Siri? Cortana? Here Comes Watson!

Apple has Siri, the digital assistant; Microsoft is bringing us Cortana, and Google has Google Now. All of these technologies allow voice interaction and at least a taste of having artificial intelligence working for you and with you on your computing device. Now IBM is looking to bring former Jeopardy game show champ Watson to mobile platforms.
Over the next three months the company will be taking submissions that leverage Watson's unique capabilities like deep data analysis and natural language processing to put impossibly powerful tools to the palm of your hand. IBM is hoping for apps that "change the way consumers and businesses interact with data on their mobile devices."


Feeling The Pinch, Microsoft To Lower Windows Cost For Some Devices

The "Windows tax" refers to the additional cost of installing Microsoft's flagship operating system for computer makers, typically around $50 each. Because of increasing competition from both Apple and Google devices, particularly on mobile devices, Microsoft is reportedly lowering this fee to around $15 for those devices costing under $250.
Manufacturers will be charged $15 to license Windows 8.1 and preinstall it on devices that retail for less than $250, instead of the usual fee of $50, said the people, who asked not to be named because the details aren’t public. The discount will apply to any products that meet the price limit, with no restrictions on the size or type of device, the people said.


Netflix On Linux - You Can Do It!

Viewing Netflix streaming programming depends upon Microsoft's Silverlight plugin, which does not work natively with Linux - and Netflix does not seem to be in any big rush to address that anytime soon. Boo, hiss! No matter, ILoveFreeSoftware has a handy-dandy guide to using Pipelight, which allows the installation of "Windows only" plugins with Linux browsers.
Pipelight has published detailed instructions about installing Pipelight and enabling Silverlight here. However, these might be a bit complicated to read, and I recommend instead going through this fantastic tutorial on MakeUseOf.
Pipelight works with most of the popular Linux flavors, including, Fedora, Arch Linux, Debian, OpenSuse, Slackware, SteamOS, etc. The sources mentioned above will help you in installing Pipelight on these versions of Linux.
Read the whole shebang "How To Watch Netflix On Linux" over at IloveFreeSoftware. Nice!


Debian, Systemd And The Sausage Factory

There is an old truism that you probably don't want to see how the sausage is made, it that probably holds true for Linux as well. The Open Source kernel and associated operating systems are largely "done by committee", and as such can be subject to idealogical and personality clashes. There are turf wars of a kind, and sometimes a desire to keep as close as possible to the Unix roots of Linux. 

The recent debate among Debian developers or whether to go forward with Systemd or with Upstart for it's start up and shut down routines is a good example of the sausage being made in an uncomfortably public manner. While it's not unusual for people with strong opinions to disagree, the stakes may have been higher and the pressure more acute since Debian forms the basis for many popular distributions such as Ubuntu, and it's own offshoots.

The Debian committee's decision to go with systemd was eventually embraced by Canonical head Mark Shuttleworth, after some initial harsh words; so Ubuntu will also use systemd from this Fall's version, 14.10.


Linksys Router Users: Batten Down The Hatches!

Cisco, the owner of Linksys, is apparently working to get some kind of patch out for this potentially serious problem - meantime, one option would be to upgrade to a third-party firmware, such as DDWRT or Tomato.

Those that have Linksys Routers should beware, as they are potentially at risk from a computer worm that is exploiting an authentication bypass vulnerability on the devices' firmware, security researchers at the SANS Institute's Internet Storm Center (ISC) have warned.

The self-replicating programme is affecting Linksys E-series models E4200, E3200, E3000, E2500, E2100L, E2000, E1550, E1500, E1200, E1000 and E900, and possibly more depending on firmware, though the ISC does not have a comprehensive list of the Linksys router models that are vulnerable.

"The worm will connect first to port 8080, and if necessary using SSL, to request the "/HNAP1/" URL," ISC explained on a diary post. "This will return an XML formatted list of router features and firmware versions. The worm appears to extract the router hardware version and the firmware revision."

The ISC said that the worm will send an exploit to a vulnerable CGI script running on these routers and that the request does not require authentication.

Read the rest of "Linksys Router Users Are Hit By 'The Moon' Worm" at

Malwarebytes Readying Version 2

Malwarebytes has been working on the beta version of an update to their Anti-Malware product. The second release of the popular malware fighting product is looking good.

Along with a new look to the application, Malwarebytes also improves some functionality of its scanning. Two such examples include scans now cover all user registry hives instead of just HKCU and utilizes their Chameleon product. For more details about the changes in Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 2.0 beta test 2, see this post on the Malwarebytes forum.

Read the rest of "A Look At The Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 2.0 Beta 2" at 404Techsupport

Onward With Zorin OS 8

Last year, I wrote about my first impressions of Zorin OS 7, a Linux distribution based upon Ubuntu Linux. I continued to use Zorin for several months, and was very pleased with it; it did everything I needed to do, and was very reliable. A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at Mageia 4 Linux, which is based upon Mandriva Linux. While it was easy to install and worked well on my laptop, my old aversion to KDE reared it's ugly head again, and I stopped using it after several days. Now, you can get certainly use Gnome, Mate and so on with Mageia, but I think I was secretly itching to try the newest version of Zorin - Zorin OS 8, in this case.

The New Firefox "Australis" Interface

The Mozilla Firefox web browser is going to have a new look very soon - and it's a bit "Chrome-y" and "touch-y". My first impression is that it looks more like Google Chrome, but that's probably just me; the other thing of note is that some of the menu items appear to be a lot more touch device-friendly. The whole shebang has been in development for two years, so hopefully all those man-hours have not been in vain. Take a peek:


The Pale Blue Dot, Part Deux

The Pale Blue Dot was originally a photo taken from Voyager 1 (the little space probe that could) back in 1990, and showed a sobering view of our world, a tiny cluster of pixels seen through the rings of Saturn as the camera looked back to it's point of origin from almost 4 billion miles away.

The resulting image was immortalized by the late Carl Sagan, who wrote a book titled "Pale Blue Dot", containing this remarkable paragraph:
The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Now there is another look at our pale blue dot of a world, this time from the plucky Curiosity Mars Rover; maybe not quite so mind-bending, but still a powerful image to contemplate.
The "Hey Guys!" disk sent with Voyager, in case ET finds it.


Welcome Home, Big Brother

For as long as people have envisioned the inevitable advent of smart home, critics and privacy advocates have warned how it might all go horribly wrong.

We're not just talking Orwellian paranoia or a dystopian future where our personal lives are intertwined with corporate identities constantly siphoning data from them. The security and privacy issues at play in haphazardly wiring up our personal spaces are becoming increasingly more substantive and -- with the proliferation of smart devices -- opening up our lives to more points of vulnerability, both from real-world threats and existential ones.

"There's been nearly 600 million breaches of records since 2005. Those are the reported ones," said Will Pelgrin, the president and CEO of the Center for Internet Security. "It's almost a rite of passage of going through a data breach. I don't know anyone who hasn't been affected, whether it's email or the Target breach." And those numbers will only escalate as more data sources enter our lives -- and our homes. "The hackers out there trying to harvest this data are potentially in countries that don't prohibit it and they have a lot of time and some are well-funded," Pelgrin added.


Flash! Uh Oh!

Adobe issued an unscheduled critical update for Flash Player Feb 4th, to address a zero-day vulnerability. Recently, Adobe has coordinated their updates with Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday, on the second Tuesday of each month. However, this time the problem is apparently serious enough to warrant an "out of band" patch. The vulnerability affects Flash Player on Windows, Mac and Linux.
Flash deployments have changed in recent years and are no longer made up entirely of users manually downloading and updating Flash. Google Chrome users benefit from having Flash directly integrated with the browser. Chrome has an automatic update process that will be updating users to a new version of Chrome that includes the updated Flash component.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 10 and 11 also both directly integrate Flash. New updates from Microsoft for both browsers will include the new patched version of Adobe's Flash Player.

Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari Web browsers do not directly integrate Adobe's Flash Player. Users of those browsers can choose to manually download a new version of Flash from Adobe's site if needed.  Many Adobe Flash Player users, however, are likely to also be automatically updated if they enable automatic updates in Flash, which is a user option.


What A Wonderful World

Some people's imagination is just so splendid, so spot on, that makes you (or at least me) wonder if we even belong to the same species. This young man, Rick Mereki, travelled almost 40,000 miles in a month and a half to film this one minute video in 11 different countries. Perhaps more that the concept, I am impressed that he actually went out and did it. Well played sir, well played.


Windows XP Growth - Wait, What?

I have to admit I look forward to seeing NetMarketShare’s monthly breakdown of desktop OS market share. The figures always provide a great talking point. You can pretty much guarantee that Windows 8’s share will decline, Windows 8.1’s share will increase, and combined the tiled OS’s growth will be outpaced by one of the older versions of Windows.

Usually it’s Windows 7 that’s showing the top growth. Sometimes besting Windows 8.x by a tiny amount, other times absolutely trouncing its newer sibling. But this time around, there’s a brand new leader in the growth stakes, and it’s a 13 year old OS that’s set to reach its end of life in April.

Yes, you can forget about XP users switching to Linux, or upgrading to Windows 8.x, because in January the veteran OS actually grew its market share by 0.25 percent. In December XP had a 28.98 percent share, but in January that rose to 29.23 percent.


Mageia 4 Linux - First Impressions

I am very much an OS "whore", I flit around like a mad thing pledging my allegiance between various flavors of Windows and Linux; not sure why, exactly. In the past year, my trusty laptop has seen Windows 7, Windows 8, Linux Mint 14 and 15, Ubuntu (12, I think), and Zorin OS 7. Maybe I am looking for the "perfect" OS. In any case, I just downloaded the 64-bit versions of the newly released Zorin OS 8 and Mageia 4, and installed Mageia 4 to try it.