Just to be clear, no one knows what the future of Microsoft's latest OS is. Some may hate 8's features, or it's disregarded for the start button. However, nobody knows what tomorrow holds for the OS.
What we do know is that Windows 8 has had a slow start. Redmond's latest hasn't taken off like gangbusters. Whether that's because of a consumer dislike for its UI or a poor marketing campaign is anybodies guess. No matter how you feel about the OS, it's probably fair to say that it has yet to set the world on fire.
Again, that could change. A slow start doesn't mean a lost race. Microsoft could very well realize future iterations of the OS that take the world by storm. Nobody knows for sure at this point.
What we do know is that this current lull of Windows 8 could give OS competitors some time to shine. From Linux to Chrome (the other Linux), the Windows empire is prime for some competition.
Take for example, the recent Linux Foundation study which found that Linux use in the enterprise market is growing.
Linux has been around forever and has always had its fans. Over the last few years the open-sourced OS has even gotten support from groups like Canonical. The Ubuntu developer is bringing a version of its OS to mobile devices later this year.
If successful, the dev could eventually create the sort of desktop/mobile OS hybrid that Windows is currently working on. Ubuntu's success could also see it gain some ground in emerging markets. The Linux kit is open-sourced and free.
Another potential competitor who could take some Windows users is the Chrome OS. The Google made OS has already had some success with the launch of a variety of Chromebooks. Add the recently announced Chromebook Pixel to the equation and things could start to get even more interesting.
The Pixel's touch interface has opened the door to a future Android/Chrome mash up. If the convergence succeeds, Google could easily tempt some consumers to the Chromebook (ChromDroid Book?) by offering them their favorite mobile apps on their desktop.
No matter what happens, it is clear that personal computing is changing. Mobile and desktop must now meet up. Consumers want to be able to have the same experience on multiple devices.
Microsoft understood that. However, they may have realized it too late. The great and powerful Windows now has competition from unlikely foes.
With the tablet/smartphone disruption everybody now has a chance to make a dent in the world of personal computing. Whether Microsoft is able to fend off its new competitors is anybody's guess. But one thing is for sure, the OS playing field has gotten a little bit more crowded.
Both the internet and touchscreen tablets have empowered millions of people across the world, providing them with unparalleled access to information and opportunities to connect with peers. But it's not so revolutionary for those with visual impairments.
This is not an issue that's escaped the attention of search giant Google. It has been showing off some of its efforts that the Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego, this week.
It has said that its Chrome OS, which is used to power its range of Chromebook machines, now supports text-to-speech capabilities – at least for English speakers to begin with – along with a slew of adjustments to make the screen legible for those with less-than perfect eyesight.
Meanwhile, Google had added Braille support to its Android 4.1 smartphone OS, and has recently expanded support for Braille in Google Drive for Android, ensuring visually impaired users can read and edit documents on the go.
Elsewhere, a forthcoming release of its Talkback app, which adds spoken audible and vibration feedback to let vision-impaired users get more from their handsets, will be beefing up its support for structured browsing of web content.
“These updates to Chrome, Google Apps, and Android will help create a better overall experience for our blind and low-vision users,” wrote engineering lead T.V. Raman on a company blog.
He added that Google was focused on developing APIs that would make it easier for third-party developers to create accessible web applications.
“We’re looking forward to working with the rest of the industry to make computers and the web more accessible for everyone,” he added.
Such efforts are undoubtedly to be welcomed, although they do seem to be based on the presumption that users with visual impairments will readily go out and buy a smartphone or laptop.
For those that find the prospect of small screens, keyboards - and even worse, soft keyboards - too daunting, UK charity AbilityNet produces a range of guides that can help the visually impaired take their first steps in using computers.
How much is a browser vulnerability worth? There's certainly good money to be made if the prizes on offer for disclosing exploits at this year's Pwn2Own contest are anything to go by.
The infamous hackathon held at the CanSecWest bash in early March will offer more than $500,000 in prize money to those able to confound browser security.
The largest prizes will go to contestants that can successfully compromise Google Chrome on Windows 7 or IE 10 on Windows 8 – either of which are worth $100,000.
That Google's Chrome features so far up the prize-money stakes may be down to its return as a co-sponsor.
Last year, Google famously withdrew its sponsorship offer for Pwn2Own, complaining that the competition rules would allow entrants to demonstrate hacks that defeated a browser's sandbox security feature, without having to share the full details of the exploit. It set up its own rival hacking competition in response.
At the time, Pwn2Own organisers, the Zero Day Initiative argued that the market value for sandbox escapes far exceeded the prize money on offer.
This year, the prize money has gone up, but it appears that Google's return to the fold comes at the expense of greater openness.
“Upon successful demonstration of the exploit, the contestant will provide HP ZDI a fully functioning exploit and all the details of the vulnerability used in the attack,” wrote Brian Gorenc, a security researcher at HP DVLabs, which oversees the ZDI team, one the blog announcing this year's competition.
In another change, a further pot of prize money will be allocated to contestants that demonstrate exploits via third-party plug-ins.
But will hackers be persuaded that the prize money is enough?
Last year's stand out team - the exploit writers from French security firm Vupen, who cracked Chrome in a matter of minutes - described the changes in terms and conditions as "frustrating".
But Chauoki Bekar, chief executive of Vupen told V3 it was likely that his team would be back - although it may consider going after different targets.
"For now, we have registered for all targets and depending on how many of them we are allowed to go after and on whether the full technical details and codes are provided by ZDI to the vendor or kept private for their internal research use, we will decide if we will pwn a specific browser or plugin, pwn them all, or do not participate at all," he said.
The change in Pwn2Own entry conditions was prompted by the increasing sophistication of exploits, said DVLabs' Gorenc.
“We do not believe that a lone bug is enough to fully compromise a target, given all the advances in mitigation approaches. Because we’re asking our researchers to disclose more than we have in the past, we have increased their compensation this year," he told V3.
07 Nov 2012
Google's latest update to the Chrome browser will give users up to 25 percent more battery life, the company has claimed.
The update uses GPU-accelerated video decoding to divert most of the power being used during video playback to a computers graphics processor. Google says the method increases battery life by allowing computers to use less CPU computing power during video playback.
"In our tests, the battery lasted 25 percent longer when GPU-accelerated video decoding was enabled," said Google software engineer Ami Fischman in a blog post.
"Now Chrome users on Windows will experience longer battery life so they don't get cut off while watching their favourite YouTube video on repeat."
While the extended battery life sounds great, it should be noted that it only works for Windows users with dedicated GPUs. If you're a notebook user using a GPU that shares its processing power you are out of luck.
In addition to the extended battery life, the Chrome update also comes with Do Not Track support. The controversial feature inserts a line of code into the browser which allows users to send a message to websites telling them that they don't want to be tracked by cookies.
Do Not Track was announced for Chrome last September but only became official with the latest update.
Who wouldn't be tempted by a $1m cash pot for spotting flaws in Google's flagship Chrome browser? Well, the answer – according to some – is the very computer scientists with the necessary hacking skills to crack the browser that Google is hoping to attract.
This pointed barb was chucked Google's way after it admitted that it had withdrawn its offer of sponsorship for the infamous Pwn2Own browser hacking contest, which takes place at the CanSecWest conference on
Google it seems was unhappy that some entrants might be able to make off with the Pwn2Own booty, without having to divulge the secrets of the exploits that succeeded against its browser.
Instead, Google has set up its own Chrome-hacking competition, complete with $1m in cash prizes to hand out – with top prizes of $60,000 for full Chrome exploits.
But the organisers of the Pwn2Own contest have hit back at what they see as a misrepresentation of their contest.
In a blog post, the Zero Day Initiative team point out that the Pwn2Own competition has a long history of handing out rewards for the disclosure of so-called code execution vulnerabilities.
The organisers also demand that teams also demonstrate any so-called sandbox escapes they use in the competition – but they are not required to provide full disclosure of these types of exploit.
These second type of exploit are both rare – and potentially very lucrative for hackers, the organisers wrote:
“We strongly believe that those considering participating in Pwn2Own would not do so without a considerable reward [for sandbox escapes].”
They also had some harsh words about Google's alternative competition.
“It is fair to say that a sophisticated sandbox-escape exploit could certainly wreak more than $60,000 worth of damage in the enterprise space,” they wrote.
“That is why such an exploit against Chrome will never see the light of day at CanSecWest. Instead, the grand Google prize will go unclaimed and the great takeaway from Pwnium will be that Google Chrome is unhackable.”
Google's hubris could actually be a set back the browser security, they added.
One commentator tweeted:
@thezdi I agree with your blog post 110%. To bad Googs self interest blinded fact and logic. Everyone loses in the end esp. browser security— Kris Lamb (@krislamb) February 29, 2012
The battle for hearts and minds in the video communications space continues to heat up, after news emerged that Google plans to add video chat within Chrome.
Henrik Andreasson, a Google programmer, explained in a blog post that it would be possible to build video-chat tools into Chrome by offering full support for the Web Real Time Communications (RTC) standard in the browser.
"We are working hard to provide full RTC support in Chrome all the way from WebKit down to the native audio and video parts," he said.
"When we are done, any web developer shall be able to create RTC applications, like the Google Talk client in Gmail, without using any plug-ins but only WebRTC components that runs in the sandbox."
The idea of making video calls directly through the browser is certainly appealing, removing the need for add-ons and plug-ins of which many are unaware or unsure, and instead putting the power to call straight into the hands of the end user.
Cisco, Skype/Microsoft and others are all promoting their own video technologies, and the key issue will remain interoperability. No-one will buy or use a system if they can't chat to someone else using a different operating system, browser or even telepresence unit.
On this point, an earlier blog post by Google engineering director Rian Liebenberg detailing the launch of the WebRTC code, said the company would talk with other browser manufacturers and standards bodies to ensure they could interoperate.
"We'll be working closely with other browser developers such as Mozilla and Opera to implement this technology for use by the broader web community," he said.
"In addition, we've collectively engaged with the standards communities such as IETF and W3C working groups to define and implement a set of standards for real-time communications."
So, your mum ringing up for a face-to-face chat while you're surfing the web in your underpants? Get ready, it's going to happen ...