Author: Chris Alexander

Ellison's Oracle Social Network baffles

A few more details have emerged about the Oracle Social Network, announced last week at Oracle’s OpenWorld conference, greeted largely with apprehension from the web community.

OpenWorld wasn’t a spectacular PR event for Oracle. Analysts commented that CEO Larry Ellison’s keynote was “mind numbing”. Then there was a very public disagreement between Ellison and SalesForce CEO Marc Benioff, who claims his keynote was cancelled and forced to relocate to a hotel.

But expert reaction to Oracle’s “Public Cloud”, specifically the Oracle Social Network product, has not been great either.

Details are scarce beyond a cheesy 3-minute YouTube promo that has widely been labelled as “buzzword bingo”.

YouTube commenters, known for their accurate grammar and well-rounded opinions, have laid into the video – with critics popping up across other social networks as the video is shared around.

Whether the somewhat awkwardly-named Oracle Social Network can have an impact on Salesforce’s market share remains to be seen, as details on the product remain largely under wraps or sworn to secrecy with Oracle partners.

The aggressive launch is undoubtedly like waving red flags to a bull with Benioff, who tweeted “You can’t buy this type of advertising. Thank you Larry!” during the keynote. Which, by the way, was mostly attacks on Salesforce rather than the benefits of Oracle Social Network.

So far Oracle’s public websites feature holding pages for the entire Public Cloud section, with the Oracle Social Network page featuring the same buzzwords that were mocked in the promotional video.

The announcement itself contained little, if any, real information on the product, with Ellison awkwardly demoing elementary functionality through screenshots, and asking the audience: “I hope this isn’t boring”.


SSDs harder to securely erase than standard hard disks

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have found that erasing sensitive data stored on Solid State hard drives (SSD’s) may not be as easy or reliable as they thought.

Two PhD students at the University’s Non-Volatile Systems Laboratory have presented research at this month’s USENIX Conference on File Storage Technologies that show even on-device secure erase commands may be buggy – and ineffective at removing sensitive data that may be stored on the SSD.

The researchers used a FPGA-based flash hardware tester named Ming the Merciless to analyse the data left on the SSD’s raw NAND flash chips, which are used to do the actual storage, and bypass any software built into the SSD’s interface.

They found that the build-in commands to delete all the data off an SSD disk are often reliable, but manufacturers have built versions with bugs causing them to work incorrectly.

Existing tools used to erase normal hard disks are entirely ineffective at destroying the data on SSDs. The final option for removing data from SSDs is to use dedicated software to overwrite parts of the device. These were found to be effective after 2 passes on the disk but not entirely reliable.

The researchers have published their paper online (or check out the synopsis). Also check out this YouTube videoshowing how they rounded off destroying the UK ID Card Database earlier this month.

Nokia shareholders start rebellion and plan a company coup

In the wake of last week’s news that Nokia has entered a partnership with Microsoft, a group of nine Nokia Shareholders has published “Nokia Plan B”, a manifesto “to challenge the company’s strategy and partnership with Microsoft”.

On their website, the currently anonymous nine shareholders outline an agenda and a series of actions, which include ousting current CEO and President of Nokia Stephen Elop.

Since Nokia and Microsoft announced their partnership late last week, Nokia’s community of die-hard fans and developers have been lamenting over feeling “betrayed” by the Finnish phone giant. As part of the announcement, Nokia said they would continue their hardware innovation, while using Windows Phone 7 – Microsoft’s new mobile phone OS – as the primary software platform. Groups such as Intel, the Linux Foundation and more which had been supporting development of Nokia’s previous effort, MeeGo operating system which is based on Linux, have expressed their “disappointment” at the decision.

The Nokia Plan B team have raised some significant points in their post outlining how they wish to see the company managed. They want to return control of Nokia devices’ software to Nokia themselves; overhaul their recruitment strategy to bring in new young engineers to re-ignite their operating system efforts; and eliminate “outdated and bureaucratic” research and development management systems. Following Elop, the Microsoft partnership would be next for the chop, by being scaled back just to North American territories and based on sales performance of Nokia Windows Phone 7 devices; MeeGo would re-take its place as Nokia’s main mobile OS.

The post also says a lot about Nokia’s current research and development practices. Research and development outsourcing and geographical distribution has brought the Nokia engineers’ efforts to their knees; they say a shift to 90% research in two key locations, at least one in Finland, will help re-focus the engineering effort. They also cite multiple Nokia management levels above outsourced R&D efforts to be causing up to 90% management overhead in engineering projects.

Whether or not this small team will have any impact on the future of Nokia remains to be seen. For now, they represent the hopes of numerous individuals and organisations who had pinned their hopes on MeeGo and Nokia software and devices. The Plan B team already claim to have other Nokia shareholders interested in what they’re doing, but whether nine small shareholders can take over the entire Nokia board will be something else.

Government ponders feasibility of Digital Economy Act

The Digital Economy Act, controversially pushed through after two hours of debate just before the general election last year, has reached the next stage in its journey to becoming a full-blown pirate-killing law.

The Act set out a plan for “reserve powers” which would be debated and agreed on once the Act was in place, in addition to provisions that Ofcom is already drawing up implementation plans for at the moment.

The peer-to-peer technology restrictions are nearly ready to be put online, but the aspects of the Act, where frequent users of “online lockers” will be warned by letter then disconnected from the internet, are not likely to be enacted until at least early 2012.

This is because the government has now asked Ofcom to perform a feasibility analysis of the parts of the Act that would block entire websites suspected of being used for illegal file sharing.

The government may have finally realised that it just might not be possible to go around blanket-banning sites they think are being used as file-sharing platforms – for example RapidShare and MegaUpload – and not harm the creative economy they are trying to protect with the Act.

Once they have decided whether or not to put the plan in place, if they go ahead they also have to agree on who will be paying for the letters they plan to send out to repeat offenders using the freshly-illegal services. The current proposal on the table is that the copyright holders foot three quarters of the bill with ISPs footing the rest.

As a result of all this, not a single warning letter has yet been sent to users thought to be file sharing.

Egypt disappears from Internet entirely

Late last week, nearly all of Egypt’s 20 million Internet users were cut off when the 4 major ISPs in the country, including two multinationals Vodafone and Etisalat, severed their international network connections. At 9pm BST last night, the only remaining ISP of notable size, the Noor Group, also went offline; it is thought that it was previously kept running in order to keep the Egyptian stock exchange active, which is now either very slow or unreachable.

Reports from inside Egypt say that SMS functionality has been restored to the mobile phone networks, but with almost no active ISPs getting information out has proved difficult. Major broadcasters continue to operate in the country using their own satellite systems, with the exception of Al-Jazeera. Officially the company has had its broadcast license removed and its Arabic and English television channels are no longer available in the country; unofficially its journalists are continuing to provide video reports, blogs and tweets from on the ground.

Developers and companies from all over the world have been attempting to help Egyptians regain communication with the outside world. Italian ISP Telecom Italia has provided a free dial up internet line Egyptians can use over the working landline network to connect to the Internet. On Monday, a team of engineers from Twitter, Google and SayNow announced the availability of 3 phone lines that use SayNow and Google’s voice to text technology to convert Egyptian’s messages delivered by phone into tweets which are then sent out of a dedicated Twitter account.

Despite the Egyptian government’s best efforts to quell the voice of their people internationally, the efforts of Egyptians on the ground, international technology companies and users the world over have been able to provide at least a small voice for the Egyptian people to make their opinion known.

Almost all 20 million Egyptian internet users disappear from the internet

Egypt’s 55 million mobile phone users and 20 million internet users are today without connectivity after the Egyptian government reportedly ordered the four major ISPs in the country to deactivate international connections. SMS services are reportedly also offline.

The move follows days of protests in the country sparked by the uprising in Tunisia, and eventual removal of the Tunisian government. Friday is expected to see the most substantial protests in Egypt, after Friday prayers are observed.

Customers of the four largest ISPs in Egypt, Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr, were unavailable after midnight Egyptian time this Friday. One smaller ISP called Noor is still active, but it is thought that this is to keep the Egyptian Stock Exchange running; they had an excellent disaster mitigation strategy in place having four external access points spread across 4 telecoms providers, 3 of which are now inactive.

In a world where the Internet is one of the last forms of free and open communication, it is extremely disturbing that almost an entire country can be disconnected at the whim of its government. Nobody from Egypt has been heard from on popular social networks such as Facebook or Twitter since the blackout, which were also affected by specific disconnection targetting earlier in the week, making them unavailable for long periods of time.

“What happens when you disconnect a modern economy and 80,000,000 people from the Internet? What will happen tomorrow, on the streets and in the credit markets? This has never happened before, and the unknowns are piling up. We will continue to dig into the event, and will update this story as we learn more. As Friday dawns in Cairo under this unprecedented communications blackout, keep the Egyptian people in your thoughts” writes James Cowie of internet monitoring firm Renesys, who also have a graph illustrating the speed of the disconnection.