Microsoft’s Mundie: IT needed to solve global woesMicrosoft’s Mundie: IT needed to solve global woes

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.–Scientists need the same sort of computer breakthrough that the spreadsheet brought to business users decades ago, says Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer.

Mundie gave a speech at Harvard University here on Tuesday to discuss coming “disruptions” in computing and to argue that computer science is fundamental to solving daunting global problems, including energy, environment, health care, and education.

Without taking advantage of advances in computing, adjacent fields of nanotechnology and biotechnology will not move as fast as they could, he said. At the same time, he lamented how computer science is seen as “so yesterday.”

“It’s stunning how much people want to fund the fads and they don’t put any emphasis on how core computing is,” Mundie said during questions. “I hope we can come together and realize that we have to invest in the future of computing if we want a future in all these other areas.”

The Harvard talk was one of four Mundie is giving this week in an effort to stir excitement in the study of computing, with both computer science students and people in other fields, such as medicine or material science. Less than 100 students and faculty came to the Harvard talk on Tuesday where he demonstrated some of how Microsoft’s research can be applied to energy and the environment.

Computing is becoming increasingly embedded in everyday devices, in everything from phones to cars. But even though people are increasingly familiar with digital technologies, there are still disruptive changes on the near horizon, Mundie said.

“We think we understand it but in fact it’s at a time that the flux in computing overall is as great as it’s ever been,” he said.

The amount of computation that’s available will continue to increase with multicore processors, which will enable new applications. That includes what Microsoft calls “natural language processing,” where people can interact with computers in more intuitive ways than the familiar mouse and graphical user interface. An example is Microsoft’s Project Natal, motion-sensing technology where people can use arms and legs to play games.

Two other big technology changes, he said, are three-dimensional displays and cloud computing, where people can tap banks of servers over the Internet for data-intensive jobs.



Spooky tech tales to make your computer crawl

Floppy disksA real cutup
Back in the day when I owned a computer storefront, a client came in and bought a brand new desktop from me. I offered to install it for free (how things change) but she informed me that she knew how to do it and had owned a computer for years. She paid in full and was on her way.

About three days passed and I get a phone call from her. Her old system used 5.25-inch floppy disks and her new system only had 1.44MB 3.5-inch disks. She told me she had a book she had been working on for 25 years backed up on floppy and that the reason she got a new computer is that her hard drive had died. I told her it was not a problem, that I had an old 5.25 floppy drive I could install and would even be happy to transfer the data to the 3.5-inch disk free of charge (again, how things change). She thanked me and stated that she would be at my office shortly.

Taking scissors to floppy disks…probably not a good idea.

About 30 minutes later she walks in carrying a large box. My first thought was, “Oh man…what the heck did I just get myself into? That’s going to take me days to read if that box is full of disks.”

She sits the box on my desk and thanks me once again for my help, explaining that it was her life’s work and that she was almost finished with it. I opened the box to find a huge pile of cut-up floppies. In horror, I asked her what happened. She stated that she figured she could just trim the edges of the disks off so they would fit into the smaller drive and it would work fine. I asked her if she still had the old computer but she had trashed it more than a week before.

About two hours later I was able to get her husband on the phone to come pick her up from my office. She was so shaken she was not able to drive herself home and so stunned she could not even tell me how to get to her house (now we have GPS…more evidence of how things change).

Oh, rats!
I got a call from a friend asking if I could come take a look at their computer, as it wasn’t powering up. They said they had a bur
ning smell and all of a sudden the machine turned off and wouldn’t power back up. I assumed it was a power supply issue and headed over. Once I got there, I pulled out the tower to find a fried/dead rat that had chewed through the power cord running to the power supply. An easy fix, but definitely gross!

Curse of the black cat
Our vehicle has automatic safety door locks that engage at about 20 mph. As I was driving home, a black cat crossed my path about four car lengths ahead of me…I got a good look at it, all black. I heard the automatic door locks engage at that very instant that I saw the cat. The rear passenger door has not opened since. It refuses to unlock.

I’ve tried everything, hip-checking the door, disassembling the handle mechanism etc., all to no avail. The dealership wants over $400 to repair it. This would not have happened if that black cat had not crossed my path. It worked perfectly for years until that very moment.

The Devil at Best Buy
My friend and her mother were walking through Best Buy, peering at the new modem models and trying to figure out those passwords only the employees know for the computers just for fun (we’ve all done it). Of course, she walked right by the printers, paying them no mind; because, really, does anyone just randomly look at printers unless they’re in the market for one?

She was facing a flat-screen monitor when she heard a noise from behind. One of the printers seemed to be spitting something out, though no one was at any of the other computers and she hadn’t even started guessing the password on her current endeavor. So what was it printing? Her mother reached into the tray and pulled out a two-page article on exorcisms. A Wikipedia article on the movie “The Exorcist” came out a few minutes later.



Digital ‘ants’ take on computer worms

Digital ants could soon be crawling through your computer’s hard drive, but don’t worry, they are there to help.

Scientists from Wake Forest University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have created an army of digital ants and their superior officers, digital sergeants and sentinels, to search out viruses, worms and other malware.

The new antivirus software could provide better protection while freeing up valuable hardware.
“We are using the ants to sense something very basic, like a connection rate,” said Errin Fulp, a professor of computer science at Wake Forest University who helped develop the digital ants. “Then we collect that evidence which points us to a particular infection or security threat,” said Fulp.

Like their biological counterparts, each individual ant is not very bright. A connection rate, CPU utilization or one of about 60 other technical details is all they can sense. When an ant detects something unusual, it leaves a digital pheromone, a tiny digital sense that says something unusual is going on here, and that other ants should check it out.

The digital ants report any suspicious activity to a digital sentinel, a program designed to watch over a set of computers in a network. The sentinel sorts through all the information the ants gather, and if its suspicious, passes the information on to a digital sergeant. The sergeant then alerts the human supervisor, who can the deal with the problem.

The sentinels and sergeants reward the ants for finding problems. If an ant doesn’t find enough problems it “dies” off, although a minimum number is always maintained.

If a particular kind of ant finds lots of problems then more of them are created to monitor the problem. The entire system is modeled off of a normal ant colony and uses “swarm intelligence” to find and diagnose problems.

The beauty of using digital ants, instead of a traditional anti-virus program, is their flexibility. Traditional anti-virus software usually scans constantly or on a set time schedule. Constantly scanning for threats is effective, but uses a lot of computer resources, resources that could be better spent doing something else.

Scanning at certain times, usually at night, optimizes computer usage, but it leaves a computer more vulnerable. Since the number of ants rises and falls with number of problems being detected, it can free up computer hardware to perform calculations when an attack isn’t happening. If at attack is happening, more ants can quickly be created to help deal with it.

The researchers created four digital ants of the 64 types then eventually want. To test their effectiveness, they set up a bank of computers and released three worms into the ant-infested Linux-based computers. The four digital ants in the computers had never seen the viruses before, yet identified the virus by only monitoring four very specific aspects of the computers.


Lost Northwest Pilots Were Trying Out New Software

“The NY Times reports that two Northwest Airlines pilots who flew about 110 miles past their destination to the skies over Wisconsin as more than a dozen air-traffic controllers in three locations tried to get the plane’s attention had taken out their personal laptops in the cockpit, a violation of airline policy, so the first officer could tutor the captain in a new scheduling system put in place by Delta Air Lines, which acquired Northwest last fall. ‘Both said they lost track of time,’ said an interim report from the National Transportation Safety Board countering theories in aviation circles that the two pilots might have fallen asleep or were arguing in the cockpit. ‘Using laptops or engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots’ command of the aircraft during flight,’ said a statement from Delta Airlines, ‘is strictly against the airline’s flight deck policies and violations of that policy will result in termination.’ Industry executives and analysts said the pilots’ behavior was a striking lapse for such veteran airmen who have a total of 31,000 flying hours of experience between them. In the case of Flight 188, ‘Neither pilot was aware of the airplane’s position until a flight attendant called about five minutes before they were scheduled to land and asked what was their estimated time of arrival,’ the interim report said.”


Net neutrality still faces political, legal hurdles

Net neutrality supporters may be celebrating the Federal Communications Commission’s unanimous vote Thursday to begin developing open Internet regulation, but the battle is far from over as the yet-to-be-written regulation is already facing Congressional opposition and will also likely be challenged in court.

Votes at the FCC for the proposal to get the ball rolling on new rules to protect an open Internet hadn’t even been cast when Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation on Thursday morning that would block the agency from regulating the Internet. McCain said that Net neutrality rules would stifle innovation and hurt the job market.

“Today I’m pleased to introduce the Internet Freedom Act of 2009 that will keep the Internet free from government control and regulation,” McCain said in a statement. “It will allow for continued innovation that will in turn create more high-paying jobs for the millions of Americans who are out of work or seeking new employment. Keeping businesses free from oppressive regulations is the best stimulus for the current economy.”

The FCC voted unanimously Thursday on a proposal that would start the process for creating regulation that will keep the Internet open. The proposal itself uses the FCC’s open Internet principles as a foundation and would forbid network operators from restricting access to lawful Internet content, applications, and services. It would also require network providers to allow customers to attach nonharmful devices to the network.

Two additional principles were added, which would prevent network providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while at the same time allowing for reasonable network management. Internet access providers would also have to be transparent about the network management practices they implement.

All five commissioners voted in favor of advancing the rule-making process with the two Republicans, Meredith Attwell Baker and Robert McDowell, dissenting in part.

Ongoing debate
The so-called Net neutrality debate has pitted Internet application companies, such as Google, Facebook and Skype, against big broadband providers, such as AT&T, Verizon Communications, and Comcast. The network operators argue regulation will stifle innovation, while the Internet companies say an unfettered network is necessary to encourage innovation.

Congress has been interested off and on in this issue for about three years. But it has never gained much support, and at least five bills that would enact Net neutrality regulation have failed.

The issue seemed to die out completely after the FCC publicly admonished Comcast for violating its open Internet principles, which were adopted in 2005. The official slap on the wrist and the public outcry resulted in Comcast changing its practices. For many in the industry, it seemed the FCC’s handling of the situation was sufficient.

The issue was revived last year during the U.S. presidential campaign when then-candidate Barack Obama said he’d support Net neutrality regulation and laws. Now that he is president, his supporters are holding him to his promise.


Will your privacy be compromised online?

girlThe 2010 Census is nearly under way, but don’t expect an e-mail from the U.S. Census Bureau asking you personal questions in its head count of America.

If you do get one, it’s a scam.

“Like most large organizations, we have seen e-mail scams and phishing attacks that cite the U.S. Census Bureau,” agency spokesman Neil Tillman wrote in an e-mail.

The Census Bureau stresses that it will not request personal information from you via e-mail, such as PIN codes, passwords, Social Security numbers, credit-card numbers or other financial account information.

A news-based phishing scheme like this one is one of several risks you face online. Cybercriminals have gotten craftier, often looking toward popular trends and events — such as tax season, the mortgage meltdown and the growth of social media — to scam people into giving them sensitive information.

To protect their privacy online, computer users need to stay informed about the criminals’ methods and to learn basic principles of caution.

Online attackers have information on millions of consumers, said Ravi Sandhu, a professor of cyber security at the University of Texas at San Antonio. However, he added, the rate at which they can use that information is considerably lower.

“It’s a bit like a lottery. To have identity theft actually occur against you, you need to have a little bad luck. There is some comfort in numbers,” Sandhu said.

In addition to criminal scams, corporate data breaches can leave your privacy compromised.

As of September 22, there have been 379 data breaches reported by the Identity Theft Resource Center in 2009, affecting more than 13 million records. Companies with data breaches included financial institutions, travel companies, health care operations and schools.

“It’s not one or two companies that are acting irresponsibly with consumer data,” said Andrea Matwyshyn, a law professor who teaches technology regulation at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s a large-scale problem where industry norms of care are arguably not adequate to address the challenges of data security optimally.”

Safeguard your Social Security number

Exercising caution before you submit sensitive information can save you a lot of aggravation down the line.

For instance, most businesses really won’t need your Social Security number, the key number for identity theft, so think twice before you provide it online.

Social Security numbers are used “to establish new lines of credit or for tax purposes. How many things are you doing online that have to do with taxes?” said Linda Foley, co-founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center.

So before you share the information, be certain that you are on that Web site of a real company — as opposed to an imposter conducting a phishing scheme. Also, ask yourself why a Web site would need your Social Security number, said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.

“I always encourage consumers to supply the minimum amount of information possible. A lot of times, you get these long forms and you get the little star that’s required, but people are collecting other [data about you],” Kaiser said. “Don’t fill it out if you don’t want to.”

Still, even visiting a legitimate Web site has its share of risks, because online attackers may inject malicious content onto them by hacking them or placing advertisements that deliver malware, Sandhu said.

If a criminal does obtain your Social Security number and creates a fraudulent identity, it can be a much bigger hassle than if he or she uses your credit card number.

Credit card companies often pick up the tab for fraudulent charges, and they send you a new card with a different number. It’s more difficult to get a new Social Security number, and a stolen identity could affect your credit rating.



A Windows to Help You Forget

windows7_400x300In just two weeks, on Oct. 22, Microsoft’s long operating-system nightmare will be over. The company will release Windows 7, a faster and much better operating system than the little-loved Windows Vista, which did a lot to harm both the company’s reputation, and the productivity and blood pressure of its users. PC makers will rush to flood physical and online stores with new computers pre-loaded with Windows 7, and to offer the software to Vista owners who wish to upgrade.

With Windows 7, PC users will at last have a strong, modern successor to the sturdy and familiar, but aged, Windows XP, which is still the most popular version of Windows, despite having come out in 2001. In the high-tech world, an eight-year-old operating system is the equivalent of a 20-year-old car. While XP works well for many people, it is relatively weak in areas such as security, networking and other features more important today than when XP was designed around 1999.

After using pre-release versions of Windows 7 for nine months, and intensively testing the final version for the past month on many different machines, I believe it is the best version of Windows Microsoft (MSFT) has produced. It’s a boost to productivity and a pleasure to use. Despite a few drawbacks, I can heartily recommend Windows 7 to mainstream consumers.

Like the new Snow Leopard operating system released in August by Microsoft’s archrival, Apple (AAPL), Windows 7 is much more of an evolutionary than a revolutionary product. Its main goal was to fix the flaws in Vista and to finally give Microsoft customers a reason to move up from XP. But Windows 7 is packed with features and tweaks that make using your computer an easier and more satisfying experience.

The new taskbar shows small previews of many windows and allows for larger previews.

Windows 7 introduces real advances in organizing your programs and files, arranging your taskbar and desktop, and quickly viewing and launching the page or document you want, when you want it. It also has cool built-in touch-screen features.

It removes a lot of clutter. And it mostly banishes Vista’s main flaws—sluggishness; incompatibility with third-party software and hardware; heavy hardware requirements; and constant, annoying security warnings.

I tested Windows 7 on 11 different computers, ranging from tiny netbooks to standard laptops to a couple of big desktops. These included machines from Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Dell (DELL), Acer, Asus, Toshiba and Sony (SNE). I even successfully ran it on an Apple Macintosh laptop. On some of these machines, Windows 7 was pre-loaded. On others, I had to upgrade from an earlier version of Windows.

In most cases, the installation took 45 minutes or less, and the new operating system worked snappily and well. But, I did encounter some drawbacks and problems. On a couple of these machines, glacial start-up and reboot times reminded me of Vista. And, on a couple of others, after upgrading, key features like the display or touchpad didn’t work properly. Also, Windows 7 still requires add-on security software that has to be frequently updated. It’s tedious and painful to upgrade an existing computer from XP to 7, and the variety of editions in which Windows 7 is offered is confusing.

Finally, Microsoft has stripped Windows 7 of familiar built-in applications, such as email, photo organizing, address book, calendar and video-editing programs. These can be downloaded free of charge, but they no longer come with the operating system, though some PC makers may choose to pre-load them.

In recent years, I, like many other reviewers, have argued that Apple’s Mac OS X operating system is much better than Windows. That’s no longer true. I still give the Mac OS a slight edge because it has a much easier and cheaper upgrade path; more built-in software programs; and far less vulnerability to viruses and other malicious software, which are overwhelmingly built to run on Windows.

Now, however, it’s much more of a toss-up between the two rivals. Windows 7 beats the Mac OS in some areas, such as better previews and navigation right from the taskbar, easier organization of open windows on the desktop and touch-screen capabilities. So Apple will have to scramble now that the gift of a flawed Vista has been replaced with a reliable, elegant version of Windows.

Here are some of the key features of Windows 7.

New Taskbar: In Windows 7, the familiar taskbar has been reinvented and made taller. Instead of mainly being a place where icons of open windows temporarily appear, it now is a place where you can permanently “pin” the icons of frequently used programs anywhere along its length, and in any arrangement you choose. This is a concept borrowed from Apple’s similar feature, the Dock. But Windows 7 takes the concept further.

For each running program, hovering over its taskbar icon pops up a small preview screen showing a mini-view of that program. This preview idea was in Vista. But, in Windows 7, it has been expanded in several ways. Now, every open window in that program is included separately in the preview. If you mouse over a window in the preview screen, it appears at full size on your desktop and all other windows on the desktop become transparent—part of a feature called Aero Peek. Click on the window and it comes up, ready for use. You can even close windows from these previews, or play media in them.

I found this feature more natural and versatile than a similar feature in Snow Leopard called Dock Expose.

You can also use Aero Peek at any time to see your empty desktop, with open windows reduced to virtual panes of glass. To do this, you just hover over a small rectangle at the right edge of the taskbar.

Taskbar icons also provide Jump Lists—pop-up menus listing frequent actions or recent files used.

Desktop organization: A feature called Snap allows you to expand windows to full-screen size by just dragging them to the top of the screen, or to half-screen size by dragging them to the left or right edges of the screen. Another called Shake allows you to make all other windows but the one you’re working on disappear by simply grabbing its title bar with the mouse and shaking it several times.

File organization: In Windows Explorer, the left-hand column now includes a feature called Libraries. Each library—Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos—consolidates all files of those types regardless of which folder, or even which hard disk, they live in.

Networking: Windows 7 still isn’t quite as natural at networking as I find the Mac to be, but it’s better than Vista. For instance, now you can see all available wireless networks by just clicking on an icon in the taskbar. A new feature called HomeGroups is supposed to let you share files more easily among Windows 7 PCs on your home network. In my tests, it worked, but not consistently, and it required typing in long, arcane passwords.

Touch: Some of the same kinds of multitouch gestures made popular on the iPhone are now built into Windows 7. But these features won’t likely become popular for a while because to get the most out of them, a computer needs a special type of touch screen that goes beyond most of the ones existing now. I tested this on one such laptop, a Lenovo, and was able to move windows around, to resize and flip through photos, and more.

Speed: In my tests, on every machine, Windows 7 ran swiftly and with far fewer of the delays typical in running Vista. All the laptops I tested resumed from sleep quickly and properly, unlike in Vista. Start-up and restart times were also improved. I chose six Windows 7 laptops from different makers to compare with a new MacBook Pro laptop. The Mac still started and restarted faster than most of the Windows 7 PCs. But the speed gap has narrowed considerably, and one of the Lenovos beat the Mac in restart time.

Nagging: In the name of security, Vista put up nagging warnings about a wide variety of tasks, driving people crazy. In Windows 7, you can now set this system so it nags you only when things are happening that you consider really worth the nag. Also, Microsoft has consolidated most of the alerts from the lower-right system tray into one icon, and they seemed less frequent.

Compatibility: I tried a wide variety of third-party software and all worked fine on every Windows 7 machine. These included Mozilla Firefox; Adobe (ADBE) Reader; Google’s (GOOG) Picasa and Chrome; and Apple’s iTunes and Safari.

I also tested several hardware devices, and, unlike Vista, Windows 7 handled all but one smoothly. These included a networked H-P printer, a Canon (CAJ) camera, an iPod nano, and at least five external flash drives and hard disks. The one failure was a Verizon (VZ) USB cellular modem. Microsoft says you don’t need external software to run these, but I found it was necessary, and even then had to use a trick I found on the Web to get it to work.

System Requirements: Nearly all Vista PCs, and newer or beefier XP machines, should be able to run Windows 7 fine. Even the netbooks I tested ran it speedily, especially with the Starter Edition, which lacks some of the powerful graphics effects in the operating system. (Other netbooks will be able to run other editions.)

If you have a standard PC, called a 32-bit PC, you’ll need at least one gigabyte of memory, 16 gigabytes of free hard-disk space and a graphics system that can support Microsoft technologies called “DirectX 9 with WDDM 1.0.” You’ll also need a processor with a speed of at least one gigahertz. If you have a newer-style 64-bit PC, which can use more memory, you’ll need at least two gigabytes of memory and 20 gigabytes of free hard disk space. In either case, you should double the minimum memory specification.

Aero Peek lets you see your desktop by making your windows transparent.

Installation, editions and price: There are four editions of Windows 7 of interest to consumers. One, a limited version called Starter, comes pre-loaded on netbooks. A second, called Professional, is mainly for people who need to tap remotely into company networks (check with your company to see if you need this). A third, called Ultimate, is mainly for techies who want every feature of all other editions. Most average consumers will want Home Premium, which costs $120 for upgrades.

The system for upgrading is complicated, but Vista owners can upgrade to the exactly comparable edition of Windows 7 while keeping all files, settings and programs in place.

Unfortunately, XP owners, the biggest body of Windows users, won’t be able to do that. They’ll have to wipe out their hard disks after backing up their files elsewhere, then install Windows 7, then restore their personal files, then re-install all their programs from the original CDs or downloaded installer files. Then, they have to install all the patches and upgrades to those programs from over the years.

Microsoft includes an Easy Transfer wizard to help with this, but it moves only personal files, not programs. This painful XP upgrade process is one of the worst things about Windows 7 and will likely drive many XP owners to either stick with what they’ve got or wait and buy a new one.

In my tests, both types of installations went OK, though the latter could take a long time.

Bottom line: Windows 7 is a very good, versatile operating system that should help Microsoft bury the memory of Vista and make PC users happy.


At Ceatec 2009, a starring role for 3D

TOKYO–In the exhibition halls of a gadget trade show, the things that normally jump out are the wacky outfits the female booth attendants are forced to wear, the mammoth wall installations of TVs, and long lines for booth swag.

For better or worse, the enduring image of Ceatec 2009 has been the sight of suit-clad men waiting in twisting queues for the chance to don a pair of plastic 3D glasses for a five-minute TV demonstration. There are two reasons for that: because the major TV makers here couldn’t miss out on the chance to show their prototype models of this trendy technology, and because there wasn’t really much else going on this year.

There isn’t yet a final, official count, but this year’s show, which started Tuesday and runs through the weekend, so far seems far less crowded than in years past. Attendees could have been kept away by the sluggish economy, or the inclement weather, including a tropical storm that hit Tokyo midweek. Either way, the general vibe at the Makuhari Messe has been much more subdued.

In the past Ceatec has been known as the event where gadgets destined for store shelves showed up en masse, the last stop on the trade show circuit before they’re packaged and ready for consumers during the yearly holiday sales period. However, the 2009 edition was shorter on practical products and very low on new stuff.

As at IFA in Berlin last month and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, 3D was the dominant theme. Panasonic showed its very-close-to-being-ready 3D plasma TV here this week–this time, though, on a 50-inch set, a size that’s far more practical than the 103-inch behemoth used at expos earlier this year. The 50-inch model, plus some sizes larger than that, will be unveiled along with pricing and shipping information at CES in January 2010. Sony is also readying its first 3D TV for the home, which is set to ship sometime next year, though the company wasn’t specific about exactly when.

Fellow Japanese TV manufacturers Hitachi, Sharp, and Toshiba also hauled in their own 3D TV demos to the floor of Makuhari Messe, and attendees dutifully lined up to see them, but none of those electronics makers are committing to shipping 3D TVs yet, which is very telling.

Panasonic acknowledged that the standards for releasing 3D movies on Blu-ray are not yet complete, but said they will be soon, and that the company is committed to the standards. But some of Panasonic’s competitors are not completely convinced 3D at home is a sure bet. A Toshiba representative here said the company is “still waiting to see if there is demand” for 3D in the home. And with good reason–it’s still not clear that consumers are going to go for 3D at home just yet, both because it would mean likely buying yet another new TV and because watching those TVs requires wearing very silly-looking plastic glasses with active-shutter lenses.

3D and the floating mirror
Besides TVs, Ceatec also featured other cool applications using 3D outside of the home and movie theater.

The Japanese government’s National Institute of Information and Communication Technology, or NICT, was running a demonstration called Multisensory Interaction System (MSens), which had a line almost as long as many of the TV demos. In this, 3D was used to enhance reality for specific tasks. It worked like this: An image of an ancient mirror with an ornate design on one side was displayed in a monitor. The image was reflected onto a piece of glass in front of a user standing at the monitor so that the mirror appeared to float in front of him. But the user could then take a stylus that would allow him to “feel” the surface of the mirror. As the tip moved across the bumpy surface (which in reality is being held in midair and not touching a solid surface), the stylus would rise and fall with the peaks and valleys on the mirror’s surface.

The idea would be to use MSens for product testing, design, and possibly even learning things like surgery. NICT also brought a separate demonstration that showed surgery in 3D, making observers feel as if they were right in the middle of an operation. It was fascinating, but also something you’d need a medical degree to use–and probably a strong stomach too.

While those have practical purposes outside of pure entertainment, it’s still 3D TVs that are getting all the attention here. Sometimes, as at Sony’s booth, that attention is even coming at the expense of other products. When asked why there were no organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TVs at its booth this year as in years past, a Sony representative said simply, “because we’re focusing on 3D.”


New Microsoft Security App Battens Down Windows for Free

Microsoft Manage and grow your business with Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac Business Edition More about Microsoft released version 1.0 of Microsoft Security Essentials, a free basic anti-malware service from Redmond, on Tuesday.

This replaces Microsoft’s discontinued Live OneCare Security-as-a-Service offering.

Live OneCare customers can move to Microsoft Security Essentials once their subscriptions expire.
About MSE

Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) is a lightweight application that runs in the background and takes up few CPU and memory resources, the vendor said.

It is the first Microsoft security product to use the company’s new Dynamic Signature Service, which ensures users are protected by the most current virus definitions available. Most other antivirus applications download the latest virus signatures one or more times daily.

MSE will run on Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) or SP3, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.

Only users of genuine versions of these Windows operating systems will be able to install MSE. The application will be available in eight languages and in 19 countries including the United States; Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore.

Technical Stuff

MSE monitors the file, registry, network and kernel mode actions taken by unknown programs to look for suspicious behavior, according Microsoft. When a program initiates unexpected network connections, tries to modify privileged parts of the system, or downloads known malicious content, this triggers MSE to request updates from the Dynamic Signature Service.

Further, MSE uses the Microsoft SpyNet telemetry system to monitor the quality of definition updates. When users detect and remove malicious files, information on that is sent to Microsoft in real time, and that information is used to identify abnormal patterns and assess the potential impact of an incorrect or misbehaving signature.

If a false positive is detected, the Dynamic Signature Service fixes the signature in real time and prevents users from being affected, according to the company.

Despite this, MSE lacks the personal firewall, backup and PC tuning features offered in Windows Live OneCare, which it replaces. “Microsoft Security Essentials is a no-cost core antimalware service that provides real-time protection to address the ongoing security needs of a genuine Windows PC,” Microsoft spokesperson Mac Brown told TechNewsWorld.

The Nitty-Gritty

MSE may be lightweight, but it does what it’s supposed to do, Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry said. “I’ve been using Security Essentials for the past little while,” he told TechNewsWorld. “It’s a base-level antimalware tool that gets antivirus signature files updated and runs very efficiently.”

Windows Live OneCare subscribers have to go to the MSE Web page and download the application once their subscriptions expire.

MSE is essentially targeted at users who don’t really pay attention to security but do want some basic form of defensive line. “We still see far too many consumers worldwide that do not have up-to-date protection either because they cannot afford it, are concerned about the impact the suites will have on the performance of their PCs, or because they simply do not realize their AV (antivirus) software is not up to date,” Microsoft’s Brown explained. MSE will help them because it’s free, consumes few systems resources and updates itself automatically, he said.

New computers often have antivirus software pre-installed, so is this argument valid? “Most preloaded antivirus applications are trial offers that run out after 30, 60 or 90 days, or perhaps after a year,” Directions on Microsoft’s Cherry said. “A surprisingly high number of people don’t pay to have them renewed after that because they don’t understand why they have to pay for it, and don’t understand that, even though it’s still running, it’s not updating the virus signatures.”

With MSE, Microsoft joins the ranks of vendors like AVG in offering free, basic antivirus software. AVG also sells more advanced security packages.

Users do need to do some work. The MSE help page has videos on how to install the application; how to scan for viruses on demand; and how to fix a threat once it’s been detected. After that, they’re on their own, though Microsoft’s Brown said MSE users can get free community and e-mail support.