Sunday, April 27, 2014

Boot up: interpreting Microsoft, bugged by Chrome?, map the wind, and more

A burst of 8 links for you to chew over, as picked by the Technology team

Here is what is notable. Looking at these figures, Microsoft's cash cow is obvious: licensing server products, Windows and Office to businesses, which is profitable almost to the point of disgrace: gross margin $10.077bn on sales of $10.888bn. Microsoft breaks this down a little. Hyper-V has gained 5 points of share, it says, and Windows volume licensing is up 10%.

Cloud (Office 365, Azure, Dynamics CRM online) may be growing strongly, but it is a sideshow relative to the on-premises licensing.

How do we reconcile yet another bumper quarter with the Microsoft/Windows is dead meme? The answer is that it is not dead yet, but the shift away from the consumer market and the deep dependency on on-premises licensing are long-term concerns.

Tal Ater discovered this, told Google last September, got rewarded. But the fix hasn't been rolled out:

A user visits a site, that uses speech recognition to offer some cool new functionality. The site asks the user for permission to use his mic, the user accepts, and can now control the site with his voice. Chrome shows a clear indication in the browser that speech recognition is on, and once the user turns it off, or leaves that site, Chrome stops listening. So far, so good.

But what if that site is run by someone with malicious intentions?

Most sites using Speech Recognition, choose to use secure HTTPS connections. This doesn't mean the site is safe, just that the owner bought a $5 security certificate. When you grant an HTTPS site permission to use your mic, Chrome will remember your choice, and allow the site to start listening in the future, without asking for permission again. This is perfectly fine, as long as Chrome gives you clear indication that you are being listened to, and that the site can't start listening to you in background windows that are hidden to you.

But then the site opens a popunder window...

Jelly is the "ask someone a question sort-of-on-Twitter-except-not" service:

Last year, Jelly announced a Series A financing led by Spark Capital along with some angels including Reid Hoffman of Greylock Partners. Today, we closed a Series B with Greylock Partners. A former colleague of mine, Josh Elman, will join Jelly's board of directors as part of this investment.

Let's guess that it will be about August that Jelly will carry out its pivot towards something people actually want to use it for.

San Diego-based Qualcomm just announced that it has acquired 1,400 patents from HP covering Palm, iPaq and Bitfone patents and pending patents.

It's unclear how many are from each portfolio, but Qualcomm just made a big leap in owning a chunk of patents covering the fundamentals of mobile operating system techniques.

The price of the sale was not released.

HP has to make back the $4bn or so it dropped on Palm and the Touchpad somehow. (LG bought webOS, of course.)

"This device," [software chief Craig] Federighi said, pointing at a MacBook Air screen, "has been honed over 30 years to be optimal" for keyboards and mice. Schiller and Federighi both made clear that Apple believes that competitors who try to attach a touchscreen onto a PC or a clamshell keyboard onto a tablet are barking up the wrong tree.

"It's obvious and easy enough to slap a touchscreen on a piece of hardware, but is that a good experience?" Federighi said. "We believe, no."

"We don't waste time thinking, 'But it should be one [interface!]' How do you make these [operating systems] merge together?' What a waste of energy that would be," [marketing chief Phil] Schiller said.

You can zoom in and tilt to get better views. (Helpfully, it labels it "Earth".)

Happy accidents make good inventions. Spills, explosions, odd chemical reactions, and plain old forgetfulness produced some of today's most practical products. From saccharin to shopping carts, each of the inventions below has a strange and unique origin:

No.1 (at the bottom of the page) is a surprise. (This seems to be the canonical page for this set, but if the original lies elsewhere please let us know.)

Chrome's share of the mobile browser market has more than quadrupled since last February, when it was less than 2%. It's likely Chrome will continue to gain users as Google pursues its strategy of integrating many of its services through the browser.

Chrome reduces your data usage by condensing image file sizes on Google's own servers and sending only HTTP requests to the search giant's servers; HTTPS requests go straight to the destination server. (Note to incognito mode users: Google servers don't handle pages loaded through Chrome's private browsing mode, so it won't reduce data consumption. That's the price of being on the down low, I guess.)

So Google proxies your requests. But does it do that for video too, which is generally the largest chunk of mobile data?

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