Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BlackBerry Messenger for Android, iPhone delayed

BlackBerry said it will be at least next week until it relaunches the BlackBerry Messenger service for Android and iOS.

The delay comes amid some drastic problems that are hitting BlackBerry, including slow smartphone sales, layoff plans and an offer by an investment firm to take the company private.

In a blog post late Monday, BlackBerry Messenger head Andrew Bocking said workers are now trying to completely block an unreleased version of the BBM for Android app that first appeared on Saturday.

The unreleased app "resulted in volumes of data traffic orders of magnitude higher than normal for each active user and impacted the system in abnormal ways," he said.

About 1 million active users of the unreleased app suddenly appeared on Saturday, and BlackBerry quickly realized that the "only way to address the issue was to pause the rollout for both Android and iPhone."

Both rollouts had been scheduled for the weekend.

In addition to trying to completely block the unreleased app, BlackBerry is adjusting the system to avoid a similar scenario down the road. "While this may sound like a simple task, it's not," Bocking said. "This will take some time. I do not anticipate launching this week."

BBM has about 60 million monthly users on BlackBerry devices and the product is considered a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year for the Canadian smartphone maker.

On Friday, BlackBerry said it plans to take a nearly $1 billion write-off in its second fiscal quarter because of poor sales of smartphones, primarily the Z10, and would lay off 4,500 workers out of more than 12,000.

In August, BlackBerry created a special committee to study a possible sale of the company, and on Monday, the company announced that Fairfax Financial Holdings of Toronto has offered to buy Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry for $4.7 billion and take the company private. The deal is expected to close by Nov. 4.

Fairfax already owns 10% of BlackBerry shares. Its CEO, Prem Watsa, resigned from BlackBerry's board when the formal search for buyers kicked off in August.

In a statement released Monday, Watsa said that Fairfax would execute a long-term strategy at a privately-held BlackBerry "with a focus on delivering superior and secure enterprise solutions to BlackBerry customers around the world."

BlackBerry had said last Friday that it planned to focus its smartphone business on enterprise and "prosumer"-centric devices, and that its product portfolio would be cut from six to four devices.

The Z10, which first shipped in the U.S. in March, is a full-screen touchscreen phone marketed as a consumer-centric product. BlackBerry's move into the consumer market represented a clear departure from the company's long-held reputation as a provider of smartphones to business users, especially those seeking a physical qwerty keyboard.

BlackBerry attributed slow sales of devices like the Z10 to the high level of competition in the smartphone market, where BlackBerry products are pitted against many popular Android phones, such as the new Galaxy S4, and Apple's iPhone, including the brand-new 5S and 5C models.

Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, said BlackBerry is "going through massive losses and it is unclear how long [Fairfax] can keep the company afloat with no sales and a new product [the Z10] that flopped."


Google fixes lengthy, widespread Gmail glitch

A Gmail glitch that took about 10 hours to fix and hit close to 50 percent of the webmail service's users has been fixed, ending one of the longest, most widespread Gmail disruptions in years.

Affected users endured email delivery delays and difficulties downloading attachments due to a still unexplained bug first acknowledged by Google at around 10:30 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time Monday. The company declared it patched at 10 p.m.

On its Google Apps Status site, the company pegged the start of the problem at close to 9 a.m. and its resolution at 6:30 p.m.


On Tuesday, Google offered more details about the cause of the problem and the steps it's taking to prevent it from happening again.

The cause was a "very rare" dual network failure, which brought down two separate, redundant network paths, according to a blog post from Sabrina Farmer, senior site reliability engineering manager for Gmail.

"The two network failures were unrelated, but in combination they reduced Gmails capacity to deliver messages to users," she wrote.

Over the next few weeks, Google staffers will work on bulking up network and backup capacity for Gmail, as well as on making Gmail's message delivery more resilient in the event of a network crash, according to Farmer.

"Finally, were updating our internal practices so that we can more quickly and effectively respond to network issues," she wrote.

The issue affected individuals who use the free version of Gmail as well as businesses, schools and government agencies that pay for it as part of the Google Apps cloud collaboration and email suite.

In the U.S., the disruption covered most of the workday on both coasts, which heightened the impact of the bug for millions.

People who depend on Gmail for critical tasks took to Twitter, discussion groups and other online forums to express their frustration.

The last time Google gave an official figure for active Gmail users was more than a year ago, when it said there were more than 425 million.

Assuming conservatively that the service now has about 450 million active users, Monday's disruption likely affected more than 200 million users, plus senders on other email platforms whose messages weren't received in a timely fashion.

Even Google gets data outages

Google said that the severity and length of the impact varied among users. About 29 percent of messages received were delayed by an average of 2.6 seconds, but some mail was "severely delayed."

"We apologize for the duration of today's event; we're aware that prompt email delivery is an important part of the Gmail experience, and today's experience fell far short of our standards," the company wrote on the status site.

The incident is a big deal for both Google and those affected, but it shouldn't on its own dissuade CIOs from using the suite, said Forrester Research analyst TJ Keitt.

"Data centers hosting multi-tenant collaboration services aren't immune to disruptions. So, when they happen, the way to judge the vendor is on how well they identify and resolve the problem, and then inform the public to how they resolved the issue," Keitt said.

Using that criteria, Google's updates throughout the duration of the incident could have been more transparent and detailed regarding the nature of the problem and the strength of the fix that was put in place, he said via email.

"They have clearly not communicated this publicly, so I hope they've been forthcoming with this information with their clients," Keitt said.

Meanwhile, Matthew Cain, a Gartner analyst, said the incident raises fundamental questions about what is considered downtime, especially as it relates to service-level agreements from cloud application vendors.

"If message delivery is delayed 15 minutes, is that considered downtime? What about 2 hours?," he said via email. "The move to cloud email puts a spotlight on these essential questions about how to meter and compensate for subpar messaging performance that is not traditionally classified as 'downtime.'"

Updated 10:15 a.m. 9/24/2013 with information from Google's Sabrina Farmer


A Constitutional Primer from Google

Whether you’re a high school student struggling through U.S. history class or a legal expert helping a budding nation write a new constitution, Google’s new tool for examining and comparing founding documents from around the globe is a neat new resource.

Launched Monday, Constitute is a digitized archive of founding documents from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe that also helps visitors examine hundreds of constitutional themes, such as rights, duties, culture and identity. As Google’s Brendan Ballou explains, “If you are writing a constitution and want to know what African constitutions have to say about the rights of women after 1945, you can do that in just a few clicks.”

Using seed funding from Google Ideas, the internet conglomerate partnered with researchers from the Comparative Constitutions Project (CCP), who hatched the idea to source and reference the content in 2008.

With the turmoil in Somalia, Syria and Egypt leading to either new constitutions or or revised ones in those nations, exploring the international landscape of constitutions feels especially timely.

Watch the Google video below to learn more about how it works:


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