UEFI, or the Age of Useless Computers…

Your next Intel x86 computer with UEFI secure boot…

Much has been said of the UEFI and one of its features, the Secure Boot. The launch of  windows 8 is near , and the UEFI is just around the corner.

UEFI is the talk of the town, but what is it?
It is a specification of a software layer between the old computer’s BIOS and the operating system.
Intel created the specification to solve various problems in its 64-bit Itanium platform, those problems caused by incompatibilities with the old BIOS, which was designed for a 16-bit architecture.
It will replace almost entirely the calls to the BIOS, for all operating system services.
Yes, it would be very interesting to do this, since our old BIOS is more than 30 years old.
It turns out that, currently, no  operating system makes calls to the BIOS anymore. They all have routines for interfacing with the hardware already built-in, the BIOS only works at boot (memory test, and that’s about it).

Specifications inspired by Windows …
Exactly when the UEFI was thought, its design was very similar to that of Microsoft Windows, with calls for protocols and practices inspired by the Microsoft product.
Interesting, no? Does it look like something made for everyone? No, no, but one thing made for  just a few to benefit  just a few.

How UEFI works
The UEFI would work more or less like this:

That is, would be present in all the user’s system, like a shadow controlling everything.
But if this is something that comes from Intel and Microsoft, what is there to fear? Much as it is a black box running inside your computer, and with the ability of a complete operating system.
Hence, very interesting questions are raised, since no one knows what is inside UEFI, unlike the good old BIOS, which is already very well known (and documented).


But, The Security UEFI Brings is what matters…
Ha, how nice it would be if it were true. But, as it has already happened ( The FLAME malware has been spreading with valid keys from MS) ​​is all a big crock. And, as mentioned here, the possibility of an attack at boot time is almost nonexistent.


But So What’s the grand plan to use the Secure Boot and UEFI?
Intel is suffering from a heavy attack of the ARM platform. ARM chips are ubiquitous, they are in mobile phones to video games, and now are entering the server room.
Microsoft is not doing well also, its windows XP system is still the most widely used worldwide, after almost three years of the release of Seven, and five years of the release of Vista.
Microsoft already knows that windows 8 will flop, so with the help of Secure Boot, it will lock the machines so that only its operating systems will be allowed to run, do not allowing users to know that there are other options, and much better, an attempt to freeze the market waiting for their next OS, 9.

What to do to fight this fierce competition?
Simple, use a standard and exclude the competitors from the standard. And the restricted UEFI boot fits perfectly there.
Consumers are choosing smartphones and tablets (with ARM chips) over x86 desktop computers. How could Intel  leverage its sales?
Easy, to sell more  x86 processors, just make computers that have a shorter lifespan. Hence, it will force consumers to buy more and more x86 computers.

Now, Apple already does this, with machines that are not repairable nor upgradeable (the latest MacBook Air comes with welded memories, so, not even memory is possible to add to it).
The next step for rapid obsolescence: An operating system slow, bloated and that drags the machine, coupled with applications with useless options – Anyone for Office 15 ? (for, obviously, make the whole system more cumbersome and slow).

Let’s face it, a computer with windows lasts no more than three years. After that, or it must be added more memory, or more HD or a more powerful processor (if possible).
Add to that the fact one can not install any other operating system to the machine, and you have a beautiful pile of useless junk.

Now, I wonder if this little UEFI secure boot detail Intel will also push in its server market.
I doubt it, since Intel is doing very well in the server market, mostly thanks to the Linux distros. It’s something they want to push down the throats of the domestic consumer and SOHO.
And, with Intel, Apple and Microsoft doing the same thing, this practice will become a standard.

What Can Happen?
Many things can happen. One that will certainly occur, is to increase the ignorance of the average user regarding  Information Technology, which is not good, thanks to Microsoft and Apple, and will only tend to worsen. Imagine a Fahrenheit 451 world where books are banned, and most of the population lives in complete ignorance, where few can read and remember the culture and the old books (I have not read the book, just watched the wonderful film by François Truffaut, but the overwhelming impact of the message makes you think, a lot).
And worse, students of Information Technology related matters(software, hardware, computer science), will have their hands tied, they will not be able to experiment with their hardware / software and learn from it.
Imagine, there won’t be a next Linus Torvalds, because he can not run an operating system made by the user in his/her computer. And no  next Steve Jobs also, since he began building computers in the Homebrew Computer Club. This will be a thing of the past.
Increase the junk in the world, the e-waste, since the machines will have a lifespan much shorter, it surely will happen. So long greencomputing.

But As For the time being, UEFI Secure Boot is not Mandatory…
Exactly, but with so many laws being passed by fear of terrorism or as protection of intellectual property (ACTA, SOPA, PIPA, etc …) how long to be illegal to run programs (and operating systems) not authorized by the vendors / manufacturers?
Just remember, there are countries where making a legitimate copy of a DVD, for security purposes, is illegal.

And is there an Option?
Sure. And, a much better than UEFI. The CoreBoot, the free, open, auditable specification, made in partnership with the Open Source community and the company AMD.
And, its block diagram is as follows:

Extremely simple, unobtrusive and lightweight, CoreBoot covers several platforms: x86, ARM, and various operating systems: GNU / Linux, BSD, and even windows (with SeaBios).

Even Linus has spoken out against the UEFI (“It has few real advantages, and add a greater layer of complexity” – http://kerneltrap.org/node/6884).
Not to mention that the user has no control over it.

How  to Fight UEFI Secure Boot?
There are several ways.
1º Legally – Act to push investigation on the UEFI secure boot, to make the DOJ investigate anti-trust unheticall moves, by Microsoft and Intel.
2º Politically – Pressure on your congressmen, senators, legislators,  to do not allow to become a common practice restricting  the boot of the computers.
3º Boycott Intel and Microsoft (and all companies that sell machines with the UEFI secure boot). I do not like to advertise products or companies, but support  AMD, the  CoreBoot standard is supported by it, and do not buy from companies that offer machines that do not allow you to run your favorite distro.

Finally, a famous text (adapted to our Free, Libre and Open Source reality):


“First they came for Gentoo.


And I did not speak up because I don’t use Gentoo.


Then they came for Arch Linux


and I said nothing because I don’t use Arch Linux.


Later, they came for Slackware.


And I kept silence, because I don’t use Slackware.


Then they came for Pardus Linux.


And I remained silent because I don’t use Pardus Linux.


Finally, they came for  Puppy Linux


And then there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Adapted from Martin Niemoller – First they came …

Further reading:

“Uefi homepage.”: http://www.uefi.org/
“Gnufi homepage.”: http://www.gnu.org/software/gnufi/
Intel, “Beyond bios,” Intel Software Network, November 2008.
Jeremy, “Linus on the extensible firmware interface,” Julho de
2006. http://kerneltrap.org/node/6884
Unified Extensible Firmware Interface Specification, Version 2.3,
errata b ed., UEFI Forum
Fevereiro 2010.
  1. P. L., “New technology beefs up bios,” Computer, vol. 37, 2004.
Intel, “Intel platform innovation framework for uefi.”:
http://www.intel.com/technology/framework/index.htm

1 thing you should know before buying the new Apple MacBook Pro

Apple‘s newly announced MacBook Pro, available for $2199, has already got Apple aficionados drooling.  But before you part with your money in exchange for the latest and greatest from the trail blazer in everything tech known to man, you might want to be aware of this: you cannot upgrade parts of the box and it’s also the “least-repairable!”

According to Computerworld, citing an email from iFixit, “The new MacBook Pro is virtually non-upgradeable — making it the first MacBook Pro that will be unable to adapt to future advances in memory and storage technology. The teardown revealed that Apple used many of the same assembly techniques as it does with the self-contained and virtually un-upgradeable MacBook Air, including proprietary screws, copious amounts of glue, expensive parts — the screen in particular — that must be completely replaced even after the smallest failure, and fused components that will likely break when a neighboring part must be removed.”
Basically, you order the MBP with the amount of memory and storage you require. Trying to do that after purchase will be analogous to the camel going through the eye of the needle. The reason for such restricted hardware is simply in line with Apple’s whole strategy of breaking whole products into individual components, a move that quickly adds up for you the buyer, financially. It’s little wonder actually, seeing that the MBP does not come with an ethernet port and optical drive, both available as extra add ons from…guess where.
So before committing funds to the shiny all trail blazing, retina-display MBP, you might want to know that:  You cannot upgrade the memory or storage(at least for now) after purchase, limiting your chances of having a future proof box, at least for the foreseeable one. 

5 things I can do with the value of the new MacBook Pro in Ghana

The new Apple MacBook Pro is going for a $2199 starting price. As someone who once read economics at both first and second years in the university, I decided to just list a few of the innumerable things I can do with that money in Ghana here, assuming an exchange rate of Gh¢1.9 to the Dollar. Here’s a shortlist of 5 of those:

1. Pay for 2 of the 4 years of university education at Ghana’s Institute of Professional Studies in Legon. The tuition there goes for approximately $789.47/year. I could have some change to pay for about 70% of the third year’s as well.

2. Buy a plot of land for development. A 70 X 100ft parcel of land goes for roughly Gh¢4100 or $2157.

3. Buy 4 of these locally made desktop computers and donate them to these kids. Who knows how far that can go into shaping their IT future. I would also be helping grow a local computer assembling company, helping increase employment. 

4. Buy this  laptop with roughly the same specs and be able to upgrade the hardware as and when I want, with change leftover for other things. 

5. At a current rate of 20% for the 91 day government of Ghana treasury bills, I could make a quick $440 in 3 months. 

This is in no a slight or anything whatsoever on those who have the money and are willing to spend the fortune on the shiny new MacBook Pro. No. It’s just me thinking out aloud, day dreaming about how my life could be transformed in not so an insignificant way if I get the value of the MBP in my hands. 

Update:

My compatriot on Google Plus, Kwabena Brenya passed a comment that I believe deserves a place in this post. So we now have 6 instead of 5. He wrote:

You left out the most important thing $2200 can do in Ghana:
Feed a kid in an orphanage with 3 square daily meals for a whole year! 

Windows RT to cost OEMs $85 per device in licensing fees?

According to VR-Zone, Microsoft’s Windows RT – the iteration of the Windows OS for ARM powered devices- will cost OEMs willing to load the software onto their devices between $85-$90 per device in licensing fees. According to the site, initial estimates were that Redmond would charge $35 but “the reality is that Windows RT will cost staggering USD$80-95 dollars, with $85 being the most commonly quoted price.”

At this price, we should expect to see Windows RT (sounds like retweet to me, really) tablets are going to be at par with the iPad rather than Android devices. With expected prices to range between $500-$900 for a device, it’s going to be interesting to see how Microsoft plans to take on both Android powered tablets and Apple‘s iPad.

A late to comer to the raging table battle, one would have expected a more overwhelming strategy from Microsoft to take on Android instead since it cuts across both the high and low spec’d spectrum, but instead they chose to go after the iPad. The next year is going to be really interesting in the tablet market for observers and consumers alike. 

Windows Phone 7? 5 Reasons Why I Have no Faith in it

In my last and final goodbye to Nokia, a commeter asked the question, “what about Windows Phone 7?” Indeed, all throughout the post, there was not one mention of Microsoft’s answer to both Android and iOS. Is it because I think WP7 is no match for the two dominant OSs? Or that because it’s from Microsoft? I don’t think so. WP7 for me, is not a viable contender for the following reasons

1. Lateness: I really don’t know what Redmond was doing when Google bought Android Inc back in 2005 or when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone back in 2007, but somehow they chose to turn a blind eye to the then budding ultra smartphone market and instead concentrate more on their desktop offering. As the adage goes, the early bird catches the worm, and both Google and Apple were those early birds. If Redmond had thrown down its gauntlet at that time with the introduction of WP7 then, at least they would stand a chance today.

2. Miscrosoft bullying: Rather than focus time and resources on marketing and making WP7 attractive to both developers and those who don’t want either iOS or Android, Microsoft prefers to spend its energy on  bullying Android OEMs into paying so called royalties for infringing never-shown Microsoft patents. But there’s no surprise here, it’s one of Microsoft’s hallmarks to use the bogus patent system as a trump card if it cannot compete. 

3. Nokia: Perhaps the biggest reason why WP7 will find it tough on the market is the unholy alliance with Nokia. For years, Nokia had been a company known to make profits by selling high volume, low cost “dumb” phones to hundreds of millions of people across the world. Now with WP7, it will have to focus on the highend spectrum of the market. With Elop giving Symbian just a few years more for “harvesting,” Nokia is left with WP7 as its primary OS. We don’t know when Meltemi will finally take the place of Symbian, but for now, we can safely assume Nokia is going to alienate its core market. 

To also hammer home the point of Nokia being a disaster for WP7, take a look at the press coverage the release of the N9 and N950 MeeGo powered devices enjoyed and compare them to the Nokia Lumia, even Engadget, an ultra Apple centric blog was drooling over the N9. The Lumia? Yawn. The market logically expected Nokia to overhaul Symbian and fire up MeeGo, not sell out to Redmond.

4. Apps, apps and apps: The Apple App Store and Android Markets both have hundreds of thousands of apps available for download. Think of anything and you’re likely to find an app for that in those two markets. WP7 is yet to catch up, and with Microsoft busily suing other OEMs rather than go all out to attract developers, it’s going to take an eternity for WP7 to reach the scale of Android and iOS in terms of apps. 

5. The OEMs just love Android: Why? Because it gives them the power to differentiate themselves completely from their competitors. Given its open nature, it is always easy and safe to model Android into anything one can think of, an example being what Amazon did with it on its Kindle Fire tablets. Which company would not love such an offering? It’s little wonder that even the home pages of almost all the device makers  readily feature Android phones, with WP7 a few clicks down the menu. I don’t know the extent of customization Microsoft allows the OEMs, but it sure will not be on the scale Google gives them with Android. 

There could be even more reasons why it’s going to be a monumentous act for WP7 to climb out of the bottom, but from where I sit, these are the 5 basic reasons I see which work well against Microsoft’s comeback in the mobile spectrum.

3 iPhone Apps That Make Divorce Much Easier

Modern-day technology can be of great help when it comes to getting a divorce. The divorce process is not only painful but also quite senseless at times, with people struggling to understand it, and that’s where phone apps come in. Fortunately, Ipod Touch and iPhone users dispose of a number of apps, which are sure to assist in terms of learning new things about the process of divorce.

Cost of divorce
One app worth mentioning is the Cost and Prep App. This app will tell you how much money you will probably end up spending on the divorce, as well as what kind of information you need to have. This can be very helpful because we usually end up spending a lot more than we planned, which is a cause of stress on top of divorce being an extremely stressful event in life as it is. So, this app offers two advantages – you spend less money than you otherwise would, and you face a lower degree of stress.

An app within the one mentioned above, which is called Divorce Cost Estimate, is what helps you establish the costs and differentiate between soft and hard costs. Hard costs are those that can be measured in exact dollar amounts, while soft costs are more subjective – they involve the impact on you personally.

Another feature of this app, Divorce Preparation, gives information on the type of documents you need to get and at which time. You will be told when to file, which documents can be printed off a web site and which cannot.

Estate division
A second useful app for divorcees-to-be is the so-called Estate Divider App. This app is like a calculator in that you can enter the cost of your assets and liabilities depending on how much each of you own and owe. Then you can divide these costs and values based on the percentage of your choice. This app can also give you the values of the alimony, the respective amount in taxes, and whether either of you will be liable for any kind of tax advantages or deductions by structuring and adjusting the alimony payments. The app also lets you email the estate division to your soon-to-be-ex, if you are no longer on speaking terms, and wait for their reply.

Divorce goals
Another option, this one for men only, is the Divorce Source. This app comes with two helpful books on divorce. One feature of the app, Divorce Goals Assistant, lets you set your divorce goals. This includes issues like child custody, division of assets, establishing the divorce cost and more. You can email these to your future ex and your divorce attorney. The app also features access to thousands of family law articles, answers to common and not-so-common questions, and a Family Law Reference Section. The app allows you to find divorce attorneys near you, email stories or share stories on Facebook and more. This app can be used by iPhone and iPad users. Having said all this, do not rely on apps only. Divorce is a very complicated process.

Melissa Dean writes about , Credit Cards in Credit Cards Canada

Meet Iris – A Siri alternative for Android

Users of Apple‘s iPhone 4s have touted the voice service Siri as a killer feature on the latest iteration of the phone. Though voice support on Android has been around for sometime, it has not quite enjoyed the kind of buzz that Siri is enjoying. That’s what prompted the guys over at Dexetra to develop Iris, a Siri alternative for Android. 

It started out as a lazy Friday with half our team missing, the influx of tweets and posts on the “Awesome Siri” were flying everywhere. Suddenly, I got the urge to do something similar for Android. Since we have been working on NLP and Machine learning for over an year now, I had a crazy belief that I could pull this off. Somehow I managed to write a tiny engine that could answer your questions, digging the results from the web.

The result was Iris, or Siri in reverse. It took them 8 hours to hack together a functional, working Iris albeit currently in alpha mode. “Gone are the days when you “Google searched” for information. Just “ask” Iris. She will talk to you on any topic. Ranging from Philosophy, Culture, History, science to general conversation.”
If you’re an Android user and want to yet another voice service in addition what already comes with Android, Iris, this freely available alternative to the Siri on iPhone 4s is your answer. It’s currently available on the Android Market. You’ll need to have “Voice Search” and “TTS library” installed to use Iris, both of which are available on the Market.

[INFOGRAPHIC] The Epic Android Journey

With the recent patent trolling on the part of the big tech companies all in an apparent attempt to kill Android, it’s such an exciting news to hear that Google is going to buy Motorolla Mobility. Being the worlds biggest mobile OS, Android has come a long way since October 2003.

The infographic below outlines Android’s monumental journey from a startup, obscure OS to a global juggernaut. Indeed, Android has come a long way and deserving of every protection Google can offer it.

The Android Journey

Image courtesy XCubelabs.

Of Patent Cartels and a Rising Africa

The past couple of weeks has witnessed a lot of bickering among the global technology giants, with Google claiming Microsoft, Oracle and Apple are waging a war on Android through “bogus patents.”

As an ordinary person without any knowledge of the legal aspects of this highly complex issue of patents, I’m more interested in its broader effect on the creativity of the African continent. There currently is a renaissance (well soft of) going on here on the technology scene.

We are seeing a lot of startups doing amazing things with technology in their own small ways in Africa, an example being this Android powered tablet assembled in Nigeria (no it’s not an email scam) for instance. Of course it’s not at the level of the hypePad or the Galaxy tab, but it’s a step in the right direction for the continent.

However, giving the recent Apple injunction on the sale of the Samsung Galaxy tab in the EU, one cannot help but wonder when Apple and the other giants will turn their eyes on African startups and accuse them of the “slavish copying” of design and “look and feel.”

Keeping in mind that most of these companies in Africa are small in size, the question of whether they can actually battle with these patent cartels in court comes to mind. Samsung has deep enough pockets to fight Apple in court, but can Encipher do so? 

One may advance the argument that these nascent African firms command such an insignificant size of the overall market that the patent wielders will not deem it worthy to bully them. But what if these companies begin to grow? It’s worth noting that Africa is a market of close to 1 billion people, most of whom will have their first encounter with the internet on a handheld. 

It’s nigh impossible for any company starting life to navigate the patent offices to ascertain what belongs to who. In the meantime, we have these giants applying for as many patents as they can, some so vague as to mean almost nothing. The aim, to rake in licensing fees from competitors. Will the cartel kill creativity with time? Can a rising African tech scene navigate the almost treacherous sea of patent wolves? I guess only time will determine that. 

Swiffy- Convert Flash files to HTML5

Swiffy is a small tool from Google that converts Flash files to HTML5 for use on non Flash player devices.You can upload SWF file and Swiffy will convert it to HTML5 file which can be displayed on all modern browsers “with a high level of SVG support such as Chrome and Safari.”
Swiffy is available on Google Code is currently more an experimental thus cannot covert all Flash files but does great with ads and animations. There are examples of SWF converted files available on the project’s page. 
This is very important move on the part of Google to wean the web off the proprietary Flash format. It will also be interesting to see what Apple- an avowed Flash critic- thinks of this move from a fierce competitor.