Friday, August 7, 2009

Comcast adopts DNS hijacking, cashes in on bad URLs

In a bid to squeeze out more cash through their existing service, one of the largest ISPs around has added themselves to the ranks of companies participating in controversial DNS-redirecting programs. Comcast has officially begun redirecting invalid DNS requests to their own “search portals,” which are advertising pages intended to capture anyone who makes a typo or visits an invalid address into a web browser.

The technique is slowly being adopted by other ISPs around the world, and has been rife with controversy since the beginning. Essentially, anytime a user tries to visit an invalid web page, they are redirected to an advertising splash page rather than being told that the page is unavailable. As most other ISPs are doing, Comcast is offering an opt-out system – though there have been complaints that the process is not particularly friendly. Other ISPs around the world that have begun implementing this include Bell Canada, Verizon, and EarthLink.

Several years ago, Verisign, a major domain registrar, attempted to implement this. Their attempt received massive public outcry, and ultimately even ICANN stepped in and asked them to stop. Comcast has even gone a step beyond their cohorts, pushing for a new IETF standard that would make such DNS hijacking more legitimate.


Bug found in Windows 7 RTM, delay rumors exaggerated

Microsoft today made the finalized version of Windows 7 available for download to TechNet and MSDN subscribers, announcing the right-on-schedule delivery on the official Windows Blog. At the same time, however, a recently-discovered memory bug is threatening to spoil the milestone as several sites are picking up the story and speculating about a possible launch delay.

While the bug has been called everything from critical to catastrophic, Windows division president Steven Sinofsky claims it is far from being a show stopper and joked about the blogosphere blowing things out of proportion.

The flaw is triggered when users run the CHKDSK command with the /r switch, which is designed to locate and repair bad sectors on a disk. According to reports, this should result in your memory quickly gobbled away by the chkdsk.exe process until it either stops at or around 90% or it maxes completely out and crashes the computer
. Though it is said to affect both 32 and 64-bit versions of Windows 7, it’s also not reproducible 100% of the time and apparently only affects systems with multiple hard drives or partitions.

Sinofsky still acknowledged the alleged flaw is something they must look into and that, for affected users, simply updating chipset drivers from the PC motherboard manufacturer may take care of the problem. Hopefully a fix will come ahead of the Windows 7 launch, but even if it doesn’t apparently it’s not serious enough to derail plans of an October 22 release.


Microsoft updates Games For Windows Live

icrosoft quietly updated its Games for Windows Live service to version 3.0 today. The biggest new feature, according to the company, is how users can now access the marketplace to buy content while playing any supported title and have it download and install in the background. The feature should help streamline digital distribution on PCs and follows a growing trend of generating additional revenue through post-release game content – Valve offers a similar feature on Steam and even Apple is supporting it for iPhone apps.

In-game account management is also now possible, so you won't have to stop playing Fallout 3 (or whatever) in order to buy some Microsoft Points, edit your credit card info, or redeem codes. While most gamers will agree the aforementioned features are welcome additions to Games for Windows, there’s also a couple more that are meant to appease publishers.

This includes two new anti-piracy solutions: a Server Side Authentication method that links the game license to a user’s Gamertag, allowing you to game from anywhere but apparently also making used game discs worthless for sale or giving away; and Zero Day Piracy Protection to keep games from launching before the street date the publisher has set for the game. The update is available as a free download here.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rumored PS3 Slim to debut this month at Gamescom?

Rumors of a new PlayStation 3 console are running rampant today – whether it’s the slimmed-down version or a higher capacity model remains to be seen but it definitely feels like something’s cooking over at Sony. The latest bit comes as what appears to be an internal document from 7-Eleven (which sells video games in Japan) that suggests Sony may be about to discontinue the 80GB PS3 in its home country.

According to a report by Kotaku, the retailer will no longer be taking “pre-orders” for black, white and silver 80GB PS3 after Sunday at the maker’s request, and all in-store displays for the 80GB model will be taken down. Meanwhile, a separate report from Taiwan's DigiTimes claims Sony is seriously ramping up orders for “key PS3 components,” enough to build a million consoles over the next three months – which is apparently double what it ordered last quarter.

Last but not least, a listing for a “PlayStation 3 Konsole Slim” appeared on Amazon’s German website over the weekend before quickly being removed. While this may not mean much, some say official confirmation could come from Sony’s Gamescom press conference in Germany on August 18.


Microsoft touts Windows 7-optimized keyboard and mouse combo

Microsoft has announced a brand new keyboard and mouse combo designed with ergonomics in mind. The Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000 combines the company's BlueTrack technology with a Comfort Curve layout that encourages natural wrist posture, soft-touch palm rest and low-profile quiet keys.

Gearing up for the general availability of its next operating system in October, Microsoft included some Windows 7 optimizations, particularly the Taskbar Favorites keys which is said to map to the location of open applications on the improved taskbar for instant access, along with a Windows Flip button on the mouse and keyboard and Device Stage support.

Both peripherals connect to a given computer using a single, small 2.4GHz RF transceiver friendly to the USB ports of both desktops and notebooks. As for pricing and availability, Microsoft’s Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000 is expected to become available later this month for an estimated retail price of $80; it’s available today for pre-order at Amazon.


Microsoft announces XP Mode RC for Windows 7

hree months after first introducing Windows 7’s virtual XP Mode, Microsoft has announced the availability of its release candidate (RC) version. As previously reported, this is an optional add-on for Windows 7 Professional or higher, and is aimed at helping small to medium-size businesses upgrade to Windows 7 by giving them a virtual Windows XP environment capable of running any legacy applications they may rely on.

This is only intended as a “last mile” of compatibility for business users, according to Microsoft, which has clarified that most XP applications will run natively on Windows 7. The software requires an additional 1GB of RAM, 15GB of available disk space, and a processor capable of hardware virtualization with AMD-V or Intel VT.

Refinements in the Windows XP Mode release candidate include new USB and drive sharing support options along with a user tutorial aimed at the small and midsize business market. It also now allows users to view recently opened Windows XP applications in the Windows 7 Jump Menu and open them from the task bar. The near-completed software is be available for public testing now and should be released in its final form at the time of the Windows 7 launch on October 22.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Ubuntu prepares to move in on small businesses

The company behind the world's most popular desktop Linux distro has their sights set on expansion. Apparently satisfied with their desktop infrastructure, Canonical is now offering support services for small businesses, all centered around using Ubuntu as the platform of choice.

Starting with three different support options, the company is aiming specific configurations and implementations of Ubuntu for different businesses with different requirements – ranging from getting desktops off the ground to complete migrations of office environments.

Canonical will join a small but growing (if slowly) market of companies aimed exclusively at Linux desktop support. Is this a positive change for Linux? Probably – one of the biggest gripes that most businesses have is the lack of decent support. While many specialized companies offer fantastic support for their particular niche, there is a huge gap in the quality and availability of support elsewhere. If Canonical thinks they have the manpower to offer a paid business support program, they might also be able to convert some offices.

In the short term, nothing is likely to change for Ubuntu or Canonical. If, however, they combine this with a decent PR campaign and make sure their support is up to snuff, they could get a nice foothold in the small business market, which is almost exclusively a Windows-owned domain.


Chinese Website Post LGA-1156 Review Already........

We’re still about a month away from the expected launch of Intel’s Lynnfield processors, but as usual some folks seem to have gotten hold of these parts a little earlier than everybody else. Specifically, Chinese website PConline has posted a full review of two upcoming LGA-1156 parts – the Core i5 750 and Core i7 870.

As previously reported, the Core i5 750 part features clock speeds in the range of 2.66 and 3.2GHz using Turbo Boost and no Hyper-Threading. Meanwhile, the higher-end Core i7 870 will run at 2.93GHz with a top speed of 3.46GHz for individual cores and supports Hyper-Threading technology for up to eight threads. So how did they fare in the tests? A brief look shows that despite being limited to dual-channel memory and the old DMI interconnect instead of QPI, the Core i7 870 outperforms the existing Core i7 920 overall.

A screenshot of CPU-Z also shows the effect of the Turbo Boost feature which increases the frequency of the Core i7 870 to 3.2GHz. The Core i5 750 appears to be the most power-efficient of the bunch but still manages to sit between the Core i7 920 and Core 2 Quad Q9550 in terms of performance. Both chips will outclass AMD’s Phenom II X4 955, according to PConline.

Naturally, you should take these results with a grain of salt considering Intel hasn't even announced the CPUs yet, but it’s always interesting to see some numbers. The report includes benchmark results from applications such as WinRAR, Everest Ultimate and CineBench to games like Call of Duty: World at War and Far Cry 2. You can find a translated and somewhat readable version here – the graphs are pretty self-explanatory, though.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Google sued in France over Google Maps

Google is under some legal pressure overseas this week, following a French company's decision to take them to court. Citing unfair competition, Bottin Cartographies is demanding roughly $700,000 dollars in compensation. The heart of the matter is their web mapping services, which are made freely available to businesses around the world. While Google’s aim is to generate revenue through advertising, as it has always been, Bottin sees it as an attempt to stifle and swallow the market by undercutting any competitors.

Naturally, Bottin Cartographies provides web mapping services for a fee. Whether or not their complaint has any basis, you really must wonder how solid their business plan is if a company can beat them with a free product. What do they expect Google to do in response, begin charging for Google Maps? Refuse to offer the service? Neither is likely and would work against Google's own goals.

Putting it in another perspective, imagine if all Internet search was a paid service ten years ago, only to be bested by Google's free options. Is there really room to complain? Google is not commenting on the situation, but as huge as they are now I doubt they will roll over for anyone.


Apple claims jailbroken iPhones could harm cell towers

urthering their long-standing opposition to people ‘jailbreaking’ the iPhone, Apple has made a powerful assertion that is sure to leave some people with gaping mouths. According to them, the practice could lead to massive denial of service attacks on cell towers. Apple’s claim is that people tinkering with the iPhone’s software innards could execute commands that would crash cell tower software, resulting in people being unable to make phone calls or otherwise causing havoc on local cell networks.

They draw a comparison between people jailbreaking the iPhone to someone breaking into a corporate network and damaging computers. I give credit to Apple for the iPhone, but can they truly be making such a claim with a straight face? Cell phones have been broken millions of times across multiple platforms and multiple vendors. What makes the iPhone so exceptionally dangerous that allowing people the freedom to tinker with it will result in massive service outages all over the world?

Currently, the U.S. Copyright Office is reviewing requests backed by the EFF and others to completely legalize jailbreaking. If enough people buy Apple’s rhetoric regarding this, however, such efforts could be crushed. It's clear that the company just wants to protect their bottom line, but their latest claims are preposterous at best.


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