Rackspace CTO On Price Cuts And The Commoditization Of The Cloud

Over the last few weeks, all the major cloud providers announced large price drops for most of their services. Rackspace CTO John Engates said at the Cloud Factory conference in Banff, Canada, today, that this is yet another example of the commoditization of the cloud. It seems Rackspace doesn’t quite believe this is the way to go.

“People are dropping prices,” Engates said. “They are doing things that are in some ways not always the smartest things to do if you want to grow your business in the long run.” The current price wars, he argues, are nothing more than a race to the bottom.

He says those who most benefit from this right now are the early adopters, the companies that already run most of their applications on the cloud. The problem with that, though, is that most companies aren’t using public clouds yet. The big wave of cloud adoption is still to come, and those companies will look for more than just cheap cloud computing instances and storage.

“In the early cloud, you really need to know what you are doing,” Engates said. But big companies don’t always have the right expertise in-house, and those that want to make use of public clouds often still have to stitch those services together with their legacy systems.

image (2)

When it comes to infrastructure and technology, Engates believes that those services will be commoditized and prices will continue to drop. Because of this, that’s not where the value is going to be. What businesses are looking for, however, is expertise and a community — especially given that many of the cloud services companies rely on having open source underpinnings.

For Rackspace, this means an investment in OpenStack and participating in the open-source community. The company has also decided to focus on DevOps, data and digital as the areas where it believes it can add a lot of value.

It’s worth noting that at least for the time being, Rackspace has not matched the latest price cuts from its competitors. In the long run, however, it will have to drop its prices, too.

Read the rest here: Rackspace CTO On Price Cuts And The Commoditization Of The Cloud

Intel Releases $99 “Minnowboard Max,” An Open-Source Single-Board Computer

Not to be outflanked by rivals, Intel has released the $99 Minnowboard Max, a tiny single-board computer that runs Linux and Android. It is completely open source – you can check out the firmware and software here – and runs a 1.91GHz Atom E3845 processor.

The board’s schematics are also available for download and the Intel graphics chipset has open-source drivers so hackers can have their way with the board. While it doesn’t compete directly with the Raspberry Pi – the Pi is more an educational tool and already has a robust ecosystem – it is a way for DIYers to mess around in x86 architected systems as well as save a bit of cash. The system uses break-out boards called Lures to expand functionality.

Intel is interested in this space mostly because it has been out of it for so long. Raspberry Pi runs a Broadcomm system-on-chip with a 700Mhz ARM processor and is probably one of the most popular SBCs available. The Minnowboard brings Intel’s low-power Atom processor back into the hands of hackers and makes Intel relevant in that space again – at least that’s the goal.

The new board is available from the manufacturer,

via LinuxGizmos

Read more: Intel Releases $99 “Minnowboard Max,” An Open-Source Single-Board Computer

Facebook’s New “Tweaks” Library Lets Developers Fine-Tune Their iOS Apps On The Fly

Let’s say you’re building an iOS app.

Your iOS app has lots of little animations, and you (or your designers) want to get the timing on those animations just right. Should that fancy expanding-drawer effect take half a second, or three-fourths of a second?

Normally, a developer would take a guess at the timing that seems right, compile their app, test, change, recompile, rinse, lather, repeat. Given that complicated apps can take quite a while to compile, those little changes start to gobble up your time. You start to hate the progress bar.

Why recompile for something so simple? And what if the person perfecting the timing is more of a designer than a coder? Should they have to dig about the source just to change the animation speed?

There are all kinds of shortcuts, of course. You could, for example, tie the animation speed’s variable to an on-screen slider, which any user running a pre-release copy of your app could adjust on-the-fly — but you’d have to manually code that in, and remember to take it out before release. It’s a completely valid option — but it’s not very standardized, and each thing you want to be able to change on-the-fly means extra lines of code. It could be better.

Facebook thinks they’ve done it better.

They’ve just released a library called “Tweaks”, which lets developers easily mark certain things — like the timing of an animation, or the color of a button, or the translucency of an image — as one that can change on-the-fly once the app is actually running on the device. The library tucks all of these tweakable variables into a snazzy little hidden settings screen, then cleans it all up when it’s time to actually release the app.

As Facebook puts it:

The best way to improve an app is to use it every day. Even when ideas can be tested out in advance — for example, with Origami — it can still take some time with the app to see how it works in practice.

Occasionally, it’s perfect the first try. Sometimes, the idea doesn’t work at all. But often, it just needs a few minor adjustments. That last case is where Tweaks fits in. Tweaks makes those small adjustments easy: with no code changes and no computer, you can try out different options and decide which works best.

When an application is compiled in debug mode, shaking the phone would bring up a screen that allows the user to muck with any settings the developer has exposed. When it’s compiled into its normal “release” mode (as in, when it’s prepped for the App Store), the “Tweak” value is replaced with a normal, unchangeable value, and that hidden configuration screen disappears for good. There’s very little extra code to add in, and very little to forget to remove.

The only real change a developer would have to make in their code: instead of hardcoding a value, they set that value to be a “Tweak”. In code speak, instead of:

CGFloat animationDuration = 0.5

You’d use:

CGFloat animationDuration = FBTweakValue(@”Category”, @”Group”, @”Duration”, 0.5);

So what’s the point?

For developers, it means being able to fine-tune applications faster and with less code. As an added bonus, it lets any of their designers who might not love to code help figure out the best settings without having to pop into the source or pester the dev team for a million new builds. Everybody wins! Hurray!

Facebook has released Tweaks on GitHub (for free under a rather non-restrictive BSD license) right over here.

Read more: Facebook’s New “Tweaks” Library Lets Developers Fine-Tune Their iOS Apps On The Fly

Latest Snowden Allegations: NSA Hacks Huawei

The National Security Administration hacked Chinese networking giant Huawei and apparently gained access to the company’s source code, according to documents seen by The New York Times and the German publication Spiegel Online.

These latest leaked documents indicate that the NSA began an operation called “Shotgiant” against Huawei, the world’s second largest supplier of networking equipment behind U.S.-based Cisco Systems.

The U.S. has long been concerned that Huawei’s products were being used as a Trojan Horse enabling the Chinese government to spy on the networking company’s customers. Now, it appears that the U.S. government simply cut out the middleman in its own efforts to monitor the goings on around Huawei.

Not only did the U.S. security agency manage to intercept emails, but it also gained access to the company’s source code of specific products, according to the Spiegel report. That’s the crown jewels of any tech company — laid bare by America’s technology espionage apparatus.

Luckily for concerned netizens and corporations a spokeswoman for the U.S. assured the Times that any spying was only done for national security purposes.

“We do not give intelligence we collect to U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” White House spokesperson Caitlin M. Hayden told the Times. “Many countries cannot say the same.”

Meanwhile, the unintended comedy of the situation was not lost on Huawei, whose spokesman issued the following statement to Spiegel:

“If it is true, the irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us,” [said Bill Plummer, Huawei spokesman]. “If such espionage has been truly conducted, then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation.”

Link: Latest Snowden Allegations: NSA Hacks Huawei

When Startups And Revolutions Collide

In the last two months, tiny Silicon Valley startups have proven their ability to upset the well-laid plans of autocrats half a world away.

Just this week, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, failed spectacularly at banning Twitter, as local citizens found easy workarounds with tech tools, skirting blocks with tens of thousands of tweets mocking the impotent censors.

“I think that startups can perform functions once reserved to government, but they are well-served to be as educated as possible before they wade into foreign affairs,” Secretary Hilary Clinton’s former senior adviser, Alec Ross, writes to me.

The State Department is no longer the only bridge between a pajama-clad hacker and dissidents in the Middle East. Anyone with an Internet connection can wade into the dicey diplomatic waters of revolution, once reserved for governments. This new unregulated power has its promises and perils.

Turkey’s Backfire

In Turkey, anti-censorship tech has thus far provided a safe and almost embarrassingly easy workaround for clumsy government censors. Erdoğan brazenly threatened to “wipe out” Twitter after courts approved a ban on the micro-blogging service for hosting anti-government content.

Almost immediately after the ban was instituted, information for workarounds spread virally. Twitter announced a text-messaged-based workout:

Citizens sprayed graffiti instructions to subvert censors through Google’s alternative routing system (DNS):

Mobile app downloads for software that secretly funnels traffic into servers outside of the host country (a virtual private network) spiked. The most popular, Anchorfree’s Hotspot Shield, went from 10,000 to 270,000 downloads in 12 hours, according to statistics provided by the company (screenshot of the Turkish app store below):


Free from the shackles of the government censors, Turkish users flooded Twitter with roughly 17K tweets a minute, breaking a new record, according to The Guardian. Below is a graph provided by Brandwatch of the number of tweets before and after the ban.


And, then, the mocking of the efforts to quash the service began:

“This is an attempt by Erdoğan to control an uncontrollable space,” Ross explained to me.

So far, anti-censorship tech has been safe and effective, but that might not last for long and it certainly doesn’t hold true for all countries.

Mission And Caution

Like many startup optimists, Anchorfree is out to change the world. “AnchorFree is a mission-driven company, with a mission to provide secure access to the world’s information for every person on the planet,” writes founder David Gorodyansky to me.

But, giving people access to the Internet can encourage unintentionally risky behavior. “I’d encourage Turkey’s Twitter users to be careful about how they access Twitter, even if access is restored. Syria also restored Twitter access just before the revolution and used it to identify protesters,” writes Ian Schuler, founder of Development Seed and a former State Department Official. Indeed, during last Summer’s protests, Turkish authorities arrested 25 dissidents for the high crime of using Twitter.

Skirting government censors has traditionally been a cat-and-mouse game with the select group of activists willing to fight back; cryptographers rarely design software to be used on the same country-wide scale as Angry Birds.

The go-to solution for activists has been less-than-user friendly, open-source apps such as TOR, a free set of tools for anonymous browsing. Many of the experts we spoke with only trust non-commercial software. Speaking about Anchorfree, Enrique Piracés of the human rights technology groupBenetech, wrote to me, “Their solution seems to be convenient and cost-effective, and some of their features are very clever, but unless there is access to the source code it is hard to think of it as secure or trustworthy solution.”

In other words, commercial products may sacrifice security for usability. Encryption was never meant to be a one-click process. Andrew Lewman, executive director of the TOR project, told me “Free and open source software at least gives someone the ability to review, improve, and audit the code on which the app is based.”

Ross, an adviser to Anchorfree, says that he believes the company has done its due diligence on the security side and that commercial products have an important role to play. “I understand the bias toward open source, but one ought not take a religious view on the question of what can best help dissidents.”

Indeed, it seems that in the heat of the moment, citizens-turn-dissidents just grab anything that’s available. One Venezuelan activist we spoke to described how he came upon anti-censorship tech during protests last February.

“The choice of the app in this case did not depend on the brand (because there are several apps that offer pretty much the same service)… It was just a matter of grabbing a VPN app to avoid the block the government was imposing! I just learned about this app when everything started (Feb. 12th). Before that… I just did not know about VPN apps. I just installed it and it worked perfect!”

The upshot is that the majority of users in these situations are novices and don’t completely understand the risks. Easily downloadable software is great for feeding the ranks of grassroots protests, but it puts the onus of security on startups.

Disaster and Calls to Action

“If a technology is not secure or a strategy is unsound, it can get people killed,” warns Ross.

Project Haystack was one such road to disaster paved with good intentions. When a 26-year-old Ohio-born hacker developed anti-censor tech for Iranian dissidents in 2010, he never thought it would paint a big red target on the backs of its users. After serious security holes were discovered, Haystack was immediately taken off the market. “If you have a copy of the test program, please refrain from using it,” the makers warned users.

At the mass scale of country-wide revolutions, awkwardly designed tools don’t cut it. Dissidents will grab whatever they can find, and that’s usually the same places they go to download Words with Friends. So, there’s a huge opportunity for startups to help, but it means also a margin of error is as thin as a knife’s edge.

“My advice is for startup activists to confer with officials in government not necessarily for approval,” says Ross, “but for situational awareness that can help inform their strategies.”

Follow this link: When Startups And Revolutions Collide

Purported Registry Tweak Allows Windows 8.1 Users To Snag Update 1 Before Its Public Release

We aren’t supposed to get our mitts on Windows 8.1 Update 1 for more than a month yet, but it seems that a simple registry tweak is letting folks not only get their hands on the new code, but also get it straight from the source: Microsoft via Windows Update.

TechCrunch has confirmed with a trusted source that the tweak works, and that the update is material. The only potential issue at hand is whether the new software is the full Update 1 or a portion of it. This source, who is corroborated by others claiming to have executed the software update, confirmed that it allows for the pinning of Metro apps to the task bar, and that non-desktop apps now include an ‘X’ to allow for their simple closing.

Microsoft has not returned a request for comment.

You can find the details of how to execute the upgrade here. Standard rules: Your luck if you try this; brick your PC and I will have no pity. Also, Microsoft could slam the leak shut, so hurry if you’re game.

Happy hunting.

Update 1: Microsoft ate its Wheaties this morning, and appears to have plugged the hole already. Hard to confirm, given how large the globe is, but expect a new set of leaks to follow.

Update 2: Microsoft provided TechCrunch with the following non-comment: “We look forward to sharing details about the update soon.”


Read the original: Purported Registry Tweak Allows Windows 8.1 Users To Snag Update 1 Before Its Public Release

Basis Goes To Intel For Around $100M

Intel has won the Basis auction, we’re hearing, at a price of around $100 million, according to one source. A second source pegs the deal at closer to $150 million.

Basis makes wristwatch health trackers, capturing 7 percent of the market versus competitor Jawbone’s 21 percent. As Intel was all about the wearables this year at CES, we’re assuming that this buy is an attempt to further its foothold (wristhold?) in the space.

Intel made a lot of noise with its own reference designs at the conference, including a Siri-like Bluetooth headset named Jarvis and a smart chip it dubbed Edison, which has myriad applied uses, including smart baby clothing and even smart mugs.

Intel likely doesn’t have aspirations to compete in the consumer electronic marketplace; the company wants to sell chipset platforms. But by acquiring Basis, it gains access to a team that has built one of the most powerful and comprehensive wearables to date, which it then can set upon its own designs.

Intel is playing catch-up to rivals such as Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics, which are currently providing the bulk of the sensors for wearables. Intel not only needs to sell brands on buying Intel’s wearable platforms, but provide complete solutions in order to jumpstart adoption. With its robust online suite, Basis provides a solid foundation for that complete package.

We had heard that Basis had been talking to Google and others about an acquisition, at a price that was less than $100 million. Perhaps Intel outbid them all? Or a couple of suitors passed?

Basis is funded by Norwest Venture PartnersMayfield Fund and Intel Capitalwith over $30 million invested in the company. The Intel Capital connection is especially interesting considering the company’s new ownership.

Additional reporting by Matt Burns.

See the article here: Basis Goes To Intel For Around $100M

Mt. Gox Source Code Leaked By Hackers Along With Team Information, Customer Data

Those interested in building a Bitcoin exchange should look no further than this chunk of source code posted by a “Russian leaker” called nanashi_. It alleges to contain the 1,700-line source code for Mt. Gox’s electronic exchange.

The code describes the Bitcoin class for Mt. Gox and the various methods for transmitting and receiving BTC. Hacker News believes that CEO Mark Karpeles AKA MagicaTux wrote some of the code.

Here is a private mirror of the code but you can also read it here. The hackers also claim to have a 20GB data dump of customer data along with passport scans and a list of contact information for Mt. Gox employees. The full IRC exchange with the leaker is here.

Read the rest here: Mt. Gox Source Code Leaked By Hackers Along With Team Information, Customer Data

Raspberry Pi Chalks Up Sales Of 2.5M+ As It Turns Two — $10K Bounty Offered For Opening Its Blob

Happy Birthday Raspberry Pi! The low-cost Linux microcomputer has just turned two years old. And boy how it’s grown.

The Cambridge, U.K.-based creators of the 35 credit-card sized computer thought they would only ever sell a few thousand units when they started their project. In the event, they sold 100,000 units of the Model B Pi on the very first day. Global sales of all Pi models have now pushed passed 2.5 million, up from 1.75 million back in October.

The Pi continues to be used in all manner of creative ways — including as a learning platform for teaching kids about computers and coding, which was actually the original mission of the Pi Foundation. And also as a plaything for adults, with makers and fully-fledged startup businesses using it to power all manner of cool stuff.  Long may it continue. 

As Pi continues to grow, the not-for-profit Pi Foundation has just kicked off a competition — offering a $10,000 bounty — to help open source the graphics drivers running on Pi.

Currently the Pi required a block of closed-source binary driver code (aka a blob) to talk to the hardware — but the chipmaker, Broadcom, has just released the source code for another similar chip. And the Pi Foundation is looking for help porting this to Pi so users can bypass its blob and get proper access to the graphics core.

Full details below. If you’re interested in taking part in the global competition (which has no end date — continuing, presumably, until someone is able to do the deed), the competition rules can be found here.

In common with every other ARM-based SoC, using the VideoCore IV 3d graphics core on the Pi requires a block of closed-source binary driver code (a “blob”) which talks to the hardware. In our case, this blob runs on the VPU vector processor of the BCM2835 (the SOC or System On a Chip at the heart of the Raspberry Pi); our existing open-source graphics drivers are a thin shim running on the ARM11, which talks to that blob via a communication driver in the Linux kernel. The lack of true open-source graphics drivers and documentation is widely acknowledged to be a significant problem for Linux on ARM, as it prevents users from fixing driver bugs, adding features and generally understanding what their hardware is doing.

Earlier today, Broadcom announced the release of full documentation for the VideoCore IV graphics core, and a complete source release of the graphics stack under a 3-clause BSD license. The source release targets the BCM21553 cellphone chip, but it should be reasonably straightforward to port this to the BCM2835, allowing access to the graphics core without using the blob. As an incentive to do this work, we will pay a bounty of $10,000 to the first person to demonstrate to us satisfactorily that they can successfully run Quake III at a playable framerate on Raspberry Pi using these drivers. This competition is open worldwide, and you can find competition rules here which describe what you have to do, and how to enter.

See the article here: Raspberry Pi Chalks Up Sales Of 2.5M+ As It Turns Two — $10K Bounty Offered For Opening Its Blob