Sunday, October 5, 2014

HP to split into two businesses - report

Hewlett-Packard plans to separate into two businesses, one focused on PCs and printers, the other on corporate products and services, The Wall Street Journal reports. Hewlett-Packard may be ready for a breakup.
HP, the world's second-largest PC vendor behind Lenovo, plans to separate its PC and printer businesses from its corporate hardware and services operations, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing "people familiar with the matter." The company could announce the move as early as Monday, according to the Journal's sources. HP declined to comment.

The split is apparently one HP and its investors have been contemplating for a long time, said the Journal. HP's printing and personal systems group, which includes PCs, tablets, printers and other accessories, pulled in revenue of $55.9 billion during the company's 2013 fiscal year, almost half of its total revenue.

If true, the split could in part be an attempt to help HP move quickly to regain its position atop the global PC market -- it fell to the No. 2 spot behind Chinese computer maker Lenovo last year -- as the decline in that market shows signs of slowing.

"We're gradually shaping HP into a more nimble, lower-cost, more customer- and partner-centric company that can successfully compete across a rapidly changing IT landscape," CEO Meg Whitman said after the company's second-quarter earnings were released in May. Whitman had previously said the company is seeing renewed interest in traditional PCs over tablets in business.

Even so, HP as currently constituted doesn't have "enough focus on any one area to really dominate," wrote Larry Dignan at CNET sister site ZDNet, in a look at why a breakup of HP would be a good move. Meanwhile, he continued, the "printer and PC division [are] fighting for innovation spending with the enterprise side of the house. That's a lot of hands in an R&D pie that equates to about 3 percent of revenue."

Whitman will be chairman of the new PC and printer business and chief executive of the separate "enterprise company," one source told the Journal, while board member Patricia Russo will be chairman of the enterprise company. Don Weisler, the current executive vice president of HP's printing and personal systems group, will step in as CEO of the PC and printer business, according to the Journal.

This isn't the first time HP has attempted to jettison its PC business. In 2011, former Chief Executive Leo Apotheker tried to spin off the company's PC-making division. Investors rejected the move, and Apotheker was forced out. Whitman reversed the decision when she took over as CEO and began a "multiyear journey" to revive HP.

The 11.6-inch 1,366x768 display is bright and has decent off-axis viewing angles, but the edge-to-edge glass over the front surface invited glare (but also adds to the system's sharp look). Having a touchscreen on the N20p has uses, but at the same time, Chrome OS is not designed with touch in mind in the same way that Windows 8 is (or Google's other OS, Android). It will be interesting to see how Google or Chromebook makers try and adjust the OS to make better use of touch. I found myself primarily using it for webpage scrolling and closing Chrome windows.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Microsoft rolls out new plans for Office 365 users

Designed for small and midsize businesses, the three new subscription plans offer more features and flexibility than their predecessors, says the company.

Microsoft has launched new plans for subscription-based service Office 365 that the company says are designed to better meet the needs of business users.
Available as of Thursday, the three new plans are called Office 365 Business Essentials, Office 365 Business and Office 365 Business Premium. As described in a Microsoft blog post, the new plans are geared toward businesses with anywhere from one to more than 250 employees and replace the previous Small Business, Small Business Premium and Midsize Business plans with more options.

The goal was to simplify and beef up the plans available by cutting prices on one of the plans and increasing the number of users allowed on two of the plans. Microsoft also tried to incorporate more options for social networking, mobile devices and cloud-based services. Since unveiling Office 365 in 2011, the software giant has been trying to push more users, especially business users, to adopt the service as an alternative to the traditional desktop Office suite.

"We made these changes to the existing Office 365 plans in response to feedback from our customers, and as part of our longstanding commitment to bring the benefits of cloud-based productivity to every SMB" (small and midsize business), Microsoft said in its blog.

Office 365 Business Essentials offers Office Online, OneDrive for business with 1 terabyte of online storage, Exchange-based email with contacts and shared calendars, online meetings via Web conferencing and instant messaging, Sharepoint-based team collaboration and Internet portals, and a private social network via Yammer. The version costs $5 per user per month on an annual basis and $6 per user per month on a monthly basis. It replaces Office 365 Small Business, which also cost $5 per user per month.

The next level, Office 365 Business, includes the full Office suite (Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Publisher), OneDrive for Business, and Office Online. Users can also access and share documents across a variety of platforms, including Windows on PCs and tablets, Windows Phone, Mac OS X, and the iPad. Priced at $8.25 per user per month on a yearly basis and $10 per user per month on a monthly basis, the version replaces Office 365 Small Business Premium, which cost $12.50 per user per month.

The third level, Office 365 Business Premium, combines the other two plans, so you get access to everything included in Office 365 Business Essentials and Office 365 Business. This one will cost you $12.50 per user per month annually and $15 per user per month each month and replaces Office 365 Midsize Business, which cost $15 per user per month.

Those who opt for the new Business Essentials and Business plans will also see the maximum number of users they can add raised to 300 from 25. The Business Premium plan already carries over the 300-user maximum from the Midsize Business plan. Microsoft is also promising greater flexibility if your business grows. As you add more employees, you can easily switch to a different business plan, opt for an Enterprise plan, or add specific applications such as Microsoft Project or Microsoft Visio.

In a previous blog, Microsoft also explained the options for switching to the new plans. Existing Office 365 business customers can stick with their existing plans if desired and need to do nothing until their first renewal after October 1, 2015. Following that date, you'll need to select one of the three new plans when your next renewal kicks in.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Apple patent application reinvents remote control for the smartphone age

The tech giant considers shrinking down the user interface on your TV and putting it on your phone as a way to navigate Apple TV. Apple says today's remote control is outdated.
The numbered buttons on the remote were great when channels had numbers, but now many streaming services instead use graphic interfaces to show off channels, movies and TV shows. Also, searching for something to watch by repeatedly typing in 1s and 2s can be cumbersome.

With that in mind, Apple laid out in a patent application published Thursday a new kind of digital remote control for its Apple TV set-top box that uses icons and pictures, similar to those graphic interfaces on TV, but shrunken down and customized for a smartphone or tablet computer. Apple filed the application with the US Patent and Trademark Office last March.

Apple already recreated the physical remote control, offering up a slim remote for the Apple TV with only a few buttons to navigate videos and music. The new patent application shows the company could one day remake the physical controller again by doing away with it completely. Such an idea would be similar to Google's Chromecast, a dongle with no physical remote that's controlled using a mobile devices.

The concepts in the patent application go a step further than the current Remote app from Apple, which lets people navigate Apple TV with a program that's similar to the mobile iTunes library interface. Instead, the new interface appears to be much more complex, with more graphics and features, and can be used on a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

An Apple representative didn't respond to a request for comment.

The $99 Apple TV, which connects to televisions to stream video over the Internet, has been less of a focus for the tech giant than its primary moneymakers, the iPhone smartphone and iPad tablet. More than two years have passed without a hardware update to Apple TV. Apple has also been slow to add channels to the device, especially when compared with competitors such as Roku, which has hundreds more channels. A software update, such as the new interface mentioned in the patent application, could increase interest in Apple TV, though the device still remains well behind in content partners.