Patents

Bank of America Tops IBM, Payments Firms With Most Blockchain Patents (bloomberg.com) 38

Bank of America may not be willing to help customers invest in Bitcoin, but that doesn't mean it isn't plowing into the technology underlying the cryptocurrency. From a report: The Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender has applied for or received at least 43 patents for blockchain, the ledger technology used for verifying and recording transactions that's at the heart of virtual currencies. It is the largest number among major banks and technology companies, according to a study by EnvisionIP, a New York-based law firm that specializes in analyses of intellectual property. "Based on what's publicly out there, the technology sector hasn't embraced blockchain as much as the financial-services industry," Maulin Shah, managing attorney for EnvisionIP, said in an interview. International Business Machines Corp., which has targeted blockchain and artificial intelligence for future growth, tied with Mastercard Inc. for second on the list, with 27 each.
Network

Lenovo Discovers and Removes Backdoor In Networking Switches (bleepingcomputer.com) 42

An anonymous reader writes: Lenovo engineers have discovered a backdoor in the firmware of RackSwitch and BladeCenter networking switches. The company released firmware updates last week. The Chinese company said it found the backdoor after an internal security audit of firmware for products added to its portfolio following the acquisitions of other companies. Lenovo says the backdoor affects only RackSwitch and BladeCenter switches running ENOS (Enterprise Network Operating System).

The backdoor was added to ENOS in 2004 when ENOS was maintained by Nortel's Blade Server Switch Business Unit (BSSBU). Lenovo claims Nortel appears to have authorized the addition of the backdoor "at the request of a BSSBU OEM customer." In a security advisory regarding this issue, Lenovo refers to the backdoor under the name of "HP backdoor." The backdoor code appears to have remained in the firmware even after Nortel spun BSSBU off in 2006 as BLADE Network Technologies (BNT). The backdoor also remained in the code even after IBM acquired BNT in 2010. Lenovo bought IBM's BNT portfolio in 2014.

Businesses

Circuit City Is Coming Back (arstechnica.com) 84

Following a tease of a CES announcement, current Circuit City CEO Ronny Shmoel confirmed on Monday that something called Circuit City will arrive as "a new, more personalized online shopping experience" starting February 15. The announcement even included promises of AI-driven recommendations fueled by IBM's Watson platform, plus unexplained "augmented reality" and "search by photo" features. Ars Technica reports: Curiously, Shmoel also promised "real-time tech support via video chat," but it's unclear whether this feature will include two-way video feeds -- and, thus, whether Circuit City is prepared for a deluge of Chatroulette-caliber video surprises from trolls. This online Circuit City rebirth may very well actually come to exist, as Shmoel claims that the company has put together a fully fledged inventory and distribution system, with a mix of known electronics brand names and "tier-two and tier-three" names (Shamsung? Panafauxnoic?). The same cannot be said for its CES tease of eventual brick-and-mortar showrooms in the neighborhood of 8,000-10,000 square feet, however. Shmoel already backtracked on similar showroom promises in 2016, and his CES pronouncement of future shops included no hard confirmations of locations or dates. But for anybody who dares to dream, Circuit City's showroom design partner, Taylored Group, released a concept render of its store vision which looks like a Radio Shack as if rendered in a Taiwanese hot-take news video.
Linux

Can You Install Linux On a 1993 PC? (yeokhengmeng.com) 252

The oldest x86 CPU that the Linux kernel supports today is theoretically the 486. However is this theory actually true in practice? I decided to put this theory to the test in my project.
His site describes installing Gentoo Linux on an "ancient" IBM PS/1 Consultant 2133 19C (released in 1993), with 64MB SIMM-72 RAM. (Though to speed things up, he compiled that minimal version of Gentoo on a modern Thinkpad T430 released in 2012.) "Due to the age of the PC, the BIOS only supports booting from the floppy drive or internal HDD," so there was also some disk partitioning and kernel configuration. ("Must disable 64-bit kernel for obvious reasons!") A half-hour video shows that it takes almost 11 minutes just to boot up -- and five and a half minutes to shut down. "Despite the many roadblocks I faced, I was impressed by the level of support Linux has for ancient hardware like this."

And there's one more added bonus. "Given the age of the 486 (1989 technology), it does not support branch prediction... Ironically this makes it safe from the Meltdown and Spectre attacks."
Intel

Can We Replace Intel x86 With an Open Source Chip? (zdnet.com) 357

An anonymous reader quotes, Jason Perlow, the senior technology editor at ZDNet: Perhaps the Meltdown and Spectre bugs are the impetus for making long-overdue changes to the core DNA of the semiconductor industry and how chip architectures are designed... Linux (and other related FOSS tech that forms the overall stack) is now a mainstream operating system that forms the basis of public cloud infrastructure and the foundational software technology in mobile and Internet of Things (IoT)... We need to develop a modern equivalent of an OpenSPARC that any processor foundry can build upon without licensing of IP, in order to drive down the costs of building microprocessors at immense scale for the cloud, for mobile and the IoT. It makes the $200 smartphone as well as hyperscale datacenter lifecycle management that much more viable and cost-effective.

Just as Linux and open source transformed how we view operating systems and application software, we need the equivalent for microprocessors in order to move out of the private datacenter rife with these legacy issues and into the green field of the cloud... The fact that we have these software technologies that now enable us to easily abstract from the chip hardware enables us to correct and improve the chips through community efforts as needs arise... We need to stop thinking about microprocessor systems' architectures as these licensed things that are developed in secrecy by mega-companies like Intel or AMD or even ARM... The reality is that we now need to create something new, free from any legacy entities and baggage that has been driving the industry and dragging it down the past 40 years. Just as was done with Linux.

The bigger question is which chip should take its place. "I don't see ARM donating its IP to this effort, and I think OpenSPARC may not be it either. Perhaps IBM OpenPOWER? It would certainly be a nice gesture of Big Blue to open their specification up further without any additional licensing, and it would help to maintain and establish the company's relevancy in the cloud going forward.

"RISC-V, which is being developed by UC Berkeley, is completely Open Source."
IBM

Blockchain Brings Business Boom To IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft (fortune.com) 94

An anonymous reader quotes Fortune's new report on blockchain: Demand for the technology, best known for supporting bitcoin, is growing so much that it will be one of the largest users of capacity next year at about 60 data centers that IBM rents out to other companies around the globe. IBM was one of the first big companies to see blockchain's promise, contributing code to an open-source effort and encouraging startups to try the technology on its cloud for free. That a 106-year-old company like IBM is going all in on blockchain shows just how far the digital ledger has come since its early days underpinning bitcoin drug deals on the dark web. The market for blockchain-related products and services will reach $7.7 billion in 2022, up from $242 million last year, according to researcher Markets & Markets.

That's creating new opportunities for some of the old warships of the technology world, companies like IBM and Microsoft Corp. that are making the transition to cloud services. And products that had gone out of vogue, such as databases sold by Oracle Corp., are becoming sexy again... In October, Oracle announced the formation of Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service, which helps customers extend existing applications like enterprise-resource management systems. A month earlier, rival SAP SE said clients in industries like manufacturing and supply chain were testing its cloud service. And on Nov. 20, Microsoft expanded its partnership with consortium R3 to make it easier for financial institutions to deploy blockchains in its Azure cloud. Big Blue, meanwhile, has been one of key companies behind the Hyperledger consortium, a nonprofit open-source project that aims to create efficient standards for commercial use of blockchain technology.

A Juniper Research survey found six in 10 larger corporations are considering blockchain, according to the article, which adds that blockchain "is increasingly being tested or used by companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Visa Inc. to streamline supply chain, speed up payments and store records."

And because of blockchain's popularity, the CEO of WinterGreen Research predicts that 55% of large companies with over 1,000 employees will use the cloud rather than their own data centers within five years -- up from 17% today.
Space

Can We Get Global Broadband From Low-Earth Orbit Satellites? (blogspot.com) 134

"The internet is unavailable to and/or unaffordable by about 50% of the world population," writes Larry Press (formerly of IBM), who's now an information systems professor at California State University. But he's also long-time Slashdot reader lpress, and reports on new efforts to bring cheap high-speed internet to the entire world. SpaceX, Boeing, OneWeb, Telesat, and Leosat are investing in very large projects to deliver global, high-speed Internet service [using low-earth orbit satellites]. This could be a significant option for developing nations, rural areas of developed nations, long-haul links, Internet of things, and more by the mid-2020s.
Parts of Alaska could see internet-via-satellite as soon as 2020, according to Larry's article, which adds that the technology could even be used to bring high-speed internet access to ships at sea.
Red Hat Software

Understanding the New Red Hat-IBM-Google-Facebook GPL Enforcement Announcement (perens.com) 96

Bruce Perens co-founded the Open Source Initiative with Eric Raymond -- and he's also Slashdot reader #3872. Bruce Perens writes: Red Hat, IBM, Google, and Facebook announced that they would give infringers of their GPL software up to a 30-day hold-off period during which an accused infringer could cure a GPL violation after one was brought to their attention by the copyright holder, and a 60 day "statute of limitations" on an already-cured infringement when the copyright holder has never notified the infringer of the violation. In both cases, there would be no penalty: no damages, no fees, probably no lawsuit; for the infringer who promptly cures their infringement.
Perens sees the move as "obviously inspired" by the kernel team's earlier announcement, and believes it's directed against one man who made 50 copyright infringement claims involving the Linux kernel "with intent to collect income rather than simply obtain compliance with the GPL license."

Unfortunately, "as far as I can tell, it's Patrick McHardy's legal right to bring such claims regarding the copyrights which he owns, even if it doesn't fit Community Principles which nobody is actually compelled to follow."
Facebook

'Break Up Google and Facebook If You Ever Want Innovation Again' (theregister.co.uk) 268

Hal_Porter shares a report from The Register: If the tech industry wants another wave of innovation to match the PC or the internet, Google and Facebook must be broken up, journalist and film producer Jonathan Taplin told an audience at University College London's Faculty of Law this week. He was speaking at an event titled Crisis in Copyright Policy: How the digital monopolies have cornered culture and what it means for all of us, where he credited the clampers put on Bell then IBM for helping to create the PC industry and the internet. Taplin told his audience that he'd been moved by the fate of his friend Levon Helm, The Band's drummer, who was forced to go back on the road in his sixties, after radiation therapy for cancer. Helm died broke. Today, Taplin points out, YouTube accounts for 57 per cent of all songs streamed over the internet, but thanks to a loophole returns just 13.5 per cent of revenue. "That's not a willing buyer-seller relationship," he said, referring to the UGC loophole that Google enjoys, one not available to Spotify or Apple Music. But it isn't just songwriters and musicians who are poorly paid. The average person "works for two hours a day for Mark Zuckerberg" generating a data profile. Taplin pointed out that Bell held patents on many technologies including the transistor, the laser and the solar cell, that it agreed to license, royalty free, as part of a 1956 consent decree.

Taplin saw history repeated with IBM. Under the 1956 (again) consent decree IBM was obliged to unbundle software from hardware in the 1960s. But competition authorities again opened up an investigation in 1969 which ran for 13 years. Caution made IBM ensure its first microcomputer, the IBM PC, launched in 1981, was an open platform. IBM chose three operating systems to run on the first PC but clearly favoured an outsider, from a tiny Seattle outfit originally called "Micro-Soft." Then Microsoft got the treatment. "Every 20 years we have this fight -- and we're about to have it again," Taplin told the audience. Antitrust was necessary "not because they're too big, but because there's no market solution" to Google and Facebook. The barriers to entry are now so high nobody is going bust open the ad duopoly. Taplin cited Snapchat an example of a company that tried to innovate, but refused to take Facebook's buyout offer. Facebook has simply copied its features.

IBM

Tech Companies Try Apprenticeships To Fill The Tech Skills Gap (thehill.com) 123

Slashdot reader jonyen writes: For generations, apprenticeships have been the way of working life; master craftsmen taking apprentices under their wing, teaching them the tools of the trade. This declined during the Industrial Revolution as the advent of the assembly line enabled mass employment for unskilled laborers. The master-apprentice model went further out of focus as higher education and formal training became increasingly more valuable.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where employers are turning back the page to apprenticeships in an effort to fill a growing skills gap in the labor force in the digital age. Code.org estimates there will be a million unfulfilled tech jobs by 2020.

jonyen shared this article by IBM's Vice President of Talent:IBM is committed to addressing this shortage and recently launched an apprenticeship program registered with the US Department of Labor, with a plan to have 100 apprentices in 2018. ... Other firms have taken up the apprenticeship challenge as well. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, for example, has called for creating 5 million American apprentices in the next five years.

An apprenticeship offers the chance for Americans to get the formal education they need, whether through a traditional university, a community college or a trade school, while getting something else: On-the-job experience and an income... Right now, there are more than 6 million jobs in the U.S. that are going unfilled because employers can't find candidates with the right skills, according to the Labor Department.

IBM says their apprentices "are on their way to becoming software developers in our Cloud business and mainframe administrators for technologies like Blockchain, and we will add new apprenticeships in data analytics and cybersecurity as we replicate the program across the U.S."

"Ninety-one percent of apprentices in the U.S. find employment after completing their program, and their average starting wage is above $60,000."
China

All 500 of the World's Top 500 Supercomputers Are Running Linux (zdnet.com) 288

Freshly Exhumed shares a report from ZDnet: Linux rules supercomputing. This day has been coming since 1998, when Linux first appeared on the TOP500 Supercomputer list. Today, it finally happened: All 500 of the world's fastest supercomputers are running Linux. The last two non-Linux systems, a pair of Chinese IBM POWER computers running AIX, dropped off the November 2017 TOP500 Supercomputer list. When the first TOP500 supercomputer list was compiled in June 1993, Linux was barely more than a toy. It hadn't even adopted Tux as its mascot yet. It didn't take long for Linux to start its march on supercomputing.

From when it first appeared on the TOP500 in 1998, Linux was on its way to the top. Before Linux took the lead, Unix was supercomputing's top operating system. Since 2003, the TOP500 was on its way to Linux domination. By 2004, Linux had taken the lead for good. This happened for two reasons: First, since most of the world's top supercomputers are research machines built for specialized tasks, each machine is a standalone project with unique characteristics and optimization requirements. To save costs, no one wants to develop a custom operating system for each of these systems. With Linux, however, research teams can easily modify and optimize Linux's open-source code to their one-off designs.
The semiannual TOP500 Supercomputer List was released yesterday. It also shows that China now claims 202 systems within the TOP500, while the United States claims 143 systems.
IBM

IBM Raises the Bar with a 50-Qubit Quantum Computer (technologyreview.com) 69

IBM said on Friday it has created a prototype 50 qubit quantum computer as it further increases the pressure on Google in the battle to commercialize quantum computing technology. The company is also making a 20-qubit system available through its cloud computing platform, it said. From a report: The announcement does not mean quantum computing is ready for common use. The system IBM has developed is still extremely finicky and challenging to use, as are those being built by others. In both the 50- and the 20-qubit systems, the quantum state is preserved for 90 microseconds -- a record for the industry, but still an extremely short period of time. Nonetheless, 50 qubits is a significant landmark in progress toward practical quantum computers. Other systems built so far have had limited capabilities and could perform only calculations that could also be done on a conventional supercomputer. A 50-qubit machine can do things that are extremely difficult to simulate without quantum technology. Whereas normal computers store information as either a 1 or a 0, quantum computers exploit two phenomena -- entanglement and superposition -- to process information differently.
Businesses

IBM's Quest To Design The 'New Helvetica' (fastcodesign.com) 172

IBM released its new bespoke typeface IBM Plex in beta this week. The company is hoping that the new typeface would become just as iconic as Helvetica in the years to come. From a Fast Co Design story: "When I came to IBM, it was a big discussion: Why does IBM not have a bespoke typeface? Why are we still clinging on to Helvetica?" Mike Abbink, the typeface's designer and IBM's executive creative director of brand experience and design said. To uncover what the typeface should express, Abbink and his team took a deep dive into IBM's archives. They were especially interested in the company's history in the postwar years, when its design-led business strategy first took shape and the legendary practitioner Paul Rand, who defined design as a system of relationships, created its famous eight-bar logo. In Rand's logo, Abbink and his team saw a contrast between hard edges -- the engineered, rational, and mechanical -- and curves -- the softer more humanistic elements. It's a reflection of the man-and-machine relationship that runs through the company's history -- a dynamic that is reflected in the final form of IBM Plex. The Plex family includes a sans serif, serif, and monospace versions. The designers also created a rigorous style guide that's akin to a digital standards manual and includes a type scale, which plays into responsive displays; eight different weights (a nod to how the IBM logo is composed of eight horizontally stacked bars); and usage guidelines, which dive into everything from information hierarchies to color and ragging. All together, it's easy to see Plex as a gentler, friendlier, more casual Helvetica for a broad range of uses both digital and print-based.
The Courts

Appeals Court Rules: SCO v. IBM Case Can Continue (arstechnica.com) 131

Long-time Slashdot reader Freshly Exhumed quotes Ars Technica: A federal appeals court has now partially ruled in favor of the SCO Group, breathing new life into a lawsuit and a company (now bankrupt and nearly dead) that has been suing IBM for nearly 15 years.

Last year, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer had ruled against SCO (whose original name was Santa Cruz Operation) in two summary judgment orders, and the court refused to allow SCO to amend its initial complaint against IBM. SCO soon appealed. On Monday, the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals found that SCO's claims of misappropriation could go forward while also upholding Judge Nuffer's other two orders.

Here's Slashdot's first story about the trial more than 14 years ago, and a nice timeline from 2012 of the next nine years of legal drama.
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: Why Do We Still Commute? (citylab.com) 422

An anonymous reader writes: Over the last year, many companies have ended their liberal work-from-home policies. Firms like IBM, Honeywell, and Aetna joined a long list of others that have deemed it more profitable to force employees to commute to the city and work in a central office than give them the flexibility to work where they want. It wasn't supposed to be this way. In 1975, when personal computers were little more than glorified calculators for geeks and the Internet was an obscure project being developed by the United States government, Macrae, an influential journalist for The Economist who earned a reputation for clairvoyant prophesies -- including the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Japan -- made a radical prediction about how information technology would soon transform our lives. Macrae foretold the exact path and timeline that computers would take over the business world and then become a fixture of every American home. But he didn't stop there. The spread of this machine, he argued, would fundamentally change the economics of how most of us work. Once workers could communicate with their colleagues through instant messages and video chat, he reasoned, there would be little coherent purpose to trudge long distances to work side by side in centrally located office spaces.
AI

Tech Companies Pledge To Use Artificial Intelligence Responsibly (axios.com) 85

An anonymous reader shares a report: The Information Technology Industry Council -- a DC-based group representing the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple -- is today releasing principles for developing ethical artificial intelligence systems. Why it matters: The tech industry is trying to get ahead of growing anxieties about the societal impact of AI technologies, and this is an acknowledgement on companies' part that their data-hungry products are causing sweeping changes in the way we work and live. The companies hope that pledging to handle this power responsibly will win points with critics in Washington, and that showing they can police themselves will help stave off government regulation on this front. The principles include: Ensure the responsible design and deployment of AI systems, including taking "steps to avoid the reasonably predictable misuse of this technology by committing to ethics by design." Promote the responsible use of data and test for potentially harmful bias in the deployment of AI systems. Commit to mitigating bias, inequity and other potential harms in automated decision-making systems. Commit to finding a "reasonable accountability framework" to address concerns about liability issues created when autonomous decision-making replaces decisions made by humans.
Businesses

Tech Companies To Lobby For Immigrant 'Dreamers' To Remain In US (reuters.com) 296

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: Nearly two dozen major companies in technology and other industries are planning to launch a coalition to demand legislation that would allow young, illegal immigrants a path to permanent residency, according to documents seen by Reuters. The Coalition for the American Dream intends to ask Congress to pass bipartisan legislation this year that would allow these immigrants, often referred to as "Dreamers," to continue working in the United States, the documents said. Alphabet Inc's Google, Microsoft Corp, Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc, Intel Corp, Uber Technologies Inc, IBM Corp, Marriott International Inc and other top U.S. companies are listed as members, one of the documents shows. The push for this legislation comes after President Donald Trump's September decision to allow the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to expire in March. That program, established by former President Barack Obama in 2012, allows approximately 900,000 illegal immigrants to obtain work permits. Some 800 companies signed a letter to Congressional leaders after Trump's decision, calling for legislation protecting Dreamers. That effort was spearheaded by a pro-immigration reform group Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg co-founded in 2013 called FWD.us.
Businesses

The Real Inside Story of How Commodore Failed (youtube.com) 261

dryriver writes: Everybody who was into computers in the 1980s and 1990s remembers Commodore producing amazingly innovative, capable and popular multimedia and gaming computers one moment, and disappearing off the face of the earth the next, leaving only PCs and Macs standing. Much has been written about what went wrong with Commodore over the years, but always by outsiders looking in -- journalists, tech writers, not people who were on the inside. In a 34 minute long Youtube interview that surfaced on October 9th, former Commodore UK Managing Director David John Pleasance and Trevor Dickinson of A-EON Technology talk very frankly about how Commodore really failed, and just how crazy bad and preventable the business and tech decisions that killed Commodore were, from firing all Amiga engineers for no discernible reason, to hiring 40 IBM engineers who didn't understand multimedia computing, to not licensing the then-valuable Commodore Business Machines (CBM) brand to PC makers to generate an extra revenue stream, to one new manager suddenly deciding to manufacture in the Philippines -- a place where the man had a lady mistress apparently. The interview is a truly eye-opening preview of an upcoming book David John Pleasance is writing called Commodore: The Inside Story . The book will, for the first time, chronicle the fall of Commodore from the insider perspective of an actual Commodore Managing Director.
IBM

How Does Microsoft Avoid Being the Next IBM? (arstechnica.com) 223

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: For fans of the platform, the official confirmation that Windows on phones isn't under active development any longer -- security bugs will be fixed, but new features and new hardware aren't on the cards -- isn't a big surprise. This is merely a sad acknowledgement of what we already knew. Last week, Microsoft also announced that it was getting out of the music business, signaling another small retreat from the consumer space. It's tempting to shrug and dismiss each of these instances, pointing to Microsoft's continued enterprise strength as evidence that the company's position remains strong. And certainly, sticking to the enterprise space is a thing that Microsoft could do. Become the next IBM: a stable, dull, multibillion dollar business. But IBM probably doesn't want to be IBM right now -- it has had five straight years of falling revenue amid declining relevance of its legacy businesses -- and Microsoft probably shouldn't want to be the next IBM, either. Today, Microsoft is facing similar pressures -- Windows, though still critical, isn't as essential to people's lives as it was a decade ago -- and risks a similar fate. Dropping consumer ambitions and retreating to the enterprise is a mistake. Microsoft's failure in smartphones is bad for Windows, and it's bad for Microsoft's position in the enterprise as a whole.

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