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Archive for February, 2010

Microsoft Security Essentials upgrade 1.0.1959.0

In the past 2 weeks I noticed that on Microsoft download center Microsoft Security Essentials was re-published. But when I tried to install it, it stated that it was already installed, telling me it was the same version.

Now it is published again and now it is a new version (build) 1.0.1959.0.

Download and run it directly and it will upgrade.

Download details Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is a free* download from Microsoft that is simple to install, easy to use, and always kept up to date so you can be assured your PC is protected by the latest technology. It’s easy to tell if your PC is secure — when you’re green, you’re good. It’s that simple.
Microsoft Security Essentials runs quietly and efficiently in the background so you’re free to use your Windows-based PC the way you want—without interruptions or long computer wait times.
*Your PC must run genuine Windows to install Microsoft Security Essentials. Learn more about genuine.

Watch videos to help you get the most from Microsoft Security Essentials.

Facebook Driving More Traffic Than Google

Facebook is now the top source of traffic for major news and entertainment portals such as Yahoo and MSN, according to traffic analysis firm Compete, and is “among the leaders” for other sites as well. Although far from conclusive, this is just another sign of how the “social web” is becoming an increasingly dominant force in terms of driving traffic flows on the Internet — and that in turn makes it a growing threat for major web players such as Google, MSN and Yahoo. If your core business depends on controlling and/or getting a piece of the web’s traffic flow, as it does for all of those companies, the social web is something you ignore at your peril (which helps explain the launch of new services like Google Buzz).

Compete’s director of online media and search told the San Francisco Chronicle that a snapshot of web traffic from December showed 13 percent of the traffic to major web portals like Yahoo, MSN and AOL came from Facebook. Traffic from Google generated just 7 percent, which Compete said actually put it third in traffic sources behind eBay, which accounted for 7.6 percent.

It’s important to note that Compete’s analysis is just another data point, and probably shouldn’t be taken as definitive. The jockeying for top spot as the web’s No. 1 traffic source has been going on for some time, and every measurement firm has its own numbers, whichoften conflict with each other because of differences in their methods. But there’s no question about the overall trend: Facebook has been growing strongly in terms of overall traffic to the site and the traffic that it drives to other sites.

Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital says that he sees Facebook becoming an increasingly powerful competitor to Google. “I see Facebook starting to look more like Google while Google tries and stumbles at becoming more social,” he writes. “Social networking is here to stay. It’s where attention spirals are flowing and no one looms larger than Facebook. And while Facebook has plenty of critics and they run into the occasional privacy concerns, I believe that they will dominate the landscape the next few years.”

Billionaire entrepreneur and sports team owner Mark Cuban noted a similar phenomenon in a blog post last year, saying the traffic coming to his blog from Facebook and Twitter was increasing while the traffic flow from Google was “declining significantly.” He called this phenomenon “huge, because of the behavior implications for users, and because of the business implications for Twitter, Facebook and Google.”

It’s worth pointing out that while Facebook may be driving more traffic to portal sites and to blogs — particularly those like Perez Hilton, which gets far more referrals from the social network than it does from Google, according to Hitwise — that doesn’t mean it’s going to replace Google any time soon. And Google, along with Microsoft and Yahoo, is doing its best to integrate social web content from Twitter and Facebook into search results, through indexing arrangements with those sites. But the balance of power is definitely shifting.

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Google Buzz: Both Promising and Confusing

It’s now been just a few days now since Google launched its Google Buzz social-sharing service and started rolling it out to Gmail users. Much of the coverage so far has been grumpy — especially when it comes to the fact that the initial list of people you autofollow on Buzz is based on who you talk with most often in Gmail, and that list is public unless you choose to make it private.

To its credit, Google has responded swiftly to complaints: It’s already tweaked Buzz to make it more obvious what information the service is making public, and to help you crank up the privacy settings.

(Side note: I kinda wish that Google’s blog post hadn’t talked about users who “thought their contacts were being made public without their knowledge (in particular the lists of people they follow, and the people following them).”If Google is making this information public, I don’t see how users can think it’s being done “without your knowledge.” If you think you don’t know something, then…you don’t. I think Google meant something along the lines of “thought their contacts were being made public without any disclosure…”)

Google’s explanation of the post-release changes points out that millions of people are now using Buzz…and maybe that’s part of the issue. Rather than let a sizable pool of testers outside of Google try the service out before opening up the floodgates, it’s gone straight to a full-blown launch. Sounds like the company didn’t expect some of the confusion that’s happening.

Me, I’m finding much to like in Buzz. For instance, it has one of the nicest photo-album viewers I’ve ever seen anywhere:

I’m not going to dump Twitter and Facebook anytime soon, but Buzz is full of potential and I can see it becoming the third major service of this sort. Given Google’s spotty history with social stuff, that’s impressive in itself.

But multiple aspects of Buzz in its current form are frustrating. And quite frequently, the service leaves me just plain confused.

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New Windows Phone operating system coming Monday

Microsoft is ready to unveil the next version of its mobile operating system on Monday. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, CEO Steve Ballmer will take the stage to show off the next version of Windows Mobile.

Except this time, the OS will most likely have a new name – something along the lines of “Windows Phone 7.”

The rumored rebranding is no surprise – Microsoft has faced harsh criticism this past year as Windows Mobile lost popularity to Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android OS and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry line, which continued to win over consumers. But there may be more to the rebranding than simply getting away from the “Windows Mobile” name – the next mobile operating system could be completely different.

Reports on Friday suggested Windows Phone 7 – or whatever it’ll be called – will look a lot like the user interface of Microsoft’s Zune HD media player.

A new look may be key in the success of Windows Phone 7. In many ways, the OS being revealed Monday is Microsoft’s last hope in the smartphone market.

Windows Mobile 6, Microsoft’s last big refresh, was released way back in 2007 and Windows Mobile 6.1 came in 2008. Windows Mobile 6.5, largely seen as a holdover until Monday’s announcement, was released in October 2009 to horrible reviews.

Meanwhile, Microsoft lost significant market share in 2009. Though comScore said Windows Mobile was on 18 percent of smartphones by the end of the year, Gartner said not even 8 percent of new smartphones sold during the third quarter were running Microsoft’s OS.

It’s time for something new.

Microsoft’s news conference kicks off at 6 a.m. Pacific on Monday. Tune into The Microsoft Blog then and in the following hours for all the information you can handle.

Lenovo IdeaPad U550 Review

February 9, 2010 1 comment

lenovo-ideapad-u550-e5

Introduction

Power when you need it, efficiency when you don’t. So goes the premise behind Lenovo’s new IdeaPad U550, a mid-size notebook with a CULV processor and switchable ATI graphics that could serve as both a desktop replacement, and a makeshift travel machine. Throw that together with a £521.98 price tag (as equipped) and the U550 makes an appealing pitch to computer buyers looking to make one purchase for all their computing needs. Can it follow through? We give Lenovo’s perfect porridge a taste test.

lenovo-ideapad-u550-e6Features and Design

Patterns and texture have become a staple of the IdeaPad aesthetic, and the U550 is no exception. An extremely fine checkerboard pattern molded into the lid feels almost like the texture of knurled metal to the touch. Unfortunately, that’s about where the analogy ends. There’s no metal to speak of here, and a rap on the surface with a fingernail returns an cheap, hollow feel. And it is cheap. Closing the screen and carrying the notebook around, the lid bows visibly under the thumb. To its credit, the texture lends more visual appeal and resistance to fingerprints than a plain sheet of the same cheap plastic would, but we can’t abide by the otherwise flimsy feel of the whole display enclosure.

Inside, the checkerboard carries over to a thin stripe at the top edge and a diamond crosshatch on the speaker grilles, but the rest has been left clean and smooth. The plastic has a silky feel in between the rubbery texture of a ThinkPad and the polished, almost sticky gloss of a Sony Vaio. It works. The same can’t quite be said of the bizarre vents cut into the bottom, which look like decorative woodwork from a Chinese restaurant. However discreet, they give the notebook a confused sort of styling that makes us think Lenovo designer’s still aren’t totally sure what and IdeaPad should look like, short of covering it in patterns.

Ports

As a full-size laptop, the U550 comes equipped with the standard array of inputs and outputs you would expect on a notebook. No more, no less. The right-hand side offers a tray-loading DVD drive, a single USB port, Ethernet jack, and room for the DC power jack. Around the other side, you’ll find both VGA and HDMI connections for video, dedicated headphone and microphone jacks, and two USB ports, which are thoughtfully separated to front and back for easier access, and to prevent devices overlapping. The front has an SD card slot, a Wi-Fi switch, and a dedicated switch for activating and deactivating discrete graphics, which we’ll elaborate more on later.

lenovo-ideapad-u550-e3Hardware Specifications

Buyers can order the U550 as cheap as £521.98 but at that level, you’re getting only Intel’s GMA 4500MHD integrated graphics. Our U550 came with the far more desirable ATI Mobile Radeon HD4330 and 512MB of dedicated RAM under the hood, along with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 320GB hard drive, 1.3-megapixel webcam, fingerprint scanner, and an 1.3GHz CULV Intel Core 2 Duo at the helm. Of course, true to the switchable graphics premise, the Intel GMA chip is still there and ready to play when you want to stretch the U550’s battery life for the long haul.

Despite the relatively beefy 15.6-inch screen and substantial 14.8-inch by 9.9-inch footprint, the U550 weighs a reasonable 5.3 pounds. While that doesn’t make it the most outstanding globetrotter, most owners should have no problem tossing it in a backpack or messenger bag without breaking a sweat, and the power adapter – which is about the size of a Wii controller – will tag along nicely, too.

Display

The U550’s 15.6-inch display uses a rather low resolution, 1366 x 768 panel. That’s the same number of pixels Sony managed to stuff into the tiny 11.1-inch screen on the Sony Vaio X, which means it starts to look a bit stretched on this much, much larger screen. For desktop applications, like surfing and word processoing, that means a smaller sandbox to fit all your applications in. However, as we’ll see in the performance section, it also makes an otherwise mid-spec machine more viable for gaming.

Software

Unlike Lenovo’s immaculate business machines, IdeaPads seem to come burdened with just about every type of software imaginable. From Cyberlink Power2Go to Lenovo ReadyComm 5, the desktop has been strewn with over a dozen shortcuts to pre-installed clutter. Some applications, like Lenovo Idea Central’s “Decision Center,” actually serve as hubs to even more garbage, barraging you with offers for online backup solutions, identity theft monitoring programs, and more. Some of it is useful. Most of it isn’t. In either case, we wish Lenovo had moved confined it to a single folder on the start menu, rather than spreading it all over the system and even building it into utilities. As a matter of personal preference, we would probably just reinstall Windows rather than attempting to disassemble the junk pile Lenovo has heaped into this machine.

lenovo-ideapad-u550-e2Keyboard and Touchpad

Aside from feeling a bit generic, we have no complaints about the U550’s matte black keyboard, which makes good use of the notebook’s long form factor and even includes a (slightly condensed) numeric keypad. Backlighting would have made a nice addition, but most typists will find little or no learning curve. The same goes for the medium-sized touchpad: Its matte finish with subtle dimples elimates finger drag nicely, and a strip of orange dots provide a nice clue where pointing surface ends and scrolling surface begins.

Webcam

The 1.3-megapixel webcam built into the top of the display delivers acceptable picture quality for basic teleconferencing, but seemed to have a lot of digital noise even in well-lit situations, like an office, and colors seemed somewhat washed out and muted. However, it worked fine in conjunction with Lenovo’s own Veriface facial-recognition software for password-less logins.

Speakers

The Lenovo IdeaPad U550 uses two postage-stamp-sized speakers located above the keyboard, rather than the less practical down-firing arrangement (which can get pretty muffled when you use it in a lap). Together, they muster enough volume for a movie trailer and YouTube clip here and there, but like most notebooks, the complete lack of bass will have you reaching for earbuds as soon as it’s time for some music.

Performance

Continuing with the trend we’ve seen in most Windows 7 laptops, our U550 went from power-on to desktop in a little under 50 seconds, and managed to pop open a browser window about 20 seconds later. Average, but acceptable, and we can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t be better without all the bloatware.

After booting into Windows 7, switching from ATI’s Radeon to the power-saving Intel GMA chip can be done in about five seconds, which is an important aspect for any feature users will actually hope to take advantage of on the fly. A hard switch on the front of the notebook will switch the graphics manually after confirming with an on-screen OK, and also indicates when the ATI is blazing away with a white LED. You can also switch cards through software by right clicking and choosing “Configure Switchable Graphics.” Advanced options like automatically activating the Intel chip when running on battery power also make it easier to take advantage of power savings without investing much thought. However, keep in mind that all applications need to be closed prior to switching, so the process can be more tedious if you’re already wrapped up in something (nowhere near as bad as Apple’s MacBook Pro, though, which requires users to actually log off OS X and back in).

lenovo-ideapad-u550-e7Around the desktop, users won’t notice all that much of a difference between the U550 running on four cylinders or running on eight. Even HD YouTube video and high-quality 480p content from Hulu played well without invoking power of the ATI. Fire it up, however, and you open up a whole new level of performance.

Like most hardware, we pushed the ATI to its limits with Crysis, which remains one of the most demanding PC titles available, even in 2010. With the game set to match the display’s native 1366 x 768 native resolution, it yielded perfectly fluid motion with all settings on low. Frame rates consistently remained in the lower 30’s and upper 20’s, although some brief moments of action or other intense effects could push it into the teens. Stepping everything to medium immediately dropped frame-rates unacceptably low, but players who want more compelling visuals should be able to bump certain settings up with the headroom available, without damaging playability.

Running PCMark Vantage, the U550 hit a score of 2905 PCMarks, a bit under similar laptops like Sony’s Vaio NW, which achieved 3,142. 3DMark Vantage refused to run on the system, but 3DMark06 returned a score of 2,653 3DMarks. That’s nothing to brag about in gaming circles, but considering it’s using a CULV processor and still deals with Crysis at minimal settings, we would say the U550 could make a fair-weather gamer happy enough.

What difference does all that swapping make in battery life? A fairly significant one. With GPU on and brightness all the way up, you can expect about three hours on the desktop, and of course, significantly less once you start tearing away at games. Switch to the Intel GMA chip, and that number soars to five-and-a-half hours, which should make all the difference for extended trips away from outlets.

Conclusion

As a do-it-all notebook in this price range, you could do worse than Lenovo’s U550. But where other notebooksstand out by paying attention to the details, Lenovo earns itself demerit after demerit by rummaging through the bargain bin in places it doesn’t think we’re looking. Cheap materials and confused styling make the outside something to be tolerated more than appreciated, and a low-resolution screen and pile of cruddy software waiting on the desktop for new owners carries that cheap feeling right over to the inside. The power and flexibility of switchable ATI graphics coupled with a CULV processor provide some redemption in both performance and battery life, but you’ll have to look past the rough edges to appreciate them.

Highs:

  • Respectable battery life on Intel graphics
  • Reasonably portable form factor, weight
  • Easy-to-switch graphics
  • Modest gaming performance
  • Solid touchpad and keyboard

Lows:

  • Loaded to the gills with bloatware
  • Below-par webcam quality
  • Low-resolution screen
  • Cheap-feeling plastic lid
  • Weak speakers

Lenovo IdeaPad U550 Notebook

Facebook is the new threat to Google

More people are coming to US news sites via Facebook and other social networking sites such as Twitter – supplanting Google News, which had been one of the primary sources of readers, according to research by the metrics company Hitwise.

During the past year, the proportion of traffic that Facebook sends to US media sites has tripled from around 1.2% to 3.52%, while that sent by Google News has remained roughly static, at around 1.4%, says Heather Hopkins, North America analyst for Hitwise.

The growing power of Facebook also means that publishers which want to demand money from – or alternatively to lock out – Google News because of claims that it “leeches” on their content could do so without fearing a dramatic impact on their reader figures.

With more than 400m users, Facebook forms the newest – and most unexpected – threat to Google, say some analysts. Last weekend the search engine spent $5m on a TV advert during the Superbowl, puzzling many who do not see a threat from rival search engines such as Microsoft’s Bing, which has less than half of its proportion of search queries.

But Hopkins notes in a blogpost for Hitwise that: “Facebook could be a major disruptor to the News and Media category. And with the Wall Street Journal already publishing content to Facebook, perhaps the social network can avoid the run-ins that Google has suffered recently with Rupert Murdoch. We will continue to watch this space.”

Murdoch’s editors and executives have repeatedly criticised aggregators such Google News, claiming it is leeching off their content by displaying snippets of their work. In the UK, the Murdoch-owned titles have gone as far as blocking access to their sites by Newsnow, a smaller news aggregator.

Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google, has argued that publishers should take advantage of the traffic that it sends them – pointing out that it sends about 4bn such links per year.

But Facebook provides the perfect counterweight, where publishers can choose how much of their content they display and view how well it is followed. Sites such as Facebook and increasingly Twitter contribute hundreds of thousands of visits every month to UK sites, according to analysis by the Guardian.

John Minnihan, the founder of the software code respositoryFreepository, warns that Facebook poses one of the biggest threats to Google on the web. “With recent data showing a large uptick in ‘Facebook as home page’, [Google] may well indeed need to remind emerging generation who/what it is. In that case, the [Superbowl] ad makes some business sense. Whatever the real reason, it has nothing to do with ‘sharing video more widely’. If FB dev’ed an integrated web-wide search engine, think about how much traffic would evaporate [from Google] overnite. That’s nightmare stuff.”

Tellingly, Minnihan’s comments were made on Twitter — which Google is rumoured to be trying to compete with in a “social version” of its Gmail webmail product to be launched today. Google has already tried – and failed – to create a world-scale social network with its Orkut product, but been obliged instead to purchase access to Twitter’s search results to provide real-time insight into what people are talking about. Facebook’s content however lies beyond its reach – and that could be crucial in the forthcoming months as news publishers in the US and UK consider putting up higher paywalls or demanding money from aggregators.