Microsoft's Mission To Reignite the PC Sector ( 181 writes: Sales of personal computers have been declining for so long — 14 consecutive quarters — that it's hard remember a time when PCs ruled the tech world. Now Nick Wingfield writes in the NY Times that Microsoft is leading the way on a mission to re-ignite the PC market by taking the once-unthinkable step of competing with its hardware partners. This week, Microsoft dived even further into the business with a laptop device, the Surface Book. The stated reason that Microsoft got into the PC hardware business three years ago, with the original Surface, was not to put PC companies out of business — but to better illustrate the capabilities of its software, providing devices that would inspire PC makers to be more innovative.

One of the most remarkable things about Microsoft's growing presence in the hardware business is that it has not led to open revolt among its partners. Initially, many of them were not happy about Microsoft's moves, complaining in private. "It's positioned as a laptop, very squarely against the MacBook Pro as an example. But that could also be extended to a Dell XPS 13, or an HP x360," says Patrick Moorhead. One reason there hasn't been more pushback from OEMs is that Microsoft's Surface business is still relatively small. Another is that the money Microsoft has poured into marketing Surface has raised the broader profile of Windows PCs. While Microsoft obviously risks alienating its partners, it's doing so with a much bigger fight in mind. "Right now Microsoft really believes that it has to have a combined hardware, software, and services play to go up against the likes of Apple," says Moorhead. "That's why it's doing this. That's why it's taking such an aggressive stance now, moving to laptops."


LogMeIn To Acquire LastPass For $125 Million ( 88

An anonymous reader writes: LogMeIn has agreed to acquire LastPass, the popular single-sign-on (SSO) and password management service. Under the terms of the transaction, LogMeIn will pay $110 million in cash upon close for all outstanding equity interests in LastPass, with up to an additional $15 million in cash payable in contingent payments which are expected to be paid to equity holders and key employees of LastPass upon the achievement of certain milestone and retention targets over the two-year period following the closing of the transaction.

Verizon Boosts Price of Grandfathered Unlimited Data Plans By $20 ( 163

nicholasjay writes: In November, Verizon Wireless is going to start charging its customers with the grandfathered "unlimited data" plans an extra $20 for the data. This is obviously an attempt to get people off of the old unlimited data plans. Even though a Verizon spokesperson confirmed the change, I'm hoping they won't go through with this plan — but right now I'm weighing all my options.

In Midst of a Tech Boom, Seattle Tries To Keep Its Soul 368 writes: Nick Wingfield has an interesting article in the NYT about how Seattle, Austin, Boulder, Portland, and other tech hubs around the country are seeking not to emulate San Francisco where wealth has created a widely envied economy, but housing costs have skyrocketed, and the region's economic divisions have deepened with rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco at more than $3,500 a month, the highest in the country. "Seattle has wanted to be San Francisco for so long," says Knute Berger. "Now it's figuring out maybe that it isn't what we want to be." The core of the debate is over affordable housing and the worry that San Francisco is losing artists, teachers and its once-vibrant counterculture. "It's not that we don't want to be a thriving tech center — we do," says Alan Durning. "It's that the San Francisco and Silicon Valley communities have gotten themselves into a trap where preservationists and local politics have basically guaranteed buying a house will cost at least $1 million. Already in Seattle, it costs half-a-million, so we're well on our way."

Seattle mayor Ed Murray says he wants to keep the working-class roots of Seattle, a city with a major port, fishing fleet and even a steel mill. After taking office last year, Murray made the minimum-wage increase a priority, reassured representatives of the city's manufacturing and maritime industries that Seattle needed them., and has set a goal of creating 50,000 homes — 40 percent of them affordable for low-income residents — over the next decade. "We can hopefully create enough affordable housing so we don't find ourselves as skewed by who lives in the city as San Francisco is," says Murray. "We're at a crossroads," says Roger Valdez. "One path leads to San Francisco, where you have an incredibly regulated and stagnant housing economy that can't keep up with demand. The other path is something different, the Seattle way."

Volkswagen Boss Blames Software Engineers For Scandal ( 473

hattig writes: Today VW's Michael Horn is testifying to Congress and has blamed the recent scandal on engineers saying: "It's the decision of a couple of software engineers, not the board members." However, 530,000 cars in the U.S. will need to be recalled for significant engine modifications, not a software fix. Only 80,000 Passats are eligible for the software fix. There is no word on the effects these modifications will have on the cars' performance, fuel consumption, etc. The BBC reports: "The issue of defeat devices at VW has been a historic problem, points out a Congress panel member questioning VW US chief Michael Horn. In 1974, VW had a run-in with US authorities regarding the use of defeat devices in 1974, and in December 2014 it recalled cars to address nox emissions."
The Almighty Buck

Researchers Unable To Replicate Findings of Published Economics Studies ( 209

An anonymous reader writes: Federal Reserve economists Andrew Chang and Phillip Li looked at 67 papers in 13 reputable academic journals. Their findings were shocking. Without the help of the authors, only a third of the results could be independently replicated. Even with the author's help, only about half, or 49%, could. Business Insider reports: "It's a pretty massive issue for economics, especially given the impact that the subject has on public policy. Li and Chang use a well-known paper by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff as an example. The study showed a significant growth drop-off once a country's national debts reached 90% of gross domestic product, but three years after being published the study was found to contain a significant Microsoft Excel error that changed the magnitude of the effect." With cancer studies and most recently psychology studies all having replication trouble, these economics papers have some company.

'First, Let's Get Rid of All the Bosses' -- the Zappos Management Experiment 325

schnell writes: The New Republic is running an in-depth look at online shoe retailer's experiment in a new "boss-less" corporate structure. Three years ago the company introduced a management philosophy that came from the software development world called "Holacracy," in which there are no "people managers" and groups self-organize based on individual creativity and talents. (When the change was announced, 14% of the company's employees chose to leave; middle management openly rebelled, but perhaps surprisingly the tech organization was slowest to embrace the new idea). The article shows that in this radically employee-centric environment, many if not most employees are thrilled and fulfilled, while others worry that self-organization in practical terms means chaos and a Maoist culture of "coercive positivity." Is Zappos the future of the American workplace, a fringe experiment, or something in between?

Why Is RAM Suddenly So Cheap? It Might Be Windows 208

jfruh writes: The average price of a 4GB DDR3 memory DIMM at the moment $18.50 — a price that's far lower than at this time last year. Why is it so cheap? The memory business tends to go in boom and bust cycles, but the free availability of Windows 10 means that fewer people are upgrading their PCs, reducing RAM demand. Analyst Avril Wu said, "Notebook shipments in the third quarter fall short of what is expected for a traditional peak season mainly because Windows 10 with its free upgrade plan negatively impacted replaced sales of notebooks to some extent rather than driving the demand for these products." And prices might stay low for another two years.

Getting More Women Coders Into Open Source 688

Nerval's Lobster writes: Diversity remains an issue in tech firms across the nation, with executives and project managers publicly upset over a lack of women in engineering and programming roles. While all that's happening on the corporate side, a handful of people and groups are trying to get more women involved in the open source community, like Women of OpenStack, Outreachy (which is geared toward people from underrepresented groups in free software), and others. How much effort should be expended to facilitate diversity among programmers? Can anything be done to shift the demographics, considering the issues that even large, coordinated companies have with altering the collective mix of their employees?
The Internet

Scandal Erupts In Unregulated Online World of Fantasy Sports 174 writes: Joe Drape and Jacqueline Williams report at the NYT that a major scandal is erupting in the multibillion-dollar industry of fantasy sports, the online and unregulated business in which an estimated 57 million people participate where players assemble their fantasy teams with real athletes. Two major fantasy sports companies were forced to release statements defending their businesses' integrity after what amounted to allegations of insider trading — that employees were placing bets using information not generally available to the public. "It is absolutely akin to insider trading. It gives that person a distinct edge in a contest," says Daniel Wallach. "It could imperil this nascent industry unless real, immediate and meaningful safeguards are put in place."

In FanDuel's $5 million "NFL Sunday Million" contest this week, DraftKings employee Ethan Haskell placed second and won $350,000 with his lineup that had a mix of big-name players owned by a high number of users. Haskell had access to DraftKings ownership data meaning that he may have seen which NFL players had been selected by DraftKings users, and by how many users. In light of this scandal, DraftKings and FanDuel have, for now, banned their employees from playing on each other's sites. Many in the highly regulated casino industry insist daily fantasy sports leagues are gambling sites and shouldn't be treated any differently than traditional sports betting. This would mean a high amount of regulation. Industry analyst Chris Grove says this may be a watershed moment for a sector that may need the legislation it has resisted in order to prove its legitimacy. "You have information that is valuable and should be tightly restricted," says Grove. "There are people outside of the company that place value on that information. Is there any internal controls? Any audit process? The inability of the industry to produce a clear and compelling answer to these questions to anyone's satisfaction is why it needs to be regulated."
The Almighty Buck

NY Times Passes 1M Digital Subscribers 92 writes: Many news organizations, facing competition from digital outlets, have sharply reduced the size of their newsrooms and their investment in news gathering but less than four-and-a-half years after launching its pay model the NY Times has increased coverage as it announced that the Times has passed one million digital-only subscribers, giving them far more than any other news organization in the world. The Times still employs as many reporters as it did 15 years ago — and its ranks now include graphics editors, developers, video journalists and other digital innovators. "It's a tribute to the hard work and innovation of our marketing, product and technology teams and the continued excellence of our journalism," says CEO Mark Thompson.

According to Ken Doctor the takeaway from the Times success is that readers reward elite global journalism. The Wall Street Journal is close behind the Times, at 900,000, while the FT's digital subscription number stands at 520,000. "These solid numbers form bedrock for the future. For news companies, being national now means being global, and being global means enjoying unprecedented reach," says Doctor. "These audiences of a half-million and more portend more reader revenue to come."

Disproving the Mythical Man-Month With DevOps 281

StewBeans writes: The Mythical Man-Month is a 40-year old theory on software development that many believe still holds true today. It states: "A project that requires five team members to work for five months cannot be completed by a twenty-five person team in one month." Basically, adding manpower to a development project counterintuitively lowers productivity because it increases complexity. Citing the 2015 State of DevOps Report, Anders Wallgren from Electric Cloud says that microservices architecture is proving this decades-old theory wrong, but that there is still some hesitation among IT decision makers. He points out three rookie mistakes to avoid for IT organizations just starting to dip their toes into agile methodologies.

London Mayor Boris Johnson Condemns Random Uber Pick-Ups 215

An anonymous reader writes: The mayor of London Boris Johnson has written a column in the Daily Telegraph condemning the way that Uber drivers in the UK capital can effectively circumvent black cabs' legal monopoly on being hailed by random passengers. Whilst supporting the principle of free enterprise, Johnson has no solution to the legal quandary, except to hobble Uber's business model in an absurdly Luddite move, or else level the playing field and condemn the well-outfitted but expensive black cab trade to extinction. Johnson is reluctant to ask such a thing of Parliament, noting that many people there don't 'have apps'.

What Effect Will VW's Scandal Have On Robocars? 104

pRobotika writes: It's looking bad for Volkswagen, German car manufacturers and possibly even car manufacturers as a whole. But the revelations that VW put software in their cars to deliberately cheat on emissions tests could have even greater repercussions. Robocars' Brad Templeton looks at the effect for manufacturers of autonomous vehicles. From the Robohub article: "There may be more risk from suppliers of technology for robocars. Sensor manufacturers, for instance, may be untruthful about their abilities or, more likely, reliability. While the integrators will be inherently distrustful, as they will take the liability, one can see smaller vendors telling lies if they see it as the only way to get a big sale for their business."

Twitter Shuts Down JSON API and Names New CEO 103

An anonymous reader writes: This month Twitter is closing down the JSON endpoint API which thousands of third-party software and plugin developers have depended upon for years. The alternative Rest API offers data which is aggregated or limited in other ways, whilst the full-featured share data offered by Gnip (purchased last year by Twitter) can cost developers thousands per month to access — in one case up to £20,000 a month. The general objective seems to be to either drive users back to the core Twitter interface where they can be monetized via the social network's advertising, or to regain lost advertising by converting open source data — currently utilized a lot in scientific research — into premium information, offering the possibility for well-funded organizations to gain reputations as Twitter barometers without ever needing to expose the expensive, accurate share figures. The company also announced today that co-founder Jack Dorsey would be the new CEO.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal Is Reached 278

An anonymous reader writes: The NY Times reports that negotiators have finally reached agreement over the Trans-Pacific Partnership from the U.S. and 11 other nations. The TPP has been in development for eight years, and has the potential to dramatically strengthen U.S. economic ties to east Asia. Though the negotiations have been done in secret, the full text of the agreement should be published within a month. Congress (and the legislative houses of the other participating countries) will have 90 days to review it and decide whether to ratify it. The TPP has been criticized in tech circles for how it regards intellectual property and facilitates website blocking, among other issues.

Proponents will also have to answer broader questions about whether it stifles competition, how it treats individuals versus large corporations, as if it creates environmental problems. To give you an idea of how complex it is: "The Office of the United States Trade Representative said the partnership eventually would end more than 18,000 tariffs that the participating countries have placed on United States exports, including autos, machinery, information technology and consumer goods, chemicals and agricultural products ranging from avocados in California to wheat, pork and beef from the Plains states."

TiVo's Latest Offering Detects and Skips Ads, Adds 4K Capability 85

As described by The Verge, the newest generation of TiVo is in some ways a step backward: it comes with fewer tuners than some earlier models, and less storage as well. However, two big features that distinguish the company's new Bolt DVR may entice users anyhow: it adds 4K recording, and (probably of use to more people, given the scarcity of 4K content, not to mention its file size) also can recognize and skip commercials, a feature that users have sorely missed as a mainstream feature in standalone DVRs for quite a while. (And it's possible that broadcasters will come up with a way to kill the commercial-skip function as they did with Dish's AutoHop.)

Chrome AdBlock Joining Acceptable Ads Program (And Sold To Anonymous Company) 344

basscomm writes: Hot on the heels of the formation of the independent board to oversee "acceptable ads", users of the popular Chrome ad blocking extension, AdBlock, got notice that AdBlock is participating in the program, and that acceptable ads are being turned on by default. At the bottom of the announcement, buried in the fine print is word that AdBlock has been sold, but nobody will say to whom.
The Almighty Buck

When Fraud Detection Shuts Down Credit Cards Inappropriately 345

reifman writes: On Sunday, Capital One declined a $280 travel reservation I charged at India-based and immediately shut off my card for all transactions until I contacted them by phone. It wasn't the first time that CapitalOne had shut off my card after a single suspect transaction. But, I'd actually purchased from using my CapitalOne card on two prior occasions. It was an example of very poor fraud detection and led me on a tour of their pathetic customer service. The banks want to cut their losses regardless of how it impacts their customers. Having had my own credit card suspended out of an abundance of caution on a different credit card issuer's part (for legitimate charges), but having recently had some widely known scam charges get accepted, the fraud protection algorithms that the credit companies use certainly seem inscrutable sometimes, and so do the surrounding practices about communicating with customers. How would you like it to work instead?

Vostochny Launch Building Built To the Wrong Size 102

schwit1 writes: The Russians have just discovered that their Soyuz 2 rocket does not fit in the building just finished at their new spaceport at Vostochny: "The cutting-edge facility was meant be ready for launches of Soyuz-2 rockets in December, but an unidentified space agency told the TASS news agency late Thursday that the rocket would not fit inside the assembly building where its parts are stacked and tested before launch. The building 'has been designed for a different modification of the Soyuz rocket,' the source said, according to news website Medusa, which picked up the story from TASS." The rocket had just been delivered to Vostochny for assembly, so this report, though unconfirmed at this time, fits well with current events.