Welcome back to TSR‘s weekly round up of the most interesting and important technology news from around the web! After a break for the holidays we’re back and resuming our regular schedule, and what a week to return to – a swathe of earnings calls, Kodak filing for bankruptcy, the internet blackout against SOPA and PIPA, the death of Megaupload and, apparently, that alcohol might double lifespans. Read on!
In a week of earnings reports, Google caused investor disappointment with earnings of $8.13bn; Wall Street had been expecting something more like $8.4bn. The company’s share prices dropped from a high of $640 to $581 as a result. CEO Larry Page refused to show weakness, stating: “Google had a really strong quarter, ending a great year,” and went on to announce that Google+ now has as many as 90 million users, with 60% engaging daily and 80% engaging weekly. However, scrutiny shows that while this figure does refer to the total number of people with Google+ accounts, the activity figures refer to people using any Google service, including Gmail and search. Google+ is still lagging considerably behind Twitter’s 100 million and Facebook’s 800 million active users.
Intel’s earnings, on the other hand, were a pleasant surprise for investors. Q4 2011 sales came in at $13.9bn, with net earnings of $3.4bn. For the full year in 2011, the world’s largest computer chip maker had sales of $54bn with net earnings of $12.9bn. These results, which beat expectations, come at a time when the worldwide hard drive shortage is reducing the demand for Intel’s chips.
Microsoft’s results for the second quarter of its 2012 financial year gave it yet another record-breaking quarter, helped by the holiday period. Revenue was $20.89bn, up 5% year on year, and earnings per share were up 1% to $0.78 per share. Interestingly, despite the company’s overall growth, revenue for the Windows division declined 6% year on year due to a weakening PC market.
Yahoo! didn’t report any earnings but nevertheless suffered a setback this week (what’s new?) as one of its top advertising executives, Seth Dallaire, left the company to take up the role of VP of North America at Amazon. Dallaire is highly regarded and only joined Yahoo! in 2009 from Microsoft. The loss comes in the same week as Yahoo! co-founder and board director Jerry Yang announced he would be resigning from all positions within the company and leaving to “pursue other interests.”
Kodak filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Wednesday night in an expected move that follows years of struggle to transition from film to digital. (Bankruptcy protection means a company is out of money, but can keep its assets and continue to pay employees because it has funding from an outside partner.) The company recently sued Apple, HTC and Samsung to attempt to capitalise on its patents, but this was never going to buoy up it up for long. Kodak expects to emerge from bankruptcy in 2013 and will meanwhile conduct business using $950mn in funding from Citigroup.
Zynga, the company behind popular games such as Farmville and Words With Friends, has confirmed its interest in online gambling. The San Francisco company will have to fight its way through state, national and international regulations, as well as secure the right licenses, and it also needs technology to ensure the online betting is secure. For this reason, Zynga is looking for a partner or acquisition to share the technology and licenses with.
Finally, you may remember Apple causing quite a stir in August last year when fluctuating stock prices meant it briefly became the world’s most valuable company. It soon slipped back into second place behind Exxon Mobil, but it’s catching up again: on Thursday this week Apple’s market cap passed $400bn for the first time ever as its shares reached an all-time high. Exxon currently has a market cap of $417bn.
The internet was of course dominated this week by protests against SOPA and PROTECT-IP, peaking with the internet blackout day on January 18th. The blackout, which included websites such as Wikipedia, Google.com, reddit, Tumblr, WordPress, Mojang, Wired, BoingBoing, The Oatmeal and thousands of others, caused more than eight million Americans to look up contact information for their members of Congress, generating tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of calls. Several sites such as Ars Technica and Lifehacker did not black out, but instead ran anti-SOPA front pages all day to raise awareness. Wikipedia alone reached a staggering 162 million people with its 24-hour blackout of its English language site, and Google generated over 13 million page views for its anti-SOPA page and got seven million people to sign its petition.
Several in-person protests against SOPA and PIPA also took place, most notably in New York and San Francisco – in Manhattan, almost 1,000 people flocked to the officers of Sen. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The protesters were joined in their outcry by a cast of the very content creators the bills are designed to protect. These included MC Hammer, The Lonely Island, Neil Gaiman, Trent Reznor, MGMT and Adam Savage, the host of Mythbusters, among others. Many internet rights groups such as the EFF and small performers’ groups such as National Alliance for Media Art and Culture also stood in opposition, and the Obama administration had expressed severe doubts about the legislation.
The brilliant news is of course that Congress sat up and took notice. First came Sen. Harry Reid’s announcement that he would delay the vote on PIPA, and then came Rep. Lamar Smith’s statement that he would likewise delay consideration of SOPA. Smith said: “I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”
In fact even Chris Dodd, head of the powerful Motion Picture Association of America and a prominent supporter of the bills, appeared to accept the need for greater discussion: “With today’s announcement, we hope the dynamics of the conversation can change and become a sincere discussion about how best to protect the millions of American jobs affected by the theft of American intellectual property. It is incumbent that they now sincerely work with all of us to achieve a meaningful solution to this critically important goal.”
Ironically one argument against the authoritarian powers which would be provided by SOPA and PIPA was provided by none other than the US government itself, as the FBI took down file sharing website Megaupload on Thursday. As well as seizing the Hong Kong-based site and its associated domain names, the FBI arrested seven people, four of whom were in New Zealand, and armed with a 72-page indictment from the US Justice Department charged them with conspiracy and money laundering. How true the charges are remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the US government completely removed a foreign website from the internet without SOPA or PIPA. If that can be done under the existing DMCA and with a bit of legwork, why introduce any more sweeping legislation?
Hacking & Security
One of the largest DDOS attacks ever to be launched by the Anonymous hacking group hit the websites of the US Justice Department, Universal Music Group, the White House, the FBI and several others in retaliation to the takedown of Megaupload. Anonymous called for people to begin boycotting all forms of paid media in order to “starve the beast” before beginning its attacks, which reportedly involved almost 10,000 people. The high number may be in part thanks to leftover outrage from the anti-SOPA protest but is likely to be mostly down to Anonymous tricking people into joining; usually it is necessary to run software such as the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) for your computer to participate in a DDOS attack, but this time all users had to do was click on an innocent looking link so many people may have participated without being aware of it. Remember that taking part in a DDOS attack is illegal in most countries, including the UK.
Rarely does a week go by without at least one large website being hacked into, and this week we have two: clothing store Zappos and website hosting service Dreamhost. Users with accounts with either service should change their passwords – although both companies reported that no passwords or credit card information had been taken, the Zappos hack did reveal other personal information such as names, addresses and email addresses.
Oracle has released 78 security updates for various products, including Oracle Database Server, Solaris, MySQL and Fusion Middleware. Most of the bugs being fixed could be used to crash applications and should be patched immediately.
MuchDifferent, a Swedish tech outfit, is aiming to break a world record for the most players ever to participate in a single FPS game. The current record stands at 399 for PlanetSide; MuchDifferent wants to get 1,000 players simultaneously playing the one-off game Man Vs Machine. Tickets can be purchased for €23 and all proceeds go to charity.
Bioware made many people unhappy this week when it announced that Mass Effect 3 will not be available through Steam. Furthermore, everyone wanting to play the game on PC will be forced to use Origin, Bioware’s distribution service which, if you’ll pardon the pun, is hardly a patch on a service like Steam. Quite aside from requiring users to download and run an installer every time a game needs to update, Origin is infamous for crashing whenever a popular game patch comes out. And of course, it doesn’t tie into Steam or anything else, meaning it’s completely separate from all your other games, friends, achievements, etc. Making the statement, Chris Priestly ironically said: “We are intent on providing Mass Effect to players with the best possible experience no matter where they purchase or play their game.”
At its media event in New York on Thursday, Apple announced its much-expected foray into the education market. iBooks Author is a new textbook software program which will allow textbook authors to easily create interactive, multimedia teaching materials for the iPad (and only the iPad). As well as making full use of multitouch, the new textbooks, available via iBooks 2, can include multiple-choice questions with immediate feedback, interactive 3D graphics, videos, and more. Students using the textbooks will be able to highlight text and make notes, as well as create revision note cards. The price of a textbook will be capped at $14.99, though it will also be possible to buy individual chapters.
At the same event Apple also announced updates to its iTunes U platform, previously available via iTunes. Now available for download as a separate iPad app, students will be able to download and view complete university courses complete with details of office hours and credits if the lecturer so chooses. Lecturers and tutors will also be able to post notes which are sent to students’ iPads, and set assignments via the app. As with the new iBooks 2, the iTunes U app can pull in audio, video, presentations and even other apps. iBooks Author, iBooks 2 and iTunes U are all available to download for free.
In other news, Twitter has bought Summify, a start-up which sends users daily email summaries of important news stories based on links shared by users’ friends on social networks. The service will be shut down and has already disabled new registrations. Five members of its team will be joining Twitter instead to help the microblogging service “explore ways to help people connect and engage with relevant, timely news.”
The worldwide launch of IPv6, successfully trialled last year, will take place on June 6th. This time, the IPv6 connectivity will stay on for good as the internet makes a very slow transition away from total reliance on IPv4, for which we will soon run out of new addresses. Participating companies will include Google, Yahoo!, Bing, Facebook and Cisco.
In the wake of Microsoft’s last CES keynote, Bloomberg sat down with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for a very interesting interview. Microsoft has recently publicly announced its backing for gay rights in its home state of Washington.
Alcohol has been found to double the lifespan of worms. Let’s hope this turns out to be true for humans, eh?
Spaceflight Now reports that the launch of the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station has been delayed.