Can’t wait to get our flOw on this week!

This isn’t news so much as it is a reminder — the hotly anticipated flOw is due out this week. Hitting the PlayStation store on February 22nd at an as-of-yet undetermined price point (si nce it’s pretty high-profile, we wouldn’t be surprised if it was around $10), this musical and biological adventure is bound to be endless fun. For a while. Here’s what Sony’s official site has to say about the features of the game:
  • “Full HD at 1080p – Vibrant environments.
  • Dynamically Adjusting Experience – Customize your game experience.
  • Multiplayer mode – 1-4 players; same screen
  • SIXAXIS™ wireless controller – Gamers can use the analog thumb stick or take advantage of the SIXAXIS™ wireless controller motion sensors to glide, flit, and flOw through the abyss.”
We weren’t aware there was an abyss involved! There are five different creatures for you to choose from and a difficulty that changes depending on your skill level. It’s going to be great and, in certain cases, a great musical backdrop for that “chill” party you’ve been planning.

Do You Need Office 2007 in Your Small Office?

Microsoft Office 2007 is big, bloated and brilliant. There is a plethora of new features for PowerPoint, Word, Excel (the jewel in the crown) and Outlook, my other husband. Microsoft recently brought the 2007 show local and I couldn’t resist spending an intimate day with hundreds of other geeks. When the demonstrator’s overloaded power laptop blue-screened, the crowd of small business owners cheered. We’re a testy bunch when it comes to ROI on computer purchases.

Office 2007 runs on either Windows XP or Vista. The changes we saw were primarily cosmetic but productively important: when it takes employees a while to re-learn what they already know how to do, we lose money on the learning curve. (Using Outlook as a business contact manager was a large part of the demo and deserves its own post.)

The Ribbon
Microsoft Office 2007 Ribbon - click to enlargeThe most user-challenging feature will be the “Ribbon,” which replaces the two friendly toolbars we know, love and customize.

Office 2007 is intuitive. The ribbon morphs unasked into the tasks it thinks you want to do next (called “contextual tabs”). If you’re in a table, it moves to table commands in a disconcerting and resource-sucking visual blip. I predict we’re going to lose monitors due to thrown objects caused by ribbon morphing, but right-clicking is a better alternative. Microsoft promotes it with ‘[T]he tabs on the Ribbon display the commands that are most relevant for each of the task areas in the applications.’ Remember that the question of relevancy is highly individual with power users.

Going Home
Microsoft Office 2007 home buttonThe Home button provides easy access to the most frequently used Office commands. To new 2007 users, it’s an extra click, a superfluous layer, another mouse move but in reality, it’s the place to click to share, print, publish, and send documents.

Emailing files
Do you send Word or Excel files? Word 2007 saves in a new format (no more .doc) and you’ll have to “save as” an “older” version (that’d be XP, which is lumped into Office 95 as an antique format) to share with those not yet blessed with Office 2007. A happy new feature is “save-to-PDF” and sending PDF files is the best choice anyway. Recommendation: send PDF files whenever possible.

Do you have the techno-horsepower?
Upgrading your current Office version might be cheaper than buying new, but it is time-consuming to load, resource-intensive and requires more RAM and better video (especially if you’re considering Vista). Office 2007 is exceptionally graphical (and resource-intensive). In preparation, we upgraded our machines from 1Gb to 3Gb of RAM (older RAM costs less) and double-checked the video cards to make sure they had at least 128Mb of on-board RAM (we replaced only two because we knew it was coming 2 years ago). Call your IT folks and talk it all over before buying Office 2007 or Vista.

The money question
Does your business need Office 2007 with its bells, whistles, contextual tabs, galleries and Ribbon now? At the demo, the leader pointed out that things the “geeks” could do are now available to “regular” users like ‘us’ (well, them). The quandary: those things were always available and regular users could rarely do them so what makes you think they’re going to start doing them now because they’re prettier?

The bottom line
The reviews are in. ZDNet advises that if your current version works, don’t upgrade even though there are significant improvements to Excel formula referencing, pretty PowerPoint, and better document recovery. They note that the drastic design changes demand a steep learning curve and the new interface isn’t intuitive.

If you’ve got power users, they’re going to love Office 2007. Regular users will face a learning slippery incline (not quite a steep curve). Your costs for both software and people frustration may vary.

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The future of Windows Mobile

Samsung Ultra MessagingOur friends at Engadget got a sneak peak at a new Samsung Ultra Messaging device, set to go on sale soon in the Asian markets. What makes this noteworthy is that the device is obviously running a version of Windows Mobile (check out the telltale soft buttons on the bottom, not to mention the Windows logo), but this is most definitely not Windows Mobile 6. Or if it is, it’s one heck of a plugin that makes Spb’s impressive Mobile Shell look like child’s play.

The best way I can describe the new interface is a cross between Windows Mobile and Windows Media Center. Rather than tapping on the screen or clicking on buttons to go through a series of full menus for each program, you can choose programs by scrolling.

You can zip through your email, contacts, appointments, and music programs very fluidly. As the application comes into focus, you can flip between submenus, all from your devices main menu. I’m going to assume you can then open programs in full screen mode in order to do things that take up more screen real estate, like checking your email. No word on how long we’ll have to wait to see this new interface in the Western hemisphere.

In order to get the full effect, check out the video on Engadget.

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Microsoft Manager Says It Considered Banning Vista Virtualization

In a story for the Associated Press carried on many online news services this afternoon, one of the directors of Microsoft’s Windows Client Product Planning team appears to make a curious and perhaps astounding statement. Scott Woodgate is quoted as saying that a Black Hat security conference demonstration last August, where virtualization functions were exploited to plant an active rootkit onto a beta of the Windows Vista kernel, scared Microsoft to the point where the company seriously considered removing virtualization capability from Vista entirely.

Ostensibly, the AP article was about Microsoft’s decision to ban Home Basic and Home Premium editions of Vista from serving as guest operating systems in virtualization engines. This was a recent discovery for Macintosh users, though it was public knowledge for Vista users since last July, when Woodgate himself made the announcement.

“We also announced the first of our licensing changes to internalize virtualization into Windows Vista,” read an announcement on his personal blog. “Specifically customers who buy first software assurance and then deploy either Vista Enterprise or Ultimate can install 4 copies of the OS in a VM in addition to the copy on the physical machine for the cost of one license…Download VPC, create up to 4 VMs for various previously incompatible applications and get going.”

By implication, only the business editions of Vista were engineered to include virtualization, and among Vista testers, this was generally understood. However, it became a new discovery to Mac OS X users who attempted to load home editions of Vista into Boot Camp and other virtual environments. The story was run by many services with the subheading, “The puzzling story of why Microsoft prevents some users from upgrading to Vista.”

Virtualizing an OS as a guest, as many software architects will tell you, is not an upgrade of the host system; and many Macintosh users will certainly agree that the ability to virtualize or host Vista does not constitute an upgrade to OS X.

That fact aside, the curious puzzle remains as to whether Microsoft actively considered cancelling Vista virtualization so close to the operating system’s release, and with the Virtual PC 2007 project – an upgrade to Virtual PC 2004 specifically to enable hosting Vista – already well underway. BetaNews has approached Microsoft for further comment, and we’re told it may be forthcoming.

Last June, security researcher Joanna Rutkowska announced she was working on a personal project to create undetectable malware that exploited only publicly known computer functions rather than stealth. She called this project “Blue Pill.”

“The idea behind Blue Pill is simple” Rutkowska wrote for her blog last June. “Your operating system swallows the Blue Pill and it awakes inside the Matrix controlled by the ultra thin Blue Pill hypervisor. This all happens on-the-fly (i.e. without restarting the system) and there is no performance penalty and all the devices, like graphics card, are fully accessible to the operating system, which is now executing inside virtual machine.”

Reports from the conference the following August state that Microsoft’s then-general manager for security Ben Fathi was present for Rutkowska’s presentation, which he watched intently. Fathi later told eWeek that her demonstration was successful merely because she was using a beta kernel, and that the exploit vector she chose had already been fixed in a later build. Indeed, as testers will recall, Vista virtualization was addressed in several builds between the public Vista Beta 2 and the final release candidate.

Fathi discussed Vista beta kernel patching for security holes in an interview with InfoWorld last September. “Creating guest operating systems that sit on top of hypervisors allow us to create better isolation mechanisms,” Fathi stated then, “so that even if malware comes in, it only affects one subset of the machine and not everything else.”

Last October, Fathi was moved to a leadership position within Microsoft’s Core Operating Systems division, but by that time, the finalization of Vista’s business editions was already, and release to manufacturing was but a few weeks away.

If management teams and executives at Microsoft had actually considered removing virtualization from Vista altogether, sometime within the 12-week period between having witnessed Rutkowska’s demonstration in August and releasing Vista’s business editions to manufacturing, it’s difficult at present to pinpoint when that consideration was made, or for how long.

Update ribbon (small)

7:45 pm ET February 23, 2007 – Late Friday, a Microsoft spokesperson provided to BetaNews an extensive defense of why virtualization functionality was omitted from home editions of Vista, although the company would not address the question of whether Microsoft – as Scott Woodgate told the AP – considered tossing out all virtualization from Vista after having seen a rootkit demonstration in August. Here is Microsoft’s statement in full:

For production machines and everyday usage, virtualization is a fairly new technology, and one that we think is not yet mature enough from a security perspective for broad consumer adoption. Today, customers using virtualization technology with Windows are primarily business customers addressing application compatibility needs or technology enthusiasts.

For that reason, Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Home Premium cannot be installed in any virtual machine technology, but Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate can. This is regardless of the virtualization stack, applying equally to use with Microsoft’s virtualization technology, Virtual PC, and third-party virtualization technology.

Each virtual installation of Windows requires a new license just as it did for Windows XP except for Windows Vista Enterprise Edition which includes four installations in a virtual machine as part of a single license. Microsoft is committed to working with the hardware and software industry to improve the security of virtualization technologies moving forward with new hardware and software innovations.

Microsoft made statements indicating it would refrain from adopting virtualization functionality with the next version of its operating system as early as Spring 2005.

The ultimate RSS feed: Twingly screensaver shows global blog activity


Although we normally don’t write about screensavers, this one by Primelabs has a cool factor mammoth enough to qualify as an exception. Twingly, as it’s somewhat perplexingly called, shows blogging activity all across the world. Judging from the video that the company put on YouTube, links to posts scroll along the left side of the screen, pointing to where they originated on the globe in the center.

When the data flow is too big (which probably happens all the time), the link list won’t contain every single blog post, so don’t feel bad if you can’t see your own — you’re still adding to the yellow dots on the map. And if you ever see a post that says, “Poop on all humans,” it’s probably those darn pigeon bloggers again.

PC users interested in pretending they’re in an episode of Jake 2.0 can download the saver for free from the Twingly site (no Mac version, sadly). Check out the video preview after the jump.

Primelabs, via The Red Ferret Journal

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USB shot glass: from where else but Russia?


Russians love their vodka, but unfortunately there’s a big social taboo on drinking alone. Well, I guess it’s not that unfortunate, as drinking alone tends to be kind of pathetic. Unless you’re in the shower. Drinking beer in the shower is awesome, am I right guys? Guys?

Anyways, in order to allow thirsty and sober Ruskies to enjoy their vodka without shame, designer Sergei Mikheev has created the USB shot glass. It tracks how much liquid is in the glass and then, while online with “drinking buddies,” reports the info online. That way your friends can peer pressure you to finish your drink in one go while allowing you to vomit in the comfort of your own home. Ain’t technology grand?

Telsa coil protects your car with ring of lightning


If you ever thought car security wasn’t dramatic enough, this Tesla-coil automobile protector should satisfy your desire for spectacle. Attaching a 4-inch coil to a boom on the roof of his car, Australian Peter Terren created what is no doubt the coolest-looking theft deterrent to ever be built into a motor vehice. Terren captured the photo above, showing the coil’s ring of electricity (which he calls the Eye of Sauron, after the character in The Lord of the Rings), with time-lapse photography.

Putting aside for a second that such a security system would be about one one-thousandth legal, the Eye would certainly scare away any casual thieves, though determined ones could probably disable it easily enough (just off the top of my head, pulling down the boom with a rope). Nonetheless, it’s definitely the most wicked form of vehicle security we’ve ever seen — even if it’s not as effective as a MagnaVolt.

Tesla Downunder, via Gizmowatch

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