Category: Software

ZTE pays $900 million fine

 

Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE has agreed to plead guilty and pay up in a US sanctions case, drawing a line under a damaging scandal that had threatened its cut off its supply chain.

While the fine was larger than expected, ZTE, also a major smartphone maker, reported robust underlying earnings for 2016 and was upbeat in estimates for the first quarter.

A five-year investigation found ZTE conspired to evade US embargoes by buying US components, incorporating them into ZTE equipment and illegally shipping them to Iran.

It also made 283 shipments of telecommunications equipment to North Korea.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that ZTE Corporation not only violated export controls that keep sensitive American technology out of the hands of hostile regimes like Iran’s, they lied … about their illegal acts,”

But ZTE relies on US suppliers for 25 percent to 30 percent of its components, many of which are key to its goods. It buys about $2.6 billion worth of components a year from US firms. This includes  Qualcomm, Microsoft and Intel.

ZTE Chief Executive Zhao Xianming said in a statement that his outfit acknowledges the mistakes it made, takes responsibility for them, and remains committed to positive change in the company.

The company agreed to a seven-year suspended denial of export privileges, which could be activated if there are further violations, as well as three years of probation, a compliance and ethics program, and a corporate monitor.

It also agreed to an additional penalty of $300 million that will be suspended during the seven-year term on the condition the company complies with requirements in the agreement.

ZTE has replaced executives allegedly involved, including naming a new president.

The company said it slid to a preliminary net loss of $342 million in 2016, its first loss in four years, due to the settlement.

Italians see off Facebook in court

Facebook has suspended its location-sharing feature in Italy after a Milan court ruled last year that the social networking giant had violated competition and copyright laws by effectively copying a similar app from a local startup.

Italian software developer Business Competence filed a lawsuit in 2013, accusing Facebook’s Nearby feature of having copied its Faround application, which helps users locate Facebook friends in the vicinity.

Facebook launched its Nearby feature only months after Faround was included in the social network’s app store in 2012.

The complaint alleged that the two applications were “extremely similar” in their functions and general set-up.

Facebook said it has discontinued offering what it now calls Nearby Places in Italy while it appeals against the court’s ruling.

The court ordered Facebook to suspend Nearby Places in Italy or daily pay a fine of 5,000 euros for copyright infringement and unfair competition. It said that Facebook may have to pay further damages to be determined at a later stage.

Facebook wanted the order put on hold while it awaited a ruling on the merits of the case, but its request was rejected by the court in December. It said on Monday that it is complying with the decision pending its appeal.

Facebook insists that the claims were without merit and the order was wrongly decided, but we have respectfully complied with the order in the interim.

Business Competence’s Faround app was launched in September 2012 and quickly gained popularity among Italian users.

Faround was the most downloaded new social networking app in the country but downloads plunged the month after Facebook launched its own Nearby feature on December 17 of that year.

“It was a big blow to us to see that we were losing everything we had invested (into Faround),” Business Competence Chief Executive Sara Colnago said. It had cost the outfit half a million euros to build the app.

Munich might still stick to Linux agreement

The poster child for the use of Linux by government authorities, the City of Munich, might stick to its commitment to the operating system after all.

There had been ructions in Munich over whether its move to Linux had been such a good idea and if it had saved as much as it thought it had.

Most media have reported that a final call was made to halt the LiMux and switch back to Microsoft software, but the Free Software Foundation Europe says this is fake news.

What happened was that the opposing parties were overruled, but the decision was amended such that a strategy document must specify which LiMux-applications will no longer be needed. This was not killing off the project but postponing it until more facts were known such as the extent in which prior investments must be written off, and a rough calculation of the overall costs of the desired unification.

The FSFE said that so far mayor Dieter Reiter was forced to postpone the final decision, and this was possible through the unwavering pressure created by joint efforts between The Document Foundation, KDE, OSBA, and the FSFE together with all the individuals who wrote to city council members and took the issue to the media.

Although the mandate hints that the existing vendor-neutral approach is to be replaced with a proprietary solution, it leaves the door open.

Some politicians said they’d never received this much input from the public before, and the Free Software Foundation Europe says the city’s issues were caused “from organisational problems, including lack of clear structures and responsibilities,” which should not be attributed to the Linux operating system.

“LiMux as such is still one of the best examples of how to create a vendor-neutral administration based on Free Software,” the FSFE said.

Jim Mackey leaves Blackberry

Blackberry head of corporate development and strategy,Jim Mackey has quietly cleaned out his desk and snuck out of the building without anyone noticing.

Mackey left the company in the middle of February and it appears that no-one has thought to alert the media. The move does dump Blackberry in it somewhat as it lacks leadership as it tried to move from smartphone hardware to software.

Mackey, who was executive vice president, executive operations, made his own announcement on social notworking site Linkedin. He did not give a reason and became unavailable for comment.

Blackberry, which in late 2013 issued a press release on the hiring of Mackey, did not announce his exit. Chief Operating Officer Marty Beard refused to answer any questions either.

Mackey worked directly with Blackberry Chief Executive John Chen, navigating the purchase and integration of a string of acquisitions and the signing of major partnership agreements.

Beard said in the interview that the company had largely completed its software portfolio and needed to push hard to win more customers, including by adding partners.

“The biggest issue we have is not getting invited to the table because the customer doesn’t know that BlackBerry is doing that. That’s the challenge.”

Appeals court backs Apple against Texas troll

US court in deep in the heart of Texas

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided to save the fruity tax-dodging cargo cult from the clutches of a patent troll.

The court decided to throw out the verdict of a two-year old legal case against Apple based on data storage patents.

The original verdict reached by a Texas jury stuck Apple with $533 million in damages.  It had been hoping for a hanging but settled for the next best thing.

Smartflash mostly targeted game developers who largely all settled out of court in 2014, but Apple defended its use of data storage management and payment processing technology in court.

The trial judge vacated the large damages award a few months after a Texas federal jury imposed it in February 2015, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said on Wednesday the judge should have ruled Smartflash’s patents invalid and set aside the verdict entirely.

A unanimous three-judge appeals panel said Smartflash’s patents were too “abstract” and did not go far enough in describing an actual invention to warrant protection.

It is unlikely that Smartflash will rise again to hit other companies.

 

IBM owns out of hours emails

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is furious that IBM has managed to score a patent on out of hours emails.

The EFF said it is bringing light to what it calls a “stupefyingly mundane” patent on e-mail technology which turns Biggish Blue into a spectacular troll.

For years IBM lawyers has argued with the US Patent and Trademark Office over a bizarre and alarming alternative history, in which IBM invented out of office e-mail—in 2010.

US Patent No. 9,547,842, “Out-of-office electronic mail messaging system” was filed in 2010 and granted about six weeks ago.

EFF lawyer Daniel Nazer described the case as the “Stupid Patent of the Month” blog post and cites a Microsoft publicity page that talks about quirky out of office e-mail culture dating back to the 1980s, when Microsoft marketed its Xenix e-mail system.

To be fair an IBM spokesperson said that “IBM has decided to dedicate the patent to the public”. The company notified USPTO today that it will forego its rights to the patent.

But the patent should never have been awarded.

IBM offers one feature that’s even arguably not decades old –  the ability to notify those writing to the out of office user some days before the set vacation dates begin.

It is a  feature, similar to “sending a postcard, not from a vacation, but to let someone know you will go on a vacation,” is a “trivial change to existing systems,” Nazer points out.

Nazer said that here were some major mistakes made during the examination process. The examiner never considered whether the software claims were eligible after the Supreme Court’s Alice v. CLS Bank decision, which came in 2014, and in Nazer’s view, the office “did an abysmal job” of looking at the prior art.

Nazer said the office “never considered any of the many, many, existing real-world systems that pre-dated IBM’s application”.

Needless to say, IBM is not one of those companies who likes the Alice judgement much.  It is lobbying Congress to roll back Alice and allow more types of software patents.

Rather than making trolls go away, it will mean that even more bizarre ones could get the nod by the Patent Office. After all IBM once applied to patent shorter meetings, it did not get anywhere with it, but it is the sort of thing it wants to be paid for.

Blockchain gains as software giants form alliance

PMorgan Chase, Microsoft,  Intel and more than two dozen other companies have teamed up to develop standards and technology to make it easier for enterprises to use blockchain code Ethereum.

The move is seen as the latest push by large firms to move toward distributed ledger systems and a considerable move forward for the bitcoin based tech.

The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) will work to enhance the privacy, security and scalability of the Ethereum blockchain, making it better suited to business applications, according to the founding companies.

Members of the 30-strong group also include Accenture, Banco Santander, Credit Suisse Group  and shedloads of other bankers and financial groups. The EEA joins a growing list of joint initiatives by large companies aiming to take advantage of blockchain, a shared digital record of transactions that is maintained by a network of computers rather than a centralised authority.

Companies in a wide range of industries are hoping that it can help them streamline some of their processes, such as the clearing and settling of financial securities.

Ethereum, a type of blockchain that can be used to develop decentralised applications, was invented by 23-year-old programer Vitalik Buterin. Several banks have already adapted Ethereum to develop and test blockchain trading applications.

Alex Batlin, global blockchain lead at BNY Mellon, one of the companies on the EEA board, said over the past few years banks and other enterprises have increased collaboration with the Ethereum development community, facilitating the creation of the EEA.

SThe EEA will collaborate with the non-profit foundation that promotes the development of Ethereum, the companies said.

Bloke builds his own open saucy self-driving car

A self-driving car does not have to cost you a fortune if you can get away from the car industry, according to a University of Nebraska student.

According to MIT Technology Review Brevan Jorgenson used open source software to convert his Honda Civic into a high tech self-driving car,

His homemade device in place of the rear-view mirror can control the brakes, accelerator, and steering, and it uses a camera to identify road markings and other cars.

Jorgenson built the lot using plans and software downloaded from the internet, plus about $700 in parts.

He started his project after George Hotz of Comma.ai, a San Francisco startup that was developing a $999 device that could upgrade certain vehicles to steer themselves on the highway and follow stop-and-go traffic.

Hotz was forced to cancel plans to launch the product after receiving a letter asking questions about its functionality from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In November, he released the company’s hardware designs and software for free, saying he wanted to empower researchers and hobbyists.

The whole thing is powered by a OnePlus 3 smartphone equipped with Comma’s now-free Openpilot software, a circuit board that connects the device to the car’s electronics, and a 3-D-printed case. Jorgenson got the case printed by an online service and soldered the board together himself.

Subsequent tests revealed that the Neo would inexplicably pull to the right sometimes, but a software update released by Comma quickly fixed that. Now fully working, the system is similar in capabilities to the initial version of Tesla’s AutoPilot.

Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, says that federal and state laws probably don’t pose much of a barrier to those with a desire to upgrade their vehicle to share driving duties. NHTSA has authority over companies selling vehicles and systems used to modify them, but consumers have significant flexibility in making changes to their own vehicle, says Smith, who advises the US Department of Transportation on law and automation.

Nintendo’s CD refusal pays off

In the 1990s the former maker of playing cards  Nintendo faced much mock when it decided against using CDs on its Nintendo 64 system and stuck with expensive and (in comparison) lower-capacity cartridges.

Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, both used CDs and Nintendo’s choice lost a lot of loyal third-party supporters who went to the PlayStation.

Now retro collectors are saying that Nintendo’s stubbornness was actually far sighted because optical media is rotting away while the cartridges still go on.

The world is fast learning that even if you care for CDs they are useless after 30 years’ service because the chemicals used in the disc’s protective layers fail.

The CD’s  reflective layer, usually made of aluminium also starts to oxidise and the discs “bronze” over.

However, cartridges are traditionally quite robust – hence the fact that people are still happily playing Atari VCS and NES games on original hardware – so N64 games should continue to be playable for quite some time yet.

Gemalto teams up with Microsoft


Security outfit Gemalto i
s teaming up with Microsoft to release of its On Demand Connectivity and eSIM technology for Windows 10 devices.

Gemalto’s works with the release GSM Association (GSMA) new specifications and guidelines for remote SIM provisioning.

Based around a subscription system, Gemalto’s On-Demand Connectivity works with Windows 10 native eSIM support. It is designed to be remotely provisioned by mobile network operators with subscription information and is globally interoperable across all carriers, device makers and technology providers implementing the specification.

This technology will serve as the framework devices of all shapes and sizes use to connect to operator networks. The first wave of devices with this technology is expected to be available to consumers by Christmas.

Roanne Sones, General Manager, Strategy and Ecosystem for Windows and Devices, Microsoft said that eSIM technology remains an important investment for Microsoft as it looks to create even more mobile computing opportunities

“As a key component for the Always Connected Windows experience, we worked closely with Gemalto to develop a solution that meets the new GSMA guidelines.”

Rodrigo Serna, Senior Vice President of Mobile Services and IoT Americas at Gemalto said that Gemalto has created a complete range of subscription management software and services to manage the eSIM life cycle in mobile devices.

“We will continue to work closely with Microsoft and the GSMA to further these advances while protecting the security of end users, who rely on their mobile devices to make everyday life easier.”