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Chrome Clamps Down, Bitcoin Vulnerability & More…

FOSS Week in Review

Swiss cloud with, presumably, no holes

Back when the Edward Snowden brouhaha first began, we said that this was going to have serious repercussions on the tech sector here in the United States, especially after it became evident that Microsoft was actively working with the spooks by allegedly designing back doors into their operating system and keeping federal intelligence agents informed about unpatched security holes that could be used against foreign governments and “terrorist,” which now days seems to be everyone who doesn’t work for the NSA, FBI or CIA.

Swisscom logoBrazil is already spending big bucks in an effort to make sure that no Internet cable entering their country goes anywhere near the US of A and is working to pass laws to make sure all Brazilian businesses use only servers located in-country. Similar efforts are underway in Europe, most notably in France and Germany.

Now the frugal Swiss are jumping on board, and they rightfully intend to profit from our stupidity by taking advantage of their strong privacy laws.

On Monday, Reuters reported that Swisscom, which is mainly owned by the Swiss government, is building a cloud service in hopes of attracting companies, both from inside and outside of Switzerland, that want to keep their data shielded from U.S. and British intelligence agencies. According to Andreas Koenig, Swisscom’s head of IT services, this action was not taken based on the recent NSA allegations, even if it is a situation they’re willing to exploit.

“Still, as the technology to protect against illegal threats progresses, Koenig says it will start to make more sense to store data in locations where strict privacy laws make it harder to retrieve sensitive information.

“‘Data protection and privacy is a long tradition in Switzerland, and that’s why it’s pretty difficult to get to something,’ Koenig said.

“‘But if legal requirements are there and we are asked by the judge to obtain or deliver certain information then we would obviously have to comply with it.’

“Unlike in the United States, where the 2001 Patriot Act and the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISAA) gives U.S. intelligence agencies the power to carry out mass information gathering, Swisscom would have to receive a formal request from a prosecutor before allowing access to data.”

The Swiss, of course, have long taken advantage of their privacy laws by becoming a leader in international banking. Indeed, since the 1960s the “numbered Swiss bank account” has become a mainstay in popular fiction. Koenig told Reuters that his company is going to great lengths to develop new security models in an attempt to make the new cloud service as bullet proof as possible.

Windows Phone overtakes iPhone in Italy

Uh-oh. Who would’ve thunk it? Windows Phone seems to be catching on with some consumers in Europe, especially in Italy. The news came to us on Monday in a story on CNET that references a report from research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

“‘Windows Phone, driven almost entirely by Nokia sales, continues to make rapid progress in Europe and has also shown signs of growth in emerging markets such as Latin America,’ Kantar said.”

According to the report, Windows Phone now holds a 10% market share across Europe. Android remains firmly in first place, however, with 71.9% of the mobile market in the EU.

Tuxmachines.org sold

logo (1)We learned about this late, but it’s still news as we’ve been unable to find that anyone reported on it but us. On Monday we reported that Tuxmachines, the popular web destination for news hungry FOSSers, was sold to Roy Schestowitz, publisher of Techrights. The selling price was $1,000.

Today the founder and now former owner of the site, Susan Linton, published her farewell:

“‘I started to say “this is goodbye,’ but just because I sold the site doesn’t mean I won’t be around Linuxville. I’m still writing at ostatic and I may turn up here now and again as well. I’ll be looking around to expand my writing after the new year too, so you’re not rid of me yet.

“But the sale on tuxmachines.org has been completed. The move has not started, so there will be some weirdness with the site in the next week or four while things are relocated and ironed out.

“The new owner of tuxmachines.org is Roy Schestowitz. I’m sure many of you recognize that name, he’s probably best known for his boycottnovell.com site, a reaction to the Novell and Microsoft patent agreement of the mid-aughts. He also has another site call techrights.org I think it is. Anyway, Roy has said he plans to carry on the tuxmachines.org tradition and avoid controversy here. I’ll let him tell you more specificially himself any further details.

“It’s more emotional for me letting the site go than I anticipated. I started this site as a learning exercise never imagining anyone much would visit. I didn’t realize it until just now, but this one little site change my life.

“I can never thank all my visitors enough. A website is nothing without its visitors. Another final thank you to all who donated money and hardware to help me and tuxmachines over the years. You’d probably be surprised just how helpful that was.

“So, this isn’t the end of tuxmachines or me. We’ll both still be around. I wish everyone every success in the future and keep on Linux’in!”

As they say in the UK, “The king is dead. Long live the king!”

Is Bitcoin at risk?

BitcoinAccording to the BBC, Emin Surer and Ittay Eyal, faculty members at Cornell University, have discovered a theoretical way to attack Bitcoin through it’s Bitcoin mining process. Interestingly, to exploit the flaw would require a very large mining group, which makes it mimic, in a way, unregulated free-market capitalism where corporations can grow large enough to gain complete control of an entire economic sector.

Bitcoins are mined by solving a very complicated cryptographic puzzle. Once the puzzle is solved a reward in Bitcoins is given and a new puzzle is issued, which will also reap a reward in Bitcoins when solved.

“The Cornell attack involves one large mining group that does not say when it has been rewarded with new Bitcoins. This ‘selfish’ mining group then begins working on the cryptographic puzzle that will eventually release the next reward.

“This gives it an advantage because every other mining group will still be working on a puzzle that has already been solved. By leveraging this advantage and being careful about when they release information about new Bitcoins they have mined, the group could gradually take control of the entire mining system.

“‘Once the system veers away from the happy mode where everyone is honest, there is no force that opposes the growth of really large pools that command control of the currency,’ wrote Prof Surer. The pair pointed out that there were already mining groups big enough to mount a selfish attack on the protocol.

The two professors are proposing that Bitcom plug this hole by limiting the size of mining operations.

SteamOS won’t be based on Ubuntu

On Tuesday, Softpedia reported that the GNU/Linux distro being developed by gaming company Valve will not be based on Ubuntu as had been commonly thought.

“While visiting Valve, the guys from Engadget found out from the horse’s mouth that SteamOS was a custom-built Linux OS and it had nothing to do with Ubuntu. So much for that rumor.

“The new operating system is scheduled for launch in 2014, although Valve has yet to provide a timeline or any other details.”

If done right, which we expect from Valve, SteamOS could be a very serious contender and might prove to be something of a gateway distro to bring desktop users to Linux. If it catches on with gamers, it could very well make the leap and quickly catch on with their friends and relatives, and then with their friends and relatives…

We trust you catch where we’re going with this.

Google puts monopoly on Chrome extensions

Hand us a socket and ratchet. We need to tighten down on tech some more.

PCWorld informs us that come January you’ll no longer be able to install an extension on the Chrome browser unless it comes from the Chrome Web Store. Google claims they’re doing this for security reasons, but Brad Chacos, who wrote the item for PCWorld, has other ideas:

“But, it’s also worth noting, developers who want to include their Chrome Web Store have to pay a $5 registration fee—and if your Chrome Web Store-hosted app or extension generates income, Google will take a 5 percent cut of the revenue.

“The move to a gatekeeper-type model carries other implications: For example, while you can currently find the Adblock Plus extension in the Chrome Web Store, Google scrubbed the app from Android’s Play store earlier this year. Android users can still sideload the Adblock Plus app after jumping through some hoops.

“Everyday Chrome users would not have the same ability under the new extension policy, though developers and enterprise Chrome users will still be able to install “unauthorized” extensions.”

He goes on to note that recently Google has been doing a lot of moving from open to closed, which has been noted by others as well.

M$ makes 5X more from Android than from Windows Phone

We have to wonder why Microsoft is working so hard trying to get Windows Phone off the ground when they’re making so much money off of Android–without even doing anything.

According to an article published yesterday on Forbes, Redmond is making somewhere between five and ten dollars for every Android device sold. That comes out to at least $2 billion a year according to analyst firm Nomura.

Says Forbes writer Tim Worstall:

“The licence fees at issue here are usually for the FAT stack. Something which Microsoft developed years ago and which they don’t have to spend any more on keeping up to date, or at least very little. Their major expenses here will be on the accounting department to count all the money rolling in and a bit on legal as they hunt down those not yet paying them.”

If we were Microsoft, we’d give up on our own phone and just concentrate on collecting ransom money from the Android business community. Hell, we’d even be buying TV ads pushing Android devices. $2 billion is an awful lot of money, you know.

Canonical says “stop using our mark”

Ubuntu logoWe can’t figure out if Canonical wants to be Apple or Microsoft. Of one thing we’re certain, however, they clearly don’t want to be Linux.

It seems that Micah Lee, a technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has a website called “Fix Ubuntu,” on which he explains how keep Ubuntu from contacting Amazon and others everytime you use the OS’s search tool. Evidently, the folks at Canonical don’t like this and have instructed him that he must quit using their logo on his site. In addition, he must change the URL, https://fixubuntu.com/, to something that doesn’t contain the word Ubuntu.

Lee has pointed out that Canonical doesn’t seem to have any trouble at all with the site OMG!Ubuntu! using either the Ubuntu logo or incorporating the Ubuntu name into their URL. He thinks that perhaps they don’t like him because he’s somewhat critical of them. Ya reckon?

Anyway, the folks at EFF have written Canonical back, basically telling them they’re full of you know what.

You can read the whole story, along with the complete cease and desist email from Canonical, on Ars.

**********

Welp, another week down the drain. Until next time, may the FOSS be with you…

7 comments to Chrome Clamps Down, Bitcoin Vulnerability & More…

  • Eddie G.

    Wow! this is a lot of data to digest! I mean tuxmachines gets sold and bought, M$ makes more money on open source…and Canonical goes on a trademark tirade?….interesting times indeed!!

  • This has been a bad year for Free Software journalism.

    First PJ calls it quits and now Susan. Dont get me wrong, I really admire Roy’s work even though I dont agree with all he says. But Tuxmachines and Groklaw were with Techrights my 3 must go to site. I cant figure out how Roy has a job, a wife and still get around to doing what he doee (his links page is simpy the best. the days he releases him links of the week, I have enough free software, open source, linux, unix, freedom, rights links to last me a week.) so I think running a site like Tuxmachines on top will prove too much.
    Anyways, its better having 3 writers than 1 left.

    I guess its good for you unintentionally and like Carla Shroeder did a few years ago, you are on the periphery of my regular writers I make sure to visit. People like Glyn Moody and Matt Hartley and even Sam Varghese and SJVN sometimes.

    As for Bubuntu, for a group that has been all about community building and all that crowd control stuff, they really have seemed over the past 2 yrs to go out of their way to antagonize people in how they approach things. Its almost as if they were doing it on purpose, which honestly would be less embarassing than being told that they lack complete understanding how to work with the myriads of different communities of FLOSS.
    I think the fact they picked on Micah from the freaking EFF is simply priceless. As much as that previous episode where the leader supremo came out with his classic “haters are gonna hate.” attack filled with juvenile name calling.
    Like someone mentioned on G+, the choice of the word canonical for a FLOSS company name is making more and more sense nowadays than it did when the company was created.

    The Forbes article offers no proof or explanation, not even a bogus attempt at explaining how they got their numbers.
    Considering that the Microsoft racketeering/extortion business is protected by NDA’s between MS and the various extorted parties, the author would have to have had access to all these protected agreements. At best it was an extrapolation based on finding out about on NDA which is very likely.
    Its amazing how this extortion business is considered a legitimiate business practice. Then again the mafia works the exact same (it would be a shame something happens to your business/family) and they are revered in myriads of TV series and movies.

    Not sure why anyone thought SteamOS guys would use Ubuntu (instead of Debian) since they have specific needs for their OS and none for many of the userland services.
    The beauty on GNU-Linux is that everything outside the kernel is interchangeable. I still find the number of Steam clients reported worldwide much higher than I thought there were.
    SteamOS will BE the biggest Linux distro around.

  • error patrol

    First sentence: did you mean Edward Snowden?

  • FOSS Force

    @error patrol Yup. That’s what we meant. Thanks for the sharp eye and heads up. Corrected.

  • jelabarre

    So if Google is going to start kneecapping the Chrome browser by locking down extensions, I guess we’re going to see a lot more growth in the Chromium browser, presuming the trunk code doesn’t get broken in such a way they can’t keep the extensions support working. In that case, we’ll just have to see a growth of a new alternative for people who don’t like/can’t use the Mozilla paradigm.

  • Bob Robertson

    First, free markets do not sustain monopolies. Monopolies can only be sustained if competition is restricted.

    So let’s say that some government does exactly that, and the rest of the bitcoins are vacuumed up never to see the light of day. So what? The existing bitcoins do not vanish, their value merely increases because of their scarcity.

    And there is always Litecoin, and who knows how many others based on the same code.

    Remember that monopolies require govt to restrict competition? That evil Bitcoin-hampering “monopoly” would end up in an endless game of whack-a-mole trying to monopolize everything until or unless there is no more freedom to innovate.

    The hallmark of the free market is not monopoly, it’s innovation. The only way a firm can sustain market dominance once the fad has worn off, like with Win95, is to innovate and serve the customers better than any potential competition could. Patent trolls, brutal copyright enforcement, these are examples of using govt force to prevent that very competition so that vested interests don’t have to innovate.

  • Raphael Sanches

    The way people in the Linux community started to bully Canonical is terrible, ugly, non-sense and immature!

    ….. Like spoiled teens who disagree with their parents but have to live by their rules anyway….

    It seems the community forgets that Ubuntu is OPEN SOURCE!… whatever decision/direction Canonical makes is only important to you if you want it to be!… in open source YOUR DECISION will be the final one!

    And this love/hate relationship between Community-Canonical only exists because Ubuntu is the best Distro so far!… no matter how much you play with Arch, Suse or Fedora, when you need your PC to simply work Ubuntu will be the ultimate choice!
    Anybody who tried to wet their feet in the Rpm world knows that! Face it!

    So… to conclude this… we sould be proud and happy that Canonical is trying new projects, new components, or whatever they want to try, because at the end NO MATTER WHAT the final decision is ours…always!