There's really no such thing as a 'best' mobile provider

Content from PCWorld - June 19, 2013 - 10:03am

As with all things tech, there are rabidly loyal fans of each of the four major mobile network providers, and strong opinions on all sides about which is the “best.” While Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile each have their pros and cons, it’s virtually impossible to declare one the winner.

Late last month, PCWorld's sister site TechHive published results of its own nationwide study. After bouncing around the country testing the speed and reliability of the mobile networks from city to city, TechHive declared that AT&T takes the crown this year as the fastest mobile network provider. Kudos to AT&T, but the victory has little impact in the real world.

The "best" mobile service varies
from place to place.

There is obviously something to be said for choosing a mobile provider with fast, reliable 4G/LTE service. The reality, though, is that the most important benefits and pitfalls of a particular provider are subjective, and depend on where you intend to use the service. The fastest network in the nation is less important than the fastest network where you live and work and plan to use the service.

I experienced that reality first hand when I moved a year and a half ago. I had been a devoted, long time AT&T customer. There were a handful of known “dead zones” in the area—small pockets where there was no AT&T signal and calls would drop—but I knew where they were, and how to avoid them. I could live with that.

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How to maximize your work productivity on the road

Content from PCWorld - June 19, 2013 - 8:30am

A new role that requires traveling takes some getting used to, especially if you rarely leave the office. It suddenly becomes critical to squeeze in that bit of extra work while waiting for an airport transfer, relaxing at the hotel in the evenings, shuffling between meetings, or even when waiting for clients to show up for those meetings.

With this in mind, here are several pointers to help maximize your productivity when traveling.

Internet access: watch connections, battery life

In this age of Web services and access to instant information, the trickiest bit of a business trip is often getting Internet connectivity at unfamiliar or remote locations. While Wi-Fi hotspot access is generally great, it can sometimes be flaky due to congestion or misbehaving wireless access points in public locations.

When faced with an errant Wi-Fi hotspot, a good guideline is to devote no more than 10 minutes and one system restart to resolving the problem. Beyond that, changing venues or switching to a mobile hostpot is a more judicious use of time.

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Tablet downsizing trend to quicken in second half of 2013

Content from PCWorld - June 19, 2013 - 7:31am

The shift toward smaller tablets will accelerate in the second half of the year when a slew of tablet makers, including Apple, introduce new models with screens 8 inches or smaller, said Richard Shim, an analyst with DisplaySearch.

Although larger-sized tablets dominated 2012—those 9 inches and larger accounted for 60% of sales last year—the going-small switch has picked up unexpected speed, Shim said.

“In 2013, it is smaller tablet PCs that are expected to make up over 60% of shipments,” he said in a Tuesday blog post. DisplaySearch estimates that for the year, 66% of all tablets sold will sport screens smaller than 9 inches.

8-inch tablets the sweet spot?

Last month, rival research firm IDC said tablets 8 inches and smaller would account for 55% of the total for 2013.

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Java update patches 40 security issues

Content from PCWorld - June 19, 2013 - 7:14am

Oracle addressed 40 security issues in Java and enabled online certificate revocation checking by default in its scheduled critical patch update for Java on Tuesday.

Thirty-four vulnerabilities patched in the newly released Java 7 Update 25 (Java 7u25) version affect only client deployments of Java. Another four affect both client and server deployments, one affects the Java installer and one the Javadoc tool that's used to create HTML documentation files.

Many of the client-only vulnerabilities received the maximum score on the vulnerability severity scale used by Oracle. These flaws can be exploited by attackers to take control of computers by hosting malicious Java applets—Java Web applications—on remote servers and tricking users to load them in their browsers.

The large number of Web-based attacks that targeted Java users this year by exploiting vulnerabilities in the Java browser plug-in prompted concern about the security worthiness of the Java platform among home users and in enterprise environments, where Java is also frequently used on servers.

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Wi-Fi Alliance announces 802.11ac certification program

Content from PCWorld - June 19, 2013 - 6:01am

The Wi-Fi Alliance is finally kicking off a certification program for routers, adapters, and other wireless networking gear based on the IEEE 802.11ac draft standard. The organization has a strong track record when it comes to ensuring that networking products will be interoperable even when the standards they’re based on have yet to be finalized, so this is a positive development.

As it did with the 802.11n wireless networking standard, the IEEE is taking its sweet time to ratify the 802.11ac standard. In fact, the responsible working group isn’t expected to finish its work until November, and final ratification isn’t expected until February 2014. That lengthy timeline hasn’t stopped manufacturers from shipping 802.11ac gear, of course; products based on the draft standard have been on store shelves since August 2012. But buyers haven’t had any assurances that those products will work together.

The 802.11ac-based Asus RT-AC66U is one of the fastest routers we've ever tested.

So why is the certification program launching now? “We want to ensure that the standard is substantially mature,” said Wi-Fi Alliance senior marketing manager Kevin Robinson in an embargoed interview last week. “There is work that we have to go through to ensure interoperability, and [we’re] fielding a test bed to certify that.”

The Wi-Fi Alliance launched a similar certification program back in 2007 for networking equipment based on the draft 802.11n standard. Unlike that effort, however, the 802.11ac certification program will not acknowledge the standard’s draft status and is being described as simply “Wi-Fi CERTIFIED™ ac.”

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Five surefire ways to maximize your laptop's battery life

Content from PCWorld - June 19, 2013 - 4:00am

You adore your laptop. It lets you get down to business wherever you happen to be—airport lounge, coffee shop, your home office. It’s the key to your competitive edge.

That is, until its battery croaks. Just as you’re putting the final details on your PowerPoint presentation. At the airport. Two hours before takeoff. And with no power outlet in sight. At that instant, you begin to wonder why you ever bought the ever-lovin’ boat anchor in the first place.

But love will bloom anew as soon as you recharge. Avoid the heartache, however temporary: Follow these five tips for maximizing your laptop’s run time.

Never miss an opportunity to plug your laptop into an AC outlet to top off its battery. 1. Plug in whenever possible

One surefire way to ensure that your laptop is always ready for action is to plug it into an AC outlet whenever possible. Keeping the machine fully charged makes it far more likely that you will always have the juice you need to complete your work. Purchase at least one extra AC adapter, so you’ll always have one in your office and one in your laptop bag for travel. If you work at home frequently, consider buying a third adapter to leave there.

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Microsoft partners with Samsung, HP to help stop Windows piracy in China

Content from PCWorld - June 19, 2013 - 4:00am

Hewlett-Packard and Samsung Electronics will now ensure that their PCs in China are installed with licensed Windows and Office software as part of new agreements signed with Microsoft meant to fight piracy.

Microsoft announced the agreements Wednesday as the company brought its latest anti-piracy campaign to the Chinese city of Nanjing. Since December, Microsoft's "Keep it Real" campaign has been educating the Chinese public on security risks of using unlicensed Windows software. In addition, the U.S. software giant has been warning dozens of PC resellers in China to stop dealing in pirated copies of its software products.

Wednesday's agreements call for the two companies to also require their direct channel partners to promote genuine Microsoft software.

In March, Microsoft signed a similar agreement with Lenovo, China's largest PC maker. At the time, Microsoft said the deal would help limit and prevent PCs, moving "downstream" through China's channels, from being installed with pirated versions of Windows.

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Alcatel-Lucent refocuses on IP networking and ultra broadband

Content from PCWorld - June 19, 2013 - 3:00am

Alcatel-Lucent will refocus on IP networking and ultra-broadband access in mobile and fixed-line networks as it seeks to return to profitability by 2015.

Announcing the company's "Shift Plan" in Paris on Wednesday, CEO Michel Combes said the company now recognized that the markets for core networking equipment and access networks are very different, and will in future manage its activities accordingly.

In core IP networking, where an explosion in data traffic and the move to cloud computing is driving purchases, Alcatel-Lucent will pursue a revenue growth strategy, he said. On the other hand, the company will aim to maximize cash and profitability in access networks, where customers are upgrading or replacing existing equipment and sales are flat, he said.

Combes said he aims to sell off €1 billion in assets and to cut annual operating costs by €1 billion. However, he refused to say whether that will result in further job cuts.

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Dell committee says Icahn's new proposal is not 'actionable'

Content from PCWorld - June 18, 2013 - 10:25pm

A Dell special committee has rejected a new proposal from a key shareholder Carl C. Icahn, and said it will continue to support the proposal by founder Michael Dell and private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners to take the company private.

Icahn's proposal in its present state is not a transaction that the committee could endorse and execute as "there is neither financing, nor any commitment from any party to participate, nor any remedy for the company and its shareholders if the transaction is not consummated," the special committee of the board said in a statement Tuesday. The committee was set up in August 2012 after the plans for taking the company private were revealed.

The proposal from Icahn does not adequately address the liquidity issues and other risks that were previously highlighted by the committee, it said.

Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners made an offer for Dell in February that aims to take the computers and services company private in a US$24.4 billion deal. The proposal offers to pay $13.65 per share in cash.

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Steve Jobs' draft email plays pivotal role in antitrust case

Content from PCWorld - June 18, 2013 - 9:00pm

An email composed, but never sent, by former Apple CEO Steve Jobs may prove instrumental in the Justice Department's case that Apple, along with the five largest book publishers, colluded to fix prices for electronic books.

In a draft email intended for Apple Senior Vice President Eddy Cue about negotiations with one publisher, Jobs wrote of the potential deal that "I can live with this as long as they move Amazon to the agent model too for new releases for the first year. If they don't, I'm not sure we can be competitive."

For the Justice Department, Jobs' reference to Amazon showed that the company was trying to end retail price competition among electronic book vendors. However, Orin Snyder, an attorney representing Apple in the case, dismissed the significance of the email in court, noting that it was never even sent to Cue.

As the three-week trial has started to wind down, the DOJ has released a copious set of emails and other electronic documentation between Jobs, Cue -- who was in charge of the negotiations with the book publishers -- and a number of publisher executives. Judge Denise Cote for the U.S. Southern District Court of New York is presiding over the non-jury trial.

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Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 is a speed demon, but battery impact remains unknown

Content from PCWorld - June 18, 2013 - 6:57pm

Your current smartphone’s processor may be fast, but Qualcomm is hoping to show you a whole new definition of mobile performance. On Tuesday, the company staged a benchmarking exhibition in San Francisco to demonstrate the raw speed of its Snapdragon 800 chip, designated for “premium” smartphone deployment later this year.

Qualcomm already has a footprint in many of the top handsets. The 400 series of chips is included in both the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4, for example. Qualcomm hasn’t announced which phones and tablets will use the 800 series, but, for what it’s worth, the company showed off the new chip using the 700MHz LTE band that’s specific to AT&T—although that means little at this point.

Quadrant benchmark for SnapDragon 800Quadrant 2.1.1 benchmark for the Qualcomm SnapDragon 800

When Qualcomm first announced the Snapdragon 400 and 800 chips at the Consumer Electronics Show this past January, the company said the 800 series will appear in “premium” mobile devices in the second half of the year and provide as much as a 75 percent performance boost over Qualcomm’s current Snapdragon S4 chip.

The 800-series chips include a quad-core CPU, known as the 28-nm Krait 400, with each core running at up to 2.3 GHz. It has a new Adreno 330 GPU, integrates a 4G LTE modem for data rates of up to 150 Mbps, and supports the 802.11ac WiFi standard.

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GE thinks it's time to put industrial data in the cloud

Content from PCWorld - June 18, 2013 - 5:05pm

Internet tools are just starting to be applied to industrial tasks such as maintaining equipment and optimizing operations, but the wealth of data being produced by industrial systems could make this a major focus of development in the coming years.

On Tuesday, General Electric increased its bet on this proposition by introducing a cloud platform for data management and recruiting partners to help it serve industrial customers. At an event in San Francisco, GE and its partners, including Pivotal, Accenture and Amazon Web Services, laid out what they see as the opportunities and challenges.

The cutting edge of innovation in using data has shifted from the financial services sector to the consumer realm, and it’s about to move again to the industrial sector, said Paul Maritz, CEO of Pivotal.

Paul Maritz and Beth ComstockStephen LawsonPivotal CEO Paul Maritz spoke on a panel Tuesday with Beth Comstock, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of General Electric.

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Microsoft Dynamics ERP software now available on the Azure cloud

Content from PCWorld - June 18, 2013 - 4:25pm

Microsoft is upping the stakes in the growing market for cloud-based ERP, with its Dynamics GP 2013 and NAV 2013 products now available for deployment on its Azure service.

The launch, announced Tuesday, gives customers another option for cloud-based ERP (enterprise resource planning) services besides NetSuite, SAP Business ByDesign and others. It’s a bit late in coming, as Microsoft originally said availability would be toward the end of last year.

Microsoft was apparently intent on making sure the Dynamics applications ran well on Azure before scaling up the business.

“Over the past several months we’ve been working closely with our first ‘go-live’ customers and partners, as well as with the Windows Azure team, to develop guidance and tooling to ensure a great experience deploying on Azure,” wrote Paul White, senior director of Dynamics, in a blog post. “That work is now complete.”

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Icahn acquires larger stake in Dell, proposes new buyout deal

Content from PCWorld - June 18, 2013 - 3:54pm

Carl Icahn has acquired a larger stake in Dell and called for a better buyout offer than the proposal of $13.65 per share from Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners.

Icahn has proposed that Dell commence a tender offer for around 1.1 billion shares at $14 per share, with a maximum value of $16 billion.

“Our proposal allows those who believe, like us, that the $13.65 price being offered in the Michael Dell/Silver Lake going private transaction significantly undervalues Dell, to continue to hold Dell shares,” wrote Icahn in an open letter to Dell.

Dell announced in February that Michael Dell and investment firm Silver Lake had offered $24.4 billion, or $13.65 per share, to buy out the company. Icahn, along with Southeastern Asset Management, made several counteroffers, with the most recent involving a payout of $12 a share in cash or stock to shareholders, and $5.2 billion in debt financing. Dell’s board of directors has recommended shareholders vote for the Michael Dell-Silver Lake offer.

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AMD slates first ARM server chip, 'Seattle,' for 2014

Content from PCWorld - June 17, 2013 - 10:01pm

AMD plans to sample its first ARM-based processors for servers early next year, alongside paired CPUs and integrated graphics cores in an attempt to oust Intel's Xeon from its dominance in the server market.

Specifically, AMD's ARM core will be code-named "Seattle," and will ship in volume during the second half of 2014, AMD executives said. In 2014, AMD will also ship "Berlin," a core available in both a CPU form factor as well as an APU, which integrates the processor with an integrated graphics coprocessor. Finally, there's the "Warsaw," which will compete with in high-performance computing (HPC) applications with the Xeon.

Seattle is of interest to both AMD and to other industry watchers because it represents one of the more interesting opportunities for AMD to regain share in the server market. Last year, AMD said last year that it had agreed to license ARM 64-bit technology, and would combine it with its Freedom Fabric, the name given to its high-speed networking technology it acquired via SeaMicro.

Intel sells more than 80 percent of all microprocessors by unit volume, but in servers it's a virtual dictatorship; during the fourth quarter of 2012, Mercury Research estimated that Intel sold about 95.7 percent of all server microprocessors sold. To compete, AMD needs something different, and it's hoping ARM represents that edge.

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Open Data Center Alliance tackles big data analysis

Content from PCWorld - June 17, 2013 - 9:30pm

The Open Data Center Alliance, a customer group that shares tips about cloud deployments and tries to nudge vendors into supplying the products they want, has added big data to the list of IT topics it covers.

The alliance was set up in 2010 to provide a collective voice for enterprise customers, who use their buying power to try to influence the data center products vendors sell, with an emphasis on interoperability and open standards.

The alliance defines technology requirements and usage models for various aspects of cloud computing, such as identity management and data security. Its members agree to follow those usage models, giving vendors a greater incentive to provide the products and capabilities they ask for.

The ODCA has more than 300 members, including big firms like BMW, JP Morgan Chase, Lockheed Martin and Capgemini. It's holding its annual Forecast event in San Francisco this week, where it announced the completion of three new usage models, for software defined networking, scale-out storage, and information as a service, or basically big data analysis.

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NewsGator's SharePoint add-on tries to filter, reduce enterprise social noise

Content from PCWorld - June 17, 2013 - 8:50pm

NewsGator has upgraded its Social Sites enterprise social networking (ESN) add-on for SharePoint to make the software better able to tailor the content, notifications and capabilities it displays for each user.

The overall goal is to make it easier for Social Sites users to stay engaged with work tasks, information and colleagues.

ESN software, which adapts social media features for workplace use, is seen to fail when employees view it as yet another separate "inbox" that they need to check. When this happens, the ESN system becomes a deserted island.

Thus, NewsGator and other ESN vendors consider it a priority to make sure their software is threaded into the business applications and processes that employees use daily.

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Sprint sues Dish, Clearwire over takeover plan

Content from PCWorld - June 17, 2013 - 7:50pm

Sprint Nextel sued Clearwire and Dish Network on Monday in a bid to block Dish from taking over Clearwire, Sprint's majority-owned network partner.

Dish and Sprint have been in a bidding war over Clearwire, which Sprint also plans to buy, and last week Clearwire's board recommended shareholders accept Dish's offer. But in a complaint filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery on Monday, Sprint said Dish's proposal violates its rights and those of other strategic investors. In its suit, Sprint wants to prevent the deal from being consummated and seeks unspecified damages.

Sprint co-founded Clearwire along with several strategic partners in 2008 to build out a WiMax network to carry its first 4G service. It still owns a majority of Clearwire's stock and is seeking to buy out the rest of the company in order to build a strong LTE network to take on its larger rivals. Because of Clearwire's massive spectrum holdings, the fate of that company is expected to play a key role in the complicated takeover battle among Dish, SoftBank and Sprint. A lawsuit over Dish's Clearwire bid had been widely expected.

Dish is also seeking to buy out Clearwire, but in its last bid the satellite TV and Internet provider said it would be willing to buy a minority stake as long as it got certain rights, such as being able to name three board members and approve material transactions with third parties.

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Efficiency will hold down storage growth, IDC says

Content from PCWorld - June 17, 2013 - 7:20pm

Lean storage techniques will keep a lid on storage investments over the next few years, though the world's enterprises still are on track to buy 138 exabytes of storage system capacity in 2017, IDC said.

Annual sales of storage capacity will grow by more than 30 percent every year between 2013 and 2017, according to a forecast the research company announced on Monday. But that growth will be slower than the steep pace recorded a few years ago because organizations have adopted ways of using storage more efficiently, including cloud storage services, IDC analyst Natalya Yezhkova said.

Data deduplication, data compression, thin provisioning and storage virtualization all will help enterprises limit their purchases of new storage capacity, Yezhkova said. Those techniques can reduce the amount of space consumed by a given bit of information or help companies allocate new storage as needed instead of overbuying.

IDC estimates more than 102 exabytes of external and 36 exabytes of internal storage system capacity will be sold in 2017, up from just 20 exabytes of external and 8 exabytes of internal capacity in 2012. External storage sits outside of servers, while internal goes inside them.

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How Apple shook up the electronic book market

Content from PCWorld - June 17, 2013 - 7:15pm

Apple didn't try to fix or raise the prices of electronic books when it entered into the market in 2010, according to Apple Senior Vice President Eddy Cue. Rather, he says, the company was only working to ensure a profit for itself.

"We're not willing to lose money in any business," Cue told the court, referring to Amazon's practice of 2009 to sell electronic books for less than what it paid for them.

But in doing so, the U.S. Justice Department contends, Apple violated antitrust laws by colluding with the five largest book publishers -- HarperCollins, the Penguin Group, the Hatchett Group, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster -- to fix the prices of electronic books. As a result of their actions, the prices of electronic books rose in 2010, the DOJ contended.

While the five publishers have since settled with the DOJ out of court, Apple is defending its practices in a DOJ antitrust trial now under way at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court of New York, with District Judge Denise Cote presiding.

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