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Congress Considers Stepping on Rights, Windows Mobile Share Nil & Whose DNA Is It Anyway?

Friday FOSS Week in Review

With the Black Hat Conference going on in Las Vegas, and with Congress messing around where they shouldn’t, this has been a busy week in the FOSS world. Some of the news is good; some of the news is not so good. I’ll start with a rant…

Proposed Data Retention Bill Would Chill Free Speech

The House will soon be considering a bill that will require ISP’s to maintain logs of their customers Internet use for a 12 month period. As I understand it, the law would include a customer’s browsing history, credit card numbers, etc. The stated purpose of the proposed law is to catch pedophiles visiting child porn sites, but everybody who knows anything about the Internet agrees it won’t be very effective at doing that. What it will do, if enacted, is bring Orwell’s “Big Brother” vision a little closer to home and make your network connected devices look even more like telescreens than they do now.


This propossed bill first came to my attention in an article published Saturday on PCWorld by Christina DesMarais, who notes that if inacted the bill will have more of a chilling effect on legitimate online speech than on catching boogeyman pedophiles:

“The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that the same data could become available to civil litigants in private lawsuits — whether it’s the recording industry trying to identify downloaders, a company trying to uncover and retaliate against an anonymous critic, or a divorce lawyer looking for dirty laundry. The group, which is asking people to contact lawmakers about the issue, also says that the database created would be a new and valuable target for hackers.

“‘Essentially what this bill is attempting to do is make it such that you can never post anything online without there being a record indicating that you posted it,’ said Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney with the EFF.”

Every time government wants to curb our freedoms, they do so by playing into our fears, under the guise of doing away with some public threat. No one can deny that child pornographers should be brought to justice, so any law claiming to be aimed at them is automatically perceived to be a good thing, no matter how chilling the effect on society as a whole.

Likewise, no one can argue that terrorist attacks cannot be tolerated, so we find our freedoms abridged by a group of laws, under the misnamed umbrella “Patriot Act,” to protect us from bomb throwing loonies whom we now suspect are lurking behind every tree. Those who argue with these laws are considered suspect, as we should be happy to subject ourselves to them because “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” which is probably similar to what many thought in Germany when the Nazis were beginning their rise to power.

Gregory Nojeim, director of the Project and Freedom Security and Technology at the Center for Democracy and Technology, agrees the effect of this law would be much greater than the catching of a few pedophiles:

“‘It’s likely that child pornography cases will be a teeny tiny percentage of the cases in which law enforcement uses data that is retained under the mandate in this bill,’ he said.

“Instead, he thinks government and law enforcement entities will use the data to investigate other things such as criminal drug activity or for intelligence investigations.

“Nojeim said tens of thousands of national security letters are issued every year. Most of them go to the Internet service providers and they request information that includes IP address information as well as email and other electronic communications information that is not content, he said.”

Anyway, H.R. 1981 passed through the House Judiciary Committee on July 28. If you oppose it, call your congressperson.

Windows Phone 7 Sales Are Through the Floor

There have been more than a few blogs written in recent months expressing the opinion that Microsoft is suing Android makers because that’s the only way they can make any money from mobile. To most of us, those sentiments seemed a bit snarky perhaps, and probably only wishful thinking. As it turns out, they’re probably true, according to an article published Friday on Seattle PI. In fact, the PI puts Redmond’s sales of their mobile OS at a paltry $613 million:

“Buried deep within Microsoft’s annual report Thursday to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is this little gem: In the company’s 2011 fiscal year, revenue for the Xbox 360 platform was $8.103 billion.

“That’s not what’s noteworthy. What’s noteworthy is if you subtract that number from overall revenue to the Entertainment and Devices Division – $8.716 billion – you get a rough figure for Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile.

“That number – which also includes revenue from Zune, Mediaroom, Surface and hardware – was a mere $613 million last year.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that mobile sales at Microsoft are something short of stellar. Recently it was reported that MS is making more money from Android than from their own mobile OS, and the PI article goes on to report:

“In May, an analyst called Windows Phone 7 sales ‘catastrophic.’ In June, ratings firm Nielsen said Windows Phone had a 1 percent sliver of the U.S. market share between March and May. And last week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Windows Phone’s market share has ‘gone from very small to very small.’”

Windows Phone 7 was released in the U.S. about eight months ago. I say, give it another four months. After it’s been out a year, we should have a handle on how it will do. I’m betting that despite Nokia, it’ll be another Zune.

Mandriva Announces Flash to be Installed By Default

It’s almost impossible to include Adobe’s Flash as a default part of a Linux install and be legal under Adobe’s license. In fact, many distros choose to dynamically download the plugin during the installation process in order to get around Adobe’s license restrictions. However, the latest free version of Mandriva will include the installation of of Flash by default, according to an article by V. Deseinture posted last Friday on OSNews:

“Yet, today the latest release candidate of Mandriva was announced by Eugeni Donodov on the official blog without much fanfare and the terse changelog did forget to mention an important change. Starting with 2011.0, the Flash plugin will be installed by default on all products, and be distributed as an integrated part of the system by the regular network of mirrors. It was previously offered only to paying customers as part of their commercial Powerpack offer.”

Deseinture goes on to explain that in the past Adobe has not hesitated to defend the terms of it’s license in court, and asks, “Is this the start of a new age regarding Linux distributions, or the beginning of a new soap opera regarding Mandriva, after the recent rpm5 fiasco and the Mageia story?”

Stay tuned.

You Don’t Own Your DNA

If you think that software patents are just plain wrong, you’re going to love this. A federal court has reversed an earlier ruling and has decided that human DNA is patentable. The ruling means that before you can look for the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 in your own genetic coding, you’ll have to pay Myriad Genetics:

“Judge Sweet’s ruling last year was based on the obvious scientific fact that genes are a product of nature, not an invention, and therefore they could not be patented. Patent lawyers were very upset over Sweet’s ruling. Why was this controversial? Well, because the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has been granting gene patents for decades. Basically, once the USPTO decided to allow one gene patent, they never looked back, and they’ve now given out patents for over 4,000 human genes.

“But this past week, an appeals court reversed last year’s ruling and said yes, Myriad Genetics does indeed own the rights to the BRCA genes. The decision by Judge Alan Lourie reveals an astounding lack of understanding of DNA, genes, and genomes…”

Evidentlly, two of three judges agreed that “isolated DNA” is different than the regular, ordinary DNA we carry around with us. Anyway, if you want to read it, the entire ruling is available online as a PDF. Here’s hoping that this one gets appealed again.

Black Hat Conference Announces Lots of Stuff We Wish Wasn’t True

Remember the TV ads for the second Jaws movie with the tagline, “Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water?” That’s how I feel when reading the news coming out of this week’s Black Hat Conference in Las Vegas.

For example, if you’re using the Chrome browser, your user data might be as risk. Or how about this – insulin pumps and monitors are evidently extremely hackable, which makes me wonder once again why every device in the world has to be hooked-up to the Internet. Wasn’t there an old proverb about putting all of your eggs in one basket? Have we decided that isn’t true in the information age?

Then there’s the news that new exploits are being found all the time for our old friend MS Office. Luckily, unless I missed something, there was no mention of exploits in LibreOffice, Abiword, KOffice or any other application suite that’s likely to be found on any computer I would own. That doesn’t mean they’re not there, as all software is exploitable. It just means so far, so good…

Oracle a Leader in LibreOffice Development

As much as we like to pick on Oracle for their mishandling of the OpenOffice/LibreOffice fiasco, it turns out that Oracle and SUSE are the two largest contributors to the just released latest version of LibreOffice. This news comes by way of an article published Monday on ZDNet:

“Upon the release of LibreOffice 3.4.2, the Document Foundation announced that Oracle and SUSE each contributes roughly 25 percent of the latest commits, while Red Hat contributed another 20 percent…

“That means the two leading Linux distributors represent almost 50 percent of the ongoing work on the open source Microsoft Office competitor while Oracle — which donated OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation, with IBM’s support in June– also donated about 25 percent of the new code.”

I expected Red Hat and SUSE to be big contributers, but I figured any contributions from Oracle would be through “accidental” contributions through the OpenOffice code base under Apache’s care. I guess I was wrong. It’s nice to see that Oracle can share.

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That does it for this week. I’ll see you on Monday. Until then, may the FOSS be with you…

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

3 comments to Congress Considers Stepping on Rights, Windows Mobile Share Nil & Whose DNA Is It Anyway?

  • fredex

    it’s “Whose DNA”, not “Who’s DNA”

  • freeweaver

    Well, great article! I especially liked the bit referencing Nazi’s. It is very true that Hitler and the people he surrounded himself with gradually chipped away at societies trust in each other, and created a atmosphere of fear.

    Most people think that Hitler just stood up one day and declared himself the dictator. Of course this is silly to say the least. He and his government did exactly what western governments are doing now – gradually creeping in dictatorship.

    Anyway, you might want to correct your perceived wrongness about Oracle and Libreoffice donations. The article you quote is misleading. It is the “donation” of openoffice and its changes to Apache that provided the 25%. Oracle did not share anything with libreoffice, they gave the code to Apache, and TDF took it from there. Oracle effectively provided nothing that was not already there before handing it over to Apache.

  • @fredex Thanks for the copy editing! We were trying to get this up by 5pm yesterday and accidentally let this slip by us. Again, thanks.

    @freeweaver Yep. I’m pretty concerned about what I see happening right now as far as the loss of our rights go.

    As to Oracle, I suspected as much when I was putting together this article. We’ll let it stand, as Oracle did “contribute” the code according to The Document Foundation. Hopefully, most people reading this article will also read your comment for further information.