Archive for June, 2008

Ballmer and Gates defend Vista, drop Windows 7 hints

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer yesterday insisted that the firm was not guilty of making huge blunders with its unloved operating system Windows Vista.

Speaking at the All Things Digital D6 conference alongside lame duck chairman Bill Gates, Ballmer contended: “Vista’s not a failure and it’s not a mistake.”

He also took the opportunity at the opening night of the Wall Street Journal event in Carlsbad, California, to claim that Microsoft has now shipped 150 million Vista licences – that’s ten million up on the figure released by the company in late April.

Of course, that’s a somewhat skewed number given that a large swathe of companies that bought machines loaded with the Vista OS opted to downgrade to Windows XP – a fact acknowledged by Ballmer yesterday.

Gates, who finally hangs up his Redmond boots on 30 June, was a little more reticent on the lukewarm response Vista has so far received.

He said that the company could learn “plenty of lessons” from its handling of the spurned OS. “We have a culture where we need to do better,” he said.

Meanwhile, the hapless happy duo also offered the merest taste of Windows 7 which is the successor to Vista.

Microsoft Windows veep Julie Larson-Green gave a brief demo of the operating system’s new interface and multi-touch capabilities at the event. Multi-touch technology is already found in Microsoft’s Surface table-top system, which is based on, yep, you guessed it – Vista.

Ballmer described Larson-Green’s demonstration as showing off only “the smallest snippet of Windows 7”.

Indeed, the software giant has decided not to spill the beans so quickly on its upcoming OS. Microsoft admitted it has shot itself in the foot in the past by going public too soon on products it’s developing.

“With Windows 7, we’re trying to more carefully plan how we share information with our customers and partners. This means sharing the right level of information at the right time depending on the needs of the audience,” said the company in a Windows Vista team blog post yesterday.

Microsoft said that the rationale behind that decision would enable it to be “more predictable in the delivery of our products”.

The firm has in recent days gone to great pains to convince its business customers that grasping the Vista nettle first would ease the path to Windows 7 deployment when it reaches the masses – with January 2010 being the date Microsoft insists it will land.

It has also continued to proclaim Windows 7 as being the next “major release” for the software multinational.

Peculiar then, you might agree, that we at Vulture Central received this statement from Microsoft today:

“The goal with Windows 7 is that it will run on the same hardware as Windows Vista and that the applications and devices that work with Windows Vista will also be compatible with Windows 7. So customers will be able to fully leverage their Windows Vista investments in the future when Windows 7 ships.”

That’s an OS that sounds remarkably like Vista mark two to us.

Windows XP SP3 blame game begins

Microsoft has so far failed to provide any plausible solution to Windows XP customers who have seen their PCs crippled by the install of service pack three (SP3).

In the meantime, forums throughout the internet are abuzz with possible workarounds and fixes, while rumours fly that suggest the sizeable blunder only affects some AMD-based machines.

As we reported on Friday, within hours of XP SP3 being released as an automatic update hundreds of complaints flooded into Microsoft’s official Windows forum. Customers grumbled that their computers were suffering spontaneous reboots and system crashes after the service pack installs.

Well-known Windows blogger and ex-Microsoft staffer Jesper Johansson claimed that the problem only affected machines using AMD processors and blamed OEMs – specifically HP and possibly others – for using the same image as the one deployed to Intel-based desktops.

“Because the image for both Intel and AMD is the same all have the intelppm.sys driver installed and running. That driver provides power management on Intel-based computers. On an AMD-based computer, amdk8.sys provides the same functionality,” said Johansson.

He reckoned the cock-up prevented computers with SP3 installed rebooting successfully, which in turn meant users couldn’t boot into Safe Mode to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, El Reg reader Gary has suggested that the problem is in fact caused by Microsoft failing to provide the adequate amount of updates in its automatic version of the final service pack for XP.

“I have found that the problem does NOT exist if one downloads the 554MB .ISO file and then burns the .ISO to a CD,” he said. “Following that, installation of Windows XP SP3 has no problems EVEN ON AMD PROCESSOR based machines. If one uses the online update to Windows XP SP3 or the 316MB installation file then problems will arise.”

Gary told us that he has already updated four AMD based computers in the past few days and had no problems with the service pack because he used the “make CD from .ISO file” method.

We asked Microsoft if it could shed some light on the problems being widely reported by frustrated XP customers, however it refused to provide any comment outside of this official statement.

“Microsoft is aware of these issues and we are investigating them further. We will keep customers informed with our progress. Any customer who experiences a problem with Windows XP SP3 installation should contact Microsoft Customer Support Services.”

We also asked AMD to give us its views on the XP service pack debacle, however, at time of writing it is yet to provide comment.

Dell touts Windows XP to 2009 – and ‘likely longer’ (yipee!)

The official June 30 cut-off date for Windows XP is getting even fuzzier, with Dell vowing to sell PCs running the operating system until “at least 2009″.

The company has told customers Windows XP Professional will be available for OEM installation on PCs “through at least 2009 and likely longer”, Neowin reports.

All is not lost for Windows Vista, XP’s replacement. Dell will supply a Windows Vista disk with XP Pro machines, so users can upgrade when ready.

Dell’s XP move comes in the wake of Microsoft’s own decision to extend the life of Windows XP for the sub-notebook and low-cost PC market to 2010.

In April 2007 Dell was the first PC maker to extend Windows XP’s shelf-life, just three months after Microsoft’s official Windows Vista consumer launch.

At the time, Dell committed to putting Windows Vista on its Dimension E520 and E521 desktops, and Inspiron 1501, E1405, E1505, and E1705 notebooks.

Free Linux medical tool tackles disease

A free and simple piece of open source software is helping manage the spread of disease in developing countries.

The Open Medical Record System (OpenMRS) is providing countries, such as South Africa, with an online patient medical record system.

Users do not require any programming knowledge for the tool which helps improve how people are treated.

It could transform the prevention and treatment of diseases such as HIV and Aids, its developers say.

Many projects designed to tackle the disease manage their information with simple spreadsheets, poorly designed databases and sometimes nothing at all.

But with 40 million people infected or dying from the disease globally, the majority in developing countries, an effective medical record system has been badly needed.

OpenMRS was formed in 2004 and is a free application that has already been rolled out in many African countries, including, Kenya, South Africa and Rwanda.

The system has been designed so that information can be stored in a way that makes it easy to summarise and analyse patient information.

“In taking care of patients there is a process of both being able to gather and interpret information to make informed decisions about what should be done with an individual.

“That need to manage information is what electronic medical record systems is all about”, he said.

At its core, OpenMRS has a so-called “concept dictionary” that stores all diagnoses, tests, procedures, drugs and other general information.

“In some cases – especially in the context of HIV in Africa – we are seeing that an increasing amount of care is being provided by practitioners that have had less direct experience”, said Dr Biondich.

Using a system like OpenMRS, can help to present the information in ways that help make better-informed medical decisions.

“The intention is to create a system that allows clinicians to gather information about their HIV patients.

“For example, their physical exam findings and their laboratory test results, like the CD4 count (a measure of the strength of the immune system) and the types of medications that they have been placed on.

“By capturing that information the idea is that on subsequent visits that information can be used to further drive the process of care.

The system also has a feature called “decision support”, which provides tips to clinicians about prescriptions and tests which may be necessary.

A conference in Durban, South Africa, has just taken place for users of the system and developers from the open source community.

“What we are trying to do is get some ground swell of interest around this technology,” said Dr Biondich. “What we are finding is that there are a lot of geeks within Africa that have taught us a lot about good system design.

“We are working together with them to build these systems, such that they become their own over time.

“We can come and bring ideas and share but the whole point of this is to create a learning community, where ultimately communities become responsible for the development and further growth of these systems”, he said.

Symbian – the battle for your mobile

Back in 1999 the British company Psion was poised to take on Microsoft with a mobile operating system which was making Bill Gates quake in his boots – at least, that’s what a report from a naive young BBC reporter said. The mobile internet was coming – and whoever made its operating system could reap the kind of megaprofits Windows produced from the desktop.

The Symbian platform, launched the year before by Psion in conjunction with Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson, helped make the hand-held computer maker one of the dotcom wonder shares for a brief period – until the world woke up to the fact that it was not going to be quite the powerhouse predicted by the BBC reporter.

That young reporter (okay, it was me) looked pretty daft as Psion gradually evaporated, selling off most of its business including its stake in Symbian. But today Nokia has shown that it still believes the operating system can be a powerful weapon which will shape the way we use the mobile internet. It’s bought up the half of the business it doesn’t own – but what is really significant is that it is taking Symbian open-source, and putting its assets into a non-profit foundation.

Already most of the superpowers of the mobile world have signed up to this foundation – and at a press conference at London’s Somerset House executives were ranged across the stage, uttering all sorts of hyperbolic phrases to sum up what all this meant. It was “epoch-making”, “exciting”, “ground-breaking”, and the new open Symbian had a mission, according to its chief executive, Nigel Clifford, “to be the most widely used platform on the planet.” From next year, the existing software will be available royalty-free – currently a licence costs around $5 per handset – and a completely new open-source platform is promised, though not until 2010.

So what’s all this about? Symbian has actually done just what Microsoft feared back in the late 90s, winning a 60% share of the market with 200 million handsets featuring its software. But the fact that it has not proved a huge moneyspinner for any of its owners shows two things – the mobile internet has been very late in arriving, and open-source has changed the rules of the software game.

So it’s Google, not Microsoft, which is now in Nokia’s sights. The launch last year of Google’s open-source Android platform was an even more significant event for the mobile industry than the arrival of Apple’s iPhone. It looks as though Android is falling behind schedule, with no handsets imminent, but Google’s – and Apple’s – arrival in the mobile world has given a huge boost to software development for handsets.

Nokia wants all those smart young software developers to be working with Symbian and is confident that open-source will make that happen: “It will create a gravitational pull that no developer will be able to ignore,” says Kai Oistamo, boss of Nokia’s handset division.

So the battle for your handset is under way – but it may pass many people by. Just about everyone knows whether their desktop runs on Windows, Mac OS or Linux – but who knows whether they’ve got a Symbian phone? In the new open-source world the operating system may be just as important – but its name will no longer be in lights.

Source BBC – Rory Cellan-Jones

Blogger arrests hit record high

More bloggers than ever face arrest for exposing human rights abuses or criticising governments, says a report.

Since 2003, 64 people have been arrested for publishing their views on a blog, says the University of Washington annual report.

In 2007 three times as many people were arrested for blogging about political issues than in 2006, it revealed.

More than half of all the arrests since 2003 have been made in China, Egypt and Iran, said the report.

Jail sentence

Citizens have faced arrest and jail for blogging about many different topics, said the World Information Access (WIA) report.

Arrested bloggers exposed corruption in government, abuse of human rights or suppression of protests. They criticised public policies and took political figures to task.

The report said the rising number of arrests was testament to the “growing” political importance of blogging. It noted that arrests tended to increase during times of “political uncertainty”, such as around general elections or during large scale protests.

Jail time followed arrest for many bloggers, said the report, which found that the average prison sentence for blogging was 15 months. The longest sentence found by the WIA was eight years.

It acknowledged that the true number of bloggers arrested could be far higher than the total it found as, in some cases, it proved hard to verify if an arrest had taken place and on what grounds.

For instance, it said the Committee to Protect Bloggers has published information about 344 people arrested in Burma – many of whom are thought to be be bloggers – but the WIA could not verify all the reports.

It also noted that many nations, perhaps as many as 30, imposed technological restrictions on what people can do online. In nations such as China this made it difficult for people to use a blog as a means of protest.

The report pointed out that it is not just governments in the Middle East and East Asia that have taken steps against those publishing their opinions online. In the last four years, British, French, Canadian and American bloggers have also been arrested.

The report predicted that the number of blogger arrests in 2008 would exceed the 36 seen in 2007 thanks to greater popularity of blogging as a medium, greater enforcement of net restrictions, and elections in China, Pakistan, Iran and the US.

Law Lords consider UK hacker case

Extraditing a Briton accused of the “biggest military computer hack of all time” to the US would be an abuse of proceedings, the law lords have heard.

Lawyers for Glasgow-born Gary McKinnon told the House of Lords US authorities had warned him he faced a long jail sentence if he did not plead guilty.

The systems analyst is accused of gaining access to 97 US military and Nasa computers from his London home.

Known as Solo, he was arrested in 2002 but never charged in the UK.

John Reid, home secretary at the time, granted the US extradition request.

His lawyers told London’s High Court last year that he was subject to improper threats and extradition would breach his human rights.

Two judges found no grounds for appeal.

‘Longer sentence’

At the House of Lords on Monday, David Pannick QC, representing Mr McKinnon, said US authorities had warned his client he faced a life sentence rather than a couple of years in jail unless he agreed to plead guilty and to extradition.

Without co-operation, the case could be treated as a terrorism case, which could result in up to a 60-year sentence in a maximum security prison should he be found guilty on all six indictments.

With co-operation, he would receive a lesser sentence of 37 to 46 months, be repatriated to the UK, where he could be released on parole and charges of “significantly damaging national security” would be dropped.

A US embassy legal official quoted New Jersey authorities saying they wanted to see him “fry”.

‘No threat’

Mr Pannick said it was not disputed that the courts could refuse to extradite people if they considered there had been an abuse of process.

Mr McKinnon has never denied accessing the computer networks between February 2001 and March 2002.

He said he was motivated by curiosity and only managed to get into the networks because of lax security.

Clare Montgomery QC, representing the Home Secretary, argues no threats were made, and the extradition should go ahead.

Judgment is expected within three weeks.

Source  – BBC

Firefox aims for download record

Version 3 of the popular Firefox web browser is going on general release on 17 June.

Wide take-up of the new version would further boost the market share of the browser which is currently used by about 15% of net users.

With the release, Firefox developer Mozilla is attempting to set a record for the most downloads over 24 hours.

“It’s a global effort to make history,” said Paul Kim, head of marketing at Mozilla.

Net gains

The attempt to break the record will begin at 1800 BST.

“There is actually no record for the greatest amount of software downloaded in one day, so for 24 hours from the moment we push the bits live, that’s when the countdown starts,” he said.

Mr Kim said Mozilla had no specific target for the number of downloads it would like to achieve on the day but racking up five million would be “awesome”.

By comparison, Firefox 2.0 registered 1.6 million downloads on the day it was made available on 24 October, 2006. More than 1.3 million people have pledged to download the new version on 17 June.

Behind the scenes of Firefox 3.0

New features in Version 3 include automatic warnings when users stray onto webpages booby-trapped with malicious code.

Also in Version 3 will be “Smart Location Bar” that lets people return to places they have visited even if they have not bookmarked them or cannot remember the full web address.

Firefox 3 will work with Windows 2000, XP and Vista and some non-Windows operating systems including Linux.

Mozilla is not alone in marking the release of the new software. According to the Mozillaparty website more than 566 celebrations are planned for when the software becomes available.

Market battle

Firefox first appeared in early 2004 and since then has steadily eroded Microsoft’s hold on the web browsing world.

Although firm statistics are hard to gather Firefox is currently thought to be used by about 15-17% of web users.

In some territories the percentage of Firefox users is far higher. For instance, according to market analysis firm OneStat, 27.23% of German web users browsed the web with Firefox in February 2008. Most of the rest (67.63%) used Internet Explorer (IE).

“Firefox is making very steady encroachment in to the market,” said Adam Vahed, managing director of OneStat UK partner Apache Solutions. “It’s a very serious contender to the world domination of IE.”

He expected there to be great interest in Firefox 3.0 because most users of the browser tend to upgrade to the latest version as soon as it comes out.

By contrast, he said, many people were still using very old versions of IE. According to browser stats gathered by Chuck Upsell about 35% of IE users are on version 7 and 35% use version 6.

Mr Vahed said Firefox was generally popular with more “tech-savvy” web users and they turned to it because using it meant more webpages appeared as their designers intended.

“It’s still very much the case that Firefox is way ahead of IE when it comes to standard compliance,” he said.

IE’s lack of compliance with web standards can make some webpages look very odd, he said.

But, he added, IE7 was better at respecting standards and IE8 is expected to go further.

The second test or “beta” version of IE8 is due in August. The improved standards compliance means that anyone using it might find that pages tailored to work with the quirks of IE7 will now seem broken.

Blears computer theft ‘alarming’

A personal computer holding sensitive documents relating to defence and extremism has been stolen from Hazel Blears’ constituency office in Salford.

The machine contained a combination of constituency and government information which should not have been held on it.

The theft may mean the communities secretary has broken rules on the handling of restricted information. The Tories called it “alarming”.

The government is to review guidance on the storage of restricted information.

Manchester Police are investigating the theft from the office in Salford’s Working Class Movement Library on Saturday. Nothing else was taken.

This is the latest in a series of security breaches that have embarrassed the government. Last week a senior Cabinet Office official was suspended for leaving top secret documents on a train.

Another file of documents, including one restricted one, was found on another train last week as well.

None of the departmental material included sensitive personal data about the public or would be of use to criminals
Government spokesman

After Gordon Brown was informed of the theft from Ms Blears’ office, he told cabinet ministers to ask their civil servants to remind staff of the importance of enforcing procedures on the treatment of sensitive information.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve called for Parliament to be told “exactly how and why this has occurred”.

“The news that a government minister may have been directly responsible for the loss of data relating to extremism is extremely alarming,” he said.

The stolen computer is understood to have contained one confidential document relating to the housing market from March this year, as well as other restricted documents.

But the documents did not contain any information that could compromise national security.

They also contained information that shows Cabinet members disagree over the government’s proposed planning laws.

Restricted government documents should not be held on a personal computer.

A government spokesman said the machine contained material from the Department for Communities and Local Government and details relating to her constituency work.

He insisted no personal details were among the departmental information.

“There was a break-in at the constituency office of Hazel Blears on the afternoon of Saturday, 14 June. Hazel was not there at the time, ” the spokesman said.

‘Routine’ investigation

“The thief broke in through a window, triggering the building’s security alarm. A PC was stolen. Nothing else was taken.

“We understand the building’s security staff arrived within minutes.

“The PC was primarily used for Hazel’s constituency business and contained some details of her constituency work.”

The spokesman said “none of the departmental material included sensitive personal data about the public or would be of use to criminals”.

He added: “The PC did not contain any secret or top secret information and the contents of the PC are protected and clearly this is now subject to a routine police investigation.”

Source  – BBC