Software

Everything OK with Microsoft? Windows giant admits it was 'on the wrong side of history' with regard to open source

Tell-all with president Brad Smith reveals Obama warned tech giants that a privacy reckoning was coming


Microsoft president Brad Smith (pictured) has admitted that the Windows giant was "on the wrong side of history" when it came to open source.

While nowadays the born-again company seems unable to resist the embrace (if that's the right word) of the open-source world, it was not always so.

Former CEO Steve Ballmer memorably declared that "Linux is a cancer" back in the day. Goodness, how times have changed in Redmond.

"Microsoft," said Smith during a chat hosted by MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), "was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century and I can say that about me personally."

He added: "The good news is that, if life is long enough, you can learn... that you need to change."

Indeed. Although judging by our response to our recent Name-a-Microsoft piece, the company still has a way to go before the sins of the past have been fully expunged.

Smith himself has penned a succession of hand-wringing articles over the years, from cheering progress on facial-recognition regulation to standing up for the Microsoft employees that are recipients of the US's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme. Heck, he even talked AI and ethics with the Pope (although we'd wager His Holiness was more interested in finding out how Windows 10 1809 managed to do that to his computer).

As a reminder, Microsoft has cheerfully flogged technology to America's controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, as has its newly acquired tentacle GitHub. Smith did not address this as he talked up the source shack: "We see our responsibility as its steward to make it a secure, productive home for [developers]."

How much open source is too much when it's in Microsoft's clutches? Eclipse Foundation boss sounds note of alarm

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The MIT CSAIL "Hot Topics in Computing" fireside chat also heard the resounding clang of a name dropping to the ground as Smith described a meeting with former US president Barack Obama.

Donald Trump's predecessor warned that a reckoning over surveillance and the data held on private individuals was headed the tech giants' way over the coming years: "There will be a moment when the demands that you're placing on the government will be placed on you as well."

"I thought that was a very insightful comment at the time and I wrote it down. I looked around and was struck that no one else was writing it down," said a modest Smith.

If only he'd thought to pass his carefully written notes on to the Microsoft team responsible for slurping data from customer's computers. That whole European nastiness could so easily have been avoided.

Lessons from the past aside, Smith did have sensible advice for those hoping that apps will be the panacea for the pandemic today. "It's a belt-and-suspenders approach," he said. "We still will need public health officers to interview individuals who test positive, even if they've been using an app on their smartphone."

"We can't base our planning on the assumption that everyone will have this app," he added, before highlighting the importance of data in the making of decisions related to public health during the coronavirus outbreak. This is something that lawmakers would do well to consider. ®

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Leaked footage shows British F-35B falling off HMS Queen Elizabeth and pilot's death-defying ejection

Parachute snagged on ship's bows

Video Video footage has emerged of a British F-35B fighter jet falling off the front of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth after a botched takeoff.

The leaked clip, seemingly from a CCTV camera on the carrier's bridge, shows the Lockheed Martin-made stealth aircraft slowly trundling down the deck before tipping over the ski-jump ramp on her bows.

As the £100m RAF jet nosed over, the pilot ejected – only for his parachute to snag on the carrier's bows as he descended back towards the ship.

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Lloyd's of London suggests insurers should not cover 'retaliatory cyber operations' between nation states

And they might attribute cyber attacks if governments won't

Lloyd’s of London may no longer extend insurance cover to companies affected by acts of war, and new clauses drafted for providers of so-called "cyber" insurance are raising the spectre of organisations caught in tit-for-tat nation state-backed attacks being left high and dry.

The insurer's "Cyber War and Cyber Operation Exclusion Clauses", published late last week, include an alarming line suggesting policies should not cover "retaliatory cyber operations between any specified states" or cyber attacks that have "a major detrimental impact on… the functioning of a state."

"The insurer shall have the burden of proving that this exclusion applies," warn the exclusion policies published by the Lloyd's Market Association.

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UK competition regulator to Meta's Facebook: Sell Giphy, we will not approve the purchase

CMA finds that deal would be bad for consumers and tighten Zuck's grip on almost half of £7bn digital ad spend

The UK competition watchdog has ordered Meta, the owner of Facebook, to sell Giphy after deciding purchase of the animated GIF creator platform will damage rivals, consumers and advertisers.

Today's directive is effectively the same as that handed down in August, when the Competition Markets Authority voiced concerns that could only be resolved if Facebook was to offload the $400m acquisition it made in May 2020.

The panel that ran their finger over the merger concluded the buy would only tighten Facebook's already vice-like grip on the social media landscape by:

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You, me and debris: NASA cans ISS spacewalk because it's getting too risky outside

Broken antenna will have to wait as warning comes in less than 24 hours before airlock opening

NASA has delayed a spacewalk scheduled today from the International Space Station amid concerns about debris.

The spacewalk by NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron was due to have started today with a switch to spacesuit battery power at 12:10 UTC followed by an exit from the outpost's Quest airlock.

The planned 6.5-hour spacewalk was to have Marshburn positioned at the end of the Canadarm2 robotic arm and swung out over the structure by ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer at the controls within the orbiting lab. Barron was to assist with the replacement of an antenna on the P1 truss.

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Can Rust save the planet? Why, and why not

The snag: This programming language is safe and efficient, but hard to learn, impacting productivity

Re:Invent Here at a depleted AWS Re:invent in Las Vegas, Rust Foundation chairwoman Shane Miller and Tokio project lead Carl Lerche made the case for using Rust to minimize environmental impact, though said its steep learning curve made the task challenging.

Miller is also a senior engineering manager for AWS, and Lerche a principal engineer at the cloud giant.

How can Rust save the planet? The answer is that more efficient code requires fewer resources to run, which means lower energy usage in data centers and also in the environmental impact of manufacturing computing equipment and shipping it around the world.

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The climate is turning against owning our own compute hardware. Cloud is good for you and your customers

From the data centre to the desktop, here is the green solution

Register Debate Welcome to the latest Register Debate in which writers discuss technology topics, and you the reader choose the winning argument. The format is simple: we propose a motion, the arguments for the motion will run this Monday and Wednesday, and the arguments against on Tuesday and Thursday. During the week you can cast your vote on which side you support using the poll embedded below, choosing whether you're in favour or against the motion. The final score will be announced on Friday, revealing whether the for or against argument was most popular.

This week's motion is: Renting hardware on a subscription basis is bad for customers.

Call it leasing, equipment rental, or hardware as a service, the idea of NOT owning your computing devices has been around for years. However, many individuals and corporations have been distinctly ambivalent about the idea, feeling that the benefits tend to flow to the suppliers, and most of all, the financers.

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You loved running JavaScript in your web browser. Now, get ready for Python scripting

All thanks to CPython, WebAssembly, and some clever developers (And yes, there's Pyodide, too)

Python, one of the world's most popular programming languages, may soon become even more ubiquitous as it finds a home within web browsers.

Ethan Smith, a Berkeley-based software developer, recently revealed a project that allows CPython, the default implementation of the Python programming language, to run within web browsers via WebAssembly, or WASM.

WASM is a binary format that provides near-native performance within web browsers. It's a compilation target for languages like C/C++, C# and Rust. It's commonly used to create performance-sensitive code that JavaScript isn't well-suited to handle; wedding Python to WASM though its Emscripten compiler is more about ease of use and distribution than performance, at least at this point.

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Think that spreadsheet in your company's accounts dept is old? 70 years ago, LEO ran the first business app

Mods to the design of EDSAC were 'considerable' says boffin

Seventy years ago this week, LEO, the world's first computer for business, ran one of the first enterprise applications after several experimental test runs.

Built for British catering and tea shop giant J Lyons, the Lyons Electronic Office, dubbed LEO, took inspiration from the Cambridge EDSAC, which ran its first programs in 1949.

The LEO, however, was business-focused, and was initially used for the firm's bakery valuation jobs (which were run weekly) before expanding its reach into more of J Lyons' back-office functions, such as payroll.

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UK privacy watchdog may fine selfie-hoarding Clearview AI £17m... eventually, perhaps

Regulator's 'assertions are factually and legally incorrect' biz tells El Reg

Clearview AI, the controversial startup known for scraping billions of selfies from people's public social network profiles to train a facial-recognition system, may be fined just over £17m ($22.6m) by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The watchdog on Monday publicly mulled punishing Clearview following an investigation launched last year with the Australian Information Commissioner. The ICO believes the US biz broke Britain's data-protection rules by, among other things, failing to have a “lawful reason” for collecting people’s personal photos and info, and not being transparent about how the data was used and stored for its facial-recognition applications.

Clearview harvests people's photos – 10 billion or more, it's thought – from their public social media profiles, and then builds a face-matching system so that if, say, the police upload a picture of someone from a CCTV still, the software can locate that person in its database and provide officers the corresponding name and online profiles.

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Quantum computing to grow by 50 per cent per year until 2027, when revenue will still be chump change

IDC reckons industry will be worth $8.6B a year – or about a quarter of one Dell quarter

Don't rush to convert your analog computing skills into the quantum realm – analyst firm International Data Corporation (IDC) reckons that in 2027 the annual market for quantum computing globally will still only be worth $8.6 billion. Which sounds like a lot, but really isn't.

While the firm predicts quantum tech will grow fast in coming years – it predicts CAGR of 50 per cent between now and 2027 – even that rapid growth will leave the industry's annual revenue somewhat modest. By way of comparison, Dell's most recent quarterly revenue figure was $28.4 billion – most of it made selling boring old classical computers.

Investments in the quantum computing market – including those made both privately and publicly – are estimated to grow at a six-year CAGR (2021–2027) of 11.3 per cent to almost $16.4 billion by the end of the six-year period. That's about twice what the entire quantum industry's annual revenue is expected to hit the same year.

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Hubble space 'scope brings its Cosmic Origins Spectrograph back online

Work continues on code to make the observatory operate happily when control unit message sync glitches out

NASA has successfully restored another instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope.

The space agency has revealed that on November 28, it was able to resume operations of the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph – an instrument installed in 2009 to give Hubble a better chance of gathering data that reveals the temperature, density, and chemical composition of light sources.

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