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Mozilla Wants To Split Off Its Thunderbird Email/Chat Client, Says Mitchell Baker Memo


The Mozilla Foundation looks like it’s about to take another step in its bid to sharpen its focus on development around its Firefox browser. Mozilla now wants to once and for all hive off support for Thunderbird, the free email, chat and news client it first developed in 2004 but effectively stopped directly updating in in 2012. The plans were revealed in a company-wide memo penned today by chairperson Mitchell Baker. (We have confirmed with Mozilla that it is indeed from her.)

“I believe Thunderbird should would thrive best by separating itself from reliance on Mozilla development systems and in some cases, Mozilla technology,” Baker wrote in her open memo, posted on Mozilla’s public governance forum. “The current setting isn’t stable, and we should start actively looking into how we can transition in an orderly way to a future where Thunderbird and Firefox are un-coupled.”

Baker notes that it is not clear whether Mozilla will try to spin off Thunderbird as its own open-source entity, or whether it will seek a business partner to take over the product; it seems too early to tell at this point.

What is more clear is that Mozilla has been trying to streamline how it runs things and the focus of its engineers as part of a bigger campaign to rejuvenate Firefox, part of a long-term fightback to gain more market share against competitors like Google Chrome.

Mozilla now views any support for Thunderbird, even the limited support it has been providing for the past three years, as akin to “paying a tax,” in Baker’s words, on top of the work those engineers spend building Firefox.

“These competing demands are not good for either project,” she writes. “Engineers working on Thunderbird must focus on keeping up and adapting Firefox’s web-driven changes. Engineers working on Firefox and related projects end up considering the competing demands of Thunderbird, and/or wondering if and how much they should assist Thunderbird. Neither project can focus wholeheartedly on what is best for it.”

Apart from the fact that Mozilla had cut off most development support in 2012, Thunderbird has become a somewhat anachronistic product.

Hitting the market in 2004, at a time when many consumers were still wedded to desktop clients to access email services, Thunderbird got off to a flying start, with 1 million downloads in its first 10 days of life. But in the years following, many switched to mobile apps and web-based clients, and Thunderbird’s popularity waned.

Mozilla and the wider Thunderbird community have not provided any updates on how many Thunderbird users there are today, or how many downloads of the client, or what kind of usage the application sees.

And for Mozilla itself, focus has largely switched to developing its core Firefox browser for more platforms, and generally making Firefox more of a business, integrating with Yahoo and Google to generate revenues around search ads.

When Mozilla passed Thunderbird development on to a volunteer-led community in 2012, it committed itself only to providing “extended support releases” focused only on security and maintenance updates mainly aimed at large organizations who use Thunderbird. In that regard, for Thunderbird and its users, this is potentially a rough turn, but it’s not really a surprising one.

Full text of the memo below:

This is a long-ish message. It covers general topics about Thunderbird
and the future, and also the topics of the Foundation involvement (point
9) and the question of merging repositories (point 11).   Naturally, I
believe it’s worth the time to read through the end.

1. Firefox and Thunderbird have lived with competing demands for some
time now. Today Thunderbird developers spend much of their time
responding to changes made in core Mozilla systems and technologies. At
the same time, build, Firefox, and platform engineers continue to pay a
tax to support Thunderbird.

2. These competing demands are not good for either project. Engineers
working on Thunderbird must focus on keeping up and adapting Firefox’s
web-driven changes. Engineers working on Firefox and related projects
end up considering the competing demands of Thunderbird, and/or
wondering if and how much they should assist Thunderbird. Neither
project can focus wholeheartedly on what is best for it.

3. These competing demands will not get better soon. Instead, they are
very likely to get worse. Firefox and related projects are now speeding
up the rate of change, modernizing our development process and our
infrastructure. Indeed, this is required for Mozilla to have significant
impact in the current computing environment.

4. There is a belief among some that living with these competing demands
is good for the Mozilla project as a whole, because it gives us an
additional focus, assists Thunderbird as a dedicated open source
community, and also supports an open source standards based email
client. This sentiment is appealing, and I share it to some extent.
There is also a sense that caring for fellow open source developers is
good, which I also share.  However, point 2 above — “Neither project can
focus wholeheartedly on what is best for it” — is the most important
point. Having Thunderbird has an additional product and focus is *not*
good overall if it causes all of our products — Firefox, other
web-driven products and Thunderbird — to fall short of what we can

5.  Many inside of Mozilla, including an overwhelming majority of our
leadership, feel the need to be laser-focused on activities like Firefox
that can have an industry-wide impact.    With all due respect to
Thunderbird and the Thunderbird community, we have been clear for years
that we do not view Thunderbird as having this sort of potential.

6.  Given this, it’s clear to me that sooner or later paying a tax to
support Thunderbird will not make sense as a policy for Mozilla.    I
know many believe this time came a while back, and I’ve been slow to say
this clearly.  And of course, some feel that this time should never
come.  However, as I say, it’s clear to me today that continuing to live
with these competing demands given our focus on industry impact is
increasingly unstable.  We’ve seen this already, in an unstructured way,
as various groups inside Mozilla stop supporting Thunderbird.  The
accelerating speed of Firefox and infrastructure changes — which I
welcome wholeheartedly — will emphasize this.

7.  Some Mozillians are eager to see Mozilla support community-managed
projects within our main development efforts.  I am also sympathetic to
this view, with a key precondition.  Community-managed projects that
make the main effort less nimble and likely to succeed don’t fit very
well into this category for me.  They can still be great open source
projects — this is a separate question from whether the fit in our main
development systems.  I feel so strongly about this because I am so
concerned that “the Web” we  love is at risk.  If we want the traits of
the Web to live and prosper in the world of mobile, social and data then
we have to be laser-focused on this.

8.  Therefore I believe Thunderbird should would thrive best by
separating itself from reliance on Mozilla development systems and in
some cases, Mozilla technology. The current setting isn’t stable, and we
should start actively looking into how we can transition in an orderly
way to a future where Thunderbird and Firefox are un-coupled.   I don’t
know what this will look like, or how it will work yet. I do know that
it needs to happen, for both Firefox and Thunderbird’s sake.  This is a
big job, and may require expertise that the Thunderbird team doesn’t yet
have.    Mozilla can provide various forms of assistance to the
Thunderbird team via a set of the Mozilla Foundation’s capabilities.

9. Mark Surman of the Mozilla Foundation and I are both interested in
helping find a way for Thunderbird to separate from Mozilla
infrastructure. We also want to make sure that Thunderbird has the right
kind of legal and financial home, one that will help the community
thrive. Mark has been talking with the Thunderbird leadership about
this, and has offered some of his time and focus and resources to
assist. He will detail that offer in a separate message. We both
recognize that the Thunderbird community is dedicated to sustaining a
vibrant open source project, which is why we’re currently looking at how
best to assist with both technical separation and identifying the right
long-term home for Thunderbird.  These discussions are very early, so
it’s easy to you can definitely think of a lot of questions for which
there are’s no answers yet.

10. The fact that the Foundation is facilitating these discussions does
not necessarily mean that the Foundation is or is not the best legal and
financial home for Thunderbird. The intent is not to make technical
decisions about support of Thunderbird by Mozilla employees, or merging
repositories, etc. Point 6 above is the shared organizing principle for
both of us.

11. I understand from recent discussions that merging mozilla-central
and comm-central would provide some reduction of effort required to ship
Thunderbird, at least in the short term. This would make sense if our
path was long term integration of the projects.  As i noted above, I
believe our path has to be the long term separation of these projects,
so that each can move as fast as possible into new things. Given that,
I’m not sure that merging them makes sense. I have to learn a bit more
about the cost / benefit analysis of merging repositories given the need
to separate these project. I’m asking the platform and release folks to
comment on this.

12.  This message is about the future and there’s a lot to work out.
It’s explicitly not to announce changes in daily activities at this
point.  People using Thunderbird will not see any change in the product
they use.   We have started this conversation early because Mozilla
works best when our community is engaged.  This is how we gather the
people who are interested, and enable those folks to engage productively
within the process.  It also of course allows those who prefer a
different course of action to be vocal.  We’ve seen this before with
Thunderbird.   Building a positive response and a positive conversation
will be a very useful first step in making a good future for Thunderbird.


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Nokia Is Betting On VR Making It In Hollywood


Former mobile phone maker Nokia has professional filmmakers in its sights with a new piece of camera hardware it’s been cooking up since early 2013. After teasing its plans this summer, the Finnish firm has today confirmed a forthcoming pro level VR camera that’s suitable for live broadcast.

The camera, called Ozo, is up for pre-order, bearing a $60,000 price-tag and a shipping date of Q1 next year. The teardrop-shaped device will capture 360° spherical video and 360×360 surround sound to create immersive content for viewing via VR devices. Nokia is dubbing it “the first Virtual Reality camera system specifically designed for professional production”.

The video sensor array on the Ozo consists of eight 2k x 2k sensors, each with a 195° field of view, yielding a full 360° x 180° video coverage area and recording at 30 fps. It’s designed to be mounted on standard videocamera tripod kit and is battery powered for wireless operation. A zeitgeisty Nokia promo shot also shows it attached to the underside of a drone.

Nokia Ozo on a drone

Ozo’s design incorporates a removable digital cartridge at the back, which supports around 45 minutes of recording and saves all video and audio to a single file. It also houses the rechargeable battery pack. A VR render is outputted live from the device for monitoring footage in real-time.

We’ve seen a few startups trying their hand at spherical cameras in recent years — such as the likes of Samsung-backed Bublcam, a rather more affordably priced but lower tech option (at circa $800). Action camera maker GoPro is also eyeing the space. But for its initial foray into VR cameras Nokia is concentrating efforts far from such consumer-focused competitors.

It’s fair to say that the broadcasting industry is going to need to be creating a steady pipeline of compelling VR content if there’s to be any chance of virtual reality technology transforming from a niche pastime for geeks into a regular mass market entertainment medium. And that’s the high end content-focused bet Nokia is making with Ozo.

The company is drawing on a long history of camera expertise honed during its mobile making years — including a 41MP PureView smartphone camera that caused a splash back in 2012.


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Residential Real Estate Platform Nestio Lands A $8M Series A Round


Nestio, the NY-based leasing and marketing platform for residential landlords, announced today that is has raised $8M in Series A funding.

The round was led by Trinity Ventures, and had participation from previous investors including Freestyle Capital, Joanne Wilson, and David Cohen.

The platform, which originally launched as a tool for renters to find apartments, has now grown into a full service tool for landlords and brokers, allowing them to manage inventory, track leads, and advertise listings – all while communicating in real-time with consumer-facing websites like Trulio and Zillow.

Impressively, Nestio is now is responsible for originating half of New York City’s rental listings, and has already generated over $20 million in additional revenue for clients. While still just live in NYC, the company plans to use this new funding to expand to Boston, Chicago, Miami, and Washington, D.C.

Caren Maio, cofounder and CEO of Nestio, explained that these cities were chosen because current NYC customers own property in these cities, and have been asking to use the product at their other rental properties. By having customers onboard in these new cities from day 1, the company should have a head start as it begins its nationwide expansion.

Beyond expansion, the new funding will also be used to develop Nest’s product roadmap as well as bulk up the sales, marketing, and engineering teams.

The company also announced that they are bringing on Scott Wolfgang, formerly of Quotidian Ventures (and former Hootsuite board member) as CFO.

Featured Image: Shutterstock (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

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Amazon Puts Out Limp Holiday Metrics


The crowning glory of Amazon’s just dropped post-Thanksgiving press missive — trumpeting apparently accelerating holiday sales — is the surname of Amazon’s SVP of devices.

Which, much like the ‘information’ contained therein, is distinctly Limp.

“We’re excited that millions of customers will be opening new Amazon devices this holiday season. This has already been the biggest holiday shopping season for Amazon devices, and we’re energized by the year over year growth for all of our product categories,” said Dave Limp, Senior Vice President, Amazon Devices.

Full credit to a man called Limp for sounding so energized. Thing is though, as per usual, there are no actual numbers in the press release. Pretty much the best you get is Limp’s “millions of customers”. Which of course tells us zero. Nada. Zilch.

Or the “hundreds of thousands” of Kindles Amazon claims were bought over the weekend. Albeit the e-reader was first released waaaaay back in 2007, and is into its seventh gen iteration these days. So that’s ‘hundreds of thousands’ across scores of models, perhaps sold new or maybe also being recounted as clocked up used device sales via Amazon’s marketplace. We can but speculate.

Sure, Amazon might have collectively sold more hardware than it did last year, given it’s getting to define all its own measurement parameters and not telling us what they are.

It might even have had its “best ever shopping weekend” — especially as that phrase doesn’t really have a fixed meaning either.

And it might even be managing year over year growth in all its device categories. After all, the company did just execute a swift exit out of the smartphone category soon after its June 2014 foray into said category failed, resoundingly, to light buyers’ fires.

But without knowing exactly how many devices it winkled into customers’ hands in 2014 — perhaps at slashing discounts, as it ended up applying to clear inventory of its Firephone flop — then we really can’t draw any solid conclusions about the performance of Amazon hardware in 2015.

And that’s how Amazon likes it.

6x or 3x an unknown quantity isn’t a statement worth making. It isn’t even a statement. It’s an obfuscation.

Still, crafting a holiday momentum press release without including any actual metrics is an impressive, year over year performance in and of itself.

We’ve asked Amazon if it has any actual sales figures it would like to share and we’ll update this post with any response. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Featured Image: Matt Seppings/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE

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Amera Is A Wireless Security Device Designed To Detect Motion And More


Assuming the human eye could see them, what would the wireless signals that we are surrounded by in our homes, businesses and cities look like? Nothing like the streams of ascii characters depicted in The Matrix, sadly. The reality is more like a sponge, says Cognitive Systems co-founder Taj Manku.

“If you actually see what RF looks like — like, for example, let’s say our eyes could see it it looks very odd. It’s almost like looking into a foam, like looking into a sponge. It’s hard to explain,” he says.

The Waterloo, Canada-based startup is using algorithms to visualize RF fields in real-time and interpret what any distortions and scattered disturbances within these fields are — such as, for example, a disturbance  denoting that a person or pet is moving around a room. Or a door or window is being opened.

Given we are increasingly blanketed in RF fields, the idea is to make use of these signals for more than sending messages and looking at pictures of cute cats. Specifically for a whole host of applications powered by a device that can interpret physical goings on in an RF coverage area. The startup’s wireless signal reader device is called Amera.

“We’re building a platform that enables you to use wireless signals in just more than communications. That’s basically the core of the platform,” says Manku. “With that platform we run a bunch of applications depending on the market that we’re going after.”

While existing motion detector technologies can be pretty cheap, the idea is for the Amera platform to replace multiple security-focused applications — creating a value proposition by consolidating different features onto a single, scalable platform.

“We are positioning it as we are replacing with motion and all the contacts in your house. So if you add up the cost of all of that, and if you then take our unit we’re actually cheaper,” says Manku.

He also argues there are privacy benefits from using wireless signals as a detection medium, since — unlike a security camera — there’s no risk of anyone being able to hack into a live feed of your interior. Amera also avoids the scenario of members of the family accidentally or intentionally spying on each other. Albeit the tech can be used to track who is in the house when, by their device IDs. So, for instance, it could be used by parents to keep tabs on kids’ comings and goings.

“You can do video surveillance where you’re actually looking, or you can do our motion detection which sort of localizes. Obviously… most people wouldn’t want to stick a camera in their bedroom. But this particular unit, because it’s not intrusive, is a little bit better — it doesn’t reveal a lot,” says Manku.

Cognitive Systems, whose founding team includes chip designers, wireless networking firmware, DSP and wireless standards expertise, has developed its own chipset to power the platform. The chip, called R10, contains four wireless receivers and dual multi-vector processors, along with five custom CPU cores. It’s designed to be a more cost effective alternative to hardware the startup says would normally cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“If you look at the depth of technology that’s required — we built a unit before without building our own chip and it cost around $10,000 to $20,000 to build it, with just buying components,” he says. “If we wanted to do everything in real-time it would be as expensive as $100,000. So the reason why we architected the chip in such a way, and we architected the chip inside the processor in such a way that enables us to run all these applications in real-time but able to deal with all the different wireless standards that are currently out there, and all the different wireless bands. And all the frequencies out there.”

How accurate is the motion detecting tech? That depends on factors such as how many wireless signal emitting devices a user might have in their home, says Manku. Larger homes may need several of its hardware units to be adequately covered, but they also offer cheaper units for expanding coverage. So only one Amera hub would be needed per installation.

“You can definitely detect differences of the volume of something and how it’s sort of moving, and also with regards to where it is approximately in your house or on your property,” he adds. “We actually will measure all the scattered signals — that are scattered off walls, off everything — and as you walk you change that scattering profile. And we’ll also look at the phase distortion you’ll introduce.

“For example somebody’s walking around they actually change the phase of the RF. Which is quite sensitive… So we have a number of algorithms, and so depending on what’s actually happening the weighting of each algorithm is sort of adjusting certain parameters.”

The startup is uncloaking from stealth today, after some 18 months of tech development, to discuss its first product and its initial market focus: security-centric applications, such as motion sensing and detecting hacking or network spoofing attempts. It’s raised an undisclosed amount of funding — saying only that it’s in the region of tens of millions of dollars — from investors including Quantum Valley Investments, the investment fund led by BlackBerry founder Mike Lazaridis.

“We’re building a security type device for home and businesses and enterprise. Basically what it does — it does a number of things — one of the applications is it localizes motion. So it will be able to see motion, and the motion is determined by the distortion that happens in the wireless field,” explains Manku. “And then we have other applications like device ID, what devices are there, what the flow of devices are, how they’re moving around. And that just falls into the category around security.”

“What we’re doing is we’re talking about a platform that is scalable,” he adds. “What we’re saying is look you put this in your home or your business and it enables you to do motion [detection] but then other applications will start being added on… So there’s all these applications that then fall onto the unit.”

Manku says it will initially be selling a b2b service to security company partners, who will then resell its hardware packaged with a subscription service marketed at consumers and/or businesses. The kind of notifications a user would see would depend on the customer facing wrapper the security company partner chooses to apply.

To be clear, whichever security firm is proving the end-user service will have access to the encryption keys in order that they can decrypt and interpret the data being generated by the Amera to push relevant notifications out to their users. So anyone buying into Amera’s system needs to feel comfortable with giving potentially two companies visibility on activity within their home or business network. Although Manku says Cognitive Systems isn’t focused on analyzing the end-user data in this initial security market application itself.

“For security, where you’re trying to protect your property, to see what’s happening, we’re not in any way tracking anybody. We don’t de-encrypt anything,” he tells TechCrunch.

Manku says Cognitive Systems is looking to have a service up and running in the first half of next year, and while it says it’s already working with some distribution and security company partners it’s not disclosing names of these third parties at this stage. The initial product launch will be in the North American market. Pricing has not yet been confirmed but there will be a cost for the hardware on top of the subscription service.

The wider vision is for Cognitive Systems to apply its wireless tech in multiple ways — for example it’s also building a cloud processing platform called Myst which it envisages could be used to, for instance, power smart city applications, such as the ability to locate a lost child in a park, say (if the park in question has been kitted out with its devices). Or to generate a spectrum map of an entire region of a city to track people flow — using another bit of chip hardware it makes (a physics engine, called X10).

“There are other markets that we have where the Myst network actually does way more processing [than in the initial security market application],” adds Manku. “We have other markets also like network analysis, understanding what the network is doing. We’re not pushing that too much right now because we’re only about 50 people so we’re very focused… but we do have other markets that we’re going after in the background.”

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AppDynamics Update Helps Track Business Transaction From User To Server


In a week when a major retail website went down under the pressure of Cyber Monday, AppDynamics, a company that helps monitor apps and websites in order to prevent those types of outages (or at least understand why they happened and recover as quickly as possible) announced a major update today.

The latest version helps identify those big problems that take down a website, but also see much smaller ones that can have a negative impact on the collective or individual experience while using an app or website.

In particular, it’s supposed to help customers surface patterns like multiple people having an issue with the shopping cart on an eCommerce site, or following an individual customer through what the company calls a ‘digital journey’, as he or she uses a mobile app or visits the company website. The goal is to help identify performance problems wherever they occur along the way.

If the person is having an issue and talking to customer service, the CSR (assuming they are connected to AppDynamics) should be able to see exactly where the bottleneck is and help the customer resolve the problem. Most companies lack this big picture view of the customer journey and that could be particularly useful when working with customers trying to track specific issues.

The new version also adds a new wrinkle to synthetic monitoring, which is the bread and butter of applications performance monitoring. Instead of just looking at how the application or website is performing, it also gives insight into the underlying infrastructure to see if the issue is in the server, the memory, the CPU and so forth.

AppDynamics monitoring screen example.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of AppDynamics


This is the kind of information that IT requires when the website is crashing under traffic pressure, and they need to find the root of the problem quickly.

The final major piece of today’s announcement involves the data and analytics underlying all of this monitoring and the ability to view information about the entire picture from the front-end interaction with the customer all the way to the underlying infrastructure running your website or app.

The entire package is designed to give you a soup-to-nuts view of what’s happening within your app or website at any given time, but with so much data there is the danger of information overload here, making it hard to track down the exact nature of the issue when that Cyber Monday-type crash happens.

That is not a problem that’s unique to AppDynamics in the monitoring department by any means. It’s an issue with any monitoring tool, but the true test of a product like this will be how it works to track and fix the problem in the heat of that crash moment. Will it reveal the problem and give IT the information to fix it quickly?

Investors seem to have confidence that it will. AppDynamics has received almost $365 million funding to-date including $158 million at a $1.9 billion valuation, the company announced just last night.

Rivals include traditional enterprise vendors like IBM and Dynatrace, along with more recent entries like New Relic, which went public last year.

Featured Image: TechnoVectors/Shutterstock

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