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REDWOOD SHORES, California — Oracle executive chairman Larry Ellison told his shareholders that cloud computing will cause Oracle “to be a much larger company, growing double-digits and more profitably than we were before.”
Ellison made the remarks Wednesday during Oracle’s annual shareholder’s meeting at the company’s headquarters in Redwood Shores, California.
Specifically, Ellison said (emphasis ours):
As more and more people are choosing to rent, rather than buy, overall, after several years, we actually get more money but in the very beginning of the transition from selling to renting, it looks like our business is slowing down or getting smaller. It’s not the case.
So it looks like our hardware business is slowing down, when in fact, it’s really not. We’re just going from selling hardware to renting hardware, and getting more money rateably over a long period of time. The business of selling hardware, that should stay flat-ish or get smaller as people move to the cloud. Software, that should stay flat-ish or get smaller as people move to the cloud. But our overall business, especially once we get through this transition, our overall business will grow very rapidly. And we’re going to be a much larger company, growing double-digits and more profitably than we were before.
That is certainly what Oracle hopes will happen, and the vision it has for its shareholders. The truth is, such growth is far from a given, particularly for the hardware business.
Oracle is doing well selling cloud versions of its software. It’s particularly proud of selling cloud enterprise resource management software (ERP) competing with Workday.
A whole different animal
But its competition with Amazon for the hardware business is a whole different animal. While it’s true that Oracle has a massive number of database customers and that these customers will likely evaluate Oracle’s cloud, Amazon is far and away the bigger player, in every way. It already has more cloud revenue and more features in its cloud than any other player.
And as Amazon’s scale grows, it’s able to continually cut prices. Just this week, Amazon cut prices again (its 53rd price reduction.) Every time it cuts prices, it forces all the other players to follow suit, regardless if they have the scale to absorb the price cuts or not.
Every time that Amazon wins an enterprise customer to its cloud, it’s got a chance to knock Oracle out of that customer’s life. Amazon offers its own database, and a tool that lets a company move from an Oracle database to an Amazon database.
Ellison is quick to point out that Amazon’s databases aren’t as fast and as powerful as Oracle’s. That’s probably true. But one company Business Insider recently talked to told us that what Amazon is offering is often good enough.
“It’s not impossible to move to a different database. We are doing it, using AWS for some of that, instead of Oracle,” a CIO of a large midwestern tech company told us. While this company isn’t ditching Oracle for Amazon completely yet, it postponed upgrading some of its software specifically to test out Amazon’s database as an alternative.
The new Model S with the 100 kWh battery option is about to get a little faster.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted an Easter egg released via an upcoming software update in December will allow the Model S P100D to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 2.4 seconds.
It’s not exactly a huge news drop, considering Musk said that Ludicrous mode on the Model S P100D would get the car to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds when the battery upgrade was announced in August. That acceleration time would make it the world’s third-fastest production car, placing it behind the the LaFerrari and the Porsche 918 Spyder.
Looks like the Model S P100D Easter egg will allow it to do 0 to 60 mph in 2.4 sec and a 10.6 sec 1/4 mile via software update next month
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 16, 2016
Musk added in the tweet that the Easter egg will allow the Model S P100D to drive a quarter of a mile in just 10.6 seconds.
He also said software update will improve the Model X acceleration time by .1 second. When Musk first announced the Model X acceleration time, he said it could get to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, making it the world’s quickest SUV.
Model X numbers should also improve by 0.1 sec on 0 to 60 and 1/4 mile
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 16, 2016
Musk said during the company’s third-quarter earnings call that demand was high for the P100D option for the Model S and Model X, but did not elaborate on the exact demand Tesla has seen.
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OLED is better. We’ve learned this with phones, we’re seeing it with TVs, and after spending several weeks with Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga, I’m convinced it’s the case with laptops too.
Wait, what is OLED?
Let’s take a step back. OLED, short for “organic light-emitting diode,” is a type of display technology. It differs from the more widely used LCD (liquid crystal display) tech by creating light within every individual pixel that makes up its picture, instead of requiring a separate backlighting system.
This means it can produce perfectly dark blacks — rather than trying to cover up a backlight behind the scenes, and inevitably letting some light through, it simply shuts the appropriate pixels off. The result is an infinite contrast ratio — i.e., the difference between a display’s darkest blacks and brightest whites.
And that, in turn, means an OLED panel can produce more a vivid, realistic picture. If you’ve ever put a Galaxy S7 and an iPhone 7 side-by-side, you’ve seen the difference: Apple’s LCD displays are excellent for what they are, but Samsung’s just pops more. It’s more engrossing. It’s thinner, too.
Now, I’m simplifying. Improved backlighting tech, wider color gamuts, and HDR have helped the best LCD displays catch up a bit. But stuff like that isn’t exclusive to LCD. Judged straight up, the contrast difference is great enough to make OLED superior. View it on a bigger screen, and it’s hard to go back.
It’s just gorgeous
Which brings us back to the ThinkPad X1 Yoga. I reviewed the non-OLED version over the summer, so if you’re interested in how the whole package works, go there.
To sum: It’s got a terrific keyboard, a conservative but comfortable design, and perfectly solid performance. Its battery life is fine, and it doesn’t have any USB-C ports, but it’s thin and light enough, and I love its fully rotatable screen. It is a dependable Windows laptop that successfully walks the line between business- and travel-friendly.
You could say that about a few notebooks, though. What puts the ThinkPad X1 Yoga in the VIP section is that OLED display. Right now, it’s one of three laptops to adopt the tech, along with the Alienware 13 and HP Spectre x360t.
And man, is it gorgeous. It produces a huge array of array of colors, and those colors are consistently deep, clear, and full. They can also get very bright. And again, black tones are pitch dark.
It’s hard to convey just how pleasing this is without having you see it yourself. Everything, from the pitch in a game of FIFA to the icons in Windows 10’s start menu, looks more alive. Any time I’d start a movie, I felt compelled to make it full-screen, if only to soak in the added vividity. Oftentimes, I found myself choosing to stream video on the 14-inch Yoga instead of my TV. This is a genuine step forward for laptops as a category.
The technical challenges of OLED
Despite that, OLED isn’t perfect. Take viewing angles, for instance: OLED screens are generally better at staying legible when you aren’t looking at them dead-on, and that’s the case here. But the Yoga’s display is prone to color shifting — you’ll still see everything, but it’ll take on a more bluish, washed out tone, neutering the advantage.
Beyond that, while the Yoga’s screen can get very bright with colors, it’s dimmer when white tones dominate the screen. In general, whites are just a bit dirtier than I’d prefer by default. And while the colors here are gorgeous, they’re a bit oversaturated out of the box. This is a truly excellent display for media and entertainment, but that’s definitely the point here — those with more professional needs will have to mess around a bit.
The other issue with OLED is burn-in. If you leave a certain image on an OLED screen for too long — say, the icons in Windows 10’s task bar — you run the risk of that image being retained on, or “burned into,” the screen over time. This isn’t a problem unique to OLED, but it’s a threat to its longevity. This forces companies like Lenovo and Alienware to take extra software measures to prevent it, and add further provisions to their warranty programs.
To wit: Lenovo pre-loads a bunch of different color modes and screen dimming settings onto the Yoga to help. They’re fairly comprehensive. You can dig into nerdy things like blue point and gamma to fine-tune colors, and you can make it so the task bar or inactive windows automatically dim to save energy and stave off burn-in.
But they don’t tidy up everything. I had numerous instances where colors would shift as I was using certain apps. In the Opera browser, for example, the entire white balance would momentarily get darker whenever Lenovo’s all-black caps lock icon appeared onscreen.
There are other examples, but between this and the fact that Microsoft doesn’t have its own set of color correction settings, there’s a nagging sense that Windows isn’t totally built for OLED today.
The structural challenges of OLED laptops
There are reasons for that, though. While OLED is becoming standard on high-end smartphones, the state of OLED on laptops appears to be in flux.
Lenovo, Alienware, and HP each announced their forays into OLED computing last January at CES 2016. There are just under two months until CES 2017. Not one OLED laptop has launched in between.
The three that do exist have experienced or continue to experience intermittent supply shortages. As of this writing, Lenovo lists the OLED Yoga as sold out. HP recently refresh its laptop lineup for the fall, but left its OLED Spectre out of the design and specs updates. Alienware did update its OLED model earlier in November, but it hasn’t been immune to issues either.
According to Linn Huang, research director at analyst firm IDC, it mostly comes down to the cost of manufacturing, which is especially important at a time when PC sales remain on a prolonged, steady decline. The panels just aren’t there.
“The short answer is that it’s going to take quite some time to ramp up OLED production and supply,” Huang says. “Currently, market economics aren’t in favor of large-sized OLED screens because of the short supply. I’d estimate that OLED panels roughly add 20-30% to the shopper-facing price today for notebooks, and this is all occurring against the backdrop of a PC market that continues to drive towards the low end.”
Indeed, all three of today’s OLED laptops cost roughly $250 more than an LCD model with comparable specs. Despite its relatively common Core i5 processor, the OLED Yoga I reviewed starts at nearly $1,700. The new OLED Alienware 13 starts at $1,749, while the already-dated OLED Spectre goes for $1,349. This is not cheap.
Alienware boss Frank Azor says demand for the OLED Alienware 13 has been high despite those costs, but admits that its supplier — Samsung, which also supplied Lenovo — hasn’t found a comfortable return rate on its OLED laptop display production just yet.
“This thing has been really popular, and unfortunately, it’s not yielding, I would say, as high as everyone had hoped,” Azor says.
Nevertheless, Azor says it’s still early days, and that the OLED supply line is “improving.”
A hangup to a better laptop future
Does that mean OLED laptops will one day become the norm? “Not any time soon,” Huang says. “The incumbent, LCD, has a few advantages, not the least of which is massive manufacturing scale. The premium between OLED and LCD should remain high over the next several years, and LCDs should continue to occupy the lion’s share of the notebook market.”
“I see OLED notebooks gradually gaining modest traction in the next several years but still on the outskirts of the mainstream segment,” he says. “Instead, OLED could be a spec that serves as the line of demarcation between the mainstream and the premium end of the notebook market. That will likely be its norm in my mind.”
Still, whether the PC industry decides OLED isn’t worth the technical and manufacturing headaches, or if it just becomes a hallmark for the high-end, there’s little doubt that it’s a gorgeous, and genuinely different, selling point for laptops like the Yoga today.
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The study from the University of Barcelona and the George Washington University in Washington, D.C aimed to investigate an earlier discrepancy in research.
Two new studies of Pluto suggest the enigmatic ice ball was walloped by a giant comet, and that it is hiding a very big secret: liquid water.
If two groups of scientists are correct, Pluto isn’t frozen solid some 3 billion miles away from the sun.
Instead, trapped beneath layers of frozen nitrogen and water ice, it probably has a subsurface ocean blended with alcohol, ammonia, and other antifreeze chemicals.
“Pluto, once a planet, then a dwarf planet, may now soon also adopt the moniker of ‘ocean world’,” Kevin Hand, a planetary scientist at NASA JPL who wasn’t involved in the research, told Business Insider in an email.
Researchers, who describe their findings in two new studies in Nature, came to this conclusion after looking closely at photos beamed back by NASA’s New Horizons mission, a nuclear-powered probe that zoomed past Pluto in July 2015.
Those first-ever images of Pluto revealed a 325,000-square-mile, heart-shaped basin of nitrogen ice, called Sputnik Planitia, that was littered with cracks and fissures.
Computer analysis of the feature and Pluto’s orbit suggested something was off: Given the way Pluto interacted with its moon Charon, there should be a lot more material located at Sputnik Planitia.
“It’s a big, elliptical hole in the ground, so the extra weight must be hiding somewhere beneath the surface. And an ocean is a natural way to get that,” said Francis Nimmo, a planetary scientist at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), in a UCSC press release.
Back in November 2015, scientists announced their belief that Sputnik Planitia was created by a giant impact of some kind, which blasted away huge chunks of Pluto’s water-ice crust.
“[W]e are almost certainly talking a comment strike out there, rather than a (rocky) asteroid,” Bob Pappalardo, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who wasn’t involved in the new research, told Business Insider in an email.
The new studies add to this idea, noting the catastrophe must have happened within the past 4 billion years and that the impact site was originally more than 4 miles deep.
The giant scar has since sprung back and partly filled in with dense and heavy nitrogen ice, they found. Researchers also figured out with computer models that Pluto’s internal tides with Charon can’t be explained if the world was solid all the way through.
“We tried to think of other ways to get a positive gravity anomaly, and none of them look as likely as a subsurface ocean,” Nimmo said in the release.
“A subsurface liquid ocean makes sense, given nitrogen’s insulating properties,” Vance told Business Insider in an email.
A different kind of alien life?
But the probable discovery of Pluto’s ocean leaves open another question: What about alien life?
Vance said he’s “curious about the ocean’s composition,” noting it’s probably kept liquid at very cold temperatures by a lot of ammonia.
“It’s possible the ocean also contains alcohols (methanol, ethanol), hydrocarbons (methane, ethane), and more complex molecules made from [carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen] that are so abundant on Pluto,” he said.
Hand said these chemicals also make Pluto “interesting in the context of habitability.”
“Nitrogen is a critical element for life as we know it and Pluto’s putative ocean could be a source of both liquid water and nitrogen,” Hand said. “When searching for life beyond Earth we have long ‘followed the water’, but we also need to ‘follow the carbon’ and ‘follow the nitrogen’ – Pluto may combine all three.”
Hand wouldn’t go so far as to say the dwarf planet could support life, but it might raise the chances of finding it elsewhere in the solar system or the Milky Way.
“I wouldn’t rule out similar oceans on other dwarf planets,” Vance said. “Considering the prospects for life in such places is similar to stretching our imagination to think of life in Titan’s surface lakes or its subsurface ocean.”
While scientists ponder the chemistry of Pluto’s new watery realm, New Horizons will keep on flying toward its next exotic and icy destination — the Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 — at a blistering pace of 32,000 mph. It should reach the 30-mile-wide object in January 2019.
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