Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oracle Taps Mark Hurd; Shares Higher

Oracle(ORCL) named former Hewlett-Packard (HP) CEO Mark Hurd as co-president, a month after Hurd quit HP because of a sexual harassment investigation.

In premarket trading Tuesday, Oracle shares were trading at $23.24 after closing Friday at $22.92. There was no premarket activity for HP shares.
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison came to Hurd's defense when the sexual harassment allegations first surfaced. In a press release Monday, he continued his praise for Hurd.
"Mark did a brilliant job at HP and I expect he'll do even better at Oracle," Ellison said in a statement. "There is no executive in the IT world with more relevant experience than Mark. Oracle's future is engineering complete and integrated hardware and software systems for the enterprise. Mark pioneered the integration of hardware with software when Teradata was a part of NCR."
Hurd will serve as a member of Oracle's board and will report to Ellison.
Oracle also said Charles Phillips, who had been with the company for seven years, resigned his position as co-president. Safra Catz is staying at Oracle as a co-president.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Windows DLL load hijacking exploits go wild

Less than 24 hours after Microsoft said it couldn't patch Windows to fix a systemic problem, attack code appeared Tuesday to exploit the company's software.

Also on Tuesday, a security firm that's been researching the issue for the last nine months said 41 of Microsoft's own programs can be remotely exploited using DLL load hijacking, and named two of them.
On Monday, Microsoft confirmed reports of unpatched -- or zero-day -- vulnerabilities in a large number of Windows programs, then published a tool it said would block known attacks. At the same time, the company said it would not patch Windows because doing so would cripple existing applications.
Microsoft also declined to say whether any of its own applications contain bugs that attackers could exploit, saying only that it is investigating.
Many Windows applications don't call code libraries -- dubbed "dynamic-link library," or "DLL" -- using the full pathname, but instead use only the filename, giving hackers wiggle room that they can then exploit by tricking the application into loading a malicious file with the same name as a required DLL.
If attackers can dupe users into visiting malicious Web sites or remote shares, or get them to plug in a USB drive -- and in some cases con them into opening a file -- they can hijack the PC and plant malware on the machine.
By Tuesday, at least four exploits of what some call "binary planting" attacks, others dub "DLL load hijacking" attacks, had been published to a well-known hacker site. Two of the exploits targeted Microsoft-made software, including PowerPoint 2010, the presentation maker in Office 2010, and Windows Live Mail, a free e-mail client bundled with Vista but available as a free download for Windows 7 customers.
Other exploits aimed at leveraging DLL load hijacking bugs in uTorrent and Wireshark, a BitTorrent client and network protocol analyzer, respectively.
At the same time, a Slovenian security company claimed that it reported bugs in two Microsoft-made programs last March.
"We're going to publish a list of the vulnerable apps we found sometime soon," said Mitja Kolsek, the CEO of Acros Security. "However, since HD Moore's toolkit is already being used for finding vulnerable apps and at this point hundreds of good and bad guys already know about it, I can say that the two we fully-disclosed to Microsoft were in Windows Address Book/Windows Contacts and Windows Program Manager Group Converter.
HD Moore is the American researcher who kicked off a small wave of DLL load hijacking reports last week when announced he had found 40 vulnerable Windows applications . On Monday, Moore published an auditing tool that others can use to detect vulnerable software. When combined with an exploit added that same day to Metasploit, the open-source hacking toolkit that Moore authored, the tool's results produce what he called a "point-and-shoot" attack .
All four of the exploits that went public Tuesday appear to be based on Moore's Metasploit attack code.
Although the Windows Address Book -- renamed Windows Contacts with the launch of Vista in 2007 -- may be familiar to users, Program Manager Group Converter is probably not, Kolsek admitted. But both can be exploited.
"They're part of every Windows installation and are associated with certain file extensions, allowing for 'double-click-bang' remote attacks," Kolsek said. "To increase the likelihood of success, an attacker can create a shortcut with a PDF or Word document icon pointing to such files, which otherwise have different, less familiar icons."
Contrary to Kolsek's claim, Program Manager Group Converter, a holdover from pre-Windows 95 days, is included with Windows XP, but not with Vista or Windows 7.
Altogether, Acros uncovered 121 remote execution vulnerabilities in 41 different Microsoft applications, but reported details of only the pair in Address Book/Contacts and Program Manager Group Converter. The rest were left for Microsoft's own researchers to find, said Kolsek.
Like a number of other companies, notably the French firm Vupen Security, Acros has decided that it will no longer report its vulnerability discoveries to vendors without compensation. "We've been giving them away for 10 years now," said Kolsek, "and it wasn't doing anything for us."
In a long post to a new Acros blog , Kolsek added that there was no bad blood between his company and Microsoft over the former's refusal to identify 119 bugs in the latter's products. "It was a mere incompatibility of business interests," he said.
Wireshark's lead developer, Gerald Combs, said today that a fix for the DLL load hijacking bug would be released in the next few days. Microsoft and BitTorrent, the firm responsible for uTorrent, did not reply to requests for comment about their patching plans.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .
Read more about security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Open source Qbo bot makes the jump to ROS, the open source robot OS

While the Willow Garage-initiated ROS is designed to consolidate and accelerate robotics innovation for the long term, it's still a long ways from powering your robotic butler / life coach / best friend, so it's exciting to see it put to use in the here and now. The folks at Thecorpora, responsible for the Qbo open source robot project, have been busy converting Qbo's original Java API into ROS, and just announced they're at 99.9 percent completion of that task.

That means the Qbo gets instant access to some of the fun development going on in ROS, like stacking all its cameras and ultrasonic sensors into a system for machine vision, or controlling the bot with a Wiimote or a PS3 controller. (There's a video after the break of the Wiimote in action). Don't think Qbo will be powerful enough for you? Willow Garage just announced that it's about to put its own ROS-powered PR2 bot on sale soon, after a few months of its (highly successful) PR2 Beta Program.

How to create a 'super password'

The 12-character era of online security is upon us, according to a report published this week by the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The researchers used clusters of graphics cards to crack eight-character passwords in less than two hours.
But when the researchers applied that same processing power to 12-character passwords, they found it would take 17,134 years to make them snap.
"The length of your password in some cases can dictate the vulnerability," said Joshua Davis, a research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.
It's hard to say what will happen in the future, but for now, 12-character passwords should be the standard, said Richard Boyd, a senior research scientist who also worked on the project.
The researchers recommend 12-character passwords -- as opposed to those with 11 or, say, 13 characters -- because that number strikes a balance between "convenience and security."
They assumed a sophisticated hacker might be able to try 1 trillion password combinations per second. In that scenario, it takes 180 years to crack an 11-character password, but there's a big jump when you add just one more character -- 17,134 years.
Passwords have gotten longer over time, and security experts are already recommending that people use full sentences as passwords.
Here's one suggested password-sentence from Carnegie Mellon University:
"No, the capital of Wisconsin isn't Cheeseopolis!"
Or maybe something that's easier to remember, like this:
"I have two kids: Jack and Jill."
Even though advances in cheap computing power are making long, complicated passwords a necessity, not all websites will accommodate them, Boyd said.
It's best to use the longest and most complex password a site will allow, he said. For example, if a website will let you create a password with non-letter characters -- like "@y;}v%W$\5\" -- then you should do so.
There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, but there are 95 letters and symbols on a standard keyboard. More characters means more permutations, and it soon becomes more difficult for a computer to generate the correct password just by guessing.
Some websites allow for super-long passwords. The longest one Boyd has seen is at Fidelity.com, a financial site that lets users create 32-character passwords.
On a Microsoft website devoted to password security, the tech giant tells the password-creating public not to use real words or logical combinations of letters. That keeps you safer from a "dictionary attack," which uses a database of words and common character sequences to try to guess the code.
The Georgia Tech researchers carried out a "brute force" attack when they determined that passwords should be at least 12 characters long.
To do so, they deployed computer graphics cards, which are cheap and can be programmed to do basic computations very quickly.
The processors in those cards run simultaneously, trying to guess all of the possible password combinations. The more characters in a password, the more guesses are required.
But if your password has to be really long in order to keep up with this computational power -- and if you're supposed to have a new password for each website you frequent -- then how are you supposed to remember everything?
That's a real problem, the Georgia Tech researchers said.
There are a few solutions, however.
A website called Password Safe will store a list of passwords for you, but Boyd and Davis said it may still be possible for a hacker to obtain that list.
Other companies sell tokens that people carry around with them. These keychain-sized devices generate random numbers several times a minute, and users must enter those numbers and a shorter password to log in.
Some sites -- Facebook for example -- are marketing their log-ins and user names as a way to access sites all over the Web.
That's good for the user but is potentially dangerous because if hackers figure out a single password, they can access multiple banks of information, the researchers said.
The reason passwords have to keep getting longer is that computers and graphics cards are getting faster, the Georgia Tech researchers said.
"These things are really inexpensive -- just a few hundred dollars -- and they have a performance that's comparable to supercomputers of only just a few years ago," Boyd said of fast-processing graphics cards.
Maybe our brains will have to get bigger and faster, too. We'll need some way to remember these tome-like character strings.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to Protect Your Smartphone's Valuable Data

So you just lost your smartphone. It isn't the end of the world, but it sure feels like it.
In addition to the specter of shelling out another couple hundred dollars to replace the hardware, you're facing the loss of all your contacts, your schedule, your to-do lists, your passwords (if you really weren't careful and stored them on the phone), and, oh yeah, the dicey photos you took at the bar last Friday.
All of that is gone, at least for the moment, but if your Apple iPhone, Google Android phone, RIM BlackBerry, or any other smartphone falls into the wrong hands, that vast archive of your personal information won't just be forgotten--it could be cashed in.

The loss of a smartphone wouldn't be so bad if it ended with merely a bit of embarrassment. Since many people now use smartphones for online banking, travel reservations, and storing sensitive business documents, however, a great deal of very private data ends up on the device.
Much of this data is safe behind password-protected applications, but a large portion of it dangles out in the open in e-mail messages, text documents, images, and other files.
What are smartphone users doing to protect the precious data in their pricey handsets?
Apparently not much, according to some industry experts. And that's surprising, given the number of apps and phone features available for safeguarding data. According to McAfee, best known for its antivirus products for personal computers, you're 15 times more likely to lose your cell phone than your laptop computer.

As Good as Cash

Another danger to consider: A lost smartphone may soon be the high-tech equivalent of a lost wallet.
New wireless-transaction services will soon allow a smartphone to replace cash or a credit card at a store's point of purchase. Firethorn, which makes many of the mobile-banking applications that major banks offer, is putting the final touches on SWAGG, an application that will make it possible to purchase, give, and spend gift cards, as well as to manage store-loyalty programs, from a single point. Retailer American Apparel has announced that it will support the SWAGG system for purchases from its stores.
Though the convenience of cell-phone-enabled purchases may be attractive, the danger of losing a cash-enabled phone to a thief is obvious.

Lost or Stolen?
Phones are often lost by accident, but waves of cell phone thefts are nothing new in major cities. For example, passengers of Boston's subway system recently benefited when the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Orange Line was fully wired for T-Mobile and AT&T cell phone service. The other side of the coin, however, has been a rise in cell phone thefts, up 70 percent in the first quarter of 2010 in Boston. According to the same report, 80 percent of the thefts in Philadelphia's subway system are of cell phones.
Though crime stats in New York have declined in recent years, cell phones and iPods lead the way among the types of items stolen. Transit authorities now make regular announcements--in addition to posting signs on platforms and in trains--warning riders not to flash electronic gadgets unnecessarily.
Even people standing still on city sidewalks aren't safe from cell phone thieves.
In July, Covia Labs, a software company based in Mountain View, California, was in San Francisco demonstrating its Alert & Respond personnel-tracking application when CEO David Kahn sent an intern into the street with an iPhone as a test. No sooner did the intern hit the sidewalk than a thief on a bicycle rode up, snatched the iPhone, and sped off.
What the thief didn't know, however, was that the demonstration was already under way, and that he was being tracked on a computer screen by Kahn and others.
Everyone viewing the tracking was initially perplexed as to why the intern seemed to be moving so fast across the city. However, in less than 10 minutes, the thief had been pinpointed via Covia's software and arrested; the iPhone was recovered, according to MercuryNews.com.
Next: Smartphone Data Protection

Smartphone Data Protection
Whether you leave your phone in a taxi or a thief on a bicycle swipes it right out of your hand, what can you do to protect yourself before either (or worse) happens?
Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for The NPD Group, says locking a smartphone's screen with a password offers a good first layer of protection--a simple process that, unfortunately, phone owners often fail to undergo.
The next layer, he says, could come in the form of an add-on phone-tracking application such as Microsoft's free My Phone for Windows Mobile or Apple's Find My iPhone app, which works on iPhones and iPads but requires a $99 annual subscription to Apple's MobileMe data-syncing and backup service. The $15 Theft Aware for Android is one of several apps that can help you locate your missing Droid.

During an August 5 press event in New York to launch new versions of Kaspersky Labs' Internet security software, Peter Beardmore, director of product marketing, noted that getting cell phone users to install protective software on their handsets is a hard sell. A better business model might be if phone-protection software and services were bundled with handsets and sold as inexpensive add-ons to a customer's monthly phone service plan, he says.
Kaspersky Mobile Security ($30), currently available only for Windows Mobile and Symbian phones, can lock down a stolen phone, preventing the finder from making calls or accessing data; it can also help you track the handset on a map on another device, remotely wipe all of the phone's data, and notify you if someone changes the phone's SIM card. A BlackBerry version of the software should be ready by the end of the year, while an Android version may be available in 2011, Beardmore says.

Protect Your Smartphone as You Would Yourself
McAfee has also seen the cell phone light, so to speak, and recently acquired TenCube, the Singapore-based publisher of WaveSecure smartphone-protection software. Like the Kaspersky application, WaveSecure can track, lock, and data-wipe a stolen smartphone and detect SIM card changes. Once the phone has been locked down, a permanent message informing the finder of the owner and how to return the handset remains on the screen.
"Mobile devices have become an extension of our lives," says TenCube CEO Darius Cheung in a recent press release. WaveSecure is available for Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, iPhone, Symbian, and Android smartphones, as well as for phones that run Java.
Retrieving a lost or stolen cell phone doesn't always require sophisticated software--just a little detective work.
For example, when I left my cell phone on a Milwaukee bus in 2002, I quickly reported the loss to T-Mobile. The representative noticed that a call had been made since the time the phone vanished, and gave me the number. I called it, and the father of the teenager who found the handset answered; after some grumbling, he gave me his address.
An hour later I was met at the door by the teenager, who sheepishly gave the phone back. It wasn't until I walked away that I noticed that the boy--who obviously thought his find was a keeper--had already erased all of my contacts.
Teens love cell phones, and the desire for better ones sometimes adds up to juvenile crime, a trend that many police departments seem to have noticed. According to the New York Times, when school is in session, the Philadelphia police department doubles the number of officers in the subway system at 3:15 p.m., when classes let out.
In Washington, D.C., many cell phones are lost in the backseats of taxicabs as riders scuttle out of vehicles, but very few of them turn up at the District of Columbia Taxi Commission's lost and found, says Dena Reed, the commission's general counsel.
She says that while many interesting things are left behind in cabs daily (including three baby strollers one recent day), most lost cell phones are quickly returned to customers by the cab drivers themselves (if you are lucky) and thus never make it to the commission's office.
In New York, more than 20,000 items lost annually by commuters on the Metro North rail line end up in the fabled lost-and-found office at Grand Central Station. To handle the steady stream of high-tech gadgets and other items ranging from false teeth to false limbs, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has designed an online claim system.
Riders can use a special Web form to enter a description of the missing item and where it was lost. Once a found item is matched with its owner, the person can pick it up or have it shipped via Federal Express.

Other Protection Tips
What else can you do to protect your cell phone's data?
  • Don't store sensitive information in an easily readable form.
  • If you use a password to encrypt or lock down your phone data, don't forget the password. Data-protection programs have no "back doors," and the only recourse you'll have is to reset your phone--which erases all the data.
  • Back up your phone data using your carrier's Web service or an app that lets you back up to a computer. This step will allow you to get up to speed with your replacement handset quickly.
  • To prevent thefts, be aware of your surroundings. Don't put your phone down and walk away even a short distance, such as from your table at a coffee shop to the counter where the napkins are.
  • Cell phone insurance is a good thing, but it replaces only the hardware, not your data.
In summary, treat your cell phone as a trusted friend--keep it close at hand, since so much of your life is in it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Apps on your phone putting your privacy at risk?

Do you know what information is being sent through the air from your phone? According to research doen by Lookout Inc, a quarter of free iPhone apps, and half of free Android apps contain code that deliberately collects sensitive information from users. Unfortunately Apple’s review process, and of course Google’s lack of one, have not yet been effective in combating this potentially serious problem.
iPhone tells users when an app wants to see location information about a user, while Android has a pretty detailed list of warnings that users will see when they try to download an application. The problem, however, is that regardless of requested permissions, users generally choose to use an application anyway.
When asked for comment, Google said it “tries to limit users’ risk with the warnings but consistently advises users to only install apps they trust”. Apple had no comment.
When there is a problem, like users’ privacy being at risk, creative solutions tend to crop up. It will be interesting to see what those solutions are, and who they will come from.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Call to check on mobile network security

Mobile phone users are being encouraged to find out if operators are doing enough to keep their calls secret.
Security researchers have released tools that, they say, make it easy to see what security systems operators use to stop eavesdropping.
The researchers want to expose those operators that have not updated security systems to prevent others listening in.
The tools are based on an attack first demonstrated in late 2009.
"We do want people to go out and study how secure these networks are and to put pressure on the operators to improve," said Dr Karsten Nohl, the lead security researcher behind the project.
Dr Nohl gave a presentation about the tools, called Airprobe, and how to use them at the Black Hat hacker conference held in Las Vegas from 28-29 July.
The Black Hat conference is all about practical attacks on secure systems

"We've built tools that interface with cellular telephone communications," he said.
Most mobile calls are protected with an encryption system that uses a huge number of keys to stop eavesdropping. The vast amount of time it would take to try all the keys just to get at the contents of one call makes it effectively impossible to eavesdrop.
Dr Nohl said he, his colleagues and a few dozen others have found a way to shrink the amount of storage needed to hold a complete list of the keys and speed up the way to find the one that unscrambles a conversation.
Without these innovations the call cracking project would have got nowhere, said Dr Nohl.
"Just generating the key table would have taken 100,000 computer years and storing it would have taken 100 petabytes," he said.
Dr Nohl and his colleagues have squeezed the table into a format only two terabytes in size and produced algorithms that can look through it and find the right key in minutes.
Defeating such an attack would be easy for operators, if they have installed an appropriate software update, said Dr Nohl.
"We want to enable users to test whether their operator has installed the patch," he said. "If not they should call them up or send a letter."
Little evidence
The tools being shown off at Black Hat build on work done in late 2009 to generate the table of keys.
"What we are seeing is mobile phone hacking moving from an obscure sub-culture into a mainstream hacking movement," said Nigel Stanley, a mobile security analyst from Bloor Research.
"When GSM security was originally designed call fraud was the issue, as was a concern that network suppliers would steal each other's customers," said Mr Stanley. "The thought that amateur hackers could break the code would have been laughable back then. Now it's a reality."
Commenting on the work, mobile phone industry body the GSM Association said: "Since 2007 reports of an imminent GSM eavesdropping capability by hacking groups have been common and operators have been monitoring this for some time."
The technical challenges of eavesdropping remained "considerable", said the GSMA.
"We have seen very little evidence that the hackers are able to overcome them," it added. It said that operators could quite easily change the way that calls were set up and handled in their networks to thwart eavesdropping.
It concluded: "GSMA remains convinced that the practical risk to customers is very low and spreading fear and panic amongst mobile users is inappropriate and regrettable."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Neurons to inspire future computers

The way neurons communicate could inspire the next generation of computers.

Basing computers around neurons could lead to improvements in visual and audio processing on computers.

It might mean that computers learn to see or to hear in the future rather than just rely on sensors.

The way nerve cells communicate is being studied by the research teams.
As well as building computers, the researchers are also helping to improve understanding of nerve cells and how they operate.

Smarter seeing
While artificial neural networks have been around for more than 50 years they typically do not copy real neurons very closely.
By contrast the project being co-ordinated by computer scientist Dr Thomas Wennekers from the University of Plymouth wants to model specific physiological features of the way that neurons in one part of the brain communicate.

"We want to learn from biology to build future computers," said Dr Wennekers. "The brain is much more complex than the neural networks that have been implemented so far."

The early work of the project has been collecting data about neurons and how they are connected in one part of the brain. The researchers are focussing on the laminar microcircuitry of the neocortex which is involved in higher brain functions such as seeing and hearing.

The data gathered has fed highly detailed simulations of groups of nerve cells as well as microcircuits of neurons that are spread across larger scale structures such as the visual cortex.

"We build pretty detailed models of the visual cortex and study specific properties of the microcircuits," he said. "We're working out which aspects are crucial for certain functional properties like object or word recognition."
The researchers are unpicking the subtleties of nerve-to-nerve communication

There are hopes that the work will produce more than just improved sensory networks, said Dr Wennekers.

"It might lead to smart components that are intelligent," he said. "They may have added cognitive components such as memory and decision making."

They might even, said Dr Wennekers, start to be endowed with emotion.

"We'll be computing in a completely different way," he said.

Big brain

While Dr Wennekers and his team are working largely with software simulations, Professor Steve Furber from Manchester is using the inspiration from neurons to produce novel hardware.

Called Spinnaker, Prof Furber's project is trying to create a computer specifically optimised to run like biology does.

Based around Arm chips, the Spinnaker system simulates in hardware the workings of relatively large numbers of neurons.

"We've got models of biological spiking neurons," said Prof Furber. "Neurons whose only communication with the rest of the world is that they go ping. When it goes ping it lobs a packet into a small computer network."

Spinnaker uses Arm processors each one of which runs about 1,000 neuron models. The current system uses an eight processor system but, said Prof Furber, the team is in the final stages of designing the chip with 18 Arm processors on board, 16 of which will model neurons.
The ultimate goal, he said, was a system that controlled one billion neurons on a million ARM processors.

"The primary objective is just to understand what's happening in the biology," said Prof Furber. "Our understanding of processing in the brain is extremely thin."

The hope is also that the simulation leads to innovative computer processing systems and insights into the way that lots of computational elements can be hooked up to each other.

"The computer industry is faced with no future other than parallel," said Prof Furber.

The research might mean that computers learn to see
Despite this, he said, industry understanding of how to get the most out of all those computational elements was lacking. The big problem, he said, was how to run the system without being swamped by the management overhead of co-ordinating those processors.

Spinnaker might show a way to overcome some of these problems as the individual elements will be far smaller than the monolithic processors in use now and will, to an extent, to self-organise.

They will also offer advantages in that they are likely to use a lot less power than existing machines.

"We think there's a change in the game there," said Prof Furber.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rich Applications for Billions of Devices: What's New in LWUIT?

By Terrence Barr, June 2010

Although high-end smart phones have gotten a lot of attention lately, mobile developers realize that these only represent a small fraction of the overall mobile space. By comparison, mobile phones based on the Java Micro Edition (Java ME) platform, including RIM's Blackberry, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, and many other manufacturers, represent about 2.6 billion devices or two thirds of the total installed base.

Therefore, for developers seeking broad deployment and adoption of their content, portability and cross-platform support has become increasingly important. Traditionally, the graphical user interface (GUI) aspect of applications has been a major stumbling block in this regard -- UI toolkits and interfaces are often specific to a platform and the UI-related code typically makes up the bulk of the application. As a result, delivery of cross-platform applications is hard. What is needed is a well designed, platform-independent UI toolkit that has lightweight memory and resource requirements, is highly portable, and open source.

The Lightweight User Interface Toolkit (LWUIT), released in mid-2008, has been a boon to mobile developers right from the start. LWUIT is a UI library targeted to a wide range of mobile devices, from mass market to high-end smart phones, and has now also been ported to other embedded platforms. The rich functionality and clean design of LWUIT makes developing and deploying rich and engaging cross-platform applications easier than ever. LWUIT is an open technology with its source and binary freely accessible for individual or commercial use.


IMC connection  diagram
LWUIT Screen Shots

LWUIT has seen widespread adoption by developers, ISVs, and other third parties. Numerous resources are devoted to LWUIT, including a developer guide, articles, tutorials, code samples, videos, a site with featured LWUIT-based applications, and last but not least, a very active developer community and associated forum.

This article provides a brief overview of LWUIT for those who are unfamiliar with the technology, along with a list of resources for further learning. The remainder of the article focuses on the latest features and enhancements of LWUIT 1.3, along with hands-on code samples.

What is LWUIT?

As described above, LWUIT is a UI library that is licensed under the GPLv2 open-source license together with the Classpath Exception. This license encourages broad adoption while ensuring transparency and compatibility at the library level.

LWUIT offers advanced UI capabilities and a clean API that is inspired by Swing. With LWUIT, Java developers don't need to write device-specific code for different screen sizes, but instead can add UI components as needed to provide a consistent and compelling look and feel to their applications which works across a wide range of devices from different vendors.

Let's look at the LWUIT Demo application, which was written to showcase many of the different features of LWUIT such as theming, custom rendering, animations, buttons, transitions, and more. The three screenshots below show the identical application binary file (with no built-in device-specific knowledge) running on three entirely different Java ME platforms:

  • On the Java ME SDK 3.0 Mobile Emulator
  • On a mid-range Sony Ericsson G705
  • On an HTC Diamond touch screen device
IMC connection diagram IMC connection diagram IMC connection diagram

Screen shot 1: The LWUIT demo application running on the Java ME SDK 3.0 Mobile Emulator
Screen shot 2: The same application running on a mid-range Sony Ericsson G705
Screen shot 3: The same application running on a HTC Diamond with touch screen

Thanks to the LWUIT toolkit the application presents a rich and consistent user interface across devices and automatically adapts to and takes advantage of device-specific properties such as screen size, graphics capabilities, and touch screen support without any extra effort by the developer.

LWUIT is supported on MIDP 2.0/CLDC 1.1, has been ported onto CDC platforms, other mobile and embedded devices, and is the basis of the user interface layer for specifications such as Ginga-J for interactive TV (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginga-J).

IMC connection  diagram
A TV Set-Top Box User Interface Based on LWUIT

Development and Deployment Model

LWUIT is designed with modern UI requirements, programming styles, and best practices in mind. For example, LWUIT provides a clean separation between the UI development, the graphics design, and the business logic and therefore allows domain experts to work independently on their specific area of expertise.

IMC connection  diagram
Separation of UI Design, Graphics Design, and Business Logic

Also, LWUIT is based on the MVC (model-view-controller) paradigm. For example, the List Component can display an unlimited number of items because it only renders what is visible, while the model has the data responsibility. You can show a very large list without worrying about memory consumption.

Rapid Development: One of LWUIT's key benefits is rapid development. Since the API is inspired by Swing, it is easy to learn and adopt. LWUIT itself was built from scratch and does not depend on AWT.

Portability: Another benefit is portability, and little, if any, device-specific code. To ensure portability, LWUIT was built using low-level common elements in MIDP 2.0. LWUIT applications look and run consistently across different devices and different Java runtimes.

Flexibility: Flexibility is yet another important aspect: Almost everything in LWUIT is customizable and extensible, so if there is a missing feature or component, you can create your own and plug it in your code.

Easy Deployment: Not only is LWUIT extremely powerful, well designed, and easy to use, it is also easy to deploy. During development, simply bundle the LWUIT library and resources with the application. The LWUIT components become an integrated part of the application deployment unit and are downloaded and deployed transparently when the user installs the application on their device (for example, via the standard MIDP OTA mechanism).

Wide Range of Platforms: LWUIT requires only MIDP 2.0 and CLDC 1.1 (or similar basic graphics capabilities on other platforms) and is being continually tested across a wide range of today's mass market devices -- from low-end phones with limited memory, small screens, and numeric keypads all the way to high-end devices with fast processors, high-resolution touch screens, and built-in keyboards.

Key Features

  • Rich Widgets: LWUIT offers a rich set of UI widgets out of the box: basic widgets such as label, button, text box, input field, etc., as well as advanced widgets like list, table, calendar, tree, spinner, virtual keyboard, HTML renderer, and more
  • Layouts Manager: A very flexible and powerful feature, particularly if the application runs on different screen sizes
  • Pluggable Look and Feel & Themes: The Theme Creator toolkit lets you create a CSS-like file that can be loaded or changed at runtime, controlling the look and feel of the application.
  • Fonts: The library features bitmap fonts and a tool that lets you create fonts on your desktop.
  • Touch Screen: All LWUIT components support touch events. No special coding is needed for a LWUIT application to run on a touch-enabled device. Pluggable kinetics enable customized behavior.
  • Animations & Transitions: Various visual effects that are available out-of-the-box through the library add life to applications, automatically utilizing advanced graphics capabilities of the underlying platform.
  • 3D and SVG Graphics integration
  • Bi-directional text support support for right to left text
  • I18N/L10N
  • Clean API, familiar to Swing developers
  • Applications are highly portable and well performing across a wide range of mobile devices.
  • Lightweight: Low memory footprint and processing requirements, adapts to platform
  • LWUIT itself is very portable and has only very basic requirements on the underlying platform.

LWUIT Theme Creator

LWUIT provides a Theme Creator tool for editing and creating themes and resources. This is a standalone application for creating and viewing background painting, objects, and other theme elements. It even features a live preview of the application that changes whenever updates are made to the theme or screen properties:

IMC connection  diagram
LWUIT Theme Creator

LWUIT and the New Java ME SDK 3.0

The new Java ME SDK 3.0 is the de facto standard for the creation of Java ME-based applications. It offers a comprehensive development suite with a host of features giving developers a powerful and convenient environment and set of tools to efficiently build and test applications.

Of course, the LWUIT toolkit can be used with the traditional Java ME tool chain. But getting started with LWUIT has never been easier now that the Java ME SDK 3.0 offers built-in support for LWUIT:

The LWUIT Demo application can be run and explored right from the main screen of the Java ME SDK 3.0. A new project type called LWUIT Application provides the necessary resources and project structure that allows developers to start building LWUIT-based applications in minutes.

IMC connection  diagram
Java ME SDK 3.0 Running the LWUIT Demo

New in LWUIT 1.3 and Beyond

LWUIT 1.3 was made available in December of 2009 and offers a number of new features and improvements.

LWUIT 1.3 Features and Improvements:

  • New UI Control: Table layout and table component allows complex tabular UI's including support for features such as spanning rows/columns.
  • New UI Control: Lightweight Virtual Keyboard support: Allowing for customizable touch screen user input
  • New UI Control: Tree Component supports nested elements and expanding
  • New UI Control: Spinner component for date, time and numeric input within a range
  • Bi-Directional Text Support: Extends LWUIT support for right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew
  • Touch Device Improvements: Button menus, improved kinetic scrolling, tactile touch (vibration on touch)
  • Pixel-based Scrolling: Allowing scroll to work as expected even when components/containers exceed screen bounds and not just for focusable components
  • Reimplementation of the ComboBox widget
  • Enhancements to Theme Creator (formerly known as LWUIT Designer/Resource Editor) - SVG backgrounds can now be used for creating themes
  • Resource File Specification
  • Redesigned List Renderer "rendering" logic paints the backgrounds of the renderers first, and then the selection and foreground
  • A Number of Performance Improvements and bug fixes, many of which are based on community input

More Goodies in the Open-Source Repository

Beyond the official LWUIT 1.3 release, the LWUIT open-source subversion repository contains ongoing and additional improvements such as a pre-release version of the HTML component. The HTML component allows applications to easily render HTML conforming to XHTML Mobile Profile 1.0.

Let's walk through some of these new features in LWUIT 1.3 and the latest repository.

Table Component

The table component in LWUIT features sophisticated functionality, such as support for a large number of rows and columns, horizontal and vertical scrolling, in-place editing, custom cell renders, and on-the-fly creation of cells that can feature animations, handle events, and more. Despite the multitude of functionality offered, creating tables is very straightforward -- thanks to a default table model.

IMC connection  diagram
Screen Shot of Demo of Table Component

The below sample application creates a complete table consisting of a header row and three columns, where column 1 and 2 are editable. Each editable data cell can be edited in place by clicking on it. The table automatically becomes scrollable horizontally and vertically if it is larger than the available space:

public class TableDemo extends MIDlet implements ActionListener {

public void startApp() {

Form form;
Resources res;

Display.init(this); // initialize LWUIT

// Load theme
try {
res = Resources.open("/res/businessTheme.res");
} catch (IOException ioe) {
// error loading theme

// Create main form and add Exit command
form = new Form("Table Demo");
form.addCommand(new Command("Exit"));

// Create scrollable table with header and columns 1 and 2 editable
TableModel model = new DefaultTableModel(
new String[] {"Unedit.", "Editable", "Multiline"},
new Object[][] {
{"Row 1", "Data 1", "Multi-line\ndata"},
{"Row 2", "Data 2", "More multi-\nline data"},
{"Row 3", "Data 3", "Data\non\nevery\nline"},
{"Row 4", "Data 4", "Data (no span)"},
{"Row 5", "Data 5", "More data"},
{"Row 6", "Data 6", "More data"},
}) {
public boolean isCellEditable(int row, int col) {
return col != 0;
Table table = new Table(model);

// Add table to form and show

public void pauseApp() {

public void destroyApp(boolean unconditional) {

public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent ae) {
// only action is from Exit command


Running this code is easy by following these steps:

  • Download and install the Java ME SDK 3.0 (available for Windows and MacOS) from here: http://java.sun.com/javame/downloads/sdk30.jsp
  • Download the
    project from here: http://tinyurl.com/348jn29 and expand the zip file
  • Open the
    project (the Java ME SDK 3.0 should recognize the TableDemo directory as a project)
  • Make sure your emulator platform has the "Mobile Media API 1.1" enabled. To do that, right-click on the
    in the Projects pane, choose Properties and then in the Platform->Optional Packages panel select the Mobile Media API 1.1 check-box.
  • Run the project by clicking the green triangle icon

Lightweight Virtual Keyboard Support

Touch-screen devices can take full advantage of the virtual keyboard functionality now available in LWUIT. A Virtual Keyboard that can be bound to a text field will slide up when the user clicks or touches the text field to input characters. The Virtual Keyboard supports a number of different input modes (text, symbols, numbers), different keymaps for customized keyboard layouts, special keys, and other sophisticated features.

Graphic: Screen Shot of Virtual Keyboard Demo on Startup and Screen Shot After User Clicks/Touches the Text Field ("Click for keyboard")

Using a Virtual Keyboard in an application is straightforward. This example application shows a basic LWUIT application with a title, an EXIT menu, a text field for entering text, and a label to display the text:

public class VKBDemo extends MIDlet implements ActionListener, FocusListener {

Form form;
Resources res;
TextField textField;

public void startApp() {

VKBImplementationFactory.init(); // initialize virtual keyboard
Display.init(this); // initialize LWUIT

// Load theme
try {
res = Resources.open("/res/businessTheme.res");
} catch (IOException ioe) {
// error loading theme

// Create main form and add Exit command
form = new Form("Virtual Keyboard Demo");
form.addCommand(new Command("Exit"));

// Create text field with constraints
textField = new TextField("Click for keyboard");
textField.setInputModeOrder(new String[]{"Abc"});
textField.setFocusable(false); // only one component: prevent being focused right away

// Create virtual keyboard and bind to text field
VirtualKeyboard vkb = new VirtualKeyboard();
vkb.setInputModeOrder(new String[] {VirtualKeyboard.QWERTY_MODE} );
VirtualKeyboard.bindVirtualKeyboard(textField, vkb);

// Add text field to form and show

textField.setFocusable(true); // after initial display, make focusable

public void pauseApp() {

public void destroyApp(boolean unconditional) {

public void actionPerformed(ActionEvent ae) {
// only action is from Exit command

public void focusGained(Component cmp) {
// If user selects text field, clear it
if (cmp == textField) {

public void focusLost(Component cmp) {


As with the TableDemo, you can download the VKBDemo project from http://tinyurl.com/348jn29 and run it with the Java ME SDK.

HTML Component

The HTML Component is not part of the official LWUIT 1.3 release but is now available as a pre-release in the LWUIT open-source repository.

Being able to display HTML content within an application (without having to call an external content handler) is useful for a number of reasons -- not so much to implement a full-blown mobile browser but to be able to render rich text locally, to dynamically display content pulled in from the network, or to embed web flows into your application -- basically, to fuse HTML concepts and content with your local Java application.

For these reasons, an HTML component has always been high on the LWUIT developer wish list and is now available in an early version. The support for the XHTML Mobile Profile 1.0 is about 90% completed, including text, fonts, lists, tables, forms, images, etc. as well as WCSS.

Screen Shot of  HTML Component Rendering the Mobile Twitter Page
Screen Shot of HTML Component Rendering the Mobile Twitter Page

Here is a code snippet using the HTML component that shows how to display an HTML page, such as the mobile Twitter page:

 // Creating a new instance of a request handler
HttpRequestHandler handler=new HttpRequestHandler();

// Creating the HTMLComponent instance and setting its request handler
HTMLComponent htmlC = new HTMLComponent(handler);

// Creating a form, adding the component to it and showing the form
Form form=new Form("HTML Demo");

// Setting the component to the required page

That's it! And since the HTML Component is just like any other LWUIT component it it fully touch-enabled, you can do transitions with it, theme it, etc.

Source: http://java.sun.com/developer/technicalArticles/javame/lwuit_v1_3/

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Microsoft Launches Appliance For Building Private Clouds

Microsoft has developed a private cloud appliance with hardware partners and the $60 billion-a-year, online marketplace, eBay.

The Azure platform appliance is designed to be deployed in an on-premises private cloud in racks of hundreds or thousands of servers. It will run both Windows Server and a software stack that matches what's available in Microsoft's Azure public cloud. In addition to enterprises, the appliance is geared for use by large cloud services suppliers.
Microsoft is seeking to help build private clouds, not at the expense of its Azure public cloud, but on a pattern that matches what's available in Azure. Such private clouds, locked down behind firewalls and intrusion detection systems, will be able to handle private customer data and financial transactions. To do so, Microsoft is willing to run Java applications on its appliance as first class citizens alongside Microsoft .Net languages, such as Visual Basic and C#, Microsoft's Java competitor.

"They got that right. We decided to move forward with them," said James Barrese, eBay's VP of technology.

Earlier this year, EBay, as a $60 billion-a-year online marketplace, was looking toward its next generation infrastructure and showed Microsoft its blueprint for future high volume, scalable operations. EBay in the past has built up its own data centers.

But it was seeking greater automation of pooled resources, greater ease of maintaining security and easier administration of users. "We asked, do we want to build this ourselves or partner with somebody who can do it," said Barrese in an interview. "We see Azure appliances as being able to scale out very quickly," he said.

In positioning itself as an architect and builder of the private cloud for eBay and others, Microsoft is also ensuring that its existing customers stay wedded to Windows as they move toward cloud computing. The Azure platform appliance will do many things the same way Azure does, so it's also building potential future users of its public Azure cloud.

Microsoft is partnering with HP, Fujitsu and Dell, who will adopt the appliance for use in their own cloud services, then make versions available to customers. EBay plans to install a limited production release sometime later this year for the Garden by EBay site, where it tests partner's ideas and new customer applications. Barrese said eBay expects to move beyond the testbed site to broader use of the appliance in production systems at a future date.

"This offers scalability, efficiency, the ability to rapidly respond to changing situations," he said. The number one reason to implement a cloud appliance is for "internal agility," although Microsoft is saying the ability to manage large numbers of Azure platform appliances will lead to cost savings as well.

"I could build it myself, but I don't want to," continued Barrese. "I can focus my engineering effort of a better experience for buyers and sellers."

The appliance is aimed at giving enterprise data centers more of the elasticity and manageability of the public cloud while still being able to meet compliance requirements and regulations. The appliance will become available in a "limited production release" later this year, said Amy Barzdukas, general manager of the Microsoft Servers and Tools Business communications, in an interview. No date has been set for general availability.

EBay's buyer, seller and trading systems are based on Java applications, and Barrese said his firm was surprised when Microsoft assured him that the Azure platform appliance would be optimized to run Java. Windows Server has run Java in the past but Barrese noted the friction that had existed at one time between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, Java's originator. He hadn't previously considered Microsoft as a potential partner in developing a future Java environment, he said.

"We run the majority of our Java applications on Windows Server today. We see this (appliance) as a natural extension of our existing environment," Barrese said. EBay plans to continue to work with Microsoft for years to come on the design and implementation of the appliance as a way to contain its own data center management and configuration costs, he noted.

The Azure appliance will run, in addition to Windows Server, the Azure SQL data management system on x86 hardware built to a Microsoft networking and server specification. The appliance will have its own storage as well, said Barzdukas. Although Microsoft is calling it an appliance to indicate it will be preconfigured for the customer, there will be variations based on partner value-adds, she said. But all Azure platform appliances will have "a common identity, based on Microsoft specifications, and management model."

There will be "a much smaller range of variability" than found on Windows Server in the typical data center, she added. It will often be sold as a set of identical machines on a rack of servers with shared network and I/O settings.

The appliance was announced at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference Monday in Washington, D.C., by CEO Steve Ballmer and Bob Muglia, president of the Server and Tools Business.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Windows Phone 7 beta is out

PERENNIAL MOBILE LOSER Microsoft has released a Windows Phone 7 Beta, which might mean that it is nearly ready to be foisted on the great unwashed.

In a statement the Vole said that the Beta release represents the near final version of the tools for building applications and games for Windows Phone 7.

A spokesperson said that the Windows Phone Developer Tool CTP has been widely embraced by the community, because they do a lot of that hugging stuff in Silicon Valley.

But now that the hugging is over it is time to "get serious" according to the Vole and build apps and games for Windows Phone 7 that consumers will be looking for starting this upcoming holiday season.

The beta has a few interesting things. The first is Microsoft Expression Blend for Windows Phone. Blend is now integrated completely into the Windows Phone Developer Tools Beta.

There is the Developer Registration Utility, which allows you to unlock your Windows Phone 7 device for development purposes. There is an XAP Deployment Tool in case you ever want to stick an XAP file into an unlocked device.

"Many namespaces that were previously distributed over several different DLLs have now been consolidated into one. In addition, there have been realignments and changes in several other namespaces as well. Push Notifications, Accelerometer and App Bar APIs have all been updated," the Vole said.

Still to come are more controls for the devices. Stuff like Panorama and Pivot didn't make the beta release.

Microsoft's Paul Bryan burbles enthusiasically about the beta in the Windows Steam Blog, if you like that sort of thing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Google App Inventor Lets Anyone Make Android Smartphone Apps

Google on Monday revealed a new software tool that lets just about anyone make apps for mobile phones that use its Android software.

The beta version of the Web site for App Inventor for Android went live from Google Labs with a video showing how easy it is to make apps, including a number of ideas for apps people can make themselves.

"To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a developer. App Inventor requires NO programming knowledge," the Web site says. Software code is written by App Inventor software, while users are given options on what to include in the app.

The site offers several suggestions in app creation, including using the handset's GPS function for location, creating SMSs for friends, or building apps that link to other services, such as Twitter.

The new software tools should give Google's Android mobile software a leg up against rival smartphone software, including Apple's iPhone OS. The App Inventor site lets anyone become an app creator, giving people the power to design software specifically for their own needs. That's not so easy on the iPhone. Not only do people need software developer skills to make apps for the iPhone, but Apple vets all new applications before approving them for download.

One strength of Apple's system is that it can weed out apps with malicious code designed to steal or erase data. It's unclear what safeguards Google has in place for App Inventor.

Anyone interested in using App Inventor to start making Android apps will need a few things, including a Gmail account, a computer and an Android-based handset, according to the App Inventor site.

Google announced App Inventor nearly a year ago, saying that faculty from dozens of colleges and universities were involved.

"Mobile applications are triggering a fundamental shift in the way people experience computing and use mobile phones," wrote Hal Abelson [CQ], a professor of computing science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and leader of the Google project, in an old blog posting. "Today, smartphones let us carry computing with us, have become central to servicing our communication and information needs, and have made the Web part of all that we do."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Reading on Paper is Faster than iBooks on the iPad

It will take you longer to read a book on an iPad or Kindle compared to the printed page, according to a recent study. Dr. Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group--a product development consultancy that is not associated with Nielsen, the metrics company--compared the reading times of 24 users on the Kindle 2, an iPad using the iBooks application, a PC monitor and good old fashioned paper. The study found that reading on an electronic tablet was up to 10.7 percent slower than reading a printed book. Despite the slower reading times, Nielsen found that users preferred reading books on a tablet device compared to the paper book. The PC monitor, meanwhile, was universally hated as a reading platform among all test subjects.

The Study

Nielsen's findings were based on the performance of 24 users who "like reading and frequently read books." The subjects each read different short stories by Ernest Hemingway on all four platforms, and were measured for their reading speeds and story comprehension. Overall, it took each user an average of 17 minutes and 20 seconds to read a story regardless of the platform and comprehension levels were virtually identical on all four reading formats.

However, Nielsen says the printed book was the clear winner in terms of speed. Users were reading 6.2 percent slower on an iPad compared to paper, and 10.7 percent slower on the Kindle 2. Nielsen did not provide any statistics on the reading time for the PC monitor.

Interestingly, Nielsen's results appear to show that reading on the iPad is significantly faster compared to the Kindle 2. But Nielsen was quick to dismiss this conclusion arguing that the reading speeds between the two devices were "not statistically significant." "The difference [between reading times on the iPad and Kindle 2] would be so small that it wouldn't be a reason to buy one over the other," Nielsen wrote.

The study also asked each user to rate how they liked each format on a scale of 1 to 7. The iPad, Kindle 2, and printed book were nearly tied at 5.8, 5.7, and 5.6 respectively, while the PC monitor ranked last at 3.6 points. The test subjects said that reading on the PC felt too much like being at work, while they found it more relaxing to read a printed book than on an electronic device.

Tablets Still Can't Beat the Book

So it appears technology hasn't quite figured out yet how to replicate the experience of the printed page. That said this study leaves a lot to be desired owing to its small test group size, but it would be interesting to see a similar study on a much larger scale. I'd be curious to find out, for example, if there's any big difference in reading speeds based on age groups.

Would people in their 20s read faster on a screen than a book since they've spent a majority of their lives consuming digital content? How would the younger group compare to people in their late 30s and early 40s who also grew up with electronic devices such as the Commodore Vic-20, the original Mac, and IBM clones?

This study also left out reading on a laptop, which is a far more mobile reading experience than a desktop PC and could therefore be more enjoyable. I'd also like to know if the iPad would remain a faster reading experience than the Kindle in a larger study. On the one hand, the iPad can render a new page faster than the Kindle, which could account for the uptick in speed. But you would think the Kindle's ability to closely mimic the printed page, thanks to its e-ink display, would bring its reading speeds closer to the traditional book.

Regardless of how fast people can read on an electronic device, the e-reader is becoming more popular every year. E-books raked in $313 million in 2009 growing by 176.6 percent compared to 2008, overtaking audio book sales. In 2010, e-book sales are currently growing at a rate of 217.3 percent versus 2009, according to estimates by the Association of American Publishers.

If you want to check out Nielsen's findings for yourself, you can find it here. It's a fairly short read, but if you're pressed for time you might want to print it out.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Google struggles to give away $10 million

On its tenth anniversary in 2008, Google promised $10 million to the best five ideas for using technology to improve the world, through Project 10x100 -- a neat play on words (10 to the 100th power expresses the number "googol," which is a one followed by one hundred zeroes).

Google's intentions were good, of course -- $10 million spent the right way could have a real impact on these problems, which range from building better banking tools to a real-time, user-reported news service.

However, the company's follow-through leaves much to be desired. Google announced this cash prize contest in September 2008 and closed public voting on 16 finalists chosen from over 150,000 ideas in October 2009. Over eight months later, the company has yet to announce the winners.

Meanwhile, e-mails sent to Project 10 to the 100th's Gmail account are bouncing, indicating that Google has deleted the address. And the company's press department has yet to respond to our inquiries about the project.

"We'll announce the winning big ideas in the near future," reads a notice on the project's website, which lists "©2009 Google" at the bottom. According to Daniel Meyerowitz, who says his idea for mapping ongoing genocides and providing early warning of new ones is a finalist in the competition, Google has not said a peep about this competition in nine months -- despite having apologized for delays as early as March 2009.

"While genocide and other pressing problems relentlessly advance, it would seem that Project 10^100 does not," Meyerowitz told Wired.com. "Years behind schedule. Nine months since announcing their most recent delay. How hard can it be to give away ten million bucks? Harder than Google can handle, apparently."

Google, which reported revenue of $6.77 billion for the first quarter of this year, could practically consider $10 million to be a rounding error, so money isn't the problem. And the company already did the hard work of combining the overt 150,000 submitted ideas, many of which were duplicates or complementary, into 16 "theme" ideas, on which the public has already voted.

Assuming the project is still ongoing, Google will select an organization already involved with the issue to receive a share of the cash with the goal of solving the problem. So all that remains for the company to do at this point is to announce the five winning ideas and the organizations that will receive the money to implement them.

"An inspirational effort which began in the best Google tradition seems to be mired in the worst Google lapses," said Meyerowitz, who brought this situation to our attention. "When can we expect the final projects to be funded? Or how about just a blog update?"

Google's not talking -- not yet, anyway. But apparently, it's the process of choosing the right organizations to address these issues that threatens to turn Google's 10th birthday celebration into a 12th birthday surprise.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Is 'cloud computing' the future of video games?

Playing high-profile video games quickly from portable devices such as your iPad might get easier after this week's Electronic Entertainment Expo.

While the E-3 "game changer" tag has been reserved largely for innovations such as 3-D and motion-sensor systems, several companies hope using cloud computing to store games will be the real shift by letting gamers play high-end titles anywhere, on almost any machine.

If fully realized, they say, cloud gaming could be a console killer.

Gaming company OnLive announced Tuesday that it will make 23 popular console games, including "Assassin's Creed II," "Batman: Arkham Asylum" and "Mass Effect 2," available through an online subscription service.

"Today we're taking the first step toward a future where video game content is increasingly free from the restrictions of device and location, while showcasing the ability to instantly play the latest, most advanced games at the touch of a button," said OnLive founder and CEO Steve Perlman.

Cloud gaming uses rapid data compression to let users store their games "in the cloud" -- on Web servers -- and then pull them down and play them using a regular Web browser. It's the same concept as storing photos on a site such as Flickr or music videos on a MySpace page.

The user doesn't actually have those files on any one particular computer but can access them from anywhere.

OnLive has partnerships with gaming companies such as Electronic Arts, UbiSoft and Warner Bros. Interactive and announced several new ones, including Sega, on Tuesday. More titles were expected to be available as they are released.

OnLive's service, which launches Thursday, will offer free subscription for a year. OnLive has not announced what fees will be beyond that, but a spokesperson said Wednesday they will be "much less" than $15 a month.

OnLive isn't the only one in the cloud-gaming business though. Rival Gaikai announced this year it had raised $10 million for a streaming game service that will let users sample games before buying them.

"[W]e host the games, we run them, we worry about hardware and software updates, and we stream them to you," Gaikai said on its website. "The only thing you need is a browser and an internet connection."

Also at E3, Sony announced PlayStation Plus, an online subscription service that expands its PlayStation Network.

Launching on June 29, the pay service will offer gamers a chance to play exclusive and preview versions of top games, ramping up Sony's bid to compete with the Xbox Live network from Microsoft.

A 90-day subscription to the service will cost $17.99 and will go for about $50 a year.

And billionaire Sir Richard Branson made the space even more interesting Tuesday with the rollout of a revamped Virgin Games -- an online home for competitive console gamers.

The subscription site will host top-line games that gamers would typically buy for themselves.

"With Virgin Gaming, we're offering members more than just a place to compete. We're offering them the best, safest and most secure online experience with the fresh, fun approach Virgin is known for," said Rob Segal, CEO of Virgin Gaming.

In his typical, bigger-than-life style, Branson pulled up at E3 in an armored car purportedly carrying $1 million -- representing the total payout for a series of cash prizes Virgin will pay in competitive tournaments hosted on the site.

The cloud-computing concept had insiders talking at E3 -- which started Tuesday and runs through Thursday. But not everyone in the tech community is sold just yet.

Some question whether gamers, who presumably already have at least one gaming console, will pony up again for the ability to play their favorite titles from the cloud.

"Even if it costs less to rent or play a game -- and it probably will ... OnLive will have a tough time competing with actual hardware for all but the most dedicated gamers," Jared Newman wrote on the Technologizer blog.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Notes from Nintendo's E3 2010 Developer Roundtable

An E3 tradition has developed over the past few years: An annual Nintendo developers roundtable, a 90-minute informal talk by Shigeru Miyamoto and his associates about the company's biggest titles and announcements for the year. This year was no different, and a select group of media watched as Miyamoto talked abut the Nintendo 3DS and some of its select titles, as well as the latest Zelda, Skyward Sword, along with Zelda producer Eiji Aonuma and 3DS lineup producer Hideki Kondo.

Miyamoto on Ocarina of Time 3D:
"I wanted to experience vast Hyrule Field with those 3D effects. I thought it would feel like you were really there."

On Steel Diver:
"Development is moving along nicely, and in fact it's almost complete. The reason for that is that we've been making it for the past six years! When we first showed Nintendo DS, we showed this game as a demo. It seemed ideally suited to a touch interface, since it's about a submarine and submarines are slow. Now, I'm the kind of gamer that gets frustrated easily, so sometimes it's nice to play a game that moves slowly and gives you precise controls."

On Star Fox:
"In shooters, it can be hard to judge the depth of your bullets. But that becomes clearer in 3D, so I wanted to work on a Star Fox game for the system. Of course, if all we were to do was take these games and port them over to 3DS, we'd just have a collection of old games. So we're talking to the developers about adding new elements."

On the 3DS hardware:
"Even something as simple as trying to jump onto a stump or hitting a question mark block can be difficult. Once you have 3D visuals to go along with a fully-rendered world, that space becomes easy to understand. Since 3DS is a portable system, everyone has the same setup, the same 3D screen. Developers can work around that set 3D spec."

Kondo on Nintendogs + Cats:
"I'd hoped to keep this game a secret until E3, but unfortunately last year Mr. Miyamoto announced last year that he had gotten a cat!

"We wanted a new kind of communication between the user and the dog. We're using the inner camera to recognize the player's face. If you look at the screen and tilt your head from side to side, the dog will recognize that and turn to look at you. If you put your face close to the screen, the dog will come closer and lick your face. It will also remember faces, so if the dog is used to playing with me, it will recognize me. But if Mr. Miyamoto plays, the dog might run away and bark at him from a distance.

"My ambition is to take the Bark Mode from Nintendogs and make it more widespread, which we've done by making it a part of the 3DS hardware itself."

Miymoto on cats:
"Cats are great, but they're kind of like girls. If they come and talk to you, that's great. But if you go and talk to them, it may not go so well. We had the Nintendogs program and put cat models in their, so we had these cats walking around, and they'd sit if you told them to, which was weird. But their tails were wagging around! So we put both in the game and came up with new ideas."

Miyamoto on Bark Mode:
Shortly after Nintendogs came out, you could walk around with the system in bark mode and exchange data with almost anyone. More recently, we've seen the same thing with Dragon Quest, where people will cluster around the 'electric towns' just waiting for new contacts to exchange data with.

"If you were to use the Internet to do this, it would be simple. But the fun of this comes in the fact that you're interacting this way in the real world."

Miyamoto on Skyward Sword:
"One of the reasons people keep coming back to the Zelda series is because the core mechanics are so good. But I think people tend to fixate on how big the game is and how many dungeons there are. One of the things we wanted to do this time around was bring it back to that core gameplay and how we can make it as engaging as possible.

"When you're first developing a game you spend a lot of time thinking about what you want it to look like. A lot of times there can be a big lag between when the graphics are complete and when the game is done. Last year we showed a piece of art from the game. At that point, most of the game was complete, but all we had to show visually was that single piece of art. In terms of development from here, we have a few more dungeons to create, and a few more bosses. But because this style of development is different than what we've done in the past, we're not sure we can finish this year."

Aonuma on Skyward Sword's story:
"The trailer we showed you this morning was Link diving off a cliff into a sea of clouds. That's a very important point in the storyline. Link is a man who was born and raised in this land above the clouds, called Skyloft. One day, an incident reveals to him that there's another land beneath the clouds. This other world is a place ruled by evil forces and is very dangerous, yet Link is forced to go into that world and has to travel between Skyloft and that other land.

"The thing that leads link into this other land is the Skyward Sword. The mysterious figure you see in that artwork was the Skyward Sword; when it's giving Link advice, it will take the form of that figure. You may have figured this out, but this is the Master Sword -- the Skyward Sword eventually becomes the Master Sword.

Aonuma on Skyward Sword's art:
"The sky is also something that's important to the game. We want to play up the sense of the sky, which is why we've implemented this art style."

Miyamoto on Skyward Sword's art:
"I really like this style. It took just one step in the approvals process. I'm a big fan of impressionism in the art world, so we've drawn on that. There's a definite [Paul] Cezanne influence.

"If we'd just used the same graphics from Twilight Princess, the game would already be done."

Aonuma on Ocarina of Time 3D:
"One of the problems that made the Water Temple difficult for everyone was putting on the heavy boots and taking them off again, and how complex the interface was. The 3DS has a touch screen, so you'll be able to change the boots and your clothes much faster this time.

"This is an important point for Skyward Shadow as well. We've put a lot of thought into switching between the sword and weapons. It's a little different from what you're used to, but once you get a feel for it you'll find it becomes easy."

Q&A notes:
On wireless functionality: The 3Ds does not include 3G functionality, but it can use open wi-fi access points to receive push data -- similar to Wii Connect 24. 3G carriers may be in the cards down the road, but it's not something we're working on now.

Miyamoto on orchestrated soundtracks: "I don't think we could do what we did with Mario Galaxy 2 and not try to match that with Zelda."

Miyamoto on Pikmin 3: "One of my concerns coming into this show was that with so many great games on display, Pikmin might be overshadowed. Rest assured we're working on it... but please don't make that the top story of the evening!"

Kondo on 3DS battery life: "We'd like to match Nintendo DSi."