The Tech News Blog

April 9, 2014

Glitch Halts Windows 8.1 Update Rollout for Some Biz Users

8 Things You Need to Know About Windows 8.1 Update

Oops: Microsoft was forced to halt the rollout of Windows 8.1 Update to some business users after it discovered that the new version of the OS stopped stop scanning against Windows Server Update Service.

Redmond intends to issue an update "as soon as possible," it said in a post on the WSUS Product Team Blog.

"You may still obtain the Windows 8.1 Update (KB 2919355) from the Windows Update Catalog or MSDN," Microsoft said. "However, we recommend that you suspend deployment of this update in your organization until we release the update that resolves this issue."

April 9, 2014

Heartbleed Bug: Should You Panic?

Heartbleed Bug

Heartbleed, a bug within OpenSSL, is making headlines this week, and while it might seem like a rather technical issue, it has some real-world ramifications that could impact the online services you use every day. Even worse, there's really no way to tell what malicious activity has occurred thanks to Heartbleed.

Heartbleed is a vulnerability in the open-source encryption standard OpenSSL. It's so named because it affects heartbeat, which is a way to ensure that there is communication between each end of a connection. Heartbleed mimics a heartbeat, allowing it to intercept data.

No matter how secure you think your information is, it's not. The same goes for passwords, even if they're 16 characters long and filled with a nonsensical mix of symbols and numbers. Malware analyst Mark Loman demonstrated that some Yahoo Mail passwords are easily viewed in plain text as result of Heartbleed.

April 8, 2014

Amazon Tops Hulu, Apple; Still Behind Netflix, YouTube

Amazon Instant Video iPad App

Amazon now streams more video than Hulu and Apple, but is still lagging behind rivals Netflix and YouTube, according to new data from online video delivery firm Qwilt.

Over the last 12 months, user consumption of Amazon Prime Instant Video content increased 94 percent, allowing the company to move from fifth to third place in the streaming video space.

The news comes after Amazon last week introduced Fire TV, a streaming media hub that will compete with the Roku, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast. Fire TV is essentially a small box that plugs into your HDTV and offers streaming access to Prime Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, and Showtime, among others.

"In some U.S. operator networks, between March 2013 and March 2014, Amazon's streaming video traffic increase was nearly 300 percent," Qwilt wrote in a blog post. "And all this growth happened before they announced Amazon Fire TV."

In a statement, Amazon's vice president of Digital Video and Music, Bill Carr, said the company has invested "hundreds of millions of dollars" to build up its Prime Instant Video catalog of TV shows and movies. Amazon just last week greenlit six new original series, re-upped the comedy Alphas for another season, and nabbed all 192 episodes of the series 24.

April 8, 2014

Microsoft Issues Final XP, Office 2003 Updates for Patch Tuesday

Microsoft Patch Tuesday

Microsoft released four security updates fixing 11 vulnerabilities in Windows, Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Publisher as part of its April Patch Tuesday release. The security bulletins for Windows XP and Office 2003 are the last publicly-released patches for these two products, as Microsoft ended support today.

Seven of the vulnerabilities affect Windows XP, and four affect Office 2003. "This is an important Patch Tuesday for users who rely on the outdated platforms and applications that move to self-support this month," said Russ Ernst, director of product management at Lumension.

The top bulletin addresses three vulnerabilities in Microsoft Word (MS14-017), including the recently discovered zero-day vulnerability in the RTF (Rich Text Format) parser. If an attacker successfully tricks the user into opening a malicious RTF document in an unpatched version of Microsoft Word, the attacker can remotely execute code on the system. The other two vulnerabilities are flaws with the Word 2007 and 2010 File Format Conversion Utility and a stack overflow bug in Word 2003.

April 8, 2014

Comcast Defends TWC Deal Ahead of Senate Showdown

Comcast Time Warner Cable

The official campaign for a combined Comcast and Time Warner Cable began today with the necessary regulatory filings, though the real fireworks will likely come tomorrow when the companies face off against Congress during a Senate hearing.

The cable firms filed joint applications and a 650-page public interest statement with the Federal Communications Commission today; Comcast filed a notification with the Justice Department last week. The moves "begin the formal regulatory approval process," Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen said during a Tuesday call with reporters.

As part of that approval process, Comcast will have to convince regulators that its $45.2 billion deal to purchase Time Warner Cable is in the public interest. It faces backlash from consumer groups like Public Knowledge, a representative of which will also be on Capitol Hill for tomorrow's Senate Judiciary hearing. They argue that a combined Comcast/Time Warner Cable will create a behemoth that will stifle competition and thwart innovation.

Cohen, however, sees things differently. He reiterated that Comcast and Time Warner Cable do not currently compete in any market, so "there will be no reduction in consumer choice in any market."

April 8, 2014

Netflix Rolling Out 4K Video Streaming

Netflix 4K

Netflix is now rolling out 4K streaming on select content, meaning those with ultra high-def TV sets will have a crystal clear view of Frank Underwood's devious plots on House of Cards.

As first reported by Multichannel News, the 4K option is available on the second season of Netflix's popular political drama, as well as certain nature documentaries, but "we will expand the available titles over time," a Netflix spokesman said today.

"The first TVs from major manufacturers that can stream Netflix in Ultra HD 4K are now hitting store shelves," he said. "Streaming in Ultra HD 4K will simply work after you plug in the TV and connect it to a strong broadband connection, it is part of your Netflix subscription."

Customers will need a 4K TV that has built-in HEVC (H.265), which allows for bandwidth-intensive 4K streams to arrive on your set without lag. That's one of the biggest concerns regarding 4K streaming on Netflix - will it totally hose your network? In speaking with PCMag last year, a Netflix spokesman estimated that 4K streaming would consume about 12 and 15 Mbps using the H.265 video codec. "But it's still early days, so we'll see," he said at the time.

April 7, 2014

HTC Struggling Amidst Weak Smartphone Sales

HTC One Hands On

HTC continues to fight an uphill battle for smartphone dominance, reporting deep losses for the first quarter amidst the rollout of its latest flagship device.

The phone maker saw losses of about $62.2 million, marking another difficult quarter for a company that can't seem to catch up to heavyweights like Apple and Samsung despite having a well-received lineup of devices.

HTC has been struggling for many quarters. Its flagship HTC One phone was intended to reboot the brand the brand, but a delayed rollout put it on the launch schedule right next to Samsung's Galaxy S4.

In October, HTC posted its first-ever quarterly loss—approximately $101 million. Rival Samsung, meanwhile, posted a record high $9.4 billion, thanks to its mobile lineup and memory chip business.

April 7, 2014

Twitter Buys Cover, Android Lockscreen App

Cover Twitter

Twitter on Monday confirmed that it is acquiring the Android lockscreen app Cover for an undisclosed sum.

Cover, which launched in October, learns the apps you use at different times of the day, and puts them on your lock screen for easy access. Cover first announced the acquisition in a Monday blog post that noted that the companies fit well together.

"Twitter, like Cover, believes in the incredible potential of Android," the Cover team said. "They share our vision that smartphones can be a lot smarter — more useful and more contextual — and together we're going to make that happen. We'll be building upon a lot of what makes Cover great, and we're thrilled to create something even better at Twitter."

Since launching six months ago, the Cover app has quickly earned a name for itself, attracting "hundreds of thousands" of users, the company said. Cover will remain available for download in the Google Play store for the time being, though the team behind the app will now focus its attention on work at Twitter.

April 4, 2014

Sprint Offers Up to $650 to Switch From Rivals

Sprint Logo

Sprint wants you as a customer, and it's ready to pay your break-up fees with other carriers.

The company on Friday raised the heat on rivals with the launch of a new "Framily Switching Bonus" promotion, which offers potential customers up to $650 to cover the cost of switching carriers. The deal is only available from now until May 8, so you better act fast if you want to switch to Sprint.

As part of the deal, those who bring their number to Sprint from another carrier will receive up to $300 in credit for trading in their current phone as well as a Visa Prepaid card worth up to $350 to pay back any early termination fees. You'll need to submit your final bill from the old carrier before getting the gift card.

There is, of course, one catch. The promotion isn't available for all of Sprint's plans, just when you sign up for new "Framily" group plan. The Framily plan extends the concept of family plans to non-relatives, letting customers add up to 10 phone lines to one account to save money, with each person getting a separate bill.

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April 4, 2014

Report: Apple Buys Speech-Recognition Firm Novauris

Apple logo

Apple has reportedly acquired speech recognition company Novauris Technologies to help boost Siri.

The purchase happened last year, according to TechCrunch, but was announced only this week.

Cupertino did not immediately respond to PCMag's request for comment, but gave TechCrunch its standard statement: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."

The Novauris team, which includes CEO Yoon Kim and co-founders Melvyn Hunt and John Bridle, have been working with the tech giant since last fall, developing improvements for the Siri personal assistant that comes with all iOS-enabled devices.

Novauris could not be reached for comment. Hunt, however, confirmed the acquisition to TechCrunch, adding that the company is "no longer an active entity."

Though completed last year, Apple's purchase was not announced until Thursday—a day after Microsoft unveiled its own intelligent digital assistance, Cortana, which uses a natural language interface to perform tasks in the new Windows Phone 8.1 operating system.