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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Yahoo says it expects to roughly double operating cash flow over the next three years

Yahoo touts its three-year plan
Online portal expects to double cash flow, generate $8.8B in revenue; says plan reinforces board's view that software giant's takeover bid is too low.
Yahoo says it expects to roughly double operating cash flow over the next three years and generate $8.8 billion in revenue after costs in 2010.

Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) says its three-year financial plan support the board's determination that Microsoft's (MSFT, Fortune 500) Jan. 31 takeover bid undervalues the company.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo Inc. continues to expect first-quarter revenue of $1.28 billion and $1.38 billion and full-year revenue of $5.35 billion to $5.95 billion.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expect revenue of $1.32 billion in the first quarter and $5.65 billion for the year.

Yahoo says its board continues to evaluate all of its strategic alternatives.

Microsoft releases Windows Vista SP1 which improves reliability, security and performance

Microsoft Windows Vista SP1 is available through Windows Update service and retailers. The Service Pack 1 is free to download beginning Tuesday.

Online retailer Amazon is also taking pre-orders for boxed copies of Windows Vista Service Pack 1, which it said it will start shipping Wednesday.

The software giant previously announced plans to post SP1 to its Windows Update site and to its download center in mid-March, then push out the upgrades in mid-April to computer users who have set their PCs to receive automatic updates.

Vista SP1 improves Vista's reliability, security and performance. Some early testers of the service pack have noticed improvement in performance when copying files over a network and playing video games that weren't designed for Vista.

Windows Vista SP1 Available Now
After considerable rumor and speculation, numerous false starts, and not a small amount of frustration on the part of consumers, Microsoft has released Windows Vista Service Pack 1 into the wild.

The bundle of updates, which includes all updates released for the OS since its debut in February 2007, is now available for download via Microsoft's Windows Update service.

The easiest way to get your hands on Vista SP1 is to sit back, relax, and let Microsoft Update grab it for you. However, if you can't wait, you can get the standalone update in a 32-bit version or a 64-bit version.

Mixed Results

PC World's in-house tests with the release-to-manufacturing (RTM) version of Vista SP1 have shown mixed results. In file copying tests, the service pack proved noticeably faster than the original Vista OS. Other tests, on the other hand, showed little improvement (or actually performed worse than Vista without the service pack). For instance, our preliminary file compression tests showed a decrease in performance with SP1 installed.

Overall, we found Microsoft's claims of dramatic performance enhancements to be somewhat overstated. PC World continues to evaluate the performance impact of Vista SP1, and more test results will be forthcoming.

Microsoft promises performance and power consumption improvements in many aspects of the Vista user experience, including better performance while browsing network file shares, improved power consumption, faster loading of large images, and faster searches.

In addition to intended performance improvements, Service Pack 1 comes with a number of low-level enhancements such as support for the Extensible Firmware Interface and Extended File Allocation Table. It also includes improved compatibility with some hardware and software. Many users will be pleased to find that SP1 also removes the reduced functionality mode that disables computers which have not been activated through Microsoft.

Who Needs Vista SP1?
Third-party software companies will have mixed reactions to SP1. While it will open up access to the built-in search functionality for third-party desktop search apps, it has already raised problems for some third-party security software vendors whose utilities have been disrupted by the update.

On the security front, the service pack enables single sign-on for authenticated wired networks, which should streamline the end user experience in enterprise environments, in addition to many other updates.

While most users are likely to find Vista SP1 benign (if not beneficial), some organizations--such as large corporate IT departments--may wish to wait a while before deploying this software update. To do so, administrators should download the Windows Service Pack Blocker Tool, which will prevent the service pack from being installed. This tool creates a registry key entry that can be later removed by the administrator, and can be run remotely across a network.


Windows Vista SP1 is available for download
After a lot of talking about the deployment of the first Service Pack for Windows Vista, the company has finally released it to the general public.

The update is available through Windows Update in the traditional fashion, but it's also available as a standalone download at Microsoft's Download Centre for those that don't want to have to download it every time they reinstall Vista.

The standalone download for 32-bit systems weighs in at 434.5MB, while the 64-bit version is much bigger at 726.5MB.

For now, the update is only available to users of English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish – other languages are expected to follow shortly. However, Microsoft hasn't detailed the rollout for language support in other localities yet.

For those wondering what has changed in Windows Vista Service Pack 1, there is a 17-page change log, which outlines the fine details of the new build.

The improvements include support for the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) on 64-bit versions of the OS, DirectX 10.1, and exFAT – a new file system supporting larger overall capacity and larger files, which will be used in Flash memory storage and consumer devices. There are many more improvements and fixes, but I'll save you from a massive list and let you go and read them if you're especially interested.

We'll be rolling the update out across our test systems over the coming days and weeks – we'll bring you a comparative performance article while we're at it too. In the meantime though, you can discuss your experiences with the update in the forums.

Scientists have detected water vapor in the spinning disks that surround two newly formed stars, where planets are born.

Water vapor hints at planet formation
Molecules detected in spinning disks that surround two newly formed stars

Scientists have detected water vapor in the spinning disks that surround two newly formed stars, where planets are born.

A team of researchers spotted the water molecules in disks of dust and gas around DR Tau and AS 205A, which are around 457 light-years and 391 light-years, respectively, away from Earth.

The spinning disks of particles may eventually coalesce to form planets.

The discovery, set for publication in the March 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters, brings scientists one step closer to understanding water's role in Earth-like planet formation.

"This is one of the very few times that water vapor has been detected in the inner part of a protoplanetary disk – the most likely place for terrestrial planets to form," said lead researcher Colette Salyk, a graduate student in geological and planetary sciences at Caltech.

Water detection
Salyk and her colleagues analyzed light-emission data captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, finding spikes of brightness at certain wavelengths known to signal the presence of water vapor. "Only Spitzer is capable of observing these particular lines in a large number of disks because it operates above Earth's obscuring water-vapor-rich atmosphere," Salyk said.

Using this data along with more detailed information collected with instruments on the Keck II Telescope in Hawaii, the team estimated the speed and location of the water vapor molecules. "They were moving at fast speeds," Salyk said, "indicating that they came from close to the stars, which is where Earth-like planets might be forming."

As to how much water, the researchers have detected only a small amount so far, they say.

"While we don't detect nearly as much water as exists in the oceans on Earth, we see only a very small part of the disk — essentially only its surface — so the implication is that the water is quite abundant," said co-researcher Geoffrey Blake, professor of cosmochemistry and planetary sciences at Caltech.

Forming planets
The water-vapor findings could indicate that planets are forming around the stars.

For instance, Jupiter formed in our solar system as its gravitational field trapped icy solids spinning in the outer part of the sun's planetary disk. Before Jupiter gained much mass, these same icy solids could have traveled toward the star and evaporated to produce water vapor such as that seen around DR Tau and AS 205A.

The researchers have not detected icy solids around the recently studied stars. "Our observations are possible evidence for the migration of solids in the disk," Salyk said. "This is an important prediction of planet-forming models."

These initial observations portend more to come. "We were surprised at how easy it is to find water in planet-forming disks once we had learned where to look," said study team member Klaus Pontoppidan, a Caltech postdoctoral scholar and planetary scientist. "It will take years of work to understand the details of what we see."


Water detected in alien planet's atmosphere
Crucial element for life can exist around planets orbiting other stars

Astronomers have detected water in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system for the first time.

The finding, to be detailed in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal, confirms previous theories that say water vapor should be present in the atmospheres of nearly all the known extrasolar planets. Even hot Jupiters, gaseous planets that orbit closer to their stars than Mercury to our Sun, are thought to have water.

The discovery, announced today, means one of the most crucial elements for life as we know it can exist around planets orbiting other stars.
“We know that water vapor exists in the atmospheres of one extrasolar planet and there is good reason to believe that other extrasolar planets contain water vapor,” said Travis Barman, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona who made the discovery.

HD209458b is a world well-known among planet hunters. In 1999, it became the first planet to be directly observed around a normal star outside our solar system and, a few years later, was the first exoplanet confirmed to have oxygen and carbon in its atmosphere.

HD209458b is separated from its star by only about 4 million miles (7 million kilometers)—about 100 times closer than Jupiter is to our sun—and is so hot scientists think about it is losing about 10,000 tons of material every second as vented gas.

"Water actually survives over a broad range of temperatures," Barman explained. "It would need to get quite a bit hotter to completely break the water molecules apart."

Using a combination of previously published Hubble Space Telescope measurements and new theoretical models, Barman found strong evidence for water absorption in the atmosphere of the extrasolar planet HD209458b.

Barman took advantage of the fact that HD209458b is a so-called “transiting planet,” meaning it passes directly in front of its star as seen from Earth. It transits every three-and-a-half days.

When this happens, water vapor in the planet’s atmosphere causes the planet to appear slightly larger in the infrared part of the starlight than in the visible portion.

Barman found the water signature after applying new theoretical models he developed to visible and infrared Hubble data collected by Harvard student Heather Knutson last year, which measured the perceived size of the planet over a broad range of wavelengths.

I simulated the passage of starlight through the atmosphere of the planet, and was able to reproduce the variation that they saw," Barman told "And since I know exactly what physics and chemistry went into my simulation, I know precisely what caused those variations, and I can attribute those variations to water" or other molecules.

Barman said his discovery would not have been possible without the observations made by the Harvard team. "This is an example of theoretical modeling and observations coming together to help identify something new and interesting about this planet," he said.

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