MediaFile

Tech wrap: Want a Google+ invite? You may have to wait

Social media junkies pining for an invite to try out Google+ will have to wait a little bit longer. Google decided to temporarily stop inviting users to join its new social network less than two days after it launched the service. What gives? “Insane demand. We want to do this carefully, and in a controlled way,” a Google engineering executive said in a Google+ post on Wednesday night. A company spokeswoman contacted by Reuters declined to say whether the company had resumed invites on Thursday.

Reviews of Google+ are starting to filter in from those who’ve been lucky enough to get an invite. The general consensus seems to be that it’s a lot like Facebook and that it is an improvement over Google’s past social media efforts, Buzz and Wave.  ZDNet rounds up five things it loves about the new service. The Guardian pans the desktop version, but gives the mobile platform a thumbs up. PCWorld says it’s no Facebook. Wired calls its approach to privacy a “pretty good start”. And CNN explores one of its most distinctive features: video conferencing.

Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters on Thursday his company is planning to unveil an “awesome” new feature next week.  Details were scant, but tech blogs have speculated in recent weeks about new mobile products in development at Facebook. Could it be the long-awaited iPad app? Or a dedicated photo-sharing app? Or, as tech blog GigaOm founder Om Malik joked on Twitter, is it just an attempt by Zuckerberg to divert attention away from Google+?

Big-name private equity firms have been scouring tech powerhouse Hewlett-Packard for cracks in the hopes they’ll get to scoop up some of its assets, arguing the world’s No.1 PC maker is stretched too thin, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters correspondents Nadia Damouni and Poornima Gupta.

Skype, the Internet video calling service recently bought by Microsoft for a hefty $8.5 billion, rolled out service to users of Android phones on Thursday. The service will let Android users make free video calls to Skype contacts, including those on Apple iPhones.

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.

Tech wrap: LulzSec hackers seek greener pastures

The LulzSec group of rogue hackers threatened to steal classified information from governments, banks and other high-ranking establishments, teaming up with the Anonymous hacker activist group to cause more serious trouble in an escalation of their cyber attacks.

LulzSec had said last Friday that it hacks to have fun and to warn people that personal information is not safe in the hands of Internet companies. But two days later, Lulz said its top priority was to leak “classified government information, including email spools and documentation.”

The FBI said it is working to bulk up its cyber division as hackers focus on higher-profile targets, but is at the mercy of a Congress struggling to cut the massive budget deficit.

Nokia’s N9 is Windows phone preview

The walking dead never looked so good.

Yes, Nokia promised to release a phone this year based on the MeeGo OS, a merger between the company’s Linux Maemo software platform with Intel’s Moblin, also based on Linux. But the soon-to-be former No.1 handset maker later announced that it would be their last, relegating MeeGo and Nokia’s other OS, Symbian, to zombie status.

Would-be smartphone buyers don’t fancy buying into an apps ecosystem with no potential for growth. And Nokia’s announcement that it would abandon its Symbian OS platform in favor of Microsoft’s Windows phone software should have been a lesson. Yet, Nokia still has plans to release Symbian-based models while it loses ground in key markets like China as smartphones become cheaper and alternatives proliferate.

Never mind that the N9 is as good looking as they come. Made from a single piece of polycarbonate plastic, it won’t leave unsightly marks if the body is dented. And the 3.9″ curved screen won’t easily scratch since it’s made from Corning’s ultra-tough Gorilla Glass. Wired’s Charlie Sorrel compares the N9’s aesthetics to “a giant iPod Nano, in a very good way.

Tech wrap: Government bringing knife to cyber gun fight?

A recent wave of computer network attacks has boosted concerns about U.S. vulnerability to digital warfare. The Obama administration is racing on multiple fronts to plug the holes in the U.S. cyber defense, focusing on an expanded effort to safeguard its contractors from hackers and building a virtual firing range in cyberspace to test new technologies.

However, the overall gap appears to be widening, as adversaries and criminals move faster than the government and corporations can respond, officials and analysts say.

Microsoft has made available a Windows 7-compatible test version of the software behind its hit Kinect motion-sensing game device, in the hope that developers will invent a host of “hands-free” features for standard PCs.

Tech wrap: Spain makes Sony attack arrests

Spanish police arrested three men suspected to be members of the hacker group Anonymous, charging them with organizing cyber attacks against the websites of Sony, Spanish banks BBVA and Bankia, and Italian energy group Enel SpA– but not the recent massive hacking of PlayStation gamers. Anonymous responded by threatening to retaliate for the arrests: “We are Legion, so EXPECT US,” the group said on its official Twitter feed.

EU countries agreed on tougher sanctions against people conducting cyber attacks. Under the new rules, which have to be agreed by the European Parliament, hackers would face a sentence of at least five years if found guilty of causing serious damage to IT systems.

Nokia was expected to report a loss for this quarter and next as it cuts prices to try to prevent more customers defecting to rivals’ smartphones, a Reuters poll found. Analysts also forecast a meager profit in the normally buoyant fourth quarter, as the once-undisputed leader in mobile phones loses the initiative to smartphones like Apple’s iPhone and devices based on Google’s Android software.

Tech wrap: Myspace sale saga nears end

An investor group involving Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick is in final talks to take a controlling stake in News Corp’s social network site Myspace, according to a source familiar with the matter. Kotick’s involvement is personal and nothing to do with Activision at this stage, the source said.

News Corp, which paid $580 million for Myspace in 2005, had hoped to do a deal valuing Myspace at about $100 million, but sources said it was unlikely to achieve that target.

Major U.S. banks came under growing pressure from banking regulators to improve the security of customer account information after Citigroup became the latest high-profile victim of a large-scale cyber attack. While Citigroup insisted the breach had been limited, experts called it the largest direct attack on a major U.S. financial institution, and forecast it could drive momentum for a systemic overhaul of the banking industry’s data security measures.

Tech wrap: Steve Jobs pitches Apple’s iCloud

Apple CEO Steve Jobs emerged from medical leave to launch an Internet-based service for consumers called the iCloud, which lets users play their music and get access to their data from any Apple device. Jobs walked briskly onstage after James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” blasted over the sound system, but shared the spotlight with other Apple execs who showcased Apple’s enhancements to its PC operating system and mobile platform.

Jobs laid out his vision for the iCloud with the elminiation of MobileMe, a subscription-based collection of online services and software. Jobs said the iCloud will allow people to share book purchases, music and data in general, such as calendar items, across different devices, while backing up and updating information regularly.

Among the new features for Apple’s OS X Lion operating software were an improved email infrastructure and multi-touch features. Early impressions by experts watching the presentations were favorable.

Activision’s brainy toys take over

At E3, the huge video game trade show that kicks off in LA on Tuesday, the main attention usually falls on first-person shooter titles aimed at teens or young male gamers. Games targeted at children can easily get lost under the bright lights.

Activision Blizzard, known for “Call of Duty” and ”World of Warcraft” is trying to change this by backing its new kids game, “Skylanders” with a hefty marketing push at E3.

“It’s getting the full triple-A treatment,” said Laird Malamed, a senior vice president of development at Activision.

Tech wrap: Google reveals Gmail hacking

Google revealed that unknown hackers likely originating from central China tried to hack into the Gmail accounts of hundreds of users, including senior U.S. government officials, Chinese activists and journalists. Google said on its official blog that the hackers, who appeared to originate from Jinan, China, recently tried to crack and monitor email accounts by stealing passwords, but Google detected and “disrupted” the campaign.

More than 80 percent of the companies that advertise on Twitter renew their marketing efforts on the microblogging service, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said. The company counts roughly 600 advertisers, up from 150 advertisers at the end of 2010. And while Twitter has stepped up efforts to build an advertising business, Costolo said Twitter was not under pressure to boost revenue and that the Internet company’s long-term success was not “correlated” to an initial public offering of Twitter’s stock.

Analysts predicted more gloom ahead for Nokia and the struggling phone maker was forced to deny talk it would sell its core business to Microsoft. The company’s stock fell as much as 10 percent but recovered in late trading, sparked by a website report that said its software partner Microsoft would buy out its phones business for $19 billion. Nokia called the report “100 percent baseless.” Microsoft declined to comment.