EU says, Costs of Open Source Outweigh the Benefits?

FACT: According to a Reuters story today, “The European Commission, a thorn in Microsoft’s side for its antitrust campaigns against the software giant, is falling short in its own internal attempt to promote more competition in the technology sector. The European Union executive has so far not followed its own policy that it purchase office software and operating systems with open standards as well as Microsoft products.”

(c) European CommunityIn the money quote, according to the Reuters story, the EU’s director of IT solutions “said in an interview arranged by a spokeswoman for Commissioner Siim Kallas, who oversees procurement, that studies showed the costs of moving to open source outweighed the benefits.” 

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Web Security and New Media in Politics

FACT: The Obama presidential campaign has been lauded for innovative uses of the Web and social media, particularly for fundraising and volunteer recruitment.  But as PC World has just reported, “Two months after their Web site was hacked, the organizers of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign are looking for a network security expert to help lock down their Web site…. Security experts said this is the first time they can remember seeing a Web security job advertised for a political campaign.”

ANALYSIS:  I wrote before about my experience in 1994-95 helping build one of the Internet’s first political campaign websites – I designed the content and wrote much of it, for Mayor Frank Jordan of San Francisco.  (The pages were literally built and posted by mayoral son Thomas Jordan, by the way, who was then a college student at UC-Berkeley; he went on to great things at Pixar.)   At the time, with such a simple site, we didn’t have to worry much about security – or so we thought, and luckily the worst scandal in those early years involved domain-squatting by certain rival campaigns.

As PC World points out, though, “Obama’s Web site, built by Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, has been the model of Web 2.0 campaigning, using social-networking techniques to raise funds and build a broad base of active, Internet-savvy supporters. But security experts have long warned that powerful Web site features also open new avenues for attack.”

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Pentagon’s New Program for Innovation, in Context

FACT: According to an article in today’s Washington Post, the Pentagon has announced “the selection of six university professors who will form the first class of the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellows Program. The professors will receive grants of up to $600,000 per year for up to five years to engage in basic research — essentially a bet by the Pentagon that they will make a discovery that proves vital to maintaining the superiority of the U.S. military.”

ANALYSIS: This new program is an innovation from DoD’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), and since tomorrow I’ll be at Ft. McNair for a two-day conference sponsored by DDR&E on Strategic Communications, I’ll congratulate John Young and his staff for the good idea.

But the Post article falls short in two ways: one immediate (it leaves out key information about next year’s program and the upcoming deadline!) and one longer-term (it ignores the overall context of federal support for R&D).  I’ll fill in the blanks below.

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At Craigslist, “Traffic just keeps going up…”

Back in 1994-96 I was working for the Mayor of San Francisco (Frank Jordan, “the one before Willie Brown” as one friend persisted in calling him), and among other projects I was working on policies to nurture and promote the emerging  Internet economy, particularly the slowly burgeoning culture of Web startups – at times it seemed like the center of the universe was around South Park in the city’s South of Market neighborhood.  For the Mayor’s ’95 re-election campaign we put up one of the first political campaign websites, winning an award from “Campaigns & Elections” magazine. 

One of the cool people I worked with on innovative ideas for the nascent Web back then was Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. Like many people in San Francisco, I remember when using Craigslist was synonymous with “finding local S.F. stuff,” and have watched with delighted awe as the site (nonprofit empire!) has grown over the years.  The model absolutely rocks, in its simplicity, consistent innovation, and its universality.

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Business Executives for National Security, and Dana Carvey?

Went to the big BENS gala last night (Business Executives for National Security) in downtown Washington, along with some Microsoft colleagues – the company was a sponsor – and several guests who fit right in with the rest of the crowd, military brass and IC muckety-mucks.  I first met BENS founder Stanley Weiss back in the late 1980s when he came to Silicon Valley to recruit support for the new group, “a nonpartisan business organization aiming to cut through ideological debates on national security issues.” 

The evening’s billed highlight was the awarding of the annual BENS Eisenhower Award to Sec. of Defense Robert Gates, who gave just a phenomenal speech (see Reuters and AP coverage today, and the full text here). I blogged a couple of days ago about his speech to the Heritage Foundation, which I read the text of, but seeing Gates deliver this speech really impressed me, to be honest. He comes across as sincerely dedicated to fixing some of the fundamental problems of DoD and the intelligence community (his career after all was at CIA and he is obviously a thoughtful critic of the DNI structure and “reforms”).  I sat there wondering whether Gates would be willing to continue at the Pentagon in the next Administration (odds are much higher of that with a McCain victory, obviously, and infinitesimal otherwise).

Brent Scowcroft introduced Gates with a warm and witty tribute, and it was nice to see him in person.  He told several jokes making fun of the Beltway culture, getting big laughs. Gates continued in kind at the beginning of his remarks, before he got serious – keep reading for one of Gates’s best jokes:

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What If Microsoft Bought a Slice of Apple?

FACT: The amount commonly cited as Microsoft’s offer to buy Yahoo is $44 billion, though that fluctuates with Microsoft’s stock price, as one component of the offer is in stock. 

windows_vista_logo.jpgANALYSIS: How much is $44 billion?  It was Warren Buffett’s net worth two years ago when he decided to give most of it (85 percent) away; it was reportedly the annual budget of the U.S. intelligence community in 2005; it would pay for a full five years Universal Social Security coverage for all uncovered state and local government employees; it’s the total amount spent on illegal immigration enforcement by the federal government over the past two years

Microsoft has decided to offer that much for Yahoo, but I like really out-of-the-box thinking 🙂  And today I read a better idea for that money.

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Tempted to “Skimp” on IT Security?

FACT: According to a study presented at last week’s annual RSA Conference on cyber security, by Palo Alto Networks CTO Nir Zuk, “Users are routinely, and fairly easily, circumventing corporate security controls. And that is because traditional firewall technology was not meant to grapple with the diversity of Internet applications of recent years.”

ANALYSIS: Security has been an even hotter topic than usual for the past month, what with new national-level attention to cyber security and, for Microsoft, a culmination of sorts of various strands of effort into our new “End to End Trust” initiative.  My boss, Jim Simon, attended the RSA Conference in San Francisco, with his boss, Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer.  Craig laid out Microsoft’s “End-to-End Trust” vision, designed to provide users more control over online and enterprise systems.  His keynote was widely covered (even by offbeat security blogs, like RiskBloggers.com) so I don’t need to rehash it.

Nir Zuk’s presentation was interesting – and not just because he’s one of the true pioneers of firewall technology.  He really understands secure enterprise environments, something I’m talking about increasingly with government organizations, who are learning the hard way the need to protect their data, apps, and computing platforms.  

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Google App Engine and the Gathering of Clouds

How many Cloud Computing platforms would you say there are today? 

Some abhor the notion of there being multiple clouds – by this thinking there is only one “cloud” in an almost Zen manner, meaning “the grid” and the ability to reach in, somewhere somehow, and use someone else’s compute capacity, web apps, services, storage, etc.  Some others, however, as Amazon and others roll out their branded ability to do that reach, are beginning to call these “clouds” — I prefer to think about them as distinct platforms enabling cloud computing, but that’s starting to become a hazy definition. 

Next week the world will hear more about Microsoft’s Mesh strategy.

I feel like an observer out on a prairie on a hot summer afternoon, watching the sky as cumulo-nimbus shapes emerge and burgeon across the horizon.  The multiplicity is going to inevitably lead to feature differentiation, competitive marketing, a full hype cycle with naysayers and boosters (see Fortune magazine), down-market competition, shoddy wannabe clouds, boom and bust, market shake-out, etc. etc. – good times! 

How many such platforms (how many clouds) will there be in future?  How many should there be?  And if multiplication really occurs, is this any different from “utility computing” and aren’t we heading back to the days of the mainframe-model of time-sharing?

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Air Wars: the Air Force Takes Heat for its PR

FACT: A heated online debate is erupting about a particular photo posted online, and the brouhaha around it focuses on whether or not classified details are contained therein, thus revealing them. 

ANALYSIS: Given that others are even now writing extensively about this photo and its controversy I thought I would add a couple of thoughts.  Don’t bother blaming me for linking to the photo, by the way; given the attention and reposting/rehosting it has already received, the glare of publicity can only serve to prod better security practices. 

I expect to see parody versions on Flickr soon, with “Area 51” touches.

And so to my related thoughts: recently, an active-duty USAF officer and regular reader emailed me about one of my posts concerning Rod Beckstrom and the new National Cyber Security Center, which he had not previously heard of.  He wrote that in discussing it with a colleague, the response was “I thought the Air Force Cyber Command already had the mission to coordinate all cyber security efforts.”

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Google’s Argument to Enterprise IT: “Trust Us”

FACT:  Yesterday, Google’s Dave Girouard, VP of enterprise sales, gave a keynote speech on “The Evolution of Cloud Computing” at FOSE, a Washington trade-show focusing on federal government and military IT customers.  According to a Washington Post reporter’s blog account afterwards:

[Girouard said] “Google will have to do things differently” to work with defense and intelligence agencies, where data security and privacy are held to the tightest standards. But he argued that having information spread across hundreds of different servers is actually more secure than housing data on a few servers at a specific location. “Security is now more virtual than physical,” he said.

ANALYSIS:  The Google salesman (Girouard is VP of enterprise sales) was speaking at FOSE on the same day I made an April Fools blogpost featuring a lame “Cloud Computing” joke (see it here, come back when you stop laughing).  

This year I’m at FOSE as neither buyer nor speaker; the past couple of years I spoke at FOSE, as a DIA official, and I always enjoy walking the exhibit floor, plus I was curious about Girouard’s take on Google’s current move into the federal space.

To be honest I’ve met him before when he was with Virage and he’s a fine fellow, a good salesman.

The rhetoric of his main pitch, though, seems to be battling uphill, and I’m not sure he gets a nuanced distinction.

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