Skype updated to 5.7.60.1037

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Date: Thursday, April 12th, 2012, 08:45
Category: News, Software

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On Tuesday, version 5.7.60.1037 of the Skype VoIP application was released. The new version, a 23.5 megabyte download, offers the following fixes and changes:

- We have made overall improvements to the product quality and calling experience.

- Following user feedback, we have enabled Volume Control in the Preferences for users who use USB headsets.

- Fixed: IM area becomes blurry after scrolling

Skype 5.7.60.1037 is available for free and requires Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback to offer, please let us know.

Rumor: Intel to announce Ivy Bridge architecture on April 23rd

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Date: Thursday, April 12th, 2012, 07:18
Category: Hardware, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, News, Processors

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There’s gotta be some truth to this somewhere…

Per DigiTimes, Intel has moved up the announcement of its next-generation Ivy Bridge processors from the original date of April 29 to April 23 as PC makers ready the second generation of ultrabooks, expected to arrive in May.

The publication claimed on Thursday that sources from notebook players had revealed Intel’s change in plans. The launch comes as Asustek, Acer, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard are expected to release Ivy Bridge-powered ultrabooks next month.

Multiple sources have pointed to late April for the Ivy Bridge launch. One report claimed late last month that Intel would announce the new processors between April 22 and April 28 and begin selling them on April 29.

Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pros will likely be the first Macs to feature the new Intel chips. Sources out of the Far East said last month that the updated laptops could arrive by the end of April.

Following the release of its new notebooks, the Cupertino, Calif., company is expected to release updated Ivy Bridge iMacs as early as June or July.

Other hints that Intel is nearly ready to release its Ivy Bridge architecture also came on Thursday when reports surfaced that Intel is shipping its second-generation Thunderbolt controllers for use with Ivy Bridge chips.

Thursday’s report also quoted Intel vice president Kirk Skaugen as saying that ultrabook prices will fall from US$999 to US$699 in the new few months as volume shipments drive costs down. PC makers have been hard at work at reducing the average price of ultrabook laptops in order to better compete against Apple’s MacBook Air.

Intel declared earlier this month that ultrabooks trump the MacBook Air in functionality and value.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Third-generation Apple TV A5 processor studied, second core found

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Date: Thursday, April 12th, 2012, 07:50
Category: Apple TV, Hardware, News, Processors

This is sort of interesting.

An investigation into the custom A5 chip used in Apple TV has found that the new Application Processor uses both a smaller, more efficient 32nm die process and actually incorporates two cores, one of which is simply turned off.

Per Chipworks, the custom A5 “APL2498″ used in the third generation, 1080p Apple TV has improved upon the 45nm LP CMOS process of the previous A5 “APL0498,” used in both iPad 2 and iPhone 4S last year.

The smaller die size makes the Apple TV’s A5 almost 41 percent smaller than the original part, allowing more chips to be created from a single silicon wafer. That makes producing the part cheaper, and also helps improve performance and lower power consumption (as its components are shrunken down and therefore closer to each other).

In addition to being smaller, Chipworks found that the new version of the A5 actually incorporates two cores. Apple only advertises Apple TV as having a single core chip, so the investigation notes that “either Apple is only utilizing one core or they are binning parts.”

By turning off one core, Apple could reduce the power consumption of a device. However, Apple TV lacks the power constraints of battery-powered mobile devices, making it more likely that the company simply developed a smaller, cheaper version of the A5 and is using the dual core rejects to power Apple TV, where one core is sufficient.

Chipworks explains that such “parts binning is a common process in semiconductors where devices are segregated (binned) based on meeting a subset of the overall requirements, in this case they could disable the ‘bad’ core, this increases the usable die per wafer, lowering the cost.”

Chip makers routinely create CPUs and RAM components and test them for the highest speed they can consistently operate at, selling the fastest parts for more and the slower components for less, rated to work at a slower clock speed.

This strategy would allow Apple to use its poorest performing new A5 chips in the US$99 Apple TV, while creating a new supply of fully functional 32nm A5 chips that are faster, smaller and cheaper than last year’s 45nm batch.

Chipworks notes that these chips could either power a new generation of iPhones (or other devices) or help to reduce the cost of existing products such as the iPhone 4S or iPad 2. The latest third generation iPad uses a custom chip Apple calls A5X, which incorporates the same dual ARM cores but delivers quad-core GPUs to drive its Retina Display, with four times the pixels.

Adobe releases Flash Player 11.3.300.214 beta update

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Date: Thursday, April 12th, 2012, 06:48
Category: News, Software

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Late Wednesday, Adobe released Flash Player 11.3.300.214 for Mac OS X, a 10.9 megabyte download via MacUpdate. The new beta version includes the following fixes and changes:

- Texture streaming.

- Background Updater for Mac.

- Driver gating hardware acceleration relaxed to 2006.

- MouseEvent.RELEASE_OUTSIDE.

- ApplicationDomain.getQualifiedDefinitionNames().

- Improved Mac App Store Support.

- Simulator Support for iOS.

- Aspect Ratio Enhancements.

- ADT support to package 144×144 size icons has been added in AIR 3.3.

- Capabilities.screenDPI now returns appropriate DPI value for high resolution iPads.

Flash Player 11.3.300.214 requires an Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.6 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback, please feel free to hurl your two cents in via the comments.

Early Ivy Bridge benchmark tests surface, show appreciable improvements in graphics, overall performance

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Date: Wednesday, April 11th, 2012, 11:06
Category: Hardware, MacBook Pro, News

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It’s the benchmarks that make an upcoming technology that much more interesting.

Per CPU World, a series of benchmark tests demonstrates how the much-anticipated Ivy Bridge architecture in the upcoming MacBook Pro notebooks could show fairly significant improvements in performance, particularly in graphics.

The chip being tested was the Core i7-3820QM, a 2.7 GHz processor with turbo speeds up to 3.7 GHz paired with Intel HD 4000 graphics. The chip is scheduled to debut with a price of US$568 in high volume, and seems to be the natural successor to the Sandy Bridge Core i7-2860QM that is the current high-end processor for the 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro, available as a build-to-order option.

For benchmarking comparisons, the new Ivy Bridge Core i7-3820QM chip was pitted against a Sandy Bridge Core i7-2960XM, which is an even higher-performance “Extreme” chip than is available in the current MacBook Pro. Consequently, any performance increase between the current high-end MacBook Pro chip and this new Ivy Bridge chip would be even greater than outlined in the benchmarking comparison.

Overall, the 3820QM was found to score an average of 9% higher than the Extreme 2960XM chip, a modest improvement but one which should be significantly higher relative to the 2860QM chip from the current MacBook Pro. Taking into account a roughly 10% higher performance for the tested 2960XM Sandy Bridge processor compared to the 2860QM actually found in the current MacBook Pro, the new 3820QM Ivy Bridge processor should offer roughly 20% higher CPU performance than is currently available in the MacBook Pro.

Looking at the CPU performance, using a few tests, the reduced production process helps the performance for a number of standard tests. In 3DMark Vantage (Entry level preset), Ivy Bridge has a 10% performance improvement over Sandy Bridge for the CPU score, and 9% in the physics score. In Cinebench 11.5, the single thread test showed a performance boost of 4%, and the multi-threaded test gave an improvement of 10%. The performance boost in the Truecrypt 7.0a – AES test was 4%. Finally, using x264 HD Benchmark 4.0, test 1 showed a boost of 13%, and test 2 showed a boost of 11%.

Even more significant gains for the Ivy Bridge chip show up in graphics performance, where the Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics supplants the HD 3000 graphics found in the Sandy Bridge chips. According to the benchmarks, the new HD 4000 integrated graphics outperforms the current graphics by anywhere from 32% to 108% depending on the test.

Apple, of course also includes a dedicated graphics chip in its larger MacBook Pro models, giving users the option of higher performance with the dedicated chip or increased battery life with the integrated graphics. And given that the HD 4000 integrated graphics does not yet approach the performance of dedicated chips, those looking for maximum performance will still want to take advantage of whichever dedicated graphics option Apple includes in updated MacBook Pro models.

But significant improvements to integrated graphics performance could show up as a benefit in a number of areas, including providing users with better performance even when opting for the battery-conserving graphics settings. Apple has also reportedly been considering using integrated graphics only in some of its mid-range MacBook Pro models, with the HD 4000 chip making it feasible for the company to drop the dedicated graphics chip on some of those models while still being able to offer acceptable graphics performance.

Finally, the HD 4000 graphics will offer a marked improvement for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which is expected to debut in June when Intel rolls out its dual-core Ivy Bridge processors. The smaller 13-inch form factor requires that those models rely solely on integrated graphics, meaning that all users would see a significant boost from the current HD 3000 graphics to the new HD 4000 graphics.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Retina Display supplies constrained by demand, shift in labor practices for Foxconn workers

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Date: Wednesday, April 11th, 2012, 07:09
Category: iPad, News, retail

If you don’t have enough of a given part, it makes assembly a bit harder.

Then there’s the awkward part about easing working conditions for your labor force…

Per AppleInsider, demand for Apple’s new iPad remains strong, but production of the device has reportedly been limited by supply of Retina displays, as well as a new focus on employees at Foxconn that has resulted in worker hours being cut.

Analyst Shaw Wu with Sterne Agee aimed to quash some investor concern on Wednesday that demand for the new iPad is waning. That’s not true, he said, as his checks within Apple’s supply chain have found that the company continues to have strong interest in its latest touchscreen tablet.

Instead, he said, it’s supply of the new high-resolution Retina display that has limited shipments of the latest iPad. He expects that situation to improve over the coming quarters, as additional production lines and suppliers are added.

Samsung is currently believed to be the primary supplier of Retina displays for the new iPad. Both LG and Sharp were said to have initially struggled in making the high-resolution screens for Apple, but recently began small-volume shipments.

Another factor in iPad supply, Wu said, has been the fact that Foxconn is now “conforming to more sound labor practices.” Last month, following an independent audit by the Fair Labor Association, Apple’s manufacturing partner Foxconn agreed to fix a number of violations that were discovered, including excess working times by its factory employees.

“This is in an effort to improve working conditions,” Wu said. “From our understanding, the irony is that many employees prefer to work more overtime.”

Some Foxconn workers publicly questioned last month why their hours were being cut after the review conducted by the FLA. Foxconn reduced employee working hours to 49 per week, including overtime, but the change will also result in smaller paychecks for workers.

Because iPad production has apparently been slowed by factors other than demand, Wu has opted to raise his estimates for sales in the current quarter. He now sees Apple having sold 12.3 million iPads in the already-concluded March quarter, up from his previous forecast of 11.5 million.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple developing program to track, destroy Flashback malware

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Date: Wednesday, April 11th, 2012, 07:38
Category: News, security, Software

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I think this is where an awesome montage scene of productivity/progress begins in an 80s movie. Or at least the cast involves vows to achieve a long-term goal.

Apple revealed on Tuesday that it is currently developing software to detect and remove the Flashback malware that has infected an estimated 600,000 Macs worldwide.

The company made mention of the upcoming tool in a support document regarding the malicious software, as noted by The Loop. The document also pointed users to last week’s Java update that patched the security flaw that the virus was exploiting.

“In addition to the Java vulnerability, the Flashback malware relies on computer servers hosted by the malware authors to perform many of its critical functions. Apple is working with ISPs worldwide to disable this command and control network,” the company said.

Apple also advises Macs running OS X 10.5 or earlier to disable Java in their browser preferences.

The Flashback trojan horse was first discovered last September. The malware posed as a phony Adobe Flash Player installer in order to trick users into installing it. At the time, a security first categorized the threat as “low.” The current version of Flashback used the Java vulnerability to create a botnet that could mine personal information from unsuspecting users.

Evidence of Apple’s efforts to contact ISPs surfaced earlier on Tuesday when a Russian security firm revealed that the company had targeted one of its servers as being “involved in a malicious scheme.” Dr. Web chief executive Boris Sharov said the server was “not doing any harm to users” and was being used to monitor the spread of the virus.

Sharov noted that the relative rarity of Apple security issues meant that Dr. Web hadn’t established close ties with the company. “For Microsoft, we have all the security response team’s addresses,” he said. “We don’t know the antivirus group inside Apple.”

Last week, a Dr. Web analyst claimed that 600,000 Macs around the world had been infected by the Flashback malware. 56.6 percent of those infections are reportedly located in the U.S.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

QuarkXPress 9.2.1.1 update released

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Date: Wednesday, April 11th, 2012, 07:52
Category: News, Software

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No one ever said updates were a bad thing.

On Wednesday, software developer Quark released version 9.2 of its QuarkXPress design application. The 160 megabyte update, which can be downloaded here, adds the following fixes and changes:

- Support for iPad retina screen in app templates.

- The ability to add retina-resolution icons to app templates.

- Support for Xcode 4.3.x on Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.

- Improvements to the reliability of the notifications feature – Improvements to the bookstore app template.

QuarkXPress 9.2.1.1 requires Mac OS X 10.5.8 later to install and run and retails for US$799.00 for the full version.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

CrossOver updated to 11.0.3

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Date: Tuesday, April 10th, 2012, 14:43
Category: News, Software

CrossOver, the popular emulation program from CodeWeavers, has been updated to version 11.0.3. The new version, which is available as a demo, offers the following fixes and changes:

Application Enhancements:
- Fixed a bug whereby Microsoft Office 2010, Service Pack 1 refused to install. It should now install cleanly (an update of CrossTie files from the web-site may be necessary).

- Fixed a bug where Quicken 2012 would hang adding a new online account or updating a bank account.

- Fixed a bug where PowerPoint 2010 would refuse to play slideshows. Slideshows will now work in PowerPoint 2010.

CrossOver Enhancements:
- Fixes for (we hope!) the last outstanding problems with CrossOver registration / licensing.

- Improvements to Japanese and Russian translations.

CrossOver 11.0.3 retails for US$69.95 and requires Mac OS X 10.5 and or later and an Intel-based Mac to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

Adobe Reader, Adobe Acrobat Pro updated to 10.1.3

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Date: Tuesday, April 10th, 2012, 11:18
Category: News, Software

On Wednesday, Adobe released version 10.1.3 of its Adobe Reader application. The update, which can also be snagged through the Adobe Update Utility, adds the following fixes and changes:

- New electronic signature types have been added, including typewritten and hand-drawn.

- It is now possible to send signed documents via EchoSign.

- AcroForms is now supported.

- Users can sign AcroForms that are not Reader Enabled without a Submit button.

- The document message bar and associated workflow dialog text have been updated.

- Export PDF Reader’s Export PDF service expands optical character recognition beyond English to include French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.

- 2951429: Ink Manager color swatches are broken, display in RGB, most spots missing.

- Printing workarounds for the issues below appear at http://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/kb/pdf-wont-print- reader-10.html:   

- The printing preference to print on both sides of the paper is on by default.
Reader crashes when trying to print when Protected Mode is on.

- Acrobat X Professional crashes on close Preflight panel access: See http://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/kb/acrobat-x-professional-crashes-close.html.

- PDFs in a browser appear as a grey box and don’t display when sent via HTTPS/SSL: For a hot fix and workaround, go here: http://helpx.adobe.com/acrobat/kb/pdf-opens-grey-screen-browser.html.

- Some plugins that rely on HFTs may cause a hang or crash. For example, the LeanGreen plugin does not work. Acrobat 10.1.3 crashes when closing Acrobat after accessing Preflight panel.

Acrobat Reader 10.1.3 and Acrobat Pro requires an Intel-based processor and Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new versions and noticed any differences, please let us know what you think.