Total Pageviews

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Citrix Acquires Mobile Security Start-Up Zenprise

Citrix will announce Wednesday that it has bought Zenprise, a mobile security start-up company whose backers include Greylock Partners, Shasta Ventures, the Mayfield Fund and Bay Partners.

The deal terms were not disclosed. The acquisition may come as a surprise to many who expected that Zenprise might try to go it alone with an eventual initial public offering of stock. The start-up, which has raised over $60 million from venture capitalists, has been a darling in the red-hot mobile security sector. That industry continues to attract more interest, and dollars, from corporations struggling to manage their data in the era of “Bring Your Own Device” to work, or as the industry calls it, B.Y.O.D.

Zenprise is a mobile application that lets companies wrap extra security around employees' iPhones, iPads, Android devices and other personal devices so employees can use them safely for work.

It spots unusual activity, such as a hacker trying to break into th e phone. It also separates employees' personal files from corporate data so employees do not have to worry about giving their employers full access to personal material. And it lets companies remotely wipe the data on a personal device should, say, the employee leave a phone at a barâ€" apparently a frequent occurrence in Silicon Valley. The start-up's technology is on well over a million devices. Its clients include Monsanto and the Boston Red Sox.

Zenprise, which is seven years old, was about to raise another round of financing from venture capitalists when it began discussing a potential deal with Citrix. Citrix, which is familiar to chief information officers looking to streamline their desktop computing systems and to provide employees with ways to work remotely from home, has turned its focus to mobile offerings. In the last year, the company has expanded those offerings with applications for e-mail, calendars and productivity, as well as applications that tradit ionally were available only on desktop computers, like Excel, PowerPoint and those from SAP. With Zenprise, Citrix can wrap its mobile offerings in better security.

“This is the first truly comprehensive mobile offering for the enterprise,” Sumit Dhawan, a vice president and general manager at Citrix, said in an interview on  Tuesday. “No one else has put together one solution that can be easily absorbed by customers.”

Chief information officers are often frustrated by the fact that they are inundated by vendors but still have no universal remote device for corporate security, mobility and storage. Mr. Dhawan said he hopes the acquisition of Zenprise might provide such a universal remote.

Amit Pandey, chief executive of Zenprise, said the start-up had not been looking to be acquired. He said company officials initially met with Citrix to explore partnerships.

“We didn't really know Citrix had moved as far ahead in mobile management apps as they had,” Mr. Pandey said. “It started to become more and more clear that an acquisition made sense.”

How to Bypass Instagram\'s Twitter Barrier

As I reported earlier on Wednesday, Instagram will block Instagram photos from appearing on Twitter's Web site. This means that when people post a photo from Instagram to Twitter, only a link will be displayed rather than the actual image. To see an Instagram picture in its filtered glory, people will have to leave Twitter and go to Instagram's Web site.

As is typical with these decisions, the people who use these services are the ones that inevitably lose out.

Although not optimal, here are couple of tricks to get around the Instagram blockade.

In Instagram, if you go to the top right of the application, you can click the gear icon, which will take you to the settings area. Scroll down to the bottom and under the Save to Library section, turn on Filtered Photos. This will save your edited Instagram images to the photo library of your phone.< /p>

Another option is a little more laborious. Although Instagram is not playing well with Twitter, it will still allow you to embed your photo on Tumblr, Flickr or Foursquare. If you choose to share your pictures there, go to the respective application and then re-share the picture directly to Twitter.

Either way, these are frustrating two-step solutions to a problem that seems to be created by two companies bickering over clicks. Yet as is always the case, there are ways around the barricades.

For Europe, Search Bias Is Still Central in Settlement Talks With Google

In their inquiry of Google, European antitrust officials remain focused on accusations that Google's dominant search engine gives favored placement to the company's commerce and other services, thwarting competition.

In their settlement talks with Google, European regulators insist that the search bias issue must be addressed, even if the Federal Trade Commission chooses to back off that element of its antitrust pursuit of Google.

That was a message that Joaquin Almunia, the European Union antitrust commissioner, delivered to his American counterpart, Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the F.T.C., when the men met on Monday in Brussels, according to two people told of Mr. Almunia's stance, conveyed in a private meeting. The two people spoke on the condition that they not be identified.

European and American antitrust authorities communicate regularly and cooperate, but they operate independently. So the European position is not particularly surprising. Still, it comes after reports in recent weeks that the F.T.C. may be moving toward a settlement that sidesteps complaints by rivals of search bias, which was a centerpiece of the commission staff's investigation.

The settlement talks between F.T.C. and Google, according to the reports, have focused on other competition issues. These include Google's contracts with Web publishers and advertisers, the search engine's use of text copied from commerce sites and news publishers, and Google's handling of essential communication patents in the smartphone market.

But accusations of search bias were what really started the Google investigatio n. Rivals complain that the search giant gives more prominent placement and display for its online shopping and travel services, for example, than to competitors. The potential antitrust concern is that such specialized, or “vertical,” search services are partial substitutes for Google's search engine because they allow people to find information and compete with Google for online advertising.

In a statement in May, Mr. Almunia identified four areas of concern in Europe's antitrust investigation of Google. He listed its contracts, and its copying and use of information from competing sites in Google's search results. But the first concern he cited was search bias.

“In its general search results,” Mr. Almunia said, “Google displays links to its own vertical search services differently than it does for links to competitors. We are concerned that this may result in preferential treatment compared with those of competing services, which may be hurt as a res ult.”

Google has consistently denied these accusations, saying its search results are determined impartially by its software algorithm. And the changes Google frequently makes in search, the company says, have been to deliver more useful and relevant information to consumers. Besides, Google adds that alternatives, like Microsoft's Bing search engine, are “just a click away.”

A split between the United States and Europe on the resolution of the case could complicate operations for Google. But just how would depend on the particulars of the outcome.

And it's well to keep in mind that settlement talks in antitrust cases are like so many deal negotiations. The interim positions are not meaningless, but what is really meaningful is where things end up. And because Mr. Leibowitz isn't talking, it could be that the F.T.C. is dealing with the more peripheral matters first and will put search bias on the table later, as the final issue to take up.

Fired Up About the Kindle Fire

When Amazon.com introduced its first tablet last year, one of the harshest reviews came from Jakob Nielsen, the usability expert. He slammed the Kindle Fire for offering “a disappointingly poor” experience.

”If I were given to conspiracy theories, I'd say that Amazon deliberately designed a poor Web browsing user experience to keep Fire users from shopping on competing sites,” Mr. Nielsen told Bits. His blunt comments sparked their own conspiracy theories: that he was somehow doing Apple's bidding by criticizing a cheaper competitor of the iPad. But then, just about everyone who didn't like the Fire last year was accused by the more extreme Fire fans of being an Apple cultist.

Mr. Nielsen, principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, a Silicon Valley consulting firm, predicted that the retailer would get just “one more shot” at establishing itself in the tablet marketplace. “If that's a failure,” he added, “then the Fire is doomed to the dust pile of history.”

As the second generation of Fires - 9-inch and 7-inch devices - seem to likely to pile up under Christmas trees shortly, we asked Mr. Nielsen what he thought. If Amazon is going to collapse in a heap of busted dreams, we want to be on the inside track.

Mr. Nielsen kindly agreed to check the devices out. When he did, he was pleasantly surprised. There was much that needed to be improved in the earlier model, and it was.

“Last year's Fire was like a Ford Model T,” he said. “You had to start out by hand-cranking it forever, and it was still prone to breaking down. Now it's a Model A from the 1930s - a real car. You can drive it places.”

Some things he particularly liked:

- The e-mail reader. “It is a very well-designed piece of software that took me only seconds to set up. It 's better than the iPad e-mail reader in small ways.”

â€" Less glare. “Last year, if you turned the Fire off, it was almost like looking into a mirror. This year, there's some reflection but not as much.”

â€" Just about everything else. “It's more pleasant for a lot of uses - Web browsing, using applications, watching movies. The hardware has improved a good deal. The pixel density is better, so the text is clearer and easier to read.”

Some things he didn't like:

â€" There is no ability to enlarge the text in the Web browser. “If you're trying to squeeze in Web pages, the text tends to get small. How serious a problem this is depends on how good your eyesight is.”

â€" The app selection. Apple has an edge with developers of several years and several hundred thousand apps.

â€" The 9-inch Fire might have a bigger screen, but it isn't optimized to take advantage of it by showing more information, such as more items in a table of contents, or more paragraphs in an article.

Mr. Nielsen's bottom line:

“If you want a small device, for financial reasons or because you want to carry it in your purse, the smaller Fire is better than the iPad Mini. The 10-inch iPad is probably better than 9-inch Fire, but not by a lot.”

The masses do not appear to be quite as enthusiastic as Mr. Nielsen. The 7-inch Fire, for instance, has 368 one-star reviews on Amazon, about 10 percent of the total. Nearly a third of all the reviews are three stars or less. That is about what the original, much criticized Fire got after the first month.

Intel\'s Schooling From the \'Big Four\' Cloud Customers

Intel prides itself on having some of the smartest engineers around. When it comes to the world's largest computing systems, however, the chip giant now takes a back seat to a certain kind of powerful new customer.

How giants like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon work with Intel could mean a lot for much of the rest of the technology industry. Their needs on things like computing power and energy consumption get a lot of attention from Intel, which expects many other companies to eventually build big systems of their own.

Diane Bryant, who runs Intel's data center group, would not identify Intel's Big Four, other than to say they were all American companies. It is most likely she meant Google, which leads in search; Facebook, the dominant social media company; Amazon, which has the biggest cloud rental business; and Microsoft, which uses the cloud for search and media services, as well as corporate computing. Put together, they represent a diverse array of needs, calling for different technology approaches.

“The Big Four operate at a very different beat rate, and they are very tech savvy, so they don't want a lot of input,” said Ms. Bryant. “They all get a dedicated salesperson, the same as the others in our Top 40 customers, but there is a lot more direct innovation from them, and a lot of sharing of ideas.”

Chinese companies like Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba, she said, were building their own clouds quickly, she said. As costs drop, even more service providers are likely to join.

Ms. Bryant's Big Four have become active centers of innovation, product testing, and future engineering choices for some of Intel's most critical semiconductors. A server chip introduced to the general public last March, she noted, was first installed in three of the Big Four the preceding September because the customers were willing to sacrifice possible production kinks in order to have the latest chip.

“It was a new thing for us,” she said. In exchange, they provide Intel with a lot of early information about how the chip is performing.

The information is particularly useful as Intel strives to make its data center business recover some of the loss suffered in the collapse of the personal computer market. In the first nine months of 2012, Intel's PC client group had revenue of $25.8 billion, a drop of 2.25 percentage points from the first three quarters of the previous year. The data center business pulled in $7.9 billion, an increase of 6.7 percent. Ms. Bryant has told her bosses that she'll double annual revenue, to $20 billion, by 2016.

The intense relationship with Intel is not the only way that the cloud giants seek to influence the computer markets. Facebook builds its own computers, then challenges companies like Hewlett-Packard and Dell to meet or exceed its performance specifications. A chip announcement from Intel next Tuesday will feature executives from both Facebook and H.P.

Not all the cloud providers are so forthright at sharing information, as data on things like power utilization can yield competitive information to competitors. Google is known to have developed its own semiconductors, for example, but declines to patent the product. The methods cited in the patent might give too many clues about what Google is doing next.

Test Run: Burner, a Mobile App That Gives You Disposable Digits

Early Monday morning I got a mysterious text message from an unfamiliar number. It contained two pieces of information: another unknown number and a winky emoticon.

A weird message or two is not enough to unnerve me, but something about the timing (7a.m.! On a Monday!) and the flirty face tacked on the end (anyone who truly knows me knows of my passion for emoji) seemed extra suspicious. I wanted to investigate further - but without involving my personal cellphone number any more than it already was.

So I downloaded an app called Burner that I've had my eye on for a while but hadn't had a reason to use. After you sign up, Burner supplies you with a disposable mobile number for those times when you need a little bit more discretion. You can to do with it what you please - like coordinate with someone on Craigslist to buy a used item, set up a blind date, freak out your friends and text strange numbers to see if you can uncover who is behind them.

Digital subterfuge, at least the temporary kind that Burner provides, will cost you: the app itself is $1.99 and comes prepackaged with 20 free voice minutes or 60 free text messages. Additional talk time and texts can be purchased through the app itself. But having a thin layer of privacy between yourself and the rest of the world, when needed, is hard to put a price on and it was worth spending two dollars to interact with two people I did not know.

For what its worth, I never got a satisfactory answer from either number. One recipient never responded, and the other said her name was “Cathy,” which, in an ideal world, could be more viral marketing for R. Kelly‘s hip-hopera collaboration “Trapped in the Closet,” but is more likely the result of a mistyped number or a misfired text. Either way, it was freeing and satisfying to be stealthy in a world where that is increasingly difficult.

Test Run will be a regular feature on Bits that looks at interesting and new mobile applications, gadgets and Web services.

Car Insurance By the Mile

We live in an age of information everywhere, and all that data is changing some of the most staid industries imaginable.

Yes, you're reading about car insurance.

A company called MetroMile has started selling insurance to drivers in Oregon based on how many miles they drive. The business uses an in-car sensor that logs the miles, and sends a monthly bill, something like a utility meter. The company says that its ideal consumer, someone who drives 5,000 to 8,000 miles a year, can save 25 percent to 30 percent a year, compared with conventional auto insurance.

Other insurance companies already calculate rates in part on whether a vehicle carries a transponder, allowing it to be located or tracked. MetroMile seems to be taking a novel approach, however, in custom-building insurance based on individual behavior.

That is not all that MetroMile is after, however. The sensor, which is connected to cellphone networks, is also tied to a car's on-board compu ter and can collect diagnostics data, emissions data, and other information about the condition and performance of an auto. Over time, the company plans to offer subscribers information about ways to drive more safely, get more miles to a gallon of gasoline, or judge better what is being fixed in their cars.

“By having people pay per mile, it also creates an incentive to drive less,” said Steve Pretre, the chief executive and cofounder of MetroMile, which is headquartered in Redwood City, Calif. “We can help people make lifestyle decisions they want to make anyway.”

The company is marketing itself first in Portland partly because Oregon's regulations are more open to new products, and partly because Portland is at the forefront of a general movement toward more dense urban living, more bicycling, and more walking. If the company can secure 10,000 clients, Mr. Pretre said, the insurance part of MetroMile's business should become “relatively stable and pr edictable.”

The company will charge a base fee of $30 to $60 a month per vehicle, which covers things like auto theft and insurance when a customer is driving another car. The mileage charge is expected to be 3 cents to 6 cents a mile, depending on such things as age and driving record.

Compared with traditional insurance, “at about 10,000 miles or less, a transition happens” that makes MetroMile's pricing more attractive, Mr. Pretre said. That is because people who drive a great deal are riskier bets, simply because they are more often on the road, potentially at hazard. This gives MetroMile a potentially large market, since a relatively few drivers, perhaps 30 percent, are responsible for half of the nation's driven miles.

The company's other cofounder, David Friedberg, is an early Google executive who then started Climate Corp., a crop insurance company that uses large amounts of data about rain and heat patterns, plus soil quality and root depths of various plants to sell custom farm insurance.

Mr. Friedberg said the data from the cars could also be used to go into the warranty business, which because of poor information about specific vehicles, “are priced asymmetrically.” He says, “We'll have a better idea of what is going on.”

The company, which was formed about 18 months ago with $4 million in initial financing, has 15 employees. Mr. Pretre said MetroMile, which is building up its own team of data scientists, does not plan to share driver data with third parties.

Twitter Loses Ability to Properly Display Instagram Photos

Welcome to the Photo Wars.

Instagram on Wednesday disabled the ability for Twitter to properly display Instagram photos on its Web site and in its applications. The move escalates tensions between the two companies, which were once friends in the battle against Facebook but have now become direct competitors.

In a status update on Twitter's Web site, the company said Instagram had disabled its integration with Twitter cards, which are used to display images and content within Twitter messages.

“Users are experiencing issues with viewing Instagram photos on Twitter,” the post said. “This is due to Instagram disabling its Twitter cards integration, and as a result, photos are being displayed using a pre-cards experience.”

Instagram did not respond to a request for comment.

For now, Instagram photos app ear incorrectly on Twitter, sometimes showing up cropped or off center. It is unclear if Instagram will completely disable the ability for Twitter to show pictures on its Web site.

Photo sharing continues to be a volatile battleground for social networking services, and given the potential advertising dollars at stake, the tensions will likely continue to grow.

Although Instagram and Twitter worked closely together during Instagram's early days, relations between the two companies have soured since the Facebook acquisition.

Now the companies are competing on a number of fronts for consumer eyeballs. Last month Instagram, which had been almost entirely app-based, began rolling out its own Web-centric pages for its 100 million registered users. And Twitter is expected to introduce photo filters to its mobile applications, much like the ones Instagram offers.

When the Facebook acquisition of Instagram closed, Instagram said in a blog post that the deal “means we can now work together to evolve and build a better Instagram for everyone.”

It looks like “everyone” doesn't include Twitter.

Daily Report: Texting Business Is in Tumult

There was a time when opening a cellphone bill was scary for the parents of teenagers. Charges for texting could reach hundreds of dollars a month.

Now, Brian X. Chen writes in The New York Times, cellphone users are sending more text messages than ever, but increasingly they are free - thanks to the Internet. While that is good news for consumers, it could cost the world's wireless companies tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Standard texting, the kind where you send abbreviation-filled messages over a cellphone network, has been in decline in many parts of the world, and now appears to be shrinking in the United States. That is because smartphones can use free Internet-powered services that send messages over data networks instead, and those services ar e attracting millions of users.

The shift is opening an opportunity for big companies like Facebook and Apple and smaller start-ups like WhatsApp and Kik, which are making aggressive grabs at this market, aiming to put themselves at the center of how people communicate in the smartphone era.

It is not the phone carriers that should be sweating about the changes, said Chetan Sharma, an independent telecommunications analyst. Instead, he said, companies that have not made a smooth transition into mobile, like Microsoft, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, are the ones that should worry about their relevance in a world that is moving to smartphones and tablets.

“These guys had their eye on mobile, and they haven't really moved fast enough,” Mr. Sharma said. “There's a big question mark about whether they can actually make an impact and how long that will take.”