Tag Archives: Opinion

barack_obama_funny

Cisco tells Obama to stop hacking their hardware for spying, in response US sues China

What is US government’s response to CISCO’s complain that NSA’s activities are harming the businesses of US companies? They sued China. That’s not a joke, US government has filed ‘criminal’ charges against Chinese military for ‘economic’ espionage.

Cisco is not the only company that has raised issues with the US government. Almost all major companies – including Facebook and Google have voiced their complaint over NSA’s hijacking of their communication.

Who is the bad guy?

According to reports NSA was listening to calls of European leaders; NSA had hijacked Chinese companies to create backdoors and spy on them; NSA compromised Iran’s nuclear program; NSA is listening to all phone calls that goes and comes from Bahamas and what is Obama administration doing?

While US accuses China of ‘economic espionage’, NSA itself has been doing the same, according to Edward Snowden.

Snowden earlier told German TV ARD “If there’s information at Siemens that’s beneficial to U.S. national interests — even if it doesn’t have anything to do with national security — then they’ll take that information nevertheless.”

In another story NYTimes reported that NSA was involved with spying on trade talks involving Indonesian government. NSA, in coordination with its Australian counterpart, was also spying on a US-based law firm which was involved in the trade talks.

NYTimes reported, “A top-secret document, obtained by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, shows that an American law firm was monitored while representing a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States.”

All this information is already in public, still the US government has the audacity to sue the Chinese government. Is this the NSA reform Mr President promised us?

We may start asking ourselves, who is the bad guy here!

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Florida on bloggers didn’t go far enough

Remember when the word “blog” was first being bandied about? That was back in the early 2000’s when free web hosting from Geocities and Angelfire was still a big deal. Then the idea began taking off, especially after bloggers exposed Jeff Gannon of “Talon News” as James Guckert.

It was a sordid affair that left CNN and other so called “mainstream” outlets in the dust as it proved how irrelevant they were becoming.

Unfortunately, people in positions of power aren’t dealing with this new media very well. Neither are businessmen such as Christopher Comins. He attempted to sue a blogger because they posted about him shooting two dogs in a field. Comins claimed that bloggers such as Matthew Frederick VanVoorhis didn’t count as media since he was a blogger.

A Florida court disagreed.

While many of us may want to simply say, “Well, duh!” we shouldn’t be celebrating just yet. After all, those living in the United States are still in the same climate in which the so called “Media Shield” law doesn’t apply to those who aren’t “sanctioned media.”

That means the likes of Glenn Greenwald and others who report news in a manner that isn’t favorable to political entities that may have power at any given time are having their freedom of speech abridged in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

All one has to do is look at the Media Shield section on the Huffington Post to get a clear picture of the problem. There are those in the nation’s capitol who are wanting to redefine media when all they have to do is read the amendment in question. When it says that Congress shall pass no law regarding freedom of speech or the press, that means they are not allowed to define what constitutes media. Why? Simple; you and I are media. All of us are.

If more than one person can hear our voices, that is media.  It’s an extension of our freedom of speech.

This does not mean any entity or individual should be forced to conform to the popular point of view of its time either nor should they be forced to reveal sources in the name of “national security.” We all know very well how much that line has been abused in the past, and Dirking at the Tewe shouldn’t be putting up with that excuse in order to violate the rights of an individual who is simply conveying a message.

So while the Florida court is on the right track when they basically told Mr. Comins that bloggers are indeed media, that is only a ruling related to Florida, and not one that will necessarily impact Florida. What needs to happen is for the case, as stupid as it is, to be pushed even higher to force the Supreme Court to declare that bloggers are simply exercising their first amendment rights.

In the meantime, citizens need to remind their Congress people and Senators that freedom of speech applies to all of us, not when it only agrees with their point of view.

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Will it ever be the year of the Linux Desktop?

It used to be a rallying cry, then it turned into speculation and finally it became a joke: That the next year, or the one after that, or very soon at least, would be “the year of the Linux desktop”. Even the meaning of the term has changed a bit, depending on the time and the publication. Maybe it means the year when Linux will be a majority operating system on desktop computers. Maybe it means that Linux accounts for a significantly increased share of the market.

Maybe it just means getting over our inferiority complex.

Of course, while we waited and promoted and encouraged and evangelized, everywhere but the desktop was racing ahead. Embedded gadgets? We rule that. Servers? Doing good. Super computers? Complete dominance. Android? Basically rules the world. Chrome OS? Selling very well.

Some have argued that those are the areas that should matter anyway, that we should take the broad view of what “computing” means. Today, people increasingly use their phones, tablets and other light, portable devices. If we can push Linux there, then we’re still winning, whatever that means.

I’d like to argue that the year of the Linux desktop already came and went. We just didn’t notice it.

Majority share on the desktop would be nice, sure. First class up to date hardware support for every piece of hardware that comes out? Yeah, that’d be great too. More support from big software developers? We’d all like that.

But as I have been using Linux in the past several years, it has increasingly occurred to me: We’re at a point where we have a large number of incredibly polished distributions available. You can run a Linux system for a standard user without barely ever touching the terminal. There’s a wealth of software, both applications and games available, most hardware works without any worry, and the days of manually editing xorg.conf, our old best friend, are pretty much gone.

In the last half year, I’ve run Ubuntu, Debian, Kubuntu, Elementary OS, openSUSE and Antergos. In each case, I simply loaded it on a USB stick, put it in, installed and rebooted. Fully functioning system that let me do the things I needed to do.

Yeah, there are differences between those (and maybe I skewed the results by having 2 Ubuntu derivatives) but in the end, it “just worked”. I didn’t have to spend hours configuring everything just to get basic functionality.

Can we get bigger? Of course we can, and we should. We can still make huge improvements in terms of availability. But for the average desktop user, we’re here already. The year came and went and we didn’t notice, because we were busy doing the things on our computer that we wanted to do. Everything that happens from here on out is a pleasant bonus, on top of an already fantastic experience.

Agree? Disagree? Contribute a comment below and let me know if you feel we are there yet, and if we are, when that happened.

Media Goblin Banner

Why free media standards are important

Do you trust your newspaper? How about the news on TV?  Maybe you prefer getting your fix for what’s happening around you online. In other words, do you trust the media?

If your answer is no, you’re not alone. According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, 60% of Americans have little to no trust of the mass media in terms of accuracy and fairness in reporting. The U.K. also has a similar problem when it comes to trust of the media. When looking at the world, a great number of countries are dissatisfied with their local media or media in some way.

Some more insights can be found here. The big question at this point is how to improve the media? What’s the starting point?

To understand what I’m going to be arguing, we need to take a look at some history. In the middle ages in Europe, books were rather expensive. Only the clergy and wealthy were able to afford to obtain books and read them; after all, copying was an expensive process and they had to know Latin.

Enter Gutenberg and his printing press. When the cost of book making went down as a result of what he accomplished, the demand for books in local languages and education increased. Though Gutenberg was not the first to make such machine, it did have an impact.

This meant that printing became cheaper, and so did publication.

The reason I went back to the 1400’s is rather simple; in order for alternative media to become better than traditional venues, they need to stop relying on proprietary software. Virtually everywhere one looks for rich content, they will run into software that isn’t liberated.

Popular outlets utilize YouTube and other sites to get their message out to their respective audiences, but are they liberated from corporate influence, or are they shackled without realizing it? Even Russia’s RT relies on Adobe Flash for their 24/7 streaming video channel.

Most corporate media sites that provide streaming video use the same technology, and are paying for it with licensing costs. Those who own their own digital printing press are able to control their message, but they don’t truly own it if they have to use proprietary technology in order to broadcast their message.

So why worry about this anyway? Just ask the likes of Ernie Ball and others. The Business Software Alliance has overstepped their bounds before, and will continue to do so.

With the arcane way that licenses have to be archived and tracked (with receipts no less), perhaps it’s time to move away from proprietary media standards and move towards free standards.  Here are some examples:

  • Instead of using MP3 for streaming audio/podcasting, why not use OGG instead?
  • For video, there’s WebM instead of the other formats.
  • Instead of Skype, why not look into WebRTC?
  • Instead of relying on YouTube or other websites that could censor your video at any time, why not look into MediaGoblin and build your own media server?

By relying on free media standards instead of proprietary standards, you’re not only freeing yourself from licensing costs. You’re also freeing yourself from the control of major corporations. If you don’t truly own your digital printing press, then your speech isn’t truly free.

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The curious case of RT in the United States of America

In the recent weeks regarding the controversy of the situation in the Ukraine, we have seen various arguments on whether Putin’s actions were good or bad. The beauty of the Internet and alternative media is that an actual conversation can take place.  However, there is an issue with blind trust regarding alternative venues, and it’s time that we start paying attention.

Recently, Liz Wahl decided to publicly quit her job as an anchor for RT, a 24/7 TV channel funded by the Russian Government. One of the reasons that RT has gained popularity was due to coverage of certain topics that other venues either ridiculed or ignored in their entirety. When one examines the past of RT, one shouldn’t be surprised as to why Wahl decided to walk away from the network.

For starters, it’s state funded. Any venue that is funded by any government is not truly independent, especially when coverage of events is skewed in favor of said government. Some controversy is allowed for RT so long as it doesn’t involve the Russian government.

Even Adam Kokesh walked away from the network, and this quote from his Adam Vs the Man website may give some insight as to why:

So RT America picked up ADAM VS THE MAN as a TV show on national cable for 30 minutes, weeknights. While some were shocked that a state-funded media outlet would hire a libertarian, if you understand RT to be the Russian government poking the American government in the eye, it makes perfect sense and Adam was happy to be a part of that effort. Unfortunately, after four successful months in which the show quickly came to regularly outperform other similar shows on the network, they decided to part ways and Adam decided to strike out on his own.

Just because some controversial topics are discussed does not mean one should trust one media entity over another.  Truly independent media, venues that are not backed by corporations or governments, are needed more than ever. Independent Media Centers can help fulfill general coverage in an independent way, sites such as this one and 2600 can help in terms of different perspectives on computers and technology, and other sites can be utilized for alternative perspectives on just about any topic.

Just be aware that there will always be a slant no matter which venue it is and that objectivity does not truly exist, for we are all human.

Google may start selling Ara phones for $50

I remember a discussion with a company which developed software for mobile devices back in 2008. The discussion was around the future of mobile devices where, like PCs, a user could choose hardware components and and could upgrade hardware components to keep up with software instead of throwing away the device every year, adding up to the huge pile of electronic waste that we are creating, thanks to short shelf life of mobile devices championed by Apple.

What we were discussing way back in 2008 became a reality in 2013 when Motorola announced its Project Ara. As most of you know it’s a ‘modular’ device concept where users will be able to change or upgrade core hardware components such as CPU, RAM, camera or what not.

Then came shocking story that Google was selling pride of America to Chinese company Lenovo. I think Google is selling it to Lenovo for the same reason IBM sold it’s PC unit to the same Chinese giant – to works closely with Chinese government and organizations to improve it’s relationship and foot print in the country.

The good part of that story was that Google got to keep the patents (the only reason why Google bought Motorola for that price as the Motorola was not ready to sell only the patents) as well as project Ara at Mountain View.

Google has already announced the first event around project Ara where they will start teaching people how to use it. Now the reports are floating that Google may start selling the ‘modular’ Ara smartphones for $50 by next year. What all hardware a user will get for $50 is unclear, but looking at the nature of the concept, you can just throw some more dollars to add more components.

I am not sure if the concept will become popular among average users who may or may not care about such a device, but power-users, developer and enthusiasts will definitely be the #1 target of the device and it may sell like hot cakes.

In the long run it may change the market dynamics and break the unibody Apple shell where even battery is locked out from user’s reach and popularize device which are user-upgradable. If I have to choose, I will definitely choose a device which can be upgraded over time unlike devices which become obsolete in 2 years just because you can’t even upgrade the RAM. Google’s approach with Ara is a complete U-turn from what Apple is trying to do with their devices.

The I/O is arriving and we will see if Google announces something more exciting about the project at the event as it’s focused on developers to start with.

microsoft-lockdown

Microsoft tells UK govt – moving to Open Source will cause dissatisfaction

The UK government is all set to move away from vendor-locked proprietary to Open Source, Open standard solutions. Microsoft is, obviously, scared and is trying to spread incorrect and misleading information about Open Source/vendor-free technologies.

In a blog post the company ‘warns UK citizens and businesses, “You may not be aware, but the UK government is currently in the process of making important selections about which open standards to mandate the use of in future. These decisions WILL likely impact you; either as a citizen of the UK, a UK business or as a company doing or wanting to do business with government.”

Moving to Open Standard will definitely have an impact on people

Yes, there is no doubt Microsoft it is going to have an impact on people and that is going to be a positive impact. The move to Open Source and Open Standard technologies will ensure that UK citizens and businesses won’t be held hostage to one company. It would mean that instead of locked into Microsoft solutions, citizens and businesses will be able to use ‘standard’ based solutions which can be provided by any competent player.

The MS blog further adds, “An important current proposal relates to sharing and collaborating with government documents. The government proposes to mandate Open Document format (ODF) and exclude the most widely supported and used open standard for document formats, Open XML (OOXML). We believe this will cause problems for citizens and businesses who use office suites which don’t support ODF, including many people who do not use a recent version of Microsoft Office or, for example, Pages on iOS and even Google Docs.”

Not really, as soon as ODF becomes the mandatory standards companies like Apple and Google (it’s really disturbing to see Google’s extremely poor support ODF) will immediately start supporting ODF.

Microsoft’s OOXML is just a smoke screen

The the company starts talking about its controversial OOXML. “Microsoft Office has supported ODF since 2007, but adoption of OOXML has been more widespread amongst other products than ODF. This move has the potential to impact businesses selling to government, who may be forced to comply. It also sets a worrying precedent because government is, in effect, refusing to support another internationally recognized open standard and may do so for other similar popular standards in the future, potentially impacting anyone who wishes to sell to Government.”

The market is not adopting ODF for the very reason that Microsoft is NOT letting ODF adoption – this blog post is an example of it. Funny that first Microsoft will do everything to block adoption of ODF and then use is as an argument that ODF is not very well supported.

As far as OOXML is concerned, Microsoft bribed, played nasty tricks and bought votes to get their OOXML approved as an ISO standard. There was already an document standard approved so what was the point of having two standards? The whole point of standard is there should be one Standard which everyone can follow. Ironically Microsoft doesn’t fully support ODF and it doesn’t supports it’s own controversially approved OOXML format. It’s a mess to work with Microsoft formats with 3rd party solutions and you are locked into buying Microsoft products to use that format. Whereas with ODF – it’s open standard and Open Source – which not only just works but people and companies can save millions by using Open Source (and free of cost) solutions like LibreOffice.

Moving to open standard will cut cost, Microsoft!

Then comes the FUD, “We believe very strongly that the current proposal is likely to increase costs, cause dissatisfaction amongst citizens and businesses, add complexity to the process of dealing with government and negatively impact some suppliers to government.”

The cost Microsoft is talking about is unfounded. There are so many case-studies (most recent one being those of Munich government and French Police where they saved millions of dollars by moving out of Microsoft’s vendor lock). There are so many other examples where companies and governments are saving millions of dollars by moving away from Microsoft technologies and adoption Open Source and Open Standard technologies.

The complexity that Microsoft is talking about is ‘created’ by Microsoft and the more we continue to use Microsoft products, the more things will continue to get complicated. Microsoft would love to make it even more complicated and harder for people to migrate to Open Standard and Open Source technologies so they stay locked into Microsoft products and every time someone wants to move away Microsoft can posts such blogs warning them of complications.

The best solution is to get out of Microsoft ecosystem as soon as possible.

What future holds for KDE’s Nepomuk?

A recent post by Phoronix predicted that Nepomuk would stop being supported and be obsolete by this year. The article claimed, “It appears there isn’t much of a future left to KDE’s Nepomuk framework that was developed at a cost of 17 million Euros… It’s going to be replaced going forward in the KDE land.”

That’s not true. First of all those 17 million Euros were not spent on KDE; those were invested in the Nepomuk project and Nepomuk KDE was just a small part of the entire project.

That work was continued by France based company Mandriva, once EU’s project was finished. So the claim that 17 millions were spent on KDE’s Nepomuk is incorrect. The second point is that this investment is not wasted as it enabled research and development of work which builts the foundation of the next version of Nepomuk.

Vishesh Handa, a KDE developer told us, “Additionally, the Nepomuk research project produced tons of academical papers, ontologies which are still being used in Tracker and Zeitgeist, and spawned many other independent projects such as Refinder.”

Another KDE developer Thomas Pfeiffer agrees and says,”….Nepomuk is still being used in academic contexts (I just heard a talk at a conference last year where people used it), for projects where it fits the bill much better than for KDE. Plus – and the article at least mentions that – Baloo still reuses some concepts from Nepomuk.”

But what’s Nepomuk?
Before we move ahead, for the benefit of new KDE users, let’s see what Nepomuk is in very simple and easy to understand language. In KDE-based systems most files can be found by searching for the file name or the directory (folder) the file is in. The file’s contents can also be searched, but this is more time consuming as it involves opening the file. The Nepomuk framework improves file searching by storing meta-data, or data about data, in a KDE database, to perform more comprehensive file searches. For example, you can label certain files with person ‘A’, and another group of files with person ‘B’. Nepomuk will enable you to quickly find those files written by A or those written by B.

What are the limitations of Nepomuk?
Nepomuk was originally a European Union research project to explore the act of searching for data. Vishesh Handa, a developer for the Nepomuk framework, has said that “we [Nepomuk developers] no longer think any more improvement is possible only by modifying our code”.

The main issue with Nepomuk at this stage is the “Resource Description Framework” (RDF), the data storage method of Nepomuk. RDF’s reliance on ontologies is also a problem when it comes to further optimization of the project. The team was looking at dropping RDF so that Nepomuk could be optimized for modern computing. They ‘rechristened’ the project under a new name called Baloo to further the development of what one may call Nepomuk 2.0.

The name change has it’s benefits as well as drawbacks, as Aaron Seigo, the lead Plasma developer, pointed out. While Nepomuk 2.0 might have nipped such controversies (as raised by Phoronix) in the bud, it may have suffered from the somewhat negative image Nepomuk has – especially how it used to be resource hungry (which is no more the case). A new name, with better performance was a better PR exercise, from my point of view.

“Another reason for changing the name is also that all of the APIs were tied very closely to RDF and the ontologies. Without RDF, the outer face of the project changes a LOT,” says Vishesh.

So in a nutshell there is no wastage of 17 million Euros or the death of Nepomuk. Yes, as far as future versions of KDE Framework is concerned Nepomuk 1.x won’t be ported to Qt5 and KF5, as it doesn’t make sense when 2.x edition is in plans. More conservative, older KDE systems will continue to use Nepomuk 1.x. The developers have made it clear that it will continued to be maintained for a while, however all new development will be focused on Nepomuk 2.x or what it’s called Baloo.

The core point is Nepomuk or Baloo are not important, what’s important is the ‘core’ searching or indexing feature of KDE Framework and that’s going to stay – whether it’s called Nepomuk or Baloo is irrelevant.

Swapnil Bhartiya contributed to this story.

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Firefox ads won’t be tracking users

Mozilla created a storm when they announced that they will be using ads to support the world’s most popular web browser. The announcement lead to some confusion among users as it drew comparison with Ubuntu’s Dash search. I have already written about the reasons why Mozilla is taking a U-Turn from it’s previous stand on online advertisement, which upset the entire online advertisement industry. As far as I am concerned there is no privacy or annoying concern that arises from Mozilla’s move. The ads won’t start popping up when you are trying to open a web-page.

Mitchell Baker of the Mozilla Foundation clarifies doubts around Firefox ads. She says that this is not the first time Mozilla has tried to add adverts to Firefox. All such previous attempts were rejected by the community.

She said that they have seen very very negative reaction whenever Mozilla tried to add ‘features’ like bookmarks, tabs etc to the product to generate revenue. So Mozilla is aware of what users will tolerate and what they would not.

She also said that Mozilla resisted offering any content to users, as she believed it made sense initially when the web was young but now people ‘expect’ their software to do things on their behalf. And that’s why she thinks that Mozilla can offer “people useful content in the Tiles.”

Mozilla is already doing something on those lines by offering Google search to generate revenues for the organization. It has not met with any resistance, most users would either way use Google to search content online.  At the same time Mozilla is using Bing in Thunderbird, something that’s not much talked about.

One thing, and that’s the most important thing, is certain that unlike Ubuntu Dash search, Mozilla won’t start tracking user activities to show ads. Baker has made it very very clear, “These sponsored results/ ads would not have tracking features.”

She argues that “If the Tiles are useful to people then we’ll generate value.  That generates revenue that supports the Mozilla project.   So to explicitly address the question of whether we care about generating revenue and sustaining Mozilla’s work, the answer is yes. In fact, many of us feel responsible to do exactly this.”

Mozilla is a huge organization, with huge workforce which need salaries so it’s quite obvious that the organization needs revenues to pay employees and other bills. Mozilla’s case is different from that of Fedora or openSUSE which are sponsored by their respective companies and are community edition of product, here Firefox “is” the product.

But the moment money is talked about people get suspicious. Many raised concern when CyanogenMod took community work and became a company. The good thing is that Mozilla is much more open and trusted, and they have already came out as transparent. Since Baker has once again made it clear that Firefox won’t track users, the way Ubuntu does, there is now zero privacy concern around it.

That said, I trust many users will be upset if Bing becomes the default search engine for Firefox so it’s equally important what kind of content will Mozilla be populating those tiles with. I don’t think many free software users will like it if all 9 times show Windows ads. So, Mozilla will have to be careful with which partners they choose and what kind of content they should in those tiles.

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Mozilla will start showing ads in Firefox

Mozilla is in a trickier position than other open source projects like openSUSE, Fedora or KDE which get direct funding from profit making companies like Red Hat or are purely driven by ‘work for free’ community.

Mozilla is a huge organization and is also the world’s leading mobile browser. Mozilla needs money to pay employees and to pay it’s own bills.

They have a multi-year deal with Google where they use Google as the default search engine for their Firefox browser. Last time there were a lot of uncertainties whether Google would renew the deal or not and Microsoft was lurking around to put Bing in the search box. Mozilla’s ThunderBird email client already uses Bing for ThunderBird search and there is a Bing version of Firefox.

What if Google doesn’t renew the deal? What if Microsoft is no more interested in Mozilla? What’s the contingency plan for Mozilla’s survival?

Ads?

Looks like so.

Mozilla’s Darren Herman calls it Directory Tiles and says that it “is designed to improve the first-time-with-Firefox experience.”

Currently when a new Firefox user opens the browser he is greeted with the empty ‘Directory tiles’ page with no content there. Mozilla is targeting this landing page and will show what they call pre-packaged content for such users. The content which would appear on these tiles range from products from Mozilla ecosystem, popular websites to ‘sponsored’ content – which in other words would be ads. Darren says that ‘sponsored’ content will be clearly marked as such so there is no confusion.

Darren says that Mozilla is “excited about Directory Tiles because it has inherent value to our users, it aligns with our vision of a better Internet through trust and transparency, and it helps Mozilla become more diversified and sustainable as a project. While we have not worked out the entire product roadmap, we are beginning to talk to content partners about the opportunity, and plan to start showing Directory Tiles to new Firefox users as soon as we have the user experience right.”