European Commission investigates Microsoft’s failure to meet interoperability standards

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency this week filed a complaint with the European Commission stating that Microsoft Office lacks interoperability with software used in schools, which poses significant barriers for learners, teachers and parents, Reuters reports. Under national law, software programs must meet the interoperability standards, but the agency contends that Microsoft only offers its own "open standard" rather than effective support for Open Document Format (ODF). Currently, the European Commission is assessing whether Microsoft has “exerted improper influence over the International Standards Organization to expand the number of standards from one to two, to include both ODF and Microsoft's own competing OOXML,” Reuters reports (Lawsky, Reuters, 5/13/08).

Google application enables Web sites to tap social network features

Google on Monday previewed a new application that will enable all Web sites to host common social networking features free of charge, the AFP reports. Google Friend Connect specifically enables Web site owners to add social-networking features such as registration, member galleries, message boards, and fun or useful "widgets" by simply incorporating snippets of free computer code. According to the AFP, visitors to sites using Friend Connect will be able to interact with their contacts from online communities such as Facebook, Google Talk, orkut, Plaxo or hi5. The AFP notes, meanwhile, that Google unveiled plans for its Friend Connect just days after MySpace and Facebook announced plans to let members share profile information at other Web sites (Chapman, AFP/Yahoo! News, 5/12/08).

UN agency, HP develop pan-Africa IT training program

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization in partnership with Hewlett-Packard has developed a program to promote entrepreneurial and information technology (IT) skills among young Africans, IDG News Service reports. Initially launching in six African countries including Nigeria, Egypt, Uganda and South Africa before rolling out continent-wide, the Graduate Entrepreneurship Training through IT (GET-IT) program aims to train unemployed youth and graduates in IT skills, ultimately enabling them to run their own businesses, according to the U.N. Although GET-IT is not the first pan-African IT training initiative, it will focus on teaching “much-needed practical solutions for business in finance, management, marketing and technology management” and will help defray training costs for participants, IDG reports (Malakata, IDG News Service/CIO, 3/14/08).

DataPortability Project gains major tech supporters

Some of the largest tech companies, including Microsoft and Google, have recently joined the DataPortability Project, which is a grass-roots advocacy group working toward best practices in boosting data sharing among Internet services, the Wall Street Journal reports. One of the project's founders, Chris Saad, discussed the project’s goals for the story. First, he defined data portability as the ability of users to "choose to share some of their data between the services and being able to do so with peace of mind, security and safety." He noted that the group is working toward making data portability to be “as easy to use as Wi-Fi,” adding that it increases the value of and makes it easier to use multiple services on the Net. Commenting on the support of major tech companies, Saad said “they have endorsed the project as the place to come up with the best practices. But they have not yet actually committed to implementing anything.” Finally, Saad notes that the project currently is focusing on social data because of its high profile, but may later address other types of data (Gomes, Wall Street Journal, 5/13/08).

Worldwide computer grid tapped for ‘super-rice’ development research

A team of researchers at the University of Washington (UW) are putting a genomics project on the World Community Grid in the computational search for strains of rice that have traits like higher yields, disease resistance and a wider range of nutrients, the New York Times reports. Using the World Community Grid, researchers will run a UW-developed three-dimensional modeling program to study the structures of the proteins that make up the building blocks of rice. Launched in 2004, the World Community Grid affords selected humanitarian scientific projects access to immense computing resources by tapping the unused computing cycles of roughly one million computers worldwide. Specifically, the Grid places a small piece of software on an individual’s PC that ultimately combines all participants’ unused computing cycles to create a virtual supercomputer. For this project, the one- to two-year computing process will speed the study of 30,000 to 60,000 protein structures and the selection of rice strains to breed. However, the Times reports that “the super-hybrids must still be developed in greenhouses in places like the famed International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.” The lead researcher adds that, “in the end, it’s still all breeding, but what we’re doing should make it more targeted and productive” (Lohr, New York Times, 5/14/08).

Google taps face detection technology to address Street View privacy concerns

Google is piloting face-blurring technology for its Street View service in response to privacy issues raised concerning the program’s “all-seeing” digital camera eye, CNet News Blog reports. Specifically, the Street View application enables users to view dozens of U.S. cities from a driver's perspective. The latest face detection technology uses a computer algorithm to scour Google's image database for faces and then blurs them, according to officials. Announced on the company’s LatLong blog, Google has launched the technology in Manhattan, though officials expect it to soon roll out more broadly. After years of development, CNet notes that face detection is “finally arriving in basic form in real-world applications,” such as in digital cameras that “use it to track and properly expose subjects or take a picture only when subjects are smiling” (Shankland, CNet News Blog, 5/13/08).

Proliferation of ‘widgets’ may lead software developers to shift focus

Government Computer News on Monday reported that the software industry is experiencing “a sea change” as more casual users develop small, disposable applications called “widgets.” Commenting on this sea change, Todd Fast, a chief Java architect at Sun Microsystems, said that software engineers may begin spending less time writing end-user applications and enhance efforts to build platforms that less experienced or even nonprogrammers can use to create their own widgets. According to GCN, “he noted the marked contrast between the styles of development: Enterprise software developments tend to be highly organized, relying on complicated integrated developer environments, formal code review, versioning control software and well-thought-out architectures,” but widgets are more often “built off-the-cuff using scripting languages such as JavaScript and PHP with graphical user interfaces supplied by companies like Yahoo and Google” and relying on Web-based platforms such as the Facebook, Wiki software and others. Ultimately, Fast postulates that, in the future, seasoned engineers may focus their efforts on building more effective platforms for nonprogrammers (Jackson, GCN, 5/12/08).

New online social network targets ‘hackers’

Hackers now have their own high-profile "ethical hacking" social network, reports. Backed by GnuCitizen, the network, called House of Hackers, has enrolled more than 1,000 members since its recent launch, according to the site. Officials note that the network is built on Ning, which enables users to establish ad-hoc social networks and create customized add-ons using the Google-backed Open Social API. According to Techworld, GnuCitizen created the network to promote collaboration among security researchers, dubbed as “hackers” in the complementary sense, the site's founders says. He adds that “the network is designed to enable its members to exchange ideas with each other, communicate, form groups, elite circles and tiger/red teams, conglomerate around projects and participate in a hacker recruitment market.” Officials also note that group creation tool on the network may be useful for setting up ad-hoc penetration testing teams, adding that organizers could use the site's events features to test out planned events (Broersma, World, 5/12/08).

NASA, JAXA to conduct sonic boom research

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to partner with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for research on sonic boom modeling, United Press International reports. According to NASA, sonic boom modeling is necessary to help the next generation of supersonic aircraft fly over land quietly enough to avoid significantly disturbing the public. NASA adds that such a vehicle would be able to travel from Los Angeles to Tokyo in roughly two hours, flying at twice the speed of sound or nearly 1,540 miles per hour. Moreover, the two agencies also plan to “explore the possibility of further collaboration in aeronautics research and development, including the field of supersonic transport technology and possibly including JAXA's Silent Supersonic Technology Demonstration Project,” according to UPI (UPI, 5/12/08).

UK nanotechnology research aims to boost low-energy LEDs

A nano-electronics researcher in the University of Glasgow is leading a project to make the very energy-efficient LEDs give off more light, The Guardian reports. According to The Guardian, 70 percent of its energy is converted to light, but just 20 percent of that light escapes because a high refractive index at the LED-air interface causes the light to reflect directly back inside. The research team, however, has found that more light can be extracted by making a series of holes on the surface of the LED. Once the lead researcher can scale up his hole-making process, bright low-energy LED light bulbs for the home will likely hit the market. This BERR (DTI)-funded technology project is being conducted with the Institute of Photonics, University of Strathclyde, Mesophotonics Ltd, and Sharp Laboratories of Europe. The article goes on to explain the size of the minute holes, the process by which they yield more light, and the various implications for the home and electronics (Pollitt, The Guardian, 5/8/08).

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