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FCC Increases Minimum Requirements for Broadband, AT&T and Verizon Protest

posted Saturday Dec 13, 2014 by Scott Ertz

FCC Increases Minimum Requirements for Broadband, AT&T and Verizon Protest

One of the many government programs that you pay for is the "Connect America Fund." This fund is paid for with some of those added fees on your phone bill. The fund has the intent of bringing subsidized Internet access to disconnected families, particularly in rural areas.

Today, the program guarantees that networks maintained with subsidized funds must offer speeds of at least 4Mbps. While this speed does fall within the FCC's definition of broadband, the commission believes that it does not provide enough speed for modern Internet usage. Accordingly, they are increasing the required speeds,

The FCC will now require companies receiving Connect America funding for fixed broadband to serve consumers with speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads. That is an increase reflecting marketplace and technological changes that have occurred since the FCC set its previous requirement of 4 Mbps/1 Mbps speeds in 2011.

That is quite an increase, theoretically. An increase of 150% in download speeds would be enough to excite any customer, but the destination speed is not exactly impressive. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said,

When 60 percent of the Internet's traffic at prime time is video, and it takes 4 or 5Mbps to deliver video, a 4Mbps connection isn't exactly what's necessary in the 21st century.

That comment is interestingly accurate. In scanning the plans offered by our local cable provider, I see that 15Mbps is the slowest plan they offer. However, our service exists within a densely populated area, which has a lot of potential customers. With customers comes revenue, and with revenue comes viable upgrades. In the rural areas, most of the revenue is coming from the Connect America Fund, which will, obviously, limit the capabilities of said service.

In forcing this upgrade without providing additional funds to make it possible, the FCC could possibly be hurting the residents of these rural areas. AT&T, Verizon, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association have all argued that the forced upgrade is a bad idea, and that 4Mbps is a usable speed, even in modern times. Sure, you might not get Netflix at full HD, but considering you're living in a sparsely populated area, the fact that you're not forced to use dial-up anymore should be a win.

If the revenue brought into these companies is not enough to justify the cost of the upgrades, it would be a better business move for the providers to shut down operations rather than upgrade. That would force customers in these rural areas to have to switch back to dial-up, certainly guaranteeing that they would not be able to watch any streaming video, a major point of Wheeler's intents here.

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What to Expect at Microsoft's January Windows 10 Event

posted Friday Dec 12, 2014 by Scott Ertz

What to Expect at Microsoft's January Windows 10 Event

We have all known that an event was impending for the next phase of Windows 10 announcements. Microsoft had said as much recently, knowing that a technical preview build for the operating system should hit in January. This week, Microsoft sent out press invites for that event, which will take place in person and online January 21, 2015.

While that is not a huge surprise, what is a little surprising, or at least exciting, is who will be in attendance. Those people indicate a lot of what we will get to see in action on-stage.

Main System

CEO Satya Nadella, Executive Vice President of Operating Systems, Terry Myerson and Corporate Vice President, Operating Systems Group, Joe Belfiore will all be speaking, meaning, of course, that we will see Windows 10 in its main glory a lot. Between desktop, laptop, tablet and convertible, the main usage of the operating system, the PC, will be a big focus for the company.

Microsoft has said that, while the last showing of Windows 10 was based a lot on the enterprise, this one will be based on consumers. This means we will likely see consumer-based apps shown off, like Xbox Music or Hulu, assuming refreshes are in store (hopefully Hulu has a refresh in store, as their app currently doesn't work well on Windows 10).

We will likely see an expansion on some of the existing features, some of which were shown off at the enterprise event. For example, hopefully Microsoft will explain the idea behind including the multiple desktop idea, which for some is a confusing feature to build in, as opposed to allowing 3rd party platforms to offer it. I am hopeful that Microsoft will show off more of the notification system, including the Windows Phone inspired system tray.

Cortana

We are also likely to see the Windows 10 addition of Cortana, Microsoft's uber-useful digital assistant. Anyone who has used the technical preview will know the search button on the task bar, next to the Start button. It currently launches a very Windows Phone 8-style Bing search box, but anyone who has used windows Phone 8.1 knows what power that button can truly wield, in the form of Cortana. Considering that a recent private build of Windows 10 included a testing version of Cortana, it is likely the goal is to show her off at the event.

Being as Cortana has become one of the most important and well-loved features of the Windows Phone ecosystem, her arrival on the desktop, laptop and tablet platform is an exciting move. Personally, I do not interact with the calendar, alarms, navigation or search on my phone directly anymore, opting instead for the ease of use of Cortana and her natural language processing prowess.

Hardware

We are also likely to see some of the more hardware-centric features in action. The most important of these hardware related features is Windows 10 Continuum. Currently in the technical preview, depending on the hardware you install on, your experiences will be different, with no quick way to switch between them. If you install on a touch-first device, such as a Surface Pro 3, you will notice the interface is similar to that of Windows 8. If you install on a mouse & keyboard device, it will appear more like Windows 7.

Continuum allows the operating system to change itself based on your current hardware configuration. So, if you're using a Lenovo Yoga in laptop mode, it will live in the desktop realm. As soon as you bend it around into tablet mode, which is a touch-first environment, the OS will automatically switch into the more touch friendly Windows 8 style. Ideally this will also be configurable, allowing people to override these default settings to maintain either interface for all occasions.

Gaming

In addition to the aforementioned executives, there will also be a presentation from Phil Spencer, Head of Microsoft's Xbox division and Microsoft Studios. One of the important things about Windows 10 is the fact that with it, Microsoft is converging platforms, theoretically leaving only one modern platform to rule them all, including the Xbox One.

With that, it is likely that Spencer will be there to show off some of that convergence. It is likely that an Xbox One running a Windows 10-based dashboard will be displayed, even if the dashboard is running on development hardware (not in the well-known black body). Hopefully Spencer will at least talk about the development capabilities of the platform, outside of the major players. I have wanted the ability to build an Xbox app for PLuGHiTz Live since Hulu and Netflix first appeared on the 360.

In addition to development features, hopefully Cortana will make an appearance on her original platform, the Xbox. Adding the power of Cortana and her natural language processing to the already useful Kinect-powered voice controls, the Xbox One could become the most useful livingroom PC ever.

In addition to the Xbox hardware, Microsoft is believed to discuss the future of gaming on the Windows platform, something that has been in flux for some time. Last year, they shuttered the PC Xbox Live companion, Games for Windows Live, instead focusing on Windows 8 as a platform. This year they reaffirmed their gaming commitment, which was reiterated with the purchase of the Minecraft studio. Unfortunately, for all of the talk, nothing major had been done to prove this commitment, until this week's release of Minecraft for Windows Phone.

If the Xbox One will be running on Windows 10, it is possible that Xbox-related content could be coming to the PC, potentially wrapped in the Xbox brand. Is it probable? Not very. Is it possible? Yes. Would it be awesome? Absolutely.

Windows Phone

Another platform being brought in under the Windows 10 umbrella will be Windows Phone. Until now we have only heard talk, similar to the Xbox One, with no real evidence of what Windows 10 for phones might look like. There are rumored to be some Microsoft team devices currently running early development builds in the wild, spotted at Microsoft events. There are even rumors that some of the new features have even been spotted in an offhanded glance kind of a way.

One in particular is a feature that was part of the McLaren prototype phone, which was scrapped by Microsoft a few months ago. The device was testing a new 3D gesture system, which brought back yet another Zune feature - MixView. On the prototype, hovering over a live tile would bring up smaller tiles with context-related content. It is said that this feature has found its way into Windows 10 for phone, in a less gesture-based way. It is possible, if this feature is close enough to being shown off, we could see it on stage.

Embedded

In the image above from a previous Windows 10 event, Microsoft showed off all of the places where Windows 10 would live. There are 2 places in the image that have been sorely neglected - the 2 embedded platforms. A large screen television with Microsoft branding and the Intel Galileo board sitting in the bottom-left corner. From previous development events, Microsoft has let us know some of their plans for the embedded world, with Windows on Devices, but we have yet to see it actually running on and controlling one of these machines.

While not likely, it is possible that Microsoft could show off a smart television running on Windows on Devices, or some other variant of Windows 10. Again, we could see Cortana make an appearance, built directly into a television. Voice controls are not new to smart televisions, Samsung has had a number of models with this feature, but none of them have had anything as powerful as Cortana powering them. It would also give developers another reason to build apps for Windows 10, which should make some loud people in the tech world happy.

Conclusion

Lots of conjecture and lots of hoping, but not a lot of time to wait. We will know in just over a month exactly what Microsoft will be ready to show off, nearly 6 month before the expected release of Windows 10. What features are you most excited to see in action? What rumors do you hope to be true? Let us know in the comments section.

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Razer Launches the Nabu Smartband For Just $100

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Nicholas DiMeo

Razer Launches the Nabu Smartband For Just $100

Gaming company Razer set out last year to create a new social smartband called the Nabu, and after a year of testing that included a debut of the product at the 2014 International CES, the band finally went on sale this week in North America. Impressively, the device sold out within 72 hours of it becoming available to consumers.

For just $100, the Nabu features two screens for notifications, one at 32x32 pixels on the outside of the wrist and the other at 128x32 on the inside of the wrist. The Nabu also contains tracking technology you'd find in more expensive devices, such as an accelerometer, altimeter and a form of NFC, allowing users to link up and connect with each other via tapping bands. Dubbed "Pulse," a user could shake hands with another user and their contact information could be swapped with the feature enabled.

There's a couple of really cool additions that make this smartband stand out. For one, developers are currently working on a notification system that would let users know when they're friends are playing their favorite games. And with the dev kit only running $50, there is a load of potential that opens up for unique connectivity between devices. There is currently another app being created that will allow certain PC games to actually react to the movement of the Nabu, in conjunction with the Kinect 2.0.

What I like even more is the fact that there is support from the developers on Windows Phone compatibility. While Razer claims that the Nabu Utility app is currently available from the Windows Store, the link in the FAQ does not lead us to a valid page. However, the forums contain a link to sideload the app and the dev kit comes with an FTP to a ton of resources. Some features currently do not work on Windows Phone, but there are break-out groups of regular users, working to make the functions come to life for those with a WinPho.

It is interesting to see a gaming company get involved in a band that contains both fitness and social features with so much competition currently out there. Luckily, the band has not been said to cause third degree burns, so they already have a step up on the pack. If people get behind the device and can create some unique experiences, the product could end up being really successful, especially at the $100 pricepoint.

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Microsoft, Barnes & Noble End Nook Partnership Deal

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft, Barnes & Noble End Nook Partnership Deal

When Microsoft and Barnes & Noble announced in 2012 that they would be working together, the response was varied. Some saw the $300 million investment Microsoft made in Nook as a natural partnership - Barnes & Noble was working on being a contender in the low cost tablet market and Microsoft was about to take their fight to tablet hardware. Low cost Nook hardware powered by Microsoft's Windows 8 rather than Google's Android might have helped both companies. Others saw it as an impossible partnership with little to be gained by either company.

2 years later and the landscape looks quite different. Barnes & Noble has had very little luck getting people to purchase its Nook hardware, compared to Amazon's Kindle Fire. They will even spin Nook off to its own company, since the focus of the device seems to have been completely lost. The hardware is now made by Samsung, the system is made by Google and very little of it is focused on books.

On the other hand, Microsoft has made huge gains in both the low cost and top-tier tablet world. The Surface Pro 3 is a major contender in the high-end tablet, as well as Ultrabook, categories, and devices such as the HP Stream 7 have started to take hold in the low cost category.

With the breakup of this partnership, Microsoft leaves with $120 million in cash and stock. That is 40% of what they originally put into the partnership, and not all in cash. Certainly not the winning decision they had hoped, but also not the major loss it could have been, assuming the Nook continues to be the losing product it is today. At least Microsoft got a Nook app for Windows 8 out of the deal.

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UK Plans to Create Google Tax, an Inappropriately Named Tax Dodger Punishment

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Right now, Internet taxation has become all the rage. Several countries, the world over, have considered or implemented taxes on Internet purchases, sometimes with huge public backlash. The United Kingdom seems to have taken the concept and expanded it, planning to punish companies that generate revenue in the UK, but divert the profits to other countries where taxation is lessened.

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced what is being called the "diverted profit tax" but is better known as the "Google tax," despite the fact that its intended audience is not necessarily even Internet companies, nor is it exactly a tax. He said at the announcement,

Today I am introducing a 25 percent tax on profits generated by multinationals from economic activity here in the UK which they then artificially shift out of the country. That's not fair to other British firms. It's not fair to the British people either. My message is consistent and clear. Low taxes; but taxes that will be paid.

First, this is not exactly a tax, so much as a tariff. The British government looks to impose a fee on the exportation of profits, not on the actual revenue generated through business, which would be a tax. It is, ironically, very similar to what they did once before, and is today known as the Intolerable Acts which ultimately sparked the American Revolution. Once again, this tariff is targeted at the former colonies, as most of the affected businesses are US in origin.

Second, this is not about Google, so much as it is about foreign interests. Google, however, has been a major target of European regulation lately, so it makes some sense for them to associate the act with the search giant. In addition to Google, Amazon and Starbucks are also major targets, as they have been well-known to divert profits to other, international divisions instead of realizing them in the UK.

While this coercive act might work to their advantage, it is more likely that it will backfire. In 2010, Google proved to the world that they were not afraid to leave a market over a government disagreeance. It is far more likely that Google would shut down UK operations than bow down to a 25 percent tariff, whose only purpose is to force payment of a tax which is clearly higher than that from other countries. Perhaps, if the UK would like to see their economy not collapse like Greece, they might try lowering the percentage a foreign entity pays rather than trying to extort more money out of them. If it was financially reasonable for these companies to pay taxes in the UK, they would - it is not an inexpensive task to divert profits to other divisions.

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Rovio to Lay Off 110 Employees and Close Studio, Proves That Fame is Fleeting

posted Sunday Dec 7, 2014 by Scott Ertz

Rovio to Lay Off 110 Employees and Close Studio, Proves That Fame is Fleeting

If ever there was a company that embodied the ideals of fame, it is Rovio. When their hit game Angry Birds hit the scene, it was a near instant success. Everyone was playing it on every platform - it even made its way to webOS. Then, almost as quickly, came the merchandise, both official and not. You couldn't go to a fan convention or comic shop without a vendor selling plushies, shirts, etc.

However, as Rovio has discovered this year, the old adage "fame is fleeting" is always true. Their userbase has declined heavily, leading to a major crash in profitability for the company. The company has also had trouble finding something that isn't Angry Birds to publish, ironically leaving all of their eggs in one basket.

As a result, the company will lay off 110 employees and close its Tampere studio. The publisher plans to consolidate its Finnish operations at their headquarters in Espoo. The layoffs are lower than first expected, leaving about 20 extra employees with jobs at the company.

Rovio was once considered the face of a new gaming industry, and looked to be headed to a large, successful IPO. Unfortunately for the company, it is the face of a new gaming industry - one that includes Zynga, which has had nearly identical issues since filing its IPO, and King. This new industry is populated by individuals or small teams who have a marketable idea, receive intense amounts of funding and stall out. It takes a lot of talent, and certainly more funding that these companies receive, to be able to milk a franchise the way Activision does, and for as long.

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