Skype dives deeper into business phone market

Selasa, 24 Maret 2009 · 0 komentar

Skype is diving deeper into the business phone market with a system that lets companies integrate their existing, open VoIP phone systems with Skype's proprietary VoIP service.

The new offering, called Skype for SIP, uses Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to exchange signaling between PBXes (private branch exchanges) and the free or inexpensive voice service. The latest PBXes support SIP, a signaling protocol designed to span IP-based phones, software clients, and other components of unified communications systems.

Business users will be able to make and take Skype VoIP calls using all the features of their internal switches, according to the company, a division of eBay. Enterprises are widely adopting IP-based phone switches as they replace aging circuit-switched units.

Some vendors already offer equipment or services to link Skype's network to other types of telephone system. Skype's latest move, however, could enable its customers to do without such third-party products.

Skype is letting businesses that have SIP-based IP PBXes to register to test a beta version of the service, but warned that the number of beta testers will be limited. The full version of Skype for SIP will launch later this year. Support for beta testers will only be in English, Skype said.

Businesses can register their SIP address with Skype and pick what calls they wanted routed over Skype, said Ian Robin, heads of sales and marketing of Skype for Business. Those testers will only have to pay for the calls they make during the beta test period, Robin said. Skype hasn't determined how much it will charge after the beta test ends.

Skype will stick to the same international calling rates that it offers for its consumer service. Calls to the United States, for example, are $0.021 or $0.024 including VAT (value-added tax), which is levied in Europe.

Many enterprises that have bought IP PBXes aren't actually taking advantage of VoIP, according to In-Stat analyst David Lemelin. They run hybrid internal voice systems and continue to use expensive leased lines for calls into and out of the enterprise, he said.

About 438,000 IP-enabled PBXes were shipped in 2008, wrote Peter Parkes on Skype's blog, citing figures from analyst IDC.

Companies will be able to manage Skype calls with existing hardware and applications that perform functions such as call routing, conferencing, voice mail and call recording, Parkes wrote.

Skype's business package will also allow companies to put a "click-to-call" button on their Web site. When clicked, a call will be routed via Skype through to the company's PBX system.

Companies will also be able to buy phone numbers from Skype, called SkypeIn numbers. The numbers are available for 20 countries. They allow a business, for example, to have a number with a New York area code but answer the number wherever the receiver is logged into Skype.

Skype says it has 405 million users worldwide, with about 276 million regular users of the service.

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Free BlackBerry Storm Apps: Seven Essential Downloads

Sabtu, 21 Maret 2009 · 1 komentar

release of the Research In Motion's first touch screen BlackBerry, the Storm, on November 21, were unfortunately filled with complaints from users, reviewers and critics alike regarding the extremely poor quality operating system that shipped with the device. And rightly so; RIM and Verizon Wireless rushed out buggy OS code that was simply not ready for prime time, in order to meet previously stated release dates.
However, behind the scenes, a variety of mobile software developers were studiously working those weeks away on new applications for the much-anticipated device. Now, less than a month later, Verizon has updated and improved the Storm OS, and many of those apps are starting to pop up on the Web. Best of all: Many of them are free.

Not all of the following applications were developed specifically for the Storm, but each and every one functions well on the device--with the exception of a few minor bugs. I've mentioned most of the apps in previous free BlackBerry software stories, but that was before the Storm landed and before anyone knew whether or not they'd work on RIM's first touch BlackBerry.

(Note: All of our recommended applications were downloaded and tested using a Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Storm 9530 running OS, the latest official Verizon release.)

WeatherBug for BlackBerry Storm: Makin' it Rain

One of my personal favorite free BlackBerry applications, WeatherBug is a unique and valuable mobile weather app. The software creates a dynamic icon on your BlackBerry home screen that updates itself according to your local weather conditions--or the weather conditions in a pre-specified locale. For instance, when it's partially cloudy, your WeatherBug icon displays an image of the sun with a cloud eclipsing it, as well as the current temperature and the day's predicted high and low. And when the weather changes, the icon is automatically modified accordingly.

The software pulls its information from the company's WeatherBug Network, which it claims is the largest, most technologically advanced weather system in the world, at more than five times the size of even the U.S. National Weather Service.

WeatherBug is available for a variety of BlackBerry devices, but the Storm specific-version is different in that you can employ touch-based gestures for navigation. And the app utilizes the Storm's built-in accelerometer to determine the device's orientation--portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal)--and customize the display accordingly.

Additional WeatherBug features include the ability to view a weather summary for the current day, with metrics like dew point, wind chill/heat index and humidity levels; seven day forecasts; maps with numerous overlays including current temperature and precipitation; and local weather alerts.

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Microsoft's new IE8 'kill switch' not enough

Kamis, 19 Maret 2009 · 0 komentar

move to let users cripple Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) isn't enough to solve its newest antitrust problems with European Union regulators, according to the head of the company that filed the original complaint.

"That's one possible step," said Jon von Tetzchner, the CEO of Opera Software ASA. "But it doesn't really change much, does it?"

A December 2007 complaint submitted by Opera to the European Commission prompted the antitrust agency to charge Microsoft in January 2009 with stifling competition by bundling its browser with Windows. Specifically, the commission said that Microsoft "shields" IE from completion by distributing the application with its operating system.

Two weeks ago, when Microsoft confirmed that it would allow users of the upcoming Windows 7 to block IE from loading, some, including von Tetzchner, speculated that the option was prompted by the recent antitrust action.

"I would not be surprised if it was linked [to the charges]," he said.

Microsoft has declined to comment on whether the decision was connected to the commission's move.

Although the commission has not spelled out what it might demand of Microsoft if its charges stick, it has hinted that the American company might be forced to disable certain portions of IE and/or offer users the choice of other browsers.

von Tetzchner wants to see Microsoft do the latter. "The important thing would be consumer choice," he said. "The quick answer would be to offer other browsers. How exactly that would be done tactically isn't up to us, but consumers should have an equal choice of browsers."

He declined to comment on Opera's opinion about which browsers should be offered to Windows users in lieu of IE, but said they should be restricted to what he called "real browsers."

Google Inc., which has joined the antitrust action as an "interested third party" by virtue of its Chrome browser, declined to comment about Microsoft's new IE option in Windows 7. But like Opera, Google said it wanted the commission to make Microsoft offer users several browsers.

"The Internet was founded on choice and openness and this requires a level playing field with multiple options for accessing it," a Google spokesman said in an e-mail response to questions. "From the moment a computer is turned on, people should be able to access a range of browsers easily and quickly."

Mozilla Corp., the developer of Firefox, also has been given third-party status in the case. Mozilla, however, refused to comment when asked its position on the IE8 "kill switch" in Windows 7.

"The important thing is to make sure that the Web stays open and there is a choice," said Opera's von Tetzchner. "We haven't ensured that we won't lose competition in browsers, and that's something worth fighting for."

Last week, the EU extended Microsoft's deadline to reply to the charges over IE until April 21.

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What Cisco's power play really means

Rabu, 18 Maret 2009 · 0 komentar

Ever since Cisco's $150 million investment in VMware a few years back, the two companies have reportedly enjoyed a close relationship. But until the Cisco Unified Computing System announcement, little emerged in the way of collaborative efforts, a few virtualized switches and whatnot aside.

Some are hailing the Unified Computing System, which bundles a blade server with networking and server virtualization, as the Next Big Thing. But I find it rather underwhelming.

In the storage area of my lab, there sits a rarity: a 3Com Netserver. Never heard of it? Neither has anyone else. Released in the late 1990s, my model boasts a pair of 200MHz Pentium Pro CPUs, 128MB of RAM, and an odd 3Com SuperStack interface block. It was 3Com's entry into the fixed-purpose server market, designed to run RADIUS and other back-end tools to support 3Com analog dial products and other errata. It reached end-of-lif about a year or so later because commodity servers could do the job as well or better, were cheaper, and came without the proprietary ball and chain.

I see elements of the 3Com Netserver in the Cisco/VMware announcement. Cisco is probably going to be marketing and selling fixed-purpose blades, most likely manufactured by Quanta or another third party, branding them as Cisco devices, and trying to sell them as high-end virtualization platforms. They may have picked a good baseline architecture in the Intel Nehalem foundation, but otherwise, it's still just a blade server with lots of RAM and a tarted-up chassis. It's also likely to be somewhat restrictive when compared to general-purpose blade offerings from HP, Dell, Sun, and so forth. So why bother? Why would Cisco want to get into this relatively highly competitive market where it has no history?

The answer is that the company wants to force the standards it's developed on the rest of the industry. It wouldn't be the first time. I have a few Cisco 7960 Power-over-Ethernet phones that won't work with anything but a proprietary Cisco PoE switch because Cisco tried to force its PoE standard before the 802.3af standard was ratified. This left early adopters in the lurch, with phones and switches that don't work with anything else since they conform to nonexistent standards.

There's little technical detail to be gleaned from the announcement, but the big items are the implementation of VN-Link switching (which will essentially allow VMs to be controlled at the network layer like a physical server would be), aggregation of 10G switching within the chassis, Fibre Channel over IP, and a few other tidbits -- but they're all Cisco's standards, not the industry standards. These technologies are necessary steps along the virtualization development road, but it's generally a good idea to make sure the rest of the computing industry is playing the same tune, especially when you're talking about six-, seven-, and eight-figure investments for the early adopters.

Then there's the centralized management side of the announcement. Forgive me for being a bit leery of that, since Cisco hasn't exactly been a paragon of innovation in terms of management tools, utilities, and frameworks. Why is a networking company offering virtualization management? It's along the same lines as a taco stand offering tax advice.

Interestingly, Cisco's Datacenter blog has tried to preempt any criticism of the announcement (inexplicably referencing the iPod), so I'm certain that it's well aware of the potential for this to fall flat. I'm certainly wary of Cisco's ability to succeed in this market.

Cisco and VMware have said that there will be more detail -- including pricing and availability -- coming in the next few weeks, so perhaps some of my skepticism will become obsolete as more information arrives. I'd love to get more detail on, say, smarter switching for VMs, 10G storage and network aggregation, and so forth. Meanwhile, I'm not going to bet the farm that Cisco's and VMware's vision will triumph.

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GlobalFoundries needs to pay for x86 license, Intel says

Selasa, 17 Maret 2009 · 0 komentar

the former manufacturing arm of rival Advanced Micro Devices, needs to pay Intel for a license to manufacture x86 processors, an Intel spokesman said Tuesday.

Intel notified AMD on Monday that it believes the creation of GlobalFoundries violated the terms of the cross-license agreement that gives AMD access to the x86 instruction set and other processor technologies owned by Intel. GlobalFoundries is a joint venture between AMD and an Abu Dhabi investment fund.

"AMD has an agreement with Intel and the third party, represented by GlobalFoundries, has no rights unless they sit down to talk with us," said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman. "We've always been willing to license our technology and our patent rights in exchange for fair value. We need to have that discussion."

However, Intel has not contacted GlobalFoundries to discuss the patent licensing issue. "At this point, it's between Intel and AMD," Mulloy said.

The dispute between Intel and AMD threatens the technology ties that both companies depend upon. In its notice to AMD, Intel warned it intends to revoke AMD's right to use these patents, a move that seemingly aims to either drive AMD out of the x86 processor business or force the company and GlobalFoundries to renegotiate the cross-license agreement on terms more favorable to Intel.

Intel's notice triggers the start of a dispute-resolution mechanism that involves a mediator to resolve differences between the two companies, Mulloy said.

AMD didn't take long to respond to Intel, claiming in a filing submitted to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday that Intel's notice was itself a breach of the cross-license agreement.

"Its very much a two-way street," said Patrick Moorhead, vice president of marketing at AMD, in an e-mail. "We told Intel that their attempt to terminate our license is a breach of the cross-license which gives us the right to terminate Intel's license."

AMD isn't the only company that would be hurt if the companies lose access to the other's technology portfolios. Losing access to AMD's technology patents would hurt Intel by restricting access to key AMD technologies that the company depends on for its Nehalem family of processors. These and other Intel chips incorporate AMD technology for multicore processors, integrated memory controllers, and 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set.

Mulloy dismissed AMD's assertion that Intel's notice had broken the cross-license agreement. "Notifying them that there's a dispute and a breach does not constitute a breach," he said.

The dispute with AMD comes at an awkward time for Intel. Antitrust regulators in key markets outside the U.S. appear to be closing in on Intel, and the company faces a U.S. antitrust action brought against it by AMD.

In its defense against antitrust claims, Intel has repeatedly said that the x86 processor market remains fiercely competitive. But Intel's latest move highlights the significant market power it carries over rivals by taking action that could lead to termination of the cross-license agreement that gives AMD the right to make and sell x86 processors.

Intel said its decision to notify AMD of the alleged breach of the cross-license agreement is not connected to any of the antitrust suits it faces.

"AMD signed a cross-license agreement in 2001. It laid out specifically what their rights were and what Intel's rights were. We're saying they breached that agreement, it has nothing to do with any of the antitrust allegations around the world," Mulloy said. "They signed an agreement and we want to hold them to the terms of that agreement."

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Tests Intel Atom Netbook Processor for 'green' Servers

Rabu, 04 Maret 2009 · 0 komentar

Microsoft Corp. researchers are experimenting with low-powered servers using Intel Corp.'s inexpensive, efficient Atom processors designed for netbooks.

Though slow compared with state-of-the-art multicore server CPUs, Atom processors draw less electricity to run and cool them -- as little as one-twentieth of the energy required by conventional server processors, according to Jim Larus, director of software architecture at Microsoft Research, speaking at the company's TechFest earlier this week.

"They're not as powerful, so you may require many more of these servers in the data center, but since each one consumes less energy, the data center as a whole can be more efficient and get more work done for the same amount of energy," he said.

Data center operators are keenly aware today that the cost of the energy to power a data center over time is far greater than the cost of the server hardware itself.

In the video, Larus shows a prototype server rack holding 50 Atom systems, which, because of the low heat generated by the Atom, doesn't require a powerful fan for cooling the rack, though there are still fans for each individual Atom CPU. These could be used in Microsoft's massive data centers alongside conventional servers and servers deployed in shipping containers.

Microsoft is also working on software tentatively called Marlowe to take advantage of the Atom's fast sleep/wake features, according to an interview with Dan Reed, director of scalable and multicore computing at Microsoft.

Because they were designed for laptops and netbooks, Atom CPUs can be quickly put into sleep/hibernate states and then quickly woken up, said Dave Ohara, a consultant who runs the Green Data Center blog, unlike desktop and server CPUs.

According to Microsoft, today's average server sits idle 75% of the time. Putting idle Atom servers to sleep could cut their energy usage by another 90%, says Microsoft, to about 3 to 4 watts for the entire system.

Judging by the $300 to $400 cost of Atom-based netbooks, Ohara said that racks of Atom-based server blades could be made for even less.

"Intel hates this, because they want to sell you more expensive multicore Xeon processors," Ohara said. "But sometimes small is more beautiful."

Intel did not immediately return a request for comment.

Microsoft isn't the first to look at Atoms for servers. Last May, Tranquil PC Ltd., a Manchester, England-based PC maker, began selling home servers using the Atom.

SingleHop Inc., a Chicago hosting provider, began leasing dual-core Atom servers to customers in October. According to a post at SingleHop's blog, the Atom server is "faster than a Pentium 4" and uses 75% less power.

While Microsoft is looking at Atom servers for its own massive data centers, Ohara says Atom servers would be potentially more useful for small to medium-size businesses that prefer retaining security and control of their own servers over storing their data and using the applications of a cloud-based service such as or Inc.'s S3.

"If you have a low-load situation, like most SMB servers are, an Atom can work fine," he said.

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Mac loses February's Market-Share Race, Windows Win Again..

Selasa, 03 Maret 2009 · 0 komentar

Windows' market share rebounded last month as fewer users ditched Windows XP and more started running Windows 7, an Internet measurement company said today.

Meanwhile, Apple Inc.'s Mac OS X lost ground in February as its online share dropped by its largest amount in more than a year and a half.

In February, 88.4% of users who connected to the Web sites monitored by Net Applications Inc. did so from systems powered by Windows, an increase of 0.22 of a percentage point over January. The increase was the largest for Microsoft Corp.'s operating system since June 2007, when it gained 0.40 of a percentage point.

Although Windows XP lost share again last month -- the 20th consecutive month it has done so -- it slipped only 0.09 of a percent point, just a tenth of its 12-month average decline. In February, Windows XP computers accounted for 63.7% of all the machines that connected to Net Applications' sites.

Contributing to Windows' uptick was Vista, which ended the month with a 22.8% share, up 0.31 of a percentage point, and Windows 7, the not-yet-ready successor to Vista. The release of a public beta six weeks ago has put Windows 7 on 0.18% of all computers, an increase of 0.07 of a percentage point over January's share.

Windows 7's share is now within striking distance of the much older Windows 98 (0.21 percentage point), but it still trails by a large margin the almost-as-old Windows 2000 (1.35 percentage points).

The boost to Windows' share followed a record three-month decline in which the operating system lost 2.2 percentage points, and it marked the first time since October 2008 that Microsoft's operating system showed an overall gain.

But while Windows increased its share, Mac OS X's fell for the first time since October 2008, dropping 0.32 of a percentage point to end the month with a 9.6% share. That was the biggest one-month decline since June 2007, according to Net Applications' data, when Apple's software fell 0.45 of a percentage point.

February's slide didn't erase the 1.7 percentage point gain of the November-January stretch, also a record, but it did knock Mac OS X off its path toward a 10% share, pushing it back to December 2008 levels.

Net Applications' operating system market-share data can be found on the company's Web site.

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