Archive for August, 2008

PostHeaderIcon Computer viruses make it to orbit



A computer virus is alive and well on the International Space Station (ISS).

Nasa has confirmed that laptops carried to the ISS in July were infected with a virus known as Gammima.AG.

The worm was first detected on earth in August 2007 and lurks on infected machines waiting to steal login names for popular online games.

Nasa said it was not the first time computer viruses had travelled into space and it was investigating how the machines were infected.

Orbital outbreak

Space news website SpaceRef broke the story about the virus on the laptops that astronauts took to the ISS.

Nasa told SpaceRef that no command or control systems of the ISS were at risk from the malicious program.

The laptops infected with the virus were used to run nutritional programs and let the astronauts periodically send e-mail back to Earth.

The laptops carried by astronauts reportedly do not have any anti-virus software on them to prevent infection.

Once it has scooped up passwords and login names the Gammima.AG worm virus tries to send them back to a central server. It targets a total of 10 games most of which are popular in the Far East such as Maple Story, HuangYi Online and Talesweaver.

Nasa is working with partners on the ISS to find out how the virus got on to the laptop in the first place.

The ISS has no direct net connection and all data traffic travelling from the ground to the spacecraft is scanned before being transmitted.

It is thought that the virus might have travelled via a flash or USB drive owned by an astronaut and taken into space.

The space agency also plans to put in place security systems to stop such incidents happening in the future.

Nasa told Wired News that viruses had infected laptops taken to the ISS on several occasions but the outbreaks always only been a “nuisance”


This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation

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PostHeaderIcon Search site aims to rival Google



The Cuil homepage is even more sparse than Google’s

Former workers at the web giant Google have launched a rival search engine.

Called Cuil, from the Gaelic for knowledge and hazel, its founders claim it does a better and more comprehensive job of indexing information online.

The technology it uses to index the web can understand the context surrounding each page and the concepts driving search requests, say the founders.

But analysts believe the new search engine, like many others, will struggle to match and defeat Google.

Hard fight

Cuil, pronounced “cool”, says it uses more than 120 billion webpages to build up its index of the information it finds on the web.

It claims this is more than Google uses though the search giant has stopped reporting how much it indexes. Without revealing numbers Google claimed its index was still bigger.

Cuil claims that its technology moves away from the methods that have driven Google’s success.

Instead of just looking at the number and quality of links to and from a webpage as Google’s technology does, Cuil attempts to understand more about the information on a page and the terms people use to search. Results are displayed in a magazine format rather than a list.

The company is also trying to set itself apart from Google by not retaining any information about what people search for.

Cuil founders, Anna Patterson, Russell Power and Louis Monier are former Google staffers. The other founder Tom Patterson worked for IBM and others on search and storage technologies.

By declaring its aim of taking on Google, Cuil joins a long list of others that have tried and largely failed to dent the search giant’s market share. Other contenders include Teoma, Vivisimo, Snap, Mahalo and Powerset.

“The time may be right for a challenger,” said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of Search Engine Land. “Competing with Google is still a very daunting task, as Microsoft will tell you.”

Source: BBC

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PostHeaderIcon Microsoft sees end of Windows era



Microsoft has kicked off a research project to create software that will take over when it retires Windows.

Called Midori, the cut-down operating system is radically different to Microsoft’s older programs.

It is centred on the internet and does away with the dependencies that tie Windows to a single PC.

It is seen as Microsoft’s answer to rivals’ use of "virtualisation" as a way to solve many of the problems of modern-day computing.

Tie breaking

Although Midori has been heard about before now, more details have now been published by Software Development Times after viewing internal Microsoft documents describing the technology.

Midori is believed to be under development because Windows is unlikely to be able to cope with the pace of change in future technology and the way people use it.

Windows worked well in an age when most people used one machine to do all their work. The operating system acted as the holder for the common elements Windows programs needed to call on.

"If you think about how an operating system is loaded," said Dave Austin, European director of products at Citrix, "it’s loaded onto a hard disk physically located on that machine.

"The operating system is tied very tightly to that hardware," he said.

That, he said, created all kinds of dependencies that arose out of the collection of hardware in a particular machine.

"If Windows ends up being less important over time as applications become more OS agnostic where will Microsoft make its money"
Michael Silver, Gartner

This means, he said, that Windows can struggle with more modern ways of working in which people are very mobile and very promiscuous in the devices they use to get at their data – be that pictures, spreadsheets or e-mail.

Equally, he said, when people worked or played now, they did it using a combination of data and processes held locally or in any of a number of other places online.

When asked about Midori by BBC News, Microsoft issued a statement that said: "Midori is one of many incubation projects underway at Microsoft. It’s simply a matter of being too early in the incubation to talk about it."

Virtual machines

Midori is widely seen as an ambitious attempt by Microsoft to catch up on the work on virtualisation being undertaken in the wider computer industry.

Darren Brown, data centre lead at consulting firm Avanade, said virtualisation had first established itself in data centres among companies with huge numbers of servers to manage.

Putting applications, such as an e-mail engine or a database, on one machine brought up all kinds of problems when those machines had to undergo maintenance, needed updating or required a security patch to be applied.

By putting virtual servers on one physical box, companies had been able to shrink the numbers of machines they managed and get more out of them, he said.

"The real savings are around physical management of the devices and associated licensing," he said. "Physically, there is less tin to manage."

Equally, said Mr Brown, if one physical server failed the virtualised application could easily be moved to a separate machine.

"The same benefits apply to the PC," he said. "Within the Microsoft environment, we have struggled for years with applications that are written so poorly that they will not work with others.

"Virtualising this gives you a couple of new ways to tackle those traditional problems," he said.

Many companies were still using very old applications that existing operating systems would not run, he said. By putting a virtual machine on a PC, those older programs can be kept going.

A virtual machine, like its name implies, is a software copy of a computer complete with operating system and associated programs.

Closing Windows

"On the desktop we are seeing people place great value in being able to abstract the desktop from actual physical hardware," said Dan Chu, vice president of emerging products and markets at virtualisation specialist VMWare.

Some virtual machines, he said, acted like Windows PCs to all intents and purposes. But many virtual machines were now emerging that were tuned for a particular industry, sector or job.

"People take their application, the operating system they want to run it against, package it up along with policy and security they want and use that as a virtual client," he said.

In such virtual machines, the core of the operating system can be very small and easy to transfer to different devices. This, many believe, is the idea behind Midori – to create a lightweight portable operating system that can easily be mated to many different applications.

Microsoft’s licensing terms for Windows currently prohibited it acting as a virtual machine or client in this way, said Mr Chu.

Michael Silver, research vice president at Gartner, said the development of Midori was a sensible step for Microsoft.

"The value of Microsoft Windows, of what that product is today, will diminish as more applications move to the web and Microsoft needs to edge out in front of that," he said.

"I would be surprised if there was definitive evidence that nothing like this was not kicking around," he said.

The big problem that Microsoft faced in doing away with Windows, he said, was how to re-make its business to cope.

"Eighty percent of Windows sales are made when a new PC is sold," he said. "That’s a huge amount of money for them that they do not have to go out and get.

"If Windows ends up being less important over time as applications become more OS agnostic where will Microsoft make its money" he asked


This article is from the BBC News website . © British Broadcasting Corporation

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