Microsoft speeds up app development with free tools

The move to speed up application development follows a clear global trend, of growing mobile data consumption and flat revenues per phone user

Microsoft has opened up a suite of software tools for the international developers, free, for them to write applications and games for its Windows Phone 7 series of mobile devices that are scheduled to go on sale later this year. The move to speed up application development follows a clear global trend, of growing mobile data consumption and flat revenues per phone user.

As mobile data use becomes ubiquitous, the market for application software is expanding fast. Applications sales are estimated to be worth $17.5 billion by 2012, up from about $ five billion in 2009. Several phone and software companies are opening up their online marketplace to application developers, who now have the opportunity to write ‘apps’ that help users do anything from playing games to accessing social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, to booking tickets, tracking flights and listening to music. This they can do for various platforms built by Apple, Google, the upcoming Microsoft Windows Phone 7 series, and others, on different commercial terms.

As it prepares for the coming festival season launch of Windows Phone 7 series mobiles, Microsoft recently announced free access to its main developer tools for phones — Visual Studio 2010, Expression Blend 4 and XNA Game Studio 4. The new phone series provides support for the Silverlight framework of Microsoft, which helps to build rich media applications for business and entertainment on computers, the web and on mobile devices.

Free access to tools were among the highlights at the MIX 10 conference for the developer community held in Las Vegas, the U.S., between March 15 and 17. The guided approach to application development complements Microsoft’s decision to define hardware standards for its Windows Phone 7 series devices to be made by leading vendors. By guaranteeing the specifications of a phone belonging to this series, the customer can be sure of performance levels, company executives say.

The minimum features of the devices include a sensitive capacitive touch interface, GPS, accelerometer, compass, five megapixel camera with flash, a camera button, 256 MB memory, eight GB flash storage, directx 9 acceleration, ARMv7 Cortex/Scorpion processor or better.

Joe Belfiore, corporate vice-president, Windows Phone, told MIX 10 that the new phone series, strongly woven around social networking behaviour, is designed for a user who is ‘38 years old, 76 per cent employed and 73 per cent in a partnered relationship.” That user profile stands in contrast to the trend of phones aimed primarily at youth. The design specifications are oriented towards users who are described by Microsoft as “life maximisers.”

Microsoft hopes that its foray into mobile phones will give it a significant share in the mobile data segment, which is estimated to grow at an annual compounded rate of 131 per cent and mobile voice at 112 per cent over the next three years. By comparison, data access from fixed lines is seen as growing only by 39 per cent CAGR, while fixed line voice use is actually expected to decline by 6 per cent CAGR.

Speaking to journalists in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, Austen Mulinder, Microsoft’s corporate vice-president, worldwide communications sector, pointed out that the number of wireless Internet-connected devices is expected to go up to 10 billion by 2015, up from two billion today. Another metric of interest is the number of users of social networking sites, which currently stands at about 800 million.

The factor that will differentiate the smart-phones of the future is data integration — software and programs that connect the personal computer and the mobile phone — and not all providers possess all the pieces here. Music, gaming, search, maps, instant messaging and so on are part of this value set. Aaron Woodman, Microsoft’s director of mobile communications, argues that Apple does desktop to mobile integration in the area of music, Nokia offers the service suite Ovi, and Google has search and map services, but in terms of deep integration of all these services with a gaming platform, for example, Microsoft is unique in also possessing the X-Box Live. The mobile small screen is set to witness a lot of action in the coming months.

Google TV : Browse the internet through television screens

The system will be called “Google TV”, will be made by Sony and powered by Intel chips. It has built a prototype set-top box, that allows users to browse the internet through their television screens do things such as download movies and television shows. The “Google TV” however will also come in the form of actual TV sets.

Along with regular television there will also be Hulu, YouTube and other web-video sources, along with games and apps for social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.Google TV, will essentially be a big-screen living-room computer.

With this, Google takes a lead among other players in this race like the Apple who have been trying to make people access internet through their TVs. People already with TV sets need not feel disappointed as this device can also be built into the TV. It would facilitate simultaneous viewing of TV and better access to the web, search, and social networking sites. These companies also appear to be in talks with Logitech to build peripherals like a remote control and small keyboard for the system.

The project although is being developed since long but its kept under tight wraps and its details away from the public. The GTV will run on the Android OS, Google’s open-source mobile phone operating system originally designed to run on ARM core, (the processor used in most smartphones, but has been also adapted by some companies to operate on different chip architectures such as MIPS or Intel x86) and will even have the Chrome browser built-in. Partnership with Intel ensures TV will use some form of Atom chips in it. This move was pretty obvious as TV is only one of the few advertising markets Google isn’t yet in.

It has been reported that Google has begun testing the set-top box technology though Dish Network, a satellite TV provider.

However Google’s new venture could weaken the PC industry. This is foreseen as when the people will have the internet in their television, and a tablet appliance like the iPad with them around, they would not need a desktop or even a laptop computer.

It is unclear whether this system would be launched worldwide or be designed for release in the United States only, as with some of Google’s other products.

Both papers, however, cite sources completely anonymous information and denials have come from both the Sony spokesperson and that of Google.


India’s First GSM + GSM or GSM + CDMA Phone

Another low-cost BlackBerry look-alike

Bright Telecom, which markets its range of mobile phones under the ‘G-Fone’ brand, has announced at the launch of the G-588, a full QWERTY keyboard laden, dual SIM, dual mode phone in India. The dual mode feature means that the phone can be used in different modes like GSM + GSM or GSM + CDMA.

The G-588 comes with Nimbuzz preinstalled making it social networking friendly right away. It also has a decent multimedia player that supports various file formats. The G-588 supports upto 8GB of memory via microSD cards. It also comes with a localized, Indian Calendar that has listed major festival and cultural events of India.

The phone has a landscape, 2.2-inch screen capable of displaying 65k colors.

Here is a brief low down on the specs of the device:
•Dual mode CDMA + GSM OR GSM+ GSM)
•QWERTY keypad
•1.3 MP camera
•MP3 / MP4 player
•Video recording and playback
•FM radio
•Big display
•Exp memory upto 8GB
•Phone book

The G-588 will retail at a price of Rs. 4,799, which does not seem too bad for a phone that looks like a BlackBerry!


Simplifying the cellphone

In December last year, a wing of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) published a study on Gujarat’s rural community and how they use mobile phones. In an abridged report in Ice Age, a monthly newsletter of the Development and Educational Communication Unit (DECU) of ISRO, researcher Hansa Joshi wrote about “how mobile technology fulfils the communication requirements of people, its socio-economic and cultural impact on the society and further expectations from the technology”.

The study, based on the responses of 1,384 people from villages, towns and cities across the state, threw up a number of interesting details. The report said: “In terms of exposure to media like newspaper, radio, TV, computer and Internet, we can say that mobile usage was the highest among all media in terms of access (78 per cent) and regular usage (99 per cent)”.

It was also found that more than a third of all respondents “bought the mobile with an assumption that it will increase their income”, and in the tribal belt, a handset is sometimes “family owned”. The report added that for a “majority of mobile users, individual ownership gives them motivation for self-learning and the satisfaction of fulfillment of all their communication needs”.

But popularity doesn’t mean problem-free. It was found that about 19 per cent of mobile users faced acute problems in using certain features of the handsets. This may, however, change soon.

On March 9, IBM announced a collaborative research initiative with the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and Tokyo University’s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology to “explore an open, common user interface platform for mobile devices, to make them easier to use for the elderly, and illiterate or semi-illiterate populations in developing countries”.

IBM will contribute the technology bit, and NID will contribute its experiences in designing interfaces and ethnography. The eventual software would then be made available as open source.

Jignesh Khakhar of the NID’s IT Design faculty, who will be in charge of the initiative from the NID front, said it was too early to talk about the project.

Nitendra Rajput, advisory researcher of IBM Research India and India lead for the Open Collaborative Research Programme, said the team will first identify the target groups and find out their needs and modes of interaction. For example, a farmer would need weather information, while migrant workers would want information on how to send money to their village. In fact, the ISRO report suggests that message box services be developed so that migrant workers can pass on important messages back home.

The needs will differ dramatically from group to group, Rajput said, and the challenge will be to find a platform that capable of hosting a number of applications.

So is it going to a simpler, customisable smart-phone? Maybe, but Rajput says it will be different from any other customisable phone because the research will focus on people with special needs, like semi-literate, illiterate and elderly people. There might be room for the video-based, sound-based and text-based modalities to converge. But then, he concedes, it is difficult to talk about what will eventually come out of the exercise, which hasn’t even begun yet.

Rajput has had experience in this field: he was one of the researchers behind IBM’s Voikiosk, a kiosk meant to be placed in villages that disseminates information that is relevant locally. “When you listen to a voice from the kiosk, that too in your own language, it becomes much more relevant,” he says, comparing it to sitting in front of a computer looking up generic information on the Web.

Rajput estimates that it will take four to five months of research before the actual development of the product can start. Once finalised, the software will be made available open-source, and businesses or governments that are interested can use it, with NID and IBM lending support. It will take about two years to achieve this, he says.
–The Indian Express

The computer helper: Windows 7 annoyances

Packages of Microsoft Windows 7 inside a company retain store

Sure, Windows 7 has garnered plenty of accolades since its release. But that doesn’t mean that people haven’t been annoyed at some of its new or unexpected behaviour. The good news is that most of what ails Windows 7 can be remedied with a little know-how or an add-on program here or there. Read on to find out more.

Where is Windows Movie Maker in Windows 7? I relied on this program in Windows Vista.

Movie Maker, Mail, and other applications that were easy to find in previous versions of Windows must now be downloaded and installed as part of Windows Live Essentials ( ). Live Essentials also includes Writer, Photo Gallery, Family Safety, and a Toolbar.

Be careful: if you don’t want to install all of those applications, uncheck the ones you’re not interested in when you run the Windows Live Setup application.

Also, once you do install the Movie Maker application for Windows 7, you’ll note that the interface is significantly different from the older version of Movie Maker. If you prefer the older version (2.6), you can download it from Microsoft ( ).

I moved to Windows 7 from Windows XP, and I miss XP’s Start menu. Can I get back the classic look and feel of the XP Start menu?

While many come to appreciate the changes in the Windows Vista/7 Start menu — including instant search — it’s true that the new Start menu does away entirely with some of the capabilities of the old XP Start menu, such as the ability to nest folders.

There’s no way within Windows 7 itself to reconfigure the Start menu to look and act exactly like XP’s Start menu. But you can download the freeware application CSMenu ( ), which transforms your Start menu into almost exactly what you’re used to seeing from the Start menu in XP.

Or you could try the open source Classic Shell ( ), which gives you both the classic Start menu and classic Explorer toolbar buttons (such as cut, copy, and paste) that Microsoft did away with in the Windows 7 Explorer.

Of course, with either of these options, gone will be the instant search feature in Windows 7’s Start menu. But you’ll have back the slimmer, folder-based functionality of the XP Start menu. It’s worth looking at if you have lots of time invested in productivity-enhancing habits with the old style Start menu.

The Windows Experience Index cannot be updated on my computer. Why is this? I’m running Windows 7 N.

Windows 7 N is the version of the operating system that has been stripped of Windows Media Centre. It is sold in Europe to comply with the European Commission’s 2004 requirement that Microsoft offer a version of Windows without Media Centre. Because the Windows Experience Index — which measures the performance of your computer, relies upon certain components of Windows Media Centre, the rating cannot be generated or updated without it.

The solution is to download and install the Media Feature Pack for Windows 7 from Microsoft ( ). This Feature Pack essentially gives the N version of Windows 7 the components that the non-N version has. You’ll need to validate your copy of Windows 7 before downloading.

I like Windows 7 but do not need or want most of the enhancements in the new Windows Explorer. Can I get the old Explorer back?

Not really. As with a move back to the classic Start menu in Windows 7, you’ll also have to turn to third party tools to get the look and feel of the old Windows Explorer as well. There are, as you might imagine, both freeware and commercial alternatives.

Among the most popular commercial Explorer replacements is Directory Opus ( ), a tab-enabled, highly configurable file manager that can be configured to look and act just about any way you wish. Keep in mind that with almost unlimited configuration options comes complexity of initial setup. But once you have it set up the way you like it, you should be happy.

A less complicated alternative is xplorer2 ( ), which is free for private or academic use. This tool actually has more features than the classic Windows Explorer — including tabs and the ability to view multiple folder listings side by side.

It’s not clear to me how I’m supposed to create a restore point in Windows 7.

As you know, restore points are essential if you install some software that causes your system to become unstable. Restore points are created automatically — if Windows 7 is set up to create them.

Unlike in previous versions, it’s not easy to figure out how to create a restore point manually, however.

To do so, first ensure that System Restore is turned on. Open the Start menu, and type “system.” Click the System entry under Control Panel. From within the System dialog box, click the System Protection link in the left-hand panel. Make sure that System Restore is turned on for your C drive. Highlight the C drive, and click the Configure button to turn it on.

While there, you can also determine how much of your disk space is devoted to storing System Restore data.

Once System Restore is turned on, you can create a manual restore point from within the System Properties dialog box. Simply click the Create button to do so.


Securing your netbook from theft

Netbooks are terrific for computing on the go. Yet their very compactness makes them easy to lose or to forget — not to mention being a target for thieves.

The material loss is bad enough — the threat of someone getting access to your data can be catastrophic. The two obvious countermeasures include a mechanical lock or one of the various electronic solutions on the market.

There are three primary methods to protect the data on a netbook in the event of theft: encryption, BIOS and Windows passwords, or special anti-theft software.

Passwords alone aren’t necessarily secure, explains Christian Woelbert from German computer magazine c’t: “Thieves can circumvent Windows passwords by reinstalling the operating system, for example, or using a live CD.” BIOS passwords are also relatively easy to reset. If the thief removes the hard drive from the unit, it’s also possible to access the data.

Anti-theft software is also only a limited solution, Woelbert says. It works only if the thief goes online with the device. Then the rightful owner has the chance to lock or delete the hard drive remotely. If the thief avoids the web with the device altogether, then there’s nothing the owner can do.

“Encryption is the only true waterproof method,” Woelbert says.

Encryption doesn’t have to be an expensive option, either, he notes.

One major player in this area, TrueCrypt, is free.

For private users there is an entire series of encryption solutions, says Sascha Pfeiffer from the IT and data security company Sophos. The palette ranges from file packers with simple password protection for individual files or directories to commercial encryption products and on to free open source solutions.

“While the latter do offer reliable protection, they are primarily suited for technically savvy users,” Woelbert says.

In principle the entire hard drive should always be encrypted, not just individual folders or files, Woelbert adds. Otherwise thieves might be able to find copies of key files in unexpected locations, such as the temporary files folder. Another key factor is the password. The security is only as good as the password protecting it.

It should be as long and complicated as possible.

Mechanical locks are a good way to prevent amateur thieves from preying on a netbook. One best selling model is the Kensington Lock from Kensington Technology, for example.

The security mechanism features two components: the security slot located on almost all netbooks and notebooks and the cable/lock combination, explains Stephen Hoare from Kensington. The device is only secured once the owner stretches the cable around a fixed object, inserts the piece into the slot and turns the key.

“The casing on the netbooks should also be reinforced with a metal insert on the inside of the wall,” Hoare recommends. Otherwise the cable can be ripped out relatively easily. For this reason mechanical protections can only serve as an initial protection against theft.

Ultimately the safest method is to encrypt the entire hard drive of the netbook and secure it with a sufficiently complicated and long password.

Aircel Peek – A device to read your emails

With the evolution of technology, gadgets too gradually undergo a change. The development continues till the time a gadget stabilizes and proves its utility. In a huge gamble Aircel has launched a new device, Peek, that can only read emails. There is no precedence of this kind of a device thus far.

The Peek targets the segment of people who need to keep in touch with their emails constantly while on the move. It is similar to Blackberry devices and has a QWERTY key board. Aircel has claimed that it is the thinnest device ever created. The device is priced at Rs 2,999. The charges are Rs 300 per month for checking your email. The device is available in two colors, black and red. You can configure three email accounts on the device.

However the biggest question is will such a device be a hit with the users. The only thing that it can be used is emails. When compared to this smartphones have more than a dozen additional functions. Even operating cost wise smartphones may prove better since the cost of GPRS access itself is Rs 300 per month or lesser. So it is very much possible that this device does not take of at all.

Aircel may have taken a big gamble by launching the Aircel Peek.