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As 2014 closed, Uber stood at a crossroads: the negativity is unlikely to thwart Uber’s popularity, rather - if GroupOn taught us anything - it’s this: that Uber will be forced to grow up. An embarrassing internal memo indicated where the firm had been, stressing “superpumpdness” as one of the qualities sought in staff.Reports also emerged how the ride-sharing firm had actively lobbied politicians and pressuring bureaucrats to relax or kill legislation on that would have affected driver background checks or stopped it operating.With the investment going south, Uber’s backers stumped up another $1.2bn - cash that CEO Travis Kalanick said would go on Uber’s “internal growth and change.He said Uber would learn from others who’ve gone through “similar challenges. Kalanick promised a smarter and more humble company would be the result.2014 saw different fates unfold for social-network darlings Twitter and Facebook. The latter raked in billons in of dollars in ads-flingers’ cash while the former shocked Wall St with falling revenue and warning of future misses – all that as the anniversary of its 2013 IPO approached. Why so different? Facebook marked its 10th anniversary this year with 1.32bn users, yet it seemed to have cracked the mobile market and in so doing put behind it recent years’ fears that the service had peaked.

For the smaller Twitter, revenue was up along with new user numbers – but not enough. Also timeline views – a measurement of “engagement” and thus people’s stickneyness for cash-happy advertisers – was falling. All told this contributed to Twitter’s continued losses and by October investors were dumping the stock they’d clamored for 12 months before and by November even Twitter’s top management was cashing out, selling $50m in personal holdings.Twitter has been trying to change: notice the upsurge of ads and sponsored links and suggestions over who to follow and alerts about who was Tweeting what?Silicon Valley investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel offered his theory for Twitter’s problems: Management smoking pot.To people like Thiel, Twitter’s potential is the millions of users whose free-loading status entitles them to being exposed to the full glare of advertisers. Same goes for Facebook. Interestingly, both firms arrived at the same point in 2014 to try and find new ways to synthesise more money from their free assets: a buy button.

Twitter and Facebook began testing the addition of a button on admen’s Tweets and Facebook posts, letting you carry out one-click purchase without the inconvenience of leaving that Tweet or Facebook post. Their interest came as the payments market itself got stirred up with the entry of Apple with its Apple Pay product, a contactless payment system for iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch.But the bounds of what’s possible and what’s permitted were tested by Facebook who it emerged had conducted an experiment on 700,000 users over a period of one week in 2012 without their knowledge or consent. Facebook, along with two US universities, had manipulated users’ news feeds to control the emotional experiences and gauge how their posting behavior changed as a result. Facebook countered by painting it as a data-privacy issue, saying no unnecessary data had been collected – but users were still furious. The experiment left British and Irish data watchdogs investigating the US giant … yet the guinea pigs continued to use their free Facebook.

13 years after BT spun out its mobile phone venture O2, BT wanted back into the game. The telco hosted a reverse auction to buy back O2 or take EE. Eventually, BT brushed off O2 to enter exclusive talks to take EE. EE is Britain's largest mobile network with 24.5 million customers and brings a ready-made 4G network infrastructure to the table, but that comes at a price: EE is a bigger firm and will be harder to integrate into BT than O2, while it's also more expensive; the deal is priced £12.5bn.BT was a mobile pioneer: it launched O2 in 1985 as a joint venture with Securicor. The new network was then called Cellnet, back when mobile phones were bricks owned only by YUPPIEs. BT bought out Securicor and rebranded BT Cellnet but then spun out the firm against a backdrop of collapsing profits, with Spanish carrier Telefonica buying O2 for £17.7bn in 2006.O2 went on to leapfrog BT to become the UK’s biggest carrier – 21 million mobile users versus 19.4 million on landlines for BT. It was a source of pain and regret for BT but what’s changed and why would BT now want to go back? The answer, apart from profits: O2’s subscriber base, as BT tries to expand out of its core business of phone and into content, hence all those Premier League football deals in recent years.

Mobile means growth in content delivery. For all the pros of EE, it's O2 that's been growing fastest, though: O2's number of mobile subscribers grew in 2014 by one million while Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and 3 collectively added just 400,000. Getting dibs on Apple’s iPhone had helped O2.Lenovo recently launched the new Yoga 3 Pro, but the non-Pro Yoga 2 models are still widely available and this 13-inch model looks pretty tempting at £700. The full-HD touchscreen display is one of the best we’ve seen at this price, with an IPS panel that produces a really bright, colourful image with wide viewing angles.This panel will work a treat for streaming video or doing a spot of photo-editing and, like all the other Yoga models, you can flip the screen over so that it acts as a stand while you’re watching video, or fold it right back so that you can hold it like a tablet.The Haswell Core i5-4200U processor runs at 1.6GHz, and is backed up by 4GB of memory and a 500GB hybrid drive. You won’t find an optical drive on this baby, unless it’s hanging off a USB cable. While on paper the Yoga 2 has a fairly modest specification, but it produced scores of 2288 and 2624 when running the Home and Work suites in PCMark 8, which are more than adequate for routine tasks such as web browsing or running MS Office.

Certainly one of the most smartly designed laptops in this group, it measures up at just 17.5mm thick and weighing a very portable 1.7kg. It also clocked in at 5hours 32mins when running the PCMark battery test benchmark, so you should be able to get close to a full day’s work out of it for less demanding tasks.We were tempted to include Toshiba’s Kira laptop here, as that impressively manages to combine a Retina-esque 2560x1440 display with the lightweight portability of the MacBook Air. But when it comes to sheer High-DPI the P50T-B outguns all its competition with a 4K display that packs 3840x2160 pixels into its 15.6” screen.Not surprisingly, the screen is a dazzler – bright and colourful as you’d expect, but it’s the sheer detail and clarity of the image that really stands out. Photographers will love it, especially now that Adobe has announced High-DPI support for Photoshop. Screen real estate on the Tosh (click to enlarge) It’s got the horsepower to handle high-def editing work too, with a quad-core Haswell i7 processor running at 2.5GHz (3.5GHz with Turboboost), 16GB of memory, 1TB hybrid drive, and both integrated HD 4600 and Radeon R9 M265X graphics processors.

Even more impressive is the fact that all this comes to a total price of just £1,299.00, which makes the P50T-B a bit of a bargain when compared to most of its High-DPI rivals. It even includes a Blu-ray drive so that you can watch your favourite films remastered in 4K.The only fly in that particular ointment is the limited battery life. Toshiba only quotes three hours and 15 minutes, and running PCMark 8 continuously drained the battery in just two hours and 45 minutes, which suggests that the P50T-B is primarily suitable for use as a desktop replacement laptop rather than a truly mobile workhorse.IT giants Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, SAP and IBM made billions of dollars in revenue in 2014. Their biggest headache this year, though, is how to ensure they keep on making billions into the future as growth is coming in new areas – online services and tablets, and outside the traditional PC and server markets.After a year in the job Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made his big pitch - “cloud first, mobile first.” Apps are now expendable – so Office came to iOS and Android - with the platform now the crown jewels - the platform being Windows and Azure. Using apps and end points Microsoft now hopes to hoover up users’ data. The big plan? Run data through machine learning and do a lot of data science to make money from that data while, also, selling those online services – Azure, Office 365.

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The other great thing about the various IDEs is that there are loads of tutorials and “getting started” guides. Going from a bare-essentials installation of the IDE to running your first program will take you 15 minutes or less. In fact in most cases you can run “Hello, world!” or similar by creating a new app from a template without writing any code yourself. That really is impressive.All great so far, then. So what's the catch? Well, writing decent applications is not a simple task. There is more to it than drawing a few GUI objects in a pretty design window on your PC or Mac.There is a pile of documentation for each of the offerings detailing how to use the IDE, describing the various libraries and system calls and so on. The documentation doesn't teach you how to write efficient code, or how to write properly in the various available languages. You will have to learn that separately.Which brings us to the development language you use. For iOS you have a choice of good old Objective-C, or the newer Swift which is kind of a derivative. They are both C-like but also sufficiently different that it takes a little while to get used to them. Of the three platforms it is probably the least like what the average developer is used to.In the Windows world you have the standard .NET choice of C# and Visual Basic. If you are used to full-fat Windows development you will probably find yourself thinking the mobile version feels cut down, though Microsoft will point out that it still acts as a common language which can still reach up from the handset to the back office.

On Android, Java is the way to go. Because the developer kit is Eclipse-based the IDE should feel familiar to any of the bazillion users who have used this for bigger Java development tasks.We have established that all of the platforms are pretty simple to get up and running, and that (quelle surprise) to do effective software development you will need people with software development skills. You will need a few other things as well, though.First is the ability to read the vendors' GUI guidelines. There is a reason why all good iPhone or Windows Phone or Android applications look similar and hence have transferable usability properties. They have been written by people who have read the vendors' guidelines on how to present things, what to put in the standard menus and so on.Read and digest the design guides and make your Windows Phone aplication, say, look like a Windows Phone application. Think of the desktop apps you have come across over the years and recall the ones that you hated most: they are the ones whose developers thought their way of presenting the GUI was better than the vendor's.Secondly, as you would for desktop applications, build yourself libraries of common code and re-use them wherever you can. Never code the same functionality twice, and let version control underpin your development cycle so that you can always roll back to the previous version if you screw something up royally.

Thirdly, you need design talent. I can write, say, an effective Windows application if it relies on windows, menus, dialog boxes, radio buttons and the like. The design guidelines tell me how to do it and the IDE's cool design features make it idiot-proof to align things correctly.But I am graphically challenged. Ask me to design an icon or a logo or to make a phone-based app that has the look and feel of my company's funky web site and I'm stuffed.Fourth, you must have a test regime. If you are building a corporate app there are two possible audiences: your staff, who will berate you hideously if the app is difficult to use or is as flaky as a flaky thing; or your customers, who will moan about you on social media if the app doesn't do what they want. Lack of testing equals shonky apps.The fifth but by no means least thing you will need is a policy dictating which platform(s) you develop for. If you are writing for internal users then you have some level of control over the range of devices you have to support. If you adopt a single platform as the corporate standard then you have only a single device to develop against.If you are developing something for customers to use then in an ideal world you would support all three platforms, but since there is no single language that works on all three you find yourself having to employ either multi-skilled developers (a scarce resource) or more bodies, each of which has more focused skills.You might well decide that priorities should follow market share. Whatever you decide, it is better to do fewer platforms well than to do all of them shoddily.

If you want your customers or staff to use applications on the move, give really strong consideration to writing apps for their mobile devices.Leaving aside the fact that any kind of software development requires skills in software engineering, modern IDEs are gobsmackingly easy to get to grips these days.It is genuinely realistic to consider writing your own applications and you will be able to achieve a remarkable amount in a relatively short time.Choose your platform(s) carefully, make sure you underpin development with version control and proper design and code control, and go for it. You will be surprised at how doable it is. If you're letting users connect from their own devices you have no domain-style control over them and can't enforce VPN settings and the like, it's essential to use a two-factor authentication mechanism. They're dead cheap, and although in the old days you'd end up carrying around a pocketful of six-digit-LCD-readout tokens for your various services that's no longer necessary. The Symantec one I use, along with many others, now has a virtual token that runs as an iPhone or Android app. Oh, and if you're wondering what the aforementioned “domain-style control” means, check out Microsoft's Direct Access: it's an utter git to set up, but is an insanely good and transparent way of making your Windows client devices connect securely into the corporate network.

Oh, and, if you're thinking: “What about the Cloud?”: fair point, but actually all of the above applies just as much if you host applications in the Cloud as it does when you host them in-house. Just because your apps are sitting in an Internet hosting centre somewhere doesn't mean you don't want to secure them properly against access by people not in your organisation. So you'll still want to wrap two-factor authentication and proper firewalling around the Cloud-based applications just like you would if they were in your office.The thing is, though, that although I've just said you can present (say) your email via ActiveSync through the firewall, you probably don't want to. Even if you could do something funky two-factor-securityish on it. The reason you don't want to be doing this is again security – but perhaps not in the sense you'd immediately imagine. Yes, it's probably a general security concern if you permit any old device on the Internet to make an inbound ActiveSync connection to your Exchange world, but as long as you're using sensible precautions such as strong passwords the risk is often acceptable. The actual security problem is that your users can point any old device at the corporate systems, authenticate perfectly correctly with their credentials, and suck out all their data. And if they leave the company, they simply stroll off with that data.

Mobile Device Management, or “MDM” as everyone knows is, is the Current Big Thing. A couple of years ago it was the Next Big Thing; now, though, mobile data speeds are up to scratch and so the desire to compute on the move is finally supported by a service that is no longer infuriatingly slow to use. MDM is, in short, a mechanism that allows the organisation to take control of all or part of a client device and do useful things like forcing the user to have a passcode on the device, in case it's nicked, or erase corporate data in the event the user leaves the company. Total control is great for corporately-owned devices, partial control for when you want to let users run some apps and read their mail on their own device.There are more MDM packages on the market than you can shake a stick at, and each has its own particular selling points. So you have the likes of JAMF Software, which aims firmly at the Apple market. You didn't know that iOS has built-in client software that lets you push profiles from a server and erases the settings and data when you tell it to? Shame on you. Then you have Good Software, whose Good For Enterprise product provides stuff like an email, contact and calendar sandbox that's ultra-secure and can even be told to lock if the device hasn't talked to the server for a few hours/days. Or there's BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10, in which RIM realised that the world doesn't really like BlackBerry any more but wants to make its Android gadgets and iPhones work like the BlackBerry handsets they just dumped because they didn't work any more. And then you have the likes of IBM, specifically its FiberLink subsidiary, that has a really cool MDM offering that's Cloud-based and requires a minimal in-house software footprint. Actually, that’s only if you need particular features – for the basic MDM service it's 100 per cent in the Cloud. The point of all of the above, though, is that if the user leaves the company the proprietary data on their devices is either secured or completely erased, which is a whole lot better than opening up general access to the corporate network, two-factor-authenticated or otherwise.

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The rare option is to stuff a SIM in your laptop; yes, there really are laptops with SIM slots just like they used to have modems back in the Dark Ages. Think Lenovo T420, for example. Next is the option of a 3G USB stick, which is one of the most popular approaches and which is actually pretty usable these days. When they first came out, particularly before Windows Vista, compatibility between dongle and operating system was a nightmare. My favourite is a “MiFi” portable access point – it connects to the 3G data network and presents the connection to your laptop via a mini WiFi hotspot. Mine cost me 30 quid, it charges quickly via a USB port, and if we're in an out-of-office meeting several of us can share it between our various laptops and non-3G-equipped tablets.You'll have noticed that I keep talking about 3G, and you're probably wondering: “What about 4G”?The answer: it's just the same. 3G was the first mobile technology that was actually fast enough to use for real computing on the move. Although 4G is a different technology, that difference is hidden from you and all you see is a much faster link. You just pick “4G” or “LTE” instead of “3G” in the settings and the device does the rest. And I really mean “much faster” - I saw a lab test run a 4G download at over 140Mbit/sec recently, for instance.

One word of warning: if you're paying by the megabyte, be careful when you go for fast technologies: a fatter “pipe” means that you can download more data than before, and hence rack up a bigger bill than before, in a given time period.So, we've talked about getting the devices connected to the world so you can access stuff with them, but how do we make that “stuff” accessible? With regards to what we mean by “stuff”, it starts with the basic email and calendar functions that we all have on our phones and then works up through browser-based applications (which again can be accessed natively from pretty much any device, as everything has a browser on it these days) and ends with applications that can only run on a particular platform and which can't be accessed natively on a portable device.The most common examples of the latter are Windows-based apps. No matter how hard you try you're not, for example, going to be able to dip into your database stats with SQL Server Management Studio on your iPhone because there isn't an iPhone version. The answer is to run them on a corporate server and to provide a “window” into that server, which means you'll have an application such as a simple Windows Remote Desktop client or perhaps a more proprietary equivalent like the VMware Horizon Client or Citrix Receiver.

In its basic form, access to email, calendars and browser-based applications is pretty noddy: for email you present an ActiveSync service as an Internet-facing service on your firewall, and you reverse-proxy your applications in a similar way to present them securely via your Internet connection, preferably using two-factor authentication, please. The users point their devices at the appropriate host, and Bob's their collective uncle. Presenting platform-specific apps will require some more thought, of course, because if you're going to give the user a VMware, Terminal Services or Citrix presentation on their client device you'll need to implement the corresponding VMware, Terminal Services or Citrix services at the server end too. Basic Terminal Services is pretty straightforward; the others are more performant and robust but more complex.Increasingly, we're told, IT types who understand their organisation's business can help their business and get ahead. But what does “understanding” the business actually mean? Why does it matter and how does an ambitious IT professional get the mix of skills needed to attain that understanding and also hit the fast track?

The IT recruitment market is flying, having picked up to a post-recession high. As IT recruiters battle to fill vacancies, competition for the best people has led to a frenzied market, with the right candidates being offered jobs at interview stage and the most sought-after skills commanding salaries up 10 per cent on this time last year.Despite the buoyancy of the market, companies still complain of skills shortages as the quest for a new breed of business-focused IT pros steps up a pace. And while the temptation may be for technical roles to wow prospective bosses with jargon and lists of technical certifications, many roles today encourage you to park the geek-speak.From programmer to project manager, regardless of the technical intricacies of your role “employers increasingly favour well-rounded IT workers with a mix of soft skills, business savvy and technical knowledge, over one-dimensional techies,” Tom Reilly, vice president at CompTIA Learning, told The Reg. Such is the need for people who can straddle both business and IT that companies are resorting to moving technically minded business people into IT in their desperation to achieve that blend.

The IT department is increasingly being seen as a profit rather than a cost centre with IT budgets commonly split between keeping the lights on and spend on innovation and revenue-generating projects. “Historically IT was about keeping the infrastructure running and there was no real understanding outside of that, but the days of IT being locked in a basement are gradually changing,” managing director of recruiter Spring Technology Richard Protherough said.The evolution shouldn’t come as a surprise: the IT department is increasingly being seen as a profit rather than a cost centre with IT budgets commonly split between keeping the lights on and spend on innovation and revenue-generating projects. We’re also seeing far more CIOs on the board rather than reporting into the CFO or director of resources.Rob White, a specialist technology and project recruitment consultant at Venn Group, has noticed growing demand for roles that can straddle business and IT competencies. Project managers have long been in demand but now the role of product manager is one increasingly in demand among tech start-ups in particular, White says. “They don’t need to write the code but they need to understand technology to deliver the project as quickly as possible,” he adds.

You're not as daft as you're cabbage looking: Train up and you can beat the MBAs at their own game And yet a recent report by the Prince’s Trust revealed that more than 40 per cent of companies are experiencing skills gaps within their firms, prompting the Royal Academy of Engineering earlier this year to launch a new programme through its Enterprise Hub to help growing businesses overcome their skills gaps.Pathways to Growth invites SMEs to apply for up to £20,000 to provide training and support in any area that will help them grow their business. “From the first round of applications, we’ve seen that these organisations have especially been looking for support to develop staff skills in sales, marketing, networking and design,” says Arnoud Jullens, head of enterprise at the Royal Academy of Engineering.For those corporates racking their brains as to the best way to achieve that mix of skills, Protherough says companies have to accept that they will have to take on a lot of the responsibility for training staff. “You’ll have to grow your own. It’s about cross-training, engaging the business into IT and getting departments to collaborate on projects.

For ambitious individuals, it’s more important than ever that they can show themselves, whether through their CVs, social media presence or during the interview process, as being in possession of the skills needed to interact with the multiple business departments in an engaging and approachable way.Rather than rely on your boss to send you on a training course, employees with a career game plan need to take responsibility for their own development and nurture the business skills so sought after by industry. Fundamentally it’s about being interested, according to Protherough.Breaking Fad What was your first streaming device? Over recent months, there has been a glut of them, but the first to find a space on my network was a Roku SoundBridge (or, more accurately, Pinnacle SoundBridge HomeMusic, as it was known in the UK).It's pretty basic by modern standards, with a decidedly clunky interface and a two line LCD display, but it can be controlled by smartphone apps, and as well as playing music stored on my Synology, it can also pick up internet radio streams.

Next up was a rather more chunky Neodigits Helios X5000, which was built like a tank, with audiophile grade components, the ability to play a wide range of HD video formats and also FLAC audio. It can't be used for audio without a TV, didn't support H.264 and turned out to have a decidedly dodgy approach to electrical insulation. So, while the SoundBridge soldiers on in the bedroom, the X5000 hasn't even been plugged in for years and just takes up space.That's something that certainly can't be said of the latest wave of streaming gadgets. There seems to have been something of a deluge of these coming my way lately, and since they're also the sort of thing that may find their way into a gadget-lover's Xmas shopping list, I thought I'd take a look at some of the things worth bearing in mind when you're shopping – though given the space, this won't be a full scale review of any of them.The QED uPlay streamer supports FLAC and AppleLossless, though the app is a little clunky The QED uPlay streamer supports FLAC and AppleLossless, though the app is a little clunky The QED uPlay streamer supports FLAC and AppleLossless, though the app is a little clunky

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You will see a key ID of the last eight (sometimes 16) digits of a key's fingerprint used to identify it; that is only suitable to use for convenience, it's very possible to forge a key and make the final eight digits of the fingerprint match up with an existing target key. Always validate the entire fingerprint if you're verifying or signing someone's key.The key-signing side of OpenPGP is pretty un-fun and I haven't managed to find a nice "cuddly" tutorial to suggest at this point. Over to you, commentards?Don't even think about using Skype for anything sensitive. There is no meaningful encryption or security provided any more. It is completely open to interception by the agencies. This sporty heart monitoring device from satnav maker TomTom would be well-suited to cyclists and runners, as the average gym rat will take advantage of the heart rate sensors from the many machines Fitness First and the like offer these days. Being a TomTom, it’s no surprise that it’s GPS-enabled and the heart monitoring displays how hard you are running or cycling. Like the Adidas MiCoach Smartrun it’s a serious looking fitness watch. It’s as comfortable as any typical watch, but the clasp can be fiddly to hook to the securing holes, but fashionable it ain’t.

Setting up is done by downloading the TomTom MySport manager to a PC or Mac and connecting the watch via the docking cradle to sync and register. Standard stuff but took longer than others on test. The display isn’t a touchscreen, instead a 4-way navpad is used to access the various functions. It might seem like old and vaguely familiar display navigation tech but I’d recommend reading the online manual to get your head around its idiosyncrasies.The TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio is waterproof, so safe for a dip and although it tracks swimming activity, it doesn't monitor heart rate when you're in for a splash. The battery power is limited to 8 hours. The dedicated GPS sensor uses TomTom’s QuickGPS technology to help establish a GPS signal but as I live in London in a built up area this often took longer than a minute. However the selling point to this gadget is heart rate tracking, which shows how hard you are running measured in beats per minute (BPM). Easy, is 75-113BPM, up to Sprint level at 169-187BPM to really test you. For runners and cyclists, not wanting to splash out on a gym membership, it’s a good choice.If you want something affordable this chest strap on constantly monitors heart rate when paired with companion app for iOS and Android users. The free app also offers an eight-week training program by Wahoo to burn fat faster and improve running form as what’s the point of running if the kilos aren’t easily dropping off?

Data from the Tickr Run is transmitted through ANT and Bluetooth 4.0 to either a mobile or an ANT enabled watch or bike computer – the coin cell battery lasts about a year. While it doesn’t have the typical pedometer style activity monitoring, it can measure running smoothness, stride rate and treadmill mode works out speed and distance.It's secured around the chest and, when out for a run, you don’t notice it. Definitely aimed at those who are serious about training whether hitting the pavements, sweating it out in the gym or heading for the hills on a bike. If you need fewer features there's the standard Tickr (£50) and at the other end of the spectrum the top of the range motion analysing Tickr X (£90).Don’t fancy sweaty fingers on a screen? Then Android Wear app can take care of things when pairing a phone to a smart strap on from LG, Samsung or Motorola, oh and Asus has just stepped into the ring with the ZenWatch available in the UK from next week. With any of these, just say, for example, "Hello Google, show me my steps" to the smartwatch and you’re all set. For iOS users wanting the similar tricks with Siri, they will have to wait for the Apple Watch launch in early 2015.

These wearables certainly look like they’ll be charged alongside the smartphone each night as they are battery hungry. The Motorola Moto 360 lasts a day, with the Apple Watch expected to be the same, with up to two days for the LG and Samsung. With typical specs along the lines of 4GB internal storage and 512MB RAM and water resistant, so not for swimming, the smart strap on is glitzy but pricey. And if you don’t like the look of it, then you can change it – or design your own – as there are many watch faces to choose from proving suitable even for the likes of Joey Essex.This latest LG G smartie links to a mobile for notifications and works with any Android 4.3 or later device. Equipped with an OLED display 1.2GHz processor, accelerometer, compass, activity and heart rate monitor, this is all good stuff for an all-in-one that looks like a stylish watch. Included is the leather strap that softens up with wear but if not to your taste it can be swapped for standard watch strap of your choice.

The always-on screen means there’s no waiting to wake the watch face and you simply tap for speaking mode. Being able to read a message streamed on your wrist is useful, as is the ability to reply with a stock message such as "Yes", or "I'm running late" – or speak your response. The step counter shows a quick glance at your daily progress, but it lacks the ability to show performance over weeks and months.At £100 cheaper than the Samsung Gear S, the LG G Watch R may appear more smartwatch than fitness helper. That said, Endomondo now supports Android Wear and the LG G Watch R works with it. Just bear in mind the heart rate monitor isn’t continuous, you just take a snapshot when suits.Looking less like a lump of tech and more like a watch, the Moto 360 was a firm favourite before the launch of the LG R, thanks to its traditional round face and comfortable leather strap. Yup, crazy stuff, it just resembles a typical watch.

Still, it works with all Android 4.3 (or later) phones with the Android Wear app but best paired with a Motorola phone to make the most of it. For fitness folk’ it constantly shows how many steps have been taken in a day and features an optical heart rate monitor, however, like the LG, the heart monitoring isn’t continuous.It’s certainly more elegant on the wrist than most and the soft leather strap made this smartwatch the most comfortable on test to wear.No wearable review can be done without including a Pebble. Despite the fact that you can’t talk to it, this brand is one of the best at producing smartwatches that work with iOS or Android. The Pebble Steel look is retro with a touch of sophistication, with a leather strap for comfort or metal strap if preferred.The smart stuff includes instant notifications for incoming calls, SMS, emails, calendar alerts, with silent vibrating alarm and timer (very discreet if in a meeting). The Steel lacks a touchscreen but the monochrome LCD screen, and low spec – 80MHz ARM A3 CPU, 512kB of RAM, and a mere 8MB of storage – help deliver a seven-day battery life.Apps from the Pebble appstore include fitness tracking, running, cycling and controlling music. It’s waterproof too and swim.com has an app designed for use with Pebble watches. If you want a traditional watch that’s also on the smart side, all Pebble watches get a continuous thumbs up.

This is essentially a mini phone on your wrist with a dual-core 1GHz processor, AMOLED display and a nano SIM slot to make and receive calls without using a phone – although you need one for the initial SIM set-up.In comparison to the LG G Watch R and Motorola 360, Samsung has packed everything into this rather chunky bracelet that works exclusively with Samsung mobile devices running Android 4.3 and later. Large it may be, but it’s actually light and comfortable to wear, as the curved body helps it fit more naturally around the wrist. The watch strap is made from black plastic and faux leather giving it a futuristic look.Activated from one button, you then swipe through the various menus. It has built in GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, heart rate monitor, UV and barometer. As you begin to learn its ways, you’ll soon be searching for the screen timeout settings or it switches off after just 15 seconds. Energy saving, yes, but annoying at first, although it can be set to stay on for up to five minutes.

Set up was quick from downloading the Samsung Gear manager app to a mobile then click on search for devices. With Bluetooth you then click to pair to bring in information and contacts from your phone.The Gear S can continuously monitor your heart rate and depending on how recent your Samsung phone is, data can be shared with the S-Health app. In tests, the heart monitor worked on every attempt for cardio training. Another nice touch is it doesn’t need to be connected to a phone if out running or at the gym. Still, it’s expensive and you’re tied to Samsung mobile products to get the most out of it.Don’t get me wrong: Chromebooks have their place in terms of functionality and also price point, but to a lot of users, selling them one is doing them a disservice.Chromebooks are primarily content consumption devices, not creation devices. It could be argued people hold unrealistic expectations. A £200 Chromebook is not going to be as fully featured as a £800 MacBook Air, or any proper notebook in general.The same can be said for off-brand tablets that many people will find under their Christmas tree and expect to work just as well as a Samsung or an iPad. These devices are cheap for a reason. Sub-par devices that PC World pumps out for £199, and that last six months, will sell very well for irrational factors such as the shell’s colour.

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I'm not too keen on wrecking my main mode of transport, Healy said.The pair were philosophical about the risk to life and limb, however.You could realistically use this as a means to target someone, but you could also just hit them with a car, Ryan said. Malware has emerged from war-torn Syria targeting those protesting the rule of ISIS (ISIL, Islamic State, whatever the murderous humanity-hating fanatics are calling themselves these days.)The trivial Windows spyware, analyzed by University of Toronto internet watchdog Citizen Lab, was sent out in a small number of emails aimed squarely at members of the group Raqqah is being Slaughtered Silently (RSS) – which is holed up deep in ISIS-controlled territory and campaigning against the medieval terror bastards.The booby-trapped emails purport to come from a Canadian expat group that wants to help the fight against ISIS. The messages ask the recipients to check over a report about the actions of the religious fanatics. Clicking on the URL leads to a file-sharing account with TempSend, and downloads an archive called slideshow.zip.While the zipped folder does contain a few maps, it also holds some simple but dangerous spyware called AdobeR1.exe: when run, it emails the infected system's public IP address to its masters. There's no backdoor or other sort of remote access – the computer simply emails out its network address whenever it boots up.

Just getting the IP address may not sound like much, but it could be useful information in the hands of a determined killer, and may narrow down the location of a target, if not pinpoint it using geolocation.Syria's internet access is so fractured and scarce that mapping IP addresses to particular locations isn't impossible: imagine a person regularly using a cafe for web access; if ISIS can map the cafe's network address to its physical location, it will know exactly where that person is when he or she switches on their laptop.(This is assuming the target hasn't heard of Tor or VPNs. Of course, if the IP address leads to the wrong place, kicking down a door and slaughtering everyone inside is just a Monday morning jolly for ISIS, anyway.)In areas of the bloodstained country still run by the Assad regime, internet access is provided by the state telco, which of course has its own IP address block. So a machine running the spyware with a network address in that range could well be within those Assad-held sectors.In the north of the country, largely controlled by the Free Syrian Army and Kurdish forces, internet access is almost exclusively provided via commercial satellite internet, which again has its own IP range.

And someone with the right skills could use the leaked public IP addresses to prod a victim's machine for software vulnerabilities to exploit, leading to a full system compromise and, ultimately, death.This malware is pretty basic and buggy, we're told. Citizen Lab senior security analyst Seth Hardy told The Register that the code only sends out the initial IP discovered, and doesn't update itself, which the analysis team think is down to bad coding. The emails it sends out also don’t use any encryption.On the balance of probabilities, Citizen Lab thinks it's highly likely the malware involved has been developed by ISIS. The Syrian government has its own spyware that installs a backdoor and opens link back to government agents so they can remotely control the infected PC.The other possibility is that the code has been purchased from one of many unscrupulous outfits that sell malware to the highest bidder, often quite legally. But the new sample doesn't look like it came from one of these cyber-merchants.It's not even close to commercial samples, Hardy said. It definitely looks like it has been developed internally.

The spyware has now been fingerprinted and the signatures published for antivirus products to use, so hopefully security software companies will be able to block further infections. But Hardy said it would be trivial to tweak the code to evade detection again.It's possible the code is the work of British hacker Junaid Hussain, who was sentenced to a six-month stretch behind bars in 2012 for infiltrating the email account of an aide to Tony Blair, and flooding the UK's national anti-terrorism hotline with spoof calls.Hussain has since skipped bail and fled Blighty. According to various tweets he is now operating in ISIS-controlled territory and may be using his computer skills to create malware, as he did in his earlier hacking attacks.We can't say for certain where this malware came from, but based on what we're seeing in the Lab the entry costs and expertise needed for these kinds of attacks is falling drastically John Scott-Railton, coauthor of the Citizen Lab study, told The Register.

Malware like this is becoming the digital equivalent of the AK-47; it's cheap, easy to use, and can be very dangerous when it's used by militant groups looking to find their enemies. Product roundup Under the tree this Christmas, wearables beyond woolly socks, gloves and tasteless jumpers will be in abundance. Wristbands and smartwatches that track our activity now cover a diverse range of prices and functions. Most offer ‘lifelogging’, the latest buzzword used to describe monitoring everything you do from exercise to sleep.You’ll be hard pressed to find a strap on that doesn’t have an accompanying app that shows the bigger picture of activity. This information can even be used to trade off your exercise burn against the calories consumed from your daily diet and keep track of any activity goals.To make your slob shopping easier, in this round-up of 20 wearables, we’ve grouped similar types of devices together. You’ll find designs offering different advantages from simple to sophisticated; long battery life down to daily charges and basic activity tracking to devices specialising in cardio workouts.

So is getting a fitness wearable going to be an awkward gift, much like getting fragrant toiletries? Instead of wondering if it’s a hint that you smell, will a health monitoring band insinuate you’re a slob? No doubt there will be some teasing around that, but for those with the gift of fitness in mind, you'll find there are devices aplenty to suit all comers.With this selection, out-of-box-set up is straightforward with Bluetooth pairing to a companion app on iOS, Android and some like Fitbit support Windows phones too. These wearables show limited information on goal progress, with workouts and other details viewable from the app. They all offer a ‘social motivation’ aspect, that some folk may get excited about – connect and compete against others, if that’s what it takes to get you going.For overall lifelogging, FitBit and Jawbone are among the leading lights, which makes the Flex a safe choice. It’s unisex too, with two sizes of wristband supplied, available in 10 colours. It's very light and the silicone band is extremely comfortable – most of the time you don’t notice your wearing it. Set-up is quoted as 10 minutes, which was spot-on and and its rechargeable battery lasts about a week. You also get a wireless dongle to hook it up to the desktop version of the app to make getting into details easier.

The Flex has a few winning reasons to consider it, as it’s water resistant to 10 metres – so it's wearable in the pool – logs vigorous exercise not just steps walked and has quick syncing to mobile GPS (iPhone only for now) to map runs and walks. It also syncs with Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi scales to calculate body mass index (BMI). However, the sleep monitor needs to be activated just before you drop off, which is typical of all fitness bands, albeit a tad impractical.The Fitbit Flex is one of the cheapest ways to join the holistic gang for monitoring everything in daily life, with one of the best UI apps that opens and syncs instantly. Coming soon is the Fitbit Surge, which includes smartwatch features, along with fitness tracking, but no UK release date yet.With this new budget device, Jawbone puts an affordable activity tracker with an informative companion app in the hands fitness fans. The Jawbone Up Move works as a clip on device to wear on clothing, although a wrist strap is also available, but it does look a bit cheap. It does the usual calorie counting, activity and sleep tracking (as getting a good night’s kip is as vital as exercise) with tips on how to improve your daily routine. The battery life is a boon too, with Jawbone claiming it should last six months.The Up Move is more functional than fashionable – especially if worn as a wristband – but compared to others on test, it is incredibly easy to set up. Simply pop in the coin battery, download the Up app and then pair – all done in a couple of minutes.On its face, information is shown on 12 white LED’s for an at-a-glance view of fitness goals and the current time, with coloured symbols – orange (for activities) and blue (for sleep) – indicating the active mode. Although the Up Move lacks the finesse of other Jawbone trackers, when clipped on clothing it goes unnoticed and like Fitbit devices, it offers a great app.

Stob Laud Satya Nadella stood at the leaded casement of his garret, contemplating the ominous, brooding sky to the south. The flag over the Maeiouster's Hub Complex barely stirred in the still air, so that he could not only see the sigil of his once-proud house - gules and vert oblongs accroupis sur a respectant brace, azure dexter and jaune sinister, of quatrocons, conjoined to the Mark of Registered Trade - but also make out the motto VENIT FENESTRAE (which, as everybody knows, is Old Visbasian for Windows is coming) proudly emblazoned in the finest, most delicate Comic Sans that the T-shirt weavers of Old Redmond could fashion.Behind him, on his desk, his laptop was making a curious skirling, like an unconvincing communicator prop from a defunct 1980s sci-fi franchise. Nadella sighed, left the window and touched the machine's screen, and, in just that 15 mysterious seconds it sometimes takes Explorer to relinquish enough processor time for anything else to get a look-in, he was skyping with his castellan, who was sat in the room next door.A small, balding man entered the room, smiling thinly and nervously. He said: Sit you securely on some sumptuously saddled sorrel stallion, sire?Nadella groaned inwardly. Before the change in regime, Maeistor Allyne-the-Alliterator had spent some time - or many mad months as he would have put it - working on a top secret Touch-Word for Surface 3 extension intended to introduce the potent productive power of poetry (Allyne again) to all your everyday business communications. The project, like so many, had perished with the old regime, but too late, Nadella suspected, to save the maeistor's reason.

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The wizards and watchers of Silicon Valley outdid themselves in trying to justify WhatsApp, calling it a smart play for traffic and users. Facebook has looked for growth in new members internationally and in mobile, and WhatsApp - with 450 million users and 70 per cent of these active on any given day - arguably delivers Facebook both.But the deal was stock and shares - $4bn of the former. Facebook simply called WhatsApp “incredibly valuable.” That was it. That’s all it takes.In the shadow of WhatsApp, Oculus Rift was an rounding error. According to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, he is focusing on what platforms are next for entertainment and personal use. The boy wonder should take care: Oculus Rift was hitting seriously cool status among geeks and nerds, and the primary concern is that Zuckerberg’s Big Co kills what they saw as a promising technology and company.In so doing, Facebook loses the very users that have been giving it underground cool status and helping drive the excitement around it.Microsoft paid a relatively meager $2.5bn on Mojang, maker of pre-teen hit Minecraft - the most popular game in history with 100m downloads. But like Facebook, Microsoft was decidedly terse on the whys of the deal.

What does Microsoft get? The game itself and the development studios and people in Stockholm, Sweden, who built it but not the company's founder who's cashing out. What else? Microsoft wasn’t saying at the time and hasn’t said since, preferring like Facebook on Oculus Rift to avoid talking about it like it never happened or we dreamed the whole event.Microsoft chief Satya Nadella was reading from the Zuckerberg M&A script when he said simply that Minecraft is an “open-world platform driven by a vibrant community” that’s “rich with new opportunities.” The PR-friendly answer: “opportunity. The business answer: “wait and see. “Opportunity” is the buzz-phrase Nadella’s predecessor employed to justify Skype and Aquantive, neither of which worked out.Crypto toolbox, Part II In the first article in this two-parter on building your own crypto toolbox I covered older tools that have been around for a relatively long time now: Truecrypt and OpenPGP. Here, I will go in a different direction and look at ways of protecting instant messaging, general web-browsing, and how to trust the operating system where we run these tools.

If you need secure voice or video chat, the commercial Silent Phone service (from Phil Zimmermann's Silent Circle) is generally regarded as robust and trustworthy, as it builds on top of the security model of the old PGPfone. It is available for Windows, Android and iOS – but OS X seems to be notably absent at present.From a practical standpoint the VOIP experience on Silent Phone is not as polished as you may be used to from Skype – for example, there's no-to-poor echo cancellation – so I strongly recommend using a proper headset rather than speakers and the crummy mic built in to your webcam or laptop. For the sake of completeness it must also be noted that this is a proprietary closed-source service; it's up to you to decide if that's a deal-breaker for you. Like it or not, this is what's used and trusted in certain circles.For the instant-message generation, a plugin called OTR (Off The Record) offers end-to-end protection for communications on compatible IM services and applications.The combination used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and his supporters is to use the open XMPP IM protocol, often on the Pidgin client, with this OTR plugin to provide the security. Youíd then transmit over Tor for general anonymity, using the TAILS OS for local security, which I'll come to shortly.

OTR uses some of the same Public-Key crypto concepts as OpenPGP, but with a focus on protecting live chat sessions. Once you have established a secured OTR session, you can be sure that nobody is snooping on your conversation – but after the fact, what you said can't be held against you. The person you're chatting with would be completely able to forge the digital signatures, meaning third parties can't prove that you yourself said something.This is in stark contrast to PGP, where a signature is a very strong proof of the authorship of a message.As with OpenPGP, you are responsible for checking the key fingerprint of the person you're communicating with. Unlike PGP, however, there is no concept of signing someone else's key to be able to transfer trust – you will definitely need to check manually. As with PGP, a Skype video call is suitable - I recommend doing a full Fingerprint check rather than using any question and answer alternatives, as that's what makes me most comfortable in terms of robustness of security.

There are a wide range of public servers using Jabber that is based on XMPP. Because Jabber is federated, users on one server can communicate freely with users elsewhere – provided that both ends offer server-to-server TLS encryption. The general Jabber server-admin community has recently moved towards absolutely requiring server-to-server encryption, which has had the effect of cutting off Google Talk users from pretty much everyone else.One Jabber server offered by the German Chaos Computer Club is used quite heavily and is available as a Tor Hidden Service, although they don't offer much in the way of guidance or hand-holding.American tech-collective Riseup offer email accounts with matching Jabber service, have very nice tutorials for a variety of chat clients (including Adium for OS X users), and their server can also be reached as a Tor Hidden Service, although you will need to request an invite to sign up for their services.The OTR plugin's website has links for some tutorials on its use. I found this one to be very thorough and covered everything for Windows. A little bit of digging elsewhere revealed a similar guide for Adium users in OS-X-land.

While you can use GPG to secure the contents of your email, a state-level adversary with extensive taps on the big intercontinental submarine cables will still be able to see that you are emailing this other person. If someone from a government or military IP address range started sending encrypted mail to known investigative journalists (or other potential enemies of the state), there's a very strong risk there – even if the security forces can't read the contents of the messages.Also visible for your ISP to see – and therefore also freely visible to the state via their ability to twist your ISP's arm in secret – is your web browsing, instant messaging, and anything else you're doing.The most robust way to anonymise your internet use is to use Tor (The Onion Router), which does a very robust job of evading that sort of surveillance.We know it works well because we've got the NSA's slides where they describe how much they hate it. They describe it as a CNE [Computer Network Exploitation] headache, which is a superb seal of approval.

It is worth noting that Tor provides anonymity. That's it. It does not automatically provide security or privacy. If the exit node you are using (the point where your traffic exits the Tor process and emerges on to the normal internet) is unscrupulous, evil, or just hacked, (or, run by GCHQ) it has the ability to intercept the contents of your communications. It won't automatically know who you are (e.g. your real IP address), because that is hidden by Tor – but it can see what you're sending and receiving.We love our gadgets and phones and suchlike. Gadgets can also make great gifts, so long as you get the right one.Some this Christmas season - like me - will no doubt have thought what a great idea it would have been to buy their partners (or some other significant loved one in the family) a new laptop, device, or tablet as a present. It is surely a quick win, and we know what we are buying, right?Not so fast. The problem in my case - and quite a few other people who work in IT - is that that person you are buying for isn’t as technical. Fair enough. Not everyone is, and nor should they be.The big mistake I made was taking my intended gift recipient (in my case my wife) to see a range of laptops so I could get a steer on what caught her interest.

“Anything within reason” was the financial limit.There was “umming”, there was “ahing. Some - I'm looking at you, Hewlett-Packard - were just butt ugly so were quickly ruled out, Beats Audio or no Beats Audio. There was also the obligatory pushy salesman who was given the cold shoulder.Then she saw it - the sunset-orange colour Chromebook. This was “the one”. I was worried. I knew straight away this was trouble - Chromebooks have their place but they are not laptops.When pressed as to why it HAD to be this device in particular all I got was: “I like the colour and it looks cute.” Arguments about iTunes, Word and not being able to store many files locally failed to dissuade her from the fact that this was it. The Celeron logo was what worried me more than anything. We left without making a purchase.Days later and alone in John Lewis, and in all good conscience I plumped for a Lenovo Yoga 11.2. OK, so it was roughly three times the price, but it did what her current laptop did and came with a touchscreen and a nice Hello Kitty/handbag friendly colour.

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