Bug

Now Meltdown Patches Are Making Industrial Control Systems Lurch (theregister.co.uk) 86

Patches for the Meltdown vulnerability are causing stability issues in industrial control systems. From a report: SCADA vendor Wonderware admitted that Redmond's Meltdown patch made its Historian product wobble. "Microsoft update KB4056896 (or parallel patches for other Operating System) causes instability for Wonderware Historian and the inability to access DA/OI Servers through the SMC," an advisory on Wonderware's support site explains. Rockwell Automation revealed that the same patch had caused issues with Studio 5000, FactoryTalk View SE, and RSLinx Classic (a widely used product in the manufacturing sector). "In fairness [this] may be RPC [Remote Procedure Call] change related," said cybersecurity vulnerability manager Kevin Beaumont.
Portables (Apple)

10 Years of the MacBook Air (theverge.com) 147

Ten years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air. "Apple's Macworld 2008 was a special one, taking place just days after the annual Consumer Electronics Show had ended and Bill Gates bid farewell to Microsoft," The Verge recalls. "Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by removing it from a tiny paper office envelope, and the crowd was audibly shocked at just how small and thin it was..." From the report: At the time, rivals had thin and light laptops on the market, but they were all around an inch thick, weighed 3 pounds, and had 8- or 11-inch displays. Most didn't even have full-size keyboards, but Apple managed to create a MacBook Air with a wedge shape so that the thickest part was still thinner than the thinnest part of the Sony TZ Series -- one of the thinnest laptops back in 2008. It was a remarkable feat of engineering, and it signaled a new era for laptops. Apple ditched the CD drive and a range of ports on the thin MacBook Air, and the company introduced a multi-touch trackpad and SSD storage. There was a single USB 2.0 port, alongside a micro-DVI port and a headphone jack. It was minimal, but the price was not. Apple's base MacBook Air cost $1,799 at the time, an expensive laptop even by today's standards.
Microsoft

AI Beats Humans at Reading Comprehension (bloomberg.com) 166

In what is being called a landmark moment for natural language processing, Alibaba and Microsoft have developed AIs that can outperform humans on a reading and comprehension test. From a report: Alibaba Group put its deep neural network model through its paces last week, asking the AI to provide exact answers to more than 100,000 questions comprising a quiz that's considered one of the world's most authoritative machine-reading gauges. The model developed by Alibaba's Institute of Data Science of Technologies scored 82.44, edging past the 82.304 that rival humans achieved. Alibaba said it's the first time a machine has out-done a real person in such a contest. Microsoft achieved a similar feat, scoring 82.650 on the same test, but those results were finalized a day after Alibaba's, the company said.
EU

City of Barcelona Dumps Windows For Linux and Open Source Software (europa.eu) 249

An anonymous reader quotes Open Source Observatory: The City of Barcelona is migrating its computer systems away from the Windows platform, reports the Spanish newspaper El País. The City's strategy is first to replace all user applications with open-source alternatives, until the underlying Windows operating system is the only proprietary software remaining. In a final step, the operating system will be replaced with Linux... According to Francesca Bria, the Commissioner of Technology and Digital Innovation at the City Council, the transition will be completed before the current administration's mandate ends in spring 2019. For starters, the Outlook mail client and Exchange Server will be replaced with Open-Xchange. In a similar fashion, Internet Explorer and Office will be replaced with Firefox and LibreOffice, respectively. The Linux distribution eventually used will probably be Ubuntu, since the City of Barcelona is already running 1,000 Ubuntu-based desktops as part of a pilot...

Barcelona is the first municipality to have joined the European campaign 'Public Money, Public Code'. This campaign is an initiative of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and revolves around an open letter advocating that publicly funded software should be free. Currently, this call to public agencies is supported by more than 100 organisations and almost 15,000 individuals. With the new open-source strategy, Barcelona's City Council aims to avoid spending large amounts of money on licence-based software and to reduce its dependence on proprietary suppliers through contracts that in some cases have been closed for decades.

Open Source

20 Years Later, Has Open Source Changed the World? (infoworld.com) 210

"Most code remains closed and proprietary, even though open source now dominates enterprise platforms," notes Matt Asay, former COO at Canonical (and an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative). "How can that be?" he asks, in an essay noting it's been almost 20 years since the launch of the Open Source Initiative, arguing that so far open source "hasn't changed the world as promised." [T]he reason most software remains locked up within the four walls of enterprise firewalls is that it's too costly with too small of an ROI to justify open-sourcing it. At least, that's the perception. Such a perception is impossible to break without walking the open source path, which companies are unwilling to walk without upfront proof. See the problem? This chicken-and-egg conundrum is starting to resolve itself, thanks to the forward-looking efforts of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other web giants that are demonstrating the value of open-sourcing code.

Although it's unlikely that a State Farm or Chevron will ever participate in the same way as a Microsoft, we are starting to see companies like Bloomberg and Capital One get involved in open source in ways they never would have considered back when the term "open source" was coined in 1997, much less in 2007. It's a start. Let's also not forget that although we have seen companies use more open source code over the past 20 years, the biggest win for open source since its inception is how it has changed the narrative of how innovation happens in software. We're starting to believe, and for good reason, that the best, most innovative software is open source.

The article strikes a hopeful note. "We're now comfortable with the idea that software can, and maybe should, be open source without the world ending. The actual opening of that source, however, is something to tackle in the next 20 years.
Microsoft

Microsoft Partners with Signal to Bring End-To-End Encryption to Skype (bleepingcomputer.com) 64

Microsoft and Open Whisper Systems (makers of the Signal app) surprised many on Thursday when they said they are partnering to bring support for end-to-end (E2E) encrypted conversations to Skype. From a report: The new feature, called Skype Private Conversations has been rolled out for initial tests with Skype Insider builds. Private Conversations will encrypt Skype audio calls and text messages. Images, audio or video files sent via Skype's text messaging feature will also be encrypted. Microsoft will be using the Signal open-source protocol to encrypt these communications. This is the same end-to-end encryption protocol used by Facebook for WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and by Google for the Allo app.
China

Chinese Workers Abandon Silicon Valley for Riches Back Home (bloomberg.com) 250

From a report on Bloomberg: U.S.-trained Chinese-born talent is becoming a key force in driving Chinese companies' global expansion and the country's efforts to dominate next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Where college graduates once coveted a prestigious overseas job and foreign citizenship, many today gravitate toward career opportunities at home, where venture capital is now plentiful and the government dangles financial incentives for cutting-edge research. "More and more talent is moving over because China is really getting momentum in the innovation area," said Ken Qi, a headhunter for Spencer Stuart and leader of its technology practice. "This is only the beginning."

Chinese have worked or studied abroad and then returned home long enough that there's a term for them -- "sea turtles." But while a job at a U.S. tech giant once conferred near-unparalleled status, homegrown companies -- from giants like Tencent to up-and-comers like news giant Toutiao -- are now often just as prestigious. Baidu Inc. -- a search giant little-known outside of China -- convinced ex-Microsoft standout Qi Lu to helm its efforts in AI, making him one of the highest-profile returnees of recent years.

Microsoft

Subscriptions With Automated Recurring Billing Come To Windows 10 (betanews.com) 80

An anonymous reader shares a report: In yet another bid to woo developers to the platform, Microsoft is introducing subscription add-ons for Windows 10 Anniversary Edition, and later. Available to all UWP developers, the add-on subscriptions with automated recurring billing will allow creators to sell digital products directly in their apps. Subscription periods available include 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year or 2 years, and it's possible for developers to offer a free trial period too.
Intel

Intel Says Chip-Security Fixes Leave PCs No More Than 10% Slower (axios.com) 276

Intel trying to defuse concern that fixes to widespread chip security vulnerabilities will slow computers, released test results late Wednesday showing that personal computers won't be affected much and promised more information on servers. From a report: The chipmaker published a table of data showing that older processors handled typical tasks 10 percent slower at most, after being updated with security patches. The information covered three generations of processors, going back to 2015, running Microsoft's Windows 10 and Windows 7 computer operating systems. Further reporting: Intel, Microsoft offer differing views on impact of chip flaw
Microsoft

Microsoft: We're Not Giving Up On Cortana (Even In Home Automation) (zdnet.com) 92

Microsoft is trying to fight back against perceptions that Cortana may be its next consumer-centric technology to face the chopping block. Yesterday, the company issued a press release touting recent wins for Cortana. Among these are the officially unveiled Johnson Controls' Cortana-powered thermostat (which goes on sale for $319 starting in March). ZDNet reports the "other recent Cortana device partners": Allwinner: This company has the Tech R16 Quad Core IoT solution (a reference design for device partners).
Synaptics: This ODM (original design manufacturer) and far-field voice processing vendor produces reference designs for consumer IoT, smart speakers, PC, and more that integrate Cortana.
TONLY: Another reference design vendor working with Microsoft on Cortana devices that make use of Skype.
Qualcomm: In addition to partnering with Microsoft on Windows-on-ARM "Always Connected" PCs, Qualcomm is building reference designs on its Smart Audio and Mesh Networking platforms that use Cortana.
"In addition to our currently supported home automation partners, we are announcing new partnerships with Ecobee, Geeni, Honeywell Lyric, IFTTT, LIFX, TP-Link Kasa, and Honeywell Total Connect Comfort. Cortana currently supports lights, outlets, switches, and thermostats across all providers," the spokesperson said.
Windows

Microsoft Announces First Mobile Carriers To Support Always Connected PCs (zdnet.com) 108

An anonymous reader shares a report: The push behind the Always Connected PC vision has been ramping up in recent weeks, with manufacturers like HP, ASUS, and Lenovo all joining the fray with their own LTE PCs based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon platform. Now, Microsoft and Qualcomm have announced the first batch of mobile operators that will actively support Always Connected PCs around the world. These initial carriers will help to bring "easy and affordable connectivity plans to consumers on advanced LTE wireless networks," Microsoft and Qualcomm said in a press release. Throughout the first half of 2018 and beyond, the companies say, mobile operators in China, Italy, the UK, and the U.S. will officially support Always Connected PCs. Here's a look at the carriers you can expect to roll out support in each region: China -- China Telecom, Italy -- TIM (Telecom Italia), U.K. -- EE, U.S. -- Sprint, Verizon. In addition to supporting connected PCs on their LTE networks, you can expect each operator to stock Always Connected PCs in their retail store, Qualcomm and Microsoft say.
Microsoft

Microsoft Details Performance Impact of Spectre and Meltdown Mitigations on Windows Systems (microsoft.com) 236

Microsoft's Windows chief Terry Myerson on Tuesday outlined how Spectre and Meltdown firmware updates may affect PC performance. From a blog post: With Windows 10 on newer silicon (2016-era PCs with Skylake, Kabylake or newer CPU), benchmarks show single-digit slowdowns, but we don't expect most users to notice a change because these percentages are reflected in milliseconds.

With Windows 10 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), some benchmarks show more significant slowdowns, and we expect that some users will notice a decrease in system performance. With Windows 8 and Windows 7 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), we expect most users to notice a decrease in system performance.

Windows Server on any silicon, especially in any IO-intensive application, shows a more significant performance impact when you enable the mitigations to isolate untrusted code within a Windows Server instance. This is why you want to be careful to evaluate the risk of untrusted code for each Windows Server instance, and balance the security versus performance tradeoff for your environment.

For context, on newer CPUs such as on Skylake and beyond, Intel has refined the instructions used to disable branch speculation to be more specific to indirect branches, reducing the overall performance penalty of the Spectre mitigation. Older versions of Windows have a larger performance impact because Windows 7 and Windows 8 have more user-kernel transitions because of legacy design decisions, such as all font rendering taking place in the kernel.

Wireless Networking

With WPA3, Wi-Fi Security is About To Get a Lot Tougher (zdnet.com) 121

One of the biggest potential security vulnerabilities -- public Wi-Fi -- may soon get its fix. From a report: The Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry body made up of device makers including Apple, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, announced Monday its next-generation wireless network security standard, WPA3. The standard will replace WPA2, a near-two decades-old security protocol that's built in to protect almost every wireless device today -- including phones, laptops, and the Internet of Things.

One of the key improvements in WPA3 will aim to solve a common security problem: open Wi-Fi networks. Seen in coffee shops and airports, open Wi-Fi networks are convenient but unencrypted, allowing anyone on the same network to intercept data sent from other devices. WPA3 employs individualized data encryption, which scramble the connection between each device on the network and the router, ensuring secrets are kept safe and sites that you visit haven't been manipulated.
Further reading: WPA3 WiFi Standard Announced After Researchers KRACKed WPA2 Three Months Ago
Microsoft

Microsoft Pauses Rollout of Spectre and Meltdown Patches To AMD Systems (betanews.com) 100

Microsoft is suspending patches to guard against Meltdown and Spectre security threats for computers running AMD chipsets after complaints by AMD customers that the software updates froze their machines. From a report: The company is blaming AMD's failure to comply with "the documentation previously provided to Microsoft to develop the Windows operating system mitigations to protect against the chipset vulnerabilities known as Spectre and Meltdown." There's no word on when the patches will be fixed, but Microsoft says that it is working with AMD to address the problem.
Windows

Microsoft Says No More Windows Security Updates Unless AVs Set a Registry Key (bleepingcomputer.com) 135

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputer: Microsoft has added a new and very important detail on the support page describing incompatibilities between antivirus (AV) products and the recent Windows Meltdown and Spectre patches. According to an update added this week, Microsoft says that Windows users will not receive the January 2018 Patch Tuesday security updates, or any subsequent Patch Tuesday security updates, unless the antivirus program they are using becomes compatible with the Windows Meltdown and Spectre patches. The way antivirus programs become compatible is by updating their product and then adding a special registry key to the Windows Registry. The presence of this registry key tells the Windows OS the AV product is compatible and will trigger the Windows Update that installs the Meltdown and Spectre patches that address critical flaws in the design of modern CPUs.
Microsoft

Microsoft's Meltdown and Spectre Patch Is Bricking Some AMD PCs (betanews.com) 298

Mark Wilson writes: As if the Meltdown and Spectre bug affecting millions of processors was not bad enough, the patches designed to mitigate the problems are introducing issues of their own. Perhaps the most well-known effect is a much-publicized performance hit, but some users are reporting that Microsoft's emergency patch is bricking their computers. We've already seen compatibility issues with some antivirus tools, and now some AMD users are reporting that the KB4056892 patch is rendering their computer unusable. A further issue -- error 0x800f0845 -- means that it is not possible to perform a rollback.
AI

What's On Center Stage at the CES Tech Show? Your Voice (apnews.com) 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: Some of the most popular gadgets over the holiday season were smart speakers with digital assistants from Amazon and Google. Apple is coming out with its own speaker this year; Microsoft and Samsung have partnered on another. As the annual CES gadget show kicks off in Las Vegas this week, manufacturers are expected to unveil even more voice-controlled devices -- speakers and beyond -- as Amazon and Google make their digital assistants available on a wider array of products. If these prove popular, you'll soon be able to order around much more of your house, including kitchen appliances, washing machines and other devices.
Microsoft

Microsoft Halts Bitcoin Transactions Because It's An 'Unstable Currency' (bleepingcomputer.com) 106

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for BleepingComputers: Microsoft has stopped supporting Bitcoin as a payment method for Microsoft products, Bleeping Computer has learned. A Microsoft support staffer has told us the move is temporary and cited the unstable state of the Bitcoin currency. Microsoft added support for Bitcoin in 2014, and has previously temporarily stopped supporting Bitcoin in the past.
The Media

Bill Gates Is First Guest Editor In Time Magazine's 94-Year History (geekwire.com) 64

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes: Time invited Bill Gates to be the first guest editor in the 94-year history of the magazine. Among the news Bill deemed fit to print in Time's first augmented-reality-enhanced issue were articles by wife Melinda and pal Bono, both of whom graced the cover of Time with Bill as the 2005 Persons of the Year... Another article reveals that "the four learning hacks Bill Gates swears by" include Khan Academy (a $10+ million Gates Foundation partner), tech-backed Code.org (to which Bill, the Gates Foundation, Microsoft, and Steve Ballmer have given somewhere north of $17M), the Big History Project (to which Bill had contributed a "modest $10 million" as of 2014), and The Teaching Company (which got Bill stoked about Big History).
The issue also includes Gates' "four favorite ways to give back" and "six innovations that could change the world." In fact, the theme of the whole issue is "optimism," with 62-year-old Gates writing that "On the whole, the world is getting better. This is not some naively optimistic view; it's backed by data. Look at the number of children who die before their fifth birthday. Since 1990, that figure has been cut in half. That means 122 million children have been saved in a quarter-century, and countless families have been spared the heartbreak of losing a child."

Another optimistic essay came from Daily Show host Trever Noah, who writes, "Mock millennials all you want. Here's why they give me hope."
Windows

Lindows Resurrected! Freespire 3.0 and Linspire 7.0 Linux Distros Now Available (betanews.com) 77

BrianFagioli writes: About 16 years ago, a for-pay Linux distribution caused quite a stir all because of its name -- Lindows. Yes, someone actually thought kicking the billion dollar hornets nest that is Microsoft by playing off of the "Windows" name was a good idea. To be honest, from a marketing perspective, it was brilliant -- it got tons of free press. Microsoft eventually killed the Lindows name by use of money and the legal system, however. Ultimately, the Linux distro was renamed "Linspire." Comically, there was a Lindows Insiders program way before Windows Insiders!

After losing the Lindows name, the operating system largely fell out of the spotlight, and its 15 minutes of fame ended. After all, without the gimmicky name, it was hard to compete with free Linux distros with a paid OS. Not to mention, Richard Stallman famously denounced the OS for its non-free ways. The company eventually created a free version of its OS called Freespire, but by 2008, both projects were shut down by its then-owner, Xandros. Today, however, a new Linspire owner emerges -- PC/OpenSystems LLC. And yes, Lindows is rising from the grave -- as Freespire 3.0 and Linspire 7.0!

"Today the development team at PC/Opensystems LLC is pleased to announce the release of Freespire 3.0 and Linspire 7.0. While both contain common kernel and common utilities, they are targeted towards two different user bases. Freespire is a FOSS distribution geared for the general Linux community, making use of only open source components, containing no proprietary applications. This is not necessarily a limitation : through our software center and extensive repositories, Freespire users can install any application that they wish," says PC/OpenSystems LLC.

Back in 2003 the CEO of Lindows answered questions from Slashdot readers.

The first question was "Why oh why?"

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