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Friday, November 2, 2007

News: PS3 network enters record books

Screen shot of PS3 folding program, Sony
Protein folding is critical to most biological functions
A project that harnesses the spare processing power of Sony's PlayStation 3 (PS3) to help understand the cause of diseases has entered the record books.

Guinness World Records has recognised folding@home (FAH) as the world's most powerful distributed computing network.

FAH has signed up nearly 700,000 PS3s to examine how the shape of proteins affect diseases such as Alzheimer's.

The network has more than one petaflop of computing power - the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

"To have folding@home recognized by Guinness World Records as the most powerful distributed computing network ever is a reflection of the extraordinary worldwide participation by gamers and consumers around the world and for that we are very grateful," said Professor Vijay Pande of Stanford University and a leader of the FAH project.

Disease link

Distributed computing is a method for solving large complex problems by dividing them between many computers.

Cell chip
256 billion calculations per second
2.5MB of on-chip memory
Able to shuttle data to and from off-chip memory at speeds up to 100 gigabytes per second,
234 million transistors

They harness the idle processing power of computers to crunch small packets of data, which are then fed back over the internet to a central computer.

The technique has been used by several groups to study everything from how malaria spreads to searching for new cancer drugs.

One of the most high profile projects is seti@home, which uses computer cycles to search through thousands of hours of radio telescope signals for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence.

FAH uses distributed computing to examine protein folding and how it maybe linked to diseases.

Proteins that do not fold correctly have been implicated in diseases such as Alzheimer's, Huntingdon's, BSE and many cancers.

Speed test

Until March this year, FAH only ran on PCs.

The program had around 200,000 computers participating in the program, the equivalent of about 250 teraflops (trillion calculations per second).

The addition of 670,000 PS3s has taken the computing power of the network to more than one petaflop.

By comparison BlueGene L, which tops the list of most powerful supercomputers, has a top speed of just 280.6 teraflops.

The boost is in part because of the PS3's powerful processor, known as the "cell", which runs up to 10 times faster than current PC chips.

"It is clear that none of this would be even remotely possible without the power of PS3, it has increased our research capabilities by leaps and bounds," said Prof Pande.

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News: MySpace in Google software deal

Google logo, AP
Google and many other net firms trawl data to back up web services
Google and MySpace have announced they are collaborating in a deal which could shake up the social networking industry.

MySpace has agreed to join OpenSocial, Google's new platform designed to allow developers to build applications that will work on any website.

MySpace joins other sites including Bebo, LinkedIn and Orkut in signing up to OpenSocial.

'Next stage'

The participation of MySpace, which is the biggest network with more than 200 million users, will encourage many more developers to get involved.

It will also be seen as a major challenge to Facebook, the fast-growing network which opened up its site to outside software developers in May.

In a press conference in California, Google's chief executive Eric Schmidt and Chris De Wolfe, president of MySpace, said the two companies had been working on the deal for more than a year.

The web has moved to its next stage....We always knew the web would be social
Eric Schmidt, Google chief executive

"The web has moved to its next stage," said Mr Schmidt. "We always knew the web would be social."

Google said it had "reached out to everyone" in the social networking industry, and indicated that included Facebook.

Real test

But the network, which was valued at $15bn (£7.2bn) after selling a 1% stake to Microsoft last month, appears to be sitting on the sidelines waiting to see whether OpenSocial takes off.

Tens of thousands of developers have now written applications for Facebook, ranging from online Scrabble, to movie reviews and video sharing services.

While Google has now staked its claim to be a big player in the social networking world, it is not yet clear just how big a threat it will pose to Facebook.

That will depend on whether developers decide it is better to work with a system which will cut the cost of producing new applications for all sorts of sites.

But the real test will be whether social network users care about just how open source their site is.

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News: Yahoo! Messenger Gets Photo, Video Sharing

Yahoo, disconcertingly unable to develop a popular social networking site, will try to accentuate the social networking capabilities of Yahoo Messenger when it releases on Tuesday a beta upgrade of this widely used instant messaging service.

Among its new features, Yahoo Messenger 9.0 will allow people to invite friends to watch videos or flip through photo albums in real time, sharing those activities as if they were sitting side by side in one's living room.

Made possible by what Yahoo calls an "in-line media player," this feature is one of several new ones designed to boost interactions among Messenger users.

Another such feature is a redesigned "friends" list that provides more space for each contact entry and makes it easier to establish an IM, voice or SMS link with another user.

Now the question is whether Yahoo plans to leverage the more than 94 million people who use Messenger and build a social network around that base, giving the company, finally, an answer to MySpace and Facebook.

While she wouldn't provide a direct answer to this question, Sabrina Ellis, vice president of Yahoo Messenger, acknowledged that the service has an inherent social networking component.

"In some ways, if you look at it, Yahoo Messenger is a social network in that people have actually defined who their friends are and these are people they communicate with," Ellis said.:

The new features, such as the ability to share and watch videos virtually together, will let people deepen their interactions on Yahoo Messenger beyond what has been possible so far, she said.

"These elements will really help people develop relationships and expand some of their friendships," Ellis said.

According to comScore, last month Yahoo Messenger had 94.3 million unique users, up almost 30 percent from September 2006 and second worldwide to Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger with almost 227 million.

Still, Yahoo hasn't been able to find its groove in social networking. It recently announced it will phase out its social networking site Yahoo 360 and migrate its features and content to a "universal profile system" that will more closely tie Yahoo's various online services together.

Asked how Yahoo Messenger will fit within this integrated, centralized platform, Ellis said the IM service will be part of that effort, along with Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Answers and other services.

"We're committed to making sure that all of our users can benefit from all different Yahoo services," she said.

Other new features in the beta version of Yahoo Messenger 9.0 include the following:

-- Localized versions for the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India (in Hindi) and Vietnam

-- The ability to transfer an unlimited number of files of up to 2GB in size each

-- Call forwarding, to send calls from Yahoo Messenger to a mobile phone or landline as a voicemail

-- The ability to share photo sets from Yahoo's Flickr service in real time.:

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News: Google Phone: Has a Wireless Upheaval Begun

The Google phone is inching closer to reality, with wireless handhelds running Google applications and operating software expected in the first half of 2008, several industry analysts said.

Some see Google's model as revolutionary in the U.S., where nearly all customers buy their cellular phones from a wireless carrier and are locked into a contract with that carrier. But Google's entry could signal a more open system where a customer buys the Google phone and then chooses a carrier, they noted.

The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed sources and said that Google is expected to announce software within two weeks that would run on hardware from other vendors. The Google phone is expected to be available by mid-2008. The company did not comment.

Last week at the semiannual CTIA show in San Francisco, several analysts said they had heard rumors that Google would be offering software to Taiwan-based device maker High Tech Computer (HTC) for the Google phone.

Gartner analysts Phillip Redman said the rumor was still that the Google phone "is coming from HTC for next year, [with] 50,000 devices initially."

HTC could not be reached for immediate comment.

Lewis Ward, an analyst at Framingham, Massachusetts-based market research company IDC, said Google is clearly working on software for a phone, but after making a presentation at CTIA on emerging markets last week, he said, "It didn't sound like it was on HTC after all."

Unlike several analysts who said that Google could face a fight from carriers opposed to open networks and open devices, Ward and Redman said some carriers will cooperate with Google. "It's possible some carriers will work with Google," Ward said.

Redman said that Google's "brand is attractive, so I think there will be takers" for building hardware and for providing network support.

At CTIA, Ward said a Google phone would make a wireless portal out of what Google already provides on a wired network to a PC, such as maps, social networking and even video sharing.

"This is about Google as a portal," Ward said last week. "This is fundamentally about wireless and wire-line converging."

Ward said Google's plans for its phone software are still up in the air. "What's unclear also is whether it will be a Linux free and open [operating system] running on top of the hardware, with applets and widgets and search and all the advanced stuff that Google has done in the past."

Jeffrey Kagan, an independent wireless analyst based in Atlanta, said many questions are raised by Google's proposition, including what the phone could be named. "Will it be a regular phone, or will it be more like the Apple iPhone? How will customers pay for it? Will it be different from the traditional way we use and pay for wireless phones? There are so many questions," Kagan said.

Like Apple with the iPhone, "Google could be very successful if they crack the code." Kagan added. "The cell phone industry ... is going through enormous change and expansion. Many ideas will be tried. Some will work, and some will fail."

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