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AT&T’s New Ultra-Slim Data Diet

AT&T Wireless is going through some rather confusing changes lately,and it’s making the word “unlimited” sound more and more old-timeyevery day.

It might actually work out to your benefit if you’re an AT&T customerwith a data plan who uses the phone to surf some pages, look at someemails and maybe stream a little music now and then. But if you’re anoutlier, what statisticians might call a “deviant,” if you become anew AT&T customer who’s going to use its 3G data network to do a lot morethan the typical hey-lemme-show-you-something-cute-on-YouTubesort of stuff … then stop drinking that milk, cause here comes thespit-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 goingon with pricing and smaller plans and so forth, but the point is, AT&Tis no longer selling a wireless network free-flowing with milk andhoney and bandwidth.

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

Oh, and if you’re already on AT&T with that existing $30-per-monthunlimited data plan, you can get grandfathered in and not have tochange — 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 willprobably show off the next iPhone. And AT&T says iPhone tethering willfinally happen this summer, pinky swear. Personally, I’ll believe itwhen I see it. That’ll please people who want to use the iPhone as acomputer modem, but with this new plan, tethering won’t exactly worklike it has for other AT&T models in the past. Instead of unlimiteddata on the phone and 5GB on the ‘puter, now all data falls underwhatever cap your plan has — you’ll just be charged $20 for thedistinct privilege of surfing on a larger screen. Hrm.

So are you going to have to keep nervously glancing at your data meterand hide your iPhone from yourself at the end of every month just soyou don’t pop over? Probably not — AT&T says 98 percent of itscustomers, even a lot of the crazy ones, stay under 2 GB on theirmobiles. And as much as placing a limit leaves a bad taste incustomers’ mouths, coming in with a lower entry-level price for a dataplan might end up attracting a ton of new data subscribers for thecompany. So a bunch more people will sign up, add even more traffic tothe 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 othercompanies would start scrambling to push out their own tabletcomputers. You could call it rampant wannabe-ism if you want, or youcould call it smart — there’s money in this market; either get someor go hungry. Asus has proven to be a pretty agile player when itcomes 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 itwithout giggling and the jokes wore down eventually, but really, whygo down that path again intentionally? And for some reason, putting an”Eee” instead of an “i” at the beginning sounds 10 times worse … Idunno, it makes it more medical or something. Not pleasant.

But there may be plenty right with the Eee Pad in ways that matter alot more than a name. For one thing, the larger 12-inch model willhave full computer features — it’ll run Windows 7. The 10-inch modelgoes with Windows Embedded Compact 7, which is a flat-out miracle of aproduct name compared to “Eee Pad.” There will be a docking station touse as a keyboard, at least for the 12-inch model, so this couldconceivably be one’s all-around computer, not just an additionaldevice for lighter tasks, like how the iPad is positioned.

Or that might actually work against it — maybe buyers won’t wanttheir tablets to work just like their PCs. Trying to cram Windows 7into a tablet means it’s just not going to resonate with consumers inthe same way the iPad has, according to Altimeter Group’s MichaelGartenberg. He told us, “That’s really the table stakes rightnow, the iPad. That’s the baseline experience consumers have come toexpect 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 bigfight with the Chinese government? It’s still giving Google nightmaresabout security, and it’s reportedly decided that the only way it’sgoing to get some peace of mind is if it puts Windows out of thehouse. No more Windows PCs in Google land. According to a FinancialTimes article this week, Google is washing its hands of Microsoft’sOS.

To be clear, Google has not outright announced that’s what it’s goingto do, but when we called to verify the story, we didn’t exactlyget a full-blown denial, either. The exact words of companyspokesperson Jay Nancarrow, “We’re always working to improvethe efficiency of our business, but we don’t comment on specificoperational matters.”

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

First of all, why would Google get rid of Windows over a bunch ofhackers who — as I understand it — actually wormed their way throughvia an old Web browser? Sure, it was Microsoft’s browser, IE6, butwouldn’t the simpler solution be to stop using such a horriblyoutdated, leaky browser?

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

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

Whatever’s really going on at Google, remember that all we have to goon for now is this one news report with unnamed sources, not afresh’n’crisp press release — “Attention media: Windows securityreeks.” Still, without a strong denial, this situation could reallyturn around and bite Google if any significant holes pop up in eitherChrome or Android. Directions on Microsoft’s Michael Cherry told usthat security, “is an industry-wide problem. This is notsomething you gloat about or throw in somebody’s face, because youdon’t know when your day is coming.”

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