Thursday, July 31, 2008

Outages Could Give Amazon an Edge’s nearly eight-hour outage to its S3 cloud storage service on Sunday, July 20, might have irked some customers and made headlines, but in the end, it may be Amazon having the upper hand.
Analyst James Staten told Systems Management News that outages and issues with cloud computing should be expected because it is in its initial phases.
Staten said the cloud computing growing pain period may take several years, but there likely won’t be an exact point in time where all issues with cloud computing are cured. Maturity will happen on a company-by-company basis, he indicated.
“Amazon, being the first in the market, has the biggest target on their head,” Staten said. “They’ve had the biggest outages, and they’ve been working to address it. I expect they’ll be extremely resilient to these kinds of outages in the next year to year-and-a-half.”
As such, Amazon may have an advantage over other companies in the cloud computing market because they are taking their bumps and bruises right now. They will experience their outages, muck through their cloud computing initiation phase, and should learn from their mistakes to get a better feel for this whole cloud computing idea. When cloud computing becomes everywhere, Amazon will be way ahead of everyone in cloud maturity.
The key for Amazon is to keep making sure that these outages get smaller and smaller as time goes by, and their “emergency” response gets better and better. Smaller companies that are new to the cloud computing market, like Joyent and GridLayer, will also have their own bumps along the way, but don’t have the same exposure and “probably won’t end up in the New York Times,” as Staten said.
However, as the bigger corporations start partaking in cloud initiatives, they could well find themselves playing catch-up with Amazon.
-- Jeff Feinman

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Microsoft's Plans for Post-Windows OS Revealed

Life without Windows? Apparently, even Microsoft can conceive of such a time and place, and SD Times reporter David Worthington got a look at the company's plans to develop an operating system, code-named Midori, for the massively connected, high speed, powerful computing world in which we now live. The plans are detailed in three article; the first -- Microsoft's Plans for a Post-Windows Operating System, is up on the site. The others, which address migrating from the legacy OS to Midori and Microsoft's attention to heightened security, will be posted soon.
-- David Rubinstein

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Spammer Slips Out of Slammer

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado said that Edward Davidson, known as the "spam king," has escaped from a minimum security federal prison camp. Davidson was serving a 21-month term for sending out large volumes of spam designed to mislead recipients into handing over their information and money. He was convicted of tax evasion and falsifying information in e-mail pitches for "penny" stocks.

Apparently, he lasted only two months in prison before escaping. Prison guards said he escaped when his wife was leaving the prison after visiting him. He somehow made a run for it and drove off with his wife in their car. He has been in “escape” status since Sunday.

-- Michelle Savage

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is Google Digg-ing for Gold?

Rumors that Google is close to acquiring social voting site Digg have resurfaced, with multiple sources hinting that the companies are close to signing a deal.

The latest buzz is that a letter of intent was signed on a deal that is worth about $200 million. But are the rumors true? Bloggers and analysts have been wagging their tongues about Google buying Digg for over a year. And today’s rumors are based on several unnamed Google insiders—neither Google nor Digg has confirmed the deal.

At this point, there’s little more to do than wait for more concrete evidence that the deal will go down. And, for fun, we can speculate on what Google will do with Digg. The combination of Digg and Google News would be a nifty mix, but any efforts made by Google to combine it with online advertising may be subject to a huge Digg community can of whup-ass.

--Michelle Savage

Monday, July 21, 2008

Defcon 2

Every year at about this time, we hear about the amazing new exploits and tools that will be shown off at Black Hat. To a lesser extent, there’s discussion of what will be shown at Defcon, though, typically, that show tends to be 15 presentations on how to use Wireshark mixed with political talks about copyright and legal hacking. In years past, we’ve seen Joanna Rutkowska’s introduction of the red pill and blue pill (vitrualization as trojan platform), Greg Hoglund show off his World of Warcraft attacks, and H.D. Moore discussing Metasploit’s many uses.

Despite the illustrious past of Black Hat and Defcon, this year’s show is shaping up to be one of the most dangerous ever. Between Rutkowska’s updated pills, Dan Kaminsky’s much ballyhooed DNS attacks, and the recent revelation that Kris Kaspersky will be unveiling processor-based attacks sometime in October, this should be one of the most eventful falls in computer security since the Legion of Doom first banged on virtual doors back in the 1980s.

Add to all of this the fact that Firefox 3 just arrived, making it a juicy target for hackers, and that almost every DNS server in the world has been patched within the last month, and you’ve got a recipe for the perfect storm. This fall, there really won’t be anyplace to hide. With the proper application of patches and security policies, it’s entirely possible to avoid all this strife, but the toughest part of staying up to date is keeping on top of the ever changing scene of exploitation. And with this August looking to be rife with new exploits, we’re all in for one hell of a ride.

-- Alex Handy

Google Trumps Microsoft as UK's Top Brand

Score One for Google!

The 2008 Superbrand survey lists Google as the U.K.’s top brand for the first time, bumping Microsoft—last year’s winner—to second place.

Superbrands Top Ten
1. Google
2. Microsoft
3. Mercedes-Benz
4. BBC
5. British Airways
6. Royal Doulton
7. BMW
8. Bosch
9. Nike
10. Sony

Apple came in at #11.

-- Michelle Savage

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Apple Wants to Shut Psystar Down

Apple filed a 16-page lawsuit in federal court demanding that Psystar Corporation, a small computer maker marketing Intel-based systems with Mac OS X preinstalled, recall all the systems it has sold. Why? Because Apple said that Psystar violated numerous copyright, trademark, breach-of-contract and unfair competition laws when they preinstalled Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) on the desktop and server systems they sell (called Open Computer and OpenServ).

“Apple has never authorized Psystar to install, use or sell the Mac OS software on any non-Apple-labeled hardware,” the filing said.

Apple further demanded that Psystar hand over all profits made from selling computers with Leopard, and stop selling the systems immediately. Ouch.

-- Michelle Savage

Live Mesh Moves from Private to Public Beta

Microsoft yesterday made its software plus services platform, Live Mesh, available to anyone in the United States with a Windows Live ID—no invitation required.

The Live Mesh service allows users to share data among multiple Windows computers, and via the Internet. Users add documents to the “mesh,” which is an online storage facility, and then access them from another computer online. Live Mesh is an example of Microsoft’s Software Plus Services strategy, which combines on-premise software with cloud computing technology.

Since April, Microsoft has reserved Live Mesh registrations for those with an invitation, but now it’s open to anyone who wants to use it in its early stages. Microsoft said there is no waiting list at this time but will restrict the number of public beta testers.

-- Michelle Savage

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sys Admin Gone Wild

An IT network administrator working for the city of San Francisco was jailed for locking up a multimillion-dollar city computer system that handles sensitive data, and he is now holding the password hostage.

San Francisco police arrested Terry Childs, an employee of the city’s Department of Technology, for improperly tampering with computer systems and causing a denial of service. Now he is the only one who can get into the network. He also set up devices to gain unauthorized access to the system.

Police believe Childs set up a secret password, giving him exclusive access to the city’s new FiberWAN (wide area network), which includes city payroll and law enforcement records. On Sunday, he was arrested and charged with four counts of tampering with a city-owned computer network. Over the course of the past few days, he has given police fake passwords and refuses to give up the real one.

No one knows exactly why Childs locked up the system. However, the kicker on this story is that San Francisco is continuing to pay his $126,000 annual salary, although it is planning to decide whether he will be placed on “unpaid leave” this week. Hmmmm…..Does jail time count as unpaid leave?

-- Michelle Savage

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Anti-Virus Scam

I have a very close friend who relies on me constantly for Windows tech support. Not that I know anything about Windows, or that I like to fix his machine all the time. But as he constantly reminds me, even though I shun Windows and only use the platform for gaming, I still know a lot more about it than he does.
My friend has an iMac that dual boots, thanks to my setting it up that way for him. He really only ever uses the Windows side, and then, only to play Pirates of the Burning Sea, an online role-playing game in which he runs a band of British sailors. My friend is a huge sailing buff, and got out of the army a few years ago, so he's a big fan of being the leader of a squad of other players in the game.
When I first went over to set up his system, I made a point of bookmarking some useful sites for him, after I downloaded Firefox for him. I bookmarked Hulu,, and Youtube so he could watch things online. I bookmarked his bank. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I had a few favorite porn sites in there too. Knowing what a meathead my buddy is, I figured I'd better show him how to find decent porn, and not the sort that demands credit cards or infects your systems.
My bachelor friend was coasting along fine for a while. His graphics card drivers kept going bad, but a quick reinstall of those made everything OK. Then, I got the dreaded phone call.
“I think I have a virus or something. It keeps telling me I am infected.”
After fruitlessly attempting to walk him through a few first solutions, I had to go over to his apartment in the Haight to fix the problem.
What happened? Despite my bookmarking a very simple-to-use porn site, my numbskull friend had clicked on an ad along the right side of the site, where it clearly states “Our Advertisers.” I'm sure one of the ads told him “someone in San Francisco wants to have sex with you!” and he dutifully clicked, hoping for some kind of free love.
The end result was that he downloaded an application. An anti-virus application. Or so he thought. The app is called Advanced Anti-Virus, and it's the digital equivalent of a slap in the face; each time he boots, this horrible program tells him he's infected and he needs to use the program to disinfect. When he runs the “disinfect,” another window comes up asking for a credit card number and some personal information. It says he needs to buy the “Pro” version, which is another way of saying he needs to send his credit card info to some awful scammers in Malaysia.
I looked up the company behind this application. The only thing I could find was a domain registration under the name Cindy Chan, with the following phone number: +1-415-1234567
My friend is now looking into ways to track down these people, knock on their door, and confront them. I am quite inclined to help him in this endeavour, as I think it could be a good business model.
I'm certainly not in favor of the death penalty for bloggers, virus writers and such, as Iran is now proposing.
But I am absolutely in favor of stopping everyone associated with Advanced Anti-Virus. They're not experimenting like a virus writer. They're not political prisoners, or researchers trying to help the world. They're just a bunch of Internet thugs, and they deserve swift and painful justice.

-- Alex Handy

Yahoo Says You're the BOSS

Yahoo has launched its Yahoo! Search BOSS (Build your Own Search Service) platform, giving third-party developers and companies a way to create their own Web search engine, using Yahoo’s search infrastructure and technology. Yahoo would require the developers to run their ads along with the search result pages generated through this service.
This seems like an obvious attempt to extend Yahoo’s reach on the Web, and nab a little bit of the market share from Google. BOSS looks a lot like a Google tool that allows Web sites to customize their search engine to deliver results that are more relevant to their users.

-- Michelle Savage

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Angry customers

In the world of journalism, we don't usually talk about customers. We mention subscribers, readers, letter writers and the occasional angry flame sender. But customers are rarely mentioned, primarily because we don't think of our readers as customers. So much of the publishing industry is about building a community of readers, of people interested in the same subject.
But today, something happened that got me thinking about customers from another perspective. I recently wrote, as a freelancer, a piece for a local metropolitan magazine. The piece focused on a local art scene and its use of recycled materials. I interviewed three local artists and told their stories. One of these artists made tables out of salvaged wood.
Now, I write a lot of things every day. Once I've finished something, I generally remove it from my mind, to the point that, unless there is a byline, I sometimes cannot even remember if I wrote the piece I am reading. I finished this art piece about three months ago, so I forgot most of what I put in it.
So when I received an angry e-mail from the table maker today, my first reaction was to expect that I'd goofed up somewhere along the line.
The e-mail accused my article of identifying the table makers as furniture recyclers, and associating them with a local salvage shop. I'm sure there have been far more egregious errors in the history of western civilization, but to this husband and wife table team, this was tantamount to murdering their first born.
I decided not to respond just yet, to wait to hear from my editor. When my editor did get in touch with me, I apologized for the mistake immediately, saying that I thought I'd said they used salvaged wood, not salvaged furniture to make their tables.
My editor responded by telling me that, in fact, the piece did say salvaged wood, and was 100 percent factually correct. What the table makers were upset about was the picture the magazine's photographer had taken of them outside a local salvage shop, with which they had no affiliation.
These people stood out there for the pictures and said nothing about how inappropriate the setting was for the image.
And yet, here I've spent all morning fretting over an error that wasn't my fault. I suddenly understood exactly what it feels like to be the head of IT support when an executive comes rushing down to scream about a lack of a floppy drive in his machine.

-- Alex Handy

A Digg-y-back Ride

My colleague Alex Handy has written an interesting look at Digg, the news site on which readers decide the stories that gain prominence. Well, the people who have Digg-ed (dugg?) Alex's story on Digg must have noticed that it was a pretty popular read, because in the comments section, they are posting links to other articles -- some taking a contrarian point of view, and others that have little or nothing to do with the topic itself.
Let it now be known forever that the practice of riding the popularity of a story on Digg to promote another story shall be known as "Diggy-backing."

-- David Rubinstein

Monday, July 7, 2008

Microsoft Backs Icahn's Call for New Yahoo Board

Just when we thought the dust had settled, the Microsoft-Yahoo drama continues.

A lot happened today.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn revealed that he is in talks with Microsoft about the potential acquisition of Yahoo if its current board is ousted at the upcoming Aug. 1 annual meeting.

Microsoft released a statement supporting Icahn's effort to unseat Yahoo!'s board and replace CEO Jerry Yang.

And Yahoo retaliated with a statement of its own, saying that it strongly opposes the Microsoft—Icahn plan of action.

In Icahn’s letter, he said that he and Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer have met several times to discuss "a transaction to purchase the Search function with large financial guarantees or, in the alternative, the whole company." By replacing the current board with members who are open to negotiations with Microsoft, Icahn said the Microsoft deal would move along smoothly, as it would prevent Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang from being able to "botch up" future negotiations.

Microsoft confirmed that the deal could move forward if the board is replaced. “We confirm, however, that after the shareholder election Microsoft would be interested in discussing with a new board a major transaction with Yahoo!, such as either a transaction to purchase the “Search” function with large financial guarantees or, in the alternative, purchasing the whole company,” said the company in a statement.

Yahoo said today: "Mr. Ballmer and Mr. Icahn have teamed up in an apparent effort to force Yahoo! into selling to Microsoft its search business at a price to be determined in a future 'negotiation' between Mr. Icahn's directors and Microsoft's management. We feel very strongly that this would not lead to an outcome that would be in the best interests of Yahoo!'s stockholders. If Microsoft and Mr. Ballmer really want to purchase Yahoo!, we again invite them to make a proposal immediately. And if Mr. Icahn has an actual plan for Yahoo! beyond hoping that Microsoft might actually consummate a deal which they have repeatedly walked away from, we would be very interested in hearing it."

Microsoft said it was "premature" to discuss details of any future negotiation for Yahoo.

-- Michelle Savage

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

David Caminer, World's First Systems Analyst Dies at 92

David Caminer, who first discovered how use a computer for business purposes, died on June 19 in London at the ripe age of 92.

In 1951, before IBM was even an idea, Caminer was one of the brains behind LEO (short for Lyons Electronic Office), the world’s first business computer, a distinction certified by Guinness World Records. It was 16 feet long with 6,000 valves and could store more than 2,000 words. Yes, this was a big deal back then. In fact, it was a major breakthrough in business practice, and he was promoted to director of LEO computers. New Scientist best summed up this accomplishment: “In today’s terms it would be like hearing that Pizza Hut had developed a new generation of microprocessor, or McDonald’s had invented the Internet.”

As his career advanced in the 1970s, he lived in Luxembourg as project director for the installation of a computer and communications system for the European Community.

Caminer was widely respected as a pioneer of business computing and will forever be remembered as the world’s first systems analyst.

-- Michelle Savage