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Windows Blue, BlackBerry Q10 and NSA’s PRISM


June 25, 2013
By Tom Rataj

1189 words – MR pics: rataj-aug folder

Blue Windows, BlackBerry and PRISM

by Tom Rataj

Microsoft launched Windows 8 last fall with much fanfare but the drastic and dramatic “dual-personality” touchscreen-centric makeover hasn’t sparked a great deal of interest, particularly in the upgrade market.

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Many corporate and police customers are still in the process of moving to Windows 7 and are not even considering a move to 8. While there is always a degree of resistance to new versions, the radical design shift and focus on the all-new “modern” style interface, borrowed from Windows Phone and meant for touchscreen devices, flummoxed many desktop and non-touchscreen users.

Microsoft’s overall intent is to harmonize the user interface and experience on all devices running Windows; smartphones, tablets, laptops and even game systems. While this is actually a sound strategy, the implementation is a bit premature because so many computers, particularly desktops, do not have touchscreens. Once they become the norm the strategy will probably pay off.

The major problem with Windows 8 is that, in addition to the new modern style user interface, there is also a separate, more traditional “desktop” side that works best without touch-screen controls.

The two personalities and the process of moving between them became a major headache for most new users, often leaving them confused and frustrated.

Further confusion resulted from programs having to be unique to either the modern or desktop sides and, in some cases, having different capabilities. Older pre-Windows 8 programs only work on the desktop side.

Coinciding with the Windows 8 launch, Microsoft also introduced a new “Surface” line of tablets which, unfortunately, added to the confusion. The lower-end Windows RT tablet uses a different processor and a variant of the operating system; only the higher end tablet has the full Windows 8 and can run software written for older versions of Windows. Programs are not interchangeable between the two models.

Some remedies to all this confusion are on the way with the pending release of Windows Blue, aka Windows 8.1. It brings back the traditional “Start” button (but not the full start menu) and allows users to start directly into the traditional desktop environment instead of the modern style interface. It includes many other enhancements, re-engineered processes and support for emerging hardware such as the new 4K or Ultra High Definition (UHD) televisions and monitors.

A developer preview (beta) was promised for late June 2013 with a full release scheduled for this fall. Stay tuned and consider waiting for Windows 9.

{BlackBerry Q10}

The highly anticipated BlackBerry Q10, featuring the legendary mechanical keyboard, was released in Canada in May, a few months after the Z10. Early reports suggest that demand for the Q10 bests the Z10 by a ratio of 3:1. Many customers are corporations and governments coveting the out-of-the-box security inherent in the BlackBerry 10 operating system and back end data and security network and services. They also strongly prefer the highly efficient and accurate keyboard.

Some Canadian police services that use the Mobile Innovations product line have already deployed a few Q10’s and BlackBerry Enterprise Services (BES) to prepare for an eventual total migration.

The working guts of the Q10 are essentially identical to the excellent Z10, although the phone features a smaller square 3.1″ display. It has a 720x720dpi – 330 pixels-per-inch, Super AMOLED colour multi-touch touchscreen and a more linear keyboard.

The Q10 ships with a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of system memory and 16GB of user memory, expandable to 32GB with a microSD memory card. An 8 megapixel rear facing still/video (1080p) camera with flash and 2 megapixel front-facing still/video (720p) camera rounds out the major specifications.

The phone shipped with a slightly updated BlackBerry 10.2 operating system, which adds some additional features and functionality to support the keyboard/touchscreen integration.

On the app front, OS 10.2 also introduced the highly anticipated release of Skype to the BlackBerry 10 lineup and the announcement that the app store had surpassed the 120,000 threshold.

Available in classic BlackBerry black and the currently fashionable white, the phone also supports cellular data from quad-band EDGE up to 4G quad-band LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Near-Field Communications (NFC) and a number of advanced environmental sensors common on most smartphones.

Wired connections include an industry-standard 3.5mm headphone jack and microHDMI and microUSB jacks, avoiding the need for the expensive proprietary connectors Apple devices require.

With its smaller sized, thrifty AMOLED screen and a hefty 2,100mAH battery, the Q10 has a rated battery life of 13.5 hours talk-time and 14.5 days standby.

BlackBerry also announced the more affordable Q5 smartphone in May, designed for emerging markets and the lower end of the consumer market (not including North America), and plans to make the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service available for Apple iOS and Android based smartphones. Recently upgraded to include voice and video support, BBM was already considered the gold standard for text-based communication between smartphones.

Also rumoured to arrive by November is the BlackBerry A10, which will apparently feature a 4.7″ or 5″ touchscreen, 1.9GHz quad-core processor and other high-end features, making it the new flagship.

{PRISM}

In the latest “leak” of classified information and programs, former American security analyst Edward Snowden shocked the world in early June by revealing that the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) was monitoring communications and data transmitted over the Internet through the PRISM program.

He revealed that under the powers of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the supervision of the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, PRISM has been gathering data from the systems of major Internet/technology companies to identify and combat anti-American/Western terrorist organisations, plots and operatives.

It was revealed that Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, YouTube, AOL, Skype and Apple, among others have participated.

Since the bulk of Internet traffic travels through servers and other Internet infrastructure located in the US, even communications between individuals and groups in other countries can be monitored, intercepted and recorded.

The participant companies were quick to respond, noting they only provide data under the direction of legally binding orders or subpoenas, not voluntarily or through “back-door” access granted to the NSA.

As I write this, there are many questions about the actual nature and scope of the electronic eavesdropping and Snowden is on the run from US arrest warrants.

It would appear much of what was collected under PRISM was higher level aggregate data designed to establish connections between individuals and groups, allowing the NSA and other security agencies to determine where and on whom to focus investigations. Some data was collected from American citizens, which has enraged many civil libertarians.

NSA Director General Keith Alexander reportedly stated PRISM had helped to prevent more than 50 potential terrorist attacks worldwide between 2001 and 2013, including 10 in the US. PRISM sourced information apparently assisted in over 90 per cent of those cases, according to Alexander.

The Canadian Security Establishment declined to comment, stating it would undermine its ability to carry out its mandate. Several other foreign governments offered a variety of carefully worded responses to the leaks.

This story will no doubt unfold for some time.