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As 2013 wraps to an end, Microsoft released its final set of Patch Tuesday fixes, updating its Surface line of tablets at the same time.
According to Microsoft, the fixes include 11 bulletins, five of which are marked critical, solving 24 vulnerabilities. That’s quite the raft. Among the patched products are Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, and Exchange. So, more so than in some months, you want to get yourself up to date.
Security firm Qualys points out that two zero-day flaws amongst the mix only cause havoc if a company is still using Windows XP, which it estimates that about 15% of enterprises still are. Keep in mind that the end of Windows XP support is rapidly approaching. Qualys correctly wrote today that a company’s “security situation will then become very quickly unmaintainable” if it stays on XP after Microsoft removes support. Microsoft itself would like it very much if folks would stop using Windows XP.
The real meat out today is a set of Surface updates, however, which should bring quality of life improvements to owners of Microsoft’s line of tablets. As collated by Mary Jo Foley, here they are:
- Surface Home Button Driver update to optimize available system memory
- Surface Type Cover audio device driver update to enhance trackpad sounds for Type Cover 2
- Fix for screen dimming during CPU intensive operations resolved
- Decreased charge time for batteries resolved
- Two-finger trackpad use optimized
- Update to support additional external displays
- Skype video quality improved
- Resolved delay during restart when Bluetooth devices are connected
- No updates this month (according to Microsoft’s Surface Pro History site)
- Wi-Fi driver (v14.69.24047.156) update for improved wireless display experience
- Update for improved system stability, including when minimizing full screen games
- Updated Wi-Fi driver for improved wireless display and connectivity with wireless access points
- Improved Surface Cover interaction including power-saving sleep functionality
- Color fidelity improvements for all applications
- Optimized two-finger trackpad use
- Enhanced audio experience when connected to a Display Port 1.2 device
That’s no small list of updates. If you lean on Microsoft’s software, you have some patching to do.
After closing its Series A in early November, gifting startup Loop Commerce has added an investment from PayPal to the round. While Loop Commerce co-founder and CEO Roy Erez would not disclose the exact amount of PayPal’s investment, the Series A was previously $7 million and now stands a little north of $12 million. So you do the math.
Loop Commerce’s list of investors already includes eBay CTO Mark Carges, Don Katz of Audible and Amazon, Magento CEO Roy Rubin, former Toys “R” Us SVP Michael Scharff, Oren Zeev, Chegg CTO Chuck Geiger, and Novel TMT. With this latest investment, PayPal VP of Global Strategic Development Don Kingsborough will serve as PayPal’s observer on Loop Commerce’s board.
As a B2B2C service, Loop Commerce’s aim is to find a place in the broader ecommerce landscape by integrating with retailers as an alternate checkout flow. When a shopper wants to gift an item to a friend, they go through Loop’s checkout process, sending a notification to the recipient asking for shipping, sizing, and color preferences.
For consumers, it means giving and receiving gifts, especially clothing, that will actually see some use. For retailers, it could cut down on the cost associated with returns while delivering extra user behavior data.
Loop Commerce has been in private beta since its launch in November, and it’s taking its time getting to market. Erez said the team hasn’t set a date to open up the service to retailers, although they have added merchants to their test roster over the last month (they’re not disclosing those names, either).
“It’s not a consumer app where you get some feedback and make it happen. We built it from the ground up to go to the largest retailers out there,” Erez said.
While Erez said it is too soon to comment on the nature of the startup’s relationship with PayPal, we’ll be watching to see how that informs Loop’s product.
In the past, PayPal has invested in the Japanese personal finance app Moneytree; restaurant ordering platform OLO; BillFloat, the service bill payment startup that was incubated by PayPal and Venrock; and mFoundry, which sold to FIS early this year for $120 million.
[Image: Flickr / Hades2k]
Peripheral Vision 014: Will Bates on how a viral William Shatner mashup helped kickstart a film scoring career
SugarSync, a gladiator in the long, hard battle that is hosted cloud storage, has decided to go mercenary. The company announced today that they will offer a “paid-only” service model, doing away with their free storage tiers. Current customers can still access their files and will be offered considerable discounts on the service – up to 75% in some cases.
“We have decided to no longer offer free storage forever,” said CEO Mike Grossman. “SugarSync is unlike other companies in the space because we do a lot more than just offer basic file storage. Instead, we offer a premium service that provides prosumers and small businesses with unprecedented control and flexibility over their data through our unique multisync capabilities.”
That basically means they want more business clients. Competitors like Box and Dropbox – not to mention Google Drive – are clearly taking the oxygen out of the casual cloud market, which is why SugarSync is, in a way, pivoting.
Free accounts will close on February 8, 2014 while users can still sign up for a 90-day 5GB trial or a 30-day trial with up to 60GB of storage. However, instead of letting you keep your free storage, SugarSync will attempt to monetize customers as soon as possible.
“There are many companies in this space that are giving away free storage, however, most of these companies will not be viable. We are already in a solid financial position and this shift will further strengthen our business,” said Grossman. In a world where dozens of gigabytes for free is now the norm, this is definitely an interesting maneuver by a major player.
Technology and nature seem in constant conflict, but they can be better together. And being a tech enthusiast isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive with loving the outdoors, which is why we’ve put together a whole gift guide featuring stuff that scratches that techie itch but also should help you conquer (or live in peaceful harmony with, if that’s what you’re into) nature.AR Drone 2.0 ($299)
Soon, drones will be everywhere, and we’ll need to retreat to the forests just to escape their interminable whirring. But until then, nature is the perfect harbor for them. The AR Drone 2.0 by Parrot is a smartphone-controlled quadcopter that you’ve probably seen on TV, the web or at a trade show, and it’s a great device for winging around the forest for some easy outdoor aerial photography. Bonus points if you can buzz a deer.Nike+ Fuelband SE ($149.95)
The woods doesn’t count if you can’t quantify what you did there, and that’s where Nike’s new Fuelband device comes into play. Upgrading with much-improved activity tracking that can distinguish between biking, running, and even tennis and more. The Fuelband SE can also track sleep for you while you’re toughing it out on the cold, hard ground, but it’s only an on/off state, so if you’re more concerned about that, look to something like the Jawbone UP24.Oru Kayak ($1,095)
An entire kayak that folds up into a convenient suitcase sized carrying package. That’s the only pitch you should need to hear with the Oru Kayak. Made of durable corrugated plastic, it comes with a number of options, including a two-pack for the outdoor-loving couple. It’s well-reviewed by many kayakers, packs up smaller and is in many ways easier to assemble than most other so-called folding kayaks. Plus, as far as kayaks go, it’s not even actually all that expensive.Olympus TG-2 iHS ($379.99)
If you want a camera ready for the wilderness, the Olympus TG-2 iHS is the best one that will still fit in your pocket. Dust, shock, water and freeze proof, it also offers a very wide maximum aperture and good image quality all around. This is the prevailing leader when it comes to the pocket toughcam market, and you can usually pick it up at a discounted price if you look around a little.Boombot Rex ($119.99)
You go to nature to enjoy the silence, not rock out to sick beats, but sometimes it’s okay to combine those two. And the Boombot Rex can hold up to adverse weather conditions, including mud and dust, and it doubles as a very capable Bluetooth speakerphone with a long-lasting battery.
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Today, Twitter has announced an update to its apps for iOS and Android as well as TweetDeck for Web, Chrome and PC (and Mac soon) that bring a renewed focus on direct messaging. The app now features a direct link to Direct Messages in the tab bar and allows you to send photos inside DMs for the first time.
This major redesign has been in the works for a while, and today marks the first time we’ve seen most of these elements all in one place. Twitter has been testing a variety of these features over the past few weeks, but now they’re all packaged together. You may have seen the DM icon in the tab bar or heard of some users getting a swipeable timeline design as a part of Twitter’s ongoing experiments which see just a small percentage of users getting each permutation of the design. Those experiments are then used to determine which features hit the app itself.
We had heard this release was coming and now we know which features made the cut. There is a bunch of new stuff in this update, but the addition of photo support to DMs and the enhanced placement of the icon right in the tab bar indicated a renewed interest in the private messaging portion of Twitter — which has been long neglected.
By putting an emphasis on direct messaging, Twitter is performing its own sort of subtweet towards other messaging apps like Line, WhatsApp, Snapchat and, soon, Instagram. The DM function of Twitter is heavily used by a lot of users, but my guess is that some of the changes here will spur mainstream adoption of DMs as a ‘private comms channel’.
The addition of Messages to the tab bar also bumps Discover from the main view. That’s now tucked under Timelines as a whole. You now swipe between those timelines in the main view. Timeline, Activity and Discover are all under the single tab now. On one hand, this is a great space saver and feels like a welcome move. As we noted previously, this also makes way for even more timelines:
The idea behind a swipeable interface is fairly easy to divine, as it could make the app friendly to multiple timelines. If these feeds could be treated as discreet items, Twitter could move beyond its ‘Home,’ ‘Connect’ and ‘Discover’ feeds to offer more specific feeds focused on things like TV. And, judging from how #Music went, that seems to be the way that it’s headed.
On the other hand, it does raise some worries about discoverability for the…discover…tab. There’s a handy lead-in animation and instructable that tells people about the new timelines, so that’s good. But there might be a tendency to forget that those sections are hidden under the single tab. Does this change consist of Twitter acknowledging that people get more out of DMs or notifications than they do Discover? Maybe? It’s likely to be the subject of even more experimentation going forward.
There is now a filtration option under the Notifications tab that lets you show stuff from just people you follow, all people or (if you’re verified) just verified people.
There are also some new notifications to be seen. The one above is interesting as it ties in with Twitter’s interest in getting people to engage in ‘conversations’ on the service. The ‘blue lines’ update was obviously all about that and other changes made to the apps recently reinforce that they’re trying to get people to see it as a place where you can talk to anyone and anyone can talk back at any time. They’re fighting, somewhat, the perception that Twitter is a spectator sport for most users. This way, if someone takes the plunge and sends a tweet, they get notified of feedback and are encouraged to continue.
But, despite all of the other changes, this is quite clearly Twitter’s way of saying that they’re interested in being your private messaging client as much as they are your ‘public discussion forum’. As we mentioned above, there are dozens of competitors around the world looking to capture the majority of users, and services like WhatsApp, Kik and Line have enormous head starts. Twitter currently has somewhere around 232 million monthly active users, and WhatsApp recently reported it had 350 million. Even though Twitter has had a several-year head start on the newer messaging apps, it has a lot of ground to gain and more finessing to do if it wants to make itself a go-to solution for that market.
But the benefits will be well worth the effort. When people using messaging apps, they use them a lot. If Twitter can position itself as an Internet ‘pillar’ that provides communication tools both public and private, it gains more than just users — it gains engaged eyeballs that it can use to get more and better business from advertisers.
TweetDeck for Web, Chrome and PC are all getting the DMs with photo support as well, and the Mac version is coming once it’s approved in the Mac App Store.
Image Credit: Christopher Schmidt
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Rainforest, a Y Combinator company, has developed an on-demand service that runs functional tests against a crowd of people through Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s crowdsourcing platform. The service is similar to how a customer can use Amazon Web Services to spin up and down instances. But in this case a customer makes an API request for people instead of machines.
The company is also working toward developing ways to seek out workers through private groups to suit companies that have NDAs and bound by regulatory issues.
With Rainforest, the customer can scale the QA work up or down, depending on what they want tested. Customers write tests in plain English, the requirements they have, and then the service takes people through a series of steps to run the tests that the customer wants performed. For example, a customer can ask a simple question about the layout of a site and get it tested in real-time.
Testing the sign up for a service on a website is another example of a task that can be done on the Rainforest service. Stevens-Smith said the task is non-trivial with traditional testing as it requires the developer to write and update test scripts using tools such as Selenium or Capybara. With Rainforest, a user creates a sign up test and then configures it. The sign up is only deployed if it passes in Rainforest.Zapier, the app connector service, uses Rainforest to test its core flows such as sign ups to its website, said Co-Founder Fred Stevens-Smith in an email interview. “ It’s unacceptable for them not to work so they test programatically on every deployment,” he said.
Rainforest plays on the increasingly important requirement for companies to keep their sites continually optimized, Stevens-Smith said. A few years ago it did not matter that QA took 48 hours. In today’s SaaS and app world, updates can be as often as five times per day. To uncover hard to discover bugs, companies often hire human QA testers to manually check. Or, companies do it in an ad-hoc way, which he said slows down development speed and frustrates highly paid team members. Alternatively, developers write automated tests, which is time-consuming and frustrating for highly skilled developers. Here’s how he sums it up:Why did we build Rainforest? QA sucks. But we all have to do it. Like payments pre-Stripe, QA is a process that every developer hates. Yet for some reason nobody is solving this problem. Every part of our development workflow has been totally reimagined in the past few years. Startups that have taken a design-driven approach and introduced a 10x faster / simpler / cheaper product have dominated. There’s tons of innovation. Except in testing The data collected could over time add some new dimensions to the service. The structured information from the code changes could help define the cause of certain problems and from what parts of the app are surfacing issues. Tracking the code changes could help predict bugs. “This means we could start to integrate with your IDE to tell you lines of code we think might cause bugs and a list of bugs we’ve seen related to this code, or as a post-commit hook on Github that would ping you when we think that you’ve committed a breaking change,” Stevens-Smith said. uTest is a potential competitor to Rainforest. It has developed a strong reputation in the market and recently turned its attention to a deeper focus on mobile apps.
(Feature image via James Cridland on Flickr via Creative Commons)
Deutsche Telekom’s Hub:raum Accelerator Opens Offices In Krakow As It Welcomes Its First Batch Of Startups
Originally based in Berlin, Deutsche Telekom’s startup accelerator Hub:raum has opened offices in Krakow, Poland. What’s more, fifteen teams from ten different European countries gathered in Poland’s second largest city last weekend to attend workshops in hopes of joining Europe’s newest accelerator.
During the intensive workshops, called Hub:raum Warp, teams received much-needed mentoring and got the opportunity to work alongside fifty prominent international experts with backgrounds in financing, customer acquisition, product management and more.
“The mentoring turned out to be a great success since we got the chance to work with some of the Europe’s freshest startups coming from Central and Eastern Europe. During the past week, startups have received a great deal of knowledge which we hope they will spread onto their local communities and further fire up CEE’s entrepreneurial spirit,” said Jakub Probola, Head of Hub:raum Krakow.
At the end of the week startups pitched their ideas at Demo Day hoping to get accepted into hub:arum’s first batch of startups. From fifteen teams which attended WARP, four finalists were selected with Montenegrian TourVia.Me winning the competition and securing the best pitch award. Alongside Omnipaste from Romania, Collar Pocket from Poland and Excalibur from Slovakia, TourVia.Me was invited to join DT’s Krakow-based accelerator.
Only Excalibur – a startup developing authentication for web services – publicly accepted the offer with others hoping to join in the following weeks.
Hub:raum’s offices in Krakow are lead by a team of experienced serial entrepreneurs who’s goal is to further engage and help CEE startups develop and scale their ideas. “Our doors are always open. We can support different teams in developing their ideas and launching various products on the market,” said Probola.
Hub:raum is offering seed funding, co-working space, mentors, and DT’s assets which include access to a massive 170 million user base (both in Europe and US) as well an access to T-Venture, a 720 million euro fund run by the company.
Entrepreneurs who have had successful exits find it easier to raise capital for their next ventures. They come with the sort of record the money people want: A past littered with big, profitable liquidity events.
So, sell your company or take it public, count to 10 and start again. I doubt you’ll have much trouble raising the cash for another go.
That sort of resonance, or pattern seeking, is built into venture capital and startup culture more broadly. But what if you are a celebrity of whatever flavor, and you get behind a tech company?
I now pretty much just expect the company involved with the celebrity to die. Having celebrity cash, or having a celebrity executive can bring a certain glow to a company, and certainly greater press attention, but the impacts appear to be fleeting.
Today ValleyWag covered an application called Just Sing It. As it turns out, Lindsay Lohan’s brother is working with the company, so she’s tweeted about it. She’s also now hosting a party to promote it. Come party with Lohan, and then use this app? Something like that.
And the application could use the help, given its low ranking. According to AppAnnie, Just Sing It is in the top 100 music apps on iOS in one country. So, it’s seeing about as many downloads as you had cups of coffee today.
Back in August, Soleil Moon Frye — or Punky Brewster – launched an app called Moonfrye, which is “designed to inspire children’s creativity.” TechCrunch covered it. Punky Brewster! I’ve heard that name! The app? It’s dead. Moonfrye is in the top 500 ranks of the iOS app store in a grand total of 10 countries. Its best ranking country? Chad, where it tips the charts at 151st.
Justin Bieber recently dropped dollars and pictures of his face into an application called Shots Of Me. Despite Bieber’s obvious popularity and the application’s direct aim at his fans’ demographics, it’s been a complete flop.
So that didn’t go so well.
Remember Airtime? Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning count as celebrities, right? Well, despite raising more than $30 million, it seems that Airtime is roughly as viral and beloved as a dead skunk on your doorstep.
Oh right, remember when Ashton Kutcher built and launched a Twitter client? Yeah, I had forgotten, too. He also worked for Ooma, and launched Blah Girls (last tweet: 2011). Guess that deal with Myspace for distribution didn’t work out. Ashton (this guy, seriously) also put money into Path, which has seen its download rates collapse since a summer high.
MC Hammer launched Wiredoo. Its website doesn’t even load any more.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the $1 million that Ryan Seacrest invested into an iPhone keyboard company bears fruit.
However, I will say that having a celebrity on board doesn’t always mean the startup will die. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Honest Company, whose president and co-founder is Jessica Alba.
The list goes on and on. Having a celebrity on board means that picking up initial coverage from the media is easier. But that is at most what it means.
Are companies with celebrity backing less focused on their fundamentals, or perhaps more focused on how they appear?
I could be wrong on this, but I feel a negative correlation between celebrity interaction, and a startup’s future health. Maybe it’s just the economy.
Top Image Credit: Flickr