Linux Foundation opens up free intro course to edX

Isn’t education amazing? It’s even more amazing when it’s free! In a good-hearted move by the Linux Foundation, the organization is planning to introductory courses to Linux on MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). You might remember MOOC more by the education institutions behind it, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Over 32 member schools participate in edX content offerings, and this recent moved by edX will expand these offerings to non-academic institutions like The Linux Foundation.

The particular courses will start out with familiar material The Linux Foundation has today, such as its introduction to Linux class. The intro course is aimed at those with very little experience in using Linux operating systems. Not much is known at this point about future offerings. Look for the course release date in the coming month ahead. The course, when offered directly from The Linux Foundation, costs a large lump sum of 2,500 USD, a figure which many, such as me can’t afford. While I likely will know most of the course content, I still plan on taking advantage of this amazing opportunity in education.

For those that have never heard of edX, the initiative is an amazing program that offers real classes, from science to art, and technology, from the best professors and university’s free can offer. Rather than settle for a simple video, edX courses help individuals in a variety of ways, including intuitive tools, videos, interactive labs, and more. The courses are available anywhere you have an internet connection, and the community surrounding courses is fully interactive, even between professors and authors.

“Linux has just seen this insane adoption across every sector of technology … as use of Linux rises we need to keep up with demand. This is a way for people to get familiar with Linux.”

Linux talent search

If you have been following the trends in the past year or so, Linux talent search is on the rise, but the pool of applicants and qualified professionals is smaller in comparison. Hint hint, I am one of those aspiring people.

Opening up edX educational offerings outside the traditional academia realm will be a great benefit to its recipients. Many information hungry people like me are always on the lookout to learn amazing new things, and edX does a fantastic job at introducing more and more imaginative minds to science and technology. Many recent statistics are showing increasing salaries for folks who know Linux technologies, at times getting as much as a 5 percent salary raise compared to 2.6 percent last year. Jim Zemlin, director of the Linux Foundation, hopes that the course will help completion rates, which unfortunately hover around 5 percent of those that signed up last year. Zemlin still welcomes the 505,000+ “course grazers” from last year’s statistics, that largely check out courses, but never complete them.

21st Century learning

Zemlin continues to tell interested folks to not expect immediate high-level work, but that acquiring self-taught skills could land someone a starting position. In my view, doing such a thing shows great initiative. Linux is largely a communal effort, and teaches many people how to work together and solve problems. Yes, of course there are some gray areas where in-fighting does occur, but the empowering nature of open source software is clearly evident. While the introductory course offered by the Linux Foundation won’t include C programming or advanced topics, rudimentary use and common concepts will be explored.

Online learning has most certainly taken off in the 21st century, an avenue more and more educational leaders are noticing as a popular, effective, and sometimes low-cost method to shape the minds of aspiring minds. While it is difficult to judge the success of edX courses by completion rate alone, Zemlin notes that “We don’t even know what the right metric for success for universities are. Is it that you passed or is it getting a quality education or is it that you obtained a job? There’s more than one metric. Focusing on completion rates is not right.”

Also joining the ranks of edX course professional, is the International Monetary Fund, The Smithsonian Institution and the Inter-American Development Bank. Seven academic institutions also became edX members recently as well, including Colgate University, Hamilton College and the Open Courseware Consortium. Be on the lookout next month for new course offering, and subsequent news stories. I will most certainly be taking advantage of such a great opportunity to learn, as I hope you will as well.

F-Secure: Android is extremely secure if you stick to Google Play apps

F-Secure published the 2nd of its 2013 bi-annual threat report, which now has a special portion reserved for mobile devices. Smartphones, Tablets, pocket devices, and more represent an astounding amount of today’s internet connected devices, making them a high profile target for would-be-digital-assailants. Trojan based attacks accounted for 75 percent of mobile attacks.

The Finnish security company notes some interesting factoids in its report, some of which were quite striking, to say the least. 97 percent of malware that was identified, targeted Android specifically. While this figure seems wildly high, you have to take into account the staggering market-share Android holds today. Roughly 80 percent of the global market is running some form of Android, which includea more than the smartphones as we commonly see today. Android is a diverse beast, and runs on devices across a wide spectrum. So, what exactly was the most interesting footnote in the report? How about the headline-worthy “F-Secure did not identify any malware targeting iOS, Windows Phone, or BlackBerry devices last year.” In 2nd place landed Symbian, and in third, J2ME.

Maintaining good security practices is of high value. Downloading foreign 3rd party applications from various web portals for even common applications may seem like no matter, but it is a serious risk. This is given you know how to enable the function in your Android phone’s settings page. Download and install applications only from the official Google play store is one such practice to minimize such a risk. Additionally, minding which links you click on in emails, attachments, and so forth are a common tactic by evil-doers, but can inflict just as much pain as a rogue app. Alternative app stores are an appealing option for some users, but it goes without saying you still must remain cautious of where and what you are doing.

All Google Play Store apps go through a multiple-stage review process, weeding out most of the malicious troublemakers, something many 3rd party app stores may not have the resources to do, or even choose to in the first place. Google has been making large efforts to increase the security of the Android platform. Android 4.3 saw the addition of a prompt to verify activity when the messaging app sends out a large amount of text in a short period of time. Kit Kat (4.4) added multiple security enhancements as well, although taking out AppOps was a bit of an odd move to some. AppOps would allow you to fine tune and control what a specific application is sharing and sending out to the outside world on your behalf, as well as what it is accessing on your device.

Contained in the report, are some noteworthy statistics to review. F-Secure shows that a large chunk, 75 percent of the malware sample set, is from Saudi Arabia and India, with the United States trailing in third. Of this set, apps downloaded from the Google Play Store amounted to only 0.1 percent (132,738 total) of the total malware catch. For third-party app stores, the top four were noted as Malicious (Anzhi, Mumayi, Baidu and eoeMarket, all Chinese focused). Amazon’s app store was not noted among that top 10 percent list, nor was F-Droid, the popular FOSS alterntive to the Google Play Store.

You can review the full PDF for more details, including non-mobile threats. I highly suggest peering through the whole thing.

Source: Android Authority

Chromecast support is coming to Chrome for Android?

Good news for Chromecast users, who love to tinker and get access to features not available to mere mortals. Android mirroring is one of the most useful feature for users. Ever since Google opened up Chromecast to 3rd party developers by releasing the SDK, a lot of development is happening around this device. One of the feature that I really want is Android mirroring so that I can ‘stream’ games to my TV through Chromecast. Koushik Dutta of CyanogenMOD has already demoed it, but there is still no word from Google if and when such a feature will arrive to Android. But it does seem Google is working in that direction. A flag has been spotted in the beta of Chrome for Android which allows users to ‘stream’ YouTube content from Chrome browser. It doesn’t allow one to stream everything that’s running in the browser, unlike the desktop edition which allows a user to stream the entire Chrome tab to the device.

If you want to test it out, just install the Chrome Beta and visit below page in the browser to access the flags.

chrome://flags/#enable-cast

Chromecast youtube hidden feature

Then enable the flag. Now, you won’t notice any Chromecast icon on browser, however if you go to YouTube on the browser and play any video, then you will see the option to cast that video to the device.

It’s not really that exciting as one can already cast a video from YouTube app, but it does show that Google is working on integrating Chromcast with Android.

Samsung announced quad core powered Chromebook 2

In a testament to not only the success of Chromebooks, but also the the popularity of many of Samsung’s offerings today, the company is announcing the successor to the wildly successful Samsung Chromebook. Samsung isn’t taking shortcuts on casual ascetics this time around either, announcing a leather-clad sequel, with two sizes to choose from, 11.6 or 13.13 inches. It’s evident that ChromeOS is an indication of where casual computing may be headed. Why pay for a full desktop when you don’t need one?

Samsung has improved the computing power as well as the memory of these devices. The 13.3 inch model sports a 1920×1080 screen, coupled with 4 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage space, and the latest Samsung Exynos 5 Octa processor. Samsung promises 8.5 hours of battery life, and with the processor not being of the highest caliber, I’d be more than willing to accept the tradeoff. The $319.99 model steps the screen size down to 11.6, with a 1366×768 resolution, 8 hours of battery life, and a reduced processor class.

The larger model of the two will come in either black or white, and the smaller of the bunch, in what is being called “Titan Gray.” With both models sporting the same leather bound style as the the company’s Samsung Note device, you can’t go wrong.

Samsung’s Chrombooks are the #1 best selling devices on Amazon.com and the new breed is going to ensure increasing dominance of Linux in the desktop space.

Debian TC fails to reach decision over init system coupling

It wasn’t all that long ago that the Debian Technical Committee decided on systemd over other alternative init systems, such as OpenRC, UpStart, and more. When the resolution passed that systemd would be the default in Debian GNU\Linux Jesse, a lot of us in the Linux sphere breathed a sigh of relief. Recently, init system coupling was brought up for a vote. What init system coupling details, is whether or not the Debian team should offer any guidance concerning packages for specific init systems. The votes follow a specific structure:

L: Software may not depend on a specific init system
N: No TC resolution on this question at this time
A: Advice: sysvinit compatibility in Jessie and multiple init support
FD: Further discussion

With all 8 votes cast, the CFV on the init system coupling issue ended in a tie between options “L” and “N”. Using executive decision on the matter, Bdale Garbee voted ‘N’. He wrote on the mailing list,  “Given my vote on this issue, it should be no surprise that I use my casting vote to declare option “N” is the winner.”

Therefore:
The TC chooses to not pass a resolution at the current time about whether software may require specific init systems.

TC committee member Ian Jackson has called for another vote, this time concerning the Debian constitution. Among proposed changes were the removal of the 2:1 supermajority for TC overrides, FD voting thresholds, discussion period length, and clarify ownership of resolution draft versions.

Stephen Colbert spoke at the boycotted RSA conference, poked fun at security

“Let me begin by saying, 0110100001101001, and I mean that”, that’s how comedian Stephen Colbert opened his speech at the controversial RSA conference. The critics of the conference had asked him to not attend the event, but he has his own reasons to be there. He said, “I looked at the signatures on the online petition, then I looked at the signature — my signature — on the bottom of the contract saying I’d be here today, and my conscience was clear, as long as the check clears.”

He didn’t stop there and took at shot at Mt. Cox, “Well, it’s not actually a check. They gave me a Bitcoin voucher for Mt. Gox. And I’m sure it’s going to be fine.”

Poking fun at the current affairs of security of RSA itself, Colbert used the platform to offer his own security solution, dubbed “Cloud Fog,” touted as “part cloud, part fog, all security.” For the uninitiated, no, a “polyhedral extruded polymer” is not an effective measure of privacy control.

Take back your communication with Tor instant messenger

The Tor Project announced they will be building an anonymous instant messenger, according to documents shown at the Tor 2014 Winter Developers Meeting in Reykjavík, Iceland. Currently users can make use of the Tor Browser Bundle to better safeguard their online paper trail, so news of a secure messenger is very welcome. Abbreviated TIMB, the new bundle will be paired up with InstantBird, an instant messenger project dating back to 2007. The InstantBird messenger already has some privacy features built into the Open Source client, so coupled with Tor, the software should have a good advantage over current offerings. The Tor developer team’s goal is to build in encrypted off-the-record chatting into InstantBird, then bundle it into the existing launcher out already.

With experiential builds set to release March 31st, 2014, it will be some time before the public will be able to test this in action. A few months following the experimental builds, the actual bundle release will début. Interestingly enough, Pidgin was considered a choice in place of InstantBird, but not chosen for the backbone of the messaging client. However, talks are in the works to audit other IM clients to test their fortitude in locations where “communication for the purpose of activism is met with intimidation, violence, and prosecution.”

As Tor software gains features and popularity, more and more people are hoping on board to protect their privacy. Existing “unofficial” clients, such as TorChat and BitMessage have large user bases, but having the new messaging service bundled into the easy-as-pie-to-install Tor Bundle, those numbers could very well decline. We will have to wait to see the adoption rate in the months to come. It is incredibly easy to download and install the Tor Bundle, so it’s merely a matter of choosing to safeguard yourself.

On the other side of this coin is the still-existing concerns over the true effectiveness of the Tor network. Discussions of Tor nodes having the possible vulnerabilities such as, node sniffing, Exit node issues, as well as Javascript exploitation’s unique to the software. You do have the choice to not run Javascript or Flash, which should be noted. HowToGeek and the EFF have already discussed this in the past, so it is something that should not be ignored. Most suggestions include simply sticking to the default settings the Tor browser has in place to avoid such issues. Users are notified when external applications wish to present something that is considered unsafe. To the Tor Projects credit, reports are released when major issues occur, including Silk Road’s illustrious story.

Most of the disclosed issues are with exit nodes, or otherwise known as exit relays, though running an exit node requires consent on part of that individual. In reviewing this diagram, you’ll see where the clear transmission can occur at the exit node to Bob. It’s entirely possible that Bob’s information could come from a government run exit node. Therefore, it’s highly important that you use HTTPS secure traffic to reduce your attack surface. It’s important to educate yourself on best practices when using Tor software, so don’t assume that what you are doing is inherently safe. It is of high risk to run a Tor exit node, especially in countries where anonymity is more of a problem. Speculation also exists on the  NSA’s ability to crack the Tor Project’s security. Much of the argument hinges on the NSA’s ability to crack the portion of Tor traffic that may still use 1024-bit encryption.

The Tor project is a 2 million dollar per year non-profit organization, staffed by 30 developers over 12 countries. Interest is high in the projects goals, including making the software as easy to use. As said above, you still need to educate yourself on best practices to avoid issues going forward, in the same vein you wouldn’t do online backing on an open WiFi network, despite how secure the connection on the website is. You must be proactive in taking extra steps beyond Tor for true effectiveness.

When used correctly, the Tor Project’s software is an invaluable asset to advocates of online privacy.

Source: DailyDot

Is Microsoft planning Bingbook to compete with Chromebooks?

Rumor has it Microsoft is developing a competitor to ChromeOS. With disappointing sales of Windows RT and other touch based devices, can another OS even compete? It would seem silly to attempt to do so with the wildly popular ChromeOS not giving any ground in the low-end computing space.

That’s exactly what Microsoft may do, if the reports are true. To try and compete, the OS fee would be waived, and bundled as a free or low cost upgrade to existing Windows 7 users. Several sources are also speculating on other details, including offering the OS to PC builders for free. It seems as if Microsoft will do whatever possible to push Windows on the consumer, just as it did with features prior to antitrust filings dating back to 1995, the most famous being the 1998 suit concerning bundling Internet Explorer with its operating system as unfair business practices. Times must be getting tough for the software giant to hedge its bets on free instead of features.

Currently, Microsoft still charges laptop and PC makers a license fee to ship Windows 8 to the devices they are selling. In the low-end device space, this is particularly an issue, with several manufacturers instead opting for the free ChromeOS. ChromeOS does a spectacular job at providing a hassle free Operating System for low-powered devices, free of many headaches that typically plague Windows users, and non-tech savvy folks. If there was ever a desktop I would replace my father’s aging PC with a brand new computer, it would be a ChromeOS based desktop. It’s simple, and does what it sets out to do. It should be noted that Google also does not directly earn money from sales on devices loaded with ChromeOS.

If many of these speculations hold true, Microsoft could potentially reverse dismal sales, as well as bind users into the Bing ecosystem that that still struggles to compete with Google’s offerings despite the many attack ads. I doubt that even the recent license cost reduction for Windows 8.1 (at less than $250) will do the software monolith much good at this point in the game. The license cost reduction, as well as these new reports, only show a fear of the current state of Microsoft’s state of affairs in general.

Users are already seem mystified with Windows 8, so furthering the confusion would not do Microsoft any good. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to help individuals with the new drastic shift in UI workflow. Poor performance and reception of Windows RT did not help Microsoft’s cause either. The model of convergence they are pursuing would not be helped by another OS introduction at a time in which folks are still confused on what Windows 8 is really helping them do that Windows 7 can’t. Recent polls for users and enterprises show a sharp lean in adoption of Windows 7 after XP’s demise, rather than Windows 8.x. But, with retail copies of Windows 7 being a scarce commodity, it is an option that users are having a hard time with. Enterprises have much more pull in this area, either outright purchasing licenses, or adopting downgrade practices for the license purchase itself.

Coupled with the fact that Microsoft has continually hammered aspects of Chromebooks, including the always on feature, a move of this sort would only hamper any rebound Microsoft would hope to achieve from its latest disappointing offering to users. It only solidifies that Microsoft is running out of ideas, and can only use its might and cemented position in the existing market and cash flow to do damage control. Everything they are doing of late, is pounce on ideas they otherwise considered poor and terrible in the past (e.g. the iPhone and iPad).

Source: OMG Chrome!

Mark Shuttleworth wants you in space, with Ubuntu

Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu and Canonical, has grand vision for his free and open source operating system. Though Ubuntu has not experienced the same kind of success that Facebook, which was created in the same time-frame and by a guy who shares the same first name, it has definitely made an impact on desktop Linux. To be honest it’s not about Linux at all; it’s all about business. There was no company with huge pile of money to invest in desktop (by desktop here I mean home users) Linux and actually present it to customers. The so-called failure of Linux on the desktop was all about the lack of a player to survive in Microsoft owned world where every competitor was nipped in the bud. Look at Google, they have made Linux the leading mobile OS and is now fast taking over the desktop landscape with ChromeOS.

While Google is invading Microsoft’s home-turf – desktop, Canonical seems to be heading in a totally different direction – putting desktop on the back-burner and shifting focus to mobile. One may think of it as as another massively missed opportunity by Canonical as Windows XP is reaching end of life and Canonical could have nabbed the opportunity had they planned it the way Google planned ChromeOS. Ubuntu could have become the obvious ‘upgrade’ path for Xp users.

So while desktop is on back-burner how is Mark driving the mobile development? With two manufacturers revealing devices recently, the drive towards mobile is of primary focus for Ubuntu. Mark is pursuing convergence at a time when the iron is hot for the Linux desktop. One then has to ask if this large shift in focus is leaving the Ubuntu desktop in the dust. Will this vision of convergence work for users who want the focus of the desktop experience separate? It had already been proven precision driven applications do not work well on a touch based OS. A user could care less about a convergent interface. What they want, is an optimized experience for whichever platform they are currently using, something ChromeOS has capitalized on. Many applications for the desktop will not work on a mobile device, much less a touch interface.

The topic of convergence is no small matter either. The concept of having one singular and cohesive OS that covers multiple devices, in a range of hardware and specifications is a bit far-fetched to me personally. Disagree with me if you must, but the similarity here from what Microsoft has done is striking. We all know how that panned out. While having a codebase between the desktop and touch interface that shares 95% of the codebase, soon to close on 100%, the majority of differences will lie in applications, not the core of the system. I do have a fear that the Ubuntu team will make this same mistake as Microsoft, but I will hold my tongue until the touch-based avenue of Ubuntu matures more. With 2 Ubuntu phones to ship later this year, expectations will be high, and the stakes even higher. With competition closing in from Sailfish OS and Firefox OS, the narrow gap for wide success is very small.

One can hope that bloatware is kept to a minimum, with Mark noting in an interview to The Next Web, “…what we’ve done is taken the bloatware and reduce it to what are the key retail or content experiences that the manufacturer wants you to start with.” Shuttleworth notes that users will be able to remove search Scopes, the integrated search platform for Ubuntu, but it is unknown what Scopes will be on by default, and if those can be removed. It is no secret the perceived privacy of Scopes is a concern shared by many users. Mark notes that the first batch of devices won’t impress or move everyone, noting: “For some people this [smartphone] will make them happy, for others, it will make them a little bit sad – and that’s not because it’s a bad product.” We will have to see how true these words ring this year, as the collective opinions of journalists and technologists worldwide asses Ubuntu’s initiatives laid out here.

While some big names have joined Ubuntu’s Carrier Advisory Group, none have been named or revealed yet to have plans for making a Ubuntu based phone. Mark hopes that the lack of commitment will turn around once this year’s phones debut, changing those device manufacturers’ minds for the better. For some, the lack of commitment at this stage is a bit concerning. Mark is doing his best to dispel those concerns, noting: “So, what we’ve done is taken the bloatware and reduce it to what are the key retail or content experiences that the manufacturer wants you to start with.” While this is quite a hopeful statement, I must air on the side of caution until this year’s devices are put through the test. With tablets, TV’s, and smartwatches planned to get the convergence treatment in the future, Shuttleworth is attacking all fronts. Such a monumental task is a huge undertaking, and so broad that I have to wonder if they can truly deliver.

Shuttleworth, concerning native application availability, says “We’ll have an app catalogue that’ll be as good as the one Microsoft launched with and it won’t have cost us $100m because we’re really trying to work to be great for developers.” With how small that base was, and still is in contrast to the mammoth iOS and Android application base, I have to be concerned a bit that cut won’t include some of the most popular applications gobbled up by today’s users. Relying on “developer love,” Mark forecasts application development as a non-issue. The controversial CLA arguments that pan the web cannot be ignored though, but I’m sure there are many developers that are excited to start a new avenue of mobile development.

With wearable technology rapidly passing by the Ubuntu team, Mark still believes Ubuntu will be able to carve out their own respective place in this sector, telling us “In the absence of a profound form factor disruption, the world will be iOS and Android. We could take share, we could do a classy job and have passionate followers and have ten percent of the market.” Those are hungry words, and as always, must be taken lightly. If Ubuntu is to take such a chunk of the market, they will need more than the charismatic words of Shuttleworth.

If the grand vision of Mark Shuttleworth’s Ubuntu anywhere, anytime, any device is to be a reality, many things will need to take shape, a journey that is a sure to be quite a marathon in and of itself. But, as always, the upbeat Shuttleworth is not deterred, and pushes on with what he believes is the future of computing.

Source: The Next Web

Decentralize your online files with MediaGoblin

Decentralization seems to be all the rage recently, much of it due to the still red-hot NSA privacy fallout. With peer-to-peer systems springing up like wild flowers, more and more services are leaving the control of corporations. While that may seem like an overblown statement, it is something quite evident and apparent, but currently mostly limited to the tech-savvy crowd. It is still yet to be seen whether or not moves like this will become mainstream, but is clear that users are unhappy with how their data is being handled and safeguarded. One such project, MediaGoblin, hopes to rectify the media storage and streaming aspect of this paradigm, with a campaign out now to acquire funding.

The software itself is a free software media publishing platform that literally anyone can install and run. Decentralization, as stated above is the main goal of the project, one that is backed and connected to the GNU project. With FOSS princicples aligned with the software’s goals, one would assume then the code and licenses will comply with the ethics of the GNU Project itself. The platform also is being built to be highly extensible, covering a wide range of media types, most notably video. Early news postings showed examples of HTML5 hosted videos, so it’s clear newer web technologies are in play as well. At MediaGoblines core is a suite of software, including Python 2.x, SQL (SQLite or PostgreSQL), and virualenv used to isolate Python environments. The documentation for installing MediaGoblin’s current release is very well laid out, with detailed steps for each step of the process.

feature_puzzle

So far, MediaGoblin has raised only $3,000 of its $60,000 goal, with the campaign set to end April 14th. I am unsure when the actual campaign page went up, but that is a date that is soon approaching. The first crowdsourcing initiative was in October of 2012, so this is not the first crowdfunding initiative the project has launched. This second campaign was clearly spurred on by the PRISM revelations of recent past. Having not noticed any failures to meet 2012’s funding campaign, it’s very possible the team may reach their goal again, given the intensity of the subject matter. The funding campaign is being hosted through the Free Software Foundation’s website, rather than popular crowd-sourcing outlets, such as Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.

The project news section is chock full of information, including planned features, as well as musing on privacy and the NSA’s PRISM program. Interestingly enough, I found the artwork through the project page to be quite creative, and indicative of the teams light hearted feel to an otherwise dark subject area. Overall it’s clear from the project’s landing page, that a lot of thought is being put into this project, so I hope the direction it’s heading in, as well as the team’s admirable end goal, is one that all can appreciate. I have tested initial implantation, and see potential in what they have going. If my impressions prove positive enough, I may consider using this in the future for media hosting on my personal Linux blog.

Alternatives such as OwnCloud are already beginning to offer decentralized media, but lacks a lot of the media integration laid out in MediaGoblin. You can check out a full tour of features and donate to the projects cause at the source link below.

Source: MediaGoblin