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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Study: Apple's Mobile Browser is Fastest - PCWorld

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBaseStudy: Apple's Mobile Browser is Fastest - PCWorld

By Nick Mediati, PCWorld Feb 25, 2011 8:50 PM

Sick of waiting for pages to load on your mobile device? Get an iPad or iPhone. That’s the upshot of a mobile browser speed study done by a company called Gomez. They found that Apple’s mobile version of Safari was fastest and BlackBerry’s browser the slowest.

According to Gomez, the iPad fully loads pages in 8.4 seconds on average. The iPhone comes in second at 19.7 seconds, followed by Android at 36.5 seconds, and Blackberry at 61 seconds.

Gomez also analyzed perceived page loading times--that is, how long it took each browser to load the items visible "above the fold" on screen (i.e. the elements visible to you when you first visit the page without scrolling down). Perceived load times are shorter because … In this, the iPad again came out on top, with a perceived load time of roughly 6.6 seconds. The iPhone clocked in at about 15.7 seconds, followed by Android at 28.2 second, and BlackBerry at around 43.8 seconds.

Some have tested mobile browsers on a particular OS--such as our Android browser comparison from September--or have compared browsing on one phone to browsing on another, but as far as we're aware, nobody else has released this sort of mobile browser speed comparison before.

Browser Testing: No Clear Winners

These are by no means end-all, be-all numbers. Browser speed testing can be a bit of a thorny issue. There are many variables involved, depending on your hardware, your network connection, your operating system, the Web site itself, and so forth. For example, Gomez's numbers don't match up exactly with the testing we've previously done.

In the case of Gomez, the company, which helps companies improve the performance of their Websites and applications, decided to take what it considers to be a "real-world" approach to measuring browser performance. Its data is based on over 282 million Webpages served across over 200 popular sites. Gomez used data collected from business customers that use its performance monitoring services. It only takes into account Webpages visited using the browser included with the operating system, so browsers like Opera Mini were not included.

Also, since the data is in aggregate, it includes data from both Wi-Fi and cellular network users, and users from different cellular networks. It also includes data from all sorts of different phones and tablets with different hardware configurations. Still the information they provided to us is interesting, and gives us at least an idea of what the general experience of using each browser is like.

And as we've said in the past, other factors beside speed should dictate your choice in browsers--and now, smartphone OSes. Go with whatever works best for you.

How about you? Do Gomez's numbers reflect what you've experienced? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chrome Browser Acts More Like an OS, But Security Is Unclear - PCWorld

Google Chrome IconImage via WikipediaChrome Browser Acts More Like an OS, But Security Is Unclear - PCWorld

With the capability to run apps in the background, Google’s making its Chrome browser even more like an operating system and is attempting to change the way we work forever.

By Keir Thomas
Feb 25, 2011 12:42 PM

Google has announced that forthcoming releases of its Chrome browser will be able to run apps in the background. Essentially, the feature moves Chrome one step closer to becoming a true application platform--and with continuing efforts to develop HTML5, in a few years time it's very likely the Chrome browser will have more in common with an operating system than a humble Web browser.
Google says the new feature will see use "checking for server-side changes and pre-emptively loading content into local storage," and it's not hard to imagine how apps could use the feature. A chat application could listen for messages, for example, and then pop up a new window should somebody want to message you. A cloud office suite could watch for changes made to your online docs and download them locally, ready for you to work on them instantly when you choose.

The background processes keep running for as long as Chrome is running, even if no browser windows are open. Right-clicking the taskbar icon will allow users to see what background apps are running.
One of the central definitions of a contemporary operating system is the capability to run tasks in the background. MS-DOS did it with infamous terminate-and-stay-resident programs, while Windows does it with Services. Linux and Unix use daemons.
As with those operating systems, significant security issues come up with the capability to run background apps. Running code in the background without the user's knowledge is the modus operandi of viruses, for example.
It's not clear how Chrome is going to be able to tell apart good and bad background processes, or whether Google intends to rely on third-party applications like antivirus suites to do so.
Google says "backgrounding" will be allowed only for apps and extensions, and not Web pages, which will avoid drive-by infections from nefarious Websites. Chrome users already have to confirm installation of apps and extensions, giving security warnings at the time. If the app or extension isn't offered via Google's official distribution channels, it's usually blocked from installation unless the user makes a configuration change allowing it.
However, as anybody who's used the Android Marketplace will know, Google takes a laissez-faire attitude towards monitoring apps. Last year the company pulled around 50 third-party and unauthorized Android banking apps from the Marketplace after suggestions came up that they could easily be used to harvest account details.
To ensure user safety, the bar for app and extension quality is going to have to be set high, and there's no indication in this announcement that that's going to happen.
However, security issues aside, Google's efforts will bring a smile to cloud computing advocates. By blurring the distinction between browser and operating system, Google's making it far more intuitive for us both to work and store our data online. Of course, data is what Google is interested in, and it seems Google won't be satisfied until it has control of all the data in the world.

It's not hard to imagine a future scenario whereby we first boot our computer and then "boot the Internet" by double-clicking a browser like Chrome. Upon starting, Chrome will automatically log into all our favorite Web applications, and start any necessary background services. The new tab screen within Chrome, which shows installed apps, could easily evolve into a desktop-like experience in the future, wherein users are able to start and stop apps, and manage any data stored online.
A lot has been written about whether the Chrome browser or OS will ultimately succeed, but it's not an either-or situation. It's better to view the projects as two heads of the same animal. If you buy a new computer, then Google can provide an operating system, but if you prefer to stick with what you know--such as Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux--then Google will offer you the same functionality via a program you can download.
Essentially, Chrome browser and Chrome OS are heading in the same direction, which is to turn the Internet into an platform where we all can work. If we're ready to abandon our desktops, however, is yet to be seen.
Keir Thomas has been making known his opinion about computing matters since the last century, and more recently has written several best-selling books. You can learn more about him at His Twitter feed is @keirthomas.

New MacBook Pros outperform some recent Mac Pros | Electronista

13, 15 and 17 inchs MacBook Pro unibodyImage via WikipediaNew MacBook Pros outperform some recent Mac Pros | Electronista

Some of the very earliest benchmark tests of Apple's new MacBook Pros have shown them fast enough to outperform some Mac Pro workstations. Geekbench scores for the new 2.2GHz and 2.3GHz quad Core i7 processors are regularly reaching over 10,000 and producing better integer and floating point scores than Apple's pro towers from a year or two ago. Some results, such as one test for a 2.2GHz MacBook Pro, are outperforming the 3.2GHz and 3.33GHz quad-core Xeons from Mac Pros in 2010 and 2009 respectively.

The benchmarks are chiefly testaments to the optimizations behind the Sandy Bridge architecture in the Core i7. Intel's new design works on a smaller, more efficient 32 nanometer process where earlier chips were working on 45 nanometer technology. Sandy Bridge also has important design changes that can better handle out-of-order execution and otherwise calculate more per clock. Although the clock speed is much lower, Turbo Boost will often ramp the clock speed significantly higher and can close the gap significantly in a high-demand situation such as a benchmark.

The base 15-inch MacBook Pro, with a 2GHz Core i7, hovers at about 8,800 points in Geekbench and can outrun either the very earliest eight-core Mac Pros from 2008 or a late 2009 27-inch iMac with a 2.8GHz quad Core i7.

Quad-core notebooks aren't new and have been present in the Windows PC market for more than a year, but most of these are desktop replacements and mobile workstations that are often considerably thicker and heavier. The new MacBook Pros are some of the first quad-core portables to keep a thin profile and long battery life, and their performance relative to much larger and more expensive workstations may be part of a rare closing of the gap between desktop and mobile. [via 9to5

Monday, February 21, 2011

Apple releases 2011 Supplier Responsibility report | Computers | MacUser | Macworld

Apple releases 2011 Supplier Responsibility report | Computers | MacUser | Macworld

Company details efforts to improve working conditions among its suppliers and manufacturers

Posted on Feb 14, 2011 5:38 pm by David Chartier,

Apple has released its 2011 report on Supplier Responsibility, a relatively new annual report that compiles results from audits it performs of its component suppliers and manufacturing facilities. Social responsibility at Appleʼs overseas partners has become an increasingly hot topic lately— fairly or not, Apple has often been singled out over other companies—and the report offers a summary of the progress that Appleʼs suppliers are making.

As Appleʼs packaging often so modestly touts, the companyʼs products are usually designed at its U.S. headquarters in California. But like many companies, Appleʼs products are primarily built by a variety of manufacturers, most of which are located in Taiwan, China, and Singapore. Over the years, stories from these factories of worker abuse, inhumane working conditions, and a Chinese employee committing suicide after losing an iPhone prototype have prompted investigations from both Apple and Chinese authorities. A 26-page complaint lobbied against Apple from 36 environmental groups in China just last month revived the topic again.

The discussion of social responsibility in these factories—and Appleʼs role in facilitating it—has increased in recent years, roughly in proportion to Appleʼs escalating popularity. To tackle the subject more directly, Apple began auditing its supplierʼs facilities in 2007 to verify that they meet, or are aspiring to meet, various criteria of its Supplier Code of Conduct, a series of guidelines that is modeled after (but, according to Apple, are more stringent than) the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct. Apple also created its aforelinked Supplier Responsibility site and has been publishing its reports.
For its progress report this year, Apple says it audited 97 new facilities in 2010 and repeated audits at 30—thatʼs 14 more new audits than in 2009 and nearly double the number of repeat audits. The company investigated 127 facilities in all last year, bringing the total number of audits since 2007 to 288. The report organizes key findings, decisions, and facility improvements by a handful of topics, including employee and management training, protecting worker rights, and acquiring conflict-free materials.

Training and education

Apple introduced the Train-the-Trainer program in 2008, which educates workers, supervisors, and managers in facilities that make Apple products on things like the code of conduct, occupational health and safety, and workersʼ rights. In 2010, Apple expanded the program to 29 more facilities (which were chosen based on their lower audit scores) and doubled the number of participants in 2009, reaching a total of 300,000 workers since the programʼs introduction. More than 6000 supervisors and managers have also been trained on their responsibilities to their workersʼs rights.

The training is working, Apple claims. A survey showed an increase in confidence among assembly line workers—59 percent in 2009, but 93 percent in 2010—that they can provide feedback without any concern of negative repercussions.

Apple says it also found a few aspects of its program in need of improvement, including class sizes, engagement through interactivity, and expanding coverage of topics around anti- harassment, anti-discrimination, and grievance mechanisms. The company says new tactics have been implemented for this yearʼs programs.
Another program, launched as a pilot in 2009 called Supplier Employee Education and Development (SEED), saw greater success in 2010. SEED allows workers to take computer- based classes to learn English, computer, and technical skills, and some workers are able to join associate degree programs that are linked to Chinese universities. In 2009, 14,800 workers participated. In 2010, that number rose to more than 16,000.


After one of its first audits in 2008 revealed a number of unethical hiring practices, Apple launched initiatives to combat involuntary labor through the use of excessively high recruitment fees. In short, some workers in these factories pay fees to recruitment services in order to get their jobs. While such fees are often legal in many of these facility workersʼs countries—namely the Philippines, Thailand, indonesia, and Vietnam—Apple found that many were being forced to pay many months worth of wages, and therefore become steeped in debt, just to get a job.

Apple now regulates against what it calls “debt-bonded labor” by mandating that recruitment fees for the facilities it uses cannot exceed more than one monthʼs wages. Going one step further, Apple also requires suppliers to reimburse overpaid fees for all contract workers, even for employees who are not building Apple products. Since 2008, more than $3.4 million in overcharges have been returned, and as far as Apple knows, it is the only company in the electronics industry that mandates reimbursement of excessive recruitment fees.

After expanded audit efforts in 2010 at 20 facilities in Taiwan and eight between Malaysia and Singapore, Apple found 18 facilities where workers were forced to pay excessive recruitment fees. Apple required the suppliers to reimburse those workers and management to take classes that cover labor standards. It also invited officials from Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines to share information about their laws governing everything from the recruitment and management of foreign workers to direct-hire processes that reduce recruitment fees.

Fighting underage labor was another focus of Appleʼs efforts in 2010. Chinese factories are increasingly turning to labor agencies and vocational schools to meet rising production demands. Worse, some sources—including schools and hiring agencies—provide false IDs to misrepresent a childʼs age. In the case of one particular school, students who revealed their true ages during Appleʼs investigations were threatened with retaliation.
Audits of 127 facilities found 10 that had hired workers under Chinaʼs minimum employment age of 16. A total of 49 workers from nine facilities were hired before reaching the legal age, and Apple has required those suppliers to add policies and procedures to prevent hiring underage workers. Apple found, however, that the tenth facility was responsible for hiring 42 underage workers on its own, and it intentionally ignored Appleʼs requirements for changing its policies. Apple has since terminated its relationship with that facility (but does not name which one), required other facilities to reimburse educational expenses, living stipends, and lost wages for the underage workers, and reported the offending school to Chinese authorities.

Conflict-free minerals

The supply chain for various materials that Apple and many tech companies use in their products can be convoluted, ranging from family-run mines, to brokers, and commodity exchangers. Apple has been mapping its supply chain and working with the the Extractives Workgroup, a joint effort of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Global e- Sustainability Initiative, to validate conflict-free sources and comply with new provisions of the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection and Wall Street Reform Act, which became U.S. law in July 2010.
In 2010 the Extractives Workgroup began audits to identify smelters which can demonstrate that they do not get their materials from conflict areas associated with the Democratic Republic of Congo or neighboring countries. Apple expects audits for smelters of two of its key materials, tantalum and tin, to be completed by the end of 2011.

Foxconn suicides

In this yearʼs report, Apple detailed its response to the tragic suicides of 12 workers in Foxconnʼs Shenzhen factory in 2010. COO Tim Cook and other Apple executives accompanied suicide prevention experts with experience in China on a visit to the Shenzhen factory in June 2010. They wanted a better idea of the conditions at the factory and to assess how Foxconn would prevent future suicides.

Two of Foxconnʼs post-suicide efforts gained attention in the media: the installation of safety nets outside the factory and an average of a 30 percent pay raise for each worker. However, company representatives denied that the latter measure had anything to do with the suicides, insisting that business had simply been good over the past year.

Apple commissioned an independent team of suicide prevention experts to interview more than 1000 workers about working at Foxconn. Per the teamʼs recommendations, Foxconn began implementing a number of long-term plans for improving employee well-being, including better training of care center staff and expanding operations to other parts of China so that workers can be closer to their home provinces.

Core violations

In addition to the involuntary and underage labor violations mentioned earlier, Apple outlined a number of other “core violations”—serious abuses of its Supplier Code of Conduct—that it found in 2010, as well as how it reacted to them.
Core violations included worker endangerment, health impairment from exposure to the hazardous n-hexane chemical, and employee coaching. In all but one case, facilities followed Appleʼs requirements and discontinued the violating practices. Apple caught one facility repeatedly offering cash to third-party auditors in order to reduce the number of audit findings, so it subsequently terminated business with the facility.

Moving forward

Apple finishes its report by outlining priorities for 2011. The company plans to expand the reach of its social responsibility training for workers and its SEED education program. Apple says it wants to work with both industry groups and NGOs in China to tackle fundamental issues such as underage labor and employee well-being. In addition to training expansion, Apple wants to implement more aggressive audits and stronger rules to help correct bad practices and bolster preventative actions.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kindle e-book piracy accelerates | Fully Equipped - CNET Reviews

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...Cover via AmazonKindle e-book piracy accelerates | Fully Equipped - CNET Reviews

Several months ago I set up a Google alert for my book, "Knife Music," to keep abreast of anything anybody was saying--good or bad--about the thing. Over the months I've received news of the occasional blog post and tweets, but more recently I popped open an alert to learn that my book was being pirated--both as a separate file and part of two larger torrents called "2,500 Retail Quality Ebooks (iPod, iPad, Nook, Sony Reader)" and "2,500 Retail Quality Ebooks for Kindle (MOBI)."
I had the strange reaction of being both dismayed and weirdly honored that someone had selected my book to strip free of its copy-protection (DRM) and include as part of a collection of "quality" e-books, many of which were from very good authors.

OK, so the use of the term "quality" was a reference to the formatting of the e-books and not the quality of the actual work, but for a moment I wasn't too bothered. After all, if someone downloads 2,500 books, what are the odds he or she is going to even bother looking at yours? I was probably only losing a few bucks, especially considering my e-book is currently priced at $3.99, which only leaves me with about 50 cents a book after the publisher, e-book seller, and agent take their cuts. Even if I missed out on selling 200 e-books, that's a mere $100. No big deal, right?

Well, obviously, for big authors, this whole pirating thing presents a bigger problem--and a bigger loss. But that isn't what dismayed me so much (sorry, but when you're a little guy, you don't care so much about how much the big guys are losing). Rather, what's shocking, and what the publishers should be most concerned about, is the fact that a library of 2,500 books can be downloaded in a matter of hours. E-books are small files and 2,500 of them can be packed into a single download (torrent) that's only about 3.4GB.

By comparison, a single DVD movie is usually larger than that, as well as many retail PC games, which tend to run in the 4GB to 7.5GB range. A "major" PSP title is about 1GB, sometimes a bit larger (yes, the PSP has been severely affected by piracy).

I probably don't need to point this out, but I will. I have about 600 books in my paper book collection, which took me years to gather and prune during various moves. Digitally, that same collection could be downloaded in around 30 minutes and stored on a cheap 1GB thumb drive (or a Kindle).

A lot of people think that's a good thing. And maybe it is. But what should also be alarming to publishers is that the number of people pirating books is growing along with the number of titles that are available for download. As I've written in the past, the rise of the iPad has spurred some of the pirating, but now the huge success of the Kindle is also leading to increased pirating. Yes, some companies, such as Attributor, have done some studies about the issue and have seen increases. But for my evidence one only need glance at Pirate Bay and see what people are downloading and how many of them are doing it.

The most popular e-book download on Pirate Bay is the Kindle Books Collection, which has something like 650 e-books in it (it's just less than 1GB), and is ahead of a 224-page PDF e-book called "Advanced Sex: Explicit Positions for Explosive Lovemaking." At the time of this writing, 668 people were "seeding" the Kindle collection while 153 people were downloading it. A few month ago, the numbers of people downloading e-book collections like this at given moment were in the 50 to 60 range with fewer seeders.
Now some of you in the comments section are going to inevitably say, who needs 2,500 books? And most people don't read all that much anyway. But the point here is that there may very well be a dark side to the success of e-books, which some are speculating will make up 50 percent of the market in as little as five years.

You can argue whether it was Napster or the rise of the iPod--or most probably both--that led to the huge amount of music piracy, but the book business will also take its share of big losses as it moves further into the digital realm. True, it's much harder to get someone to invest the time to read a book than to listen to an album, watch a movie, or play a game, so chances are piracy won't hurt the book business as much as those industries. But on the flip side, as I said before, it's also much quicker to download a huge collection of books or a number of New York Times best sellers with a single click of a button.

How much will price play into all this? Well, you already have plenty of folks out there who think it's outrageous for publishers to price an e-book at $12.99 or $14.99 when the hardcover is first released. And some of those folks may feel justified in downloading pirated versions of books in protest--or just because they say they don't like getting ripped off. And while some pricing decisions by publishers are clearly bad, pricing may be a smaller part of the piracy equation than you might think. What a surprising number of people have told me is that they pirate stuff for the same reason that a lot of people like the Kindle: it's all about instant gratification.

As one friend put it, "You want something, you click a button, you get it." He has a Netflix account and knows he can get a particular movie within 36 hours delivered to his door, yet he says he sometimes uses BitTorrent to get the movie so he can watch it faster.

This is something publishers will have to contend with going forward. They know it, and Scott Turow, the president of the Author's Guild and a practicing lawyer, is acutely aware of how much of a problem it is and could become.

"It [piracy] has killed large parts of the music industry," he said in an interview. "Musicians make up for the copies of their songs that get pirated by performing live. I don't think there will be as many people showing up to hear me read as to hear Beyonce sing. We need to make sure piracy is dealt with effectively."
Alas, so far it hasn't been dealt with effectively and I doubt it ever will be. It won't cost me much now--and it may even help me find a few readers who might not have read my book--but in the long run, it could really hurt. And unlike the New York Times' David Pogue, I've got no live act. Perhaps I need to get one, though I think I'd have a hard time matching his rendition of "Apps, I did it again."

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