TSR on tech: your weekly news summary
|June 3, 2012||Posted by Elliot Davies under TSR on tech|
For once it has been a generally positive week in tech, with good news on ACTA (i.e. bad news for ACTA) and an outcome to the Google-Oracle Java suit that will have developers everywhere cheering. There are also some nice announcements from Facebook, a slight increase in momentum for Do Not Track, exciting event announcements from Apple and Google, and several product launches and releases. The news might not be so good if you’ve invested in Facebook or RIM, or if your name is Julian Assange, but at least you’re not a mayor who has just been arrested by the FBI.
Facebook’s foray into the public market is looking less and less like the grand success Mark Zuckerberg & co. were hoping for. Since its IPO a fortnight ago, when shares were set to the initial price of $38, the company’s stock has dropped fairly continuously, with a 9.62% fall in price last Tuesday alone. At the time of writing, trading had closed for the weekend with Facebook shares at $27.72, leaving the social network’s market cap billions of dollars lower than when its shares began trading on May 18th. Although this may not be disastrous news for Facebook (if it were trading at the same price-to-earnings ratio as a competitor such as Google, its stock would be worth closer to $16-20) the steady decline certainly has employees and investors alike wondering how low the price can go.
Research In Motion, the struggling company that makes BlackBerry devices, has lost yet another executive: Karima Bawa, the chief legal officer, will leave the company after 12 years to retire. RIM said Bawa’s retirement has been planned for some time and that she will stay around to help train her replacement, but no one has yet been chosen for the role. Last week RIM saw the departure after 14 years of Patrick Spence, head of global sales, and the company is expected to announce another big round of layoffs after its upcoming Q1 earnings report; so far as this author can tell, the BlackBerry ship continues to list.
HP has announced that Bill Veghte, until now the head of HP’s software business, will be taking over as chief operating officer at the company. George Kadifa, formerly an executive at Silver Lake, a private investor, will replace Veghte. In related news, it was made public this week that Leo Apotheker, briefly CEO of HP until he was replaced last September by Meg Whitman, has taken up a role on the supervisory board of Steria, a French IT company.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) legislation, which has been attacked by privacy advocates after being signed in secret by countries including EU member states and the USA, has met further bad news in Europe. In order to become EU law the agreement must be ratified by MEPs, who will take their cue from a recommendation by the International Trade Commission (ITC) – and three out of the four EU committees the ITC listens to have this week declined to approve the legislation. The committees for legal affairs, civil liberties, and development have all come out against ACTA, leaving only the committee for industry in support. In addition, the European Court of Justice continues its investigation into the bill’s legality. The ITC will vote on its recommendation by June 21st, and MEPs will then vote between July 3rd and 5th.
The European Commission has given Google until July 2nd to suggest changes to its search results and advertising rules in order to avoid an antitrust lawsuit in Europe. Joaquin Almunia, the head of competition policy, has expressed concern that Google’s dominance of the search market (it handles about 90% of searches in Europe) could be harming the competition. If Google is sued it could face huge fines, though Almunia has said he is willing to deal with Google directly before involving the courts.
Julian Assange, the founder and head of WikiLeaks, this week lost his appeal to the UK’s Supreme Court over extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes. The appeal had been made on the basis that the Swedish prosecutor who issued the European arrest warrant was not a proper judicial authority, but justices ruled 5-2 against, stating that the prosecutor’s authority was valid. Assange’s lawyers now have two weeks to consider applying for the case to be reopened over another technicality: the judgement was made partly on the basis of the Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties, which had not been previously argued by attorneys during the case and therefore may not have been a valid consideration for the justices. Assange’s legal team has indicated that it will indeed apply to reopen the case.
The court case between Google and Oracle over the copyright of the Java Application Programming Interface (API) has finally come to a close. Oracle had sued Google, accusing the Android operating system of infringing patents Oracle gained when it acquired Sun in 2010. This week, the court concluded that:
So long as the specific code used to implement a method is different, anyone is free under the Copyright Act to write his or her own code to carry out exactly the same function or specification of any methods used in the Java API. It does not matter that the declaration or method header lines are identical. Under the rules of Java, they must be identical to declare a method specifying the same functionality – even when the implementation is different.
When there is only one way to express an idea or function, then everyone is free to do so and no one can monopolize that expression. And, while the Android method and class names could have been different from the names of their counterparts in Java and still have worked, copyright protection never extends to names or short phrases as a matter of law.
In other words, it is not possible to copyright an API, and therefore Google did not infringe any patents. Google celebrated the decision, saying: “The court’s decision… [represents] a good day for collaboration and innovation.” Oracle is likely to appeal the case.
Hacking & Security
On Thursday the mayor of West New York, N.J., was arrested along with his son by the FBI for allegedly hacking into a site that criticised his administration and associated individuals. Felix Roque, 55, and his son Joseph Roque, 22, were arrested before being released on a $100,000 bond. Both are charged with conspiracy and gaining unauthorised access to a computer, charges which carry up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000, as well as causing damage to protected computers, which carries up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Neither man has yet entered a plea.
Facebook has improved its protection for people who administrate Facebook Pages. Whereas Facebook “hijacking” was previously a problem because each admin had the same privileges, making it easy for a newly promoted admin to suddenly remove the others and take over the Page, it is now possible to give different people different levels of power. The new system creates five tiers of admin – “Manager,” “Content Creator,” “Moderator,” “Advertiser” and “Insights Analyst” – each with different abilities. Only managers can change the level of access someone has. The same update also gave Pages the useful ability to schedule posts in advance.
After a lengthy period for comments and revisions by the public, Facebook has announced its new “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” and data use policy. The policies are now being put to the vote: to be binding, 30% of active Facebook users must take part, though since that’s over 250 million people the vote is likely to be more advisory than binding. You can vote here.
Microsoft announced this week that Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 will be the first web browser to support the Do Not Track (DNT) feature by default. DNT is a system still being drafted by the World Wide Web Consortium, the standards body for the web, that allows users to request that websites stop tracking them. All of the major browsers currently support DNT in one form or another, though not by default – but that could easily be remedied long before IE10 is released.
A preview for the Dawnguard expansion for Skyrim has been released. The expansion will offer players the ability to become a vampire and introduce a new crossbow weapon, and will be released for around $20 this summer, first for Xbox and later for PS3 and PC.
Google has launched the latest version of the Chromebook, its Samsung-made laptop running Chrome OS, and by all accounts it’s quite something. The Chromebook Series 5 550 offers improved hardware over last year’s model, with a faster processor (now a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel chip) and twice as much RAM (now 4GB), and costs $450 for the WiFi-only model and $550 if you want 3G. Storage remains at a low 16GB, with the expectation that users will store files in the cloud, though there is an SD card slot. Google also launched its first Chromebox, a desktop computer running Chrome OS that looks a lot like the Apple Mac Mini. The Chromebox offers comparable hardware to the Chromebook, except the processor is clocked at 1.9GHz and there are four more USB ports.
Apple has announced its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) for June 11th-15th, where the company is expected to preview iOS 6. The preview may well include the launch of Apple’s own 3D mapping service to replace Google Maps across iOS devices. Interestingly, Google also made an announcement this week: on June 6th, the company will introduce “the next dimension of Google Maps,” which sounds a lot like an expansion into 3D of its own.
Microsoft has released the Windows 8 Release Preview, which is now available to download. The company also confirmed the Windows Upgrade Offer, whereby any Windows 7 PCs purchased from now until January 31, 2013, will be eligible for upgrade to Windows 8 for just $14.99. Windows 8 is expected to be released in October.
Tony Bates, the CEO of Skype, which Microsoft acquired last year for $8.5bn, said at the All Things Digital conference this week that Skype would be integrated with Windows 8 – something not yet present in the Release Preview. Bates also said that there are now 250 million Skype users, up from 170 million when Microsoft bought the company.
The Samsung Galaxy III, the company’s newest flagship Android phone, was released in 28 countries including the UK on Tuesday. By the end of July Samsung plans to roll out the smartphone to 296 operators in more than 145 countries. A US release date has not yet been announced.
Lovefilm, the movie and TV streaming service owned by Amazon, will now stream in 1080p for UK customers using a Mac, PC, Xbox 360, or LG or Samsung Smart TV.
Two new elements have been named on the periodic table: Flerovium and Livermorium. The elements, which previously went by the temporary names ununquadium and ununhexium, are both man-made and occupy slots 114 and 116 respectively. Flerovium is named for Georgiy N Flerov, who discovered the spontaneous fission of uranium, and will have the symbol Fl. Livermorium is named for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which has discovered several heavy elements, and will have the symbol Lv.
The first 80 London tube stations to receive free WiFi for the Olympics have been announced, and the list includes such big names as Oxford Circus, Liverpool Street, and King’s Cross. The rest of the stations will be online by the end of July, and 120 of the city’s tube stations will offer WiFi by the end of the year. The hotspots will remain free until after the Paralympic Games, when a tariff will be applied.
All Things D has made all six of Steve Jobs’ appearances at its All Things Digital conference – from between 2003 and 2010 – available for free on iTunes, including the 2007 interview alongside Bill Gates.
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, which last week became the first commercial spacecraft to successfully dock with the International Space Station, has successfully returned to Earth by splashing down off the coast of California on Thursday. The mission went almost flawlessly, and represents a huge confidence boost for the future of private spaceflight.
Lady GaGa became the first Twitter user to hit 25 million followers.