Upcoming iPod will reportedly handle flash memory cards

Business Week reports that Apple might be on the verge of launching a new iPod that allows users to swap out flash memory cards rather than having to rely on a built-in hard drive. A flash memory iPod would be a big break from tradition for Apple and could drop the cost of an iPod well below $200.

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Microsoft debuts web search engine

Students, teachers, and librarians now have a new internet search tool at their disposal: Software giant Microsoft Corp. finally debuted its own web search technology on Nov. 11, hoping to challenge Google Inc.’s long dominance of the field with results tailored to a user’s location and–in a development that might resonate with students and educators–answers to plain-language queries, such as “What is the capital of Bolivia?,” from its Encarta encyclopedia. Google signaled it is ready for a fight, announcing Nov. 10 that it would nearly double the amount of web pages available to search through its site.

The Microsoft search engine, offered in 11 languages, will initially be available on a special “test” site. Gradually, some users visiting Microsoft’s MSN site might find that the existing search bar uses the new search engine, said Adam Sohn, a director with the company’s online division. But a full rollout, perhaps with additional features, isn’t expected until early next year.

Microsoft has long offered a search engine on its MSN web site, but the technology behind it was powered by subsidiaries of Yahoo Inc.

Earlier this year, company executives conceded they had erred by not developing their own search technology and said they had devoted $100 million in an aggressive catch-up effort. The company also pledged to clearly separate paid search results from those based purely on the relevancy. That’s something its previous search engine hadn’t done but the new technology will do.

Microsoft also plans to offer by year’s end a test version of its hotly anticipated technology for quickly locating eMail, web pages, and other files on desktop computers. Google launched a similar product last month, but the technology has come under fire from some privacy advocates for not adequately protecting sensitive information (see “Google invades computers with new search function,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=5329).

Hoping to steal some of Microsoft’s thunder, Google nearly doubled the size of its search engine index to more than 8 billion web pages one day before Microsoft’s announcement. A Google spokesman downplayed the Microsoft connection, saying the company had been working on the expansion for months. Google last expanded its web index to 4.3 billion pages in February when another rival, Yahoo Inc., unveiled a search engine powered by its own in-house technology.

Microsoft says its site will sort through more than 5 billion web pages.

Analysts say that just because Microsoft is a late entrant doesn’t mean it won’t pose a formidable threat to Google, Yahoo, and others.

Microsoft’s search offering has many features likely to appeal to users who don’t care about particular brands, according to Charlene Li of Forrester Research.

A feature called “Search Near Me” guesses where users are located based on their internet connections and seeks to provide results nearby. Another feature promises to answer plain-language questions by culling through Encarta.

Google also offers a localized search function, with users telling the search engine where they are. And it has a “Google Answers” site, where researchers provide data for a minimum fee of $2.50. Microsoft’s version is free but not as tailored.

Li also said Microsoft has another advantage in that many users already visit its MSN web site and are familiar with other products such as its dominant Windows operating system or Hotmail eMail.

Links:

New Microsoft search engine
http://beta.search.msn.com

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New technologies raise new security concerns for vendors

TechWeb reports that even high-end tech products, such as routers and firewall software, can be vulnerable to attack despite their claims of security. A study by Infonetics Research finds that security fears remain the biggest obstacle to WiFi adoption because it is so easy for hackers to crack WEP encryption.

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Windows CE passes Palm OS in handheld software market

cNet’s News.com reports that shipments of Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system for handheld devices rose by 33 percent in the third quarter of 2004, while Palm OS-based devices saw a drop in shipments. With 48 percent of the handheld market, Windows CE has passed the Palm OS for the first time, although on the hardware side palmOne remains the No. 1 manufacturer of handheld devices.

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Pair of schools ask parents for eMail-only contact with teachers

The Detroit Free Press reports that two schools in Oakland County, Mich., are encouraging parents to engage in dialogue with their students’ teachers through eMail, rather than via traditional parent-teacher conferences — at least in cases where the student is not struggling. Critics, however, say that the loss of human contact between parent and teacher is bad for everyone involved.

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Videoconferencing has profound effect on Alaska schools

The Los Angeles Times reports on the popularity of distance learning in Alaska, where technology has made it possible for young people in remote communities to connect with expert educators. Almost all of the 54 school districts in Alaska now have broadband connections, opening up all kinds of doors for the state’s students. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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Teacher arrested after students say she viewed web porn

The Norwich Bulletin reports that a substitute teacher in Norwich, Conn., was arrested after students said she viewed an X-rated web site during class. The 37-year-old was trying to hide her surfing activity from the students, who allegedly caught her in the act. In addition, content filtering software, designed to block such sites from school computers, failed to do its job.

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Nashville school chief asks parents for an online assessment

Nashville’s The Tennessean reports that Nashville Metro Schools Director Pedro Garcia has asked parents and others in the community to grade his performance in an online survey. It is the first time in district history that local stakeholders have answered such questions online.

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