Posts tagged Cisco
The world around us is always evolving. If we were to turn the clock back a hundred years we probably wouldn’t even recognize our own town. We certainly wouldn’t know how to live without computers, cell phones or iPods. It seems unthinkable to have to wait thirty days to get a letter to be able to talk to a friend or relative. Nowadays we can log on to our computers and write out an email that takes only seconds to get to the person we are sending it to.
As little as 20 years ago technology was oceans apart of where it is today. The last two decades have given rise to astonishing advancements in the technologies we all know and love today. Not too long ago we had cassette players, now we have CDs which have turned into mp3 players. Televisions that were once considered big screen at 28â€ and weighed in at 50+ pounds are now pushing 60â€, weigh less than 30 pounds and are flat screen HDTV’s to boot. It is not too difficult to look around and see the rampant technological advances everywhere.
We often think of technological advancement in terms of all the electronics that are around us to entertain and educate us. But there have also been huge advancements in medicine in the last couple of decades. Scientists are learning new things about diseases and searching for treatments every day. Scientists with funding from both private and public sources have made tremendous advances in the health care field.
We know far more about infectious diseases such as AIDS and more about diseases of the central nervous system such as ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease. There are still diseases in the world where medical knowledge is severely limited even more where no cure has been found. There are so many different types of diseases, infections and abnormalities affecting people around the world, it is very probable that we will never know all there is to know about what they are and how to treat them. We do know, though, that science is always evolving and someday, medicine will catch up to many of these unknown and/or untreatable afflictions.
For those diagnosed with cancer, AIDS or Alzheimer’s disease it is certainly important that we continue researching and working to improve medicine and searching for cures. Every year millions of Americans die suffering from infections or diseases, many well before they should have. That means that families across the United States suffer the loss of relatives or loved ones because there wasn’t a sufficient cure for their diagnosis.
Of course companies like Apple and Sony are pouring huge sums of money annually into research and development of newer and newer technology so they can claim to be the one with the cutting edge gadgets that everybody must have. Smart phones and HDTV are evolving every single day into faster, easier lean machines. It is a wonderful time we live in when the technology exists enabling us to send emails from our phones and make sure our home security devices are on and the coffee pot is off, all from a single pocket size gizmo. With all this sophisticated wireless stuff, you would think the scientists could come up with a successful treatment for diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Many times big name stores will periodically ask their customers when they check out, if they would like to donate a dollar to cancer research or towards the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Frequently customers answer no or not today, but next time we are asked, if we could all donate a dollar, then perhaps we could make as many advances medically as we have with our electronic gadgets and toys.
For those who enjoyed the preceding post, you may go and check out additional related articles or reviews at Sy Schlager or this Sy Schlager Blog Post.
With the unveiling of Windows 8 Transitional Computing Inc. finds itself reminiscing about Microsoft’s previous OS releases and musing about how this next release will affect IT professionals and the businesses we support.
Microsoft began its journey into market dominance of the PC world in 1985 with its release of Windows 1.0; an interface management system that would eventually be followed by several iterations of the OS and become an integral part of how we do business today. Though Microsoft is clearly a market leader for its operating systems support of business applications, they have on occasion released operating systems that have been a source of frustration for IT professionals and the businesses we support.
This is no more prevalent than in Microsoft’s release of Windows Vista. Though the OS was touted to have many improvements over its predecessor Windows XP (mostly in the arena of security features) it was plagued with performance issues. Benchmarks tests showed that Vista executed applications more slowly than Windows XP with the same hardware configuration. Further issues such as software bloat, software compatibility, poor power management on laptops, and the price to upgrade from XP to Vista all combined to make Vista an impractical solution for business owners and IT professionals alike. This had the unfortunate result of leaving business owners two generations of OS behind.
When Microsoft released Windows 7 in July of 2009 nearly 3 years after the release of Vista most business owners still found themselves running on an XP platform. Windows 7 was met with mostly positive acclaim. It easily out performed its predecessor Vista in the areas of usability and functionality with most reviewers saying Windows 7 is what Vista should have been.
In the eyes of IT professionals and business owners upgrading to Windows 7 however still had its drawbacks. With the general impression consumers and corporations had that Windows Vista was a stumble along the OS road, most consumers were reluctant to upgrade to what some considered a dressed up Vista. Upgrade fees were rather steep even for users upgrading from Vista to 7. Upgrades were available for users still running on an XP platform but only in the form of license upgrades.
What did this all mean for business owners?
Well, the small percentage running Vista could install Windows 7 over top their existing OS with no need to back up their applications and data or fear that their Vista applications would not be compatible with Windows 7. On the other foot XP users found that they had to perform “clean installs” and actually do all of the above listed things Vista users were not required to. From the perspective of Business owners this made the prospect of upgrading from XP to Windows 7 a daunting task. Even with the positive acclaim Windows 7 had received most did not see any meaningful advantage to upgrading.
As of April 2011, nearly 2 years after its release, Windows 7 has finally overtaken XP in the US market share. The “what” and the “why” of how Windows 7 finally replaced it’s twice removed predecessor can be attributed to several factors. One notable reason was Microsoft’s release of XP Mode for Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate. Initially available in Oct. 2009 as an application that launched a virtual XP environment, XP Mode allowed users to run legacy software that did not run natively inside Windows 7. This first iteration of XP Mode required microprocessors with hardware support for virtualization. Ironically the target audience that Microsoft was trying to reach with XP Mode, namely small to mid-sized businesses, now found themselves required to update their hardware in order to upgrade to Windows 7 making the cost prohibitive. Microsoft has since released an update that removes the hardware requirement for XP mode making it available to a wider range of users.
So where we are we at now with Windows 7?
Stable efficient OS – Check
Legacy software support – Check
A market share larger than XP – Check
Compatible with a larger array of hardware specifications – Check
Just when we feeling we are in good a place with Windows 7. So Cometh Windows 8! Well technically that’s not true. At recent press conference when Microsoft gave us all our first look at the upcoming Windows OS they did announce that Windows 8 was not projected to be released until late 2012.
As IT professionals however it is our responsibility to keep abreast of these developments and try to predict what impact this will have on our clients.
At first glance Windows 8 looks to be Microsoft’s big bid to enter the “post PC era”. If you’re not familiar with the term “post PC era” well its actual definitions seems to be a subject for open debate, but in reference to Windows 8 “post PC era” seems to refer to the switch over from desktop and laptop computers to the wider use of mobile devices such as tablet computers and smartphones.
The interface for Windows 8 is in fact based in part on the current Windows 7 phone interface. If you’ve never seen it before don’t feel bad. The Windows 7 phone was poorly marketed and made barely a squeak on a mobile device stage that has been recently dominated by Apple and Android based smart phones and tablets.
As one would expect since the new OS is based on Smartphone technology it leans heavily towards touch screen based interactivity. Most of the demos Microsoft has put forth thus far tend to focus on the touch screen features. This is not to say Windows 8 is going to leave mouse and keyboard users out the cold. Though it is designed for the “post-PC era”, Windows 8 looks more to us as though it is a bridge between device and dedicated PC users.
With such a drastic shift of focus some of you may be wondering how much consideration Microsoft put into compatibility. Microsoft has assured consumers that Windows 8 is not abandoning the Windows 7 usability model, it is expanding on it. Windows 8 will be able to run current Windows 7 applications on a comfortably familiar Windows Desktop. The Windows 8 Desktop will have expanded control for multi monitor displays allowing deeper customization of the view controls for each screen. What could throw some desktop users for a loop is the Windows 8 start menu, primarily because it is no longer a menu. Windows 8 will feature a customizable “Start Screen”, a full screen tiled display that allows you to group apps together and swipe through several tiled groups. While this may be familiar enough for Windows 7 users to get the hang of, those migrating from XP might have a slightly steeper learning curve with this feature.
Can your hardware handle it?
For those who have updated their hardware within the past year the answer is a happy yes. If you are currently running Windows 7 without performance issues Microsoft touts that Windows 8 will run just as well if not better on the same hardware.
What’s our verdict?
What we’ve seen so far leads us to believe Windows 8 is an upgrade that takes into account many of the headaches previous upgrades did not handle as successfully. Microsoft seems to have put the user experience under a microscope while developing their latest OS considering ease of transition and feature improvement. Whether the new features and cost of upgrading will prove to be a practical solution for IT pros and business owners still remains to be seen. We’ll be keeping our eye on this product as it approaches its ultimate release, that’s for sure.
Each PC on the network must have access to the network cabling structure so that there is a manageable and systematic flow of information between the file server and workstations. The LAN adapter board produces and regulates this flow. It is the electrical design of the actual LAN card that determines what kind of cable topology it requires.
The physical layout of the LAN, or the way the workstations are connected to each other, is called the LAN topology, or architecture.
There are three basic LAN topologies in general use today; the Linear Bus, the Star and the Ring. Some vendors use hybrid topologies combining elements from two of the three basic topologies. Each of three basic topologies has distinct characteristics.
A ring topology is one in which all stations are linked to form a continues loop. A single channel connects all the computers and there is no central computer in this topology. Data may flow around the ring only one direction. A coded electric signal called a token passes around the ring from station to station. The data transfer rate ranges from 4 MHz Bits per second to 100 MHz bits per second. Depending on the channel selected for transmission.
Advantages of Ring Topology:
1. It provides for deterministic response and access to the LAN.
2. Often has an extensive fault-tolerant feature to ensure proper operation.
Disadvantages of Ring Topology:
1. It is possible that a failed or powered off MAU may cause the LAN to fail.
2. If the central ring is served, the ring will fail.
The Hub is installed in a central wiring closet, with all the cables extending out to the network nodes. The advantage of having a central wiring location is that it’s easier to maintain and troubleshoot large networks. All of the network cables come to the central hub. This way, it is especially easy to detect and fix cable problems. You can easily move a workstation in a star topology by changing the connection to the hub at the central wiring closet.
Advantages of Star Topology:
1. Each user has direct access to the shared controller.
2. If a PC workstation fails, the rest of the LAN is unaffected.
3. If a cable is cut or damaged, only the workstation attached to it is cut off from the network.
4. Using media diagnostic tools such as a Time Domain Reflectometer (TDK) is more time consuming and detailed.
Disadvantages of Star Topology:
1. If the shared controller fails, the entire network fails.
2. The number of ports on the controller device limits the total number of PC workstations supported.
3. The more PCs sharing the controller, the slower the aggregate response time.
4. The specialized dedicated controller devices are very expensive.
5. The cabling can be difficult to relocate if a PC is moved another office.
6. Because each PC has its own dedicated cable to the central controller device, the installation can be costly and difficult.
Distributed Star Topology:
The distributed star topology is a hybrid topology. It begins like a linear bus but at interval along the bus a junction box or hub may be attached. From the hub to the workstation it resembles a star type of topology. It is possible to install sub hubs for the purpose of further branching. The distributed star topology is usually combined with the token bus access method. This method allows for a deterministic response to the LAN.
Advantages of Distributed Star Topology:
1. It is usually accompanied by a deterministic access scheme.
2. By using hubs, it is possible to have a large network of cable.
Disadvantages of Star Topology:
1. In order to increase cable or the number of workstations, expensive hubs must be purchased.
2. The more PCs on the LAN, the less time each PC may use the cable.
3. The number of hubs increases the possible number of failure points.
4. It is more time consuming than a linear bus.
5. Each workstation requires its own individual cable.
Tree topology is the hierarchical bus topology or generalization of bus topology. The node where one or more cables start for branching is called head end, the branches could have more branches for developing complex tree networks. Data travels from every station before reaching the destination.
Bus network is the most simple and inexpensive of all the networks. A bus has no central controller, and so each network component must be equipped to handle interface problems. The network vendor generally supplies these hardware/software interface elements for specific types of equipments. The data transfer rate is between 1MBPS to 50 MBPS depending on the channel used, with certain limitations.
Advantages of Bus Topology:
1. The linear bus is the most popular topology.
2. It is easy and inexpensive to install.
3. It is very easy to add workstations.
4. It is a very well proven architecture.
5. If a PC fails or is powered down, the LAN is unaffected.
6. A PC booting onto the network has no effect in the LAN.
Disadvantages of Bus Topology:
1. If a piece of the trunk cable is cut or damaged, the entire segment will go down.
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Mozilla is mulling the end of Firefox support for Mac owners running Leopard, the Apple operating system released four years ago, developer discussions show.
In a message Wednesday to a planning thread, Mozilla engineering manager Josh Aas proposed that the company pull the plug on Mac OS X 10.5 in six months.
“Maintaining Mac OS X 10.5 support consumes a non-trivial portion of the resources we have available for Mac OS X development,” Aas said. “Not maintaining Mac OS X 10.5 support will allow us to devote more resources to the product as used by the majority of our Mac OS X users, those on Mac OS X 10.6 and 10.7.”
Citing Mozilla’s own data, Aas said that 24% of active Mac Firefox users currently run the browser on machines powered by Mac OS X 10.5, aka Leopard. By June 2012, when Aas suggested support stop, Leopard users should comprise only about 13% of Mac Firefox users.
Aas also noted that Apple itself has halted support for Leopard; it released the last security update for the 2007 operating system last June, several weeks before the launch of Mac OS X 10.7, better known as Lion.
The last time Apple updated its own Safari browser for Leopard was July 20, when it released Safari 5.0.6.
Apple typically stops issuing security updates for an older edition of Mac OS X when there are two successors available.
If Aas’ plan is adopted, Firefox 13, now set to ship June 5, would be the last to support Leopard.
Although there were some dissenting voices in the discussion thread Aas kicked off, none objected to the eventual demise of Firefox support for Leopard, instead wondering when would be the best time to retire Mac OS X 10.5.
Some Leopard users have already been left behind by Mozilla. The open-source developer dropped support for PowerPC-equipped Macs earlier this year. Leopard is the newest Apple OS that runs on PowerPC, as opposed to Intel-based Macs.
Mozilla ditched Leopard’s ancestor, Mac OS X 10.4, or Tiger, in early 2010 after the launch of Firefox 3.6.
Firefox fans have other options in the face of the looming retirement.
A group of developers calling themselves TenFourFox have created a browser built with Mozilla’s code but fine-tuned for PowerPC Macs running Tiger or Leopard.
Camino, also built atop Mozilla’s code, is another option: Camino runs on Tiger and later, and on both Intel and PowerPC Macs.
Both TenFourFox and Camino are free downloads.
The new plan for RIM revolves around focusing on what it does best for mobile device management software—asset management, configuration, security policies, group administration and centralized management.
Research in Motion on Tuesday outlined plans to launch BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, enterprise software designed to manage a bevy of mobile devices including the iPhone and Android smartphones.
With RIM’s smartphone share taking its knocks, the company can’t afford to rely on selling a complete mobile stack—BlackBerry device, BlackBerry Enterprise Server and RIM management software—-any more. BlackBerry Mobile Fusion will be available in March 2012.
The new plan for RIM revolves around focusing on what it does best for mobile device management software—asset management, configuration, security policies, group administration and centralized management. The challenge for RIM here is obvious: There are multiple mobile device management software providers and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server doesn’t have the lock-in it once did.
RIM appears to be trying to thread the needle between the bring your own device movement and selling its BlackBerry stack of mobile hardware and software.
How will this turn out? Here are three scenarios:
Best case: RIM’s focus on security and enterprise management puts it at the top of the mobile stack. RIM brings its security and enterprise management knowhow to a bevy of devices. RIM’s enterprise foothold gives it a leg up.
Middle-of-the-road case: RIM’s BlackBerry Mobile Fusion effort is a bit late, but manages to keep the company relevant even as it fades on smartphones. Companies loyal to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server naturally gravitate to Mobile Fusion. Other CIOs, however, look to other mobile device management suites offered by Sybase, Good and a bevy of other players that include Microsoft and Google.
Worst case: BlackBerry Mobile Fusion is viewed as a Hail Mary pass that comes too late. Technology executives begin to wonder why they need RIM as a mobile device management middleman when employees aren’t bringing BlackBerry devices to work.
It’s unclear how this BlackBerry Mobile Fusion effort will pan out. All of the cases outlined above are likely to have an equal probability of actually happening.
RIM’s move does remind me of a Clayton Christensen talk about innovation. Christensen, a Harvard professor, outlines innovation conundrums through the years. The common theme in multiple examples is how companies cede the lower ground in a market to move upstream to higher margin products. If you follow profit margin religion, you’re likely to outsource and give up on tough markets. The higher ground always looks better. The issue is that companies eventually run out of headroom and nothing is left. See Smart Planet: Clay Christensen: 5 observations on innovation
It’s a bit of a stretch to argue that RIM is ceding the device market in a bid to move up the mobile stack, but the writing—beginning with Mobile Fusion—may be on the wall.
Spammers have attacked the Facebook Help Center Community Forum over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the US. Most of the spam consists of links for live streaming American sporting events.
The Facebook Help Center’s page for asking questions about various help topics has been overrun with spam. All 22 sections of the Community Forum, as well as each of their subsections, have been attacked by spammers.
There are multiple Facebook accounts being used in the attack: some are asking questions and others are answering them. It’s not yet clear if these are bogus accounts created for just this purpose or if the perpetrators have compromised already-existing Facebook accounts.
The spammers are trying to lure users with the usual nonsense: most are links for streaming live sports matches (boxing, football, hockey, and so on), but the usual weight loss offers are also present. Some of them are just text, but most include a link to a third-party website.
Almost all of the links lead to a webpage asking you for your e-mail address, although some just take you to a bogus website with ads. It doesn’t appear any of these webpages contain malware, but spammers can always change where the links redirect you to. Do not click on any of these links.
It’s possible the spammers are taking advantage of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the US. I’m not sure whether more users check out the Community Help Topics during this time, but it’s very likely Facebook has fewer staff working to get rid of threats like this one.
This attack has rendered the self-help support community effectively useless. Legitimate questions are being pushed down towards the bottom; on most of the sections, the first page only contains spam. I have contacted Facebook with this issue and will update you if I hear back.
Update: “Protecting the people who use Facebook from spam and malicious content is a top priority for us, and we are always working to improve our systems to isolate and remove material that violates our terms,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “Recently, our Help Center Community Forum experienced an increase in spam claiming to offer streaming video of American sporting events. We are taking steps to address the issue and encourage people to protect themselves by never clicking on strange or suspicious links.”
Google’s Android 4.0 operating system is more than just another upgrade.
Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, marks the start of a new era for Google’s mobile platform. The release ushers in the biggest changes the software has seen since the launch of Froyo in 2010 — maybe even Eclair back in 2009. Nearly every facet of the OS has been made over, and the very core of the Android user experience has been completely reimagined.
The more you use Ice Cream Sandwich, the more you realize just how radical a change it represents.
(Note: For the purposes of this review, I’m focusing on the smartphone side of Ice Cream Sandwich. At the time of this publication, the software had not yet been made available on any tablets.)
Getting to know Ice Cream Sandwich
The first thing you notice when you start using Ice Cream Sandwich is that Android suddenly seems a lot more friendly. While the OS has always been powerful and versatile, simple human relations weren’t exactly its strong suit.
Now, powering up an Android 4.0 device (in my case, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which I’ve been testing for several days) is like running into an old college buddy who’s evolved into a slick professional. He has the same smarts, the same heart and soul you’ve always appreciated, but now he really has his act together — and he’s dressing better, to boot.
At a glance, Ice Cream Sandwich seems similar to the Android of years past. You have five home screen panels that hold any combination of app shortcuts, folders and live functioning widgets. Each is made up of an invisible grid that, like previous phone-based versions of Android, can support as many as 16 shortcuts (four across and four down). But beneath that basic shell, ICS is a whole new game.
You can practically see the fresh paint everywhere you look in the system. Gone are the harsh green and black colors of yore, replaced now with a soft blue-and-gray-based scheme. System icons are more brilliant, with bright colors and three-dimensional textures. New transitions and animations are sprinkled throughout the OS, adding subtle but important layers of polish.
Android Ice Cream Sandwich
Ice Cream Sandwich provides a new favorites tray that stays in place at the bottom of the screen. Click to view larger image.
As for the home screen itself, Ice Cream Sandwich provides a new favorites tray that stays in place at the bottom of the screen as you swipe from one panel to another. The tray houses a permanent link to your app drawer along with four customizable icons; you can anchor any shortcut or folder into those spots by simply dragging and dropping it into place.
ICS also introduces a new persistent search box across the top of the home screen. Tapping the main part of the box brings up Android’s universal search field, which simultaneously covers the Web and most content on your phone. Tapping the microphone at right end of the box, meanwhile, brings up Google’s Voice Actions utility, which allows you to conduct a Web search, place a phone call, send a text or email, or get driving directions by speaking into your device.
(Don’t tell Siri, but that’s actually a function Android has had for more than a year.)
The button-free philosophy
Perhaps the most striking shift with Ice Cream Sandwich is its move away from the four physical buttons that have long been Android phones’ most identifiable feature. In fact, the Galaxy Nexus — the flagship Android 4.0 phone — has no buttons on its face whatsoever.
Android Ice Cream Sandwich
Instead of physical buttons, you get three icons at the bottom of the display. Click to view larger image.
Instead, you get a trio of virtual buttons at the bottom of the display: one to go back a step, one to return to your home screen, and one to multitask, or toggle among recently used applications. These buttons will be familiar to Android tablet users; they actually first appeared in Honeycomb, as did an early implementation of the button-free philosophy. But for Android phones, they mark a major shift.
As someone who’s used Android intensely for years, I expected the lack of physical buttons to be a shock. I’m happy to say, though, that I’ve found the adjustment surprisingly painless. It’s really a natural evolution, as the on-screen buttons appear when and where you need them. If you rotate your device to a horizontal position, they move along with it. And if you don’t need them on-screen — say, if you’re viewing a photo or video — they disappear, turning into tiny dots that can emerge when beckoned but stay out of your way otherwise.
That said, the shift in button strategy does change the way you interact with the phone, especially when it comes to the search and menu functions that used to have permanent places on the front of the device. The elimination of the menu function is intended to make Android more user-friendly: Rather than having to press your phone’s menu button to find commands, as you did with previous versions of Android, apps designed for ICS show all your options in a new “action bar” that sits at the top of the screen. The action bar’s commands are context-sensitive, too, so they vary based on what task you’re performing.
When you open Google Voice, for example, the action bar gives you one icon to compose a new text, one to refresh your inbox, and one that holds an overflow list of less commonly used functions (Ice Cream Sandwich’s on-screen equivalent of the old menu button). When you’re viewing an actual message in Google Voice, the action bar changes to give you options to call the person from your conversation or compose a new message to someone else.
This approach is excellent in theory. In execution, however, it has one glaring problem: Ice Cream Sandwich lacks a certain level of consistency with the placement of some key functions. Search, for example, is sometimes an icon in the action bar, and other times an option in the on-screen overflow menu (as is the case in Google Voice).
Even that overflow menu itself moves around somewhat from application to application: On most apps that have been optimized for ICS, it lives within the action bar at the top. But on older apps that have not been updated to reflect the new design standards, it appears squished in alongside the main navigation icons at the bottom. A similar inconsistency occurred within Honeycomb. My hope is that, as the new interface reaches more and more devices, app developers will update their programs to support the new approach.
(With existing phones that have physical buttons, by the way, the physical buttons will continue to function as they always have; you’ll just use those instead of the new on-screen alternatives. The full ICS effect will be seen only on the Galaxy Nexus and subsequent button-free devices.)
The app drawer and home screen customization
Ice Cream Sandwich introduces a newly designed app drawer that puts all of your installed applications and widgets in a single centralized place. The drawer swipes horizontally, with a pleasant scroll-and-fade animation effect as you move from one screen to another. An icon at the top of the drawer gives you direct access to the Android Market as well.
Customizing your home screens is now done right from the app drawer, streamlining a process that used to be far less intuitive. With ICS, you simply touch and hold any app shortcut or widget in the app drawer, and the system automatically shows you a preview of all five home screen panels. You can then drag and drop the item anywhere you want. You can get detailed information about an app or uninstall it while you’re there, too — tasks that used to be buried within layers of settings menus.
Home screen widgets have long been one of Android’s most powerful and distinguishing features, and with Ice Cream Sandwich, they become even more valuable. Following the lead set in the tablet-focused Honeycomb OS (and seen in some third-party launcher replacement utilities), ICS allows you to interact with home screen widgets by scrolling or flipping without having to enter the actual apps.
Noteworthy examples include the Gmail widget, which lets you scroll through messages, and the Photo Gallery widget, which lets you flip through thumbnails of images on your phone. Widgets can now also be resized to take up more or less space on your home screen.
Home screen folders get a makeover with ICS, too, with a fresh new look and highly simplified setup. Creating a folder is now as easy as dragging one app on top of another; you can add or remove more apps by dragging and dropping, and you can change the folder’s name by touching it.
Notifications and multitasking
Ice Cream Sandwich gets a brand new notification bar that houses icons and information about incoming messages and alerts. It’s essentially a prettier and more powerful version of what’s existed in the past.
On the cosmetic side, the new notification area has a transparent gray background with blue and white text, matching the rest of the OS’s revamped design. Functionality-wise, the notifications now support a new system-wide swiping gesture that allows you to dismiss any individual item by flicking it left or right. This is a welcome touch that gives you greater control over what you see.
The Ice Cream Sandwich notifications area includes interactive commands for controlling music playback when the Music app is active. That means you can pause or skip tracks right from the pulldown area, without having to interrupt what you’re doing. Unfortunately, this feature appears to work only with the system Music app at the moment; third-party programs like Pandora are not currently compatible.
Along with the new notification system, Android 4.0 includes a revamped multitasking interface. It’s activated by tapping the new “recent apps” button, located next to the virtual back and home commands. This brings up a scrollable list of all the apps and services you’ve recently opened on your phone, showing each app’s name, icon and a thumbnail of its most recent state. As with the new notifications area, you can tap any item to activate it or flick to dismiss it.
The improvement here over Android’s old system — long-pressing the home key to bring up a small and limited list of icons — is immeasurable. The new multitasking interface is easy to find, fun to use, and a true highlight of the 4.0 platform.
The ICS keyboard and voice input
Google has really gone a long way in improving the system keyboard in Ice Cream Sandwich. Compared to past Android releases, the ICS keyboard is far better at predicting and correcting text, which means you can type quickly and/or sloppily and it’ll almost always figure out what you’re trying to say.
The new keyboard has a few nice bells and whistles, too, like built-in spell checking and a tremendously improved cut and paste system. I tend to be a fan of slide-based keyboards like Swype, but the stock Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard is good enough that I’m actually fine with — and even enjoying — using it.
On the voice-input front, the familiar microphone icon allows you to dictate text anywhere in the system, as it always has — but now, text is transcribed continuously, so words show up as you’re saying them instead of in one big chunk when you’re finished speaking. You can also pause and stop speaking and the system will wait for you to continue instead of stopping the session. (To signal that you’re finished, you press a “Done” button that appears on the screen.)
If the voice input mishears a word or two, error correction in Ice Cream Sandwich is quite easy: The system automatically underlines any words it thinks might be iffy, and then you just tap a word to see a list of likely alternatives and pick a replacement.
You wouldn’t think there’d be much to say about a phone’s lock screen, but with Ice Cream Sandwich, this seemingly simple system component is jam-packed with tasty new treats.
If you don’t set any security options, the default ICS lock screen uses a circular unlock gesture similar to what’s seen in Honeycomb. The lock screen offers a lot more functionality now, catching up with options that some third-party utilities have previously offered.
For example, you can now access and interact with notifications, see album cover art and music playback controls, and jump directly to your camera without ever having to go to the home screen.
Another nice touch: When your phone is locked and you receive a call, the lock screen features a new text-and-reject feature that simultaneously declines the call and sends a message to the person explaining why you can’t talk. You can pick from a list of generic responses or add your own custom message. (You can permanently edit/change the list of default responses by going into the settings section of the Phone app.)
As with past versions of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich gives you the ability to set a security pattern, password or PIN to protect your phone. It also introduces an intriguing new option: facial recognition for phone unlocking. Once configured, all you do is hold your phone in front of your your face. If all goes well, within a second or two, it recognizes your features and unlocks your device.
I found the facial recognition system to be fairly accurate and incredibly satisfying to use. In my tests, the system was able to recognize me roughly 90% of the time, even when I was wearing eyeglasses or a hat or making some silly face (for testing purposes only, of course). The times when it didn’t work were usually when I was in an extreme lighting condition or holding the phone at an unusual angle. But getting your face rejected, while perhaps mildly demoralizing, is not a big deal; you just enter in a backup password or pattern and you’re good to go.
Google does note that the facial recognition option is less secure than a pattern, password or PIN; a disclaimer on the phone goes as far as to tell you that “someone who looks similar to you” could potentially unlock your phone with the feature activated. Some users have reported being able to trick the system into unlocking by holding up a photo of the phone’s owner; I tried and was not able to replicate that. I also tested the system with my brother, whom people often mistake for me, but the phone wouldn’t unlock with his face.
The take-home message: Facial recognition is convenient, novel and impressive — and in most cases, it’s pretty secure. But if you really need to safeguard your data and can’t take any chances, it might not be the right choice for you.
Camera and Gallery
Android 4.0 includes a brand spankin’ new Camera app that’s chock full of surprises. The app’s interface boasts some significant improvements, but the added functions are what really steal the show.
One of the high points is the newly implemented support for zero shutter lag. That means you can snap one photo after another in rapid succession without ever having to stop or wait. It’s actually a little strange at first — and can make it somewhat challenging to get your image focused, if you’re moving really fast — but it’s a fantastic feature that makes photo-capturing easier than ever.
The Camera app has a cool single-motion panorama mode, too, that lets you take wide-perspective images. All you do is tap the panorama icon and press the shutter button, then move your camera slowly across the area you want to capture. When you’re finished, you tap the shutter once more, and the software puts the whole thing together into a single seamless image. It works amazingly well.
On the video side, the Camera app now includes a range of live-video effects — distorting your face, for example, or making it appear as if you’re floating in space. They’re more for fun than anything, but I found they provided some light-hearted amusement while video-chatting with friends. The Camera has a few serious new video-related tools as well, including a snapshot-capturing utility that lets you grab still images while you’re recording video.
The new Camera app and the redesigned Gallery app put photo sharing front and center, with a host of on-screen options to send images to any share-ready service. Ice Cream Sandwich also includes native photo and video editing tools. I found the video editing suite to be a bit limited in its capabilities, but the photo editing options are quite robust, with commands for cropping, sharpening, removing red eye, modifying lighting and making a variety of color adjustments. The photo editor can apply quite numerous special effects, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Other Ice Cream Sandwich sprinkles
I could write an entire book trying to cover and review everything that’s new in Ice Cream Sandwich. I haven’t even gotten into the revamped system settings menu — it’s far simpler and easier to use — or the new NFC-based “Android Beam” function that lets you share info with other phones by tapping the devices together (cool in theory, but fairly limited in practice at the moment).
You’ve also got random flourishes like the long overdue ability to capture screenshots and the new fine controls for managing and monitoring your network data usage. Many of the system apps are vastly improved as well, including Gmail, Calendar, People (formerly Contacts) and the browser — which now features faster page loading, automatic Chrome bookmark syncing, offline page saving and graphical tabbed browsing.
But you get the picture. Ice Cream Sandwich is more than just another upgrade; it’s a significant new beginning for the Android platform. It isn’t perfect — the software has a handful of inconsistencies and areas for improvement — but it’s astonishingly good. I suspect it’ll go a long way in delighting both hardcore enthusiasts and casual smartphone users.
Android has always been a powerful platform. With Ice Cream Sandwich, its power reaches new heights — and its polish makes the power more palatable than ever.
The partnership AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft announced last week to sell each other’s “tier 2″ display ad inventory could yield great benefits, but they need to pull off a complex integration of business and technology to make it work.
So while the promise of the alliance looks good on paper, making it a success will require careful execution from three companies that already are struggling to hold their ground in display advertising against Google and Facebook.
“It’s one of those deals where the devil is in the details. We’re now getting a lot of broad-level talk but not a lot of understanding of how this will manifest itself,” said Michael Greene, a Forrester Research analyst. “I’m skeptical on whether this is a good move.”
Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft will pool together display ad inventory that goes unsold by their direct sales teams and link their sales platforms so that they can offer each other’s ads. The idea is to increase sales and margins for all three companies by making the process of buying and selling these tier 2 display ads simpler.
Google and Facebook have made successful inroads into the display advertising market, rattling AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft where they have historically been strong.
EMarketer predicts that Facebook will top the U.S. display ad market in 2012 with 19.4% of revenue, followed by Yahoo and Google, both with around 12%, and Microsoft (4.8%) and AOL (3.9%) rounding out the top five.
Just two years ago, Yahoo led the field with almost 16% of display ad revenue, followed by Facebook with 7%, AOL with 6.4%, Microsoft with 4.6% and Google with 4.5%, according to eMarketer.
“While the effects of the partnership on ad pricing are hard to predict, it’s clear that these three have a common need to boost revenue on their display ad inventory, and I think the potential upside of shoring up the market as a whole with their positioning as ‘premium’ offsets the risks,” said Andrew Frank, a Gartner analyst, via email.
They will continue to independently and directly sell to marketers the pricier “tier 1″ display ads whose placement and frequency are guaranteed.
By combining their tier 2 inventories, the companies expect to be able to automate the sale of these ads and offer marketers a better, broader ability to target specific market segments, like mothers who own dogs or football fans who live in Dallas.
Big brand advertisers have shied away from buying tier 2 ads through automated platforms because they aren’t comfortable with the types of sites where their ads may run, which isn’t an issue when buying guaranteed tier 1 ads.
The initiative sounds good to Nick Beil, an executive from VivaKi, a global buyer of ad space for large marketers. “We’re very supportive of the fact that this is about bringing better-quality inventory into a dynamic marketplace where we can buy it through a technology platform in an automated way,” he said.
As president of VivaKi’s Nerve Center, the company’s research and development arm, Beil intends to link his unit’s automated display-ad-trading desk, Audience On Demand, with the combined platform from AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft.
Although the three companies have consulted VivaKi about the project, Beil cautioned that success isn’t guaranteed and that he still hasn’t heard all the details.
“A question is the level of transparency we’ll get into the inventory, which is a priority for us,” he said. “We need to make sure that this is indeed premium inventory, as they say it is.”
Other issues include technical integration details for a tool like VivaKi’s Audience On Demand to plug into the combined AOL/Yahoo/Microsoft marketplace, and where AOL will surface its inventory, which hasn’t yet been announced, he said.
Ultimately, the most important factor for success will be how well the ads perform for marketers, and that won’t become clear until a quarter or so after the project goes live, Beil said.
John Montgomery, North America chief operating officer of GroupM Interaction, another large buyer of online ads for marketer clients, calls the project “a big idea.”
“Execution is vital with anything like this. It’s got to work better than the current solutions in order for it to pull significant business,” he said.
The initiative has the potential to be operationally complex, and AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft have to make sure they make this manageable, he said.
“In these things, the devil is always in the details and how it’s executed. It needs to work really well from the beginning,” Montgomery said. Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL have also consulted GroupM about their project.
For Rebecca Lieb, an Altimeter Group analyst, the value for media buyers isn’t clear, because they have increasingly more and more options for acquiring this type of ad inventory from “myriad” ad exchanges.
“I’d like to see the value proposition to media buyers better explained. The benefit to the three portals is clear, but it’s perhaps too one-sided once their customers are taken into consideration,” she said via email.
If the alliance does release high-quality ad inventory into the marketplace, it could very well expand the practice of targeting specific audience segments, by attracting big brand marketers to it, Montgomery said.
“Brand marketers aren’t taking advantage of programmable buying in scale because it’s not perceived to be great inventory, nor safe,” he said.
If successful, it’s conceivable that these major brand advertisers would increase their digital advertising spending in order to participate in the AOL/Yahoo/Microsoft project, in addition to the money they spend on premium “tier one” display ads.
“If we have access to ‘premium’ unsold inventory it can be a very positive influence in the way we’re buying media and it will accelerate the audience buying trend as it exists today,” Montgomery said.
The deal is expected to go into effect in early 2012, once the companies have integrated their real-time bidding systems so they can tap into each other’s ad networks — Yahoo Network Plus, AOL’s Advertising.com and the Microsoft Media Network.
The project will also include ad inventory from third-party publishers that already participate in the Microsoft and Yahoo ad networks. It’s not clear if third-party publishers associated with AOL will be included. An AOL representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
For publishers that aren’t part of Microsoft’s ad network, Microsoft would structure deals on a case-by-case basis to include those who are interested in participating in the initiative. “Since the agreement is so fresh and won’t be operational until next year, we haven’t begun those discussions yet,” a Microsoft spokesman said via email.
Some much-needed 3DS sales are taking place in Japan with the release of Super Mario 3D Land. Will Nintendo experience the same breath of life into sales of the handheld in the US once it’s released here as well?
Along with recent news of Nintendo supposedly working on dual tablet support for the Wii U, there’s good news for the company’s bottom line as the release of Super Mario 3D Land in Japan yields skyrocketed sales not only of the game, but of 3DS units as well.
This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to many gamers, since Nintendo’s flagship games like Mario and Zelda are always the big sellers for them and ultimately help push console sales.
Media Create, a Japanese company that culminates sales data related to consoles/games and releases reports for purchase on weekly, monthly, and annual bases, has had their latest report hit the Internet.
In it, we find sales figures for the 3DS console and Super Mario 3D Land — amongst other platforms and games — from last week, and the numbers bode well for Nintendo, who is predicting its first annual loss in 30 years. Here is a comparison of last week’s 3DS sales to the week prior:
3DS sales from 10/31-11/6: 145,271
3DS sales from 10/24-10/30: 65,041
As you can see, 3DS sales almost tripled for the week. A similar pattern can be seen when comparing the sales of Super Mario 3D Land to the sales of the next highest-selling game for the week:
1 – [3DS] Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo, 11/03): 343,492
2 – [PS3] Uncharted 3 (Sony, 11/02): 124,989
3 – [PS3] Battlefield 3 (EA, 11/02): 123,379
4 – [PSP] Final Fantasy Type-0 (EA, 10/27): 122,286 (594,540 since release date)
5 – [WII] Kirby Wii (Nintendo, 10/27): 55,779 (192,589 since release date)
The million-dollar question now is if the US will experience a similar boost in 3DS sales when the title is released here on November 13. Personally, I bought a 3DS the day it launched in anticipation of titles that are only just now beginning to make their way to market.
The delay has certainly been an inconvenience to early adopters like me, but even with the rough start to Nintendo’s 3DS game releases and the massive price drop of the handheld earlier, I’m a pretty diehard Nintendo fan who hasn’t had a completely rough go of it with the titles released up through now and the games Nintendo has provided via the Nintendo 3DS Ambassador Program.