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A quick fix for problems with Windows Update

Written By komlim puldel on Kamis, 20 September 2012 | 22.14

Quick housekeeping note: Hey, you've found the new Hassle-Free PC! Well done. Actually, what you've found is the new address for Hassle-Free PC, meaning it's time to update your bookmark. Here's the Web address for the blog, which I hope you'll continue to visit daily: http://www.pcworld.com/column/hassle-free-pc.

Now, then, on to business...

For the past couple weeks I've noticed that whenever I shut down my PC, Windows installs updates. Or at least appears to install them.

Typically this happens only once in a while, not every time. So I checked Windows Update to see which updates were in the queue. Then I shut down, rebooted, and checked it again: sure enough, those same two updates were still there -- they hadn't been installed at all. Or perhaps they had, but something inside Windows wasn't recognizing that fact.

Unfortunately, these kinds of problems aren't uncommon. And they aren't limited to Windows repeatedly offering the same update; I've also had letters from readers who get error messages after Windows tries to update itself.

This can be a tricky issue to solve, but here's a good place to start: Microsoft's Windows Update Fix-it. This automated tool will scan your Windows Update configuration and repair any problems it finds, resolve any incorrect data locations, and re-register required services.

All you do is click the Run Now button, then follow the onscreen prompts. (Depending on what browser you use and how it's configured, you may need to manually run the Fix-it after downloading it.)

With any luck, the tool will get Windows Update running properly again. If not, you can find a few additional troubleshooting options on Microsoft's knowledge-base page, "Windows Update or Microsoft Update repeatedly offers the same update."

Have you had problems getting Windows Update to work properly? If so, were you able to find a fix?

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at hasslefree@pcworld.com, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2010087/a-quick-fix-for-problems-with-windows-update.html
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Miracast lets you share content without a Wi-Fi signal

Wirelessly sharing content across multiple devices is nothing new, but streaming technology Miracast will let you share photos, videos, music and more across any certified device, regardless of manufacturer, without a Wi-Fi signal.

The Wi-Fi Alliance on Wednesday launched the Miracast certification program, so that Miracast-equipped devices that have been proven compatible with other devices in the program will be labeled as such. Miracast devices use built in Wi-Fi Direct, which means no wireless router is required.

IHS iSuppli analyst Brian O'Rourke said the certification program will let consumers know which gadgets are compatible with one another.

"All that's really been on the market to date has been technology with Intel's Wi-Di technology, mostly to connect things like notebook PCs to TVs," O'Rourke said. "The Miracast standard will be beyond Intel's Wi-Di, which is a proprietary technology. It creates a commonly understood and supported standard."

Similar certification programs for wireless devices exist, such as the Digital Living Network Association established by Sony in 2008. DLNA functions differently than Miracast in that compatible devices must first connect to a home Wi-Fi network. Apple's AirPlay functions similarly, allowing iDevices to stream to one another using a Wi-Fi signal.

Samsung Galaxy III

The first Miracast-certified products include the Samsung Galaxy S III and the LG Optimus G smartphones. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, growth of Miracast-certified devices is expected to exceed 1 billion annual shipments within the next four years.

LG Optimus G

Chip-makers such as Broadcom have already signed on with Miracast.  According to O'Rourke, this will encourage OEMs to develop Miracast devices.

"They know from the chip level they'll be able to connect from device to device, and everything will be compatible," O'Rourke said.

The Wi-Fi Alliance selected six devices (including wireless cards and adapters) against which to test Miracast interoperability, so a Samsung smartphone can stream to an LG TV or vice versa. Samsung's Echo-P Series TV was also one of the first Miracast-certified products, though the model is not yet on the market.

Samsung is already using AllShare Cast, a streaming tech based on Miracast, in several of its devices, including the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II. The company in a statement said it plans to bring more Miracast-compatible devices to market.

Rumors flew prior to Apple's iPhone 5 launch that the company would introduce AirPlay Direct to allow iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and other devices to wirelessly stream without the presence of a Wi-Fi signal.  That rumor (along with several others) didn't come to fruition.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.techhive.com/article/2010110/miracast-lets-you-share-content-without-a-wi-fi-signal.html
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Microsoft offers one-click workaround for IE vulnerability, permanent fix coming Friday

Ian Paul

Ian Paulian@ianpaul.net

Ian is an independent writer based in Tel Aviv, Israel. His current focus is on all things tech including mobile devices, desktop and laptop computers, software, social networks, Web apps, tech-related legislation and corporate tech news.
More by Ian Paul

Microsoft has issued a one-click security workaround for Internet Explorer as a stopgap measure until the company releases a full security update for its Web browser on Friday. The new "Fix it" solution helps protect users of Internet Explorer 6, 7, 8, and 9 from a recently disclosed memory corruption issue that several security experts have seen in active use. The vulnerabilities could allow a hacker to gain remote access to your system with the same user privileges as you including the ability to install or remove programs, modify files, and create new user accounts.

[RELATED: Web browser showdown: Which Windows app is really the best? ]

The one-click solution is available from this Microsoft support document under the heading "Fix it for me." Microsoft's Fix it tool does not require a reboot once enabled and the company says the automated workaround will not affect your ability to browse the Web.

Researchers at security firm AlienVault recently said a variant of the latest IE vulnerability was found in the wild and attempted to install a remote access Trojan (RAT) on a user's computer. A RAT would give hackers remote access to your computer and can be used for everything from wiping your hard drive to capturing every keystroke you enter. Security firm Sophos in a blog post  also said it had seen hackers using the IE vulnerability in the wild, but the company did not specify what hackers were trying to accomplish with the exploit.

The latest Internet Explorer vulnerability is considered a critical threat. The seriousness of the issue prompted the German government on Tuesday to urge users to give up using IE until Microsoft released a security patch for the vulnerability. Other security experts also advised giving up IE until there was a fix including the Metasploit Project and the security firm F-Secure. Prior to releasing its Fix it tool, Microsoft suggested a somewhat impractical multi-step manual workaround to help mitigate any potential attacks.

Microsoft says it hopes to release Friday's security update for IE as close as possible to 10 a.m. Pacific. You will be able to get the patch via Windows Update. If you have automatic updates enabled, you shouldn't have to take any action to get the security fix. Microsoft also said Friday's update will include more fixes in addition to the memory corruption issue.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2010180/microsoft-offers-one-click-workaround-for-ie-vulnerability-permanent-fix-coming-friday.html
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Safely send private information over the Internet

KenWid10 asked the Antivirus & Security Software forum how best to send encrypted information to someone over the Internet.

You should never, ever just email credit card numbers, passwords, or other private information. You don't know how many servers the message will pass through between your computer and the recipient's, or who has access to those servers. Email is only slightly more private than a billboard. (A slight exaggeration, but you get the point.)

A truly private message must be encrypted before it leaves your computer, and remain encrypted until the recipient receives it. To complicate things further, you can't assume that the recipient is any more tech savvy than that uncle who freaks out when you open a new tab on his browser.

Here are two ways to safely send private information over the Internet:

Email an encrypted .zip file

You can put the sensitive information into a file (of any format the recipient can handle), then compress the file into a password-protected, encrypted .zip archive file, and email that to the recipient. This works, with two caveats:

The .zip format's default encryption standard, ZipCrypto, could probably be hacked by a duck. And while most up-to-date zip programs support much stronger, 256-bit AES encryption, not everyone has one of these programs. Most users rely on Windows's native .zip support, which doesn't support AES.

Both you and your recipient will need a .zip program that supports AES. And no, you can't create an encrypted .exe file and mail that; many email programs won't allow you to send or receive .exe files.

Among the programs that support AES are the industry standard WinZip and the free 7-zip.

7-Zip encryptionBe sure to use AES encryption when mailing confidential information in a .zip file. Shown here in 7-Zip.

The other caveat: You and the recipient have to share a your password, and emailing the password isn't safe.

The best passwords for this situation include shared information. For instance, if you're sending tax forms to your accountant, you can use your social security number, which he or she already has.

Skip email altogether and use the cloud

Or you can try a solution that doesn't require special software or a shared password. To my mind, the best such solution is a cloud-based service called Sendinc.

To use this service, both you and the recipient must have Sendinc accounts. Joining is easy, and unless your messages are larger than 10MB each, or you're sending more than 20 of them a day, a free membership will do. If you send a message to someone who doesn't have a membership, they'll be invited to sign up.

Sendinc uploads and downloads encrypted information via SSL (the same technology used by banks and shopping sites). Your messages remain encrypted on the Sendinc server, with a unique password per message, until they are destroyed after seven days. During that time, they will only be decrypted for delivery (via SSL) to the recipient.

But whatever method you choose, remember that your security is only as good as your password. Come up with a strong one that no one is likely to guess.

Read the original forum discussion.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter, or subscribe to the Answer Line newsletter, e-mailed weekly.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/262326/safely_send_private_information_over_the_internet.html
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HP honcho Bradley: Post-PC world claim "just wrong"

Hewlett-Packard's Todd Bradley might have missed his calling as a politician. Bradley, executive vice president of HP's printing and personal systems group, clearly lives and breathes his company's products, and it shows in his answers to my questions during a recent phone and email Q&A.

His answers often include highly detailed information--even down to the level of individual product skews--but he uses phrasing that sometimes sounds like scripted HP-speak. I asked Bradley questions about the upcoming HP Windows 8 computers, what printing will be like in the future, and what type of mobile gear we will see from HP in the months ahead, among other things.

PCW: What will Windows 8 mean to HP and its customers?

Bradley: Clearly the touch opportunity is significant. We pioneered the touch many years ago built on top of a Microsoft system. HP has a long tradition of innovating in touch interfaces, and it's great to have Microsoft agree and support us.  Whether it's a touch interface you use occasionally on a notebook or desktop, or something you use all the time with tablets, we think customers will really be excited.

PCW: Thoughts on Microsoft releasing its own Windows Surface tablet?

Bradley: We are confident with our competitive offerings. I'm not going to comment on anybody else's announcements. Microsoft remains a key partner, and the market for tablets is huge. And customers really win when there are lots of choices.

PCW: How do you react when people say we're in a post-PC era?

Bradley: Look, it's just wrong. Just think of the decision when your child is going off to college. What's a requirement? A PC. Or you run a business and need your employees to be productive. You need a PC. The size of the global PC business is huge, and I think some people are trying to be dramatic. That said, there is a growing role for tablets, and we will absolutely be a significant force in that space.

PCW: HP makes some of the most important hardware for consumers and business. Same goes for the services that you provide. But all the attention is on web services, tablets, and smartphones. Critics say HP has missed the boat on the mobile revolution. Is that fair?

HP's Envy x2 laptop. Image: HPHP's ENVY x2 laptop. Image: HP

Bradley: Our new hybrid notebook, the ENVY x2, that doubles as a tablet, is one of the first products we've announced that runs Windows 8, and we'll follow it with an enterprise-ready tablet later in the Windows 8 timeframe. This market is still young, and we will be a significant player.

PCW: When it comes to having an ARM tablet I've heard mixed reports on what HP is up to. Some headlines have reported that you had an ARM tablet in the works and then decided to kill the project. Can you tell me what's really going on and if you will be coming to market with an ARM-based tablet soon?

Bradley: I don't think those reports are entirely accurate. Our first Windows 8 tablets are going to be on the x86 platform. We are going with Intel and AMD architecture after getting a lot of input from our customers. Our focus is going into the enterprise and creating phenomenal products. That has an enormous amount to do with our decision.

We know and understand the robust and very established ecosystem that x86 applications provides. We see x86 chips delivering one of the best experiences in the short term and near future. We will continue to develop with our partners in the ARM ecosystem. We think that work is very important. But our first tablets will be based on the x86 architecture.

PCW: Can you describe how the consumer PC desktop and laptop market has changed just in the past five years and how hard it is to stay on top?

Bradley: Some great changes have emerged over recent years. Thin and light notebooks, like Ultrabooks, and beautiful designs that combine form and function come immediately to mind. We have shown how something you can't do without also can be a style statement.

Audio is an important area for change, too, because today a PC is a vehicle for music, YouTube videos, downloaded media, video chats, online trainings, a whole range of things. Differentiated technology like Beats Audio from HP really helps us give our customers an outstanding experience.

We are very happy with our portfolio and it only gets better with our Windows 8 products. Advances in touch capabilities and what that means for hybrid and tablet designs and features like "instant on" and "always connected" are really meaningful. We need to earn our customers' loyalty every day.  And we, along with our channel partners, are committed to it.

HP has begun to announce new Windows 8 PCs, like the Spectre One, which will go on sale in November. Image: HP

PCW: What are consumers' computing needs going to be towards the end of the decade?

Bradley: I think there are two really big trends that are going to dominate the market later this decade. First is because of the explosion of new device types--tablets, phones, etc.--that are just in the beginning stages. People will really want to manage their personal collection of devices and clouds. We feel really good about our potential to lead this trend.

The second big area will be security. We build very secure devices for commercial customers today, but they take an IT department to manage to the fullest extent. Making security robust and easy for the consumer will be key in the coming years.

Of course, the trend toward thin, light and beautiful plus supercharged connectivity will continue.  NFC is promising, and we're adding it to some PCs in our portfolio. More web-connected devices, like some of our printers today. Great screens using IPS technology, meaning your content is viewable at any angle. Customizable tablets so enterprise verticals can really get exactly what they need.

PCW: What do you see as the needs of small- and medium-sized business today and the solutions HP hopes to bring them today?

Bradley: It's a combination of things.

It starts with productivity and how we enable these companies and people to be efficient. That's super important for these people. Clearly security and mobility is important, but I think productivity and value for the money are as important. That's what we focus on for these guys.

PCW: And what about actual computing needs for these small businesses?

Bradley: Most small business owners don't really have the luxury of owning a home and work PC. They have one that does double duty all the time. When we think of the Folio X 13 or Spectre XT these are elegant solutions that offer security and manageability. These are the things that they need for their businesses at the same time offer great design and features like Beats Audio that help them enhance their free time.

PCW: What's your forecast on mobile printing as more people use smartphones and tablets that are tethered to a printer?

The HP Folio X 13 boasts nine hours of battery life and a 13.3-inch high-definition display.

Bradley: When it comes to printing and mobility services, we feel very well positioned. HP introduced the world's first web-enabled printer back in 2009, and we continue to roll out new web-enabled print services to make mobile printing easy. HP was the first to give printers their own ePrint email address so you can print to virtually anywhere, including public print locations; and with the HP ePrint app you essentially have a print button right on your smartphone.

PCW: You've talked a lot about printing from smartphones. How popular is printing from a smartphone and do you see it as a growing niche.

Bradley: I don't think we call it a niche. Clearly there is an opportunity there that further enhances the relevance of printing. A lot of work we do is making people more aware of what we offer.

We've seen mostly documents being printed. One cut of the data shows 70 to 30 in favor of documents with the balance being photos. It's a bit opposite of what we traditionally think of home printing. The products are not just for taking pictures but for managing documents as well.

PCW:  Lexmark just exited the inkjet business in favor of focusing on its laser jet business. What's going on within the inkjet market that would make players such as Lexmark ditch it?

Bradley: I don't think the Lexmark thing says anything about the industry. We are extraordinary excited about our roadmap and what we have to launch.

PCW: Do you have a webOS status update? Any licensing deals?

Bradley: HP is executing its plan to deliver an open webOS under a new organization called Gram.  HP will make webOS source code available under the Apache License, Version 2.0, and we expect the full source code for open webOS to be available by September.

Bradley is a seven-year veteran of HP and before joining the company he was the chief executive officer of Palm. Before that, Bradley was executive vice president of global operations for Gateway.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2010132/hp-honcho-bradley-post-pc-world-claim-just-wrong.html
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Windows 8 System Builder will replace full version at retail

PC hobbyists will get a big break if new information on Windows 8's pricing structure is correct. The full non-upgrade versions of Windows appear to be gone from retail shelves in Microsoft's next generation operating system, replaced by a much cheaper System Builder version.

Microsoft first began offering System Builder versions with Windows 7, ranging in price from $129 for Home Premium to $229 for Ultimate. These retail prices were often steeply discounted at web retailers. This was a savings compared to the full versions, which ranged from $200 to as much as $320.

windows 8

Windows System Builder differs from the full version of Windows in how the licensing rights work. With the full version, Microsoft is much more lenient in license transferral, such a when installing a new motherboard. However, with the System Builder version, much like the copies provided with new computers, a Windows installation is limited to a single machine.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley uncovered additional details about the System Builder version of Windows 8 earlier this week. Her sources say the full versions of Windows 8 will completely disappear (at least at retail), which my colleague Jared Newman speculated about last month.

Pricing appears to be close to what is currently offered for Windows 7: the standard System Builder version will sell for around $100, and the Pro version between $20 and $40 more. Like the pricing for upgrade copies of Windows 8, Microsoft appears apt to sell low in an effort to not only get people to upgrade, but purchase legitimate copies of the operating system.

Piracy was and still is a big problem for Microsoft. With the full versions of Windows, in order to take advantage of transferability, all that was necessary in order to activate a copy on a second computer was to call into Microsoft's activation line and say you had changed a component. This new system would close that loophole.

Upon reaching out to Microsoft, I was unable to confirm any details regarding Windows 8's plans for a cheaper full version of its OS While the confirmed the existence of the System Builder option, a Microsoft spokesperson told PCWorld that the company has "nothing more to share at this time" regarding pricing.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2010121/windows-8-system-builder-will-replace-full-version-at-retail.html
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IE exploit distributes PlugX malware, researchers say

Researchers from security vendor AlienVault have identified a variant of a recently discovered Internet Explorer exploit that is used to infect targeted computers with the PlugX remote access Trojan (RAT) program.

The newly discovered exploit variant targets the same unpatched vulnerability in IE 6, 7, 8 and 9 as the original exploit, but uses slightly different code and has a different payload, AlienVault Labs manager Jaime Blasco said Tuesday in a blog post.

The first exploit was found over the weekend on a known malicious server by security researcher Eric Romang and distributed the Poison Ivy RAT. The second exploit version discovered by AlienVault researchers was found on a different server and installs a much newer RAT program called PlugX.

However, file modification dates seen on both servers suggest that both versions of the exploit have been in use since at least September 14.

"We know that the group actively using the PlugX malware also called Flowershow had access to the Internet Explorer ZeroDay [exploit targeting an unpatched vulnerability] days before it was uncovered," Blasco said. "Due to the similarities of the new discovered exploit code and the one discovered some days ago it is very likely that the same group is behind both instances."

AlienVault researchers have been tracking attacks that use the PlugX RAT since earlier this year. Based on file debug paths found inside the malware, they believe that the relatively new RAT was developed by a Chinese hacker known as WHG, who had previous ties with the Network Crack Program Hacker (NCPH), a well known Chinese hacker group.

AlienVault researchers have also identified two additional websites that served the new IE exploit in the past, but no payload could be obtained from them, Blasco said. One was a defense news site from India and the other was probably a fake version of the 2nd International LED professional Symposium website, he said. (Also see "Malicious web apps: How to spot them, how to beat them.")

"It seems the guys behind this 0day were targeting specific industries," Blasco said.

The server where the original IE exploit was found also stored an exploit for an unpatched Java vulnerability last month. That Java exploit was used in attacks attributed by security researchers to a Chinese hacker group dubbed "Nitro."

Microsoft already released a security advisory about the new IE vulnerability and recommended temporary mitigation solutions while it works on a patch.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2010148/ie-exploit-distributes-plugx-malware-researchers-say.html
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Web browser showdown: Which Windows app is really the best?

Your Web browser is probably the most-used application on your PC. You check your email in it, you write in it, you collaborate with coworkers in it, you use it to watch cat videos. With so much at stake, you need a browser that works well for you.

But which one is the best? We put the three major Windows browsers—Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Mozilla Firefox—through their paces and crowned an overall winner.

Browser performance

When we looked at the browser contenders previously, we concluded that all the major browsers loaded webpages at similar speeds.

But many new Web apps and services rely heavily on HTML5 and JavaScript, so the browser makers have been spending a lot of development time making sure that their programs render such apps and services quickly and efficiently.

To gauge how well browsers handle HTML5 and JavaScript code, we subjected Chrome, IE, and Firefox to the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark and to the WebVizBench benchmark for HTML5. In addition, we tested on a PC with switchable Nvidia graphics hardware to see how each browser exploited the extra processing horsepower in the graphics card.

Our test PC was an Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5 laptop with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 6GB of memory. The switchable graphics system consisted of an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset and a dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 640M graphics card with 1GB of video memory.

In our WebVizBench HTML5 benchmark test, Chrome and IE 9 saw large increases in performance when we switched to the dedicated graphics card instead of the integrated graphics chip.

Chrome achieved an average score of 5502 when we used the integrated graphics system, and hit an average of 5825 when we used the Nvidia graphics card. IE 9 came in second with average scores of 4797 and 5642, respectively; Firefox finished third after posting average scores of 4492 and 5600. Notably, Chrome did almost as well on this test using the integrated graphics hardware as the other browsers did using the more powerful Nvidia graphics card. So if your PC has a weak graphics card, you'll probably get better performance from Chrome than from Firefox or IE.

Our tests for JavaScript performance were less conclusive, with all three browsers rendering the benchmark's JavaScript code within 15 milliseconds of one another. Internet Explorer 9 eked out a narrow victory, completing the Sunspider benchmark in 200 milliseconds. Chrome 21 finished in second place at 206 milliseconds, and Firefox 15 rounded out the three at 214 milliseconds.

Winner: Google Chrome. Browser performance will vary some depending on your PC, but Chrome was a solid all-around performer in our testing.

Ease of use

Current browsers continue the less-is-more trend that began with Google Chrome's introduction in 2008, sporting thin toolbars and minimalist designs so that the page content takes center stage.

Browser toolbars compared: Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome.

Internet Explorer 9: In IE 9, Microsoft chose a hyperminimalist approach with an extremely narrow toolbar and few on-screen controls. By default, IE 9 shows the address bar and tabs in the same row, which can make things a little too tight, especially if you frequently have a lot of tabs open at once (you can choose to show the tab bar in a separate row, though). On the far-right edge of the toolbar lie three buttons that take you to your browser homepage, show your favorites, or toggle various settings.

One nicety in IE 9 is its unobtrusive method of providing notifications: Instead of popping up an alert box that interrupts your browsing, it displays the message in a bar at the bottom of the browser window, where you can address it when you're good and ready. In addition, IE 9 shows you a download's progress via its taskbar icon, which fills in with green as you download a file.

Chrome 21: Google has stuck with the same basic look and feel for Chrome since releasing it in 2008. It has no title bar, and by default it shows only the back, forward, and reload buttons, as well as the combined search/address bar and a button on the far right that opens a tools menu. The start screen helps you reach your most visited sites, as well as any Web apps you've added via the Chrome Web Store. When you download a file, it appears in a gray bar that lives at the bottom of the window.

Click the orange button in the upper-left corner of any Firefox browser window to access frequently used commands.

Firefox 15: While most other browsers now feature a combined search and address bar, Mozilla keeps the two separate in Firefox 15. Whether separate fields are better than combined ones is a matter of personal preference.

One convenient feature of Firefox allows you to switch between search engines readily: If you want to use Bing instead of Google, for instance, you can do that with two clicks. Chrome permits you to switch between search providers, too, but requires a quick tweak in the Settings screen. With IE you need to install an add-on for each search provider (other than Bing) you want to add.

Like other current Windows browsers, Firefox doesn't show a menu bar by default; the various menu options live in a single menu that pops up when you click the orange 'Firefox' button in the upper-left corner of the window.

Winner: Tie. In truth, you won't find much differentiation between browser interfaces these days. All the prominent ones work the same, save for a few fairly minor differences.

Security and privacy features

To say that security and privacy concerns are a big deal for browser makers would be a gross understatement. All of the major browsers have some baseline security and privacy features, such as pop-up blockers, protection against phishing attacks, and some sort of cookie blocking and filtering.

IE 9 gives you lots of advanced security settings.

Internet Explorer 9: IE 9 is easily the most flexible browser out there with regard to privacy settings. Its advanced security settings let you block or allow all sorts of things, but those granular controls are a bit much for most users. For the rest of us, IE 9 offers a choice of various preset security and privacy levels.

IE 9 also includes a reputation-based download checker: If you download a questionable or previously unknown file, the browser will warn you about it. If the file is safe, it'll download the file, no questions asked. That last bit is useful because it reduces "warning fatigue"—you'll get a warning only when necessary.

In addition, IE 9 will let you see a privacy summary of the site you've just visited to learn whether it tried to use cookies to track you, among other things. IE 9 also features Tracking Protection, which allows you to set the browser to automatically block participating websites from setting a third-party cookie to track your movements online.

Firefox 9: Firefox's privacy and security settings cover all of the basics. It can block phishing sites and other malicious sites, and it permits you to turn on Do Not Track to block third-party cookies. Beyond that, Firefox 9 will clearly show you whether a shopping or banking site is safe, questionable, or unsafe via a badge in the address bar. And it includes a link to a Firefox-specific plug-in checker site so you can see if any of your plug-ins are in need of updating.

Chrome 21: Chrome's claim to security fame is the sandboxing feature, which quarantines each webpage you open so that it can't interfere with other pages you already have open, or with anything else on your PC. For example, if a page you visit tries to download a piece of malware to your PC without your knowledge, the sandboxing feature should prevent that site from carrying out its evil deeds.

Chrome does tie into a number of Google services, though; for instance, it uses Google services to autocomplete your search queries, predict which site you meant to visit if you mistype the address, and so on. If you don't trust Google, you'll want to look through Chrome's privacy settings carefully.

Winner: Chrome...with a catch. Chrome's sandboxing feature still makes it the browser to beat, but you should be mindful of its tie-ins with Google's other services.

If you could pick only one…

Google Chrome comes out ahead of its rivals, but the competition is closer than you might think. Although Chrome's simplicity, speed, and good security give it the edge over Internet Explorer and Firefox, both IE and Firefox still have a lot to offer in those areas. But hey, they're all free! Try them all, play with them, and get a feel for them, and soon you'll be able to select the one that works best for you.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2009768/web-browser-showdown-which-windows-app-is-really-the-best.html
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Wikipedia contributors debate whether it's okay to pay for posts

A contentious debate has erupted on Wikipedia over questions about whether two high-profile contributors have been paid to promote articles on the site.

Roger Bamkin, Wikipedia editor

Some contributors have questioned whether Roger Bamkin, a director at Wikimedia UK, is being paid by the government of Gibraltar to write or edit articles about the British territory. Bamkin has a contract with the government of Gibraltar, apparently to promote the territory and the Wikipedia subsite Gibraltarpedia.

Bamkin, in his role as a Wikipedia editor, approved an article about a yacht club in Gibraltar, and nominated and reviewed another Gibraltar-related article, one contributor noted in a lengthy debate, beginning last week, on a Wikipedia discussion page. Bamkin has also worked with Monmouthpedia, a subsite about the U.K. city Monmouth.

The debate has raised the concerns of Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's cofounder, who wrote Monday that he was unfamiliar with Bamkin's situation. But, he said, "it is wildly inappropriate for a board member of a chapter, or anyone else in an official role of any kind in a charity associated with Wikipedia, to take payment from customers in exchange for securing favorable placement on the front page of Wikipedia or anywhere else."

Some Wikipedia contributors accused Bamkin of using his influence to get Gibraltar articles featured frequently on the site's "did you know" (DYK) section, featured on the front page. Others questioned Wikimedia UK's recent offer to provide in-kind support to Gabraltarpedia while Bamkin serves as a director for the U.K. group.

"There's a fundamental difference between wiki as a labor of love and wiki as a business," wrote a Wikipedia administrator know as Secretlondon. "If the same guy has a business based on mommouthpedia and gibraltarpedia then we shouldn't allow ourselves to be exploited by this. We're allowing someone to make money out of access to the front page."

Other contributors downplayed the issue, saying Bamkin has disclosed his consulting gigs on his contributor page. "My main question is why should we care?" wrote contributor Silverseren. "If someone is making money off of the articles indirectly (not talking about paid editors here, that's a totally different subject) or getting tourism or whatever, why should DYK or even Wikipedia care? So long as the articles are properly made and don't have POV or copyright issues, then we're getting more and better articles out of their desire to get tourism."

Bamkin didn't respond to a message seeking comment on the debate, but he defended himself on the discussion page. It was a mistake to nominate, then approve an article about Gibraltar, he wrote. His potential conflicts of interest are "well documented," he added.

Bamkin said he disclosed his commercial interests when he ran for a directorship at Wikimedia U.K., and the membership there supported him. "I don't intend to criticise their choice," he wrote.

Wikimedia contributors brought up a second case of potential conflict of interest days after the first debate started. Wikipedian in residence Maximilian Klein, through a business named UntrikiWiki, advertised services for posting positive articles on the online encyclopedia.

"A positive Wikipedia article is invaluable SEO: it's almost guaranteed to be a top three Google hit," the UntrikiWiki site said before the consulting pitch was pulled down. "We have the expertise needed to navigate the complex maze surrounding 'conflict of interest' editing on Wikipedia. With more than eight years of experience, over 10,000 edits, and countless community connections we offer holistic Wikipedia services."

Wales, again, said he was unaware of Klein's case. "If what you say is accurate, then of course I'm extremely unhappy about it," he wrote to the contributor who pointed it out. "It's disgusting."

UntrikiWiki pulled the pitch after the controversy erupted. Starting immediately, the business will "not accept any paid conflict-of-interest Wikipedia editing work," UntrikiWiki said in a statement Tuesday.

The company advertised Wikipedia editing services but it has "not aggressively pursued it," the statement said. "We've never made a single edit for which we had a conflict of interest on Wikipedia -- ever."

But the company also defended for-profit contributions to Wikipedia, "as long as it's approached in a transparent and ethical fashion."

"We understand why it's a controversial issue, but we believe that it's a necessary and emerging field and believe that it's important that people with knowledge of Wikipedia's ecosystem move [into] it and establish standards that protect Wikipedia's integrity," the statement said.

Klein didn't answer a message seeking comment on the debate.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2010117/wikipedia-contributors-debate-whether-its-okay-to-pay-for-posts.html
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Virgin Mobile's password security rapped by researchers

John P. Mello Jr.

Millions of subscribers to Virgin Mobile USA, the pay-as-you-go arm of Sprint in the United States, may be at risk to hacker attack due to its weak password scheme for accessing their online accounts, according to security researchers.

Virgin Mobile's password deficiencies were exposed by independent software developer Kevin Burke in a blog on Monday.

Burke explains that the carrier requires its subscribers to use their mobile phone number as their user name and a six digit number as their password when accessing their online accounts. That means there are only a million possible passwords available to a user, he wrote.

"This is horribly insecure," he asserts. By comparison, a randomly generated eight-character password containing upper and lower case letters and numbers creates more than 218 quadrillion combinations. (See also "Secure Your Life in 12 Steps.")

"It is trivial to write a program that checks all million possible password combinations, easily determining anyone's PIN inside of one day," he says. "I verified this by writing a script to 'brute force' the PIN number of my own account."

virgin mobile usa

What's worse, Virgin did not lock an account (website or phone) after a limited number of failed attempts, making it even easier to "brute force" a password. That flaw has apparently been cleaned up since Burke wrote his condemnation

However, Burke told Computerworld that the fix is ineffective. It will cut off a person logging into an account after four failed tries but only if the same cookie is used for each login attempt. By clearing cookies between tries or not using cookies while logging in at all, a lockout can be avoided.

Observes Stuart McClure, founder and CEO of Cylance: "The countermeasure they use to track logon attempts via cookies is preschool protection, not Fortune 500 Truly sad."

"There are many different overlapping safeguards in place to ensure our customers' privacy and security, and we have taken steps to further prevent intrusions and spoofing," says Sprint spokesperson Stephanie Vinge.

"While we maintain confidentiality about our security measures, our customer accounts are monitored constantly for several types of activity that would indicate if something illegal or inappropriate may be taking place," she says.

She notes that payment card data is not visible when viewing an online account. Other processes are in place to monitor and limit balance transfers and correct inappropriate charge, she adds.

"We haven't seen any reports of Virgin customers' account being hacked, nor any unauthorized access," she adds.

Nevertheless, security experts found Virgin's procedures wanting.

"It seems pretty sloppy to me, and even though most users won't be at immediate risk—now the problem is known about, there will be surely some mischief-makers who will try to exploit it," says Sophos Senior Technology Consultant Graham Cluley.

"The current system Virgin are using would be embarrassing 20 years ago—let alone today," he adds. "It's no wonder that users' confidence may be rattled."

The original omission of a failed attempt limit puzzled some experts. "If an attacker has an unlimited number of opportunities to guess your password, it doesn't matter how complex the password policy is, eventually they can get in," says Marcus Carey, a security researcher at Rapid7.

Cylance's McClure, founder and CEO of Cylance, a stealth security company, notes: "Passwords are the scourge of the cyber earth. They simply don't work to protect anything."

That doesn't forgive Virgin's security sins, he adds. "The problem with Virgin Mobile is a problem of barebones, basic, simple kindergarten security—or lack of it," he declares.

"If a website like Virgin Mobile wants to truly protect their customers they will require difficult passwords and ideally employ some form of two-factor authentication like a soft token, one-time password, or similar along with their passwords."

In his blog, Burke explains that he informed Virgin about its password deficiencies but after a month of silence from the company, he decided to make his security analysis public.

"We greatly appreciate Mr. Burke's outreach to the company and are reaching out to him as well," Sprint's Vinge said on Wednesday. "His inquiry did enable us to even further secure our customers' accounts."

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.techhive.com/article/2010115/virgin-mobiles-password-security-rapped-by-researchers.html
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Three surprising ways iOS 6 can boost your productivity

With all the hubbub about the iPhone 5, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that there's a new iPhone operating system as well, one that's free and available for all iPhone owners starting today.

Usually you don't think of an operating system in terms of productivity, but iOS 6 does bring a few welcome improvements to that table. If you're wondering whether or not it's worth upgrading (trust me, it is), check out these three ways iOS 6 can help you work smarter.

1. The VIP inbox

Want to make sure email from important people, like your boss and clients, doesn't get lost in the shuffle? The new VIP inbox is the answer.

Just add one or more contacts to your VIP list. (You can add them manually or tap any sender's name and then choose Add to VIP.) The Mail app will automatically filter messages from those contacts into the VIP inbox.

When you're in a hurry, or just want to make sure you don't miss anything important, you can bypass your overloaded primary inbox and simply check the VIP inbox.

2. A smarter Reminders app

The original Reminders app, introduced in iOS 5, was a godsend to users who wanted a simple task list that was integrated into the OS. Alas, it was seriously underpowered.

It still is, but Apple did update it with some much-needed features. For example, you can now prioritize and rearrange tasks, set repeating tasks,

Even better, Reminders can now ping you when you arrive at or depart any location, not just those tied to contacts.

Finally, Reminders now syncs with iCloud. And it's a full two-way sync, meaning you can add tasks while signed into iCloud and they'll appear on your iPhone -- and vice-versa. That's a great perk for cross-platform task management, among other things.

3. Siri-powered Facebook and Twitter updates

If you use Facebook and/or Twitter as part of your marketing efforts (and you should), you'll greatly appreciate the option to push out updates using nothing but your voice.

That's not only a time-saver, but also a potential life-saver for anyone who thinks it's okay to tap out a status update from behind the wheel of a car.

Just activate Siri, then say "update Facebook" or "update Twitter." Wait for Siri's prompt, then speak your status. It's a fast and effective way to keep others in the loop when you're driving or otherwise occupied.

But wait, there's more

Other productivity-friendly iOS 6 features include different email signatures for different accounts, Notes syncing with iCloud, and call-rejection options that let you set a callback reminder or respond with a canned text message ("In a meeting," "Be there soon," etc.).

Have you found any other iOS 6 tricks that can help your fellow busy workers? Tell me about them in the comments.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.macworld.com/article/2010102/three-surprising-ways-ios-6-can-boost-your-productivity.html
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How the HTC 8X stacks up to other Windows 8 phones

On Tuesday night, HTC posted a sly tease on its Facebook and Twitter pages—a photo that showed only the corner edge of a device with a banner that read 19.9. All became clear Wednesday morning when that mystery device was revealed to be the HTC 8X. Along with the HTC 8S, the newly unveiled 8X will make up the company's Windows Phone 8 lineup.

Amid recent releases from Samsung and Nokia, HTC will be vying for the hearts of Windows Phone fans with handsets that feature exclusive Beats Audio and the proprietary HTC ImageChip, a f/2.0, 28mm wide-angle lens with HD recording.

Much like Nokia's Lumia 920, the 8X comes in a variety of bright candy-like colors (red, blue, yellow, gray, and black); the 8S comes in blue, red, gray, and black, but it features a bright strip of color along the bottom of the handset. The super-slim unibody is tapered, and the screens—at 4.3 and 4 inches, respectively—are both smaller than the competition. Samsung's ATIV S has a 4.5-inch screen while Nokia's Lumia 920 tops out at 4.8 inches.

The 8X features what is quickly becoming an industry standard of 1280 by 720 resolution as well as the super LCD 2 screen we previously saw in the One X, while the 8S's WVGA touchscreen has a lower resolution of 800 by 480. This puts it squarely in the same arena as the ATIV S and Lumia 920, which both have a 1280 by 720 resolution. (The Lumia 820 also has a 800 by 480 resolution).

The standout feature of the 8X, however, is its camera: The front-facing camera boasts the highest megapixel count of any Windows Phone at 2.1 megapixels and an f/2.0 aperture. It is also capable of 1080p video capture. The front camera features an ultra-wide angle (88 degrees) that can capture up to four people in one shot. The rear camera, meanwhile, offers up to 8 megapixels, a CMOS sensor, backside-illumination (BSI) for quality shots in low-light, and the aforementioned ImageChip technology. Sadly, the 8S does not have a front-facing camera at all.

While the 8X has some solid specs, so do most of its competitors, even with the Lumia 920's overblown video claims. Both the 920 and the ATIV S offer 8-megapixel cameras, 1080p HD video recording, and a fairly high megapixel count in their front-facing camera. The Lumia 920 also features Nokia's floating-lens technology for image stabilization.

The rest of the specs in HTC's latest phones also run along the company line: The 8X cashes in on HTC's deal with Beats Audio (and features built-in amplifiers that are missing on the 8S), but otherwise the handset doesn't differ radically from the rest of the Windows Phone 8 family. Its 5.21-by-2.61-by-0.4-inch dimensions and 4.64-ounce weight are in line with what rival phone makers offer, as are its near-field communication (NFC) and LTE capabilities. The 16GB capacity, 1GB of RAM, and 1.5GHz dual-core processor in HTC's phone are similar to other Windows Phone 8 offerings, though its 1,800mAh battery is slightly smaller than the competitors.

While the HTC 8X may stack up quite comparably to the likes of the ATIV S and Lumia 920, the elephant in the room is how it might be able to compete with the iPhone 5, which arrives in stores this Friday. While the 8X has an eye-catching design, and stellar audio and camera capabilities that make it a great addition to the Windows Phone 8 landscape, it seems unlikely to win over Apple fans. Still, if its camera can produce images to rival the Lumia 920, the 8X could pull in a slew of folks ready to try out Windows Phone 8 software.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.techhive.com/article/2010099/how-the-htc-8x-stacks-up-to-other-windows-8-phones.html
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Sabayon 10 adds a GNOME 2-flavored 'MATE' edition

It seems like just yesterday that we saw the release of Sabayon 9 with its three desktop flavors, but already the project team behind the popular Linux distribution has launched a new version.

Sabayon 10 made its official debut late last week, and certainly most notable among the new additions to the free and open source operating system is yet another desktop edition, bringing the total number of choices for users up to four.

Now joining the ever-growing list of distros to offer a variation on the old, beloved GNOME 2 theme, Sabayon

New to the desktop: Sabayon 10

10 brings a number of other enhancements to the table as well. Here's a quick overview of some of the highlights.

1. A MATE option

Linux fans are no doubt already familiar with MATE, the GNOME 2-like desktop that was first included in Linux Mint 12 as an alternative for users wary of GNOME 3, and there's no doubt it's been gaining steam.

MATE is already available in packages for Debian, Ubuntu, and Fedora, just to name a few, and now it's part of Sabayon 10 as well.

"Many people wanted GNOME 2 back and there you have it!" reads the official Sabayon 10 announcement. "We are more than happy to serve MATE to all our users and officially support it starting from now."

2. Three other alternatives

As with Sabayon 9, this latest version comes with three other desktop editions as well. Specifically, version 10 can be had in editions featuring KDE 4.9, GNOME 3.4.2, or Xfce 4.10.

3. Amazon EC2 support

Also new in Sabayon 10 is the ability to run the operating system on Amazon's EC2.

"Running Sabayon on Amazon EC2 is more than a necessity for us," the project team explains. "It's how we implement our failover disaster recovery plan."

Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) are now available for users interested in trying out Sabayon on Amazon's cloud platform.

4. Updates and fixes

Based on version 3.5.4 of the Linux kernel, Sabayon 10 updates numerous other packages as well, including bringing LibreOffice to version 3.6. Among many smaller updates and fixes, meanwhile, "one nice and small feature worth a mention is the ability to sanity check your Live media (whether it is USB or DVD doesn't matter) through the Live boot menu," the project team notes.

5. Even more hardening

Last but not least, one of the key features added in Sabayon 9 was a hardened Gentoo profile, and Sabayon 10 takes that even further by also providing an X.org-friendly hardened kernel based on the Gentoo hardened patch set.

Want to give Sabayon Linux 10 a try for yourself? It's available as a free download from the project site.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2010069/sabayon-10-adds-a-gnome-2-flavored-mate-edition.html
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Tablets might actually be increasing PC customer satisfaction

"The PC is dead."

"We're in a post-PC era."

"Tablets are killing the PC."

You've probably heard these statements before, and perhaps you've even seen the analysts' charts, which forecast the rise of tablets and the subsequent demise of traditional desktop and laptop PCs. But tablets might actually be boosting the rate by which consumers appreciate their PCs. As tablets gain market share, overall customer satisfaction with the PC industry is actually picking up.

This year, personal computer satisfaction is up 2.6 percent, to a record-high score of 80 on the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ASCI). The reason, according to an ASCI report released Wednesday, is probably because tablet use is on the rise.

How can this be? ASCI founder Claes Fornell theorizes that when unsatisfied PC users move to Apple and other tablet makers, only the most loyal and happy users are left using traditional PCs, such as Dell, HP, and Acer computers.

In other words, people who never liked their PCs have moved on to tablets, leaving the ranks of PC users filled with a greater percentage of satisfied customers.

There may be another reason tablet growth has contributed to greater PC customer satisfaction: Tablets often serve as ancillary devices to PCs. So, instead of taking the place of a laptop or a desktop, tablets are used just for the tasks they're best for, such as checking email and watching movies. This leaves PC users acutely aware of all the productivity features that desktops and laptops actually offer. Indeed, the new crop of 7-inch tablets will never be useful for serious data entry, content creation, and other PC-dependent activities.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2010109/tablets-arent-killing-pcs-they-might-actually-be-increasing-pc-customer-satisfaction.html
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HTC's Windows Phone 8X and Phone 8S: Hands-on

With today's launch of the HTC Windows Phone 8X and Windows Phone 8S, Microsoft has a worthy pair of flagship devices for the Windows Phone 8 platform. In an era where phone designs feel increasingly commoditized, the new HTC phones showed a design flair that's often been absent from devices that don't start their name with "i."

When I handled the devices at HTC's launch event today in New York City, I was immediately struck by how comfortable the phone felt in-hand. Each had elegantly curved sides that fit my (admittedly smallish) hands well. The rounded edges are thinner than on a phone like the Samsung Galaxy S3, but not so much so that it's distracting.

The phones were each lightweight and well-balanced. The 8X weighs 130 grams, while the 8S is slightly lighter, at 113 grams.

Each phone is elegant; they look very similar in design, but for the 8S's smaller display (4-inches to the 8X's 4.3-inches), and for its distinctive colorful accent running along the bottom, near where the dedicated Windows Phone 8 navigation keys sit (the 8S is two-piece design, whereas the 8X is a polycarbonate unibody design).

The back is a matte soft-touch finish that extends up and folds around the edges. Meanwhile, the Gorilla Glass 2 display curves a bit towards the edges, taking a design cue from the HTC One X.

HTC didn't demo a lot of screens on-site; the Windows Phone 8 operating system is still largely under wraps, save for what morsels Microsoft already revealed during the summer at a developer's event. However, noticeable immediately was that both phones feature a bonded display; which means images looked crisp, even at wide angle of view. The 8X has a 1280 by 720 pixel resolution display, and what little was on show looked great. The 8S has an 800 by 480 pixel display, but I didn't see any video on that unit.

The two phones next to a Samsung Galaxy S III

A couple of more notes about the design. The volume rocker buttons felt a bit flat and narrow to the touch, likely a side-effect of the phones' narrow depth—each measures about 10mm deep. I could see that becoming an issue over time, especially if in day-to-day use it ends up being difficult to find those buttons. But only time will tell whether that will be the case .

Several of the bright, cheery colors were on display here; I liked the navy blue and red colors the best, but there's also a fluorescent-like yellow and standard black, too.

Both phones will be released in November on over 150 carriers in more than 50 countries. Further information on carrier availability, pricing, and a handful of other specifications are still to come.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.techhive.com/article/2010106/htcs-windows-phone-8x-and-phone-8s-hands-on.html
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Buffalo WZR-D1800H 802.11ac router review: A few features light, but decent performance

Buffalo was first to market with both an 802.11ac draft 2.0 router and an 802.11ac draft 2.0 media bridge to go with it. But I imagine that more than a few early adopters are gnashing their teeth over the fact that Buffalo has yet to release a firmware update to improve the pair's performance. The firmware available today is unchanged from when the manufacturer originally shipped the product.

On the upside, the WZR-1800H's current street price ($160) matches that of Belkin's lesser AC 1200 DB router, and Buffalo's router supports three spatial streams on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency band, whereas Belkin supports only two streams on each band. What's more, Buffalo has been shipping a media bridge since its router launched, while Belkin has to provide reviewers like me with engineering samples and beta firmware.

The WZR-D1800H comes with removable feet than allow it to operate in either a vertical or a horizontal orientation (in the latter case, the feet lift the router up, so that air can flow across both sides of its enclosure. There is no provision for wall-mounting the router. Buffalo built only one USB 2.0 port into the WZR-D1800H, so it can support either network-attached USB storage or a shared USB printer, but not both at the same time.

I didn't try to set up a printer, and I couldn't measure its NAS performance because the router's firmware supports only drives formatted using FAT32 or XFS. High-capacity drives such as the 500MB Western Digital My Passport drive that I've been using to benchmark routers come from the factory formatted to use NTFS, and I'm not about to reformat it just so I can plug it into a router. Sorry, Buffalo, but that's a dumb oversight. The decision not to provide a guest network on either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz frequency bands is even more lame-brained.

On the bright side, the WZR-D1800H provides a DLNA-certified media server, a Samba file server, and an integrated BitTorrent client that can download Torrent files without requiring you to run your PC.

The router came from the factory set to operate on a single 20MHz channel on the 2.4GHz frequency, but it had no problem bonding two channels together to provide 40MHz of bandwith when I reconfigured its firmware. Even then, its TCP throughput left it languishing near the bottom of most of my charts (except on my close-range test, where it tied with the Belkin AC 1200 DB). The WZR-D1800H was configured for channel bonding on the 5GHz frequency band by default, delivering 80MHz of bandwidth in that spectrum. Here again, however, it finished last or next-to-last on most of my benchmark runs.

Benchmarking 5GHz 802.11ac performance

I used an AVADirect laptop equipped with a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M CPU, 4GB of memory, and an integrated Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 Wi-Fi adapter to run my benchmark tests. The Ultimate-N 6300 can send and receive three simultaneous 150-mbps spatial streams (450 mbps in total); most adapters are limited to handling two (300 mbps in total). This was all the streaming I needed to evaluate the WZR-D1800H's 802.11n performance (on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency bands). To measure the router's 802.11ac performance (on the 5GHz frequency band), I used Buffalo's AirStation AC1300 wireless ethernet bridge, connecting the bridge to the AVADirect's ethernet port. The bridge looks almost exactly like Buffalo's router from the front. It has a four-port gigabit switch in the back, but it lacks a WAN port.

To test the router, I positioned the client successively at five spots inside and outside a 2800-square-foot, ranch-style home (distances from the router are noted in each chart below). I used the open-source IPERF benchmark (and the JPERF Java graphical front end designed for it). To measure the router's downlink TCP throughput, I set up the laptop as a server and used a desktop PC hard-wired to the router as the client.

The WZR-D1800H delivered disappointing performance at close range, with the client 9 feet away from the router and in the same room. It might sound odd to hear a wireless TCP throughput of 270 mbps described as disappointing, but the Asus and Netgear routers delivered TCP throughput approaching 500 mbps. Only the two-spatial-stream Belkin AC 1200 delivered slower performance than Buffalo's router at this location.

As you can see in the chart below, things didn't improve any when I moved the client and the wireless bridge to the kitchen. Here again, the WZR-D1800H finished ahead of only the Belkin AC 1200 DB, delivering wireless TCP throughput at 269 mbps, compared to the Netgear's nearly 500 mbps and the Asus's astonishing 525 mbps.

The next two benchmark runs took place inside my home theater. This is a room-within-a-room design, with four walls of 2-by-4 framing and drywall inside four walls of 2-by-6 framing and drywall, with about 6 inches of dead air and fiberglass insulation separating them. My intent was to optimize the room's acoustics, not to build a Faraday cage, but many lesser routers and other wireless devices have had trouble penetrating it. However, none of the 802.11ac routers I tested had any difficulty reaching the client in this room. On this benchmark, Buffalo's router finished dead last, delivering less than half the throughput of its top-performing rivals.

Since many people will want to connect the gear in their home entertainment system to an 802.11ac network, I decided to measure TCP throughput with the wireless bridge inside the built-in equipment cabinet in my home theater (the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall cabinet is constructed from cabinet-grade plywood, including the back). The WZR-D1800H's performance looks a little better in the chart below, but only because the Belkin shed so much throughput on this measure while the Buffalo held steady. I was able to wirelessly mount and stream a Blu-ray ISO image of the movie Spiderman 3 from a Windows Home Server 2011 machine in my home office to a home-theater PC in that entertainment center, including its high-definition soundtrack.

As the chart below depicts, the WZR-D1800's performance improved considerably when I moved the client and the wireless bridge to the first of my two outdoor test locations—an exterior patio enclosed by three walls and one half wall with glass windows. In the real world, I doubt that anyone would try to set up a media bridge outdoors because dragging the bridge and finding an outlet (and likely an extension cord) are too inconvenient. On this measure, the Buffalo presented no threat to the top two routers I tested, the Asus RT-AC66U and the Netgear R6300.

When I moved the client and bridge to my most challenging outdoor location, separating them from the router by 75 feet, with three insulated interior walls and one insulated exterior wall (clad on one side with fiber-cement lapboard) between them, the WZR-D1800H slipped to last place behind the Belkin AC 1200 DB, delivering TCP throughput of just 48 mbps.

Benchmarking 2.4GHz 802.11n performance

As I mentioned earlier, Buffalo's router had no problem with channel bonding once I configured it to do so. As a result, the WZR-1800H delivered the fastest performance at close range, with wireless TCP throughput of 175 mbps when the client was in the bedroom, and 186 mbps when the client was in the kitchen.

The good times didn't last when I moved the client and the bridge outdoors. Buffalo's router delivered a last-place finish from the patio, and it placed next-to-last on the even more-distant picnic table.

Benchmarking hardwired ethernet performance

The WZR-1800H's four-port gigabit ethernet switch performed as expected, delivering TCP throughput of 943 mbps, as did three competing routers.

Bottom line

If you don't mind its inability to support USB hard drives formatted in NTFS, Buffalo's WZR-D1800H delivers better value than Belkin's AC 1200 router. Both models carry street prices of around $160, as does Buffalo's AirStation AC1300 wireless bridge. Belkin's 802.11ac bridge hasn't reached the market, yet, and its absence sharply curtails that router's usefulness. Moreover, Belkin's router and bridge support only two spatial streams on each wireless network. So if really want an 802.11ac router, and your budget limits you to an outlay of $160, Buffalo has one for you.

Note: This review is part of a roundup. Click here to read the introduction to the story and find links to the other 802.11ac routers reviewed at the same time.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/262177/buffalo_wzr_d1800h_802_11ac_router_a_few_features_light_but_decent_performance.html
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Optimus G could be the comeback that LG needs

LG's Optimus G is more than just another hot Android phone, it may also be the last hurrah of a company slowly being edged out of the mobile space.

Market research firm IDC says that LG's mobile division has lost close to $1 billion in the last two years, and the company is now fifth behind Chinese telecom firm ZTE in global mobile market share.

Enter the Optimus G, announced Wednesday and slated for a launch later this year. On paper, LG's smartphone looks like it will be able to hold its own against the Nokia Lumias and Samsung Galaxy S IIIs of the world: The phone will have a 13-megapixel camera, a 4.7-inch HD IPS display, and will be powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor.

However, good specs don't always translate into good performance, and previous high-end LG phones have had critical bugs that kept them from functioning properly. LG's G2x, for example, was the first dual-core phone in the United States and was pulled from store shelves after only a few short weeks due to severe glitches that would cause the phone to restart itself multiple times a day.

If LG is betting it all on the Optimus G, the company is going to have to make sure to tighten all the screws and iron out most (if not all) of the phone's quirks before it goes on sale, lest it suffer the same fate as the G2x.

The Windows Phone option

While LG has had bad luck with its Android devices, it may find success should it branch out to Windows Phone 8. (The Optimus G is an Android phone, shipping with Android 4.0 and not the newer 4.1 version of the mobile OS.) Other than Nokia, very few companies are making the big push for Microsoft's mobile OS, leaving a lot of room for newcomers looking to provide a different kind of mobile experience to smartphone owners. If LG were to throw itself head-first into the Windows Phone scene, it could push Nokia and others into creating more high-powered WP phones and help make the platform more competitive against the likes of iOS and Android.

A Windows Phone-centric LG could also help with the creation of more budget Windows Phone devices (similar to LG's line of budget Optimus Android phones), which would help get Windows Phone into the hands of more people.

LG needs to stay in the game

Few people shed tears about whether or not a company succeeds. But it would be a loss if LG were to drop out of the mobile space. Competition is good, and LG in partcular has been good at spurring other mobile phone makers to do better.

Take the G2x. Yes, it was a buggy mess of a phone, but it pushed other handset makers into getting their dual-core devices into the United States much faster than they might have otherwise. The company has dabbled in everything from tablets to phablets; though it has never had a runaway success, LG is still keeping other companies on their toes.

The Optimus G may be LG's last stand when it comes to high-end Android phones (or phones in general for that matter), so here's hoping that the phone is a good one.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.techhive.com/article/2010092/optimus-g-could-be-the-comeback-that-lg-needs.html
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Asus RT-AC66U router review: The best 802.11ac router on the market, so far

Asus currently builds the best consumer-oriented 802.11n router—the RT-N66U Dual-Band Wireless N900, which I used as a reference device to compare new 802.11ac routers against. After testing the company's $200 RT-AC66U, I believe that Asus also markets the best 802.11ac router currently available, too, though the offerings from several other manufacturers come close.

The new RT-AC66U and the older RT-N66U look almost identical: Bucking the industry trend of hiding antennas inside the enclosure, both of these routers provide three removable and upgradable dipole antennas that you can reposition to deliver the best wireless performance. They're mounted to the exterior of a satin-black, diamond-plate-finish plastic enclosure. The routers can lie flat, sit semivertically on the provided stand, or be mounted to the wall.

The RT-AC66U provides two USB 2.0 ports, so you can attach both a USB hard drive and a USB printer, and then share the devices over the network. I didn't evaluate try to connect a printer to the router's USB port, but the RT-AC66U was very fast at transferring files to and from an attached 500MB 2.5-inch USB hard drive. Asus is working on a new Android and iOS app called AiCloud that will enable users to sync, access, and store data on an attached hard drive, using a multitude of devices over the Internet. Update: Asus has since released new firmware that enables AiCloud. If you've purchased an RT-AC66U, you can download the firmware here. According to Asus, AiCloud will also allow you to access any PC on your wired or wireless network from the Internet without the need to install client software on each machine. I have not evaluated this new firmware.

Whether you plan to use your router to stream media, to host files, or to download files using P2P services such as BitTorrent, the RT-AC66U has you covered. It offers DLNA and iTunes servers for video and music, ftp and Samba servers for file hosting, a VPN pass-through for secure remote network access, and a program called Download Master for downloading Torrent files to an attached storage device, without requiring a host PC.

This dual-band router can run a 450-mbps 802.11n network on the 2.4GHz frequency band and a 1.3-gbps 802.11ac network on the 5GHz frequency band simultaneously. The RT-AC66U I tested arrived from the factory with its 5GHz radio configured to deliver 80MHz of wireless bandwidth (draft 802.11ac).

Benchmarking 5GHz 802.11ac performance

I used an AVADirect laptop equipped with a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M CPU, 4GB of memory, and an integrated Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 Wi-Fi adapter to run my benchmark tests. The Ultimate-N 6300 can send and receive three simultaneous 150-mbps spatial streams (450 mbps in total); most adapters are limited to handling two (300 mbps in total). This was all the streaming I needed to evaluate the RT-AC66U's 802.11n performance (on both the 2.4- and 5GHz frequency bands). To measure the router's 802.11ac performance on the 5GHz frequency band, I configured a second RT-AC66U as a media bridge and connected that to the AVADirect's ethernet port.

To test the router, I positioned the client successively at five spots inside and outside a 2800-square-foot, ranch-style home (distances from the router are noted in each chart below). I used the open-source IPERF benchmark (and the JPERF Java graphical front end designed for it). To measure the router's downlink TCP throughput, I set up the laptop as a server and used a desktop PC hard-wired to the router as the client.

At close range, with the client 9 feet away from the router and in the same room, the RT-AC66U was more than twice as fast as the reference 802.11n router, delivering TCP throughput of 466 mbps. This was the second-highest performance of the five 802.11ac routers I tested at this location (the Netgear R6300 was slightly faster).

I was surprised to discover that the RT-AC66U performed even better when I moved the client into the kitchen, 20 feet away from the router with one wall in between. I suspect that the media bridge was being oversaturated at the closer proximity, though the orientation of the media bridge is another variable. In the bedroom, the bridge faced the router: In the kitchen, it was perpendicular to the router. Whatever the cause, the RT-AC66U's TCP throughput jumped to a staggering 525 mbps at this location—the fastest performance in the field by a wide margin.

The next two benchmark runs took place inside my home theater. This is a room-within-a-room design, with four walls of 2-by-4 framing and drywall inside four walls of 2-by-6 framing and drywall, with about 6 inches of dead air and fiberglass insulation separating them. My intent was to optimize the room's acoustics, not to build a Faraday cage, but many lesser routers and other wireless devices have had trouble penetrating it. However, none of the 802.11ac routers I tested had any difficulty reaching the client in this room, and three of them—including the RT-AC66U—sustained TCP throughput at more than twice the rate of the reference 802.11n router. As you can see from the chart below, the Asus was the fastest of them all, at 192 mpbs.

Since many people will want to connect the gear in their home entertainment system to an 802.11ac network, I decided to measure TCP throughput with the media bridge inside the built-in equipment cabinet in my home theater (the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall cabinet is constructed from cabinet-grade plywood, including the back). The RT-AC66U's TCP throughput dropped by just a few megabits per second in this scenario. In fact, I found that I could wirelessly mount and stream a Blu-ray ISO image of the movie Spiderman 3 from a Windows Home Server 2011 machine in my home office to a home theater PC in the entertainment center, including its high-definition soundtrack.

The RT-AC66U's performance dropped off only slightly when I moved the client and the media bridge to the first of my two outdoor locations, an exterior patio enclosed by three walls and one half wall with glass windows. In the real world, I doubt that anyone would try to set up a media bridge outdoors because dragging the bridge and finding an outlet (and likely an extension cord) are too inconvenient. But I wanted to see what kind of range the RT-AC66U would deliver, and I wasn't disappointed. It was the second fastest (behind Netgear's R6300) among the five routers I tested.

The RT-AC66U's performance was even more impressive when I moved the client and bridge out to a picnic table completely outside my house. At this location, the router and client were 75 feet apart and separated by three insulated interior walls, and one insulated exterior wall clad on one side with fiber-cement lapboard. Under these conditions, the reference 802.11n router delivered TCP throughput of just 30.2 mpbs, but the RT-AC66U roared along at a whopping 125 mbps. The only thing more surprising that the number is the fact that the Asus finished in second place at this location, bested by the D-Link DIR-865L, which delivered 152 mbps.

Benchmarking 2.4GHz 802.11n performance

Though you can ostensibly set the router's firmware to forcibly bond two 20MHz channels within the 2.4GHz frequency band to create a single channel with 40MHz of bandwidth, the RT-AC66U automatically backed down to using a single channel when it detected other 2.4GHz wireless networks operating nearby (nevertheless, the router's firmware stubbornly indicated that it was operating a 40-MHz channel).

I assume that this behavior is in preparation for eventual Wi-Fi Alliance certification, since the trade group requires "good-neighbor" behavior of this type, though the Wi-Fi Alliance has not yet implemented a certification program for 802.11ac routers. In my opinion, the router was unnecessarily deferential. My home sits a on a 10-acre lot, and my neighbors' routers are far away. Usually, my network client adapters don't even indicate that the neighboring routers are there at all.

On my 2.4GHz 802.11n benchmark tests, the RT-AC66U performed slightly below the average marks for all five 802.11ac routers, especially at close range (in the bedroom and kitchen tests).

When the distance between the router and the client was greatest, however, the RT-AC66U bested the rest of the field, with the exception of its reference-point cousin, the RT-N66U. In the test charted below, the client and the router were 75 feet apart.

Benchmarking hardwired ethernet performance

The RT-AC66U's four-port gigabit ethernet switch performed as expected, delivering TCP throughput of 943 mbps.

To evaluate the RT-AC66U's performance as a network-attached storage device, I connected a 500GB Western Digital My Passport USB drive to one of the router's USB ports. I used a stopwatch to time how long it took the unit to copy a few files from a PC to the drive over the network (a write test), and then I copied a few files from the USB drive to the networked PC over the network (a read test). The PC was hardwired to the network.

I created a large-file test by ripping a DVD (Quentin Tarantino's From Dusk to Dawn) to the PC's hard drive. Copying this 4.29GB file from the PC to the portable hard drive required 289.7 seconds (about 4 minutes, 50 seconds). This was the fastest time of the five 802.ac routers I tested, but it was slightly slower than the reference RT-N66U 802.11n router. The D-Link and Belkin routers were off the chart here, with scores of 1233 and 2211 seconds, respectively. I couldn't benchmark the Buffalo WZR-D1800H at all on this measure, because the router didn't recognize my NTFS-formatted hard drive.

Surprisingly, the RT-AC66U was slower at copying (reading) the large file from the USB drive than it was at writing to the drive. On the other hand, as the chart below makes clear, the two Asus routers were faster than most of the rest of the field on this measure.

Unless you rip a lot of movies from DVD or Blu-ray discs, you'll rarely move a single large file to a hard drive attached to your router. A more common task is to move batches of small files back and forth across your network. To evaluate each router's performance in this scenario, I created a single folder containing 595MB of small files (subfolders containing music, graphics, photos, documents, spreadsheets, and so on).

On this task, the RT-AC66U delivered the fastest write performance of any of the 802.11ac routers I tested; it was bested only by the Asus 802.11n router I used as a reference point.

When it came to retrieving the batch of small files from an attached hard drive, none of the routers were especially fast. The RT-AC66U took third place, behind the reference RT-N66U router and Netgear's R6300 802.11ac router.

Bottom line

Several of the new 802.11ac routers turned in excellent performance on one test or another, but the Asus RT-AC66U was the best overall. It delivered the top benchmark scores performance on two of my 802.11ac wireless tests, two of my 802.11n wireless tests, and nearly all of my hardwired tests (it was part of a three-way tie for first in this category).

The router is feature-rich, too, with DLNA compatibility for home entertainment use, a built-in iTunes server, an integrated BitTorrent client, and more. And Asus has produced an attractive, user-friendly front-end for tweaking its firmware. I wish that more router manufacturers would follow Asus's example of using external antennas that allow users to fine-tune range and performance.

If you're ready to take the plunge into 802.11ac Draft 2.0 and you don't mind paying top dollar, this is the router to buy.

Note: This review is part of a roundup. Click here to read the introduction to the story and find links to the other 802.11ac routers reviewed at the same time.

Update: This story was updated on September 13 to inform readers that Asus has now released the firmware required to make use of its AiCloud tool.

20 Sep, 2012

Source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/262149/asus_rt_ac66u_the_best_802_11ac_router_on_the_market_so_far.html
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