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Code of conduct established to protect free speech online

Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are leading a new program to help companies and organizations protect online privacy and free expression. Called the Global Network Initiative, the program includes guidelines from technology companies, human rights organizations, and academic institutions. But according to The New York Times, critics say the venture doesn’t have enough behind it. “After two years of effort, they have ended up with so little,” Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, told the Times. “It is really very little more than a broad statement of support for a general principle without any concrete backup mechanism to ensure that the guidelines will be followed.” (The New York Times)

Word to the Web: Microsoft to take Office suite online

Microsoft plans to release a Web version of its popular Office suite, offering scaled-down versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote when the next Office version is released late next year. The company made the announcement Tuesday at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, calling it “software plus services.” Microsoft senior vice president Chris Capossela said the company is hoping to attract professionals such as doctors and factory workers, who don’t work in traditional desktop environments. “We’ve done incredibly well with Office 2007. At the same time, Windows has 1 billion users. Office has only 500 million,” he said. (Computerworld)

Settlement allows Google to post out-of-print books

Google has agreed to pay US$125 million to settle a lawsuit against its Book Search program, which  scans  out-of-print books and posts them online, opening the door for a massive digital library and providing incentive for copyright holders to claim royalties. As part of the settlement, Google will back the Book Rights Registry, a nonprofit organization managed by authors and publishers that represents copyright holders. Google said that the settlement will effectively expand the market for thousands of older books that otherwise wouldn’t be available, including “orphan books,” which have no known copyright holder. (Wired)

Cyberattacks thrive in economic crisis

The global economic crisis is a boon for cybercriminals, who have adjusted their techniques to prey on anyone affected by the economy, according to a Dark Reading report. Some phishing attacks have used the recent wave of bank closures as lures, including a site that posed as the Better Business Bureau. Security company Finjan reported finding servers with stolen data roughly five or six times a month, a threefold increase in the past two months. (Dark Reading)

Facebook, YouTube give IT headaches

The proliferation of Web 2.0 in the workplace has had an adverse affect on IT departments, which must contend with more malware and viruses, according to a report by FaceTime Communications. While email is the most common use of work time for personal purposes – 97 percent of surveyed users said they had checked personal e-mail – social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube trailed not far behind at 82 percent. Meanwhile, IT managers who saw an increase in social networking reported handling an average of 34 Internet-related attacks per month, taking an average 22 hours to fix and costing up to US$50,000. Workplaces that had no increased usage in the same six-month period had only 22 or 23 incidents per month, taking roughly half the time and cost to fix. (Dark Reading)

Twitter, GPS useful for terrorists

Mobile phone GPS, voice over IP, and Twitter are emerging as viable communication aids for terrorists, according to a US Army report. “Twitter is already being used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives,” said the report, issued by the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion and posted on the Federation of American Scientists Web site. The report provided some examples of how Twitter has helped organizations, including protestors at  the Republican National Convention in September, who used the service to organize their activities and evade police.  It also theorized that terrorists could use Twitter to organize cell movement and aid in remote bomb detonation. (The New York Times)

Microsoft joins the cloud with Azure

Microsoft unveiled Windows Azure, a cloud computing platform that is intended to let developers build and host programs on its infrastructure, at its Professional Developers Conference on Monday. Developers can build applications using .NET and Visual Studio, but Microsoft also made Azure compatible with other languages such as Eclipse, Ruby, PHP, and Python. According to Computerworld, Azure has a Fabric Controller tool that manages the content in its data centers, enabling applications to be updated automatically and eliminating the need for application updates on every PC. “The Azure Services Platform, built from the ground up to be consistent with Microsoft’s commitment to openness and interoperability, promises to transform the way businesses operate and how consumers access their information and experience the Web,” said Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie, who introduce Azure at the conference. (Computerworld)

Nucleus key for quantum data storage

In an important breakthrough for quantum computing, an international team of scientists overcame a major obstacle by storing information in the nucleus of an atom for more than a second. That length of time is enough for scientists to use error-correction techniques to protect the data even longer, possibly years, paving the way for the creation of a working quantum computer. The findings were published in Nature. According to lead author John Morton of St. John’s College, Oxford, the team used pure silicon crystals and devised a way to transfer qubits (the quantum form of bits) from electrons to nuclei. The spinning electrons are useful for manipulating data, but become corrupted if they store data too long. That’s where the nucleus comes in. “The electron acts as a middle-man between the nucleus and the outside world. It gives us a way to have our cake and eat it – fast processing speeds from the electron, and long memory times from the nucleus,” Morton said. The information’s lifetime within the nucleus was about one and three-quarter seconds, thousands of times longer than previous studies. What’s more, Morton said the researchers could probably make that time longer, but were limited because their equipment wasn’t set up to handle longer times. Aiding the effort was a Princeton University team and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which developed the pure silicon necessary for the study. The breakthrough, however, may not be limited to silicon. Morton added that the team has already applied the technology to diamond-based quantum computing, and that it could be applicable in the various methods to build a quantum computer currently underway. “This is really a portable technology, as long as you’ve got two degrees of freedom,” Morton said. (EurekAlert, Berkeley Lab)

Linux distribution worth billions

The Linux Foundation estimated that the Linux kernel is worth about US$1.4 billion, basing its calculation on development time and lines of code, and that Fedora 9 would cost $10.8 million to build. That amount is a significant increase over the previous estimate that the study was based on – $1.2 billion for a typical Linux distribution, according to a 2002 report by computer scientist David Wheeler. The foundation used Wheeler’s Software Lines of Code program, SLOCCount, and included Fedora components such as the GNOME desktop environment and Firefox Web brower to make its analysis. (

Smaller, more powerful microprocessors possible

Taking another step in the application of Moore’s law, engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a way to improve optical lithography to create smaller and more powerful computer chips. The engineers used metal lenses to focus precise measurements of light, creating circuitry patterns 80 nanometers wide at up to 12 meters per second. “Utilizing this plasmonic nanolithography, we will be able to make current microprocessors more than 10 times smaller, but far more powerful,” said Xiang Zhang, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and head of the research team behind the development. “This technology could also lead to ultra-high density disks that can hold 10 to 100 times more data than disks today.” (UC Berkeley)

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