All posts by Chinmoy Kanjilal

Chinmoy Kanjilal is a FOSS enthusiast and evangelist. He is passionate about Android. Security exploits turn him on and he loves to tinker with computer networks. He rants occasionally at Techarraz.com. You can connect with him on Twitter @ckandroid.

Europe Sees Another Mass Migration of Government IT to FOSS, This Time in Spain

At a time when Europe is facing a hard time in a financial crisis and Apple is worth more than Greece, price cuts of any form are always welcome. Perhaps for this reason, a slew of European countries have moved to FOSS technologies for use in their internal operations. France, Germany and many prominent European economies have started using FOSS technologies, and have benefited hugely in saved IT costs. This time, Spain’s autonomous region Extremadura wants to move to open-source solutions in place of their current proprietary desktop software.

The IT department of the region has estimated that about 40,000 computers will be migrated to open source technologies, as part of this move. If the project proceeds as planned, it will be Europe’s second largest desktop migration project. The largest was of course the one at Gendarmerie, France, for which the French government floated a huge maintenance tender a few months ago. The city of Munich in Germany recorded the third high, with 14,000 computers migrated to open-source technologies.

Extremadura has chosen to use a Debian based system. The region’s CIO, Cayetano López, claims that the Debian system will be ready in three months. The next one year will be spent deploying it across various regional government offices.

That version gives us a good starting point to adapt Debian to the needs of a standard user, offer a light, and secure desktop, compliant with the requirements of ISO and IEC 27001 IT security standards.

This migration will unify all desktops across offices making them free from security problems and viruses. Nevertheless, the best advantage of using FOSS is unanimously decided as immense cost savings.

Ubuntu Tries to Do Away with Menus, Enter Heads Up Display, or HUD

Over the last few years, Canonical and Mark Shuttleworth have become extremely innovative about User Experience (UX). Ubuntu really has some UX experts in its team, and the kind of things that have been coming out of Canonical for the last few months shout out loud that Canonical is putting them to good use. The recent UX change for Ubuntu is “Heads Up Display” or HUD, and it surely looks like a good feature.

Heads Up Display, or HUD is a new way of interacting with applications, where you do not go through multiple menu hierarchies to reach a menu item. Instead, you simply type it and HUD will search it for you, in live. Moreover, HUD remembers what you typed last and prioritizes those commands in search results, so is also very fast for common tasks. It bridges the gap between the command line interface and application menus, and does it wonderfully.

As mentioned by Olli Ries in a blog post, who was once the Principal Director of engineering at Novell, and is one of the Product Strategy Engineering Managers at Canonical presently, plans for HUD were underway even before the last Ubuntu Developer Summit.

Facebook Finalizes Timeline, Rolling Out to All Facebook Users Now

When Facebook unveiled Timeline for the first time and we caught a glimpse of it at their F8 developer summit, it was clear that Facebook has big plans for this feature. Timeline was a major upgrade for the social network, and it was definitely going to stay. What we did not know, was how far Facebook would keep developing it, before rolling it out to the public permanently. Well, the wait is over, and stating today, Timeline is an official Facebook feature, available to all Facebook users. The final rollout of timeline took Facebook four months from its first preview.

In these four months, Facebook acquired Gowalla possibly to improve Timeline, or to integrate location services (Facebook places, in this case) with Timeline in some way. Timeline was also released on 15 December as an opt-in feature in New Zealand, where you had to enable Timeline for your account by yourself, if you wanted to use it. This time though, Timeline will be the default view on your profile. Although you can select to opt-out of Timeline for a few more days (at facebook.com/about/timeline), eventually, your account will be upgraded to use Timeline.

I have been using Timeline for quite some time now, using a trick that was revealed right after the first preview of Timeline (irrelevant now). Timeline has some interesting UX aspects that make it wonderful for a walk down memory lane. It gives more meaning and organization to the stream of Facebook posts, presenting it as a meaningful stream of thoughts over time.

Timeline is available on both the Facebook website, and on the Android Facebook app. If you have not seen Timeline on your profile yet, you will get it very soon. Tag your photos properly and clean up your albums for a meaningful Facebook Timeline experience on your profile. Here is the Facebook Timeline introduction video for those did not get a chance to see it yet.

Judge Overlooks the Fifth Amendment, Forces Defendant to Decrypt Laptop

Until a few days ago, privacy and free speech laws were respected and handled with utmost care in the US. This made the US a role model, when it came to privacy laws. However, after the recent upheaval, these protections are falling apart. SOPA/PIPA has attempted to ridiculed free speech in the name of censorship, by paving a path to attack all websites with user-generated content. However, something that has not happened in years, and has been a big issue for the federal government in handling cases involving storage media, is finally happening after all.

In an ongoing case, Judge Robert Blackburn ordered a woman to decrypt the hard-drive of her laptop no later than 21st of this month, or face contempt of court charges. This is a critical matter, as decisions in many similar cases have been affected because of the protections provided by the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment protects against exactly these situations, where someone could be forced to provide evidence against them.

However, Judge Blackburn has a different interpretation of the 5th Amendment, and says

I find and conclude that the Fifth Amendment is not implicated by requiring production of the unencrypted contents of the Toshiba Satellite M305 laptop computer.

He also cites a 1789 law, that was used to force telephone companies to aid in surveillance, and can be used to force decryption of hard-drives (don’t ask me how)! Federal Prosecutors explain why this decision was taken, claiming that

Public interests will be harmed absent requiring defendants to make available unencrypted contents in circumstances like these. Failing to compel Ms. Fricosu amounts to a concession to her and potential criminals (be it in child exploitation, national security, terrorism, financial crimes or drug trafficking cases) that encrypting all inculpatory digital evidence will serve to defeat the efforts of law enforcement officers to obtain such evidence through judicially authorized search warrants, and thus make their prosecution impossible.

The defendant has Phil Dubois as her lawyer, who also represented PGP creator Phil Zimmermann, in a case.

Anonymous Hacks FTC’s OnGuardOnline Website as Part of OpMegaupload

Since 2008, the satirical hacker collective, popularly known as the Anonymous has risen to act in the public interest. They have carried out numerous hacks to bring down websites of companies with questionable business practices, governments with poor legislative policies and churches with a twisted sense of religion. From a satirical merry hacker-band, the group went on to become the primary name in the international online hacktivism space.

This time, the group of Anonymous has targeted OnGuardOnline (the US online security website), a partner the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The attack is a protest against the shutdown of Megaupload, the popular file-sharing website.

It is a well-known fact that after the downfall of their usual communication channels, Anonymous has started posting on the Pastebin website. This particular paste on Pastebin announces the FTC hack, along with a dump of the hacked data. The same message is also posted on the hacked onguardonline.gov website.

If SOPA/PIPA/ACTA passes we will wage a relentless war against the corporate internet, destroying dozens upon dozens of government and company websites. As you are reading this, we are amassing our allied armies of darkness, preparing boatloads of stolen booty for our next raid. We are sitting on hundreds of rooted servers getting ready to drop all your mysql dumps and mail spools. Your passwords? Your precious bank accounts? Even your online dating details?! You ain’t even trying to step to this.

Earlier this week, a misguided faction inside Anonymous decided to post a YouTube video, calling all Anonymous supporters to attack Facebook. Soon thereafter, the attack was dismissed by the Anonymous Twitter account when they saw this as unfeasible. This is being realistic, because such a mega-scale attack is not possible without proper co-ordination, at least not after Anonymous lost its IRC server.

WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange is Launching a TV Chat Show

We humans love controversy, and Julian Assange knows that. Just last year, he turned the world upside down unraveling one mystery after another through WikiLeaks. He unmasked governments, shady companies, heavy bank accounts and went on to become the most wanted man in the world. The man became the face of investigative journalism, and now, he wants to base a business around it. Julian Assange is planning to launch a TV show, which will give a new medium to the same old content, which he has mastered in delivery.

This statement from WikiLeaks simplifies what the show intends to do.

…draw together controversial voices from across the political spectrum – iconoclasts, visionaries and power insiders – each to offer a window on the world tomorrow.

Quick Roll Productions are producing the show with a commitment of over 600 million viewers across cable, terrestrial broadcast and satellite. The US Government has been investigating into WikiLeaks and Assange for over 500 days now, which has made him into a revolutionary figure, worldwide.

Julian Assange’s personal statement about the TV show stands as

Through this series, I will explore the possibilities for our future in conversations with those who are shaping it. Are we heading towards utopia, or dystopia and how we can set our paths? This is an exciting opportunity to discuss the vision of my guests in a new style of show that examines their philosophies and struggles in a deeper and clearer way than has been done before.

The series will start airing in March, and has ten episodes initially, planned for weekly release. This series will urge people to rethink the way the world is working currently, and what needs to be done to save it from a collapse. The way WikiLeaks shook the foundation of some governments and unraveled their diplomatic dirt, this show will be hugely popular. This show will only address our insatiable desire for conspiracies, but then, who does not like conspiracies?

Google Open Sources Sky Maps in Collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University

Back in 2009, when Android phones were not that powerful in hardware, there were very few apps as interesting as Google Sky Maps. Google Sky Maps was one of the best 20% projects at Google. However, the app always stayed a part of the 20% projects, and failed to gain popularity. It was launched in May 2009 for Android phones, and has been an astronomy-enthusiast’s favorite app. Our in-house science-geek Debjyoti speaks of Google Sky Maps as

The ancients have got to be jealous; you can now see the map of the entire Universe on your android phone, thanks to Google Sky Map.

Seeing stagnant growth for years, Google has decided to stop working on Google Sky Maps, and donate the app to the Carnegie Mellon University for further development. This is a welcome move in that they did not decide to kill it instead.

google-sky-maps

At Carnegie Mellon University, Google Sky Maps will be developed as a series of student projects. This will give students something to boast of, as well as ensure development of this stagnant product. Google Research blog announced this news, saying,

Today, we are delighted to announce that we are going to share Sky Map in a different way: we are donating Sky Map to the community. We are collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University in an exciting partnership that will see further development of Sky Map as a series of student projects.

This has sparked an intriguing discussion on Slashdot, on whether we can rely on 3rd-party cloud services for creating our applications. With Google withdrawing many of its services like Picnik and Needlebase, there is no guarantee that other providers will find it necessary to make their services available continuously. Only if you are lucky enough, like in case of Google Sky Maps or App Inventor, Google makes them open source and available for further development. However, if the services fails to gain popularity, Google decides to kill it with a few months’ notice, and those few months is all you have to shift base, in case you have based your business around that service.

Reddit and Y Combinator Want to Take the Censorship Battle to the Entertainment Industry

For the last few years, the entertainment industry has been trying its level best to censor the Internet. It has been pushing the US government to pass arbitrary laws, which have less to do with piracy and more to do with controlling free speech. The matter is getting worse, with their bills getting more stringent and harder to oppose. A draconian bill like SOPA, which never should have been considered, required a massive protest to be rescheduled and dropped later! Censorship bills are created every few months, with backing from the media-industry lobbyists. If the anti-censorship opposition grows weak anytime, a censorship bill passes without doubt. This is a delicate balance, which we have come to accept. Finally, Reddit and Y Combinator have decided that it is time to stop fighting the small battles and address the root cause- the entertainment industry.

The first time I saw this idea springing up on a website was at “The best page in the universe” [mildly NSFW].

Instead of changing your Facebook icon to an anti-SOPA image for a day or two, here’s something you can do that might make a real difference: boycott the companies that supported this legislation. There are too many to boycott all of them effectively, so I propose we pick two or three, hit them, and hit them hard. Punish them for putting their interests above ours.

As suggested above, both Reddit and Y Combinator are gearing up against the entertainment industry in their own fashion.

Reddit is looking to boycott movies made by the top six recording studios, namely Walt Disney, Sony, Paramount, Fox, Universal and Warner Brothers. A huge discussion has started outlining the strategy and inventory for the battle.

Make [it] look professional instead of like a handful of angry nerds using rage faces and MS paint to call the MPAA [names]. It would be hard to blame piracy when a single studio starts to sink and a boycott announced weeks before said it was going to happen.

At the same time, popular startup-funding firm Y Combinator has decided to fund startups that will compete with movies and TV shows.

What’s going to kill movies and TV is what’s already killing them: better ways to entertain people. So the best way to approach this problem is to ask yourself: what are people going to do for fun in 20 years instead of what they do now?

The entire SOPA fiasco was an eye opener, both for the Internet (severe censorship bills) and for the entertainment industry (strong protests). Perhaps, it really should get worse before it gets better. Only time will tell how this ends.

Megaupload Shutdown by Feds, Proves Further That SOPA is a Dud Bill, Anonymous Retaliates

Soon after the Internet community pinned down SOPA, the feds went after Megaupload and brought it down. Megaupload is one of the world’s most popular file-sharing websites. It has been charged with over $500 million in losses over piracy of music, movies and TV shows. This is one of the largest criminal copyright cases, and the Justice Department along with the FBI has been prompt in bringing it to a closure. Surprisingly, they did not need to use anything like SOPA in this case. This proves that there is enough law for taking down apparently rogue websites. SOPA is absolutely unnecessary and hence, unwelcome.

stop-censorship

The founder of Megaupload Kim Dotcom, along with three others, was arrested at New Zealand, on request by US authorities. Megaupload was one of the 18 domains owned by Kim Dotcom and his company, and all of them were seized following raids on their three datacenters. However, this domain-seizure and arrest came as a surprise, because a few days ago, Kim made a bold statement in an interview with TorrentFreak.

Mega has nothing to fear. Our business is legitimate and protected by the DMCA and similar laws around the world. We work with the best lawyers and play by the rules. We take our legal obligations seriously. Mega’s war chest is full and we have strong supporters backing us.

The position on file-sharing websites has always been a controversial one in the anti-piracy debate. NY Times puts it into fine words saying,

Megaupload and similar sites, like Rapidshare and Mediafire, are often promoted as convenient ways to legitimately transfer large files; a recent promotional video had major stars like Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas singing Mega-upload’s praises. But they have become notorious inside media companies, which see the legitimate uses as a veil concealing extensive theft.

In the midst of all this ballyhoo, Anonymous rose in protest against the Megaupload shutdown, and brought down the Justice Department website for a brief period. They also attacked the MPAA, RIAA and Universal Music Group websites.

Do not forget to read some interesting traffic stats for Megaupload.

Linux Foundation Predicts a Rocking Year for Linux in the Enterprise Sector

Linux has tried gaining a respectable position (by market-share) in the desktop world, and has failed for years. Apparently, not many people want to use Linux until they have something specific to do with Linux. Linux is not the first choice for many and this second-class status is going to stay as long as OEMs keep choosing Windows to be shipped with their laptops and desktops.

open-source

However, nothing beats Linux when it comes to the enterprise sector. The enterprise sector is the playground of Linux, and its adoption has been on a constant rise in this sector. Recently, the Linux Foundation revealed some trends, gathered from a survey conducted among enterprise users. There has been a rapid growth for data handled by the enterprise sector, and Linux is their first choice for handling big data requirements.

In the survey, over 80% of the enterprise users have expected an increase in the number of Linux-based over the next five years. However, a welcome change is the survey on perceived technical-barriers in these deployments, which has dropped to 12.2% from 20.3% last year. As always, more than 2/3rd of the participants considered Linux safer than other operating systems. The top three reasons for adopting Linux were:

  • Lower cost
  • More features
  • Security
  • In-house talent pool
  • No vendor lock-in
  • Openness

The 428 participants in the survey were employees of companies with $500 million in sales, or an employee-strength of over 500. It would be wonderful if this survey result translates into market-penetration.

You can get a copy of the survey result, at Linux Foundation.

World IPv6 Day Will Be Back This June, and It Will Be Here to Stay

At a time when IPv4 reserves are running scarce, IPv6 is the only way out. IPv4 reserves dropped to 5% in October 2010 and it has been more than a year since then. Clearly, many companies are already using IPv6 and as it seems, they are ready for the transition to IPv6. A number of Internet-giants gave IPv6 a trial on June 8 last year too, which helped them test their networks with IPv6 and gain some valuable insight.

ipv6-launch

We will know soon when Akamai, Facebook, Google and Yahoo will participate in the first global trial of IPv6 on June 8. With their distributed servers spread all over the world, these companies will form the ideal testing ground and will churn up some useful real-time data.

Following last year’s experiment, this year they are planning a World IPv6 day on June 6. However, they will not return to using IPv4 as they did last time this experiment was performed. Clearly, this is not a test; it is a transition. World IPv6 launch is being promoted through a website- World IPv6 Launch, which lists out all the participants and a link to their IPv6 page.

There are over 250 participants in this transition, majority of them being large website operators. Big brands like Cisco, Google (has already deployed IPv6 internally), Microsoft, Yahoo, Comcast, AT&T, Free, Time Warner Cable and D-Link are among the participants of this mega event, and it will be a turning point in the history of Internet. However, the participants in which you should take special interest are the ISPs, namely Comcast, Free Telecom, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Free Telecom and Internode. At the end of the day, they are the ones serving Internet connections to every household in the nation.

Schools in Kerala Save $10,000,000 Per Year, Using Open Source Software

When it comes to adoption of open-source technologies in India, Kerala is way ahead of all other states. Kerala has some of the oldest FOSS groups of this country, and they have done a wonderful job migrating (or persuading to migrate) a large part of the state’s IT administration to FOSS technologies. In October last year, the state electricity board of Kerala saved a whopping $1.6 billion in IT bills, using Open Source technologies. This time though, Kerala has made a new record in IT savings with over $10 million saved using FOSS in educational institutes.

open-source

The state of Kerala has achieved this marvelous feat by using an Open Source school management system called Fedena. The project of migration to Fedena was named Sampoorna, and it is described as

Sampoorna is the implementation of Fedena by Government of Kerala, India. Details of around 7million students from Standard 1 to 12, in over 15,000 schools in the State, will now be easily accessible to school authorities.

Other states in India have a lot to learn from Kerala. If we extrapolate from this data, we can arrive at a rough estimate of $300 million in savings if all Indian states adopt Open Source technologies, and this is considering only education! Clearly, there is a vast scope for saving IT expenses, and the Indian government should take this matter seriously.

Linux Kernel Doubles in Threee Years, Troubles Linus Torvalds

When the Linux kernel came out for the first time in September 1991, it had only 10,000 lines of code. It was elegant and was a revolutionary idea. Slowly, as it grew in popularity, the lines of code increased to 176,250 by March 1994. From there, The Linux kernel has been growing alarmingly. It reached 2.4 million lines of code in 2001, 10 million lines of code in 2008, and it will have over 15 million lines of code by its next stable release. Is this normal? Should we be worried?

This is definitely not normal growth. A large part of the Linux kernel carries code for legacy hardware. Besides that, drivers, file-systems and architecture-specific functionalities use three-fourth of the code. Documentation comments and blank lines fill more spaces. Perhaps it is the monolithic-kernel architecture of Linux, which is the reason for this bloat. It is time to revisit the Tanenbaum-Torvalds debate again.

linux-kernel-rise

Linus has already called the Linux kernel bloated earlier. This time, the real problem as spotted by Torvalds himself in an interview, is that

There are some parts in the Linux Kernel that very few people understand really well.

The only relieving news right now is that the Linux kernel version 3.0 will be a long-term release, with at least 2 years of support. Currently, this status is enjoyed by the kernel version 2.6.32 because of its use across long-term support versions of major distros.

Watch this funny video where Microsoft wishes Linux on its birthday.

SOPA Sent to an Early Grave Under Sheer Pressure from Internet Users

If you were not living under a rock for the last few months, you probably have heard about SOPA. It was a bill that would have killed the free Internet and made it a regulated and sugarcoated media of all things good! The bill was ridiculous enough to penalize entire websites for a single sensitive content that any user posted. It is time to rejoice finally, as SOPA has been withdrawn and the voice of the people has won through.

The Examiner reports this refreshing news, saying

In a surprise move today, Representative Eric Cantor(R-VA) announced that he will stop all action on SOPA, effectively killing the bill. This move was most likely due to several things. One of those things is that SOPA and PIPA met huge online protest against the bills. Another reason would be that the White House threatened to veto the bill if it had passed.

Both tech-giants and First Amendment advocates went all out against SOPA, and brought it down. In the midst of this, GoDaddy lost thousands of domains, Comcast issued a network upgrade rendering DNS blocking ineffective and Kaspersky withdrew support for SOPA. However, the strongest blow came from the White House, which finally decided to oppose SOPA, leaving the bill helpless.

SOPA was a desperate attempt by the media industry to regulate and control the Internet. Now that it is gone, all those protests should be focused against PIPA, which is another bill of the same nature as SOPA. It should face the same opposition as SOPA and meet its demise.

Ireland Gives Up On Electronic Voting Machines, Plans to Dispose of Existing Ones

The use of electronic voting machines became extremely popular during the first few years of this millennium. India started using voting machines in 2002; Ireland started testing them in 2002 and Brazil in 2005. The use of electronic voting machines has always been the topic of controversies and vulnerabilities. However, it continues to be in use at many countries in spite of the possibilities of tampering.

The Irish government spent nearly 50 million euro, buying 7000 electronic voting machines over the last decade. However, soon after testing them in 2002, it withdrew them due to security concerns. Though, India continues to use Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in spite of multiple proof-of-concept hacks.

Now, the Irish government wants to get rid of those 7000 useless voting machines and will float tenders for recycling or purchase of the useless machines. Apparently, the EVMs were never used, the Irish government spent a huge amount of money storing them, and now, and it is willing to sell them off for disposal after failing to find another country, which would buy them. It seems like EVMs are losing the trust of people and the sooner governments like India and Brazil stop using it, the fairer and lesser controversial their elections will be.

Check out this YouTube video of Hari Prasad talking about his experiments with the EVM.