As leaked last week, Rogers Communications Inc. has relaunched its Fido ‘value’ service with a new logo and new low-price plans. The new Fido also offers something called an ‘owner’s guarantee’, which includes access to new features that will let customers manage their cell phone services, including usage limit alerrts, easy price plan switching and what Fido is calling a ‘no-term’ contract. The current service offering is in effect until at least December 31, 2008. For details, visit the Fido Web site.

Bell Mobility’s Solo bargain brand has also revamped its service plans, with special offers good from now to December 31, 2008. Solo counters the new Fido offering with four fresh ‘Unbeatable’ plans of its own, starting at (C)$15 per month. Visit the Solo Web site for details.

Bell Mobility has also become the first Canadian cell/wireless provider to offer roll-over minutes on six of its service plans, starting at (C)$30 per month. For details, visit the Bell Mobility Web site.

Back to Rogers for a moment… Rogers and Research In Motion (RIM) have introduced the new Blackberry Pearl Flip phone to the Canadian market. The Pearl is jsut (C)$49.95 with any combination of Rogers voice and data service plans totalling at least (C)$35 per month.

The new Sony/Ericsson Walkman W760 smart phone is also available through Rogers, now, at prices beginning at (c)$49.95, depending o n the service plan you choose.

Visit the Rogers Wireless Web site for details.

Yahoo shares sank as low as (US)$11.65 a share on Friday, in the wake of the death of the partnership deal with Google and in the face of confirmation from Microsoft (MS) CEO Steve Ballmer that MS is no longer interested in acquiring Yahoo!

“Look, we made an offer, we made another offer. It was clear that Yahoo didn’t want to sell the business to us, and we moved on,” Ballmer told reporters, while in Australia to address that country’s Committee for Economic Development. “We are not interested in going back and re-looking at an acquisition… I don’t know why they would be, either, frankly.”

After Google walked away from the deal to cooperate with Yahoo! on search and ads early last week, Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang literally hung a ‘For Sale’ sign on his company and minced no words suggesting that MS should buy it.

When MS’s Ballmer killed that hope, investors apparently lost hope as well — and Yahoo! shares plummeted to about one third of the value they represented when MS first made its unsolicited and (at that time) unwelcome offer to buy Yahoo! last spring.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. Market watchers say they believe MS still still does covet Yahoo!, but Ballmer wants to make Yang sweat a bit before re-opening acquisition talks. Others say Ballmer’s rejection of Yang’s overture last week was calculated to drive share prices down making it possible for MS to buy Yahoo! at a fraction of its actual, functional value.

Stay tuned…

Microsoft (MS) announced recently that it will launch free, Web-based ‘lightweight’ versions of its iconic Office applications sometime in 2010.

The MS online productivity suite will include all of the core Office applications: MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

That will, effectively, put MS in the running with Google and start-up Zoho of Pleasanton, CA, which already offer comprehensive online office suites.

MS has a record of arriving late for the party on major technology trends. Most famously, MS ignored the Internet until online pioneers like Yahoo! and Google had proven there was money to be made there. Then, MS introduced its Internet Explorer browser, which achieved almost instant market dominance — simply because it came free, pre-installed, with every copy of Windows sold thereafter.

The story was ultimately the same with Web search. And, now, MS offers yet another sequel with Web apps.

MS has come under fire for continuing to sell its full, installable version of the Office suite for (US)$400 (Standard version) when consumers/SOHO users can buy a whole new computer for that amount. In fact, Office suite sales were credited with powering MS past Wall Street’s Q3 2008 sales estimates for the software giant — even in the face of a tanking economy.

Industry observers note than many consumer and SOHO users stay with MS Office, upgrade after upgrade, simply because they are familiar (and comfortable) with it and don’t want to deal with the bother of changing over to, and learning, another suite. The question is, where are new users going for their productivity applications?

Answer: Google, Zoho and other free options.

With the advent of a Web-based Office suite, MS positions itself to grab a share of emerging users, rather than relying on its established customer base of SOHO and corporate users — a group which may well shrink in concert with the shrinking economy. But will Web-based Office arrive in time to keep MS’s productivity suite business from irreparable damage?

Imagine you’re at work and the phone rings. It’s your alarm company, your home has been burglarized. You arrive home and, among other possessions, your computer is gone. To make matters worse, so are your accounting files, several years worth of email, and every digital photo you have of your kids. If you’re lucky, your computer will just be sold for quick cash to support someone’s drug habbit. But if you’re unlucky, some scumbag will be rifling through the personal information on your hard drive.

Sadly, this isn’t just imagination. Computers, especially laptops, are easily stolen and face other threats like being dropped or accidentally left in a taxi. Of course it could all be much less dramatic: Your hard drive could just fail causing you to loose everything on it. The good news it that protecting your data is easier today than ever before.

There are several ways to protect your data. For example, I burn my original digital images to DVD and store them separately from my computer. External USB hard drives are also large and inexpensive, last I looked you could pick up a 250 GB drive at Costco for around $100. The more technically inclined can also purchase a Network Accessible Storage (NAS) device and backup across your network. All of these options protect against hard drive failures, and they might protect you against theft if you hide them or store them off-site. But the problem with these methods is that most people don’t automate them and they forget. And with DVD or USB drive backups, automating it requires that you leave the media connected, where it is likely to be stolen along with the computer.

Fortunately there’s a better option for most home users: Internet backup services. A few years ago when I looked at some of the services they were too expensive and complex to recommend. But times have changed, and services like Carbonite have become cheapn ($50/year for unlimited backup space) and very easy. Carbonite integrates into Windows so that you can simply right-click on files and folders to set whether they should be backed up. I configured the product to automatically back up my desktop and documents and worked great. The reason I’m starting to recommend these types of services is that they are simple and automatic. Once configured, Carbonite automatically backs up files in the background as they change. The first backup may take a while, even a few days, but then it only uploads changes. From a security perspective, the product offers advanced users the ability to maintain their own cryptographic keys. If you choose this option nobody at Carbonite will have access to your files, but if you loose your key neither will you.

For more advanced users, or those who want more control over the backup process, another great product is Jungle Disk. Jungle Disk leverages Amazon’s S3 storage product. In fact, you open your own account with Amazon, pay $20 for Jungle Disk (you can try it for free for 30 days), and within minutes you’re able to back up data to Amazon’s ultra-reliable storage service for $0.15 per GB per month (storage) plus $0.10 per GIG for data transfers and a few other small fees. Put in perspective, tranfering one GB of data to S3 and storing it for a month will cost you about thirty cents. Jungle Disk’s backup capability is more traditional, meaning that you define and schedule back-up jobs within the application. If your computer isn’t turned on (such as if often the case with a laptop), you’ll probably need to remember to run it manually, and for that reason Carbonite is probably a better bet for most laptop users. However, Jungle Disk also allows you to create a storage container (called a “bucket”) on S3 and map it to a drive on one or more of your computers. You can use the drive like you would a local drive, and uploads to S3 occur in the background. Advanced users can use this functionality with their existing backup software or even manually transfer files to it.

Jungle Disk communites with the Amazon S3 service using HTTPS, so it will work from almost anywhere. It also supports optional encryption using 256-bit AES. Enabling this option and typing in a passphrase allows you to have all files encrypted prior to being transfered to S3, giving you a second layer of security.

Next week I’ll have a look at how having the right software on your computer can help you get it, and maybe even your other stuff, back if it is stolen.

While Apple has garnered an overwhelming share of the smart phone hype this fall with its iPhone 3G, latest figures show it managed only second place in worldwide sales after Nokia in the third quarter of this year.

iPhone 3G: Last hurrah for the cell boom?

Market research firm Canalys.com released a detailed ‘state of the market’ report this week showing that a total of 39.9 million cell phones were shipped out to retailers by manufacturers in July, August and September of this year.

Nokia contributed more than a third of that total to the market (just under 15.5 million units) while Apple pumped out just under 6.9 million iPhones and smart phone pioneer RIM was close behind, shipping just over 6.0 million BlackBerrys.

The Canalys.com report does not offer projections for current quarter smart phone sales. However, other market watchers have already predicted, based on October figures, that cell phone sales in general will tank in the final three months of this year as a result of the worsening economy, and holiday gift cell sales in particular will be especially ‘disappointing’.

One result of this abrupt downtrend in the cell market may be big discounts on cell phones that might otherwise just collect dust on store shelves. Some industry observers also predict increased competition between service providers to bolster their revenues in the face of plummeting handset sales and sagging service plan upgrades.

Well, it will at least have location-based technology that will let future applications tell you where you and your computer are, anywhere in the world. And that information will be available for sharing with other applications running on your PC at the same time.

The system, unveiled in an early development version at this week’s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Los Angeles, CA, is comprised of two Windows application programming interfaces (APIs). One gathers longitude and latitude data from GPS, Wi-Fi and cell tower triangulation sources and the other translates that data into location information that humans and other applications can understand and use. Users will also be able to simply key-in their location, if they know it.

Like Google’s Gears geolocation technology, the new MS system could automatically tell applications (and Web sites with which they communicate) where a user is at any given moment. Applications could include more accurate responses to location-dependent questions that users submit to Web sites. For instance, mapping or travel sites could suggest the nearest hotel or seafood restaurant to a user’s current location.

Also like Google Gears, the new Windows technology is raising some privacy concerns. Critics are especially concerned about the ease with which the location technology will be able to share data with other applications — perhaps without the user’s knowledge. However, users will be able to turn off the system that gathers location information if they choose to.

MS expects that the vast majority of applications (programs) which will use the location information available in Windows 7 will be created by third-party software developers. However, a MS ‘weather gadget’, which provides weather information and forecasts specific to a user’s location, will be built into Windows 7.

Adobe yesterday released an update which fixes half a dozen flaws in its ubiquitous Flash Player 9 browser plug-in. The flaws, reported earlier this week, could allow criminal hackers to break into users’ computers and use them, clandestinely, as platforms to broadcast spam or take over other computers.

As ZDNet’s Ryan Naraine reports, the patch specifically applies to Flash Player 9.0.124.0 on all platforms and is rated ‘critical’ by Adobe. However, any version of Flash Player below 9.0.151.0 will be vulnerable to the flaws.

Adobe has created a Web page to help you determine the version of Flash player currently installed on the computer you use to visit the site. There’s also a link to the Player Download Centre, where you can upgrade from any earlier version of the Flash Player to the current version (10.0.12.36).

Since Google walked away from its partnership with Yahoo! earlier this week over concerns about anti-trust hassles, Yahoo has been without a white knight investor to haul it out of its current financial hole.

Yesterday, Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang told anyone who would listen, at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, CA, that Yahoo! is now for sale to the highest bidder. And Yang says Microsoft (MS) should buy it — but the price has to be right.

“”I don’t think that is a bad idea at all, at the right price whatever that price is. We’re willing to sell the company,” Yang told reporters.

Almost six months ago, Yahoo spurned an unsolicited offer from Microsoft to purchase the company for (US)$33 per share. At the time, Yang and the Google board thought they could do better. MS backed out of talks saying it wasn’t prepared to pay more for Yahoo!, which was already in financial difficulties. That was when Google stepped in — some said, to tweak MS’s corporate nose — and opened talks with Yahoo! on a partnership involving search and ads. That deal remained in limbo, while Google accountants and lawyers mulled it over, until this week, when Google backed out.

Industry observers say MS probably still wants Yahoo!, but at it’s price. And they suspect MS CEO Steve Ballmer is taking some pleasure in making Yang and his board squirm a bit before even sniffing at their bait.

While the current push by major auto makers to offer hybrid power plants (on the way to their ultimate goal of gasoline-free vehicles) has earned praise from environmentalists, the flip side of that coin may be lithium battery shortages.

William Tahil of Meridian International Research warns that the rush to bring hybrid and all-electric vehicles to market may lead to a critical shortage of lithium, the key ingredient in today’s long-life, rechargeable energy source of choice, Lithium ion batteries.

In a recent paper, Tahil observes that lithium supplies are already being stressed by the exploding demands of the cell phone, digital camera and portable media player markets and concludes:

“…that realistically achievable Lithium Carbonate production will be sufficient only for a small fraction of future PHEV and EV global market requirements, demand from the portable electronics sector will absorb much of the planned production increases in the next decade and that other battery technologies that use unconstrained resources should be developed for the mass automotive market.”

Tahil’s findings contrast sharply with those of other researchers who insist that global reserves of Lithium are strong. Tahil, however, warns that much of the Lithium that is technically available is either present in very low concentrations or in locations or circumstances that make it uneconomical to extract.

Former Lithium industry researcher R. Keith Evans is prominent among those who disagree with Tahil’s findings. His survey paper on the Lithium supply situation is available by request via his Web site.

Firefox development programmer Ehsan Akhgari announced, in his personal blog earlier this week, that a new ‘Private Browsing’ mode will be available in ‘pre-release’ versions of Firefox 3.1.

Credit: Ehsan Akhgari

Akhgari explains: “… While you browse the Web, your browser usually records a lot of data which will later be used to improve your browsing experience. For example, it records a history of all the Web pages you have visited, so that later if you need help remembering a site you visited a while back, it can assist you in finding that site. Now, that is great, but there is a downside: those data can be used to trace your online activities.  For example, if your coworker sits at your computer, she can view all of your browsing history, which may not be what you want.”

In a nutshell:

“Private Browsing aims to help you make sure that your web browsing activities don’t leave any trace on your own computer.”

Akhgari also stresses that Private Browsing only erases all traces of your activities on your Firefox browser on your computer. It does not render you anonymous on the Web sites you visit.

Critics are already warning that Private Browsing will make it harder for parents to monitor their kids’ surfing activities and may make it more tempting for people of all ages to access pornography and other adult content, both at home and at work.

From: CNet.com —

Video steaming giant YouTube has closed a deal with at least one major movie studio to offer its feature-length films online and is courting other film distributors.

As CNet’s Greg Sandoval reports, “To be sure, not all the studios are prepared to give YouTube full-length movies. [However,] Canadian film company Lionsgate agreed in July to give YouTube access to only short movie clips. At least one other studio is trying to cut a similar deal for short-form content with Google.”

Whether YouTube attracts other major Hollywood studios may depend on what kind of deal it’s willing to offer on placement of ads in and around the films it offers:

“There’s skepticism in some circles about whether enough ads can be placed into a streaming movie to make it profitable without also overloading viewers with commercials.”

YouTube’s move into feature-length content places it head-to-head with Hulu, which specializes in full-length content and is backed by NBC Universal and News Corp. Currently, the relatively new Hulu attracts only a small fraction of the users enjoyed by the iconic YouTube.

Internet security developer Kaspersky Lab’s Security Network reports a sharp increase in online malware threats this past September.

Kaspersky’s October, 2008, Monthly Malware Statistics report reveals an increase over more than 10 per cent in the incidence of, “malicious programs, including adware and potentially unwanted programs,” over that period.

In a nutshell, the reports concludes:

“Overall, 39,240 unique malicious programs, adware programs, and potentially unwanted programs were detected on users’ computers in September. Clearly, the number of threats in the wild is increasing, and this month the increase was approximately 4,000. (35,103 programs were detected in September.)”

The technically-minded can access the full report at the Kaspersky Web site.

The rest of us might simply do well to follow Kaspersky’s advice and make sure our Internet security measures are enabled and our Windows Updates are up-to-date.