Google has given Gmail users an early Christmas gift, adding a free ‘Tasks’ list feature to its GMail client.

According to The Official GMail Blog, the new Tasks feature operates in a separate window which, like a Gmail chat window, can be floated outside of your Gmail workspace.

While a ‘To Do’ list feature may seem old hat at first glance, Google techs suggest that, since many of us do so much of our daily business (personal and corporate) via e-mail, an integrated reminder system just makes sense.

A quick poll of TLP’s editorial team supports the notion that power users will probably get more use out of a mail client-based To Do list than a browser-based one. The Google Tasks list is simply ‘in the right place at the right time’.

To enable Tasks, go to Settings, click the ‘Labs’ tab. Select ‘Enable’ next to ‘Tasks’ and then click ‘Save Changes’ at the bottom. Then, after Gmail refreshes, on the left under the ‘Contacts’ link, you’ll see a ‘Tasks’ link. Just click it to get started.

Call it another spin on electric car technology.

Not exactly a new one, though. Michelin’s Active Wheel system has been around since 2004. But only recently have car makers shown a definite interest, in concert with their initiatives to get electric cars on the road within the next five to ten years.

The Active Wheel incorporates a powerful, efficient electric motor, suspension components and even brakes into the wheel assembley. All you need is an axle to mount it on and a source of power.

The Active Wheel can be used in two-wheel or all-wheel drive systems and Michelin points out that its electric drive system is also a natural for hybrid vehicles.

Michelin showed the latest prototype of it’s Active Wheel at the Paris Auto Show in october. No word, however, on when an Active Wheel production vehicle may be available or how much it might cost.

The major music lables have quashed rumours circulating yesterday that Apple would soon introduce Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free music downloads at its iTunes store.

Apple Inc. declined comment on the rumours but reps from Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner Music Group — the three largest music lables — were quick to confirm that Apple was only negotiating with them for DRM-free downloads.

Apple has been under pressure from its users and the competition to offer DRM-free tunes. But, as of now, the only major music producer to agree has been EMI.

For non-iTunes users and the non-musical in general, DRM is the copy-protection technology that prevents iTunes users from freely moving the tracks they’ve purchased between different music-playing devices.

Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 8.0 takes a different approach. Unlike the Adobe and Pinnacle products, this one does not walk you through a step-by-step approach. By default, it begins with six tracks (text, video overlay, video, voice, music, and sound effects), and the user interface screams ‘sophisticated video production’. Since I seldom read manuals, I was relieved to find that it had a ‘Show Me How’ button that linked to a good menu and a series of handy tutorials.

While the interface may be intimidating, at first, to beginners, using Vegas was not significantly more difficult than other packages. I imported some video clips, dropped them on to the timeline and hit play to preview. As one might expect, Sony seems to pay a lot of attention to audio. For example, a pair of meters showed information on the audio levels. I had to use the tutorial to understand how transitions work — in the other consumer packages I tested, you just drag the transition between the clips. In Vegas, you first overlap the clips the way you want them, and then apply the transition to the overlapping region.

Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum

Vegas offers a vast array of transitions, effects and features. When you’re done building your video, a click on ‘Make Movie’ brings up a menu that starts a very intuitive process entitled, “What do you want to do with your movie?” Options include saving it to your hard drive, burning a DVD, publishing it to the web, saving it for a Sony PSP, e-mailing it and more.

Unlike most consumer oriented packages, Vegas doesn’t create DVD menus or burn DVDs. Instead, it focuses on video editing and encoding, and exports audio and video to Sony DVD Architect Studio if you want to create a DVD. It only took me a few minutes to layout a very simple DVD for grandma but it was obvious that DVD Architect Studio could do some very sophisticated DVD layouts if one took the time to learn the program.

Overall, Vegas has a steeper learning curve than other consumer packages and it may be too much for those who just want to create a simple video. However, if you’re willing to invest a bit of time to learn the application, Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 8.0 is a powerful video editing tool.

From: BusinessWeek.com —

A report released yesterday by the U.S. federal Commission on Cybersecurity warns that the U.S. (and, by implication, other developed countries) are losing the war against cyber crime.

Among the key recommendations of the report, titled Securing Cyberspace in the 44th Presidency, are the immediate creation of a U.S. national Center for Cybersecurity Operations and the appointment of a special White House adviser to oversee it.

As Keith Epstein of BusinessWeek.com reports, “[The Commission] concluded that the U.S. badly needs a comprehensive cybersecurity policy to replace an outdated checklist of security requirements for government agencies under the existing Federal Information Security Management Act.”

The proposed cybersecurity agency would have jurisdiction over both public and private networks.

“The report calls for the creation of a Center for Cybersecurity Operations that would act as a new regulator of computer security in both the public and private sector. Active policing of government and corporate networks would include new rules and a ‘red team’ to test computers for vulnerabilities now being exploited with increasing sophistication and frequency by identity and credit card thieves, bank fraudsters, crime rings and electronic spies.”

A year-end report by Internet security firm F-Secure, released last week, warned that the cybercrime situation worsened considerably this past year and will probably continue on that path in 2009 unless law enforcement agencies take concerted, collective, global action against cyber crooks.

In the report, Mikko Hypponen, Chief Research Officer at F-Secure, called for the establishment of a global ‘Internetpol’ cyber crime- fighting agency, noting that the idea, “has been received with great interest internationally.”

Sort of.

A new application from the Truphone division of the UK’s Software Cellular Network Ltd. turns any second generation iPod Touch into a WiFi Voice over IP (VoIP) internet phone.

According to the product Web site, Truphone users can, “make free calls to other Truphone or Google Talk users [dubbed ‘TruFriends’] from any Wi-Fi zone, using your iPod Touch’s internet connection and a headphone with mic, or mic adapter. Tell your friends – if you both install Truphone you can call each other for free using your iPod Touch and your local wireless access point. Not a phone (or phone bill) in sight!”

Now, it’s clear that a TruPhone-enabled iPod Touch is much closer to a voice-chat device than it is to a full-fledged iPhone Touch. But, given the popularity of the iPod Touch, the addiction that kids of all ages have developed to ‘instant messaging’ of all descriptions — and the fact that the TruPhone app is free — it seems safe to say that TruPhoning has the potential to become a serious fad.

Is Apple concerned that this third-party app will compete with its flagship iPhone? Apparently not. The TruPhone app is also available from Apple’s official iTunes App store.

A new policy instituted by the Chinese government is causing more than a little consternation among Western security software vendors in general and U.S. federal trade officials in particular.

The new regulation requires all foreign computer security software to be submitted for government approval before it can be sold in China.

Software manufacturers are concerned that the ‘approval’ process will require them to reveal vital trade secrets.

Beijing has not yet released details of the approval program, which is due to come into effect on May 1, 2009.

The Chinese government earlier showed a similar special interest in commercial data encryption software and has since established its own standards for mobile phone services and wireless encryption.

Some observers say the intent of the Chinese, in bringing in the approval requirement for security software, is not to steal Western technology but to provide an advantage to new Chinese companies trying to carve out a slice of their own home market.

The huge size of the as yet largely untapped Chinese technology market — which might effectively be closed to outside vendors whose products don’t pass the approval process — has had Western manufacturers and service providers salivating since before the turn of the millennium.

It seems that Wikipedia, the ultra-popular user-generated online encycplopedia, has been placed on the Internet Watch Foundation black list.

The IWF, based in the UK, bills itself as: “The UK Hotline for reporting illegal content specifically: Child sexual abuse content hosted worldwide and criminally obscene and incitement to racial hatred content hosted in the UK.”

According to an IWF statement: “A Wikipedia Web page was reported through the IWF’s online reporting mechanism in December 2008. As with all child sexual abuse reports received by our Hotline analysts, the image was assessed according to the UK Sentencing Guidelines Council (page 109). The content was considered to be a potentially illegal indecent image of a child under the age of 18, but hosted outside the UK.”

The offending page apparently contains a 1970’s-vintage album cover which was deemed to meet the IWF’s criteria for child porn.

As a Wikipedia Administrator’s Notice explains, the IWF asked ISPs to block only the offending page. But, as a result of the way the block was instituted, 95 per cent of UK Internet users attempting to view Wikipedia — for whatever reason — are being forced to queue up for just a few proxy gateways to the site now available to them.

The upshot of that is… Wikipedia Admins can’t track down vandals from the UK behind the proxy gateways, when they deface articles. So, the popular site has suspended access for editing of Wikipedia entries to what amounts to about 95 per cent of UK Internet users. The Admins also warn of ‘a possible slowdown’ for UK users trying to view the site.

About a decade ago, if you wanted to put your application on the Internet, you started by buying a server. Then, you had two choices: Bring enough bandwidth to your office or put your server in someone else’s facility. Given the cost of Internet connectivity at the time, it was usually less expensive to rent rack space but, for smaller applications and low volume Web sites, some of us did very well with $100 per month ISDN lines.

Hosting providers understood this, too, and quickly started offering turnkey solutions that included both the server and Internet connectivity. For example… Today, that same $100 per month gets you a basic server in a commercial data center connected to the Internet. From a business perspective, it makes a lot of sense: There’s no capital outlay, no hardware maintenance cost, and the fact that it’s a pure expense is often a tax advantage.

Hosting providers also responded to the demand for something between shared Web hosting and a full server. Leveraging virtualization technology (most commonly, open source Linux), the Virtual Private Server (VPS) market was born, giving small businesses and individuals their own virtual server starting around a $30 per month price point.

For many small businesses, a rental VPS server is a great solution. However, if you’re setting out to develop the next Web 2.0 killer application, your major challenge is scalability. If you’re lucky and your app is an amazing success, how will you handle the load? Will it become the next Facebook, or will will poor performance send it spiraling right into its grave?

Cloud computing is a simple concept: Instead of purchasing specific hardware, why not just purchase computing resources such as virtual computers and virtual storage as you need them?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be looking at the Cloud computing phenomenon and discussing the security implications. If you have any questions, please feel free to send them via TLP’s ‘Ask the Editor’ page.

Internet security firm F-Secure has issued its Data Security Wrap-up 2008 for July to December — and the news is grim. Among the darker notes in the year-end report: A surge in botnet activity and a continuing increase in the number of bots, or infected computers which can be controlled remotely by cyber criminals and used to broadcast spam or to infect other computers.

F-Secure admits that there is no way to count the actual number of bots in existance. But conservative estimates, based on a one per cent infection rate as reported by some lartge ISPs, suggests that there at least 12 million of the worlds total 1.2 billion are potentially under the control of criminals.

On the up side, though, the report notes: “It is important to note that not all active bots actually have botmasters (a controlling remote server telling the bot what to do). Many of the world’s bots are orphans without a master, their command and control servers having been discovered, abused, and taken out of service.”

Even so, there’s a down side to the up side: “However, even without a master, the bots continue to exist and they do still attempt to call home. They may also attempt to continuously carry out their last assignment and to defend themselves. These orphaned bots are a plague of wasted computing resources and bandwidth.”

Another nasty trend this past year: A sharp increase in ‘scareware’.

Similar to other scams using unsolicited e-mails and pop-ups at rigged Web sites, scareware goes a step further, frightening users with fate security warnings to coerse them into downloading fake scanners and cleaners which are actually infection packages that will enlist their computers in the ranks of the aforementioned bots.

The report’s predictions inj a nutshell:

  • Crimeware will continue to grow
  • Smartphones will increasingly be targeted by cyber crooks
  • Apple’s Mac OS will see a small but significant increase in virus and Trojan Horse attacks next year.
  • Botnets will continue to grow and become more sophisticated
  • Cyber crime as a whole will increase in severity to the point where law enforcement agencies will be compelled to establish or increase support for initiatives to fight it.

The report notes that a call from Mikko Hypponen, Chief Research Officer at F-Secure, to establish a global ‘Internetpol’ cyber crime fighting agency, has been received with great interest internationally.

Computer pointing device icon Logitech reports that it manufactured its billionth mouse a few weeks ago, in Mid-November.

At a time when advocates of new human-computer interface technologies (such as touch screens) are predicting the iminent death of the mouse, Logitech remains optimistic about the future of the device.

Logitech General Manager Rory Dooley told the BBC, “The fundamental functionality of the mouse has not changed for 40 years and that is one of the keys to its success. We do not envisage unlearning all those years of learning but that doesn’t mean to say there will not be a place for touch interfaces. … Touch will augment the things you can do today with the mouse and keyboard interface.”

While other ‘pointing’ technologies are currently hogging the spotlight, Dooly points out that the mouse celebrates its fortieth birthday this week — and, in that time, may other technologies have come and gone and failed to unsurp the mouse’s traditional role.

The first mouse, legend has it, was first tested on December 9, 1968, by researchers at Standford University. The name ‘mouse’ is said to have been suggested by a cleaning lady who remarked to a technician that the cable coming out of its rear looked like a tail.

A bug that plagued Netflix streaming video delivery for several weeks was finally fixed late last week.

According to a post at the official Netflix blog this past Friday, “Recently some Netflix members using Roku or Xbox movie players noticed lower quality streaming than they had experienced earlier. This was a temporary issue that we believe we have resolved. Working with our content distribution partners and key carriers, we made some specific changes that should restore everyone’s experience to where it was before – high quality streaming.”

Netflix streaming customers using the Roku Player or the Microsoft’s (MS) Xbox, started reporting severe streaming performance hits in mid-November, rendering the movies they had rented unviewable.

There was no word from Netflix regarding the cause of the problem, just the notification to users that it had been fixed.