Download 32-bit and 64-bit Vista SP1 RTM Slipstream ISO Images

Microsoft is offering for download both the 32-bit and 64-bit Windows Vista SP1, the slipstream versions as ISO images. A slipstream version of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is essentially nothing more than the RTM version of the latest Windows client with the service pack already integrated.

The alternative is to have both Vista RTM and Vista SP1 RTM as two standalone products. In this context, SP1 would have to be installed on top of the operating system after Vista was deployed on a machine. The same is not the case for the full DVD build of Vista SP1. The slipstream version permits the user to deploy Vista SP1 directly in a single installation.

On February 4, 2008, Microsoft released Windows Vista SP1 to manufacturing and then made the service pack available to the 15,000 beta testers, as well as to OEMs, Volume License customers, MSDN and TechNet Plus subscribers. On top of the fact that MSDN and TechNet subscribers got Vista SP1 RTM early, they are now able to access the bits for the integrated full DVD of the service pack. The 32-bit Vista SP1 Slipstream ISO Image was up for grabs since February 26, and on February 28, Microsoft also added the 64-bit version.

"On February 4, 2008 Windows Vista Service Pack 1 was released to manufacturing. TechNet Plus subscribers can now access Windows Vista SP1 as a standalone update or integrated with Windows Vista SP1," Microsoft revealed via a message posted on the Windows Vista TechCenter. As far as the new x64 version is concerned, users should look for en_windows_vista_with service_pack_1_x64_dvd_x14-29595.iso ISO-9660 DVD Image with the SHA-1 Hash of bdadc46a263a7bf67eb38609770e4fdbd05247cb. The download is no less than 3,749 MB.

"The Windows Vista SP1 x64 .ISO file is now online in the TechNet Subscriber Downloads center. It's the fully integrated SP1 thus allowing you to install the operating system from scratch. Although it says English, it's my understanding it includes French, German, Japanese and Spanish as well," stated Keith Combs, Microsoft IT Pro Evangelist. "This file contains the following: Windows Vista Business with Service Pack 1, Windows Vista Home Basic with Service Pack 1, Windows Vista Home Premium with Service Pack 1 and Windows Vista Ultimate with Service Pack 1."


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Microsoft slashes Windows Vista prices

Microsoft put up a Q&A on PressPass with Brad Brooks. He's the CVP of Windows Consumer Product marketing, and he announced that Microsoft is dropping the price of retail-packaged product (RPP) versions of Windows Vista when the SP1 version hits the shelves in a few weeks.

From the interview:

PressPass: What did you announce today?

Brooks: Today we announced a variety of price reductions for copies of Windows Vista sold on retail shelves. In developed markets, the price changes will most notably impact upgrade retail versions of the new editions we introduced in 2007 -- Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate editions. In emerging markets, we are combining full and upgrade Home Basic and Home Premium versions into full versions of these editions and instituting price changes to meet the demand we see among first-time Windows customers who want more functionality than is available in current Windows XP editions. In addition, we are also adjusting pricing on Windows Vista Ultimate in emerging markets to be comparable to price changes developed market customers will see.

These price changes will take effect globally with the retail release of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 later this year, though some markets will see reduced prices sooner as a result of promotions many of our partners already are driving, such as in the United States.

Ina fried at has the details. Windows Vista Ultimate drops 27% from $299 to $219, and Home Premium drops 19% from $159 to $129. I think this is great news, and will make Vista a bit more accessible. It also makes Vista Home Premium the same price as Apple's OSX 10.5, which might explain that particular price point.


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Microsoft-Intel Capable Collusion?

Microsoft is going to be in a heap of trouble because of the Windows Capable lawsuit—and perhaps Intel, too. Windows Vista Capable certification for the Intel 915 chip set may have violated U.S. antitrust laws.

For more than a year, I've complained that OEMs shipped Windows Vista PCs with deficient graphics accelerators. I never imagined that Microsoft was involved. Why would the company want to ruin the Vista experience?

But e-mails released yesterday (while I was out of the office at a Microsoft event, damn it) suggest otherwise. I was wrong about Microsoft. By all appearances, the company colluded with Intel to qualify a knowingly, deficient graphics chip set as being Windows Vista Capable.

Todd Bishop of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer blogged the full text of internal Microsoft e-mails late yesterday. The communications were released as part of discovery for the Windows Vista Capable class-action lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed at the end of March, alleges that Windows XP PCs carrying the "Vista Capable" logo couldn't fully run the newer operating system. My own earlier testing confirms that at least some PCs running the Intel 915 chip set were incapable of running all Windows Vista features, mainly the Aero user interface.

Page 30 of the 158-page court document has a staggering Microsoft admission, and one that strongly suggests collusion between two monopolies.

Microsoft executive John Kalkman explains that Microsoft "lowered" the Vista Capable requirements to accommodate Intel: "We lowered the requirement to help Intel make their quarterly earnings so they could continue to sell motherboards with the 915 graphics embedded."

By my reading—and qualifying that I am no legal expert—the agreement appears to loosely fit the U.S. definition of collusion. By lowering Vista Capable standards, presumably knowingly below a capable of threshold, Intel graphics chip sets were fixed at a lower price than they should have been in a competitive market. Microsoft made the change to accommodate a single partner and one that arguably is another monopoly. The European Union already is investigating Intel for anticompetitive, monopolistic activities.

If nothing else, there arguably is a violation under either the jurisdiction of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission or the Securities and Exchange Commission. I include the SEC because of the material gain to Intel earnings.


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Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 Is Close – Microsoft Says Get Ready

After spending in excess of a year cooking, Internet Explorer 8 is, finally, almost here. Microsoft has already started shipping the bits for the first beta version of Internet Explorer 8. For the time being, IE8 Beta 1 is available exclusively to a pre-selected pool of testers.

The private beta is well under way with the first testers already having installed the preview of IE8. Microsoft has yet to confirm this, but I have contacted the company in this regard and will give you an update as soon as I'll have anything to share. Still, there is palpable proof that IE8 Beta 1 is already being test driven, and even more that the Redmond company is approaching the moment when it will release the Beta to the general public.

In this regard, Microsoft has been urging web developers to update their sites with Internet Explorer 8 support. At the end of the past week, Eric Lawrence, IE Program Manager, revealed the need for websites sensitive to User-Agent string modifications to be tweaked in order to support the upcoming version of Internet Explorer. It turns out that the same is valid for the RSS Platform User-Agent String.

"Eric Lawrence presented the User-Agent string for the beta version of Internet Explorer 8 which will be available later this year. The RSS Platform will also introduce an updated User-Agent string for use with the IE8 beta. For details on the RSS Platform User-Agent string in IE7 please take a look here. The change is a simple increment of the version number to '2.0' as in: Windows-RSS-Platform/2.0 (MSIE 8.0; Windows NT 6.0)," stated Walter vonKoch, Program Manager, Microsoft RSS.

Microsoft will give a presentation of the new features of IE8 at MIX08, next week in Las Vegas. The first public taste of IE8 will come courtesy of Dean Hachamovitch, IE General Manager. I have also asked Microsoft when they plan to make IE8 available as a public Beta. It's unlikely that the company will give an accurate date, but it never hurts to hope.

"And as before, note that there are two cases to keep in mind: the user is not subscribed to the feed (the user navigates to a feed and IE presents a preview of the content.) and the user is subscribed to the feed. (the RSS Platform retrieves the feed content on a schedule (or on demand)). In the first case, the request is made by IE and hence the IE User-Agent string is used. In the second case, the RSS Platform User-Agent string is used," vonKoch added.


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Cashing In on Naive BitTorrent Users

BitTorrent sites are overloaded with ads for malware ridden BitTorrent clients and paid tutorials that promise to quadruple your download speed. They try to lure naive users into downloading their products with catchy phrases such as “Breakthrough Information Will Have You Downloading Torrents Up To 475% Faster”. It’s time to take them down.

Last year we reported several times on the family of malware supported BitTorrent clients such as Torrent101, BitRoll, TorrentQ and GetTorrent. These clients promised ‘high speed downloads’ but actually installed a payload of malware onto the victim’s PC. It seems that our articles resulted in the desired response, with most torrent sites effectively banned their ads.

Recently, however, we have noticed an increase in ads for paid tutorials. A couple of months ago we posted about, a site that promised to boost download speeds up to 500% faster. Unfortunately they are still around, the only thing they have changed since then is their initial claim, they now promise a 475% increase in download speed.

The only thing these people are after is money from naive BitTorrent users, and they do this by advertising their ‘revolutionary’ tutorials on BitTorrent sites such as The Pirate Bay, Mininova and Isohunt, making thousands of dollars a month. Technically there is nothing illegal about selling something like this, but the absurd claims they make will only disappoint people who get tricked into paying up.

Luckily, most BitTorrent admins agree with this. The administrator of BTjunkie is the most active opponent perhaps, as he told us: “I don’t allow it on our site because it’s a scam. It’s like a bad infomercial for torrents.” He even went as far as complaining to Paypal and Adbrite to stop these people, so far without result. “I’ve had lots of backs and forths about this with Adbrite,” he said “They just keep telling me it’s not possible to permanently ban them unless you want to approve every ad that goes on your site.”

TorrentFreak contacted a few other admins, and they assured us that they will do everything they can to stop these ads from appearing on their sites. Pirate Bay’s Brokep told us: “We’re making sure they never comes back now, or I’ll tell Adbrite we need to kick them out.” We honestly hope that the others will follow this example, for now, this seems to be the only way to get rid of them.

The funny thing is, scammers are not only ripping off innocent BitTorrent users, they also rip each other off. Here is an email that the owners of fastspeedtorrents sent to a torrent site admin, pouring his heart out he wrote:

I own the site I’ve been trying to buy a flat rate ad on your site but it would always get declined. What happened was I bought the site and the person that sold me the site said that you were a main advertiser and to purchase flat rate ads. Well, something changed and I haven’t been able to buy an ad since I purchased the site. Then this person went and started a site called which is basically just a copy of a site that he sold me which he legally shouldn’t have done and now I see his ads on your site somehow.”

Poor guy…

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Attacks on Mac OS X Exploded by 1,550% in 2007 – Just a 36% Growth for Windows

Windows is without a doubt the most attacked platform in the world. Microsoft's proprietary operating system attracts no less than 96.36% of the world's malicious code, according to malware statistics for 2007, released by Kaspersky.

But while Windows leads by a landslide when it comes down to the actual volume of malware that preys on it, Apple's Mac OS X is also a leader in a top that is designed to provide little comfort for its users. OS X is the top platform in terms of the increase of attacks throughout 2007. While the volume of attacks impacting Windows has only grown by 36% from the first half of the past year, compared to the second half, those on Mac OS X exploded by no less than 1,550%.

"Despite the fact that the share of malicious programs for the Win32 environment amounted to 96.36% in 2007, it began to slowly but surely decline. The percentage of threats targeting platforms other than Win32 increased from 3.18% to 3.42% in the first six months of 2007, and exceeded 4% in the second half of the year. Growth for the full year amounted to 3.64%. In the last six months of 2007, the number of malicious programs, AdWare and potentially malicious programs for Win32 increased 36% from the first half of the year," explained Alexander Gostev. Senior Virus Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.

Aside from Windows, the remaining platforms experienced an increase in attacks of no less than 63%. There is the example of the open source Linux operating system, affected by 121 attacks in H1 2007 and just 45 in H2, therefore a decrease of 63%. At the opposite pole is Mac OS X. In the first half of the past year, Mac OS X suffered just 2 attacks. This number grew by 33 in the second half or a jump of 1,550%. Of course that actually reading Kaspersky's malware statistics per platform in 2007 it is clear that Windows was impacted by 228,593 attacks, while Linux and Mac OS X by just 166 and respectively 35.


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Google Advised to Bid for ~20% of Yahoo!

As the weeks keep flying and nothing worthy of mentioning is happening after Yahoo! turned down Microsoft’s unsolicited bid, rumors are starting to get leaked and suppositions made.
The lawsuits filed against the Sunnyvale-based company are something of lesser importance, because they are in a unsolvable situation whichever way the coin flips. Out of the seven suits, there are two accusing Yahoo! of encouraging MS to bid, and others that demand the sales as being in the shareholders’ best interest. It doesn’t matter what Yahoo! does, it will still get sued.

Google responded very quickly when Microsoft made the big announcement. In an instant, a press release was put together, deeming the bid as dangerous, and the next day, investment banker George Boutros was hired for advice. "Boutros is known in M&A circles as a briefcase slammer. […] The kind of negotiator who will do whatever it takes to make the other guy blink," Valleywag quoted Adam Lashinsky.

Two weeks’ work later, the solution presented to Google’s directors was that the Mountain View-based company should bid for just under 20 percent if Yahoo!’s stock at an inflated price. There are two theories as to why that is. The first, presented by Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, is that "Google clearly wants to see the status quo continue in the search space, and would rather fight a fragmented market than a single, stronger, Microsoft/Yahoo."

The second has a lot more to do with chaos and mayhem, that would destabilize the two companies currently involved in their very own cold war right now: Microsoft shareholders are unhappy and penalized the Redmond giant severely by lowering its stock value, while Yahoo! is hit with lawsuits and has talent departing due to the vesting packages that just expired. If crazy is what Google’s after, it did a very good job. I wonder if the bid is actually made what will be to come.

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Windows XP SP3 RC2 Refreshed and Re-Released!

A new version of Windows XP Service Pack 3 Release Candidate 2 was made available for download today, February 27, 2008.

At the beginning of the month, immediately on the heels of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 RTM, XP SP3 moved from RC Refresh 2 into RC2 stage. The initial RC2 build was a private release, dropped exclusively to some 15,000 testers, but then Microsoft went public with the build. Now, the Redmond company has done it again, so to speak. A new, refreshed and re-released version of Windows XP SP3 RC2 can be grabbed, both via Windows Update or as a standalone download.

However, despite the fact that the new version of XP SP3 RC2 is up for grabs, the Redmond company failed to breathe a single word on the new release. Microsoft has managed to remain mute not only on the release to manufacturing date of XP SP3, but also on the development milestones of the service pack. The latest version opened to the XP SP2 users makes no exception. As was the case with the first XP SP3 RC2 build, a registry script will permit XP SP2 machines to detect, download and install the Release Candidate 2 version of the service pack through Windows Updates.

"Download the script and run it on a machine currently running Windows XP Service Pack 2. The script sets a registry key on your system. The registry key is required for Windows Update to recognize your machine as a valid target for Windows XP Service Pack 3 RC2," Microsoft explained.

The Release Candidate notes for the latest version of XP SP3 RC2 have not been touched in the least. Every detail is exactly the same as in the previous build of XP SP3 RC2. But now, Microsoft has also made available the German, English and Japanese standalone versions of XP SP3 RC2, weighing 312.0 MB for WindowsXP-KB936929-SP3-x86-DEU.exe, 315.2 MB for WindowsXP-KB936929-SP3-x86-ENU.exe and 324.5 MB for WindowsXP-KB936929-SP3-x86-JPN.exe.

"Versions of Windows XP Service Pack 3 prior to Release Candidate 2 should be removed before attempting to use the registry key. Windows Update will not offer Release Candidate 2 to machines with previous versions of the Windows XP Service Pack 3 beta. It is recommended that you apply the resulting update package to an activated, genuine copy of Windows XP, in a test environment. As with any pre-release software, it is also recommended that you back up files and settings on your machine before applying this update package," Microsoft informed.

Note: When I tried to install the new Windows XP SP3 RC2 build on top of XP SP2 on a machine where SP3 had never been deployed, I got an "access denied error" and installation failed. At the time of this article, all efforts to deploy the standalone package of XP SP3 RC2 resulted in failed attempts.

Download: Windows XP SP3 RC2


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Microsoft courts open-source vendors to support Win Server 2008

When Microsoft officially launches Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 in one fell swoop on February 27, it will have a cadre of software, hardware and services partners backing its play.

One group that won’t be physically onstage with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in Los Angeles will be the open-source software vendors that the Redmond software vendor increasingly has been encouraging to port their products to Windows. But that doesn’t mean Microsoft is simply assuming that if they build a new back-end infrastructure, these newfound friends will automatically show up.

Microsoft has been making a concerted effort in recent months to convince open-source vendors that LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Perl) isn’t the only game in town. Porting apps to Windows and tying into the supporting Microsoft servers can make good business sense, the Redmondians have argued. A number of open-source vendors subsequently began offering versions of their wares that ran on previous versions of Windows Server

Microsoft is stepping up its recruitment campaign around the next iterations of its products, especially Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008. In fact, this week back at corporate headquarters in Redmond, Microsoft officials are working closely with members of the Apache Software Foundation — whom Microsoft invited to its Open Source Lab — to help Apache get its open-source Web server and other products to run on Windows Server 2008. Microsoft Open Source Community Lead Garrett Serack has been blogging the minutia surrounding the Apache representatives’ visit.

Apache isn’t the only “open-source hero” with whom the Microsoft’s brass is actively working to get more products to pass the battery of “Works With” Windows Server 2008 and “Certified For” Windows Server 2008 tests. As of Wednesday, launch day, three open-source companies had passed the gauntlet, according to Microsoft.


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No fix for data corruption bug in Windows Home Server

Two months after acknowledging a serious data corruption bug exists in Windows Home Server, Microsoft has admitted it still has no fix.

The latest update to its knowledgebase entry essentially says, "still workin' on it". The bug relates to a little known, but frequently used, method of writing hidden data to NTFS file systems, which is incompatible with the disk pooling strategy used in Home Server.

The software giant first acknowledged the problem on December 21 last year, providing a list of programs that could cause data on a Windows Home Server to become corrupted, including Windows Vista Photo Gallery, Windows Live Photo Gallery, OneNote 2007, OneNote 2003, Outlook 2007, Money 2007, SyncToy 2.0 beta, QuickBooks and uTorrent.


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Sun leaks 6-core Intel processor details

Late last month in Austria, Intel presented Sun with roadmaps discussing details of its upcoming server platforms, including the fairly secret Xeon Dunnington and Nehalem architectures.

Unfortunately for some, this presentation ended up on Sun's public web server over the weekend.

Dunnington, Intel's 45nm six-core Xeon processor from the Penryn family, will succeed the Xeon Tigerton processor. Whereas Tigerton is essentially two 65nm Core 2 Duo processors fused on one package, Dunnington will be Intel's first Core 2 Duo processor with three dual-core banks. Dunnington includes 16MB of L3 cache shared by all six processors. Each pair of cores can also access 3MB of local L2 cache. The end result is a design very similar to the AMD Barcelona quad-core processor; however, each Barcelona core contains 512KB L2 cache, whereas Dunnington cores share L2 cache in pairs.

To sweeten the deal, all Dunnington processors will be pin-compatible with Intel Tigerton processors, and work with the existing Clarksboro chipset. Intel's slide claims this processor will launch in the second half of 2008 -- a figure consistent with previous roadmaps from the company.


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Security Software Specially Designed for Gamers - Help Wanted

Ok, Ice Armor, Frost Warding, Mana Shield and on to battle! A Frostbolt to begin with and… and nothing. Lag. Before you get to cast the Damage over Time spell, the computer starts stuttering because the antivirus has just decided to update or thought there was something suspicious.

Before you know it, you’ve got half of the life you had at the beginning, if you’re lucky and haven’t already found yourself on the losing end of the P v P.

Many can relate to the short story above, perhaps the game might differ, but the result is the same. That’s why true gamers often turn off their anti-virus and firewall protection while playing online. Fatal error, the system resources drained are not worth getting infected over them. That’s why security firm Bullguard has announced that it needs gamers to beta test its new version of the software, specifically designed to cause as little disruption as possible, Web User reports.

The software will create a specific profile for each of the games somebody plays and will then adjust the way it works in order to achieve harmony between the resources demanded both by game and anti-virus. That’s the pompous way of saying it, the real scenario is that Bullguard’s product will adjust and require itself as little as is available.

Those interested in helping the project see its end are welcome to register for free on the company’s website and receive access to the Bullguard Gamer’s Edition. The one requirement the developing team has is that players provide feedback on the performance of the beta code, so it can be worked on until the official release, at a date unconfirmed yet.

How about it? Raiding Illidan will be the experience it was meant to be and no interference from any software will occur. Girlfriends, however, are a different story.

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Finjan uncovers database storing more than 8,700 stolen FTP credentials

A fresh discovery by security vendor Finjan Inc. provides yet another example of how easy it is becoming for almost anyone to find the tools needed to break into, infect or steal data from corporate Web sites.

The San Jose-based vendor announced today that it has uncovered an illegal database containing more than 8,700 stolen File Transfer Protocol server credentials including usernames, passwords and server addresses. Anyone can purchase those credentials and use them to launch malicious attacks against the compromised systems.

The stolen credentials belong to companies from around the world and include more than 2,500 North American companies, some of whose Web sites are among the world's top 100 domains, according to Yuval Ben-Itzhak, Finjan's chief technology officer.

The FTP credentials would allow malicious hackers to break into and upload malware of their choice to compromised servers literally with a click or two, he said. "You could pick any server you wanted in the list, pay for it" and launch an attack with very little effort, Ben-Itzhak said.

A trading interface on the server hosting the illegal database allows purchasers to buy FTP server credentials based on the countries in which the servers are located or even by the Google ranking of the Web sites, Ben-Itzhak said. It also appears to be designed to give criminals looking to resell FTP credentials a better basis for pricing the stolen data, he said.

A newly updated version of a tool kit called NeoSploit, which allows a cybercrook to automatically inject iFrame tags to Web pages on a compromised server, is also available. These tags are used in turn to surreptitiously pull in malicious code from other Web sites, Ben-Itzhak said.

All of the FTP credentials on the database uncovered by Finjan seem to have been harvested previously using Trojan horses and other forms of malware, he said.

"Software as a service has been evolving for some time, but until now, it has been applied only to legitimate applications," Ben-Itzhak said. The recently uncovered database and associated trading applications show that the model is being applied in the cyber-underworld as well, he said.

The database is being hosted on a server in Hong Kong, though all of its contents are in Russian, Ben-Itzhak said. As of last weekend, the server was still up and running, he added, though Finjan had sent e-mail informing the Internet service provider informing them about the rogue database. It was not immediately clear if the server hosting the database was itself compromised.

Companies that want to find out if their servers are in the list uncovered by Finjan can contact the company. Meanwhile, companies concerned that their servers have been compromised need to change their FTP usernames and passwords if they haven't already done so as part of their regular routines, Ben-Itzhak said.

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New search powers lead Firefox 3

The latest version of web browser Firefox will make changes to the way people search for information online, says its developer.

Mozilla has told the BBC's World Service that the new browser has been designed around the importance of search to users.

Firefox 3, currently going through its third stage of beta testing, will offer a combined search and bookmark tool via the url bar.

It will also allow offline working.
Chairman of the Mozilla Foundation Mitchell Baker told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme: "It's clear that when people are looking for information on the web, search is the number one activity," she said.
"We've devised ways to bring that power into areas that are closer to your individual life." 'Faster, sleeker' Typing "cameras", for example, into the url bar, will bring up a list of the sites that the user recently visited that have cameras in their names.
"If you buy shoes, that's all you need to remember - we will use search, as you've come to expect it, to help you find the places that you have been visiting," Ms Baker said.
Ms Baker said that other changes have been made that are invisible in terms of look, but will improve overall performance.

"It will be faster, sleeker, and even easier to use," she said. "In terms of features, we've tried very hard not to bloat the interface but to keep it simple, the way people like it, and to have new things appear when you need them." The other substantial change will be the ability to do much more offline, with the browser "remembering" key data that is usually lost when an internet connection goes down. This is designed to allow the user to continue to work when travelling or in remote areas where wireless access is patchy.

Firefox is currently the second most popular browser, although its 12% share is dwarfed by that of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. It has, however, substantially grown from its launch - first as Phoenix in 2002, then as Firebird, and finally ending up as Firefox in February 2004.

Ms Baker said that when Mozilla issued Firefox 1 they had one staff member, but hundreds working on different aspects of it. Now they have 150 employees around the world, and "tens of thousands" working on the software. Mozilla is run as a not-for-profit organisation, and advocate of open source coding.
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Vista RTM vs. Vista SP1 - Office 2007 benchmarking

Enough with benchmarking the OS - let’s see if Office 2007 is any faster on Vista SP1.

The test

The tests will be carried out on the AMD Spider platform that I have set up in the lab (Phenom 9700, Radeon 3850 graphics card, 2GB of RAM …). I’ve used this system as the platform for a number of benchmarks I’ve run over the past week (for a full spec, see this post).

As for the tests, we took two identical images of Vista - one RTM, one SP1. We then loaded Microsoft Office 2007 Professional onto the system and applied all the patches (including Office 2007 SP1). The system was then defragged and rebooted several times.

Afterwards we downloaded and installed DMS Clarity Studio software which includes the OfficeBench software. This application comes with a comprehensive set of Microsoft Office test scripts. These test scripts, while not perfect (no benchmark solution is) are pretty good and simulate a number of real-world tasks that users might carry out in Microsoft Office. The metric that we’re interested in getting from this benchmark is how long OfficeBench takes to execute the test scripts.

All tests were run five times under no load and five times under load (here OfficeBench runs a small Windows Media Video in the background), and we rebooted the system between each run. The tests were duplicated on Vista RTM and Vista SP1.

Because the results were so well grouped for this test, no results were discarded and times taken to execute the scripts were averaged. The lower the time, the faster the scripts completed and the better the result.

Thoughts on benchmarking

I’ve been benchmarking systems for long enough to know that no matter how many questions I think that my results answer, what I’m really doing is creating about three new questions for each question I solve. This is what happened with my earlier run of Vista benchmarks - I’d run some tests, you’d then come back and offer different scenarios that you’d like to see done and different platforms for those scenarios.

Benchmarking is an artificial activity. The goal is to eliminate as many variables as possible and achieve some consistent metric. Problem is, by removing the variables you’re actually shifting the process out from reality and into a make believe land which only exists on the PCs being benchmarked. Before you carry out your daily PC tasks I bet that you don’t take elaborate steps to ensure that you get consistency. Hence my enthusiastic use of the phrase “your mileage WILL vary.”

Another fundamental problem with benchmarking is that neither the tests nor the results are exactly what people want. Ultimately, what everyone wants to see is a benchmark of their daily tasks carried out on their PC. That, I’m afraid, is something I cannot provide.


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Windows 7 Start Menu

Windows 7, the successor of Windows Vista, is set to bring to the table an overhauled graphical user interface.

As far as Windows 7 Milestone 1 (M1) Ultimate Edition Build 6.1.6519.1 is concerned, Windows Aero has survived without any major redesign, for the time being. There is, however, a certain amount of specific nip and tuck touch-ups across the Windows Aero in Windows 7, for build 6.1.6519.1, but nothing definitive, and certainly nothing that provides a clue as to the final visual style of the next Windows iterations.

But as an integer part of the Aero UI, the Start Menu is bound to take a heavy hit in terms of revamping in the user interface redesign that will be synonymous with the evolution from Windows Vista to Windows 7.

As was the case with Windows 7 M1 Build 6.1.6519.1, which generated a consistent volume of leaked details, screenshots and videos, Microsoft left yet another piece of the operating system slip through its fingers. While conducting a private feedback survey on the Windows 7 Start Menu concept, Microsoft managed to reveal a mockup design to the public. The image included on the left, courtesy of Long Zheng, was accompanying the Windows 7 Start Menu concept survey, and has been removed from the servers hosting the marketing research.

I have highlighted some areas that may present an interest to you. At the same time, I have included screenshots of the current Start Menu at the bottom of this article, as it is in Windows 7 M1. The mockup indicates some interesting design directions for Microsoft. First off, even in Milestone 1, the user account picture was transitioned at the top of the Start Menu, but also over its surface, overlapping the desktop.

As you will also be able to see, now the Start Menu button, or orb, sphere, however you want to call it, is separated, having a well-delimited area, with different transparency settings than the rest of the taskbar. Also, some applications such as Internet Explorer and what seems to be Office 2007 Word feature cascade buttons on their right permitting perhaps additional menus, and shortcuts to the last visited website, or last opened document. One thing that Microsoft has implemented even as early as Windows 7 M1 is the expansion of the area for the results returned to queries entered in the Search box to the entire Start Menu, scrapping the pane on the left.


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Microsoft Downplays Windows Vista Encryption Cracks

The concept behind Cold-Boot attacks on encryption keys stored in the computer's DRAM is not new. The implications of physical memory attacks, in the context of Windows Vista BitLocker Drive Encryption, were discussed at Hack in the Box 2006 by Douglas MacIver, Penetration Engineer, Microsoft Penetration Team.

Although the Cold-Boot attack was a strategy all too familiar among the members of the security industry and of the security team over at Redmond, a demonstration of the encryption keys cracks, put together by Princeton researchers, brought the concept to reality, retrieving cryptographic key material from frozen (literally) DRAM.

But not only Vista's BitLocker technology is susceptible to Cold-Boot attacks, FileVault, dm-crypt, and TrueCrypt encryption keys are also stored in physical memory and can be retrieved by an attacker with physical access and the right algorithms designed for finding cryptographic keys in memory images. Robert Hensing, Technical Lead - Microsoft Product Support Services, stressed the fact that an eventual attacker needs to freeze the physical system memory as fast as possible in order to ensure that the RAM will retain the contents. And even if this happens, there is a certain level of decay of the gost image stored in RAM.

"I'd like to take a step back and, from a BitLocker perspective, detail some of the assumptions that have to be made for this attack to be successful: physical access to the machine; the user's laptop would likely have to be in sleep mode, rather than hibernate mode or powered off; the user would have chosen not to implement multi-factor pre-boot authentication and the person who finds/steals the laptop must be knowledgeable and interested enough to execute this attack on the laptop they just stole. I would posit that the opportunistic laptop thief is somewhat unlikely to carry a separate laptop on which they will have installed tools that allow them to reconstruct cryptographic keys - or for that matter have a can of compressed air handy," argued Microsoft senior product manager for Windows Vista security Russell Humphries.

With Windows Vista SP1, Microsoft has enhanced the protection level offered by BitLocker, in the sense that users are now enabled not only to enter a PIN or insert a USB stick with a secret key, but do both in order to make the operating system boot or resume from hibernate mode. "Quality security research helps our customers and the industry in general raise the security bar, and I applaud it; but let's also keep in mind that technologies like BitLocker provide a very valuable service to users and helps them protect data on their PCs. BitLocker's range of deployment options, ranging from single-factor authentication with sleep mode to TPM+PIN+USB with hibernation only, allow customers to find the right balance of security and convenience for their data," Humphries added.


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Windows Home Server ‘Vail’ to get more entertainment hooks

While Microsoft has shared some details (and code) for its upcoming minor update to Windows Home Server, it has said next to nothing about the next major versio

(Like the rest of the Windows client and server teams, the Home Server team is alternating between “major” and “minor” releases with its rollouts.)

I’ve tracked down (thanks to sources) a couple of new bits, however. The next major version of Windows Home Server is codenamed “Vail,” I hear.

And Vail is going to include more entertainment “capabilities.” What that means, precisely, I don’t know. Does it mean Windows Home Server will somehow become one with Windows Media Center? Again, not sure. Last year, in response to a question about Microsoft’s plans to integrate (or continue to keep separate) Windows Home Server and Windows Media Center, Todd Headrick, WHS Product Planner said:

“Time will tell – and please don’t infer that ‘time will tell’ means yes. There are a tremendous number of complex issues that need to be resolved to make this simple question become a reality.”

Before Microsoft gets to Vail, it has some other WHS things on its plate, however, including fixing a data corruption bug that affecting more Microsoft and third-party applications than originally thought….


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Early Vista SP1 64-bit installs causing new problems?

An iTWire journo by the name of Alex has found yet another Vista SP1 issue to bitch about, this time it's the x64 version and early reports are pointing to several problems.
Anything from the "Windows Performance Rating" vanishing, to the poor souls Treo not being recognized through "Windows Mobile Center" after SP1 installation. There could be many explanations for this happening, for example: The guys laptop is so sucky that Vista did him a favor by simply hiding crap results, and his phone may no longer sync to Mobile center because he has so few friends and contacts it just isn't worth it. Think of some yourself, it's fun!

Vista may have done the guy a favour.

Or Vista is indeed broke, and Microsoft need to sort it, but basing an entire 3 page article on one guys (unconfirmed) issues with his laptop seems so troll-like, it's almost beyond belief and seems more like a knee jerk reaction. Either way I am sick of all the ranting as of late, so much so that I will be installing Windows Vista x64 SP1 just to annoy websites like iTWire, InfoWorld and CNet (Staff bloggers) and all of their readers to show them that any normal user can install Vista x64 SP1 and have everything work afterwards. Meanwhile a whambulance has been dispatched to the above mentioned sites to pick up the whiney tossers.


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Gmail Cracked! - Captchas not so good any more

The spam-free Gmail is about to become spam-full and on an accelerated rate from now on. When the email service from Google first came to be, it prided itself with its filters that would redirect spam directly to the folder specially created for it. Slowly but surely, hackers managed to evolve methods of fooling the rigid filters and some unwanted messages started finding their way into users’ inboxes.

The next step was to create as many Gmail accounts as possible but Captchas (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) stopped this attempt fairly well. Until now. After successfully hacking their way into fooling the Windows Live captcha used by Hotmail, cyber criminals took a poke at Google’s mail service and it turned to be a poke in the eye. Internet security firm Websense reports that the captchas used by Gmail have been defeated by the bots created with just that purpose.

Ever growing in number, the methods of fooling the captchas have crowned king the record breaking HotLan Trojan, which managed to create some 500,000 spam email accounts with Hotmail, Yahoo! and Gmail in just little over 6 months of ‘activity.’ The latest hack that is able to go through the captcha defense is by far the most promising, it manages to create a spam account for every five attempts it makes. Not a very impressing percentage, but it is sophisticated enough, using two zombies (compromised hosts) for the job, and each of those uses a different technique to analyze the captcha.

Gmail is the holy land for spammers because it grants many advantages. Apart from gaining access to all of the Google services, it also has the advantage of not being in danger of having the domain blacklisted, and it’s free, let’s not forget about that.

A new age is upon us, spam-wise. The Gmail team should be on the lookout now, and slowly eliminate the proven spam addresses as well as working some more on their captcha system, if it is the one they will be sticking to in the future.

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6 Adobe AIR Apps to Check Out

Adobe's AIR platform allows developers to create web applications that run on your desktop without the need of a web browser. Now that AIR has dropped the beta tag (see our previous coverage), it's time to look at some of the AIR apps you can use today. And if you want to know why we here at Read Write Web are so excited about AIR, read more of our analysis about the platform to get caught up. Did your favorite app make the list?


It goes without saying that one of the most popular AIR applications is the Twitter client, Twhirl. Although it never got a write-up by any top blogs, it seems that everyone discovered this app on their own anyway. One of the best things about Twhirl is that it can be used to connect to multiple Twitter accounts. This is very useful for those that keep a Twitter account for personal use and a separate one for a business or service that they run. The Twhirl app demonstrates how AIR apps bring the web to the desktop, as it can dock in the system tray, just like a real desktop application does. You can search Twitter users, view their timelines, and choose to follow or unfollow them as you like. You can also search the public timeline in a feature that is powered by another web service, terraminds. Twhirl automatically fetches your friends' status updates, direct messages, and replies, while color-coding different types of messages. You'll receive both visual and audible notifications of tweets, with new messages displaying in a preview pop-up. Within Twhirl, you can easily post links via the URL-shortening feature provided by The app is skinnable and comes with multiple color schemes built-in that you can choose from. Overall, Twhirl is one of the best Twitter clients, and one of the best AIR apps, too. Download it here.

Google Analytics

For web site owners, measuring traffic and visitor stats are crucial tasks to managing the site and improving performance. With the Google Analytics AIR application, those who use Google's free analytics software can now view those stats without needing to log in using a web browser. This robust application allows for multiple profiles from different Analytics accounts. Within the app, all the visitors, traffic, and content reports are available, just as they are online. A tabbed interface allows you to easily switch between the various reports. Within each area, you can drilldown into the data to view things like goal values and data segmentation. The app provides animated, interactive graphs, making viewing the data just as useful, if not more so, than when you view it online. You can also quickly swich between the interactive reports to viewing them in a PDF format instead. These reports can then be saved or printed, just like any online PDF. Alternately, reports can be exported to PDF, Excel, or XML formats. Download it here.


RichFLV is an AIR app that lets you edit Flash Video (FLV) files. The app reads FLV metadata - while importing the video, the app outputs the number and types of tags found for video, sound, keyframe (Keyframe Tags), and data (DataTags). With RichFLV, you can read, edit, modify, or delete cuepoints and cut FLV files. You can also use the app as a conversion tool, and convert the FLV files to SWF (Shockwave Flash) format. The sound in the FLV can be converted to an MP3, as well. Although serving a niche audience, this popular app has already been downloaded 654 times from the AIR Marketplace. Download it here.


AgileAgenda is a project scheduling utility which lets project managers enter data about tasks. The app, an Adobe AIR Derby Best in Show winner, dynamically adjusts to the changing conditions of a project. It knows today's date and it will automatically adjust tasks that are or aren't complete based on that. Tasks can be moved, extended, or split as needed. A light table lets you view the tasks, reassign them, change their priority, or change the durations. And like most project scheduling utilities, a GANTT view is available as well. Your data can either be stored locally, or even better, on AgileAgenda's web service. AgileAgenda supports data sharing via XML or PDF exports and/or a web-based view on their web service. Download it here.

AOL Top 100 Videos

For some fun with AIR, check out the AOL Top 100 Videos application. This desktop widget lets you view the latest music videos, related artist videos, and special features provided by AOL. The music videos are sorted into various genres, like "Rock & Alternative," "Hip Hop," "Pop," "Country," "Latin," and there is also a category for the "Most Watched" videos. The Top 100 app offers three different views - a Standard View, which is just a normal window, a Full Screen View, and a cool, sidebar-like Docked View. You can bookmark your favorite videos and via the related info sections, you can purchase the album, download ring tones and more, while reading up on your favorite artists. Download it here.

Xdrive Lite

Xdrive Lite is a new AIR app that was just launched today, but it certainly has potential to be one of the better apps. With the AIR client app, Xdrive users can upload files and folders to the online Xdrive web storage service right from the desktop. When logged into the Xdrive Lite app, everything in your Xdrive folder is shown within the app in the upper portion of the window, and below this is a local browser. Uploading files and folders is as easy as dragging and dropping them from one pane to the other. A Transfers section allows you to view the progress of the uploads and downloads. The app can also be used to share files with your friends through email, or by grabbing the embed code or file link. Download it here.

That's just a brief look at some of the apps Adobe AIR currently offers, though I am sure there are many more that you might find just as good or even better [update: go2web20 followed up with more apps]. Do you agree with our list? In the comments, let us know who would be in your favorites!

(Note: some of these apps still require the beta version of AIR to run).

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Fujitsu Shows 500GB Laptop Drive

The latest entry in high-capacity notebooks is Fujitsu, which will release a laptop with a 500GB drive in May.
Laptop computer storage is racing fast towards the 500G-byte level with Fujitsu becoming the third hard-disk drive maker to announce a drive at that capacity.

Fujitsu is accomplishing this capacity by combining three disk platters -- the magnetically-coated disks on which data is stored -- each with a 170G-byte capacity inside the drive. Hitachi, the first company to announce a 500G-byte drive, and Samsung Electronics are also using three platter designs.

The third platter increases the thickness of the drive to 12.5 millimeters versus most other laptop drives, which have just two platters and are 9.5 millimeters thick.

As a result the Fujitsu drive won't fit into the drive bay on many laptop computers, so its availability doesn't mean an instant capacity upgrade will be possible for all laptop users. Hitachi's drive is also 12.5 millimeters thick, but Samsung said it has been able to keep the drive height at 9.5 millimeters on its Spinpoint M6 drive.

Fujitsu will begin selling its 2.5-inch drive in May. It will have a Serial ATA (SATA) interface and can transfer data at up to 300M bytes per second. The average seek time for reading data on the 4,200 rpm drive is 12 milliseconds and 14 milliseconds for writing data. Fujitsu didn't announce pricing.

Hitachi said in January that it would ship its drive this month and Samsung announced a March shipping date. Both the Hitachi and Samsung drives spin the disk faster, at 5,400 rpm.

All three drives will also be aimed at the fast growing digital video recorder (DVR) market. Many of the DVRs use laptop drives because they are smaller and lighter than the 3.5-inch models typically made for desktop computers and servers.


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Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1

Greetings from the Internet Explorer Team! We are nearing the launch of Windows Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 and we will be making it available for the general public to download and test. IE8 Beta 1 is focused on the developer community, with the goal of gaining valuable feedback to improve Internet Explorer 8 during the development process. We have identified you as a qualified beta tester and we would like to offer an opportunity to join our limited technical beta program for Windows Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1. Participation in the Technical Beta will enable you to evaluate a common release of Windows Internet Explorer 8, the ability to submit feedback, post bug reports, download software answer surveys on product quality as well as vote on top bugs filed by others from the technical beta program.

This is a very exclusive program, by invitation only. The only way to submit feedback is to enroll in the Windows Internet Explorer 8 Technical Beta program. As such, we would be happy to have your participation. To accept this invitation and to apply to become a member of this program, follow this link: (If this link does not work for you, copy the full link and paste it into the Web browser address bar.) Follow the steps shown to you by that program to apply to become an active participant. You may be asked to take a survey, or submit other preliminary information. To report a problem or to ask a question, visit the Contact Us page (found at the bottom of every page). We hope to see you in the technical beta! Best regards. The Internet Explorer Team

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Power efficiency enhancements in Vista SP1

Most if not all the attention surrounding Windows Vista Service Pack 1 has been around performance, reliability and compatibility, but you probably didn’t know SP1 also makes short strides in terms of Vista’s power efficiency.

And by short, I really do mean short because we’re talking about improvements in the magnitude of only a couple percents. That in the context of 5 hours battery life is a mere additional 6 minutes. Having said that, some is better than none.

The first of two improvements is in the display subsystem. As you are probably aware of, the Desktop Window Manager (DWM) in Vista utilities the 3D rendering capabilities of your graphics card to draw the desktop and windows.

If you’ve ever played 3D games, you might have come across a graphics option called VSync. In a nutshell, VSync makes sure the output of the graphics card is synchronized with the refresh rate of your monitor. This prevents moving images from an effect of being teared. By design, Vista enables VSync to prevent a glitch free experience.

The side effect of VSync however is that it requires an interrupt to the CPU to maintain its sync. The default VSync rate for most users is 60Hz which means an interrupt occurs once every 16 milliseconds. As you might have guessed, this continuous interruption can prevent the CPU from entering a low-performance state where it is conserving energy.

Starting from SP1, the VSync functionality no longer runs continuously. Instead, the interrupts are disabled after a short timeout period where no screen updates has occurred. The default timeout period is 10 VSync periods which translates to 160 milliseconds (0.16 second) on a 60Hz screen. The catch is that a screen update can be anything from a blinking cursor to a flashing network icon, so the chances of a screen idle might be a lot less than you would imagine. Microsoft estimates VSync can increase power consumption from 1 to 2 percent.

The second improvement is in the audio subsystem and only concerns those with HD Audio codecs (not AC97). In Vista RTM, the audio device will never idle regardless of whether or not it is mute or if there’s any sound processing being done on the device, thus sucking power even when you’re not hearing any sound at all.

Starting from SP1, the default idle timeout for has been changed to 30 seconds. This means on battery power if the audio device is not rendering audio for a continuous period of 30 seconds, it will actually switch the audio device to a D3 power state. By definition, this means the device is off and should not consume any energy at all. Whilst Microsoft doesn’t give any indication of potential power savings, I presume this will have more of an effect than the VSync enhancement.

Before any of this matters, both of these changes also require some work on behalf of the hardware vendor. In the case of the graphics driver, it involves adding an additional flag in the source code and recompiling it with the new framework. In the case of the audio driver, it will have to direct the hardware to enter into a low-power state after a period of audio idle. Besides Microsoft’s default drivers, I’m not aware of any third-parties already supporting these enhancements but I hope they will soon.

If any laptop users with Vista SP1 have noticed a dramatic increase in battery life after SP1, please share your system specification and how much of an improvement you saw. If you don’t have SP1 already, it only means you’re not looking hard enough.


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Vista Update Fingers Activation Cracks

Microsoft Corp. has been lowering expectations about Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) since before it even confirmed there would be one. Numerous times, company executives and managers have told users and the press that Vista SP1 would not be like Windows XP SP2, the last desktop operating system service pack the company released.

"This is not about adding new features," David Zipkin, a senior product manager for Windows Vista, told Computerworld last August, comparing SP1 to XP's SP2, which was as much a new operating system as an update.

Really? Could have fooled us.

We took a spin through the change log for SP1, which has been released to manufacturing but won't be available from Microsoft until next month, and found a slew of things new to Vista. Not new as in unknown -- although there are a few surprises -- but new as in not seen in the initial edition of Vista launched in January 2007.

A recounting of the new and/or changed in Vista is unnecessary, and repetitive of what Microsoft has done itself, so for the most part, we went after the most interesting modifications that had been promised at one time or another to see if Microsoft followed through.

We call them "semisecrets" only because it's easy to forget that Microsoft committed to doing one thing or changing another. Plus, it's alliterative.

Does SP1 kill the "kill switch"?

Microsoft has come through on the promise it made back in early December 2007, and backed off from the dire side effects of a validation failure or if the user neglects to activate in the first 30 days.

Rather than drop into what Microsoft called "reduced functionality mode" -- where the only thing that worked was the browser and then for only an hour at a time -- SP1 amps the nags to activate and slaps a black background on the desktop.

Machines that fail a Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) validation test -- as some thousands did last year when Microsoft's servers went on the blink -- will see the same black background, but they won't be nagged about the need to buy a license.

What anticrack patches does SP1 apply?

Although Microsoft dialed back on Vista's notorious "kill switch" -- what the company called "reduced functionality mode" -- it has also included two updates designed to block popular pirate hacks.

The first is a fix for what's dubbed the "OEM Bios exploit," a crack that modifies system files and the BIOS to mimic product activation done at the factory by computer manufacturers. The second, which goes by the name "Grace Timer exploit," monkeys with the activation grace period -- it's normally 30 days, but can be extended -- so that it doesn't end until the year 2099.


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Apple Offers Refurbished iMacs Starting at $999!

In typical Apple fashion, the company's online store is offering refurbished Macs all of the sudden, as part of a Limited Time Special Price offer. iMac (current generation) prices range between $999 and $1,899 depending on processor speed, hard drive capacity and RAM, so for those of you who haven't had the chance to get a decent system at an affordable price, now is the time to check out Apple store.

This of course has nothing to do with the cheapening of NAND flash memory this year, as neither of the refurbished iMacs sports a solid state drive. That doesn't mean that Macs can't get cheaper anyway.

So, here's a bunch of systems one might look into for a decent experience as well as price:

Refurbished iMac 20-inch 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (current generation): sports a 20-inch glossy widescreen display, 1GB memory, 250GB hard drive, 8x SuperDrive (DVD±RDL/DVD±RW/CD-RW), ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT with 128MB memory and of course a Built-in iSight Camera.

Its original price was $1,199.00 and it now goes for $999.00. Order now and you're likely to get it sooner than 5 business days. Shipping is free.

Refurbished iMac 20-inch 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (current generation): features the same widescreen 20-incher, 1 gig of RAM, 320GB hard drive, 8x SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW) just as the first system, with ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO with 256MB memory and Built-in iSight Camera.

The system was originally priced at $1,499.00. Now, Apple is offering it for $1,249.00 and will ship it to your house within 24 hours. No shipping fees with this one either.

Refurbished iMac 24-inch 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme (current generation): this one has you scrolling with your eyes across 24 inches of glossy pixels, uses 2GB of RAM, can store 500GB of whatever, reads/writes discs with an 8x SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW), offers ATI Radeon HD 2600 PRO (256MB memory) video quality and stares at you via the ever-present Built-in iSight Camera.

Original price was $2,299.00; refurbished pice is $1,899.00. It ships within 24 hours also, no shipping fees.

Apple is also rumored to drop prices on its iPhone and iPod lineup by as much as 50 percent this year, due to weak demand and an oversupply on the market.

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What's New in Microsoft Land: 18-22 February, 2008

Investing in the future is one of Microsoft's goals throughout its entire existence. It teamed with schools and supplied with everything needed for a better learning experience for the students, and even talked with governments to get them to sign on different study programs, that would benefit both the Redmond-based company and the countries.

On Monday, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates presented a software giveaway for college and high school students worldwide that will grant them access to all the latest developer and designer tools created by the company. The goal was to unlock the creative potential and set the young on their pathway to career success, and, why not, perhaps draft a few rookies right out of college. I anxiously await the day when a very good coder will have a press conference to declare himself eligible for Microsoft draft, but that's a dream I probably won't live to see happening.

The program is available to more than 35 million students, as I write this, and has a potential 1 billion worldwide. "We want to do everything we can to equip a new generation of technology leaders with the knowledge and tools they need to harness the magic of software to improve lives, solve problems and
catalyze economic growth," Gates said. "Microsoft DreamSpark provides professional-level tools that we hope will inspire students to explore the power of software and encourage them to forge the next wave of software-driven breakthroughs."

The software available through DreamSpark will get your blood to boil if you aren't a student: Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition, Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, XNA Game Studio 2.0, Expression Studio, including Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design and Expression Media, SQL Server 2005 Developer edition and Windows Server Standard Edition.

Windows Server 2008 made Microsoft's day on Tuesday, as a poll conducted by CDW Corporation clearly showed that it was waited for like rain in Sahara. Furthermore, it is anticipated to be such a big hit that it will actually shame Windows Vista in terms of adoption. Do remember that the Redmond-based company prided itself, late in 2007, that Vista had an install base in excess 100 million users.

"This poll reflects the complexity of today's server environment, where preferences for operating systems are more heterogeneous than in the desktop market," revealed David Cottingham, director of product and partner management at CDW. "Many data centers operate more than one server operating system, and every organization needs to have a server strategy in place to capitalize on the benefits and new features in the server operating system."

According to the survey, 63 percent of the 772 IT professionals questioned are preparing together with their organizations to upgrade to Windows Server 2008, as soon as it hits the market. Of course, there are some worries related to the migration from the 2003 version to the newer one to be released, mostly based on RTM build bugs and application, and hardware compatibility issues. They will be surpassed, however, because by the looks of it, Windows Server 2008 is just too good to pass on.

"This is consistent with the increasing interest CDW sees from customers in our offerings of server virtualization solutions. There are a variety of options available, of course, and while built-in virtualization will not be in the initial Windows Server 2008 Release-to-Manufacture version when it launches on February 27, Microsoft is tapping into this market interest with their plan to integrate virtualization features into the server operating system later this year," Cottingham concluded.
Xbox 360 fans must have gotten a stiffie on Wednesday when they were able to preview the portfolio for 2008. The big, big names included Gears of War 2 from Epic Games, Fable 2 from Lionhead Studios, Ninja Gaiden II from TECMO/ Team Ninja and Too Human from Silicon Knights.

"Gears of War 2" is the sequel to the 4.5 million-selling blockbuster that redefined the third-person tactical action game genre. "Gears of War 2" continues the story of Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad in an epic saga of survival, loss and retribution. Developed by Epic Games exclusively for Xbox 360, "Gears of War 2" launches this November.

In addition to the dynamic co-op mode unveiled onstage, Peter Molyneux also announced that Carbonated Games was bringing the "Fable 2" experience to Xbox LIVE Arcade. Before the game's launch, gamers will be able to get an early taste of the "Fable 2" experience and gain a head start on earning currency for use in "Fable 2" by playing "Fable 2"-themed pub games that will be downloadable via Xbox LIVE Arcade. The currency earned in these Xbox LIVE Arcade titles will enable players to purchase items in "Fable 2," when the game launches later this year.

Tomonobu Itagaki debuted several tantalizing new Xbox LIVE features of "Ninja Gaiden II," including the ability to capture and share videos of a player's glorious battles via the Ninja Cinema feature and upload them to Xbox LIVE. "Ninja Gaiden II" launches worldwide this June.

Microsoft also showcased the epic action game from renowned Canadian developer Silicon Knights, "Too Human," at a media event before the keynote address. In "Too Human," players are treated to a nonstop barrage of action powered by the seamless integration of melee and firearms combat, plus deep role-playing elements fueled by breathtaking visuals enabled by the power of Xbox 360.

All the above descriptions and new feats were made available by Microsoft's PressPass.

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Credit Card Magnetic Strips Hacked!

Every credit card has personally identifiable information inserted into the magnetic strip on the back, but hacking it so far proved a task too difficult for most malevolent figures to even attempt.
RFID security guru Adam Laurie has come up with a test program named, specifically designed to read the chip and PIN credit cards that comply with the EMV standard.

The EMV is a standard for interoperation of IC cards ("Chip cards") and IC capable POS terminals and ATM's, for authenticating credit and debit card payments. The name EMV comes from the initial letters of Europay, MasterCard and VISA, the three companies which originally cooperated to develop the standard. It defines the interaction at the physical, electrical, data and application levels between IC cards and IC card processing devices for financial transactions, according to Wikipedia.

The Black Hat DC briefings saw the first demo of the program in action in its early stages. It only works with PC / SC readers at the moment, but it includes support of the physical chip and RFID interfaces. Crazy talk apart, it means that AmEx Expresspay and MasterCard PayPass can also be hacked.

According to eWeek, Laurie also said that all of the information available on the credit card’s magnetic strip can be stripped away (the owner’s name, the primary credit card account number included) and afterwards be used by a crafty hacker to create a clone of the original credit card.

Adam intends to integrate into the RFIDIOt open source library for exploring RFID devices. Lucky that the discovery and the program were made by somebody on the good side of the law, because, if it were to happen the other way and a malicious attacker were to have come up with it, none of our bank accounts would be safe, should something bad happen.

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Hackers Now Hiring Hackers

The help-wanted ads are circulating the underground Internet channels and the desired applicants must be hackers and nothing less. As the web society evolves, so must the attacks and now after all of the major companies opened local branches to deal with the problems that might show up in the course of time (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and the list goes on), cyber criminals are hiring new people putting very much emphasis on their language skills. Also, to go local.

A survey conducted by McAfee has showed that only 67 percent of the spam is now written in English, and the rest is mostly Mandarin, Portuguese and Russian, a great increase in the non-English language spam that only a few years ago accounted for less than 10 percent. Keeping to the trend of globalization, hackers want to attend to that third of spam and make it as grammatically correct as possible.

It sounds hilarious, but it’s actually a smart move from cyber criminals, to turn spam that might be recognized as fake by a native speaker at any time, into the compelling email delivering malware that would appeal to the victims. Furthermore, if authorities aren’t on the lookout or are just incapable of fighting the crimes, hackers can easily direct their attention to it due to the smaller risk of getting caught.

"It speaks to the underlying professionalism and understanding of business that we've seen in the past few years, and that we haven't seen in the past. […] They're approaching malware as a business and are looking to build their businesses globally," said David Marcus, security research and communications manager with McAfee.

The progress made in the last years was visible even in the English written spam. If a few years ago a large percentage of it contained typos and other errors, only about 10 percent still does nowadays, Marcus stated.

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Windows XP SP3 Release Candidate 2 RC2 Download

That's right! Windows XP Service Pack 3 Release Candidate 2 is available for download and you can grab it right here.

Initially, Microsoft released XP SP3 RC2 on the heels of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 RTM and Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 1 RTM on February 7, 2008. At that time, it became clear that although the development milestones of XP SP3, Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008, were joined at the hip, the third and final service pack for XP was not part of the intimate synchronization between the latest Windows client and server platforms.

Now with the RTM of Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 SP1 out of the way, the Redmond company is focusing on the wrapping out XP SP3. Earlier this month, only the pool of pre-selected Microsoft testers, some 15,000 strong, were permitted access to the RC2 bits of XP SP3. This limitation is no longer in place. As of February 19, 2008, all Windows XP users can grab the RC2 build of SP3.

"Windows XP Service Pack 3 Release Candidate 2 is available to the public. Specific registry settings will allow you to be offered SP3 via Windows Update," Microsoft revealed. And the Windows XP SP3 Release Candidate 2.exe is nothing more than the registry scrip that will permit end users to tweak their copies of XP in order to identify the XP SP3 bits on the Windows Update servers. "Microsoft is allowing Windows XP Service Pack 2 machines to be offered Windows XP Service Pack 3 Release Candidate 2 via Windows Update. Windows XP Service Pack 3 will be offered on Windows Update when Service Pack 3 releases in the first half of 2008," reads the Overview section of the documentation accompanying the XP SP3 download.

"Download the script and run it on a machine currently running Windows XP Service Pack 2. The script sets a registry key on your system. The registry key is required for Windows Update to recognize your machine as a valid target for Windows XP Service Pack 3 RC2. Versions of Windows XP Service Pack 3 prior to Release Candidate 2 should be removed before attempting to use the registry key. Windows Update will not offer Release Candidate 2 to machines with previous versions of the Windows XP Service Pack 3 beta. It is recommended that you apply the resulting update package to an activated, genuine copy of Windows XP, in a test environment. As with any pre-release software, it is also recommended that you back up files and settings on your machine before applying this update package," Microsoft added.

Windows XP RC2 Build 3300 is available for download here.

Windows XP SP3 Release Candidate 2 RC2

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Another take on Vista vs. XP benchmarks

As anyone who’s ever worked in a PC performance lab knows, the #1 rule of benchmarking is: Your mileage may vary.

I remembered that rule when I read my colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes’ epic account of his benchmark tests of Windows Vista SP1 versus Windows XP SP2 (Part 1 and Part 2). The first thing that struck me was how far apart his numbers were from those I was getting. In fact, I went back and redid all my tests to confirm that I hadn’t missed anything along the way. They checked out completely. On my test bed, with only one exception, Vista SP1 was consistently as fast as or faster than XP SP2, a result markedly at odds with Adrian’s findings.

I have no doubt that Adrian’s tests and timings were accurate, just as mine were. So what’s the difference?

For starters, our test beds were very different:

* Adrian chose a desktop system with a first-generation Intel dual-core processor, the 3.4 GHz Pentium 950D. I chose a Dell Inspiron 6400 notebook with an Intel T2050 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo processor. (I bought this system in December 2006, a few weeks after Vista was released to business customers. It originally came with XP SP2 installed on it, and I upgraded the system to Vista almost immediately.)
* I chose to use a dual-boot configuration, designing my tests carefully so that file copy operations with each OS were done between the same source and destination volumes to minimize the effects of disk geometry on performance. Adrian used separate hard drives for each OS and each file copy operation.
* I used a wireless 802.11g network connection. Adrian used wired Gigabit Ethernet connections.
* Neither of us performed any special optimizations to either configuration except to ensure that drives were defragmented.

For my test files, I chose the same two groups of files I had used in previous rounds of performance testing last year. The first consisted of two large ISO files, each containing the contents of a ready-to-burn DVD, with a total size of 4.2 GB. The second group is a collection of music files, just over 1 GB in size, consisting of 272 MP3 files in 16 folders.

As it turns out, the test bed I chose is one that matches nicely with a lot of real world business-class systems. Notebooks represent the majority of the PC market these days, and the 802.11g connection in this one is by far the most popular networking option on portable PCs. From a performance standpoint, it’s neither a speed demon nor a slug. More importantly, this system’s specs match those that Microsoft’s engineers had in mind when they reengineered the file copy engine with Vista RTM and then with SP1. As Mark Russinovich notes in his detailed description of these changes, copies over high-latency networks such as WLANs are especially likely to benefit from the changes in Vista.

I ran each test multiple times and took the average of at least three tests. The graphs shown here are normalized, with Windows XP SP2 set to 100 and the results for Vista SP1 and Vista RTM charted proportionally.


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Update on Windows Vista SP1 Prerequisite KB937287

We've heard a few reports about problems customers may be experiencing as a result of KB937287, the servicing stack update I blogged about last week, and I wanted to provide a quick update for you.

Immediately after receiving reports of this error, we made the decision to temporarily suspend automatic distribution of the update to avoid further customer impact while we investigate possible causes.

So far, we've been able to determine that this problem only affects a small number of customers in unique circumstances. We are working to identify possible solutions and will make the update available again shortly after we address the issue.

Customers who may be experiencing this issue can use system restore to correct it or contact 1-866-PC-Safety for help troubleshooting. Additional guidance will be available via Microsoft's free Update Support Center soon.


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Gates on Yahoo: It's the people

Bill Gates is willing to pay a lot for engineering talent. Asked what makes Yahoo worth more than $40 billion, Gates pointed not to the company's products, its huge base of advertisers, or its market share, but rather to the company's engineers.

Those people, he said, are what Microsoft needs to go after Google.

In an interview after his speech at Stanford University, Gates said that it turns out it takes a lot of manpower to build tools for advertisers, mobile, and video products as well as improving its core search algorithm and building an infrastructure for cloud computing. "The amount of computer science it is taking to do that is phenomenal," he said. "As you get more scale of engineering you can just pursue that agenda more rapidly. Yes, the advertisers and the number of end users is good, but we'd put the people and the engineering as the key thing."

Of course, that's also what makes the Yahoo deal so risky. A nightmare scenario for the company would be if it succeeds in its bid to acquire Yahoo, only to see its top talent move to new ventures. Gates played down the notion of cultural differences between the two companies.

"Yahoo wants to do breakthrough software," Gates told CNET "The engineers there want to compete very effectively against Google or any other thing that comes along, so I don't think there is really a different culture."

But, he hinted that the company might have made itself less attractive had it continued down the path championed by former CEO Terry Semel.

"If Yahoo had gone the direction of just being a media company and not said that software innovation was important to them then no, there wouldn't be that intersection because we're about breakthrough software," Gates said. "Jerry Yang to his credit has kept a lot of very top engineers that have been just doing their work and improving those things. That's why we see the combination as so powerful."

Gates was quoted in the last 24 hours as saying Microsoft wasn't looking to hike its bid for Yahoo, but he sounded very much like a man committed to the deal in his comments Tuesday. He didn't say whether Microsoft would move ahead with a plan to wage a proxy battle, but that appears to be a real possibility if Yahoo does not come to the table.

The Microsoft chairman also indicated that Microsoft has a plan for taking on Google with or without Yahoo, but acknowledged Microsoft's plans can move faster if it succeeds in the acquisition than if it has to go it alone.

"It involves breakthrough engineering," he said. "We think the combination with Yahoo would accelerate things in a very exciting way because they do have great engineers and they have done a lot of great work."

Gates had plenty more to say about other things besides Yahoo. In a little bit, I'll post another blog on some interesting things Gates said about Windows 7 and a more complete transcript of my interview should be ready tomorrow.


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50 Reasons to switch from Windows to OS X?

Or, a lost sheep’s ongoing struggle to stay relevant in this internet age. In a post last week, on St. Valentine’s Day no less, Pirillo states his 50 reasons to switch from Windows (any version?) to OS X.

After getting past his preamble about neutrality, he delivers his thoughts.

Actually, we are supposed to take his thoughts as neutral since it is not a Windows bash. Furthermore, since in his opening statements he declared his relationships with some sponsors, we should take te product plugs as gospel. Feel free to ingest a grain/several grains of salt with his recommendations.

I have taken it upon myself to provide a public service by attempting to debunk some of the outright errors, factual errors, product plugs, and gross misconceptions in his beliefs.

His assertions in italics, my answers in green.

1. Seems that the future of Windows development is happening largely for corporate environments and customers. I don’t take issue with this other than being someone who doesn’t live or work inside a corporate environment at home. Bunk. While it is niiiice that he has the privilege of being outside the corporate or enterprise box, the truth of it is that enterprise sales drive the cost of computing downwards. If not for both that fact and Bill Gates’ and Microsoft’s vision of computing for the masses, most of us would not be to afford software. Look to the costs of software as espoused by the IBMs and Oracles of this world. Now, thank Microsoft, for it wasn’t for them, you would not be able to afford software for your Mac.

2. Excellent power management in OS X. When I close the lid to my MacBook Pro, it falls asleep. When I open the lid to my MacBook Pro, it wakes up. Imagine that! Seems to be the case 99% of the time, and it happens quickly. Bunk. Anything less than that would be a shame, since apple delivers a complete hardware and software solution.

3. I’m ready to experience different frustrations. OS X isn’t perfect, certainly - but I already see its noticeably more stable than Windows Vista has been. Kernel Panics at least look prettier than BSODs. :) Seriously, I just find OS X’s update schedule to be more to my liking - instead of waiting for gigantic service packs, I get minor point releases along the way to major revisions to the OS. Bugs are going to happen, but knowing that showstopping / security bugs are likely to be squished quicker gives me amazing peace of mind. Bunk. What a nonsensical statement. Kernel Panics are better than BSODs? More stable? Dude, have you checked the number of fixes each OS X patchfest brings? Compared to Windows Vista? Or any version of Windows for that matter?

4. There’s more interesting, useful, beautiful, and affordable software being developed for OS X. If you still believe that there’s no software for “the Mac,” you’re simply a fool who hasn’t done his or her research. Bunk. Actually, Bro’, you are the fool for making such a simplistic statement

5. VMware Fusion makes it possible to have every operating system at my fingertips (as well as every app that runs on ‘em, FTW). Performance and stability is a reality, not a dream. More importantly, with USB 2.0 support in VMware Fusion, I have near complete compatibility with any external hardware. Parallels is also there, which should keep competition lively. Product plug!

6. I believe that the future of Windows (or any OS software layer) will be experienced in a virtual machine of some sort. People have been dual booting for years - now I can triple-task cross-platform in seconds flat. ??? Space filler

7. Not to say that Microsoft or Linux haven’t made great strides in recent years, but… at least Leopard feels like only one team was developing the UI. It’s not quite perfect, but closer to what perfect should be. I’m not a huge fan of iTunes or every other Apple utility - but at least with Leopard, they’re trying to make them look and work the same way. 1st semi-true point. The UI does look good. BFD! However, so is Aero ‘Glass’

8. I love the fact that most programs and their associated libraries are self-contained (apps). There’s no stress in installing / uninstalling most programs, and for true cleanup jobs there’s always AppZapper. 1st true point. For which I excoriate Microsoft daily. And cuss them the ‘F’ out whenever I run into it in client environments

9. I’m not a huge fan of the Dock for task management, but Quicksilver has virtually no Windows equivalent (in terms of elegance and scriptability, although it’s still completely overwhelming to me right now). The dock isn’t a shining example of where OS X is “better,” but I do appreciate the context menu options for each of the Dock’s icons for “Open at Login” management. Another space filler

10. Spotlight is to Windows Desktop Search as a BMW Z4 is to a Ford Pinto (in terms of performance, usability, and UI). No contest. I’m sure some would argue the opposite, but… they’re also probably the extreme developer “but it works if you just learn how to use it right” types. Feh. 2nd true point. Damn, Windows Search is a product that a) should be elegant in operation, b) should be simple in configurability, c) should be efficient, and d) return relevant and consistent results. It fails on all four points. As I have written before, the entire team should be publicly horsewhipped on the steps of the Island Club in Lagos


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Planning for Ubuntu 8.10ish - The Intrepid Ibex

With Hardy now past feature-freeze it's time to start to plan
features that are being lined up for inclusion after Ubuntu 8.04 LTS
is released in April.

And so I'd like to introduce you to the Intrepid Ibex, the release
which is planned for October 2008, and which is likely to have the
version number 8.10.

During the 8.10 cycle we will be venturing into interesting new
territory, and we'll need the rugged adventurousness of a mountain
goat to navigate tricky terrain. Our desktop offering will once
again be a focal point as we re-engineer the user interaction model
so that Ubuntu works as well on a high-end workstation as it does on
a feisty little subnotebook. We'll also be reaching new peaks of
performance - aiming to make the mobile desktop as productive as

A particular focus for us will be pervasive internet access, the
ability to tap into bandwidth whenever and wherever you happen to
be. No longer will you need to be a tethered, domesticated animal -
you'll be able to roam (and goats do roam!) the wild lands and
access the web through a variety of wireless technologies. We want
you to be able to move from the office, to the train, and home,
staying connected all the way.

The Intrepid Ibex will take shape at our next Ubuntu Developer
Summit, an open event to which members of the Ubuntu community,
upstream communities, corporate developers and other distributions
are all invited. That summit takes place in beautiful Prague, in the
Czech Republic from 19th - 23rd May 2008. Together we will draw up
detailed blueprints for Ubuntu 8.10. Please join us there to help
define the Intrepid Ibex:

Ubuntu 8.10 will be our ninth release, and the fourth anniversary of
the first release - 4.10. In those four years, Ubuntu has grown as a
project, an ethos and a community. The Ubuntu community have worked
to set the benchmark for open, inclusive, and collaborative
development processes. We have open specifications, open governance
structures and a willingness to empower everyone to make their
unique contribution to the success of the project.

This has created an extraordinary diversity in participation; a
depth of talent including packagers, programmers, translators,
writers, testers, advocates, technical support, artists and many
others. Those contributions come as much from the corporate world -
Canonical and other companies that have embraced Ubuntu as a core of
their offering - as from a huge number of individual professionals.
It is this combination of expertise and perspectives that makes it
such a pleasure for me to be part of this project, and I thank all
of you for your continued passion, participation, and energy.

Hardy is our best development cycle yet, delivering on our promise
of reliability and stability for the Heron. We must stay focused on
that goal. To the extent that you have a brilliant idea for the
future, you now have a peg to hang it on - the Intrepid Ibex. When
the Hardy Heron has taken flight we will engage fully with the Ibex.
Give it horns!


source :
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Hidden Messenger Vista Matrix Feature Revealed

The subtitle is the mark of a long and excruciating pain that I went through when seeing that almost every week or so there was a blog from the Yahoo! Instant Messenger team that said nothing.
Nothing of interest, actually: old features presented, the emoticons’ story (wasn’t exciting at all, a list of people whom the ideas came from) and some other riffraff about audio features presented as new but that have been included in the package a long time ago. I didn’t know really what to make of it and their strategy of sand throwing in our faces as shown before, so I always assumed that they were working on something big but they needed to blog about something.

The feature isn’t new, it was only hidden, but, alas, useful. The Matrix mode, Product Manager Sarah Bacon wrote, expands on the tabbed conversations while using Yahoo! Messenger for Windows Vista. In case the picture on the left hasn’t caught your eye yet, it’s a means of dealing with all the conversation windows that gathers them all together in a single box so you don’t have to fill your desktop with all of them.

Pressing Ctrl + Alt + Shift + b (any more keys for this combo and it would’ve required a family member’s help with the rest) will activate the Matrix and gather all your IM windows into one, and the way they are displayed is, erm… like in a matrix.

"To activate Matrix Mode, start a few IM conversations and then be sure to condense them into one window as tabs. You can do that by dragging the bottom tab of one window into another, or hitting Ctrl + , (ctrl plus comma) on your keyboard. Once your conversations are in a tabbed window, hit Ctrl + Alt + Shift + b to enter Matrix Mode," Sarah says.

Enjoy this but take you time. It’s not like they will be rolling out something new anytime soon.

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