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AT&T's New Ultra-Slim Data Diet

By Paul Hartsock
Jun 5, 2010 5:00 AM PT

AT&T Wireless is going through some rather confusing changes lately, and it's making the word "unlimited" sound more and more old-timey every day.

AT&T's New Ultra-Slim Data Diet

It might actually work out to your benefit if you're an AT&T customer with a data plan who uses the phone to surf some pages, look at some emails and maybe stream a little music now and then. But if you're an outlier, what statisticians might call a "deviant," if you become a new AT&T customer who's going to use its 3G data network to do a lot more than the typical hey-lemme-show-you-something-cute-on-YouTube sort of stuff ... then stop drinking that milk, cause here comes the spit-take.

Your data plan is getting a 2 GB limit, and if you go over that, you're charged by the gig. Oh, there's a bunch of musical chairs going on with pricing and smaller plans and so forth, but the point is, AT&T is no longer selling a wireless network free-flowing with milk and honey and bandwidth.

Here's how it breaks down: If you're a light user, you can go for the DataPlus plan. Fifteen bucks, 200 MB -- that's mega, with an M. Or you can go with the DataPro plan, which gives you 2 GB for US$25 a month. Break that limit and you get charged more.

Oh, and if you're already on AT&T with that existing $30-per-month unlimited data plan, you can get grandfathered in and not have to change -- not until you want to change anything else about your plan, that is. Then all bets are off and you'll have to make a choice.

All this kicks in on June 7 -- incidentally the day Steve Jobs will probably show off the next iPhone. And AT&T says iPhone tethering will finally happen this summer, pinky swear. Personally, I'll believe it when I see it. That'll please people who want to use the iPhone as a computer modem, but with this new plan, tethering won't exactly work like it has for other AT&T models in the past. Instead of unlimited data on the phone and 5GB on the 'puter, now all data falls under whatever cap your plan has -- you'll just be charged $20 for the distinct privilege of surfing on a larger screen. Hrm.

So are you going to have to keep nervously glancing at your data meter and hide your iPhone from yourself at the end of every month just so you don't pop over? Probably not -- AT&T says 98 percent of its customers, even a lot of the crazy ones, stay under 2 GB on their mobiles. And as much as placing a limit leaves a bad taste in customers' mouths, coming in with a lower entry-level price for a data plan might end up attracting a ton of new data subscribers for the company. So a bunch more people will sign up, add even more traffic to the network, and we'll all arrive safely back where we started.

Listen to the podcast (11:58 minutes).

Get In the Ring

With the iPad selling so fast, it's only natural that a ton of other companies would start scrambling to push out their own tablet computers. You could call it rampant wannabe-ism if you want, or you could call it smart -- there's money in this market; either get some or go hungry. Asus has proven to be a pretty agile player when it comes to interesting form factors, and it's already shown two models of an upcoming tablet.

The first thing wrong with this thing is its name. It's called the "Eee Pad." Yes, people got used to "iPad" and we all learned to say it without giggling and the jokes wore down eventually, but really, why go down that path again intentionally? And for some reason, putting an "Eee" instead of an "i" at the beginning sounds 10 times worse ... I dunno, it makes it more medical or something. Not pleasant.

But there may be plenty right with the Eee Pad in ways that matter a lot more than a name. For one thing, the larger 12-inch model will have full computer features -- it'll run Windows 7. The 10-inch model goes with Windows Embedded Compact 7, which is a flat-out miracle of a product name compared to "Eee Pad." There will be a docking station to use as a keyboard, at least for the 12-inch model, so this could conceivably be one's all-around computer, not just an additional device for lighter tasks, like how the iPad is positioned.

Or that might actually work against it -- maybe buyers won't want their tablets to work just like their PCs. Trying to cram Windows 7 into a tablet means it's just not going to resonate with consumers in the same way the iPad has, according to Altimeter Group's Michael Gartenberg. He told us, "That's really the table stakes right now, the iPad. That's the baseline experience consumers have come to expect from this class of products."

Mind If I Take a Look?

The FCC has big plans for broadband in the U.S., and rolling them out means it needs information. So it's asked the masses of America vital questions about Internet speed. How fast is yours? And how's that working out for you? Are you satisfied? The general response: Meh, it's fast enough. I'm happy.

It seems 80 percent of Americans don't really know how fast the data flows through their home tubes, and 90 percent say they're at least somewhat happy about the speed they're getting. If they need more, they figure they can just call up the ISP and upgrade from the Triple-X-Plus-Infinity package to the Double-Y-Chromosome-Entropy-Pro deal, or whatever. It costs twice as much so it must be twice as fast, right?

But that blissfully ignorant state of affairs isn't sitting well with the FCC. It really, really wants to know just what kind of speed Americans are working with. It's framed the issue as a matter of consumer protection. FCC Director of Consumer Research John Horrigan told us, "We've done some analysis that indicated that the average advertised speed [for broadband] is eight megabits per second, but when you look at tools that measure actual speed, actual speed is four megabits per second. If people are unaware of speeds, they could be effectively overpaying for broadband."

That message was echoed by Joel Gurin, chief of the FCC's consumer and governmental affairs bureau. "Today, most people just know that their home broadband speed is supposed to be 'blazing fast.' They need more meaningful information to know exactly what speed they need for the applications they want to run and what provider and plan is their best choice."

So to dig deeper, the commission plans to spend about $600,000 to install special speed-monitoring hardware in the homes of 10,000 volunteers all over the U.S.

That'll probably do the trick and give you a good view of America's megabits, but critics say that if nine in 10 consumers say they don't have a problem, why keep picking at this? Bruce Leichtman at the Leichtman Research Group says people want fast Internet connections; they just don't care exactly how fast, as long as it's fast enough. "If they don't know their speed and they're happy, then they're basically saying it's not paramount in the consumer's mind to know their exact speed."

It's businesses, not consumers, who have the real need for speed, he said. "That's where these massive speeds that people are looking for are much more applicable."

HP Keeps Hacking Away

It's not the kind of news you want to hear right after your company posts a strong fiscal quarter, shows up Wall Street analysts and brightens its full-year forecast. HP says it plans to cut 9,000 jobs over the next three years, representing about 3 percent of its total workforce. It hopes to save over a half-billion dollars in the process.

HP isn't saying much on who's getting cut or where, but Pund-IT's Charles King says this is clearly another aftershock from the company's acquisition of EDS 20 months ago. Melding two giants together like that takes time, and it makes for a lot of broken eggs. When that purchase was made, HP said it would have to dump nearly 25,000 jobs; this new round represents yet another series of cuts over and above that.

But HP coupled the layoff news with an announcement that it's also creating 6,000 new positions, so the net cuts are more like 3,000. But outside of a bunch of rounded figures and first-grade math, very little is being revealed about the nature and location of both the eliminated jobs and the newly created ones.

HP's gone through a huge number of layoffs over the last decade, and according to ITIC's Laura Didio, "they give the same explanation each time -- 'some jobs are being cut and others created in order to let us offer a better mix of services' -- and there is little transparency to see where exactly these new jobs are being created."

Didio's best guess is that the cuts will be mostly in the U.S., and the new ones will be mostly overseas.

I'm In Ur Facebook, Jackin' Ur Clicks

Some of your Facebook friends are probably demonstrably weirder than others, at least as far as their status updates and likes are concerned. Whatever, right? They're creative, and they break up the monotony of endless doggy pictures and TV talk.

But when even your weirdest friends start "liking" stuff that looks like it's copied and pasted from a spam email, best not to click on it. You probably won't get what's being advertised: a topless photo of some celebrity or Justin Bieber's phone number or a video of a woman eating a banana strangely. Instead, what you'll get is clickjacked. The browser will take you to some other site, have you promise you're 18 years old by clicking on a button, and then use hacker magic to make you "Like" that link on Facebook. Now all the world knows you're a jackass.

The term "clickjacking" sounds kind of dangerous -- and it is; it has the potential to put awful, awful malware on your computer. But in Facebook's latest rash of clickjacking, it looks like the only threat so far is that it makes you look like a social networking noob who clicks on anything shiny. But if the clickjackers behind this whole thing ever decided to tie in some malware -- maybe to spy on your online banking or credit card transactions, for example -- it wouldn't be all that difficult.

Facebook is well aware of what's going on. A spokesperson told us that it's blocked the URL associated with these junk links and it's working to scrub the remaining links from the network. But it could be a long cat-and-mouse game; Sean-Paul Correll at Panda Security told us that while Facebook has the power to block whatever URL it wants to, the clickjackers also have the power to change the URL.

The Defenestration of Windows

You know that hack attack on Google last year that set off a whole big fight with the Chinese government? It's still giving Google nightmares about security, and it's reportedly decided that the only way it's going to get some peace of mind is if it puts Windows out of the house. No more Windows PCs in Google land. According to a Financial Times article this week, Google is washing its hands of Microsoft's OS.

To be clear, Google has not outright announced that's what it's going to do, but when we called to verify the story, we didn't exactly get a full-blown denial, either. The exact words of company spokesperson Jay Nancarrow, "We're always working to improve the efficiency of our business, but we don't comment on specific operational matters."

So, with our qualifiers and conditions and disclosures and disclaimers all firmly in place, let's suppose for a minute that this story is all or mostly true, because that's just more interesting.

First of all, why would Google get rid of Windows over a bunch of hackers who -- as I understand it -- actually wormed their way through via an old Web browser? Sure, it was Microsoft's browser, IE6, but wouldn't the simpler solution be to stop using such a horribly outdated, leaky browser?

Secondly, if Google actually does manage to scrub Windows from its entire organization, how long before it starts thinking about showing Mac the door too? I'll bet OS X has a larger per-capita presence in Google than the world at large, but Apple and Google seem to be right in the middle of that very emotional I-hate-your-guts stage of a breakup. Just my impression.

That would leave Linux, which feels like it best suits Google's personality. Android is a close relative, and Google has another homemade operating system in the kitchen, Chrome OS. It's possible that Google just wants to move to being an all-Chrome office and keep its own home pure by using only its own materials, sort of like a brewer of fine beer, or a royal family tree.

Whatever's really going on at Google, remember that all we have to go on for now is this one news report with unnamed sources, not a fresh'n'crisp press release -- "Attention media: Windows security reeks." Still, without a strong denial, this situation could really turn around and bite Google if any significant holes pop up in either Chrome or Android. Directions on Microsoft's Michael Cherry told us that security, "is an industry-wide problem. This is not something you gloat about or throw in somebody's face, because you don't know when your day is coming."

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How do you feel about accidents that occur when self-driving vehicles are being tested?
Self-driving vehicles should be banned -- one death is one too many.
Autonomous vehicles could save thousands of lives -- the tests should continue.
Companies with bad safety records should have to stop testing.
Accidents happen -- we should investigate and learn from them.
The tests are pointless -- most people will never trust software and sensors.
Most injuries and fatalities in self-driving auto tests are due to human error.