Monday, December 20, 2010

Microsoft yanks Outlook 2007 update

Microsoft yanks Outlook 2007 update

Cites multiple problems, including connection and performance issues

By Gregg Keizer,

Microsoft last week pulled an update for Outlook 2007 issued just two days earlier, citing connection and performance problems for the unusual move.
The update was issued mid-day on Dec. 14 as part of the monthly Patch Tuesday. Within hours, users reported trouble with retrieving e-mail and major delays when switching folders.
"This latest update results in Outlook 2007 being very slow in changing folders and the archiving functionality appears to have been removed," said someone identified as "alspar" on a Microsoft support forum early Wednesday morning. "Is this an error or by design?"
Others said they couldn't send or receive e-mail, including Gmail messages, through Outlook after installing the update.
Ironically, Microsoft had billed the update, which didn't patch any security vulnerabilities, as one that contained "stability and performance improvements."
By Thursday, support forum moderators were telling users to uninstall the update.
Microsoft made that official late Friday in a post on the Outlook team's blog . "We have discovered several issues with the update and ... as of December 16, this Outlook 2007 update has been removed from Microsoft Update,"
According to Microsoft, the Tuesday update contained three flaws related to Secure Password Authentication (SPA), a Microsoft protocol used to authenticate mail clients like Outlook to a mail server; sluggish folder switching when Outlook wasn't configured to grab mail from an Exchange server; and a broken AutoArchive feature.
Microsoft urged users who had installed update during its three days of availability to remove it, and spelled out the necessary steps.
The company also issued a mea culpa.
"We apologize to our customers for not discovering these issues before releasing the update and for any inconvenience we have caused," the Outlook team wrote on its blog. "We failed to meet our own and our customers' expectation for quality with this update release. We are working to fix these issues and will post a release date for those fixes, and link to download them, as soon as that information is available."
Microsoft has yanked updates before. In April, it pulled a patch for Windows 2000 -- which at the time was still being supported -- over what it called "quality issues."
In early 2008, Microsoft retracted an update designed to prep Windows Vista for Service Pack 1 (SP1) after users flooded support forums with tales of endless reboots.
Microsoft has not set a timetable for releasing a re-patch for Outlook 2007.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Human brain has more switches than all computers on Earth


The human brain is truly awesome.
A typical, healthy one houses some 200 billion nerve cells, which are connected to one another via hundreds of trillions of synapses. Each synapse functions like a microprocessor, and tens of thousands of them can connect a single neuron to other nerve cells. In the cerebral cortex alone, there are roughly 125 trillion synapses, which is about how many stars fill 1,500 Milky Way galaxies.
This is a visual reconstruction from array-tomography data of synapses in the mouse somatosensory cortex, which is responsive to whisker stimulation.
(Credit: Stephen Smith/Stanford)
These synapses are, of course, so tiny (less than a thousandth of a millimeter in diameter) that humans haven't been able to see with great clarity what exactly they do and how, beyond knowing that their numbers vary over time. That is until now.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have spent the past few years engineering a new imaging model, which they call array tomography, in conjunction with novel computational software, to stitch together image slices into a three-dimensional image that can be rotated, penetrated and navigated. Their work appears in the journal Neuron this week.
To test their model, the team took tissue samples from a mouse whose brain had been bioengineered to make larger neurons in the cerebral cortex express a fluorescent protein (found in jellyfish), making them glow yellow-green. Because of this glow, the researchers were able to see synapses against the background of neurons.
They found that the brain's complexity is beyond anything they'd imagined, almost to the point of being beyond belief, says Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and senior author of the paper describing the study:
One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor--with both memory-storage and information-processing elements--than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.
Smith adds that this gives us a glimpse into brain tissue at a level of detail never before attained: "The entire anatomical context of the synapses is preserved. You know right where each one is, and what kind it is."
While the study was set up to demonstrate array tomography's potential in neuroscience (which is starting to resemble astronomy), the team was surprised to find that a class of synapses that have been considered identical to one another actually contain certain distinctions. They hope to use their imaging model to learn more about those distinctions, identifying which are gained or lost during learning, after experiences such as trauma, or in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's.
In the meantime, Smith and Micheva are starting a company that is gathering funding for future work, and Stanford's Office of Technology Licensing has obtained a U.S. patent on array tomography and filed for a second.
This four-minute video explores the pial (outer) surface of a mouse's cortex through all six layers and subcortical white matter to the adjoining striatum:



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Favorite cheap network tools

Favorite cheap network tools

Network World bloggers love to dish about their favorite free or low-cost network tools.

By Julie Bort


We asked our bloggers to give us a list of the free or nearly free network tools they love. They had tons of them, ranging from ways to track network device configurations to ways to keep data synched between multiple devices.
The list is more or less organized by the blogger who recommended them, although in some cases (Wireshark, iPerf) more than one blogger recommends the tool. We hope you find, and try, some goodies on the list.
Scott Hogg
Scott Hogg loves:


Really Awesome New Cisco confIg Differ RANCID
Not everyone can afford Solarwinds Orion Network Configuration Management (NCM) or CiscoWorks LAN Management Solution (LMS) to manage changes to their network device configurations. That is why Really Awesome New Cisco confIg Differ (RANCID) continues to be a favorite tool among network engineers. RANCID is easy to install and configure on a variety of operating systems. RANCID's real benefit to network administrators is its ability to back up network device configurations and help you investigate changes to your environment. Since most network issues are attributable to human error, it is valuable to have that historical record of what changed. Configuration management is one of the best practices that typically go by the wayside for organizations on a limited IT budget. Oftentimes the root cause of a problem can be easily found within that list of differences between yesterday'ss and today's configuration.
JMeter
You may also need to assess application performance because people tend to "blame it on the network." To validate that a problem is not within the network domain and assess application performance, a tool like JMeter comes in handy. JMeter is a simple Java application that can perform load tests on a wide variety of web-based applications, FTP, and other protocol traffic. It takes just a moment to download the package, unzip it into a directory, run the JMeter application and get started configuring your test. Just make sure you already have Java Runtime Environment (JRE) installed. There are a wide variety of tests and test options. The easiest way to get started is to first create a Thread Group and then apply your tests beneath that. Then you can run the test and look at the results/reports that you configured for your test. There are many tutorials and examples out there to help your learning curve. JMeter can be configured for multiple threads and can really generate a lot of traffic and help you determine how many connections per second your systems are capable of serving.
Dynamips, Dynagen, GNS3
Fewer of us have lab setups as extensive as Scott Morris's mega-lab. Indeed, many network administrators do not have access to a suitable lab at all. Their organizations are not financially capable of providing lab devices that are similar to those devices in the production network. However, it is often useful to configure a simple little scenario to validate an idea or to prototype a solution. Dynamips is a system that allows you to emulate Cisco IOS image files and run them in a configurable environment. You can use Dynagen 1.11.7 or Graphical Network Simulator (GNS3) 0.7.2 front-ends that utilize Dynamips' underlying capabilities to make it easy to configure a virtual lab of Cisco routers joined together. Once the lab devices and interconnections are defined within the text file, the lab can be started and you can console to your routers and commence the fun. Just be sure you are cognizant of the CPU and memory resource constraints of building a large lab environment and review the tutorial to set the idle-PC value. If you are studying for any Cisco certification that requires hands-on experience, then these free tools are invaluable.
VideoLANClient
Multicast can be one of the most elusive types of traffic to test and troubleshoot. Unlike Unicast traffic that is typically client/server in nature, multicast one-to-many traffic is more difficult to verify. With multicast you have to troubleshoot the IGMP communications, the multicast routing protocols, and the application traffic being forwarded. Multicast applications do not typically have good diagnostic capabilities so you need a simple multicast-capable source and receiver to test your end-to-end multicast reachability. VideoLANClient (VLC) is a great multicast client/server/media-player that can use an extremely wide array of stream sources and protocols. VLC can be set up as a multicast source on one end of your network and another node can run the exact same VLC version as a multicast receiver. VLC works with IGMPv2, IGMPv3, and MLDv1 and MLDv2 for IPv6 testing. VLC can stream multimedia files, DVDs, audio files, and many other media formats.
Backtrack 4
Backtrack contains most of the tools that security practitioners use for performing security assessments. Backtrack 4 organizes the tools into categories that relate to the security assessment methodology. Backtrack 4 contains many of my favorite tools: nmap, OpenVas, Paros Proxy, Burpsuite, W3AF, Metasploit Framework 2 & 3, Social Engineering Toolkit (SET), Ophcrack, XHydra, Netcat, SNORT, among numerous others.
Blogger Erik Parker also loves Backtrack. He writes:
  A Linux distribution that can be booted from a Live CD, USB Thumb Drive, or installed directly to your hard drive. While it specializes in providing a full suite of security tools and is geared toward penetration testers, forensic analysts, and others in the security industry, it can also provide considerable value for people who just need to do quick network-based testing or want to add a few of their own tools in an already versatile distribution. I personally use BackTrack when I need remote technicians to validate some basic wireless network behavior. They can boot it off of almost any laptop they have laying around and pull down a set of python scripts. It neatly packages up some data using the already-installed tools on the unit and reports it back to me. BackTrack also has popular security tools like Metasploit and Kismet pre-installed and ready to go.
See screenshots of all of Hogg's favorite tools for managing a network on a budget with this slideshow.
Scott Hogg writes the Core Networking and Security blog for the Cisco Subnet community
Erik Parker
Erik Parker loves:
Dropbox
A service and a software that allows you to store and view files among your computing devices (Android, iPhone, Mac, Windows, Linux) and is increasingly being used for applications to store small databases and files among multiple machines. When security isn't a concern or you have built-in encryption in whatever you are storing, Dropbox is an excellent service. It's also free if you keep your storage needs under 2 Gb.
WireShark
When you need to do packet analysis, there are very few things the open-source Wireshark cannot do for you. Previously known as Ethereal, it'd be difficult to find a network engineer that doesn't have it installed already, even on the same machine as the expensive commercial sniffer software.
IPerf, JPerf
An open-source client/daemon for doing maximum bandwidth tests. If you want to see how quickly you can move TCP or UDP traffic across the wire, this tool gives you the knobs you need and the engine to do it. It probably goes without saying, but some other "tools" that are hard to live without are Python, Linux, Firefox and Android OS.
Scott Hogg also loves iPerf -- and jPerf. He writes:
It is important to know that your network is able to operate at its peak potential. However, it can be difficult to artificially simulate a large amount of traffic to validate the throughput ceiling. It is helpful to have a tool in your bag that can help determine the end-to-end throughput of a link or traffic path. For years network experts have used IPerf as a CLI tool to perform TCP and UDP traffic analysis.
IPerf was originally written by a group at National Laboratory for Applied Network Research (NLANR), but it has now been updated by Google. Google has also put a Java GUI on the tool to make it just that much more usable. That latest version of JPerf 2.0.2 allows you to easily adjust the buffer/MSS/TCP window size, and navigate all the lesser-known IPerf CLI options. JPerf provides a nice chart of the performance, as opposed to the table-format of IPerf, and JPerf allows you to save pervious tests for quick recall and retesting. As a bonus this tool will also work with an IPv6-capable client and server.
Erik Parker writes the No Strings Attached blog for the Cisco Subnet community.
Wendell Odom
Wendell Odom loves:
Cisco Learning Network (CLN)
Although not a classic IT tool, this is the premier place to ask questions, get answers, and interact with other engineers about Cisco technology, particularly with technology included on Cisco certification exams. The most amazing thing is how many folks will reply to questions, both simple and complex, and give you some help. It's almost like folks are fighting for the chance to answer first!
Wendell Odom writes the Cisco Cert Zone blog for the Cisco Subnet community.
Susan Hanley
Susan Hanley loves:
Windows Live Sync, MobileMe
MobileMe is not free -- yet -- although there are rumors that it might be at some point. But when combined with the free Windows Live Sync, these two products allow me to have 2 laptops and a desktop that have calendars, contacts, and documents that stay in sync whether I'm online or off. MobileMe ($99/year) syncs my calendar and contacts on my two laptops, one desktop and iPhone. Windows Live Sync keeps my files synchronized on the two laptops and desktop PC. I've been using Windows Live Sync (previously FolderShare) for years and I couldn't live without it. On the downside, MobileMe has a lot of reliability issues (pretty much every time iTunes, iOS, or MobileMe software is updated, something breaks in the sync process and there is some manual tweaking required). With these two tools, it is possible for me to grab either my powerhouse or lightweight laptop when I'm traveling or going to a meeting and I always have my current calendar, contact list and documents.
Balsamiq 
This very low-cost wire-framing tool helps create great looking wireframes very easily. Mockups is a UI prototyping tool for developers, designers and project managers. It includes a series of user-friendly icons that you drag and drop on to a background page to build a wireframe design for a web site. It only took me a few minutes to mock up a pretty reasonable approximation of a SharePoint page layout with no training or documentation -- which means this product is really easy to use. I was able to draw the design and print it out or save it as a .png file that I imported into a PowerPoint presentation. What I really like about this tool is that the output looks hand-drawn (but by someone with very good artistic skills, i.e., not me).
InstaPaper
This is a free tool that essentially lets you save Web pages on your PC or iPhone to read later. (I usually use it for blog posts). I use the iPhone app a lot to read saved articles when I'm traveling. I've got a bunch of articles saved up for my next plane ride.
Susan Hanley writes the Essential SharePoint blog for Microsoft Subnet.
Craig Mathias
Craig Mathias loves:
Ubuntu
The best free software ever! Maybe the best PC OS yet as well. It's absolutely amazing to me that this software is free! Ubuntu can run on just about any machine you might have sitting around, so you could try it out on a spare one to keep it off your Windows machines altogether. I've built Ubuntu PCs out of lots of things. I had a old Bissell Carpet Machine Special lying around, and, hating to throw anything away, let alone add to a landfill, I stripped out the pump-and-filter guts and was left with a suitable plastic shell - suitable, that is, for mounting the components of a PC. It runs Ubuntu 9.04.
Wi-Spy
For low cost, I like the Wi-Spy line of spectrum analyzers. Wi-Spy from Metageek isn't free, but you can pick up a basic unit for $99. Since interference is always a potential problem, and Wi-Fi adapters can't look at Layer-1, every W-Fi user needs something like this for troubleshooting performance problems.
Craig Mathias writes the Nearpoints blog for the Wireless Topic Center.
Michael Adams
Michael Adams loves:
OpenWRT
A good number of wireless units can be reprogrammed with OpenWR, a Linux distribution for embedded devices. The project's developers say, "Instead of trying to create a single, static firmware, OpenWrt provides a fully writable filesystem with package management."
Michael Adams writes the Life as a Sys Admin blog for Open Source Subnet and Microsoft Subnet.
Ron Barrett
Ron Barrett loves:
iland Workforce Cloud
iland is a provider of cloud computing infrastructure with high-availability datacenters across North America and Europe. iland Workforce Cloud puts the cloud on the desktop and offers some great features, including closing the loop between the desktop and the datacenter, providing printer support at virtually any user location, and storing data securely and centrally while maintaining availability even if devices are stolen or destroyed. It simplifies management of desktop deployment, configuration, and migration, centralizes patch management and so on.
AxCrypt
The ability to encrypt the entire hard drive for your CEO is a great technology. But there are times when you only need to encrypt certain files. Open source AxCrypt integrates into the right-click menu in Windows, so encrypting a file is as simple as right-clicking and choosing a single file to encrypt.
Barret has reviewed nearly 200 mostly free tools since 2008 and created a library post that links to all of his reviews. Tons of goodies to be had for the taking are listed in this library.

Nanotech Leads to Battery Breakthrough

    Nanotech Leads to Battery Breakthrough
  • Researchers at Rice University have made crucial progress in the creation of 3D microbatteries, which hold many advantages over traditional lithium-ion batteries and could power the next generation of electronics.
  • Researchers at Rice University have made crucial progress in the creation of 3D microbatteries, which hold many advantages over traditional lithium-ion batteries and could power the next generation of electronics.The handheld electronic devices of the future could be powered by microbatteries, tiny but powerful energy sources that hold many advantages over today's lithium-ion batteries, including significantly faster charge times. Using innovative nanotechnology techniques, researchers at Rice University have moved closer than ever in creating these batteries of the future.
    The new batteries comprise nickel-tin nanowires encased in PMMA, a polymer more commonly known as Plexiglass. In a major breakthrough, researchers in the laboratory of Rice University professor Pulickel Ajayan discovered a method of coating single nanowires in a smooth layer PMMA gel. This coating insulates the wires from interfering electrodes, but allows ions to pass through.
    "In a battery, you have two electrodes separated by a thick barrier," explained Ajayan, professor of Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, according to a press release. "The challenge is to bring everything into close proximity so this electrochemistry becomes much more efficient."

    The Rice researchers innovated a way of coating nanowires in PMMA. The process could lead to the next generation of powerful batteries (source: Ajayan Lab/Rice University).
    Ajayan and his team solved this problem by fitting millions of coated nanowires onto a single chip the size of a fingernail. The scientists spent over a year refining the process. "You can't simply scale the thickness of a thin-film battery because the lithium ion kinetics would become sluggish," Ajayan said.
    "We wanted to figure out how the proposed 3D designs of batteries can be built from the nanoscale up," said Sanketh Gowda, a graduate student at Rice University. "By increasing the height of the nanowires, we can increase the amount of energy stored while keeping the lithium ion diffusion distance constant."
    "To be fair, the 3D concept has been around for a while," said postdoctoral researcher Arava Leela Mohana Reddy. "The breakthrough here is the ability to put a conformal coat of PMMA on a nanowire over long distances. Even a small break in the coating would destroy it."

    Last year, the research team successfully built coaxial nanowire cables, a breakthrough on which the new coating processes is based. In the new study, the team employed electrodeposition to build 10-micron-long nanowires within the pores of an anodized alumina template. They then used an etching technique to widen and place PMMA into the array. This process created an even coating on the nanowires from top to bottom. The researchers then used a chemical wash to dissolve the alumina template.
    The new microbattery is three-dimensional, which allows it to hold more energy and charge more quickly than a flat battery of the same size.
    "By going to 3D, we're able to deliver more energy in the same footprint," Gowda said.
    According to the research team, 3D microbatteries could power "remote sensors, display screens, smart cards, flexible electronics and biomedical devices."
    In December, the team published its results in the journal Nano Letters. Co-authors are Rice graduate student Xiaobo Zhan, former Rice postdoctoral researcher Manikoth Shaijumon and former Rice research scientist Lijie Ci.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Best NAS boxes for less than $1,000

Best NAS boxes for less than $1,000

Eight desktop devices that deliver terabytes of shared storage and more

By James E. Gaskin
 
Buffalo Technology shattered the $1,000 barrier for a terabyte of shared storage back in 2005. With storage prices continuing to drop, that same $1,000 today can buy a 4T or even 5TB network-attached storage (NAS) device with RAID 5 disk redundancy, plus additional features, like backup storage licenses and indexing capabilities.
NASs for the masses
We tested eight units, each suitable for workgroups in large enterprises or as an entry-level server for small businesses. Our test group included Buffalo TeraStation III, Iomega StorCenter, Netgear ReadyNAS, Western Digital ShareSpace, Seagate BlackArmor, LaCie 5big Network 2, Verbatim PowerBay, and the QNAP TS-459 Pro II. We tried to get a unit from Cisco, but its NSS 300 Series Smart Storage units are undergoing a major refresh, and won't be available until 2011.
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Buffalo Technology shattered the $1,000 barrier for a terabyte of shared storage back in 2005. With storage prices continuing to drop, that same $1,000 today can buy a 4T or even 5TB network-attached storage (NAS) device with RAID 5 disk redundancy, plus additional features, like backup storage licenses and indexing capabilities.
NASs for the masses
We tested eight units, each suitable for workgroups in large enterprises or as an entry-level server for small businesses. Our test group included Buffalo TeraStation III, Iomega StorCenter, Netgear ReadyNAS, Western Digital ShareSpace, Seagate BlackArmor, LaCie 5big Network 2, Verbatim PowerBay, and the QNAP TS-459 Pro II. We tried to get a unit from Cisco, but its NSS 300 Series Smart Storage units are undergoing a major refresh, and won't be available until 2011.
All of the units support Windows, Apple, and Linux clients, but most demand a Windows PC to execute the initial setup and configuration software, and all units integrate with Microsoft's Active Directory. Beyond basic storage, Buffalo and Iomega offer workgroup document indexing and searching, for free. QNAP leads the way in running multiple applications, many of which require the included MySQL. Hosting a database and applications on a NAS unit has not been possible before. LaCie is by far the most stylish device and it offers five, 1TB disk trays for 3.6TB of usable space. Seagate was the only device to offer software to support a bare metal restore for Windows clients. Netgear was the only product to offer a five-year warranty. Western Digital delivered the lowest price per terabyte. Verbatim offers the ability to use a second box as a real-time replication server.

Buffalo TeraStation III

The TeraStation III that we tested is a black metal box slightly larger than average for the units tested (but not bigger than most two-slice toasters), featuring two Gigabit Ethernet ports and three USB 2.0 ports. The information display screen, two lines of 16 characters each, rotates between showing the time and date, unit IP address for both Ethernet ports, link speed, and the number of disks active. There was 2.88TB of available space on the system after RAID 5 and included software overhead.
Watch a slideshow of these products | Net results
Initial startup and configuration was straightforward as we followed the Quick Start pamphlet and also the full manual on the included CD. The box, configured as a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) client, picked up an open IP address immediately. Most companies like to assign a static IP address to their storage units, and that option appears during the initial setup. After a reboot, all the configuration changes were in place and the unit was fully visible on the network.
Besides the device locator and administration software on the CD, Buffalo includes 10 licenses of NovaBackup Business Essentials Backup software. Unlike most backup software included with equivalent devices, NovaBackup works with Microsoft Windows servers, Windows Exchange and MS-SQL databases. Your existing backup software will work with the TeraStation, of course, if you redirect the storage location on the clients to a folder on the NAS.
A single volume named Array1 contained all the storage space in the TeraStation. Two folders, Info and Share, were created by default. Share is open to everyone, while Info is read-only and includes a copy of the manual in both English and Japanese. Access to folders can be set at the folder level, or by restricting individual users or groups. You can set storage quotas on users. RAID levels 0, 1, 5, and 10 are supported.
Creating users is a simple two-step process: name the user and assign a password, then type the password again for verification. No security best practices, such as a minimum password length, are enforced. A text field asks for User ID, which may confuse some, but the system will assign a number between 1,000 to 1,999 in order of user creation. If you want to assign your own numbers, you may do so. Users are automatically included in the default group "hdusers," which is handy, and a step many others forego, requiring an extra step to gain the advantages of grouping users for easier administration.
An unexpected but quite nice feature is TeraSearch, which indexes and searches files stored on the unit. You must enable searching for each folder individually (but sub-folders are included), and update indexes manually or set a time for regular indexing. The software is Web based and you find the application by putting the unit's IP address in the URL along with a port address. Once configured, the indexing software worked quickly and proved quite handy.
Other goodies include a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) MediaServer, basic print server, BitTorrent server, Time Machine support for Apple client backup, FTP server, and virus scanning. You can encrypt the disk with 128-bit AES encryption, but only when reformatting the drive array.
E-mail notification support is better than average, with room for five addresses, and a check list of events that will trigger e-mails. When the system is shut down properly, an e-mail goes out, a nice touch if you manage remote units.

Iomega StorCenter

A little smaller than average, the Iomega StorCenter ix4-200d unit with 4TB of storage looks a bit more polished than the Buffalo unit, but is still all black. This unit also has two Gigabit Ethernet ports as well as three USB 2.0 ports, and after disk redundancy and system storage overhead, provides 2.71TB of open space. Printers and external disks can be attached to the USB ports.
The information display, about the size of a domino, is the best in the group. White letters on a blue background show time of day and date, the IP address of the unit, and a bar graph of available storage. Free and used totals are listed in text above the bar graph that shows at a glance how much disk space is used and free. Nice touch.
Following the paper Quick Start Guide was simple, and the installation CD includes both the administration software (Iomega StorCenter) and EMC Retrospect Express backup software (both PC and Mac). Unlimited client backup licenses are included, which is unusual. A pitch for Mozy online backup is enclosed, since EMC owns both Iomega and Mozy. Iomega's QuickProtect file level backup software is also on the CD. Time Machine server for Apple client backup is pre-installed. The contents of the Iomega unit can be replicated to another NAS or USB attached hard drive via one touch (to the USB drive) or rsync.
The default shares on the single large volume are Public and Backup. Private user folders, created with new users, appear in the root of the folder, but only the user in question can see their folder. It may look a little messy with all those private folders to the administrator, but users won't see that. RAID 5 and RAID 10 are supported, as is JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) giving maximum storage space but no protection against drive failure.
Security must be enabled before adding users, which makes sense. Creating a user is a two-click process (and typing the name and password), and the second step offers a chance to let other users access the private folders of the new user with an easy radio button interface. Default access is None, but Read and Read/Write security options are available. Speaking of security, Iomega suggests using at least eight characters for user passwords, but no such restrictions are enforced.
Administrators will appreciate Iomega's admin utility with friendly icons and help only a click away. The Dashboard button opens a page showing a pie chart of used and open disk space, and hardware details. Unfortunately, there's room for only a single e-mail address for notifications. Storage quotas are assigned per folder, not username, but restricting a user's private folder gets the job done.
Iomega also supports media services with a screen to manage Torrent downloads and support for photo dumping from cameras (PTP or Picture Transfer Protocol), DLNA AV Media Center, and iTunes streaming (aimed at home users primarily). Video surveillance support includes the ability to connect up to five Axis network security cameras and use the Iomega box to store video without needing a PC in the loop. The box is also VMware certified as a storage unit.
The search function in the Iomega box has a nicer front end than Buffalo's, and works just as quickly and accurately. Users of the search utility see the administration utility interface, stripped down to display only Search, Access Shared Storage (that the user has rights to), and Manage Torrent Downloads. One click, and users can search indexed contents quickly.

Netgear ReadyNAS

Smaller than the average box in this group, the Netgear ReadyNAS has an information screen that shows two lines of 16 characters reporting the IP address and the free disk space on the unit. There are two Gigabit Ethernet ports and three USB 2.0 ports for external disks and/or printers. It's the only box with a handle so if you need a couple of terabytes to carry around, this will do the trick. And we say "a couple" because the unit included four 500GB disks for 2TB of maximum storage, yielding 1.3TB after the bytes used for disk redundancy and system files are subtracted. 10GB is reserved for snapshots. Most other units include 4TB, but the Netgear price for 4TB breaks our $1,000 ceiling.
Netgear includes an excellent Installation Guide pamphlet that should help the most hesitant administrator through setup and configuration. When started, the unit grabbed an IP address from the DHCP server, then suggested we reserve that address on the router/DHCP server. It would be more helpful if they offered the static IP screen at that point and included instructions for choosing and setting a static address. Network Time Protocol servers offered by default are from Netgear, not an NTP pool like on most other units.
Setup forced us, as the administrator, to set a new password. Unlike the other boxes, this one offered a password hint and a space for an e-mail address to send that hint to in case you forget. There is room for three e-mail addresses to receive alert notifications.
By default, the box set up a "netgear" workgroup for simple Windows file sharing. We prefer to use the Microsoft default of "workgroup" but it was an easy change. Shared folders Backup and Media are created by default. The Media folder could be a busy one, since Netgear markets this family of storage products to home and home office users. Support for ReadyDLNA, iTunes, and SqueezeCenter for SqueezeBox devices is included.
No client backup software is included, but the NAS unit functions quite well as the destination for your existing client backup software. Backups of the NAS unit contents are done via snapshots to transfer to other locations, using rsync and secure rsync.
Although there is no Public or Document folder for everyone to share created by default, adding one is a matter of a few clicks. Each user automatically gets his own private folder when assigned a password, and you can add recycle bins in the home folders for each user. You can import users as a group with the properly formatted file. Each user and group can have a storage quote attached.
Beyond the excellent Installation Guide, the administrative screens and processes look fairly austere and aren't as intuitive as the first two units. Once configured, few changes are necessary on storage units like this, so this would be an issue that arises rarely.
RAID levels 0, 1, and 5 are supported. This box also supports VMware storage connections. Unlike other units, the Netgear ReadyNAS comes with a five-year warranty.

Western Digital ShareSpace

The Western Digital ShareSpace wins the low price award for offering 2.68TB of usable space (after disk redundancy and system overhead on the 4TB maximum size) for hundreds less than the other units. The dark silver box looks like a home theater component, and includes media streaming support. It does cut a few corners by using a single Ethernet port and foregoing an information display, but bargain hunters will love this box.
The Quick Installation Guide does a good job, although it hasn't been updated to included Windows 7. One Gigabit Ethernet port joins three USB 2.0 ports; two are on the back and one on the front. When a USB hard drive is attached to the front USB port, a push of the file transfer button just above the USB connection copies data from the external drive to the NAS system. Western Digital sells a large number of USB external hard disks, so give them credit for making it easy to upgrade to a disk-redundant shared storage system from a USB disk.
All important features remain even with the low price. Configured with RAID 5 by default, the box also supports levels 0 (striped) and 1 (mirrored drives). Microsoft Active Directory support is included, as is a built-in FTP server.
Default folders on the DataVolume are Configuration, Download and Public. Creating users is a snap for those new to administration, since Western Digital includes a Basic and Advanced Mode for administration, and the icons for both are non-threatening. Users get their own private folder by default, and the security controls for managing user access are as complete as any of the other boxes. The user folders are again placed in the root of the volume, but only users authorized to see a folder can see it in the directory listing. An attached USB hard drive can be managed as a volume just like an internal volume.
Not quite bare-bones, the Western Digital ShareSpace gives quite a bit of storage for the buck. It may be priced for home users, but it does all the important things any small business or department needs.

Seagate BlackArmor

With a name like BlackArmor, one expects a no-nonsense device, and the Seagate box certainly delivers. The black metal case, slightly larger than average, has an overhang on the front that reminds us of the lip of a helmet. Yet to cover all bases, this box also includes a media server and iTunes support.
Two Gigabit Ethernet ports are balanced by four USB 2.0 plugs, one on the front and three on the back. Seagate includes 10 licenses of their BlackArmor Backup software for Windows clients, as well as SafetyDrill+ software to support Bare Metal Restore for Windows clients, the only unit to offer such a feature. Time Machine support wasn't included on the unit we tested, but a firmware upgrade will add that feature, along with VMware certification.
While only two lines with 16 characters each, the information display screen offers nine headings to drill down using the up and down buttons beside the display. Typical information such as data and time, IP address and device name are expected, but many system details such as temperature and fan status are also included.
RAID levels supported run the gamut from 0, 1, 5 and 10, as well as JBOD. After data redundancy and storage overhead, 2.7TB of the 4TB maximum storage was available. There's a recycle bin for each shared folder, but recovering files is done through the administration utility. A basic print server is included.
The administration utility is complete and business-like. Menu items are listed across the top, with submenu options stacked on the left side. Clicking the Help button opens a new browser window with the entire manual available, but the displayed page is context sensitive to the utility screen contents.
There are five spaces for e-mail notifications, which is nice. Like the Buffalo TeraStation, the Seagate system sent a notice when shut down. There are no options for when or why to send other e-mail notifications, however. Prepare to be surprised.
When creating users, the Seagate unit gives an option of whether to create a private user share. If the answer is yes, a drop-down list shows which volumes are available to host that share, a nice touch. The default volume is named DataVolume. There's an option to encrypt user shares. Quotas are set by user on each volume, allowing you to restrict a user's storage capacity on one volume but not another.
One interesting feature is a hosted wiki on the unit. Enabling DokuWiki gives users a chance to create documentation or store public information in an easy format for everyone to see and edit.

LaCie 5big

LaCie has been a major player in the Apple storage market for years, and its box shows a design aesthetic far more Apple than Microsoft. The largest unit in the tested group, the LaCie is a dark silver color with a golf-ball sized blue light recessed into the box. The Quick Install Guide names the designer (Neil Poulton) just under the name of the unit, meaning design is far more important than for any of the other units. The fact this looks like modern art rather than disk storage testifies to their success.
The disk trays, five in all, each hold a 1TB disk drive. Five disks and five drives mean the usable space is 3.6TB (out of 5TB), a big bump over the other units with only four disks. With larger disks, the unit can hold 7.5TB or 10TB, and it supports RAID levels 0, 5, 5+ and 6 (two drives can die and the data remains safe). Just like with Apple, the manual and included software comes on a DVD, not a CD.
Two Gigabit Ethernet ports are on the back, as are two USB 2.0 ports. Unlike the previous models discussed, two eSATA ports are also on the back, allowing you to plug high-performance SATA drives directly to the box for better throughput than the USB ports. Unfortunately, the eSATA performance is your best bet for backing up the unit contents, since there's no NAS-to-NAS option.
Genie Backup Manager Pro 8 (for Windows clients) and Intego Backup Manager Pro 8 (for Macs) are included, but only three licenses each. As we expected, Time Machine is provided for Apple clients as well.
The two default shared folders are Public and Share, but only Public is open to everyone. Users must be allowed access to Share.
Creating users is straightforward, and each field pops up helpful information as you mouse over it. Private folders are not created with the users. Quotas are set by shared folder, not user name. When you create a folder for a user, you must then go to the Shares screen to allow that user access to that folder. There is no way to import a list of users at once, but LaCie does integrate into Microsoft's Active Directory, like every other box in this test.
Apple fans will love the LaCie box. Those watching their pennies will love the added extra storage for the same cost as many of the competitors. The Western Digital unit may be the least expensive per usable terabyte based on retail price ($231), but the LaCie is darn close at $236 per usable TB.

Verbatim PowerBay

If you think of Verbatim only for the 3.5 inch floppies stuck in drawers here and there, you're just as behind the times as we were. The company still makes plenty of blank media, of course, from floppy to Blu-ray disks, but it also makes a wide range of USB and FireWire desktop drives, and the PowerBay NAS Array in size ranging from 2TB to 8TB. The Verbatim 4TB unit we tested delivered 2.95TB.
A black metal box about average size in the group, the Verbatim unit has two Gigabit Ethernet ports (one for the network, and one for clustering with another PowerBay unit for real-time data replication). Two USB 2.0 ports are available for external drives or printers. There's also an eSATA connector for adding more storage capacity or backup.
Such a rarity: a real paper manual. The electronic version is on the enclosed CD, as is Acronis Backup software, with five licenses.
Some installation details can be accomplished through the MagicalFinder utility that locates the drive on the network (especially useful with new installations that rely on a DHCP server to provide the box address). You can set the IP address, change the default name (PowerBay) and set the workgroup. It also shows the IP address of the PC running the utility, which is a nice touch.
Oddly, the system doesn't demand an administrator password, which is somewhat lax even in the world of NAS system security. When we did change the password from the default, the only enforcement of good password rules was the need for between five to 20 characters.
Creating users is as simple as supplying the name, password, and group (or don't put the user in a group). Once created, however, the user will have a real shock: they can't access any shared storage on the box.
For some bizarre reason, the default volume, Volume_1, doesn't allow access by users until they are specifically configured with access rights. This is the only unit that makes such a mess of default disk access. Once you fix this poor configuration choice by Verbatim, all is well.
One button on the front of the unit downloads data on any USB hard drive attached to the front USB port. USB ports and the eSATA port can be used to backup the box's data to an external hard disk. But Verbatim does a good thing, and uses the second Gigabit Ethernet port to connect to a second PowerBay to act as a real time replication server for your data. If you prefer your backups be further away, rsync is provided.
E-mail alerts can be sent to four addresses, which is nice. Even better is the checkboxes offered to define what merits an alert. Administrator password change? Check. Get hotter than 145 degrees F? Check. Those and five more events can be easily configured.
It's a shame Verbatim made the default volume out of reach when setting up the system right out of the box. Outside of that big error, everything else works great.

QNAP TS-459 Pro II

This average-sized box has a black front with a gray metal body. Design goals were functional, not fancy, with the four drives right in the front, with an information display of two lines of 16 characters offering the IP address. When the top control button beside the display is held down for 2 seconds, the Main Menu appears, allowing quite a bit of configuration functions without touching a computer or administrative utility. We tested with four 700GB drives, which delivered 2.06TB of available storage.
Two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the back are balanced by four USB 2.0 ports and two eSATA ports. A fifth USB 2.0 port on the front is just below a "Copy" button to trigger data imports and exports. Printers or external disks can be connected to the USB ports, while the eSATA plugs only support storage devices. RAID levels 1, 5 and 6 are supported.
The Quick Installation Guide is a folded piece of poster-sized paper with English and 17 other languages. Initial setup is straightforward, but the administrative utility is surprisingly attractive in a fun icon way, with easy navigation. This may be the best looking admin utility of the bunch. One oddity is to make the default workgroup name NAS rather than workgroup. Users can be added in bunches, Active Directory is supported, and disk quotas are set by user.
NetBak Replicator software is included for clients, along with 10 licenses. Data on the QNAP device can be replicated via rsync or up to Amazon S3 storage services, the behind-the-scenes storage destination of many backup providers. Time Machine can be enabled for Apple clients.
There is space for only two e-mail addresses for alert notifications, but you can configure SMS texting alerts as well. Between two e-mail and two text notifications, alerts should be noticed.
At first, user password security seems no better than the rest of the boxes, with a new user's password suggested to be at least six characters, but not enforced. Digging deeper, however, brought us to a screen where password rigor for users can be upped considerably. You can force users to use three types of characters in a password (choosing from lower or upper case letters, numbers, and symbols), stop them from repeating characters more than three times in a row, and block them from making their password the same as their username, or their username typed backwards.
QNAP features the stoutest user security of the group, and easily enforced across the board from one configuration checkbox. In addition to the password rules, ranges of IP addresses can be blocked, or set so only clients within that range can connect to the unit.
Blurring the lines between a NAS unit acting as a file server, and a full application server, QNAP adds in the Apache Web server, MySQL server, Surveillance Station, iTunes server, and download station. Plug-ins for the Web server can be downloaded from QPKG, provided by QNAP. Two dozen plug-ins are available, ranging from SqueezeBox Server to the WordPress blogging platform to the vtiger CRM to the Joombla content management system and more.
These options would overwhelm the typical NAS buyer, but QNAP works almost exclusively through resellers who configure systems for their customers before delivery. Whether running a dozen applications on a NAS box is a good idea or not, having the option to add one or two centralized programs without a Windows server, such as the Asterisk Internet phone system software or the XDove e-mail servers, on an inexpensive server platform could be quite handy. Linux servers run these applications all over the world, so running them on the embedded Linux operating system hosted by QNAP trods well-worn ground.

How we did it

Each unit was installed according to the included quick start guides. Units were added to an existing local area network with PCs running Windows XP, Windows 7, and Apple OS X 10.5.8.
After initial configuration, users were added, following the standard security rules recommended by each NAS vendor. Units were tested by multiple PCs and multiple user names.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Good Samaritan' Bacteria Provides Clues for Bacteria Resistance Research

    Good Samaritan' Bacteria Provides Clues for Bacteria Resistance Research
  • Scientists recently discovered an altruistic type of bacteria that may lead to the next generation of disease-fighting antibiotics.
  • Scientists recently discovered an altruistic type of bacteria that may lead to the next generation of disease-fighting antibiotics.
    The bacteria version of a Good Samaritan helps bacteria that are non-resistant to antibiotics thrive despite the presence of a drug in the body. A team led by Boston University biologist James J. Collins found that while the resistance level of the whole population seemed high, the individual isolates actually had no increase in resistance. The weaker bacteria were surviving because of help from the resistant "Good Samaritan" bacteria. What does this mean for the development of antibiotics?
    Collins' team exposed a culture of E. coli to graduated levels of antibiotics. With periodic analysis, they discovered that resistance levels were high, though only a few of the bacteria were resistant. These "mutants" secrete a molecule that prevents them from growing but that helps the rest of the population live. With this knowledge, scientists may be able to develop more effective antibiotics. Mark Anderson of NovaBay Pharmaceuticals says, "The findings suggest the possibility that scientists could one day use indole or indole-based therapeutic, if proven safe, to help beneficial bacteria outcompete pathogenic bacteria in the urinary tract or intestinal system."
    Also, Collins notes, "These unicellular organisms can function as a multi-cellular organism of sorts." Doctors looking at singular samples on their own may not get the thorough picture they need to determine the extent of an infection or its resistance to antibiotics. This may lead to improved tracking of infection as well.
    Infections have been ranked as the second leading cause of death. In dialysis patients alone, approximately 10 percent are hospitalized each year due to infections caused by recurrent antibiotic use, therefore making their bodies more susceptible to bacterial infections on a daily basis. Hemodialysis patients also experience a high rate of antimicrobial resistance due to the significant amount of procedures and hospital visits they endure due to their condition.
    The Good Samaritan bacteria may end up being a Good Samaritan for antibiotic research and the fight against drug-resistant bacteria.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Quantum Internet to Communicate by Entanglement

    Quantum Internet to Communicate by Entanglement
  • Secure eavesdrop-proof communications using quantum-key distribution are already available over optical gateways between two parties, but now a possible new quantum Internet could be enabled by teleporting the same information to multiple nodes using entanglement—what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance"—thereby allowing secure broadcasts to copy identical information to multiple nodes on a future quantum Internet.
  • Secure eavesdrop-proof communications using quantum-key distribution are already available over optical gateways between two parties, but now a possible new quantum Internet could be enabled by teleporting the same information to multiple nodes using entanglement—what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance"—thereby allowing secure broadcasts to copy identical information to multiple nodes on a future quantum Internet.
    The realization of a quantum Internet got one step closer when entanglement was recently demonstrated as a viable method to broadcast or copy information to many other network nodes—or users—simultaneously.
    Previously, quantum entanglement had only been demonstrated between a single sender and single receiver using optical gateways made by ID Quantique (Geneva) and MagiQ Technologies (New York). Quantum teleportation uses entanglement to inextricably lock the state of a quantum memory at one location to the state of a second memory device, despite their being separated by nearly any distance. Now Caltech researchers have demonstrated that not just two, but any number of quantum memory devices can be entangled, potentially solving the problem of how to broadcast and copy quantum information among the nodes, or users, of a quantum version of the Internet.
    "In a future 'quantum Internet' we could rely on entanglement for the teleportation of quantum states from place to place—a technique could interconnect a cloud of quantum computers," said Kyung Soo Cho, doctoral candidate at Caltech working in the laboratory of Caltech professor Jeff Kimble. "By converting entangled states to an optical signal to propagate we could send secret messages to the whole Internet."


    Secret messages that are eavesdrop-proof have already been demonstrated between two nodes—called bipartite entanglement—but by entangling more than two nodes—called multipartite entanglement—the researchers have demonstrated the principle of broadcasting or copying eavesdrop-proof messages to any number of quantum Internet nodes simultaneously.
    Massive hardware cools and isolates the nodes of Caltech's seminal quantum network (source: Nara Cavalcanti). 

    In particular, Caltech scientists used lasers to entangle four memory cells composed of cesium atoms, then later read out the quantum state of the atoms with a second laser—demonstrating that the quantum states of any number of quantum network nodes could be simultaneously transferred. Such techniques will need to be perfected in order to broadcast information on future quantum Internet connections.
    Each quantum memory device consisted of 1,000 supercooled cesium atoms, which are confined by a magnetic field and written-to and read-out using a multiple lasers. The specially prepared photons from the communications lasers were able to entangle all four quantum memory devices simultaneously, proving that coherent control of entanglement could be extended to any number of spatially separated quantum nodes of a future quantum Internet.

Friday, December 03, 2010

AVG Free Update Bricks 64-Bit Windows 7 PCs

AVG Free Update Bricks 64-Bit Windows 7 PCs

An update for AVG Free may have caused computers to restart and not turn on again--but there is a cure.

By Elizabeth Fish
 
 
If you haven't already downloaded the latest mandatory AVG 2011 Free software update, it may be best not to if you want your computer to turn on again. The December 1 update is causing 64-bit PCs running Windows 7 to totally breakdown.
The problem appears to lie in the 271.1.1/3292 (432/3292) database update, which requires PCs that run the update to restart. Affected PCs will throw up a c0000135 error upon restarting, and fail to boot.
AVG have since pulled the update so no more computers suffer, but if your computer got caught then all is not lost. AVG have released a handy set of instructions to follow, detailing how to disable the software if it bricks your system.
AVG Forum users have also come up with a few tricks to forcing the system to boot, such as pressing F8 and removing the AVG update. All methods will need the Repair CD in order to re-install the software.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wind Turbines May Not Be So Eco-Friendly—New Research Reveals They Change Weather Patterns

    Wind Turbines May Not Be So Eco-Friendly—New Research Reveals They Change Weather Patterns
  • Some researchers are worried that wind turbines are changing weather patterns and harming the environment.
  • Some researchers are worried that wind turbines are changing weather patterns and harming the environment.
    Wind turbines have been hailed as the future of green energy, but scientist Somnath Baidya Roy of Duke University has suggested an unexpected consequence related to these amazing machines: skewed weather reports.
    The problem itself lies in how the wind turbine works. The wind blows the blades of the turbine around a rotor, which then generates electricity. The turbulence created mixes the air around it, and that can make the air closer to the ground both warmer and dryer for miles around it. The problems are obvious. Not only can this create falsified weather reports and concerns, but it could also affect consumption of energy when it comes to heating and cooling units for businesses, as well as irrigation concerns in farm areas.
    The National Weather Service has ended up with false tornado alerts and storm warnings in many areas around the country. While the simple solution is simply to be aware of the potential problems at hand, a better solution is probably to evaluate the equipment itself.
    One study suggests that low-turbulence rotors may provide the solution to the problem, but there are other potential fixes on the horizon. A possible solution is configuring radar systems in the area to ignore the wind farms themselves, which would help to address the false weather reports, but not the effects of the energy production itself. That will take a change in the technology itself. Still, most experts suggest the effect of fossil fuels is far more damaging than the wind turbines might be themselves.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Ubuntu sticking to six-month development cycle

Ubuntu sticking to six-month development cycle


A story in the Register [1] speculated that Ubuntu would be dropping its six-month development cycle in favor of daily updates. If so, that'd be big news — but the word from Canonical is that it's not so.
Ubuntu LogoGavin Clarke declared "Ubuntu is moving away from its established six-month-cycle and potentially to a future where software updates land on a daily basis." Clarke cited a statement from Shuttleworth during a conference call about needing to "release something every day."
But according to Canonical, it's not going to be moving away from the six-month cycle anytime soon. Gerry Carr, director of platform marketing for Canonical, says it's about making it easier to get "cutting edge" versions of software for developers:
Ubuntu is not changing to a rolling release. We are confident that our customers, partners, and the FLOSS ecosystem are well served by our current release cadence. What the article was probably referring to was the possibility of making it easier for developers to use cutting edge versions of certain software packages on Ubuntu. This is a wide-ranging project that we will continue to pursue through our normal planning processes.
This makes much more sense. While Google has successfully (so far) moved to a rapid release cycle for its Chrome browser, it's hard to see this working very well for an entire Linux distribution. It might work for some packages that sit on top of the distro (like Firefox) but it just won't work for the whole OS. This is especially true in the enterprise market where Canonical is trying to get a foothold. A rolling release cycle would not go over well on the server side. It wouldn't work too well for OEMs, either. A rolling cycle for development is one thing, but as Canonical tries to capture bigger deals it's a non-starter for any of the OEMs and ISVs that Canonical works with.
So no story here, business as usual in Ubuntu-land.

Five reasons to be grumpy about 2010

Five reasons to be grumpy about 2010


Maybe it's the post-holiday letdown, but looking back on 2010 I'm not sure the open source community has that much to be grateful for this year. Not only have we missed another year for the Linux desktop, but there's been plenty to gripe about in 2010.
Grumpy
Last week, at least for those of us in the United States, was time to give thanks. And while I have plenty to give thanks about personally, I can't say the same thing when it comes to FOSS developments. Looking back on 2010, it's been kind of a crappy year.
Number five: Novell sold to Attachmate
After months of speculation, we finally found out who the buyer would be for Novell [1]: Attachmate.
I was cheering for VMware to pick up Novell, or any player that would invest heavily in SUSE and the openSUSE Project. The good news is, it looks like Attachmate is going to pursue business as usual with SUSE and openSUSE [1]. The bad news? More than 800 patents are going to the consortium put together by Microsoft for a whopping $450 million.
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Number four: The Bilski letdown
The U.S. Supreme Court had an opportunity to smack down software and business method patents, but didn't take it [2]. The court made the right ruling on the narrow issue of the Bilski case, but avoided the opportunity to issue a blanket ruling that would rid us of software patents altogether.
Many experts had cautioned that the blanket ruling was unlikely, and they turned out to be (sadly) right. Too bad for FOSS, because it means years and years of ridiculous legal wrangling. Good year for patent lawyers, though...
 [3]
Number three: Mandriva slips farther
Once upon a time, Mandriva was one of the "major" Linux distributions. Actually, Mandriva never was — but its precursor Mandrake was. For its time, it was one of the easiest to use Linux distributions and it enjoyed a fairly large following. Financial troubles plagued the company, though, and it's been through bankruptcy, layoffs, and a long struggle to survive.
Technically the company is still surviving, but most of the folks working for Mandriva were laid off in September and there's a lot of uncertainty about the distribution's future. The hopes that the distribution would return to its former glory have been pretty much dashed.
Number two: iPad launches with no serious FOSS competitors
Apple announced the iPad in late January and shipped the beast in April. If there was any doubt that there'd be strong demand for the Apple tablet, it's been put to rest now.
Ten months later, we're still waiting for a decent Linux-based tablet that competes with the iPad. True, you can find Android tablets today. However, the offerings on the market are either underpowered or overpriced. The Galaxy Tab looked like a possible contender, until they slapped a $600 price tag [4] on it.
The Moblin / Maemo reboot, MeeGo, was announced earlier this year — but the Intel/Nokia alliance hasn't managed to get far enough to ship any MeeGo-related devices this year. Looks like the earliest we'll see MeeGo devices is the first quarter of 2011 — long after the holiday season and just before Apple announces the iPad 2.0. Whatever the MeeGo folks have in store, it'll need to be really, really good to compete with a beefed-up iPad that already has serious traction.
Lackluster devices at price points that are higher than entry level iPads aren't going to make a dent in the iPad's market share. 2010 would have been a great year for Linux to make a dent in the consumer computing tablet market, but we've missed it.
Number one: RIP Sun
Above all, 2010 will be remembered for being the year that Oracle began its reign of terror over former Sun communities and projects. Well, reign of terror might be overstating it a bit — more like reign of bureaucracy and maximal profits at the expense of openness and developer relations. That doesn't exactly roll off the tongue though.
So far, Oracle has succeeded in killing the OpenSolaris project, inspiring a fork of the OpenOffice.org community, launching an attack on Google's Android over Java patents, and alienating the Apache Project from the Java Community Process. Not a bad year's work if the goal is to undermine open source. It's disappointing that Oracle has chosen to go this route — rather than taking the opportunity to fix problems Sun had with its community projects, Oracle has just chosen to shun the communities altogether. Even though Sun had its flaws, on the whole the company was much more friendly to FOSS.

Rays of hope

This isn't to say that 2010 has been all bad. Just that, objectively speaking, the open source community (including FOSS projects and businesses) have had better years. And 2011 may well be one of them. With the LibreOffice fork truly off and running, there's finally a chance that the premier open source office suite will stop being a mere clone of an old version of Microsoft Office and start innovating in its own right.
Though Mandriva is unlikely to recover, something better might just rise from the ashes. Right after the last round of layoffs, former Mandriva employees and community members founded Mageia [5], a fork of Mandriva backed by a not-for-profit. Earlier this year, rumors were floating around that Mandriva was for sale. I said at the time it might be better if the company didn't find a buyer [6]. Though it's provided some rough time for Mandriva's employees, it may well turn out to be better for the community and distribution. With the Mageia fork, the community has a lot more control over the distribution's destiny — and gets rid of the baggage of the for-profit company. Here's hoping 2011 turns out to be a very good year for Mageia.
While I'm deeply worried about Microsoft's intentions for the Novell patent portfolio, the deal isn't closed yet. There's still time for a white knight to bid on the patents and use them for good (which is to say, use them only defensively). Otherwise I don't see much good coming of Microsoft getting these patents in 2011.
And while the FOSS tablet selections are paltry now, I think that 2011 might finally see real competition from Android, MeeGo, and possibly Ubuntu. Though there's a lot of catching up to do, Android has managed to give the iPhone serious competition. Maybe Android 3.0 will be the magic number for Linux-based tablets.
Am I off base? Did I miss something bad in 2010, or was this a good year for FOSS and I'm just seeing the glass half full?