Crime and punishment: Harsh fate for accused LulzSec hackers? April 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Harsh sentencing guidelines have failed to deter hackers, but prosecutors are likely to make examples of those arrested in the Anonymous-related hacking cases.

The Anonymous defendants arrested last month for allegedly breaking into corporate networks, stealing data, and defacing Web sites as part of LulzSec are likely to have an extended vacation at Club Fed, experts say.

With well-known victims like Sony, Fox Broadcasting, and the FBI, prosecutors will want to make examples of those arrested in the Anonymous-related hacking cases in the hopes that it will send a message to others.

“I believe they will (get harsh treatment),” Michael Bachmann, assistant professor of criminal justice at Texas Christian University, told CNET in a recent interview.

Like Kevin Mitnick, who was indicted on 25 hacking and other counts and served five years in prison in the late 1990s, they are high-profile cases and they embarrassed law enforcement. They “will most likely be used as a deterrent for other illegal hackers who appear to be generally undeterred by law enforcement efforts,” Bachmann said.

Take Hector Xavier Monsegur, also known as “Sabu,” who pleaded guilty in August to 12 counts of computer hacking, conspiracy, bank fraud, and other charges. Prosecutors depicted him as a key figure in the LulzSec and AntiSec groups, which took credit for hacking into corporate and government networks and sites, stealing and publishing sensitive data from those networks, hijacking victims’ e-mail and Twitter accounts, and defacing Web sites. His sentencing is scheduled for August 22, a Justice Department spokeswoman said today.

“With the act of unauthorized access and the theft of information, it doesn’t matter what the motivations are,” said Marcus Sachs, former White House adviser on cybersecurity. “It’s still the same crime and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Although the guidelines are advisory, judges do tend to follow them. Different factors — such as financial loss and cost to restore the integrity of a compromised system, as well as prior criminal record, role as ringleader, and whether the defendant accepts responsibility — are considered in determining the sentence, said Dayle Carlson, a sentencing consultant who used to be a federal probation officer.

The sentence is calculated with the help of a grid (PDF) that includes various levels of seriousness of the offense, from the lowest, Level 1, to Level 43, as well as six categories, starting with Category 1 for people with no prior record. If someone agrees to plead guilty, there is a three-level reduction and cooperators are released from the guideline range, according to Carlson. For example, a Level 24, Category 1 case calls for a sentence of between four years and just over five years.

“So there are no inconsequential penalties. If we start there and enter a guilty plea, then the guideline range would be 37 to 46 months,” Carlson said. “Federal sentences are pretty harsh. We’re looking at 51 months to 63 months without acceptance of responsibility.”

With one count of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act having a maximum of one year and/or a $100,000 fine for the first offense, up to 10 years for subsequent convictions and 20 years for repeat offenders, the prison time for hacking can add up. While Monsegur’s 124-year maximum sentence will no doubt be reduced for entering a plea deal and serving as an informant, he still faces at least two years.

Sentencing guideline ranges are a more accurate reflection of the potential sentence than the maximum penalty, which tends to be much higher, because they include factors from the specific case that can raise or lower the sentence and because sentences on different counts can be served concurrently rather than consecutively. His alleged cohorts are charged with one to three counts ranging from five to 10 years maximum prison time per count, according to the Justice Department.

But so far, increasing penalties hasn’t done much to deter criminals.

LulzSec’s brazen actions and taunting of law enforcement certainly won’t endear the accused to prosecutors. Hacktivism has historically been seen as akin to online graffiti or criminal mischief intended to further a political agenda and generate bragging rights, Bachmann said. But LulzSec has changed that perception, he added.

Things have only gotten worse for arrested hackers since Mitnick’s day.

“The federal system is so stacked against the defendant that many people will take a plea agreement” to avoid having judges consider conduct a defendant was acquitted of when determining sentencing, Mitnick said. “That’s why most federal hacking cases are settled. Prosecutors will try to get as much time out of defendants as they possibly can.”

With alleged Anonymous and LulzSec members, “the government is angry because the FBI can’t control these hackers,” he added. “So now the Department of Justice will come down harder on these guys for hacking. It’s a bad time politically to be busted for hacking. The FBI doesn’t have a sense of humor. I learned that first-hand.”

The societal threat posed by criminal hackers and cybercriminals in general has grown significantly in the last decade and the penalties for hacking have increased to reflect that, Bachmann said. “I do not believe that the sentences will be any milder than those handed out for financially motivated crimes,” he said. “I believe that the sentences will be stiff because the sentences given within the vast range of punishments — between one and 10 years per count — are determined by factors such as whether the defendant acted with forethought, used more than minimal planning, or used special skills, all three almost a given for hacking offenses.”

Under new legislation, the character and personal characteristics of a defendant, such as age, maturity, education level, and motive, play only a secondary role, according to Bachmann.

“When there is no pecuniary gain and it’s done for ideological purposes, depending on the judge, that can cut both ways in my experience,” said Carlson. “A judge may see these kids as idealistic and as having learned their lessons, or as committed Internet terrorists who are fundamentally not going to change their ways and need to be locked up to secure computer networks.”

The harsher sentencing guidelines are designed to serve as a deterrent, but Bachmann questioned their efficacy because of the perception that there is only a small chance of getting arrested. Indeed, Jennifer Granick, who has represented hackers in court, notes that there haven’t been a lot of hacking prosecutions overall. “They just don’t catch people very much,” she said. “And the people they have caught were engaged in credit card fraud.”

There are myriad ways for hackers to hide their tracks and subterfuge is the norm. Sometimes the police catch a lucky break, such as noticing a rare glimpse of the Internet Protocol address of Monsegur’s computer when he failed to cloak it during a chat room log-in. But more hackers are arrested when their partners in crime snitch, like Monsegur did.

“The degree of anonymity granted by the Internet diminishes the chances of getting caught and every semi-skilled criminal hacker knows how slim the chances of being arrested and convicted are,” Bachmann said. “Without any certainty of arrest and punishment, there will be no deterrence.”



Orcs Must Die 2 Hands-On Preview at 5:04 pm

After the surprise success of Orcs Must Die last year, Robot Entertainment has been hard at work on making a sequel that could live up to the high bar that they have set for themselves. They?ve gone through and tweaked some gameplay elements to work better and added cooperative play with a new character, so that you can murder orcs with a friend!

The original Orcs Must Die offered a unique perspective on the extremely stale Tower Defense genre by allowing the player to directly affect the world as a third-person action game. It worked out well, but at times it felt like something was missing. Thus the inclusion of cooperative play is one of the most welcome additions in Orcs Must Die 2; while playing the original game it was very easy to become overwhelmed while managing different pathways and trying to remember which ones were protected with traps, so having a second player there to cover your back makes things so much easier. In the short time that I had to play the game with a partner I was able to loosen up and take a reckless charge toward the enemy spawn zone for a bit, as I knew that my co-op buddy would be covering my back if any orcs made their way past me.

The new character is a Sorceress and she’s an excellent complement to the melee-focused Apprentice protagonist of Orcs Must Die. She wields a staff and focuses on fast, long-range attacks, making her perfect for players who like to hang back and pick off the enemy at range. Playing as the Sorceress also allows you to take control of enemy orcs? minds, forcing them to turn against each other. While playing cooperatively players can also chain their abilities together to create combos which deal more damage than they could alone. Add in new traps, and you’ve got an abundance of new combat options in Orcs Must Die 2. For example, I tried pairing the Sorceress?s ranged attacks with the new triggered Ice Trap and the Apprentice’s shotgun and had a blast mowing down endless waves of orcs.

The trap list is also being updated for the new game, with some new traps added, some removed, and a few that just needed some rebalancing with the new additions. If you were a fan of traps like the continuous Tar Pit from the first game, you might be slightly disappointed ,but there seems to be enough new traps to more than make up for the ones that didn?t make it through the second time around. These changes are small enough that you probably won?t notice them, and that?s the point; they just work properly this time around.

Robot set out to make Orcs Must Die 2 a more seamless experience throughout, and they seem to have accomplished their goal. The additional character and co-op play change the gameplay experience drastically and really demonstrate Robot?s commitment to listening to what fans want. While they?ve only shown a fraction of the new content that will be available when the game launches this summer, it will be interesting to see how players react to the changes and the sale of this as a full-blown sequel, rather than an expansion or content update.



Apple patent hints at wireless charging for boxed gadgets at 1:04 pm

A new patent application from Apple paints a picture of a future filled with gadgets that can be charged wirelessly, and be updated before you even open them up.

The stickers Apple slaps on iPods encased in see-through plastic packaging to show off their features could be replaced with real onscreen visuals, thanks to a technology the company wants to patent.

In a new patent application for “active electronic media device packaging,” which was published (pdf) today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and picked up by Apple Insider, Apple details packaging design that can slurp up wireless power and deliver it to the gadget inside.

Apple's iPod nano in its retail packaging. What you see on the front right now is a sticker.

Apple’s iPod nano in its retail packaging. What you see on the front right now is a sticker.

(Credit: Apple)

This design does two main things, the filing argues: one is keep the gadgets charged and updated with the latest software before a customer even takes it out of the box, and the other is to allow the gadget’s screen to be used for visual promotion.

To do that, the patent describes a system for using either RF power or magnetic induction to keep units juiced up. Two possible options for that process include charging the device through the box wirelessly, or as part of a charging system that’s built into the packaging itself.

When charged, gadgets can then be intelligently powered on to display content or features, similar to how a wall of TVs would look on display at a big box retail store. The patent even describes a feature of the system that’s able to determine which package is in the very front of a stack and power it on to keep power from being slurped up by devices that would go unseen.

One curiosity about such an idea is that Apple itself keeps iPods behind locked doors, and generally out of sight at its retail stores. However, the display units that are out on the floor can have promotional videos running on them.

One place where such a technology could prove useful is in third-party authorized resellers, including places like Best Buy and Target, where Apple’s portable gadgets are sold and typically locked away in clear storage cases. If set up in what can often be a out of sight area of the store, the added visual element could make the gadgets more eye-catching.

Last year Apple overhauled its retail stores, replacing paper signage with iPads that were encased in acrylic boxes, and hooked up to mainline power. These signs were designed to add extra information about the product they were next to in an interactive manner. For a product like the iPhone, for instance, shoppers could pick and choose rate plans, and even use the display tablet to call up a sales associate for further help.



Smartphone Adoption Higher In Europe at 9:03 am


More U.S. consumers hold on to feature phones and dumb phones. Are U.S. carriers to blame?

Europeans are ahead of the United States when it comes to smartphone adoption. The rate in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom is about 42% compared to 39% here. Part of the reason may be the differences in how carriers operate in the two regions.

The latest ComScore report shows that Symbian still reigns in Europe, powering 32% of smartphones in use in those five countries. That doesn’t mean it is the current market leader in sales, as many of those phones are a few years old. Google Android has 28% of that “E5″ market and Apple iOS 21%, both of which are headquartered in the United States.

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The phone market in Europe is very different from the North American market. In Europe, everything is on the GSM network and everyone uses the same radio frequencies. While you can buy a phone from a carrier on contract, it is normal to buy one on the open market, unlocked. You can then buy a SIM card from a carrier and snap it in your phone.

In the United States it is rare to buy an unlocked phone. Even if you did, you can only easily set it up on either the T-Mobile or AT&T network. Even then, with the different frequencies in use, you may be limited in what services you can get. Getting an unlocked phone on the CDMA networks that Verizon and Sprint operate is a bit more difficult.

Those differences may make Europeans a bit more comfortable investing in higher-end phones. They do it with the knowledge that they can easily switch carriers if desired. In the United States, if you change networks, your only option with your current phone is to sell it online, and then pay $200 and get locked into a two-year contract with your new carrier.

There is also the issue that U.S. consumers are confused by smartphone offerings, particularly about 4G wireless. Oddly enough, Europe is lagging in 4G implementation. That suggests that a clear message about a slower network is better received than a confusing message about a faster network.

Know anyone that is holding off on a smartphone? What are the reasons they give?

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Why Intel Cove Point Ultrabook Is No iPad Killer at 5:03 am

Oct 20: Becoming a Security Detective – Gathering and Analyzing Security Intelligence in the Enterprise

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Aug 25: InformationWeek & Dark Reading present: How Security Breaches Happen and What Your Organization Can Do About Them

Attendees will get insights on how to prevent breaches from happening, how to research and identify the source of a breach, and how to remediate a compromise as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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July 28: InformationWeek & Symantec present: Infrastructure at Risk — Taking Decisive Action to Secure Your Critical Data Assets

Join the editors of InformationWeek and leading security experts from Symantec for an in-depth look at the current threats faced by large and small organizations, and the implications for your business, your customers, and even your country. You’ll hear how today’s threat landscape is changing drastically, and learn the latest countermeasures and best practices to keep your company’s precious data assets out of the hands of determined cybercriminals.

July 27: Electronic Health Records — Moving from Concept to Reality

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Path for Android adds lenses, continues to chase iOS version at 1:03 am

Android-toting users of the social-networking app Path finally get to use filters on their photos.

For almost a year, fast-growing social networking app Path has offered iOS users lenses (photo filters) to spruce up the photos they share. With the tap of a finger, these users have been able to add vintage-looking vignettes or sepia tones to their work, and even purchase premium lenses for about a buck. Meanwhile, Android users have looked on with jealous eyes, as they were sadly not offered the same capabilities.

As of yesterday, that has all changed. Now Android users get the very same free filters that iOS users have, including Pro, Ansel, Instant, Diana, Lomo, Country, and Lake. This means Android users will no longer have to add basic filters from other apps then import them into Path, since it’s all built right in. While this certainly moves Path’s Android app closer in line with its iOS sibling, there is still a gap to be aware of. Unfortunately, there are still no premium filters or tilt-shift function on Android, as there are on iOS.

Path for Android (download) is available for free download now on Google Play.



Titanic disaster unlikely to happen in this age, experts say April 22, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Modern warning systems plus radar and a better sense of oceanography make it unlikely that a ship could be lost at sea–with hundreds or even thousands dead–in 2012.

In the years immediately after the 1912 Titanic disaster, the U.S. government along with others with jurisdiction over North Atlantic shipping lanes began using new technologies to help mariners avoid deadly icebergs.

(Credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

Given that the builder of the Titanic is said to have famously bragged that his amazing new ship could never be sunk, it’s dangerous to argue that an accident like the one that sent the famous vessel to the bottom of the sea 100 years ago could never happen again.

But with the centennial of the April 15, 1912, disaster quickly approaching, there’s every indication that modern science and technology in combination with a much greater awareness of seaborne hazards, make such a tragedy — at least on the scale of Titanic–extremely unlikely today.

It’s not, of course, that icebergs are no longer dangerous to mariners. They definitely are, said Mike Hicks, an oceanographer and the chief scientist at the International Ice Patrol (IIP), an arm of the U.S. Coast Guard.

But since 1913, the International Ice Patrol has been responsible for monitoring the ever-changing state of icebergs in the North Atlantic — home to many of the world’s cold-water shipping lanes — and has, in conjunction with the Canadian Ice Service, issued a “daily iceberg analysis” meant to give ship captains the very latest information on the frozen dangers that might lie in their path.

“We have a safety record we’re very proud of,” said Hicks. “Not a single ship that heeded our warnings has struck an iceberg.”

Still, there is an iceberg season every year — generally from early February until at least June, if not September–and during that time, there is often danger to shipping passing through the North Atlantic. Hicks explained that each day during the season, the IIP puts out its warning, typically delineating the “iceberg limit” that ships need to avoid.

The official iceberg warning from the International Ice Patrol for April 10, 2012. If the captain of the Titanic had had information like this, disaster might well have been avoided.

(Credit: International Ice Patrol)

Hicks said that the warning is compiled using all reports from the Coast Guard’s aircraft, as well as input from oil production assets in the Grand Banks, and information from ships going back and forth across the North Atlantic. Once everything has come in, the IIP uses the data to generate a computer model that predicts where icebergs are likely to be, and for how long.

“It’s basically a line on a chart of the ocean, and it shows that there’s ice inside of this line, so if you stay outside of this line, you should be safe,” Hicks said. “If a ship is leaving Montreal and going to Germany, they’ll look at the [warning] and well before they get into iceberg danger, they’ll plan their route.”

Although he doesn’t know the exact percentage of ships that utilize the daily warnings, Hicks said that a “large majority” do, the exception being those that are trying to take shorter routes, or which are carrying out work that forces them into dangerous water. He pointed to the case of a 2010 accident in which a ship that wasn’t heeding the warning collided with a small iceberg, an accident that while not deadly, did cave in the vessel’s “bulbous bow” and force it into drydock for large-scale repairs.

On November 24, 2007, another ship, the MV Explorer smashed into a submerged iceberg off the Antarctic Peninsula, causing a hole “the size of a fist” that ended up forcing an evacuation and the ship’s sinking. No one was killed in the accident.

But those incidents are very rare exceptions to the rule, suggested both Hicks and Ted Scambos, the lead scientist at the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center. And that’s in large part because of the ongoing international efforts to monitor icebergs in crucial shipping lanes, and the work done to make sure that mariners have the latest data in their hands as they approach such areas.

More iceberg hazards than in 1912?
The evidence is hard to dispute: changes in the global climate are resulting in more and more icebergs shearing off in places like Greenland, almost certainly more than was the case a century ago.

But according to Hicks, that has nothing at all to do with dangers faced by ships making their way across the North Atlantic.

For example, he said, the Titanic itself had its fateful collision east of Providence, R.I., far away from the greatest preponderance of icebergs. And in that area, the appearance of ice depends on the currents and the collision of the chilly Labrador Current and the warmer Gulf Stream, something that changes significantly from year to year, regardless of global climate change.

But while there may be more icebergs breaking off of Greenland, Scambos said that almost any that made their way south into the shipping lanes would melt well before they endangered anyone.

Nevertheless, icebergs do occur in and around the shipping lanes, particularly during the iceberg season.

As such, “we see enormous variability in the count of icebergs delivered into the shipping lanes each year,” Hicks said. “The number of icebergs we see that affect transatlantic shipping has much more to do with complex oceanographic and meteorological process that affect the iceberg delivery system.”

At the same time, Hicks said the preponderance of ship-board radar has also made the ocean safer from rogue ice, as has the ability to get online while at sea in order to look at satellite imagery.

Scambos agreed that radar and satellite Internet both play a big part in helping keep ships safe while in transit, and that while not every shipping line invests in state-of-the art equipment, most have what it takes to identify large icebergs.

At the same time, general understanding of oceanography is another arrow in the mariner’s quiver that helps with avoiding the cold water currents where icebergs congregate.

Of course, radar and other technologies can only help a ship captain if he or she is using it properly, and there are plenty of examples of disasters at sea resulting from incompetence.

But both Hicks and Scambos argued that with the advances in technology and the amount of effort that goes into monitoring icy hazards, ships have probably never been safer at sea, at least from Titanic-like accidents.

“We have a much better system in place now than when Titanic sank,” Hicks said. “But [icebergs are] still a problem. And if our system went away, I suspect there would be more iceberg collisions. And a higher probability of a sinking.”



Google, Facebook Spent Record Amounts On D.C. Lobbying In Q1 2012 at 5:04 pm

More dollars were poured into the Beltway from technology companies in the first quarter of 2012. As shown through previous lobbying spends, each quarter, Facebook and Google continue to spend more and more on lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. In the most recent disclosure reports filed in the U.S. Senate?s lobbying database, both of the companies hit all time highs in terms of lobbying dollars.


Google?s lobbying spend hit an all-time high again this quarter, with spending coming in at a whopping $5.03 million, tripling its spend from the same period a year ago. Last quarter, Google spent $3.76 million on lawmakers. Microsoft only spent $1.8 million on lobbying for the quarter. In 2011, Google spent $9.7 million on lobbying, and has already surpassed half of that spend in this past quarter alone.

So what issues are Google pushing in D.C.? This past quarter, Google?s lobbying strategy focused on SOPA, patent reform, data privacy and accountability, online advertising regulation, intellectual property and trademark issues, cyber security and online privacy, renewable energy, freedom of expression and censorship, immigration reform and the Startup Visa Act, science, technology and math education, free trade, broadband access, freedom of expression and intellectual property in international trade agreements, ?openness and competition in the online services market,? cloud computing, tax reform, internet standards of service and more. In fact, this quarter brought the most variety of issues Google has publicly tackled in Washington D.C. so far.

We know Google had been ramping up lobbying spend with the SOPA issues from earlier this year. Antitrust and consumer privacy are also areas where Google has faced scrutiny from the government. And Google recently named former congresswoman Susan Molinari as head of the search giant?s Washington office, signaling a more experienced presence in the Beltway to navigate through many of these regulatory issues.


Ahead of its IPO in May, Facebook has been doubling down on lobbying efforts. The social network spent $650,000 on lobbying in Q1 2012, up from $230,000 in the same quarter last year. From the fourth quarter 2011 to the first quarter 2012, Facebook increased spending by $200,000. Last year alone, Facebook spent a little over $1 million on lobbying and has already spent nearly half of that in the first quarter.

Policy areas of focus for Facebook this year include global regulation of software companies and restrictions on internet access by foreign governments; internet privacy regulations, do not track issues, discussion of location-based services; education regarding Facebook?s tag suggest features, patent reform, online safety measures, education regarding online advertising, immigration, cyber security, and lobbying for Oregon power and water needs to support high-tech growth and investment in Oregon (Facebook opened a new, energy-efficient data center in Oregon last April).

Facebook has faced regulatory scrutiny around privacy, and we know the network must be lobbying hard for patent reform regulation in light of its recent legal issues with Yahoo. And as the company prepares to enter the public markets, Facebook has ramping of fundraising through a new political action committee.

Last year, Facebook is deepened its ties with D.C., hiring more influential lobbyists, and even partnering with the current administration on policy issues.

Photo Credit/Flickr/Fovea Centralis

September 7, 1998


Google provides search and advertising services, which together aim to organize and monetize the world?s information. In addition to its dominant search engine, it offers a plethora of online tools and platforms including: Gmail, Maps, YouTube, and Google+, the company?s extension into the social space. Most of its Web-based products are free, funded by Google?s highly integrated online advertising platforms AdWords and AdSense. Google promotes the idea that advertising should be highly targeted and relevant to users thus providing…

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Facebook is the world?s largest social network, with over 500 million users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 weeks, half of the schools in the Boston area began demanding a Facebook network. Zuckerberg immediately recruited his friends Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes to help build Facebook, and within four months, Facebook added 30 more college networks. The original idea for the term…

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Windows Sales Defy Predictions, Grow 4% at 1:03 pm

Stronger-than-expected sales of Windows helped Microsoft post a 6% increase in revenue for the first quarter of 2012, the company said yesterday.

The Windows and Windows Live division brought in $4.6 billion during the three months ending March 31, an increase of 4% over the same period the year before.

That was a turnaround of sorts: Windows’ revenue for the quarter was just $112 million less than sales during the last three months of 2011, traditionally a strong quarter in the calendar because of holiday purchases of PCs. But in 2011′s fourth quarter, Windows revenue was down 6% compared to the year before.

Business purchases of PCs — Windows’ revenue is directly tied to the sale of new machines — fueled the gain, with system sales to companies up 8% year-over-year, while consumer computer sales, long sluggish, remained flat.

“The business PC is what really drove the Windows business,” said Peter Klein, Microsoft’s chief financial officer Thursday during an earnings call with Wall Street analysts.

Most analysts had expected a poorer performance, largely on the projections by Gartner and IDC, which initially predicted a PC sales slump but then last week raised their estimates, saying that shipments actually increased about 2% in the quarter.

Microsoft estimated that PC sales grew between 2% and 4% during the quarter.

PC sales have struggled to match previous periods because of tougher competition from tablets and smartphones for consumer dollars, and the lingering effects of a hard disk drive shortage sparked by flooding last year in Thailand.

The Windows group accounted for 27% of the company’s revenue for the quarter, second behind the Business division, which handles the Office line. Windows’ piece of the pie was larger than the previous quarter — the division contributed 23% of all revenue in the last three months of 2011 — but slightly less than the same period a year before.

Windows 7 continued to gain ground among corporate users, said Klein, who claimed that 40% of all enterprise desktops were running the OS. Klein did not name a source for that number, but Net Applications, which Microsoft’s IE team regularly cites, said that 41% of all machines running Windows worldwide last month did it with Windows 7.

As executives touted the strong sales for Windows 7, they also, although only in the broadest strokes, reminded analysts of the upcoming Windows 8.

After noting that the next fiscal year — which runs July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013 — will include an “unprecedented refresh” of the company’s core products, Klein was upbeat about Windows 8, even though customers have seen only a beta of the desktop version and nothing at all on ARM.

“With Windows 8 and its availability on both x86 and ARM, we believe the ecosystem will capitalize on the new range of capabilities and scenarios Windows 8 enable,” said Klein in prepared remarks.

Although executives divulged no new information about Windows 8′s release date during yesterday’s conference call, Bill Koefoed, the general manager of Microsoft’s investor relations, said that the development of Windows 8 and Windows RT — the official name for the version designed for ARM processors — is “on our schedule.”

Klein dodged a question from one analyst about revenue swings later this year caused by Windows 8 upgrade giveaways. “We haven’t said anything and will not today, but we’ll have more to talk about in terms of programs and promotions as we get closer to the launch date,” Klein said.

With Windows 7, Microsoft offered free or nearly free upgrades to people who purchased a new Vista PC in the months before and after its launch. The company also aggressively discounted Windows 7 upgrades during a two-week pre-sale period. Microsoft may repeat one or both of those promotions with Windows 8.

If it does, the deals will impact the bottom line: Two years ago, Microsoft deferred $1.7 billion in revenue to account for the Windows 7 upgrades due Vista PC buyers.

Klein also sidestepped a question about whether Windows XP’s looming retirement will create additional incentive to upgrade to Windows 7, or even Windows 8, and accelerate sales of those editions. “Obviously, it’s high on the priority list for CIOs to upgrade their business desktop [from XP],” said Klein. “Exactly how that will play out over the next couple of years is hard to say.”

XP will fall off Microsoft’s support list in early April 2014.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg’s RSS feed. His email address is

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For more enterprise computing news, visit Computerworld. Story copyright © 2011 Computerworld Inc. All rights reserved.



Salesforce CEO Benioff Slams Microsoft at 9:03 am

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff used a high-profile company event in New York City to engage in one of his favorite activities: swiping at competitors such as Microsoft.

“I think they’ve lost their relevancy,” was how he described Microsoft during a Nov. 30 question-and-answer session, following his company’s unveiling of its Social Marketing Cloud. “I just don’t think they matter anymore.” He was dismissive of the upcoming Windows 8, suggesting that that the “Windows Everywhere” paradigm was terminally outdated.

Microsoft and Salesforce have made a sport of lunging at each other’s throats. On the product side,’s browser-based CRM competes with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. On the lawsuit side, the two companies have engaged in tit-for-tat patent battles, the latest of which ended in August 2010 with Salesforce agreeing to pay Microsoft an unspecified amount.

In the wake of that lawsuit, the companies’ respective spokespeople took a somewhat conciliatory tone, with Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft (not to mention the bête noire of Google Android), describing the endpoint agreement as “an example of how companies can compete vigorously in the marketplace while respecting each other’s intellectual property rights.”

But that doesn’t stop Benioff from doing his best to rip into Microsoft seemingly at every opportunity. There’s a method to his madness: Salesforce products like the new Social Marketing Cloud (a suite of cloud-based analytics and engagement tools built atop Radian6 software) fully embrace the idea of browser-based software as an increasingly important business platform, one whose flexibility and scalability eclipses traditional on-premises software (and associated hardware). Meanwhile, Microsoft is powering toward the cloud as fast as it can, with products like Office 365, but its revenues are still largely tethered to traditional software such as Office and Windows, which it continues to heavily promote. Benioff needs to cast his company as the way of the future, and Microsoft as struggling to catch up.

The flip side is that Microsoft has billions of dollars and thousands of very smart people at its disposal. That means the company can do things like burn through hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter on developing online services. It can also afford to play a much longer game, strategy-wise, than many of its competitors. In other words, it’s a dangerous opponent.

So Benioff slams them as outdated, and Microsoft’s people fire back, and the game continues.

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Gartner: Worldwide Semiconductor Sales up $5.4 Billion in 2011 at 5:02 am

Worldwide semiconductor revenue increased 1.8 percent in 2011 to US$306.8 billion, up $5.4 billion compared to 2010, according to research published by Gartner on Tuesday.

The growth was mainly driven by the microprocessor market, which was up 14.2 percent year over year, propelled by strong average selling prices, Gartner analysts said. This increase in demand was in turn driven by both PCs and servers, and the PC market benefited strongly from the integration of graphics. This led to a market recovery in 2011 from a relative underperformance in 2010, the analysts said.

Intel dominated the semiconductor market for the 20th consecutive year with revenue of $50.7 billion, up 20.7 percent. The company’s 16.5 percent market share was an all-time high, Gartner said.

Samsung Electronics took second place with revenue growth of 1 percent and market share amounting to 8.9 percent. Toshiba, the third-largest producer of semiconductors, reached market share of 3.8 percent, while its revenue shrank 4.8 percent. Samsung’s revenue was $27.4 billion and Toshiba’s was $11.8 billion in 2011, Gartner reported. Samsung suffered from a weak DRAM market, which was the main reason it was not able to close the gap with Intel, analysts noted.

Qualcomm’s revenue, the sixth-place company on the list, grew the fastest at 38.8 percent, for nearly $10 billion in revenue last year, according to Gartner’s figures. The chip producer reached a market share of 3.3 percent. Analysts said this was mainly due to the rapidly growing smartphone market.

Qualcomm’s 2011 revenue contained three quarters of Atheros’ revenue, a chip maker that was acquired for $3.1 billion in the first half of 2011.

Broadcom was one other noteworthy company, according to the analysts. The chip maker came in 10th on the 2011 list and outperformed the overall semiconductor market as the mobile and wireless division experienced double-digit growth. The company’s’ revenue grew 8.4 percent to $7.2 billion in 2011, with 2.3 percent market share.

Revenue for the top 25 semiconductor vendors grew 3.1 percent more than overall industry revenue, mainly due to a busy year for mergers and acquisitions.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to



Booq Python Sling Holds Your Laptop and DSLR Gear at 1:02 am

Booq’s Python Sling camera bag. Image source: www.booqbags.comFor photo-heads on the go, a good bag is essential. Photographers need easy access to all their gear, padded compartments to keep lenses and camera bodies safe, and-perhaps most important-the weight of all that gear distributed comfortably. Booq meets all of these standards and then some with its $230 Python Sling camera bag.

The pill-shaped Python Sling has one large compartment that’s easily accessed by swinging the bag around from your back to your front. This zipper-opened pocket gives you access to nearly the entire cavernous bag. In this cavernous compartment alone, you can configure the movable dividers to fit at least four lenses, a camera body, and a speedlight. This compartment’s flap has two zippered pockets-one on the inside that’s ideal for lens-cleaning towels and cables, and one on the outside that has four tiny, elastic pouches for memory cards.

The Python Sling’s top compartment, which is easily accessible only when the bag is off your shoulder, can fit another DSLR, a large set of headphones, or maybe a snack. An 11-inch or 13-inch MacBook Air, or an iPad, can slide into the bag’s padded laptop compartment, which sits against your back; the opening for this compartment is near the main section’s zipper access, making it reachable without having to remove the bag from your shoulder. If that’s not enough stuff for you, you can attach tripods or other accessories to the outside of the bag using two adjustable clips.

The Python Sling’s single strap is made of seatbelt-like nylon and is thickly padded and adjustable. It has a pocket on the front for an iPhone or remote, and in true seatbelt fashion, you can unbuckle the strap for easy bag removal. Once the bag is off your back, it will stand on its own on a flat surface using its rubber-padded bottom.

Everything about this bag screams protection. The bag material is ballistic nylon treated with a water-repellent coating to keep your gear safe. The compartments within the Python sling are also tougher than the average lens dividers-very rigid with rubber-padded borders to provide additional protection (though one could also argue that the design also just looks cool). And if the water-repellant nylon isn’t enough moisture protection, the Sling includes a bright-red, removable rain poncho that fits snuggly around the pack.

The messenger-sling design of the Python is deceptively comfortable, and weighing in at just four pounds when empty, the Python Sling is surprisingly light given all the padding and structure it contains. Still, after loading it up with two cameras, four lenses, and a Macbook Air, things can get pretty heavy. If all of that weight resting on your right shoulder becomes too much to handle, the bag has an optional hip support that extends from a pocket in the bottom of the pack and clips to the shoulder strap. The back of the bag and every place where the strap rests on your body are covered in a half-inch-thick, lightweight foam, so even when it’s full of gear the Sling is comfortable. The convenience and easier access of a sling design will make the Python appealing to even backpack-loving symmetry enthusiasts. My only real beef with the design is that, like all slings, it can be worn only on one shoulder-in this case, the right. So if your right side gets fatigued, you’re out of luck.

For more Macintosh computing news, visit Macworld. Story copyright © 2011 Mac Publishing LLC. All rights reserved.