MediaFile

Tech wrap: Microsoft reaches for the cloud

Everyone seems to be gabbing about the “cloud” these days. Whether it’s Apple’s much-hyped iCloud service or the Amazon Cloud, the now-popular euphemism for web-based software services has become one of the tech world’s biggest buzz words. Microsoft joined in on the action today by unveiling a revamped web-based version of its popular Office suite of business software. But Microsoft’s main target here is not Apple or Amazon, but Google, which has stolen some of the software maker’s corporate customers in recent years with cheap, web-only alternatives.

With Office 365, customers will be able to access familiar applications such as Outlook email, Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint collaboration tools beyond the desktop on a variety of different devices wherever there is an Internet connection. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer touted the service’s online format and built-in conferencing tools as especially good for small and medium-sized businesses looking to save money. Microsoft has offered online versions of some of Outlook and some other applications to corporate clients for years, but increased competition seems to have spurred Microsoft’s latest push into the cloud.

Google is praised for doing many things right, but social networking is not widely regarded as one of them. Co-founder and CEO Larry Page, who took over the helm from now-Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt in April, has made it clear that he hopes to change that. The Web giant trotted out its latest and most extensive foray into social networking with Google+, a new social service that aims to compete with Facebook by bundling together all of its its online properties into one platform. Google+ is an attempt to move past former flops such as Google Wave and Google Buzz.

The site, which is now available for testing to a select group of Google users, has already elicited comparisons to Facebook in that it lets people share and comment on photos and links and update their status. So, what sets it apart from Facebook? “For us, privacy isn’t buried six panels deep,” Google VP of Product Management Bradley Horowitz told Reuters, without specifically referring to Facebook.

In other social tech news, online gaming company Zynga is planning on raising up to $2 billion in an initial public offering and could file paperwork to get the process underway as soon as Wednesday, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Tuesday. Zynga, which is behind popular Facebook games such as FarmVille and Mafia Wars, would be the latest in a string of social media companies to go public in recent months as equity markets have rebounded.

Tech wrap: New iPhone seen in time for school

Apple plans to launch a new iPhone with a faster chip for data processing and a more advanced camera in September, Bloomberg said. The new iPhone will include the A5 processor along with an 8-megapixel camera, the report said, quoting two people familiar with the plans. Apple is also testing a new version of the iPad that has a higher resolution screen, the report said, adding a cheaper version of the iPhone aimed at developing countries is also in the works.

A U.S. judge rejected Samsung’s request for a peek at Apple’s unreleased iPhone and iPad, brought in the course of high-stakes patent litigation between the two companies. Apple sued Samsung in April, claiming Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets infringe several patents and trademarks. Samsung counter-sued, asserting its own patents against Apple. In the ruling, the judge said Apple’s legal claims are only based on its products that have already hit the market.

A senior Chinese official said there is no cyber warfare taking place between China and the United States. The two countries might suffer from cyber attacks, but they were in no way directed by either government, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said.

Tech wrap: LinkedIn shares skyrocket in debut

LinkedIn made its remarkable debut on the New York Stock Exchange, at times trading more than 171 percent above its IPO price of $45. The stampede to buy the stock had some remembering back to another time when investors also loved tech stock IPOs: the 1990s and the dotcom bubble.

Does the response to LinkedIn suggest investors are in for another bubble that bursts when the fundamentals overtake the hype? Or is it a sign that investors are hungry for any piece of the social media pie and LinkedIn’s happens to be first out of the oven? While Facebook, Groupon, Twitter and Zynga are still expected to go public, LinkedIn Chief Executive Jeff Weiner cautions that his company’s spectacular debut should not be seen as a proxy for them.

While American social media companies are testing the IPO waters, their European counterparts at Viadao, Mind Candy, Sulake and Telmap are expressing skepticism at the Reuters Global Technology Summit about the sky-high valuations of U.S. start-ups and the potential for another bubble.

Tech wrap: Sony CEO says sorry to gamers

Sony CEO Howard Stringer broke his silence on the biggest Internet security break-in ever, apologizing to users of the PlayStation Network and other online services. Stringer did not specify when services would resume.

One analyst said security concerns could weigh on sales of Sony’s gadgets and hurt growth prospects for its network services. “The network business itself still only makes a small direct contribution to earnings, but we see a potential drop in hardware sales as a concern,” analyst Kota Ezawa at Citigroup Global Markets Japan, wrote in a note ahead of the comments from Stringer.

But Peter Walshe at brands research agency Millward Brown said the main Sony brand should bounce back, although PlayStation specifically might suffer. “People may shout: ‘I’m never going to buy Sony again,’ but in our experience that doesn’t tend to happen.”

Tech wrap: Facebook, Google mull Skype tie-ups

Facebook and Google are separately considering a tie-up with Skype after the Web video conferencing service delayed its initial public offering, two sources with direct knowledge of the discussions told Reuters. A Skype deal could be valued at $3 billion to $4 billion, the first source said.  The discussions are in early stages, and it is not clear which option the companies favor, the first two sources said.

The Internet vigilante group Anonymous denied responsibility for a cyber-attack on Sony’s networks that exposed the personal data of more than 100 million video gamers. “Let’s be clear, we are legion, but it wasn’t us. You are incompetent Sony,” the group Anonymous said on its blog on Thursday.

Sony said the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, the first PlayStation phone, is not affected by the massive data breach of PlayStation user accounts.

Tech wrap: RIM shares dive ahead of BlackBerry World

RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook is seen in a handout photo. REUTERS/RIM/Handout

Research in Motion shares tanked to their lowest level since October after the BlackBerry maker slashed its sales and earnings forecasts Thursday, an unexpected blow that followed an anemic forecast in late March and last week’s troubled launch of its PlayBook tablet. “We’ve heard for too long about RIM’s great product roadmap. Consumers are not listening nor waiting,” National Bank analysts said in a note. “RIM does not even seem to have dual cameras on its upcoming BlackBerry product line-up. The last time we checked, video is the future.” All hope seems to rest on what the Canadian company pulls out of its labs and onto center stage at BlackBerry World, starting Monday, where the company will unveil a new generation of touchscreen BlackBerrys.

Microsoft shares fell their most in almost two years, a day after reporting a dip in Windows sales. Investors were concerned with lower personal computer sales nagging at Windows, Xbox sales bringing down profit margins and losses in Microsoft’s online business.

Strong demand for smartphones gave a further boost to overall cellphone market volumes in January-March and made Apple a rare winner on the market, research firms said. IDC saw January-March market growth of 20 percent, helped also by strong gains by smaller vendors as the three largest phone makers — Nokia, Samsung and LG — lost market share. Apple’s iPhone sales more than doubled from a year ago, buoyed by strong sales on Verizon Wireless and additional carrier deals elsewhere, with market share rising to 5 percent.

Tech wrap: Sony admits PlayStation Network privacy breach

A visitor plays with a Playstation at an exhibition stand at the Gamescom 2009 fair in Cologne in this August 22, 2009 file photo. Reuters/Ina Fassbender

An unauthorized person stole names, addresses and other personal data belonging to about 77 million people who have accounts on Sony’s PlayStation Network, Sony said. The person gained access to people’s names, addresses, email address, birthdates, usernames, passwords, logins, security questions and more, Sony said on its U.S. PlayStation blog.

Amazon.com’s quarterly sales beat expectations but earnings fell steeply as it spent heavily on everything from online multimedia services to its Kindle e-reader. Net income for the world’s largest online retailer was $201 million, down 32.8 percent from $299 million, a year earlier. Revenue was $9.86 billion. “This is another investment year…It’s probably not going to be until Q4 that we see some leverage from that,” Lazard Capital Markets’ Colin Sebastian said.

Tech wrap: Apple beats Google to the music cloud

Storm clouds gather over Hanoi's skyline September 21, 2009. REUTERS/KhamApple has completed work on an online music storage service and is set to launch it ahead of Google, whose own music efforts have stalled, according to several people familiar with both companies’ plans. The sources revealed that Apple’s plans will allow iTunes customers to store their songs on a remote server, and then access them from wherever they have an Internet connection and that Apple has yet to sign any new licenses for the service and major music labels are hoping to secure deals before the service is launched. Amazon.com launched a music locker service earlier in April without new licensing agreements leading to threats of legal action from some music companies.

Verizon gained wireless subscribers with Apple’s iPhone, but the device’s affect on its financials failed to impress investors. Verizon Wireless posted 906,000 net new subscribers, roughly in line with expectations. That was much better than AT&T, which added only 62,000 net subscribers in the quarter as it lost iPhone exclusivity. However, a key sticking point for investors when comparing the two operators was the fact that AT&T won more new iPhone customers in the quarter than Verizon. Verizon announced that it would sell a new version of the iPhone later this year that, unlike its current iPhone, would work globally.

The risky attempt by The New York Times to charge fees to website readers looks to be paying off, although it still faces stiff challenges in turning around a fall-off in print advertising revenue at its core business. The company gained more than 100,000 new subscribers since it introduced its digital subscription service on March 28, representing at least an estimated $26 million in annual revenue and trouncing early expectations for the service.

Tech wrap: Apple raises the earnings bar

A shop assistant in Sydney gestures in front of an advertising sign moments before Apple's iPad 2 became available for direct purchase in Australia March 25, 2011.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne Apple reported quarterly revenue of $24.67 billion on strong iPhone and Mac sales, racing past Wall Street estimates. In the quarter, the company sold 18.65 million iPhones and 3.76 million Macintosh computers. Analysts expected 16.3 million and 3.64 million, respectively. Sales of iPads and iPods fell short. The number of iPads sold was 4.69 million, shy of the 6.3 million expected. Sales of iPods were 9 million, versus expectations of 9.85 million.

Analysts said that the weaker-than-expected iPad sales will not detract from strong long-term demand. “We can attribute some of the weakness to stocking issues at some of the retail outlets and obviously the supply chain issue in Japan,” said Capital Advisors Growth Fund’s Channing Smith.

The next-generation iPhone will have a faster processor, look largely like the iPhone 4 and will begin shipping in September, three people with direct knowledge of the company’s supply chain said.

Tech wrap: Amazon’s storm cloud

People sit in Washington Square Park at New York University in New York, October 21, 2009.Amazon.com faced a backlash from the music industry after it introduced Cloud Drive, an online “music locker” that lets customers store music files on the company’s Web servers instead of their own hard drives and play them over an Internet connection directly from browsers and on phones running Google’s Android OS. Sony Music was upset by Amazon’s decision to launch the service without new licenses for music streaming.

Amazon’s Cloud Drive “is an amazing value and pretty easy to use”, but won’t kill rival Dropbox just yet, Business Insider’s Steve Kooch wrote. The Wall Street Journal’s Peter Kafka thinks Amazon’s cloud move isn’t earth shattering and “if you’re a music lover looking for a paradigm shift in the way you consume tunes, this won’t be it”.

Mozilla released its Firefox 4 Internet browser for Android phones, which allows desktop users to synchronize their history, bookmarks, tabs and passwords, according to Mozilla.