Monday, December 23, 2013

Six lessons from 2013 that the iPad, Android, and Surface 2 could learn from each other

Jack Wallen takes a look at lessons that major tablet platforms could learn from one another. 

Tablets of 2013
The year 2013 was a big one for tablets, because they finally usurped laptops as the go-to mobile tool for business users. During that time, Apple, Android, and Microsoft jockeyed to get their products into the enterprise. Each platform experienced successes and failures -- some big and some small -- and there are definitely lessons here that can be learned. That's right, all three platforms should turn an eye toward one another and educate themselves on how best to move forward with their products. In the end, however, the results could be a complete game changer for one or more of the platforms.
Let's examine each platform to find out what they can learn from their competition.


The iPad is the king of business tablets. That doesn't mean it has perfected the mobile experience. In fact, the iPad can learn a couple of very important lessons from its competitors.
Android: If anything, the iPad could take a page or two from the book of flexibility that is Android. With the iPad, you know what you're getting into -- you work Apple's way or no way. If you don't like working the Apple way, your only hope is to find another platform. Apple might want to re-think this plan of attack and allow users more configuration options to better serve specific needs.
Surface 2: The Surface 2 has one major lesson it can teach the iPad -- expandability. The Surface offers both a MicroSD and USB 3.0 port to help expand the tablet. With the iPad, you get nothing of the sort. Apple needs to seriously learn that business users need to be able to connect via USB. For the life of me, I can't understand why Apple refuses to add USB to the iPad.

Android tablet

Android is doing a great job of stealing market share from the iPad. It offers everything the iPad doesn't. However, Android shouldn't rest on its growing reputation. Instead, the flexible platform needs to keep its eyes trained on both Apple and Microsoft and learn from what both platforms offered in 2013.
iPad: When the iPad Air was released, it completely wow'd consumers with its size, amazing display, and power. The iPad's A7 chip is a 64-bit mobile powerhouse that has placed Android in a serious state of catch up. If Android is going to keep up in this race, it's going to have to have a piece of hardware that can stand up to the iPad Air. At the moment, it has nothing of the sort.
Surface 2: If there's one major lesson to be learned from the Surface 2, it's the inclusion of a powerful, functionable, office suite. All Android tablets should be sold with a complete set of tools that enable mobile business users to do everything they need -- without having to install a single piece of software. This could mean the inclusion of something like Kingsoft Office.

Microsoft Surface 2

The Surface 2 is much improved over the Surface RT. In fact, the Surface 2 is very close to being one of the best mobile options for business users. However, it still has a few lessons to learn from the other competitive platforms.
iPad: If the Surface 2 needs to learn anything from the iPad it's that gimmicks never work. A little kickstand and a keyboard that looks like a toy will never have a tablet seeing the enormous success the iPad enjoys by employing such gimmicks. The Surface needs to take a page from the Apple marketing handbook and channel its powerful connection to the business class user – and not try to suck dry the well of hipper (not hipster) users that flock to the iPad.
Android: What Surface 2 can learn from Android is how to make the user interface not only highly configurable but efficient. The Windows 8.1 interface isn't the most efficient use of a users time and energy – especially when on the road. Yes, the Surface 2 has all the tools a mobile power user needs to get serious work done, but if the Surface 2 enjoyed a similar interface that the latest iterations of Android has, working on the go would take on new levels of power and efficiency.
Each of the major mobile platforms have their strengths and weaknesses. With so many improvements happening in 2013, it was a great year for those platforms to learn from one another. Although none of the above companies would admit to getting “educated” by the competition, you can be sure they are closely watching and learning. Little do they know, their individual efforts do add to the collective whole that is the tablet experience.

SEO 101: How search engine optimization really works

Learn some Google recommended techniques to improve your company's ranking in Google Search results. 

In my last article, "How does Google Search really work?" I discussed the basics of how Google crawls the web, indexes data, and presents search results using a scoring system called PageRank to determine which links are presented first. I mentioned that "there are legitimate ways to improve your website's PageRank score. That's where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in."
SEO is a term that covers a lot of ground. Books, seminars, websites and careers have been created to promote and discuss the topic. In this article I'd like to present a perspective on Google's SEO point of view as geared for webmasters. Basically, their recommendations are based on content, technical procedures and quality control. They also provide some instructions on adding your site URL and a sitemap to their search index so they can properly index your web pages.


Here's a summary of Google's "Webmaster Guidelines" page which discusses how to make the most of your content (click the link above for more details):
  • Lay the site out in a clear fashion with a map providing links to relevant sections (but not too many links on any particular page).
  • Content should be germane and include terms your users might search for which should bring them to your webpage (for instance, if you're selling camping equipment you would want to include "camping," "survival equipment," "hiking gear" and other possible phrases which describe your inventory).
  • Avoid using images for critical details; text is required for Google to interpret and index your content.
  • Make sure your HTML code is ship-shape and error-free.
  • Be aware dynamic pages may not be indexed as accurately (if at all) as static versions.
As Mike Wyszomierski says in a Google video discussing webspam content violations, "Our goal is to serve users with high-quality, relevant information." Mike also suggests the following:
  • Don't copy content from other sites unless it adds value for users. The same goes if your site is in affiliate programs.
  • Doorway sites (which merely pass users onto other sites) are also frowned upon. This will "negatively impact your performance in our search results, and in some cases can even result in removal from our search results."

Technical procedures

"Use a text browser such as Lynx to examine your site, because most search engine spiders see your site much as Lynx would. If fancy features such as JavaScript, cookies, session IDs, frames, DHTML, or Flash keep you from seeing all of your site in a text browser, then search engine spiders may have trouble crawling your site."
"Make sure your web server supports the If-Modified-Since HTTP header. This feature allows your web server to tell Google whether your content has changed since we last crawled your site. Supporting this feature saves you bandwidth and overhead."
"Make use of the robots.txt file on your web server. This file tells crawlers which directories can or cannot be crawled. Make sure it's current for your site so that you don't accidentally block the Googlebot crawler. Visit to learn how to instruct robots when they visit your site. You can test your robots.txt file to make sure you're using it correctly with the robots.txt analysis tool available in Google Webmaster Tools... use robots.txt to prevent crawling of search results pages or other auto-generated pages that don't add much value for users coming from search engines."
Monitor performance and load times and test your site via multiple browsers. For performance monitoring Google suggests, "Page SpeedYSlowWebPagetest, or other tools. For more information, tools, and resources, see Let's Make The Web Faster. In addition, the Site Performance tool in Webmaster Tools shows the speed of your website as experienced by users around the world."

Quality control

The quality guidelines are really common sense technique that boil down to "play fair and don't spam."
  • Don't obnoxiously load your site up with a bunch of bogus terms (e.g. "Miley Cyrus" or "Obamacare") in hopes it'll boost your PageRank score.
  • Don't dump random text on your site in hopes it will match search keywords and attract visitors.
  • Don't hide text or links.
  • Make sure your links really direct people to where they say, rather than a "surprise" visit elsewhere.
  • Don't build your site as just another brick in the wall without any unique or compelling material.
  • Protect your site and clean up any malware, defacement or spam.

Adding your site to the Google Search index

It's fairly simple to submit your site to Google to make sure they add your site into their search index. Access
Figure A

google figure a.jpg
Look for the "Website Owner" box on the left and click "Participate."
Figure B

google figure b.jpg
There are several options for adding content on your site, some more detailed than others. The "Add your URL" link is very straightforward and takes you to a page where you can paste your URL into a field, type in a CAPTCHA and click "Submit Request." You can add a standard URL such as or a number of subsites such For best results Google recommends that you utilize the latter option if you have distinct subsites such as those for different geographic regions.
You can add "Rich snippets" which are helpful summaries for certain content to guide users to your page. These can be applied to reviews, people, products, businesses, recipes, events, music, and video. Google provides some instructions on how to use this function, which involves marking your content with a certain format (Microdata, Microformats or RDFa).

Submitting a Sitemap via Google Webmaster Tools

This procedure will enumerate all the pages on your site to ensure Google is aware of them and can provide further information about your content, particularly if it is dynamic or is located on pages not properly linked.
A sitemap is an XML file which contains all the URLs of your site (50K limit) as well as information about these links, such as the frequency of updates. Google provides an example on their "Creating Sitemaps" page:
Figure C

google figure c.jpg
There are sitemap generators available for use to facilitate the operation. Once you have a Sitemap, upload it to the root of your main URL (e.g. then access Google's WebMaster tools to provide it.
If you've already added your site to WebMaster tools, scroll down to Figure H. If you haven't done so, you'll need to add the site (you must own the site, for obvious reasons) before you can go further. Look on the right side of the screen:
Figure D

google figure d.jpg
Click "Add a Site."
Figure E

google figure e.jpg
Enter the URL of the site. If it's a Google site it will immediately be added to your WebMaster tools account. If it's a non-Google site you'll have verify that you own it once you click "Continue."

Reasons to verify your ownership of a site

Once you've verified your site to Google, you get easy access to a wealth of tools and data from all these Google products: 
  • Webmaster Tools: Improve your site's performance in Google's organic search results.
  • Google Accounts: Unified sign-in for Google products.
  • AdPlanner: Get the data to make better-informed advertising decisions.
  • Profiles: Control how you appear in Google.
  • Blogger: Publish yourself.
  • AdSense: Monetize your site by displaying targeted Google ads.
  • Apps: Get reliable, secure collaboration tools.
  • Merchant Center: Upload product listings to Google."
There is a "Recommended method" and "Alternate methods" to proceed with verification:
Figure F

google figure f.jpg
Add caption
"Alternate methods" are listed as shown:
Figure G

google figure g.jpg
In my case, my site is a Google Blog so I was able to add it and view the site dashboard:
Figure H

google figure h.jpg
Look for the "Sitemaps" section on the right:
Figure I

googlel figure i.jpg
Click "No Sitemaps >>" on the right to add the Sitemap. And then click "Add/Test Sitemap." 
In the example below, my Google page is filled in for me automatically:
Figure J

google figure j.jpg
You'll need to add the location of your XML file, which should be at the root of the URL you enter. Do so and click "Test Sitemap" to ensure it's valid.
Figure K

google figure k.jpg
You can "View test result" to see the details. If there were no errors (or once you've fixed any errors), rerun the process and click "Submit Sitemap" when ready. This completes the process.

Where can I learn more?

We've just scratched the surface on the complexities of SEO. For more information on Google's methodologies check out Google's Webmaster FAQ as well as some other tips you can try if your web pages aren't showing in Google search results.
Are you interested in learning more about the wide world of SEO? If so please let me know in the comments and I'll look at future articles in a series.

12 Apps of Christmas, Day 6: Evernote

Some TechRepublic editors and bloggers highlight their favorite app in this 12 Apps of Christmas series. The sixth app, recommended by Will Kelly, is Evernote. 

The 6th app of Christmas Will Kelly gave to you is the champion app called Evernote.
In the spirit of the holidays, we thought we’d create a smartphone series based on a popular Christmas song. The 12 Days of Christmas starts on Christmas Day, but our 12 Apps of Christmas begins today, and we'll continue to post one app per day, leading all the way up to the holiday. However you celebrate this season, and whatever device you own (or platform that it runs on), we hope that you find some gems over the next 12 days -- as these are the apps that the TechRepublic’s editorial staff and bloggers actually use and feel passionate enough to write about. Here's what Will Kelly had to say about one of his favorite apps called Evernote.
Evernote is a very popular app that's available for Android, the iPhoneBlackBerry, and Windows Phone. They offer both a free version and a Premium product that costs $5.00 a month/$45.00 a year. I’ve been using Evernote since the early days, and I've watched it transform from just a note-taking app into a product line tailored to help people collect and remember information. 
Since getting my first PC, I’ve always been better organized electronically than with hardcopy, so I truly fit the Evernote user demographic. Evernote is where I keep ideas, notes, and research for my TechRepublic posts, corporate client work, and my personal projects. 
The Evernote Web Clipper and Clearly make it easy for me to capture articles and blog posts for later reference. I especially like being able to drag-and-drop Word documents and Adobe PDF files (Figure A) into Evernote.
Figure A
Figure A
A PDF saved in Evernote for later reference.
Because I’m a Premium user, I can search inside PDFs, Word documents, and even screen images I save in Evernote. Another bonus is being able to create offline notebooks so I can refer to information on my iPhone or iPad on the rare times I’m not on Wi-Fi.
Evernote lets you set up notebooks to better organize your notes. I use synchronized notebooks for client work, so I can access the information in the cloud and across my devices. I create notebooks to organize notes for particular projects. I then use notebook stacks (an Evernote feature for grouping notebooks) across various parts of my professional and personal life.
Recently, I’ve been relying more on tagging to organize the content I capture and my notes (Figure B), because I found myself creating too many notebooks over time. 
Figure B
Figure B
Tags in Evernote.
The Evernote app is running on all of my Macs, PCs, iPhone, iPads, and Android tablets to ensure that my notes and research are always accessible. I regularly take notes using Evernote on the Mac during client meetings. My preference is to keep the formatting in my notes simple. However, Evernote lets me format notes using bold, italics, and other options you’d expect to find in a word processor. Using Evernote on my iPhone lets me take pictures of white board drawings and save them directly into Evernote for later reference. Evernote has allowed me be a paperless note taker after years of jotting down meeting and interview notes on yellow legal pads.
I highly recommend Evernote if you have project notes spread out across folders, cloud accounts, and apps, and you want to centralize all of your note-taking for sanity sake and easy reference.
Do you use Evernote, or are you partial to another note-taking app? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

Discover new form factors for Android devices

Not all Android devices are built the same, and variety is one of the strong suits of the Android ecosystem. James Sanders explores some new form factors for Android devices. 

Android devices
In the last six months, the major Android manufacturers have released a variety of great smartphones, like the Sony Xperia Z1, the Motorola Moto X, the LG G2, and the Google Nexus 5. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks -- but they are all, in essence, the same “phablet” form factor that is currently popular among handset manufacturers.
However, if you're not satisfied with the prevailing design wisdom, or perhaps you're just looking for a last-minute unique technology gift, there are devices outside of the mainstream.

Samsung Galaxy Golden smartphone

The Samsung Galaxy Golden is a dual-screen flip phone running Android 4.2 with two 3.7” Super AMOLED screens at 480x800, a 1.7 GHz Snapdragon 400 dual-core processor, 1.5 GB RAM, 8 MP rear camera, 1.9 MP front camera, FM radio, and 16 GB of onboard storage. In terms of design, it's reminiscent of the Motorola RAZR3 V13, a late-model RAZR flip phone which featured an external touch screen. The Galaxy Golden is available in South Korea for 790,000 won ($750 USD) or in India for 51,900 Rupees ($838 USD).
A stateside release is not anticipated, although importers can look up the specifications and hope for compatibility with your mobile network, provided you aren’t on Verizon or Sprint. 

Acer DA241HL desktop

The Acer DA241HL is a device that brings Android to the desktop, but it would more easily be described as a monitor that happens to run Android. It sports a 24” 1080p display with a capacitive touch screen, an NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor of unspecified speed, 1 GB RAM, 8 GB Flash, and an SDHC card slot. Somewhat remarkably, it can be connected to a computer via HDMI and USB for use of the touch screen with Windows, according to the overview provided by CNET Berlin.
The DA241HL is available for €429, with stateside release information pending. However, with achange in leadership at Acer, hopes for a U.S. release may be dashed. Of note, this is not Acer’s first foray into Android on the desktop, with the slightly smaller DA220HQL presently available. Rival firm HP sees a market for this form factor and has quickly released their competitor, the HP Slate 21

ASUS Transformer TF701T

The ASUS Transformer 701T is the fifth generation of the popular ASUS convertible tablet series. It features a 10.1” 2560x1600 IPS display, 1.9 GHz Quad-Core NVIDIA Tegra 4, 2 GB of DDR3L RAM, 32 GB Flash, and a microSDXC card slot. At present, it ships with Android 4.2 out of the box, though an update to 4.3 is now available. The downside to the TF701T is that ASUS has opted to downgrade the cameras to 1.2 MP front and 5 MP rear, down from 2 and 8 from the previous model -- and the design of the device hasn’t changed appreciably from previous iterations, as reported by CNET.
The standard model goes for $449.99 MSRP (USD), and for an extra $149.99 (USD), you can get the TF701T keyboard dock, which features a full-size SDXC slot and additional battery. Of note, previous Transformer docks are incompatible with the TF701T. While this seems like a bit of price gouging compared to ASUS’ own Transformer Book T100 -- an Intel Atom-powered Windows 8 convertible tablet that includes the keyboard dock for $349 (USD) -- the display on the T100 is a paltry netbook-quality 1366x768 and is powered by a low-cost Atom processor, not a top-of-the-line Tegra 4. As it is, the TF701T and matching keyboard dock are cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014, which also features a 2560x1600 IPS display.

ASUS New PadFone Infinity

The New PadFone Infinity is the fourth generation of ASUS’ distinctive phone-tablet convertible. Prior to this revision, the PadFone series had been relegated to a limited-availability experiment available in Taiwan and with spotty occasional availability in Europe. The phone portion of the New PadFone Infinity packs a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 at 2.2 GHz, with 2 GB RAM and a 5” IPS 1080p display, plus 2 MP front and 13 MP rear cameras. The tablet dock features a 10.1” IPS display at 1920x1200 with a 1 MP front camera. Notably missing in this revision is the option for a keyboard dock to attach to the tablet portion, which was previously available on the PadFone 2. Aloysius Low has a full review of the New PadFone Infinity at CNET Asia.
Jerry Shen, the CEO of ASUS, indicated that they are working with a “major U.S. carrier” tobring the PadFone to the US in Q2 2014.

Final thoughts

These unique Android devices aren’t just for malcontents who want something a little different than the mainstream; they serve a purpose for people who want to get something a little more feature-rich than the current standard. If you're seeking something a little more economical, be sure to check out these budget-friendly Android tablets. Or, for home theater PC or embedded uses, check out these embedded Android devices.
Have you purchased a new Android device for the holidays? If so, tell us in the comments section below how you made your decision.

DDoS attacks during the holiday season: Don't be a victim

Read about the importance of determining the ROI of implementing DDoS mitigation controls. Also, find out why small online retailers are left the most exposed to DDoS attacks. 

 As we approach the holiday season, there is no shortage of tech articles about distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and how they're such a huge Q4 problem that necessitates awareness and, of course, a comprehensive DDoS mitigation strategy. From all of the buzz, one might actually believe that DDoS is not a problem outside of e-commerce or the holiday season. Even the security professionals who know better often find themselves making last-minute contingency plans despite the knowledge that proper planning months in advance would have reduced the cost of the mitigation solution and substantially mitigated any damages during an attack. DDoS mitigation is not substantially different than commercial travel; this is the season when security firms begin ratcheting up their prices and launching holiday season awareness campaigns.

Don't miss: IT Security in the Snowden Era (ZDNet Special Feature)
It is important to avoid tunnel vision and remember that everyone from the average consumer to large enterprises can be a victim of DDoS attacks, and the risk remains substantial year-round. The scope of the threat will vary from individuals to organizations between industries and seasons. Any organizations that generate revenue online and their customers can be victims of DDoS attacks. For the organizations, the cost of advance continuity planning cuts into earnings. Those that fail to plan find themselves taking costly emergency DDoS mitigation services and suffering damage to their reputations and customer confidence levels. Irrespective of the category in which an organization falls in terms of DDoS attack planning, every single customer becomes a victim, since the expense of information security becomes a pass-through cost. This is the digital equivalent of shoplifters increasing costs at brick-and-mortar establishments.  
Major e-commerce brands are year-round targets. It is hard to imagine Wal-Mart or Best Buy not having comprehensive defenses in-house. Certainly, nearly every online retailer has planned for these attacks. One might recall that the first major attacks in 2000 were against e-commerce and included Amazon,, and eBay. Unfortunately, it has been consumers and investors that foot the bill for this added security. 

The ROI of implementing DDoS mitigation controls

In major companies, decision makers weigh the case for investment in information security by evaluating the expected loss from information security incidents, such as DDoS attacks, and determining the return on investment (ROI) of implementing controls, such as DDoS mitigation. For illustrative purposes, we will use Amazon as an example.
Amazon reported $21 billion in sales for Q4 2012, which breaks down to $9.7 million per hour. At a gross margin of 24.75 percent, the profit per hour was roughly $2.4 million. Assume that without DDoS mitigation in place that Amazon would have lost one hour of sales to attacks and that the cost of DDoS mitigation would have been $1 million, mitigating exposure to five minutes of downtime for a loss of $120,000 with controls in place. This gives Amazon the choice of accepting the risk at a cost of $2.4 million or mitigating the risk at a cost of $1.12 million.In this example, Amazon can demonstrate a ROI of 46.67 percent, which will lead to the company deciding to mitigate the risk and purchase the DDoS mitigation system.

Why the smaller retailer is much worse off

Imagine the same scenario with a company having Q4 sales of $200,000 resulting in a gross margin of $49,500. It is cost-prohibitive and impractical for small companies to use in-house DDoS mitigation systems, so the company will look to a service-based solution. An emergency DDoS mitigation service with a 12-month term may have a total contract of $120,000, placing the small retailer immediately into negative ROI. This means that the company is forced to accept the risk of DDoS attacks. If an attacker learns that the company has no DDoS mitigation whatsoever, the result could be near permanent downtime, quickly leading to lost sales, loss of consumer confidence, and eventually bankruptcy. 
Essentially, everyone shares some of the pain when it comes to DDoS attacks, but it is the smaller online retailers that are left the most exposed. Small firms generally cannot afford enterprise-grade solutions and often lack the organic information security capabilities. An emergency DDoS mitigation service is a quick solution but at a substantial cost, easily reaching into the thousands of dollars per month.

Consider your company's size when shopping for mitigation solutions

A decade ago the Internet was viewed as an emerging technology that could allow anyone to bootstrap a company and sell online. Today, it has manifested into a complex, insecure environment that continues to favor well-capitalized corporations.
This problem is best quantified using the aforementioned ROI model. Where major retailers can easily find ROI in costly security solutions, smaller retailers are left facing more difficult decisions as to whether to mitigate or accept the risk of attack. In practice many small companies choose the latter, as it is the option that offers the greatest upside, but at the risk of exposing the company to devastation if targeted by an attacker.
Fortunately, there are practical solutions available for smaller companies. These require advanced planning and an understanding that DDoS protection and information security are fundamental concepts that must be incorporated into a company's business plan year-round.
All companies should work with a security firm or consultant with experience in mitigating DDoS attacks to determine those solutions that make the most sense for the size of the business being protected, thereby facilitating the most attractive ROI.
Jeffrey A. Lyon, CISSP, is the founder of Black Lotus Communications, a secure hosting firm specializing in DDoS attack mitigation.

Five reasons why the Ubuntu tablet could shock naysayers in 2014

Jack Wallen offers five good reasons why a tablet running Linux could really shock the naysayers in 2014. 

Ubuntu tablet
With a recent proclamation by Mark Shuttleworth that an “interesting set of household brands' are looking at putting Ubuntu Touch on their own phones and tablets,” the mobile landscape has become quite interesting. Prior to this, it seemed like the Ubuntu Phone was having serious issues gaining any traction with major brands. However, with Ubuntu 14.04 placing a major focus on honing the Ubuntu tablet experience, things are going to get interesting.
I truly believe that a tablet running Linux could really shock the naysayers in 2014. If you don't believe me, I'll give you five good reasons why this could be the case.

1. It will actually happen

Yes, there's still a big question mark looming over the actual date we'll see the first Ubuntu tablet for sale on the market. But by the end of 2014, we should at least see images available for installation on numerous tablets. This will silence the naysayers who fully believe that the Ubuntu tablet is the latest vaporware to tease the fans and users. Canonical and Mark Shuttleworth have put way too much focus and effort into the tablet for it to fail. When the images for various tablets become available, the naysayers will be silenced.

2. An Ubuntu tablet will be user-friendlier than the competition

I've used the Touch interface. Although it's still a bit rough around the edges, it was amazingly user-friendly-- more so than the Android tablet or the iOS interfaces. I know this sounds like fan-boy speak, but the developers have done an great job of creating a highly intuitive interface that will have users saying, “That's what a tablet interface should be like!” Another shocker will be how polished the UI is when it's released. That should go without saying, considering the length of the Ubuntu Touch's development period. By the end of 2014, I wouldn't be surprised if the initial release was version 2.0.

3. An Ubuntu tablet will out-flex Android

Android has long been heralded as the most flexible of all tablet interfaces, because users are able to make it look and behave exactly how they want. I believe that title will be given to the Ubuntu tablet when it's released. With the power of open source behind it, you can bet that the Ubuntu tablet will be keen on flexibility.

4. An Ubuntu tablet will run Android apps

At one point, Shuttleworth claimed that the Ubuntu tablet would not run Android applications. He has since recanted that stance, and it looks like Ubuntu tablet users will be able to have the best of both worlds. It's not clear if this will be made possible with the help of Windroid or if another layer will be created to facilitate the running of Android apps. Either way, this will be a serious feather in the cap for the Ubuntu tablet. With the entire line of Android apps at the ready, the Ubuntu tablet won't suffer the same fate as Microsoft Surface RT -- that is, too few apps to make it useful.

5. The Ubuntu tablet will be a near-desktop OS

Because the Ubuntu tablet platform will use the same core technology as the Ubuntu desktop, it's an easy leap to assume that users will have desktop-like power at their fingertips. This should mean that applications meant to run on the desktop will also run on the tablet. No other tablet platform can claim this (though the Microsoft Surface 2 platform does come very close), and it will help catapult the Ubuntu tablet into heights no other tablet has before seen. And for those accustomed to the Ubuntu desktop interface -- Unity -- this will be a full-on no-brainer.
The Ubuntu tablet will happen. When it does, there should be a lot of naysayers out there redacting their claims of doubt. I, for one, am excited about the possibility of the Ubuntu tablet. The tablet space is in dire need of something as powerful, flexible, and secure as a Linux tablet. If Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical have their way, 2014 will be the year to silence the naysayers.

10 tech heroes of 2013

In a year of high-profile controversies and failures for IT, people still found ways to use technology to make life better for others. You may recognize some of these folks; others might surprise you. 

Every year, there are heroes and villains across all industries. Though it's much easier to point out the villains, the heroes are the ones who should really be getting the attention. Within the world of technology, there were quite a lot of ups and downs in 2013. For this article, I want to focus on the ups – the heroes. These are people who invented, used, or promoted technology in a way to better a group of people or society in general or to further the reach of technology itself. You might find your own hero on this list -- or you might find someone you consider to be a villain. (That's where perspective comes into play.) Either way, 2013 was an exciting year and I want to applaud a few of those who made it so.

1: Ed Snowden

Ed Snowden was a whistle blower the likes of which the world has never seen. Many consider him a villain. I, on the other hand, hold him up in the hero category for one simple reason: His disclosure of classified documents unveiled the NSA's mass surveillance program. Snowden's goal was " inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them." Prior to this leak, the public was unaware of the depth of surveillance and the true nature of government secrecy. His disclosures have also had major implications for those in the technology field.

2: George Takei

 George Takei is not only a hero in the world of Star Trek, he is an unsung hero of equality. In 2013, Takei took his charge to social platforms like Twitter and Facebook to spread the word of love and compassion (with a mighty sense of humor) for all. Takei has helped bring the spotlight on bullying and inequality in a way few others have. And thanks to social networking, Takei's voice (literally and figuratively) has spread like the meme it deserves to be.

3: Chuck Hull

Chuck Hull is the co-founder of 3D Systems. If that doesn't ring a bell, all I need to say is 3D printing. That's right, Hull has helped to bring three-dimensional printing into the household and turn it into a revolution. With the help of 3D printing, the manufacturing process has become something even a single-owner business can master. The year 2013 was a major blastoff for 3D printing and Chuck Hull, and 3D Systems will see to it that the years to come continue to broaden the horizons for this miraculous technology.

4: Mark Shuttleworth

Mark Shuttleworth wound up in the center of controversy within the open source community. Many in the community pointed fingers of blame at Shuttleworth for moving away from the Wayland X Server to an in-house solution. Nearly everyone was up in arms. But Shuttleworth had a vision, one that could easily skyrocket the usage of Linux on the desktop and mobile platforms. I give Shuttleworth this nod for sticking to his plan and continuing to make Ubuntu Linux one of the most user-friendly Linux distributions on the planet. If Shuttleworth has his way, Linux will become a household name.

5: Estella Pyfrom

Estella Pyfrom is probably not a name many of you know – but it should be. This amazing Florida woman used her life savings to create a mobile computer lab (Estella's Brilliant Bus), which provides a mobile tutoring program for thousands of low-income students in the Palm Beach County area. Pyfrom doesn't consider her brainchild just “a bus,” but “a movement.” With the help of her Brilliant Bus, Estella Pyfrom is bridging the digital gap so that less fortunate children can get their hands on technology and level the playing field.

6: Dr. Laura Stachel

Dr. Laura Stachel created the "solar suitcase" to enable healthcare workers to deliver babies in more than 20 underprivileged countries. The primary focus is for women to be able to have babies safely and with dignity. Stachel was inspired to develop the suitcase when she discovered many women and babies were dying simply from a lack of proper lighting during the birthing process. With the help of the suitcase, births can now happen with adequate lighting as well as power. The suitcase also aids in numerous other treatments for the sick.

7: Jen Vargas

Jen Vargas wanted to be a Google Glass explorer, so she turned to her community to raise the funds to achieve that goal. But then something special happened. Jen gave back. With her Google Glass Explorer status, she used her glass to start the grass roots initiative Glass4Good. Jen used her Glass to help improve the city of Orlando and other local non-profits. Her efforts have gone to help organizations such as Give Kids the World, Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, New Hope for Kids, and a Gift for Teaching. Jen has proved that grassroots efforts do pay off and that sometimes a return investment can go much further than you might expect.

8: Boston Marathon bombing investigators

When the tragedy occurred during the Boston Marathon, the police reacted with efficiency and remarkable humanity. They used every piece of technology that had at their disposal (surveillance video, private video, thermal imagery, robotics, data analytics) and quickly located the suspects. There is no way to proclaim this a “win,” when lives were lost and ruined and innocent humans were disfigured. But in the end, the heroism of the police and other authorities can't go without mention. This is one occasion where the smartphone (and its video cameras) proved its value.

9: Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. That in and of itself should be impressive enough to land her on the list of 2013 tech heroes. Many consider her to have been the single most powerful woman in technology during 2013. In March 2013, she published her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, which sold nearly 150,000 copies in its first week and held the top spot in nonfiction for quite some time. Being in charge of the operations of the largest and most popular Web site on the planet solidifies Sandberg as a hero of 2013.

10: Amy Parnell

Amy Parnell is the principle designer for LinkedIn. She led the redesign of the LinkedIn homepage and profile pages, which helped make LinkedIn one of the best means of networking for businesses and technology. Her skills extend to engineering, Web development, and data science. I believe she will be a superstar in the years to come, so I hand her a 2013 hero award for technology.

Other heroes?

There you go -- my heroes of 2013. Some have had a tremendous impact on technology and some have used technology to have a positive impact on others. Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and forms, but their deeds all serve a singular purpose: to better the world.
What tech heroes would you add to this list? Join the discussion and share your own picks.

Windows 8.1's Reading List app is a Favorites list on steroids

Greg Shultz describes how to take advantage of Windows 8.1's new Reading List app. 

Some of the improvements in Windows 8.1 have made using the modern apps more appealing. I like the new Snap feature, which allows you to have more than two modern apps open on the screen at one time, and I discovered a way to have two Internet Explorer tabs open on the screen and position them side-by-side. I recently came across a new app added to Windows 8.1 called Reading List that is a very nice addition to Microsoft's collection of free apps.
Reading List allows you to keep track of all the content you encounter in your apps that you want to be able find again or read at a later date; in this respect, the app works like the Favorites list. However, Reading List goes beyond the Favorites list in that it organizes the content in chronological order and in categories and then displays the titles and the content as tiles with images. In fact, using Reading List is almost like creating your own newspaper app. You can think of Reading List as a Favorites list on steroids!

Building your Reading List

Building your Reading List is easy. Plus, almost all of the apps that display text will work with Reading List.
I have the Wikipedia app installed in Windows 8.1, and I found articles on it that I would like to read later. To add an article to your Reading List, move your mouse to the upper-right corner of the screen until the Charms bar appears and then click Share (Figure A).
Figure A

When the Charms bar appears, click Share. (Click the image to see a larger view.)
When you see the Share panel, you will click Reading List (Figure B). You won't see the Reading List on the Share panel for all apps; if you don't see it, that means the app doesn't recognize or support the Reading List.
Figure B

From the Share panel, select Reading List. (Click the image to see a larger view.)
In the Reading List panel, you will see a preview of the tile that will be added to Reading List. While you can immediately click Add, I recommend adding the content to a category; this will keep things more organized, and it will be easier to find the content.
To add content to a category, click the Categorize menu. You will see a list of all the default categories and any categories you added. You can select an existing category (Figure C), or create a new category by clicking New Category and filling in the Categorize As prompt. Either way, once you select a category, click Add to complete the operation.
Figure C

You can save the new content to a category to make it easier to find. (Click the image to see a larger view.)

Using the Reading List

After you add content to the Reading List and then access it from the Start Screen, you'll see the main screen (Figure D). As you can see in my example, the content in Reading List is displayed in chronological order. Reading List will randomly pick one of the items from the list and place it on the left side of the screen as spotlighted content.
Figure D

On the main screen, you see your content tiles arranged chronologically. (Click the image to see a larger view.)
When you select a content item from the list, Reading List will condense its display, move over to the side of the screen, and allow the main content to display on the rest of the screen (Figure E). If you prefer that your main content be full screen, you slide Reading List off the screen and into the background by clicking the divider and dragging it to the left.
Figure E

With the Reading List on the side of the screen, you can easily select other items in your list. (Click the image to see a larger view.)
When you use the Reading List main page, if you have a lot of tiles, the screen can get a little overwhelming. Fortunately, Reading List provides a Search feature. You just click the magnifying glass icon and type a keyword in the text box (Figure F), and Reading List will display the results.
Figure F

The Search feature is handy when you have a lot of content saved in Reading List. (Click the image to see a larger view.)
Now, if you dutifully categorize everything that you add to Reading List, things can be a bit easier to locate. As you can see in Figure G, by going to the iPhone category, I can easily find the saved content about that topic.
Figure G

By using categories, it's easier to keep track of saved content. (Click the image to see a larger view.)
To select a category, right-click the Reading List screen, and you will see the app bars appear at the top and bottom of the screen (Figure H). All of the default categories and any categories that you create will appear at the top app bar. By default, Reading List comes with six categories: Finance, Food, Health, News, Sports, and Travel. To switch to a category view, click the associated title.
Figure H

To switch to a category view of Reading list, click the category at the top of the screen. (Click the image to see a larger view.)
In addition to creating new categories from the Categorize menu as I mentioned earlier, you can create categories from this app bar. To do so, click the Categories button at the very top, and you will see the Categories screen. To create a new category, click the grey tile with the red plus sign, and you will see the New Category box (Figure I), where you can enter a name and click OK. Figure I also shows that if you right-click an existing category, an app bar appears at the bottom of the screen and provides you with the ability to rename or delete a category.
Figure I

In addition to creating new categories, you can rename or delete existing categories. (Click the image to see a larger view.)

What's your take?

What do you think about Windows 8.1's Reading List app? Will you use it? If you have comments or information to share about this topic, please drop by our forums and let us hear from you.