Microsoft, Nortel team up on unified communications

We live in a world of redundancies. Take the telephone (please!). Most of us probably have one sitting right there on our desk, next to our computer. It’s used for talking to people. But do we really need a separate device? “No” is the short answer from a growing number of tech heavyweights pushing “unified communications” technology that combines and integrates voice, video conferencing, e-mail and IM on a single IP network. The technology is still in its infancy, with companies lining up to be the “Microsoft of unified communications” -- including Microsoft itself.

There are hundreds of millions of people who will be getting a new communications experience over the next four or five years,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said

Microsoft and Nortel are to jointly develop new converged IP communications technology.

The deal brings Microsoft’s operating system and applications strengths together with Nortel’s voice and services expertise. Unified communications products from Microsoft and Nortel could be attractive to IT managers who are worried about problems integrating products from companies such as Cisco and Avaya with Microsoft wares.

Google adds overlay feature to mobile Maps

Google is tweaking the mobile version of Google Maps to allow developers to layer information over the application, a feature that it hopes will lead to new uses.

The search company released on Thursday a subset of its keyhole markup language (KML), which developers can use to create place markers to highlight points of interest on the version of Google Maps accessible by mobile phones and handheld devices.

Gummi Hafsteinsson, product manager at Google, sees a wide variety of uses for the technology for mobile users. For instance, a hotel could create a KML overlay that flags the location of restaurants and stores providing special offers on food or goods. Another application could be a KML overlay that provided real-time information on gas station prices, he said.

Google hasn't made any assumptions on exactly how people might use the new mobile capability, according to Hafsteinsson. "We want them to try it out," he said. "We're going to lay low and listen to their feedback before we decide on future directions."

Death to Caps Lock

Is it time to permanently retire the Caps Lock key? Pieter Hintjens thinks so.

Hintjens, the CEO of iMatix, has launched the Capsoff organization in a campaign urging hardware manufacturers to ditch the oft-abused and misused key. Hintjens' plan is to build the entire infrastructure for the movement using only freely available tools from Google. He's already set up a Blogger Capsoff blog and a forum at Google Groups.

"The Caps key is an abomination," Hintjens writes on his blog. "It's a huge key, stuck right there where the Ctrl used to be, and as far as I know, it's only used by 419 scammers and Fortran programmers."

Zealous net newbies have also subjected the Caps Lock key to overuse, composing e-mails and newsgroup posts entirely in capital letters, an ugly and inelegant style of communication akin to screaming. In fact, the Capsoff organization's slogan is "STOP SHOUTING!"

The antagonism toward the Caps Lock key extends beyond its misuse by 13-year-old trolls and naive users. Caps Lock is also responsible for failed entries of passwords and other case-sensitive phrases. Users of word processors are forced to retype any text that was entered with Caps Lock accidentally turned on.

The Capsoff movement's primary target is the device manufacturer. "Obviously the keyboard producers have been so indoctrinated that they don't even inspect their own products any longer," Hintjens writes. "Listen, dudes: No one wants that crummy Caps key. It's history."

Even though Hintjens' idea is quickly gaining momentum, some find the movement rather pointless.

Silicon hike hits solar energy

The price of silicon has soared by 50 per cent over the past year, curbing the growth of the solar industry and driving up costs.

Silicon, made from sand, is a raw material used in semi-conductor devices such as computer chips and the cells that generate electricity in solar panels. Production of silicon has not kept pace with demand from the solar-energy industry, which has soared in the past four years because of the growth in the market for solar panels.

This now accounts for about half the global consumption of silicon, compared with one-fifth in 2000. The rest comes from the electronics industry. Between 30,000 and 33,000 tons of silicon were produced last year.

Prices are estimated because there is not an open market in silicon; deals are struck in private between suppliers and customers.

There's a huge supply bottleneck in the silicon market, largely caused by increased global production of solar cells.

A spokesman for Renewable Solar Corporation, the world's third-largest producer of solar cells, said that global production grew by more than 50 per cent last year. In contrast, production growth in the electronics industry was a more modest 8 per cent.

Chinese solar cell producers in particular are bidding up the cost of silicon, which is constraining production growth for solar cell manufacturers in Europe and the U

It takes several years to build new silicon manufacturing facilities. But by the end of the decade, annual production capacity is expected to more than double to just under 85,000 tons, which should drive down prices.

Yahoo tests antiphishing service

“Sign-in" seals will appear on legitimate Yahoo sites

Yahoo Inc. is testing a security service designed to prevent Web surfers from landing on sites that look like they are from Yahoo but that are fake ones set up by fraudsters to carry out phishing scams.

The service lets users know if they have landed on a legitimate Yahoo sign-in Web page, preventing them from entering their Yahoo ID and password on a phishing site.

The service, which currently supports only U.S. Yahoo Web sites, is being tested and hasn't been officially announced yet.

Phishing is a monumental online security problem. Scammers set up legitimate-looking Web sites from well-known companies, such as banks, online stores, and Web portals, and try to lure people to them via e-mail and other methods. The idea is to trick people into entering into the sites sensitive information, such as passwords and credit card numbers, for malicious purposes, such as ID theft and fraud.

Each Yahoo sign-in seal is associated with an individual computer, so users need to install it on every computer they use. Once installed, the seal will appear on Yahoo sign-in screens, letting users know the site is genuine. Creating a seal involves either entering some text terms or uploading an image. The text or the images are displayed in the seal, which will only appear on Yahoo sign-in screens and thus offers no protection on sites from other companies.

Yahoo cautions that there are reasons why the seal may not appear on otherwise genuine Yahoo sign-in pages. "For example, someone else using your computer may have deleted or changed your seal, your cookies or files on your computer may have been deleted, or you're using a partner or international Yahoo site," Yahoo's site reads. "To be safe, look for these other clues to make sure you're on a genuine Yahoo sign-in screen."

If the computer is shared among family or friends, it is a good idea to show everyone the sign-in seal so they recognize it. For computers in public places, like libraries, the sign-in seal should be created by the locales' administrators and not by visiting users, according to Yahoo.

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