Friday, November 30, 2012

Windows 8 Sales Outpacing Previous OS

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Microsoft has stepped up to prove naysayers wrong on early Windows 8 adoption.

Tami Reller, the software giant's new co-chief of the Windows division, told a Credit Suisse investor conference in Arizona on Tuesday that Window 8 upgrades are outpacing Windows 7 in its first month.

Microsoft's long-term outlook as operating system leader has come into question as PC sales slacken amid a consumer frenzy over tablets and smartphones from the likes of Apple, Samsung, Google and

Windows 8 became available Oct. 26, but doubts about its extreme makeover raised uncertainty about its commercial appeal to big businesses. The Window 8 debut has required a major overhaul of both the software and company in a bid for mobile relevance.

This month, Microsoft reorganized its Windows unit that resulted in the departure of long-time veteran and Windows chief Steven Sinofsky.

Microsoft executives Reller and Julies Larson-Green were tapped to lead the division.

Despite Opportunity, Women Still Under-represented in Engineering

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Back in the mid-1980s, Jeanine Swatton was in an all-girl band in Boston, belting out top-40 hits -- just like the then-popular band The Go-Gos.

The all-female band from the 1980s was iconic for making noise in the predominately male music industry. Years later, Swatton is trying to do the same with an all-female engineering team at her software start-up.

Her narrative is one of a supremely talented engineer and app writer who grew restless as the only woman engineer at previous employers.

It all makes perfect sense for Swatton, 40. Yet in an age of more early-stage tech companies led by women, and against a backdrop of demand for technical talent, female engineers remain a rarity.

Despite an influx of females among Silicon Valley's entrepreneurial ranks, the computer-science field remains dominated by men. According to the National Science Foundation, women have plummeted from 28% of the graduates in computer sciences at U.S. schools in 2000 to 17% in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.

Rani Borkar says there should be more female engineers. She is a  general manager for Intel's Architecture Development Group who came to the U.S. from India in 1985 and has seen steady, if slow, progress.

The field's stunted growth, especially for women, is rooted in education. There just aren't enough kids weaned on the topic in high school and, before that, elementary school, says Gary May, dean of the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech.

Deborah Hillman, and IT Technician for a resort company offering discount vacation deals like Captiva Island Vacation Rentals since 2000, says she was lucky to get into the field when she did. Internet related work was lesser known at the turn of the century, which allowed more women to beat their male counterparts to those jobs.

Computer science is taught in a fraction of U.S. high schools. Only 2,100 of 42,000 were certified to teach advanced-placement computer science courses in 2011,and just 21,139 students took the AP exam.

Overall, some 120,000 engineering students graduate annually from U.S.colleges and universities each year -- a fraction of the nearly 1 million from China and India annually.

The urgency highlights the race in innovation for global economic supremacy. Engineers are considered among the most vital foot soldiers as companies vie for the business of consumers and businesses. Yet, for years, it's been a male-driven race.

According to Elizabeth Stark, a lecturer on Internet issues at Stanfor Law School, many boys start programming at a young age, and for a variety of reasons, girls do not.

In his acceptance speech after being re-elected, President Obama stressed the need for more college-educated engineers in the U.S., both men and women -- a major meme of his administration the past few years.

The administration has made it clear it intends to reform immigration for 11 million people who are here illegally, but offered no guidance on whether it intends to increase the cap on H1-B visas so more foreign workers can bring their engineering skills to the U.S. "The U.S. is still the cradle of innovation," says Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who wants to boost the annual U.S.graduate total by 10,000.

Several programs are filling the void. The program teaches computer science to middle-school girls in low-income areas. Another,, is about to launch a crowd-funding campaign to get computer science in every high school. Smith, the nation's first women's college to have an engineering school, graduated its first such tech class in 2004.

Catering to women, companies such as IBM have for decades targeted career development and work-life programs.

While one in seven engineers is female, according to a 2011 report by the Department of Commerce, Intuit is attempting to buck the trend. Of the 121 software engineers it hired upon college graduation since June, 47 were female -- or more than one in three, says Intuit CTO Tayloe Stansbury.

And for the first time in its more than 30-year history, Microsoft's Windows unit is led by two women -- Julie Larson-Green and Tami Reller -- who served under Steven Sinofsky, who is leaving the company.

Underscoring the push, Jack Dorsey's Square plans to host Code Camp, an interactive experience for female engineers at the company's San Francisco headquarters Jan. 9-12.The conference includes mentorship sessions with Square leaders, developer workshops and networking opportunities.

The grassroots programs have paid dividends, slowly ushering in a new wave of women.

There are others who have arrived by a different path. She doesn't have a formal degree in engineering, but Caitlin Johanson is one of Core Security's white-hat hackers (her official title is technical support and training manager).

As a child, instead of playing with building blocks, she tinkered with an IBM PS/2 personal computer.  Johanson says. From high school, she jumped into freelance coding.

Self-described "bad ass" Vivian Kam is an extreme biker, motorcyclist and hockey-playing software engineer at Complete Genomics.

An uphill climb

Twenty years ago, there was a lot of energy around computer sciences , according to Erin Cech, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University.

But the current computer climate has excluded females, for the most part.

From 2000 to 2011, there was a 79% decline in the number of first-year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science, according to data supplied by the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

Tracy Chou, a 25-year-old software engineer at Pinterest, couldn't shake feelings of "imposters' syndrome" at Stanford University, where she didn't feel up to par with the computing skills of male students with more technical expertise.

Of course, building an ecosystem takes time -- often, years. Only 20% of the chief information officers at Fortune 250 companies are women.

Dorothy Nicholls, vice president of Kindle for, says we need to rethink how we teach math to girls. She taught her 3-year-old daughter how to add by counting pieces of Skittles and chocolate.

Yahoo sent ripples throughout the business world, however, with the hiring this year of new CEO Marissa Mayer, a trained engineer who oversaw several major projects at Google, including Maps and the search engine homepage. "Marissa changed the game," says Sally Salas, principal group program manager for Microsoft's Bing Experiences team.

What's more, there are ample growth areas within tech for women -- project managers, business analysts and Web developers -- that do not require computer science degrees, says Matthew Caruso, recruiting director for Atrium Technology, a national staffing firm.

Lisa Pavey, 49, vice president of engineering at Vyatta left the UK because she believed there were no more opportunities for upward mobility. She moved from her native country in 1996 to head up Sun Microsystems' networking group.

Discrimination exists in the Silicon Valley workplace, she acknowledges, which forced her to leave one tech employer. But she says the threat is more in attitude than in physical harassment.

Home-grown engineers

The most direct path to a career in engineering may actually start at home, say several women.

Sophia Chung, 31, a software engineer at Facebook, says her exposure to the field at an early age through her father, a math professor at Johns Hopkins, and two older sisters, both of whom majored in the field and now work in tech enabled her to pursue engineering as a young adult.

The MIT graduate's affinity for tech took her to Hewlett-Packard, Electronic Arts and Google, and she is now heavily involved in events such as a recent hackathon sponsored by ESPN to get more women to participate in technology.

SugarCRM's Tretikov immigrated to New York from Moscow at 16 after the Soviet Union collapsed in the mid-1990s. She learned English as a waitress, and was accepted at the University of California at Berkeley, where she earned majors in computer science and art. Her father is a mathematician, her mom, a filmmaker.

For some, the career path can be circuitous.

Duana Stanley, 30, a back-end engineer at SoundCloud, studied psychology and neuroscience at the University of Melbourne before artificial intelligence "sucked" her into computing. As a kid, medicine and law were her first two career choices.

Dina Hilal, vice president of product at ad-tech company BlueKai, says a computer-science degree is not a prerequisite to jobs in technology.  She majored in international studies and journalism.

Increasingly, Swatton and others are redefining normative boundaries.

Kimber Lockhart co-founded a company, Increo Solutions, to call the shots and circumvent the gender gap. It was acquired by cloud-storage services company Box in 2009 for an undisclosed amount.

While braggadocio may have worked in college, the real world calls for exceptional coding and collaborative skills.

Sometimes, it just takes self-motivation and thick skin, says Tamar Yehoshua, 47, director of product management for search at Google.

That's what piqued the interest of Yehoshua's two children, both of whom have the engineering bug. Yehoshua's daughter, Shir, 21, just got job in engineering at Google. Her son Ron, 17, plans to major in computer science in college

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Apple iPad Mini Review

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Science fiction version: Mad scientists inside Apple's ultra-secretive lab plunge a recent iPad into boiling stew. What emerges is a near identical but considerably smaller and lighter tablet.

Figure Apple relied on more conventional (if no less secret) lab behavior in designing the iPad Mini that reaches stores Friday. But no matter how the downsized tablet came to be, the natural question is how it differs from its bigger sibling and rival tablets with similar-size small screens, such as the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, Barnes & Noble Nook HD, and Google Nexus 7.

The smaller form changes the way you approach the tablet. I've never hesitated to travel with the bigger iPad. It's terrific for reading, watching movies and playing games on an airplane — but given a choice, before a road trip I would now more likely grab the little guy. It's the right size for immersing yourself in a novel. Held sideways, it's simple to bang out an email with your fingers. Battery life is excellent

A tour of the Mini reveals the usual home button on the bottom front, power button and headphone jack on the top, and volume controls on the side. Front and rear cameras are on either side, just like on the bigger iPad. You're greeted by the customary home screen layout with icons for Safari, Mail, Videos and Music parked at the bottom of the display.

You can even exploit the Siri voice assistant. And the Mini runs iOS 6, the latest iteration of Apple's mobile operating system software.

But it is the multitude of apps — 275,000 optimized for the tablet are available in the Apple App store— coupled with Apple's formidable iTunes ecosystem for music, movies and TV shows that represents a major reason why the iPad, big or small, is still the tablet to beat.

That is not to say that the Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD, and Nexus 7 don't pose strong alternatives to the iPad Mini. Those tablets have starting prices of $199 that undercut the $329 starting price of the Mini that has Wi-Fi only and 16 gigabytes of storage.

Amazon, for one, already is running ads comparing Kindle Fire HD with the Mini — bragging about the Fire's impressive high-definition screen and its stereo speakers. The speakers on the Mini are mono. And its screen, though nice, does not afford the beautiful, super-crisp "retina displays" on the latest larger iPads, iPhones or Macintosh computers. But the Kindle is heavier and has fewer apps.

(Update on Wednesday: Amazon is no longer running the ad. Apple confirms that the Mini does indeed have stereo.)

Prices for the Wi-Fi-only Mini climb to $429 for 32GB and $529 for 64GB. The Wi-Fi + Cellular models, available later in the U.S. from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless, command $459, $559 and $659, respectively. (The unit I've been testing for a week is Wi-Fi only.)

To be sure, the 7.9 inch display on the Mini, vs. 9.7-inches for full-size iPads, gives you a lot less screen real estate to play with. But at a shade under 0.7 pounds and 0.28-inches thick, the paperback-size Mini is 53% lighter and 23% thinner than the newest iPad. It is just wide enough that I was not able to stash it in one inside sport jacket pocket but was able to slip it into another. Compared with the 7-inch screens on some of Kindle, Nook and Nexus devices, though, the iPad Mini is 35% roomier.

Sitting in a cramped airline seat, or lying in bed, I found reading on the Mini to be a generally a more pleasurable experience than reading on the full-size iPad. But though you can now more easily hold a Mini with one hand, I still tended to use two.

Speed: Inside, the iPad Mini has an Apple-designed dual core A5 processor, a version of which powered the iPad 2. But I did detect some sluggishness. At the same time that I was downloading some content in the background, it took several seconds for the screen shots I captured on the device to land in the Photos app. I've never experienced the delay on a bigger iPad.

Cameras: The iPad Mini has two good cameras, including one on the front for doing FaceTime video calls, and a rear 5-megapixel camera that can capture 1080p high-definition video. The quality of FaceTime is related to your network connection, so even in a Wi-Fi environment, I sometimes lost sight of the person at the other end of the call.

Battery life: On the Wi-Fi model, Apple claims 10 hours of battery life while surfing the Web, watching video or listening to music. I was well on my way to confirming that. Nine hours into my test with Wi-Fi on, brightness at 75% and a video playing, I still had about 25% of juice left. But I cut my test short because of a power outage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Apple promises about an hour less battery life on the cellular models.

Connectors: Like the new iPhone 5, and fourth generation iPad announced last week, the Mini makes use of Apple's new Lightning connector. Unless you purchase adapters, you may not be able to use the Mini on some older accessories. Speaking of accessories, Apple has designed a handsome $39 iPad Mini Smart Cover (in one of 6 colors) that magnetically aligns itself to the tablet. It's made with a microfiber lining that Apple says keeps the screen clean.

But in the absence of a USB connector or SD card slot, you'll need pricey $29 Lightning adapter accessories to connect the Mini to a digital camera or to insert a memory card from your camera into the tablet. On older iPads with a 30-pin dock connector camera kit, you got both connectors for $29.

The big picture on the small iPad: Despite a few quibbles and strong competitors in the space, the Mini is a splendid choice for folks who held off buying an iPad because it was too large or too expensive.