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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Microsoft's List of Improvements to Windows 7

Microsoft has released a lengthy list of 36 improvements it plans to make to the release candidate for Windows 7, though they didn't provide any details on when that RC might actually be available.

The Windows team separated the updates into nine categories, including the desktop experience, touch, and Windows Media Player. Desktop tweaks received the most attention, with 10 expected changes.

Microsoft has incorporated its "Aero Peek" window transparency tool to the ALT+TAB function to give you a better idea of the items you have open on your desktop.

The RC will also make it easier to open files with a specific program, now allows for 24-39 percent more icons to be displayed before the taskbar scrolls, and makes it easier to see what files are open when items do scroll, among other changes.

The release candidate will also include Internet radio playback that is "more reliable and resilient". Microsoft will also no longer interrupt content playing via Media Player if the user inserts a USB drive.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Microsoft unveils new online employment resource

Microsoft announced the creation of a website, Elevate America, aimed at improving access to job training tools.

The site provides resources to help individuals gain the technical skills needed for acquiring jobs, the world's largest software company said.

The economy has shed 3.6 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007 with about half of the decline occurring in the past three months, recent Labor Department data showed.

The website provides access to several Microsoft online training programs, including how to use the Internet, send e-mail and create a resume, as well as more advanced programs on using specific Microsoft applications.

"We are also providing a full range of work force development resources for state and local governments so they can offer specialized training for their workers," said Pamela Passman, corporate vice president of Microsoft Global Corporate Affairs.

Microsoft tapped Washington state as the first state to provide Elevate America to its residents.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Testers get almost final Vista SP2

Microsoft is getting closer to releasing the next update for Windows Vista.

On Wednesday, Microsoft offered some technical testers a near-final "release candidate" version of the Windows Vista Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2008 SP2. The company did not say when that version might be made publicly available.

"We continuously engage with our partners and testers on the development of service packs and we will track customer and partner feedback from the beta program before setting a final date for distribution," Microsoft said in a statement. "We will have more to share on Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 SP2 soon and are targeting final delivery in (the second quarter of) 2009."

The release of the updated SP2 test version was noted earlier on Thursday by Ars Technica. Microsoft has been working toward the release candidate version for some time now, after issuing a public beta of the update in December.

Meanwhile, Windows 7 is also moving toward the release candidate stage, with some sites noting that recent builds also contain the release candidate nomenclature, although Microsoft often labels its builds based on the version it is working toward.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cyber Security Community Joins Forces to Defeat Conficker Worm

The quarter-million dollar award Microsoft is offering for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsibile for unleashing the "Conficker" worm may represent the culmination of what security experts say has been an unprecedented and collaborative response from industry, academia and Internet policy groups aimed at not just containing the spread of this worm, but also in creating a playbook for dealing with future digital pandemics.

Estimates of how many systems infected by Conficker, a contagion that has exploited Microsoft Windows PCs over the past few months, vary widely, from 2 million to more than 10 million machines. Microsoft estimates that at least 3 million PCs worldwide remain infected.

Rather, security experts say the worm may be the first stage of a larger attack. By using a mathematical algorithm, Conficker can tell infected systems to regularly contact a list of 250 different domain names each day.

Phillip Porras, director of the computer security lab at SRI International, also began tracking Conficker domains in late November. Porras and his team learned they could determine sets of domains sought by Conficker host systems in the past or the future, merely by rolling back or forward the system date setting on Microsoft Windows systems that they had purposely infected in their test lab.

But it's too soon for the community to declare victory, Wesson said. The next domain-based worm could significantly ratchet up the number of domains, and thereby sideline a large number of Web site names that might otherwise be commercially viable and sought after by legitimate Internet users.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Google tool helps consumers reduce energy usage

Google said it would use its software skills to help consumers track their home energy usage and thereby lower demand and the global warming emissions that come from producing electricity. The move is part of Google's effort to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into renewable energy, electricity-grid upgrades and other measures that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The company has already invested in several fledgling solar, wind and geothermal companies, as well as two "smart grid" companies. Smart grid describes a more efficient, less costly method of moving electricity along long-distance transmission lines to local power lines and end-users in homes and businesses. On its official company blog, Google said it is developing a smart grid tool called Google PowerMeter that will show home energy consumption almost in real time on a user's computer.

Google PowerMeter is currently being tested by employees and is not yet available to the public.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Google Gmail Within Striking Distance Of Hotmail

The growth of Google (NSDQ: GOOG)'s Gmail service is accelerating and, if current trends continue, it could surpass Windows Live Hotmail by the end of this year.

Between December 2007 and December 2008, Gmail's number of unique monthly visitors in the United States grew 43%, from 20.8 million to 29.6 million, according to ComScore. Windows Live Hotmail lost 5% of its unique monthly visitors during this period, falling from 45.7 million to 43.5 million.

If Google's Gmail growth rate rises to, say, 46% over 2009, it could reach approximately 43 million unique U.S. visitors by the end of the year. And if Windows Live Hotmail continues to bleed visitors at a rate of, say, 3%, it will finish the year with around 42 million unique visitors per month.

Part of Gmail's success may be because of Google's policy of rapid-fire innovation, a practice formalized last June with the opening of Gmail Labs, a showcase and playground for Gmail engineers. Gmail Labs takes the form of a tab in the Gmail Settings menu that allows users to try out a variety of new features, some of which are useful and some of which are just fun.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

MySpace Identifies 90,000 Sex Offender Profiles

"This shocking revelation...provides compelling proof that social networking sites remain rife with sexual predators," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement.

Blumenthal's office recently subpoenaed MySpace for information about the number of registered sex offenders on its site. They revealed that it has about 90,000 members who are registered sex offenders. Blumenthal's office has also subpoenaed Facebook and is awaiting the site's response.

Blumenthal accused MySpace of having "monstrously inadequate counter-measures" to prevent sex offenders from creating MySpace profiles. He pledged to identify all Connecticut-based sex offenders with MySpace profiles and determine whether they are violating their parole by frequenting the social networking site.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Google Search Service Suffers Glitch

A glitch in Google Inc.'s Internet search service caused the search giant to falsely warn users that every site they searched for could harm their computers for about an hour on Saturday.

In a blog post, Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, attributed the error to a human mistake made while Google was updating a list of sites known to install malicious software.

Like other search engines, Google, Mountain View, Calif., uses that list to flag search results that could harm a user's computers with a warning: "This site may harm your computer." Due to an error in updating that list, that warning appeared across all results. In the blog post, Ms. Mayer said Google will "carefully investigate this incident and put more robust file checks in place to prevent it from happening again."

The hiccup underscores how even Google's largely automated systems can trip up, sending ripples throughout its worldwide user base.