SanDisk has unveiled a Universal Serial Bus flash drive that automatically copies files to an online backup service, when plugged into any PC with an Internet connection.

The new Cruzer Titanium Plus flash drive is priced at $59.99 with 4GB of memory. It will be available in March, said the company. The online backup capability is priced at $29.99 per year. The first six months of the service are offered without charge, said a SanDisk spokesman.

The new flash-memory product replaces SanDisk’s older Cruzer Titanium line, according to SanDisk officials.

The files will be copied to BeInSync’s online backup service under an arrangement with SanDisk. The backup service will store up to 4GB for each product, effectively mirroring the capacity of the USB drive, said Motti Vaknin, CEO of the service provider. BeInSync employs Amazon.com’s hosted Simple Storage Service (S3) infrastructure to store all collected online data, Vaknin said.

The backup service currently supports PCs running Microsoft Windows 2000 (Service Pack 4), Windows XP and Windows Vista. SanDisk has no plans to provide online backup support to Macintosh- and Linux-based systems, the SanDisk spokesman said.

The BeInSync service will automatically store copies of documents, photos, digital music and videos. During the backup process, a small icon will appear in the system tray showing the progress of the effort, the spokesman noted.

Any new or changed files copied to the USB flash drive while a PC is offline will be backed up during the next connection. Any files deleted from the flash memory product will be kept online for approximately 30 days – as long as the amount of files backed up from the device and deleted files do not exceed available capacity online.

The spokesman said that SanDisk has no immediate plans to extend the online backup service to its other USB flash-drive products.

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A Windows 7 installation disk can be tweaked to install any version of the operating system, according to a popular newsletter revealed.

By deleting one small text file from a Windows installation DVD, users can choose to install any of five different editions, giving users a “try-before-buy” opportunity before upgrading to a more expensive edition, said Woody Leonard, a contributing editor to the Windows Secrets newsletter.

Leonard published step-by-step instructions that walked users through the process on Windows 7 RTM, or release to manufacturing, the final build of the operating system that Microsoft has already shipped to computer makers and distributed to IT professionals and developers.

The procedure hinges on deleting the “EI.cfg” file on the installation media, said Leonard. According to Microsoft documentation, “EI.cfg” is a Windows Setup-specific configuration file used to determine what edition and licence will be used during installation. Earlier versions of Windows used a file called “PID.txt” for the same purpose.

“If you have a physical Windows 7 installation DVD … [you can] use either gBurner or ISO Recorder to rip the DVD into an .iso file,” said Leonard, “then follow the instructions above to delete the EI.cfg file and burn a new DVD.”

Leonard recommended a pair of CD/DVD tools, including gBurner System’s gBurner and ISO Recorder 3.1, for transforming the installation DVD into an .iso file. Once they have an .iso in hand, users can then delete the “EI.cfg” file and then burn the .iso file to a new, blank DVD for installation.

Although the process is elaborate, and probably only for the technically astute, Windows Secrets editor Brian Livingston said it was really the only way for users to try different versions of Windows 7 before they plunk down their money.

I think this would be of great interest to corporate IT administrators,” said Livingston. “They will be able to put [Windows 7] Professional on one machine, and Home Premium on another to test each out before deciding which to buy for what group of employees.”

The procedure also offers a way to try out a more expensive edition of Windows 7 before paying for an Anytime Upgrade, the in-place updates that let users bump up to a higher version. Microsoft sells an Anytime Upgrade from Windows 7 Home Premium to Professional for $90(£54), but doesn’t provide any trial or grace period; users must pony up the money to obtain the key that unlocks the Professional-only bits within Windows 7.

Leonard’s try-before-buying stratagem isn’t original; other users posted instructions on how to delete the “EI.cfg” file to bring up a Windows 7 installation edition choice screen within weeks of the launch of the OS’s public beta last spring.

He was, however, one of the first to confirm that the tactic still works on the final build of Windows 7 that will go on sale 22 October.

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Windows Live Movie Maker

August 22, 2009

Windows Live Movie Maker

Microsoft has run through several versions of its free Movie Maker application for various Windows platforms, most of them earning a fair amount of criticism. The latest edition, Windows Live Movie Maker 1.0, does easily turn photos and video clips into slide shows and movies, but it is far from perfect. Released from beta on Wednesday, this is functional freeware that’s aimed squarely at the casual consumer crowd. Although mostly easy to use, its toolset and interface lack a certain sophistication that users of all levels would appreciate.

Installation tips

The fresh-out-of-beta Windows Live Movie Maker (not to be confused with Windows Movie Maker, minus the ‘Live’) is compatible with Vista and Windows 7 operating systems only. It comes bundled into the Windows Live Essentials suite of apps, but you can separate it out with a little click-surgery. To get Movie Maker only, you’ll need to uncheck the boxes for the other programs in the suite, leaving Movie Maker selected. Before the app finishes installing, take care to read the penultimate window; if you race ahead, you’ll be changing your default search to Microsoft’s Bing and your home page to MSN.

Windows Live Movie Maker installation

Windows Live Movie Maker comes bundled in a software suite.

Interface

With its visual ribbon of menu actions, Windows Live Movie Maker emulates the look and feel of Microsoft Office 2007 applications. The preview window is portioned out to the left of the screen and the gallery of photos and clips you’ll import sits on the right. Interestingly, tool tips appear above the Edit, Options, and Format tabs to alert you that these are the menus for video, audio, and text tools. These tabs disappear when you’re not using them. While we like this feature, we also wonder why Microsoft didn’t just name the original tabs “video,” “audio,” and “text,” and dispense with the highlighted tabs above the tabs.

Making instant movies

Microsoft’s emphasis on the visual hits home when you get started. In addition to adding photos and video clips through a menu button, you can drag and drop them into the storyboard. Likewise, you can click and drag to move clips around. For extremely simple movie-creation, after you arrange the clips, a click of the AutoMovie button (in the Home tab) ties the clips together with a title, transitions, and pan and zoom effects. If it doesn’t add a song clip for you, it prompts you to select one (again, through the Home tab.) Automating movies and slideshows this ways is a great two-second option for casual or time-stressed users. After all, you can always tweak later.

Here’s a hint: there’s an optimal time to start AutoMovie. If you haven’t saved your project, Windows Live Movie Maker titles it “My Movie” and closes it with “The End.” It’s harmless, but numbingly generic. If you save first and automate the movie after, the software will title your piece as you saved it. Thus, “Yosemite Trip 2009” instead of “My Movie.”

Tweaking filled-in titles, captions, and credits isn’t difficult, so long as you remember to double click to edit, not right-click. You’re able to change colors, placement, and font type through the menu, and you can click and drag elements in the preview window and along the timeline; for instance, if you’re delaying the moment an opening credit shows.

You can similarly change transitions (called animations here), as well as pan and zoom effects, just by selecting a new one from the Animations tab. On one hand, it’s convenient to see a preview when you mouse over each transition or effect. On the other, it quickly becomes dizzying when you’re hunting for the right one.

Windows Live Movie Maker effects

Quickly preview animations and visual effects.

Adding music, editing video

Like any good slideshow or movie tool, Windows Live Movie Maker can pluck audio gems from your music collection. The tools are basic, even a little rough, but there are some necessities–fade-ins and fade-outs, for instance, and fitting the song to your movie’s duration. The AutoMovie tool can help you apply a track, but it won’t automatically turn on fading, a drawback in our opinion. Adding music at current points also requires a learning curve.

Most videos can handle a healthy trim on either end to get to the meat of the action. Windows Live Movie Maker boasts both trim and splitting tools, so you can shave or hack off slow sections. You can also set start and end points and apply fades.

Microsoft provides a list of all compatible image and video file types here.

Publishing and sharing

When it comes time to share the memories, you’ll visit the Sharing bay on the Home tab. The quick-button options within can e-mail the finished video, burn it to DVD, or upload it to YouTube (you’ll need an account). Windows Live Movie Maker can also upload to Facebook via a plug-in, save in HD format for you to transfer to your TV (standard or wide-screen), and can convert the video to a mobile phone-friendly format.

Windows 7-only

Windows Live Movie Maker looks almost identical on Vista and Windows 7, but it does take advantage of two underlying Windows 7 features. First, there are jump lists, which will give quick access to recent projects and finished movies. Second, it supports QuickTime MOV and QT files, AVCHD, and MPEG-4 video formats. As a reminder, this version is not available for Windows XP.

Windows Live Movie Maker tool menu

Highlighted tabs clue you into editing tools.

Overall look and feel

Compared to Apple’s polished, elegant, and feature-packed iMovie, Windows Live Movie Maker is a crude imitator. However, its comparatively spartan interface should also make it more inviting to novices. The menu tabs that disappear when not in use help keep tasks focused. AutoMovie saves time and gives movie makers a starting-off point to further customize. The few intermediate tools (like fades, start and end points) add variety, though the online FAQs found by clicking the Help menu (the question mark icon) fail to explain their use; you’ll need to hit up Microsoft’s forums for more details if you get stuck.

All in all Windows Live Movie Maker is decent freeware that lives up to its promise of making movies fast. Regardless, Microsoft would do well, at the very least, to build more sharing plug-ins and a fleshier Help menu.

You can start getting acquainted with Microsoft’s online overview.

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When you’re the distant second player in web search, you’ve got nothing to lose by making bold moves. So it makes sense that Yahoo has adopted an open strategy with the following idea in mind: woo developers to build on top of your technology, and then display your advertisements to more eyeballs throughout the long tail of the web.

Yahoo takes a large step in that direction today by announcing a radical and historical initiative called BOSS, which stands for “Build Your Own Search Service” and basically turns web search into a web service by inviting developers to leverage Yahoo’s core search technology and build their own web search implementations. Hakia and Me.dium are among the first to switch over and use Yahoo to power their web results (in Hakia’s case, as a supplement to its own search technology).

BOSS allows developers to submit queries (and their associated parameters) via an API to retrieve up to 50 web, image, news, or spelling results in XML or JSON format at a time. Per Yahoo’s policy, developers will be required to display its ads next to, or within, their results (although this requirement won’t be imposed until later, Yahoo plans to offer CPM fees as an alternative, and academics will be exempt from any such attempts at monetization completely). Yahoo won’t require anyone to mention that they are using its technology, as it doesn’t intend to drive traffic back to Yahoo proper – just spread its technological influence throughout the web. Nor will it impose any caps on daily queries, or impose standards on the design of results pages.

The self-service BOSS API can be used directly or via a mashup framework that simplifies the process of aggregating data from across the web. When using the API, developers can choose to filter porn from web results, specify the dimensions of image results, and retrieve only news results from within a certain number of days. The order of Yahoo’s results, however, can only be changed after they are retrieved (you cannot pass Yahoo parameters that tweak its standard relevancy model and return reordered results).

If you want to incorporate ancillary data with the results from Yahoo’s main index, the Mashup Framework simplifies the process by which developers conduct joins on web data (in formats like XML, JSON, RSS, or RDF). For example, it can be used to generate results with information from both Summize and Yahoo Search, Digg and Yahoo Search, or pretty much any API and Yahoo Search. The framework will work only through Python constructs to start, but more languages should become supported in the future.

All of this forms just the first half of Yahoo’s intentions with BOSS. In a few months, Yahoo will also release APIs for what it’s calling “BOSS Custom”. This version of BOSS will allow developers to actually push data to Yahoo’s servers for indexing, and then perform highly customizable search queries against them.

So in a way, BOSS starts by opening up web search to 3rd parties, but it will go far beyond that by providing cloud-based search for all imaginable types of data. Yahoo has already enlisted a handful of partners for BOSS Custom, including us here at TechCrunch. We’re working on a search implementation that will enable readers to conduct searches across the entire network and retrieve results that have been weighted using a custom relevance model. Readers will also be able to drill down by author, comments, date, and other criteria.

BOSS is the second concrete product to come out of Yahoo’s Open Strategy. The first was SearchMonkey back in April.

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MSI has announced five new additions to their C-Series notebook line that promise a decent selection of specs and starting prices as low as $549. There are three 16-inch models (the CX600, CR600-013, and CR600-017) all of them offering a 1,366 by 768-pixel display resolution and weighing in at 5.4 pounds, while a pair of 17-inchers (CX700 and CR700) sport 1,600 by 900-pixel displays and weigh just under 6 pounds.

All five laptops ship with Vista Home Premium pre-installed, a 320GB hard drive, 4GB of memory, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless networking, and a 6-cell battery, as well as other laptop standards like a 1.3 megapixel webcam, 4-in-1 card reader, and 3 USB ports. The 16-inch CR600-017 even includes a Blu-ray drive for some HD movie watching. It costs $649 and carries a 2.1GHz Pentium Dual Core T4300 processor, whereas the remaining four models pack a 2GHz Pentium Dual Core T4200.

On the graphics front, budget-conscious shoppers looking for some light gaming capabilities will appreciate the Radeon HD4330 discrete graphics on CX models. Meanwhile, the CR line settles with Nvidia GeForce 8200M G integrated graphics but also offer an HDMI output that could come in handy with that Blu-ray equipped model. Overall, there’s not much to get excited about here but with prices between $549 and $799 there’s not much room to complain either.

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Comcast has dealt with a lot of negative press in the past few years after it was revealed that they were partaking in traffic throttling. The FCC got wind of it and investigated the matter, ultimately dictating that what Comcast was doing is illegal. For a quick recap of where they stand now, you can take a look at numerous past articles covering the respective actions of both sides.

After the FCC found Comcast to be at fault, it was rumored that the ISP giant fight back. This started last year, when Comcast began their appeals, and now the company is continuing the fight by taking the FCC to court.

The premise behind their legal move is that the FCC has no real authority on the situation, relying on “imaginary” laws to prosecute them. Comcast argues that sanctions against it were based on a list of network neutrality principles but denies doing anything wrong in the first place, network management-wise.

What’s Comcast up to? Clearly, the company wants to set the record straight and ensure they can govern their network how they see fit. If Comcast broke no laws, the courts might shut down the FCC’s order. However, this may also come back to bite them in the future, as the current administration seems to support net neutrality principles and new legislation to enforce it has recently been proposed in congress.

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The X-51A WaveRider is one step closer to its inaugural test flight later this year, now that airmen at Edwards Air Force Base have successfully “mated” the scramjet-propelled vehicle to a B-52 Stratofortress.

In December, an Air Force Flight Test Center B-52 is scheduled to papoose the X-51A to 50,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean before cutting it loose. At that point, a solid rocket booster from an ATACMS missile will fire up, accelerating the X-51 to about Mach 4.5. That’s when the supersonic combustion ramjet kicks in, pushing the WaveRider to more than Mach 6 for up to five minutes, longer than all of its predecessors combined. NASA tests have reached Mach 9.6, or nearly 7,000 mph, according to some reports, but not for very long. The previous record was less than 10 seconds. Flight data will be telemetered back to Edwards Force Base before the X-51A test vehicle crashes into the Pacific.

A scramjet is an air-breathing engine that burns regular jet fuel, and may be the key to allowing airplanes to travel at speeds normally reserved for rockets. The engine requires no onboard oxidizers, but rather uses its own forward motion to compress air for fuel combustion. The X-51’s chiseled nose allows it to “ride” shock waves that would pulverize a lesser craft. The X-51 was developed by Boeing and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and DARPA in order to “demonstrate a reliable system capable of operating continuously on jet fuel and accelerating through multiple Mach numbers.”

“The heart of this aircraft is its engine,” said Charlie Brink, X-51 program manager at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“We’re really breaking new ground in our understanding of hypersonic propulsion, but our four planned test flights will also enhance our knowledge of airframe-engine integration, high-temperature materials and other technologies. Together they will help us bridge air and space.”

Future applications for the scramjet include access-to-space, reconnaissance and speedy, global strike capability.

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