Posts Tagged ‘Software’

Cuba gets its own twist on Linux (AFP)

HAVANA (AFP) – Cuba has launched its own version of the open-source software Linux, dubbed Nova, steering clear of licensing spending required by giants like Microsoft, a state media outlet said Thursday.

“Now Cuba has its own tool to move various institutions along toward open-source software,” said the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), noting that Nova is a “Cuban distribution of Gnu/Linux.”

The Cuban software, developed with staff and students at the University of Havana, was unveiled at the International Computers and Software Convention underway here through Sunday.

Cubans earn an average 17-20 dollars a month, and most use a computer only at their workplace or school. Access to the Internet is expensive and in the Americas’ only communist state, restricted.

Open-source software allows people to reproduce it as many times as they like, unlike other popular software such as Microsoft’s Windows.

Original Article

NASA scoops up Twitter award for Mars ‘tweets’ (AFP)


WASHINGTON (AFP) – It’s not exactly the Oscars but at least the acceptance speeches were short. Awards for the best feeds on Twitter, the popular micro-blogging service which allows users to send short messages of 140 characters or less, were handed out at a ceremony in New York on Wednesday night.

The winners of the “Shorty Awards,” sponsored by Sawhorse Media and the Knight Foundation, were restricted to acceptance speeches of … 140 characters, of course.

Among the winners, NASA picked up the Shorty Award in the Science category for its Twitter updates about the Mars Phoenix Lander mission.

More than 38,000 people had signed up to receive “tweets” from Mars by the time the mission ended in November.

“I dig Mars!” was among the Phoenix Lander’s messages.” along with “w00t!!! Best day ever!!”

Jackie, a fitness trainer from Vancouver who goes by only one name and the Twitter handle of “girlwithnoname,” won the sports category.

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, a prolific Twitterer, finished second.

The winners of the awards in 26 categories were determined by voting by Twitter users.

The competition had no official link to Twitter, which was launched in August 2006 and now claims more than six million users.

But Twitter co-founder Biz Stone congratulated the winners in a video played at the ceremony and in a “tweet.”

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JuicyCampus, home to nasty school gossip, dries up

Critics hoped the better angels of human nature would kill off the popular campus gossip site Some prosecutors were trying to use the law to do the trick.

In the end, the site’s much-criticized founder insisted he was merely the latest victim of the economic downturn.

In any case, the site one college official recently called a “virtual bathroom wall” of hateful and degrading speech was offline Thursday — much to the relief of administrators and many students nationwide.

“We’re very happy,” said Erika Lowe, vice president of the student government at Western Illinois University, which had been working with administrators to block the site from campus computers there. “While we support free speech, there was nothing positive coming out of this Web site. It only served to dampen spirits and ruin friendships.”

But JuicyCampus was popular. Following its launch on seven campuses in 2007, it spread nationwide, and founder Matt Ivester said the site was getting more than 1 million unique visitors monthly. He said it was all in good fun, but the anonymity the site granted its gossip-posters seemed to bring out the worst in people.

Fraternities and sororities cruelly attacked each other. Typical discussion threads included “Biggest slut on campus” and “easiest freshmen.” Others identified women who had gained weight and one post named a rape victim and said she “deserved it.”

Several student government associations asked their colleges to block access to the site from campus networks, and a handful — including Tennessee State and Hampton — did so. New Jersey prosecutors, meanwhile, were investigating whether the company was violating the state’s Consumer Fraud Act. No charges were filed.

The site appeared to be protected by a federal law absolving Web sites of responsibility for what their users post. And most colleges decided they couldn’t get into the business of picking and choosing sites to block. So they urged students to stay away and quietly hoped this day would come.

“To be tactful, I’m not disappointed,” said David Maxwell, president of Drake University in Iowa. He had received complaints from parents and students, but declined to block the site when student leaders asked him to consider doing so.

“We certainly value the university environment as a safe haven for expression,” Maxwell said. But academic freedom “also requires you to be held responsible for what you say. The anonymity of JuicyCampus was really a concern for us.”

A public relations firm representing the company said Ivester was unavailable for a telephone interview Thursday, and the site was already offline. But in a farewell note on a separate blog site, Ivester wrote that “in these historically difficult economic times, online ad revenue has plummeted and venture capital funding has dissolved.”

He denied that legal troubles were to blame, or that advertisers were avoiding JuicyCampus because of its content. The site employed about 20 people, according to spokesman Steven Wilson.

Ivester said posts would no longer be publicly available, and the site’s privacy policy would continue — it would not release IP addresses without a subpoena. The site has said it blocks its discussion board from being indexed by search sites like Google.

He did acknowledge some users had gone overboard.

“While there are parts of JuicyCampus that none of us will miss — the mean-spirited posts and personal attacks — it has also been a place for the fun, lighthearted gossip of college life. I hope that is how it is remembered,” he wrote, before signing off: “Keep it juicy.”


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Happy Birthday, Facebook: 5 Reasons We Love You (PC World)

facebook-logo1Posted on Wed Feb 4, 2009 1:06PM EST

– To commemorate the fifth birthday of Facebook, the ultimate social networking site, here are five reasons it has changed the face of Internet communication forever. 1) Facebook created the definitive social networking experience. In a world where most of our daily communication comes in the form of e-mail, IMs, and other Internet-based methods, Facebook has fused these elements in one package. With more than 150 million active users, Facebook is, quite simply, where it’s at. It has e-mail; it has IM; it has Twitter-infused status updates; it has everything one needs to find and reconnect with old high school buddies, make new friends, and build a cohesive online community. Facebook is used by businesses, non-profit organizations — even presidents. Practically everyone who values connectivity in this high-tech world of disembodied communication has latched onto Facebook as a central hub for engagement. 2) It has a streamlined, smooth interface. Facebook’s overhaul of its popular user interface caused quite a stir when it debuted. Groups gathered, hoping 1 million angry shouts would restore the look. Months later, people have accepted the alteration and no one has really made a cohesive argument for its original state for some time. But what’s most important about Facebook’s interface is that it’s easy to use, and relatively difficult to get lost within. Tabs guide users through the variety of posted items, and an iPhone app makes it easy to log in on the go. Put frankly, it’s beautiful in its simplicity. 3) It gave users an alternative to its crappy cousin, MySpace. MySpace is a mess; it’s like an HTML epileptic fit. Besides its reputation for being the stomping ground of sexual predators and its rather filthy casual sex underpinnings (it’s not nicknamed MeatSpace for nothing), MySpace complicated social networking with its failed ambitions. Everything MySpace has tried to do to separate itself as a different entity — namely MySpace Music — has been met with failure and criticism. Facebook took a different approach and focused on the core of its raison d’etre: social networking. Though Facebook accomplishes much more than that, its basic content stands alone. 4) It’s a hub for education and student communication. Schools and publishing companies flock to Facebook as a way to connect students with other students. Through study groups, help guides, and other forms of student interaction generally relegated to different sites spread all over the Web, Facebook has proven to be a successful and effective catalyst for student success. Sure, Facebook is a huge time-suck, and probably distracts more students from cracking books than motivates them, but when it does push students towards achievement, it wins. 5) Great apps. The death of Scrabulous shocked the Facebook nation. People had grown so accustomed to logging in and playing an alternate version of Hasbro’s Scrabble that when it disappeared, it was sorely missed. Thankfully it returned as Lexulous, and Hasbro has implemented its own fantastic iteration called — wait for it — Scrabble. But it was the moment that Scrabulous died that signified how important and cherished Facebook apps are to users. They’re easy to install, fun to use, and a great way to pass the time. In just five short years, Facebook has become a household name for communication. It has captured the minds and hearts of a generation and turned into a phenomenon unlike what its creators could have expected. So three cheers for Facebook, and to another great five years.

Different Directions: Online mapping services are changing

February 4, 2009 2:15 PM PST

Posted by Don Reisinger

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been using online mapping services more often to figure out which is best for me in a pinch.

But now that I’ve completed my research of the four major services–Google Maps, Live Search Maps, MapQuest, and Yahoo Maps–I’ve come to a staggering conclusion: I’d only consider using one of those apps.

Google Maps
Google Maps is simple and fast, elegant and useful. It’s the best mapping solution on the Web. Period.

Google Maps is easily distinguished in the market by its design. Once you surf to the company’s Maps page, you’re immediately presented with a search box to input an address. If you want to get directions from one place to another, it’s as simple as clicking the “Get Directions” button and inputting another address.

Google Maps

To evaluate its accuracy, I queried Google Maps to find the best route between two addresses I’m familiar with. The service performed beautifully and delivered perfect directions. I then mapped a route from my home to West Palm Beach, Fla.–a trip I’ve made on a few occasions–to see if it could determine ideal directions over a long ride. Once again, it cut down on wasteful driving and delivered the most direct route.

But the beauty of Google Maps goes beyond directions. Its satellite imagery is outstanding and the most up-to-date, based on my testing, and the service’s live traffic feature, which offers real-time traffic data throughout the day, is a welcome addition that provided generally accurate information. But my favorite feature is Street View. As I look for a new home, it’s an ideal tool to help me determine if I want to live in a particular neighborhood without going there myself.

Live Search Maps
Although Microsoft has struggled to keep up with Google in the search space, I was impressed with Live Search Maps. It might not offer the kind of functionality Google Maps provides, but it’s certainly a viable alternative.

Live Search Maps

Live Search Maps has a useful menu feature.

(Credit: Microsoft)

Much like Google Maps, Live Search Maps is simple to use and elegantly designed. I especially liked the menu to the left of the map, which provided me with options to find a specific place on a map, get directions, or share those with others.

When I input directions to locations I know the best routes for, I was generally pleased. That said, there were a few occasions when the directions sent me to a different highway exit or to wrong streets before getting me to my destination.

Microsoft’s “Bird’s Eye” feature is outstanding, and Live Search Maps responded quickly to requests to zoom in on certain locations. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s 3D mapping feature, which allows users to see locations in 3D, only works with Internet Explorer, so as a Firefox user, I wasn’t able to test that out. That’s annoying.

MapQuest has undergone a series of changes over the past few months in an attempt to improve its standing in the market. And although I applaud the company for trying, I’m simply unsatisfied with what it offers.

MapQuest’s new homepage aims at making the once-cluttered site more usable. In some respects, it works. It is much easier to input directions, and finding locations is as simple as inputting a company’s name into the search box. But unlike Google Maps or even Live Search Maps, which offer simple page designs, MapQuest’s homepage is inundated with distracting ads, links to local events, and other features that I don’t care about.

Can’t you just save it yourself?


MapQuest’s response time is much slower than Google Maps and much like its homepage, the maps show too much information, turning them into a mess. It’s also unfortunate that the site requires users to click a “save” button for it to remember a search. Its competitors do that automatically.

But not everything MapQuest offers is sub-par. Its driving directions are generally on point, and when I searched for directions around town or to Florida, they provided ideal routes. I also like that the site now features an extremely large map. It’s a simple thing, but it really does add to the site’s overall usability. Unfortunately, almost everything else on MapQuest detracts from that usability.

Yahoo Maps
Yahoo Maps was my favorite mapping solution years ago before I discovered Google Maps. And in that time, it hasn’t changed substantially. But based on my testing, it doesn’t need to.

The first thing that struck me about Yahoo Maps is how simple it is compared to the rest of Yahoo. I’ve often taken issue with Yahoo’s cluttered homepage, but Yahoo Maps doesn’t suffer from that problem.

Yahoo Maps

Getting directions is quick and easy.

(Credit: Yahoo Maps)

Instead, Yahoo Maps offers a well-designed page that I found simpler than its competitors in one respect: it didn’t require me to click an extra button to get directions. In its place, the site features two search boxes, which make it quick and easy to find directions and go about my day.

Yahoo Maps also performed well when I searched for directions around town. In fact, it returned all the same routes as Google Maps, which provided the best directions of any service in this roundup.

In almost every respect, Yahoo Maps, as a Web application, is equal to Google Maps. But with over 70 percent market share, Google Search is a top destination on the Web. And while people are busy inputting queries into the search engine, a Maps link is always waiting at the top of the page. If those users are looking for a business or directions to someone’s home, it’s much easier to click that link and use Google’s tool than surf to a competing service.

Worse for competitors, the Google Maps API is being used by thousands across the globe who find unique ways to fit Google Maps into their businesses or personal lives. Sure, competitors like Yahoo offer an API too, but they’re not nearly as popular or widely used as Google’s.

And in recent years, that has become a major issue for Google Maps competitors. How can they stymie Google’s growth if users are already using other Google services and find it quicker to use Google Maps instead of their tools? I don’t have the answer. And I’m not sure Google’s competitors do either.

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has written about everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Don is a member of the CNET Blog Network, and posts at The Digital Home. He is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.

As Facebook Turns 5, a look back east

As Facebook hits its fifth birthday on Wednesday, it’s nearly impossible to find a recent news story that doesn’t refer to its growth with terms like “lightning-fast,” “exponential,” “skyrocketing,” or some other expression that would be quite at home in a space-age comic book from the 1950s.

That might be true now. And with an executive lineup sourced from Bay Area elite (including a handful of former Google leaders), high-profile conferences and parties, not to mention developer “hackathons” all over the world, it has all the makings of a landmark Silicon Valley craze. But don’t let that fool you: Facebook owes its early growth, and hence the foundations for its wildfire expansion of late, to its roots in a more buttoned-up tradition of the East Coast elite. The site’s conservative, calculated debut and blueblood allure were what sowed the seeds for Valley success.

Facebook’s origins at Harvard University, created over many dorm room all-nighters on the part of founder Mark Zuckerberg and his friends, are tech press canon by now. They have surfaced in dozens of magazine and newspaper articles, the occasional courtroom spat, and now apparently a book penned by Bringing Down The House author Ben Mezrich. What’s not talked about as often is that when Facebook, then called TheFacebook, made its quiet debut early in February 2004, it was just another entrant in a pack.

That was the same academic year that some colleges and universities launched online “facebooks” of their own as supplements to the paper directories that were then a staple in dorm rooms across the country. Plus, entrepreneurially minded students at a number of colleges, including several at Harvard in addition to Zuckerberg, were trying to best their alma maters by doing the same thing.

“When Facebook launched, the first week at Harvard was incredible because the adoption was through the roof,” said Sam Lessin, founder of start-up, who was a classmate of Zuckerberg at the time, “and this was in the context of a lot of stuff other people had been doing online, including quote-unquote social-networking sites. The beauty of the product was that it was super simple and super easy to use.”

In keeping with its roots at one of the world’s most selective universities, Facebook’s initial allure was not that everyone had a profile, but that not everyone could have a profile.

When Zuckerberg and his team first launched the site, it was restricted to their fellow students at Harvard University. Then it began to roll out to the rest of the Ivy League and other prestigious universities: Stanford, Yale, and Columbia were the first three, in March 2004. A valid e-mail address from a participating school was required to sign up.

From a technical standpoint, this was smart because it allowed Facebook to manage its growth, avoiding overloaded servers and skyrocketing bandwidth bills. On the PR side, however, exclusivity fueled Facebook’s early buzz. MySpace, at the top of the social-networking heap at the time, was the massive nightclub where you might spot celebrities from afar. Facebook was the quiet cocktail lounge a few blocks away that required a password, but where you could be sure to see all your closest friends.

“There was a cachet to it. Everyone wanted in, and wanted to see what it was and how it worked,” Lessin said. When the site launched at a new school, he added, “you’d have this incredible initial bump of people who had heard about it and seen clippings or articles about it, and were excited to jump on board.”

With the exception of a short-lived file-sharing side project called Wirehog, Facebook’s team kept the site a purely networking-focused tool at the start. Although you’ve been able to “poke” your friends from day 1, the original Facebook had none of its current media- and information-sharing features; initially, you couldn’t even add friends from other participating schools, just your own.

But Facebook grew, both in accessibility and in flashiness. Members could start registering with e-mail addresses from corporations rather than just universities. It launched a photo album application that now hosts more than 10 billion pictures.

The “news feed” feature launched in September 2006, shortly before Facebook announced that it would let anyone join the site, setting off a brief wave of privacy-conscious member panic before becoming one of the site’s defining functions.

Then there was the developer platform, which hit the scene in May 2007 with the first of Facebook’s now-ubiquitous “hackathons.” Even after relocating from Boston to Palo Alto, Calif., and in spite of a billion-dollar buyout offer from Yahoo, Facebook hadn’t enjoyed much real “tech cred.” The platform changed that.

Creating a Facebook application soared to the top of Web companies’ priority lists, and even though Facebook’s traffic had started to take off when open registration launched the previous fall, this was when it really escalated.

With Facebook now five years old and reaching more than 150 million members worldwide, it comes into question whether it has abandoned those austere New England roots and that strategy of calculated growth in favor of Silicon Valley’s get-big-now attitude.

The Facebook Connect product lets third-party sites use Facebook’s log-in credentials for the first time, something that’s put it back at the forefront of the developer community. It’s also caught on in many countries outside the United States, with a big majority of its new registrants now overseas. That brings both technological implications–server power outside the States can be especially expensive–as well as political ones.

And no regular reader of tech blogs can avoid the constant coverage of Facebook’s ongoing search for a solid revenue model, the ultimate Valley narrative of struggle and all-too-frequent failure. But in a post on the company blog late on Tuesday, founder Zuckerberg hailed Facebook’s iterative nature and go-forth attitude, something that has become increasingly prominent since its westward journey into the Valley’s upper echelon.

“Building and moving quickly for five years hasn’t been easy, and we aren’t finished,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The challenge motivates us to keep innovating and pushing technical boundaries to produce better ways to share information.”

What Zuckerberg and his hundreds of employees ought to keep in mind is that even though Facebook’s willingness to change and evolve has been key to its success, so has its awareness that change should be steady and pragmatic. When Facebook moved too fast, as with the launches of the News Feed and the Beacon advertising program, members freaked out.

“They’ve built this incredible, incredible product that’s just incredibly successful and valuable and useful, but really, its roots were just super simple and super local,” Lessin reflected on Facebook’s early days. “Because they were able to do that, and grow in a very controlled way, by the time they really wanted to turn things on, they were able to.”

It’s like they always say: never forget where you came from.

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos. E-mail Caroline.