Monthly Archives: December 2015
Looking back on 2015: Microsoft’s biggest year ever
With major product announcements and a number of big bets on the future, 2015 is in the running to be one of Microsoft’s most important years on record.
Topping it was the launch of Windows 10. First previewed a year earlier, 2015 was the year we finally got to see the new operating system in full. Microsoft unveiled key features, including its virtual assistant Cortana reaching beyond Windows Phone and onto the desktop, and its new Edge web browser.
Windows 10 also brought a new Windows Universal App Platform that lets developers build one app that works across Windows 10 Phones, tablets and computers. It’s part of Microsoft’s play to try and raise the number of apps available for Windows 10 tablets and smartphones by tempting developers with a build once, deploy everywhere strategy.
Since it launched in July, Windows 10 has seen massive adoption. Not everybody likes everything about it and Microsoft has made its share of missteps, like keeping details about what personal information was sent from the OS to its servers under wraps until well after users raised privacy concerns about it. But overall, it has been very positively received.
One of the most unexpected moves of the year was Microsoft’s entry into the laptop computer business with the Surface Book. For years, Microsoft has relied on partners like HP, Dell and Toshiba to produce laptops — and they aren’t out of the picture — but with its own machine it’s attempting a bit of Apple’s successful business model, directly selling the computer it thinks customers want.
The machine has a powerful keyboard with some serious computing power that has a detachable touchscreen, which can serve as a tablet. Early reviews are favorable, and the device is definitely cool. But its premium price and somewhat awkward design don’t lead me to believe that it’s a slam-dunk for widespread consumer adoption beyond Microsoft’s die-hard fanbase.
In the smartphone space, the year was one of contraction. Microsoft laid off thousands of people from its phone hardware division and saw its market share decline from 2.7 percent to 2.2 percent, according to IDC estimates.
During the year, it released the Lumia 950 and 950 XL flagship phones that were supposed to help drive Windows smartphones back towards relevance. Reviews for the phones are good and it packs some cool, whiz-bang features, like the ability to use iris recognition to unlock the device, but the biggest drawback is a familiar one for Windows smartphones: the small selection of apps.
But Microsoft hasn’t given up on building smartphones yet.
One new technology, Continuum, lets users connect their phone to a keyboard, mouse and monitor for use like a PC. It’s awesome, but requires application support that isn’t really existent in Windows 10’s third-party ecosystem yet. Microsoft is betting that the Windows Universal App Platform will prove popular enough among developers to shore up its lack of apps, but that hasn’t happened yet.
There’s a lot more excitement building over another hardware project: HoloLens.
When it was unveiled in January, Microsoft showed off something that largely wasn’t even rumored: a headset crammed with technology that let users overlay digital objects on the physical world around them. It’s futuristic stuff, and while the HoloLens doesn’t quite offer wide-angle augmented reality, it’s still a massively cool piece of kit.
One of the most exciting things about it is that the developer tools handle much of the heavy lifting for accessing the device’s hardware capabilities. Voice recognition, spatial mapping and gesture recognition are easily handled by the HoloLens developer tools, so that app makers can focus on building their software. It bodes well for the future of the device, which will be made available for purchase to select developers early next year.
But new software and new devices were only one part of the strategy Microsoft pushed this year. The company also began working with its competitors in ways that it never would have before. Satya Nadella talked on stage with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at Dreamforce, and other high-level Microsoft executives have appeared at major events hosted by the likes of VMware, Apple and Box.
Microsoft hasn’t given up competing with those companies – far from it. But partnering with its competitors is a titanic shift for Microsoft, and shows a humbler side of a company that wasn’t visible a few years ago. The company also went on a major acquisition spree snapping up a mountain of other companies, including teams behind apps like Wunderlist and Sunrise Calendar. And there was the one that got away. The rumored deal between Microsoft and Salesforce reportedly didn’t happen because Microsoft declined to pony up as much money as Salesforce was looking for. Acquisitions are a pretty dry business, but these deals show a Microsoft that’s hungry to augment its capabilities with the help of outside companies that have proven solutions.
Looking ahead to 2016 is when we get to see if all of the big bets Microsoft set up this year pay off. Analysts expect that this coming year will see a bunch of enterprises upgrade to Windows 10. Microsoft is also gearing up to more aggressively push consumers to upgrade, which in turn may incentivize developers to build applications for the new OS.
But the Windows Store could go the way of the Mac App Store rather than the iOS App Store or Google Play Store. The concerns that system administrators have about Windows 10’s mandatory cumulative updates might stunt adoption. The HoloLens might turn out to be a futuristic flop. Clearly, Microsoft has an intended outcome for all of those moves, but the company’s big bets don’t always work out as intended.
And 2016 is also when Microsoft’s new strategies of going cross-platform and collaborating with other tech companies will stop being new again. At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if Nadella showed up alongside Tim Cook at an Apple press event — which is a vast departure from Microsoft of 2012, but not the company’s past year. Stay tuned, folks — Microsoft is in for one heck of a ride.
Apple’s next iPhone may sport LG, Samsung display
South Korea’s LG Display Co Ltd and the panel-making unit of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd will supply organic light emitting diode (OLED) screens for Apple Inc’s iPhones, the Electronic Times reported citing unnamed sources.
The report comes after years of speculation that Apple will start using the next-generation technology in its phones. OLED screens are thinner and offer better picture quality than the mainstay liquid crystal display screens.
Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported last month that Apple plans to start using OLED screens for iPhones starting in 2018. LG and Samsung Display are close to a final agreement with Apple for the screens, the Electronic Times report said, adding the two Korean firms plan a combined 15 trillion won ($12.8 billion) in capital expenditure to build up OLED production capacity over the next two to three years.
Apple will likely provide some funding to both firms to help with the investments, the paper added.
Samsung Display, which currently supplies OLED smartphone panels to parent Samsung Electronics and Chinese vendors, is likely getting bigger volumes from Apple than LG Display, the paper said.
LG Display and Samsung Display declined to comment, while Apple could not be immediately reached for comment.
Yahoo to notify users about hacking attacks
Yahoo has become the latest techno-logy company to promise to alert its users if it thinks their accounts have been attacked by ‘state-sponsored actors’ – hackers working on behalf of governments.
Those actions include turning on two-step verification; changing their password to a stronger one that has never been used before; updating their account recovery info-rmation; and checking recent activity on their account.
Yahoo’s move comes two months after Facebook made a similar announcement in October, telling its users that it would notify them “if we believe your account has been targeted or compromised by an attacker suspected of working on behalf of a nation-state”. In December, Twitter warned a number of its users that they may have been the targets of
a state-sponsored attack, including several experts in info-rmation security and privacy. Google, meanwhile, made this move in June 2012 for a subset of its users who it believed might be targets for phishing, malware or other attacks from state-sponsored ‘bad actors’.
By necessity, all of these companies decline to provide detailed information on the potential attackers they have identified.
The likelihood of online attacks coming from state-sponsored actors has been increasingly talked about in 2015. Richard Ledgett, deputy director of the US National Security Agency, claimed in October that “if you are connected to the Internet, you are vulnerable to determined nation-state attackers.”
How to grow your investments?
Investing in the stock market or saving to fund retirement is like growing asparagus – you should always have started five years ago.
Recent economic shocks have caused many to question the wisdom of the City saying, not least because the FTSE 100 has gone nowhere over the last five years. But the facts that dividend income during that period added 20pc to total returns, many shares and sectors have done better than the blue chip index and the power of compound interest over time continue to argue against delay or remaining in deposits.
Major financial institutions including M&G, Barclays Bank, Foreign & Colonial and Witan Investment Trust have supported the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show in the belief that gardeners and investors are often the same people – and similar principles can apply to both activities.
If that sounds a tad simple-minded to some self-supposed sophisticates of the blogosphere (“buy silver!”), then do try to remember that bumpkinWarren Buffet’s observation that investment is “simple but not easy”. So here are 10 tips to make your money grow using common or garden strategies:
1: Be patient. Don’t expect instant results from plants or your portfolio. But shares and stock market-based funds are likely to produce higher returns than bank deposits over the medium to long term. They did so in three quarters of the periods of five consecutive years during the last century, according to research by Barclays Capital.
2: Be vigilant. Little and often is the best way to water your garden and to regularly monitor the progress of your investments. Do not file and forget assets any more than you would fail to keep an eye on your herbaceous border.
3: Mix and match. No garden should be filled with only one type of flower – because that would make it dull for 50 weeks a year, when that plant is not in bloom, and prone to disease. Similarly, diversification is the surest way to diminish the risk in stock markets and maximise returns.
4: Don’t be afraid to prune. Just as deadwood should be removed to stimulate new growth in plants, your portfolio will benefit from dumping dud investments.
5: Don’t be disheartened. Bad weather and economic shocks are ever-present risks for gardeners and investors but the good ones learn to live with them and thrive despite occasional setbacks.
6: Enjoy compound returns. Progress with substantial plants such as shrubs and trees may seem slow at first but, after a few years, each summer’s harvest is noticeably bigger than the last. The explanation is that 3.2pc – the current yield net of basic rate tax on the FTSE 100 – is worth a lot more on a portfolio of £100,000 than the same return on £1,000.
7: Avoid delay. The sooner you start gardening and investing, the sooner you will get through the dull or difficult early stages and begin to see why both are well worth the bother. That’s why investing – as mentioned at the outset – is sometimes compared to growing asparagus; you should always have started five years ago.
8: Make hay while the sun shines. ‘Buy low’ is the first step to making a profit and ‘sell high’ is the second. Use your annual Capital Gains Tax (CGT) allowance to take up to £10,600 of profits this year tax-free.
9: Don’t be a fashion victim. Garden gnomes are no longer widely regarded as a good idea – but followers of financial fashion suffered more than embarassment when the technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) bubble burst.
10: Enjoy your garden and investments. Both can be rewarding hobbies – especially now that fewer people are retiring with final salary pensions and more of us manage our own retirement funds via Self Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs). Both activities should also prove more intellectually stimulating and profitable than vegging out in front of the TV.
Oil falls to $37, near 11-year low, as excess supply weighs
Oil fell to around $37 a barrel on Monday, trading within sight of an 11-year low, pressured by excess supply that has led to prices more than halving since the downturn began in mid-2014. US crude was trading above global benchmark Brent, having earlier in December risen to a premium for the first time in about a year following the lifting of a 40-year-old ban on most US crude exports.
Brent crude was down 88 cents at $37.01 a barrel at 1429 GMT. It fell to $35.98, an 11-year low, on Tuesday. US crude was down 97 cents at $37.13. Trading volume was lighter than normal due to a British public holiday. Figures from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries imply a glut of more than 2 million barrels per day, equal to over 2 percent of world demand. Oversupply is expected to persist into the earlier part of next year.
In Japan, total oil product sales in November fell to a 46-year low. In Europe, demand growth for oil products turned negative in October, analysts at JBC Energy said in a report, citing figures from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative – the first year-on-year decline this year, JBC said.
The drop in prices gained impetus after OPEC, led by top exporter Saudi Arabia, a year ago dropped its longstanding policy of cutting output to support prices in favor of defending market share. While the price collapse has partly achieved OPEC’s goals by curbing growth of competing supplies, it has put finances in producing nations under more strain, even in the relatively wealthy Gulf states.
Saudi Arabia on Monday announced plans to shrink a record state budget deficit with spending cuts and a drive to raise revenues from sources other than oil. The government of the world’s top oil exporter ran a deficit of 367 billion riyals ($97.9 billion) in 2015. Its 2016 budget plan aims to cut that to 326 billion riyals.
India gets its first solar-powered village in Bengal
It was celebration time for the people of Pandri, a village in the Purulia district of West Bengal, illuminated with lightening after years of hassle. The excitement doubled when the village was installed with first solar-powered electricity and also became the first in the country to evolve as a decentralized solar power village.
Like most of rural India, Pandri village, located at the foot of Ayodhya hills, always waited for its share of power supply. The installation has come as a boon to over 80 households, who were earlier heavily dependent on firewood.
“Kerosene is sold at Rs 40 per litre in the market. Now the money will be saved, thanks to the solar lamps. We are really grateful to the solar aid,” said Kasinath Mahata, one of the villagers.
Delivered by the Art of Living, a non-profit organization in Bengal, under the Sri Sri Rural Development Program Trust (SSRDPT), the eco-friendly device has over 72 solar panels covering an area of approximately 2,000 square feet and drawing power from the 1.2 kilo watt solar power grid built in the region.
Cooking has become easier without having to worry about the fuel with the installation of a solar power-run rice hulling machine.
Also, the installation of a 5 HP water pump attached to the nearby dam has made farming more convenient.
Executing the plan was a task for the villagers and NGO representatives. Installing a 1.5 kilometre long wire for 72 solar panels was back breaking.
Meanwhile, the solar panel will not only reduce the daily problems of the villagers but will also minimize environmental hazards. The eco-friendly measure is seen as a move to end deforestation, simultaneously cutting down on green house gas emissions.
The solar panel however comes at a cost. Villagers are required to pay Rs 100 as monthly revenue to ensure its proper maintenance. Self-help groups have been formed to manage the solar lighting, water pump and the rice hulling machine.
What are the best ways to maintain a healthy heart
What causes heart attack–
Heart and blood vessel disease — also called heart disease — includes numerous problems, many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when a substance called plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can stop the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked by a blood clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die. Most people survive their first heart attack and return to their normal lives to enjoy many more years of productive activity. But having a heart attack does mean you have to make some changes. The doctor will advise you of medications and lifestyle changes according to how badly the heart was damaged and what degree of heart disease caused the heart attack.
Causes of stroke-
An ischemic stroke (the most common type) happens when a blood vessel that feeds the brain gets blocked, usually from a blood clot. When the blood supply to a part of the brain is shut off, brain cells will die. The result will be the inability to carry out some of the previous functions as before like walking or talking. A hemorrhagic strokeoccurs when a blood vessel within the brain bursts. The most likely cause is uncontrolled hypertension.
Some effects of stroke are permanent if too many brain cells die after a stroke due to lack of blood and oxygen to the brain. These cells are never replaced. The good news is that some brain cells don’t die — they’re only temporarily out of order. Injured cells can repair themselves. Over time, as the repair takes place, some body functioning improves. Also, other brain cells may take control of those areas that were injured. In this way, strength may improve, speech may get better and memory may improve. This recovery process is what rehabilitation is all about.
Ways to maintain a healthy heart-
A healthy heart is the way to healthy living, but the frenzied modern lifestyle is taking a toll on this little muscular organ. A sedentary lifestyle, munching on junk food, alcohol, smoking, long working hours and increasing stress is making the heart more and more vulnerable. The average human heart beats approximately 2.5 billion times during an average lifespan of 66 years. But then are we making the most of 2.5 billion beats? Apparently not… But don`t you think it`s high time that we pay attention to what our heart needs.
Here are a few easy ways to keep your heart young…
1. Eat Healthy: The first and foremost for a healthy heart is to know what is in your plate. Always keep a check on what you eat and when you eat. A diet adequate in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and small amount of oil and red meat can help your heart beat longer.
2. Maintain healthy body weight: Maintaining healthy weight is important for over all well being as obesity increases the risk of various heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes etc. Maintain BMI between 20 to 25 which is considered the optimal weight.
3. Practice Yoga, mediate or exercise: Even if you cannot follow all of them together, try implementing one of the practices to enhance your hearts healthy. A 30 minute aerobic exercise improves your heart rate. Yoga and meditation are also great for your heart as they help ease stress which automatically improves your hearts functioning.
4. Be active: If you are unable to take time to exercise regularly, try to be active throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of a lift, mop the floor or try walking back home from work, if you live nearby.
5. Quit smoking and alcohol: This needs no explanation, as everyone who consumes alcohol or smokes knows about what these products can do to their heart. Cutting on cigarettes or alcohol is rather tough, but killing oneself is not a smart choice either. Try getting out of the addiction slowly but surely.
6. Manage stress levels: When things start going wrong, one tends to lose appetite and indulge in excess smoking and drinking. In such a situation, managing the stress level is extremely important. If you let stress get on to your head for long you will gradually decrease the number of years in your life. Talk to friends, socialize, slow down a bit and take a break. Enjoying your life to the fullest is the best way to keep your heart healthy and agile.
7. Check your family history: Having a family history of heart problems can increase your risk of having cardiovascular diseases many folds. If a close relative of yours is suffering from a heart problem, then it’s better for you to take extra care of your health.
8. Get good sleep: Lack of sleep worsens blood pressure and cholesterol. Sleep deficiency also leads to increased stress levels, which also raises the level of inflammation in your body further increasing risk of heart-related problems. A sleep of 7 to 9 hours each night will help your heart stay healthy.
9. Get regular health screening: Get screened for high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
10. Laugh out loud and be happy: Laughter is indeed the best medicine for your heart. Laughing for just 15 minutes daily can boost blood flow by 22% and prevent arteries from hardening. Being happy is the ultimate mantra to a healthy heart.
Snapdeal to invest more in logistics to compete with Flipkart, Amazon
Online marketplace Snapdeal, backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group and others, will spend more on logistics and technology to better compete with Flipkart and Amazon’s Indian unit, its co-founder said on Monday. Shopping online is becoming more popular in India due to the rising use of cheaper smartphones and e-commerce firms are struggling to cope with the growing demand and make faster deliveries in different parts of the country.
The e-commerce market in India is expected to grow to $220 billion in the value of goods sold by 2025, up from an expected $11 billion this year, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a recent report. Flush with $500 million from a funding round in August, led by China’s Alibaba, SoftBank and Foxconn, Snapdeal is now looking to expand its services.
One area Snapdeal will focus on is to cut delivery times by investing in better data analytics and demand forecasting, co-founder Rohit Bansal told Reuters. Quick and cheap delivery is important to be able to win over customers in a competitive industry in which companies are burning through substantial cash to grow.
Snapdeal, which had $4.5 billion in Gross Merchandise Volumes (GMV), a measure of value of goods and services sold, by August, bought mobile wallet company FreeCharge in April for around $400 million. It has also spent around $35 million to buy about 50 per cent stake in logistics services company GoJavas.
Bansal said that Snapdeal had received interest in part of its stake in FreeCharge to raise funds for the mobile wallet company, but declined to comment further.
In October, the Economic Times newspaper said that FreeCharge plans to raise $300 million as the mobile wallet looks to expand its product range after receiving a specialised payments bank license from the Reserve Bank of India.
India Post payment bank to be operational by March 2017
India Post, which was among the eleven applicants to have received approval from RBI for payment banks in August, will start its service by March 2017, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
About 40 international financial conglomerates including World Bank, Barclays and ICICI have shown interest to partner with the Postal Department for the payment bank, the minister said. The Department has 1,55,015 post offices across the country, of which 1,39,144 are in rural areas. MTNL will offer free incoming to all its users when on roaming starting next year, he said. The other state-run operator BSNL already offers free roaming for its users.
Asked about the controversial Free Basics initiative by Facebook in partnership with Reliance Communication, the Minister said he is awaiting the report of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on the subject of net neutrality.
The Reserve Bank of India had granted in-principle approval to 11 applicants, including Postal Department, in August to set up payments banks.
Other companies to receive an in-principle nod were Reliance Industries, Aditya Birla Nuvo, Vodafone, Airtel, Cholamandalam Distribution Services, Tech Mahindra, National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL), Fino PayTech, Sun Pharma’s Dilip Shantilal Shanghvi and PayTM’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma.
The in-principle nod granted by the RBI was valid for 18 months, when it was issued in August this year, during which time the applicants have to comply with the requirements under the guidelines and fulfil the other conditions as may be stipulated by the Reserve Bank,” RBI said in a statement.
The Payments Bank will be set up as a differentiated bank and shall confine its activities to acceptance of demand deposits, remittance services, Internet banking and other specified services. It will not indulge in any lending activities.
China ends one-child policy after 35 years
China has scrapped its one-child policy, allowing all couples to have two children for the first time since draconian family planning rules were introduced more than three decades ago.
The announcement followed a four-day Communist party summit in Beijing where China’s top leaders debated financial reforms and how to maintain growth at a time of heightened concerns about the economy.
China will “fully implement a policy of allowing each couple to have two children as an active response to an ageing population”, the party said in a statement published by Xinhua, the official news agency. “The change of policy is intended to balance population development and address the challenge of an ageing population,”
Some celebrated the move as a positive step towards greater personal freedom in China. But human rights activists and critics said the loosening – which means the Communist party continues to control the size of Chinese families – did not go far enough.
For months there has been speculation that Beijing was preparing to abandon the divisive family planning rule, which was introduced in 1980 because of fears of a population boom.
Demographers in and outside China have long warned that its low fertility rate – which experts say lies somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 children a woman – was driving the country towards a demographic crisis.
Since 2013, there has been a gradual relaxation of China’s family planning laws that already allowed minority ethnic families and rural couples whose firstborn was a girl to have more than one child. Thursday’s announcement that all couples would be allowed two children caught many experts by surprise.
History showed that countries with a very large number of unmarried men of military age were more likely to pursue aggressive, militarist foreign policy initiatives, Tsang said.
In one of the most shocking recent cases of human rights abuses related to the once-child policy, a woman who was seven months pregnant was abducted by family planning officials in Shaanxi province in 2012 and forced to have an abortion.
Opponents say the policy has created a demographic “timebomb”, with China’s 1.3 billion-strong population ageing rapidly, and the country’s labour pool shrinking. The UN estimates that by 2050 China will have about 440 millionpeople over 60. The working-age population – those between 15 and 59 – fell by 3.71 million last year, a trend that is expected to continue.
Experts said the relaxation of family planning rules is unlikely to have a lasting demographic impact, particularly in urban areas where couples were now reluctant to have two children because of the high cost.
“Just because the government says you can have another child, it doesn’t mean the people will immediately follow,” said Liang Zhongtang, a demographer at the Shanghai Academy of Social Science.