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At $3 per month, iPhone Quicken the tip of the SaaS iceberg (Updated)

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

Intuit, creator of the popular money management software Quicken, has decided to test out a new version of its software by offering it as a service to iPhone users. That demographic tends to be young, educated, affluent, and trendy—the perfect group to test out Quicken's new software-as-a-service (SaaS) model and hopefully infuse some life into the company's plateauing sales. HangZhou Night Net

Intuit says that it plans to launch the iPhone version of Quicken on January 8, just days before the Macworld Expo begins, and that it will only cost $3 per month. The product has been redesigned to better appeal to the younger demographic and those who are savvy to online banking, but haven't used money management software, Intuit senior VP Rick Jensen told Reuters. "Our first mission is to make sure we are solving the needs of people who are not currently using a personal finance solution," he said.

It has also been redesigned with the iPhone in mind. Although there will also be a general web version available so that anyone with a browser may use it, the iPhone version will have fewer features than Quicken's web version and will be better optimized to take advantage of the iPhone's touchscreen. (It's rare to see fewer features touted as a plus.)

Jensen said that the company decided to target this group because teens and young adults have shown to be willing to pay for software, but not if it forces them to spend time to install it on a desktop, or if it restricts them to their home computers. "It's about the amount of work and time they are willing to invest," he said to Reuters. "Even going out and shopping for a piece of software in the store. They are not interested in that."

Intuit's SaaS model isn't a brand new idea—Google has been heavily pushing its own SaaS offerings to both web and mobile users, and even has an iPhone-optimized portal of its own—but it's still fairly novel for companies that are used to selling licenses for desktop software. If Intuit finds that its $3 per month online version is successful, more companies could shift operations online and offer mobile optimized versions for a small monthly subscription fee. They don't have to just be for the iPhone, either, but for all manner of desktop and mobile devices. Adobe has already discussed plans to begin offering its key products as a service online—although it may be some time before we see a web version of Photoshop optimized for iPhone, companies seem eager to find out if SaaS is truly where it's at for the future.

Update: Quicken's Group Product Manager, Jim Del Favero, contact us to clarify a few points about Quicken's soon-to-be-released web version and the iPhone version. He said that Quicken Online, the web-based version of the software, will run $2.99 per month, and will contain mobile elements for users of different types of mobile phones. There will also be a special, iPhone-optimized interface for Quicken Online, which comes as part of the overall $2.99 per month package.

NASA finds “Death Star” galaxy?complete with energy weapons

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

When NASA labels something a "Death Star," you can pretty much rest assured that it will be cool—at least in an astrophysical sense. The recent discovery of a pair of neighboring galaxies, both with supermassive black holes at their centers,inspired the label after NASA researchers found that one galaxy was literally blasting the other with bursts of energy. HangZhou Night Net

A galaxy with a supermassive black hole isn't terribly special—the Milky Way is believed to have one.In the newly-discovered galaxies,however, one of these supermassive black holes has huge jets of energy emanating from it thatare slamming right into the other galaxy. "We've seen many jets produced by black holes, but this is the first time we've seen one punch into another galaxy like we're seeing here," said Dan Evans, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the leader of the study. "This jet could be causing all sorts of problems for the smaller galaxy it is pummeling."

The Death Star galaxy, officially called 3C321, was discovered from a combination of space and ground-based telescopes.NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope,Spitzer Space Telescope, the Very Large Array (VLA), andMulti-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN) telescopes were all in on the action in finding this astronomical phenomenon.

Multi-spectrum image of a jet from a supermassive black hole in the
lower left galaxy slamming into the galaxy in the upper right
(Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/D.Evans et al.; Optical/UV: NASA/STScI;
Radio: NSF/VLA/CfA/D.Evans et al., STFC/JBO/MERLIN)

The jets coming from the supermassive black hole consist of high energy particles traveling at nearly the speed of light, and theyproducemassive radiation in the forms of X-rays and gamma rays. Jetslike thesecan be seen allover the visible universe, but scientists barely understand them. The new discoveryprovides a unique opportunity to study the effects of a jet interacting with other matter.

Images from MERLIN and the VLAshow the energyjet striking the companion galaxy, and also show that the collision dissipates some of the jet's energy. Astronomers have concluded that the collision disrupts and deflects the jet. Data from Chandra and the VLA shows that the interaction in 3C321 isrelatively new, beginning only one million years ago, makingthis an even more unique opportunity for scientists.

While getting slammed from asupermassive black hole's energy jet would seem to be the beginning of atough day, scientists suggest that it may not be all bad news. The large amount of energy and mass being injected into the targetgalaxy could precipitate the formation of new stars and planets after the initial destruction subsides.

Astrophysical Journal, to be published.

New York tries to educate parents on games, fails to spot hoax

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

The New York Department of Criminal Justice has released a 20-minute video entitled Video Games and Children: Virtual Playground vs Danger Zone, meant to educate parents on the games their children play. Though one might suspect that extra guidance for parents trying to understand ESRB ratings could be a helpful resource, Video Games and Children (available online at the NY Criminal Justice Services Web site) takes the familiar route of sensationalizing violence in games. In a press release issued by the Department of Criminal Justice, commissioner Denise O'Donnell says: HangZhou Night Net

"With more than 5,000 game titles available, some of which contain graphic violence, sexual themes and adult content, parents should be cautious and remain vigilant when selecting video games… This presentation provides parents with guidance, resources and tips in choosing age-appropriate games for their children."

To that end, Video Games and Children manages to detail the V-Tech Rampage controversy before examining and explaining the ESRB rating system in detail. A segment later in the video details a "Video Game History" in which just six games—starting with Pong, moving through Mortal Kombat, Soldier of Fortune and others—make the cut. Though the presentation notes that the "research is inconclusive," it doesn't hesitate to warn viewers that games will make children aggressive, socially isolated, fat addicts. Notably, the video lists well-documented satire site MAVAV as a "resource" for parents looking for more information.

Ideally, organizations looking to put together a video about violence in games would go to the right folks for resources: real gamers. Ask an adult who plays 20 hours per week what games he'd give his kids, and you'll likely have a list much more useful than anything a Department of Criminal Justice might cook up from Google. Running down a list of games that a parent familiar with the ratings system wouldn't be buying anyway—is that really as proactive as detailing the best games for kids?

As often as we see efforts to educate parents fall short of the mark, the thought of the missed opportunity to really make a difference never fails to disappoint. Rather than detail some of the family-friendly titles and franchises available on current- and last-gen consoles, the New York Department of Criminal Justice took the easy route: trying to scare the crap out of parents.

First look: Firefox 3 beta 2 officially released

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

Mozilla has announced the official release of Firefox 3 beta 2, the tenth major developer milestone in the Firefox 3 development timeline. The new beta, which is available for download from Mozilla's web site, includes interface improvements and a lot of extra polish. HangZhou Night Net

Mozilla's quality standards for betas require that all of the planned features be fully implemented and robust enough for daily browsing by a large number of people. That standard was fulfilled last month by the Milestone 9 release, which was the first to bear the beta designation. Additional betas will be released on a consistent basis until all of the implemented features are finalized and performance matches or exceeds that of Firefox. At that point, Mozilla will transition to release candidates to resolve last-minute regressions before the official release.

The download manager was completely rewritten for Firefox 3 to include support for searching through previous downloads and resuming downloads between sessions. All of those features were included in the previous beta, but the download manager continues to gain subtle usability improvements. In this release, the domain of the site from which the file originated is displayed next with each entry in the download manager.

The new Firefox visual styles for Windows and Mac OS X haven't landed yet, but this beta is the first release to include the new Linux visual refresh. On Linux, Firefox will now adopt stock icons from the user's GNOME icon theme and use additional icons from Tango in cases where stock icons aren't available. The new default Firefox theme for Linux also closely conforms to the user's default GTK theme. The improvement is so profound that one can hardly distinguish Firefox from conventional GNOME applications. For the first time ever, Firefox truly looks like a part of the GNOME desktop. I've written extensively about many aspects of the Linux visual refresh and plan to do a followup in the near future.

The location bar auto-complete feature has gotten even smarter in the latest beta. Auto-completion will work on page titles, addresses, or tags. The auto-complete user interface, which has also been improved, will now underline the matching part of the address. The Places system got some improvements too. History and tags are now directly accessible through the Places Organizer, which can be accessed by selecting Show All Bookmarks from the Bookmarks menu.

In addition to usability enhancements, Firefox 3 beta 2 also delivers better performance and a reduction in memory overhead. During the Firefox 3 development cycle, over 300 individual memory leaks have been plugged and many more are eliminated by the new XPCOM cycle collector. In beta 2, more than 30 additional memory leaks have been fixed, and there have been 11 improvements to the Firefox memory footprint. Mozilla also says that performance is better in beta 2 as a result of performance tuning that was made possible by architectural changes.

Overall, it's another very impressive release that reflects the rapidly-growing robustness of Firefox 3. I've been using the nightly builds as my primary browser for some time, and I've been very happy with many of the new features. The quality of beta 1 was so high that it even managed to convert a few skeptics. The second beta further refines the experience and brings us closer to the release candidates.

Official 700MHz bidder list a mix of new, familiar names

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

The Federal Communications Commission last night released the official list of prospective bidders in the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction. We've already speculated on who might bid, and now we know for sure.It's quite a list—more than 200 companies submitted the required short-form applications, showing just how strong interest is in the new spectrum, especially among regional players. HangZhou Night Net

The FCC has received 266 applications, but only 96 of them have been "accepted for filing." The remaining 170 are in some way incomplete; companies have until January 4, 2008, to correct any deficiencies in the application and to make upfront payments.

Google Airwaves, LLC is listed as an applicant; so are AT&T, Verizon, Cox, and Frontline Wireless. Vulcan Spectrum is also on the list, indicating that Microsoft cofounder (and current owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers) Paul Allen has plans to bid on some spectrum as well. Sprint and T-Mobile do not appear to have filed applications.

But the real action ishappening at the local and regional level. One of the FCC's goals with the auction was to increase competition by making it easy for regional providers to get access to small chunks of prime spectrum, and judging from the initial interest, that may happen. Most of the listed bidders are small outfits with names like West Wisconsin Telecom Cooperative and Washington County Rural Telephone Cooperative. Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative is an applicant, too, as is the Red River Rural Telephone Association.

Most of the press coverage of the auction has focused on the C block of licenses that could grant a national 700MHz footprint, or the D block license that will create private/public partnership for public safety communications. But most of the players in the auction appear interested in the other blocks, which offer hundreds of small licenses and could make it feasible for rural co-ops, especially, to offer wireless Internet service.

A mock auction takes place on January 22, 2008, with the real auction to start two days later. Applicants can bid by phone or over the Internet, in which case they will need to use Internet Explorer or Netscape Communicator (seriously) to place bids. While the 700MHz auction may help to bring wireless Internet services to everyone, don't plan on bidding for the spectrum from a Mac; it is explicitly unsupported.

Virtualization benchmarks under OS X reveal no clear winner

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

Chances are you've heard a lot about the various solutions out there that allow you to run Windows on your Intel Mac, namely Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, and Boot Camp. All three offer slightly different feature sets, and there's a lot of information about each option floating around out there. Comparing and choosing between the three packages can be daunting, but MacTech Magazine has just simplified that task quite a bit by performing and publishing an extensive set of virtualization benchmarks. HangZhou Night Net

The benchmarks are easily the most comprehensive for Mac OS X virtualization, and focus mainly on time-measurable tasks and benchmarks. Both Windows XP and Vista were tested on a MacBook, MacBook Pro, and a Mac Pro, with baseline tests being run on a Fujitsu laptop. Some cross-platform tests (like opening a PDF attachment with Adobe Reader on Windows and with Preview) were also performed. So which one should you use? I won't spoil the results too much, but their overall answer is "it depends." I bet you didn't see what one coming.

(NB: These tests were run under Tiger (10.4.10) because Leopard had not yet been released at the time of testing, so some things may have changed slightly since then.)

Seriously though, recommendations vary according to a number of factors, including which version of Windows you'd like to run and just what you'll be doing with your virtual machines. MacTech recommends that anyone looking for Windows integration should run Windows XP under Parallels, but recommends VMware Fusion if Vista will be used. A few other reasons for running Fusion are discussed, but Parallels seems to be the winner for most everyday situations. No matter the results, these in-depth benchmarks are a great way to compare various features of the three packages. Anyone thinking of buying or changing virtualization solutions should definitely check it out.

PopCap launches holiday half-off sale for casual games

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

For the late gift-givers and the forgetful gamers comes one easy present for the casual games fan in your life. PopCap Games, makers of such digital crack as Peggle and Bookworm, are selling everything on its site for half price from now until January 3. If you're interested in killing someone's productivity, you now have a less expensive way to go about it. HangZhou Night Net

You can also send a gift certificate via the site, for the truly lazy.

Purchasing the gift certificate
takes less than a minute via any major credit cardThe certificate arrives via email
within a few minutes and can be sent directly to the recipient, or forwarded by
the purchaser. It can also be printed out and mailed in a card or stuffed in a
stocking (standard CD jewel cases won’t fit in most stockings).The gift giver doesn't need
to know which game(s) would be most enjoyed by the recipient—the gift
certificate can be applied to any of the four dozen games available on
PopCap’s Website.Even the recipient of the gift
certificate doesn’t need to choose a game "blindly"—thanks to PopCap's "try before you buy" policy, any and all
games on the site can be played by the recipient, after which the preferred
game(s) can be "purchased" via the gift certificate instantly.To redeem the gift certificate,
the recipient simply enters the certificate code during the normal check-out
process on PopCap.com.

No one in my extended family knows who UbiSoft is, but PopCap is a household name. Cutting all the prices in half gives you some significant savings, and and you don't even have to get up from your desk. The wonders of technology…

US approves Google\/DoubleClick deal; EU still deciding

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

Santa, a long-time Ars reader and forum denizen, forwarded us a copy of Google's Christmas wish list for 2007: HangZhou Night Net

    Sign up for 700MHz spectrum bid, terrify rivalsConvince FTC that acquisition of massive advertising firm a good ideaBake buttery shortbread cookiesProfit!!!

Santa was miffed that he'll having nothing to deliver to the Googlers this year now that the FTC has approved the company's pending merger with fellow ad giant DoubleClick (the other three items are already fait accompli, including the cookies). In its announcement today closing the investigation into the merger, the FTC concluded that the deal "is unlikely to substantially lessen competition." Europe may not be so understanding, though.

The FTC vote was 4-1, with the assenting commissioners noting that they did not have the legal authority to block the deal based on privacy concerns; antitrust considerations alone were their remit. The FTC concluded that competition in the online advertising market was vigorous and "will likely increase" in the wake of the merger.

Clearly knowing that this would be a controversial decision, the FTC decided to release a voluntary set of "behavioral advertising privacy principles" (PDF)this morning as well. While the Commission won't do anything to halt the Google/DoubleClick merger, it does expect the combined company (and all others in the behavioral advertising space) to abide by a set of general principles.

Those principles suggest that any website collecting behavioral data for advertising purposes should "provide a clear, consumer-friendly, and prominent statement that data is being collected to provide ads targeted to the consumer." Consumers should also have the right to decide if they want this to happen.

In a lengthy dissenting statement, FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour accepted that the merger could create "some efficiencies." But she worries that it has "greater potential to harm competition, and it also threatens privacy. By closing its investigation without imposing any conditions or other safeguards, the Commission is asking consumers to bear too much of the risk of both types of harm."

The decision is certain to generate controversy, especially in the light of FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras' decision not to recuse herself in the case after it was alleged that her husband, an antitrust lawyer at a prominent DC law firm, was helping to represent DoubleClick (it turns out that his firm represents them only in Europe). Fellow Commissioner William Kovacic also decided not to recuse himself (his wife works at the same law firm).

Under a European microscope

Europe has yet to weigh in on the deal, though, and seems far more likely than the US to impose significant restrictions on the merger. Neelie Kroes, the EU's Competition Commissioner, came under more pressure this week to block the deal when BEUC, a European consumers' organization, sent a letter to her office.

That letter made the now-familiar point that a combined Google/DoubleClick would have tremendous control over both search advertising and non-search ads. It also claimed that the merger could "push up prices for advertisers" and that after the merger, "there will be no real alternative to the combined entity for advertisers and web publishers."

And, of course, the new company would be a "data collection colossus."

The EU is already conducting a thorough look at the deal after preliminary investigation turned up serious competition concerns. That review will be completed by early April, at which time we'll find out if Europe's more aggressive approach to antitrust regulation will throw up any serious roadblocks.

Mac users out-spend PC users on digital (and physical) music

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

Well, no one ever said that Mac users weren't good for the economy. Market research firm NPD Group released its quarterly Digital Music Monitor report today, which found that noticeably more Mac users purchase music than their PC-using brethren. A full half of all Mac users had reported paying for music through various digital methods (not the least of which being iTunes, of course), while only 16 percent of PC users had done the same. HangZhou Night Net

But not only were they more likely to be up on digital downloads, Mac users bought more CDs too. While some 28 percent of PC users reported buying physical CDs to get their music fix, Mac users seemed to edge them out once again at 32 percent. NPD also said that Mac users were more likely to actually use their digital music players too: 34 percent of Mac users had put music onto their MP3 players, compared to only 16 percent of PC users. (This one is kind of an odd data point, because it's unclear whether all of these people have music players to put music onto and they're just not, or whether this is a percentage of the population that owns portable players to begin with.)

Either way, the data shows an obvious trend. Mac users seem to be more tuned-in to their music collections than most. But that's not all: the typical Mac-using demographic is young, educated, affluent, and trendy, which often translates to being on top of new tech trends like digital downloads. Okay, so digital downloads aren't "new" to most of us, but they are for most of the general population, like our parents and other family members. And let's face it: whether we like it or not, most of the general population is made up of PC users.

"There's still a cultural divide between Apple consumers and the rest of the computing world, and that's especially apparent when it comes to the way they interact with music," NPD Group VP Russ Crupnick said in a statement. "Mac users are not only more active in digital music, they are also more likely to buy CDs, which helps debunk the myth that digital music consumers stop buying music in CD format."

Of course, even Mac users can't save lagging CD sales (there simply aren't enough of us). But when it comes to digital distribution and other newfangled technologies, Mac users like to ride out the kinks before the rest of the population catches up. Let's see if we can do the same for online video in the coming year(s), hmm?

3D Realms shows new Duke Nukem Forever footage

Posted on 27/01/2019 by

It's hard to wrap your mind around the absurd amount of time 3D Realms has had Duke Nukem Forever in development. The game was announced back in 1997, and the Quake II engine was licensed to fuel the title. This was big news, and even now, Duke Nukem 3D is still warmly regarded as one of the better early first-person shooters; the combination of violent game play, strippers, and inventive weaponry made for some great multiplayer. If you've never placed a trip-bomb inside a teleporter and then waited for someone to come through, you missed out. The sequel has since gone through multiple engine changes, multiple publishers, and has become one of the lamest running jokes in the industry. Today, we finally get a sneak peak at Duke Nukem Forever as ShackNews has the exclusive 70-second look at the game. HangZhou Night Net

This isn't the first time we've seen video of the elusive title. In 1998 there was a short video shown at E3 that depicted a busty sidekick and the signature Duke Nukem wailing guitars. Then the Quake II engine was promptly dropped for the Unreal Engine. The next video was shown at E3 again, in 2001. This time the setting was Las Vegas, with a modern look and alien antagonists. When Carl of Game.Ars visited E3 in 2001 he spoke about Richard Garriot's Tabula Rasa, and he then made a joke about the length of Duke Nukem Forever's development cycle.

That was six years ago.

"Last Saturday we had our annual company Christmas party. It was a lot of fun as usual but it featured one special surprise. It turns out that several people had been secretly working late nights and into the wee hours of the morning preparing a special video for those at the party," George Broussard, director of the title posted on the official 3D Realms board yesterday. "They created a short teaser for Duke Nukem Forever." After promising to share the new footage today, the message boards across the Internet went insane with jokes and incredulous comments. Surely there can't be much to see, the punters cried. There is no way the game exists!

After watching the footage, there isn't much to talk about. There are only quick blasts of what appear to be in-engine play between scenes of the newly updated Duke Nukem doing bicep curls, although the tentacled aliens still seem to be a large part of the game. The pig-based aliens also make a return from Duke Nukem 3D. "I'm looking for some alien toilet to park my bricks," Duke drawls, "Who's first?" Not the most grammatically correct tough guy on the planet, but it gets the message across.

We're promised more looks at the game in the future and, while this shows almost nothing of the game, its setting, or the graphical quality, it does show that work is being done. One day, far in the future, Duke Nukem Forever will be released. And then what will we make fun of?