High-end ‘upstream’ Linux laptop plans to ship in April

January 27th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

A unique laptop wastes no time in promoting its worth in its title, the Purism Librem 15. Its team maintain that this is “the first high-end laptop in the world that ships without mystery software in the kernel, operating system, or any software applications.” The laptop carries appeal for those who are frustrated over paying for a machine with an OS carrying “suspect proprietary software,” without the user knowing what that software does. The company says the value of going free/libre and open source is for an important reason: “unless every aspect of your kernel, operating system, and software applications are free/libre and open source, there is no way to know that your computer is truly working in your best interest.”

They said in working up hardware, they carefully designed the laptop “chip by chip” to work with open source software. The 4.4-pound laptop runs Linux. This is a GNU-based distribution, more specifically, the Trisquel GNU/Linux, “the strictest of distributions and strips all binary blobs from the Linux kernel.” At the same time, they said laptop owners, if they want, can easily install anything less strict, such as Debian and Ubuntu. The machine has a 15.6″ display in either 1920×1080 or 3840×2160 with a 60Hz refresh rate, 720p camera and HD Audio. It has a CD/DVD ROM drive. They used Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200. It has a 48 Wh lithium polymer battery with about eight hours of usage.

The BIOS is not free. Though the bootloader, Linux kernel, GNU OS, and all software applications are completely free/libre software without any binary blobs, the BIOS does use coreboot, which includes a binary from Intel, called FSP. They said, “While the BIOS is not yet free, the Librem 15 will be the first laptop ever manufactured to ship a modern Intel CPU fused to run unsigned BIOS code, allowing for a future where free software can replace the proprietary, digitally signed BIOS binaries.”

As input, the power adapter takes up to 1.6A at 100-240V and 50-60Hz. As output, the power adapter provides up to 3.4A at 19V. The power adapter plug is available in EU, UK, and US styles and can be swapped out by the user.

“Bundled with the fully free/libre, no mystery software Trisquel GNU/Linux operating system, with free/libre professional quality web browser, email, graphics, drawing, word processing, presentation, spreadsheet, and media software, users can easily replace their existing computer.” According to the FAQ page in the company site, Purism uses The Onion Router (Tor) and installs it by default.

Availability? Purism has the final prototypes. They have turned to a crowdfunding campaign on Portland, Oregon-based Crowd Supply to push them forward. At the time of this writing, they passed their $250,000 goal and have raised $333,240. They aim to start production at full scale in their San Francisco facility and 500 laptops will be in their first batch. Shipping is in April.

You pay an “Earlier Bird” price of $1,649 for 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, CD/DVD ROM and a 1920×1080 screen with AC adapter plug. A full price list along with their features are on the Crowd Supply site.

John Biggs of TechCrunch said this was “a fascinating product” and remarked that “it looks like a very fun and secure way to use free/libre software on a specific set of hardware.”


Microsoft still to make the case for Windows 10

January 27th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

The radical new virtual reality interface Microsoft revealed for Windows 10 has the potential to dramatically change the way people work, but that does not mean the software company will have an easy time getting businesses to adopt its new operating system, analysts say.

On Thursday, Microsoft revealed HoloLens, a Windows 10 computer that users wear over their eyes, which superimposes images over the real world and allows them to interact with HoloLens-compatible applications as if they were part of their physical environment. Microsoft showed one HoloLens wearer using the interface to design a motorcycle in 3D, and another wearer using it to conduct a virtual face-to-face meeting with a colleague while she was walking around the office.

The HoloLens announcement was part of an ongoing series of briefings Microsoft is having about Windows 10, the update to Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 that is due to be released in the United States in the fourth quarter of this year. As part of the same briefing, Microsoft revealed the update would be free for Windows 7 and Windows 8 users, as long as they updated in the first year of Windows 10′s release.

“It’s not often that a new product release has the potential to reshape the way people work and play. The PC, the browser, the smartphone – all of these products fell into that category. Microsoft’s new HoloLens has the potential to do the same,” said JP Gownder, the principal analyst serving infrastructure and operations professionals at the technology research company Forrester.

“Over the next few years, HoloLens will set the bar for a new type of computing experience that suffuses our jobs, our shopping experiences, our methods for learning, and how we experience media, among other life vectors.”

The challenge for Microsoft, other analysts say, will be getting users to switch to Windows 10 in the first place.

Foad Fadaghi, managing director and principal analyst at the technology research company Telsyte, said that there was little “to suggest that Windows Phone 10 will help Microsoft gain smartphone market share” – the area where Microsoft has most struggled to gain traction with its software.

“Windows 10 is unlikely to impact Microsoft’s smartphone market share on its own, although the Windows 10 ecosystem created with new holographic glasses, Xbox and desktop computers has the potential to create a halo effect and increase consumer interest,” he said.

“Microsoft clearly needs a hero “Lumia” product that can be as impactful as Surface Pro to help the company’s smartphone hardware ambitions.”

The situation for the PC of Windows 10 could be just as problematic, although there Microsoft is competing with the old versions of its own software, rather than with Google and Apple.

“Getting Windows 7 users to upgrade to Windows 10 is not going to be easy,” said Richard Edwards, principal analyst, enterprise mobility & productivity at Ovum, another research company.

“Ovum’s research data indicates that businesses and institutions will continue to deploy Windows 7 for the time being, even though ‘mainstream support’ came to an end” on January 13, Mr Edwards said.

“‘Extended support” for Windows 7, which will cover security patches and paid-for helpline support, will continue until January 2020, Mr Edwards noted, meaning companies would not be compelled to upgrade to Windows 8 or Windows 10 for some time.


Microsoft profit slips slightly

January 27th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

Technology giant Microsoft saw its operating profit fall slightly in the final quarter of 2014.

Figures released by the firm behind Windows saw operating income drop from 7.9 billion US dollars (£5.2 billion) to 7.7 billion (£5.1 billion) compared to the same period last year.

But the Seattle-based computer giant saw revenue increase by 8% on the previous year to 26.5 billion US dollars (£17.5 billion) – slightly above analyst forecasts. Operating profit also rose compared to the last quarter.

Microsoft explained some of the reported net income drop of 10% on last year’s figures by referring to “243 million dollars of integration and restructuring expenses”, related to the acquisition of the Nokia phone business that took place last year.

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said: “Microsoft is continuing to transform, executing against our strategic priorities and extending our cloud leadership. We are taking bold steps forward across our business, and specifically with Windows 10, to deliver new experiences, new categories, and new opportunities to our customers.”

This year is already looking like a potential turning point for the software giant, with the new version of their desktop software Windows being released in the form of Windows 10. In recent years the Bill Gates-founded company has come under increasing pressure from the likes of Apple and Google, which have overtaken Microsoft in various areas of the market.

The increasing popularity of Microsoft’s hybrid table the Surface, which comes with a detachable keyboard and power similar to a laptop, has seen previous slumps begin to slow. Surface tablet revenue grew by 8% in the final quarter of 2014 to 12.9 billion US dollars (£8.5 billion), and subscriptions to productivity software Office 365 also went up by 30% on the previous quarter.

Amy Hood, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Microsoft, said: “We remain disciplined in our approach to operational and execution excellence, balanced with investments that drive meaningful growth for the business while increasing capital return to shareholders.”

Microsoft also confirmed what it called “strong” Christmas season sales for its video games console, the Xbox One, with Xbox sales totalling 6.6 million units over the last three months as the hardware continues to battle against Sony’s Playstation 4.

The figures suggest the Xbox has outsold the Playstation over the quarter, with Sony announcing sales of around five million between October and January, but the Playstation is still the bigger-selling system overall.

At the live event to unveil Windows 10 last week, Microsoft revealed a new augmented-reality headset; HoloLens, for the first time, though no release date was offered.

Windows 10 does not yet have an official launch date, but a positive response from critics suggest it could fuel growth in the future for the technology giant.

Microsoft rival Apple is due to announce its financial results for the final quarter of 2014 tomorrow, with company records expected to be set following record sales of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which launched in September.


Lenovo Teams Up with EMC for Converged Infrastructure

January 27th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

Turns out that one of the primary beneficiaries of the IBM (IBM) move to sell its x86 servers to Lenovo is going to be EMC and its partners.

Lenovo and EMC have rolled out a reference architecture for building private cloud and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platforms using Lenovo Flex System converged infrastructure and EMC VSPEX storage.

David Tareen, director of Product Marketing for Flex System at Lenovo, said the reference architectures are designed to reduce the amount of time it takes solution providers to create a custom implementation that combines Lenovo systems and EMC storage. The goal, said Tareen, is to make it possible for solution providers to build systems that are tuned to the specific application requirements of a particular customers, vs. selling pre-configured systems in “t-shirt sizes” of small, medium and large.

Gary Garcia, director of VSPEX Marketing at EMC, said his company will provide the support for these systems, eliminating the need for solution providers to navigate two different support organizations.

Converged infrastructure, of course, is one of the hottest segments of the hardware market. Dominated mainly by Cisco Systems (CSCO), roughly half the storage systems attached to Cisco servers come from EMC. But EMC also had a joint marketing relationship with Lenovo before it acquired the IBM x86 server line. Since then, EMC has assumed control of a joint converged infrastructure venture it created with Cisco, while simultaneously moving to expand its relationship with Lenovo.

For its part, as part of its deal with IBM Lenovo will also continue to resell IBM storage systems. IBM, meanwhile, turned around right after the deal with Lenovo was closed and formed an alliance under which IBM storage systems will be sold with Cisco servers. At about the same time, Cisco, which maintains a strong relationship with NetApp, also announced that it was partnering with Pure Storage to create a converged infrastructure platform based on an all-Flash array.

The rolling out of new reference architectures from Lenovo and EMC is only the latest twist in a tangled web of server and storage vendor relationships that solution providers must navigate.

The upside of all those relationships is that they give partners that have dual citizenship in multiple IT infrastructure vendor programs maximum flexibility. The downside is they can create support challenges when partners are forced to navigate two separate customer support organizations. In addition, solution providers need to pay attention to where the revenue for providing that support actually winds up—more often than not, it winds up with the vendor rather than them, unless they have both the core competency required to deliver that support and a very explicit contract that says that revenue belongs to the solution provider.

The good news, however, is that in the event there ever is an issue, replacing one vendor partner with another becomes simpler as the relationships between all them continues to intertwine.


Hardware surprisingly strong, Windows weak, as Microsoft posts solid Q2

January 27th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

Microsoft revealed its quarterly earnings today for the second quarter of the 2015 financial year. Overall revenue was up, and sales of the Surface Pro 3 computer were strong according to the company. But the Windows market declined and operating income was down, as the Nokia integration and reorganization continues to cost money.

Revenue for the quarter was $26.47 billion, up eight percent on the same quarter a year ago. Gross margin was also up, climbing by one percent to $16.33 billion. Operating income, however, fell two percent to $7.78 billion, and earnings per share dropped nine percent to $0.71.

The lower operating income is attributed in part to $243 million in expenses incurred by Microsoft’s reorganization and by the integration of Nokia’s Devices and Services division. Earnings per share were also hit by an income tax bill as a result of an IRS audit.

Device & Consumer Licensing saw steep declines. Revenue was down 25 percent to $4.17 billion, with gross margin down 22 percent to $3.88 billion.

Windows OEM revenue as a whole was down 13 percent, falling $455 million. Revenue from OEM sales of Windows Pro SKUs was down 13 percent. A big part of this drop was attributed to the end of the Windows XP upgrade cycle, with the number of licenses sold reverting to levels comparable to prior to the Windows XP end-of-life. Average selling price also declined somewhat due to a reduction in the price of academic licenses.

OEM revenue of non-Pro Windows SKUs also fell by 13 percent, with this decline attributed to growth in sales of low cost Windows devices causing an overall reduction in ASP. As revealed last week by Mary Jo Foley, OEMs shipping sub-9 inch devices with the “With Bing” SKU pay $10 with a $10 discount for a net zero cost. Larger devices the “With Bing” SKU cost $25, and those also have a $10 discount for a net cost of $15.

Office consumer revenue was down 25 percent, falling by $208 million. Microsoft said that part of this was due to a broader switch from perpetually licensed Office to Office 365 Home and Personal subscriptions, and it’s partly due to a decline of PC sales in Japan, where Office has a particularly high attach rate.

Windows Phone revenue was also down substantially, dropping by 61 percent or $635 million. This largely represents the loss of royalty payments from Nokia.

Microsoft expects this segment to remain relatively weak, with revenue for next quarter forecast at $3.4 to $3.6 billion—if this target is hit, then the 25 percent year-on-year decline will be preserved for a second quarter in a row.

Computer and Gaming Hardware revenue was down 11 percent to $4.00 billion, with gross margin up 12 percent to $0.46 billion. On the one hand, Xbox revenue was down $703 million or 20 percent; total sales volume was down 10 percent, with the company selling 6.6 million Xboxes in the quarter, and average selling price also fell due to the Xbox One price cut.

On the other hand, Surface revenue was up $211 million or 24 percent, totally $1.1 billion for the quarter. This growth was driven by the Surface Pro 3, released in June 2014.

This reporting segment will continue to show strong seasonality, with next quarter’s revenue predicted at $1.5 to $1.7 billion, which would be a 15 percent year-on-year decline.

Phone Hardware revenue was $2.20 billion, with a gross margin of $0.33 billion. In the quarter, 10.5 million Lumia handsets were sold, representing a 30 percent year-on-year increase. This growth was driven by the low-end 500 and 600 series devices. Sales of non-Lumia feature phones were down an unspecified amount to 39.7 million handsets.

D&C Other revenue was up 30 percent to $2.44 billion. Gross margin fared even better, up 42 percent to $0.55 billion. Much of that was driven by Xbox. There were strong performances from first party games, with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Forza Horizon 2, and the newly acquired Minecraft all contributing to a $171 million increase in revenue. A greater volume of Xbox Live transactions added $168 million as well.

The online business continues to improve. Search advertising revenue was up 23 percent, offsetting a decline in display advertising for overall growth of 10 percent or $110 million

Office 365 Consumer revenue was up $97 million, or 169 percent, for a total of 9.2 million subscribers.

D&C Other is estimated to post revenue of about $2 billion next quarter.

Commercial Licensing revenue was down two percent to $10.68 billion, and gross margin fell two percent to $9.92 billion. Similar factors were mentioned here as in the Consumer licensing side: revenue in Japan is down, the Windows XP replacement cycle is over, and there’s an on-going switch from perpetually licensed Office products to Office 365 subscriptions. Office revenue, in particular, dropped $633 million or 13 percent. Weakness in China was also noted.

Offsetting this somewhat was seven percent growth of server products and three percent growth in Windows volume license revenue. In both categories there was a shift from transactional revenue to annuity revenue.

The still relatively small but fast-growing Commercial Other segment remains a highlight. Revenue was up 46 percent to $2.59 billion, and gross margin was up 117 percent to $0.90 billion. Cloud revenue grew 114 percent, driven by growth in Azure, Office 365, and Dynamics CRM Online, and commercial cloud revenue now has a run rate of $5.5 billion.

The Commercial Licensing outlook was for next quarter’s revenue to come in at $9.7 to $9.9 billion, and for Commercial Other revenue to be $2.6 to $2.7 billion.

During the financial analysts call that came with the results, Microsoft offered some clarification on the impact Windows 10 will have. The company announced last week that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade for existing Windows 7 and Windows 8 users for the first year after its release.

However, this does not mean that Microsoft has abandoned Windows sales. The company confirmed today that the OEM royalty model will continue, and Windows licenses that ship with new hardware will continue to be paid for. The difference is solely in updates.

Today, the owner of an OEM license will receive a series of updates and security fixes for the operating system for a period of 10 years (the first five years including feature improvements, the second five years being strictly security updates). However, if that same user wants to bump their operating system to the latest major version, they must buy an upgrade license. If they don’t—and most people don’t—then they’ll continue to use the major version that their computer came with.

Under Windows 10? Those upgrade licenses are going away. The OEM will still pay Microsoft for a Windows license, but it will be just that: a Windows license, and not, say, a Windows 8.1 license. The license will entitle the user to continue to upgrade to new major versions for the lifetime of their machine.

As such, the impact on Microsoft’s financial performance shouldn’t be enormous. With the introduction of each new release there does tend to be a small benefit from upgrade sales (along with a complicated mess of revenue deferrals due to upgrade entitlements that kick in if you buy a PC shortly before a new version of Windows comes along), and that benefit will now go away. But the bread and butter Windows sales—OEM preinstalls on new machines, and corporate volume licenses and Software Assurance subscriptions—will be substantially unaltered.


10 best laptops you can buy this year

January 26th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

Picking out a laptop isn’t easy. It’s hard to really understand whether or not a computer is right for your needs until you’ve actually used it for a while.

Maybe it’s a bit more clunky than you thought when you carry it in your bag during a commute. Perhaps the screen is too reflective for your liking when you’re watching Netflix. And, worst of all, what if the battery life is much shorter than you expected?

We’ve researched some of the best laptops on the market and combed through reviews to at least give you some of the best options to choose from.

The MacBook Air is gorgeous, super slim, and light.

The MacBook Air is still one of the best laptops you can buy. Not only is it razor thin and light, but it offers excellent performance and battery life too. In its review, PCMag wrote that it got more than 10 hours of battery life out of the MacBook Air. It comes in 11 and 13-inch screen sizes, but if you plan on using it primarily for work we’d suggest the larger option.

One thing of note: Apple is reportedly going to release a new version of the MacBook Air in a few months. You may want to wait to see about that if you can afford to wait.

Price: Starts at $899

The MacBook Pro with Retina display has a beautiful screen and more ports than the Air.

If you want a Mac laptop with a better screen, check out the MacBook Air with Retina display. There’s a $300 difference between the entry level 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro of the same size, and the extra cash gets you a faster processor with better graphics, a sharper screen, and more ports such as an extra Thunderbolt port and a spot to plug in an HDMI cord.

Price: Starts at $1,299

Dell’s new XPS 13 is just as portable as the MacBook Air, and its a bit cheaper.

Dell’s new 13-inch Windows laptop comes with an impressive 3200 x 1800 touchscreen with an “infinity display,” which basically means it has really thin side bezels. It’s a great option if you want to stick with Windows but want something that’s as thin and light as a MacBook Air. The company claims it’ll provide 12 hours of battery life, although it’s too soon to know for sure since the notebook just launched. It’s $100 cheaper than the 11-inch MacBook Air and $200 cheaper than the 13-inch version.

Price: Starts at $799

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X240 is one of the best business laptops out there.

The ThinkPad X240 is a little heavy, but if you’re usually using it at a desk for work it’s an excellent business laptop. It has a comfortable keyboard and a fingerprint sensor to keep your information safe. Based on reviews from ZDNet and PCMag, Lenovo offers plenty of different configuration options and a set of two batteries that can last for 15 hours on a single charge. The only downside is the screen isn’t as sharp as what you’d get on a competing device, since it only has a resolution of 1366 x 768.

Price: Starts at $854

Toshiba’s Chromebook 2 is super cheap and has great battery life.

Toshiba’s newest Chromebook is among the best out there. It has a beautiful screen, great battery life, and it feels comfortable in your lap. The design is sturdy enough to withstand being tossed in your bag during commutes without getting scraped up. If you mostly use your laptop for doing light work and browsing the web, this is a great choice.

Price: Starts at $250

Dell’s Inspiron 17 5000 Series is a reasonably priced laptop with long battery life.

Dell’s Inspiron 17 5000 Series is an affordable general purpose Windows laptop with a sharp screen, solid performance, and long battery life, according to PCMag’s review. Although it’s relatively cheap at $449, its aluminum design makes it look more attractive than your typical sub-$500 notebook. Try this one if you need a Windows laptop that offers better performance than the HP Stream but don’t want to spend too much money. There’s also a touchscreen model if you want to spend an extra $200.

Price: Starts at $449

The HP Stream is one of the cheapest laptops you can buy.

You don’t have to spend a ton of money for a new Windows laptop. The HP Stream comes as cheap as $200, and includes a free one-year subscription to Microsoft Office Personal. For a $200 laptop, the HP Stream is pretty good: the keyboard is decent, the battery life will get you through a day or two with mixed usage, and it’s so light I nearly forgot I had it in my bag. If you really don’t want to invest much in a laptop, opt for the Stream or a Chromebook. But if you choose the Stream, you’ll have to sacrifice high-quality audio and a sharp display.

Price: Starts at $200

Acer’s 13-inch Chromebook has a sharp screen and is super cheap.

If you’re looking for a dirt cheap Chromebook with a great screen and long battery life, go for the Acer Chromebook 13. It’s one of the few Chromebooks in its price range that comes with a 1080p full HD screen (Toshiba’s does, but the HD version if $50 more than Acer’s), and Engadget’s review says it lasts for a long time on a single charge. If you’re in the market for a Chromebook, this is a worthwhile choice.

Price: Starts at $292

Asus’ ROG G751JT is a beast. The Wirecutter crowned it as the best gaming laptop since it combines powerful hardware, premium build quality, and the ability to play most graphics-intensive games on high settings. It’s also got a gorgeous screen and a deep, comfortable keyboard.

Price: $1,749

The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro has a gorgeous design that’s super flexible.

Lenovo’s Yoga 3 Pro is one of the company’s thinnest and lightest laptops yet. The screen is gorgeous, according to CNET’s review, and it comes with a flexible hinge that lets you bend the screen all the way back. The downside, however, is that the battery life isn’t very long. Consider this one of you want a nice looking laptop that can accommodate different form factors. If you plan on using it a lot for presentations and think you’ll be near an outlet most of the time, this might be a good choice.

Price: $1,296


Use a modular smartphone to make a computer

January 26th, 2015 by Manmohan No comments »

Project Ara is developing fast, but what do you do with the smartphone modules you discard after a while? Just throw them away? Puzzlephone says no, you don’t, because you can use a smartphone module (or more) to create your own computer. The idea behind Google’s Project Ara is to create a modular smartphone that users can equip with their hardware of choice. You can later change the modules you’ve chosen initially if you want to upgrade your phone, or if you want a better battery life, more processing power, etc. The idea is innovative and would be a new type of “green” modular smartphone which doesn’t create as much waste as current designs. It’s also an economical solution as you can switch out modules that no longer work but use the rest.

Since the modular smartphone does create some waste when you discard modules you don’t use, such as the CPU, Puzzlephone came up with an idea to make use of the modules in another way. The company behind Puzzlephone, Circular Devices, thought that they should start working on Puzzlecluster, a scalable computer. In their vision, you can use various CPUs from a modular smartphone (or more if you can get them), in order to create a computer with decent processing power. The concept Circular Devices has thought up also uses the battery modules from these phones, so that you can create your computer basically from scratch.

The concept is still in development, but the Finnish company thinks they could pull this off with a little help. The idea in itself seems excellent, because the modular smartphone is on the verge of a take-off. As soon as people start using the modular smartphone concept, either with Project Ara or Puzzlephone itself, they will have endless opportunities to upgrade their phones and be up to date with flagship specs. Since the modules one might discard are basically useless if you don’t exchange them with other users, for example, the idea of using them to build your own computer based on a chassis Puzzlecluster will provide is great. Green, economical and educational. We hope the Puzzlecluster kicks off and makes the modular smartphone and modular computer the hardware of the future.


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