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Home Network Insecurity

Is your home wireless network secure? On a drive about town, I noticed that about one fifth of home routers are completely open and perhaps half are under-secured.

Used to be, this was because home users didn't know how to configure their routers. But now, Comcast is turning home networks into public hotspots unless customers -- few of whom even know about this -- specifically opt out. This article discusses the problems with this.

U.S. courts may hold you responsible if someone uses your wireless network -- without your knowledge or permission -- to illegally download music, movies, or software. People have even been raided by SWAT teams and convicted for downloading child pornography.

Is Comcast's project a bold move towards free wi-fi everywhere? Or is it a security outrage?

Meanwhile, here's a simple tutorial on how to secure your home wireless network.

Xfce 4.10: Simple, Fast, Reliable

Over the past several years, mobile devices have greatly influenced user interfaces. That's great for handheld users but leaves those of us who rely on laptops and desktops in the lurch. Windows 8, Ubuntu Unity, and GNOME have all radically changed in ways that leave personal computer users scratching their heads.

One user interface completely avoided this controversy: Xfce. This review takes a quick look at Xfce today. Who is this product for? Who should pass it by?

My Trip to GNOME: a 3.10 Review

Remember back when GNOME and KDE dominated Linux desktops? Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? Yet it was only three years ago, in April 2011, that GNOME 3 was released. Its radically redesigned interface shook up everyone. Some eagerly adopted it. Others left GNOME.

In this brief review I take a fresh look at GNOME today, as it's currently distributed in several popular Linux distributions.

Inside the Fall of Blackberry

So how did Blackberry become a bit player in the smartphone market it invented? Canada's Globe and Mail offers an extensive look in their article Inside the Fall of Blackberry.

According to one insider quoted in the article, the problem wasn't that the staff stopped listening to customers. It was that they never listened to them. The company simply believed that they knew better what their customers needed.

Apple has wildly succeeded by being "out front" of expressed customer needs. But few tech companies hit paydirt when following this hubristic concept. Just look at the "innovative" user interfaces customers haven't asked for and have resisted over the past few years.

Betting on Whether Elop Will Be Microsoft’s Next CEO

PC Magazine reports that bookies at the Ladbrokes betting service give 1:4 odds that Nokia CEO Stephen Elop will be the next Microsoft CEO. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg comes in second place with 7:1 odds against, while Steven Sinofsky, previously head of the Windows division, comes in third at 12:1 odds against.

Without intending any disrespect, I can't imagine a worse choice for the next CEO than Mr. Elop. His blind fealty to Windows at Nokia cost the stock an 85% drop on his watch. Microsoft needs new directions and new ideas, not another Windows loyalist.

BlackBerry on the Ropes

According to a Computerworld article, BlackBerry is exploring putting itself up for sale, as the company falls into 4th place in the mobile market. IDC statistics that show Android leads the mobile market with nearly 80%, iOS has 13.2%, Windows Phone 3.7%, and BlackBerry 2.9%. Gartner analyst Bill Menezes states that even new ownership is "not going to address how the company restores itself."

One key asset BlackBerry owns is QNX, the real-time based OS it bought in 2010. QNX is microkernel based, versus the monolithic kernel used by many OS's like Linux. BlackBerry bases its tablet and phone OS's on QNX, which also remains a popular commercial OS for embedded systems.

Microsoft Loses $900 Million on Surface Tablets and Doubles Down

Microsoft recently wrote off a $900 million loss on its ARM-based Surface tablets. But according to Computerworld, the company intends to double down on its bet in hardware devices. CEO Steve Ballmer says that "Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services... We will design, create and deliver through us and through third parties a complete family of Windows-powered devices." Look to Microsoft to produce more new hardware as it fights for market share in the handheld space. Ultimately Microsoft intends to develop a common code base across all devices -- from servers to desktops to handhelds -- that supports "write once, run anywhere."

Analyst Frank Gillett of Forrester Research says that Microsoft is fully committed to shifting away from its traditional emphasis on packaged software and into handheld devices and services (such as subscription software). He sees this as a fundamental reorientation, and says that "No matter what, it's a messy process."

What’s Happening with User Interfaces?

Like many of you, I've been watching the big changes in user interfaces over the past few years, trying to make sense of them all. Is there a common explanation for the controversies surrounding the Windows 8 UI and Unity? Where do GNOME 3, KDE, Cinnamon, and MATE fit in? This article offers one view.

One Man’s Exploration of Linux Distros

The Linuxed - Exploring Linux Distros website has over 170 reviews of distros and common Linux programs by Arindam Sen. What makes it special is that Mr. Sen puts his experiences together in useful charts, such as this one that compares RAM usage for twenty different GUI versions, or this one that compares CPU and RAM usage for 20 KDE distros (page down to see the chart). While the site says it's merely "A non-techie's view of the Linux world," many techies will find it useful as well.

Yahoo Acquiring Tumblr, Seeks Hulu

Yahoo is acquiring Tumblr, the microblogging and social networking website, for $1.1 billion USD. Tumblr offers little revenue but lots of eyeballs if Yahoo can monetarize them. Now Yahoo is bidding for Hulu, the streaming video service. After years of ineffective responses while Google, Facebook, and others took large chunks of the online advertising market, Yahoo is fighting back. Can Yahoo reignite the momentum it had at the turn of the century? What do you think?

The pleasures and perils of less popular distributions

Like many OSNews readers, I use Ubuntu. I also use several less popular distros. What is it like to use these lesser-known distros compared to the dominant systems? How does running, say, VectorLinux or Puppy or PC-BSD, differ from using Ubuntu or Fedora? This article offers a few ideas. Obviously, it broadly generalizes about distros for the purpose of discussion.

Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop Support Ends in April

Oh no! Automatic updates for Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop stop in April (updates for 10.04 Server continue for two more years). Desktop users need to consider whether they'll upgrade to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, which will receive updates for both Desktop and Server through 2017. This handy chart diagrams the situation. You can directly upgrade 10.04 (and 11.10) to 12.04, as explained here. Canonical's policy is that you get at least 18 months of updates for both Desktop and Server, and -- starting with 12.04 LTS -- 5 years of support for both desktop and server for LTS (Long Term Support) editions.

Lack of Competition Holds Back U.S. Broadband

In the past, OS News has discussed how U.S. broadband access lags many other countries in terms of cost, speed, and availability. Now, this detailed report from the New America Foundation tells why. It all comes down to a lack of competition among the carriers, which can be traced back to the days when cable companies were granted local monopolies. The report argues that "...data caps... are hardly a necessity. Rather, they are motivated by a desire to further increase revenues from existing subscribers and protect legacy services such as cable television from competing Internet services." The report's conclusion: don't expect improvements without legislative action.

Ubuntu abandons search privacy

Proprietary software like Windows often includes surveillance code to track user behavior and send this information to vendor servers. Linux has traditionally been immune to such privacy violation. Ubuntu 12.10 now includes code that, by default, collects data on Dash searches. The code integrates Amazon products into search results and can even integrate with Facebook, Twitter, BBC and others as per Ubuntu's Third Party Privacy Policies. This article at the EFF tells how it all works and how to opt out of information sharing, while Richard Stallman himself comments here.

Quick Guide to Fixing Hardware

Last month, I explained why I use generic desktops and laptops running open source software. They're reliable and inexpensive. But this presumes you can fix them. I believe that even those with no hardware training (like me), can identify and fix most hardware problems. To prove it, here's a quick guide. Feel free to add whatever I've missed.

How to Circumvent UEFI Secure Boot

With computers now shipping with UEFI Secure Boot enabled, users of any OS other than Windows 8 will want to know how to circumvent it. Jesse Smith of DistroWatch tells how he did it here. The Linux Foundation describes its approach here. If you want to boot an OS other than Windows 8, you'll want to figure this out before you buy that new computer.

Windows XP Support: Under 500 Days Left

The clock is ticking for XP users, with Microsoft ending support with its final security update after 11 years on April 8, 2014. Netmarketshare's desktop browser statistics show 40% of users are still using XP, totalling about 500 million users (versus Windows 7 at 45% and Vista at 6%). Gartner and Forrester analysts predict that 10% to 20% of enterprise PCs will be running XP after April 2014. Options for companies include: speed up XP conversions, sign up for Microsoft's Custom Support Program for after-retirement support, and add a supported browser to XP to replace unsupported IE8.