume; Apple’s iPhone scoops most of the profit. Windows has a tiny share of smartphones; in tablets it is invisible. If you lump these in with PCs, says Frank Gillett of Forrester, another research company, Microsoft’s share of personal-computing devices drops to only 30%.
Consumers are in for a shock when Microsoft releases the Windows 8 operating system later this week. The interface changes are the most widespread the OS maker has undertaken since the release of Windows 95.