The World’s Smartest End Table, Smoking Your Phone, Document Standards Gone Wild

Last year, Microsoft successfully mated a touch-screen PC with one of those old Ms. Pacman games you might see at your typical dive bar. Thus the Microsoft Surface — the world’s smartest end table — was born.

At first, it spent most of its time finger painting and identifying objects placed on top of it. Now that it’s a little older, Microsoft has decided it’s time for Surface to go out and get a job. So it’s ready to start working at a few AT&T stores starting later this month.

Customers will be able to use the Surface to gauge the features of a handset by placing it on the display. They’ll even be able to compare units side-by-side. Putting the Surface in retail stores is probably more about showcasing interesting technology than creating a new revenue source, though.

Listen to the podcast (10:52 minutes).

Smoke Your Phone?

Sure, if you chop your cell phone into little pieces, roll it up and smoke it, it probably won’t be good for you.

However, one Australian neurosurgeon says your mobile phone is more dangerous than cigarettes, even if you just talk on it.

Vini Khurana reviewed several studies, as well as a number of articles in the mainstream press, to reach his conclusion that the radiation produced by mobile phones significantly increases your risk of developing a brain tumor.

Furthermore, it heats up the contents of your head, Khurana found. That just can’t be good.

Controversial Standard

The announcement wasn’t even official before allegations of dirty tricks began flying over the approval of Microsoft’s Office Open XML as an international standard.

Critics are accusing Redmond of everything from stuffing the ballot box to spreading misinformation, to lobbying world leaders in its effort to win approval for the document format. The European Commission is looking into some of the charges.

Microsoft maintains that OOXML is a robust standard that will stand the test of time and operate seamlessly with any number of productivity applications. Opponents say it’s merely another way for Microsoft to get its hooks into you and force you to buy MS Office 2019, 2024 and 2031.

Leopard, Vista PWNd

March Madness might involve a lot more yelling and beer than a hacking contest, but the rivalries run just as deep. At the CanSecWest PWN 2 OWN contest in Vancouver, British Columbia, officials pitted Linux against Windows against Mac OS X in a no-holds-barred security cage match.

Competing hackers raced each other to be the first to break into any of three laptops — a MacBook Air, a Fujitsu running Vista, and a Sony Vaio with Ubuntu Linux. The first one to break into a given computer would win US$10,000 — plus the hacked laptop.

The first day of the competition limited hackers to using only a remote zero-day exploit, and all three computers stood up to those attacks. However, on the second day, when contestants were allowed to use default-installed client side applications, the MacBook Air was the first to fall, taken down by a vulnerability in Safari.

On the third day, Vista crumbled due to a previously unknown flaw in Adobe Flash. By the end of the contest, Ubuntu stood alone and unviolated.

Both Apple and Adobe have been informed of the flaws discovered during the contest. This could mean that Linux is more secure than Windows, which is more secure than OS X. Or it could mean that hackers would rather win a MacBook Air than a Vaio running Ubuntu.

Android OK With AT&T

The head of AT&T Mobility no doubt caused more than a couple of jaws to hit the floor when he spoke at the CTIA convention in Las Vegas.

That’s because he indicated AT&T would be willing to consider bulking out its portfolio with phones that are built on — gasp — Google’s Linux-based Android platform.

AT&T has been the main holdout in embracing Android — rivals Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint all signed up when Google formed the Open Handset Alliance, the consortium that’s developing the platform. However, none of them have exclusive rights to the iPhone like a certain other company does.

Shanghai Show-Off

Anyone who’s anyone in the microprocessor world — and you know who you are — made it to Shanghai, China, for Intel’s Developer Forum this week.

Among the highlights: The hoi polloi of floating point operations were treated to an advance peek at Intel’s new line of chips for mobile devices, known as “Atom.” These high-powered, energy-efficient processors aim to bring desktop computing power to tiny little devices.

Intel also showed off a selection of mobile Internet gadgets and so-called netbooks from its partners, including Toshiba, Panasonic and Fujitsu. The chips have already begun to ship, and devices with Atom Inside should begin hitting shelves soon.

iPhone iPrediction

About two months ago, we predicted a 3G iPhone would be released May 5. Then we amended that to May 6 in order to keep in line with that something-new-every-Tuesday thing Apple had going on in the beginning of the year.

Now a bunch of highly paid market analysts in very expensive suits have volunteered their own insights. Bank of America’s Scott Craig said Apple is gearing up to produce the next-gen iPhone this summer. He predicted factories will make 3 million phones in May and another 8 million in June.

Telwares’ Michael Voellinger thinks Apple will sell something like 7 million 3G iPhones by year’s end. What does it all mean? It means our May 6 prediction is still in the money, and it’ll stay there until the 3G iPhone hits the shelves … or May 7, whichever comes first.

TXT 2 Buy

Amazon has launched a text-message shopping option that enables users to search for, compare and buy products using text-messaging.

TextBuyIt works like this: A user sends a text message to Amazon containing the name or UPC code of the desired product. Amazon responds with matching products and prices, each with a single-digit number alongside it.

Customers buy items by responding with a text containing that number. Lastly, Amazon follows up with a phone call to the device that sent the text to confirm the order.

The service also accesses a customer’s existing Amazon account, including their preferred payment methods.

Microsoft Waits Patiently

Microsoft seems to be getting a tad impatient with Yahoo. The software maker reportedly is standing firm with its $31-per-share bid to take over the portal and has no plans to sweeten it.

However, it has signaled that it might consider offering a higher price if Yahoo agrees to direct talks on a merger — a tactic meant to open a dialogue that has yet to occur.

Yahoo has loudly protested that the existing offer is not in the company’s best interests and has actively explored strategic alternatives. Time may be on Microsoft’s side, though, since Yahoo has yet to attract any viable alternative.

Despite a recent push to convince investors that it could grow cash flow significantly if it remained independent, Yahoo share prices are, well, nothing to yodel home about.

Answers and More Questions

The New England-based grocery chain Hannaford — which suffered a data breach that compromised more than 4 million of its customers’ credit card accounts — has identified malware as the culprit behind the intrusion.

The malware turned up on machines in almost all Hannaford stores in the Northeast and Florida.

The company maintains it was in full compliance with the payment card industry security standards — which, if true, makes the breach even more disturbing. It was supposedly doing everything it was required to do, but that wasn’t enough.

Hannaford can’t explain how the malware got into its system.

Old Films, New Life

Do you like ’80s movies? Do you have an incredibly high tolerance for squinting?

If so, you’re going to love Pix. It’s a new movie service from Sony Pictures and AT&T that will make oldish movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Stand By Me” viewable on cell phone screens.

Using MediaFlo technology, the service lets users download titles and view them anywhere — on a subway, on a plane, pretending to work, wherever. Eric Berger, Sony’s vice president of mobile entertainment, said the service is a way for users to have “their own personal movie theater wherever they take their mobile phones.”

That sounds like it works best if you have a paper bag to put over your head. Have at it.

Bandwidth Boom

Renting movies by digital download through iTunes or Amazon is great because you never get a scratched DVD. However, two things are holding back that concept — skittish movie studios and slow download speeds.

If you want a high-definition movie, you won’t exactly get it on demand, because chances are it’ll take a few hours to download even if you have a decent broadband connection. Comcast is clearing that hurdle with a new Internet plan that gives subscribers a 50-megabit-per-second download capability.

That’s about 20 times faster than a run-of-the-mill DSL (digital subscriber line) hookup. Here’s the hitch: unless you live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, you can’t get it, at least not yet. Even if you do live there, it’ll cost you $150 per month.

Also in this episode: “Scary Movie” studio brings original content to Xbox 360, Blu-ray makes it to mainstream laptops, RIM shakes off recession fears.

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