Paid Microsoft Office Web Apps to be available everywhere

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Directions on Microsoft analysts have made a rather pleasant discovery for the paid version of Microsoft Office Web Apps (browser versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote): you’ll be able to access them from everywhere. Office Web Apps will come included with the purchase of Office 2010 Standard or Office 2010 Professional Plus. The details are in the 128-page Microsoft Product Use Rights (PUR) January 2010 document. Here’s the relevant part:

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Office Web Apps. In addition to the rights above, you may install the Web App software on a network device. You may use the Web App software only as described below.

Primary User. The single primary user of the licensed device may access and use the software remotely from any device.Non-primary Users. At any time, one user may access and use the software from the licensed device.

This means that if you have rights to use the paid version of Office Web Apps and you’re away from your main PC, you can still use Office Web Apps from any device hooked up to the Internet without having to purchase additional Office licenses. Additionally, you can let anyone use Office Web Apps on your main PC.

In July 2009, Microsoft released a Tech Preview of the Office Web Apps and confirmed that they would integrate with Microsoft Office 2003 and later, in addition to supporting the following browsers: Internet Explorer 7, Internet Explorer 8, Firefox 3.5 on Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as Safari 4 on Mac. Users started to wonder about mobile browsers though, and a month later, Microsoft gave them the green light, but it has yet to specify which ones would be supported specifically.

If you recall, there is also going to be a free, ad-supported consumer version of Office Web Apps available to anyone who uses Windows Live SkyDrive (all you need is a Windows Live ID). Earlier this week, Microsoft unveiled pricing for Office 2010, which is set to arrive, Office Web Apps and all, in June 2010.

Skeptical judges ask FCC if Comcast P2P smackdown was legal

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Comcast hashad its day in court over the issue of “network management.” News accounts suggest that the three-judge panel from the DC Court of Appeals was plenty skeptical that the FCC had the proper authority to sanction Comcast’s BitTorrent blocking in 2008.

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It can be difficult to guess judicial decisions based on the judge’s oral questioning of the lawyers, but it’s certainly possible to see where judges are having trouble with an argument. In today’s case, judges repeatedly went after the FCC’s contention that it was acting legally in the Comcast case. Because Comcast’s behavior ran afoul of an “Internet Policy Statement” rather than an official rule, the company claims that the FCC had no grounds for action until it made the Policy Statement into actual policy (which FCC Chair Julius Genachowski is trying to do right now).

Judges questioning the FCC’s legal team said that the Policy Statement was “aspirational, not operational,” that the FCC had not identified a “specific statute” Comcast violated, and that the FCC “can’t get an unbridled, roving commission to go about doing good.”

What difference would a pro-Comcast ruling make, given that the company has already changed its traffic management practices? It would “free us of this black mark on our record,” said a Comcast attorney, according to the Wall Street Journal. That attorney, Helgi Walker, comes from the high-powered Wiley Rein law firm in DC. Ironically, former FCC Chair Kevin Martin, the Republican appointee who sided with the two Democrats on the FCC in the Comcast ruling, was himself a former Wiley Rein lawyer.

In a statement after today’s hearing, current FCC Chair Genachowski said, “This case underscores the importance of the FCC’s ongoing rulemaking to preserve the free and open Internet. I remain confident the Commission possesses the legal authority it needs and look forward to reviewing the court’s decision when it issues.”

That decision should come in the next several months.

LED flash, better graphics, multitasking: 4G iPhone rumors

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Though most rumors as of late concern an Apple-designed tablet to be revealed later this month, the next version of the iPhone is getting its share of buzz as well. On top of a rumored CDMA version popping up on the Verizon network, here are additional details that we have caught up with recently.

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We have already seen some evidence that Apple might bump the iPhone’s camera up to five megapixels, but there is also evidence to suggest the company may add an LED “flash” to improve its low-light picture-taking abilities. Sources for AppleInsider suggest that Apple is currently seeking a supplier for “tens of millions” of LEDs, with Philips’ LUXEON LED supposedly leading the pack of possibilities. The LED “flashes” used in mobile phones are actually constant light sources, so they could be used for shooting low-light videos too.

Imagination Technologies, the company that develops the PowerVR graphics processors used in the iPhone, has also announced an improved SGX545 graphics processor core. It’s compatible with OpenGL ES 2.0 3D graphics API, as well as OpenGL 3.2 and even OpenCL. The processor core is designed to be used in multi-core applications for even more of a kick, but would likely only appear as a single core in iPhone applications for better battery life. Imagination says that the tech is already “licensed by a lead partner,” and Apple’s investment in the company certainly qualifies it as one of those partners.

Finally, The iPhone Blog reports that buzz around the CES show floor is that Apple plans to add some form of limited multitasking to the next version of the iPhone. The details are naturally non-specific, though Apple has cited battery life and user complexity for not allowing multiple third-party apps to run simultaneously. Apple may include a PA Semi-designed, low-power ARM Cortex A9 processor in the next iPhone, which would negate the extra battery drain and keep performance at acceptable levels.

Next-gen iPhone hardware may make an appearance at the event supposedly focused on “mobile” devices that is expected later this month. However, if recent history is a guide, we won’t see the new hardware unveiled until shortly before its release this summer.

Week in Apple: tablet rumors pick up, Mac mini server review, DRM

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The first week of 2010 is finally over, and with it came a new wave of Apple tablet rumors, iPhone on Verizon rumors, patent applications, and buy-outs. Topped off with our review of the Mac mini with Snow Leopard server, it was a pretty busy week! Read on if you need to catch up.

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Antacid tablet: As the (rumored) year of the Apple tablet dawns, John Siracusa offers his predictions. Expect the expected.

A review of the Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server: Apple’s Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server is aimed squarely at small businesses that, for any number of reasons, need or prefer to host their core Internet services in-house without breaking the bank. Ars kicks the tires on the new combo to see if Apple has another hit on its hands.

iTablet rumors: March arrival, Verizon 3G, UI learning curve: As the end of January—and an expected unveiling of Apple’s long-rumored tablet— approaches, we are starting to hear more details about what’s coming from Apple, and when.

A look at Apple’s love for DRM and consumer lock-ins: Apple makes great products—you’ll get no argument from us. But Apple also likes keeping tight control over those products, and if anyone outside of Apple’s blessed circle attempts to get in, the company is more than willing to try to use (or abuse) the law to its advantage.

CDMA iPhone may finally ship on Verizon in summer 2010: Verizon might launch a CDMA-equipped iPhone this summer if it can agree on pricing with Apple. While consumers would benefit from a choice of carriers, a CDMA iPhone still seems like a pipe dream.

Apple: pixels as touch sensors for brighter, thinner screens: How can you make a touchscreen thinner and brighter at the same time? Use the pixels as touch sensors, says Apple.

AppZapper 2 for Mac hands-on: beautiful UI, same old tricks: AppZapper has always been a fun app for the Mac that helps users delete unused applications and their associated files. Now, AppZapper 2 has seen the light of day. Is it worth the $13? That all depends on what you value.

Apple acquires its own mobile ad firm to one-up Google: Apple has acquired Quattro Wireless after Google outbid it for rival AdMob in a mobile advertising tit for tat.

Android closing in on iPhone in user interest, satisfaction: The iPhone still leads the pack when it comes to interest from potential iPhone buyers and satisfaction from current buyers, but Android is quickly closing the gap and users seem to be very interested.

Apple flirts with a 3D interface for mobile devices: A recent patent application may provide a clue to the “unexpected” UI for Apple’s yet-to-be-introduced tablet.

Nokia adds additional lawsuit in patent catfight with Apple: In addition to its complaint filed last week with the ITC, Nokia has filed an additional patent infringement suit against Apple in federal district court.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Exclusively first: Microsoft defends Modern Warfare content

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When Microsoft announced that there would be new content coming to Modern Warfare 2—and the Xbox 360 would get it first—gamers had one of two reactions. People with 360s were excited, while other gamers complained that Microsoft seemed to be yet again locking down content by writing large checks. At CES we sat down with Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg, and asked about the business of getting exclusive content.

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“I think about it like a sports team, when you sign a star athlete for your team… when you sign that free agent, I think it makes your team better. At the end of the day, we want to turn as many people as possible into Xbox 360 fans.”

Greenberg talks about Microsoft’s line-up of exclusive content this year as being incredibly strong. “And then to say, on top of that, to take the biggest game of last year, and be the exclusive place you can get that downloadable content first, I think that’s a big deal. That’s a big reason you’d want to buy an Xbox 360 instead of another console. So we think from a business standpoint that’s part of the reason more people are buying the Xbox 360, more people are on Xbox Live, it’s part of the reason more people are buying Modern Warfare 2—more than two to one our box vs. the PS3.”

He points out the “bet” Microsoft put on Modern Warfare 2, by putting out the custom console and showing it off at E3, and says now Microsoft wants to follow up that trend by offering the content first.

Will any of this convince gamers that are angry that Microsoft isn’t simply throwing money around? It’s doubtful. The fact remains, however, that you’ll have to own a Microsoft console if you want to play the newest Modern Warfare 2 content first. That’s a powerful selling point.

TiVo-like software draws ire of XM Radio

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Time Trax, a program designed to record XM radio programming directly to a PC’s hard drive, has drawn the attention of XM Radio and the RIAA — and not in a good way. Frustrated by his inability to listen to all the broadcasts he wanted to, Ontario programmer Scott MacLean wrote and began selling Time Trax. The application creates an analog recording of songs broadcast over XM along with track information which is then stored as an MP3 file. It will only work with the XM PCR receiver, as the auto and home stereo receivers lack a PC interface.HangZhou Night Net

Predictably, the RIAA and XM Radio are not amused, and are looking deeper into the legality of the software:

A spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America said his organization had not reviewed the software, but said that in principle it was disturbed by the idea. “We remain concerned about any devices or software that permit listeners to transform a broadcast into a music library,” RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said.

Yes, heaven forbid that a paying customer should be able to save broadcasts for his own personal use. Both XM Radio and the RIAA are looking closely at MacLean’s creation to see if it violates either the XM user agreement or copyright laws, apparently fearing that saved broadcasts could wind up on P2P networks. XM also has plans for a new version of its receiver with pause and rewind functionality, which is not as compelling when there is software that provides the same functionality.

Look for the lawyering to start soon, as XM considers it an “unauthorized” product. It’s a shame… not just because it’s a cool program, but because XM is displaying the typical knee-jerk reaction that media companies have when customers decided they want to use their products in a way the manufacturers did not intend. Too bad XM is choosing to see Time Trax as a potential legal battle rather than an sales opportunity.

Lawsuit filed over CD antipiracy tech

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Big Five record label EMI is being sued in France over copy protection tech used in many music CDs. A French consumer group, UFC-Que Choisir has filed suit, alleging "deception over the material qualities of a product" since the CDs will not play in some home CD players, car stereos, and PC CD/DVD drives. In addition, the group is upset that the technology used by EMI prohibits consumers from making copies of the music for personal use.HangZhou Night Net

Julien Dourgnon, deputy director of the consumer group, said the ability to make copies for private use – for example by transferring music to a portable MP3 player – was important to many record buyers. "We’re defending that freedom, we’re not defending piracy," he said.

EMI and a retailer also named in the suit responded by pointing out that they inform consumers that the copy-protected CDs could cause problems in some situations and give full refunds to customers unhappy with the CDs. While the potential fines are not steep, any finding against the label could result in their being ordered to take the copy-protected CDs off the market.

It is an odd strategy the record companies have chosen ? irritating their customers by selling them a product that does not work as expected. While the CDs may be clearly labeled, the labels are in effect trying to change nearly 20 years of ingrained behavior: buy a CD, take it home, put it in the stereo, and listen to it. Obviously, if the customers don’t mind putting up with the problems inherent in copy-protected CDs (witness the success of Velvet Revolver’s release, which became the first album with copy protection to hit #1 in the US), then the labels will have no incentive to change their practices.

Toyota reports a silicon carbide breakthrough

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Move over silicon chips, there is a new semiconductor king on the horizon. Silicon carbide’s (SiC) potential has been known since the 1950’s, but the properties that make is attractive also make it hard to work with. The material is a good semiconductor, extremely resistant to heat, and hard. So hard in fact, researchers had trouble making large enough SiC crystals without defects. Now, researchers from Toyota Central Research and Development Laboratories report in Nature (registration required) they have used a Repeated A-Face method of physical vapor transport to create large SiC crystals with virtually no defects. HangZhou Night Net

Takatori grows the silicon carbide crystals in several different stages. At each stage, further growth is only allowed on the cleanest face of the crystal. Hot silicon carbide vapour condenses on the crystal’s flat face and defects are gradually eliminated as the crystals grow up to seven centimetres across. Takatori’s crystals contain less than 1% of the number of defects found in a crystal produced by conventional methods.

What advantages would SiC have over traditional silicon based semiconductors? SiC has a higher energy efficiency, can handle high frequency electrical pulses and is tolerant to extreme temperatures. Previous research has shown SiC devices can operate at temperatures as high as 650C (1,202F) without the need for cooling. Kiss that noisy heat sink/fan combo goodbye! SiC’s properties could open up uses for electronic controllers inside jet engines and provide hardened circuitry for spacecraft.

Silicon is safe for now. The researchers have only been able to make pure SiC wafers up to 3 inches in diameter and improvements in the SiC deposition technique are needed to increase wafer size and lower production costs. SiC could see its first use in specialized circuitry that needs high heat tolerance, but mainstream commercial usage could be over 6 years away. The BBC also has coverage of the discovery here.

The Power of X

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An interview with Daniel Stone

One of the most difficult ideas for new Linux users to grasp is the seemingly esoteric means by which graphics get displayed on the screen. Indeed, the concept of different window managers and its architecture are utterly foreign to many new users. Terms like X, X11, XFree, X.org, Xwin, and Composite get thrown around, adding to the confusion. As Linux and other free operating systems continue to evolve on the desktop, X continues to be an enigma to new users. While we have looked at how both KDE and GNOME interact with X during our last reviews, there has not been a real central point of authority that dictates how the “Free Desktop” should take shape.HangZhou Night Net

Enter freedesktop.org. A conglomeration of developers from multiple vendors, sponsors, and independent desktop developers representing multiple projects, freedesktop.org ? spanning nearly 50 projects ? has quickly established itself as the clearinghouse for interoperability in the Open Source landscape.

Earlier this year, a license change in the defacto X project, XFree86, forced developers to look elsewhere for graphical support. Originally based on a fork of the original XFree86 code, X.org’s first “monolithic” release was embraced by many distributions. Version 6.8, which is due next week, will be the last of its kind, as X.org transitions to a more modular architecture.

This new modular architecture will allow the X.org team to release components on a much more independent basis. The impact for end users will be a more robust, and up to date graphical subsystem that will be flexible enough to meet the demands of the modern *nix desktop. Confused yet? Don’t worry, we’ve snagged freedesktop.org’s Release Manager, Daniel Stone, to break it down for us.

Ars Technica: Who are you and what do you do? How did you get involved?

Daniel Stone: I’m a 18-year old first-year university student from Melbourne, Australia; I’m currently on a break from my Arts/Engineering (Software Engineering) double-degree. To try and balance out all the geek in my life, I’m taking Arts, majoring in Indonesian ? it’s good fun, if really hard.

Back in 2002, Trinity College started funding me to work on XFree86 4.3 debs, a while before its release. That took quite some time, and I got involved with the community somewhat then. When xwin.org started (remember that?), I was one of the admins there, and got involved when we merged with freedesktop.org; and thus began my fd.o involvement.

At the conference dinner at linux.conf.au 2004, I was asked to do an xlibs release (later to be the fd.o release manager), and was later gently prodded into code. A couple of months later and I’m hacking X servers; it’s a slippery slope, seemingly.

Within freedesktop.org, my main interest has been modularising X. While I’ve not had as much time in the last couple of weeks to work on it as I would like, my baby right now is debrix (see below). I’ve also worked on the modular xlibs distribution a fair bit.

Can you explain how freedesktop.org, X.org, and their respective subprojects interact? Who’s in charge over there?

While freedesktop.org is, in many ways, a fairly loosely organized community project, we’re all really minions of Havoc; he’s kind of a guiding hand around the project. Most of the work within the project is done within smaller, unitary project groups, such as X, Cairo, D-BUS, et al; there isn’t actually much work here that touches the project as a whole.

The platform comes close to that, but aside from that, it’s basically administration-type stuff.

X.Org, on the other hand, is far more structured; they have a Board of Directors, an Architecture Board, and frequently have conference calls for both these two groups, and a release group. This is also probably a reflection of the fact that X.Org are very much a single group with a single direction.

freedesktop.org and X.Org have massive overlap in both goals and developer base, so we interact fairly often. However, we’re pretty much on the same page on everything, so we rarely come up against one another as organizations.

In addition, we also spend a lot of time coordinating with various projects such as desktop environments. One or all of myself, Havoc, Keith, Jim and others have been present at this year’s linux.conf.au (myself, Havoc, Keith Packard), FOSDEM (Keith), GVADEC (Havoc, Jim, Keith), OLS (all), and aKademy (myself); that’s a fairly good record. We’re always looking to get together and get some good communication together with all the desktop guys, and try to discuss moving forward with the desktop.

A while back, you mapped out how different X trees related to each other and what was what. Can you update us on the latest developments in each of these areas? What about “new” things like Debrix/glitz/cairo? Can you break down the alphabet soup for us?

Hard ask!

xlibs: No change, except for the fact that more libraries have been
modularized.Xizzle: This is now dead code. The DIX used in fd.o’s xserver project
and the DIX used in the X.Org codebase was quite radically
different, so building a X.Org server on top of the xserver DIX was
deemed too difficult. Thus was born…debrix: debrix is an autotooled X.Org server, using the X.Org DIX as
well as DDX. As well as having made the server modular, we’ve
also thrown out the old ELF loader, which was a horror to
maintain, and replaced it with a more simplistic wrapper around
libdl. For approximately zero loss in functionality, we were
able to throw away 12,200 lines of code. debrix is also
maintained in tla (Tom Lord’s Arch) instead of CVS.tla: Arch is a distributed source code management system. While projects
like Subversion aim to be a “better CVS,” arch has a different
model (arch is the “protocol” as such, and tla is an implementation
of a client). tla’s models revolve around many developer branches
diverging and later being merged back into a single canonical
branch, rather than many developers working off the same branch.
See http://www.gnuarch.org for more information (as well as
http://debrix.freedesktop.org).Cairo: Cairo is a backend-independent, 2D vector graphics library.Glitz: Glitz is a backend for Cairo based on OpenGL, which means that
all Cairo apps can be drawn as GL textures.XGL: XGL is a server which renders to an OpenGL library; unfortunately
X on GL is not my area of expertise, so I don’t know too much more
about the status.

Cyber Terrorist attack scheduled for tomorrow?

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Here’s something for Change Management! Speculation is rampant that sometime in the next several days there will be an "electronic jihad" on the Internet which may according to one expert render much of the Internet inoperable. Alexander Gostev from Kaspersky Labs pinpointed Europe and the US as targets, possibly starting tomorrow, while speaking at a Russian Information Agency conference. The RIA report suggests that political and financial institutions will be targeted. HangZhou Night Net

In the opinion of Alexander Gostev, Russian leading anti-virus expert, the United States and Western Europe will suffer most from the attack, while Japan will be less affected by it. In his words, information about the forthcoming attack was published on specialized sites. "It is difficult to say how true this information is," Mr. Gostev said. "We can only assess the possibilities and means at the terrorists’ disposal and these arouse our misgivings."

Cutely dubbed e-Jihad, the attacks are reportedly being coordinated online in a network of underground sites and mediums. Then, of course, there’s the possibility that this isn’t the e-Jihad that the media has been dying to see (sensationalism and all that). Numerous attacks in the past have been suspected terrorist actions, but in most cases we later find a couple of kids, a bag of Cheetos, product flaws, and a lacking social life to blame.

Of course, Kaspersky Labs is an anti-virus company. This MosNews article quotes the executive director of competing Dr. Web Antivirus Lab, Mikhail Bychinsky, as saying "I do not believe in mass internet attacks because the main servers are defended, and Kaspersky Labs has been foretelling doomsday for a long time." Defended or not, we’ve all seen the kind of havoc that a good trojan or worm can wreak. The rest is "wait and see," for now.