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EA shuts down 25 game servers, including Madden 09

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EA’s financial problems from last year, it seems, are continuing to have repercussions. Even after cutting 1,500 employees in November, the publisher is still looking to reduce operating costs. As a result, the company is killing off a number of game servers on three separate dates in the coming months.


February 2 will see the largest number of game servers shut down, followed by a few more on February 9. While many of these games are a few years old and on older systems (such as FIFA 07 for PC), some of the games on the list are shockingly recent. The most surprising shutdown revelation is Madden 09 on all platforms, which will occur on April 6. Of course, no plans have been announced to turn off servers for Madden 10, but fans have got to be wondering if they’re only going to be able to play that game’s online mode for roughly a year before it, too, is shut down.

It makes sense to shut down many of these servers, since they cater to what are most likely a small number of gamers at a significant expense to EA. However, the shutdown of servers for titles like Madden 09 and NASCAR 09 seems like a heavy-handed attempt to force players to pick up newer entries for these series. It’s a shame that EA is having such problems that it is forced to such drastic measures, but it’s even more of a shame that the company is using such tactics on general consumers. Here’s the full list of affected games:

April 6, 2010 Online Service Shutdown

Madden 09 for PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Wii and Xbox 360

February 9, 2010 Online Service Shutdown

FIFA 07 for PC Madden 07 for Xbox 360 Madden 08 for PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii and Xbox 360 NHL 08 for PC Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 07 for PC UEFA Champions League 07 for PC

February 2, 2010 Online Service Shutdown

Facebreaker for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 Fantasy Football 09 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 FIFA 07 for PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 2 Fight Night Round 3 for PlayStation 2 March Madness 07 for Xbox 360 NBA LIVE 07 for PlayStation Portable and Xbox 360 NBA LIVE 08 for PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii NBA LIVE 09 for Wii (Europe only) NBA Street (2007) for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 NCAA Football for 08 PlayStation 2 NCAA Football for 09 PlayStation 2 NASCAR 08 for PlayStation 2 NASCAR 09 for PlayStation 2 NASCAR 09 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (Europe Only) NFL Tour for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 NHL 07 for PlayStation Portable and Xbox 360 UEFA Champions League 07 for Xbox 360

A year in gaming quotes: Kotick, Beatles, Tony Hawk

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2009 certainly was a busy year for gaming. We’ve had curious console refreshes, boycotts of blockbuster games, and more peripheral-laden games than you can shake a stick at. We even got to shoot people in an airport. And what better way to celebrate the year that was 2009 than by looking at some of the more interesting things said by games industry folks. Here is your 2009, in quotes.


“We have a real culture of thrift. The goal that I had in bringing a lot of the packaged goods folks into Activision about 10 years ago was to take all the fun out of making video games.”

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, speaking at the Deutsche Bank Securities Technology Conference in San Francisco. While Kotick may not be all that popular among gamers—and quotes like this are a prime example why—it’s hard to argue with his business sense. Kotick has earned $37 million in stock options since the November launch of Modern Warfare 2.

“I don’t trust Valve.”

Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, revealing his misgivings about Valve and its digital distribution platform Steam. However, it seems that Pitchford is in the minority, as most of the developers we spoke to were actually in favor of using Steam as a way to sell their games.

“As for L4D2, things seemed balanced and ‘tight’ and did not feel like a rushed job. While we were visiting their offices, we personally witnessed what can only be called a small army of artists, coders, mappers hard at work, which explains the rapid transformations in artwork that we’ve all seen.”

Left 4 Dead 2 boycott leader Walking_Target after seeing the game in action. Some gamers were upset over the quick release of a sequel to last year’s co-op hit L4D, but after a free trip to Valve HQ, it seems that there’s no longer an issue.

Will New Super Mario Bros. Wii outsell Modern Warfare 2 this holiday season?

“On a single platform… absolutely. I say that unequivocally.”

Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime claiming on GameTrailers TV that New Super Mario Bros. Wii will outsell Modern Warfare 2 over the holiday season. While there’s still some time, NSMBW has quite a bit of catching up to do. According to NPD data, NSMBW sold 1.4 million units in November, while MW2 sold 4.2 million on the Xbox 360 and 1.9 million on the PlayStation 3.

“We sold 26 copies. We weren’t necessarily expecting instant great success, but damn.”

Nick Marroni, owner of iPhone developer MEE, in a press release revealing the sales of the studio’s game iLikeCereal!! Marroni’s case is indicative of the iPhone gaming landscape at large, where the expectation for a low price point and the sheer number of titles in the app store makes it difficult for indie developers to achieve much success.

“The Beatles: Rock Band is nothing less than a cultural watershed, one that may prove only slightly less influential than the band’s famous appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964.”

The New York Times’ Seth Schiesel, in his review of The Beatles: Rock Band. While critically acclaimed, The Beatles: Rock Band wasn’t quite the overwhelming hit it was expected to be. The 360 version of the game was only the fifth best selling title in September, behind games like Halo 3: ODST and Wii Sports Resort.

“Most snarky critics had their minds set before ever seeing/playing the game. I’m proud of what we created; it’s innovative, responsive & fun.”

Tony Hawk tweeting about the largely negative reception of Tony Hawk Ride. The highest rated version of the game, on the Nintendo Wii, currently holds an average score of 53 percent on Metacritic.

“The product is not euphemistic for me, nor is it a punchline, I did not purchase it to hate it, though I did purchase it—and at great cost. Even if I didn’t particularly like it, I thought, perhaps one of our sons may find some use for it, their minds untainted by the expectations engendered by three decades of electronic play. They can’t get penetrate the tutorial, though, so densely knit are the ambiguities of their infernal demon plank.”

Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins in response to Hawk’s dismissal of the negative reception of THR.

The PSP Go was released this year to much criticism from consumers and press alike.

“This new iteration of the platform is what would happen if a facepalm was turned into a piece of hardware.”

Our very own Gaming Editor Ben Kuchera in his review of the PSP Go. Though a nice looking piece of hardware, the Go is plagued by numerous issues—most of which stem from the handheld’s lack of a UMD drive—that have held it back from making much of an impact.

“I knew that I wanted to control my destiny, so I knew I needed revenues, right f***ing now. Like I needed revenues now. So I funded the company myself but I did every horrible thing in the book to… just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I dont know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it. We did anything possible just to just get revenues so that we could grow and be a real business… so control your destiny. So that was a big lesson, controlling your business. So by the time we raised money we were profitable.”

Mark Pincus, CEO of social game developer Zynga. The developer behind popular Facebook games like FarmVille and Cafe World, it recently came to light that Zynga knowingly subjected players to “scammy” offers in an attempt to raise capital.

“Hey, if Activision liked it, then they should have put a ring on it. Oh great, now Beyonce is going to sue me too.”

The always funny Tim Schafer on the publishing controversy surrounding Brutal Legend. Originally set to be published by Activision, the game was dropped and eventually picked up by EA. Then Activision attempted to cash in on the game they passed on.

“You are completely reliant on IW.NET. There are no server lists. There are no dedicated servers.”

Infinity Ward Creative Strategist Robert Bowling on the PC version of Modern Warfare 2. The game irked a good deal of the PC gaming community after it was revealed that it wouldn’t support dedicated servers.

We leave the rest up to you: what quotes from the talking heads, pundits, analysts, and industry pros stand out in your head?

Government skeptical wireless can open up broadband market

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Earlier this week we wrote up a Department of Justice brief urging the Federal Communications Commission to reallocate as much spectrum as possible for the wireless industry. Wireless, the DOJ says, is the best chance we’ve got at creating a more competitive broadband landscape. “Given the potential of wireless services to reach underserved areas and to provide an alternative to wireline broadband providers in other areas, the Commission’s primary tool for promoting broadband competition should be freeing up spectrum,” the DOJ told the FCC on Monday.


But now comes a policy letter from the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) suggesting that the wireless fix may not be so clear cut.

“Although early projections from [the] industry are encouraging, it is premature to predict when, or even whether, these wireless broadband services will provide the competitive alternatives that can benefit consumers of all services, including wireline,” NTIA chief Larry Strickling wrote to the Commission.

A duopoly, at best

It’s not like Strickling disagrees with DOJ’s assessment of the problem. Both agencies think that the national broadband market isn’t competitive. They both cite the FCC’s Broadband Status Report, released in September. That survey concluded that most households can access the services of two fixed broadband providers, max. “50-80 percent of homes may get speeds they need from only one provider,” the report added.

And NTIA concurs that it’s unlikely that wireless broadband providers are going to do much heavy lifting to fix this problem in many areas of the United States. Given the hefty fixed costs of expansion, chances are that only the densest areas of the US will see further middle mile development. “The economics of providing wireline broadband Internet access service suggest that market forces alone may not produce additional entry,” Strickling warns.

So can wireless fill the gap? Maybe. “The fact that some wireline customers seem willing to switch to wireless service suggests that the two offerings could become part of a broader marketplace,” NTIA speculates. But the letter advises the FCCkeep several factors in mind. First, a big chunk of the wireless industry is owned by AT&T and Verizon. Are they really going to market their wireless products as an alternative to their wireline offerings?

“Finally, we need to be mindful of how future developments in the applications and Internet services markets can affect demand for broadband,” Strickling notes. “Are there ‘killer’ applications on the horizon that will be supported by wireline providers but not wireless?”

Clear signs

What does NTIA say the government should do about this? Commerce still thinks the FCC should mobilize to make more spectrum available for wireless by reallocating the commercial bands and government licenses. But, as DOJ noted, the big bugbear is who gets the licenses after they’ve been freed up. And Strickling agrees that just running a vanilla auction exposes the process to the risk that the incumbents will buy up the spectrum for no other reason than to warehouse it.

The rest of the letter offers a litany of recommendations similar to the DOJ’s, especially the need for clearer consumer pricing and policy disclosure rules. You can expect the controversy over Verizon’s $350 early termination fees to serve as the principal flashpoint in this area.

But how much will clearer rules matter if consumers have no or few choices among broadband providers? As the FCC makes more spectrum available, it seems likely that pressure is going to come on the agency to set up sale rules that don’t favor the incumbent telcos. DOJ’s letter explicitly mentioned Clearwire, T-Mobile, and Sprint as the competitive carriers “that could provide broadband services comparable to those of existing providers.” That’s a pretty clear sign of the kind of outcome at least one arm of the government favors.

One thing is for sure. It’s telling that FCC, NTIA, and the DOJ are already having this conversation long before the FCC has worked out how to free up more licenses for wireless, suggesting that everyone is quite serious about getting that done as fast as governmentally possible.

Opera expands mobile SDK lineup amid losses

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The growing popularity of WebKit in the mobile and embedded space is eroding the demand for commercial mobile Web browsing technology, but Opera has managed to stay in the game on handheld devices and set-top boxes. The company announced this week at CES that it will be extending its mobile SDK lineup and launching a beta of Opera Devices 10 for Windows CE.


The SDKs have gained some of Opera’s latest enhancements to its HTML rendering engine, such as support for HTML5 and CSS3 features—including CSS transforms. The SDKs also offer some unique features from Opera’s desktop and mobile browsers, including the Opera Turbo accelerator which uses server-side rendering to reduce the network overhead of loading pages.

Opera is aiming for broader adoption on Linux set-top boxes with some new features in its Web Widgets system, which has been enhanced on Linux to support interaction from TV remote control devices. The Linux SDK also supports hardware accelerated rendering and DirectFB.

On the Windows front, the new Opera browser for Windows CE could attract some interest from hardware makers that are shipping Windows CE on low-cost ARM-based smartbooks. We saw several such devices debut for under $100 last year. If Opera offers competitive licensing costs that don’t inflate the price of the devices, it could be a good replacement for Internet Explorer on products of that nature.

Opera’s mobile technology is still as strong as ever, but it’s unclear if the company’s business model is sustainable in a market that increasingly demands open source solutions. Opera suffered roughly $2 million in losses last quarter and is struggling to find niches where there is still strong demand for its products and services. In related news, Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner—who I interviewed during the Mobilize conference last year—has stepped down and will shift into an advisory role. His successor is Lars Boilesen, the company’s chief commercial officer.

Google launches a utility as DOE funds data center efficiency

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For many traditional IT companies, the lure of energy efficiency efforts is two-fold: data center costs are becoming dominated by power use, so greater efficiency will both save them money and provide them with products and services that they can sell to other companies. These efforts also fall nicely in line with the goals of the Department of Energy, which is now using some of its stimulus money to fund data center efficiency projects from companies like Alcatel-Lucent, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Yahoo. Meanwhile, Google has decided it needs greater control over the power coming in, and will be launching its own utility, which will focus on supplying it with renewable energy.


The new DOE grants were announced on Wednesday. “By reducing energy use and energy costs for the IT and telecommunications industries, this funding will help create jobs and ensure the sector remains competitive,” stated DOE head Steven Chu. “The expected growth of these industries means that new technologies adopted today will yield benefits for many years to come.” The total funding was relatively small, at $47 million, but (like many DOE-funded efforts), it will require matching money from the industry involved, which will bring the total expenditures up to over $100 million.

The funding(PDF) will cover the full data center ecosystem, from facility cooling to software that helps cut the drain of idle hardware. Some of them have gone to traditional enterprise research centers. For example, IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center has received two awards, one for developing facility-scale liquid cooling, the other for monitoring and controlling cooling systems. Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs will get two as well, for developing methods to monitor network-wide traffic flows in order to optimize power use, and another for liquid cooling systems, as well.

Hewlett-Packard’s award will go towards the development of an integrated, modular server unit that integrates the cooling and power conversion hardware into the unit. Yahoo will get one to help it build one of its passive-cooling data centers, which itdescribed in detail in the past.

But some of the more interesting projects are going to smaller companies and the academic world. Santa Clara’s SeaMicro will be testing physicalized servers with hundreds of processors that may see a 75 percent energy saving. Caltech will get money to develop software for load balancing across multiple data centers. Columbia University will be getting an award to develop technology for making better use of power once it’s on the CPU; the plan is to make better use of the power the CPU receives, cutting losses by 10 percent.

Google Energy

Google wasn’t on the DOE’s award list, but the company has done extensive work to optimize the power use of its data centers and obtain renewable energy for its facilities. But the company has gone significantly beyond that, funding a variety of renewable energy technology companies via its initiative. Apparently, however, the company wants a bit more control over the power it uses, as the company has launched a subsidiary called Google Energy and applied to trade energy on the wholesale market. Essentially, the company is dissatisfied with the renewable offerings being made by its utilities, and wants to make sure it has more options available to it.

Presumably, the move will ultimately allow it to buy power from some of the renewable companies that it’s funding via

Right now, it’s clear that these enterprise companies see lots of opportunity in the renewable and energy efficiency markets, and are scrambling to take advantage of them (creating some strange bedfellows in the process, like the Yahoo-DOE arrangement). But an interview with Bill Weihl, the Google executive who runs their green energy initiatives, highlights a danger of the current environment: it’s highly dependent on the stimulus money. “At the end of 2010, when the stimulus ends, we’re going to drive off the biggest funding cliff the energy field has ever seen,” Weihl said. The key question will be whether these companies have made an irreversible commitment to efficiency before we drop off that cliff.

Tux takes a bow: Linux makes presence known at CES

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The open source Linux operating system is arguably a major force in the mobile and embedded space and can be found on a growing number of popular devices ranging from the TiVo to Amazon’s Kindle. It’s not surprising that the proverbial penguin has a strong presence at CES this week, where gadget makers from around the world are unveiling their latest and greatest toys.


Touchscreen devices are the new hotness this year and are arriving with Linux in a number of different form factors and configurations. There are some new touchscreen Internet dashboards for the home, including ICD’s 15-inch Vega, an Android-based tablet with NVIDIA’s Tegra SoC. Another compelling product in this category is the Sony Dash, a 7-inch touchscreen device that that runs Chumby’s Linux platform and doubles as an alarm clock.

Dell lifted the curtain on its mysterious slate computer, a five-inch touchscreen device that comes with an Android-based software platform and will reportedly function as a phone. Dell also announced that its more conventional Android smartphones—previously only available in China—are coming to the United States. Dell is among several companies that AT&T has identified as its Android hardware partners.

Linux is still a strong player in the little laptop market. MSI has announced that Novell’s new mashup of Moblin and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop will be available as an option on the upcoming 10-inch MSI U135 netbook. Smartbooks have finally arrived and are making a big splash at CES. HP has an Android-based smartbook with a 10-inch resistive touchscreen, and Lenovo announced its slim Skylight with a Web-oriented Linux OS. Both products ship with the 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon ARM processor.

One of the most intriguing products that has emerged so far from CES is Lenovo’s IdeaPad U1 Hybrid, a laptop with an 11-inch touchscreen display that detaches and can be used as a standalone tablet device. The laptop runs Windows and is powered by an Intel chip, but the tablet part runs Linux and is powered by a Snapdragon.

FCC’s underwhelming-looking broadband plan also tardy

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Time to reset the game clock on the National Broadband Plan.


The plan, due to be presented to Congress next month, now looks to be delayed by a month. Like a tardy student going to a professor, the FCC has written Congress to ask for a four-week extension on its “big paper.” Perhaps the agency can use the extra time to ensure the plan contains some of that “change” we’ve heard so much about.

Filling gaps

In December, we were given a sneak peak at the plan-in-progress. While interesting, it was also underwhelming.

Broadband plans in other countries have done things like aim for 1Gbps connections by 2015 (Japan), separate last-mile copper and fiber networks from backend networks and open them to all competitors (UK), and even build an open access national fiber network (Australia). The US, in contrast, looks ready to find and auction off some extra wireless spectrum in five years or so; it might also require rural telcos taking universal service money to provide low-speed broadband to all their lines. Oh, and some people might get Internet access on their TV sets.

The policies we’ve seen so far look good, and the FCC has had an impressive team working on the issue for nearly a year now, but the final result looks a lot like “tinkering around the edges” rather than doing something truly game-changing. The FCC commissioned a major report from Harvard researchers on world broadband markets, and that report made essentially one recommendation: mandate line-sharing rules to provide real competition. But it’s not in the plan.

The Department of Commerce also weighed in this week, telling the FCC that US broadband was generally a duopoly, that wireless really wouldn’t be a replacement for wireline networks, and that providing more spectrum wouldn’t fix the competitive situation.

Everyone’s calling for bold action on broadband, even Republicans like Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). In an op-ed this week, Hutchison demanded a “daring, comprehensive” plan. What was her main idea for such a plan? Additional wireless spectrum.

The FCC continues to insist it will deliver something solid. “Gaps” in US broadband access will be addressed “boldly,” said FCC Chair Julius Genachowski this week. Extending coverage to all is a good thing. Opening up spectrum, especially to unlicensed use (which brought us WiFi and now White Space Devices) is a good thing. But nothing coming from the FCC looks likely to push US ISPs to be truly awesome on the world stage (see our piece on incredible ISPs around the world, and take a look at the service they are already providing before you say it can’t be done here).

ISPs like France’s already offer ADSL connections of up to 28Mbps that provide TV, Internet, and phone service for �29.99, showing just how much can really be done by the right kind of competition. Meanwhile, Americans can pay $35/month for 6Mbps Internet-only DSL connections with customer service like this.

The FCC’s point man for broadband, Blair Levin, has essentially ruled out line-sharing already, and he’s also right that just “thinking big” without having a plan to get there is ineffective. And yes, some of the high speeds advertised in other countries can’t be obtained in reality. But a look round the world shows that broadband can at least be done better, it can certainly be done cheaper, and success is often a function of the regulatory environment. That doesn’t mean government-run broadband; it just means that the ground rules truly encourage competition, the sort of competition that both the Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice don’t currently see in the market.

We’ll reserve final judgment on the FCC’s efforts until March, when the National Broadband Plan is revealed in its full splendor. But we’re skeptical that a few more weeks will lead the agency to think any bigger. When JFK announced that the US would race for the moon, he said we would pursue moon landings “not only because they are easy, but because they are hard.” When it comes to broadband, it looks like we’ll be doing a host of good—but pretty easy—things.

France considering “Google tax” to support dying media

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Companies that leverage the Internet to advertise to citizens should help support industries that are suffering thanks to the Internet, according to some in France. The French government is considering a tax on companies that advertise online as a way to prop up creative industries that are having trouble keeping up with the digital world, such as musicians and publishers. Unsurprisingly, the proposal has drawn criticism from those who believe governments should not be in the business of punishing Internet success and instead embrace the new things it has to offer.


The report was commissioned by France’s culture ministry and written by record producer Patrick Zelnik. In it, Zelnik argued that big companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, and Microsoft should together be taxed up to �20 million per year (about US$29 million), even if their offices were not based in France. This, he said, was in order to end “the endless enrichment without payback”—essentially, these companies shouldn’t be able to make a buck off the clicks of French citizens without giving back to the French creative community.

This was only part of the 69-page proposal, however; other parts of the report discussed offering a public subsidy for citizens to buy music online, the creation of a licensing entity to ensure artists get paid for online music sales, and increased spending on the digitization of books. It also suggested taxing ISPs based on traffic—that plus the “Google Tax” would add up to a total of �50 million (or about US$72 million) in the first year.

Google, of course, did not quite agree with the reasoning behind the proposed tax. Google France’s Director of Public Affairs Oliver Esper told Ars that the company submitted a response to the report that emphasized the importance of Internet companies and cultural industries working together instead of in opposition. “We hope that, among the recommendations contained in this report, the ones encouraging cooperation will be taken forward, such as proposals to simplify and adapt licensing mechanisms to the digital environment,” Esper said. “There is the opportunity here to pursue innovative solutions, rather than encouraging a sense of opposition between the Internet and cultural industries, as the tax proposal does.”

French think tank Renaissance Num�rique had a much stronger reaction to the proposal, saying on its website that it was appalled by the “blatant disregard of the Internet and communication technologies.” The firm questioned why Internet advertisers are responsible for artists’ lost income, and strongly urged the government to take a more entrepreneurial approach to the Internet. “Let’s stop demonizing the Internet and look at the benefits of the web!” said Renaissance Num�rique co-president Christine Balagu� in a statement.

France’s government has not traditionally been known for being “Internet friendly”—it has long been under fire for its three-strikes laws that keep getting passed into legislature (but have yet to be enacted). And, this is not the first time France has tried to tax ISPs in order to fund public media. The “Google Tax” still has a ways to go before it becomes a law in France, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the proposal gather momentum in the coming months.

Microsoft Patch Tuesday for January 2010: one bulletin

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According to the Microsoft Security Response Center, Microsoft will issue a single Security Bulletin on Tuesday, and it will host a webcast to address customer questions about the bulletins the following day (January 13 at 11:00am PST, if you’re interested). The vulnerability is rated “Critical” and it earned the rating through a remote code execution impact, meaning a hacker could potentially gain control of an infected machine. The single patch may require a restart.


The list of affected operating systems includes Windows 2000, Windows XP (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows Server 2003 (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows Vista (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows Server 2008 (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit), and Windows Server 2008 R2 (32-bit and 64-bit). Microsoft noted that the vulnerability is critical only on Windows 2000, and it is low for all other platforms.

Microsoft will not be releasing any patches for Microsoft Office nor Internet Explorer this month. If you’re wondering, the SMB hole in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, disclosed in November 2009 will not be addressed either. Microsoft says it is still working on an update for the issue and that it is not aware of any active attacks using the exploit code that was made public.

Along with these patches, Microsoft is also planning to release the following on Patch Tuesday

One or more nonsecurity, high-priority updates on Windows Update (WU) and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS)One or more nonsecurity, high-priority updates on Microsoft Update (MU) and WSUSAn updated version of the Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool on Windows Update, Microsoft Update, Windows Server Update Services, and the Microsoft Download Center

This information is subject to change by Patch Tuesday; Microsoft has been known to rush patches as well as pull them if it deems it necessary.

Palm updates devices, opens App Catalog, boosts gaming

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Palm stole the show last year at CES when it revealed the Palm Pre and webOS, the company’s new flagship smartphone and Linux-based mobile software platform. It was a bold Hail Mary from a company that many industry observers thought was already out of the game. Palm’s press briefing this year was less daring, but still delivered some significant evolutionary advancements for the company’s mobile vision.


Palm is boosting its hardware lineup, augmenting its software platform, and expanding its developer ecosystem. The biggest news is a pair of new devices—incremental updates of the company’s existing Pre and Pixi smartphones. The new handsets, called the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus, will be available later this month from Verizon. The Pre Plus got a minor facelift with a simplified design that ditches the front navigation button. It will also have more memory.

Palm has been working on webOS 1.4, a new version of the software platform that will introduce some significant new features, including support for recording, editing, and uploading video. It will be made available to users as an over-the-air update at some point in February. Palm also announced the availability of a Flash 10 beta plugin, which users will soon be able to download from the App Catalog.

Palm is taking some major steps to expand its third-party developer ecosystem and enable programmers to create more powerful and sophisticated software for the webOS platform. Applications for webOS are built almost entirely with standards-based Web technologies, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Although this approach is highly conducive to rapid development and gives developers a considerable amount of control over the look and feel of their software, it implies some performance limitations.

In order to accommodate efficient execution of more computationally intensive workloads, Palm is introducing a new native plug-in development kit (PDK) that will allow developers to implement some parts of their application in C and C++. This is similar in principle to the NDK that Google released for Android last year. In addition to providing major performance advantages, it will also make it possible for Pre developers to reuse some of their existing C and C++ code.

The PDK will help to address one of the most glaring deficiencies of Palm’s third-party application offerings: the lack of games. A number of prominent game development studios are launching major titles for the Pre (but not the Pixi, unfortunately), including Sims 3 and Need for Speed with real 3D rendering. During the press briefing, EA vice president Travis Boatman says that Palm’s PDK made it possible to bring modern games to webOS without having to sacrifice the performance that users expect.

Palm is opening up its worldwide developer program to everyone, and will be accepting more software into the App Catalog. The company has also vowed to open up the App Catalog’s database of application metadata so that third-party websites can publish information about webOS software. This will make it possible to create custom webOS software indexes with social features and custom ranking capabilities.

The company has been working to lower the barriers to entry for development and distribution. It says that it will allow unrestricted distribution over the Internet outside of its own App Catalog. During the briefing, Palm also touted Ares, its impressive new Web-based development environment, which we looked at last month.

Palm is also expanding its carrier partnerships. Both AT&T and Verizon will carry Palm phones, with the latter getting the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus starting January 25. AT&T will start carrying Palm’s phone later on this year. The updated phones will also be able to run a new mobile hotspot app that will allow them to share a 3G data connection to up to five clients over WiFi.

Following Palm’s announcement of its plans for the PDK and developer program, we spoke with independent developer Ed Finkler, the creator of a popular open source Twitter application called Spaz. Finkler, who recently announced version 1.0 of Spaz for webOS, is one of several third-party developers who have participated in Palm’s developer program from the start.

“I think [Palm] are doing what they can to make webOS dev-friendly. It seems like they are addressing a lot of the issues they had, especially with more direct access to hardware,” he remarked. “They’ve really embraced the homebrew community, far more than any other major hardware provider I am aware of. That’s pretty awesome.”

Indeed, Palm marketing VP Katie Mitic took the opportunity to personally thank the homebrew community during her segment of Palm’s press briefing. It was a meaningful gesture that demonstrates Palm’s increasingly developer-savvy approach to community-building. It’s a much different attitude than the company exhibited when it got a bit of a rocky start with homebrew developers last year.

Finkler says that the company’s much-improved understanding of open source and community outreach is partly attributable to the efforts of Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith, well-known experts in the JavaScript community who departed from Mozilla last year to work on Palm’s developer relations team.

Although Palm didn’t announce anything radically new at CES, the company is clearly refining its strategy and working to build momentum around its platform. The PDK, which seems like a particularly compelling addition to the webOS development platform, is already bringing a lot of value to Palm’s customers thanks to the new video games. Palm is clearly still an agile contender in the smartphone arena.