News Roundup: Google's Loony, Ballmer's Sneaky And No Touchscreens For Cars

 NSA Not Going Away

The NSA/PRISM story is still going. Companies have been releasing user data requests and trying to salvage their reputations, Snowden had a Q&A with Guardian readers and dropped Cisco right in it, and private search engine DuckDuckGo has seen a surge in traffic. There have also been plenty of stories about how to hide your activity & communication online, from private browsers & email service to a Raspberry Pi hack. But there’s always the danger that the more you hide, the harder organizations wanting your data will work to intercept it.  

Google’s Loony

Google has released more details on their plans to bring Steampunk Wi-Fi to the masses. Dubbed ‘Project Loon’, the aim is to launch a fleet of solar powered balloons into the stratosphere, bringing the internet to rural areas of Africa and Asia. The project is already being tested in New Zealand, but seems to be going well. While it’s giving everyone the chance to access the web, it’s a bit unnerving having the giant provide the internet, the laptop, the tablet,  the phone, the wearable tech and the majority of services used therein. Orwell was wrong; the vision of the future isn’t a boot on humanity’s face, but a brightly coloured series of letters and a little green alien thing.  

Barmy Badboy tech-centrics

It’s hard not to follow the lives of the tech illuminati. Today’s tech CEOs are the some of the most powerful people in today’s world. They’re also the most mental. John McAfee may not be part of today’s Silicon Valley crowd, but he’s a brilliant example of how not to give two hoots about what anyone thinks. The Anti-Virus creator this week released a ridiculous video, poking fun at his own creation and people who want to uninstall it from their lives. Hookers, guns and bathsalts everywhere.

Kim Dotcom is a close second for the ultimate tech-centrist. This week, however, he was reportedly almost brought to tears over the loss of his Megaupload data. Dutch company LeaseWeb wiped 630 servers worth of data in what Kim called “the largest data massacre in the history of the internet.”

And in other Pirate news, The Pirate Bay cofounder Gottfrid “anakata” Svartholm Warg, was found guilty of hacking in Sweden and sentenced to two years in prison.  Warg is also facing similar charges in Denmark, but that’s yet to be finalised.

Billions of dollars, just as many apps bought

There was a scary minute where it looked like Yahoo!’s spending spree wouldn’t result in any rumoured or actual acquisitions this week. The Tumblr deal has gone through, the bid for Hulu is in the $600-$800 million range, and it’s looking to spend another hundred million or so on two other companies. $30 -$40 million of that is expected to go on social app maker Xobni while the rest would go on Qwiki, a movie app. Mobile and talent seem to be Marissa Mayer’s main targets, which I would say is a good strategy. A report on the Business Insider suggests the company had $5-6 billion before the Tumblr deal, so the number of companies bought out could easily hit 20 or more by the year’s (or Summer’s) end.

The end of Nokia as we know it?

With the sad news that Nokia’s Symbian OS is going to be put out pasture, we find out there may have been a quiet bidding war for the company. Microsoft reportedly tried but failed in their bid to acquire the Finnish phone-maker, and Chinese company Huawei are said to be looking about making a bid (something which it denies). A bid from either would make sense; Nokia is Microsoft’s main carrier, while Huawei would benefit from the company’s expertise and distribution, not to mention its continued stranglehold on the dwindling but still massive feature phone market. Surely any actual move from Huawei would force Steve Ballmer back to the negotiating table.

Office iOS released, Ballmer laughs at you

After years of rumours and pleading, Microsoft Office is finally available for iOS! But only on iPhone. And with a monthly subscription for Office 365. As Information Week pointed out, this release wasn’t about helping Apple users in their productivity, it’s about pushing 365 on as many people as possible. I suspect the ploy is to tease the users enough to want an iPad version, then suck up and buy a Windows tablet instead. It’s devious ploy and Ballmer is probably laughing in some volcano lair, stroking a cat. It might work too, unless people actually start using Pages or something crazy like that.

And following from last week’s news about potential iPhablet and iBudget phones, two nuggets of information may hide clues to Apple’s bigger plan for emerging markets. The first is that the iPhone 4 is selling like hotcakes in India & China, on account they are the cheapest option. The other is Pegatron CEO T.H. Tung’s announcement that the predicted budget phone won’t actually be that cheap, and will instead be a middle-tier phone. Piece the two together and you have; a top-tier iPhone 5 or 5S, a middle-tier budget phone, and the 4 or 4S for the budget users of the developing world.

Ford giving up on cars as smartphones

And finally, in a victory for people who like buttons and dials, car manufacturer Ford are doing away with MyFord Touch. It seems people just can’t be bothered with aggravating screens when a button does the job just as well. Hurray!


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South Africa: Why Have All the Rural Tech Projects Failed? »
Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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