Cryptocurrencies, the most famous of all being Bitcoin, turned geeks and normal people with a bit of tech interest into virtual millionaires, overnight. In recent months they’ve hit the headlines for facilitating the sale of drugs and firearms by concealing the identities of those involved. They even accentuated the capital outflows from Cyprus during the country’s financial collapse and subsequent EU bailout earlier this year.
In 2011, those buying into cryptocurrencies were laughed at by investors and economists. Now, BitCoin is regularly the feature of two page spreads in the Financial Times and is rumoured to be a serious headache for regulators of the traditional banking system. Since the high profile take-down of The Silk Road (a shady, Deep Web marketplace mainly used for drug sales), the FBI have backed off.
In a further vote of confidence, the Chinese government recently indicated that they have no real issues with cryptocurrencies and have allowed a Chinese exchange to grow into the world’s largest, surpassing MtGox a few weeks ago. However, they’ve also eliminated the possibility of it ever becoming part of their official national finance framework.
In spite of its recent successes, BitCoin remains rouge. Personified, it’s a surly teenager protesting against “the system”. Big Business has given it nothing more than an amused smirk because BitCoin doesn’t wear a suit to work nor have Terms & Conditions attached. Ripple’s ‘XRP’, a new kid on the cryptocurrency block, does.
A lot of what we all do with our computers these days is online. A very large proportion of us forego the comfort of an email client and rely instead on a web based mail service such as Gmail or outlook.com. In recent years there has been a big push from a lot of big name companies — the likes of Google, Adobe and Microsoft — to encourage their customers to work increasingly in the cloud.
It is likely that the widespread use of webmail has helped to make the idea of breaking away from the confines of desktop software, but the ever-increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets can probably also claim some responsibility. The ability to work on the move on a smaller-screened device is obviously very liberating, but there are new considerations to keep in mind. It is all well and good being able to work away from the desktop, but there will probably come a time when you want to work on a regular computer rather than a portable device. Of course, you can plug your phone or tablet into your computer and copy files back and forth as required… but this is too much like hard work!
There once was a time when I followed gaming with verve and passion, soaking up every out-of-ten score in the Official Playstation Magazine, and cursing Nintendo for somehow making the latest Mario Kart game even more irritating than the last. But time has passed, and I no longer have my finger quite on the pulse.
However, I still do hear about most of the latest releases, one way or another, and I pay special attention to game launches with something interesting, unusual, or notable about them. A recent example was the launch of Zoo Tycoon, of which I learned thanks to my AppStorm colleague, Marius Masalar, and his fine taste in tweeting.
Whilst the sight of yet another Zoo Tycoon game was not terribly striking, the initiatives that Microsoft has taken, alongside the production of the game, are.
Passwords dominate our lives these days; they are part and parcel of spending time online. There are now so many applications, service, devices and websites that require us to log into our secure account using a password that the sheer number of passphrases we have to remember has spiralled completely out of control.
For the best level of security it’s advisable to use a completely different password for each website and service — just off the top of my head I can think of 20 websites that I need to log into (there are probably at least double if I were to sit down and list everything properly); how the heck am I supposed to remember 20 completely unique passwords, each of which comprises a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Oh, and don’t forget… you’re meant to change these passwords every few weeks!
The last few months have been a wake-up call for anyone who cares about privacy. But perhaps it’s just been another headline blocking your way to the last round of sports, because I’ll tell you one truth: the generation I’m part of just doesn’t care about privacy. We all knew Google and most free services were grabbing our data and serving us ads. We grew up with that routine, so much so that some of us learned to share online before we got into math. This behavior is so prevalent that the upcoming generations have their fates sealed already, with their pictures being exposed all over the internet sometimes before they’re even born. It’s like The Truman Show, with many, many Trumans.
Yet, I didn’t leave Google due to privacy, I did so because of its use of my private data. Using Google daily and being targeted with its ads is like having a bad fight with your best friend, when he uses your darkest shared secrets against you. After a chain of events, the dismissal of Reader and the new ads in Gmail camouflaged within your inbox, I decided it was time to jump out. That’s what I did and I’m here to tell you how.
Google’s an interesting company. They have one cash cow — their namesake search engine and its ads — that, for the most part, fuels all the rest of their projects. But that hasn’t stopped them from taking on ambitious projects; if anything, it drives their creativity into places few else would date to invest.
So, they set out to do projects that make their April Fools’ jokes seem plausible. They drive cars around practically every part of the inhabited planet to take 360° photos of storefronts and trees and traffic. They build a new browser, then try to take on the giant in Redmond by turning said browser into a laptop OS, and a Mac Mini replacement, and a smart TV killer. They buy out a smartphone OS, and take on Apple directly by giving it away for free (mostly, anyhow). They design self-driving cars (but so far aren’t giving them away). And, now they’re apparently trying to disrupt the mobile OS market they already own with smart glasses. If Apple salutes the crazy ones, they’d certainly have to salute Google.
But now we’re stoping to wonder: is Google crazy, or crazy like a fox — and a rather devious fox at that?
Right at the end of 2011, when everyone was gearing up for New Year celebrations, I looked at Lightspeed, a Mac-based POS (point-of-sale) designed for large retail businesses. It’s a mighty impressive piece of software but at over a grand for a single user licence (they start at $1,098 each — and that’s without the POS hardware!), it’s certainly not a cheap piece of kit.
However, since then, some major transformations have gone on within Lightspeed Retail, the developers. A few days ago, they acquired MerchantOS (a former rival company) and merged the two products into a new one called LightSpeed Cloud. Unlike the former product, which was confined to a single Mac, the new version now allows users to access their retail data from whatever device they are using — a real boom for retail businesses who use devices such as tablets and mobile phones in their day-to-day life.