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Google threw down the gauntlet in the smart TV space Wednesday, introducing a new streaming video device that plugs into users' televisions and lets them use their tablet, smartphone or laptop as a remote control.

The $35 device, called the Chromecast, is a two-inch dongle that fits into the television and lets users beam content to the big screen. But unlike other apps and services that let you display content on the biggest screen in your house — such as Apple's Airplay feature -- the Chromecast works with multiple operating systems and lets consumers use other functions on their devices while streaming to the television.


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One way Google+ could overtake Facebook

By Dylan Tweney |

You may not be using Google+, but your friends probably are.

If they’re not hanging out and posting photos of cute puppies and sunsets, there’s a good chance they are using Google+ to log in to various web sites — and increasingly, they’re also clicking the +1 button to share those sites. In fact, it’s the clear number two social network according to a variety of measurements.

A new study commissioned by Janrain shows that, of the people who use social networks to log in to other websites, almost half (46 percent) use Facebook. ButGoogle+ is in a strong second place, with 34 percent of social logins. (Janrain makes tools to help web developers use social network logins on their sites.)

That bolsters the claim that Google+, despite its late start, is solidifying its position as the number 2 social network after Facebook.

In a distant third place: Yahoo, with just 7 percent of social logins; and Twitter, with 6 percent.
Google+ launched to a limited number of users in June, 2011, and more widely in September of that year. In the two years since then, it has zoomed past social networks that were years ahead and had hundreds of millions of users already: LinkedIn, Twitter, and a handful of Chinese social networks.

Google+ now has more than 500 million registered users and 343 million active users, according to independent study by GlobalWebIndex from December, 2012.

Facebook is twice as big, claiming over a billion registered users, while GlobalWebIndex estimates it has almost 700 million active users.

But Google+ is growing faster, according to some measurements. It’s holding steady on social logins, according to Janrain’s data, growing just a fraction of a percent in Q2 2013. (Facebook sharing also stayed at roughly the same level.)

But sharing on both networks is increasing rapidly — only it’s growing much faster on Google+. People who use Facebook are sharing 10 percent more each month, in aggregate, while Google+ shares (aka +1s) are growing by 19 percent per month, according to a recent estimate by Searchmetrics, which tracks social network data.

At that rate, Searchmetrics estimated, Google will surpass Facebook by May 2016, at which time its users will generate over 1,096 billion +1s per month (yes, more than a trillion) while Facebook users will generate just 849 billion shares per month.

However you look at it — registered users, active users, social logins, or shares — Google+ is a surprisingly serious second. And it may even be a contender for the #1 spot in a few years.

Now if I could only find some people to hang out with on Google+.

Microsoft looks for new start with launch of retooled Windows 8...

Microsoft is looking to please Wednesday as it kicks off its annual BUILD developers conference in San Francisco with the launch of a retooled version of its Windows 8 operating system.

Company executives will take the stage at noon Eastern for a conference keynote, which the firm also is live-streaming on its Channel 9 community site.

Windows 8, launched last fall, was a major departure from the company’s traditional OS. Not only did Microsoft try a new, tile-based and touch-friendly design for the new system, it also split the Windows 8 system into two related versions: Windows RT, which only runs tablet apps, and the full version, which runs PC programs.

Adoption has been fairly slow for Windows 8 — it’s still under five percent, according toNet Market Share — making some people question whether Microsoft’s big redesign bet will be seen as a Vista-like flop.

Eager to head off that narrative, the firm is addressing some of the biggest criticisms of the operating system with an update that will be available for download starting Wednesday. Perhaps the most notable of these changes is the return of the old Start button, which took a brief leave of absence with Windows 8.

CNET reported that users will have the option to shut down or reboot with a right-click. Right-clicking also appears to bring back some, though not all, of the functions from the old Start menu.

Users also will be able to bypass the tiled Windows 8 start screen, which was designed to offer easy access to users’ favorite or most-used programs, in favor of alternate screens such as the traditional desktop.

Microsoft also has added a few more personalization options, meaning that users can set their own images for the Start screen background and move app tiles on the screen more easily. In addition, there are new search features, the ability to save things directly to Microsoft’s cloud-based storage service SkyDrive, and the option to change what the hot corners in Windows 8 do.

The firm announced several of these changes in a May blog post, and even showed off a couple of them at the Computex conference in Taipei earlier this month. At that conference, Microsoft officials announced that Microsoft would include the tablet-version of Outlook as part of the Office suite for Windows 8.1 RT devices.

The company, as ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley reported earlier this month, has confirmed that the upgrade will be free for all existing Windows 8 users.


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