Surface Pro 3 deep-dive review: Has Microsoft finally got it right?

The latest Windows 8 device is supposed to work as both a tablet and a laptop. After working with it for a week, does our reviewer agree?

There’s a saying about Microsoft that I’ve heard for a long time: It takes three tries for the company to get something right. For example, it wasn’t until Windows reached version 3.0 that the operating system really took off, and it was only when Word 3.0 hit that the word processor became a market standard.

But is this also true about the Surface Pro 3, the third iteration of Microsoft’s tablet line? Microsoft touts the Surface Pro 3 as a device that, when equipped with an added Surface Pro Type Cover, does double-duty as a productivity tablet and a true laptop.

So how is the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop — or a tablet? To test that out, I carried it around and used it, forgoing the MacBook Air that I typically use when I work away from my desk. It was an ideal test case, because Microsoft has clearly aimed the Surface Pro 3 at the MacBook Air. In fact, on Microsoft’s Surface website, there’s an entire section devoted to comparing the specs of the Surface Pro 3 to the Air.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

I had previously tried to use its predecessor, the Surface Pro 2, as a primary laptop, and found it impossible to do. But the Surface Pro 3 was generally up to the task, although with some drawbacks.

A look at the specs

Before I go into details about my experience with the Surface Pro 3, let’s take a look at its basic specs.

In this area, it certainly seems as if Microsoft got it right this time. The Surface Pro 3 has a 12-in. display, 40% larger than the Surface Pro 2’s 10.6-in. screen. And it’s quite spectacular, with 2160 x 1440 resolution and a 3:2 aspect ratio — more like a traditional computer’s than the Surface Pro 2’s aspect ratio of 16:9.

Despite the larger screen, the Surface Pro 3 is thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 2 — it’s 0.36 in. deep and weighs 1.76 lb., compared to the Surface Pro 2’s depth of 0.53 in. and weight of 2 lb. That may not sound like much of a difference, but in use, it really matters (as I explain later in this review). Depending on the model you choose, the device is powered by an Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor. Storage ranges from 64GB up to 512GB, and RAM from 4GB to 8GB.

There’s the usual complement of ports, including a USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader and mini DisplayPort. There are front- and back-facing 5-megapixel cameras capable of 1080p video. And it comes with an interesting stylus; more about that later.

The device connects via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; I found that the Surface Pro 3’s Wi-Fi connection is a very good one. Not only did it always connect well in public places such coffee shops, it even did well in what is often a dead zone in my house, an upstairs room fronting the street in which my home network connection is always iffy. In the worst area in my home, where my iPhone gets no Wi-Fi and my MacBook Air gets it intermittently, the Surface always maintained its connection, albeit a slow one.

One especially useful feature is the kickstand, which comes standard as part of the Surface Pro 3. It has been considerably improved — you are no longer limited to a few pre-set angles; instead, you can set it to any angle between zero and 150 degrees, just as you can position the screen of a laptop.

And how much will all this cost? Even though it’s a considerably better device than the Surface Pro 2, Microsoft has dropped the price of the Surface Pro 3 by $100, so it starts at $799. That gets you a device with an i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. If you want to go whole hog, $1,949 buys you a Surface Pro 3 with an i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.

Accessories include a $200 docking station with a keyboard port, a DisplayPort, an audio input/output jack, an Ethernet port, one USB 3.0 port and three USB 2.0 ports. There’s also a $40 Ethernet adapter available. And, of course, there’s the Surface Pro Type Cover, which does double-duty as a cover and keyboard, and which costs an additional $130. (More on that later.)
An excellent display

One of the biggest problems I had with the previous-gen Surface Pro 2 as a laptop was its screen. At 10.6 in., there simply wasn’t enough screen real estate for me to get real work done on spreadsheets or Word documents. And while its 16:9 aspect ratio was fine for watching movies and videos, it required far too much side-to-side scrolling to be suitable for work.

The Surface Pro 3 improves on that dramatically. I found the 12-in. screen to be large enough to get whatever work I needed done, and the 3:2 aspect ratio was more comfortable than the 16:9 ratio of the Surface Pro 2. In fact, I discovered that 12 in. is quite roomy enough for real work. I had expected that it would feel cramped compared to my MacBook Air’s 13.3-in. screen. But that wasn’t the case at all — because of its 2160 x 1440 resolution, I was able to fit quite a bit on it.

That high resolution comes at a price, though. Text and images were at times too small to be read comfortably. Zoom capabilities solved the problem, but not always. That’s because, although Windows 8 Store apps (previously called Metro apps) can be zoomed in and out, not all desktop apps work with zoom. That was problematic at times.

I found that the SugarSync desktop client, for example, was barely usable because of how small the type was. True, I could always lower the desktop resolution to make it more readable, but when I did that, less space was available on screen for other apps. In addition, the SugarSync Windows 8 Store app lacked some of the most basic capabilities of the desktop app, so it wasn’t a good alternative.

In other words, using desktop apps can be a crapshoot with the 12-in. screen.

The new Type Cover
The new Surface Pro Type Cover, which doubles as a cover and a keyboard, is a big improvement over the previous version.

To begin with, I always had an issue with the touchpad on the Surface Pro 2’s Type Cover: It was small and not recessed, difficult to find and equally difficult to use. At times I found myself accidentally moving the cursor because it was hard to know where the touchpad stopped and the bottom of the keyboard began. And when I did find the touchpad, it was too unresponsive to be particularly useful. I resorted to a Bluetooth mouse.

Not so with the new keyboard. The touchpad is recessed, so it’s easy to find; I never had to fumble for it. Because the touchpad is larger (and felt more responsive), I could more easily control the cursor. It’s a small change, but a very big improvement, so much so that I no longer had to bring a Bluetooth mouse with me to get work done.

In addition, the Type Cover now has a magnetic hinge that raises the keyboard to a slight angle. This is well-suited for working with the Surface Pro 3 on your lap, but I also found it useful on a desk or table top, because I favor slightly angled keyboards. (I’m a fast touch typist and I like to pound a bit on the keyboard; with the angled keyboard, I’m no longer drumming directly on the table.) It’s another example of how a small engineering change has made a big difference in the Surface Pro 3’s usability.

Is it better than the 13.3-in. MacBook Air keyboard? Not for me. Having some separation between keys, as you have on the MacBook Air but not on the Surface Pro 3, allows me to type more quickly and make fewer mistakes. And because it’s a “real” keyboard, the Air’s keys have more give and feedback than do the Surface Pro’s.
The Surface Pro 3 as a tablet

The Surface Pro 3 may do double-duty as a laptop, but its basic design is as a tablet. And there, despite some very nice hardware, it falls short.

As mentioned before, the 12-in. screen is nothing short of spectacular, with vivid, crisp images and no noticeable lag or other issues with motion. No matter what movie or TV show I played on it, I found myself wanting to watch more. The speakers, as with the previous Surface Pro, are excellent, with Dolby stereo audio so realistic that it feels as if the sound is coming from the room itself, not from the speakers.

Microsoft says the speakers are 45% more powerful than the previous Surface Pro, but I never thought the previous speakers had a problem with volume, so this claim may or may not be meaningful. As a media-consumption tablet, it’s stellar — much superior to my iPad or Google Nexus 7.

That large screen also makes a difference when browsing the Web, offering a full experience, rather than the mobile one you get on smaller tablets. For example, when you’re using mapping apps, it provides far more detail and context than do smaller-sized tablets.

And the large screen also makes the Surface Pro 3 useful as a productivity tablet. For example, when I was using Microsoft Office, not only could I see more of any document onscreen, but I could touch type on the virtual keyboard because of the larger keys, something not possible on smaller tablets.

But I found the large screen to also be somewhat of a mixed blessing. Because of its size, it’s bulky to carry compared to a 10-in. iPad, and its 1.76 lb. is still significantly heavier than the 1-lb. iPad Air.

However, the real shortcoming with the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet is its dearth of apps compared to the iOS and Android platforms — as I’ll discuss in a moment.
Styling with the stylus

The Surface Pro comes with something that most competing tablets don’t have — a stylus. The Surface Pro 3 has gotten a stylus makeover, to good effect. The old stylus (manufactured by Wacom) was black plastic and felt somewhat cheap, and never felt quite right in my hand. The new one (now built by N-Trig) is made of polished aluminum, and not only looks better, but is heavier and has a far more pleasing and substantial feel to it.

It’s got two buttons, so offers more flexibility, depending on the app you’re using it with — for example, in OneNote you can hold down one of the buttons and the pen acts as an eraser. The two buttons also do double-duty as mouse buttons. All in all, when I used it, I felt as if I really were using a pen, and a nice one at that, rather than just a tube made of plastic.

The stylus no longer attaches to the place where the power cord goes, as it had in the Surface Pro 2. That’s both good and bad. It’s good because in the past if you wanted to charge the Surface Pro, you had to first take out the stylus. But it’s bad because there’s now no place on the device itself to attach the stylus. If you buy a Type Cover, there’s a small loop on the side for tucking in the stylus, but even then, I worry whether the holder will fray and tear over the long term. (If you lose it, a new stylus will cost you $50.)

Before trying out the Surface Pro 3’s stylus, I was never much of a stylus fan. But after spending time with it, I’m a believer, particularly for note taking. The combination of OneNote (which is included) plus the stylus is a potent duo. Not only can you hand-write notes and draw with it, but the Surface Pro also has handwriting recognition. So instead of using the virtual keyboard, you can write by hand using the stylus, and the tablet translates that into text. My handwriting is exceedingly bad, but when I slowed down and wrote carefully, it rarely made a mistake. Even when I wrote quickly and sloppily, it did better than I expected, making a mistake only about every fourth word or so.

I even wrote part of this review using the stylus in Word, although it’s not an experience I would care to do again, because it requires slow and careful handwriting. Still, for jotting down notes, it’s a winner.

For drawing, it’s good as well. It’s pressure sensitive — press the pen on the screen lightly and it draws a light line; press it harder as you draw and the line thickens. Microsoft claims that the stylus recognizes 256 different levels of pressure. Being no artist, I can’t vouch for whether it’s really that sensitive, but when used with an art program such as ArtRage 4, I found it quite responsive. There is also little or no lag between pressing and moving the pen and a line appearing. It feels as natural as using a real pen.

The upshot? The pen is a true productivity tool, and not a toy or an afterthought. Professionals on the go who want a tablet with pen input would do well to consider the Surface Pro 3.
The app gap

So what’s not to like about the Surface Pro 3? In a word, apps — or more precisely, the lack of them.

The Windows Store ecosystem doesn’t come close to either iOS or Android when it comes to app choice. For example, when I did a quick search, some of the popular apps that were missing included eTrade, the Chase and Citibank banking apps, Google Maps, LinkedIn, Spotify, Pinterest, Yelp, Sonos and others.

At a Glance
Surface Pro 3
Starting price: $799
Pros: Excellent 12-in. screen, very good keyboard cover, useful stylus and handwriting recognition, lightweight
Cons: Expensive, Windows 8 lacks many apps, keyboard cover costs $130 extra

And even when there is a desktop app and a Windows Store app for the same application, the Windows Store app typically lacks many of the important features of the desktop one. For example, the Windows Store note-taking Evernote app, called Evernote Touch, doesn’t include all of the features that the desktop version does, including good browsing and searching capabilities. In fact, even Evernote itself suggests that Evernote Touch users also install the Evernote desktop app to get “the full-featured Evernote Desktop.”

In short, the hardware is willing, but the apps are weak.
The bottom line
Microsoft touts the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet that does double-duty as a laptop and, if you buy the Surface Pro Touch Cover, what the company says is generally true. Still, the cover still isn’t as good as a full-blown laptop keyboard. At 12 in., the Surface Pro 3 has enough screen real estate so that it’s a real laptop, not a tablet pretending to be one. At 1.75 pounds, it’s ultraportable, although a bit on the heavy side for a tablet.

As a tablet, there’s still a shortage of apps, so if it’s apps you’re after, you won’t be after the Surface Pro 3. But as a productivity tablet it shines because of its stylus and large screen.

What you think about the Surface Pro 3’s price will depend on how you plan to use the machine. If you look at it as a traditional tablet, you’ll be disappointed. At a starting price of $799, this is a very expensive tablet, especially if you compare it to the iPad Air’s starting price of $499.

However, if you think of the Surface Pro as a laptop plus tablet, things look better. You’ll have to buy a Surface Pro Type Cover for $130, putting the total starting price at $930. That’s not a bad price for a premium laptop that doubles as a tablet — in fact, it’s just about the same price as the $899 starting price for the 11-in. MacBook Air, yet gives you more display real estate, a touch screen and a pen. On the other hand, the MacBook Air’s keyboard is superior to the one on the SurfacePro Type Cover.

So will this be the tablet-laptop combo that convinces you to use Windows 8 if you’re not already committed to it? No. But this machine shows that a tablet-laptop combo is not as much of a Rube Goldberg mashup as you might have imagined. It even makes sense.

With each iteration, the Surface line improves. Microsoft still hasn’t quite nailed it yet. But it’s getting close. If it closes the app gap, the Surface Pro 3 could be a big winner.


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Windows XP hack resurrects patches for retired OS

But security researcher who tried the hack isn’t sure the fixes will actually keep exploits at bay

A simple hack of Windows XP tricks Microsoft’s update service into delivering patches intended for a close cousin of the aged OS, potentially extending support for some components until 2019, a security researcher confirmed today.

What’s unclear is whether those patches actually protect a Windows XP PC against cyber criminals’ exploits.

The hack, which has circulated since last week — first on a German-language discussion forum, then elsewhere as word spread — fools Microsoft’s Windows Update service into believing that the PC is actually running a close relation of XP, called “Windows Embedded POSReady 2009.”

Unlike Windows XP, which was retired from security support April 8 and no longer receives patches, Embedded POSReady 2009 is due patches until April 9, 2019.

As its name implies, POSReady 2009 is used as the OS for devices such as cash registers — aka point-of-sale systems — and ATMs. Because it’s based on Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3), the last supported version of the 13-year-old OS, its security patches are a superset of those that would have been shipped to XP users if support was still in place. Many of POSReady 2009’s patches are similar, if not identical, to those still offered to enterprises and governments that have paid Microsoft for post-retirement XP support.

Jerome Segura, a senior security researcher at Malwarebytes, an anti-malware software vendor, tried out the hack and came away impressed.

“The system is stable, no crashes, no blue screens,” Segura said in an interview, talking about the Windows XP virtual machine whose updates he resurrected with the hack. “I saw no warnings or error messages when I applied patches for .Net and Internet Explorer 8.”

The Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) update Segura applied appeared to be the same one Microsoft released May 13 for other versions of Windows, including POSReady 2009, but did not deliver to Windows XP.

But although he has run the hacked XP for several days now without any noticeable problems, he wasn’t willing to give the trick a passing grade.

“[POSReady 2009] is not Windows XP, so we don’t know if its patches fully protect XP customers,” Segura said. “From an exploit point of view, when those vulnerabilities are exploited in the wild, will this patch protect PCs or will they be infected? That would be the ultimate proof.”

Microsoft, not surprisingly, took a dim view of the hack.

“We recently became aware of a hack that purportedly aims to provide security updates to Windows XP customers,” a company spokesperson said in an email. “The security updates that could be installed are intended for Windows Embedded and Windows Server 2003 customers and do not fully protect Windows XP customers. Windows XP customers also run a significant risk of functionality issues with their machines if they install these updates, as they are not tested against Windows XP.”


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How IBM Plans to Get With the Times

I like the IBM Edge conference because it tries to showcase how infrastructure can provide a large company with a competitive edge. While the event clearly contains content on IBM products and services, the emphasis appears to be on getting things. This year’s event also offered a snapshot of how IBM is adapting to address one of the most massive changes the technology market has yet made.

Remember, the Fountain of Youth Is a Myth
Perhaps the strongest metaphor for the problem that IBM faces was the opener for the first keynote talk: A brilliant guitarist who’s only 11 and has been playing for just three years. (I found that personally depressing.) An older musician soon joined him; he was able to keep up, and perhaps even outplay him, thanks to his experience.

This older musician represents IBM’s potential. IBM can never again be an amazing young company, but its experience and history should let it step up and at least match any young firm. The key here is that the older musician matched the younger musician’s tune and didn’t try to step in with classic rock. IBM must be agile enough to play as well as the young companies entering the market to make its experience seem like an advantage.

As the youngster left the stage, and he was asked who he wanted to be like, he said he just wanted to be himself. There’s the problem with the young company – it’s still trying to figure out what it will be. That’s a painful path that the older company has already completed. IBM knows what it is – and that’s the sustaining advantage that any older company must remember. IBM’s most iconic CEO, Thomas Watson Jr., said it best: To succeed, you have to be willing to change everything but who you are.

IBM Partnerships, Products Position Company Well
Perhaps IBM’s most powerful and interesting move to the sale of the IBM System X group to Lenovo. This goes to the heart of the “change everything” part of the equation. System X wasn’t working inside IBM. Lenovo’s own server group represents an increasing threat, but it’s not growing very quickly. System X brings low margin to IBM, but Lenovo is a low-margin company, so it could take this division and actually increase its margins. In short, IBM is trying to eat its cake and have it, too.

In addition, the ongoing drama between the U.S. and China on data security makes it nearly impossible for U.S. companies to sell in China and vice versa. IBM and Lenovo clearly execute better than most companies, but this issue still hampers them both. The deal surrounding the acquisition provides an answer: Lenovo can take the lead selling IBM products in China, while IBM can take the lead selling products in the parts of the U.S. where this conflict poses problems (such as the U.S. government). Neither company has ever been identified as working against its customers, and both firms’ ability to assure a willing outcome should be a common competitive advantage.

That said, IBM does have another clear advantage: Watson. IBM is the only company working on artificial intelligence at enterprise scale, and Watson represents the next big step in real-time applied analytics-based decision support.

Integrated into IBM offerings, this system should significantly improve the decision accuracy of IBM executives and IBM customers as well. Watson stands out in IBM’s line as a massive competitive advantage, as it turns the rest of IBM’s data analytics solution into something that’s nothing short of industry changing.

One IBM customer, a huge healthcare company, said its goal was an enterprise-scale solution using cloud methods and technologies. Buyers at this size need the compliance of an enterprise company and want the cost advantages of the cloud.

Everything Old Is New Again
That’s what IBM presented this week – and it demonstrated that IBM’s transition to a very different company continues. Once complete, IBM will have offerings such as Watson and partnerships with firms such as Lenovo that are unique, powerful and unmatched in the rapidly changing technology world.

IBM Edge 2014 provided a unique view into the future of at-scale cloud computing infrastructure and the near-term future of IBM as a company that plans to be the very best at providing what you need when you need it.

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Microsoft taps partners to sell Azure and take on Amazon in cloud

Microsoft has a big channel and soon it will arm them with Azure

Microsoft distributors will soon be able to resell the company’s Azure cloud IaaS, Microsoft announced today in a blog.

The move is welcomed by at least some Microsoft partners who are excited about the opportunity of offering customers more services. Previously Azure users had to buy directly from Microsoft.

Microsoft is allowing its distributors to resell Azure by expanding the company’s Open Licensing practice. This allows the distributor to resell an Azure license to a customer. Vendors will use tokens which are worth $100 Azure credits that will be distributed to customers. Doing so will give resellers the ability to manage Azure clouds for customers, as well as bundle other services on top of the Azure virtual machines, storage and databases. Resellers can bundle an Office 365 app, or backup and recovery services, for example.

Customer may be more inclined to buy services like Azure through a partner that they have an existing relationship with as opposed to buying directly through an Enterprise Agreement with Microsoft.

Aidan Finn is a technical sales lead for Microsoft reseller MicroWarehouse Ltd. in Ireland and in blogging about the news today noted that it will make Azure more appealing, particularly to small and midsize businesses that may not be big enough for an EA but perhaps don’t have the in-house expertise to consume cloud without assistance. Some partners were even already buying blocks of Azure services and reselling them without the official Open License, Finn said. “The move to Open was necessary,” Finn wrote in an email. “The opportunity to resell a service product brings partners into the fold, and gives them a reason to be interested. Without a resell opportunity, Azure could have appeared like a competitor to some partners.”

The move seems like a natural one for Microsoft to make to take advantage of its large channel market, which is a differentiator for the company compared to some of its biggest rivals in Amazon and Google.

“The mechanism sounds a bit awkward, with the purchases via fixed denomination tokens rather than direct, resource utilization-based billing, but giving more efficient access to its large partner channel to its portfolio of cloud resources is good utilization of an existing strength for the company,” Stephen O’Grady, an analyst and RedMonk wrote in an email.

Microsoft announced that Open Licensing will be available starting in August.



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6 reasons you’ll love Windows Phone 8.1

The mobile world’s whipping post deserves a fresh look, thanks to some compelling new features

6 reasons you’ll love Windows Phone 8.1
Microsoft has struggled to get the smartphone right, with four widely panned versions of Windows Phone since 2010. But finally, its fifth version — Windows Phone 8.1, due out later this year — delivers something people will really want: A simple but capable smartphone that has a slick interface.

Believe me, this is a real change of pace for Windows Phone.
Highlighted here are six capabilities that are breathing new life into Windows Phone — and that should get you to take a fresh look at Microsoft’s revamped smartphone.

Pull-out calendar view
One of my favorite Windows Phone 8.1 features is how it displays calendar information for a specific day when in week or month view. Tap a day, and its details pull out from the view, giving you a handy snapshot of the day’s events within the greater context of your weekly or monthly calendar.

Weather and traffic in your calendar
It’s a small thing, but nicely done: You can set Windows Phone to show the weather in your calendar via icons if you let it access your location information.

Likewise, Windows Phone clones one of iOS 7’s most useful additions: The ability to receive a head’s-up as to when you should leave for an appointment based on traffic conditions.

Support for Apple’s iCloud
The truth is that even Windows users favor the iPad as their tablets, and many have Macs at home as well. Microsoft now embraces that multiplatform reality and supports Apple’s iCloud accounts for email, calendars, and contacts, so you can more easily integrate the Apple part of your technology world with Windows Phone. Even better, changes are updated bidirectionally, so you can really use iCloud without worry.

Cortana voice assistant
In 2011, Apple’s Siri was the talk of the town, an electronic assistant that could interpret free-form voice queries and respond with relevant information most of the time. Although Android had voice-based search at the time, it was nothing like Siri.

Since then, Android has caught up. And with Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft introduces Cortana — a surprisingly good voice response technology, capable of handling free-form requests as accurately as Siri and Google Now. Although technically still in beta, Cortana comes off as a polished final product, not a first try.

Notifications center
Windows Phone’s live tiles were intended to be your go-to source for notifications at a glance. The truth is, few apps use them well — or even at all. With Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft clones the Notification Center from iOS, adding quick-access controls à la Android for accessing notifications and most networking controls from any app. Just pull down from the top of the screen to open the new Action Center.

Tip: If you want to get your music and video playback controls, you won’t find them here. Instead, push on the volume rocker to open a separate control tray for that.

Local phone search
Windows Phone also joins iOS and Android in letting you search for information on your smartphone, not just on the Web. Use the labels at the top of the search screen to switch among search targets such as the Web or your phone.

InfoWorld scores the top smartphones and tablets
In the market for a new smartphone or tablet? InfoWorld has rated the top contenders suitable for business users. Check out how each rates in InfoWorld’s mobile scorecard.

And if you’re looking for productivity apps for your tablet, check out InfoWorld’s scorecard for the best iPad office apps and our recommendations for the best Android productivity apps.

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IT Gifts for your Mother on Mother’s Day

Find a Mother’s Day gift with a techie vibe

Mother’s Day is coming up, and we’ve found Twenty Five gifts inspired by tech, science and math for geek-minded matriarchs.

Tablet stand
For sleek tablet viewing on the go, Rain Design’s iSlider pocket stand ($49.90 via Amazon) is lightweight and portable. The base slides out of its aluminum casing and can be adjusted to the user’s preferred viewing angle.

iPad kitchen stand
The Smart Tools for iPad set ($199.95) from Williams-Sonoma gives a tablet its own place in the kitchen so you can watch cooking shows, browse for recipes, or video chat while you’re cooking. The Kitchen Stand supports a tablet horizontally or vertically in four different positions. The three-piece set also includes a Bluetooth speaker that nests under the Kitchen Stand and a removable Screen Shield to protect the screen from splatters.

Hidden heart mug
Show some heart with a ceramic cup that reveals a heart shape when it’s filled. The Hidden Heart Espresso Cup ($35) is made by Daniel Chamberlin, who has a shop on 3D printing company Shapeways.

3D-printed bag
The 3D-printed Geometric Urban Code Bag 01 has an architectural quality, like a city façade. Best suited for holding documents, it has a slot for a phone and detachable handles. It’s available from Geometric, a storefront on Shapeways, in nylon plastic ($535.82).

Leafy phone case
Christopher Beikmann is the artist behind Da Vince Case. His vibrant Green Leaf set ($44.95) includes a zippered wristlet and a matching iPhone case. The artwork, titled “Leaf of Knowledge,” is by Beikmann, who makes and ships the cases from his studio outside of Denver.

Vessel pendant
Plenty of jewelry makers are inspired by natural forms and complex geometries, but I’m partial to the interpretations by design shop Nervous System. The founders are Jessica Rosenkrantz (who holds degrees in biology and architecture from MIT and Harvard Graduate School of Design) and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg (who majored in mathematics at MIT). The crescent-shaped Vessel pendant ($39.99 for the 3D-printed nylon version) was inspired by the formation of veins in leaves.

Lineage art
After studying his own family history, graphic designer Michael Allen started making customized family trees that have a fresh, modern vibe. The Lineage style (pictured; $50) shows four generations, and you can choose from a number of color combinations. More styles are available at Allen’s Etsy shop, ModernTrees.

Astronomer’s cuff
For all those period she pleased you at nighttime, check out this cuff bracelet ($18) inscribed with a line from a poem by 19th century British poet Sarah Williams (and often attributed to Galileo), “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” The author of the brass bracelet is Kelley DeLaney from Etsy shop StarryBasementCo.

Portable power
If mom needs power on the go, Anker has her covered. Anker’s second-generation Astro portable external battery ($29.99 via Amazon) packs 6000mAh of power into a candy-bar shaped pack, and the even tinier Astro Mini ($19.99 via Amazon) slips easily into a bag or pocket.

Pillow places
A map can make mom think of a special place — a former home, a favorite vacation spot, a place she wants to visit. Etsy shop My Bearded Pigeon renders maps on pillow covers. Pictured is a vintage map of Pittsburgh ($52.54), printed on organic cotton. The owners of My Bearded Pigeon, Cath and her husband Neil, live on the east coast of Australia.

High-tech cooking app
Is mom intrigued by the math, science and physics of cooking? If the six-volume, $446 “Modernist Cuisine” set is too much cookbook, check out another option from techie author Nathan Myhrvold, who was Microsoft’s first CTO. “Modernist Cuisine at Home” is geared for home cooks, and it’s available in hardcover ($106.55) and app form (the ebook is $79.99; individual chapters are $4.99).

Modern birdhouse
Add a modern touch to mom’s backyard with a handcrafted birdhouse from Etsy shop Twig & Timber of Seattle. Choose from the Modern Craftsman style (pictured; $70) or a number of minimalist alternatives. Each structure is individually handcrafted.

DNA print
This made-to-order watercolor painting ($25) is inspired by the genome of Haemophilus influenza, a bacterium, and the colored bars in the circular genome represent potential protein-coding regions. The artist, Sandra Cullito, is inspired by the simplicity of the circle and the complexity of genomics. She runs an Etsy shop and is based in Rosaryville, Md.

Star pendants
Choose two birthdays — such as a mother and her child’s birthdays — and Dyo will combine the constellations from their astrological signs to create a pendant. The Dyo jewelry line is an offshoot of, a 3-D printing start-up launched by MIT graduates Dylan Reid and Greg Tao. The starscape pendants are available in brass ($75) or silver ($100) via The Grommet.

Smart planter
Increase mom’s odds of gardening success with Smartpot from Click & Grow. Battery-operated sensors and software measure soil conditions and control the supply of water. Smartpot with Basil (pictured, $79.95) is one option; starter kits with strawberry, chili pepper, mini tomato and other plants are also available.

Science beaker terrarium
A trio of glass Erlenmeyer flasks, planted with Dicranum mood moss, makes for a cool terrarium ($59) for a science-loving mom. The tapered shape of the flasks keeps moisture inside and reduces the need for frequent watering, says Patricia the creator and owner of Etsy shop Doodle Birdie Terrariums, based in Eagan, Minn.

Smart air conditioner
Help mom keep cool this summer with a smart air conditioner that raises the bar on design. The Aros window unit from Quirky can “learn” from mom’s budget, location and schedule to automatically maintain her ideal temperature without going over budget. Plus it can be controlled from a mobile device using the Wink app. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon ($300).

It’s in the mail
Is mom nostalgic for the old days of handwritten correspondence? Give her an iPad case made out of upcycled mail bags ($55 from Uncommon Goods). The inside of the canvas cases is lined with ultrasuede to protect devices from scratches.

Hand-quilted city map
They’re pricey, but stunning. City quilts from Haptic Lab are hand-stitched to depict cities around the world. Pictured is Washington, D.C. ($450).

Geometric heart
A heart-shaped hanging mobile ($93) is a modern take on a Finnish tradition. It’s called a Himmeli, from the Swedish word “himmel,” meaning sky or heaven, according to designer Melissa of Etsy shop Hruskaa. She’s based in Grand Rapids, Mich., and specializes in Scandinavian-inspired designs.

Compass necklace
Even when you’re far from home, mom can look in your direction with a functional compass necklace ($26) from JustBeDesigns, an Etsy shop run by Bianca Fleischman in Pawling, N.Y.

Reusable glass cup
Appeal to mom’s earth-loving side with Joco, a reusable glass cup that’s durable, lightweight, and perfect for savoring a cup of coffee. Each Joco cup comes with a silicone thermal sleeve and a lid for splash-free sipping. The 12-ounce cups ($24.95) are available in many colors via The Grommet.

Architectural mug
Adam Nathaniel Furman, an artist and designer based in London, was inspired by Gothic fan vaults to create his ceramic Fan mug ($62.62 via Shapeways). “… the great gift of the morning brew is elevated to positively ecclesiastical heights in its own inverted cathedral,” writes the artist.

Moon pendant
Give your mom the moon with a bronze-infused stainless steel pendant ($55 via Shapeways), designed with visible print lines and a rough feel for topographic effect. The 3D-modeler and designer, Urbano Rodriguez, is based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Jane Eyre book scarf
Help mom get wrapped up in a great tome with a book scarf from Storiarts, a line of wearable literature created by designer Tori Tissell. My personal favorite is the Jane Eyre book scarf (pictured; $42). There are plenty of other literary classics to choose from, including Pride and Prejudice and Sherlock Holmes. You can also opt for fingerless gloves, pillow covers and t-shirts. (If mom is more of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of gal, check out this scarf.)

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Malicious Downloader’s calls out Microsoft

Anti-malware vendors advise about downloaders used to infect PCs

Microsoft is placing makers of downloader software on observe when it sees that their softwares are getting used to infect PCs, and it is effective anti-virus vendors that maybe these downloader agenda ought to be tagged as malware.

In its latest Security Intelligence Report the corporation comments that the use of previously benign downloaders has ever more become a means to infect computers with malware, mainly click-fraud programs and ransomware in which assailant extort cash from wounded in return for return their equipment to a useful state.

As part of its manufacturing teamwork, Microsoft shares the data it gathers from its clients about infections with related parties. In this case it tells the downloader makers in hopes they can restrict use of their products to legitimate purposes.

It tells anti-malware vendors so they are aware that certain downloaders represent a threat and should be removed from computers protected by their products, says Holly Stewart, a senior program manager in Microsoft’s Malware defense Center.

A downloader called Rotbrow was the one mainly often used to help malicious actions throughout the last partially of 2013, most usually by downloading a click-fraud app called Sefnit. Before that Rotbrow didn’t record at all as a tool use by attackers, Stewart says.

characteristically the downloaders are bundled with useful freeware such as software to unzip archive. The downloaders might be used legitimately to download updates to the unzip programs, or to download malware, Stewart says.

The dominant types of malware Microsoft observed being downloaded in this way during the last half of 2013 were BitCoin miners and click-fraud programs.

Bitcoin miners run in the background of infected computers to confirm and process Bitcoin transactions in exchange for earning Bitcoins. The attacker reaps the Bitcoins earned by the infected computers. Click fraud forces the infected computer’s browser to automatically click on advertisements that earn cash for each click logged. In both cases indication of the infections can decrease performance of the engine involved.

Microsoft also experimental the proliferation of ransomware, with one called Reveton important the pack and enjoying a 45% raise in use during the last half of 2013, Stewart says. The need to disinfect Microsoft computers of ransomware tripled during the same time period, according to the Security Intelligence Report.

Microsoft procedures prevalence of malware by including the number of computers cleaned per 1,000 computers that are execute Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool. For ransomware in general, that count rose from 5.6 to 17.8 between the third and fourth quarters of last year, Stewart says.

Ransomware attacker’s goal picky regions with particular ransomware platforms, she says. For example, the one called Crilock is aimed mostly at computers in the U.S. and U.K. while Reveton aims at the likes of Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Hungary and Austria.

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Open sources software’s are expensive than Microsoft

Microsoft cheaper to use than open source software, UK CIO says

British government says every time they compare FOSS to MSFT, Redmond wins.


A UK government CIO says that every time government citizens evaluate open source and Microsoft products, Microsoft products forever come out cheaper in the long run.


Jos Creese, CIO of the Hampshire County Council, told Britain’s “Computing” publication that part of the cause is that most staff are already familiar with Microsoft products and that Microsoft has been flexible and more helpful.


“Microsoft has been flexible and obliging in the means we apply their products to progress the action of our frontline services, and this helps to de-risk ongoing cost,” he told the publication. “The tip is that the true charge is in the totality cost of ownership and exploitation, not just the license cost.”


Creese went on to say he didn’t have a particular bias about open source over Microsoft, but proprietary solutions from Microsoft or any other commercial software vendor “need to justify themselves and to work doubly hard to have flexible business models to help us further our aims.”


He approved that there are troubles on together sides. In some cases, central government has developed an undue dependence on a few big suppliers, which makes it hard to be confident about getting the best value out of the deal.


On the other hand, he is leery of depending on a small firm, and Red Hat aside, there aren’t that many large, economically hard firms in open source like Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft. Smaller firms often offer the greatest innovation, but there is a risk in agreeing to a significant deal with a smaller player.


“There’s a huge dependency for a large organization using a small organization. [You need] to be mindful of the risk that they can’t handle the scale and complexity, or that the product may need adaptation to work with our infrastructure,” said Creese.


I’ve heard this argue before. Open source is cheaper in gaining costs not easy to support over the long run. Part of it is FOSS’s DIY ethos, and bless you guys for being able to debug and recompile a complete app or distro of Linux, but not everyone is that smart.


The extra problem is the lack of support from vendors or third parties. IBM has done what no one else has the power to do. 20 after Linus first tossed his creation on the Internet for all to use, we still don’t have an open source equivalent to Microsoft or Oracle. Don’t say that’s a good thing because that’s only seeing it from one side. Business users will demand support levels that FOSS vendors can’t provide. That’s why we have yet to see an open source Oracle.


The part that saddens me is that reading Creese’s interview makes it clear he has more of a clue about technology than pretty much anyone we have in office on this side of the pond.

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New Technology taking control over IT shops

IT computerization worsen shift in tech expenditure

A worldwide review of more than 1,000 C-level executives shows that IT group are losing power over new technology acceptance at their companies but are still held responsible for integrating the technologies securely into their company’s communications.

Increasingly, expenditure and control of technology budgets are moving out of established IT organizations, the survey commissioned by technology consulting firm Avanade found.

Non-IT division control more than 37% of project technology costs, and that number is likely to grow over the next few years. Some 71% of C-level executives believe they can make technology decisions more quickly and effectively than IT organizations, the survey found.

The movement, driven by the growing availability of cloud services, mobile technology and the overall computerization of IT, is fueling some real worry between IT organizations and the broader business.

“What’s interesting about the survey is that people still trust IT,” said Matt Joe, chief technology innovation officer at Avanade. Business units still want to partner with the IT group and would like to tap into its skills and expertise when adopting new technologies.

However, what they clearly do not want to do is wait around for IT, Joe said.

The survey was conducted by Wakefield Research for Avanade, a managed service provider owned by Accenture and Microsoft. The research firm, which used an email invitation and an online survey of C-level executives, business unit leaders and IT decision makers, was conducted between Feb. 10 and Feb. 26.

One in 5 corporations already have a boss digital officer who is divide from the CIO. At some companies, chief promotion officers are just as likely to be considered for the role as a technology expert.

“It really is a patience thing. Do you want to wait for IT or do you want to light up Azure yourself? Is it going to be faster and easier going to a [third-party] to build a mobile app, or do you do it in house?” Joe said.

The situation poses some tricky challenges for IT organizations. While many would like to innovate, they continue to be bogged down with the need to keep the existing infrastructure running. The survey found that IT staffs spend some 36% of their time managing and maintaining legacy systems. Not surprisingly, fewer than one in four of the respondents said IT suggested new or innovative technology projects of their own.

What has emerged is the need for a sort of two-speed IT organization — one that manages the legacy work while also being nimble and innovative enough to accommodate technology change at the speed of business, Joe said.

The best way for IT to remain relevant in the rapidly transforming enterprise is to become technology adviser and services broker.

“IT needs to up their game,” Joe said. The goal should not only be on keeping the lights on, but also on lending IT best practices and consulting expertise to business stakeholders.

Many IT organizations already have the experience and the expertise with technology integration, vendor management and contract management that business units will likely struggle with on their own, he said.

Importantly, most C-level executives are already comfortable with the idea of the IT staff interacting directly with their customers and partners in a consultancy role, Joe said. In more than one-third of the companies surveyed, IT departments have already begun serving primarily as service brokers to solve specific business requirements.

The responses in the Avanade survey reflect a trend that has been going on for sometime but appears to be picking up speed with the emergence of new mobile and consumer technologies.

In a survey of 119 CIOs by Constellation Research earlier this year, about 44% said they would like to spend more time on innovation but were stuck maintaining infrastructure. Meanwhile, tech-spending patterns have shifted. While companies are spending more on technology overall, IT organizations have seen little of that increase.

In 2014, technology spending by line of business will grow between 17% and 19% compared to last year, said Ray Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research. Meanwhile, IT budgets will grow by a modest 5% at best after dropping by about 5% last year, he said.

“A lot of the tech budget has shifted to the line of business. That’s marketing, HR, operations, supply chain and logistics,” Wang said.

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