Short Takes: November 21, 2014

Short Takes: November 21, 2014

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including Azure going down for the count, Intel's celebration of flat PC sales in 2015, an NSA prediction of a "dramatic" cyber-attack against the US in the next decade, Xiaomi's plot to unseat Samsung and Apple, Google settles mobile patent suit with industry group, Android is the new Windows, and GameStop misunderstands why they're doing poorly.

Microsoft Azure experiences major outage

A heavily-tested software update to the Microsoft Azure cloud services resulted in major outages around the world. The irony? The update was designed to improve performance. "During the rollout we discovered an issue that resulted in storage blob front ends going into an infinite loop, which had gone undetected during [testing]," Microsoft's Jason Zander explained. "The net result was an inability for the front ends to take on further traffic, which in turn caused other services built on top to experience issues." According to Microsoft, various Azure services were down for about 11 hours on Wednesday, and though the problem is apparently fixed—i.e. the update was reversed—the Azure Status web site is still reporting some issues. But this outage also impacted Xbox Live on Wednesday. And dammit, Microsoft. That is not OK.

"Apple and Google face more encryption criticisms"

My criticism: Microsoft can't seem to buy its way into this story.

Intel: PC sales will be flat in 2015

And on that note, Intel is getting bullish about the future. The microprocessor giant is predicting growth in calendar year 2015 as the PC market improves and experiences flat year-over-year sales. That wouldn't normally be something to crow about. But after two years of falling sales, the PC market is slowly turning around and leveling off. Yes, we'll take our good news where we can get it.

"Google tests subscription service for ad-free web sites"

Wait, doesn't Google make all of the ads that I see on web sites?

NSA predicts massive cyber-attack in the next decade

And now some bad news. Testifying before a House Intelligence Committee hearing this week, NSA director Michael Rogers said that a massive cyber-attack aimed at disabling the electrical grid or other national infrastructure of the United States was a matter of "when" not "if," and that "something dramatic" would happen in the next decade. China, Russia and "one or two others" are already infiltrating the industrial-control systems of the electrical grid, nuclear power plants, air traffic control and subway systems, he said, and leaving behind computer code that could be used to disable them during a future attack. The worst bit? We're completely unprepared to handle such an attack, he said.

"Comcast to let customers track and rate technicians with new app"

And because they understand their customers, the lowest rating is pre-selected to speed things along.

Xiaomi now says it will one day be the biggest smart phone maker in the world

And speaking of China, Xiaomi CEO and founder Lei Jun said this week that his company would surpass both Samsung and Apple. "I believe that no one thought the Xiaomi from three years ago, which just made its first phone, would later rank as the third largest player," he said. "Within five or 10 years, we have the opportunity to become the number one smartphone company in the world." Xiaomi is controversial for a number of reasons, and the firm explicitly copies Apple to a degree that would be funny if it weren't so culturally bizarre: Jun even copies Steve Jobs' faux turtleneck/jeans look when he speaks on stage, which is both creepy and silly. But here's the thing: Xiaomi will almost certainly achieve this goal. And Jun's statement was bold enough to illicit a response from Apple, which normally tries to appear to be above the fray. "It is easy to say, it is more difficult to do," Apple legal lead Bruce Sewell said. But I bet this company—which Jun calls "a small miracle"—sees great success when it expands to major new markets like the US. Watch out Apple, the Chinese aren't just going after the electrical grid, they're going after you, too.

"Microsoft makes it less attractive for developers to create apps for Windows"

See? You didn't think that was possible.

Google settles patent suit with Microsoft-backed industry group

Google isn't exactly shouting this one to the rooftops, but according to a court filing, the search giant silently and secretly settled a patent infringement lawsuit that was brought down on it by Rockstar, an industry consortium that includes members such as Microsoft, Apple, and Blackberry. The terms of the deal are secret, but since the Rockstar patents are all mobile industry-based, it's fair to suggest that Google has basically started paying for all the intellectual property it stole when it created the Android mobile OS. The only question is how much it paid.

"Washington Post's new Kindle Fire app has Jeff Bezos written all over it"


It's official: Android really is the new Windows

Security researchers this week have identified a new version of the NotCompatible malware as the culmination of two years of fears: This malware has successfully infected over 50 million mobile devices running Android, they say, and 4 million in the United States alone. It works much like PC malware: The unsuspecting user visits an infected web site and inadvertently downloads the malicious code to their device in what's called a "drive-by." And then the device becomes part of a botnet, or what we used to call a "zombie" when only PCs were susceptible to such attacks, and can be used by hackers to send out spam, bulk-buy tickets from Ticketmaster and other event services, and perform other dastardly schemes. The worst part, of course, is that the device owners are often racking up spurious data charges, too, so it's a win-win. Or something.

"What it's like living on a Chromebook, Part 2"

A lot like living on food stamps, I'd imagine.

GameStop blames delayed game release on terrible quarter

Not sure why I find this one so peculiar, but the video game retailer GameStop is blaming its terrible third quarter on the two week delay of a game, "Assassin's Creed: Unity," from October 28 until November 11. Here's the thing. October 28 is three days before the end of the quarter in question, and I find it a bit hard to believe that this one game had that much impact. As it turns out, however, there were other issues: Video game software sales, overall, were down 42 percent year-over-year, and new titles like "Destiny" and "The Evil Within," both launched in October, just aren't doing that well. Maybe "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" and "Halo: The Master Chief Collection" will pick up the slack this quarter. Or maybe retail video game sales are just a thing from the past. And let's be fair: "Unity" is buggy enough as it is. Imagine how awful it was two weeks earlier.

"Will Apple's Next iPhone Capture DSLR Quality with 2 Lenses?"

If you don't know, why should I read this article?

Buy the books!

I'm trying to change the book publishing model, and would appreciate your support: Windows 8.1 Field Guide is available directly from me for only $2 in PDF, MOBI and EPUB formats. And it is now available on Amazon Kindle for $4.99 too. I also have other free and inexpensive e-books available too, including Windows Phone 8 Field Guide (free from that site, or available from both Kindle and Nook too) and the in-progress Microsoft Band Field Guide (free), Surface Pro 3 Field Guide, Windows Phone 8.1 Field Guide and Xbox Music Field Guide (free). Coming soon: Windows 10 Field Guide.

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