Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nintendo Still Racking Profilts

Nintendo racked up a record operating and net profit in the fiscal year ended in March

Japan's Nintendo Operating Profit More than Doubles on Strong Game Sales

With still strong demand for its portable and home-use video game consoles and game software, Japanese video game maker, Nintendo, racked up a record operating and net profit in the fiscal year ended in March. The company's operating profit jumped to 487.22 billion yen, or $4.7 billion, from 226.02 billion yen in the previous year.

Although the growth in net profit was much slower than operating income due to the company incurred foreign exchange losses, the Kyoto-based maker of Wii and DS said net profit rose 47.7 percent to 257.34 billion yen. A rapid appreciation of yen hurts Nintendo as it reduces the value of foreign currency-denominated assets, which it reevaluates according to the exchange rate at the end of each fiscal year.

Revenue increased 73 percent to a record 1.67 trillion yen.

Nintendo said global sales of its Nintendo DS dual-screen portable game consoles rose to 30.31 million units from 23.56 million. The company also delivered 18.61 million Wii consoles, up from 5.84 million units in the previous year. Sales of both consoles exceeded the company's targets.

Accumulated sales of Nintendo DS reached 70.6 million units, making it the world's best-selling portable game machine. Wii had accumulated sales of 24.45 million units, making it the top-selling home-use game console, above Microsoft's Xbox360 and Sony's PlayStation 3.

Sony has long dominated the global home-use, standalone game console market with its PSOne and PlayStaion2, but due to the lack of strong game titles and relatively high price, PS3 has so far lagged behind the rival formats in terms of sales.

For the current year to March 2009, Nintendo aims to achieve another set of record earnings and sales.

Nintendo is expecting net profit to rise 26.3 percent to 325 billion yen, operating profit to climb 8.8 percent to 530 billion yen, and sales to be up 7.6 percent to 1.80 trillion yen.

The forecast assumes that the dollar will stand at 100 yen at the end of March 2009, down from 100.19 yen at the end of March 2007, and the euro will stand at 155 yen, compared to 158.19 yen. Based on those rates, the company expects a forex loss of 12 billion yen. Nintendo aims to sell 28 million Nintendo DSs, and 25 million Wiis this fiscal year.

'Because the sales of Nintendo Wii have already topped what is considered to be the up-limit line, it is not realistic to see any further growth in Japan,' spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa told Thomson Financial News. 'But given the fact that DS is in a state of supply shortage outside Japan, we can expect sales growth in overseas markets,' he said.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Microsoft Antipiracy Detection Tool for Office

An update for Microsoft's antipiracy tool for Office hit a snag when it was distributed too widely and under a "critical" label that's usually reserved for important software fixes.

Microsoft Bungles Antipiracy Detection Tool Update

An update for Microsoft's antipiracy tool for its Office software suite hit a snag last week when it was distributed too widely and under a "critical" label that's usually reserved for important software fixes.

Last week, Microsoft said it would add a notification component to Office Genuine Advantage (OGA) , which warns people through pop-up messages, dialog boxes and other visual cues if their copy of Office is unlicensed.

OGA was widely launched around October 2006. If the tool identifies a copy of Office as unlicensed, it blocks free downloads from Microsoft's Web site such as templates, available to customers with valid software.

Microsoft meant to push out the OGA notifications update only to customers in Italy, Spain, Turkey and Chile. However, the update was published on April 15 to users outside of those countries via Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), which distributes patches and security updates for the company's server products and other software.

The update was available for about 24 hours before it was removed, according to the WSUS blog. Some users had problems with the tool.

The update was labeled "critical," as "OGA notifications are designed to alert customers who are using non-genuine software, and are thus more vulnerable to activation exploits and the risks of counterfeit," the blog posting said.

The labeling of the update seem odd considering the trouble Microsoft had with its other pirate software detection tool, Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) Notifications. The company got into trouble in 2006 for classifying WGA Notifications, which detects unlicensed Windows operating systems and warns users, as a "critical" update and bundling it with other true security fixes.

Users complained that the WGA tool did not provide a fix for a security problem, and labeling it as critical was misleading. People can now opt out of downloading WGA, which is designed to nudge those with a rogue version of the company's OS to buy a licensed version.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

eBay Members Plan Boycott

EBay is facing a backlash from its users in the form of a global boycott on May 1.

Unhappy eBay Members Plan Global Boycott

Founded in 1995, eBay last year generated £3.8 billion (US$7.6 billion) in revenue. However, president and chief executive John Donahoe, who joined the company in March this year, has implemented a number of changes that have made users so disgruntled they have resorted to boycotting the service for one day.

Previously, sellers were able to leave comments about buyers. Under Donahoe's new rules, however, sellers can only leave positive but not negative or neutral feedback. Although some users are concerned that these changes will make it difficult to alert other users to fraudulent or malicious buyers, eBay claims it will make it easier for sellers to report 'bad' buyers and will remove unfair feedback.

And while users have seen listing fees reduced, the fee eBay charges on completion of a sale has risen to 7.25 percent of the total sale price, from 5.25 percent.

"We are a marketplace founded on trust. If people have a bad experience on our site, caused by a poor seller, then they will no longer use the site. The changes we announced recently are unashamedly focused on protecting buyers," an eBay spokesman said .

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sony Shows Prototype OLED

Sony has managed to make an OLED screen that's just one-fifth of a millimeter thick that ranks as the thinnest yet developed.

Sony Shows Razor-thin Prototype OLED Screen

Sony has managed to make an OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen that's just one-fifth of a millimeter thick. The prototype screen was on show at last week's Display 2008 exhibition in Tokyo and ranks as the thinnest yet developed.

The prototype 3.5-inch panel, which has QVGA resolution (320 pixels by 240 pixels), started out as a normal OLED screen, but Sony ground down the glass substrate on which it was made to reduce the thickness to just 0.2 millimeters.

Typically OLED screens are pretty thin -- about a millimeter or two thick. That's because OLED pixels emit their own light and so don't require additional illumination. It's this additional illumination, usually in the form of a backlight, that adds to the thickness of LCD (liquid crystal display) panels and means they can't compete with OLED on thickness, at least using current technology.

Due to their thinness, OLED panels consume less power than LCDs, handle fast-moving images better and offer good color reproduction. For these reasons many display makers are developing OLED technology with an eye to it replacing LCD in the future.

At the end of last year Sony began sales of the world's first OLED television. The XEL-1 is based on an 11-inch panel that's 1.4 millimeters thick. Sony has stashed most of the TV's electronics in its base, so the set thickens to only 3 millimeters with a plastic case around the screen.

Using the same glass-grinding trick it could be made even thinner. Sony also showed an 11-inch panel that was 0.3 millimeters thick -- more than a millimeter thinner than the commercial panel it's using in the XEL-1.

The panels aren't Sony's first thin OLED screens. Last year it developed a prototype OLED built onto a plastic substrate, which has the benefit of allowing the screen to be flexible. The screens shown in Tokyo last week, while thin, were brittle because they are glass-based.

There was no word on when or if the thin OLED screens on show might be commercially available.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wii Outsells Xbox360, PS3 in March

Super Smash Bros. Brawl boosted Wii sales last month, according to the NPD Group.

Wii Outsells Combined Xbox 360, PS3 Sales in March

Super Smash Bros. Brawl boosted Wii sales to abnormal heights last month, according to official console ware bean counter, the NPD Group.

"Across hardware, software, and accessories, the Wii contributed the most to total industry sales, representing 31% of total industry dollars for the month," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier.

"Super Smash Brothers Brawl along with a greater supply of inventory helped the Wii to capture the highest single month unit sales of any platform outside the holiday timeframe," she added.

As far as hardware numbers go, Nintendo sold 720,000 Wiis last month; more than double that of combined Xbox 360 and PS3 sales, and almost enough to match the combined sales of all other consoles when including PS2.

The Nintendo DS was the second best-selling system in March with 698,000 units sold, followed by the PSP at 297,000 units, the Xbox 360 with 262,000, PS3 at 257,000, and the PS2 bringing up the rear with 216,000 units sold.

"Nintendo systems represented 58 percent of all video game hardware sold in March in the United States," said Cammie Dunaway, Nintendo's VP of sales and marketing. "We expect our momentum to continue with big upcoming game launches like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, Mario Kart Wii and Wii Fit."

On the software side, Super Smash Bros. Brawl was the top-selling game in the U.S. last month at 2.7 million copies sold. Other top-sellers included Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (360), Army of Two (360), Wii Play, God of War: Chains of Olympus (PSP), Guitar Hero III (Wii), MLB 2K8 (360), Call of Duty 4 (360), and Army of Two (PS3) in that order.

"All platforms, aside from the PS2, showed significant increases when compared with March 2007," concluded Frazier. "The industry realized great growth last year and so far this year, that momentum is carrying through."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wii Fit in May

First announced way, way back in July of last year, the nifty, wireless balance board accessory for the Wii finally has a North American release date: May 19. Get ready to engage those abs.

Wii Fit coming to U.S. in May
Yahoo! Tech

The Wii Fit bundle (available in Japan since last December) will sell for $89.99, according to Crave—not exactly cheap, but at least it'll come bundled with a battery of exercises—involving yoga, aerobics, strength training, and balance—that’ll get you off the couch and, with any luck, make you break a sweat.

IGN (via Yahoo! Games) has a thorough preview of Wii Fit, but I’ll tick off some of the main points: You get the wireless, plastic balance board (which, apparently, supports a whopping 660 pounds, although it stops measuring over 330 pounds) plus the battery of 40 mini-games and exercises.

Among them: strength-training exercises, including a push-up/yoga combo (which sounds devilishly difficult), single-leg extensions, arm/leg lifts, a variety of squats and lunges, and side planks (ouch). There’s also plenty of aerobic action, including steps, runs, and rhythm boxing. Then there’s the yoga, complete with your standard deep breathing, half moons, a potpourri of poses, you name it. This ain't no button-mashing on the couch.

What makes Wii Fit more fun than your standard exercise DVD is the on-screen trainer (either male or female, as IGN notes) who critiques your form and doles out encouragement, as needed.

Of course, the coolest element of Wii Fit is the wireless balance board, which incorporates two plastic pads—one for each foot—that precisely measure you weight and balance.

From the demos I’ve seen, the board does an uncanny job of detecting your overall stance and posture; indeed, based on your weight and balance, it’ll compute your body mass index (BMI) and tell you if you’re overweight, underweight, or just right. The Wii Fit software will also track your BMI daily and tell you your progress over time.

Early reviews have been generally positive; for example, Chris Kohler at Wired News tried Wii Fit for about a month and came away pretty happy, calling it a "convenient and helpful way for me to get back in shape." Keep in mind, however, that Kohler didn't so much lose weight as build muscle (not such a bad thing, considering that you're playing a video game).

I haven't had a chance to try Wii Fit myself, but the demo during last year's E3 gaming conference looked pretty impressive; I especially liked the soccer ball head-butting game, which lets you (natch) head-butt a torrent of virtual soccer balls, all from the comfort of the balance board—nice. ( about a surfing game? Or skateboarding?)


Friday, April 18, 2008

Apple Stops Pushing Safari to PCs

A new version of Apple's Update utility lets you choose which components to install and which to ignore.

Apple Stops QuickTime Nagging About Safari

Apple made my pet-peeves list recently with its decision to push Safari out to Windows customers via its QuickTime Update software, and I certainly wasn't the only one. The good news is that Apple seems to have finally relented.

A new version of QuickTime Update, available beginning today, uses a two-pane interface to separate legitimate updates to your currently-installed components from any new applications that Apple would like you to install. Shockingly, that even includes iTunes, for those of us who use our PCs mainly for business. And, though the option isn't easy to find, the new version even lets you opt out of Safari and iTunes downloads completely.

To get it, first run your existing QuickTime Update software. You can find it by opening the QuickTime control panel from your Start menu, selecting the Update tab, then pressing the button marked "Update..." You should see an application called "QuickTime Update 2.1" -- leave the box next to that checked, but uncheck all the others.

Inexplicably, installing the new QuickTime Update requires you to restart your computer. Once you're back up and running, launch QuickTime Update again (the same way you just did) to see the new interface.

By default, all the current updates are checked (including Safari and iTunes), but you might notice that you can now download the latest version of the standalone QuickTime software, without iTunes. Hooray for that.

Here's the kicker, though. With the new division of software, it's relatively painless to opt out of Apple's iTunes and Safari nagging for good. Make sure that you've installed the QuickTime updates that you need, then launch QuickTime Update again. You should now see only the updates that you don't want. Now go to the Tools menu and choose "Ignore Selected Updates." (You can always reset your ignored updates later if you change your mind.)

Voila! You should now have a functioning Apple Software Update that does what it was intended to do -- update your software, not push multi-megabyte applications that you don't really want.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Modern Browser Wars

Apple's Safari, Mozilla's Firefox 3, and Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8 duke it out to be the program you use most on your PC.

Updated Web Browsers: Which One Works Best?

Back when the earliest programs for viewing Web content simply browsed flat pages of images and text, the name browser truly fit the software.

But yesterday's amateur pages have evolved into dynamic, content-rich portals and powerful online programs. For many online habitués, the do-it-all browser has become a PC's single most important program.

Recognizing that fact, Apple's Safari, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and Mozilla's Firefox are battling to win the nod as your browser of choice. So which one should you use--Safari 3.1, Firefox 3, or Internet Explorer 8?

Apple's latest offering, Safari 3.1, preserves the company's signature focus on clean design and smooth usability, but it lacks any phishing or malware filters.

For its part, Mozilla should have applied the finishing touches to Firefox 3 by the time you read this. From under-the-hood memory improvements to a major reworking for bookmarks, version 3 represents a big step forward.

Whereas the new Firefox and Safari browsers are ready to roll, Microsoft's early beta of Internet Explorer 8 remains a work in progress. Bugs and rough edges are to be expected in a first beta intended for developers and testers. But IE 8 beta 1 provides a glimpse of new features such as WebSlices (which let sites create widgety snippets of information that you can view by clicking a bookmark button) and Activities (which add right-click menu options for looking up selected text and pages on map, translation and other sites) that will distinguish the browser Microsoft eventually releases.

Firefox, IE, and Safari are the three most popular browsers, according to Internet usage statistics, but they aren't the only ones available.

(SIDEBAR: This is my 100th post in this blog! Kudos to me :))

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Yahoo's Answer to YouTube

Flickr, the well known photo sharing site, has announced that it will begin offering video Streaming in an effort to rival the dominant market leader, YouTube.

Flickr to add video streaming

Flickr, which is owned by Yahoo!, made the announcement today but with a hitch. Movies will be Limited to only 90 seconds long and 150 MB in size. The movies will be shown as thumbnails next to user's uploaded photos.

All Flickr visitors "will be access all of the tools for videos that they can currently for photos - namely users can add comments, captions, comments, geotags, and privacy restrictions so only friends or family may view their videos." The videos can also be embedded on other sites.

Flickr's staff said the new decision was based on the fact that an increasing number of digital cameras and DSLRs offer video recording. Although it will now offer video streaming, the company insists it does not want to be the next YouTube and instead wants a more personal touch for friends and family to upload short movies.

"People aren't using YouTube to share their personal short-form video clips", said a Flickr spokesperson.

"Ninety seconds helps us define that rebroadcasting commercial content is not what this site is for", added Neilson.

The only other hitches are that only "pro" subscribers will have the ability to add videos and the site only supports AVI, MPEG, and MOV formats.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Windows 7 Due in 2009

Microsoft hints that the next version of its Windows operating system will arrive in 2009.

Will Microsoft Deliver Windows 7 Next Year?

Microsoft has dropped two strong hints in the past two days that the next version of its Windows operating system will arrive in 2009, shaving up to a year off previous expectations.

It could also be a signal that Microsoft intends to cut its losses with Windows Vista, which has been poorly received or shunned by customers, especially large companies.

Microsoft has long said it wants to release Windows 7 about three years after Vista, which was released to manufacturing in November 2006 but not officially launched until January 2007. Given Microsoft's recent track record - Vista arrived more than five years after XP - most outsiders had pegged some time in 2010 as a safe bet for Windows 7's arrival.

But reported Friday that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates answered a question at a business meeting in Miami about Windows Vista by saying "Sometime in the next year or so we will have a new version."

And during its announcement Thursday that it would extend the availability of Windows XP Home for low-cost laptops, Microsoft said it would retire the operating system only after June 30, 2010, or one year after the release of Windows 7, whichever comes later.

That implies that Microsoft is targeting the middle of next year for some sort of release milestone for Windows 7 - the only codename known at the moment - though whether that would be a final release to consumers or an RTM, which allows businesses and OEMs to start installing it, is unknown.

A Microsoft spokeswoman, in an e-mail, said the company "is in the planning stages for Windows 7 and development is scoped to three years from Windows Vista Consumer GA." She said the company was providing early builds of the new operating system to gain user feedback, but otherwise was not providing further information.

Gates also said that he was "super-enthused about what [Windows 7] will do in lots of ways" but didn't elaborate.

What could those be? Microsoft has divulged a few things. Responding to criticism that Windows has become unnecessarily bloated, the company has 200 engineers developing a slimmed-down kernel called MinWin that uses 100 files and 25MB, compared to Vista's 5,000 files and 4GB core and is so small it lacks a graphical subsystem.

Microsoft has also confirmed that the operating system will come in consumer and business versions and in 32-bit and 64-bit editions.

Screenshots of early betas of Windows 7 are also appearing. Blogger Paul Thurrott yesterday put up screenshots from build 6519 of Windows 7 released in December, which he said looks like "a slightly enhanced version of Windows Vista."

Microsoft needs to start generating excitement about its software months or years in advance in order to prepare its millions of reselling partners.

But if it talks up Windows 7 too much, it runs the risk that large companies -- Microsoft's most profitable customer segment -- will hold on to their Windows XP machines and skip Vista entirely in favor of Windows 7.

That appears to be happening. A recent enterprise survey by Forrester Research Inc. showed that only 6.3% of enterprises were running Vista at the end of December, with most of the upgrades coming at the expense of aging machines running Windows 2000, not XP.

The vast majority of the 100 million copies of Vista that Microsoft has sold so far have gone to individuals and small businesses purchasing new PCs.

The least-loved version of Windows has long been Windows Millennium Edition (ME), a buggy minor upgrade that was superseded by XP within a year of its release. Despite its far greater - some would say, too great - technical ambition, Vista may end up lumped together with ME as one of the blips on Windows' long-term roadmap.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Symantec Has Bugs in Software

Symantec confirms flaws in its most popular consumer security software.

Symantec Confirms ActiveX Bugs in its Own Consumer Software

Symantec has confirmed flaws in its most popular consumer security software that could give attackers the means to hijack the Windows PCs that the programs are supposed to protect.

The vulnerabilities are in an ActiveX control that ships with several products, including Norton AntiVirus, Norton Internet Security, Norton SystemWorks and Norton 360.

Ironically, Symantec analysts have both cited the popularity of ActiveX bugs and urged caution when using the controls in comments about other companies' product flaws.

According to alerts released Wednesday by VeriSign Inc.'s iDefense, the ActiveX control "SymAData.dll" sports two vulnerabilities that could be used "to execute arbitrary code with the privileges of the currently logged in user" by attackers able to entice victims to malicious Web sites.

Symantec confirmed the vulnerabilities Wednesday in its own advisory, and said the buggy control has shipped with Windows versions of Norton AntiVirus 2006-2008, Norton Internet Security 2006-2008, Norton SystemWorks 2006-2008 and Norton 360 version 1.0.

While it acknowledged the bugs, Symantec also downplayed the threat, saying that attacks would only succeed from specially crafted sites. "To successfully exploit either vulnerability, an attacker would need to be able to masquerade as the trusted Symantec Web site, such as through a cross-site scripting attack or DNS poisoning," read the company's advisory .

However, cross-site scripting attacks have become common, and although DNS (domain name system) "poisoning" -- fooling a DNS server into thinking the bogus routing directions it's received are authentic -- is less common, it's not unheard of.

Symantec said it was unaware of any attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities.

The flawed ActiveX control is used by Symantec's AutoFix tool, which is included with some of the company's software and may also be downloaded to a PC during a live chat with a Symantec technical support representative. AutoFix diagnoses PC problems and offers up solutions.

Previously, Symantec researchers have called on the company's statistics to point out widespread problems with ActiveX. In February, for example, Oliver Friedrichs, director of the company's security response team, reported ActiveX composed 89% of all the browser plug-in vulnerabilities his team had counted in the first half of 2007.

That same month, Symantec joined with the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and other security vendors to urge caution when using ActiveX controls after a wave of bugs were revealed in several other software makers' products, including those from Yahoo Inc., Facebook and MySpace.

Symantec has updated the affected consumer security software with new detection definitions designed to block any exploit of the ActiveX flaws, but will not automatically patch everyone's copy of the flawed control.

"An updated (non-vulnerable) version of the AutoFix tool will be automatically installed if customers participate in an online Chat session with Symantec Technical Support," Symantec said. Alternately, users can manually download and install a patched AutoFix from its Web site.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Storm Worm is Back

E-mail with an April Fool's Day theme is serving up the latest round of Storm worm attacks.

April Fool's Storm Worm Attack Hits

A new Storm worm with an April Fool's Day theme is targeting the Web, according to security software firm PC Tools.

"The Storm worm gang has done it again. This time e-mails are being circulated, which are associated with the April Fool's Day theme," said PC Tools chief threat officer, Kurt Baumgartner.

The e-mail messages contain links that direct users to Web sites that contain malware. Once the files are downloaded and executed on the computer it sets a firewall exception rule and then attempts to 'phone home' using various outgoing ports.

According to Baumgartner, the packer and major sections of executable code have changed significantly, indicating that it could be another variant and AV detection for this threat is close to nonexistent.

"The most effective way users can protect against these new threats is with antimalware products that use behavioral technology. Traditional AV products, which use signature detection are simply not equipped with this behavioral technology and the threat is currently evading those users' defenses," he said.

"Always exercise caution and don't just click on random links sent to your account via e-mail. Exercise even more caution when that random link is attempting to download a file to your system," adds Baumgartner.