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07.12.08

Links 12/07/2008: Impressions of KDE4; New GNU/Linux Appliances

Posted in News Roundup at 3:03 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

GNOME bluefish

KDE

Fedora/Red Hat

Distributions

  • New Wolvix website up and running
  • Ubuntu: Challenge the Mac
  • SliTaz, a mighty micro Linux distro
  • Ubuntu 8.10 Alpha 2 Screenshot Tour

    As the Ubuntu developers failed to deliver a Live CD with this alpha version (it will be available in Alpha 3), we’ve tested one of the current daily Live builds. Here is the screenshot tour of this second alpha version of Ubuntu 8.10…

  • I converted to Ubuntu…

    I was really surprised when it automatically downloaded a driver for my wireless card, without the need of me to look for it. Now I have to admit that Ubuntu is the No.1 Linux distro for desktop user.

    Oh, good bye XP…

  • Sabayon 3.5
  • ELive
  • Mandriva Linux Community Newsletter #129
  • Distro Review: Linux Mint 5 Elyssa

    Overall I would say Mint 5 is more a case of evolution than revolution, there are of course improvements here which are welcome but it feels more a case of fine tuning things than adding big new features. The distro already does so much that it’s hard to see what new features are really needed, though I’m sure the developers have plans. It should also be noted that this is based on Ubuntu 8.04 which is an LTS release and itself could be considered quite conservative on the feature front, it’s about stability and consolidation which makes sense.

GNU/Linux: General

  • Finally, Notes on Linux is here and ready
  • [Wine 1.1.1 Released]
  • A new way to use Linux.
  • Linux in schools: a teacher speaks

    Catching them young is a popular slogan and one that yields dividends too, no matter whether one applies it to the adoption of software or the learning of a language. And with a small window seemingly open for Australia’s FOSS community to push for the use of free and open source software in schools, the question arises – how does one go about making the first inroads?

  • A Simple Guide to Making the Perfect Recording in Audacity
  • New Compiz plugins

    Besides these additions, Freewins plugin from our one and only C-F dev/journalist SmSpillaz has improved leaps and bounds, keep up the great work. Freewins plugin allows you to rotate any window in any direction (yes including in 3D).

  • Another reason to love FOSS – Software Kill Switches

    One thing I hate above almost anything else is when a vendor tells you what you can and can’t do with your software. That drives me bonkers. Sure, they wrote it and it’s theirs to do with as they wish, but once they sell/give it to me, it’s mine to do with as I see fit – within the confines of the software itself. Unceremoniously switching me off or making me pay more, forcing me to upgrade, stopping me from using the software, or making me bow to other ludicrous demands is just blatant power mongering and extortion. If they want me to do something, they had better have a really good reason why I should do it, and it had better not be “just because we want more money.”

    So what brought on this little bout of ranting and bitterness? Well, several things really, but the biggest is the ever infamous software kill switch. It’s been around for years, but really didn’t start coming into its own until Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) came onto the scene. Since then, proprietary vendors have looked at Microsoft’s success with the Software Kill Switch and realized the money making potential of it. They also have seen the power it can give them and it’s become an intoxicating drug to them.

  • What is so good about Linux?
  • Is Linux ready for your Small Business?

Devices

Firefox

F/OSS

Bad Day for Apple

Leftovers

Taking Microsoft OOXML to Task

Posted in ISO, Microsoft, Open XML, OpenDocument, Security at 2:13 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Any Windows/Office debuggers in the audience?

The following is a reproduction of a new post from Rex Ballard (I started this discussion thread), whose previous post we quoted the other day.


Message-ID: <31a66169-d9e7-4715-9e9e-e3488ebd36a9@25g2000hsx.googlegroups.com>
From: Rex Ballard <rex.ballard@gmail.com>
Newsgroups: comp.os.linux.advocacy
Subject: Re: Leaked ISO Document Reveals Crooked ISO Amid MS OOXML Corruptions
Date: Sat, 12 Jul 2008 08:20:23 -0700 (PDT)

[...]

ODF is a comprehensive document that provides detailed specifications
from the high level document content down to the smallest elements of
scalable vector graphics. There are some “standard” mime object types
that are supported, such as PNG and JPEG, but other embedded formats
must be installed using plug-ins which have to be authenticated by the
user and by the system at installation time, and cannot be installed
by the content. Furthermore, the installed content can easily be
identified as trustworthy or not, and can be restricted in it’s
capabilities.

OpenXML on the other hand, is a high-level specification which
describes the high level envelopes used to embed binary objects which
are included in the content. The content itself contains the binary
code which can call any function in any Microsoft library and has all
permissions of the person opening the document. If a user account is
set up as “Administrator”, then the application can mess with the
registry, create, download, and hide files, can execute applications
in those files, can install any number of new viruses, and generally
wreak havoc on the system.

I’ll leave it to others to document the exact details (as I said, I’m
busy these days), but I’m sure anyone who tries to publish these
vulnerabilites will probably find themselves getting the same
treatment that Tracy Reed of Ultraviolet.org got when he tried to
publish his warnings about ActiveX controls back in 1997. Microsoft
got a court injunction against him, and forced him to take down the
content, claiming that it was being used to encourage hacking, and was
damaging the Microsoft brand.

“I got a couple of docx documents and had trouble getting them to open, even with the plug-in for Office XP. Next thing I know, I get a notice from my registry auditor that I have 1300 new registry errors.”Over the last 10 years,
we’ve seen these very same
techniques, documented back in 1997,
used widely to spread viruses including
Melissa, Nimda, Sky, BugBear, and about
250,000 other viruses, worms,
and malware, not including spy-ware and
other “Microsoft Authorized”
invasions of our privacy.

I got a couple of docx documents and had trouble getting them to open,
even with the plug-in for Office XP. Next thing I know, I get a
notice from my registry auditor that I have 1300 new registry errors.
And suddenly, my PC is churning the disk-drive and the network
connection at 3:00 AM (I’m getting old and have to get up), and the
network shows that I’m uploading something at full speed, even though
my computer is supposedly sleeping.

It isn’t a back-up program that I’m running.

I would encourage COLA readers and OSS advocates to explore this in
more detail.

get someone with Office 2007 to send you a docx file.
unzip it using pkzip or winzip or unzip.

look at the binary files.

replace one binary object with another.

zip up the document,

see if your office-2007 user can read the “enhanced” document.

For those of you with OLE programming skills, create an OLE object
that creates a file, and e-mails that file to you using smtp.

Send a document with this new ole object embedded (along with the
others) and see if you get an e-mail.

I haven’t tried this, and I don’t know if it will work. I’m not sure
how hard it would be to make it work. I just think it might be an
interesting project worth investigating, especially if you are
considering the migration of a few thousand users to Vista and Office
2007.

I’d love to see what the results turn out to be. After all, if it’s
that easy to take control of a recipient’s machine just by sending
them a “trusted” Word, Excel, or PowerPoint attachment, just think how
much chaos a really aggressive malicious hacker, with a goal of
obtaining marketable information about your business, could do.


Does ISO really want to approve such a ‘virus’? As an international standard even? If someone tests the above, please post the outcome here or elsewhere. It would prove invaluable.

The last time a chain of ISO problems was cited, Ian Easson challenged an argument from Groklaw. He might wish read the following lengthy follow-up. ISO is in a deeper puddle of mud than before.

Brazil is a P member of SC 34, so according to my reading of the clause, it has the right to appeal if any of the three above issues apply, and arguably they all do. According to South Africa, if the issue is ISO’s reputation, or if there is a matter of principle involved, Brazil can appeal. Even point three could apply, in that Brazil raises matters such as incorrect tabulation of votes, which, if true, one would hope ISO wasn’t aware of.

[...]

Why did they bother to go, one might ask? Why vote, if votes disappear from the record? By my reading, Brazil paints a picture of an orchestrated event, tilted away from criticism or a negative result and a refusal to give substantive consideration to issues delegates wanted to discuss, due to time constraints Brazil calls arbitrary, and worse.

For details about the BRM in question, see [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8] and have your jaw sink to the floor. It was a bad plan from the get-go [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], but Emperor Microsoft was in a hurry and it even used its lobbyist Jan Van Den Beld to change the rules ‘on the fly’.

OOXML protests in India
From the Campaign for Document Freedom

Do-No-Evil Saturday – Part II: Quiet Week in Utah Valley

Posted in GNU/Linux, IBM, Identity Management, Microsoft, Novell, Security, SLES/SLED at 6:11 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

It has been a quiet week because some people embark on their vacations and companies make very few announcements. Here are the few things we picked up. They fit a single post for a change.

SUSE (SLES/SLED)

Novell and Sun Microsystems are both cited as companies that debunk the myth about lack of support for Free software. This appeared in europa.eu, whose reputation is fairly decent.

Sun Microsystems and Novell, two IT services firms promoting Open Source, are telling government CIOs there is plenty of support for this kind of software, the IT news site Zdnet reports.

[...]

Support for the Open Source operating system GNU/Linux rivals that of proprietary systems, Zdnet last April quoted Paul Kangro, applied technology strategist for Novell. He suggests fears over support are spread by companies that feel threatened by this kind of software.

Read the rest of this entry »

Do-No-Evil Saturday – Part I: OpenSUSE’s Week of Build Service

Posted in GNU/Linux, Novell, OpenSUSE at 5:49 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Hot summer, hot news

The most major news of this week was Build Service. However, equally important was the departure of Brian Proffitt. Joe Brockmeier published an interview with Brian (of Linux Today) over at OStatic and he has also had his own self-introductory interview put up in the OpenSUSE Web site.

Read the rest of this entry »

Microsoft@SourceForge and More Software Patents Poison

Posted in Courtroom, Deception, Free/Libre Software, Microsoft, Patents at 4:30 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Microsoft Poisons Free Software from the Inside

SourceForge seems determined to find out just how ‘risky’ Free software is.

Welcome Microsoft, which has been getting cosy with SourceForge lately [1, 2]. Some months ago we warned about it. The old analysis still stands and the The Register took note.

Co-incidentally, or not, Microsoft – who has a schizophrenic relationship with open source when it comes to the subject of intellectual property in free and open source software – is sponsoring the poll.

[...]

One wonders what diamond-level sponsor Microsoft might feel about this, given its own sense of software manifest destiny and, ahem, “concerns” over IP in open source software.

Microsoft is still trying to broadcast the message that users of Free software (e.g. from SourceForge) are at risk. It’s about as bad as those anti-GNU/Linux advertisements Microsoft puts in NewsForge. Is it really sponsorship or a licence to ruin?

“Using the language of money, they try to get FOSS to publicly acknowledge guilt and repel prospective customers.”What an evil yet elegant way of spreading FUD. Instead of coming from the outside to accuse Free software of not honouring intellectual monopolies, Microsoft pays some money for an open source Web site to shoot itself in the foot with FUD directed against itself. Using the language of money, they try to get FOSS to publicly acknowledge guilt and repel prospective customers.

We shall return to this in the future.

More Software Patents

We have already discussed one of the greatest insults to the USPTO. It’s known as the “JPEG on a Web page” patent [1, 2] It’s not just GIF that requires PNG (PNG is Not GIF) and perhaps it’s dangerous to even put a picture — any picture — on a Web page these days. Either way, watch what has happened with this JPEG patent owner.

Owner Of Infamous JPEG Patent Tries To Line Jump The Re-Exam Process

[...]

You may recall the infamous “JPEG patent” we’ve talked about recently. It’s the one that patent attorney Ray Niro, about whom the phrase “patent troll” was initially coined, has used to sue all sorts of critics or companies he doesn’t appear to like.

We wrote about Ray Niro before [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. 8, 9, 10]. He should really be kept behind bars, along with the likes of Carl Icahn. Sadly, the current law is dysfunctional, so these people not behind bars.

Another obscure company called WordLogic decided to attack with a patent that it hadn’t even received. What would make a better target than a wealthy and luxurious Mercedes-Benz?

WLGC: Files Patent Infringement Lawsuit Against Mercedes-Benz USA

[...]

The company through its wholly owned subsidiary 602531 British Columbia Ltd., which holds the Company’s patent and patent pending portfolio, will be seeking damages for patent infringement for use of their car navigation system in certain 2007, 2008, and 2009 Mercedes-Benz models under US Patent No. 7293231 titled “DATA ENTRY FOR PERSONAL COMPUTING DEVICES”. WordLogic believes that this infringement was willful.

“Wholly owned subsidiary”… does that ring a bell [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]? Anyway, let’s move on.

Remember game patents? They are back. It’s Konami yet again [1, 2].

News: Konami sues Viacom over Rock Band

[...]

This jockeying took another step forward this week when Konami, makers of the upcoming Rock Revolution® musical group rhythm game, filed suit against Harmonix, makers of the popular Rock Band® musical group rhythm game, accusing Harmonix of infringing three of Konami’s patents.

The Qualcomm saga that we mentioned here before [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28] has not ended. it’s about video compression patents, which is a classic case of mathematical ownership through software patents. Have a look at this article from Law.com.

The Qualcomm discovery fiasco dealt a blow to the lawyers involved at Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder. As the question of sanctions lingers in the courts, another big one remains: How badly will it hurt the highly respected patent litigation boutique?

[...]

The discovery issue arose during the January 2007 trial over video compression patents. A Qualcomm witness disclosed the existence of e-mails that turned out to be highly relevant to the case. In April 2007, Qualcomm’s then-General Counsel Louis Lupin and Batchelder apologized for neglecting to turn over the e-mails to Broadcom but argued that Qualcomm’s trial team had never acted in bad faith.

What a total waste of time and money. Just ask professor Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate.

“Fighting patents one by one will never eliminate the danger of software patents, any more than swatting mosquitoes will eliminate malaria.”

Richard Stallman

FSF on How the ACTA Harms Free Software

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF, Patents at 4:03 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Know thy enemy

We seem to have lost sight of our focus recently because we commented on news pertaining to copyrights. However, it has plenty to do with Free software too.

For background, see the following recent stories of relevance:

We also wrote about/alluded to the ACTA in [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10].

The FSF has just launched a campaign against this Orwellian ACTA. It breaks down the problem:

ACTA threatens free software

1. It makes it more difficult to distribute free software: Without file sharing and P2P technologies like BitTorrent, distributing large amounts of free software becomes much harder, and more expensive. BitTorrent is a grassroots protocol that allows everyone to contribute to legally distributing free software.
2. It will make it harder for users of free operating systems to play media: Consumers will no longer be able to buy media without DRM — and DRMed media cannot be played with free software.
3. It increases the chances of getting your devices taken away: Portable media players that support free formats are less common than devices which support DRM, such as the iPod. Will this make them suspicious to border guards?
4. It creates a culture of surveillance and suspicion, in which the freedom that is required to produce free software is seen as dangerous and threatening rather than creative, innovative, and exciting.

The British press is already picking up the news.

The Guardian: The right to peer inside your iPod

An agreement on intellectual property rights to be ratified by the G8 heads of government highlights conflicts between ownership and privacy

The Register: Gadgets safe from global airport anti-piracy plan

Alarming headlines claiming that our laptop hard drives and iPod libraries could soon be scanned at airports for illegal copies of content are unfounded.

Several recent reports, including one by the Daily Telegraph, claim that the governments of the G8 nations are considering an anti-piracy plan that would see customs officials granted the power to examine travellers’ gadgets for digital contraband.

This is somewhat related to our focus on software patent deals. It’s another new form of intellectual monopoly rights that combat our human rights and freedom. It’s about suppression of a new market status and prevention of market diversity, which is bad news to existing monopolists.

Reminder: Novell and Xandros Are Not Open Source Companies

Posted in Corel, Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Novell, OpenSUSE, Xandros at 3:23 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Free software companies? Surely, that would a joke

As a gentle reminder, Novell insists that it’s merely a mixed-source company [1, 2, 3, 4], a concept that even Microsoft is trying to adopt for public relations purposes. It’s easy to subscribe to this agenda because opening up 1% of your code (abandonware) and keeping your crown jewels closed is an easy responsibility to live up to. there is also costly dependency which a ‘mixed stack’ leads to. It’s a total ‘bastardisation’ of the original goals of Free software because to a large degree it involves exploitation of Free software, e.g. the ‘Google way’ a.k.a. free-riding. with minimal returns compared to the available capacity (Google makes billions of dollars).

When companies like Nokia and Microsoft pretend to be contributing [1, 2], then surely it’s nothing like Novell. The truth is that Novell does contribute some code; some fairly valuable code, too.

Nevertheless, why isn’t Novell assisting the Utah Open Source Conference? That’s where much of Novell is located. The following scoop is an eye-opening change.

…we’re going to have the UTOSC 2008 (Utah Open Source Conference, August 28-30, 2008) at the Salt Lake Community College, Redwood Road campus.

And Novell is not one of their sponsors!

I suppose this is not because Novell is not really caring about open source at all, right?

Recall what we’ve stressed many times over the past week or so (because of Xandros [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]): Novell is the next Corel. It’s losing its focus due to the deal with Microsoft.

Looking into the past, consider this new and excellent article:

Where Xandros is sold in a box, Ubuntu is given away free. Where Ubuntu is seen to donate code back to the community, Xandros and Linspire have developed proprietary extensions. Where Ubuntu asks for manufacturers to free their drivers, Xandros and Linspire have signed patent covenants with Microsoft.

Then there's SLED/SLES, and OpenSUSE which you can only use ‘safely’ provided that you don’t make money from it.

The article also contains an interesting history lesson on Corel. Is this Novell’s vocation?

Cowpland, and Corel, may have made the classic mistake of realising too early where the market was going, and running before the market could walk. Within months Cowpland was forced to step down from the company he had founded, vowing to devote his time to working with unspecified Linux start-ups. “Personally, I intend to get my hands really dirty with a lot of Linux technology,” he told reporters. “I’m fascinated by the potential that’s now emerging.”

He was replaced as CEO by Corel’s chief technology officer, Derek Burney. “Open-source software isn’t a moneymaker”, said Burney, “Microsoft’s .Net strategy will change computing as we know it.”

By this time, Microsoft, which had an interest in keeping WordPerfect afloat for antitrust reasons, had invested $135 million in Corel. According to Burney: “There is a contract that says we have to put the .Net framework into our major applications within six months of the release of .Net.”

Shortly thereafter, Corel divested itself of its Linux distribution, and discontinued support for WordPerfect and CorelDraw on Linux. It has been assumed by many that this was an unwritten condition of Microsoft’s investment in Corel.

In August 2001, Xandros Incorporated announced that it had secured the rights to Corel’s Linux distribution and a US$10 million investment from Linux Global Partners, a Venture Capital firm. Like Corel, Xandros has its roots in Ottawa, Canada, and retained the majority of Corel’s original Linux software development team. Linux Global Partners also invested heavily in other Linux companies, the best known of which are probably CodeWeavers and Ximian (before it was sold to Novell).

[...]

The biggest problem for Xandros and Linspire has been the “patent covenants” that both companies signed with Microsoft, and the detrimental effect that these agreements have had on ongoing relationships with the Linux user and developer communities.

Jeremy Allison of Samba made the point when he resigned from Novell over the same issue. “Whilst the Microsoft patent agreement is in place there is nothing we can do to fix community relations. And I really mean nothing,” he wrote. “Until the patent provision is revoked, we are pariahs…. Unfortunately the time I am willing to wait for this agreement to be changed… has passed, and so I must say goodbye.”

[...]

To which, Alan Cox, the best known of Linux kernel developers after Linus Torvalds, replied: “That would be because we believe in Free Software and doing the right thing (a practice you appear to have given up on). Maybe it is time the term ‘open source’ also did the decent thing and died out with you.”

Can you see what happened to Corel? Two-way assimilation (Microsoft to open [1, 2], and open to the Microsoft API). Good luck to Novell and .Net Mono. The major news at the moment is about GNOME 3.0 (version number bump from 2.3). Miguel de Icaza once said that GNOME 4.0 would be based on .Net. A recent appointment makes the mind boggle a bit [1, 2]. Mono is already there.

ISO Deals a “Blow for the Emerging Markets”

Posted in Africa, America, Asia, GPL, ISO, Open XML at 2:40 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Yesterday we wrote about Microsoft's major attack on GNU/Linux and ODF in South Africa. It’s being portrayed in the local press as something positive, as if non-Free software for young people is a bonus as opposed to digital imprisonment. GNU/Linux was already free (in all senses of the word).

The press in South Africa has also just published a response to ISO’s latest and very controversial deeds [1, 2, 3]. ISO refuses to confirm these, but the Shuttleworth Foundation has responded as though it’s inevitable. [via Andy Updegrove]

In April, SA became the first country to appeal against the widely criticised process to fast-track OOXML as an international document standard. India, Brazil and Venezuela joined SA to successfully prevent the standard being fully ratified.

Shuttleworth Foundation fellow Andrew Rens says the recommendation is a blow for the emerging markets and could well destroy the credibility of the ISO. “The CEOs of these organisations have failed to acknowledge the gravity of the situation.”

If ISO permits the GPL-hostile OOXML to pass, it then becomes a foe of Free software and defender of unreasonable, discriminatory RAND terms.

The attempt to fight Free (libre) software in education with free (gratis) software is not unique to South Africa. Microsoft appears to be trying this everywhere, assuming the educational system puts Windows on the rocks. They already try the same tactics in India. They donate money, arguably in order to subvert ICT proposals.

Here are, specifically, a couple of examples from Kerala:

1. Indian state takes on Microsoft.

He said Microsoft executives were seeking to meet the state’s chief minister this week. Kerala state is a potentially strong market for the company, with a population of 32 million and a 90.9% literacy rate – far above the national average of 68.4%.

2. IT Giants Train Students And Faculty of Kerala.

This program allows universities and colleges to get latest Microsoft software available in labs, classrooms, and on student PCs. MSDN AA is an annual membership program.The membership allows an enrolled student to take home the complete microsoft products, except products for office productivity.

Also Microsoft has offered to asist the universities to customise their carriculam and claims that the Microsoft range of products are suitable for CS and IT syllabus of Indian universities.Also Microsoft has started .Net user groups in cities like Cochin. Also Microsoft is selecting student ambassadors from various institutions and conducting programming contests.

How long before they try to reverse Brazil’s decision?

Deploying KDE to 52 million young people

[...]

By the end of this year 29,000 labs serving some 32,000,000 students will be fully deployed and in active use.

By the end of next year (2009) those numbers will have swelled to 53,000 labs serving some 52,000,000 students.

Only BECTA is silly enough not only to pay Microsoft but also to keep it secret.

“The danger is that Microsoft is using strategic monopolistic pricing in the education market, with the government’s asistance, to turn our state university systems into private workforce training programs for Microsoft.”

Nathan Newman

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