Tag Archives: software

Google’s New Free Software To Speed Up The Internet

Paul Monckton ,   CONTRIBUTOR
I write about photography and related subjects.  

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors 
The common JPEG could be about to get a lot smaller thanks to Google’s new software. This could lead not only to a faster Web, but also to direct savings on storage costs for everyone from hosting services to hobbyist photographers and especially smartphone users on metered connections.

20×24 pixel zoomed areas from a picture of a cat’s eye. Uncompressed original on the left. Guetzli (on the right) shows less ringing artefacts than libjpeg (middle) without requiring a larger file size. Google Research Blog
20×24 pixel zoomed areas from a picture of a cat’s eye. Uncompressed original on the left. Guetzli (on the right)
shows less ringing artefacts than libjpeg (middle) without requiring a larger file size.

Back in 2014, I wrote about BGP, a new file format purported to deliver equivalent quality to JPEG but with much smaller file sizes. The purposes of BPG is ‘to replace the JPEG image format when quality or file size is an issue’.

Fast forward to 2017 and BGP has obviously failed to achieve its stated purpose, with the humble JPEG still firmly entrenched as the file format of choice for the vast majority of users.

However a new, and free to use, compression technology from Google now hopes to revolutionise the JPEG where BGP has failed. Announced earlier this month, Guetzli is a new open source algorithm which creates JPEG files 35% smaller than typical current methods.

What sets Guetzli apart

The crucial difference between Guetzli and BGP is that the latter requires new code to be written before it can be read. Standard browsers and image software would simply fail to read the files without specific support for the format.

Guetzli, on the other hand, continues to use the established JPEG format. So, all software which can currently read standard JPEGs will also be able to read Guetzli JPEGs without modification.

There’s some crossover, in terms of the final outcome at least, with Google’s RAISR technology, announced at the end of last year, which can blow up small images into much larger versions with significantly higher quality than was previously possible.

Both Geutzli and RAISR can cut down significantly on the required size of image files, albeit in rather different ways. There’s also no reason why the two technologies can’t be used together.

How does it work?

The Guetzli encoder works by increasing the level of compression while creating the JPEGs, leaving the standard decompression algorithms for reading and displaying the images unchanged. The increase in compression comes from a new and more sophisticated model of human colour perception than is used by current JPEG encoders.

This results in higher quality images at a reduced file size, but also comes with a tradeoff in speed. Google’s engineers say that Guetzli is currently significantly slower than a standard JPEG encoder. Users of the current Windows version are reporting conversion times of several minutes for a single large JPEG.

Guetzli is potentially great news for anyone who stores or displays JPEG images as the time taken to download and the space needed to store them is significantly reduced. However, there are other options for those who want to create smaller JPEGs.

One such option is JPEGmini which claims even bigger file size reductions than Guetzli, up to 80%, with no loss in perceived quality. The big difference here though is that JPEGmini is a commercial product with prices ranging from $29 for the basic Home User option, up to $199 per month for those wishing to use it on Web servers and large photo repositories.

At the moment, JPEGmini is still a good option for everyday use as it is a polished end-user product, complete with plugins for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. However, a free algorithm such as Guetzli, once the speed issues are addressed, will most definitely pose threat to paid-for products like JPEGmini which hope to charge for exactly the same final result.

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Hackers are attacking Word users with new Microsoft Office zero-day vulnerability

Attackers are exploiting a previously undisclosed vulnerability in Microsoft Word, which security researchers say can be used to quietly install different kinds of malware — even on fully-patched computers.

Unlike most document-related vulnerabilities, this zero-day bug that has yet to be patched doesn't rely on macros — in which Office typically warns users of risks when opening macro-enabled files.

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Instead, the vulnerability is triggered when a victim opens a trick Word document, which downloads a malicious HTML application from a server, disguised to look like a Rich Text document file as a decoy. The HTML application meanwhile downloads and runs a malicious script that can be used to stealthily install malware.

Researchers at McAfee, who first reported the discovery on Friday, said because the HTML application is executable, the attacker can run code on the affected computer while evading memory-based mitigations designed to prevent these kinds of attacks.

Both McAfee and FireEye — the latter of which posted a similar report Saturday but said it had held off on a public disclosure while it was coordinating a response with Microsoft — agreed on the cause of the vulnerability. The issue relates to the Windows Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) function, which allows an application to link and embed content to other documents, according to researchers. The Windows OLE feature is used primarily in Office and Windows' in-built document viewer WordPad, but has been the cause of numerous vulnerabilities over the past few years.

The researchers recently focused a Black Hat talk on the Windows OLE attack surface.

The bug can be exploited on all versions of Office, including the latest Office 2016 running on Windows 10, and have spotted attacks in the wild since January.

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that the company will issue a fix for the bug on Tuesday as part of its monthly release of security fixes and patches.

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Siemens is buying a software company for about $4 billion

Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser.

It's official: Siemens just announced it was buying the semiconductor-design software company Mentor Graphics for $37.25 a share in cash, or about $4 billion.

That's a 21% premium to Mentor's closing price Friday, and it values the Oregon-based company at about $4.5 billion, including debt.

"Siemens is acquiring Mentor as part of its Vision 2020 concept to be the Benchmark for the New Industrial Age," Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser said in a statement. "It's a perfect portfolio fit to further expand our digital leadership and set the pace in the industry."

Kaesar has made it a priority to sell off core units to boost profitability since taking control in 2013.

Mentor Graphics has been fending off interest from activist investors for years. Carl Icahn fought and won a proxy fight to get three board seats in 2011, but he later exited the trade. Elliott Management in September reported a stake in the company, saying the shares were deeply undervalued, according to Reuters.

Reuters in October reported that Mentor Graphics had hired Bank of America to explore strategic alternatives.

Here's the press release:

Siemens is further building its Vision 2020 to shape Digital Industrial Enterprise by expanding its unique portfolio for industrial software. Siemens and Mentor Graphics (NASDAQ: MENT) ("Mentor") today announced that they have entered into a merger agreement under which Siemens will acquire Mentor for $37.25 per share in cash, which represents an enterprise value of $4.5 billion. The offer price represents a 21% premium to Mentor's closing price on November 11, 2016, the last trading day prior to the announcement. Mentor's Board of Directors approved and declared advisable the merger agreement, and Mentor's Board of Directors recommends the approval and adoption of the merger agreement by the holders of shares of Mentor common stock. Mentor shareholder Elliott Management has committed to support the transaction.

This acquisition decisively extends Siemens' leading Digital Enterprise Software portfolio with Mentor's well established electronics IC and systems design, simulation and manufacturing solutions. These capabilities are essential for today's smart connected products such as autonomous vehicles. The combination provides mechanical, thermal, electronic and embedded software tools which will allow Siemens' customers to further accelerate their innovation, drive production efficiencies and optimize the operation of their products in the field. Now, for the first time, quality, efficiency, flexibility, safety and speed can be optimized across technical domains, throughout the entire lifecycle and for the entire extended enterprise.

"Siemens is acquiring Mentor as part of its Vision 2020 concept to be the Benchmark for the New Industrial Age. It's a perfect portfolio fit to further expand our digital leadership and set the pace in the industry," said Joe Kaeser, President and CEO of Siemens AG.

"With Mentor, we're acquiring an established technology leader with a talented employee base that will allow us to supplement our world-class industrial software portfolio. It will complement our strong offering in mechanics and software with design, test and simulation of electrical and electronic systems," said Klaus Helmrich, member of the Managing Board of Siemens.

Mentor is headquartered in Wilsonville, Oregon, U.S., and has employees in 32 countries worldwide. In its fiscal year ended January 31, 2016, Mentor had over 5,700 employees and generated revenue of approximately $1.2 billion with an adjusted operating margin of 20.2%. Siemens expects these attractive margins to continue in the future and contribute significantly to the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software business of Siemens Digital Factory (DF) Division, which Mentor will join. Mentor serves a large, diverse customer base of marquee systems companies and IC/semiconductors companies with over 14,000 global accounts across communications, computer, consumer electronics, semiconductor, networking, aerospace, multimedia, and transportation industries. Mentor is viewed as a global leader in strategic industry segments including IC design, test and manufacturing; electronic systems design and analysis; and emerging markets including automotive electronics.

"Combining Mentor's technology leadership and deep customer relationships with Siemens' global scale and resources will better enable us to serve the growing needs of our customers, and unlock additional significant opportunities for our employees," said Walden C. Rhines, chairman and CEO of Mentor. "Siemens is an ideal partner with financial depth and stability, and their resources and additional investment will allow us to innovate even faster and accelerate our vision of creating top-to-bottom automated design solutions for electronic systems. We are excited to join the Siemens family, as it is clear they share the same values and focus on customer success, and are pleased that this transaction provides immediate and certain value to our stockholders."

Siemens expects to achieve synergies through a combination of revenue growth and anticipated margin expansion, with a total EBIT impact of over €100 million within 4 years from closing the transaction. Additionally, the transaction is expected to be EPS accretive within three years from closing. Closing of the transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected in Q2 of calendar 2017. Mentor will be part of the PLM software business of Siemens' DF Division. DF is the industry leader in automation technology and a leading provider of PLM software.

"By adding Mentor's electronic design automation solutions and talented experts to our team, we're greatly enhancing our core competencies for product design that creates a very precise digital twin of any smart product and production line," noted Helmrich."

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