May 212011
 

Only a month or two after it was published, a detailed report that I wrote was wiped out during a BrightSideOfNews* hard drive crash. That exhaustive report, praised by many throughout the industry as the finest of its kind yet produced, examined the emerging and inevitable ARM versus x86 clash.

It took a little while and cost BSN* a lot of money to recover the data on the hard drive, but that report is now back up and can be read here.

I’m currently working on a followup to that bit of analysis that will include even more hardware than the initial report.  I’m still waiting on a vendor or two, so I can’t promise an ETA yet, but one thing I can state is that the new report will be very interesting.

The computing landscape is changing rapidly and the war between x86 and ARM microprocessors is now underway.  The competitors have dramatically different strengths and weakness, making for a particularly exciting confrontation.

Most importantly, the results of this war will have profound effects well beyond the CPU market, where several companies will possibly see their fortunes upended.  One thing is absolutely certain: computing will never be the same again.

Dec 212010
 

After many months of trying to wring something out of NVIDIA, I have finally obtained a Tegra 2-based device.  It is in the form of the ViewSonic G Tablet, a 10″ Android 2.2 (Froyo) based slate computer.  We bought it from Sears, of all places.  Oddly enough, Sears has one of the largest selections of tablet devices you can find.

Despite its complete lack of refinement, this thing is awesome, but only if you don’t mind wiping out the stock ROM.  The G Tablet’s shipping GUI looks like it was designed for toothless nursing home residents with computer-phobia and a lot more patience than I possess.  Obviously, ViewSonic wanted the device to be embraced by mainstream consumers so they dumbed-down the Android 2.2 interface with a sluggish, buggy and artificially limited mess of an overlay.  To make matters worse, the Android Market is nowhere to be found.

ViewSonic really shot themselves in the foot with the G Tablet.  They were first to the U.S. market with a dual-core Tegra 2-based device.  All they had to do was slap on a standard Froyo installation with a full Android Market and the device would have been a runaway hit for them this Christmas season.  But nooooooooooo!  ViewSonic had to get all greedy with visions of iPad’s success with mainstream buyers.  The resulting, lousy Tap ‘n Tap interface is like pouring a pound of aspartame over a steak dinner.  Sprinkled with bugs, the unsavory kind.

Fortunately, if you are a computer geek then it is not too difficult to flash the G Tablet’s firmware with a proper Android environment.  It’s also a fairly safe process since someone at ViewSonic had the foresight to make the device relatively brick-proof.  I’ve been using TnT Lite 3.0, but there are other options as well.  Yes, there will be headaches along the way, but geeks like me enjoy hacking a new device.

And, frankly, I have not been this excited about a new genre of computing device in many years.  The promise of the iPad was immediately evident to me when we bought one last spring.  However, a properly prepared G Tablet runs circles around the iPad.  Android-based tablets are going to dominate the marketplace by this time next year.

Of course, we bought the device for our business to benchmark and analyze.  Tegra-2 appears to be even faster than I anticipated.  The G Tablet finished under 2.5 seconds on SunSpider using Firefox Mobile 4.0 beta 2.  When I wrote my ARM versus x86 treatise last spring, the 800MHz Cortex-A8 took over 14 seconds on SunSpider while the 1GHz Intel Atom needed over 8 seconds, about as fast a my updated iPad takes today.  Note, however, that Firefox’s JavaScript performance has improved enormously over that time.  On the other hand, remember that JavaScript is still single-threaded, so half of the Tegra-2′s performance is left untapped on SunSpider.

There’s been weeping, moaning and gnashing of teeth over the quality of the G Tablet’s display.  Truth be told, those people are crybabies.  Yes, it’s not as good as the IPS screens on the iPad or the B&N NOOKcolor, but it’s not awful either (its biggest problem is blinding glare, not its relatively limited viewing angles compared to IPS displays).  However, I was expecting more from ViewSonic, a company best known for its outstanding history as a computer monitor vendor.  But given the general unrefinement of the device, I was not too surprised.  I mean, one look at the dingy, off white G Tablet box shows that the challenges of marketing a tablet computer are currently beyond ViewSonic.  I had to take out a ViewSonic monitor box to confirm my suspicion that apparently the monitor and tablet marketing folks at ViewSonic apparently never speak to one another.

Anyhow, it’s not too late for ViewSonic.  They need to ditch tepid Tap ‘n Tap for a real, full Android experience, enable a complete Android Market, push device driver updates to the tablet and recognize the G Tablet for what it is: a Grade A geek toy.  In fact, it appears that ViewSonic decided to take a step in this direction today by promising to push out a new firmware edition before Christmas that will not only improve Tap ‘n Tap, but will also give the user the option to boot into a stock Android interface.

Penetrating the mainstream marketplace will require hardware tweaking like adding an IPS screen, improving the lame webcam, rubberizing the case and bezel, adding mechanical Android buttons and dramatically rethinking the case ink and finish.  If they want a nearly perfect tablet, ViewSonic can add a digital compass, GPS and rear-facing camera.

We’ll be testing the ViewSonic G Tablet and writing benchmarks specifically for this purpose.  Hopefully, we’ll have results to report soon.

Dec 152010
 

An open source operating system lauded for its security features appears to have been infiltrated by the FBI over a decade ago resulting in the covert injection of eavesdropping code allowing the U.S. Government to snoop certain types of commonly used encrypted network traffic.

Security expert and OpenBSD leader Theo De Raadt forwarded to the openbsd-tech mailing list an email from an old associate who claims the Federal Bureau of Investigation hired his company to create secret backdoors into the OpenBSD Crypto Framework IPsec networking stack about ten years ago.  According to de Raadt, “large parts of the [IPsec] code are now found in many other projects/products.”  Indeed, IPsec is the basic toolset for securing Internet Protocol (IP) communications across the Internet, and the OpenBSD implementation of IPsec is widely used.

Apparently experiencing a change of conscience since then, de Raadt’s former associate, Gregory Perry, further suggests that OpenBSD lost its DARPA funding because DARPA was aware of these covertly implemented security vulnerabilities.  Theo de Raadt writes:

I refuse to become part of such a conspiracy, and
will not be talking to Gregory Perry about this.  Therefore I am
making it public so that
(a) those who use the code can audit it for these problems,
(b) those that are angry at the story can take other actions,
(c) if it is not true, those who are being accused can defend themselves.

If true, this successful FBI “conspiracy” represents a serious blow to the credibility of open source security efforts.  Up until now, OpenBSD has been widely viewed as one of the most secure operating systems available.

The full text of the email, which came from here, is below.

List:       openbsd-tech
Subject:    Allegations regarding OpenBSD IPSEC
From:       Theo de Raadt <deraadt () cvs ! openbsd ! org>
Date:       2010-12-14 22:24:39
Message-ID: 201012142224.oBEMOdWM031222 () cvs ! openbsd ! org
[Download message RAW]

I have received a mail regarding the early development of the OpenBSD
IPSEC stack.  It is alleged that some ex-developers (and the company
they worked for) accepted US government money to put backdoors into
our network stack, in particular the IPSEC stack.  Around 2000-2001.

Since we had the first IPSEC stack available for free, large parts of
the code are now found in many other projects/products.  Over 10
years, the IPSEC code has gone through many changes and fixes, so it
is unclear what the true impact of these allegations are.

The mail came in privately from a person I have not talked to for
nearly 10 years.  I refuse to become part of such a conspiracy, and
will not be talking to Gregory Perry about this.  Therefore I am
making it public so that
(a) those who use the code can audit it for these problems,
(b) those that are angry at the story can take other actions,
(c) if it is not true, those who are being accused can defend themselves.

Of course I don’t like it when my private mail is forwarded.  However
the “little ethic” of a private mail being forwarded is much smaller
than the “big ethic” of government paying companies to pay open source
developers (a member of a community-of-friends) to insert
privacy-invading holes in software.

—-

From: Gregory Perry <Gregory.Perry@GoVirtual.tv>
To: “deraadt@openbsd.org” <deraadt@openbsd.org>
Subject: OpenBSD Crypto Framework
Thread-Topic: OpenBSD Crypto Framework
Thread-Index: AcuZjuF6cT4gcSmqQv+Fo3/+2m80eg==
Date: Sat, 11 Dec 2010 23:55:25 +0000
Message-ID: <8D3222F9EB68474DA381831A120B1023019AC034@mbx021-e2-nj-5.exch021.domain.local>
Accept-Language: en-US
Content-Language: en-US
X-MS-Has-Attach:
X-MS-TNEF-Correlator:
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=”iso-8859-1″
Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable
MIME-Version: 1.0
Status: RO

Hello Theo,

Long time no talk.  If you will recall, a while back I was the CTO at
NETSEC and arranged funding and donations for the OpenBSD Crypto
Framework.  At that same time I also did some consulting for the FBI,
for their GSA Technical Support Center, which was a cryptologic
reverse engineering project aimed at backdooring and implementing key
escrow mechanisms for smart card and other hardware-based computing
technologies.

My NDA with the FBI has recently expired, and I wanted to make you
aware of the fact that the FBI implemented a number of backdoors and
side channel key leaking mechanisms into the OCF, for the express
purpose of monitoring the site to site VPN encryption system
implemented by EOUSA, the parent organization to the FBI.  Jason
Wright and several other developers were responsible for those
backdoors, and you would be well advised to review any and all code
commits by Wright as well as the other developers he worked with
originating from NETSEC.

This is also probably the reason why you lost your DARPA funding, they
more than likely caught wind of the fact that those backdoors were
present and didn’t want to create any derivative products based upon
the same.

This is also why several inside FBI folks have been recently
advocating the use of OpenBSD for VPN and firewalling implementations
in virtualized environments, for example Scott Lowe is a well
respected author in virtualization circles who also happens top be on
the FBI payroll, and who has also recently published several tutorials
for the use of OpenBSD VMs in enterprise VMware vSphere deployments.

Merry Christmas…

Gregory Perry
Chief Executive Officer
GoVirtual Education

“VMware Training Products & Services”

540-645-6955 x111 (local)
866-354-7369 x111 (toll free)
540-931-9099 (mobile)
877-648-0555 (fax)

http://www.facebook.com/GregoryVPerry

http://www.facebook.com/GoVirtual

Jun 272010
 

A sure sign that a company is on its way out is when it starts needlessly defeaturing its products to create artificial market segments rather than innovating new features to add value.  Windows 7 Starter is a good example of this sad phenomena.

Microsoft originally planned to impose a three application limit to Windows 7 Starter so that no more than three applications could be run at once.  Of course, this outrageous, artificial and completely unjustified limitation would have actually cost Microsoft time and money to implement.  With the exception of a handful of confused apologists, the three app limitation earned the Redmond software giant widespread derision.  Eventually, public scorn caused Microsoft to drop this bone-headed idea before releasing Windows 7 Starter edition last fall.

However, there are other stupid and disingenuous ways Microsoft castrated Windows 7 Starter.  Not only is there an artificially imposed 2GB memory limit and the fantabulous new snipping tool is gone, but Microsoft stripped Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) from Win7 Starter.  Of course, there are absolutely no technical reasons for killing ICS, a feature that for many years has enabled users to easily set up Windows systems to serve the Internet to home networks.

The Redmond software beast wants you to fork over your hard earned dough through “Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade” to buy back ICS, a particularly vital feature for netbooks that come with integrated broadband cellular modems.  Worse still, netbooks are particularly well-suited for home servers since they use very little power and have a built-in UPS.  So killing ICS from Win7 Starter was a particularly ungreen move for the spawn of Bill Gates.

Well, it’s very easy to overcome all of the limitations your Microsoft overlord imposes.  You’ll need to download Jolicould Linux here.  A good application to burn the Jolicloud installation image to disk is ISO Recorder which you can download here.   If you don’t have a USB CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive, you can create a bootable USB key drive by following the instructions here.  You can even install Jolicloud from within Windows if you download Jolicloud Express from here.  Once you’ve created your boot disk/USB key, boot from it.  You can install Jolicloud so that you can chose between Win7 Starter and Jolicloud at boot time, or you can completely expunge Win7 and replace it with Jolicloud.

Boot into Jolicloud and connect your netbook to the Internet.  An added benefit Jolicould brings are preinstalled broadband cellular modem drivers along with proper settings for many carriers.  When Jolicloud detects a new broadband cellular modem, the Network Manager menu, activated by clicking on the appropriate Gnome Panel icon in the top of the screen, will list a new broadband device.  Clicking on that menu entry will bring up a simple wizard so that you can select your carrier and ensure that the correct number is dialed.  It literally takes about ten seconds to to set up a new cellular modem connection in Jolicloud Linux.

To share your Internet connection, whether cellular or otherwise, right-click on the same Network Manager icon and select “Edit Connections…”.  Click the “Add” button no either the Wired or Wireless tab, depending on which way you plan to share your Internet connection.  Give the new connection a descriptive name like “Shared Internet Connection”.  On the IPv4 tab, select “Shared to other computers” as the Method.  Click “Apply”.

Reboot your netbook.  After you sign in, activate the Internet connection in the Network Manager menu if it is not automatically activated.  It might also be necessary to manually activate your “Shared Internet Connection” by clicking on the corresponding Network Manager menu entry.

You should now be actively sharing your Internet connection with your home network.

It’s humorous to note that Microsoft did a predictably sloppy job disabling ICS in Windows 7 Starter.  In fact, it is still available, but only if you want to share your active Internet connection over an ad-hoc wireless network.  In other words, other computers will have to connect to your netbook wirelessly to see the Internet.  To set up this type of Internet connection sharing configuration, simply type “adhoc” in the Windows 7 Start menu search box.  This will filter down to wizard that enables you to set up an ad hoc ICS network.

Jun 242010
 

Mint Linux has one of the best main menus of any Linux distribution.  Microsoft Vista and Windows 7 both have Start menus that appear to have been influenced by MintMenu, the package name for the Mint main menu.  MintMenu itself is a fork of Slab, the SUSE main menu for Gnome.

Mint is based upon Ubuntu and Web Upd8 has made it is very easy to add MintMenu to that popular distro (versions 9.10 and newer).  From a terminal, first add the new repository:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webupd8team/mintmenu && sudo apt-get update

Then install the package:

sudo apt-get install mintmenu

To activate the menu, right-click on a Gnome Panel, choose “Add to Panel…” and select “MintMenu”.

Jan 082009
 
  1. The economy will continue to worsen throughout 2009. The U.S. will officially be in a depression by years end.
  2. After a few more months of deflation, the value of the dollar will become unstable and retract.
  3. Talk of dumping the dollar as the global reserve currency will accelerate while a North American currency dubbed the “Amero” will be proposed.
  4. A “major event” will occur soon after Obama is inaugurated.
  5. The Dow Jones Industrial Average will slide below 7,000.
  6. Housing prices will continue their decline.
  7. An event will occur in America that will be used to place a great deal of pressure on the Second Amendment.
  8. A false flag event officially and falsely attributed to foreign terrorists will be carried out inside the United States.
  9. A false flag event will be exposed, but mainstream media will try to ignore it.
  10. There will be major riots in the United States.
  11. Iran will be attacked.
  12. India and Pakistan will be provoked to the brink of war by various intelligence operations.
  13. A major war will begin that may eventually lead to a much broader conflict.
  14. The price of gasoline will remain low until the value of the U.S. dollar begins to slide.
  15. Federal troops will be deployed within the U.S. for the purpose of law enforcement, violating the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.
  16. Talk of censoring the Internet inside the United States against broadly defined hate speech will erupt and build throughout the remainder of 2009.
  17. A major political activist will be jailed inside the United States.
  18. A major political activist will be slain inside the United States.
  19. A major U.S. politician will be assassinated.
  20. A well known entertainer will be jailed for political reasons provoking outrage.
  21. A major disease outbreak will occur.
  22. Globalist bankers and industrialists will be attacked in the U.S. as their role in the collapse of the the economy will become more widely recognized.
  23. The National ID Card will move to the forefront of discussion within the United States.
  24. As earth’s climate continues to cool as predictied by heliocentric climate models and with more and more experts publicly expressing skepticism over manmade, CO2 driven Global Warming, popular support for carbon reduction initiatives wanes dramatically, particularly in the U.S.. Despite flagging support, the Obama Administration, with the support of a friendly Congress, successfully rushes through legislation to heavily tax the carbon emissions of coal fired power plants, resulting in higher electricity costs for most Americans.
  25. The college football BCS system will be abandoned in favor of a playoff system due to antitrust court case developments.
  26. All major CPU and/or GPU vendors will survive 2009, but layoffs will continue. At least one vendor will be in imminent danger of failure by the start of 2010.
  27. Linux will gain market share away from Microsoft despite the critical success of Windows 7.
  28. So-called “touch” interfaces will become popular in desktop and mobile applications.
  29. The line between “Netbooks” and lowcost thin-and-light notebooks will be blurred. This combined segment will experience explosive growth.
  30. ARM vendors’ attempts to capture a slice of the netbook market will fail due to performance shortcomings and the depressed economy.
  31. Digg and reddit, two sites that once held great promise for furthering the cause of freedom and serving as springboards for revolution, decline into banal outposts of kitten photos, porn, pop culture and lunatic rants on wedge issues.