Quite a mix of stories this week, from the expected (Zynga’s IPO) to the amusing (is Nicholas Sarkozy such a fan of the Beach Boys that he has resorted to stealing their music?) to the crazy (Apple’s legal documents being sold for how much?). We’ve also got a lot of news on Julian Assange and Bradley Manning in the courts, developments with SOPA, and many other things besides. So, read on to find out all about the latest and greatest tech news, and I’ll see you in two weeks time – even technology needs a Christmas break!
As we reported it would a couple of weeks ago, Farmville maker Zynga this week held its IPO to become a publicly traded company. However, uncertainties about the company’s future (it is very reliant on Facebook as a platform) meant it wasn’t all good news. Shares opened at $11 but soon fell to end the day at $9.50, and despite the company raising its anticipated $1bn it is only being valued at a total worth of $7bn, much less than the $20bn or even $10bn analysts had hoped for.
Dell has announced that it will be leaving the failing netbook market behind in favour of concentrating on thinner, faster ultrabooks. Netbooks – those awkwardly small laptops everyone hates to type on – have been losing ground to tablets for some time now, and with the rise of ultrabooks it’s hard to see a reason to keep them around at all. Other than the Inspiron Duo, which already features a detachable tablet, “thin and powerful is where it is at” according to Alison Gardner, Dell’s marketing director.
Is there a power struggle going on at Redmond? The chap who has headed up Microsoft’s Windows Phone division for three years, Andy Lees, has suddenly been moved by CEO Steve Ballmer to a brand new “time-critical” post involving both Windows Phone and Windows 8. Taking Less’ place is Terry Myerson, who previously headed up the engineering side of Windows Phone development. But why the rush? Windows 8 isn’t due out until late 2012, and Windows Phone 7 already uses the Metro interface that Windows 8 will feature. With no one reporting to him, no department and no clear role, it seems like this could be preparation to fire Lees, especially given that any “time-critical” position is likely to expire sooner rather than later.
As part of its scheme to save money as it makes the transition to a digital publication, the Guardian has announced more downsizing of its printed paper. The sports, film and music sections will be moved into the main newspaper, and the main paper itself will also lose a few pages, mostly from obituaries and the comment section. The changes are expected to save around £1m. A fuller analysis of the changes can be found here.
Amazon said Thursday that it has sold more than 1 million Kindle devices per week for the last three weeks in a row, an impressive statistic.
A vote on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a hugely controversial American bill which could threaten the fundamental systems and security of the internet, as well provide sweeping powers of censorship, was delayed on Friday with no new date set. The delay, which was a surprise since the bill was almost certain to leave the committee stage, came after a strongly worded letter was published by some of the internet’s most noted businesspeople, including Sergey Brin of Google, Jerry Yang of Yahoo!, Marc Andreessen of Netscape, the three Twitter cofounders, and many others. TSR will soon have a full article on SOPA.
The British Supreme Court has confirmed that it will hear Julian Assange as he appeals the High Court’s decision to extradite him to Sweden, where he faces allegations of rape and sexual molestation (though no actual charges have yet been made). Seven of twelve Supreme Court Justices will hear the case, which is scheduled for February next year.
Bradley Manning, the former US soldier charged with leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, was arrested purely on the basis of unconfirmed information according to the government’s first witness at Manning’s hearing this week. Special Agent Toni Graham testified that she did not confirm the information, provided as chat logs by former hacker Adrian Lamo, before submitting the affidavit that led to Manning’s arrest. In fact, the only information which was confirmed was the private’s military background, which Graham said was investigated through a military background check and by looking at Manning’s Facebook profile. Manning, who turned 24 yesterday, spent over 18 months in confinement, much of it solitary, after being arrested. The hearing, which will likely last into next week, will determine whether Manning should face a full military trial or not.
Rather amusingly, IP addresses assigned to French president Nicholas Sarkozy’s official residence have shown evidence of downloading at least six files via BitTorrent, including the Greatest Hits album by the Beach Boys. Sarkozy is famous for being a harsh critic of file sharing and advocates a three-strikes rule – if the information is correct, someone at the Élysée Palace is guilty of at least twice that.
Hacking & Security
Glenn Mangham, the York computer science student who was arrested earlier this year, has pleaded guilty to breaking into Facebook. Mangham had previously been compensated by Yahoo! after he revealed vulnerabilities in their systems, but Facebook were less grateful, and the 26-year-old was arrested in June. His lawyers are expected to argue that he is an ethical, or “white hat”, hacker, and that no private information was stolen or released. Mangham is due to be sentenced in February.
According to Steam, Skyrim is its fastest selling game ever, with 10 million retail copies shipped and 2.8 million units sold in November alone; the other 7.2 million units are most likely being stockpiled for the holiday season. Skyrim also holds a record for being the Steam game played by the most people at once, with 287,411 players logged in simultaneously on Wednesday.
Modern Warfare 3 made $1 billion in just 16 days, a new record for an entertainment product. By comparison, the film Avatar made the $1 billion mark in 17 days, although it is worth noting that MW3 costs a lot more than a cinema ticket.
Facebook this week rolled out its new ‘timeline’ feature on a global scale. The timeline redesigns Facebook’s profile pages to show a complete, well, timeline of your digital life, and allows greater control over what appears on it. It is even possible to go back and edit or add posts, so if you want to fill in your entire life story retroactively, you can – you are no longer limited by the date you joined. If you haven’t received the timeline treatment yet, you can get it here. Once the timeline is activated you will have a week to tweak it before it appears to your friends.
The Kindle Fire will be receiving a fairly major over-the-air update in the next few weeks to fix performance issues, according to Amazon. The patch should speed up the device, as well as allow users to edit the ‘recently viewed’ list of items to remove those embarrassing purchases. The Fire has received mixed reviews since its launch in November, and is not yet available outside the US.
Google has finally announced an answer to Apple’s Siri. Few details have been released yet, but Android should be receiving the update early next year. The software, which will upgrade Android’s voice control to work with natural language, will be named ‘Majel’ after Majel Barrett-Roddenbery, the voice of the Star Trek computer.
The BBC has finally released a UK iPhone app for the iPlayer. The app also allows for 3G streaming of shows, something which will be brought to the Android app next year.
Apple has announced that the Mac App Store has reached 100 million downloads. That might not be anything compared to the iOS App Store, which at last count totalled 18 billion downloads, but that doesn’t include purchases of the OS X Lion operating system, nor does it include multiple downloads of the same app by the same person.
Also in Apple news, the contract which established the company in 1976 – signed by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ron Wayne – fetched $1.6 million this week at auction, ten times its estimated price. The documents were bought by Eduardo Cisneros of Cisneros Corporation.
Cambridge University has made available online six of Isaac Newton’s works, including his annotated copy of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica published in July 1687. The works can be viewed for free here, and the university plans to add more of its collection in the future.
Google has donated £550,000 towards the restoration of Bletchley Park, the site of the British codebreaking effort during WW2 where Alan Turing and others worked. The money will go towards the Park’s £15m restoration effort, which hopes to turn it into a “world class visitor centre and exhibition”. Donations can be made here.