Tech: XP going kaput, Firefox with ads

Microsoft's longest serving operating system, Windows XP, will be retired on April 8. After more than 12 years in service the operating system won't receive any more security updates after that.

Microsoft's longest serving operating system, Windows XP, will be retired on April 8. After more than 12 years in service the operating system won't receive any more security updates after that.

Microsoft's support for customers going through a last-minute transition to a newer system is running at full speed, Oliver Guertler, Windows chief for Microsoft Germany, told dpa. However, there are still customers who have not made the change yet.

In Germany, between 11 and 30% of around 60 million computers used by companies are affected by the switch-off.

"What causes us concern is the many XP computers still running in medium-sized companies," Guertler said.

For companies employing between five and 250 people, there is a worry that the migration to a more up-to-date operating system may come too late. The problem is attacks that are not detected by conventional anti-virus programmes.

"And we don't know what the hackers have in the pipeline," Guertler said.

However, the most common users of Windows XP remain private individuals rather than businesses. "Many customers do not even know that they're still using XP," the Germany Windows chief said.

That poses a danger. In many households old computers will not be scrapped, but will passed down to children. "We don't want to start any scare campaign, but we are worried," Guertler said.

XP computers could also pose a threat to others if they are taken over by attackers and used as part of a botnet.

Windows XP came onto the market in October 2001 and was still coming pre-installed with some computers in 2010. No other operating system has lasted as long. "That's an industry record," said Guertler. "Now it's off to the museum."

Firefox browser to show adverts in future

Mozilla plans to display advertising in its Firefox browser. The ads will be shown on the blank page that first-time Firefox users see when they open a new tab, the foundation said.

The new feature, known as Directory Tiles, will show tiles on this previously blank page, some of them adverts for companies that have paid to be displayed there. These advertising links will be clearly marked as such.

Existing Firefox users will continue to see tiles showing the pages they visit most often. New users can also turn off the tile view if they just want to see a blank white page.

Mozilla has not said when the new feature will appear.

Setting a warning limit for data on Android 

A "flat rate" for smartphones does not really offer unlimited surfing: instead there is a certain data limit. If this limit is exceeded the data-transfer speed drops significantly.

To avoid unpleasant surprises, Android users should set up an alert under settings to warn them about data usage.

For this purpose the so-called consumption cycle must be matched to the billing cycle of the provider and an orange line set to mark the desired value. After that the smartphone can signal when a certain number of megabytes have been used since the start of a month.

Apple's iOS can also show data usage, but it doesn't offer a warning function. In that case users can only hope that their provider will send a warning text when their data allotment is running out.

Smartphones versus compact cameras

Once the compact camera was an integral part of most households, but today the smartphone has largely replaced it, at least for simple snaps. So much so that it's hardly worth buying a cheap compact camera anymore, experts say.

"The differences between a cheap compact and the functions of a current smartphone are not great," says Thomas Hoffmann of the German magazine c't Digitale Fotografie. The sensors in both are similarly small with a comparable level of "noise."

The main advantage of the compact camera is its optical zoom and, depending on the model, availability of more settings.

Urs Tillmanns, editor of the Swiss online photo magazine, rates compact cameras for wide-angle shots and finds clicking the button on a classic camera more ergonomic than touching a smartphone touch-screen.

In addition, a light smartphone doesn't sit as well in the hand as a camera, which can lead to camera shake.

For Tillmanns an optical zoom is important: "In compact cameras, the change of picture width during a zoom comes about through an optical change of the focal length, so the whole sensor is being used."

In contrast smartphones only have a digital zoom, so only use a portion of the image sensor when the picture width is changed. This leads to a loss of resolution, which can to some extent be rectified by what is known as interpolation, Tillmanns explains.

However, this can lead to distracting artifacts in the image.

"The greatest advantage of smartphones is probably that the user always has one to hand for snapshots," says Hoffmann. They also allow photos to be uploaded directly to social networks, cloud services or photo sites.

Nevertheless, one should never forget to back up the photos on a hard drive.

In the case of both smartphones and compact cameras, the image data is stored as a JPEG, an image format that involves compression. However, the compression on the smartphone is often much greater, which can result in more compression artifacts, Tillmanns says.

Hamburg-based photographer Andre Luetzen prefers to use a compact camera, even for snapshots. "Even though I always have the mobile with me, I hardly ever use it to take photos," he says.

Cameras are better in low-light conditions, he believes, and also offer a greater range of settings such as an automatic aperture. It is also a question of habit: "I use the mobile mainly for calling and not as a multimedia device."

However, the future of compact cameras does not look too rosy. "Most users find smartphone pictures to be adequate," says Hoffmann.

"The manufacturers are feeling the competition from smartphones," Tillmanns says. "The low priced and technically less well equipped compacts have already disappeared." This trend means that only the better equipped and more expensive models will stay on the market.

"The camera makers are trying to improve the scope with new attributes and are offering features that aren't in smartphones," Tillmanns says.

Larger light sensors, higher resolution displays and higher quality or even waterproof cases are among the features being offered with compact cameras, says Hoffmann. Some manufacturers have even equipped their cameras with the Android operating system or the fast LTE mobile standard.

"The best recommendation may well be to use both systems," Tillmanns says. "The smartphone as a 'photographic notebook' and a compact mid-range camera when it really counts."

Many smartphone photographers ultimately change to "real" cameras for special occasions and important events.

"Most then discover the world of photography anew," Tillmanns says.

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