TIME technology

Google Gives San Francisco Free Wi-Fi in Public Places

San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza, a site of many local gatherings and rallies, is among the locations in the city that have free Wi-Fi as of Wednesday, Oct. 1. Jose Aguirre

Organizations are working hard to promote exactly this kind of public-private partnership in the city

On Wednesday, San Franciscans were able to hook their gadgets up to free WiFi that launched in 32 new public locations. All that connectivity was funded by a $608,000 check from Google, in a move that could be seen as the tech behemoth taking steps to foster goodwill amid complaints of rapid gentrification fueled by the tech boom of Silicon Valley.

The free WiFi now available in San Francisco’s playgrounds, recreation centers, plazas and parks also fits in with the company’s long-standing promotion of Internet access in the U.S. and around the world. But lately politicians have more urgently encouraged big tech companies to show serious generosity, in both talent and funds, hoping to ameliorate the tensions that led to protests around “Google buses” earlier in the year.

In this case, after being approached by Mark Farrell, a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, Google agreed to underwrite his plan for complimentary hotspots through a partnership with sf.citi, an organization working hard to promote these feel-good public-private partnerships. Google already gave $6.8 million gift to the city earlier this year, to pay for bus fares of working-class youths.

In an interview conducted last winter, Mayor Ed Lee told TIME that the angst felt toward tech companies bringing an influx of new workers to the city was “perhaps misguided,” partly given the great things that sector is doing for the economy. He added that he had long been working with tech leaders to “be good philanthropic companies” and take part in “the culture of contributing to the society around them.”

On Wednesday, Lee celebrated a victory in bringing San Franciscans of various classes together. “WiFi in our city’s parks is another step toward a larger vision of connectivity for our city as a whole, bridging the digital divide and ensuring that our diverse communities have access to innovation,” he said in a statement.

TIME Technology & Media

This Small Cable Operator May Help Unravel the Pay TV Industry

Obama Appears On Daily Show With Jon Stewart
President Barack Obama chats with Daily Show host Jon Stewart during a commercial break in taping on October 27, 2010 in Washington, D.C. Pool—Getty Images

Suddenlink has dropped Viacom channels from its lineup, perhaps permanently. That's a cardinal sin in the world of pay-TV.

A cable company and a TV network have been in a dispute over how much the network’s content is really worth. This may sound like a familiar tale, but there’s an unusual ending this time. Suddenlink, a St. Louis-based operator with more than 1.1 million subscribers, dropped Viacom’s collection of well-known TV channels from its lineup Wednesday, and they’re probably not coming back anytime soon.

Negotiations over carriage fees, the amount that pay-TV operators pay network owners to carry their channels, often turn into very public spats. Time Warner Cable kicked CBS-owned networks off its channel lineup for a month in 2013, and The Weather Channel went so far as to lobby Congress to force DirecTV to keep the channel on its airwaves earlier this year. In both instances, the two sides eventually reached a truce.

That doesn’t appear to be in the cards this time. Because Suddenlink couldn’t come to an agreement with Viacom on appropriate carriage fees, the cable company has replaced mainstays on the channel dial like MTV and Comedy Central with new additions such as FXX and the Hallmark Channel. Suddenlink thinks its customers won’t miss Viacom’s offerings much. “It’s unfortunate we could not reach agreement,” spokesman Pete Abel said in an email. “But we have moved on and are excited about the new channels we’re adding and our customers have told us they would like to have.”

In the traditional pay-TV model, a cable company dumping Viacom’s channels could be viewed as a cardinal sin. Historically, network owners and cable operators have worked in lockstep to keep their highly lucrative system intact. Operators agree to buy up channels from media conglomerates like Viacom in unwieldy bundles, which means a 26-year-old bachelor is stuck paying for Nickelodeon. Network owners in turn make sure that having a pricey cable subscription is pretty much the only legal way for viewers to see TV shows as they’re airing. Content creators also charge new entrants to the pay-TV space a higher carriage fee for their channels, according to Erik Brannon, a TV industry analyst at IHS Screen Digest. Intel had been planning a pay-TV service that would deliver live television content over the Internet, but the costs of acquiring programming were prohibitively high.

Suddenlink tried to upend this long-standing formula by asking Viacom to sell just a few of the channels that are popular with its customers, like TV Land and Comedy Central. Suddenlink says that Viacom responded by increasing its price demands even more. On a website about the dispute, Viacom says that Suddenlink abruptly stopped negotiating and reneged on a last-minute proposal that met the cable operator’s demands. “We remain committed to reaching a deal so that our viewers will be able to watch their favorite shows,” Viacom wrote on the site. Viacom did not respond to an email from TIME seeking further comment.

The Suddenlink decision could inspire other small and mid-size operators, already being squeezed by subscriber declines, refuse carriage fee increases from media giants. Sixty smaller cable companies, including one with half a million subscribers, lost Viacom’s channels in the spring and haven’t yet restored them. “Mid-tier operators and small operators are going to have to look at the profitability of carrying networks vs. their viewership,” Brannon says. “When you’re in the position of Suddenlink . . . you absolutely do not have the buying power that Comcast or DirecTV have.”

At the same time, channel owners are becoming more receptive to the Internet-based TV services of which they were once wary. Viacom has agreed to offer 22 of its channels on a new, Internet-based TV service that Sony is launching later this year, the first such deal the media giant has made public. The revenue generated from that deal, which Brannon says probably included a guarantee by Sony of a minimum number of subscribers, might make Viacom less concerned about the activities of the smaller traditional cable companies.

Whether these strategic shifts will benefit consumers, networks or cable operators remains to be seen. Suddenlink is hoping that losing Viacom won’t hurt its subscriber numbers, but Cable One, the largest of the sixty cable companies to dump Viacom in the spring, doubled its subscriber loss the quarter it removed Viacom’s channels. And while Internet-based pay-TV services like Sony’s promise an improved user experience, no one has yet broached the topic of offering channels “a la carte” and allowing customers to pick exactly what content they’d like to buy.

Still, the once-sacred marriage between cable operators and network owners is under obvious strain. That leaves room for new entrants to claim a piece of the market—hopefully for many, with business models that are more in line with customer preferences. “Carriage fee negotiations are going to become increasingly contentious,” warns Brannon. “Not only at Viacom but other channel groups.”

TIME LGBT

Facebook Apologizes to Drag Queens Over Suspended Profiles

Facebook Drag Queens
Drag queens Lil Miss Hot Mess, left, and Sister Roma listen to comments about their battle with Facebook during a news conference in at San Francisco City Hall on Sept. 17, 2014 Eric Risberg—AP

Enforcement of a "real-name policy" led to LGBT users being blocked from their accounts

A coalition of LGBT rights advocates met with Facebook representatives at the company’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters on Wednesday morning, demanding change to the company’s treatment of their profiles. In recent weeks, many drag queens — people who may go by names like Lil Miss Hot Mess rather than the male-identifying names they were given at birth — said their accounts were suspended because Facebook demanded that they use their “legal names” on their profiles.

While Facebook did acknowledge “the hardship that we’ve put [such users] through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks,” the company also said their policy was never to require legal names — simply “authentic ones.” In a post, chief product officer Chris Cox affirmed that when it comes to members of the LGBT community, the company considers “authentic” names to be whatever those users go by in daily life, regardless of what is scrawled on their birth certificate.

Cox blamed the suspensions on company protocol for dealing with profiles that are reported as fake. Many transgender users and well-known drag queens in the San Francisco community, such as local icon Sister Roma, were among “several hundred” people to have their accounts reported, he said. (He did not name the individual who did the reporting.) Their policy has been to suspend the profile until the user submits some form of identification that matches the name on the page.

David Campos, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was the lead negotiator for those wanting a fix. He said that in correspondence with affected users, Facebook did in fact use the language “legal name” when asking for identification. But even if there is confusion over the details, Campos emphasized to TIME repeatedly that his group was very happy with outcome of Wednesday’s meeting.

“It was an extremely productive meeting. Drag queens spoke and Facebook listened,” Campos said while driving back from Menlo Park. “Both sides actually agreed on the idea that the objective was for people to use their real name, and that doesn’t always mean legal identity.”

Campos said the meeting started with Facebook apologizing (as the post put up after the meeting does), which is not how their first meeting with Facebook representatives went two weeks ago. “There wasn’t even an acknowledgment that the policy was flawed,” he said. The company’s slow reaction time gave users a chance to flock elsewhere for their online socializing, to places like new social network Ello. The inaction also appeared at odds with the great lengths the company has gone to prove that their site is an inclusive place, notably adding some 50 options for gender identity in February.

In a previous statement issued on Sept. 12, Campos explained why the name issue is such a big one for some LGBT users: “Facebook may not be aware that for many members of the LGBT community the ability to self-identify is a matter of health and safety. Not allowing drag performers, transgender people and other members of our community to go by their chosen names can result in violence, stalking, violations of privacy and repercussions at work.”

On Wednesday, Campos’ group expanded their argument, emphasizing that though “drag queens have become the face of the issue,” there are many demographics that might have a legitimate reason not to use their legal name on their profile, such as victims of violence, political dissidents or even high school teachers who don’t want students checking up on them.

Facebook promised that a “technical fix” would be coming, Campos said, though there was no exact timeline or decision about what a new process or feature might look like like. In his post, Cox emphasized that in “99 percent” cases, fake-name reports signal “bad actors doing bad things,” such as bullying, trolling and espousing hate speech. He also said that the system needs a way to weed out the one percent.

“We see through this event that there’s lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanisms, tools for understanding who’s real and who’s not, and the customer service for anyone who’s affected,” he said. “We’re taking measures to provide much more deliberate customer service to those accounts that get flagged so that we can manage these in a less abrupt and more thoughtful way.”

TIME Companies

Reddit Users May Get Free Shares of the Company

But the plan could "totally fail"

Reddit CEO Yishan Wong told the Reddit community this week he wants to give them 10% of the company’s shares. Such a move has never been carried out by a company that depends on user engagement, like Facebook or Twitter.

Wong cautioned that the plan is still in its early stages and added a caveat to his post on Reddit: “KEEP IN MIND THAT THIS PLAN COULD TOTALLY FAIL.”

Wong also said that the idea of “distributing ownership of [Reddit] back to the community” has been a long-held dream by Wong and many of the company’s other employees.

TIME Companies

Microsoft Skips Windows 9 and Goes Right to Windows 10

The skip is to emphasize the company's effort to move forward

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Microsoft is trying to soften an unpopular redesign of Windows by reviving features from older versions while still attempting to nudge desktop users into a world of touch screens and mobile devices.

The company on Tuesday gave an early preview of the new Windows 10 software, which it aims to begin selling by the middle of next year. Although the current version is called Windows 8, Microsoft says it’s skipping ahead to Windows 10 to emphasize its effort to move forward.

“Windows 10 represents the first step in a whole new generation of Windows,” said Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft’s operating systems group.

Windows 8 was introduced two years ago as an answer to the growing demand for mobile devices. But many users hated it because its tablet-like design and controls weren’t a good fit for many devices using keyboards and mice. Sales of personal computers continued to fall.

With Windows 10, Microsoft is trying to regain the loyalty of longtime PC users, while reaching out to consumers and businesses that are increasingly adopting touch-screen smartphones and tablets.

Analysts consider the success of the new Windows crucial for Microsoft and new CEO Satya Nadella, who must show that Microsoft can embrace mobile devices without sacrificing the traditional computing experience.

The new system will be a blend of the old and the new. For instance, it will have various controls that are familiar to users of older Windows systems, such as a start menu to quickly access apps. But this start button will also open a series of tiles that resemble what’s found in Windows 8.

Analysts said that more gradual transition is important if Microsoft wants to persuade users to upgrade.

“This is what Windows 8 should have been,” said Carolina Milanesi, a veteran tech analyst at the research firm Kantar Worldpanel. “Here they are doing the right thing.”

Microsoft executives signaled they got that message on Tuesday. They stressed repeatedly that using the next version of Windows won’t be a challenge for businesses or consumers who have continued to use Windows 7 or even earlier versions.

The new software seeks to offer “the familiarity of Windows 7 with some of the benefits that exist in Windows 8,” said Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft executive who oversees Windows design and evolution.

He compared it to buying a new car with a more powerful engine and a better audio system, without having to “learn a new way to drive.”

Windows 10, for instance, will suggest new ways to use or navigate through files, without forcing users to abandon the old way, Belfiore said.

“We’re designing the experience so that as you use it, the things you already know are familiar and present, but new value is presented to you at a rate that’s easier for you to ingest,” he said.

The effort drew tentative praise from several industry experts.

“They desperately needed to find a way to bridge that experience. I just wish they’d done that with Windows 8,” said Rob Enderle, a tech analyst with the Enderle Group.

Milanesi said that while many businesses resisted upgrading to Windows 8, they can’t avoid touch screens as younger workers are accustomed to using phones or tablets as their primary computing device.

Windows 10 will also be designed to work on a wider range of computing devices.

Microsoft currently has three main systems — Windows 8 for traditional computers and tablets, Windows Phone 8 for cellphones and Xbox for its gaming console. By unifying the underlying systems in Windows 10, software developers will be able to create apps for the various devices more easily. Consumers will also be able to switch devices more easily and avoid having to buy the same apps multiple times.

That doesn’t mean the apps will always look the same. Developers will still be able to adapt apps for the various screen sizes, but won’t have to start from the beginning for each version.

User interfaces on the various devices may also differ, even as they share underlying technologies. For now, Microsoft plans to keep the current Xbox interface on the game console.

Enderle said Microsoft’s effort to create a single platform should help lure more developers to write apps — something the company needs to boost usage of Windows tablets and phones.

Windows is the most widely used PC operating system in the world, but it is steadily losing ground as more people turn to smartphones and tablets, which primarily run on operating systems from Microsoft rivals Apple and Google. That’s why Nadella wants to create one system that will run on all devices.

“It’s certainly an ambitious goal, but it’s also a little early to tell how it will work,” said Michael Silver, a tech analyst at Gartner.

Apple and Google have both rejected Microsoft’s approach of unifying the various systems, preferring to keep systems for PCs and mobile devices separate.

Microsoft also touted new security and management features for business customers, which represent a lucrative market for the company. Almost half of all PCs are used in the workplace, according to Gartner.

While a “technical preview” version of the software is being released this week, Microsoft said it won’t be ready to talk about new consumer features until next year.

Microsoft declined to say how much the new software would cost or how it will be distributed. Analysts have speculated that the company might be considering a subscription model — as it has with Office software — rather than selling each new version of Windows separately.

TIME Web

How to Take Free Courses from Top Universities

Online Courses
Getty Images

You can continue your education with some amazing and free online resources available from top universities. These institutions offer many of their courses in the form of video lectures, audio transcripts and online quizzes. And some universities give you access to the professor and let you interact with other students taking the class.

Want to give these free online courses a try? Here are the online education offerings from the top U.S. universities that we think are worth checking out.

Stanford Free Courses

Stanford University, located in Stanford, California, offers an especially rich bounty of material for its amateur online learners. Classes are offered on multiple platforms, letting you watch videos lectures, participate in discussion forums and chats, complete quizzes and even participate in group projects. A wide range of courses are available, from Cryptography to Game Theory to Writing in the Sciences. There are courses on stock market investing and running your own business, too – stuff that you can actually use to benefit your family. Self-paced courses are also available, including the popular Computer Science 101. You can check out Stanford’s collection of online courses by visiting online.stanford.edu/courses.

Webcast.Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley is one of America’s most esteemed public universities. So, as you might expect, its online course catalog is one of the most serious of the bunch. You’ll find multiple webcasts on biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, history, health, political science, sociology and statistics. You won’t be able to take tests or raise your hand in class, but you can audit every lecture in HD on YouTube. UC Berkeley’s catalog of webcast courses is available for review and viewing at webcast.berkeley.edu.

MIT OpenCourseWare

Looking to live out your Good Will Hunting fantasies? Then check out the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) OpenCourseWare system. There, you’ll find video and audio lectures from the top-ranked engineering school. You’ll also be able to access notes, digital assessments and even free online textbooks. Not every class at MIT offers these materials, but the Course Finder tool will let you easily sort the catalog to find those that do. You can view MIT’s searchable wealth of online course materials and lectures at ocw.mit.edu.

Duke University

North Carolina’s Duke University offers a number of interactive, free online courses through the Coursera platform. Lectures in subjects like English Composition and Genetics are offered, with videos broken up into easily digestible YouTube clips; some courses offer online assessments as well. Online learners get to interact with other students and teachers via online message boards and discussion groups, furthering your understanding of the material. To take a look at Duke’s free online course offerings and register for classes, visit coursera.org/duke. You can find plenty of other universities and classes available on Coursera as well.

Harvard Open Courses

World-famous Harvard University teamed up with nearby MIT to create the edX learning platform, which currently offers 42 of its classes for free online. Many of these classes on edX, like Introduction to Computer Science, are self-guided and ready to start anytime you’re are. Others, like AnatomyX, run on a fixed schedule. Some even offer college credit through the Harvard Extension School for a fee; otherwise, completion earns you a nifty free “Honor Code” certificate. You can browse Harvard’s online course listing at edx.org/school/harvardx. (Don’t forget to check out what other schools are offering on the free platform, as well.)

UCLA Free Lecture Webcasts

The University of California, Los Angeles, like UC Berkeley, offers a wealth of class experiences for free online on YouTube. Courses are organized into playlists, so you can watch lectures from courses like Sustainable Living, Modern Civilization 1750 – Present and Probability for Math Science on your own schedule. You should also keep an eye on the UCLA Extension School, which periodically offers free (albeit brief) online classes complete with discussion boards.

Open Yale Courses

Yale, one of the our nation’s oldest institutions of higher learning, offers a limited-albeit-highbrow selection of courses for free online auditing. You can challenge yourself by taking Philosophy and Science of Human Nature, expand your horizons with Listening to Music, or try to get a better understanding of your 401(k) by taking Financial Markets. Courses are available on Coursera, through YouTube and on iTunes through Apple’s iTunes U free learning platform.

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon currently offers 21 open and free courses via its Open Learning Initiative (OLI) platform. You can take scientific courses like Biochemistry and Modern Biology if that’s your thing, or plan your vacation to Paris while taking Elementary French I and II. OLI makes it easy to track your progress (with sign-in), while “targeted feedback” and online assignments give you an idea of how well you’re absorbing the material. You can browse what Carnegie Mellon’s OLI has to offer at oli.cmu.edu.

iTunes U

Okay, so maybe this one isn’t an actual college. Still, if your hunger for knowledge knows no bounds, you’ll definitely need to check out Apple’s iTunes U application. Inside, you’ll be connected to thousands of free course offerings from schools all around the globe. iTunes U offers tools to start discussions and ask questions of teachers and students. And since everything is rated on a five-star system, you’ll be able to easily hunt down the best courses in the subjects most interesting to you. You can download iTunes U onto your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch through the Apple App Store.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME Companies

Apple Pay May Be the Reason eBay Is Spinning Off PayPal

Ebay Inc. CEO John Donahoe Interview
John Donahoe, president and chief executive officer of eBay Inc., speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Bloomberg via Getty Images

eBay’s mistake, say insiders, was partnering with Samsung on a fingerprint reader

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Philip Elmer-DeWitt

For eight months, eBay CEO John Donahoe resisted Carl Icahn’s repeated calls to spin off its PayPal subsidiary — telling Fortune‘s JP Mangalindan that the two companies were more valuable together than they would be apart.

What made him change his mind? Bank Innovation’s Ian Kar has a plausible backstory.

According to Kar, Donahoe’s mistake was throwing in with Samsung on a fingerprint scanning system that would compete with Apple’s TouchID. Talks between Apple and PayPal broke down (Apple “kicked them out the door,” says one of Kar’s sources), and when Apple Pay was unveiled last month — with wide financial industry support — Pay Pal had been cut out of the deal.

Suddenly, the company became more valuable as an acquisition by an Apple competitor — Google comes to mind — than as part of eBay.

When you put it in a timeline, it almost makes sense.

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME apps

Hong Kong’s Protesters Don’t Need the Internet to Chat With One Another

Sit In Protest Continues In Hong Kong Despite Chief Executive's Calls To Withdraw
A protester waves her cell phone in the air outside the Hong Kong Government Complexon October 1, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Chris McGrath—Getty Images

FireChat connects directly to other protesters' phones, building a massive network

If you’ve ever been crammed into a stadium alongside thousands of screaming football or music fans, you already know what the tens of thousands of demonstrators pouring into Hong Kong’s this week are learning: When you pack that many people into a tiny area, your phone’s Internet grinds to a halt.

Smartphones should make it easier to organize protests, but they’re as good as bricks when cell towers get overloaded with traffic or when governments decide to flip the switch. Hong Kong has seen both of these happen: Thousands of people on the street means mobile Internet is useless in packed areas, while Chinese authorities are blocking Instagram on the mainland, favored by Chinese dissidents because it was one of the few social networks not blocked in the country.

In the face of these hangups, Hong Kong’s demonstrators have turned to FireChat, a smartphone app that allows users to communicate even when they can’t get online or send texts. Unlike chat programs that work over the Internet, FireChat connects directly to other nearby users within up to about 250 feet. More people in range can then join the chat, extending the network even further. Pretty soon you can get up to a few thousand people chatting away, all without anybody connected to the Internet.

FireChat is based on mesh networking, in which every device on a network works as a node for expanding that network. The idea’s been around for decades, now popular as a way to communicate during disasters like hurricanes. But Hong Kong shows it’s useful during civil disobedience, too. Some 200,000 people there downloaded the app between Sunday and Tuesday, said Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden, the company behind FireChat, sending it skyrocketing to the top of the region’s app store charts.

Speaking from Hong Kong, Benoliel told TIME FireChat’s sudden popularity there isn’t a “complete surprise” because it was also popular with Taiwanese protesters last March. It’s also the latest in a long line of technologies that helped fuel wide-scale protests. Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution was dubbed the “Twitter Revolution” thanks to protesters’ penchant for organizing via Twitter, likewise 2011’s Occupy Wall Street was a hashtag before it was a street protest. Facebook and YouTube, meanwhile, have brought us to the front lines of the Arab Spring and Syria’s long-fought civil war, even being used as recruiting tools by anti-government rebels and jihadi groups. Where Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all fall short, however, lies in their need for an Internet connection to work — not the case for FireChat.

Still, FireChat isn’t perfect for protesters. The chat rooms are open, making it easy for a first-timer to join — but that first-timer could also be a local authority poking around at the goings-on. However, Benoliel said the company is working on protester-minded updates like private messaging and encryption, as Open Garden advocates for “freedom of speech and access to information.”

“If this application can help in this way, it’s very aligned with the mission of the company,” Benoliel said. “[FireChat] hasn’t been built for that purpose, but if it can help people in that situation, we are very supportive of what’s happening here in Hong Kong.”

TIME Video Games

Watch Nearly 10 Minutes of Civilization: Beyond Earth Game-splained

Studio Firaxis' upcoming turn-based 4X strategy game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) explained in a nearly 10-minute gameplay trailer

The crack about some of the “all-new features” is corny, but the rest of this official Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth gameplay video is enthralling if you’re a turn-based strategy buff.

Crank things up to 1080p, turn on annotations and dive in. You can hop between chapters by clicking the tabs at screen bottom.

The game, which charts your colonization of another world using an enhanced version of the Civilization V engine (and which made our “biggest games of fall list“), is available for OS X and Windows on October 24.

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