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It made Messenger a separate app and then turned it into a platform all its own

Facebook annoyed and puzzled many people last year when it forced them to download its Messenger app for chats. Its reasons for doing so are now clearer: Messenger is becoming a beast of an app, with its own links to outside businesses and software apart from Facebook’s main site.

At the company’s F8 developer conference this week in San Francisco, executives pulled back the curtain on the new Messenger. It’s now a storefront and a platform for other mobile apps, which can be downloaded from within Messenger and integrated into people’s Messenger chats. There are more than 40 outside app partners already aiming to spice up users’ conversations with things like personalized GIFs, tools to turn your texts into songs, and even sports animations from ESPN. The apps can be accessed by hitting the “…” button on the Messenger compose screen.

Users can still send each other plain old text-based messages. But why do that when the Messenger app Ditty can turn your text into a song? Or when you can superimpose fire onto your friend’s house with Pyro?

These sorts of integrations, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at F8, are meant to give people more tools to express themselves and to better say what they want to say.

Also, Facebook is now positioning Messenger as a business platform. Soon, when people buy things from select online retailers, they’ll be able to sign up for updates like shipping notifications from within Messenger, or chat with the retailer there, or even change their order. Facebook thinks this is better than having to use regular email or phone calls to engage with the business. Facebook’s initial retailer partners include Zulily and Everlane.

Plus, Messenger users now have the ability to send each other money. You can’t buy things from businesses directly through Messenger yet, but it’s not hard to imagine Facebook going down this route, especially as the company experiments with a “buy button” on Facebook’s main site.

Meanwhile, Facebook Messenger handles quite a few voice calls. In fact, it accounts for more than 10 percent of mobile VoIP calls globally, Zuckerberg said.

Messenger now has roughly 600 million users who log in at least monthly, Zuckerberg said. That’s almost half the size of Facebook’s total user base.

Late last year, at a public Q&A, Zuckerberg said Facebook split Messenger off to make it a better, faster messaging product. Apparently, Facebook also thinks Messenger can do a lot of other things better.


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As ‘organizers of information distribution’ they must store data about users’ communications on servers in Russia

Russia’s communications regulator has ordered Facebook, Twitter and Google to join a register of social networks or face being blocked in Russia, according to a report in the newspaper Izvestia.

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By registering as “organizers of information distribution,” companies agree to store data about their users’ communications on servers in Russia or face a fine of 500,000 Russian roubles ($13,000), the report said. Companies that fail to register within 15 days of a second order from the regulator can be blocked in Russia.

A number of Russian Internet companies have already registered, said the newspaper. These include search engine Yandex, social networking service VKontakte, and webmail service Mail.ru, it said, citing Maxim Ksenzov, deputy head of the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media (Roscomnadzor).

The regulator’s move against the three U.S. Internet companies was no surprise: Western monitoring organizations including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists have been predicting it since Russia passed its so-called Social Media Law in May.

It’s not just Internet services that must register with Roscomnadzor, however: Bloggers too must register as mass media outlets if they have more than 3,000 visitors per day, and must comply with the same restrictions on their output as television stations and newspapers. These include obeying the election law, avoiding profanity, and publishing age-restriction warnings on adult content, according to the CPJ.

Roscomnadzor maintains an extensive list of blogs and other sites that it says contain “incitements to illegal activity”, and requires Russian ISPs to block them.

Organizations including the CPJ expect the registration requirement to have a significant effect on freedom of expression in Russia, not through blocking but through self-censorship, as bloggers limit what they say to avoid the risk of administrative sanctions.

 

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Analysts say there’s more to the story, contend that users blame browser makers — not advertisers — for over-zealous data collection

An online advertising group this week attacked Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, for being anti-business, hiding behind a veneer of populism and harboring “techno-libertarians and academic elites who believe in liberty and freedom … as long as they get to decide the definitions of liberty and freedom.”

In a long — almost 4,000 words — and often-rambling blog post, Randall Rothenberg, the CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) took Mozilla to task over the open-source company’s revamped third-party cookie blocking scheme, a point of contention between the online ad industry and the browser builder since the latter unveiled plans to block some of the cookies used by online advertisers to track users’ Web movements, then deliver targeted ads.

Without ads, specifically targeted ads, the free content on the Web risks vanishing, argued Rothenberg. At best, the elimination of targeted ads means more advertisements, a claim the IAB has made before.

Although Mozilla ditched its original concept of third-party cookie blocking, acknowledging that the mechanism was generating too many erroneous results, the company instead announced last month that it was partnering with Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society to create the “Cookie Clearinghouse,” or CCH.

The CCH’s main job will be to create and maintain a centrally-managed set of lists that will finger sites whose cookies will be blocked and those awarded exemptions.

While the most provocative of Rothenberg’s criticisms were aimed at what he called Mozilla’s values, his biggest beef with the Firefox-CCH plan seemed to be that Mozilla had set itself up as an unelected “gatekeeper” with the power to decide the fate of online businesses.

“The company’s own statements and explanations indicate that Mozilla is making extreme value judgments with extraordinary impact on the digital supply chain, securing for itself a significant gatekeeper position in which it and its handpicked minions will be able to determine which voices gain distribution and which do not on the Internet,” charged Rothenberg.

“The browser is certainly the gatekeeper and the gateway to the broad landscape of the Internet,” agreed Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner, acknowledging the realities of the Web. “But most users are not aware of privacy, or simply don’t care, whether it’s in the browser or on Facebook. It certainly doesn’t loom large in the minds of the average consumer [although] it is a hot-button issue for a small part of the user population.”

Al Hilwa, a researcher with IDC, concurred. “The browser makers are definitely in charge and are indeed the gatekeepers,” he said.

Much of the problem that online advertisers have with Mozilla — and Microsoft — ultimately stems from that gatekeeper role, which the ad industry believes has been abused through unilateral decisions to, for example, block third-party cookies by default (Firefox) and switch on the “Do Not Track” privacy signal (Internet Explorer).

The browser makers’ response is that users have expressed a desire for more online privacy.

But Hilwa sees more at play than a Manichaean view of business versus anti-business, as Rothenberg contended.

Saying Mozilla was “caught in the middle,” Hilwa argued that the company was reacting to pressure — perhaps, as Valdes said, to a vocal minority — because its users blame the browser, not necessarily advertisers, for privacy failures. “There is no doubt users will hold browsers accountable for any breaches of privacy or excesses of the advertising industry in siphoning data,” said Hilwa. “[Browser makers] feel under pressure to control the type of data that can seep through their browsers.”

The recent disclosures of widespread government surveillance has added fuel to that fire, Hilwa noted.

For its part, Mozilla declined to directly rebut Rothenberg’s denunciations, and instead issued a statement that walked a line similar to what it has said before when it’s butted against advertisers.

“Mozilla feels advertising is an important component to a healthy Internet ecosystem, and over the coming months we’ll be working to address valid commercial concerns in our third-party cookie patch before advancing it to the general Firefox release,” said a company spokesman, again intimating that the cookie-blocking plan was far in the future. “We’ll continue gathering input while keeping the dialogue open with the hope that advertising industry groups will respect the choices users make to form the Web experience they want.”

Mozilla, ironically, indirectly relies on advertising revenue for the vast bulk of its revenue. In 2011, the last year for which it reported financials, Mozilla earned $162 million, or 99% of all revenue, from deals with search engines, which pay the firm to make their services available to Firefox users.

Those deals are predicated on Firefox users clicking on ads within the ensuing search results.

Mozilla has been aggressively moving on to other projects, however, including Firefox OS, as a hedge against the decline of desktop browsing and a concurrent reduction in search-based revenue. But the desktop versions of Firefox, which until late 2009 were consistently gaining browser user share, have budged little over the last 12 months.

According to Web analytics firm Net Applications, Firefox on the desktop accounted for 19% of the browsers used worldwide during June. In mobile browsing, where Mozilla has devoted significant resources, not only to Firefox OS but also to an Android browser, Firefox held an almost-invisible 0.03% user share.


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Today, after the closing bell, Microsoft answered an oft-asked question: What would the quarter be with no new major products in the pipeline? Would Windows 7 and Windows Server R2 (released October 2009) and Office 2010 (released May 2010) provide enough sales tailwinds?

 

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For fiscal 2011 third quarter, ended March 31, Microsoft’s revenue rose 13 percent to $16.43 billion, year over year. Operating income: $5.71 billion, or 10 percent increase. Net income rose 31 percent to $5.23 billion, or 61 cents a share. Earnings per share rose by 36 percent year over year.

Twenty-seven months ago, Microsoft stopped providing Wall Street analysts with quarterly and yearly guidance, in a move that is highly unusual for so large and so successful a public company. Microsoft’s refusal to give guidance creates unnecessary negative perceptions about its performance. As such, Wall Street analysts had to rely solely on their wits to call the quarter (again). Average consensus was $16.1 billion revenue and 56 cents earnings per share. Revenue estimates ranged from $15.83 billion to $17.17 billion, with estimated year-over-year growth of 11.7 percent. So Microsoft topped the Street.

“We delivered strong third quarter revenue from our business customers, driven by outstanding performance from Windows Server, SQL database, SharePoint, Exchange, Lync and increasingly our cloud services,” Microsoft COO Kevin Turner said in a statement. “Office had another huge quarter, again exceeding everyone’s expectations, and the addition of Office 365 will make our cloud productivity solutions even more compelling.”

The PC Shipments Quandary

For the second quarter in a row PC shipments hung like a shadow over Microsoft results. Fifteen days ago, Gartner and IDC reported weaker-than-expected demand during first calendar quarter, which coincides with Microsoft’s third fiscal quarter. Globally, PC shipments fell 3.2 percent year over year during first quarter, according to IDC, while Gartner put the decline at a less anemic 1.1 percent. Gartner had predicted 3 percent growth, while IDC expected 1.5 percent growth. Manufacturers shipped 84.3 million PCs in the quarter, according to Gartner, and 80.6 million by IDC’s estimate.

The reasons for the declines are worse for Windows PC manufacturers, which have played a fierce game of lowering prices. The gambit’s effectiveness is over. “Weak demand for consumer PCs was the biggest inhibitor of growth,” Mikako Kitagawa, Gartner principal analyst, said in a statement. “Low prices for consumer PCs, which had long stimulated growth, no longer attracted buyers.

“Instead, consumers turned their attention to media tablets and other consumer electronics. With the launch of the iPad 2 in February, more consumers either switched to buying an alternative device, or simply held back from buying PCs. We’re investigating whether this trend is likely to have a long-term effect on the PC market.”

The problem isn’t so much that tablets are replacing PCs as displacing some of their functions. People who might otherwise buy a new PC are getting other devices instead. According to a recent AdMob survey of tablet owners, seven out of 10 use their PC less. Nearly 30 percent of tablet owners use the device as their primary PC.

But while the consumer market goes gaga over tablets, businesses have been down to the business of upgrading aging Windows XP PCs. When Windows 7 launched in autumn 2009, about 80 percent of the install base was still on XP. The lengthy, and heady, transition has been good for Microsoft, which last week revealed 350 Windows 7 license sales during the operating system’s first 18 months of marketability. Yesterday, Gartner revealed that Windows accounts for 78.6 percent of all desktop and server OS revenues.

However, even with businesses continuing Windows 7 upgrades, revenue for the Windows & Windows Live division fell 4 percent year over year.

Q3 2011 Revenue by Division

* Windows & Windows Live: $4.445 billion, down from $4.650 billion a year earlier.
* Server & Tools: $4.104 billion, up from $3.706 billion a year earlier.
* Business: $5.252 billion, up from $4.341 billion a year earlier.
* Online Services Business: $648 million, up from $566 million a year earlier.
* Entertainment & Devices: $1.935 billion, up from $1.21 billion a year earlier.

The Mobile Conundrum

Microsoft’s most immediate, long-term competitive challenge remains mobile, where upstarts like Apple and Google body slammed Windows Mobile during 2009-10. There is the aforementioned competition from iPad, too. Apple shipped 4.69 million tablets during calendar Q1 for about 19.5 million total for the first four quarters of sales. Apple’s tablet generated nearly $12.4 billion in new revenue during the first 11 months of availability. Mobile devices running Apple’s iOS generated $43.79 billion during calendar 2010, or about 57 percent of Apple revenues.

By most every estimate, mobiles are the future of computing, something iPad’s negative impact on PC sales shows. Mobile applications are set to generate enormous revenues that may soon begin to cannibalize PC applications. Gartner predicts $15 billion revenue generated by mobile apps this year, up nearly three times from 2010.

But Microsoft isn’t rudderless in the cloud-conncted device seas. During the quarter, Microsoft and Nokia announced a definitive, non-exclusive agreement for Windows Phone 7. Nokia plans to ship Windows Phone as its primary operating system, starting in 2012. Nokia and Microsoft signed the deal — it’s official now — one week ago. Yesterday, the axe fell at Nokia: Symbian is being outsourced to Accenture and 7,000 Nokia employees will be transferred or sacked. Gartner and IDC both predict that the deal will propel Windows Phone to second in smartphone market share, behind Android, by 2015. Meanwhile, Microsoft plans Windows 7.5, codename “Mango,” for release before the holidays.

As for tablets, Microsoft is working on a new version of Windows for ARM processors. There categorization gets messy. Gartner and IDC classify Android, BlackBerry and iOS slates as “media tablets.” While tablets running Windows count as PCs. This has caused some confusion among bloggers and journalists about Microsoft having no tablet strategy.

I contend that Microsoft could still be a major player in the cloud-connected device market even without a tablet or tablet operating system, from back-end hosted applications and Azure.

Q3 2011 Income by Division

* Windows & Windows Live: $2.764 billion, down from $3.073 billion a year earlier.
* Server & Tools: $1.419 billion, up from $1.27 billion a year earlier.
* Business: $3.165 billion, up from $2.542 billion a year earlier.
* Online Services Business: Loss of $726 million, up from $709 million loss a year earlier.
* Entertainment & Devices: $225 million, up $150 million a year earlier.

Breakdown by Division

Microsoft reports revenue and earnings results for five divisons: Windows & Windows Live, Server & Tools, Business, Online Services and Entertainment & Devices.

Windows & Windows Live. Weaker than-expected PC demand hurt the division during fiscal third quarter, with revenue falling 4 percent year over year. Profits declined, too (see below). While Microsoft reported business PC sales up 9 percent year over year, consumer sales fell 8 percent. Netbook sales plummeted 40 percent, which is mixed blessing. According to analysts, many potential netbook buyers are choosing tablets, with major benefit going to Apple — that’s the bad. The good: Netbooks generally ship with lower-margin Windows versions, such as Starter Edition. The shift in mix to “Premium” Windows versions is better for Microsoft.

Overall, Microsoft said that global PC sales declined 2 percent year over year, which is in line with aforementioned analyst data. OEM revenue fell by 3 percent, which is to be expected given the macro-PC economics. Enterprise Windows 7 deployments doubled over six months, Microsoft Peter Klein said during Microsoft’s earnings conference call today.

Server & Tools. Revenue rose about 11 percent year over year. The division is insulated against economic maladies, because about 50 percent of revenues come from contractual volume-licensing agreements; annuity revenue grew by 11 percent year over year. Additionally, enterprise services revenue grew by 12 percent, or $90 million.

“Product revenue increased $308 million or 10%, driven primarily by growth in Windows Server, SQL Server, and Enterprise Client Access License (“CAL”) Suites, reflecting continued adoption of Windows platform applications,” according to Microsoft financial statements.

Business. The division was the quarter’s big overall performer, with revenue up 21 percent year over year. Business non-annuity revenue grew by 28 percent, which isn’t ideal. Microsoft benefits more when businesses buy annuity contracts, which revenue grew by just 5 percent. Consumer revenue rose 26 percent, or $220 million, surprising considering Microsoft’s cited attach rate to PCs, which sales were down for the quarter.

Starting with the 2003 release cycle, Microsoft repositioned Office as the front end to the larger stack of server applications. During fiscal 2011, Microsoft has started to reap substantial sales from the strategy. Klein described Office 2010 as the fastest-growing version of the suite — deployments are five times Office 2007. But this isn’t happening in a vacuum. Enterprises are “purchasing our entire productivity suite platform,” he said. Klein’s comment puts context behind Turner’s canned statement about server software.

It’s my assessment that fiscal 2011 marks a turning point for Microsoft’s two cash cow products — the ascension of Office as the stronger product and one with greater sales longevity. Some of that relates to the aforementioned competition from cloud-connected devices but also the success of the Office-as-front-end to back-end business processes running Microsoft server software.

Like, Server & Tools, contractual volume-licensing agreements are high — 60 percent, which directly derives from the Office-to-server applications stack strategy. This largely insulates the division from slowdowns in the PC market. By comparison, only about 20 percent of Windows sales come from contractual licenses. Most customers by the operating system with new PCs.

Online Services Business. Search and display ads drove up online advertising revenue by 17 percent — $84 million to $586 million. Despite revenue gains, the division’s losses increased from fiscal Q3 2010.

Entertainment & Devices. The division’s revenue increased a whopping 60 percent year over year. Microsoft shipped 2.3 million Kinects during the quarter days, adding to the 8 million units from the sequential launch quarter. Xbox console sales rose 79 percent — that’s 2.7 million units. “Xbox 360 platform revenue grew $712 million or 69 percent, led by sales of Kinect sensors, increased volumes of Xbox 360 consoles, and higher Xbox Live revenues,” according to Microsoft financial statements.

Regarding Windows Phone, Microsoft claims 90 percent customer satisfaction. However, the company didn’t release sales figures.

Choosing an office suite
If you’re already on Microsoft Office 2007, an upgrade to Office 2010 won’t be as crucial, but for those on previous versions of Office the changes — and the new features — are well worth looking into. OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice have remained competent but developmentally stagnant; they’re useful as quick-and-dirty Microsoft Office substitutes, but tougher to use as full-blown, across-the-board replacements in places where institutional dependence on Office runs deep. IBM’s Lotus Symphony, itself an OpenOffice.org derivative, takes the open source suite in a promising direction, but it too lacks certain features that would make it a true drop-in replacement.

 

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SoftMaker Office comes remarkably close to being such a replacement and with a price and licensing terms that many people will find more agreeable than Microsoft Office’s. Google Docs does accept a wide variety of common document types for import, but it’s best used to compose original documents for HTML or PDF export — and even then it’s hidebound by the limits of what can be accomplished in a browser. Sadly, WordPerfect Office has become little more than a holding action, with too many legacy functions preserved across revisions and too few modern features to deserve a look.

The level of cross-compatibility between any two suites in this roundup varied wildly. Even Microsoft Office still has issues with OpenDocument formats, and the fidelity shown by the other suites when importing documents depends on what you expect to see preserved. SoftMaker Office did a consistently good job, but even it didn’t catch everything. For native PDF creation, though, OpenOffice.org and its derivatives were at the head of the pack.

On the plus side, every application here — including Office 2010 itself — is available in a trial edition, which runs for enough time to give you a hands-on idea of how well documents convert and are handled. Because everyone’s cache of documents is bound to be different, using a trial may ultimately be the most fruitful way to find out what you can switch to and to what extent.
Office suites pricing, platforms, and applications
Cost    Platforms    Applications
Microsoft Office 2010    $149, $279, or $499    Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7    Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email client, database, desktop publishing
OpenOffice.org 3.3.0    Free open source    Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Solaris 10, Linux, Mac OS X    Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawing, database
LibreOffice 3.3.1    Free open source    Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Solaris 10, Linux, Mac OS X    Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawing, database
IBM Lotus Symphony 3.0    Free proprietary license    Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Linux, Mac OS X    Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations
SoftMaker Office 2010    $79    Windows, Linux    Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations
Corel WordPerfect Office X5    $99, $229, or $359    Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7    Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email client, database
Google Docs    Free service    Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari Web browsers on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux    Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email client, drawing

The online Remember The Milk service is one of the easiest and most popular ways to keep track of shopping lists, manage a list of thing that need to be done and anything else that needs to be remembered. An iOS app has been available for some time, but now Remember The Milk 2.0.0 has been released as a universal app with vastly improved support for the iPad.

 

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The app has been completely redesigned from scratch to come up with something that feels perfect for the iPad’s larger screen. An iPad specific version of Remember The Milk has been a long time coming, but it seems as though the wait has been well worth it. This is a polished piece of software. it is something of a shame to find that no new features have been added in the transition to becoming a fully-fledged iPad app, but Remember The Milk was already leader of the pack in its field.

Remember The Milk is available in Free and Pro varieties. There are few differences between the two versions other than the fact that only the Pro version supports push notifications, and users of the Free version of the app are limited to synchronizing data once every 24 hours while Pro users have the option of unlimited syncs.

In addition to the iOS version of the app, Remember The Milk is also available for Android devices. You can find out more and download a copy of this free app by paying a visit to the Remember The Milkreview page.

A design flaw within the chipset supporting its new line of Sandy Bridge processors may delay the launch of next-generation computers, and Apple could find itself affected the most.

Intel’s latest chip is the first from the company to include integrated graphics silicon on the chip, while also using the company’s advanced 32-nanometer manufacturing. This is said to allow PC manufacturers to offer systems that have much better graphics capabilities and much greater power efficiency than its predecessors.

 

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It is expected that the problem will cost Intel at least $300 million, although another $700 million has been set aside for any necessary repairs and replacement costs. One positive is that the issue was caught early in Sandy Bridge’s release, meaning that only a fraction of the estimated eight million “Cougar Point” (the code name) chipsets in manufacturers hands have actually made it to consumers.

Sandy Bridge will officially launch on February 20. Intel could not say as of Tuesday whether the flaw would delay this launch, although corrected chips that have only just started to be produced would not be ready before the end of the month. It would likely not be until April before the chipmaker ramps up to the volume demands of its customers.

Cougar Point chipsets allow for the connection of up to six Serial ATA devices, such as DVD drives, HDDs, and the like. Under extreme conditions, Intel found that devices on ports 0 and 1 would degrade in performance. No degradation was experienced on ports 2 through 5.

A possible workaround would be to ship devices based on the faulty chipset using only the unaffected ports, however that would obviously defeat the purpose of the new chipsets.

Based on the history of Intel and Apple’s partnership, it’s likely that Sandy Bridge would make it into the next-generation iMac and MacBook Pro computers. With the delays due to the issue likely in the range of up to three months, the new time frame for shipment would fall near to the time where Apple is expected to update its notebook line.

If there are no plans to update the line before April or so, the delay may not be noticeable to the consumer. However no manufacturer would be able to ship computers based on the Sandy Bridge architecture before the end of this month, and likely in limited quantities if so.

Intel would not comment on Apple’s plans, and as with most issues the Cupertino company was not responding to requests for comment as it deals with speculation on future products.

Security experts are urging Microsoft and Juniper to patch a year-old IPv6 vulnerability so dangerous it can freeze any Windows machine on a LAN in a matter of minutes.

Microsoft has downplayed the risk because the hole requires a physical connection to the wired LAN. Juniper says it has delayed a patch because the hole only affects a small number of its products and it wants the IETF to fix the protocol instead.

 

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SEE IT YOURSELF: How to use a known IPv6 hole to fast-freeze a Windows network

The vulnerability was initially discovered in July 2010 by Marc Heuse, an IT security consultant in Berlin. He found that products from several vendors were vulnerable, including all recent versions of Windows, Cisco routers, Linux and Juniper’s Netscreen. Cisco issued a patch in October 2010, and the Linux kernel has since been fixed as well. Microsoft and Juniper have acknowledged the vulnerability, but neither have committed to patches.

The hole is in a technology known as router advertisements, where routers broadcast their IPv6 addresses to help clients find and connect to an IPv6 subnet. The DoS attack involves flooding the network segment with random RAs, which eats up CPU resources in Windows until the CPU is overloaded and a hard reboot is required. “For Windows, a personal firewall or similar security product does not protect against this attack, as the default filter rules allow these packets through,” explains Heuse.

Heuse became so frustrated with Microsoft’s refusal to fix the hole that he published his findings to the Full Disclosure mailing list on April 15. He notes that Microsoft has not even issued a security advisory warning users of the problem. Other Windows networking and security experts have also urged Microsoft to fix the problem, and sources have said that there are even employees inside Microsoft who have been trying to nudge the company to action.

Microsoft has little to say on the subject. “Microsoft is aware of discussions in the security community concerning a technique by which a Windows server or workstation on a target network may experience unprompted high resource utilization caused by an attacker broadcasting malicious IPv6 router advertisements. The attack method described would require that a would-be attacker have link-local access to the targeted network — a situation that does not provide a security boundary,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Network World.

However, experts aren’t buying it. The hole is “very easy to fix,” Heuse says, and Microsoft has a long history of addressing DoS holes on the local LAN that have far less of an impact. He points to Microsoft fixing a similar issue in 2008 of its implementation of IPv4. Meanwhile, Microsoft has also committed to fixing another issue he recently reported to the company which he describes as “a very minor vulnerability of detecting if a host is sniffing. It, too, is only possible on the local LAN.” His conclusion is that there is a political issue inside Microsoft where the “responsible team does not want to fix these kinds of issues anymore.”

To figure out how to most efficiently handle the massive amount of traffic to Facebook and its related pages, a team of just three engineers working for the popular social network designed a new style of servers and power management systems and a new data center architecture. This became Facebook’s Prineville, Oregon data center.

 

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On Thursday, Facebook debuted the Open Compute Project which open sourced all the data center and server designs that its Prineville team created.

This means all of the hardware design specs from that data center: motherboards, power supplies, server chassis, server racks, and battery cabinets, are all available to view and copy at opencompute.org.

The idea is to spread the use of more efficient and reliable servers, to reduce overall energy loss and eliminate the need for an uninterruptible power supply. Facebook says its Prineville data center can do the same amount of work as its other data centers, while using 38% less energy, and costing 24% less money.

The server units themselves are no frills and all function. The chassis is steel plated with zinc, there are no internal screws, and there is no front panel. The team stripped out everything except what was absolutely necessary and made extra room for heat sinks. The chassis is actually built about 50% taller than servers commonly are to incorporate the bigger heat sinks, and there are four fans. The power supply accepts both standard AC current and DC battery backup power. Quanta designed two different motherboard configurations for these servers: one with dual Intel Xeon 5500 or 5600 processors, and one with dual AMD Magny-Cours 12 or 8-core processors.

In addition to Quanta, Facebook’s engineers worked with AMD, Intel, Power-One, and Alfa Tech to create these first generation server designs. Dell, HP, Rackspace, Skype, Zynga, and others have joined onto the project and are contributing to the next generation designs. So just because these designs are free and open source does not mean they were created by amateurs.

Yesterday, publisher Tim O’Reilly broke the news that at his company’s own open source convention in Portland, Oregon, Microsoft General Manager of Platform Strategy Bill Hilf is planning to — if it hasn’t already — submit its existing Shared Source Licenses to the Open Source Initiative, for certification as true “Open Source Licenses.” The OSI is the designated caretaker of the legal definition of “open source.”

 

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But the question may rightly be asked: Is this a genuine move by Microsoft to enroll its Microsoft Permissive License (Ms-PL) as an official open source license that the community can recognize, or is this more of a symbolic act?

In a blog post yesterday, Microsoft Director of Source Programs Jon Rosenberg offered this explanation: “Today, we reached another milestone with the decision to submit our open licenses to the OSI approval process, which, if the licenses are approved, should give the community additional confidence that the code we’re sharing is truly Open Source. I believe that the same voices that have been calling for Microsoft products to better interoperate with open source products would voice their approval should the Open Source Initiative itself open up to more of the IT industry.”

But that explanation was embedded — or perhaps more accurately described, spliced — into the midst of an essay that meandered through a multitude of different topics without a common thread or segue. While it discussed a sort of phase change in Microsoft’s open source history between being a “trailblazer” and being a “road-builder,” it later diverged down a road less traveled, touching upon the sticky subject of whether the OSI best represents the open source community if its membership is selected by a board and not the community itself.

Traffic laws and drivers’ licenses are very necessary things, Rosenberg for some reason conceded, though it’s always nice to have lawmaking bodies whose membership is determined by the people at large. At the time when a reader might wonder just where is this going, Rosenberg made the OSI license announcement excerpted above.

And then, without segue, he rendered the following: “So what about the flip side of the OSI becoming a membership organization? Could they really be voted out of existence or rendered ineffective? It doesn’t seem likely to me. Participation in the OSI and adherence to OSI licensing guidelines and Open Source definitions is entirely voluntary. If it isn’t serving the best interests of the community, the community will go elsewhere.”

Rosenberg provided a link to the OSI Web site, specifically to a blog post from last June 15 from its president, Michael Tiemann, entitled, “Designing a New OSI.” In it, he writes:

“The board of the Open Source Initiative has largely concluded that we have reached a point of organizational and contextual maturity. Namely, that open source has been defined, and a relatively large constituency of people have accepted that definition. So far, so good. What we have not done, however, is to make the OSI representative of that constituency. Yes, our board members have strong credentials as open source software developers, entrepreneurs, advocates, researchers, etc. But we cannot really claim that we are truly representative of the community, nor that we can truly speak for the community, other than the fact that each of us considers ourselves to be a small (very small) part of the community. There are others who identify themselves as members of the open source community (just as we do), who strongly believe that they better know how to protect and grow the open source movement, which includes greatly relaxing our standards for interpreting the OSD and allowing a great many more licenses to be approved.”

It’s unknown just which company Tiemann was referring to in that latter sentence, though perhaps Rosenberg’s strangely embedded link to it may give you a pretty strong clue.

Under its current rules, OSI openly invites developers to submit their licenses for approval, which would mean they meet the formal definition as OSI perceives it. Based on a quick read of those rules, it would appear the Ms-PL would meet the basic tests of “open-sourceness” spelled out by OSI. Distributed works must be freely distributed, and contain source code. Derivatives must be allowed, so long as they are freely distributed as well. No discrimination of licensees must take place, and the license cannot restrict itself to any specific technologies.

By those rules, Microsoft’s current alternate shared source license, called the Limited Permissive License (Ms-LPL) would fail, because it restricts redistributions to Windows platforms only.

But in an open source version of “Catch-22,” there’s another rule which could prevent the basic Ms-PL from being certified as well. It’s not a rule of “open-sourceness,” but rather has to do with the motive behind the submission.

Specifically, the process asks submitters to tell OSI which existing OSI license is most like the one being submitted, but then explain the need for the change. In other words, the submission must explain why the licensor can’t just use the existing OSI license. In a splendid bit of irony, since Ms-PL is so short and, quite likely, so respectful of the current open source definitions and processes without adding anything to them, it could be rejected for those reasons.

A rejection would be a noteworthy event which the press would probably cover and analyze, with one of the issues inevitably becoming, who made the decision about who decides what’s open source and what isn’t…and suddenly Jon Rosenberg’s blog entry doesn’t seem so cryptic.

Yesterday’s news came in the midst of Microsoft’s inauguration of a marketing Web page to support its open source efforts, in addition to its Port 25 blog from its Open Source Software Lab. The marketing page contains direct links to Port 25 blog entries. In his announcement yesterday, Bill Hilf said the new page “clearly outlines Microsoft’s position on OSS by providing specific information about Microsoft, the OSS community, and the interaction between the two.”

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