This news will come as a shock to none, but the volume of spam has continued to rise throughout 2007. So much so, in fact, that spam researchers say that electronic junk mail has long surpassed the volume of human-issued e-mail this year, despite efforts to thwart it. One company, Barracuda Networks, goes so far as to say that spam now accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all e-mail, with no end in sight.
The numbers come as part of the e-mail security company's annual spam report, in which it analyzed over one billion messages sent to its 50,000 customers. Barracuda says that the percentage of spam increased from 85-90 percent in 2006, and is way up from 5 percent back in 2001. After conducting a poll of 261 business professionals, Barracuda also found that over half—57 percent—consider spam to be the "worst form of junk advertising," almost double that of junk snail mail. Only 12 percent cited telemarketers as the worst.
95 percent is awfully high (and as far as I can tell, accurately describes the ratio of e-mail that hits the server for me), but not everyone agrees on those numbers. Symantec has observed the overall spam volume increase from an average of 56 percent of all e-mail traffic in 2006 to about 71 percent in 2007, Symantec spokesman David Forstrom told Ars.
Data source: Barracuda Networks
It's hard to say which company's numbers are more accurate—"Different monitors can legitimately get different results," University of Calgary computer science professor John Aycock told us. What's important are overall trends. One thing that everyone agrees on is that spam continues to morph in an attempt to get through filters. Both Symantec and Barracuda say that they have observed an increased use in file attachments in 2007, like PDFs and images, and security software vendor MXSweep says that spammers are also focusing on sending MP3 and Excel spam.
Back in April, IDC predicted that spam would overtake human-issued e-mails in 2007, but this is one prophecy that we would have preferred didn't come true. The trend shows that the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act has done little to thwart spammers from upping the ante, despite suggestions to the contrary. A few charges may have been brought against spammers here and there, but the US government can only do so much when so many spammers are located elsewhere in the world and those in the US are so difficult to prosecute.
While most of the press reporting on games focuses on the more sensational and negative aspects of the hobby, the NPD Group has just released Expanding the Games Market, a report that shows that an increasing number of people see gaming as a viable and fun hobby. The report also notes that while gaming might be a more isolated activity for the "hardcore" market, most gamers use their hobby as a way to connect with their friends and family.
The sample included 5,039 members of the NPD Group's online consumer panel, and the majority of the respondents said that games were a good way to alleviate stress and unwind. Impressive for the gaming industry was that the stress-relieving aspect of the hobby was mostly seen in older gamers ranging from 15 to 65 years of age.
"The new type of game experiences brought to the market over the past several years are succeeding in reaching a broader audience. The challenge for the industry is that consumers are a fickle group, and with the great variety of options pulling at their limited free time, they're going to be easily distracted unless something really compels them to stay with gaming," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier in a statement. "To reach these less-involved consumers, the industry has to work even harder, but doing so can produce great rewards."
Nintendo is one company that has realized, as is evidenced in the disruptive influence of the Wii and DS, two systems that went after a wider, more casual audience with great financial rewards.
NPD's study stands in contrast to the two other reports recently released. Last week's Hill & Knowlton report buried pages of positive data about gaming in order to focus on a headline about regulation. Also last week, the National Institute for Media and the Family video game report card berated retailers for allowing children to purchased M-rated content while ignoring data that showed compliance with R- and unrated movie guidelines were significantly lower.
With the data showing that 63 percent of the US population is playing games—and 30 percent are playing more this year than last year—gaming is on the move. This acceptance of gaming, along with the expansion of demographics that are spending time and money on gaming, has made some in the retail world take note, and it's expected that more stores in the future will begin allocating more shelf space to games and related hardware.
Gaming is already a mass-market hobby, with people of all ages picking up controllers and portables. Unfortunately, the mainstream media does not seem fully aware of how the mainstream itself thinks about gaming. Once that happens, many of the industry's current PR problems are likely to be alleviated.
Microsoft's PlaysForSure has always been a model of how to run a DRM ecosystem: launch a new scheme with logo, convince device makers to sign up, launch your own online music store that uses said ecosystem, drop your music store, launch your own device which uses incompatible DRM, launch new music store with same incompatible DRM, then change branding of ecosystem logo. On second thought, perhaps there's room for improvement here.
Microsoft has just announced a change in the PlaysForSure branding that adds even more confusion to the DRM ecosystem. Instead of looking for the triangular PlaysForSure logo, consumers are now supposed to look for the "Certified for Windows Vista" logo that is used for plenty of other devices.
The obvious problem here is that PlaysForSure has nothing to do with Vista, and has in fact been used for years on XP. While never gaining much traction among music download stores, it has become the DRM of choice for subscription plans. Now, users of those plans who still run XP should look for the "Certified for Windows Vista" logo the next time they purchase a new player. That shouldn't confuse anyone.
PlaysForSure was the answer to Apple's FairPlay, and Microsoft hoped that it would become the de facto standard among music stores that were not iTunes and devices that were not iPods. It largely has, but that doesn't mean it's popular or widely used. Music stores, especially, aren't thrilled about it since it remains incompatible with the iPod, but for years they had little choice. Now, with the resurgence of MP3, they finally have some chance at reaching out to the iPod market.
Microsoft didn't help PlaysForSure by forking it with the Zune (which is Certified for Windows Vista in an entirely different way), producing an almost identical but still incompatible version of the scheme for use with its new music player. This was widely seen as yanking the rug out from its industry partners who had supported a scheme for so long, but Microsoft continues to support PlaysForSure and companies continue to use it. Nokia, for instance, recently announced that its Comes With Music initiative would use PlaysForSure DRM.
By changing the branding to "Certified for Windows Vista," Microsoft is acting on a noble impulse: make things simpler. Devices will have one logo that shows they work with Vista, and consumers won't need to look for a separate DRM logo. Devices should Just Work. But, as we pointed out above, Microsoft's DRM works on more than Vista, and this seems like a change that might have been better made in another year, when Vista uptake rates are higher. On the other hand, since PlaysForSure hasn't meant much to most consumers, there may be little loss to just making the change now.
Okay, so the original Pentium isn't really coming back in 2008, but what is coming looks enough like the Pentium to give some of us Pentium-era CPU buffs déjà vu. I'm talking, of course, about Intel's forthcoming attempts at an embedded processor core that will compete with the likes of ARM and MIPS, a "core" that may actually be a family of cores aimed at different applications. One application is low-cost, low-power mobile devices, and it turns out that the Diamondville/Silverthorne processor that will power these devices is a lot leaner than I thought. And contrary to expectations, it also will lag Core Solo significantly in clock-for-clock performance.
The new details on Diamondville/Silverthorne are buried in the program for the 2008 International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC). As always, the program contains a number of tantalizing nuggets of information that will be further fleshed out in the conference presentations, some of which were dug out by David Kanter over at RWT in a recent article. But I want to zoom in on the following entry:
13.1 A Sub-1W to 2W Low-Power IA Processor for Mobile Internet Devices and Ultra-Mobile PCs in 45nm High-? Metal-Gate CMOS
Intel, Austin, TX
A 47M transistor, 25mm2, sub-2W IA processor designed for mobile internet devices is presented. It features a 2-issue, in-order pipeline with 32KB iL1 and 24KB dL1 caches, integer and floating point execution units, x86 front end, a 512KB L2 cache and a 533MT/s front-side bus. The design is manufactured in 9M 45nm High-? metal-gate CMOS and housed in a 441-ball μFCBGA package.
Unless the "two-issue, in-order pipeline" in question is some kind of derivative of the original Pentium, then my previous skepticism about Intel's "new architecture from the ground up" claims was unwarranted. Even if it isn't really a Pentium derivative, and it probably isn't in any meaningful sense, the fact that it issues two instructions per clock and has an in-order pipeline makes it the spiritual heir to the original Pentium, which was Intel's original x86 two-issue, in-order design.
This also makes it a direct competitor to ARM's embedded processors, which are also two-issue, in-order designs that focus on low power. But in this particular low-transistor-count, sub-2W competition, the x86 ISA does put Intel at a real disadvantage.
Because a huge chunk of Silverthorne's die area is cache, the percentage of total die area that the new processor spends on x86 instruction decoding won't be as high as the original Pentium's 40 percent, but may well be in the double digits. Like the original Pentium, this relatively large number of transistors spent on x86 decode hardware will put Silverthorne at a performance and performance/watt disadvantage compared to a leaner RISC design like ARM, which can spend more die area on performance-enhancing cache. And Silverthorne's lower-cost Diamondville derivative, which will probably be underclocked and/or have less cache than its big brother, will look even worse next to a comparable ARM part.
Given these factors, I think we can safely assume at this point that Silverthorne will be clock-for-clock slower and less efficient than a comparable ARM part, especially on integer-intensive Web and productivity apps. But if the 45nm Silverthorne launches in the 1-2 GHz clockspeed range that Intel claims for it, then it may still be competitive in terms of performance/watt with ARM's 65nm, slower-clocked Cortex A8 (600MHz to 1.1GHz), its closest competitor. In other words, Intel is planning to do to RISC in the embedded space what it has done to RISC everywhere else: steamroll the competition with sheer process muscle.
The revelation that Silverthorne is in-order and two-issue also raises questions about its performance relative to Intel's regular laptop processors. Obviously, Silverthorne won't be anywhere near even a first-generation Pentium M in terms of clock-for-clock performance, though a (more appropriate) performance/watt comparison may put it within striking distance of even a Core Solo. Nonetheless, don't expect Windows to be anything but slow on Silverthorne—you're going want to run a mobile Linux flavor on a Silverthorne-based MID.
Two weeks ago, Panic released CandyBar 3, a major update to its system icon customization app. The new version retired Pixadex, Panic's "iPhoto for icon junkies," and wrapped its organization features into CandyBar to make version 3 a one-stop shop for organizing and applying custom icons and Docks. CandyBar 3 is a pleasure to use for Mac-slinging UI customize-aholics, especially compared to the previous split team of CandyBar + Pixadex, but like any 1.0, it had some quirks. Fortunately, Panic's been in a bug-squashin' mood, and CandyBar 3.1 is now among us.
New in this free update is a "Dock Preview" in the icon collection view (pictured) which—you guessed it—allows you to actually see a custom Dock before you apply it. Why this wasn't included in the initial release is a tad puzzling, but there's no time to ponder that now; other new features include additional customizable System icons, a bonafide Cancel button to clear any changes you don't want to make, and proper migration from Pixadex libraries (another feature that strangely didn't make the 3.0 release, especially considering Pixadex got retired and all). Nearly two dozen other changes and fixes also made it into 3.1's release notes, including some nice polish like a contextual menu to open an icon author's website.
The new version is available via CandyBar's built-in update system, and a Leopard-only demo is available at Panic's CandyBar site. Now that we're revisiting CandyBar after the original announcement though, we have to agree with some of the complaints about upgrade pricing from the original discussion. While CandyBar's full price of $29 is pretty reasonable considering everything it does, the upgrade prices of $24 (for owners of either CandyBar 2 or Pixadex 2) and $19 (for owners of both previous versions) are a bit steep. That said, CandyBar 3 is still a great release that rounds up a lot of functionality in a slick, well-organized UI. For the icon-obsessed, the new CandyBar really is the only way to go.
AMD's Spider platform launch last month was originally meant to demonstrate the company's decisive return to competitive status vis-á-vis both Intel and NVIDIA. As far as NVIDIA is concerned, the Spider launch can be considered a success; AMD's new HD 3850 and HD 3870 are both solid products. We've also covered the current status of Phenom and the timeframe in which we can expect solutions to the processor's documented problems. The third point of AMD's platform triangle is the 790FX chipset (and derivatives) that launched on November 19. Initial reports on the chipset weren't good. Multiple reviewers documented the problems they had simply stabilizing their launch boards sufficiently enough to test them.
Several weeks later, though, things appear to be changing for the better. Motherboard manufacturers appear to be taking early bug reports seriously. Gigabyte has already released three BIOS updates for its GA-MA790FX-DQ6 (the last one currently available contains the TLB L3 erratum fix) and two for the GA-MA790FX-DS5. Asus hasn't made any BIOS updates for the M3A32-MVP Deluxe or the M3A available, but we've gotten updates from AMD containing the latest BIOS versions the company is currently testing. MSI also released a new BIOS just before product launch that fixes several issues.
So far, all of the manufacturers that have launched Phenom boards appear to be committed to supporting and improving their respective platforms. That's an encouraging sign for AMD users who might be interested in a 790 board either now or at some point in the future. AMD has had a fair bit of success in the low-power market with its 690G chipset; hopefully the upcoming 790-based integrated chipset can continue this trend.
A US district judge has penned the latest chapter in eBay's long-standing patent infringement battle with MercExchange LLC. Since 2003, eBay has been fighting a jury's decision that its Buy It Now feature infringes on two patents held by MercExchange, originally an auction site itself over a decade ago. eBay fought off an injunction earlier this year, but the judge's ruling today orders eBay to pay $30 million to MercExchange, LLC.
This patent dispute hails all the way back to 2001 when licensing talks broke down between eBay and Tom Woolston, founder of MercExchange. Woolston promptly filed suit against eBay, fighting for an injunction to stop the service from using the feature. A US District Court sided with MercExchange in 2003, but eBay's appeals eventually escalated the case up to the Supreme Court, where the focus shifted and subsequently garnered the attention ofIP lawyers in everythingfrom the software industry to thepharmaceutical business.
At issue before the Supreme Court was whetherpatent infringement should necessitate injunctions to stop companies from distributing their products. This meant much higher stakes were on the table.Todd Dickinson, GE's vice president of intellectual property, even called it "the most important commercial law case before the Supreme Court so far this century."
The Supreme Court sided with eBay in 2006, ruling that patent infringement does not automatically warrant a permanent injunction. In July of this year, Judge Jerome B. Friedman noted the fact that MercExchange hasn't been operating as an auction site for quite some time,along withthe company's obvious attempts to use its patents as a revenue-generating crutch. With that in mind, Friedman dismissed the possibility of an injunction, ruling that eBay could continue using its Buy It Now feature.
The greater industry win from eBay's battle with MercExchange has been the establishment of injunction boundaries in patent suits. However, the fact that the battle took so long and that eBay still owes $30 million is an ugly reminder of the state of software patents. Naturally, eBay plans to appeal the ruling.
Nokia has officially released the Maemo 4 training manual, extensive documentation for third-party Maemo application developers. The manual, which consists of three distinct guides, is intended to serve as a starting point for programmers who want to create software for Nokia Internet Tablet devices. The documentation is all distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license and the code examples are distributed under the MIT license.
"We hope that maemo training courses provide an efficient overview of the tools and methodologies needed when developing applications and platform services to the maemo platform," said the Maemo team in an announcement. "Courses have been done to be as hands-on style as possible. In practice this means that there are a lot of exercises and examples how to write simple GUI applications and platform services and how to integrate them into the maemo platform and the packaging framework."
The Getting Started guide provides a high-level overview of the system, describes how to install the Maemo SDK, and provides a concise tutorial that describes how to create a very simple Hello World application. The Application Development guide introduces GTK development concepts, explains how to use Autotools, describes various GNOME support libraries like Gconf, describes how to integrate with the Maemo Application Framework, and includes a packaging tutorial. The Platform Development guide explains how to leverage components of the Maemo platform infrastructure like D-Bus and LibOSSO.
The training manual is an excellent resource that is well-written and easy to navigate. Everyone who is interested in Maemo development should take a look. Additional documentation, like the Maemo 4 porting guide and API reference, is available at the Maemo development site.
The idea of using the white spaces between digital TV channels for wireless broadband has been somewhat lost in the build-up to the 700MHz wireless spectrum auction next month. The newly-formed Wireless Innovation Alliance (WIA) hopes to change that with a PR campaign directed at the Federal Communications Commission and policy makers. Its goal is a set of "clear, reasonable regulations" that will enable wireless broadband deployments in the space between DTV channels.
In October 2006, the FCC voted to open up the white spaces to use by unlicensed consumer electronics. A few months later, a group of eight companies calling itself the White Spaces Coalition submitted a prototype device to the FCC for testing in March. The first device malfunctioned and got a failing grade from the FCC; the Commission neglected to test another device submitted in May.
In a subsequent filing, the White Spaces Coalition argued that, since the second prototype device passed its tests with 100 percent accuracy, the FCC should direct its attention towards crafting rules to govern how, exactly, the empty digital TV spectrum should be used for wireless broadband.
There is significant opposition to using white spaces in the digital TV spectrum for wireless broadband, most of it coming from broadcasters. This past September, the National Association of Broadcasters launched a PR campaign of its own, calling the White Spaces Coalition's proposals "wrongheaded." The NAB argues that wireless broadband in the white spaces will inevitably result in interference and released a statement today critical of the WIA. "It is unfortunate that Microsoft and Google continue to try to muscle their way through Washington in support of a technology that simply does not work," said NAB executive VP Dennis Wharton. "By playing Russian Roulette with digital television, Microsoft and Google would completely undermine the historic public-private DTV partnership that broadcasters embraced to ensure America's ongoing leadership in innovation."
The Wireless Innovation Alliance hopes to counteract the NAB's efforts with an educational campaign of its own and by working closely with policy makers. The group already has backers in Congress, including Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA). "I'm proud to support the WIA coalition, alongside my colleagues in Congress who also back the use of TV white spaces," said Rep. Inslee. "I look forward to helping the coalition's education campaign."
Members of the alliance include a handful of familiar faces from the White Spaces Coalition, including Dell, Google, HP, and Microsoft, as well as Public Knowledge, FreePress, EDUCAUSE, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
In addition to participating in the white spaces broadband effort, Google is also planning a bid on the 700MHz spectrum. Between the spectrum auction and the white spaces proposals, hopefully broadband in the US will become cheaper, more competitive, and universally available over the next few years.
Google Toolbar fans will be happy to hear that the company released an update to its toolbar for Internet Explorer today. Google Toolbar 5 for IE adds Gadgets support, settings sync, and address correction (among other things) to the browser tool that should make it even more convenient for users to retrieve information on their Internet travels.
One of the more notable new features in Toolbar 5 is the ability to add and use Google Gadgets directly from the toolbar. Almost anything that someone has written for Google Gadgets, which can be used as part of your Google Desktop on both the Mac and Windows, can now be added as a button and used as an extension of the toolbar. I added the Google Maps gadget to mine, which functions differently than the Google Maps button that comes by default with Toolbar. Instead of merely representing a link to Google Maps' web page, the Maps gadget through the toolbar lets me search for things right there without having to navigate to a new page.
My mini Maps results window
Google has also added a feature that allows the Toolbar to sync its settings with a server and be accessed from multiple computers. No longer do you have to maintain one set of Toolbar settings on your desktop and try to mirror that on your laptop—just set it once, sign in on both computers, and Toolbar will take care of the rest. That's certainly helpful for many of us geeks, who are used to switching between multiple computers at work, home, and travel.
Toolbar has also gained Google Notebook support, which allows users to store links, clips, and other information from the Web in a button-accessible spot. If you're not into simply bookmarking sites or you want to store more than just a link (such as notes to go along with it), this can be handy.
Add clippings and notes to the Notebook
And for those who have clumsy fingers, Toolbar can now suggest alternatives for common navigation errors. Instead of directing you to a 404 or DNS error for typing "youtube.co," the results page will suggest alternatives in an attempt to help you get where you're going. This isn't exactly a mind-blowing new feature, but it's nice nonetheless. Finally, Toolbar's AutoFill feature has gotten a bit of a boost by allowing users to enter and manage multiple profiles. For example, if you have a company credit card with a certain billing address, you can keep that separate from your personal credit card and address info. Google says that the tool has been tweaked to be more accurate in detecting where information should be placed, too, although in my tests, AutoFill still didn't work at all (or correctly) at several sites.
The changes may not send hardcore toolbar haters to Google's servers en masse, but those who make constant use of Google Toolbar and already use IE will find it to be a welcome update. Now, if only Google Toolbar for Firefox would catch up.