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Microsoft Garage Is Now Open To The Whole Neighborhood

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 3:08pm

Microsoft clicked the Genie on Wednesday and invited the whole neighborhood into its online Garage to try out a handful of consumer apps that are still in the works

The opening of its once-private workshop, now available on the Microsoft website is the latest in the tech giant's goal to boost an image of open atmosphere for both developers and users. This softer side of Microsoft campaign took off soon after CEO Satya Nadella took the company's helm; it makes a stark contrast with the bombastic Steve Ballmer years (and, frankly, the preceding Gates years as well) that offered little room for public input. 

See also: Meet Microsoft's Unexpectedly Smart Windows 10 Charm Offensive

In another effort to understand what the people want, the Microsoft Windows Insider program invites users to try out Windows 10, and offer feedback on the still-in-production operating system. "Windows 10 will be our most collaborative OS project ever," Microsoft VP Terry Myerson during a press event earlier in October. He added that Microsoft will "make sure people have been heard and listened to."

Microsoft engineer Xuedong Huang (credit: Scott Eklund, Red Box Pictures)

Inviting the public to join its inhouse community of experimenters is another big step in Microsoft's rebranding, one aimed at making the customer feel part of the company."We are a community of interns, employees, and teams from everywhere in the company who come together to turn our wild ideas into real projects," reads the Garage intro page. "This site gives you early access to projects as they come to life."

See also: The New "One Microsoft" Is—Finally—Poised For The Future

Intrepid tech tinkerers can try out 16 experimental apps currently available in Microsoft Garage, including productivity tools, social apps to help you connect with your friends and mobile games. Many of the apps currently available for download are built for one or two operating systems. Poke around and you'll find options for Android, Android Wear, iOS, Windows, Windows Phone or Xbox One.

Images courtesy of Microsoft

Categories: Technology

How To Pick The Perfect Touchscreen For Your Raspberry Pi

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 1:47pm

At long last, Raspberry Pi has an official touchscreen accessory in the works.

“The whole time we’ve been doing Raspberry Pi we’ve been saying yeah the display accessory is coming, yeah the display accessory is coming—and the display accessory is finally coming,” Raspberry Pi inventor and CEO Eben Upton said at the Speaking at Disrupt Europe 2014.

See also: Raspberry Pi Gets A Sound Card: 3 Ways To Use It

The official Pi screen will be great for enthusiasts, because mass production will bring its price down. In the meantime, if you can’t wait for the upcoming display, there are at least four current third-party touch screens on the market ripe for building your own DIY projects.

Adafruit PiTFT Touchscreen: $35

This palm-sized full-color screen is perfect for a number of projects you can find on Adafruit’s educational site, including a touchscreen camera. With a 2.8" display and 16-bit color pixels, it comes fully assembled for the DIYer who doesn’t want to wait.

PiScreen By Tindie, $57

This slim 3.5” display TFT started as a Kickstarter that went 20 times over its original goal—which should tell you something about how much fans want a Pi touchscreen! It’s extremely slim compared to any other model on the market.

Capacitive Touchscreen By Chalkboard Electronics, $112

With increased size comes increased price and with a 10” display, this one is a behemoth. This LCD screen was Raspberry Pi developer Michael Castor’s choice when he built the titular PiPad earlier this year. Unfortunately, only refurbished models are available now.

HDMIPi, £75 ($120)

Its creators call it “affordable,” but it’s the priciest there is. Not that it isn’t worth it—it’s the only Pi-compatible touchscreen with the benefit of a smooth HDMI display. This one was also a highly successful Kickstarter, and models are only just shipping this month.

Photo of the Adafruit PiTFT by Phil Burgess

Categories: Technology

Twitter Unveils Its New Developer Toolkit—Fabric

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 1:22pm

Twitter is making its play for developers

At its first-ever Flight developer conference, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo announced a new developer toolkit aimed at helping developers build and make money off applications on the Twitter platform. Called Twitter Fabric, the bundle of services includes Twitter's Crashlytics application crash detecting service, and MoPub, the ad exchange network.

With the new tools, Twitter officially throws its hat in the ring to compete with Facebook and Google for developers' time and attention. Its tools are designed to work with Apple's Xcode and "all major Android IDEs," meaning that developers can presumably use the Twitter tools within the development environments they're already used to.

Costolo also lobbed some direct criticism at competitors during his keynote address. “The mobile SDK landscape has been inhabited by parties that optimize for self-interest first, and your interest second," Costolo said.

He was presumably poking at Facebook, which offers developers the backend-as-a-service Parse, Facebook Login, and the new Facebook Audience Network that displays Facebook ads across different applications.

Google, meanwhile, also just acquired Firebase, a backend service for building realtime apps as part of its cloud services.

Twitter also debuted a new Twitter login feature that will let people log into applications and services with their Twitter credentials instead of creating new username/password IDs for each one. That service essentially matches similar login services from Facebook and Google.

Lead image by Selena Larson for ReadWrite

Categories: Technology

Women In Tech Have Much Better Advice For "Male Allies"

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 11:15am

If you ask a woman what it's like working in tech, she'll likely tell you a story about a time she felt harassed, frustrated, or simply on the verge of quitting the industry. 

At a panel discussion at Twitter on Tuesday night, these stories were told by successful women from a range of backgrounds—from a teenager who frequents hackathons and founded a startup, to industry veterans with decades of experience fighting for leadership roles in technology companies.

On Wednesday, Twitter will host its first-ever Flight mobile developer conference, and to kick off the event, Twitter hosted #WomenInFlight. Over 100 people converged at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco—the audience was mostly women, though there were a number of men in attendance, including Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. 

See also: White Male "Allies" Have Surprisingly Little To Say About Fixing Sexist Tech Culture

Each story was unique, but the panel of six women, along with the audience, commiserated as each was told. Sometimes there was laughter. Sometimes, audible groans. 

"A lot of my friends who are women in tech or women in engineering have talked about when they’re going to quit," Tracy Chou, a Pinterest software engineer, said on the panel. "The median experience of being a woman in tech or woman in engineering is worse than the median of being a man."

What “Male Allies” Should KnowTwitter Women In Flight

The panel participants were surprisingly cordial, speaking openly about their own experiences with sexism in the workplace, while sporadically interrupted by a fire alarm test in the building.

Conversation meandered from serious to silly—panelists talked about innovating blow dryers to help women get ready faster, and whether or not egg freezing is a perk akin to free lunch.

One point discussed several times was what advice these women would give to men, or "male allies," who want to be supportive of women in the industry and help create a more open and diverse workplace. 

At the Grace Hopper Celebration earlier this month, a botched "male allies," panel attracted criticism for its myopic conversation and advice. The group of white men on stage provided women with the same advice they've heard and followed numerous times, and there were some misunderstandings between what the panelists discussed and what women in the audience had experienced themselves. 

See also: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to Women: Don't Ask For A Raise, Trust Karma

Chou, who attended the Grace Hopper conference, pointed out that the group of men returned the following day to listen to women describe the hardships and harassment they've suffered with the hope of having a better understanding of what it is women in technology go through each day.

Chou said that one of the most important things men can do is educate themselves about different behaviors and biases that prevent women from working in tech.

"I meet a lot of men who aren’t intending to be sexist, but are willfully ignorant about what goes on," she said.

She added that many women end up doing "grunt work," like bug triage and housekeeping, more often than their male counterparts, and decision-makers or company leaders should be cognizant of what tasks they're assigning to the team to prevent women from doing the same ones repeatedly.

Patty McCord, leadership consultant and former chief talent officer at Netflix, suggested that taking steps to learn about the industry from a different point of view can help company leaders make better decisions regarding hiring technical talent or improving company culture.

"Wake up each day and say, 'Today I’m going to learn something about what it’s like from someone else’s perspective,'" she said. "Ask yourself if this is behavior you would want your daughter to experience."

Taking steps to ensure an open culture also includes giving women the opportunity to interview candidates for jobs—not just to make women feel comfortable with the interview, but also to weed out any potential employees that might contribute to a toxic or sexist environment.

"I've had a lot of negative experiences being an interviewer and having men treat me as not worth talking to," Chou said. "So that’s a useful screening tactic to make sure the culture is good."

This Is Why Women Quit

Forty one percent of women leave careers in technology after ten years, compared to just 17% of men. Chou said that this speaks to a larger problem with the industry.

“I’ve been an engineer for four and a half years, and I’ve thought about quitting tech many times,” Chou told the audience. “I’m not entirely convinced I’ll make it to the 10-year mark. Sometimes it is just very painful, there is a lot of frustration around being undervalued or not treated the same in different situations, like at tech conferences.”

See also: Gillian Jacobs Discusses Her Upcoming Grace Hopper Documentary

While many people and organizations are focusing on the “pipeline,” or encouraging more young girls to pursue interests in programming or computer science, the attrition rate of women who stay in such roles is low. It's nice to focus on encouraging girls to hack things, but what happens when they become adults who may not be treated equal to male counterparts?

For young girls to have successful careers in technology, Chou said, the culture must change.

Chou is a vocal advocate for improving diversity in the workplace. After the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2013, she asked the industry, “Where are the numbers?” Her call to action inspired a number of companies, both small and large, to release data that shows who tech companies hire. And frequently, those numbers illustrate a white, male workforce.

Starting Young

Successful code education programs create opportunities for young women and people of color, but the discriminatory “brogramming,” culture might be one that’s learned young, too.

Ming Horn, a high school senior, founder of Khode Up, and ambassador for Girls Who Code, described how the behavior of young boys at tech conferences and hackathons can be just as bad as that of their adult counterparts.

See also: How Square’s Coding Program Helps Female Students Become Entrepreneurs

“One thing that’s happened quite often is that there are tons of random polls on [hackathon] Facebook pages,” she said. “These recently have been things like, ‘Who are the hottest girls on the hackathon scene?’ and ‘How can I go and pick up chicks?’”

These are posted by freshman or sophomore students, she said. What's more, whenever girls point out that the polls are inappropriate, guys will tell them it’s just a joke.

Why Does Twitter Care?Women In Flight

Of all employee diversity statistics released in the last few months, Twitter stuck out as one of the companies with the lowest percentage of women in technical roles—just 10% of its tech workforce is female.

Perhaps that's one reason Twitter was so keen on hosting this panel the night before its developer conference. Costolo's attendance suggests both he and the company are taking diversity and inclusion seriously.

"This is a really great time to get a bunch of women together, and kick [Flight] off right," Jana Messerschmidt, vice president of global business development and platform at Twitter, and moderator of the evening's panel, said in an interview. "At Google I/O, they actually tracked the number of female attendees for the first time, that's something that we're looking at as well. We're trying to ensure that we have a very diverse developer community that are able to extract value from the Twitter developer platform."

Undoubtedly developers in attendance found value not only in being in a roomful of people who were not bashful about sharing their experiences, but feeling confident that the tech industry is taking steps to change. And hopefully that open, inclusive environment will extend to Flight itself, too. 

Lead photo courtesy of @Womeng; attendee photo courtesy of Vanessa on Twitter

Categories: Technology

Gaming Bitcoin: MIT Researchers Double Investment In 50 Days

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 10:26am

A researcher at MIT may have found the key to predicting the price of Bitcoin, the notoriously unpredictable cryptocurrency, MIT News reports.

Bitcoin is a high-risk investment. The digital currency can fluctuate dramatically depending on outside factors. A federal seizure may cause Bitcoin to plummet, while renewed media attention can make it to skyrocket.

See also: A Year In Bitcoin: Why We'll Still Care About The Cryptocurrency Even If It Fades

Now, MIT researcher Devavrat Shah has developed a machine learning algorithm that stays one step ahead of the currency, allowing him to double his Bitcoin investment in just 50 days.

Working with MIT graduate Kang Zhang, Shah collected price point data from every major Bitcoin exchange for five months. Using a method called “Bayesian regression,” the two taught an algorithm to interpret patterns from the data and trade bitcoins based on those.

The team conducted 2,872 trade in 50 days and experienced an 89 percent return on their investment, effectively gaming the Bitcoin market. Shah and Zhang published a paper on their findings, Bayesian Regression and Bitcoin, earlier this month.

“Can we explain the price variation in terms of factors related to the human world? We have not spent a lot of time doing that,” Shah told MIT News, joking, “But I can show you it works. Give me your money and I’d be happy to invest it for you.”

Photo by fdecomite. 

Categories: Technology

OpenStack Gets A $100M Vote Of Confidence—But Amazon Is Waiting

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 9:23am

Only one open-source company that's so far managed to break $1 billion in annual revenue. But that's not stopping venture capitalists from spreading billions around in the hopes of helping create the next Red Hat.

See also: The Open-Source Cloud Takes A Step Toward Simplicity

Too bad Amazon Web Services (AWS) is out there waiting for them. 

Let The Venture Money Flow!

Over the past two years, the sums pouring into open-source enterprise software companies have been remarkable. Last year MongoDB (full disclosure: my employer) raised $150 million at a reported $1.2 billion valuation, while NoSQL peer DataStax took in another $106 million, valuing the company at $830 million.

Meanwhile in Hadoop Land, investors handed Hortonworks $100 million at a reported $1 billion valuation, after which Cloudera pulled in a monster $900 million round, most of it from Intel, at a nosebleed valuation reported to be around $4.1 billion. 

See also: Red Hat May Be Stacking The Deck Against Its OpenStack Rivals

And we're not done yet. On Tuesday, Mirantis—which offers software and support for OpenStack, a collection of open-source tools companies can use to build their own clouds—raised $100 million from a variety of investors including Intel Capital and Ericsson. Nobody disclosed a valuation.

This kind of Oprah money has fewer companies to flow into these days. Many standalone OpenStack and open-source cloud startups have already been gobbled up by large vendors, mostly for nominal sums. Oracle scooped up Nimbulus last year. HP recently bought Eucalytpus, EMC acquired Cloudscaling and Cisco bought Metacloud.

That leaves Mirantis standing in an industry with some very big players as competitors, in a market that seems to be Amazon's to lose. 

Mirantis, of course, is not the only open source company competing with Amazon. In a world increasingly gone cloud, every software vendor, open source or otherwise, competes with AWS.

Amazon: The New Microsoft?

There must be something in the water around Seattle, as the area keeps breeding hegemons. Microsoft dominated desktop and data center computing for decades. Now it's Amazon's turn.

Amazon Web Services is perhaps the fastest-growing software business in history, ramping to $1 billion and beyond at a torrid pace, as Pacific Crest Securities estimates:

Now that Amazon CTO Werner Vogels has made it clear that Amazon is in the "enterprise pain management" business, and won't be content to merely provide infrastructure services, no area of software is safe from AWS' deflationary grasp. Yet hard as it may be to compete against AWS with a proprietary licensing model, in some ways it's harder with an open source model. 

Just ask MySQL, once a burgeoning developer of the popular open-source database of the same name.

At the time of its $1 billion acquisition by Sun in 2008, MySQL was doing roughly $100 million in sales. That's not bad, but it pales in comparison to how much AWS was making on that same MySQL code, both in terms of RDS and MySQL-related EC2 revenue

While there are no official numbers from AWS on its cloud business, I've heard from inside sources that AWS made several hundred million in revenue at the time of the MySQL acquisition, and I would venture that its RDS + MySQL-related EC2 revenue is now approaching the $1 billion mark.

It's not just MySQL, of course. Amazon is also the world's largest Linux vendor, the largest Hadoop vendor and so on. Importantly, AWS has done what no open source company has ever managed to do: make money off all otherwise free open-source software. By turning open source software into managed services, AWS can turn any open-source code into cash.

A Quixotic Mirantis CounterattackAdrian Ionel

Now Mirantis and its investors hope to stem that tide. The good news is that Amazon has no interest (so far) in selling OpenStack private cloud services. 

That's also the bad news.

When I talked to Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel about why VCs would pour money into an AWS competitor, he didn't hold back:

We have seen strong customer traction and out-sized business results, and we are working with some of the best brands in the world, including Home Depot, Wells Fargo, and PayPal. Earlier this year, we closed the largest OpenStack deal in history with Ericsson (more than $30 million in software licensing revenues over five years). We are becoming known as a the breakaway independent OpenStack leader, and it’s exciting to see the momentum build.

That may be true, but it's not yet clear that Mirantis and its 450 engineers have much chance against AWS. Ionel is quick to point out that Mirantis can hold its own against other OpenStack contenders like VMware, HP, Oracle, Red Hat and possibly Cisco-via-Metacloud: "We already have the largest OpenStack customer base of any vendor, and dominate Web/SaaS, service provider, and enterprise markets." 

He further notes, "Customers routinely tell us that they chose Mirantis because there was no proprietary agenda, which means so that they can avoid the lock-in of traditional IT." But those same customers are actively embracing AWS, with GE the latest poster child.

Fighting The AWS Beast

In fact, as I've argued before, OpenStack's best chance at relevance is likely Red Hat, which has the broad open source portfolio to make it a potential contender against Amazon's array of services. Ionel disagrees, saying that "The 'benevolent dictator' model may be past its prime," and that "Other models can be more powerful, like an open, market-driven meritocracy combined with deep user engagement in R&D."

This still doesn't answer the AWS threat. To that Ionel retorted, 

OpenStack lets them fine-tune their cloud to their needs. By contrast, AWS is a much simpler "one-size-fits-all" platform which standardizes everything to the lowest possible denominator for its customers. Although this makes sense for some enterprises and workloads, it cannot make sense for all of them.

Maybe, maybe not. But I seriously doubt most enterprises today are concerned with the "one-size-fits-all" epithet and instead view it as a convenient way to get to the cloud fast. Until OpenStack can deliver a deep cloud experience as easily as AWS does, $100 million isn't nearly enough.

Lead photo by kayugee

Categories: Technology

Goodbye, Nokia Lumia—Hello, Microsoft Lumia

Wed, 10/22/2014 - 8:00am
Two future Microsoft Lumia users

Nokia's outposts around the world are letting the cell-phone brand's fans know that they're saying goodbye: Microsoft is changing the name of Nokia's smartphone business, which it bought last year, to Microsoft Lumia.

Nokia France and Nokia UK will be among the first to usher in the new name, according to posts on the business's country-specific Facebook pages, followed by other countries over the coming weeks. (The Verge was the first to report on the coming changes.) 

Cutting Off The Roots

With this, Microsoft officially sheds one of the last few vestiges of the old business from its acquired line of smartphones. It seems sudden: The Nokia name was emblazoned right on the front of the Nokia Lumia 730 and 830, unveiled just last month. But the writing has long been on the wall. 

The Redmond, Wash.-based corporation, which bought the Finnish company’s devices and services division last spring for $7.2 billion, renamed it Microsoft Mobile and laid off more than 12,000 employees. Nokia’s mobile site also started redirecting visitors over to Microsoft Mobile’s new site last month, right around the time when a leaked internal document indicated that Microsoft was preparing to drop the Nokia name.

Nokia still exists—the remaining business, which consists of a digital mapping unit, telecom infrastructure, and intellectual-property licensing, will keep the Nokia name after Microsoft finishes excising it from the devices business.

Microsoft didn't have to dump "Nokia" this quickly. The original acquisition deal allowed the company to continue using both the "Nokia" and "Lumia" brand names for several years.

But the company likely wants to clean up its smartphone branding. With Nokia continuing to operate as a separate company, removing the name from Microsoft’s phone business heads off confusion.

It may seem brutal, considering how Nokia was practically synonymous with cell phones for decades. But the changes come during the run-up to the holiday shopping season. 

That’s a key time period for any gadget company—particularly one trying to push Windows up from a distant No. 3 position in smartphone operating systems.

Photo courtesy of Nokia UK

Categories: Technology