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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Microsoft has released to the public a near-final version of a major update to its Windows XP operating system.

Windows XP SP3 Release Candidate Now Available To Public

One feature should prove popular with corporate IT managers, who often need to oversee hundreds, or even thousands, of operating system installations.

Microsoft has released to the public a near-final version of a major update to its Windows XP operating system.
As of Wednesday, the 'Release Candidate' for Windows XP Service Pack 3 was available as a 336 Mbyte download from Microsoft's Web site. The software had previously been available only to participants in Microsoft's official test programs.

Software vendors usually issue a release candidate when they're close to producing a final version of a product or update. It provides a last chance for users to weigh in before a final version is released to manufacturing.

Microsoft says it considers the Release Candidate for Windows XP SP3 to be trial software and warns users to download with caution -- and at their own risk. "Microsoft does not recommend installing this software on primary or mission critical systems," the company states on its Web site.

For the adventurous, however, Windows XP SP3 Release Candidate offers a number of enhancements over the current version of the OS. It includes all updates issued since Windows XP Service Pack 2 was released in 2004, and some new elements.

Among them: A feature called Network Access Protection that's borrowed from the newer Windows Vista operating system. NAP automatically validates a computer's "health," ensuring that it's free of bugs and viruses, before allowing it access to a network.

Windows XP SP3 also includes improved "black hole" router detection -- a feature that automatically detects routers that are silently discarding packets. In XP SP3, the feature is turned on by default, according to Microsoft.

Windows XP SP 3 also steals a page from Vista's product activation model, meaning that product keys for each copy of the operating system doesn't need to be entered during setup. The feature should prove popular with corporate IT managers, who often need to oversee hundreds, or even thousands, of operating system installations.

Microsoft is in a bit of a Catch-22 with XP. The more it strengthens the OS, the less reason users have to upgrade to the newer Windows Vista, which by many accounts has failed to catch on with computer users in both the home and office since it debuted in January.

A final version of Windows XP SP3 is expected to ship early next year.

Windows XP SP3 Reaches Release Candidate Status

Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 3 has exited its beta phase and entered Release Candidate phase. As usual, it is now available for download publicly. This Release Candidate is build 3264.

"While Windows Vista provides the most advanced security and management capabilities of any Windows operating system, Windows XP SP3 will ensure PCs running Windows XP will have the latest updates, as well as compatibility with the Network Access Protection functionality of Windows Server 2008," Microsoft said in a statement.

The new Service Pack 3 for Microsoft's previous operating system will feature more than 1,000 hot fixes and patches that have been issued in the past three years, as well as at least four new features, some of which will be ports of Vista tools.

Previous builds of the software update had previously been available only to participants in Microsoft's official test program, but now it's readily available to the public here.

Last month, testers over at Devil Mountain Software have analyzed the performance of Windows XP Service Pack 3 build 3244 and found that "testing with OfficeBench showed an ~10% performance boost vs. the same configuration running under Windows XP w/Service Pack 2."

Windows XP Service Pack 3 build 3244 was also twice as fast as Windows Vista in the OfficeBench benchmark program. They used a Dell XPS M1710 laptop with 2GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, 1GB of RAM and nVidia GeForce Go 7900GS video, running Microsoft Office 2007.

MTV and award-winning television and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer will launch a video game development studio,

MTV, Bruckheimer to launch game studio

Viacom Inc's MTV and award-winning television and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer will launch a video game development studio, marrying Hollywood and technology in what has been historically an uneasy alliance.

Bruckheimer, producer of Walt Disney Co's wildly successful "Pirates of the Caribbean" film franchise among a long list of film and TV hits like "CSI," said he plans to do for video games what he has done for other well-defined genres of content.

"It's no different than what we did with movies," he said in a phone interview. "We did 'Top Gun' when everyone said you couldn't do an aviation movie because they all failed. We did a pirate movie when they said pirate movies aren't going to work."

Bruckheimer added, "We approach gaming the same way. We see things a little differently, that maybe other people wouldn't see."

MTV Networks earmarked over $500 million earlier this year to invest in video games, including this venture, for its more than 300 Web sites and on game systems of Sony Corp, Microsoft Corp and Nintendo Co Ltd's.

Its success with the recently launched "Rock Band" music-based game has inspired MTV to explore other new categories untapped by the $30 billion global video games market.

Rather than shoehorn Bruckheimer into creating games for existing genres, such as shooters or extreme sports, the new studio aims to break new ground in interactive storytelling on the Internet, computers and video game systems, said Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks' Music and Logo Group.

The teaming up of Hollywood and the games industry has met with mixed success in the past.
Hong Kong action film director John Woo's "Stranglehold," a video game sequel to his movie "Hard Boiled," and the Wachowski brothers "Matrix" series of games have not been breakout hits like the blockbuster films they were based on.

Moreover, the video games industry has also begun to scale back the licensing of movie properties for games as development budgets soar.

"These are for original games for MTV Games and it is our hope that some of this IP (intellectual property) and characters will migrate to TV and film," MTV Networks President Van Toffler said in an interview.

Left unanswered is how big of a budget the new studio will have at its disposal. Top tier games such as Microsoft's "Halo 3" and Activision Inc's "Call of Duty 4" command budgets of anywhere from $20 million to well over $30 million, according to one game industry veteran.

Media executives including those at Time Warner Inc, which has invested in video games, are eyeing the potential rewards. "Halo 3" sales, for example, topped $170 million within 24 hours of its release and $300 million globally in the first week.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co are discussing multi-billion dollar deals

Matsushita, Hitachi in talks on major panel deals.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co (6752.T: Quote, Profile, Research) and Hitachi Ltd (6501.T: Quote, Profile, Research) are discussing multi-billion dollar deals on flat panels that could reshape an industry hit by fierce competition, a source familiar with the matter said.

The two possible deals would allow Matsushita, the world's biggest maker of plasma TVs, to do an about-face and move aggressively into liquid crystal displays (LCDs) while enabling Hitachi to scale down a loss-making business.

Panasonic-brand maker Matsushita is looking to take control of a LCD venture it has with Hitachi and Toshiba Corp (6502.T: Quote, Profile, Research), the source said. It will also invest $2.7 billion in a new LCD factory as part of that deal, the Nikkei business daily said.

That would help it address a weak spot in the flat TV market.

Matsushita has invested most aggressively on plasma in the belief that it was the most cost competitive technology for big TVs above 40 inches, but plasma's dominance in that segment of the market has started to give way to bigger and cheaper LCD TVs.

"This is a move that Matsushita had to make," said Tetsuro Miyachi, fund manager at Franklin Templeton Investments Japan.

"It needed to decide whether it would become a niche player in 50-inch-plus TVs or pursue the mass market, and if it was going to do that it had to get bigger in LCDs," he said.

The Nikkei said Matsushita and Canon Inc (7751.T: Quote, Profile, Research) are also considering investing more than 100 billion yen each for minority stakes in Hitachi Displays Ltd, which makes small and mid-sized LCDs and is also developing organic light-emitting diode panels.
OLED is a promising next-generation display technology and is seen as an eventual replacement for LCDs.

Matsushita, Hitachi and Canon all issued statements saying nothing had been decided.

Flat panel display makers are pouring billions into new plants to meet growing demand from consumers trading in their boxy tube sets for sexier flat screens.

Japan's Sharp Corp (6753.T: Quote, Profile, Research) is spending over $3 billion to build the world's biggest LCD plant while Sony Corp (6758.T: Quote, Profile, Research) and partner Samsung Electronics Co (005930.KS: Quote, Profile, Research) are ramping up production at their plant in South Korea.


Global LCD TV sales will likely grow 85 percent to $91 billion by 2010, while rival plasma TV demand is expected to shrink 15 percent to $15.8 billion over the same period, according to research firm DisplaySearch.

But some analysts questioned the logic behind Matsushita making such a big bet on LCD production at this stage.

The Nikkei said Matsushita's new LCD factory would likely make LCD panels from so-called "eighth-generation" motherglass, which is bigger and more efficient than the "sixth-generation" glass currently used at their IPS Alpha Technology joint venture.

But any new factory was unlikely to come into operation until around 2010. By that time Sony and Samsung will have been working with 8th-generation glass for several years and Sharp's new factory will be cutting panels from 10th-generation glass
Shinko Securities analyst Hideki Watanabe said global demand for LCD TVs could peak around 2009 as Japan, Europe and the United States complete their switch to digital broadcasting, which has been driving sales for flat TVs.

"The timing is just too late," Watanabe said.

For Canon, the investment in Hitachi Displays would give it access to OLED panels which it hopes to use in its digital cameras and ink jet printers as part of its strategy to bring production of key parts in-house to lower costs.

The deal would also mark the latest reorganization for Hitachi, a sprawling conglomerate which is under pressure to hive off unprofitable businesses to sharpen its focus. It is currently considering selling a stake in its loss-making hard drive unit.

Franklin Templeton's Miyachi said the reported deal was probably not drastic enough.

"They are moving in the right direction but still it only goes half-way. It would be much better for Hitachi to pull out of the business completely," he said.

Matsushita's shares closed down 0.9 percent at 2,225 yen, Hitachi fell 1.2 percent to 775 yen, and Canon lost 0.6 percent to 5,400 yen. The benchmark Nikkei average .N225 dropped 1.2 percent.

Paul Allen has applied to bid in an upcoming U.S. auction of coveted wireless airwaves

Paul Allen applies to bid in U.S. wireless auction

A venture led by Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research) co-founder Paul Allen has applied to bid in an upcoming U.S. auction of coveted wireless airwaves, according to auction documents released late on Tuesday.

Allen was listed with an entity called Vulcan Spectrum LLC among the applicants who filed to bid in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction of 700-megahertz spectrum, which is scheduled to begin on January 24.

Allen heads an investment company called Vulcan Capital and is also a majority shareholder in U.S. cable operator Charter Communications (CHTR.O: Quote, Profile, Research).

Allen and Vulcan Spectrum were on a list of scores of potential bidders who filed applications ahead of a December 3 FCC deadline. The list was made available on the FCC's Web site late on Tuesday.

The auction applicants also included, as expected, Internet leader Google Inc (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) and U.S. wireless providers AT&T Inc (T.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L: Quote, Profile, Research). Also listed was Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O: Quote, Profile, Research).

A Reuters search of the documents did not turn up any application by EchoStar Communications Corp (DISH.O: Quote, Profile, Research). There was speculation earlier this month that the satellite television operator might apply to enter the auction. Representatives of EchoStar could not be reached for comment.

The FCC-run wireless auction is expected to take several weeks, with the spectrum to be auctioned off in several blocks.

The radio waves are being returned by broadcasters as they move from analog to digital signals early in 2009. The signals can go long distances and penetrate thick walls.
The auction is seen as a last opportunity for a new player to enter the wireless market. Google and other Silicon Valley leaders see the wireless spectrum as a way to create more open competition for mobile services and devices than those available on existing networks.

The launch of Apple Inc's latest operating system

Apple launch of Leopard system its best ever-group

The launch of Apple Inc's (AAPL.O: Quote, Profile, Research) latest operating system, Leopard, was its best ever, a research group said on Monday.

When comparing the first full month of sales of Apple Mac OS 10.5 "Leopard" (November 2007) to the first full month of sales for Mac OS 10.4 "Tiger" (May 2005), dollar volume for Leopard was up 32.8 percent and unit volume up 20.5 percent, NPD Group Inc said in a statement.

Apple, maker of the Macintosh computer, the iPod digital music player and the iPhone smartphone, started selling Leopard on October 25, after a four-month delay due to the company's work on the iPhone.

The new version of Apple's OS X software costs $129 for a single user and $199 for a "family pack" that can be installed on as many as five computers in a single household.

New features include a file back-up feature called "Time Machine," improvements to e-mail and instant messaging, and the ability to preview documents or files without starting up a separate program, as well as quick access to other computers on a home or an office network.

While the increases in dollar and unit volume can partially be attributed to going on sale during November -- a key month for consumer shopping -- and the growth in the number of Apple retail stores, NPD said the figures show that Apple has found the right formula for rolling out new versions of Mac operating systems.

Leopard is the sixth version in as many years, a fact the Cupertino, California-based concern is quick to contrast with Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research), which went more than five years between new versions of its Windows operating system.

Microsoft's Windows Vista became broadly available early this year and comes in several versions that cost between $100 and $260, according to the company's Web site.

University of Maryland researchers are using this emerging technology to develop an invisibility cloak

Researchers develop 2-D invisibility cloak

Harry Potter may not have talked much about plasmonics in J. K. Rowling's fantasy series, but University of Maryland researchers are using this emerging technology to develop an invisibility cloak that exists beyond the world of bespectacled teenage wizards.

A research team at Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering comprised of Professor Christopher Davis, Research Scientist Igor Smolyaninov, and graduate student Yu-Ju Hung, has used plasmon technology to create the world's first invisibility cloak for visible light. The engineers have applied the same technology to build a revolutionary superlens microscope that allows scientists to see details of previously undetectable nanoscale objects.

Generally speaking, when we see an object, we see the visible light that strikes the object and is reflected. The Clark School team's invisibility cloak refracts (or bends) the light that strikes it, so that the light moves around and past the cloak, reflecting nothing, leaving the cloak and its contents "invisible."

The invisibility cloak device is a two-dimensional pattern of concentric rings created in a thin, transparent acrylic plastic layer on a gold film. The plastic and gold each have different refractive properties. The structured plastic on gold in different areas of the cloak creates "negative refraction" effects, which bend plasmons—electron waves generated when light strikes a metallic surface under precise circumstances—around the cloaked region.

This manipulation causes the plasmon waves to appear to have moved in a straight line. In reality they have been guided around the cloak much as water in a stream flows around a rock, and released on the other side, concealing the cloak and the object inside from visible light. The invisibility that this phenomenon creates is not absolutely perfect because of energy loss in the gold film.

The team achieved this invisibility under very specialized conditions. The researchers' cloak is just 10 micrometers in diameter; by comparison, a human hair is between 50 to 100 micrometers wide. Also, the cloak uses a limited range of the visible spectrum, in two dimensions. It would be a significant challenge to extend the cloak to three dimensions because researchers would need to control light waves both magnetically and electronically to steer them around the hidden object. The technology initially may work only for small objects of specific controlled shape.

The team also has used plasmonics to develop superlens microscopy technology, which can be integrated into a conventional optical microscope to view nanoscale details of objects that were previously undetectable.

The superlens microscope could one day image living cells, viruses, proteins, DNA molecules, and other samples, operating much like a point-and-shoot camera. This new technology could revolutionize the capability to view nanoscale objects at a crucial stage of their development. The team believes they can improve the resolution of their microscope images down to about 10 nanometers—one ten thousandth of the width of a human hair.

A large reason for the success of the group's innovations in both invisibility and microscopy is that surface plasmons have very short wave lengths, and can therefore move data around using much smaller-scale guiding structures than in existing devices. These small, rapid waves are generated at optical frequencies, and can transport large amounts of data. The group also has made use of the unique properties of metamaterials, artificially structured composites that help control electromagnetic waves in unusual ways using plasmonic phenomena.

The diverse applications the group has derived from their plasmonics research is an example of the ingenuity of researchers approaching new and dynamic technologies that offer broad and unprecedented capabilities. The research has attracted a great deal of attention within the scientific community, industry and government agencies. Related plasmonics research offers applications for military and computer chip technologies, which could benefit from the higher frequencies and rapid data transfer rates that plasmons offer.

Smolyaninov and Davis have published an article in the journal Science about their superlens microscope technology, titled "Magnifying Superlens in the Visible Frequency Range." The group and their colleagues from Purdue University will also soon publish a paper about their invisibility cloak research. A manuscript describing the invisibility cloak is available online at .

Supercomputers offer new explanation

In this supercomputer image, Mark Boslough demonstrates hotpoints of the asteroid fire ball.

Supercomputers offer new explanation of Tunguska disaster

The stunning amount of forest devastation at Tunguska, a century ago in Siberia, may have been caused by an asteroid only a fraction as large as previously published estimates, Sandia supercomputer simulations suggest.
“The asteroid that caused the extensive damage was much smaller than we had thought,” says Sandia principal investigator Mark Boslough of the impact that occurred June 30, 1908. “That such a small object can do this kind of destruction suggests that smaller asteroids are something to consider. Their smaller size indicates such collisions are not as improbable as we had believed.”

Because smaller asteroids approach Earth statistically more frequently than larger ones, he says, “We should be making more efforts at detecting the smaller ones than we have till now.”

The new simulation — which more closely matches the widely known facts of destruction than earlier models — shows that the center of mass of an asteroid exploding above the ground is transported downward at speeds faster than sound. It takes the form of a high-temperature jet of expanding gas called a fireball.

This causes stronger blast waves and thermal radiation pulses at the surface than would be predicted by an explosion from a point-source at the height where the burst was initiated.

“Our understanding was oversimplified,” says Boslough, “We no longer have to make the same relatively primitive assumptions, because more modern supercomputers allow us to do things with high resolution in 3-D. Everything gets clearer as you look at things with more refined tools.”

The new interpretation also accounts for the fact that winds were amplified above ridgelines where trees tended to be blown down, and that the forest at the time of the explosion, according to foresters, was not healthy. Thus previous scientific estimates had overstated the devastation caused by the asteroid, since topographic and ecologic factors contributing to the result had not been taken into account.

“There’s actually less devastation than previously thought,” says Boslough, “but it was caused by a far smaller asteroid. Unfortunately, it’s not a complete wash in terms of the potential hazard, because there are more smaller asteroids than larger ones.”

Boslough and colleagues achieved fame more than a decade ago by accurately predicting that that the fireball caused by the intersection of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter would be observable from Earth.

Simulations show that the material of an incoming asteroid is compressed by the increasing resistance of Earth’s atmosphere. As it penetrates deeper, the more and more resistant atmospheric wall causes it to explode as an airburst that precipitates the downward flow of heated gas.

Because of the additional energy transported toward the surface by the fireball, what scientists had thought to be an explosion between 10 and 20 megatons was more likely only three to five megatons. The physical size of the asteroid, says Boslough, depends upon its speed and whether it is porous or nonporous, icy or waterless, and other material characteristics.

“Any strategy for defense or deflection should take into consideration this revised understanding of the mechanism of explosion,” says Boslough.

One of most prominent papers in estimating frequency of impact was published five years ago in Nature by Sandia researcher Dick Spalding and his colleagues, from satellite data on explosions in atmosphere. “They can count those events and estimate frequencies of arrival through probabilistic arguments,” says Boslough.

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