China drops Green Dam web filtering system


Chinese officials appear to have retreated from their controversial plan to install an internet filtering system on computers in the country.

The industry and information technology minister, Li Yizhong, said today that the notion that the Green Dam programme would be required on every new computer was “a misunderstanding” spawned by poorly written regulations.

He said all public computers in schools and internet cafes must install the software – but the government “respected the choice of individuals who do not install it”. He said: “Those who overstated and politicised the issue, or even attacked China’s internet regulation, are irresponsible,” and added that pornography was the main target of the software.

Its initial plans met with fierce opposition when they were announced, with many internet users fearing that the software – which blocks pornographic, violent and politically sensitive content – would also be used to monitor behaviour, curb access to information and track users.

At first it appeared that the campaign, which was backed by the US government, was gaining ground. However last month, hours before the programme was due to be implemented, officials briefed that there would be a delay, but the plans would eventually go ahead.

Today’s announcement appears to make that suspension permanent, with Li saying the government would neither require the programme to come pre-installed on new computers, nor force computer makers to include the programme on a CD with optional software.

Read the full story on the Guardian website.


Computer viruses slow African expansion


Hampered by pirated software and super-slow download times, computer users in Africa are finding PC viruses hard to eradicate.

While western countries have partially learned to neutralise the threat of computer viruses, Africa has become a hive of trojans, worms and exploiters of all stripes. As PC use on the continent has spread in the past decade, viruses have hitched a ride, wreaking havoc on development efforts, government programmes and fledgling businesses.

“It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say 80% of all computers you find in Africa will have some nastiness on them,” says Tariq Khokhar, the chief development officer of Aptivate, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on IT. This compares to around 30% in the UK, according to Panda Security.

The cost is hard to measure, but ask IT consultants and development workers about the impact, and the stories pour out. Even the Congress of South African Trade Unions found in May that its website was spreading viruses to visitors.

Viruses spontaneously reboot computers, destroy vital data, and clog already severely pinched internet connection (it is not unusual to wait 10 minutes to access a single web page). The result: funding applications delayed, small businesses hurt, and hours wasted.

Read the full story on the Guardian website.

Firefox passes billion milestone


The open-source browser Firefox passed its billionth download on Friday, ahead of the release of its fourth iteration. The milestone includes downloads of all versions of the web software since its first release in 2004.

Figures suggest that Firefox now has nearly one third of the browser market worldwide, at 31%. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still dominates the field with around 60%, whilst Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Opera are all less than 5%.

Microsoft is currently in talks with the European competition regulators, which ruled in January that pre-bundling Internet Explorer with the company’s Windows operating system hurt competition.

The firm recently made a proposal that would offer European buyers of its new Windows 7 operating system a list of potential browsers when they first install the software. Regulators in Brussels said they “welcomed” the proposal but have yet to make a decision. Firefox would be among the browsers on offer.

The browser, developed by the Mozilla Foundation, has quickly become a favourite with web surfers since its launch in 2004. The billionth download figure includes all versions of Firefox released since 2004 and includes single users downloading multiple copies for different computers.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.

Smartphones open to SMS attacks


Mobile handsets including iPhones and those using Windows Mobile or Google’s Android operating system are vulnerable to text-based attacks, say experts.

Software code that arrives in a text message can hijack the phones, said Charlie Miller and Collin Mulliner at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas. The malware could knock phones off the network or access data and programs.

The team say that hackers could develop programs to exploit the weakness in as little as two weeks. The pair said that publicising the means of attack was necessary to ensure the problem was addressed.

“If we don’t talk about it, somebody is going to do it silently. The bad guys are going to do it no matter what,” Mr Mulliner, an independent security expert, said.

The hack works by slightly modifying the data that arrives with an SMS message. The system that processes such messages is similar across different operating systems and can, once compromised, gain access across a range of applications including a phone’s address book or camera.

The approach is particularly dangerous because messages are delivered automatically, and users cannot tell that they have received the malicious code.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.

Lunar landscape on your desktop


On 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first small steps on to the surface of the moon. Forty years later you can join them, thanks to a new release from Google.

Moon in Google Earth brings the lunar landscape to your desktop, complete with photos, video and guided tours provided by the astronauts themselves.

Downloading the new Google Earth software allows users to roam the moon in full 3D for the first time. You can visit the historic Apollo landing sites to see the astronauts at work, or fly above the surface hunting for your favourite crater.

“Forty years ago, two human beings walked on the moon. Starting today, with Moon in Google Earth, it’s now possible for anyone to follow in their footsteps,” said product manager Michael Weiss-Malik. “We’re giving hundreds of millions of people around the world unprecedented access to an interactive 3D presentation of the Apollo missions.”

Street View-style panoramic photos show the flags and footprints left behind by Apollo astronauts, and satellite imagery depicts the landing sites in detail. Many points on the moon’s surface have been annotated by NASA with information and anecdotes from the Apollo landings.

Previously unreleased footage of the six missions has also been made available, along with narrated tours from Aldrin and Jack Schmitt of Apollo 17.

Read the full story on the Guardian website.

Google targets Microsoft with new OS


Google has issued its clearest challenge to rival Microsoft so far, by announcing its plans to create a new computer operating system aimed at laptop users. The Californian internet company said it is working on a lightweight system that is based on the Chrome web browser it launched last year.

“It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be,” said the company on the Official Google Blog.

The first version of the system, which will be targeted at netbook computers – the small, portable laptops that have become popular in recent years – is due to be made available in the second half of 2010.

“Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS,” said the announcement. “We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web.”

It added that there would be a heavy focus on creating a system that would not require users to worry about security holes and virus warnings.

Although the company was keen to keep expectations low by suggesting a focus on netbook computers, it will undoubtedly be hoping that it can make inroads against Microsoft, the software giant that has dominated the operating system market for more than a decade with Windows.

Read the full story on the The Guardian website.

15 things you need to know about Windows 7


Windows 7 has been making headlines for a few months now. If you’ve read one or two of the stories and reviews dedicated to it, you might think that you know about all that it contains: new touchscreen features, a revamped taskbar with larger thumbnail previews, Internet Explorer 8, easier networking and so on.

While that sounds reasonable enough, it’s not exactly exciting. It might even have given you the impression that Windows 7 isn’t very different from Vista. That assumption, however, would be a mistake.

The reality is that Windows 7 is packed with new developments – it’s just that most people aren’t talking about them. Would you like to be able to defrag multiple hard drives at the same time, or create a sandboxed PC user account for your kids so that they won’t be able to mess up your Windows or program settings any more?

What about working with – and even booting from – virtual hard drive (VHD) files, the ability to encrypt USB flash drives to protect the data you’re carrying, and tools for calibrating your display to ensure that you’re seeing accurate colours and crisp, clear text? Windows 7 has all these features, and a whole lot more.

Read the full story on the TechRadar website.