Stories by Bill Snyder

Microsoft backtracks, returns free OneDrive storage

Microsoft last month slashed free OneDrive storage and made a number of unwelcome tweaks to paid plans, but thousands of consumer complaints inspired the company to reverse some — though not all — of the changes.

Check forgery: It can happen to you

Want to hack someone's bank account? You might think it takes a sophisticated knowledge of computer security or maybe a tie with the Russian computer mafia. It doesn't.

3 ways to save yourself after a phishing attack

Figures don't lie, the old aphorism goes, but liars can figure. And after nearly 20 years covering technology, I've realized that you could update that saying to: Benchmarks don't lie, but liars can benchmark.

Quicken 2012: A Lot to Offer the Budget Weary

If you're really on top of your money, never run up balances on multiple credit cards, don't miss payments and never bounce checks, you probably don't need the new version of Quicken, the popular personal finance software program from Intuit. But if you, like me, could use a little help, Quicken 2012 has a lot to offer.

Android devices exposed: 7 ways to thwart hackers

There's a new report out highlighting a huge spike in threats against Google's Android platform. It's something to be concerned about. But don't freak out or return your cool new Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Opinion: Tech jobs vaporised as patent war goes nuclear

Think what Google could do with $6 billion. Think of the research that would spawn new products, advance innovation, and create who knows how many thousands of good jobs up and down the technology food chain. Instead, that money is going to buy patents.
Worse, not only will those jobs not be created, existing jobs will be lost as the patent arms race goes nuclear and more and more companies are acquired for their patent portfolios and then discarded — along with their employees.
The patent wars go nuclear

Opinion: The ugly Oracle-HP divorce - customers could get hurt

Divorce is never pretty.
That's what's going on now as Oracle and Hewlett-Packard toss verbal and legal Molotov cocktails over the future of Itanium and Oracle's decision not to develop new software to run on Intel's 64-bit processor. The two companies have about 140,000 joint customers, and they're scared, confused, and angry, says Nina Buik, the chief marketing officer of the 53,000-member Connect, an HP user group.
"Our members feel they are getting a raw deal in a squabble between two corporate giants," she tells me. More specifically, many of those 140,000 joint customers run an Oracle database on Itanium-based hardware from HP, and the prospect of having to change platforms is freaking them out, says Buik. The morning after Oracle said in March that it wouldn't develop for Itanium any more, Connect's discussion board was flooded with hundreds of comments, many blaming Oracle for the dispute.
The fight got even uglier last week when HP filed suit against Oracle, claiming that the database giant has failed "to live up to and simple promise to work with HP in the interests of both companies' mutual customers." The complaint goes on to accuse Oracle of "strong-arming" customers in an attempt to force them to move to Oracle's Sparc servers (acquired in the takeover of Sun) by refusing to fix bugs in software running on HP's high-end servers, a charge Oracle denies.
The FUD is flying

Mobile Payments: Don't Buy into It

If you're anywhere close to my age, you might remember the late Orson Wells making a pitch for Paul Masson saying, "We will sell no wine before its time." That boast may have been true for the vintner, but sadly it's not true in the technology industry.

Opinion: Microsoft and Google make strides in mobile war

Competition in the mobile platform market is ramping up. The Skype acquisition shows that Microsoft has realised it has to do something truly radical if it wants to break away from the pack of losers and establish credibility for the Windows Phone. Google, meanwhile, is suddenly acting like a grown-up company, making nice with the carriers and, more importantly, moving to fix fragmentation on the Android platform.
Ballmer and company now own one of technology's best brands, a company with some 170 million active users a month and a name that is well on the way to becoming a verb, as in "I will Skype you later."
And a combination of Skype and a Windows tablet or smartphone equipped with front-facing cameras will be a powerful combination — video calling represented about 42 percent of all Skype-to-Skype minutes for the fourth quarter of 2010, according to a Skype filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that also outlines the company's improving financials.
A few hours after the news of the Skype buy broke, I was chatting (via Skype, of course) with my friend Jo who lives south of Santiago, Chile. "Oh my God," she said when I told her the news. "We won't be doing this much longer."
I hope she is wrong, but her reaction highlights challenge number one for Microsoft: Don't mess with Skype's 663 million registered users. Microsoft has a well-deserved reputation for crummy customer service and user-unfriendly software, and people like Jo will be quick to notice a decline in service or usability.
Because Microsoft already has VoIP capability — Lync — in-house, it is possible there will be an internal fight over the direction of voice technology. That could be a disaster, although making Skype a business unit on a par with the others is a smart management move.
The biggest opportunity – and the reason I like the deal – is the huge boost it will give to Windows Phone.
Video calling is growing rapidly and is a technology with huge appeal to consumers and businesses. Baking Skype into Windows Phone would give users a reason to buy one, while developers would have more reasons to write to the platform. And keeping Skype out of Google's hands was critical: Google already has a big presence in telephony with Google Voice and video messaging; Microsoft couldn't afford to fall further behind.
Google's "Ice Cream Sandwich" play is easy to understand. Combining Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" and 3.0 "Honeycomb," respectively the smartphone and tablet versions of Android, makes enormous sense.
Only a small percentage of Android smartphones are running the most recent version, a disconnect that confuses users who wonder what they will get when they choose an Android smartphone – and that turns off developers. Google is partnering with handset makers and carriers to create update guidelines, a smart move and a sign that the company is (finally) maturing.
Also announced at its recent Google I/O conference was Music Beta, a service that allows users to store as many as 20,000 songs online and stream them to their computer or Android mobile devices. Additionally, Google unveiled a movie-rental service, featuring thousands of movies that can be streamed or downloaded to Android devices.
It is a cliché to say that content is king, but like many clichés it is true. Apple won the hearts of consumers with iTunes and the thousands of apps on its App Store. I don't expect Google to overtake Apple, but all three announcements should have Steve Jobs looking over his shoulder.
The bottom line on the moves by Microsoft and Google: They're great news for developers and consumers, and terrible news for HP and RIM, which are slipping further and further into irrelevance in the mobile wars.

Smartphone data plans: How to keep bandwidth usage in check

I love my hometown of San Francisco. Great weather, great views, great food. But terrible radio. So when I'm driving, I've developed the habit of tuning into Pandora on an iPhone that I link to my car radio. Like a lot of other AT&T customers, I've been moved from my unlimited data plan to measured service. Yes, that was my choice, but what has the metered plan done to my music habit? And does that mean I made a mistake?

Mobile app security: 5 ways to protect your smartphone

Wave your smartphone; buy a latte. Sounds great, doesn't it? But before running off to participate in Silicon Valley's next new thing, you might want to think about a scary downside to mobile commerce: the vulnerability of smartphones to hackers.