Future Plans for Google Earth and Google Gears

On Wednesday, Google held its annual I/O software developers conference in San Francisco and announced changes to its Google Earth 3D mapping software and Google Gears.

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Google Gears, or ?Gears? as it?s to be known, is a set of online development tools for webmasters. According to Vic Gundotra, the vice president of engineering, mobile and developer divisions at Google, The new app is intended to underscore the company?s belief that Gears is a community-driven project.

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During his Key note speech, Gundotra told the audience that the company wants to accelerate the capability of the browser.

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Now one year old, the open-source ?Gears? project has got some big plans for the year ahead. In the first year, Gears concentrated on offline-enabled applications. However, in an effort to “close the gap between Web apps and native apps” the company said it would spend its second year trying to solve some of the issues surrounding web applications.

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To ensure Gears is available to everyone, Google has said it will add support for Firefox 3 and Safari to its support for Internet Explorer and earlier versions of Firefox. Opera is also working to support Gears on the desktop and mobile devices.

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Google Earth has also been given an overhaul. With the Google Earth API (application programming interface) browser plug-in, Google has taken, what used to have to be downloaded and made it available through a web browser.

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The API enables web developers to embed the 3D application in to their web pages in the same way they have been able to use Google Maps API.

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Google has recorded 400 million downloads of Google Earth so releasing the API is a demonstration of its belief in the “value of being open.” The hope is that developers will use the API to “build the next great geo-based 3-D application.”

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Now developers can embed Google Earth inside any web page with a few lines of code, and an extensive JavaScript API allows developers to control the camera and create lines, markers and polygons. Good news if you want to import 3-D models from the Web and overlay them anywhere on the planet.

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Technical lead of the Google Earth Browser Plug-in, Paul Rademacher wrote in his blog,

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?You can even overlay your content over different planets, stars and galaxies by toggling Sky mode, letting you build 3-D Google Sky mashups. You can also enable 3-D buildings with a single line of JavaScript, attach JavaScript callbacks to mouse events, fetch KML (keyhole markup language) data from the Web and more.?

Samsung Unveils New SSD

Samsung have developed a new multi-level cell solid state drive that holds 256 GB of data, which makes it a practical competitor to hard disk drives in laptop computers. Practical – yes. Cheap ? No.

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Unveiled at the annual Samsung Mobile Solution Forum in Taipei, the 2.5-inch, 256 gigabyte, multi-level cell (MLC)-based SSD uses a SATA II interface, and is the worlds fastest SSD ? according to the company.

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Samsung also boast that its new SSD is the thinnest drive with the largest capacity offering a SATA II interface.

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Production of the SSD will begin at the end of 2008 but customer samples will be available by September. When the SSD launches it will be the largest capacity SSD on the global market and effectively eliminate density as a barrier to SSD adoption, the company said.

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A 1.8 version of the 256GB SSD should be with us by the fourth quarter of 2008.

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Joseph Unsworth, a research director at Gartner said. “This is an important announcement because of the performance of the drive and its availability [in] September of this year. As far as I know, this is the fastest MLC-based SSD that will be in the market, with only Toshiba having a credible rival that will be available this year.”

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Like the technology found in flash memory chips, SSDs have no moving parts, unlike hard disk drives (HDDs) and their spinning magnetic disks with read-write heads suspended above them. Because the SSDs don?t have moving parts, they are generally more reliable and offer better performance than HDDs.

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“SSDs typically have faster read performance, the endurance can be an advantage because of no moving parts — more power efficient, noiseless, no heat dissipation, etc.,” Unsworth added.

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Samsungs new SSD has a sequential read speed of 200 megabytes per second (MBps) and a sequential write speed of 160 MBps, making it 2.4 times faster than a standard HDD. The unit is only 9.5 millimetres thick and when active consumes just 0.9 watts of power.

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The only big drawback of SSD is the price per GB. “You can get 10 times more storage with an HDD than you can with SSD for the same price, and sustained write speeds can also be a consequence depending on application and quality of the SDD, [and] MLC has questions regarding its longevity in certain usage situations, so this could be viewed as a consequence depending on the applications,” said Unsworth.

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With the high price, the technology will likely be used in premium-priced notebook computers Unsworth said, “Since this is MLC-based, really we are only talking consumer products like laptops, and the form factor will dictate that it will most likely be used for notebooks. The price is what will be key here — 256 GB is going to be expensive, at least $700 coming out of the factory, so I speculate that this will initially cost in the range of $1,000. The capacity is a nice storage sweet spot, but prices must come down in order to drive mainstream adoption.”

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Samsung competitor Intel will launch a 128 GB SSD in the third quarter, and Toshiba plans to ship a 512 GB SSD by 2009.

Ofcom Deregulates the UK Broadband Market

Watchdogs, Ofcom have announced the deregulation of almost 70 percent of he UK wholesale broadband market.

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The plan has already achieved the approval of the European Commission and will see competition-boosting regulatory restrictions lifted in areas of the UK where there are now four or more broadband providers. Although Ofcom have announced the implementation of the move, there will be a 12-month notice period for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who have existing contracts with BT, allowing them to ?continue to operate while they make any necessary alternative arrangements.?

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“BT will be required to continue to offer supply of wholesale broadband access (namely DataStream and IPStream) to all providers which are currently a customer of BT,” the regulator said in a statement. “These providers will however be able to change supply at any time (subject to any restrictions in their contracts with BT). In addition, they can seek to negotiate continued supply with BT beyond the expiration of the transitional measures i.e. beyond 12 months’ time.”

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Ofcom’s statement added that it “would not expect these providers to be subject to any unreasonable price rises or service degradation over the period”.

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The rules that have been lifted in the affected areas will force BT to offer wholesale broadband at a capped price to other operators, to allow them to enter the market in a competitive way.

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However, Ofcom made it clear in the statement that there are still many area?s of the UK where one broadband provider is described as having, “significant market power” because it has no effective competition.

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“Where there is less competition and where a company still has significant market power, Ofcom will maintain regulation designed to promote retail competition,” the statement read. “This requires BT and KCOM, in Hull, to provide a wholesale product to other providers on a fair and reasonable basis, thus allowing these providers to offer retail services.”

The Battle for Yahoo Causes Casualties

This Thursday the internet search company Yahoo nominated nine of its existing 10 directors for re-election to the company?s board, setting the stage for a showdown with shareholders at its annual shareholders meeting. The annual meeting has now been pushed back to the end of July.

Carl IcahnThe company, who have been embroiled in a battle with Microsoft in recent weeks, also disclosed in a regulatory filing that share holders other than billionaire investor Carl Icahn plan to nominate candidates to its board.

Other than Icahn, two other shareholders have informed the company that they plan to nominate themselves to the board, and another shareholder has notified Yahoo of plans to nominate an alternate slate of nine directors, not including himself, according to the filing.

Yahoo has stated that it does not believe electing Icahn?s board nominees was in the best interests of stockholders, claiming that these shareholders did not comply with the company?s bylaws.

Recently amassing 10 million shares of the company with options to buy another 49 million, Icahn launched a proxy campaign last week to replace Yahoos board of directors with those who would re-open talks with Microsoft.

Microsoft walked away from its $47.5 billion offer for Yahoo earlier this month.

In a separate filing, Yahoo noted that Edward Kozel, one of its ten directors, had resigned from the board, and Yahoo reduced the size of the board to nine members.

According to the filing, Kozel, in a letter to Yahoo, said he had intended to leave the board in February to spend more time with his family, but stayed on after Microsoft made an unsolicited proposal to buy the company.

The new record date for filing of stockholder proposals is close of business on June 3, Yahoo said.

HP to Take the Lead as UKs Biggest ICT Supplier

BT was always the biggest supplier of UK of ICT to the government in 2007, but HP?s purchase of EDS could now put the merged company in to the lead.

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Research from Kable shows that the state sector spent ?2.1bn with BT last year; but the combined ICT spending with HP and EDS was ?2.234bn.

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HP announced the friendly takeover of EDS on the 13th of May, for $13.9bn (?7bn). EDS will still continue to use its existing name.

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The Kable research: The supplier landscape in the UK public sector marketplace 2007, shows that EDS was independently the second largest ICT supplier to the UK state sector, which spent? an estimated ?1.48bn with the firm. Fujitso Services followed with ?1.2bn, Capgemini with ?900m ad HP with ?755m. The report ranked all five suppliers in the same order as in 2006.

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CSC was one of the only suppliers in the top 20 to change places, moving from 19th place to 10th. Its ?400m estimate income from state-sector ICT was boosted by the firm?s adoption of two out of five local service provider contracts from Accenture within the National Health Programme. Accenture got pushed out of the top 20 for this reason

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According to the research, the top 20 suppliers account for 70 percent of the ?12bn of total spending.

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Nick Jotischky, senior analyst at Kable said, “The use of IT in the public sector is in flux. With government transformation at the heart of public-sector policy, technology is increasingly being used as an enabler to drive government policy. While this presents ample opportunity for the supply market, it also suggests that suppliers will need to act more as partners than providers.”

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“We see the successful suppliers of 2008 as those that can respond to the public sector’s emerging markets and needs. We also see the government preparing to slim down its own supply chain in an effort to work with fewer suppliers; this will mean the supply community needing to become more open to the idea of working in partnership with fellow suppliers,” Jotischky said.

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“Where this fits with the government’s self-declared aim of awarding 30 percent of all contracts to the SME market is not immediately clear,” he added.

Greenpeace Attacking Console Makers

Fun spoiler?s Greenpeace have taken umbrage with game console makers for using hazardous materials in their devices.

In a report released on Tuesday titled ?Playing Dirty?, the organisation indicated that Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony had moved away from or limited their use of toxic compounds in certain materials in the consoles.

However, the group believes that the companies should go ?greener? and suggests that manufacturers simply look at each others ?products for clues on how to remove the chemicals from their respective devices. The overall goal is to bring attention to the problem so these companies will change their policies and practices, Casey Harell, toxic campaigner for Greenpeace, said in an interview.

“We’ve seen companies change their policies and phase out certain chemicals, and we haven’t seen any loss in sales for these products,” he said

The environmental group found various toxic compounds such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), phthalates, beryllium and bromine in the components of Nintendo Wii?s, Sony Playstation 3?s and Microsoft Xbox360?s. The levels of all the chemical components were within legal limits set by the European Union’s hazardous compound legislation (the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive) in terms of regulated heavy metals.??

Greenpeace have said they are not concerned with the toxic chemicals and materials that remain but argue that the classification that consoles should be changed from electronic devices to toys, for which the EU and US have much tighter restrictions.

The Xbox 360 and PS3 both contain very high levels of phthalates, a compound used to soften plastic, according to Greenpeace. Research has shown that one form, DEHP, interferes with sexual development in mammals, particularly males — humans included. The EU has banned another, DiNP, found in the Xbox 360 alone, from use in toys and childcare products that can be placed in the mouth.

While no traces of beryllium alloy were found in the Nintendo Wii, tests on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 showed the substance in the electrical contacts for the consoles. Dust and fumes generated by recycling or processing devices containing beryllium can lead to chronic beryllium disease, an incurable lung ailment.

Analysis also found high levels of bromine in components for all three gaming systems. The highest weights were discovered in the PS3 and Wii, with 13.8 percent found in the PS3′s fan housing and 12.5 percent in the Wii’s housing material. Bromine found in brominated flame retardants is a persistent, or eternal, pollutant produced when incinerated or destroyed at high temperatures.

PVC was also present in high levels in the Xbox 360 and PS3. Like phthalates, the compound is used in plasticizers or softeners. Another persistent chemical, the danger comes once an object containing the toxin has entered the waste stream and is being processed.

“With the flame-retardants and phthalates, everyone is exposed to them from multiple sources every day. The level of exposure to them can cause health problems. What we’re looking at is getting these chemicals out of common products like video consoles, furniture and wherever else they are used,” said Caroline Cox, research director at California’s Center for Environmental Health.

According to Harrell the risk from these chemicals is the highest for those who come into most contact with them, “Those are the people who make them or are disassembling them on the waste side. The way that these are discarded — the U.S. does not have a law that prohibits the exportation of waste to other [countries]. A lot of our cell phones, laptops, TVs and everything end up in China, India and increasingly parts of Africa, where people are just burning it to dissemble it and get scrap pieces of copper or tin,” he explained.

The process allows the release of the most toxic chemicals into the air, which could cause workers to grow ill as a result of constant exposure.

Using a PS3 at home very likely does not pose a significant threat, Harrell noted. What Greenpeace is working toward is greater responsibility from electronics manufacturers. Alternatives for many of the harmful chemicals already exist, according to the organization.

“We’re not trying to yell ‘The sky is falling, and if you touch this you’re in grave danger,’” he said. Rather, the ones who are in danger are the workers in relatively poor regions who deal with the devices after they are thrown out.

Both Cox and Harrell recommend that console owners keep their systems as long as possible. When it’s time to dispose of them, the games should be discarded responsibly and not thrown into the garbage and taken to a landfill.

Preferably, however, Greenpeace would like to see the console makers institute a purchase, return and recycle program through which the companies would receive old and broken devices, remove anything of value or that could be recycled, and then responsibly dispose of any toxic elements. ?

AMD Want to Make Gaming Easier

According to findings from Jon Peddie Research, nearly 66 percent of PCs sold in 2007 include only the bare minimum of functionality which means these systems cannot provide a satisfactory gaming experience.

Chip designers Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) have unveiled a new plan dubbed ?Game?, which will have an impact on the gaming industry. Jon Peddie said in a recent interview, “The super enthusiasts like tools and controls and, if this works, AMD will make life easier — and more fun — for them while at the same time less intimidating for the other gamers.”

The new initiative involves putting Game logos on AMD-based desktop and notebook computers that meet the requirements of today?s advanced game software. Joining AMD on this mission are partners such as Cyberpower, iBuypower, Alienware, Logitech, Microsoft Velocity Micro and Maingear. PC?s bearing the AMD logo will ship out during the second half of 2008.

The logos will appear on systems running between US$1,000 and $2,000. The machines have two different configurations. Game-minimum requirements in desktop PCs include Athlon X2 5600+ processors, 2 GB of memory, Radeon HD 3650 graphics and an AMD 770 or Nvidia nForce 500 series or better chipsets.

AMD Game Ultra desktop systems will include an AMD Phenom X4 9650 processors, ATI (Nasdaq: ATYT) Radion HD 3870 graphics, 2 GB of memory and an AMD 770 chipsets.

These specs will provide gamers with a machine capable of playing many of the top-selling games, according to AMD.

“The PC gaming market is a lot bigger than many people think. It’s where the highest performance equipment and players are. You might be amazed at some of the first-person shooter’s cinematic qualities, plus the stories and action, the amazing heart-pounding action of racing games, the unbelievable realisms of flight simulators and the shear vastness of some of the role-playing games, where entire nations are built and destroyed,” Peddie explained.

Brent Barry, AMD?s product marketing manager and gaming strategist said, “It’s unfortunate, but part of the problem on the PC side really is the industry needs to do a better job of servicing the gamer. So AMD Game really is about helping to boost the overall experience [and] help to make it better. What we figure is, if we can help keep the PC gaming industry healthier, everyone benefits.”

“We really want to do what we can to make sure that PC gaming stays healthy, stays vibrant and all of that feeds back into itself to make for a healthier industry,” Barry added.

Patrick Wang, a Wedbush Morgan analyst had this to say, “For them to be able to come out with something branded AMD Game, it gets your typical mainstream gamer to say ‘Oh, OK, this one is verified as a gaming PC by AMD,’ and feel better about their purchase. It probably helps, at some level, AMD gain mindshare on gaming platforms. It’s something that can help them.”

Microsoft Proposes New Deal with Yahoo

Computer giants Microsoft have said they are considering a deal with Yahoo which would not involve buying out the company.

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Microsoft?s previous offer to buy Yahoo for a $33 a share ? a figure which valued the company at $47.5bn ? was turned down. Last week Yahoo rebuffed billionaire investor Carl Icahn?s plan to oust the current ? ten members – Board of Directors over the failed merger.

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Now Microsoft says they are discussing an alternative transaction, but did not provide any details.

In a statement, Microsoft said that it ?is not proposing to make a new bid to acquire all of Yahoo at this time, but reserves the right to reconsider that alternative?in light of developments”

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Microsoft have stressed that the deal may or may not follow from Sundays statement. After Microsoft?s statement, Yahoo confirmed it was looking at a number of ?value maximizing? alternatives with Microsoft, and would assess offers made by the organization.

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The internet search group said its board would have to evaluate each of the alternatives ?including any Microsoft proposal?with a focus on maximizing stockholder value.?

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Analysts agree that any arrangement that Yahoo can have with Microsoft could save them from a hostile takeover from Mr Icahn ? who is amassing a stake in the company.

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Mr Icahn?s maneuver on Thursday followed much criticism over Yahoo?s decision, led by co-founder and chief executive Jerry Yang, to turn down Microsoft?s offer earlier this month to buy out the company. Yahoo had wanted Microsoft to increase its bid of $33 a share to $37.

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With Yahoo and Search Engine leaders Google recently trialing an advertising partnership for two weeks the company would be much safer and a less likely target for acquisition.

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The potential merge of Google and Yahoo unnerves Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. In a letter to Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang on May 3, he cited a Google partnership as a major reason for withdrawing his merger bid and added that a deal would hurt Yahoo’s future growth and raise serious antitrust issues as a consequence of the No. 1 and No. 2 search engines joining forces.

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Ballmer’s new proposal to Yahoo may be aimed at disrupting the Google deal, which has already prompted an antitrust inquiry by the Department of Justice.

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Kevin Johnson, a Microsoft president, said in an e-mail to employees Sunday in prelude to an advertising conference this week that his company is on the road to reviving its Internet business, which has lagged financially in the face of Google’s success. He spoke of efforts to be announced this week to overhaul some of its online properties including search and the MSN portal while bolstering advertising sales.

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“Regardless of the outcome of any new discussions,” he said about the Yahoo proposal, “it is important that we continue to move forward to strengthen our online services business. The fact is that we are not where we want to be in this business yet and we’ve been in this position longer than we’d all like.”

What was my Password again?

Aberdeen Group have researched the use of usernames and passwords in business, and have found that many organizations are learning more about the benefits of deploying strong user authentication to increase the level of assurance for online identities as part of an overall approach to securing access to information and managing risk.

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The research indicates the 98 percent of the organizations surveyed relied on usernames and passwords for authenticating end users to control access to systems, networks, data and applications. However, nearly half of these businesses have deployed t least one stronger, non-password method of user authentication.

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The majority of those surveyed have all taken steps to ensure passwords are strong, for example: Requirements for length (71 percent), complexity (62 percent) and frequency of change (36 percent); Restrictions on reuse (58 percent), and; Exclusion of standard dictionary terms (55 percent).

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Although these steps ensure security is enhanced, it is also cumbersome for end-users. Passwords that are complex are often difficult to remember and if you have multiple passwords floating around in your head, it could be easy to get locked out of your system. Traditional methods of storing password include writing it down, which compromises security and relying on a central password database, which if hacked could compromise your entire business. Current research indicates that about nine out of 10 (88 percent) enterprise users have multiple work-related passwords.

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To create a more secure environment, Aberdeen Group has put together three distinct strategic approaches:

The first approach is to implement user authentication methods that are deemed most appropriate for each application and end-user population. An organization might use hardware tokens for administrative access to privileged accounts, digital certificates for employee remote access over VPN, and heuristic, risk-based scoring for online access by external customers. Management of these systems would traditionally be done independently.

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A second approach is to strive towards a common user authentication method for all applications and end-user populations. An example of this is a U.S. federal government agency that issues smart cards in compliance with HSPD-12.

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A third approach is to move towards a common user authentication infrastructure that can manage multiple user authentication methods. The same example can be used of a company that deploys hardware tokens, digital certificates, and heuristic, risk-based scoring for different populations and purposes. The difference in this case is that the company could implement a common back end to create and enforce policies, and to manage authentication credentials more consistently over their life cycle.

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Most of the top-performing organizations have currently deployed at least one strong user authentication method in addition to user name/password, and almost half have deployed two or more strong authentication methods, replacing existing solutions with interoperable, more cost-effective alternatives.

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The research demonstrates that passwords continue to be a problem, and that a rich diversity of strong authentication alternatives will continue to be available in the market. Organizations that deploy at least one strong authentication method should make an informed choice based on their own unique balance of preferences and solution attributes.

Culture of Connectivity

A new study conducted by IDC and sponsored by Nortel has concluded that so-called hyperconnected workers account for 16 percent of global business users today and the percentage is set to grow to 40 percent within five years.

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Kelly Kanellakis, strategy and operations leader for the chief of technology officer in Nortel said, “The number of people moving toward hyperconnectivity is growing substantially.”? He reckons that in a few years, over 40 percent of the people will be what Nortel considers ?hyperconnected.?

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The study examined the habits of 2,400 people in 17 countries. Respondents said that on average the each carry seven devices and used up to nine applications. While more workers in the IT and financial areas are hyperconnected the trend is evenly spread out among every industry.

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While the US and China account for the highest average number of hyperconnected individuals, Canada and the United Arab Emirates had the lowest average number.

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According to Kanellakis, the trend is largely the result of the newest wave of employees entering the workplace.

“Hyperconnectivity is not necessarily wanting to be connected all the time to your job or work; it’s wanting to be connected to your community. And your community can be a number of things. Sitting behind your desk, your community is your work. At home, your community is your family and neighborhood. If you’re skiing, then your community is skiers,” he said.

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The desire of these users to stay constantly connected has led users to social networking sites like Facebook and other smaller segregated communities, kanellakis said.

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“Everyone wants to keep communicating, and as we’ve been given more devices and applications, people use them. The more devices that are invented and come on the market the more people use them,”

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He continued, “Their expectations are that they’re going to work the hours they are going to work, and they’ll have personal lives when they want to have personal lives,”

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“More people are willing to connect to work in more places, but on the flip side, more people are doing their personal communication at work. We?re seeing a blending of work,” he said.

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A recent report by InStat that looked at both the number of devices that people carry around and their weight found that the more people travel, the more devices they have.

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“If you get into an airplane Sunday night and you’re not coming home until Thursday, you’re going to make yourself as comfortable as you can. Some people carry two laptops in addition to business cell phone, personal cell phone, Blackberry and the rest of that stuff,” said David Chamberlain, an Instat analyst.

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Kanellakis, speaking about the hyperconnected, added, “In terms of the hours they connect and do their work, again, they are very different. We’re not enforcing on them they hours we need them to be productive. We are not saying, ‘At 9 a.m. you will start and at 5 p.m. you will stop.’ What we’re saying to them is, ‘Here’s a task you need to get done. At the end of this period you need to have this task completed. When you get it done is up to you.’ So now you can make the personal choice to drop of your kids at 9 and not start work until 9:30,” he continued.

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