Monthly Archives: June 2008

FREE Laptop Tracking System Hits the Streets

Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego, have launched Adeona, an open source service aimed at helping consumers and businesses track the location of lost or stolen laptops.

Adeona may have been the goddess of safe returns, but if a group of computer science professors and graduate students get their wish, they’ll be viewed as the patron saints of secure laptop computer data, thanks to their new open source software service named after the Roman deity.

Also, for those who worship at the altar of bargains, Adeona may indeed be a godsend: It’s free.

Adeona, the result of a yearlong joint research project at the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego, allows users to track the location of lost or stolen laptop computers.

It’s designed to answer the needs of corporations and government entities that have seen an increase in personal data breaches because of missing laptops, as well as consumers who are putting more music, photos and memories onto their portable computers.

Security vs. Privacy
For one of the graduate students involved in the project, Adeona became a search for a truly private system for laptop users. “The research project at first was initially not about delivering a service for the general public,” Thomas Ristenpart, graduate student from UCSD says. “We were originally looking at the privacy implications of some of the device-tracking systems now on the market. But as we got into it, we realized we were going to develop a client that people would be interested in using.”

That interest stems from the fact that existing commercial laptop-tracking products involve someone besides the owner having access to personal data. Ristenpart has no information that any abuse has taken place, he said, but his team understood the concerns some users might have regarding those products.

How It Works
Users install Adeona onto their laptops, which then set up encrypted connections to the open source OpenDHT storage servers on the Web. If a user loses a laptop or is the victim of theft, another download and a password allows him to track his device via last-known Internet protocol (IP) addresses and Internet nodes that were used to connect to the missing machine. Users are the only ones to see the information about their laptops — not outside companies or law enforcement agencies.

“We think that one of the cool contributions of this type of research is not only can you develop a system that successfully tracks your laptop, but it can do so with privacy mechanisms in place. People don’t have to sacrifice privacy to get these kinds of benefits,” Ristenpart said.

Open Source Security
There are some questions about whether an open source-based tracking system would itself be secure, since any developer would have access to the source code. The fact that it’s open source makes the structure of security visible to the bad guys as well. … many Corporations don’t open source security for that reason.

Tracking systems focused on the hardware and not the data itself face challenges. The thieves steal the laptops, and within an hour just throw them away. What they really wanted was the data, they wanted the identity on the laptop.

Adeona runs on Mac’s, PC’s with Windows XP and Vista and of course, Linux.

Here’s the link to Adeona’s home page for additional information and downloads:

Microsoft Eats Humble Pie

Microsoft eats humble pie and announces Windows XP support to be extended to 13 years!

Microsoft took a large bite of humble pie this week, announcing that it will continue to support Windows XP until 2014. That’s an unprecedented 13 years from the operating system’s release, a new record for Microsoft’s support of an operating system. It will take the form of critical updates and security patches, but there was no mention of major service pack releases.

Hinting at Microsoft’s embarrassment over the announcement, the news was released via a letter sent from Microsoft senior VP Bill Veghte to customers, rather than a formal press release. Within the letter, Mr Veghte claimed that “Our ongoing support for Windows XP is the result of our recognition that people keep their Windows-based PCs for many years”. Sounds nice, but the truth isn’t quite as charitable. The fact is that Vista simply hasn’t penetrated businesses as quickly as Microsoft would have liked, with many choosing to stick with the proven stability and lower hardware demands of Windows XP.

In an extraordinary case of double speak, Mr Veghte confirmed that as of June 30, Windows XP will no longer be available at retail, and will also no longer be licensed directly to major PC manufacturers. Yet in the same breath, gave the cryptic explanation that “…customers who still need Windows XP will be able to get it.” (In the absence of any further explanation from Microsoft officials, we’re sure BitTorrent will fulfil many people’s needs for years to come.)

A major segment that is relying heavily upon this continued access to Windows XP is the ultra low-cost PC market. The flagship ultra low-cost PC, Asus’s Eee PC, is a prime example of why – it simply doesn’t have the oomph to power the resource-hungry Vista. With this market set to boom, the only other alternative – shipping with Linux – obviously doesn’t meet with Microsoft’s plans of continued global domination. I’m still trying to figure out how these low-cost manufacturers are going to “be able to get ” XP. Shifty guys wearing XP-laden trench coats, offering their illicit wares on street corners and back alleys?

For the immediate future, it looks like we’ll have to wait for Vista’s successor (currently code named Windows 7) to see any real improvement in the Microsoft operating system. Thanks Microsoft – and the beat goes on!

To add insult to injury….. Pirated Windows more impressive than the real thing!
The latest version of TinyXP has hit the pirate boards. SP3-integrated and with more tools than you can poke a stick at, it gives XP a new lease on life. Shame it’s illegal.One of the annoyances with installing a fresh copy of Windows XP these days is that the driver set is six years out of date, and there’s been a LOT of new hardware emerge since then. It’s one thing to install the latest graphics driver, but it’s another to have to set up everything from the chipset to the storage drivers. Sometimes you feel that after having spent half an hour installing XP, you’re spending twice that much time again to just get it functional.

Check out the rest of the story:

Bill Gates is Moving On

The End of an Era?
For more than 30 years, Bill Gates has been at the helm of Microsoft. All that changes as of Monday June 30th, 2008.

In some respects, this week won’t be terribly different for Bill Gates than the previous 1,712 weeks he has spent working full-time at Microsoft, the company he co-founded as a teenager. The 52-year-old icon has some one-on-one meetings scheduled with a few of his top technical executives. He has some customer meetings. And, as often happens, he’ll go to the television studio on Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., campus to tape a few messages for events he won’t be able to attend. In addition, he says, “I hope to write a few memos.” But normalcy will be an illusion. Everybody knows that when the week ends, Bill Gates will walk out of his office for the last time as someone on the clock for Microsoft. (On that final day, the routine will be shredded, and the staff has planned some internal commemorative events.) He’ll take a break this summer (including a sojourn to the Beijing Olympics), and beginning in September the new focus of his work life will be the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization he began with his wife in 2000. With a current $37.3 billion endowment, it’s the world’s richest philanthropic institution.

Gates leaves at a challenging time for Microsoft, but this is the final step in a painstakingly planned process that began four years ago. It was spring 2004 when the Gateses began discussing the possibility that if Bill increased his role at the foundation—making as big a donation in brainpower as he has in dollars—he could save or improve many lives. Gates formalized the move in June 2006, when Microsoft announced a two-year transition period scheduled to end, well, right now. “I don’t know of any retirement that’s been as carefully thought through,” says Gates.

The paradoxical aspect of this period has been that while Gates has consciously been stepping back in some areas (almost no one reports to him, and he has limited his tech focus to a few key areas like search and the next version of Windows), his passion for the software world is as intense as ever. “Bill comes to every meeting like he’s going to be here for the next 10 years,” says CEO Steve Ballmer. So no one really knows how much culture shock will set in when Gates leaves the campus this Friday. Though he will remain the chairman of its board of directors—assuring him a huge voice in any big decisions—and plans to spend the equivalent of one day a week on company business, the idea that he won’t be there seems unreal. Microsoft without Bill Gates? It does not compute.

Gates does have some specific ideas, big and small. At the suggestion of Warren Buffett—who will donate billions from his fortune to the foundation over the next few years—Gates intends to work on an annual letter, in the same spirit as Buffett’s yearly missive to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. To learn more about areas the foundation is working on, he is doing intensive reading on education and science, and has monitored online college courses in geology, history and microparticle physics. He is fully engaged on several problems already. “People know I have a particular fascination with AIDS and malaria,” he says. One obsession is an AIDS vaccine, and Gates was disappointed when a trial indicated that a promising candidate for a solution, made by Merck, was not effective. Discussing the vaccine, an intense Gates cites research that implies that a variation might be more effective. Clearly, he’s viewing the process the same way he views software development—maybe version 3.0 will do the trick.

Gates understands that his identity as a philanthropist will be drastically different than his role as the king of software. “We don’t have a CES on malaria, so you don’t get 50,000 people converging on a city and saying, ‘Oh, Bill’s keynote on malaria is coming’,” he says. He realizes that working on the issues of the foundation could make him more of a lightning rod than he was as the head of the digital Borg. “The new world is more controversial than the old world,” he says. “We do family planning. We fund research on crops, and some people think that you shouldn’t take science to help the poor people. This whole thing about which operating system somebody uses is a pretty silly thing versus issues involving starvation or death.”

Treading on uncertain ground like that underlines the difficulties Gates may face in leaving the job he has loved so much. “It may be more of a change than he thinks,” says Paul Allen, recalling his own departure from Microsoft in 1983. “You don’t always realize how dramatic that transition is going to be when people aren’t depending on your decisions day by day.”

“In no sense would I say, ‘Oh, I’m making a sacrifice because it’s something my mother told me I ought to do’,” Gates says. “I am doing something my mother told me I ought to do, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. And I feel good about the impact as well.” As for Microsoft, there’s always e-mail.

Here’s a funny You Tube Video of Bill’s final days.

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