This Week’s technology news – 25th October 2013

This week’s technology news – 25th October 2013

Battle of the giants recommences?
For 20 years Microsoft and Apple have enjoyed a Titan battle with each other, but in recent times have turned their fire on upstart, Google.  This week’s double launch by Apple of a new, thinner i-Pad alongside a high spec and typically expensive computer, re-confirmed their commitment to the computer market. Despite representing only a fraction of profits, their dig at another company (Microsoft) for not knowing whether it wanted to be a tablet or a PC was clear.  Added to which Apple’s latest Mac OS, Mavericks, will be free to download, plus updates of iWork apps would now be free on new iOS devices; another challenge to Microsoft whose business model is to charge for Windows and Office.  Game on!

How mobile are our communications in the UK?
Ofcom’s latest infrastructure report on broadband looked at mobile coverage on roads for the first time. Whilst superfast broadband is now available to around 75% of UK users, connecting to broadband on Britain’s roads is trickier.  Motorways have good 3G coverage, but just 35% of UK A and B roads are served by all four mobile networks and 4G continues a city-centric rollout.  Only 22% of the UK market has upgraded to superfast broadband, perhaps deterred by price premiums as well as doubts over true broadband speed delivery.  However, with an eye popping 650million gigabytes of data being transmitted every month and an ever increasing mobile workforce, it is essential that network providers improve network access for consumers and business more effectively to enable satisfaction both on and off the job.

Desert song springboard for Nokia
In Nokia’s last big PR event before the sale of its hardware unit, the Finnish firm unveiled its first phablets (extra large phones with ability to change which objects are in focus), as well as its first tablet computer with a 4G data chip, in Abu Dhabi this week. With Microsoft’s marketing power, the marriage should enable a greater market share in future for handset and tablets. With sales of Nokia growing, Microsoft’s business users may be persuaded that Windows Phones are becoming a safe solution. The 6” displays will allow extra rows of apps (including the eagerly anticipated arrival of Instagram) and make the touchscreen keyboards easier to use – likely to appeal to business users. But having two devices in competition does not make sense.  Nokia could become the cheaper, media focused device for consumers, whilst Microsoft keep the more expensive Intel-based Surface Pro for business.  Eyes on for future sales reports.

Minority reports of a virtual advance
Taiwan based R&D organisation ITRI, has announced a virtual display, the i-Air Touch, using special goggles. These allow users to see and interact with virtual keyboards, data, images and touchscreens that float out in front of users, controlled by finger strokes. Developed for PCs, laptops, wearable computers and mobile devices, the users’ hands are free of any physical device. With a DDDR camera as a key component and a close range signal register to avoid mishaps, the i-Air Touch also benefits from conserving battery power, a traditional challenge. Patented and ready to roll out to manufacturers, the initial markets other than consumers are likely to be the medical and industrial sectors.  With the world going rapidly virtual, it is a good guess that that it could catch on.

This week’s technology news from Amicus ITS – Friday 18th October 2013

Beware The Great Firewall of China
Recent reports of interest from Chinese electronics company Lenovo in taking over Blackberry have aroused serious concern with US regulators. A preliminary consortium deal from Fairfax Holdings remains on the table, along with a second consortium bid being prepared by Blackberry co-founder Mike Lazaridis. A large number of US corporate and government customers use Blackberry’s platform, so proposed Chinese control would attract a high level of scrutiny and concern. Last year, the manufacture of telecom network equipment by two Chinese companies was deemed to pose a threat to national security. Blackberry has historically routed messages via their own datacentre before crossing the network. This would not be a welcome precedent if the company were to have a Chinese parent, given the lack of freedom for users currently in the dragon State and their draconian interest in data control.

Windows 8.1 is now Live
Microsoft has released its first big update to the latest and controversial OS Windows 8, Windows 8.1. Microsoft has listened to feedback and re-introduced the Start button, conjoining the Start menu and desktop once more. With personalization options, the ability to boot to desktop, disable ‘hot corners’ and includes 3D printer support etc. Arguably the most important addition is the new integrated tutorials which should solve a lot of confusion for new users. Free to upgrade from Windows 8 it is a no-brainer for those existing desktop and tablet users. Anyone who has held off upgrading to Windows 8, should re-evaluate their decision now, as with the ability to control the user experience, you get the best of both worlds AND the reassurance of being supported.

Where a good BYOD policy would avoid conflict
With a rigid imposition of security policies on US government workers, a survey of cyber security professionals and non-cyber workers has found that resentment of controls so high, that 31% of employees sought a workaround to the security protocols at least once a week, whilst 49% of federal security breaches were attributed to end user non-compliance. Workarounds might include staff using their own devices and network, or altering network settings. Whatever the means, strictures and policies were found to be too burdensome, time consuming and hindered productivity. Harmonising security policies with end user behaviour is a challenge for CIOs, but one which should deliver better results for security by working as a team not adversaries – and improve the spirit of shared responsibility.

UK Government gets up to speed
With the first overhaul of its security banding since World War II, the Government is finally catching up with the digital age and removing over-complicated systems. Six security classification levels will drop to three. Currently classifications are listed as: Unclassified, Protect, Restricted, Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. These will become: Official, Secret and Top Secret. Affecting over 700,000 civil servant users, this is a further part of the Civil Service Reform Programme. It follows the Government’s endorsement of an adoption of Cloud earlier this year. Following the move away from paper, it reflects the increased use of mobile devices providing greater flexibility for the workforce, whilst controlling the distribution of sensitive data and saving costs.

This week’s technology news from Amicus ITS – Friday 11th October 2013

Bounty hunting that leaves a good taste for Microsoft
Given the escalating problems and financial cost to business from cyber threats, Microsoft have taken the pro-active step of engaging with hackers and the security expert community, to counter vulnerabilities on their latest OS, Windows 8.1. With bounties of up to $100,000 it has resonated already, with a handsome payout to one US security specialist who discovered a defence circumvention technique. Companies across the globe in all sectors and scales should take the opportunity to invest in some security navel gazing to secure the gateways into their infrastructure.

Blue skies – but Clouds still seem scary to some business
With the UK adoption of Cloud getting Government blessing earlier this year, a recent global study found that adoption has still been slower than anticipated. Whilst UK firms are generally warming to the cloud, there are 5 cloud “personas”: Controllers (lacking enthusiasm), Accepters, Experimenters, Believers and Embracers. Barriers include complex data laws, data protection, legislation and regulation issues which create a minefield (critically for financial services, healthcare and petrochemicals). However, good managed service providers should be able to circumvent this to enable companies to regain their commercial agility, competitive edge and offer cost savings.

Upgrading Windows? But are you ready for a new Internet Explorer?
As end of life for Windows XP approaches in April 2014, so does support for IE6 (Internet Explorer 6). The minimum version of IE is determined by Windows. Windows XP lets you run IE 6 and up, Windows 7 is IE 8 and Windows 8 comes with IE 10. IE6 was released over 10 years ago and now only takes 4.9% of browser usage (less than 1% in the UK). Despite this, some corporations still rely on IE6 for custom built web-applications developed exclusively with IE6 in mind. If you have a web platform that has been holding you back from upgrading Windows, now is the time to seek a modern alternative. You can check out Microsoft’s IE6 countdown site here.

Fujitsu announces first fan-cooled, waterproof tablet
Panasonic and others have produced ruggedised laptops and tablets in the past with their ‘tough’ range. This has helped corporations secure mobile devices that would take a physical beating in industries such as construction, field sales and public sector workers. Fujitsu have announced the launch of a tablet cooled by an extractor fan that survives immersion under water. The fan cools the desktop-class i5 processor, making it capable of running specialised corporate applications in practically any work environment. Although devices like these will only interest specific sectors now, there is no limit to how flexible the next generation mobile work force can be.


This week’s technology news from Amicus ITS – Friday 4th October 2013

MS Office is no longer the selling point it once was for phones & tablets
Microsoft has been using Office as a selling point for Windows Phones and Surface tablets. Apple announced at WWDC that all future iPhone and iPads will be able to download the iWork apps for free. Google is now following suit with a partnership with Quickoffice to allow free access to all Android users. This diminishes Microsoft’s USP in this market. When Office 365 is available on all phone platforms but only by subscription, why pay for 365 when can use an alternative programme for free? To take back control, Microsoft needs to ensure their mobile Office tools are undisputedly best in class and that you get what you pay for.

Screen scraping – the big steal
Defined as copying all the data on a target website, screen scraping in this instance is not the reluctant exercise with your car on a frosty morning. Rather, it is a means for companies to anonymously harvest time critical data and profit from rival websites. Affected industries include financial institutions, bookmakers, online insurance companies, online directories and the travel industry – with loss of revenue and diluted confidence in brand. Blocking measures to differentiate between genuine customers and the 40% of scraper traffic is tricky and the impact can slow up servers and reduce bandwidth. It is a growing problem sign of a new direction in industrial espionage.

Is Government’s new Joint Cyber Unit – the new Mi10?
In a bid to counter the spiralling threat of cyber attacks, the Government has announced the creation of a new Reservist division of IT experts, both full time and part time to work alongside regular forces in defending national security. The JCU will also have the capability to launch strikes in cyber space. With the goal of protecting computer networks and safeguarding vital data, the Government is making a public effort to interface with private sector expertise. Let us hope it thwarts logarithmical IEDs in time.

Windows Phone on the rise in the UK
Windows Phone is still gaining market share. Growth in Europe, especially in the UK shows significant increase. 12% of UK smart phones sold are now Windows Phones against 3% in the US. Nokia produces the majority of Windows Phones now with a strong brand loyalty across Europe. With the Microsoft-Nokia deal planned, the idea of dropping the Nokia brand may backfire, given that the ‘Lumia’ brand Nokia has been using on its Windows Phones is searched for more online than ‘Windows Phone’ itself. The wrong brand choice could undo much of the promising growth occurring on the Microsoft Phone platform, thanks to Nokia.

World’s first digital laser
South Africa’s CSIR laboratories have created the first digital laser. Using an LCD inside a laser, the normal digital pictures were converted and the laser output changed in real time from one mode shape to another. This evolution offers an advancement from traditionally costly devices and time consuming control of the laser beam and has the potential to become a disruptive technology to the current market. The researchers believe (and hope) this has widespread implications for future technologies and applications across devices from communications to medicine.