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Soldier uses MySpace to tell friends goodbye

What appears to be a suicide note was posted a day before he was found dead on base

Before signing off his Web page on MySpace.com Monday, Army Pvt. Dylan Meyer typed a farewell note to the world.

"Jesus, I don't know if any of you have heard what has happened to me yet, but I just want to remind you not to be sad. Laugh, that's what lifes about," Meyer wrote. "When it is all said and done ... it is the ones you love who you will remember."

The next morning, Meyer was found dead in the Army barracks at Fort Gordon in Georgia. He was 20.

Because the Army is still investigating, officials would not release the cause of Meyer's death or say if he committed suicide. But the note on Meyer's MySpace page seemed to indicate that he had taken his own life.

A place to share

In the three years since it was launched, MySpace.com has gained more than 70 million members. The site's size, as well as the intensely personal nature of the pages that many members maintain, has embroiled the Web site in controversy. There have been scattered accounts of sexual predators targeting minors they met through the site, and some critics say MySpace.com doesn't have enough safeguards against criminals looking to prey on underage children.

Even people with little computer experience can easily upload photos and videos, keep online diaries, and chat with other users.

Millions of teenagers create personal Web pages that reveal intimate details of their lives to anyone who happens across their sites.

They talk about love, sex and politics. They list their favorite books and movies.

In Meyer's case, he may have posted his suicide note.

MySpace.com said in a statement Thursday that a third of its staff is devoted to monitoring content, mostly for violations of its terms-of-use agreement, including posting of inappropriate photos and hate speech.

The company added that it could not comment on specific cases or ongoing investigations. But when situations arise "that put the safety and security of our more than 74 million members at risk, we work with the appropriate authorities" to quickly resolve them, the company said.

Searching for direction

Until this week, little on Meyer's MySpace site suggested he was considering suicide.

He was a filmmaking fanatic who admired director Quentin Tarantino and won a spot in the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High in St. Petersburg, Fla. His MySpace page paid homage to his favorite movies.

Keven Renken, the head of the Gibbs theater department, remembers Meyer as a student with a "very natural acting style" who "really loved film." Meyer had roles in school productions of The Shadow Box, The Laramie Project and 12 Angry Men, Renken said.

But he felt lost after he finished high school in 2004, those who knew him said. Dustin Triplett, 20, a friend of Meyer's since their freshman year at Gibbs, said Meyer joined the Army early last year to get some direction. The decision surprised friends who knew Meyer disliked President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq.

Meyer soon became miserable in the Army, where he worked in a military intelligence unit.

Triplett said Meyer would sometimes talk about how the Army gave him a decent salary. But he also described how he felt around people he believed could not relate to his interest in the arts.

"He would tell me how much he hated it," Triplett said. "He wasn't ever comfortable."

Meyer didn't show up for his physical training formations at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. Military personnel who opened the door to his room soon after found him unconscious, and he was pronounced dead.

Meyer logged onto MySpace for the last time Monday. He told friends to "dry your eyes" and listed a phone number for his father.

A woman who answered the phone listed for Meyer's father said the family would not comment.

By 7:26 a.m. Tuesday, within hours of Meyer being pronounced dead, friends were already writing testimonials on his MySpace page. Within a day, the site became a place of public mourning.

Just days before, his friends were writing to Meyer about movies, Army food, a Bob Dylan concert.

On April 21, Meyer made one last movie that he added to his MySpace site, a short film about Army life he called Bored As Hell: A Weekend at Ft. Gordon.

The movie shows soldiers listening to music, drinking Jack Daniels out of the bottle and playing hacky-sack. It ends with two messages of white script on a black screen.

The first reads: "Dedicated to America's Youth. Go to college and lead a normal life. Don't make the same mistake I did."

The second ends with an exhortation to vote, adding: "Don't let old people run your lives, you have a choice."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Soldier uses MySpace to tell friends goodbye - Sunday, April 30, 2006 -

A Big Yellow Garage for All Your Data

Published: April 27, 2006

With ever-expanding music, movie and photo collections, hard drives are filling up fast. The Yellow Machine, a storage device that holds nearly a terabyte — that's 1,000 gigabytes — is here to take the load off.

The Yellow Machine is a dedicated file-storage device with four 250-gigabyte hard drives that can be configured so that, to a computer, they look like one big terabyte-size drive. Built-in automatic backup software ensures that memories and downloaded files will not be lost in a system crash.

Aimed at home and business users, the Yellow Machine also acts as a virtual private network, or V.P.N., storage device, allowing access to data on your Yellow Machine from any computer on any network.

The Yellow Machine costs $999 for the one-terabyte model and is available online at www.yellowmachine.com.

The box, which weighs about 14 pounds, has eight LAN Ethernet ports and one WAN port for connecting a cable modem or digital subscriber line. Inside a home network, the Yellow Machine appears as a networked disk drive and can stream video and music to networked devices like the Xbox 360 or TiVo. Now the question is how long it will take to fill up one terabyte.

A Big Yellow Garage for All Your Data - Friday, April 28, 2006 -

New Tricks of a Browser Look Familiar

David Pogue
Published: April 27, 2006

ABOUT 85 percent of the Internet population uses the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser to surf the Web, even though it's relatively ancient, crusty with neglect and about as secure as a screen door. In what other industry would 85 percent of consumers choose such a product — when better ones, also free, were also available?

Stuart Goldenberg

Microsoft has redesigned the Internet Explorer browser to open more space for Web pages. This version also accepts material sent by R.S.S.

Trick question. Those consumers aren't actually choosing Internet Explorer; in fact, they're not choosing. They just use what came on their Windows computers. Thanks to this built-in following, Microsoft hasn't felt much need to keep Internet Explorer current. Version 6 has been creaking along for five years — an eternity in Internet time.

But hope is in the air. Earlier this week, Microsoft took the wraps off IE 7. The new version is a public beta — Beta 2 — and therefore technically unfinished. Still, Microsoft feels that this release is ready for average people to try out; you can download it from www.microsoft.com/ie. Phone help is available, and you can easily restore Version 6 if necessary.

How this new browser measures up depends on the ruler you're using. If you've never used anything but Internet Explorer, you won't be able to wipe the grin off your face.

But next to rivals like Firefox, Opera and Safari, IE 7 is a catch-up and patch-up job. Some of its "new" features have been available in rival browsers for years.

For example, IE may be the last Web browser on earth to offer tabbed browsing. This useful feature lets you keep several Web sites open on the screen simultaneously — not in a hopeless mess of overlapping windows, but all in one window. File-folder index tabs at the top of the window keep them straight.

Truth is, Microsoft's version of tabbed browsing offers some very nice features. (And yes, dear e-mail correspondents, I'm aware that many of them also made their debut in other browsers.)

For example, you can summon a sheet of Web page miniatures, offering a handy, visual, clickable table of contents for your open tabs. IE 7 can also memorize a fleet of open tabs, saving them as a single bookmark. Later, one click opens them all again, arrayed just as you had them. Similarly, when you quit the browser, it offers to memorize the current open-tab setup, so that later you can pick up where you left off.

SCREEN real estate has been given a priority in Internet Explorer 7, too. ("Say goodbye to bulky toolbars," says the IE Web site — never mind that Microsoft gave us those bulky toolbars in the first place.)

The menu bar (File, Edit, View and so on) is gone, having been replaced by tiny pop-up menus at the right side of the window. (Those feeling disoriented can still summon the menu bar by tapping the Alt key.) And a single, noncustomizable toolbar contains the address bar, Back and Forward buttons, and the welcome new Search box, which can be programmed to use Google, Ask.com, MSN Search or whatever you like. Even with the added height of tabs, Microsoft has conserved so much space that you can see an additional inch or so of Web goodness without scrolling.

R.S.S. feeds represent another major new feature — new to Internet Explorer, anyway. R.S.S. (for Really Simple Syndication) is the Web's version of home delivery: instead of having to slog on over to your favorite sites, you are sent their latest articles and news automatically. To receive these convenient, free "subscriptions," though, you used to need a piece of software called an R.S.S. reader, which you had to download and configure yourself. No wonder R.S.S. doesn't yet play in Peoria.

But IE now joins the list of browsers with built-in R.S.S. readers. Whenever you visit a Web site that offers an R.S.S. subscription, a special logo lights up in IE; click it to see a sample of the R.S.S. broadcast (usually one-paragraph summary blurbs), and click Subscribe if you like what you see. The reading window offers a useful assortment of searching and sorting controls.

Other IE 7 enhancements include a Shrink to Fit printing option that eliminates chopped-off printouts; a print-preview mode whose draggable margins let you print only the useful parts of Web pages; a pop-up menu that magnifies the entire Web page (not just the text); and a single Delete Browsing History dialogue box that can erase all your tracks at once: History list, saved cookies and passwords, Web form data and temp files. (Who will find this feature useful? You know who you are.)

Now, if you currently use IE 6, those are all good reasons to upgrade, perhaps when the final version becomes available this summer. But the most important reason is mostly invisible: security.

As a bulwark against frauds, viruses and spyware, Internet Explorer has been about as solid as a sieve. It was such a fat target for Internet bad guys that using it was like hanging a blinking neon Hackers' Entrance sign on your PC.

Internet Explorer 7 is a different story. Not many people beyond engineers will find its 15-page list of patches compelling reading; it's about stuff like Cross-Domain Script Protection, IDN Display Protections and Enhanced Validation SSL.

But some of the security measures are comprehensible even to laymen, and they sound reassuring indeed. For example, any files that you download go into a Temporary Internet Files folder that prevents them from running automatically, in that way thwarting the installation of many evil programs. Spyware can no longer enter your machine by piggybacking on some piece of innocent software, either.

Most welcome of all, a sophisticated phishing detector warns you, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, whenever you open a fraudulent phishing page. (An example of a phishing fraud is an e-mail message that says, "Your eBay account will soon be closed; click here for details." Worried, you click the provided link and confirm your account information. Unfortunately, you've just handed over your credit card and account numbers to the Internet baddies, who have set up a fake eBay screen just for suckers like you.)

All those desperate swindlers, spammers and phishers will, no doubt, devise even more nefarious ways to invade PC's and trick their owners. But Internet Explorer 7 will make their job a heck of a lot harder.

Compared against Internet Explorers past, the new version is more secure, better looking and more efficient. There are, however, a few strings attached.

For example, it works only with Windows XP with Service Pack 2. (It will also work with next year's Windows Vista, of course — in fact, that version will offer an additional feature or two, including excellent parental controls.) The installation process is somewhat eccentric, and requires a restart of the PC.

Note, too, that Internet Explorer still offers no Autofill button that completes online order forms with a single click. The new placement of controls will baffle veterans of almost any browser — for example, the Back/Forward, Refresh, Home and Stop buttons are no longer near each other.

Finally, Microsoft says IE 7's better compliance with behind-the-scenes Web technology standards will delight Web designers. Still, some Web sites won't look or work right until they're rejiggered to accommodate the new browser. Thousands of lazy designers, for example, deny access to their sites to anyone not using Internet Explorer 6.

If you want the best browser on the market, several million fans will recommend that you look at programs like Firefox or Opera.

But without question, Internet Explorer 7 represents a big, long-awaited step in the direction of modernization. Millions of people still consider Internet Explorer their window into the Internet — and the sooner they leave the 1990's, the better.

New Tricks of a Browser Look Familiar - -

Is Microsoft Preparing Big Attack?

Published: April 28, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO, April 27 — Microsoft reported strong third-quarter revenue growth on Thursday, but analysts said the company also telegraphed a significant increase in spending, an indication that it was preparing to take on its big online rivals, Google and Yahoo.

Skip to next paragraph
Christophe Ena/Associated Press

Microsoft's chief executive, Steven A. Ballmer, giving the keynote speech at a conference for Web developers and designers in Paris yesterday.

The company reported a 13 percent increase in sales for the quarter, to $10.9 billion, and a 16 percent rise in net income, to $2.98 billion, or 31 cents a share, from $2.56 billion, or 28 cents, in the period a year earlier.

The earnings were 2 cents a share below what analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had forecast.

The chief financial officer for Microsoft, Chris Liddell, said: "Over all for the quarter, we are very happy with the continued market momentum we're seeing. Revenue is accelerating for the year."

Despite a bullish stance on revenue, Microsoft evidently surprised analysts by predicting significantly higher expenses in the next fiscal year. Its shares, which had gained 15 cents, to $27.25, in regular trading, fell on the expectation of higher expenses, dropping more than 6 percent after hours, to $25.50.

Executives also said they did not see any immediate increase in profit on the horizon even as Microsoft prepared for its largest release of new products in more than five years.

The company said once again that the update for its new operating system software, Windows Vista, would not be available until January.

For the first time, the company offered guidance on the coming year; its 2007 fiscal year starts in July.

Microsoft said revenue for 2007 would be $49.5 billion to $50.5 billion, with earnings expected to be $1.36 to $1.41 a share. Financial analysts were forecasting $1.53 a share. That guidance created some concern among securities analysts in a conference call with Mr. Liddell.

Richard G. Sherlund of Goldman Sachs, in a comment during the conference, said, "There is something really big here that we haven't put our fingers on."

Other analysts were more direct in their assessment.

"It looks like Microsoft is going to war with Google, and trying to get their product development back in track," said Eugene Munster of Piper Jaffray.

According to Mark Stahlman of Caris & Company, the fact that Microsoft plans to spend significantly more in 2007 was an indication of renewed aggressiveness in its competitive strategy and an indication that the company was returning to the kind of actions it exhibited before the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit in the mid- and late 1990's.

"It's pretty clear that Bill is running the company again," Mr. Stahlman said, referring to Bill Gates, "and they are going to remake the business. They are being much more combative and much more strategically managed."

After Microsoft released its report, Mr. Sherlund issued a research note saying it appeared that the company planned to spend $2.4 billion more than he had expected in the 2007 fiscal year. He pointed to the costs of building the new Windows and Office Live online services, both intended to reposition the company to compete against Google and Yahoo.

When confronted with that figure during the question-and-answer session with analysts Thursday, Mr. Liddell only partly disputed the conclusion of several of them that Microsoft had begun preparing to "go to war" with its online search rivals.

"I would characterize it as a broad-based approach," he said. "There are some big numbers there, that is certainly true."

Several other analysts noted that Microsoft's expenses appeared to be running away even before 2007, many of them focusing on what they called "margin compression."

"It looks like a mess," said Brendan Barnicle, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities, "and the big issue is margins and expenses, the big issue is the bottom line. It makes it hard to get very excited about the company's near-term prospects."

During the conference call, Mr. Liddell was optimistic about progress in the introduction of the next-generation Xbox 360 video game player. He said that a significant part of the increased spending this year was related to a push Microsoft is making in an effort to capitalize on a delay in Sony's PlayStation 3.

Microsoft now says it will ship 5 million to 5.5 million of the new Xbox systems in 2006. Sales of Xbox rose 85 percent, to $1.06 billion, in the quarter.

The company also noted that its search ad revenue fell during the quarter as it tried to shift its online advertising away from a service provided by Yahoo to the newly developed MSN Ad Center system.

It also reported that losses widened in its home and entertainment division, the Mobile and Embedded Devices Group, and the MSN service.

Sales of Windows for PC's increased 7.5 percent, to $3.19 billion, in the quarter, while office sales rose 5 percent, to $2.95 billion.

Is Microsoft Preparing Big Attack? - -

Microsoft to Introduce New Internet Explorer

[April 27, 2006]

TMCnet Contributing Editor
Microsoft Corp. introduced the latest test version of Internet Explorer called the new beta. According to The Associated Press report, the new beta provides solutions to the problems that forced Internet Explorer 7 to stop working.Microsoft ( News - Alert) unveiled the latest version on Tuesday. Dean Hachamovitch, general manager in charge of Internet Explorer development says they are now offering free downloads to English-language customers.

Microsoft has included more assistance to help people using IE's new browser tab functions. These innovative functions help users view more than one website from within one window, using multiple "tabs".
IE has seen stiff competition from Firefox which already offered tabbed browsing and users who were opting for other browsers, not vulnerable to attacks.
Although this is Microsoft's third beta of Internet Explorer 7, Hachamovitch says they have plans to come up with one more beta.
Users had a tough time with the previous test version when they tried to open banking and news sites. The problem, which occurred because of security changes, has been carefully addressed by Microsoft--enhancing security is complicated and any modification can block legitimate websites.
According to The Associated Press report, the final version of Internet Explorer 7 is likely to be introduced in the second half of this year.
For more information visit: http://www.microsoft.com/ie

Microsoft to Introduce New Internet Explorer - -

Google Offers Free 3D Modeling Software

Google SketchUp helps create models of a variety of items--including houses, sheds, decks, home additions, and woodworking projects.

Google Inc. on Thursday launched a free version of the 3D modeling software the search engine acquired when it bought @Last Software last month.

Google SketchUp, which is free for personal use, includes simple tools for creating 3D models of a variety of items, including houses, sheds, decks, home additions and woodworking projects. The software comes with a plug in for Google Earth, so items can be posted on the service, which provides satellite views of geographical locations.

In addition, Google launched 3D Warehouse, online storage for work created in SketchUp. The service also enables users to search and share models.

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., plans to continue selling SketchUp Pro 5 for professional designers. The software costs $495.

Google bought @Last Software, based in Boulder, Colo., in March for an undisclosed sum. The purchase was expected to add value to its mapping platform through integration with Google Earth. The technology is expected to eventually find its way into other Google services as well.

Google Offers Free 3D Modeling Software - Thursday, April 27, 2006 -

Waterproof laptop could make a splash

April 27, 2006 5:02 PM PDT

You'll be able to spill water on a new laptop from Matsushita Electric without having to fret about ruining your computer.

The company's Let's Note CF-Y5, due to hit stores in Japan on May 19, features a waterproof sheet and special drainage system that protects the hard drive and circuit board from light water damage, according to the Associated Press. That's light water damage, mind you--as in a spilled glass of water, not a dousing by the garden hose.

The CF-Y5 can withstand a force equivalent to a maximum of 220 pounds, offering extra protection in packed commuter trains, the Osaka, Japan-based electronics maker said.

The product will cost around $2,300.

Posted by Leslie Katz
Waterproof laptop could make a splash - -

Microsoft to block updates for pirate Office users

By Stan Beer
Friday, 28 April 2006

Microsoft plans to block downloads of software updates for users of pirated versions of its Office suite instead of nagging them with alerts. However, if you're lucky enough to be an English language user, the whole validation process will be voluntary for the present.

Recently, iTWire reported that the success of the Windows Genuine Advantage program (WGA). Under this program, users of pirated versions of Windows are harassed with continual alerts after downloading security updates. This has led Microsoft to introduce a similar pilot anti-piracy program for Office.

The Office anti-piracy program, called Office Genuine Advantage (OGA), is currently under pilot in seven non-English speaking countries.Microsoft went out of its way to notify iTWire that it will not be using the alerts system for pirate Office users.

Instead, Microsoft says Office users will need to validate their software in order to download updates. Microsoft issues critical updates on a regular basis. These are necessary to stop potential malware purveyors from exploiting security holes.Blocking software updates, however, is problematic for Microsoft. It may open the way for an increased spread of malware through unprotected machines with pirated versions of Office.

According to Microsoft, OGA is still just a pilot and is currently opt-in for English language users. A spokesman for the company emailed us:"We need to clarify that the Office Genuine Advantage initiative is a pilot with an opt-in for English and there are no plans to have notifications for non-genuine users."
According to Microsoft:

"The OGA program is an extension of the Genuine Advantage concept first implemented for Windows via the Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program to Microsoft Office. After the launch of this pilot, customers of Microsoft Office who validate that their copy of Office is genuine will be able to access free downloads from the Microsoft Download Center. Validation will be required in seven languages and will be by opt-in for English.

"OGA is designed to increase end user awareness and preference for genuine Microsoft Office software by highlighting the value of genuine software over counterfeit or pirated versions.

"OGA will be piloted in seven languages: Korean, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Czech and Greek. During the pilot for these languages, end users will be asked to validate that their Office software is genuine before accessing identified Download Center content.

"English-language users will be asked to voluntarily validate that their Office software is genuine before being able to access this content.

"Customers purchasing Microsoft Office pre-installed on their PC will not be required to enter their product key.

"Microsoft's partners have already been extremely supportive of WGA because it helps honest partners compete against Windows piracy and they have been requesting Microsoft to extend the program to Microsoft Office. With the launch of the OGA pilot, we hope to create awareness and demand for genuine Office and build a more level playing field for honest channel partners who will now be able to demonstrate the difference."

And for lucky Australia users:

"You should also note that no plans have been announced for an Australian roll-out for the OGA program."
Microsoft to block updates for pirate Office users - -

Scientists create artificial insect's eye

LOS ANGELES, April 27 (Xinhua)-- Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, said on Thursday that they have created anew mechanical eye, which looks and works like an insect's eye.

The eye's many lenses and curved shape give it a wide field of view, as well as super-fast motion detection and image recognition, the researchers reported in the April 28 issue of the journal Science.

Minute cameras and motion sensors with these types of lenses could have medical, industrial and military applications, according to the researchers.

Insects have multiple imaging units called "ommatidia" that are pointed in different directions. The researchers used flexible polymers to build artificial ommatidia, each with a tiny lens connected to a tube-like "waveguide" that directs the light down to an opt electronic imaging device.

Then, they arranged the ommatidia around a dome, projecting outwards in all directions. Of the many different types of insect eyes, a bee's eye is most similar to the new mechanical eye, they said.

Just like pins in a pincushion or a dragonfly's 30,000 ommatidia, the team's artificial ommatidia are each oriented at a slightly different angle. The researchers have shown that the lenses and waveguides of the artificial eyes focus and conduct light in the same way as an insect's eye.

"The lenses and waveguides are the most important part of the system," said Luke Lee, the principal investigator of the study.

"People have said that it would be totally impossible to create them with an angle, but now that we've done it, we're ready to integrate imaging or chemical sensing into the eyes," Lee said.

While conventional micro fabrication techniques are expensive and use high temperatures, Lee and his team borrowed from nature, using a low temperature system, photopolymerization, and self-aligning, self-writing technology.

To create the artificial eye, the team first needed to construct a hemispherical mold of the eye's outer layer, a structure consisting of thousands of microlenses.

Using existing technology, they made a flat array of these tiny,domed lenses arranged in the hexagonal honeycomb pattern. On top of this, they applied a thin slab of an elastic polymer called polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS, creating a concave pattern of the lenses in the polymer.

By affixing the PDMS membrane over the opening of a vacuum chamber and applying negative air pressure, they pulled it into the dome shapes they needed, controlling its form by using different pressures.

These eyes can eventually be used as cameras or sensory detectors to capture visual or chemical information from a wider field of vision than previously possible, even with the best fish-eye lens, according to Lee.

The researchers speculate that the artificial compound eyes will be put to use within a few years. Their first applications may be in ultra-thin camera phones, and then in camcorders for omnidirectional surveillance imaging and such uses as small, hidden, wearable cameras. Enditem

Editor: Pliny Han
Scientists create artificial insect's eye - -

IE7 For XP Beta 2: Has Firefox Met Its Match?

Next year at this time, if you find yourself using and liking Internet Explorer 7, thank the volunteers at the Mozilla project. The release of Mozilla Firefox 1.0 roughly 18 months ago marked the beginning of a steady downhill slide for Internet Explorer -- the open-source browser has been taking increasingly bigger bites out of IE's market share (and mindshare) ever since. After a series of solid and reliable updates, Firefox is, by most objective measures and in nearly every category, a better browser than Internet Explorer 6.

The rise of Firefox was a wake-up call for Microsoft. The result? IE7.
Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

The rise of Firefox was a wake-up call for Microsoft's developers. Having Firefox as a target inspired sweeping changes for Internet Explorer, whose basic interface and core features were overdue for an overhaul. IE7 is a serious attempt to close the gap with Firefox in one long stride. With the official release of IE7 Beta 2 (for Windows XP Service Pack 2, Windows XP Professional 64-bit Edition, and Windows Server 2003), Microsoft has unveiled a browser that looks a lot more polished than the "beta" label might suggest.

The final release of IE7 won't be ready until later this year, but there's little mystery about it. The question isn't whether you'll upgrade. If you use Windows XP, how can you resist a free update to a core program, especially when that update fixes some long-standing annoyances, substantially improves your online security, and is generally easier to use than IE6?

No, the real question is, "Will you use it?" Can IE7 lure you back if you've switched to Firefox as your default browser? Will you trust its tighter security settings enough to recommend it to friends and family? In an environment where anyone, anytime can switch browser allegiances with a five-minute download and a few quick clicks, is there really such a thing as loyalty to a browser?

If you've tried one of the Beta 2 Preview editions, which were aimed exclusively at Web developers, you've already got a pretty good idea of what this release is all about. The first preview release was back in early February, and a second preview was delivered in late March at the Mix06 conference.

You have to look pretty closely to see the cosmetic differences: Icons for the Favorites Center have changed a bit since February, and the choices on the Tools menu have been rearranged slightly, but otherwise, virtually all the changes are under the hood. The official Beta 2 release incorporates bug fixes and changes to the underlying rendering engine that developers should appreciate, and the whole thing should now be stable enough for anyone to use or test.

How does the latest release of IE measure up to the latest from Firefox? For the answers, I compared IE7 Beta 2 on Windows XP against the most recent general release of Firefox, version

Which browser handles the basics better?
The clean and spare IE7 interface is essentially unchanged from the Beta 2 preview release I looked at in February. By efficiently mixing buttons and menus in a single command bar that shares a row with the tab bar, IE7's page layout provides a bit more room than IE6 or Firefox for viewing the contents of the current page. The traditional top-level menu is hidden in a default installation (it reappears temporarily with a tap of the Alt key). The standard toolbar vanishes too, shrinking to a much smaller and more compact set of buttons.

The new Favorites Center. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.
The new Favorites Center in IE7 combines the Favorites menu and the Explorer Bar in a single drop-down list that can be pinned to the left side of the browser window. Printing is smarter, shrinking pages to fit on a single sheet of paper and offering a useful preview. One especially innovative feature in IE7 is the new Zoom button in the lower-right corner of the browser window. Clicking the button zooms the entire page -- graphics and text -- from 100% to 125% and then 150%; or use the slider to pick custom zoom levels up to 10 times the original page size.

Despite the significant interface changes, this version of IE feels familiar, and it's easy to accomplish common tasks. All in all, it's a cleaner look than Firefox and easier to navigate for everyday tasks, but the difference is hardly enough to make it worth switching.

Advantage (a slim one): IE7

Is support for Web standards still an issue?

Web developers have heaped scorn on IE6 over the years, and with good reason. Building a Web site that works well with modern browsers and IE6 requires memorizing an encyclopedia of hacks and workarounds. IE7 promises to fix many of the most critical bugs and do a better job at following Web standards. Although it won't pass the Acid2 Test, the preview version of IE7 Beta 2 has received favorable early reviews from some influential Web designers.

Advantage: Too close to call

Which browser makes it easier to use and manage tabs?
One advantage of coming in late to the tabbed browsing party, as Internet Explorer has, is that you get to improve on the ideas of those who've gone before you. IE7's controls for opening, closing, and managing tabbed windows are noticeably simpler than those in Firefox, with a button on the tab bar to open a new window and a red X to close the active Web page. Out of the box, closing a Firefox tab is a potentially awkward two-click operation -- one click to select the tab, and a second click on the red X at the far right of the tab bar. The process is annoying enough that most Firefox experts quickly install a tab-browsing extension.

You can click the Quick Tabs button to see thumbnails of all your open tabbed pages. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

You can manage two or three open pages easily enough, but after opening a dozen or more pages the tabbed interface becomes essentially unusable. At that point, Internet Explorer provides a much easier way to manage all those open pages. Click the Quick Tabs button at the left of the tab bar to see a thumbnail view of all open tabs. From this window, you can close any tab you no longer need to keep open and then switch to a new active tab with a single click. To get similar functionality in Firefox, you need to install an extension like Viamatic foXpose.

Advantage: IE7

Can IE7 resist viruses, spyware, and online attacks?
Since its introduction, the most powerful argument in favor of switching to Firefox has been the promise that it's more secure and less vulnerable than IE to infestations of spyware, viruses, and other forms of malware. Technically, at least, IE7 should level the playing field a bit.

  • It includes the latest updates to code introduced in Windows XP SP2 that blocks downloads, including ActiveX controls, unless you specifically approve them by clicking the Info Bar and selecting the appropriate menu.

  • A new URL-parsing module should lessen the impact of "specially crafted URLs" that exploit flaws in browser code, especially buffer overruns that can lead to malware installation. In theory, at least, the URL parser should be able to identify and discard dangerous URLs before they reach potentially vulnerable code.

  • With IE7, you manage ActiveX controls and other potentially dangerous browser extensions using the same Manage Add-ons dialog box that was introduced to IE6 with Windows XP SP2. One noteworthy change: a new Delete ActiveX button lets you automatically uninstall an ActiveX control. And a Web page won't be able to use an ActiveX control installed with Windows unless you specifically approve.

    IE7's optional Phishing Filter automatically checks Web sites to see if they look suspicious or are on a list of known sites used by online thieves to steal identities, displaying a bright red bar for a known phishing site and a yellow bar for suspected but unconfirmed sites.

    Access to known phishing sites is blocked with a bold red bar -- continue at your own risk. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.

    Is the Phishing Filter a security gimmick or a genuinely useful layer of protection? It's too early to say. In limited tests, I found the Phishing Filter reasonably accurate at identifying the current crop of phishing attempts. But will the criminal gangs that run phishing scams be able to fine-tune their mailings to work around this filter? In fact, that's the problem with most of the security changes in IE7. Although the new architecture looks good on paper, no one will be able to pronounce IE7 suitably secure until it has survived a year or more without an embarrassing security crisis.

    Advantage: Firefox (for now)

    Which browser will be more secure in Windows Vista?
    For Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server, IE7 is a free upgrade. By contrast, the new browser code is built into Windows Vista, which is due to be delivered to corporate customers at the end of this year and to the retail channel in January 2007. The Vista version of IE7 incorporates the same security improvements as its XP counterpart, but adds Protected Mode browsing, in which even trusted add-ons are quarantined and given write access only to a set of virtualized folders. This feature, combined with Windows Vista's strict User Account Control, should make it much tougher for malware to sneak onto a system.

    Advantage: Too early to tell

  • Can I use either browser to manage RSS feeds?
    Firefox has offered the capability to turn RSS feeds into Live Bookmarks since version 1.0. Clicking a Live Bookmark icon from the Bookmarks menu displays a list of the headlines available from the selected feed. That's fine for a feed with punchy, descriptive headlines. It's a terribly inefficient way to read information-rich feeds, however, especially those that are packed with graphics and full text.

    RSS feeds appear as formatted Web pages along with a link to subscribe to the feed.. Click image to enlarge and to launch image gallery.
    By contrast, IE7's implementation of RSS feeds is simple and elegant. When you click on a link that leads to an RSS feed, the feed's contents display in a specially formatted page within the browser. A box at the top of the page provides details about the feed and offers a link to subscribe to it. The box on the right side of the page lets you filter the list by entering search terms or clicking category names, which are automatically extracted from the feed.

    Best of all, the RSS store is a system service that other applications can share. For instance, Outlook 2007, now in beta testing and scheduled for release with the rest of Office 2007 later this year, can share RSS subscriptions and downloaded items with IE7, so that you can subscribe to a feed in either program and view the same feed in a browser window or alongside e-mail messages. NewsGator, which sells RSS readers for virtually every operating system, has already announced its intention to support IE7's sync features.

    Advantage: IE7

    Where does IE7 fall short?
    Despite its excellent efforts, IE7 falls short of Firefox in two crucial areas.

    The first is the ever-expanding library of Firefox extensions, small user-written programs that add features and fix annoyances in the officially released browser. By contrast, the number of add-ons for Internet Explorer is much smaller -- not surprisingly, the tightest levels of integration are between IE7 and Microsoft Office. If you're a fanatic about tweaking and tuning your browser, Firefox offers many more choices.

    The other critical failing in IE7 is a weak set of password management tools. Just as in previous versions, IE7 can save a username and password combination for any Web page. But there's no way to edit saved passwords or copy them to a secure location. By contrast, Firefox allows you to view and manage saved passwords; it even imports saved passwords from IE7's protected store.

    Advantage: Firefox

    On a straight, feature-for-feature comparison, IE7 stacks up well against Firefox. If its improved security model lives up to its design specs, malware distributors will find it much more difficult to make a dishonest living, and the tabbed browsing features in the new release should make it much easier to deal with multiple pages.

    The biggest hurdle that Internet Explorer has to overcome, however, is one that doesn't fit on any features chart. Its tattered reputation -- especially when it comes to security -- has created an indelible negative impression among the technically savvy users who've enthusiastically adopted Firefox so far. Even if the final release of IE7 improves mightily over the current beta, building that new and improved reputation will be an uphill climb.

    IE7 For XP Beta 2: Has Firefox Met Its Match? - -

    Russian Cargo Ship Lands on Space Station

    Unmanned Russian Cargo Ship Arrives at International Space Station

    MOSCOW Apr 26, 2006 (AP)— An unmanned Russian cargo ship arrived Wednesday at the international space station, bearing supplies and Easter gifts from the families of the American and Russian crewmen.

    The Progress M-56 ship, which was launched from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan two days ago, hooked up with the orbiting station on schedule, Russian Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said.

    In addition to some 2.5 tons of food, water, books, DVDs and scientific equipment, the ship is also bringing Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams parcels from their families.

    Vinogradov and Williams on April 1 began a six-month mission aboard the space station.

    Russia's Progress cargo ships and Soyuz space capsules have been the station's lifeline since the U.S. space shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. The shuttle program was suspended for more than two years; the shuttle Discovery flew to the station in July, but problems with its insulation raised doubts about when the next shuttle would go into space.

    Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

    Russian Cargo Ship Lands on Space Station - -

    EA's Revolutionary Madden Game

    The long-running football series is coming to Revolution Wii in ways you never dreamed of before.

    While Nintendo has wowed people with its fancy new motion-sensing Wii controller, many have wondered aloud about the fate of traditional games on the console. Nintendo insists that it will still have its classic series there for hardcore gamers, but we still know little about what will happen to, for want of a better term, normal games.

    EA is giving direction here. During a demonstration of the upcoming Madden Revolution to news site GameSpot, the company revealed that it has pulled the series from its usual development home and passed it to a team in Canada. (It should be noted that the new studio has people from current Madden developer Tiburon).

    The developers there are reimagining the game for the Wii and using the controller for all sorts of in-game functions, including hiking, kicking and passing the ball and controlling runners on the field.

    Working with real-world motions complicates matter, though. EA's John Schappert told GameSpot how the throwing mechanism had to be refined to take into account how different people will physically move the controller to throw the ball.

    And that's not all. It appears that EA is already working on redesigning some of its other franchises, which include FIFA and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. The company says it's not ready to name them "just yet", but that bodes well for an unveiling at next month's E3.

    Alex Wollenschlaeger
    Editor, Kikizo Games

    EA's Revolutionary Madden Game - -

    Latest 'Da Vinci' mystery: Judge's own secret code

    Published: April 27, 2006, 9:17 AM PDT

    Three weeks after a British court passed judgment in the copyright case involving Dan Brown's bestseller "The Da Vinci Code," a lawyer has uncovered what may be a secret message buried in the text of the ruling.

    Lawyer Dan Tench noticed some letters in the judgment had been italicized, and it suddenly dawned on him that they spelled a phrase that included the name of the judge: "Smith code."

    Justice Peter Smith, who during the trial displayed a sense of humor unusual in the rarified world of bewigged barristers and ancient tradition, appears to have embraced the mysterious world of codes and conspiracy that run through the novel.

    "I thought it was a mistake, that there were some stray letters that had been italicized because the word processor had gone wrong," Tench told Reuters.

    Tench initially told The Times newspaper that apparently random letters in the judge's ruling appeared in italics. Wouldn't it be clever if the judge had embedded a secret message in the text? The Times ran a jokey item.

    "And then I got an e-mail from the judge," said Tench.

    He said Smith told him to look back at the first paragraphs. The italicized letters scattered throughout the judgment spell out: "smithcodeJaeiextostpsacgreamqwfkadpmqz."

    Those in the first paragraphs spell out "smith code."

    But what does the rest mean?

    The novel, and upcoming movie starring Tom Hanks, are about a secret code that reveals ancient mysteries about Jesus Christ.

    Smith, who ruled that author Brown had not plagiarized his hugely popular thriller from another book, "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," has so far not given any clues to his own mystery code.

    For now, the judge is not speaking. His clerk said he is refusing interviews. She would not confirm whether there truly was a secret mystery embedded in his judgment.

    But she did confirm that he is, generally speaking, a humorous type of person.

    Story Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

    Latest 'Da Vinci' mystery: Judge's own secret code - -

    Nintendo Revolution renamed 'Wii'

    By Daniel Terdiman
    Staff Writer, CNET News.com
    Published: April 27, 2006, 10:40 AM PDT

    For more than a year, Nintendo's forthcoming next-generation video game console has been known by its code name, Revolution. But on Thursday, the company unveiled the machine's real name, "Wii."

    The name--which is pronounced "we"--is meant to invoke the feeling of cooperation that comes when people play games together. Further, Nintendo said, the written name is meant to visually conjure up the image of two people standing together.

    "The goal is we are a highly innovative company and we want the name to speak to that innovation and uniqueness," said Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo's vice president of marketing and corporate affairs. "If you were to look at (the name of the controller) visually, the point isn't just how you pronounce it, but it symbolizes the controllers, which are one of the most innovative and unique parts of the system.

    The Wii, which is expected to launch in the fourth quarter, is Nintendo's answer to Microsoft's Xbox 360, which launched last fall, and Sony's forthcoming PlayStation 3. Nintendo has, so far, been differentiating what has been known as the Revolution by promoting its controller, which players will hold in a single hand like a remote control.

    In any case, Kaplan admitted that some people won't know how to pronounce "Wii" but said Nintendo will embark on an ambitious campaign to ensure that's not a problem come the console's expected fourth-quarter launch.

    That push will include disseminating a Web video--currently available at Nintendo.com--as well as television ads that will begin airing later this year.

    "We think that after some time," Kaplan said, "people will become comfortable with it. But it will strike people as different, and that's what we're after."

    Nintendo Revolution renamed 'Wii' - -

    Battle of the formats in high-definition DVDs

    Thursday, April 27, 2006
    By Leslie Brooks Suzukamo
    Knight Ridder Newspapers

    T. PAUL, Minn. — Every so often, technology comes to a crossroads, and nobody knows which direction will win out. A generation ago, Betamax and VHS battled over which format would dominate for video. Those who bet on Betamax won't soon forget the experience of getting stuck with irrelevant technology.
    Now, a format war is brewing over high-definition DVDs, and Oakdale, Minn.-based Imation Corp., maker of all kinds of data storage, is in the thick of it.

    Normally, creation of a new data-storage format would make Imation jump for joy. As anyone who's gone through the process of replacing tapes with CDs or videos with DVDs knows, new formats generally mean more sales. That's good for Imation, which makes DVDs, CDs and other removable media.

    And there's a fair amount of excitement over high-definition DVDs, which promise a life-like sharpness on video conventional DVDs can't match, fans say.

    But which high-definition DVD would Imation make?

    On one side is a format called HD DVD, backed by technology giants like Toshiba, NEC Corp., Intel and Microsoft.

    On the other is Blu-Ray, a format created by Sony that had support from Phillips, Dell and Apple Computer.

    As the giants of technology chose sides in this winner-take-all battle, both factions tried to recruit Imation. But choosing sides makes Imation uncomfortable. Historically, Imation has tried to make sure its products work with the equipment of as many technology providers as possible.

    "Both formats clearly would have liked us to take their side, and we knew early on that we couldn't do that," said Stephen Bradley, who maps out Imation's product strategies worldwide. "Our customers expect us to deliver solutions based on what they need, whether they choose HD DVD or Blu-Ray."

    So the answer was clear: Imation decided to make both.

    With worldwide sales of recordable DVDs at 3 billion and growing, most consumers are only dimly aware that a new DVD standard is on the horizon.

    But the industry is betting consumers will start shelling out top dollar to get movies and TV shows in a format that has been described as practically three-dimensional in clarity.

    By the end of this year, 22 percent of the TV sets in the United States will be capable of receiving high-definition signals, according to Solutions & Understanding, a technology consultancy in Great Britain.

    "That's a large percentage of the U.S. population, and they're waiting to feed the high-definition monster," said Jim Bottoms, joint managing partner at Solutions & Understanding.

    But which type of high definition to use?

    Movies made for Blu-Ray will not work on a video player made for HD DVD, and vice versa. And since both formats are read with a blue laser instead of the red one in conventional DVD players, neither of the new formats will work on the old players. That means if consumers want to watch a high-definition video on DVD, they will have to buy a new player that can cost upwards of $1,500.

    Few consumers will buy both kinds of high-definition players, so the electronics and entertainment industries have been warily choosing sides.

    Movie studios are divided. Blu-Ray is backed by Sony and Disney studios, while HD DVD has NBC-Universal in its corner.

    Tellingly, Warner and Paramount have hedged, saying they will release movies in both formats. Studios on both sides have committed to releasing only a handful of their titles so far.

    At least one analyst thinks the makers of the new high-definition DVD players ultimately may have the most influence. "It probably comes down to who's going to be more aggressive on the hardware side — who's going to subsidize losses on the short term to try to drive adoption," said Dan Renouard, an analyst for Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee. A $2,000 high-definition player may not sell, but one for $500 might, he said.

    Analysts say it may not be until after 2007 at the earliest when they can declare a clear winner.

    Until then, Gartner Inc., a technology consultancy in Stamford, Conn., is advising companies to "be an arms merchant to both sides" if they are large enough to manage both, said Laura Behrens, a Gartner analyst. That's Imation's strategy.

    Manufacturers of blank discs like Imation are captives of the hardware makers and movie studios, Renouard said. They can only wait and follow.

    First, they must figure out how to make two new formats. Imation outsources its manufacturing of CDs and DVDs but decided to take on the manufacture of the new formats, despite their being more complicated than anything it's made before.

    Both high-definition formats hold far more information than conventional DVDs—three to five times as much. That means a high-definition movie can fit on one DVD, but there are some differences in how the DVDs are put together.

    The HD DVD is slightly easier to make than Blu-Ray because its architecture is most like a conventional DVD — it sandwiches its data on a metallic layer in the middle of the disc and is assembled like an Oreo cookie. It can hold 15 gigabytes of data — 30 gigs on a double-layer format. But it has to fit on a disc that is exactly the same size as a conventional disc, so it must be even more precise.

    The Blu-Ray disc carries 25 gigabytes of data on a single layer and 50 gigs on a double. But the Blu-Ray is more complicated because it puts data on a metallic layer at the bottom of the disc to be closer to the laser that reads the data. It protects that data with a thin adhesive film that is stamped out cookie-cutter style and smoothed onto the disc, not unlike applying a decal.

    Taking on two new manufacturing processes is a more calculated bet for Imation than it might sound. Decades ago, as a division of 3M, Imation helped develop the optical disc, and it believes its patents on the mastering process give it an edge over competitors.

    Imation spent $10 million on the patents and a new manufacturing facility. That's not a bet-the-farm investment for a company that had sales of $1.2 billion last year, especially not compared to the $55 million it spent to build its next-generation magnetic tape plant in Weatherford, Okla.

    The company's high-definition DVD manufacturing operation is buried in the bowels of the Discovery Building, where the company conducts research and development on optical discs.

    Jim DePuydt, the manager in charge of developing the company's advanced optical products, pointed through a clean-room window to two DVD "mastering benches," which are long, unremarkable-looking rectangular boxes. But the benches are key to the manufacturing process, because they mold the glass masters or "pucks" used to make the discs.

    One glass master, etched with tiny tracks to position the data, can make millions of DVDs, but it needs to be perfect.

    "Quality is of the utmost importance to us," DePuydt said. "Our philosophy is to drive quality to zero defects."

    Although the assembly process is designed to run 24 hours a day and seven days a week, Imation so far is only firing up the line for one shift a week, switching from Blu-Ray one week to HD-DVD the next. The company was able to build a modular manufacturing process, so the two formats have some steps in common.

    The process is largely automated, so few workers are needed. When it's running, a mechanical arm picks up a newly molded blank hi-def DVD hot off the presses inside a clean room and moves it to a spindle to cool every 9 seconds.

    The low volume is a sign of how new high-def DVD is. High definition DVD burners aren't due out for several more months, and even then, the company expects sales to be slow. It plans to outsource manufacturing when demand picks up.

    A few makers of recordable DVDs have declared allegiances for one side or the other. TDK, for instance, has sided with Blu-Ray. But Imation is firmly agnostic.

    It's a studied neutrality, driven by caution. "We don't know who's going to win," CEO Bruce Henderson said.

    In the short term, the stakes will be small. Solutions & Understanding, the technology consultancy, estimates the global market for high-definition DVDs at 250 million units or roughly $1.5 billion by 2010 — a fraction of today's DVD market. Even then, there's no way to say how much of that market Imation will end up with.

    Eventually Imation thinks high-definition DVDs will overtake DVDs, just as DVDs are eroding the market for CDs.

    But what if they held a war and nobody came?

    Henderson, a self-confessed gadget addict, said the first buyers will be the "early adopters, like me. The people who can't wait to get the latest and greatest."

    Personal technology gurus are advising consumers to sit on the sidelines for now to avoid getting burned the way Betamax buyers did decades ago.

    That's bad news for Imation and everyone involved in the high-definition DVD struggle. For them, war isn't hell; waiting may be.

    Imation accepts that growth will be slow. It won't say how many discs it can produce on its equipment but said the Discovery Building plant should be adequate through the end of 2007. That's when everyone expects the fog of this latest format war to clear.
    Battle of the formats in high-definition DVDs - -

    China to launch lunar probe next April

    Thursday, April 27, 2006 Posted: 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)

    HONG KONG, China (Reuters) -- China plans to take the first step in its ambitious lunar exploration program next April, launching a satellite that will orbit the moon, a space official said on Thursday.

    The craft will be followed a few years later by a remote-controlled lunar rover that will perform experiments and send data back to Earth, and, in another few years, a module that will drill out a chunk of the moon and return with it.

    China's lunar exploration scheme, which includes long-term plans for piloted moon missions, underscores the ambitious scope of a space program that has come a long way, especially in recent years, since its launch 50 years ago.

    On Thursday, China sent a science research satellite into orbit, marking the country's first space mission this year.

    In 2003, China became only the third country -- after the United States and Russia -- to launch a man into space aboard its own rocket. Last year, it sent two men into space aboard another ship.

    Yang Duohe, with China's Lunar Exploration Program Center, said the lunar fly-by was on schedule.

    "It will be next year in April," he said.

    The moon shot will take several days, including about three days of orbit around the Earth, during which the craft will use gravity as a catapult to fling it on the more than four-day journey to the moon.

    Luan Enjie, chief commander of the lunar exploration center, said on Thursday there were still problems to work out.

    Among them were how to remotely control the craft, how to handle widely varying temperatures on the moon, and how to coordinate gear that needed to be pointed in a specific direction, such as solar panels and communication equipment.

    More generally, he said China was working on ways to standardize its rockets and increase their thrust, which he said was too small at about nine tons. China also had too many types of satellites and the quality was not high enough, he said.

    Investment in the lunar exploration programme so far was less than $187 million, he said. He did not give a figure for the total budget.

    China's total annual investment in its space programmes was roughly $500 million, another Chinese space official said on a visit to the United States earlier this month.

    In the United States, the Bush administration announced a $104 billion plan in September to return Americans to the moon by 2018. Its Apollo program carried the first humans to the moon in 1969.

    Japan has also announced plans to land a person on the moon by 2025.

    Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

    China to launch lunar probe next April - -

    New PS3 pricing rumours stir up the 'net

    Just over 200 quid for Sony's next-gen console? That's what unconfirmed reports are saying, at any rate

    Hurray for console pricing rumours, and hurray especially for PS3 pricing rumours! New gossip circulating the 'net is suggesting Sony's next-gen console could hit the UK cheaper than previously thought - at around 222 quid.

    Apparently, these latest PS3 price-tag rumours originated in a US PlayStation magazine, grandly stating that the next-gen console will hit States-side for 399 USD in November (which, according to our abacus, works out at around the above mentioned 222 GBP). Obviously it'd never retail for 222 GBP - the 'ending in 9' pricing convention MUST BE OBSERVED - and, of course, it's unlikely we'd get anything near a direct dollar to pound conversion either, but that's cheap godammit. If it's true.

    An intriguing rumour to be sure but one that, let's face it, is pretty hard to swallow - especially considering the expected supreme cost of Blu-ray players, which will feature inside the PS3. We'd love it to be true, but let's just wait for E3 where Sony will deliver concrete info on PS3 pricing. Well, it'd better do otherwise we're going to, er, do something bad.
    New PS3 pricing rumours stir up the 'net - -

    Kodak EasyShare V610 Camera

    A tiny camera with a powerful zoom lens

    Posted Wednesday, Apr. 26, 2006

    For a few weeks this spring, Panasonic had the world’s smallest 10X optical-zoom camera. No larger than the average point-and-shoot, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 has a single compact Leica lens that can crawl right up someone’s nose, or at least up to it, at 20 paces. Though Panasonic's $350 camera is still available, Kodak has just usurped Panasonic's title of world’s smallest 10X zoom camera.

    The EasyShare V610 looks, at a glance, like other compact point-and-shoot cameras. Only a bit larger than an iPod and hardly thicker than a deck of cards, it has a spacious 2.8-in. LCD screen. However, as you power it up, the front cover slides open and you realize something strange is going on: the V610 has two lenses.

    The V630 is not the first two-lens camera from Kodak. It follows closely on the heels of the EasyShare V570, launched in January. The V570 uses its second lens for ultra wide-angle shots – four people crammed into a chair lift, for example. The V630, as you can guess, has a telephoto lens as its Number Two, to achieve super zoom.

    The results are surprising. I haven’t been crazy about Kodak cameras’ picture quality of late, but the 6-megapixel V630 took some terrific pictures. Outdoors at full zoom, shots were crisp and clear. Indoors, where Kodak’s compact cameras tend to have more trouble, shots came out clean, without the blurring or graininess that sometimes occurs. In fact, I tested the Kodak alongside the chunkier Panasonic’s Lumix TZ1, and the Kodak outperformed the TZ1 shot for shot. I was not expecting that.

    Compact size is not the only reason Kodak’s 10X camera lists for $100 more than Panasonic’s. The V630 also has built-in Bluetooth, for transferring photos to nearby cell phones or computers. In the past I’ve had some hard times with Bluetooth file transfers, especially from a phone to a Windows PC. This time I was able to send full-resolution shots from the camera to a Bluetooth-enabled iMac on my first try. It only took seconds. If you’re sending shots to a phone, you have the option of downgrading them to QVGA or XVGA resolution, or send at the full six megapixels.

    Kodak has been earning respect for innovation and ease of use — this camera not only embodies both, but it takes pretty good pictures, too. And that’s a nice thing, for a camera.
    Kodak EasyShare V610 Camera - Wednesday, April 26, 2006 -

    Microsoft Expands Antipiracy Initiatives

    Microsoft Expands Antipiracy Initiatives
    April 26, 2006 2:05PM

    Rob Ayoub, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said that Microsoft's increasingly severe crackdown on piracy might actually serve to further the spread of viruses and other malicious software. "The more of this cracking down on piracy that they do, the more they will keep people who have pirated copies from updating," he said.

    Microsoft has given software pirates a little more to worry about, following the announcement this week that it has begun to widen the scope of its Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) program to include checks for the authenticity of Microsoft Office software. The company also has made changes to WGA to broaden the reach of its Windows XP verifications.

    Currently in the pilot-testing phase, the new Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) service notifies Microsoft Office users whether their software fell off the back of a truck or is authentic.

    Microsoft has not said where pilot users for the program are located or how many are participating, and the company has declined to say when the program will reach North America.

    Real or Faux

    Also beginning this week, some users of Windows XP in the U.S. who have signed up for Microsoft's automatic updates and have granted the company the ability to do WGA checks might be presented with an alarming notice.

    After installation and a system reboot, users who have an illegitimate copy of Windows XP will be greeted with a message that reads: "This copy of Windows is not genuine; you may be a victim of software counterfeiting."

    The notice directs users to a WGA site on which they can "learn the benefits of genuine software." The reminders will continue until a genuine copy of the OS has been installed.

    "Microsoft is clearly interested in maximizing its revenues for XP and minimizing piracy," said Andrew Jaquith, a Yankee Group analyst. "They are gradually turning the screws on people who don't register with WGA."

    Since the its launch in 2005, Windows users have had the option to register for the WGA program if they wanted to receive automatic security updates and other free goodies from Microsoft's site.

    However, according to Microsoft, the program might become compulsory for users later this year. Those who have not validated their software through WGA will not be able to download Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Defender, among other applications.

    Crackdown Threat

    The Business Software Alliance estimates that some 35 percent of all PC software used worldwide is counterfeit. In addition, a recent IDC study predicted that reducing piracy by 10 percent over the next four years could add 2.4 million new jobs and $400 billion in economic growth to the global economy.

    While these figures might be alarming, at least one expert is concerned about a massive antipiracy initiative. Rob Ayoub, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said that Microsoft's increasingly severe crackdown on piracy might actually serve to further the spread of viruses and other malicious software.

    "The more of this cracking down on piracy that they do, the more they will keep people who have pirated copies from updating," he said. "That increases proliferation of security problems and, to my mind, that is the biggest problem."

    Ayoub said that, once users turn off the automatic-update feature in Windows -- no matter the reason -- there will be more and more unpatched machines vulnerable to malicious attack. "As much as I respect Microsoft's stand on piracy," Ayoub said, "I don't think this is the right way to handle it."

    Microsoft Expands Antipiracy Initiatives - -

    Yahoo's free software turns PC into DVR

    By Candace Lombardi
    Staff Writer, CNET News.com
    Published: April 26, 2006, 7:44 AM PDT
    Last modified: April 26, 2006, 10:25 AM PDT

    update Yahoo has released a beta version of software that turns a PC into a digital video recorder.

    The software, Yahoo Go for TV, is free to download. After the software is installed, people plug their computer into their television's video and audio input connections. The computer can then record and play back shows on the TV just like with a standalone DVR. Consumers can also play DVDs, music, photos or other downloaded content.

    The cost of a few cables and TV tuner card, in comparison with the hundreds of dollars being shelled out for DVD players or DVRs, could lure consumers away from DVR competitors like TiVo. And many industry leaders see TV-computer combinations as the portal for reaching consumers.

    Microsoft said recently that its Windows XP Media Center software is outselling the standard edition of the software, and Hewlett-Packard announced last year that it is developing technology to let high-definition televisions directly access digital content from home computers.

    The Yahoo software, as of yet, only runs on Windows and requires a computer with 20GB of disk space to store recorded programs, 512MB of RAM and a 1GHz processor.

    The DVR feature on Go for TV also requires a TV tuner card and connector cables for connecting to a TV monitor. Yahoo also suggests using a remote control, which usually comes standard with the purchase of most TV tuner cards. While the software works with any TV signal, Yahoo recommends a 1.5mbps broadband connection for best results.

    Television listings are provided via a Yahoo Go for TV interface. Users are prompted to give their ZIP code during setup, so that the proper service provider can be chosen. Yahoo Go for TV updates the listings daily. Those who already use TiVo can still use the Go for TV digital video recording feature by simply connecting each component to a different video input outlet. One system will not interfere with the other, as long as they each have access to the TV signal.

    Last year, Yahoo partnered with TiVo so that TiVo subscribers could browse and schedule downloads remotely via the Internet. Yahoo has not released any information on how this release affects that relationship.

    The Yahoo Go for TV software works in conjunction with many of Yahoo's other Yahoo Go media products, such as Yahoo Launchcast, a radio and music subscription service, and Flickr, Yahoo's photo-sharing site. In addition, Go for TV lets people view photos from any online service and to listen to music from CDs or digital-music libraries already stored on the linked computer.

    Last week, Yahoo announced its purchase of Meedio's technology and intellectual property. Houston-based Meedio's software integrates videos, photos and music for digital home media systems. At the time of the announcement, some industry watchers speculated that Meedio would enable Yahoo to offer a similar system.

    Yahoo's free software turns PC into DVR - -

    Cars that get 100 miles per gallon

    By Michael Kanellos
    Staff Writer, CNET News.com
    Published: April 25, 2006, 4:00 AM PDT

    A car that doesn't need gas, or at least not much, is getting slightly more realistic all the time.

    A few small companies will start to offer services and products for converting hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius that currently get around 50 miles per gallon into plug-in hybrids that rely more heavily on electrical power and can get about 100 miles per gallon.

    "I get about 99 miles to the gallon," said Felix Kramer, founder of The California Cars Initiative (CalCars), who owns the eighth Prius converted into a plug-in hybrid. "When gasoline costs $3 a gallon, driving most gasoline cars costs 8 to 20 cents a mile. With a plug-in hybrid, your local travel and commuting can go down to 2 to 4 cents a mile."

    In general, plug-in hybrids have much larger battery packs than standard hybrids--in prototypes, the extra batteries fill up the space where spare tires now reside--and much smaller gas motors. The batteries can be recharged by plugging the car into any wall socket.

    Under 34 miles per hour, the electric motor effectively powers the car on its own, said Kramer. Over that--and during bursts of acceleration--the gas motor begins to help incrementally. The gas motor also takes over when the battery conks.

    "Sixty-five percent of drivers will not use gas on a daily basis. The only time you ever use gasoline is when you go on vacation or go skiing," said Andrew Frank, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California at Davis who has made plug-in hybrids out of stock Mercury Sables and a Chevy Suburban. The Suburban has been tested on General Motors' off-road track.

    "It would do the same thing as a conventional Suburban, including towing a trailer," he added.

    It all comes down to cost
    But conversion won't be cheap--at least initially. California's EDrive Systems will charge around $10,000 to $12,000 to install the extra lithium batteries needed to turn a standard Prius into a plug-in hybrid when its service begins later this summer.

    At that price, and with gas at $3 a gallon, it would take around 160,000 to 200,000 miles of driving to break even. As a result, conversion services today are really being sold more as a luxury option or status symbol.

    But some groups are looking to the do-it-yourself crowd for a cheaper solution. Canada's Hymotion, which already converts fleets of hybrids for corporate customers, will charge about $9,500 for a kit aimed at consumers that it will start shipping in October. And Hymotion can convert more than just the Prius.

    CalCars is working with independent inventors to bring the price of a DIY kit based around an open blueprint to about $3,000.

    "Our goal for the build kit is this summer, but making this happen will be a volunteer project--as are most open-source efforts--so I'm not in a position to promise," Kramer said.

    Mass manufacturing, though, could lower the prices dramatically over time. Frank estimates that a plug-in hybrid with a 60-mile range (meaning the car can run on electricity alone for up to 60 miles) might cost only $6,000 to $7,000 more to mass manufacture than a conventional car in a few years. A standard hybrid currently goes for about $3,000 more than gasoline-driven cars.

    To get to that point, however, battery technology, which tends to progress slowly, will need to improve. Auto manufacturers will have to improve the transmissions and other components that go into a hybrid.

    The high cost is one of the primary reasons that major auto manufacturers have been lukewarm to the concept of plug-in cars, engineers at large auto manufacturers have said. Finding ways to stash the battery without compromising passenger or cargo room is another.

    Nonetheless, some automakers have shown interest. DaimlerChrysler will produce 40 plug-in versions of its Sprinter minivan for testing the concept. No commitment has been made to turn it into a product.

    Over several years, the cars also can pave the way toward nearly pollution-free cars, said Frank. Because gasoline consumption is modest, it will likely be possible to build plug-in hybrids that burn ethanol rather than gas.

    For electricity, the cars could harvest solar power from solar panels installed in garages or houses. Although electric motors don't pollute, electricity gets generated in coal-burning plants, one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases.

    Solar isn't as farfetched as it sounds, Frank said. Studies show that most cars are on the road for only three hours a day and could be charged the remaining hours. Installing solar panels on garage roofs and homes will take a bit of capital, but the costs of making and installing solar technology are expected to go down over time as well.

    "We can't switch from where we are today overnight. It will take 20 years or more to take the PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) to get into our society," Frank said. Nonetheless, "we can greatly reduce the amount of liquid fuel we use for transportation," he said.

    Cars that get 100 miles per gallon - -


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