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Microsoft

MOOCs platform: Not all is open or SWAYAM about it

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Microsoft

A Rs 38 crore mandate awarded by the Union HRD Ministry in June to an affiliate of Redmond-based Microsoft Corp for developing a flagship web-based education platform is coming under increasing fire in the academic circles — both for the manner in which the contract was handed out and on the choice of proprietary software over free open source options already being deployed by premier educational institutions in the country.

Microsoft was selected as the technical partner for the HRD ministry’s SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) platform based on the recommendations of a “technical committee”, presumably after the tendering process for selecting a system integrator for SWAYAM —a MOOC or massive open online courses platform — floated thrice through the e-procurement platform since November last year failed to elicit any response. While the Ministry of Human Resource Development has cited the decision of a “technical committee” behind its choice of proprietary software over open source software and that selecting Microsoft does not run foul of the rulebook, the deal has raised eyebrows over the lack of objective criterion on how the decisions were taken in the first place.

The choice of proprietary software, entailing costs of Rs 38 crore and more for tools such as SQL (structured query language), is being questioned on the grounds that the selection of proprietary software on payment basis was done despite a clear option of going in for open source platforms such as Open EdX. For instance, Open edX — an open-source, not-for profit platform floated by MIT and Harvard University that was released as open source in March 2013 to act as the WordPress for MOOC platforms — is used across at least 126 universities and organisations globally. Even more intriguing is the fact that an MoU is already in place between IIT Bombay and edX, under which edX released complete platform code in open source. The signing of the MoU in June 2013 was actually facilitated by the Ministry of HRD. Open source platforms such as Open edX allow users to use plug-ins to expand the core functionality, thereby imparting tremendous flexibility when it comes to scaling up the platform or modify it to suit the specific requirements of a particular college or university. Since January last year, IIT Bombay decided to opt for Open edX and launch a customised version called IITBX as an extended online educational services for the benefit of Indian learners and training workshops for teachers, wherein the premier engineering institute has added significant functionality to the Open edX platform to create and offer MOOCs. Similarly, IIT Madras had a Google-based Course Builder platform ported in their own computer infrastructure while IIT Kanpur had a homegrown platform called MOOKIT, based again on open source software.

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Microsoft Watch

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Microsoft
  • Microsoft to Cut 2,850 More Jobs in Exit From Phone Business [iophk: "and how many permatemps are also getting axed?" Ed: Lots of other layoffs for years now]

    Microsoft Corp. is more that doubling an earlier job cut plan, part of Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella’s move to pare the company’s smartphone ambitions.

    Some 2,850 positions worldwide will be eliminated in fiscal 2017, the company said Thursday in a regulatory filing. That’s in addition to 1,850 job cuts, primarily in the smartphone hardware business and sales, announced in May.

  • Cortana removal will not be tolerated in Windows 10 Anniversary Update

    CORTANA IS taking over. The forthcoming Anniversary Update of Windows 10 has shown a new twist in Microsoft's 'do as we say' attitude towards customers.

    It appears that the update, due for release on 2 August, just three days after the end of the free upgrade period for Windows 10, removes the ability to turn personal assistant bot Cortana off, reported PC World (not that one, the IDG one).

    In all fairness, the upshot of this is fairly minimal. Cortana butts into your computing only if it's told to, and it's very easy for it not to.

    However, the fact that it's always on means that it's always collecting metadata, and that might leave some people feeling a tad uncomfortable.

  • Microsoft faces two new lawsuits over aggressive Windows 10 upgrade tactics [Ed: more of the same, still...]

    Microsoft is facing two more lawsuits over the company’s questionable Windows 10 upgrade tactics. Both suits are seeking class-action status.

    The first suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Florida. It alleges that Microsoft’s Windows 10 upgrade prompts “violated laws governing unsolicited electronic advertisements,” as reported by The Seattle Times. The suit also says Microsoft’s tactics are against the Federal Trade Commission’s rules on deceptive and unfair practices.

    The second suit was filed in June in Haifa, Israel alleging that Microsoft installed Windows 10 on users’ computers without consent. Microsoft already paid out a $10,000 award in a previous U.S. suit over similar circumstances.

    Microsoft told the Seattle Times it believes the suits won’t succeed. The Times also reports that Microsoft said Windows 10 upgrades (the Times report called them “updates”) are a “choice, not a requirement.”

    The story behind the story: That’s quite a disingenuous statement considering that Microsoft violated the known behavior of the Windows interface to essentially trick people into upgrading.

Proprietary and Microsoft Software

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Microsoft
Software

More Evil from Microsoft

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Microsoft
  • You will use Cortana, Microsoft says

    Surprise, surprise. If things remain as they are, Windows 10 users who upgrade to the Anniversary Update won't be able to turn off Cortana anymore using the Cortana settings.

    If you compare the start menu settings of Cortana of the current version of Windows (version 1511) with those of the Anniversary Update (version 1607) you will notice that Cortana's off switch is no longer available (thanks Ian Paul @ PC World for spotting that)

  • You can't turn off Cortana in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update [Ed: A listening device, cannot switch it off anymore; keylogger next?]

    Microsoft made an interesting decision with Windows 10’s Anniversary Update, which is now in its final stages of development before it rolls out on August 2.

    Cortana, the personal digital assistant that replaced Windows 10’s search function and taps into Bing’s servers to answer your queries with contextual awareness, no longer has an off switch.

Microsoft and Linux

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GNU
Linux
Microsoft

Linux for Windows 10 users

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Linux
Microsoft

MAYBE it’s how intrusive Windows 10 can be. Or maybe you’re just fed up with working under the constant threat of viruses and other malicious software. Or perhaps, you’re tired of paying thousands of pesos for applications and equally weary of breaking the law by installing pirated versions of the software. Indeed, there are many reasons to dump Windows in favor of the free and open-source Linux operating system. Here’s what Windows users who are contemplating the move should keep in mind.

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A Grand Experiment

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GNU
Linux
Microsoft
BSD

The latest debacle over the "forced" upgrade to Windows 10 and Apple's increasingly locked-in ecosystem has got me thinking. Do I really need to use a proprietary operating system to get work done? And while I'm at it, do I need to use commercial cloud services to store my data?

I've always used Linux since the first time I tried installing Slackware in the mid-90s. In 1998 we were the first national TV show to install Linux live (Red Hat). And I've often advocated Ubuntu to people with older computers. I usually have at least one computer running Linux around, in the past couple of years Dell XPS laptops have been great choices. And a couple of months ago I bought a 17" Oryx laptop from System76, an Ubuntu system integrator, for use in studio.

But as time went by, even Ubuntu began to seem too commercial to me, and I've migrated to community supported Debian testing and the Arch-based Antergos distros for everything. (i use Antergos on my Oryx on the shows.)

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Also: Microsoft lays off remaining handful of Microsoft Press staff

Wine 1.9.15

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Microsoft
Software

GNU/Linux Desktop

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GNU
Linux
Microsoft
  • Intel Developer Has Been Working On Systemd Support For Chrome OS

    Google's Chrome OS currently relies upon Upstart as its init system, but work done by an Intel developer is pushing towards systemd support.

  • The Linux Setup - Jerry Bezencon, Linux Lite

    My name is Jerry Bezencon and I’m a technology consultant, investor, programmer and promoter of/advocate for free and open source software.

  • Microsoft ordered to fix 'excessively intrusive, insecure' Windows 10

    A French regulator has issued Microsoft a formal warning over Windows 10, saying the operating system collects excessive amounts of personal data, ships that information illegally out of the EU, and has lousy security.

    The warning comes from the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), an independent data privacy watchdog with the power to levy fines against companies. The CNIL has been investigating Windows 10 since its launch and has now drawn up a damning list of criticisms.

    "The CNIL has decided to issue a formal notice to Microsoft Corporation to comply with the Act within three months," said the group on Wednesday.

    "The purpose of the notice is not to prohibit any advertising on the company's services but, rather, to enable users to make their choice freely, having been properly informed of their rights. It has been decided to make the formal notice public due to, among other reasons, the seriousness of the breaches and the number of individuals concerned."

Feral Linux users should learn when to shut up

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Linux
Microsoft

The very words alpha in the name of the release indicate that the Skype which was announced on 14 July is not ready for prime time. That should be apparent to anyone with the IQ of the common cockroach.

But it is apparently not evident to some Linux users.

Things do not seem to be clear to some so-called Linux writers, either. Here is one claiming that "The Skype for Linux alpha does not have all the features that will be released into the final version."

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Leftovers: BSD

Security Leftovers

  • Stop using SHA1 encryption: It’s now completely unsafe, Google proves
    Security researchers have achieved the first real-world collision attack against the SHA-1 hash function, producing two different PDF files with the same SHA-1 signature. This shows that the algorithm's use for security-sensitive functions should be discontinued as soon as possible. SHA-1 (Secure Hash Algorithm 1) dates back to 1995 and has been known to be vulnerable to theoretical attacks since 2005. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology has banned the use of SHA-1 by U.S. federal agencies since 2010, and digital certificate authorities have not been allowed to issue SHA-1-signed certificates since Jan. 1, 2016, although some exemptions have been made. However, despite these efforts to phase out the use of SHA-1 in some areas, the algorithm is still fairly widely used to validate credit card transactions, electronic documents, email PGP/GPG signatures, open-source software repositories, backups and software updates.
  • on pgp
    First and foremost I have to pay respect to PGP, it was an important weapon in the first cryptowar. It has helped many whistleblowers and dissidents. It is software with quite interesting history, if all the cryptograms could tell... PGP is also deeply misunderstood, it is a highly successful political tool. It was essential in getting crypto out to the people. In my view PGP is not dead, it's just old and misunderstood and needs to be retired in honor. However the world has changed from the internet happy times of the '90s, from a passive adversary to many active ones - with cheap commercially available malware as turn-key-solutions, intrusive apps, malware, NSLs, gag orders, etc.
  • Cloudflare’s Cloudbleed is the worst privacy leak in recent Internet history
    Cloudflare revealed today that, for months, all of its protected websites were potentially leaking private information across the Internet. Specifically, Cloudflare’s reverse proxies were dumping uninitialized memory; that is to say, bleeding private data. The issue, termed Cloudbleed by some (but not its discoverer Tavis Ormandy of Google Project Zero), is the greatest privacy leak of 2017 and the year has just started. For months, since 2016-09-22 by their own admission, CloudFlare has been leaking private information through Cloudbleed. Basically, random data from random sites (again, it’s worth mentioning that every site that used CloudFlare in the last half year should be considered to having fallen victim to this) would be randomly distributed across the open Internet, and then indefinitely cached along the way.
  • Serious Cloudflare bug exposed a potpourri of secret customer data
    Cloudflare, a service that helps optimize the security and performance of more than 5.5 million websites, warned customers today that a recently fixed software bug exposed a range of sensitive information that could have included passwords and cookies and tokens used to authenticate users. A combination of factors made the bug particularly severe. First, the leakage may have been active since September 22, nearly five months before it was discovered, although the greatest period of impact was from February 13 and February 18. Second, some of the highly sensitive data that was leaked was cached by Google and other search engines. The result was that for the entire time the bug was active, hackers had the ability to access the data in real-time by making Web requests to affected websites and to access some of the leaked data later by crafting queries on search engines. "The bug was serious because the leaked memory could contain private information and because it had been cached by search engines," Cloudflare CTO John Graham-Cumming wrote in a blog post published Thursday. "We are disclosing this problem now as we are satisfied that search engine caches have now been cleared of sensitive information. We have also not discovered any evidence of malicious exploits of the bug or other reports of its existence."

Security Leftovers

  • Change all the passwords (again)
    Looks like it is time to change all the passwords again. There’s a tiny little flaw in a CDN used … everywhere, it seems.
  • Today's leading causes of DDoS attacks [Ed: The so-called 'Internet of things' (crappy devices with identical passwords) is a mess; programmers to blame, not Linux]
    Of the most recent mega 100Gbps attacks in the last quarter, most of them were directly attributed to the Mirai botnet. The Mirai botnet works by exploiting the weak security on many Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The program finds its victims by constantly scanning the internet for IoT devices, which use factory default or hard-coded usernames and passwords.
  • How to Set Up An SSL Certificate on Your Website [via "Steps To Secure Your Website With An SSL Certificate"]
  • SHA-1 is dead, long live SHA-1!
    Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you heard that some researchers managed to create a SHA-1 collision. The short story as to why this matters is the whole purpose of a hashing algorithm is to make it impossible to generate collisions on purpose. Unfortunately though impossible things are usually also impossible so in reality we just make sure it’s really really hard to generate a collision. Thanks to Moore’s Law, hard things don’t stay hard forever. This is why MD5 had to go live on a farm out in the country, and we’re not allowed to see it anymore … because it’s having too much fun. SHA-1 will get to join it soon.
  • SHA1 collision via ASCII art
    Happy SHA1 collision day everybody! If you extract the differences between the good.pdf and bad.pdf attached to the paper, you'll find it all comes down to a small ~128 byte chunk of random-looking binary data that varies between the files.
  • PayThink Knowledge is power in fighting new Android attack bot
    Android users and apps have become a major part of payments and financial services, carrying an increased risk for web crime. It is estimated that there are 107.7 million Android Smartphone users in the U.S. who have downloaded more than 65 million apps from the Google App Store, and each one of them represents a smorgasbord of opportunity for hackers to steal user credentials and other information.
  • Red Hat: 'use after free' vulnerability found in Linux kernel's DCCP protocol IPV6 implementation
    Red Hat Product Security has published details of an "important" security vulnerability in the Linux kernel. The IPv6 implementation of the DCCP protocol means that it is possible for a local, unprivileged user to alter kernel memory and escalate their privileges. Known as the "use-after-free" flaw, CVE-2017-6074 affects a number of Red Hat products including Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 and Red Hat Openshift Online v2. Mitigating factors include the requirement for a potential attacker to have access to a local account on a machine, and for IPV6 to be enabled, but it is still something that will be of concern to Linux users. Describing the vulnerability, Red Hat says: "This flaw allows an attacker with an account on the local system to potentially elevate privileges. This class of flaw is commonly referred to as UAF (Use After Free.) Flaws of this nature are generally exploited by exercising a code path that accesses memory via a pointer that no longer references an in use allocation due to an earlier free() operation. In this specific issue, the flaw exists in the DCCP networking code and can be reached by a malicious actor with sufficient access to initiate a DCCP network connection on any local interface. Successful exploitation may result in crashing of the host kernel, potential execution of code in the context of the host kernel or other escalation of privilege by modifying kernel memory structures."

Android Leftovers