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Links 6/6/2013: Ghana Linux Update, AMD Turns to Linux

Posted in News Roundup at 4:11 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

GNOME bluefish



Free Software/Open Source

  • Open Source: Does a Collaborative Process for Developing Ideas Imply Innovation?

    A goal of Open Source is that the model allows alliances to be built among randomly distributed remote developers. The theory goes that the collective ingenuity of many remote contributors can focus together on improving and creating a much more rich product than what can be created by a single individual or small closed group. The success of Linux springs to mind immediately as an example of Open Source collaboration work well and what many people would consider to be even better than the traditional process of closed development.

  • edX learning platform now all open source

    The edX learning platform has now completed its transition to open source and is available under an AGPL licence. The core of the system is the edx-platform which includes both the LMS (Learning Management System) and Studio, a tool for creating courses. Other parts of the system, such as the XBlock component architecture for courseware, machine-learning-based grading such as EASE, the discern tool, deployment tools, interfaces to external grading systems and Python execution utilities, can all be found on the new code.edx.org.

  • EdX Goes Open Source To Woo MOOC Developers
  • Has Open-Source Technology Grown Up?

    If open-source software and technology was a brand in its own right, it might borrow the popular 1968 tagline for Virginia Slims: You’ve come a long way, baby.

  • Linux source code for Rockchip RK3188 devices now available

    Rockchip’s RK3188 processor is one of the fastest ARM Cortex-A9 chips around. The 28nm quad-core processor outperforms the chips found in the Samsung Galaxy S III and Google Nexus 7, for instance. And it’s a relatively inexpensive chip, which explains why it’s proven popular with Chinese tablet and TV box makers.

  • Web Browsers

    • Mozilla

      • Mozillux: A Nice Linux Distro With a Unique Software Set

        French Mozillux may look a lot like LXDE-based Lubuntu Linux, but don’t be fooled. This portable Linux distro, which targets both beginners and intermediate users, offers a surprisingly comprehensive selection of installed software for users with a wide range of interests. It’s easily as flexible and usable as Puppy and Knoppix; just make sure you follow the developers’ download instructions.

      • Firefox’s New Interface Is Already Looking Good on Linux

        It’s been a few months since I last checked in on the progress of Australis, the new Firefox interface coming to Windows, Mac and, of course, Linux.

  • SaaS/Big Data

  • Databases

  • Oracle/Java/LibreOffice

  • Semi-Open Source


  • Licensing

    • Forking and Standards: Why The Right to Fork Can Be Pro-Social

      It is often said that open source and open standards are different, because in open source, a diversity of forks is accepted/encouraged, while “forked” standards are confusing/inefficient since they don’t provide “stable reference points” for the people who have to implement the spec.

  • Openness/Sharing

  • Programming

    • Google Gives Training Wheels To App Developers

      Want to build an Android app but don’t want to bother with the backend nuts and bolts that keep it running properly? Google has got you covered. The Android maker has released a cloud-based backend kit which handles some of the nitty-gritty work of creating an app which requires authentication, cloud storage, server queries and push notifications. This offering also operates on Google’s App Engine cloud service which offers server scaling and a host of Google APIs, all manageable through a web-based dashboard. In essence, Google wants developers to not to just write apps for Android, but to write apps using their APIs and standards, and they’re willing to give away the keys to do it.

  • Standards/Consortia

    • The Reality of WebRTC…All Hype?

      Actually, WebRTC is the biggest change we face today. The full impact is probably 2 years out–but it’s coming. Here are the critical issues still to be resolved.

    • Google to keep CalDAV, CardDAV API open

      Google has reversed its previous decision to restrict access to CalDAV API to only select and large partners. The decision raised questions over Google’s commitment to open standard and open source. Google says that the decision was based on impression that “almost all the API usage was driven by a few large developers,” says Piotr Stanczyk, the Tech Lead of the Google Calendar APIs group.


  • Science

  • Health/Nutrition

    • Ben & Jerry’s Is Going Non-GMO

      Ice cream man­u­fac­turer Ben & Jerry’s has com­mit­ted to switch­ing to all non-GMO ingre­di­ents in its ice cream prod­ucts by the end of this year.

  • Defence/Police/Secrecy/Aggression

    • After a Massacre, a ‘Glimmer of Hope’?

      In a courtroom base near Tacoma, Washington, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will plead guilty today to killing 16 civilians–most of them women and children–in an Afghan village on March 11, 2012. Bales will give his first account of the attack under oath as part of the hearing, in order to avoid the death penalty (New York Times, 6/05/13). The incident remains one of the most shocking slaughters of civilians in the Afghan War. The massacre received some media attention at the time, though much of that discussion was about the problems it would pose for the U.S. war there.

  • Environment/Energy/Wildlife

    • Environmental Groups Split on Illinois Fracking Bill

      The Illinois legislature has passed a fracking regulatory bill, expected to be signed into law by the governor, hailed by some environmental groups as the “toughest in the country.” But other groups are highly critical, both of the bill and of the way some big environmental groups worked with legislators and industry to pass it into law.

  • Finance

    • Sure, Go Ahead and Invest in Goldman Sachs’ Hedge Fund for Average Joes (Just Don’t Expect to Make Money)

      Much attention has been paid lately to Goldman Sachs’ decision to “help” average folks (a.k.a. the 99% crowd) access the kind of high-stakes hedge funds once available only to the superrich (a.k.a. the 1%). And while all sorts of pundits and investor advocates have noted the folly of this and similar ideas, there’s a case to be made that the opposite is true — that average investors might do well by throwing some money Goldman’s way. In fact, there are two cases to be made. Allow me to explain.

  • PR/AstroTurf/Lobbying

    • WI Legislature Fast-Tracking “War on Democracy” Bill, Business Lobby Misleads on Disclosure Provisions

      Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin are fast-tracking a controversial bill to keep political donors secret, enact voter ID, and limit early voting, among other measures, with a vote scheduled for next week. The only public hearing on the bill was held Tuesday, where a representative of the business lobby made several misleading assertions about the bill’s disclosure provisions.

      “Our main message today to the committee is to please slow down,” Jonathan Becker and Mike Haas of the state Government Accountability Board told the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections.

  • Censorship

    • Who decides what we can see online?

      Today, along with the Open Rights Group, English PEN and Index on Censorship, we have signed a letter to Culture Secretary Maria Miller highlighting our concerns about the current debate around ‘blocking’ internet content.

      It is absolutely right to pursue the removal of illegal content from the internet, but moving to a system where legal content is blocked poses a clear and significant risk to freedom of speech. The triviality of circumventing blocks aside, such a policy risks blocking legitimate websites and setting a dangerous international precedent. After all, who gets to decide what legal content is deemed to be unfit for the British public?

  • Privacy

    • Fighting Facebook, a Campaign for a People’s Terms of Service

      Facebook is on the defensive again. Members of the social networking site sued the company for co-opting their identities in online ads, and Facebook agreed to revise its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” and offer a $20 million settlement. The case has drawn less attention than the dorm disputes portrayed in The Social Network, but the impact is far wider. An underpublicized aspect of the dispute concerns the power of online contracts, and ultimately, whether users or corporations have more control over life online.

  • Civil Rights

    • Judge Blocks Order Demanding Suspect Decrypt Computer Drives or Face Jail

      A federal judge today halted an order that a Wisconsin man decrypt 16 computer drives the authorities suspect contain child pornography downloaded from the peer-to-peer file-sharing site e-Donkey.

      The brief ruling (.pdf) by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa of Milwaukee came a day after the suspect’s attorney urged Randa to halt a magistrate’s earlier order that Jeffrey Feldman decrypt the drives by today or potentially face indefinite detention until he complied.

    • Bangladesh police open fire at collapsed garment factory protest

      Hundreds of Rana Plaza workers and their families take to the streets to demand back pay and compensation

  • DRM

Microsoft’s Latest Attack on GNU/Linux in Education Targets the Poorest

Posted in GNU/Linux, Google, Microsoft at 9:47 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Ballmer to Myanmar: what’s in your wallet?


Summary: Microsoft is seeding a culture of begging — begging for middle- and low-classed people to pay Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates in exchange for rights-violating binaries

THIS news about Microsoft greed is nothing illegal like EDGI, but it sure shows how desperate Microsoft is becoming. The Microsoft boosting site (a tabloid called ZDNet) is quoting Microsoft talking points and “[k]icking a country when it’s already down,” to quote iophk, who brought this despicable PR to our attention. What it’s all about is trying to derive revenue from some of the world’s poorest people while of course elbowing Free/libre software.

“…it looks like Microsoft is scared of chromebooks showing up at the universities and dorms in September.”
But wait, there’s more from the Microsoft boosters. Microsoft-funded folks from GeekWire (previous employers had received money from Microsoft) kept doing their Microsoft advocacy, noting that in order to stop Chromebooks/Linux in education Microsoft is trying a new strategy similar but not identical to the infamous laptop bribes (expensive gifts in exchange for positive reviews). Here is how Slashdot put it: “Q. What do Chris Brown and Steve Ballmer have in common? A. They both want you to Beg for It. GeekWire reports that Microsoft is touting its new Chip In program, a crowdfunding platform that allows students to ‘beg’ for select Windows 8 PCs and tablets that they can’t afford on their own. Blair Hanley Frank explains, ‘Students go to the Chip In website and choose one of the 20 computers and tablets that have been pre-selected by Microsoft. Microsoft chips in 10% of the price right off the bat, and then students are given a link to a “giving page” to send out to anyone they think might give them money. Once their computer is fully funded, Microsoft ships it to them.’ Hey, what could go wrong?”

iophk adds: “About the Slashdot link, it looks like Microsoft is scared of chromebooks showing up at the universities and dorms in September. I haven’t looked but figure the ‘approved’ models might be quite locked down. However, there is a risk for the students not only do they look bad spamming their contact list if things go wrong they could end up with a Vista8 laptop.”

Changing the subject a bit, it could be even worse. Maybe they could end up with a Microsoft-taxed Dell laptop running Ubuntu (legitimising Microsoft’s patent tax on GNU/Linux). Not too long ago Ubuntu’s community leader/manager was given a gift by Microsoft (which had tried to hire him), buying itself some valuable PR. He has a long history of visits to Microsoft, e.g. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. After apparent entryism Ubuntu is no longer competing with Microsoft on the desktop, Its new bug #1 is Android having majority market share.

If this is the appalling company that Ubuntu/Canonical is liaising with, then it oughtn’t get away with excusing itself based on claims that Microsoft has changed. Microsoft and Canonical are partners now.

UEFI ‘Secure’ Boot is Not About Security, Insyde Software’s Business Model is Misguided and Dangerous

Posted in GNU/Linux, Kernel, Security at 9:10 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Corporate insecurity for Insyde Software, corporate security for Microsoft


Summary: Promotion of bad ideas by Insyde Software merits another discussion about what UEFI actually means to ordinary GNU/Linux users

The main problem with UEFI is its effect on freedom. It’s not just about restricted boot but also patents and other issues covered in the criticism section in Wikipedia.

A new press release from Taiwan describes UEFI as a security mechanism, but this is utter fiction. Last month I spoke for over an hour with the president of the UEFI Forum, covering in length the aspect of security. He too was led to agreeing with me that security is hardly improved by UEFI, which can have its barriers bypassed and ignored. The press release says something like this:

Insyde Software, a leading provider of Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) BIOS, today announced the availability of new UEFI security features including Secure Boot and secure firmware update for leading Linux distributions.

No, thanks. Linux does not need UEFI for security. Even Torvalds rejects the 'security' claim (he dislikes ‘secure’ boot in general [1, 2]). So the above is a marketing gimmick, that’s all. Insyde Software will boost flawed claims of ‘security’, so we should all be prepared to rebut.

Dr. Garrett, an expert in this field and occasional apologist, demonstrated that UEFI with Linux can brick hardware [1, 2, 3]. So much for security, eh? He is supporting it, sadly enough, based on very weak grounds. He should have antagonised it instead. Earlier this week he posted an update on the bricking issue:

Meanwhile, Samsung got back to us and let us know that their systems didn’t require more than 5KB of nvram space to be available, which meant we could get rid of the 50% value and replace it with 5KB. The hope was that any system that booted with only 5KB of space available in nvram would trigger a garbage collection run. Unfortunately, it turned out that that wasn’t true – some systems will only trigger garbage collection if the OS actually makes an attempt to write a variable that won’t otherwise fit.

So the search for a solution goes on under the false pretences that buggy, experimental UEFI sometimes adds something for GNU/Linux users to enjoy. The practical benefits of UEFI are very minor to ordinary desktop users. UEFI is good for two monopolies: the Intel/x86 monopoly and the Windows monopoly.

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