Buffalo selling UpgradEees for subnotebook SSD

Asus' Eee PC line has met with a lot of interest, sold strongly, and has launched an entire industry sector of competing subnotebooks, but a persistent prjoblem has been the device's comparatively anemic storage portfolio. A new product by Buffalo may solve this problem by offering large amounts of upgradable SSD storage to Eee users. 苏州美甲

The base Eee offers only 2GB of flash storage, and even the 9" Eee 900-series parcels out additional NAND in miserly blocks of 4GB at heavy cost. To address this, Buffalo has developed and is selling a NAND Flash SSD compatible with the Eee 900-series. The new devices allow 32GB and 64GB of storage added to the Eee for $150 or $300. Price is not quite competitive with the OCZ Core line.

The specific device is a bit pricey for the Eee. The 64GB model costs as much as the bottom-of-the-line Eee 700 2G, which will probably make Eee users reluctant to shell out so much money, especially since doing so would allow them to step up to the HP Mini-Note or another competing product. On the other hand, Eees equipped with a hefty storage capacity, with their same small size and other appealing features, could compete directly with these other devices. Also, consumers who want more space can replace the unit's SSD when they need it.

The strategy involved is interesting. The new devices do not connect via a hard disk bus like SATA, but instead connect directly to PCIe, as the Eee's stock SSD does. This approach eliminates performance bottlenecks to do with the SATA bus, although it's very unlikely that the Buffalo drives would hit those limits. The new device is Eee-specific, since the direct-from-PCIe and the plug used appear to be incompatible with other PCs, for now.

On the other hand, this may spark a renaissance in disk interchangability on subnotebooks. Before now, subnotebooks seeking more storage or higher performance have had to use tiny hard disks like in the Everex Cloudbook, or settle for a size, weight, and power consumption sacrifice by going all the way to 2.5" hard disks. If the third-party Eee SSD catches on, other subnotebook vendors may start building their subnotebooks to accept the new devices, creating a de=facto standard for subnotebook SSD intercompatibility. This is a very exciting development.

Rumor: Nokia working on integrating Zune Marketplace

A new rumor has appeared on the Zune block, and this one has nothing to do with a possible Zune Phone. In fact, the source of this rumor again denied knowing anything about a possible Zune Phone and instead insisted that the Zune team was hard at work collaborating with Nokia. This rumor, however, says nothing of a new hardware device, and instead talks about the Zune Marketplace moving beyond the Zune, which has been speculated before, but only for Windows Mobile devices: 苏州美甲

Nokia is currently working with the Zune team on integration of Zune Marketplace content according to a well-placed source within Microsoft. The joint development is directed at content delivery rather than a hardware device according to the source.

Now, obviously Nokia does not support Windows Mobile, but Microsoft's move still makes sense: Nokia dominates the worldwide handset market. It is the only one of the five largest mobile phone manufacturers that does not have a Windows Mobile device, but that does not mean the two companies don't have a long history: Microsoft still offers various of its software and services on Nokia phones. The source also noted that the Nokia deal will not be exclusive, meaning that other mobile manufacturers could also be planning to do the same, at the very least on their Windows Mobile offerings.

The only thing that doesn't add up is that the mobile company has its "Nokia Music Store," and it's not clear what would happen to it if Nokia started to support the Zune Marketplace. Nokia last year also partnered with Universal to offer "Comes With Music," a service that rolls the $5 per month fee into the cost of a device or any accompanying service charges, making it look like a free one-year music subscription. It doesn't make sense for Nokia to offer all of this as well as integration with Zune Marketplace.

Pushing out the Zune Marketplace to Nokia phones would be a direct attack on Apple and iTunes, which can be accessed via both the iPod Touch and the iPhone. Depending on how many Nokia phones end up getting access to the Zune Marketplace and how well the connection is implemented, Apple could have a serious competitor on its hands. In regards to development and production timelines for Nokia-Zune Marketplace integration the source claimed "it's too soon to say." In other words, Apple has little to worry about for now, since it has the advantage of already offering a "music for your mobile" option.

Further readingZune Scene: Nokia Zune Deal in Works

9500GT, 9800GT, 9800GTX+ cards hit the streets

NVIDIA's just-launched GeForce 9500GT, 9800GT, and 9800GTX+ GPUs are already seeing commercial implementations on consumer graphics cards from a number of vendors, Digitimes reports. The new GPUs are positioned in between existing products, and the 9500GT is already destined for a 55nm migration. 苏州美甲

The 9500GT has half the stream processors (32) of the popular 9600GT, runs at slightly lower clock speeds, and is populated by 256MB or 512MB of DDR3 or DDR2, depending on the manufacturer. It features a standard pair of DVI ports and an HDTV out. The DVI ports allow audio-carrying HDMI with an included adapter, a feature which, prior to the 9600GT, was only supported on ATI cards. It's less than seven inches long and entirely bus-powered, adding to ease of installation and support for small cases. With fairly robust media features, HDMI, and support for hardware acceleration of high-definition video playback, the 9500GT is a fairly compelling HTPC card, although only moderately competent at games. It will retail for about $70.

As part of its 55nm migration plans, NVIDIA will move the 9500GT to 55nm fabrication within the year. This will reduce costs significantly, and allow lower-power and higher-clocked solutions, and possibly easier passive cooling.

The 9800GT and 9800GTX+ are gaming cards. The 9800GT is essentially a 9800GTX with one block of stream processors disabled, for 112 processor cores instead of 128, and downclocked from 675Mhz to 600Mhz. It should be quite competent as a gaming card; it's essentially an 8800 GT. This extra muscle comes at a price, though: the card is longer, needs external power, and consumes more electrical power. It retails at about $170. The 9800GTX+ is exactly what its name suggests: a 9800GTX die-shrunk to 55nm and clocked higher, accordingly. It retails at about $200.

MSI, Asus, Gigabyte, Foxconn, Biostar, and Leadtek are all shipping cards on these GPUs, as are several other manufacturers. Most implementations closely follow the reference design, although some are mildly overclocked. Biostar even has a passively-cooled 9500GT. The new cards are already appealing, and the promise of a lower-power 9500GT makes the future promise of this particular GPU even more alluring.

Microsoft: 120 million Office 2007 licenses now sold


Last week, at Microsoft's annual Financial Analysts Meeting, Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's Business division, revealed a sales figure that wasn't meant to fight bad press around Vista. Elop was talking about Microsoft Office 2007, and he threw out a statistic that might be a bit surprising at first:

We made some very bold moves to improve the user experience with Office 2007. And as you can see in this graph, we're getting some really good pickup on that. There have been 120 million Office licenses sold since the launch of Office 2007, which is just a great result.

When compared with the 180 million Vista licenses sold, it appears at first glance that Vista is doing much better than Office 2007, considering their launch was simultaneous. Piracy rates cannot be measured, so it isn't really clear which software is being adopted faster. It is important to remember, however, that an operating system is more of a nuisance to pirate than an office suite, and that Vista is more expensive than Office 2007.

Also, Vista comes preinstalled on millions of OEM computers, and although Office 2007 trials sometimes come preinstalled as well, consumers usually have to make a conscious choice to purchase the latest version of Microsoft's office suite. Furthermore, while Vista may require a new computer, Office 2007 can be installed on Windows XP SP2, Windows Server 2003 SP1, or a later operating system. It's hard to say which is doing better, but I would guess that businesses are moving to Office 2007 faster than they are to Vista, and that this trend is the exact opposite for individual consumers.

Further reading:Microsoft: Press Release

UK group calls on YouTube to screen all uploaded videos

Social media sites, and those that host user-generated content, need to do more to screen the content on their sites and protect users—particularly children—from videos that could be considered harmful, according to a UK government agency. The House of Commons' Culture Media and Sport Committee released its tenth report today, titled "Harmful content on the Internet and in video games," which examines "the Internet’s dark side" and what should be done to keep users safe. The Committee feels that social media sites need to implement stricter policies, implement more content filtering, and make it easier to report abuse. 苏州美甲

The Committee starts off by describing the Internet as a place "where hardcore pornography and videos of fights, bullying or alleged rape can be found, as can websites promoting extreme diets, self-harm, and even suicide." Because of this, websites like MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube need to take a more active stance against offensive or illegal content than they do currently. The Committee expressed distress that there appeared to be an industry standard of 24 hours to remove content that contains child abuse, for example, and strongly recommended making such important issues higher-priority.

Another area of concern was over the apparent realization that videos uploaded to YouTube go through no filtering (human or computer) before being posted to the site. Google argued that the task of doing so would be nearly impossible, as some 10 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute of the day, but the Committee was having none of it. "To plead that the volume of traffic prevents screening of content is clearly not correct: indeed, major providers such as MySpace have not been deterred from reviewing material posted on their sites," reads the report. It urges YouTube and user-generated content sites in general to implement technology that can screen file titles for questionable material (since we all know that people uploading illegal content always make sure that the filename is specific and accurate).

Other recommendations included making terms of service more prominent and easier for users to find, implementing all possible privacy controls by default, requiring users to deliberately and manually make them make their profiles more public, and implementing controls that make it easy for users to report instances of child porn directly to law enforcement. The agency encouraged the industry as a whole to come up with standards, and that a minister be appointed to oversee these developments.

Of course, the nature of the Internet means that those who are interested in spreading illegal content—whether it's copyrighted material or child porn—will always try to remain a step ahead of filters and law enforcement, and their sheer numbers make success likely. The Committee seems to realize this to some degree, but argues that perfection should not be the enemy of the good. Child safety should be of utmost priority, says the agency, and any costs or technical limitations should be considered second to protecting children when it comes to the Internet.

Further reading:Harmful content on the Internet and in video games (PDF)Harmful content on the Internet and in video games, oral and written evidence (PDF)

Gartner: $100 notebook is several years off

Several projects, commercial, governmental, and charitable, have aimed at getting the price of laptops down, with $100 being the magical figure, but a new report from Gartner argues this won't be achieved for a number of years and isn't the right focus for now. 苏州美甲

The OLPC's XO PC was originally touted as a $100 PC, at the kind of low price that could easily put millions upon millions of laptops in the hands of third-world children. This would, its supporters claimed, cause a global renaissance, as computer exposure in the third world propagated technical education and other desirable skills in a worldwide cascade of economic development. Intel's Classmate PC had similar ambitions, although at a slightly higher price point. Both units, however, ran into price problems which raised their cost significantly. The XO, in particular, now costs almost twice as much as it was originally projected to. Similar difficulties have plagued the Asus' Eee PC, which was originally supposed to cost $200 and now costs $300 in its cheapest configuration.

Gartner projects that this scenario will continue for some time, and that the $100 laptop goal will not materialize for several years at least. Citing scaling difficulties and component costs, Gartner projects cost cannot fall more than 15 percent or so over the next few years. Even if this happened, the XO would still be sitting over $150 at that time, far short of its goals.

Instead, Gartner implores, the logistical and other details of the educational mission of the XO and its competitors should be explored and solved. A myopic focus on getting piles of cheap hardware out the door ignores, they say, problems of distribution, precise targeting of hardware to the needs of third-world users, and financing. Infrastructure for maintenance and repair, internet access, and appropriate curriculum development are also important. Focus on these ends will allow subnotebook vendors to better hit education markets with devices which can better help students, even if they are slightly more expensive than they could be, Gartner argued.

Since the beginning of the OLPC project, subnotebooks have spread into the consumer market in a big way, but Gartner seems to be predicting a strong degree of market segmentation between education and consumer devices. This is consistent with the present market; of available devices, only the Eee even remotely bridges the gap between consumer devices like the HP 2133 and education models like the Classmate PC and XO. Some frustration has emerged that OLPC hasn't sold the XO commercially, though, so this segmentation might be artificial.

Gartner is optimistic about the ultimate future of the platform for all kinds of users all over the world. "We expect to see increased product innovation in the PC market during the next few years," said Gartner research director Annette Jump. "Mini-notebooks will create opportunities to reach many buyers across all regions, both in mature markets as additional devices, and in emerging markets as PCs."

Subnotebooks have a glorious future ahead of them, but buying into it will cost more than one Benjamin.

Microsoft misses Windows Mobile goal by 2 million licenses

In an interview with Andy Lees, senior vice president of the Redmond company's Mobile Communications Business, Todd Bishop managed to grab some interesting facts about recent Windows Mobile developments. 苏州美甲

First, Microsoft sold more than 18 million Windows Mobile software licenses in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2008. This was about 2 million short of Microsoft's widely publicized 20 million target. Lees explained that a few OEMs shipped their devices later than expected, and this was the reason for the shipment target being missed. He declined, however, to say which ones: "That would be unfair to the OEMs."

Secondly, Microsoft increased Windows Mobile's share of the worldwide mobile phone operating system market. According to IDC data, Windows Mobile unit sales have grown faster than the overall market, expanding from slightly more than 11 percent to just under 13 percent of the worldwide smartphone market. Two months ago, Microsoft announced it expected Windows Mobile sales to grow by at least 50 percent in the upcoming fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

Thirdly, Lees claimed the shortfall in Windows Mobile unit sales didn't have a material impact on revenue in the Entertainment & Devices Division. 2 million may seem like a large number, but the division has revenue coming in from various sources that don't depend on Windows Mobile software licenses.

After acquiring Danger in February, Microsoft has now announced that its subsidiary teamed up with T-Mobile USA to release the new T-Mobile Sidekick. The device features support for video capture, playback, and sharing; wireless stereo music and media sharing via Bluetooth; quick friend search and group chats in instant messaging; customizable Web browsing; universal search across all phone applications and data; and a customizable shell. Collaborations like this one are great for pushing Microsoft services onto new phones, but they won't help much in revenue or unit sales since the Sidekick doesn't run Windows Mobile.

Further readingTodd Bishop's Microsoft Blog: Windows Mobile misses annual shipment targetMicrosoft: Press Release

Microsoft calls out for more IE8 beta testers

Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 will be aimed at the end-user (the first beta was aimed at the web developer) and, while all its features haven't been disclosed yet, we already know about some expected reliability and performance improvements. The next beta version is scheduled to arrive sometime next month and, while it will be a public beta release just like Beta 1 was in March, Microsoft is asking for more quality testers for its beta program. 苏州美甲

Anyone can currently discuss the betas on the IE8 newsgroup (monitored by Microsoft MVPs and IE team members), and can vote on IE8 bugs reported by testers via Microsoft Connect. However, the company feels this isn't enough, since the only direct way to file a bug report is to be an official tester. So the IE development team is looking for more users willing and dedicated to improving the next version of the world's most popular browser. Microsoft is asking anyone interested in filing bug reports to e-mail the team "a little about yourself including why you'd be a great beta tester."

Usually the company relies on surveys or beta invites, but it appears that the software giant is only looking for truly dedicated testers in this beta program. Microsoft doesn't have much time (about four months) after the release of Beta 2 in August if the company wants to get the final version of IE8 out the door by the end of the year. There has not yet been a mention of a Beta 3 but, given the timeframe Microsoft has and the fact that RCs still need to be released, even assuming that there will be no delays, the release of yet another beta is unlikely.

Further reading:IEBlog: Wanted: IE8 Beta Testers

New 3.2Gbps FireWire spec approved, not as fast as USB 3.0

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 1394 working group behind the development of FireWire in both its 400Mbps and 800Mbps configurations has formally approved the next-generation S1600 and S3200 standards. These two standards build on the already established FireWire ecosystem, and will offer speeds of 1.6Gbps and 3.2GBps, respectively. The final specification itself should be published in October, but there's no word on when we'll see shipping product, or what the adoption ratio between S1600 and S3200 will be. 苏州美甲

Backwards compatibility concerns, thankfully, should be kept to a minimum. The new S1600/S3200 cables will be fully compatible with both older FireWire 800 cables and FireWire 400/800 devices. S3200, meanwhile, isn't the end of the line for FireWire technology, as current plans call for the interface to scale up to at least 6.4Gb/s over time. That's not going to happen any time soon, but there's obviously still plenty of headroom in the interface itself.

The IEEE 1394 standard will face a new competitor in the form of USB 3.0. USB 3.0's specification is expected to be published by the end of the year, which may give S3200 a few months' head start. FireWire, however, has never enjoyed the widespread success of USB 3.0, and as a result, could find itself the first standard out the door, but the last standard on the shelf. Motherboard manufacturers will drop USB 3.0 on high-end boards as soon as chipsets are available (even if devices aren't), but FireWire ports are considerably harder to come by.

That's not to say they don't exist, but FireWire 400 is easier to find than FireWire 800 (except on Macs), and the number of available ports is typically limited to 1-2, even on a high-end motherboard. USB 2.0 ports, on the other hand, are plentiful, with most boards offering 8-12 in some combination of included ports and onboard headers. The peripheral interconnect field is also more crowded now, and S1600/S3200 will have to compete against eSATA, as well.

Daring to mention USB 2.0's dominance over FireWire inevitably brings the standard's defenders out of the woodwork, and to be fair, FireWire has always been the more technologically-advanced standard, with its faster transfer speeds, lower CPU utilization, and the ability to provide more power to attached devices (devices that can run off a single FireWire port could well require two USB ports). These advantages, however, have never managed to overcome USB 2.0's general popularity, and FireWire remains a niche interface outside certain peripheral markets (i.e., video cameras), where it has always done well, and Macintosh computers.

Broad market penetration notwithstanding, the appearance of a faster FireWire standard will be warmly greeted by anyone frustrated by FireWire 800 transfer speeds who doesn't want to deal with the potential hassles of USB 3.0.

Microsoft: number of 64-bit Vista PCs doubled in three months

Unlike Apple, Microsoft does not control the hardware that its software runs on. This means that Apple can more easily move all its users to an x64 operating system: all Macs currently have 64-bit CPUs, and Snow Leopard is rumored to be a 64-bit-only release. Windows 7, on the other hand, will still be released in x86 and x64. Microsoft would prefer not to make Windows 7 available on computers with 32-bit CPUs (indeed, Windows 7 Server will be x64-only), but the decision is driven by software compatibility demands. 苏州美甲

Many businesses still use 16-bit applications, which cannot run on a 64-bit operating system, or have 32-bit applications that for one reason or another don't run properly in an x64 environment. Few software developers offer x64 programs, and Microsoft doesn't want to hurry them up; the software giant wants the industry to make the move by itself. Apparently, this has already started. On the Windows Vista Team Blog, Microsoft has posted details of how the PC industry is moving from 32-bit to 64-bit PCs:

We've been tracking the change by looking at the percentage of 64bit PCs connecting to Windows Update, and have seen a dramatic increase in recent months. The installed base of 64bit Windows Vista PCs, as a percentage of all Windows Vista systems, has more than tripled in the US in the last three months, while worldwide adoption has more than doubled during the same period. Another view shows that 20 percent of new Windows Vista PCs in the US connecting to Windows Update in June were 64bit PCs, up from just 3 percent in March. Put more simply, usage of 64bit Windows Vista is growing much more rapidly than 32bit.

This rapid growth may appear to have come from nowhere, but on closer inspection, it hasn’t. The major advantages of running a 64-bit installation of Vista is the ability to use 4GB or more of RAM and to use 64-bit applications. Although 32-bit operating systems can use more than 4GB of memory, for compatibility reasons MS limits 32-bit desktop OSes to 4GB. Prices for RAM have fallen, however, and OEMs are offering PCs with 4GB of RAM and more, forcing the switch to 64-bit Windows. The realization that Vista x64 has significantly superior compatibility to XP x64 is also starting to sink in. In Vista, 64-bit drivers are required for WHQL certification, and so many hardware manufacturers that were previously ignoring x64 have finally started to release x64 drivers.

Microsoft is also playing its part in the move to 64-bit. In addition to its 64-bit ready webpage, the company recently launched the Windows Vista Compatibility Center into beta phase, which will tell users whether a given product is 64-bit-compatible or not. x64 is clearly the future. If Redmond does indeed follow through with its decision to offer x86 and x64 versions of Windows 7 (and there's no indication that it won't), the company should at least make the effort to get OEMs to offer x64 by default on systems that can run it.

Further readingWindows Vista Team Blog: Windows Vista 64-bit Today